Political MoJo

Listen: Radio Ads From America's Pot-Growing Mecca

| Mon Mar. 17, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

No place in America grows as much marijuana as Northern California's Trinity, Mendocino, and Humboldt counties. Backcountry pot farming isn't just a leading industry in the so-called Emerald Triangle; it's pretty much the only industry. As I discovered on a recent road trip to investigate the environmental impacts of large-scale pot farming, nowhere is this more obvious than on the radio. Here's a sampling of actual ads you're likely to hear on the way to your neighbor's bud-trimming party:

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Justice Department Bad Boys: More Than 650 Cases of Misconduct Documented in 12-Year Period

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 8:24 AM PDT

Federal prosecutors, judges, and other officials at the Justice Department committed over 650 acts of professional misconduct in a recent 12-year period, according to a new report published by a DC-based watchdog group, the Project On Government Oversight. POGO investigators came up with the number after reviewing documents put out by the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). According to one little-noticed OPR document published last year, a DOJ attorney failed to disclose a "close personal relationship" with the defendant in a case he was prosecuting, in which he negotiated a plea agreement to release the defendant on bond. An immigration judge also made "disparaging remarks" about foreign nationals. POGO contends that this number is only the tip of the iceberg and OPR needs to release more information about this misconduct to the public.  

"The bottom line is we just don't know how well the Justice Department investigates and disciplines its own attorneys for misconduct when it occurs," says Nick Schwellenbach, a contributor to POGO. "The amount and types of misconduct DOJ's own investigators conclude has happened suggests more [information] should be public than is already, including naming names of offending prosecutors that commit serious misconduct."

OPR is responsible for investigating ethics complaints at the Justice Department, but the office reports directly to the attorney general. POGO argues that this insular system might not be sufficient to provide effective oversight of prosecutor wrongdoing. Last year, for example, two federal judges issued court orders complaining that DOJ attorneys had misled them about the full scale of the NSA's surveillance activities—but OPR was never aware of the complaints and didn't investigate them even though a former OPR attorney said that they should have triggered an inquiry, according to USA Today.

Between fiscal year 2002 and FY2013, of the more than 650 documented cases of DOJ employee misconduct, 400 were characterized as "reckless" or "intentional" by OPR. In OPR's latest report, from FY2012, the office received over 1,000 complaints and other correspondence about Justice Department employees (over half of these complaints came from incarcerated individuals) and opened 123 inquiries and investigations. 

In one case from 2012, a Justice Department attorney falsely told a court that the government didn't have evidence that a key witness suffered from an ongoing mental-health disorder—when the prosecutor did have that evidence, according to OPR. The attorney was suspended for two weeks and the state bar was notified. In another case, an immigration judge presiding over a case where a father and his daughter were fighting removal from the United States was found by OPR to have "engaged in professional misconduct by acting in reckless disregard of his obligation to appear to be fair and impartial" and to have made biased statements against immigrants. The judge was suspended for 30 days

OPR isn't responsible for disciplining employees; that's up to others in the Justice Department. OPR also no longer publicly names Justice Department employees found to be conducting misconduct, although it did so for a brief period during the Clinton presidency. In 2010, the American Bar Association passed a resolution asking the Obama administration to release more information about Justice Department investigations, potentially including names, but so far, not much has changed. 

"The department takes all allegations of attorney misconduct seriously, and that is why the Office of Professional Responsibility thoroughly reviews each case and refers its findings of misconduct to relevant state bar associations when the rules of the state bar are implicated," says a Justice Department spokeswoman. "OPR also regularly provides detailed information on the resolution of complaints to the defense attorneys, judges, and others who send allegations of misconduct to the department."

