Mojo - September 2009

Need To Read: September 9, 2009

Wed Sep. 9, 2009 6:30 AM EDT

White House photo.White House photo.President Barack Obama attended the investiture ceremony for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor yesterday. This week, the Supreme Court is deciding whether restrictions on corporate money in federal elections are really all that necessary. Tonight, the president will address Congress (and the nation) on health care reform. Here are today's must-reads:

  • Marc Ambinder, Official Voice of Center-Left JournoWisdom: How Obama Survived August (The Atlantic)
  • Health Care Reform's Prospects Are Better Than You Think (NYT)
  • Our Own Kevin Drum Could Have Told You All This On Friday (MoJo)
  • Paul Krugman: Why The Public Option Matters (NYT)
  • The Max Baucus WellPoint/Liz Fowler Health Plan (FDL)
  • Consumers Paid Off Record Amounts of Debt in July. This Is Apparently Bad for the Economy (LAT)
  • What's Really Behind the Van Jones Attack (MoJo)
  • DOJ: Blackwater Contractor Saw Iraq As 9/11 Payback (MoJo)
  • No, I'm Not Linking to Sarah Palin's Op-Ed (It's In the WSJ)

I post articles like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

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On "Hardball": Corn vs. Buchanan on Palin and Obama-Hating

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 7:16 PM EDT

On Hardball, David Corn and Patrick Buchanan battled over whether conservatives have gone too far in opposing—or hating—Barack Obama. The conversation became heated, as the subject turned to Sarah Palin and her continued insistence that the health care reform bill under consideration in Congress actually will include "death panels." (Various experts have said that is not the case.) After Buchanan spoke admiringly of Palin—even though acknowledging that the bill does not truly include "death panels"—Corn noted that what Buchanan likes about Palin is her demagoguery. Did Buchanan then flash a you-got-me smile? You be the judge:

 

 

 

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

What's Really Behind the Van Jones Attack

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 5:29 PM EDT

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Kerpen continued his effort to associate green jobs with progressive radicalism and cronyism, in this New York Post op-ed alleging a link between the Apollo Alliance and the Weathermen.

The political smear campaign against Van Jones didn't begin in the paranoid brain of Glenn Beck. The wildly distorted attacks that ultimately brought down President Obama's green jobs czar on Saturday were fed to Beck by Phil Kerpen, the little-known policy director for the polluter front group Americans for Prosperity. Taking credit for the effort in jubilant, surprisingly frank blogs and tweets, Kerpen describes Jones' resignation as the first blow in a new fight to derail the climate bill.

"The Van Jones affair could be an important turning point in the Obama administration," Kerpen gushed on the Fox website this Sunday. "It's also one of the most significant things I've had the honor of being involved in."

Kerpen goes on to recount sending Fox an article on Jones from the East Bay Express, an Oakland alt-weekly that covers Jones' hometown. "Please share with Glenn this article about green jobs czar Van Jones, a self-described communist who was radicalized in jail," Kerpen wrote in a note to Beck's producer, adding: "Confirms 'watermelon' hypothesis." (Kerpen claims this wasn't a reference to Jones' black skin, but rather a hypothesis that the climate bill is "Green on the outside but communist red to the core.")

"The rest is history," Kerpen boasts. He spent two weeks "researching everything I could find about Jones" before appearing on Beck's program several times last month to dish.

Beck clearly didn't care that Kerpen wasn't a journalist, that his allegations against Jones were wildly exaggerated, or that he had a clear conflict of interest: Americans for Prosperity was launched and funded by foundations and family members tied to Koch Holdings LLC, which has extensive oil and chemical holdings. In February, Americans for Prosperity began airing ads that described backers of the climate bill as "wealthy eco-hypocrites." (Nevermind that AFP founder Fred Koch has a net worth of roughly $17 billion).  And it's behind this summer's Hot Air Tour, a traveling air show that is "exposing the ballooning costs of global warming hysteria." In his Fox blog post, Kerpen is completely frank about his motivation for appearing on Beck's show. ". . .I was glad to do it," he writes, "because exposing the green jobs scam is critical to fight cap-and-trade, my top legislative priority for the year."

