Mojo - October 2011

The War Over Walid Phares' Wikipedia Page

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 1:20 PM EDT

Lebanon's brutal civil war may have officially ended more than two decades ago, but the battle to define its roots and meaning continues...on Wikipedia.

As I discovered while reporting this story on Mitt Romney's Middle East policy adviser Walid Phares, the Wiki pages of major groups, events, and figures in Lebanon are under constant revision by partisans on all sides. Phares' page was a particular hotbed of activity, which was strange, given that his role was in the Lebanese Forces was mostly unreported by the Western media and, unlike his former associate Samir Geagea, he doesn't play an ongoing role in Lebanon's domestic political drama. Many other actors from the war still do, which is part of why there's so much activity on their pages and so much disagreement about what to include.

At any rate, take a look at the pace of revisions and counter-revisions that have taken place on Phares' Wikipedia page just since my story was published Thursday morning, and even over the past month:

There have been nearly a hundred edits to Phares' Wikipedia page during October alone, most involving his relationship to the Lebanese Forces; the edit wars on his page go back to 2005. His defenders frequently scrub the page of any lines referring to that relationship (some of which really have been inaccurate and inflammatory). It's not clear that the users are actually different people. After TEOS2011 was flagged as a possible sock-puppet, another user, JudgeDredd1975 (who has an extraordinary knowledge of Mr. Phares' bibliography), showed up to defend TEOS2011 writing, "I have no idea who is TEOS2011, although we apparently share the same values of keeping Wikipedia's integrity by not letting it become a platform for cheap defamation[.]" Both JudgeDredd1975 and TEOS2011, among other users editing Phares' page, have a limited interest in Wikipedia: Their only revisions have been to Phares' page.

From October to November 2008, Phares' page was edited extensively by a user called "futureofterrorismproject." Phares' title at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, according to his online bio, was the "director for Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies." His or her edits however, were mostly additions to Phares qualifications, not attempts to scrub the page of information related to Phares' role in Lebanon's civil war. 

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Jan Brewer Goes Nuclear on the Arizona Redistricting Commission

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 1:20 PM EDT
Gov. Jan Brewer

Over the past month, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has been floating a new election map that would create four Republican-friendly districts, two Democrat-friendly ones, and three toss-ups. That makes Gov. Jan Brewer really, really angry, Roll Call reports:

The GOP governor began the impeachment process for removing members from the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission by submitting a letter outlining her grievances to commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis. . . .

Arizona Democratic Party Executive Director Luis Heredia described the governor as "drunk with power," calling the move "a brazen power grab that would rival any in Arizona history."

"She is moving toward impeachment of citizens on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission simply because these volunteers have fulfilled their duty to draw fair and competitive districts," he said.

Arizonans voted the IRC into existence in 2000. The non-partisan body's purpose: To take state lawmakers out of redistricting, in hopes of making it a less overtly political process. But Brewer seems intent on catering to GOP interests and undermining voters, and is accusing the IRC of drawing a gerrymandering map that dilutes Arizona's electoral competitiveness.

The governor has the power to remove members from the body, which includes two Democrats, two Republicans, and one Independent, and is widely expected to target Chairwoman Mathis. But she must first get the backing of two-thirds of the Arizona state Senate, where Republicans hold a 21 to 9 advantage over Democrats. That solid majority probably explains, at least in part, why Brewer is doing this now. Currently, a committee made up mostly of Republican state lawmakers is reviewing the IRC's plan, and will issue its recommendations soon. 

Brewer's move has caught the attention of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) and executive director Michael Sargeant. "Unsatisfied with new congressional and state legislative maps that already favor Republicans, Arizona’s GOP leadership is making a naked power play," Sargeant said in a press release on Thursday. "Arizona Republicans are abusing their power for partisan gain and subverting the will of the electorate, which voted to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians over a decade ago."

For the past several months, state Republicans have been weathering accusations that their proposed election law changes don't adequately reflect the state's Latino population, making the new map ripe for rejection by the DOJ. Under Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, Arizona is one of nine states that must ask the DOJ to pre-clear part or all of any changes to election laws.

State Democrats didn't think Brewer was serious about her threats to dismantle the panel. What might have set her off: A recent poll of Arizona voters showing that President Obama enjoys slim (but surprising) leads over GOP presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, and Rick Perry. Obama's popularity versus a still-unresolved GOP presidential field isn't necessarily any sort of bellwether for local races. But Brewer is taking every precaution.

What It's Like to Work For Herman Cain

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 10:47 AM EDT
Herman Cain's memo for staff: speak when spoken to.

One of the most interesting stories to come out of the Herman Cain presidential campaign hasn't actually been written yet—and it might not be for a while, until after he drops out of the race, Fox News contract in hand, sometime before, during, or after, the early primaries. I'm speaking, of course, about the post-mortem, the campaign ritual in which disaffected former staffers spill the beans about what a horror show they endured for however-many months. (Joshua Green's email-heavy deconstruction of the Hillary Clinton campaign is canon for this genre.)

But the New York Times has a hint of what's to come today:

And then there was that e-mail to the staff about traveling in a car with Mr. Cain: "Do not speak to him unless you are spoken to," the memo said.

"I found it odd," said a former staff member who liked to prep Mr. Cain for appearances while driving. The aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, quit not long afterward, citing the e-mail as one of the deciding factors...

Setting up offices was also something of a trial. "When I told people, 'You'll be getting offices and phone lines,' I'd have to postpone that," the former staff member in Iowa said. "It was like they were running for sophomore class president."

Mr. Hall added, "We couldn't even get our own e-mail addresses," for the campaign.

Emphasis mine. Cain's spokesman, J.D. Gordon, notes correctly in the piece that the book tour—dismissed by many ex-staffers—has been a big success. But that's assuming that the goal of the book tour was to sell a lot of books and turn his candidate into a celebrity; if the goal was to build a campaign organization capable of getting out the vote in critical early primary states, well, Cain might have been better served by actually visiting early primary states.

Check Out This Crazy Photo of an Elizabeth Warren Volunteer Meeting

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 10:13 AM EDT

This is a photo of a volunteer meeting for Elizabeth Warren, who is leading the race for the Democratic nomination to take on Sen. Scott Brown (R) in Massachusetts:

Volunteers at an Elizabeth Warren rally in Framingham, Massachusetts.: ElizabethforMA/FlickrVolunteers at an Elizabeth Warren rally in Framingham, Massachusetts. ElizabethforMA/Flickr

This looks more like the kind of crowd you'd see at presidential volunteer meeting late in the campaign than a rally for a Senate candidate 13 months before the general election. It sure looks like Warren has her base fired up. That's not all: On Wednesday, Alan Khazei, perhaps Warren's strongest opponent in the Democratic primary, dropped out of the race, all but ensuring Warren wins the nomination and has a unified Democratic party behind her for an epic November 2012 showdown with Brown.

(h/t Daily Kos Elections)

How the US Just Did Away With Its Biggest Nuke (Video)

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 6:15 AM EDT
The B53 nuclear bomb:

The United States' ability to annihilate millions of people at a time is a little weaker than it was last week. The agency in charge of America's nuclear arsenal announced Tuesday that it's finished dismantling the country's oldest, biggest A-bomb, the B53.

The disassembly, detailed in the government video below, "is a major accomplishment that has made the world safer and for which everyone involved should be proud," Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said in a statement. "Safely and securely dismantling surplus weapons is a critical step along the road to achieving President Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons."

Wisconsin Union Chief: "Seriously Considering a Run" Against Scott Walker in Recall

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin president Mahlon Mitchell.

You couldn't miss Mahlon Mitchell at this winter's populist uprising in Madison, Wisconsin. Mitchell, president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, gave impassioned speeches on the steps outside the state Capitol in defense of workers' rights, and he led firefighters in a march into the rotunda to roaring cheers from the protestors. Mitchell's role in the protests catapulted him into something of a celebrity among union members and activists in Wisconsin, especially considering that firefighters were exempted from Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union budget repair bill.

Now Mitchell is eyeing a bigger stage: the governor's mansion. In an interview with Mother Jones, he said he was "seriously considering a run" for governor in a potential recall election targeting Walker. He said he believes Wisconsinites are sick of professional politicians not following through on campaign promises, and that a populist candidate running against Walker stands a better chance of unseating the governor. The ideal candidate would be "able to talk with common people about common issues," Mitchell said. "Tell 'em what you can do and what you can't do."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 27, 2011

Thu Oct. 27, 2011 5:57 AM EDT

US Army Capt. Scott Hall, Combined Joint Task Force-1, Regional Command-East, Bagram, Afghanistan, looks out the door of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter while flying over the Logar province in Afghanistan, October 18, 2011. Photo by Sgt. Gustavo Olgiati.

Rick Scott's Pee Test Fails a Court Test

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 9:30 PM EDT

Two months ago, we told you how Florida Gov. Rick Scott's plan to drug-test the state's welfare recipients—at their expense—turned out to be a very costly waste of time. Now the effort has been ruled unconstitutional, too.

In a blistering 37-page opinion (PDF) issued late Monday night, federal court Judge Mary Scriven put a halt to the tea party Republican's marquee plan, concluding that "the wholesale, suspicionless drug testing of all applicants" for Florida's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) constituted an unreasonable search in violation of the 4th Amendment. It's just the latest setback for Scott, who's recently come under fire for pooh-poohing nonbusiness majors, collecting cut-rate health insurance, cutting support to the disabled, building himself a military hall of fame, and imploding on a live cable news show.

Attention Paul Ryan: Class War Already Raging

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 6:00 PM EDT
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.)

After Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the second-ranking Republican in the House, failed to deliver a speech on income inequality last week at the University of Pennsylvania, Republicans needed to prove that they care about making sure America is a place where everyone has a fair shot at moving up the income scale. So on Wednesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R—Wisc.) went to the conservative Heritage Foundation to give a speech on the subject.

Ryan could have offered some useful proposals for addressing the growing gap between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the rest of us. Instead, he spent most of his time attacking Barack Obama for sowing the seeds of "class warfare." For Ryan, the real problem isn't income inequality, it's the administration's efforts to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, reform the health insurance industry, push for fair labor practices, enforce environmental safety standards, and encourage domestic investment in clean energy. 

The central idea of Ryan's speech was that the US is still a country characterized by "upward mobility"; a place where everyone has a fair shake at moving up the socioeconomic ladder. Unfortunately, that idea has little relationship to reality. As Mother Jones' own, now-legendary inequality charts illustrated in vivid, painful detail, upward mobility has been hard to come by in the US for four decades running. And as Brian Beutler laid out, the US trails many first-world countries in upward mobility.

Divisions in the #OccupyOakland Protest Seed Unrest

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 5:50 PM EDT

Violence came in waves. Many demonstrators peace-saluted police and called through bullhorns: "This is a peaceful protest! This is a civilian movement!" But from the moment I arrived in Oakland at 10:15 p.m., I saw a visible minority spoiling for conflict. Tinder had built across the night at the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway, a mixture of expectation and adrenaline. Protesters had balked at what they saw as disproportionate policing: They'd been teargassed once already. But how to respond was a matter of intense debate in the crowd of about 1,000.

People shouted each other down while police—as many as 100, in full riot gear, from several different counties—bristled in their formation behind a single metal barricade; news and police helicopters provided the soundtrack. Xavier Manalo, a 25-year-old tennis instructor holding the forward-most protest banner, admitted there were "rogue elements" in the group but insisted the "pressure of the peaceful will be the deterrent" to the violence.