Mojo - September 2010

The GOP "Pledge": What's Not In It

| Thu Sep. 23, 2010 12:06 PM EDT

The House Republicans on Thursday released a manifesto outlining what they intend to do should they triumph in the coming congressional elections. The glossy document, which is adorned with photographs of the Statue of Liberty, Mt. Rushmore, and cowboys, is high-mindedly titled "A Pledge to America: A New Governing Agenda Built on the Priorities of Our Nation, the Principles We Stand For & America's Founding Values." And it offers few surprises: tax cuts for all (including the super-rich), slashing federal spending (without specifying actual targets), downsizing government, more money for the military (especially missile defense), and repealing the health care bill. It decries deficits—though it advocates proposals that will add trillions of dollars to the deficit. It calls for reforming Congress—but in non-significant ways (such as forcing legislators to place a sentence in every bill attesting that the legislation is connected to a principle in the Constitution). It's full of Hallmark-style patriotism: "America is more than a country." It's infused with tea party anger: Washington has plotted "to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values." It is likely to have little impact on the elections.

You can read it yourself. Or peruse the reviews: liberal Ezra Klein dissects its internal contradictions; tea partier Erick Erickson decries the "Pledge" as a sell-out of the tea party movement; Republican curmudgeon David Frum finds it retro and short on "modern" and "affirmative" ideas for governing during a recessionary year. But here's a short-cut for you. Below is a list of words and phrases and the number of times they are each mentioned in the 45-page "Pledge."

Wall Street: 0
Bank: 0
Finance: 0
Mortgage crisis: 0
Derivative: 0
Subprime: 0
Lobbying: 0
Lobbyist: 0
K Street: 0
Campaign finance: 0
Campaign contribution: 0
Campaign donation: 0
Disclosure: 0
Climate change: 0
Environment: 1 ("political environment")
Alternative energy: 0
Renewable: 0
Green: 0
Transportation: 0
Infrastructure: 0
Poverty: 0
Food: 0
Food safety: 0
Housing: 0
Internet: 0
Education: 0
College: 0
Reading: 0
Science: 0
Research: 0
Technology: 0
Bush administration: 0

That list is as telling as the actual contents.

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DADT Back in Obama's Court

| Thu Sep. 23, 2010 10:16 AM EDT

Now that the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has stalled in the Senate, the Obama administration is back in the the awkward position of deciding whether to defend a a policy in court they've already said they don't agree with.

A US District Court in California determined earlier this month that the controversial, 17-year-old ban on gays serving openly in the military is unconstitutional. Last week, the plaintiffs in the case sought an injunction to bar the military from enforcing the policy. If the Obama administration decides to appeal and ask the court to deny the injunction, it needs to do so by the end of the day today.

Or the Department of Justice could just let it go, which would effectively end enforcement of DADT—a policy that Obama has said he wants thrown out, even as the Department of Justice has defended it in court. The administration has said it believes that Congress should determine military policy, not the courts. But with movement on the issue blocked in the Senate, the administration will have to decide today how it wants to proceed.

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) urged Attorney General Eric Holder to allow the court's decision to stand in a letter last week: "As one of many criteria that the Justice Department will examine in deciding whether to appeal a potential permanent injunction to this policy, we ask that you examine whether or not an appeal furthers a legitimate governmental interest. We would say any appeal does not."

President Obama was heckled at a Democratic fundraiser last night over the issue, and groups like the Human Rights Campaign have also urged Holder not to appeal the decision.

"If Attorney General Eric Holder takes leadership, he can help the Obama Administration make history, joining a federal court in the judgment that discrimination—especially against those willing to take a bullet for their country—is un-American," said Rick Jacobs, chair of the Courage Campaign, in an email to supporters Thursday morning asking them to contact the DOJ on the issue.

How will the Obama administration proceed? Guess we'll find out shortly.

Angle Mocks Health Coverage For "Autism"

| Thu Sep. 23, 2010 9:05 AM EDT

Nevada conservative Sharron Angle, the challenger to Harry Reid's seat in the US Senate, just can't stop. That is, can't stop making controversial, wincingly bad statements like:

  • telling young rape victims who become pregnant to make "a lemon situation into lemonade";
  • calling out of work Americans receiving unemployment insurance "spoiled";
  • and saying both that angry citizens are eyeing "those Second Amendment remedies" to fix Congress and that "the first thing we need to do [to turn the country around] is take Harry Reid out."

