2007 - %3, August

"State Secrets" Win Protects Nevada Defense Contractor Connected to Governor, Air Force

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 10:13 AM EDT

Here's the background you need for this story. The FBI is reportedly investigating Nevada governor Jim Gibbons, a former Congressman and House Intelligence committee member, for possible corruption. The crux of the corruption probe centers on alleged evidence that Gibbons accepted trips, gifts and cash from a Nevada defense contractor, Warren Trepp, of eTreppid, in exchange for throwing eTreppid defense and intelligence contracts - many of them apparently from the black budget. Trepp, in turn, has enlisted the help of the FBI, in going after a former employee, Dennis Montgomery, who provided his firm key technology and took it with him when he left the company. There's been lots of spooky stuff about the legal process playing out between Montgomery and Trepp, with an Air Force special investigator apparently having enlisted the FBI to help Trepp go after Montgomery, the sealing of documents, and other mysteries suggesting the Air Force really really doesn't want a court process to uncover just what it hired eTreppid to do.

Got that?

Ok. Today, the Reno Gazette-Journal reports:

In a ruling that could make it difficult for former eTreppid software designer Dennis Montgomery to argue his lawsuit against the company, a federal judge Wednesday granted a Department of Defense request for a protective order to ensure no material involving national security is released.
All sides in the lawsuit involving eTreppid Technologies, the Reno company Gov. Jim Gibbons is accused of helping obtain defense contracts in exchange for gifts and trips, are prohibited from sharing certain information that is subject to the state secrets privilege, U.S. District Judge Philip Pro said in his order.
The information also cannot be used as evidence at trial, Pro said. Disclosure of certain materials "could be expected to cause serious, and (in) some cases exceptionally grave damage to national security," he said.
Pro made a number of exceptions. He said the two sides can discuss the "Big Safari" contract between eTreppid and the Air Force, "including but not limited to the fact that the Big Safari contract required eTreppid to perform data analysis," and involved "image identification technology."

Here's the court order (.pdf).

Nevada is home to a lot of U.S. Air Force real estate, among it Nellis Air Force base and reputed Area 51.

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Study Confirms Human-To-Human Spread Of Avian-Flu

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 9:38 PM EDT

Doctors on scene were mumbling about this when it happened. Now researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center confirm that the avian influenza A (H5N1) virus spread between a small number of people within a family in Indonesia in 2006. Using a computerized disease-transmission model that took into account the number of infected cases, the number of people potentially exposed, and the viral-incubation period, the researchers produced the first statistical confirmation of humans contracting the disease from each other rather than from infected birds.

The cluster contained a chain of infection involving a 10-year-old boy who probably caught the virus from his 37-year-old aunt, who had been exposed to dead poultry and chicken feces, the presumed source of infection. The boy then probably passed the virus to his father—a possibility supported by genetic sequencing. Other person-to-person transmissions in the cluster were backed up with statistical data. All but one of the flu victims died, and all had had sustained close contact with other ill family members prior to getting sick—a factor crucial for transmission of this particular flu strain.

"The containment strategy [quarantine] was implemented late in the game, so it could have been just luck that the virus burned out," said lead author Ira M. Longini Jr. "It went two generations and then just stopped, but it could have gotten out of control. The world really may have dodged a bullet with that one, and the next time we might not be so lucky."

The researchers estimate the risk of one infected person passing it to another to be 29 percent—a level of infectiousness similar to seasonal influenza A in the United States. They also assessed another large avian-flu cluster in eastern Turkey with eight infected people in 2006, four of whom died. In this case, there was no statistical evidence of human-to-human transmission—though that was most likely due to a lack of sufficient data. "There probably was person-to-person spread there as well but we couldn't get all the information we needed for the analysis," said author, Yang Yang.

After near hysteria, the media's gone Rip Van Winkle on this one. Not a good idea. The problem has not gone away. JULIA WHITTY

Happy Anniversary, Katrina Victims! You Could Celebrate With Cash if You Weren't So Unscrupulous

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 7:54 PM EDT

Today Reason magazine ran the exploration of its first "Myth of Hurricane Katrina," an article refuting that there's not enough money to deal with the disaster's aftermath. There's plenty of money, it explains. The problem is the systems in place for doling it out. To wit:

So it's not a lack of funding that's the problem. It's spending the money. Under existing laws, FEMA can't simply write checks to Katrina victims. Some recipients would undoubtedly squander their funds, and there would be widespread fraud. This isn't idle speculation. According to the Government Accountability Office, immediately after Katrina hit, about a billion dollars of emergency aid—16 percent of the total—was lost to fraudulent claims. Even legitimately obtained pre-paid debit cards given to aid Katrina's victims were used to buy champagne, guns, tattoos, and porn.

FEMA, or somebody—anybody—should indeed be able to simply (that's the best way, isn't it?) write checks to Katrina victims. I left New Orleans two days before the storm with a pair of flip-flops, a deck of cards, and an extra pair of underwear, and couldn't go back until four months later. Like a million others, I desperately needed money for food and clothes and toiletries. Despite hours of sobbing and begging on the phone with FEMA and dozens of paperwork filings and faxes, I still somehow never managed to "legitimately obtain" my debit card. If I had gotten it, I very well may have spent a large portion of that $2,000 on champagne, tattoos, and porn (I'm not really into guns), and I would have had every right to do so. It's none of the government's business what indescribably distressed adults who've been suddenly and forcibly displaced with no job, no place to live, and no reliable information about the state of everything they own or their foreseeable future choose to do with the aid money given them. The government's business is to make sure they get it.

Burma Protests, Gets Shout-out From Jim Carrey

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 6:47 PM EDT

Big news day for Burma yesterday. First, there were reports that the ruling junta cracked down on protesters objecting to an astronomical hike in gas prices. Then Jim Carrey released a weirdly earnest but genuinely important message on YouTube (below) urging people to stand up for the often-ignored country just to the left of Thailand.

In a brief video, Carrey lists some of the military regime's offenses—mass displacement, wholesale village destruction, systematic rape, child-soldier recruitment—and points out that Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the country's rightfully elected party, is still under house arrest after more than a decade. The spot ends with information about a couple advocacy groups. Perhaps Carrey hopes that with enough international attention, the country will finally catch a resolution.

Wyoming Moves Primary to January 5, Drives Me Crazy

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 4:56 PM EDT

I've been blogging a lot about the changes to the primary schedule, and maybe I'm the only one who cares. But I think it's fascinating that what we have on our hands is a complete failure of the prisoner's dilemma. Every state knows that maintaining some degree of sanity in our primary system is good for American democracy, but every state also knows it can get some cheap recognition if its primary is super-duper early. And instead of being mature about it and taking the communal route, everyone's basically grabbing for the brass ring.

The latest such sinner: Wyoming. The least populous state in the nation, Wyoming (and its three electoral votes) deserves no special attention. Regardless, Wyoming has leapfrogged Iowa and New Hampshire and has placed its primary at January 5. "We're first in the nation," State party County Convention Coordinator Tom Sansonetti told the AP. "At least for the next couple, three weeks until New Hampshire and Iowa move, which I expect they will."

Exactly, you jerk. Now we're going to have Iowa on Christmas Eve, and then Florida will move its primary to the day after Thanksgiving and old geriatrics will have a choice between shopping and voting. And then New Hampshire will choose Halloween and then South Carolina will choose Labor Day, ruining your travel plans. As Wonkette noted, "Idaho is having a primary right now, in the men's room!"

The only good that can come of this is if these idiot state parties, state legislatures, and secretaries of state just drive the whole primary system off a cliff and it becomes so hopelessly f-ed up that the DNC and RNC have to reconstruct it from scratch. That's the only chance for sanity here.

Previous angry coverage of the primary calendar's shifts: regional primaries, insufficient candidate responses, South Carolina gets in on the act, someone finally pays a price.

Life Imitates Art: Little Britain vs. Larry Craig

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 4:12 PM EDT

Towleroad reminds us of a hilarious clip from the brilliant UK TV series "Little Britain" (a US version coming to HBO soon!) that Senator Craig maybe should have watched before formulating his denial. "Little Britain" is edgy but this clip is basically safe for work, unless your boss knows what a "Split Rose" "Spit Roast" is. (That one makes more sense, come to think of it).

Compare and contrast:


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White House Settles First Amendment Suit

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 3:03 PM EDT

Some of you may recall the recent discovery of a 103-page White House manual on how to "handle" protesters. The "Presidential Advance Manual" goes into great detail about how to prevent protesters from showing up at a presidential rally, and how to curtail their activities if they are pesky enough to show up, anyway.

Jeff and Nicole Rank, you will also recall, were two protesters who showed up at a presidential rally in Charleston, West Virginia, in 2004, and they were arrested for wearing T-shirts that had a line through the ersatz president's name on the front, and on the back of one were the words "Love America, Hate Bush." The Ranks were arrested for trespassing when they were asked to leave and refused to do so.

The city of Charleston, suddenly remembering the U.S. Constitution, later apologized to the Ranks. Jeff and Nicole Rank, however, did not believe that the Charleston police were the masterminds of their arrest, so, with the ACLU, they sued the director of the Office of White House Advance for violating their First Amendment rights. The ACLU recently announced that the case has been settled and the U.S. government will pay the Ranks $80,000. Sometimes, it's a pleasure to see your tax dollars at work.

Chart Beat: Albums

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 2:16 PM EDT

M.I.A.: KalaTwo weeks ago, I predicted M.I.A.'s Kala would debut at #39 on the Billboard albums chart. How did I do? Well, her sophomore effort spent most of the week in the iTunes Top Ten so it's not surprising I was a little low: Kala landed at #18, ladies and gentlemen, with 29,000 sold the first week. Go, M.I.A.!

Of course, to put it in perspective, Disney's High School Musical 2 stayed at #1 for a second week, selling, uh, 367,000 copies. Yeah. Moving on, Talib Kweli's Ear Drum sold 60,000 copies, which is good for #2 this week, and Swizz Beatz' debut album as a solo artist lands at #7. Unintentionally (?) hilarious San Diego Christian metalcore outfit As I Lay Dying hits #8 with their fourth album, An Ocean Between Us. Well, at least it's something different.

Rilo Kiley sold out on Under the Blacklight, and that's good for a #22 debut with 28,000, while New Pornographers stuck to their guns on Challengers and entered the charts at #34, selling 20,000 copies.

Never Mind. U.S. Forces Release 8 Iranians Seized in Baghdad

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 12:04 PM EDT

Acknowledging a mistake, U.S. forces have released eight Iranians, including two diplomats, seized at the Baghdad Sheraton Ishtar hotel yesterday. The Iranians from the Ministry of Electricity had been working at the invitation of the Iraqi authorities.

"Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zebari told the British Broadcasting Corp. the Iranians were released after Iraqi officials intervened and told the Americans they were part of an official delegation on a legal visit to discuss electricity cooperation," the AP reports.

The seizure came hours after President Bush delivered a speech to the American Legion convention in Reno, Nevada in which he had threatened to confront Iranian operatives in Iraq.

"I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities," Bush was cited. "The Iranian regime must halt these actions."

An Iraqi advisor to U.S. Iraq commander General David Petraeus, Saadi Othman, insisted there was no connection between the two events. "Othman ... told British Broadcasting Corp. television that the detentions were 'regrettable' and had 'nothing to do' with President Bush's remarks on Tuesday," the AP reports.

Escalation Forever! Newest War Funding Request from Bush Puts War Cost at $3B/Week

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 11:21 AM EDT

Ugh.

President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq, a White House official said yesterday, a move that appears to reflect increasing administration confidence that it can fend off congressional calls for a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces.
The request -- which would come on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is expected to be announced after congressional hearings scheduled for mid-September featuring the two top U.S. officials in Iraq. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will assess the state of the war and the effect of the new strategy the U.S. military has pursued this year.

Actually, Petraeus and Crocker won't be assessing anything. As the White House plans make clear, it is a foregone conclusion that Petraeus and Crocker will present only good news. So the White House will write (or has already written) the September report, then the White House will send Petraeus and Crocker out to publicize the report, then the White House will use the report it wrote to justify increased war spending. Fantastic. Escalation forever!

Keep this in mind when you argue with your Republican friends:

[T]he cost of the war in Iraq now exceeds $3 billion a week.