Political MoJo

New Memo: Kissinger Gave the "Green Light" for Argentina's Dirty War

| Tue Jan. 14, 2014 4:23 PM EST

Only a few months ago, Henry Kissinger was dancing with Stephen Colbert in a funny bit on the latter's Comedy Central show. But for years, the former secretary of state has sidestepped judgment for his complicity in horrific human rights abuses abroad, and a new memo has emerged that provides clear evidence that in 1976 Kissinger gave Argentina's neo-fascist military junta the "green light" for the dirty war it was conducting against civilian and militant leftists that resulted in the disappearance—that is, deaths—of an estimated 30,000 people.

In April 1977, Patt Derian, a onetime civil rights activist whom President Jimmy Carter had recently appointed assistant secretary of state for human rights, met with the US ambassador in Buenos Aires, Robert Hill. A memo recording that conversation has been unearthed by Martin Edwin Andersen, who in 1987 first reported that Kissinger had told the Argentine generals to proceed with their terror campaign against leftists (whom the junta routinely referred to as "terrorists"). The memo notes that Hill told Derian about a meeting Kissinger held with Argentine Foreign Minister Cesar Augusto Guzzetti the previous June. What the two men discussed was revealed in 2004 when the National Security Archive obtained and released the secret memorandum of conversation for that get-together. Guzzetti, according to that document, told Kissinger, "our main problem in Argentina is terrorism." Kissinger replied, "If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you must get back quickly to normal procedures." In other words, go ahead with your killing crusade against the leftists.

The new document shows that Kissinger was even more explicit in encouraging the Argentine junta. The memo recounts Hill describing the Kissinger-Guzzetti discussion this way:

The Argentines were very worried that Kissinger would lecture to them on human rights. Guzzetti and Kissinger had a very long breakfast but the Secretary did not raise the subject. Finally Guzzetti did. Kissinger asked how long will it take you (the Argentines) to clean up the problem. Guzzetti replied that it would be done by the end of the year. Kissinger approved.

In other words, Ambassador Hill explained, Kissinger gave the Argentines the green light.

That's a damning statement: a US ambassador saying a secretary of state had egged on a repressive regime that was engaged in a killing spree.

In August 1976, according to the new memo, Hill discussed "the matter personally with Kissinger, on the way back to Washington from a Bohemian Grove meeting in San Francisco." Kissinger, Hill told Derian, confirmed the Guzzetti conversation and informed Hill that he wanted Argentina "to finish its terrorist problem before year end." Kissinger was concerned about new human rights laws passed by the Congress requiring the White House to certify a government was not violating human rights before providing US aid. He was hoping the Argentine generals could wrap up their murderous eradication of the left before the law took effect.

Hill indicated to Derian, according to the new memo, that he believed that Kissinger's message to Guzzetti had prompted the Argentine junta to intensify its dirty war. When he returned to Buenos Aires, the memo notes, Hill "saw that the terrorist death toll had climbed steeply." And the memo reports, "Ambassador Hill said he would tell all of this to the Congress if he were put on the stand under oath. 'I'm not going to lie,' the Ambassador declared."

Hill, who died in 1978, never did testify that Kissinger had urged on the Argentine generals, and the Carter administration reversed policy and made human rights a priority in its relations with Argentina and other nations. As for Kissinger, he skated—and he has been skating ever since, dodging responsibility for dirty deeds in Chile, Bangladesh, East Timor, Cambodia, and elsewhere. Kissinger watchers have known for years that he at least implicitly (though privately) endorsed the Argentine dirty war, but this new memo makes clear he was an enabler for an endeavor that entailed the torture, disappearance, and murder of tens of thousands of people. Next time you see him dancing on television, don't laugh.

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Florida's Unemployment Website Disaster: Worse Than Healthcare.gov?

| Tue Jan. 14, 2014 12:42 PM EST
Looking for Work

Republicans have spent the past few months reveling in the dysfunction of Healthcare.gov, the federal online health insurance exchange. And they've bashed the Obama administration for incompetence over the smallest of technological glitches that accompanied the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans aren't exactly immune from the plague of technology problems when they're in charge of things. Take the case of Florida, where Republican state legislators, with the support of a Republican governor, decided in 2011 that everyone seeking unemployment benefits would have to apply online.

