Political MoJo

Suddenly Very Important Abramoff Goes to Prison NOW

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 6:49 PM EST

A Florida judge who has granted federal prosecutors several delays in the actual incarceration of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, so prosecutors can continue their investigation of corrupt members of Congress, has had enough, quite frankly. He has unexpectedly ordered Abramoff to report to a prison tomorrow, and it looks like it's for real. Abramoff's convict profile page on the Federal Bureau of Prisons website has him labeled as "in transit."

A ploy by Republican overlords to hamper the investigation of vulnerable Republicans, you say? Wrong! Says ABC's "The Note":

Sources close to the investigation say Abramoff has provided information on his dealings with and campaign contributions and gifts to "dozens of members of Congress and staff," including what Abramoff has reportedly described as "six to eight seriously corrupt Democratic senators."

For Mother Jones on the Abramoff saga, see Barry Yeoman's "Fall of a True Believer."

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Robo-Calls May Have Swung FL-13

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 6:33 PM EST

Florida's 13th congressional district was home to the one of the closest races in the midterms. Election night results put the count at 119,102 for the Republican Vernon Buchanan and 118,729 for the Democrat Christine Jennings. That's a difference of 373 votes -- small enough for a recount, which was launched yesterday.

As TPM reports, "The fight will center around the district's Sarasota County, where the electronic machines did not register a vote in the Congressional race for 18,000 voters." Because 53% of voters in Sarasota County voted for the Democrat, a correct counting of votes would have won the district for Jennings, the Democrat, by about 600 votes.

But, frankly, the lost votes shouldn't matter. The Jennings campaign got broadsided by the Republicans' dirty robo-calling operation late in the race. As previously mentioned, the robo-calls are automated calls made to likely voters that carry information about a local candidate. The GOP ones late in the campaign season were particularly insidious because they were "false-flag" robo-calls, lending the impression that they were from the Democratic candidate instead of the Republican. Because a person who hung up on the call would assume they were from the Democrat, and then get called back six or seven or eight times, the overall effect was possibly thousands of voters furious with the local Democrat. See this quote from the Herald Tribune:

"They bugged us with their phone calls something terrible," said Betty, who voted for Buchanan because "with all her calls, Jennings, Jennings, Jennings, I wouldn't have voted for that woman if she were the only one running."

These things were pretty much unavoidable. TPM has the numbers: In the last three weeks of the election, the Republicans paid almost $60,000 for robo-calls against Jennings, enough for somewhere between 400,000 and 1.2 million calls in the district.

Remember, Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones was the first to this story.

MoJo "Hero" Wins California Peace Prize

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 5:40 PM EST

The California Wellness Foundation announced its annual Peace Prize winners this week, and Anthony Thigpenn, who runs a policy education nonprofit in South Los Angeles, is one of this year's winners. Thigpenn has been neighborhood organizing and educating communities on the ins and outs of public policy for more than 30 years, and MoJo knows so. Back in 1982 the magazine featured Thigpenn as one of our "Heroes for Hard Times," for his work as a community organizer in what was then South Central..

The Peace Prize, in its 14th year, awards $25,000 to three activists each year who have shown extraordinary commitment to prevent violence and promote peace in their communities. Other recipients this year are Sahra Abdi, who teaches Somali and African refugees and immigrants in San Diego, and Margaret Diaz, a former victim of domestic violence who established a shelter and transitional housing program for women and children also in Southern California. Find out more about the award and the foundation at their website.

Is Wal-Mart Rolling Back Organic?

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 5:32 PM EST

Last spring, Wal-Mart made a huge public relations bonanza out of its plan to sell organic produce and dairy products. Now, admittedly, it's easy to nitpick at the retail giant. But is it nitpicking to object to their systematic mislabeling of conventional products as organic? The Cornucopia Institute, a watchdog group of the organic industry, has accused Wal-Mart of labeling—and pricing—conventional produce and "all natural" dairy products, such as Stonyfield Farm yogurt, as organic in its stores in several states. The Institute says the violations continued even after it wrote a letter to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott alerting him to the problem. Organic producers can't just hang up a sign, as the mega-retailer has done, calling their produce organic. They must adhere to strict production standards for three years before they earn the right to call themselves organic—and to demand the correspondingly higher price.

