Mojo - September 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 20, 2011

Tue Sep. 20, 2011 2:57 AM PDT

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Crumpler with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade shares a last kiss with his wife Jill moments before boarding a bus to begin his journey to Afghanistan for a year-long deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. US Army photo by Staff Sgt Donna Davis, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Adam Serwer on Bloggingheads.tv: Why the HPV Vaccine Debate Matters

Mon Sep. 19, 2011 4:18 PM PDT

Mother Jones reporter Adam Serwer and NRO's Daniel Foster faced off on Bloggingheads.tv to discuss the HPV vaccine debate, anti-science attitudes of the left and right, and Rick Perry's crony capitalism. Bonus read: The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science

Adam Serwer is a reporter at the Washington, DC bureau of Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter. Email tips and insights to aserwer [at] motherjones [dot] com.

Professional Islamophobe Angry The FBI Discontinued Anti-Muslim Counterterrorism Training

| Mon Sep. 19, 2011 3:06 PM PDT

On Friday, Spencer Ackerman's reporting revealed that the FBI conducted elective training sessions featuring Islamophobic propaganda. The presentations included slides that equated Muslim religiosity with support for terrorism and argued that "'main stream' [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers." Public surveys actually show the opposite: Muslims are the religious group in the US least likely to justify violence against civilians.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) harshly condemned the use of the materials, saying "there is no room in America for the lies, propagated by al-Qaida, that the U.S. is at war with Islam, or the lie propagated by others that all Muslims support terrorism." The FBI, for its part, issued a statement saying "Strong religious beliefs should never be confused with violent extremism," and claimed the training "was conducted six months ago, one time only, and was quickly discontinued because it was inconsistent with FBI standards on this topic."

All this controversy hasn't sat well with professional Islamophobe Robert Spencer. Ever ready to defend Osama bin Laden's interpretation of Islam as the most authentic, Spencer quickly er, "corrected" the record, explaining in a long post that for the FBI to avoid painting Muslims with such a broad brush was tantamount to "purg[ing] its terrorism training seminars of any hint of the truth about the global jihad and Islamic supremacism."

You can understand why Spencer might be angry. After all, the very public rebuke from the FBI and Senator Lieberman makes it less likely that his books will be "recommended reading" by for FBI counterterrorism agents as they have in the past. And although Spencer already draws a healthy salary of about $140,000 for daily Muslim bashing on his blog, people get mad when you start messing with their money. "Since as Attorney General Eric Holder said last year, "the cooperation of Muslim and Arab-American communities has been absolutely essential in identifying, and preventing, terrorist threats," FBI agents shouldn't be getting their understanding of Islam from someone who believes that "that there is no distinction in the American Muslim community between peaceful Muslims and jihadists."

Spencer doesn't draw the line at "correcting" Ackerman, however, or in urging the FBI to view all observant Muslims as potential terrorists. He writes that the FBI's rejection of Islamophobic counterterrorism training means that "Ackerman's responsibility for the next jihad attack in the U.S. grows apace." Note the megalomaniacal narcissism here—the only way to stop the next terror attack is to listen to Spencer or someone like him.

You might have thought Spencer would have backed off assigning responsibility for terrorism to people other than the actual terrorists ever since he was cited more than a 150 times in the sprawling manifesto of alleged anti-Muslim Oslo terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who is charged with killing 76 people this July. At that time, Spencer whined about the "blame game," writing that "as if killing a lot of children aids the defense against the global jihad and Islamic supremacism, or has anything remotely to do with anything we have ever advocated."

So just so we're clear, Spencer thinks it's perfectly acceptable to blame terrorism people other than terrorists. But when we start talking about someone whose worldview is shaped by the writings of Robert Spencer, it's suddenly "the blame game." This is all the more reason why Spencer and his ilk shouldn't be taken seriously: they are unwilling to hold themselves to their own standard of culpability. The other reason, of course, is that their prejudiced views of Muslims are reductive and wrong, and shouldn't be part of any curriculum designed to help counterterrorism officials understand and prevent acts of terror perpetrated by Islamic extremists.

What Else Should Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio Investigate?

| Mon Sep. 19, 2011 1:33 PM PDT
Cat-Nipped: Did Hillary Clinton kill this cat? Sounds like a job for the Maricopa County Cold Case Posse.

Maricopa (Az.) County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who depending on your point of view is either "America's Toughest Sheriff" or simply the one least constrained by basic standards of decency, announced on Monday that he had deputized a five-member "Cold Case Posse" to investigate whether President Barack Obama was really born in the United States. (Spoiler: He was.)

Despite the unprecendented release of a short- and long-form birth certificate from the state of Hawaii, along with birth announcements in two Hawaii newspapers, Arpaio decided to launch the investigation after being asked to do so by members of the Surprise(!), Arizona, tea party. As he explained to WorldNetDaily: "My door is open to everyone, and I don't kick them out. If a complaint is legitimate, I don't dump it into the wastebasket...When I get allegations brought to me by the citizens of Maricopa County, I look into the allegations, just like I am doing here."

The unit is being funded through a 501c(3) non-profit that's been set up by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department. Arpaio's announcement comes just as he's being courted by a slew of GOP presidential candidates—Rep. Michele Bachmann met with Sheriff Joe last week; Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have both called to ask for his endorsement.

One way of looking at this is that it's a horrible waste of taxpayer resources in a state that's so cash-strapped it actually sold the state capitol. Another way of looking at this is that it's a tremendous opportunity to investigate some more totally implausible cold cases. So what else should the Cold Case Posse be looking into? Dave Weigel suggests it re-examine David Ickes' claim that world leaders are being secretly controlled by a super race of lizard people. Here are some other ideas for the Cold Case Posse: Was Zachary Taylor secretly poisoned? Did Hillary Clinton order a hit on a former aide's cat? Was Dwight D. Eisenhower secretly controlled by his communist brother, Milton? What if we're all color-blind and people who are color-blind actually have normal vision? Why does the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department own a tank?

On a more serious note, this is more evidence of what we pointed out last month: birthers are not going away. And at this point, it doesn't seem like they ever will.

Obama Finally Wages Class Warfare

| Mon Sep. 19, 2011 12:25 PM PDT

Appearing yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan had this to say:

Class warfare may make for good politics, but it makes for rotten economics. We don't need a system that seeks to divide people. We don't need a system that seeks to prey on people's fear, envy and anxiety.

As I watched Ryan's performance unfold, some dark corner of my brain couldn't help but appreciate the man's gall. Truly, his statement could now be the gold standard for the concept of the best defense being a good offense.

He was, after all, half right when suggesting that class warfare makes for rotten economics.

As beautifully demonstrated in a recent set of charts from Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot, the American wealthy class has been engaging in class warfare since the mid-70's when the rich apparently decided that it no longer served its purposes to share the profits of good times with their middle class employees. And they got away with it. As income levels of the upper five percent have skyrocketed, the middle class has experienced a decidedly downward trend in their household earnings.

For the middle class, the class wars have, indeed, made for rotten economics.

But for the wealthy? Not so much.

6 Dumb Arguments Against Taxing the Rich, Explained

| Mon Sep. 19, 2011 12:17 PM PDT

On Saturday, the Obama administration unveiled the "Buffett Rule," a proposed tax on millionaires and billionaires named after celebrity investor Warren Buffett, who has long argued that the federal government should demand more of the wealthy. The millionaires tax is certain to become a major point of contention in the 2012 presidential campaign, and Republicans have wasted no time in heaping it with calumnies. Here are the six most popular conservative arguments against a progressive tax code, and why they're wrong:

It's class warfare!
Yeah right. Three decades of laissez-faire economic polices have allowed the rich to double their share of the national income while paying tax rates a fifth lower than before. The result, notes Kevin Drum, was "wage stagnation for everyone else, a massive financial collapse that ravaged the middle class, an enormous deficits that they'll be asked to pay off eventually." If the millionaires tax is the only blowback, the wealthy should count their blessings.

It's a tax on small business
"Don't forget that most small businesses file taxes as individuals," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on Fox News Sunday. "So when you are raising top tax rates, you are raising taxes on these job creators." Except when you aren't. ThinkProgress's Pat Garofalo points out that fewer than 2 percent of the nation's small businesses fall into either of the top two tax brackets. Plus, many of the small business filers in the upper brackets are merely investors who have nothing to do with running the business. And if small businesses don't want to pay taxes as individuals, they can file as corporations.

It reduces incentives to work and invest
Experience shows otherwise. As Nancy Folbre points out over at Economix, "average annual rates of growth in gross domestic product in the high tax era between 1950 and 1980 exceeded those of the last 30 years. Increases in the top tax rate under President Bill Clinton were followed by robust economic expansion."

It's an unstable source of revenue
A recent essay in the Wall Street Journal argued that the high volatility of upper-level income makes it impractical to rely on taxing it. But this concern is vastly overblown and can be easily dealt with by establishing rainy day funds.

It's unfair
In the libertarian view, the rich are entitled to their gains because they worked for them. But this ignores how structural changes in the economy such as globalization, financial deregulation, and the rise of the knowledge-based economy have disproportionately rewarded the wealthy. At the same time, we've failed to reinvest in government programs that once leveled the playing field, such as financing for community colleges and public universities.

The rich will leave the country
Good riddance, writes Don Peck in a recent Atlantic essay on how to save the middle class: "America remains a magnet for talent, for reasons that go beyond the tax code; and by international standards, none of the tax changes recommended here would create an excessive tax burden on high earners. If a few financiers choose to decamp for some small island-state in search of the smallest possible tax bill, we should wish them good luck."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Did Obama Just Kill Congress' Budget-Cutting Super Committee?

| Mon Sep. 19, 2011 10:10 AM PDT

In his feisty speech on Monday, President Obama first decried Republicans' habit of signing pledges, and then made a pledge of his own: "I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share." And with that, the president all but killed Congress' bipartisan deficit reduction Super Committee.

Why? Because the 12-person Super Committee, tasked with trimming $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit in the next 10 years, consists of six Republicans and six Democrats, and none of those Republicans is going to sign off on a bill that raises taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Although reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are said to be on the table, new taxes are not. Not a chance. Know this: All six Republicans on the Super Committee signed anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist's pledge to never raise taxes for any reason. Good luck getting that crew—Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), Dave Camp (R-Mich.), and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), and Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio)—to sign off on higher taxes for rich people.

There was always a strong chance the Super Committee would fail to reach an agreement. This is, after all, Congress in 2011, when bipartisan agreement on major fiscal policy is about as likely as the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. But Obama's veto threat essentially extinguishes even the slightest glimmer of hope that those dozen lawmakers would reach an agreement that could pass both chambers and win Obama's support.

So if the Super Committee is dead in the water, what happens? Automatic spending cuts, that's what. The committee's failure, as laid out in the debt-ceiling deal Obama signed in August, will lead to  cuts in payments to Medicare providers, cuts to an array of domestic spending programs, and as much as a $500 billion reduction in the Pentagon's budget. The Pentagon budget-slashing has already given hawkish Democrats and GOPers plenty of heartburn—but not nearly as much as Republicans would feel for supporting the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

All of which is to say: RIP Super Committee. We hardly knew ye.

Bachmann Slams Obama for Not Stopping Mubarak's Overthrow

| Mon Sep. 19, 2011 9:32 AM PDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Struggling to stay relevant in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) took aim over the weekend at this year's wave of democratic uprisings in the Middle East and at what she claimed was President Obama's many Middle East policy failures.

As the National Journal reports, Bachmann claimed the "Arab Spring" gave "rise to radical elements" and served to destabilize the Middle East in a dangerous way. The Minnesota GOPer also slammed Obama for failing to defend leaders such as Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who fell from power during his country's democratic protests and is now on criminal trial for corruption and conspiring to kill unarmed protesters. Bachmann said she regretted that "we saw [Egyptian] President [Hosni] Mubarak fall while President Obama sat on his hands"—a curious position considering Bachmann's earlier criticism of Obama for intervening during the Libyan uprising.

All in all, Bachmann's speech, at the California GOP Convention in Los Angeles, was a sweeping repudiation of Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East. Here's more:

She got her biggest applause line of the evening when she accused Obama of asking Israel to return to its "indefensible" pre-1967 borders. Obama in May said a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians should be based on the borders—with land swaps—before the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and its Arab neighbors, a position that angered some in Israel and Israel's conservative supporters in the US.

Popular uprisings have forced the ouster this year of longtime strongmen who ruled Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, but some conservatives are worried that the movement has cost the US key allies in the region and is in danger of being hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists hostile to American interests.

Republicans suddenly see an opportunity to make inroads among Jewish voters, long a core Democratic constituency: Earlier this week, voters in a New York City congressional district that includes one of the heaviest concentrations of Jews in the country gave an upset victory in a special congressional election to a Republican candidate who made an issue of Obama's Israel policy.

