Mojo - February 2011

Corn on "Hardball": Sarah Palin Exposed in New Tell-All Manuscript

Tue Feb. 22, 2011 5:55 PM PST

David Corn and Cynthia Tucker joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the latest juicy revelations about Sarah Palin in the leaked tell-all manuscript of former Palin staffer Frank Bailey.

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

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Expat Libyan Poet: "The People Have Gone Through the Ultimate Dismissal of Fear by Offering Their Lives"

| Tue Feb. 22, 2011 4:32 PM PST

When Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa was 13 years old, Muammar Qaddafi's regime conducted public hangings of alleged traitors in Mattawa's home city of Benghazi. And he saw his independent-minded father, overcome by terror, plaster a giant picture of Qaddafi onto the side of the family car.

Thirty-four years later, Mattawa, 46, feels "complete and utter pride" as the residents of Benghazi have finally risen up—and launched the rebellions that are now sweeping across Libya. "This is the moment we've been waiting for," Mattawa said in a Monday phone interview. "Everything good about Benghazi that I know has appeared in the last few days."

But little in Mattawa's life story could have offered much hope for a scene like this week's.

Throughout his childhood in Libya, Mattawa was required to study the "Green Book"—Qaddafi's bizarre abridged version of socialism and so-called "democracy"—that banned all dissension. "My memories are tainted by this sense of raw fear," he says. "And there's an atmosphere of hostility that Qaddafi's regime has promoted among people. He's used Libya's tribalism to sow the seeds of division."

Indiana Senate GOPers Pass Collective Bargaining Bill; Dem Reps Go M.I.A.

| Tue Feb. 22, 2011 2:44 PM PST

Governor Mitch Daniels isn't the only Indianan taking a cue from his northern neighbors in Wisconsin: Protesting Hoosiers swarmed the statehouse in Indianapolis Tuesday, while House Democrats reportedly fled the state, and the GOP-led Senate has passed SB 575 [PDF], which would eliminate state teachers' collective bargaining rights.

Several quorum calls have been attempted in the House, but there are not enough representatives to take a vote on the "Right To Work" bill that's currently before the Legislature. The body's Democrats, who are in an "indefinite caucus," according to spokesperson Peg McLeish, are rumored to be out of state. An approaching deadline is at hand, and if bills aren't passed this week, they are dead.

Tensions Rise As Indiana Legislators Plan to Put Collective Bargaining to a Vote (UPDATED)

| Tue Feb. 22, 2011 10:38 AM PST

While public employee unions fight for their existence in Wisconsin, teachers and union members in Indiana are worried that their collective bargaining rights could soon be scrapped as well. Next week, the state legislature in Indianapolis plans legislative hearings similar to those in Wisconsin, Florida, and Ohio, where Republican majorities have moved swiftly to kneecap union organizing and bargaining rights. In Indiana, both houses are controlled by the GOP, and Hoosiers are afraid that anti-union bills could pass quickly.

Will the GOP Help Keep Lead in Kids' Toys?

| Tue Feb. 22, 2011 8:51 AM PST

On Saturday, House Republicans overwhelmingly voted to slash funding for federal agencies across the board, setting the stage for an epic budget battle next month. In the meantime, though, industry lobbyists have been steadily waging war to water down new federal regulations that protect consumers, and the New York Times highlights a prime example. Toy manufacturers are targeting new safety regulations from the Consumer Product Safety Commission "that would require third-party testing to determine the safety and lead content of children's products," the Times reports. They're also going after a new database that allows the public to find injury reports on cribs, strollers, and other children's products. 

Unsurprisingly, the industry lobby has found sympathetic Republicans to back them up, along with a handful of Democrats from manufacturing-heavy states. The GOP has already targeted the new safety rules that were passed after the public outcry in 2007, when millions of hazardous toys, mostly from China, were recalled. Republicans are now arguing that the new rules are too onerous and could spur frivolous lawsuits:

Already, Representative Mike Pompeo, a newly elected Republican from Kansas, has succeeded in passing an amendment to an appropriations bill to strip financing for the consumer products database, arguing that the idea needed to be tweaked to protect manufacturers from bogus complaints and lawsuits.

Representatives of consumer groups, meanwhile, are fretting. They said they were worried that the tougher standards they fought for, and seemed to have finally won, were now in jeopardy.

“You have folks who are seeing that there is a chance to undo consumer protections that they never liked in the first place,” said Ami Gadhia, policy counsel for Consumers Union.

Since the GOP's rout in the midterms, industry lobbyists have felt newly empowered to target other federal regulations as well, ranging from new health reform rules to the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of greenhouse gases. Though the House GOP's budget fight has captured the spotlight, much of the debate is political theater at best, with the most draconian cuts unlikely to become a reality. By contrast, these behind-the-scenes battles—fueled by deep-pocketed lobbyists—could end up doing significant damage to existing federal regulations while everyone's attention has been diverted elsewhere.

The Muslim Brotherhood: A Democratizing Influence?

| Tue Feb. 22, 2011 4:00 AM PST
On Dec. 1, 2005, citizens seeking to vote in Al-Talkha, Egypt entered the polling station through windows because security was blocking the entrance. / Photo courtesy of Joshua Stacher

Is the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist party that's gained political recognition in Egypt, an antidemocratic force? Many US conservatives think so: "The Muslim Brotherhood doesn't care about democracy," said John Bolton, the Bush administration’s ambassador to the UN, in a recent interview with Fox News. Western-allied Arab dictators in Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen have made similar charges against Islamists in their countries.

But Muslim Brotherhood scholar Joshua Stacher says his field research in Egypt indicates otherwise. An Arabic-speaking political scientist who teaches at Kent State University, Stacher has specialized in studying the Brotherhood and argues that since 2005, the group has functioned as Egypt's "only real political party."

During Egypt's 2005 parliamentary elections, Stacher set out to shadow candidates of Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP), but found them "just so difficult to work with—because they are the ones who are defending this untenable position. They have the policies that are unpopular, and they get upset when you ask about them."

So instead, he turned to Brotherhood candidates, who offered "open doors." (While the Muslim Brotherhood party was officially banned in Egypt, its supporters have gained seats in parliament by running as independents.)

Stacher sat in on campaign meetings, attended rallies, hung out in campaign offices "for days on end," and spent time with programmers who were creating online campaigns tailored to specific local concerns. One focused on stamping out corruption, for example, while another emphasized improving water filtration. "Every candidate had their own website, and every governorate had their own candidate list," he recalls. "It was amazing."

Stacher was also impressed that Muslim Brotherhood candidates always lived in the communities they sought to represent and offered weekly office hours for constituents. "Everybody came through those doors," he says. "Poor laborers. Unemployed people. Women whose husband was in jail. And they had all sorts of demands—from 'the cars are driving too fast on the street and there need to be speed bumps,' to 'my son is a university graduate and needs a job.'"

Stacher concluded that the Brotherhood's "grassroots political machine" represented a stark contrast to the largely top-down campaigning of Mubarak's party and to the weak infrastructure of other opposition groups. "That's the secret to their success," Stacher says. "They are connected and do outreach in the communities in which they live—even in the face of routine intimidation and harassment."

One candidate Stacher followed was teargassed on the way to his polling station along with a crowd of supporters. Despite similar intimidation across Egypt, 88 Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated candidates won seats in the 454-member parliament—gaining a historic 20 percent minority.

The following year, Stacher and a colleague, Samer Shehata, set out to research how the newly minted Brotherhood MPs were conducting themselves in Mubarak’s traditionally "rubber stamp" parliament. Despite many analysts' predictions that, as Stacher puts it, they would simply "deliver bombastic speeches from the floor," he came away struck by the group's "professionalism and action on issues of substance."

When the government published its annual "Statement on Budgetary and Policy Priorities," the Muslim Brotherhood had a 300-page response ready. They also found ways to score points on the fly: When the discovery of bird flu in Egypt nearly destroyed the poultry industry in early 2006, the Mubarak government was criticized for dragging its feet. Meanwhile dozens of Brotherhood-affiliated parliamentarians set up a photo op outside Parliament munching grilled chicken.

Several other researchers I spoke to concurred that Muslim Brotherhood elected officials have exerted a democratizing influence; that much is consensus "not just with Egypt scholars but with scholars from across the Arab world," according to Bruce Riedel, a Middle East analyst at the Brookings Institution.

Academics disagree, however, on the degree to which a Brotherhood-led government would protect Egypt's secular freedoms. The Brotherhood is sharply divided between pragmatic, open-minded moderates and hard-line conservatives bent on spreading fundamentalist Islamic teachings.

Stacher maintains that continued repression would only empower the hardliners. By contrast, he says, "if everyone has free range to participate, what we'll see from the Muslim Brotherhood is an increasing pragmatism. And this will drown out those conservative voices."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 22, 2011

Tue Feb. 22, 2011 3:30 AM PST

A Soldier crawls under an obstacle during the Florida Army National Guard's Air Assault Badge course at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, Fla., Feb. 15, 2011. More than 200 Soldiers and Airmen are participating in the physically demanding, two-week course, which is focused on teaching combat assault operations involving helicopters. Photo by Capt. Lisa Browne Banic

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's Abortion Crusade

| Mon Feb. 21, 2011 12:51 PM PST
Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker. Flickr/WisPolitics.com

By demanding both financial concessions and an end to collective bargaining for his state's public-sector unions, Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker is pushing a far-right agenda, labor groups and Democrats say. Walker won't negotiate with union leaders, and has even dismissed ideas from other Republicans in the GOP-controlled state senate. But Walker has a history of striking hard-line positions, and nowhere is that more true than on the most controversial social issue of them all: abortion.

Walker's nearly nine-year record in the Wisconsin Assembly, the legislature's lower house, reads like a pro-life handbook, an all-out assault on abortion rights. What's more, the many anti-abortion initiatives he backed are perfectly in sync with the assault on reproductive rights now unfolding on the national level, where House Republicans recently gutted funding for Planned Parenthood and controversially tried to redefine "rape" to limit the long-standing exceptions to the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save a mother's life.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 21, 2011

Mon Feb. 21, 2011 3:30 AM PST

U.S. Army Sgt. David Smitt maintains over watch during an air assault patrol with U.S. soldiers and British gunners in Afghanistan's Kandahar province on Feb. 10, 2011. Smitt is assigned to 101st Combat Aviation Brigade and the gunners are assigned to the Royal Air Force Regiment's 15th Squadron. DoD photo by Sadie Bleistein, U.S. Army.

Libyan Wild Card: The Qaddafi-Berlusconi Pact

| Sun Feb. 20, 2011 8:48 PM PST

By Sunday evening, the fighting in Libya was spreading to Tripoli, and the nation’s second largest city, Benghazi, appeared to be in the hands of the protestors. Over 200 people had been killed and hundreds more wounded by security forces, and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s son, Sayf al-Islam, was warning of civil war, and pledging that the government would "fight to the last bullet" to stay in office.’

The Libyan protests have been inspired by the wave of uprisings across North Africa, but they grow out of deep-seated poverty, unemployment, and political repression at the hands of yet another entrenched despot. Whether they will result in Libya achieving the sort of change experienced by Tunisia and Egypt is impossible to say, but early signs indicate that whatever the outcome, a high price is likely to be paid in human life.

Complicating matters is Libya’s unusual position in world affairs. Not long ago it was a pariah nation. But since 9/11, it has wormed its way back into favor with the United States and Europe because Qaddafi joined the war on terror, cooperating in the Lockerbie bomb investigation, coming down hard on al Qaeda, and kicking out terrorists he had once sheltered. At the same time, he has steered Libya into an increasingly powerful position in world politics because of its vast oil reserves. Libya has an especially close relationship with its former colonial master, Italy. It now provides about 20 percent of all Italy’s oil imports and has invested in sizeable amounts in that country’s energy infrastructure including the transnational energy giant ENI.

Along with their energy deals, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Qaddafi have agreed to work together to stem the increasing numbers of migrants seeking a better life in Europe. In addition to those leaving from North Africa, thousands more have been moving up the Red Sea from Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and other countries. Their point of entry is Italy–specifically, the small Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies in the Mediterranean midway between Libya and Sicily. 

In 2009, Qaddafi and Berlusconi made an agreement that became part of an open and often vicious campaign against migrants: Libya would try to keep them from leaving in the first place; if they got out, Italy would send them back to Libya without providing them a chance to make asylum claims.

Human Rights Watch has documented the attacks on migrants in a detailed report called Pushed Back, Pushed Around: Italy’s Forced Return of Boat Migrants and Asylum Seekers, Libya’s Mistreatment of Migrants and Asylum Seekers. Here is but a brief account of the two nations in action: