Mojo - October 2011

Herman Cain's Other Big Scandal: A Possible IRS Violation

| Mon Oct. 31, 2011 8:31 AM PDT
Herman Cain chief-of-staff Mark Block, in a clip from a recent campaign ad.

Washington was in full feeding frenzy mode on Monday over reports that Herman Cain, as president of the National Restaurant Association, had been accused of "unwanted sexual advances" by former female employees. That is, needless to say, bad news for Cain's presidential campaign. But the Milwaukee Journal–Sentinel has its own big investigation this morning that's just as damning, if not more so: Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block, flouted federal elections laws and disclosure requirements by using his own non-profit to essentially fund the campaign for its first few months. The expenditures are documented in the filings of Blocks group, Prosperity USA, but are never mentioned as debts in Cain's own campaign finance filings. Among other things, Prosperity USA paid for iPads, chartered flights, and trips to Vegas for the Cain campaign:

The national election expert who works with GOP candidates said it would be a violation of the tax code for Prosperity USA to advance money to the Cain campaign for these items. She said there also are strict federal election regulations on reporting debts and incurring travel obligations.

"I just don't see how they can justify this," she said. "It's a total mess."

The records suggest that Prosperity USA had been underwriting travel for Cain even before he announced his plans to run for president.

For instance, one document says the group was to be paid $5,000 for the costs associated with Cain's speech in September 2010 to the conservative Right Nation rally in Chicago, an event that the records say Cain attended at the request of Americans for Prosperity. The Cain campaign later used a segment from that speech in a campaign ad.

As a tax-exempt non-profit, Prosperity USA would not have been legally permitted to make donations, either directly or in-kind, to a presidential campaign. As one elections expert told the paper, "If the records accurately reflect what occurred, this is way out of bounds."

The charges are especially noteworthy given Block's own history. He was suspended from participating in any elections in the state of Wisconsin (other than voting, of course) for three years and forced to pay a $15,000 fine after a similar scandal in 1997. In that race, where he worked for a candidate for the state supreme court, he set up a supposedly independent non-profit designed to register voters, but in effect turned it into a campaign organ. It's not quite as salacious as sexual harassment charges, but it's a lot more recent, and suggests a certain carelessness (to be generous) with campaign finance law.

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After MoJo Investigation, US Company Admits Its Technology Used in Syria

| Mon Oct. 31, 2011 8:20 AM PDT

On October 19, Mother Jones reported that the autocratic Syrian regime was using internet filtering technology produced by a California company, Blue Coat Systems, to aid its crackdown on dissidents. On Saturday, after 10 days of heightened media scrutiny and the launch of a State Department inquiry, the company finally admitted what publicly available electronic records made obvious, telling the Wall Street Journal that Syria did in fact use its products.

A Blue Coat spokesman told Mother Jones that the company never sold its technology to Syria. So how did the equipment get there? Blue Coat told the Journal it's all a big misunderstanding: "[Blue Coat] shipped the Internet 'filtering' devices to Dubai late last year, believing they were destined for a department of the Iraqi government. However, the devices—which can block websites or record when people visit them—made their way to Syria." Of course, selling the technology to Syria—a country subjected to strict sanctions—would violate US law. Blue Coat has told Mother Jones that it does not allow its customers to resell its products to embargoed countries.

Telecomix, a tech activist group, released electronic records in early October that tech experts said proved Syria was using Blue Coat technology to prevent the public from accessing particular websites. Jacob Appelbaum, a tech expert and computer science researcher, told Mother Jones that it was clear the records connected Blue Coat and Syria: "Every IP address in all of the information released is registered in Syria," he said. And Blue Coat's technology can do more than just filter the internet, Appelbaum added: "It's a super policeman with a general warrant who spies on every person, records everything about that person and their activities and then it acts as the judge, jury and executioner." 

Long-time Bachmann Ally Jumps Ship: "Lady, You Stink"

| Mon Oct. 31, 2011 7:04 AM PDT

The good news for Michele Bachmann is that she's probably not having as bad of a day as Herman Cain. But that's about it, really. On Saturday, the Minnesota congresswoman sent out an urgent plea to supporters saying that "in order to run a winning campaign we need to raise an additional $50,000 before the end of the month." (That's today.) The latest polls show her at 8 percent in Iowa, a state she needs to win, and just one week earlier, her entire New Hampshire campaign staff quit en masse. Even tea party activists are calling on her to drop out of the race.

And now she has lost the support of one of her longtime allies in her Minnesota district—Bradlee Dean, an anti-gay hair-metal evangelist who Bachmann has raised money for and publicly prayed for. The folks at Dump Bachmann listened to Dean's radio show last week and flagged this nugget, in which Dean rips into Bachmann as just another spineless politician:

Meet the Shadowy Spenders Trying to Buy the 2012 Elections

| Mon Oct. 31, 2011 6:50 AM PDT

Tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organizations, named for the part of the tax code they're organized under, have been around (PDF) for nearly a century. But it wasn't until the 2010 elections that these shadowy outfits fully arrived on the political scene, spending tens of millions to influence House and Senate races throughout the country. They're the epitome of dark money, hiding their donors and much of their spending totals, and as iWatch News' Peter Stone reports, they're flirting closely with violating the tax status that lets them remain in the shadows.

As so-called social welfare organizations, 501(c)(4)s such as the Karl Rove-inspired Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network, run by former Sen. Norm Coleman, can by law engage in politicking "so long as that is not its primary activity," according to the Internal Revenue Service. Now, a fight is brewing between advocates for more transparency and campaign finance reform over whether (c)(4) groups are abiding by the law—or use most of their firepower on politics but passing it off as "issue-based advocacy" to stay within the law's boundaries.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 31, 2011

Mon Oct. 31, 2011 2:57 AM PDT

An American soldier with Bravo Troop, 2nd Squadron, 38th Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, pulls security at the Weesh Border Crossing during a visit from a distinguished visitor. During a typical day at the crossing, thousands of vehicles and people on foot pass through the crossing bringing and taking goods to and from Pakistan. Photo by the US Army.

Is This the Weirdest Rick Perry Speech Ever?

| Sun Oct. 30, 2011 7:28 AM PDT

Jon Ward flags this video of Texas Governor Rick Perry speaking at an event in New Hampshire on Friday, and politely calls it "unusually expressive." I will go a few steps further and say it is the strangest Rick Perry video I have ever seen (which is a pretty long list). Just watch:

Have you ever seen anyone so happy to receive a jug of maple syrup? Ward, who was in attendance, says the clip was not fully representative of the speech, but notes that the entire presentation was weird enough to prompt a tea party leader to tell him, "I think Obama would chew him up." The most recent Des Moines Register survey has the Texas governor polling at just 7 percent in Iowa (tied with Newt Gingrich), a state he led just two months ago. Speeches like this, which look more like an appeal to Alec Baldwin to make another guest appearance on SNL, likely aren't going to do much to stop his free-fall.

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Justin Bieber Lashes Out At Senate's New Copyright Bill

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 3:12 PM PDT
It's gonna be mad awkward if Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has Bieber Fever.

It seems tweeny-bop sensation Justin Bieber wants to be taken seriously as a policy wonk. During an radio interview on Friday morning, Bieber came out against the Commercial Felony Streaming Act, or S.978, a bill that three senators proposed in May that would make unauthorized online streaming of copyrighted material a felony, punishable by up to five years behind bars.

This law could also affect anybody who covers or remixes a popular song and uploads their work to YouTube. On DC's Hot 99.5 FM, Bieber singled out Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a co-sponsor of the measure and a member of the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. "Whoever she is," said Bieber, "she needs to know that I'm saying she needs to be locked up—put away in cuffs."

"People need to have the freedom," the pop star continued. "People need to be able to sing songs. I just think that's ridiculous... I check YouTube all the time and watch people singing my songs. I think it's awesome. (Here's an audio clip of the interview.)

Responding to Ben Smith on Lebanon's Civil War

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 1:00 PM PDT

Lebanon Flag with BloodThe Boy from Cerrado/Flickr

On Thursday, Politico's Ben Smith responded to my profile of Mitt Romney's Middle East Adviser Walid Phares, and made an important observation: 

This isn't the sort of thing people on the other side of that conflict will ever forgive. It's also not a conflict from which a lot of people emerged with clean hands, or one that has caused the U.S. to cast people implicated in atrocities beyond the pale. Ariel Sharon, for instance, was forced to resign as Israel's Defense Minister after an Israeli commission found him negligent in allowing a massacre of civilians. And as Serwer notes, Phares was a quite young man at the time.

