Mojo - March 2013

Former Obama Official Compares Glenn Beck's Attacks to Orwell's "Two Minutes Hate"

| Thu Mar. 21, 2013 11:17 AM EDT
Former Fox News host Glenn Beck

In a new book, former senior Obama administration official Cass Sunstein compares former Fox News host Glenn Beck's harsh attacks on his record to George Orwell's 1984, and blasts what he calls the "the true terribleness of the contemporary confirmation process."

Sunstein, a former law professor at Harvard and the University of Chicago, was nominated in 2009 to be director of the little-known Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs—a job that quickly took on the sobriquet of "regulatory czar." His long record of books and speeches quickly became fodder for Beck, who dubbed Sunstein "the most dangerous man in America." In his soon-to-be-released book, Simpler: The Future of Government, Sunstein notes that Beck "developed what appeared to be a kind of obsession with me" and says that the unrelenting criticism from this tea party leader and other conservative pundits triggered more threatening messages:

In Orwell's 1984, there is a brilliant, powerful, and frightening scene of the "Two Minutes Hate," in which party members must watch a film depicting national enemies. (As it happens, the leading enemy is named Goldstein.) At times, Beck's attacks on me, featuring my smiling face, were not entirely unlike those scenes. A new website was created, stopsunstein.com, filled with inflammatory quotations, some taken out of context to suggest that I endorsed views that I rejected and was merely describing.

I began to receive a lot of hate mail, including death threats, at my unlisted home address. One of them stated, "If I were you I would resign immediately. A well-paid individual, who is armed, knows where you live."

Beck wasn't the only right-wing leader who had Sunstein in his sights. In 2009, Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association's executive vice president, bashed Sunstein as "a radical animal rights extremist who makes PETA look like cheerleaders with pooper-scoopers," and he alleged that Sunstein "wants to give legal standing to animals so they can sue you for eating meat."

In his book, Sunstein's response to the attacks from hunting and agriculture groups is succinct: "OMG."

Despite all the conservative opposition to Sunstein, he survived the confirmation process and was approved by the Senate on a 57-40 vote—after having to ensure fence-sitting senators he would not in his new post ban hunting or steal guns. Following the vote, he met with Obama in the Oval Office, and Rahm Emanuel greeted him with a sarcastic exclamation: "Fifty-seven to 40! That's a landslide!"

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Did Andrew Cuomo Just Backtrack on New York's Gun Ban?

| Wed Mar. 20, 2013 7:09 PM EDT

In late January, New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the nation's toughest assault weapons ban, the first gun control legislation passed in the wake of Newtown. But on Wednesday, Cuomo told reporters that he and legislative leaders would reverse one of the bill's most controversial measures, which limited magazines to no more than seven rounds, before the law goes into effect on April 15.

"There's no such thing as a seven-bullet magazine. That doesn't exist, so you really have no practical option," Cuomo said. Democrats plan to adjust the bill amid other legislative talks so that the new gun law will conform with existing state regulations banning magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Cuomo denied that the change would amount to a "rollback"; instead, he said, it's just a measure to clean up "ambiguities" and "grammatical errors" in the bill. It also appears to be a concession to ammunition manufacturers that potentially would've been hurt by the new law.

Still, the language on seven-round magazines won't be completely wiped from the bill. Cuomo said that while New Yorkers would still be able to buy 10-round magazines under the new assault weapons ban, they will face misdemeanor charges if they carry more than seven bullets in those magazines unless they're at a gun competition or shooting range. The president of the New York Rifle & Pistol Association, who has been preparing a lawsuit to overturn the law, told the AP that Cuomo's proposed revision will not change his plans to file suit.

And the Most Outrageous Neocon Iraq War Anniversary Remark Is...

| Wed Mar. 20, 2013 2:01 PM EDT
Richard Perle

The past week has brought about a 10-years-after review of the Iraq war—particularly an examination of how the Bush-Cheney administration sold the war prior to the invasion launched on March 19, 2003. Pundits and politicians have relived those days—and somberly reconsidered the run-up to the war, the role of the media in enabling the swindle, and the consequences of that military action. MSNBC has aired a documentary based on the book I cowrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War. Showtime featured a documentary on Dick Cheney that centered on the war. The Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University released a study noting that the war cost US taxpayers $2.2 trillion and consumed the lives of 4,488 members of the US armed services and at least 123,000 to 134,000 Iraqi civilians.

One of the most shocking reactions to the anniversary came—perhaps no surprise—from one of the leading neoconservative drum majors for the war, Richard Perle. As a member of the Defense Policy Board advisory committee, Perle, who had been a hawk's-hawk assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan years, began calling for war in Iraq nanoseconds after September 11. He told CNN, "Even if we cannot prove to the standard that we enjoy in our own civil society they are involved, we do know, for example, that Saddam Hussein has ties to Osama bin Laden. That can be documented." In 2002, he suggested a war against Iraq would be a cakewalk: "It isn't going to be over in 24 hours, but it isn't going to be months either." He asserted Saddam was "working feverishly to acquire nuclear weapons." He claimed the post-invasion reconstruction in Iraq would be self-financing. He got everything wrong.

On Wednesday morning, NPR's Renee Montagne interviewed Perle. It wasn't a grilling. Perle was allowed to explain his Iraq war fever, noting that "we had intelligence assessments" indicating Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. He pleaded his case by remarking that after 9/11, "You ask yourself what could happen next, you do the obvious thing….[The Bush administration] made a list of potential threats and on that list the single most important potential threat was another attack with a weapon of mass destruction. So then you make a list of who has weapons of mass destruction and who might be motivated either to attack or enable someone else to attack the US. And Iraq was clearly on that list." Perle then offhandedly observed, "It's easy a decade later to say, well, it turned out this fact or that presumption was wrong." He insisted that the biggest "blunder" with Iraq was the post-invasion occupation.

This is all standard fare for a neocon who won't let go. But the final exchange of the interview was a chilling driveway moment:

Montagne: Ten years later, nearly 5,000 American troops dead, thousands more with wounds, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead or wounded. When you think about this, was it worth it?

Perle: I've got to say I think that is not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done with the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can't a decade later go back and say we shouldn't have done that.

That was cold. In the Showtime documentary, Cheney predictably expresses no regrets, saying, "I did what I did. It’s all on the public record, and I feel very good about it. If I had it to do over again, I'd do it in a minute." Yet here is Perle going beyond no regrets to deny it is even worthwhile to consider the human costs of the war when assessing the decision to invade Iraq. His comment is modern-day Strangelove and yet another reason he deserves the nickname he earned in the 1980s: the Prince of Darkness. What transpires within Perle's soul, ultimately, is not all that important. The true tragedy is that anyone would seek—let alone heed—the advice of a man so averse to considering a basic (and moral) calculation.

Hear for yourself:

 

Arizona One Step Closer to Using Gold Bullion as Currency

| Wed Mar. 20, 2013 2:01 PM EDT

On Monday, an Arizona House of Representatives committee took its most serious step yet to prevent the state from descending into a post-apocalyptic Thunderdome—it passed legislation too allow gold and silver bullion to be used in private transactions and tax payments. Per Bloomberg Businessweek:

These doomsayers are pushing forward legislation that would declare privately minted gold and silver coins legal tender, no different under state law than the U.S. dollar printed by the federal Department of Treasury.

The measure is Arizona's latest jab at the federal government, which prohibits states from minting their own money. It also reflects a growing distrust of government-backed money.

"The public sees the value in it," said Republican Rep. Steve Smith, of Maricopa. "This is the type of currency we have had over the history of mankind."

As I explained back in 2011, there has been a renewed push by state legislators, motivated by former Rep. Ron Paul's candidacy, to return their states to so-called "sound money" systems. Currently, Utah is the only state that has passed such a bill—but without a system for storing and transferring gold, it hasn't really gotten off the ground.

Virginia Gov. Candidate Ken Cuccinelli: Outlawing Slavery and Outlawing Abortion Are Part of the Same Fight

| Wed Mar. 20, 2013 12:09 PM EDT
Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is running for governor this year, has a knack for controversy. He told state colleges they couldn't include "sexual orientation" in their anti-discrimination policies. (Current Gov. Bob McDonnell assured the academy that no discrimination was tolerated.) He led a witch hunt against prominent climate scientist Michael Mann. (Cuccinelli is a climate change denier.) He requested that the exposed left breast of Virtus, the Roman goddess adorning the state's two-century-old seal, be brought in from the cold. ("Breastgate," the affair was called.)

And now, the latest addition to the Cuccinelli canon. On Tuesday, Virginia Democrats released a video of Cuccinelli comparing the fight to end slavery to the anti-abortion movement. "Over time, the truth demonstrates its own rightness, and its own righteousness," he said. "Our experience as a country has demonstrated that on one issue after another. Start right at the beginning: slavery. Today, abortion."

Here's the video, taken by a Democratic tracker in June 2012:

Cuccinelli added: "History has shown us what the right position was, and those were issues that were attacked by people of faith aggressively to change the course of this country. We need to fight for the respect for life, not just for life but for respect for life. One leads to the other."

A Cuccinelli spokeswoman told the Associated Press the release of the video was an effort by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, to "run a contentious campaign that divides Virginia."

Paul Ryan's Budget Won't Balance the Budget in Ten Years

| Wed Mar. 20, 2013 11:31 AM EDT

Rep. Paul Ryan's (D-Wisc.) "new" budget slashes government spending levels to their lowest since 1948, with $4.6 trillion in cuts to things like Medicare, Medicaid and other programs for the poor. It reduces tax rates for the rich and corporations without saying how it will pay for them. It repeals Obamacare. But wait, there's more. According to a new analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the budget also contains billions in phantom defense savings. That means Ryan's budget doesn't achieve the whole point of his budget: cutting the deficit to zero in ten years.

How does this work? Well, writes Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at CBPP, the defense savings in Ryan's budget are "flatly inconsistent" with the defense spending in his budget. Huh? According to calculations by the Congressional Budget Office, the spending levels that would be caused by Ryan's funding levels don't match up. CBO says Ryan's funding levels would cause $100 billion more in spending than he accounts for in his budget. The budget achieves some savings by not extending the Defense Department funding for Hurricane Sandy relief. But CBPP has searched through the 91 pages, and can't find any way to explain where the rest comes from.

The Ryan budget reverses defense sequestration, which is the 9 percent haircut the Pentagon had to take because Congress couldn't come up with a better plan. If he kept those cuts in place, he could make up $25 billion of the missing savings. But still, "his budget contains about $75 billion in spending reductions that do not come from funding reductions," Kogan writes, "which means they will not happen and are phantom savings."

When he rolled out his plan last week, Ryan called it a "responsible, reasonable balanced plan."

No, Kogan says. "The budget's heavy reliance on massive, unspecified savings, along with its understatement of defense spending, suggest that it wouldn’t work as advertised in achieving major deficit reduction, let alone in reaching budget balance," he writes.

Bad math aside, CBPP and lots of other economists say cutting the deficit to zero shouldn't be the goal in the first place:

To be sure, we do not consider a zero deficit to be a meaningful target. Instead, policymakers’ goals should be:  for the short term, to assist the recovery by not imposing too much austerity too soon, a test that the Ryan budget fails to meet; over the mid-term, to stabilize the debt as a percent of gross domestic product; and ultimately, to reduce the debt ratio.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 20, 2013

Wed Mar. 20, 2013 10:57 AM EDT

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bethany Bump conducts her pre-flight routine in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and checks with her crew chief before a mission on Jalalabad Airfield in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, March 13, 2013. U.S. Army photo.

 

Scandal-Plagued Menendez Donor Feted Obama and Chauffeured Harry Reid on His Jet

| Wed Mar. 20, 2013 10:39 AM EDT
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

Salomon Melgen is the eye doctor, investor, and big-time political donor embroiled in controversy for his cozy relationship with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), one of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate. On two occasions, Menendez pressed government officials—once over Medicare and Medicaid billing practices and another time over Latin American governments not honoring trade-related contracts—in ways that appeared to benefit Melgen, who has donated handsomely to Menendez and Democratic causes. Menendez also took two round-trip flights on the doctor's private jet, reimbursing the doctor only after the details spilled into public view.

Menendez, it turns out, wasn't the only powerful politician Melgen feted. Politico reported Tuesday night that Melgen hobnobbed with President Obama at 2010 fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (though Melgen was peeved at Obama's reluctance to fully schmooze him). Melgen also ferried Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on his private jet to a fundraiser in Boston for Majority PAC, a super-PAC devoted to electing Senate Democrats and run by former Reid aide Susan McCue. Reid flew back to Washington with Melgen. Reid's office said the senator reimbursed Melgen for the flights.

Politico gleans some more details about Melgen's quirkiness as a big-time bankroller:

Some rich folks looking for special treatment would work through a lobbyist with experience navigating government bureaucracy.

Not Melgen—he was his own lobbyist, with access to lots of cash and a private jet owned by his company.

He went to top officials about the Dominican government’s reluctance to implement a $500 million port cargo-screening contract with one of his companies and to challenge the finding that another of his companies overbilled Medicare.

While he was glad-handing politicians, Melgen was living the high life. He was driven around South Florida by a chauffeur in a customized Audi A8 and invited all manner of politicos to his mansion in the Dominican Republic.

Melgen keeps an enviable collection of photos with politicians—including one of him golfing with Bill Clinton—and bragged of using his plane to transport the rapper Pitbull to a super PAC fundraiser at the Democratic National Convention last summer, according to sources who know him.

Yet Democratic fundraisers interviewed for this story say Melgen fits a particular model of naive, high-maintenance donor: the type that expects politicians to help further their business or philosophical interests but don’t know enough about the process to figure out if they’re getting anything for their money.

Let's not forget that Melgen is under federal investigation over a port deal in Latin America and his company's Medicare billing practices. The Senate ethics committee, meanwhile, is probing Menendez's trips on Melgen's plane, and a grand jury is looking into the senator's advocacy on Melgen's behalf, according to the Washington Post.

Even if nothing comes of these probes, the whole affair has been an embarrassment for Menendez. You can bet other politicians with even the faintest connection to Melgen will be distancing themselves from the donor so as to avoid any future stories like Tuesday's Politico item.

McCain's Lesson From Iraq: Surge Hard, But Don't Lie America Into War So Much

| Tue Mar. 19, 2013 7:09 PM EDT

"There hasn't been a very happy ending."

Regret was the running theme when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) talked about Iraq at an event Tuesday hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The panel discussion, held on the tenth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, also included Gen. Jack Keane (ret.), who McCain praised as a prime intellectual "architect of the surge" in Iraq in 2007. The two featured speakers bounced back and forth between a range of topics, including the slaughter in Syria and the "spinning centrifuges in Tehran." McCain gave his backhanded approval to the Obama administration for "finally" committing a billion dollars to the expansion of America's national missile defense systems—a move by the Pentagon last week meant to counter a (nonexistent) threat from North Korea.

The focus of the event was, of course, the lessons learned in the ten years since the war in Iraq kicked off; it has been over a year since the official end of US involvement in combat operations.

Since the troop surge began in January 2007, McCain has trumpeted his support for the 20,000-strong surge—and its perceived success in stabilizing the country—as a point of political honor. And his message during this ten-year anniversary event was no different: "If I have a scathing critique of the Bush administration, it is this: It took them three years to figure this out," McCain said, regarding the administration's delay in boosting the number of American troops in Iraq. (During defense secretary Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearings, McCain grilled him for his staunch opposition to the deployment of those additional troops.)

Corn on "Hardball": Iraq, 10 Years Later

Tue Mar. 19, 2013 6:43 PM EDT

Ten years later, Mother Jones's DC bureau chief David Corn talks about the mistakes and lies that lead us into Iraq. The war lasted years longer and cost 100 times as much as the Bush administration's estimates. Corn and Michael Isiokoff, coauthors of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, dish on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews.

 

Read "Lie by Lie: A Timeline of How We Got Into Iraq" for a comprehensive retelling of the war's beginnings.

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