Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Forgive me for being parochial, but I was looking for a specific piece of footage in the new Netflix behind-the-scenes documentary on Mitt Romney—simply titled Mitt—that was made by Greg Whiteley, who trailed the GOP candidate for six years through Election Night 2012. I yearned to see Romney's response to the release of the 47-percent video: how he personally reacted to this revelation and how his campaign planned its public reply. This was a significant moment in Romney's political life. How he handled it could be quite enlightening. After all, the film does record how Romney dealt with his 2008 loss in the GOP presidential primaries. (In conversations with his family, Romney acknowledges he was branded "the flippin' Mormon," and says, "I think I'm a flawed candidate.") But Whiteley offers us no peek at how the former CEO processed the historic 47-percent moment that did much to define him—or reinforce an existing definition.
In fact, for all the access Whiteley obtained, he serves up little material that will alter the basic story of Mitt. Sure, the viewer will learn that Romney likes to romp in the snow with his grandkids, that he's happier with a pair of duct-taped gloves than a new set, that he has a somewhat dark sense of humor, that he often thinks of his father, that wife Ann is tightly strung, and that Romney likes to pick up trash from the floors or balconies of hotel rooms during tense moments (say, before he hits the stage for a debate or prior to the announcement of election results). Certainly, Romney comes across as less robotic in these 90-minutes of home-movie-like scenes. But the film offers no insights about the fellow. His faults as a presidential candidate are not examined. What he really believes—other than the notion that the nation is heading off a cliff due to too much taxation and regulation—is left on the cutting room floor. That is, if it was ever captured.
As Secretary of State John Kerry strives to revive the Middle East peace process, while also toiling to craft a nuclear deal with Iran and achieve a resolution to the Syrian conflict, he has come under attack in an unusual manner. An Israeli group funded by the Benjamin Netanyahu-led government is mounting an anti-Kerry campaign by promoting a video that employs a scatological joke to lampoon and deride the United States' top diplomat.
In the video, which is in Hebrew, an Israeli fellow sitting on a toilet discovers there's no toilet paper. What to do? But there's no need for him to worry; Kerry—that is, an actor playing Kerry—is there, and he is holding in his hands the solution to the man's problem: a porcupine. Yes, Kerry counsels the Israeli to use this small animal as a TP substitute. The man dutifully follows the advice and ends up with a distressed bum. Well, Kerry has the solution to that problem: a pink tutu. "You can walk around the office feeling free and open," he tells the Israeli, who is next seen strolling awkwardly about his workspace in a tutu. And there's a new problem: His officemates tease him. And Kerry has a new solution: a resignation letter. You cannot be the object of scorn, he says to the man, "if you're not here, right?" The next scene shows the Israeli fellow out on the street, apparently jobless. Kerry quips, "We don't have good solutions, but we have to do something, right?" He then tosses the man a few dollars and says, "Okay, lunch, guys."
The point: Kerry is a dunce eager to promote stupid solutions that would leave Israelis worse off.
The video is part of campaign being run by the Yesha Council, which represents the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and another settlers group; both receive regular funding from the government. On its website, the Yesha Council, which has previously mounted efforts to undermine negotiations for a two-state solution, explained this campaign: "The main message: Israel's deep friendship with the US does not require us to give in to pressures that lead to solutions that threaten our country and its people." And its tool is mockery. The site these groups set up—John Kerry Solutions Inc.—features the video but also lists everyday questions for Kerry and his supposed answers. Here's one: "I fell off a ladder while trying to hang a picture and now I'm lying on the floor with a mild concussion and I cannot call for help. What to do?" Kerry's answer: Hang the picture lower.
It's unclear whether this anti-Kerry sarcasm, which has drawn Israeli media attention, will have any impact within the contentious world of domestic Israeli politics. Kerry is already a top target for the Israeli right, which has assailed him for both pushing a nuclear deal with Tehran and attempting to kick-start Israeli-Palestinian talks for a two-state solution. (Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are generally regarded as a major obstacle to a peace deal.) Earlier this week, Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli defense minister, was quoted by a newspaper calling Kerry "messianic," just days before Kerry was to visit Israel. He also said that Kerry ought to seek his Nobel Peace Prize elsewhere and "leave us alone." Yaalon subsequently apologized.
It's a bit awkward that a US secretary of state is being slammed by groups that receive financial support from the Israeli government, a Washington ally. And the Israeli government is distancing itself from this effort. Asked about the Kerry video, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington said, "The Yesha council and Binyamin Regional Council [another settlers outfit supporting the anti-Kerry campaign] represent a small interest group and this current campaign doesn't reflect at all the Israeli government positions. We deeply appreciate Secretary Kerry's commitment to Israel's security and to helping Israel achieve a lasting and secure peace with the Palestinians." (There has been debate within the Israeli parliament as to whether regional councils in Israel, including those behind this anti-Kerry project, can use public funds for political messaging). The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
OneVoice, an international grassroots group that works with Israelis and Palestinians to support a two-state solution, denounced the Kerry video: "It is outrageous that this campaign is funded with public money. Unlike previous campaigns by extreme right-wing movements, this isn't targeted at protecting settlements but is instead a juvenile and unprecedented attack against the US government and its efforts to bring peace to the region." It called for the Israeli state comptroller to investigate the use of government funding by these groups.
Criticism of the porcupine video doesn't seem to be slowing down Kerry's antagonists in Israel. The Yesha Council this week announced a new campaign with the slogan, "Keep the Country Safe—Don't Surrender to Kerry." As one Israeli media report notes, "The people behind the campaign explained that its purpose is to isolate Kerry and support Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, at least as long as he stands up to Kerry and defends Israel's interests."
Only a few months ago, Henry Kissinger was dancing with Stephen Colbert in a funny bit on the latter's Comedy Central show. But for years, the former secretary of state has sidestepped judgment for his complicity in horrific human rights abuses abroad, and a new memo has emerged that provides clear evidence that in 1976 Kissinger gave Argentina's neo-fascist military junta the "green light" for the dirty war it was conducting against civilian and militant leftists that resulted in the disappearance—that is, deaths—of an estimated 30,000 people.
In April 1977, Patt Derian, a onetime civil rights activist whom President Jimmy Carter had recently appointed assistant secretary of state for human rights, met with the US ambassador in Buenos Aires, Robert Hill. A memo recording that conversation has been unearthed by Martin Edwin Andersen, who in 1987 first reported that Kissinger had told the Argentine generals to proceed with their terror campaign against leftists (whom the junta routinely referred to as "terrorists"). The memo notes that Hill told Derian about a meeting Kissinger held with Argentine Foreign Minister Cesar Augusto Guzzetti the previous June. What the two men discussed was revealed in 2004 when the National Security Archive obtained and released the secret memorandum of conversation for that get-together. Guzzetti, according to that document, told Kissinger, "our main problem in Argentina is terrorism." Kissinger replied, "If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you must get back quickly to normal procedures." In other words, go ahead with your killing crusade against the leftists.
The new document shows that Kissinger was even more explicit in encouraging the Argentine junta. The memo recounts Hill describing the Kissinger-Guzzetti discussion this way:
The Argentines were very worried that Kissinger would lecture to them on human rights. Guzzetti and Kissinger had a very long breakfast but the Secretary did not raise the subject. Finally Guzzetti did. Kissinger asked how long will it take you (the Argentines) to clean up the problem. Guzzetti replied that it would be done by the end of the year. Kissinger approved.
In other words, Ambassador Hill explained, Kissinger gave the Argentines the green light.
That's a damning statement: a US ambassador saying a secretary of state had egged on a repressive regime that was engaged in a killing spree.
In August 1976, according to the new memo, Hill discussed "the matter personally with Kissinger, on the way back to Washington from a Bohemian Grove meeting in San Francisco." Kissinger, Hill told Derian, confirmed the Guzzetti conversation and informed Hill that he wanted Argentina "to finish its terrorist problem before year end." Kissinger was concerned about new human rights laws passed by the Congress requiring the White House to certify a government was not violating human rights before providing US aid. He was hoping the Argentine generals could wrap up their murderous eradication of the left before the law took effect.
Hill indicated to Derian, according to the new memo, that he believed that Kissinger's message to Guzzetti had prompted the Argentine junta to intensify its dirty war. When he returned to Buenos Aires, the memo notes, Hill "saw that the terrorist death toll had climbed steeply." And the memo reports, "Ambassador Hill said he would tell all of this to the Congress if he were put on the stand under oath. 'I'm not going to lie,' the Ambassador declared."
