Mojo - May 2010

Saving Jamie Scott, Victim of Prison Health Care

| Sun May. 23, 2010 9:17 PM PDT

After being convicted on questionable evidence, Jamie Scott and her sister Gladys received two consecutive life sentences apiece for a 1993 armed robbery in which no one was hurt and the take was $11. As I wrote back in March, this unwarranted life sentence is at risk of becoming a death sentence for Jamie Scott, who is gravely ill, due to the care she is receiving at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) in Pearl. Since we first covered the story, Jamie’s condition has, if anything, grown still more critical.

Now 38, Jamie has been diagnosed with end-stage renal disease, and requires dialysis to stay alive. Rather than let her leave for dialysis, the prison brought in a machine that according to Jamie broke down periodically. She has had one complication after another, including multiple infections at the site of her dialysis shunt. She has been rushed to the hospital several times, only to be promptly returned to prison the moment her condition is deemed "stabilized." According to her mother, Evelyn Rasco, Jamie’s most recent hospital visit took place when her veins collapsed and she was unable to walk. This time, according to Rasco, the doctor at the hospital said he refused to allow his patient to go back to prison because she would surely die there. But the Mississippi Department of Corrections had its way, and back she went.

In the following letter, written a few weeks ago, Jamie Scott says, "I have witness many inmates die at the hands of this second rate medical care. I do not want to be one of them." The letter was provided to Solitary Watch by Nancy Lockhart, a paralegal who works with the wrongfully convicted, and has been advocating for Scott for some time:

The living condition in quickbed area is not fit for any human to live in. I have been incarcerated for 15 years 6 months now and this is the worst I have ever experience. When it rain out side it rain inside. The zone flood like a river. The rain comes down on our heads and we have to try to get sheets and blankets to try to stop it from wetting our beds and personnel property...I am fully aware that we are in prison, but no one should have to live in such harsh condition. I am paranoid of catching anything because of what I have been going throw with my medical condition.

We are living in these harsh conditions, but if you go to the administration offices, they are nice and clean and smell nice because they make sure the inmates clean their offices each day. They tell us to clean the walls. Cleaning the walls will not help anything. Cleaning the walls will not stop the rain from pouring in. it will not stop the mold from growing inside the walls and around us. It will not stop the spiders from mating.

They have 116 inmates on each wing, and we live not five feet from each other in order to pack us in. We have the blowers on the ceiling and if the inmates are acting crazy or the staff come in mad they use the blowers as a form of punishment...

Do I sound angry, I am not I am hurt and sick. Because they have allowed my kidney to progress to stage five which been the highest. They told me years ago I had protein in my urine, but I went years without any help. Now, it seen the eyes are on me because my family are on their case. Every inmate is not without family. Yes, you do have many inmates that family have giving up on, but my sister and I are not them...

They use unlawful punishments to try to shut us up. I need help. I need a inmate to help me, but for some reason they will not allow me to move with my sister, so she can help me... My sister [Gladys Scott] and I were housed together for over ten years and not once have we ever caused any problem. We were split up because in 2003 the Commissioner came with the order to separate all family members...

Now that I am sitting everyday because of my sickness I have time to use my typewriter. MDOC have gotten away with to much. In addition, some of the things that go on here I truly believe that Mr. Epps [Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections] do not know.

More information on grassroots efforts around Jamie Scott's case, including a current letter-writing campaign to get her better care, can be found at Free the Scott Sisters.

This post also appears on Jim Ridgeway's personal blog, Unsilent Generation.

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VIDEO: David Corn Talks Rand Paul on Olbermann

Sat May. 22, 2010 11:15 PM PDT

On Countdown With Keith Olbermann, David Corn discusses whether Rand Paul's remarks about the Civil Rights Act and the Obama administration will hurt the GOP. Watch the video below.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

MetaFilter Saved My Pals From Sex Traffickers—Exclusive Interview

| Fri May. 21, 2010 5:54 PM PDT

The message thread reads like the play-by-play from an alternate reality game, wherein complete strangers work together to solve a complex mystery. But the drama that played out on MetaFilter this week was no game. If not for the intrepid members of this 11-year-old digital forum, a couple of young Russian women might possibly have fallen prey to sexual slavery.

