Political MoJo

New Report Suggests Wedding Procession Drone Strike May Have Violated Laws of War

| Thu Feb. 20, 2014 9:32 PM EST
Saleh Mohsen al-'Amri of Yakla shows photos of a nephew and cousin who were killed in a December 2013 drone strike in Yemen.

A new report from Human Rights Watch outlines conflicting accounts surrounding a drone strike on a Yemeni wedding convoy that killed 12 people and injured at least 15 others.  

While the US government has not officially acknowledged any role in the December 12, 2013 attack, anonymous officials later told the AP that the operation targeted Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, an Al Qaeda leader, and maintained that the dead were militants.

But after interviewing witnesses and relatives of the dead and wounded, Human Rights Watch determined that the 11 cars were in a wedding procession. Although the organization concedes the convoy may have included members of Al Qaeda, the report concluded that there is evidence suggesting "that some, if not all those killed and wounded were civilians."

The report, titled "A Wedding That Became a Funeral," has renewed calls for the Obama administration to carry out a transparent, impartial investigation into the incident—and to explain how such a strike is consistent with both international laws of war and Obama's own rules governing drone strikes. Announced last May, the procedures limit the use of drones to targeting those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States, where capture is not feasible, and there is a "near certainty" of no civilian casualties.

The report suggests the strike may have violated the laws of war by "failing to discriminate between combatants and civilians, or by causing civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military advantage."

Read the full investigation here.

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Why Ben Affleck Is Qualified to Testify Before the Senate on Atrocities in Congo

| Thu Feb. 20, 2014 7:10 PM EST

On Thursday, John Hudson at Foreign Policy reported that actor Ben Affleck is set to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Wednesday to testify on the mass killings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Affleck's inclusion among the experts scheduled to testify invited some predictable skepticism and ridicule. In response to the news, Washington Post digital foreign editor Anup Kaphle tweeted, "zzzzzz..." National Review correspondent Jim Geraghty joked, "If a Congressman asks about his qualifications as a Congo expert, Ben Affleck should simply answer, 'I'm Batman.'"

"People serious about resolving problems—especially problems related to life and death—want to have serious conversations with experts and leaders in the field; not celebrities," a Republican aide at the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Foreign Policy's "The Cable." (House Republicans reportedly declined to hold a similar, Affleck-inclusive event.)

It's pretty easy to laugh at the idea of the Gigli and Pearl Harbor star now lecturing senators on atrocities in Central Africa. But the Oscar-winning future Batman knows his stuff. He isn't some celebrity who just happened to open his mouth about a humanitarian cause (think: Paris Hilton and Rwanda). The acclaimed Argo director has repeatedly traveled to Congo and has even met with warlords accused of atrocities. Here's his 2008 report from the country for ABC's Nightline, in which he discusses mass rape, war, and survival:  


ABC Entertainment News|ABC Business News

Affleck previously testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the humanitarian crisis in the African nation. That same year, he made the media rounds with Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) to discuss renewed violence in Congo. In 2011, he testified before the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee. In 2010, Affleck founded the Eastern Congo Initiative, an advocacy and grant-making 501(c)(3) organization. On top of all that, he made this video this month (in which he and Matt Damon humorously trade insults) to help raise money for the Initiative.

So, are there experts who know more about the Democratic Republic of the Congo than Ben Affleck? Of course—and some of them will also testify before the Senate committee next week. But celebrities testifying before Congress, or heading to the Hill to make their case, isn't exactly new. Harrison Ford has swung by the House and Senate to talk about planes, and Val Kilmer visited Capitol Hill last year to push for the expansion of Americans' ability to claim religious exemptions to Obamacare's health insurance mandate.

With Affleck, you get testimony from a famous person who has really done his homework.

Click here to check out our interactive map of celebrity humanitarian efforts in (and the "celebrity recolonization" of) Africa.

Michele Bachmann: Obama Won Because He's Black and America Felt Guilty

| Thu Feb. 20, 2014 3:17 PM EST

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is on her last tour in Congress. She's not seeking reelection and will leave the House after 2014. (A plum cable news gig is almost assuredly waiting for her once she reenters the private sector.) In the meantime, she's sticking to her usual habits: making offensive statements. In an interview published Wednesday, Bachmann said that Barack Obama won the presidency because white people felt too guilty about past racial injustices. "I think there was a cachet about having an African-American president because of guilt," she said in an interview with Cal Thomas, a syndicated conservative columnist.

Bachmann didn't stop there. She thinks Hillary Clinton has poor odds of winning the presidency in 2016. "People don't hold guilt for a woman," she said, explaining that much of the country isn't prepared to elect a women as president. "I don’t think there is a pent-up desire."

It's an odd view for Bachmann to hold. After all, she herself tried to become the first female president when she ran for the GOP's 2012 presidential nomination, and she briefly led the polls in Iowa before her campaign cratered, forcing her to drop out the morning after the Iowa caucuses. But these new doubts about the public's willingness to vote for a woman to be president could be a projection based on that sour experience. A poll from last month found that 77 percent of voters expect the country to elect a female president within the next decade. Americans are ready for a female president, just not Bachmann.

(ht Huffington Post)

Louisiana Congressional Candidate Said Viagra Is Made From His Blood

| Thu Feb. 20, 2014 12:50 PM EST

He's back. On Wednesday, less than three years after being released from federal prison, Louisiana Democrat Edwin Edwards told Bloomberg's Al Hunt he intends to run for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is running for Senate. That roar you heard was the sound of political reporters packing their suitcases for extended stays in Baton Rouge. Other than the corruption charges that put him in the slammer, Edwards' four terms in the governor's mansion were defined by dramatic populist politics and brash public statements that drew constant comparisons to former Louisiana governor and senator Huey Long.

Prison hasn't seemed to change Edwards. Here are some of his best (or worst) hits:

  • On his 1983 opponent, then Republican Gov. David Treen: "He's so slow, it takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes."
  • On whether he fears his phone was being tapped by law enforcement: "No—except by jealous husbands."
  • On his electoral prospects against Treen: "The only way I can lose this election is if I get caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy."
  • On similarities between he and his opponent, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke: "We're both wizards in the sheets."
  • On his fate: "The Chinese have a saying that if you sit by the river long enough, the dead body of your enemy will come floating down the river. I suppose the feds sat by the river long enough, and here comes my body."
  • On his womanizing, 1991: "Father Time has taken care of all that poppycock."
  • On his sex drive, 2012: "I don't need Viagra…Viagra needs me. Doesn't the Times-Picayune know they use my blood to make that stuff?"
  • On his new wife, Trina, who is 51 years his junior: "I learned something good to use Republicans for: sleep with them."
  • On whether it is fair to call him a womanizer: "I ride horses when I go to my ranch. That doesn't make me a cowboy."
  • On Trina (again): "I'm only as old as the woman I feel."
  • On the role of women in his administration: "The motto from here on out is up with skirts and down with pants."
  • On a claim he once slept with six women in one night: "No, it wasn't that way. [The author] was gone when the last one came in."
  • On kissing babies: "It's more fun to kiss mothers."
  • On U.S. Attorney John Volz, who was investigating him for corruption: "When my moods are over, and my time has come to pass, I hope they bury me upside down, so Volz can kiss my ass."
  • On the most talented politician he's ever seen: "Every time I shave and I look in the mirror, I see him."
  • On his future—in 1991: "I don't have any skeletons in my closet. They're all out front. My closets have been raided so many times that there's nothing new, different, bad, or worse that can be said about me."

If Edwards does run, voters may be faced with a choice between Edwards, the convicted felon with a long, proud history of womanizing, and Tony Perkins, president of the social-conservative Family Research Council. Edwards hasn't formally filed paperwork yet, though. He told Bloomberg he wants to set up a super-PAC first.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 20, 2014

Thu Feb. 20, 2014 11:05 AM EST

Soldiers with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force provide security for the landing team during amphibious insertion training from the Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Pacific during Exercise Iron Fist 2014 aboard Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Calif., Jan. 29, 2014. Iron Fist is an amphibious exercise that brings together Marines and sailors from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, other I Marine Expeditionary Force units, and soldiers from the JGSDF, to promote military interoperability and hone individual and small-unit skills through challenging, complex and realistic training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos/Released)

George Zimmerman's BFF Called Oprah the N-Word

| Wed Feb. 19, 2014 1:23 PM EST

George Zimmerman's de facto spokesman, Frank Taaffehas recently rushed to the defense of Michael Dunn, who, like Zimmerman, was accused of murdering an unarmed black Florida teenager. Perhaps this should come as no surprise: Taaffea frequent cable news commentatoris an unabashed racist who has said that "the only time a black life is validated is when a white person kills them."

On Tuesday, Political Research Associates, a liberal think tank, dredged up troubling new evidence of Taaffe's racial animus, including audio of him calling Oprah Winfrey the N-word on his now-defunct white-power podcast, Standing Our GroundDuring an episode last fall, Taaffe and his cohost discussed when to apply the slur. After being asked by a caller whether Oprah fit the bill, Taaffe launched into a rant, filled with racist language:

Yeah, she's a nigger because she keeps spewing out all that bullshit. She goes over to Switzerland and she says that the lady didn't want to share a handbag because she thought that she couldn't afford it, and she keeps just doing what she's doing. She keeps stirring the pot. She keeps trying to promote her boy Obama. You know, Obama could do no wrong. You know, it's birds of a feather, they flock together and stick together, and to me, she's a nigger. Oprah Winfrey's a nigger. She's a nigger.

You can listen to the entire exchange here:

This language is not out of character for Taaffe; he has previously come out against races intermingling, defended racial profiling, and compared affirmative action to slavery. Nevertheless, cable news networksincluding CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox News—regularly tapped him for commentary on the Zimmerman case. During the recent murder trial of Michael Dunn, the Florida man who shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis after a dispute over loud music, Taaffe began making the rounds again, with appearances on HLN's Nancy Grace and Dr. Drew on CallHe was supposed to appear on CNN as well. But on Monday, after Mother Jones took HLN to task for giving Taaffe a regular platform, his booking was canceled. And Taaffe announced on his Facebook page that he won't be making any more Nancy Grace appearances either. Here's hoping that next time cable news networks can find a pundit who isn't a white supremacist.

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GOP Congressional Candidate: Protecting Gays From Workplace Discrimination is "Segregation"

| Wed Feb. 19, 2014 11:43 AM EST

Cresent Hardy was expected to be the milquetoast candidate in the Republican primary for Nevada's 4th district—especially compared with his competitor for the GOP nod,  Niger Innis, who said that the fight to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling was "very much like the civil rights revolution."

But on Tuesday, Hardy, a Nevada state assemblyman, gave Ennis a run for his money. In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Hardy called the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, a federal bill passed by the Senate that prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, "segregation."

"When we create classes, we create that same separation that we're trying to unfold somehow," Hardy told the Sun. "By continuing to create these laws that are what I call segregation laws, it puts one class of a person over another. We are creating classes of people through these laws."

In the same interview, Hardy vowed that he "will always vote against same sex marriage because of my religious beliefs, the way I was raised…For me to vote for it would be to deny the same God that I believe in."

As a state assemblyman, Hardy was one of just 13 assembly members to vote against a Nevada bill banning housing and job discrimination against transgender people. Republican Governor Brian Sandoval signed that bill into law in May 2011.

Hardy and Innis are competing to challenge first-term Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford. The sprawling 4th district, which covers northern Las Vegas suburbs, leans Democrat, although Horsford was elected in 2012 with a scant 50.1 percent of the vote. While Innis is running as an outsider, Hardy is squarely backed by the Republican establishment, having racked up endorsements from Sandoval, Sen. Dean Heller, and Rep. Mark Amodei.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 19, 2014

Wed Feb. 19, 2014 11:13 AM EST

Staff Sgt. Austina Knotek takes a photo with the United States Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Ray Odierno in Kabul, Afghanistan, February 7, 2014. Staff Sgt. Austina Knotek is an Information Technology Specialist from Crown Point, N.M. assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps. Knotek noticed the large crowd outside her work area and realized the Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno, was conducting a media engagement with Fox & Friends, which included more than a dozen Soldiers in the background. (U.S. Army Photo by Nate Allen)

Surprise: Liberals Are Just as Morally Righteous as Conservatives

| Wed Feb. 19, 2014 7:00 AM EST

From the Moral Majority to the Tea Party, we tend to think of those on the political right as driven by deep moral convictions. Much of the reason involves the right's strong connection with fundamentalist religiosity, and the accompanying rhetoric about "moral values." Indeed, conservatives have made a habit of accusing liberals of being "moral relativists," even as psychological research paints liberals as more tolerant of uncertainty and nuance than conservatives, and more open to new experiences and ideas. That certainly doesn't sound like the psych profile of a moral crusader.

Maybe, though, the moral motivations of liberals have been underestimated. That's the upshot of a new political psychology study by Linda Skitka of the University of Illinois-Chicago and two colleagues. The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 21 separate studies examining the differing moral investments of the left and the right. And they found that overall, liberals showed just as much moral conviction as conservatives—albeit on very different political issues.

