Mojo - September 2012

Corn on "Hardball": Romney Misses the Point on Libya Attack

Wed Sep. 12, 2012 7:40 PM EDT

David Corn and Eugene Robinson joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the Romney campaign's malicious and fact-challenged politicization of the lethal attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

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

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Obamacare Is Working

| Wed Sep. 12, 2012 1:24 PM EDT

On a day dominated by all bad news on the foreign affairs front, the US Census Bureau delivered a spot of sunlight: New figures from 2011 show that the new health care reform law is actually working. The percentage of uninsured Americans actually went down, after steep jumps in the previous two years. Over 4 million more people had health care coverage in 2011 than in 2010.

US Census BureauUS Census Bureau

Despite predictions from opponents that Obamacare was going to take away your private health care and force everyone into government coverage, the numbers show definitively that's not happening. For the first time in a decade, the rate of private health insurance coverage didn't go down. The biggest beneficiaries of the new law are young people between 19 and 25, whose uninsured rate dropped 2.2 percent. Those figures should only get better as more provisions of the law start to kick in.

The good news on the health care front came along with some less happy developments. Median household income dropped again, by 1.7 percent in 2011, while going up 5 percent for the richest 5 percent of Americans. Median household income is now 9 percent lower than it was in 1999, and 8 percent lower than in 2007, when the economy imploded. Poverty rates were stable, but still depressingly high. Those numbers would be much, much higher, though, but for a host of anti-poverty programs that Republicans have proposed slashing. The Earned Income Tax Credit kept nearly 6 million people above the poverty line ($22,811 a year for a family of four), and food stamps kept another 4 million above the line. Government might not be the answer, but it's certainly helping quite a bit at the moment. 

Responding to Embassy Attacks, Romney Goes the Full D'Souza

| Wed Sep. 12, 2012 12:10 PM EDT

Hours after armed gunmen stormed a US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last night—an attack that ultimately resulted the deaths of four Americans, including US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens—Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama of "sympathizing" with those who killed Americans. The attackers were reportedly angry over a poorly made YouTube film that denigrated Islam. 

"I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," Romney said in a statement issued Tuesday night. "It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." At a press conference in Florida Wednesday, Romney said he stood by those remarks. What Romney said wasn't merely critical of the statement from the US embassy in Cairo (which apologized for the video in a statement issued before the protests began, although Romney has falsely claimed otherwise) but actually imputed "sympathy" on the part of the president for those who killed an American citizen. 

The president is never immune from criticism, even in moments of tragedy. But even in a polarized age, Romney's comments are shocking. They don't merely assign responsibility for the incident to, say, poor leadership or a failed foreign policy. Instead, Romney's remarks suggest that Obama has very specific personal motivations: When violent religious radicals slaughter Americans, Obama is on the side of the radicals. As it happens, Romney's statement isn't coming out of nowhere: It comes out of a very well-developed narrative, popular on the fever swamps of the right where questions about Obama's citizenship or faith linger. The idea that Obama is driven chiefly by hatred of America and the West and harbors a desire to make America pay for its transgressions is the thesis of Dinesh D'Souza's recently released film, 2016: Obama's America. The film is a "documentary" version of various articles D'Souza has written over the past few years alleging that Obama can only be understood through the lens of "Kenyan anti-colonialism," an ideology bestowed on Obama by the father he hardly knew. 

D'Souza's film, which has been successful at the box office, is meant to provide a scholarly sounding argument that reaches the same conclusions about Obama's nature implied by the right-wing conspiracy theories that have dogged the president since 2008: That he is a secret Muslim who wasn't born in the United States and is therefore hostile to America and its ideals. (Though there's nothing wrong with being a Muslim, many Republicans believe otherwise.) D'Souza's theory provides the cultural and political context for Romney's belief that Obama sympathizes with those who attacked the US consulate in Benghazi. If the Obama envisioned by D'Souza is real, then of course he sympathizes with those who assaulted a US consulate over an internet video offensive to Muslims, because that Obama believes America needs to be taken down a peg or two.

D'Souza and Romney's Obama is about as real as the one sitting in the empty chair Clint Eastwood yelled at for 12 minutes at the Republican National Convention. Nevertheless, when the Romney campaign chose to express the conflict in these terms, with the president on the side of those who murdered Americans in Benghazi, his supporters knew he was invoking their imaginary, Kenyan anti-colonialist Obama. It's naive to think that the Romney campaign didn't know it, too.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 12, 2012

Wed Sep. 12, 2012 10:43 AM EDT

GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan—U.S. Army Spc. Richard Foust, an infantry team leader with 3rd Platoon, Company D, 2nd Brigade, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, pulls security on a rooftop in the predawn hours of Aug. 29, 2012 , in Janabad, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Alex Kirk Amen, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

US Ambassador to Libya Killed in Benghazi; Romney Says Obama "Sympathizes" With Attackers

| Wed Sep. 12, 2012 9:19 AM EDT
US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens was killed in Benghazi yesterday, according to multiple reports.

Four Americans, including Christopher Stevens, the US Ambassador to Libya, were killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi Tuesday. The attackers were armed with guns and rockets and were reportedly angry about a YouTube film that made derogatory statements about Islam and its central figure, Mohammed. In a statement released to the press this morning, President Barack Obama "strongly" condemned the "outrageous attack," saying that the slain US personnel "exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives."

There were also protests at the US Embassy in Cairo, where Republicans seized on a weak initial statement from officials there to paint the Obama administration as soft-on-Islam (the US Ambassador to Egypt, Anne W. Patterson, is career diplomat who also served as Bush's Ambassador to Pakistan). The initial statement (which appeared before the attacks on the embassies) and a few since-deleted tweets apologized for the offending video and criticized the "continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." Though the White House told Politico it hadn't approved the statement, GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama of sympathizing with the embassy attackers, saying

I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.

Likewise, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted yesterday that "Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic." So the official Republican response to Americans being killed abroad yesterday is that the president of the United States is on the side of the killers, so vote Romney.

Despite the persistent Republican fantasy that the United States conducts diplomacy the way that Sean Hannity used to treat Alan Colmes, it's not clear a Republican President would have reacted differently to initial reports. In 2006, when European newspapers published cartoons denigrating Islam's prophet Mohammed, the Bush administration similarly affirmed free speech rights but said that "We find them offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive."

Karl Rove's Role in Komen's Planned Parenthood Flap

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 2:27 PM EDT

Karen Handel, the former vice president for federal affairs at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, has a new book out this week talking about the episode, Planned Bullyhood. Handel resigned in February after she was implicated as the main player in the cancer charity's decision to pull funding for screenings at Planned Parenthood.

In the book, she describes the response within Komen to the public backlash after the group announced the decision, according to Life News–and blames Karl Rove for its decision to reverse course and restore the grants to Planned Parenthood. Here she describes a conversation with Komen founder Nancy Brinker:

I just said, "You don’t have to apologize to me. But I have to say again that it is a huge mistake. Wait through the weekend. It’s Super Bowl weekend. We know there are op-eds teed up about how outrageous Planned Parenthood is being, that private organizations have the right to make the decisions they believe are best. If we blink now, it’s over and no one will know that [sic] Komen stands for," I implored.
Nancy’s reply stunned me. "Karen, I’ve talked to a lot of people. And even Karl says we have to backtrack. There’s just no other way."
"Karl? Who's Karl?"
She looked at me strangely as if I should know exactly who she was talking about. She said, "Karl Rove!"
I started laughing. Just when I thought things could not get more bizarre. What in the world did Karl Rove have to do with anything?

More interesting than Rove's involvement is the reaction from conservative activists, who are questioning whether the Republican Party's Boy Genius is anti-abortion enough. Blogger Jill Stanek argues that Rove "is only pro-life as long as it is convenient":

I have received assurances from a source close to him that Karl Rove is pro-life. Many may have already assumed this, since Rove worked a heartbeat away from the most pro-active pro-life president our country has seen since President Reagan, although those sleeping a heartbeat away from both, Laura Bush and Nancy Reagan, were pro-abortion. So osmosis is no guarantee.
But Rove did speak at the National Right to Life Convention in 2008, which gave him street cred. That said, at best Karl Rove is a fair weather friend.

Rove has also recently found himself in the middle of the abortion wars over his comments about Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.).

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PHOTO: September 11, 2001

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 1:29 PM EDT

Visible from space, a smoke plume rises from the Manhattan area after two planes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001.

The long view: "Nous sommes tous Américains."

How 9/11 Made Democrats More Like Republicans

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 12:25 PM EDT

Eight years ago, Democrats were so nervous about the GOP's perceived advantage on national security issues that they nominated a Vietnam veteran who walked up to the podium in Boston and saluted, proclaiming, "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty."

With Kerry's line at this year's convention—"Ask Osama bin Laden is he is better off now than he was four years ago"—Democrats have adopted the kind of language that might have been derided as "cowboy rhetoric" four years ago. And Kerry wasn't the first or last speaker to invoke Bin Laden in Charlotte last week. Asking for four more years of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden intoned that "Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!" Eight years ago, Democrats trying to act tough on national security sounded like kids playing pretend; at times, this year's convention sounded like a Roman triumph.

Though Democrats frequently refer to Bin Laden as having been "brought to justice," it is more accurate to say that those who perished on 9/11 have been avenged. With the terrorist leader's death has come another kind of payback: Democrats are now at ease with the belligerent pageantry that was once a hallmark of their Republican rivals. Last Friday, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney awkwardly attempted to explain to Fox News why he didn't mention Aghanistan, America's longest running war, in his convention speech. "You talk about the things that you think are important," Romney said. Imagine what Karl Rove could have done with that.

Barack Obama has a plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but neither candidate actually has a plan to end the war that started on September 11, 2001. Both parties accept that conflict as a permanent feature of American life. An American citizen in the US is as likely to be killed by their own furniture as a Muslim terrorist, but fear of violent Islamic extremism has changed this country almost irrevocably.

In 2008, Democrats challenged warrantless surveillance and pledged to "revisit" the PATRIOT Act. Now the president is a Democrat who left much of those policies in place. The 2012 platform is silent on the PATRIOT Act, as it is on nearly all of its 2008 promises to roll back war on terror powers. The 2012 Republican platform, meanwhile, nods at the idea that the government can indefinitely detain an American citizen suspected of terrorism, promising only to "ensure the protections under our Constitution to all citizens, particularly the rights of habeas corpus and due process of law." It does not promise that Americans suspected of terrorism will get a trial.

The House is set to vote this week to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows warrantless surveillance of American citizens as long as they're communicating with someone abroad. Although the bill is not likely to pass the Senate before the November election, it will eventually be signed, regardless of who wins. From body scanners and pat downs at airports to the growing public-private partnership that is the American intelligence industry, from immunity to torturers to prosecutions for whistleblowers, there are no signs of demobilization in the war on terror. It's a post-9/11 paradox: the more we beat Al Qaeda, the more we accept the ways we've changed to beat them.

For the Bush veterans not driven insane by partisan derangement (or whose professional careers don't require them to be partisan team players) this continuity has brought relief. Speaking before an audience at the University of Michigan last Friday, former Bush-era CIA Director and NSA chief Michael Hayden, who identified himself as an adviser to Romney, said he thought the forever war was in good hands no matter who wins in 2012. "I actually expect there's going to be some continuity between a president Romney, and his predecessor too," Hayden said. "I actually think all these things that seem to carry over from [the 43rd president] to [the 44th president], will carry over to [the 45th]."

The troops will come home from Afghanistan. But the war that began on September 11, 2001 may never end. Having finally figured out how to play the game, the Democratic Party no longer even seems to want it to end. Democrats haven't fallen to the same depths as the GOP did in 2006, when President Bush said that the Democratic approach to Iraq meant "the terrorists win and America loses." But there's no point in calling a truce in the counterterrorism culture war when you're winning.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 11, 2012

Tue Sep. 11, 2012 11:51 AM EDT

1st Lt. Michael Moore, platoon commander for 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, crosses paths with Djiboutian wildlife as he walks back to camp after taking part in assault climber training with his Marines in Djibouti, Aug. 29, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael Petersheim.

Activists Question Black Panther-FBI Informant Story

| Tue Sep. 11, 2012 6:01 AM EDT
Richard Aoki

When the Center for Investigative Reporting published a bombshell report last month that the late Black Panther Richard Aoki was an FBI informant, the news was met with disbelief. The longtime Bay Area radical's friends and defenders argued that the evidence fell short, pointing to an ambiguous FBI document and a misinterpreted interview with Aoki. And why, they wondered, had there never been any hint of Aoki's betrayal during his years of work uniting Asian-American and African-American activists?

But last week CIR reporter Seth Rosenfeld published another 221 pages of FBI documents that show conclusively Aoki was an informant. They reveal that Aoki, who used the alias "Richard Ford," worked with the agency from 1961 to 1977, during which time he helped organize and arm the Black Panthers while providing the feds with information that was "unique" and of "extreme value."

On Sunday, former Black Panthers and other local activists met at Oakland's Eastside Cultural Center to discuss the revelations about Aoki. The event, titled "Cointelpro Attacks & Reclaiming the Legacy," didn't focus on the specific charges in Rosenfeld's reports, according to people who attended the meeting, but most speakers were unwilling to accept that Aoki ever worked with the FBI.

At the meeting, Black Panther Party cofounder Bobby Seale said the charges against Aoki amounted to an attempt to defame a comrade. When Rosenfeld called him for an interview for one of his stories, Seale said, he replied, "Fuck it."

Others suspect the FBI of "snitch-jacketing," falsely accusing Aoki of working with the feds to sow doubt and suspicions among his fellow organizers. But no one has backed up these allegations, and it's unclear exactly why FBI would choose to undermine Aoki's reputation more than three years after his death. Nor does this theory explain why the FBI fought Rosenfeld over the release of the Aoki documents.

"I think people are skeptical for the right reasons," Scott Johnson, an activist who attended the meeting, told me. "They're trying to rescue as much [of his legacy] as possible while grappling with these new allegations."

Skepticism in the face of betrayal isn't unique to the Aoki situation. As MoJo's Josh Harkinson reported in his profile of informant Brandon Darby, his friends initially couldn't believe the news that he'd snitched on his fellow Republican National Convention protesters in 2008. "If Brandon was conning me, and many others, it would be the biggest lie of my life since I found out the truth about Santa Claus," wrote one of the many activists who were quick to defend Darby before he fessed up.

Of course, Aoki no longer has the opportunity to confess, and some of his defenders may never be swayed. Fred Ho, a writer and activist who befriended Aoki in the late '90s, wrote an impassioned defense of his friend after reading Rosenfeld's initial report. "If Aoki was an agent, so what?" he wrote derisively. "He surely was a piss-poor one because what he contributed to the movement is enormously greater than anything he could have detracted or derailed." After last week's follow-up story, Ho held firm, going so far as to suggest that Aoki may have been spying not on Black Panthers but on the FBI.

If Aoki were still alive, would his friends be rushing to his defense? He appears to have feared that they wouldn't have. The FBI's final report on Aoki reveals that he ended his relationship with the bureau since he felt that being an informant conflicted with his job as an educator. He was unwilling to reveal his past with the agency, the report says, because it "would alienate him from associates and friends and would cause him great trouble in his relationships with students as a student counselor." It is unlikely, the report concludes, that "there will be any control problem concerning this informant."