The state spent $63 million trying to create a website that would allow the unemployed to access benefits, awarding a contract to Deloitte, which, like the Healthcare.gov contractor, had a better record of lobbying for contracts than actually performing them. (Massachusetts and California have both launched investigations into similar performance problems in their states.) The site's October roll-out was disastrous—in many ways, a bigger debacle  than the Obamacare rollout, because the people trying to apply for benefits were in desperate need of the $275 a week in benefits to pay the rent and keep the heat on. Unemployed people jammed state offices and have flooded Republican Gov. Rick Scott's office with thousands of angry complaints. Legal aid lawyers have seen a rash of clients facing evictions and car repossessions. Last week, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)*called for a federal investigation into the website problems, which still aren't fixed.

Florida's unemployment system was already stingy, offering fewer weeks of benefits than federal law allows. The state already had the nation's lowest percentage of unemployed workers applying for benefits, thanks in part to various obstacles to applying, like a requirement for applicants to take a math test—obstacles that the US Department of Labor found in April constituted major civil rights violations. But that dismal record got even worse in November, when the percentage of unemployed people applying for benefits dropped to 13.4 percent, from 15.5. (Nationally, that figure is 41 percent.)

Scott, formerly a tea party darling up for reelection this year and a big supporter of the restrictions on unemployment benefits, responded to the website crisis publicly this week by saying, "Oh gosh, we work on it every day. And try to improve it every day." Meanwhile, the National Employment Law Center estimates that jobless workers have been denied $20 million worth of unemployment benefits since the website rollout.

Correction: The original version of this article stated that Nelson is running for governor of Florida. He is not currently a candidate for that office.

Watch: North Carolina GOP Senate Candidate Claims Food Stamps Are "Slavery"

| Tue Jan. 14, 2014 12:39 PM EST
North Carolina Senate candidate Greg Brannon

North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Greg Brannon has an interesting argument for eliminating food stamps: "slavery." In a videotaped interview with the North Carolina Tea Party in October, Brannon, a Rand Paul-endorsed doctor who is top contender for the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, cited James Madison in making the case for abolishing the Department of Agriculture—and with it, the $76 billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Brannon has a real chance of winning: A December poll from Public Policy Polling found the GOP primary field split but showed him leading Hagan, 45-43.

"We're taking our plunder, that's taken from us as individuals, [giving] it to the government, and the government is now keeping itself in power by giving these goodies away," Brannon said in the interview. "The answer is the Department of Agriculture should go away at the federal level. And now 80 percent of the farm bill was food stamps. That enslaves people. What you want to do, it's crazy but it's true, teach people to fish instead of giving them fish. When you're at the behest of somebody else, you are actually a slavery to them [sic]. That kind of charity does not make people freer."

It's something of a mixed metaphor, because Brannon is suggesting that people on food stamps are lazy, while also conflating them with a system of labor exploitation in which people were literally worked to death. (Also: Madison liked slavery.)

Food stamps aren't the only thing Brannon believes is subjecting Americans to the cruelties of the chattel system. At the RedState Gathering in November, an annual event organized by the influential conservative website, Brannon suggested that bipartisan compromises also "enslave" Americans.

A call to Brannon's campaign was not immediately returned. We'll update this post if he responds.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 14, 2014

Tue Jan. 14, 2014 11:00 AM EST

Marines assigned to Reconnaissance Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct live fire training aboard the USS Boxer (LHD 4) at sea Jan. 8, 2014. The 13th MEU is deployed with the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. David Gonzalez/Released)

GOP Senate Candidate Complained of Lack of Muslim Movie Villains

| Tue Jan. 14, 2014 7:00 AM EST

Political correctness is keeping Hollywood from properly stigmatizing Muslims—so said Mississippi Republican Senate candidate Chris McDaniel. He issued this complaint during a 2006 episode of Right Side Radio, a syndicated show McDaniel hosted for three years before being elected to the state Senate in 2007.

"It's funny how the movies have portrayed themselves lately and how the video games have portrayed themselves lately," McDaniel said in the segment. "There's one person that cannot be a villain in Hollywood, ever. One group that cannot be villains. Who is that? [Cohost: The Muslims.] Yeah, isn't that neat? They'll go out of their way to find some Russian white guy that's just nuts, and he's the terrorist, which I've never seen that. But the Muslims, they've just disappeared from Hollywood's radar."

"I think the true enemy is Ron Howard and Andy Griffith," he joked. (The remarks were first reported by a local politics blog, Dark Horse Mississippi.)

McDaniel didn't have it quite right. Islamic extremists played the roles of terrorists in seasons two, four, and six* of the television show 24; the Showtime series Sleeper Cell; and a variety of movies, including Syriana, The Kingdom, Rules of Engagement, The Siege, True Lies, and Zero Dark Thirty. The Muslim-as-villain has been such a long-standing stereotype that a 1998 New York Times story reported on the difficulties Arab American actors faced in obtaining roles beyond that as hijackers.

Other audio clips unearthed by Dark Horse Mississippi feature McDaniel warning about the dangers of the "homosexual agenda" and describing a grand plan by Democrats to make "homosexual marriage and polygamy completely legal in all 50 states." Speaking before the 2006 election, McDaniel rattled off a "parade of horribles" that would come to pass if Democrats ("the party of sex on demand") took control of Congress; these included "new social taxes, new social programs," and "new hate crime laws for homosexuals."

In another episode of his radio show, McDaniel mocked San Francisco lawmakers who had decried an ad campaign depicting a white woman wrestling a black woman, under the slogan "White is coming."

"They're elite," he said of the city's residents, before taking a shot at the city's LGBT community. "Right next to gender misidentification is IQ, I suppose. That's gonna get me in trouble."

Last week, Mother Jones reported on a promotional clip from Right Side Radio in which McDaniel blamed rising gun violence on hip-hop. As he put it, "It's a problem of a culture that values prison more than college; a culture that values rap and destruction of community values more than it does poetry; a culture that can't stand education."

*Correction: This story originally misidentified the villains in season five of 24.

Watch the TV Ads That Triggered Chris Christie's Latest Scandal

| Mon Jan. 13, 2014 1:20 PM EST

On Monday, CNN reported that federal officials are investigating whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie misused Hurricane Sandy relief funds to produce tourism ads that functioned as campaign spots when he was running for reelection. The allegations come as Christie is already immersed in scandal after internal emails suggested that a close aide to the governor—who has now been fired—orchestrated a traffic jam near the George Washington Bridge for the sake of political revenge. With the bridge episode now being investigated by the US attorney for New Jersey, this latest news means Christie, a leading potential GOP presidential contender in 2016, is facing two federal probes.

This second investigation focuses on a $25 million radio, television, and web campaign mounted by Christie's administration to promote the Jersey Shore's recovery in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a project dubbed "Stronger Than the Storm." Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), who last summer called for the investigation, claims that Christie awarded this advertising campaign to a firm whose bid was $2.2 million higher than the next lowest bidder—and that Christie favored this company because it would feature him and his family in the ads. The Department of Housing and Urban Development's inspector general notified Pallone late last week that there were sufficient grounds to launch a full investigation.

In May, Democrats criticized Christie for the ads, accusing the governor of using the taxpayer-funded advertisements to boost his political image as he ran for reelection. (Christie was largely praised for how he handled hurricane relief.) Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also called the ads "offensive," noting that "in New Jersey, $25 million was spent on ads that included somebody running for political office. You think there might be a conflict of interest there?" A Christie spokesman told the Asbury Park Press in August that the the firm that was awarded the contract, MWW, was the best option because it had statewide connections and could get the campaign done quickly.

Word of a new investigation couldn't come at a worse time for Christie. The governor apologized for his administration's role in the Fort Lee traffic snarl last week, but plenty of questions remain, including those related to text messages that may incriminate other Christie aides.

The governor's spokesman, Colin Reed, released a statement on Monday responding to the controversy: "The Stronger Than The Storm [ad] campaign was just one part of the first action plan approved by the Obama Administration and developed with the goal of effectively communicating that the Jersey Shore was open for business during the first summer after Sandy. We're confident that any review will show that the ads were a key part in helping New Jersey get back on its feet after being struck by the worst storm in state history."

