Mojo - April 2012

READ: Letter to Justice Department About Alleged Proxy Detainee Yonas Fikre

| Wed Apr. 18, 2012 12:01 PM EDT
Yonas Fikre, who claims he was detained and tortured at the behest of the US government, is shown here in a still image from a video recorded by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Earlier this week, I broke the story of Yonas Fikre, a 33-year-old Muslim American from Oregon who claims that he was detained and tortured in the United Arab Emirates on behalf of the US government. Fikre is now in Sweden, where he and his lawyers were scheduled to hold a press conference on Wednesday morning. On Wednesday, Portland's Willamette Week and Oregonian published stories on Fikre's ordeal. Oregon Public Broadcasting adds the detail that Fikre has applied for asylum in Sweden.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has been helping Fikre, has given me a copy of a letter the group sent to Thomas Perez, the head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, describing Fikre's ordeal, asking that Perez investigate "whether Mr. Fikre was detained and tortured at the behest of any agent of the U.S. government," and demanding that he be allowed to return to the United States without "further unconstitutional interference." You can read it here:

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 18, 2012

| Wed Apr. 18, 2012 10:32 AM EDT

US Army Staff Sgt. Charles Stokes pauses while on patrol in a local village near Combat Outpost Terezayi in Afghanistan's Khowst province, on April 10, 2012. Photo by the US Army.

Corn on MSNBC: How Obama Outlasted the Tea Party

Wed Apr. 18, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

David Corn joined host Al Sharpton on MSNBC's PoliticsNation to discuss how President Obama weathered the storm of the tea party by allowing the movement's own extremism to discredit itself.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. Follow him on Twitter.

Study: All-White Jury Pools More Likely To Convict Black Defendants (UPDATED)

| Tue Apr. 17, 2012 3:15 PM EDT

Duke University released a study on Tuesday that examined the impact of race in jury pools in Florida, and there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that, according to the study, which looked at 700 cases between 2000 and 2010, all-white jury pools are significantly more likely to lead to convictions of black defendants than white ones. The good news is that a single black juror in the pool can alter that dynamic.

Two particularly salient points from Duke's summary of the study:

-- In cases with no blacks in the jury pool, blacks were convicted 81 percent of the time, and whites were convicted 66 percent of the time. The estimated difference in conviction rates rises to 16 percent when the authors controlled for the age and gender of the jury and the year and county in which the trial took place.

-- When the jury pool included at least one black person, the conviction rates were nearly identical: 71 percent for black defendants, 73 percent for whites.

Eliminating jurors on the basis of race is of course illegal, but based on this data, the racial makeup of a jury can have a significant impact on whether or not a black defendant is convicted. I'd bet prosecutors and defense attorneys instinctively understood that dynamic even before the Duke researchers released their study. Race and criminal justice, and the politics of both, have been intertwined throughout American history, often for the worse.  

UPDATE: This post previously misstated that the study drew its conclusions from seated juries, rather than the pools from which juries are selected. Although there haven't been a lot of studies done on the impact of all white juries on convictions for nonwhites, a 2006 study found that racial composition substantially impacted jury deliberations. Others, like this one from the Equal Justice Initiative, suggest that in some areas of the country prosecutors go out of their way to strike black jurors during the selection process. 

Are Campaign Ads Coming to PBS?

| Tue Apr. 17, 2012 6:01 AM EDT

Last Thursday, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down a seven-decade-old ban on political ads on noncommercial TV and radio stations. Not surprisingly, the prospect that Elmo and the Dowager Countess now might have to share the airwaves with attack ads prompted a mild freakout.  

Former PBS board member and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Norman Ornstein told Reuters that the decision might "fundamentally change the character of public television and radio." The court's one dissenting judge similarly warned that the ruling could "jeopardize the future of public broadcasting." Craig Aaron, president and chief executive of Free Press, told the Los Angeles Times, "Viewers don't want to see Sesame Street being brought to them by shadowy Super PACs." But such concerns may be premature.

The court's decision (PDF) was in response to a $10,000 Federal Communications Commission fine levied on the Minority Television Project, a San Francisco public TV operator that had aired nonpolitical ads from Chevrolet and State Farm. That move violated an advertising ban dating back to the beginnings of noncommercial broadcasting in the 1940s. While the court upheld the ban on ads for "goods and services by for-profit entities," its two-judge majority found that banning ads that are political or "regarding issues of public importance or interest" violated the First Amendment. (The fine against Minority Television Project still stands.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 16, 2012

Mon Apr. 16, 2012 9:55 AM EDT

Staff Sgt. Mark Scott, from The National Guard, pulls security from his battle position during an escort detail in Afghanistan, April 7, 2012. Scott is a Security Force member of Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah. Photo by the US Army.

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The Obama Administration Wants You to Stop Worrying and Love the Bailouts

| Mon Apr. 16, 2012 6:30 AM EDT
President Barack Obama chats with Timothy Geithner, the secretary of the Treasury.

The Obama administration wants Americans to realize what a good job it and the Bush administration did saving the economy from a second Great Depression. But they'd prefer not to make this case directly. They want journalists to do it for them.

On Friday, the Treasury Department convened one of its semi-regular, invitation-only background press briefings for journalists. Senior Treasury officials spoke to us, answered our questions, and showed us a "deck," which is annoying industry jargon for a PowerPoint presentation. "I just know this is going to be a fucking waste of time—another dog-and-pony show," another journalist told me on our way into the meeting. The central message of the dog-and-pony show was that the US response to the 2008 financial collapse was pretty effective, especially when compared to how other countries reacted to different crises. The PowerPoint presentation used terms like "bank investment programs," but what the Treasury gang was talking about was the highly unpopular financial bailouts (as opposed to the auto bailouts, which the Obama team views as a political winner).

Mitt Romney Courts Big Tin Foil

| Fri Apr. 13, 2012 2:54 PM EDT
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

In the last four years, the National Rifle Association has accused President Barack Obama of plotting to ban handguns, quintuple the price of ammunition, eliminate the entire legal construct of "self defense," and working with the United Nations to do everything short of taking Charlton Heston's Glock from his cold dead hands—although surely that will come in due time. Few organizations have done as much of the nation's leading gun lobby to gin up right-wing fears about the President's secret motives—a sinister agenda that could end, NRA president Wayne LaPierre warned in February, with the end of freedom and the collapse of America as we know it.

Their reward: A meeting on Friday with the man who just might be the next President. For the NRA, Mitt Romney's speech at their annual convention in St. Louis (alongside luminaries like Ted "suck on my machine gun" Nugent) was continued validation of their privileged status in national politics; for Romney, it was a reminder of just how far he's willing to go prove to conservatives he's one of them. Even if it means speaking to a group whose recent rhetoric would make the Birchers blush.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Apr. 13, 2012 2:33 PM EDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

Dark money mastermind starts most generically named super-PAC ever: James Bopp, the brains behind the Citizens United case, has created a new super-PAC called the USA Super PAC. It's not his first: Last May, he launched the Republican Super PAC, which hasn't done much since, and he worked on the pro-Rick Santorum super-PAC Leaders for Families before throwing his support behind Mitt Romney.

C is for campaign commercial (and that's good enough for me): On Thursday, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2 to 1 to strike down a ban on political advertisements on public TV and radio. The court ruled that the ban was too broad, violated free speech rights, and that its repeal wouldn't pose a threat to educational programming. Does this mean attack ads during Downton Abbey?

Mars Inc. Says Adios to ALEC

| Fri Apr. 13, 2012 12:52 PM EDT
A bag of Skittles, made by Mars Inc.

Mars Inc., the company that makes everything from Skittles to M&M's to Uncle Ben's, has joined McDonald's, Wendy's, and a half-dozen other companies in quitting the American Legislative Exchange Council.

ALEC, as it's known, is a corporate-funded non-profit that writes pro-business and often anti-union draft legislation for state lawmakers to introduce in their legislatures. ALEC has come under fire recently from good-government and civil rights groups for pushing voter identification bills that critics say discriminate against blacks and Hispanics. ALEC foes have also blasted the organization for promoting so-called Stand Your Ground laws like the one at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause, one of the groups in the anti-ALEC coalition, hailed Mars' decision. "Its leaders understand that continued support for ALEC’s advocacy of vigilante justice and assaults on voting and employee rights, public schools, and reasonable environmental regulations is neither good business nor good corporate citizenship," Edgar said in a statement.

In a statement published this week, ALEC executive director Ron Scheberle said his organization wouldn't be cowed by what it called an "intimidation campaign launched by a coalition of extreme liberal activists committed to silencing anyone who disagrees with their agenda." He continued, "Finally, now more than ever, America needs organizations like ALEC to foster the discussion and debate of policy differences in an open, transparent way and not fall back on bullying, intimidation and threats."