Mojo - August 2007

Bush Administration's Own Report Doubts Maliki Gov't

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 11:22 AM EDT

In Bush's Iraq-as-Vietnam speech that Monika blogged about early this morning (lots of interesting stuff in the comments section, btw), he said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a "good man with a difficult job." He's half right, I suppose.

But why come out in favor of Maliki when you are about to undercut him? From the Times:

The administration is planning to make public today parts of a sober new report by American intelligence agencies expressing deep doubts that the government of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, can overcome sectarian differences. Government officials who have seen the report say it gives a bleak outlook on the chances Mr. Maliki can meet milestones intended to promote unity in Iraq.

You can read all about the miserable Maliki government here. To date, Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton have called for Maliki to get the boot — it appears the intelligence community isn't far behind.

Update: For a rundown of Maliki's possible replacements, see this Time article. Looks like the U.S.'s hopes lie with a guy named Mithal Alussi. The real question is, who on earth would want this job?

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Bush Vietnam Speech: We Have Met the Enemy, and It Is You

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 7:37 AM EDT

Everyone has a take on the president's stunning Iraq-Vietnam analogy (message: things get better the longer we stay), but the VFW speech is a fascinating list of every other war rationale the Bush administration has tried and failed to make stick. There is the "the war in Iraq is all about fighting al Qaeda" line, with its easy conflation of insurgents and jihadists:

Like our enemies in the past, the terrorists who wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places seek to spread a political vision of their own -- a harsh plan for life that crushes freedom, tolerance, and dissent.
Like our enemies in the past, they kill Americans because we stand in their way of imposing this ideology across a vital region of the world.

And the "if you're not with us, you're with them" smear, reincarnated as "peaceniks lost Vietnam, and that's why the terrorists are winning" (at least when John McCain goes down this road, he has a shred of integrity):

There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today's struggle -- those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that "the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today."
His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda's chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to "the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents."
…Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility -- but the terrorists see it differently.

Read the whole thing for yourself, and let us know what else jumps out at you in the comments.

State Officials Respond to Mother Jones' "School of Shock" Story, Call the Judge Rotenberg Center "Inhumane"

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 1:52 AM EDT

Jennifer Gonnerman's yearlong investigation for Mother Jones into the Judge Rotenberg Center—a taxpayer-funded "school" that takes autistic, mentally retarded, and emotionally disturbed kids from eight states and Washington D.C. and punishes them with electric shocks—is eliciting strong statements from state officials.

The first is from Massachusetts state Senator Brian A. Joyce and Representative John W. Scibak; Joyce has been trying for years to shut the Rotenberg Center down:

Senator Brian A. Joyce and Representative John W. Scibak are calling for the immediate passage of legislation that would strongly regulate the use of "aversive" therapy on children in light of a new report highlighting the practices of a Massachusetts-based school now infamously known as the "school of shock."

In the September edition of the national magazine Mother Jones, the reporter, who spent a year researching the article and interviewing Judge Rotenberg Center founder and director Matt Israel, refers to the schools as a high school version of Abu Ghraib and describes heartbreaking stories of children (some as young as 9-years-old) being painfully shocked by accident, shocked for swearing or being shocked over decades for the same behavior.

Eight states (including Massachusetts) send children with autism, mental retardation, ADD, ADHD and emotional problems to the Canton-based school that punishes them with food deprivation and powerful electric shocks. JRC currently treats about 230 children and brings in annual revenues exceeding $56 million.

Massachusetts legislators have been working with disability advocates for over twenty years to ban the use of shock (aversive) therapy with little results.

Senator Joyce and Representative Scibak recently filed two bills to safeguard and delineate a narrow range of behavior problems where aversive therapy may be appropriate and would address many of the egregious scenarios described in the article such as children being painfully shocked for swearing.

The bills are the culmination of hundreds of hours of work and discussions between behavior analysts and the psychological community, legislators, and disability and civil rights advocates.

"We believe that it is government's fundamental duty to protect our most innocent and vulnerable populations," said Senator Joyce noting that prominent behavior-modification experts, including some cited by Matt Israel, call the JRC ineffective and outmoded. The Canton-based school is in Senator Joyce's district.

And this is from New York State Assemblywoman Joan L. Millman who represents Brooklyn (52nd District), home to several of the kids sent to the Rotenberg Center:

As the author of New York State's Billy's Law, which led to on-site visits and inspections of a score of out-of-state residential treatment facilities, I was encouraged by your recent article describing the non-professional practices at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, located in Massachusetts. The so-called treatment of mentally retarded, autistic and bipolar youngsters, which consists of electric shock treatment, specialized food programs (i.e. the withholding of food), the lack of sufficient academic and special education instructions, and the limited provision of related services, all contribute to the inhumane conditions that exist at the center. To subject our most vulnerable children to months and even years of such treatments, is an extreme and inhumane form of intervention, not based on current research. Thank you for shedding light on this controversial institution.

We'll keep you posted about what other elected officials are saying and doing (the story has been sent to all pertinent Congressional delegations and state representatives, so you can follow up too) about the Rotenberg Center. Meanwhile, you can read all about it here.

Nina Berman's Photos on Wounded Soldiers: Mother Jones First Ran Them Back in 2004

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 4:28 PM EDT

Today the New York Times has a nice piece heralding the work of photographer Nina Berman, who for years has been documenting the plight of soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Times made mention of the fact that "20 of her portraits were published as a book, 'Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq' (Trolley Books, 2004), with an introduction by Verlyn Klinkenborg, a member of the editorial board of The New York Times." What the Times failed to mention, however, is that that book came out of a Mother Jones photo essay that appeared in 2004.

Interesting, because back then, neither the Times nor most other major papers were doing much to chronicle the fate of the wounded. Or the dead. Mother Jones, on the other hand, made a concerted effort to get photo essays that nobody else would publish into our pages. You can see these photo essays and other topics that will eventually be covered elsewhere (like what's happened to women in Afghanistan post-invasion) on our photo essay archive page. Where an interview with Nina also lives.

That, too, ran four years ago. But good to see the Times catching up.

Half of America's Gain in Income Goes to Richest 0.25 Percent

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 12:10 PM EDT

New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston is kind of an awesome dude. Yesterday, he dropped one of his customary bombshell reports:

[Earners of over $1 million/year,] who constitute less than a quarter of 1 percent of all taxpayers, reaped almost 47 percent of the total income gains in 2005, compared with 2000.
People with incomes of more than a million dollars also received 62 percent of the savings from the reduced tax rates on long-term capital gains and dividends that President Bush signed into law in 2003...

So less than one-quarter of one percent of all taxpayers took in almost 50 percent of the nation's revenues revenue gain. And what about the little guy? Screwed, as you would suspect.

Americans earned a smaller average income in 2005 than in 2000, the fifth consecutive year that they had to make ends meet with less money...
Total income listed on tax returns grew every year after World War II, with a single one-year exception, until 2001, making the five-year period of lower average incomes and four years of lower total incomes a new experience for the majority of Americans born since 1945.

Mother Jones has written in the past about how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We've also interviewed David Cay Johnston.

Bush Draws Parallel Between Iraq, Vietnam

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 12:04 PM EDT

Finally, something war champions and war critics can agree upon.

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Kucinich Wins Debate Poll, ABC Covers Up Results

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 11:49 AM EDT

Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich's supporters (and, according to his website, even some non-supporters) are demanding that ABC explain its actions of the last few days.

On Monday afternoon, Congressman Kucinich took a significant lead in the ABC online poll: Who won the Democratic debate? About the time that he took that lead, ABC removed the poll from its prominent position on the ABC website. Then a new poll suddenly went up, "Who is winning the Democratic debate?"

Those events could be seen as technical glitches, but there was more to come. Kucinich took the lead in the second poll, also, and that poll, too, was dropped. ABC also "forgot" to announce the results (Kucinich tied with Sen. Hillary Clinton as the winner), and news about the poll is nowhere to be seen on the ABC website. Kucinich was also cut out of a group photo of all the candidates in the debate.

It's a wonder viewers were even able to vote for Kucinich in the poll. He was not permitted to answer a question from debate moderator George Stephanopoulos until the debate had been under way for half an hour.

So far, the network has failed to respond to questions about these events.

Michael O'Hanlon Versus the Troops: Battle of the Op-Eds

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 11:06 AM EDT

Two days ago, I pointed our readers to a New York Times op-ed written by seven active duty American soldiers in Iraq. The soldiers argued the surge isn't working and that "four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise." Their call for withdrawal was a direct rebuke of Michael O'Hanlon and his recently-stated pro-surge views. Witness the opening line of O'Hanlon's pro-war op-ed ("A War We Just Might Win"):

Viewed from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel... the political debate in Washington is surreal.

And the opening line from the soldiers ("The War as We Saw It"):

Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal.

Now, O'Hanlon is acknowledging the smackdown. But he won't back down, insisting that the American military is partnering better with the Iraqis, is getting better intelligence, and is on the offensive against the insurgents. Civilian casualties are down in Iraq, he argues, though that's been contested.

What O'Hanlon refuses to recognize is that the surge was designed to slow violence in Iraq only in service of political ends. Going on the offensive against the insurgents is fine, but it's only an important development if Iraqi politicians seize the opening and make progress towards a reconciled nation and a functioning government. They haven't done that. They haven't even come close.

Without political progress, the surge (and the military success O'Hanlon believes it is having) is just another swing in the cycle of war. We're doing better now, but the insurgents will return with new and different tactics in a few months. Military officials agree. Check out this sentence from a recent McClatchy article: "Without reconciliation, the military officers say, any decline in violence will be temporary and bloodshed could return to previous levels as soon as the U.S. military cuts back its campaign against insurgent attacks."

Oh, and as to why the troops writing in the Times might not be impressed with the surge's so-called "success," maybe it has something to do with the fact that this summer has been the deadliest summer of the war for American troops.

June-July-August 2003: 113 Americans killed
June-July-August 2004: 162 Americans killed
June-July-August 2005: 217 Americans killed
June-July-August 2006: 169 Americans killed
June-July-August 2007: 229 Americans killed so far

Breach of Contract

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 9:36 AM EDT

A front-page story in this morning's Washington Post reveals that federal no-bid contracts are not the exception to the rule: to a growing extent, they are the rule. Such contracts are awarded without "full and open" competition and often go to a small group of well-connected companies. Those companies appear to be cleaning up: a recent congressional report found that spending on no-bid contracts has tripled to $207 billion since 2000. Proponents say that foregoing competition by-passes delays, permitting important work to be completed more quickly. Now, one could argue there are situations in which no-bid contracts are appropriate. Say, in New Orleans after Katrina, where there was a desperate need for immediate action.... or in the reconstruction of Iraq. But the potential for (and, sadly, the reality of) abuse is ever present.

For that, reference the Post's Business section. In what is said to be the largest bribery case to come out of the Iraq reconstruction, investigators say that Army Major John L. Cockerham, his wife Melissa, and his sister Carolyn Blake took $9.6 million in bribes from contractors and expected to receive another $5.4 million before they were arrested. Cockerham was a contracting officer deployed to Camp Arifjan near Kuwait City. His position allowed him to approve contracts for up to $10 million. He quickly leveraged his authority to suit his own needs. From the Post:

The Cockerhams and Blake were arrested in late July after investigators searched the Cockerhams' house at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and allegedly found evidence linking them to the bribery scheme. Aspects of the case read like a spy novel: a briefcase with $300,000 in cash in a Kuwaiti parking lot; handwritten ledgers that identify money sources with code names like Destiny Carter; and instructions telling co-conspirators to, in a pinch, toss safe-deposit keys out a window, stash key documents in the bosom and, lastly, destroy the instructions.

But, if you believe Cockerham's lawyers, the Major and his co-conspirators were motivated by a desire to please God.

Defense attorneys, however, say the Cockerhams and Blake are hardworking, church-going people. The Cockerhams have confessed to taking money in exchange for the awarding of contracts, according to an affidavit from an Army criminal investigator, but put the amount at a little more than $1 million. Blake told investigators the money was to be used to set up a church, according to the affidavit...
By all accounts, the Cockerhams had not recently gone on any visible spending sprees. As of July 31, the most recent hearing in the case, the couple owed $13,000 in car payments and were driving a 2004 Toyota minivan and 1993 Isuzu pickup. John Cockerham reported an additional $54,000 in debt, in part from credit cards and student loans...
According to the investigator's affidavit, Blake acknowledged that she kept a ledger [of bribes she accepted], but she says it was for a different purpose. She said she wanted to start a church in Africa. On a trip to South Africa, she visited a school for poor girls funded by television star Oprah Winfrey. Blake says she was inspired to do something similar, according to Wilson, her attorney. "She thought this was a calling from God," Wilson said.

Remember Freedom Fries?

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 8:32 AM EDT

It was only four years ago that Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Walter Jones (R-NC) announced the official name change in Congressional cafeterias from French fries and French toast to Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast. "This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," said Ney at the time.

My, how les temps have changed!

Now ex-Rep Ney is serving 30 months jail time, Jones has become a fierce war critic, and lo and behold, the French may be coming to the rescue in Iraq. From the Washington Post:

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner used a surprise trip to Baghdad to call on European countries to help the United States repair Iraq. Kouchner's comments represent a major departure from former French president Jacques Chirac's stance on Iraq. Relations between France and the United States were severely damaged after Chirac led global opposition to the 2003 invasion.
Since his election in May, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has sought to strengthen ties with the United States. Kouchner told a French radio station that Iraq's leaders are "expecting something" from the French government and that he planned to assist U.S. efforts.
"The Americans can't get this country out of difficulty all alone," Kouchner said.

Kouchner's humanitarian background as co-founder of the medical relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres may begin to explain the willingness to overlook the anti-French GOP posturing of the not-so-distant past and to let bygones be bygones. Pass the pâté.