A bill proposed on Thursday by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) would overhaul how misconduct is investigated at the Justice Department. Right now, only OPR is allowed to look into ethics complaints, instead of the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, which is widely considered to be more independent. The senators' bill would move that authority to the IG's office. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who supports the bill, says: "When Americans pledge to abide by 'liberty and justice for all,' that does not mean that those pursuing justice can creatively apply different standards or break the rules to get convictions—it means that in America everyone is held equally accountable." 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 14, 2014

Fri Mar. 14, 2014 7:12 AM PDT

MAINZ, Germany - Soldiers from U.S. Army Europe assist with the loading of rail cars during USAREUR’s Contingency Command Post (CCP) deployment operations for Saber Guardian 2014. The CCP, established as a rapidly deploying, forward command and control element in support of missions directed by USAREUR, is currently preparing for Saber Guardian 2014. The training, held in the Republic of Bulgaria, is a USAREUR-led multinational exercise designed to strengthen international government agencies and military partnering. The exercise will further strengthen interoperability between NATO and partner nations involved in foreign consequence management operations with U.S. forces and foster trust between regional partner military forces. Personnel from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Turkey and the U.S., as well as representatives from NATO, will participate in the exercise. (U.S. Army Europe photo by Spc. Joshua Leonard)

WATCH: Rand Paul's Big Flip-Flop on Russia

| Fri Mar. 14, 2014 4:59 AM PDT

Earlier this week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) slammed President Barack Obama for not doing enough in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's incursion into Crimea. In a Time op-ed, Paul huffed:

It is our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia's latest aggression.

Putin must be punished for violating the Budapest Memorandum, and Russia must learn that the U.S. will isolate it if it insists on acting like a rogue nation.

This does not and should not require military action. No one in the U.S. is calling for this. But it will require other actions and leadership, both of which President Obama unfortunately lacks.

Paul went on to outline a number of steps he would take, were he president, including imposing economic sanctions and visa bans (which Obama has already implemented), kicking Russia out of the G-8, and building the Keystone XL pipeline. (He did not explain how helping a Canadian firm export tar sands oil would intimidate Putin.) He added, "I would reinstitute the missile-defense shields President Obama abandoned in 2009 in Poland and the Czech Republic." He griped, "The real problem is that Russia's President is not currently fearful or threatened in any way by America's President, despite his country's blatant aggression."

With this article, Paul was eagerly joining the GOP chorus that in recent days has been blasting Obama for being weak and feckless regarding Putin and the Ukraine. That was not surprising. As a politician pondering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, Paul has had to contend with complaints from the GOP's overlapping neocon and establishment wings that he is an isolationist "wacko bird," as Sen. John McCain indelicately put it. Here was a chance to join his party's mainstream in denouncing Obama. Yet to become a member in good standing of the GOP's Get-Obama Brigade, Foreign Policy Division, Paul had to flip-flop.

In April 2009, Paul, on the cusp of launching his Senate campaign, gave a talk to the College Republicans group at Western Kentucky University. He was asked about the large number of US troops stationed overseas by an audience member who said it was "ridiculous" for the United States to maintain permanent military bases in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Paul responded sympathetically: "We're now 60 years in Germany, 60 years in Japan, 50 years in Korea." He defended his father, Ron Paul, for having noted during the 2008 presidential race that there were foreign policy causes for 9/11: "We have to understand there is blowback from our foreign policy."

Arguing for a restrained foreign policy (and smaller military establishment), Paul immediately turned to the subject of Russia's invasion of Georgia the previous year (which these days has often been cited as analogous to the Ukraine crisis).

For example, we have to ask ourselves, "Who needs to be part of NATO? What does NATO need to be at this point?" One of the big things [for] the neocons—the people in the Republican Party sort of on the other side from where I come from—is they want Georgia to be part of NATO. Well, Georgia sits right on the border of Russia. Do you think that might be provocative to put them in NATO? NATO's treaty actually says that if they're attacked, we will defend them. So, if the treaty means something, that means all of a sudden we're at war with Russia. If Georgia would had become, Bush wanted Georgia to become part of NATO, had they been part of NATO, we'd be at war with Russia right now. That's kinda a scary thing. We have to decide whether putting missiles in Poland is gonna provoke the Russians. Maybe not to war, but whether it's worth provoking them, or whether we have the money to do it.

Here's the video:

So when Russia sent troops into Georgia (on George W. Bush's watch), Paul didn't want to provoke Russia by placing missiles in Poland. Yet today, when Russia moves into Ukraine (on Obama's watch), he's all for dispatching missiles to Poland to send a message to Putin. Does Paul care more about Crimea than Georgia? Or does he care more about keeping a foot on the GOP's anti-Obama bandwagon? Paul's office did not respond to a request for comment.

It appears that Paul, an isolationist who doesn't want to be isolated within the GOP, spotted the opportunity to develop some Obama-bashing hawk cred as the presidential campaign nears. "I stand with the people of Ukraine," Paul declares now, though that was not what he said about Georgians. What's changed in the past six years: geopolitics or Paul's own political calculations?

McDonald's Accused of Stealing Wages From Already Underpaid Workers

| Thu Mar. 13, 2014 1:23 PM PDT

Fast food workers make very little money. How little money? Very little money! So little in fact that a single parent of one living in New York City would have to work 144 hours a week "to make a secure yet modest living." But apparently, those wages are not low enough, a group of McDonald's workers allege, to stop the company from also stealing from them.

Wage-theft suits brought against McDonald's this week in Michigan, California, and New York accuse the chain of refusing to pay overtime, ordering people to work off the clock, and straight up erasing hours from timecards. If these allegations are true, and maybe they're not, but maybe they are, then the company has been illegally screwing people who are already being legally screwed.

This is the most recent development in a months-long campaign by fast-food workers pushing for a $15/hour starting wage.

You shouldn't eat fast food because fast food is bad for you but if you do eat fast food (and you will eat fast food at least once in a while because nobody can be perfect all the time), be nice to the people who serve you. They have to fight tooth and nail to make ends meet.

Could you make it on fast food wages? Here's a depressing calculator. (Spoiler: Probably not!)
 

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The Fed Was Supposed to Rein In Its Bailout Powers. Instead It Did This.

| Thu Mar. 13, 2014 9:05 AM PDT
Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen at a House hearing in February.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Federal Reserve—the US central bank tasked with regulating unemployment and inflation—handed out an unprecedented $20 trillion in super-low interest loans to failing Wall Street banks. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law required the Fed to restrict its emergency lending powers so that too-big-to-fail banks don't expect the central bank to dole out easy money again in the event of another financial crisis. The Fed waited over three years to craft regulations to comply with the Dodd-Frank provision, and now it has finally drafted rules to limit its bailout powers, financial reform advocates say the restrictions are far too weak.

Dodd-Frank says that any future emergency lending by the Fed can't be used to bail out insolvent firms, has to be backed by good collateral, and can't go to a single institution. The law also imposes time limits on the Fed's emergency loans to banks. The draft rule that the Federal Reserve released in late December (before current Fed chair Janet Yellen was confirmed) misses the mark on all these requirements, Marcus Stanley, the policy director for the advocacy group Americans for Financial Reform (AFR) said in a letter to the Fed this week, adding that though the rule "complies with the letter of the law, it does not fulfill the spirit of the Congressional mandate," which intended to significantly restrict the Fed's bailout abilities.

"The rule mostly reiterates the language of [Dodd-Frank]," Stanley says. "And the drafters take advantage of every opportunity to interpret the statute in ways that minimize limits on emergency lending authority."

Instead of limiting the Fed's emergency lending powers to temporary cash assistance as it is supposed to, the draft rule imposes no clear time limit on how long a big bank may remain dependent on Fed largesse. And the draft regulation defines "solvency" with far too broad a brush, according to AFR. The proposed rule does not require the Fed to assess if a potential borrower's liabilities exceed the value of its assets.

While the emergency lending rule would ban loans to a single institution, it would still allow the creation of loan programs that lend to, say, three or four of the largest banks, while allowing smaller banks to flounder.

The Fed's draft emergency lending rule does not even set an interest rate at which loans will be extended, a provision that would help to limit the "moral hazard" of easy money, AFR notes. And the rule is unclear as to how it would value borrowers' collateral.

The Fed declined to comment. But last year, former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke dismissed concerns that the central bank had not yet drafted a rule limiting its emergency lending powers, insisting that the language in the Dodd-Frank law was sufficient. "I think that [Dodd-Frank] is very clear about what we can and cannot do. And I don't think that the absence of a formal rule would allow us to do something which the law prohibits," including bailing out an individual firm, or lending to an insolvent bank, he said at a House hearing in July.

The Fed is currently accepting public comment on its emergency lending rule, so it is possible that reformers may win some victories before a final rule is put in place. Though the lobbying clout of the financial industry vastly outweighs that of pro-reform groups.

Before the Fed finally drafted its emergency lending rules, financial reformers said the central bank was likely dragging its feet because it didn't want to cede some of its authority over the financial world. This latest lukewarm effort to rein in its bailout abilities makes it seem like that may be the case.

"There are two ways to keep the economy on an even keel," AFR's Stanley told me last July. "Through clear, transparent rules that treat everyone the same—which is pretty challenging, and involves taking on a lot of interests." Or, he says, "you get to create a whole bunch of money out of nothing and you can hand it out wherever the problem is… It's easier to have this magic power."

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Mitch Albom Becomes an Issue in Michigan House Primary

| Thu Mar. 13, 2014 7:59 AM PDT

According to a conservative PAC, Republican House candidate David Trott is one of the five people you meet in Hell. Trott, who is challenging first-term GOP Rep. Kerry Bentivolio in the GOP primary for Michigan's 11th district, runs a law firm that specializes in mortgage foreclosures. In a new ad, a Virginia-based group called Freedom's Defense Fund highlights a foreclosure Trott's firm processed in 2011 that left a 101-year-old homeowner, Texana Hollis, out on the street:

The eviction highlighted in the ad came about after the woman's son fell behind on his property tax payments and ignored repeated warnings. But there was a happy ending: Detroit Free-Press columnist and airport bookstore king Mitch Albom bought the house and transferred it back to Hollis.

As I reported in January, Trott has a hand in every step of the foreclosure process—he even owns the newspaper where foreclosure notices are required to be posted. But while the ad itself is brutal, it probably won't do much damage, because Freedom's Defense Fund is only spending $15,000 to run it on local cable channels. That's consistent with a group that spends much of the money it raises paying Washington-area direct-mail outfits. Of the $1.6 million FDF spent in 2013, just $120,000 went toward candidates or independent expenditures. As Think Progress notes, $1.2 million went to fundraising services, which means the PAC is spending most of the money it raises on raising more money.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 13, 2014

Thu Mar. 13, 2014 7:05 AM PDT

Lance Cpl. Steven T. Peterson, a machine gunner with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division and part of Black Sea Rotational Force 14, subdues a simulated enemy during a mechanical arm control holds course after being exposed to oleoresin capsicum spray on Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania, March 5, 2014. The Marines were directly exposed to the OC spray, then instructed to complete a course with different stations which required them to execute different take down techniques on a simulated enemy combatant. Black Sea Rotational Force 14 is a contingent of Marines to maintain positive relations with partner nations, regional stability and increase interoperability while providing the capability for rapid crisis response, as directed by U.S. European Command, in the Black Sea, Balkan and Caucus regions of Eastern Europe. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Scott W. Whiting/Released)

Guns May Soon Be Everywhere in Georgia

| Thu Mar. 13, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

Update March 21, 2014 4:15 p.m. EDT: Last night, in the final minutes of its annual legislative session, the Georgia House passed a bill with the "guns everywhere" bill attached; HB 60 now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk for a signature. The state Senate had sent the bill back to the House with a few minor amendments earlier in the week; Among the tweaks was a provision allowing religious leaders to decide whether guns may be carried in their houses of worship; the fine for not respecting those wishes can be no more than $100. Another change permits the use of silencers while hunting on some public land and on private property if the owners approve.

Otherwise, the final bill was largely the same as the one previously passed by the House. A copy of the final bill is not yet available, but according to the list of Senate amendments, changes were not made to sections providing for the expansion of Stand Your Ground. Opponents of the bill say the SYG provisions would allow convicted felons or others using guns illegally to claim a Stand Your Ground defense. 

If Gov. Deal signs the bill, it will go into effect on July 1. "We expect Governor Deal to sign the bill as he has always stated that he will sign any pro 2A [2nd Amendment] bill that reaches his desk," the pro-gun group Georgia Carry stated on its website this morning. Deal has an A rating from the National Rifle Association.

