Mojo - December 2011

WATCH: Military Spending Doesn't Create Jobs—It Costs Them

| Sat Dec. 3, 2011 4:00 AM PST

Now that the budget supercommittee has failed in its mission to produce a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction plan, the Department of Defense must automatically cut $600 billion from its budget within the next decade. As expected, the US defense industry is not happy about this, and its lobbyists have been scrambling for ways to convince Congress that the impending cuts are untenable.

So far, one major theme has emerged: Cut spending in our industry, and you cut hundreds of thousands of American jobs. Marion Blakey, CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, announced that "the cuts in the aerospace and defense portion alone could result in the loss of over 1 million American jobs."

But that's misleading, according to the Brave New Media Foundation. While the defense industry would lose some opportunities, military spending in fact amounts to a net loss of jobs when compared with government investment in other industries, according to the group's research. Pumping money into the green energy sector and education field creates far more jobs than defense spending does—in the case of education, twice as many.

Watch:

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WATCH: Andy Kroll Explains Why Obama Is on a Fundraising Blitz

Fri Dec. 2, 2011 3:48 PM PST

Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll appeared on MSNBC to discuss his report on Obama's blistering fundraising pace, and why it reflects the changing landscape of money in American politics.

White House: We're Serious About Vetoing The Defense Bill Over Detention

| Fri Dec. 2, 2011 1:48 PM PST

The White House reiterated its threat Friday to veto a defense spending bill that would mandate military detention for non-citizen terror suspects apprehended on American soil.

During Friday's press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney accused the Senate of engaging in "political micromanagement at the expense of sensible national security policy," adding that "our position has not changed, any bill that challenges or constrains the president's critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the nation would prompt his senior advisers to recommend a veto."

Thursday evening, the Senate agreed on a compromise amendment to the defense bill to avoid deciding whether current law authorizes the indefinite military detention of Americans suspected of terrorism who are apprehended on US soil. That compromise however, did nothing to alleviate the concerns expressed by top national security officials within the administration, who say the provisions mandating military detention for non-citizen terror suspects could interfere with terrorism investigations and jeopardize national security. Later that evening, the overall bill passed the Senate by a 93-7 vote.

The White House is now in a full fledged standoff with the Senate. If the bill arrives at the president's desk unchanged, and the president does not veto after saying publicly that the detention provisions would put American lives in danger, the administration risks not only ensuring their objections will never again be taken seriously by Congress, but the accusation that they, rather than Congress, is playing politics with national security.

Herman Cain's Latest Attempt at Damage Control is Amazing

| Fri Dec. 2, 2011 9:48 AM PST

Herman Cain's presidential campaign is all but over. The latest Des Moines Register poll puts his support in the critical early caucus state at just 8 percent—down 15 points from last month. Also: He's been accused of various forms of misconduct by a bipartisan coalition of five different women, ranging from alleged sexual assault to an alleged 13-year extramarital affair, somehow managing to make Newt Gingrich look like a family man in the process.

On Thursday night, Cain told Sean Hannity that he would decide whether or not to quit the race by Monday. On Friday, he decided the timing was perfect to launch a new website, "Women for Herman Cain." This is the logo:

What is this I don't even.What is this I don't even.If that seems like some sort of stock image, it's because it is. Here's the exact same shot in an ad for a South African sugar company ("pure sweetness," I'm told, was a rejected Cain campaign slogan). Here are those four women, in a photo titled "four happy young women with many colorful balloons." Here are those four same women, with balloons, but without birthday presents:

Courtesy of ShutterstockCourtesy of ShutterstockThe fact that these women can summon such enthusiasm for multicollored balloons sort of puts their energetic support for Cain in perspective.

Scott Walker Wants to Charge Protesters to Protest in State Capitol

| Fri Dec. 2, 2011 9:05 AM PST

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the legislature are using every tool in their kit to clamp down the unions, progressives, and otherwise pissed-off citizens aiming to recall the governor. They've tried to throw up more hurdles in the signature-gathering process in a recall, and angled to implement new, GOP-friendly districts to help state senators withstand new recall efforts.

Now, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, the Walker administration wants to make protesters pay to protest inside the state Capitol, a move that one legal expert calls "put[ting] a price tag on the First Amendment":

Gov. Scott Walker's administration could hold demonstrators at the Capitol liable for the cost of extra police or cleanup and repairs after protests, under a new policy unveiled Thursday.

The rules, which several legal experts said raised serious free speech concerns, seemed likely to add to the controversy that has simmered all year over demonstrations in the state's seat of government.

The policy, which also requires permits for events at the statehouse and other state buildings, took effect Thursday and will be phased in by Dec. 16. Walker administration officials contend the policy simply clarifies existing rules.

State law already says public officials may issue permits for the use of state facilities, and applicants "shall be liable to the state...for any expense arising out of any such use and for such sum as the managing authority may charge for such use."