Check out two more "Stronger than the Storm" ads featuring Christie and his family:

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Fallen Foreclosure King David J. Stern Disbarred

| Mon Jan. 13, 2014 1:19 PM EST

The long, legal saga of David J. Stern, the south Florida attorney who made a fortune off the wave of home foreclosures stemming from the housing crisis, has reached its end.

After years of court battles over the practices of Stern's once-mighty, multimillion-dollar law firm, the Florida Supreme Court last week disbarred Stern. As the Palm Beach Post reports, a Palm Beach County judge who refereed Stern's case and who recommended disbarment criticized the 53-year-old lawyer for failing to take responsibility or show "any remorse" for his firm's actions. Mother Jones was one of the first news outlets to expose the shoddy and legally questionable work done by Stern's army of lawyers and paralegals as it foreclosed on hundreds of thousands of Floridians, including backdating crucial documents used to foreclose on homeowners. Nancy Perez, the Palm Beach County judge, said the blame fell on Stern for that shoddy work. "The incidents were not isolated, but rather a representation of the culture of the firm, as to the low level of competence and ethics," Perez wrote. "(Stern) is the lawyer. It was his firm. Mr. Stern is responsible."

Stern's firm, at its peak, was a juggernaut. In the mid and late 2000s, the government-owned enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as many of the nation's largest banks, retained Stern's firm to litigate an ever-growing pile of foreclosure cases in Florida, an epicenter of the housing meltdown. At one point, the Law Offices of David J. Stern handled as many as 100,000 foreclosure cases. Stern's firm and others like it were dubbed "foreclosure mills," employing hundreds and even thousands of lawyers and paralegals who pushed through foreclosure cases assembly-line-style. Incredibly, the federal government played a key role in creating foreclosure mills, as I reported:

Fannie and Freddie also reshaped the foreclosure industry. Their huge holdings meant they had to deal with thousands of foreclosures annually—even during time when relatively few loans were going bad. In the 1990s, the market expanded into subprime territory to feed the securitization beast, and borrowers began defaulting at higher rates. Hiring lawyers on a case-by-case basis was burdensome, so Fannie and Freddie put together a stable of law firms willing to litigate large bundles of foreclosures quickly and cheaply. They urged these handpicked firms to bring all foreclosure-related services—inspections, eviction notices, sales of repossessed properties, and so forth—in-house. Thus emerged the foreclosure supermarket.

...Stern's company is one of dozens of mills that now churn through more than a million cases a year for Fannie and Freddie, big banks, and private lenders. Built like industrial assembly lines, the mills employ small armies of paralegals and other low-level employees who mass-produce court filings, run title searches, and schedule scores of hearings and property auctions daily. Staff attorneys appear for dozens of court hearings in rapid succession, dashing from one courtroom to the next with rolling file cabinets. Stern and his ilk typically create in-house subsidiaries that bill the parent law firm for the various paper-pushing tasks. "All sorts of crap is loaded on," notes Irv Ackelsberg, a Philadelphia consumer-law attorney.

The business model is simple: to tear through cases as quickly as possible. (Stern's company handled 70,382 foreclosures in 2009 alone.) This breakneck pace stems from how the mills get paid. Rather than billing hourly, they receive a predetermined flat fee for the foreclosure—typically around $1,000—plus add-ons for all the side services. The more they foreclose, the more they make. As a result, say consumer attorneys and legal experts, even families who have been foreclosed upon illegally—and can afford to make good on their mortgages—end up getting steamrolled. "It's 'How fast can I turn this file?'" says Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates in Washington, DC. "For these guys, the law is irrelevant, the process is irrelevant, the substance is irrelevant."

The foreclosure mill model made Stern a very rich man. When I reported on him in August 2010, he lived in a $15 million, 16,000-square-foot mansion on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale. Docked on his property was Misunderstood, his 130-foot, jet-propelled Mangusta yacht—a $20 million-plus replacement for his previous 108-foot Mangusta. He also owned four Ferraris, four Porsches, two Mercedes-Benzes, a Cadillac, and a Bugatti.

