Mojo - November 2009

Fiore Cartoon: Palin the Turkey

Wed Nov. 25, 2009 7:39 PM PST

The biggest turkeys this Thanksgiving aren't of the bird variety. They're people like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.

Who else makes the cut? Watch Mark Fiore's cartoon below to find out:

 

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A War in Name Only: Chamber CEO Met 10 Times With White House

| Wed Nov. 25, 2009 2:14 PM PST

Remember the war between the White House and the US Chamber of Commerce? Well, nevermind. Despite the Chamber's protests that the President was trying to "neuter and marginalize us," White House records released today show that Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue met with administration officials 10 times during Obama's first nine months in office, including twice with the President himself.

Stories in the Washington Post and Politico have painted a much different picture: "Instead of working through the Chamber," the Post reported last month, "President Obama has reached out to business executives, meeting repeatedly with small groups of CEOs in his private White House dining room." A few weeks later, an address by chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to the Chamber's board of directors was described by Politico as "fence mending" and extending an "olive branch."

But was it? The White House visitor logs suggest that a true war between the White House and the Chamber never really happened. They're less enemies than frienemies--reluctant and mutually-suspicious collaborators.

5 Reasons Dems Should Hope J.D. Hayworth Challenges McCain

| Wed Nov. 25, 2009 1:55 PM PST

J.D. Hayworth, the ultra-conservative Rep. turned talk radio host from Arizona, has emerged as a possible challenger to John McCain in the 2010 Senate primary. And according to a recent Rasmussen poll, he only trails the former presidential candidate by two points. Hayworth's candidacy would be awful for the GOP because he is likely too conservative for a general election battle and could weaken the already fragile McCain. Five reasons Dems should hope J.D. Hayworth enters the race:

  • Hayworth has been investigated by the US Justice Department for accepting cash and gifts from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cronies. This shady connection contributed to the loss of his House seat in 2006.
  • Hayworth has been accused of antisemitism. In his 2006 anti-immigration manifesto, Hayworth praised Henry Ford's "Americanization" vision. Ford used this term to describe "the Jew" who "inveighs against Americanism" for refusing to assimilate. In February, Hayworth appeared on Hardball claiming that Sen. Chuck Schumer and George Soros—"the guy in the background…manipulating all of the currency," a reference which Steve Benen says is highly problematic—should be blamed for the financial crisis instead of the Bush administration. He also has ties to Neo-Nazis.
  • His connection to "Birthers" and love for Orly Taitz. He once hosted Taitz on his radio show, calling her "Doctor" and treating her like a legal expert, instead of the supposed perjurer she is.
  • His close relationships with Arizona's most notorious anti-immigrant crusaders. Next month, Maricopa County’s infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio will host a fundraiser for Hayworth's "Freedom In Truth Trust." In another recent Rasmussen poll, Arpaio polled 15 points ahead of the likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate, state AG Terry Goddard, and said on Twitter this week that "if ever there was a time to consider a run, now may be the time."
  • And finally, look what happened to Dede Scozzafava and Doug Hoffman in NY 23.

Chamber Accuses Mother Jones of Reporting Stories "of Dubious Accuracy"

| Wed Nov. 25, 2009 10:11 AM PST

Is Mother Jones part of a vast liberal conspiracy? The US Chamber of Commerce says it has uncovered "a predictable pattern" in our reporting on the nation's biggest, beleagured business lobby: "An advocacy group such as the Yes Men or Velvet Revolution, SEIU, Center for American Progress, the NRDC. . .will post something of dubious accuracy," said Chamber flak Thomas J. Collamore, speaking yesterday at a forum of conservative bloggers hosted by the Heritage Foundation. "And then Huffington Post or Mother Jones will pick it up and treat it as a fact. And then more mainstream sources such as MSNBC or the Washington Post will treat it as a real story and follow up with us."

"The Chamber isn't blinking," he added. "We're trying to stay on the high road."

So far, the Chamber has taken the high road by making blanket statements about the "dubious accuracy" of our stories. It hasn't said which of our pieces it takes issue with, but a new Chamber web page, boldly titled "The Facts," offers a hint. It disputes the assertion, first made by me, that the Chamber was forced to lower its membership claims by 90%. "Our direct membership comprises 300,000 businesses," the page says. "Our federation contains over three million businesses and organizations. We represent both sets [of numbers]."

The Chamber isn't saying anything new here. It continues to ignore the fact that it almost never cited its true membership number or explained the meaning of the 3 million figure before I pointed out the discrepancy. (I've addressed its flip-flops here, here, and here). The Columbia Journalism Review has compiled an archive of the Chamber's use of the two numbers that clearly illustrates how it has willfully misstated its true size. Even now, most of the Chamber's web pages and press releases, including the one announcing the "The Facts" site, misleadingly cite only the larger number.

Far from following a "predictable pattern" of parroting advocacy groups, the idea to fact-check the Chamber's membership claims was entirely my own. In turn, my reporting was picked up by other journalists, several of whom independently reviewed the issue and confirmed my conclusions. As a result, the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have all embraced the correct membership number. This isn't a case of dubious information passing through a liberal echo chamber: It's a textbook example of reporters doing their jobs. (And the Chamber getting slammed by advocacy groups at the same time).

The Chamber's accusation that its critics have blurred the line between fact and spin is ironic: A spokesman for a conservative advocacy group speaks at an event for conservative bloggers hosted by another conservative advocacy group, where he makes a statement of dubious accuracy. Will those conservative bloggers pick it up and treat it as fact?

Obama to Make Pit Stop in Copenhagen

| Wed Nov. 25, 2009 9:06 AM PST

Good news: Barack Obama will travel to Copenhagen for the beginning of the United Nations summit on climate change next month. He'll make an appearance at the meeting on December 9, according to an administration official—a brief stopover en route to pick up his Nobel Prize in Oslo the next day.

Really good news: Obama plans to put a solid target for US emissions cuts on the table when he gets there. Obama will promise delegates at the summit that US will cut emissions "in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020," according to a White House official.

Not so good news: He's not planning to return for the end of the summit, which runs through Dec. 18. That's when approximately 65 other heads of state and government are expected to attend.

What to make of this? Well, now that it's clear that there's not going to be a final treaty in Copenhagen, the presence of heads of state is not quite as important. The real work is still to be done by negotiators.

But Obama's early appearance will help set the tone for the event, showing high-level US engagement with the issue (and perhaps even a desire on Obama's part to earn that Nobel he'll receive the next day.) Appearing later—when it probably wouldn't influence the conversation one way or another—might only lead to a repeat of what happened with the Olympics in October. If Obama shows up to much fanfare and nothing happens, that will only create bad press.

The emissions cuts promise is the really major news here. Having a solid commitment from the US—one involving actual numbers—is expected to lubricate the climate talks significantly. Sure, the 17 percent figure is not nearly as high as the reductions called for by the European Union, Japan, many developing nations—OK, basically everyone else in the world. Yet the hope is that if the US shows its cards, other key players (like China and India) will also start talking in real figures. Obama showing up in person to present those numbers is a pretty big deal.

The White House also announced that a number of cabinet secretaries and other top officials will make an appearance in Copenhagen during the conference. Scheduled to attend and give speeches at the summit are Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, and Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner. Their presentations, the White House said in a press release, will "underline the historic progress the Obama Administration has made to address climate change and create a new energy future."

Tom Friedman and Obama's State Dinner

| Wed Nov. 25, 2009 6:02 AM PST

In a PoliticsDaily.com column, David Corn notes that reviewing the guest list for President Obama's first state dinner—held to honor Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh—reminded him that he was miffed at one of the guests: New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Friedman, Corn writes, recently earned extra media notice for an appearance on The Charlie Rose Show, in which he dissed the American political system, grousing that it cannot handle the big challenges at hand. Friedman said:

What worries me about America today, Charlie, is that we are producing sub-optimal solutions to all our big problems. Whether it's called health care, whether it's called financial regulation, whether it's called debt, whether it's called energy and climate . . . our system isn't working. We are paralyzed today. . . . The forces of paralysis are just weighing [Obama] down.

Friedman blamed this paralysis on money in politics and cable television that "empowers some of the loudest and most extreme voices." Riffing off this, Corn observes,

I don't disagree with this pessimistic view. Some of us have been decrying money in politics for years (or decades) before it became the ground zero of Friedman's hot, flat and crowded world. But this jeremiad about "sub-optimal solutions" seemed odd coming from a leading member of the commentariat who hailed the invasion of Iraq as a necessary demonstration of the United States' ability to invade Iraq.

During a May 2003 interview with Rose, Corn points out, Friedman defended the war and explained that Bush-Cheney administration had had no other choice in dealing with the terrorism that led to 9/11:

What we needed to do was to go over to that part of the world . . . and take out a very big stick. . . . And there was only one way to do it. . . . What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house from Basra to Baghdad and basically saying, 'Which part of this sentence don't you understand? You don't think, you know, we care about our open society? . . . Well, suck on this, okay?' That, Charlie is what this war was about. We could have hit Saudi Arabia [because it supported terrorists] . . . could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That's the real truth.

Corn writes:

Was this the sort of optimal decision-making that is lacking today? Friedman was essentially saying, We had to whack somebody to prove we could -- without serious regard for the actual target of the war? Reality check: Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

Over the years, Friedman has had a difficult time with his position on Iraq. A month before the invasion -- when the Bush -Cheney administration was beating the WMD drum -- he wrote, "The way you get . . . compliance out of a thug like Saddam is not by tripling the [WMD] inspectors, but by tripling the threat that if he does not comply he will be faced with a U.N.-approved war." But a year later -- when there were no WMDs to be found -- Friedman claimed, "The stated reason for the war was that Saddam Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction that posed a long-term threat to America. I never bought this argument. . . . The WMD argument was hyped by George Bush and Tony Blair to try to turn a war of choice into a war of necessity." Then why had he depicted the war as a justifiable response to Saddam's dealings with WMD inspectors?

Okay, it's SOP for a pundit to reposition himself; hindsight is a columnist's friend. But for someone who was skeptical of Bush's war and who at the time called for a deliberative national discourse tethered to realistic assessments of what was known and what wasn't -- challenging columnists and cable-chatterers who were hurling hyperbolic claims to nudge the nation to war -- it's a bit galling to see a fellow who advocated a "suck-on-this" rationale now bitching about a political system that cannot maturely handle big problems and that is negatively influenced by extremist commentators.

Corn adds: "That said, I hope that Friedman had a lovely time at the dinner and that his perceptive analysis about the U.S political system was enjoyed by all his table-mates."

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Carly Fiorina's Climate Flip-Flop

| Wed Nov. 25, 2009 6:00 AM PST

It's fine for Republicans to express concern about climate change—as long as they don't run for national office, it seems.

Take the case of Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett Packard executive and adviser to the McCain '08 campaign who is now seeking to unseat Barbara Boxer from her California Senate seat next year. I talked to Fiorina last year when she was the "Victory Chair" of the Republican National Committee specifically about climate change. At the time, she was happy to talk about McCain's climate plan and the need to act on the issue. "I think there is growing consensus that the issues of climate change and energy independence are inextricably linked," said Fiorina.

Climate change, Fiorina said, "matters to a lot of people," particularly young people. She was eager to talk about the notion that climate policy could help stimulate innovation and create jobs, and that a well-executed cap-and-trade scheme could spur economic development. "I think it's important that when we think about taking on some of the great challenges now as opposed to leaving them to future generations, we have to talk not only about Social Security and medical care, but also about leaving our planet cleaner for the next generation than we found it," she said.

Flash forward to an interview with reporters in D.C. last week, in which Fiorina basically shied away from all of those prior statements. While she acknowledged that climate change is a "serious issue," she also suggested the science on warming is less than conclusive—and that the public needs leaders with the "courage" to question it.

From the Mercury News:

Fiorina faced several questions about climate change, an issue in which Boxer is deeply involved. The Republican said that global warming demands a serious response, but when asked whether she would back mandatory caps on carbon emissions, Fiorina said she would not comment on a bill she hasn't read. As for what course of action she believes the government should take, Fiorina suggested engaging in bilateral talks with China to curb greenhouse gases, and easing regulations for alternative energy companies to build manufacturing plants.

When a reporter followed up by asking whether she believes in global warming, Fiorina said, "I think we should have the courage to examine the science on an ongoing basis."

Glad that courage is being used up to question climate science, rather than to buck the GOP party line on climate policies.

The Louisiana Purchase?

| Wed Nov. 25, 2009 4:19 AM PST

On Saturday, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, finally rounded up the 60 votes he needed to begin the Senate's debate on the health care bill. They didn't come cheap. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), killed a provision that would have stripped health insurers of their anti-trust exemptions. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) got hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid money for her home state. "Staffers on Capitol Hill were calling it the Louisiana Purchase," writes the Washington Post's Dana Milbank.

Landrieu is far from the first Senator to be accused of trading her vote for legislative concessions. But this incident is an interesting illustration of how Washington works. As Reid got closer to the votes he needed, each holdout's vote got more valuable. The majority leader needed to give Landrieu at least $100 million (closer to $300 million, she later claimed) in state handouts to earn her vote to begin debate on the health care bill. That's not all. A provision making anyone who has been in foster care for at least six months presumptively eligible for Medicaid until age 25 was added to the bill before it hit the floor. "The language was added at the Senator's urging," Landrieu's spokesman told Mother Jones in an email. That's not surprising: If Landrieu, who is married to an adoptee and has two adopted children, has a personal pet cause, it's foster care and adoption policies. "This is sort of a special issue for me," she told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.

Edwin Park, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told me that it's hard to tell how much expanding Medicaid's coverage of former foster children might cost because the provision is included in the Congressional Budget Office's score of the cost of the larger expansion of Medicaid. Also, the measure doesn't kick in until 2019. But you can bet that when it does kick in, it'll cost something. None of this is to say that extra Medicaid money for Louisiana or expanded Medicaid coverage for former foster children is a bad idea. But the $100-million plus for Landrieu's priorities was just the cost of starting the debate on the bill. Reid will need 60 votes again before he can hold a vote on the final measure. What will those votes cost?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 25, 2009

Wed Nov. 25, 2009 4:11 AM PST

US Army Staff Sgt. Matt Leahart washes his clothes in an ammunition can on Combat Outpost Munoz in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Nov. 13, 2009. Leahart is deployed with Company B, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith.)

Need To Read: November 25, 2009

Wed Nov. 25, 2009 4:07 AM PST

Today's must reads hope you won't miss them too much on Thursday and Friday:

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