The United States Supreme Court is set to rule on health care reform before the 2012 election.

The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would hear a challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), either vindicating or dealing a death blow to the Obama administration's signature domestic policy accomplishment before the 2012 election. Or there's a third option: The court could kick the can down the road.

The "punting" option was laid out by Judge Brett Kavanaugh*, George W. Bush appointee, in the most recent ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, which upheld the constitutionality of the law. In his dissent, Cavanaugh declined to address the merits of the Affordable Care Act, arguing instead that a law called the Tax Anti-Injunction Act prevents the courts from ruling on the issue until someone has actually been forced to pay the penalty for not purchasing health care. The act basically stipulates that in order to challenge a tax an individual must be forced to pay it first.

The repeal of Ohio Gov. John Kasich's anti-union law last week marked the biggest political win of 2011 for labor unions. Post-election analyses hailed the result as a sign that organized labor was still a force to be reckoned with and a major player in the 2012 presidential election.

Now, fresh off the Ohio win, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is setting its sights not on, say, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, but an unlikely political opponent: New York's Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo. AFSCME, one of the largest public-worker unions in the US, recently made a six-figure ad buy in New York in which it will trumpet the role of public workers in responding to and recovering from Hurricane Irene, which caused $7 billion worth of damage along the East Coast.

AFSCME's ad buy is a big one, spanning two weeks and TV, radio, and print media outlets. Here's a TV ad from the New York blitz:

So why target Cuomo, a Democrat, instead of GOP governors, you might ask? Even though he's a Dem, union officials see Cuomo as on the wrong side of the fight over workers' rights and benefits. In 2010, Cuomo campaigned on reforming pensions for public workers, sparking a battle with teachers unions. In a February budget speech, Cuomo asked unions for $450 million in concessions to help balance a budget awash in red ink. The unions have fought Cuomo at every turn, bashing him for capping a state property tax that helps fund schools and for mimicking GOP governors' attacks on public workers.

Think of AFSCME's New York ad buy as a warning shot: Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, if you try to slash workers' rights, unions are willing to spend big to push back just as hard.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) thinks the ACLU is in charge of the CIA.

During Saturday night's GOP presidential primary debate on CBS, Rep. Michele Bachmann accused President Barack Obama of "allowing the ACLU to run the CIA." On NBC's Meet the Press the next day, Bachmann doubled down on the assertion that the Obama administration has been manipulated by diabolical civil libertarian groups:

We all know that that isn't a long-term solution to this problem. We aren't adding any new terrorists to Guantanamo Bay. We only have Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of 9/11, who is at Guantanamo Bay, and others as well. But we don't have a place to put Al Qaeda when we pick them up. It's either catch and release, which is a terrible idea, or we have to kill them. What we need to win this war on terror is interrogation. This is where my comment about the ACLU comes in because today the CIA is no longer able to go through the interrogation that yielded such profitable information that saved American lives. That's what I'm interested in, David…The, the, the only thing that we have available to us today is the Army field manual. That's online. So terrorists can go ahead and read ahead of time what will happen to them when we capture them, and it's really, effectively, when we capture them today, it's a slap on the wrist. I want to save American lives, and that's why I want the CIA…

Host David Gregory pointed out that the United States does in fact continue to detain terrorism suspects in Afghanistan, on aircraft carriers, and in secret foreign facilities, but for some reason he neglected to mention the dozens of domestic maximum and supermax facilities available on American soil, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. There are more terrorists serving prison terms in the US than there are detainees at Gitmo.

Before he campaigned against Agenda 21, Newt Gingrich cut this ad on behalf of Al Gore's non-profit, calling for swift action to combat climate change.

At Saturday's GOP presidential debate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich signaled to tea partiers that he is one of them by making an unusual reference to Agenda 21, the international compact that conservative activists believe is a stepping stone to a United Nations takeover. It was an odd subject to bring up at a debate that focused mostly on the Middle East and Central Asia, but as it turns out, Newt's been beating this drum for a few months now. In September, the ex-Speaker promised an Orlando tea party group that, if elected president, one of his first acts would be to sign an executive order "to cease all federal funding of any kind of activity that relates to United Nations Agenda 21":

In that speech, he explains that he hadn't even been aware of Agenda 21 until he'd begun campaigning and been asked about it by activists. He offered a longer explanation of his views in July, which he felt strongly enough about to post to his YouTube stream:

As usual, global thermonuclear war could be just around the corner. And while the US offensive arsenal is pretty stacked, we'd be screwed if the ICBMageddon were barreling in on us. Missile defense? Ha!

But there's good news on the atomic holocaust front: Thanks to a new Google Maps mashup, you can now see whether your domicile (and your meat husk of a corpse) could withstand a direct nuclear attack. is a pretty simple interactive feature: You enter your address, you select a weapon yield (puny 18-kiloton Fatman, or the 50-megaton Russian behemoth Tsar Bomba? How about a more modest nine-megaton city killer?), and then you check the blast radius to see whether you lived, or died as a crispy critter. (Hint: Anyone anywhere near the San Francisco MJ offices, or near San Francisco Bay in general, you're truly screwed.) Either way, when you're done, you can post the results of your nuke test on Facebook.

Now, if only we could combine this knowledge with the location of the nukes nearest to us—oh wait, we can!

(Via Gizmodo)

[UPDATE: MoJo Twitter follower Eddie Edenfield points out another cool "Ground Zero" nukes/maps mashup that's been around for awhile. Care to calculate your fallout and windage?]

Army Sgt. Lucas Simmons, a trained sniper from the Rhode Island National Guard's 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1-182 Infantry Regiment and North Smithfield, R.I., native, observes as Air Force Staff Sgt. Abner Cornell fires the M24 Sniper Rifle November 7, 2011 near Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam in Laghman province, Afghanistan. Cornell and other airmen received instruction from Simmons and other soldiers on advanced weapons like the MK-19 grenade launcher and M2 .50-caliber machine gun during a training mission. The pair are assigned to the Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team. Photo by the US Army.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

At Saturday's CBS News/National Journal "Commander-In-Chief" debate, 2012 Republican candidate and tea party darling Michele Bachmann recited two very popular memes on the American right: A) Barack Obama is a devoted follower of Occupy Wall Street, and B) he wants to feed Israel to the dogs.

Obama is "more than willing to stand with Occupy Wall Street" but "not willing to stand with Israel," Bachmann said to loud applause from the South Carolina audience. She added that Israel doesn't see "a friend" in him.

Given Bachmann's patented kicked-into-overdrive tendency to say and endorse pretty out-there stuff, neither comment came as much of a shock. However, let's just get some quick debunking out of the way.

As much as many in the GOP would like to tie the president to Occupy Wall Street, the so-called "support" is tenuous at best. What conservatives have seized on are quotes like this:

"Obviously, I've heard of [Occupy Wall Street], I've seen it on television. I think it expresses the frustrations that the American people feel...I think people are frustrated and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works."

The president also said the following when asked about the protest movement in mid-October:

In some ways, they're not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the Tea Party. Both on the left and the right, I think people feel separated from their government. They feel that their institutions aren’t looking out for them...The most important thing we can do right now is those of us in leadership letting people know that we understand their struggles and we are on their side, and that we want to set up a system in which hard work, responsibility, doing what you’re supposed to do, is rewarded.

The American Civil Liberties Union is running the Central Intelligence Agency, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told the CBS GOP primary debate audience Saturday night. Apparently, not CIA Director David Petraeus.

"[Obama] is allowing the ACLU to run the CIA" Bachmann asserted. "We have decided we are going to lose the war on terror under Obama." The ACLU, which issued a scathing report on Obama's civil liberties record earlier this year, would probably disagree. The ACLU concluded that "most [Bush-era] policies...remain core elements of our national security strategy today." Bachmann also said the CIA was no longer interrogating anyone, which is false. The CIA is part of the interagency High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG. Also, prior to 9/11, the CIA didn't actually have an interrogation program.

The question that initiated that exchange was posed to Herman Cain, who was asked whether he would allow torture as policy if he were elected president. Cain initially said that "I do not agree with torture period, I will trust the judgment of our military leaders on what is torture and what is not torture." Then Cain contradicted himself—asked specifically whether waterboarding was torture, Cain said that it wasn't. Many prominent military leaders have spoken out against enhanced interrogation techniques, including Petraeus. Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Governor John Huntsman had very different answers—Paul argued that torture was illegal and didn't work, while Huntsman emphasized that when the United States uses torture, "we lose our ability to project certain values around the world." 

The moderators then pivoted to the killing of American extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. Mitt Romney said killing al-Awlaki was "absolutely" the right thing to do. Newt Gingrich emphasized that the killing was consistent with the rule of law, because it was approved by the president and a secret unaccountable panel of national security officials. Which is exactly how the ACLU would do things, right?

Yeah, something might have rubbed off a little...

During Saturday's CBS News/National Journal "Commander-In-Chief" debate—the first 2012 GOP debate to focus exclusively on foreign policy—the candidates were thrown a couple questions on the War in Afghanistan.

For the most part, the Republican contenders responded as expected. Mitt Romney said that "the right course is for us to do our very best to secure the victory that has been so hard-won" through sacrifice and hundreds of American lives, which is exactly what he's been saying about both Afghanistan and Iraq for a while now.

Unsurprisingly, perennial back-runner Jon Huntsman responded by echoing his standard, dovish line on the war: get the troops out ASAP. But what was mildly surprising was that he answered the question in Barack Obama's words.

"We've had free elections in 2004, we've uprooted the Taliban, we've…killed Osama Bin Laden," Huntsman said. "This nation's future isn't Afghanistan; this nation's future isn't Iran." He went on to state that he has no interest in "nation-building overseas" when "we so desperately need it at home."

During Obama's address to the nation on the Afghanistan drawdown in late June, the president spoke of how it was time to allow foreign allies to "determine their [own] destiny," and how the American mission was rapidly coming to its end. Also, there was this:

Now, we must invest in America's greatest resource—our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy...America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.

Perhaps Huntsman's former employer has been rubbing off on him more than he'd like to admit.

Agenda 21 activists fear the United Nations would value manatee lives over human lives.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich spent much of Saturday's foreign policy debate doing what he does best: haranguing moderators Scott Pelley and Major Garrett for asking him questions he doesn't like. But in the middle of one such effort, he did offer a revealing insight in his views. Gingrich rattled off a list of subjects on which President Obama's policies have been harmful (it was a long list), and then dropped a bomb: President Obama, he explained, was wrong to support something called "Agenda 21."

The response drew loud applause from the audience. Here's why: Agenda 21 is a United Nations agreement that has never been considered by the Senate, and more or less just calls on signatories to promote sustainable development practices. But in the eyes of tea party activists, it's a stepping-stone to a one-world government, which will lead to forced population control and mass displacement. My colleague Stephanie Mencimer covered this subject in an excellent 2010 piece for the magazine:

Virginia activist Donna Holt is among those who believe that Agenda 21—unveiled during the UN's "Earth Summit" in 1992—is really a plot to curtail private property rights and deprive Americans of precious constitutional freedoms. In reality, the document will do nothing of the sort, but it has nevertheless been the target of conspiracy-minded UN haters for years. Holt and other tea partiers are taking their cues from people like Henry Lamb, a WorldNetDaily columnist and founder of Sovereignty International and Freedom21, groups designed to fight Agenda 21 and its ilk. He has been arguing for decades that the UN is secretly plotting to herd humans into crowded cities so that the rest of the world can be devoted to wildlife preservation. (Lamb declined to comment for this story because back Mother Jones once included him in a story called Wingnuts in Sheep's Clothing, and another article that described his role in Astroturf lobbying against the Kyoto treaty.)

Long the subject of fringe groups, Agenda 21 has taken on more prominence in recent years. Michele Bachmann fought against it as a Minnesota state senator, and again as a congresswoman. As she said in 2008 of congressional Democrats, "They want Americans to take transit and move to the inner cities. They want Americans to move to the urban core, live in tenements, [and] take light rail to their government jobs. That's their vision for America." The non-profit education watchdog she worked with in Minnesota even went so far as to oppose International Baccalaureate, the worldwide advanced placement system, on the grounds that it undermines national sovereignty and furthered the goals of Agenda 21.

In Florida, tea party groups are currently fretting that, under the guise of Agenda 21, the United Nations will forcibly displace Americans to protect the endangered manatee. (One Republican congressman, Rep. Rich Nugent of Florida, has even introduced legislation to address these concerns.) Other activists are concerned that they'll be forced to live in underground, earthen "Hobbit homes."

Does Gingrich really believe any of this—or is it just a pander to the far-right?