Mojo - January 2013

Hagel's Half-Courageous Stand on the Iraq War

| Mon Jan. 7, 2013 11:45 AM EST
Chuck Hagel

It's official. President Barack Obama has picked former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to replace Leon Panetta as secretary of defense. And the opposition is already under way. Some gay activists are upset about Hagel's 1998 comment that James Hormel, whom President Bill Clinton had nominated to be ambassador to Luxembourg, was "openly aggressively gay." Hagel has apologized. Hormel hasn't accepted. But at least one gay rights leader has proclaimed his support for Hagel. Meanwhile, pro-Israel hawks have been griping that Hagel has not been sufficiently hardline in supporting Tel Aviv. But Hagel does have one major point in his favor: He opposed the Iraq war. Or sort of.

In October 2002, when Congress was fiercely debating a measure that would allow President George W. Bush to invade Iraq, Hagel noted several reasons why this was a bad idea and presciently predicted all that could go wrong. Yet he still voted for the measure, mostly out of party loyalty (which GOPers now accuse him of no longer possessing). When Hagel was contemplating a presidential run in 2008, I examined his 2002 stance in a TomPaine.com column. I've pasted it below.

Of all the senators eyeing the White House in 2008, this Nebraskan [Hagel] was the only one to express deep reservations about the resolution—while still voting for it. "America—including the Congress—and the world, must speak with one voice about Iraqi disarmament, as it must continue to do so in the war on terrorism," Hagel said in explaining his vote. But he was prescient: "If disarmament in Iraq requires the use of force, we need to consider carefully the implications and consequences of our actions. The future of Iraq after Saddam Hussein is also an open question. Some of my colleagues and some American analysts now speak authoritatively of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in Iraq, and how Iraq can be a test case for democracy in the Arab world. How many of us really know and understand much about Iraq, the country, the history, the people, the role in the Arab world? I approach the issue of post-Saddam Iraq and the future of democracy and stability in the Middle East with more caution, realism and a bit more humility." He added, "Imposing democracy through force in Iraq is a roll of the dice. A democratic effort cannot be maintained without building durable Iraqi political institutions and developing a regional and international commitment to Iraq's reconstruction. No small task."

Hagel was disappointed in the discourse within the Senate: "We should spend more time debating the cost and extent of this commitment, the risks we may face in military engagement with Iraq, the implications of the precedent of United States military action for regime change and the likely character and challenges of a post-Saddam Iraq. We have heard precious little from the President, his team, as well as from this Congress, with a few notable exceptions, about these most difficult and critical questions." And he cautioned humility: "I share the hope of a better world without Saddam Hussein, but we do not really know if our intervention in Iraq will lead to democracy in either Iraq or elsewhere in the Arab world." Bottom line: Hagel feared the resolution would lead to a war that would go badly but didn't have the guts to say no to the leader of his party.

Hagel took a thoughtful approach to the question of the invasion. His worries were dead-on. Yet he had the wiggle room to vote for the measure because there remained a possibility—albeit slight—that Bush would not use this authority and the conflict with Saddam Hussein would be resolved without US military intervention. In considering the invasion and its implications, Hagel had the right take; he just couldn't bring himself to vote accordingly.

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GOP Sen. Ted Cruz: "I Don't Think What Washington Needs Is More Compromise"

| Mon Jan. 7, 2013 11:00 AM EST
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

The 112th Congress that ended last week as one of the least productive of any Congress in 70 years. The Huffington Post found 219 pieces of legislation that were passed by the last Congress and signed into law, down from 383 during the 2009-2010 session and 460 from 2007-2008. At the same time, a small fraction of Americans—just 18 percent in a December Gallup survey—approve of the way Congress is doing its job.

Yet Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), an tailored suit-wearing tea party favorite and rising star in Republican politics, says the way forward for Congress is less, not more, compromise.

On Sunday, Cruz said on Fox News that bipartisanship and deal-making is not the way forward for Congress. Here's his full comment:

I think the fiscal cliff deal was a lousy one, but moving forward with the debt ceiling and those who believe in limited spending and solving the debt...I don’t think what Washington needs is more compromise, I think what Washington needs is more common sense and more principle.

Cruz's dim view of compromise in Congress clashes with what Americans say they want. A December NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that, on the fight over the so-called "fiscal cliff," 65 percent of respondents wanted Congress to compromise on a deal to stop from going off the cliff. (Cruz said he would've voted against the deal that ultimately passed.) Indeed, Americans have told pollsters over and over and over in recent years that they want more compromise.

Cruz, of course, is no moderate. He is, as Mother Jones reported in October, "the thinking man's tea partier," an authentic conservative with no qualms for gumming up the works in Congress in defense of what he believes to be right and true. With his latest comment, Cruz appears to be well on his way to doing just that.

What the FBI's Occupy Docs Do—and Don't—Reveal

| Mon Jan. 7, 2013 7:01 AM EST

Just before Christmas, Truthout's Jason Leopold and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund separately published a collection of about 100 pages of Federal Bureau of Investigation documents on Occupy Wall Street. The release shed some new light on how the FBI collaborated with other federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and Naval Investigative Criminal Services, to keep tabs on the movement, which it considered a potential criminal and domestic terrorism threat. Yet the documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, are also heavily redacted—including a curious report about a plot to identify and assassinate Occupy leaders with a sniper rifle—and leave much to the imagination.

That has provided plenty of fodder for speculation. Take the Guardian's Naomi Wolf, who in November 2011 advanced the unfounded theory that federal officials had coordinated the raids on Occupy encampments across the country with local authorities, and with congressional blessing (a conclusion quickly debunked by Alternet's Joshua Holland). The new FBI documents, Wolf wrote last month, "show a nationwide meta-plot unfolding in city after city in an Orwellian world" and a "terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center, and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole is, in fact, one entity: in some cases, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council."

In fact, the DSAC, "a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector," is mentioned in just one unredacted document, an unremarkable report compiled by the FBI and DHS about Occupy's West Coast port shutdown plans in December 2011. Most of the other documents are routine FBI memos focusing on the potential for criminal activity during protests, cyberattacks from Anonymous, reports of suspicious mail, and a threat to shoot a police officer allegedly made by Occupy protesters.

600 Teachers Apply to Learn How to Shoot a Gun at School

| Fri Jan. 4, 2013 5:01 PM EST

As of this Wednesday, over 600 teachers from 15 states have applied for a free firearms training program that a gun advocacy group, the Buckeye Firearms Association, announced it would sponsor in the wake of the Newtown school shooting. The three-day training will train teachers how to wield firearms in the case of a school shooting.

According to a press release, the association hopes to use the training as a starting point for a more refined, ongoing "Armed Teacher" curriculum. The first training will take place this spring at an Ohio training facility. Buckeye Firearms' chairman Jim Irvine explained program details to StateImpact:

It has to be conducted in an outside range, a dynamic range as they're called, because it's just something you can't do shooting down lanes at a firing range, so weather is a factor in Ohio and the class is not completely designed yet.

In a traditional shooting range you're in a shooting lane, but classrooms aren't conducted in lanes. The threat can come from anywhere; the threat can come from multiple directions. You have to analyze the threat in a 3D environment. We want to train for the real event.

[...]

We have to change the mindset in schools and get some good people in schools that are the first line of defense. This isn't a new idea it's just that the events in Connecticut make what we've been talking about for years all of a sudden politically acceptable. Now everything is on the table, this is something that can and will be done.

Irvine acknowledged that there is a "potential risk" that students could take and use guns if teachers in the US start to conceal-and-carry more often, but noted that in the case of one school in Texas that arms teachers, "frankly, it hasn't been a problem." (An Arkansas student did successfully steal a handgun from a teacher's purse last January.)

A 2011 Mother Jones investigation found that Irvine and the Buckeye Firearms Association have a robust history of gun rights lobbying in Ohio, including a successful push for a concealed carry law in 2004. The organization is also known for its aggression: When the manager of the Sandusky Register, a small daily in Ohio, published the names and birth dates of gun permit holders in the state, he began receiving angry phone calls from gun rights advocates nationwide, and Buckeye published as much publicly available information as they could (including which school bus his daughter rode) on their website.

For now, this program is mostly just pro-gun advocate maneuvering—rather than the start of a serious trend towards arming teachers. There aren't many barriers preventing an organization from offering training courses, but only Kansas, Mississippi, and Utah currently allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry guns in schools. Eight states, including Texas and Ohio, ban carrying guns in schools unless a district and/or school gives specific permission to do so, though the option is rarely used; Irvine says he hopes his training can help teachers gain these sorts of permissions. Six additional states are planning to introduce legislation during their upcoming sessions to allow firearms in schools. 

Fiscal Deal Could Make Health Insurance More Expensive

| Fri Jan. 4, 2013 4:38 PM EST

Conservative websites have been giddy in recent days because the fiscal deal President Barack Obama just signed repeals a piece of Obamacare—a long-term care program for the disabled that even the administration admits was not cost effective. But another section of the Affordable Care Act bit the dust at the same time, and consumers who will soon be required to purchase health insurance (i.e. everyone) should be none too happy about it.

The ACA established a federal loan program to subsidize nonprofit CO-OPs (consumer oriented and operated health insurance plans) so that these plans could participate in the new online health insurance exchanges with traditional plans. The goal: increasing competition and reducing costs for consumers. Half of the $3.8 billion allocated for the program has already been doled out to 24 nonprofits in 24 states, but the remaining $1.9 billion was slashed in the recent tax-cut deal.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 4, 2013

Fri Jan. 4, 2013 1:01 PM EST
Supplies drop to U.S. Soldiers deployed to the mountainous Paktya province on Forward Operating Base Lightning, Afghanistan, Dec. 23, 2012. Military leaders coordinated the air drop to resupply the base when adverse weather made roads through mountainous areas too difficult to traverse. Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Aaron Ricca.

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Corn on MSNBC: It's Still Chaos in the Republican Caucus

Thu Jan. 3, 2013 7:40 PM EST

Mother Jones' Washington, DC bureau chief David Corn joined Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Alter on MSNBC's Martin Bashir Thursday to discuss whether the newly sworn-in 113th Congress will actually be able to get stuff done (such as Part 2 of a fiscal deal), or whether this session will be more of the same. Corn is not too optimistic. "The leadership of the new Congress is same as it was," he said. "If anything it's more fractious." In the House especially, "Boehner can't negotiate because he can't control his own caucus. The fiscal deal just cut to chagrin of tea party will only embolden [the tea party] further when it comes to the debt ceiling, making them more unmanageable in next few weeks." Watch here:
 

For more of David Corn's stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

VIDEO: GOP "Out for Blood" After Fiscal Cliff Deal

| Thu Jan. 3, 2013 5:39 PM EST

Congress may have averted the fiscal cliff, but when it comes to ugly fiscal battles, America hasn't seen anything yet, according to Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief David Corn. "The Republicans now are going to be out for blood" Corn says. "Having lost this round as they are see it, they are going to want to have a big fight over the debt ceiling and to demand it's not raised."

Watch Corn's full discussion on the fiscal cliff deal here:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 3, 2013

Thu Jan. 3, 2013 2:19 PM EST
A U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallions with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), externally lifts M777 howitzers over Helmand province, Afghanistan, Dec. 29, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Keonaona C. Paulo.

World Leaders Flocked To Twitter in 2012

| Wed Jan. 2, 2013 6:44 PM EST
Muhammad Morsi, president of Egypt, is currently ranked as number 14 on the list of most-followed world leaders.

If you are interested in following Mohammed Magariaf, the new president of Libya, he is indeed on Twitter, with a Klout score in the low 50s. And joining him on the world's most gloriously addictive/time-sucking social media site is the majority of world leaders.

A new study (PDF) by The Digital Policy Council, the research arm of the consulting firm Digital Daya, finds that 123 of 164 countries (75 percent) now have a head of state who is tweeting (or perhaps has staff tweeting for them) from either a personal or government account. In 2011 DPC identified 69 actively tweeting heads of state. This 78-percent uptick is visualized in the chart below:

world leaders who tweet chart
Courtesy of DigitalDaya.com

Barack Obama is the most popular world leader on Twitter with 25 million followers—roughly 2.3 million fewer than Barbadian pop singer Rihanna, and 7 million fewer than Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar's Canadian archrival Justin Bieber.

It only makes sense that more heads of state and national governments are utilizing Twitter for PR and propaganda purposes. "Based on these growth rates, the Digital Policy Council anticipates penetration on Twitter for world leaders to be nearing 100% in 2013," the report states. "This would render Twitter as a de facto communication tool for all heads of state."

For instance, Muhammad Morsi, Egypt's new Islamist president, has been tweeting in Arabic to his now 850,000+ followers since late 2011 (he came in at No. 14 on DPC's list). The government of war-torn Somalia has found time to Tweet some (Somalia was ranked No. 101 with 765 followers, narrowly beating out Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the governments of Oman and Grenada). Hell, even the totalitarian regime of North Korea started Tweeting its anti-Seoul and anti-American propaganda—from the Pyongyang-based account @uriminzok—in 2010. (Not to be confused with @KimJongNumberUn, just to be clear.) North Korea did not qualify for DPC's study, but currently has close to 11,000 followers and, in case you're curious, follows these three accounts:

Here are the top five world leaders on Twitter, as ranked by DPC in December 2012:

1. Barack obama

President of the United States: 25 million followers

2. Hugo Chávez

President of Venezuela: 3.8 million followers

3. Abdullah Gül

President of Turkey: 2.6 million followers

4. Rania Al Abdullah

Queen of Jordan: 2.5 million followers

5. Dmitry Medvedev

(Former) President of Russia: 2.1 million followers