2012 - %3, September

Karl Rove's Role in Komen's Planned Parenthood Flap

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 2:27 PM EDT

Karen Handel, the former vice president for federal affairs at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, has a new book out this week talking about the episode, Planned Bullyhood. Handel resigned in February after she was implicated as the main player in the cancer charity's decision to pull funding for screenings at Planned Parenthood.

In the book, she describes the response within Komen to the public backlash after the group announced the decision, according to Life News–and blames Karl Rove for its decision to reverse course and restore the grants to Planned Parenthood. Here she describes a conversation with Komen founder Nancy Brinker:

I just said, "You don’t have to apologize to me. But I have to say again that it is a huge mistake. Wait through the weekend. It’s Super Bowl weekend. We know there are op-eds teed up about how outrageous Planned Parenthood is being, that private organizations have the right to make the decisions they believe are best. If we blink now, it’s over and no one will know that [sic] Komen stands for," I implored.
Nancy’s reply stunned me. "Karen, I’ve talked to a lot of people. And even Karl says we have to backtrack. There’s just no other way."
"Karl? Who's Karl?"
She looked at me strangely as if I should know exactly who she was talking about. She said, "Karl Rove!"
I started laughing. Just when I thought things could not get more bizarre. What in the world did Karl Rove have to do with anything?

More interesting than Rove's involvement is the reaction from conservative activists, who are questioning whether the Republican Party's Boy Genius is anti-abortion enough. Blogger Jill Stanek argues that Rove "is only pro-life as long as it is convenient":

I have received assurances from a source close to him that Karl Rove is pro-life. Many may have already assumed this, since Rove worked a heartbeat away from the most pro-active pro-life president our country has seen since President Reagan, although those sleeping a heartbeat away from both, Laura Bush and Nancy Reagan, were pro-abortion. So osmosis is no guarantee.
But Rove did speak at the National Right to Life Convention in 2008, which gave him street cred. That said, at best Karl Rove is a fair weather friend.

Rove has also recently found himself in the middle of the abortion wars over his comments about Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.).

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PHOTO: September 11, 2001

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 1:29 PM EDT

Visible from space, a smoke plume rises from the Manhattan area after two planes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001.

The long view: "Nous sommes tous Américains."

How 9/11 Made Democrats More Like Republicans

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 12:25 PM EDT

Eight years ago, Democrats were so nervous about the GOP's perceived advantage on national security issues that they nominated a Vietnam veteran who walked up to the podium in Boston and saluted, proclaiming, "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty."

With Kerry's line at this year's convention—"Ask Osama bin Laden is he is better off now than he was four years ago"—Democrats have adopted the kind of language that might have been derided as "cowboy rhetoric" four years ago. And Kerry wasn't the first or last speaker to invoke Bin Laden in Charlotte last week. Asking for four more years of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden intoned that "Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!" Eight years ago, Democrats trying to act tough on national security sounded like kids playing pretend; at times, this year's convention sounded like a Roman triumph.

Though Democrats frequently refer to Bin Laden as having been "brought to justice," it is more accurate to say that those who perished on 9/11 have been avenged. With the terrorist leader's death has come another kind of payback: Democrats are now at ease with the belligerent pageantry that was once a hallmark of their Republican rivals. Last Friday, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney awkwardly attempted to explain to Fox News why he didn't mention Aghanistan, America's longest running war, in his convention speech. "You talk about the things that you think are important," Romney said. Imagine what Karl Rove could have done with that.

Barack Obama has a plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but neither candidate actually has a plan to end the war that started on September 11, 2001. Both parties accept that conflict as a permanent feature of American life. An American citizen in the US is as likely to be killed by their own furniture as a Muslim terrorist, but fear of violent Islamic extremism has changed this country almost irrevocably.

In 2008, Democrats challenged warrantless surveillance and pledged to "revisit" the PATRIOT Act. Now the president is a Democrat who left much of those policies in place. The 2012 platform is silent on the PATRIOT Act, as it is on nearly all of its 2008 promises to roll back war on terror powers. The 2012 Republican platform, meanwhile, nods at the idea that the government can indefinitely detain an American citizen suspected of terrorism, promising only to "ensure the protections under our Constitution to all citizens, particularly the rights of habeas corpus and due process of law." It does not promise that Americans suspected of terrorism will get a trial.

