Mojo - February 2013

Tea Party Group Behind Saturday's Gun Rallies Under Fire

| Fri Feb. 22, 2013 2:50 PM PST

On Saturday, gun rights advocates will be organizing at least 121 rallies across the country in a "day of resistance" to President Obama's gun violence prevention proposals. But some tea party activists are questioning the credentials of the group organizing the rallies, a Mesa, Arizona-based outfit called TheTeaParty.net that's been criticized as a data-harvesting operation designed to vacuum up contact information and credit card numbers from unsuspecting and largely clueless conservative activists. They've complained that the group raises tons of money under the tea party name but doesn't spend much to further the movement, and they're skeptical of its move into the gun debate.

Robin Stublen, a Florida tea party activist and gun owner, is suspicious of the Day of Resistance event. "All my life I have been around guns of some sort," he says. "Some are truly works of art. I respect them. I would never think of using them as the next political toy to make a fast buck. I seriously doubt if any of these so-called 'leaders' could tell the business end of a gun, let alone take them apart and clean them. They are opportunists and should be ignored."

TheTeaPary.net was founded by Todd Cefaratti, an Arizona man who is the CEO of a "lead generation" company for the reverse-mortgage industry and who has inserted himself into tea party politics in recent years. In 2011, TheTeaParty.net sponsored a truck at NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series, and it made a big splash by sponsoring a tea party "unity rally" at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, last year. It's been a sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference in DC this year and last, raising its profile among conservative activists.

Originally called Stop This Insanity Inc., Cefaratti's outfit has gone through a series of iterations and spinoffs, variously advertising under the name  JointheTeaParty.us, the Tea Party News Network, and recently, its leadership fund has been advertising on TV as Tea Party Demand, complete with an 800-number:

 

Now, it's hosting the Day of Resistance website. And the group has had an ever-changing cast of characters associated with it, including Judson Phillips, the founder of the Tea Party Nation, who's come under fire for making racist comments and for his efforts to make a buck off the movement by scoring an appearance by Sarah Palin at a for-profit tea party convention. Donna Wiesner Keene, the wife of NRA president David Keene, also worked briefly for the group. 

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Why Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott Flip-Flopped on Obamacare

| Fri Feb. 22, 2013 12:08 PM PST
Florida Governor Rick Scott on the campaign trail.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott was elected in 2010 almost entirely thanks to his activism opposing the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Scott spent $20 million of his own considerable fortune attacking the law, and the Republican backed the state's lawsuit challenging its constitutionality all the way to the Supreme Court. Scott had declared last summer that Florida would implement the law basically over his dead body, including the optional part that would provide federal funding to expand Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the poverty line.

So it was a bit of a surprise Wednesday when he announced suddenly that he had changed his mind: Florida should embrace the Medicaid expansion. We'd like to think that this article might have had something to do with his decision; Scott himself claims that mother's death inspired his change of heart. But it's more likely that the decision was a direct result of the US Department of Health and Human Services agreeing to grant Florida a waiver that would allow it to move more Medicaid recipients into private managed-care plans—many of which are part of huge corporate insurance companies waiting to cash in on the latest installment of Obamacare. (The Medicaid expansion is expected to send $66 billion in federal funds to Florida in the next decade.)

Scott has been saying for months that if HHS approved Florida's waiver request, he might be more willing to take the Medicaid expansion. He was in DC in January meeting with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the issue. But HHS's decision to grant the waiver was somewhat surprising, given that the state was asking to expand a very troubled pilot project going back to the Bush era. The pilot project, which also required a waiver from HHS, allowed the state to put Medicaid recipients in five counties into private, HMO-type health plans rather than the traditional government health plan for the poor and disabled. Scott has championed the pilot as an innovative way of keeping government spending in check. Health care advocates, though, saw the program as a major disaster.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 22, 2013

Fri Feb. 22, 2013 11:32 AM PST

U.S. Army Spc. Ladarion Banks, assigned to Killer Troop, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, fires his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon during squad level training at the Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Feb. 12, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger.

 

ICE Cold: US Citizens Getting Caught in Immigration Dragnet

| Thu Feb. 21, 2013 11:16 AM PST

The Obama administration has taken plenty of heat in the past couple of years for its record number of deportations. A new report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, though, highlights a different (albeit related) problem: US citizens are getting snagged in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement dragnet, too.

Of the nearly 1 million people for whom ICE issued detainers (a.k.a. immigration holds) from fiscal year 2008 to FY 2012, 834 were US citizens. As the above chart shows, that's right on par with the number of Korean, Belizean, Iranian, and Thai citizens that the government asked local law enforcement to hold after arrests. Those numbers are nowhere near those of, say, Mexican citizens (No. 1 at more than 690,000 detainers), but, as the TRAC report noted: "It is illegal for DHS to detain US citizens, and to do so is a significant violation of their constitutional rights."

Given the administration's stated focus on criminal offenders (PDF), it seems odd that only 23 percent of those who received ICE holds had a criminal record, and that just 9 percent had committed what the agency calls Level 1 crimes—a definition broad enough to include "serious" offenses like traffic violations and marijuana possession.

ICE holds by crime

ICE did change its policy (PDF) in December, restricting the use of detainers on people arrested for small-time misdemeanors, and the White House's draft immigration bill proposes to give judges more discretion when it comes to deporting such offenders. Still, for an unpopular agency already dealing with its union members' acrimonious lawsuit against the federal government and with a recent USA Today story that detailed desperate ICE efforts to reach deportation quotas, detaining Americans isn't helping its image.

Extreme Makeover: Koch Brothers Edition

| Thu Feb. 21, 2013 9:37 AM PST
Charles (left) and David Koch.

Charles and David Koch—yes, those Koch brothers—are two of the most influential figures in American politics in the last 30 years. The future of their political/policy juggernaut has implications for us all. Which is why you should read Ken Vogel's latest story on the Kochs at Politico, a peek behind the curtain at the big shake-up underway in Kochland. 

The Kochs fared poorly in 2012. Their flagship organization, Americans for Prosperity, spent $140 million last year, tens of millions of which went toward ousting President Obama and flipping control of the US Senate back to the GOP. We know how that turned out. AFP did solidify Republican gains at the state level—in Arkansas, AFP helped Republicans take full control of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction—but for the most part, the Kochs and their allies were left empty-handed in 2012.

And so, as Vogel reports, the Kochs are studying what went wrong and shaking things up to avoid future flops. Out went Tracy Henke, AFP's chief operating officer, as well as more than 100 AFP field organizers. The president of Generation Opportunity, a Koch-backed group targeting young voters, also left post-election. More importantly, the Kochs are choking off the cash flow to certain groups that didn't live up to the hype.

A big question looking over the Koch "reboot," Vogel points out, is what happens to the Kochs' mighty donor network, which reportedly steered some $400 million to GOP and conservative causes during the 2012 cycle:

Maybe the biggest question looming over Koch World, though, is whether it can still count on the support of the dozens of wealthy supporters in its network, who—as much as the brothers' own personal fortunes (estimated at $31 billion each) from their family owned industrial conglomerate Koch Industries—give the Kochs their political muscle.

The 2013 installments of the secretive twice-a-year Koch seminars at which donors often pledge seven-figure contributions have been delayed to allow for completion of the audit, which is being conducted by independent contractors and overseen by Koch operative Marc Short. The results will be presented at a seminar in April—a change from the typical late January or early February winter seminar in Southern California. The summer conference has also been pushed back but is still being planned, POLITICO has learned.

If donors are either not satisfied that Koch World has learned the lessons of 2012 or are anxious that their anonymity is at risk from heightened scrutiny of the Kochs' operation, they might be reluctant to give at the unprecedented level that they did in 2012, when the Kochs aimed to steer as much as $400 million into conservative causes.

"Nobody expected that people were going to continue to give at the level that they were giving leading up to that election and that cycle," said Jeremy Jensen, one of the dozens of field organizers laid off by Americans for Prosperity this year.

"I don't think they're going anywhere," Jensen added of the Kochs and AFP. "No, I think it will only come back bigger. I believe [2012] was a trial run for what things will look like in the future for some really big money plans."

Vogel's article also raises the question of what happens to AFP, the powerful advocacy group started by David Koch. In my own reporting, I've heard about all the grumbling among conservative donors about what AFP did—or didn't do—in 2012. Charles Koch apparently shares their concern: He was overheard at a holiday party questioning AFP's work in the last election cycle.

Could AFP be in for a major overhaul? Could it be broken up into a bunch of state-specific groups? No one knows at this point. But Vogel's story is the best glimpse we have at the inner workings of Kochland. It's worth the read.

New Obama Administration Rules Could Improve Mental Health Coverage for Millions

| Thu Feb. 21, 2013 9:25 AM PST

It took December's Newtown massacre to renew the debate around mental health policy in America. In the wake of the shooting, President Obama took close to two dozen executive actions on gun control, several of which deal with providing better services to the mentally ill, and recent Congressional hearings have focused on the issue. This week, the Obama administration issued a long-awaited set of Obamacare regulations that will require health insurers to cover mental health services for tens of millions of people for the first time.

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Former Obama Officials Call for Oversight Over Targeted Killing

| Thu Feb. 21, 2013 9:11 AM PST
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office in 2009.

Two former top Obama administration officials have added their voices to those calling for some form of judicial oversight over the use of targeted killing.

In the New York Times, former Obama acting solicitor general Neal Katyal suggests that a panel of national security staffers could form "a 'national security court' housed within the executive branch itself" that would evaluate targeting decisions, which "would later be given to the Congressional intelligence committees for review."

