Mojo - December 2011

White House to Americans Elect: We've Got Our Eye on You

| Wed Dec. 14, 2011 1:30 PM EST

For an object lesson on how not to run a third-party movement, see Americans Elect.

It's an upstart political reform group that wants to create its own "balanced" ticket to run in next year's presidential elections. But first, Americans Elect has to get on the ballot in all fifty states. To that end, it is raising millions of dollars and recruiting volunteers in all 50 states to collect the requisite number of signatures to get its candidate on the ballot (for more details, read my story on the group). In June, it will hold an online primary where registered voters can go to the group's website to vote for a candidate who isn't beholden to Democratic or Republican interests.

But campaign finance reform groups like Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center are sounding the alarm. Late last year, Americans Elect became a 501(c)(4) organization—the same classification as Crossroads GPS and other dark money outfits. Under tax law, such groups are not permitted to make political advocacy the majority of their activity. They also don't have to publicly disclose their donors, who have already contributed over $20 million to the group. Reformers have also taken issue with Americans Elect's shadowy "Candidate Certification Committee"—populated by a cadre of former politicians, political operatives, and wealthy financiers. That body, critics say, could potentially overrule whatever ballot line voters create in the online nominating convention next June. But the group insists that the committee is designed only to ensure the ticket is sufficiently balanced.

So the notion that the group wants to open up the electoral process without opening up its own internal processes is kind of hilarious. The White House seems to think so too, but acknowledges the potential problems it could present, the National Journal reports:

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On the Couch With Newt and Nancy

| Wed Dec. 14, 2011 1:24 PM EST

This is rich. Well-known climate flip-flopper Mitt Romney has launched a new website going after his Republican primary competitor Newt Gingrich for getting cozy with Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi.

The site, NewtandNancy.com, targets Gingrich for appearing in a television ad beside Pelosi for Gore's "We Can Solve It" campaign back in 2008. Gingrich, the site claims, is in cahoots with Democrats in advancing the "liberal global warming agenda." "With friends like Newt," the site says, "who needs the left?"

The irony, of course, is that Mitt Romney actually did more to address global warming in his time as governor of Massachusetts than Gingrich ever did. All Newt did was spend some time on the couch with Pelosi, sell a few books on the subject, and then run off and start a pro-drilling front-group funded by big oil.

Gingrich's group went on to wage an all-out assault on the climate bill that Pelosi championed in the House. With friends like Newt, who needs enemies?

FBI Chief: NDAA Detention Provisions Still Bad

| Wed Dec. 14, 2011 1:03 PM EST
FBI Director Robert Mueller III testifies before the Senate in 2010.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning, FBI Director Robert Mueller III said that the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act doesn't resolve the administration's security concerns that mandating military detention for non-citizen terrorism suspects would harm national security. 

The original Senate version of the bill mandates military detention of non-citizen terrorism suspects. After the administration threatened to veto the NDAA over the detention provisions, Congress produced a revised conference bill that makes it much easier for the administration to bypass military detention and deal with terror suspects in the civilian system. Mueller's testimony suggests the revised bill hasn't alleviated the administration's concerns that the detention provisions would hamper intelligence gathering and efforts to bring suspects to trial.  

Politico's Josh Gerstein reports:

"The drafters of the statute went some distance to resolving the issue related to our authority but the language, but did not really fully address my concerns...," Mueller said during questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who opposes the detainee-related language in the bill. "I was satisfied with part of it with regard to the authority, I still have concerns and uncertainties that are raised by the statute."

Mueller said he fears that the legislation would muddle the roles of the FBI and the military.

The bill "talks about not interrupting interrogations, which is good, but gaining cooperation is something different than continuing an interrogation," Mueller said. "My concern is that...you don't want to have FBI and military showing up at the scene at the same time on a covered person [under the law], or with a covered person there may be some uncovered persons there, with some uncertainty as to who has the role and who's going to do what."

Mueller's statement reflects the concerns about a potential turf war between the FBI and the military that the ACLU's Chris Anders raised yesterday in relation to the revised NDAA

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney repeated to reporters the administration's prior statement that "any bill that challenges or constrains the president's critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the nation would" provoke a veto. For his part, Mueller seems to be saying here that the NDAA's detention provisions do just that.

