Mojo - June 2012

WATCH: James O'Keefe III Crashes Netroots Nation With His Handicam

| Sat Jun. 9, 2012 1:55 PM PDT
Conservative activist James O'Keefe III, shown here in a mugshot after his arrest on federal felony charges for allegedly trying to tamper with the phone lines in Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) office. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

Wandering the halls of Netroots Nation 2012 in Providence, Rhode Island, this week, I began to wonder why more conservative moles hadn't tried to crash this shindig. The annual progressive political convention for bloggers and organizers doesn't turn away paying guests, so it seems ripe for infiltration. Saturday afternoon, on the last day, it finally happened: James O'Keefe III, "ratfucker" extraordinaire, showed up to tape the festivities. And we taped him—see the video below.

O'Keefe, standing about six-foot-two and looking taller in a skin-tight black tee, held a handicam at the ready, but he and his consort—conservative blogger Jim Hoft, a.k.a. Gateway Pundit—seemed a little intimidated when I whipped out my own videocam.

O'Keefe, who says he attended last year's Netroots in Minneapolis, was in town to give a speech on investigative journalism and help give out some Breitbart Awards. So we've got that in common! I asked him how he felt about Mother Jones.

"You guys have been pretty critical of me," he smiled.

Unfairly so?

"Sometimes."

When I asked him what his "investigative" outfit, Project Veritas, was working on in Providence, he demurred. "It's classified."

After I stopped rolling, two progressive gay bloggers sauntered over to chat O'Keefe up, but the right-leaning muckraker shuffled off surreptitiously.

"He's been working out," one blogger commented. Someone asked the other blogger if he'd ever consider bedding O'Keefe.

"Not in a million years," he said, making a prune face.

O'Keefe, of course, is on a court-ordered probation that runs to 2013, owing to an "investigative journalism" project involving alleged plans for phone tampering* in the offices of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.); there's no word yet on whether this trip was approved by a probation officer. O'Keefe left before I could ask him.

*UPDATE: Daniel Francisco, executive director of Project Veritas, asked us to clarify that "James O'Keefe has never tampered with a Senator's phones." O'Keefe pled guilty to unlawfully entering federal property, admitting that he and his three accused partners "misrepresented themselves and their purpose for gaining access to the central phone system to orchestrate a conversation about phone calls to the Senator's staff and capture the conversation on video." Which sounds a lot better than phone tampering, the felony charge for which O'Keefe was initially arrested.

Francisco did not, however, dispute our characterization of O'Keefe's shirt as "skin-tight."

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Michigan Looks to Pass Nation's Most Anti-Abortion Law

| Fri Jun. 8, 2012 8:09 PM PDT

In what the ACLU of Michigan has called the "greatest assault on reproductive rights" in the state's history, Michigan lawmakers are pushing a slew of anti-abortion measures they've rolled into a single legislative package.

The controversial legislation combines several bills, including GOP Rep. Deb Shaughnessy's House Bill 5713, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation, and House Bill 5711, from Rep. Bruce Rendon (R), which would impose multiple new regulations on abortion providers.

Shaughnessy's proposal is modeled after bills that have passed in six states around the country already, and it only includes an exception if the woman's life is at stake. Rendon's bill requires abortion providers to meet the same standards as "ambulatory surgical centers." Abortion rights groups in the state say this law, often referred to as "targeted regulation of abortion providers" (or TRAP), would likely shut down all abortion providers in the state. Other provisions of the bill require a doctor to be physically present to dispense abortion drugs (which would basically outlaw the use of telemedicine abortions). The proposal also implements new procedures for disposal of fetal remains that, instead of treating them like other forms of medical waste, would require them to be treated like the body of a dead person.

Lawmakers are considering the bills together, and a House committee approved them this week. Over at RH Reality Check, writer Angi Becker Stevens notes that this anti-abortion "super bill" threatens "to create in one fell swoop serious barriers for both women in need of abortion care and abortion providers."

Corn on "Hardball": Obama's Leaky Cyberwar With Iran

Fri Jun. 8, 2012 4:47 PM PDT

David Corn joined NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the leaks in Obama's cyberwar with Iran.

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

Book: Obama Wasn't Always So Into Drone Strikes

| Fri Jun. 8, 2012 9:25 AM PDT
President Barack Obama listens to White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan.

Most of the reporting about the Obama administration's targeted killing program has focused on the president's "kill list"—that is, the list of individuals the executive branch has decided are terrorists who can be targeted with lethal force. As a recent New York Times story detailed, kill list attacks are divided into personality strikes, which target individual suspected terrorists, and signature strikes, which target individuals whose identity is unknown, but who are assumed to be terrorists based on factors like age and location.

Targeted killing didn't start with the Obama administration. But Obama has aggressively expanded the drone program that carries out these attacks. The irony is that, according to Newsweek/Daily Beast reporter Daniel Klaidman's new book, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, the president began his administration highly skeptical of the accuracy of drone strikes. This was a skepticism borne of experience: In January of 2009, outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden had given the president a detailed briefing about an upcoming strike, going into such "granular levels of detail" that the president grew bored and frustrated. Yet the strike about which the intelligence community was so incredibly certain went badly awry, according to Klaidman:

Instead of hitting the CIA's intended target, a Taliban hideout, the missile had struck the compound of Malik Gulistan Khan, a prominent tribal elder and member of a pro-government peace committee. The strike killed Khan and four members of his family, including two of his children.

So despite the "granular levels of detail" involved in prepping the strike, it ended up killing a group of innocent people. Klaidman writes that Obama was reportedly very angry. Not only that, but when briefed on the nature of signature strikes, he reacted, well, like a number of the critics of the targeted killing program do now:

Steve Kappes, the CIA's deputy director, offered a blunt explanation. "Mr. President, we can see that there are a lot of military-age males down there, men associated with terrorist activity, but we don't always know who they are." Obama reacted sharply.

"That's not good enough for me," he said.

The president's counterterrorism adviser John Brennan has largely avoided talking about signature strikes in public. This makes sense, because individual instances of targeted killing (such as the recent killing of Al Qaeda #2 Abu Yahya al-Libi) are far easier for the administration to defend and justify (or brag about). With signature strikes, the kind of certainty associated with killing a well known, longtime public face of al Qaeda is, by definition, impossible.

During Wednesday's White House briefing, ABC News' Jake Tapper confronted White House press secretary Jay Carney about signature strikes, noting that "any country" could fire a missile at a target and claim those killed were "terrorists," citing the government of Syria as an example. Carney would only say that "this administration takes very seriously the decisions that are involved in the effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda."

That sort of explanation wasn't good enough for Obama during his first few months in office, but as Klaidman's book explains (and as we can see from the sharp increase in drone strikes) Obama eventually came to rely on signature strikes as a key part of his counterterrorism policy. Nevertheless, the president learned early on that supposedly detailed intelligence can be incredibly, tragically wrong, with irreversibly lethal consequences. Given that reality, why should the vague assurances that the strikes usually hit the right targets be good enough for the American people now?

CIA Planning To Shrink Presence in Iraq, But....

| Fri Jun. 8, 2012 7:36 AM PDT

Six months ago, the last remaining US combat troops in Iraq packed it in. Four months ago, the State Department set plans in motion to severely downsize their Baghdad embassy operations. Now, it looks like the CIA is following suit, with plans to soon cut its presence in Iraq to fewer than half that of wartime levels. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week:

Under the plans being considered, the CIA's presence in Iraq would be reduced to 40% of wartime levels, when Baghdad was the largest CIA station in the world with more than 700 agency personnel, officials said...Proponents of the change say the CIA can make better use of its personnel in other areas. Those could include emerging terrorist hot spots such as Yemen, home to the al Qaeda affiliate the U.S. considers to pose the greatest threat to the homeland, and Mali, where an unstable government has fanned concerns...The CIA drawdown would recalibrate the agency's responsibility in the country away from counterterrorism operations and back toward traditional intelligence collection, with a sharpened focus on neighboring Iran, officials say.

