2012 - %3, February

Today's Shopping Tip: 3D Clip-Ons

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 10:10 AM PST

And now for something completely different: a shopping tip. This is for my readers who wear glasses and like going to the movies. A few weeks ago I bought a pair of 3D clip-ons, and I'm here to tell you that they're great. More and more movies are being released solely in 3D — which means we're getting to the point where it's hard to avoid 3D even if you don't like it much — and trying to wear those clown-size theater 3D specs over your usual prescription glasses is a huge pain. The clip-ons are far more comfortable and unobtrusive, which makes them a great investment, especially since they only cost four bucks. And I suppose they can even double as ordinary clip-on sunglasses if you're into such things. Highly recommended.

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Everybody Loves Drones

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 9:55 AM PST

The Washington Post has a new poll out that asks about drone attacks on suspected terrorists. Everybody loves them. What's more, two-thirds of the country likes them even if the targets are American citizens:

Greg Sargent says these numbers are even more depressing than they seem:

The number of those who approve of the drone strikes drops nearly 20 percent when respondents are told that the targets are American citizens. But that 65 percent is still a very big number, given that these policies really should be controversial.

And get this: Depressingly, Democrats approve of the drone strikes on American citizens by 58-33, and even liberals approve of them, 55-35. Those numbers were provided to me by the Post polling team.

OK, that's depressing. But I guess I'd still like to dig into this a little further. How many people approve of these attacks on American citizens if they understand that there's no court judgment involved, no finding of guilt, no warrant, no nothing? Just the executive branch unilaterally deciding they need to be killed. It would be tricky to phrase this in a neutral way, but without it I don't think we really have a clear picture here. Most people, when they hear a question like this, aren't primed to think about any of these things, and probably don't give them any thought. They might feel differently if they did.

Maldives Political Turmoil Ousts Leading Voice on Climate Change

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 9:25 AM PST
Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed in 2009.

The president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, resigned on Tuesday amid what has been described in some press accounts as a coup. There are plenty of questions about the circumstances of his departure from power, but what is clear is that it means the loss of one of the most powerful and visible international leaders on climate change.

Nasheed told reporters on Wednesday he was forced to resign at gunpoint, after what appeared to be a mutiny by police officers and protesters. From Reuters:

"Yes, I was forced to resign at gunpoint," Nasheed told reporters after his party meeting a day after his resignation. "There were guns all around me and they told me they wouldn't hesitate to use them if I didn't resign.
"I call on the chief justice to look into the matter of who was behind this coup. We will try our best to bring back the lawful government."

Yet the newly installed president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, said on Tuesday that it was a peaceful transition. The change of power has sparked rioting in the streets as well. It's not clear at this point what will happen in the country, and a United Nations political mission is expected to visit later this week.

The tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean has a population of just 395,000, and in 2008 Nasheed became the country's first democratically elected president. In that capacity, he has been a leading international voice advocating action on climate change. To illustrate the threat that sea level rise posed to his nation, he held a cabinet meeting underwater in 2009. And in 2010 his government installed solar panels on the presidential residence and rolled out a plan to cut the country's emissions. As Maldivian Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam told Mother Jones at the time, "We are the front line, we can start dealing with it ourselves."

The Month of Santorum

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 9:13 AM PST

So Rick Santorum won three states last night. Does this mean we all have to pretend to take him seriously for the next three weeks? I'm feeling a little queasy over the possibility already.

At the same time, I'm getting ready to concede that my valiant efforts to show that Mitt Romney isn't really all that strongly disliked were misguided. Republican voters just don't like the guy, do they?

Poll: Americans Approve Of Targeted Killing Of American Terror Suspects

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 7:59 AM PST
An MQ-9 Reaper drone in Afghanistan in 2007.

Buried in the recently released Washington Post/ABC poll noting improving numbers for President Barack Obama are numbers showing that Americans are favorably disposed towards the use of targeted killing in counterterrorism operations, even if the targets are Americans.

Here are the poll results: Overall 83 percent of Americans approve of the use of "unmanned, 'drone' aircraft against terrorist suspects overseas," 59 percent strongly and 26 percent "somewhat." Of those who approve, 79 percent think the use of targeted killing against American citizens abroad who are suspected of terrorism is justified. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent, who takes a closer look at the internal numbers, finds that "Democrats approve of the drone strikes on American citizens by 58-33, and even liberals approve of them, 55-35." Whether as a result of partisan identification with the president or an artifact of the United States shifting to the right on counterterrorism policy in general, it doesn't seem likely that Obama will pay a high political price with his base for either the escalation of drone strikes since taking office or the use of drones to kill Americans abroad suspected of terrorism. 

The administration has faced increasing criticism from civil liberties and human rights groups over the nature and secrecy of its targeted killing program, including its efforts to block attempts to force disclosure of the legal rationale for targeting Americans without charge or trial, even as administration officials comment publicly on the program's success. Recently, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta revealed that, when it comes to the targeted killing of Americans suspected of terrorism, the final decision is made by the president himself. In an online forum, President Obama insisted that drones were being used with restraint, saying it was on a "very tight leash," with extreme care being taken to minimize civilian casualties. Not everyone agrees with that assessment: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says that since Obama took office close to 400 of the casualties from drone strikes in Pakistan have been civilians, with close to 200 of them children. 

Republicans have criticized Obama for his use of targeted killing and special operations forces—mostly on the grounds that more dead terror suspects means fewer of them to interrogate. But the poll numbers suggest widespread approval of Obama's approach to counterterrorism: Limited, covert, and with the collateral damage borne by individuals who remain far beyond the thoughts of most Americans. 

109 Things Obama Has Declared War On

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 4:00 AM PST

Get your war onObama gets his war onIn case you've lost track—here are 109 things President Obama currently is or recently has been engaged in a war against (according to conservative pundits, lazy headline writers, and Google trawling):

Christmas trees
Christians
Christians and Jews
Catholics
The church
Religion
Religious freedom
Free speech
Wealth
The private sector
Wall Street
Banks
Investors, entrepreneurs, businesses
The self-made man
The Forbes 400
The rich
Poor people
The American farmer
Fishing
Cheerios
Marijuana
Weed
Medical marijuana

Vegan shops
Poker
The Bowl Championship Series
Fun
Sloth
Human excellence
Success
Knowledge
Facts
Fox News
Conservative talk radio
Palin
Congress
House Republicans
Boehner
Eric Cantor
Decency
Conscience
Gun owners
The American military
Veterans
Energy
American energy workers
Oil traders
Fossil fuels
Oil
Coal
Electricity
Auto workers
Cars
Silicon Valley
The internet
Wasteful mobile devices
Mousepads and coffee mugs
Space junk
Appalachia
The states
Texas
Arizona
Joe Arpaio
Immigrants
Pakistanis
Israel
Ireland
Britain
African development
Alex Jones
Whistleblowers
Transparency and accountability
The secret ballot

Voter fraud reform
Civil rights
Civil society
College internships
Education innovation
Medical innovation
The health insurance industry
Doctors
Pro-lifers
Unborn babies
High school dropouts
Senior citizens
The aircraft industry
Boeing
Business
Greed
The profit motive
Inequality
Reaganomics
The American economy
American jobs
Jobs and growth
Capitalism and the Bill of Rights
Traditional American values
Marriage, federalism, and religious liberty
Liberty and property
Prosperity and freedom
Freedom
The Constitution
America
The American people
Women
Children
You
The World
Everything (except America's enemies)

Know of more things Obama has declared war on (not counting actual wars)? Add them in the comments.

Photo illustration images via: Wikimedia Commons (Obama); roberthuffstutter/Flickr (Cheerios box); Wikimedia Commons (Texas); Thorne Enterprises/Flickr (Constitution); Salty Cracka/Flickr (marijuana leaf); Plutor/Flickr (poker chips); Wikimedia Commons (Christmas tree)

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 8, 2012

Wed Feb. 8, 2012 3:57 AM PST

A soldier secures an area during a dismounted patrol in Muqer district, Ghazni province, Afghanistan, on January 29, 2012. Soldiers from Civil Affairs and Provincial Reconstruction Team conducted the dismounted patrol to engage elders and key leaders in the area. Photo by the US Army.

The Hypocrisy Trope That Won't Die

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 5:37 PM PST

President Obama has publicly condemned the Citizens United decision and has publicly opposed the role of super-PACs in campaign finance. Recently, though, he signed off on a plan to actively support Priorities USA Action, a leading Democratic super-PAC that's had trouble raising as much money as its Republican counterparts. "We're not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back," explained Obama's campaign manager. "With so much at stake, we can't allow for two sets of rules. Democrats can't be unilaterally disarmed."

Is this hypocritical of Obama? For the thousandth time, no, no, no. The playing field is the playing field, and once a public policy has been legally put in place you'd be a sap not to play by the same rules as everyone else. If you oppose the mortgage interest deduction as a matter of policy, you still have every right to take the deduction as long as the rest of the country keeps it in place. If you're a Republican governor who objects to the stimulus bill, you'd be actively irresponsible not to take your share of the money once it's there. If you oppose earmarks, you still have an obligation to your district to take them as long as they exist.

This trope needs to go away. Seriously. Just deep six it. We should never hear this nonsense again.

Catholics Do Not Have a Deep Moral Objection to Contraception

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 4:50 PM PST

Should secular Catholic institutions (such as hospitals and universities) be required to abide by federal rules that say healthcare plans have to cover contraception? Or should they receive a conscience exemption from this rule, as churches themselves do?

