Blogs

McCaffrey Says US in The "End Game" in Iraq

Barry McCaffrey, a retired Army general who now teaches international relations at West Point, has made frequent fact-finding trips...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 2:41 PM EST

mccaffrey_no.jpeg.jpg

Barry McCaffrey, a retired Army general who now teaches international relations at West Point, has made frequent fact-finding trips to Iraq in the years since the 2003 invasion. A decorated Vietnam veteran, leader of an Army division during the Gulf War, and a former top general of the US Southern Command, McCaffrey's experience has made him a respected voice in military circles, and a guy whose views on the Iraq War are not easily ignored.

Just back from his most recent trip to Iraq, McCaffrey—who in March 2007 characterized the US mission there as being in "strategic peril"—says in an "after action report" (.pdf) to his colleagues at West Point that the US military is "now clearly in the end game in Iraq to successfully achieve what should be our principle objectives." Among these, he includes withdrawing US troops within 36 months and leaving behind an Iraq that has a functioning civil state and security force that is not engaged in war, either with itself or any of the country's six neighboring states.

"The bottom line," McCaffrey writes, "is a dramatic and growing momentum for economic and security stability which is unlikely to be reversible. I would not characterize the situation as fragile. It is just beyond the tipping point." A sampling of recent successes, as McCaffrey describes them:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Imagining a Revitalized Public Financing System

Now that there is an Obama-sized hole in our public financing system, we need to find a new way to...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 2:25 PM EST

Now that there is an Obama-sized hole in our public financing system, we need to find a new way to fund presidential elections.

The public financing system as it existed pre-Obama gave candidates tens of millions of dollars to use after the conventions (the amount went up each cycle) in exchange for halting direct fundraising (various party organs and committees could keep raking it in). But Obama opted out of that system because he had millions of small donors who could, collectively, give him much, much more than the federal government. And that's a good thing. Legions of small donors getting behind a candidate is a manifestation of democracy that shouldn't be denied. But how do we protect our elections from the influence of large donors while still allowing these small donors their voice?

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, took a stab at figuring it out in an op-ed in the Washington Post:

Transition Dollars

TRANSITION DOLLARS... You're probably aware that Obama is still using his network of supporters to raise money. The Capital Eye blog at the Center for Responsive Politics tells us how this works: According to the Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act, a...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 2:00 PM EST

TRANSITION DOLLARS... You're probably aware that Obama is still using his network of supporters to raise money. The Capital Eye blog at the Center for Responsive Politics tells us how this works:

According to the Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act, a single donor can contribute a total of $5,000 to the transition effort, even if the donor already gave money to Obama's candidate committee or leadership PAC. Unlike contributions to these committees, however, donations to the nonprofit won't have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission as political contributions because the organization is set up as a 501(c)(4), as designated by the Internal Revenue Service (these contributions are generally not tax-deductible as charitable contributions). Instead, Obama will have to disclose the source, date and amount of each contribution to the General Services Administration by February 20, a month after he's already taken office.
Obama's transition chief, John Podesta, told the Washington Post the team would be disclosing the names of all donors at the end of every month.

Podesta noted in a conference call with reporters earlier this week that the transition will cost a total of $12 million, and that because Obama will receive some assistance from the federal government, he is hoping to raise roughly $7 million. My boss in MoJo's DC bureau, David Corn, asked the appropriate question two days ago: "Given that the nation is spending trillions of dollars to rescue the financial industry, it shouldn't be too hard to fund fully the transition effort. Can't Congress just appropriate another $7 million—which is chump change these days—and let Obama get on with the show?"

The EPA's Head Environmentalist

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect public health and the environment. Yet the agency has not done much protection of the environment, public health or the public interest in many, many years. The President-elect's pick for the agency is going to have to turn around an environmental crisis that mirrors the financial one. While Obama's rumored cabinet picks are largely...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 1:35 PM EST

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect public health and the environment. Yet the agency has not done much protection of the environment, public health or the public interest in many, many years. The President-elect's pick for the agency is going to have to turn around an environmental crisis that mirrors the financial one. While Obama's rumored cabinet picks are largely people who cut their teeth in the Clinton administration, or showed rare bipartisanship over the past eight years, one place a centrist will not do is the Environmental Protection Agency.

There are some good environmental laws on the books; the problem is enforcement. The Bush administration has encouraged the worst industrial practices by, for example, refusing to regulate mercury from power plants or allowing mountaintop removal mining—and the incrementalists who ran EPA during the Clinton administration bear at least some responsibility. They should not be invited back.

The new EPA leadership is going to have to do two things.

Jumpstarting the Obama Administration's Web Functionality

Obama has made a lot of promises about using technology and the web to make government more transparent. Today, the...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 1:25 PM EST

Obama has made a lot of promises about using technology and the web to make government more transparent. Today, the founder of PoliticsTV.com put forward a number of ways the President-Elect can make good on those promises right away, using a tool as simple as web video. Here's his shorthand list:

(1) WhiteHouse.gov/TV; (2) Weekly Obama Webcast; (3) GovTube; (4) Video Content on Non-Governmental sites; (5) in every executive branch agency, create New Media, Transparency, and Technology offices; (6) have cabinet members/agency heads give monthly Webcasts; (7) Webcast the Inauguration; (8) make the State of the Union an interactive, multimedia event; (9) make the President's annual budget a digital, multimedia document; (10) enact all of this and more first by executive order, then through legislation, so future Administrations can't just hard reboot your digital legacy.

You can read about each of these ideas in detail over at the Huffington Post. Among relatively pedestrian (but useful!) ideas like streaming White House press conferences online and hosting executive department webcasts, there are some innovative ones, like turning the federal budget into a "multimedia, dynamic document with web apps, widgets, and appendices applying Quicken-style functionalities, dynamic charts, etc." Definitely worth checking out.

Blackwater To Be Fined For Illegal Weapons Shipments to Iraq

Blackwater Worldwide is facing a "multimillion-dollar" fine from the State Department for allegedly shipping illegal weapons to its contractors in...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 12:50 PM EST

Blackwater Worldwide is facing a "multimillion-dollar" fine from the State Department for allegedly shipping illegal weapons to its contractors in Iraq, McClatchy reports. The fine could be levied in the next few days. State officials charge that Blackwater, which holds a lucrative personnel-protection contract for US diplomats in Iraq, hid the arms inside shrink-wrapped pallets that were shipped directly from the company's sprawling Moyock, North Carolina, headquarters. About 900 weapons were sent to Iraq without permits, 119 of which were especially "erroneous," says a State Department official familiar with the shipments. Some of the weapons are thought to have wound up on Iraq's thriving black market.

The illegal weapons were first discussed publicly at a September 2007 congressional hearing about State Department inspector general Howard Krongard's alleged obstruction of a Justice Department investigation of Blackwater's activities in Iraq. It was revealed at the hearing that Krongard's brother "Buzzy," a former CIA official, had recently been recruited to Blackwater's board of advisors. Since then, former Blackwater contractors Kenneth Wayne Cashwell and William Ellsworth (Max) Grumiaux have plead guilty to illegal weapons charges and are now cooperating with federal investigators.

For its part, Blackwater says its cooperating with the investigation and has even hired a "vice president of export compliance" and appointed a three-member independent oversight panel, including former Republican congressman Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. "Our work for the US government around the world, and the nature of teh services we offer have created compliance challenges," Blackwater founder and president Erik Prince said in a statement.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Begich Opens Substanial Lead in Alaska Senate Race

"Substantial" is relative, of course. Here's Bloomberg: Democratic challenger Mark Begich leads by 814 votes in his bid to oust...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 12:27 PM EST

"Substantial" is relative, of course. Here's Bloomberg:

Democratic challenger Mark Begich leads by 814 votes in his bid to oust incumbent Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, according to the state's elections division.
Alaska is still counting absentee ballots from the Nov. 4 election. Anchorage Mayor Begich had been trailing Stevens by 3,257 votes until state officials started counting approximately 90,000 absentee ballots yesterday... Officials counted approximately 50,000 ballots yesterday and may finish counting the remaining 40,000 tomorrow.

The upshot? The Dems could be up to 58 Senate seats as early as tomorrow.

Update: More info from AKMuckraker:

As we move forward, Alaska's "reddest" areas have already been counted. Those outstanding districts are mainly rural and tend to go Democratic. Friday will see more than 20,000 "question ballots" (provisional ballots) counted, and the remaining absentee ballots are slated to be counted Monday.
So nothing is final yet, but the news is definitely good.

Does That Make McCain Emperor Palpatine?

Noam Scheiber highlights the familiar locution of a recent Sarah Palin sentence: "But not me personally were those cheers...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 12:19 PM EST

yoda.jpg Noam Scheiber highlights the familiar locution of a recent Sarah Palin sentence:

"But not me personally were those cheers for."

I always felt like the woman was something out of fiction. Turns out, she's Yoda.

Information Overload

INFORMATION OVERLOAD... The New York Times has gotten its ink-stained hands on the seven-page application form for high-level Obama Administration job seekers. (You can download the PDF at the NYT site.) The phrase "application form" is misleading. The document isn't...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 11:37 AM EST

INFORMATION OVERLOAD... The New York Times has gotten its ink-stained hands on the seven-page application form for high-level Obama Administration job seekers. (You can download the PDF at the NYT site.) The phrase "application form" is misleading. The document isn't seven pages of questions and their corresponding answer fields. It's seven straight pages of highly invasive questions/demands for information about the applicant's past. No figurative stone is left unturned. Here's a sample.

obama_admin_application.jpg

I wonder if the Obama folks leaked this intentionally, to demonstrate how committed they are to keeping conflicts of interests out of their White House and how adamant they are about avoiding drama (letting an appointee suck up news-space because of a nanny problem is definitely not the Obama Way). Alternatively, an applicant leaked this because he or she was aghast at how over-the-top it is. If that's the case, it's another teachable moment in a lesson Obama is quickly coming to learn: preventing leaks in a campaign is infinitely easier than preventing them in an administration.

Honor

HONOR... I don't have anything to add to this, other than it makes me sick to my stomach. The UN Dispatch on an honor killing in Somalia: Last week, 13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 11:10 AM EST

HONOR... I don't have anything to add to this, other than it makes me sick to my stomach. The UN Dispatch on an honor killing in Somalia:

Last week, 13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped.
Reports indicate that was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in conflict capital, Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died.
When some of the people at the stadium tried to save her, militia opened fire on the crowd, killing a boy who was a bystander.