Mojo - 2013...on-unstoppable?page=96

Following the Dark Money Would Be Easier if This Goverment Agency Did Its Job

| Fri Dec. 20, 2013 12:02 PM EST
A screenshot of the Priorities USA Action 2012 ad "Stage" attacking Mitt Romney.

A recent headline over at the Atlantic captured the mood when it comes to the state of money in American politics: "There's No Way to Follow the Money." The author, former Reuters editor Lee Aitken, was referring to the web of "social welfare" nonprofit groups moving hundreds of millions of dollars in dark money all around the country with the goal, ultimately, of influencing elections and shaping policy. Aitken has a point: As deep as reporters dig, it's harder than ever to track where the money's going, how it's being spent, and who's taking a cut along the way.

Following the dark money isn't any easier when timid or dysfunctional watchdogs plainly fail to do their jobs. Fingers point most often to the Federal Election Commission, which is at the moment an underfunded, ideologically divided, broken institution. But a new Sunlight Foundation analysis identifies another culprit: the Federal Communications Commission, the nation's top cop when it comes to TV, radio, and broadband.

Here's the back story: Tucked inside the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, a landmark piece of legislation better known as "McCain-Feingold" after its two sponsors, was a new requirement that local TV stations make available to the public information about political ad buys, including how much was spent and what candidates or issues were mentioned in the ad. Post-Citizens United, spending on political ads has exploded—$5.6 billion was spent in 2012, a 30 percent increase from 2008. Broadcasters' ad data can provide journalists, campaign staffers, activists, and anyone else with detailed and useful information on the ads running all over the country.

The problem? TV stations are ignoring the law, leaving the public in the dark.

A Sunlight Foundation analysis of 200 randomly-chosen ad buys by PACs, super-PACs, or nonprofits found that fewer than one in six actually disclosed the name of the candidate or specific election referenced in the ad. The most important fields on the ad buy paperwork are blank, and the TV stations that are so eager to rake in all those revenues aren't prodding the ad buyers to fully disclose what they're doing.

The FCC could crack down on this if it wanted. Sunlight's Jacob Fenton explains why the agency isn't acting:

TV stations could be penalized for leaving out disclosure information, but the FCC has shown little appetite for doing so. Although occasional enforcement checks took place in the years after the reforms were adopted, more recently the FCC has fallen back on a "complaint driven" process. In other words, the agency won't act unless someone asks it to. But because the vast majority of the political ad filings are hidden away in file cabinets at broadcast stations, available only during business hours when most voters are working, few people ever see them, let alone complain.

Steve Waldman, an Internet entrepreneur and journalist who worked as a senior advisor to former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, said the nation's communications watchdog was leery of getting stuck with the unenviable position of campaign cop. "When it comes to political stuff, there's extra sensitivity at the commission because it's the one area where Congress jumps up and down and says, 'If you do that we're going to come and slap you in the head,'" Waldman said.

Tom Wheeler, who just replaced Genachowski, saw his Senate confirmation vote held up by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, over the issue of political ad disclosure. In a statement, Cruz said he lifted the hold after Wheeler said he'd make political ad funding disclosure "not a priority."

It's not all bad news on the political ad transparency front. In August, a judge ruled that the FCC could proceed with a plan to require several hundred broadcast stations located in the nation's 50 largest cities to post their ad files online. Sunlight, among others, is working to make those files accessible and easily searchable to anyone with an Internet connection.

In the campaign finance world, that's progress. But it's enough. The FCC and the TV stations themselves need to feel more pressure to ensure that those ad files comply with the law. It's one of the few useful tools we have nowadays for following that shadowy money trail.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 20, 2013

Fri Dec. 20, 2013 11:31 AM EST

An M1A2SEP Abrams Tank from Company C, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment ‘Desert Rogues’, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, sits ready while others complete the night portion of the Gunnery Table VI in the background at Red Cloud Range, Dec. 12. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Richard Wrigley, 2nd ABCT, 3rd ID, Public Affairs NCO)

Why Is This Disgraced Prosecutor Still Allowed to Practice Law in Texas?

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 7:24 PM EST

When I read Innocence Lost, Pamela Colloff's fabulous piece on the case of Anthony Graves, a man convicted of murder in Texas, I walked away convinced that Graves hadn't done anything wrong—indeed, he was exonerated in 2010 after 18 years behind bars—but that Charles Sebesta, the former Burleson County DA who pursued the case so zealously, had done something horrific.

The DA who put Anthony Graves on death row knowingly withheld key evidence and obtained false  statements from witnesses.

In 2006, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling confirming that Sebesta had not only withheld powerful exonerating evidence in the Graves case, he also had obtained false statements from witnesses. In the past, Colloff has reported how Sebesta had allegedly used threats to scare Graves' alibi witness from testifying. He also bullied Charles Carter, a key witness, into testifying against Graves by threatening to prosecute Carter's wife. (Carter, who was prosecuted and convicted for the killings, had repeatedly insisted that Graves had nothing to do with the crimes.)

So how was it that an innocent man could be sentenced to die while the prosecutor who deliberately screwed him (to paraphrase the Fifth Circuit) suffered no legal consequences? One could imagine a world in which such egregious legal misconduct, given that it landed a man on death row, would qualify as attempted murder. At the very least, wouldn't Sebesta's actions be cause to take away his law license?

Not in Texas.

In a followup piece on Wednesday, Colloff asked the Texas Bar why it had failed to discipline Sebesta, and what she learns is surprising. Sebesta's website claims, among other things, that "the State Bar cleared Sebesta of any wrongdoing in the case" and that the Bar's grievance committee had determined that "there was no evidence to justify a formal hearing." In fact, as Colloff discovers, the Bar never actually reviewed his case.

Not that it would have punished Sebesta anyway. Colloff quotes from the Texas Tribune: "In ninety-one criminal cases in Texas since 2004, the courts decided that prosecutors committed misconduct, ranging from hiding evidence to making improper arguments to the jury. None of those prosecutors has ever been disciplined."

At the press conference announcing Graves' release, the special prosecutor called in to review Graves' case said Sebesta had handled it "in a way that would best be described as a criminal justice system's nightmare." Bill Parnam, who succeeded Sebesta as Burleson County DA, addressed the reporters next: "There's not a single thing that says Anthony Graves was involved in this case. There is nothing." 

Read Colloff's piece here.

Pussy Riot and Arctic 30 "Hooligans" to be Released From Russian Prison

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 5:30 PM EST

The two jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot are set to be released from prison following an amnesty bill passed by the Russian parliament last night. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were convicted of "hooliganism" and sentenced to two years in prison after they staged a protest against Putin and the Russian Orthodox church last year.

Also likely to be released are the members of the "Arctic 30," a group of Greenpeace activists who staged a protest against drilling in the Arctic by boarding a Russian oil rig in September. The activists have spent two months in jail under charges of hooliganism. Peter Wilcox, the American captain of the Greenpeace ship that was raided by Russian authorities, says that while he's happy to be going home, "I should never have been charged and jailed in the first place."

The passage of the amnesty bill comes amid growing scrutiny of the Putin administration's crack-down on gay rights. In June, Putin signed into law a bill banning the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors." President Obama announced Tuesday that he and Michelle Obama will not be attending the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Russia this February. Instead, Obama will be sending delegates: tennis champion Billie Jean King and ice hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow, both of whom are openly gay.

Watch the "punk prayer" that got the Pussy Riot members locked in prison:

Grand Old Pajama Party: Pictures of Conservatives in Their Jam-Jams

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 1:15 PM EST

On Tuesday, Organizing for Action, a remnant of Barack Obama's re-election campaign that has been re-purposed to promote the president's agenda, asked its followers to sign up for health insurance over the holidays. The group's pitch featured a bespectacled twentysomething male in pajamas, drinking hot chocolate. On the right, "Pajama Boy" quickly became a meme. At last, conservatives had an opportunity to dismiss political opponents as jobless, lazy, unsexed hippies.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie demanded that the stock image get dressed and do some community service. Texas Rep. Steve Stockman chimed in, too. Pajama Boy is a "vaguely androgynous, student-glasses-wearing, Williamsburg hipster" and "the Obama machine's id" (National Review's Charles Cooke); an "insufferable man-child" and a consequence of the "breakdown of marriage and its drift into the 30s" (Politico Magazine's Rich Lowry); and a representative of "effete, cosmopolitan America" (The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis.) Holy stock photo, Batman!

But a Mother Jones investigation discovered something unsettling. Far from being a divisive cultural wedge issue, pajamas are a normal item of clothing that normal adults wear. Even Republican presidents. The pajamas are coming from inside the White House!

Former President Ronald Reagan:

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

 

Former president Gerald Ford:

Gerald Ford Presidential Library

 

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas):

 

Former president George H.W. Bush:

 

Former President Abraham Lincoln:

David Gilmour Blythe

 

Former President Ronald Reagan (again):

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

 

Daily Caller editor in chief Tucker Carlson:

In their defense, pajamas are hella comfortable.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 19, 2013

Thu Dec. 19, 2013 10:58 AM EST

A handmade Christmas tree welcomes Marines with 1st Marine Division to the Division (Forward) headquarters field mess aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms during Exercise Steel Knight 14 Dec. 14, 2013. The field mess served two hot meals each day during Steel Knight, which enabled 1st Marine Division to test and refine its command and control capabilities by acting as the headquarters element for a forward-deployed Marine Expeditionary Force.

(U. S. Marine Corps photo by CWO3 Benn Barr/Released)

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Study: Pretrial Detention Creates More Crime

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 10:31 AM EST

Detaining certain defendants before trial makes them more likely to commit a new crime, according to a recent report.

Many pretrial detainees are low-risk, meaning that if they are released before trial, they are highly unlikely to commit other crimes and very likely to return to court. When these defendants are held for two to three days before trial, as opposed to just 24 hours, they are nearly 40 percent more likely to commit new crimes before their trial, and 17 percent more likely to commit another crime within two years, according to a report released last month by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a private foundation that funds criminal justice research.

"The primary goal of the American criminal justice system is to protect the public," the authors of the report say. "But…the pretrial phase of the system is actually helping to create new repeat offenders."

The report—based on studies of both state and federal courts—also found that the longer low-risk detainees are held behind bars before trial, the more likely they are to commit another crime. Low-risk defendants who were detained for 31 days or more before they had their day in court offended 74 percent more frequently before trial than those detained for just one day. The study found similar results for moderate-risk defendants, though for these offenders, the rate of increase in new criminal activity is smaller. When it comes to high-risk offenders, the report found no correlation between pre-trial detention time and recidivism.

The report noted that recidivism could be curbed if judges made an effort to distinguish between low-, moderate-, and high-risk offenders. "Judges, of course, do their best to sort violent, high-risk defendants from nonviolent, low-risk ones," the report says, "but they have almost no reliable, data-driven risk assessment tools at their disposal to help them make these decisions." Fewer than ten percent of US jurisdictions do any sort of risk-assessment during the pretrial stage.

Not only does unnecessary pretrial detention create repeat offenders, it costs taxpayers a lot of money. Pretrial detainees represent more than 60 percent of the total inmate population in the country's jails. The cost of incarcerating defendants pretrial is about $9 billion.

Now Scammers are Trying to Make Money off Mandela's Death

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 7:00 AM EST

It's officially a tradition: When something bad happens to the international community, email scammers attempt to exploit it. There was Hurricane Katrina. There was the 2005 tsunami. There was the Haiti earthquake. And now there's Nelson Mandela's death. Here's an email Mother Jones received from an emailer purporting to represent the late South African president's charitable organization, the Nelson Mandela Foundation:

Good Day,

I hope my mail finds you well. This is my second email to you without any
response. I am Maeline Engelbrecht Nelson Manuela's Donor relations manager. For
couple of years we have been in a global approach in fighting the pandemic, and
emphasizes the importance of strengthening relationships with UNICEF, Save the
Children Fund and other governments. Giving Aids to orphans. In 2002 the Fund
raised 34-million Dollar through donations, programmed funding and fundraising
initiatives locally and internationally. The continual growth of the Fund has
led to the establishment of offices in the United Kingdom, United States,
France, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada and now Spain. For more details you
can read from the link below, although, there are a lot of reforms for security
purposes.
http://www.southafrica.info/mandela/mandelachildrensfund.htm#.UO5dq1LEPMw

OR

http://www.looktothestars.org/charity/nelson-mandela-foundation

Due to deteriorating situation of Mandalas' health, He has suggested that the
fund allocated to his organization from the UK Based Anglo American mining
Company should be directed to a responsible and a reliable hand not here in
South African but other country as well, as this is one of his struggles in
life. On this basis I have contacted you for assistance to have it operated and
monitored by you in your country. Please We have created a good reputation in
the past and would not want anything to dent our image so if you cannot handle
this foundation in your country I suggest you ignore the email. On the contrary
get back to us for a way forward.

Please Reply us here:nelsonmandelaf@safrica.com  OR
maelineengelbrecht@hotmail.com

Regards
Maeline Engelbrecht
Mandela's Donor relations manager"

This isn't the first time a scammer has attempted to use the name Engelbrecht—who left the foundation in 2008—to make money off of Mandela. In January, the Nelson Mandela Foundation published a warning about a nearly identical email: "Any such messages received should be viewed as fraudulent and reported to the Centre of Memory."

Don't get scammed, kids.

Let's Roll: Unraveling the Pentagon's Toilet Paper Budget

| Thu Dec. 19, 2013 7:00 AM EST

They say that an army marches on its stomach, but another measure of a military's power may be how it protects its rear. The prospect of running out of government-issued TP has become a talking point against trimming defense spending. Former Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work cautioned that if sequestration was allowed to continue, "we will go back to 1975 where I'm buying toilet paper for my Marines." Former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) warned of the bad old days before 9/11 when "we did not have enough money to get toilet paper for some of our soldiers." So far, budget austerity does not appear to have seriously affected strategic toilet paper reserves, though the Air Force Academy went into a temporary holding pattern when its tissue procurer was furloughed.

Click here for more on the Pentagon's bottom line.

Just how much TP the military goes through is a bureaucratic enigma. (Grunts in Vietnam were reportedly issued 19 squares a day.) According to contracting data, the Pentagon bought an average of $2 million worth of "toiletry paper products" annually between 2000 and 2010. Yet that figure jumped to $130 million in 2012. A closer look at the numbers reveals about $58 million of paper products you might conceivably wipe with, plus a ton of padding—including $2.7 million of lightbulbs and $9.6 million of canning supplies. Let's just chalk up those to the Pentagon's infamously sloppy accounting system.

So who is getting flush on the military's bathroom budget? In 2012, the Pentagon's—and the government's—biggest vendor of toiletry paper products was Georgia-Pacific, a.k.a. Koch Industries.

Charts: Catholic Hospitals Don't Do Much for the Poor

| Wed Dec. 18, 2013 4:48 PM EST

Catholic hospitals have been on a merger spree over the last few years, as Mother Jones reported earlier this year. Ever-expanding swaths of the country are now served only by a Catholic hospital, where patients have no choice but to receive care dictated by Catholic bishops whose religious edicts don't always align with what's best for a patient. Catholic hospitals generally follow the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care, which restrict abortion even in cases where a fetus isn't viable, for instance, a practice that has resulted in hospitals denying proper care for women suffering from miscarriages. The ACLU recently filed suit against the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on behalf of a Michigan woman who was suffering a second-trimester miscarriage and was sent home twice by a Catholic hospital, developing a serious infection because the hospital refused to even talk to her about the possibility of an abortion. Her baby died two hours after she miscarried.

Despite this heavy mixing of theology and health care, Catholic hospitals in 2011 received $27 billion—nearly half of their revenues—from public sources, according to a new report put out today by the American Civil Liberties Union and MergerWatch, a reproductive rights advocacy group. And that figure doesn't even include other tax subsidies the hospitals receive thanks to their nonprofit status.

The hospitals have long justified their tax status and restrictions on care by pointing to their religious mission of serving the poor and their delivery of charitable care. But the new ACLU/MergerWatch report suggests, and the chart below illustrates, Pope Francis might be on to something when he's said that the church needs to shift its priorities to focus less on abortion and more on the poor. MergerWatch data show that Catholic hospitals, where executives often earn multimillion-dollar salaries, aren't doing any better providing charity care than other religious non-profit hospitals that don't restrict care. They're barely any better than ordinary secular nonprofits.

ACLU/MergerWatch

The charitable care figures also don't give a complete picture of how well Catholic hospitals serve the poor and uninsured because it doesn't include patients who are covered by Medicaid, the government health care plan for the low-income and disabled. As it turns out, Catholic hospitals, which in 2011 had more than $200 billion in gross patient revenue, had the lowest percentage of revenue from Medicaid of any type of hospital. Even for-profit hospitals earned more revenue from Medicaid than Catholic hospitals.

ACLU/MergerWatch

All of these numbers suggest that as Catholic hospitals have merged and expanded into a multi-billion dollar enterprise, they've moved far beyond their religious mission and become like any other large corporation. Given those trends, and the hospitals' reliance on public funding, it's hard to see how they can continue to justify their mixing of Catholic doctrine with health care, especially when it disproportionately violates standards of care for women.

The ACLU/MergerWatch report calls on the US Department of Health and Human Services to crack down on Catholic hospitals and to insist that they follow federal law requiring all hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding to provide emergency treatment to any patient, even if that care requires an emergency abortion. Other advocacy groups have made similar requests in the past few years, but HHS thus far has refused to pick a fight with the Catholic Church, which has turned into one of the Obama administration's biggest foes thanks to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The church has proven to be a powerful enemy—a wealthy special interest in a holy war—and even the new Pope seems unlikely to persuade it to give up this particular fight.