The Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) is in the news again. Images of Newt Gingrich bowing to the Iranian dissident group?s leader, Maryam Rajavi, after speaking to MEK members at a Paris rally, and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page?s unauthorized, paid speech at the same event have brought renewed attention to the MEK?s expensive (and possibly illegal) lobbying operation in Washington.
Gingrich and Page aren?t the only high-profile figures the MEK has enlisted in its bid to get off the State Department?s foreign terrorist organization list. The group has persuaded a number of onetime officials, including former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former Homeland Security Adviser Francis Fragos Townsend, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, to argue its case. These public figures have taken money, in some cases more than $30,000 per speech, to speak on the group?s behalf. As a result, the U.S. Treasury Department has begun to look into the fees, because, according to the Supreme Court, ?advocacy performed in coordination with, or at the direction of, a foreign terrorist organization? constitutes the federal crime of ?material support of terrorism.? The speakers have also failed to register as lobbyists under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, and there is an increasing push for criminal investigations.
As it turns out, however, many of the public figures openly admit that they did not know much about the MEK when they agreed to attend the events. Many were invited by suspected MEK front groups with names such as the Organizing Committee for Convention for Democracy in Iran and the Iranian American Community of North Texas, and they approached the ex-officials through their agents. Former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Lee Hamilton, who also spoke in support of the MEK, told The New York Times, ?I don?t know a lot about the group.? Clarence Page told ProPublica that he thought he was giving a talk on promoting democracy and regime change in Iran.
Accidentally or not, though, the speakers were helping to raise the profile and legitimize the aims of a cult group that will not bring democracy to Iran and has no popular support in the country. And while the latest news stories on the MEK highlight its immediate goal of getting off the terrorist list, they miss the group?s real aim: to have the United States install the MEK as Iran?s new government. That would mean war. The MEK may deny wanting violent regime change, but the only conceivable way it could become the next government in Tehran would be at the head of a U.S. invasion force.
Once upon a time, the MEK did enjoy some measure of popular support in Iran. But after getting shoved aside by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini?s party after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the MEK spent the next two decades launching terrorist attacks against the new regime and its military, harming bystanders in several instances. The MEK joined sides with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), moving to camps in Iraq in 1986 and fighting against Iranian conscripts. Frustrated that Saddam failed to install it in power in Tehran by the end of the war, the MEK attempted its own invasion of Iran (using more of Saddam Hussein?s military munificence), resulting in the death of thousands of its members. These acts destroyed the MEK?s credibility among Iranians. Trapped in the Iraqi desert, the group?s leaders transformed the MEK into a cult after the failed invasion?engaging in such practices as mandated divorce and celibacy, sleep deprivation, public shaming, separation of families, and information control?and continued its terrorist attacks in Iran.
Now the MEK, through its Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, has ramped up its public-relations campaign to convince the outside world that it is the biggest Iranian opposition group, one dedicated to the values of Western liberal democracy. (It just happens to have a parliament-in-waiting and a president-elect?Rajavi, of course.) To bolster its case, the MEK inflames fears of a nuclear Iran, consistently claiming that the country has an ongoing nuclear-weapons program, notwithstanding the opposite, unanimous opinion of U.S., European, and Israeli officials and the Iranian supreme leader?s fatwa against building one.
It remains to be seen if the MEK?s costly lobbying campaign will pay off. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has until October 1 to decide whether to keep the MEK on the foreign terrorist organization list; otherwise, a federal court will automatically delist it. That?s just a few short weeks before the presidential election. Republican candidate Mitt Romney claimed in December that he had never heard of the MEK. Nevertheless, he is using the question of Iranian nukes?kept in the public eye by the MEK and its shills?in a desperate effort to make President Barack Obama look weak on national-security issues. Romney has also surrounded himself with a hawkish national-security team that includes several MEK supporters, such as Bush administration veterans like former U.N. Representative John Bolton, who believes that engagement with Tehran is ?delusional? and that ?the only real alternative to a nuclear Iran is pre-emptive military force??the sooner the better. Bolton?s writings suggest that he hopes that the so-called P5+1 talks over Iran?s nuclear program will fail. (The next round of negotiations is next week.)
But the MEK?s supporters and other hawks who insist on wanting regime change in Iran need to understand that, in this case, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. The MEK is a bad ally. It has been a bad ally in peace, and it would be a bad ally in war and reconstruction. Aligning ourselves with the MEK would undermine any attempt at credibility among Iranians because it would make us look like dupes. The public figures who have spoken in support of the MEK are dangerously mistaken when they describe the group as ?a force for good, and the best hope we have? (Rendell) and ?a massive worldwide movement for liberty in Iran? (Gingrich). On the contrary, this deceptive foreign cult is pouring millions of dollars into an effort to steer the United States toward war.
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Rachel Maddow treated Rush Limbaugh to the mockery he deserves for his latest ridiculousness where he managed to find a conspiracy theory with the villain in the latest Batman movie. He must be getting desperate if this crap is the best he can come up with to feed his Dittoheads, to satisfy their required dose of hatred and fearmongering needed to get them through their day.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Have you heard, this new movie, the Batman movie -- what is it, the Dark Knight Lights Up or something? Whatever the name of it is. That's right, Dark Knight Rises, Lights Up, same thing. Do you know the name of the villain in this movie? Bane. The villain in the Dark Knight Rises is named Bane. B-A-N-E. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran, and around which there's now this make-believe controversy? Bain. The movie has been in the works for a long time, the release date's been known, summer 2012 for a long time. Do you think that it is accidental, that the name of the really vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed, whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bane? [...]
LIMBAUGH: Anyway, so this evil villain in the new Batman movie is named Bane. And there's now discussion out there as to whether or not this was purposeful, and whether or not it will influence voters. It's going to have a lot of people. This movie, the audience is going to be huge, lot of people are going to see the movie. And it's a lot of brain-dead people, entertainment, the pop culture crowd. And they're going to hear "Bane" in the movie, and they are going to associate Bain. And the thought is that when they start paying attention to the campaign later in the year, and Obama and the Democrats keep talking about Bain, not Bain Capital, but Bain, Romney and Bain, that these people will think back to the Batman movie --"Oh yeah, I know who that is." There are some people who think it will work. There are some people think it will work. Others think -- "You're really underestimating the American people who think that will work.
Rachel was exactly correct in her response. ?The modern American Right is hermetically sealed in a media universe that lets in no natural light and no air." And Limbaugh and his ilk have been breathing in way too many of their own exhalations for some time now. The man gets stupider by the day with his attacks, but it's not like anyone ever accused him of suffering from an over abundance of either intelligence or education.
Also, let's not forget 'Bane' was created by Marvel in 1993. I imagine they used that name just hoping Romney would run for President in 2012, don't you? And the new Batman movie has been in production for years prior to its release.
Wisconsin law enforcement officers want to expand federal gun control laws that require buyers to undergo a background check before buying a gun. Right now federal law requires background checks when buyers buy guns from a federally licensed dealer but not for private gun sales. Hubert Williams, President of the Police Foundation, says that closing the background check loophole is essential for the safety of officers and the public: ?It is time to turn off the spigot that is producing a free flow of guns to criminals.? The Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association and the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence met with Wisconsin U.S. Senate candidates earlier this week to discuss changing the federal law.
by Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, via The Center For Climate and Security
Five days ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture followed by declaring disasters in 26 U.S. states. This is the largest national disaster area ever declared.
But while the drought is obviously a serious concern for the U.S. (historically, droughts are the nation?s most costly natural disaster), it also has worrying implications for other countries that are tied to the U.S. through the global food market. Coupled with other recent extreme weather events across the globe, the U.S. drought could have a globally destabilizing influence. And while it is too early to tell exactly why these events are happening, in the way that they are happening, recent reports show that climatic changes are a part of the story.
Record-breaking droughts, and an uncertain climate future
The conditions of this drought are abnormal. The drought happened suddenly - what is called a ?flash drought? ? because it has occurred over a matter of months, rather than seasons or years. It is associated with record-breaking temperatures, and has been labeled among the worst droughts in U.S. history.
Climate change projections are set to make matters worse. According to NOAA and the Met Office, last year?s drought in Texas was 20 times more likely because of climate change. Furthermore, as temperatures are set to continue increasing, these conditions will become more frequent.