The House is set to vote this week to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows warrantless surveillance of American citizens as long as they're communicating with someone abroad. Although the bill is not likely to pass the Senate before the November election, it will eventually be signed, regardless of who wins. From body scanners and pat downs at airports to the growing public-private partnership that is the American intelligence industry, from immunity to torturers to prosecutions for whistleblowers, there are no signs of demobilization in the war on terror. It's a post-9/11 paradox: the more we beat Al Qaeda, the more we accept the ways we've changed to beat them.

For the Bush veterans not driven insane by partisan derangement (or whose professional careers don't require them to be partisan team players) this continuity has brought relief. Speaking before an audience at the University of Michigan last Friday, former Bush-era CIA Director and NSA chief Michael Hayden, who identified himself as an adviser to Romney, said he thought the forever war was in good hands no matter who wins in 2012. "I actually expect there's going to be some continuity between a president Romney, and his predecessor too," Hayden said. "I actually think all these things that seem to carry over from [the 43rd president] to [the 44th president], will carry over to [the 45th]."

The troops will come home from Afghanistan. But the war that began on September 11, 2001 may never end. Having finally figured out how to play the game, the Democratic Party no longer even seems to want it to end. Democrats haven't fallen to the same depths as the GOP did in 2006, when President Bush said that the Democratic approach to Iraq meant "the terrorists win and America loses." But there's no point in calling a truce in the counterterrorism culture war when you're winning.

If Obama Wins, You Can Thank the Economy, Not Blame It

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 12:23 PM EDT

Election guru Charlie Cook says that if President Obama wins in November, "it will be despite the economy." That's the conventional wisdom, all right, but the conventional wisdom is wrong. Ezra Klein explains:

Some months ago, I worked with political scientists Seth Hill, John Sides and Lynn Vavreck to build a model that used data from every presidential election since 1948 to forecast the outcome of this presidential election. But when the model was done, I thought it was broken: It was forecasting an Obama win even under scenarios of very weak economic growth.

....After a lot of frantic e-mails, my political scientist friends finally convinced me that that’s the point of a model: It forces you to check your expectations at the door. And my expectation that incumbents lose when the economy is weak was not backed up by the data, which suggest that incumbents win unless major economic indicators are headed in the wrong direction.

Matt Yglesias picks up the baton with a series of charts showing that, in fact, the economy isn't in especially dire shape. I've compressed this all into one chart, and as Matt says, the difference is like night and day. In the year before the 2008 election, employment was dropping like a stone. Sure enough, the incumbent party lost. In the year before the 2010 election, employment was at rock bottom and going nowhere. Sure enough, the incumbent party lost. But in the year before the 2012 election, employment numbers have been on a steady upward trajectory. That suggests a modest win for the incumbent party.

Obviously, Obama's chances are hurt by the fact that unemployment remains high, wages are stagnant, and we still haven't made up all the job losses from the recession. But politically speaking, the economy isn't in terrible shape. It's in OK-but-not-great shape. And that means the incumbent probably has a small advantage. If Obama wins by a couple of percentage points in November, he will have performed almost exactly as well as you'd expect given the state of the economy.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 11, 2012

Tue Sep. 11, 2012 11:51 AM EDT

1st Lt. Michael Moore, platoon commander for 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, crosses paths with Djiboutian wildlife as he walks back to camp after taking part in assault climber training with his Marines in Djibouti, Aug. 29, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael Petersheim.

A Quick Peek at How Chicago Students are Performing

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 11:15 AM EDT

Joe Nocera comments today on the teacher strike in Chicago:

There really isn’t much evidence that introducing choice and competition — an important rationale for charter schools — has forced the big-city public schools to improve. Until somebody figures out how to create reforms that work for all, and not just the lucky few, American public education will continue to suffer....Students in other countries now regularly outperform American students. We are truly in the midst of an education crisis — one that won’t be solved until we completely rethink the way we offer public education.

Is it true that big-city schools have failed to improve? There's plenty of evidence that American students in general are doing better today than they did 30 years ago — you can see my brief overview of the raw NAEP data here — but as it happens, there's also evidence specific to big-city schools. It's called the Trial Urban District Assessment and it hasn't been running as long as the main NAEP. However, it's been running for about a decade and has now collected enough data to show us some trends. Here's the data for Chicago in reading and math:

As you can see, test scores both in Chicago and in urban schools generally have risen over the past ten years. Scores for fourth graders have increased even more dramatically. More here.

As for whether we're falling behind the rest of the world, I don't know. The data is frustratingly mixed on this subject, and long-term data barely exists. My best take, however, is that nothing much has changed. The United States has always performed above average (compared to other industrialized countries) but only by a little bit, and that still seems to be true. I don't think there's been much upward or downward movement over the past few decades.