Dan Reetz's post appeared Wednesday evening at Ask MetaFilter, a portion of the site where people seek help from the crowd. Mostly it's mundane—someone needs suggestions for a good pet store in their area, that kind of thing.

But this post stood out: "A Russian friend of mine may be in a dangerous situation in Washington, DC," it began.

Reetz, a 28-year-old who goes by the online handle Fake, joined MetaFilter in 2004 and is a trusted user, according to Jessamyn West, the site's community manager. In 2006, he spent a year teaching English in Russia, and became close friends with one of his students, whom we'll call "K." "We used to walk around and talk about music and everything," Reetz told me. "I learned most of my Russian from her, so I have bad street Russian—and she learned most of her English from me, so she knows all the English swear words! We've been in touch ever since."

Texas Ed. Board Updates Curriculum: Thomas Jefferson's Back!

| Fri May. 21, 2010 5:26 PM PDT

It's been a little more than two months since we last told you about the Texas State Board of Education's efforts to rewrite American history. After adding Phyllis Schafly and Newt Gingrich to the curriculum and deemphasizing the Civil Rights movement, the SBOE convened for its final meetings of the year this weeek and since several of the Board's most conservative members are either not running for reelection or lost primary challenges, it amounts to something of a last hurrah; think the '97 Bulls meets the Christian Coalition.

So how'd it go? Depends on how you feel about our commander in chief's middle name, I guess. In one of the punchiest discussions of the week, Board members shot down an amendment late last night that would have revised the discussion of our first black president to refer to "Barack Hussein Obama." The Texas Tribune's Brian Thevenot, who sat through the proceedings so we didn't have to, captured the full exchange:

[Board member David Bradley] sprang into action. "I'd like to make a motion to insert his middle name, Hussein," he said. Asked why—it was the first time any discussion of any of official's middle name had come up—Bradley played dumb. "He's the president of the United States, and I think we should give him the honor and privilege of his full name"...Some other members were dumbfounded: The Arabic sounding name has been widely used as an epithet in conservative circles and is closely tied to the contention that Obama isn't an American citizen. "I think it's pretty obvious what you're trying to do," said [Board member Bob Craig]. "And I don't think it's correct that we've used the middle names for other presidents." (That was true, [the chairwoman] confirmed shortly later; the board follows whatever style a particular president prefers for his name.)

The amendment was ultimately tabled, but it serves as a pretty good case study for how the nation's most influential school board conducts its business.

How Libertarian is Rand Paul?

| Fri May. 21, 2010 1:58 PM PDT

In an effort to explain what Rand Paul meant when he suggested that private businesses should be able to discriminate against black people, most writers have assumed that the Tea Party fave is no racist but instead a dogmatic, don't-tread-on-me libertarian. As TPM convincingly points out today, the GOP's Kentucky Senate candidate's (now recanted) statements about the 1964 Civil Rights Act fall well within the libertarian mainstream.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Paul's views are motivated by little more than a naive ideology. As I've noted, Paul and his father, GOP Congressman Ron Paul, have a long history of close associations with hard-core racists. And moreover, Paul is by no means a rigid libertarian. In reality, Paul and his father espouse a hybrid of libertarian and Republican political beliefs that skews far to the right of typical libertarians:

  • Abortion

While most libertarians are pro-choice, both Rand and Ron Paul support government regulation of abortion. Ron Paul would leave the issue up to states while Rand Paul favors a constitutional amendment banning the procedure.

  • Gay Marriage

Ron Paul voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment of 2004, which would have limited marriage to unions of one man and one woman, but he favored Texas legislators' efforts to "oppose any attempt by rogue judges to impose a new definition of marriage on the people of my state."  Rand Paul is likewise opposed to gay marriage. True libertarians, however, typically fight all government regulation of marriage, be it same-sex or otherwise, and don't tend to moralize on the subject.

