Mojo - August 2007

Surging Toward Civil War

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 7:40 AM PDT

At least 200 people were killed yesterday when powerful truck bombs exploded in two villages adjacent to Iraq's northern Kurdish region along the Syrian border. The victims were members of the Yizidi community, a minority religious sect that local Muslims consider to be "devil worshipers." At least one of the villages was virtually destroyed in the blast, as most of its dwellings were made of clay. Bodies littered the ground, and more than 200 wounded were rushed to six area hospitals. The attack was among the deadliest in Iraq this year.

A spokesman for the Kurdish regional government told reporters that the Kurdish peshmerga might have been able to prevent the bombings, but is forbidden from operating in the Yizidi area by the central government in Baghdad. According to the BBC:

Tensions between the Yazidi sect and local Muslims have grown since a Yazidi girl was reportedly stoned by her community in April for converting to Islam.
The sect is due to vote later alongside other Kurds outside the Kurdish autonomous region in a referendum on joining the grouping.
Correspondents say the planned referendum makes northern Iraq's Kurds a target for politically-motivated attacks.

Sunni extremists are thought to be responsible for yesterday's bombings. From Juan Cole's Informed Comment:

The operation resembled the horrific bombing of the Shiite Turkmen of Armili on July 2. Note that first Shiite Turkmen were targeted and now Kurdish Yazidis. They have in common not being Sunni Arabs. My suspicion is that these bombings are not just an attempt to spread fear and intimidation, but are actually part of a struggle for control of territory. The Sunni Arab guerrillas face powerful challenges from Kurds and Shiites with regard to the future of provinces such as Ninevah, Diyala and Kirkuk. A lot of Kurdish police and troops have been deployed in Mosul not far from Tuesday's bombings, and they are seen as among the deadliest enemies by the Sunni Arab guerrillas. Sooner or later, my guess is that the Sunni Arabs will wage a major war with the Kurds over the oil fields of Kirkuk.

Attacks like this one in northern Iraq only strengthen the Kurds' conviction that there is little to be gained from associating themselves with Iraq's central government... and perhaps even more to be lost by doing so. The chaos and violence that reigns in Baghdad appears to be spreading to previously quiet areas. The "surge" is responsible for at least some of this. Rather than packing it in under increased U.S. pressure, insurgent groups have begun to select easier targets in other parts of the country. After all, what better way to antagonize the Kurds into fighting a civil war than to attack them on their own ground?

Speaking of the surge, here's Time's Matthew Yeomans:

The U.S. Army Chief of Staff says the troop surge is working, however. Gen. George Casey—who is a former U.S. commander in Iraq—told reporters yesterday he saw clear "progress on the security front" during his weekend visit to Iraq. "As complex and as difficult and as confusing as you may find Iraq ... we can succeed there," he said. "And we will succeed there if we demonstrate patience and will." But he said he didn't know when the Army might be able to cut soldiers' tours of duty back to 12 months from 15.

What he did say, though, was that deployments longer than the current 15 months would "put our soldiers at a level of stress and a level of risk that I'm right now not comfortable with." The surge can only be maintained by extending tours to 18 months. So, it looks like no matter what happens in the political debate over a potential drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, the soldiers are going to start coming home no matter what.

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Rove's Departure Unlikely to End Investigation Into His Activities

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 7:10 AM PDT

Karl Rove's politicalization of the federal government became so wide-ranging and so bald earlier this year that the Republican apparatchik at the head of the Office of Special Counsel decided to investigate him. If you were wondering if that investigation will end with Rove's resignation (MoJo's thoughts on the departure here and here), have no fear. According to an Office of Special Counsel spokesman, the inquiries will continue.

That could be spin, of course, and we'll have to wait to see if any real results come out of the OSC, but at least it's spin in the right direction.

Gonzo and the Reauthorization of the Patriot Act, Part II

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 6:42 PM PDT

Guess which beleaguered public official is poised to grab even more power—Alberto Gonzales. A hidden provision in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act allows states to opt in to a program aimed at expediting the federal appeals process for death row inmates. This provision gives the attorney general the authority to deny an appeal before it even reaches federal court for review. The attorney general's job is to present such a case before the court, not to decide it.

Sound familiar? There was another provision that was quietly slipped into the reauthorization of the Patriot Act granting Gonzales excess power. You know, the one that allowed him to appoint interim U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation? Shouldn't we be scouring that bill for more sneaky power-granting amendments?

And it's not difficult to predict what Gonzales will do with this newfound control over capital litigation. As gubernatorial counsel to Bush for three years in Texas, Gonzales advised him on 57 executions. Clemency was denied in all of them.

—Celia Perry

Why is Hastert Leaving?

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 3:11 PM PDT

What a week. First Rove, now Dennis Hastert, who, until last year, was the most powerful man in Congress. As recently as January, the former Speaker of the House had emphatically denied that he was thinking about calling it quits. "I just think that was wishful thinking on the part of some people," the Illinois Congressman had told the local CBS station in Chicago. But now CBS says its sources "expect Hastert to announce he will not seek reelection next year."

It's too early to say why Hastert is calling it quits, and we'll probably never know for sure (I'll bet, like Rove, he'll be wanting to get in some quality time with the family). I'd guess Hastert might be tired of hearing about how he helped squander the Republican majority with his botched handling of the Congressional page sex scandal. And it probably hasn't helped that the scandal refuses to go away: the Rev. KA Paul, who was widely discredited even before Hastert discussed the page woes with him last year in a private meeting, was recently arrested in a Beverly Hills hotel on suspicion of "lewd and lascivious acts with a minor." Still, many in Illinois will be sad to see Hastert go, if for no other reason than his ability to bring home giant slabs of pork. While it's true that Speaker Pelosi is also sprinkling some bacon bits these days, at least she hasn't been accused of self-dealing. Hastert won an earmark for a freeway through the middle of nowhere, driving up the value of an adjacent property that he owned, which he then sold at a profit.

"Hastert was one of the key players in rewriting how business on the floor of the House of Representatives is done," says John Laesch, a Navy veteran who ran against Hastert last year and came closer to winning than anyone had thought possible. "The pay-to-play system that he and Tom DeLay created puts the people's business behind closed doors. I think that is probably ultimately what he will be remembered for in Washington, D.C." Laesch is one of three Democrats making a bid for the seat this year in the Illinois primary. What would he do differently if he gets elected? "Well," he says, pausing to think for a moment. "Everything."

Buh-Bye Hastert: Another Pathetic Legacy

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 2:57 PM PDT

When we live-blogged the glorious 2006 midterm elections, we posted a blog saying buh-bye to each nefarious member of the Republican delegation as they fell. Santorum and George Allen were particular favorites. Today, we've got a headstart on 2008. Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert will announce that he is retiring. It is unclear if his retirement is effective immediately or at the end of this session of Congress.

As the man who presided over the Republican House when it (1) whole-heartedly supported one of the greatest foreign policy debacles in our country's history, and (2) swung widely out of control in terms of corruption, graft, ethics abuses, and preying on congressional pages, Hastert leaves with a legacy tarnished. Awfully common these days.

Newark Gets It Together in Response to Homicides; New Orleans, Not So Much

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 1:04 PM PDT

The Newark mayor's office has raised more than $3 million for a state-of-the-art surveillance system within days of the slaying of three college students. The homicides, which brought the 2007 citywide total up to 60, inspired political foes to make friends and corporations to make donations, all in the name of mitigating the alarming levels of violence in their city.

Meanwhile, no such strides have been made in New Orleans, where in the first four days of this year, seven people were murdered. By Saint Patrick's Day, 37. With less than half of the city's population around, the odds of getting killed in New Orleans made it the deadliest city in America.

A few months after I moved out of New Orleans last year, someone was shot with an assault rifle on the very corner on which I stood waiting for the bus every day. Hopefully the situation in Newark will inspire a certain mayor's office on the Gulf Coast, too, in a city in which there have been twice as many murders—literally, 120 so far this year—among a population less tens of thousands. Hopefully it'll happen soon, before more good and desperately needed New Orleanians, evacuating from a different kind of threat, move out.

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Development Statistics Geeks of the World, Unite!

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 12:18 PM PDT

Behold, another super-cool gadget from Google. It's called Gapminder World, and it was developed by the Gapminder Foundation, which describes itself as "a non-profit venture for development and provision of free software that visualise human development." You can track almost any country in the world on a chart where you can make the x- and y-axes any one of more than a dozen development indicators. You can color the points differently based on region, or resize them based on population. You can see which countries are making progress and which are lagging behind. You can scale data logarithmically. Basically, it's the coolest thing I've found on Google in a while. That's saying something.

Just check it out.

— Nick Baumann

Muhammad al-Corleone: New Trouble in Iraq

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 10:28 AM PDT

Yet another problem for General Petraeus and the American military to worry about: the Italian mafia is selling weapons to insurgent factions in Iraq. It just got caught trafficking "100,000 sophisticated machine guns." Wonder if that's in the vaunted counterinsurgency manual...

Mitt Romney Loves Iran, Sudan, Cigarettes, Other Bad Things

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 8:31 AM PDT

Mitt Romney is rich. So rich that his wealth is estimated to be between $190 million and $250 million. Want to know how he made all that money? Here are some of his current and former investments:

  • An Italian oil company doing business in Iran. (former)
  • A Chinese oil company doing business in Sudan. (current)
  • Philip Morris U.S.A., the world's largest cigarette manufacturer. (current)
  • A half dozen casino companies. (former)
  • Wal-Mart. (current)

There's enough in there to anger both the right and the left, particularly because Evangelicals are getting all worked up about Darfur these days. Mo' money, mo' problems, I guess.

Rove and the National Press

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 7:54 AM PDT

Worth reading: Jay Rosen on how Karl Rove figured out that the national press would never cover the extent of his extremism and tactics. Rosen cites from Joshua Green's 2004 Atlantic Monthly profile of Rove:

He seems to understand—indeed, to count on—the media's unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove's skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others.


Meantime, the Weekly Standard is now playing Joseph McCarthy. Figuring in the same way as Rove that the press and polite establishment will never call them on the depths of their extremism and propaganda. (Remember "Case Closed"?) Which is why, as he relentlessly mocks and exposes this absurd and dangerous state of affairs, Atrios is right, a wise man, if not a Very Serious Person.