Mojo - March 2014

GOP Gov. Rick Scott Raising Big Bucks With Founder of Abusive Teen Boot Camps

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 2:16 PM EDT

This Thursday, a who's who of Florida big shots will hold a private, $1,000-a-head fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott's reelection effort, led by a host committee that includes Mel Sembler, the founder of a notorious substance abuse rehab program that folded after allegations of extreme abuse were lodged against several of its facilities.

The program, Straight Inc., was founded in 1976 by Sembler, a developer, and his wife, Betty. In the 17 years that it operated drug treatment centers, Straight Inc. was plagued by news reports and at least one civil suit claiming that its staff kidnapped its adult patients and mentally, physically, and sexually abused their underage charges. Two state investigations substantiated reports of abuse.

Straight Inc. officials consistently denied these allegations. Sembler's biography on the Sembler Company website hails Straight Inc. as having "successfully graduated more than 12,000 young people nationwide from its remarkable program." Sembler, it adds, "is nationally recognized as an activist in the anti-drug campaign." Sembler could not be reached for comment.

Critics paints a much darker picture. "Children had to flap their arms like chickens or else face shaming as 'sluts' and homosexuals," John Gorenfeld reported in the May 2006 issue of Mother Jones. "Hundreds of Straight alums now claim they were scarred for life, among them Samantha Monroe, who was enrolled in 1980…and claims she was starved, raped, and confined in a closet."

Sembler is a longtime Republican fundraiser. He's already donated $25,000 to Scott's reelection PAC. And even after abuse allegations against Straight Inc. were widespread, the program enjoyed public support from many high-profile GOP figures. In 1985, Nancy Reagan brought Princess Diana to a Straight Inc. facility in Virginia—two years after a jury found that staff from that facility had kidnapped a college student. In his inaugural address, President George H.W. Bush celebrated Straight Inc. as one of a "thousand points of light" that exemplified stewardship. In 1993, the year that Straight Inc.'s last drug treatment facility closed, Sembler was serving as a US ambassador; he had been appointed by the elder Bush.

Straight Inc. staffers were alleged to have abused clients at a number of clinics. After Monroe escaped a Straight Inc. program in Florida at age 13, she says, Straight Inc. staff hog-tied her, brought her back to the facility, and placed her in a "timeout room." "Monroe had no choice but to soil her pants with urine, feces and menstrual blood," a 2002 St. Petersburg Times article reported. "She says Straight staffers called this punishment 'humble pants.'" Soon, a staffer began raping her, the Times reported, and she became pregnant at age 14.

In 1989, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse released a damning report of Straight Inc.'s Dallas-area Straight Inc. clinic. "The report said that clients were tied up with rope and with an automobile towing strap to prevent escape, that clients were physically restrained for minor infractions such as 'failure to sit up properly,' and that bedrooms were overcrowded and furnished with 'containers to be used for urination,'" the Times reported. Citing the huge need for drug treatment facilities in Texas, the commission allowed Straight Inc. to remain open, pending oversight and changes to its program.

In 1990, the California Department of Social Services ordered Straight Inc.'s Yorba Linda facility to close after investigators said they substantiated several complaints of abuse. According to these complaints, Straight Inc. staff had subjected children in their care to "unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threats, mental abuse…and interference with daily living functions such as eating, sleeping and toileting."

In 1983, Straight made undisclosed financial settlements with two Florida women, Arletha Luann Schautteet and Hope Yvonne Hyrons, who claimed that they had been kidnapped by employees of a Straight Inc. facility in Florida and imprisoned there. In a sworn statement, Hyrons, 19, said she was abducted from a gas station, physically prevented from leaving the Straight Inc. facility, and strip-searched. That same year, a judge awarded 20-year-old Fred Collins $220,000 after a jury found that he had been detained against his will at a Straight Inc. facilities in Virginia and St. Petersburg in 1982. An appellate court later denied Straight Inc.'s appeal. Schautteet and Hyrons testified on Collins' behalf, according to the Washington Post, repeating the allegations they made against Straight Inc. prior to their financial settlements.

Straight Inc. repeatedly denied allegations of abuse and kidnapping. A Straight Inc. clinical director told the St. Petersburg Times that Hyrons "has a history of pathological lying…the girl is just playing scapegoat kind of games." After complaints about the Yorba Linda program led to its closing, a Straight counselor told the Los Angeles Times that he had "never seen anyone tormented." "Some kids get very upset and lie and some parents believe them," he said. Reacting to the jury verdict for Collins, a Straight Inc. clinical director told the Washington Post that the outcome was "unfair" and "really scary…It means that every time I or any other staff member tries to help a young person, we'll have to be frightened of the legal consequences."

In 1991, after Virginia state officials stripped that Straight Inc. facility of its license, the operation moved to Maryland. State officials in Maryland spent hundreds of hours investigating abuse allegations before licensing Straight Inc., in an agreement which noted that investigators "found no truth to any of the allegations." In response to the Texas commission report, staff at the Dallas-area Straight Inc. program pointed out that they had fired at least one offending staff member whose actions were highlighted in the report, who had gagged a patient with a Kotex pad. By the time that Monroe made allegations against Straight Inc., the program no longer existed.

After Straight Inc. closed, the education arm of Sembler's organization lived on as a new program named the Drug Free American Foundation, which still exists today. Sembler, after serving as ambassador, continued to fundraise for prominent Republicans, including Mitt Romney. He also hosted an event to raise money for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's legal defense fund when the former Bush White House aide was on trial for perjury.

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GOP Sens. Cruz and Kirk Solicit Americans' Obamacare Horror Stories, Get Success Stories Instead

| Tue Apr. 1, 2014 10:42 AM EDT

Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a huge Obamacare foe, took to Facebook to ask Americans how the president's healthcare law is treating them. But the responses he received didn't line up with his own claim that "millions of people... are hurting because of Obamacare." When Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) made a similar call for Obamacare fail stories, he had bad luck too. Perhaps they shouldn't have been surprised. This week, support for the Affordable Care Act hit a new high of 49 percent. And on Tuesday, following the deadline for Americans to enroll in health insurance on the exchanges during the first six month window, the administration announced it is on track to achieve its original goal of providing coverage to 7 million Americans.

Here is Cruz's call for Obamacare tales:

Here are some of the responses. (There are 47,904, so I couldn't read them all, but of the first few dozen, only one response was negative.)

Here's what Kirk tweeted over the weekend:

Here are some of the responses:

How About a Dolores Huerta Day?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2014 7:38 PM EDT

March 31 is Cesar Chavez's birthday and a national holiday honoring his pioneering activism (which is the subject of a new feature film) around farm-workers rights. He is perhaps best known as a founder of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), now the United Farm Workers, a labor union. His cofounder Dolores Huerta, though still alive, is not nearly as well known. So who is she? Born in 1930 and raised in Stockton, California, Huerta, who is portrayed by Rosario Dawson in the Chavez film, has been arrested more than 20 times during peaceful protests, and is still out on the front lines taking part in civil rights actions. Here are five things you should know about her.

1. She's the mother of the farm-workers movement.
After quitting her teaching job in 1955, Huerta helped register people to vote and became an organizer in the Community Service Organization, a Mexican-American association in California where Cesar Chavez was the statewide director. The pair eventually branched off, in 1962, to found the NFWA, and the rest is history.

2. She was instrumental in winning key protections for workers.
Only a year after launching the NFWA, Huerta secured disability insurance for California farm workers, and was central in the creation of the Aid for Dependent Families, a federal assistance program that stayed in effect until 1996.

3. She led a historic boycott against the grape industry.
In 1965, a group of Filipino workers went on strike for better working conditions, a cause that became known as the "Delano Grape Strike." Huerta suggested to Chavez that the National Farm Workers Association boycott all California table grapes in support of Filipino workers. In 1970, the grape industry signed an agreement that increased wages and improved working conditions.

4. She originated the phrase, "Si se puede."
Translated as "Yes we can," this expression should be familiar to anyone who's ever attended a labor protest in California. Although it is often misattributed to Chavez, Huerta told Makers that she came up with it. "It's important for women to be able to take credit for the work that they do," she said.

5. She helped put Latinas in power.
After a life-threatening assault by a police officer at a protest rally when she was 58, Huerta took a leave from the union to focus on the women's movement. She campaigned across the country for two years as part of the Feminist Majority's project to encourage Latinas to run for office. According to Huerta's website, it had a significant affect on the number of women in government.

So, Happy Cesar Chavez Day, and don't forget to give Huerta her due! Here's a trailer for the film:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 31, 2014

Mon Mar. 31, 2014 10:55 AM EDT

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Justin A. Green rappels down 50-foot tower March 18 during the first day of the three-day Mountain Warfare Training Course at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Pohang, Republic of Korea. During the training, ROK Marines instructed U.S. Marines in Australian rappelling which is used as a military assault technique where the Marine faces down the descent and is positioned to fire a weapon downwards. Green is a field radio operator with 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Cedric R. Haller II/Released)

Gay Marriage Is Now Legal in England & Wales

| Sat Mar. 29, 2014 10:18 AM EDT

Same-sex couples can now legally marry in England and Wales. Parliament had passed the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act last July, but because of various implementation deadlines, it wasn't until today that couples could actually wed. Prime minister David Cameron heralded the change by writing: "Put simply, in Britain it will no longer matter whether you are straight or gay—the State will recognize your relationship as equal."

The Church of England, which was created in 1534 because King Henry VIII thought the Catholic Church was too conservative about traditional marriage, has also softened its stance. Though the church leadership had originally announced plans to forbid clergy from performing same-sex marriages, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said Friday night that it would no longer oppose gay marriage among Anglicans. "The law's changed; we accept the situation," he told the BBC.

A recent BBC poll found 68% of Britons accepting of gay marriage, so the Church's shift may not be unexpected. However, the church has said that it won't allow clergy themselves to enter into same sex partnerships because "getting married to someone of the same sex would clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England," which seems a bit like they're saying, "Ok, you can get gay married and be ok with your friends and family who get gay married because you like Jesus but you don't like like Jesus. If you like like Jesus, you can't get gay married because gay marriage is still against God's plan."

But anyway, the church issue aside, good for England. Good for Wales. Equality was long overdue in Albion as it is everywhere. (Scotland recently passed legislation to legalize gay marriage by the autumn as well.)

Mazel tov!

 

Washington NFL Team's New Native American Foundation Is Already Off to a Great Start

| Fri Mar. 28, 2014 3:27 PM EDT

The CEO of the Washington football team's recently unveiled Original Americans Foundation also runs an organization that was criticized in a federal investigation for wasting nearly $1 million and providing "no benefit" after receiving a Bureau of Indian Affairs contract.

Gary Edwards, who was announced as head of the team's foundation this week, is CEO of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association. In 2009, the NNALEA won a contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to "recruit for and hire critically needed law enforcement officers (police, corrections, and criminal investigator positions) to work in Indian Country." According to a 2012 investigation into the contract, first reported by USA Today, NNALEA produced 748 applicants for law enforcement positions—only about 4 percent of which were Native American. Even worse, not a single applicant was qualified, meaning the $967,100 in funds amounted to absolutely nothing.

The investigation mostly comes down hard on Bureau of Indian Affairs officials for allowing Edwards to negotiate the terms of the contract into something essentially useless. While the contract's original language called for "500 qualified Native American law enforcement applicants," according to the investigation, it was later modified to "500 pre-screened potential applicants," effectively removing the requirements that the NNALEA provide applicants who are Native American and qualified for law enforcement jobs. In its invoices to the Bureau, NNALEA reported holding a recruiting event at the 2009 Crow Fair Celebration and placing ads in South Dakota's Aberdeen News, though according to the investigation an official who attended the fair saw no recruiting booth or NNALEA representatives, and the Aberdeen News had no record of NNALEA ever ordering the ads.

"The NNALEA believes it met and exceeded all of its obligations under the contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Office of Justice Services, and subsequently was paid after the contract was completed," Edwards said in a statement released Thursday night.

See the full investigation below:

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 28, 2014

Fri Mar. 28, 2014 10:10 AM EDT

Spc. Sergio Depena and Pfc. John Conley, Company B, 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment, Massachusetts Army National Guard, carry out a fire mission using 60 mm mortars at Joint Base Dix-McGuaire-Lakehurst, NJ on March 21, 2014. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class James C. Lally, Massachusetts National Guard Public Affairs /Released)

In Defense of Scott Brown, Carpetbagger

| Fri Mar. 28, 2014 7:41 AM EDT
Illustration: Thomas Nast/Library of Congress; Scott Brown: Seamas Culligan/ZUMA

Scott Brown has a carpetbagging problem. On Monday, the former Republican senator from Massachusetts—who is now running for Senate in New Hampshire—defended his Granite State bona fides by taking a page from Lisa Simpson: "Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. 'Cause, you know, whatever."

At this point, it's the rare Brown story that doesn't at least allude to the dreaded C-word. "Carpetbagger or Comeback Kid?" asked the Washington Examiner's Rebecca Berg. "Scott Brown's first hurdle in the Granite State will be addressing the carpetbagging charge," argued US News & World Report's David Catanese. Respondents to a March poll from Suffolk University, a plurality of whom disapproved of Brown, used words like "carpetbagger" and "interloper" to describe the ex-senator. His opponent in the Republican primary, former Sen. Bob Smith, has even offered to buy Brown a road map to the state—although Smith has run for Senate in Florida twice in the last decade.

If Brown wants to go back to Washington next winter, he should probably come up with a better response than "whatever." But his critics in Washington have it all wrong. For more than a century, carpetbaggers have gotten a bad rap for all the wrong reasons.

5 Things You Need to Know About Obama's NSA Proposal

| Fri Mar. 28, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

On Thursday, the White House released its proposal to end the National Security Agency's bulk collection program, which hoovers up the phone records of millions of Americans. Currently, the NSA stores Americans' phone metadata (which doesn't include the content of calls) for five years. Under the President's new proposal, phone companies will instead be tasked with holding onto this data, which will they will store for 18 months. Additionally, the government would only be allowed to query these records if it gets approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, though the president's plan includes an exemption for as-yet-unspecified "emergency" situations. Here are five more things you need to know about the President's proposal: 

1. It only addresses the bulk collection of phone records. 

The collection of telephone records has gotten a lot of attention from Congress—but documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have revealed many other controversial surveillance programs. Last October, for instance, the Washington Post reported that the NSA had broken Google and Yahoo's encryption and was siphoning millions of their users records into the agency's data centers. In a press call on Thursday with civil liberties groups, privacy experts argued that President Obama should make additional reforms that address these other alleged surveillance programs. "Our phone records are sensitive, but so are our financial records, Internet information, email data," said Michelle Richardson, the ACLU's legislative counsel. "It reveals who we know, where we go, what we do, what we think and what we believe, and those sorts of records need just as much protection."

2. Phone companies aren't too psyched about Obama's plan, so the administration might compensate them. 

On Thursday, Verizon announced that it opposes aspects of the plan. "If Verizon receives a valid request for business records, we will respond in a timely way, but companies should not be required to create, analyze or retain records for reasons other than business purposes," Randal Milch, Verizon's general counsel and executive vice president for public policy, said in a statement. In a call with reporters on Thurday, White House officials emphasized that the administration has been meeting with phone companies to come up with a workable solution, which could potentially include compensating them for their efforts. "I certainly would envision, consistent with what the government does today with respect to compensating phone companies and others for their production of records in response to lawful court process, I think we would see a similar approach," said a senior administration official. 

3. The plan is still missing a lot of key details. 

According to a press release issued by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York School of Law on Thursday, the Obama administration has yet to "identify the standard that the government must meet to obtain a court order, beyond a vague reference to 'national security concerns.' Nor does the fact sheet identify any limits on the government's ability to keep and search the records it obtains, which will necessarily include large amounts of information about innocent Americans." In the White House press, a reporter asked senior administration officials how long the NSA could keep querying data once it had obtained a court order. An official responded: "I'm not going to presuppose what that time period would be right now." 

4. Obama could end the program now if he wanted to, but he's waiting for Congress to act.

President Obama could end the NSA's bulk collection program without congressional approval, but he's choosing not to. A senior White House official said on Thursday, "The President believes the government should no longer collect and hold the bulk [telephone] metadata. He's also got a responsibility as commander-in-chief to ensure that we maintain the capabilities of this program, and he wants to see it done in a way that also responds to the concerns that have been identified and to create a program and have a discussion about it, and have legislation that would promote confidence in our intelligence-gathering activities." 

