Mojo - September 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 19, 2011

Mon Sep. 19, 2011 2:57 AM PDT

Iraqi soldiers and paratroopers from 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade fire at paper targets, with a variety of weapons during the opening of the Anbar Operation Center's new range in Ramadi, Iraq, Sept. 10, 2011. Photo by US Army.

 

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The Gaping Hole in Ron Paul's Health Care Policy

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 4:11 PM PDT

GOP presidential candidate, Ron Paul, believes that government must get out of the health care business, allow the free market to establish pricing for healthcare services, and leave it to seniors and the poor to financially manage their health care needs.

If you are wondering how the poor and the elderly are to do this without safety net programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, a visit to candidate Paul's campaign website reveals the basis for the Congressman's belief that the healthcare system will step up to care for the poor and elderly at no charge.

In the days before Medicare and Medicaid, the poor and the elderly were admitted to hospitals at the same rate they are now, and received good care. Before those programs came into existence, every physician understood that he or she had a responsibility towards the less fortunate and free medical care was the norm. Hardly anyone is aware of this today, since it doesn't fit into the typical, by the script story of government rescuing us from a predatory public sector.

It strikes me that it is time to put Paul's theories to the test to determine how a typical American senior citizen would survive in a world without Medicare.

To do so, a few groundrules we should all be able to agree on need to be established.

Rick Perry: Transparency is Boring

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 12:15 PM PDT

On the campaign trail and on the web, Rick Perry touts a supposedly sterling record on transparency. But the facts don’t back him up. Last week, his office settled an ethics complaint accusing his campaign of hiding the fact that it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of campaign contributions spent on party supplies for the governor's mansion. That wasn't an isolated incident, Politico reports:

Though other states have email retention policies sometimes calling for deletion after 30 or 45 days, Texas’s seven-day period is possibly the briefest...The policy, a holdover from former President George W. Bush’s gubernatorial administration in Texas, calls on staffers to print out emails that might be covered by the Texas Public Information Act, but there’s no check on their judgment.

Perry also has refused to release a range of existing records that have been made public by both his predecessors in Texas and by governors of other states, including his daily schedule, his office’s reviews of death penalty cases—even lists of guests who stayed overnight at the governor’s mansion.

Bush not only released lists of overnight guests at the governor’s mansion during his governorship, including big donors, but during his 2000 presidential campaign, he released 3,125 pages of records detailing almost his entire schedule. It included everything from meetings with lobbyists and donors, to time spent reviewing death penalty cases, to his workout breaks.

Perry has also sought to keep secret his cozy ties with big donors, as well as details of past budget negotiations. This summer, the state legislature gave him an assist by passing a bill that will delay the release of information on his security detail's travel records until after the 2012 election.

So does Perry think he has an openness problem? "I think we give so much information already that it is boring," he said last October. Information-overload isn't the issue. Perry doesn't seem to get the basic point that destroying any traceable record of his public life suggests that he has something to hide.

Will Deficit-Fighting Super Committee Reveal Campaign Cash and Lobbyist Ties?

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 11:33 AM PDT

Congress' 12-member "Super Committee," charged with crafting a plan to cut $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit in the next decade, is up and running. The bipartisan panel of veteran lawmakers first convened on Sept. 8, and is plowing ahead so as to meet its Nov. 23 deadline to deliver its budget-slashing recommendations.

As the fiscal fighting ramps up, fourteen good-government and transparency groups are calling for Super Committee members to publicize any campaign donations received and any lobbyist meetings while the committee does its work. The reasoning here is obvious: If committee members are meeting behind closed doors with, say, oil industry lobbyists at the same time they're debating deficit-cutting measures, they could be swayed to oppose closing tax loopholes for oil companies, worth an estimated $4.4 billion a year—and the public would never know about it.

Failing to disclose donations and interactions with lobbyists, the DC-based Sunlight Foundation argues, "will reinforce the public's mistrust of the deficit reduction process and risk delegitimizing the Committee's work."

At least one lawmaker, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), has said he won't fundraise and will limit contact with lobbyists during his time on the Super Committee, which is made up of six House members and six Senators, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

Here's the letter from good-government and transparency groups to the Super Committee:

14 Groups Call for Super Committee Transparency

CIA Investigating Itself, But What About The NYPD?

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 10:00 AM PDT

In a special joint hearing of the House and Senate intelligence committees on Monday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director David Petraeus said that the CIA's Inspector General was investigating whether or not the agency's collaboration with the NYPD's counterterrorism program was appropriate. The Associated Press recently reported that the CIA had helped the NYPD execute a massive domestic intelligence gathering operation focused on the city's Muslim community, one that could operate without the sort of investigative guidelines that the federal government is required to follow. Even those guidelines, in the eyes of civil liberties advocates, are already too permissive.

According to the AP, the NYPD sent operatives into Muslim neighborhoods as spies without any actual evidence of crimes, including stores, restaurants, and mosques. The story suggests that the FBI was so concerned about the program's legality that it refused to accept information gathered from it. The CIA is also prohibited by law from spying on Americans.

Both Clapper and Petraeus used strong language to reassure Congress that the matter was being addressed. Responding to a question from Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Clapper acknowledged that "there has been help there, there is an embedded analyst, not anyone from the CIA who is out there on the streets collecting humint [human intelligence]." Clapper added, "my personal view is that it's not a good optic to have CIA involved in any city level police department."

"We are very sensitive to the law, and civil liberties and privacy, and indeed there is an active Inspector General investigation," Petraeus said, "that I will continue to follow up on just to ensure we are doing the right thing in that particular case."

But while the CIA's role in this will be thorougly investigated, the NYPD's may not. Because of the Church Committee reforms in the 1970s, the CIA is subject to avenues of accountability (like congressional oversight) that the NYPD is not, says Liza Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center's Liberty and National Security Program. "There's an open question as to whether the CIA has crossed the line, but because we have the ability to ask David Petraeus questions, and because there's an IG who is conducting an investigation, we will be getting answers," says Goitein. "On the NYPD side, there is really no one who is looking into the question, and there's no oversight mechanism for finding out whether the NYPD Crossed the line." The "line" in this context refers to previous court decisions binding the NYPD to certain limits on when and how it's allowed to monitor people without evidence of a crime.

"The immediate need is for the city council to examine and do its own investigation along the lines of which the CIA is now doing internally," Gotein says, "and whether what the NYPD was doing was appropriate given the guidelines that exist."

The chairman of the relevant New York City Council committee, Peter Vallone Jr., suggested to WNYC that he wasn't concerned that the NYPD had overstepped its bounds. ("We have done extensive oversight of the NYPD’s terror activities and that oversight includes confidential briefings by the commissioner to myself," Vallone said.) Absent the sort of oversight present at the federal level, however, we may never know for sure.

Top 10 Honorary Texans—Bob Hope, Bob Dylan...Glenn Beck?

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 9:20 AM PDT

During his decade in office, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has named Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck as "honorary Texans." He may be the first Lone Star State governor to use the award to such brazen political ends, but he's sure not the first to use it to get attention. Here's the lowdown on 10 of the most interesting honorees.

Governor: Alan Shivers (D)
Honorary Texan:
General George MacArthur (1951)
Lowdown: The three-star general received the honor in Austin while on a tour to promote a stronger military stance against Korea. His son was named "Honorary Junior Texas Ranger." The general later led a parade in Houston attended by 500,000 people and visited Galveston, where he was to receive a Cadillac.

Governor: John Connally (D)
Honorary Texans: 100th and 442nd US Army Regiments (1962)
Lowdown: Composed of Japanese-American soldiers enlisted from WW II internment camps, these regiments suffered the highest casualty rates of any Army formations. Particularly severe were the 800 deaths sustained in rescuing the "Lost Battalion"—221 Texans trapped in eastern France.

Governor: Preston Smith (D)
Honorary Texan: Shirley MacLaine (1972)
Lowdown: Upon receiving her award, the actress-activist said, "Next time I'm in Texas, I hope I'm awarded this by Cissy Farenthold." Farenthold was the congresswoman who'd lost the Democratic nomination to Smith that spring. 

Governor: Dolph Briscoe (D)
Honorary Texan: Christi Worthington (circa 1976):
Lowdown: Worthington's father, a Texan jeweler who'd relocated to Iowa, wrote his mother and asked her to send a bag of dirt so that his baby would be born on Texas soil. He then successfully petitioned the governor to make his daughter an honorary Texan.

Governor: Bill Clements (R)
Honorary Texan: Deng Xioping (1979)
Lowdown: A decade before the Chinese leader stood behind the massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, he was made an honorary Texan, given a cowboy hat, and treated to a rodeo and barbecue. Looking back on the affair, the Houston Chronicle wrote, "Herein lies a lesson for all Americans concerning the diplomatic conventions of civility and hospitality, and the harsh realities of totalitarian dictatorships."

Governor: Ann Richards (D)
Honorary Texan: Bob Hope (1992)
Lowdown: Richards handed the actor his certificate of Texan citizenship and said, "This entitles you to come to the mansion and see me anytime you want, honey."

Governor: George W. Bush (R)
Honorary Texan: William Hague (1999)
Lowdown: "I might be persuaded to wear the boots, but I'm certainly not going to wear the hat," the leader of Great Britain's Conservative Party said upon receiving the honor.
Honorary Texan: Bob Dylan (1999)
Lowdown: In 2009, after mentioning his Texas citizenship in an interview with the UK's Sunday Times, Dylan had this to say about Bush's legacy: "As far as blaming everything on the last president, think of it this way: the same folks who had held him in such high regard came to despise him. Isn't it funny that they're the very same people who once loved him? People are fickle. Their loyalty can turn at the drop of a hat."

Governor: Rick Perry
Honorary Texan: Russell Crowe (2001)
Lowdown: The Gladiator star received the award from Perry shortly before his band played Perry's daughter's 15th birthday party.
Honorary Texan: Glenn Beck (2010)
Lowdown: When Perry presented the award to the Fox News host at a "Taking Back America" rally at the Oil Palace in Tyler, Beck says he asked the governor, "Is there ever going to be a time when I'm going to need to use this as a passport?" 

 

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David Barton: Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings Affair Was Liberal Plot

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 8:41 AM PDT

Texas pseudo-historian David Barton, as we've reported previously, is something of a legend among Christian conservatives. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) invited him to testify before the Minnesota Senate and to lecture her Republican colleagues in Congress; Gov. Rick Perry courted his support earlier this month at a Hill Country retreat; Newt Gingrich has nothing but praise for him; Mike Huckabee says Barton's tracts about the Founding Fathers should be required reading for everyone in America. The New York Times calls him "a guiding spirit of the religious right." Barton's work has been pretty soundly repudiated by respected historians, but he tells conservatives what they want to hear—and makes a lot of money doing it.

But even we're a little surprised by his latest bombshell: Speaking at the ultra-conservative Liberty University last week, Barton explained that the now-historically and scientifically accepted narrative that Thomas Jefferson had children with his slave Sally Hemings was actually a liberal plot to distract the public from the horrors of the Clinton impeachment scandal. As he explained it, prominent liberal historians concocted the theory in order to put Clinton's improprieties in a more favorable light. Watch:

It's worth noting that this argument is, of course, total baloney. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which has a real vested interested in not repeating baseless Thomas Jefferson smears, acknowledges the affair on its website. And as Brian Tashman notes, Barton's narrative about the DNA testing is sort of the opposite of what happened. Joseph Ellis was not involved in the DNA testing, but he did eventually come around to the fact that Jefferson and Hemings had conceived children. So did uber-historian Annette Gordon-Reed, who literally wrote the book on the subject. The DNA tests Barton cites as discredited said that there was a 99-percent chance that Hemings had birthed children by either Jefferson or a very close male relative (of which Jefferson is really the only plausible option). Another problem: The Jefferson-Hemings thesis predated any rumblings of the Lewinsky affair.

h/t Right Wing Watch.

This Week in National Insecurity: Gay Nukes Edition

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 8:33 AM PDT

What a week. Did you hear about the basketball game for freedom? Or the Taliban Twitter fight? Or the new old Iraq WMD argument? You're about to. Here are the nation's biggest, weirdest, and bestest military- and defense-related stories:

  • In less than a week, the military goes gay-friendly. Marines don't seem to mind all that much.
  • As the open battle over NATO's military headquarters raged in Kabul this week, a Taliban spokesman and a NATO spokesman got into an intense…Twitter fight. It's hard to say who's winning or losing. First rule of 21st-century counterinsurgency: Don't feed the trolls.

Meet John Boehner's Primary Challenger

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 8:14 AM PDT
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio)

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) is pretty aggressively anti-abortion. Under his watch last spring, the House pushed a "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion" bill that initially would have gone so far as to redefine rape, along with another measure that could have required IRS agents to conduct abortion audits in certain cases. Pretty anti-abortion in other words—but not anti-abortion enough for David Lewis of Cincinnati, who announced this week that he will launch a primary challenge against the most powerful Republican elected official in America.

Per his statement:

In his first nine months as House Speaker, John Boehner has had several opportunities to defund the largest baby killers in America – Planned Parenthood. But Boehner caved in to Obama, and gave Planned Parenthood taxpayer's hard earned dollars. Neither pro-lifers nor Tea Party activists should ever forgive John Boehner for lavishing our money on Planned Parenthood. It is clear from the facts that Planned Parenthood is not only the largest killer of unborn babies in America, but also that they have become a criminal syndicate covering up the crimes of rapists, sex traffickers, and pedophiles.

His website doesn't currently list any issues, save for this brief platform: "The Word of God, including the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, is the foundation that America and the Bill of Rights rests on." In March, Lewis was arrested at Boehner's district office, where he was protesting over the Planned Parenthood issue. As he told the Middletown Journal, "the only way to hold his feet to the fire...is to hold demonstrations like this one." Apparently, he thinks he's found another way.

Update: Right Wing Watch argues, somewhat comepllingly, that Lewis' campaign is basically an excuse to run graphic images of fetuses on local television stations.

Is Scalia Getting Skeptical About the Death Penalty?

| Fri Sep. 16, 2011 7:50 AM PDT

Last night, as my colleague Tim Murphy reported, the Supreme Court stayed the execution of Texas inmate Duane Buck, who was sentenced to death after racist testimony from a psychologist who said Buck's race (he's black) made him inherently more dangerous. Equally surprising is that the petition for a stay was granted after being presented to Justice Antonin Scalia, who referred it to the full court. (The justices are each assigned to respond to appeals from courts in different parts of the country.)

Scalia hasn't displayed any qualms about the death penalty in the past. In 2009, when the Supreme Court directed a federal court to rehear the evidence in the case of Troy Davis, who may soon be executed despite the fact that the case against him has fallen apart, Scalia wrote an angry dissent claiming that "this Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is 'actually' innocent." A "fair trial," in Scalia's view, is not necessarily a perfect one. Hey, life sucks and then you die, wrongly convicted based on the testimony of possibly coerced witnesses who later recanted, amirite?

In this case, it's best not to read too much into Scalia's decision to kick the matter to the full court. "Standard practice in this type of case is to refer the matter to the entire Court," says UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler. "He may have referred it to the entire Court out of deference to his colleagues, who he may have known had qualms about this execution." It's impossible to know how the judges voted, but it requires at least five judges to grant a stay, but only four to grant certiorari, which the court is now considering.

On the other hand, looking at Scalia's Davis dissent, there are reasons he might be more sympathetic to Buck despite the fact that his culpability is not in question. Scalia described the Davis case as "a trial untainted by constitutional defect," whereas Buck's sentencing is marred by a rather obvious constitutional defect: Testimony that he was more dangerous because of his skin color.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked during a Republican debate last week whether he ever "struggled to sleep at night" over the 234 executions performed on his watch. Perry replied, "I’ve never struggled with that at all." He may not have lost any sleep over the possibility of a man being sentenced to death because he's black, but there are at least five justices on the Supreme Court who were concerned enough to take another look.