Mojo - August 2011

Ft. Hood Shooting: What's the Army Hiding?

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 5:00 AM EDT
The remains of Ft. Hood shooting victim Sgt. Amy S. Krueger are carried to a waiting aircraft.

Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army major accused of killing 13 and wounding 32 in the 2009 shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, is on his way to a court-martial that could sentence him to death. But in a break with military custom, the Army won't release the critical report that convinced authorities to indict Hasan for capital murder. It's a decision that has some reporters wondering what the service doesn't want them to see.

Sig Christenson, a military writer for the San Antonio Express-News who has covered the Hasan case from the start, says the Army is acting fishy. "Sometimes, the military as an institution fights harder to do as it pleases than it does to preserve your First Amendment rights," he writes. Christenson is an officer of Military Reporters and Editors, which supports journalists who cover defense affairs, and he's asked the group's attorney to provide a legal opinion on whether the Army's violating open-records rules. (Full disclosure: I am a MRE board member.) Other major media organizations are expected to sign on to a letter demanding the Army explain why it's keeping the report under wraps. "You cannot condition access to the courts," he states. It's not the first roadblock Army authorities have thrown in front of reporters covering the Hasan case: Journalists say that at one point, they were told not to ask prosecutors certain questions, or else they'd face expulsion from the court.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 26, 2011

Fri Aug. 26, 2011 4:57 AM EDT

SECURITY HALT

US Army Spc. Adam Supino takes a break while on a security halt during an operation in the Alingar district in Afghanistan's Laghman province, Aug. 21, 2011. Supino is an M249 squad automatic weapon gunner assigned to the Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team. Team members participated in searching a village thought to house Taliban fighters and others making roadside bombs. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane.

Report: Tea Party's Favorite Snake Needs Government Aid

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 12:50 PM EDT
Snakes on the wane: The eastern diamondback rattler has lost 97 percent of its habitat.

Since the tea party movement rose to prominence in early 2009, the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag has been a ubiquitous presence at everything from health care protests to campaign stops. It features the Revolutionary War-era slogan, along with a coiled rattlesnake, because, as Benjamin Franklin explained, the rattler "never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders."

But the flag doesn't feature just any snake; it's a eastern diamondback rattlesnake—and despite what the flag says, lots of people seem to be treading on its natural habitat. According to a new report from the Center for Biological Diversity, the species could be nearing extinction unless the federal government intervenes. Scientific American reports that the CBD, along with Protect All Living Species and the delightfully acronymed One More Generation, have petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to classify the eastern diamondback rattlesnake as an endangered species. The rattler is down to 3 percent of its original habitat, and according to the CBD, its population has fallen from 3 million to 100,000. From the report:

"The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is a wildlife icon of North America," said biologist Bruce Means, president and executive director of the Coastal Plains Institute, in a prepared statement. Means was also one of the petitioners. "Africa has its lion, Asia its tiger, and we can boast of this marvelous 'Don't Tread On Me' snake. Like so many others, it's a wildlife treasure that we must not allow to go extinct. Remaining habitat for the snake must be preserved, and negative public attitudes toward these nonaggressive animals must be reversed."

But how will this sit with tea partiers? As my colleague Kate Sheppard has reported, many tea partiers view the Endangered Species Act as a tool of an overreaching federal government—if not something even more nefarious. In Florida, conservative activists are fighting to roll back manatee protection rules because they believe the regulations are part of a United Nations plan called "Agenda 21," which they fear will force humans to live in designated areas and turn the rest of the planet into protected biosphere reserves.

Rick Scott Takes the Piss Out of Florida Taxpayers

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 12:40 PM EDT

Florida's neophyte Republican governor, tea-party-friendly Rick Scott, signed a bill back in June requiring the state's welfare recipients to undergo drug-testing urinalysis before collecting their monthly assistance check of around $241-to-$303. The measure, he said, would save taxpayer money by barring drug addicts from getting the dole. "Studies show that people that are on welfare are higher users of drugs than people not on welfare," he said.

Florida's welfare recipients are proving that Scott's assumption wasn't worth a warm bucket of pee. Now, the state is effectively being forced to pay for 11.5 gallons of welfare applicants' drug-free urine every month, to the tune of around $34,000.

Of the 1,000 or so recipients who have taken the required drug tests (at their own expense) since early July, only 2 percent have tested positive for drugs, according to the Tampa Tribune. That's well below the national population's average, and it's so low that the testing plan—which was expected to cost $187 million by some analysts' estimates—could end up costing taxpayers even more in the long run.

Anti-Immigrant Activist Warns of Obama Plot to End "White America"

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 9:27 AM EDT
President Barack Obama is secretly plotting to bring an end to "White America," according to one conservative activist.

Is President Obama allowing millions of Central Americans to live in the United States illegally as part of his secret plan to destroy "White America"? According to William Gheen of the group Americans For Legal Immigration, the answer is a resounding "yes." Gheen told a conservative talk radio show earlier this week that if things don't improve under "Dictator Obama," patriotic Americans may resort to possibly violent, "revolutionary means." (Gheen, as Media Matters pointed out, has been a frequent presence on Fox News and at tea party rallies). Here's what Gheen told talk show host Janet Mefferd:

What Janet Napolitano has spent most of her time doing in the last couple of months has been, one, preparing the new spy network that's available now, the new data-collecting, see everything you do online, beyond the normal terrorist list that they’re creating, they’re creating a much larger list now of people who might be troublesome here in the country. And putting out videos and propaganda telegraphing what I believe to be a conflict with White America they’re preparing for after they get another 10 or 15 million people in the country to back them up...

We're no longer referring to him as President Barack Obama, our national organization has made the decision and made the announcement we now refer to him as Dictator Barack Obama. That's what he is. And basically at this point, if you're looking for a peaceful, political recourse there really isn't one that we can think of, and I'm really not sure what to tell people out there than I guess they need to make decisions soon to just accept whatever comes next or some type of extra-political activities that I can't really talk about because they're all illegal and violent.

Gheen has since clarified (sort of) that he doesn't personally support violence as a political tool, but believes President Obama isn't leaving freedom-loving Americans with much a choice. (Gheen previously made news when he called Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) gay at a tea party rally and alleged that Graham's supposedly closeted lifestyle was being used as blackmail to force him to adopt more moderate stances on immigration.)

It's worth noting that Gheen's conspiracy theory, while extreme, isn't so far removed from what actual elected officials are saying. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who famously suggested that terrorists were smuggling babies across the border as part of a stealth jihad, revealed on Tuesday that Democrats were secretly planning to register undocumented residents to vote in the November elections. Gohmert, citing no one in particular, alleged that it would be part of a "quid pro quo"—"we allow you to stay illegally and make sure you go down and vote." ACORN!

CEOs, Hollywood, and Corporations, Oh My! Meet the Super PAC Bankrollers

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 8:56 AM EDT
GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry has six super PACs raising and spending cash on his behalf.

Super PACs, the relatively new breed of political action committee that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, are shaping up to be the hottest political money story of the 2012 elections. Offspring of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, super PACs can't donate to or coordinate with political candidates. But anybody who's anybody in American politics, it seems, has an affiliated super PAC fighting on his or her behalf—Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann (two), Ron Paul, Rick Perry (six!), Ron Paul, Stephen Colbert, and more. There are also super PACs fighting for Democratic and Republicans in the House and Senate, and still others run by tea partiers and labor unions. All told, there are more than 100 super PACs in existence today.

Election Day 2012 may be 15 months away, but the number-crunchers at the Center for Responsive Politics have helpfully laid out everything you need to know about an already a cash-flush, crowded super PAC field. Conservative super PACs are so far leading the charge, having raised $17.6 million in the first half of this year; the bulk of that money—$12.2 million—went to Restore Our Future PAC, a pro-Romney outfit. Liberal super PACs raked in $7.6 million, with Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama group started by two former Obama White House aides, raising $3.2 million.

Other super PAC heavyweights include American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-inspired group that spent $21.5 million in the 2010 midterm elections, according to CRP. American Bridge 21st Century, a cutting-edge hub of opposition research conceived by Media Matters for America founder David Brock, ranked fourth in fundraising among all super PACs. The super PAC affiliated with the Communications Workers of America ranked ninth.

But there's one big takeaway from from the Center's analysis: the vast majority of the cash flowing into super PACs' coffers comes from a elite group donors including CEOs, Hollywood big wigs, corporations, and unions. The fears that the Citizens United decision would allow wealthy individuals and companies to exert more influence in American elections are quickly coming to fruition:

Liberal Super PACs

* Of the $7.6 million raised, more than eight of every ten dollars—or $6.24 million of it—came from just 23 donors.

* Of those 23 blue-chip donors, 45 percent came from the entertainment industry, including DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks

* Twenty-six percent of blue-chip donors were CEOs not in the entertainment industry

* Twenty-five percent of blue-chip donors were labor unions

Conservative Super PACs

* Of the $17.6 million pocketed, more than eight of every ten dollars came from just 35 donors

* Sixty-six percent of those blue-chip donors are CEOs

* Eighteen percent came from corporate treasuries, a company's main money pot

* Sixteen percent came from people who work at Bain Capital, which Romney founded three decades ago

Here are the fundraising totals for top 18 super PACs in the first half of 2011:

PAC Cash Raised Slant
Restore Our Future PAC $12,231,700 C
American Crossroads $3,929,381 C
Priorities USA Action $3,161,535 L
American Bridge 21st Century $1,562,775 L
Cooperative of American Physicians $1,235,447 N/A
Majority PAC $1,082,407 L
House Majority PAC $985,000 L
Club for Growth Action $440,693 C
Communication Workers of America $295,000 L
Raising Red $200,000 C
Americans for Rick Perry $193,000 C
Women Vote! $165,833 C
America's Families First Action Fund $160,374 L
Faith Family Freedom Fund $124,870 C
America's President Committee $124,343 C
Christine PAC $119,914 C
America Votes Action Fund $73,061 L
Texas Tea Party Patriots PAC $56,755 C
     
Conservative Super PACs $17,612,012  
Liberal Super PACs $7,612,459  

Source: Center for Responsive Politics

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NYPD: The Domestic CIA?

