Mojo - June 2008

Why Rural Americans' Gas Struggles Should Matter to City-Dwellers

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 2:49 PM PDT

outofgas.jpg

A lot of the articles I read about the state of our economy include interviews with people like this woman, who in January found her rising costs so terrifying that she began sending her sheets and towels to a laundry service instead of a dry cleaner. They brim with pity for urbanites forced to abandon Starbucks and scale back weekly hair appointments, and suggest that readers consider such monastic choices as cooking for themselves and renting movies rather than going out.

But for our country's rural poor, even video rentals are now a luxury that many cannot afford. Today's New York Times reports that in rural areas across the country, and particularly in the deep South, people are spending over 13% of their income on gasoline—compared to an average of 4% nationwide. "These are people who have to decide between food and transportation," says one fuel price analyst. From the story, which is worth quoting at length:

Anthony Clark, a farm worker from Tchula [Miss.], says he prays every night for lower gasoline prices. [...] A trip from Tchula to the nearest sizable town about 15 minutes away can cost him $25 roundtrip—for the driving and the waiting. That is about 10 percent of what he makes in a week.

Taking a break under some cottonwood trees beside a drainage ditch filled with buzzing mosquitoes, Mr. Clark and members of his work crew spoke of the big and little changes that higher gas prices have brought. The extra dollars spent at the pump mean electric bills are going unpaid and macaroni is replacing meat at supper. Donations to church are being put off, and video rentals are now unaffordable.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Video: Will Evangelicals Go Green?

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 1:19 PM PDT

Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals estimates that perhaps 40% of evangelicals will be "up for grabs" in November, largely due to concern for the fate of the earth. Now that the Lieberman-Warner emissions bill has crashed and burned, that could have profound environmental results.

Above, videographer Tala Dowlatshahi reports.

In Europe, the Choice Is Clear

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 1:00 PM PDT

International opinion on our presidential race is one-sided:

A poll in late May of five major countries — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia — showed Sen. Obama getting 52% support, compared with 15% for Sen. McCain. In France, 65% favor Sen. Obama, compared with 8% for Sen. McCain, according to the poll for the United Kingdom's Daily Telegraph newspaper. Another poll published online Saturday in Belgium's Le Soir newspaper showed Belgians prefer Sen. Obama over Sen. McCain 74% to 12%.

The Fawlty Towers' Pipeline to the White House

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 12:28 PM PDT

The AP reports on Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's meeting today with Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Who I believe Iran contra fabulist Manucher Ghorbanifar and Washington pals definitively declared dead over a year ago, based on Ghorbanifar's amazing insidery deep, high priced network of Iran intelligence sources. Eventually, they are bound to be right about that. In the meantime, these are the folks that former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and national security advisor Steve Hadley were turning to for Iran intelligence and operational advice? Can someone at the White House press briefing please ask spokeswoman Dana Perino to speak to Hadley's judgment on this?

As Dave Wagner and I reported this weekend, a new Senate Intelligence report (.pdf) documents how Hadley himself authorized Ghorbanifar's loyal Washington pal and fellow Iran contra alum to lead two Pentagon officials to Rome to meet supposed Iran agents. Has Hadley learned his lesson about the quality and reliability of information and related schemes his deputized freelance Iran intelligence sources brought to him? And whether the spigot is still open? On such objectively knowable issues as whether Khamenei is dead or alive? All the other nonsense they and Ghorbanifar's more recent Washignton helpers like Curt Weldon have spouted: that Osama bin Laden was in Tehran, as Ghorbanifar and Weldon insisted, or that for just a few million dollars - $10 million, $25 million -- they can provide such invaluable information and launch a coup in Iran, etc. It's still sobering to realize that the people spouting this comical nonsense - and it's not hard to find such people -- had been authorized by no less than the current White House national security advisor to advise them on Iran intelligence operations and coup plans. It's like something out of a John Cleese' Fawlty Towers skit. But this is the White House. Wouldn't a normal sane person even think twice about buying Mid East take out from people with such a track record?

(Photo courtesy of Cooperative Research).

Response from Billy Graham (and John McCain)

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 12:17 PM PDT

I called Billy Graham's PR shop re: this and they read me this statement from Larry Ross, director of media and public relations for Billy Graham.

"It would be highly unusual and out of character for Mr. Graham to initiate such a meeting, and there has been no contact between the McCain campaign and his office. In fact, Mr. Graham has not met or been in contact with any candidates during the current primary process. If he had, it has been his personal policy through the years to avoid partisanship by meeting with representatives from both parties to address spiritual concerns."

Thus, if Graham meets with any candidate, he will meet with all of them.

