Mojo - December 2011

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

Thu Dec. 22, 2011 6:57 AM EST

A civilian instructor coaches two paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team on how to use a Carl Gustav 84mm recoilless rifle during a certification class December 6, 2011, at Fort Bragg, N.C. The multi-role weapon can be used against armor, fortifications and personnel. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

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Romney On Bin Laden: All Over The Map

| Thu Dec. 22, 2011 3:15 AM EST

Mitt Romney's years-long quest to paint President Barack Obama as a sniveling appeaser who wants to make out with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ran smack into a wall last spring when Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. So Romney's taken to saying that "I think other presidents and other candidates like myself would do exactly the same thing." 

It may be hard to remember now that Obama feels comfortable enough to joke about ordering Bin Laden's death, but the circumstances of such a raid—an unauthorized incursion into Pakistani territory—was at one point an issue during the 2008 campaign. As a candidate, Obama declared that: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will." For this statement, he was attacked as insane and irresponsible by most of his Democratic and Republican political rivals, who suggested the remarks made him unfit to be president. 

Among those attacking Obama was Romney, then on his first run at the Republican nomination. Now Democrats are emailing around a Romney 2007 statement: "I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours... I don't think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort."

I've been combing through the transcripts of the 2008 debates the past few days, and I noticed this remark as well. Romney was asked about his criticism of Obama's remarks during a debate in August of 2007 by ABC's George Stephanopoulos. In response, Romney rattled off a few really stale conservative talking points, but clarified that his objection was to Obama announcing his intentions, not to the idea of killing Bin Laden if the opportunity presented itself.

ROMNEY: Yes, I think Barack Obama is confused as to who are our friends and who are our enemies. In his first year, he wants to meet with Castro and Chavez and Assad, Ahmadinejad. Those are our enemies. Those are the world’s worst tyrants. And then he says he wants to unilaterally go in and potentially bomb a nation which is our friend. We’ve trying to strengthen Musharraf. We’re trying to strengthen the foundations of democracy and freedom in that country so that they will be able to reject the extremists. We’re working with them -- we’re working with them...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if your CIA director called them and said, "We had Osama bin Laden in our sights, Musharraf says no," what do you do? (CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY: It’s wrong for a person running for the president of the United States to get on TV and say, "We're going to go into your country unilaterally." Of course, America always maintains our option to do whatever we think is in the best interests of America. But we don’t go out and say, “Ladies and gentlemen of Germany, if ever there was a problem in your country, we didn’t think you were doing the right thing, we reserve the right to come in and get them out.”

Romney isn't exactly on solid ground demanding subtlety, since like other Republican hopefuls he's recently taken to announcing his intentions to pursue covert action to topple the Iranian government. The progression of his views on the subject are really classic Romney: First he's against it in principle, then he clarifies that he's only against announcing that he'd do it while basically announcing he'd do it, and now he's saying it's a decision any president would have made. From abortion to health care to immigration to Iraq, Romney's shifting positions on Bin Laden track with his tendency to adopt whatever position is most politically convenient at the time. 

As to whether "any president" would have made the same decision, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has served in intelligence and defense capacities under eight presidents, told 60 Minutes that "this is one of the most courageous calls, decisions that I think I've ever seen a president make. For all of the concerns that I've just been talking about. The uncertainty of the intelligence. The consequences of it going bad. The risk to the lives of the Americans involved. It was a very gutsy call." (That quote is now part of the DNC's web ad on the subject). If nothing else, this whole thing a reminder of how little the right-wing caricature of Obama has changed since 2007, and how far it is from the president Obama actually became.

Americans Elect: On the Ballot in California, and Still Hush-Hush About Its Dark Money

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 6:00 PM EST

Here comes Americans Elect! As I've reported, the upstart political reform group wants voters to nominate a third party presidential candidate over the Internet. But to make any sort of impact, it first has to get on the ballot in all fifty states. Difficult? Certainly. Inconceivable? Hardly. This week, the group secured a ballot line in California, a crucial state in what's clearly going to be a contentious presidential election.

To celebrate their emerging relevance, the Americans Elect braintrust held a celebratory conference call with reporters today, Dave Weigel reports. And they made some news, announcing that the group's influence is apparently so expansive that "labor leaders" are talking to them about running candidates on the AE ticket.

But lingering questions remain about who, exaclty, is bankrolling the group's efforts. In recent news reports, the group says it has raised some $20 million dollars. But because it's registered as a tax-exempt 501 (c)(4) group, it doesn't have to disclose its donors, inviting scrutiny from campaign finance reform groups who suspect that much of the money comes from wealthy hedge funders.

Of course, Americans Elect isn't going to let that slow them down. So said Darry Sragow, a strategist for the group:

Bankers, Billionaires Try to Form Movement Against OWS

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 1:47 PM EST
"I got your job creation right here."

Whaddaya know? It seems the rich now want to eat the folks who want to eat the rich. Wrap your head around this Bloomberg report:

Jamie Dimon, the highest-paid chief executive officer among the heads of the six biggest U.S. banks, turned a question at an investors' conference in New York this month into an occasion to defend wealth.

"Acting like everyone who's been successful is bad and because you're rich you're bad, I don't understand it," the JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) CEO told an audience member who asked about hostility toward bankers. "Sometimes there's a bad apple, yet we denigrate the whole."

Dimon, 55, whose 2010 compensation was $23 million, joined billionaires including hedge-fund manager John Paulson and Home Depot Inc. (HD) co-founder Bernard Marcus in using speeches, open letters and television appearances to defend themselves and the richest 1 percent of the population targeted by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

If successful businesspeople don't go public to share their stories and talk about their troubles, "they deserve what they're going to get," said Marcus, 82, a founding member of Job Creators Alliance, a Dallas-based nonprofit that develops talking points and op-ed pieces aimed at "shaping the national agenda…"

Several irate members of the Job Creators Alliance were interviewed for this piece and discussed how upset they are about Dodd-Frank, OWS agitators, and populist rhetoric coming from the left. "Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let's call it an attack on the very productive," John A. Allison IV, a director of BB&T Corp. (BBT) and a professor at Wake Forest University's business school, told Bloomberg. "This attack is destructive."

The fact that hedge fund managers and politically active gazillionaires are trying to organize a forceful push-back against Occupy Wall Street isn't all that surprising; what is somewhat surprising is how little Max Abelson, the author of the Bloomberg story, bothers to hide his disdain for his interview subjects. Virtually every dickish quote from a corporate counter-protester is undermined by the clause or sentence immediately following it. Read how the piece doubles as a crash course in unintentional lulz:

"If I hear a politician use the term 'paying your fair share' one more time, I'm going to vomit," said Golisano, who turned 70 last month, celebrating the birthday with girlfriend Monica Seles, the former tennis star who won nine Grand Slam singles titles.

Ken Langone, 76, [a] Home Depot co-founder and chairman of the NYU Langone Medical Center, said he isn't embarrassed by his success.

"I am a fat cat, I'm not ashamed," he said last week in a telephone interview from a dressing room in his Upper East Side home. "If you mean by fat cat that I've succeeded, yeah, then I'm a fat cat. I stand guilty of being a fat cat."

It gets worse.

Ron Paul Takes the Lead in New Iowa Caucus Poll

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 12:16 PM EST

Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian favorite in the GOP presidential field, is giving establishment Iowa politicos headaches with his steady rise in popularity in their state, leading to predictions by some that the Texas congressman will win the state's caucuses next month. A new Iowa State University/Gazette/KCRG poll won't quell that speculation.

In the poll, Paul has overtaken former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the top spot, with 27.5 percent of those polled saying they'll back Paul. Gingrich grabbed the second spot, with 25.3 percent. Mitt Romney (17.5 percent), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (11.2 percent), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) rounded out the top five.

The ISU/Gazette/KCRG poll's organizer, however, says caucus-goers' opinions remain fluid, and that Paul's rise hardly guarantees his victory, KCRG reports:

While Paul's lead is easily within the margin of error, James McCormick, professor and chair of political science at Iowa State and coordinator of the poll, says the polling found that 51 percent of those naming the libertarian-leaning Texan as their first choice are "definitely" backing him.

The percentage for the next two candidates is much weaker, at 16.1 percent for Romney and 15.2 for Gingrich, McCormick said.

"Moreover, the percentage of respondents 'leaning to' or 'still undecided' in their support for these latter two candidates remains high, at 58 percent for Gingrich and 38 percent for Romney," he said. "In other words, I'm going to make the case that these numbers are still very soft for those two candidates."

The Defense Bill and Rendition of US Citizens

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 12:11 PM EST

My colleague Nick Baumann writes about the National Defense Authorization Act giving congressional sanction to the idea of handing over US citizens to foreign security forces for the purpose of detention or interrogation:

Eviatar adds that there are "a whole lot of scenarios" where the government might want to transfer a suspected terrorist—even a US citizen—to foreign custody. For example, the administration might not want to go through the political mess of determining whether to send a suspect to Gitmo, try him in a military commission, or use the civilian system. The administration might also want to avoid the mandatory habeas corpus review that would come if the US held the suspect itself. In such a case, transferring the suspect to a foreign security force might present an appealing option.

Baumann notes that Americans have already been detained by foreign governments—including during the Obama administration, saying, "Although the program raises civil liberties concerns, especially in cases where American detainees claim to have been abused in foreign custody, it's not necessarily illegal—and now, with the passage of the NDAA, the transfer of terrorist suspects to foreign countries has formal congressional sanction."

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GOP Congressman Bashes Payroll Tax Cut Extension, (Mis)Quotes "Schoolhouse Rock"

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 9:11 AM EST
The true face of bipartisanship.

Behold: the unnerving fusion of Congress' payroll tax-cut debacle and '70s children's cartoons.

On Tuesday, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) contended that "[e]very single business group says a two-month extension [of the tax cut] is totally unworkable, and will do more harm than good." Hensarling's comments came after the GOP House leadership had decided on Monday night to vote to appoint conferees instead of actually voting on the Senate compromise.

"Since the dawn of the republic, these are how differences are settled between the House and Senate," Hensarling condescendingly insisted on the House floor. "If you don't remember your civics 101, maybe if you have small children like I do, you can go back and watch the Schoolhouse Rock! video. It's very clear."

Fox and Sarah Palin Freak Over White House Christmas Card

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 7:21 AM EST

Courtesy of Fox NationCourtesy of Fox NationThe 2011 White House Christmas card features a content looking First Pup Bo Obama sitting by a roaring fireplace, flanked by Christmas presents and festive Christmasy ribbons and pine wreaths and bulbs. If you listen hard, you can almost hear sleigh bells.

It's all pretty non-controversial. Boring, even. Unless, of course, you're Fox News—in which case the bookshelf is filled with Lenin's B-sides, the Constitution is burning in the fireplace, Winston Churchill's bust is conspicuously absent, Bo has become dependent on the federal government for handouts, and the empty seat is a stirring reminder of President Obama's nonexistent leadership. I'm exagerrating, but only slightly:

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin told Fox News & Commentary that she found the card to be a bit unusual.

"It's odd," she said, wondering why the president's Christmas card highlights his dog instead of traditions like "family, faith and freedom."

...

Palin said the majority of Americans can appreciate the more traditional, "American foundational values illustrated and displayed on Christmas cards and on a Christmas tree."

As for the Obama card, she replied, "It's just a different way of thinking coming out of the White House."

Why does Sarah Palin hate puppies?

Update: But since Fox News has brought up the subject of Christmas cards, perhaps we should take a look at the official Fox Business Network Christmas card this holiday season. Here's one, via New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter:

Courtesy of Brian StelterCourtesy of Brian StelterThat's a pair of foxes roasting the NBC peacock over an open fire—which, for you non-Christians out there, is an oft-overlooked aspect of the of the story of the first Christmas. And via reader Jason Sparks, take a look at Ronald Reagan's White House Christmas cards. They're nearly identical to Obama's, except there's no puppy. "Family, faith, and freedom" are, presumably, represented by the antique furniture, fireplaces, and tacky lighting.

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

Wed Dec. 21, 2011 6:57 AM EST

Jesse Mead son of US Army Sgt. 1st Class Korey Mead holds a welcome home sign for his dad during the 25th Infantry Division Headquarters redeployment ceremony at Wheeler Army Airfield in Wahiawa, Hawaii December 18, 2011. The 25th ID Headquarters was the last division headquarters under US forces to leave Iraq. Department of Defense photo by US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth.

Your Daily Newt: Playing Nice on the Internet

| Wed Dec. 21, 2011 4:00 AM EST
Asked about his Internet browsing habits in 1995, Gingrich said simply, "I play."

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich has always presented himself, with some level of accuracy, as one of the more tech-savvy voices in American politics. He anticipated the the transformative powers of telecommunications in the 1980s, and recognized that Congress' attempt to ban pornography from the internet was a really dumb idea. In 1995, he became the first Speaker of the House in American history to sit down for a 6,500-word interview with Esther Dyson for Wired about the future of the Internet.

But as John Heilemann explained later that year, something didn't quite add up:

[I]t's hard not to feel slightly cynical. The slight grows as you discover that Gingrich is, in fact, something of a technological naïf. He has owned a laptop only since 1994, for example, and does not use e-mail, a fact that shocked [Bill] Gates's people and, apparently, Gates himself—the billionaire made a point of explaining the importance of e-mail to Gingrich at their dinner. When you ask the Speaker how much time he spends roaming the Net, he answers, "Not as much as I'd like." When you ask him what he does in those sadly infrequent moments, he falls silent for at least five seconds—an eternity for him—and then responds, blankly: "I play."

Oh.