Mojo - January 2011

Federal Prison Director Defects to Private Prison Company

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 9:12 PM EDT

Less than a month after retiring from his post as Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Harley G. Lappin has been hired to a top positon at the nation's largest private, for-profit prison contractor, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). In a move that has gone virtually unnoticed by the press except on the business pages, Lappin, who had run the BOP since 2003, has been named CCA's Executive VP and Chief Corrections Officer. According to a company press release, his responsibilities will include "the oversight of facility operations, health services, inmate rehabilitation programs, [and] purchasing."

Lappin announced his retirement in March, a few days before making public his arrest, the previous month, on DUI charges in Maryland. In a memo apologizing to BOP employees, Lappin admitted to a "lapse in my judgment...giving rise to potential embarrassment to the agency," but he refused to acknowledge a direct link between his arrest and his retirement. The announcement of his appointment to a leadership position at CCA came just over three weeks after his effective retirement date of May 7.

Taking advantage of two concurrent 30-year trends--toward mass incarceration and toward privatization of government services--CCA has grown to a $1.6 billion company that operates 66 facilities in 20 states, with approximately 90,000 beds. It has become notorious for its poor treatment of prisoners, and for numerous preventable injuries and deaths in its prisons and immigrant detention centers. About 40 percent of CCA's business comes from the federal government, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as the Bureau of Prisons. As BOP director, Lappin would have overseen government contracts with CCA worth tens of millions of dollars. CCA spends approximately $1 million annually on lobbying on the federal level alone.

A press release from the invaluable Private Corrections Working Group notes that Lappin's quick trip through the government-to-industry revolving door is hardly unique in the Bureau of Prisons' history: "Lappin joins another former BOP director already employed with CCA, J. Michael Quinlan, who was hired by the company in 1993. He retired as director of the BOP in 1992, several months after settling a lawsuit that accused him of sexually harassing a male BOP employee. While settling the suit, Quinlan denied allegations that he made sexual advances to the employee in a hotel room."

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House GOP Tells DHS to Stop Worrying About Climate Change

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 4:00 PM EDT

Readers of this blog are well-versed in Republican attempts to axe any and all government programs that include the word "climate" in the title. Among their attempts so far this year: axing NOAA's climate service, taking a chainsaw to the EPA, and attempting to defund NASA's climate work, to name a few. The latest? On Thursday, the House GOP passed a measure barring the Department of Homeland Security from working on a government-wide plan to prepare for climate change.

Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.) tacked an amendment onto the DHS budget bill for fiscal year 2012 that bars DHS from working with the Interagency Task Force on Climate Change Adaptation. The task force, created by the Obama administration, is charged with making recommendations about how to prepare for climate change. From Energy & Environment Daily ($ub. req'd):

The Carter amendment would likely prohibit DHS staff from coordinating with staff from other agencies to assess the risks climate change poses to domestic security and to find ways to adapt to it, an administration aide said.
In his statement supporting the amendment, Carter said that it is unnecessary for DHS to use any of its resources to address climate change, because US EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also have climate mitigation and monitoring programs.

Well, yes, other agencies do have climate programs (though I would note that the House GOP has defunded some of the very same climate work at those agencies that Carter now touts). But that doesn't mean that the national security community has no role to play in preparing for the impacts of climate change. Carter's not the first to go after the task force, as Senate Republicans also targeted it earlier this year. This latest effort, though, goes the extra step of actively telling national security experts to stop caring about an issue that they have flagged as a concern.

Palin's Clambake Trumps Romney's Presidential Roll-Out

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 3:30 PM EDT

Mitt Romney's nascent presidential campaign must be pissed about the front page of today's New Hampshire Union Leader, the day after he officially announced his candidacy for the 2012 Republican nomination. As you can see, it was Sarah Palin's trip to the Granite State that got the coveted A1 treatment, while Romney's news got a small sidebar and a story tucked on the inside of the paper:

A closer look:

Ouch. What does that say about Romney's popularity, in a make-or-break state for his presidential bid, that Palin's stops at a clambake and a local fishermen's pier trumped his big news?

Saudi Women to Clinton: Help Us Win the Right to Drive

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 1:20 PM EDT

Between forging new diplomatic relationships with Egypt and Tunisia and managing the US response to ongoing strife in Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, and Syria, you might say that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has her hands full. But don't tell that to the women of Saudi Arabia. Hot on the heels of the Arab Spring, they're pushing Clinton to speak up for their right—not to vote or to overthrow the government, but to drive.

Over 10,000 people in the US have signed an open letter calling on Clinton to publicly support giving Saudi women have the right to drive. The campaign, which is spearheaded by Change.org, was spurred on by the plight of Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman who was arrested for driving and subsequently dubbed the "Saudi Rosa Parks." The letter-writers are calling for Saudi women to protest by taking to the roads en masse on June 17.

From the letter:

Saudi Arabia, one of the strongest and longest standing US allies in the Middle East, is also the only country on earth where women are not allowed to drive, or even ride a bicycle, often dubbed 'the world's largest women's prison'. As Saudi women our lack of freedom of movement places an extreme burden on our lives. We lack a public transportation system and the most basic errands and medical appointments are missed due to the difficulty and expenses of arranging transportation, notwithstanding educational and work opportunities. Many from our religious establishment openly state that the reason they prohibit women from driving is to keep women at home and in need of men. Our lack of this basic right to drive our own cars has been repeatedly exploited by abusive fathers, brothers, husbands and even hired drivers. Just this week a Saudi woman reported she was raped by her driver.

And the letter makes a direct pitch to Clinton:

We write to ask that you make a public statement supporting Saudi women's right to drive. We do not make this request lightly, but we believe that you making a public statement of support for Saudi Arabia opening the country's roads to women would be a game changing moment.

Secretary Clinton, you are a friend. Indeed, some of us have met you personally during your decades-long journey as a champion of women’s rights all over the world. Now, as we build the largest Saudi women's protest movement in decades, we need your help.

So far, the Saudi monarchy has managed to fortify itself against the revolutionary tide that's threatening entrenched regimes across the region. If, come June 17, its women drivers pull off their bold, potentially game-changing display of civil disobedience, everyone—including Clinton, a champion of women's rights—will have to stand up and take notice.

Paul Revere's Ride, Reimagined by Sarah Palin

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 11:41 AM EDT

On Thursday, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin passed through Boston as part of her totally-not-a-presidential-campaign-test-run, family-vacation (yeah, right) East Coast bus tour. Because the purported mission of the trip is to help Americans "appreciate the significance of our nation's historic sites, patriotic events and diverse cultures," the former half-term Alaska governor did what most tour groups do when they come to the city: she checked out the Freedom Trail, which winds past historic landmarks like the Old North Church and Paul Revere's house. As she explained on her blog, "There's so much history here.  It's amazing how much of our nation's history can be found in just two and a half miles on the Freedom Trail." There certainly is a lot of history to be found on the Freedom Trail, but Palin appears to have lost most of it.

Here's how she described Paul Revere's famous ride:

…he who warned the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms, uh, by ringin' those bells and, um, makin' sure as he's ridin' his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we're gonna be secure and we were gonna be free. And we we're gonna be armed.

This is actually the opposite of everything Paul Revere did. He wasn't sending any messages to the British soldiers who were about to move on the patriots' weapons stockpiles and arrest key leaders. According to history, Revere was warning the Minutemen that the Brits were coming so these militia members could prepare. He did not ring any bells. He instructed a friend to put either one or two lights in the tower of the Old North Church ("one if by land, two if by sea"). He did not fire any warning shots. His ride at the time was no act of symbolism; it was a stealth operation in support of a local resistance movement whose goals at that point remained largely undefined.

Palin's Revere narrative is the latest in an emerging, alternative history of the American Revolution as researched by Republican presidential candidates. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) floated her own contrarian theory last month when she told a crowd in New Hampshire that "It's your state that fired the shot that was heard around the world, you are the state of Lexington and Concord, you started the battle for liberty right here in your backyard." That mistake—Lexington and Concord are in Massachusetts—would seem a lot more accidental if she hadn't made it twice—in prepared remarks. (In a related incident, she suggested that the Founding Fathers tried to abolish slavery.) Herman Cain, the former pizza titan who's currently polling in second in Iowa, recently told Americans to "reread" the Constitution: "When you get to the part about 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,' don't stop there, keep reading." But if you're trying to read the Constitution and you come across the phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,' you should really stop, because you will have been reading the Declaration of Independence.

