Mojo - April 2009

MN Senate Race Goes to MN Supreme Court

| Tue Apr. 21, 2009 7:26 AM PDT

Norm Coleman will rage, rage against the dying of the light. CQ Politics:

Republican Norm Coleman filed the promised notice of appeal Monday challenging a trial court’s ruling that Democrat Al Franken is the winner of Minnesota’s 2008 Senate race.

The appeal to the state Supreme Court will be based on the same arguments Coleman's legal team made unsuccessfully during the seven-week election trial, though with a focus on what his attorneys say are constitutional violations made during the initial count and six-week recount.

Huh. That doesn't sound like it will be very successful.

The Coleman campaign said it expected the state Supreme Court to take the case on an expedited basis, with attorney Jim Langdon estimating oral arguments could take place "anywhere from two weeks to two months from now."

Ahhh.

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Crazy GOP Fundraiser Watch

| Mon Apr. 20, 2009 1:48 PM PDT

A few weeks ago I reported two senators, John Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe, had introduced the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, a bill that would give the president and commerce secretary power to halt internet traffic on "critical" networks in the name of "national security."

And today, David Corn sent me a hysterical email he received from a conservative PAC, the Republican Majority Campaign, urging the reader to contact his representative in order to stop "Barack Hussein Obama and his cronies" from their "power grab"—Rockefeller and Snowe's bill.

Politicians and lobbyists want to take away our Constitutional rights -- we need to make sure they FAIL. And we've got a GREAT way to do that!

We've set up a website where you can send "blast faxes"to EVERY SINGLE MEMBER OF CONGRESS, telling them to say NO to this attempt to take over the entire internet! For less that what it would cost you to gather every fax number and send all those faxes yourself, you can send HUNDREDS of faxes, ALL AT ONCE to Capitol Hill -- to make SURE they hear your voice!

Of course, I clicked the link to the "blast fax" page. And of course, it wants me to pay them: Just $119 to fax all 535 members of Congress!—"about what it would cost you in time and telephone charges."

If this seems shady, it should. In what world does it cost $119 to send 535 pages via fax? Secondly, as they've obviously discovered email, why aren't they using an email blast? Third, why don't they just list the names of the members of the Senate Commerce Committee so I can call them myself?

In March of last year, TPM Muckraker linked the Republican Majority Campaign to Republican PACs that shut down after the Washington Post reported its founders were running them like their own piggy banks, taking in loads of money but only spending a tiny fraction of it on political action. At the time, TPM called the Republican Majority Campaign a "murky group," but this fundraising scheme parading as an action letter just seems brazen to me.

UPDATE: Joe the Plumber is also getting in on the shady GOP fundraising party.

Video: Dissecting Portugal's Approach to Drugs

| Mon Apr. 20, 2009 1:13 PM PDT

Reason sits down with Glenn Greenwald, who just completed a study on Portugal's drug decriminalization program. Interesting stuff.

Via Andrew.

This Should Be Interesting

| Mon Apr. 20, 2009 12:23 PM PDT

The 2009 Pulitzer prizes were announced on Monday, and the New York Times' David Barstow won the investigative reporting prize for his story on former military officials who were organized by the Pentagon to cheerlead for Bush administration war policies as "analysts" on cable television. Most of the "analysts"—called "message force multipliers" by the Pentagon—had ties to major defense contractors and had significant financial interests in the continuation of Bush war policies. And as Barstow reported, those relationships were rarely disclosed by the cable news networks that had the former officials on as purportedly unbiased analysts. The "message force multipliers" named in Barstow's article appeared or were quoted some 4,500 times on ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR between January 1, 2002 and May 13, 2008, according to a report by Media Matters for America.

The response to Barstow's story from the cable networks that hosted the officials from the military's propoganda team was, and continues to be, "deafening silence." Officials from the networks even refused to appear on PBS' award-winning News Hour with Jim Lehrer to respond to Barstow's charges. It should be interesting to see whether the media can keep up that silence now that Barstow's reporting has been recognized with a Pulitzer.

GOP Pundit Invents 1000s of Political Prisoners for Chavez

| Mon Apr. 20, 2009 12:16 PM PDT

On MSNBC on Monday morning, GOP pundit Ron Christie, while commenting about Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez's self-professed desire for better relations with the United States, huffed that "actions speak louder than words...I'd like to see him release thousands of political prisoners who are currently in prison for their political views."

The problem with that statement? Chavez, for all his anti-democratic ways, has not imprisoned thousands of political prisoners. Human rights groups that roundly criticize Chavez don't even cite a single political prisoner in Venezuela. Nobody on air corrected Christie.

Who's Christie? He was an aide to both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He wrote a book called, Black in the White House: Life Inside George W. Bush's Wet Wing. He appears regularly on cable television. He's a lobbyist (and used to lobby for AIG). And his bio makes him sound super-smart:

As a veteran senior advisor to the White House and Congress, he brings his keen insights and political savvy to issues including health care, the national budget, taxes, and innumerable others. He is also active on the international scene as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, lending his breadth of knowledge and intelligence to world affairs.

But Christie's breadth of knowledge about Venezuela ain't so hot. As Human Rights Watch reports, Chavez "has weakened democratic institutions and human rights guarantees in Venezuela." It notes:

Discrimination on political grounds has been a defining feature of the Chávez presidency.
The Chávez government has engaged in wide-ranging acts of discrimination against political opponents and critics. At times, the president himself has openly endorsed acts of discrimination. More generally, he has encouraged the discriminatory actions of subordinates by routinely denouncing his critics as anti-democratic conspirators – regardless of whether they had any connection to the 2002 coup.

The group also points out that the Chavez government has undermined freedom of expression with crackdowns aimed at the media, has violated workers' rights, and has "pursued an aggressively adversarial approach to local rights advocates and civil society organziations." But it says nothing about political prisoners--let alone thousands. Amnesty International, too, notes that in Venezuela "human rights defenders continued to face intimidation and attack." Again, no mention of political prisoners. (By the way, the repressive Castro regime in Cuba has imprisoned several dozen dissidents, not thousands.)

I sent Christie an email asking about his claim that Chavez has jailed thousands of political prisoners. So far, he has not responded. Maybe he's too busy lending his breadth of knowledge to world affairs.

Watchdog Demands Harman Ethics Probe

| Mon Apr. 20, 2009 11:28 AM PDT

Is an ethics committee investigation in Rep. Jane Harman's future? DC-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics In Washington certainly thinks one is warranted, and just faxed faxed a letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) requesting an investigation into Harman's role in alleged quid-pro-quo scheme. CQ reported late Sunday that the California Democrat was caught on an National Security Agency wiretap agreeing to lobby for the reduction of charges against two alleged Israeli spies in exchange for another suspected Israeli agent's help in convincing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) to name Harman to chairmanship of the House intelligence committee. Harman denies the allegations. "Harman deserves to be sanctioned...,' Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, told Mother Jones. "She was willing to use a criminal investigation as a tool just to get a chairmanship. Obviously there's political gamesmanship on Capitol Hill, but it has to end before you get to the Grand Jury's door. That's really beyond the pale."

CREW also faxed a letter to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) Monday afternoon, requesting an investigation into why no charges were pursued against Harman. CQ alleged in its story that an investigation of Harman was quashed because then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wanted the powerful Democrat's continued help defending the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. "It looks like the Justice Department dropped the case not because they didn't have the evidence but for political reasons," Sloan says. "It's yet another example that [the Bush administration] would do anything to advance their agenda, that they treated the Justice system as a political tool."

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Reviews Are Stellar for America's New CTO

| Mon Apr. 20, 2009 10:07 AM PDT

Over the weekend, President Obama announced that Aneesh Chopra, Virginia's Secretary of Technology, will move to the White House to become America's Chief Technology Officer. With federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, Chopra will form Obama's all-Indian transparency team -- among other assignments (like fixing our broadband problem), the two are tasked with using technology to boost citizen oversight of and engagement with their government. (Their parents are probably so proud of their new jobs, but less proud than if they had been doctors.) Here's Obama on Chopra's new gig:

In this role, Aneesh will promote technological innovation to help achieve our most urgent priorities – from creating jobs and reducing health care costs to keeping our nation secure.

Aneesh... will work closely with our Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, who is responsible for setting technology policy across the government, and using technology to improve security, ensure transparency, and lower costs. The goal is to give all Americans a voice in their government and ensure that they know exactly how we’re spending their money – and can hold us accountable for the results.

There is a whole community of people who work in the tech/transparency space, and most of them seem to really like Chopra. Here's Micah Sifry at techPresident:

First, it looks like very good news for the transparency movement, as well as those of us looking for an open-minded leader willing to experiment with new forms of collaborative governance. For example, back in early 2007, under Chopra's leadership, Virginia was one of the first states to move, with Google's help, to make its state websites more searchable and thus more accessible to ordinary citizens. The state has also been in the forefront of efforts to create robust web services tracking the giant government stimulus spending package enacted by Obama, and as fed-watcher Christopher Dorobek points out, Chopra is well aware of and supportive of citizen-led watchdog efforts like Jerry Brito's StimulusWatch.org.

Here's Nancy Scola, rounding up comment from the big shots:

Watch David Corn Talk Torture on Hardball

| Fri Apr. 17, 2009 10:57 PM PDT

How did the previous White House occupants justify torture? Watch David Corn discuss the latest buggy findings below on Hardball Friday night.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Plus: Think you know the basics of the all-American torture plan? Read these 5 MoJo exclusives to be sure.

Conservatives Branding Themselves "Right-Wing Extremists"

| Fri Apr. 17, 2009 2:35 PM PDT

Conservatives have gone ballistic over the April 7 report from the Department of Homeland Security, which purports to document the recent growth of the radical far-right. As summarized by Reuters:

Right-wing extremists in the United States are gaining new recruits by exploiting fears about the economy and the election of the first black U.S. president, the Department of Homeland Security warned in a report to law enforcement officials. The April 7 report…said such fears were driving a resurgence in “recruitment and radicalization activity” by white supremacist groups, antigovernment extremists and militia movements. It did not identify any by name.

DHS had no specific information about pending violence and said threats had so far been “largely rhetorical.” But it warned that home foreclosures, unemployment and other consequences of the economic recession “could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists.” “To the extent that these factors persist, right-wing extremism is likely to grow in strength,” DHS said.

After the story of the report broke earler this week, it dominated the Drudge Report Feed, which featured a picture of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano above the line, “SHE IS WATCHING YOU.” The Liberty Papers offered a  blog post headed, “If you are reading this, you may well be a terrorist.” Michelle Malkin quickly entered the fray, declaring what she called “the piece of crap report” to be “a sweeping indictment of conservatives.” And since she believes that “in Obama land there are no coincidences,” Malkin concluded that the report’s release was timed to coincide with Wednesday’s “Tax Day Tea Party” protests. Even though the report was apparently conceived under the Bush Administration, Malkin’s interpretation was repeated by Rush Limbaugh and others, and the fix was in.

So do conservatives really want to put themselves in the same boat with the racist, militant, often violent groups the report actually has in mind when it talks about “right-wing extremists?” Because that’s exactly what’s happened: Conservatives haven’t been branded dangerous extremist by DHS or the Obama administration; they’ve branded themselves.

Recession Hits Home for Tom Friedman

| Fri Apr. 17, 2009 2:03 PM PDT

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is one of free market capitalism's loudest cheerleaders. The premise goes like this: Developing countries make consumer goods so inexpensively that people in rich countries can afford to buy them and have money left over. Because of all the extra dough, demand for consumer products shoots up and makes third world countries rich. What's good for China is good for America and everyone wins, right? Not quite.

Yesterday morning, another crack appeared in Friedman's the-consumer-always-wins model when one of America's largest shopping mall companies, Chicago-based General Growth Properties, filed for bankruptcy.  Friedman's pretty close to GGP's malls; the Bucksbaum family owns them, and Ann Bucksbaum is Tom Friedman's wife.