2012 - %3, June

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 20, 2012

Wed Jun. 20, 2012 11:09 AM EDT

An M1A1 Abrams tank with Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 6, patrols through the desert north of the Kajaki Dam on May 31. The Marines supported Operation Branding Iron. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Mark Stroud.

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Floridians Really Like Rick Scott's Voter Purge...Sort of

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 9:59 AM EDT

Quinnipiac released a new poll on Wednesday about a wide range of Florida political issues. GOP Gov. Rick Scott is still very unpopular. Sens. Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R) are fairly popular. And most people think the economy is pretty bad. But I was struck by the very last question, which asked voters for their opinion on Scott's controversial voter-purge operation:

QuinnipiacQuinnipiac

The Tampa Bay Times frames this as majority support for Scott's purge. And maybe that really is the case, but that's definitely not what the poll shows. The problem is that the question doesn't accurately describe the program. It's not really a "some say this, others say that" situation; the consequences of Scott's purge are a matter of public record. Hundreds of eligible voters have already been informed by the state that they're not eligible to vote. The Department of Justice has concluded that the purge is illegal; the county supervisors tasked with carrying out the purge have complained to the state. Presumably, support for purging eligible voters is a bit lower than support for purging ineligible voters.

MoJo to UCLA: Release the Milken Documents!

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 7:30 AM EDT

Last August, the University of California-Los Angeles announced that it had accepted a $10 million gift from Lowell Milken, a key figure in the junk bonds and savings and loan scandals of the 1980s, to launch a "Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy." The University did not disclose that Milken, who is among the richest people in the world, has been banned for life from the securities industry. It also did not mention that Lowell's brother and business partner, Michael Milken, was jailed on multiple federal felony counts related to his work at Drexel Burnham Lambert, a now-defunct investment bank where Lowell also worked. Lowell was Michael's "closest confidant and adviser" at Drexel, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

Like the University's press release, initial coverage of the Milken's donation from the Daily Bruinthe Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the Los Angeles Daily News also neglected to mention his past. 

On August 18, the week after the donation was announced, I reported on Milken's history. The New York Times and other outlets picked up the story a few days later. When I first learned about the Milken gift, I asked a Mother Jones intern, Lauren Ellis, to file a document request with UCLA under the California Open Records Law. We asked for documents and emails related to the Milken deal and, crucially, the donor agreement between Milken and the university.

On October 5, UCLA finally responded, providing two letters from UCLA officials thanking Milken for his gift. The university refused to disclose the donor agreement or any other documents, arguing that it needed to protect "the personal privacy of its donors" and that releasing any documents beyond the two letters would "bring about a chilling effect on UCLA's Foundation, in that the personal privacy of its donors, prospective donors, and those who volunteer their time to the Foundation would no longer be protected." As Madeleine Buckingham, the CEO of Mother Jones, noted in a letter to UCLA last week, California courts have rejected both of these arguments for withholding information about donations to public universities. 

We believe that UCLA's decision to withhold the Milken documents represents a violation of California open records laws. You can read the letter (and our full argument) below:

 

Obama Campaign to Rove: Reveal Your Secret Donors

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Just over a week ago, the 4th Circuit of Appeals ruled that the government must determine the "major purpose" of groups like Karl Rove's dark-money outfit Crossroads GPS, which operates as a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" nonprofit*. By law, 501(c)(4)s can't make political activity their primary activity. They can, however, make attack ads and funnel money to super-PACs, which is why some super-PACs, like GPS' sister organization American Crossroads, use them as a way to avoid disclosing their donors.

Besides giving a boost to campaign-finance reformers, the ruling in Real Truth About Obama v. FEC has given the Obama campaign an opportunity to mess with Rove. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the campaign's chief counsel, Robert Bauer, filed a complaint with the FEC arguing that Crossroads GPS now has an obligation to disclose its anonymous donors without delay. GPS "seems to believe that it can run out the clock and spend massive sums of money in this election without accounting for a trace of its funding," he wrote. The circuit court ruling "makes clear that Crossroads is out of time." 

Bauer also sent a snarky courtesy letter to Rove and Crossroads GPS president Steven Law, explaining that his FEC complaint was "laying out the case—obvious to all—that Crossroads is a political committee subject to federal reporting requirements."

The letter also mentioned Van Hollen v. FEC, a case that may soon require political 501(c)(4)s to disclose their donors if they run ads in the run-up to an election. Bauer explained that Crossroads GPS disclosing its donors now

need not involve any admission of liability for violating the law in the past. You may continue to hold to your position which is, no doubt, that until recent legal developments, Crossroads believed that it could take in anonymous donations for its electioneering activities. Now your position can be that because the law has become ever clearer, you must proceed to report. While this is thin cover for your failure to report to date, it is better than nothing.

Of course, Crossroads GPS isn't the only dark-money outfit out there. "The big question is whether Bauer sent a similar letter to Priorities USA—a group modeled after Crossroads GPS to support President Obama's policies," GPS spokesman Jonathan Collegio told the Huffington Post in response to the complaint. Priorities USA is the dark-money arm of Priorities USA Action, the primary pro-Obama super-PAC. It is unclear just how much money Priorities USA has raised so far. Crossroads reported raising $28 million in 2011.

Have a look at the letter to Rove and the complaint:

 

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that the court, not Bauer, said Crossroads GPS fit the FEC's definition of a political committee.

Tom's Kitchen: Fried-Egg Quesadilla with Salsa Cruda

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

This column focuses on simple, high-flavor cooking—food that can be made in minutes by people with no special culinary skill. My goal to demystify the home kitchen, to show that cooking can be an everyday, enjoyable activity that results in nutritious and fun-to-eat fare.

This edition of Tom's Kitchen focuses on something so simple that I'm flirting with self-parody: the quesadilla, which has emerged in the modern US kitchen as a kind of new-wave grilled-cheese sandwich. Who doesn't know how to make a quesadilla? Simply grate cheese, fold into tortilla, and heat until cheese is melted. Millions of people, some of them under 10, do it daily.

But with good ingredients and a few simple techniques, quesadillas can actually be quite sublime. Over the years at Maverick farms, my coworkers and I practiced the craft of quesadilla-making almost daily, using it as a vehicle to highlight fresh farm eggs and whatever produce was coming off the farm at any particular point in time. The fried-egg quesadilla emerged as the Maverick Farms lunch par excellence (also, sometimes, as "second breakfast," taken mid-morning after hours of harvesting).

I'm away from the farm for a while spending time in Austin, but yearning for the days of fried-egg quesadillas. So I've been making them using produce from local farms—mainly two excellent and highly productive inner-city ones just miles from where I'm living, Boggy Creek and Springdale farms.

Right now, Central Texas farms are harvesting a magnificent tomato crop; arugula is coming in abundant and peppery; and fresh, uncured garlic is everywhere. So I built this batch of quesadilla around them.

Quesadilla gear: I always try to have some on hand.Quesadilla gear: I always try to have some on hand.Fried-Egg Quesadillas with Salsa Cruda
Serves 3
1 big, beautiful purple cherokee tomato
½ of a small red onion
1 clove fresh, uncured garlic
1-2 hot peppers
sea salt

Butter
4-6 farm eggs (depending on how many each eater wants)
Salt, pepper, and paprika
3 flour tortillas, as fresh as possible (I use whole wheat ones from Austin's Margarita's Tortilla Factory)
About 4 oz good melting cheese (I use Organic Valley Raw Sharp Cheddar), sliced thin crosswise or grated)
1 good handful spicy arugula or other salad green, chopped or torn into bit-sized pieces

Make the salsa.
I went into this project planning to simply the slice the tomatoes and fold them, along with some thin-sliced red onion, into the tortillas as they toasted—a perfectly good way to go. But when the ingredients were arrayed before me, I couldn't resist making what's known in Mexico as a salsa cruda, which is simply a chopped sauce featuring raw tomatoes, chiles, and garlic.