Hill, who died in 1978, never did testify that Kissinger had urged on the Argentine generals, and the Carter administration reversed policy and made human rights a priority in its relations with Argentina and other nations. As for Kissinger, he skated—and he has been skating ever since, dodging responsibility for dirty deeds in Chile, Bangladesh,East Timor, Cambodia, and elsewhere. Kissinger watchers have known for years that he at least implicitly (though privately) endorsed the Argentine dirty war, but this new memo makes clear he was an enabler for an endeavor that entailed the torture, disappearance, and murder of tens of thousands of people. Next time you see him dancing on television, don't laugh.
At his Thursday press conference, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he played no part in causing a traffic jam last fall on the George Washington Bridge and in nearby Fort Lee. He ultimately took responsibility for the debacle, but Christie said his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, had ordered the traffic jam without his knowledge. Emails showed that she had been in cahoots with David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Christie fired Kelly on Thursday, and he insisted that she was the only member of his inner circle who knew that the traffic mess was politically motivated and not the result of a supposed traffic study.
Here's the backstory. The traffic jam happened on the week of September 9 and quickly became a local controversy. Lawmakers began investigating, and on November 25, Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee at the Port Authority, testified before the New Jersey Assembly's transportation, public works, and independent authorities committee. Baroni told lawmakers that the lane closures were part of a study to determine whether Fort Lee should have three dedicated lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge.
State lawmakers didn't buy Baroni's explanation. "I think that at best this was clumsy and ham-handed," said committee chair John Wisniewski, a Democrat. "At worst, this was political mischief by a political appointee."
Immediately after his testimony, according to documents released this week, Baroni texted David Wildstein asking how Christie administration officials in Trenton, the state capital, had reacted to his testimony:
[11/25/2013 11:58 AM] David Wildstein: You did great
[11/25/2013 11:58 AM] Bill Baroni: Trenton feedback
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] Bill Baroni: ?
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] David Wildstein: Good
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] Bill Baroni: Just good? Shit
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] David Wildstein: No i have only texted brudget [Bridget Anne Kelly] and Nicole they were VERY happy
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] Bill Baroni: Ok
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] David Wildstein: Both said you are doing great
[11/25/2013 12:06 PM] David Wildstein: Charlie said you did GREAT
Note the two names in that exchange we have placed in bold type: Nicole and Charlie. According to public records and news stories, the only Nicole politically close to Christie at the time was Nicole Davidman, who was the governor's campaign finance director in 2013 and the wife of Christie's press secretary. The only Charlie in Christie's inner circle was Charles McKenna, Christie's chief counsel and the aide who helped lead Christie's internal investigation of the bridge mess. State investigators assume that the Charlie mentioned in this text is McKenna, according to a legislative source, but they are not yet certain about Nicole (though they have not yet identified other possibilities).
Presuming these texts refer to Davidman and McKenna, here's what needs to be answered: Were these two Christie lieutenants happy about Baroni's testimony for the same reason as Kelly? Both Kelly and Wildstein knew the study wasn't the true cause of the traffic mess, and it's reasonable to conclude that they were delighted because Baroni had stuck to that story and not said anything about Kelly instructing Wildstein to cause the jam that paralyzed traffic in Fort Lee for days. But did Charlie and Nicole cheer Baroni's bogus testimony in the same way? And what does it mean that Wildstein, the man who arranged the lane closures, lumped together Kelly, the aide who instigated the closures, and Nicole? (Christie touched on this only briefly in his press conference: "I believe that I've spoken to everyone who was mentioned in the emails except for Charlie McKenna, who is away at a family funeral. And I am confident, based upon my conversations with them, that they had no prior knowledge nor involvement in this situation.")
This is just one line of inquiry Bridgegate investigators ought to focus on. Christie asserts that Kelly was the only member of his political team in on the bridge caper. But if others were aware of Baroni's stonewalling, the governor has a problem—especially if that includes McKenna, whom Christie has used to probe the bridge scandal. At the least, it might be ill-advised for the governor to have a fellow who apparently praised Baroni's bogus testimony in charge of investigating the cover-up.
Christie's office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.