Among Katyal's key points is that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court that approves surveillance on suspected foreign agents, often cited as a model for a potential targeted killing court, rarely refuses the government's requests. "[T]he odds of getting a request rejected, around 1 in 3,000, approximately the same as those of being struck by lightning in one's lifetime," Katyal writes. That of course, hasn't stopped presidents from doing end-runs around it.

Katyal isn't the only Obama official warming to the idea of a targeted killing court. Former Obama defense secretary Robert Gates said during a February 10 interview on CNN (flagged by Jack Goldsmith at Lawfare) that he believes more oversight of the killing of Americans may be warranted. "A panel of three judges or one judge or some—something that would give the American people confidence that there was, in fact, a compelling case to be—to launch an attack against an American citizen...is something worth giving serious consideration to," Gates told CNN.

Americans, however, make up a tiny percentage of the targeted killing program's targets. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reportedly told an audience in his home state Wednesday that the number of casualties from drone strikes was 4,700, far higher than previous estimates collected by the Council on Foreign Relations Micah Zenko, which pegged drone casualties at around 3,500. Of those thousands of casualties, just four are confirmed to be Americans: Terror suspects Kamal DerwishSamir Khan, and Anwar al-Awlaki, as well as al-Awlaki's teenage son Abdulrahman, who was never accused of a crime. If some kind of adversarial panel, internal to the executive branch or otherwise, were only to evaluate whether Americans should be placed on the kill list, it wouldn't be very busy. 

The American Civil Liberties Union, for its part, hates the secret court idea, which the ACLU argues may be "intended to limit the executive branch's claimed killing authority, but threatens instead to legitimize it." 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 21, 2013

Thu Feb. 21, 2013 8:11 AM PST

Troopers from 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment conduct a dismounted patrol at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin. Calif. Feb. 14, 2013. Photo by Specialist Adam Hoppe.

 

California Bill Could Outlaw Driving for up to a Week After Smoking Pot

| Thu Feb. 21, 2013 5:57 AM PST

If you smoke marijuana in California, there's a chance you may have to wait a week or more before you can drive legally. A bill introduced last week by state Senator Lou Correa, a Democrat from Anaheim, would make it illegal to get behind the wheel if your blood contains "any detectable amount" of cannabis—a drug which, unlike alcohol, can persist in the blood of its users for a week or more after the psychoactive effects have worn off.

"This bill would effectively outlaw EVERY driver who has within recent hours or days used marijuana," California NORML director Dale Gieringer told the East Bay Express.

More Americans Watch Birds Than Hunt

| Thu Feb. 21, 2013 4:01 AM PST

We haven't heard much about hunting during the ongoing debate over gun violence. Perhaps that's because hunting is widely seen as a traditional, enjoyable, and safe pastime, even among the majority of Americans who have never donned camo and hunting orange. Or perhaps that's because most hunters don't need AR-15s or high-capacity magazines. Or perhaps it's because hunters are a minority among the 80 million or so gun-owning Americans.

How many hunters are there? In 2011, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (PDF), 15.7 million Americans older than six went hunting. That's nearly 29 million less than went fishing, and 3 million less than went out to watch birds. Back in 1955, about 10 percent of Americans hunted; today it's around 6 percent. Overall, the number of hunters began to dip in the '90s but has slowly increased in the past few years.

number of US hunters

Who hunts? The FWS's latest survey finds that hunters are 89 percent male and 94 percent white. More than half are 45 or older. Nearly 60 percent live in small metropolitan areas or rural areas. Similarly, about 80 percent of all gun owners are men, and they have been getting older as their numbers have fallen. (Around 35 percent of Americans say they own a gun.) A recent National Rifle Association (NRA) survey of its members found that nearly half identify as hunters and that they, like hunters in general, are largely from small towns and rural areas.

What do they hunt? More than 80 percent of hunters go after big game such as deer and elk. About 4.5 million hunt small game such as squirrels; 2.6 million hunt ducks and other birds, and 2.2 million go after other animals like feral pigs.

What do they shoot? Ninety-three percent of hunters use rifles or shotguns. In 2011, they spent more than $4.3 billion on firearms and ammunition. That makes them a significant part of the nearly $12 billion US firearms market, but they're not driving it. A 2010 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) found that most Americans buy guns for protection; less than a 30 percent of those who recently bought a gun got it for hunting. Which may explain why the NRA has been focusing less on hunting and more on protecting the market for lucrative assault rifles and handguns. Just 6 percent of semi-automatic rifle owners told the NSSF that they were primarily used for hunting.

reasons for buying gun

How do non-hunters see hunting? In a 2011 NSSF survey, 73 percent of respondents said they had no interest in ever going hunting. Yet even if they don't do it themselves, most Americans have a positive view of hunting: 74 percent said they approve of it. But hunting isn't America's most popular wildlife-related recreational activity: It's fishing, which 98 percent of Americans have no problem with.