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.
A week before the Tunisian government collapsed on Friday, with its longtime dictator fleeing the country in the face of massive popular protests, a Washington, DC public relations firm that had been hired by the government abruptly severed its relationship the North African nation.
Last May, the Tunisian regime retained the Washington Media Group, which also represents private equity funds, aerospace companies, unions, and medical research companies, and banking giant Citigroup, to help promote its image abroad. In a press release announcing the contract, WMG referred to Tunisia as an "international business success story." At the time, John Leary, a partner at WMG, described Tunisia as a "peaceful, Islamic country" and a "stable democracy" with a "terrific story to share with the world." (Tunisia ranks 144th of 167 countries ranked on TheEconomist's Democracy Index, a widely accepted measure of political freedom. But it's farther ahead on some measures, such as women's rights, than most of the Arab world.) The press release also claimed the deal highlighted "the firm's demonstrated successes on behalf of clients small and large."
The press release did note that Tunisia is an "important ally of the United States in combating global terrorism." A US State Department cable released by WikiLeaks came to the same conclusion:
Notwithstanding the frustrations of doing business here, we cannot write off Tunisia. We have too much at stake. We have an interest in preventing al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other extremist groups from establishing a foothold here. We have an interest in keeping the Tunisian military professional and neutral. We also have an interest in fostering greater political openness and respect for human rights.
Before they took the contract, top officials at WMG consulted with advisers in the State Department and inside and outside of government. "It was clear that there was potential to help this ally in the war on terror improve its image, mostly through digital work," Greg Vistica, the firm's president, tells Mother Jones. In May, Vistica said his company was "delighted with this project."
Eight months later, though, Vistica was not so delighted. Protests in Tunisia were gaining steam, and Vistica had changed his mind about working with the regime. Last Thursday he wrote to Samir Abidi, the Tunisian Minister of Communication, terminating WMG's contract with the country. "It was clear to us that the Tunisia government was not going to implement the recommendations and work product we provided," Vistica says. "We felt on principle we could not work for a government that shoots its own citizens and violates their civil rights with such abuse."
In the letter [PDF], which was obtained by Mother Jones, Vistica told Abidi his team had "done our best," but he didn't mince words about why he was terminating the deal:
...It has been and remains our view that improving your nation's image in the United States or elsewhere can only be accomplished if the reputation sought is consistent with the facts on the ground.
Recent events make it clear the Tunisian government is not inclined to heed our counsel regarding meaningful reforms. Indeed, the government's current actions and activities have undermined, or in some cases completely undone, whatever progress we made in improving Tunisia's reputation.
For these reasons, and because we are troubled by your government's apparent approach to important civil rights and civil liberties issues, Washington Media Group terminates its contract effective immediately.
The letter was also filed with the Justice Department.
After President Barack Obama's eloquent speech in Tucson, I wondered how the Obama haters would react. After all, it seemed that after that particular speech it would be more difficult to demonize him as a secret Muslim/Kenyan-born socialist who hates America and is plotting its demise. But it seems the Obama Hate Machine is not going to slow down—especially not if there's a buck to be made. On Thursday morning, Townhall, the conservative website that features the work of prominent rightwing commentators, sent out an email advertisement to its readers revealing the latest Obama conspiracy: he wants to steal your retirement account. Literally.
The ad is adorned with an illustration of a smiling Obama holding a small person (a white male, if you're curious) in his hand and squeezing money out of the poor fellow. The headline in big and bold letters: "Your IRA'S and 401K's ARE STILL At RISK Of Government Confiscation." The claim:
The Labor and Treasury department, along with the Obama Administration ARE MOVING FORWARD with The Nationalization-Confiscate IRA's and 401K's.
Why do they Want Your Retirement Accounts?
The-YOUR equity will be used as collateral; in an attempt to balance the Trillion Dollar U.S. Deficit.
This will be done in an effort to once again make the United States credit worthy to China and other buyers of our debt.
The proof: the Labor and Treasury Departments last September held a meeting with an agenda called "Lifetime Income Options for Retirement Plans"—and somehow this means the US government intends to transform retirement plans into government property.
Obama nationalizing everyone's IRAs and 401(K)s—it's kind of surprising that the entire media has missed that. Even Fox News. But a Department of Labor fact sheet describes what it is up to:
An ever increasing number of workers are looking to their defined contribution plans for their retirement security, but at the same time many workers are receiving their retirement benefits in lump sum distributions. This could increase their risk of not having an adequate income during retirement. Recent reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Labor’s ERISA Advisory Council, a 15-member council representing employees, employers, the general public, and industry, have documented this risk.
[The Department is] exploring ways that the Agencies and the private sector can work together to ensure that workers have the tools they need to help ensure their retirement savings last a lifetime.
Sounds perfectly innocent, right? But isn't such bland rhetoric what the Obama administration would disseminate were it scheming to nationalize retirement accounts?
To understand what's behind this latest exposé of Obama misdeeds, a recipient of this email ad need only look toward the bottom and discover that it's a pitch for Goldworth Financial, a gold seller. After all, if Obama's about to snatch your retirement fund, wouldn't it be better to cash it out and use the funds to buy gold and precious coins from this firm? That is, unless the Obama administration has plans to confiscate gold. And it does.
President Barack Obama's speech in Tucson was undeniably a high moment of his presidency. But you can judge that for yourself. (As the father of a nine-year-old daughter, I could not imagine delivering such an address—and keeping it together.) The initial reviews—even among pundits on the right—appeared overwhelmingly positive, proving that most of us can live in a shared reality. But here's what to look for in the coming days: how the die-hard Obama-haters will behave. Since the campaign, this gang has argued one or more of these variants: Obama is anti-America, Obama wants to wreck the economy, Obama wants to weaken America, Obama hates liberty and freedom, Obama is a socialist, Obama is a communist, Obama is not truly (and literally) an American, Obama is a secret Muslim. After this speech, will they be able to make such claims? (Rush Limbaugh, I am indeed talking about you.)
During the 2008 campaign, Obama did appeal to those voters who yearned for a leader who could rise above the partisan fray. The process of governing—and GOP obstructionism—made it tough for him to keep that promise. But this speech offered him an opportunity to renew that connection with voters of this particular stripe. The leader on the stage in Tucson was not a man who fits the Rushian or Beckian caricature. So what are Rush, Glenn, and the others going to do? (And by the end of Obama's speech, Sarah Palin's silly Facebook video looked even more small-minded and self-centered.) The Obama Hate Machine better pray that Obama doesn't get other chances to address the nation in this manner. The White House, after all, cannot manufacture such opportunities. They come precisely because of events that are beyond our control. Yet it is in these moments that presidents can define themselves—especially for those voters who do not pay attention to the daily tussles of politics and policy. Obama did that well on Wednesday night, and the Obama haters must hate that.
Sarah Palin is getting slammed today for her Facebook video statement accusing unnamed journalists and pundits who tied the Tucson massacre to the extreme rhetoric of the right of engaging in "blood libel." Palin has a dog in this fight, for in the wake of the shooting, she was assailed for cavalierly using gun-related rhetoric ("Reload!") and for placing cross-hairs over the districts [*corrected from "pictures"] of Democratic House members she targeted for defeat in November, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). Yet for her to equate the criticism she's received with the genocidal persecution of an entire people demonstrates either ignorance or narcissism. Or both. "Blood libel" is a term that refers to Jews using the blood of children (mainly Christians) for religious practices, and this false accusation has been used to justify violent pogroms against Jews. Palin is not the victim of "blood libel." But leave it to Palin to deploy such incendiary language to stir up a controversy today—President Barack Obama and others are attending a memorial service in Tucson to honor the victims—in order to place herself at the center of the story.
Rather than lower the volume, Palin has turned up the heat with this "blood libel" charge. (You can judge for yourself if her use of this phrase has anything to do with the prominence of Jews in the media.) But here's the kicker: in the same statement, she claimed that all participants in the national public discourse ought to eschew name-calling and extreme rhetoric. "We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy," she proclaimed. And she added that Americans have a desire "to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner."
Is Palin a convert to Kumbaya-ism? If so, she's a bit late to the party, for Palin has defined herself with intemperate remarks. During the 2008 campaign, she charged Obama with being someone who was so critical of the United States he would purposefully hobnob with anti-American terrorists:
Our opponent...is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.
After the campaign, Palin, during the debate on health care, claimed that the health care reform initiative Obama sought would establish "death panels" of government bureaucrats who would judge whether specific individuals are "worthy of health care." Politifact.com, an independent fact-checking outfit, declared there was no truth to her charge. Months later, Palin acknowledged, "The term I used to describe the panel making these decision should not be taken literally." But she added, " I would characterize them like that again, in a heart beat." Politifact.com cited her original "death panel" remark as its "Lie of the Year," noting, "Of all the falsehoods and distortions in the political discourse this year, one stood out from the rest. 'Death panels."
Palin is in an odd spot to be urging respectful debate that handles political and policy differences in a "positive manner." She has shown little regard for facts in policy debates and demonstrated she's willing to accuse her foes of being anti-American. She is the queen of disrespectful rhetoric. Now she compares her critics to violent and genocidal anti-Semites. She could have assailed them in a somber and serious manner, but she chose not to. After all, that's not how Palin got to where she is: a political celebrity who at a time of mourning turns a national tragedy into a Facebook post that at its core is about her.
Why doesn't Glenn Beck have confidence in America?
During his Monday radio show—when the subject was the Tucson tragedy—Beck came to the rescue of his friend Sarah Palin, who had come under criticism for a map her political action group had created last year that placed cross-hairs over the districts of 20 Democratic legislators it had targeted—including the one represented by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). Beck read to his audience an email from Palin in which she declared, "I hate violence. I hate war. Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence." And Beck also read aloud a note he had sent Palin:
Sarah, as you know, peace is always the answer. I know you’re feeling the same heat—if not much more—on this. I want you to know you have my support. But please look into protection for your family. An attempt on you could bring the republic down.
Ponder that for a moment. If someone attempted an attack on Palin would it truly destroy the foundation of the United States of America? Beck wasn't even referring to a successful assault; he mentioned merely an attempt. And that does beg the question, does he think the country is in such a weak state that it would crumble if some nutcase tried to harm Palin?
This is overheated rhetoric—even on a Beckian scale. Is he that eager to suck up to Palin or to pander to her followers? This nation, after all, has experienced—and survived—tough times: depression, war, civil war, riots, 9/11, and so on. Americans soldiered on after the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, and others.
Any political violence would be horrific—no matter the victim. But for most Americans, Palin is not the center of the universe—or the country. They certainly would carry on if she were the target of violence. This nation is made of sterner stuff than Beck suggests.