As usual, I don't have any special comment to make about this. Maybe this improvement is a statistical mirage. Maybe it's real but we should be doing even better. But whatever you think, it should be based on the best data we have. And this is it.

For more on the Chicago teacher strike itself, check out Dana Liebelson's explainer here. It will answer most of your basic questions.

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Activists Question Black Panther-FBI Informant Story

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 6:01 AM EDT
Richard Aoki

When the Center for Investigative Reporting published a bombshell report last month that the late Black Panther Richard Aoki was an FBI informant, the news was met with disbelief. The longtime Bay Area radical's friends and defenders argued that the evidence fell short, pointing to an ambiguous FBI document and a misinterpreted interview with Aoki. And why, they wondered, had there never been any hint of Aoki's betrayal during his years of work uniting Asian-American and African-American activists?

But last week CIR reporter Seth Rosenfeld published another 221 pages of FBI documents that show conclusively Aoki was an informant. They reveal that Aoki, who used the alias "Richard Ford," worked with the agency from 1961 to 1977, during which time he helped organize and arm the Black Panthers while providing the feds with information that was "unique" and of "extreme value."

On Sunday, former Black Panthers and other local activists met at Oakland's Eastside Cultural Center to discuss the revelations about Aoki. The event, titled "Cointelpro Attacks & Reclaiming the Legacy," didn't focus on the specific charges in Rosenfeld's reports, according to people who attended the meeting, but most speakers were unwilling to accept that Aoki ever worked with the FBI.

At the meeting, Black Panther Party cofounder Bobby Seale said the charges against Aoki amounted to an attempt to defame a comrade. When Rosenfeld called him for an interview for one of his stories, Seale said, he replied, "Fuck it."

Others suspect the FBI of "snitch-jacketing," falsely accusing Aoki of working with the feds to sow doubt and suspicions among his fellow organizers. But no one has backed up these allegations, and it's unclear exactly why FBI would choose to undermine Aoki's reputation more than three years after his death. Nor does this theory explain why the FBI fought Rosenfeld over the release of the Aoki documents.

"I think people are skeptical for the right reasons," Scott Johnson, an activist who attended the meeting, told me. "They're trying to rescue as much [of his legacy] as possible while grappling with these new allegations."

Skepticism in the face of betrayal isn't unique to the Aoki situation. As MoJo's Josh Harkinson reported in his profile of informant Brandon Darby, his friends initially couldn't believe the news that he'd snitched on his fellow Republican National Convention protesters in 2008. "If Brandon was conning me, and many others, it would be the biggest lie of my life since I found out the truth about Santa Claus," wrote one of the many activists who were quick to defend Darby before he fessed up.

Of course, Aoki no longer has the opportunity to confess, and some of his defenders may never be swayed. Fred Ho, a writer and activist who befriended Aoki in the late '90s, wrote an impassioned defense of his friend after reading Rosenfeld's initial report. "If Aoki was an agent, so what?" he wrote derisively. "He surely was a piss-poor one because what he contributed to the movement is enormously greater than anything he could have detracted or derailed." After last week's follow-up story, Ho held firm, going so far as to suggest that Aoki may have been spying not on Black Panthers but on the FBI.

If Aoki were still alive, would his friends be rushing to his defense? He appears to have feared that they wouldn't have. The FBI's final report on Aoki reveals that he ended his relationship with the bureau since he felt that being an informant conflicted with his job as an educator. He was unwilling to reveal his past with the agency, the report says, because it "would alienate him from associates and friends and would cause him great trouble in his relationships with students as a student counselor." It is unlikely, the report concludes, that "there will be any control problem concerning this informant."

Photos: See Ya Later, Lovely Glaciers

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

This summer could be dubbed the Great Melt. The belt of ice surrounding the Arctic has melted to its lowest level in history, a record seen by many scientists as evidence of long-term climate change. Adding to environmentalists' fears, Royal Dutch Shell sunk its first drill bit into the Arctic seabed, taking the first steps in American offshore oil exploration in these frigid waters.

Today, a new book by photographer James Balog, Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, captures in vivid color just what's at stake as climate change erodes ice in some of the world's most extreme places. Balog shared six of his favorites with Climate Desk:

Aerial view, meltwater on Greenland ice sheet © James Balog

James Balog has spent the last 30 years donning crampons, paddling canoes, and hopping into dog sleds and helicopters to capture the world's ice on film. He's been everywhere from Bolivia and Nepal to Alaska and Montana to France and Switzerland, in an ongoing project that he says is "about getting in close to ice and experiencing all its colors and textures and shapes."