"Upon further inquiry I understand that two people unaffiliated with either Billy or Franklin Graham apparently independently, without any knowledge by the [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association], tried to broker a meeting between Mr. McCain and the evangelist. Apparently it was their indirect and unofficial involvement that was declined."

In other words, McCain didn't turn down a meeting with Billy Graham. He turned down a meeting brokered by Doug Wead and Brian Jacobs.

Update: The McCain has responded elsewhere:

"The piece in Newsmax is false. Our campaign has been working directly with Reverend Franklin Graham's office to facilitate an important meeting between John McCain and Reverend Billy Graham. The report's implication that we have 'declined to meet with Billy Graham' is blatantly false, because our campaign has already been working directly with Franklin Graham's office and politely declined Mr. Jacobs' offer to help facilitate a meeting. John McCain has the highest respect for Reverend Billy Graham and looks forward to meeting with him in the future."

McCain Reportedly Declines Meeting with Billy Graham

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 9:41 AM PDT

john-mccain-billy-graham-250x200.jpg Conservative news outlet Newsmax is reporting that its attempts to facilitate a meeting between John McCain and longtime pastor-to-the-presidents Billy Graham have been rebuffed by the McCain campaign.

Here is Newsmax writer Doug Wead:

In recent weeks I have been involved with Brian Jacobs, a Fort Worth, Texas, minister and consultant to the Billy Graham Association, to broker a meeting between McCain and Graham. In May, we contacted the McCain campaign with an offer to arrange such a meeting, as we had done between candidate George W. Bush and Graham during the 2000 election.

In response to their overtures, McCain's director of scheduling sent Wead and Jacobs an emailing saying, "Senator McCain appreciates your invitation and the valuable opportunity it represents. Unfortunately, I must pass along our regrets and do not foresee an opportunity to add this event to the calendar."

The hesitance on the part of the McCain campaign may be because of McCain's past experiences with pastor's this campaign season: he's had to dump endorsements from John Hagee and Rod Parsley after controversial statements from both men made it politically impossible for McCain to stay associated with them. (Caveat: there may be no hesitance at all; Newsmax may have gotten this story wrong.)

Billy Graham isn't Hagee or Parsley. He has had a relationship with every president since Eisenhower, Republicans and Democrats alike. He has been thoroughly and completely vetted; no one would blame McCain for meeting with him. The campaign's reported decision to avoid Graham may be part of a novel strategy for a modern Republican presidential candidate, one that jettisons the Religious Right in favor of moderates. It's already being manifested in ways that are leaving prominent Christian leaders wary. "For John McCain to be competitive, he has to connect with the base to the point that they're intense enough that they're contagious," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told the New York Times. "Right now they're not even coughing."

Writes Wead:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Punditry: Still White, Still Male

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 8:21 AM PDT

Over at the Nation, Ari Melber points out that Clinton's run for the White House, which was increasingly a feminist quest and ended with a strong statement for the rights of women, hasn't changed much in the world of punditry, where white men still dominate.

In print:

The most traditional location to reach the political establishment, the Washington Post opinion section, is brazenly male-dominated. Seventeen of the 19 columnists are men; only three of the columnists are racial minorities. Guest op-eds could present more voices, but they rarely do. This year, only 12 percent of the Post's guest pieces came from women, according to a May count by ombudsman Deborah Howell. At the New York Times, eight of the ten weekly columnists are men; one is black.

And on TV:

Afghanistan: Still Nothing To Brag About

| Sun Jun. 8, 2008 9:48 PM PDT

Last Tuesday, a new U.S. General, David McKiernan, took command of Afghanistan's NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) saying, "Insurgents, foreign fighters, criminals and others who stand in the way... will be dealt with." McKiernan will command around 50,000 troops, up from 36,000 a year ago, in his attempts to quell the increase in violence and stabilize a weakening Karzai government.

Much of this increased violence is occurring in the ISAF's U.S.-led Regional Command East—RC(E). If you aren't familiar with the layout of the ISAF, you might take a read of NYU professor Barnett Rubin. As Rubin explains, the ISAF consists of five different Regional Commands: East (led by the U.S.), West (Italy), South (Canada), North (Germany), and Capital (Italy). Bordering Pakistan, RC(E) is about the size of South Carolina and contains 14 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and 25% of the country's population.

You can view a map here.

In gauging U.S. success in the East, Rubin points to this chart comparing the number of weekly violent incidents in the RC(E) to a year ago.

RCE%2Bwk%2B20.jpg

Sadly, years later, Afghanistan is still nothing to brag about.