Ouch. Oh, and then Angle flatly denied those last two statements in a recent interview with ABC's Jon Karl.

Well, here's the installment in what-crazy-thing-did-Sharron-Angle-say-today—and she might've outdone herself this time. In a new video, captured by a Democratic "tracker" at a tea party rally earlier this year, Angle panned a new Nevada mandate that insurance companies cover autism treatment. When she said the word "autism," Angle also made two air quotes with her hands—a dubious move itself.

But I'll let you judge for yourself; here's the video:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 23, 2010

Thu Sep. 23, 2010 8:52 AM EDT

A U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk lands at Rubicon in Swat valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, Pakistan, Sept. 19, 2010. The U.S. military has provided supplies and relief to Pakistani victims of floods, which have destroyed roads and forced residents from their homes. U.S. Army. Photo by Spc. Reese Von Rogatsz

Weed: A Civil Rights Issue

| Wed Sep. 22, 2010 6:46 PM EDT

It may come as no surprise that in nearly every California county, young black people are arrested for possessing marijuana at higher rates per capita than white people.  That's despite evidence that black people use marijuana at lower rates than white people. But this data on state arrests which was released in June by the Drug Policy Alliance [PDF] has motivated groups like the California NAACP, the California Black Chamber of Commerce, and the National Black Police Association to publicly endorse Proposition 19, the November ballot initiative that would legalize pot possession and use among adults in California.

The report points out that a reason for the racial disparity in marijuana arrests is the heavier placement of narcotics and patrol officers in certain neighborhoods deemed "high crime." "High crime" neighborhoods are usually disproportionately poor and populated by people of color. In 2008, for example, police departments in California arrested more than 60,000 people for possessing marijuana, according to the report. Across the state's 25 largest counties, black people represented 7 percent of the population but 20 percent of arrests for marijuana possession. That year alone in Santa Cruz County, where black people comprised less than two percent of the total population (that's about 3,012 black folks),  black people made up five percent of marijuana arrests. The full 12-page report which includes more county stats is available here [PDF].

Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, recently took to the San Francisco Chronicle's op-ed page with this data to make a case on why marijuana reform is a civil rights issue. Huffman wrote:

We believe whatever potential harms may be associated with using marijuana are more than outweighed by the immediate harms that derive from being caught up in the criminal justice system.

Not all black organizations are on board Huffman's legalization train of thought however. Patrick R. Melvin, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), which bills itself as "the conscience of law enforcement," stated in a press release:

NOBLE has and continues to be concerned about disparities in sentencing and treatment in the criminal justice system, however, this legislation will not eradicate that issue. Instead of proposing to legalize drugs, I feel there should be a movement afoot to address underlying systemic issues that affect our communities and the issue of bias-based policing across this country.

The NOBLE release then goes on to label marijuana a gateway drug that children need to be protected from. To decide for yourself, you can read the entirety of Proposition 19 here.

This Week's Reefer Madness

| Wed Sep. 22, 2010 5:31 PM EDT

This story is cross-posted at The Riff.

Boy, it's only Wednesday and this week has already gone to pot. Marijuana hasn't had this much going for it since, well, anybody who smokes a lot of it can remember. Proposition 19, the California ballot measure that would legalize recreational pot smoking, yesterday earned an endorsement from the Service Employees International Union, California's largest and most powerful labor union. Doing the SEIU one better, the Teamsters announced this week that they'd unionized 40 actual pot farmers who work for Oakland's Marjyn Investments, which contracts to grow buds for medical marijuana patients. "I didn't have this planned out when I became a Teamster 34 years ago," labor organizer Lou Marchetti told the Sacramento Bee. "This is a whole new ballgame."

No kidding. Marijuana is big business, and not just for Humboldt County or that kid selling bags of Mexican schwag. On Sunday, six pot vendors assembled in Tacoma's Conquering Lion, a music venue, for what was billed as Washington's (and maybe America's) first marijuana farmers market. On Tuesday, High Times reported that a pot dispensary in Oakland, Crema de la Cana, is now selling pot ice cream in flavors that include Straw-Mari Cheesecake and Bannabis Foster. If Proposition 19 passes, maybe we'll see organic heirloom pot at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, or Cherry-Mari Garcia at Ben and Jerry's.

