Mojo - November 2009

David Corn vs. Ed Schultz on Ft. Hood "Terrorism"

| Fri Nov. 13, 2009 12:19 PM EST

On Thursday, David Corn was asked to appear on MSNBC's The Ed Show to discuss whether the multiple murders at Fort Hood were an act of terrorism. Schultz came out of the gate swinging hard, demanding that this horrific tragedy be branded terrorism. Corn countered that the issue was more nuanced and that, ultimately, the label didn't really matter. A feisty debate ensued:

 

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What Melody Barnes Said About Gay Marriage

| Fri Nov. 13, 2009 11:35 AM EST

Earlier this week an appearance by White House director of domestic policy Melody Barnes at Boston College's School of Law created something of a controversy. The Huffington Post reported that Barnes "implicitly acknowledged" her support for gay marriage at the event. If true, this would possibly make her the first high-profile administration official to break publicly with Obama's stated belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. An anonymous White House official quickly denied the account, claiming that Barnes didn't discuss "her personal views on marriage equality or other issues." Attendees of the event contacted by HuffPo offered varying impressions of what Barnes actually said: one said she "did state that she supports marriage equality;" others recall her answer being less explicit.

Mother Jones has obtained a transcript of the event and Barnes certainly implied that she and President Obama have a difference of opinion when it comes to gay marriage. Barnes was asked "whether you support equal civil marriage rights for gay and lesbian Americans, and if so, are you speaking or will you speak with President Obama on this civil rights matter?"

Barnes began by describing what the President is doing to promote gay rights—he has, she said, indicated that he wants to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and "encourage changes in the military." Then she returned to the original subject of the question—marriage equality: "I accept that that is very different than what you're talking about."  She proceeded: "With regard to my own views, those are my own views. And I come to my own experience based on what I've learned, based on the relationships I've had with friends and their relationships that I respect, the children that they're raising, and that is something that I support."  

Barnes then suggested that she and the president have different views on the issue of gay marriage: "He hasn't articulated a shift in his position there and that is something that at this moment I accept. It is what it is, even as we continue to have a conversation with him about it."

Her answer wasn't as direct as it could have been. But when talking about marriage, she said, "that is something that I support." Perhaps it could be claimed that she was referring only to the relationships of her friends—but her remarks also indicate that she and Obama hold different views on this issue. If Barnes does back gay marriage—which would not be terribly surprising for an Obama official—it's not a big deal. But why was the White House so quick to deny that she'd even discussed her own thoughts on the matter?

The video will be posted on Boston College's website later this afternoon; a full transcript of the exchange is after the jump:

9/11 Defendants To Be Tried in NYC

| Fri Nov. 13, 2009 11:18 AM EST

Yeah, this guy.Yeah, this guy. (US Government Photo)Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will get a trial:

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and four other men accused in the plot will be prosecuted in federal court in New York City, a federal law enforcement official said early on Friday.

It's not an exaggeration to say that this will be the trial of the decade. The trial carries enormous political risks for the Obama administration, and it draws attention to all of the hardest and most interesting questions about America's response to September 11th. It's pretty clear—as clear as it can be without a trial—that KSM's a bad guy. He's not some Afghani opium farmer or taxi driver. He almost certainly is who we think he is, and he almost certainly knew things that could be useful in the fight against Al Qaeda. So the Bush administration decided to torture him. If we're going to decide as a country whether or not we're going to torture people and what we're going to do with people after we torture them, we should focus on the case of KSM. He's the hard case. Now the country will have to deal seriously with that hard case. That's a good thing.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration couldn't quite muster up the courage to try all the Guantanamo detainees in federal court:

[T]he administration will prosecute another set of high-profile detainees — Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is accused of planning the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, and four other detainees — at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba before a military commission, the official said.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 13, 2009

Fri Nov. 13, 2009 8:51 AM EST

From left to right: Lance Cpl. John Franke and Staff Sgt. David Dial enter a compound in Nawa District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan on Nov. 6, 2009. Franke is a 20 year old amphibious assault vehicle operator from Greenville, S.C. and Dial is a 29 year old section leader from Newnan, Ga. Both are with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Marines conducted an operation to search compounds for weapons and improvised explosive device making materials in a local village, Nov. 6. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. John McCall.)

Need To Read: November 13, 2009

Fri Nov. 13, 2009 8:45 AM EST

Today's must reads:

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Commission to Review Racially Tinged Mandatory Minimums

| Fri Nov. 13, 2009 8:01 AM EST

When Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act last month, he also charged the US Sentencing Commission with the task of reviewing mandatory minimum sentences, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. Mandatory minimums have drawn criticism for being overly harsh and even racially unfair in their implementation. In the most contentious example, powder cocaine users (typically white) must be caught with 100 times more cocaine than crack cocaine users (predominantly black) to receive a similar sentence.

The Commission has consistently opposed mandatory minimums since 1991, but Congress has avoided reform because minimums are easy to implement and (ideally) ensure that everyone who commits the same crime does the same time. For example, Patrick Fitzgerald, the star prosecutor in Rod Blagojevich's corruption scandal, told the Commission (pdf) in September that mandatory minimum sentences "have been a very effective tool in prosecuting particularly violent offenders... Mandatory minimum sentences also has caused some people not to commit such offenses and thus not go to jail at all."

But Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) argues that the requirements have not achieved their intended purpose of reducing crime and scaring minor criminals into giving information about the most flagrant offenders in return for lighter sentences. As any self-respecting fan of The Wire knows, those at the bottom of the drug pyramid don't get details about what goes on up top. So while the drug kingpins have an avenue through which to reduce their sentences, says Jennifer Seltzer-Stitt, FAMM's federal legislative affairs director, "[minor users] who don't have anyone to trade get longer sentences."

So is Congress more likely to listen to the Sentencing Commission now than they have been in the past two decades?

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Video: No Clunkers to Crash

| Thu Nov. 12, 2009 7:15 PM EST

The Daily Show has a typically insightful piece on the most often ignored rule in Washington: the law of unintended consequences. The well meaning Cash for Clunkers program has upset a very unlikely constituency, demolition derby enthusiasts. Unlike vintage auto collectors, who succeed in negotiating an exemption for gas guzzlers over 25 years old, the massive cars favored by demolition derby drivers were the primary target of the car buyers' tax rebate.

First, intrepid Daily Show corespondent Josh Gad climbs into the passenger seat of one of these increasingly rarer vehicles to get the perspective of derby car industry. Gad then travels to the capital to ask Austan Goolsbee, the normally good-humored member of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, if he knows "how hard it is to find a piece of s*** American car right now." Goolsbee was not amused.

While Gad hilariously overplays the grievances of derby drivers, their complaints can now be added to the buyers' remorse environmentalists and deficit hawks have had for the ill-advised Cash for Clunkers program.

The Glass-Steagall Cake

| Thu Nov. 12, 2009 4:52 PM EST

Today is the tenth birthday of the legislation that repealed the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act. Glass Steagall's repeal allowed banks to combine investment banking and commercial banking operations—a move that many people believe contributed to the financial crisis by allowing banks to grow larger than ever before. If you've been paying attention, you know that a lot of the people who celebrated Glass-Steagall's downfall are still running the economy today. But I didn't know just how much they celebrated. Here, via Felix Salmon, is American Banker's contemporaneous account of the party, which reads like something straight out of the Cake Wrecks blog:

The reaction on Capitol Hill to passage of the financial reform bill last week ranged from revelry to morbid humor. To mark the historic occasion, House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach played host to a group of his closest collaborators on the bill, including Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, Comptroller of the Currency John D. Hawke Jr., Treasury Under Secretary Gary Gensler, and Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-N.Y. They joined staff members, lobbyists, and reporters in drinking champagne and devouring a large cake, which bore an epitaph for the Depression-era separation of commercial and investment banking that the bill undoes. It read: "Glass-Steagall, R.I.P., 1933-1999."

Gary Gensler runs the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for the Obama administration. Larry Summers, of course, is Barack Obama's top economic adviser. Save a piece of cake for us, guys. (As Felix notes, it would be a-mazing to find a photo of this party.)

Military Support for "Don't Ask" Declining

| Thu Nov. 12, 2009 4:30 PM EST

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told the Advocate on Wednesday that Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal is coming next year. I argued that allowing gay people to serve openly is popular enough now that it might make sense for Democrats to use it as a wedge issue for the 2010 elections. But I missed this survey from Monday, which suggests that support for repealing DADT is growing in the military itself:

A new study about the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy questions the assumption that allowing openly gay and lesbian military personnel to serve in the U.S. armed forces could harm military readiness.... The study found that just 40 percent of the military members surveyed expressed support for the policy, while 28 percent opposed it and 33 percent were neutral—less support than seen in previous surveys.

About 20 percent of those polled said they were aware of a gay or lesbian member in their unit, and about half of those said their presence was well known. In addition, three-quarters of those surveyed said they felt comfortable or very comfortable in the presence of gays or lesbians, according to the study.

If Democrats can demonstrate significant support for DADT repeal among servicemembers, it will make their arguments even more effective when the political battle over repeal begins.

Secretary Gates to Leakers: "Shut Up"

| Thu Nov. 12, 2009 4:21 PM EST

Starting with General Stanley McChrystal's confidential strategy assessment, which wound up in the hands of Bob Woodward, the Obama administration's typically tight ship has been leaking like a sieve when it comes to the ongoing strategy deliberations over Afghanistan. Surely it was no accident when news of Ambassador Karl Eikenberry's cable, expressing concerns over sending additional troops to Afghanistan, ended up in the New York Times on the very day that President Obama and his war council were scheduled to convene to discuss a range of strategy options. It's becoming pretty clear that when it comes to Obama's war plan the administration's competing factions are jockeying for influence via the press to advance their preferred policy options. 

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, for one, has had enough of it. Speaking to reporters  today, he put his agency's personnel on notice that, if discovered, Pentagon leakers will need to find a new line of work.

Via the Armed Forces Press Service:

I am appalled by the amount of leaking that has been going on," Gates told reporters traveling with him today in the wake of media reports following yesterday's national security session on Afghanistan, President Barack Obama's eighth in the past two months.

Gates said he has little doubt that some of those leaks have come from within the Defense Department. "If I found out who" was involved, he said, "it would probably be a career ender."

...

Returning to the leaking issue, Gates condemned information made public about the alleged Fort Hood gunman that he said could jeopardize the investigation.

"Everybody out there with their own little piece of the action" doesn't understand how it fits into the big picture, he said. "Everybody out there ought to just shut up."

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