Mojo - March 2007

Gates on Gays in the Military: I'm Too Busy for this Crap

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 7:03 PM EDT

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared that homosexuality, like adultery, is immoral and the Army shouldn't allow any immoral behavior. I have a few questions left about that. First of all, immoral according to what standard in a secular state? The Bible? Even the Bible takes adultery to be the bigger issue: It made the top 10; biblical pronouncements on homosexuality are tucked away in odd places and not especially clear. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" is pretty clear. And yet, there's no word from the DoD that a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on adultery is forthcoming.

None of these obvious questions has been asked. The media has, however, tackled likely '08 Democratic candidates Obama and Clinton and asked for their opinion on the morality of homosexuality. They hedged. (Clinton had asked for the gay vote just days before at an under-the-radar speech at the Human Rights Campaign.)

Finally, someone has gotten around to asking the Secretary of Defense what he thinks.
Robert Gates veritably brimmed with substance and insight when he said, "I think we should just move on at this point." Asked whether he thought Pace should apologize, Gates said no. Gates went on to say that he was too busy to evaluate whether "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"—which less than half the nation supports and which costs a strapped military 4,000 soldiers a year—is an effective policy.

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Which is Worse, Murder or Genocide?

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 5:41 PM EDT

This is not a moral invective but a scientific fact: We care more about one murder than a genocide.

It's a truth both Joseph Stalin and Mother Teresa lived by. He said, "One man's death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." She said, "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at one, I will."

The mental flaw responsible for the moral one is exposed in this psychology study: "Donations to aid a starving 7-year-old child in Africa declined sharply when her image was accompanied by a statistical summary of the millions of needy children like her in other African countries. The numbers appeared to interfere with people's feelings of compassion toward the young victim," writes Paul Slovic.

So the more people dead or in danger, the less we care. It's the reason we've said, "Never again," over and over again after the Shoah, then Cambodia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kosovo, and Rwanda. But still so few Americans recognize the name, Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who has already orchestrated the killing of at least 200,000 people. That's at least 199,999 too many to grasp—are your eyes glazing over already?

For more on "psychic numbing" or "compassion fatigue," check out Slovic's slide presentation. Also watch our photo essay on Darfur.

From a previous Blue Marble post, another explanation for our blindness to injustice is system-justification theory. People want to see the world as fair and just, so they blame the victim to help themselves feel better about the status quo.


Rwandan_Genocide_Murambi_skulls.jpg

Nowhere To Run To...But Really This Time

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 3:50 PM EDT

Last week, Germany's Spiegel Online reported Iraqi refugees stand to have yet another door slammed in their faces. The Syrian government, which has absorbed the majority of the refugee burden since the beginning of the war -- and even more so since Jordan has closed its doors -- is bursting at the seams. Syria has taken in 1.2 million of the nearly 4 million Iraqis who have fled their homes in the past four years. (2 million have fled to other countries and 1.8 million have been displaced throughout Iraq.) Spiegel reminds us that for a country of 19 million (the pop. of Syria), that is quite a bit, six percent to be exact. The United States would have to take in nearly 18 million Iraqi refugees to bear a comparable burden (we have taken in less than 500 in the past four years). The article reads:

"Syria's economy is now groaning under the strain. The population suffers from water scarcity, electricity blackouts, increased competition for jobs and higher rent and food prices."

But regardless of this burden, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) in Syria, Lauren Jolles, says, the country does not complain even though the international community has "abandoned [it]." Jolles acknowledged that things have to change and that a United Nations aid conference set to happen in April in Geneva will have to yield a very "large aid package."

As I have written many times before, Iraqi refugees face very few asylum options. If Syria can no longer be a haven for the country's citizens, the outcome will be devastating. The United States needs to pick up the slack as well. As Liz wrote last week, the Bush administration "has decided to let in 7,000 this year, which, with 2 million Iraqis already displaced, is next to nothing." As David Case writes in our current issue, on the newsstands now, "Refugees International labels this the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crisis." The international world seriously needs to get moving.

Hard Times at Pfizer

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 2:33 PM EDT

When Pfizer vice chair Karen Katen got passed over in her bid to become chair of the giant drug maker, she prepared to bail out and will leave the company at the end of this month. The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog rummaged through an SEC proxy statement to add up her compensation package: "Katen's eligible for a pension accrued over a 32-year career that, if taken as a lump sum, would be worth about $40.7 million. Her 401(k) retirement savings plan and some deferred stock are worth another $21.8 million. Add in bonuses, previously disclosed severance of $5.5 million, some stock awards and the like and you come up with the balance of the $76.8 million." She will get an additional $178,000 for unused vacations.

