Mojo - August 2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 12, 2010

Thu Aug. 12, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

 

While providing medical aid to the people of the village of Narin in the Faryab province of Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Jessica Walla, a medic with 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery of the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, examines the feet and legs of a baby girl, on July 26, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Spc. Blair Neelands.

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"No More Mosques, Period"

| Wed Aug. 11, 2010 4:32 PM EDT

Bryan Fischer, the public face of the right-wing American Family Association, wants to make something abundantly clear:

"Permits should not be granted to build even one more mosque in the United States of America, let alone the monstrosity planned for Ground Zero. This is for one simple reason: each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government."

As evidence for this claim, Fischer cites a flyer distributed by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1991, which is sort of like drawing broad conclusions about all Christians from a flyer distributed by...well, the American Family Association.

Nevertheless, Fischer persists in committing his mortal sins against logic and constitutional jurisprudence:

Because of this subversive ideology, Muslims cannot claim religious freedom protections under the First Amendment. They are currently using First Amendment freedoms to make plans to destroy the First Amendment altogether. There is no such thing as freedom of religion in Islam, and it is sheer and utter folly for Americans to delude themselves into thinking otherwise...

...American Muslims are being radicalized every single day in American mosques. We are sowing the seeds of our own destruction by allowing these improvised explosive devices to be established in community after community.

If a mosque was willing to publicly renounce the Koran and its 109 verses that call for the death of infidels, renounce Allah and his messenger Mohammed, publicly condemn Osama bin Laden, Hamas, and Abdelbaset al Megrahi (the Lockerbie bomber), maybe then they could be allowed to build their buildings. But then they wouldn’t be Muslims at that point, now would they?

I have to admit, I thought this new "Muslims don't rate First Amendment freedom" meme was a joke when it surfaced last week in Tennessee. But apparently it's going national.

A quick word on the source. Last year, MoJo's Nick Baumann documented how Fischer and the AFA lobbied to bar Muslims from serving in the military. A few months after that, I documented how Fischer said a Sea World trainer who was killed by a whale had it coming, for arcane biblical reasons. From that post, here's everything you need to know about the folks who want to criminalize Islam:

Fischer—who moved to the AFA last year from the Idaho Values Alliance, and who is ironically dubbed a "friend of life" on his AFA bio—has never been the smartest parishioner in the pew, whether it's arguing that gay judges can't be fair or that the US military should ban Muslims.

But this is a new low, one that the AFA should probably distance itself from pretty quickly. The organization states one of its goals as "promoting the Christian ethic of decency." As a Christian—a subscriber to a rather rigorous and considered scriptural tradition—I find nothing decent in Bryan Fischer's tirade. Except that his position on killing animals fits pretty decently with this faux-faith organization's position on killing convicts, too.

Is Dan Quayle's Son's "Obama" Rip Serious?

| Wed Aug. 11, 2010 1:58 PM EDT

OK, maybe after the first year and a half of Barack Obama's tenure, and after death panels and tea parties, America was prepared for the likes of the birthers, the Tenthers, the Fourteenthers, Sharron Angle, and Rand Paul.

But no one expects a Quayle rehabilitation.

And yet Ben Quayle is running for Congress. In Arizona. On a platform of "I don't like Barack Obama" (At least he didn't say "Barack HUSSEIN Obama"):

Ben, 34, is the privileged child of the privileged former vice president and simple mind Dan Quayle. Dan Quayle is one of the worst, dumbest, most disastrous vice presidential picks ever, according to Time, the Guardian, Esquire, Murphy Brown, and most folks who are old enough to actually remember the 1980s and '90s. (As MoJo pointed out in 2002, Quayle the elder can also count 9/11 and racial insensitivity among the many things he doesn't understand.)

All of Dan Quayle's foibles and fumbles while a heartbeat away from the Oval Office also served to distract from one plain truth: In 1969, as he became draft-eligible, Quayle had his wealthy grandfather call up a National Guard general he knew to get some strings pulled and keep Quayle out of Vietnam. Quayle served in the Indiana National Guard. In 1975, when the US withdrew from Vietnam, Quayle suddenly left the Guard.

But what of the son, you ask? Should he have to atone for his father's sins? 

When you're campaigning on the assumption that Barack Obama's 567 days of tenure so far make him the worst executive officeholder in US history, and your father is a (painful) part of the nation's executive history...well, what do you think, MoJo reader?

By the by, Ben Quayle isn't exactly bereft of baggage himself. The sudden bastion of Arizonan civic duty has never voted in a local election. He has, however, written extensively about "chasing chicks" under a porn-name pseudonym for the website TheDirty.com. Back in February, about the best thing a Phoenix newpaper could say about Ben Quayle was: "As far as we know, Quayle's never used an infant as a prop," a stunt once employed by his predecessor in the Arizona 3rd District.

Six months later, Quayle was using infants as props.

This is really a weird election year.

A GOP Governor Takeover?

| Wed Aug. 11, 2010 12:21 PM EDT

Congressional campaigns have dominated 2010 election coverage, given the Democrats' precarious grip on majorities in both Houses. But the New York Times explains how much is at stake beyond Capitol Hill. Both parties have poured millions of dollars into governors' races across the country, given the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts that will happen in every state next year. Redistricting happens only every ten years after the US Census is taken, but the process—which is supposed to adjust districts according to demographic changes—has historically been subject to intense politicking and gerrymandering by the party in power.

Governors typically play a key role in overseeing the redistricting process, along with state legislatures—which is partly why the Republican Governors Association has already dumped $11 million into gubernatorial bids. Their Democratic counterpart has pledged to spend $40 million overall in races this year, three times the amount they've spent in the past. And there's even more that's at stake in this particular election cycle, the Times adds:

The results in the Midwest will also help to define crucial party organizing efforts leading up to the 2012 presidential campaign in some of the most coveted, up-for-grab states — like Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. A governor, the thinking goes, can open fund-raising doors, get-out-the-vote operations and volunteer lists for his or her party’s presidential candidate.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, the same factors that have dampened the party's prospects in Congressional races extend to the state-level races as well. Moreover, state budget woes have already taken a toll on social services and other immediate, concrete benefits that voters receive. Such fiscal woes are largely due to the poor economy, compounded by Republican obstructionism that held up the extension of aid to state governments. But it will be much harder for Democratic gubernatorial contenders to make that argument convincingly to voters who may be quick to blame the party in power. Certainly, some Democratic gubernatorial contenders in hotly contested states—like Bill White, the Democratic candidate in Texas—are working to distance themselves as much as possible from their Washington counterparts.

Why Have Hispanics Soured on Obama?

| Wed Aug. 11, 2010 12:00 PM EDT

Along with Hispanic voters, Hispanic media leaders have begun to sour on President Obama given their failure to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul. On the campaign trail, Obama vowed to pass immigration reform—a promise that he has repeated every few months or so. But Congressional gridlock on the issue has fueled frustration within that both Obama and the Democrats aren't doing enough.

On Wednesday, Politico spoke to Univision's Jorge Ramos—who's considered the "Walter Cronkrite of Spanish-language media." Ramos discussed his disillusionment with Obama and cited his growing "credibility problem right now with Latinos." Other commentators and editorial boards feel similarly disappointed: La Opinion, the country's biggest Spanish-language paper, blasted Obama's big immigration speech last month by titling its editorial "words are not enough." As it turns out, Hispanic voters' approval of Obama has been dropping at a faster rate than either white or black voters'—from 69 percent in January to 57 percent in May, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The Obama administration did take a political risk in filing suit against the Arizona law—which the majority of the public supports—successfully blocking the most controversial parts of the measure from taking effect. But the lawsuit has been the exception to the rule: nearly every other major action that Obama and Congressional Democrats have taken on immigration has resulted in ramped up border enforcement and deportation crackdowns that have targeted illegal immigrants. On Tuesday, the House passed a $600 million enforcement bill that included funds for 1,500 border agents, unmanned drones, and "military-style bases along the border." The Senate passed a similar bill, and Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to re-open the chamber during the August recess to put the final version through. Similarly, the Obama administration has recently expanded a fingerprinting program that would make it easier to target and deport undocumented immigrants who are convicted of non-immigration related crimes.

Quote of the Day: Jeff Greene, Ice Cream

| Wed Aug. 11, 2010 10:51 AM EDT

From Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fl.) directed at his Democratic opponent, Jeff Greene, in last night's US Senate primary debate:

"Your life is a question mark and every day we learn about your business dealings and how you treat your employees and how you come up with versions of why you went to Cuba and why you didn't go to Cuba. You have more versions of why you went to Cuba than Baskins Robbins has ice cream."

As this utterance suggests, last night's Meek-Greene debate was short on, well, debating, and looked more like Ali-Spinks (the first version, that is). Indeed, the entire Meek-Greene race has devolved into a big, bruising slugfest. One day Meek's campaign blasts out an email titled "One Investigative Story, One Editorial, And One Terrible Day for Jeff Greene" and the next Greene rips Meek for his ties to security contracting company Wackenhut. And 'round and 'round it goes.

That's not to say seamy ties and skeletons in the closet—or, in this case, Cadillacs of dubious origin and vomit-caked yachts—don't matter. They do, sort of. But when they consume an entire campaign, as last night's debate showed, leaving little oxygen in the room to address issues of social and economic policy, of fixing Florida's jobless crisis or housing debacle, then we have a problem. No wonder Americans are so pissed off at Congress and disillusioned by American politics.

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Big-Money Bennet Handily Wins CO Primary

| Wed Aug. 11, 2010 8:54 AM EDT

Sen. Michael Bennet, the Obama administration-backed candidate in Tuesday's Colorado Democratic primary, glided to an easy victory over former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff, winning his party's US Senate nomination 54 percent to 45 percent with most precincts reporting. Despite staging a late comeback in the polls, and unleashing a barrage of attack ads revolving around past financial dealings of Bennet's, Romanoff, the more liberal candidate, never closed the cash gap—heading into the primary vote, Romanoff had raised only $1.96 million while Bennet had raised $7.7 million. It's that financial advantage, coupled with the Obama grassroots machine's support for Bennet, that likely helped the former Denver Public Schools chief come out on top.

Bennet will now defend his Senate seat against Republican Ken Buck, the district attorney for Colorado's Weld County, in the general election this fall. Buck defeated former lieutenant governor Jane Norton by a slim margin Tuesday, 51 percent to 48 percent.

According to Public Policy Polling, Tuesday's results in Colorado set up what could be a tight race for November, with Bennet edging out Buck 46-43 in a November projection. Complicating the picture, PPP found, is the sheer dislike of both candidates as voiced by voters. In August, 48 percent of voters said they didn't like Bennet, and 46 percent said they didn't like Buck. So while Bennet might have a small edge right now, the likely winner in November is anyone's guess.

From a campaign finance perspective, Bennet's victory on Tuesday marked a win for big, deep-pocketed donors over small contributors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, only 10 percent of Bennet's donations came from people giving $200 or less; Romanoff, on the other hand, raised 62 percent of his funds from small donors. (These totals are through July 21, the last day covered by Colorado election reports.) The GOP's Ken Buck, meanwhile, saw 50 percent of his donations come from small voters. Now, with Bennet squaring off against Buck, we'll see whether the GOP's grassroots efforts can match the fundraising prowess of the well-connected, wealthy Bennet. 

Does Elizabeth Warren Matter Politically?

| Wed Aug. 11, 2010 6:10 AM EDT

A friend emails to express skepticism about the potential appointment of bailout cop Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (I added the bits in brackets):

Why do people [e.g. Paul Krugman and Newsweek and our own Reid Cramer] keep saying that appointing Elizabeth Warren would be a "political winner" with independents, or even liberals? If one percent of the population knows her name, I will be shocked. She's an unknown wonk who would be attacked just like [Medicare head Donald Berwick] was. Literally the only people who will be disappointed if she isn't nominated will be the people saying EVERYONE will be disappointed.

What am I missing?

There's definitely an element of truth to this. Even liberal populists can get caught up in the DC circus and forget that the things they care about aren't even mentioned at most dinner tables. There's no doubt that Warren is highly, and perhaps uniquely, qualified for the position. (The banks' vehement opposition to her nomination suggests as much.) But despite her Dr. Phil appearances (they're old pals) and best-selling books, I doubt many Americans know who she is.

In the long run, the administration's will be well-served by an efficient and well-run CFPA with a hard-charging director. Warren could be that director. But no one should pretend that Barack Obama or the Democrats are going to get a big boost in their approval ratings for appointing a Harvard prof to run a bureau many Americans probably don't haven't even heard of yet. The economy is bad. Until they fix that, no amount of Warren magic is going to save them.

(Reid Cramer disagrees, though.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 11, 2010

Wed Aug. 11, 2010 2:58 AM EDT

 

BAGHDAD - Capt. Michael Barnette, chaplain for Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, gives a stuffed squirrel to an Iraqi boy during a humanitarian aid drop conducted June 26 by Soldiers from the battalion. Fifty bags of food, along with bottled water and toys, were distributed to the population living on the outskirts of Baghdad just outside of Contingency Operating Station Falcon. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mary Katzenberger, 1st AAB, 3rd Inf. Div., USD-C) An Iraqi father kisses his son as they leave a humanitarian aid drop conducted, on June 26, by Soldiers of Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. Photo via the US Army by Sgt. Mary Katzenberger. [Correction: Our original caption was copied from an incorrect caption on the U.S. Army's Flickr page. This is the correct caption.]

Obama's First Military Tribunal Tries Child Soldier Tortured at Bagram and Gitmo

| Tue Aug. 10, 2010 2:04 PM EDT

Today, the Obama Administration begins its first trial of a prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay. The defendant is Omar Khadr, a Canadian national who was 15 when his alleged crime took place eight years ago. Since that time, Khadr has been abused, threatened, and held is solitary confinement for long periods at both Bagram and Gitmo. Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First, who is at Gitmo covering the trial, deduces why the administration has chosen to have a former child soldier tried by a military commission, rather than in civilian court:     

Perhaps the government hopes that Khadr’s statements, which he claims were extracted by various kinds of torture and abuse, will be allowed into court as evidence. Although Khadr’s lawyer hasn’t yet had the opportunity to present all the evidence of his client’s treatment at Bagram and at Guantanamo Bay, what’s come out at pretrial hearings so far is that when Khadr was captured by U.S. soldiers in July 2002, the teenager had been shot twice in the back, blinded in one eye and had a face peppered with shrapnel. Interrogators at the Bagram air base took to calling him “Buckshot Bob.” But that didn’t stop them from interrogating him while he was still recovering from life-threatening wounds and strapped to a hospital gurney. Using what the military calls a “fear up” technique, an interrogator testified, Khadr was told a story about another prison just like him who refused to cooperate – and who then was gang-raped and killed in an American prison.

Official documents also reveal that at Guantanamo, Khadr was subjected to the military’s “frequent flyer” program — meaning he was moved every three hours for weeks at a time to keep him from sleeping prior to interrogations. So just how reliable are the statements he made, either at Bagram or at Guantanamo?…

Now 23, Khadr, has been interviewed by dozens of interrogators, each time led to believe that his cooperation would spare him from violence and lead to his release. He told interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear, but that release never happened. If Khadr had been imprisoned in the United States, he would have been tried and either convicted or released long ago. But instead, Khadr has been held without trial on a secluded prison camp in Cuba for nearly a decade with little opportunity to defend himself.

More detail on Khadr’s treatment appears in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary William Gates, jointly signed by the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and the Juvenile Law Center.