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Update: Obama in Afghanistan

Presidents Obama and Karzai have signed in Kabul a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries.

The Associated Press reports:

“The partnership spells out the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, covering security, economics and governance. The deal is limited in scope and essentially gives both sides political cover: Afghanistan is guaranteed its sovereignty and promised it won't be abandoned, while the U.S. gets to end its combat mission in the long and unpopular war but keep a foothold in the country. The deal does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the U.S. to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan after the war ends…”

“At a signing ceremony in Kabul with Afghan President Karzai, Obama said the agreement paves the way for 'a future of peace’ while allowing the United States to ‘wind down this war.’ Karzai said his countrymen ‘will never forget’ the help of U.S. forces over the past decade.”

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Breaking: President Obama in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama landed in Afghanistan this afternoon on an unannounced trip.  He will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and sign a strategic partnership agreement pledging U.S. support for Afghanistan for a decade after 2014 when the U.S. combat role is set to end.

Obama will then deliver a live, televised speech to the American people on live television at 7:30 this evening (Tuesday). He is expected to give an update on Afghan withdrawal plans.

Update—5 p.m.

Presidents Obama and Karzai have signed in Kabul a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries.

The Associated Press reports:

“The partnership spells out the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, covering security, economics and governance. The deal is limited in scope and essentially gives both sides political cover: Afghanistan is guaranteed its sovereignty and promised it won't be abandoned, while the U.S. gets to end its combat mission in the long and unpopular war but keep a foothold in the country. The deal does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the U.S. to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan after the war ends…”

“At a signing ceremony in Kabul with Afghan President Karzai, Obama said the agreement paves the way for 'a future of peace’ while allowing the United States to ‘wind down this war.’ Karzai said his countrymen ‘will never forget’ the help of U.S. forces over the past decade.”

 

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U.S. Kills With Armed Drones

News flash:  The U.S. is using remotely piloted drones for targeted killing strikes against suspected terrorists. If you don’t think that’s news, you’re right. For years, it’s been the worst kept secret in Washington, but a speech yesterday by White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan was the first official acknowledgement of the program. He insisted that it is consistent with U.S. and international law, even while admitting that civilians have been killed.

The news report noted,  

"Brennan’s speech was also noteworthy, however, for what he withheld. He did not disclose how many people have been killed, list all the locations where armed drones are being flown or mention the administration’s increasing reliance on “signature” strikes, which allow the CIA to fire missiles even when it doesn’t know the identities of those who could be killed".

While this policy of targeted assassination should be ended immediately, the admission that it exists is an important step toward an important public debate.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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