Mojo - June 2011

Rick Perry's Top Controversies

| Mon Jun. 20, 2011 4:42 PM EDT
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

By all appearances, Texas Governor Rick Perry is edging closer to a presidential run. His wife wants him to jump into the race and so do the big money guys in New York. Also enthused by the idea were attendees of last weekend's Republican Leadership Conference, where the crowd chanted, "Run, Rick, Run!" But despite everything that Perry's got going for him—a strong state economy, great hair, bible-thumping bona fides, and more than a decade as a sitting governor—he also has a lengthy track record of gaffes, controversial remarks, and dubious dealings. Here are some of the most notable: 

Shady home sale: With the help of well-placed friends, Perry earned nearly $500,000 in questionable profits from a waterfront home in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, the Dallas Morning News revealed last year. Doug Jaffe, a prominent political powerbroker, sold the house in 2001 to a Perry friend and political ally who passed it on to the Governor for $300,000, two-thirds of its true market value. Six years later, Perry sold it to a friend and business associate of Jaffe for $350,000 above its market value—a cool $1.3 million. 

A builder's best friend: In June, 2003, Perry helped push through a bill creating the Texas Residential Construction Commission, a new government agency that was supposed to protect homebuyers from unethical builders. In reality, the bill was written by the housing industry with the help of John Krugh, a lobbyist for the homebuilder and GOP money man Bob Perry (no relation). That September, after getting a $100,000 check from Perry, the Governor appointed Krugh to the TRCC. Consumer groups fought back and got the agency abolished in 2009.

A road to nowhere: In 2003, Perry proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile mega-highway that would have destroyed 500,000 acres of farmland while enriching a handful of politically-connected toll road operators. After the state spent nearly $60 million on the plan, overwhelming public opposition killed it. 

Hands off: In 2004, whistleblowers repeatedly informed Perry's office that the Governor's Texas Youth Commission hires and protects "known child abusers."  His office ignored the warnings. Three years later, the story broke that top officials with the TYC had learned of and done nothing to stop widespread child molestation at a juvenile detention facility in West Texas.

Texas justice?: In February, 2004, Perry refused to stay the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, a death-row inmate who was almost certainly innocent. Perry later refused to release documents related to his decision and abruptly replaced three members of a commission that was investigating the case.

Nader raider?: Perry's political associates, including top adviser Dave Carney, have been repeatedly accused of helping the Green Party qualify for the ballot in order to siphon votes away from Democratic candidates.

A shot in the arm: In 2007, Perry bypassed the state legislature and signed an executive order making Texas the only state in the nation to require 6th grade girls to receive a vaccination against a sexually-transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. At the time, Perry's former chief of staff, Mike Toomey, was a lobbyist for Merck, the manufacturer of the vaccine. When conservative Christians protested, the legislature repealed his order.

The stimulus two-step: In March, 2009, Perry refused $555 million in stimulus money that would have funded unemployment benefits. The move backfired four months later when Perry asked the federal government for a $170 million loan to cover his state's dwindling unemployment funds.

If at first you don't secede: At a tea party rally in April, 2009, Perry said: "We've got a great Union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that?"

Blame God, not BP: Last year, Perry called the BP oil spill an "act of God."

Crony capitalism: Perry has used the state's Emerging Technologies Fund to benefit political allies. According to the Dallas Morning News, $16 million from the fund, or nearly 10 percent, has been awarded to companies with investors or officers that are large campaign donors to Perry. 

Black Ops: Perry keeps a daily "political schedule" that he argues is separate from the "official schedule" that must be disclosed under Texas open records laws. His official schedule for the first six months of 2010 showed an average of 7 hours of work per week; he has admitted that he simply doesn't record much of his official business. His office destroys its emails weekly.

Getting Wasted: Perry has accepted $1.2 million from Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who is building a nuclear waste dump in West Texas over the objections of some of the state's own environmental regulators. In January, Texas' Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission opened the door to allowing the dump to accept nuclear waste from around the country. Six of of the commission's seven members were appointed by Perry.

Juarez, Texas?: Earlier this year, Perry told reporters that "Juarez is reported to be the most dangerous city in America."

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Combating Fraud—or Suppressing the Vote?

| Mon Jun. 20, 2011 3:34 PM EDT

In the lead-up to the 2010 elections, conservative activists raised the specter of liberal voter fraud, claiming that illegal immigrants, union thugs, and the Black Panthers, among others, would try to rig the election. Tea party leaders, supported by Republican officials, deployed legions of "poll watchers" to flag suspicious activity. But after Election Day came and went, there was little evidence of rampant fraud.

