Mojo - April 2008

FAA Inspectors Overstretched, Inspections Overseas, Oversight Overlooked this Long?

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 9:10 PM EDT

Recent revelations about the FAA and Southwest Airlines (you may be free to move about the country, but at your own risk), and further inspection shenanigans highlight what we already knew but were too focused on getting through security without contracting athletes' foot to notice: The FAA as a regulatory agency is about as reliable as the old man in the exit row.

And it's not just inspectors cozy with airline execs; the regulatory system was outsourced years ago, to the aviation industry, leading to a dangerous lack of oversight and conflicts of interest, in short, trouble waiting to happen.

(NTSB warning that inspections are "on a slippery slope" after the jump.)

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The Right's Quest to Marginalize Obama Supporters

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 2:52 PM EDT

This essay from conservative Michael Barone about how Obama supporters are "academics and public employees" while Clinton/McCain supporters are Jacksonians (aka red-blooded Americans) is popping up around the web. Aside from being an overly simplistic reading of America's culture wars, parts of it are downright loony ("Warriors are competitors for the honor that academics and public employees think rightfully belongs to them," writes Barone. "Jacksonians, in contrast, place a high value on the virtues of the warrior").

Jonathan Chait, who efficiently shreds Barone's argument, calls this what it is, "a conservative anti-intellectual slur." I think a better way to understand what Barone is getting at is something I linked to in my "dating map" blog post yesterday — Obama takes his support from young voters, African-Americans, and what Richard Florida calls "the creative class." The creative class is composed of "inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers, artists, musicians, designers and professionals in idea-driven industries." By Florida's calculations, the creative class makes up about 35 percent of the working population, while the "working class" as traditionally understood makes up just 23 percent. To prove his theory, Florida did some fancy polling with John Zogby that you can check out here. It's pretty persuasive, though we don't know their methodology.

The Grandma Behind Obama

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 2:40 PM EDT

The Boston Globe has a lovely piece this week about Michelle Obama's mother—the Grandma who's making Obama's historic race possible.

A steely 70-year-old matriarch with a raspy voice and seen-it-all laugh, Robinson manages the family while Obama and his wife, Michelle, venture to the far reaches of the campaign trail. Amid the daily chaos of the marathon primary campaign, it often falls to Michelle's mother to keep the Obamas' two daughters—Malia, 9, and Sasha, 6—grounded, not to mention fed, bathed, and in bed by 8:30 p.m.

"The whole time I'm raising [son] Craig and Michelle, I am telling them that, 'Look, you see, I am raising my kids, so don't you all have any kids that you expect me to help you raise,' " Robinson said with a laugh last week, in her first extended interview of the campaign. "And look at what I'm doing!"

Grandma Robinson comes off as the delectable, quintessential matriarch, blithely criticizing her daughter in the media and chuckling about ignoring all her jack-booted instructions.

More Questions for Petraeus

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 11:43 AM EDT

Yesterday I posted tough questions that a dozen national security experts would like to pose to General David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, when he testifies before Congress next week. And two retired generals have additional queries to add to the list. Here they are:

Retired General William Odom, former National Security Agency director:

-- What historical example is there for rebuilding a collapsed state from the bottom up except by civil war in which a single leader wins?

-- Why is Iraq not on the road to Balkanization? Fragmentation?

-- What historical example is there of the U.S. military building an army for a government whose leaders have neither the power to rule nor the capacity to bring warring factions under their control?

-- Do you propose to string out the surge although the Army simply does not have forces to continue?

-- Why did the Iraqi forces you trained a few years ago fail to emerge as an effective fighting force that survives and serves as the core of the Iraqi army today? If you succeeded, then why do we have this problem with standing up an effective Iraqi Army?

John McCain's New Ad: War War War Glory Country War

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 11:00 AM EDT

John McCain's new web video entitled "Sacrifice" is 2:45 of non-stop war-fetishizing. His campaign might as well have played a loop of an American flag waving with fighter jets screeching past. Or heck, even 2:45 of Gladiator starring Russell Crowe.

Here's a word count:

"War": 7 mentions
"Duty": 2
"Honor": 2
"Valor": 2
"Country"/"nation": 5
"Loyalty": 3
"Glory": 5
"God": 1 (just for good measure)

The grave voice-over in the ad says that soldiers' claim on a nation's success in war is "shorn of all romance, all nostalgia." Funny, considering the whole ad is romance and nostalgia for war.

