Mojo - December 2011

ACLU Corrects Citation To Non-Islamophobic Essay

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 2:20 PM EST
State Department counterterrorism adviser Will McCants

The ACLU, which has been challenging the federal government's use of anti-Muslim materials in counterterrorism training, acknowledged on Thursday that one of the sentences in an essay the group had cited as Islamophobic earlier this week was taken out of context. 

"We stand by the broader points we make in our analysis, including that the textbook contains deeply problematic materials, but we shouldn't have cited to this specific essay in support of those broader points," ACLU Policy Counsel on National Security, Immigration and Privacy Mike German wrote. "The citation focused on a portion of the conclusion, without properly taking into account the content that came before it. We are removing the citation of this essay from our earlier analysis and are updating our blog to reflect that change. We regret the error."

The essay in question was written by former State Department counterterrorism adviser Will McCants in a training textbook produced by the FBI and the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. The ACLU had described the essay as an example of training materials that "falsely portray American Muslim and Arab communities as monolithic, violent and supporters of terrorism." McCants' essay had actually been making the opposite point.

That textbook, Terrorism & Political Islam: Origins, Ideologies, and Methods did contain some questionable material, such as the suggestion that opposition to the war in Iraq could be a sign of Islamic militancy. Good on the ACLU for correcting the record, which is something the fearmongers they're criticizing will probably never do. 

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Ayotte's Torture Amendment Is Kaput

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 2:13 PM EST
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Repealing restrictions on torture: It's the moderate, centrist thing to do.  

On Wednesday afternoon, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) took to the Senate floor to defend her amendment revoking President Obama's 2009 executive order restricting American interrogators to the techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual.  "Our amendment in no way condones or authorizes torture," Ayotte said, insisting the secret annex to the Army Field Manual her amendment would have created would still have abided by domestic and international prohibitions against torture. Ayotte also said that interrogations were being undermined by the fact that the Army Field Manual on interrogation is available on the Internet. we're just telegraphing to our enemies that we're going to use."

But as Ayotte tried to rebut criticisms that her amendment would open the door to torturous interrogation techniques, she engaged in a conversation with the amendment's co-sponsors that undermined her argument.  

"When a member of Al Qaeda or a similar associated terrorist group, I want to them to be terrified about what's going to happen to them in American custody," said Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), explaining his support for the amendment. "I want them not to know what's going to happen, I want that the terror that they inflict on others to be felt by them as a result of the uncertainty that they can look on the Internet and know exactly what our interrogators are limited to." In an exchange with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ayotte acknowledged that part of her goal was to reauthorize some Bush-era "enhanced interrogation techniques" other than waterboarding. 

Barack Obama Has, on Average, Attended a Fundraiser Every 5 Days in 2011

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 1:30 PM EST

On Wednesday, President Obama zipped up to New York City to attend three different fundraising events. Occupy Wall Street protesters greeted the president outside the Sheraton New York, the site of one of Obama's fundraisers, though New York police officers kept the demonstrators penned in what NYPD called "frozen zones." (More on that here.)

But perhaps the most interesting item to come out of Obama's New York swing was this statistic, via CBS News' Mark Knoller:

Sixty-nine fundraisers this year by December 1. That's an average of more than one fundraiser every five days. (Though, as Obama's latest Big Apple trip shows, these events are often clustered together on a single day.) This is a blistering pace of rainmaking for the 44th president in 2011.

Obama's fundraising activity surpasses that of predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. According to Brendan Doherty, a political scientist at the US Naval Academy, Bush attended 41 fundraisers between January 1, 2003 and November 30, 2003. Clinton attended 23 fundraisers from January 1, 1995 and November 30, 1995.

Here's that comparison in chart form:

Prof. Brendan Doherty, US Naval Academy; Mark Knoller, CBS NewsProf. Brendan Doherty, US Naval Academy; Mark Knoller, CBS News

Obama is not on the money trail because he enjoys hotel ballrooms and posing for pictures with 1-percenters. The president's ramped-up fundraising efforts reflect the changing landscape of money in American politics, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Clinton and Bush II didn't have to worry about candidate-specific super-PACs and Karl Rove's shadowy Crossroads GPS outfit raising tens of millions of dollars to finance negative ads. And with the collapse of the presidential public financing system, which capped a candidate's spending, it's up to the candidates to rustle up as much private money as they can in the campaign arms race. (Obama opted out of the public financing system during the 2008 election, becoming the first presidential candidate to do so.)

