Political MoJo

On Iraq, McCain Won't Take McCain's Advice

| Thu Jun. 19, 2014 1:19 PM EDT
The couple, in happier times

Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) went ballistic. In response to the intensifying crisis in Iraq, an apoplectic McCain took to the Senate floor and demanded the resignation of President Barack Obama's entire national security team. He huffed that Obama's advisers have "been a total failure." He suggested that Obama was somehow responsible for the present predicament in Iraq. And what was McCain's big idea for addressing the crisis? What steps would he take had he not been prevented from becoming commander in chief by Obama? The senator proposed calling in former General David Petraeus, who led US forces in Iraq during the 2007 surge, and former General James Mattis, who succeeded Petraeus. That was it: Ask Petraeus what to do.

Well, it turns out, McCain wouldn't abide by his own advice. Earlier this week, I contacted Petraeus' office to ask what he thought the president should be doing in Iraq. Not surprisingly, Petraeus did not respond to the invitation (which was probably one of many from reporters). But on Wednesday, Petraeus, speaking at a conference in London, did share his current views. He accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of "undermining" national reconciliation—an obvious point made by most observers. He also declared that Iraq needed a more inclusive government—another obvious point that the president and others have pushed. And Petraeus dismissed the possibility of US airstrikes against the Sunni insurgents that have captured several cities in Iraq: 

This cannot be the United States being the air force of Shia militias or a Shia-on-Sunni Arab fight. It has to be a fight of all of Iraq against extremists who do happen to be Sunni Arabs but extremists that are wreaking havoc on a country that really had an enormous opportunity back in 2011, has made progress in certain areas but has certainly not capitalized on that enormous opportunity in the way that we had all hoped.

McCain, apparently, wasn't listening. On Thursday, McCain went full McCain. He called for ousting Maliki. (Obama and his aides are trying to nudge Maliki aside, but it's not a snap-of-the-fingers task to get rid of a Washington-endorsed guy who was elected.) And McCain demanded, yes, airstrikes: 

Of course Maliki has to be transitioned out. But the only way that's going to happen is for us to assure Iraqis that we will be there to assist. And let me make it clear: No one that I know wants to send combat troops on the ground, but airstrikes are an important factor, psychologically and many other ways, and that may require some forward air controllers and some special forces.

Several other GOPers joined McCain on the Senate floor to denounce Obama. On the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner has been blasting Obama on Iraq, accusing the president of "napping" but not proposing any specific actions. On Wednesday, Boehner refused to comment on whether Obama should order airstrikes. The crisis is confounding Obama's GOP critics. And they're not even listening to Petraeus.

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Food Activists Target Ben & Jerry's Even Though It Supports GMO Labeling

| Thu Jun. 19, 2014 11:43 AM EDT

Ben & Jerry's pitched a tent at Tennessee music festival Bonnaroo this week, where they dished out free ice cream with a side of lobbying. Their new flavor, ‘Food Fight!’ was inspired by the debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and consumers’ right to know what they’re eating. The ice cream brand has publicly supported the fight to GMO labeling on foods since its decision a year ago to start phasing out genetically modified foods from its products. So why is it still getting boycotted by organic-food activists?

The first victory in the fight for genetically modified food transparency came in Ben & Jerry’s home state of Vermont last month, when the state passed a law requiring food and drink manufacturers to label all genetically modified foods. The Grocers’ Manufacturers Association, a trade group that represents Monsanto, Pepsi-Co, and other big food companies, has sued Vermont as of last week over the new law and hopes to destroy legislation requiring food to be labeled with GMO stickers. In response to the lawsuit filed by the GMA, the Organic Consumers' Association, a consumer protection and organic agriculture advocacy group, has renewed a 2013 boycott against the GMA and "traitor brands" whose parent companies are members. One of those "traitor brands" is Ben & Jerry's, whose parent company, Unilever, is part of GMA.

Despite Ben & Jerry's support for labeling laws and plan to phase out GMOs from its ingredients, the OCA won't be amending its boycott list. "Any company that pays dues to the GMA is by virtue of its membership in the GMA, supporting the GMA's anti-labeling campaigns, including the campaign against Vermont," OCA representative tells Mother Jones. "We are asking brands like Ben & Jerry's to pressure their parent companies to withdraw from the GMA."

Christopher Miller, a Ben & Jerry's representative, says that the ice cream manufacturer doesn't deserve to be one of OCA's banned brands, but acknowledges that "there is a role for everyone to play on the issues they care about." Unilever owns more than 1,000 brands and holds a membership in the GMA, but when it acquired acquired Ben and Jerry’s in 2000 for $326 million, it promised to keep its hands off the brand's social causes. Miller makes it clear that Ben & Jerry's sides with Vermont in its ongoing fight against the GMA. “Anyone’s entitled to file suit,” he says. “But we believe that the law is legally defendable and sound. We think we’re going to win.” And Ben & Jerry's will continue to support labeling bills as they spread through the states. "Our voice is important in this debate," Miller says. "As a business, we can bring this to the mainstream audience." 

WATCH: MoJo's Dan Schulman Talking Koch Brothers, 'Sons of Wichita' on The Daily Show

Thu Jun. 19, 2014 11:25 AM EDT

Mother Jones' own Daniel Schulman appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Tuesday to talk about Sons of Wichita, his new book on the Koch brothers. If you'd like to buy the book, click here.

Watch:

We're Still at War, Photo of the Day for June 19,2014

Thu Jun. 19, 2014 9:22 AM EDT

Marine Corps men train in the Jungle Endurance Course of Camp Gonsalvez in Okinawa, Japan. (Photo by US Marine Corps, Cpl. Henry Antenor) 

Watch: Dick Cheney's Utter Lack of Self-Awareness on Iraq

Wed Jun. 18, 2014 8:58 PM EDT

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn stopped by Hardball to talk with Chris Matthews and the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman about Dick and Liz Cheney's op-ed criticizing President Obama's response to the Iraq crisis. Also, read David on the seven talking points you need for discussing Iraq.

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

The White House Won't Comment on Whether President Obama Uses Emoji

| Wed Jun. 18, 2014 3:27 PM EDT
Does he even emoji?

ABC News reports:

President Obama showed just how "hip" he was [on Tuesday] when he made a reference to emojis in a speech in Pittsburgh…"Now, to her credit, Malia, for example, wrote me a letter for Father's Day, which obviously was a lot more important to me than if she had just texted a little emoji or whatever those things are."

It's unclear whether the president uses emojis himself, but with two teenager daughters in the White House, it's likely that he's come into contact with the popular animated characters sent via texts.

"President Barack Obama gave what was almost certainly the first public presidential statement on emoji," Business Insider's Hunter Walker reports.

For the uninitiated, emoji are small digital images that originated in Japan. Approximately 250 new emoji are on their way. Last year, the Library of Congress added an emoji translation of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick to its collections. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) made Senate history in March when his campaign used an emoji in a press release. Emoji is also quite possibly the most impenetrable form of NSA-proof communication.

The White House did not immediately respond to Mother Jones' request for comment on whether or not the president has ever dabbled in emoji.

(h/t Betsy Woodruff)

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GOP Governor's Ex-Campaign Manager Pleads Guilty In Leaked E-Mail Saga

| Wed Jun. 18, 2014 2:02 PM EDT
Jamie Estrada leaves federal court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after pleading guilty to intercepting Gov. Susana Martinez's personal emails.

The circus is over before it could begin. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez can breathe a sigh of relief.

This summer, Martinez was expected to testify in court in a high-profile case involving a former campaign manager accused of intercepting her personal emails. Prosecutors alleged that Jamie Estrada, a Republican operative who served in George W. Bush's Commerce Department, illegally accessed messages sent using Martinez's 2010 campaign's domain name, including messages about her online shopping and banking information. Estrada also faced charges of misleading federal investigators about how he gained access to the emails. For months, Estrada, who left Martinez's campaign in December 2009, fought the charges. Martinez recently cleared her calendar in anticipation of her testimony.

But this week, Estrada changed course and pleaded guilty in what New Mexicans have dubbed "Emailgate." Estrada pled to two felony counts: unlawfully intercepting Martinez's personal emails and making false statements to FBI agents. He did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement issued to reporters, Martinez said Estrada's guilty plea "vindicates what I have said from the beginning which is that these personal and private emails were indeed stolen." She continued, "This is a case about a fired former employee who wasn't given a state job and then sought to get even by illegally intercepting personal emails from numerous individuals, including personal bank account statements and my personal undergarment orders, all of which were made public in a misguided effort to harm me and others in a revenge scheme."

Estrada, who is 41, could spend up to a year and a day in jail and lose his ability to vote. The United States Attorney for New Mexico, Damon Martinez, told the Santa Fe Reporter that his team will argue for some amount of jail time for Estrada.

More from the Reporter:

In the plea agreement, Estrada admitted to "knowingly and willfully" making "false, fraudulent, and material statements and representations to the FBI" during a September 19, 2012, interview at his Valencia County home, "including falsely telling the agents that I had not paid for the renewal of the Domain using a pre-paid gift card." Agents had executed a search warrant on the home.

He also admitted to logging onto the Martinez campaign's domain account in July 2011 and paying for the renewal of the domain under a fake name. He admitted to then intercepting "hundreds" of email messages intended for Martinez and her campaign staffers.

"I gave the emails to Governor Martinez's political opponents knowing that certain emails would be disseminated to others," reads the plea agreement. "After some of the intercepted emails were published in the press, on or about June 29, 2012, the governor released a public statement to the effect that she had asked federal authorities to "investigate the interception of the emails."

As I reported in my recent piece on Martinez, Estrada's trial was a potential headache for the governor, who might've faced fierce questioning about various controversies that have dogged Martinez during her first term. She's now free to focus on her reelection campaign, hoping for a commanding victory that could further elevate her national prospects.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 18, 2014

Wed Jun. 18, 2014 9:02 AM EDT

Musician 1st Class Patrick Cotter enjoys time playing with children from the Tasi Tolu Primary School as a part of the Pacific Partnership 2014, the largest disaster relief and humanitarian mission in the Asia-Pacific. (US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Derek Stroop.)

7 Republicans Who Said Obama Wasn't Trying Hard Enough to Bring the Benghazi Attacker to Justice

| Tue Jun. 17, 2014 1:51 PM EDT
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif)

The Washington Post broke a big scoop on Tuesday with the news that US special forces, working with FBI agents, mounted a secret raid in Libya this past weekend that captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, who is suspected of masterminding the attack on the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi that resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The Post story noted that the operation had been months in the making. In fact, US Special Forces had a plan to apprehend Abu Khattala last October, days after US commandos in Tripoli snatched Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, who was accused of bombing US embassies in East Africa in 1998. But that attempt to apprehend Abu Khattala had to be called off at the last minute.

So for a long stretch, maybe a year or more, the Obama administration had been trying to figure out how best to grab Abu Khattala, who was identified as a possible Benghazi ringleader soon after the September 11, 2012, assault. Yet for much of that time, Republican critics of the president have repeatedly criticized Obama for not capturing the Benghazi perps. Even though it took a decade to nab Osama bin Laden, GOPers have depicted Obama as feckless on the Benghazi front, with some even saying that he was not truly interested in bringing the Benghazi killers to justice.

Here's a sampling of those GOP attacks:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas): In November, Cruz criticized the Obama administration for failing to use a State Department program that offers rewards to people with information about terrorists in order to track down the Benghazi attacker: "The State Department's Rewards for Justice Program exists to help the US identify and apprehend its enemies, but the Obama administration has not used it to pursue the terrorists who attacked our personnel in Benghazi," he said.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.): In August, Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has held numerous hearings on the Benghazi attack, harped on the administration's "delay" in apprehending Abu Khattala: "If our government knows who perpetrated the attack that killed four Americans, it is critical that they be questioned and placed in custody of US officials without delay," he said.  "Delays in apprehending the suspected Benghazi killers will only put American lives at further and needless risk."

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.): In a February letter to Obama, the three GOP senators wrote, "In almost 17 months, none of the terrorists have been brought to justice. The families of the murdered Americans deserve to see the terrorists brought to justice. Moreover, terrorists around the world need to know that if they kill Americans, we will hunt them down and bring them to justice. Allowing terrorists apparently involved in the attack to sit and give interviews in cafés sends a dangerous message that there are no consequences for killing Americans."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah): "[L]et's not forget the Benghazi terrorist attackers," Chaffetz told USA Today in October. "There's been no visibility on whether or not we're pursuing that."

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.): In August, when the Justice Department filed charges against Abu Khattala, Wolf suggested the administration wouldn't have acted without Republican pressure. "I think they're feeling pressure to do something, to show they're making progress," he told the Washington Times, adding that charges against suspects have likely been delayed by "confusion" among US law enforcement authorities.

By now, it should be obvious: It can take a while—even years—to capture a suspected terrorist overseas. (Ruqai, the embassy bombings suspect, was apprehended 15 years after the attacks.) Yet that didn't stop these Republicans and other conservatives from slamming the president and suggesting publicly—in a real underhanded dig—that Obama was not seeking the murderers of Benghazi. Now what will they say? That his heart wasn't really in it?

The Dumbest Thing You'll Read All Day About the Benghazi Suspect Capture

| Tue Jun. 17, 2014 1:08 PM EDT

On Tuesday, the Washington Post broke the news that US Special Operations forces—working alongside the FBI—captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, one of the suspected ringleaders of the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks, during a raid in Libya over the weekend. You might remember Abu Khattala from his appearance in an October 2012 New York Times piece in which he hangs out with a reporter at a busy luxury hotel, drinking a strawberry frappe and mocking US and Libyan authorities.

This is the first time an accused perpetrator of the Benghazi assault has been apprehended, according to American officials. The raid was conducted following "months of planning," the Post reports, and Abu Khattala is now in US custody in a secure location outside Libya. There were no reported casualties in this operation. White House press secretary Jay Carney says that Abu Khattala's apprehension is not the end of the Benghazi investigation.

This seems like pretty good news. But cue some idiocy, courtesy of Joe Walsh, former Republican congressman and tea party favorite:

Really makes you think

UPDATE, June 17, 2014, 1:37 p.m. ET: Oh. Him.