We don't mean to nitpick—we just think that if you launch a major publicity tour on the subject of great moments in American history, it might make sense to brush up on the details first. We can only imagine how Palin might try to spin this: "Listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. If the story doesn't sound like what you read on Wikipedia, you know who to blame: the elite liberal media."

Wait, is Paul Ryan Running for President Now?

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 10:38 AM EDT

Is Rep. Paul Ryan (R–Wis.) running for President? Like Matt Yglesias, I think that's the clear takeaway from his address to the conservative Alexander Hamilton Society last night. Via the Weekly Standard

Ryan squarely rejected the position of increased isolationism. "Today, some in this country relish the idea of America's retreat from our role in the world," Ryan said. "They say that it's about time for other nations to take over, that we should turn inward, that we should reduce ourselves to membership on a long list of mediocre has-beens."

He continued, "Instead of heeding these calls to surrender, we must renew our commitment to the idea that America is the greatest force for human freedom the world has ever seen."

There's nothing new there substance-wise; what's notable is that it's Ryan who's saying it. He's the chairman of the House budget committee, and that's more or less all he talks about. His views on foreign policy are about as relevant as his views on the planking craze.

That is, unless he's got something bigger on his mind. Although he's previously denied any interest in entering the race, those denials are beginning to take a less definitive tone. Asked last night by Fox News' Neil Cavuto whether he'd consider running, Ryan offered a non-answer: "I want to see how this field develops." This morning, meanwhile, he addressed Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Conference, where he shared the bill with GOP presidential contenders Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain—not the kind of place you'd expect to find a congressman with a (carefully crafted) reputation as an affable budget wonk.

It's no secret that Republicans are unhappy with their current field of candidates. Hence the constant pining for Chris Christie, or Mitch Daniels, or Jeb Bush, or Rick Perry (that Rick Perry). And in that sense, the Wisconsin congressman seems like a natural choice. Ryan's budget, which would phase out Medicare, has quickly become the centerpiece of the GOP's domestic agenda. Who better to lead the party into the 2012 election than Ryan himself?

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Lousy Jobs Numbers Show It's a Bad Time To Play Debt Politics

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 10:33 AM EDT

The other day, an economist who works for a nonpartisan congressional committee ran down the road to intercept me outside my house so we could talk about the debt ceiling debate. If the Republicans block raising the limit, he said, it would be economic disaster. How so? I asked. He walked me through the economics, but essentially it boils down to this: if the United States stops paying its bills, there will be instability in the financial sector that causes a severe constriction of the flow of credit, and that will trigger a repeat of the Bush-Cheney crash of 2008.

One lesson we learned—or should have learned—from the economic collapse is how the whole economy is held hostage by the pirates of Big Finance. If they freak out, economic contraction follows. (We've also seen that they can rebound much faster than the average working-class mug. Corporate profits were soaring two years after the 2008 calamity, yet unemployment remained stuck at historic high levels.) When Wall Street catches a cold, it can cause a pandemic for the rest of us. This unhealthy—and abusive—relationship might call for fundamental restructuring. But until then, Main Street does rely on the credit flow manipulated and exploited by Wall Street.

This ought to be kept in mind when reviewing the current jobs numbers. The report out this morning is lousy. Employers added only 54,000 jobs in May. The economy needs to gain about 150,000 jobs a month to keep up with population growth—and much more to recover the 8 million or so jobs lost in the recession. No matter what the Republicans say, messing around with the debt ceiling will not stimulate growth and job creation. And if it does look as if the Republicans will take the extreme step of preventing the debt ceiling from rising, there will be more, not less, uncertainty in the markets, which will inhibit economic activity. The Rs keep bleating that the markets need "certainty"—that was one of their arguments for permanently extending the Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans—yet on this crucial matter they're willing to put the economy on a roller coaster ride, at a time when the jobs market seems to be weakening.

Heather Boushey, the senior economist at the Center for American Progress, put it this way:

Today’s data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the job market has weakened considerably as employers added only 54,000 jobs in May. Yet Congress is dithering on increasing the debt ceiling. Failing to do so will lead to a sharp and immediate drop in economic output due to reductions in government spending and investment and their effects on the private sector. Employers’ confidence in the ability of Congress to act may be already shaken. Clearly, today’s data show that the labor market would be unable to handle such a large shock. Policymakers should focus first and foremost on doing no harm and acting to sustain, not derail, the economic recovery.