Even in Defeat, Clinton Makes History

| Sat Jun. 7, 2008 4:08 PM PDT

clinton-standing250x200.jpg Standing between two soaring pillars in the ornate Great Hall of the National Building Museum in Washington, Hillary Clinton officially brought her campaign to an end Saturday, delivering a moving valedictory that will seal her place as a legendary figure within the Democratic Party—and within our nation's history itself. Gracious in defeat, effusive in praise for the nominee—she was all the things the talking heads demanded she be, but also much more than that. Unburdened of the pressures of the campaign trail, she spoke openly and directly about the history she and her rival for the Democratic nomination have made by coming this far.

While her speech was one of party unity and reconciliation, the hall was full of Clinton supporters stung deeply by her defeat. "I'm exactly Hillary's age, so this breaks my heart," Dianne Cooperman, an IT systems engineer from Maryland, told me. "I'm devastated." She shook her head. "She came so close."

Though disappointed, and bitter about the way the press covered Clinton's candidacy, Cooperman plans to vote for Obama. "Hillary's a real Democrat and she'll support the Democrat in the fall. I have the same criteria. And there's no way I could vote for four more years of the same."

Another Clinton supporter, Mary Ogum, also from Maryland, said that Clinton's loss was "very disappointing."

"The party never really supported her," she said. "Barack Obama came along and everyone jumped on the bandwagon. It just wasn't her time, I guess."

The Cocktail Napkin Plan for Regime Change in Iran

| Sat Jun. 7, 2008 7:43 AM PDT

Enlisting high-level contacts in the White House, Pentagon and Congress, Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen relentlessly pushed a freelance intelligence collection and Iran regime change plan on behalf of another veteran of the scandal, according to a report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (PDF) released Thursday.

The proposed plan to change the Iran regime, which requested $5 million in initial "seed" money from the U.S. government, was outlined on a cocktail napkin by Iran contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar at a Rome bar during a three-day meeting in December 2001 that brought the Iran contra actors together with two officials from the Pentagon. The Pentagon officials' attendance at the meeting was authorized by Stephen Hadley, now the top White House national security advisor, the report found. Revelations that Iran Contra figures Ledeen and Ghorbanifar were involved in a new channel to the Bush administration set off alarm bells throughout the US government, and prompted multiple inquiries into whether the channel amounted to an unauthorized covert action and a possible counterintelligence threat. The latter issue was never resolved, after a top Pentagon official shut down the counterintelligence inquiry only a month after it had begun.

Later operations would require as much as $25 million, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar advised US officials, but could be financed in part, they said, by a foreign government in exchange for commitments of future Iran oil contracts to the foreign government's state energy company, believed to be Italy's ENI. Italy's military intelligence service Sismi facilitated Ledeen's Rome meeting, which, highly unusually, was not cleared with the US embassy in Rome or the CIA, even though it involved interaction with a foreign intelligence service.

The new Senate Intelligence committee report presents more evidence that the U.S. government under the Bush administration has been uniquely vulnerable to the intelligence schemes and foreign policy freelancing of discredited individuals and deemed fabricators such as Manoucher Ghorbanifar, and potentially even counterintelligence threats of an Iranian or other nature. It details how top officials in the Bush administration endeavored to permit such an ill-advised channel, took affirmative measures to conceal it in order to bypass the professional intelligence service, and then took steps to protect their role in the matter by shutting down the counterintelligence investigation launched by the Pentagon and to stall the Senate probe. The report also documents that Ghorbanifar has been able to influence US policy and intelligence channels in particular through Ledeen's contacts within Cheney's office and the Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz Pentagon.

"The questions is: is information from Ledeen and Ghorbanifar still going to the vice president's office, and is it affecting them?" a former senior CIA offiicial said. "It's a logical assumption. That is what is known in the intelligence business as circular reporting: the same information, coming through the same source, peddled through different channels, slightly altered to make it look like it's coming from multiple sources. And it's one of the biggest dangers in the intelligence business. That is what Iraq Niger was all about."

On one of the December evenings in an unidentified Roman bar, Ghorbanifar used the cocktail napkin to sketch out a coup plan that would start with the "simultaneous disruption of traffic at key intersections leading to Tehran," the report states. The traffic jams "would create anxiety, work stoppages and other disruptive measures." Ghorbanifar wanted $5 million to get the plan off the ground.

Ledeen and Ghorbanifar advised US officials of a foreign government—presumably Italy—"support for this information collection opportunity and financing by [foreign] corporate enterprises midway through the interviews," the report states. The contracts "would be part of "multimillion-dollar business deals that the [Italian] government arranged for the two Iranian interlocutors." Ledeen refused to identity the two Iranians who Ghorbanifar had brought to the meeting to Pentagon human intelligence officers, the report found, until the US government indicated it was committing to the Ghorbanifar plan.

The report sheds additional light on the actions of highly placed U.S. officials who were involved in approving the Ledeen Iran channel and suppressing knowledge of it from normal US government intelligence channels.