2008 - %3, August

With Tire Gauge Nonsense, GOP Fights the "Silver Buckshot"

| Wed Aug. 6, 2008 9:14 AM EDT

That's Grist's very astute explanation of why the GOP is hammering Barack Obama over his recommendation that people properly inflate their tires to save gas. Check it out.

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Military: Hamdan Is an Enemy Combatant and Will Be Detained if Acquitted by Jury

| Wed Aug. 6, 2008 8:33 AM EDT

It's stuff like this that ensures we have no credibility abroad. And really makes you angry.

After a number of ill-fated attempts stopped by the courts, the Bush Administration has finally closed its case against Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver. He is being tried by a jury of six uniformed military officers who are set to deliver a verdict at any minute, following a two week trial at Guantanamo Bay. But the government doesn't have a great track record on prosecuting terrorism cases. What happens if Hamdan is found not guilty?

He'll be locked up indefinitely anyway. We just keep proving our fiercest critics abroad correct, over and over. Here's Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell:

MORRELL: Even if he were acquitted of the charges that are before him, he would still be considered an enemy combatant and therefore would continue to be subject to continued detention. Of course, that said, he would also have the opportunity to go before the administrative review board and they could determine whether he is a suitable candidate for release or transfer.
But in the near term, at least, we would consider him an enemy combatant and still a danger and would likely still be detained for some period of time thereafter.

The process for trying Guantanamo detainees has gone through so many iterations, you almost got the sense that the Bush Administration was really trying to find something that worked. Nope. Shame on you for giving that bunch the benefit of the doubt. "We would consider him an enemy combatant and still a danger" — that's the only standard someone has to meet to be locked up by the United States of America.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Compromising the Mission

| Wed Aug. 6, 2008 8:22 AM EDT

In recognition of the importance of specialized language skills, the Army is considering offering a retention bonus of as much as $150,000 to Arabic-speaking soldiers. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the Army has around 600 soldiers who speak key languages like Arabic, Kurdish, Dari, Pashtu, and Farsi, and it wants more.

Truth be told, it could have 10 percent more right off the bat, if it weren't for Don't Ask, Don't Tell. As Think Progress notes, "A GAO report found that between 1998 and 2003, more than 60 linguists specializing in Arabic or Farsi were expelled from the military for being gay."

Obama's Ideal Focus for the Homestretch: Trade and Taxes

| Wed Aug. 6, 2008 7:51 AM EDT

Yesterday we cobbled together a strategy for John McCain — paint himself as the more experienced of two "reform" candidates (best not to use "change," it's too obviously owned by the other guy), ignore all issues where he mirrors Bush, and allow third party attacks to keep hammering away at Obama's character and otherness. Today, in the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson has a prescription for Obama:

One key contrast Obama has been reluctant to draw is over globalization and investment. On these issues (and most others), McCain is a standard-issue Republican. He's never met a trade deal he didn't like, and his formula for boosting the American economy is to preserve tax cuts for the very rich and slash taxes on corporations. Obama, by contrast, acknowledges the costs as well as the benefits of trade and argues that globalization requires strengthening the safety net for American workers at home and putting enforceable labor standards into any future trade deals. Unlike McCain, he favors a domestic investment policy that designates tax dollars and tax credits for building a greener economy.
But these are contrasts that Obama has yet to draw in a compelling way. In a speech on the economy Friday in St. Petersburg, Fla., he talked about investing in infrastructure projects and green jobs without contrasting his stances with those of McCain, or of George W. Bush, whose economic policies are essentially indistinguishable from McCain's.

Here Be Arctic Dragons

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 11:56 PM EDT

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One year ago Russia planted a flag of ownership on the seabed underneath the North Pole.

Now, with the ice melting before our eyes, the 21st century's first gold rush is on.

Want to know just who's after the Arctic's virgin oil, gas, and minerals? A new map shows the disputed territories that states might lay claim to in the future...

(Not So) Great Moments in Gear Theft History

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 6:40 PM EDT

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News has emerged from Canada that legendary rockers The Stooges had all their gear stolen yesterday from in front of their hotel in Montreal. The equipment, including guitars, pedals, amps, and drums, was packed into a rented truck outside the Embassy Suites hotel, and was taken sometime around the rock-stars-are-sleeping hour of 7:00 a.m. Bassist Mike Watt's original Gibson guitar, which he's used since playing with the Minutemen in the '80s, is among the missing. [Update 8/6: Idolator says they have found the truck, but no gear.] The band have appealed for any information leading to the recovery of the instruments, but history isn't on their side: bands who lose their stuff rarely get it back, although sometimes, the trauma leads to creative breakthroughs. Here's some recent episodes of gear theft and how it turned out for the artists.

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McCain Re-Embraces "the Maverick"

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 3:57 PM EDT

After months of mixed messages or no message at all, the McCain campaign has finally hit on something that I think might get some traction. For starters, it's actually about McCain, and not simply slamming Obama.

The thing is, this election is tailor-made for the John McCain of eight years ago. A Republican has spent eight years screwing up the country — only a Republican that was willing to embrace moderate or liberal solutions and to shoot straight about his own party's failures would have a chance to earn the GOP another term.

I acknowledge that McCain couldn't do this in the primary. But as soon as he had won it (or maybe after a short, graceful transition), he should have begun saying the sorts of things you find at the beginning of this ad: "Washington's broken. John McCain knows it. We're worse off than we were four years ago." No mention of Iraq, no mention of tax policy, no mention of free trade — issues where he echoes the president.

If McCain had done this since March, the choice placed between the American people would be two reformers, two change candidates — except one with a track record and experience. Instead, he spent several months saying nothing much at all, or attacking Barack Obama for being too well liked.

That said, I don't think it's too late. If McCain can maintain a laser-like focus on message and hammer the point that he is the reformer with results... throw in some really nasty third party attacks on Obama in September and October... maybe this election stops being Obama's to lose and becomes McCain's to win.

For the record, here's what McCain was saying in the primary.

Study: One-Fifth of UK Public "Frustrated Musicians"

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 3:55 PM EDT

mojo-photo-subwaymusicians.jpgDoes that include Oasis? Oh, sorry, I thought they said "frustrating." A poll commissioned by O2 Undiscovered has found that 20 percent of people questioned consider themselves "frustrated musicians," i.e., they wish they could toss aside their current job choice for an exciting music industry career. Respondents indicating that music was their true love included 11 percent of construction workers and 10 percent of doctors. Does anyone else feel a bit anxious knowing that the people building your house or slicing open your belly are daydreaming of landing in the Billboard charts? Actually, maybe they just want to be rich: 25 percent of respondents in the survey said The Beatles would be "the ideal band to forge a career in" if they could pick any band in history. What, not The Rutles?

The study did return one serious finding: three quarters of respondents felt they "had not been encouraged" to pursue a career in music at school or at home, and half felt schools should provide more of a musical education. I'll support that, although as Obama says, some of you might be the next Lil Wayne, but most of you won't. Now back to taking out my appendix, dammit!

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user NYCArthur.

Journalist Martin Bashir Calls Female Writers 'Asian Babes'

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 2:54 PM EDT

UK journalist Martin Bashir, son of Pakistani immigrants, is best-known for wringing titillating stories from celebs like Princess Diana and Michael Jackson. He's also kind of a doofus when it comes to racial comments.

GAO: Iraq Amassing Oil Profits, But Not Paying For Reconstruction

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 2:38 PM EDT

According to a GAO report (.pdf) released today, the Iraqi government is doing just fine, at least financially. It already has a cumulative budget surplus of $29 billion, and GAO anticipates a surplus of up to $50.3 billion for the current fiscal year. Oil revenues account for most of this, of course. The price of gas is certainly not hurting Baghdad. But with all that money lying around, very little of it is being spent on the reconstruction of Iraq's shattered infrastructure—a tab the Iraqi government seems more than willing to let the United States pick up. (In their defense, the Iraqis weren't the ones who broke it. But Paul Wolfowitz's claim that reconstruction would be paid for with oil revenue is just another of the pre-war promises that has gone unfulfilled.)

From the GAO:

From 2005 through 2007, the Iraqi government spent an estimated $67 billion on operating and investment activities. Ninety percent was spent on operating expenses, such as salaries and goods and services, the remaining 10 percent on investments, such as structures and vehicles. The Iraqi government spent only percent of total expenditures to maintain Iraq- and U.S.-funded investments such as buildings, water and electricity installations, and weapons...
Since fiscal year 2003, the United States appropriated about $48 billion for stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Iraq; it had obligated about $42 billion of that amount as of June 2008. U.S. agencies spent about $23.2 billion on the critical security, oil, electricity, and water sectors. From 2005 through April 2008, Iraq spent about $3.9 billion on these sectors.

Iraq's failure to spend money on its own reconstruction has more to do with the government ineptitude and the political situation than anything else, says the GAO. Although the U.S. government has pumped billions of dollars into strengthening Iraqi civilian and security ministries, the Iraqi government still suffers from a "shortage of trained staff, weak procurement and budgeting systems, and violence and sectarian strife."