Salsa crudas are incredibly simple. First chop your tomato into little chunks, then finally chop the red onion. Next, crush the garlic clove with the flat side of a chef's knife, remove the peel, and and sprinkle coarse salt over it. Now coarsely chop your chile pepper or peppers, and lay the pieces over the garlic clove. Sprinkle more coarse salt over the chile pieces. Using a rocking motion and lifting the knife blade occasionally to scrape off chile/garlic mixture, chop the hell out of the chiles and the garlic all together. The coarse salt will help break everything down into a paste. Once the chile/garlic mix is pretty well minced, put it in a little mound, lay the flat side of your knife over it, and push down hard with your hand. Chop a little more and you have a nice paste. Combine all ingredients into a small bowl, stir, and taste for salt and flavor balance. The tomato I used, a purple cherokee from Boggy Creek, had a beautiful combination of sweetness and acidity, and the finished salsa needed nothing. If it seems a bit too sweet, consider adding a bit of cider vinegar or lemon or lime juice. Set aside.

Make the Quesadillas

Twin wheels of steel. Twin wheels of steel. Now put two skillets—the biggest one you have for the quesadillas and another one (size depending on how many eggs you're using) for the eggs—over medium heat. Add a healthy knob of butter to the egg skillet. Place all three tortillas on the hot quesadilla skillet. They won't fit flat—that's okay. Twirl them around to toast them a bit all over then flip them, so that half of each is laying flat, with its other half draped over the edge of the skillet (see photo). Lay a bit of each cheese over each, and let them toast. Turn the heat down a bit.

Now the butter will have melted and be good and hot. Crack the eggs into the skillet. You should have a good sizzle. Turn the heat down a bit, and dust each egg with salt, pepper, and paprika. After a couple of minutes, flip them, and cook them to your desired level of doneness. I prefer a slightly runny yolk.

Now add an egg or two to each tortilla, along with a bit of chopped arugula and a lashing of the salsa cruda, which you should scoop out with a fork so it drains a bit. Fold the odd end of the tortilla over the flat part, and flip. The top side should now be golden-brown. Cook until the bottom side is browned, too, and serve with salsa.

Which Baby Foods Contain the Most Pesticide Residue?

| Wed Jun. 20, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Every year, Environmental Working Group crunches pesticide-testing USDA data and comes up with its "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" lists of most- and least-contaminated fruits and vegetables.

This year's model, released Tuesday, crowned the apple as the dirtiest produce, and onions as the cleanest. *The "dirty dozen" list is below; the "clean 15" is here.

I have to add the same lament as I did last year—while I find EWG's "dirty dozen" effort to be extremely valuable for consumers on a budget deciding which produce to buy organic, I wish it would also add a third list tracking pesticide exposure for farm workers. While I do not discount the dangers of consuming small amounts of the cocktail of pesticides found on a typical grocery-store apple, it is the people who tend and harvest farm fields who bear the most risk.

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Corn on MSNBC: Rubio as Running Mate?

Wed Jun. 20, 2012 3:00 AM EDT

Mother Jones' DC bureau chief David Corn joined Martin Bashir on MSNBC on Tuesday to discuss the latest news from the Romney campaign.

With all the speculation over whether Senator Marco Rubio is actually being vetted as Romney's running mate, Corn talks about what this means for Romney's immigration policy and attempts to woo Latino voters.

Corn also discussed Romney's six-state bus tour, where he was trying his darndest to act like a normal person. Despite all the pancake flipping and sandwich buying, nobody is fooled.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Just Like in "The Wire," Real FBI Crime Stats Are "Juked"

| Tue Jun. 19, 2012 5:49 PM EDT

In the particularly dramatic scene of HBO's The Wire above, a group of Baltimore police brass is instructed to artificially deflate felony and murder statistics or be ousted from their jobs. "I don't care how you do it, just fuckin' do it," snarls Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner of Operations William A. Rawls.

Inside a lecture room at John Jay College in New York City two summers ago, Molloy College criminologist and retired New York City Police Department Captain John Eterno lectured a group of FBI agents about nearly identical scenarios unfolding within the NYPD's walls. He and his John Jay colleague Eli Silverman had recently published a detailed survey (that later became a book) of 400 retired NYPD commanders who served under the CompStat system, a computer program used to compare crime rates and performance across precincts. 

Most of the commanders claimed they were "under enormous pressure" to routinely underreport or misclassify serious crimes, which were then excluded from city's crime reports to the state and FBI. "Once you have one 'CompStat' meeting where they're screaming and yelling at you about your crime numbers," Eterno explains, "you get the hint and then you do what you can to make sure those numbers are looking the way they want them to."

