Mojo - February 2012

Iran War Watch: Israel Might Keep US Out Of The Loop On Preemptive Strike

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 9:57 AM PST
F-15I Ra'am fighters with the Israeli Air Force.

Are the United States and Iran on a collision course over the Middle Eastern country's controversial nuclear program? We'll be posting the latest news on Iran-war fever—the intel, the media frenzy, the rhetoric.

If Israeli leaders end up greenlighting a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear installations, there's a decent chance American officials would be kept in the dark, a US intelligence official tells the AP. According to the source, Israeli officials said during private high-profile meetings that they would likely refrain from warning the Americans in order to "decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel's potential attack":

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors...including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions. Netanyahu delivered the same message to all the Americans who have traveled to Israel for talks, the U.S. official said.

[...]

[T]he apparent decision to keep the U.S. in the dark also stems from Israel's frustration with the White House. After a visit by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in particular, they became convinced the Americans would neither take military action, nor go along with unilateral action by Israel against Iran. The Israelis concluded they would have to conduct a strike unilaterally — a point they are likely to hammer home in a series of meetings over the next two weeks in Washington, the official said...The behind-the-scenes warning belies the publicly united front the two sides have attempted to craft with the shuttle diplomacy to each other's capitals.

This is hardly the first time Israeli officials have indicated that an air strike on Iranian nuclear facilities might be carried out without notifying Washington. This latest "behind-the-scenes warning" could be little more than the standard diplomatic posturing and leverage; nevertheless, the uneasy narrative of plausible deniability is already being established. But, as the AP story notes, American officials are getting a bit creative about keeping themselves in the loop:

U.S. intelligence and special operations officials have tried to keep a dialogue going with Israel, despite the high-level impasse, sharing with them options such as allowing Israel to use U.S. bases in the region from which to launch such a strike, as a way to make sure the Israelis give the Americans a heads-up, according to the U.S. official, and a former U.S. official with knowledge of the communications. 

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GOP Lawmaker: Party Kingmakers "Whispering" About Drafting New Candidate

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 9:07 AM PST
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.)

With Mitt Romney, the GOP establishment's pick in the 2012 presidential nomination battle, still unable to win over dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, the chatter about drafting a new, more popular candidate continues to grow.

On CNN Tuesday morning, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chair of the House homeland security committee, hinted at a whisper campaign among "top Republicans" who want a GOP favorite such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to enter the race if Romney loses the Michigan or Arizona primaries or struggles on Super Tuesday, when ten states controlling 437 delegates hold GOP primaries on March 6. "I think there’s going to be more of an interest, more of an emphasis on having someone ready if on Super Tuesday... Mitt Romney does not manage to break loose, and to have that candidate ready to come in," King said. He added, "Again, I have no inside knowledge. Just whispering and mumbling here among top Republicans who are concerned that Governor Romney has not been able to break loose."

King told CNN's Soledad O'Brien that he sees the Michigan primary as a make-or-break moment for the Romney campaign. "From my perspective, if Romney does not win Michigan, it creates real problems for his candidacy," he said. "I think you then will start seeing more activity among the Republican establishment, whatever that is, talking to people like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, people like that."

Romney heads into the Michigan primary with a razor-thin 1 percentage point lead over former US senator Rick Santorum, according to RealClearPolitics polling data. Romney fares even worse in national polls, trailing Santorum by 3 percentage points, according to RCP. The pressure on Romney to dig out a win in Michigan is huge, given that he grew up there and that his dad, George Romney, served as governor from 1963 to 1969. Yet Romney's opposition to the federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler has dented his support there, and he finds himself locked in a bitter fight with the surging Santorum.

Romney could very well pull off a win in Michigan. Even if he does, though, he's been humbled in a state he once called home.

Convicting Alleged Terrorists Is Hard When You Torture Them

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 7:43 AM PST
A guard tower at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Gitmo detainee Majid Khan, accused of being a facilitator for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is reportedly in the midst of a plea deal with military prosecutors that will lighten his sentence in exchange for his testimony against other suspected terrorists. This has former Bush administration speechwriter Marc Thiessen in an absolute rage:

Giving this killer a reduced sentence is outrageous. Khan is no run-of-the-mill terrorist. He was directly subordinate to KSM and was selected by the 9/11 mastermind to conduct terrorist operations inside the United States. Khan even passed a test KSM orchestrated, which showed Khan was committed to being a suicide operative. Khan agreed to help KSM set up a front business to smuggle explosives into the United States for use against economic targets and to lead a KSM plot to blow up gas stations along the East Coast, but he was captured before he had the chance to enter the United States. He had been charged with war crimes, including murder, attempted murder, spying and providing material support for terrorism — all of which could have earned him a life sentence. Instead, he might now be released.

The Khan plea deal is a direct consequence of policies Thiessen supported. Thiessen is a huge apologist for the Bush-era CIA torture program, which was of dubious usefulness but nevertheless made it vastly more difficult to actually prosecute suspected terrorists because the evidence against them is tainted. Khan has said that he was tortured so badly that he attempted to commit suicide by chewing through his own arteries. His statements about his treatment have been censored by the US government, however, so we don't even know all of what he says was done to him. 

Thiessen has also vocally advocated for the prosecution of Gitmo detainees in military commissions and against the transfer of any detainees to American soil for trial. Although the rules of military commissions favor the government, federal trials tend to hand out much harsher sentences. Why would Khan's fate be any different from the trickle of detainees convicted in military commissions, several of whom are already free?

Thiessen and other conservatives who have defended the use of torture and blocked federal trials for detainees only have themselves to blame for Khan's reduced sentence. They've done everything possible to ensure things would play out this way. 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 28, 2012

Tue Feb. 28, 2012 6:31 AM PST

Petty Officer Third Class Michael Soto, the corpsman for Bridge Platoon, Alpha Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, directs the litter-bearers as they load an injured marine into a helicopter during a medical evacuation in the district of Garmsir, Helmand province, on January 30, 2012. Soto, a native of Lake Villa, Ill., has been with 9th ESB for the past year and is the primary caregiver to the marines of bridge platoon as they serve on the frontlines of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of the United States Marine Corps.

The PR Man Behind the Oscar Night Anti-Humane Society Slam

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 4:00 AM PST

Americans who endured Sunday night's Academy Awards ceremony were treated to a surprisingly aggressive campaign-style ad attacking the Humane Society for supposedly spending less than one cent of every dollar it takes in on animal shelters. The ad opens with a blaring siren on one side of the screen and footage from a Humane Society TV spot on the other. "Consumer alert!" a voiceover declares. "If you've seen this ad or donated to the Humane Society of the United States, you should know that only one penny of every dollar donated goes to local pet shelters." 

Take a look:

The group behind the ad is the Center for Consumer Freedom, a creation of the Washington PR guru Rick Berman, who runs an array of corporate-funded front groups targeting public-interest outfits, unions, and other organizations that pose a threat to the bottom line of Berman's clients. (As Mother Jones has reported in the past, Berman's firms have also shilled for predatory loan companies.) The Center for Consumer Freedom largely focuses on opposing laws and regulations that are bad for the food and beverage industries. The group is known for fact-bending ad campaigns downplaying, among other things, the amount of mercury in fish and the number of drunk-driving deaths. In 2007, Berman told CBS's 60 Minutes that he essentially sees himself as a warrior against an encroaching nanny state that seeks to deprive Americans of all the delicious foods they love to eat.

According to the Center for Consumer Freedom's 2010 tax filing, the group set aside about a million dollars to set up its anti-Humane Society website "Humane Watch." Berman has created a separate group with the oddly Humane Society-sounding name, the Humane Society for Shelter Pets. Its website snarks at the Humane Society for failing to provide more money for animal shelters.

Berman's group openly acknowledges that it is supported by restaurants and other food companies. But as a 501(c)(3), it doesn't have to disclose its donors, allowing the Center for Consumer Freedom's corporate funders to avoid being tarnished by attacks like the one CCF aired during the Oscars.

"You can take money from any source; you don't have to worry about contribution limits or anything like that. The donors are kept secret, so there's no disclosure of who's ultimately paying for the ad," says Bill Allison, the editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation. "You can have a political impact without necessarily disclosing who you are and what you're doing."

So why would a group funded by the food industry group go after the Humane Society? Both the Humane Society and the Center for Consumer Freedom seem to agree this is not about lost puppies. Rather, it's about the Humane Society's success in altering laws and regulations dealing with animal cruelty, which can sometimes increase the cost of doing business.

"They seek to use ballot initiatives and lobbyists to change laws in ways that are not in line with consumer demand," says Justin Wilson, senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom. "If you want to buy cage-free hand-foraged eggs from the farmer who grows them on the roof of a building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that's great. Alternatively, if your view of these things is different from people who want to spend that much money, that should be their choice."

Wilson argues that the Humane Society's ads give donors a false impression of where their money goes, and that his group is simply informing the public of what the Humane Society actually does. So does the Humane Society really gives just 1 percent of its budget to animal shelters? Yes, says Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle—but that's a statistic he calls a "false frame," both because the group spends tens of millions on sterilization, sanctuaries, and animal rescues all over the country, and because the group has never claimed to simply fund animal shelters. According to its 2010 annual report, the Humane Society spent $27 million on "direct care and service" for animals and about $53 million on "advocacy and public policy." Pacelle says all the footage in their ads comes directly from Humane Society staffers.

"The only reason he's attacking us is that we're the most effective animal protection group in the world, not because we're bad at what we do," Pacelle says. He pointed out that just a few weeks ago the Humane Society persuaded McDonald's to stop confining pregnant pigs in cramped gestational crates. "They'd love it if we put all our money exclusively into rescuing animals on the street and didn't get to the source of the problem."

Corn on Hardball: Is the GOP Race Slipping Away?

Mon Feb. 27, 2012 6:12 PM PST

David Corn and Time magazine's Mark Halperin joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the latest political poll results and what they say about the GOP's chances in the 2012 election. Recent polls show Barack Obama's approval rating is at 53 percent, up nine points since November. The polls also show that when Obama is pitted against Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, he beats them by 10 and 11 points, respectively. The Republican primary fight has dragged on for months and promises to continue well into the future. Has all the candidates' mudslinging started to harm the GOP's image and turn off voters?

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Your Daily Newt: Obama Would Make Andrew Jackson Want to Vomit

| Mon Feb. 27, 2012 3:15 PM PST

78 year-old Andrew Jackson.: Wikimedia CommonsSources say 244 year-old former president Andrew Jackson is privately seething over President Obama's reluctance to have his political opponents shot: Wikimedia CommonsAs 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.

The Associated Press' Ken Thomas reported on Monday that Newt Gingrich, "speaking at the Tennessee state capitol, says Andrew Jackson would have been 'enraged by Barack Obama."

We'll take a look at that last claim.

The facts: Historians agree that "rage" was a defining character trait of our seventh president. This is the same Andrew Jackson who, after a Nashville man insulted his wife, promised to "follow him over land and sea" until Jackson had the opportunity to kill him (he did). He challenged the first lawyer he ever argued a case against to a duel. He invaded Spanish Florida without authorization, singlehandedly drove future Sen. Thomas Benton from the state of Tennessee after an open-air gunfight (prefaced with the immortal line, "I am going to punish you"), and as a child had a tendency to "work himself into fits of rage so paralyzing that contemporaries recalled he would begin 'slobbering.'"

Jackson spent much of his life in acute pain from the bullets lodged in his chest and left arm. That produced a natural state of irascibility. Or at least it would have if it'd happened to us. From a policy standpoint, Jackson had a 19th-century southern plantation owner's view on race (in addition to serving as president, Jackson was a 19th-century plantation owner) and owned more than three dozen slaves—something that struck him in as not at all morally wrong. His views on human rights, checks and balances, internal improvements, and finance would be anathema to a large swath of today's public. And like we said, he had a habit of discharging firearms at people he didn't like.

Our ruling: There are some definite areas of agreement—Jackson was an unabashed proponent of class warfare, for instance, suggesting he'd be sympathetic to Obama's embrace of the 99 percent. His invasion of Florida in pursuit of the Seminole was cited by the Department of Justice in a memo justifying Obama's Guantanamo detainee policy. Nonetheless, Andrew Jackson, a man whose reputation was built in large part on acts of unbridled rage, would likely have been enraged by Barack Obama. Jackson, who allied with pirates at the Battle of New Orleans, might also wonder why the President has adopted such a hostile policy to Somali pirates. And Obama's insistence on adhering to the 13th and 14th amendments would be a particular sore point. The bottom line is Washington, through the extension of civil rights to women and minorities in the decades since the Civil War, would have become something totally unrecognizable to Old Hickory. Andrew Jackson fear change. Andrew Jackson angry. Andrew Jackson smash.

We rate this claim "mostly true."

Alabama Revives Transvaginal Ultrasound Debate

| Mon Feb. 27, 2012 2:13 PM PST

Over at Think Progress, Amanda Peterson Beadle reports that Alabama has taken up its own version of the Virginia bill that would have required women—even victims of rape or incest—to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before getting an abortion:

When a woman in Alabama seeks an abortion procedure, she already has to sign that her doctor has performed an ultrasound and that she either viewed the ultrasound image or rejected seeing it. But state Sen. Clay Scofield (R) is pushing SB 12, a bill in the Alabama legislature that would mandate the physician "to perform an ultrasound, provide verbal explanation of the ultrasound, and display the images to the pregnant woman before performing an abortion.” The physician could also require the woman to submit to a transvaginal ultrasound—"in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced"—if she or he determines it necessary.

The Alabama bill advanced out of committee on Friday. State Sen. Greg Reed told the local news that voted for the bill because it would help "a mother to understand that a live baby is inside her body." By forcing her to undergo unwanted vaginal penetration, that is.

The original Virginia law was scrapped last week after public outcry, but that doesn't appear to have stopped Alabama from taking up the cause.

Iran War Watch: Oscar Night Edition

| Mon Feb. 27, 2012 1:57 PM PST

Are the United States and Iran on a collision course over the Middle Eastern country's controversial nuclear program? We'll be regularly posting the latest news on Iran-war fever—the intel, the media frenzy, and the rhetoric.

The last few days have been a bit tense: The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran is beefing up its production of higher-grade enriched uranium. The Pentagon recently strengthened sea and land defenses in the Persian Gulf. And the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences just aided the Iranian regime in dealing a death blow to Zionist warmongering.

At least that's how Iran's state media is spinning Oscar night. After the highly acclaimed Iranian film A Separation scored the Best Foreign-Language Film award for 2011 (beating out Israeli art film Footnote), state-run TV touted the win as a victory over the "Zionist regime" and the Israel lobby. Similarly, Javad Shamaghdari, head of Iran's Cinematic Agency, declared the moment the "beginning of the collapse" of a pro-Israel movement in the United States that "beats the drum of war." (This did not, however, change the fact that hardliners in the Iranian government are still actually rather pissed at the film's "liberal" slant.)

During his acceptance speech on Sunday night, director Asghar Farhadi spoke of Iran's "glorious culture" that has been "hidden under the heavy dust of politics." He dedicated the award to the Iranian people—a people who "respect all cultures and civilizations, and despise hostility and resentment."

The vagueness of his words (Is the referenced "hostility and resentment" that of American, Israeli, or Iranian aggression?) was likely a careful hedge on Farhadi's part. In September 2010, as Farhadi was putting the finishing touches on A Separation, Iranian authorities revoked the director's industry permits due to comments he made that were perceived as supportive of dissident filmmakers and the Green Movement. A week later, he submitted an apology to the country's Culture Ministry, and his license was reissued. (Iran's culture minister Mohammad Hosseini later commented that he felt that Farhadi "had realized his mistakes.")

Karger: Did the Mormons Shut Down My Website?

| Mon Feb. 27, 2012 1:41 PM PST

As a gay republican, Fred Karger knew he was a bit of a longshot in the GOP presidential primary. He's been openly threatened by party officials and denied slots and speaking opportunities in debates and political confabs that included candidates as fringe as he is. But Karger managed to get on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary, and decided to invest most of his resources in faring well in the state that tends to lean libertarian. Karger was the first candidate to run ads there, and he spent months campaigning on the ground, handing out his signature "Fred Who?" frisbees to surprised voters. But five days before the primary, Karger got word that the company hosting his campaign website, Terra Eclipse, was shutting him down.

Terra Eclipse works with Republican candidates to do web tech and new media campaigns. Clients have included former Minnesota governor and GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), and the tea-party affiliated group FreedomWorks. But apparently Karger's campaign rubbed the firm the wrong way. Two days before Terra Eclipse informed Karger that it was dropping him as a client, Karger helped launch an interactive website subtly aimed at Mitt Romney called Top10CraziestMormonBeliefs.com to which readers submitted such entries as "Mormons believe a con artist is a prophet who found golden plates in NY." It was intended as a jab at Rommey, and it was hosted on another platform, but Terra Eclipse informed Karger:

While your campaign has every right to express views using tactics of your own choosing, our company also has the right to freely associate with our clients. In light of these actions, which not only appear to be completely irrelevant to a campaign for President of the United States, but also constitute an insult to and mockery of individuals of particular faiths, we are exercising our right to terminate your NetBoots account and disassociate with your campaign, as reserved in our Terms of Service (attached).

I invite you to contact our attorneys should you wish to pursue the matter further.

Karger immediately suspected that the Mormon Church was involved in the move. He sent out an email to supporters suggesting as much, noting that one of Terra Eclipse's clients was Sen. Mike Lee, a Mormon Republican from Utah. He noted in the email that the church has good reason to be unhappy with him. Terra Eclipse founder Martin Avila calls the notion that the church was involved in the decision "kind of preposterous" and said, "That's kind of nuts, but whatever." He declined further comment.

Karger has been battling the Mormon Church since 2008 when he got involved fighting California's Proposition 8, the ballot measure that banned gay marriage in the state. Karger discovered and helped publicize the fact that the church was secretly dumping tens of thousands of dollars worth of man-hours and in-kind donations to the effort, running phone banks, busing in volunteers from Utah, producing ads, and raising millions of dollars in coordinated contributions from its members. Yet in state-required campaign spending reports, the church only reported spending about $2,000. After a complaint by Karger, state elections officials investigated and ended up finding the church guilty of 13 counts of late campaign reporting and fined it about $5,000 for failing to include the full extent of its spending on the initiative. 

Karger has found new life for his criticism of the Mormon Church in the campaign of Mitt Romney, whom he has said publicly may be more loyal to his church than to the citizens he could be elected to serve. He told the Salt Lake Tribune in January, "How can a President Romney turn down a call from the First Presidency?" Karger asked. "He has been an obedient, faithful Mormon his whole life; he won't just disregard it. I think the separation of church and state is designed to prevent exactly that." Karger has been pressing Romney to encourage the church to end its financial support for campaigns to ban gay marriage, even showing up to protest his appearances during a 2010 book tour.

But Karger's more recent attacks on the church, like the "10 Crazy Beliefs" website, have come in a different context, a presidential campaign that has featured some pretty nasty anti-Mormon bigotry aimed at Romney. While Karger was on solid ground exposing the Mormon role in supporting Prop 8, "10 Crazy Beliefs" threatened to put him in the same camp as the Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, who in October called Mormonism a non-Christian "cult" and suggested that voting for Romney would give credibility to said cult. It's probably not much of a surprise that Karger's hosting company decided to pull the plug on him, Mormon Church involvement or not.

Still, Karger is making the most of the incident, using it in a recent fundraising appeal in which he fumes:

Candidates for political office should not be subject to this type of destructive treatment by a vendor because of content not even on the web site that it is hosting. I want the world to know it.