Mojo - June 2010

Corn on "Hardball": Limbaugh Sides With BP

Fri Jun. 25, 2010 12:20 AM PDT

David Corn appeared on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss Rush Limbaugh's response to the BP disaster and the Republican Party's seeming inability to take a stand against Rush. Spoiler alert: "It's easier for a pelican to praise BP than it is for a Republican to criticize Rush Limbaugh."

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

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Dems On Energy Package: Lots of Enthusiasm, Few Actual Details

| Thu Jun. 24, 2010 12:36 PM PDT

Senate Democrats emerged from today's caucus meeting with little in the way of clarity on what their energy package might look like. But they were determined, however, to use the issue as a bludgeon against Republicans.

Senators described a meeting in which caucus members were united in enthusiasm for passing an energy package, but they also said not many specifics were discussed. John Kerry (D-Mass.) described the meeting as "inspirational." Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said it was "an uprising of rank and file members of the caucus." "A number of senators said this was the best caucus they've ever attended," said Majority Leader Harry Reid. But no one could say exactly what a package would look like on energy, climate, or the oil spill. 

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has been critical of leadership for advancing weak bills on this subject, said that specifics on climate provisions "wasn't what was really talked about today." Kerry indicated, however, that there was agreement that the Senate should act on cutting carbon before the EPA begins regulating it next year. Senators still expect to debate the package following the July 4 recess.

"We’re determined to bring a bill to the floor of the Senate that we think is reasonable, makes sense, and that will help Americans be able to grab ahold of the future," Kerry said. As for what that bill will be? "You'll have to see what we come to the floor with," Kerry said.

There was unanimity, though, to "make sure we are united in a message to the public that even if we lose, we carry a message that has meaning," said Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). Sanders also echoed the idea that this could be more of a message vote than anything else next month. "If you're strong and you're clear and you win the support of the American people, there are Americans who are Republicans as well, and they are going to put pressure on Republicans as well," said Sanders.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin said it was "too soon" to know what the package would look like. So in short, not a whole lot of updates on the package yet coming out of today's caucus meeting.

BP Oil Spill: Israel's Revenge?

| Thu Jun. 24, 2010 7:54 AM PDT

The ever-entertaining WorldNetDaily has a breaking exclusive this morning suggesting that President Obama may have caused the BP oil spill by dissing Israel. Quoting the Biblical prophecies of Carl Gallups, a talk-radio host and Baptist pastor in Florida, WND reports:

April the 19th, Israel celebrates its independence in 2010," Gallups says in narration on the video. "On April the 19th, Fox News reports that the U.S. will no longer automatically support Israel in the United Nations. The next day, on April the 20th, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explodes. Coincidence? Or the hand and judgment of God?"

WND notes seriously that Gallups isn't the only expert who thinks that America might be "under a curse from God." Referring to the Gulf spill (which Gallups claims could eventually reach all the way to Europe), the 80-year-old "Biblical expert" and Christian Zionist Hal Lindsey tells WND, "I believe this is evidence that when you turn your back on Israel, especially when you've been a supporter, you're gonna see judgments come from God."

Gallups and Lindsey are clearly not the first to suggest that the oil spill was indirectly caused by the Obama administration rather than say, oil company incompetence. The environmental disaster has spawned all sorts of conspiracy theories. Rush Limbaugh famously blamed environmentalists for causing the spill as part of their campaign to end deepwater oil drilling. There are rumblings that BP blew up the well itself. No doubt some religious homophobes have found a way to blame gays for the oil spill. And of course, all of this was predicted in Revelations, a section of the Bible Gallups seems to have overlooked in his focus on Genesis and its support for Israel.

But it's always interesting to hear this kind of stuff coming from WND. The conservative news site does tend to run lots of stories like "European Antichrist Looking More and More Unlikely" alongside its attempts to prove that Obama is not an American citizen. But unlike Limbaugh or the other BP conspiracy theorists out there, WND actually claims to be a legitimate news outlet and the largest English-language Internet news site in the world. It even has a White House correspondent.  

In any event, those interested in seeing the oil spill prediction map that has oil washing up on the beaches of France along with a tutorial on the Jewish calendar can watch the Gallups video here. If nothing else, it's good for a giggle:

 

Goldman Sachs Still Eviler Than BP

| Thu Jun. 24, 2010 7:06 AM PDT

Felix Salmon points to a graph today mapping out the public's impression of three of the most wounded, scandal-ridden companies: Toyota, BP, and Goldman Sachs. As it turns out, in reaction to the question "If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, was it positive or negative?" the Biggest Loser award belongs to...Goldman Sachs. Despite BP's ongoing, ever worsening catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, Goldman, under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the face (fairly or not) of Wall Street greed and recklessness, still has the worst public image among the three companies. Here's the graph, via Felix:

Coming Soon: Dems Climate and Energy Plan

| Thu Jun. 24, 2010 7:03 AM PDT

Democratic Senators will discuss the prospects for climate and energy legislation at today's caucus lunch, a topic that was also on the agenda during last week's meeting, which ended before lawmakers could actually debate policy. Today's sessions is expected to provide guidance for what a package of energy and oil-spill related measures might look like. Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he expects to begin debate on the legislation after the July 4 recess.

Ahead of the meeting, 64 state and national environmental groups issued a joint statement to senators calling for the bill to include a cap on carbon dioxide, which remains one of the biggest questions on the package:

Thursday's caucus meeting will be a milestone in the effort to transition America to clean energy and finally address the dangers of carbon pollution. We expect our environmental allies – and all Senators who want to cut America's addiction to imported oil, create jobs, and reduce pollution – to speak out strongly for a truly comprehensive clean energy and climate bill.
With millions of gallons spilled in the Gulf of Mexico and a billion dollars a day going overseas for imported oil, we can no longer afford to delay our transition to clean energy. As President Obama told the nation last Tuesday night, "For decades we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires" and we must not "settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom." The time has come to act.

The League of Conservation Voters, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Sierra Club, and VoteVets.org Action Fund also announced an $11 million campaign on Thursday to push for comprehensive climate and energy action. The ads will start running next week, targeting key senators from both parties, the groups said.

The caucus meeting is supposed to end around 2 p.m.; I'll have more after that.

Reid: Sharron Angle, the GOP Extremist?

| Thu Jun. 24, 2010 6:37 AM PDT

Today Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) released a new campaign ad bashing his conservative, Tea Party-endorsed opponent, former Nevada assemblywoman Sharron Angle. In it, Reid's campaign rips Angle for saying that Social Security is "welfare," and for claiming to want to eliminate both Social Security and Medicare. (Angle told Fox News' Sean Hannity earlier this month that she "want[s] to save Medicare and Social Security." She added that lawmakers need to "personalize" the two programs so "the government can't go in and raid it any more.") The ad concludes with a black-and-white screen that reads, "Sharron Angle: Just too extreme." Here's the ad:

This ad, of course, is just the beginning of what's sure to be a barrage of messaging from Reid's camp and his Democratic backers. They're certainly not lacking for dubious statements of Angle's to harp on; after all, this is the woman who recently claimed that unemployed people receiving government support are "spoiled." You can bet there's an ad in the works making light of that gaffe.

For Angle's part, she has yet to wade into the ad wars, so far releasing only one online commercial and mostly avoiding the press as she builds up her campaign operations. But you can bet she'll come out swinging soon enough.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 24, 2010

Thu Jun. 24, 2010 2:03 AM PDT

 

Members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team from Forward Operating Base Finley Shield walk through a construction site to ensure building is on schedule near Jalalabad city in Nangarhar, Afghanistan, on June 10. Photo via the US Army photo by Spc. David Jackson.

McChrystal Saga Provides Cover for Another Army Scandal

| Wed Jun. 23, 2010 4:35 PM PDT

While all eyes were trained on the McChrystal/Obama/Petraeus drama in Washington Tuesday, Army officials quietly exonerated three soldiers who'd been accused of incompetence for their role in the deadliest attack on US soldiers in the Afghanistan war.

The service approved a recommendation by a soon-to-retire investigator, Gen. Charles Campbell, that "withdrew, cancelled and annulled" (PDF) the official reprimands of those three unnamed officers. The now-forgotten punishments stemmed from their roles in a July 13, 2008, ambush by foreign fighters on a US outpost in Wanat province. That grisly firefight left nine paratroopers dead and 27 more injured; it also fueled a fiery cry by the families of many fallen Afghanistan soldiers, who say incompetent tactics and leadership have been killing soldiers without anyone being held accountable.

Petraeus and the Myth of the Surge

| Wed Jun. 23, 2010 11:52 AM PDT

As soon as the news was reported that Gen. David Petraeus is succeeding soon-to-be-retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the media narrative was set in stone: the super-general who won the war in Iraq with the so-called surge can now work his magic in another theater.

It's hard to stop a locomotive meme—which is what the surge story has become. But the success of the surge in Iraq remains debatable to this day. Still, try injecting that point into media discussions of Iraq or Afghanistan. Yet with Petraeus taking over the Afghanistan war, it's worth noting the other side of the surge tale. So as a public service, here are a few analyses that question the surge hype.

From Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard:

The surge had two main goals. The first goal was to bring the level of violence down by increasing U.S. force levels in key areas, forging a tactical alliance with cooperative Sunni groups, and shifting to a counterinsurgency strategy that emphasized population protection. This aspect of the surge succeeded, though it is still hard to know how much of the progress was due to increased force levels and improved tactics and how much was due to other developments, such as the prior "ethnic cleansing" that had separated the contending groups.