John McCain and "war" is the new Rudy Giuliani and "9/11."

Update: Video of the ad is after the jump.

Report: Jack Bauer "Gave People Lots of Ideas" at Gitmo

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 10:26 AM EDT

bauer-torture.jpg Great reporting from Vanity Fair on how administration officials were involved in developing the interrogation techniques to be used at Gitmo. This tidbit is particularly disturbing:

The first year of Fox TV's dramatic series 24 came to a conclusion in spring 2002, and the second year of the series began that fall. An inescapable message of the program is that torture works. "We saw it on cable," Beaver recalled. "People had already seen the first series. It was hugely popular." Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo, Beaver added. "He gave people lots of ideas."

I don't know what's more disturbing: the fact that torture had become so acceptable that folks within the military were taking ideas from TV shows, or the fact that there were so few instructions on how to torture that folks within the military were taking ideas from TV shows.

Immorality plus incompetence. And there's your Bush Administration in a nutshell.

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Please Please Go Away, Joe Lieberman

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 9:48 AM EDT

If you thought Joe Lieberman would campaign for his traveling buddy John McCain without taking nasty shots at the other candidates in the race... well, think again.

As for Lieberman's argument that McCain "misspoke," consider the fact that McCain made the Iran/al Qaeda gaffe over and over. That's a lot of "misspeaking."

(H/T Jane.)

Congress Grants Too Much Authority, Then Tries to Take it Back... Again

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 7:25 PM EDT

Earlier today, I wrote about the Department of Homeland Security's intention to ignore three dozen U.S. laws in order to complete 670 miles of border fence by the end of the year. In yesterday's official statement, Secretary Michael Chertoff cited the total authority Congress granted him to make such decisions. Today, Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson (D), head of the House Homeland Security Committee, tried to deny the veracity of Chertoff's defense, arguing that Congress never meant to grant such broad discretion. "Today's waiver represents an extreme abuse of authority," he told the Washington Post. "It was meant to be an exception, not the rule."

Unfortunately, the legislation that authorized the waivers says otherwise. The original law on which Secretary Chertoff is basing his authority is the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), which allowed the Attorney General to waive portions of the Endangered Species act and the National Environmental Policy Act as he saw fit. In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act, which transferred decision-making power to the head of Homeland Security and greatly expanded his discretion:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.

Denying the power granted by that provision is a little like arguing that voting to authorize military force didn't mean agreeing to let Bush go to Iraq. If Congress doesn't like it when the government uses its authority, maybe it should stop granting it.

—Casey Miner

Yoo Memo Released: What's Left to Get Angry About?

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 2:59 PM EDT

abu-ghraib-photo-yoo.jpg The Yoo memo that is making headlines today isn't anything new. We've known the content of this "torture memo" for quite some time. Sent to the Pentagon by John Yoo, then a deputy in the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel, in 2003, the memo provided the legal foundation for the DOD's "aggressive interrogations," including waterboarding. The primary justification was simple: If the president wants to do something in a war, it's legal. Or, as the Washington Post puts it today in a front page article, the memo "contends that numerous laws and treaties forbidding torture or cruel treatment should not apply to U.S. interrogations in foreign lands because of the president's inherent wartime powers."

The secondary justifications aren't much better. If an American serviceman hurt a detainee in an interrogation, he or she could argue a "national and international version of the right to self-defense," because the interrogation was intended to procure information that would prevent further attacks on America. The memo ruled with completely confidence that Congress has no jurisdiction over interrogations and that the Geneva Conventions (and all other treaties governing behavior during wartime) are irrelevant.

The reason the memo is in the news now is because it has finally been declassified and can be read in full. (You can view it at the Post's website.)

Marty Lederman, a former lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel, has read it and says it basically authorizes "a law-free zone." His thoughts are here. Emily Bazelon of Slate has done the same and finds the "air of uttery certainty" breathtaking. Kevin Drum notes that "there was nothing in it that compromised national security either then or now. The only thing it compromised was the president's desire not to have to defend his own policies."

At this point, there's just no outrage left. Everything we learn about the administration now is simply part of a massive educational process about how not to run the executive branch.

The Dating Balance of Southern Maine; The Huge Imbalance of Southern California

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 1:13 PM EDT

Working in the D.C. bureau of Mother Jones, instead of the San Francisco home office, has some interesting benefits...

singles_map.gif

From Richard Florida, who accompanies the map with interesting commentary. (He's got lots of other neat stuff, too.) Spotted on The Plank.