2012 - %3, May

Our Awesome, Totally Effective, Non-Good Guy Killing Drones Are a Secret

| Tue May 22, 2012 8:09 AM EDT
CIA Director David Petraeus shakes hands with Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in February seeking records pertaining to the legal basis for the Central Intelligence Agency use of its deadly flying robots. On Monday, government lawyers filed a response brief, which says the agency won't acknowledge whether the drone records exist because they're secret:

Regardless of whether plaintiffs seek records of any CIA involvement or intelligence interest in U.S. drone strikes generally, or the alleged use of drones by the CIA specifically, or both, the district court properly held that plaintiffs failed to establish official disclosure by the CIA of the existence of any records that would be responsive to such request and that the CIA therefore is not prevented from providing a Glomar response. Instead of citing any direct statements to that effect by an authorized official, plaintiffs rely on vague and ambiguous statements by former CIA Director Leon Panetta and President Obama, none of which expressly acknowledges the information that plaintiffs seek here: that the CIA possesses responsive records relating to drone strikes.

Plaintiffs alternatively suggest that such an official disclosure may be inferred from those statements, particularly if those statements are considered in the context of media reports and statements by other government officials, which purportedly acknowledge the CIA’s involvement in drone strikes. But an official disclosure cannot be premised on speculation or inference by the public or media, or on statements made by unauthorized or unofficial government sources.

In early May, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan gave a speech in which he acknowledged the existence of the targeted killing program, defended it as legal, and argued that it almost always only kills bad guys. So the CIA's argument here is: Just because a high-ranking public official gives a speech explaining how awesome and effective the targeted killing program is doesn't mean the program's existence isn't a secret. It's a state secret despite the fact the White House likes bragging about it.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

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Apple Dumps Coal—Sort Of

| Tue May 22, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Last Thursday, Apple announced that it would meet the energy demands of its massive Maiden, North Carolina, data center—one of the sites providing virtual space for our ever-increasing piles of digital detritus—using entirely renewable sources by the end of 2012. The announcement came one month after Greenpeace released a damning report titled "How Clean Is Your Cloud?" targeting Apple's Maiden facility in particular for its less-than-clean sourcing from utility giant Duke Energy, which produces 60 percent of its electricity in North Carolina from coal. (Watch the Climate Desk's video about the new data center here.)

The "cloud" is slated to increase in size roughly 50-fold by 2020, a fact that Greenpeace argues makes it imperative that IT giants like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple start greening their energy, and soon. Each of these companies has numerous data centers busily converting tons of energy for our data needs, and many are located in regions where they can buy their energy on the cheap. (Check out the map after the jump to see if there's one near you). With Thursday's announcement, Apple joins the two other companies in what Greenpeace has called Duke's "dirty data triangle"—Google and Facebook—in attempting to clean up its image.

Corn on Hardball: What Was Cory Booker Thinking?

Tue May 22, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

David Corn joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Cory Booker's recent comments criticizing the Obama campaign's attacks on Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital.

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

Nuclear Regulator Resigns Under Industry Pressure

| Mon May 21, 2012 2:33 PM EDT

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko resigned on Monday, ending what had been months of fighting both over and within the panel charged with regulating the US nuclear industry.

"After an incredibly productive three years as Chairman, I have decided this is the appropriate time to continue my efforts to ensure public safety in a different forum," he said in a statement. "This is the right time to pass along the public safety torch to a new chairman who will keep a strong focus on carrying out the vital mission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."

Jaczko had served on the commission for nearly 8 years, and Obama tapped him to serve as its chairman in May 2009. He'd been under fire from the nuclear industry, as well as its allies in Congress and on commission. In the past years, battles over building a waste repository at Yucca Mountain and safety changes in response to the Fukushima disaster in Japan had put pressure on Jaczko, a reform-minded regulator who had worked for Rep. Ed Markey and Sen. Harry Reid before joining the NRC, to resign.

Jaczko's main opponent on the panel was William Magwood, an Obama appointee and nuclear industry insider who had waged a campaign to push the chairman out. Magwood had previously worked for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, a major provider of nuclear fuel, technology, plant design, and equipment, and had a record of championing expansion of the industry. He and the three other more industry-sympathetic commissioners accused Jaczko of mismanaging the commission. They expressed "grave concerns" about his leadership in a letter to the White House, and said he "intimidated and bullied" NRC staff.

But critics of the nuclear industry were fans of the chairman. "Jaczko did all he could to stand up to the political and economic influence of the nuclear industry and set commonsense reforms to make the industry safer post-Fukushima," said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program in a statement. "But it wasn't enough. The other commissioners didn't want to be so tough on industry."

The White House will need to appoint a new chairman to replace Jaczko.

The NAACP's Evolution on Same-Sex Marriage

| Mon May 21, 2012 10:12 AM EDT
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous

The national board of the NAACP, America's oldest civil rights organization, officially endorsed same-sex marriage rights Saturday after a vote in which only two members dissented. Although it may seem like the NAACP was conveniently following President Barack Obama's lead, the group's decision was a long time coming, and reflects an internal evolution that began years ago.

During the fight over Proposition 8 in California, the state chapter of the NAACP actively fought on the side of gay-rights organizations, seeking to increase opposition to the anti-marriage equality measure in the black community. That move wasn't without controversy. NAACP President Ben Jealous, whose brother is gay, traveled to California to help fill a fundraising gap after several donors protested the San Francisco chapter's support of LGBT rights, and shortly afterwards Jealous was among those who pushed the national office to oppose California's ban on same-sex marriage. Local NAACP chapters fought against the recently passed same-sex marriage and civil union ban in North Carolina, and supported legalizing same-sex marriage in Maryland. The head of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, Rev. Keith Ratliff Sr., has probably been the most vocal opponent of the NAACP's evolution on gay rights, but he seems to be in the minority—there were just two no-votes out of 64 board members. Former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond has been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage rights for years, even before stepping down in 2010.

The NAACP isn't as influential as it once was, but part of its lingering power comes from the fact that religious leaders comprise a non-trivial percentage of its national and local leadership. Some of those leaders may continue to speak out against the organization's decision on marriage equality. But the NAACP's endorsement could also help smooth over confusion or frustration among black voters over Obama's decision to support the idea of same-sex couples getting married. As the Washington Post's Jonathan Capeheart suggests, because Obama is the most admired black political leader in the country, his endorsement of same-sex marriage is already paying dividends by providing other black leaders and institutions cover to do so as well.

Media coverage of the black community and LGBT rights issues has also frequently put black folks on one side of the equation and LGBT rights activists on the other. Support for LGBT rights from established black institutions like the NAACP should help break down that false binary, and help reduce the invisibility of black LGBT rights activists who have often been frustrated by a frame that implicitly cuts black gays and lesbians out of the story.

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 21, 2012

Mon May 21, 2012 9:30 AM EDT

Children gather around as members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah pull security during a mission in Farah City, Farah province, Afghanistan, on May 12, 2012. PRT members met with locals to gather information and opinions about the living conditions in Farah City. Photo by the US Army.

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Unmasking the Bundlers

| Mon May 21, 2012 9:11 AM EDT

The Obama campaign discloses its "bundlers," that is, fundraisers who help the campaign collect large amounts of money from many different donors. The Romney campaign doesn't. As my colleague Andrew Kroll reports, that work is left outside watchdog groups like the Public Campaign Action Fund that try to figure out who is raising money for Romney:

A new analysis by the Public Campaign Action Fund finds that at least 25 lobbyists have bundled $3,065,126 for Romney's campaign. Those lobbyists including Patrick Durkin of Barclay's Financial who's bundled $927,160, Ignacio Sanchez of the powerful law firm DLA Piper who's bundled $84,200, and Bruce Gates of tobacco company Altria Client Services who's bundled $27,500.

As Public Campaign's Adam Smith notes, two of Romney's bundlers have reached the campaign's "Stars" level and one has reached the "Stripes" level. That's Romney campaign lingo (PDF) for the two most elite levels for fundraisers, each of which give the fundraiser inside access to the campaign, an invitation to a June Romney finance committee retreat in Park City, Utah, and VIP access at the GOP convention this summer.

This seems a gaping hole in campaign finance law that ought to be fixed and made compulsory. The Obama campaign has already returned more than $200,000 in donations from two brothers of a fugitive who was convicted on fraud and drug charges, and as Kroll points out, several Obama bundlers have been identified as unofficial lobbyists. It's possible that none of that would have been disclosed without the Obama campaign willingly releasing the names of its bundlers. Yet Romney still refuses to release the names of his most important fundraisers. It seems rather strange that this isn't a bigger deal. 

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.

Michele Bachmann Finally Picks Up a Delegate

| Mon May 21, 2012 9:03 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is no longer spending money on states that haven't yet held their nominating contests. He doesn't have the money, and he doesn't much see the point. But in places like Minnesota, where the state Republican convention is just now finishing up the delegate-selection process it started in March, Paul and his team have been hard at work. And their efforts are paying off. After his supporters effectively took control of the Nevada GOP earlier this month, he cleaned up again last weekend in the Land of Milk and Pawlenty:

"This is one of the greatest states that I have witnessed, where I have seen the transition, where the enthusiasm's there," the grinning Texas congressman told hundreds of exuberant activists Saturday at the state party's convention in St. Cloud, where he won 12 of 13 open delegate spots to the GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla., in August...

Unlike four years ago, when Paul was forced to speak from the party's convention lawn because he would not pledge allegiance to the eventual presidential nominee, he got an open-armed embrace from the party this year. He was welcomed to the delegates' stage, held a fundraiser for the party and got a hero's welcome.

How successful was the Paul takeover? Out of courtesy, his supporters even managed to secure a delegate for Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who dropped out of the race after the first nominating contest in Iowa.

Paul still isn't going to win the nomination, and he's indicated that he doesn't intend to raise hell at the GOP convention in Tampa. But the Minnesota victory reflects to some extent the political maturation of his followers. The knock on Paul disciples in 2008, as outlined in Brian Doherty's new Paul bio, was that they lacked discipline, preferring to make signs and fan videos rather than do the hard work of targeted voter outreach; this time around they've taken a more conventional approach, and they have real gains to show for it—in the form of viable congressional candidates like Thomas Massie in Kentucky and state and county party committees that are now controlled by Paul loyalists.

Million-Dollar Donor to Romney Super-PAC Once Drove a Car Into a Pond

| Mon May 21, 2012 8:44 AM EDT

John Kleinheinz, who runs the hedge fund Kleinheinz Capital Partners, claimed the top spot among April donors to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future, giving $1 million to the group. In a bizarre and colorful twist, Kleinheinz, as Politico reports, was once charged with "criminal mischief" for...driving another man's car into a pond.

One day in 2006, a photographer named David Irvin was snapping pictures of Kleinheinz and his family at their home. An unhappy Kleinheinz believed Irvin was trespassing on his property while taking the photos—Irvin said he was actually on a nearby country club's property. After vowing to the call the cops on Irvin, Kleinheinz got into the photographer's rented Kia SUV, put it in gear, and then ducked out before the car plunged into a nearby pond. The stunt earned Kleinheinz a third-degree felony charge.

Here's more from Politico:

At the time, Kleinheinz told the [Fort Worth] Star-Telegram that he regretted the incident. "This was not an isolated incident, but it was regrettable," Kleinheinz said.

Kleinheinz's $1 million check made him the largest contributor to the super-PAC in April. He was a supporter of both Romney and John McCain's presidential bids in the 2008 election and has been a long-time supporter of Republican politicians.

Kleinheinz did not respond to a request for comment. And Brittany Gross, a spokesman for Restore our Future also declined to comment. "We don't comment on specific donors," Gross said.

Other big donors to Restore Our Future in April included oil production executive and Romney energy adviser Harold Hamm, who gave $985,000, and Bain Capital managing director Stephen Zide, who gave $250,000. In all, Restore Our Future raised nearly $4 million last month.

Cory Booker Thinks Obama's Attacks on Bain Are "Nauseating."

| Mon May 21, 2012 8:34 AM EDT

In case you're wondering whether it's a slow news Monday, the big news to come out of the Sunday shows last weekend was Newark Mayor Cory Booker saying on Meet The Press that he found the Obama campaign's focus on Mitt Romney's record at the private equity firm Bain Capital particularly "nauseating." That's sort of awkward, because at least theoretically Booker is supposed to be supporting Obama:

But the last point I'll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity, stop attacking Jeremiah Wright. This stuff has got to stop because what it does is it undermines, to me, what this country should be focused on. It's a distraction from the real issues. It's either going to be a small campaign about this crap or it's going to be a big campaign, in my opinion, about the issues that the American public cares about.

Booker later released a YouTube video trying to walk the statement back.

"Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign," Booker said in the video. "He's talked about himself as a job creator. And therefore, it is reasonable, and in fact I encourage it, for the Obama campaign to examine that record and to discuss it."

Booker's reasoning is odd since the Obama campaign is directly attacking Romney's record at Bain while the proposed Wright ad was associated with a pro-Romney Super-PAC. The premise behind the ad was that Obama's presidency has been an act of revenge against white people stemming from the hatred Obama absorbed at Wright's church. It's hard to see the two as comparable, because Obama is directly responsible for the Bain attacks and Romney is not directly responsible for the Wright proposal. On the other hand, criticizing Romney's business record is far more justifiable than the deranged premise of the Wright ad.

This isn't the worst example of disloyalty or veering off message, but if you're a Democrat who finds it "nauseating" to even discuss how some people end up needing the social safety net, you may be in the wrong party. 

Adam Serwer is filling in while Kevin is on vacation.