The National Defense Authorization Act—the $622 billion bill to fund the military through the next fiscal year—has already been widely criticized for its provisions regarding the detention of terrorist suspects. But the bill also freezes $700 million in aid to Pakistan—a move that is already impacting one of the United States' most important diplomatic relationships. 

Specifically, the NDAA freezes aid until Pakistan "demonstrates... significant efforts towards the implementation of a strategy to counter improvised explosive devices." Between April and June 2011, 1,248 NATO forces in Afghanistan were killed in IED attacks, and more than half of the American soldiers killed in Afghanistan in the first eight months of 2011 were killed by IEDs. Congress is blaming Pakistan for the IEDs because "84 percent of the bombs in Afghanistan use calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer" from Pakistan, according to a US official cited by National Journal. Legislation to reduce the production of the fertilizer is still pending in Islamabad.

"The Personhood agenda made a 'giant leap' forward this week," announced its proponents in a statement on Thursday, as it won the endorsement of Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich. Gingrich signed off on Personhood USA's pledge and lent his support for legal protections beginning at conception, a position that the group has promoted nationally and through measures in a number of states.

The pledge states that "every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and is endowed by our Creator with the unalienable right to life." Signers also endorse "a human life amendment to the Constitution" and as well as "legislation to make it clear that 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children. This was also included as a plank in the Republican Party platform for the 2008 election.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum have also signed the pledge, but so far, Gingrich is the only of the candidates to sign on who apparently has an actual chance of securing the Republican nomination.

Personhood advocates were dealt a setback when their ballot measure failed in Mississippi last month. But they have continued to push for measures that declare life as beginning at conception. The other prime contender for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, has waffled on the issue in the past.

Gov. Bev Perdue

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D) rejected an attempt by Republicans to torpedo a law seeking to restore balance to the state's capital punishment system. That law, 2009's Racial Justice Act, allows death row inmates to argue that racial bias influenced their sentencing and requires North Carolina judges to commute death row inmates' sentences to life in prison if they find race played a "significant" role in the initial sentence.

In June, the Republican-controlled state house sought to chip away at the original law, tweaking its language to require that courts prove that prosecutors acted "with discriminatory purpose" when selecting juries and seeking the death penalty—an unreasonable burden of proof, according to some attorneys in North Carolina. And in November, the state Senate voted essentially to nullify the law, arguing that it would serve as a proxy for ending the death penalty altogether.

Will Perdue's veto hold up? From Raleigh News & Observer:

Sheriff Joe Arpaio at the 2011 Veteran's Day Parade in Phoenix, Arizona.

A Justice Department investigation into Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-described "toughest sheriff in America," has found that Arpaio violated the civil rights of Latinos in Maricopa County, Arizona.

"We did not begin this investigation with any preconceived notions," said Civil Rights Division Head Thomas E. Perez at a press conference in Arizona Thursday. "We peeled the onion to its core." The conclusion? Arpaio's office "engages in a a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections."

Although Perez stopped short of saying Arpaio needed to step down, he described the problems as being "deeply rooted in the culture" of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. "We have to do culture change," Perez said, adding "culture comes from the top." The Department is seeking a legal agreement with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office that would force it to reform its practices, threatening to sue if it doesn't cooperate. 

The report issued by the Justice Department says Arpaio's office undertook "discriminatory policing practices" through racial profiling, including "unlawfully stop[ping], detain[ing] and arrest[ing] Latinos." Perez also said that Arpaio's office unlawfully retaliated against critics of the Maricopa County Sheriff's office by arresting or suing them, and punished Latino jail inmates for being unable to speak English by denying them basic services. The report also describes the Sheriff's Office as responding to reports of people with "dark skin" or people who "spoke Spanish" rather than people actually committing crimes, and says officials exchanged racist jokes over email. Detention officers in Maricopa jails are described in the report as referring to Latinos as "wetbacks" and "Mexican bitches." The report says Arpaio's office "implemented practices that treat Latinos as if they are all undocumented, regardless of whether a legitimate factual basis exists to suspect that a person is undocumented."

Supporters of the Scott Walker recall effort.

With a month to go, activists trying to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have collected more than 507,000 signatures in just a month's time, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin announced Thursday.

Walker foes need at least 540,208 signatures to trigger a recall election of the first-term governor. It's now obvious they'll easily surpass that requirement. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, part of the coalition of groups spearheading the recall effort, say they hope to gather 720,000 signatures by the end of the two-month window. They say that's a large enough cushion to account for legal challenges and bogus signatures thrown out by recall activists and the Wisconsin elections board, which ultimately vets the signatures.

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, in simpler times.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Gingrich took his great leap forward in Washington politics as a young congressman by launching a string of ethics charges against House Speaker Jim Wright, which ultimately brought the Texas Democrat down. But that didn't make Gingrich any sort of ethics crusader—far from it. When asked by MoJo in 1989 whether he'd support legislation to crack down on the amount of money elected officials can earn on the speaking circuit, Gingrich didn't just reject the idea, he scoffed at the very notion that money can buy influence:

[D]on't look to Newt Gingrich as a shining example of even his own proposed reforms. Not only did he receive $265,697 in PAC money for his 1988 re-election campaign, he's one of Congress's highest spenders on junk mail. Naturally, he also pocketed close to the limit, $26,800 of $26,850, allowed per year in honoraria. "The idea that a congressman would be tainted by accepting money from private industry or private sources is essentially a socialist argument," explains Gingrich.

And he doesn't just throw that term around lightly.

Gingrich has taken the same line of attack in his run for president. Asked by USA Today in November to respond to criticism over his seven-figure paycheck from Freddie Mac, he dismissed his critics as "people with a socialist bias that you shouldn't earn money." Take that, George Will.

Afghan policewomen take part in military training at a center in Herat province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, on December 8, 2011. NATO-led forces have planned to hand over security responsibility of the country to the Afghan police and army gradually, part of a security transition process which will run to 2014 when Afghanistan will take over full leadership of its own security duties. Photo by Sardar/Xinhua/ZUMA Press.

Newt Gingrich (left) and Fred Grandy.

On Wednesday, former Congressman Fred Grandy (R-Iowa), best known for his role as "Gopher" on Love Boat, officially endorsed Newt Gingrich for the GOP presidential nomination. As Grandy told the Sioux City Journal, "[Gingrich] is the only guy that I see who is offering real leadership positions on these critical issues, whether you're talking about foreign policy, or economic policy or cultural policy." Newt, for one, was thrilled, tweeting that he was "honored" to have Grandy's endorsement.

As a former conservative congressman, Grandy's support could be an asset for Gingrich. But it should also give him pause. Since leaving the House, Grandy has reinvented himself as an anti-Islam activist, delivering dire warnings of the threat of what he calls "galloping Shariah" law. At a tea party event in Maryland in October, Grandy warned that Occupy Wall Street was being propped up by the Council American Islamic Relations—which, according to Grandy, is in turn a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. Is #OWS part of an Islamist plot to take over the United States? In the eyes of Gingrich's newest endorser it is.

Grandy's pet issue is the perceived creep of Islamic law into American courts—in October, he wrote that there had been "attempts in 23 states to use shariah law either in trial or appellate cases." After losing his job as a talk radio host in March (in part because his wife, who co-hosted the show, had warned that the government had been infiltrated by "Shariah-compliant" officials), Grandy embarked on a "Shariah Awareness Tour," culminating in a  appearance at the national Constitution or Sharia Conference in Nashville last month.

Of course, in linking Occupy Wall Street to Islamists, Grandy is only marginally more out-there than the man he's supporting for President. Gingrich, as we've reported previously, has gone from courting Muslim leaders in 2001 to filming documentaries about the threat of stealth jihad. In 2010, he called for a ban on Shariah law in the United States.

The President will not veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) over provisions codifying the use of indefinite military detention on American soil.

As I reported Tuesday, the latest version of the NDAA effectively rendered the provisions "mandating" military custody of non-citizen terrorism suspects arrested on US soil optional. The revised NDAA would make it possible for someone like convicted underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab to go from capture to trial without ever passing through military custody.

The changes were apparently enough to get the White House to back down from its veto threat, notwithstanding FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III's testimony Wednesday that the bill could still interfere with counterterrorism operations.

A statement from the White House press office states that "As a result of these changes, we have concluded that the language does not challenge or constrain the Presidents ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people, and the Presidents senior advisors will not recommend a veto." The statement continues, "However, if in the process of implementing this law we determine that it will negatively impact our counterterrorism professionals and undercut our commitment to the rule of law, we expect that the authors of these provisions will work quickly and tirelessly to correct these problems." Sure, the bill could undermine the rule of law and make Americans less safe, but it's not like Congress has ever had a hard time handling urgent problems in a timely manner. 

This morning I wrote that by making the mandatory military detention provisions mandatory in name only, the Senate had offered the administration an opportunity to see how seriously it takes its own rhetoric on civil liberties. The administration had said that the military detention provisions of an earlier version of the NDAA were "inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets."

The revised NDAA is still inconsistent with that fundamental American principle. But the administration has decided that fundamental American principles aren't actually worth vetoing the bill over. 

Mitt Romney.

As the 2012 GOP contenders head into primary-season crunch time, 51 sitting members of Congress so far have already endorsed on-and-off front-runner Mitt Romney. And nearly 90 percent of those endorsements came from lawmakers who have received campaign cash from Romney.

Since the 2004 elections, Romney's leadership PACs have donated a grand total of $163,620 to the campaigns of these 45 endorsers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Top recipients include Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who received $9,670 from Romney during Blunt's 2010 campaign, and Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH), who's nabbed a combined $10,000. Blunt—known as Romney's key Capitol Hill liaison—beat out tea party darling Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) on Tuesday to become vice chairman of the Republican Conference, the fifth-most senior position in the GOP caucus. Bass got some extra national attention in late November when a leaked Romney campaign memo warned that the congressman's endorsement came with baggage associated with his "lack of purity" on revenue increases. "[C]onservatives don't trust Charlie and are guessing this means he'll vote to raise taxes," the memo noted.

Oddly enough, Romney reserved the most campaign dough for a tea party power broker who hasn't announced his endorsement, yet: Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who collected an even $12,000 over several years. Earlier this fall, rumors circulated that DeMint was gearing up to endorse Romney. The senator has, however, withheld his endorsement for the South Carolina primary, and his office quickly shot down the rumors as pure "fabrication."

The other 151 sitting members of Congress who have collectively received $524,940 in campaign contributions from Romney have yet to formally endorse a candidate. Still, Romney has a significantly higher batting average than that of his chief rival. Since the 1990s, Newt Gingrich's PACs and committee have given a total of $260,560 to 42 current members of Congress, and not one of those lawmakers has endorsed the former House Speaker in the 2012 race. But with the way the Gingrich surge has been going lately, things might be starting to change already.