Mojo - September 2011

Tim Pawlenty Endorses Mitt Romney for President

| Mon Sep. 12, 2011 7:46 AM PDT
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who ditched his flailing presidential bid early this month, publicly endorsed another ex-governor, Mitt Romney, for president on Monday morning. In his endorsement letter, Pawlenty rips President Obama for failing to jumpstart America's economy, and claims that "the standing of the United States appears uncertain and adrift under the failed leadership of a president who prefers chastising allies to condemning foes."

That, apparently, is where Mitt comes in. Here's Pawlenty:

Alone among the contenders, he possesses the unique qualifications to confront and master our severe economic predicament. His abiding faith in our country's exceptional historical position as a beacon of freedom will make him the most important leader in a world that depends upon a strong America to stay at peace.

Having served as Governor of Massachusetts, he turned that state's budget around from deficit to surplus while simultaneously cutting taxes, but that is not the full measure of what he will bring to the Presidency. His time in government was a moment of service—a way to give back to our country-following a distinguished career in the private sector, where he launched companies and turned around troubled ones.

When the 2002 Winter Olympics were on the verge of collapse thanks to a bid-rigging scandal, Romney was asked to take over. The attacks of September 11 created a security nightmare. Romney presided over a highly complex security mobilization, addressed the management troubles plaguing the games, and staged one of the most memorable competitions ever seen on American soil.

Romney is running for president because he is deeply committed to our country, troubled by its current condition, and I believe he can turn it around.

Pawlenty and Romney butted heads plenty on the campaign trail when the Minnesotan was still in the race. T-Paw bashed Romney for signing a universal health care bill into law in Massachusetts, claiming Romney's reform plan was so identical to Obama's Affordable Care Act that they both deserved the moniker "Obamneycare."

But in the end, it was Pawlenty's hesitance to attack Romney—on health care, on flip-flopping, you name it—that many pundits believe doomed him, a sign of weakness that prevented Pawlenty from ever catching fire in Iowa or New Hampshire. That, and a shortage of cash—something Mitt Romney, a man worth between $190 million and $250 million, doesn't have to worry about.

Perhaps Pawlenty's early endorsement is an effort curry favor with Romney and get a leg up on a vice presidential nod should Romney claim the Republican nomination. But a new CNN poll shows shows Romney 12 points behind Texas Gov. Rick Perry among likely GOP voters. Romney will need far more than Pawlenty's endorsement to close that gap.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Cheney's Torture Tour

| Mon Sep. 12, 2011 7:04 AM PDT
Former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Party like it's 2009: Dick Cheney is making the rounds to promote his new memoir, In My Time, and rehashing the same arguments about torture and national security he was making in the early months of Obama's presidency. Based on an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute last week, Cheney hasn't come up with much new material. Josh Rogin reports that ex-VP is still insisting that waterboarding was both effective and not torture:

"The notion that somehow the United States was torturing anybody is not true," Cheney told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute at an event to promote his new book. "Three people were waterboarded and the one who was subjected most often to that was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and it produced phenomenal results for us." "Another key point that needs to be made was that the techniques that we used were all previously used on Americans," Cheney went on. "All of them were used in training for a lot of our own specialists in the military. So there wasn't any technique that we used on any al Qaeda individual that hadn't been used on our own troops first, just to give you some idea whether or not we were ‘torturing' the people we captured."

As usual torture defenders want it both ways: They want to insist that torturing detainees was necessary to effectively interrogate them but that waterboarding isn't torture. American servicemembers are waterboarded to prepare them to resist...torture. It might seem obvious that the non-simulated application of torture is torture, but I also exchanged emails with former Navy Intelligence Officer and SERE instructor Malcolm Nance, who explained the distinction:

At SERE we are in fact applying a real torture technique in a demonstration environment, but the intent is completely different. That’s the difference between torture and training. The training intent is equal experience to that of cops who get tasered or pilots who get dunked underwater or an ejection seat simulator. It is done so that they are aware of the effects and methodologies of an enemy’s worst methods but in a safe environment.

This is professionally known as "Stress inoculation." A SERE student will be aware of his environment is a simulation, in the United States under the hands of professionals and that they will be in Taco Bell within hours. They also know that the technique is real but the intent is for him or her to be exposed to real enemy techniques in order to be prepared to endure far worse levels. They also get to practice their own methods to foil the interrogator. Stress inoculation is the entire being of SERE, it takes an unprepared trainee and gives them a small glimpse into what a real torturer will do.

