Mojo - August 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 18, 2011

Thu Aug. 18, 2011 2:50 AM PDT

Soldiers from Alpha Company, 2-3 Inf, 3-2 SBCT, patrol a village with Afghan forces at the National Training Center Aug. 13. 3-2 SBCT is on a month-long rotation to NTC. US Army photo by Spc. Ryan Hallock.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Ohio Gov. John Kasich: Hey Unions, Let's Make a Deal on My Bargaining Ban

| Wed Aug. 17, 2011 1:39 PM PDT

With the dust barely settled on Wisconsin's slate of summer recall elections, a backlash to Gov. Scott Walker's attack on union bargaining rights, Ohio Gov. John Kasich wants his state's unions to cut a deal on his anti-union bill, known as SB 5.

Kasich asked union leaders on Wednesday to compromise with him on changes to SB 5 and back off a referendum on the bill scheduled for this fall. As the Columbus Dispatch reports, Kasich, one of the most unpopular governors in America, told labor unions to "set aside political agendas and past offenses" and cut a deal, a move he said would be in the "best interest of everyone, including public employee unions."

Unions rejected Kasich's olive branch. A spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, a group of labor unions spearheading the SB 5 referendum, said Republicans "can repeal the entire bill or join us in voting no on Nov. 8," adding, "We’re glad that Governor Kasich and the other politicians who passed SB 5 are finally admitting this is a flawed bill."

Here's more from the Dispatch:

The governor said the offer stems from him being a "believer in talking," and not out of "a fear we are going to lose." Kasich asked for a delegation of 10 public employee union leaders to talk Friday with state officials.

Fellow Republicans William G. Batchelder, Ohio House speaker from Medina, and Senate President Tom Niehaus of New Richmond, joined the governor at this afternoon’s press conference.

Niehaus echoed the comments of Kasich, saying the average person at home is asking him why they can't work this out.

Niehaus said Democrats expressed no willingness to meet in middle during the legislative process.

"We did reach out. Made concerted effort," he said. "Delete, delete, delete" is what the Democrats wanted to do.

Republicans Divided on Impeaching President Obama

| Wed Aug. 17, 2011 8:13 AM PDT
Impeach President Obama? Some Republicans think it's their only choice.

Yesterday's fringe is the new mainstream, so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that prominent Republicans are stepping up calls for President Obama to be impeached. Over what? They're not entirely sure, but the details can come later. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) raised eyebrows last week when told a constituent it "needs to happen," because "it would tie things up" (he has since backtracked). Sometime presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested back in February that the President could be impeached for his decision not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.

And now, via Politico, here's GOP presidential candidate and tea party favorite Herman Cain, musing that impeaching Obama would be a "great thing to do":

[I]t would be a great thing to do but because the Senate is controlled by Democrats we would never be able to get the Senate first to take up that action, because they simply don’t care what the American public thinks. They would protect him and they wouldn’t even bring it up," Cain said, citing the administration's position on the Defense of Marriage Act as an impeachable offense.

Still, not everyone on the right is banging the impeachment drum. Here's former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is touting the momentum of his fourth-place finish in the Ames straw poll (third among candidates who are still running!), talking about impeachment in the context of Rick Perry's rhetorical, um, flair:

[T]o me the rhetoric that Rick Perry used was sort of the rhetoric I would expect from a John Conyers, talking about President Bush and saying he should be impeached. We don't do that. We don't impeach people, we don't charge people with treason because we disagree with them on public policy. You might say that they're wrong, you might say lots of things about how misguided they are, but you don't up the ante to that type of rhetoric.

Rick Santorum did vote to impeach someone once before, so maybe this jab is just part of his new effort to criticize everything Perry and Michele Bachmann do or say. But if there is a movement to impeach the president, there's still a lot more work to be done. When I asked Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)—who recently stated that the Libyan intervention was a false flag operation to allow the implementation of Obamacare—about Burgess' comments last week, he declined to comment. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), perhaps the president's biggest critic in Congress, told me he didn't think impeachment just for impeachment's sake made much sense, and that there was nothing, at least at the moment, that would necessitate such proceedings.

