Mojo - February 2011

Corn on "Hardball": Is Rumsfeld Rewriting History?

Tue Feb. 8, 2011 4:34 PM PST

David Corn and Joan Walsh joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Donald Rumsfeld's new revelations on the Iraq War and the Bush administration.

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

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Glenn Beck's Collision Course at Fox

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 8:57 AM PST

In his PoliticsDaily.com column, David Corn notes that Glenn Beck—as he promotes the conspiracy theory that "uber-leftists" and Islamic extremists are plotting together to destroy the West—is in trouble on the right, with conservatives decrying his nuttiness. (Yes, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush are part of the grand cabal. You hadn't heard?) This week, neocon titan Bill Kristol (a fellow Fox Newser) slammed Beck:

[H]ysteria is not a sign of health. When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. He's marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s.

Beck fired back at Kristol, maintaining that Kristol doesn't "stand for anything anymore." But, as Corn points out, Beck's real probem may not be Kristol, but Fox:

Beck's problem, though, is not that Kristol has finally realized Beck is preaching nonsense. It's that now Beck has to expand his conspiracy to include Kristol, a prominent Fox News contributor, as either an active participant in the mighty plot or an unseeing buffoon exploited by the evil masters. And not just Kristol, but everybody else at Fox News who doesn't report and decry the Bush-assisted Islamic-communist plot against the United States. For Beck to be true to his cause, he will have to assail other conservatives who don't join him, for, my friends, this is about survival.

Beck cannot sustain his conspiracy mongering without roping into the conspiracy those on the right who either dare to challenge him or who are too dumb to see what's what. And that includes the rest of Fox News. After all, how could Bill O'Reilly, during his pre-Super Bowl interview with President Obama, not ask the president about his role in the left-Islam plot to create a caliphate? O'Reilly must be in on it -- or a naif. And the rest of the Fox network, too! If Beck is serious, his conspiracy theory must engulf the network that pays him.

Meanwhile, Fox faces a challenge: How long can it continue to air the ravings of a fellow denounced by sane conservatives? I once was a commentator at Fox News and worked with Roger Ailes. The guy likes to make money; he likes to cause trouble. But he also likes to be regarded seriously. (Ditto for Rupert Murdoch.) Beck is making it increasingly tough for Fox to claim it is a reality-based outfit (even by its standards). As Beck veers more into Bircher-land, can Fox stand behind him?

....As Beck becomes increasingly unhinged and lost in conspiracy-land, he may well become a litmus test for the right -- and a measure of whether the leaders of Fox News care about any claim to respectability. Should Fox throw him out of the coop, Beck will still have a cult-like following that he can service via his syndicated radio show, website, and books -- and still make tens of millions of dollars a year. He won't crawl off to an undisclosed location. But he will no longer have the imprimatur of the right's main media outfit. And what better confirmation that the conspiracy is vast, oh so vast.

Meanwhile, Time's Joe Klein has reported that he's hearing stuff: 

I've heard, from more than a couple of conservative sources, that prominent Republicans have approached Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes about the potential embarrassment that the paranoid-messianic rodeo clown may bring upon their brand. The speculation is that Beck is on thin ice.

No doubt, that ice is thin because lefties and Islamic meanies have figured out how to direct global warming.

Rick Perry Runs For President, From Budget

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 7:00 AM PST

At this time last year, Arizona was facing a catastrophic budget crisis, the byproduct of building an entire economy on a real estate bubble that finally burst. It was a pretty daunting challenge, and so legislators chose to take their minds off of things by inventing new problems, and then solving those instead. As Ken Silverstein noted in Harper's:

Lawmakers have turned racial profiling into official policy...Another new law bans the funding of any ethnic-studies programs in the public schools, while a third prohibits "intentionally or knowingly creating a human-animal hybrid." Lawmakers declared February 8 the "Boy Scout Holiday," took time out to discount fishing-license fees for Eagle Scouts, and approved a constitutional right to hunt.