This summer's record melt in the Arctic, Balog told Climate Desk as he was en route to a glacier shoot in Iceland, is a reminder that "ice is the canary in the coal mine—you can touch and see and hear climate change."

Bubbles of ancient air rise from Greenland Ice Sheet as it melts, July 14, 2008. The black substance is cryoconite. © James Balog

Greenland Ice Sheet, Greenland, July 10, 2008. Silt and soot blown from afar turn into black "cryoconite," absorb solar heat and melt down into the ice. © James Balog

Stein Glacier, Switzerland, September 25, 2006. © James Balog

Stein Glacier, Switzerland, September 17, 2011. © James Balog

Columbia Glacier, Alaska, June 23, 2006. In mid-1980s, ice filled this valley up to lower edge of dark band of vegetation. Ice deflation since then has reached more than 1,200 vertical feet. © James Balog

Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers by James Balog, Rizzoli, New York, 2012.

Obama Posts Humongous Gain in Swing States

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 12:38 AM EDT

ABC News has a new poll out, and for the most part it's about what you'd expect. Obama has gained some ground since the Democratic convention and now leads Mitt Romney by a few points among registered voters and by one point among likely voters. But there's also this rather astonishing result:

Additionally, there’s been a shift in preferences in the eight tossup states identified by the ABC News Political Unit: Registered voters in these states now favor Obama over Romney by 54-40 percent, vs. 42-48 percent in these same states before the party conventions.

That's a shift of 12 points in a couple of weeks. WTF? Why did battleground state voters respond to the conventions so much more strongly than everyone else? That's a gigantic swing. Was there something else going on at the same time that could explain this? Did advertising strategies change? Did Hurricane Isaac boost Obama for some reason?

There's gotta be something. Even if the GOP convention was a dud and the Democratic convention was a barnburner, there's no way enough people were watching in the first place to account for a change of this size. So what happened?

I Am Delighted We Have an Introvert in the White House

| Mon Sep. 10, 2012 11:46 PM EDT

President Obama sits alone on the patio outside the Oval Office, following a meeting with his senior advisors.

I don't quite know why this Kelly Candaele interview with John Heilemann is suddenly making the rounds today, but it is. Here's the bit about Obama the introvert:

JH: Obama is an unusual politician. There are very few people in American politics who achieve something—not to mention the Presidency—in which the following two conditions are true: one, they don't like people. And two, they don't like politics.

KC: Obama doesn't like people?

JH: I don't think he doesn't like people. I know he doesn't like people. He's not an extrovert; he's an introvert. I've known the guy since 1988. He's not someone who has a wide circle of friends. He's not a backslapper and he's not an arm-twister. He's a more or less solitary figure who has extraordinary communicative capacities. He's incredibly intelligent, but he's not a guy who's ever had a Bill Clinton-like network around him. He's not the guy up late at night working the speed dial calling mayors, calling governors, calling CEOs. People say about Obama that it's a mistake that he hasn't reached out more to Republicans on Capitol Hill. I say that may be a mistake, but he also hasn't reached out to Democrats on Capitol Hill. If you walk around [the convention] and button-hole any Democratic Senator you find on the street and ask them how many times they have received a call [from the President] to talk about politics, to talk about legislative strategy, I guarantee you won't find a lot of people who have gotten one phone call in the last two and a half years. And many of them have never been called.

You know what? I don't really like people either. This probably explains why I like Obama.

What's more, I think this is a perfectly fine trait in a president. I get that schmoozing is part of the job, and I also get that most politicians are insufferable egotists who get bent out of shape whenever someone doesn't pay sufficient attention to them. That's probably why most of them get along so well with the Wall Street crowd: They're birds of a feather.

But honestly, I've seen very little evidence that schmoozing really helps presidents get more accomplished. All those extroverted politicians will tell you differently, of course, but they're just talking their book. They like schmoozing—better known to most of us as BSing or goofing off—so they spend lots of time making up stories about how important it is. But you should take this for what it is: the special pleading of a bunch of permanent adolescents trying to convince us that drinking and gabbing are essential parts of running the country.

I've read enough about Obama's personal style to believe that he should probably have a wider range of advisers and should spend a little more time on traditional political sucking up. Generally speaking, though, I'm delighted that we have a president who's fundamentally more interested in actual work than he is in yakking on the phone with whichever senators need to be stroked that day. After all, introverted or not, Obama has somehow gotten a lot more accomplished than either Bush or Clinton ever did.

In fact, I think we should have a national introverts day. Unfortunately, none of us will ever do the schmoozing required to get one.