That isn't to say that things won't pick up again should President Obama win reelection. But for now, Republicans looking to throw the president out of the Oval Office have a much simpler path: the ballot box.

Rick Perry's 10 Worst Crony Capitalists

| Wed Aug. 17, 2011 3:05 AM PDT
Texas Gov. Rick Perry

If presidential candidates were elected based on how well they rewarded their political donors, then Texas Governor Rick Perry would lead the pack. Since 2001, more than a fifth of the $83 million in campaign donations received by Perry have come from his past and present political appointees. In 2009, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washigton cited his administration's rampant cronyism in naming him to its "Worst Governors" list. A recent analysis of Perry's 150 largest political donors by the LA Times found that more than half of them received hefty business contracts, tax breaks, or appointments from the governor. Here are ten Perry supporters who've been handsomely repaid for their patronage:

  1. Bob Perry: America's largest individual political donor, the Houston-based homebuilder has given $2.3 million to Rick Perry, making him the governor's leading money man (the two Perrys aren't related). In June, 2003, Rick Perry helped push through a bill creating the Texas Residential Construction Commission, ostensibly a watchdog for unethical homebuilders. In reality, the agency was created with the help of Bob Perry's lobbyist, John Krugh. Shortly after receiving a $100,000 check from Bob Perry, the governor appointed Krugh to the TRCC's board of directors. Consumer groups fought back and got the agency abolished in 2009.
  2. Harrold Simmons: The reclusive buyout king has amassed $5.7 billion from garbage collection, drug stores, metals, and chemicals, making him the 55th richest American. In 1995, he set about converting an isolated patch of land in West Texas into a nuclear waste dump. In part, that's meant dumping $1.2 million in campaign cash on Perry. Though three staffers with Perry's Texas Commission on Environmental Quality resigned rather than approve the waste dump, it was ultimately green-lighted by TCEQ executive director Glen Shankle, who left the agency a few months later to work as the dump's lobbyist. In January, a commission stacked with Perry appointees gave the dump permission to accept nuclear waste from around the country.
  3. David Nance: In 2009, the founder and chairman of Convergen LifeSciences Inc, a tiny biotechnology firm, applied for a $4.5 million grant from Texas' Emerging Technology Fund, a sort of public-sector venture capital fund. When the grant was denied, Nance appealed the decision to a Perry-appointed statewide advisory committee (of which Nance had once been a member), the Wall Street Journal reports. The committee ruled in favor of Nance, who has given more than $100,000 to Perry's campaigns since 2001. But that's not all. Perry also appropriated $2 million in state funds to a business-services nonprofit, Innovate Texas, which pays Nance a six-figure salary but does not have a working phone number, the Journal reports.
  4. Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim: In March 2008, the owner of the Pilgrim's Pride poultry company met with Perry and soon after gave him a $100,000 donation for the Republican Governor's Association, which Perry chaired at the time. Less than a month later, Perry asked the Environental Protection Agency to waive ethanol standards that Pligrim believed would drive up chicken feed costs. Pilgrim later donated $25,000 to Perry's political action committee and footed the bill for him and three aides to fly to Washington, DC, to speak out against ethanol.
  5. Kenneth Lay: In 2001, Rick Perry appointed an Enron exec to chair the Texas Public Utilities Commission, and the next day, Perry got a $25,000 check from Lay. As Molly Ivins mockingly pointed out, Perry "explained this, to everyone's satisfaction, as being 'totally coincidental.'"
  6. B.J. "Red" McCombs: The San Antonio Clear Channel billionaire, who contributed nearly $400,000 to the governor, is the primary financial backer for a Formula One racetrack to be built near Austin. The state has pledged $25 million a year in subsidies to support the project, the LA Times reports.
  7. Mike Toomey: Perry's former chief of staff earned up to $2.2 million last year as a Texas-based lobbyist. He owns a private island in New Hampshire with Dave Carney, Perry's campaign manager. In 2007, Perry signed an executive order requiring all teenage girls in Texas to take a vaccine manufactured by Merck, one of Toomey's lobbying clients (the legislature eventually repealed the order). Toomey is now creating a Perry-focussed super-PAC, Make Us Great Again.
  8. Phil Adams: A college friend of Perry's who gave his campaigns at least $314,000, Adams was a backer of Terrabon Inc, a Houston company that received a $2.75 million grant from Perry's Emerging Technology Fund.  Perry also appointed Adams to a coveted post on Texas A&M University's Board of Regents (other regents who aren't Perry supporters say they've been pressured to resign). Adams has returned the favor by giving the Perry family free tickets and transportation to basketball and football games. 
  9. James Leininger: The state's largest political donor during much of the 1990s, Leininger gifted Perry's campaigns at least $264,000, in addition to a $1.1 million loan that's credited with putting him over the top in a 1998 race for lieutenant governor. Leininger is an investor in Gradalis Inc, a Dallas biotechnology firm that received $1.75 million from Perry's Emerging Technology Fund, the Dallas Morning News reports.
  10. James Dannenbaum:  Donated more than $320,000 to Perry's campaigns and received multiple transportation contracts from the state. His company, Dannenbaum Engineering, was implicated last year in an FBI investigation of El Paso officials who'd swapped political donations for county contracts, according to the El Paso Times. In 2007, Perry appointed Dannenbaum to the University of Texas Board of Regents.
     

