Mojo - May 2011

Arizona Legislature Holding Pledge Drive for Border Fence

| Mon May. 9, 2011 7:24 AM PDT

Perhaps smarting from the Florida state legislature's war on bestiality and droopy drawers, Arizona has fired a fresh salvo in the battle for the title of America's craziest state.

A new law that Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed in late April authorizes the construction of a border fence along the state's border with Mexico to halt the influx of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. But there's a catch: Because the state has no money, it plans to finance construction solely through private donations and then use prison labor to build the wall on the cheap. The first order of a business is to set up a website to plug the project. From the Associated Press:

"We're going to build this site as fast as we can, and promote it, and market the heck out of it," said [Steve] Smith, a first-term Republican senator...

Part of the marketing pitch for donations could include providing certificates declaring that individual contributors "helped build the Arizona wall," Smith said. "I think it's going to be a really, really neat thing."

Totally. There's some key context missing here, though. Namely: This isn't the first time Arizona has tried soliciting donations to carry out state business. In 2010, faced with an extraordinary budget deficit due to the deflated housing bubble and some pretty terrible legislating, the legislature passed a new law that sought to balance the budget by kindly asking citizens to donate money to the "I Didn't Pay Enough Fund" (their phrase, not mine). If, as the name suggests, you feel like you haven't paid enough in taxes, you can choose to pay a little bit extra, which the state will then put to good use—say, for buying tanks to break up cockfighting rings. Per the Phoenix New Times, the bill is expected to chip about $2,500 off of the $2.5 billion state deficit, leaving only $2.4999975 billion to go. Baby steps, people; baby steps.

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Big GOP Donors Sitting on Their Cash, Obama Banking on LGBT Money

| Mon May. 9, 2011 6:09 AM PDT

The Republican Party's constellation of deep-pocketed donors, spread throughout the country and capable of raining cash on the party's presidential nominee, are eyeing the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls a lot like the rest of the party: with a mix of wariness and concern. That's one reason why, as the New York Times reported, the GOP's top rainmakers have so far done little to drum up donations for Republicans angling for the presidential nomination.

The only candidate with a formidable fundraising network in place is former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. His backers include some of the party's top bundlers, the well-connected fundraisers who pull in big donations from their own respective networks, such as Washington lobbyist Wayne Berman and shopping mall developer and former US ambassador Mel Sembler, a man famous for raising more than $21 million at a single dinner in 2000. Yet the rest of the GOP field lags badly, especially considering that at this point in the 2008 race, the GOP hopefuls had raised upwards of $50 million each.

Here's more from the Times:

Adding to the challenge this year, the candidates will be competing for money with outside organizations like American Crossroads, a group formed with help from the Republican strategist Karl Rove that has set a fund-raising goal of $120 million for 2012, though it asks donors to help candidates and parties first.

Top Republican donors and senior party officials said they were not overly concerned, expressing confidence that when the field did crystallize the money would be there just as it was last fall. Speaking of the 2010 election cycle, Mr. Sembler, a longtime Republican rainmaker, said, "There were a lot of passionate people out there raising money," adding, "It just hasn’t seemed to be cycled up yet."

David A. Norcross, a former general counsel for the Republican National Committee, backed Mr. Romney in the 2008 primaries and had planned to support Mr. Barbour this time. "We're all in the wait-and-see category for now," he said, adding that he would probably take his cues from Mr. Barbour.

Meanwhile, President Obama's 2012 campaign war chest is beginning to fill up, thanks in large part to gay donors. As Politico reports, the Obama campaign is going all-out to court gay donors who, unlike other Obama supporters, are particularly pleased with Obama's achievements, including his demand to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

Obama's campaign fundraising roster says a lot. His campaign's finance director is gay, as is the Democratic National Committee's finance chairman. All in all, Obama's finance committee has 15 gay men on it, compared to a single gay man in 2008. And the wave of support from the gay community couldn't come at a better time for Obama:

Gay support is particularly key this year to Obama, whose 2008 campaign raised huge sums from the very rich, just as it did from smaller donors. Now, key categories of supporters have grown leery. The left-leaning super-rich, including George Soros, see Obama as hopelessly compromised, and have lost their enthusiasm for him. Some Wall Street and hedge fund executives, tired of being criticized and regulated, have switched sides. Some pro-Israel Jewish donors, a mainstay of Bill Clinton’s fundraising, dislike Obama’s pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu. And rich men on both coasts whom Clinton had accustomed to personal flattery, personal visits, and late-night bull sessions have received no such personal attention from the more solitary Obama.

[...]

