Mojo - April 2007

Trial of Commander Charged with "Aiding the Enemy" Begins

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 3:57 PM EDT

The New York Times and Washington Post report today on the hearing held to determine if charges against Lt. Col. William Steele hold water. I wrote last week that the charges sound suspiciously trumped up, and are, in fact, almost identical to those filed against James Yee. They include "aiding the enemy"—for allowing detainees to use an unmonitored cellphone—mishandling classified information and government funds, conduct unbecoming an officer for giving gifts to the daughter of a detainee and being overly friendly with a translator, and possessing pornography.

Most of the hearings were closed to reporters, but the two articles give a hint of what might be going on. The flashiest charge, that of aiding the enemy, was barely discussed (at least publicly). Instead, testimony focused on the contents of Steele's laptop. Let's not forget that possessing pornography is more common than not among the armed forces. Mishandling classified information is also fairly widespread: Rules are incredibly strict, and not all classified information seems to warrant the cloak-and-dagger procedures. Steele had the the text of a classified memo on his laptop and at least one witness saw him download CD-ROMs onto the computer—though no one has indicated that the CDs were classified.

The real meat of the charges against Steele therefore seems to relate to the gifts he gave a detainee's daughter. The young woman's mother and sister were present, so there is no question of sexual misconduct. However, the detainee—who is described as "high value"—complained that Steele was trying to supplant him as a father. So one guess as to why Steele is being slapped with charges that could be made against a huge percentage of the military is that someone wants to butter up the detainee in hopes that he'll talk. Either that or Steele embarrassed the Pentagon in some way during his October 2005 to October 2006 tenure as commander at Camp Cropper.

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God Is Not a Specialty in Indiana

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 2:23 PM EDT

In Indiana, you can buy a specialty auto license plate that supports everything from breast cancer research to child abuse prevention to the Indianapolis Colts, but it will cost you an administrative fee of $15, and there is often a donation to the cause included, too. Mark Studler pays $40 a year for his environmental cause plate--$40 goes to the Indiana Heritage Trust, and the state of Indiana gets its $15 administrative fee.

When Studler went to renew his plate recently, however, he noticed that one specialty plate did not have an Indiana administrative fee attached: This plate has a deep blue background, an American flag streteched across the bottom, and the words "In God We Trust." Studler did not think it was fair that people with a religious preference were treated differently from those who chose other specialty plates, and last week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and its commissioner.

The state of Indiana's defense will come as no surprise: The "In God We Trust" plate is not a specialty plate, and therefore there is no reason to tack on an extra charge for selling it. The state defines the plate as a second "standard" plate, not subject to additional fees.

540,000 drivers have chosen this "standard" plate. If it had been designated a specialty plate, the state would have made another $8 million.

"It's about making sure that nearly every other plate that carries a message has a cost attached to it, and this does not," said Indiana ACLU legal director. "In a state that's as religious as Indiana, the phrase 'In God We Trust' is not just about supporting the national motto. It's about saying you believe in God."

Fun with Friedman Units

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 1:57 PM EDT

Pundit extraordinaire Tom Friedman has made it his job to make sure Americans don't lose faith in the war. The way he does it? Promising that -- at any given time -- victory is six months away. Check out this graphic for the hilarious proof. (H/T TAPPED)

No Accountability at Home, No Accountability in Iraq

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 1:39 PM EDT

President Bush announced the surge in January with a side note about why the military would succeed when previously it had not: "In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence. This time... Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated."

Well, Bush couldn't have been more wrong. Not only is the Maliki government tolerating sectarian interference, it's promoting it. From a Washington Post article that is getting a lot of attention today:

A department of the Iraqi prime minister's office is playing a leading role in the arrest and removal of senior Iraqi army and national police officers, some of whom had apparently worked too aggressively to combat violent Shiite militias.

So Maliki has failed gloriously on a key benchmark. Will Bush hold him accountable? Of course not.

President Bush will not sign any war spending bill that penalizes Iraq's government for failing to make progress, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.

We set benchmarks. The Iraqis fail them. We supply them with more money and more troops. Rinse out the blood and repeat.

Bush AIDS Abstinence Appointee Quits State Dept. in Hooker Scandal

| Sun Apr. 29, 2007 6:48 PM EDT

That headline pretty much says it all, but here are the details.

Expect more bombshells in hookergate later in the week.

Fuel Tanker Melts Bay Bridge Freeway Artery

| Sun Apr. 29, 2007 5:23 PM EDT

If you're from California you've likely already heard about the tanker explosion this morning that will mean tens of millions of dollars in repair work and months of headaches and detours for San Francisco drivers. It happened early this morning, reported at 3:42am, when the driver of a refinery tanker was speeding along a freeway overpass, lost control and the tanker, holding 8,600 gallons of unleaded fuel, hit the guard rail and flipped.

Miraculously, the driver crawled out of the truck and got away before the explosion. James Mosqueda, who was working for Sabek Transportation, apparently walked off the ramp, went to a nearby gas station (the irony) and called a cab to take him to the hospital. A cab? Wonder why he didn't just dial 911?

"A lucky man," said California Highway Patrol officer Trenton Cross. Lucky, yes, but also a man in serious trouble. Not only did $30,000 worth of fuel go up in flames--yes, gas is $3.50 a gallon around here, for regular unleaded-- 250 yards of a double-decker freeway melted. And not just any freeway, but a main artery, part of the MacArthur Maze, which 280,000 commuters drive each day in and out of San Francisco. The B word has been tossed around and if not a billion it will be tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in repair work.

For the forseeable future affected ramps will be closed, clogging alternate routes for what will likely be months. And locals will remember that after the Cypress freeway collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 repairs took years and traffic patterning never really recovered. And the slow progress of the Bay Bridge earthquake retrofit doesn't portend swift action either.

Sabek Transportation and Mosqueda may face charges, it's still too soon to tell. This is not the first tanker accident for Sabek in the area, last June 4,500 gallons of diesel leaked into roadways and streams after a truck overturned on a stretch of highway in Alameda, California.

An interesting note, one engineer who studied the WTC explosions for the National Science Foundation said that the freeway collapse was quite similar. Apparently the fireball erupted precisely at the weak point of the skyway - the underside of the pier where all of the supporting steel girders are bare and unprotected by concrete or anything else, said Berkeley civil engineering professor Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl. The steel supports were baked at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (the fire reached 2,000 degrees), the point at which steel turns to rubber, causing the steel to buckle and the double-decker freeway to collapse completely.

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Department of Veterans Affairs Backs Down, Allows Pentacles On Headstones

| Sat Apr. 28, 2007 3:53 PM EDT

In March of 2006, I reported that the widow of a Nevada National Guardsman shot down in Afghanistan was trying to get permission from the Department of Veterans Affairs to have a pentacle engraved on her husband's headstone. Her request was denied.

Both the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed lawsuits against the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of families whose loved ones' headstones remained blank. The ACLU's suit involved three individuals and two churches. The DVA settled the suit brought by Americans United, an act which automatically settled the ACLU suit.

Under the terms of the settlement, which was reached April 23, the DVA will add the pentacle to its list of approved emblems of belief, and will provide appropirate headstones to the families who filed the lawsuits.

Provo, Utah Business Community Forms Blacklist Of Protesting Students

| Sat Apr. 28, 2007 12:44 PM EDT

First, the Provo School District denied a venue to Brigham Young University students who wanted a place to hold an alternative commencement ceremony. The students, who did not want to attend the official ceremony with speaker Dick Cheney, had been promised space at a local high school, but then a memo suddenly appeared, telling all principals to deny use of their schools for the event. An anonymous member of the Provo School Board says that, in denying space to the students, the board is violating its own rental policy.

But that was just the beginning of the story. A local businesswoman has tipped off the students that their names are now also on a "do not hire" list circuated by local businesses. "Many businesses are noting the names involved," she says.

Bush's FBI/DOJ Neglect Hate Crimes and Other Civil Rights Cases

| Fri Apr. 27, 2007 1:25 PM EDT

A few weeks back, Jonathan wrote about Bush being soft on crime, especially white-collar crimes. Following 9/11, GW restructured the FBI, tasking it with counter-terrorism efforts. Because the bureau was given no additional funds to handle the increased work-load, something had to go. Well, it turns out the FBI hasn't just neglected bank fraud and ID theft, civil rights cases have been ignored as well. Seattle Post Intelligencer reports that there were "two-thirds fewer investigations targeting abusive police officers, cross-burners and other purveyors of hate from 2001 to 2005." According to the FBI, it wasn't just the budget crunch that lead to the decrease, but that they gave up on investigating these types of crime because only 10 percent of the cases referred to the Justice Department were prosecuted. As Jonathan noted, the DOJ was maybe too busy with "show trial terror prosecutions" or was it the politicization of the department that had them otherwise engaged?

The Real Headline from the Dems' Debate: "Nothing Happened"

| Fri Apr. 27, 2007 9:51 AM EDT

Every news outlet seems to be leading with the debate the Democratic presidential candidates had in South Carolina last night. The reporters had to mine a thoroughly uneventful evening for a news hook, and so if you look around the web you'll find stuff like, "Everyone attacked Obama!" or "Obama was great, Hillary was awful!" or "Democrats target Bush!" Or whatever. In reality, here's what happened: nothing.

Obama was Obama. Edwards was Edwards. Clinton was Clinton. They didn't lash out at anyone except President Bush, which they've been doing every day for months. Richardson talks too much. Joe Biden knows what he's talking about, but has no chance. Dennis Kucinich doesn't talk about issues, he talks about philosophies and how they lead to positions on issues. He doesn't have a chance either. Chris Dodd was a non-entity. Mike Gravel (pronounced Gruh-VELL) is crazy and hilarious and you don't know who he is. But let's emphasize this, he's really crazy. Brian Williams was a fine moderator until the last ten minutes, when he let things get out of control and Obama and Kucinich started bickering about bombing people.

Everyone was so careful and timid and uninterested in attacking their opponents that they could have debated for three days instead of 90 minutes and there wouldn't have been a single worthwhile news hook. And that's all you need to know.