Mojo - March 2013

GOP Senator: This Obama-Congress Lovefest Must Stop

| Mon Mar. 11, 2013 11:34 AM EDT

Here's a theory about Washington you won't hear very often.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) decried the level of dysfunction in the House and Senate, between the Democratic and Republican parties, between Congress and the White House, and so forth. What's the news? you might ask. Unlike most people, Coburn blames Washington dysfunction on too much compromise. "Members of Congress and the administration agree on too much," he said.

Here's the full quote:

"Washington is dysfunctional, but it's dysfunctional in a dysfunctional way. Members of Congress and the administration agree on too much. We agree on spending money we don't have. We agree on not over-sighting the programs that should be over-sighted. We agree on continuing to spend money on programs that don't work or are ineffective. Basically we agree on too much."

Here's the video of Coburn's comment:

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Now, this is not to say Coburn is wrong on highlighting the government waste out there. He and his staff are among the best sleuths of nonsensical government spending (a 100-year starship program? A study to see if men look taller holding a pistol versus a caulk gun?). But on the issue of D.C. dysfunction, Coburn may be just a bit out of synch with the public.

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The Drone Strikes We Really Should Worry About

| Mon Mar. 11, 2013 11:30 AM EDT

Senator Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) 13-hour filibuster over whether or not the White House believes it has the authority to assassinate terrorism suspects within the United States raised the weary spirits of critics of the Obama administration's targeted killing program. But, advocates say that the focus on something that may never come to pass—drone strikes at home—should not distract from the problems with targeted killing as it is actually used.

"We ought to be more focused on the current program as it is today rather than what I see as a very hypothetical and not very likely use of force within the United States," says Raha Wala, an attorney with Human Rights First. "We have hundreds of drone strikes, thousands of people dead in a half a dozen or so countries around the world, with very little explanation from the administration as to the legal, ethical and operational basis for the program."

While the administration says it does not have the authority to use drones within the United States to kill a suspected terrorist who is not "engaged in combat," between 3000 and 5000 people have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Many have been civilians. Many of the strikes themselves have not been targeted at specific individuals, but in so-called "signature strikes" against anonymous targets who are singled out and believed to be militants based on a "pattern of behavior." While the administration has publicly defended the use of targeted killing against suspected terrorists, it has said little publicly about signature strikes. Civil liberties and human rights advocates hope that Paul's filibuster—which did at times touch on drone strikes abroad—will help draw attention to the targeted killing program as it actually exists.

What Would Jesus Do? Probably Keep Buying Ads During SNL

| Fri Mar. 8, 2013 5:57 PM EST

In mid-February, NBC's Saturday Night Live aired a video short promoting a fictional film titled "Djesus Uncrossed." The sketch was a loving, over-the-top spoof of several Quentin Tarantino works, including his 2012 Oscar-nominated revenge film, Django Unchained. SNL host Christoph Waltz (who won Best Supporting Actor at the 85th Academy Awards for his role in Django Unchained) plays a resurrected Jesus of Nazareth, who goes on a blood-soaked rampage against his Roman oppressors.

Here's the sketch:

And here's a screenshot of Waltz in character:

djesus uncrossed snl
"No more Mr. Nice Jesus," says Jesus. Via Hulu

This is just the latest satire in which the son of God is portrayed as a righteous ass-kicker doling out death and justice. For example, the Comedy Central animated series South Park has armed Jesus. Fox's Family Guy has depicted the savior in his underwear flying through the air with both barrels blazing John Woo-style, with Chris Tucker as his sidekick.

GOP Senators Introduce Pointless Drone Bill

| Fri Mar. 8, 2013 3:24 PM EST

Not wanting to take Attorney General Eric Holder's word for it that the US government won't be sending deadly flying robots to kill its own citizens on American soil, Senators Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have introduced a bill that would "prohibit drone killings of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil if they do not represent an imminent threat." 

The bill all but disarms the US government, leaving it with few options for lethal force against citizens other than gunstanks, helicopterssnipers, paramilitary squads, bombstasers and blunt force.

Unless you're not in the United States, or you're an "imminent threat." In that case, the government can drone away. 

This post has been edited to clarify that Holder was referring to domestic use of lethal drones.

Republicans Are Furious at Obama for Prosecuting an Alleged Terrorist

| Fri Mar. 8, 2013 2:23 PM EST
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina

When the Obama administration is killing alleged terrorists with deadly flying robots, Republicans complain that too many of them are being killed rather than captured. When the Obama administration captures alleged terrorists, Republicans complain that they're being given inappropriate trials instead of being locked away for life.

On Thursday, Suleiman Abu Gaith, identified by US officials as Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and a spokesperson for Al Qaeda, was indicted in federal court in New York City on charges of conspiracy after reportedly being handed over to the US by Jordanian authorities.  Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) promptly went ballistic, saying military detention was imperative. "By processing terrorists like Sulaiman Abu Ghayth through civilian courts, the Administration risks missing important opportunities to gather intelligence to prevent future attacks and save lives." They added that Obama's "lack of a war-time detention policy for foreign members of Al Qaeda, as well as its refusal to detain and interrogate these individuals at Guantanamo, makes our nation less safe."