Mischief managed. Now, a similar situation is playing out in Texas. The Lone Star State faces a $25 billion budget deficit in 2010, so naturally, Gov. Rick Perry has put the legislature to work on a package of entirely unrelated emergency items. Politico says this means Perry's running for president, in which case his agenda is great fodder for potential primary voters. It's less great, however, for women, immigrants, and poor people. Here's a breakdown:

Ohio, Texas Duel for Most Restrictive Abortion Law

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 4:00 AM PST

Anti-abortion groups in Ohio are pushing for the passage of a state law banning abortions if a doctor is able to detect a heartbeat in the fetus—which would significantly limit the time period when a woman can obtain a legal abortion.

A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks after conception. Currently, abortions are generally legal through the second trimester of pregnancy—up to 24 weeks (and longer in cases where the woman's life is at risk, though that depends on state laws). Ohio state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican, plans to introduce his "Heartbeat Bill" on Wednesday, according to a press release issued on Monday. The Associated Press reports that 40 of 99 state representatives have signed on as cosponsors.

Among the groups advocating for the measure is the national anti-abortion group Faith2Action, and the group's president, Janet Porter, says "it will be the most protective law in the nation." The group is rallying anti-abortion activists to send thousands of red balloons to the statehouse this week in a show of support for the legislation. Their website promoting the bill includes a horrible knock-off of Nena's "99 Luftballoons" featuring dancing babies—actual babies, not 6-week-old fetuses—as well as some images of sonograms that make them appear to be dancing. The site does not, however, include text of the actual bill that Wachtmann intends to introduce this week.

Anti-abortion activists and bill sponsor Wachtmann—who chairs the House Health Committee—are hoping to once again use Ohio as a model for other states. They point to the fact that the state legislature was the first to pass a "partial-birth abortion" ban in 1995. Other states followed suit, until a federal law was passed and later upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Ohio bill arives as the Texas legislature is considering a bill that would require women to have a sonogram before they can have an abortion—and if the fetus has a heartbeat, would force the woman to listen to it. A committee in the Texas Senate is set to begin hearings this week after Gov. Rick Perry (R) fast-tracked the sonogram legislation by deeming it an "emergency" item. At the federal level, House Republicans have also been moving to dramatically restrict access to abortion by attempting to redefine rape and drafting a proposal that would doctors to refuse to provide abortion services even when the woman's life is at risk.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 8, 2011

Tue Feb. 8, 2011 3:30 AM PST

Helicopter repairer Spc. Zachary Provenzano sprays down a Chinook helicopter in preparation for its return from Iraq to the U.S. this month. His unit, D Company, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, is scheduled to redeploy to Fort Riley, Kan., this spring. Provenzano and other Chinook helicopter repairers are charged with breaking down the aircraft so that they can be inspected by customs officials and flown to the states. Photo via US Army.

Jeb Bush: The GOP's Man in 2012?

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 1:17 PM PST

Forget Tim Pawlenty, or Mitt Romney, or Sarah Palin. The best Republican candidate for the 2012 presidential race isn't any of the names being batted around right now. The man the GOP needs is Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and the younger brother of George W. Bush.

At least that's the argument laid out today by Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review. Many of Lowry's eight reasons why Jeb should run in 2012—and not in 2016, as Bush has said he would—are well-worn: While Obama appears to be beatable, "there is no true frontrunner in the race to challenge him," Lowry writes. Jeb is "not just another Bush." Loathing of the Bush family, at its peak after George W.'s eight disastrous years in office, has largely subsided since Obama took over. And that there's no "too soon" when it comes to running for the president. (Case in point: Obama and Bill Clinton.)

Lowry's also right in pointing out that this year's batch of GOP candidates is a weak one. But in four years, Republican Party starlets such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) and New Jersey governor Chris Christie will have much-needed experience under their belts and, provided they avoid major controversy between now and then, could pose a serious threat to any Democratic candidate no matter how popular he or she is.

But then there's Lowry's assessment of Jeb Bush on the issue of immigration, a hot-button subject in Jeb's home state of Florida. Lowry jabs Bush on immigration, writing, "Jeb will take his lumps on immigration (at NR, we'll look forward to administering some of them, and trying to change his mind)." That's because Bush's position on immigration reform—which includes a path to US citizenship for illegal immigrations, or "amnesty"—is significantly more centrist than the National Review's, which centers more around ideas like better border fencing, or a national ID card, or even a draconian Arizona-style immigration crackdown.