VIDEO: Birther Airman Goes AWOL to Protest Obama (UPDATED)

| Wed Aug. 17, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
President Obama salutes service members after they became naturalized US citizens at the White House in April 2010.

[UPDATE: It turns out Staff Sgt. Moran misrepresented himself as "AWOL" or missing work; he's actually on approved leave pending separation from the service...for mental health issues, according to his own account. See the full update below.]

It seems so mundane it shouldn't qualify as news: A mid-echelon Air Force enlistee is staging a sick-in from his job as an ophthalmology technician on a medical base in Germany. But Staff Sgt. Daryn J. Moran's decision to go AWOL this week is getting some attention among conservatives in the United States. "My stated goal," he tweeted Saturday, "is to have B. Obama held responsible for his forged birth certificate and not be in the Oval Office for the next election." He later added, "Now it's plain and simple. Arrest B. Obama or arrest me. I'm waiting in my house."

Birther service members have come and gone since Obama's election, but Moran is different in two big respects: He's the first active-duty, overseas-serving veteran to refuse to serve; and rather than pursuing legal means, he's taking his angry case to the airwaves and internet. A self-professed conservative Christian, he has called in to a birther web show (see the video below), sent multiple emails to the site obamareleaseyourrecords.blogspot.com, vented on a Twitter account, and ultimately been profiled by his hometown newspaper, the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald. (In that article, Moran's father—also an Air Force vet—defends the birther ideal. "Quite frankly, my son is right," he says.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 17, 2011

Wed Aug. 17, 2011 2:50 AM PDT

A squad of Airmen from the 51st Security Forces Squadron at Osan Air Base, South Korea, who are attempting to qualify for the base's quick response team, secure a 100-pound wooden beam on their shoulders as they complete a 5K march Aug. 9, 2011. To become a member of the base's QRT, Airmen have to overcome challenges which test their strength and endurance, but also test their ability to act as a cohesive squad. (US Air Force photo/Senior Airman Adam Grant)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Wisconsin Democrats Handily Defeat GOP Recall Challengers

| Tue Aug. 16, 2011 9:10 PM PDT

Democratic state Sens. Bob Wirch and Jim Holperin defeated their Republican challengers in the final two recall elections of what has been the most heated, politically divisive summer in recent history in Wisconsin. Wirch defeated corporate attorney Jonathan Steitz 58 percent to 42 percent. Holperin, in the second recall of his career, led tea party darling Kim Simac 55 percent to 45 percent with 95 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press called the race for the veteran Democrat.