In other words, it's no accident that Kerpen targeted Jones. Opponents of the climate bill hate the idea of "green jobs" because it undermines their central argument: that fixing the climate will wreck the economy. That's why Obama's speeches have glossed over climate science in favor of talking up energy independence and the coming clean tech boom. But if Kerpen and his ilk can reframe green jobs as "government" jobs, linking them to fears of pork, cronyism, and central planning, then they start winning again. So it helps immensely to call Jones a "self-described communist," or put forth, as Beck has, that "almost everyone who does believe in global warming is a socialist."

Kerpen makes no effort to conceal this agenda. He's even created a flow chart of progressive political groups in an effort to leverage his Jones narrative into one in which green jobs are primarily left-wing political patronage jobs. "[The] push for "green jobs" has everything to do with funding the far-left political activities that Van Jones so adamantly believed in," he writes.

Green jobs are not economic jobs but political jobs, designed to funnel vast sums of taxpayer money to left-wing labor unions, environmental groups, and social justice community organizers.

Now that Jones has resigned, we need to follow through with two critical policy victories.  First, stop cap-and-trade, which could send these green groups trillions, and second repeal the unspent portion of the stimulus bill, which stands to give them billions.  The Van Jones affair is, as President Obama likes to say, a "teachable moment," and we need to put not just him but the whole corrupt "green jobs" concept outside the bounds of the political mainstream.

As ridiculous as this idea sounds, it's clearly working for the time being, and it's not about to go away. Kerpen notes that many of his "findings" have yet to be published, including a forthcoming paper from the Capital Research Center, a group with past ties to tobacco money that "monitors" environmental and labor groups. Expect more of the same from a fossil fuel industry that's growing increasingly desperate to reframe the debate.  Last week, Kerpen sent his 4,800 Twitter followers this call to arms: "All the Van Jones outrage in the world won't matter if we don't stop stimulus abuse and cap-and-trade." 

Alternet's Addie Stan also reported on Americans for Prosperity in a story that we have crossposted here.

Snubbing Ahmadinejad

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 4:17 PM EDT

Gary Sick is a very astute observer of Iran. He was the lead Iran aide in the Carter White House during the hostage crisis, and also served on the National Security Council under presidents Ford and Reagan. He's now a professor at Columbia University's Middle East Institute, and over the years has been a persistent proponent of engaging with Iran. To that end, he himself has participated in frank exchanges with the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on a number of occasions. But not anymore. When Ahmadinejad returns to New York to visit the UN this month, Sick won't be meeting with him. Here's why he's changed his mind:

My Big Fat Private Government

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 4:08 PM EDT

One day after sharing Dan Schulman's "Embassy Guards Gone Wild" blog item with my Facebook friends, I ran into one of them at our kids' grade-school playground. He was still tripping over the graphic photos, and said something along the lines of, "Aren't we supposed to have Marines to guard the embassies, who are well-trained and paid less and …

"… don't eat potato chips out of each other's asses?" I finished.

One would hope. But as Tim Shorrock explains in our current issue, the federal government has outsourced itself into a state of ineptitude. At last count, there were more federal contract workers than civil service employees, and contractors conduct some of the most sensitive (even illegal) tasks the US government performs—and do so at a higher cost to you and me. Operating spy satellites? Check. Flying predator drones over Pakistan? Check. Running covert assassination programs? Check. Shorrock reports:

What Obama Can Mean in the Classroom

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 11:57 AM EDT

With the controversy over President Barack Obama's speech to school kids melting—how much outrage can rightwingers maintain over an address that encourages kids to work hard and not be put off by failure?—I'm reminded of a story I heard a few days after Obama was elected president.

A father I met at a party told me about his daughter, a teacher at a Maryland public high school in a low-income area. Most of her students were African Americans. Her classroom was often an unruly place, and she had to pick carefully what battles to wage, when it came to imposing order and discipline. For instance, she had long ago given up forcing her students to quiet down and pay attention during each morning's school-wide recital of the Pledge of Allegiance.