On the other hand, Jeb Bush's reasons for demanding the kind of immigration reform that makes conservatives squirm is obvious. As recent Census data showed, the Latino electorate in this country continues to grow not only in places like Florida, but also in North Carolina and Virginia. Courting Latino voters is more crucial than ever before. Jeb gets this. As he wrote in a recent Miami Herald op-ed, the 38 percent of Latino voters who chose Republicans in the 2010 midterms is not enough for the GOP to win going forward. "Conservatives have to commit to serious and sustained engagement" with the Latino community, Bush argued. He added: "The level of investment in outreach today is inextricably linked to the continued success of the center-right movement."

Whether Americans would be ready to elect a third Bush in 2012 remains to be seen. But make no mistake: If he does enter the race, Bush will be a candidate to be reckoned with.

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Chrysler's Deplorable "Detroit" Super Bowl Ad

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 1:10 PM PST

[UPDATE: The AP reports that Chrysler's allegedly heartfelt ode to Detroit was the brainchild of a Portland, Oregon, ad agency whose other major client is Nike. The automaker shifted its ad accounts to the Portland shop after its previous PR firm, the storied BBDO, ended its Detroit operations. Which probably had something to do with the car manufacturer's stiffing BBDO to the tune of $58 million.]

In case you missed it, Chrysler—a car corporation that's better known for bailouts, buyouts, and management shuffles than reliable cars—somehow succeeded in winning hearts and minds last night with its two-minute Super Bowl ad buy, the longest and most expensive in the Big Game's marketing history. "Imported From Detroit," the $9 million ad, starred not a car but the beleaguered Michigan burg, its troubles, and its market-anointed favorite son, rapper Eminem, declaring: "This is Motor City, and this is what we do." The attempt to jumble Detroit's urban problems and its big-name corporate overseers into one orgasmic pulse of hip-hop-infused Americanism apparently succeeded. "Did you see it? Or, if you're a Detroiter, did you feel it?" genuflected one columnist for the city's dead-tree media. That made Ad Age's gushing sound downright subtle: "What starts out as a down-on-our-luck tribute to a broken city morphs into a defiant, we're-back rallying cry."

But there's a lot to dislike here: the fact that a major bailout recipient is dishing beaucoup bucks for a one-off ad to boost its image; the cynical racism (or at least colonialism) of positioning Chrysler as a tough, gritty, 8 Mile-style brand that's perfect for what marketers call the "urban core" demographic; and using Detroit poverty porn to hawk your product while simultaneously trying to deride the media's recent Detroit poverty porn. (To be fair, maybe Chrysler ended up with a crappy commercial because the word's out on Madison Avenue that Chrysler also counts its advertising firms among the many parties it screws over. One of its previous ad execs complained that Chrysler "makes cars which no one wants and continues to throw money at them...and now, they want us to bail them out.)

But most appalling is the idea that Chrysler is one of the great things about gritty Detroit and America, when in fact it's one of the corporate locusts that choked the city and nation purple with its credit-backed gobbling of skilled labor and its excretion of abandoned worker plants. It's as if some Wall Street marketer hired by Chrysler was stuck at his social-worker sister's apartment in West Harlem and skimmed her copy of the November/December Mother Jones while she was preparing two cups of kombucha in the kitchen. Because, clearly, the creators of this ad read Charlie LeDuff's amazing elegy for his hometown...and, clearly, they didn't get it at all.

Obama's Fruit Cake Détente With Chamber

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 1:09 PM PST

Today's takeaway from President Obama's address to the US Chamber of Commerce, his most powerful political foe, is that he and his next-door neighbors need to try harder to get along. "I'm here in the interest of being more neighborly," Obama told a crowd of CEOs at the Chamber's headquarters, which is across the street from the White House. "Maybe if we would have brought over a fruit cake when I first moved in, we would have gotten off on a better foot. But I'm going to make it up."

The irony of the fruit-cake quip might have been lost on the Chamber crowd, which isn't exactly known for its political empathy. Here is a president who mortgaged the future of America's middle class to bail out its corporate leaders from the recession that they caused, and yet in return, has been on the receiving end of an unprecedented corporate hissy fit in Washington. Imagine if the president of a homeowners association rescued the neighborhood from a wildfire but was voted out of office because he wanted the people living in mansions to do their fair share to prevent another conflagration. That's the prospect facing Obama.