It's no secret that Iraq has experienced spikes in Al Qaeda-linked violence in recent weeks—and it's safe to say that this move will result in yet more concern-trolling from conservatives who interpret any pullback as the Obama administration gift-wrapping Mesopotamia for Zawahiri. But the CIA's shrinking presence is, quite simply, a matter of necessity—particularly in a time when (a) the Iraqi government obviously isn't keen on tolerating expanded US involvement and, (b) American resources are increasingly being directed at combating scarier entities in, say, the southern Arabian Peninsula.

Also, it's a matter of common sense: "Of course we don't want to have the same number of people after all US troops go home that we had at the height of the war," a senior US official told the Journal. ("Right-sizing," as Obama aides call it.)

Still, senior US officials also told the Journal that Baghdad will continue to be one of the agency's biggest stations in the world—one piece of an intel gathering strategy that administration officials have previously made clear. Here's what the Washington Post reported in early February:

The CIA is expected to maintain a large clandestine presence in Iraq and Afghanistan long after the departure of conventional U.S. troops as part of a plan by the Obama administration to rely on a combination of spies and Special Operations forces to protect U.S. interests in the two longtime war zones, U.S. officials said. U.S. officials said that the CIA's stations in Kabul and Baghdad will probably remain the agency's largest overseas outposts for years, even if they shrink from record staffing levels set at the height of American efforts in those nations to fend off insurgencies and install capable governments...The pressure to maintain a sizable presence in Kabul and Baghdad comes as the CIA and other intelligence agencies face spending cuts for the first time since their budgets began expanding after the Sept. 11 attacks.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 8, 2012

Fri Jun. 8, 2012 7:30 AM PDT

A paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team jumps an irrigation ditch on the edge of a village on May 29, 2012, in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. The paratrooper’s platoon conducts several presence patrols each week with Afghan soldiers. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

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A Brief History of Politicians Blowing Things Up

| Fri Jun. 8, 2012 6:45 AM PDT

Republican State Sen. Ron Gould is running for Congress in Arizona's 4th congressional district. It's a heavily Democratic district, so he's probably not going to win. But Gould's not going down quietly. He has released an ad (below) in which he blasts a hole through Obamacare with a pump-action shotgun. "It's rather ridiculous that somehow now guns are off limits because we had a congresswoman shot in Arizona," he told Fox 10 Phoenix.

Firing a gun in a political ad is hardly a new idea. And it's not the exclusive domain of Republicans. Here's a quick guide to how it's done:

Shooter: Arizona congressional candidate Ron Gould (R).

Year: 2012.

Weapon: pump-action shotgun.

Target: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

Scale of Destruction: Mixed—Gould uses what looks to be a slimmed-down version of the law.

 

ShooterOklahoma congressional candidate Rob Wallace (D).

Year: 2012

Weapon: pump shotgun; scoped thirty-ought-six hunting rifle.

Target: The state of Texas.

Scale of destruction: Absolute.

ShooterWest Virginia Senate candidate Joe Manchin (D).

Year: 2010

Weapon: scoped single-shot bolt-action hunting rifle.

Target: "The cap-and-trade bill."

Scale of Destruction: Does it really count if the bill was already dead? 

Candidate: Alabama Agriculture Commission candidate Dale Peterson (R).

Year: 2010.

Weapon: .30-caliber lever-action Winchester.

Target: A supporter of his opponent.

Scale of Destruction: None; Dale Peterson is, at heart, a man of peace.

Candidate: Colorado congressional candidate Bob McConnell (R).

Year: 2010.

Weapon: automatic pistol; heavily modified AR-15 assault carbine.

Target: Osama bin Laden.

Scale of destruction: Destroyed.

Candidate: Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D).

Year: 2008.

Weapon: over-and-under double-barreled shotgun.

Target: The federal Real ID law.

Scale of Distruction: Absolute.

