Mojo - September 2011

Update: Rick Perry and the Duane Buck Execution

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 12:20 PM EDT

Update: The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Buck's petition for clemency on Tuesday; Perry still has until Thursday to step in and grant a 30-day stay of execution to allow time to reconsider the evidence.

On Thursday, Duane Buck is set to become the 235th person to be executed during Rick Perry's tenure as Governor of Texas. Buck murdered two people and shot a third in 1995, and is, by his own admission, totally guilty. But his death sentence was obtained in party through the testimony of a since discredited psychologist who stated that Buck's race (he's black) made him more of a long-term threat. For that reason, as I explained previously, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn (now a Republican US Senator) called for Buck and five others to receive a re-trial. Over the last 10 years, Buck is the only one who hasn't.

Neither Cornyn nor Perry are commenting on Buck's impending execution, but last week, Linda Geffin, a former Harris County prosecutor who helped convict Buck, joined the chorus of criminal justice activists and editorial boards calling for Perry to let Buck receive "a fair trial, untainted by considerations of race."

Here's Geffin's full letter:

Buck Letter From Linda Geffin

The state attorney general's office defended the sentence last week, stating that "Race was injected into this case by Buck—not the state" because the defense had summoned the psychologist in question. Kate Black, Buck's advocate at the Texas Defender Service, rebutted those claims in a brief filed Monday in federal court:

The Attorney General claimed that what made Mr. Buck's case different from the others was that the defense had called the expert who testified that race was a factor to consider in determining future dangerousness. In reality, the defense had called the testifying expert in three of the six cases identified by the Attorney General in 2000 as having been similar to the Saldano case. In two of those cases, the Attorney General waived procedural defenses and conceded error. Mr. Buck's is the third.

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Marines' DADT Countdown: "We're Gay. Get Over It." (Photo)

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 10:55 AM EDT

Just seven days remain until "Don't Ask Don't Tell" becomes an ex-law, and the military is apparently ready. Via Jim Burroway at the pro-gay rights blog Box Turtle Bulletin, here's a peek at the cover of next week's Marine Corps Times:

The cover story, writes MCT's Tony Lombardo, "includes the stories of several gay Marines who wanted to share their views on repeal and the future of the Marine Corps." Marines and their families all over the world will get to see this cover in base commissaries, offices, and work spaces for the next week. And if Uncle Sam's Misguided Children can accept gays and lesbians, that'll take much of the wind out of the GOP presidential field's anti-gay sails.

Servicemembers United is claiming credit for the cover story, saying its members "pitched this story cold, pushed it along over several weeks, interviewed personally for the story, and recruited others to interview." The Bulletin's Burroway also points out that another organization, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, has a list of do's and don'ts for "celebrating DADT's repeal." The countdown to September 20 has begun.

Missing: Tons of US-Supplied Nuclear Weapons Material

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 9:53 AM EDT

The United States cannot fully account for more than 16,000 kilograms tons of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium that it has shipped to 27 "friendly" countries in recent decades, and it lacks any coherent policy to track down the materials, a Government Accountability Office report concluded late last week. In fact, according to auditors, the country's atomic accounting is so shoddy that the International Atomic Energy Agency—the same agency sent to search for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction—could potentially find the United States in violation of its international anti-proliferation treaty obligations. Even as it has fretted about Iranian nuclear proliferation and alleged Iraqi purchases of yellowcake uranium from Africa, the United States has lost track of enough fissile material to make hundreds of nuclear warhead cores.

At issue are bilateral agreements the US holds with 27 nations, from France to Taiwan, for the transfer of American nuclear materials—fuel, reactors, and reactor components—for "peaceful civilian purposes." (It's even conceivable, though not easily determined, that US material may have been present at the Marcoule nuclear plant in France where an explosion killed one worker Monday.) Although the United States has a database, the Nuclear Materials Management and Safeguard System, to track the transfers, the GAO found that the '50s-era system is more or less useless today: Most of the bilateral export agreements give the US no official power to supervise what happens with the uranium, plutonium, and other materials they fork over. Hence much of the material leaves American sight, and officials simply take the other nations' word that the stuff has ended up in a civilian reactor.

There's No Such Thing As A "State-Level DREAM Act"

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 9:34 AM EDT

In Monday night's debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry got hammered by his opponents for signing a Texas law that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children to receive in-state tuition at state universities. CNN's Wolf Blitzer lobbed a softball in Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's direction, asking, "Congresswoman Bachmann, is that basically the DREAM Act that President Obama wants as well?" It would have been one thing if Bachmann had made the comparison herself, but Blitzer's leading question actually encouraged her to mislead the audience.

BACHMANN: Yes, it's very similar. And I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally. That is not the American way. Because the immigration system in the United States worked very, very well up until the mid-1960s when liberal members of Congress changed the immigration laws. What works is to have people come into the United States with a little bit of money in their pocket legally with sponsors so that if anything happens to them, they don't fall back on the taxpayers to take care of them. And then they also have to agree to learn the speak the English language, learn American history and our constitution. That's the American way.

BLITZER: I'm going to bring Governor Huntsman here. But go ahead, Governor Perry.

PERRY: I'm not for the DREAM Act that they are talking about in Washington D.C. that is amnesty. What we did in the state of Texas was clearly a states right issue. And the legislature passed with only four dissenting votes in the House and the Senate to allow this to occur. We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you. That if you want to live in the state of Texas and you want to pursue citizenship, that we're going to allow you the opportunity to be contributing members in the state of Texas and not be a drag on our state.

Here's the problem: While both advocates and opponents of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants have referred to bills like Perry's as "state-level DREAM Acts," and thus reporters (including me) have done so as well, it's a misnomer because there is really no such thing. The federal DREAM Act would grant a (years-long) path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought here under a certain age who are headed to college or are willing to serve in the US military.

States can do what Perry did—offer in state tuition to undocumented immigrant students—or in the case of California, allow them to apply for private scholarships. But they can't offer a path to citizenship, which is a critical distinction. There's no honest way to describe what Perry did as "basically the DREAM Act that President Obama wants as well," because it lacks that crucial component. In this sense, Perry's right to make a distinction. It's just that his position isn't coherent. Perry is essentially saying, "let's deport all those kids I just spent taxpayer dollars helping get an education."

What the bills smoothing access for undocumented students share with the federal DREAM Act is the belief that this particular group of immigrants can contribute to American society and shouldn't be punished for the actions of their parents. It doesn't actually make sense for Perry to argue that "if you want to live in the state of Texas and you want to pursue citizenship, that we're going to allow you the opportunity to be contributing members in the state of Texas and not be a drag on our state," but then oppose the kind of "amnesty" that would then allow those same students to go on and work and reside legally in the state. The natural extension of the moral logic that led Perry to sign a bill allowing undocumented immigrants easier access to higher education would also lead to you supporting a path to citizenship on the federal level.

Perry's relatively moderate record on immigration is a liability with the GOP base. His opponents have attacked him for opposing a border fence in the past and saying that "if you build a 30-foot wall from El Paso to Brownsville, the 35-foot ladder business gets real good." The GOP primary audience doesn't want to hear that—they want to hear that you can build a wall and boot every undocumented immigrant out of the country, and that the only reason we haven't is because Obama's trying to naturalize all of his relatives. But despite offering up some happy talk about "securing the border," Perry stuck to his position on Monday night, saying, "the idea that you're going to build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso and go left for another 800 miles to Tijuana is just not reality."

Perry's problem with immigration is a bit like Mitt Romney's troubles over health care reform. It's clear he understands the issue well enough that he can't feign callousness or ignorance convincingly enough for a Republican Primary audience. If he doesn't get the nomination, this may be a big reason why.

Michigan GOP Lawmaker: Public School Teachers "Are More Than Greedy"

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 6:05 AM EDT

A few weeks ago, I reported that Michigan Republicans were eyeing a radical proposal to privatize public school teachers. Under the plan, suggested by state Sen. Phil Pavlov, who chairs Michigan's Senate education committee, school districts would outsource teacher hiring to private contractors in an attempt to save money by cutting pension and health-care benefits. A Michigan Education Association (MEA) spokesman, Doug Pratt, called the idea "terrible" and "a type of union busting."

Now another Michigan lawmaker has doubled down on the GOP attack on public school teachers. In an interview with the Gongwer News Service, state Sen. Randy Richardville, the majority leader, slammed the MEA—the state's main teachers' union—as focused on "big-paid, high-honcho people." Then he claimed that teachers are "more than greedy," presumably for demanding health insurance, retirement benefits, and modest increases in their even more modest salaries. (The average teacher in Michigan made $54,088 a year in 2009, the highest in the nation.)

For a taste of Richardville's worldview, consider this. Richardville is a proponent of turning Michigan into a right-to-work state for teachers, which would mean that teachers at unionized schools would be able to enjoy union-won benefits without contributing anything to the union itself. Unions struggle to make an impact in right-to-work states, if they don't wither away completely. Yet Richardville trumpeted that "There's probably nobody in the Legislature, especially a Republican, that has stood up for workers' rights and workers in general over the last decade (more) than me."

In response to Richardville's attack on teachers, MEA president Steve Cook said, "For Sen. Richardville to say that school employees, unlike other unions, have not recognized the state’s tough economic times is ridiculous. Teachers and support staff have been laid off, taken wage and benefit cuts, and seen critical services for students in their districts disappear because of the Republican cut of more than $1 billion from public education."

(H/T Eclectablog)

New Poverty Numbers Likely To Be Bad

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 6:03 AM EDT

The Census Bureau is slated to release the latest figures on some critical national indicators early Tuesday morning. Both poverty rates and the number of uninsured Americans will be included in the data dump, and neither figure is likely to be good.

The poverty rate has been creeping up for years. Between 2001 and 2007, poverty rose from 13.2 percent to 14.3 percent, and that was before the unemployment rate skyrocketed over 9 percent after the financial crisis and burst of the housing bubble. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities projects that 2010 may set a new record for the number of people living in deep poverty—that is, on income below half the federal poverty level (about $11,000 for a family of four). In 2009, the country got close to that mark when 6.3 percent of the country was living that close to the edge. It won't take much for deep poverty to claim a share of the population the country hasn't seen since 1975, according to CBPP.

The numbers of uninsured people aren't likely to look any more rosy, given that unemployment has remained stubbornly high. In 2009, 51 million people lacked health insurance—one out of every 6 people—and CBPP predicts that the number for 2010 will be even higher.

The Census figures will be released at 10 a.m. Tuesday, when we'll find out for sure. But even if nothing changes much from last year, the numbers will continue to paint a gloomy financial picture for the country's most vulnerable people. As CBPP points out, the only real way to help these folks in the short term is for the government to take more action, including extending the unemployment benefits and payroll tax holiday policies that are set to expire at the end of the year. But with the congressional "supercommittee" only looking at ways to cut federal spending, it's hard to see any of that happening any time soon, regardless of what the Census has to say about just how much people are suffering.

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Fallout From Chris Christie-Koch Brothers Exposé (Updated)

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Charles (left) and David Koch.

Unless you've been living in a hole, you've probably heard at least something about a secret confab near Vail, Colorado, where the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch referred to the 2012 elections as "the mother of all wars." (He may or may not have been referring to President Obama when he evoked Saddam Hussein—more on that below—but he certainly used Saddam's battle slogan to characterize efforts by him and his brother to evict Obama from the White House.)

In the week since we ran Brad Friedman's two-part series, which publicized audio from inside the big event and broke the news that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had delivered the keynote speech (a fact Christie had kept hidden from New Jersey voters), dozens of news outlets have picked up the story, and even taken it further. Here are a few highlights.

UPDATES (September 20):

New Jersey senator calls for heads up whenever Christie's leaves the state: Yesterday, New Jersey Sen. Loretta Weinberg introduced a bill that would require the governor to give legislators one day's notice before leaving the state for any reason. The bill was prompted by Christie's secret trip to Colorado to speak at the Koch brothers' June fundraising seminar. "I do not think the residents of New Jersey or any of us have a right to intrude on the governor’s private time, vacation time with his family. So if he wants to say, 'I’m going to Florida with my family,' that’s sufficient," Weinberg told NJ.com. "If he wants to say, 'I'm flying to Vail, Colorado, for a political meeting,' I think that that is good notice."

"It's all politics," Christie responded, according to the Associated Press. "She'd love to be lieutenant governor and she's not." (In 2009, Weinberg ran against Christie on the ticket of former Gov. Jon Corzine, and she has previously criticized Christie for putting partisan events on his public schedule.) Earlier this month, Christie told reporters that they were "not entitled to know everything I do."

The AP also noted that, according to recently released public records, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has formally assumed power for Christie 26 times since the pair was elected last year. Previous governors, the report added, have also spent considerable lengths of time outside the state.

Gov. Christie drops anti-teacher rhetoric: More than once during his speech at the Koch seminar, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie targeted state teachers' unions: "We need to take on the teachers' union once and for all, and we need to decide who is determining our children's future, who is running this place. Them or us? I say it's us," he said.

Last week, New Jersey Education Association spokesman Steve Wollmer told NewJerseyNewsroom.com that Christie had backed off on his tough talk. "Everyone has noticed the intensity has dropped," Wollmer said. "For one, polling data is driving the governor to behave better. He is seen as failing on education and that's not good." Wollmer also accused Christie of refusing to meet with the NJEA, a teachers' union. "He is not interested in meeting with us," Wollmer said. "He is interested in destroying the rights of organized labor."

ORIGINAL POST

Christie "mentally deranged," says New Jersey Democratic Assembly leader: In the audio from his June 26 keynote speech, Christie boasts about backroom dealings with two state Democratic leaders—Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver—to pass a bill forcing public employees to pay more for their pensions. (Christie has called the pension overhaul his "biggest governmental victory.") "I want to post the bill, but I think when I go on the floor, my own party's going to take a run at me to remove me as speaker. So I can't post the bill," Christie says Oliver told him. "I think the only way I survive is if the 33 Republicans in the chamber will agree to vote for me for speaker. Can you work it out?"

After the audio broke, Oliver told the Newark Star-Ledger that Christie was "more mentally deranged than some of us thought. Never happened." True or false, Christie's story led to speculation that Oliver could be ousted from her leadership role. But two state Democrats speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Cherry Hill Courier Post that reports of party infighting are overblown, and Oliver's position is safe. Her standing with Christie, whom she also called a "rattlesnake," could prove more icy.

In early July, Sweeney went ballistic on Christie, claiming the governor had double-crossed him on the pension deal by unilaterally using his line-item veto to slash services to the poor. Back then, the former union leader called the governor a "rotten bastard" and "rotten prick" and said he "wanted to punch him in his head." He responded more coolly to the Koch seminar revelations, but speaking to the Asbury Park Press through a spokesman, he did manage another jab:

The Senate President has no comment on remarks Governor Christie made while he was wining and dining with ridiculously wealthy people just days before he cut funding for visually impaired people, our most vulnerable seniors, and programs for sexually abused children, while coming to the aid, yet again, of his rich friends.

Chris Christie's climate "smoking gun": In his introduction of the governor, David Koch revealed how he and Christie had gotten acquainted: "Five months ago we met in my New York City office and spoke, just the two of us, for about two hours on his objectives and successes in correcting many of the most serious problems of the New Jersey state government," Koch said.

New Jersey's Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel told the AP that this was "the smoking gun that shows [Christie has] been working with the Koch brothers from the beginning." The AP story suggests that the meeting may have influenced Christie's decision to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a 10-state cap-and-trade program. In late May, after Christie announced his plan to exit RGGI by year's end, Tittel told Mother Jones that the governor was "trying to have it both ways" by supporting some environmental programs in New Jersey while appealing nationally to groups like the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group that stridently opposes efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. A Christie spokesman told the AP that the winter meeting with David Koch was "wholly unconnected" to Christie's decision on RGGI.

Saddam Hussein and Barack Obama: Part 1 of Friedman's exclusive opens like this:

"We have Saddam Hussein," declared billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, apparently referring to President Barack Obama as he welcomed hundreds of wealthy guests to the latest of the secret fundraising and strategy seminars he and his brother host twice a year. The 2012 elections, he warned, will be "the mother of all wars."

Reporters nationwide quickly picked up this quote, and broadcast hosts replayed the audio clip (which was included in the piece) on their shows. Friedman appeared on a number of radio, podcast, and TV programs, including CNN's Situation Room and MSNBC's The Ed Show, to discuss it:


But some listeners, including our own Kevin Drum, suggested that Koch may have simply been quoting Hussein's well-worn slogan from the outset of the first Gulf War. Politico's Ben Smith wrote: "As I hear the (ambiguous) line, Koch is quoting Saddam here, not comparing Obama to him. In that version, the quote reads: 'We have, as Saddam Hussein [said] this is the Mother of All Wars.'" A Koch Industry spokesman echoed that sentiment. But there's little doubt that the war in question is the war to retake the White House. The quote was all that Obama campaign manager Jim Messina needed to blast out a fundraising email, suggesting that it "absolutely should" offend Democrats. "But it should also motivate you, because you are the only thing that can stop…[t]he Koch brothers and the front groups they fund."

 Listen to Charles Koch's Saddam statement here:


(The complete audio and transcript are available at The BRAD BLOG.)

Koch ally Art Pope denies attending the seminar: No one on our list of likely million-dollar Koch donors has contacted us to protest their inclusion. But Raleigh, North Carolina, retail magnate Art Pope—whom IndyWeek.com previously called a regular seminar attendee—told the News & Observer that he neither attended the seminar nor donated any of his own money. He did admit that his family's foundation donated "several hundred thousand dollars," presumably in the past year, to Americans for Prosperity, where he serves as a national director. A Facing South investigation discovered that the foundation has given a total of more than $1.9 million to Americans for Prosperity.

Here's a sampling of additional coverage:

Newark Star-Ledger, "NJ Gov. Chris Christie hurt himself by discrediting Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver"

Philadelphia Inquirer, "Editorial: Christie Should Disclose Secret Political Trips"

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, "Menard, Hendricks on Koch donor list"

Colorado Independent, "Why are the Kochs so afraid of Obama?"

Wonkette, "War on Everyone Else Round One Million: Charles Koch Defeats Jimmy Hoffa"

Slate, "The Koch Brother-Anna Nicole Smith Connection"

Greenpeace.org, "Mother Jones Secret Koch Brothers Tapes"

9/11 Didn't Upturn the Constitution, the War on Crime Did

| Tue Sep. 13, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Long before the war on terror, there was the war on crime. And as much as 9/11 was a watershed event, our response to the attacks, and the resulting erosion of civil liberties, finds longstanding precedent in America's criminal justice system.

In an article titled "Exporting Harshness: How the War on Crime Helped Make the War on Terror Possible," Georgetown University law professor and former public defender James Forman Jr. argued against the widely accepted notion that "the war on terror represents a sharp break from the past, with American values and ideals 'betrayed,' American law 'remade.'" Forman continued, "I suspect it is both too simple and ultimately too comforting to assert that the Bush administration alone remade our justice system and betrayed our values." Instead, he wrote, "our approach to the war on terror is an extension—sometimes a grotesque one—of what we do in the name of the war on crime.…

As the world's largest jailer, we are increasingly desensitized to the harsh treatment of criminals. We have come to accept such excesses as casualties of war—whether on crime, drugs, or terror. Indeed, more than that, we no longer see what we do as special, different, or harsh. Certain practices have become what David Garland calls "the taken-for-granted features of contemporary crime policy." In part for this reason, despite the mounting evidence regarding secret memos, inhumane prison conditions, coercive interrogations, and interference with defense lawyers, the Bush administration's approach to the war on terror went largely unchecked and unchanged. (H/T Prison Law Blog)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 13, 2011

Tue Sep. 13, 2011 5:57 AM EDT

US Army soldiers begin their descent from the summit of "Big Nasty," a mountain in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Sept. 8, 2011. The soldiers are assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade. The unit was on a joint mission with the Afghan army and border patrol in the mountains near the Pakistan border. US Army photo by Spc. Ken Scar.

Debate: GOP Crowd Cheers Dying Uninsured Man, Ben Bernanke Treason Claim

| Mon Sep. 12, 2011 10:56 PM EDT

The non sequiturs and talking points dished out by the GOP presidential candidates in Monday night's CNN-Tea Party Express debate were as perplexing as they were frequent. But almost as bizarre were some of the reactions from the tea party-heavy crowd in attendance. Consider two incidents from tonight's debate.

The first one came when CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) about a hypothetical situation involving a sick, 30-year-old man without health insurance. Here's the exchange, with video afterward:

Blitzer: Let me ask you this hypothetical question. A healthy, 30-year-old man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, "You know what, I'm not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I'm healthy, I don't need it." Something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it. Who's going to pay if he goes into a coma, for example?

Paul: In a society that you accept welfare-ism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of it.

Blitzer: Well, what do you want?

Paul: He should do whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would be have a major medical policy. But not forced—

Blitzer: But he doesn't have that. And he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

Paul: That's what freedom is all about. Taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare to take care of everybody.

Blitzer: But congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

Crowd: [Yeah! Yeah! Laughs.]

"Society should just let him die." Cheers. Wow.

Then there was this exchange, a bit earlier in the night, concerning Rick Perry's comments that Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke had engaged in treason:

Blitzer: You stand by those remarks, Governor?

Perry: I said that if you are allowing the Federal Reserve to be used for political purposes that it would be almost treasonous. I think that is a very clear statement of fact.

Crowd: [Loud cheers, clapping.]

This is the second GOP debate in a row where the audience has cheered at strange, if not disturbing, moments. Remember that during last week's NBC News-Politico debate, the crowd burst into applause at hearing that the Perry administration had executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor. The New Yorker's Amy Davidson put it best in describing how troubling this is:

Is "justice" some sort of slot machine that works best, in terms of wins, when it turns out the most bodies? The applause will likely be cited as an example of our national bloodthirstiness. That's not quite right, though; the truth is a little worse. Even a death-penalty supporter might be expected to remember that each execution is part of a story that involves the death of a victim, maybe more than one. For there to be a lot of executions, there have to have been a lot of murders—and that can hardly be cause for happiness. But one suspects that, for this audience, "death penalty" had ceased to be anything but a political symbol—a word disconnected from actual lives and deaths. It wouldn't be the only sign of detachment from reality in the debate.

Who are these Republicans that are so tone deaf as to cheer executions and an uninsured man's death? Rest in peace, compassionate conservatism.