Mojo - October 2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 25, 2010

Mon Oct. 25, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

A U.S. Soldier, center, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team stands in front of a destroyed truck in the Salar Bazaar in Wardak province, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2010. The truck was destroyed during a battle between Afghan National Army soldiers and insurgents. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Sean P. Casey/Released)

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Will New Air Force Motto Take Off?

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 6:29 PM EDT

The US Air Force announced earlier this month that it had finally adopted a new motto: "Aim high...fly-fight-win!" This simple slogan of five monosyllabic words took nine months of research and development by a crack team that included a lead scientist, two generals, a colonel, and the service's top enlisted man, who surveyed airmen and vets around the world. I had to check and make sure that Major Major Major Major wasn't a member of the Air Force's "motto team," because its work sounds like a scene straight out of Catch-22:

When the Air Force motto team embarked on the project, they committed to Airmen buy-in in an inclusive, well-researched effort, rooted in Air Force culture and identity...

"We took the time to try to get this right," General Schwartz said. "A service motto belongs to those who serve, and we've done our best to give voice to how Airmen feel about serving this nation...

After understanding the shared identity, the motto team began transforming words and concepts into a unifying, enduring and credible motto, said Lt. Col. Clark Groves, lead scientist for the project.

"The research team held more meetings with nearly 250 Airmen on bases in each major command, discussing scores of identifying words and concepts tied to the core Airman identity," he explained. "These discussions, information from Air Force historical archives and input from total force Airmen, Air Force civilians, retired Airmen, and the public provided the basis for identifying the ideal motto candidates."

This took nine months of R&D? Anyone who was alive in the '80s will remember the "aim high" recruiting tagline. And Schwartz, the Air Force's big cheese, has been using the "fly-fight-win" motto in pep talks since at least 2008. Why, I don't know. It's an eminently vapid mission statement, like a football team adopting the creed "Score more points."

Terror Trial Update: The Sparring Match Begins

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 4:14 PM EDT

Read Karen Greenberg's previous coverage of the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court.

If Wednesday's testimony was a step into the historical al Qaeda, now obsolete in many ways, yesterday's was an attempt to link that al Qaeda back to the defendant. By the end of the day, Ghailani seemed slightly more present in the prosecution's grand narrative.

The day began with a description of al Qaeda's criteria for selecting new members. "Young and trust," L'Houssaine Kherchtou, a former al Qaeda member and Osama bin Laden's pilot, testified. Young because "if you are new, nobody knows who you are." "Trust is very important," he asserted several times.

Kherchtou was confident during his direct examination the other day, his memory full of granular detail, his words nearly matching those he had used at the first embassy bombing trial in 2001. His easy manner belied the violent nature of the organization he was describing. But on cross examination yesterday, he became a more elusive witness: "I don't remember," "What do you mean by missions?", "What does 'revered' mean?"

WikiLeaks Iraq Dump Is On

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 3:36 PM EDT

[UPDATE: As of 5 p.m. EDT Friday, the WikiLeaks Iraq documents have dropped...all 391,831 of them. They are accessible in a searchable database here. Find anything you think is worth highlighting? Want to help drive MoJo's coverage? Let us know in the comments below, or email scoop@motherjones.com.]

WikiLeaks and its erstwhile mainstream media partners this weekend will release hundreds of thousands of documents relating to the Iraq war's conduct, a representative of one of the news organizations confirmed to Mother Jones.

A New York Times representative told MoJo that the data dump is coming soon, and other news outlets are reporting that the leak will form the basis of the Times' page 1 coverage Saturday. Al-Jazeera also confirmed the leak, saying it "has had full access to the documents." That would be a new development; in previous Afganistan coverage, WikiLeaks has leaned exclusively on the Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel.

The Iraq document dump had been rumored to occur earlier this week, but WikiLeaks' secretive honcho, Julian Assange, took potshots at those reports. It appears the leak had been held off to give the mainstream news organizations more time to mull the documents over, but that couldn't immediately be confirmed Friday.

In any case, like the DOD, Mother Jones has a team of knowledgeable investigators ready to pore over the document database once it's published. What specific issues or incidents would you most like to see investigated? Leave a comment below or email scoop@motherjones.com.

Speaker Boehner, I Presume?

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 2:00 PM EDT

In anticipation of House Minority Leader John Boehner's possible ascension to Speaker of the House, special interest groups have flooded his campaign coffers with cash. During the just-concluded third quarter, Boehner for Speaker—the Ohio Republican's joint fundraising committee, which aims to put the House in Boehner's hands—pulled in $1.9 million, while his own re-election committee took in $2.3 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. To put that figure into perspective: current Speaker Nancy Pelosi has raised $304,000.

Many of Boehner's contributors, including big energy and industry groups, have been on the losing end of the legislative battles of the past several years, and are hoping for a Republican takeover that reverses that trend. They're also traditional allies of the GOP, so it's not surprising that these interests would send money Boehner's way.

But the New York Times points out that:

[a]bout half of the 29 PACs that gave to Boehner for Speaker did not contribute to him or his leadership PAC during the 2008 election cycle, a telling sign of the newfound interest in Mr. Boehner’s power. About a third of the more than 160 PACs that directed donations to his personal campaign committee had not given to him in 2008 either.

Meanwhile, the Minority Leader is doing his best Don Vito impression and spreading the wealth to needy GOPers:

Mr. Boehner, in turn, has used his own fund-raising success to spur members of his caucus. At the final meeting of the Republican conference in late September, before Congress adjourned for the midterms, Mr. Boehner took out a $1 million check to the Republican Congressional campaign committee and placed it on the podium, according to Republican aides who were there. He vowed not to deposit it unless his fellow members came up with $3 million in pledges themselves. Members began lining up, with Mr. Boehner even calling out some by name. Soon they had exceeded his goal.

Republicans will likely argue that Boehner's fundraising prowess demonstrate how valuable he is to the party. But it actually demonstrates how much value his corporate donors expect to get from his elevation.

Who Will Win the Campaign Spending Arms Race?

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 10:32 AM EDT

Corporate-backed Republican groups have taken the lead in terms of outside spending for the vast majority of the election cycle. But labor unions are making an 11th-hour push to catch up, aided in part by the Citizens United decision that liberated both corporations and unions to use their own funds for ads. The Wall Street Journal reports that the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees has now overtaken every other group—excluding the political parties—in terms of total spending it’s promised to make:

The 1.6 million-member AFSCME is spending a total of $87.5 million on the elections after tapping into a $16 million emergency account to help fortify the Democrats' hold on Congress...The union is spending heavily this year because "a lot of people are attacking public-sector workers as the problem," said AFSCME President Gerald McEntee. "We're spending big. And we're damn happy it's big. And our members are damn happy it's big—it's their money," he said.

AFSCME’s $87.6 million total in pledged election spending puts it ahead of both the Chamber of Commerce, which has promised to spend $75 million, and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads at $65 million.

But with only 10 days left in the election, it’s unclear whether labor has enough time to close close the gap. The New York Times points out that in terms of money spent so far, the Chamber of Commerce is the "top non-party spender," spending $21 million in ads and other electioneering communications as of mid-October, as compared to AFSCME’s $7.9 million (or the SEIU’s $10.6 million). And while the Chamber has committed most of its money to ads, a good chunk of AFSCME’s pledged total will also go toward its get out the vote operation and "member to member" communications within the union itself, as opposed to the public at large. As The Washington Independent's Jesse Zwick points out, determining "who's the biggest spender" in any election depends to a large degree on which numbers you look at and how you spin them.

Even if individual labor unions like AFSCME trump some of the biggest corporate-backed groups in terms of total spending in the end, they might not be celebrating the brave new world of campaign finance. The SEIU opposed Citizens United and pledged not to take advantage of the decision, arguing that corporations would vastly outspend the unions. After originally backing the ruling, the AFL-CIO has recently made similar noises. Though AFSCME has gone all out at the last minute, given the grim political landscape, they might not want to be forced into the same spending arms race the next time around.

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'Tis The Season—For Push Polls

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 7:04 AM EDT

New Hampshire Democrat Paul Hodes is in hot water again this week for allegedly using push-polls in his campaign for Senate. On Thursday, the New Hampshire Republican Party filed a complaint with the state attorney general alleging that Hodes' campaign had violated a state law banning push polls that don't disclose who paid for them. (Push polls are phone surveys that purport to gather opinion research but which actually use slanted questions to intentionally spread negative information about a candidate.)

The GOP complaint comes only a few days after Mountain West Research Center, an Idaho-based firm working for Hodes’ campaign, agreed to pay a $20,000 fine for violating New Hampshire's push-poll law during the GOP primary. (The Hodes campaign fired Mountain West when the allegations surfaced in July). The complaint filed Thursday involves a different firm, the DC-based Americans Direction Group. The Hodes campaign has denied commissioning push polls and said it was only gathering information.

'Tis the season for political dirty tricks, so these probably won't be the only push-polling allegations to surface in the last days before the Nov. 2 midterm election. But less than two weeks before the election, the push-poll embarassment does make Hodes' campaign look a little desperate. Hodes has consistently trailed in the polls since he announced he was running, and forecaster Nate Silver now gives him just a 7 percent chance of beating GOP nominee Kelly Ayotte, a former state attorney general. So even the best push polls probably won't be enough to save Hodes.  But the fact that he'd employ the Mountain West Research Center (or someone who would subcontract with them) doesn't speak that well of his campaign. Here's why:

According to the Idaho secretary of state's office, the manager of Mountain West is David Haynes, who also happens to be the CEO of a Utah-based polling firm called Western Wats. That firm has been tied to push polling for more than a decade, starting at least as early as the 1996 presidential campaign, when Bob Dole admitted using the firm to push poll against Steve Forbes in Iowa during the GOP presidential primary. (The calls told voters that Forbes was not pro-life.)

Since then, Western Wats and the Mountain West Research Center have popped up regularly during competitive election seasons—frequently in conjunction with push-poll allegations. In 2006, democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont’s campaign reported that supporters had gotten push-polled by Mountain West during his primary challenge against Democrat Joe Lieberman. Western Wats also surfaced in the Vermont Senate campaign that year, tied to negative calls against the Senate’s only bona fide socialist, Bernie Sanders. But Western Wats really made news in 2008, when it was identified as the firm behind calls to voters in New Hampshire suggesting that Mitt Romney had dodged the Vietnam draft by serving as a Mormon missionary in France. The campaign behind those calls was never identified, though Rudy Giuliani was the leading suspect. (Ayotte, as attorney general, was charged with investigating the allegations.)

That's not all: some of those calls in previous years may have been made by underpaid children. In April, Western Wats settled a complaint with the US Department of Labor for serious violations of child labor laws. It agreed to pay more than $500,000 for reportedly employing more than 1,400 kids under 16 (some as young as 13) to staff its call centers. Many of the kids were paid less than minimum wage. Naturally, Western Wats dismissed the complaint as mostly full of "technical" violations, but the civil penalty was among the largest ever assessed by the Department of Labor for child labor violations.

None of this should have been a big secret to the campaign geniuses working for Hodes. But the campaign has claimed ignorance. His communications director Mark Bergman said in an email that the campaign did not engage Mountain West, but that one of its vendors had. Bergman says campaign staff was unaware of the connection "until we found they had not followed applicable New Hampshire law in July in conducting survey market research" and says the firm was let go immediately after. (By email, I asked Bergman whether the person or firm that hired Mountain West was also fired; he didn't respond.)

Of course, candidates (except maybe Bob Dole) never admit to having hired Western Wats or its related firm. The companies' names rarely show up on campaign disclosure forms because they are subcontracted through political consulting firms. Such an arrangement allows for plausible deniability should someone start complaining about dubious political phone calls. But it's especially curious that Hodes' campaign "vendors" chose to get down in the mud with such folks when Hodes is so likely to lose anyway. Far better, it seems, to lose gracefully than be forever listed in the annals of political dirty tricks. 

End of the Line for Anti-Abortion Dems?

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 6:03 AM EDT

Remember Rep. Bart Stupak? The Michigan Democrat was a source of immense frustration for liberals during the health care debate. He spent months leading a small group of pro-life Dems who opposed the bill because they (incorrectly) thought it funded abortions. Stupak eventually settled for an executive order promising that no health care funding would be used for abortions, and it seems that he'll soon be out of the spotlight for good, as he's retiring in January. But will Stupak's departure—and the fallout from the health care fight—mark the end for his breed of Democrat? I recently explored the possibility in an article for the print magazine. It's now available online:

Pro-life Democrats come in two varieties: those who tout anti-abortion views on the stump, but largely end up voting with their pro-choice colleagues, and those—typically hailing from deep-red districts—who almost always vote pro-life. As abortion foes mobilize against "faux" pro-life Dems in November, you might think they were going to focus on the first group. But they're really gunning for the second, traditionally the movement's staunchest Democratic allies. We're talking congressmen with ratings of 80 percent or higher from the National Right to Life Committee.

In May, abortion opponents claimed the scalp of the first member of this pro-life cadre—longtime Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.V.). The Susan B. Anthony List (a pro-life political action committee founded to counter the pro-choice powerhouse EMILY's List) spent $78,000 to help defeat him in the primary, and has pledged to spend a total of $1 million to unseat other alleged traitors to the pro-life cause. With most of those members already in tough races, and other anti-abortion groups embracing similar strategies, at least a half-dozen pro-life Dems could be headed for defeat this fall.

Here's the rest of "Mommy, What's a Pro-Life Democrat?"

The outlook for pro-life Dems has arguably worsened since the print magazine came out. Nate Silver, the New York Times' polling guru, says Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) and Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Penn.), two key members of the Stupak bloc, each have just an 8 percent chance of holding onto their seats. (My colleague Maddie Oatman has more on how the abortion fight has affected the Driehaus race.)

Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who drew a deeply flawed opponent in Nazi reenactor Rich Iott, will likely survive. But Rep. Brad Ellsworth will almost certainly lose his Senate race in Indiana, where Reps. Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill also face tough races. So do Chris Carney and Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania.

Other avowedly pro-life Dems, like Marion Berry (D-Ark.) and Charlie Melancon (D-La.) are not running for re-election. (Melancon is in a Senate race against David Vitter, and will probably lose.) Even longtime Rep. Nick Rahall could be in trouble in West Virginia. If Rahall loses, Kaptur would almost certainly be the only representative who attended Stupak's eleventh-hour press conference still serving in Congress come February. The Stupak bloc will have paid a heavy price indeed for backing health care reform. 

Pro-Life Dem Driehaus’s Worst Enemy: Other Pro-Lifers

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 6:03 AM EDT

Pro-life Democrats, a disappearing breed these days (more on that here), continue to face political attack by a most unlikely force: fellow pro-lifers. In "Mommy, What's a Pro-Life Democrat?" a new Mother Jones article out today, Nick Baumann examines how anti-abortion politicians who decided to vote for Obama's health care bill, like Steven Driehaus (D-Ohio), Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Penn.), and, most famously, Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), have become punching bags for pro-life groups that are still arguing that the bill provides federal dollars for abortions.

One group, the Susan B. Anthony List, pledged $1 million dollars to try to take down Dem "traitors" to the pro-life cause. Its strategy included a plan to paint billboards across Ohio with the message: "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion." When Driehaus caught wind of this attack a few weeks ago, he filed a complaint with the state election's commission, arguing that the billboard's message was false and violated one of the state's campaign laws. The elections commission sided with Driehaus, and the billboards never went up.

Blue Dog Dem Marshall Says No More Pelosi

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Even an old Blue Dog can learn new tricks. In a debate on Wednesday against energetic Republican challenger Austin Scott, Georgia Dem Rep. Jim Marshall announced that he wouldn't back Nancy Pelosi as Speaker if Democrats somehow manage to retain the House on November 2. "I have always preferred a different candidate, but Nancy Pelosi always had her votes," he declared. In previous go-rounds, he said, "[t]here wasn’t much point in sticking a thumb in her eye." Now trailing Scott by almost 3% with less than two weeks till election day, Marshall has changed his mind.

A conservative Democrat, Marshall has supported Pelosi's previous bids for the speakership. And his record—siding with his party 88.5% of the time, including votes for the stimulus and bank bailout—isn't exactly anti-Pelosi. Marshall supporters argue that the reversal is an example of his independent bona fides. But moderate Dems across the country have been distancing themselves from party leadership for some time now. 

Given the 8th district's conservative demographics and recent Republican-friendly redistricting, Marshall's ability to hold onto the seat is something of an anomaly. This year, he's had little choice but to play heavily to the right, and has received endorsements from the Republican-favoring US Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association. Weighty endorsements aside, the Republican leadership smells blood in the water. House Minority Leader and presumptive future Speaker of the House John Boehner paid a visit to the 8th on Tuesday, where he made a speech promising plum committee spots to newbie House Republicans.

But what happens if Marshall and other endangered moderates win? Will they face the wrath of Nancy, Steny, and Co.? Pelosi doesn’t seem to be losing sleep over Marshall's comments or other such denunciations around the country. "I just want them to win," she said recently on the PBS NewsHour. That suggests forgiveness could be in the offing—provided that wayward Dems return to the fold.