Mojo - May 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 14, 2012

Mon May 14, 2012 9:53 AM EDT

Paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team and Afghan National Army soldiers with 6th Kandak, 203rd Corps, travel aboard a CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter during an air assault mission on May 4, 2012, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

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Reince Priebus: End LGBT Discrimination; GOP: Huh?

| Mon May 14, 2012 9:14 AM EDT
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus

This private GOP polling memo obtained by Josh Green makes clear what we've assumed for a while: public support for marriage equality has shifted, irreversibly, and conservative opponents will have to softer their views substantially—and soon—or risk being left in the dust. That's why President Obama's public conversion on same-sex marriage seemed like such a long-time coming, and it's why a southern conservative like Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) would vote to allow gays to serve openly in the military in 2010; the trendlines were obvious.

Which brings us to Reince Priebus' appearance on Meet the Press on Sunday. The Republican National Committee chairman, appearing on the show to defend his party and its presidential nominee, was asked how he feels about the gays. His response:

I think they deserve equal rights in regard to, say, discrimination in the workplace, issues such as, as Mitt Romney has pointed out numerous times, hospital visitations. I mean I think that for the sake of dignity and respect, sure. But if you’re defining marriage as a civil right, then no. I don’t believe that people who are same sex should be able get to married under our laws.

He's not ready to hop on board the same-sex marriage train, but...what's that about workplace discrimination? That's news—and a hint, at least, of a milder tone by the GOP establishment.

As it happens, just last week two GOP senators teamed up with Democrats to announce hearings on the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which is designed to end workplace discrimination against LGBT employees. It passed the House in 2007 but went no further following a veto threat by President Bush; in 2009, it was introduced in the House but stalled. Although Republicans, like Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), have endorsed ENDA, for the most part it hasn't garnered broad support within the party. Asked about LGBT discrimination by Scott Keyes of Think Progress, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) responded: "That don't happen out here in the United States of America." House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the Washington Blade:"I haven't thought much about it."

New Obama Ad Blasts Romney As a Job-Killing "Vampire"

| Mon May 14, 2012 9:02 AM EDT

Mitt Romney knew his past at private equity firm Bain Capital would come under assault in the general election, as it did during the primary campaign. And now, with Romney the GOP's presumptive nominee, the attacks have begun.

President Obama's campaign is out with two new, hard-hitting television ads blasting Bain's role in the 2001 bankruptcy of GST Steel in Kansas City, Missouri. As Reuters reported, Bain invested in GST in the early 1990s when Mitt was at the helm, only for the deal to collapse, the mill to close, and 750 workers to lose their jobs. GST's bankruptcy is often spotlighted by Romney's critics as evidence that he's a cutthroat capitalist willing to fire workers to pad his own pockets.

Selling Trayvon Martin for Target Practice

| Fri May 11, 2012 5:43 PM EDT

There's a new low in the highly charged Trayvon Martin case. According to a report from Florida TV news station WKMG, an unidentified entrepreneur aimed to profit by selling paper gun targets depicting the unarmed teenager slain in February. The targets, which were advertised for sale online until Friday, feature a hoodie with crosshairs over the chest—the place where George Zimmerman shot Martin at point-blank range. While there's plain black in lieu of Martin's face, tucked into the hoodie's arm are a bag of Skittles and can of iced tea like the kind Martin was carrying on that fateful night.

An advertisement for the targets had been posted on a popular firearms auction website, according to WKMG, in which the sellers stated that they "support Zimmerman and believe he is innocent and that he shot a thug." In an email exchange with WKMG reporter Mike DeForest, the seller acknowledged: "My main motivation was to make money off the controversy." The ad reportedly has since been removed, but the seller told the Flordia news station that the response was "overwhelming" and that the targets were "sold out in two days." Customers included two Florida gun dealers, he said.

Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney, offered condemnation in an interview with the TV station. "It's this type of hatred—that's what this is, it's hate-mongering—that's going to make it more difficult to try this case," O'Mara said.

A Huffington Post report linked to a cached version of a GunBroker.com web page (the link now appears to be broken) belonging to a seller named "hillerarmco" from Virginia Beach, Va., which showed the paper targets being sold in packs of 10 for $8. The product description read:

Everyone knows the story of Zimmerman and Martin. Obviously we support Zimmerman and believe he is innocent and that he shot a thug. Each target is printed on thick, high quality poster paper with a matte finish! The dimensions are 12"x18" ( The same as Darkotic Zombie Targets) This is a Ten Pack of Targets.

Meanwhile, Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, has appeared in a poignant new gun control video rolled out for Mother's Day in which she advocates against Stand Your Ground, the Florida self-defense law which allowed Zimmerman to walk free for six weeks before he was eventually charged with second-degree murder. We'll have much more on Stand Your Ground laws—now on the books in various forms across 25 states—in our forthcoming July/August issue of Mother Jones; in the meantime, catch up on essential background and developments in the case with our comprehensive Trayvon Martin explainer.

Here's WKMG's report:

"F*ck Cranbrook!": Eminem on Romney's Elite High School (Video)

| Fri May 11, 2012 1:27 PM EDT

Remember this scene from 8-Mile? To dis' his nemesis in a rap battle, Eminem has learned in advance that the guy is a wannabe gangsta who is secretly named Clarence and attends Mitt Romney's elite private high school—where Romney's past "pranks" have been the subject of so much debate this week. Yeah, well, "Fuck Cranbrook!" says the rapper. Watch:

Arizona Still Vulnerable to Sustainabilty

| Fri May 11, 2012 1:23 PM EDT

Arizona failed to pass a proposed law this week that would have formally banned the state from undertaking sustainability measures. You know, just in case anyone there should ever think about doing that in the future.

The bill is the latest generated by state lawmakers concerned that the UN is staging a global-takeover via a plot known as "Agenda 21". This plot is based on the 20-year-old Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the Statement of Principles for Sustainable Development, in which countries pledged to work on smart growth—a plan that never went anywhere, anyway. The bill states that "Arizona and all political subdivisions of this state shall not adopt or implement the creed, doctrine, principles or any tenet" of the Rio Declaration.

As Inside Climate reports, while the measure passed the state Senate, it didn't go to a vote in the state house before their session ended. Thus, Arizona is still exposed to the potential evil that is sustainability, at least until next session. It's the fifth state to try, and fail, to pass a law like this in 2012:

In total, five states have tried and failed to pass such rules this year, with Arizona's battle being the most well known. Efforts in Alabama, Kansas and Louisiana are still alive.
Tennessee passed a resolution condemning—though not abolishing—the principles last month.
Proponents of anti-Agenda 21 legislation say it would protect American citizens from a UN-led conspiracy to encroach on their private property rights. Arizona state Sen. Judy Burges, who sponsored SB 1507, has called Agenda 21 "a direct attack on the middle class and working poor" through "social engineering of our citizens."

Tim Murphy wrote about the effort in Kansas earlier this week as well.

It's not like these states are rushing out to take major efforts to become more sustainable. This is, you know, just in case anyone ever thought about it in the future.

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National Guard Confirms Identity of Alleged Neo-Nazi Soldier

| Fri May 11, 2012 1:13 PM EDT

Mother Jones has confirmed that a soldier in the Missouri National Guard, an Iraq war veteran, is being sought for allegedly joining and training a paramilitary white supremacist group that was preparing for a coming "race war" in the United States. A spokeswoman confirmed that the soldier in question is Spec. Ryan Riley, a member of Company A, 1/138th Infantry Regiment based in Boonville, Missouri. "We are conducting an internal investigation," said the spokeswoman, Maj. Tammy Spicer.

Mother Jones first reported the allegations against Riley on Wednesday, which were detailed in an affidavit against Marcus Faella, an alleged ringleader of the neo-Nazi American Front. Faella and at least a dozen other suspects were arrested in a joint FBI terrorism investigation this week alleging that the group members had trained with weapons at their Central Florida compound and planned a series of violent hate crimes. According to the affidavit, Riley—a "patched" member of the American Front's Missouri gang—traveled to Florida to train the group in military tactics:

 

Riley's identity was first guessed at by milblogger Jonn Lilyea, who found a Missouri-based "Ryan T. Riley" in Army Knowledge Online, the service's internet training portal for soldiers. Spicer confirmed Riley's identity to Mother Jones in an email Friday afternoon. Riley served eight years in the Army (an unusually long time for someone of such a junior rank), joined the Missouri National Guard in May 2011, and deployed to Korea in 2004-05 and Iraq in 2006-07, according to the military.

Spicer wouldn't comment directly on the National Guard's interactions with law enforcement or on Riley's current status in the service, but added the Army was looking into the matter. "The facts outlined in the affidavit are being investigated pursuant to military protocol," she said. "Appropriate disciplinary and personnel action will be taken at the conclusion of the investigation, consistent with military regulations and procedures."

Representatives of the FBI, which is leading the criminal investigation, declined to comment this week about Riley or his alleged role in the neo-Nazi terror ring. But a Central Florida sheriff's deputy who helped serve arrest warrants against the other group members told Mother Jones on Wednesday that Riley had "not been caught yet." We will continue to post updates as the investigation unfolds.

Corn on MSNBC: Mitt the Bully

Fri May 11, 2012 2:30 AM EDT

David Corn joined Martin Bashir on MSNBC to discuss the fallout from Thursday's Washington Post story on Mitt Romney's bully past and Romney's non-apology apology.

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

USS Freedom, Navy's $600M Showcase Ship, Springs Some Leaks

| Fri May 11, 2012 2:05 AM EDT

USS Freedom, gathering rust: US Navy/Ken MierzejewskiUSS Freedom, gathering rust: US Navy/Ken Mierzejewski

Note to future admirals and members of Congress: If you're going to name a ship Freedom, you'd better make darn sure it's seaworthy. According to an internal report, the US Navy's latest greatest toy, the USS Freedom, poses a "high risk" to fail sea trials, can't pass half the basic standards for a warship, and has been called a "no-go" by a senior inspector.

Proponents have long defended the Freedom, commissioned in 2008 as the first in a new class of 55 "Littoral Combat Ships" designed for missions close to shore. It's supposed to be a cost-effective, flexible fleet. "As we continue serial production, we're reducing costs and building these high-quality ships faster," Joe North, VP of Freedom-builder Lockheed Martin, said this week. A 2010 Congressional Budget Office report (PDF) predicted the ships could cost as much as $626 million apiece—assuming everything went smoothly.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri May 11, 2012 2:01 AM EDT

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

Hoosier (super-PAC) daddy?: Tea party candidate Richard Mourdock unseated six-term Sen. Richard Lugar in this week's Republican primary in Indiana, thanks in no small part to super-PACs. As iWatch News' Michael Beckel reports, pro-Mourdock groups spent even more than his campaign. Overall, Sunlight Foundation notes, the contest saw "the biggest outside money dump of any congressional race thus far." At $2.2 million, the top outside spender was the antitax super-PAC Club for Growth Action, which ran anti-Lugar ads like this:

Also notable: A $25,000 donation to the pro-Lugar Hoosiers for Jobs from the Japanese-owned 7-Eleven convenience store chain may be the first disclosed gift to a super-PAC from a foreign-owned corporation.

Casting about for a candidate: Americans Elect, the dark-money 501(c)(4) group attempting to launch a third-party presidential bid through an online caucus, is still struggling to gain momentum. It has twice delayed its first caucus because no candidates have received enough support to qualify for it. Buddy Roemer, the leading contender for the AE nomination, told Mother Jones that he has major reservations about the group's lack of transparency but thinks it's "making a noble effort to improve the system."

Unaccountable accounting: Reuters turns an eye on the complex web of fly-by-night companies and double-dealing consultants that get much of outside spending groups' money but whose activities (and actual compensation) may be largely hidden in official disclosure reports. Rick Tyler, a political operative who advised the pro-Newt Gingrich super-PAC Winning Our Future, explains, "So you'll get a congressional campaign manager who on the surface you think is making $50,000-$60,000. The fact is he could be making hundreds of thousands of dollars—you have no idea because he's being paid separate from what you're seeing."

Obama super-PAC in trouble: MoJo's Andy Kroll runs down four reasons why the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action can't keep up with its Republican competitors. One reason: While billionaire financier George Soros* just made a pair of $1 million donations to Democratic super-PACs, he remains reluctant to fund negative ads like the one below, made by Priorities USA Action. Another reason: Obama still has some work left to win over wealthy gay donors (even as his announcement that he now supports gay marriage brought in at least $1 million to his campaign).

 

The anti-super-PAC super-PACs: Roll Call's Eliza Newlin Carney takes a look at some of the tongue-in-cheek super-PACs formed to protest the post-Citizens United influx of big money into politics. One recent example: America's Super PAC For The Permanent Elimination of America's Super PACs, whose mission statement declares its intention to "call for a constitutional convention where an amendment will be proposed to ensure that corporations are never considered to be people." (So far, though, it's raised less than $200.) Meanwhile, a new poll finds that 52 percent of voters of all persuasions claim they'll only vote for candidates who pledge to reduce the influence of big money in politics.

Now we're talking real money: The Center for Responsive Politics finds that super-PAC expenditures in the 2012 election cycle are about to exceed $100 million any day now. The pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future has spent more ($44.5 million) than all outside groups combined had spent at this point in 2008. Take a look at CRP's chartified breakdown of all the spending:

Full disclosure: The Soros-chaired Open Society Foundations have supported Mother Jones' reporting on dark money.