But the cavalier, always-be-foreclosing attitude of his firm caught up with Stern. Days after I published my investigation into Stern, then-Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum opened an investigation into his firm and two other foreclosure mills for "allegedly improper actions." Since then, Stern has been in and out of court fighting off lawsuits targeting him and his firm, which has since the vast majority of its business. The news of Stern's disbarment is just the latest blow for the one-time king of the foreclosure business. The state Supreme Court ruling ordered Stern to close his firm within 30 days. 

Stern, for his part, seems to have found a new calling after his foreclosure empire crumbled. He's now an investor in Five Guys burger joint franchises.

Rich GOP Donor Gets Lawmaker to Draft a Bill to Lower His Child Support Payments

| Mon Jan. 13, 2014 12:55 PM EST

After Michael Eisenga, a wealthy GOP donor and Wisconsin business owner, failed to convince several courts to lower his child support payments, he came up with an inventive plan B—he recruited a Republican state legislator to rewrite Wisconsin law in his favor.

A set of documents unearthed Saturday by the Wisconsin State Journal shows Eisenga and his lawyer, William Smiley, supplying detailed instructions to Republican state Rep. Joel Kleefisch on how to word legislation capping child support payments from the wealthy. Kleefisch began work on the legislation last fall, weeks after an appeals court rejected Eisenga's attempts to lower his child support payments.

For example, in a September 13 letter, a drafting lawyer with Wisconsin's legislative services bureau complained to a Kleefisch aide, "It's hard to fashion a general principle that will apply to only one situation."

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Eisenga's current child support payments for the three children he has with his ex-wife are set at $216,000 a year. (Per the couple's prenuptial agreement, the divorce settlement left his $30 million in assets untouched.)

Current law instructs judges to calculate child support as a percentage of income, with no cap and the option to include assets. Under Kleefisch's bill, which making its way through the Wisconsin statehouse, payments would top out at $150,000 annually, and judges would be prohibited from taking assets into account when determining child support. The bill also includes language that would allow Eisenga to restart court proceedings over his child support payments, as it requires courts to slash such payments if they are 10 percent higher than they would be under the new cap.

In 2010, Eisenga donated $10,000 to Kleefisch and his wife, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, according to the Journal Sentinel. Eisenga also donated $15,000 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The drafting documents, available on the Wisconsin legislature's website, leave little not doubt that the bill was written to Eisenga's specifications. According to the documents, on September 5, Eisenga's lawyer briefed him on changes he was suggesting to a draft of Kleefisch's bill. "We focused only on the portion that would require the court to modify your child support order based solely on the passage of the bill," Smiley wrote. Eisenga then forwarded that letter to Kleefisch and one of his aides, saying, "Please have the drafter make these SPECIFIC changes to the bill." The next day, Kleefisch's aide forwarded the letter to the legislative lawyer drafting the bill.

A hearing for the bill is scheduled Wednesday before the Assembly Family Law Committee.

Eisenga and Smiley declined to speak to local news outlets about their emails with Kleefisch. On Saturday, Kleefisch told the Journal, "I do a gamut of legislation with the help and assistance of many, many constituents, and whether they gave a contribution or not has not made a difference."

The Supreme Court Could Halt the Recess Appointments That Got Scalia's Son His Job

| Mon Jan. 13, 2014 12:15 PM EST

The Supreme Court will hear a case on Monday that could upend longstanding precedent on presidential powers. President Barack Obama and his successors will have a tougher time staffing the White House if the court sides with a 2013 decision from the DC Circuit Court on Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board.

The case revolves around three Obama recess appointees to the labor board in January 2012. At the time, Senate Republicans were hindering Obama's nominees at every turn, not because they had any particular objection to the specific appointee, but because they wanted to block the agency in question. So, while Congress went home for its winter break, Obama used his recess appointment power to put three new members on the labor board.

The tricky question is whether the Senate was actually in recess when Obama made that announcement. For all standard purposes, Congress was on vacation. But House Republicans used an obscure constitutional clause to force the Senate to hold pro-forma sessions throughout their January recess.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 13, 2014

Mon Jan. 13, 2014 11:08 AM EST

U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan watch the Afghanistan countryside from the tail of an aircraft after delivering bundles containing care packages, Christmas stockings and mail to soldiers stationed at a remote base in eastern Afghanistan Dec. 24, 2013. (US Army photo)