Mojo - December 2011

"That Is The Jewish Grandmotheriest Argument I Have Ever Heard For Indefinite Detention"

| Thu Dec. 8, 2011 8:40 AM PST

 Jon Stewart takes on the detention provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act:

 

My personal favorite line is "you can take away our lives, but only we can take away our freedom!" 

Still, as I explained yesterday, the bill no longer authorizes indefinite detention without trial of American citizens apprehended in the US, due to the compromise amendment adopted by the Senate. Nonetheless, proponents of indefinite detention of Americans say the legislation doesn't need to explicitly grant that power because the president already has that authority (we'll see what the Supreme Court says about that if and when the time comes). The bill still mandates indefinite detention of non-citizens under the same circumstances, a provision that pretty much every top national security official in the Obama administration—and a some former Bush officials as well—say will harm national security. 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 8, 2011

Thu Dec. 8, 2011 3:57 AM PST

Mountain View

US Army Sgt. Barry Dilley from the Oklahoma National Guard, walks down a path at a combat outpost in Afghanistan November 28, 2011. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri.

Obama Admin Ignores FDA on Plan B

| Wed Dec. 7, 2011 6:32 PM PST

Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services upheld their decision to dispense Plan B One-Step—a one-pill emergency contraceptive—to young women only with a doctor's prescription, overruling an FDA request to make the drug available over the counter to women of all ages. The restriction only applies to women under the age of 17. In a statement on the HHS website, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the administration's reasoning: The FDA's conclusion that the drug is safe, she says, did not contain sufficient data to show that people of all ages "can understand the label and use the product appropriately." The outliers, she says, are the 10 percent of girls who are physically capable of child-bearing at 11.1 years old, and "have significant cognitive and behavioral differences." HHS makes no mention of women older than 11 and younger than 17—statistically, those far more likely to be having sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

WATCH: Protesters Occupy Posh Newt Gingrich Fundraiser

| Wed Dec. 7, 2011 6:30 PM PST

On Wednesday night, Republican presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich held a fundraiser at the posh Willard InterContinental hotel in downtown Washington, DC. Waiting there for Gingrich were a few dozen protesters. Around 7 p.m., they snuck through an unlocked back door to the candlelit ballroom hosting the Gingrich affair and caused a ruckus. An email from the Service Employees International Union alerted me to the protest, and I joined them as they crashed the fundraiser.

Inside, the protesters squeezed out a few testimonials on the megaphone and chants of "We are the 99 percent!" before being confronted and ejected from the room—or, in my case, pushed out of the room—by hotel security and other suited individuals.

Watch:

Earlier, protesters had gathered outside the front doors of the Willard, chanting, "The poor get poorer, the rich get rich, that's the platform of Gingrich." They hoisted a "We are the 99%" banner, and the hotel locked several of its entrances.

The Gingrich fundraiser protest was part of "Take Back the Capitol," a five-day, 99-percent-themed series of protests targeting lawmakers at popular fundraising and deal-making spots in DC, including the Capitol Hill Club, a GOP haunt, and Charlie Palmer Steakhouse, a favorite lunch spot for lobbyists and legislators a stone's throw from Capitol. On Tuesday night, protesters lined the entrance to the swanky Lincoln restaurant to protest a fundraiser thrown by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). At least a dozen were arrested on Wednesday during a march on K Street, the symbolic heart of DC's lobbying industry.

The protesters' schedule includes a full day of events on Thursday, including actions at the Capitol Hill Club and elsewhere around DC. But no 1-percenter knows where they might strike next.

Front page image: Rena Schild/Shutterstock.com

VIDEO: "The Daily Show" Takes the Piss Out of Rick Scott (Almost)

| Wed Dec. 7, 2011 4:20 PM PST

Mother Jones readers could be forgiven for wondering, on occasion, if Florida Gov. Rick Scott was on drugs. Since his inauguration last January, the tea partier and ex-CEO has declared war on liberal arts, killed state workers' health coverage while getting a sweet deal himself, melted down on CNN, tried and failed to declare himself a military hero, lost count of the ways in which he's shafted state law enforcement, and posted the worst approval ratings of any governor in the United States. But his real claim to fame has been a possibly not-quite-legal plan forcing welfare recipients to submit to drug tests—at their (and taxpayers') own expense. (With 96 percent of applicants passing the test, and another 2 percent getting inconclusive results, Florida was purchasing a lot of clean pee—approximately $34,000 worth of it every month.)

Wednesday in Tallahassee, though, a fake reporter took the piss out of Rick Scott. At a budget press conference, Aasif Mandvi of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart turned the tables on the guv: "You've benefited from hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars over the years," Mandvi asked, "so would you be willing to pee into this cup to prove to Florida taxpayers that you're not on drugs?"