"He's coming back up in the estimation of the gay community pretty rapidly, and I think justifiably," said Ethan Geto, a New York lobbyist and key figure in Dean's gay fundraising, who said many gay supporters had hoped "Don't Ask" would be repealed during the president's first year in office. "When things didn’t happen in (that) time frame and on the track that Obama had held out hope for, people got very disillusioned," said Geto. "This was the time to strike."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 9, 2011

Mon May. 9, 2011 3:10 AM PDT

Secretary of the Army John McHugh meets with members of the Afghan Local Police in the village of Tabin, Thursday, May 5, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo via US Army

Libya Lobbyists Come Clean

| Fri May. 6, 2011 2:50 PM PDT

Yep, we messed up. That's the word out of the Cambridge-based consulting firm Monitor Group. Between 2006 and 2008, the company maintained a highly questionable business relationship with the regime of Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator. Monitor helped Muammar Qaddafi's son Saif write his PhD dissertation at the London School of Economics. It also hired some of the US and UK's foremost international relations experts to write glowing editorials and essays about the Qaddafi regime's efforts to clean up its act and enact democratic reforms. And the firm never revealed that it was all was part of a coordinated—and well-funded—effort to end Libya's status as a pariah state.

Not long after Mother Jones reported on Monitor's Libya project, questions arose about whether the firm had taken the proper steps to register as a lobbyist for Libya with the Justice Department. Offering advice on economic or governing reform without registering isn't illegal. But the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) stipulates that groups like Monitor must register if they're planning on conducting "acts in a public relations capacity for a foreign principal"—which, as we reported, is primarily what Monitor's Libya project was all about. As we wrote back in March, Monitor decided to conduct an internal investigation into whether it had violated FARA, initially led by Eamonn Kelly, a senior partner at the firm. Later, the company brought in outside lawyers from the firm of Covington & Burling to finish the job.

The lawyers' conclusion: yes, Monitor most certainly did break FARA law. Today, the company announced that it is retroactively registering some of its past work in Libya, as well as its more recent work with Jordan. And on Tuesday, Monitor CEO Mark Fuller, who played a key role in the Libya project, resigned. Monitor also issued a press release on the findings of its internal investigation:

These decisions reflect a thorough fact-finding and legal investigation initiated by Monitor after issues concerning its work in Libya were raised earlier this year. The investigation, conducted by the law firm of Covington & Burling, included a review of Monitor engagements with foreign governments. That review concluded that some elements of Monitor’s work in Libya from 2006 through 2008 should have been registered under FARA. It also became apparent that a more recent item of work on behalf of the Kingdom of Jordan should have been registered. Monitor will now take all appropriate measures to remediate these errors.

The Boston Globe reports that Monitor is also likely to release details on how much it paid its academics, including British academic Sir Anthony Giddens. How did Monitor mess this up so bad? From the Globe:

[Eamonn] Kelly said the failure to register was due to a misunderstanding about legal requirements. But others said it reflects a deeper problem: The company was not transparent about the fact that it was engaged in a calculated effort to burnish Khadafy’s reputation, even to professors recruited in the effort.

"If I had known that a primary purpose of the visit to Libya was to influence public opinion in the United States, I would not have gone," Robert Putnam, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said in a telephone interview yesterday. Other professors said they did not feel misled.

Whether the DOJ actually brings charges against Fuller, et. al, remains to be seen. But given the intellectual firepower and general worldliness of the people involved in its project, Monitor's excuse—"We didn't know, sorry"—is less than satisfying. Hopefully, the DOJ feels the same way. 

The Real Prize of the Bin Laden Raid

| Fri May. 6, 2011 12:30 PM PDT
Osama bin Laden.

The headline news was the obvious: US raid kills Osama bin Laden. But the real prize obtained by the special forces that assaulted the compound in Abbottabad might not have been the Al Qaeda leader, but the information they scooped up during the 40 minutes they were on the ground.

Before the Navy SEALs airlifted out of the compound, they were "feeding this data to the targeteers," says a former CIA covert operative, who was at agency headquarters during the raid. He notes that "the phones [grabbed during the raid] can be dumped in seconds and uploaded in real time to headquarters."

According to the initial reports regarding the intelligence gathered in the raid, Bin Laden was more engaged in the leadership of Al Qaeda than many experts had assumed. Rather than being isolated in a cave, he was in this suburban compound exercising command functions for the terrorist network. Which suggests that specific information about Al Qaeda and its personnel and operations flowed through this facility. This intelligence—once translated, decoded (if any of it was coded), and analyzed—should provide US military and intelligence commands valuable information for attacking other parts of Al Qaeda. As the former CIA officer says:

There are many in the Al Qaeda leadership that have to assume their location, phones, and plans are exposed and are weighing whether they stay still, or run. If they move they risk instant detection, if they stay put, they will sweat that we are watching and waiting. The true impact of this raid on the Al Qaeda system is incredibly disruptive and destructive. We gathered up the command structures intel system and communications plans. That exposes everyone. I suspect we will capture or kill a lot of people over the next two weeks.  

He points to news reports of a drone strike in Pakistan's North Waziristan region on Friday that killed at least eight suspected militants.

"The personnel and procedures are available to perform a kind of triage," says Paul Pillar, a former top analyst at the CIA, "which involves quickly perusing material just enough to separate what is time-sensitive from what is not. The time-sensitive stuff then has high priority to be fully analyzed. The stuff that can wait (which is usually most of the stuff) can wait until resources later are freed up to address it. "

The material gathered at bin Laden's last house might provide intelligence that goes beyond information useful for neutralizing Al Qaeda leaders and operations.

Wayne White, a former State Department intelligence analyst points out that the treasure trove could contain material that helps the United States and NATO sort out the tangle of Taliban and assorted extremist groups that they are fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He notes, "Should the trove of information reveal (in part, by way of the nature of contacts with Al Qaeda), which portions of the Taliban & friends are the most doggedly hostile to us, those could be targeted more selectively."

That is, if a Taliban-related group was in Bin Laden's address book, Kabul might think twice about engaging in reconciliation talks with it: "Should we move closer to negotiations with elements of the Taliban, the improved granularity that might emerge from the documents could cast light on the political stance of various elements of the Taliban and could well identify those portions of the anti-Kabul resistance who would be more amenable to meaningful talks and those most likely to reject such overtures or enter into negotiations primarily to deceive."

White adds: "I place the emphasis on the hope that this trove of information will provide highly useful information that can assist at a more strategic (or higher) tactical level than just chasing al-Qaeda bad guys."

Chasing the bad guys is fine work, and this material—if interpreted and decoded sufficiently—will presumably fuel plenty of chasing. But it might also provide policymakers with additional insights useful for ending or diminishing the war in Afghanistan and countering extremist-driven instability in Pakistan.

Your Weekend Wrap-up of the Doubts, Debates, and New Details of the Bin Laden Raid

| Fri May. 6, 2011 12:22 PM PDT

This post first appeared on the ProPublica website.

More details, debates, and even doubts have continued to emerge about the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden this week.

We've been tracking the coverage with our reading guide. We're also got a weekend wrap-up for the major threads of this evolving story.
 

For the doubters (aka the Deathers)

In an online message that surfaced today, Al Qaeda confirmed that its founder was killed and warned that his death would not be in vain: "We will remain, God willing, a curse chasing the Americans and their agents, following them outside and inside their countries." US analysts have yet to verify the authenticity of the message.

The White House has announced it won't be releasing photos of bin Laden's body, citing the images' potential to incite violence or to be used as propaganda. At least one watchdog group has put in filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the federal government and has said it's prepared to suefor the photos.

Reuters, meanwhile, has bought several grisly photos of three of the other men who died in the raid at the compound. Beware: they're bloody.

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GOP on Huntsman: Maybe?

| Fri May. 6, 2011 9:07 AM PDT

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who recently resigned his post as Barack Obama's ambassador to China, appears poised to pursue the Republican presidential nomination. Huntsman, who just got back to the states last week, officially registered his political action committee—H PAC—with the FEC on Tuesday. That move will allow him to travel the country in support of fellow Republicans and raise money that he can use in a presidential run. Huntsman's major problem is, of course, that he voluntarily and graciously accepted an appointment to serve in a Democratic administration. That might not play well with Republican primary voters. But if you think Huntsman's chances of clawing to the top of the GOP ticket next year are totally DOA, The Hill wants you to think again:

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said Huntsman would "absolutely" make for an acceptable Republican nominee.

"I consider it a compliment for anybody to be selected to be ambassador to China," Wilson said. "So I think that enhances his credentials — he was sent to represent the people of the United States."

If a hardliner like Joe "You Lie" Wilson is giving Huntsman a serious look, that's a sign the former Utah governor could find more friendly faces on Capitol Hill over the next few weeks. Wilson is attending this weekend's graduation ceremonies at the University of South Carolina, where Huntsman will deliver the commencement address. He'll also meet with two of the GOP's rising stars, Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Gov. Nikki Haley (R), on his swing through South Carolina.