That could be why California breweries, pot's main competitors, are worried about waking up on November 3rd with a hangover. "This Bud's Not For You: Beer Industry Battling California Pot Initiative," the Huffington Post tweeted yesterday in response to the news that the California Beer and Beverage Distributors donated $10,000 towards defeating Prop 19. They're not the only ones worried about Marchetti's "new ballgame." Yesterday, FireDogLake reported that a $10,000 donation to fight a proposed medical marijuana initiative in Arizona came from the Arizona Cardinals football team.

Does this remind anybody of high school? On one side you've got beer-swilling jocks, on the other, pot-toking stoners. The only difference is that the popularity contest will determine a lot more than who gets laid.

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Texas: Where Innocent Men Are Sent to Die

| Wed Sep. 22, 2010 5:16 PM EDT

Update: On Oct. 27, presumably thanks to the article discussed below, the Burleson County district attorney's office cleared Anthony Graves of all charges and ordered him released after 18 years in prison. Read Pamela Colloff's fabulous followup story, "Innocence Found." 

Imagine it. You're 26 years old. The police show up at your mom's apartment. Cuff you. Drag you down to the station and throw you in a holding room without explanation. You sit for half an hour. Nobody will tell you a thing. Finally a justice of the peace shows up, reads you your rights. Says you're charged with capital murder. You don't know what kind of Kafka nightmare you've been dragged into, but you do know it's a colossal mistake. That you need to get it cleared up right away. "Capital murder," you repeat, stunned. You repeat it 18 times, enunciating the syllables as though trying to grasp the meaning. As you are hauled off for interrogation by the Texas Rangers, you slap the side of your head, crying out, "Am I dreaming?"

Today, more than 18 years later, your case still hasn't been cleared up. Your most productive years have been squandered on Texas death row, and even now, after your hide was barely saved by a last-minute appeal, and the court threw out your conviction due to the most egregious sort of prosecutorial misconduct, the Texas authorities are attempting to retry you for a crime you didn't commit. A crime perpetrated by the man you barely knew—who fingered you and then recanted, both to the prosecutor before your own trial, and then again, just prior to his own execution for the crime, insisting he and he alone killed the members of that family as they slept. A crime for which, in your case, there is no motive. No physical evidence to implicate you. For which you have an alibi.

Your name is Anthony Graves, and you had nothing to do with any of this. 

Karl Rove's Shadow GOP

| Wed Sep. 22, 2010 1:54 PM EDT

The Democratic Party has been outraising the Republicans when it comes to donations to the national parties. Last month, for instance, the Democratic National Committee raised $10.9 million as compared to the Republican National Committee's $7.9 million haul. But when it comes to election spending by outside groups, conservatives are blowing their liberal counterparts out of the water. Politico reports:

As of Monday, pro-Republican third-party organizations had paid for a total of $23.6 million worth of ads, while Democratic-aligned groups had spent just $4.8 million on TV.

For the next month — the crucial period during which many voters begin to consider their choices and make up their minds — the disparity is even more daunting for Democrats: Between now and Oct. 20, groups backing Republicans have $9.4 million worth of TV ads reserved across 40 districts, while outfits supporting Democrats have put down only $1.3 million in five districts.

While pro-Democratic labor unions have amped up their spending as well, conservative groups have eclipsed their efforts. In the last three weeks, seven pro-GOP groups spent more than $1 million each, including pro-business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Job Security, while not a single liberal group has matched such spending during the same time period.

Is the UN Coming for Your Guns?

| Wed Sep. 22, 2010 8:03 AM EDT

The UN and the "Obama regime" want to take away your guns! So says the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), the conservative group that bills itself the "Common Sense Gun Lobby." The organization recently blasted out an email alert-cum-funding request (via an affiliated group, Vision to America), warning its members of a proposed UN treaty it claims is poised to trample the second amendment:

In it’s [sic] most ambitious effort yet, the UN and the Obama regime are working together to pass the Arms Trade Treaty to control and/or ban ALL PRIVATELY OWNED FIREARMS!