Honorable mentions go to Wyoming state Sen. Gerald Gay (R)—who has taken down* the videos of him blowing up "socialism," the Affordable Care Act, the US Capitol, and cap-and-trade with a semi-automatic AR-15 (among other tools)—and Arizona congressional candidate Pamela Gorma (R). Per YouTube, embedding of Gorma's 2010 campaign ad has been "disabled by request." Given that Gorma's ad basically consists of her firing a machine gun for 45 seconds, we're inclined to honor that request.

Update: Gay's demolition of the Capitol is still viewable on Facebook.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Jun. 8, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

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

the money shot

Sources: Center for Responsive Politics, National Institute for Money in State Politics 

 

quote of the week

"Let's face it, politics in this country is coin-operated."
—Gateway computer founder Ted Waitt, who recently launched the centrist super-PAC icPurple.

 

chart of the week

Victorious Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker outraised Democratic rival Tom Barrett by a nearly 8-to-1 margin in Tuesday's recall election. Independent expenditure groups helped reduce that gap to about 2-to-1 thanks to Citizens United, which overturned the state's ban on outside spending by corporations and unions. The election cost a record-setting minimum of $63.5 million (also see our breakdown of the numbers):



 

stat of the week

66.8 percent: The portion of the conservative dark-money group American Action Network's budget spent on political activity from July 2009 through June 2011. By law, 501(c)(4) groups like AAN are prohibited from making campaign activity their primary focus. "Any group spending over 65 percent of its funds on political activities can hardly argue influencing elections is not its primary purpose," says Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is calling for an investigation. "Significant financial penalties might prod AAN to learn the math."

 

race of the week

As iWatch News' Michael Beckel reports, California's first-ever "jungle primaries" (in which the top two primary vote-getters will appear on the November ballot, regardless of party) have led to super-PAC-fueled feuds. In the race for the state's 26th Congressional district, one of the costliest House races to date, four outside spending groups supporting Democrat Julie Brownley outraised independent challenger Linda Parks by a 20-to-1 margin to secure Brownley a general election race against Republican Tony Strickland. House Majority PAC, which spent more than $700,000 supporting Brownley and attacking Parks, aired this feel-good ad promoting Brownley:

 

more mojo dark money coverage

Most of Obama's 2008 Bundlers Are AWOL: More than 70 percent of the president's biggest past fundraisers have yet to pitch in. Yet that may not be a problem.
Four Reasons Why the Left Lost Wisconsin: And one reason why Tuesday wasn't a total disaster for Democrats.
"Our Elections Are Being Poisoned": Have the dark money, front groups, and corporate cash flooding Scott Walker's recall corrupted Wisconsin?
Sheldon Adelson Opens Up His Wallet, Vol. MCXVI: The Las Vegas casino owner (and former Newt Gingrich megadonor) cuts his first check to a Romney super-PAC.

 

more must-reads

• Why Democrats shouldn't fear Mitt Romney's money. Salon
• A House subcommittee votes to block funding for a FCC initiative to disclose TV political ad spending. Sunlight Foundation
• As big money pours into elections, states' campaign finance transparency is lacking. StateIntegrity.org
• Ben & Jerry's cofounder Ben Cohen and anti-Citizens United activists launch campaign to stamp dollar bills with messages like "money is not speech." MovetoAmend.org

This post has been revised.

Corn on MSNBC: Romney Etch-A-Sketches His Own Draft Record

Thu Jun. 7, 2012 4:46 PM PDT

David Corn joined MSNBC's Martin Bashir to discuss Mitt Romney's miraculous discovery of the poor, as well as the presidential candidate's etch-a-sketchy memory of his own draft record.

 

 

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

The Morning-After Pill Does Not Cause Abortions

| Thu Jun. 7, 2012 10:10 AM PDT

For over a decade, anti-abortion activists have objected to emergency contraception, claiming that it prevents already fertilized eggs from implanting in women's uteruses and therefore terminates pregnancies.

Just one problem: the science doesn't support them.

That’s according to an exhaustive New York Times article published this week that reviewed decades worth of science on how what's commonly known as the morning-after pill works. Most of this research took place after 1999, when Plan B and other similar drugs were first approved for the market.