The Bush administration decision to turn Stress Inoculation into a real torture regime is a beacon to the fact that they wanted to punish these guys. There was no scientific or experiential data to support its choice. It means that either the decision-makers were not fully briefed on the history of its ineffectiveness or they deliberately ignoring its ineffectiveness. The military had dozens of studies and hundreds of case studies of torture’s ineffectiveness on captive American service members over the centuries. Until 91/11 It was official DoD policy that torture does not work. Every SERE student is taught that.

As for getting "phenomenal results" from waterboarding alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the CIA Inspector General's report on the subject was inconclusive—with the author noting that "you could not in good conscience reach a definitive conclusion about whether any specific technique was especially effective, or [whether] the enhanced techniques in the aggregate really worked." Of course, what we know now is that when it came to tracking down Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, KSM lied despite being subjected to waterboarding, as did other detainees who were tortured. Cheney seems to think those are "phenomenal results."

Bush apologists have been trying for months to credit brutal interrogation techniques for the discovery Osama bin Laden's hideout, all evidence to the contrary. Torture in fact, harmed the America's intelligence collection efforts post-9/11, at least according to former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan. In his new memoir, he writes that the Bush administration's fixation on torture, FBI agents ceased participating in interrogations, "meaning that some of the government’s most knowledgeable experts were unable to speak with the most important terrorists." That claim is difficult to evaluate, but Cheney's claims about waterboarding are false on their face.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 12, 2011

Mon Sep. 12, 2011 2:57 AM PDT

Sgt. Kevin Fischer, Sight Security Team 1st Battalion 161st Field Artillery, signals his security team to fill in the security perimeter, August 22, 2011, in the deserts of Djibouti. US Army photo by Specialist Michelle C. Lawrence.

 

This Week in National Insecurity: 9/11 Remembrance Edition

| Fri Sep. 9, 2011 3:55 PM PDT

It is the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and petty politics continue as usual. Here's what's happening, 9/11-related and otherwise, on the national security front.

First, the non-anniversary-related intel:

  • The Pentagon's spokesman, who spent the past four years talking up the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, takes a new job: Now he's BP's PR man.
  • NATO declares "Mission Accomplished" in Libya, kinda sorta.
  • Congress' Commission on Wartime Contracting releases its final report, from which we assemble a greatest-hits list of top ten all-time worst war contractor boondoggles. If you can stomach roads that cost $2 billion a mile, oranges flying first-class, and crateloads of KBR, read on.

There's much that's related to 9/11, though, that's also worth knowing:

How Debt Can Help Save America

| Fri Sep. 9, 2011 3:33 PM PDT

While the structure of what President Obama has proposed to get jobs fired up throughout the nation is an excellent beginning, there will be those—including myself—who believe that far more has to be committed to the investment side of the proposal to really make a serious difference.

While there is no disputing the importance of the investment being made for badly needed school modernization, the amount left for spending on important infrastructure repairs to our roads and bridges, while also taking a significant step forward in bringing our transportation system into the 21st century, falls far short of what is required to make a real impact.

Yes, there are political realities. If the President is going to be constrained by only making those investments that he can pay for by raising taxes on the wealthy and highly profitable corporations or by cutting elements from the other federal programs, it is going to be impossible to get the job done.

But there is a way. It's called debt.

Republican New Mexico Governor Says Her Grandfather Was Undocumented

| Fri Sep. 9, 2011 12:53 PM PDT
Susana Martinez, the Republican governor of New Mexico, recently admitted that her grandfather was an undocumented immigrant.

New Mexico Republican Governor Susana Martinez, an immigration restrictionist who recently went after Texas Governor Rick Perry on the Laura Ingraham Show for signing a bill extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants, has admitted that her grandfather was undocumented.

Martinez's admission came Wednesday in an interview in Spanish with KLUZ-TV, the Albuquerque Univision affiliate, the Associated Press says.

"I know they arrived without documents, especially my father's father," she said.

Martinez has referred to "illegal immigrants" in the past, so it's notable that she opts for the less pejorative description "without documents" when referring to her grandfather. Here’s Martinez' full answer to Ingraham, in response to her question about whether she supported Rick Perry's approach to immigration:

"No, I don't. It is not comprehensive reform to put people who are here illegally, who violated the law, and put them in front of the line for those folks who have been waiting and doing all the right things to come to the United States, to come here legally, and/or to become a citizen. We cannot allow those folks to just jump the line."

In other words, Martinez wouldn't support the kind of immigration reform that would have granted legal status to someone like her grandfather. A spokesperson for Martinez later told Politico she wasn’t criticizing Perry in particular.

Seventy-nine Republicans in the House have signed onto Iowa Rep. Steve King's proposal to repeal birthright citizenship, and four Republicans in the Senate have signed onto a similar proposal from Louisiana's David Vitter. Fortunately for Martinez, the bills do not retroactively repeal citizenship for the descendants of the undocumented, human beings Republicans often derisively refer to as "anchor babies." It's almost like Republicans understand that you shouldn't punish people for decisions made by their parents. You can't take that kind of logic too far though—then you end up supporting something like the DREAM Act. That would be really bad, because someday one of those children, or their children's children, could end up doing something terrible, like getting elected governor of a state.

On the other hand, the possibility of Martinez ending up as a 2012 veep candidate? That might be over.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Anti-Gay Heavy Metal Pastor Pens Open Letter to Obama

| Fri Sep. 9, 2011 12:35 PM PDT

Minnesota heavy-metal evangelist Bradlee Dean is currently suing Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, and the Minnesota Independent for $50 million for accurately quoting his statements that homosexuality is a criminal activity with no place in public life. We first wrote about him because of his ties to Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has spoken at fundraisers for Dean's ministry, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, and prayed for the group to multiply tenfold and spread across Minnesota like "burning incense." Shortly thereafter, he was invited to deliver the opening prayer at the Minnesota State House—an opportunity he used to allege that President Obama was our first non-Christian president. Hey, it's a theory that's out there.

Anyway, while he prepares for what is sure to be the trial of the century, Dean has decided to write an open letter to President Obama. It begins:

Courtesy of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide InternationalCourtesy of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide InternationalDean goes on to promote his ministry, which involves traveling to public schools on the taxpayer dime to encourage students to find Christ, and takes the President to task for his appointment of a gay man, Kevin Jennings, to a post as Safe Schools Czar. It's our generation's "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania," but not, really. The full text, via Dump Bachmann, is here.

The Abortion Debate, Coming to a Bumper Near You

| Fri Sep. 9, 2011 12:21 PM PDT

Anti-abortion lawmakers in North Carolina have passed a bill allowing the state to issue license plates with a pro-life slogan. Drivers can buy the "Choose Life" plate for a $25 fee, and $15 of that will go to so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" that seek to deter women from having an abortion. Now the state chapter of the ACLU has filed suit, arguing that the state is violating the First Amendment by not offering plates that include a message in support of abortion rights.

There were attempts to get an alternative plate during the legislative debate, with options like "Respect Choice" or "Trust Women. Respect Choice" offered. But lawmakers rejected those, and while House Bill 289 included a bunch of new license plate options, there wasn't a pro-choice option among them. Residents of the Tar Heel state can, however, show their support for the NC Horse Council, the Carolina Raptor Center, fox hunting, stock car racing, the Friends of the Appalachian Trail, or AIDS awareness, in addition to the anti-abortion plate.

"If anti-choice drivers are permitted to express their views on their license plates, people like me should be able to express our view that women deserve full reproductive freedom," Sue Holliday, one of the four plaintiffs in the ACLU's complaint, said in a statement.

And here's what Katherine Lewis Parker, the legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina, had to say:

This is a basic issue of freedom of speech and fairness. It is a fundamental tenet of the First Amendment that the State cannot use its authority to promote one side of a debate while denying the same opportunity to the other side. Anyone who supports freedom of speech should agree with this stance, regardless of one’s position on abortion. Our position would be the same if the State had authorized a pro-choice license plate but not an anti-choice alternative. In that situation, the ACLU-NCLF would be suing on behalf of anti-choice drivers under the exact same theory of viewpoint discrimination.

Of course, the supporters of the plate aren't big fans of the suit. Rep. Mitch Gillespie, the bill's sponsor, told the Raleigh News & Observer that the suit is just an attempt by "an evil liberal organization to try to appease its liberal base."

Twenty-six states have their own versions of the "Choose Life" plate. Its supporters say that 573,000 plates have been sold or renewed, which has raised $13.6 million for their cause.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems nuts that the state would be involved in promoting any specific interest group via license plates—pro-life, pro-choice, pro-NASCAR, whatever. Creating and selling them uses state resources… and what's the benefit to the state? We'd never ask for special endorsement stickers for your driver's license or passport. Can't people just get a regular-old-license-plate and donate directly to whatever interest group or issue they feel inclined to support? And, if you really must share that passion via your automobile, can't you just buy whatever bumper sticker you want? 

National Review's Whelan Tries to Justify Attacking DOJ Attorneys for Being Gay

| Fri Sep. 9, 2011 12:12 PM PDT

Ed Whelan, the National Review blogger who fretted over two Department of Justice attorneys in same-sex relationships working on civil rights issues at the agency, accuses me of "distorting" his words (without pointing out any distortions) before offering this hypothetical:

Here's a question I'd like to pose to those who think that it's objectionable for me to have raised the possibility that the ideological commitments of the two DOJ lawyers might have influenced DOJ's position: Let's say that DOJ in a Republican administration adopted a new and surprisingly aggressive position in a case involving conscience rights and that it turned out that two of the lawyers working on the brief had strong ideological commitments to the pro-life cause and/or, let's say, to conservative Catholic causes generally. Would you maintain that it would be improper to raise the question whether those ideological commitments influenced DOJ’s position?

I think it's pretty obvious that Republican administrations tend to take more conservative positions in legal cases than Democratic administrations. But Whelan is implicitly backing away from his original objection, which was not merely that two lawyers assigned to a case involving the degree to which religious institutions are exempt from federal anti-discrimination laws had civil rights backgrounds, but that they were both in same-sex relationships. Whelan sniffed that attorney Aaron Schuham's "same-sex partner is (or, at least as of the 2009 White House Easter Egg Roll, was) Chris Anders, federal policy director for the ACLU's LGBT Rights project," adding that another attorney, Sharon McGowan, was married to her partner last year. The implication is that Whelan believes being in a same-sex relationship is by definition a conflict of interest in cases involving religion. 

The case doesn't directly involve gay rights, it's about whether or not a religious school that allegedly fired a teacher for her narcolepsy is exempt from federal anti-discrimination law. Whelan believes that these attorneys have a stake in the case because if the school wins, it could set a precedent that would "undermine gay rights more broadly." Of course, the reverse is also true—the hypothetical conservative Catholic attorney in Whelan's scenario would also have a "stake" in preserving religious institutions' broad exemption from anti-discrimination laws. It's just that Whelan wouldn't have a problem with him or her being assigned to the case. Whelan's standard, applied broadly, could be used to disqualify just about anyone—but as an opponent of gay rights, gay and lesbian attorneys are the people he's interested in disqualifying.

As for Whelan's accusations of "politicized hiring," he has done nothing more than demonstrate that many attorneys in the DOJ's civil rights division have civil rights backgrounds. By comparison, during the Bush administration, political appointees like Hans von Spakovsky—whom Whelan links to as though he were some disinterested party—made partisan loyalty a prerequisite for employment; civil rights enforcement plummeted as a result. An internal report even found that the former head of the civil rights division under Bush, Bradley Schlozman, had broken civil service laws with his hiring practices. (Sample Schlozman e-mail quote: "My tentative plans are to gerrymander all of those crazy libs rights out of the section.") At best, all Whelan and his pals can say is that the Obama administration is hiring attorneys actually interested in doing the kind of work the civil rights division was created to do.

Obama Administration: No New Gitmo Prisoners

| Fri Sep. 9, 2011 11:52 AM PDT
A Navy guard patrols the Camp Delta recreation yard at Guantanamo Bay.

On Thursday, Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan announced to reporters that the Obama administration has ruled out sending any new terror suspects to the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. Politico has the story:

"We're not going to bring people to Guantanamo...It's this administration's policy to close Guantanamo and, despite some congressional hurdles that have been put in our path, we're going to continue to pursue that." ...

Brennan said...that if a suspected terrorist operative were captured and a civilian criminal prosecution were not feasible, it is possible that person could be placed in military custody and brought to the United States for trial by a military commission. The Obama administration is moving forward with such commissions at Guantanamo but has never initiated one on U.S. soil...

Brennan did not say how the U.S. would proceed against a suspected terrorist operative when there is no admissible evidence of a war crime that could be prosecuted in either a civilian or military court.

It's easy to greet this news with cynicism, and it's a cop-out to lay the blame solely on "some congressional hurdles." In the almost three years since his executive order to have the facility closed within 12 months, President Obama has reversed course on military trials for Gitmo prisoners, and the fully operational detention center continues to stand as yet another broken campaign promise. The Obama administration has been so sluggish on this that the president has even received some backhanded kudos from the likes of Ann Coulter and Rick Perry for not shuttering the military prison during his first term.

(Also, as Mother Jones' news editor Nick Baumann reported, the FBI's secret program to have American citizens detained and interrogated by foreign governments doesn't exactly boost Obama's stature among critics of the War on Terror, either.)

When held against these unpleasant facts, Brennan's announcement risks coming off as unremarkable or verging into too-little-too-late territory. But it does show the president flexing a shred of muscle on a key aspect of the Gitmo issue. And in spite of the Republicans' sustained efforts over the years to limit options and restrict transfers from the facility, the administration is not budging (at least for now) on flooding the controversial site with more inmates.

And that should be worth a couple civil libertarian golf-claps.