Mojo - November 2011

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

Tue Nov. 22, 2011 3:57 AM PST

US Army Spc. Lester Aldana, Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team security force provides security during a dismounted patrol in Sub-District 10 of Kandahar City November 16, 2011. The Kandahar PRT SECFOR is from the Rhode Island National Guard 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion of the 182nd Infantry Regiment. The PRT works with government officials at the district and provincial levels to build sustainable infrastructure capacity. (US Air Force photo/Senior Airman Sean Martin, Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team)

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The Supercommittee Fails—and That's Good for Obama

| Mon Nov. 21, 2011 5:54 PM PST

Okay, remember when Democrats and progressives during the debt ceiling showdown last summer were bitching that President Barack Obama was triangulating and wimping out by negotiating (and yielding much) with the tea-party-controlled Republicans? Well, that was then. In the latest twist of this never-ending saga, Obama is both calling out the Republicans and holding what appears to be a position of strength. That may all shift suddenly. This is politics. But Obama's Democratic fans should savor the moment.

After the supercommittee failed today—announcing that it could not even come up with a proposal for $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, per August's debt ceiling compromise—Obama quickly hit the podium at the White House briefing room. He did not blame a dysfunctional Congress, as many commentators rushed to do. He did not adopt the above-the-fray stance he has often attempted to strike (to please those hard-to-please independent voters). Instead, he pointed an accusatory finger at congressional GOPers:

In addition to my [deficit-reduction] plan, there were a number of other bipartisan plans for them to consider from both Democrats and Republicans, all of which promoted a balanced approach. This kind of balanced approach to reducing our deficit—an approach where everybody gives a little bit, and everyone does their fair share—is supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans—Democrats, independents, and Republicans. It's supported by experts and economists from all across the political spectrum. And to their credit, many Democrats in Congress were willing to put politics aside and commit to reasonable adjustments that would have reduced the cost of Medicare, as long as they were part of a balanced approach. 

But despite the broad agreement that exists for such an approach, there's still too many Republicans in Congress who have refused to listen to the voices of reason and compromise that are coming from outside of Washington. They continue to insist on protecting $100 billion worth of tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans at any cost, even if it means reducing the deficit with deep cuts to things like education and medical research. Even if it means deep cuts in Medicare. 

This is the direct approach: Were it not for the extremists of the House Republican conference, there would be a multitrillion-dollar deficit-reduction compromise. This spin has the benefit of being true. Obama, don't forget, put major entitlement reductions on the table during the debt ceiling negotiations, notably a slight hike in the eligibility age for Medicare and a readjustment in the cost-of-living allowance for Social Security. It's unclear whether the Democrats would have, at the end of the day, backed him up on this had Speaker John Boehner kicked in sufficient revenue increases to seal the deal. But Obama was at the time leaning on his party's congressional leaders to support such a compromise—and there were signs he might win them over. Boehner did no such thing with his party. Instead, he walked away from the so-called grand bargain—twice. So when the punditerati push the easy pox-on-both-houses analysis, they're forgetting this recent history. But Obama, to his credit, is not.

This moment also undercuts a familiar meme: Obama is a lousy negotiator. True, he couldn't find a way to escape the debt ceiling tar pit created by the hostage-taking Republicans. (I know, hostage takers don't waste their time creating tar pits.) And he was sucked into an endless series of negotiations that reaffirmed the GOP mantra that deficit-reduction was the top economic priority and that made all participants look ineffectual. But within that context, Obama and his aides might have pulled a fast one on the Republicans. In negotiating the trigger—the mechanism that would kick in if the supercommittee did not produce another round of deficit reduction—they succeeded in getting the Republicans to agree to a potential automatic cut in national security funds of about half a trillion dollars. At the time, Democratic staffers were stunned that GOPers accepted this, for it was obvious that it would drive Republican hawks crazy. (Pushed by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, the White House made sure the trigger did not include cuts to Medicaid or the beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare.) 

Without a supercommittee proposal, these autocuts are on the horizon—and they discomfort Republicans far more than Democrats. In his statement tonight, Obama vowed to veto any congressional attempt to undo these national security cuts, which are scheduled to start in January 2013. This places him in the position of Washington's fiscal enforcer. He will not let Republicans squirm their way out of a hard-and-fast commitment they made to blot up Washington's red ink.

Even with the supercommittee failure, $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction is still scheduled to kick in. Of course, Pentagon-protecting Republicans will try to find a clever escape route, devising, say, legislation they can sell as protection of funding for the troops. But Obama will be in a place where he can say, "A deal's a deal"—and also offer the Republicans a way out only if they're willing to raise revenues (or dump the Bush tax cuts for the rich) to cover the military funds they wish to defend.

