Mojo - November 2012

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 13, 2012

Tue Nov. 13, 2012 9:50 AM PST

Soldiers of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division’s brigade commander and command sergeant major’s personal security detachment receive a brief in a bunker Nov. 9, 2012 at Combat Outpost Khenjakak in Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Hackbarth.

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The New Flyover Country

| Tue Nov. 13, 2012 4:03 AM PST

President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by assembling a coalition of unprecedented diversity—in an electorate that was 72 percent white, 44 percent of Obama voters were not. But in the dull lexicon of Washington political reporters, a rich, NPR-listening white liberal remains the favored stereotypical shorthand for a Democratic voter.

For example, in an otherwise interesting piece about the right's media bubble, Politico describes Obama's coalition as more ominvorous in its media appetites because "there are as many, if not more, NPR-oriented liberals as MSNBC devotees on the left; the Democratic media ecosystem is larger and more diverse." So when summing up the media appetites of the most diverse electoral coalition in American history, Politico's two examples are liberals who watch NPR and liberals who watch MSNBC. That's when they're being polite. If they're trying to affect a derisive tone they might go with "the coffee-drinking NPR types of Seattle, San Francisco and Madison, Wis."

The NPR stereotype itself is overblown—liberals make up 36 percent of the NPR audience, while 39 percent consider themselves moderates and 21 percent conservatives. NPR's audience is more highly educated than the country as a whole, but the candidate who won Americans without a college degree was Barack Obama. In real life, NPR's journalism just also isn't liberal

More importantly, the notion that people with liberal or left-of-center views are all NPR devotees is a right-wing meme the mainstream media has mindlessly parroted for years. I suspect why this happens because the upper-middle-class liberals in the DC metro area are the Obama voters Beltway reporters frequently come in contact with. That's why much of the national media's image of the quintessential Obama voter remains some yuppie with a taste for gourmet coffee. There is no room in that political shorthand for the retired black Marine in Ohio who knocked on doors for the Obama campaign, or the Latina mom who stood in line for hours—at three different times—just to be able to cast a ballot. The working-class people of color who now make up much of the base of the Democratic Party often seem as invisible to political media as they were to the Romney campaign, which the New York Times described as being shocked that the Obama operation turned out "voters they never even knew existed."

You can almost understand the Romney campaign's surprise. The national media doesn't talk to these voters much—they work hard and play by the rules but were never the group that politicians used to refer to as "working hard and playing by the rules," because before Obama, only white people were described that way. Political consultants never refer to them in cute, condescending shorthands like "soccer moms" or "NASCAR dads." They may drink beer, but they're never the folks who the reporters mean when they talk about "Joe Sixpack." They drive our buses, care for us when we're sick, clean our hotel rooms, teach our children, cook our meals, answer our noise complaints, and much more. Their political views aren't discussed or explored so much as summed up as a matter of "demographics," as though their votes were settled by genetics rather than individual agency. They are the new "flyover country," except they're not so much flown over as invisible to the people who rely daily on their labors. The political press often lacks the vocabulary to describe them, and until last week they could be safely disregarded.

That's no longer true. But a political press used to communicating the soul of America in tired metaphors meant to paint a superficial portrait of a certain kind of working-class white voter from the South or Midwest is ill-equipped to tell you about them. References to NPR and lattes won't cut it, not that they ever did.

Corn on Hardball: How Did The GOP Get So Delusional?

Mon Nov. 12, 2012 7:08 PM PST

The Republicans are in trouble. Unless the Grand Old Party reverses course on its most conservative policies and begins appealling to a broader base, they could eventually go the way of the Whigs. DC bureau chief David Corn and former RNC chair Michael Steele discusses the party's future on MSNBC's Hardball.

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

In Election's Wake, Washington Prosecutors Scrap 220 Marijuana Cases

| Mon Nov. 12, 2012 1:46 PM PST

From the Seattle Times:

King and Pierce County prosecutors are dismissing more than 220 misdemeanor marijuana cases in response to Tuesday's vote to decriminalize small amounts of pot.

In King County, 175 cases are being dismissed involving people 21 and older and possession of one ounce or less. I-502 makes one ounce of marijuana legal on Dec. 6, but King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg decided to apply I-502 retroactively.

"Although the effective date of I-502 is not until December 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month," Satterberg said in a statement.

Keep in mind that these are just 2 of the state's 40 counties, and the decisions only apply to cases currently winding their way through the court system. Over the past 25 years, according to a recent study, Washington has convicted more than 241,000 people of misdemeanor pot posession, at a cost of $300 million in police and court time. That money will now go towards regulating the sale of legal weed, which, by the way, is expected to bring the state some $2 billion in tax revenues over the next five years.

This is the partial abolition of the war on drugs. Any questions?

The Internet Gets Its Slut-Shaming Kicks Over Paula Broadwell

| Mon Nov. 12, 2012 1:45 PM PST

Hey, this story about General David Petraeus is pretty wild. And it seems like many writers covering it have used this as an opportunity to air some good, old-fashioned misogyny—because we all know it was the woman's fault for having a vagina in the presence of a powerful man, right?

On Friday afternoon, before there was even any information available about the woman in question, Free Beacon writer Michael Goldfarb opined on unsubstantiated rumors that the still unidentified "homewrecker" had something to do with Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren:

After information came to light about Paula Broadwell, the alleged mistress, Business Insider posted a piece from writer Robert Johnson, who talks to an unnamed "senior military source." The source praises Petraeus' "honor" in admitting that he was having an affair with a woman who "got her claws—so to speak—in him." From the article:

Let's face it, everyone is human, and we all make mistakes. You're a 60 year-old man and an attractive woman almost half your age makes herself available to you — that would be a test for anyone.

Here's the Washington Post making sure you know that the affair was all Broadwell's fault because, you know, she dressed like a marriage-destroying vixen:

Former aides say Broadwell’s attire—usually tight shirts and pants—prompted complaints in Afghanistan, where Western-style attire can offend local sensibilities. Her form-fitting clothes made a lasting impression on longtime Afghan hands, and Petraeus once admonished her, through a staffer, to "dress down," a former aide recalled.
"She was seemingly immune to the notion of modesty in this part of the world," said a general who served in Afghanistan while Petraeus was commander there.

Paleocon blogger Robert Stacy McCain doesn't even bother to couch his feelings in euphemism, in his unsubtle blog post, "The Slut Paula Broadwell."

Over at Buzzfeed, writer Jessica Testa does an admirable job of trying to criticize this developing media narrative about Broadwell as a manipulative strumpet. But then she does little to help the cause, writing of Broadwell: "A few months ago, she shared Katie Roiphe's Newsweek story about powerful women who want to be sexually dominated."

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

Mon Nov. 12, 2012 10:19 AM PST

U.S. Army Spc. Pete Sigala, who hails from Anaheim, Calif., a helicopter landing zone sling load specialist from Headquarters Company, 626th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team “Rakkasans,” 101st Airborne Division, awaits as a civilian contacted air asset helicopter approaches for a sling load of supplies at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Nov. 5, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Abram Pinnington, TF 3/101 Public Affairs.

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Oliver Stone's History of the United States

| Mon Nov. 12, 2012 9:21 AM PST

Oliver Stone has made some of the best movies of the past three decades. With Salvador, Platoon, and Wall Street, he helped shape the cultural history of the 1970s and 1980s. Now, he's trying to influence the national security history of postwar America. His 10-part documentary, The Untold History of the United States, begins tonight on Showtime (an hour before Homeland!). It's notable that a major network—okay, a major cable network—is devoting 10 hours to an unabashedly left-of-center analysis of modern America that confronts many of the myths of the national security state that evolved after World War II. The 750-page book accompanying the documentary series—coauthored by Stone and American University professor Peter Kuznick—opens with an explicit note:

This book and the documentary film series it is based on challenge the basic narrative of U.S. history that most Americans have been taught. That popular and somewhat mythic view, carefully filtered through the prism of American altruism, benevolence, magnanimity, exceptionalism, and devotion to liberty and justice, is introduced in early childhood, reinforced through primary and secondary education, and retold so often that it becomes part of the air that Americans breath....[B]ut like the real air Americans breathe, it is ultimately harmful, noxious, polluted. It not only renders Americans incapable of understanding the way much of the rest of the world looks at the United States, it leaves them unable to act effectively to change the world for the better.

These are fighting words. And Stone and Kuznick are waging a battle. See Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday's review:

"Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States" runs over 10 one-hour episodes, beginning in World War II and continuing through the Obama administration. With newsreel footage, copious research and Stone’s own understated narration, "Untold History" revisits familiar events, but through an unapologetically leftist lens. While "Untold History" is grounded in indisputable fact, some of its contentions will certainly give conservatives and even moderate liberals pause, including its championing of [Henry] Wallace [FDR's progressive-minded veep], who has been castigated in recent years for what critics see as an appeasing attitude toward Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and surrounding himself with communists.

No doubt, Stone and Kuznick knew that this project would be greeted by mainstream skepticism, for their task is to poke the conventionalists in the eye. (Their book chapter on President Ronald Reagan is appropriately and justifiably subtitled, "The Reagan Years: Death Squads for Democracy," the one on President Barack Obama, "Managing a Wounded Empire.") And the conventionalists won't disappoint them. Take Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times:

The title alone is easy to scoff at. "Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States" sounds almost like a parody, a sendup of that filmmaker's love of bombast and right-wing conspiracy. This documentary series, beginning Monday on Showtime, isn't a joke, though some may find it laughable. It's deadly serious but also straightforward: a 10-part indictment of the United States that doesn't pretend to be evenhanded.

The series doesn't focus extensively on many of the things the United States has done right, Mr. Stone and the historian Peter Kuznick write in the introduction to their similarly titled companion book. It is more concerned with focusing a spotlight on what America has done wrong.

Still, Stanley is forced to concede, "Along the way [Stone] raises some valid points, notably that Americans too easily overlook the Soviet contribution in waging and winning World War II."

Stone's film work has always demonstrated a skill-driven flair for drama and a gut-level desire to convey basic ideas about life, war, history, politics, and the media. So it's no surprise a truly historical endeavor from Stone will rile up folks. And if doing so inspires any popular scrutiny of the nation's most fundamental myths, he and Kuznick will be able to say: Mission accomplished.

SHOCKER: Allen West Not Going Down Quietly

| Mon Nov. 12, 2012 8:31 AM PST
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.)

No one ever expected Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) to go out with a whimper. 

The tea party icon went to bed on election night trailing Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy by 0.8 points (about 2,500 votes) in the 18th congressional district, to which he had moved after redistricting turned his previous district decidedly blue. Since Florida law stipulates that a recount can only be requested if the race is within half a percentage point, under normal circumstances that would have been the end of the show for the losing candidate. Good job, good effort, time to begin plotting a comeback in 2014.

Except West wasn't finished. He alleged almost immediately that the election had been stolen by a pro-Murphy clerk in St. Luicie County. He asked for an injunction—which was refused—to impound the voting machines in St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties, and demanded a full hand recount in St. Lucie. He got his wish on Sunday, sort of. The county board of elections convened in an abandoned shopping mall to do a partial recount of the ballots that came in during the last three days of early voting. The tally, per the Palm Beach Post:

Murphy’s total dropped by 667 votes and West lost 132 votes in the recount of 16,275 ballots from the last three days of early voting in St. Lucie County. West's net gain of 535 votes still leaves him about 0.58 percent behind Murphy in congressional District 18, which also includes Martin County and part of Palm Beach County.

That's quite a swing, given the limited sample, but it still leaves West behind by more than the margin needed for a recount. The West campaign insists the real problem wasn't with the last three days of early voting (as problematic as the counting turned out to be), it was with the first three days of voting. So the St. Lucie partial recount has only exacerbated their anxiety. On Sunday, West's campaign was characteristically apopleptic, issuing this statement:

What was originally viewed as dangerous incompetence on the part of [St. Lucie County Elections Supervisor] Gertrude Walker now appears more and more like a willful attempt to steal the election for Patrick Murphy. Nothing about this story adds up. If there is truly nothing wrong with the data from the first three days of voting, why will it not be released?

West for Congress will pursue every legal means necessary to ensure a fair election, not only to ensure Gertrude Walker is held accountable, but also ultimately replaced, so the citizens of St Lucie County will be ensured fair and accurate elections."

Given that West is already alleging a conspiracy against him, this episode doesn't stand much chance of winding down any time soon.

60 Percent of Women in Congress Were Girl Scouts

| Mon Nov. 12, 2012 4:08 AM PST

When the new Congress is sworn in next January, it will include a record number of women senators. Interesting fact about the 20 women in the Senate: 70 percent of them were Girl Scouts.

Of the newly elected senators, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) were all involved with Girl Scouts, the national organization reports. (At press time, they were still trying to figure out if Heidi Heitkamp, the new Democratic senator from North Dakota, was a scout, too.) If you include the House as well, 60 percent of women in Congress were once Girl Scouts.

This is notable, as only about 8 percent of women overall in the US were scouts in their youth. I talked to Anna Maria Chávez, the chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of the USA, about why the group, which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, is so well represented in Washington. "From the very beginning the whole mission of this organization has been to create girls who are very sensitive and in tune with their community needs," said Chávez. "We develop not only leaders, but leaders with a political conscience."

She noted that Girl Scouts are also well-represented among women business leaders and astronauts, for example. "This organization has literally created the female leadership pipeline in this country," she said. "There's obviously a secret sauce in our methodology."

For certain, Girl Scouts learn a number of life skills—financial literacy, environmental awareness, the value of community service. On the campaign trail, Warren talked about teaching her daughter and friends how to use a knife when she was a troop leader, which is also pretty helpful.

While we're all excited about having 20 women in the Senate, that's still far from representative of the US population. Chávez said that is also why the Girl Scouts launched a new campaign this year, To Get Her There, which aims to increase the number of women in leadership roles through mentorship and supportive environments for developing those skills. The goal of the program is to achieve parity within a generation, which they're defining as about 25 years from now.

OK, so, by 2037 there better be at least 50 women in the Senate. We're looking at you, Girl Scouts!

The Man Behind Citizens United Says 2012 Has Vindicated Him

| Mon Nov. 12, 2012 4:08 AM PST
James Bopp, the legal architect of the Citizens United case.

Last month, James Bopp, the legal mind behind the Citizens United case that gave rise to super-PACs and the dark-money boom, told me he didn't really believe Americans were all that upset with the increasing amounts of money spent on politics. "There's a general cynicism among the American people about politicians and politics," he said, but "they could care less about campaign finance."

Now that the election's over, Bopp says he's been vindicated. When I caught up with him late last week, he told me he figures that Mitt Romney's loss was probably due to a variety of factors like poor messaging and spending. Without Citizens United, though, he says the election would have turned out much worse for Republicans: There would have been no counterbalance to the mainstream media. "The lesson here is all the hype over independent spending was just completely overblown," Bopp says. "Nobody can buy an election."

The poor return on investment among the biggest conservative outside spending groups would appear to back that up. You can only spend so much to sway voters, says Bopp. "There's a diminishing returns as you saturate a market. Once you've got your message across, the addtional spending accomplishes nothing." The pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future, for instance, made significant ad buys just one week out from the election in Minnesota and New Mexico, two states that Obama was at no risk of losing. Those moves led reporters to wonder if outside groups had raised more money than they knew what to do with. "That's why this thing about buying elections is fundamentally false," Bopp concludes.

The $6 billion in total spending in 2012 dwarfs that of any recent election, but Bopp simply attributes that to an increasingly bloated system that requires increasing amounts of money to compete against incumbents.

Bopp says the election was "fought to a draw," and "neither side accomplished what they set out to do." The county still has the same president, Republicans still have control of the House, and Democrats still lack a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. As for Obama's consideration of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, Bopp hopes he pursues it. He's confident that Republicans at the national and state level could block any serious efforts to undo the decision, especially with Republican supporters of the now-defunct McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill like Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe departing the Senate.

"I hope [Democrats] spend all their time on that," Bopp says, "because it's not going anywhere."