Mojo - November 2011

Military Panel Finds Leader of Rogue US "Kill Team" Guilty

| Thu Nov. 10, 2011 7:20 PM EST

[UPDATE: On Thursday, ex-Army staff sergeant Calvin Gibbs, the alleged ringleader of the notorious "Kill Team," was found guilty of three murders and a total of fifteen criminal charges. The murders carry a minimum sentence of life with parole, and a maximum of life imprisonment. The jury came to the decision after four hours of deliberation.]

On Wednesday, a military panel began deliberations in the trial of 26-year-old former Army staff sergeant Calvin Gibbs, the alleged head of the "Kill Team," a rogue American platoon charged with drug-addled sport killings of civilians in the Maiwand District of Afghanistan's Kandahar Province in 2010.

Details of the accusations became widely available last March after Der Spiegel and Rolling Stone published reports that included previously censored photos of the killing spree. When weighing the torture porn aspects of the incident—the mutilation, the gleeful posing with the victims, the body parts harvested for personal souvenirs—it almost seems like the accused were out to confirm every bad claim ever made by Islamist propagandists.

As tragic and grotesque as the murders were, there is some small comfort in knowing that there was no grand government/military cover-up to be found, and that this wasn't a duplicate of the type of systemic "rot at the top" that marked the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Furthermore, with several of his co-conspirators having already pled guilty and agreed to testify against him, Gibbs' trial looks like it's headed towards a tidy conclusion. The prosecution's trove of photographic evidence and the numerous eyewitness accounts of the atrocities meant Gibbs' defense hinged mainly on dubious credibility attacks and O.J.-style reasonable doubt. AFP reports:

As well as attacking [Private Jeremy] Morlock's statements, defense attorney Phil Stackhouse spent over two hours pointing out discrepancies in the evidence...[to] the five-soldier panel.

One of the largest discrepancies revolved around the barrel length of an automatic weapon allegedly "dropped" on a victim to make the killing appear justified.

The prosecution alleges that the AK-47-type gun was stuffed into Gibbs's backpack, but the defense said it was too big to fit in the closed pack, casting doubt on whether Gibbs could have used his pack to conceal the weapon.

So, in what has been called "the most egregious case of atrocities US military personnel are accused of committing in the 10 years of war in Afghanistan," a key component of the defense's argument simply amounts to, "If the gun don't fit, you must acquit."

Closing arguments have been delivered and a decision by the five-soldier jury is expected as early as Thursday when the court martial resumes.

Here's some background on the trial from Voice of America:

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Obama's Latino Vote Strategy: Run GOP Debates "Verbatim"

| Thu Nov. 10, 2011 2:10 PM EST
Obama hugs Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) after a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

President Barack Obama's strategy for winning the Latino vote is to let Republicans keep talking. 

Elise Foley writes that in an interview with Latino reporters yesterday, Obama said that the GOP debates were winning the Latino vote for him. 

I don't think it requires us to go negative in the sense of us running a bunch of ads that are false, or character assassinations. It will be based on facts… We may just run clips of the Republican debates verbatim. We won't even comment on them, we'll just run those in a loop on Univision and Telemundo, and people can make up their own minds.

Why does the president sound so confident? A recent Latino Decisions poll showed that Obama was poised to capture the Latino vote in similar margins as in 2008, between 65 and 70 percent. Latino Decision's Gabriel R. Sanchez, however, says Obama's problem isn't so much that Latinos will vote Republican. It's that they won't vote. 

"The majority of Latinos are saying 'not so much,' in terms of being enthusiastic about his candidacy," says Sanchez, who notes that 53 percent of Latinos polled said they are less enthusiastic about Obama after his first few years in office, and 48 percent were "more excited about voting" in 2008 than they are now. Thousands of disillusioned Latino voters staying home in a given state could mean the difference between defeat and a second term. "The numbers might stay roughly the same in terms of vote share, but if turnout drops, that's problematic [for Obama]," Sanchez says. 

Obama's other remarks highlight the contrast in rhetoric with his Republican opponents. The president told the group of reporters that Alabama's strict anti-immigrant law, the harshest in the country, was a "bad law" and "not simply anti-immigrant, but I think it does not match our core values as a country."

With little to show in the way of progress on immigration reform, that contrast may be the best argument the president has to offer Latino voters going forward. Whether it actually moves Latino voters to the polls is an open question. After all, Latino voters could say to themselves, "what is a Republican president going to do, deport a million people?" 

Rove's Crossroads GPS Takes On Elizabeth Warren

| Thu Nov. 10, 2011 11:50 AM EST
Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren (D) is taking on Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown.

On Tuesday, iWatch's Peter Stone reported that the GOP groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which are affilaited with Karl Rove, expected to raise and spend $150 million to recapture the Senate for Republicans in 2012. Crossroads GPS has been on the air in Montana for a while now, and on Tusesday it began what is likely to be an extended and very expensive campaign to take Massachusetts Senate candidate and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau architect Elizabeth Warren down a notch.

Noah Bierman reports that Crossroads GPS is targeting Warren with a $560,000 ad buy, attempting to define her as the candidate of the increasingly unpopular Occupy Wall Street:

Gitmo Costs $800K/Year Per Detainee

| Thu Nov. 10, 2011 11:33 AM EST
A guard looks on from a Gitmo watchtower.

The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg, returning to Gitmo for the arraignment of alleged USS Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, reports how much the island prison is costing American taxpayers these days.

"The Pentagon detention center that started out in January 2002 as a collection of crude open-air cells guarded by Marines in a muddy tent city is today arguably the most expensive prison on earth, costing taxpayers $800,000 annually for each of the 171 captives by Obama administration reckoning.

That’s more than 30 times the cost of keeping a captive on U.S. soil."

Just to put that in perspective, while each Gitmo detainee costs close to a million dollars per person annually, inmates in federal prisons cost about $25,000 per person. Even in our supposed age of austerity, with Republicans demanding cuts to Social Security, Medicaid, and turning Medicare into a voucher plan, there's always money to waste on an elaborate island prison for thirty times the cost it would take to lock people up here. 

Still, closing Gitmo has grown unpopular as Republicans have repeatedly raised the specter of terrorists somehow escaping. The irony is that with only 171 detainees left, there are more convicted international terrorists in federal prisons in the United States than there are detainees remaining at Gitmo. 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 10, 2011

Thu Nov. 10, 2011 6:57 AM EST

US Army Spc. Matthew Newcomb (left) and Army Pfc. Brandon Hobgood scan their sectors from a rooftop vantage point in Arezo village, October 31, 2011. The soldiers are members of the Fort Knox, Ky.-based 2nd Platoon, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, and were in Arezo village as part of a humanitarian assistance mission led by Afghan National Army elements, distributing pens, school backpacks, radios and blankets to children and other villagers. Photo by the US Army.

Penn State's Joe Paterno Shouldn't Have Coached a Game This Season

| Thu Nov. 10, 2011 2:29 AM EST

Penn State did the right thing tonight when it fired its storied football coach Joe Paterno (and its president, Graham Spanier). But it's pretty little, and it's way late. Joe Paterno remained Coach Paterno for nearly a decade after learning that his former defensive coordinator had allegedly raped a 10-year-old, and for nearly a year after a grand jury investigation confirmed as much. In fact, he stayed coach just long enough to become the winningest coach in Division I college football history, a record he achieved two weeks ago, 11 months after said grand jury investigation (see page 8 referencing December 2010 interviews). Had his complicit role come to light last December would Paterno have had a shot at his record-breaking victory? If present outrage would have held, and it should have, then no, he wouldn't have coached at all this season.

The timing is probably not a coincidence, and it's illustrative. This whole hellstorm was swept under the rug for so long because of the money machine that is college football, a successful program with a superstar coach and a sterling reputation is money in the bank, and when you're Penn State that's $50 million a year kind of money.

Now what? Well, students should really stop rioting. (And definitely this.) Starting tomorrow, Penn State will have to figure out who it is after it's Joe Paterno. And Joe Paterno and Penn State will have to come to grips with their enabling of an alleged child rapist. And hopefully the Penn State community can come to rally behind Sandusky's victims and would-be victims just as fervently as they do their Nittany Lions any given Saturday. Perhaps some of the hundreds of millions gained over the years by the football juggernaut will go to the victims, and to efforts to stop child sexual abuse. And on the agenda must be a long, hard, cold look at a college-sports industry that begets such devastation.

One note of justice, however token. On Saturday, Coach Paterno would have set yet another record, for most games coached in a career. He would've passed Amos Alonzo Stagg but instead the two will remain tied at 548 games.

Game over. And no winners here, not now, not a one.

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Romney: Obama Wants To Eat the Rich

| Wed Nov. 9, 2011 11:39 PM EST
Mitt Romney hearts America's businesses.

During the CNBC debate, "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer asked the candidates if they believe corporations have a social obligation to create jobs, or if—citing Milton Friedman—corporations exist solely to produce returns for shareholders.

Mitt Romney responded to what he called "an interesting philosophical" question by stating that "you don't have to decide between the two [because] they go together!" That may be all well and good (well, maybe not quite...), but his response jumped the shark right after he embraced the popular conservative talking point about how Democrats "think when corporations are profitable, it's a bad thing."

Romney went on to lambaste President Obama's alleged attitude toward corporate profits, insisting that "we have a president and an administration that doesn't like business...I like jobs!"

The "Obama wants to murder your business" meme is wholly self-discrediting. In the real world, Barack Obama hates rich businessmen so much that he oversaw the staggering resurgence of Wall Street's prosperity. He is so against big business that his administration pushed the government intervention that preserved America's auto giants. And he is so hostile towards the financial sector that his 2012 campaign has raked in more money from its employees than all of the Republican candidates combined.

Cain Walks Back "Princess Nancy"

| Wed Nov. 9, 2011 11:30 PM EST

During Tuesday night's Republican debate on CNBC, Herman Cain referred to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as "Princess Nancy" while criticizing her for killing a Republican health care proposal when Democrats were in control of Congress. The GOP debate audience laughed and applauded. 

In a brief-post debate interview, in response to a question from CNBC anchor Carl Quintanilla, Cain walked back his "Princess Nancy" remark saying, "That is a statement I probably should not have made." His campaign however, was proud enough of the line that they repeated it on his official Twitter feed:

The Speaker of the House is second in line for the presidency of the United States, should the President and Vice President become incapacitated. 

 

Quote of the Night, Rick Perry Edition: "Oops."

| Wed Nov. 9, 2011 10:33 PM EST
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

A few weeks back, Rick Perry's presidential campaign floated a daring idea: acknowledging that debates aren't really his thing, the Texas governor would consider skipping any future GOP candidate confabs. It seemed like an act of desperation, but given his performance on stage in Michigan on Wednesday, it might have been a good idea.

Perry's shining moment, the one that will likely live on long past Perry's candidacy, came when he was asked to provide specifics on how he would fix Washington's business climate. He started strong: "When I get there there’ll be three agencies I'll end: commerce, education..."

So far, so good. Except Perry's answer ended there. He grasped, visibly struggling, for the third agency on his list and couldn't come up with it. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) jumped in, helpfully, to offer that there were actually five agencies that should be abolished, and mentioned the EPA. Perry thought that sounded right, but then reconsidered, noting that he was pretty sure he thought the EPA should be rebuilt, not abolished.

CNBC's John Harwood asked Perry to clarify. Could he name the third agency he'd abolish?

"No," Perry said. Long pause. "Oops."

The answer, it turns out, is "Energy." Leave your jokes in the comments.

Newt's Freddie Mac Lobbying Whopper

| Wed Nov. 9, 2011 10:03 PM EST
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (bottom right) and the elephant in the room.

At Wednesday night's GOP presidential debate in Michigan, Newt Gingrich was asked by the mostly on-the-ball CNBC panel about his work on behalf of housing giant Freddie Mac. For the former Speaker of the House, it was a bit of a welcome-back moment; for the last few months, he's been so much of an afterthought that moderators haven't even bothered with his own personal history and resume.

But Gingrich had an answer ready. He denied the lobbying charge, and then, via Benjy Sarlin, offered this spirited defense:

I offered advice. My advice as an historian when they walked in and said we are now making loans to people that have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything but that’s what the government wants us to do. I said at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible. It turned out unfortunately I was right and the people who were doing exactly what Congresswoman Bachmann talked about were wrong.

It's pretty self-evident, though, that Gingrich wasn't hired as a consultant because he was an untenured history professor at North Georgia College in the late 1970s. He was hired because, as a former Speaker of the House, he had a lot of influence with a lot of imporant people. An AP investigative report from 2008 framed Gingrich's role as that of a political operator, greasing the wheels on Capitol Hill. Key section: