A dog rides in a US Soldier's backpack on Combat Outpost Jeleran, Afghanistan, Nov. 20, 2009. The dog, named Cookie, is the unofficial mascot of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment. (US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II.)

Need To Read: December 3, 2009

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Colorado State University is one of the only universities in the country that allows concealed weapons on campus, but public safety experts and the university president's advisors think its about time for a gun ban, the Denver Post reports.

Following state law, the school's policy allows someone carrying a concealed weapon to bring it almost anywhere on campus, residence halls excluded. But in spite of calls for a ban, students are lobbying their university president to keep the school's gun policies as they are. "I think really it's an issue of if it's not broken, why fix it," Matt Strauch, spokesman for the Associated Students of CSU, told the Denver Post.

Twenty three states allow public colleges and universities to decide on their own weapons policies, but almost all of them chose to be "gun free," according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Along with CSU, a few other schools that allow concealed weapons on campus include Virginia's Blue Ridge Community College and Michigan State University. Utah is the only state that prohibits public institutions from barring guns on campus.

Students against the ban drafted a formal proposal yesterday in favor of maintaing the school's current gun policies, arguing that most shootings on college campuses take place at schools with bans on concealed weapons. A gun ban would leave students defenseless against the threats of rape, robbery, and assault, the proposal states.

CSU faculty council chair and physics professor Richard Eykholt says encouraging students to respond to a campus shooting with more gun fire creates the unecessary opportunity for more bystanders to get hit with additional flying bullets. Plus, perpetrators in school shootings are determined to kill themselves and others, he told the Denver Post. "I don't think they'd be deterred by threates of anyone having a gun."  

A Congressional vote this past summer indicated that some politicians in Washington may agree with the CSU faculty. In July, the Senate voted 58-39 to defeat an amendment to a military spending bill that would have allowed concealed weapons carriers to bring their guns across state lines. The measure would have forced states with tough gun laws to accept gun-toting visitors from states with weaker laws. Check out David Corn's post on the topic for more about the vote.

After 9/11, Erik Prince, the patriotic and intensely private founder of Blackwater, applied to work for the CIA. The agency turned him down, Prince tells Vanity Fair in a just-published article, because he lacked "enough hard skills, enough time in the field" to be of use as a spy. The irony is that his company and Prince himself would go on to take part in some of the agency's most sensitive work. Not only was the CIA a Blackwater client but, Vanity Fair reveals, its ex-Navy Seal founder eventually became a "full blown asset."

Three sources with direct knowledge of the relationship say that the C.I.A.’s National Resources Division recruited Prince in 2004 to join a secret network of American citizens with special skills or unusual access to targets of interest. As assets go, Prince would have been quite a catch. He had more cash, transport, matériel, and personnel at his disposal than almost anyone Langley would have run in its 62-year history.


...Two sources familiar with the arrangement say that Prince’s handlers obtained provisional operational approval from senior management to recruit Prince and later generated a “201 file,” which would have put him on the agency’s books as a vetted asset. It’s not at all clear who was running whom, since Prince says that, unlike many other assets, he did much of his work on spec, claiming to have used personal funds to road-test the viability of certain operations.

When the White House's jobs summit kicks off on Thursday, America's largest labor federation wants President Obama to put real money where his mouth is. During a conference call on Wednesday the AFL-CIO's chief international economist, Thea Lee, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), and economist James K. Galbraith called for massive employment programs that Lee estimated would total $400-$500 billion. "We need to create three million jobs every year for five years to get back where we were [before the financial crisis]," said Galbraith.

The overwhelming message of the call, convened by Campaign for America's Future, a liberal policy organization, was that an unemployment rate over 10 percent is too high to fight with half-measures. "We could sit around and do nothing and wait for the private sector to create the jobs, but I think we'd be waiting a long time," said Lee. "One of the things we can't do is act small.... I don't think we can have an economic recovery—I don't think it can be sustained—if people are out of work for years at a time."

An investment on the scale that Lee and Galbraith are proposing is going to be incredibly tough to get through Congress. But Galbraith argued that the White House needs to follow the "political model" of the Reagan tax cuts: Do something so big that people can't help but notice.

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Oct. 28, 2009)—Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Nicolas Grey, assigned to Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, pauses during a patrol in Nawa District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment is one of the ground combat elements deployed with Regimental Combat Team 7. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James Purschwitz.) This was also the photo for David Corn's article on Barack Obama's Afghan "surge."

Need To Read: December 2, 2009

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Jim Webb is not at all happy that Barack Obama plans to travel to Copenhagen next week and pledge that the US will act to halt climate change. In a letter to Obama, Webb argues that the president does not have "unilateral power" to promise anything to the rest of the world. Instead, Webb contends, Obama should sit around and wait for the Senate to do something about the problem.

"I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon at the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark," wrote Webb. "The phrase 'politically binding' has been used."

"As you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country," Webb continued. "I would very much appreciate having this matter clarified in advance of the Copenhagen meetings."

While Webb is right that the Senate needs to ratify any international treaties, the administration also has the authority to negotiate with other nations in drafting accords.

Webb has never been particularly vocal about environmental issues. A moderate, coal-state Democrat, he's supported energy legislation but balked at capping emissions—I included basically everything he'd ever said on the subject in this short profile in July.

But in recent weeks, Webb has emerged as a major pain in the ass for Democratic leaders on climate issues. He recently announced that he is partnering with Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on an alternative climate bill that, instead of curbing emissions, would pour massive sums into nuclear power. Cap-and-trade legislation, he said, is too "enormously complex," and, in its present form, he "would not vote for it."

So, even though he has signaled he has no plans to support a bill to cap emissions any time soon, he wants Obama to wait around for him.

How much money will the rich world muster to help poorer countries adapt to the devastating effects of climate change and curb their emissions? That's one of the essential elements that negotiators must tackle at the Copenhagen climate summit next week. And the biggest question mark in the equation is the US, which has not yet specified exactly how much cash it's prepared to kick in. Now John Kerry, the key senator in the climate debate, is urging the Obama administration to be more generous.

The proposed 2010 budget from the Obama administration would devote $1.2 billion per year to international climate funds. The Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House would direct about 7 percent of the revenues of a cap-and-trade plan to international adaptation and technology funding in the initial years, which could total around $5 billion per year by 2020, according to an analysis by Resources for the Future. The proposed Senate bill offers similar levels of funding.

Obviously, there's a big difference between the numbers coming out of the White House and Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations committee chair John Kerry (D-Mass.) wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking the administration to address the "large gap" between the Congressional figures and the budget. Kerry wants the US should kick much more than the amount forecast in the 2010 budget, in order to demonstrate its commitment to addressing the problem of climate change. He suggested $3 billion for 2011, routed through agencies like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

"[A]s we approach the Copenhagen climate change negotiations, the global community has agreed that $10 billion is required annually in fast-start financing to support immediate international climate change priorities," wrote Kerry. "The United States must be prepared to contribute its fair share of this obligation."

As we noted yesterday, the European Union is under fire for plans to redirect existing aid money to climate rather than finding new funds. The US, too, will be under pressure to commit significant amounts of new money to help the world's most vulnerable nations. But in the middle of a lingering recession, this will be a tough political sell.

The Democratic National Committee is hammering John McCain today for supporting stripping all Medicare cuts from the health care bill. The charge is hypocrisy, and it's sticky: the health care reform McCain proposed during his run for the presidency was going to be paid for with massive Medicare cuts. A lot of the cuts in the Democrats' bill would be to Medicare Advantage "overpayments" to insurers, which is presumably why Harry Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, told TPM's Brian Beutler that "[McCain,] the self-described foe of all earmarks is with one single amendment providing a big fat wet kiss for his friends in the insurance industry."

Over at The New Republic, Jon Cohn emphasizes that it's not just McCain who looks hypocritical here:

McCain has plenty of company in his hypocrisy. As Volsky goes on to note, many of the Republicans likely to vote in favor of McCain's amendment voted for the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, whichalso called for substantial Medicare cuts. Sam Brownback, Charles Grassley, Jon Kyl... the list goes on..... The reductions in Medicare Republicans are now decrying are more equitable, better targeted, and not even half as large as the ones many of those same Republicans endorsed in the '90s.

Of course, most seniors won't know that Republican Senators have voted to cut nearly $1.6 trillion from Medicare during their tenure. The problem, as Cohn points out, is that "seniors on Medicare don't really care about who's being intellectually consistent and who's being hypocritical. They want to know what's going to happen to their Medicare, period." That's one reason the Republicans are demagoguing on this issue. But the other reason is that they see the writing on the wall. Older Americans are already much more conservative than younger Americans, and they are much more likely to vote. It's fertile recruiting ground. The GOP has had little success reaching out to young people and non-white people. If they can improve their margins among seniors, that might not matter—at least for a while. It's a lifeline. And in this case, it's one that, conveniently enough, makes the insurance companies happy.