Mojo - April 2013

Here's Why the Koch Brothers Would Buy the LA Times and Chicago Tribune

| Mon Apr. 22, 2013 11:39 AM EDT
Charles (left) and David Koch.

Not long after the November elections, I met with Charles Spies, a big-time Republican fundraiser who'd run the pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future, to hear his take on why Romney lost. We sat across from each other at a long wooden table in a tenth-floor conference room overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue. (Before his firm moved in, Spies says the conference room used to be Al Gore's office.) We talked about super-PACs and the hundreds of millions they spent, the clout (or not) of wealthy donors and how they could get the most bang for their buck in a political campaign. Then, unprompted, Spies told me, "If I had the resources and wanted to impact the policy debate, I'd buy a newspaper or a magazine."

"Even in today's media climate?" I asked.

"Oh, absolutely." He explained:

Not to make money. They're not profitable. But imagine if I was, you know, a mogul that had 30, 40 million dollars to spend and cared about policy issues and elections. I'd buy the New York Times or the LA Times. Buy a major newspaper and put my people in on the editorial page and use that to frame issues the way I wanted to. And then I could claim that the news folks were separate from the editorial page but I think they know where the owner's heart is at.

Spies is not a friend of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire libertarians. He does not move in their political circles. But in our conversation, he laid out what may be the best reason why the Kochs and their company are reportedly considering a move to become America's newest newspaper barons.

As the New York Times reported on Sunday, Koch Industries, the massive conglomerate run by Charles Koch, is mulling a bid to buy eight prominent newspapers owned by the Tribune Company, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and Orlando Sentinel. Those newspapers are valued at $623 million, which is a pittance compared to Koch Industries' annual revenues of $115 billion. If the Kochs wanted to do what Spies described, the megaphone that those newspapers would provide them is nothing to scoff at. The LA Times is the nation's fourth-largest paper, the Tribune the ninth-largest, and tens of millions of people combined visit the newspapers' websites each month.

A bigger platform with which to spread their free-market ideas seems to be what the Kochs want. The Times quotes one attendee of the Kochs' exclusive donor seminars as saying of the brothers, "They see the conservative voice as not being well represented."

Koch Industries spokeswoman Melissa Cohlmia told the Times that the company is "constantly exploring profitable opportunities in many industries and sectors. So, it is natural that our name would come up in connection with this rumor." She went on, "We respect the independence of the journalistic institutions referenced in the news stories. But it is our longstanding policy not to comment on deals or rumors of deals we may or may not be exploring."

If they did buy the Tribune papers, the Kochs wouldn't be the first conservative billionaire to snap up a newspaper or two in the modern era. The Washington Examiner newspaper and the Weekly Standard magazine, both staples of conservative political media, are run by a company owned by Phil Anschutz, another secretive conservative billionaire who has attended a Koch donor seminar. And of course there's Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation paid $5 billion in 2007 for the Dow Jones and Company, which includes the Wall Street Journal.

Koch Industries has, at times, a fractious relationship with the media. The company says much of the reporting about Charles and David Koch and their privately-held company is inaccurate or unfair. That sense of grievance led to the creation of KochFacts.com, a website where Koch Industries posts requests for corrections, company statements, testy correspondence between Koch officials and reporters, and favorable news and commentary.

One journalist with whom Koch Industries has clashed is David Sassoon, the publisher of InsideClimate News, a nonprofit website devoted to environmental journalism. InsideClimate News recently won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the dodgy oversight of US oil pipelines. After InsideClimate News reported on Koch Industries' ties to the Canadian tar sands business, Koch Industries blasted the site's "agenda-driven, dishonest journalism" and pressured Reuters, the global news service, to reconsider its decision to publish InsideClimate News' stories. (Reuters stood by Sassoon and his small team of reporters.)

I asked Sassoon, fresh off his Pulitzer win, what he thought of the news of Koch Industries potentially bidding on the Tribune company newspapers. "We reported on the Kochs' involvement in the tar sands, and they played hardball to try to shut us up," he wrote in an email. "They pressured Reuters to drop us as a content partner, and ran ads on Google and Facebook calling me liar...What we've experienced of them first-hand makes me think they would not be trustworthy stewards of the honorable traditions of journalism."

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

Mon Apr. 22, 2013 9:09 AM EDT

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Sean Morris, communications chief, and U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Noah Serigny, a corpsmen, both with the Provincial Police Advisory Team, provide security during a visit to Main Operating Base Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, April 18, 2013. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Tammy K. Hineline.

A GOP Bill to End the War on Pot

| Sat Apr. 20, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Few ideas have more support from voters and less from national politicians than legalizing marijuana. While major polls now show that most Americans back the concept, the president and leaders in Congress won't touch the issue except to laugh it off.

Like pothead soccer dads in the sitcom Weeds, however, some of the biggest backers of legalization are turning up where you'd least expect them. Take, for example, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who last week introduced a bill designed to prevent the feds from arresting pot growers and tokers in states where the drug is legal. "This approach is consistent with responsible, constitutional, and conservative governance," the 13-term congressman from California's ultraconservative Orange County told me.

"The federal government's total prohibition of marijuana has been neither effective nor efficient."

Until recently, Republicans who supported ending pot prohibition were about as common as unicorns. There were US Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), and, well, some prominent former Republicans such as New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo. After ditching her Alaska governor job for a Fox News gig a few years ago, Sarah Palin finally stuck her neck out: "If somebody's gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody else any harm," she said on Fox's Freedom Watch in 2010, "then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at to engage in, and try to clean up some of the other problems that we have in society."

Back then that was crazy talk. Now it's mainstream enough that Rohrabacher's new marijuana bill has already attracted two other Republican cosponsors: Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan and Don Young of Alaska.

Rohrabacher got turned on to marijuana activism about 10 years ago, when he had to spoon-feed his dying mother because she'd lost her appetite. He learned that medical marijuana might help her eat. "My interest has evolved from there," he says.

My Innocent Brother Was Made Into a Bombing Suspect: Sunil Tripathi's Sister Speaks

| Fri Apr. 19, 2013 11:06 PM EDT
Sunil Tripathi, far right

UPDATE (10:53 a.m. EDT, 4/25/13): On Thursday morning, the Rhode Island Department of Health confirmed that a body found in the Providence River on Tuesday is that of Sunil Tripathi. Click here to read a statement from the Tripathi family.

In the aftermath of Monday's Boston Marathon attack, a heaving pile of junk information clouded the breaking news reports. Casualty figures were botched, the number of explosive devices was misreported, and suspects were wrongly identified. On that last front, one of the families deeply affected by the press and public's false conclusions was that of Sunil Tripathi, a 22-year-old Brown University philosophy student who went missing on March 16.

Sunil's family, who live in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, and describe him as "kind, gentle, and shy," had launched a social-media campaign to find him; their Facebook page garnered nearly a quarter million views in the first week of his disappearance. As the police search for Sunil expanded, his story began to make national news last month with mentions from Fox News, ABC News, the Boston Globe, and other outlets.

Was the FBI Monitoring Boston Bombing Suspects for Years?

| Fri Apr. 19, 2013 7:39 PM EDT

An FBI agent in Boston, April 15, 2012.

The mother of both Boston bombing suspects claimed today that the men drew the attention of law enforcement long before the bombings. Zubeidat Tsarnaeva told Russia Today this morning that her sons told her the FBI was monitoring them for three to five years, ever since Tamerlan had grown more interested in Islam. She also said the bureau had warned her about her son's use of extremist websites:

FBI was scared of my eldest son. They always told me that he is a leader. He talks about Islam a lot. They were talking to my son. They called me officially and they told me that my son is an excellent boy and they have no problem with him. At the same time, they were telling that he is getting information in really extreme... sites, so they were very, very afraid of him.

Tsarnaeva's defense of her son aside, the possibility of FBI surveillance in this case is not outlandish: As Mother Jones' 2011 investigation, Terrorists for the FBI, showed, the bureau—which has made counterterrorism its top priority since 9/11—has assembled a roster of some 15,000 domestic informants, many tasked with keeping tabs on Muslim communities.

On Friday afternoon, the FBI admitted they had in fact interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years ago and found nothing incriminating, CBS news reports. The agency conducted the interview at the request of a so-far unnamed foreign government, CBS says, to see if the elder Tsarnaev had any extremist ties—but their search turned up none.

5 of the Worst Reactions to the Boston Manhunt

| Fri Apr. 19, 2013 6:12 PM EDT
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), Ann Coulter, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) all weighed in on the Boston Marathon bombing suspect Friday.

As of Friday evening, the manhunt for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was still ongoing. For legislators and pundits, however, it was already time to talk politics.

Seizing on the reported Chechen heritage and Muslim background of the alleged bombers, politicos used the attack in Boston to make points about everything from immigration reform to the use of drones on American soil. Although it's totally appropriate to talk politics in the aftermath of a tragedy, talking politics doesn't necessarily mean you're making a good argument. Here are some of the worst reactions to the Boston bombing.

Let's slow down immigration reform! Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Friday morning that the attacks should affect the immigration reform effort:

Given the events of this week, it's important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system. While we don't yet know the immigration status of the people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system.

The two suspects in the Boston bombing appear to have come to this country legally, and there's no indication yet that supposed "loopholes in the immigration system" that Grassley referenced are the reason the Boston bombing was not prevented.

Immigrants are terrorists. "It's too bad Suspect #1 won't be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio, now," conservative pundit Ann Coulter tweeted Friday. She's implying that unauthorized immigrants in the United States might be terrorists.

Time for spying on all Muslims. Former Homeland Security chairman Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) didn't waste any time demanding that the Muslim community come under scrutiny, even though the motivations behind the bombing are not yet fully known.

"Police have to be in the community, they have to build up as many sources as they can, and they have to realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community and increase surveillance there," King told National Review, adding that "we can't be bound by political correctness." He also insisted he wasn't just singling out Muslims (ellipses added by National Review): "We need more police and more surveillance in the communities where the threat is coming from, whether it's the Irish community with the Westies [an Irish-American gang in New York City], or the Italian community with the mafia, or the Muslim community with the Islamic terrorists." Racial profiling for everyone!

Let's ignore the Constitution. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is up for reelection in 2014, insisted that President Barack Obama ignore the Constitution and refuse to recognize Tsarnaev's Miranda rights if he is captured. Graham tweeted that Obama should hold Tsarnaev as an "enemy combatant." Tsarnaev is an American citizen and no direct links between the Tsarnaev brothers and an international terror group such as Al Qaeda have been established. But that didn't stop Graham, a senator sworn to uphold the US Constitution, from insisting the government behave as though an American citizen's constitutional rights don't exist.

"[America] a battlefield because the terrorists think it is," Graham said during an interview with Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin later on Friday. "It sure would be nice to have a drone up there [to track the suspect.]"

Rubin added the brackets in Graham's last sentence. Without the full context, it's impossible to know whether Graham wanted the drone in the air for surveillance purposes as opposed to launching missiles or dropping bombs.

The Boston Marathon bombing is an inside job. Noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is insisting that the Boston bombing was a "false flag" operation carried out by the government. It seems unlikely that Jones' bizarre understanding of the attack will catch on. But prominent politicians, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), and current Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), have appeared on Jones' radio show. Perhaps these latest comments will finally convince lawmakers that it's time to stop legitimizing Jones' conspiracy-mongering.

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Boy Scouts of America Proposes Dropping Ban on Gay Kids—But Not Gay Adults

| Fri Apr. 19, 2013 1:14 PM EDT

While the nation's attention was turned to Boston on Friday morning, the Boy Scouts of America announced that it intends to end its ban on gay members, as long as its board approves the change. The organization would still, however, prohibit gay adults from serving as troop leaders or volunteers.

The proposed new policy states, "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone." The proposed policy also reinforces the organization's position that "Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting." You can read the proposal here, or the media statement here.

The change would apply only to members; it does not change the policy regarding gay troop leaders or other volunteers. "The BSA will maintain the current membership policy for all adults," Deron Smith, the group's spokesman, told Mother Jones via email.

BSA's long-standing ban on gay members has been a huge source of controversy. In January, the group announced that it was considering whether to allow individual troops to admit gay members but put off making a decision until May. As my colleague Dana Liebelson has reported, the group lost some major funders because of the gay ban. Most recently, a number of high-profile musical acts ditched the Boy Scouts' annual Jamboree for this reason.

If the Scouts' 1,400-member board approves the change at its annual meeting in May, it would take effect January 1, 2014.

Did Boston Bombing Suspect Post Al Qaeda Prophecy on YouTube?

| Fri Apr. 19, 2013 8:45 AM EDT

Authorities have identified the deceased suspect in the bombing of the Boston marathon, which killed three and injured more than 170, as Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A user by that name has posted a video to his YouTube playlist extolling an extremist religious prophecy associated with Al Qaeda. It is not clear yet whether the user is the same Tsarnaev as the deceased suspect.

The YouTube page includes religious videos, including one of Feiz Mohammad, a fundamentalist Australian Muslim preacher who rails against the evils of Harry Potter. One playlist includes a video dedicated to the prophecy of the Black Banners of Khurasan, which is embraced by Islamic extremists—particularly Al Qaeda. The prophecy states that an invincible army will come from the region of Khurasan in central Asia.

"This is a major hadith (reported saying of the prophet Muhammad) that jihadis use; it is essentially an end-time prophecy," says Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "This is definitely important in Al Qaeda's ideology." In The Black Banners, the book by former FBI agent Ali Soufan that is named after this prophecy, Soufan describes it this way:

Khurasan is a term for a historical region spanning northeastern and eastern Iran and parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and northwestern Pakistan. Because of the hadith, jihadists believe that this is the region from which they will inflict a major defeat against their enemies—in the Islamic version of Armageddon.

The videos were posted on a playlist called "Islam" four months ago under the username "muazseyfullah." According to Zelin, "Mu'az is usually a name," and "Sayf Allah means sword of God." Here is the video:

According to Soufan's book, "It's not a coincidence that bin Laden made al-Qaeda's flag black; he also regularly cited the hadith and referenced Khurasan when recruiting, motivating, and fund-raising." Soufan adds that Al Qaeda operatives he interrogated were often convinced that by joining the extremist group they were fulfilling the prophecy. Soufan states that the origin of the "black banners" hadith—and whether the prophet Muhammad ever said it—is questionable.

This YouTube page also contains other indications of an interest in Islamic fundamentalism and jihadism. Its owner subscribed two months ago to a channel called "Allah is the One." In recent months, he liked a video described as a telephone conversation with a famous sheikh that covers "collaboration" with the Sufis of Chechnya. Five months ago, he added two videos to his playlist under the heading "Terrorists." But each video has been deleted with the message: "This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated."

In a comment posted two months ago regarding another video, the user assails a Muslim for not being a pure adherent of the faith:

You are not a grand Michael but the same Misha that you were before Islam. You accepted Shiism not because it convinces you, but because of the fears, and interests (about which Allah knows) which you've followed. Just like you entered into Islam, so to you flew out of it. You betrayed yourself, Misha. Well anyways…farewell.

Update: This post has been updated to clarify that the YouTube user's identity is not confirmed. The video "Who wants to be a militiaman?" Also appears to be a music video that expresses opposition to the actions of Vladimir Putin's government in Russia. The title is a play on the American game show "who wants to be a millionaire" and a word for "policeman" in Russian.

Charts: Challenging the Myth That Guns Stop Crime

| Fri Apr. 19, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

One of the gun lobby's favorite talking points is that America's arsenal of 300 million civilian firearms makes us safer by preventing millions of crimes. This contentious idea has taken fire as of late for relying on bogus stats and ignoring that most criminal shootings involve people who know each other, not gun-toting homeowners and midnight intruders. A new report from Violence Policy Center shoots even more holes in the argument that a well-armed society is a safer society.

The report finds that less than 3 percent of gun-related homicides are committed in self-defense (mouse over charts for the raw numbers):

The gun lobby often claims that firearms are used for self-defense an estimated 2.5 million times a year. But according to the Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey, the actual number is just a fraction of that:

Guns are used for self defense (both successfully and unsuccessfully) by less than 1 percent of all violent crime victims:

The typical gun is more likely to be stolen than to be used in an attempt to stop a crime:

*Average per year, 2007-2011 / **Average per year, 2005-2010

In another twist on the self-defense argument, the NRA likes to claim that women in particular need guns to guard against bullies and rapists. But crime statistics unearthed by the Violence Policy Center indicate that only about 10 percent of those who shoot people in self defense are women:

Why Did These 4 Democrats Vote No on Gun Background Checks?

| Thu Apr. 18, 2013 12:46 PM EDT

When reporters asked Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) why he voted against an amendment to expand gun background checks on Wednesday, he replied, "Montana." That may sound a bit obtuse, but in February the Sunlight Foundation was already on the case, charting the number of gun businesses per 100,000 people in the states of senators likely to be key to the gun vote. With 120 gun businesses per 100,000 people, Montana topped the list.

And Baucus is up for reelection in 2014. Montana Sen. Jon Tester, also a Democrat, voted for the bill, but he's not up for reelection until 2018. Along with Baucus, Democrats Mark Begich of Alaska (104 gun businesses per 100,000 people), Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota (62 gun businesses per 100,000 people), and Mark Pryor of Arkansas (45 gun businesses per 100,000 people) also voted no on Wednesday.

The Sunlight Foundation had predicted that Baucus would be one of four Democratic senators most likely to vote against gun reforms for the above reasons as well as the relative number of their constituents who supported President Obama in 2012. Sunlight also focused on Begich, Pryor, and Tim Johnson of South Dakota (66 gun businesses per 100,000 people).

Johnson, who announced in March that he would not run for reelection in 2014, voted for the background check amendment. All of the above senators' states voted for Mitt Romney for president.

key senators on background checks
Sunlight Foundation

 

The Sunlight Foundation also took a look at how much money senators received from the National Rifle Association during their previous campaign. Baucus, who has an 'A+' rating with the NRA, topped the list among Democrats, accepting $7,450 in 2008. In 2010, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has a 'B' rating, took in $4,950. Joe Manchin, who has an 'A' rating and led compromise efforts on the background check amendment with Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), comes in third with $4,500 in 2012.

Begich and Pryor, who are both up for reelection in 2014, didn't receive any donations from the NRA in 2008. (Begich doesn't have an NRA rating; Pryor's is a 'C-'.) Heitkamp, who has an 'A' rating, didn't receive any NRA cash either during her last campaign; she's not up for reelection until 2018.