It's hard to see how Mueller's remarks don't lock the administration into a veto. If for some reason President Obama ultimately doesn't veto after claiming he would, then Congress won't have much reason to take his veto threats seriously in the future. 

Why Obama Should Veto The Defense Authorization—And Why He Might Not

| Wed Dec. 14, 2011 10:11 AM EST

For weeks, the Obama administration has waged a rather effective campaign against the military detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, dispatching high level security officials to warn Congress that the bill would harm counterterrorism efforts.

Well it worked, sort of. The conference version of the bill gives the White House so much room to maneuver around the "mandatory" nature of the military detention provisions that Congress can argue they've given the administration the "flexibility" it needs to fight terrorism effectively. At the same time, the bill creates a presumption of military custody for foreign nationals suspected of terrorism where there was none before. That means next time a foreign national gets pulled off a plane with their underpants on fire, and the administration doesn't throw him in a brig somewhere, elected officials can run to the microphones and express their frustration that the White House is defying congressional will.

The bill also retains the restrictions on Gitmo transfers, which the Obama administration threatened to veto when they first came into effect last year. The transfer restrictions effectively turn Gitmo into the Chateu d'If: Not a single detainee has been transferred since the rules were adopted, not even the scores that have been cleared for transfer by the Guantanamo task force. Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson has called the restrictions "onerous and near impossible to satisfy," and it's a good bet that if they're maintained there won't be any transfers next year either. There are legitimate concerns about the rising "recidivism" rates of former Gitmo detainees (the term recidivism is a bit of a misnomer since most were never convicted of anything) but these ignore changes in the review process. The more than 500 detainees released under the Bush administration have a much higher "recidivism" rate than the less than a hundred released under Obama, in part because the Bush administration did an very poor job of handling Gitmo case files. 

The Obama administration had a very good reason not to go to the mat over the Gitmo transfers last time around though—it would have meant vetoing the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. This time, the administration faces no such choice.

Congress' changes actually put the choice for the administration in much sharper relief. By making addressing the security concerns, but not the ones related to civil liberties and the rule of law, Congress is basically asking the administration how serious it was when it said in its Statement of Administration Policy that the detention provisions in the NDAA would be "inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets." Obama has said before that the choice between security and American ideals is a false one, but in practice the administration has erred on the side of security and secrecy. With Congress having given the administration "security," we will now see whether the administration thinks those American ideals are just as worth fighting for. 

Conservatives Warn of OWS Propaganda in Schools

| Wed Dec. 14, 2011 6:53 AM EST

Scholastic, the educational publishing giant, has come under fire this week for including a story about the Occupy Wall Street protests in its Scholastic News magazine, which is distributed to school kids in classrooms around the country. WorldNetDaily, the conservative online news outlet that's committed itself to watchdogging such things, ran a story this week suggesting that Scholastic was trying to indoctrinate innocent school kids with George Soros-style liberalism. In a piece headlined "4th-graders Brainwashed with Occupy 'Propaganda," WND tells the story of a parent, identified only by his first name, who's outraged that his child came home from school with a copy of Scholastic News that included an article called, "What is Occupy Wall Street?"

According to WND, "Edward," the parent, complained about the article to Scholastic, saying "I grew up in Soviet Union and seeing your propaganda about Occupy Wall Street brings back my memories."

Offending passages included those mentioning that the protesters had a beef with big companies making too much money as millions of Americans struggle with unemployment and foreclosure. But WND sees much more of a conspiracy in what Scholastic left out: any mention of the alleged anti-Semitism in the movement or the "rampant crime that has been documented at various Occupy protest sites, the filthy conditions left behind by some protest groups, the violence and the incidents of intimidation against even children, as has been reported." WND also complained that Scholastic hadn't mentioned OWS's (largely fictional) Soros funding.

Judging from the story, Scholastic didn't take these complaints very seriously. They are probably used to getting hammered by WND, which has been a vigilant watchdog when it comes to anything untoward creeping into textbooks and other materials in public schools, especially if it happens to involve Muslims. A few year back, WND jumped all over Scholastic for running a story about madrassas in Pakistan in its Junior Scholastic news magazine. WND accused the publisher of "promoting" Islam to American students by explaining to them what life was like inside an Islamic school. Scholastic, to its credit, told WND that it would cover virtually any subject that came up in current events that was likely to be addressed in the classroom—including Occupy Wall Street, apparently.

Your Daily Newt: Bringing Back the Dinosaurs

| Wed Dec. 14, 2011 6:00 AM EST
Newt Gingrich

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Gingrich signed a $4.5 million contract with HarperCollins to write his third book, To Renew America, in 1995. He ultimately gave the advance to charity—taking millions from News Corp., Harper's parent company, while shepherding major telecommunications legislation didn't sit well with the public.

The book was overflowing with big ideas and five-step plans, from how to win the War on Drugs, to how to fix Medicare, to where to take the family on your family vacation (Ocmulgee Indian Mounds Park in Macon, Georgia). Most of Gingrich's ideas wouldn't result in the full-scale destruction of the human race at the hands of a science experiment gone horribly wrong. But as the Los Angeles Times found out, there was one exception:

[E]ven as Gingrich knocks best-selling author Michael Crichton for works that he calls "just standard alarmist environmentalism in which humans are forever messing up nature," the one-time aspiring zookeeper wonders: "Why not aspire to build a real Jurassic Park? (It may not be at all impossible, you know.) Wouldn't that be one of the most spectacular accomplishments of human history? What if we can bring back extinct species?"

That's one way of looking at it. Here's a counter-point:

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 14, 2011

Wed Dec. 14, 2011 5:57 AM EST

Pvt. 1st Class Collin R. Hoffmeyer, a gunner with Troop A, 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, fires a Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire Command Data Link Missile from the turret of a Humvee on December 6, 2011 at Observation Point-12 in Fort Knox, Ky. The squadron was training here in order to complete their gunnery tables. Photo by the US Army.

New NDAA's Loopholes Make Its Military Detention Provisions Almost Pointless

| Tue Dec. 13, 2011 4:10 PM EST

The version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that emerged from a House-Senate conference meeting Tuesday morning contains many of the same provisions that administration officials and national security experts have warned would harm national security. But while earlier incarnations of the detention provisions were confusing and harmful, now they're confusing and largely symbolic. 

"Those who were big supporters of this provision, well, this doesn't accomplish what they wanted. Their enthusiasm is misplaced," said Robert Chesney, a national security law expert who teaches at the University of Texas School of Law. "Those who are decrying this as the militarization of domestic law enforcement, it doesn't have to be that either."

The new bill still mandates military detention without trial for any non-citizen terrorism suspect apprehended in the US who is determined to be a member of al Qaeda or an "affiliated group." The administration now has several ways to get around that requirement, however. It could issue a national security waiver—a letter from the administration authorizing a trial in civilian court. Alternatively, the FBI could simply detain a suspect up until a determination is made that he can be detained by the military. Even after that, if the administration decides to try the suspect in civilian court, there's still no need to put him in military custody. Under the latest version of the law, someone like underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab could still go from interrogation to trial without ever passing through military hands—and without the need for a national security waiver. (The national security waiver option that has been a part of the Senate bill since the earliest drafts, although the authority to grant the waiver now rests with the president instead of the secretary of defense—a change a Senate aide said was requested by the administration.)

The question is why the detention provisions remain in the bill at all. It looks like Congress, in responding to concerns raised by national security officials, essentially made the "mandatory" military detention optional. The new bill still shifts the presumption towards military custody, and in doing so, sets up a potential controversy every time a non-citizen terror suspect is apprehended in the US. The changes allow members of Congress to claim they're not hampering counterterrorism operations while still leaving them room to slam the president should he decide to forgo military detention. Republicans have seized on previous incidents to criticize the president for not being "tougher" on terrorism by extending the military's role. At least in a symbolic sense, this bill gives them more ammunition in case another underwear bomber type situation occurs, because they would be able to accuse the president of ignoring the law. Perhaps, convinced of the danger of micromanaging the president in advance, Congress has made it easier to do so after the fact. 

"Now there's something more concrete for the critics to point to and say, Congress expressed its will and you exploited your lawyers to do something that's contrary to the spirit of the bill," Chesney said. "It does ramp up political costs." During Tuesday's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney did not say whether the new bill would force the White House to make good on its veto threat, remarking instead that administration officials were still looking at the new bill.

Civil liberties and human rights advocates were less convinced that the bill's mandatory detention provisions could be so easily circumvented. A coalition of human rights, civil liberties advocates and national security experts held a conference call on Tuesday morning to warn that the NDAA still carves out a hypothetical role for the military to enforce the law on American soil. Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) comment that "the homeland... is that battlefield"—made during the December 1 debate after which the Senate approved its version of the NDAA—applies equally now, said Raha Wala, a lawyer at Human Rights First. And ACLU legislative counsel Chris Anders argued that the NDAA could set up a jurisdictional conflict between the military and the FBI similar to those that exist between state and federal level law enforcement authorities. 

The latest version of the bill bill maintains transfer restrictions on the transfer of Gitmo detainees that were passed last year. It also retains the language of the Senate "compromise" on indefinite detention without trial of American citizens apprehended on US soil, leaving the issue an open question for the courts to resolve. The way the compromise is worded, however, could be construed as authorizing military detention of American citizens who are captured abroad, even if they're not apprehended fighting on a hot battlefield such as Afghanistan. 

The "reaffirmation" of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, however, did not survive the conference. Civil liberties advocates had criticized the provision, which was part of the House's version of the bill, as authorizing an endless worldwide war against terrorism. But given everything else left in the compromise bill, they don't consider the demise of the AUMF reauthorization much of a victory. "The House worldwide war provision was killed off," said Anders, who described the change as merely going from "worse to bad." 

Bloggingheads: Cylon Romney and Voltron Gingrich Edition

| Tue Dec. 13, 2011 2:40 PM EST

Reason's Katherine Mangu-Ward and I talk about the anguish of Republicans choosing between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, with some stuff about the scary futility of climate change agreements towards the end.

I also unveil my theory of Gingrich as Republican Dealbreaker Voltron, combining the mandate love of Romney, the immigration moderation of Rick Perry, the glib carelessness of Michele Bachmann, the personal issues of Herman Cain, and even the occasional sense of contempt for conservatives that seems to be hurting John Huntsman.

Romney in 2002: I'm "Moderate," "Progressive," and "Not a Partisan Republican" [VIDEO]

| Tue Dec. 13, 2011 10:06 AM EST

Mitt Romney says he's a die-hard conservative. He says he's not a flip-flopper. Yet…plenty of Republican voters don't seem to believe him. They have plenty of reasons not to. As Romney has moved from Massachusetts politics to GOP presidential politics, he has famously reversed course on abortion rights, gun control, gay rights, and health care reform. And it's all on video. Still, Romney keeps on denying any somersaults, but not convincingly. (See: Bret Baier.)

Now there's new video out showing that Romnney has indeed pulled a 180 on his entire political persona. And it's in Romney's own words. In 2002, when he was running for governor in Massachusetts, he issued a strong declaration of his basic principles while campaigning in Worcester:

I think the old standby definitions of who votes for which party have been blown away in this campaign. I think people recognize that I'm not a partisan Republican—that I'm someone who is moderate, and that my views are progressive.

Here's the worth-more-than-a-1,000-words clip:

A moderate, progressive, and nonpartisan Republican—that's how Romney described himself just five years before first running for the Republican presidential nomination as a fierce conservative.

In his 2010 book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, Romney huffed, "progressives…rejected the notion of universal truths, objective judgments, and, ironically, progress itself, embracing neutrality among competing belief sets and rejecting the primacy of Western civilization, the great thinkers of the ages, and the principles espoused by the Founding Parents of the nation." Yet Romney once proudly declared himself a fellow of progressive views. Maybe he should apologize.