Sounds like a lot, but as the Health Blog points out, Karen's pay out seems like small potatoes compared with former chair Henry "Hank" McKinnell, who got $200 million on his departure.

The Only Terrorist Attack KSM Didn't Confess to Has Now Been Solved

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 1:57 PM EDT

Plamegate continues, the surge in Iraq is tanking, U.S. attorneys say the administration bullied them to make political indictments. What to do?

Release information that terrorists have been caught, of course!

In addition to the absurd laundry list of confessions the government extracted (by questionable means) from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, today they've given word that Mohammed Bin Attash has confessed to planning the attack on the USS Cole. No word on when the confessions actually happened.

As SNL's 80s character the Church Lady would say, "Well, isn't that conveeeenient?"

My only question is, if we've got the guys who've planned every attack since the 70s, does that mean we no longer have anyone to take the fight to in Iraq?

We Continue to Jab Iran With a Sharp Stick, Iran Gets Upset

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 1:16 PM EDT

Three of Iran's top officials in the Revolutionary Guard have disappeared, and the Iranians are blaming the United States.

The first sign of a possible campaign against high-ranking Iranian officers emerged earlier this month with the discovery that Ali Reza Asgari, former commander of the Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force in Lebanon and deputy defence minister, had vanished, apparently during a trip to Istanbul.
Asgari's disappearance shocked the Iranian regime as he is believed to possess some of its most closely guarded secrets. The Quds Force is responsible for operations outside Iran.
Last week it was revealed that Colonel Amir Muhammed Shirazi, another high-ranking Revolutionary Guard officer, had disappeared, probably in Iraq.
A third Iranian general is also understood to be missing — the head of the Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf.

Who knows if the United States is really kidnapping Iranian officials when the officials make foreign trips -- this could be an elaborate game orchestrated by the Iranians. Or someone else could be kidnapping these folks and relishing in the misplaced blame.

But hey, if the U.S. didn't actually kidnap these folks, you know what would enable us to convey that message? Diplomacy. Sorry, I mean more diplomacy.

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Anti-War Protesters Arrested In Colorado Springs

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 12:49 PM EDT

Seven Iraq war protesters who had a permit to march in the St. Patrick's Day parade in Colorado Springs were arrested Saturday for refusing to cooperate with the police. The protesters wore green "peace" shirts and carried signs that said "Kids Not Bombs" and "End This War Now." Despite the possession of a permit, the marchers were halted by police when parade organizers saw their signs and asked the police to intervene.

There were about 45 people in the group--Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission--and, according to the Colorado Springs police, most of them left when they were told to. However, a small group sat in the road and were "escorted off." One woman sustained a minor leg injury as she was dragged off, a retired priest was taken in a chokehold, a taser gun was pointed at the protesters, a police officer broke one of the signs over his knee, and a good time was had by all.

The protesters say they marched with the parade last year without any trouble. The parade organizers, who say they have no memory of the protesters' having marched before, permit political candidates to march, but "It is our goal not to turn this into a confrontational political atmosphere."

Experts: We are NOT Fighting al Qaeda in Iraq to Avoid Fighting it Here

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 12:43 PM EDT

A good article in the Washington Post today debunking the idea that if we don't fight al Qaeda in Iraq, we'll be fighting al Qaeda in the United States.

You see this argument all the time. "If we fail there, the enemy will follow us here," says President Bush. "I am convinced that if we lose this conflict and leave, they will follow us home," says Papa McCain. It has always seemed unlikely to me that a bunch of young men with nothing but grenade launchers, IEDs, and the advantages of fighting guerrilla-style on their home turf would be able to launch a coordinated and sophisticated attack overseas -- much less on the most well-protected country in the world -- but now the experts have weighed in, and that instinct is correct.

What's the main reason we're unlikely to see al Qaeda in Iraq turn their attention to the United States? First, it's doing so damned well in its own country:

"In a year, AQI went from being a major insurgent group, but one of several, to basically being the dominant force in the Sunni insurgency," said terrorism consultant Evan F. Kohlmann. "It managed to convince a lot of large, influential Sunni groups to work together under its banner -- groups that I never would have imagined," Kohlmann said.

Second, al Qaeda's leadership in Iraq is Iraqi, and it cares much more about determining the fate of its home country than taking pot shots at the U.S.:

...al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has undergone dramatic changes. Once believed to include thousands of "foreign fighters," it is now an overwhelmingly Iraqi organization whose aims are likely to remain focused on the struggle against the Shiite majority in Iraq, U.S. intelligence officials said.
...AQI's new membership and the allied insurgents care far more about what happens within Iraq than they do about bin Laden's plans for an Islamic empire, government and outside experts said. That is likely to remain the case whether U.S. forces stay or leave, they added.

Third, al Qaeda in Iraq is not on the best of terms with Osama bin Laden's worldwide al Qaeda operation, and likely won't take marching orders if they involve some kind of attack on the U.S.:

...under [former AQI leader Abu Musab Zarqawi's] leadership, AQI was frequently estranged from al-Qaeda, and its separation has increased since his death last year.

Fourth, it is much easier for al Qaeda to organize major attacks in the lawless region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"As people around the world sign up to fight jihad," the intelligence official said, "before they were always going to Iraq. Now we see more winding up in Pakistan."
As al-Qaeda recoups its numbers and organizational structure in the lawless and inaccessible territory along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, it is seen as having little need for major bases in western Iraq, where the flat desert topography is ill-suited for concealment from U.S. aerial surveillance.

What this means is that while a threat to the United States does come from al Qaeda, it comes from operatives outside of Iraq. You know, the ones we could be chasing down if we weren't bogged down in Iraq trying not to get shot in the crossfire of a civil war. So preventing an attack on the United States has little or nothing to do with our success in Iraq -- in fact, it has more to do with disentangling ourselves from Iraq and turning to the War on Terror. So, Messrs. Bush and Mccain, let's put that twisted little piece of warmongering rhetoric to bed.

U.S. Attorney Firing May Be Connected to CIA Corruption Probe

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 9:12 AM EDT

Yesterday, McClatchy reported that new evidence indicates the firing of former San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam could have been related to a CIA corruption probe. Dianne Feinstein, one of the Democrats spearheading the Senate investigation into the mass purge of eight U.S. Attorneys preoccupying Washington right now, said that Lam notified the Justice Department that she had "intended to execute search warrants on a high-ranking CIA official as part of a corruption probe the day before a Justice Department official sent an e-mail that said Lam needed to be fired." The motivation behind the firings of these federal prosecutors has been central to both the House and Senate investigations of the cases (the DOJ has flip-flopped numerous times over why exactly the prosecutors were forced to resign) and the motivation behind Lam's firing has been even more mystifying. As I wrote last week, new evidence revealed that Lam may not have been fired for her successful prosecution of Duke Cunningham, which was widely been believed to have been the reason she was forced to resign.

This week the DOJ is set to release more documents thought to have further information related to the firings and the Bush administration will announce whether it will assert its executive privilege and not allow Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and other officials to testify. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has made clear that whether the administration asserts this privilege or not, the committee will subpoena them and that "he is 'sick and tired' of the administration's changing rationale for the firings."

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" Equals 4,000 Troops Lost Each Year

| Sun Mar. 18, 2007 4:12 PM EDT

A new report out from UCLA's Williams Institute, finds that since DADT went into effect in 1994 the armed forces have missed out on 4,000 troops each year, in attrition and dismissals, and they continue to each year that the cryptic policy is in effect. And that doesn't even include the potential recruits lost because of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

So let's get this straight: One in five Americans think that gays shouldn't serve in the military. The chairman of the joint chiefs General Peter Pace, citing homosexuality as immoral, agrees with the DADT. And our potential presidential candidates, are cagey on the issue.

Frankly, gays in the military should be a place where everyone agrees, morality aside. The wholesale acceptance of gays in the military has nothing to do with morality or lifestyle acceptance; it's a practical no brainer. It is a matter of—as the Army has demonstrated as their recruitment numbers have floundered—national security.

The Army has decided that it's okay to allow convicted felons and neo-nazis to serve, and its been loosening recruitment standards for years in order to patch together a surgeable workforce. (The Army now allows clinically obese plebes to enlist and and for the first time ever recruits with recent asthma and ADD.) All in the name of Army Strong.

In fact, the military has granted a record number of "moral waivers," handed out to one in 10, 8,129, new recruits last year. In the past three years more than 125,000 moral waivers, for everything from vehicular manslaughter, to DUI, to robbery and assault, were granted throughout the four branches of military service. So having 125,000 new enlistees who have immoral conduct on their record is fine, but enlistees who say they are gay is not?

Finally, since when is the military and its warriors held up to any standard of morality anyway? If we are really going there, and morality is on the table when it comes to military actions, homosexuality should be the least of Pace's worries.