Back by popular demand, David Corn and James Pinkerton faced off on in a wide-ranging discussion of the BP oil spill, the future of energy in America, and Al and Tipper's marital woes.


History, or the future (however you want to look at it), has a funny way of rearing up and biting leaders who think they know what they're doing. Take Barack Obama. Only weeks before the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, he made a "pragmatic" decision to give way on the expansion of deep-water drilling off US shores in return for political support on his energy bill that might never have added up to much. In the process, he said on camera: "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. They are technologically very advanced." His decision, which left the oil industry's key lobbying outfit, the American Petroleum Institute, dancing for joy, doesn't look quite so pragmatic or advantageous now.

The president undoubtedly already rues the day he ever put those words on the historical record. Imagine, however, that, in the same situation, he had done the difficult, unpragmatic thing and said something like: "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs still cause spills and deep-water drilling is simply too dangerous for our planet, so I've decided, despite the obvious political problems involved, not to open up new, ever deeper, ever more sensitive or climatically extreme areas off our coasts to the oil industry. And I'm instructing my secretary of the interior to make sure that whatever drilling is already underway is safe." He'd be in a lot better shape right now, though the Gulf of Mexico wouldn't.

Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his true-believer government thought that a flotilla of peace activists determined to break the blockade of Gaza by steaming towards it with humanitarian relief supplies would be easy enough to control in the usual tough-guy ways. Call in the military, treat the activists goonishly in international waters, and a lesson would be learned. And indeed, a lesson has been learned—by the Palestinians, the Turks, and others.

In the process, the Israelis managed to turn the Mavi MaMara into the SS Exodus (the famed ship of Jewish refugees assaulted by the British in 1947), the Palestinians into Jews, Gaza into Israel before its establishment, and themselves into the oppressive, imperial Britons. No small trick in a single night. The Israelis will surely rue the day they ordered an assault on the six-ship flotilla in international waters when, if they had let the ships through, nothing much would have happened. In this case, the path of seemingly least resistance—to wield force—may have profoundly changed the international equation to Israel's disadvantage.

And then, of course, there's the war in Afghanistan, which is for the time being largely out of American consciousness. On that war, Obama made another assumedly pragmatic decision on entering the Oval Office: it would be politically easier to expand the fighting there, blunt the momentum of the Taliban, and worry about withdrawal later. This, too, passed for pragmatism in Washington, especially for a Democratic president, supposedly vulnerable on national security issues and seeking a second term (something all American presidents desperately desire).

So, on December 1, 2009, he went to West Point and, with a reluctance you could feel—even naming the date in 2011 when his administration would begin a troop drawdown—gave his "surge" speech to the nation. He could have given quite a different speech.  (I even wrote a withdrawal speech for him whose key line was: "Ours will be an administration that will stand or fall, as of today, on this essential position: that we ended, rather than extended, two wars.") He would have taken flak. The media would have been an instant echo chamber of outrage and criticism. But he would have made it through and ended two wars. No such luck.

As a result, sooner or later he's likely to find himself in political hell. Things are already going poorly in Afghanistan, not so surprising since the war there is the foreign-policy equivalent of a poorly drilled, poorly capped deep-water well in the Gulf of Mexico. The only question is when the spill will begin gushing uncontrollably. Unfortunately, as crackerjack TomDispatch regular William Astore points out, the Obama administration and the US military high command are now hopelessly committed to a gambler's mentality in Afghanistan, which means that, as things get worse, the war will only expand. Escalating in Pakistan is clearly on the mind of American planners, a move guaranteed to be disastrous (which, of course, never stopped anybody). Extending the timeline for an American stay is another obvious option. Hard as it might have been to launch a withdrawal in December 2009, imagine just how politically difficult it will be, if things get worse, in 2011. Where's the value of "pragmatism" now?

In case BP Oil the Movie wasn't enough entertainment for this summer, Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore points us towards another summer blockbuster: Operation Overreaction! Starring the Israeli Defense Forces and an aid flotilla on its way to Gaza. Enjoy.

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Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

Traveling to Arizona soon? Worried you might be considered "reasonably suspect" under the state's harsh immigration law? The country's largest labor union has some advice for you. Ahead of President Obama's face-off with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer today, the Service Employees International Union has launched a "travel advisory hotline" for travelers to Arizona who might be at risk of being questioned and detained under the new law. The hotline—which can be reached at 1-800-958-5068—is a tongue-in-cheek explanation of how visitors might avoid being profiled as illegal immigrants:

If you plan to wear jeans, press 1. If your skin is even remotely tanned, yellow, brown or blue in hue, press 2. If you tend to eat fast foods, drink bright colored juices or eat fresh vegetables in lieu of meat products, press 3.

If 1: Jeans are worn by many working people targeted by the new Arizona immigration law. Please wear slacks or khakis to avoid appearing suspicious. For more information, please press 4.

If 2: Working people come in many shapes and sizes, but anyone who doesn’t resemble a J. Crew or Ralph Lauren model, should be very, very careful. Consider wearing conservative or preppy clothing to avoid getting noticed. For more information, please press 4.

If 3: Many working people targeted by the new immigration Arizona immigration law eat fast foods and drink bright colored juices. Avoid these foods while traveling in Arizona to avoid undue attention from law enforcement officials. For more information, please press 4.

SEIU's new hotline plays off the notion, voiced by the Arizona law’s supporters, that state officials could use clothing to identify the illegal immigrants they should target under the new law. "They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there is different type of attire, there is different type of—right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes," Republican Rep. Brad Bilbray (R-CA) told Chris Matthews. Though the law requires police to ask about immigration status only if an individual has been stopped for another offense, opponents argue that the law will invariably encourage racial profiling.

Should all else fail, potentially suspect travelers to Arizona who want to take extra precautions could always pick up a gringo mask.

In a slickly produced commercial with an outright bizarre message, Carly Fiorina, the Republican frontrunner vying for the US Senate, ripped her opponent, Democrat incumbent Barbara Boxer, for describing climate change as an issue of national security. The ad shows a 2007 clip of Boxer, in a tiny video frame (no doubt intentional), saying, "One of the very important national security issues we face, frankly, is climate change." To which Fiorina, whose image now fills the frame, retorts, "Terrorism kills—and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather."

Really, Fiorina? This is demon sheep stuff here. No one doubts that terrorism, as Fiorina mentions, is a major national security issue. But, according to the Pentagon, climate change is, too. Indeed, the mighty Pentagon has been warning for years, even during the Bush administration when climate change wasn't believed by the White House, that climate change be could a destabilizing force throughout the world, stoking ethnic, racial, and economic conflicts. In the Quadrennial Defense Review released earlier this year, the Pentagon said "While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden on civilian institutions and militaries around the world." And the CIA, an institution Fiorina name-drops in her Boxer-bashing ad touting her experience having worked on an external committee there, has opened a intelligence center on climate change to collect data on its effects around the world. The question is: With the US's major defense and intelligence organizations saying climate change is a national security issue, how Fiorina say otherwise and retain any credibility?

And back to the "weather" rhetoric. The evidence supporting global climate change is so abundant, so voluminous, that to call it "weather" is appalling. Even Fiorina herself has previously said, "I think there is growing consensus that the issues of climate change and energy independence are inextricably linked," and that climate change "matters to a lot of people." Now: "weather." Talk about a flip-flop.

Here's the full ad for your viewing pleasure:

The ecological catastrophe that BP has wrought upon the Gulf of Mexico has been a profound teaching moment, and not just for environmentalists. Corporate America's trusty public relations officials, and their hard-working elite, the crisis communications experts, are eagerly taking note of BP's every word and deed. Mostly, it seems, to remember what not to do when the shit hits the fan.

