Mojo - July 2008

Blackwater's Erik Prince on Human Rights - China Bad; Azerbaijan Good?

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 2:22 PM PDT

Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince granted an interview July 7 to editors and reporters at the Military Times. An excerpt, printed in this week's issue of the Army Times:

Do you work for other countries, or just for the U.S.?
We do some training work for other countries, some helicopter support and training and maintenance and that kind of stuff. In Azerbaijan, we were hired by DoD to build for them a naval special warfare capability to defend the oil platforms and interdict weapons and drugs and whatever else in the southern Caspian [Sea]...
Have you turned down any countries?
Sure. We had a lot of inquiries from China a couple years ago wanting police training before the Olympics, and that's just not something we wanted to do.
What's the difference between working for the Azeris and working for the Chinese?
Well, China has plenty of human rights challenges and we didn't want any of our training to be used in another Tiananmen Square-type faceoff. Simple.
Another difference is also the U.S. government said they wanted you to go to Azerbaijan. They didn't ask you to go to China.
Correct. They hired us to do that [in Azerbaijan].
Because Azerbaijan doesn't have the best human rights record, either.
In this case, they're trying to build a small, focused capability to do maritime protection. But it was something that was in the U.S. foreign policy interest, and our training has to align with that.

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No, Really: It's the Liberals Who Are Elitists

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 10:29 AM PDT

Cindy McCain to CNN:

"In Arizona, the only way to get around the state is small private plane."

Pissed that you don't have a plane? (Or that gas is $5.00 a gallon?) That's because you're part of a nation of whiners.

Taliban Sets Up Permanent Courts in Pakistan's Tribal Areas

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 10:23 AM PDT

A report released today (.pdf) by Dan Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, outlines the frustrations of U.S. efforts to tame Taliban fighters operating in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or the FATA, the region in which most terrorism analysts believe Osama Bin Laden is probably hiding. Writes Markey:

Nearly seven years after 9/11, neither the United States nor Pakistan has fully come to terms with the enormity of the challenge in the tribal belt. Washington has failed to convince Pakistanis that the United States has positive intentions in the region and is committed to staying the course long enough to implement lasting, constructive change. Pakistan, for its part, has demonstrated a disturbing lack of capacity and, all too often, an apparent lack of will to tackle head-on the security, political, or developmental deficits that have produced an explosion of terrorism and extremism within its borders and beyond.

Also today, reports the BBC, there is new evidence that the Taliban is settling down in the tribal areas, relatively untroubled by U.S. and Pakistani attempts to disrupt its operations. Until now, to enforce its strict variant of Sharia law, the Taliban has operated mobile courts, handling cases dealing with everything from land transactions to family disputes to spying. But according to a Taliban spokesman, it has now divided the northwest Mohmand district into four judicial areas. Each one features a permanent court staffed by two judges. These join similar courts said to already be operating in the neighboring Bajaur district.

The fact that Taliban courts can operate from fixed addresses without fear of outside intervention demonstrates, "the diminishing authority of the central and local governments," said the spokesman.

Sigh. A Brand New McCain Flip-Flop. This Time, the DREAM Act

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 10:11 AM PDT

I'm getting tired of slamming the guy over and over, but the DREAM Act is important to me so I'm going to mention this.

Speaking at an event hosted by La Raza, a nationwide organization that fights for the rights of Hispanic Americans, John McCain was asked by a young girl if he would commit to supporting the DREAM Act. McCain said, "Yes. Yes, but I will also enforce the existing laws. That's why we must secure the border."

That's great. It really is. I hope McCain means it, because he has said pretty explicitly in the past that he is opposed to the DREAM Act. For example, the conservative National Review quoted McCain as saying, "I would have voted against it I have said a thousand times, I have heard the message from the American people. They want the border secured first."

Of course, that was in the primary, when McCain was getting hammered for supporting comprehensive immigration reform by the conservative base. Now it's the general and there are moderates and Hispanics to which McCain must appeal. Recently, there have been so many mistakes, flip-flops, little hypocrisies, big hypocrisies, deceptions, and policy boondoggles that none of them are getting any oxygen. It's all just a wash, and it shouldn't be.

AP's Ron Fournier To Karl Rove: "Keep Up The Fight"

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 3:40 PM PDT

fournier.jpg

Change is in the air at the Associated Press, the 162-year old wire service known for its painfully even-handed—and, yes, often dull—approach to presenting the news of the day. Ron Fournier, its new Washington Bureau chief, is responsible for much of it. The former staff reporter, who took over the top job last May, is profiled in today's Politico, as is his enthusiasm for what he calls "accountability journalism"—a more aggressive style of writing and reporting intended to hold the rich and powerful closer to the fire. "The AP's hard-earned reputation for fairness and nonpartisanship must not be used as an excuse for fuzzy language when a clear voice is demanded," Fournier wrote last summer, in an internal newsletter to AP employees. "Nor should it force us to give both sides of a story equal play when one side is plainly wrong." Statements like these signify a clear break from wire service's longstanding editorial practices and, not without controversy, prompted Fournier's immediate predecessor, Sandy Johnson, to tell the Politico, "I loved the Washington bureau. I just hope he doesn't destroy it."

John McCain, Meet the Czech Republic

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 1:51 PM PDT

mccain_closeup_250x200.jpg Okay, history lesson: On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia separated into two independent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The split is sometimes referred to as the "Velvet Divorce" because it proceeded so amiably.

It seems unlikely that John McCain doesn't know this. He is running for president on the strength of his foreign policy credentials and has served in Congress since 1982.

So how to explain today's comment to reporters: "I was concerned about a couple of steps that the Russian government took in the last several days. One was reducing the energy supplies to Czechoslovakia."

Sure, the guy had a senior moment. Except he's been doing this for quite some time. In April 2008, he told Don Imus that in order to ensure the success of the European Missile Defense System, he would "work closely with Czechoslovakia and Poland and other countries." In October 2007, he suggested in a Republican debate that he would show Putin a little tough love. "The first thing I would do is make sure that we have a missile defense system in place in Czechoslovakia and Poland, and I don't care what his objections are to it."

So three times in less than a year. And we're not done yet.

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Joe Biden, Conference Call Performance Artist

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 10:58 AM PDT

biden.jpg The Obama campaign just held a conference call on Iraq as part of its current effort to reassure leery Democrats that Obama is not going soft on his commitment to withdrawal. The call built on an op-ed that Obama published in the New York Times this morning and featured Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under Bill Clinton and a senior Obama adviser on foreign policy. Both surrogates have a very serious chance at top appointments in an Obama Administration, including Secretary of State.

The content of the call, like most of these calls, was completely predictable. John McCain is wrong on Iraq, has been wrong on Iraq, and will continue to be wrong on Iraq. Barack Obama is right on Iraq, has been right on Iraq, and will continue to be right on Iraq. Any suggestion that Barack Obama is changing his position on Iraq is wrong.

But you know what isn't wrong? Joe Biden's performances as a campaign surrogate. The man is famously gabby and pugilistic, and he proved it today. Here are his thoughts on John McCain.

Envisioning a President Obama After September 11

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 9:46 AM PDT

obama-flag.jpg From Ryan Lizza's new piece in the New Yorker, we get Obama's public reaction to the World Trade Center attacks, published in the Hyde Park Herald on Sept. 19:

Even as I hope for some measure of peace and comfort to the bereaved families, I must also hope that we as a nation draw some measure of wisdom from this tragedy. Certain immediate lessons are clear, and we must act upon those lessons decisively. We need to step up security at our airports. We must reexamine the effectiveness of our intelligence networks. And we must be resolute in identifying the perpetrators of these heinous acts and dismantling their organizations of destruction.
We must also engage, however, in the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness. The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.
We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad. We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes and prospects of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and within our own shores.

I'll let you decide for yourself it that's the attitude you'd want a Commander-in-Chief to take in the face of national tragedy.

Hi, Me Again. Afghanistan Is Going Poorly

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 8:49 AM PDT

Just FYI, nine American soldiers were killed by Taliban insurgents in the worst attack against Americans in Afghanistan in three years. We're in danger of losing that country. Does anyone you know care?

Time for McCain to Ditch that Balanced Budget Pledge

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 7:57 AM PDT

After the Tax Policy Center, the New York Times, and Marc Ambinder all methodically took apart John McCain's pledge to balance the budget by the end of his first term (while extending massive tax cuts for the wealthy, creating new tax cuts for corporations, continuing the war in Iraq, fully funding No Child Left Behind, and introducing a climate change action plan), I thought maybe the media pressure on the McCain campaign would be great enough that it would have to walk the pledge back. No dice. It hasn't budged. Maybe McCain's campaign staffers are betting that everyday folks in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida won't see any serious analysis of their numbers.

If that's the case, the fact that the usually conservative Washington Post editorial board is now breaking down the McCain budget pledge and exposing all of its fuzzy, fuzzy math probably won't help either. Nor will the fact that Bloomberg is going after him. But it's nice to know that the coverage of this has legs.

Update: I want to add that there is no secret McCain plan to balance the budget. The man doesn't understand economics, America's recent economic history, or simple economic policy. His campaign simply made a pledge for political reasons that it couldn't back up and now it's seeing if it can survive the media windstorm that has resulted.