Two new polls today shed some light on this question. The first one, from the Public Religion Research Institute, asked if all employers should be required to offer healthcare plans that cover contraception:

  • All Americans: broad agreement, 55%-40%
  • Catholics: broad agreement, 58%-37%

But maybe respondents weren't specifically primed to think that some employers are churches that have theological objections to birth control. So the second survey asked the general question first (getting similar results to the PRRI survey) and then asked specifically if Catholic hospitals and universities should be included:

  • All Americans: broad agreement, 57%-39%
  • Catholics: broad agreement, 53%-45%

In both cases, the numbers are much higher for Democrats and Independents. It's really only Republicans who object much, which strongly suggests that most of the objection is rooted in ideology, not religious conscience.

Now, there's obviously no reason that churches should be bound by opinion polls, but here's why this matters anyway: as I mentioned in passing a few days ago, it's important to understand whether contraception is truly a matter of contention in America. It's arguably reasonable, I think, for the government to tread carefully in areas where there's substantial, highly-charged controversy, such as abortion. But contraception just isn't one of those areas. Catholics agree with the new policy on healthcare plans at the same rate as other Americans; what objection there is, is mainly ideological, not religious; and as a much-cited Guttmacher survey shows, 98% of sexually-experienced Catholics use active methods of birth control. The takeaway from all this is pretty clear: conservatives may oppose the contraception requirement for ideological reasons (which is fine), but it's plain that contraception is simply not a moral hot button for Catholics. To put it plainly, it's not a matter of conscience. It's a matter of conscience only for a tiny number of men in the formal hierarchy of the Catholic church. That's it.

My position on this is plain: the church hierarchy's objection to birth control is medieval and barbaric. All those Catholic pundits raising hell over the new contraception regs should spend their time instead raising hell with their own church over a policy that's caused incalculable pain and misery for millions of women around the globe. Instead, they're all claiming that although they don't have any problem with contraception, they think the government should be more sensitive toward those who do. But it turns out there's practically no one who does. They're all pointing their fingers toward a group of people that barely exists.

When there's a societal consensus in a secular country, religious institutions have to accept that, and in America there's a virtually unanimous societal consensus on contraception. Americans don't have any problem with contraception. American Catholics don't have any problem with contraception. And on a public health basis, requiring healthcare plans to cover contraception is common sense. No one — almost literally no one — thinks there's any problem with it. It's a non-issue.

State Department Preparing To Cut Iraq Embassy Staff By Half

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 3:10 PM PST

When the Iraq War officially ended late last year, many were quick to point out it was hardly a wholesale withdrawal. There are still 5,500 armed contractors stationed in Iraq to protect US government personnel (a figure nearly three times the number of hired guns the State Department uses to protect all its other diplomatic missions combined). A small (and controversial) fleet of surveillance drones are patrolling Iraqi skies. Oh, there's also that huge embassy complex in Baghdad that was recently on track to balloon to an even greater size.

But as Tim Arango of the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the State Department might end up nixing as much as half of the 16,000-strong embassy staff:

The expansive diplomatic operation and the $750 million embassy building, the largest of its kind in the world, were billed as necessary to nurture a postwar Iraq on its shaky path to democracy and establish normal relations between two countries linked by blood and mutual suspicion. But the Americans have been frustrated by Iraqi obstructionism and are now largely confined to the embassy because of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to justify the $6 billion annual price tag. ...

Michael W. McClellan, the spokesman for the embassy...said in a statement, "over the last year and continuing this year the Department of State and the Embassy in Baghdad have been considering ways to appropriately reduce the size of the U.S. mission in Iraq, primarily by decreasing the number of contractors needed to support the embassy's operations."...McClellan said the number of diplomats—currently about 2,000—is also, "subject to adjustment as appropriate." To make the cuts, he said the embassy, "is hiring Iraqi staff and sourcing more goods and services to the local economy."

For years, State Department officials have been pushing for substantial cuts in diplomatic operations to accomodate the reduced American role in Iraq. Budgetary realities, the scrapped plans for a residual force of American troops, and animosity between Iraqis and the security contractors have also contributed to the growing downsize-fever.

Also buried in the Times story is this glorious nugget about a major "difficulty" facing the thousands of contractors and diplomats who remained in Iraq after the December drawdown:

Convoys of food that were previously escorted by the United States military from Kuwait were delayed at border crossings as Iraqis demanded documentation that the Americans were unaccustomed to providing. Within days, the salad bar at the embassy dining hall ran low. Sometimes there was no sugar or Splenda for coffee. On chicken wing night, wings were rationed at six per person. Over the holidays, housing units were stocked with Meals Ready to Eat, the prepared food for soldiers in the field.

Uh.... I'll just let Andrew Exum bring this one home: