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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 13, 2012

Thu Dec. 13, 2012 12:08 PM EST
Spc. Wickham, an infantryman and 240B gunner, and another soldier, assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, pull rear security while on a short halt during an Afghan National Security Forces-led mission in rural areas of Zormat district, Afghanistan, Dec. 10, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Abram Pinnington, Task Force 3/101 Public Affairs.

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Poll: Conservatives Have Forgotten About Hillary's Cat Assassination

| Thu Dec. 13, 2012 11:53 AM EST
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

On Wednesday, Public Policy Polling continued its tradition of releasing somewhat incongruous survey results we didn't know we wanted but clicked on anyway. The latest: Per Tom Jensen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is so popular right now that if she ran for president, she'd put Kentucky in play:

If Hillary Clinton was the Democratic candidate for President in 2016, she could win Kentucky. Against one of its home state Senators, Rand Paul. Despite the fact that the Republican nominee has won the state by at least 15 points in each of the last four Presidential elections. That, maybe more than any other data point that's come out in the last month, shows what a formidable candidate she would be and how important it is for Democrats that she run.

Clinton has a 48/42 favorability rating with Kentucky voters. By comparison Barack Obama's approval rating is 38/59. Clinton would lead Rand Paul 47-42 and Marco Rubio 48-40 in hypothetical match ups. That's because Clinton gets 73-74% of the Democratic vote in those match ups, similar to the 72-73% of the Republican vote that Paul and Rubio get. The reason Democrats lose time after time in Kentucky despite having a large registration advantage is that a very large number of Democrats don't vote Democratic for President, but Clinton would win over a lot of the party faithful who have declined to support Obama, Kerry, and Gore.

It'd make sense that Clinton, the former first lady of Arkansas, would outperform President Obama and a senator from Boston in the heart of Appalachia. It also makes sense that a secretary of state, removed from the day-to-day grind of the fiscal cliff feuds and contraception fights, would be more appealing to the general population than a senator who's in the middle of both of those things.

But the poll is useless for another reason: Conservatives will probably learn to hate Hillary Clinton again. It wasn't so long ago that the conservative fever swamps were filled with wild accusations of her lesbian past and her murder of Vince Foster—a theory parroted by, among others, Rush Limbaugh. The actual film at the heart of the Citizens United decision, a 2008 attack-umentary Hillary: The Movie, trumpeted the (false) claim that Hillary Clinton had killed a cat. As my colleague Stephanie Mencimer reported at the time:

An alleged victim of the former president's sexual advances, Kathleen Willey, appears in the film a decade after her moment on the national stage. Willey shows extensive signs of plastic surgery and paranoia and reprises some of the material from her recent book, Target: Caught in the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton. In a taut-lipped interview, she suggests that after her name surfaced in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton, the Clintons arranged to have her kitty assassinated. Willey, who attended last night's screening, says she got an anonymous phone call taunting her about her missing cat and later discovered a cat skull on her porch. She says a private investigator tipped her off that the White House was having her investigated.

The idea of Hillary Clinton as a much-loved bipartisan figure is a relatively recent invention—and a fleeting one at that.

How to Get Republicans to Care About Women's Issues: Snacks

| Thu Dec. 13, 2012 11:28 AM EST

After a year in which men told American women that they were "prostitutes" for using birth control, that rape isn't real if you get pregs, and that women should have a transvaginal probe stuck in them before they could get an abortion, a record number of non-men were elected to Congress. So how will female lawmakers use that power to advance women's interests?

A few high-profile female lawmakers and policy people discussed just that at a Center for American Progress event on Tuesday in Washington. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, and other lady luminaries joined PBS' Judy Woodruff for a download on what women voters expect from Congress' female contingent, and how to keep American women politically engaged, and fighting for their interests post-election.

When Republicans Love Legalized Pot

| Thu Dec. 13, 2012 7:03 AM EST

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told National Review that he believes federalism "is, first and foremost, a protection of liberty" and that, without specifically endorsing the legalization of marijuana, he believes Washington and Colorado "under our system, had a right to do it."

This is federalism in action, according to the Republican governor. "A lot of the worst problems we've got in this country, and some of the worst divisions we have, came when the right of citizens in community and in politics, like their state, had those rights usurped by the federal government," Daniels said. "And having disagreed with it when it happened on other occasions, I sure wouldn't call for it here."

Now, I won't come right out and say that federalism is an inherently bad thing. After all, I'd rather see the war on drugs suffer a setback on a state-by-state level than not at all. Still, I can't help but be reminded of the many ways that so-called "states' rights" federalism has been used to strip away much more fundamental human rights. This includes the fact that someone in Indiana today would still face a far harsher penalty under current drug laws than Daniels faced when he was busted for possession as a young man.

Indeed, federalism is a double-edged sword, and as the saying goes, it can cut both ways. And more often than not it has been damaging to the nation.

Corn on "Hardball": Romney Out-Lied Obama

Wed Dec. 12, 2012 9:28 PM EST

The media often maintains that, during an election, both parties spread misinformation about the opposing party's candidates and platforms. But are all lies created equal? DC bureau chief David Corn and Salon's Joan Walsh discuss lies the Romney campaign told on MSNBC's Hardball.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Wanna Smuggle Money out of Afghanistan?

| Wed Dec. 12, 2012 6:33 PM EST
Cash-counting machines in Kabul.

You may have heard that Afghanistan has something of a corruption problem, with billions of dollars flowing out of the country annually even as the US and international community pour money into reconstruction efforts. Instead of curbing the exodus of illicit cash, however, the Afghan government is apparently making it easier to smuggle money out of the country, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

By designating certain officials "VIPs" or Very VIPs, the government is allowing certain individuals to bypass security at Kabul's airport (and possibly sneak huge amounts of cash out of the country in the process). According to SIGAR, the Afghan government has even constructed a special VIP entryway that, in addition to circumventing security, also allows these individuals to forgoe the "bulk current counters." These machines—which the US government purchased for $117,275—are supposed to record currency serial numbers and help law enforcement detect and investigate financial crimes. But, SIGAR found, they are not even being used correctly. Instead of tracking serial numbers, these machines were just being used to count the money. 

Among those who have faced allegations of money laundering are relatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In 2010, a Western official accused Karzai's late half-brother, Ahmed Wali, of laundering money for drug-runners, according to The New York Times. (Ahmed Wali, who had faced myriad charges of corruption, was killed in 2011 by a member of his security team.) Another of the president's brothers, Mahmoud, has been linked to the Kabul bank scandal, in which $900 million in loans disappeared. (President Karzai himself stepped in to block US anti-laundering efforts in 2011 by banning US Treasury officials who were trying to protect Kabul Bank from fraud).

According to the Congressional Research Service, an estimated $4.5 billion was secreted out of Afghanistan in 2011; to put this in perspective, the country's entire GDP was $20.34 billion that year. As SIGAR John F. Sopko noted in the report, proper controls "are particularly critical for a country fraught with corruption, narcotics trafficking, and insurgent activity." That seems like an understatement. 

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Bachmann Says Obama Seeks to "Lift up Islamists"

| Wed Dec. 12, 2012 1:41 PM EST
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) flamed out of the GOP presidential race and barely held onto her House seat in November, polling 15 points behind Mitt Romney in the state's most conservative congressional district. This is where a typical member of Congress might reflect for a moment, tone down the rhetoric, and focus on nuts-and-bolts legislative issues to win back her constituents. Michele Bachmann is not typical.

Last weekend, she made a guest appearance on Understanding the Times, a radio show devoted to End Times prophecy whose host, Jan Markell, believes that Harry Potter is a "gateway to the occult" and that President Obama is poised to declare himself "One World President." (Bachmann has been a frequent guest on the show and even wrote an endorsement for Markell's Biblical prophecy conference, at which a keynote speaker warned that a two-state solution would give rise to the antichrist.)

Here's a recent newsletter from Markell's ministry:

Note from Jan: Prophecy teacher Jack Kelley writes about a man who may be waiting in the wings: The Antichrist. The world longs for a leader. The world thought they had it in Barack Obama in 2008. Now they wonder again. As we see evil arise in a shocking manner in these "days of Noah," be encouraged that it is leading to a day when there will be a shout and the sound of a trumpet. And in the twinkling of an eye, we will leave this throbbing planet. I can almost hear the hoof beats of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Look over a ridge and you will see them on the way.

Here's another:

We're in the fast lane to the end of the age now. We have a Buddhist, a Muslim, and a Hindu in Congress so we're one nation under many gods. We're heading even more into rampant acceptance of same-sex marriage, abortion, and legalized recreational marijuana. Evil is called good and good is called evil. Do you have any doubt that we are officially in the "days of Noah?"

The subject of Bachmann's interview on Tuesday? Creeping Shariah. Via Right Wing Watch, Bachmann alleged that President Obama and Secretary of State of Hillary Clinton want to "lift up Islamists" and have done the Muslim Brotherhood's bidding. According to Bachmann, the Obama administration supports censorship of speech that's critical of Islam, something that will bring the world one step closer to Islamist domination:

Once you take away people’s ability to be able to speak, this is not a small right, this is everything, it is game over because then all of the power and authority has been given over to the Islamist. The Islamist is the only one who gets to dictate what we can say and what we can do, and what we can print and what we not print, and who can assembly and how they can assemble, because at that point Sharia Islamic law in effect becomes the law of the land because the Islamist gets to have the authority, not anyone who opposes Islam. This is a very, very important issue.

Bachmann is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Loud-Ass TV Ads Are About to Be Outlawed

| Wed Dec. 12, 2012 1:19 PM EST

Fear not, Fido. You won't need that mute button anymore!

Listen up, TV advertisers: Big Brother is muting you! Well, not entirely. But beginning at midnight tonight, new Federal Communications Commission rules will bar television networks from blasting viewers with those excessively loud, screamy commercial breaks. At last you can retrieve your sanity from Empire Carpet and the KIA Hamsters. (The rules will not, however, get those damn kids off your lawn.)

Adopted a year ago Thursday, the rules "will require commercials to have the same average volume as the programs they accompany," the FCC says. The commission was prompted to action last year when Congress passed the "Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act"—the CALM Act. (Never mind the irony of regulating ads with legislation that sounds like it was named in a focus group.)

The enactment raises a host of questions—for example, what will happen to companies that make "volume leveling adaptors"?—and the FCC has set up a handy Q&A site for consumers. It includes pearls of wisdom such as this:

Q: What can I do about loud commercials until the new rules take effect?

A: Manually controlling volume levels with the remote control remains the simplest way to reduce excessive loudness levels.  The "mute" button on your TV remote is also useful to control excessively loud audio...

Seriously, though, the site needs your help in identifying rogue advertisers and their networks ("Tell Us About Loud Commercials"). So starting tomorrow morning, if this happens to you, simply report the violators to 1-888-TELL-FCC:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 12, 2012

Wed Dec. 12, 2012 12:58 PM EST
An ammunition technician Marine with Ammunition Company, 2nd Supply Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group carries ammunition cans filled with obsolete ordnance destined for demolition aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Dec. 4, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Sullivan Laramie.

After Right-to-Work, Michigan GOP Pivots to...Shariah?

| Wed Dec. 12, 2012 12:18 PM EST

UPDATE: The anti-Shariah legislation is on the schedule for Thursday, the last date of the session. This update said the bill will get a vote, but despite being on the schedule it may not. (Hat Tip: Matthew Schmitz at First Things.)

Republicans in Michigan have fast-tracked a right-wing wish list through the state legislature over the past week, passing a slate of anti-union bills and taking up a slew of anti-abortion legislation, including measures that could force clinics to close, allow hospitals to deny a life-saving abortion, and prevent insurance companies from covering the procedure.

Naturally, it was just a matter of time before Republican lawmakers tried to squeeze a bill to prevent the phantom menace of Taliban-style Islamic law being imposed in the US onto their legislative Christmas list: 

A House bill to bar use of "foreign laws that would impair constitutional rights" was on Tuesday’s House agenda. Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, sponsored the bill, which doesn't specifically mention the Islamic legal code called sharia. However, the bill’s supporters have said they are concerned about the use of sharia spreading.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether a vote would be taken before the lame-duck session ends. Lawmakers have said they would like to wrap up by Thursday, and they focused Tuesday on giving final approval to divisive right-to-work bills that bar unions from collecting mandatory fees from workers they represent under collective-bargaining agreements.

After a similar law that passed in Oklahoma and mentioned Shariah specifically was overturned in the courts, Republican lawmakers in other states, with apparently nothing better to do, have been much more careful about keeping the S-word out of their bills. But there's little doubt about the purpose of the law proposed in Michigan. Its sponsor, state Rep. Dave Agema, has said that American Muslims "do not want to live under our law" and falsely said that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, which in Agema's view is bad because he thinks "just about every terrorist is a Muslim." In 2011, Agema invited Kamal Saleem, a self-proclaimed "ex-terrorist" to speak to the legislature about the threat of Islamic Shariah law, despite significant holes—some of them reported here—in Saleem's story. 

Agema's bill would prevent "foreign law" from being applied if it would "result in a violation of constitutional rights." Now, if you're asking yourself why you need a bill stating that your constitutional rights can't be violated if you already have a Constitution, or how this bill would help if your constitutional rights are already being violated, then you've just realized why this bill is stupid. Agema's bill is similar to model legislation produced by David Yerushalmi, the conservative attorney who once urged the US to declare war on Islam and referred to liberal Jews as "parasites."

The Associated Press notes that other religious groups in the state, such as the Michigan Catholic Conference, have opposed the bill because it could affect not just Muslims but any religious group that chooses to enter into a contract based on their religious beliefs. Because Michigan has one of the largest Arab and Muslim populations in the country, it has frequently been the target of anti-Muslim paranoia and conspiracy theories; some Republicans have outright proclaimed that parts of the state are under Shariah law.

The question now is whether Michigan Republicans can find time to deal with a nonexistent Shariah takeover when they're so hard at work crushing unions and curtailing women's rights.