After the presentation, some of the more junior FBI agents approached Eterno. "This is falling on deaf ears," they whispered, referring to their superiors.

Republicans, Hypocrisy, and the Individual Mandate

| Tue Jun. 19, 2012 5:22 PM EDT

Ezra Klein is arguing today with Peter Suderman and Reihan Salam about conservative support for the individual mandate. The question is: why have conservatives flip-flopped? Why did they mostly support it 20 years ago but now unanimously agree that it's the biggest threat to economic liberty since Das Kapital? Pure cynicism? Motivated reasoning? A genuine change of heart?

My answer: none of the above. Back in 1993, I'd say that Republican preference ordering on healthcare reform looked roughly like this:

So what's a Republican to do? The answer is obvious: choose whichever option is the best one available at the time. If Clinton's plan looks like it might pass, you support the next best alternative: private insurance with a mandate. If private insurance with a mandate is on offer, you once again support the next best alternative: nothing. There's not really anything mysterious about this. You don't need to resort to cynicism, motivated reasoning, or even a genuine change of heart to explain it. You merely need to realize that political actors — both liberals and conservatives — will always fight for the best deal they can get. If you offered me Obamacare, I'd take it, but that doesn't mean I'd give up fighting for what I really want. Likewise, after conservatives defeated Clintoncare, I wasn't surprised that they didn't just rest on their laurels, but kept on fighting for what they really want

Suderman suggests that something similar has happened with Democrats and mid-90s proposals for premium support as a way of reining in Medicare spending. I think his case is a little weak here — premium support never really had much liberal support in the first place, and the version on offer recently by Paul Ryan that Democrats opposed bore little resemblance to the original proposal anyway — but he still has a point. And the explanation for the liberal shift is much the same as it was for conservatives and the mandate.

This is politics, and there's nothing really very shocking about it. If you can cut a deal, that's great, but you shouldn't expect that either side will take it as the final word. In fact, you should expect just the opposite: that both sides will continue fighting to change the deal in their own favor.

As it happens, I think that Paul Ryan's most recent version of premium support for Medicare isn't too bad. Given where we are right now, I could imagine it being one side of a negotiation that produces something decent. But even if we came to an agreement, I'd pretty shortly be out there promoting a genuine national healthcare plan that would make it obsolete. Would that be treachery on my part? Of course not. It would just mean I took my half a loaf and then dived right back into campaigning for the other half. Would anyone else do differently?

POSTSCRIPT: None of this means that hypocrisy doesn't play a role in the politics of the mandate. As Adam Serwer notes today, Antonin Scalia is probably Exhibit A here.

Senators Finally Ponder the Question: Is Solitary Confinement Wrong?

| Tue Jun. 19, 2012 3:58 PM EDT

The ACLU set up this realistic mock solitary cell in the hearing room.

The cell placed at the back of the hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building was a pretty accurate replica of a real isolation cell—the kind that exists in supermax prisons and solitary confinement units all over the country. It measured about 7 feet by 10 feet, with a tiny covered window too high to see out of and nothing inside but a bunk and a toilet. The door contained a slot through which a guard slides a food tray; for many prisoners, this represents their only human contact for the day. These are the conditions in which some 80,000 inmates live on any given day in American prisons and jails. They spend at least 23 hours a day in their cells, and some remain in solitary for years or even decades.

Solitary confinement in our prisons and jails may be the most pressing domestic human rights problem to which most Americans remain largely oblivious. But today, supporters and foes of the practice descended on Capitol Hill for a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, convened by subcommittee chairman Dick Durbin. An overflow crowd of some 200 spectators came there to witness—somewhat amazingly—the first-ever congressional hearing on solitary confinement.

Durbin opened the proceedings with a surprisingly strong indictment of solitary confinement as it is practiced in US prisons. The senator, who had visited the notorious Tamms supermax in his home state of Illinois and was apparently much-affected by the experience, called on his colleagues to visit prisons in their states and witness the conditions for themselves. "America has led the way with human rights around the world," Durbin said. But "what do our prisons say about our American values?"