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

Will an Anti-Hillary Sequel Again Rock American Politics?

| Thu Dec. 12, 2013 7:00 AM EST

So it begins—the revival of the right-wing's get-Hillary crusade.

The conservative outfit Citizens United, which in 2008 released the anti-Hillary Clinton film that led to the 2010 Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on supposedly independent political spending for federal campaigns, is working on a new flick assailing the former secretary of state, and it will be released just in time for the next presidential campaign. 

On Tuesday, I bumped into David Bossie, the president of Citizens United, and asked what he was up to these days. He said something vague. And another Hillary Clinton film? I asked. Well, yes, he said, we are working on that. 

"What's it going to be called?" I inquired. "'Hillary: The Benghazi Years'? Or 'Hillary: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi'?"

"Oh, she's not going to get off so easy," one of Bossie's colleagues interjected, meaning that the film would not be limited to the right-wing Benghazi narrative. Bossie explained: "It will be all of the State Department years."

"No Vince Foster?" I inquired, referring to the Clinton-era right-wing conspiracy theory that Hillary was somehow involved in the supposedly suspicious (though it really wasn't) suicide of the Clinton White House's top lawyer. In those days, Bossie was a hyper-active investigator for a right-wing congressman who was enthusiastically digging into the Foster suicide and other purported Clinton scandals. Bossie eventually was forced out of the job after he manipulated evidence in one of the anti-Clinton inquiries.

No, Bossie said, nothing on Foster; they're sticking to Clinton's stint as secretary of state. 

Bossie and Citizens United's original trash-Hillary documentary—titled Hillary: The Movie—recycled well-worn Clinton tales: Bill's affair with Monica Lewinsky and possibly others; alleged corruption in the White House travel office; campaign finance shenanigans related to Hillary's 2000 Senate race; and the conspiracy theory that the Clintons tried to smother information indicating that Bill Clinton had failed to kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance. It was filled with right-wing talking heads: Dick Morris, Robert Novak, Larry Kudlow, and others. The film darkly hinted that Clinton operatives had even killed the cat of a woman who accused Bill of sexual assault.

Despite Bossie's best intentions, the poorly-distributed movie had no discernible impact on the 2008 election. (Hillary did not lose the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama because of this movie.) But that was not the end of the story. Citizens United tried to run television ads touting the film during the election season—the ads were essentially anti-Hillary spots—and federal law prohibited such independent campaign spending that directly targeted a candidate. Citizens United sued the Federal Elections Committee, and the Supreme Court used this case to overturn a century-old precedent and blew up the limits on independent campaign expenditures by corporations, nonprofits, and unions. This led to an humongous increase in special interest spending designed to influence House, Senate, and presidential contests—with a majority of these dollars deployed to assist Republican candidates.

Bossie, perhaps the top Clinton-chaser of the past two decades, had set out to destroy the presidential prospects of Hillary Clinton and failed. But his film ended up triggering the Supreme Court case that remade the political campaign system, much to the benefit of corporate and monied interests.

For their new endeavor, Bossie and his merry band are putting aside the outlandish get-Hillary right-wing fodder of the past—nothing on the cat?—and focusing on her years at Foggy Bottom. Yet is there enough red meat—besides Benghazi, Benghazi, and Benghazi—to fill an entire film? Bossie says there is. But given what transpired last time Citizens United declared war on Hillary, who knows what might result when Bossie and his crew go after the former first lady once again?

Bossie says the film is due to be released at the end of 2015—right before the Iowa caucuses.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

What It's Like Reading Mandela's Autobiography as a Hostage in Tehran

| Thu Dec. 12, 2013 7:00 AM EST

When I think of Nelson Mandela, I don't really think of Mandela the president. I think of Mandiba the political prisoner, and the man whose writing gave me courage behind bars. I read Mandela's autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, while incarcerated as a political hostage in Iran. His life put mine into perspective. I was finishing my second year, but he spent nearly as many years in prison as I'd been alive. He negotiated the end of apartheid from his cell. He was forced to bust rocks day after day, year after year, with a hammer for no good reason. He said the time he'd spent in solitary confinement were the most difficult thing he'd ever been through. I had made it through four months of solitary. If Mandela said that was the hardest thing, I could trust that the worst was behind me.

Long Walk To Freedom Nelson Mandela

In our limited, isolated world, Mandela's experience became a reference point. When I read about the garden he eventually planted on Robben Island, my cellmate Josh Fattal and I made our concrete cell a little more alive by planting an onion in a milk carton, and setting it in our windowsill. When interrogators were unusually nice to us, we thought maybe it was a sign that freedom was coming: Mandela was treated better before he was released.

Mandela wrote much of his autobiography on pages that a fellow prisoner later transcribed into microscopic text. Those notes were then stuffed into the spines of a book, and smuggled out. After reading that, I taught myself how to write so small it could hardly be read, and Josh and I slipped our words into the spines of our books.

Six months after getting out of prison, we got our books back. There were hundreds of them. The Iranians handed them over to the Swiss embassy and the Swiss shipped them to DC. All of the book spines were sliced open and our notes were gone. But we got that autobiography. It sits prominently on our bookshelf at home. Mandela is a hero for ending apartheid. But he is also a hero for making it through those 27 years unbroken. 

Budget Deal May Be Good News for Pentagon Boondoggles

| Thu Dec. 12, 2013 7:00 AM EST

The F-35 fighter jet.

Today, the House will likely pass a budget deal that will partially end sequestration—the across-the-board spending cuts to military and domestic programs that went into effect in March.

The deal is good news for many government agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, which was forced to cut back on nutrition assistance for low-income mothers and infants, and the National Institutes of Health, which faced cuts to its medical research. It's also good news for defense hawks and top brass, who'd been complaining about the dire effects of automatic budget cuts.

Though the $22 billion in cuts to the Pentagon in 2014 were imperfect, says Ethan Rosenkranz, a national security analyst at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, they would have reined in unnecessary and wasteful spending. "Sequestration is a bad way of implementing spending reductions," he says. "However, it's an excellent way of forcing the Pentagon to make some tough budgetary decisions which they've been neglecting to make for the past 10 or 12 years."

Anticipating looming budget cuts, the Air Force was considering delaying the purchase of more F-35 fighter jets. That would have been a wise decision, Rosenkranz says, because the F-35 has not been fully tested yet, and the program is already billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. "You should make sure the jets work before you purchase [more of] them," he says. Now, with sequestration being lifted, "a lot of these hard decisions will evaporate."

The Navy was mulling cutting in half its littoral combat ship program, which has been plagued by cost overruns*. Now that the Pentagon may have less reason to make these careful budget considerations, Rosenkranz says, "My biggest fear is that the Navy will expand its fleet of littoral combat ships."

The military was also considering cutting spending by shuttering some of its domestic bases. The Department of Defense has reported two years in a row that it has 20 percent excess infrastructure. The military "was moving in the right direction," Rosenkranz says. Now, it's not clear the DOD will continue in that direction if the pressure from sequestration is lifted, he says.

"We should prioritize national security and get rid of those things that are not contributing to national security," Rosenkranz argues. "Now you're going to see this conversation fly out the window."

Correction: An earlier version of this story confused Navy cruisers with littoral combat ships.

How a Local "Ganjapreneur" Bummed Oakland's High and Cheated the City out of Thousands

| Wed Dec. 11, 2013 6:32 PM EST
Derek Peterson and Dhar Mann (pictured at right)

In 2011, a Lamborghini-driving 26-year-old named Dhar Mann became a national media sensation when he partnered with a Morgan Stanley investment banker in an audacious plan to create weGrow, a vertically integrated marijuana conglomerate better known as the "Walmart of Weed." Shortly after I wrote the first detailed profile of Mann, however, he split with Morgan Stanley's Derek Peterson amid mutual accusations of unpaid debts and financial shenanigans. Peterson charged Mann with running "a fucking hydroponzi scheme."

Now it looks like he wasn't exaggerating by much. Yesterday, Mann pleaded "no contest" to five felony counts of defrauding the City of Oakland, the Oakland Tribune reports. The scion of a wealthy taxi monopolist and a major local political donor, Mann was accused of pocketing some $44,000 in city redevelopment funds that he was supposed to use to fix up several of his properties. According to court documents, Mann submitted checks to the city that he'd supposedly written to contractors but that were in fact redeposited into his own bank account.

Mann won't face jail time, but still must resolve an Oakland civil suit seeking $345,000 in civil penalties and damages.

Though weGrow got a lot of media attention, it was never very popular among the Bay Area's pot cognoscenti, who saw the company's materialistic and confrontational image as a liability to their wider goal of a truce in the drug war. But now it looks like it was Mann himself, not anti-drug crusaders in the federal government, who planted the seeds of his demise.

Millions of Women Now Pay Nothing for Birth Control. Thanks Obamacare!

| Wed Dec. 11, 2013 1:25 PM EST

The percentage of privately insured women who didn't pay a dime for birth control pills almost tripled this year, rising from 15 percent in 2012 to 40 percent in 2013. That's according to a new study from the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that backs abortion rights. The study, which was published in the journal Contraception, examined the effects of an Affordable Care Act rule requiring private insurers to cover contraceptive products and counseling with no co-pay.

This same rule has come under sustained, delirious assault by Republicans who paint it as an attack on employers' religious beliefs. During the debt ceiling crisis this fall, some House Republicans were willing to let the government default if the final financial deal did not include a "conscience clause" allowing employers to sidestep the mandate if it violated their religious beliefs. (The Obama administration has already exempted a narrowly defined set of religious institutions.)

That battle will come to a head this spring, when the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Citing their Christian beliefs, owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores are refusing to provide their female employees with insurance that covers contraceptive services. A decision in favor of Hobby Lobby could blow a hole in the contraception mandate, allowing any private employer to withold birth control coverage simply by citing their religious beliefs.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 11, 2013

Wed Dec. 11, 2013 11:45 AM EST

Paratroopers assigned to Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, fire a 105mm round during a live-fire exercise Nov. 4, 2013, at Fort Bragg, N.C. The training provided an opportunity for junior enlisted paratroopers to take part in a live fire exercise and learn how to construct a firebase.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Juan F. Jimenez/4th BCt, 82nd Abn. Div. PAO)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Your Genes Tell You How to Vote

| Wed Dec. 11, 2013 7:00 AM EST

Where did your political and religious opinions come from? How did you come by them? What made you who you are?

If you're like most people, you're probably inclined to answer this question by citing two main influences: your upbringing and your life experiences. But according to a growing body of science, such an account leaves out a major factor: your genes.

"The basic idea of a heritable component to political beliefs has been around for at least a quarter of a century," says University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist John Hibbing, coauthor of the new book Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences. "It's shown up too many times, in too many different places, with too many samples. So there's something there."

The science dates back at least to 1986. In that year, the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper using a classic "twin study" design to try to determine the heritability of a variety of political attitudes, such as views on the death penalty. The researchers concluded that genes could explain a substantial percentage of the variation in responses to an oft-used political questionnaire called the Wilson-Patterson conservatism scale.

Since then, scientific papers reaching a similar conclusion have proliferated, leading up to yet another one published in this month's issue of the journal Political Psychology by Hibbing and his colleagues. Most of these studies use the same basic design: The political views of members of monozygotic ("identical") twins pairs, who share 100 percent of their DNA, are compared with those of dizygotic ("fraternal") twin pairs (who share only 50 percent of their DNA, on average). Naturally, identical twins are much closer to one another on many traits, and we all acknowledge that the reason for this similarity is genetic. But the big surprise is that political beliefs, again and again, turn out to be one of these traits shared more among identical than among fraternal twins.

Using this "twin study" paradigm—which is widely employed to determine the heritability of a variety of traits, such as eye color and height—researchers can estimate what percentage of a given characteristic is rooted in genetic influences rather than environmental influences. The twin study approach then attributes the remaining variability to either factors in the environment that lead twins to be similar ("shared environment"), or those that cause them to be different ("unique environment"). "Maybe you saw a robbery, and your twin didn't," Hibbing explains. For politics, the studies tend to suggest that genes and "unique environment" experiences provide the bulk of the explanation, with "shared environment" seeming to matter relatively little. (Given that "shared environment" is usually taken to include influences on both twins in the home as they grow up, this may be the most surprising finding of all.)

And it isn't just our political beliefs: It's a range of complex social traits. Personalities have also been repeatedly shown to have a substantial genetic basis, and so has religiosity. None of this research, to be sure, says that genes determine everything. The "environment" still matters a great deal. Nonetheless, the percentage of total variation in our views attributed to genes is quite substantial. According to Hibbing, the body of published evidence is homing in on a number around 30 to 40 percent for our political views.

The truly interesting question then becomes: Precisely which genes are determining our political views, and how are they operating? That's where it gets tricky: Scientists don't really know. Arguably the best study seeking to identify a single political gene examined DRD4, a gene coding for a receptor for the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. One variant of DRD4 has been associated with novelty-seeking and exploratory behavior, and sure enough, the study found that it was also associated with liberalism—but only, the paper noted, among those who had a lot of friends growing up. In other words, the scientists didn't actually find a "political gene"; what they found was a gene that has political implications in a particular life context.

Genes operate, after all, in constant interaction with our life experiences. And when it comes to politics, scientists expect that myriad genes are involved, each one having relatively small, context-dependent effects. The route from genes to pulling the lever in a voting booth is a long and circuitous one indeed.

Nonetheless, the twin studies suggest that the total genetic influence adds up to something pretty substantial. What Hibbing and his colleagues suspect is actually being inherited is a set of core dispositions about how we want society to be structured and run. Thus, the latest study showed a substantial genetic influence not only on people's self-described political ideology, but also on their responses to questions asking whether "society works best" when "those who break the rules are punished" as opposed to when "those who break the rules are forgiven," and when "people are rewarded according to merit" as opposed to when "people are rewarded according to need" (to give a few examples).

Dealing with distributing resources, and punishing misbehavior, are problems that our ancestors would have had to solve constantly. So it makes sense to think there are deeply embedded patterns in how we approach them. "We are social creatures at the core," says Hibbing. "We get together in these groups, and we know how to do it." Group-oriented behavior comes naturally, and so do views about how groups should operate.

The real problem, of course, is that "naturally" means something different for Democrats and Republicans.

Teachers Striking in the Town Where Mother Jones Is Buried

| Wed Dec. 11, 2013 12:18 AM EST

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, marching for workers' rights in Trinidad, Colorado, circa 1910.

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, after whom Mother Jones is named, was a prominent labor leader in the late 1800s and early 1900s. When her long life came to an end, Mother Jones—"grandmother of all agitators"—was buried in Mt. Olive, Illinois, alongside miners whose rights she fought for. This week, teachers in Mt. Olive are striking, too. Tuesday marked the second day of their strike for higher salaries and better benefits.

The Mt. Olive board of education offered the 39 teachers in the district a 2 percent increase in their salaries this year, as well as an increase of 2 percent per year during their last four years to help them prepare for retirement, according to the local Fox news station, KTVI. The teachers want a 4.5 percent pay hike now, and a 6 percent annual increase for their final four years. Teachers told KTVI that they agreed to forgo raises in their last contract in exchange for larger salary increases this time around, but the town didn't keep its promise. "We feel that when you make a promise you need to keep it," Marcia Schulte, a kindergarten teacher who runs the teachers’ union, told KTVI Monday. "That's what we need to teach the kids." She added that last year, the administration and support staff got a six percent raise, while teachers haven't gotten a salary bump since 2009.

The teachers are also upset that the board wants to subject new hires to a different pay raise scale that would make their salaries increase more slowly. The teachers' last contract expired in August, and ongoing union contract negotiations since then have left issues unresolved.

The school district superintendant Patrick Murphy told KTVI that reduced aid from the state and lower school enrollment means that the district has to shrink its budget.

All 39 teachers went on strike Monday morning. On Monday night, union members and administrators negotiated until 1:00 a.m., but no progress was made.

The teachers will not meet again with the administration until next week, and they'll likely continue striking until then. Meanwhile, they have Mother Jones' words to keep them company. "Pray for the dead," she was known to say, "and fight like hell for the living."

Here's the Story Behind the Big Wall Street Reform Rule That Was Just Approved

| Tue Dec. 10, 2013 4:06 PM EST

On Tuesday, banking regulators finalized one of the most important provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. It's called the Volcker rule, and it's supposed to prohibit the high-risk trading by commercial banks that helped cause the financial crisis. Here's what you need to know about it.

What's the reason for the new rule? In the run-up to the financial crisis, big banks invested in low-quality mortgage-backed securities. When those over-leveraged bets turned sour, the economy collapsed, and the government had to bail out big financial institutions. The Volcker rule ensures that banks don't engage in what is called proprietary trading—that is, when a firm trades for its own benefit instead of trading on behalf of its customers. In May 2012, JPMorgan Chase lost $2 billion on a bad trade, which led to calls for a strong Volcker rule.

Why is it called the Volcker rule? The rule is named after Paul Volcker, the chairman of the Federal Reserve in the 1980s, and later an adviser to President Barack Obama. He advocated this change in financial regulation and persuaded the president to back the rule in 2010, when the Dodd-Frank bill was passed.

2010? What took so long? One reason it took three years to finish the rule is that after the legislation was passed, the actual regulation had to be crafted jointly by five banking regulators—the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). That's a lot of coordination amongst people with different backgrounds and priorities. And during the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney vowed to repeal Dodd-Frank. So for several months, wait-and-see regulators slowed down devising the details of the rule.

Wall Street lobbying also played a big part in delaying the unveiling of the final rule. The financial industry pushed like mad to get key loopholes into the regulation. "It's relentless, nonstop, day and night lobbying," Dennis Kelleher, the president of the financial reform advocacy group Better Markets, said a year ago. "It is absolute total nuclear war that Wall Street is engaged in here." One loophole Wall Street tried to get written into the regulation would characterize certain forms of risky trading as hedging against risk. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

So who won? Kelleher says financial reformers won; these loopholes were not included. "Today’s finalization of the Volcker rule ban on proprietary trading is a major defeat for Wall Street and a direct attack on the high-risk ‘quick-buck’ culture of Wall Street," he said in a statement. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the rule would have prevented JPMorgan's $2 billion trading loss last year. CFTC commissioner Bart Chilton, a fierce Wall Street critic, is happy with the rule. Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the authors of the Dodd-Frank law, told Mother Jones today, "I have been confident all along that it would be a tough rule. I'll make one prediction: all of the cries of doom that you're going to hear from the financial institutions, three years from now will come to about as much validity as the cries of doom we heard about same-sex marriage."

Obama noted, "Our financial system will be safer and the American people are more secure because we fought to include this protection in the law....I encourage Congress to give these regulators adequate funding to effectively and efficiently implement the rule, which will help protect hardworking families and business owners from future crisis, and restore everyone’s certainty and confidence in America’s dynamic financial system."

But the success of the rule depends on how it is implemented. Marcus Stanley, the policy director at Americans for Financial reform, says that he's "lukewarm" on the rule, mostly because a lot hangs on how it is interpreted by banking regulators who supervise compliance. "Whoever is the primary supervisor has enormous discretion about how this [rule] will affect trading," he says, adding that the final Volcker rule does not include transparency provisions that would allow the public to judge whether banks are complying.

So is financial reform all finished now? No. Proprietary trading contributed to the crisis, but it was not the main cause. Regulators still have  other Dodd-Frank provisions to finalize. Wall Street watchdogs have to implement plans to wind down failing banks; finish writing rules governing derivatives trading (which was largely unregulated before the financial crisis); and enforce strong requirements regarding the level of reserves banks must maintain.

What's next? Wall Street is already preparing to fight the Volcker rule in the courts. The regulation could slash the combined annual profits of the eight largest banks by between $2 billion to $10 billion, according to Standard and Poor's. "Wall Street’s loophole lawyers and other hired guns will… continue to hit at the rule as if it were a piñata," Kelleher says.

Additional reporting by Patrick Caldwell.

When International Spying Fails, the CIA Turns to World of Warcraft

| Tue Dec. 10, 2013 11:46 AM EST

After a string of failures in the real world, the Central Intelligence Agency is turning its attention to Azeroth.

ProPublica, the Guardian, and the New York Times reported jointly on Monday that the CIA, the NSA, and British intelligence agencies infiltrate online games like World of Warcraft and Second Life, to seek out scientists, engineers, embassy workers, and other foreign operatives who could be recruited as spies .

The documents obtained by the three news organizations give no evidence that monitoring online games have led to the capture of any terrorists. But the CIA's real-world spying isn't going well either, a gaggle of former agency officials told the Los Angeles Times Monday.

The CIA's $3 billion overseas spying program depended heavily on operatives given "non-official cover," or NOCs, who typically pose as businesspeople and gather intelligence from foreign universities, businesses, and local hotspots, the paper reports. But NOCs and those recruiting them face a myriad of challenges. For starters, the CIA has trouble finding NOCs with language skills—and if you can't speak passable Pashto, you're probably not going to uncover much intelligence in Pashto-speaking parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In some cases, NOCs take advantage of their special status, billing the CIA for unjustified time and expenses, the former CIA officials told the paper. And NOCs, who have no diplomatic immunity, are often kept out of more dangerous locations by their handlers, limiting the amount of useful information they can obtain. "If you're a high-grade agency manager, are you going to sign off on a memo that puts Joe Schmuckatelli in Pyongyang?" one former case officer told the Times.

The CIA's reliance on NOCs has damaged its overseas spying efforts, the officials told the paper. In Iran, for instance, authorities exposed American operatives despite fake identities working for CIA-created front companies. And Iran wasn't an exception: One official told the paper he knew of only three successful NOCs in his 23 years as a case officer. Maybe focusing some more attention on World of Warcraft is a good idea after all.