Mojo - September 2008

Mission Creep Dispatch: C. Douglas Lummis

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 1:40 PM EDT

lummis.jpgAs part of our special investigation "Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide," we asked a host of military thinkers to contribute their two cents on topics relating to global Pentagon strategy. (You can access the archive here.) The following dispatch comes from C. Douglas Lummis, a former US Marine who teaches at Japan's Okinawa International University, and the author of Radical Democracy.

Pentagon Promise Breakers: Friday the 13th in Okinawa

In her article "How to Stay in Iraq for 1,000 Years," Frida Berrigan takes up the issue of status of forces agreements (SOFAs), those treaties that determine the standing of US troops based or operating in foreign countries. She mentions that the special privileges granted under the US-Japan SOFA have been a particular source of resentment in Okinawa, where time after time GIs who had committed crimes against Okinawans were spirited away by US military police and disappeared, apparently transferred back to the US, leaving it unclear whether they were ever charged in a military court.

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Biden Aggressively Defends Upper Class Tax Raise

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 12:56 PM EDT

From the department of you-don't-see-that-everyday, here's a politician running for national office willing to stick to his guns on a tax raise:

Katie Couric: Your vice presidential rival, Governor Palin, said "To the rest of America, that's not patriotism. Raising taxes is about killing jobs and hurting small businesses and making things worse."
Joe Biden: How many small businessmen are making one million, four hundred thousand—average in the top 1 percent. Give me a break. I remind my friend, John McCain, what he said—when Bush called for war and tax cuts—he said, it was immoral, immoral, to take a nation to war and not have anybody pay for it. I am so sick and tired of this phoniness. The truth of the matter is that we are in trouble. And the people who do not need a new tax cut should be willing, as patriotic Americans, to understand the way to get this economy back up on their feet is to give middle class taxpayers a break. We take the tax cut they're getting and we give it to the middle class.

Points for courage, certainly. More on the taxes-as-patriotism line from Jonathan Cohn.

Polling Tidbits: Sarah Palin Now Least Popular of the Big Four

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 12:18 PM EDT

If Democrats are good at anything its wailing, beating their chests, and tearing their garments (no, that isn't like "flagging the molecules"). But it's clear now the despair over Obama's supposedly doomed presidential chances was silly. The main reason? Palin is simply not the giant-killer we thought she was. Take a look at this chart (via Wonkette). Due to weeks of unrelenting vetting by the media (i.e. sustained negative press), she now has the lowest approval rating of any member of either ticket.

palin_approval.png

And this is the end-result of hiding her from the press. Can you imagine what would have happened if the McCain campaign had treated her like an adult and put her in front of reporters?

In other numbers-related news, the quant geeks over at FiveThirtyEight.com report that the possibility of a 269-269 electoral tie is climbing. The reason is relatively simple: the election is nearing but the race is still close in key states, meaning that the likelihood of one of the two candidates winning in a blowout is going down. FiveThirtyEight points to one tie scenario above all others:

...there is one specific scenario that is driving this outcome. That is the scenario wherein Barack Obama wins the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado, but loses New Hampshire. Of the 320 times that our simulation ended in a tie, this particular scenario was responsible 294 times. Indeed, we presently have Obama winning precisely the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado, so all that would be needed to make a tie occur is to flip New Hampshire back to McCain, and entirely reasonable possibility.

What an absolute horror show that would be.

Is McCain More the Populist than Obama?

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 12:01 PM EDT

Is John McCain out-populisting Barack Obama?

On Friday morning, McCain, at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, delivered a speech on the financial crisis. He tore into Wall Street and Washington, proclaiming, "The crisis on Wall Street started in the Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling." And he named names. He blasted Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae:

These quasi-public corporations led our housing system down a path where quick profit was placed before sound finance. They institutionalized a system that rewarded forcing mortgages on people who couldn't afford them, while turning around and selling those bad mortgages to the banks that are now going bankrupt. Using money and influence, they prevented reforms that would have curbed their power and limited their ability to damage our economy.

McCain noted that years ago he had tried to reform these institutions and had run smack into Washington's same-old/same-old:

At the center of the problem were the lobbyists, politicians, and bureaucrats who succeeded in persuading Congress and the administration to ignore the festering problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Moreover, McCain accused Obama of having been pals with Freddie and Fannie. Obama, McCain pointed out, has taken large amounts of campaign contributions (a total of $165,400) from donors associated with the two institutions. In addition, Obama put a former Fannie CEO, Jim Johnson, in charge of his vice presidential search committee. McCain also charged that Obama has been receiving policy advise from Franklin Raines, another former Fannie CEO. The Obama camp says Raines is no adviser to Obama and that earlier this week Raines sent an email to Carly Fiorina, a McCain adviser, informing her of this. Still, McCain declared:

Hey Rush Limbaugh: Keep Digging

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 11:12 AM EDT

rush_limbaugh.jpg I enjoyed this.

Rush Limbaugh is quoted in a new Spanish-language Obama ad that ties John McCain to the nativist fringe of the Republican Party. The ad itself isn't exactly fair — McCain has showed a willingness to kowtow to that nativist fringe, but he's still probably the GOP's leading advocate for a humane approach to immigration reform. But Limbaugh doesn't believe in that humane approach, and in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published today, he isn't standing up for John McCain's record on immigration issues.

Instead, he's arguing that he isn't as big a jerk as the quotes in the Obama ad make him look. Limbaugh notes the quotes and then provides the full paragraphs from which they came, with the mistaken belief that somehow the context proves he isn't a bigot. In fact, the context just reinforces the original point. See for yourself.

Supposedly out-of-context quote:

"...stupid and unskilled Mexicans."

Supposedly exculpatory context:

"If you are unskilled and uneducated, your job is going south. Skilled workers, educated people are going to do fine 'cause those are the kinds of jobs Nafta is going to create. If we are going to start rewarding no skills and stupid people, I'm serious, let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do -- let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work."

Second supposedly out-of-context quote:

"You shut your mouth or you get out!"

Supposedly exculpatory context:

"And another thing: You don't have the right to protest. You're allowed no demonstrations, no foreign flag waving, no political organizing, no bad-mouthing our president or his policies. You're a foreigner: shut your mouth or get out! And if you come here illegally, you're going to jail."

Turns out, the full paragraphs are just as xenophobic and hateful as the isolated quotes. Why? Because Rush Limbaugh is xenophobic and hateful. Funny how that works.

Palin Proposes "Google For Government," Unaware Obama Already Created It

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 5:02 PM EDT

CNN has a lesson for Sarah Palin:

"We're going to do a few new things also," she said at a rally in Cedar Rapids. "For instance, as Alaska's governor, I put the government's checkbook online so that people can see where their money's going. We'll bring that kind of transparency, that responsibility, and accountability back. We're going to bring that back to D.C."
There's just one problem with proposing to put the federal checkbook online – somebody's already done it. His name is Barack Obama.
In 2006 and 2007, Obama teamed up with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn to pass the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, also known as "Google for Government." The act created a free, searchable web site — USASpending.gov — that discloses to the public all federal grants, contracts, loans and insurance payments.

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Mission Creep Dispatch: Steven Metz

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 4:32 PM EDT

metz.jpgAs part of our special investigation "Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide," we asked a host of military thinkers to contribute their two cents on topics relating to global Pentagon strategy. (You can access the archive here.) The following dispatch comes from Steven K. Metz, a strategic military theorist whose latest book is titled Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy.

America's Global Military Footprint Is the Lesser Evil

Throughout US history, Americans have periodically reassessed their nation's strategy. We are once again involved in this process, debating tough issues that emerged at the end of the Cold War but remained unresolved. Foremost among these is the militarization of American statecraft. Unfortunately, much of the discussion of the vital topic misleads rather than illuminates. Take the global deployment of US troops:

It's Safe to Say a President Obama Would Improve Relations With Latin America...

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 3:59 PM EDT

News of the weird: At least six Brazilian politicians have changed their names to "Barack Obama."

McCain Hearts FDR. What's the (New) Deal?

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 3:48 PM EDT

How the times are changing. At a General Motors assembly plant in Lake Orion, Michigan yesterday, Sen. John McCain gave a shout-out to none other than Franklin Roosevelt, the original big-government guy:

One of our great presidents, Franklin Roosevelt, expressed this optimism even at the height of the Great Depression. He said, and I quote, "Plenty is at our doorstep but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply." . . .My friends, that's true again today."

Indeed it is, but, of course, McCain pointing that out is like Milli Vanilli singing "Girl You Know It's True"--the love just isn't real. Take the Social Security Act, passed under FDR in 1935. McCain (before he reversed himself recently) wanted to replace it with "private savings accounts," which would have caused millions of retirees to lose their shirts this week. As recently as July, he even said that "paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America" is "an absolute disgrace"

A "great president" whose legacy is an "absolute disgrace?" I thought that was supposed to be Bush. Here's what FDR's grandson has to say:

McCain-Spain, Continued

| Thu Sep. 18, 2008 12:21 PM EDT

McCain said in June that Zapatero, the president of Spain, would be welcome at his White House. This bolsters my argument that McCain didn't intend to give Spain the cold shoulder in the Spanish-language radio interview. He simply didn't know what was going on.

Of course, the McCain campaign had to respond to this situation and they couldn't say, "Our candidate misheard the interviewer or misunderstood what was going on, so let's just forget this little senior moment, shall we?" So they claimed that McCain intentionally refused to sit down with Zapatero, who is a socialist:

"The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain's willingness to meet Zapatero (and id'd him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview," the Senator's foreign policy adviser Randy Sheunemann told the Washington Post.

Okay, that's insane. Lumping Spain — a member of NATO and thus a country we are bound to defend militarily in the event of crisis — in with Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea is clearly crazy. And it's a position, apparently, John McCain didn't endorse as recently as June. So we know what's going on here, right? The campaign put out a self-serving, cover-your-ass statement and John McCain is old but not so militaristic he wants to sever ties with one of our oldest allies. Everyone clear?