The 21 studies in question had much in common: All of them asked participants how much their stances on a wide variety of political issues were "based on moral principle," "deeply connected to [their] beliefs about fundamental right and wrong," "a moral stance," and other related questions. All the studies also asked participants about their political ideology.

Crunching together this large body of similar research, Skitka and colleagues didn't find much convincing evidence that conservatives feel more morally righteous than liberals do. For instance, in total the 21 studies examined the moral commitments of liberals and conservatives on 41 separate political issues, from drug policy to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But on the large majority of those issues—28 of them in all—liberals and conservatives showed about the same level of moral conviction. Of the remainder, conservatives felt more strongly about 7 issues (immigration, abortion, states' rights, gun control, physician-assisted suicide, the deficit, and the federal budget) and liberals felt more strongly about 6 issues (climate change, the environment, gender equality, income inequality, healthcare reform, and education).

Different levels of moral conviction from left to right might tell us a lot about how particular issues play out, then (think abortion). But there's wasn't a very big difference in moral conviction overall.

When Skitka and her colleagues examined a subset of the studies that involved political engagement (activism, voting, and so on), meanwhile, they also failed to find a major left-right difference. In other words, liberals and conservatives were equally likely to be driven, by their moral convictions, into overt political actions such as activism or voting.

None of which is to suggest that when it comes to moral politics, liberals and conservatives are just two sides of a coin. Prior research, for instance, suggests that conservatives are more likely to believe in moral absolutes than liberals are. And as already noted, the two sides are not always equally fired up about a given issue: Thus, the zeal with which the right attacks, say, government spending is not matched with equal zeal on the left aimed at defending it.

Finally, much research has suggested that the basic moral systems of the left and the right are very different. If you follow George Lakoff, liberals have a "nurturant parent" morality, centered on caring and empathy, as opposed to conservatives' "strict father" morality, centered on rules and obedience. If you follow Jonathan Haidt, meanwhile, then liberals feel strong moral convictions about issues involving harm and fairness, whereas conservatives root their morality in authority, tribalism, and even emotions of disgust.

There's no reason to doubt that these differences are real. But the new study suggests that in spite of them, both the left and the right can get very fired up about politics. And when they let their deep-seated moral emotions drive their political views, they may do so with equal zeal.

What's Happening in Ukraine, Explained (Updated)

| Tue Feb. 18, 2014 7:08 PM EST

This article is being updated as news breaks. Click here for the latest.

At least 26 were killed and several hundred were injured Tuesday and Wednesday in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, as police cracked down on the protest movement that has gripped the Eastern European nation for months. Several local news outlets—including Ukraine's Espreso TV—are live streaming the swelling crowds, large-scale fires, and numerous explosions at the opposition camps. The harrowing video feed is below:



The EuroMaidan protests, which started on November 21 in response to President Viktor Yanukovych's rejection of a European Union trade deal, have been going on for nearly three months. Early Tuesday, the US Department of State released an emergency message warning about escalating violence and potential "extraordinary measures" by the Ukrainian Security Services.

As the Washington Post's Max Fisher explains, the conflict is fueled by sharp political and ethnic divides. A significant portion of the population wants closer ties to Europe, but Putin has been pressuring Yanukovych's government toward closer economic integration with Russia.

The protests turned violent in late November, with police deploying batons, tear gas, and even attacking journalists. In mid-January, the government enacted a series of anti-protest laws restricting freedom of assembly and speech. Though Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned and many of these laws were later repealed, the damage was already done. Yanukovych, who had previously been linked to vote-rigging during the infamous 2005 Orange Revolution, has also been accused of corruption, mismanagement, and human rights violations. To many citizens, the laws only reinforced that view. Allegations of torture and disappearances continued throughout January as the protests spread.

Protesters in Kiev have occupied city hall and other government buildings for the last two months. This weekend, after officials promised to give them amnesty if they ended their occupation, the demonstrators agreed and partially dismantled their barricades, making Tuesday's crackdown all the more ironic.

As with any uprising, it's too early to call which direction the protests could go, but some analysts are warning a civil war is possible. Here are a few recent images of the scene in Kiev:

Ukrainian Demonstrator

Jacob Balzani Loov/ZUMA

Ukrainian Police
Maxim Nikitin/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Truck Explosion
Yevgeny/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Clashes
Yevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Protestor
Yevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA
 

Ukrainian Protestor

Nikolai Nikitin/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Car ExplosionYevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA

Ukrainian Riot PoliceYevgeny Maloletka/ITAR-TASS/ZUMA