Mojo - May 2011

House Passes "Redefining Rape" Bill, H.R. 3

| Wed May 4, 2011 11:53 AM EDT

UPDATED: The House of Representatives passed the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" on a 251-175 vote Wednesday afternoon. The bill has been the subject of a lot of controversy over the possibility that it could redefine rape for the purposes of abortion law and force IRS agents to ask questions during audits about whether a woman who had received an abortion had been raped or was the victim of incest. However, the bill is almost certainly DOA in the Senate, which is run by Democrats and is more sympathetic to abortion rights. Even if H.R. 3 did pass the Senate, President Barack Obama has vowed to veto it.

I've been following the action live on Twitter. I'd put a Twitter widget here, but they generally aren't very good (they either show old tweets ahead of new tweets or don't refresh), so I'd encourage you to just follow me on Twitter.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 4, 2011

Wed May 4, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Two U.S. Army soldiers watch President Obama talk about the details of the death of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden on the television inside the USO at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, May 2. Photo via US Army.

Corn on MSNBC: Bush Declines Ground Zero Invite

Wed May 4, 2011 3:25 AM EDT

David Corn joined Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC's The Last Word to discuss former President George W. Bush's decision to decline President Obama's invitation to attend a ceremony at Ground Zero following the death of Osama bin Laden. They also discuss the political gamble Obama took in authorizing the attack and how the success of the operation might influence his popularity.

Elsewhere in Mother Jones, Dave Gilson breaks down the numbers behind the most expensive manhunt in history, Adam Weinstein reports on the reactions of bin Laden's supporters as well as active-duty soldiers, and Josh Harkinson rounds up ten ways the right is spinning bin Laden's death. Stephanie Mencimer checks in on the tea party, and Mike Mechanic pulls together a slideshow of major daily front pages.

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

Bin Laden Raid Debrief: Shoot First, Bury Questions at Sea Later

| Tue May 3, 2011 8:49 PM EDT
A typical Navy sea-burial ceremony.

Now that Osama Bin Laden rests in the briny deep, reporters and citizens alike are asking good questions about the operation that dumped him there. Was it a kill mission? What happened to everyone else in the compound? And what was up with that sea burial, anyway?

Each of these questions fundamentally involves how Americans ought to act in combat, and as such, they deserve good answers—which haven't been fully articulated by the White House or the military. Here's some helpful background and some back-of-the-napkin reasoning on the mysteries of the Al Qaeda leader's death:

Bin Laden Reading Guide: How to Cut Through the Coverage

| Tue May 3, 2011 5:49 PM EDT

Elsewhere in Mother Jones, David Corn analyzes the political gamble Obama took in authorizing the attack, Dave Gilson breaks down the numbers behind the most expensive manhunt in history, and Josh Harkinson rounds up ten ways the right is spinning bin Laden's death. Adam Weinstein reports on the reactions of bin Laden's supporters as well as active-duty soldiers, Stephanie Mencimer checks in on the tea party, and Mike Mechanic pulls together a slideshow of major daily front pages.

Pete Marovich/ZumaPete Marovich/ZumaThis post first appeared on the ProPublica website.

The death of Osama bin Laden has sent news organizations scrambling for details on how it happened, where it happened, and what it all means. We've rounded up some of the best coverage, being careful to note what's been said, what's already being disputed, and what still remains to be seen.
 

How they found the most wanted man in the world:

The New York Times has a vivid account of the hunt for bin Laden in the weeks leading up to the strike, with dialogue straight from the situation room as the operation unfolded. As for the specific trail of intelligence, the Associated Press traces how detainees in both the CIA's secret network of prisons and in Guantanamo provided clues about the trusted courier who ultimately led the United States to bin Laden's hideaway. The AP cites former officials asserting that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, was not being waterboarded while discussing the courier, though that still leaves unanswered what interrogation methods were used on the other, tip-giving detainees—many of whom haven't been identified.

But here's the interrogation file of one detainee who may have proved useful: The file of Abu al-Libi contained an early clue as to the whereabouts of a bin Laden courier in Abbottabad.
 

What we actually know about the operation and what's still fuzzy:

Most accounts of the bin Laden operation at this point cite background briefings from the White House. Those transcripts are interesting for both the details they provide and the details that officials skirt around. Here's yesterday's and today's.

Many of the blow-by-blows of the bin Laden operation are still fairly sketchy, and Obama administration officials already appear to be backing away from a few of the earlier descriptions of the circumstances surrounding bin Laden's death. For instance, early claims that bin Laden was armed at the time of his death and had used his wife as a human shield have since been contradicted by officials, Politico reported.

Given this, Slate's Jack Shafer has a must-read, pointing out several instances of vague sourcing and inconsistencies in some of the coverage of the bin Laden story.

Of course, some have taken that skepticism a step further and veered into conspiracy theories, seizing on the sea burial and the timing of the President's announcement as suspicious. (Slate has more on why the sea burial is unusual.) The administration has said it's considering releasing the photo of bin Laden's body or videos of the raid and the burial to put these suspicions to rest.

The Joint Special Operations Command, whose elite team of Navy Seals executed the operation, costs the country more than $1 billion annually, according to National Journal. Despite some of its personnel having been involved in abuse of prisoners and rendition, JSOC has operated without much scrutiny since 9/11—read the piece for more helpful context.

 

The US Intervention in Cairo (No, Not That One)

| Tue May 3, 2011 1:50 PM EDT

Because the rest of the world seems to be slowly going to hell (quickly, in the case of Osama Bin Laden), we've been a little slow to jump on the latest reports out of the Mississippi Valley. But the news, per Good, is pretty bad: The Mississippi River is expected to exceed its highest water level in nearly a century, and has already forced thousands of residents to head for higher ground. At the epicenter of this disaster is the embattled city of Cairo, Illinois (as in Care-o or Kay-ro), which sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and is ringed on all sides by protective levees. The river's height outside Cairo is at 61 feet, which is totally nuts, and the town has been evacuated.

To alleviate some of the pressure and save Cairo from being washed out, the Army Corps of Engineers decided the best course of action was to blast a hole in a levee further downstream in Missouri, which would leave 130,000 acres of farmland underwater. After a failed legal challenge by Missouri, the Corps blasted the levee last night, reducing the water level at Cairo by a foot. But that plan of action has, unsurprisingly, stirred some strong feelings. Here's what Missouri State Rep. Steve Tilley, the Republican Speaker of the House, had to say last week:

When Tilley was asked Tuesday whether he would rather see Cairo or the farmland underwater, he told reporters, "Cairo. I've been there, trust me. Cairo."

"Have you been to Cairo?" he added. "OK, then you know what I'm saying then."

Unless you've been to Cairo, you probably don't really know what Tilley is saying, but basically it's this: The place is a mess. Since the 1920s, Cairo's population has shrunk from nearly 20,000 to under 3,000. Just inside the Ohio-side floodwall, its historic commerical drag is entirely empty and most of the buildings are burnt-out. Tilley would be a pretty lousy representative if he didn't stand up for his constituents' property, but there's a lot more to it than that: The debate over what to do about Cairo is colored by the way Cairo's neighbors view the place—and those views are colored by the city's traumatic history.

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Graham: "Independent" Authority Should Have Confirmed Osama's Death

| Tue May 3, 2011 1:30 PM EDT

Having already called on the White House to release photos of Osama bin Laden’s body, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) now says that independent experts should have been brought into verify bin Laden's identity before the body was buried at sea. 

"I think it would have been smart to have an independent group, forensic scientists, maybe from Scotland Yard or some other organization," said Graham. The South Carolina Republican softened his earlier criticism of the White House being overly sensitive to Islamic traditions in expediting bin Laden's burial—but said Obama shouldn't have rushed the proceedings. "Religious sensitivity is smart... but [we could have held] onto body for period of time to allow for indispensable analysis to help us make the case," he told reporters.

Graham's statement echoes calls by other Republicans for the release of bin Laden photos. Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV.) told ABC News that releasing images was necessary "to make sure we get rid of any conspiracy theorists that think that we didn't take care of bin Laden," referring to the so-called "deathers" who've emerged on the fringes of the debate.

Graham, to be sure, also praised Obama effusively for authorizing the bin Laden raid, adding "I have no doubt we have the right guy." But in criticizing the White House for failing to provide sufficient proof of bin Laden's death, Graham and his GOP colleagues may—intentionally or not—be feeding the notion that the public can't trust Obama, and enabling the very conspiracy theorists they claim they’re trying to quell.

GOP Message: Bin Laden's Death Vindicates Bush and Torture

| Tue May 3, 2011 12:39 PM EDT

In the wake of President Obama's biggest foreign policy victory to date, Republicans have gone out of their way not to give the commander-in-chief too much credit for taking out Osama bin Laden. They are even using the opportunity to burnish George W. Bush's tarnished reputation and validate discredited "enhanced interrogation" techniques used to torture detainees overseas.

"We obtained that information through waterboarding," Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told Fox News on Monday night. "So for those who say that waterboarding doesn’t work, who say it should be stopped and never used again, we got vital information, which directly led us to Bin Laden." Likewise, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said on Twitter, "Wonder what President Obama thinks of water boarding now?"

The early evidence, however, cast doubt on the notion that torture was integral to finding and killing bin Laden. According to the Associated Press, the courier who tipped off the CIA about Bin Laden’s location had been questioned using standard interrogation techniques, not "enhanced" ones. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that "it was not harsh treatment and it was not waterboarding" that yielded critical information on Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Attorney General Eric Holder was a bit more circumspect during a Tuesday morning hearing, saying he didn't know whether the action against bin Laden was based on information derived from torture. And Wired's Spencer Ackerman has concluded that torture played, at most, a minor role in the hunt based on what we know so far.

