Mojo - April 2013

Frank Luntz Withdraws University of Pennsylvania Scholarship Over Secret Tape

| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 5:09 PM EDT

Following Mother Jones' publication of remarks GOP message man Frank Luntz made to University of Pennsylvania students about conservative talk radio, Luntz has decided to withdraw funding for a university scholarship named after his father that sends students to Washington, DC, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, an independent student newspaper at the school.

While Luntz is scheduled to speak on a panel at the University during graduation weekend, he said that he would never return to speak after this incident, and would discourage others from speaking here.

"I can't imagine a speaker coming to Penn and being so open. I can't imagine a speaker coming to Penn and being so candid," he said. "Frankly, I think it'll have a chilling effect on whether speakers do or don't come. I wish it didn't."

He also added that he would not renew a scholarship in his father's name for students to travel to Washington, D.C.

A student had asked Luntz a question about political polarization, and Luntz had responded by blaming conservative talk radio, saying, "They get great ratings, and they drive the message, and it's really problematic." Luntz had asked for his answer to be off the record, and although the student who asked the question agreed to those terms, Aakash Abbi, the student who made the recording and provided it to Mother Jones, did not.

In an op-ed for the Daily Pennsylvanian, Abbi outlined his reasoning for making and leaking the recording, explaining that "in a room filled with scores of independent students, 'off the record' is not a Patronus charm. Luntz may have felt that he was invited to speak candidly by acclimation, but I disagreed entirely."

Frank Luntz has made a very successful career out of advising Republicans on the content of their message. He was asked one of the most important questions of the day in terms of American politics ("what is causing extreme polarization between the parties?"), and refused to speak freely. Why? Because doing so may harm his commercial interest. And this attitude is at the root of the problem. If influential GOP figures like Frank Luntz truly believe that the party's media kingmakers harm the national interest but refuse to say so for fear of backlash, they knowingly work against the spirit of open and honest debate.

In other words, the people creating the "chilling effect" on discourse are not students like Abbi, but the very people Luntz was afraid to go on the record criticizing in the first place.

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Law Professor John Yoo Apparently Unaware of Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure

| Fri Apr. 26, 2013 12:39 PM EDT

Torture memo author John Yoo and others who have called for Boston marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be held in military detention are claiming vindication following reports that Tsarnaev stopped talking to interrogators after a judge advised him of his right to remain silent.

"Apparently the FBI interrogated the younger Tsarnaev for 16 hours," wrote torture memo author John Yoo at National Review. "And then, for reasons that are still unknown, the government read him his rights."

Yoo has never met a right he didn't want to ball up like a piece of paper and toss into a trash can in the name of national security. But despite being an attorney and professor at the prestigious University of California Berkeley School of Law, Yoo is either misleading his readers about why Tsarnaev was read his rights or unaware of a basic legal rule.

The judge appeared at the hospital because the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure state that suspects have to be brought before "a magistrate judge, or before a state or local judicial officer" and it must be done "without unnecessary delay." The Supreme Court has held that, absent exigent circumstances or the suspect waiving the right to go before a judge—as wannabe Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad reportedly did—a suspect has to appear before a judge within 48 hours of being apprehended. This is usually referred to in legal shorthand as "presentment," as in, "presentment before a judge."

"In practice, this means that law enforcement officers usually have no more than 48 hours to interrogate suspects without [informing them of their rights], and usually far less," explains Steve Vladeck, a law professor at American University School of Law. "Once presentment occurs, the judge, if not the interrogating officers, will advise the suspect of all of his rights."

That's what happened in this case. Tsarnaev's interrogators didn't read him his rights. Nor did the "Obama administration," as some, including Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), have claimed. A judge did it. The 48-hour rule exists to prevent the government from detaining people secretly and without a suspect knowing the charges against them. Needing to interrogate a suspect is not included in the exigent circumstances that can be used to justify delaying bringing the suspect before a judge. And the government could not have legally placed Tsarnaev in military detention, either, because absent evidence of concrete operational connections between Tsarnaev and Al Qaeda or its affiliates it would not be legal to do so—and it might not be constitutional even if it were technically legal.

"This is a rule of law issue, and it's also an effectiveness issue," says Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the ACLU. "Calls to do an end-run around constitutional rights are not just wrong they prevent a fair and effective prosecution."

The feds have every reason to play this one by the book. Few things could compound the tragedy of Boston like jeopardizing Tsarnaev's prosecution because of a rush to trample his constitutional rights.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 26, 2013

Fri Apr. 26, 2013 10:13 AM EDT

Flames light up the sky as a Marine launches a PL-87 Stinger Missile at a flying drone over Onslow Beach on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 16, 2013. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cory D. Polom.

