Mojo - October 2011

Cain on #OccupyWallStreet: Get a Job

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 8:02 AM PDT
GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain says poor people have only themselves to blame.

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain was having a pretty good week. On Tuesday, three polls from Public Policy showed the businessman/gospel singer in the lead in North Carolina, Nebraska, and West Virginia. Another recent poll had Cain trailing only Mitt Romney in the key Florida primary. Then, on Wednesday, he put his foot squarely in his mouth in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Here's what Cain said when asked about the #OccupyWallStreet movement:

I don't have facts to back this up, but I happen to believe that these demonstrations are planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration. Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks, if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself! It is not someone’s fault if they succeeded.

Cain added that the banks "did have something to do with the crisis in 2008, but we're not in 2008, we're in 2011! Okay?"

To put it bluntly: Cain really doesn't have any facts to back him up. The protests were initially organized by Adbusters, which is hardly an organ of the Obama administration. As my colleague Andy Kroll reported this morning, organized labor has made a push to get behind the movement, but they're piggybacking on a movement that has already taken off.

This is not the first time Cain has found himself on the wrong side of facts. Citing debunked conspiracy theorists, he alleged that Islamic Sharia law was already being forced on American courts in Oklahoma and Texas (he meant Florida), and despite touting himself as a constitutionalist, argued that the First Amendment does not apply to the Muslims of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. (Cain has since apologized, and then denied that he changed his position.)

Cain's not the only Republican candidate to weigh in on the #OccupyWallStreet: On Tuesday, Mitt Romney called the protests "dangerous" and "class warfare."

h/t Think Progress.

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Participating in a Lynching: No Longer a "Serious" Crime in California

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 6:30 AM PDT
Gov. Jerry Brown.

In late May, California Governor Jerry Brown was faced with an impossible problem: The Supreme Court decreed that the state's 33 adult prisons were subjecting their offenders to "cruel and unusual punishment," as defined by the 8th amendment of the Constitution, due to prison overcrowding. Consequently, the court ordered that the state remove some 33,000 inmates from its prisons within the next two years. Anticipating the high court's decision, Brown had signed a bill in April engineered to address both the massive overcrowding issue as well as the state's ongoing budget woes.

But the bill, which goes into effect this week, could potentially upend the balance between state prisons and local jails. Under the new law—which deploys a strategy known as "realignment"—only those convicted of nonviolent or non-serious crimes will be sent directly to county jails instead of state prison. What sorts of crimes qualify for local sentences? The Associated Press went looking for an answer and found a troubling one:

[A] review…of crimes that qualify for local sentences shows at least two dozen offenses shifting to local control that can be considered serious or violent.

Among them: Involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, killing or injuring a police officer while resisting arrest, participating in a lynching, possession of weapons of mass destruction, possessing explosives, threatening a witness or juror, and using arson or explosives to terrorize a health facility or church. Assault, battery, statutory rape and sexual exploitation by doctors or psychotherapists are also covered by the prison realignment law and carry sentences that will be served in a county jail instead of state prison.

"These crimes include a variety of offenses that would strike many civilians as far from trivial," Public Policy Institute of California researcher Dean Misczynski wrote in a recent analysis of the new law.

And there are other problems with the law. Parole will no longer be an option for those who serve out their terms in county lockup—meaning that parole officers won't be able to keep tabs on ex-cons, and make sure they're staying on track with their rehabilitation.

The law could have other calamitous consequences for localities. To make room for more serious offenders, local jails will be forced to release less serious offenders prematurely. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley estimates that that number could be in the thousands. "Realignment casts too wide a net in defining 'low level offenses,'" Cooley told the AP. Meanwhile, local police departments will be forced to shift resources and manpower from patrol and other assignments to keep tabs on the glut of new ex-offenders back on the streets.

At issue here is whether local jails and police departments are prepared for the potential deluge of convicts in their jurisdictions, particularly those who could be more dangerous than advertised. Judging from what local officials have been saying in the past week, they also just don’t have the money needed to accommodate the increased number of inmates.

Just as troubling: The utter absence of attention—and accompanying lack of dollars—paid to rehabilitation programs that could help keep these offenders (of the serious and non-serious variety) from cycling through the criminal justice system. Brown, a Democrat, and the California legislature apparently saw this as an investment they just can't afford.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 5, 2011

Wed Oct. 5, 2011 2:57 AM PDT

Cpl. Kristine Tejada, a truck commander for 1st Platoon, Higher Headquarters Battery, Task Force 2-82 Field Artillery Regiment, provides security at the ancient Ziggurat of Ur, Iraq, on Sept. 24, 2011. Photo by the US Army.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman: Release Awlaki Memo

| Tue Oct. 4, 2011 3:10 PM PDT
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

We know from the death of extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki last week that Obama administration's stated authority to kill American citizens suspected of terrorism is no longer a matter of legal theory. What we still don't know is the administration's legal rationale for doing so.

Tuesday, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate armed services committee, told a group of reporters that the administration should release a legal memo drafted by the Department of Justice outlining the government's legal authority to kill al-Awlaki without charge or trial.

