Mojo - December 2011

Your Daily Newt: "I Don't Do Foreign Policy"

| Tue Dec. 13, 2011 9:00 AM EST

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.

Newt Gingrich created a minor international incident in July of 1995 when, in an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation, he declared that the United States should recognize Taiwanese independence and seek to "undermine" the stability of the Chinese government. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and GOP foreign policy yoda Henry Kissinger told him to step back. So did China.

What was Gingrich thinking? He told the New York Times shortly thereafter that he didn't actually believe the US should recognize Taiwan; he was simply acting out a scene from a novel he had read:

[There] he had been, enduring questions about China policy under the bright lights of "Face the Nation." He had to say something, and the fictional President in Allen Drury's classic novel about power in 1950's Washington flashed into his mind.

"It came out of a scene in 'Advise and Consent,' toward the end of the novel, where the Russians are bullying the new American President," Mr. Gingrich said in an interview. "And he says, 'Here are the three things I can do.' And he goes through three things, all of them so outside the Russian planning that they were aghast. They said, 'You can't do this.' And he said, 'Watch me.'

"On reflection, Mr. Gingrich said, "I don't particularly care about having said the thing about Taiwan either way."

When the Times asked Gingrich if he'd consider traveling to China to smooth things over, he was blunt: "I don't do foreign policy."

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Republicans Cave on Anti-Gay Amendments in Defense Bill

| Tue Dec. 13, 2011 8:16 AM EST

In October, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) vowed not to let the National Defense Authorization Act pass, if provisions prohibiting military chaplains from performing same-sex marriages weren't included in the bill. But as the final version of the defense spending bill emerged Monday evening, the anti-gay amendments had been stripped. 

With the repeal of the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, Republicans sought to prevent any further recognition of gay and lesbian servicemembers' rights. "[Y]ou get the camel's nose in the tent, and things just start expanding," McKeon told C-SPAN in early October while justifying the ban. When asked, McKeon said that preventing military chaplains from deciding whether or not they were comfortable officiating same-sex marriage ceremonies was worth "not having a defense authorization bill."

A little background: In September, the Pentagon released a memo authorizing military chaplains to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies, provided that "the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law." The memo also clearly stated that "a chaplain is not required to participate in or officiate a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion or personal beliefs." The Defense of Marriage Act still bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, but in February the Obama administration said the law was unconstitutional and it would no longer defend it in court

Republicans deliberately mischaracterized the memo as forcing military chaplains to perform same-sex marriages even if they were against their religious convictions. "We think that chaplains should not be forced to do something that goes against their conscience," McKeon said in October. As noted above, given that the administration memo explicitly says chaplains can't be forced to officiate at such ceremonies, that objection was entirely bogus. The amendment banning military chaplains from voluntarily officiating at same-sex marriage ceremonies and barring such ceremonies from taking place on military facilities was introduced by Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who accused the Department of Defense of putting "the White House’s liberal agenda ahead of following the law." Ultimately, despite McKeon's earlier statement, Republicans weren't willing to kill the defense bill over this.

Because of DOMA, same-sex couples still lack many of the basic rights and benefits extended to heterosexual couples in the military, despite the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. The chaplain issue is important, but it doesn't resolve the underlying matter, which is that despite gay and lesbian servicemembers being able to serve openly, their relationships still aren't seen as equal under the law. 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 13, 2011

Tue Dec. 13, 2011 5:57 AM EST

A US Army soldier scans the area in the back of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter during a flight to Nesh District on December 7, 2011. Members of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team attended a Governance, Reconstruction, and Development meeting held at the Nesh District Center. (US Air Force photo/Senior Airman Sean Martin, Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team)

Corn on Hardball: Does the Republican Electorate Want a Bomb Thrower?

Mon Dec. 12, 2011 9:02 PM EST

David Corn and Howard Fineman joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss highlights from the weekend GOP debate. Despite Newt Gingrich's controversial assertions during the debate that the Palestinians are an invented people, he continues to climb in the polls. Seeking to separate himself from Gingrich's claims, Mitt Romney said, "I'm not a bomb thrower. Rhetorically, or literally." But maybe that's what the GOP electorate wants.

Occupy Shuts Down West Coast Ports

| Mon Dec. 12, 2011 7:31 PM EST
Protesters at the November 2 Oakland port shutdown.

The first phase of Monday's Occupy Oakland-led West Coast port shutdown was, by protesters' accounts, a success: Port terminals were shut down in Oakland and in Longview, Washington—the site of an ongoing contract fight with a subsidiary of agribusiness giant Bunge. In Long Beach, San Diego, and Vancouver, attempts to shut down the respective ports were less successful, with protesters blocking access to the three ports for about an hour before police forced them to disperse. Police arrested five demonstrators in San Diego and at least two in Long Beach.

In Oakland, protesters exchanged heated words with angry port workers who were anxious to be paid. Among these workers were members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), whose leadership had spoken out in opposition to the shutdown.

Jon Huntsman Glosses Over Genocide In Bangladesh

| Mon Dec. 12, 2011 6:50 PM EST
2012 GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.

During Monday's Lincoln-Douglas style debate between front-runner Newt Gingrich and back-runner Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor was asked about the United States' volatile relationship with Pakistan. Huntsman asked the audience to think back to the early 1970s, when America's alliance with Pakistan was more reliable and sturdy. "It was Pakistan that helped open the way to China," Huntsman said, before going on to praise the partnership between then-National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Pakistani President Yahya Khan. Returning to this baseline of friendship with the Pakistani government would be part of Huntsman's grand strategy of "remind[ing] the world once again what it means to be a friend and ally of the United States."

Sounds swell, right? With the way things have been going lately, who wouldn't want to get back to an era when Pakistan actually assisted the United States in major foreign policy wins?

What Huntsman neglected to mention in his description of that period in US-Pakistan relations is that Gen. Yahya Khan was a genocidal leader who orchestrated an indiscriminate campaign against Bengali civilians during the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence. Casualty estimates range in the hundreds of thousands (with higher estimates clocking in at three million deaths) and the operation was labelled by one top-ranking American official at the time as "the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland." Kissinger—predictablylooked the other way because Khan was a key interlocutor in arranging President Nixon's 1972 visit to China. "[General Khan] hasn't had so much fun since the last Hindu massacre," Kissinger said during a closed meeting in 1971.

Obviously, Huntsman was not citing mass murder and ethnic cleansing as indications of a solid bond between the two nations. It is, however, rather peculiar for the Republican candidate to hold up such a dark chapter in Pakistani history as an example of sunnier days. It's likely that Huntsman was simply taking a page from the realpolitik handbook, while banking on the safe assumption that few, if any, listeners were aware of this complex, brutal episode of the Bangladesh Liberation War and Nixon's "opening" to China.

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GOP Candidates: Bibi First, America Second

| Mon Dec. 12, 2011 3:30 PM EST
Bibi love

Move over, Ann Romney.

Callista Gingrich, you always knew this time would come.

In Saturday's Iowa presidential debate, the GOP's leading men didn't have their wives on their minds. Instead, they dueled mercilessly for the affections of a different suitor.

The Republican candidates' latest love is a jowly MIT grad who has a penchant for developing new seaside real estate. It's Benjamin Netanyahu, the demagogic pro-settlement prime minister whose right-wing coalition clings to power in Israel like John Boehner grips a putter. 

Ladies and gentlemen, it's Bibi time.

Mitt Romney, Strangely Unfamiliar With the MEK

| Mon Dec. 12, 2011 3:19 PM EST

Mitt Romney followed up Saturday's lackluster debate performance with a town hall in New Hampshire on Sunday, where he criticized President Obama, made pointed jabs at Newt, and reflected on his Mormon missionary experience in France. But things got more interesting when an audience member asked the potential Republican nominee if he supported efforts by prominent political leaders in Washington to remove the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian dissident terrorist group, from the State Department's list of designated terrorist organizations. Romney responded: "I have not heard of the MEK, so I can't possibly tell you whether I support the MEK. I'll take a look at the issue."

Islamophobes Protest Show for Depicting Muslims As Normal People

| Mon Dec. 12, 2011 2:19 PM EST
Nawal and Nader Aoude of TLC's All-American Muslim.

The Learning Channel's "All-American Muslim," a reality show focusing on a group of Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, has been a target of the Shariah panic industry ever since it started airing. On Friday, hardware retailer Lowe's pulled their ads from the show in response to a protest campaign from the Florida Family Association.

The Washington Post published the FFA's statement on why it objected so vehemently to the show. 

"All-American Muslim’ is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law," the Florida group asserts in a letter it asks members to send to TLC advertisers.

 "The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish," the FFA’s letter continues.

These objections mirror those previously expressed by anti-Muslim activists such as Pamela Geller (she of the stealth jihad turkeys), who wrote, "All-American Muslim" is trying to show nominal Muslims as the norm, as if their existence takes away the threat from devout Muslims." Yet the show wasn't completely devoid of Muslim evil, as she goes on to explain: 

It is mentioned once but never explained: The man has to convert to Islam because a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man. This is a supremacist measure designed to make the Muslim community always expand at the expense of the non-Muslim one. But there is no hint of that in this show.

My grandmother must also have been a "supremacist"—of the Jewish variety that is. She insisted that my mother convert to Judaism before marrying my father. Perhaps Geller can explain why, as with ritual killing of animals to comport with religious dietary laws, this is sinister when Muslims do it but not when Jews do it.

Geller's frequent comrade-in-arms in the fight against the "Islamicization" of the United States, Robert Spencer, also weighed in, writing that "[t]he Muslims it depicts are for the most part undoubtedly harmless, completely uninterested in jihad and Islamic supremacism[.]" It's a shame that Lowe's would come to the conclusion that "Muslims being normal" is so controversial that it would pull its advertisements. 

Anti-Muslim activists like Geller and Spencer frequently argue that they are critics of Islam but they are not anti-Muslim—that they are not motivated by bigotry. But their animosity towards "All-American Muslim," as expressed in their own words, is motivated by the fact that it portrays Muslims as normal human beings. If Geller, Spencer, and their allies were actually concerned about Islamic extremism, and not fostering a civilizational conflict in which all Muslims are potential enemies, then this show would pose no danger to their agenda. 

Their biggest fear is that shows like "All-American Muslim" will succeed at fostering the idea that Islam and American values are not necessarily in conflict. After all, if non-Muslim Americans begin to see American Muslims as being like themselves, then it becomes far more difficult to argue that Muslims' rights should be curtailed, that Muslims should be treated with greater suspicion than other Americans, or that Muslims shouldn't be able to build houses of worship on their own private property. It also becomes much harder to sustain a million-dollar industry devoted to persuading the country that Muslims as a whole are dangerous. 

For Islamophobes, this would be more than just the end of their movement, it would be the end of their business model. No wonder they're so frightened.

GOP Payroll Tax Cut Bill: More Pee, Please

| Mon Dec. 12, 2011 1:40 PM EST

The battle over your 2012 taxes continues this week in Congress. Here's the lay of the land:

  • President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats want to lower the payroll tax for employees to 3.1 percent—cutting most families' tax bills by $1,500 in 2012. But the Democrats want to pay for that cut with a 1.9 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million—a nonstarter for Republicans. 
  • The GOP plan would cut payroll taxes, too (to 4.2 percent, higher than the Democrats' preferred rate). But the Republicans' proposal comes with a grab-bag of other items from conservatives' Christmas list—it would scale back health care reform, slash Medicare spending, increase federal employee retirement contributions, hike Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage insurance rates, and sell off wireless spectrum. Although the GOP measure would extend unemployment insurance benefits—something the Democrats left out of their bill—it takes a page from Florida Gov. Rick Scott's playbook and requires unemployed people who want temporary assistance to undergo drug testing and possess or be working towards a GED. It also trims the number of weeks that UI benefits will potentially be available to unemployed workers from 99 to 59—a reduction of 40 weeks—and reduces the amount of support they provide.