Soon gun owners in the state of Georgia may be allowed to pack heat almost anywhere—including K-12 schools, bars, churches, government buildings, and airports. The "Safe Carry Protection Act" (HB 875) would also expand Georgia's Stand Your Ground statute, the controversial law made famous by the Trayvon Martin killing, which allows armed citizens to defend themselves with deadly force if they believe they are faced with serious physical harm.

The bill could pass as soon as next week, before the current legislative session ends March 20. It is the latest effort in the battle over gun laws that continues to rage in statehouses around the country. It is perhaps also the most extreme yet. "Of all the bills pending right now in state legislatures, this is the most sweeping and most dangerous," Laura Cutiletta, a staff attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told PolitiFact. Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun reform advocacy group founded by former congresswoman Gabby Giffords after she was shot in the head, has deemed it the "guns everywhere" bill. For its part, the National Rifle Association recently called HB 875 "the most comprehensive pro-gun reform legislation introduced in recent state history."

In addition to overturning current state laws and dramatically rolling back concealed-carry restrictions, HB 875 would loosen other gun regulations in the state. The law would:

  • Remove the fingerprinting requirement for gun license renewals
  • Prohibit the state from keeping a gun license database
  • Tighten the state's preemption statute, which restricts local governments from passing gun laws that conflict with state laws
  • Repeal the state licensing requirement for firearms dealers (requiring only a federal firearms license)
  • Expand gun owner rights in a declared state of emergency by prohibiting government authorities from seizing, registering, or otherwise limiting the carrying of guns in any way permitted by law before the emergency was declared
  • Limit the governor's emergency powers by repealing the ability to regulate the sale of firearms during a declared state of emergency
  • Lower the age to obtain a concealed-carry license from 21 to 18 for active-duty military and honorably discharged veterans who've completed basic training
  • Prohibit detaining someone for the sole purpose of checking whether they have a gun license

The sweeping bill would also expand the state's Stand your Ground law into an "absolute" defense for the use of deadly force in self-protection. "Defense of self or others," the bills reads "shall be an absolute defense to any violation under this part." In its current wording, the bill would even allow individuals who possess a gun illegally—convicted felons, for example—to still claim a Stand Your Ground defense.

In a Radical Shift, California Police Chiefs Push for Regulation of Medical Marijuana

| Thu Mar. 13, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, but like the pimply-faced stoner dude you may have known in high school, it hasn't had the healthiest of relationships with Mary Jane. The Golden State differs from most others with medical pot laws in that it doesn't actually regulate production and sale of the herb. Instead, it lets cities and counties enact their own laws—though in practice most haven't. The result has been the Wild West of weed: Almost any adult can score a scrip and some bud from a local dispensary, assuming, of course, that it hasn't yet been raided and shut down by the feds. 

But all of that might be about to change. The California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) recently announced support for a bill that would put the state in the business of regulating the medical pot trade. Though you'd think cops would have pushed for such a thing decades ago, the reality is quite the opposite: The CPCA and other law enforcement organizations have, until now, opposed pretty much every reform to California's medical marijuana system for fear that anything short of completely abolishing it would legitimize it.

"With no regulations, you get your doors kicked in."

The CPCA's change of heart "is a huge for us," says Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, the state's marijuana industry trade group. Bradley agrees with his police adversaries that tighter regs would legitimize medical marijuana, which is why the CCIA has pushed for them since the group's inception four years ago. Bolstering his case, the US Department of Justice last year announced that it would no longer raid dispensaries in states that it believes are regulating them adequately—a formulation that seemed to exclude California. New rules issued last month by the Obama administration allow banks to accept funds from pot dealers, but only if they're licensed in the state where they operate.

So why are California's drug warriors reversing course? "We could no longer ignore that the political landscape on this issue was shifting," the CPCA explained in a letter written jointly with the League of California Cities. Polls and changing federal policies suggest that medical pot reform "could be enacted," and that "without our proactive intervention, it could take a form that was severely damaging to our interests."

The bill that law enforcement groups are backing, SB 1262, is flawed, but it's something that "we can work with," says Bradley, who previously worked as a cop in California's Yuba County. Advocates of medical pot don't like how the bill constrains the ability of doctors to recommend marijuana, outlaws potent pot concentrates such as hash oil, and puts regulation in the hands of the Department of Public Health, rather than the Department of Alcoholic Beverages Control.