Spc. Austin Davenport passes out Iraqi flags to children in Baghdad, Aug. 11, 2007.

The shock and awe didn't last long. On Friday afternoon, just minutes after Barack Obama announced that America's war in Iraq would be finally, truly over at year's end, critics of the president punctured what could have been a national moment of solemn reflection and relief.

"As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end," Obama—the president whose administration has ended the lives of Osama bin Laden, Anwar Awlaki, and just yesterday, Moammar Qaddafi—said in his announcement Friday. "The rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year." Obama added that US-Iraq relations would change dramatically on January 1, 2012, to "a normal relationship between sovereign nations"—a recognition of the past nine years' weirdness that, although perfectly obvious, still seemed poignant when spoken aloud.

Nonetheless, the end of US military operations in Iraq—100,000 troops have already left the country, and the final 39,000 will be gone by late December—is already being spun by some Republican critics as an admission of defeat, part of a larger attempt to paint Obama and his party as soft on national security. That narrative is increasingly divorced from reality.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

On Friday at the University of Pennsylvania, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will deliver what is, essentially, the Republican response to Occupy Wall Street (the same Eric Cantor who referred to the protestors as "mobs"). A Cantor aide told Politico that the congressman will "talk about the various socioeconomic classes and how Washington should stop pushing different people down the economic ladder and instead can work together to ensure that all people have the ability move up."

What qualifies Cantor to speak about inequality? Not much. Here are a few of the greatest hits from the last few years of the GOP's war on the poor:

Unemployment insurance (UI)—which, as numerous studies like a recent one from Moody's Analytics have pointed out, is one of the most effective forms of stimulus—is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. But Republicans want to reform the system before giving it new life. According to Politico, Cantor's speech could shed some light on the GOP's plans. To get a sense of what he might say, check out this speech he delivered at the conservative Heritage Foundation in late 2009 on undoing the Obama administration's economic recovery plan. The centerpiece: Requiring UI recipients who are most likely to exhaust their benefits to participate in education, training, or "enhanced job search" as a condition of eligibility.

As an example, he cited a program enacted in Georgia in 2003 that uses unemployment insurance to pay companies to train and, ideally, eventually hire job-seekers. But the program overpromised and undelivered, ballooning both in size and cost, according to a recent interview with Georgia Labor commissioner Mark Butler:

The FBI has engaged in vast surveillance operations that involves unconstitutional racial profiling and "mapping" of American communities across the country, the American Civil Liberties Union said Thursday.

"The FBI has targeted communities for investigation not based on suspicion of a crime, but on crude stereotypes," said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project. Shamsi said documents released by the FBI in response to a Freedom of Information Act request "confirm our worst fears" about the FBI targeting communities on the basis of identity and association rather than evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Communities surveilled on the basis of race, religion and national origin range from African-Americans in Georgia to Arab-Americans in Michigan, the ACLU said on a conference call with reporters. The FBI told the New York Times that it does not base investigations "solely" on factors like ethnicity or religion, though Bush-era investigative guidelines long-criticized by civil libertarian groups but retained by the Obama administration allow agents to consider those qualities when deciding whether or not to start investigations.

The documents obtained by the ACLU also include more anti-Muslim and anti-Arab training materials, including an outline of a 2003 training course in San Francisco that states: "Islam was not able to change the cluster Arab mind thinking into a linear one" and declares, laughably and inaccurately, that "to be in an Islamic Sunni terrorist organization, you must be a Muslim Brotherhood member. This is a precursor for all terrorists." Just to put into perspective how idiotic that "observation" is, by that standard Osama bin Laden was not a terrorist. The name of the course instructor is redacted, presumably for some practical reason other than protecting the individual from being publicly exposed as a know-nothing.

The ACLU's criticisms follow on the heels of a lengthy Associated Press investigation into the New York Police Department, which revealed that, with the assistance of the CIA, the NYPD had engaged in wide-ranging surveillance and mapping of New York City's Muslim communities. While the CIA has already pledged to investigate its role in the program, civil libertarian critics say the NYPD lacks similar oversight mechanisms. This kind of sophisticated intelligence-gathering operation has traditionally been the province of the federal government rather than local police, so the New York City Council doesn't exercise the same kind of monitoring over the NYPD that say, Congress does over the FBI and CIA. 

An FBI spokeswoman was critical when asked about the NYPD program, saying, "If you're sending an informant into a mosque when there is no evidence of wrongdoing, that's a very high-risk thing to do...You're running right up against core constitutional rights. You're talking about freedom of religion." The ACLU documents however, suggest the FBI was already engaging in something similar, in an effort that went far beyond just the American Muslim community.

"I was 100 feet from where 4,000 people were killed. Okay? That's what's missing here. You are a half a block from Ground Zero. You are not occupying Wall Street—you are occupying Zuccotti Park in my backyard. And you are drumming at all kinds of crazy hours. When is it going to end?"

So said an emotional neighbor of Occupy Wall Street at a contentious, two-hour meeting last night of the Quality of Life Committee of the Manhattan Community Board 1, the city body that deals with neighborhood issues near Wall Street. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer had kicked things off with the admission that "tensions have been growing between protesters and residents." And as the meeting dragged on, that seemed like an understatement.

"I am an occupier, I am a drummer, and, despite what they say, I am also a human being," said Ashley Love, a young member of the OWS People of Color Working Group, who'd tried to organize a protest march against the meeting. "It's primarily a commercial area; not too many people live there," she went on, to an uproar of boos and hollers. "The majority of the drummers are people of color with low-income or no-income backgrounds, and Wall Street was built by slaves when they brought the Africans over here. The council people back then prohibited drumming because it was a way of protesting. It was a way of communication. And I just think you guys are scapegoating us."

Herman Cain.

On Thursday, I defended Herman Cain from the trumped-up charges that he is actually, secretly, pro-choice. Cain had answered a question, from CNN's Piers Morgan, about whether he supported exceptions for rape and the life of the mother, and said that while he opposed abortion even in those circumstances, it wasn't the government's job to tell women what to do. That's not the kind of thing that would endear Cain to NARAL; it's the same position taken by noted reproductive rights icon George W. Bush, among others. Even the activists behind the Mississippi Personhood amendment say that a pregnant woman should be allowed to get an abortion if her life is at risk—even if the actual language of the amendment wouldn't allow for it.

Besides, Cain has a pretty consistent track record of condemning abortion. In March, he called Planned Parethood "Planned Genocide," alleging that the nation's largest abortion provider was deliberately targeting blacks for extermination. In 2006, he ran a radio ad campaign targeting Democrats for their support for abortion rights, and proudly noting that the Republican Party calls for the repeal of Roe v. Wade in its official platform. And in 2004, when he was running for Senate in Georgia, he put out the following statement, on the anniversary of Roe, which should eliminate any remaining confusion on where he stands:

GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain

Now that Herman Cain is officially a front-runner for the Republican nomination, the vetting process has picked up in a hurry. The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf stumbled upon a treasure trove of syndicated columns the Atlanta businessman wrote between 2006 and 2009, which doesn't do much to shatter the perception of Cain as a loose cannon (he refers to Iraq war opponents as "Hezbocrats" and calls them "the enemy").

But I was drawn to a different piece: A 2006 column from Cain on Islam that copiously cites the work of Ohio televangelist Rod Parsley—the same pastor whose Islamophobic writings and sermons would later force Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to reject his endorsement. Parsley, as MoJo's David Corn first reported in 2008, argued that American Christians have an obligation to destroy Islam. Cain, though, saw Parsley not as a polarizing religious figure, but rather as an expert on Middle Eastern affairs:

The casket of Staff Sgt. Andrew Harvell is embraced by one of his teammates during Harvell's funeral at Los Angeles National Cemetery Sept. 10, 2011, in California. The casket is adorned with more than 100 combat controller and pararescue metal beret emblems that were hammered in by Harvell's teammates in one final tribute. Harvell was a combat controller who died Aug. 6, 2011, when the CH-47 Chinook he was traveling in crashed in the Wardak province of Afghanistan. (US Air Force photo/Joe Juarez)

US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

For the past several years, conspiracy-pushing activists have been alleging that President Obama is not qualified to be president because, they claim, he was born in Kenya or that he's not really a "natural born citizen." The birthers have filed lawsuits, bought billboards reading, "Where's the birth certificate?", and sought legislation that would require presidential candidates to prove their American citizenship before gaining access to state ballots. None of this has gone anywhere. Most of the bills have failed. And, in a fit of exasperation in April prompted by Donald Trump's embrace of the issue, Obama defused much of the birther campaign by posting his long-form birth certificate online.

But the birthers haven't gone away. They've simply found a new target: up-and-coming GOP political star Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Rubio's name has been floated as a potential vice presidential candidate for 2012 and a future GOP presidential candidate. But the birthers are already arguing that, like Obama, he is ineligible to hold either office.

Birther Charles Kerchner has a blog that was once devoted mostly to Obama, but lately he's been on a campaign to illustrate that Rubio is not a natural born citizen, and thus, ineligible to enter the White House. Kerchner's logic is convoluted—something of a trend among the birther set. He claims that Rubio is actually a Cuban citizen, even though Rubio was born on American soil, in Miami, in 1971. But Rubio's parents were Cubans, who didn't become US citizens until 1975. (Kerchner went so far as to obtain Rubio's parents' naturalization papers from the National Archives to prove his point.) Thus, Kerchner posits, Rubio doesn't meet the "natural born" requirement set out in the Constitution, because his parents weren't American citizens. Birthers have tried this argument on Obama as well, because his father was Kenyan. But the argument didn't have much success then, and it's not likely to have much success now.

Kerchner isn't the the only one in his camp who believes Rubio can't be president. The queen of the birther movement, Orly Taitz, also agrees. Taitz, who has spent years in court suing Obama over his eligibility, told the St. Petersburg Times this week, "We need the court to finally adjudicate this issue, who is a natural born citizen." Rubio, for his part, was nonchalant about becoming the birthers' newest target. "The price of our freedom and our liberty is that people can go out and spend a lot of time on stuff like this," he told the paper. "For us, the more important thing is to focus on our job."

The birthers clearly need more to work on, given the extent to which they've exhausted most avenues for challenging Obama. Rubio will certainly help fill the bill, and just in time, too, for the upcoming "birther summit" in March. Kerchner and others who've been undaunted by Obama's efforts to take the steam out of their movement are planning a "massive" rally and summit in DC, where they intend to protest Washington's "continued cover up of the fraud that has been perpetrated upon us."

Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi was killed on October 20, 2011.

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Moammar Qaddafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years before being toppled by a NATO-backed revolution, was killed by Libyan rebel fighters following a battle in his hometown of Sirte. The graphic pictures coming out of the region suggest the news is accurate.

Conflicting reports about when Qaddafi died raise some questions about the nature of his death, however: Some say he died during the fighting, while others claim he died after being captured. If Qaddafi was killed during combat or succumbed to his wounds later, his death would be consistent with international law. If he was killed post-capture, however, that's a violation of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime.

The event marks a belated triumph for Libya's Transitional National Council and the Obama administration, which intervened in Libya back in March without congressional approval and relied on a dubious legal interpretation of the War Powers Act to avoid seeking sanction from Congress after the operation lasted longer than the "days, not weeks" initially assumed.  The White House said that the intervention was necessary to avoid a "Srebrenica on steroids," referring to a 1995 slaughter of Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian War. Qaddafi had threatened to massacre Libyans protesting his government. Though many in Congress expressed outrage at the president's unilateralism, neither opponents nor supporters of the operation could muster enough votes to fund the operation or restrict the United States to a supporting role. 

Qaddafi's death neutralizes the possibility of him leading a revanchist insurgency and prolonging the violence in Libya for months or even years to come; the commander of the NATO air campaign in Libya recently described the pro-Qaddafi forces as "resilient and fierce." Nevertheless, the difficult work of creating a functional democracy is yet to come, and it will likely prove far more difficult than removing Qaddafi from power.

GOP Presidential Candidate Herman Cain

Nia-Malika Henderson reports that in an interview with Piers Morgan last night, Herman Cain seemed to waiver on what he'd do about abortion if elected president:

What it comes down to. It's not the government's role or anybody else's role to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents, you're not talking about that big a number. So what I'm saying is, it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as president. Not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family, and whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn't have to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive issue.

Is Herman Cain—gasp!—secretly pro-choice? Was he merely practicing Taqiyya when he cut those radio ads back in 2006 suggesting there was a racial motive to Democrats' support for abortion, and back in 2004, when he ran for US Senate in Georgia on a platform that abortion was wrong even in cases of rape and incest?