Mojo - June 2007

Commanders Say Surge is a Failure

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 12:20 PM PDT

The New York Times has obtained a copy of a military progress report on the troop surge in Baghdad which reveals that less than a third of the city's neighborhoods have been brought under control. The surge strategy relied on all neighborhoods being pacified by July. Military brass blamed the Iraqi police forces for failing to do their part. In several instances, the Iraqi police were caught actively assisting bomb-layers. If "blame the Iraqis" is an excuse, it's not a very encouraging one. American troops will, in all likelihood, leave Iraq in 2008, and it seems clear that the Iraqis will not be able to maintain even as much control as American troops have—which isn't saying much.

I hate to say I told you so—I really do—but I did. Then again, it didn't take a genius to agree with—well, everyone except President Bush.

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Dems Debate -- Candidates Reveal Most Important Priorities

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 7:32 AM PDT

The question of what a presidential candidate would do in his or her first [blank] days in the White House is always instructive, because it reveals the candidate's top priorities. The [blank] can be any time period, because candidates treat one day and one hundred days the same in this context.

In the CNN-sponsored debate in New Hampshire last night, the Democrats were asked what they would do in their first hundred days as president. The responses:

John Edwards: "To travel the world -- re-establish America's moral authority in the world -- which I think is absolutely crucial... the single greatest responsibility of the next president is to travel the world, speak to the world about what real American values are -- equality, diversity -- and to lead an effort by America to re-establish our alliances around the world."

Hillary Clinton: "Well, if President Bush has not ended the war in Iraq, to bring our troops home. That would be the very first thing that I would do."

Barack Obama: "That would be the number one priority, assuming nothing has changed. The second priority is getting moving on health care because that's something that we can get done, I think, very quickly."

Bill Richardson: "I would upgrade our schools. I would have preschool for every American, full-day kindergarten. I would pay our teachers what they deserve. I'd have a minimum wage for our teachers, $40,000."

Joseph Biden: "I would end the war in Iraq and immediately move to defuse the possible war in Iran and immediately defuse what's going on on the Korean Peninsula."

Dennis Kucinich: "What I intend to do is to be a president who helps to reshape the world for peace -- to work with all the leaders of the world in getting rid of all nuclear weapons, rejecting policies that create war as an instrument of diplomacy, making sure that we cause the nations of the world to come together for fair trade, cancel NAFTA, cancel the WTO, go back to bilateral trade conditioned on workers' rights and human rights, create a not-for-profit health care system and send the bill to Congress."

Chris Dodd: "I'd try to restore the constitutional rights in our country. This administration has done great damage to them. I would do that on the first day. I wouldn't wait 100 days on those issues."

Mike Gravel: "Top priority is to turn to these people and say they are part of the leadership right now in the Congress. They could end the war if they want to. All they've got to do is show the leadership." [Ed. Note: What?]

Of course, a million things will change between now and any new president's first 100 days, forcing a shift in priorities, but it's nice to see that Edwards sees beyond the Iraq War to America's place in the world more generally, and that Richardson hasn't forgotten about domestic issues, specifically education, and that at least one candidate is aware of the damage the war on terror has done to our civil liberties.

Dems Debate in New Hampshire -- Everybody Wins

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 6:48 AM PDT

One absurd thing about a presidential debate is that the day after you can find a news report saying just about anyone won the thing. So following the Democrats' debate in New Hampshire last night, Google News is ablaze with claims that everyone from Joe Biden to Hillary Clinton came out ahead.

- CNN: "Analysts: Biden's performance strongest"

- Monsters and Critics: "Hillary's campaign on track in a tiny state that matters"

- Cornell Daily-Sun: "Democrats Debate, Obama Wins"

- New Hampshire Public Radio: "Democratic Debate: Edwards Makes Favorable Impression"

And then there's the news pieces that simply list winners and losers, which might as well be selected at random.

- 411mania.com says the winners were John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Mike Gravel. The losers were Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, and Chris Dodd.

- USA Today says the winners were the big three, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. The losers, presumably, were everyone else.

And on and on and on. With so many different takes on who won and who lost, I think it's fair to call this debate a wash, just like the last one. So you heard it on MoJoBlog first: the winner of the Democrats' debate in New Hampshire on June 3rd was -- everybody! And the loser was -- everybody!

The Pentagon's "Martyrs" And Other Tales of Collateral Damage

| Fri Jun. 1, 2007 6:16 PM PDT

There are more details on the paltry sums the U.S. military pays out to the civilian victims of its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, thanks to a new GAO report [PDF]. Some highlights:

  • Condolence payments for death, injury, or property damage max out at $2,500 in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Under new rules, generals in Iraq may authorize payments up to $10,000 in "extraordinary circumstances."
  • In 2005, the military paid out $21.5 million in condolence payments in Iraq; it paid out $7.3 million in 2006. Assuming that the $2,500 maximum was disbursed in each case, that means more than 11,500 payments were made. However, the military does not keep records on the number of payments or the reasons for them. It also does not keep track of denied requests for payment.
  • Here's an example of the system at work: "Two members of the same family are killed in a car hit by U.S. forces. The family could receive a maximum of $7,500 in [...] condolence payments ($2,500 for each death and up to $2,500 for vehicle damage)."
  • Civilians may also file for up to $100,000 in compensation under the Foreign Claims Act. Between 2003 and 2006, the Pentagon paid out $26 million on 21,450 claims filed by Iraqis under the act. That comes out to an average of $1,200 per claim.
  • Before April 2006, no condolence payments were offered for Iraqi soldiers, police officers, or government workers wounded or killed by U.S. and Coalition operations. The Pentagon has since started offering what it calls "martyr payments" for Iraqis killed on the job.
  • In short: One Iraqi life is worth the same as a totaled car, but very special Iraqis may be worth up to $10,000. Also, it's very hard to do math amid the fog of war, so don't bother asking about civilian casualty figures. And being called a martyr by the U.S. government? Priceless.

    Informed Dissent: Get Informed, Get Involved

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 4:47 PM PDT

    Last week was the first annual Whistleblower Week in Washington and it gave whistleblowers and their advocates a chance to convene. In the May/June issue Daniel Schulman wrote about the Office of Special Counsel and its antagonistic attitude towards whistleblowers, the very people the agency is supposed to protect. To find out more about current whistleblower legislation, supporting, or becoming a whistleblower check out the most recent edition of the "Informed Dissent" newsletter.


    Go here to sign up to receive Informed Dissent every two weeks. Get informed, get involved.

    Kos-Heads Love them Some Gore

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 4:21 PM PDT

    The wonky white guys over at the Daily Kos go coo-coo for Al Gore! A poll measuring readers' interest in a Gore presidential bid comes back with 50 percent saying either "I would abandon my current favorite, go strong for Gore" or "I don't have a current favorite, I've been waiting for Gore this whole time." The next most popular answer, with 13 percent, is "I would stay with my current favorite, but consider Gore."

    Hard to say if these political junkies are representative, but if I were Gore, I'd be dusting off the Weight Watchers literature. Just sayin'.

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    TB, the New Katrina

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 3:45 PM PDT

    Lawmakers are beginning to ask the obvious question: Why was a man identified as having a strongly drug-resistant form of tuberculosis allowed to fly on an international commercial flight and cross the border into the United States even after his passport had been flagged? Concerns about drug-resistant TB have been circulating for years, and you'd think we might have learned our lesson about allowing flagged travelers into the United States after 9/11. If that's not bad enough, the infected man, Andrew Speaker, has told the press that the Centers for Disease Control stonewalled his requests to provide him with non-commercial transportation from Europe to the Denver hospital that, they had informed him, was the only place that could to handle the virulent strain of TB. That treatment came despite the fact that his wife's father works at the CDC. The U.S. government is going to have to get its act together, because drug resistant illnesses are on the rise and who knows what new viruses climate change will unleash.

    Whatever Happened to Jingles in Political Ads?

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 11:36 AM PDT

    Here are a couple old timey campaign spots to remind you of when politics was simpler. Or if politics wasn't simpler, political messaging certainly was. The message of the first? "I like Ike." Literally, that's it -- over and over and over. The message of the second? "Kennedy Kennedy Kennedy." Good times.

    This one's from the Eisenhower campaign in 1952:

    This one is from the Kennedy campaign in 1960:

    But just so you don't think attack ads are a new invention, here's one where the Kennedy campaign gets nasty, using Ike's words against his own VP, Richard Nixon.

    Today's Chutzpah Award Goes To... Scooter Libby

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 11:15 AM PDT
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    From Scooter Libby's lawyers' response [PDF] to federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's sentencing memo, in which he reasserted that Valerie Plame Wilson was indeed an undercover CIA agent:

    First, the government claims that its "investigators were given access to Ms. Wilson's classified file."....This is tantamount to asking the Court and Mr. Libby to take the government's word on Ms. Wilson's status, based on secret evidence, without affording Mr. Libby an opportunity to rebut it. Such a request offends traditional notions of fairness and due process.

    Where to begin on this one? The irony of a former aide to Dick "You Can't Handle the Truth" Cheney questioning the government's word—its classified word, no less? (However, the government in this case is the CIA, which neocons know is a bunch of untrustworthy wusses.) But what really stands out here is that the legal protection that Libby is claiming, the right to see and confront secret evidence, is the very right the White House—the Office of the Vice President in particular—has spent five years denying to Guantanamo detainees. But wait—I thought we can't take the intelligence community at its word, especially when a man's freedom is on the line. Makes your head hurt, don't it? (Extra bonus points: Libby's law firm also represents Gitmo detainees.)

    Oops - Forget You Ever Saw Pix of the Baghdad Embassy

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 10:16 AM PDT
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    A couple of days ago, we posted an image of the beach volleyball court inside the monster U.S. embassy complex under construction in Baghdad. The rendering came from the site of the architecture firm that designed it. But now it's pulled the images under pressure from the State Department, which claimed they were a security risk. Despite the warning, a spokesman for the architecture firm gave the bad guys even more ideas by revealing that "Google Earth could give you a better snapshot of what the site looks like on the ground." So I think it's still safe to show you this image of a Marine guard and a tiny pixelated diplomat.

    Meanwhile, the embassy project has other problems—such as using coerced labor to get the job done. As Iraqslogger reports, American managers have complained that the builder, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting, has mistreated the thousands of South Asian, Filipino, and other foreign laborers brought in to construct the complex. Some of the allegations:

    [C]onstruction crews lived in crowded quarters; ate sub-standard food; and had little medical care. When drinking water was scarce in the blistering heat, coolers were filled on the banks of the Tigris, a river rife with waterborne disease, sewage and sometimes floating bodies, they said. Others questioned why First Kuwaiti held the passports of workers. Was it to keep them from escaping? Some laborers had turned up "missing" with little investigation. Another American said laborers told him they were been misled in their job location. When recruited, they were unaware they were heading for war-torn Iraq.

    As one American supervisor explained, "Every US labor law was broken.... I've never seen a project more fucked up."