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Congressional Battle Over GAO's Iraq Report Continues

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 5:47 PM EDT

Building on yesterday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, today the House of Representatives grilled U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker about the contents of a new GAO report, which concludes that the Iraqi government has achieved only 3 of 18 political, economic, and security benchmarks. Walker fought off attacks from Congressional Republicans in a morning hearing with the House Armed Services Committee and again in an afternoon appearance before the House Foreign Relations Committee.

At yesterday's event, senators from both parties grimly accepted Walker's determination that the Iraqi government is "dysfunctional." But today, Republicans seem to have gotten their talking points and came out swinging. Numerous GOP congressmen assailed the GAO's methodology, accusing Walker of downplaying recent "progress" in Iraq and complaining that his metrics for assessing the benchmarks (met, partially met, and did not meet) were insufficiently flexible to reflect accurately the difficult and fluid situation on the ground. Walker responded that his task, unlike that of similar Bush administration assessments, was to examine whether the benchmarks had been achieved, not whether progress had been made. He suggested that the Congress take both approaches into account, but warned that the forthcoming Petraeus/Crocker report would probably paint a rosier picture, as both men ultimately report to President Bush. "The GAO represents the only independent and professional assessment that the Congress will receive based on these 18 benchmarks," he said. This caused something of a stir until Walker acknowledged that both Petraeus and Crocker are "professionals." He stuck to his opinion, however, that their conclusions, whatever they may be, would not be completely independent.

The primary argument at both of today's hearings centered on Benchmark 13: "Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security." All parties are in agreement, Walker said, that militias remain the primary arbiters of local security. But, as reported in today's Washington Post, serious disagreement exists with regard to the number of recent sectarian attacks. The figures are classified, but the Pentagon insists sectarian attacks are down as a result of the 'surge,' and reportedly requested in advance of the GAO report's release that this be recognized. Walker, however, insisted that he was "not comfortable" with the military's methodology in differentiating between sectarian attacks and random violence. Jim Saxton, the ranking Republican in the House Armed Services Committee, referred to the Post article and suggested that the feeling of discomfort was mutual. Walker's response was blunt. "It's not uncommon for those being held accountable to be uncomfortable," he said, adding later, "There is still significant sectarian violence."

During the afternoon hearing, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, encouraged Walker to discuss matters outside of the GAO's mandate, such as the unequal sacrifice for the Iraq War being asked of a small portion of the population and the war's effect on the U.S. military. Walker accused the Bush Administration of passing the buck. "We're not paying for this war; we're debt-financing this war," he said. "Our children will pay it off with compound interest." He went on to describe the U.S. Army as "stressed and strained," stating that the current approach is "unsustainable." This invited the ire of Republican ranking member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who asked, "What in the world qualifies you to say that?" She went on to thank Walker for his efforts, but expressed frustration with his conclusions. The GAO report "seems to be having a lot of credibility with the American people that I think is unwarranted," she said.

The battle will continue tomorrow with the delivery of Marine General James Jones' report on the training and capabilities of Iraq's security forces. Click here for a complete schedule of upcoming events.

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Saddest Picture of the Day Alert

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 5:23 PM EDT

It takes a special kind of person to get this kind of reception at a campaign event and keep on plugging. It's hard out there for a pimp crazed right-winger who refers to stem-cell research as "research on the youngest of humans."

BBC Radio 1 Celebrates 40 Years of White People

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 3:34 PM EDT

Macca on Radio 1
The BBC's venerable pop-music outlet, Radio 1, turns 40 years old later this month, and to celebrate, the network is featuring ten days of special shows hosted by major figures in music. The series, called "Radio 1 Legends," kicks off on September 17th with Sir Paul McCartney, then continues with more guest DJs:

Dave Grohl (9/18)
Gwen Stefani (9/19)
Paul Weller (9/20)
Paul Oakenfold (9/21)
Noel Gallagher (9/24)
Debbie Harry (9/25)
Arctic Monkeys (9/26)
Ozzy Osbourne (9/27)
Norman Cook (9/28)

Okay, first of all, of course dance music is central to Radio 1's history, but Oakey and Fatboy Slim?! Were, um, Rob Da Bank and Jive Bunny not available? Secondly, I know I just posted about the trouble with demanding social realism from our art, and I also know this is the BBC, but I'll go out on a limb and say that non-whites have made some contributions to music in the last 40 years. Perhaps one of them could have been included?

New iPods Have WiFi! Somebody Give Me $399!

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 3:09 PM EDT

iPod Touch Well, there was no big announcement of The Beatles coming to iTunes, but this is pretty cool: Steve Jobs just announced a new line of iPods that are basically iPhones without the phone complication. The "iPod Touch" will have the same full-screen touch interface as the iPhone, and will be able to connect to iTunes via WiFi. This may seem a little silly, but I have to admit whenever I travel and see a record store in an airport, I think, "why can't I just walk in there and aim my iPod at a thingy and grab a new song?" Well, now, basically, I can—if I just spend $299 for an 8GB model or $399 for a 16GB.

Since Nothing Else Important Going on in World, Congress Takes on Hip-Hop

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 2:50 PM EDT

We've covered Al Sharpton's protests against sexism and violence in hip-hop, as well as the movement against homophobia and violence in reggae lyrics. Some of us may have also posted a hip-hop video here whose cheeky references to pregnancy some found offensive.