Chris Lehane is a crisis communication expert whom Newsweek named a "Master of Disaster" for his role in the "rapid response" team that the Clinton Administration assembled to deal with scandals such as Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky affair. His consulting firm, Fabiani & Lehane, has represented California Edison during the California Energy Crisis, Goldman Sachs during the the financial crisis, and Cisco Systems when the Internet bubble burst. Yesterday Mother Jones spoke with Lehane about the BP crisis.

Mother Jones: From a crisis communications standpoint, what has BP done well?

Chris Lehane: Making the video [of the ruptured oil well] available so that people could see the live feed. One of the rules of thumb of crisis management is that you can never put the genie back in the bottle in terms of what the underlying issue is. People evaluate you in terms of how you handle things going forward. And obviously doing everything to be open, transparent, accessible is the type of thing that the public does look for from a corporate entity in this type of situation.

The video, at a tactical level, is the type of thing that makes sense because you are obviously giving people the capacity to go online and look at this stuff and evaluate it themselves. The challenge for them was that they weren’t necessarily open, transparent, and accessible with everything else, so I’m not sure how much of a benefit they got from that.

MJ: What has BP done poorly?

CL: This is just from a professional perspective: They set up a series of expectations in terms of what they were going to do to resolve the issue, and time after time after time they have not worked out. If you tell people what you are going to do, and you suggest it’s going to be successful, you need to be successful. Because once you create those expectations and you don’t fulfill them, when you already have a significant credibility problem, it just further degrades your credibility.

This week, oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to hit the shores of Florida's northwest panhandle, greasing the Sunshine State's pristine white-sand beaches in time for the summer tourist season. Already, hotels and restaurants are losing bookings for the coming weeks, though the extent of the BP disaster on Florida's economy—not to mention its coastlines and the water off its shores—is still unclear.

Leading the charge to assure Floridians and potential tourists that the state is open for business is Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist is a candidate for the state's open US Senate seat, and he sent ripples throughout the country with his decision in late April to ditch the GOP and run as an independent. Right now, Crist holds a small lead in the polls, edging out Republican (and Tea Party golden boy) Marco Rubio, a former state legislator, and Democrat Kendrick Meek, a US congressman from South Florida. But will the BP oil spill, expected to last until August, sink Crist's Senate dreams?

Democrats and Republicans alike have lambasted Crist for what they say is his delayed reaction to the spill's impact on Florida. State chief financial officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, pointed out that it took 32 days for Crist to arrange for TV ads to calm fears about the spill's toll on Florida businesses. When Crist did obtain $25 million for commercials touting Florida's untainted vacation spots in the Panhandle, Sink, a 2010 gubernatorial candidate, told the Miami Herald, "I am very disappointed in the lack of sense of urgency about getting this problem solved and getting it solved now." Republican state senator Don Gaetz echoed Sink’s sharp criticisms, lamenting, "It's in days like this that I miss Jeb Bush."

Pledging to "take on special interests" is a time-honored tradition in American politics. It's easy because everyone hates "special interests" and safe because "special interest" can refer to just about anything. John Kasich, the former GOP congressman and Lehman Brothers banker who's running against Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, knows all this. That's presumably why he's promoting his latest ad with this text:

Ted Strickland's most reliable special interest allies—the labor unions—came to his defense last week with almost $1 million in negative attack ads against me. It’s further proof that Ted Strickland’s complete lack of accomplishment leaves him no other option but to attack and smear.

So, while Ted Strickland’s campaign is benefiting from almost $1 million in negative attacks paid for by special interests, you might be interested to hear what I have to say about special interests by clicking here.

The message is clear: Ted Strickland's union allies are special interests, and John Kasich is going to stand up to them. But if unions are Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's "most reliable special interest allies," who's backing Kasich? Well, we do know that when he was a congressman, big financial firms and pharmaceutical companies dominated the list of his largest donors. You can review Kasich's current contributors here—it's more of the same. (Strickland's are here.) But I want to focus on one donor in Kasich's congressional career and how a single vote Kasich took affected that donor and the state of Ohio.

National City Corp (a.k.a. NatCity), was a giant subprime lender and Kasich's third largest donor during his second final term in Congress (1999-2000). As the Cleveland-based company imploded in 2008, it announced plans to cut 15 percent of its workforce (about 4,000 jobs) before being bought by PNC Bank with the help of several billion dollars in taxpayer assistance.

The PNC acquisition led to more cuts, as the Pittsburgh-based bank didn't need another headquarters in Cleveland. Kasich blames Strickland for those lost jobs, but the truth is more complicated. While in Congress, Kasich voted for "Foreclosure" Phil Gramm's Commodity Futures Modernization Act, a bill that helped make possible the explosion of "synthetic CDOs," credit default swaps, and the subprime mortgage market in general. (UBS, the giant Swiss bank that later hired Gramm, was Kasich's number-one donor in 2000.) Big banks like NatCity and UBS supported the CFMA because it allowed them to get more involved with the then-lucrative subprime mortgage market. By 2006, NatCity was almost entirely focused on subprime lending. By late 2008, one of Cleveland's oldest institutions was no more.

The point is that all this talk about "taking on special interests" is silly. In his ad, Kasich says "you can't be in a position where somebody's your buddy so that you give them something special." But unless campaigns are publicly funded (or funded by very small contributions from individuals), you can never know for sure that a donation isn't influencing a politician's decisions. If NatCity and UBS hadn't given Kasich all that money, he might still have voted for the CFMA. Or maybe he wouldn't have. We don't really know. What we do know is that donors aren't stupid. Unions give Strickland money because they think he'll do right by them and their members. And bankers and pharmaceutical companies give Kasich money because they believe he'll deliver for them. And if you believe otherwise, well, I have some old NatCity subprime loans to sell you.

UPDATE: Anonymous makes some good points in the comments. Yes, Strickland voted for CFMA, too. But the point of the post isn't that Kasich is responsible for the collapse of NatCity. He's not, and I didn't say he was. That would be ridiculous. The point is that one man's "special interest" is another man's key supporter, and that the "special interest" attack is a meaningless cheap shot. The side point about NatCity is that Kasich's blaming Strickland for all the lost jobs in Ohio is silly—the financial crisis was a huge event with many, interconnected causes. As I said, things are "more complicated" than Kasich claims.

I also corrected the error about 1999-2000 being Kasich's "second" term in Congress, which was really stupid. Sorry—don't know how that happened.

On Tuesday, Sarah Palin posted a new screed on Facebook bashing environmentalists for being the cause of the Gulf oil spill. No, really. Meanwhile, back on Earth, MoJo reporters Mac McClelland and Julia Whitty continue to blog and tweet live from the Gulf beaches, while Kate Sheppard keeps tabs on the politics of the spill. And if you haven't checked out Mac's and Julia's photos yet, they're worth a gander. Trust me. Mac's are here, and Julia's shots of birds battling oil are here.  Some sample tweets and links to our recent coverage of BP and the spill that's shaping up to be the environmental disaster of the century:

@JuliaWhitty: The oil in the seawater is as tacky as wax. I'd like to give the BP bigwigs fully-body Brazilian waxes #bp #oilspill

@MacMcClelland: A big lake of concentrated #BP crude has just been spotted coming toward the coast of Grand Isle.

For more up-to-the-minute updates on the spill, check out our BP coverage and the Blue Marble blog. You can also follow Mac McClelland, Julia Whitty, Kate Sheppard, The Climate Desk, and the Blue Marble on Twitter. 


An AH-64D Apache with Company C, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, Task Force 12, glides effortlessly over Memorial Hall during the Memorial Day ceremony held at Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq, on May 31. Photo via the US Army by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Dehart.