Wirch and Holperin's victories mean Democrats gained two Senate seats out of a total nine recall elections this summer. (Six of the recalls targeted Republicans, while three targeted Democrats.) Those two seats aren't enough to give Democrats the outright majority in the state Senate, but the gains create the possibility that a moderate Republican could act as a swing vote and potentially tip the Senate majority away from the Republican leadership and Gov. Scott Walker. Both parties declared themselves the winner of the recalls, with Democrats touting their two new seats and Republicans bragging about how they defended their Senate majority, which now stands at 17-16.

Getting Around BART’s Cell Service Shutdown (Updated)

| Tue Aug. 16, 2011 12:23 PM PDT

UPDATE: 40-50 protesters gathered at San Francisco’s Civic Center BART station Monday night, disrupting the evening commute. Maybe because of all the outcry it sparked when it shut down cell service last week (see below), BART didn’t try to interrupt cell service in stations this time.

Despite the fact that several stations closed for brief periods of time, the protest may have exposed the limits of hacktivist group Anonymous' in-person reach. From where I stood, it looked like members of the media outnumbered protesters. Many of the demonstrators donned Guy Fawkes masks, inspired by the movie V for Vendetta and now a symbol of Anonymous. When asked about his reasons for turning up, one masked protester told me: "It's not acceptable for democracies to suppress the freedom of speech of its citizens. That's what Mubarak did."

While some commuters understood protesters' aims, others were visibly annoyed. One commuter, whose trip was delayed, blasted the protesters: "I think it's selfish. This is not going to change anything. Who's the enemy here?" For more, read my colleague Jennifer Quraishi's first-hand account of how last night's events impacted personal safety.

ORIGINAL POST: Last week, protesters in San Francisco planned several demonstrations to mark the death of a man killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit police last month. The demonstrations were to be held at several unspecified BART stations. Attempting to curtail the protests, which in the past have delayed trains and, according to BART, posed safety hazards, the transit's leadership cut cell phone service—preventing the use of cell phones for passengers and those waiting for trains—in downtown BART stations for three hours (4-7 p.m.) on August 11.

The move, reminiscent of strategies employed by Middle East tyrants like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran during recent protests in their countries, shocked civil liberties advocates as well as the cell phone service providers themselves. An AT&T representative, who preferred not to be named, said that service providers were in the dark: "None of the carriers had anything to do with the shutdown," he said. Wired reported that BART blocked the reception by shutting off power to the underground service towers.

Now, the FCC says it is looking into BART's actions. Neil Grace, an FCC spokesperson, said in a statement that, "Any time communications services are interrupted, we seek to assess the situation. We are continuing to collect information about BART’s actions and will be taking steps to hear from stakeholders about the important issues those actions raised, including protecting public safety and ensuring the availability of communications networks." Indeed, the FCC, according to BART spokesperson Jim Allison, called BART headquarters on Saturday for informational purposes.

Report: Paul Ryan Thinking About Running For President

| Tue Aug. 16, 2011 8:31 AM PDT
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

Is Paul Ryan seriously considering a presidential run? That's what the Weekly Standard's Stehen F. Hayes says:

Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan is strongly considering a run for president. Ryan, who has been quietly meeting with political strategists to discuss a bid over the past three months, is on vacation in Colorado discussing a prospective run with his family. Ryan's concerns about the effects of a presidential campaign—and perhaps a presidency—on his family have been his primary focus as he thinks through his political future.

"He's coming around," says a Republican source close to Ryan, who has been urging the 41-year-old to run.

"With Paul, it'a more about obligation than opportunity," says another Wisconsin Republican. "He is determined to have the 2012 election be about the big things. If that means he has to run, he's open to it."

So is there anything to this? Well, back in June I noted that Ryan delivered a major foreign policy speech focusing on the theme of "American Exceptionalism," which seemed like an odd move for a Congressman who focuses exclusively on domestic economic policy—unless, that is, he wanted to be something bigger. With Sen. Herb Kohl retiring at the end of this Congress, there's a job opening in the upper chamber, but Ryan has said that that would be a step down from his perch atop the House budget committee. So that leaves us with president, and given that Ryan's budget plan has become a sacred text among the current crop of candidates, who better to lead the party forward?

Of course, the other scenario here is that the Weekly Standard just really, really wants Ryan to run, and is inflating every rumor into something bigger. Last week, editor Bill Kristol published an ode (an actual ode) to Ryan, Chris Christie and others asking them to run. It was Kristol who first floated Sarah Palin as a national figure in 2008. And it's the Standard that's been the source of the loudest Ryan speculation to date. So there's precedent for wishful thinking on their part.

Pakistan Allowed China to Survey Top-Secret US Helicopter? No Surprise There

| Tue Aug. 16, 2011 7:02 AM PDT
A UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter.

Since the killing of Osama bin Laden, stories have trickled out about various aspects of the May 1 raid, with details ranging from enlightening to confusingly macabre. Headline-ready tidbits—the CIA's DNA collection operation in Abbottabad, a rejected Al Qaeda plot involving sword-twirling death tractors, or Osama's porno collection, for example—all appeared to slightly redeem American intelligence services, paint Al Qaeda as incurably vulnerable, and/or humiliate Pakistan and the ISI.

But Sunday's news story regarding the aftermath of the bin Laden mission kind of reads like the Chinese got the last chuckle. US officials are claiming that, with the blessing of Pakistani officials, Chinese military engineers were permitted to take photos of and extract samples from the abandoned US Black Hawk stealth helicopter that crashed into the Abbottabad compound, according to the Financial Times:

"The US now has information that Pakistan, particularly the ISI, gave access to the Chinese military to the downed helicopter…" said one person in intelligence circles…The Chinese engineers were allowed to survey the wreckage and take photographs of it, as well as take samples of the special "stealth" skin that allowed the American team to enter Pakistan undetected by radar, he said…

"The Chinese would have enormous interest in this newfangled technology," said [a senior US government official]. "They [Seals] did not blow the thing up for no reason," he said.

(Predictably, Pakistani military and government officials have emphatically denied the story, with Foreign Office spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua calling the Financial Times report "baseless and speculative.")

The most depressing thing about this revelation wasn't China's speedy opportunism, the potential compromise of classified information, or even Pakistan's knee-jerk betrayal. It was precisely that nothing about any of this was surprising at all. Allies or not, legal or not, everybody involved acted accordingly. Josh Vorhees of Slate bluntly and correctly described the news item as one that "[w]e all pretty much saw…coming." Hell, Fareed Zakaria called this one back in mid-May during an interview on CNN (emphasis my own):

What would happen if we were to cut [off US aid to Pakistan]? They would harbor al Qaeda terrorists in their territory? They already do that. They would cooperate with other countries? They're already telling the Chinese that they can take a look at the helicopter that went down. So everything that we feared that they could do, they're already doing.

Along with the customary tension between US and Pakistani intelligence agencies, the chief reasons for the alleged cooperation with Chinese officials are glaringly simple: money and arms. China's increasing willingness to provide both means the Pakistanis see it as a dependable ally—one they will need in the future, especially since powerful elements within the Pakistani elite operate in the framework of a future war with India. Reuters reports (emphasis my own):

Despite the billions in [American] aid, Pakistan still considers China a more reliable ally than the United States. China is a major investor in predominantly Muslim Pakistan in areas such as telecommunications, ports and infrastructure. The countries are linked by a Chinese-built road pushed through Pakistan's northern mountains.

Trade with Pakistan is worth almost $9 billion a year for Pakistan, and China is its top arms supplier.

In the wake of attacks that left 11 people dead in the China's western region of Xinjiang in late July, Pakistan dispatched the ISI's Pasha to Beijing.

All of this news only helps to underscore the abysmal relationship between the United States and Pakistan, as well as Pakistan's own cynical approach to strategic and national interests. Pakistan working against American security goals in the region is, and has been for quite some time, a sad cliché.