Nevertheless, the right has refused to relent on the fraud issue. USA Today reports that Republican-controlled legislatures in half dozen states have passed new voter ID laws since January:

Proponents say the measures prevent vote fraud. Opponents say they are designed to stifle turnout among students, poor people and minorities, who are more likely to vote for Democrats but might lack government-issued IDs, such as driver's licenses and passports.

Buoyed by big Republican gains in the 2010 elections, six states have enacted photo ID laws since January — Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Bills in New Hampshire and North Carolina await gubernatorial action. The measures, all passed by Republican-controlled legislatures, could bring to 17 the number of states with photo ID requirements and come nearly 18 months before elections for Congress and the White House. Other states — including Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia— have reduced the period for early voting.

Democrats hate voter ID rules because voters who lack photo identification tend to be young people, immigrants, and the poor—all groups that disproportionately vote for Democrats. But it will be tough-going to overturn the new laws: as The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne points out, the Supreme Court upheld a controversial Indiana voter ID law in 2008. If voting-rights groups want to go through the judicial system to block these statutes, it won't be enough to show that the right's fears of voter fraud are spurious. They'll be pressed to provide the courts with further proof that these new laws are suppressing the rights of eligible voters.

Did Chris Wallace Really Say Fox News Isn't Fair and Balanced?

| Mon Jun. 20, 2011 2:13 PM EDT

News flash: Fox News is not fair and balanced. According to whom? The cable network's star Sunday host, Chris Wallace.

Clips of the on-air duel between Wallace and Comedy Central's Jon Stewart on Fox News Sunday have been lighting up the Intertubes. In an interview, the Fox anchor repeatedly tried to out-wit the faux anchor and portray him as an ideologue pushing a liberal partisan agenda. But Stewart explained—over and over—that he's a comedian. He noted that his overall agenda is "about absurdity and corruption… It's anti-contrivance." And he rejected Wallace's attempt to portray the rest of the mainstream media as a bunch of covert liberal schemers. The MSM's true bias, Stewart insisted, is "toward sensationalism, conflict, and laziness."

Stewart outplayed Wallace throughout the 24-minute-long segment, which has caused much chuckling online. But one interesting exchange has not received much attention: Wallace's admission that Fox is not objective.

North Carolina vs. Reproductive Rights

| Mon Jun. 20, 2011 12:35 PM EDT

Last week, North Carolina became the third state to axe funding for Planned Parenthood. The move, which followed a failed effort to defund family planning at the federal level, will largely affect North Carolina women who lack insurance but aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, as the Huffington Post notes:

Planned Parenthood of North Carolina (PPNC), which has nine clinics across the state, provides affordable birth control, preventative health care and family planning services to over 25,000 men and women. Without the $434,000 a year it usually receives in state and federal funds, Planned Parenthood says it will now have to axe its teen pregnancy prevention and adolescent parenting programs and force its low-income patients to pay out of pocket.

Planned Parenthood is expected to sue over the cuts. But as another story out of North Carolina reminds us, the state has a long history of meddling in the reproductive rights of its citizens. The state is currently considering paying reparations to the thousands of women who underwent forced sterilization in North Carolina in the period following World War II and continuing up until 1974. The program, which targeted women with developmental disabilities, mental illness, and even the victims of rape, continued long after many other states had abandoned this pratice, the Associated Press reports:

Among the 33 states with eugenics programs, North Carolina's was unusual. The state had the most open-ended law, allowing doctors and social workers to refer people living at home to the state Eugenics Board for possible sterilization. In every other state, Lombardo said, people had to be either institutionalized or jailed before they could be sterilized.

Nearly 3,000 victims of North Carolina's sterilization program are still alive, and this week a state task force will consider potential compensation. It's shocking that just 36 years ago, forced sterilization was en vogue. Now the state wants to limit women's access not only to abortion, but to contraception by axing funding to a program that benefits mostly low-income women. They're different sides of the coin, but still an attempt to limit women's abilty to make their own decisions about whether or not they want to have children.

Anthony Weiner and the Mystery of the Fake Twitter Handles

| Mon Jun. 20, 2011 10:45 AM EDT

Anthony Weiner has no one to blame but himself for tweeting out lewd photos and engaging in racy conversation with women via Twitter, text message, telephone, and Facebook. But Weiner, who resigned from Congress last week, had plenty of enemies, and new evidence suggests they might have used sleazy tactics in an attempt to tar his reputation.

As the New York Times reported, a pair of Twitter users ginned up fake identities and, months before he tweeted revealing photos of himself, actively sought out the New York Congressman, an active Twitter user. One user pretended to be a 16-year-old high school student named "Nikki Reid," and another posed as her classmate "Marianela Alicea." Via Twitter, "Reid" repeatedly tried to get Weiner to be her prom date. "Alicea," meanwhile, contacted a group of conservative activists who used the moniker #bornfreecrew and claimed to have embarrassing information about Weiner. (That information was never produced.)

But, as the Times notes, records show there are no students named "Nikki Reid" or "Marianela Alicea" at the high school they supposedly attended, Hollywood High School. More curiously, when a woman who said she was Reid's mother provided evidence to the media site Mediaite to back up that her daughter was who she claimed to be, the information she offered turned out to be bogus. No one seems to know who created the Twitter accounts, and it's unclear if different users created the two accounts or if one person was behind them both. However, it's hard to imagine a possibility other than political trickery behind the fake accounts.

The plot thickens. "Nikki Reid" also sought out women Weiner had talked to online, the Times reported:

The women included Gennette Cordova, 21, the college student; Ginger Lee, 24, a former pornographic film actress from Tennessee who exchanged over 100 e-mails with the congressman; and a Delaware high school student, 17, whose family said she exchanged five private messages with Mr. Weiner that did not include indecent or explicit material.

In an interview, Ms. Cordova said she was contacted on Twitter by "Nikki Reid," who said she admired one of her posts and then began exchanging private messages with her almost every day for three or four weeks starting May 5. "There was something weird about it," Ms. Cordova said. At the beginning of their exchanges, Ms. Cordova said, there was no mention of Mr. Weiner. Then the user began to ask her for advice saying, "I'm a fan girl too," and "How did you get him to follow you?"

[…]

Ms. Cordova said that as she looked back on their exchanges, she saw other signs of a fraud. For example, "Nikki Reid" did not have a Facebook account, like most girls her age. And she made references to "The O.C.," the television show (featuring the young Hollywood actress Nikki Reed) that was popular among teenagers but ended in 2007.

"There is no way this girl is in high school," Ms. Cordova said. "No way."

To be clear, this isn't to say Weiner was set up. He screwed up when he publicly tweeted the now-infamous underwear pic, and the fault's all his for carrying on multiple online relationships with women who were not his wife. But as more information comes to light, parts of this scandal smack of the tactics used by conservative provocateurs such as James O'Keefe of Acorn and NPR fame. And if new revelations suggest Weiner was in fact the target of an organized smear campaign, it'll no doubt give other outspoken politicians pause in the world of social media.

John McCain: GOP Presidential Hopefuls Are Foreign-Policy Wimps

| Mon Jun. 20, 2011 9:20 AM EDT

Always the foreign-policy hawk, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday ripped the Republican Party's presidential hopefuls for their "isolationism" and  weak responses when asked about the nation's wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Appearing on ABC's This Week, McCain said former President Ronald Reagan would look poorly upon the GOP candidates' foreign policy positions. "He would be saying: That's not the Republican Party of the 20th century, and now the 21st century," McCain said. "That is not the Republican Party that has been willing to stand up for freedom for people...all over the world."

McCain, of course, was referring to recent comments made iby candidates such as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. In CNN's presidential debate last week, for instance, Romney said:

It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes to our generals that we can hand the government over in the way the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban. Our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan's independence from the Taliban.

Gingrich also struck a decidedly un-GOP tone at the debate, saying that US leaders "need to think fundamentally about reassessing our entire strategy in the region." And in an interview with Esquire magazine, Huntsman said Afghanistan is "a tribal state, and it always will be. Whether we like it or not, whenever we withdraw from Afghanistan, whether it's now or years from now, we'll have an incendiary situation... Should we stay and play traffic cop? I don't think that serves our strategic interests."

McCain was joined in his criticism by fellow GOP senator and close ally Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a lawmaker equally hawkish when it comes to America's wars in distant lands. Here's Reuters:

Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" if he's fearful "that there is an isolationist streak now running now through the Republican Party, Graham said, "Yes."

"If you think the pathway to the GOP (Republican) nomination in 2012 is to get to Barack Obama's left on Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, you are going to meet a lot of headwinds," Graham said.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 20, 2011

Mon Jun. 20, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Capt. Derrick W. Dew, commander, 202nd Military Police Company, currently assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, interacts with young residents of the "Old Corps" area of Kandahar City June 8, during a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new soccer field there. The new field was one of many projects headed by TF Raider and their Afghan National Security Forces partners in their joint-reconstruction efforts to improve quality of life, safety and security for residents of Kandahar City. Photo via US Army.