"I would urge them to release the memo. I don't see any reason why they shouldn't," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a key ally of President Barack Obama, told reporters...I support the decision to do it. He has declared war on us, and in war you're allowed to attack your enemy[.]"

The Washington Post reported last week on the existence of the memo—the disclosure of which is the one issue that both opponents and supporters of the administration's policy on targeted killing can probably agree. (My colleague Nick Baumann also wrote about the likely existence of the memo—and calls to release it—back in January.) Former Bush-era head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jack Goldsmith called on the administration earlier this week to release a "a redacted version of the opinion, or should extract the legal analysis and place it in another document that can be released consistent with restrictions on classified information." Georgetown Law Professor David Cole, a critic of the administration's targeted killing policy, wrote last week that "If we are engaging the enemy within the rule of law...we should have the courage to make our policies transparent, so that the people, both in the United States and beyond, can judge for themselves."

Administration officials like State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh and White House Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan have outlined the administration's justifications for targeted killing without mentioning al-Awlaki by name. The administration has also spent years leaking information about al-Awlaki's alleged role in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in order to justify targeting him, even as they avoided ever actually indicting him for a crime. Given the administration's past willingness to release Bush-era memos justifying the use of torture, it's difficult to imagine how a lack of disclosure here would be justified. Whether or not you believe al-Awlaki's killing was legal or justified, the legal explanation for how American citizens can be sentenced to death on suspicion of terrorism should not remain a state secret.

Former FBI Interrogator: Cheney Owes Obama an Apology

| Tue Oct. 4, 2011 1:42 PM PDT

*After speaking at an event at the New America Foundation Tuesday, former FBI agent Ali Soufan weighed in on former Vice President Dick Cheney's call for President Barack Obama to apologize for its past criticism of Bush-era practices. Soufan thought it should be the other way around. "I think if Mr. Cheney wanted to apologize for not getting [Osama] bin Laden, for not getting the top leadership of al Qaeda, for the enhanced interrogation techniques that have caused more problems than anything else, the address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," he said.

A Brief History of Chris Christie Not Running for President

| Tue Oct. 4, 2011 10:40 AM PDT

Chris Christie is not running for president. Despite months of breathless speculation, the Republican New Jersey governor made it official on Tuesday with a press conference in Trenton. As he put it, "New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you're stuck with me." There were plenty of obstacles to a successful Christie candidacy—among other things, he's a conservative apostate on global warming, immigration, and the imminent takeover of American courts by Islamic extremists. He had no campaign organization, save for a few strategists who were holdovers from the hapless Rudy Giulliani campaign of 2008, and very little time to build one, what with the first primaries scheduled for January (if not earlier).

Christie's decision was ultimately the same one he's been trumpeting for more than a year: He's not ready. Too bad no one listened. Here's a quick recap of the will-he-or-won't-he speculation, 14 months in the making:

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Chart of the Day: Regulations, Still Not Job-Killing

| Tue Oct. 4, 2011 8:55 AM PDT

By now, it's straight-up GOP dogma: President Obama's government regulation jihad kills jobs. Prominent Republicans—including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virg.), Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and not-a-class warrior Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.)—rail incessantly against the climate of "uncertainty" these rules on environmental and worker safety create for businesses, insisting that regulations prevent companies from investing in new hires.

Former Reagan and George H.W. Bush budget official Bruce Bartlett digs through data from the Bureau on Labor Statistics to prove none of that is actually true: Not only does the overall percentage of layoffs due to regulations barely register in the data. The number of layoffs attributed to government regulations has decreased since President Obama took office.

Barlett also draws on reams of anecdotal evidence that points at the chief cause of layoffs over the past three years—shrinking demand:

During June and July, Small Business Majority asked 1,257 small-business owners to name the two biggest problems they face. Only 13 percent listed government regulation as one of them. Almost half said their biggest problem was uncertainty about the future course of the economy—another way of saying a lack of customers and sales.

The Wall Street Journal’s July survey of business economists found, "The main reason U.S. companies are reluctant to step up hiring is scant demand, rather than uncertainty over government policies, according to a majority of economists."

In August, McClatchy Newspapers canvassed small businesses, asking them if regulation was a big problem. It could find no evidence that this was the case.

"None of the business owners complained about regulation in their particular industries, and most seemed to welcome it," McClatchy reported. "Some pointed to the lack of regulation in mortgage lending as a principal cause of the financial crisis that brought about the Great Recession of 2007-9 and its grim aftermath."

The latest monthly survey of its members by the National Federation of Independent Business shows that poor sales are far and away their biggest problem. While concerns about regulation have risen during the Obama administration, they are about the same now as they were during Ronald Reagan’s administration, according to an analysis of the federation’s data by the Economic Policy Institute....

Unemployment is much higher in those industries that one would expect to suffer most from a lack of aggregate demand: construction, leisure and hospitality, business services, wholesale and retail trade, and durable goods.