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 5:40 AM EDT

Just days after the release of our investigation of the FBI's use of informants in Muslim communities around the US comes a probe by the AP into the NYPD's collaboration with the CIA to spy on Muslims in the greater New York area. The AP's Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo reveal that the "NYPD operates far outside its borders and targets ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government."

Some background: In 2002, the NYPD hired former CIA official David Cohen to run their civilian intelligence program. Cohen got help from a CIA official to train and run a surveillance program in Muslim-American communities in the New York City area. Under Cohen, the NYPD utilized the diversity of its force to dispatch undercover officers in ethnic neighborhoods where they could "blend in." Officers were looking for "hot spots," areas needing further investigation, like a bookstore selling "radical" literature. They still call this investigative team the "Demographic Unit."

The Demographic Unit, according to the AP investigation, monitors "daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as 'mosque crawlers,' to monitor sermons, even when there's no evidence of wrongdoing. NYPD officials have scrutinized imams and gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims." 

Sound familiar? The FBI has engaged in similar activities with the help of a former CIA official, Phil Mudd. Mudd helped create a program called "Domain Management" to strategically focus the FBI's resources on particular communities. A New York Times reporter once described how Mudd "displayed a map of the San Francisco area, pocked with data showing where Iranian immigrants were clustered—and where, he said, an F.B.I. squad was 'hunting.'" When asked to comment, an FBI spokesperson told the AP: "If you're sending an informant into a mosque when there is no evidence of wrongdoing, that's a very high-risk thing to do...You're running right up against core constitutional rights. You're talking about freedom of religion."

In our own year-long investigation into the FBI's activities with informants in Muslim communities, reporter Trevor Aaronson notes: "Informants have said in court testimony that FBI handlers have tasked them with infiltrating mosques without a specific target or 'predicate'—the term of art for the reason why someone is investigated. They were, they say, directed to surveil law-abiding Americans with no indication of criminal intent."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 25, 2011

Thu Aug. 25, 2011 4:57 AM EDT

It's Raining Flares
A C-130 Hercules from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station launches flares over Lake Ontario during a training exercise Aug. 10, 2011, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Flares can be launched from an aircraft as a defensive measure against hostile forces. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph McKee.

Rick Perry Vows to Defund Planned Parenthood

| Wed Aug. 24, 2011 12:55 PM EDT
Texas Governor Rick Perry has pledged to severely curtail reproductive rights if elected president.

Pledges, if you haven't heard, are all the rage in the Republican party, so now that he's squarely in the running for the GOP presidential nomination, Texas Governor Rick Perry has some catching up to do. On Wednesday, Perry became the sixth candidate to sign an anti-abortion pledge from the Susan B. Anthony List that commits him to a set of radical anti-abortion measures if elected president. The Dallas Morning-News has the nuts and bolts:

The pledge has four parts:
* a promise only to pick federal judges who adhere to the strict "original meaning of the Constitution,"
* to "select only pro-life appointees" for attorney general and assorted posts at the National Institutes of Health, Justice Department and Department of Health & Human Services.
* to defund Planned Parenthood and any other organization that performs or funds abortions and to end all taxpayer funding of abortion, domestically or overseas and
* to sign into law the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," to ban abortion based on the premise that fetuses can feel pain.

The fetal pain measure, for the unfamiliar, is part of a trend at the state level. At least a dozen states have considered prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks, relying on some pretty suspect science. As my colleague Kate Sheppard reported in May, summarizing recent research on the subject, "there is no conclusive evidence that fetuses can feel pain at that point in gestation, nor are they considered viable." But the larger goal is procedural: to bait opponents into challenging the laws in court.

By signing the pledge, Perry joins a list that includes Reps. Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, and Thaddeus McCotter; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich; and former Sen. Rick Santorum. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, has not signed the pledge—a position that's put him at odds with many social conservatives, who never really trusted him to begin with. (Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has also abstained, but that shouldn't come as much of a surprise given his current aversion to the GOP base.)

Congressional Staffers Dispute No Labels Town Hall Report

| Wed Aug. 24, 2011 11:15 AM EDT

Congressional staffers are pushing back against a report by the group No Labels that claims nearly 60 percent of members of Congress did not schedule free, public town halls during the August recess.

Here's what Ellis Brachman, a spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus, wrote in an email on Wednesday:

I’m sure No Labels had the best intentions in trying to put this report together—but it's so riddled with errors, many of which even a simple internet check would have caught, that the result is at best incredibly misleading. I can't speak for House Republicans, many of whom it's been widely reported are hiding behind pay walls to keep a friendly crowd, but House Democrats are out in their districts listening to their constituents at Town Halls and all sorts of other events. Anyone claiming differently is very misinformed.

A No Labels spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. You can the group's original report here.