But the morning after the country had elected a black man president, her classroom was different. Once Pledge time arrived, her students, without any prodding from her, became calm and respectfully and somberly said the words that they usually ignored each day.

Clearly, Obama can be the sort of model for children and young adults that previous presidents could not be. He can especially be a powerful example for young people in disenfranchised and disadvantaged communities. And this seems to have really ticked off conservatives eager to portray any Obama move as an underhanded socialist plot. But today I'll be thinking about those students in that one Maryland classroom and hoping that Obama's words—as obvious as they might be—will register with several of them and encourage these students to believe that they can have a stake and a future in the system—and a say in whether there really is liberty and justice for all.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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Justice Dept.: Blackwater Contractor Saw Killing Iraqis as 9/11 Payback

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 11:55 AM EDT

For sport, they rolled through the streets of Baghdad hurling frozen oranges and water bottles at civilians and nearby vehicles, trying to smash windshields and injure bystanders. Convoying through the city in armored vehicles, the contractors fired their weapons indiscriminately. One member of the Blackwater security team known as Raven 23 regularly bragged about his body count and viewed killing Iraqis as "payback for 9/11."

These allegations are contained in court records [PDF] filed on Monday by Justice Department lawyers prosecuting five Blackwater contractors for the September 2007 shooting frenzy in Baghdad's Nisour Square that killed 14 Iraqis and wounded 20 others. Anticipating that lawyers representing the contractors will argue that they were acting in self defense, the prosecution is seeking to introduce evidence that "several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds." The charges are similar to those that recently emerged in civil lawsuits against Blackwater, stemming from the Nisour Square episode.

According to the court filing:

In addition to verbal expressions of hatred towards Iraqi civilians, the defendants engaged in unprovoked and aggressive behavior toward unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. In so doing, the defendants routinely acted in disregard of the use of force policies that they were required to follow as a condition of their employment as Blackwater guards.

...

This evidence tends to establish that the defendants fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause.

Mitch McConnell's SCOTUS Case

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 11:21 AM EDT

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a big day ahead tomorrow when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Citizens United v. FEC, a case that could result in the death of corporate spending restrictions in federal elections. McConnell, the nation's number one Republican, has been seldom seen during the August health care reform debate (see our new story here), but he's been a relentless foe of campaign finance reform over the years. Represented by the famous First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, McConnell has filed a brief in the case supporting Citizens United, and tomorrow the court will likely discuss a precedent that carries McConnell's name.

In one of his many attempts to derail the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, McConnell sued the FEC in 2002 arguing that the act was a violation of his First Amendment right to take gobs of corporate money to get elected. McConnell, a prolific Republican fundraiser, lost that case by a narrow margin, but the composition of the court has changed significantly since then, giving him much better odds in his current crusade. While the Republican leader might not lead his party to victory against health care reform, his Supreme Court advocacy may soon usher in a new era of corporate dominance of federal elections—a development that could have significant benefits for his party in the long run.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 8, 2009

Tue Sep. 8, 2009 6:58 AM EDT

Sgt. Ryan Pettit, left, and Cpl. Matthew Miller, from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, fire their service rifles during an operation in Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 3, 2009. The Marines are part of Regimental Combat Team 3, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau).

Need To Read: September 8, 2009

Tue Sep. 8, 2009 6:34 AM EDT

The president will speak to schoolchildren today; he plans to address a joint session of Congress tomorrow. Which audience will behave more maturely? Today's must-reads aren't sure.

  • Why Health Care Reform Survived August (The New Republic)
  • Max Baucus, Senate Finance Committee May Actually Move Health Care Reform Forward After All (NYT)
  • The Supreme Court Might Let Corporations Pour Unlimited Amounts of Cash Into Politicians' Campaign Coffers (WaPo)
  • Why That Might Be A Bad Idea (NYT)
  • Van Jones and the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory Poison (MoJo)
  • Newt Gingrich Is The GOP's Voice of Reason? (TPM
  • Why Isn't Mitch McConnell Leading the GOP's Fight on Health Care Reform (MoJo)
  • Joe Kennedy, Ted's Nephew, Not Running for Senate (Boston Globe)

I post articles like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)