Just to be clear, then: There is no substantial evidence to support the assertion that government regulations are holding back the economy. As Kevin Drum wrote recently, "[b]usiness owners may not like new rules (who does?), but their real problem is a lack of customers. That's something we could go a long way toward fixing if we really wanted to."

Contrite Cain Now Says Perry Sign "Doesn't Matter"

| Tue Oct. 4, 2011 8:40 AM PDT
Herman Cain.

Just two days after arguing that Texas Gov. Rick Perry's leasing of a piece of land once referred to as "Niggerhead" showed a "lack of sensitivity," GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain is now saying that the issue "doesn't bother me at all."

"I really don't care about that word. They painted over it," he said, referring to a sign painted on a rock at the property the Texas Governor once leased. The Washington Post first reported Sunday that the slur appeared on the hunting grounds' gated entrance.

Cain added that he was "not playing the race card. I am not attacking Gov. Perry." What changed in the last 24 hours? Well for one thing, the conservative media made it profoundly clear to Cain that he had stepped out of line by the mere suggestion that a white Republican had acted inappropriately on an issue of race. In addition to conservative bloggers slamming Cain for "playing the race card," (accusations notably absent as Cain issued broad generalizations about black voters being "brainwashed" ) Rush Limbaugh issued a condemnation—more than sorrow than in anger of course. "I'm gonna tell you, this is really disappointing to me. Herman Cain. I liked Herman Cain—like Herman Cain," Limbaugh said. "There is certainly no substance to it, and there was no reason for Herman Cain to try to piggyback this." Doesn't Cain understand that his job is to protect white Republicans from accusations of racism, not amplify them?

How a Rick Perry Ally Kept an Innocent Man Locked Up

| Tue Oct. 4, 2011 7:25 AM PDT
John Bradley was appointed by Rick Perry in 2009 to chair the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

After 25 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit, Michael Morton will leave a Texas prison a free man on Tuesday afternoon. Morton was sentenced to life without parole in 1987 for the murder of his wife, Christine. But he maintained his innocence, and with the support of the New York-based Innocence Project, pushed for a court to consider DNA evidence found at the scene. For six years, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley—a longtime Rick Perry ally who served as the governor's chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission (TFSC)—blocked efforts to perform new DNA tests, but last summer forensic experts were finally given access to a bandana that was found at the scene. The result? Tests linked the murder not to Morton, but to another unsolved crime involving a California man.

Coming just two weeks after Troy Davis was executed in Georgia, Morton's release is both sobering and encouraging; the system corrected itself, but only after a quarter-century. As the Texas Tribune noted in August, it wasn't just the DNA evidence that seemed to absolve Morton; there were plenty of unexplained loose ends that seemed to undermine the prosecution's theory. The victim's credit card turned up stolen in a different city when Morton was already in custody, for instance, and neighbors reported a suspicious van on the block at around the time of the murder. Bradley, who inherited the case when he became DA in 2001, also held back police records in which Morton's three-year-old daughter suggested the killer was someone else.

(Bradley has stated that he had "good faith reasons" to oppose turning the evidence, but could not discuss them because the investigation of the murder of Christine Bradley was ongoing; the Innocence Project argued in court that Bradley held a grudge against the group, for reasons I'll explain below.)

Bradley, who was first appointed to his post as district attorney by Gov. Perry, has drawn criticism for his opposition to the use of DNA evidence and, more generally, his support for destroying evidence after a plea agreement has been reached. (He's previously argued that prosecutors should ensure the destruction of evidence is a prerequisite for such deals.) Part of Bradley's justification for refusing to turn over evidence in the Morton case was that the inmate was untrustworthy because he had refused to "accept responsibility"—never mind that the whole point was that Morton might not actually be responsible.

Rick Perry's Abortion Emergency

| Tue Oct. 4, 2011 6:34 AM PDT

Texas ushered in one of the country's more invasive anti-abortion measures on October 1, despite the fact that a court blocked large portions of the law. The new law, which forces women to have a sonogram and wait 24 hours before they can have an abortion, was expedited at the behest of Gov. Rick Perry and anti-abortion groups in the state. The bill was passed under "emergency" status in May, and since then Perry and his allies have been fighting to implement it ASAP.

Reproductive rights groups succeeded in getting a court to block some of the more contentious parts of the law from taking effect. In August, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks blocked the state from enforcing the portions of the law that would have forced doctors to show a woman the image of the ultrasound, verbally describe the fetus in detail, and make the woman listen to audio of the heartbeat. The judge ruled that those provisions are unconstitutional, violating First Amendment rights. The version of the law that passed would have required doctors to carry them out even if the woman refused. It did, however, provide exceptions for women who are pregnant as the result of rape or incest, or if there are fetal abnormalities.

While the judge granted a temporary injunction on those provisions—at least until the actual court case goes forward—doctors in the state are still required to perform the ultrasound, and the woman still must to wait 24 hours before she can have an abortion. The same doctor must perform both procedures. (The law did grant an exception to the 24-hour rule for women who live more than 100-miles from an abortion clinic, but it's unclear in the text who would be responsible for verifying that this was in fact the case for women seeking an abortion.)