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.
The Tucson massacre has prompted gun-control advocates to promote several measures to regulate certain firearms or ammo. But it has not moved the Obama White House to propose any such initiatives. And the White House appears to have no plans to do so.
At the daily press briefing on Thursday afternoon, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked if the president and his aides have been thinking about crafting or suggesting any gun-related measures. He replied that he had "not heard anything particular in here." That came across as a "no." Gibbs did say that the White House was "looking through different proposals" that have been suggested by pro-gun-control lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but he didn't mention any specific measures. Asked if if Obama, given his previous support of gun control, would be amenable to legislation being introduced by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Sen. Frank Lautneberg (D-NJ) to ban the manufacture and sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, such as the one used by suspected gunman Jared Lee Loughner, Gibbs was decidedly non-committal. He displayed no enthusiasm for this measure—or for pushing any gun-control initiative.
Since the Tucson tragedy, Obama has said nothing explicitly about guns. He did not address the issue in his much-praised address at the memorial service. This is no surprise. As president, Obama has placed a silencer on his past backing of gun control. For instance, as a presidential candidate Obama called for reinstating the ban on assault weapons. Though Attorney General Eric Holder early in the Obama administration cited the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban as an administration priority, the White House has not pursued that goal, and Obama has side-stepped the matter when questioned about it. At a press conference last year with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama declined to even discuss reviving this ban. The message has been clear: Obama may think gun regulation is good policy but he also has concluded taking any action that could enrage gun owners and the gun lobby is lousy politics.
The Tucson shootings places this calculation in the spotlight. Any political or media focus on gun-control measures does pose a challenge for Obama and the White House. After all, a person who endorsed banning assault weapons at least ought to favor banning high-capacity magazines. In the immediate aftermath of Tucson, the White House can plausibly say it is reviewing the various gun-control (or ammo-control) measures being proposed. But can the president escape having to declare whether or not he supports the McCarthy-Lautenberg measure forever (that is, until after the 2012 election)?
He and his aides might believe that is indeed possible. They have managed to steer clear of gun-related political trouble during the first two years of Obama's presidency. (Recall the storm that ensued when candidate Obama said that "bitter" unemployed small-town Americans "cling to guns.") Judging from Gibbs' remarks, the Tucson episode—even if it entailed the near-assassination of a House member and the murder of six bystanders—has not changed the president's strategy. He is still holding his fire.
CBS reporter Lesley Stahl may be able to settle the family feud that has erupted between President Ronald Reagan's two sons over an important historical issue: Did the 40th president have Alzheimer's disease when he was in the White House?
In a new memoir, his son Ron suggests that Reagan suffered from the beginning stages of this disease while he was commander in chief, pointing out that his father became "lost and bewildered" during the 1984 presidential debates with Democratic nominee Walter Mondale and that in 1986 Reagan could not remember the names of familiar landmarks. But Ron defends his father, who was not diagnosed with Alzheimer's until 2004, and his aides: "I've seen no evidence that my father (or anyone else) was aware of his medical condition while he was in office. Had the diagnosis been made in, say 1987, would he have stepped down? I believe he would have."
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.