Mojo - February 2012

Poll: Americans Approve Of Targeted Killing Of American Terror Suspects

| Wed Feb. 8, 2012 10:59 AM EST
An MQ-9 Reaper drone in Afghanistan in 2007.

Buried in the recently released Washington Post/ABC poll noting improving numbers for President Barack Obama are numbers showing that Americans are favorably disposed towards the use of targeted killing in counterterrorism operations, even if the targets are Americans.

Here are the poll results: Overall 83 percent of Americans approve of the use of "unmanned, 'drone' aircraft against terrorist suspects overseas," 59 percent strongly and 26 percent "somewhat." Of those who approve, 79 percent think the use of targeted killing against American citizens abroad who are suspected of terrorism is justified. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent, who takes a closer look at the internal numbers, finds that "Democrats approve of the drone strikes on American citizens by 58-33, and even liberals approve of them, 55-35." Whether as a result of partisan identification with the president or an artifact of the United States shifting to the right on counterterrorism policy in general, it doesn't seem likely that Obama will pay a high political price with his base for either the escalation of drone strikes since taking office or the use of drones to kill Americans abroad suspected of terrorism. 

The administration has faced increasing criticism from civil liberties and human rights groups over the nature and secrecy of its targeted killing program, including its efforts to block attempts to force disclosure of the legal rationale for targeting Americans without charge or trial, even as administration officials comment publicly on the program's success. Recently, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta revealed that, when it comes to the targeted killing of Americans suspected of terrorism, the final decision is made by the president himself. In an online forum, President Obama insisted that drones were being used with restraint, saying it was on a "very tight leash," with extreme care being taken to minimize civilian casualties. Not everyone agrees with that assessment: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism says that since Obama took office close to 400 of the casualties from drone strikes in Pakistan have been civilians, with close to 200 of them children. 

Republicans have criticized Obama for his use of targeted killing and special operations forces—mostly on the grounds that more dead terror suspects means fewer of them to interrogate. But the poll numbers suggest widespread approval of Obama's approach to counterterrorism: Limited, covert, and with the collateral damage borne by individuals who remain far beyond the thoughts of most Americans. 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 8, 2012

Wed Feb. 8, 2012 6:57 AM EST

A soldier secures an area during a dismounted patrol in Muqer district, Ghazni province, Afghanistan, on January 29, 2012. Soldiers from Civil Affairs and Provincial Reconstruction Team conducted the dismounted patrol to engage elders and key leaders in the area. Photo by the US Army.

State Department Preparing To Cut Iraq Embassy Staff By Half

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 6:10 PM EST

When the Iraq War officially ended late last year, many were quick to point out it was hardly a wholesale withdrawal. There are still 5,500 armed contractors stationed in Iraq to protect US government personnel (a figure nearly three times the number of hired guns the State Department uses to protect all its other diplomatic missions combined). A small (and controversial) fleet of surveillance drones are patrolling Iraqi skies. Oh, there's also that huge embassy complex in Baghdad that was recently on track to balloon to an even greater size.

But as Tim Arango of the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the State Department might end up nixing as much as half of the 16,000-strong embassy staff:

The expansive diplomatic operation and the $750 million embassy building, the largest of its kind in the world, were billed as necessary to nurture a postwar Iraq on its shaky path to democracy and establish normal relations between two countries linked by blood and mutual suspicion. But the Americans have been frustrated by Iraqi obstructionism and are now largely confined to the embassy because of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to justify the $6 billion annual price tag. ...

Michael W. McClellan, the spokesman for the embassy...said in a statement, "over the last year and continuing this year the Department of State and the Embassy in Baghdad have been considering ways to appropriately reduce the size of the U.S. mission in Iraq, primarily by decreasing the number of contractors needed to support the embassy's operations."...McClellan said the number of diplomats—currently about 2,000—is also, "subject to adjustment as appropriate." To make the cuts, he said the embassy, "is hiring Iraqi staff and sourcing more goods and services to the local economy."

For years, State Department officials have been pushing for substantial cuts in diplomatic operations to accomodate the reduced American role in Iraq. Budgetary realities, the scrapped plans for a residual force of American troops, and animosity between Iraqis and the security contractors have also contributed to the growing downsize-fever.

Also buried in the Times story is this glorious nugget about a major "difficulty" facing the thousands of contractors and diplomats who remained in Iraq after the December drawdown:

Convoys of food that were previously escorted by the United States military from Kuwait were delayed at border crossings as Iraqis demanded documentation that the Americans were unaccustomed to providing. Within days, the salad bar at the embassy dining hall ran low. Sometimes there was no sugar or Splenda for coffee. On chicken wing night, wings were rationed at six per person. Over the holidays, housing units were stocked with Meals Ready to Eat, the prepared food for soldiers in the field.

Uh.... I'll just let Andrew Exum bring this one home:

Rep. Sue Myrick Retires, Opening Door for Islamist Intern Cabal To Take Power

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 5:46 PM EST
Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC)

North Carolina GOP Rep. Sue Myrick told supporters on Tuesday that she will not be seeking re-election next November, making her the third elected representative from the state to announce her retirement in just the last few weeks. On the surface, it's not an especially big deal, largely because Myrick is hardly a power-broker in Congress and her district is solidly conservative.

But Myrick's departure will deprive Congress of one of its loudest voices in the fight against the largely nonexistent threat of "stealth jihad"—a congresswoman who once held a press conference to declare that the Capitol had been infiltrated by a secret cabal of radical Islamist interns bent on destroying America from within. (As anyone who's spent much time in this city knows, the real power in Washington is held by Hill interns; the lobbyists are just there to make sure we don't run out of cigars.)

Such behavior would become a pattern. When Myrick sat down with Muslim constituents in Charlotte in 2010 to explain herself, the Associated Press noted that Myrick had "proposed fighting Islamic radicalization by cutting off exchange programs and weapons sales with Saudi Arabia, passing legislation that would make it a treasonous offense to call for the death of American citizens and investigating the selection of Arabic translators." Admittedly, it was an incomplete list. Last August, she held hearings on the Muslim Brotherhood's supposed attempt to take over America through self-jihad (it didn't go so well). Myrick has also addressed—and been honored by—the anti-Islam activist group ACT! for America. ACT!'s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, believes Muslims should be prohibited from serving in the military and blocked from holding public office.

Last fall, Myrick canceled her planned appearance at a September 11th memorial out of concerns that she had become a target for terrorists, citing an article published by Iranian state media that mentioned her name. Myrick declined to elaborate on the specifics of the threat, except to say that "I live with threats every day; that's my life." The Iranian report was actually just a translation of a report on Islamophobia published by the liberal Center for American Progress. And although Myrick alleged that she had been told be intelligence sources that the article put her life at risk, Salon's Justin Elliott noted that none of the other Republican members of Congress implicated in the report canceled their public events on 9/11.

Court: Prop 8 Is Unconstitutional

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 3:42 PM EST

equality for allrenedrivers/Flickr

On Tuesday morning, a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. 

"Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California," wrote Judge Steven Roy Reinhardt in an opinion that quotes William Shakespeare, Frank Sinatra, and Groucho Marx. "Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently."

What Do the Coen Brothers, Jan Brewer, and Huggies Have in Common?

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 1:47 PM EST

Forget The French Connection, Bullitt, or The Italian Job. The best chase scene in modern cinema—bring it on, boo boys—appears in Joel and Ethan Coen's bizarre, pitch-perfect 1987 classic, "Raising Arizona." (It also features the best chase scene one-liner. Mustachioed truck driver to Nicholas Cage with the cops hot on his trail: "Son, you got a pantie on yer head.") Behold:

Why the clip? One of the nation's largest labor unions has drawn on the Coen brothers oeuvre as it wages the latest battle over workers' rights in America.

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and state GOP lawmakers have taken a cue from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by taking aim at the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. Except Arizona's assault on workers' rights is more extreme than Wisconsin's. The bills introduced in the state senate there would eliminate all collective bargaining for public employees at the state, city, and county levels.

To fight back, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees launched "Razing Arizona." The new campaign rips Brewer and calls Arizona's anti-union legislation "the latest orchestrated attack from extreme right-wing lawmakers, think tanks, and their corporate cronies who are hell-bent on wiping out what’s left of the middle class." AFSCME also released an ad bashing Brewer in the style of VH1's Pop-Up Video:

The Brewer video has been viewed 2,100 times on YouTube. The Razing Arizona campaign has a thousand "likes" and counting on Facebook. And with the Arizona anti-union legislation still wending its way through the legislature, you can plenty more union counterattacks, film-inspired or no, are on their way.

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Your Daily Newt: Touched by an Angel > Ellen

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 1:38 PM EST
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (left) and Ellen Degeneres.

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.

Conservative activists are freaking out over J.C. Penney's decision to hire Ellen Degeneres to shill for its products. This is because Ellen, star of the now-dormant eponymous sitcom and host of the still-active eponymous talk show, is openly-gay. By endorsing a popular line of clothing, her sexual orientation will now ooze into the very fabric of our society. So to speak. 

Newt Gingrich hasn't called for a J.C. Penney boycott. But he has been less than boosterish on Ellen's public profile. As the New York Daily News reported in 1997, when Degeneres came out on her show that year, Gingrich's response was to double-down on his call for major television networks to rededicate themselves to family friendly programming:

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), whose half-sister Candace is gay, said he's miffed the media celebrates the star of "Ellen" for revealing she's a lesbian while ignoring family shows like "Touched by an Angel."

Asked yesterday what he thought about the Ellen-is-gay hoopla, the Gingrich responded, "I didn't think much about it."

"I think that this is a commentary largely on Hollywood and on the people who define what's big," Gingrich griped on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"If you watch the next five nights of all the networks . . . How many times will a person deal with a serious spiritual question . . . as opposed to what hedonism to engage in next or how shallow and trivial can life be?" he asked.

Gingrich seemed to go out of his way not to mention the name of Ellen DeGeneres' ABC sitcom, calling it "the TV show which happened to end up on the cover of a magazine."

He is pushing the networks to devote the 8-to-9 p.m. time slot to family programing.

One week earlier, Gingrich and more than a hundred other members of Congress had taken out a full-page ad in Variety asking executives at the six leading broadcast networks to dedicate the 8 p.m. hour to family friendly programming: "Is it too much to ask Hollywood to voluntarily set aside one hour for families?"

Romney's Ever-Changing Birth Control Stance

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 1:02 PM EST
This is not an abortion pill.

On Monday, Mitt Romney joined the conservative outcry over the Obama administration's decision to require health insurers to cover birth control, denouncing the decision and decrying the requirement to cover "abortive pills" at a rally in Colorado.

"I'm just distressed as I watch our president try and infringe upon our rights, the First Amendment of the Constitution provides the right to worship in the way of our own choice," Romney told the crowd, via ABC News. He's referring, of course, to the administration's recent decision to limit the exceptions to the new birth control rule to churches and other places of worship, rather than exempting any organization affiliated with a religion.

"This same administration said that the churches and the institutions they run, such as schools and let's say adoption agencies, hospitals, that they have to provide for their employees free of charge, contraceptives, morning after pills, in other words abortive pills, and the like at no cost," Romney continued. "Think what that does to people in faiths that do not share those views. This is a violation of conscience."

Romney elided some key facts about the birth control rule. Institutions with a primarily religious mission are exempted from the law. No doctors will be required to provide birth control. No one who believes that birth control is a sin be required to use it. The law is designed to ensure that access to preventative care is not denied to women who want or need it.

But let's deal directly with the "abortive pills and the like" line. What Romney is referring to isn't an "abortive pill"—it's Plan B, also known as the Morning After pill. Although anti-abortion groups might claim that the pill is "abortive," medical science does not back up that claim. Plan B is a heavy dose of the type of hormones in regular-old-birth-control. It is designed to either prevent ovulation or to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus (depending on where the woman is in her menstrual cycle). Medical organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have clearly affirmed that pregnancy does not begin until a fertilized egg is implanted. Plan B thus cannot be an "abortive pill" as Romney and others claim.

The remark puts Romney in line with the more extreme anti-abortion groups that believe fertilized eggs should be guaranteed the same rights as adult humans. The GOP front-runner has long tried to have it both ways when it comes to the question of whether "personhood"—and all the rights that comes with it—begins at the point when a sperm meets an egg. Although Romney has repeatedly turned down offers to appear at events hosted by Personhood USA, the national group behind the spate of so-called "personhood" measures, he's still flirting with the group's views on the topic—views that would effectively make all hormonal contraception illegal.

This is also, perhaps most notably, a very different view on emergency contraception than Romney held as governor of Massachusetts. As the Boston Globe reminded everyone last week, in 2005 Gov. Romney required all hospitals in the state—even Catholic hospitals—to provide emergency contraception to victims of rape.

Komen VP Blamed for Planned Parenthood Decision Resigns

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 12:04 PM EST
Karen Handel during her campaign for governor of Georgia.

Karen Handel, the anti-abortion vice president for federal affairs at Susan G. Komen for the Cure who was reportedly behind the decision to end grants to Planned Parenthood, resigned from the group on Tuesday and acknowledged her role in ending the grants.

In a letter posted online and sent to the press, the former Republican candidate for Georgia governor both admitted her role in the controversy and denied that the decision had anything to do with "political beliefs or ideology." She maintained that the decision was made because of a change in Komen's grant priorities—repeating one of the many explanations Komen offered last week after the scandal erupted and before it retreated from its original announcement.

"What was a thoughtful and thoroughly reviewed decision—one that would have indeed enabled Komen to deliver even greater community impact—has unfortunately been turned into something about politics," she wrote. "This is entirely untrue."

Last week, Komen CEO Nancy Brinker explicitly denied that Handel had anything to do with pulling the plug on Planned Parenthood funding. "Karen did not have anything to do with this decision," Brinker told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "This was decided at the board level and also by our mission."

The full letter is below the fold, and Clara Jeffery has more on why Handel's resignation isn't enough.

Obama to Bankrollers: Go Supe Up My Super-PAC

| Tue Feb. 7, 2012 11:28 AM EST
Barack Obama.

President Obama has never liked super-PACs, the new breed of political outfit spawned in part by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. He'd probably wipe them off the map with a penstroke if he could. Yet on Monday night, Obama squared up to the reality that his re-election bid will need the heavy artillery of a super-PAC, if only to better fight the shadowy conservative groups lining up behind Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee.

Obama, the New York Times reports, has indicated to donors that he wants them to give to the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action, which is run by former Obama White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney. Priorities has struggled since its launch last year, raking in just $4.4 million in 2011. By contrast, pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future raised $30.2 million in 2011, and Rove's American Crossroads raised $18.4 million.

Here's more from the Times:

Aides said the president had signed off on a plan to dispatch cabinet officials, senior advisers at the White House and top campaign staff members to deliver speeches on behalf of Mr. Obama at fund-raising events for Priorities USA Action, the leading Democratic “super PAC,” whose fund-raising has been dwarfed by Republican groups. The new policy was presented to the campaign’s National Finance Committee in a call Monday evening and announced in an e-mail to supporters.

"We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back," Jim Messina, the manager of Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, said in an interview. "With so much at stake, we can't allow for two sets of rules. Democrats can't be unilaterally disarmed."

Neither the president, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., nor their wives will attend fund-raising events or solicit donations for the Democratic group. A handful of officials from the administration and the campaign will appear on behalf of Mr. Obama, aides said, but will not directly ask for money.

Left- and right-wing groups bashed Obama for this decision. But there's some crucial context needed here. For starters, this clearly isn't a call Obama made lightly. In his 2010 State of the Union, he blasted the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that helped usher in super-PACs, saying it would "open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections." And more recently, an Obama campaign staffer said the president was "flat-out opposed" to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action super-PAC.

What's more, Obama and Congressional Democrats support reforms to eviscerate super-PACs and limit the ability of corporations and unions to spend general treasury money on elections. Those reforms included the DISCLOSE Act, a piece of legislation intended to counteract the effects of Citizens United which was killed by Senate Republicans in 2010. And as Obama campaign manager Jim Messina pointed out, the president continues to back not only new legislation casting more light on money in politics, but also a constitutional amendment to boost regulation of all that money sloshing around our elections.

Obama's no fan of super-PACs. But he and his lieutenants aren't going to "unilaterally disarm," as Messina and plenty other Democrats like to say. They're going to fight fire with fire.