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Warrior in Chief

Peter Bergen, a director of the New America Foundation, writes“The president who won the Nobel Peace Prize less than nine months after his inauguration has turned out to be one of the most militarily aggressive American leaders in decades.”

And he adds up the evidence of the past four years:

"Mr. Obama decimated Al Qaeda’s leadership. He overthrew the Libyan dictator. He ramped up drone attacks in Pakistan, waged effective covert wars in Yemen and Somalia and authorized a threefold increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He became the first president to authorize the assassination of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and played an operational role in Al Qaeda, and was killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. And, of course, Mr. Obama ordered and oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden."

These actions, allegedly against the “threat of terrorism,” are reminiscent of the so-called Reagan Doctrine against the “threat of communism” in the early-to-mid 1980s.  We’re still paying the price for the use of covert operations to attack insurgents, while supporting repressive and corrupt governments in that era. The Mujaheddin who were armed and trained to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan are now the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighting the U.S. occupation.  The price of the last four years is yet to be seen, but history suggests it will be substantial.

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When a City Can't Afford an Election

If the GOP presidential primaries have been any indication, voter turnout for November's election could be fairly dismal. Between the uber-polarization of the parties and nationwide trend toward the middle at a voter level, unfortunately many may opt to stay at home.

The lack of enthusiasm is especially evident in the youngest voting bloc, age 18-24. According to the latest from Public Religion Research and Georgetown University's Berkley Center, young adults are not exactly excited about their prospects of either political persuasion. Further, while one in six of them are registered to vote, only 46 percent plan to cast theirs in November.

But apart from the state of public discourse and apathy concerns of the weary voter, another issue is creeping up that could pose a problem for potential turnout—money. 

According to The Atlantic Cities, some cities simply don't have the money—and have to cut elsewhere—to host an election. 

"… municipalities are scrambling to pay the costs associated with manning polling places. Some have said they'll put off road repairs while transit crews work on Election Day. Others may borrow workers from other departments to help count votes. In practice, this will likely mean fewer voting precincts, shorter hours and longer lines."

In a culture that is not known for its patience or attention span, how will this trend affect the public's motivation, or lack thereof, to hit the polls in November?

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Gallup Poll: 'Very Religious' Support Romney, 'Moderate' and 'Non-Religious' Favor Obama

In the 2012 race for the presidency, religious voters will continue to be watched closely.

According to Gallup’s latest poll, Mitt Romney leads Barack Obama by 17 points among “very religious voters.” These voters are those who attend religious services on a weekly basis (or nearly every week), and are estimated to constitute 41 percent of registered voters.

On the other hand, the report shows that Barack Obama has a 14 point lead among “moderately religious voters” and a 31 point lead among “non-religious voters.”

But this really isn’t anything new. Gallup reports that these findings “reinforce a basic pattern in American voting behavior that has been evident for decades.” The highly religious favor the Republican, the not-quite-as-religious favor the Democrat. This also confirms previous Gallup findings in their "state of the state" report, last month.

+Leave a Comment | Faith & Politics

Support Increasing for Gun Rights, Same-Sex Marriage

Attitudes on two controversial issues are shifting. There is more support for both gun rights and gay marriage in this election cycle than in the previous two, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

Forty-seven percent support legal same-sex marriage, while 43 percent are opposed. Younger adults favor gay marriage by a 65 percent to 30 percent split.

The gun rights issue is equally split, with 49 percent saying it is more important to protect gun rights and 45 percent saying gun control is more important. The largest shift has been among African Americans, which represent a 13-point increase in favor of gun rights. 

View the full survey results HERE.

+Leave a Comment | Faith & Politics

SCOTUS Hears Immigration Arguments

The future of Arizona’s immigration law, and by extension the laws in a number of other states modeled on it, was argued before the Supreme Court this morning. While it’s always dangerous to read too much into the questioning during the oral argument, early news reports indicate that the justices were sympathetic  to the provision allowing police officers to check the immigration status of people who are arrested or otherwise detained.

According to the Associated Press: 

"Liberal and conservative justices reacted skeptically to the Obama administration's argument that the state exceeded its authority when it made the records check, and another provision allowing suspected illegal immigrants to be arrested without a warrant, part of the Arizona law aimed at driving illegal immigrants elsewhere."

The Court’s decision is expected in June, and could become an important issue in the presidential election campaign.

Key stories are HEREHERE, and HERE.

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First Criminal Charges Issued, Two Years After BP Oil Spill

Two years after the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill ravaged the Gulf of Mexico, federal officials today filed the first criminal charges in connection with the incident, The Huffington Post reports:

Kurt Mix, 50, a senior BP drilling engineer, allegedly destroyed hundreds of text messages sent to a supervisor that described high volumes of oil flowing from the ruptured well, located 5,000 feet underwater, according to a federal affidavit…

Mix is reportedly the first person who would actually be charged since the disaster occurred.

In its report of the arrest, The Associated Press noted that:

Kurt Mix, of Katy, Texas, was arrested on two counts of obstruction of justice.

The BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon exploded the night of April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and setting off the nation's worst offshore oil disaster. More than 200 million gallons of crude oil flowed out of the well off the Louisiana coast before it was capped.

At the time of the oil spill, Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis visited the Gulf Coast to view the devastation and spoke strongly, placing the culpability for the disaster in the hands of “human folly, human sinfulness and human greed.” 

Jack Palmer is a communications assistant at Sojourners. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackPalmer88.

+Leave a Comment | Creation Care

Take to the Streets

A provocative piece this morning from Akiva Eldar, chief political columnist and an editorial writer for Haaretz. He describes the weakness of the Israeli government when faced with non-violent protest:

“They say the Israel Air Force can carry out a pinpoint strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, yet the Israel Defense Forces loses its cool when confronted by a small group of bicyclists armed solely with cameras. The Shin Bet security service knows how to locate terrorists and assassinate them, but has no clue how to cope with nonviolent civil disobedience.” 

After recounting all of the futile efforts at diplomacy and negotiations by the Palestinians in their suits and ties, Eldar advises:

“If Abbas was really so fed up he would replace his tie with a kaffiyeh and lead the masses in a protest march. The Oslo Accords have turned the Palestine Liberation Organization into the mechanism for maintaining the Israeli occupation. It's about time the Oslo generation of Palestinians admits the failure of the diplomatic option, hangs up its suits, weans itself from the pathetic honor it has accorded itself, and takes to the streets.”

I can hear Gandhi and Dr. King cheering.

+Leave a Comment | Peace & Nonviolence

The Next War?

The U.S. and European allies in the so-called “Friends of Syria” took another step down the slope toward military intervention this week. In a Paris conference, the talk was tough, especially from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Washington Post began its story, “The United States, France and 13 other nations demanded Thursday that Syria immediately cease military operations against rebel forces and allow unfettered deployment of U.N. observers, suggesting that use of force will be considered if Damascus fails to comply.”

It continued by quoting Sec. Clinton making the suggestion more concrete: “I think we have to do more to take stronger action against the Assad regime,” she said. “We need to start moving very urgently in the Security Council for a Chapter 7 sanctions resolution, including travel, financial sanctions, an arms embargo and the pressure that that will give us on the regime to push for compliance with Kofi Annan’s six-point plan.”

The New York Times added that “Mrs. Clinton said the United States was increasing its nonmilitary aid. Other countries may be doing more with military training. But ‘we are expanding our communications, logistics and other support for the Syrian opposition,’ she said.”

One might think that after Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, we have learned that military intervention usually does not solve the problems it purports to, and in fact, many times exacerbates them. Yet with expanded drone strikes in Yemen, the continuing threat of attacks on Iran, and the growing war talk on Syria, we seem to have learned nothing. Stay tuned for the next war.

Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor at Sojourners. You can follow him on Twitter @DShankDC.

+Leave a Comment | Peace & Nonviolence

Drones in Yemen

It seems that drones have become the administration’s favorite form of warfare. There’s no danger to American troops, just unmanned aircraft killing from the skies. They’ve been used in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. 

The campaign in Yemen has so far relied on targeting specific individuals in an attempt to distinguish between al Qaeda leaders and Yemeni insurgents. But the CIA is now seeking to expand the campaign by asking for authority to launch strikes without knowing the identities of those being attacked. They call it “signature strikes,” choosing targets based on suspicious behavior. This, the CIA claims, involved putting together multiple intelligence reports to arrive at “signatures” of al-Qaeda activity based on vehicles, facilities, communications equipment and patterns of behavior.

Assassinating specific individuals (and often their wives, children and other people who happen to be with them) is bad enough. Attacks based on “signatures” of suspicious behavior is worse. Is a group of people gathering in a house an al Qaeda meeting, or a wedding? Is a truck convoy carrying weapons, or goods to market? It seems to me that if approved, it’s a policy change that will result in more civilian casualties and more questions about the use of drones.

Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor at Sojourners. You can follow him on Twitter @DShankDC.

+Leave a Comment | Peace & Nonviolence

Plowshares into Swords

Under a mandate from the budget resolution passed by the House in March, committees are required to cut discretionary programs to avoid the automatic cuts in military spending to take effect in January.  The funds cut are to be moved from the nondefense to the defense categories in the budget. Yesterday, the House Agriculture Committee produced its share by cutting $33 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps).

Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Committee had this response: “You can’t have a serious conversation about getting the budget under control when you take large items like defense off the table, which is really why we are here. Taking a meat-ax to nutrition programs that feed millions of working families in this country in order to avoid defense cuts is not a serious way to achieve deficit reduction.” 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that a cut this large would result in 2 million people losing benefits and the remaining 44 million having theirs reduced.  So here’s the equation, more hungry people = more weapons for war.  It’s clear and direct.

Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor at Sojourners. You can follow him on Twitter @DShankDC.

+Leave a Comment | Economic Justice