Mojo - July 2008

While Troops Travel in Squalor, Air Force Brass Choose Swatches for First Class Cabins

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 2:15 PM EDT

On Friday I noted the controversy over two related Air Force projects designed to provide senior military officials with "world class" aircraft accommodations. Outfitted with such first class perks as flat screen TVs, leather chairs, and "aesthetically pleasing" wall and ceiling treatments, the multi-million dollar projects, known as Senior Leader In-Transit Conference Capsules (SLICCs)—first referred to as "comfort capsules, according to Air Force documents—and Senior Leader Intransit Pallets (SLIPs) were the subject of a letter from the Project on Government Oversight's executive director, Danielle Brian, to Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week. In it, she wrote that these programs, which were partially financed with counter-terrorism funding, illustrate a "disconnect between the senior leadership of the Air Force from the increasingly pressing needs of servicemen and women"—particularly given the "deplorable state" of the seat pallets used for troop transport.

Well, POGO has obtained several pictures of the interior of a cargo plane taken at Al Udeid Airbase in Qatar. And it's not pretty:

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Iraq: Provincial Elections Could Be Delayed

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 1:06 PM EDT

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Iraq's Electoral Commission sent a letter to the country's parliament yesterday, warning that unless lawmakers move quickly and pass polling legislation, long-awaited provincial elections—supposed to occur before October 1—might not be held this year. The vote, if and when it happens, is an important linchpin in the American strategy to disperse political power from Baghdad to the local level, a move that would placate disgruntled Sunni groups that boycotted the 2005 election and, as a result, found themselves under the unwelcome jurisdiction of Shiite and Kurdish politicians—and their respective militias.

"We need at least three months after the law is passed to prepare so polling can be up to international standards," Electoral Commission chairman Faraj al-Haidari said yesterday in an interview with Reuters. "Even if the law is passed in the coming days, we will only be able to vote at the end of the year. Any more delay, and we won't be able to have elections this year."

Minimum Wage Goes Up Thursday

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 11:39 AM EDT

Burger flippers rejoice! The federal minimum wage will go up on Thursday to $6.55 from $5.85. Too bad the minimum wage isn't rising as fast as gas prices. Still, this is an improvement. Congress went nine years without raising the floor for low-wage workers, finally boosting the minimum last year when its value hit a 51-year low. One more bump next year will bring the federal minimum wage up to $7.25, a far cry from the $10.50 an hour paid in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but a step in the right direction. Another decade, the minimum wage might actually lift someone above the poverty line.

Right now, 25 states have minimum wages higher than what the feds set, so the hike won't have as much impact as it otherwise might, but it's a boon to low-wage workers in stingy states like Louisiana and Alabama that have no state minimum. Now that Congress has come this far, the next step ought to be indexing the damn thing to inflation like many of the states do. I've never understood why poor working people should be made to suffer so much from political gridlock. Making sure that work pays ought to be one thing people in both parties can agree on.

Phil Gramm: Gone But Not Forgotten

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 11:33 AM EDT

One of my favorite excuses in public life is the distraction excuse. It's used when someone is caught doing something he or she ought not to have done but does not want to admit the screw-up. So the wrongdoer says he or she is resigning, quitting, or running away to not become a "distraction" that diverts attention from a greater cause.

Thus, when former Senator Phil Gramm quit as cochairman of the McCain campaign, he did not acknowledge that his headline-making comments (Americans worried about the economy are "whiners" and there is nothing but a "mental recession" under way) were worthy of dismissal or that his past as a lobbyist for a Swiss bank and a Senate committee chairman who committed a backroom maneuver that led to the subprime crisis made him (or should have made him) radioactive for McCain. No, he took the faux noble route of purported self-sacrifice. Here is his statement:

It is clear to me that Democrats want to attack me rather than debate Senator McCain on important economic issues facing the country. That kind of distraction hurts not only Senator McCain's ability to present concrete programs to deal with the country's problems, it hurts the country. To end this distraction and get on with the real debate, I hereby step down as Co-Chair of the McCain Campaign and join the growing number of rank-and-file McCain supporters.

Yep, the only problem is those awful Democrats who want to turn Gramm into a pinata-for-McCain. It does seem that McCain's foes will no longer have Gramm to kick around. But it sure won't be a distraction for Democrats to remind voters that when McCain was seeking economic advice he turned to a Swiss bank lobbyist who previously had helped steer the nation into the subprime debacle, for while Gramm may be gone, the consequences of his actions are still very much present.

Primary Sources: It's Hard to Do PR for Warrantless Surveillance

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 12:33 AM EDT

Bush%20phone.jpgThe White House certainly doesn't make suing George W. Bush a cakewalk. A lawyer challenging Bush's warrantless surveillance program darkly recounted on Salon the extreme lengths the government went to to ensure watertight secrecy in the case.

The Salon article is well worth reading, as this NSA oddity I unearthed recently while fact-checking.

The National Security Agency, apparently feeling the heat from a citizenry up in arms over their wiretapping program, released a factsheet in 2006 to clear some things up with the American public. The actual title:

"The NSA Program to Detect and Prevent Terrorist Attacks: Myth v Reality."

Some examples of those myths:

Myth:

"The NSA program is illegal."


Reality:

"It has long been recognized that the President has inherent authority to conduct warrantless surveillance to gather foreign intelligence even in peacetime."

Misleading Headline of the Week: This. Is. Obama!

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 5:08 PM EDT

300movie.jpg The front page of the Gray Lady makes my Friday. Headline:

"Cast of 300 Advises Obama on Foreign Policy"

First piece of advice? Tonight we dine in HELL!

In other news Gandalf and Frodo are advising Senator McCain.

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Now on the San Francisco Ballot: The George W. Bush Sewage Plant

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 3:54 PM EDT

It's the mother lode of all potty jokes: In November, San Francisco voters will decide whether to rechristen the city's Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant as the George. W Bush Sewage Plant.

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So great is the pun potential--Cleaning up Bush's mess! Memorializing the president of the affluent with effluent!--that Keith Olberman covered the issue with the help of a comedian and newspapers are dropping stinkers too (LA Times: "San Franciscans' Planned 'Tribute' to Bush Stirs Some Muck"). The website of the initiative's sponsor, the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco, says, "No other president in American history has accomplished so much in such a short time." So much, well, you know.

In the spring the members of the Presidential Memorial Commission began circulating a petition in support of the measure, often in city parks, while wearing Uncle Sam outfits and blaring patriotic music from a boom box. Yesterday the San Francisco Department of Elections certified that they'd turned in enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, opening a new chapter in the time-honored tradition of wacky San Francisco ballot measures.

Not everybody in the city supports the idea. Officials at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission say the plant is an award winning facility. (A more fitting memorial would be the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin, which in February spilled 2.7 million gallons of poop water into San Francisco Bay). San Francisco, after all, cleans up its own shit just fine.

AFRICOM: State Dept., USAID Concerned About "Militarization" of Foreign Aid

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 3:50 PM EDT

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The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), an organizational construct intended to unify the entire African continent (except Egypt) under a single U.S. commander, is due to become fully operational September 30. As described by the Pentagon, it will be a new sort of animal, a combatant command "plus," that will have the ability to mount military operations, but which will rely primarily on "soft power." AFRICOM "will support, not shape, U.S. foreign policy on the continent," Theresa Whelan, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told a House subcommittee on Wednesday. But despite official assurances, concern is mounting that AFRICOM could stray from its "supporting" role to become the new center of power for U.S. activities in Africa. The issue is central to the ongoing debate over the new command's proper place.

At this week's hearing of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, the first of two scheduled hearings on AFRICOM, General Michael Snodgrass and Ambassador Mary Yates, both members of the command's nascent leadership, assured lawmakers that AFRICOM is "a listening, growing, and developing organization dedicated to partnering with African governments, African security organizations, and the international community to achieve U.S. security goals by helping the people of Africa achieve the goals they have set for themselves." And to its credit, AFRICOM has gone out of its way to calm fears that it represents a new imperial push into the Dark Continent. (It even hosts a blog to keep the public informed of its progress.) AFRICOM's primary purpose, say proponents, will be to coordinate with the State Department and USAID in the pursuit of "stability operations"—one of the Pentagon's latest enthusiasms, encoded in Directive 3000.05, which places humanitarian and relief operations on a level plane with combat missions. (You can read my earlier piece on the subject here.)

Messiah Watch: Obama as Neo

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 2:07 PM EDT

Apparently, Barack Obama is referred to sardonically as "The One" within the McCain campaign.

Sorry — that's actually pretty funny.

Obama Loses One Fundraising Advantage

| Fri Jul. 18, 2008 1:16 PM EDT

We've covered the fundraising beat a little bit recently. Here's a new piece of news: Obama may be shifting to a more conventional top-dollar fundraising model. Washington Post:

Sen. Barack Obama reversed a three-month fundraising slide by raising $52 million in June... Obama's campaign would not say how much of his total was raised from small donors who gave online, and official reports are not due to be filed until Sunday. But an examination of his campaign schedule — which has been packed with high-dollar fundraising events — would suggest that he relied less on Internet donors than he did in February, when he took in $55.4 million...
The shift has been noticed by top Obama fundraisers, who have been busily planning the kind of big-money events the candidate was able to bypass in the heat of the primary campaign. Several said in interviews that the campaign is no longer seeing the kind of online bonanza that occurred during Obama's long battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, when more than $1 million was flowing in each day.

One of the advantages Obama is seen as having over McCain is his freedom from fundraisers. The theory goes that because Obama raises so much cash online, he can spend his time holding rallies instead of high-end fundraisers, thus improving his chances of winning and decreasing his dependence on fat cats.

I've asked the Obama campaign if they are seeing a decrease in small donors. But the WaPo's analysis of Obama's schedule suggests that no matter what the numbers say, the "freedom from fundraisers" advantage has been lost.