Mojo - April 2012

GOP's Favorite Muslim Activist Under Fire From Muslim Groups

| Fri Apr. 13, 2012 12:46 PM EDT
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser testifies at one of Rep. Peter King's hearings on Muslim radicalization.

Sixty-four American Muslim groups have signed a letter criticizing the appointment of American Islamic Forum for Democracy founder Dr. Zuhdi Jasser—whose conservative leanings have made him a favorite of Republican Congressmen, conservative philanthropists and National Review columnists—to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The letter reads:

The USCIRF promotes the freedom of religion and belief, and it seeks to combat religious extremism, intolerance, and repression throughout the world. In contrast with these laudable goals, Dr. Jasser believes, '. . .operationally, Islam is not peaceful.' His consistent support for measures that threaten and diminish religious freedoms within the United States demonstrates his deplorable lack of understanding of and commitment to religious freedom and undermines the USCIRF's express purpose.

Jasser himself identifies as a devout Muslim who is leading a necessary internal reformation of Islam. His Muslim critics see his behavior—opposing the Islamic community center near Ground Zero, testifying in support of Rep. Peter King's domestic radicalization hearings focused on Muslims, supporting the NYPD's surveillance of local Muslim communities, associating with anti-Muslim figures like Frank Gaffney and, as Mother Jones recently reported, taking money from right-wing sources—as legitimizing anti-Muslim narratives. Furthermore, much of Jasser's politics—he refers to the West Bank as "Judea and Samaria," much as the way a right-wing Israel hawk would—are substantially to the right of the average American Muslim. That, after all, is why Republicans like him. 

The Commission is tasked with studying religious freedom in foreign countries and offering "policy recommendations" to Congress and the president. Nevertheless, the commission itself has something of a controversial history. The Washington Post reported last year that the commission has "long been accused of focusing too much on the persecution of Christians and not enough on smaller religious groups," and two years ago was sued for discrimination by one of its Muslim policy analysts. Still, the appointment elevates Jasser to an official position with the US government, and perhaps Republicans are grooming him for even bigger things.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

10 Big Companies That Pay No Taxes (and Their Favorite Politicians)

| Fri Apr. 13, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Between 2008 and 2011, 26 major American corporations paid no net federal income taxes despite bringing in billions in profits, according to a new report (PDF) from the nonprofit research group Citizens for Tax Justice. CTJ calculates that if the companies had paid the full 35 percent corporate tax rate, they would have put more than $78 billion into government coffers.

Here's a look at the 10 most profitable tax evaders and the politicians their CEOs, employees, and PACs give the most money to.

Verizon Communications
Profits: $19.8 billion    Effective tax rate: -3.8%

Top recipients, 2011-2012
President Barack Obama: $51,493
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.): $24,450
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): $23,700
Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio): $22,500
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.): $15,000

General Electric
Profits: $19.6 billion    Effective tax rate: -18.9%

Top recipients, 2011-2012
Mitt Romney: $53,750
President Barack Obama (D): $30,493
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.): $23,900
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.): $21,860
Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.): $19,750

Arizona's Extra-Strict Abortion Ban Passes

| Thu Apr. 12, 2012 6:21 PM EDT

Arizona lawmakers have approved a bill imposing a number of new restrictions on abortion. The bill sets stricter limits on abortion than other states have to date, limiting abortions to 18 weeks after conception, requiring women to have an ultrasound, and instituting a 24-hour waiting period.

Americans United for Life praised the measure, which was based on their model legislation. Arizona isn't the first to pass this type of bill, as Nebraska and several other states have also passed bans at 20 weeks gestation on the argument that the fetus can feel pain at that point—a claim that is highly contested.

But Arizona's law is actually more restrictive than others, as it sets the ban based on the gestational age of the fetus starting on the date of the woman's last menstrual period rather than on the date of conception, as other state laws have done. That means women would only be able to have an abortion within 18 weeks of actually getting pregnant. Nebraska's laws stated that the ban was based on the "postfertilization age" of the fetus, and most other states used similar language. Robin Marty at Reproductive Health Reality Check has an excellent explanation of why all these 20-week bans are not the same that's worth checking out for more background.

Arizona's Republican Gov. Jan Brewer still needs to sign the bill into law, but there's little doubt that she will.

Mitt Romney Needs to Get Some New Female Surrogates

| Thu Apr. 12, 2012 2:14 PM EDT
In recent days, Mitt Romney's campaign has attempted to court female voters by posting Instagram photos of the candidate with female voters.

That was quick.

On Thursday, one day after Democratic commentator Hilary Rosen suggested that Ann Romney had "never worked a day in her life" on CNN (she has since apologized), Mitt Romney attempted to portray President Obama as anti-mom by pushing out a statement from Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women for America.

But the CWA, an Evangelical outfit founded by Beverly LaHaye (wife of Left Behind creator Tim LaHaye), might not be the best messenger if Romney wants to persuade female voters he's a moderate candidate who has their best interests in mind. In response to Romney, American Bridge, the pro-Obama opposition research outfit, just blasted out a quick cheat-sheet on what, exactly, the Concerned Women for America are so concerned about. (Hint: It's not equal pay for an equal day's work.)

Among other things:

CWA Article Attacked Harry Potter For Indoctrinating Children With Witchcraft.  According to an article published in the Family Voice, a CWA publication, parents "are now trying to protect their children from classroom discussions about paganism and the occult" when Harry Potter is read in classrooms.  The article argues that "Harry Potter is part of a larger trend to bring occult themes to younger children."  [Family Voice, November/December 2001]

 

Concerned Women For America Flagged By Southern Poverty Law Center.  In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center flagged the Concerned Women For America as one of 18 "hard core" anti-gay groups.  [Southern Poverty Law Center, Winter 2010]

 

CWA Opposed Pregnant Mother From Running For Office.  In 1998, Jane Swift announced she would campaign for Massachusetts Lt. Governor.  The announcement by Swift led to "Conservative groups such as Concerned Women for America and the Christian Coalition of Massachusetts [who] are openly critical of the Republican mom-to-be, saying Swift's decision is not 'in the best interest of the child.'"  [Chicago Tribune, 6/7/98]

This is an agonizingly dumb controversy amplified by Twitter and entirely removed from any substantive public policy debate. But it does reveal a few holes in Romney's armor going forward. In his push to reverse the damage done by members of his party (himself included) to his reputation with female voters, he's quickly finding that he's sorely lacking in plausible surrogates. To defend his position on the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, he brought out Reps Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-Wash.) and Mary Bono-Mack (R-Cal.)—who both voted against the law. To defend the charge that raising kids is a full-time job, he brought out former First Lady Barbara Bush, hardly the archetypal working mom. They don't exactly have their finger on the pulse of the American swing voter right now.

Anti-Abortion Groups on Mitt Romney: Sigh, He'll Have to Do

| Thu Apr. 12, 2012 1:29 PM EDT

On Thursday morning, National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the country's biggest pro-life group, held a press conference in Washington, DC to announce its endorsement of inevitable Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. In her statement, NRLC president Carol Tobias blasted the Obama administration's "federal subsidies for abortion" (not really true) and highlighted the "stark contrast" between Mitt Romney ("our next pro-life president") and Barack Obama (the "most pro-abortion president" ever). Raimundo Rojas, the group's Hispanic outreach director, took aim at Obama's "culture of death" and his "junta"—yes, that's right: junta—of anti-baby bureaucrats.

The NRLC endorsement came the same day that the Susan B. Anthony List, another anti-abortion rights organization, announced its "proud" support for Romney's candidacy (after months of openly questioning his pro-life street cred).

When asked about Romney's long record of inconsistency on abortion rights (read William Saletan's exhaustive history on the former Massachusetts governor's political calculations on the issue here), Tobias affirmed that the NRLC was absolutely convinced of Romney's current convictions, adding that the pro-life movement is "filled with converts," with Ronald Reagan as a shining example. Whatever distrust the NRLC may still harbor towards Romney stayed well-hidden as the panel played up the organization's enthusiasm for his campaign and promised to devote the next seven months to "convincing" pro-life voters and grassroots activists that Romney has indeed changed his tune.

As with all endorsements and things political, timing is everything. On Wednesday, Rick Santorum dropped out of the race, all but ensuring that Romney snags the nomination. During the primary slog, the NRLC has been careful not to write off any viable conservative candidate; the group's leaders admit that they learned their lesson after making the mistake of endorsing Fred Thompson for president in late 2007.

Essentially, anti-abortion activists' endorsement of Romney is the political equivalent of how Richard Gere felt about the US Navy in An Officer and a Gentleman: they got nowhere else to go.

VIDEO: Teen Is Tied Down, Shocked by Teachers at "School" for Autistic Kids

| Wed Apr. 11, 2012 12:51 PM EDT

In 2007, we ran a devastating exposé of the Judge Rotenberg Center, a "school" that took mentally and psychologically troubled kids from across the country and treated them by hooking them up to electrodes and shocking them whenever they misbehaved or displayed symptoms of their disorders, like autism. Reports from former students and staff were horrific, and Jennifer Gonnerman's extensive reporting helped launch or fortify state and local investigations into the school and its founder, Matthew Israel. Yet despite the investigations and ongoing lawsuits, the school managed to stay open.

Last month the school was targeted by Anonymous, which released a video condemning the "torture" of its students. But the video that may truly take down Rotenberg for good is below. Just yesterday this footage of a Rotenberg student being restrained and shocked for hours was played in a Massachusetts courtroom:

The disturbing video, which Boston's Fox 25 received permission to air despite the objections of Rotenberg's lawyers, shows a 2002 incident in which 18-year-old Andre McCollins was restrained, face-down, on the floor of a classroom, and then given 31 shocks—all because he had refused to take off his coat.