By propping up torture, Republicans have also continued their larger project to vindicate Bush, whom they've repeatedly credited for helping to bring down Bin Laden. On Monday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) paid effusive tribute to Bush, praising his leadership, with only brief mention of Obama's role in bringing Bin Laden to justice. "Nearly ten years ago, President Bush stood before the nation after 9/11 and pledged to the American people that we will not tire and we will not falter, and we will not fail in our quest to defeat those who intend to do us harm through acts of terror," he said. "Last night we heard President Obama tell a very changed nation that we did not fail." The remarks built on a press statement that Cantor initially released, in which he commended Obama for having "followed the vigilance of President Bush in bringing Bin Laden to justice."

Other Republicans have since followed suit: On Monday, Sarah Palin told a crowd of university students, "We thank President Bush for having made the right calls to set up this victory." According to an early analysis by FrumForum, House Republicans were almost equally inclined to credit Bush for Bin Laden’s death as they were to credit Obama. Republicans have also grasped on the discovery that Bush's "secret prisons" overseas may have yielded the earliest information about Bin Laden.

There are a few detractors within the Republican Party when it comes to the notion that Bush's enhanced interrogation helped the US. "This idea we caught Bin Laden because of waterboarding is a misstatement," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC.) told reporters on Tuesday. "I do not think this is a time for celebrating waterboarding." He added, "The problems at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib caused us great misery, and it was a recruiting tool."

Still the meme that "waterboarding works" entered the political bloodstream less than 24 hours after the news of Bin Laden's death, supported by Graham's GOP colleagues and echoed by the right-wing blogosphere. One Bush-era official famously said, "we create our own reality." So it appears do the GOP's torture apologists.

Pollster: Bin Laden Death No Game-Changer for Obama in 2012

| Tue May 3, 2011 11:38 AM EDT

It didn't take long for Washington's pundits to begin prophesying how the assassination of Osama bin Laden would impact President Obama's popularity among American voters.

Prior to the Bin Laden announcement, Obama's approval ratings were languishing in the mid-40s, near the lowest of his presidency. But then came Sunday's big news. Soon after, pollster John Zogby said Obama's approval ratings could spike by 10 points, and Obama's 2012 election chances leaped by more than 10 points on online prediction market Intrade.

But in today's National Journal, Charlie Cook, one of the most respected pollsters in Washington, lays out what's probably the smartest assessment of how Bin Laden's death will affect Obama's standing. Cook's conclusion: Not much.

Cook calls Bin Laden's death "a B-12 shot in the arm" for Obama and the Democratic Party, but adds that "it's not a cure." The issues ailing Obama's presidency—chronic unemployment, high gas prices, political instability in the Middle East—remain problematic, and even the death of the world's most wanted terrorist won't make voters forget about the nation's economic woes, Cook argues. He writes:

There is little question that this long-awaited event will hit a reset button in terms of day-to-day or even week-to-week politics, changing for a time the zeitgeist.

Democrats will fervently hope that the public will see this as a seminal moment in which people begin to see and appreciate President Obama in a new light, much as President Bill Clinton’s speech after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, in retrospect, was a turning point for his presidency.

But it might be a mistake to assume that it is a more enduring game-changer in terms of the politics of 2012 or that it will recast Obama as much as it did for Clinton.

AG Holder Was Right About Bin Laden

| Tue May 3, 2011 10:12 AM EDT

The killing of Osama bin Laden couldn't have come at a better time for one beleaguered member of the Obama administration: Eric Holder. The attorney general is on the Hill this week for back-to-back oversight hearings of the Justice Department by the House and Senate judiciary committees. Holder's recent appearances before congressional committees have not been well received by Republicans in large part because of his statements about how the department was likely to handle Bin Laden.

In March 2010, Holder's planned testimony before the Senate judiciary committee was unexpectedly postponed several weeks. When the news broke, Byron York at the Washington Examiner speculated that the administration was trying to avoid "another embarrassing performance by the attorney general." York quoted an unnamed Republican saying that Holder's previous appearance before the House appropriations committee was a "disaster," thanks to his insistence that Bin Laden would never be taken alive. "Those and other statements amounted to a blooper reel from just one Holder appearance," York wrote.

Republicans had been grilling Holder about the possibility that the Justice Department might insist on reading Bin Laden his Miranda rights if he were captured, to which Holder replied, "Let’s deal with reality. You're talking about a hypothetical that will never occur. The reality is that we will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden. He will never appear in an American courtroom. That’s the reality... He will be killed by us, or he will be killed by his own people so he's not captured by us. We know that.”

Republicans on the committee weren’t buying it, and suggested that Holder really wanted to treat Bin Laden like Charles Manson or any other mass murder. "The disconnect between this administration and your mindset is so completely opposite that of where the vast majority of the American people are," Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.) told him.

A year later, and Holder is suddenly looking like a visionary. Whether the Republicans on the Hill this week will give him any credit for accurately predicting the future remains to be seen. But at least this time around, Holder will be coming to the Hill armed with proof that he knew what he was talking about when it came to Bin Laden. Republicans will have a lot of trouble taking a chink out of that armor.