2011 - %3, November

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 3, 2011

Thu Nov. 3, 2011 4:57 AM EDT

US Army Sgt. Gary Melton, Provincial Reconstruction Team Uruzgan security forces, conducts vehicle and personnel searches at a traffic control point near Kakrak, Uruzgan, Afghanistan, October 28, 2011. The TCP was set up while members of the PRT escorted a local contractor to a nearby culvert to assess damages for repair. Photo by the US Army.

 

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Peaceful Occupy Oakland March Followed by Late-Night Clashes

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 2:47 AM EDT

A massive crowd snaked through downtown Oakland yesterday afternoon, eventually shutting down operations at the Port of Oakland. There was sporadic vandalism, with windows broken at bank branches and a Whole Foods, but protesters were also seen cleaning up graffiti and holding others back from destroying property. After most protesters had left, a contingent of several hundred occupied the abandoned Traveler's Aid building and barricaded surrounding streets; when police moved in, protesters set barricades on fire, and police deployed tear gas. Several MoJo reporters have been covering the protest, and MoJo's Gavin Aronsen remains on the scene (follow him on Twitter). What follows is our live blog of the events, constantly updated using Storify.

Front page image: Adam Grossberg for Oakland North/Twitter

The Eerie Influence of Grover Norquist

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 12:30 AM EDT

The Washington Post tells us today that several dozen Republican members of Congress have decided to brave the wrath of Grover Norquist:

A group of 40 House Republicans for the first time Wednesday encouraged Congress’s deficit reduction committee to explore new revenue as part of a broad deal that would make a major dent in the nation’s debt, joining 60 Democrats in a rare bipartisan effort to urge the “supercommittee” to reach a big deal that could also include entitlement cuts.

....Among those who signed were several dozen Republicans who had previously signed a pledge promising they would not support a net tax increase....Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio) said if he had a nickel for every one of the Republicans who said they supported the letter’s goal but feared how Norquist would react, “I’d be rich and retired, and we’d have 200 signatures on the letter.”

LaTourette, a close ally of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said the new coalition was a sign that Republican leaders are now willing to unite with Democrats on a grand bargain that would address both revenue and entitlements, even if it meant leaving behind some of the GOP’s hardline voices.

Even after all these years, I continue to marvel at the bizarre stranglehold that Norquist has on the Republican Party. Sure, LaTourette is exaggerating for effect, but if there are even a hundred Republicans who are tired of Norquist's schtick, why don't they band together to tell him to go to hell? His power depends on being able to pick off individual congressmen who stray from the oath, but he can't pick off a hundred at a time. One small show of collective action and they'd be free of him.

I conclude from this that LaTourette is being duped. Lots of Republicans tell him privately that they'd support him if it weren't for Norquist's baneful influence, but it's just a snow job. They really don't support him at all, and Norquist is just a convenient foil to hide behind. That may not be true for all of them, but I'll bet it's true for most. After all, collective action is what national political parties are all about. It isn't really all that hard to come up with if its members are truly serious about something.

The Very Lucrative Pro Sports Business

| Wed Nov. 2, 2011 11:20 PM EDT

The LA Times reports on the upcoming sale of the Dodgers:

The winning bidder is expected to pay owner Frank McCourt in excess of $1 billion for the team, its stadium and the surrounding parking lots....All summer and into the fall, McCourt — who purchased the Dodgers for $421 million in 2004 — sought to maintain control of his team by taking it into bankruptcy.

Amazing. That's an appreciation of about 12% per year for a team that McCourt has all but ruined and a business that he and his wife have looted of hundreds of millions of dollars. It's something to keep in mind when owners of sports teams weep about how much money they're losing — usually when they're begging for government subsidies or badmouthing greedy players. But businesses that are truly losing money don't usually see their market caps increase by 12% a year, do they?

Radioactive Gas Detected at Fukushima Power Plant

| Wed Nov. 2, 2011 5:29 PM EDT

Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant burning on 12 March 2011.: Credit: US Department of Energy.Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant burning on 12 March 2011. Credit: US Department of Energy.Radioactive xenon 135 gas has been detected at reactor two at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, reports the BBC. This reactor was thought to be close to a stable shutdown.

The good news is there hasn't been any accompanying rise in pressure or temperature, at least as so far reported. The bad news is the xenon gas indicates that nuclear fission has resumed in the reactor. Engineers have applied boric acid, which helps suppress a nuclear reaction.

The New York Times reports the plant's owner, Tokyo Power and Electric (TEPCO), admitted for the first time Wednesday that fuel inside three stricken reactors is likely still experiencing bursts of fission.

This comes just hours after Japanese MP Yasuhiro Sonoda drank water collected and purified from two Fukushima reactors, after reporters challenged him to prove its safety. The Sydney Morning Herald reports he appeared nervous and his hands shook as he drank the water during a televised news conference.

Quote of the Day: Time for Congress to Start Spending

| Wed Nov. 2, 2011 5:12 PM EDT

From Ben Bernanke, at a press conference today:

We are trying to do our best to support economic growth and job creation. It would be helpful if we could get assistance from some other parts of the government to work with us to help create more jobs.

Bernanke's comments about Congress and its budget-cutting mania keep getting more pointed every time he speaks. It's not likely to do him any good, of course, but at the rate he's going I predict that sometime around April of next year he's just going to give up and say something like, "Will you guys stop griping about the damn budget, get off your butts, and build a few effin bridges instead? Jesus." I have helpfully illustrated this progression below with quotes helpfully compiled by Steve Benen.

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Anthony Weiner's Revenge

| Wed Nov. 2, 2011 4:54 PM EDT
Former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.)

When prosecutors charged executives from the precious metals company Goldline with fraud on Tuesday, it marked an unusual victory for someone who hasn't had many wins lately: former New York congressman Anthony Weiner.

Before he became infamous and ultimately resigned for tweeting photos of his private parts to women he met on the internet, Weiner had earned a reputation as a defender of consumer rights. Among his biggest campaigns was an effort to rein in sleazy gold dealers, from those who were taking advantage of the recession with dubious "cash for gold" deals to shady coin operations like Goldline, who, as Mother Jones reported last year, made millions by peddling their wares on the talk shows of right-wing hosts like Glenn Beck.

Al Qaeda Planting Its Flag In Libya?

| Wed Nov. 2, 2011 3:50 PM EDT
The Al Qaeda flag atop a Benghazi courthouse.

Last week photographs of an Al Qaeda flag flying on top of a Benghazi courthouse posted by Vice magazine's Sherif Elhelwa provoked fresh concerns, particularly on the right, that post-Qaddafi Libya was on the verge of falling to Islamic extremists. That concern seems a bit premature.

First, a little background on the flag itself. According to Christopher Anzalone of the McGill University Institute of Islamic Studies, the flag is one that has previously been used by Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Arabic writing on the flag is the Shahada, the Muslim creed that "There is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger." Because the Shahada is a basic tenet of the Islamic faith, the design isn't "inherently militant or Salafi," Anzalone says, but this particular design is "often done as a statement, from what I can tell, by those sympathetic to AQ or some of its ideology." A large number of the foreign fighters who went to Iraq to fight the US were from Libya. "My guess is that some of the Libyan rebels who fought in Iraq brought the flag, or the idea for it, from there," Anzalone says.

Although it's clear that there were a number of Islamist militants among Libya's rebel fighters—Abdel Hakim Belhadj, formerly of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was one of the main military leaders of the rebellion—the kind of militant Islamic extremist ideology espoused by Al Qaeda doesn't have much of a support base in Libya, according to Libya expert Ronald Bruce St John

"The concerns at this point about an Islamist government as we have understood it, that is an Islamist government defined as radical fundamentalists along the lines of Iran or the Taliban in Afghanistan, I don't see an immediate threat for that in Libya," St John says. "There were, particularly in the 1990s, attempts by Islamist movements to overthrow the Qaddafi regime...What was significant then in terms of today, there was never a sign of widespread interest in the kind of radical Islam the LIFG was promoting." Even former LIFG member Belhadj has promised that "we are not here to establish a Taliban-like regime through a coup d'état." (Although I suppose that leaves a popular mandate as an option.)