But Edward Fallone, an associate professor at Marquette University Law School, said the possibility of charging demonstrators for police costs might be problematic because some groups might not be able to afford to pay.

"I'm a little skeptical about charging people to express their First Amendment opinion," he said. "You can't really put a price tag on the First Amendment."

You can understand why Walker might feel defensive. This week, United Wisconsin, the group spearheading the effort to recall Walker, announced it had gathered more than 300,000 signatures in 12 days. The group only needs 540,208, and it has 60 days to gather them. United Wisconsin, which has signed up 20,000 volunteers, says it wants to collect upwards of 700,000 or 800,000 signatures by the mid-January filing deadline.

For his part, Walker says he's not worried about the recall. He told CNBC on Wednesday, "I look forward to [a recall election]. I'd love to have the chance to talk to the voters of Wisconsin again to tell that story."

Senate Votes Not To Vote On Indefinite Detention On Americans

| Fri Dec. 2, 2011 7:15 AM PST

Can Americans be indefinitely detained by the military on suspicion of terrorism if arrested on American soil? Thursday evening the Senate added a compromise amendment to the defense spending bill that states: Maybe. Specifically, it says the bill does not alter current authorities relating to detention, leaving either side free to argue whether current law allows or prohibits indefinite military detention of Americans captured in the US.  

The compromise amendment passed by a 99-1 after a previous effort by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) that would have explicitly prevented the indefinite detention of Americans without trial failed 45-55. Several Democrats joined Republicans in blocking the latter amendment with Republican Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) Rand Paul (R-Ky) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill) joining most Democrats in voting for Feinstein's amendment. 

The reason the compromise amendment worked is that it leaves the question of domestic military detention open, leaving the matter for Supreme Court to resolve should a future president decide to assert the authority to detain a US citizen on American soil. Senators who defended the detention provisions can continue to say that current law allows Americans to be detained based on the 2004 Hamdi v Rumsfeld case in which an American captured fighting in Afghanistan was held in military detention. Opponents can continue to point out that the Hamdi case doesn't resolve whether or not Americans can be detained indefinitely without charge if captured in their own country, far from any declared battlefield. They have the better of the argument.

The compromise amendment however, does nothing to address the Obama administration's concerns about the bill. The Directors of the FBI and CIA, the secretary of defense, and the director of national intelligence have all said that the bill's provision mandating military detention of non-citizen terror suspects apprehended on American soil would interfere with terrorism investigations and harm national security. That hasn't changed. The question is whether or not the administration is willing to make good on its threat to veto the bill, or whether it was just bluffing.   

The floor debate over the Feinstein amendment showed that the argument over whether Americans in the US could be subject to indefinite military detention without trial doesn't fall neatly along partisan or ideological lines. Senator Kirk, in particular, gave a spirited defense of Feinstein's amendment, saying, "Most Americans think you can only be convicted of a crime in the United States beyond the shadow of a doubt by a jury of your peers. But if this [bill without the Feinstein amendment] is passed, that is no longer true."

Now, we simply have no idea.

This post has been edited for clarity. 

 

 

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Budget Crunch Ruins the CIA Party Scene

| Fri Dec. 2, 2011 5:22 AM PST
If the economy remains sour, this might be the most the CIA's party budget can afford this year.

The combination of the stagnant economy and Washington's budget-slashing frenzy keeps claiming casualties. Along with the expected toll on small businesses and—believe it or not—chunks of Wall Street, treasured vices have faced hard times. Dippin' Dots, one of the world's favorite drunk-at-a-ballpark snacks, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early November. Federal agencies have been ordered to seriously cut down on give-aways of government-issued swag (i.e. stress balls, mouse pads, baseball caps, pens, tote bags). And in mid-July, Minnesotans almost had to bid adieu to their beloved cigarettes and beer.

Things might be looking rather barren, but at least we still have those fun annual CIA holiday parties to look forward to...ah, hell, nevermind; scratch that:

U.S. spy agencies might have been eager to celebrate their success this holiday season, following the death of Osama bin Laden, new indications that sanctions and sabotage are working against Iran, and the passage of another year without a major terrorist attack on the United States.

But with budget cuts looming, party plans are being pared back for the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA. Both agencies have for years been known — at least among elites in the insular world of espionage — for throwing lavish year-end events.

Under then-director Leon E. Panetta last year, the CIA brought in shipments of California wine, and served fried oysters, grilled shrimp and quesadillas. His predecessor, Michael V. Hayden, made sure there were musicians playing Irish music while stations set up inside the agency’s cavernous headquarters hallway served drinks and hors d'oeuvres.

...

But the CIA and DNI both acknowledged this week that the events this time around will be smaller, cheaper and off-limits to the press..."Scaling back our holiday celebrations is just another small example of our commitment to making sure that we continue to make wise fiscal decisions across the board," [Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper said in a prepared statement.

Because of the sheer, widely acknowledged awesomeness of CIA-DNI holiday throwdowns, the agency might soon have an #OccupyLangley—comprised of disgruntled employees and elite journos—on its hands.

This latest budget crunch-related move seems to fit with the Obama administration's much-hyped "SAVE Award" initiative, which rewards federal employees who propose the best ideas "to make government more effective and efficient and ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely" on the micro level. But as the Washington Post's Greg Miller noted on Wednesday, officials say that the annual DNI mixer typically costs in the ballpark of $50,000—the same amount the government spends on a single Hellfire missile.

So if this is really just another drop in the deep, towering bucket, it begs the question: Why on earth would the government scale back on one of the things the CIA has actually gotten right?

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 2, 2011

Fri Dec. 2, 2011 3:57 AM PST

"Rooftop Scan"

US Army Sgt. Austen Clair, from Juneau, Alaska, assigned to 2nd Platoon, Action Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas, scans his sector from a rooftop in the Chingay village, Sayed Abad district, Wardak province, Afghanistan, November 21, 2011. The objective of Operation Action Two was to reinforce relationships with the local population, and to deny insurgents freedom of movement in the area. Photo by Spc. Austin Berner.

Newt Gingrich's Ideal Border Fence Already Exists

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 3:23 PM PST
Build the danged fence: The US-Mexican border at Santa Elena Canyon, Texas.

On Thursday, GOP front-runner—yes, front-runner—Newt Gingrich signed a pledge from the North Carolina group Americans for Securing the Border. Per the terms of the pledge, the former House speaker has committed himself to completing a fence along the Mexican border by the end of his first year in office. As Gingrich put it in Des Moines, "We haven't been able to build a fence on the border because we have not been a serious country."

But as the Los Angeles Times notes, the pledge has an important caveat: It explicitly states that the Department of Homeland Security should determine which parts of the border need a fence. Under that criteria, Gingrich would only need to extend the fence by two miles to finish the job America has been too unserious to complete.

Although the border fence mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 called for a 700-mile stretch of fence, the Department of Homeland Security later urged Congress to modify the law. That's because only a fraction of the border actually stands to benefit from having a physical barrier; the billions of dollars it would take to construct a barrier through Texas' Santa Elena Canyon (see above) could be much be better spent doing pretty much anything else. As Border Patrol chief Michael Fisher told Congress in October, "we have now constructed 650 miles of fencing out of nearly 652 miles where Border Patrol field commanders determined it was operationally required along the Southwest border." By that standard, Gingrich's work is pretty much done.

There is a difference between "operationally required" and "optimal," of course. If Gingrich decided he wanted to spend an unlimited amount of money and completely ignore environmental concerns, he could probably expand the length of the fence even more. The ASB pledge also calls for the existing fence to be doubled, so that you'll have to go through two fences to get across. But if you can hop over one fence, the second one just seems superfluous. The point is that the current perimeter parameters have already been defined by the agencies Gingrich's pledge defers to.

Give Gingrich some credit, though: His new plan would cost tens of billions of dollars less than Herman Cain's proposal to build a 2,000-mile electrified fence.

Pew Survey Suggests Gingrich's Vision For Immigration Reform Could Legalize Millions

| Thu Dec. 1, 2011 1:44 PM PST
Newt Gingrich speaks at the Western Republican Leadership Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich's front-runner status has thus far managed to survive the revelation that he doesn't believe mass deportation is a workable solution to illegal immigration. 

"I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families, and expel them," Gingrich said during a GOP presidential debate on CNN last week. "And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying let's be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families."

The Pew Hispanic Center decided to break down what Gingrich's plan might mean in practice. According to their survey, first flagged by the New York Times, almost two-thirds of the US' 10.2 million adult illegal immigrants have lived here for at least a decade, and nearly half have kids who are minors. The survey also notes, "Overall, at least 9 million people are in 'mixed-status' families that include at least one unauthorized adult and at least one US-born child."

It's unclear whether "been here for 25 years and has kids" is exactly the criteria for immigrants to whom Gingrich is prepared to offer relief, but the Pew survey suggests millions might be eligible even under those terms. And any solution involving "millions" is probably way more than the immigration restrictionist GOP base is willing to support. 

In the past, Gingrich has been able to thread the needle between advocating immigration reform policies that border on plausible and using inflammatory rhetoric to insulate himself from conservative criticism. For instance, on Thursday in Iowa, Gingrich signed a pledge to build a southern border fence by 2013. Ironically, according to the Pew survey, the large number of unauthorized immigrants in the US who have been here for a long time and have reared families is the result of the fact that "the inflow [of immigrants] has slowed down significantly in recent years, as the US economy has sputtered and border enforcement has tightened." Even Gingrich probably can't get away with saying that during a GOP debate.