It's not totally fair to use Sharon as an example here, because Sharon was not "beyond the pale" mostly because Israel is an ally of the US, not because his involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacre wasn't serious enough to warrant an expulsion from Israeli politics. It also wasn't the US' choice that Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel, and it's not like the U.S. was going to cut ties with Israel because Israelis chose someone who was involved in a war crime as their leader. But again, that has more to do with the US relationship with Israel than it does the level of Sharon's involvement or the gravity of the incident. Because of an amnesty law, Phares' former associate, Lebanese Forces militia leader Samir Geagea, was one of the few people actually to face prison time before the Cedar Revolution in 2005 thrust the Syrians out. Even then, Geagea was in trouble for being anti-Syrian, not for any crimes he might have committed during the war. The post-war "accountability" sought by Syrian-occupied Lebanon was, to put it mildly, extremely selective.

Smith's right, though, about the complexity of the situation in Lebanon. I spoke to one very well placed source for the piece whose attribution requirements were such that the quote would have been useless in the body of the piece, but I'll use it here because I think it helps flesh out what Smith was getting at:

The war was such that I think a lot of otherwise reasonable men, they thought they were fighting for the survival of a whole people, and men do crazy things in that kind of situation, and only when it's over do they realize what they've done.

I can't pretend to know what that must have been like, it's the nature of sectarian warfare that you become a target not because of what you've done but because of who you are. Your simply existing makes you fair game. And what that meant was that a lot of good people on all sides got swept up in a conflict because of the fear that they were about to be wiped off the face of the Earth. Many of those people came to the United States, and went on to live perfectly normal lives as Americans.

One of them was former Hillary Clinton adviser and digital media consultant Peter Daou, who was conscripted into the Lebanese Forces when he was 15 years old and remained for three years. "From the perspective of the Christian community, the Lebanese Forces were the last line of defense against Syria, Iran and related forces that vastly outnumbered them and wanted to eradicate them," Daou wrote me in an email this morning. "That said, the massacres and targeting of civilians by all sides was beyond despicable."

I don't think it's rationalizing to acknowledge that what happened in Lebanon was extremely complex. It should go without saying, though, that people in leadership positions should be held to a different standard. And I suspect most of us wouldn't be quite as understanding of those who fought on the other side of the civil war.

Important Moments in History With Oakland's Kitty Cop

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 12:10 PM PDT

On the morning after a violent crackdown that left a protester—and Navy Marine vet—in critical condition after being hit by a bean bag projectile, the Washington Post chose to illustrate their story about Occupy Oakland with a photo of an Oakland police officer petting a kitten. Was it a metaphor? A somber reflection on human decency? A flickering, 120-watt incandescent light bulb of hope amid the encroaching shadows of oligarchy?

It was none of these, actually. As the Post's photo editor Carol McKay explained, "The photograph was chosen because it was a visual 'moment' in time showing a police officer doing something interesting—not just walking through tents and trash." Plus there was the whole time zone thing. Fair enough; a deadline's a deadline, and as Shani Hilton notes, the Post's online coverage of the demonstration was characteristically strong.

But about that photo. It looked so, so—so familiar. Where had we seen it before?

And then it hit us:Vancouver Riot KittyRich Lam/Getty Images; photo illustration by Tim MurphyBut of course! Kitty Cop is everywhere:

 

Selma KittyAP; photo illustration by Tim MurphyAnd in Libya, too:

Libya KittyAris Messinis/AFP; photo illustration by Tim MurphyAnd New York City:

V-Day KittyAlfred Eisenstaedt; photo illustration by Dave GilsonAnd here:

Abbey Road KittyPhoto illustration by Dave GilsonOkay, I'll stop.

Sorry Guys, Mitt Has Always Been Squishy on Climate

| Fri Oct. 28, 2011 11:34 AM PDT

As recently as a few months ago, Mitt Romney was saying sort of reasonable things about climate change, like that it was real and that humans were contributing to it. But here he is at a fundraiser Thursday night:

My view is that we don’t know what's causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.

The remarks, which Think Progress posted on Friday morning, were made at a fundraiser at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. (Yes, it's named after Consol, the coal company.) They have touched off the latest round of "Mitt is a big ol' flip-flopper" on the interwebs.

Here's the thing though: Romney's been squishy on climate for a long time. Even when he said reasonable things about it in June (and was lambasted by the right for doing so), he was sure to include wiggle words like, "may":

"I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that," he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.
"It's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors."