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Karl Rove, Don't Spin My Work for Your Historical Revisionism

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 12:56 PM EST

Karl Rove needs to work on his reading comprehension skills. I can say so because he's been disingenuously citing me.

During the past week, the Bush-guru-turned-Newsweek-columnist has been on the defensive regarding the claim he made during a Charlie Rose interview that the Bush White House "was opposed to voting on" the Iraq war resolution right before the 2002 congressional elections. He insisted, "We didn't think it belonged within the confines of the election." Asserting that "we thought it made [the vote] too political," Rove said that it was the congressional Democrats who pressed for the vote in the middle of the political season.

As Michael Isikoff and I reported in our book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, President George W. Bush met at the White House with congressional leaders on September 4 and told them he wanted a quick vote on a resolution that would grant him the authority to use military action against Saddam Hussein. Bush insisted he wanted this vote within six weeks. Senator Tom Daschle, then the majority leader of the Senate, wondered why the rush? He suspected that Rove was orchestrating a fast vote to put the Democrats on the spot right before the mid-term election. In fact, a day earlier, Daschle had been in a smaller meeting with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. During that get-together, he had asked Bush, wouldn't it be better to postpone the vote until after the election and take politics out of the debate? Bush turned toward Cheney, who shot the president a look that Daschle later described as a "half smile." Then Bush told Daschle, "We just have to do it now."

Rove now says none of that happened and he will explain all (of course) in a book yet to be written. But not only Daschle has challenged Rove's account. Former White House chief of staff Andy Card did the same, quipping, "Sometimes [Rove's] mouth gets ahead of his brain." And former White House press secretary Ari Fleishcer also chimed in, saying, "It was definitely the Bush administration that set it in motion and determined the timing, not the Congress. I think Karl in this instance just has his facts wrong."

Despite all this, Rove has stuck with his story and has gone so far as to cite me. I've been reliably informed that Rove has been pointing to an article I posted on September 25, 2002, to defend his remarks. In that piece, "Democrats Whine About War Debate", I did write that House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Daschle were "pushing for a fast vote on Bush's war resolution in order to have a chance to address other subjects prior to the November 5 congressional elections." But the article made clear that Bush (and Rove) had pushed them into the corner with a demand for a fast, pre-election vote.

The article cited examples of how the Bush gang, in the run-up to the election, was politicizing the war vote:

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Edwards to Obama: "Our Voices Together Are More Powerful Than Our Voices Alone"

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 12:23 PM EST

obama_edwards250x200.jpg I've believed for quite some time (much to the amusement of the staff around here) that John Edwards and Barack Obama would make a natural pairing on a presidential ticket because of the similarities in their messages.

The belief is heavily informed by the fact that when I was in Iowa, I saw Edwards frequently praise Obama on the stump, sometimes apropos of nothing at all. The reason I bring this up now is because Edwards did it again at the Iowa Brown and Black Forum over the weekend:

"The cause of ending poverty in America is a cause that's very central to what I want to do as president, and central to my life. … And there is at least one other candidate on this stage who has also spoken, strongly and eloquently, about doing something about poverty in America, and it's Senator Obama."

Candidates are not in the business of lavishing completely unnecessary praise on their opponents, especially not opponents beating them in the polls. It's doubly weird for Edwards to make this statement because poverty is his signature issue. In saying that Obama has spoken "strongly and eloquently" about it, Edwards dilutes his brand.

And Edwards' last line just fuels my speculation. Speaking of Obama, he said:

"I think our voices together are more powerful than our voices alone."

I think I have a legit case. Now if I could only get someone to take me seriously around here...

Party Ben's European Tour Update #3: France

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 10:17 AM EST

mojo-photo-paris1.jpgIncludes: Illness! Drama! Crowd surfing! And the possible emergence of a hilarious new dance trend! Greetings from Paris where I've just wrapped up my "Gettin' Euros" DJ tour with dates in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Paris and Lille. France has been, appropriately, like a beautiful but insane lover, pushing you away to pout one moment, only to turn around and embrace you the next. A hapless American can only sit back and enjoy the ride, I suppose.

Crazy As They Need To Be: Circumcised Women Who Support The Practice

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 12:55 AM EST

This weekend, the American Anthropological Association will hold an annual meeting that ought to make quite a bit of noise for such a seemingly staid body. Interestingly, international groups which oppose "this procedure" will be debating anthropologists who support it. Among the dissenters? African anthropologists who have personally undergone, and defend, female circumsicion. Organizers note in the New York Times:

The panel includes for the first time, the critical "third wave" or multicultural feminist perspectives of circumcised African women scholars Wairimu Njambi, a Kenyan, and Fuambai Ahmadu, a Sierra Leonean. Both women hail from cultures where female and male initiation rituals are the norm and have written about their largely positive and contextualized experiences, creating an emergent discursive space for a hitherto "muted group" in global debates about FGC [female genital cutting].

Well, this particular tactic is already working: much as I want to, I haven't allowed myself to type the phrase "female genital mutilation". Way to stifle debate and go all PC on us. Now it's not just blacks shutting whites up, it's Africans shutting every Westerner up.

This was one of the few issues that American blacks bothered to notice about Africa and now we find ourselves roped off in the pit of disapproval with The Man, our 'colonialist' critiques guilty until proven innocent. Having had to deal with it throughout my career as a non-conforming black public intellectual, I sincerely hate to speculate on the psychological forces at work in 'circumcised' women singing its praises. Still, I have to wonder if these womens' (there goes PC again; I really want to say 'victim/survivors') sanity might not depend on making this particular lemonade. If you've been circumcised, and you live in the West, you have two choices: celebration or mourning. Even more dangerous: anger. Who knows which any of us would pick.

Just like veiled women who embrace their robes and enforced seclusion as expressions of feminism or cultural pride, however, these women have a long way to go in creating a counter narrative that makes the West look on the bright side of female circumsicion. We might shut up and just leave Africa to its own devices (jagged soup can lids and bacteria-ridden thorns). But I doubt that even these brainy, politicized women living in the collision of two such different worlds can accomplish more than that. Which isn't to say that these well-educated culture warrior-women aren't indeed creating an "emergent discursive space" it won't be easy to speak truth back to the power of. This is what a western education can do in service of the unspeakable:

Dr. Ahmadu, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, was raised in America and then went back to Sierra Leone as an adult to undergo the procedure along with fellow members of the Kono ethnic group. She has argued that the critics of the procedure exaggerate the medical dangers, misunderstand the effect on sexual pleasure, and mistakenly view the removal of parts of the clitoris as a practice that oppresses women. She has lamented that her Westernized "feminist sisters insist on denying us this critical aspect of becoming a woman in accordance with our unique and powerful cultural heritage." In another essay, she writes:
It is difficult for me—considering the number of ceremonies I have observed, including my own—to accept that what appears to be expressions of joy and ecstatic celebrations of womanhood in actuality disguise hidden experiences of coercion and subjugation. Indeed, I offer that the bulk of Kono women who uphold these rituals do so because they want to—they relish the supernatural powers of their ritual leaders over against men in society, and they embrace the legitimacy of female authority and particularly the authority of their mothers and grandmothers.

The "authority of their mothers and grandmothers" to mutilate their daughters in unanesthetized and unsanitary rituals meant to please men and reinforce male control over female sexuality? It appears to be Dr. Ahmadu who is doing a bit of de-contextualizing here, making the ritual stand apart from the reason, and the gendered hierarchy, in which it occurs. Ok, I'll go there—putting women in charge of circumcising other women is little different from slave masters putting loyal slaves in charge of whipping the rebels. It's no different from any other gut-wrenchingly hideous job categorized, and despised, as "women's work". That the women made something exultant from the entrails of oppression is no different than what the slaves did with chit'lins.

In the same way that this issue has reinforced how important it is to control the language of any particular debate (e.g. fgc vs. fgm), it's also helped reinforce the importance of not being guilted into silence in dealing with the Third World. If these women can prove to us that female circumsicion, whatever it used to be, isn't now barbaric and foundational to female oppression, fine. But we must not allow the debate to center on the festivities surrounding the circumsicion itself, however rockin' the party that day. The practice must indeed be culturally contextualized—do women hold office, are they educated like males, is there a dowry system, will the panelists daughters be circumcised?—however much further trauma that might cause those who survived and now support it.

Claiming that women in circumsicion cultures uphold the traditions because they want to just rhymes too closely with the good ol' boys who claimed that their 'nigras' were happy as clams until the 'outside agitators' and 'civil rightsers' got 'em all confused. Which, if memory serves, is also what the slave masters, and many slaves, said. Free your minds, African women, and your clitorises willl follow.

"Arabs Tend to Wear Red Shirts," Said the Man in the Red Shirt

| Sun Dec. 2, 2007 11:05 PM EST

You may have seen that National Review posted some glaringly false claims about Lebanon by a contributor, W. Thomas Smith, Jr. (If not, Thomas Edsall has written up the basics here.)

Now National Review is trying to explain what happened. Here's their online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez:

Reviewing National Review

| Sun Dec. 2, 2007 10:03 PM EST

Several months ago one of National Review's blogs ran posts by contributor W. Thomas Smith, Jr. from Beirut. Smith described several things—"a sprawling Hezbollah tent city" with "some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen," and "4,000 and 5,000 HezB gunmen deployed to the Christian areas"—that appear not to have existed. Thomas Edsall has the details here, with more here from David Kenner.

This in itself is no judgment on National Review. While some publications do better fact-checking than others (Mother Jones is one of the best, in my experience), no one can produce 100% error-free journalism.

What does matter is how editors react when problems are brought to their attention. Glenn Greenwald explains what's happened to date here. National Review's online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez was alerted to the implausibility of Smith's claims six weeks ago by two journalists with experience in Lebanon. Yet she appears to have acted only when she realized Edsall would be writing about it. (ADDED CLARIFICATION: Mitchell Prothero, a Beirut photographer, writes here that he contacted National Review "more than six weeks ago." Harper's publishes here an email sent by journalist Chris Allbritton on October 6th calling Smith "a liar." However, it's unclear who at National Review would have received it. Lopez posts here her version of events, which does not mention Prothero or Allbritton.)

This reminds me of my own experience with Lopez. In October of last year, she wrote a post about the Johns Hopkins study estimating the number of deaths in Iraq since the invasion as 655,000. Lopez printed email from "A Hill Guy" reading:

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Romney to Give the "Mormon Speech"

| Sun Dec. 2, 2007 8:03 PM EST

Political observers have been wondering for a while if Mitt Romney will make a big speech on the topic of faith. He will do so this Thursday (according to CNN, which is calling it the "Mormon speech"). I don't know if it's because unwelcome whispers about Mormonism are circulating amongst the Republican base, or if it's because Romney is no longer the frontrunner in a state he thought he had sewn up. Whatever the case may be, tune in Thursday morning. And bring the popcorn.

Giuliani Corruption/Sex Scandal Metastasizing

| Sat Dec. 1, 2007 9:08 PM EST

This Giuliani scandal keeps getting better and better. First Politico found that when Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York, he billed the costs of his extramarital love trysts with Judith Nathan, his then-girlfriend and now-wife, to obscure city agencies. It was also shown that Giuliani billed his 2000 campaign expenses and his then-wife Donna Hanover's travel expenses to the same obscure agencies. The Giuliani campaign has had a hell of a time explaining the mayor's actions.

Then ABC discovered Nathan, as the mayor's girlfriend, was given a city car and police driver that she used as a personal "taxi service." Then CBS found an anonymous source who claims "Nathan forced police to chauffeur her friends and family around the city—even when she wasn't in the car."

And then the Daily News decide to pile on. They went to current mayor Mike Bloomberg's girlfriend/partner (they've lived together for six years) and asked her if she has a driver or security detail. "I don't have security in Bogota or Nairobi or Moscow when I travel there on business," Diana Taylor said. "Why would I need security in the safest city in the world?" An investment banker, Taylor takes the bus to her office and rides the subway to business appointments.

This thing could keep going through Christmas. It's the scandal that keeps giving and giving.

It's Hard Out There For a Daredevil...

| Fri Nov. 30, 2007 8:46 PM EST
knievel.jpg

Breaking news: Evel Knievel is dead at 69. As we remember the 1970s stuntman and orthopedic-surgery poster boy, let's also remember his unwitting contribution to our slang lexicon: He helped make it legal to call someone a pimp. In 2001, ESPN's website ran a photo of Knievel with a caption saying that he "proves that you're never too old to be a pimp." Knievel sued for defamation. The case made it to the Ninth Circuit Court, which ruled against Knievel, finding that ESPN had tagged him a pimp not to suggest that he managed prostitutes, but rather that he was, as the kids say, "cool." "It was most likely intended as a compliment," concluded the majority. Knievel's decision to try to jump over the majestic canyon of the First Amendment seems even more bizarre considering that, according to his AP obit, he used to brag about having been a "swindler, a card thief, a safe cracker, a holdup man." (Photo: evelknievel.com)

What Would You Ask Senator Obama?

| Fri Nov. 30, 2007 6:46 PM EST

I'd like to second Kate Shepherd's sentiment over at TAPPED. She writes, "Time has an interview with Obama that really could use some better questions..." Time offered up seven less than thought-provoking questions, so uninspiring in fact that I was moved to poll several of my fellow Mother Jones edit staffers for some better queries. Here's a few we came up with:

1. Why does your health insurance plan include mandates for kids, but not adults?

2. Ethanol is increasingly viewed as a wasteful form of fuel that sacrifices nourishment for gasoline. How would you move the U.S. away from defaulting to ethanol as an alternative fuel and towards cleaner, more sustainable options?

3. What's the first question you'd ask Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

It's fairly frustrating when the people with the best access to the candidates aren't delivering.

What would you ask Obama? Tell us, in the comments.