Mojo - May 2007

Bush Opposes Pay Raises for Troops and Survivors

| Thu May 17, 2007 6:57 PM EDT

Last month, President Bush attacked congressional Democrats for depriving troops on the ground of funding by insisting on passing conditional funding bills they knew he would veto. Although Bush's claims were proven to be false—the war had already been funded through June, and even a long delay in reaching an agreement would only have caused the government a minor financial inconvenience—he continued to reiterate them, in the fashion of his Tourettes-inflicted vice president who could not stop saying that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11.

Now the Democrats have proposed a boost in survivor's benefits and a pay increase for the troops, who are facing increased danger since Bush's congressionally opposed surge began. Bush is threatening to veto the gesture of mercy. The president says military pay and benefits are already adequate. But that's not what Mother Jones found (and documented) in our Iraq 101 package. A widow with 3 children receives just $40,000 a year. And soldier's pay is so low that a quarter of military spouses applied for food stamps in 2004.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

MySpace Outrage Was a Bit off Base

| Thu May 17, 2007 6:14 PM EDT

Mother Jones blogged earlier this week about the Pentagon's decision to prohibit soldiers from using MySpace or YouTube on DOD computers. There was a lot of outrage, but I think a clarification is in order: Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have never been allowed to use these sites on DOD-issue computers. They have been—and will continue to be—permitted to access them on privately issued computers available in internet "cafés" on base. In fact, soldiers, like the rest of us, are theoretically prohibited from conducting any personal business on company-issue computers. But up until now, troops deployed outside of war theatres have not been specifically blocked from using the bandwidth-consuming social networking sites. They and their families are the ones the ban will affect (although they, too, usually have some access to non-governmental computers).

Obama Won't Demote Oprah to VP

| Thu May 17, 2007 5:02 PM EDT

Via Taegan Goodard:

"I think Oprah is far more powerful than a vice president. I think that would be a demotion for her."

-- Sen. Barack Obama, interviewed on MSNBC this morning, on whether he would consider Oprah Winfrey as his running mate.

Afghanistan's "Staggering" Economic Growth Doesn't Stem Poverty

| Thu May 17, 2007 4:30 PM EDT

Recently, Alastair McKechnie, the World Bank director for Afghanistan, called the changes in Afghanistan "staggering." According to McKechnie, the Afghan economy has grown at a 10% rate, and though he concedes that there is no available data on unemployment, "people even in rural areas look more prosperous," and are "generally much better off."

Now the Bush administration has requested an additional $11.8 billion from Congress "to accelerate Afghan reconstruction projects and security forces training in 2007-2008," and to "help President Karzai defeat our common enemies." This, they claim, is to demonstrate a "commitment to the Afghan people."

Hopefully, the average Afghan, including the Afghan government, will reap some benefits, but so far it's not looking good. IRIN reports that since the 2001, about 60 donors have spent $13 billion in reconstruction and development activities; yet "out of every US dollar spent by donors in Afghanistan's reconstruction 80 cents finds its way out of the country." The "rest has been spent by donors themselves," with some Afghan officials stating that the money has been allocated through foreign subcontractors, leaving little accountability of where all the aid money is going.

In February, 64 countries and 11 international organizations met in London, pledging $10.5 billion to Afghanistan by 2010 for "security, governance and economic development." Not for the basic needs of the citizens, 6.5 million of whom are starving, most having no access to potable water, sanitation, and heath and social services, and more than half of Afghans living below the poverty line.

Further, the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that perhaps 40% of promised aid is actually delivered, and,

"70% of U.S. aid is contingent upon the recipient spending it on American stuff, including especially American-made armaments. The upshot is that 86 cents of every dollar of U.S. aid is phantom aid."

Why has pouring billions of dollars into Afghanistan been important? It's for "reconstruction," but reconstructing Afghanistan for the purposes of the "Great Game"-- a game that's about energy exports and ensuring US hegemony in South Asia.

—Neha Inamdar

DOJ Considered Firing 1 in 4 U.S. Attorneys

| Thu May 17, 2007 3:47 PM EDT

The Washington Post is reporting today, based on "sources familiar with documents withheld from the public," that Justice had considered firing as many as 26 U.S. Attorneys. That's more than 1 in 4. Contrast that to Alberto Gonzales's sworn testimony last week that the spate of firings was limited to the 8 USAs the public already knows about. The news reveals not just more potential creepiness on the part of the DOJ, given that the 8 firings have been pretty compellingly shown to be a strong-arming attempt to force USAs to prosecute "voter fraud," which doesn't really exist. It also reveals a greater degree of incompetence in the department. Some of the most frequently listed attorneys were not among those ultimately fired, suggesting that the process wasn't especially systematic. The purge was "handled badly" not just because it was ultimately discovered, but in pretty much every way imaginable.

In one especially bizarre development, prosecutor Christopher J. Christie in New Jersey appeared on one list of names. Christie is a major GOP donor, who conducted a corruption probe into Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez's real estate dealings (D-N.J.) and is among that elite and teensy-tiny class of prosecutors who have gotten indictments in terrorism cases.

Saddam's Scientists Helping Build Iran's Nuclear Program?

| Thu May 17, 2007 3:37 PM EDT

A couple days ago, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog IAEA issued a report saying it had made a "short-notice inspection" of Iran's main nuclear facility and found a more advanced program than anyone had previously thought. The IAEA noted that all 1,300 of Iran's centrifuges were running smoothly and producing nuclear fuel. While Iran insists the nuclear program is for civilian power, everyone believes they have their eye on building the bomb.

But the centrifuges are interesting. They're necessary for the production of low enriched uranium for civil purposes or highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. A country needs 3,000 properly functioning centrifuges to develop a nuclear warhead in one year, according to experts, but Iran is going big time -- it plans on installing 54,000 in the near future.

But as recently as February of this year, Iran was thought to have just slightly over 300 centrifuges. Where did they get the technical know-how and personnel for the expansion?

Maybe Iraq. Post-invasion Iraq, that is.

In late 2005, Mother Jones wrote about Iraqi nuclear scientists, including Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, the head of Saddam's nuclear centrifuge program, who were trying desperately to give themselves up to American forces. Yet, because of suspicion and disorganization on the part of the Americans they approached (and the threat of mistreatment in holding centers and prisons), many scientists simply slipped into the underground. Kurt Pitzer wrote:

I met [Dr. Faris Abdul Aziz] in Obeidi's garden, and he told me that in the days after the invasion, he had gone to Saddam's former Republican Palace to offer cooperation to the U.S. military on behalf of himself and other top nuclear scientists. But U.S. officials only wanted to know if he knew where Saddam was hiding and where they might find WMD stockpiles. They never asked him back for another interview. Today, no one seems to know where he is. "We've been trying to get in touch with these guys for months," [David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector] says. "But by now they're probably so jaded and suspicious that they want nothing to do with the U.S."
As it happens, Saddam's nuclear centrifuge program during the late 1980s was one of the most efficient covert nuclear efforts the world has ever seen. The scientists who pulled it off are very gifted men and women, many of whom are now out of work. Their names are still being kept secret by the international agencies familiar with their work. But a source close to one of those agencies recently said that of the 200-some scientists at the top of its nuclear list, all but three remain unaccounted for.

It's not hard to imagine that some of those hundreds of missing nuclear scientists made their way to Tehran, where they would have been welcomed with open arms and fat paychecks. Wouldn't it be ironic and tragic if instead of Iranians sneaking into Iraq to make trouble, as the Bush Administration is claiming, it was the other way around? And simply because the Administration that claimed to care so much about WMDs didn't bother to secure the people who worked on them.

You can read Pitzer's story, "In the Garden of Armageddon," here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Controlling the Media to Win "Hearts and Minds"

| Thu May 17, 2007 3:10 PM EDT

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon planned to enact the "Rapid Reaction Media Team" (RRMT) complete with hand-picked Iraqi media experts. Two of the contractors involved were the Rendon Group (a shady firm working in Afghanistan) and Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC) where- guess who?- Paul Wolfowitz's lover Shaha Ali Riza worked until 2003.

"Strategic communication" to serve global US interests in countries that are geo-strategically significant is not new. In Afghanistan, for example, the Rendon Group and Lincoln Group work around the clock to construct favorable press about American military interventions in countries that have been invaded by the US.

Indeed, Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, says that because "there are few places more critical to our interests or in greater need of sustained U.S. attention than South Asia," "free and independent information is the number one means to clearly portray U.S. interests in South Asia 's economic growth and democratic reform." And as such, we need to "support journalism training to attract students and journalists from across South Asia region."

So much for the freedom of the press.

—Neha Inamdar

Shocker: Presidential Candidates Very Rich

| Thu May 17, 2007 1:59 PM EDT

If you're interested, the FEC released the financial disclosure forms filed by the presidential candidates yesterday. (With some exceptions. Romney, McCain, and Clinton were granted extensions.)

You can read about it here and here, but there are only a couple things of note.

First, everyone is rich. Edwards has $30 million in assets (he gave $350,000 away in charity). Giuliani has made $16.1 million in the last sixteen months, mostly in speaking fees. Romney is expected to disclose a new net worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And so on.

Second, Obama and Republican candidate Sam Brownback divested -- they sold all mutual funds that are invested in companies operating in Sudan.

Third, Rudy Giuliani told a divorce court he had only $7,000 in assets just six years ago, but has now amassed a net worth of more than $30 million. (It's those speaking appearances -- Rudy can charge $100,000-$200,000 per speech in a post-9/11 world.) Giuliani also made $496 in "theatrical royalties" in 2006. Perhaps for this?

Fourth, Bill Richardson, who like all Democrats has called for the reduction in the use of fossil fuels, has hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock of the Valero Energy Corp. He served on Valero's board of directors for little over a year, and was formerly Secretary of Energy under Clinton.

Fifth, Obama has made $572,490 off his two books, "Dreams of My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope." Enough to make any writer jealous.

We'll have another post when Romney, Clinton, and McCain release their numbers. Just 18 months until the election!

Former Generals Reprimand GOP for Tough Torture Talk

| Thu May 17, 2007 1:25 PM EDT

Many people took note of the moment during the GOP debate when Brit Hume proposed a hypothetical in which American shopping centers had been bombed and perpetrators had been caught. How hard do you interrogate the perps, Hume asked, to prevent another attack?

Pretty much every candidate used coded words to say they endorsed torture, or something close to it. Use "enhanced interrogation techniques," said Romney. Let the interrogators use "any method they can think of," said Giuliani. (John McCain, of course, is the exception here; he has been a strong opponent of torture. For a detailed account of what torture did to McCain's body in Vietnam, see the second page of this LA Times feature.)

The crowd loved the tough talk, but you know who was a bit disgusted? Members of the military.

Today, two former generals articulate in the Washington Post what made millions thousands [Ed. Note: Sorry, no one watches these things.] of Americans queasy after the debate:

Fear can be a strong motivator. It led Franklin Roosevelt to intern tens of thousands of innocent U.S. citizens during World War II; it led to Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt, which ruined the lives of hundreds of Americans. And it led the United States to adopt a policy at the highest levels that condoned and even authorized torture of prisoners in our custody....
The American people are understandably fearful about another attack like the one we sustained on Sept. 11, 2001. But it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. Regrettably, at Tuesday night's presidential debate in South Carolina, several Republican candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only John McCain demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation....
This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.

Dilbert Creator for War Czar?

| Thu May 17, 2007 1:11 PM EDT

We might be a little late to the party on this, but Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon Dilbert, has a plan to end the Iraq war that might have put him in the running to be the White House's war czar.

Adams suggests that we withdraw from all combat operations and instead build a heavily fortified perimeter around all of Iraq's oil interests. As long as the civil war blazes, we continue to pump the Iraqis' oil, with all proceeds going to help the Palestinians (and presumably other downtrodden members of the Arab world). When the sectarian fighting ends and a stable government is established in Iraq, the Iraqis can start pumping the oils themselves and use the natural resources that are rightfully theirs to benefit their own country.

In addition to giving the Iraqis a strong incentive to stop killing one another, the plan should end the loss of American lives because (1) American troops would no longer be in the streets trying to tamp down sectarian violence and (2) they wouldn't be attacked while guarding the pipelines because any disruption to the flow of oil only hurts the Palestinians, and public opinion and diplomatic pressure fro the Arab world would probably keep that from happening.

Is it fanciful? Yes. Is it impractical? Yes. Is it ripe for corruption and exploitation? Yes.

Is it just about as good as anything else we've got going on right now? You bet.