On the occasion of President Obama's Oval Office speech on Iraq, David Corn and Dan Senor duke it out over the origins of the Iraq war on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews. Spoiler alert: Corn outclasses Senor with an Ernest Hemingway quote.

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

Soon, your car might come with a letter grade for fuel efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering a plan to add As, Bs, Cs, and even Ds to the window stickers that appear on new cars and trucks. Electric vehicles would get an A+, while plug-in hybrids would earn As. The Toyota Prius, Ford Fusion Hybrid, and Honda Civic Hybrid (all gas-electric cars) would get A-, while other hybrids would fall in the B range. Less fuel-efficient vehicles like pickup trucks and sports cars would get Cs and Ds. As you might imagine, the automobile industry lobby isn't too thrilled by this idea:

Automakers questioned the proposed letter grades, saying it might affect sales. Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said "the letter grade inadvertently suggests a value judgment, taking us back to school days where grades were powerful symbols of passing or failing." She said a broad range of vehicle technologies were needed to improve fuel efficiency.

This has to be one of the worst PR statements ever. I almost suspect the AP writer put it in to embarrass the AAM. "Inadvertent" generally means "unintentional." But I'm pretty sure that the letter grade system intentionally suggests a value judgment. Showing that some vehicles are better for the environment than others is kind of the point of the exercise. If the new system "affects sales" by encouraging people to buy more fuel-efficient cars, well, I'm sure the EPA wouldn't complain about that, either. And what's all this about "school days" being the long-forgotten past "where grades were powerful symbols of passing and failing"? Last time I checked, they still are. A Maybach 57 might get an "A" in acceleration, but it only gets a D+ when it comes to the environment. That's life. Anyway, this statement gets an F. That's for "FAIL."

You knew this was one coming. The campaign of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a new ad out hitting his opponent, conservative Sharron Angle, for one of her most controversial claims, made in June: that unemployment insurance makes people "spoiled." (Here's the video of that claim.)

Reid's ad features Nevadan Debra Harding, who the ad says has been out of work for a year, pushing back against Angle's positions on unemployment, including her stated opposition to extending jobless benefits. And in response to Angle's claim that unemployed Americans "want to be dependent on the government," Harding replies, "I'm not spoiled and I don't want to be dependent on anybody. If Sharron Angle doesn't get that, she should be out of work. Not people like me."

And of course the 35-second ad concludes with a popular Reid campaign tagline: "Sharron Angle: Just too extreme."

Here's the ad:

In his PoliticsDaily.com column, David Corn asks a basic question: why is President Barack Obama giving an Oval Office speech on Tuesday night about Iraq. He writes:

Speeches from the Oval Office are usually reserved for the most pressing and profound matters of a presidency. And this partial end of the Iraq war -- the United States will still have 50,000 troops stationed there -- is a significant event. It demonstrates that Obama has kept a serious campaign promise: to end this war.

But with the economy foundering -- many of the recent stats are discouraging -- most Americans are probably not yearning above all for a report on Iraq and likely will not be all that impressed with Obama's promise-keeping on this front. The main issue remains jobs, especially as the congressional elections approach.

Summer is essentially done. It's back-to-school and back-to-work time for many of us. But on Obama's first days after his Martha Vineyard's vacation, he's devoting (at least in public) more time and energy to foreign policy matters than the flagging economy. Worried Democrats must be livid. (Most House Democrats are still campaigning in their districts and are not yet back in Washington to gripe about their president.)

And this address is no slam-dunk:

He can't declare victory. He can only declare a murky end to a murky war. That's not going to rally the Democrats' base or win over independents. It was not mandatory for Obama to deliver such a high-profile speech. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Baghdad to commemorate this milestone. The administration has conducted other events regarding the end of combat operations. It's been duly noted.

The Iraq war, though, raises tough questions for Obama. For example, at the White House press briefing on Monday, Gibbs was peppered with queries about whether Obama believes Bush's so-called surge worked or did not. Gibbs did not provide a direct answer -- and the question is indeed more complicated than many people assume. But Obama, who did not support the surge, clearly does not want to be mired in a debate over it.

Corn posed a related question at the press briefing:

I asked Gibbs about an apparent contradiction in Obama's position. When he was campaigning for the presidency in 2007, he said, without uncertainty, that the Iraq war had rendered the United States less safe:

"I don't believe that we are safer now than we were after 9/11 because we have made a series of terrible decisions in our foreign policy. We went into Iraq, a war that we should have never authorized and should not have been waged. It has fanned the flames of anti-American sentiment. It has, more importantly, allowed us to neglect the situation in Afghanistan."

Yet last week, Obama cut a video thanking GIs who had served in Iraq, or are serving there now, saying that their work has "made America safer." Which is it? Was the United States safer or not safer due to the Bush-Cheney war? As an opponent of the war, Obama had an unambiguous stance. Now, as commander in chief, he understandably does not want to say that American GIs sacrificed -- and were sacrificed -- in vain. So he praises the soldiers for an achievement he does not, or did not, believe was real. Such rhetorical gymnastics, even if necessary, do not make for a clear message. In reply to my question, Gibbs said he would have to review the president's remarks in the video -- a classic press secretary dodge.

Corn concludes:

The Iraq war was a mistake. That remains Obama's view, according to Gibbs. And though he has ended combat missions, there is no good drum to beat. (I'd bet he won't dwell on the fact that tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians -- if not a lot more -- lost their lives due to the war.) The economy is in peril. The president's party is in peril. There's not a lot of time before Judgment Day. If the Dems lose seats in Congress, Obama will confront a much tougher slog in Washington. Given all that, he must be exceedingly savvy and efficient in how he invests whatever political capital he holds. The end of the official war in Iraq is a historic moment. It does warrant reflection and notice. But for a president wrestling with a lousy economy and facing an uneasy electorate, this is not the ground where he should be mounting an offensive.

Meanwhile, Corn's colleague at PoliticsDaily, Jill Lawrence, has an interesting wish regarding Obama's speech:

On his list of campaign promises, the president wants to check the box next to "responsibly get us out of Iraq" and quickly move on.

But for me, that's not enough. I want to hear about first principles from him – principles that determine when we go to war. I want to hear about fact-based decision-making – why we go to war. I want to hear about smart planning and contingency planning and choosing competent people to lead us into, and out of, potential quagmires. In short, I want to know I can once again trust my government.

Will Obama use the speech to re-argue the past and criticize the Bush administration? That might make the address especially notable. Still, this would not do much to convince voters that Obama and the Democrats are working 24/7 to juice up the economy.

At Saturday's Restoring Honor rally, Mother Jones talked to some of the Glenn Beck faithful about government, religion, and socialism.

Here's a look:



Soldiers assigned to the Provincial Reconstruction Team security forces team, conduct a presence patrol though Mangow village in eastern Afghanistan’s Nuristan province, on Aug 26. Photo via the US Army by US Air Force Staff Sergeant Steven R. Doty.

David Corn and Eugene Robinson joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the floundering state of President Obama's public image and how he might reclaim it from those who deny his religion and nationality.

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

In the military, it's said, training never ends. Officers at one Virginia base reportedly think that maxim extends to their soldiers' religious development, as well: The Army is investigating allegations that soldiers there were ordered to attend a Christian pop-rock concert, or else remain confined to their barracks.

"Instead of being released to our personal time, we were locked down," Private Anthony Smith told the Associated Press, referring to himself and the other 100 or so men who declined to attend the concert. "It seemed very much like a punishment."

While the AP first reported the incident on August 20, it missed some tasty details about the base general who organized the $23,000 concert—and many more like it. It also didn't say much about the band involved, an all-teen trio of sisters called BarlowGirl who are kind of a big deal in Christian pop circles.

The May 13 concert was the brainchild of a self-professed "reborn" officer, Maj. General James E. Chambers. While commanding Ft. Eustis in Newport News two years ago, he "promoted a series of concerts, featuring Christian performers, aimed at awakening Soldiers' spiritual awareness," according to an Army profile from 2008. When he moved over to Ft. Lee, he continued "that outreach," the Army said. "The idea is not to be a proponent for any one religion," he told his profiler back then. "It's to have a mix of different performers with different religious backgrounds."

As tens of millions displaced and homeless Pakistanis continue to weather the effects of flooding, donations for flood relief remain sluggish. Pakistan is getting far less in donations (and media attention) than the Haiti earthquake. The flood relief effort has about 2/3 of the funding it needs, the US State Department estimates. According to one Oxfam representative, after 3 weeks the Pakistan effort garnered roughly $230 million committed; Haiti had three times that within 10 days.

BBC surveyed several experts as to why the response to Pakistan is lagging behind that of similar disasters. There were many reasons, among them "donor fatigue" and "terrorism," but one of the most intriguing was the idea that the floods were simply the "wrong disaster." As Yale economics professor Dean Karlan told BBC, "sudden events seem to generate more funds... [for Pakistan] there isn't any one single day in which news is huge... massive and sudden earthquakes or tsunamis draw our immediate attention and shock us." A Pakistan expert added ominously that the flood's low fatality rate actually masks the incredible magnitude of the disaster (livestock killed, low food supplies, ruined infrastructure), which will get worse as the year goes on. The whole article is worth a read, you can access it here.




The Obama administration seems to believe that the President has the authority to order the assassination of anyone, including American citizens, if they meet certain as-yet-undisclosed criteria. One American, accused terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, has been widely reported to be on a US government "kill list"—making him just one of several US citizens the government is reportedly trying to kill without charge or trial.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sued the government to force a change to this policy. (Their client is Nasser al-Awlaki, Anwar's father.) The groups hope that a court will rule that non-judicial "targeted killing" off a battlefield like Iraq or Afghanistan "is illegal in all but the narrowest circumstances." They also hope to force the government to explain exactly how it decides to put US citizens like Awlaki on a government "kill list." Here's an excerpt of their press release (you can watch a video version below):