Well, the government is here to straighten this mess out. Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced today that Congress will hold a hearing later this month regarding media "stereotypes and degradation" of women, focusing on hip-hop lyrics and videos.

Continue reading on the Mother Jones arts/culture blog, The Riff.

Since Nothing Else Important Going on in World, Congress Takes on Hip-Hop

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 2:20 PM EDT

We've covered Al Sharpton's protests against sexism and violence in hip-hop, as well as the movement against homophobia and violence in reggae lyrics, here on the Riff. Some of us may have also posted a hip-hop video here whose cheeky references to pregnancy some found offensive. Well, the government is here to straighten this mess out (except the homophobia part). Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced today that Congress will hold a hearing later this month regarding media "stereotypes and degradation" of women, focusing on hip-hop lyrics and videos. Reports Variety:

Just as his colleagues on other committees have summoned TV execs to be grilled on sexual or violent content, Rush wants to hear from the leaders of companies purveying rap music. The intent is to examine commercial practices behind the music's most controversial content.

"I want to talk to executives at these conglomerates who've never taken a public position on what they produce," Rush said. "But it's been surprisingly very difficult to get them to commit to appearing."

Witnesses include toppers Philippe Dauman of Viacom, Doug Morris of Universal Music Group and Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Warner Music Group... So far, only one artist has committed to appearing—Master P, who began his career as a gangsta rapper but has since focused on positive messages and images in his music.

Hey, they've even got a catchy title, to distract from that whole First Amendment problem:

Currently titled "From Imus to Industry: The Business of Stereotypes and Degradation," the hearing is intended to address "what is certainly a timely issue and one that won't go away," Rush said. ...Rush stressed that this is "not an anti-artist hearing, or antimusic or antiyouth hearing." He said he's hoping for voluntary—not regulatory—solutions. "I respect the First Amendment, but rights without responsibility is anarchy, and that's much of what we have now. It's time for responsible people to stand up and accept responsibility."

I'd been wondering what to call this rights-without-responsibility feeling I've been having. Hooray, it's anarchy! And any sentence that begins "I respect the First Amendment, but..." is gonna be an awesome sentence.

In all seriousness, it's mostly just sad that this hearing will do nothing to illuminate the troubling issue of offensive art versus free speech, or of representation of offense versus actual offense, issues that have vexed us for a while. If we rely on the media to represent ourselves and our interests, then it's easy to want art to portray our ideal society, not our real society, or a negative fantasy. The problem is, not everyone has the same ideals, and if the government is involved—even assuring us they're "hoping" not to use "regulatory solutions"—the effect is one of intimidation and censorship. Furthermore, why hip-hop is being singled out seems far more nefarious than some offensive lyrics. God forbid our elected officials might focus on making real efforts against poverty and inequality that might lead to social changes and less-offensive art.

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Chevron Releases Video Game

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 2:20 PM EDT

Energyville is like Sim City where the laws are written by Chevron. You must power your city with a mix of energy sources, and, of course, you can't win without oil. The game is part of Chevron's "Will you join us?" campaign, a dubious effort to spark dialogue about energy and the environment. I can't imagine who Chevron sees as its target audience—kids will find the game all too 1997; any adult who buys the pitch might also be interested in a REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS ASSISTANCE from Nigeria. Still, the game is getting lots of press.

Driven by novelty and interactivity--never underestimate the interest of bored office workers--advergames are becoming hot marketing tools in the political realm. The outfit Persuasive Games will whip one up for $40,000, complete with Sim City street grids or flash-animated conveyor belts. My favorite is Airport Security, a game in which you're a TSA baggage screener. (Courtesy announcement: "Please be advised: Security personnel are authorized to use groping.") For other examples, see page 86 of the Sept/Oct issue of Mother Jones.

In Defense of Gumshoes

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 1:33 PM EDT

McClatchy reports that authorities stopped two major terror plots in Germany and Denmark. Turns out the governments didn't have to torture anyone to stop either of the bombings—it was just good old-fashioned police work. "Both groups had been under surveillance for months," according to the McClatchy story. But instead of immediately arresting suspects and bringing them in, authorities watched them, found out who they were connected to, and built a legal case against them. As Bruce Grady reminded John O'Hagen, "It's called routine police work." The Financial Times reported that police had been watching the German group since spotting one of its members spying on a U.S. military base in Hanau in December 2006. Would someone who was noticed spying on a military base in the U.S. be followed and watched for eight months instead of simply shipped off to Guantanamo and water-boarded?

— Nick Baumann

U.S. Nukes Accidentally Roaming the Country

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 1:09 PM EDT

How does this happen exactly?

A B-52 bomber mistakenly loaded with at least five nuclear warheads flew from Minot Air Force Base, N.D, to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30, resulting in an Air Force-wide investigation...

Wonkette speculates that Cheney is trying to finish off New Orleans. I doubt it. I'm guessing John Travolta and Howie Long are somehow involved; only Christian Slater can save us now.

Breaking: Republican Congressman Dies

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 12:54 PM EDT

Ohio Rep. Paul Gillmor was found dead in his apartment today. There's still no word on the cause of death.

Given the recent carnage--corruption scandals, a resignation, and now a death--you could almost say the Republicans are in solidarity with the harried legislators of Iraq.