Obama's fundraising has more than paid off. The president has raised nearly $90 million so far—but with a significant 46 percent of it from small donors—for his reelection effort, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The next highest fundraiser in the 2012 presidential field is Republican Mitt Romney, who has raked in $32.2 million.

Obama's pace exceeds his own fundraising in the early stages of his first presidential run, in 2007. Through September 30, 2007, Obama had raised $80 million; this time around, that figure was $88 million through September 30. As the president, he does have the full backing and fundraising muscle of the Democratic National Committee, which is scouring the country for every dollar and every volunteer it can find to power Obama through what's shaping up to be one of the most bruising, cash-drenched campaigns in history.

Bachmann Is Right About That Iran Embassy, Sorta

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 12:14 PM EST

Outside the former US embassy in Iran: Ninara/FlickrOutside the former US embassy in Iran. Ninara/Flickr

Okay, you've probably heard by now about Michele Bachmann's latest ride on the gaffe train: Talking to supporters in Waverly, Iowa, Wednesday afternoon, the firebrand congresswoman declared that if she were elected president, "we wouldn't have an American embassy in Iran." As just about everyone in the press corps promptly pointed out, the US hasn't had a diplomatic presence in Tehran since 1979, when there was this little Shi'ite revolution thing, and workers at the US embassy were held hostage for a year by Iranian students sympathetic to the new revolutionary government.

But...what if we give Bachmann the benefit of the doubt? There is, after all, still a building that used to be the US embassy in the Iranian capital. It's reportedly now a museum dedicated to American terribleness—according to Lonely Planet, this "US Den of Espionage" is No. 35 on the list of top 95 things for tourists to see in Tehran.

So perhaps Bachmann meant what she said. Perhaps she meant that, if she sits in the Oval Office, there'd be no ex-embassy-cum-anti-American museum in the Islamic Republic of Iran...because there'd be no Islamic Republic of Iran. Just a thought.

If so, Bachmann's actually on the cutting edge of international relations theory: In one short statement, she's managed to simultaneously construct a national security threat and deconstruct it by predicting its annihilation. Political scientists, let's call this exciting new process "threat derationalization."

[Update: A damage-control statement by the Bachmann campaign insists that the congresswoman was "speaking in the hypothetical." So much more comforting.]

Buddy Roemer to Seek Nomination Through Dark Money-Fueled Group

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 12:06 PM EST

Republican presidential long shot Buddy Roemer is throwing his lot in with Americans Elect, the weird, not-actually-a-third-party-but-come-on political group I wrote about last week. The group's catchy sell: it will allow registered voters to select a presidential nominee over the internet.

Roemer's announcement, via Dave Weigel:

Today I officially announce that I will seek the Americans Elect nomination as a proud Republican but as an even prouder American.

Our country is on the wrong track and Americans are in search of real leadership. Leadership that isn't predetermined by lobbyists, political parties, or Wall Street executives, but leadership that is free to do what is right for the citizens of our great nation.

Many Americans are unemployed or without health insurance, or both. Some have been foreclosed on or about to be foreclosed on. Sadly, the list goes on and on. From the Tea Party movement to the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is safe to say Americans have lost faith in their government and neither President Obama nor Congress have put aside politics in order to help their fellow Americans.

I will take my message of ending business as usual in Washington directly to the American people. No other candidate is free from the special interests or has the experience I have. I am a former governor, four-term congressman, successful businessman and Harvard-educated economist. And yet, the Republican Party has not allowed me in the debates. Perhaps they don't like my message about the corrupting influence of money in politics. But, I believe the American people want to hear the message, so I'm going to seek the nomination of Americans Elect which appears eager to welcome diverse and controversial opinions that may upset the status quo.

I will continue to campaign for the Republican nomination and hope to surprise everyone on January 10 in New Hampshire.

Americans Elect wants to upend the political process by allowing registered voters to nominate a presidential ticket that's beholden to neither party. But it has come under heavy scrutiny for its a shadowy bureaucratic hierarchy and refusal to disclose its donors. How that latter piece squares with Roemer's criticism of the current, broken campaign finance system is unclear.

Newt Gingrich: The Ali G Interview

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 11:07 AM EST

Now that Newt Gingrich is offically a serious Republican presidential candidate, everything he's done in his 68 years is up for scrutiny. His trip to the Harrisburg, Pa. city hall as a young boy to ask the mayor to open up a zoo reflects pretty well on him; his support for a bill calling for global population control in the name of global warming might not go over so well with the conservative base. It's not entirely clear how his interview with Sacha Baron Cohen character Ali G will play, but here you go:

The look of total spite on Gingrich's face as he explains how to properly pronounce his first name is fantastic.

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"They're Holding Us Hostage!"

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 8:51 AM EST

UPDATE: As the New York Observer, Capital New York, and Gothamist have pointed out, the NYPD's refusal to allow me into the "frozen zone" where OWS protesters were held last night comes just days after Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly sent a memo to officers reminding them not to interfere with meda access during news coverage.

Outside a Manhattan fundraiser attended by President Barack Obama last night, the New York City Police Department deployed a new and legally questionable tactic against Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and the press. Starting at around 9:00 p.m., police barricaded a group of about 50 protesters into a small area on 7th Avenue and 53rd Street. These kinds of designated "free speech zones" have become routine at protests of high-level political events. But here's the twist: Protesters in the NYPD's free speech zone were trapped there. Not only could nobody enter after a certain point, but for about an hour and a half, nobody could leave.

When I arrived outside the Obama event, a $1000-a-head fundraiser at the Sheraton New York, I found that the police had cordoned off the sidewalk a block in all directions and were not admitting the press. Deeper inside this "frozen zone," as the police called it, were the kettled protesters, who occupied a sort of Faberge egg of dissent that was completely inaccessible to anyone not already there. From my vantage point I couldn't even read their signs.

On the sidewalk I ran into Andrew Katz, a Columbia journalism grad student who has gained a following covering OWS on Twitter. We noticed that cars driving down 7th Avenue were getting much closer to the kettled area than pedestrians and hatched a plan to ride a cab into the center of things. Here's the video I shot of hopping out and getting pushed away as I tried to interview trapped protesters:

To be sure, the crackdown on the protest can't help Democrats who want OWS to give them a boost at the ballot box. "Everybody just got really fucked constitutionally," said a woman in a black puffer, summing up the dominant sentiment in the crowd. A spokesman for the NYPD, who would only give his name as Officer Navarro, told me that he was unaware of the events at the Obama protest and could not comment on them.

Many who showed up outside the fundraiser said they'd just wanted to talk about the kind change that Obama had campaigned on. "It's funny that all of us supported Obama and we are now literally being held as prisoners 100 yards from where he'd giving a talk," said Chelsea, a young protester in from Essex County, New Jersey. She'd wanted to tell the president: "If you don't listen to corporate interests, you don't have to take millions of dollars from them. We would actually want to elect you."

Wall Street Tactics for the Pentagon?

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 7:00 AM EST

Last week I reported on the activities of the little-known Defense Business Board, an advisory panel of corporate executives that aspires to overhaul Pentagon operations using Wall Street-style management and cost-cutting tactics—including a controversial proposal to privatize military retirements. Over at Gunpowder and Lead, DOD employee and operations analyst extraordinaire James Skylar Gerrond sets his sights on my story:

[I]n this case I think Adam's desire to tell a good partisan story overwhelmed his responsibility to be intellectually honest. This article completely overstates the influence of the DBB, wrongly frames them as lacking empathy for military members and misrepresents their recommendations on a number of issues…The reason you've never heard of the DBB isn't that they are overly secretive, its just that they aren't really that important.

Sky—who's eloquently taken issue with the DBB's plan on GI pensions before—makes some worthwhile points, in particular taking me to task for writing that the board's members "know little about military affairs." Three of the 12 main board members do have military backgrounds, as Sky points out, and I'll gladly take the heat for downplaying that. All the same, the résumés of the DBB members are much more stacked with a different kind of service: high-level roles at Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, the Bank of Virginia, and other investment banks and consulting firms.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 1, 2011

Thu Dec. 1, 2011 6:57 AM EST

US Army Spc. Ricardo Gonzalez, 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, spends his Thanksgiving pulling security at an entry control point in Afghanistan November 24, 2011. US Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Duval.