Mojo - May 2010

DADT is Done...Almost

| Mon May 24, 2010 9:16 PM EDT

All it took was 17 years—six and a half of them under Democratic control—but Congress now appears poised to end "Don't Ask Don't Tell," a Clinton-era political compromise that mostly succeeded in forcing gay service members to compromise themselves. The New York Times reports the House and Senate have agreed on language for legislation that would abolish the ban on gays in the service; the Senate language will likely be advanced on the floor by Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a guy who hasn't always been popular with liberals and Democrats. But this will certainly help his reputation in those circles. Lieberman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.), sent the White House a letter today (PDF) notifying them that legislation was imminent. Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, promptly replied (PDF) with an "OK."

Advocates for gay and lesbian service members expressed excitement—but not too much. "The White House announcement is a dramatic breakthrough in dismantling 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said in a statement. "The path forward crafted by the President, Department of Defense officials, and repeal leaders on Capitol Hill respects the ongoing work by the Pentagon on how to implement open service and allows for a vote this week. President Obama's support and Secretary Gates' buy-in should insure a winning vote, but we are not there yet. The votes still need to be worked and counted."

The votes, indeed, will be an interesting question. (Kevin Drum has a nice analysis here.) Republican senators have the power to filibuster, but they probably won't; passage of the Senate version will give them something to rail against. Things may be more interesting on the House side, where Democrats, especially moderates, are treading carefully going into an election cycle. Thus far, they've tried to localize their elections and avoid association with President Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or the Dems' national-level issues. That will be much harder after a "yes" vote for repeal.

And even if the votes are there, the policy is unlikely to change before year's end; all parties have agreed to let Defense Secretary Robert Gates' Pentagon inquiry panel complete its work—studying how the change would affect the military and how best to prepare for it.

Perhaps the brass could speed things up by simply visiting their Canadian, or British, or Israeli, counterparts—all forces where straights and gays are integrated, and readiness isn't affected.

There'll be much more to write about this in the coming days; expect MoJo to be on it. There'll be me, as well as our human rights reporter, Mac McClelland, who's currently up to her ankles (literally) in Gulf Coast crude. In the meantime, if you have specific questions about DADT and the military you'd like us to tackle, feel free to contact me with them here.

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VIDEO: Nuke the Oil Spill?

| Mon May 24, 2010 5:43 PM EDT

[UPDATE: For a complete, up-to-the-minute timeline of Mother Jones' oil-spill coverage, click here.]

Between the on-scene reporting of Mac McClelland, the political and environmental coverage of Kate Sheppard, and the scientific curiosity of Kevin Drum, I figured Mother Jones pretty much had every angle of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill covered. But it turns out there's a groundswell of support in the blogosphere for a radical solution to stop the spill: Drop a big ol' nuclear bomb on the mutha.

Sound nuts? That's what I thought, too, until I learned that the Russians have already done this a bunch of times—and that the US already has a bunch of bomb-savvy scientists brainstorming solutions in the Gulf. Even weirder, though, is the support that some people are extending to the un-ironically-titled "nuclear option."

Let's start with the Russians. According to Vladimir Lagovsky of Komsomolskaya Pravda (once a Soviet communist paper), "In the USSR, a few such leaks were plugged with the help of the peaceful atom." Five leaks, all underground, were plugged thusly, the paper says—starting with a 1966 natural gas fissure in Uzbekistan. That one was snuffed using a 30-megatonkiloton blast six kilometers deep—about one and a half times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. "The idea of the method is simple," Lagovsky writes. "An underground explosion pushes the rock, compresses it, and actually squeezes the channel well shut."

Sure enough, Russia Today even has a video of one natural gas leak and the subterranean blast that quelled it:

Yeah, but still. Nuts. I know. Except maybe it's already been discussed by people...top people. The Telegraph of London reported on May 14 that the Obama administration had sent a team of nuclear physicists, led by Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, to the Gulf to consult on solutions to the leak. Also on that team: "82-year-old Richard Garwin, who designed the first hydrogen bomb."

Conspiracy theorists, go wild!

Speaking of conspiracy theorists, there's a weird mix of support out there for this atom-smashing stratagem. Christopher Brownfield, a former Navy submarine officer with a new book to sell (Full disclosure: He was in the class behind me at the US Naval Academy), told Shepard Smith of Fox News that dropping a bomb in the Gulf to "nuke the well shut" isn't the craziest idea in the world. Brownfield's a bright guy, and he's no right-wing nut; in fact, he's written impassioned posts on Daily Beast explaining why socialized medicine works for the military and why he couldn't vote for his hero, John McCain, for president. (I sympathize; it's totally a Bancroft Hall thing.)

But rest assured, not all proponents of the Mexican Mud Meltdown are stable college graduates. Take, for instance, this thread on FreeRepublic.com, wherein steve0 and HiTech RedNeck try to convert the masses to their aim: "Nuke the BP oil spill & environazis that get in the way, too much at stake." They meet no small amount of resistance, which prompts steve0 to reply sardonically:

This should not be attempted.

It will be a catastrophic miscalculation.

For one thing, it will release Godzilla.

And for another, it won't kill enough hippies.

What are you talking about, steve0? You're killing me already.

[If you appreciate our BP coverage, please consider making a tax-deductible donation.]

Being Muslim Is No Crime

| Mon May 24, 2010 5:08 PM EDT

How convenient that there are Muslims in America. How much harder it would be for the government to increase its power, while abridging more general liberties, if they didn't exist. A radical Islamic preacher, who also happens to be an American citizen, is now hiding out somewhere in Yemen inciting violence against this country. What's the solution? Simple: add him to the CIA's "kill list," send in the drones (though we are not at war with Yemen), and execute him. Better yet, call that act a "targeted killing" and you don't have to worry about the legal niceties associated with the word "assassination."

An American citizen of Pakistani birth leaves the least well-made smoking car bomb in history in Times Square. What a good moment to "protect" Americans from the evildoers lurking behind him by carving out a "broad exception" to his Miranda rights and delaying speedy court hearings. It's like a yard sale. You get two previously well accepted rights curtailed for the price of one.

When it comes to homegrown threats of terror or a suspicion that a citizen might be related to a "foreign terrorist organization," why not make another exception and just strip him of his citizenship, then send him to Guantanamo and throw away the key (something Senator Joe Lieberman is now advocating)? As Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com has written, such examples "are designed to formally exempt a certain class of American citizens... from the most basic legal protections. They're all intended, in the name of Scary Terrorists, to rewrite the core rules of our justice system in order to increase the already-vast detention powers of the US Government and further minimize the remaining safeguards against abuse."

The fear of terrorism is, of course, widespread. It has long been nurtured by an American Fear Inc, even if the actual danger in this country has been blown out of all proportion, as Stephan Salisbury makes clear below. Each new alarum—whether a shoe bomber who can't light his shoe, an underwear bomber who can't light his underwear, or a car-bomb maker who uses non-explosive fertilizer for his weapon of choice—is useful when it comes to funneling ever more money into the mini-homeland-security-industrial complex that has grown up around the Department of Homeland Security or, above all, expanding government power at the expense of the citizen. Right now, only Muslim Americans—"terrorists"—are in serious danger of losing these rights, but it should be obvious that new powers in the hands of ever more powerful authorities have a tendency to grow and spread. In a sense, it's as if the terrorists, American law enforcement, and the government were in a conspiracy to jointly take away ever more citizenly rights and liberties, while ratcheting up our wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Stephan Salisbury has watched, up close and personal, the process by which American Muslims have been demonized and their communities assaulted. In his new book, Mohamed's Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland, he's written vividly and dramatically about just what that process has been like since 2001 and what it means. (In addition, catch Salisbury on the latest TomCast audio interview discussing the words that changed our world since September 11, 2001, by clicking here or download the interview to your ipod by clicking here.

Poll: Immigration Hatin' Hurts GOP Chances

| Mon May 24, 2010 3:33 PM EDT

Right-wing conservatives retrogressives in the American West have been so preoccupied with illegal brown people, that they forgot to worry about the legal ones. So says a new analysis by Public Policy Polling, anyway: Since the passage of Arizona's draconian "Papers, Please" law, likely voters in Arizona and Colorado have shifted their support to the Democratic candidates in a "very substantive way," bucking the alleged national mood of Obama-hatin'. That shift is largely due to energized (and probably angry) Latino voters. According to Tom Jensen, PPP's director:

When we polled Colorado in early March Michael Bennet and Jane Norton were tied. Last week we found Bennet with a 3 point lead. One of the biggest reasons for that shift? Bennet went from leading Norton by 12 points with Hispanic voters to a 21 point advantage. That large shift in a Democratic direction among Hispanics mirrors what we saw in our Arizona Senate polling last month- Rodney Glassman went from trailing John McCain by 17 points with them in September to now holding a 17 point lead.

Hispanics in the Mountain West are leaning much more strongly toward the Democrats since the Arizona law was passed. The big question then becomes whether there are white voters who are going to go Republican this fall who wouldn't have if that bill hadn't been passed. We don't see any evidence of that happening yet- Bennet and Glassman are both doing better with white voters than they were before as well, although not to the same degree that they've improved with Hispanics.

I called up Jensen to shed some more light on these developments. He said that yes, indeed, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet is leading in Colorado, and in Arizona, challenger Rodney Glassman (who's still a longshot), who once trailed John McCain by 30 points, has cut that margin in half. (McCain's popularity, the poll says, has "plummeted" in Arizona.) Has Jensen ever seen anything like this? At this stage in an election cycle, he says, "Most movement in races don't have that much to do with the candidates, they have to do with a change in the national political climate." What's weird, though, is that "there hasn't been a movement in that political climate towards Democrats. They're not doing better; they've largely stayed where they are."

The takeaway, according to Jensen: At least in these races—and perhaps later on in Nevada and New Mexico—"If the immigration bill is having any effect, it's to shift Latino voters in large numbers to the Democratic candidates"—but there's no concurrent migration of more white voters to other side.

In short, nativists and neo-Know-Nothing candidates may succeed in squeezing past fellow conservatives retrogressives in primary races, but come November, they may taste the pain, courtesy of the minority voters threatened by their policies. That is, of course, unless the right succeeds in rounding up or scaring off all those voters before election day.

The Rand Paul Litmus Test

| Mon May 24, 2010 2:27 PM EDT

Democratic candidates are looking to capitalize on Kentucky Republican Rand Paul’s disastrous entrée into the national spotlight, attempting to link their Republican opponents with Paul's ideological extremism. In North Carolina, Democratic Senate candidate Elaine Marshall has sent an email asking "True or False…Republican Sen. Richard Burr agrees with fellow Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul that he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that ended racial segregation.”

The reader has to click through the post in order to get an answer—and, as it turns out, Burr doesn’t seem to have commented on Paul’s controversial remarks. Noting that Burr has promised voters “it is impossible for any candidate to get to the right” of him, the campaign urges Marshall supporters to sign a petition to “force him on the record!”

Though Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans have tried to distance themselves from Paul, Democrats like Marshall are hoping to paint him as a symptom of the party’s rightward shift. Marshall is facing her own primary contest in North Carolina, where she’s competing in a run-off election against Cal Cunningham, the choice of the national Democratic establishment. Having portrayed herself as an unapologetic progressive, Marshall could conceivably benefit from being seen as a foe of Republican extremism. But whether Marshall--or other Democrats outside of Kentucky--will see much benefit from Paul’s running mouth remains to be seen.

Harry Reid's Tea Party Dreams

| Mon May 24, 2010 1:35 PM EDT

Thanks to a series of missteps by Sue Lowden, the top GOP candidate in Nevada's 2010 senate race, it's beginning to look like Nevada senator Harry Reid could square off against the Tea Party come November. That's a battle Reid would love, and one that political experts in Nevada say largely favors the Senate majority leader.

As both Politico and I reported today, Reid's main challenger, Lowden, a former chair of the Nevada GOP, has stumbled in the final weeks before Nevada's June 8 primary. (Reid has no Democratic primary opponent.) She blundered when she implicitly suggested that patients barter with doctors for care and even trade chickens. And now one of her primary opponents, Danny Tarkanian, says Lowden broke campaign finance law by accepting an RV from a donor that she's used to travel the state. (Lowden's campaign says she in compliance with the law.) Nonetheless, Lowden has slipped in the polls, with a Democratic-funded poll showing Sharron Angle, the Tea Party-backed underdog on the GOP side, just beating Lowden and Tarkanian, Politico reported.

All of this bodes well for Reid, who, as I reported today, also has the passage of financial reform to bolster his record on the campaign trail. From the sounds of it, his campaign couldn't be happier if it faced the Tea Party candidate, Angle, in November and not Lowden, the more established, traditional GOPer. Indeed, Reid's campaign has highlighted Lowden's gaffes as often as it can in an effort to knock her out of contention for the fall. And if Angle does win on June 8, there's no doubting Reid's people will do everything they can to paint the Tea Party Express darling as cut from the Rand-Paul-Civil-Rights-Act cloth.

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Obama Official Vows to Ramp Up Deportations…Just Not in Arizona

| Mon May 24, 2010 1:20 PM EDT

The Obama administration might not process the illegal immigrants that Arizona authorities hand over to them—a possible means of blunting the impact of the state’s harsh new immigration law. At the same time, Homeland Security has vowed to ramp up its deportation of illegal immigrants elsewhere in the country.

Criticizing the Arizona law last week, John Morton, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said that his agency would not necessarily act upon referrals of suspected illegal immigrants from Arizona officials. Under the state’s new law, local law enforcement officials have the authority to detain suspected illegal immigrants, but they must verify their status with the federal government to proceed further. Such comments prompted conservatives like Senate candidate JD Hayworth--who's challenging McCain in Arizona--to call for Morton's resignation and slam the Obama administration for “encouraging lawlessness” by failing to enforce Arizona’s law.

AIG's Ringleader Walks Away Freely

| Mon May 24, 2010 9:47 AM EDT

Without global insurer American International Group's Financial Products outfit, located in London, the financial calamity would've been less severe. AIG FP, as it was known, sold oodles of a product called a credit default swap, essentially an insurance policy on bundles of subprime mortgages. (The way it worked, if the homeowners stopped making payments on their mortgages and money ceased to flow into those mortgage pools, the owner of that unregulated insurance policy got a big payout for a pretty small initial investment.) Problem is, AIG FP, led by a guy named Joseph Cassano, sold way too many credit default swaps. Way, way too many of them. And when the housing bubble burst, AIG was forced to post cash or securities for all those people to whom AIG had sold these swaps. The rest you know: the firm crumbled, was deemed "too-big-to-fail" and got more than $140 billion in bailout cash, and so on.

Now comes this news: Despite leading an office that nearly imploded the global markets, Cassano, who author Michael Lewis dubbed "The Man Who Crashed the World," will face no charges for his role in the crisis. The Department of Justice had been investigating Cassano, the New York Times reports, to see "whether Mr. Cassano misled investors when he stated in December 2007 that the company’s obligations on the mortgage securities it backed were unlikely to produce losses." Apparently he didn't. Which means he was arguably the most oblivious executive to ever run such a complex, powerful financial operation.

Cassano's dropped case is indicative of a broader failure by regulators and prosecutors to nail down any high-level culprits from the financial crisis. In a recent investigation, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund detailed how, despite banks' reports of massive levels of fraud, banks regulators hadn't made one criminal referral stemming from the financial crisis. Why not? A culture of self-policing, the I Fund's David Heath writes:

While data on criminal referrals during the S&L crisis is spotty, the Government Accountability Office reported that in the first ten months of 1992 alone – a random snapshot – financial regulators sent the Justice Department more than 1,000 cases for criminal prosecution...

This time, prosecutors are relying more heavily on banks to report suspicious activity to the Treasury Department. Banks are required to report known or suspected criminal violations, including fraud, on Suspicious Activity Reports designed for the purpose. In effect, the reports, which can be many pages in length, provide substantive leads for criminal investigations.

Moreover, Heath adds, there are fewer cops on the beat when it comes to white-collar financial crime: "Deputy Director John Pistole testified before Congress last year that the bureau had 1,000 people working on the S&L crisis at its height. That compares to about 240 agents working on mortgage fraud cases last year."

Whether the lack of resources and hands-off mentality influenced Cassano's case is unclear. But it's telling that the leader of arguably the most infamous operation throughout the entire crisis will walk away from the entire mess with only a bruised ego and a tarnished name.

AZ Governor Fights Boycott With Puppets

| Mon May 24, 2010 7:40 AM EDT

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has been fending off calls from around the country for a major boycott of her state for its passage of a draconian new immigration law. Last Friday, Brewer's reelection campaign fought back with a new video that quickly went viral. (By Monday morning it had been viewed more than 260,000 times.) In it, a green puppet sings a little ditty about how reading "helps you know what you're talking about," mixed in with clips of various Obama administration officials acknowledging that they've never actually read the ten page Arizona statute they've been bashing. It doesn't have quite the genius of Demon Sheep, but Brewer's video does a decent job of making Attorney General Eric Holder and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano look pretty foolish.

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 24, 2010

Mon May 24, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

 

An Afghan National Police officer and a US Army Soldier run up a terraced landscape while racing each other near the village of Sequala, Jalrez District, Wardak province, Afghanistan, on May 11, 2010. Photo via the US Army photo Sgt Russell Gilchrest.