Al Jazeera English Debuts Tomorrow

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 5:28 PM EST

After many false starts, Al Jazeera reports that its English-language service is ready to launch tomorrow. The new channel will feature some old journalism hands, such as as former ABC correspondent Dave Marash and BBC vet David Frost. It will also introduce a newly minted correspondent, Josh Rushing, better known as the sympathetic Marine PR flack from the 2004 documentary "Control Room." Our Dan Schulman just profiled him in our current issue. Check it out. The Pentagon has, so far, not announced any plans to bomb your local cable affiliate.

(And check out Rushing's new website: Looks like someone just got his honorary kaffiyeh from the Anderson Cooper Correspondence School for Correspondents.)

The Infuriating Judy Miller

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 3:38 PM EST

What to do with former NY Times reporter Judy Miller? In a speech to Kansas State students, Miller made several commonsense points about secrecy in government. From the Topeka Capital-Journal:

[Miller] said the balance between national security and civil liberties has been tipped, allowing the Bush administration to become secretive about its decisions, intrusive into public lives and reluctant to share information the public has a right to know..."We are less free and less safe," she said.

Right on. But then there's this gem, which comes during a fret about weakening standards of journalism:

"I'm worried about bloggers," she said. "(A post) starts as a rumor and within 24 hours it's repeated as fact."

Let's talk about standards of journalism, shall we? Judy Miller repeatedly pushed questionable intelligence -- most of which turned out to be false -- on the front pages of the New York Times, influencing public debate on the question of whether or not to go to war. Because Miller was at best a careerist blinded by phenomenal access who simply didn't ask enough questions and at worst the knowing crony of a dishonest administration, the influences exerted on that debate were exactly the ones the Bush Administration, trying to make a case for an unsupportable war to an unconvinced public, wanted. Miller then went to jail, supposedly to protect the first amendment rights of journalists, while actually protecting the reputation and career of a crook of a source (but reliable for high-level leaks!) bent on destroying the reputation and career of a husband-wife team opposed to the administration's policies.

So, yeah, keeping fighting the good fight, Judy.

From the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline, an example of Judy Miller's role in leading a nation to war.

December 20, 2001: New York Times reporter Judith Miller writes a front-page story for the paper titled "AN IRAQI DEFECTOR TELLS OF WORK ON AT LEAST 20 HIDDEN WEAPONS SITES." The source is a man delivered to Miller by Ahmed Chalabi. The man failed a CIA polygraph test before the article came out, and his claims were discredited by informed intelligence experts. The polygraph is not mentioned in Miller's story. "Government experts" call his information "reliable and significant."

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Senate Global Warming Deniers Target Kids' Book

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 3:36 PM EST
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The Senate Committe on Environment and Public Works, chaired by global warming-denier James Inhofe, is up in arms over a kids' book. The book, Tore and the Town on Thin Ice, was created by the U.N. to bring the depressing message of manmade climate change to young readers. The committee's resident children's book reviewer summarizes:

The book is about a young boy named Tore [rhymes with "Gore?"] who lives in an Arctic village. Tore loses a dog sled race because he crashes through the thinning ice allegedly caused by manmade greenhouse gas emissions. The book features colorful drawings and large text to appeal to young children.

After the boy loses the dog sled race, he is visited by "Sedna, the Mother of the Sea" in a dream. The "Sea Mother" Goddess informs Tore in blunt terms that the thinning ice that caused his loss in the dog sled race was due to manmade global warming.

"I'm the one who created and cares for the sea creatures—whales and walruses, seals and fish," the "Sea Mother" explains to Tore. The "Sea Mother" then tells the boy she will educate him about the reason the ice is thinning.

It concludes with this ominous anti-freedom message:

The book ends with a section answering the question "What can you do?" The book's answer includes such suggestions as "join or create an environmental club," "only drive cars if you must," and "write to your political leaders."

The book itself is actually pretty lame—embarassingly earnest and numbingly dull—but not because it gets the science wrong or sends the wrong message. (Check it out for yourself here [PDF].) If Inhofe and Co. want to pan it, fine. That they're using their remaining time heading a Senate committe going after a cheesy kids' book says a lot about just how much legitmacy the global warming "skeptics" have left.

Jack Murtha's K Street Connections

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 1:32 PM EST

Last week I brought up the cozy relationship House Majority Leader hopeful Steny Hoyer has sought to cultivate with K Street, but Jack Murtha, who incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed for the number two job on Sunday, has lobbyist ties that are worth mentioning as well. The Pennsylvania congressman is often hailed by Democrats for taking a principled stand against the President's stay-the-course policy in Iraq, though some political observers consider him to be among the least scrupulous members of Congress serving today. Among Murtha's critics is the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which listed him in its report "Beyond DeLay: The 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and five to watch)." (Murtha, for his part, is designated as one to watch.) CREW's report notes that Murtha's "ethics violations stem from abuse of his position as Ranking Member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee to benefit the lobbying firm of a former long-term staffer and clients of his brother, Robert 'Kit' Murtha, a registered lobbyist."

