Mojo - January 2011

Corn on MSNBC: Sarah Palin's Petty Response to the Tucson Story

Thu Jan. 13, 2011 12:06 AM PST

David Corn joined former Bush speechwriter David Frum and host Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC's The Last Word to discuss Sarah Palin's petty video response to criticism of her political rhetoric in the wake of the Tucson shooting.

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Obama in Tucson: The Right Loses a Meme

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 8:16 PM PST

President Barack Obama's speech in Tucson was undeniably a high moment of his presidency. But you can judge that for yourself. (As the father of a nine-year-old daughter, I could not imagine delivering such an address—and keeping it together.) The initial reviews—even among pundits on the right—appeared overwhelmingly positive, proving that most of us can live in a shared reality. But here's what to look for in the coming days: how the die-hard Obama-haters will behave. Since the campaign, this gang has argued one or more of these variants: Obama is anti-America, Obama wants to wreck the economy, Obama wants to weaken America, Obama hates liberty and freedom, Obama is a socialist, Obama is a communist, Obama is not truly (and literally) an American, Obama is a secret Muslim. After this speech, will they be able to make such claims? (Rush Limbaugh, I am indeed talking about you.)

During the 2008 campaign, Obama did appeal to those voters who yearned for a leader who could rise above the partisan fray. The process of governing—and GOP obstructionism—made it tough for him to keep that promise. But this speech offered him an opportunity to renew that connection with voters of this particular stripe. The leader on the stage in Tucson was not a man who fits the Rushian or Beckian caricature. So what are Rush, Glenn, and the others going to do? (And by the end of Obama's speech, Sarah Palin's silly Facebook video looked even more small-minded and self-centered.) The Obama Hate Machine better pray that Obama doesn't get other chances to address the nation in this manner. The White House, after all, cannot manufacture such opportunities. They come precisely because of events that are beyond our control. Yet it is in these moments that presidents can define themselves—especially for those voters who do not pay attention to the daily tussles of politics and policy. Obama did that well on Wednesday night, and the Obama haters must hate that.

Gulet Mohamed Lawyer Calls for Investigation of FBI Conduct

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 2:41 PM PST

Gadeir Abbas, the lawyer for Gulet Mohamed, an American Muslim teenager detained in Kuwait, has called for an investigation after FBI agents allegedly continued to question his client in Kuwaiti custody despite the teen's repeated requests for a lawyer and invocation of his right to remain silent. I wrote about the details of Abbas' allegations and Mohamed's plight earlier today. Here's the text of the letter (I've redacted Abbas' contact information):

GOPers Steer Clear of Palin's "Blood Libel" Comments

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 12:39 PM PST

Sarah Palin dropped her latest rhetorical bombshell on Wednesday morning, claiming, in a widely circulated video, that media reports highlighting incendiary right-wing rhetoric (hers in particular) in the wake of the Tucson shootings was comparable to "blood libel." Palin lobbed the term—which has historically referred to the claim that Jews used the blood of Christian babies to make matzoh—just as the House was convening in Washington for the first time since Saturday. Hours before a congressional prayer service for the victims of the shooting rampage, Republican lawmakers made it clear they didn't want to go near the former Alaska governor's inflammatory remarks.

"I'm going to let her speak for herself," Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a tea party-backed freshman, told Mother Jones before walking onto the House floor for speeches mourning the Arizona victims. Other House Republicans were also cautious about weighing in. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who's made joint appearances with Palin, said: "I haven't seen the video yet... I gotta watch the video before I comment." 

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), one of the Palin-backed "Mama Grizzlies" during the midterms, had even less to say. When asked whether she any comment or reaction to Palin's use of "blood libel," Noem said, "No, I don't." Pressed further on whether the media attacks on Palin over the Arizona shooting have been out of line, Noem replied, "I don't have a comment for that."

But at least one House Republican stepped forward to warn the media against using Palin's latest "blood libel" comment to unfairly malign her. "I didn't hear what she said exactly, but I just want to make sure that people on both sides of the media don’t take this and try to turn it into something that I’m not sure that it is," said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), leaing the House GOP's caucus meeting on Wednesday, adding that Palin has been unjustly attacked in the past. The Pennsylvania Republican, however, declined to comment on her specific remarks. "I honestly couldn't you exactly what she said, so I couldn’t put a comment out there that would be intelligent."