Here's what happened next, according to the Miami Herald's Mary Ellen Klas:

Scott looked straight at him, didn't miss a beat and said: "I've done it plenty of times."

Mandvi then attempted to hand the sealed, official-looking collection cup to the governor. "We could all turn around, that's fine,'' he said.

At one point Mandvi persuaded other reporters to pass the cup to the front row but Scott ignored it. Mandvi asked again. "I hate to keep harping on this, would you pee in a cup?" Scott shot back: "You don't get to run this."

There's no word yet on when Mandvi's Daily Show segment will air, but here's a peek at the comedy that ensued in raw form:

5 Things to Know About Detention in the Defense Bill

| Wed Dec. 7, 2011 1:25 PM PST

Given the sheer volume of changes to the National Defense Authorization Act (which passed the Senate last week), I figured I'd do a quick post explaining where some of the most important issues stand as the bill heads into conference, facing the threat of a presidential veto.

The bill no longer authorizes the indefinite military detention of Americans captured in the US. That authority was removed from the Senate bill by a compromise amendment that stated nothing in the bill was intended to change existing authority on detention. While Senators such as Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argue that the president already has the authority to do so based on the 2004 Supreme Court decision Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, that case involved an American captured in Afghanistan. The Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on the constitutionality of indefinite military detention of Americans suspected of terrorism who are apprehended in the US.

The bill does mandate military detention for non-citizens. A bipartisan group of Senators approved provisions mandating military detention for non-citizens who are apprehended in the US and are suspected of "substantial" ties to Al Qaeda or affiliated groups, absent a waiver from the department of defense. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the Director of National Intelligence, the head of the FBI, and even former Bush officials have all said the provision would hamper counterterrorism efforts. Civil liberties groups, meanwhile, charge that it would violate longstanding prohibitions on the military enforcing domestic law. The administration has threatened to veto the bill over this provision. 

The bill "affirms" the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force.  Both the Senate and House versions of the NDAA "reaffirm" the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force against al-Qaeda. Since the original AUMF was tied to the 9/11 attacks and therefore had an implied endpoint, civil liberties groups and some Democrats have charged that these provisions are essentially approval of an endless global war on terrorism.  (Lawfare's Ben Wittes, who thinks a new AUMF is appropriate, writes that the Senate version differs slightly in that it states it is "not intended either to limit or expand the authority to wage war under the AUMF.") 

Despite its flaws, the Senate version could provide some key oversight over executive authority. Marcy Wheeler has argued that the administration is concerned about provisions in the Senate version of the bill that would force the administration to clarify to Congress exactly who the US is at war with at any given time. Wheeler writes that this would be a "huge improvement over the secret unilateral decisions the Executive has been allowed to make for a decade." That's Congress though; the public would still be in the dark. Marty Lederman, formerly of Obama's Office of Legal Counsel, has said that the US is secretly at war with groups and inviduals they don't actually know they're at war with. Freedom!

Obama wouldn't be the first to veto a defense bill. According to the Congressional Research Service, if Obama makes good on his veto threat he wouldn't be the first president to hate the troops—I mean excercize executive prerogative. All of Obama's predecessors since President Jimmy Carter, with the exception of George H.W. Bush, have vetoed an NDAA. That of course, includes notable liberals George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. That said, vetoing the bill wouldn't change the current paradigm, in which American citizens suspected of terrorism abroad can be killed without trial and the Obama administration's approach to counterterrorism differs little from the post-2006 Bush administration. Vetoing this bill won't close Gitmo, end the use of military commissions, or make the administration more judicious with its deadly flying robots

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Is Israel Responsible For The Occupy Crackdowns? (UPDATED)

| Wed Dec. 7, 2011 11:45 AM PST
Max Blumenthal.

With the crackdowns on Occupy protests across the country drawing attention to the militarization of American police forces, the media have been searching for explanations. Reporter Max Blumenthal posited that the change was the result of post-9/11 Israeli influence, citing trips to Israel taken by American law enforcement officials for counterterrorism training.

Blumenthal's claims were bolstered by Karen Greenberg, a national security expert with the national security program at Fordham Law (and MoJo contributor in the past). In his piece, Blumenthal wrote: 

Karen Greenberg, the director of Fordham School of Law’s Center on National Security and a leading expert on terror and civil liberties, said the Israeli influence on American law enforcement is so extensive it has bled into street-level police conduct. “After 9/11 we reached out to the Israelis on many fronts and one of those fronts was torture,” Greenberg told me. “The training in Iraq and Afghanistan on torture was Israeli training. There’s been a huge downside to taking our cue from the Israelis and now we’re going to spread that into the fabric of everyday American life? It’s counter-terrorism creep. And it’s exactly what you could have predicted would have happened.”

But Greenberg, whom I reached out to yesterday, says Blumenthal mischaracterized her remarks. 

"I never pretended to know anything about how the police are behaving towards Occupy, and how Israel would have had any influence on how the police were treating the occupiers," Greenberg said in an interview. "What I remembered saying to him was you ought to look at these allegations that others have made about Israeli training in interrogation techniques. I did not intend to assert these allegations as fact...the entire sense of the quote is inaccurate." Greenberg says she emailed Blumenthal, but he responded that he didn't think there was a problem. 

The origins of Bush-era torture, so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," was actually quite well documented by the Senate Armed Services Committee. They were reverse-engineered from military resistance training meant to help servicemembers withstand torture techniques used by China during the Korean war. Greenberg also spoke to Jeffrey Goldberg, who posted her response to Blumenthal Wednesday morning.

A version of the story on the al-Akhbar website, where Blumenthal is listed as a staff writer, used one of the iconic photos of UC Davis police officer Lt. John Pike pepper spraying UC Davis students at the top of the piece. Blumenthal however, never actually lists the UC Davis campus police as one of the departments that received Israeli-style counterterrorism training, and Andy Fell, a spokesman for UC Davis says that isn't the case. 

"We haven’t had any training from the Israelis," Fell said. “It sounds to me that they just pinched a popular photo and put it up there.”

UPDATE: Blumenthal, in a response to Goldberg, writes:

I am not sure why Greenberg would deny the statement she made to me on the record unless she was intimidated by Goldberg and the pro-Israel forces he represents. But the salient fact is that I did quote her accurately, word for word, and I stand by my reporting.

Well I'm not in nearly as good standing with the Zionist Cabal of Americaand Greenberg told me the same thing. Blumenthal citing Greenberg's posing the question of whether Bush officials consulted the Israeli government on torture in a 2005 doesn't come close to substantiating the underlying claim Blumenthal was using Greenberg to make, or the idea that she's backtracking from a prior position taken.

As I said above, the origins of Bush-era torture are well-documented. Absent any independent reporting that Israel had any role in the US development of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," what Blumenthal is doing here is arguing that quoting Greenberg accurately exonerates him from having to actually prove that what he reported is true. I'm not sure that's much to stand by.

UPDATE 2: Philip Weiss posts what he says are Max Blumenthal's notes from his conversation with Greenberg:

The Israelification of the entire security apparatus in the US is worth a book. Coordination of mayors is unprecedented. It’s not of course. It’s worth some thought. After 9 11 we reached out to the Israelis on many fronts and one of those fronts was torture. The training in iraq and Afghanistan on torture was Israeli training. There’s been a huge downside to taking our cue from the Israelis and now were gonna spread that into our cities. It’s counter terrorism creep. And it’s exactly what you could have predicted what would have happened. Why don’t we talk about Israeli coordination in public? The reason is the kind of things they taught us would require a major discussion. After 9 11 we had to react very quickly but now were in 2011 and were not talking about people who want to fly planes into buildings, were talking about young American citizens who feel that their birthright has been sold. And were using Israeli tactics on them? If this stuff bleeds into the way we do business at large were in trouble. To put these occupiers in a category of counterterrorism is philosophically dangerous and incorrect. It has implications in terms of who decides who an enemy is. Bit by bit we’ve allowed a creeping broadening of that category and it’s become closer and closer to Americans. It suggests that the walls that we built around this definition of terrorism can be expanded to whatever we want. Kids are not terrorists and it’s inappropriate to label them that way.

I emailed Greenberg, and I'll post her response if/when she gets back to me.

 Weiss also quotes Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side, in which she writes: "Another former CIA official active at the time said the Agency also consulted closely with Israel...'The Israelis taught us that you can put a towel around a guy's neck and use it like a collar, to propel him headfirst into a wall.'" This technique was later used on "high-value" detainee Abu Zubaydah. Mayer's account, however, follows an earlier paragraph in which she explains that:

Specifically, the CIA asked Arab allies which techniques for handling terror suspects worked best in Arab cultures. The Agency's belief was that interrogation was a cultural matter, much more dependent on indigenous mores. "We talked to police and to other governments—Jordan the Saudis, the Egyptians, [Former CIA official A.B. "Buzzy"] Krongard said. The State Department regularly criticized these other countries for human rights abuses, but this was not a deterrent."

I think it would be a stretch to describe torture in Iraq and Afghanistan as "Egyptian" or "Saudi" torture as a result of the US conferring with those governments on interrogation. Arguing that there was Israeli influence on the Bush administration's so-called "enhanced interrogation" program is a defensible point. Declaring that the "[t]he training in iraq and Afghanistan on torture was Israeli training" is an exaggeration at best, based on what we know. I think that holds true for Blumenthal's larger argument about paramilitary policing in the US as well. 

In case it's not clear, I don't aspire to spend my professional life trying to silence Israel's critics, and Israel has plenty of its own issues with torture, human rights, and the rule of law. As someone who's written about torture in the US for a while though, i just think it's really dishonest to put the responsiblity for a torture program initiated, developed, and implemented by Americans on anyone else. 

Perry Slams Obama For Supporting Human Rights For Gays

| Wed Dec. 7, 2011 9:22 AM PST
Texas Governor Rick Perry

On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced it would be conditioning international aid based on the treatment of gays and lesbians. That didn't sit well with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who, as my colleague Tim Murphy writes, is banking on an escalation in culture war rhetoric to rescue his flagging campaign. Responding to the move, Perry said:

Just when you thought Barack Obama couldn't get any more out of touch with America's values, AP reports his administration wants to make foreign aid decisions based on gay rights. This administration's war on traditional American values must stop. Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America's interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers' money.

It's unclear whether Perry actually understands the context of the Obama administration's decision. While in the United States, most conversations about LGBT rights center around discrimination in employment and equal marriage rights, in many countries gays and lesbians can be executed for merely existing. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear that this was what she was referring to in her speech yesterday.

It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.

Now perhaps Perry thinks that the right not to be "beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation" or not being "subject to so-called corrective rape" are "special rights." But I suspect that if Perry thought it was appropriate to execute people based on sexual orientation, we probably would have known that by now. On the other hand, Perry supports criminalizing gay sex here in the US so maybe he's frustrated America isn't quite as up on its "traditional values" as say, Iran, where being gay is punishable by death. 

There is of course, a contradiction between Obama's support for gay rights generally and the fact that he doesn't support equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians himself. But that alone should have been a tip-off that the new policy was about something other than a "war on traditional American values." Whether Perry's intended audience understands the implications of Perry's argument, and that we're discussing people literally being slaughtered for being gay, is an open question. 

OWS Takes the Fight to GOP Donors at Cantor Fundraiser

| Wed Dec. 7, 2011 8:46 AM PST

Photo by Stephanie MencimerPhoto by Stephanie MencimerOccupy Wall Street and other protesters in DC for a big "Take Back the Capitol" action Tuesday took their fight for the "99 percent" right to the Republican power base: expensive lobbyists-fueled fundraisers. On Tuesday night, about 100 mostly unemployed activists rallied outside the swank Lincoln restaurant downtown, where House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was holding a $2,500 a plate fundraiser for his leadership PAC.

In no small bit of irony, Cantor had themed the fundraiser a "Festivus" event. Seinfeld fans may recall that Festivus is a fictional holiday created for the show. It involves an undecorated aluminum "Festivus" pole and rituals including the "airing of grievances." (On the Seinfeld episode, Frank Costanza declares, "The tradition of Festivus begins with the Airing of Grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now, you're gonna hear about it.")

The invitation to Cantor's fundraiser asked attendees to come and "air your grievances." So the protesters did. In between heckling donors and GOP members of Congress and chanting for millionaires to pay their fair share, the protesters stopped for the occasional "mic check," in which they had an unemployed person step forward to tell his or her tale of woe. ("I used to be a science teacher...") Many of the people in the crowd had been flown in from Idaho by the Service Employees International Union, which helped organize the protest.

You can watch the video footage of Tuesday night's Cantor protest below, including a scene where a Cantor staff member talks to a Channel 4 reporter with her back turned before having him tossed out:

Rick Perry: Kids Can't Even Celebrate Christmas Anymore

| Wed Dec. 7, 2011 8:38 AM PST

How do you know you're lagging in the polls and running out of time in Iowa? When you start cutting ads like this, accusing President Obama of waging a "war on religion":

What is this war on religion, anyway? Did Congress authorize it? How is it being paid for? If Rick Perry is a Christian and President Obama is at war with Christians, can Obama detain Perry indefinitely without trial?

Perry doesn't say. Instead, he leaves us with this: "I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian. But you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school." (Note: Kids are still allowed to celebrate Christmas.) This comes just one day after the Texas governor blasted President Obama for supporting human rights for gay people, warning that it was "not in America's interests." Perry has purchased $1 million worth of air time in Iowa in a last-ditch effort to turn around his campaign; he's looking pretty desperate at this point.