The second and equally important goal was to promote political reconciliation among the competing factions in Iraq. This goal was not achieved, and the consequences of that failure are increasingly apparent. What lies ahead is a long-delayed test of strength between the various contending groups, until a new formula for allocating political power emerges. That formula has been missing since before the United States invaded -- that is, Washington never had a plausible plan for reconstructing a workable Iraqi state once it dismantled Saddam's regime -- and it will be up to the Iraqi people to work it out amongst themselves. It won’t be pretty.

From Tom Ricks, author/journalist Tom Ricks (March 2009):

I thought some of the surge-era deals in Iraq would unravel but I didn't think that would begin happening this quickly. It's only March 2009, and already Awakening fighters are fighting U.S. soldiers in the streets of Baghdad.

Anyone who tells you that the Iraq war is over should be forced to memorize this paragraph from the Sunday edition of the Washington Post:

As Apache helicopter gunships cruised above Baghdad's Fadhil neighborhood, former Sunni insurgents fought from rooftops and street corners against American and Iraqi forces, according to witnesses, the Iraqi military and police. At least 15 people were wounded in the gunfights, which lasted several hours. By nightfall, the street fighters had taken five Iraqi soldiers hostage.

That is Iraq 2009. Does it sound peaceful to you? Does it seem like the political questions vexing Iraq have been solved?

From Tom Ricks (April 2010):

I've held off on commenting on the situation in Iraq during this unsettled transitional period. The bombings in Baghdad (another big one today) strike as painful but irrelevant. On the plus side, al Qaeda in Iraq has suffered some good hits. On the negative, the political situation looks as unresolved as ever. The other day an Iraqi friend gloomily predicted to me that the question of the next government would remain open until September, and then, once it was solved and the Americans were out of the way, violence would begin to increase.

My gut feeling is that Iraq is adrift, and that this slow centrifugal process ultimately will result in, at best, a loose confederation. In other words, not only do I think the glass is half empty, I am not sure how long the glass can take the strain of what it is holding.

But the truth is that I don't know and neither does anyone else. But as Tom Friedman used to say every year, the next six months in Iraq could be decisive.

From former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), who co-chaired the Iraq Study Group:

Former Democratic  Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton told CNSNews.com that the surge in Iraq may have “temporarily” achieved its military purpose of reducing violence, but its political intention of promoting “reconciliation” has not been accomplished....

“The purpose of the surge in Iraq was to reduce the violence, which it did, but it also had a political purpose and the political purpose was to encourage reconciliation, which has not happened,” Hamilton, current president and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, told CNSNews.com.

“So the military objective was achieved temporarily, we’ve had a resurgence of violence in recent days,” he added. “The political objective has not been achieved.”

From Diana West, a conservative columnist:

The main reason the "surge" in Afghanistan is on is because the  conventional wisdom tells us the "surge" in Iraq "worked."

The problem is, the Iraq surge did not work. Yes, the U.S. military perfectly executed its share of the strategy -- the restoration of some semblance of calm to blood-gushing Mesopotamian society -- but that was only Step One. The end-goal of the surge strategy, Step Two was always out of U.S. control -- a fundamental flaw. Step Two was up  to the Iraqis: namely, to take the opportunity afforded by U.S.- provided security (see Step One) to bring about both "national  reconciliation" and, as the powers-that-were further promised, the emergence of a U.S. ally in the so-called war on terror.

Step One worked. Step Two didn't. The surge, like an uncaught touchdown pass, was incomplete. The United States is now walking off  the battlefield with virtually nothing to show for its blood, treasure, time and effort. In fact, another "success" like that could kill us.

Though the success of the surge is regarded in much of the media as an article of faith, it remains open to discussion and examination. Looking at Iraq these days, it's certainly arguable that Petraeus did not work a miracle there. And the mission he faces in Afghanistan is tougher. To achieve anything resembling victory in Afghanistan, he'll likely need far more success than the Iraq surge produced—in reality or myth.

Prisoners Scored $9 Mil in Housing Tax Credit

| Wed Jun. 23, 2010 10:45 AM PDT

More than a thousand prisoners, 241 of whom were behind bars for life, pocketed more than $9 million in tax breaks as part of Congress' highly popular first homebuyer tax credit. All told, the housing tax credit, which has propped up the US' wounded housing market for months, has lost nearly $30 million to fraud, according to a new Treasury Department report.

Here's CNN Money on the report:

According to the report, 4,608 state and federal inmates filed for these tax credits, and that fraudulent refunds were doled out to 1,295 of them.

The inspector general's report said the most "egregious" fraudsters were 715 prison lifers, including 174 who filed with the help of paid preparers. From this group, 241 lifers were awarded $1.7 million.

The problem was particularly bad in Florida: 61% of the lifers who got credits were incarcerated in the Sunshine State.

The homebuyer tax credit program was very specific about the time period in which homebuyers were allowed to participate, though this rule seems to be the most widely violated. The credit was for home purchases that happened after April 8, 2008, with a cut-off date that was eventually extended to May 1, 2010.