Shuster, however, did offer up his own reinterpretation of Jewish history in response to another question. When asked about accused assailant Jared Lee Loughner's political leanings, Shuster said: "I don't know. We'll uncover that as we go forward...But from what I heard, his two favorite books were Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto—that tells me the guy is on the left. People like to associate Hitler with the right, but in fact he was a socialist himself."

'You Lie,' You Die?

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 12:16 PM PST

This seems to be of questionable judgment (from Columbia, S.C.'s Free Times):

A South Carolina gun and accessories company is selling semi-automatic rifle components inscribed with "You lie"– a tribute to the infamous words of 2nd District Republican Congressman Joe Wilson when he shouted at President Barack Obama during a congressional speech about national health care reform in the fall of 2009.
"Palmetto State Armory would like to honor our esteemed congressman Joe Wilson with the release of our new 'You Lie' AR-15 lower receiver," reads a portion of the company's website.

The page selling the commemorative rifle components has since been taken down, it appears. The company noted that their product "is neither endorsed nor affiliated with Joe Wilson or his campaign," but it also featured a photo of the congressman in the gun shop, cradling a rifle.

Perhaps it's heartening that the site is now gone after it drew media attention in the wake of the shootings in Arizona, which have focused scrutiny on the intersection of guns, politics, and inflammatory rhetoric in America. But it says something that this product was even out there to begin with.

Sarah Palin's False Kumbaya-ism

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 11:34 AM PST

Sarah Palin is getting slammed today for her Facebook video statement accusing unnamed journalists and pundits who tied the Tucson massacre to the extreme rhetoric of the right of engaging in "blood libel." Palin has a dog in this fight, for in the wake of the shooting, she was assailed for cavalierly using gun-related rhetoric ("Reload!") and for placing cross-hairs over the districts [*corrected from "pictures"] of Democratic House members she targeted for defeat in November, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). Yet for her to equate the criticism she's received with the genocidal persecution of an entire people demonstrates either ignorance or narcissism. Or both. "Blood libel" is a term that refers to Jews using the blood of children (mainly Christians) for religious practices, and this false accusation has been used to justify violent pogroms against Jews. Palin is not the victim of "blood libel." But leave it to Palin to deploy such incendiary language to stir up a controversy today—President Barack Obama and others are attending a memorial service in Tucson to honor the victims—in order to place herself at the center of the story.

Rather than lower the volume, Palin has turned up the heat with this "blood libel" charge. (You can judge for yourself if her use of this phrase has anything to do with the prominence of Jews in the media.) But here's the kicker: in the same statement, she claimed that all participants in the national public discourse ought to eschew name-calling and extreme rhetoric. "We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy," she proclaimed. And she added that Americans have a desire "to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner."

Is Palin a convert to Kumbaya-ism? If so, she's a bit late to the party, for Palin has defined herself with intemperate remarks. During the 2008 campaign, she charged Obama with being someone who was so critical of the United States he would purposefully hobnob with anti-American terrorists:

Our opponent...is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.

After the campaign, Palin, during the debate on health care, claimed that the health care reform initiative Obama sought would establish "death panels" of government bureaucrats who would judge whether specific individuals are "worthy of health care." Politifact.com, an independent fact-checking outfit, declared there was no truth to her charge. Months later, Palin acknowledged, "The term I used to describe the panel making these decision should not be taken literally." But she added, " I would characterize them like that again, in a heart beat." Politifact.com cited her original "death panel" remark as its "Lie of the Year," noting, "Of all the falsehoods and distortions in the political discourse this year, one stood out from the rest. 'Death panels."

Palin is in an odd spot to be urging respectful debate that handles political and policy differences in a "positive manner." She has shown little regard for facts in policy debates and demonstrated she's willing to accuse her foes of being anti-American. She is the queen of disrespectful rhetoric. Now she compares her critics to violent and genocidal anti-Semites. She could have assailed them in a somber and serious manner, but she chose not to. After all, that's not how Palin got to where she is: a political celebrity who at a time of mourning turns a national tragedy into a Facebook post that at its core is about her.

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Boehner Stymies Gun Reform

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 8:39 AM PST

Gun control advocates, stand down.

That's the message being sent by newly engaveled House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who, The Hill reports, plans to reject the gun-control legislation offered by Rep. Pete King (R-NY) in the wake of the Tucson massacre. King's bill would prevent people from carrying guns within 1,000 feet of members of Congress. A long-time proponent for stricter gun laws, King says his bill is meant to protect government officials and the public alike: by protecting elected officials, the thinking goes, constituents will feel safer meeting them in public.

