Commentary

Why Didn't Bob Schieffer Ask Obama a Question on Drones?

We got a question on drones last night at the third and final presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The mere asking of a direct question on the candidates' drone policies is an advance over the near complete void of talk on the subject so far this election season. The moderator, Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer, deserves some thanks for that. We learned that Romney supports Obama's escalation of the drone program and that he would continue the program. But that's it, because Schieffer only asked Romney his position on drones—and asked nothing of Obama. Here's the transcript:

SCHIEFFER: Let — let me ask you, Governor because we know President Obama’s position on this, what is — what is your position on the use of drones?

ROMNEY: Well I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that and entirely, and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology, and believe that we should continue to use it, to continue to go after the people that represent a threat to this nation and to our friends.

Video: Robert Naiman delivers your petition to US embassy, challenges charge d'affaires on drone strike policy

The petition against US drone strikes in Pakistan has been delivered! On Wednesday, a delegation of peace activists organized by CodePink, including our Policy Director, Robert Naiman, met with the charge d'affaires of the US embassy in Pakistan, Richard Hoagland. During the meeting, Robert presented Hoagland with the 3,000 signature petition, as well as a letter signed by twenty-six prominent Americans, including Alice Walker, Naomi Wolf, and Noam Chomsky. The letter and petition delivery earned reports by The Independent, The Express Tribune, Asian News International (ANI), and others.

But that's not all. When Hoagland took questions from the delegation, Robert challenged him to respond to reports that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have targeted civilian rescuers, an action which international law experts say constitutes a war crime under international humanitarian law. Hoagland disputed the allegations. When pressed to follow-up on recent reports indicating that civilian rescuers have been targeted, Hoagland agreed that that would be a good idea, though he did not commit the Embassy to any specific action. You can read more about the exchange in Robert's article at the Huffington Post.

Congress Joins Bibi Assault on Obama's Iran 'Red Line'

Hey, remember a few weeks ago when our old friend Bibi Netanyahu came to town and made a hullabaloo over Iran and "red lines"? Admittedly, much of what the Bibster said to the US media was bluster, but the gist of the "red line" issue was that the "red line" President Obama has set for Iran—meaning, the point at which the military option would become a real option, which Obama set at developing a nuclear weapon—isn't motivation enough for Iran's leaders to bring about a resolution to the conflict over Iran's nuclear program. Nevermind the fact that Netanyahu's analysis of the issue is incredibly flawed—why believe that "red lines" have any bearing on Iran's actions, or that they are what is preventing a diplomatic accord from being struck, when the West has yet to take diplomacy seriously? What the Israeli prime minister wants our president to do is shift his "red line" a bit further down in the timeline, to when Iran is nuclear capable, a term which the PM left conveniently vague. No matter the precise definition, though, under Bibi's "red line", Iran could be bombed even if it has no intention of actually building a nuclear weapon. And that's just plain stupid.

Delisting MEK: Really Not Helpful

If the Obama administration is at all serious about a diplomatic solution to the strife with Iran, it's really good at acting like it's not. The Washington Post is reporting that the State Department is about to remove the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) from the its list of designated terrorist organizations. The move to delist the MEK will most certainly not help advance the trust necessary to reach a diplomatic accord.

The MEK was formed in the 1960's as a Marxist-Islamist student organization to counter the US-backed Shah's ruling regime. The organization assassinated three US citizens and three US Army officers in the 1970's and supported a number of other anti-US operations, including the 1979 embassy seizure. After a confrontation with the Khomeini regime int he early '80's, the Islamic Republic became the MEK's primary target. The group claims to have renounced terrorist in 2001, and according to the Washington Post piece, the administration's decision to delist the MEK came about because the organization "should be rewarded for renouncing violence and providing intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program." But a 2009 report from RAND suggested that the MEK did not give up violence. Furthermore, reports in NBC News in February and the New Yorker in April suggest that the MEK has been involved in the recent assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Makes Activists Sick. Literally.

The secrecy with which the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations have been conducted is enough to make anyone nauseous. Outside a small group of international negotiators, few have been allowed access to the negotiating text—and no one is allowed to tell the dirty public what the negotiators are about. We outsiders—or, as the US Trade Representative likes to call us, "stakeholders"—have had to rely upon a series of leaked drafts, each of which contain a number of bile-inducing stipulations; although even with these leaks, we are still quite in the dark as to what the agreement presently contains. Calls to make negotiations transparent have been deflected by US officials, who hold that the time for public input is after talks are complete, the logic of which certainly churns my stomach.

When the 14th round of negotiations closed just a few days ago, the eleven-nation group of Pacific-rim countries was mercifully still a ways away from consensus. This is fortunate, because at least, while it is still on the drawing board, the TPP can't actually make anyone ill.

Oh SNAP! NYT Mentions Israeli Nukes in Bibi Iran Piece

When I sat down to take in the headlines yesterday on the New York Times website, I was not altogether pleased with the paper of record. Admittedly, I am in an almost constant state of perturbance when it comes to the Times; however, their particularly heinous reporting on the Bibi "red line" hullabaloo Friday got my blood up, propelling me to dash off a long letter to the new Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, from whom I have yet to receive a response. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting posted an excellent write-up of the affair, so I won't bother doing so here. Suffice it to say that my exasperation level was unusually high.

So imagine my mirth when I came upon the following excerpt in the piece "Israeli leader makes case against Iran on US TV":

Mr. Netanyahu, who also appeared on the CNN program "State of the Union" on Sunday, sought to link the violence [at US embassies in the Middle East] with Iran's nuclear ambitions, arguing that Iran's leaders were driven by the same fanaticism that enraged the protesters. Israel has its own nuclear arsenal, though it has never publicly acknowledged it.

WHAT? Did the New York Times just mention the fact that Israel has nukes!? Oh SNAP! Day-um, hear that, Bibi? Bet that BURNS!

But what could have possibly gotten into the Times to allow such a tawdry fact into their Iran reporting? It's not like a mention was called for by the information preceding it. I think that my reaction to its inclusion was so marked precisely because there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason for the Times to mention the Israeli arsenal at this particular point in the piece.

Romney-Ryan "Ploughshares to Swords" Budget Would Cost America At Least 530,000 Jobs

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to cut domestic spending in order to increase military spending. Regardless of whatever else may be true - that is, regardless of whether you think more military spending is otherwise a good idea, or how you feel about the public services that would be axed by greater domestic cuts - their plans to cut domestic spending in order to increase military spending would cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs.

How many jobs? A plausible estimate is that their plans to cut domestic spending in order to increase military spending would cost at least 530,000 jobs.

What does 530,000 jobs mean in the context of the U.S. economy? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently about 12.8 million unemployed out of a labor force of about 155 million, for a measured unemployment rate of 8.3%. If an additional 500,000 people were employed today, there would be 12.3 million unemployed and the unemployment rate would be 8%.

By comparison, in September 2011, economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics estimated that if two stimulus measures were allowed to expire the end of 2011 - the 2% employee payroll tax holiday and the emergency unemployment insurance program - that would cost 750,000 jobs in 2012. As you may recall, there was a huge fight about whether those two stimulus measures should be allowed to expire. The job loss from replacing military cuts with domestic cuts is roughly of the same order of magnitude. If it was worth fighting about saving those 750,000 jobs by extending the stimulus, then it's worth fighting about saving 530,000 jobs by not replacing military cuts with domestic cuts.

New York Times Blames Iran For Bulgaria Bombing--But Where's The Evidence?

There are two major items of concern in the July 19, 2012 New York Times story "Hezbollah Is Blamed in Attack on Israeli Tourists in Bulgaria."

First, the article states

The bombing comes at a time of heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes but Israel and the West say is a cover for developing weapons.

But it is not true that Israel and the West say that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. A number of top US and Israeli military and intelligence officials have publicly stated that they do not believe that Iranian leadership has decided to develop nuclear weapons. Furthermore, neither the most recent intelligence reports out of the US and Israel, nor recent reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, say that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.

Second, the author's use of "confirmed" in the first sentence of the article is, I believe, misleading:

It's a Great Day to Act to Cut the Pentagon Budget

This week, a series of showdowns is expected in the House over the Pentagon budget, when House Members vote on amendments to the Defense Appropriations Bill to cut the overall level of military spending, end or limit the war in Afghanistan, and draw down troops permanently stationed in Europe.

What happens in these votes will have a big influence on the expected negotiations over replacing the impending "sequester" automatic cuts of the Budget Control Act with a package of revenue increases and spending cuts. If you want cuts in military spending to be on the table, now is the time to speak up.

Until now, the bigfoot military contractors and their most stalwart allies in Congress have fought with great success to keep real cuts in military spending away from the table. What has mostly happened until now is that most of the previously projected increases in spending have been cut, so that under the President's plan military spending would rise roughly with inflation. It's an important start, certainly, to stop the previously projected increase, but it's not a real cut from past spending levels. If the automatic cuts were to go through, that would cause a real cut in military spending, although military spending would still be above what it was during the Cold War. But the conventional wisdom is that the automatic cuts won't happen; at the end of the day, they will be replaced by a package of revenue increases and spending cuts.

The question is what is going to be in that package.

Until now, the GOP leadership position has been that cuts in military spending are off the table.

Call Congress This Week to Cut the Military Budget, End the War in Afghanistan!

Congressional offices will be paying special attention to phone calls coming in this week on the Defense Appropriations bill, so call your Representative today! Here's what you do:

  1. Call the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Representative's office.
  2. Tell the person who picks up or your Rep's voice mailbox, "Hello, my name is _______, I live at _______. I urge Rep _______ to support amendments to the Defense Appropriations bill that would cut the Pentagon budget, end the war in Afghanistan, and draw down US troop levels in Europe."

Amendments expected to cut the military budget include:

  • Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) and Barney Frank (D-MA) amendment to cut $1.1 billion (a freeze at FY12 levels) from the military budget;
  • An amendment to cut $7 billion to align the bill to spending caps under the Budget Control Act;
  • Barbara Lee amendment to cut $19 billion, corresponding to program cuts proposed by Project on Defense Alternatives and the Cato Institute.

Amendments expected to end or curtail the war in Afghanistan include:

  • Barbara Lee amendment to cut all funding for the war except for what is needed for a safe and responsible drawdown;
  • Walter Jones and Rosa DeLauro amendment preventing the use of funds past 2014 in support of any mission that does not have explicit Congressional approval.

And when you're done, report your call below.