  • Gitmo

Perhaps most troubling to many libertarians, Rand Paul has come out in support of the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which his father wants to shut down. "Foreign terrorists do not deserve the protections of our Constitution," Paul wrote on his website. "These thugs should stand before military tribunals and be kept off American soil. I will always fight to keep Kentucky safe and that starts with cracking down on our enemies." Commenters on libertarian message boards were appalled.

While there's certainly nothing inherently wrong or hypocritical with diverging from the libertarian mainstream, Paul's willingness to make exceptions to the typical libertarian creed raises questions in the context of his statements on civil rights. Why was Paul comfortable with setting aside libertarian concepts in the case of Gitmo, but not in the case of defending the rights of racial minorities? Is this a glimpse into where his true sympathies lie?

 

Rand Paul's Latest: The Amero Is Coming

| Fri May. 21, 2010 1:09 PM PDT

What have we learned about Kentucky Republican senate candidate Rand Paul so far this week? Let's see: He would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 since it violated segregationists' rights to free speech and unfettered commerce. (Or not.) He's comfortable in the company of conspiracy theorists and racists. He thinks that criticizing BP for what could be the nation's worst oil spill is "un-American." (Because "sometimes accidents happen.") 

Now TPM's Justin Elliott has footage of Paul at a 2008 campaign stop for his dad, where he talked about the specter of the Amero—a single currency for the US, Canada, and Mexico—which, he warned, was part of "their" plan for "one sort of borderless, mass continent." Ay caramba and zut alors! The Amero conspiracy has been floating around on the fringes for a few years, spurred on by folks like Rand's dad Ron and Jerome Corsi, a WorldNetDaily columnist, former Swift Boater, and promoter of the bizarre theory that oil is a limitess resource.

The Amero is, of course, a myth. As MoJo reported a few years ago, the imaginary currency has its roots in similarly baseless fears that the United States is about to enter a secret pact with our neighbors to the north and south to form a North American Union. Of course, this would lead to a flood of former Mexicans into the former United States, among other horrors. The Amero crowd is particularly fixated on the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, a trade deal endorsed by George W. Bush whose continental assimilation plan has obviously yet to kick in. Perhaps that's what President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon were really meeting about earlier this week. 

In the meantime, you can prepare yourself for the worst by studying Espranglais or stocking up on phony fantasy Ameros—this coin dealer artist (*) has just unveiled his 2010 models.

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GOP Rep. Defends Anti-Islam Tea Party Speaker

| Fri May. 21, 2010 12:42 PM PDT

Rep. Steven King (R-Iowa) has rejected calls by a Muslim rights organization to drop out of a Tennessee Tea Party convention this weekend because of the participation of an activist-blogger who’s railed against Islam. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) pressed Tea Party organizers to disinvite Pamela Geller, head of the group Stop the Islamization of America, and asked King to cancel his participation in the event if she remained on the program. 

Calling Islam "the religion of barbarism" that "inspired Hitler and the Nazis," Geller has used her blog to assail this religion. She has claimed that President Barack Obama is “a muhammadan…who wants jihad to win" and recently posted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as a pig with the words "Piss Be Upon Him," as CAIR cites in its statement on Geller. She is scheduled to present the Tea Partiers a lecture on the "Threat of Islam."

In the face of CAIR's protest, King is standing strong with Geller. The Republican believes that Geller "is a credible spokeswoman on these sort of issues," his communications director John Kennedy tells Mother Jones. "She is a nationally recognized authority on the threat of radical Islam. To extent that her comments [in CAIR’s release] reflect her state of mind, we should err on the side of her as being credible alternative to anything that CAIR has to say.”

Kennedy declined to react to specific statements that Geller has made about Islam, saying that King believes that CAIR is an organization with terrorist ties that has "intimidated White House officials to the point they’re not even able to say 'radical Islam.'" CAIR has come under fire in the past from a small group of critics who have made "a determined but unsuccessful effort" to link its organizers to Hamas and Hezbollah, according to a 2007 New York Times story.

King, moreover, believes that Tennessee Tea Party should be commended for including Geller in its line-up of speakers this weekend, according to Kennedy. "The beauty of the First Amendment that it protects even controversial political discussion," says the spokesman. "The shame of radical Islam is that it punishes—in some instances with death—dissenting views."

The Tennessee Tea Party organizers have also rejected CAIR’s request to boot Geller from the program, calling the organization a "hate group" and citing the "right to freedom of speech as given to us by the US Constitution." In an email posted on Geller's site, this Tea Party group exclaims, "We are very happy and pleased that she will be attending!"

DOD: We Hate Offshore Drilling, Too

| Fri May. 21, 2010 12:34 PM PDT

Now we have a leak to go with that spill. It's been roughly a month since BP's oil-rig disaster, and as our on-the-ground reporter Mac McClelland showed yesterday, the Gulf of Mexico is now starting to resemble the pit of a Jiffy Lube. There's been no shortage of opprobrium heaped on the energy lobby and its political apologists of late, with even erstwhile conservatives criticizing the "drill, baby, drill" crowd as anti-environment and anti-economic-prosperity. How could it get worse for (mainly Republican) champions of lubrication laissez faire?

How about if it's discovered that outer continental shelf drilling is also anti-national-security? That's exactly what the Department of Defense appears to have done in a leaked portion of its new report (PDF), appropriately titled "Outer Continental Shelf (OCS): Military Activities and Future Oil & Gas Development." You see, the new conservative Virginia governor and shadow commander in chief, Bob McDonnell, longs to penetrate Virginia's sea plain with hard probes for profit. His plan was to make 4,500 square miles of ocean available to oil drillers by 2010. But! According to the Washington Post:

The Defense Department report, concluded in March but released in part Tuesday by Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a drilling opponent, indicates that drilling would interfere with military activities...in 72 percent of the 3 million acres covered by the lease sale and that it could be allowed only with restrictions in 6 percent of the area.

As a former sailor who's operated out of Norfolk, Virginia—the world's largest naval installation—I can attest that its sea lanes are rather critical to effective military activities. Ships need to move through quickly and safely when deploying, and that process gets harder when additional surface contacts and navigational hazards are thrown into the brew. (Submarines, which also operate extensively in the area, face a special three-dimensional, life-or-death challenge with undersea drilling infrastructures.) Fleet training exercises, tactical readiness exams, sea trials of new ships, and many other classified but important endeavors begin off the Tidewater coast.

In fact, Norfolk hosts five aircraft carrier groups—one of which, the USS Truman carrier strike group, just departed today for the Persian Gulf. Pretty safe to assume they keep a tight movement schedule to get to a war zone. Do you really want your Hummer's hydrocarbon hunger to cost them an extra day on that trip?

Now, Big Oil wasn't totally unprepared for this line of attack. One of its mouthpieces, Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE), has a report on its website extolling how the military thinks offshore drilling is totally hunky dory for its operations. The report's military "experts" were retired paid consultants.

But here's the really fun part: The oil flacks' report, which was published in January, didn't focus on the Virginia shore, where it would interfere most with US defense readiness: It focused on the Eastern Gulf of Mexico from Pensacola, Florida, to Key West. Where there's, you know, an expanding oil plume. Rest assured MoJo will be on the phone to NAS P'cola, Eglin Air Force Base, and NAS Key West next week to see if they've scrubbed any flight, surface, or other training ops—or had resources diverted to combat the slick.

This should probably matter to strong-on-defense neocons, paleocons, and the like for obvious reasons of principle. But the GOP also has compelling political reasons to kill the drill: You don't want to take on the DOD, which usually (and in this case, rightly) gets what it wants. As the AP reports:

The Pentagon cannot unilaterally veto drilling proposals, but Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, said the Defense and Interior departments have a long history of cooperation, and drilling has never taken place in an area objected to by the military.

