Mojo - July 2008

Idiocy or Intentional Media Manipulation: Jonah Goldberg Edition

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 9:43 AM EDT

If you heard Barack Obama say that he wants to "set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year," would this be your response?

There's a weird irony at work when Sen. Barack Obama, the black presidential candidate who will allegedly scrub the stain of racism from the nation, vows to run afoul of the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery.
For those who don't remember, the 13th Amendment says: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime … shall exist within the United States."
I guess in Obama's mind it must be a crime to be born or to go to college.

You would if you were the author of this book.

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Iraqi PM: I Want a Timetable

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 9:09 AM EDT

What degree of agency do we give the Iraqi government? The AP:

Iraq's prime minister said Monday his country wants some type of timetable for a withdrawal of American troops included in the deal the two countries are negotiating.
It was the first time that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has explicitly and publicly called for a withdrawal timetable — an idea opposed by President Bush.
He offered no details. But his national security adviser, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, told The Associated Press that the government is proposing a timetable conditioned on the ability of Iraqi forces to provide security.

This is more a change in rhetoric than a change in substance. A timetable for withdrawal tied to unspecified benchmarks of Iraqi troop readiness is a recipe for staying in the country indefinitely. But it does represent a break from the Bush Administration, and if Maliki backs up this new language with specifics, we'll have a situation on our hands.

Obama, for the record, wants combat troops out in 16 months. I wonder if in his upcoming trip to Iraq, he'll meet with Maliki.

Update: Bush's statement on the sovereignty of the Iraqi government after the jump.

Hoax Alert: Bizarre "McCain Adviser" Too Good to Be True

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 9:29 PM EDT

homer-simpson-doh.jpg A few hours ago, we (okay, I) posted a blog about a man claiming to be a McCain adviser who made ridiculous comments on Iraqi television about building a casino in the Baghdad Green Zone. In addition to the inherent absurdity of it, there was a lot of arrogance, cultural insensitivity, and racism thrown in. Other blogs had posted on the guy, and when I checked him out before posting I found his blog and a foreign policy institute claiming his employ. Turns out the blog and institute, like the adviser, were an elaborate hoax. It didn't help that the guy, in creating his fictional foreign policy expert, closely mimicked the name of a real foreign policy expert.

Here's why I got taken: I received an emailed press release reporting that the supposed McCain adviser had apologized for his comments about the casino. You're welcome to disagree with me, but I had no reason to believe that someone would invent a persona, a blog, a foreign policy institution, a video with a fake Iraqi television station, a press release, and an organization or email entity to send out said press release.

But frankly, there was enough info on the web that I should have sussed this thing out. This is a long way of saying I apologize and that I'm more than a little ashamed. I've taken the post down. Kudos to the inventor of this whole thing. My only consolation is that if I had as much time on my hands as he clearly does, I probably would have figured this out and saved myself a fair amount of embarrassment.

McCain Complains About Congressional Recess After Missing 367 Votes

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 4:39 PM EDT

This seems legitimate...

McCain took Congress to task for taking a July 4 recess without completing action on a housing rescue plan, calling it "incredible that Congress should go on vacation while Americans are trying to stay in their homes."

...until you realize that John McCain has missed 367 votes in the 110th Congress. He is the most absent member of the Senate.

Simon Mann Gets 34 Years For Plotting African Coup

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 4:19 PM EDT

mannjail.jpg

After enthusiastically giving up his co-conspirators, including Margaret Thatcher's son Mark (read my earlier post here), British mercenary Simon Mann has been sentenced to 34 years in prison to be served in Equatorial Guinea—punishment for his leading role in a failed 2004 coup plot that would have given him and his buddies free rein to loot the impoverished country of its natural resources.

At first blush, Equatorial Guinea is not a place where you'd want to spend that kind of time. It's hot, the plumbing stinks, and your very survival would be in the hands of the same dictator you'd tried to take down... a guy, let us say, not exactly known for his commitment to human rights.

But Mann, it seems, has less to worry about than most. For whatever reason, he is proving to a popular guy with members of the government he set out to destroy.

From the BBC:

Mann seems to have struck up a cosy relationship with some members of the regime he tried to overthrow.
While in Malabo's Black Beach prison, he has apparently been paid frequent visits by Security Minister Manuel Nguema Mbo and the two have drunk wine over lunch.
The minister said Mann had lent him a copy of the Wonga Coup - an account of the plot by journalist Adam Roberts.

Mann will go to jail, but his willingness to squeal on his pals may still have its desired effect: President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Mann's erstwhile target, has left open the possibility for him to serve part of his sentence in the UK or, better yet for the jailed mercenary, to receive a presidential pardon. Meantime, though, he'll have to settle for liquid lunches in Malabo's Black Beach Prison.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Podknox.

Bin Laden and the $144 Barrel of Oil

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 1:27 PM EDT

If you didn't spot this Think Progress post over the weekend — explaining how Osama bin Laden demanded $144 barrels of oil ten years ago — it is worth a read. The price for a barrel of oil this past holiday weekend was exactly what bin Laden wanted.

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America: A Broadband Loser?

| Mon Jul. 7, 2008 10:19 AM EDT

We just got our most recent copy of CQ Weekly, and it has an interesting section on broadband access. It's clearly written for an audience that lacks tech savvy (section header: "What is broadband and how many people have it?"), but it has some really interesting stats on how far America has fallen behind as an international leader on high-speed internet. All sources: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Broadband penetration rankings, in 2001:

1. South Korea
2. Canada
3. Sweden
4. United States
5. Belgium
5. Denmark
7. Netherlands
8. Iceland
9. Austria
10. Germany
11. Japan
12. Switzerland
13. Norway
14. Finland
15. Spain

Broadband penetration rankings, in 2007:

1. Denmark
2. Netherlands
3. Iceland
4. Norway
5. Switzerland
6. Finland
7. South Korea
8. Sweden
9. Luxembourg
10. Canada
11. United Kingdom
12. Belgium
13. France
14. Germany
15. United States

We do equally poorly in terms of broadband speed. Here are the average broadband download speeds (Mbps) of 15 developed nations:

Video: Bush Goes on Compassion Tour of All of America

| Sun Jul. 6, 2008 10:56 AM EDT

Comedy really is a wonderful thing. A hundred blogosphere's worth of ranting wouldn't nail the Bush Administration as effectively as these three minutes from the Onion.

McCain & Co. Find New Ways to Circumvent Campaign Finance Laws McCain Wrote

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 2:09 PM EDT

I said yesterday that running for president makes messes of good men (and women). And I meant it:

...a Republican Party fund aimed at electing governors has started marketing itself as a home for contributions of unlimited size to help Sen. McCain. His 2002 campaign law limits donations to presidential races to try to curtail the influence of wealth.
The Republican Governors Association isn't subject to those limits, and has long gathered up large donations from individuals and companies. Now it is telling donors it can use their contributions to benefit Sen. McCain in some key battleground states.
That makes the group "the best way to help McCain," says donor David Hanna, who gave $25,000 -- more than 10 times the legal cap of $2,300 for direct gifts to presidential candidates.

The campaign finance system isn't perfect, and a donor with deep pockets can find a way to funnel money into the system:

Will Trouble in Afghanistan Become a Tough Campaign Issue for McCain?

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 12:57 PM EDT

For two days in a row, The Washington Post has front-paged bad news on Afghanistan. First, the paper reported,

June was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war there began in late 2001, as resilient and emboldened insurgents have stepped up attacks in an effort to gain control of the embattled country.
Defense officials and Afghanistan experts said the toll of 28 U.S. combat deaths recorded last month demonstrates a new resurgence of the Taliban, the black-turbaned extremists who were driven from power by U.S. forces almost seven years ago. Taliban units and other insurgent fighters have reconstituted in the country's south and east, aided by easy passage from mountain redoubts in neighboring Pakistan's lawless tribal regions.

Then, it noted,

The nation's top military officer said yesterday that more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan to tamp down an increasingly violent insurgency, but that the Pentagon does not have sufficient forces to send because they are committed to the war in Iraq.

It appears that the war in Afghanistan is going less well than the war in Iraq these days. And that is bad news in particular for John McCain.

Barack Obama, of course, has argued that invading Iraq was a profound error and distracted the U.S. government and military from finishing the job in Afghanistan. The above-referenced testimony from Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports that argument. With Mullen saying that the Iraq war has undermined the Afghanistan effort, how might McCain's respond to the charge that he and other supporters of the Iraq war undercut the mission in Afghanistan?