Republicans are now griping that the supercommittee fizzled because Obama didn't lead it to the promised land. That's absurd. He tried hard—perhaps too hard—last summer. And he's willing to live by the deal he cut with Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (He's also willing to revive the grand bargain.) He was smart to keep his distance from this destined-to-fail endeavor. It would have been just another sink hole for him, for the Republicans would never have granted significant concessions on revenues. There was no reason for Obama to associate himself closely with another doomed effort. At this point, he can continue to push his balanced approach to deficit reduction (cuts and revenues), which polls rather well; stand with his fellow Democrats, citing their willingness to compromise; and champion a simple principle: sticking to the tough-love deal that he and the Republicans painfully hammered out this summer.

The failure of the supercommittee ain't so bad for the president.

The Human Mic: Not Just for Occupy

| Mon Nov. 21, 2011 5:54 PM PST

You've probably seen video of the "human microphone" technique used at Occupy Wall Street's general assembly meetings to amplify speakers' voices without the aid of a sound system. New York City doesn't permit amplified sound in public spaces, so protesters started repeating en mass ("REPEATING EN MASS") every few words a speaker says ("EVERY FEW WORDS A SPEAKER SAYS") so everyone can hear ("SO EVERYONE CAN HEAR!").

It's an invention of necessity that nicely reinforces the protesters' messages of community, horizontalism, and strength in numbers. Also, it can't be confiscated by police.

Lately, the human mic has been turning up at non-Occupy protests, disrupting a hydrofracking panel at Ohio State, a Bachmann address in South Carolina, and a Scott Walker speech in Chicago. I've seen lots of Internet videos in which guerilla protest groups like Code Pink crash official events and interrupt with signs, songs, and gimmicks. They often seem kind of pointless. The breathless shouts of a lone disruptor or a few scattered people usually can't get the message across to a whole room before being cut off and whisked away by security. But the human microphone is a force multiplier; when tens and even hundreds of people echo the same speech at a rapid clip, they suddenly outnumber the powers-that-be in the room—and their message can actually be heard. 

Here are some recent videos of human-mic disruptions at all sorts of public protests (h/t nettime):

At the Panel for Education Policy in New York on October 26:

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker at the Chicago's Union League Club on November 3:

Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann in Charleston, SC on November 10: video here.

And at a natural gas industry panel at Ohio State, students protesting hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) managed to get their message across last Friday (November 18):

We have yet to see what the next step for Occupy Wall Street will be. But the movement's lasting legacy may include a handy lo-fi trick that future protesters can use to turn the tables anywhere, anytime, no equipment necessary.

VIDEO: Even the Tiny Town of Littleton, N.H., Is Occupied

| Mon Nov. 21, 2011 5:43 PM PST

On Saturday, I almost swerved off the main street of Littleton, New Hampshire (pop. 6,000), when I saw this group of 15 or so protesters occupying the pavement outside the town's historic post office. I was there on other business, but I grabbed my camera to document this #OWS microcosm.

Flailing Rick Perry Pledges to Combat Pornography

| Mon Nov. 21, 2011 4:38 PM PST
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).

In the 2012 GOP presidential race, the quickest way to the top of the polls is to just stop campaigning. Maybe go on a book tour, sail around the Aegean for a bit, or teleconference with your friends in Norway. Live a little! No one has passed that bit of advice on to Rick Perry, however. On Monday, desperate for the support of social conservatives in Iowa, the Texas Governor signed the Family Leader's Marriage Vow—a controversial pledge that Mitt Romney previously called "undignified and inappropriate for a presidential campaign." The pledge commits signatories to a range of positions—including support for a federal marriage amendment, the appointment of "constitutionalist" judges," and marital fidelity.

But it also extends beyond standard-issue talking points to some more fringey positions. In signing the Marriage Vow, Perry has also promised to reject Islamic Shariah law (first they came for the turkeys!), save women from the corrupting influence of pornography, and promote "robust childbearing and reproduction." Shariah is defined in the document as a form of "totalitarian control," which, while not approaching Herman Cain territory, is sort of an odd way to talk about the customs of one of the world's major religions.

The marriage pledge is best known, though, for the slavery provision. The document originally noted that "a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President." That language has since been stricken from the vow, but only after an outcry from prominent GOPers like Romney turned the pledge into something of a toxic asset.

Perry has previously signed the National Organization for Marriage's pledge to "appoint a presidential commission to investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters."

Another Of Qaddafi's Sons Captured

| Mon Nov. 21, 2011 12:11 PM PST

On Sunday, Libya's Transitional National Council announced that its fighters had captured Saif al-Islam, a son of the late Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi. Here's a bit from the New York Times' report:

But while transitional government leaders in the capital, Tripoli, promised that Mr. Qaddafi would be closely guarded and turned over to the International Criminal Court to be tried on war crimes charges, leaders in Zintan insisted that they would not hand him over until a formal national government was formed — a process that is in the works but at least a day or two away.

Such insistence on factional power is at the heart of international concerns about Libya’s future. And after Colonel Qaddafi’s capture and killing at the hands of militiamen a month ago, his son's case will be an important test of Libya's commitment to the rule of law.

Videos and images posted on the internet after Moammar Qaddafi's capture showed apparent torture followed by what seemed to be a summary execution. One of the dictator's sons, Mutassim al-Qaddafi, died under similarly sketchy circumstances, and human rights groups have raised the possibility that Qaddafi supporters in the town if Sirte may have been summarily killed as well. Now Human Rights Watch is calling for al-Islam to be handed over to the International Criminal Court for trial—perhaps so that he might avoid the fate of his father and brother.

But according to Reuters reporters, one of whom traveled with TNC forces as they transported al-Islam, Saif al-Islam's capture was quite different from his father's:

Speaking to journalists on Sunday, Atari said that, in the darkness, "Saif jumped out and tried to take cover behind the car." He then tried to conceal himself under a bundle of clothes, covering it with sand. "But when we told him to surrender he did," Atari said.

"The operation was simple and without any resistance or casualties. We treated Saif al-Islam properly. No one laid a finger on him because we are men of honor."

It's probably a hopeful sign that this time around, forces aligned with the TNC were able to restrain themselves from sexually assaulting and executing their prisoner.

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Herman Cain: Muslim Doctors Scare Me

| Mon Nov. 21, 2011 10:14 AM PST
GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain.

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has a Muslim problem. Cain has already publicly suggested that Muslims are not guaranteed First Amendment rights and that he would not hire any observant Muslims in his hypothetical administration. His strategy, as with most of his other problems, has been to deny having said any of the things he has said, and then, when pressed, to insist that he's answered the question already, end of story, period. But Cain appears to have shot himself in the foot once again. Chris Moody attended Cain's event at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, a Biblical amusement park, and reports that Cain started his speech off with a curious anecdote:

He did have a slight worry at one point during the chemotherapy process when he discovered that one of the surgeon's name was "Dr. Abdallah."

"I said to his physician assistant, I said, 'That sounds foreign--not that I had anything against foreign doctors--but it sounded too foreign," Cain tells the audience. "She said, 'He's from Lebanon.' Oh, Lebanon! My mind immediately started thinking, wait a minute, maybe his religious persuasion is different than mine! She could see the look on my face and she said, 'Don't worry, Mr. Cain, he's a Christian from Lebanon.'"

"Hallelujah!" Cain says. "Thank God!"

This isn't the first time Cain has discussed his fears of Dr. Abdallah. It was a stripped-down version of this same anecdote, told during an interview with CBN's David Brody, that first sparked interest in Cain's anti-Muslim views in February. That Cain's still beating the drum seven months later tells you a good deal about the seriousness and discipline of his campaign; it also says a lot about Herman Cain. (My colleague Adam Serwer, meanwhile, can fill you in on why, if you're looking for villiains in the Lebanese Civil War, there's plenty of blame to go around.)

Pamela Geller: Beware "Stealth Halal" Turkeys This Thanksgiving

| Mon Nov. 21, 2011 8:44 AM PST
Muslim Brotherhood Turkeys Are Taking Advantage Of The Arab Spring.

Anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, one of the driving forces behind the Ground Zero mosque controversy, has set her sights on a new manifestation of the stealth jihad: Your Thanksgiving turkey. Geller is calling for a boycott of Butterball, accusing the compainy of selling "stealh halal" turkeys prepared in accordance with Muslim dietary laws:

Across this great country, on Thanksgiving tables nationwide, infidel Americans are unwittingly going to be serving halal turkeys to their families this Thursday. Turkeys that are halal certified -- who wants that, especially on a day on which we are giving thanks to G-d for our freedom? I wouldn't knowingly buy a halal turkey -- would you? Halal turkey, slaughtered according to the rules of Islamic law, is just the opposite of what Thanksgiving represents: freedom and inclusiveness, neither of which are allowed for under that same Islamic law.

Just in case you're wondering, Jewish and Muslim dietary laws regarding meat are very similar. Similar enough, in fact, that a proposed ban on the ritual killing of animals in the Netherlands has both the Jewish and Muslim religious communities up in arms.

Now, assuming Geller's right about Butterball turkeys being halal, you might think that in a capitalist economy, halal turkeys are a sign of meat sellers responding to market demand for food prepared a certain way. You might even be tempted to observe that Muslim Americans marking a secular, American holiday celebrating pluralism and freedom from religious persecution might be a sign of the extent to which American Muslims have assimilated into American culture. What you didn't know was that when markets respond to the demands of Muslim consumers, freedom dies. 

Big-Money GOP Bundlers Stay on the Sidelines

| Mon Nov. 21, 2011 6:18 AM PST

Bundlers are a presidential candidate's best friend. They're the super-fundraisers who not only give thousands of their own money to political candidates, but also round up hundreds of thousands more from other deep-pocketed donors. The Republican Party's most dependable bundlers, 46 individuals in all, raised a total of $24 million for George W. Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections and John McCain in 2008. But as iWatch News reports, almost half of those rainmakers from the last three elections are still on the sidelines for the 2012 presidential race.

Among the GOP bundlers who have backed a candidate, 16 of them are fundraising for Mitt Romney, the presumed frontrunner in the fight for his party's nomination. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has raked in cash from eight of the bundlers, and three have given to Jon Huntsman. But 22 GOP bundlers have yet to pick a candidate—and their reasons range from waiting until the nominee is chosen to concentrating their efforts on House and Senate races:

Munr Kazmir, chief executive officer of Direct Meds, a pharmacy company in New Jersey, said he had hoped New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would enter the race. But when that didn’t happen, he was left without a favored candidate and has been pondering whom to back ever since.

"I'm still debating. I didn’t make a decision yet," he said. Kazmir said he has heard from dozens of other George W. Bush bundlers from the 2000 and 2004 elections and many, like him, have yet to commit to anyone for 2012. "They haven't decided yet," he said.

Fred Zeidman, a Houston-based private equity investor who backs Romney, said, "Many of the big bundlers I've spoken to have a familiarity with the major candidates. They all feel like the goal is to beat Obama and a number are waiting" until there is a nominee.

[…]

"It's a game that requires a lot of energy and effort. It takes an enormous amount of time," said David F. Girard-diCarlo, a Philadelphia lawyer and super bundler, who is now supporting Huntsman.

While he's in his "seventh presidential go round," Girard-diCarlo, who served as ambassador to Austria near the end of Bush's second term, said some of his fundraising peers "may not be willing to expend the time and effort because of where they are in their lives."

The biggest recipient of bundler money, of course, is President Obama. So far in the 2012 election cycle, Obama's campaign has pulled in $56 million from 358 bunders that include Dreamworks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, Comcast executive David Cohen, and former New Jersey governor and financier Jon Corzine, whose brokerage firm MF Global recently went belly up.

In Grover Norquist's World, Ronald Reagan Is a "Rat Head in a Coke Bottle"

| Mon Nov. 21, 2011 5:00 AM PST

On Sunday night, 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft profiled the man who's done more than anyone to ensure that Congress' budget-slashing supercommittee goes down in flames: anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist.

Norquist, who runs the group Americans for Tax Reform, is best known for his "Taxpayer Protection Pledge." Those who sign the pledge, usually Republican members of Congress, vow to oppose all tax increases. "Pledge" signers include 270 members of Congress, among them House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as well as every GOP presidential candidate except for Jon Huntsman. Indeed, the refusal of any notable Republican in Congress to stomach tax increases as part of this summer's debt ceiling deal or the supercommittee's plan to cut $1.2 trillion from the national deficit is owes largely to Norquist's "Pledge." Those who break it face Norquist's wrath when re-election time rolls around. Norquist told Kroft his organization will fund ads opposing that candidate "to encourage them to go into another line of work, like shoplifting or bank robbing, where they have to do their own stealing."

But perhaps the most curious moment of the interview came when Norquist described his role as simply protecting the Republican brand, just as Coca-Cola ensures the quality of its signature product:

Norquist: 'Cause let's say you take that Coke bottle home, and you get home, and you're two thirds of the way through the Coke bottle. And you look down at what's left in your Coke bottle is a rat head there. You wonder whether you'd buy Coke ever again. You go on TV, and you show 'em the rat head in the Coke bottle. You call your friends, and tell them about it. And Coke's in trouble.

Republicans who vote for a tax increase are rat heads in a Coke bottle. They damage the brand for everyone else.

Norquist belongs to a group of conservative stalwarts who idolize Ronald Reagan and his economic policies. A bust of Reagan sits on Norquist's desk. The irony, of course, is that Reagan himself would've repeatedly violated Norquist's "Pledge" (had he even signed it) during his presidency. Reagan closed business tax loopholes in 1984. He raised corporate taxes in 1986. He hiked capital gains taxes by 40 percent. In all, Reagan raised taxes 11 times in eight years. In Norquist's world, Reagan was just another "rat head in a Coke bottle."

The full 60 Minutes profile of Norquist is worth watching, if only to better understand the man behind the fiscal gridlock in Washington. It's here: