Mojo - November 2010

Jeff Goldberg Agrees with... Glenn Greenwald? About Anwar al-Awlaki?

| Tue Nov. 16, 2010 3:00 PM EST

When Jeffrey Goldberg, who calls himself a "warmongering neocon hawk," told me that he was "sympathetic to the purity of [Glenn] Greenwald's position" on Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and Al Qaeda propagandist whom the Obama administration has decided to kill, I thought an intriguing convergence had been revealed.

I had called Goldberg, the prolific Atlantic reporter and blogger, on Tuesday afternoon to talk about airport security (his recent piece on the subject is a hilarious must-read). But somewhere along the way, we got side-tracked into a broader discussion about civil liberties. During our chat, Goldberg seemed to agree with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and die-hard civil libertarian/Salon blogger/relentless Goldberg critic Glenn Greenwald: the US government ought not to kill al-Awlaki without due process. 

Goldberg launched the discussion of al-Awlaki's fate by telling me he was surprised there wasn't more public debate over the Obama administration's stance. "It's amazing to me," he said. "You're telling me that the President can decide to go kill an American without judicial or congressional oversight?" There's a "continuum," Goldberg said, between the al-Awlaki case and another pet peeve—that the "government has decided it's going to grope the genitals of American citizens." Here are my edited notes on the rest of Goldberg's comments on the subject:

This is tremendous power. This is the government accruing more and more and more power. I just think you're dealing with a principle that's completely divorced from grossness of who Anwar al-Awlaki is [how reprehensible and unsympathetic he is, etc], which is that he has American citizenship and the President has decided to kill an American. I would like an open discussion [about that.] That is an incredible power grab. Put aside who [al-Awlaki] is and where he lives: the man is an American citizen and [the President] has taken upon himself to say I'm going to go and [kill] an American citizen. It's certainly heavier than "I'm going to allow the government to grope the genitals of American citizens".... 

I don't think enough proof has been presented that [al-Awlaki] is an actual operator of terrorist cells, that he's actually directing the actual murder of others. I think he's fundamentally functioning as a propagandist....

The Israelis have never conducted an assassination against an Israeli citizen.... It would be interesting to look at what the Israel Supreme Court might say about the Prime Minister-directed killing of someone considered to be a terrorist, an Israeli citizen. I have a feeling, maybe i'm crazy, that there might be a more active judicial debate and Knesset debate on that than we have here.

Once you cross this bridge.... no matter who he is or what he's said you have a situation where the American government is pursuing the assassination of American citizen.

I'm sympathetic to the purity of [Glenn] Greenwald's position on this. How is it the government can make a decision without oversight that it's going to seek the drone assassination of an American citizen.....

As hawkish as i am I'm just not comfortable [with this]. I don't want to be represented by a government that without judicial and congressional oversight and the benefit of courts decides to assassinate an american citizen. What I'm saying is I'd like to see more evidence.... I do see it as a continuum.... get the government out of my pants, keep the government from killing American citizens without judicial proceedings.

Goldberg has yet to write about this subject on his blog. But interestingly, his position seems to clash with that of Andrew Sullivan, his fellow blogger and Atlantic colleague. Sullivan doesn't seem to have many serious qualms about the government killing al-Awlaki. 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Last Week In Police Shootings...

| Tue Nov. 16, 2010 2:38 PM EST

By now, you've probably read Charlie LeDuff's stellar article in the November/December issue of Mother Jones about Aiyana Stanley-Jones, the seven-year-old shot by Detroit SWAT officers in her home during the filming of an A&E reality TV show. You've probably even heard of Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old black man fatally shot in the back by Bay Area Rapid Transit cop Johannes Mehserle on New Year's Eve, an incident which was also caught on video. On November 5, Mehserle was sentenced to two years for involuntary manslaughter. After credit for time served, he will spend a little less than a year behind bars. That's almost four years less than the Virginia man who was convicted in August of fatally shooting a dog on purpose. Mehserle's sentence was decided by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry, the same judge who during the Rampart scandal—in which more than 100 criminal convictions were overturned, and the city of LA had to pay more than $50 million to individuals who had false evidence planted on them—gave a reduced sentence to an officer involved in wrongful police shootings and cover-ups. Days after Mehserle's sentence was delivered, 37-year-old Derrick Jones became another one of the 350 people killed annually by police officers in this country. Like Grant and Stanley-Jones, Jones was black and unarmed. Colorlines has more on his story here.

If murder charges are brought against the officers behind Jones's shooting, most likely they will be acquitted or face a reduced sentence: In the past 15 years, there've been only six cases where a murder charge was filed against a police officer. Almost none resulted in a murder conviction. "The lack of law enforcement accountability undermines not only the integrity of law enforcement itself, but the safety of all of our communities," NAACP president Benjamin Jealous said after Mehserle's sentence was declared. Oscar Grant's uncle Cephus Johnson also offered a few clues as to why cops wrongfully kill people of color and how they get away with it. Watch after the jump.

DC Ticker on ABC News: Shuler, Buy; Rangel, Sell

| Tue Nov. 16, 2010 11:51 AM EST

I've previously explained the DC Ticker I compile most days, which is now being featured weekly on ABC News' website show, Political Punch, hosted by Jake Tapper. Here are the picks featured on the latest PP:

* Heath Shuler, buy—This House Democrat is challenging Nancy Pelosi to be the House Democratic leader but says he doesn't expect to win. He probably does expect his TV bookings to increase.

* Charlie Rangel, sell—What's the old saying about a lawyer who represents himself? Oh yeah, he has a fool for a client.

Kristi Noem, buy—She's one of a hundred incoming House Republican freshmen, but she's quickly standing out as a potential House leader. It doesn't hurt that Politico named her one of the most "crushworthy" Hill newcomers.

* Bill Thomas, buy—This former House Republican used to be chair of the House Ways and Means Committee; now he works for a major lobbying and law firm. Thomas, in a way, represents all the Republican lawmakers-and-staffers-turned lobbyists-and-consultants who will make a mint peddling influence in the new Congress.

You can receive the almost-daily DC Ticker report by following my Twitter feed. (#DCticker is the Twitter hashtag.) Please feel free to argue with my selections—though all decisions of the judges are final. And please feel free to make suggestions for buy or sell orders in the comments below or on Twitter (by replying to @DavidCornDC). Don't forget: DC Ticker is merely an advisory service. It and its author cannot be held liable for any investments made in politicians, policy wonks, or government officials on the basis of the information presented. Invest in politics at your own risk.

Religious Right Slams Gay-Tea Party Alliance

| Tue Nov. 16, 2010 11:44 AM EST

Over the weekend, the conservative gay group GOProud co-authored a letter with some libertarian-leaning tea party activists calling on the GOP leadership in Congress to stay focused on the tea party's core fiscal issues, and not to go down the "rabbit hole" of divisive social issues like gay marriage and abortion. The move hasn't gone over too well with establishment evangelical groups, which have had an uneasy relationship with the burgeoning tea party movement from the beginning. I called the Family Research Council yesterday for a comment for a story I wrote on the issue, but never got a call back. Instead, FRC seems to have issued its response online, writing in its Washington update:

A group that had nothing to do with bringing the Republicans to power suddenly wants to dictate what the party does with it. GOProud, an aggressive pro-homosexual organization that desperately wants to be taken seriously by conservatives, is trying to force its way into the movement by persuading a small handful of tea partiers to sign on to a social truce for the 112th Congress...

FRC points out what we noted, which is that most tea partiers are firmly in the social conservative camp:

According to the latest data, an overwhelming number of Tea Partiers (almost two-thirds) believe abortion should be outlawed. About half believe in the Bible as the literal word of God, and most think that public officials don't pay nearly enough attention to it or religion as a whole. According to Zogby data, 82% of them oppose same-sex "marriage."

And the group sees a bit of hypocrisy in GOProud's call for Republicans to abandon social issues even as the group lobbies them for a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't tell" and other expansions of gay rights. FRC takes this as a call for one-sided disarmament, which it soundly rejects:

For starters, that won't fly with the broader Tea Party movement which is solidly in the social conservative camp (see DeMint, Jim). Secondly, it's a losing strategy for America. We need to shrink the size of government, but America needs strong families. Those families—not GOProud's phony substitutes—are the backbone of society. Think about the welfare costs associated with the breakdown of social order. Think about the cost in terms of crime and the criminal justice system. What about the loss of human potential? Do these folks really think we can just eliminate those government expenditures overnight? What this crowd is advocating will lead to anarchy, which, ironically, would provide GOProud and friends a perfect environment for their lifestyle.

While the tea party movement may be in the beginning of an internecine battle to define itself as the movement of smaller government or one that also wades into fights over social issues, it's clear from the FRC blog today that the Republican Party is still engaged in a bit of a civil war. And that battle is likely to be fought not over any libertarian versus social issue focus, but over allegiances. Does the grand old party align itself with the new tea party activists (who are also socially conservative) or remain loyal to the old reliable foot-soldiers of the Religious Right embodied in the FRC? Keeping both camps happy is likely to be a Herculean political task, and at some point, the party is going to have to pick a side.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 16, 2010

Tue Nov. 16, 2010 6:30 AM EST

Staff Sgt. Giunta is scheduled to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions while deployed with Battle Company's 1st Platoon in Afghanistan's remote Korengal Valley. It was widely considered to be one of the most difficult and dangerous assignments of the war. Photo via U.S. Army.

The Best Argument You'll See All Day (Sharia edition)

| Mon Nov. 15, 2010 5:24 PM EST

Not this Islam. Simon Fernandez/FlickrNot this Islam. Simon Fernandez/FlickrIt's easy to forget, what with the killer grizzlies and the guardian porpoises and the election and all, that Islam is currently on trial in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Actually, it's been on trial since September. Looking to block construction of an Islamic community center, local activists took the issue to court, alleging that the mosque is not protected by the First Amendment, because Islam is not a religion*. It's an ingenious (and expensive) tactic. But will it work?

With arguments set to wrap up this week, things have gone pretty much as you'd expect. The federal government has stepped in to say that, yes, Islam is a religion and a pretty big one at that. City authorities have testified that, yes, Muslims do have a right to build their community center in Murfreesboro, but that if anyone tries to impose Sharia in Middle Tennessee, they'll be on it. And the plaintiffs, as the AP notes, have taken full advantage of their platform to sound the alarm of impending doom. Sometimes that means paying witnesses to read printouts they found on the Internet; sometimes that means exchanges like this:

"Do you remember Jim Jones who killed all those people who drank the Kool-Aid," Brandon asked Burgess. "Is that what's going on with the [Islamic Center of Murfreesboro]?" Brandon also asked each commissioner if they believed in tenets of Sharia law that plaintiffs claim ICM members will institute in Murfreesboro. "Do you believe in having sex with children," Brandon asked Farley to the gasps of the audience and a quickly sustained objection that the court was degrading into a circus.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Arizona Legalizes Medical Marijuana

| Mon Nov. 15, 2010 4:51 PM EST

On Sunday, Arizona officially became the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana. It was the narrowest of victories: By the time that all of Arizona's of 1.67 million votes were counted, Proposition 203 won by less than 5,000.  But while that was hardly a resounding win for the pot initiative, it's an important one in a state in which a plurality of voters and all victors for statewide office this year are Republicans.

As I've noted in the past, loosening restrictions on marijuana turns out to be a bipartisan issue. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, a whopping 61 percent of Republicans support legalizing the drug for medical patients. The tea party includes vocal advocates of legalizing pot for medical as well as recreational use such as US Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and the former Republican governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson.

Of course, marijuana legalization in any form is still a tough sell in many states. On election day, voters rejected a similar medical marijuana measure in South Dakota, and other states haven't even been able to get the issue on the ballot.  The difference in Arizona's case is probably geographical: According to a poll released on April 20th by CBS news, 55 percent of voters in Western states support legalizing marijuana for recreational use—a higher percent than in any other part of the country (only 36 percent of Midwestern voters support legalization). Western Republicans tend to be more libertarian than their counterparts in the rest of the country.

Ironically, some Arizona voters may have been scared into into opposing medical marijuana by the spectacle of California, where a landmark initiative to legalize pot for recreational use was on the ballot. California potheads argued that the state's 1996 medical marijuana law is so loosely worded that pot is virtually legal already. Working the argument from the other side, Keep AZ Drug Free, the anti-Prop 203 group, claimed that allowing medical cannabis in the Grand Canyon State would just be the first step towards total marijuana legalization. In an effort to tamp down such fears, Prop 203 places tighter controls on who can use medical marijuana and where they can buy it. Yet if polling trends hold up, it's just a matter of time before the West completely succumbs to reefer madness.

 

Rep. Jeff Flake: Kill Earmarks

| Mon Nov. 15, 2010 3:32 PM EST

Kill earmarks! So said Arizona Republican Jeff Flake in an op-ed on Friday in the Washington Post. Flake, a fiscal conservative with a sterling no-earmark record, has been floated as a possible addition to the House Appropriations Committee. For a rising star like Flake—and with earmark reform the meme of the moment for congressional Republicans—it was only a matter of time 'til he weighed in on the debate.

Critics of earmark reform rally around the fact that they constitute a paltry 2 percent of government spending. But as earmarks have spiked in number and expense over the past two decades, Flake says, the commensurate quality of congressional oversight by the House Appropriations Committee has slipped precipitously. The result: Congress has given up its oversight of the remaining 98 percent.

Flake attacks Sen. Mitch McConnell's contention that an earmark ban cedes spending power to the president. (Despite initial resistance, McConnell endorsed Sen. Jim Demint's proposed earmark moratorium Monday afternoon.) Giving up earmarks doesn’t hand power to the White House, he argues. Instead, it's Congress' reliance on earmarks that has led lawmakers to turn a blind eye to the executive branch's spending excesses.

"It is as if Congress has called a truce with the executive branch: don’t hassle us about our 2 percent," he writes, "and we'll offer only token interference with your 98 percent. Such a poor trade has not been made since the days of Esau." Flake's suggestion is that, in Washington, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue excel at the practice of gluttonous spending. One end feeds and, in fact, enables the other.

Public revulsion to wasteful projects, he argues, is reason enough to invoke a ban. The "most compelling reason," he says, is that it will balance the relationship between Congress and the executive branch.

"Without the earmark distraction," he argues, "Congress can return to the deliberative process of authorization, appropriation, and oversight, thus reining in spending abuses of the administration rather than simply piling on with spending abuses of our own."

Ranking member Jerry Lewis certainly seems convinced of Flake's fiscal bonafides: the California Republican has endorsed Flake in his bid to be named to the committee. Lewis is term-limited from being named chairman, and is seeking a waiver. He's also a notorious porker. Some see his support for Flake as an attempt to win over Republicans skeptical of his record on earmarks.

There's no telling how realistic Flake's orthodox vision truly is. But thanks to the DeMint's proposed moratorium, the tea party freshmen, and longtime earmark critics like Flake, the push for earmark austerity is getting a major shot in the arm. 

Foreclosure King Defaults on Rent, $15 Million Loan

| Mon Nov. 15, 2010 2:01 PM EST

For people pushed out of their own homes by the law firm of foreclosure king David J. Stern, consider Monday's news a piece of sweet irony. Stern, the South Florida lawyer who built a business empire in the foreclosure industry, has come full circle: In a regulatory filing published today, Stern's publicly traded company revealed that one of its subsidiaries failed to pay rent in November on its towering office building in Plantation, Florida, and had received a notice of default. Mother Jones readers likely first heard of Stern through our eight-month investigation into his global foreclosure operation and the larger world of foreclosure mills, the assembly line-like law firms that cut corners and allegedly commit fraud in their quest to snatch borrowers' homes as fast as possible.

Stern's financial troubles stem from the implosion of his foreclosure empire. In the months after Mother Jones published its investigation, he's lost clients such as Citigroup, GMAC, Wells FargoFannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, and laid off nearly 450 employees. New business to his companies, he wrote in a recent letter, has declined by a staggering 90 percent in the past six months.

And it gets worse for Stern and his foreclosure operation. The same regulatory filing shows that another Stern subsidiary recently defaulted on a $15 million line of credit from Bank of America, on which the company still owes $12 million in principal. The loan was issued in March to a subsidiary of DJSP Enterprises, which handles all of the non-legal, paper pushing work in Stern's operation—anything for which you don't need a bar license. On November 5, the filing shows, the company received a letter from BofA saying it was in default and that the bank demanded full repayment immediately—money that Stern's operation apparently doesn't have.

But there's a rub. Unlike millions of homeowners, who when faced with default couldn't catch a break with unscrupulous foreclosure attorneys or unsympathetic mortgage servicers or dismissive judges, Stern cut a deal with Bank of America. On November 12, the regulatory filing says, Bank of America and the Stern subsidiary entered into a forbearance agreement, giving Stern until the end of the month to develop a new business plan and prove to BofA how his operation will somehow pay off the loan. However, the regulatory filing strikes an ominous for the future of Stern's empire, given the perilous state of his businesses, the debts owed, the ongoing Florida attorney general's investigation, and more:

There can be no assurance that [Stern subsidiary] DAL will be able to obtain forbearance agreements with the Bank or its other creditors, develop ongoing operating plans that will be acceptable to its creditors or successfully develop and implement those plans in a timely manner. If it is unable to accomplish any of the foregoing, it will not be able to continue its business operations.

GOP's 2012 Spending War Begins

| Mon Nov. 15, 2010 6:00 AM EST

While top Democratic donors meet in Washington this week to start planning their 2012 election strategy, the Republican Party's presidential hopefuls have already begun filling their war chests with donations galore. As the New York Times reported Friday, GOP frontrunners including Mitt Romney and Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty are using various political action committees registered at the state level to drum up cash for their early presidential nomination bids. These pre-campaign PACs are formed at the state level where donation limits are often more lax than at the federal level.

Pawlenty, for instance, pulled in $60,000 from GOP donor Bob Perry in September, the Times reported; had the donation gone to a federal PAC, campaign finance laws would've limited Perry's gift to $5,000. Romney has set up state-level branches of his federal PAC in places like Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina—all of which are bellwether states in presidential elections. Here's the Times' Michael Luo laying out the 2012 spending wars on the GOP side so far:

Mr. Romney has been by far the most assertive, according to interviews with a half-dozen top Republican fund-raisers, already pushing for commitments from major donors should he formally decide to run.

Over the summer, Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, invited top bundlers of campaign checks from key states to his vacation home in New Hampshire on several occasions to help firm up their commitments. Mr. Romney has already lined up an array of prominent supporters, including a billionaire, David Koch, who has donated heavily to conservative causes over the years, and Robert Wood Johnson IV, the billionaire owner of the New York Jets and one of the party’s most coveted fund-raisers.

Mr. Pawlenty has also been putting together a financial apparatus. On Monday and Tuesday evening, for instance, he met with top fund-raisers who flew to Minneapolis to listen to a briefing on his record as governor. Those were the latest in a series of such meetings that began in September, according to William Strong, a vice chairman at Morgan Stanley who has spearheaded fund-raising for Mr. Pawlenty’s political action committee, Freedom First.

Over the last year, Mr. Pawlenty has been methodically courting fund-raisers in get-acquainted, “friend-raiser” sessions and is now moving to deepen those relationships with a potential eye on 2012, Mr. Strong said.

Potential GOP candidates lagging behind include Sarah Palin, who's raised considerable funds through Sarah PAC, a federally-registered fund, but not much from larger donors. Mike Huckabee as well trails Romney and Pawlenty by a substantial margin in the money race.

So what's to make of this early wooing of fundraisers by top GOPers? Are people committing to individual candidates this early in the presidential campaign (which to say, before it's really begun)? In answering these questions, it's worth bearing in mind what one Washington lobbyist and Republican fundraiser told the Times: "People are shopping. People aren't buying yet."