According to CREW, which decried Pelosi's endorsement in a press release yesterday, some of the beneficiaries of Murtha's powerful position have been clients of PMA Group, which lobbies on behalf of defense contractors and was founded by longtime Defense Appropriations subcommittee staffer Paul Magliocchetti, who worked with Murtha. "In the 2006 Defense appropriations bill, PMA clients received at least 60 earmarks at a total of $95.1 million," according to CREW's report. In turn, PMA and its clients have made generous campaign contributions to Murtha. "In the current campaign cycle, the PMA Group and 11 of the firm's clients rank in the top 20 contributors to Rep. Murtha, having made campaign contributions totaling $274,649.2 In the 2004 and 2002 cycles, PMA and nine of the firm's clients ranked in the top 20 contributors having made $236,7993 in contributions and $279,074, respectively."

Then there's Murtha's brother, Kit, who joined the lobbying firm KSA Consulting in 2002, reportedly at the invitation of a former Murtha staffer, Carmen Scialabba, who is a senior partner at the firm. According to the Los Angeles Times, which reported on Jack Murtha's shady ties to his brother's firm in 2005, Congress passed a defense appropriations bill in 2004, one that Murtha helped to author, that benefited at least 10 of KSA's clients. The firms, according to the Times, received $20.8 million in earmarks in the bill.

One of the clients, a small Arkansas maker of military vehicles, received $1.7 million, triple its total sales for 2004. Several other clients received money that represented more than half of their annual sales from last year.

KSA directly lobbied the congressman's office on behalf of seven companies that received money from the bill, records and interviews show. Among those clients, a firm based in Maryland received one of the larger individual awards, $4.2 million.

Steny Hoyer, the Maryland congressman, was once thought to be the front-runner for Majority Leader. No longer. Pelosi's endorsement levels the playing field and then some. "She will ensure that they [the Murtha camp] win. This is hard-ball politics," Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a Murtha supporter, told The Hill. "We are entering an era where when the Speaker instructs you what to do, you do it." (We have a word for the new era that Rep. Moran is referring to. It's called a dictatorship.)

Since one of the issues that resounded with voters in Tuesday's election was congressional corruption, it seems unwise for the Dems to use their new mandate to go back to business as usual, installing a Majority Leader that has a questionable past of shilling for K Street and, in the case of both Murtha and Hoyer, a history of working against lobbying reform efforts. As the Democrats become the majority party in Congress after 12 years in the minority, they would do well to remember that, in 1994, when both houses of Congress fell to the GOP, it was rampant corruption that helped to end their long reign.

Word of the Year: Carbon Neutral

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 1:02 PM EST

OK, I know that's really two words. The folks at the New Oxford American Dictionary (think of them as the OED's much hipper cousins) have declared "carbon neutral" their word of the year. The definition, please:

Being carbon neutral involves calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in "green" technologies such as solar and wind power.

While this term has been on the lips of the likes of Al Gore for a while, it hardly has the currency of last year's winner, "podcasting." Which makes this a significant choice. As NOAD editor Erin McKean explains:

"All the Oxford lexicographers look forward to choosing the Word of the Year. We know that people love fun, flashy words like truthiness or the latest Bushism, but we are always looking for a word that is both reflective of the events and concerns of the past year and also forward-looking: a word that we think will only become more used and more useful as time goes on."

"Carbon neutral" beat out another socially responsible contender, "CSA" (community sponsored agriculture), as well as "Islamofascism." And my favorite, "elbow bump".

Lie-berman Might Bolt to GOP

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 1:00 AM EST

We all saw this coming. After promising Connecticut that he'd vote with with the Democratic caucus if reelected, Say-it-Ain't-Joe is now saying that he might jump ship and vote with the GOP:

"I'm not ruling it out, but I hope I don't get to that point. And, and I must say, and with all respect to the Republicans who supported me in Connecticut, nobody ever said, 'We're doing this because we, we want you to switch over,' " he told Meet the Press' Tim Russert.

What might get him to change his tune?: If the Dems seek to enforce party discipline (heavens forbid!) or if the GOP offeres to keep him as a committee chairman and respect his seniority.

Lieberman added: "I am going to Washington beholden to no political group except the people of Connecticut and, of course, my conscience."

Great.