Blogs

Breaking: Bush to Receive More Than One Point of View From Advisers

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 1:24 PM EDT

McClatchy reports that since the Pentagon can't agree on what to do about Iraq (and who can, really?), top military leaders will be giving their (presumably different) opinions to President Bush separately. After hearing what his Joint Chiefs, Defense Secretary, assorted generals, and much-touted "commanders in the field" have to say, the president will have "a decision to make," in the words of a Pentagon spokesman. Perfect for the The Decider!

And I bet you can guess what he'll decide...

— Nick Baumann

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Vitter vs. Craig: Homophobic Hypocrisy from the GOP

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 1:20 PM EDT

Wouldn't you know it, the GOP is treating Sen. Larry Craig, who solicited sex from a man, very, very differently than it treated Sen. David Vitter, who admitted to using a (heterosexual) prostitution service. You can check out Think Progress for details, but here's what you need to know: a number of Republicans have called for Craig to resign, the party leadership has stripped him of his committee assignments, and the GOP has asked for an ethics investigation into his actions.

When David Vitter rose to speak in front of his fellow Republicans a few days after he admitted the "sin" in his past, he received "thunderous applause" from his colleagues.

John McCain and the Sensitivities of Suffering

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 1:07 PM EDT

I have enormous respect for the suffering John McCain experienced as a P.O.W. in Vietnam, and for the courage he displayed during his captivity. I remember being stunned by this article in the LA Times that described the mangling of his body:

George "Bud" Day, a Medal of Honor recipient, vividly remembers the day McCain's broken body was brought by guards through the door of Hoa Lo prison, the infamous Hanoi Hilton.
"He had been starved," Day said. "He was emaciated and weighed around 100 pounds. He had lost a third of his body weight. He had a fracture of his right knee that had been unskillfully repaired, as well as multiple fractures of his right arm. His left shoulder was dislocated and he had been bayoneted in the left leg. And he was filthy. You could smell him a quarter-block away.
"I expected he would die before morning," Day continued. "I thought the Vietnamese had dropped him off with us so he would die with us and they would be able to blame his death on us. About 40% of the prisoners had some kind of a broken limb or combination of broken limbs or skull fractures. I would say John was in the top 2% of the worst-injured in the system."

I don't object to McCain making this part of his campaign narrative. But check out this new campaign video (spotted on The Plank), which is a solid twelve minutes of this stuff. At a certain point, you can't help but having one of two reactions: (1) disgust at the war-porn nature of the whole thing, or (2) pity for McCain. Neither make really make you want to vote for him.

Missing Weapons Found in Turkey

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 1:03 PM EDT

As mentioned here before, a large number of U.S. weapons supplied to the Iraqi Army have gone missing. According to today's New York Times, at least some of them have been located in Turkey. Pentagon officials have confirmed that the serial numbers of an unspecified number of Glock handguns matched those on a list of weapons originally provided to Iraqi military units in 2004 and 2005; estimates for the number of weapons recovered vary from dozens to hundreds. The Turkish government alleges that the U.S. arms have been used in "crimes" committed in Turkey by members of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group. U.S. officials say they have no proof of this, but they have apparently taken Turkish claims seriously enough to dispatch a high-ranking Pentagon official to investigate the claims. According to the Times article:

Mr. Gates sent the Pentagon general counsel, William J. Haynes II, to Turkey last month for talks with Turkish officials, who had been complaining for months that American-supplied weapons were being used in murders and other violent crimes carried out, in some cases, by Kurdish militants.
Turkey's allegations that Iraq was being used as a sanctuary to carry out attacks inside Turkey have strained relations between the Bush administration and Ankara over the past six months, with Turkey not ruling out a military intervention into northern Iraq to stop the activity.
American officials said that it appeared that the weapons found in Turkey were given to Iraqi units in 2004 and 2005 when, in the rush to build police and army units, controls on distribution of firearms had been much weaker. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was then in charge of training and equipping Iraqi forces and who is now the top American commander in Iraq, has said that the imperative to provide weapons to Iraqi security forces was more important at the time than maintaining impeccable records...
Pentagon officials said Wednesday that the problem of weapons turning up in Turkey was part of a larger investigation being carried out by the Pentagon inspector general, Claude M. Kicklighter, a retired Army three-star general, into allegations that American-supplied weapons had been improperly accounted for and fallen into the wrong hands.

The Turkish government claims that Iraqi security forces, particularly Kurdish units loyal to Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's northern Kurdish region, may have sold or simply given the weapons to the PKK, which bases itself in the remote mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. U.S. officials counter that it's more likely the weapons were smuggled across the border into Turkey after being stolen or lost during firefights with insurgents.

Either way, the Pentagon announced this week the establishment of two panels to investigate failures in the military contracting system that may have contributed to the weapons falling into the wrong hands. From the Times:

One panel of retired generals and civilian contracting experts, led by Jacques Gansler, a former top Pentagon acquisition official, will examine the Army contracting system and report back in 45 days how to improve its organization, staffing levels, auditing ability and other functions to prevent fraud, waste and abuse.
The second review, led by Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III and Kathryn Condon, two Army contracting specialists, will examine current operations, Mr. Geren said. It will look for improprieties in the 18,000 contracts awarded from 2003 to 2007 by the Army's big contracting office in Kuwait. Those contracts to clothe, house and feed American forces moving in and out of Kuwait are valued at more than $3 billion.

In related news, the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies has released its annual "Small Arms Survey." The study found that civilians possess three times more weapons than are held by all the world's armies and police forces combined. Of the estimated 875 million small arms in existence, as many as 650 million belong to private citizens. Researchers contend that growing instability and violence of megacities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have contributed to civilians' growing desire to arm themselves. As reported by the BBC, gun-related deaths in Brazil's cities outnumber those of many countries at war.

GAO Report: Iraqis Meeting 3 of 18 Benchmarks

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 11:21 AM EDT

In advance of the much-ballyhooed September 15 report on Iraq that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are not writing, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is due to release its own report. Today, courtesy of the AP, we have a sneak peek at the contents.

The Associated Press has learned the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, will report that at least 13 of the 18 benchmarks to measure the surge of U.S. troops to Iraq are unfulfilled ahead of a September 15 deadline.... [A] July report said the administration believed the Iraqis had made satisfactory progress on eight of the 13 benchmarks.

The administration is already downplaying the GAO's report, claiming the standards the GAO used are far too demanding.

The GAO, however, has been told to "assess whether or not such benchmarks have been met," and the administration plans to assert that is too tough a standard to be met at this point in the surge, the officials said.
"It's pretty clear that if that's your measurement standard a majority of the benchmarks would be determined not to have been met," said one official. "A lot of them are multipart and so, even if 90 percent of it is done, it's still a failure...The standard the GAO has set is far more stringent," he said. "Some might argue it's impossible to meet."

Okay, so we've got a GAO report that says the Iraqis are meeting 3 of 18 benchmarks, and an upcoming Sept 15 report that is destined to say things are going well, or at least, on balance, not too bad. Just more fuel for congressional members on both sides of the issue. I smell a stalemate. A further stalemate, I mean. The liberal's dream of congressional Republicans giving up on the war one by one this fall looks unlikely to come true.

And what happens to the $50 billion, the $147 billion, and the $460 billion?

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

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 11:13 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.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

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

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 10:38 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 8:54 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 7:47 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 5:56 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.