Despite Bachmann's criticisms, Obama's policy vis a vis the Arab Spring has won the president plenty of praise. Many policy wonks and pundits see Obama's "lead from behind" strategy—where the administration helped when it could but didn't get in the way—as a welcome change to the interventionist, shock-and-awe policies of the George W. Bush administration. And while the full consequences of the Arab Spring remain to be seen, the uprisings removed from power often brutal autocrats and opened once-closed nations to democratic rule.

Her criticism raises even more questions about what kind of foreign policy a President Bachmann might craft. But in light of recent presidential polls showing Bachmann far behind Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, the possibility of a Bachmann presidency looks more unlikely than ever.

'Tis The Season for Squashing Voter Rights: Texas Edition

| Mon Sep. 19, 2011 9:03 AM PDT

Is it November 2012 already? Not quite.

On Monday, the Department of Justice will file a legal brief explaining whether it believes Texas' new Congressional map is legal under the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which outlaws discriminatory, racist voting practices that disenfranchise minorities. Back in June, Texas Republicans in the state legislature passed a map that creates four new House seats. Democrats promptly slammed the new lines, alleging that they don't reflect the increase in the state's Hispanic voting population by adding new majority-minority districts.

The map must to be ready to go at least 30 days before the November 12 filing deadline for next year's primaries, leaving little time to wrangle over potential legal problems. The DOJ could either approve the new map, request more information about the disputed districts, or reject part or all of the map altogether, Roll Call's Shira Toeplitz reports.

The DOJ's decision could serve as an early indicator of how tough Obama will fight for Hispanic votes. That's not all: if the Obama administration decides to challenge the map, the resulting fight would pit the president against GOP frontrunner Gov. Rick Perry:

Obama stands to gain if the Justice Department battles the Texas map, staging a symbolic fight with his surging rival, Perry. Polls show the president's standing with Hispanic voters continues to slip, and a strong effort in court will show that his administration is on their side.

"It sends Hispanic voters a message that this Justice Department is ready to fight to defend the Voting Rights Act — and not just Hispanic voters, but African-Americans voters," [Democratic strategist Matt] Angle said.

Perry signed the map into law, so he benefits if courts pre-clear it without much hassle. Many Republicans see Perry as the party's best shot to compete for Hispanic voters in 2012, and an easy trial reinforces that notion.

"He's one of the candidates that truly understands the Hispanic community given that almost 40 percent of the state is Hispanic," said Bettina Inclán, the former national executive director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. "They have a huge part of the state that is Latino, and he also has one of the largest borders with Mexico."

In its brief, the DOJ will assess whether the change in the voting map would dilute the power of minority voters. If the new lines don't pass muster, the stage is set for Obama and Democrats around the country to challenge GOP-driven disenfranchisement charges in other states. 

UPDATE: The DOJ's Civil Rights division ruled that it needs more information on the proposed redistricting plan for the state House and Congressional seats doesn't comply with the VRA. Now it's up to a special three-judge panel to make the final call. All sides are due in court in Washington on Wednesday for a hearing—so stay tuned.

Bachmann on Teen Suicides: "Not a Federal Issue"

| Mon Sep. 19, 2011 8:04 AM PDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

For months, Rep. Michele Bachmann has been conspicuously silent on the rash of teen suicides in her suburban Twin Cities congressional district. (The situation in the Anoka-Hennepin School District has gotten so bad that state public health officials have officially designated it a "suicide contagion area.") Activists have claimed the school district's "no promo homo" policy, which prohibits teachers from saying positive things about homosexuality, abetts anti-gay bullying in the area. Another possible factor in the epidemic is the activism of groups like the Bachmann-supported Minnesota Family Council, which has stated that gay teens who commit suicide bring it upon themselves "because they've embraced an unhealthy sexual identity and lifestyle."

Now Bachmann's finally weighed in—sort of. Over the weekend, Bachmann was in Californa for a series of fundraisers, a campaign rally, and an appearance on Jay Leno. At a stop in Costa Mesa, she was asked what she would do about the bullying contagion in her district. Her response? "That's not a federal issue." And then she moved on. The Minnesota Independent notes that last week, activists brought a petition with 100,000 signatures to Bachmann's district office.

The problem with Bachmann's position is that, whether or not it's a federal issue, she's already made it a Michele Bachmann issue. In May, she keynoted a fundraiser for the Minnesota Family Council, which at the time was lobbying hard against any bulling legislation in the state legislature. And as a state senator, she fought anti-bullying legislation, asking her colleagues, "Will it get to the point where we are completely stifling free speech and expression? Will it mean that what form of behavior will there be, will we be expecting boys to be girls?"