Corn on MSNBC: Luntz's Gripe With Rush Limbaugh

Thu Apr. 25, 2013 8:25 PM EDT

A tape of GOP consultant Frank Luntz knocking Rush Limbaugh, released today by Mother Jones, indicates just how tired the party might be of its polarized membership. Listen to DC bureau chief David Corn discuss the video and its ramifications with talk show host Joe Madison and MSNBC's Al Sharpton on Politics Nation:

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

Chris Christie Is Right About Parents and Violent Video Games—But His Policy Is Wrong

| Thu Apr. 25, 2013 4:07 PM EDT
"Call of Duty: Black Ops 2" would be restricted under Christie's proposed law.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has fashioned himself as a GOP maverick of late, upsetting people in his own party almost as often as political opponents. From praising President Obama's response to Hurricane Sandy last year, to seeking a ban on the .50 caliber Barrett rifle more recently, he keeps managing to ruffle Republicans' feathers.

His push to restrict violent video games, however, part of his plan to deal with gun violence, is likely to please the right. Christie wants to require parental consent in New Jersey in order for minors to purchase "Mature" rated video games. The idea aligns with the NRA's own suggestions for curbing school shootings and has broad appeal. It's not actually a ban, but rather another layer of regulation. 

"This is just common sense," the governor said of his plan, "and means that parents and legal guardians are actively engaged and aware of the kinds of games their kids are buying and renting." Christie's reasoning is actually pretty sound—even if his legal thinking isn't. (More on that in a minute.)

When I've written about violence in video games in the past, I've argued that the most important thing a parent can do is be actively engaged in what their kids are playing. (That goes for any kind of media consumption.) Play games with your kids, and make sure the content they're zapping into their impressionable young minds is something you approve of. I don't think most kids will be transformed into violent monsters by video games—and to date, there is no solid research indicating that's a serious possibility—but that doesn't mean each game out there is appropriate for every kid.

The problem with Christie's plan is that it runs afoul of the right to free speech; attempts to ban violent video games or restrict their sale have already been overturned by the Supreme Court.

Moreover, the video game industry has actually done a vastly improved job at self-regulating over the last decade. Even though M-rated games aren't backed by laws limiting their sale to minors, that doesn't mean it's easy for children to buy these games. A recent report from the Federal Trade Commission found that only 13 percent of minors were able to purchase M-rated titles in 2012, dramatically down over the last 12 years. The FTC sent undercover "mystery shoppers" between the ages of 13 and 16 into retail shops to gather this data. By comparison, the FTC found that minors were able to purchase CDs with explicit content nearly half of the time, and buy R-rated movie tickets nearly a quarter of the time.

FTC

In other words, the video game industry and the retailers who sell video games are leading the pack, effectively keeping minors from buying M-rated titles like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Most of the kids with these games get them from their parents, legal guardians, or other people over the age of 18.

The real trick is ensuring that parents are actually, well, parenting—overseeing or playing the games with their kids in the confines of their own homes, or in the homes of their friends. This is beyond the scope of government regulation.

Christie may have great intentions, but his legislation will almost certainly not hold up in court, and even if it did it's unlikely that we'd see a significant change in video game sales to minors. And it requires another leap from there to assume that stricter regulations on video games would have any impact on real world violence, including school shootings. It would be better for Christie and other leaders to continue pushing for better gun control laws—even though that may allow their opponents to score political points against them.

Speaking of gun control and "political suicide," I'll leave you with this hilarious yet deeply troubling segment from The Daily Show's John Oliver:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Gun Control & Political Suicide
www.thedailyshow.com
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Florida Tea Party's Unemployment Tests Get Flunked by the Feds

| Thu Apr. 25, 2013 3:50 PM EDT

Tea partiers revere the Constitution, which they often study like the Bible, in small groups. But somehow all that devotion to the Founders' original thinking doesn't seem to have much of an impact on their ability to follow its requirements once tea partiers take power in elected office. Take the case of Florida's GOP governor Rick Scott, who has turned Florida into the nation's premiere laboratory for tea party governance. He's been trying for years now to force poor single mothers to take drug tests before getting welfare benefits, a requirement that's since been shot down in federal court twice as likely unconstitutional. And the US Department of Justice is threatening to sue the state for unconstitutionally warehousing disabled children in geriatric nursing homes

Then there's the state's unemployment benefits system, which was "modernized" by the legislature under Scott's leadership in 2011 to become one of the nation's stingiest. A new law required unemployed people to file all claims for benefits online, even though previously at least 40 percent of UI claims were done over the phone. The new online filing system required people to take a "skills review" test that included 45 math and reading questions. Failing to take the test would result in losing eligibility for benefits.

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GOP Takes Another Shot at Derailing Obama's Progressive Labor Nominee

| Thu Apr. 25, 2013 2:25 PM EDT

Republicans have been trying for weeks to block President Barack Obama's nomination of Thomas Perez, the chief of the civil rights division at the Justice Department, to run the Labor Department. They haven't succeeded yet. But they're still at it.

Politico's Josh Gerstein reports that Democrats have delayed a vote on Perez nomination that was originally scheduled for Thursday. The Dems moved to postpone the vote after Republicans said they would use an unrelated Senate subcommittee hearing on workplace safety to feature a witness likely to be critical of Perez. Republicans wanted to call Frederick Newell, a St. Paul man whose $180 million lawsuit against the city over its failure to properly dispense federal grants meant for low-income residents was undercut by an agreement Perez helped arrange. The workplace safety hearing has now been postponed as well, with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) accusing Republicans of trying to exploit the hearing to attack Perez and possibly derail his nomination.

As Mother Jones reported in March, in exchange for the Justice Department not joining Newell's lawsuit, St. Paul agreed last year to withdraw a fair housing case before the Supreme Court. Liberals had feared that the conservative justices on the high court would have used the St. Paul case to significantly narrow the ability of the federal government to hold financial institutions accountable for discrimination against minorities.

Republicans were frustrated by the missed opportunity to weaken the Fair Housing Act, a key civil rights law. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) worked hard to convince GOP legislators on the Senate labor committee that Perez acted inappropriately when he helped broker that deal with St. Paul. The House oversight committee, which Issa chairs, released a report last week that accused Perez of shady behavior but failed to detail any specific legal or ethical violations. (Perez consulted with internal ethics monitors at Justice to ensure that the deal was appropriate). Republicans brought up the report during Perez' confirmation hearing last week but there were no fireworks.

Newell is angry about the St. Paul deal for a very particular reason of his own. This St. Paul small business owner spent years putting together evidence that the city of St. Paul wasn't meeting its federal grant obligations. The city entered into an agreement in 2010 with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure it would meet those obligations in the future, and HUD told Mother Jones in March that St. Paul has complied so far.

Though the underlying issue that Newell sued over seems to have been resolved, he didn't get anything out of the deal. Had the lawsuit proceeded and he won, he would have pocketed between 15 and 30 percent of the sum the judge decided St. Paul owed. But it's not clear Newell would have won his case if the Justice Department had joined. The US attorneys in Minnesota thought he had a good case, yet the experts in the civil division believed he did not. When the Justice Department declined to join Newell's lawsuit, it meant that the case would most likely be dismissed, and it was.

So the problem was taken care of, but Newell lost his chance to collect a lot of money. Given all the hard work he put in, it's understandable he's ticked off at Perez. But the fact that Newell didn't get his money doesn't mean Perez did anything improper.

Liberal Super-PAC's First 2014 Target: Michele Bachmann

| Thu Apr. 25, 2013 11:44 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

CREDO Super-PAC, the group that spent nearly $3 million to oust five conservative congressmen in 2012, has announced its first target of the 2014 midterms: Tea party firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). The super-PAC says it will spend at least $500,000 to boot Bachmann out of office.

CREDO Super-PAC, an offshoot of the progressive phone company CREDO Mobile*, knows Bachmann all too well. In 2012, the super-PAC named Bachmann one of the "Tea Party Ten" lawmakers that it set out to defeat. But Bachmann's opponent, Democrat Jim Graves, and the outside groups hoping to oust her fell just short: She won by a few thousand votes. When I interviewed Becky Bond, the politically geeky president of CREDO Super-PAC, after the elections, she told me her biggest regret was the Bachmann race. "If we could do it again, we would've taken her on earlier and she would've lost," Bond said.

That explains why CREDO Super-PAC is launching its anti-Bachmann campaign 18 months before the 2014 elections. In its announcement, CREDO says it will use the same data-driven, grassroots-centric strategy to oust Bachmann as it did in 2012. As I've written before, CREDO is something of an outlier on the super-PAC landscape: While most super-PACs poured millions of dollars into TV, radio, and Internet ads, in many cases to little effect, CREDO opened field offices in ten congressional districts, hired organizers, signed up volunteers, and used political data to inform their work.

Here's what CREDO said in its Bachmann announcement:

"What kind of a signal does it send that not only is Rep. Michele Bachmann in Congress, but she's on the House Intelligence Committee?" asked Becky Bond, president of CREDO Super-PAC. "Bachmann's bigotry and bizarre political views don't represent Minnesota values. Bachmann has launched an anti-Muslim witch hunt, actually believes that gay marriage is the biggest problem facing the nation, and has even claimed that Obamacare kills people.

"Bachmann won by a mere 4,000 votes in 2012, and is beatable in 2014. If our volunteers in Minnesota's 6th district can turn out enough voters, the Tea Party Caucus in Congress will be down yet one more bigoted conspiracy theorist."

Aside from being a climate denier and promoting hate and bigotry, Rep. Bachmann has been making headlines lately for being embroiled in multiple campaign scandals. Rep. Bachmann is currently under investigation by the Federal Election Commission, the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee for allegedly authorizing improper campaign payments, among a host of other potentially illegal activities.

Instead of spending millions on expensive TV advertising, CREDO Super-PAC will employ a proven campaign model that helped defeat some of the most extreme Tea Party Republicans in 2012, including former Reps. Chip Cravaack and Allen West. CREDO Super PAC will open an office in Minnesota’s 6th congressional district, hire on the ground organizers, and begin mobilizing volunteers to get out the vote against Bachmann. CREDO Super PAC will use cutting-edge research to target a specific universe of voters in MN-06 to help make the difference on Election Day.

Jim Graves, Bachmann's 2012 opponent, says he will run against her again in 2014.

Right now, Bachmann is in a tight spot. A former aide, Peter Waldron, alleged that Bachmann's presidential campaign made secret payments to an Iowa state senator in violation of Iowa ethics rules. And Bachmann's former chief of staff, Andy Parrish, said in an affidavit that Bachmann "knew and approved of" those payments to the state senator, Kent Sorenson. Sorenson has denied the allegations, calling them "totally baseless, without evidence, and a waste of Iowans' time and money." An attorney for Bachmann says the congresswoman "followed all applicable laws and ethical rules and instructed those working for her to do the same."

*Disclosure: Mother Jones is among the dozens of nonprofits which have received funding from CREDO Mobile through its customer-selected action program.

After MoJo Story, Treasury Department Clarifies Its Stance on Financial Reform Bills

| Thu Apr. 25, 2013 11:13 AM EDT
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew
This post has been updated.

On Wednesday, Mother Jones ran a story on how newly-minted Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is reluctant to take a stand against a series of Wall Street deregulation bills now being considered by the House Financial Services Committee. After the story pubbed, a spokeswoman for Treasury got in touch with Mother Jones to clarify its position.

Last year, Geithner slammed a series of seven bills that would have deregulated Wall Street banks. Those bills never made it to the Senate before the last Congress ended, but a spate of nearly identical bills are being considered again. When asked by Mother Jones whether Lew would echo Geithner's opposition to them, Lew's office had no comment, but pointed to recent testimony by another Treasury official warning against messing with the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act, the sweeping 2010 law aimed at preventing another 2008-style financial crisis.

Once the story started making the rounds, a spokeswoman for Lew called Mother Jones. "Of course the Treasury secretary would oppose any effort to weaken Wall Street reform," she said. She pointed to Lew's recent comments on Bloomberg television. "The purpose of Dodd-Frank was to make sure the American taxpayer would never again be in the position where they had to step in when banks failed," he told the news channel. "We are committed to that purpose."

Lew's spokeswoman also pointed out that Geithner made his statement condemning the bills last year after several of the them had already moved out of committee, and some had passed the House. "We didn't send the letter until after committee mark up, not while the bills were still in committee," she said. "It doesn't mean it won't happen." Reformers complain that silence—or stalling, as it may be—on Lew's part corresponds with Obama administration's general reluctance to protect Dodd-Frank from attacks on all sides, whether that be in the courts, or regulatory agencies, or in Congress.

The seven deregulatory bills have been presented as technical fixes to Dodd-Frank, but most of them aren't. One bill would allow certain derivatives that are traded among a corporation's various affiliates to be exempt from almost all new Dodd-Frank regulations. Another measure would expand the types of trading risks that banks can take on. A third bill would allow big multinational US banks to escape US regulations by operating through international arms.

Financial reform advocates say it's way too early to alter Dodd-Frank, because even though it is technically the law of the land, regulatory agencies have yet to finish crafting it into rules that can be enforced. Whatever Lew's reasons for waiting to denounce lawmakers' efforts to gut Wall Street reform, reform advocates are hoping he'll stick to a recent promise his spokeswoman pointed to: "We have to finish implementing [Dodd-Frank]," he said on CNBC. "I'm committed to using the authority that I have to drive that process forward."

Update: After this story, the Treasury Department got in touch with Mother Jones to further reiterate its support for Dodd-Frank.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 25, 2013

Thu Apr. 25, 2013 10:44 AM EDT

Pfc. Ivan Ibarra and Pfc. Alfredo Hidalgo, both of Company C "Chaos," 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, Combined Task Force 4-2, provide security during a clearing operation April 10 in the Panjwa'i district of Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth, 4th SBCT, 2nd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office.