A Majority of Young Republicans Support Gay Marriage

| Fri Mar. 8, 2013 1:09 PM EST

Supporters of gay marriage may not be welcome at CPAC, but they're making huge strides everywhere else. On Thursday, Jan van Lohuizen and Joel Benenson, top campaign pollsters respectively for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, released a new study on attitudes toward marriage equality, based on 2012 exit poll data. The short of it: Even young Republicans think conservatives are fighting a losing battle.

While 53 percent of eligible voters support marriage equality, 83 percent believe same-sex marriage will be legal nationwide within five to 10 years. And for the first time, a majority of Republicans under the age of 30 support marriage equality at the state level. (Fifty-one percent do.) According to Benenson and Lohuizen, the only major demographic that still opposes same-sex marriage is white, evangelical Christians.

The study, commissioned by the pro-marriage equality group Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, didn't get around to asking eligible voters about their attitudes toward sushi, but we think we have a pretty good idea where they fall:

 

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Rand Paul Exploits Drones Grandstanding With False Fundraising Letter

| Fri Mar. 8, 2013 1:02 PM EST

Though foes of drones on the right and left cheered Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster this week, with the tea partier delaying confirmation of CIA director John Brennan for a day, Paul's rant targeted a nonexistent dispute: whether or not Obama administration officials believed they could use drones (or other weapons) to kill American citizens within the borders of the United States without due process. Take away all Paul's hyped-up hysteria—watch out, Jane Fonda!—and he didn't truly disagree with the administration's position that in an extraordinary circumstance, such as an ongoing terrorist attack, the US government can deploy lethal force against evildoers who happen to be American citizens. So why did Paul go ballistic? Here's a clue: The day after he ended one of the longest filibusters in US history, he tried to cash in on his stunt by zapping out a fundamentally inaccurate fundraising email for his 2016 reelection campaign.

The note begins:

Dear Patriot,

My 13-hour filibuster yesterday is being called one of the longest in U.S. history.

I had been trying for more than a week to get a straight answer on whether or not the Obama administration believed it had the authority to use drones to target and kill American citizens on American soil – without due process.

And after receiving a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder claiming they DO have that authority, I could no longer sit silently at my desk in the U.S. Senate.

So I stood for thirteen-straight hours to send a message to the Obama administration, I will do everything in my power to fight their attempts to ignore the Constitution!

Millions of Americans chose to stand with me and put President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and Congress in the spotlight...

And the good news is, it worked!

Just hours ago, I received a letter from Attorney General Holder declaring the President DOES NOT have the authority to use drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil.

Patriot, this shows what we can do when stand together and fight.

So won't you help me continue the fight to protect our Constitutional liberties today?

This is a false account. In his first letter to Paul, Holder noted the obvious: If the United States were under attack from within, the president might have to order the use of lethal military force within the territory of the United States. This is how Holder put it:

[T]he US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat…The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.

Consider a Mumbai-style attack on Washington, DC; as the assault is under way perhaps military force—with or without drones—might be used against the perpetrators, which could include terrorists holding American citizenship. In fact, during his filibuster, Paul conceded the point: "Nobody questions if planes are flying towards the Twin Towers whether they can be repulsed by the military. Nobody questions whether a terrorist with a rocket launcher or a grenade launcher is attacking us, whether they can be repelled."

So just as he did on the Senate floor, in this email, Paul is ginning up a quarrel that did not exist. Then the give-me-money note goes on to claim that due to Paul's heroic filibuster, Holder wrote a second note to the senator stating the president cannot use drones to kill Americans on US soil. That's wrong.

On Thursday, Holder sent Paul a curt two-sentence letter:

It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: "Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?" The answer to that question is no.

Paul thoroughly mischaracterized Holder's statement for his money-shaking email. The attorney general limited his no-drones declaration to Americans "not engaged in combat." An American participating in a terrorist attack that constitutes an extraordinary circumstance could still end up on the wrong end of a Hellfire missile (with Paul supporting such a development).

Paul did not force a change in Obama administration policy or even a clarification of policy. What Holder said in the second letter was a reiteration of what he said in the first letter that Paul essentially endorsed while filibustering.

There are real controversies and disputes regarding the administration's drone policy. The White House has declined to show the public the legal justification for its drone strikes overseas against suspected terrorists who are American citizens, and it has been reluctant to share legal memos on this matter with members of Congress and their staff, thus impeding oversight of these constitutionally dicey assaults. The White House has not answered questions on its general use of lethal drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. But decrying the administration for possible drone assaults against noncombatant American citizens within the United States is a phony issue, a modern-day equivalent of black-helicopter-phobia. In an unsurprising, it's-really-about-politics move, Paul distracted from the real concerns, and the quickly written email pushing his Stand With Rand money bomb shows this senator as a crass operator untethered from the truth who's eager to exploit his own grandstanding.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 8, 2013

Fri Mar. 8, 2013 11:27 AM EST

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Washington. A Soldier with G Company, 52nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, emerges from the concealment of colored smoke to assault a suppressed enemy position during a squad react-to-contact drill Mar. 5. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Loren Cook.

 

The Group Behind CPAC Has a White-Nationalist Problem

| Fri Mar. 8, 2013 7:00 AM EST
Books sold by the New Century Foundation, the pseudo-think tank with which Robert Weissberg is affiiliated.

On Tuesday, the Hill published a story noting that the organizers of the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the preeminent national confab for politicians and activists of the right, are responding to the last November's election by using the event to "showcase the movement's 'diversity.'" Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Sarah Palin will be headlining, but 20 percent of the panelists this year will be African American, according to CPAC bean counters. And the CPACers proudly point to the prominent role of Latinos and women on various panels. Yet the CPAC organizers have neglected one important task as they attempt to appeal to minorities: staying away from white nationalists.

For the past week, the American Conservative Union, which founded and is the primary organizer of CPAC, has showcased on its website an article from its newsletter, the Conservative Battleline, headlined "Debating Liberal Tactics" and written by Robert Weissberg. The ACU identifies Weissberg as a professor from Cornell and the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign and the author of 11 books. What it doesn't mention is that Weissberg has long been affiliated with a pseudo-think tank called the New Century Foundation. This foundation publishes a magazine called American Renaissance and hosts conferences under the same name, promoting the theory of "scientific racism" and providing a forum in which Klan members, neo-Nazis, and David Duke followers can mix it up with the intellectuals of the white-nationalist movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the foundation's founder and American Renaissance editor, Jared Taylor, as a "courtly" white supremacist, who once wrote in American Renaissance, "Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization—any kind of civilization—disappears."

Weissberg has been writing for Taylor's magazine for years and has spoken at American Renaissance conferences. The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR), a nonprofit social-justice organization that tracks far-right groups, has been sounding the alarm about Weissberg this week and first called attention to his work on the ACU website. It has assembled a history of his racist work here. Among the highlights—or lowlights—is a speech Weissberg delivered at a 2012 American Renaissance conference on a "Politically Viable Alternative to White Nationalism," in which he argued that white racism needed an image update. He suggested that white people retreat into "Whitopias" that carry zoning codes and other subtle requirements that would keep out the "undesirables," according to IREHR. 

IREHR dug up a video of Weissberg, who is Jewish, giving a speech in 2000 entitled "Jews and Blacks: Everything the Goyim Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask," in which he puzzled over Jewish support for civil rights—a problem he dubbed "an affliction"—and suggested that non-Jewish whites and Jews should team up to fight against the blacks and what he termed African Americans' hatred of education and learning. Here's that speech:

Following up on that theme, Weissberg recently published a book called Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, which blames black and Latino students for wrecking the American public school system with their genetically low IQs. (On Amazon, the book features a glowing review from fellow white nationalist John Derbyshire, and is "frequently bought" with a book on education by Bell Curve author Charles Murray.) 

Such work, and Weissberg's affiliation with American Renaissance, got him booted from the pages of National Review last year after IREHR raised the issue. Editor Rich Lowry explained at the time:

Unbeknownst to us, occasional Phi Beta Cons contributor Robert Weissberg (whose book was published a few years ago by Transaction) participated in an American Renaissance conference where he delivered a noxious talk about the future of white nationalism. He will no longer be posting here. Thanks to those who brought it to our attention. 

An ACU spokesman hasn't responded to a request for comment from Mother Jones. 

Maybe it's progress that Weissberg is only on the ACU website and not speaking at CPAC. Last year, the ACU gave a microphone to several white nationalists who headlined a panel titled, "The Failure of Multiculturalism: How the Pursuit of Diversity Is Weakening the American Identity." Among the panelists was Derbyshire, who also has been kicked out of the National Review editorial lineup for his racist writings; Peter Brimelow, the founder of the nativist site VDARE, which publishes the work of many other anti-Semitic and white-supremacist writers; and Robert Vandervoot, who's also affiliated with American Renaissance and the nativist group Pro-English. 

Two board members of Young America's Foundation, which cofounded and sponsors CPAC along with the ACU, run a political action committee that gave money to a white-nationalist group, as my colleague Nick Baumann documented earlier this year here. As Baumann noted, Ron Robinson, one of the YAF board members in question, is also on the ACU's board.

The conservative movement will continue to have a tough time appealing to minorities if it keeps cavorting with these folks, no matter how many African Americans appear on their panel discussions.

Corn on MSNBC: Senior Republicans Call Rand Paul's Drone Filibuster "Ridiculous"

Thu Mar. 7, 2013 9:24 PM EST

Senator Rand Paul's (R-KY) old-school talk-until-you-drop filibuster yesterday got people talking about drones again. The senator, aided by his tea party colleagues including  Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, insisted that the administration address whether drones could be used to kill Americans on American soil. (Attorney General Eric Holder answered that in an extremely terse letter.) The filibuster ended midnight yesterday. Obama's CIA nominee got confirmed today. So what was all the political grandstanding about? DC bureau chief discusses with MSBNC's Martin Bashir.

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