"We have every expectation that if we said we need an area … that they would fully honor that," Ms. Robyn said.

Dear reader, expect a follow-up soon.

Blame Rahm for Immigration Inaction?

| Fri May. 21, 2010 12:00 PM PDT

Despite his harsh rebuke of Arizona’s new immigration law, President Obama has made it clear that he won’t push for reform this year, citing a lack of “appetite” in Congress. Frustrated by the inaction, pro-reform lawmakers and advocates have pointed the finger at one White House official: chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

Immigration advocates have long seen Emanuel as their nemesis. He's often cautioned that the issue was politically treacherous, particularly for centrist and moderate Democrats. And reformers are blaming him for the current hold-up, as the Los Angeles Times reports:

"There's always a sense that no matter how hard we work, to get through the White House, we have to get through Rahm," said U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). "I would like immigration not to be part of the chief of staff's portfolio. It would make our ability to convince and access decision-makers in the White House a lot easier."

As a top aide to former President Bill Clinton, he stressed the message that Clinton was hard-nosed about policing illegal immigration. Later, as a Chicago congressman who took on the assignment of installing more Democrats in the House, Emanuel cautioned that immigration was the "third rail of American politics," dangerous to those who touch it.

Now, as Obama's top aide, Emanuel has argued much the same thing in private meetings…Democratic lawmakers and advocates who have clashed with Emanuel over the years fear that immigration is destined to be a second-tier priority as long as he is in his current role.

Given Emanuel’s track record and political modus operandi, I don’t doubt that he’d be the first to warn Obama about the political risks of pursuing immigration reform this year. Early on, he had warned that an overhaul would have to wait until Obama’s second term, should he be re-elected.

But blaming Rahm for the hold-up overestimates his role in setting Obama’s agenda. When it came to health care, for instance, both Emanuel and Vice-President Joe Biden had urged Obama to abandon a comprehensive reform effort, convinced that the issue would be too politically perilous, as The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn explains in his authoritative inside account. Chief counselor David Axelrod had similar warnings about the political fallout. But Obama himself decided that he would press ahead with health care, having decided that the debate was “a proxy for the deepest, most systemic crises facing the country,” Cohn writes.

Having Rahm in the White House bending the president’s ear certainly doesn’t make life any easier for immigration advocates. But Emanuel is an easy punching bag for frustrated liberals, and blaming him for the immigration delay effectively gives the president himself a free pass.

Glenn Beck Goes for the Gold

| Fri May. 21, 2010 11:41 AM PDT

So, how has Glenn Beck taken the news that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) thinks he and his favorite gold dealer, Goldline, are working "hand in hand to cheat consumers"? Not well, by the looks of it. He's called Weiner a modern-day Joe McCarthy and invited his fans to send in photos of the congressman with "his nose as a wiener." And as the Beck trackers at Media Matters have documented, he's not backing away from hyping gold—anything but. On yesterday's radio show, he plugged Goldline as "the escape" from the economic doomsday scenario he's been painting for the past couple of years. Earlier in the week, he dragged out his famous chalkboard for a bit what what can only be described as gold-bledygook:

He may seem like he's losing it, but Beck is clearly reveling in the moment, which lets him tap into persecution complex and his shock-jock roots. Last night, in a bravura performance, Beck ripped into Weiner and then hit the chalkboard to connect the dots between community banking, Acorn, Van Jones, Bill Clinton, and Obama's mom. You can get a taste of it on his site—right after watching a Goldline promo. And the fun continues tonight, when Beck appears on the O'Reilly Factor to discuss his feud with Weiner, which apparently is the funniest word Beck has heard since he was 11. On his radio program this morning, Beck said the highlight of the taping was hearing O'Reilly admit, "I like Weiner." I suppose we should be grateful that Beck's not coming under fire from Washington Democrat Rep. Norm Dicks.