Mojo - March 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 21, 2012

Wed Mar. 21, 2012 8:16 AM PDT

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from A Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, follows Mi-17 helicopters from Kandahar Air Wing during an air assault training mission in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on February 29, 2012. Photo by the US Army.

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The Truth About Mike Daisey—and Walmart

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
A Walmart store in Beijing, China.

Mike Daisey made you care. Give the man that much.

For all the flaws and fabrications in his monologue "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," excerpted and then retracted on the popular radio program "This American Life," Daisey changed how you looked at your iPhone or iPod or iPad. He caused you to consider how and where your Apple gadgets were made, and who made them. That Daisey lied about meeting underage workers at Apple supplier Foxconn does not mean Apple suppliers don't hire underage workers. They do. That Daisey misrepresented meeting a man with a hand snarled from repeating the same motion on an Apple production line doesn't mean such injuries aren't common in China. They are. Daisey's lies have stained his reputation. But Apple's once-glittering reputation is tarnished, too. For that Apple can blame Daisey, and even more so the reporting team behind the New York Times' superb iEconomy series.

But the problems plaguing the Chinese manufacturers are not limited to Apple. Far from it.

Today, you can read my investigation into an even more massive American corporation that, like Apple, depends on cheap, fast, and nimble Chinese labor: Walmart. It's a story 18 months in the works, and it reveals how the world's largest retailer has fallen well short on its much-hyped sustainability campaign, especially in China, where so much of Walmart's products are made.

Walmart launched its sustainability campaign in 2005, billing it as a boardroom-to-break-room effort to shrink the retailer's waste footprint, slash emissions at its stores and suppliers worldwide, and stock its shelves with more environmentally friendly products. Walmart's "green" embrace fit into a broader makeover at the embattled retailer. Walmart redesigned the company logo, de-cluttered its shelves and store aisles, and changed its slogan from "Always Low Prices" to "Save Money. Live Better."

WH Official on Birth Control Backlash: "I Didn't Think It Would Be This Controversial"

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Ahead of the two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act this Friday, the White House hosted a briefing with senior officials to tout the benefits the law has had for women so far. It was notable in light of the most recent health care reform related dustup over coverage of contraception.

Deputy chief of staff Nancy-Ann DeParle and deputy assistant to the president for health policy Jeanne Lambrew rattled off the law's many accomplishments—including the coverage of preventative services, the removal of lifetime limits on benefits, and an end to gender-based rate differences.

I asked if the Obama administration thinks the fight over contraception coverage in recent weeks has been advantageous.

"I guess I think that it does help to highlight the differences in approach," said DeParle, though she noted it wasn't a fight the White House sought out. The administration was simply following the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine on preventative care for women. "I'm shocked, honestly, at how much difference there is. It really surprised me. I didn't think it would be this controversial."

WATCH: What's Fox News' Beef With David Corn's "Showdown"?

Wed Mar. 21, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Mother Jones' DC bureau chief David Corn joined Martin Bashir on MSNBC to discuss Corn's new book, Showdown, which gives an inside account of Obama's battles with the GOP, starting with the game-changing 2010 midterm elections and ending with the beginning of the 2012 campaign season. Corn also addresses the controversy that's developed over his claim in Showdown that Fox News promoted the idea that Obama is Muslim to its viewers.

Also, don't miss excerpts from Showdown about the inside story of the tense White House night during the bin Laden raid and Obama's plan to win reelection in 2012.

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

Attack No. 2 on "Showdown": Rush Can't Read?

| Wed Mar. 21, 2012 2:10 AM PDT
There he goes again.

Did someone once call Rush Limbaugh an idiot? Whether or not that was a fair criticism, it's clear that the recently besieged, over-the-top radio talker lacks certain reading comprehension skills.

On his Wednesday show—and for the second time this week—he assailed my new book, Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party, a behind-the-scenes, narrative account of decision-making within the White House following the disastrous (for Democrats) 2010 midterm elections. And, once again, Limbaugh got it wrong.

His obsession remains a Washington Post article that details the collapse of the Grand Bargain deficit-reduction deal President Barack Obama attempted to strike with House Speaker John Boehner last summer. The Post article, in Limbaugh's feverish reading, fingers Obama as the culprit—and Limbaugh has been braying about this for days, insisting that the president killed those talks and Boehner was a stand-up guy. As Showdown notes (pp. 322-327), Obama did try to change the contours of the deal after Senate Republicans announced support for a debt package that included more revenues than Boehner and Obama were discussing. But Obama at that juncture offered Boehner the choice to ease up on entitlement cuts rather than add more revenues. And that was when Boehner bolted.

But that's not what's at dispute here. Limbaugh, referring to the book and my appearance today on MSNBC's Morning Joe, asserts—j'accuse!—that my version of events is completely at odds with the Post's account. He pounces on my exchange with Willie Geist when he asked me if Obama and Boehner were truly close to an agreement before the "third wheel"—that is, the tea party Republicans in the House—derailed the accord.

Indeed, they were, I replied, and recounted the story reported in the book (pp. 309-312) about moderate House Republicans coming to Boehner's office to warn him that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was telling House GOPers that Boehner had gone RINO—Republican in Name Only—in his dealings with Obama. These moderate Republicans, allies of Boehner, feared that Cantor was preparing to lead (or reap the benefits of) a House GOP mutiny. Get out, they counseled the speaker. Consequently, Boehner skedaddled, the talks undone by his fear of a tea party rebellion.

Not so, says Limbaugh, waving the Post article: the "Washington Post doesn't say anything like this." But Limbaugh misses one essential point. The Grand Bargain talks broke down twice. The account I related in response to Geist's question referred to the first time the negotiations fell apart. The Washington Post piece covers (in great detail) the second time the talks disintegrated, about two weeks later.

Limbaugh doesn't seem to understand this. (It's spelled out clearly in Showdown.) Instead, he conjures up conspiratorial notions involving a clash between "far left" media outfits (me versus the Post). He rants:

Now we have two versions of the same story that are at big variance with one another. We don't pretend to know what it all means yet. But one thing that is happening is that there's discord on the left over this whole thing, and for some reason a lot of people think that what happened in that debt deal last summer could come back to really bite Obama on his reelection. That has us scratching our head too.

But he apparently didn't scratch for for too long, because he's sure that he's grasped the bottom line: "They're trying to cover up what is apparent to all, and that is [Obama's] incompetence."

Being misread (and misconstrued) by Limbaugh is hardly akin to being called a slut, but this episode shows the guy can't keep a simple story straight. When he says he can't "pretend to know what it all means," that, apparently, is literally true.

Mitt Wins! Mitt Wins! (Nothing Changes)

| Tue Mar. 20, 2012 4:33 PM PDT
Mitt Romney.

In his first major test since a pair of disappointing third-place finishes in Mississippi and Alabama, Mitt Romney crushed Rick Santorum in Tuesday's Illinois primary, adding to his already considerably delegate lead and placing him closer to the GOP presidential nomination. 

For Romney, that's the good news. The bad news is that this whole process isn't going to end anytime soon.

Addressing supporters in Gettysburg—yes, really—Santorum framed this election once more as the most important since 1860 while attempting to spin his poor performance for the best. "We're gonna win central Illinois, we're gonna win western Illinois," he said. "We won the areas where conservatives populate and we're happy about that." And then he took a shot at Romney, who just moments earlier told supporters in Illinois that "economic freedom" will be on the ballot next fall. "It all boils down to one word, and that's what's on the ballot in this election, and that's the word 'freedom,'" Santorum said. "I am pleased to see that Governor Romney is now adopting [that message]."

Romney and his affiliated super PAC, Restore Our Future, outspent Team Santorum 21:1 in the Chicago media market (where almost half the state resides) and 7:1 statewide. That mattered. Romney's lead over Santorum among Illinois primary voters grew in each of the polls conducted this month, from +4 to +6, +9, and eventually +15. The former Massachusetts governor's biggest victories during the 2012 race have been defined by his ability to significantly outspend his top opponent on the airwaves, and in Illinois, 74 percent of voters said campaign ads influenced their vote. (One small caveat: As Nate Silver points out, Romney's advertising advantage is still relatively tame compared to his expenditures in early states like Iowa.)

The night also reinforced what we already know: If Romney is, in fact, quite vulnerable, there's little to suggest that Santorum is capable of beating him. Despite casting himself as a candidate who can appeal to rural and rust-belt voters, Santorum got crushed in a state that has both in abundance. And he effectively handed the result to Romney before the polls even opened by failing to get his delegates on the ballot in four Illinois congressional districts. Santorum didn't make matters any easier with his own tactical decisions, opting to spend most of last week in Puerto Rico, ostensibly for the purposes of rounding up support ahead of the territory's caucus—which handed all 20 delegates to Romney.

Newt Gingrich, who led the field when Public Policy Polling surveyed Illinois in October, didn't even break single digits. He's done—but you already knew that.

The race may seem all but over, but it's not likely to end anytime soon. Santorum is the heavy favorite heading into Saturday's Louisiana primary, and a win there will only reinforce the notion that Romney can't win Southern voters. The ex-senator is also a heavy favorite in next month's big Pennsylvania primary. Romney, meanwhile, is continuing to waste money and resources he'd much rather be using on the general election. He spent more money than he took in over the last month. Get ready for more of the same.

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Newt Gingrich Demands President Obama Apologize for Robert DeNiro

| Tue Mar. 20, 2012 10:10 AM PDT

Last Wednesday, GOP presidential candidate and aspiring sloth-watcher Newt Gingrich lamented the inability to have a "serious discussion" about America's future because the news media and his opponents "can't comprehend" the enormity of his ideas.

On Tuesday, he demanded President Obama apologize for Robert DeNiro. Via Benjy Sarlin:

Newt Gingrich is incensed about a joke by actor Robert DeNiro at a fundraiser attended by Michelle Obama for the president’s re-election, in which the Academy Award-winning star used the word “white” to describe the Republican field’s spouses.

"Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?" DeNiro said. "Too soon, right?"

...

"What DeNiro said last night was inexcusable and the president should apologize for him. It was at an Obama fundraiser, it is exactly wrong, it divides the country," [Gingrich] said. "If people on the left want to talk about talk show hosts, then everybody in the country should hold the president accountable when someone at his event says something that is utterly and terribly unacceptable as what Robert DeNiro said."

No word yet on whether Gingrich thinks Obama should apologize for Little Fockers.

Meanwhile, in more serious Newt Gingrich news, Jonathan Martin and Ginger Gibson report that the former speaker's campaign is actually kind of a wreck, and is "slowly expiring in all the usual ways of terminal campaigns at the end-stage: Cash is running low, supporters are griping about not getting paid and aides are valiantly trying to convince themselves as much as the press that, really, there is a path forward."

A Stupid, Costly Regulation Obama Should Kill

| Tue Mar. 20, 2012 8:15 AM PDT

Barack Obama is on the hunt for stupid, unnecessary regulations that the government should get rid of, Politico's Playbook reported Tuesday morning. I have a suggestion: kill the rule that is forcing everyone, including the government (and, by extension, taxpayers), to pay way more for life-saving asthma inhalers than we did ten years ago.

In 2009, at the urging of the drug lobby, the EPA started banning asthma inhalers that run on ozone-depleting CFC aerosols. As a result, inhaler prices jumped from as little as $5 to as much as $60. The drug companies were thrilled—they got a new round of patent protection (and got to charge higher prices) for non-CFC inhalers that dispense exactly the same medicine as their CFC-based predecessors. But everyone else got screwed. By 2017, the switch to the new inhalers will cost consumers, taxpayers, and the government some $8 billion, according to the EPA's own estimates, just to avoid a tiny amount of CFC emissions.

Asthma is a big deal—it's responsible for one quarter of all emergency room visits in the United States"It's just absurd to think that this is anything that could have a measurable impact," Dean Baker, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy research, told me for an article on this subject last year. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a law that raised costs so much for such a nonexistent benefit to the environment."

The EPA will probably argue that it's not as simple as scrapping the rule—the US has treaty obligations that are forcing us to do this. That's not good enough. The Obama administration should renegotiate the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty on the use of ozone-depleting CFCs, to include a common-sense exception for CFC-based medical inhalers. Even that can't possibly cost more than the $8 billion-plus that is being sucked out of taxpayers' pockets and into the coffers of the pharmaceutical industry for an almost negligible environmental benefit.

*Update, 7:45 p.m. EST: A reader writes to say that I should probably note, as I did in tweets about this story, that I have asthma, and so this affects me personally. Of course, it affects you, too. Medicaid and Medicare, which you pay for in your taxes, pay more for inhalers than they did prior to this rule.

Bret Baier's #Fail in Challenging Obama on "Showdown"

| Tue Mar. 20, 2012 7:53 AM PDT
Bret Baier.

Bret Baier is wrong.

My new book, Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party, has stirred up a spat. Many media outfits focused on a nugget in the book reporting that, during a December 2010 meeting with labor officials, President Barack Obama complained that he was "losing white males," partly due to cultural issues (gun rights, gay rights, and race), and noted, "Fed by Fox News, they hear Obama is a Muslim 24/7, and it begins to seep in."

Baier, a Fox News anchor, took exception to this. On air he proclaimed, "For the record, we found no examples of a host saying President Obama is a Muslim."

Note the sly use of the word "host." Whether or not he or any other "host" has uttered the direct statement "Obama is a Muslim," his network has advanced that notion repeatedly.

Look at this August 19, 2010 video of Sean Hannity interviewing Brigitte Gabriel, a regular guest on Fox. She clearly defends the view that Obama is a secret Muslim. And Hannity does not challenge her.




That same month—after a poll showed that 18 percent of Americans believed Obama was a Muslim—Fox regular Charles Krauthammer, appearing on Baier's show, Special Report, claimed that "the emphasis Obama placed on Muslim outreach might incline people to conclude he's not a Christian." This is known as fueling flames. Baier, too, blamed Obama for creating the Muslim misperception, noting that the president "has talked openly about his—the Muslim heritage in his family." Rather that dismiss the Obama-is-a-Muslim nonsense, they sought to validate reasons for this misguided belief.

The previous year, Special Report had questioned Obama's faith, asking "Islam or Isn't He?" Just posing such a query reinforces the notion that the president might be a Muslim. And the network has regularly featured anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller, who has referred to Obama as the "Muslim president."

Let's not forget Glenn Beck—who was a Fox News host. In an August 23 show, Beck said Obama was—yikes!—sympathetic to Muslims. He criticized Obama for having stated at the inauguration that "we are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers." Beck then referred to this piece of "evidence": Michelle Obama had visited the "Alhambra Palace mosque" in Spain, a well-known tourist attraction. Beck discerned something dark and sinister in this outing. "Are they sending messages?" he asked. "I don't know. I don't know. I've never had to look for messages before." Messages? What sort of messages? Beck seemed to be suggesting the Obamas were part of a secret Muslim conspiracy.

During his show the next day, Beck tried to have it both ways. He said, "Obama is not a Muslim. I'm taking his word that he is a Christian." But then he implied that Obama was not truly a Christian:

[W]here your father is a Muslim, an atheist, your mother at least is not practicing any religion, your stepfather is non-practicing Muslim, your grandparents in frequent something called the "Little Red Church," I don't even — I mean, is there any wonder why so many Americans are confused by him? They don't recognize him as a Christian. No.

There's more (as Media Matters has documented). Donald Trump, appearing on Bill O'Reilly's show in March 2011, speculated that Obama was hiding his birth certificate because it declared he was born a Muslim. On April 26, 2011, controversial pastor Robert Jeffress on Fox & Friends said, "why do 20 percent of Americans think the president is a Muslim? We'll, as my kids would say, duh." Last year, conservative radio talk show host, Lars Larson, echoing a familiar right-wing trope, said on Fox that the president shows "a whole lot of deference to Muslims and seems to forget Christians." Fox folks, of course, have gone wild over Obama's bowing before the Saudi king, and the network in 2008 pushed the false story that Obama attended an Islamic school in Indonesia.

Obama was correct in what he said to those labor officials. He wasn't blaming Fox News for all his political troubles, but he was pointing out that it was shaping a political culture in which the most foul anti-Obama assertions could breed. Fox News has indeed provided a platform for those who question Obama's faith, for those who defend the view he is a Muslim, for those who explain that belief in a manner that lends this false notion credence, and for those who hint that Obama is not really a Christian and that there may be something a little Muslim-y about the guy. Baier is often a fine journalist—remember his interview with Mitt Romney—but now he is defending what should be indefensible.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 20, 2012

Tue Mar. 20, 2012 7:32 AM PDT

Lance Cpl. Alejandro Carbajal, scout swimmer and rifleman with Company A, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, scouts ahead before the primary raid force lands on the shoreline during a small boat raid here, March 17, 2012. The raid was conducted during the MEU's Certification Exercise, which upon completion certifies that the MEU is capable to respond to any scenario that may arise. The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the nation's force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region. Photo by Lance Cpl. Michael S. Oxton.