Mojo - November 2010

Could Giants Baseball Doom Legal Weed?

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 3:37 PM EDT

[UPDATE: Unless you were watching the riveting Colts-Texans game, you probably heard that yes, the Giants won the World Series and yes, there is some mattress-burning and mayhem around San Francisco's AT&T Park and the Mission neighborhood. Whether or not this interferes with polling precincts tomorrow, or keeps some Bay Area voters home nursing hangovers, you can expect to see plenty of "San Francisco is Sodom with butane lighters" scaremongering on Fox News Channel tomorrow. Which brings up an interesting question: Could the bluest city's baseball prowess not only dampen local voting, but motivate masses of frightened red-staters? MoJo will keep you posted as part of its comprehensive Tuesday election coverage.]

[Editors' note: For a complete rundown of California's Prop 19 ballot prospects, read Josh Harkinson's election-eve story here.]

Could the voters of San Francisco—San Francisco!—screw over California's pot-legalization initiative? Sure, it's the town that gave us Haight, hippies, Beats, and Red America's worst nightmares. But as Election Day hurtles in like a super-skunk high, marijuana-positive citizens may spurn the polls for a new San Francisco tradition: championship baseball.

Tuesday is the day of reckoning for Proposition 19, a ballot initiative that would make weed legal in the Golden State. And surprising though it may seem to their square relatives back East, Californians are not the weed freaks they're purported to be: Recent polls have Prop 19 losing by a small margin. Voter turnout—in particular, among younger voters—will make all the difference.

Enter the San Francisco Giants and their magical playoff run. If ever there was a poster team for pot in pro-sports, this would be it. You've got star pitcher Timmy Lincecum (nickname: The Freak), one o' them thar longhaired hippy kids who was arrested for dope possession in the offseason. (You can't crawl across Market Street in downtown San Fran this postseason without seeing the T-shirt du jour, an orange job featuring Timmy's mug with a pot leaf and the inscription: LET TIM SMOKE). You've got the epic on-air rantings of Dallas sportscaster Newy Scruggs, who was shocked, shocked! to find Giants fans blazing a jay by the bay before Game 1 of the World Series. Then there are the mad antics of Grecian Formula-chinned relief pitcher Brian "Fear the Beard" Wilson and his leather-clad anonymous buddy, The Machine. (For Wilson's sake, we hope there's some Mary Jane involved in his antics.)

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Jim Marshall Runs Against His Own Party

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 2:09 PM EDT

"Everyone vs. Nancy Pelosi" has been one of the featured plays in the GOP playbook this year. Their attempts to nationalize the anti-Pelosi fervor will be tested on Tuesday.

Moderate Dems like Georgia's Jim Marshall are taking a page from that same book. Running against Republican challenger Austin Scott, Marshall has made it clear to voters that if he and the Dems prevail on Tuesday, he won't support Pelosi in another bid for Speaker of the House. He reaffirms his position in a recent ad: 

Running away from your party when it's unpopular is one thing. Actually running against your party on TV? Creative, to say the least.

America's New Isolationism

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 2:09 PM EDT

You'd think that people always seeking "lessons" from war would draw one from our latest wonder weapon, which fights our wars for us without an American in sight. I'm talking, of course, about the drone aircraft that have, in recent years, become a signature form of American war-making. They represent truly advanced technology, with ever newer generations of them in production and on the drawing boards, ones that might some distant day be able to fight actual Terminator wars more or less on their own.

The drones already in the skies over the Pakistani borderlands, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and perhaps other zones of conflict are now celebrated in Washington for their special "precision" in taking out enemies. Like all such weapons, however, they look so much more precise to those using them than to those on whom they are being used. They are also only as good as the intelligence that sends the missiles and bombs towards targets on the ground, which means that such weaponry will always, repetitively, kill innocent civilians (and sometimes only them). Don't be fooled by the stories that invariably describe the latest drone attack as taking out so many "suspected militants." It ain't necessarily so.

A GOP Wave...or a Tsunami?

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 2:07 PM EDT

The day before the election, pollsters are predicting that the Democratic wipeout could be even bigger than expected. There's no question that the GOP will take the House, but Gallup suggests that Republican net gains could give their party a bigger House majority than any party has achieved before:

The final USA Today/Gallup measure of Americans' voting intentions for Congress shows Republicans continuing to hold a substantial lead over Democrats among likely voters…Gallup's analysis of several indicators of voter turnout from the weekend poll suggests turnout will be slightly higher than in recent years, at 45%. This would give the Republicans a 55% to 40% lead on the generic ballot, with 5% undecided...

It should be noted, however, that this year's 15-point gap in favor of the Republican candidates among likely voters is unprecedented in Gallup polling and could result in the largest Republican margin in House voting in several generations. This means that seat projections have moved into uncharted territory, in which past relationships between the national two-party vote and the number of seats won may not be maintained.

The GOP needs to win just 39 Democratic seats to take the House, but projections are now up to 60 seats or more, with over 100 seats in play. And if Republicans end up on with an overwhelmingly majority, they will feel even more emboldened to find every conceivable way to block the Democratic agenda, arguing that voters gave them the mandate to do so. They'll probably even try to find legislative means to roll back legislation, like health care, that's already been passed. Moreover, if the GOP succeeds in the top-of-the-ballot congressional races, that's likely to have an effect on state legislative and gubernatorial races because some voters will go for a straight-party ticket. As my colleague Nick Baumann points out, the outcomes of those races will decide who's in charge of redrawing the Congressional map in 2011—a process that could cement GOP House victories for the next decade.

On the Senate side, Public Policy Polling's final election eve numbers suggest that the Democrats might be just barely hang onto a majority, with Barbara Boxer in California and Joe Manchin in West Virginia predicted to win. Even if Democrats lost Senate seats in Colorado, Washington, and Nevada—the three closest toss-up races—they'd still hang onto a 51-seat majority. That will give the Democrats barely any maneuvering room, promising gridlock and potential GOP legislative victories if even a few Democrats (or Independent Joe Lieberman) defect. But given the dire political landscape for the Dems this year, it seems like the most they can hope for.

How many seats do you think Republicans will take in the House and Senate?

Outside Groups Make the Final Push

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 12:30 PM EDT

The Sunlight Foundation is keeping close tabs on independent expenditures this election, and those figures offer a good sense of where outside groups are placing their attention—and money—in the final hours before Americans head to the polls.

In the final push, the tight Nevada Senate race, which pits Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid against Republican Sharron Angle, is one outside spending hot spot. Conservative group Let Freedom Ring spent $36,500 today on a television ad targeting Reid, who according to the latest poll is down by three points. That brings the group's total spending on the Reid-Angle match up to more than $157,000. Reid has been the target of a lot of outside spending this year, with outside groups spending $7.2 million to unseat Reid, while just $1.2 million spent has by outside groups in support of the embattled Majority Leader. Outside groups have spent another $2.4 million on efforts in support of Angle, while $4.4 million has been spent on ads against her.

Another big target is Patty Murray in Washington, another senior Democrat in a tough race this year. Groups have spent $8 million opposing Murray. Another $6.7 million has been spent on ads against her opponent, Republican Dino Rossi. The most recent polls show Rossi ahead by one point.

Outside spending has smashed records for midterms, with $443 million spent on races this year. Democrats and Republicans have both benefited from the splurge, though Republican candidates have drawn slightly more backing. While $194.8 million has been spent on ads either supporting Republicans or bashing their Democratic opponents, $176.1 million has been spent on Democratic ads.

The Republican Party of Michigan has emerged as the biggest spender in the past five days, at $1.26 million. It's putting it's money behind former Rep. Tim Walberg, who is running against Rep. Mark Schauer, the Democrat who defeated him in 2008; also benefitting from the spending spree is Rocky Raczkowski, who's taking on Democratic incumbent Rep. Gary Peters.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is also pouring money into close races at the last minute, spending $1.17 million in just the past five days.

Obama Aide Backs Child Soldier Policy

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 12:06 PM EDT

Last week, Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin broke the story that the Obama White House had decided to quietly waive sanctions against four countries—Chad, Yemen, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—that use child soldiers. Through the International Military Education and Training (IMET) fund, the United States supports a number of military training and counter terrorism programs in each of these countries. If the Obama adminstration had adhered to 2008's Child Soldiers Prevention Act—a law the president himself co-sponsored when he served in the Senate—that funding should have been yanked. Instead, the administration effectively gave the four offending countries a pass, with the State Department arguing that withdrawing the assistance would jeopardize America's ability to "positively influence the negative behavoir patterns currently exhibited."

Naturally, the decision to waive sanctions angered human rights activists and others who believed the adminstration was caving on a key issue. On Friday the White House hosted a conference call to smooth things over with Hill staffers and represenatives of NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and World Vision. On the White House end of the line was Samantha Power, the National Security Council's senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights. "Given the way you all heard about the implementation of the statute," she said on the call, "I can understand why some of the reactions that you had were prevalent."

Power covered the wars in the Balkans in the mid-'90s before attending Harvard Law School. She's also a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and authored the Pulitzer-prize winning A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a sweeping history of the persisting causes of genocide. In it, Power argues that countries like the United States must consider how their interests in other parts of the world profoundly shape those countries' human rights equations.

Power's book doesn’t let anyone off the hook, so it's more than a little jarring to hear that Power was forced to defend the White House's non-announcement of the controversial waiver. Participants on the call argued that the four countries have had plenty of time to adapt to the Child Soldier Prevention Act's rules on child soldiers, and that military aid hasn't had any palpable impact on reforming their practices so far. Even worse, the United States loses leverage over those four countries by forgoing sanctions. Power said that the Obama administration still plans to fight the use of child soldiers, and warn Chad, Yemen, Sudan, and the DRC that they wont get off so easy next time.

From Rogin:

Power repeatedly attempted to argue that the attention over the president's decision to waive sanctions was exactly the kind of public pressure needed to spur violator governments to change. However, her argument was complicated by the fact that the administration failed to tell anyone about the decision and announced it with no rollout or explanation whatsoever.

Power's knack for spin isn't why she was brought onto the Obama campaign as an advisor back in 2008 and later given a job on the NSC. Presumably it was her staunch commitment to human rights, which was in line with Obama's own campaign pledges on the subject. Working as a top aide to the president, though, she's required to sell his policies. But you have to wonder if she's actually on board with this one.

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Photo Finish for Florida Guv

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 9:39 AM EDT

Down in the Sunshine State, it's a nail-biter of a governor's race, with a new poll released today, on the morning before Election Day, showing Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Rick Scott neck and neck. The poll, released by Quinnipiac University, puts Sink, the state's chief financial officer, ahead of health-care executive Scott by a single percentage point, 44 to 43. Other candidates claim 4 percent in the poll, while 9 percent are undecided.

Sink may be ahead, but it looks like her momentum is slipping on the eve of Election Day. In a Quinnipiac poll from last week, Sink led Scott by 4 points. Here's more from the Miami Herald's Naked Politics blog:

Sink remains slightly better-liked, with 43 percent of voters having a favorable opinion and 40 percent an unfavorable one. Scott remains upside-down: 50 percent view him negatively; 39 percent positively. Sink is also favored by independents (47-34) and draws slightly more Republican votes (10 percent) than Scott (5 percent).

The poll also finds 9 percent of voters say they might change their minds. That's probably doubtful. If there's any change of heart, it could involve not going to the polls. And that would likely hurt Sink. Despite the closeness of the race, Sink remains behind right now, with Republicans vastly outperforming Democrats in votes cast by early and absentee ballots. If Sink fails to inspire rank-and-file Democrats tomorrow, call him Gov. Rick Scott.

And because you've read this far, and have soldiered through this bitter, contentious, attack-heavy election season, here's some lighter fare for you. (Teaser: It's Alex Sink dancing to "Dangerous" by Akon. Judgment withheld.)

A GOP Sweep in Pennsylvania?

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 8:22 AM EDT

Despite President Obama's last-gasp visit to Pennsylvania this weekend to drum up Democratic votes and the First Lady's own scheduled rally today, it looks like a GOP sweep is on the cards in that state's hotly contested Senate and gubernatorial races. A new survey by Public Policy Polling shows a GOP double-win, albeit by slimmer margins than previously expected, in the Joe Sestak-Pat Toomey senate race and Dan Onorato-Tom Corbett battle for the governor's mansion.

According to PPP, Toomey, former president of the conservative Club for Growth, leads Sestak, a House congressman, by a 5-point margin, 51 percent to 46 percent. The gap is the gubernatorial race is slightly wider, with Corbett leading Onorato by 7 points, 52 percent to 45 percent.

The driving force behind this latest surge in support for Pennsylvania's GOP candidates? Obama-weary Democrats. As PPP's Tom Jensen noted over the weekend, 21 percent of Democrats in Pennsylvania disapprove of Obama—and more importantly, those jaded Democrats are breaking for Republicans Toomey and Corbett by margins of 68-23 and 69-25, respectively. Jensen adds:

What that leads to overall is 15-19 percent of Democrats voting Republican in these two races. Meanwhile GOP voters are extremely unified, giving each of their nominees 88 percent. Independents are splitting pretty evenly so it is that party unity advantage that has the GOP candidates in a position to win here.

As is the case for him throughout the Midwest Obama's very unpopular in Pennsylvania with 54 percent of voters disapproving of him to just 40 percent who think he's doing a good job. Outgoing Governor Ed Rendell has also fallen strongly out of favor, posting only a 34 percent approval number while 53 percent of voters disapprove of him. As we saw in Wisconsin earlier this week the combination of an unpopular Democratic President and an unpopular Democratic Governor has the potential to be lethal for the party's hopes of keeping some of these offices under their control.

How to Speak to the Taliban, Maybe [VIDEO]

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

This week Gen. David Petraeus's latest "advancing to the rear" war tactic takes effect. As of Monday, all US troops stationed in Afghanistan will now need to demonstrate some proficiency in Dari, a Persian-based dialect spoken by half the Afghan population.

"Even a few phrases really breaks the ice and just shows good intentions," Petraeus told a military interviewer in a puff piece extolling FRAGO ("fragmentary order") 10-32.

Too bad soldiers and military experts don't share his enthusiasm. "Luckily, none of the Taliban or the communities they control speak Pashto, Urdu, Punjabi, or Arabic. Learning those would be silly," says Joshua Foust, an Afghanistan researcher and writer for PBS's Need to Know.

Foust has a point. The original Afghan Taliban speak Pashto, the language of the Pashtun ethnic group that straddles the border with Pakistan. By the CIA's own estimation, half of Afghans speak one of thirtysomething languages other than Dari. Critical shortages of Afghan language experts have plagued post-9/11 US military efforts. Even when officers host local "shuras" with tribal leaders to generate face-to-face goodwill with Afghan civilians, firsthand videos—like Sebastian Junger's and Tim Hetherington's Restrepo—show the futility get-togethers can be useless. "[It's] immediately obvious, from the language barrier, to the total opposition of priorities, to the relentless references to former squad leaders whose approach to community relations left much to be desired," writes one reviewer of Restrepo. (Having seen the film, and similar local council powwows in Iraq, I won't disagree.)

Not only that, the nature of military bureaucracy means FRAGO 10-32 will probably amount to nothing. Fragmentary orders are on-the-fly commands issued as updates to standing military policies in a given war theater. In a theater as fast-changing and unfavorable as Afghanistan, such orders are as abundant as flies on a far—and about as powerful, too. "You know how many FRAGOs are out there? And how many are ignored?" tweets Captain Crispin Burke, an Army pilot who writes extensively on counterinsurgency.

So what gives with Petraeus' order? Is it simply sheer optimism? Maybe not. Some reports indicate that the general is trying to set the groundwork for a US withdrawal by shoring up security in major centers like Kabul and Kandahar, and ceding much of the territory that's already held by the Taliban and other anti-NATO elements. Those disputed territories are generally in regions where Dari won't get you very far, but GIs might find Dari for Beginners more useful in the populated areas that they'll be reinforcing: It's the lingua franca for most political communication in the country.

That's not losing, maybe, but it's definitely advancing to the rear. And as a strategy, it doesn't inspire great confidence even among military officers. As one NATO soldier told the New York Times recently, if the Taliban makes a big comeback in populated areas, "Then we'll know that it didn't work."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 1, 2010

Mon Nov. 1, 2010 4:30 AM EDT

With his wingman, Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill, by his side, Gen. David H. Petraeus praises 160 Soldiers with the 4th Cavalry, 10th Mountain Division for their patriotism and dedication to duty before reenlisting them in the U.S. Army. Petraeus, commander of NATO and International Security Assistance Force troops in Afghanistan, traveled to Camp Spann near Mazar e Sharif in Balkh Province to preside over the mass reenlistment ceremony. Hill is ISAF's top enlisted Soldier. Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Lorie Jewell