Keep an eye on the Palmetto state this weekend. In the wake of last night's lukewarm GOP B-team debate in Greenville—where this little nugget could end up being the biggest news—now could be an ideal time for Huntsman to announce his arrival. The reality is that he has near-zero name recognition nationally, and his South Carolina visit offers him a big opportunity to drum up support in a key GOP battleground. Plaudits from rising party stars like Haley and Scott could give him the early shot in the arm he'll need to stand a chance against heavy hitters like Mitt Romney.

Pawlenty: "I'm Sorry" I Once Cared About Climate

| Fri May. 6, 2011 8:25 AM PDT
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has struggled to distance himself from his old, reality based views on climate change.

Thursday night's Republican debate was worth watching if only to see Tim Pawlenty try to talk his way around his previous support for efforts to cut planet-warming emissions. As governor of Minnesota, Pawlenty not only acknowledged that climate change is a problem, but also endorsed a cap-and-trade plan to deal with it. That makes him something of a pariah among other Republicans these days.

In a very "This is Your Life" moment, the Fox debate hosts replayed a 2007 ad that Pawlenty recorded for the Environmental Defense Fund in which he argues for cap and trade as a solution for climate change. When asked to discuss the ad, Pawlenty abashedly replied, "Do we have to?"

After trying to explain that he didn't actually support cap and trade policy as governor—he just supported the "study" of it—Pawlenty decided to try apologizing:

"I’ve said I was wrong. It was a mistake, and I'm sorry," Mr. Pawlenty told the Fox television audience, presumably filled with potential Republican primary voters. "You’re going to have a few clunkers in your record, and we all do, and that’s one of mine. I just admit it. I don’t try to duck it, bob it, weave it, try to explain it away. I’m just telling you, I made a mistake."

Pawlenty has apologized for this before. In March, he told conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham that his support for cap-and-trade was a mistake and pointed to other Republican 2012 hopefuls who made similar "mistakes."

Pawlenty's flip-flop on climate is probably the most damning among the viable contenders for 2012. He formed the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group as governor to study the impacts of global warming and make policy recommendations. (He later ignored those recommendations.) He was also at the forefront of the effort to get the Midwest Governors Association to sign onto the Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord. He was even best buddies with a famed Arctic explorer and climate activist.

Pawlenty has been trying to talk his way out of all this ever since he signaled he is running for the Republican nomination. Last night probably didn't do much to end the questions. Pawlenty will be dealing with this for some time to come.

GOP Still Trying to Fundraise Off the Ryan Plan

| Fri May. 6, 2011 8:25 AM PDT

House Republicans are backing off their plan to privatize Medicare, finally acknowledging that the Paul Ryan blueprint had no chance of passing Congress. But the Republican Party is still trying to fundraise off of the Ryan plan—with nary a mention of Medicare. 

In a fundraising email sent Friday morning, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus urged supporters to sign a petition to "Support the Ryan budget" and contribute to the RNC. The petition, however, doesn't mention the most controversial part of the Ryan plan—its drastic overhaul of Medicare: 

I am proud to stand with Republicans in Congress who showed true leadership by passing The Ryan Budget that offers commonsense, conservative solutions to slash spending and ensures our government lives within its means like every American family. Keep up the good fight and keep working hard to cut spending, reduce the debt and shrink the size of government! 

Priebus' email goes on to praise Ryan and the House GOP for having "courageously and boldly" passed a "serious 2012 budget," apparently still confident that the public will perceive a drastic, overreaching plan as an applause-worthy move. To be sure, the public is significantly more likely to praise Republican deficit reduction proposals when they aren't given any specifics. But when people are told what the Ryan plan actually entails, public support craters—which probably explains why the RNC is relying on vague generalities to drum up support. Unfortunately for the GOP, Democrats have already made a massive push to tell voters exactly what the Ryan plan entails—and to keep pinning the blame on the GOP all the way until election day in 2012.

Great Moments in Florida Politics, Baggy Pants Edition

| Fri May. 6, 2011 7:29 AM PDT

For decades, Americans wondered what was the cause of Florida's pattern of strange behavior—its catastrophic elections, crazy elected officials, and the existence of Tampa. Well, now we have our answer: Baggy pants and bestiality. But don't worry, Florida, because your elected officials are totally on it:

Floridians are going to have to start pulling up their pants and stop having sex with animals soon.

It's up to Gov. Rick Scott to sign off on two bills passed in the Florida Senate and House Wednesday which target droopy drawers and bestiality.

The bestiality bill (SB 344) bans sexual activity between humans and animals and has been championed for years by Sen. Nan Rich, from Sunrise.

It was his pet cause. (Sorry.) Anyway, I'm not sure either of those bills are actually going to do much to fix Florida's fiascos. A more serious problem might be that, "for years," an elected official has been spending his energy trying to pass a bill to ban sexual activity between humans and animals.