The anti-gun nuts are holding secret meetings to craft a slew of uber-restrictive gun laws known as the Arms Trade Treaty. . . . The globalist gun agenda wants to disarm the world one gun at a time! Take action NOW to protect YOUR GUNS!

Last October, the UN started floating the idea of international standards for the importing, exporting, and transfer of conventional firearms, which frequently find their way into illicit markets and cause countless deaths each year. CCRKBA claims that the treaty could prohibit weapons manufacturers from selling guns to the US public, and require Americans to turn over any banned firearms to the government. Leading the charge against the globalist gun agenda is CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb, second amendment champion and self-professed "premiere anti-communist, free-enterprise, laisezz-faire capitalist." With sufficient email-sending, phone-calling, and fundraising, CCRKBA hopes to help strip the treaty's "anti-Second Amendment language." But the organization gripes that it can't win the war alone. Gottlieb and co. "need the help of patriots...to pledge [their] support to STOP THE UN FROM ATTACKING [THEIR] SECOND AMENDMENT RIGHTS!"

Gottlieb's email attacks the "U.N. propaganda machine" for "churning out manipulated 'facts'" about gun violence—like the sobering stat that illegal guns kill some 300,000 people per year. Such facts, Gottlieb writes, obscure "the evidence that armed conflicts aren't always necessarily bad."

I guess the gun haters need to brush up on their American history and learn about a little thing called the American Revolution. Our founding fathers fought for freedom from a tyrannical and abusive government. If there was an Arms Trade Treaty in 1776, our country would not exist.

The UN believes that if we take away guns from all "insurgents" our world would be a safer place. Wrong. Our founding fathers were considered insurgents. The UN erroneously thinks that anyone fighting for freedom is a threat. Guns protect citizens from governments who abuse their power. The only thing keeping the United States from turning into a Marxist Socialist regime is our right to keep and bear arms. With a guy like Obama in power it is terrifying to think what would happen to our country if we didn't have our Second Amendment Rights! We must act NOW to preserve our right to protect ourselves and our families from an opressive [sic] government at the State and Federal level!

As it turns out, Gottlieb's fear-mongering isn't confined to the ideological fringe. His paranoid view is shared to an extent by John Bolton, the United States' former Ambassador to the UN, and a guy who swims closer to the mainstream than Gottlieb. "Where Obama may try something new," Bolton wrote this week in a column for the conservative American Enterprise Institute, "is to emphasize his support for an 'Arms Trade Treaty'... that could dramatically restrict the private ownership of firearms worldwide, despite the clear constitutional protections of our Second Amendment."

Opponents of the treaty like Gottlieb and Bolton fail to note that such a treaty doesn't even exist yet. There isn't even a working draft. And even if there were such a treaty, the second amendment holds precedence over any law drawn up by an international body (thanks to the combined powers of the Constitution and 1957's Reid v. Covert).

A Crack In Wall Street's Foreclosure Pipeline?

| Wed Sep. 22, 2010 5:15 AM EDT

Could one bank's admission about dubious foreclosure documents cast doubt over millions of foreclosures filed by Wall Street banks in the past few years?

A quick recap: On Monday, a brief news item appeared saying that GMAC Mortgage, a multibillion-dollar housing subsidiary of Ally Financial, may "need to take corrective action in connection with some foreclosures" and had halted parts of the foreclosure process in 23 states, including Florida, a foreclosure hotspot. The news immediately took the housing industry by surprise and set the foreclosure blogosphere abuzz. Soon after, GMAC clarified its position to say there was no moratorium. But the company did say it had temporarily halted numerous evictions and foreclosure sales in those 23 states. A GMAC spokeswoman told Bloomberg News that the move resulted from a "defect" in the company's foreclosure paperwork that was merely "technical."

The way GMAC put it, some minor, non-factual errors caused a hiccup in their foreclosure pipeline. According to a company statement, "a new process has already been developed and implemented so that though some existing foreclosures may experience delays while corrective action is taken, there will be no interruption in new foreclosures." But state officials, experts, and foreclosure defense attorneys say there's a lot more going on—and that the ramifications of GMAC's decision could send shockwaves throughout other big banks, mortgage servicers, and possibly the entire foreclosure industry.