McCollins is currently suing Rotenberg. His mother, Cheryl, testified yesterday: "I never signed up for him to be tortured, terrorized, and abused. I had no idea—no idea—that they tortured the children in the school." More footage is expected to be shown in court today.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 11, 2012

Wed Apr. 11, 2012 12:16 PM EDT

Sgt. Michael Trevino, personal security detail, non-comissioned officer, 172nd Infantry Brigade, utilizes a foot bridge to cross a swollen river outside of the village of Marzak while locals wash clothing on the far bank. Marzak has historically been a stronghold for the insurgency over the past decade until the Afghan and US forces took advantage of the winter months to establish a local police force at the request of the elders and secure the village from foreign fighters who transit the area during the fighting season. Photo by the US Army.

Wendy's: We're Done With ALEC, Too

| Wed Apr. 11, 2012 11:29 AM EDT

This story has been updated.

McDonald's, it turns out, isn't the only fast-food giant to have cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate-funded organization that writes up model bills for thousands of state lawmakers nationwide. Wendy's said on its official Twitter feed on Tuesday night that it, too, had left ALEC. "We decided late 2011 and never renewed this year. It didn't fit our business needs," the company tweeted. Wendy's is currently not a member of ALEC, it stressed.

Bob Bertini, a spokesman for Wendy's, confirmed the move. "The tweet is correct. Wendy's is not a member of ALEC. Last year, we made the decision not to renew for 2012," he wrote in an email to Mother Jones.

Super Rich Still Have Little To Fear From IRS

| Wed Apr. 11, 2012 10:10 AM EDT

In 2009, IRS commissioner Doug Shulman said in a speech that the IRS had formed a new group of auditors who were going to be directing their attention at a special group of taxpayers: the super rich. Dubbing them "global high wealth individuals," Shulman promised that his agency would be taking a hard look at people who had tens of millions of dollars worth of assets and income tied up in complicated financial dealings that often involved overseas banking and aggressive tax avoidance strategies. The IRS, he said, wanted to make sure that hard-working, tax-paying Americans could be sure that everyone is paying her own fair share. It's certainly a ripe area for the government to turn up more revenue. In fiscal 2011, audits of people making more than $1 million identified $5 billion in underreported income tax, and that's just for the roughly 15 percent of millionaires the IRS audited.

Two-and-a-half years later, though, the effort to target the super rich has proven underwhelming. According to a new study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, the IRS has completed a mere 36 audits from the over-$10 million set since launching the global high wealth group. TRAC researchers estimate that this means the IRS audited only between 12 and 18 people, because the audits were counted by annual returns, not by individuals, who may have had more than one year of returns examined. That's not even one percent of the more than 8,000 annual returns that the IRS has said include gross income of $10 million or more. (By comparison, working poor people with children who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit get audited at twice the rate of any other taxpayer.)

As part of its global high wealth group effort, the IRS has also promised to focus more on "flow through" entities—the partnerships and S corporations that super rich people use to avoid paying taxes. The group didn't have the most ambitious goals to begin with, according to TRAC. But it failed to even meet those. The IRS hoped to audit 122 of these sorts of corporate entities in fiscal 2011, but completed only 40. 

The IRS hasn't come up totally empty handed by looking at the portfolios and tax returns of the super rich. They found $47 million in additional taxes owed. But if you consider how much the IRS turns up just in simple audits of ordinary millionaires, that's pretty small potatoes. TRAC can't say whether the disappointing results from the IRS are due to a lack of resources for the agency or the fact that the super rich might just have incredibly complicated financial affairs that aren't quickly and easily tackled by the average IRS auditor. Either way, more resources for the IRS ought to be a priority for anyone who really cares about the budget deficit. The government is clearly leaving money on the table that it could surely use right now.

Super-PAC Bankroller Foster Friess Jumps on Romney Bandwagon

| Tue Apr. 10, 2012 6:38 PM EDT
Foster Friess.

Rick Santorum and Foster Friess, the silver-haired, crocodile-hunting, born again financier who made his fortune in mutual funds, go way back. Friess helped raise money for Santorum as early as 1994, when Santorum first ran for US Senate in Pennsylvania. During Santorum's surprisingly successful presidential campaign, Friess poured $1.6 million into a super-PAC called the Red, White, and Blue Fund that was devoted to helping Santorum win the GOP nomination. The money helped keep Santorum competitive in multiple primary states. But after Santorum dropped out of the race on Tuesday, it didn't take long for Friess to jump on the Mitt Romney bandwagon.

"I'm obviously going to be of help [to Romney] in whatever way I can," Friess told Politico's Ken Vogel, who broke the news. Friess continued: "I've got some plans as to how I might be able to be of help. The bottom line is, I'm going to be very supportive and I'll probably have plans to share with you a little later on."

If Friess does decide to go all-in for Romney, he could give a max of $2,500 to Romney's campaign. But there's no limit on what Friess can give to the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future. (An official with Restore Our Future did not respond to a request for comment about reaching out to Friess since Santorum's departure.) Friess could also give to Karl Rove's American Crossroads, a Republican super-PAC that plans to spend up to $300 million blitzing President Obama and supporting Republicans. Or he could donate to Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)(4) non-profit that doesn't disclose its donors and runs a mix of so-called issue advocacy ads and pure political ads. In other words, there's no shortage of Romney-friendly political players eager to take Foster Friess' money.