Impact on the global food market
In lieu of the recent drought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture adjusted its prediction for corn yields, the country?s largest export crop, down by 12%. This, and any subsequent adjustments, will likely impact global corn prices, but also meat and dairy prices, as corn is used for animal feed. Meanwhile, beef prices are still high from last year?s drought in Texas.
As a leading exporter of corn and soy, the U.S. is intricately linked to the global food market. Drought and crop failure in the U.S. could spike world food prices and have serious implications for places like Mexico, China, Central America and India, who rely heavily on imports of these crops, as well as animal feed. But this is not the first time that droughts have caused a spike in world food prices. If this drought does lead to a price spike, it will be the fifth such spike in six years.
The security implications of food price spikes
What we?ve also seen is that spikes in world food prices have increased the likelihood of instability and riots. In some instances, crop failure in one part of the world associated with instability halfway around the globe, can contribute to serious diplomatic crises between the U.S. and its allies, as occurred with Egypt, and could conceivably result in U.S. military involvement.
This is part of a larger phenomenon Dr. Troy Sternberg calls ?the globalization of hazards,? where natural hazards in one region can have a significant impact on regions halfway across the globe. This is not to say that the current U.S. drought will necessarily lead to unrest. However, it is not unprecedented for droughts, and other climatic events that damage crop production, to do so.
Collective impact of crop failure across the globe
It is also important to consider that the drought and crop failures in the U.S. are not happening in isolation. In recent years, extreme hot and dry weather has forced Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to reduce their harvest forecasts (and two studies explicitly link the devastating Russian heat wave of 2010 to climate change). European Union wheat yields this year will be smaller, in part, because Spain is suffering from the second worst drought in fifty years. North and South Korea are facing the worst drought in a century. Shifts in glacial melt and rainfall are threatening crops in Pakistan. The proliferation of locusts throughout West Africa is threatening household food security. Recent floods in Japan, India and Bangladesh are threatening rice crops. Argentina?s soy crops were severely depleted because of a shortage of rain. And in Mali, drought combined with other factorsled to a major humanitarian disaster in the region. The list goes on.
Many of these conditions are record-setting, or the worst of their kind in decades and sometimes centuries. And climate projections threaten to make matters worse. What this means is that it is possible that the global food market is about to witness an unusual amount of stress. It is not entirely clear if the market is prepared for it, or even if nations have the capacity to adequately respond.
Impact on U.S. assistance and diplomacy
Food, for better or worse, is also used as a form of diplomacy. For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development?s Food for Peace program has sent 106 million metric tons to the hungry of the world, feeding billions of people and saving countless lives. The program depends on the unparalleled productivity of American farmers and the American agricultural system. Without this vast system there would be no Food for Peace program, or any of the other food assistance programs either run by the U.S. government, or heavily supported by the U.S. such as the UN?s World Food Program.
On average, American food aid provides 60 percent of the world?s food aid, feeding millions of desperately hungry people every year. This means that in addition to facing an increasing risk from lower crop and animal stock yields and global food market shocks, the U.S. may also be limiting its ability to respond rapidly to global disasters, including global food crises. This is bad news for the global poor, and for U.S. diplomacy.
Climate insecurity is a global security threat
In short, climate insecurity is a global security threat. Unprecedented droughts in the U.S., which according to many climate projections are expected to occur more and more often in the future, threaten both national health and global food security, which could lead to significant instability in key strategic regions of the world. The pattern of extreme weather events across the globe compound the problem. The worrying thing is that these conditions could be the new normal.
Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell write for The center For Climate and Security. This piece was originally published at The Center For Climate and Security and was reprinted with permission.
Georgia death row inmate William Lee Hill Jr., set to be executed on Monday, has officially filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court. The appeal, filed yesterday, argues that Hill should not be executed because he is mentally retarded.
Last week the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole denied both Hill?s request to commute his sentence to life in prison and his request for a 90-day stay but his execution, originally scheduled for today, was delayed because of Georgia’s decision to change the chemicals it uses in executions. The delay gave Hill and his lawyers time to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
The case highlights a controversy stemming from a 2002 Supreme Court decision , Atkins v. Virginia. Although the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded individuals, it left it up to the individual states to determine how to assess mental retardation.
While many states use a standard called ?preponderance of evidence,? Georgia is the only state to require a much stricter standard, ?beyond a reasonable doubt? in making this assessment.
Hill and his lawyers argue that a 2002 determination by a judge that Hill has an IQ of 70 and is mentally retarded by a preponderance of the evidence standard makes his imminent execution unconstitutional, and critics think that the Supreme Court should take Hill’s case and clarify their ruling in Atkins. John Henry Blume, a law professor at Cornell said: “[i]t?s been frustrating to watch as the promise of Atkins has been eroded in many states through the implementation of both definitions and procedures which make it virtually impossible to prove that anyone has mental retardation.? Christof Heyns, a United Nations human rights expert, weighed in on Hill’s case earlier this week agreeing that his planned execution is unconstitutional and asserting that it would also violate international law.
Hill’s appeal is a last ditch effort to stay his execution. The U.S. Supreme Court has already declined to hear an appeal by Hill once this year.
A study from the Commonwealth Fund found that adults receiving health care through Medicare receive higher quality care than those who have insurance through their employers or purchase their own coverage.
The report concluded that Medicare beneficiaries are both the most satisfied with their insurance, and also the least likely to have problems paying medical bills. Fifty-eight percent of adults with individual insurance report spending 10 percent or more of their income on medical costs, compared to only 29 percent of adults with medicaid. Similarly, the study found that “only 13 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were unable to pay for basic necessities such as food or rent or used up all their savings to cover medical bills, compared to 27 percent of adults with employer-based insurance and 33 percent with individual insurance.”
The findings of the study are especially pertinent as Republicans attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. As ThinkProgress noted earlier this month, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act would put the Medicare system in disarray and would make it impossible for Medicare to pay doctors. The authors of the Commonwealth study noted the political turmoil surrounding Medicare:
Given the evidence that people covered by Medicare tend to feel more satisfied with their insurance plan, particularly compared to those covered by nongroup insurance plans, offering traditional Medicare coverage to the nonelderly population not on Medicare through state insurance exchanges may be an option to consider. In addition, offering a choice of traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans to the nonelderly population would build on Medicare?s wide provider network and experience in making care available to more Americans at lower costs.
In the midst of trying to decrease deficits and reform the health care system, the Commonwealth’s study highlights the potential for the expansion of public health care programs. The positive experiences of Medicare beneficiaries only further substantiate the benefits of such programs.
Hundreds of active-duty soldiers plan to march in Saturday’s San Diego LGBT Pride Parade, where many of them will wear T-shirts bearing their branch of service. For the first time in history, some of these military members will be marching in uniform. However, the military requires that service members ask permission from their respective commands to wear the uniform at civic events, so it is unclear how many will be allowed. The Navy has already announced that it will not authorize its service members to wear their uniforms in the parade. ?We?re just trying to show people that we bleed the same blood,? said Sean Sala, a former Navy Sailor and current organizer of the parade’s military contingent. At last year’s parade, hundreds of soldiers wore branch t-shirts in what appeared to be the first such instance of active-duty military contingent marching in a pride parade.
Mitt Romney has singled out the Drudge Report as one of his favorite websites. But the candidate’s public embrace of the right-wing publication is more than an effort to win over conservative readers: Romney actually believes in some of the debunked conspiracy theories extremist groups peddle.
During a town hall in Ohio on Wednesday, Romney responded to question about the United Nations by declaring that the international body will undermine Americans’ Second Amendment rights and dictate how families should raise their children:
ROMNEY: Turning to the United Nations to tell us how to raise our kids, or whether we can have the Second Amendment rights that our Constitution gave us, I mean, that is the wrong way to go, right? Do not cede sovereignty. I’m happy to talk there. I’m not willing to give American sovereignty in any way, shape or form to the United Nations or any other body. We are a free nation. We fought for freedom and independence. We are going to keep freedom and independence.
The “guns” reference concerns Arms Trade Treaty, a U.N. initiative to prevent weapons from getting into the hands of terrorists and genocidaires. Both Drudge and the NRA have insisted that it poses a threat to American gun ownership. However, as ThinkProgress has documented, the treaty can’t and won’t: there are no provisions being negotiated in the treaty that affect domestic gun ownership, the State Department has publicly committed to rejecting any treaty that does, and Constitutional protections for gun ownership would trump a U.N. treaty according the Supreme Court even if a treaty infringing on the Second Amendment somehow made it through Congress.
Romney’s “Telling us how raise our kids” conspiracy refers to the notion peddled by pundit Dick Morris. He claims that the U.N. is coming for our children through the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty expressing standards for the acceptable treatment of children that every country — except Somalia and the United States — has ratified. The Convention “can only be implemented through domestic legislation enacted by Congress or state legislatures, in a manner and time-frame determined by our own legislative process.” Thus, the U.N. can’t force the United States to pass laws interpreting Treaty provisions in any particular fashion and “contains no controlling language or mandates” for the signatory nations.
Except there’s one problem. Republicans aren’t supposed to believe that government spending creates jobs. But in this last act of desperation, however, it seems that Republicans pushing to preserve America’s bloated military budget have come to a pretty significant epiphany. Next week, three right-wing think tanks will co-host Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Reps. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) and Randy Forbers (R-VA) to “discuss the dangers of deeper defense cuts.” All four lawmakers are warning about job loss because of sequestration, yet they’ve all previously argued that government spending doesn’t create jobs:
SEN. KELLY AYOTTE
Now: “So we?re not just talking about the jobs issue, which is, of course, of concern to anyone who serves in Congress. We?re talking about lost lives if we don?t give our men and women the equipment that they need.” [6/24/12]
Then: “It’s not the government that’s going to create jobs in this country, it’s our small businesses, it’s the private sector.? [9/22/10]
SEN. JON KYL
Now: ?The whole point here [staving off the sequester] is to try to get some economic growth, job creation, to get out of this recession.” [5/24/12]
Then: “Faced with the reality of historic unemployment rates and record federal debt, I had hoped that President Obama, by now, would understand that even more government spending doesn’t create jobs.” [9/09/11]
REP. BUCK MCKEON
Now: “Sequestration?s impact on the economy would be sudden and severe, … result[ing] in the loss of about 1 million jobs in 2013 and 2014 and a half a percent cut to America?s already meager economic growth.” [6/24/12]
Then: “We don’t look to the government usually to create jobs. What we like to see them do is get out of our hair and let us create the jobs.” [5/21/12]
REP. RANDY FORBES
Now: “For reasons of both national security and local jobs, citizens of Hampton Roads ought to carefully consider the sober assessments of our military commanders and leaders regarding the impacts of adding another $600 billion in security cuts to the $489 billion Congress has already enacted.” [10/08/11]
Then: “Congressman Forbes believes there is a simple truth when it comes to job creation in America: real solutions create real growth that generates real jobs. In order to make this happen, government needs to get out of the way.” [Forbes' website]
And outside of the hypocrisy, the GOP’s jobs argument is spurious. Republicans are holding up a new industry-backed study claiming the military spending cuts will mean a loss of nearly one million jobs. But experts have pointed out the report’s many flaws, mainly that government spending in non-defense sectors of the economy creates more jobs.
The study is good for “political purposes, not very good analysis of the labor market,” said defense budget expert Gordon Adams. CATO expert Chris Preble said the report shows that the industry is just “trying to save their profits.”
There’s also no evidence that the military spending sequester will be “devastating” as some have argued and polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans favor cutting DOD’s budget. But Republicans will most likely ignore these facts and fight to preserve the Pentagon’s needlessly bloated budget, all while abandoning a central tenet of their party’s ideology.
I am pretty excited to see Item 47, the short film that Marvel is packaging up with the DVD release of The Avengers, in which Jesse Bradford and Lizzy Caplan get one of those crazy energy weapons that Loki’s troops used in their invasion of New York and rob some banks:
I totally get why Marvel wants to keep building heroes in Phase 2. But it is kind of bizarre to me that they don’t make these very smart, lower-budget stories about the people whose lives are affected by living in a work with superheroes, whether they’re ordinary people who have sudden access to extraordinary technology, or the bureaucrats who have to manage both the lives of superheroes and the fallout surrounding their existence, as hedges against the possibility, as the release dates suggest, the Phase 2 movies only make hundreds of millions of dollars rather than billions.