Though the jobs report is bad news for President Barack Obama and his Democratic colleagues, it also shows that it is a particularly dangerous time to playing political games with the economy.

Live Tweets from Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Conference

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 9:00 AM EDT

The great thing about politics is that it seems there are few scandals large enough to permanently knock someone out of the business permanently. Exhibit A is this week's Faith and Freedom Conference, organized by none other than disgraced GOP foot soldier Ralph Reed, where virtually ever GOP presidential contender will be trying to court evangelical voters. It wasn't so long ago that Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, was getting shellacked in a 2006 race for lieutenant governor of Georgia in no small part because of his close ties to the felonious lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Reed, you will recall, raked in more than $4 million from Abramoff in 2004 to rally Christian voters to fight Native Americans who wanted to open some casinos. Abramoff was representing different tribes who already had casinos and wanted to cut out the competition, and he paid Reed to help in the fight by making gambling a religious issue. Abramoff was eventually convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to six years in prison (he served three, getting out early last year).

Emails released during the criminal investigation did not reflect well on someone who Time dubbed "The Right Hand of God" in 1995. In many of them he's pressing Abramoff to send him clients—and cash. "I need to start humping in corporate accounts!... I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts," he wrote in one. The emails also suggested he had lied about how much he knew about what Abramoff was up to. Reed was never prosecuted or accused of being more than a greedy political consultant, but his downfall among evangelicals and other politicians was pretty fast and furious.

All of that seems like ancient history today, though, as Reed has somehow managed to persuade virtually every Republican hoping to occupy the White House to star in his new show. His Abramoff ties notwithstanding, Reed was a formidable organizer in his heyday. He once described his special approach to mobilizing white, evangelical voters like this: "I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night." The GOP candidates are apparently hoping that Reed, nearly 50, can still run the ground war.

Mother Jones will be live-tweeting the conference here, so follow along.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 3, 2011

Fri Jun. 3, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Spc. Myles Gaudet, left, and Spc. Matthew Tempesta pull security as members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, Arghandab detachment, meet with elders from Deh Afghanan village, May 27. Specialists Gaudet and Tempesta are assigned to the PRT's security force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)

This Week in National Insecurity: Comeback Edition

| Thu Jun. 2, 2011 4:50 PM EDT

That's right, folks: Like Blackwater, we're back in business! After a long hiatus, it's high time for your end-of-the-week review in defense dementedness. Whichever side of the fence you land on, chances are good that you think America's not a very secure nation these days: economically, electorally, or perhaps physically. So each Friday, we'll grab our lensatic compass, rucksack, and canteen, then mount out across the global media landscape for a quick recon. Whether you're scared because our military is too damned busy—or it's not busy enough—here's all the ammunition you'll need, in a handy debrief.

In this installment: Weird defense budget add-ons; pork bullets; Marines like the Marlboros; the Army's Team Jesus takes a hit; ex-spies gotta eat; and the worst. Attempted. Revenge killing. Ever.

The sitrep:

The United States government's national threat level is Elevated, or Yellow "at a heightened level of vigilance." Isn't that so much clearer than color codes? You're welcome.

  • What do sunken treasure, spiffy brass bands, sheeshy pilot outfits, 200-year-old corpses, Alex Jones-style conspiracies, and George Patton bobblehead dolls all have in common? Ask the congressional authors of 2012's defense budget. (MJ)
  • Anna Chapman, the Snooki of Russo-American espionage, is still working on monetizing her experience as a soultry onetime stealer of US secrets. How about editing a Russian venture capital newspaper? Only because the designer line of cosmonaut suits didn't work out. (Danger Room)
  • And then, an epic revenge fail: A Mumbai attack conspirator explained in a Chicago federal court how he and his al Qaeda cohorts targeted the CEO of Lockheed Martin "because drone strikes were getting frustrating," and the jihadis "wanted to take it out on their manufacturer." Only those drones are made by a company called General Atomics, not Lockheed! Asked for comment, the CEO of General Atomics only laughed maniacally, while caressing what appeared to be a remote control for a model airplane. (Danger Room)