There are still major divisions in Libya, St John says, particularly regional conflicts, disagreements over the nature of the new government, and disputes between towns and cities who suffered during the revolution and feel they're entitled to more of a say in the new order. There's also the issue of bringing all those armed rebels under the authority of the Transitional National Council. And although St John says he sees little risk of a fundamentalist state emerging, any future Libyan government is likely be heavily influenced by Islam.

"The Libyan people are very traditional, conservative and religious," St. John says. "We'll see a government centered around Islam to some degree, and that is nothing different from what we've seen since Libya's independence in 1951." 

What about that Al Qaeda in Iraq flag though?

"I think it's a one-off kind of thing, I don't think there's any organized group promoting anything like that in Libya," St John says. "If they started popping up everywhere it might be a different story."

Tah-dah! Rep. Moran Unveils a Circus Animal Protection Act

| Wed Nov. 2, 2011 3:44 PM EDT

Following a yearlong Mother Jones investigation of Ringling Bros. elephant abuse, a bill to protect exotic animals has finally appeared in the three-ring circus that is Congress. The Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act was presented Wednesday with the support of Northern Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, former The Price Is Right host Bob Barker and CSI actress Jorja Fox.

In his decision to support the bill Wednesday, Rep. Moran cited recent reports of elephant abuse. "Based upon publically available research, including video and photographic evidence, it is clear that traveling circuses cannot provide the proper living conditions for exotic animals," he said. "This legislation is intended to target the most egregious situations involving exotic and wild animals in traveling circuses." According to Morgan's spokeswoman Anne Hughes, Moran read Mother Jones' story "The Cruelest Show on Earth."

The five-page bill calls for the restriction of exotic and domesticated animals in traveling circuses and exhibitions. Specifically, it would forbid all exotic and wild animals from performing if they had been traveling in mobile shelters at any time in the 15 days before. So much for the traveling circus. To make his case, Rep. Moran cites the health costs of traveling and capitivity on exotic animals, psychological and behavioral problems, elephant hooks, electric shocks, and other forms of abuse. He also mentions how an angry, cooped-up elephant might pose a danger to the public.

Here, in its entirety, is the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act:

 

Michele Bachmann's Ponzi-Scheming Donor

| Wed Nov. 2, 2011 3:40 PM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is still running for president.

Michele Bachmann (remember her?) is flailing desperately in her bid to become the first sitting member of the House to win a presidential election since James A. Garfield. There's a pretty big incentive for her to stay in the race at least through the holidays: She has a book coming out in November. But there's also a pretty strong disincentive for her to stay in the race much longer than that—in February May her biggest career donor goes on trial in federal court for fraud, and there's the potential for some pretty incriminating details to trickle out.

Over at The New Republic, Mariah Blake has an excellent piece on a Bachmann story that hasn't gotten quite the attention it deserves. Partly that's because it's tougher to explain in one snappy phrase (i.e. "pray away the gay!"), and partly because it speaks to systematic problems that aren't unique to the congresswoman. Following up on reporting by Karl Bremer at Ripple in Stillwater, Blake explains how Frank Vennes and his partner, convicted Ponzi schemer Tom Petters, made millions on phony investments and then poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into political campaigns in the 2000s. Vennes' donations seemed to have a clear motive: receiving a presidential pardon for a prior felony conviction.

Many Minnesota politicians, Democrats and Republicans, received a lot of money from Ponzi schemers Tom Petters and Frank Vennes. But Bachmann was one of the few to take tangible actions in response. During her first Congressional campaign in 2006, Vennes and his associates donated $50,000 to Bachmann's campaign and PAC. Bachmann, in turn, lobbied the White House to reconsider Vennes' pardon application. Vennes and his wife then donated another $11,200. Blake writes: