Mojo - 2013...mewhat-popular

Video: Obama Makes His Case on Syria

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 10:10 PM EDT

In a prime-time speech on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama made a forceful case for a possible strike against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. He reiterated the argument that the United States has both a humanitarian obligation to respond to the horrific use of chemical weapons against civilians, and a national security interest in preventing Assad from using such weapons again and signaling to other tyrants that such attacks will not be tolerated. The president tried to deploy both emotion (referring to the dreadful images from the August 21 chemical weapon attack near Damascus) and logic (contending that an assault would lessen the odds of future attacks, limit the possibility that chemical weapons fall into the hands of extremists, and prevent US troops from facing chemical weapons in conflicts down the road). He tried to respond to the main reservations raised by lawmakers and voters. (Should the United States be the world's policeman? No, but no one else can respond to this particular attack now.) The news of the night was that he asked Congress to put off any vote on a resolution authorizing him to launch a limited strike against Syria so that the United States could pursue the deal proposed by Russia that would place Assad's chemical weapons under international control. And Obama announced he was sending Kerry to negotiate with the Russian foreign minister. Still, the speech was aimed at bolstering support on Capitol Hill and within the public for military action against Syria, if diplomacy fails. Obama summed up his case: 

Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world's policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

There's no telling whether this speech will win over skeptical citizens and legislators. But with a diplomatic resolution possible—though by no means a given—and a showdown in Congress postponed, perhaps Obama did not have to.

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Syrian Opposition: "We Don't Trust the Russians"

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 3:15 PM EDT

President Obama has reportedly thrown his support behind the Russian proposal for the Syrian regime to turn its chemical weapons over to the international community, agreeing to talks at the United Nations Security Council. But at a Tuesday morning press conference, representatives for the Syrian opposition made its position clear: "We don’t trust the Russians."

At the National Press Club in Washington, DC, members of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, the chief political body representing the US-backed rebels, asked for greater monetary and material support from the US, and made the case that the opposition was still capable of overthrowing the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But most pointedly, Farah al-Atassi, a Syrian Coalition member and president of the National Syrian Women Association, said that Russia’s close ties to the Assad regime have cost it any credibility in the negotiations. "After two and a half years of manipulating the Syrian revolution, of manipulating the situation on the ground, of aiding the regime with military weapons, with scuds, with money, with intelligence, with all of the support," she said, "we can’t trust them."

On Monday, Russia proposed a plan for Syria to turn its stockpile of chemical weapons over to the international community, after Secretary of State John Kerry said that was a possible option for avoiding a strike. The proposal has quickly gained momentum. The Assad regime embraced the proposal Tuesday morning, and by the afternoon, a bipartisan group of eight senators were drafting a Congressional resolution to give the United Nations time to take control of Syria's chemical weapons. The plan calls for them to be confiscated and ultimately destroyed, and could involve Syria recognizing the international weapons ban.

Russia has been a key supplier of arms and funds to the Assad regime, in addition to providing political cover, previously threatening to veto any plan for intervention at the UN Security Council.

"They’ve become part of the problem. They’re not part of the solution," said al-Atassi. "We will wait, and work according to the Syrian revolution’s interest. That will be our answer."

Fox News Discusses Possibility That Syria War Fulfills Biblical Prophecy

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 2:15 PM EDT

End times buffs have taken a special interest in the possibility of US military strikes in Syria. As I reported last week, popular evangelists and writers like Joel Rosenberg have spent much of the last five years talking up the possibility of a conflict that might fit the one outlined by Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Old Testament, in which Damascus is reduced to rubble. On Saturday, Rosenberg spoke about the Isaiah prophecy in Topeka, Kansas, at the invitation of Republican governor Sam Brownback. On Monday, he appeared on Fox News to elaborate on his views.

Rosenberg wasn't ready to definitively say that an American war in Syria—which is looking less and less likely by the day—would necessarily match the description of the Old Testament. But it was definitely a possibility. "It's impossible for us to know that yet, and I think it's wrong for people who teach Bible prophecy to try to guess, in a sense, to try to say for certain that it's going to happen now," he told host Neil Cavuto. "But you have seven million Syrians are already on the run—two million have left the country; five million are internally displaced. The Jeremiah: 49 prophecy says that people will flee, but there'll still be people in Damascus when the prophecy happens. So the bottom line is we don't know."

"Amazing," said Cavuto, when it was all over. "It's in there. It's worth a read."

Obama and the Syria Deal: Deter, Not Punish

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 1:02 PM EDT
Members of the Free Syrian Army chatting in front of a T-72 tank parked in a secret location close to al-Rami village.

In search of popular and congressional support for a limited and narrow strike on Syria, President Barack Obama has contended that the aim of military action would be to punish Bashar al-Assad's regime for its presumed use of chemical weapons and deter it from the further use of such horrific arms. The possible Russia-brokered deal that has emerged in the face of Obama's threatened attack—Syria submitting its chemical weapons to international control—could prevent a US assault on Syria and yield Obama a diplomatic victory. But he would have to settle for an incomplete win. Assad would presumably not be able to launch another massive chemical weapons attack, but the Syrian dictator would not be truly punished for his military's use of chemical weapons.

Under the no-details-yet arrangement being pursued by Washington, Moscow, and the United Nations, Assad would presumably give up control of his chemical weapons stock. How that happens remains to be seen. Will he hand over these arms to the UN or another international agency for destruction? Will he allow inspectors to monitor and guard his storage facilities? Will he truly honor the agreement and not stash some chemical weapons in a hiding place? But any regimen would certainly make it difficult, if not impossible, for Assad to once again use chemical weapons against his foes. Moreover, Vladimir Putin and Russia would now be on the hook, essentially guarantors that Assad would not again resort to such arms. And given that Russia is Assad's No. 1 sponsor, Assad could not afford to tick off Moscow. So no matter how imperfect the international control system might be, there will be plenty of incentive for Assad to keep his hands off chemical weapons—and for Russia to lean on him. (Of course, in extreme circumstances—say, a situation in which the survival of the regime is at stake—Assad and his Russian pals might rejigger their calculations.) Consequently, a deal would likely achieve what Obama has sought: deterring Assad from further chemical weapons attacks.

Yet the accord in the works has no punitive aspect. Assad will not be held accountable for the August 21 attack near Damascus that killed 1400 civilians, including many children. And he will be able to continue slaughtering others with conventional means. Will other tyrants get the message that using chemical weapons will not be accepted by the international community?

Still, the possible unintended consequences of a punitive strike on Syria remain: civilian casualties, shifting the balance of power in favor of Al Qaeda-connected rebels, and creating more chaos and conflict in Syria and the region. Is punishing Assad worth potentially destabilizing the country further? (A collapse of the Syrian regime could lead to a WMD free-for-all there.) If this deal solidifies—and that's a good-sized if—Obama might have to accept deterrence as the net gain. Afterward, he can focus on the tougher challenge of resolving the Syrian conflict and bringing Assad to justice.

North Carolina Appoints Obama-hating, Anti-Gay "Ender's Game" Author to PBS Board

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 11:33 AM EDT
Obama-hating sci-fi author Orson Scott Card appointed to North Carolina PBS board

There's been lots of news lately about the state of North Carolina, which in a few short years has gone from being a somewhat moderate southern state to one on the extreme conservative end of the spectrum. The GOP has supermajorities in both houses of the legislature and the state governor is also a Republican, giving the party license to, well, party. The GOP has passed anti-abortion laws tacked on to a motorcycle safety bill; slashed unemployment benefits; instituted a horrific voter suppression mechanism; and tried to ban nipple exposure (with one legislator suggesting women cover them with duct-tape to be in compliance), among other things.

Continuing in that vein this week, the Republican leader of the state senate appointed Orson Scott Card to the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina's public television affiliate. Card is a science fiction writer best known for the bestselling Ender's Game. But Card has also become rather famous for being something of an anti-gay Obama-hater.

Card, a Mormon, once served on the board of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. His views on homosexuality have prompted calls for a boycott of the movie version of Ender's Game, opening in October. He's also been in the spotlight recently for comparing President Obama to Hitler and Stalin. In May, he published a 3,000-word "thought experiment" in Greensboro's Rhinoceros Times, in which he envisions a future where Obama enlists mobs of unemployed urban youth to serve as "brown shirts" in his own personal domestic army, and Obama and his wife change the law to allow themselves to run the country forever. He writes:

By the time Michelle has served her two terms, the Constitution will have been amended to allow Presidents to run for reelection forever. Obama will win by 98 percent every time. That's how it works in Nigeria and Zimbabwe; that's how it worked in Hitler's Germany.

Card might seem an odd choice for a seat on a board overseeing 12 public TV stations that broadcast into four states, given how much he hates the media in general. He's been a vocal critic of pretty much every news outlet aside from Fox News. After the 2012 election, he wrote, "So yes, CBS, CNN, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, New York Times, Washington Post, and all the rest of you in the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda: You won. But we know you now. We know just how low you'll go, how compliant you will be with the Beloved Leader." In the Rhinoceros Times he wrote, "It's hard to imagine how American press coverage would be different if Obama were a Hitler- or Stalin-style dictator, except of course that everyone at Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the Rhinoceros Times would be in jail. Or dead."

All of this, of course, makes Card a perfect choice for a Republican party that's long had it in for public broadcasting. North Carolina viewers probably won't be seeing shows like Frontline's "Assault on Gay America" or the 2011 American Experience episode on the Stonewall uprising, but Card's appointment could be good news for fans of Dr. Who, reruns of which might be necessary to fill the holes left by all the other PBS offerings Card finds too objectionable to air.

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 10, 2013

Tue Sep. 10, 2013 10:18 AM EDT

Spc. Casey Sage, of Keenesburg, Texas, a cavalry scout, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, pulls security for dismounted Soldiers during a counter indirect fire patrol near Lalmah Village, Chapahar District, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, September 1, 2013. US Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Chad Carlson, 129th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

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MLK Would Have Supported Assad, and Other Tidbits From Dueling Syria Protests in DC

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 9:27 AM EDT

The first thing members of Congress saw when they returned to work on Monday was dueling protests on Capitol Hill between supporters and opponents of a proposed military intervention in Syria. Both sides consisted largely of first- and second-generation Syrian-Americans. But only one faction went so far as to hold up Bashar al-Assad—who stands accused of using chemical weapons to kill 1,400 civilians on top of myriad other atrocities—as an emblem of peace and justice.

I spotted Hassan Mohammed, decked out in a biker glove made from a Syrian flag, a Syrian-flag sweatband, and red Abercrombie & Fitch sweatpants, and waving a six-foot-by-four-foot banner of the Assad. "He's my president, No. 1!" said Mohammed, who has dual citizenship and drove down from New York to express his support. "I voted for him in 2007. I'm going to vote for him again."

But what about his conduct during the civil war? "It's not a civil war yet," Mohammed insisted. And while civilian casualties are unavoidable in this non-civil-war, he's confident that no chemical weapons have been used by the regime—it's simply not practical. "He doesn't have to use it; he can kill the same amount of people with different weapons."

Milad Tabshi, who drove down from Pennsylvania, had a stern expression on his mustachioed face. "The Syrian regime did not commit any atrocities against the Syrian people," he said. "It's Western propaganda. It's nonsense. It's a war provoked, orchestrated by the West aimed to destroy every nation in the Middle East and take its natural resources."

Here are three additional nuggets of wisdom from Assad's defenders...

President Obama should borrow from Assad's example and think of the children:

"American tax $$$ should fund US education not Al Qaeda." Tim Murphy

Despite whatever else you may have heard, Assad is much loved:

Tim Murphy

Martin Luther King Jr. would have supported Assad. (At least he has company.):

Tim Murphy

Why a Small California City Could Be Wall Street's Worst Nightmare [Updated]

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The outcome of the foreclosure crisis—and the fate of many investors who bet on it—may hinge upon a city council vote tonight in a little-known working-class suburb (see update below). The Northern California town of Richmond (population: 105,000) will decide whether it wants to become first city in the country to use eminent domain to rid itself of underwater mortgages. The securities industry has threatened to make life miserable for Richmond and its residents if they move ahead with the plan.

In late July, Richmond sent letters to 32 banks and other mortgage holders, offering to buy 624 underwater mortgages at discounts to the homes' value. None of the offers were accepted. Richmond must now decide whether it will use eminent domain—a power more often used to build roads or shopping malls—to seize the homes, paying a court-determined fair market value.

George Zimmerman's De Facto Spokesman Launches a White-Power Podcast

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Frank Taaffe appearing on HLN's Dr. Drew on Call.

Yesterday, after George Zimmerman was taken into custody for allegedly threatening his estranged wife with a gun, HLN turned to a familiar source for commentary: Zimmerman's neighbor and de facto media emissary, Frank Taaffe. In an interview with HLNTV.com reporter Graham Winch, Taaffe argued that Zimmerman was distraught because his wife, Shellie, was trying to take his Rottweiler. "Now, that's pretty vindictive," Taaffe said.

Ever since Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, with a bullet to the heart, Taaffe has been his staunchest and most visible defender. As Mother Jones has reported, Taaffe also happens to be an ardent racist. And he now has a new forum to air his inflammatory views.

Following Zimmerman's July acquittal on murder charges, Taaffe appeared on two episodes of the white-separatist podcast, The White Voice, and unleashed a string of racist diatribes. At the time, he claimed that he had gone on the show in response to a routine interview request. "I was invited," he told Mother Jones. "End of story." But in mid-August Taaffe teamed up with The White Voice's cohost Joe Adams, a white-power activist who has authored racist screeds such as the Save the White People Handbook, to launch a new weekly white-power podcast called Standing Our Ground.

Vogue's Puff Piece on the Assads Is Back Online—for Now

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Vogue has run a large number of profiles on famous and successful women. For their most recent September issue, the fashion magazine profiled Texas state senator Wendy Davis, photographed in her "Carolina Herrera dress and Reed Krakoff pumps." Vogue profiled Yahoo's Marissa Mayer—the "CEO of the moment." And there was, of course, the Katy Perry cover story.

And for their March 2011 issue, Vogue (published by Condé Nast) printed a glowing, 3,200-word profile of Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a dictator well-known for his love of Western dance-pop, and also for the mass-murder, torture, and imprisonment of at least tens of thousands. The piece, written by Joan Juliet Buck, was published online right before the Arab-Spring civil uprising kicked into high-gear in Syria, and Vogue soon removed the article from its website. You can still see the URL here, but when you click on it, you get this:

Vogue Asma al-Assad profile
Screenshot: Vogue.com

But last Friday, the news and gossip website Gawker reprinted the article in full, remounted with Gawker's pull quotes and graphics. For example:

Vogue profile Assads Gawker
Screenshot: Gawker.com

The website has apparently done so without the blessing of the author or Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue's US edition and chief inspiration for The Devil Wears Prada. "We did not ask permission beforehand," John Cook, editor of Gawker, tells Mother Jones. "I think it's important that people are aware of how Vogue and Wintour...felt about the Assads, and characterized the Assads. It came out almost exactly as the regime embarked on its campaign of murdering women and children...And now in the context of the United States possibly going to war with Syria, it's important for people to see how the magazine portrayed them...[Wintour] was pushing her people to give cover to a tyrant and murderer." (Wintour, along with being a Vogue editor since the late '80s, was also one of the Obama 2012 campaign's biggest bundlers. Wintour hosted overseas fundraisers for the president, starred in a video for him, and was reportedly on Barack Obama's short list for an ambassadorship to the UK or France.)

As of Monday, Cook said that he has yet to receive pushback from Buck or anyone at Vogue about Gawker's unauthorized reprinting. (When reached by Mother Jones on Monday, Vogue did not have an immediate comment.) However, if Vogue or Condé Nast ever pursued legal action against Gawker Media, Cook says he and his team are ready. "I mean, there's a very important public interest behind publishing [the profile] in a vastly different context than the one it was originally presented. And we are certainly prepared to make that argument anywhere."

The profile was a product of a coordinated public-relations effort in large part managed by Brown Lloyd James, an international firm that also conducted business with the similarly mass-murdering Qaddafi regime in Libya. The firm was paid $5,000 per month to help sanitize the image of the Assad dictatorship. The Vogue feature describes Asma as "glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies" and presents both Asma and Bashar in a positive, Western-friendly light; the Syrian first couple are shown doing things like making Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt laugh. (Keep in mind that even before the Syrian civil war and recent chemical weapons atrocity, it didn't take more than a two-second Google search to find out that Bashar al-Assad had a lousy, torture-rife human rights record.)

The profile quickly became a frequent topic of discussion among journalists, commentators, and activists. Over a year after the profile's original appearance, Wintour issued her mea culpa; Brown Lloyd James issued their rationalization; and Buck wrote her regret-imbued explanation. Following Vogue's efforts to wipe every humiliating trace of this it could, the article in its entirety could be found only on relatively obscure corners of the internet, until now.

"Our goal," Cook says, "was to make sure that the actual artifact is readily available."