5. There are competing bills to end the program. Privacy advocates hate one of them. 

On Thursday, privacy advocates took issue with the NSA reform bill introduced this week by members of the House intelligence committee. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), ends the bulk collection program, but doesn't require strict judicial review before the NSA queries phone companies for their customers' records. President Obama's proposal, in contrast, does require this review. The ACLU's Richardson notes that the Rogers-Ruppersberger plan would allow the FBI and other agencies to directly demand information from companies. "It's not a fix, it's not even a half-measure," she said. Privacy advocates support the USA Freedom Act, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), which includes more civil liberties protections. 

Donald Rumsfeld: Up Close and Creepy

| Thu Mar. 27, 2014 3:49 PM EDT

Not too long into Errol Morris' new documentary on Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known, the viewer learns almost all he or she needs to know about the former defense secretary who helped President George W. Bush lead the nation into war in Iraq. After a short recap of the initial US military action in Afghanistan following the horrific September 11 attacks, Morris notes that a "confusion" set in, with many Americans believing Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, was involved in 9/11. Morris puts this to Rumsfeld during the Q&A that makes up the spine of the film. Rumsfeld, in his familiar know-it-all way, dismisses the premise: "I don't think the American people were confused about that." Morris, who is not on screen, counters by citing a 2003 poll showing that 69 percent of Americans said it was "likely" that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the assault. Rumsfeld responds, "I don't remember anyone in the Bush administration saying anything like that, nor do I recall anyone believing that."

Really? Rumsfeld is not acknowledging a known known. Within hours of the Al Qaeda attack, according to now-public memos, Rumsfeld was asking if Saddam Hussein could be hit in response, and for weeks afterward, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, repeatedly said during administration meetings that the Iraqi leader might have been behind the 9/11 plot. As Michael Isikoff and I noted in Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Wolfowitz sent memos to Rumsfeld asserting that Saddam may have played a critical role.

Morris doesn't cover any of this, but he exposes Rumsfeld in a different and effective way—with Rumsfeld's own words. Immediately after Rumsfeld tells Morris he has no clue how any American got the impression Saddam was tied to 9/11, Morris inserts video from a Rumsfeld press conference at the Pentagon in early February 2003. Saddam had recently declared that he possessed no weapons of mass destruction and had no relationship with Al Qaeda. A reporter asks Rumsfeld to respond. "Abraham Lincoln was short," Rumsfeld says curtly—and no more. The reporter, not satisfied with this all-too-cute answer, presses Rumsfeld for more, and the secretary obliges: "How does one respond to that? It's a continuous pattern. It's the local liar…He almost never, rarely tells the truth."

With this response, Rumsfeld was certainly bolstering the notion that Saddam was part of the 9/11 scheme. Yet now he plays dumb. And, thus, nothing else he says in the documentary can be taken at face value. This is a fellow who either is not as smart as he thinks or not perceptive enough to handle the hard truths.

Of course, after the invasion of Iraq—which Rumsfeld had sold on false pretenses—it was clear that Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush-Cheney crew had failed to prepare adequately for the occupation, in what was one of the dumbest moves in US military history. In this film, Rumsfeld hardly comes to terms with all that. (Ditto the 100,000-plus civilian Iraqi deaths caused by the war—though he does choke up while talking about one American soldier wounded in Iraq who pulled through.) That's no surprise. Neither is Rumsfeld's cocky attitude—which was often on full display during his matinee press conferences at the Pentagon. Yet throughout the engaging film, Rumsfeld, as he did during his decades in government, hides behind a creepy sort of profundity. At one point, Morris cites Rumsfeld's belief in the notion that "if you wish for peace, prepare for war" and notes that "you can use that to justify anything." Rumsfeld responds by citing one of his "Rumsfeld rules": "All generalizations are false—including this one." He then offers a thin smile, chuckles, and adds, "There it is."

Yes, the zen of Donald Rumsfeld, which is merely camouflage for stupid mistakes that caused mayhem and death. That much is certainly known.