But it doesn't look like the GOP leadership is united with Boehner in his stance against the bill. Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) plans to "reserve judgment" until King's bill is ready, according to The Hill. The story doesn't explain why Boehner plans to reject King's bill. 

But Boehner's apparent objection to the bill shows, yet again, how tough it is to tighten gun laws in the face of the formidable gun lobby. And reform advocates on the Hill have little faith in the fate of any meaningful reform legislation. "Anything you can get through the gun lobby is going to have little consequence," Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), told The Hill. "I don’t see the likelihood of much progress—I don’t see much hope." Neither Boehner's position nor Moran's dour predictions bode well for Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), who on Monday promised to introduce new gun control legislation that addresses the high-capacity ammunition clips used by alleged Tucson gunman Jared Lee Loughner.

Despite showing a strong, sensible, supportive face—by suspending debate on health care repeal, for example—the split between Boehner and Cantor suggests that the GOP senior brass hasn't quite found its legislative footing in the wake of the Tucson tragedy. Cantor could just be waiting to see how public opinion settles over the next several days before yanking the rug out from under King. His patience, in other words, could prove savvy if turns out that tighter laws—say, for instance, like restoring the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004—are what the people want. Still, odds are that any substantive gun control bill won't see the light of day. 

Who Killed the Assault Weapons Ban?

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 4:43 AM PST

If the Federal Assault Weapons Ban had been renewed in 2004, there's a good chance that its restriction on high-capacity gun magazines would have prevented the Tuscon shooter from killing so many people. So who's to blame for allowing this common sense law to lapse?

Certainly not the American public. During the 2004 debate on renewing the ban, the Annenberg Election Survey at the University of Pennsylvania released a poll showing that 68 percent of the public—including 57 percent of all gun owners and even 32 percent of all NRA members—wanted the ban extended.

Enacted in 1994 with the support of Ronald Reagan, the Assault Weapons Ban was politicized during the contentious 2004 presidential race. "I don't understand the philosophy that says you're making America safer when you take cops off the streets and put assault weapons back on them," John Kerry said at a rally in Missouri. Though Bush was chastised by Kerry for siding with "powerful friends in the gun lobby," he had claimed he'd sign the assault weapons ban extension if it crossed his desk.

Yet the bill never made it that far.  House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) dismissed the ban as "a feel good piece of legislation" and flatly told the New York Times that it would expire even if Bush made an effort to renew it. "If the president asked me, it would still be no," he said. "He knows, because we don't have the votes to pass the assault weapons ban. It will expire Monday, and that's that."

His role in ending the ban made DeLay a hero among gun nuts, who printed up bumper stickers that said, "I'm for NRA and Tom DeLay." The NRA invited DeLay to keynote its annual meeting in 2005, just as ethics investigations were ramping up against him. He took the podium and choked up slightly as he proclaimed: "I've been in elected office for 26 years, and this is the highlight of my career." 

Ever since, things have certainly been downhill for the Hammer. On Monday, DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering.  Time will tell whether cohabitation with hardened criminals will temper his love for high-powered guns. 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 12, 2011

Wed Jan. 12, 2011 3:30 AM PST

U.S. Navy Aviation Machinist's Mate 3rd Class Wayne Kirkfield prepares an engine test adapter for an upcoming inspection aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) under way in the Pacific Ocean, Jan. 5, 2011. Ronald Reagan is preparing for a deployment. (DoD photo by Seaman Haldane Hamilton, U.S. Navy/Released)

Contractor Hid in Iraq for Seven Years Over US Rape Charge

| Tue Jan. 11, 2011 7:18 PM PST

The excellent contracting watchdog, Ms. Sparky, drew my attention to this developing story: A Norfolk, Virginia, man was arrested on a military base in Iraq and brought back to the States in police custody this weekend for allegedly raping a "juvenile female," then hiding out in the Middle Eastern nation as a contractor for the US government.

For seven years.

Norfolk police say Daniel Phillips, 46, was wanted in connection for the rape of an underage girl in 2004 and 2005, but when warrants were issued for his arrest, he secured employment as a military contractor in a computer-related position and left for Iraq, where he stayed until authorities started tracking him in December.