Coming Home to Texas

| Mon Jun. 20, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
The author at the old Blasingame cabin

Greetings from Texas! I've been staying on my family's ranch in the heart of the Lone Star State for about two weeks now, and I already have about a month's worth of chigger bites—the little terrorists love the mulch on the vegetable garden, which I've been frantically laying with drip lines. As the river runs dry and wildfires rage, I'm starting to doubt Gov. Rick Perry's Prayer for Rain will seed the clouds. As for his prayers about the Republican presidential primary, who knows? The Lord works in mysterious ways.

I've dropped in from San Francisco for two months to write about Perry and other outsized characters from the state where I grew up. And the ranch—located in the Hill Country at the confluence of the Blanco River and Blasingame Creek—is the perfect staging ground, equidistant from Austin and San Antonio as well as Dallas and Houston. Downsides include the half-hour drive to find organic greens or crusty bread, and internet that's slower than the armadillo living under the rusty ranch truck. But sometimes distance gives you perspective. For instance, I've been thinking a lot recently about the decaying log cabin out past the chicken coop and the beehives. It embodies a tale that's alternately presented either as a cold-blooded crime or one of the region's most famous showdowns. How you think about it might depend on your politics.

In the 1854, the family of Woodson Blasingame, a low-income subsistence farmer, built the cabin on land purchased from James Callahan, a land speculator and captain with the original Texas Rangers. Blasingame is thought by some to have sympathized with the area's progressive German community, while Callahan, the namesake of Callahan County, was a swashbuckling good 'ol boy best known for nearly causing another war with Mexico. "It took a lot to make him angry," says Tom McDonald, Callahan's great-great-great grandson, who is writing a book about him, "but when you did, you'd better get out of his way."

In late 1855, Callahan and a posse of nearly 100 Rangers pursued a band of Lipian Apache Indians out of the Hill Country and across the Rio Grande into Mexico. The Indians joined forces with local Mexicans and ambushed him, killing four of his men. The Rangers fought their way out and occupied the nearby Mexican town of Piedras Negras, where they looted food (and gold, according to one account) before burning it down and fleeing back across the border. The raid was widely praised in the local press, where it fed into support for the "Know Nothings," a nativist antecedent to the tea party. However, one progressive German-American paper in the area opposed it as illegal.

US Calls Out Bahrain

| Fri Jun. 17, 2011 6:45 PM EDT

Since the onset of anti-government protests in Bahrain, the US has refrained from taking substantial steps to pressure the Bahraini government to stop its crackdown on protesters. That changed yesterday during a speech to the UN Human Rights Council, when Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, US ambassador to the UNHRC, included Bahrain on the list of human rights offenders in need of the Council's attention. Some of the other countries on the list: Iran, Burma, North Korea, and Zimbabwe. Donahoe told the UNHRC that Bahrain "has arbitrarily detained medical workers and others perceived as opponents." She ended her comments on Bahrain by saying that the country must "follow through on its commitment to ensuring that those responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable."

Donahoe's statement comes on the heels of President Obama's meeting with the Crown Prince of Bahrain last week in Washington, D.C. According to the White House, the two men had a "productive discussion." Obama "reaffirmed the strong commitment of the United States to Bahrain," and called on Bahrain to respect the opposition's human rights. Whether publicly admonishing the Bahraini government will lead to any change or consequences for those who committed human rights offenses remains to be seen.

The Drug War Turns 40

| Fri Jun. 17, 2011 5:14 PM EDT

It's been 40 years to the day since President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, kicking off a quagmire that every commander in chief after him has inherited.

Both the Global Commission on Drug Policy and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) have recently released reports calling for decriminalization and large-scale restructuring of drug policy.

LEAP's June 14 report, titled "Ending the Drug War: a Dream Deferred," [PDF] makes special note of Gil Kerlikowske, the Drug Czar appointed by President Obama in early 2009, a man they also claim refused to meet with their police representatives earlier this week when the group unveiled its report in Washington. The critical report covers much of the expected ground: prohibition breeds protracted turf wars, law enforcement officers have more productive things to do with their time, and the United States is "waging war against [the] seriously ill." Regarding Kerlikowske, LEAP calls him out for misleading rhetoric and doubletalk.