Mojo - April 2012

Corn on Hardball: Is It Wrong for Obama to Take Credit for Osama Bin Laden's Death?

Mon Apr. 30, 2012 5:32 PM PDT

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn and political analyst Ron Reagan joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss why the GOP is outraged at Obama for taking credit, one year later, for the death of Osama bin Laden. Would Republicans be so upset if one of their own was doing something similar? Hint: Just recall George W. Bush's presidency.

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

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Mitt Romney and the OBL Raid: He Needs To Read "Showdown"

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 12:33 PM PDT

Mitt Romney today demonstrated that he doesn't understand presidential decision-making—and that he should read my book, Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party, or at least Chapter 10.

While campaigning in New Hampshire Monday—a day before the one-year anniversary of the Osama bin Laden raid—Romney was asked whether he would have ordered that operation. "Of course," he huffed. He then added, "Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order."

Romney made it seem that this had been a slam-dunk, no-brainer decision. But it wasn't.

As I recount in the book—and an article adapted from it and posted at The Daily Beast makes this point—Obama's decision to launch the raid was a case study in tough presidential decision-making. It was not a simple go/no-go order. The few national security advisers who knew about the potential mission were divided on what to do. Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Bob Gates urged Obama to wait for more definitive intelligence. Several advisers favored a missile strike. Only a handful supported a unilateral secret US raid. There was so much that could wrong with such a mission, and Obama's presidency would probably be over if a commando raid went bad. A majority of his national security team members did not back a commando assault.

Obama had to choose first between a missile strike and a raid (and doing nothing until more intelligence came in). He rejected the missile strike due to concerns over collateral damage and the possibility that it would be difficult (if not impossible) to determine if Bin Laden had been killed in this attack. (David Frum understands the importance of this decision.) Then Obama raised crucial questions about the helicopter raid that shaped the mission in a way that contributed to its success. (For details, see the aforementioned extract.) Finally, Obama had to issue the green light, knowing that he was placing his presidency on the line.

This was an episode in which Obama acted deliberately and decisively. It was a test of presidential leadership, as Kevin Drum notes. And Obama's performance in this instance is highly relevant when it comes to determining whether he ought to keep the job for another four years—just as Romney's experiences building (or destroying) businesses is relevant. Republicans who accuse the White House of politicizing this decision have little ground on which to stand, particularly after GOPers have long claimed Ds are weak on terrorism (and after W. put on a flight suit and cockily strode across a flight deck underneath a "Mission Accomplished" banner). More important, Romney's dismissal of this decision as no-big-deal indicates he hasn't thought much about one of the most crucial decisions that had to be made in the Oval Office—and that he may not be ready for the job himself.

Former CIA Official Seeking to Confirm Efficacy of Torture Does The Opposite

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 8:12 AM PDT
Former CIA Official Jose Rodriguez talks to CBS' 60 Minutes.

Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's Clandestine Service during the Bush administration, was supposed to offer proof that the torture of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other Al Qaeda detainees led to the discovery of Osama bin Laden's hiding place. Instead, his interview with CBS reporter Leslie Stahl confirmed the exact opposite. 

"I am certain, beyond any doubt, that these techniques, approved at the highest levels of the U.S. government, certified by the Department of Justice, and briefed to and supported by bipartisan leadership of congressional intelligence oversight committees, shielded the people of the United States from harm and led to the capture of killing of Osama bin Laden," Rodriguez told the Washington Post's Dana Priest in a piece inexplicably published in the paper's Style section early last week. 

The debate over the efficacy of torture has been renewed by Rodriguez' recently published book and the Obama campaign's agressive effort to remind voters that bin Laden was found and killed under the current administration. Since bin Laden's death, Republicans have sought to reap credit for the raid by focusing on the torturous interrogation techniques Obama banned by executive order his first few days in office, claiming they led directly to the discovery of bin Laden's hideout. But the CIA's own inspector general found "you could not in good conscience reach a definitive conclusion about whether any specific technique was especially effective, or [whether] the enhanced techniques in the aggregate really worked."

Rodriguez' 60 Minutes interview doesn't do much to bolster the case of torture supporters. In fact, it actively undermines it. When Stahl confronted Rodriguez with the fact that KSM refused to divulge the identity of the courier who eventually led the CIA to bin Laden, Rodriguez confirmed what we already knew—that when asked about the identity of bin Laden's courier, KSM lied

Stahl: Well, [KSM] didn't tell you about Osama bin Laden. He didn't tell you how to get him. He didn't tell you how to find him.

Rodriguez: Some of these people were not going to tell us everything. Stahl: So you don't break 'em. Rodriguez: There is a limit, there is a limit to what they will tell us. Actually KSM lied about the courier - whose identity finally led to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where the terrorist leader he calls Sheikh bin Laden was hiding.

Stahl: Now, here's what I heard: that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told you the courier had retired and threw you off the scent for a while.

Rodriguez: That was the one secret he was going to take to the grave, and that was the protection of the Sheikh. He was not going to tell us.

CBS has since posted more of the interview to its website, and the additional footage further erodes the notion that torture led to bin Laden's whereabouts. "We went to KSM and said 'What about this courier, [Abu Ahmed] al-Kuwaiti?' and he became very defensive, and he would not talk to us about it," Rodriguez says. "But later, we intercepted a message, that he was sending to the other detainees in which he said do not say a word about the courier. Which, to us meant this is important information."

Rodriguez employed a number of other well-worn fallacies in his defense of torture:

We had to torture KSM, because he's so tough, but he resisted so it's not torture. "Oh, he was not going to talk. I mean, Khalid Sheik Mohammed is one of the toughest killers out there," Rodriguez told Stahl. Later, arguing that waterboarding is not torture, Rodriguez says, "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would use his fingers to count the number of seconds, because he knew that in all likelihood, we would stop at 10. So this doesn't sound like a person who is afraid of dying." Stahl asks "Then why do it? What's the point?"

Torture works so well, but you know, don't torture so much. Rodriguez defends the efficacy of torture, but when asked by Stahl about the use of a power drill and threats of rape against his family members on a detainee, Rodriguez says "Stupid things that were done by people who had no authority to do that." But if torture is so effective, why would it be "stupid" to be even rougher? Wouldn't it just lead to detainees providing more information?

The month-long ticking time bomb. Rodriguez again uses the "ticking time bomb" scenario to justify using torture, then admits they take about a month to "work."  "If there was going to be another attack against the U.S., we would have blood on our hands because we would not have been able to extract that information from him," Rodriguez says of high value detainee Abu Zubayda. "So we started to talk about an alternative set of interrogation procedures." Rodriguez later admits that the psychologist touting the effectiveness of torture had "speculated that within 30 days we would probably be able to get the information that we wanted."

Although Rodriguez' didn't offer much in the way of new information during his interview with Stahl, he did introduce an inadvertently hilarious metaphor for the kind of tough guy rhetoric employed in defense of torture. When explaining to Stahl his request to use so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, Rodriguez said, "We needed everybody in government to put their big boy pants on and provide the authorities that we needed."

Rep. Allen West Calls Democrats Nine-Foot-Tall Aliens

| Mon Apr. 30, 2012 8:02 AM PDT
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.)

Here's a quick lesson in how political fundraising works: If you say crazy things about your political rivals, your base will give you a ton of money. But as a consequence, your political rivals will also find themselves raising a ton of money, which means that if you want to keep your head above water, you have to continue saying increasingly nuttier things.

That brings us to Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a bomb-throwing tea party rock star who's moving into a new district that gave 51 percent of its vote to Barack Obama in 2008, and is considered to be one of Democrats' top targets this fall. West has $3.3 million on hand for the fall—an enormous sum for a House candidate at this stage in the race. Not coincidentally, though, the two biggest fundraising hauls from Democratic House challengers nationwide came from the likely nominees in the district West currently serves in (Fla.–22), and in district he's moving into (Fla.–18).

So what do you do if you're Allen West? You keep on keeping on. Here's a Facebook note he posted last week:

Here we go again, the artful dodger, President Barack Hussein Obama, bribing the electorate with political gimmicks. We are witnessing a political propaganda program of Orwellian proportions designed to manipulate and deceive the American people. This is so reminiscent of the Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man". Obama and his liberal progressive disciples are the modern day Kanamits. My warning to you all, don't fall for the intellectually dishonest rhetoric and become post-election day dinner America!

What is a Kanamit? The Broward–Palm Beach New Times helpfully informs us that the Kanamit were "a race of nine-foot-tall aliens that come to Earth and cure famine, blight, and nuclear warfare." But that was all just a ruse for their real goal: "their kindness is really just a not-very-elaborate ruse to fatten up the human race so they can be carted back to the Kanamit home planet to be eaten. A Kanamit book called To Serve Man that was discovered by the humans turns out not to be about helping man at all—it's a cookbook." It's people!

Here's the pivotal scene from the episode, now that I've spoiled it for you:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 30, 2012

Mon Apr. 30, 2012 7:44 AM PDT

Soldiers of A Company, 412th Aviation Support Battalion, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade conducted confidence course training as part of their pre-deployment training, April 27, 2012. The event also helped to foster camaraderie, boost morale and build esprit de corps among soldiers before their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. Photo by the US Army.

Corn on "Hardball": When "Villionaires" Go Wild

Mon Apr. 30, 2012 7:37 AM PDT

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball on Friday to discuss dark money, anti-Obama ads, and who Corn calls "the villionaires," venting billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson who are pouring money into the 2012 elections.

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

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WATCH: Football Hero Charles Woodson Doubles Down on Union Rights in Wisconsin

| Fri Apr. 27, 2012 2:22 PM PDT
Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson.

Divided as they may be, the people of Wisconsin still unite behind at least one cause: Green Bay Packers football. The "Pack" is a religion in Wisconsin, its followers fanatical, each home game at Lambeau Field awaited and attended with the fervor of a Papal visit. And unlike every other NFL team, the Pack is a nonprofit owned by the people, not some 1 percenter friendly with Mitt Romney.

It was no surprise, then, that when Packers defensive stalwart Charles Woodson spoke out in February 2011 against Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans' "unprecedented attack" on workers' rights, Woodson's words reverberated throughout the state. "I hope those leading the attack will sit down with Wisconsin's public workers and discuss the problems Wisconsin faces, so that together they can truly move Wisconsin forward," Woodson said at the time.

In Washington on Friday, Woodson, a member of the NFL Players Association union, doubled down on his support for workers' rights in Wisconsin. "Wisconsin workers and workers in general should have their right to be a union and have a right to fight for whatever rights they believe in," Woodson told Politico's Mike Allen. "We talk about having freedoms in this country. They should have the freedom to fight for their rights."

Here's the video:

Woodson has yet to take a public position on the recall fight targeting Walker. Nor, for that matter, have any other members of the Pack, many of whom flee Green Bay each offseason for warmer climates. But if Woodson or any of his teammates do weigh in on the recall rumble before the June 5 election, you can bet it will tip the scale in one of the most vicious and cash-drenched elections in Wisconsin history.

Transparency Victory: Feds Will Require Broadcasters To Post Political Ad Info Online

| Fri Apr. 27, 2012 10:03 AM PDT
An anti-Obama ad paid for by dark-money group Crossroads GPS.

Want to peruse Mitt Romney's donor list? See who's on a super-PAC's payroll? Find out which campaign spends the most on Chinese take-out? All that information and more is a click (or four) away on the internet.

However, political advertising information—who's buying ads, where they're buying them, and how much they're spending—remains in the pre-computer age. That information is only available on paper forms stuffed inside filing cabinets at the offices of the broadcasters themselves. These files are public information, yet they are nowhere to be found online. Reporters or citizens looking for ad buy information have to call up individual broadcasters or visit TV stations in person.

No more. The Federal Communications Commission on Friday ruled that TV stations must post online their publicly available political ad information, including who's buying, what they're paying, and how much airtime they purchased. TV ads remain the most potent (and pricey) weapon in a campaign's arsenal, and making ad data readily available online is a game-changer for reporters covering the campaign.

There's a catch. The FCC's requirement impacts only the nation's 50 biggest TV markets, exempting the remaining 160. As the Sunlight Foundation recently noted, TV markets in battleground states such as Iowa, Virginia, and Missouri won't be touched by the FCC's decision. Meanwhile, broadcasters in Los Angeles and New York, both cities where President Obama is expected to win easily, will be subject to the new online requirement.

Still, supporters of the online move hailed the decision as a step out of the shadows for political advertising and win for transparency. "This is a huge victory for the public interest and a critical breakthrough for transparency in an election year," wrote Candace Clement of Free Press, a media reform group that lobbied for moving ad info online. "At a time when wealthy special interests are trying to buy elections, we now have a means to figure out how much they’re spending on these ads, and where."

The National Association of Broadcasters, the industry's main trade group which lobbied against the proposal, said in a statement that it "respectfully disagrees" with the FCC's ruling. "By forcing broadcasters to be the only medium to disclose on the Internet our political advertising rates, the FCC jeopardizes the competitive standing of stations that provide local news, entertainment, sports and life-saving weather information free of charge to tens of millions of Americans daily."

Jon Tester Cuts the Second-Most Montana Ad of All Time

| Fri Apr. 27, 2012 7:53 AM PDT

The Montana Senate race could very well determine whether Republicans will control Congress next January. In one corner is the incumbent, Democrat Jon Tester, a Netroots hero six years ago; in the other is GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg, winner of five statewide elections, friend of mining interests, foe of firefighters. The stakes couldn't be higher—so naturally, Tester's latest campaign ad is focusing on...steaks, which he brings with him in his carry-on luggage any time he leaves the state:

This is a natural sequel to his first 2006 campaign spot, which was dedicated entirely to his buzz cut:

But two can play that game. Here's a Rehberg campaign ad from 2000, in which he carries a baby goat up a hill:

On a more substantive note, Karl Rove's super-PAC, American Crossroads, is out with a massive statewide ad blitz targeting Tester.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 27, 2012

Fri Apr. 27, 2012 7:18 AM PDT

US Army National Guard Spc. Timothy Shout, a native of Austin, Texas, scans the nearby ridgeline along with other members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team Kunar Security Force element, following an engagement with enemy forces. Shout is deployed from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry (Airborne) out of Austin, Texas. The unit took small-arms fire from a nearby mountain top during a routine patrol, and was able to suppress the enemy with the assistance of local Afghan National Security Forces. Photo by the US Army.