It could well be that his only remaining option is to bake up the political equivalent of fruit cake—fruity ideas such as free trade agreements, regulatory cutbacks, and tax breaks for the wealthy. It might not taste very good to most of us, but maybe its saccharine combination of trickle-down economic concepts will be durable enough to last through the next election. 

Updated 2/8/11 at 8:35 AM Pacific

Palin Supports Gays at CPAC

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 9:28 AM PST

For months now, a handful of influential right-wing evangelical groups and elected officials have been complaining loudly that the venerable Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has abandoned its support of family values because the organizers have deemed to let a gay conservative group, GOProud, participate in the event. CPAC, which begins Thursday in DC, is a testing ground for GOP presidential aspirants and a showcase for conservative politicians. On hand this week for the event will be such luminaries as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Ann Coulter, and a host of others. But on Monday, evangelical groups including the Heritage Foundation, the American Family Association,  and the Family Research Council, among others, took out a full-page ad in the Washington Times headlined, "What would Ronald Reagan think?" bashing CPAC organizers for allowing gay conservatives a seat at the table. (Reagan spoke at CPAC in 1977.)

But while the evangelical groups have been up in arms about GOProud's involvement, promising to boycott, an unusual supporter has emerged for CPAC's decision to keep its tent big: Sarah Palin. On Sunday night, Palin appeared on the Christian Broadcasting Network, in an interview with David Brody, who asked Palin about the CPAC controversy, noting that politicos like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mike Huckabee, and others were boycotting the event because of GOProud's presence. Palin is not attending CPAC either, but she insisted that her absence was because of scheduling issues and had nothing to do with how she felt about GOProud. In fact, she said, including different people who you may not agree with was not much different from appearing on a panel discussion with a bunch of liberals. Palin insisted that opposing viewpoints were esential for a "healthy debate, which is needed in order for people to gather information and make up their own minds about issues. I look at participation in an event like CPAC or any other event, along, or kind of in that same vein as the more information that people have the better.”

Palin is in good company. Despite the question in the full-page Washington Times ad suggesting that Reagan, who would have been 100 this month, might frown on the inclusion of gays at CPAC, there's plenty of reason to believe that the Gipper would have been firmly in Palin's camp. Reagan, having worked in Hollywood before getting into politics, had a lot of gays in his administration and close friends who were gay (Rock Hudson!). Not only that, however, but the year after he addressed CPAC, he was instrumental in helping defeat a ballot initiative in California that would have banned gays and lesbians and anyone who supported them from teaching in the state's public schools. A week before the vote on the initiative, Reagan wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner arguing, "Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this." It's hard to imagine that a politician brave enough to write such a statement in 1978, even as he was preparing to run for president, would have been especially cowed at the thought of bumping up against a few gay Republicans at CPAC. Jim DeMint should take note.

Mubarak's Billions

| Mon Feb. 7, 2011 8:54 AM PST

The details of Mubarak’s fortune are a bit muddy, but according to various press reports, the family’s total wealth runs well into the tens of billions of dollars.

In Asia Times Online, Pepe Escobar reports:

According to a mix of United States, Syrian and Algerian sources his personal fortune amounts to no less than US $40 billion – stolen from the public treasury in the form of “commissions”, on weapons sales, for instance. The Pharaoh controls loads of real estate, especially in the US; accounts in US, German, British and Swiss banks; and has "links" with corporations such as MacDonald’s, Vodafone, Hyundai and Hermes. Suzanne, the British-Irish Pharaoh’s wife, is worth at least $5 billion. And son Gamal – the one that may have fled to London, now stripped of his role as dynastic heir – also boasts a personal fortune of $17 billion. Or some $60 billion. Some speculate the fortune is around $70 billion.’

Should Mubarak skip the country, as Corey Pein points out in War Is Business, he might well do it in a  business jet provided free of charge by the US taxpayers. “Pentagon contracts show that the US government has spent at least $111,160,328 to purchase and maintain Mubarak’s fleet of nine Gulfstream business jets. (For those keeping score, Gulfstream is a subsidiary of General Dynamics.)” War Is Busines provides copies of the actual contracts. Here is one of them: