Mojo - November 2008

Women Rock Volunteerism

| Sun Nov. 30, 2008 1:16 PM EST

Somehow, I got hooked on following the voting on CNN's top picks for heroes. My guy didn't win, but I was struck by something: Most of these unbelievably unselfish philanthropists are women. Ordinary, not rich, not well-connected women.

If you want to be humbled by your own paltry efforts, check these visionaries out.

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Major League Baseball Catches Outsourcing Fever

| Sat Nov. 29, 2008 7:12 PM EST

Or maybe this is better described as insourcing…

The Pittsburgh Pirates hope Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel really do have million-dollar arms.
The two 20-year-old pitchers, neither of whom had picked up a baseball until earlier this year, signed free-agent contracts Monday with the Pirates. They are believed to be the first athletes from India to sign professional baseball contracts outside their country.
Singh and Patel came to the United States six months ago after being the top finishers in an Indian reality TV show called the "Million Dollar Arm" that drew about 30,000 contestants. The show sought to find athletes who could throw strikes at 85 miles per hour or faster.

The article notes that when Singh and Patel (picture) first came to the United States and began playing catch, they "were mystified by the concept of gloves and had to be taught not to try to catch the ball with their bare hands." But the article also notes that the pair has athletic experience throwing the javelin, so this will definitely end well.

What Do Obama's Foreign Policy Appointments Tell Us About Future of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

| Sat Nov. 29, 2008 2:37 PM EST

Depends on if you're considering General James Jones, likely National Security Advisor in the upcoming Obama Administration, or Senator Hillary Clinton, likely Secretary of State. Their professional histories send conflicting messages about Obama's intentions in the region. Check out Eli Lake in TNR for more.

Must-Reads on the End of the Bush Administration

| Sat Nov. 29, 2008 2:18 PM EST

There are two great stories out discussing what we should do with all the national security secrets that, if made public, could (1) expose the full extent of the Bush Administration's torture, detention, rendition, and wiretapping programs, (2) make Bush Administration officials vulnerable to criminal prosecution, (3) create a public circus that overshadows the Obama Administration's early actions and spoils a moment of goodwill that Obama wants to exploit, and (4) potentially make our defenses weaker in the war on terror.

Result (1) is obviously a good thing. Is (2)? Even if it comes with effects (3) and (4)? Is there a way to do this that avoids (4) entirely?

Check out the thoughts of Dahlia Lithwick in Slate and Charles Homans in the Washington Monthly. Obama seems interested in establishing a commission that ferrets out the who/what/where/when/why, but doesn't initiate criminal proceedings. That's probably the approach the majority of the country would prefer, but is bound to anger some on both the right and the left.

Iraqi Parliament to Vote Today on "Status of Forces Agreement"

| Wed Nov. 26, 2008 11:40 AM EST

The Iraqi Parliament is expected to vote today on the "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA), a document that, if passed, will establish guidelines for US forces in Iraq and, more importantly, set a timetable for their withdrawal. Washington and Baghdad signed on to a draft of the agreement earlier this month. If it is accepted today by at least 138 of the 275 members of Iraq's parliament, the document will then go to the Iraqi presidential council for final approval. SOFA, which the Iraqis are already informally calling "the withdrawal agreement," mandates that US forces pull out of Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and leave the country entirely by December 31, 2011, effectively ending the US occupation of Iraq.

According to Peter Galbraith, a senior diplomatic fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, who has written extensively on the American occupation for the New York Review of Books, the agreement represents "a stunning and humiliating reversal of course by the Bush administration, which had vehemently opposed any timetable for withdrawal from Iraq." But things change, and especially with Barack Obama's impending inauguration, SOFA is perhaps more acceptable to the current administration than leaving the timetable for withdrawal entirely in the hands of its successor. "The signing of this agreement, along with the election of a new president who ran on a platform to end the war in Iraq, suggests that anti-Iraq efforts have not been in vain," says John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World. "The agreement reflects the views held by the majority of Iraqis and Americans that it is time for US combat forces to start getting out of Iraq."

Still, not all Iraqis are eager to see US forces leave. A Sunni bloc within the Iraqi Parliament, joined by a few renegade Kurds, are said to be holding out on ratification of SOFA. Their primary concern is "how they'll be treated by the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki" once US forces depart, according to today's Wall Street Journal. Iraqi Sunnis formed the bulk of the insurgency in past years, but have more recently become partners in the American occupation, primarily to counter the ascendance of Shiite parties. US and Iraqi officials have been negotiating for Sunni support in the final hours leading up to today's vote.

Galbraith shares in the Sunnis' concern. "For the last two years, President Bush has pretended that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a democrat and an American ally," he says. "In fact, Maliki is a sectarian Shiite politician who heads a government dominated by pro-Iranian religious parties. The US presence is now no longer serves the interests of Iraq's ruling Shiite religious parties or their Iranian allies, so we are now being asked to leave."

UPDATE: The Iraqi parliament has decided to put off the vote until tomorrow morning, allowing more time for SOFA's backers to persuade opponents of the agreement.

Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan Celebrate "Exceptional News": John Brennan Won't Be CIA Director

| Tue Nov. 25, 2008 4:51 PM EST

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John Brennan, a top adviser to Barack Obama on intelligence issues who had been widely rumored to be the President-elect's top choice for CIA director, has taken himself out of the running. Bloggers, including Salon's Glenn Greenwald and the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, had vociferously opposed Brennan on the grounds that he had reportedly supported the torture of terrorist detainees and the governments extraordinary rendition program. In his letter to Obama, Brennan writes that he "was not involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies," but Greenwald emphasizes that being involved with the decision-making process was never the issue. It was the fact that Brennan supported those decisions that was the problem, whether or not he actually had the decision-making power himself. And the evidence is pretty clear that Brennan did not draw a bright line on torture. Brennan was onetime CIA director George Tenet's chief of staff (which is a bad sign on its own), and the estimable Jane Mayer described him in New Yorker as a "supporter" of the Bush administration's "interrogation and detention" program. Brennan told Mayer that drawing the line on how to treat detainees "all comes down to individual moral barometers." No, it doesn't.

It's true that Brennan did oppose some of the most heinous Bush administration techniques—waterboarding, for example. But his past support for parts of the torture program is well-documented. And even if waterboarding didn't pass Brennan's "individual moral barometer" test, other torture techniques apparently did. It's not just waterboarding that is the problem. And if Obama is going to make a clean break from the Bush administration's interrogation policies, it's probably for the best that Brennan will not be along for the ride.

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Conservative Publisher's New Book: "If There Had Been No Civil War, the South Would Have Abolished Slavery Peaceably"

| Tue Nov. 25, 2008 3:40 PM EST

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Regnery Publishing, the home of such conservative stalwarts as Swift Boat Veteran John O'Neill (who wrote Unfit for Command, which contained falsehoods about John Kerry) and author Jerome Corsi (who co-wrote Unfit for Command and wrote The Obama Nation, which contained falsehoods about Barack Obama) just emailed me to promote one of their newest releases. This time, it's The Politically Incorrect Guide to The Civil War, which, you guessed it, reveals how "conventional 'wisdom' about the Civil War, slavery, and states' rights has been hijacked by Northeast liberals." (Update: I just noticed that the book's cover, pictured to the right, advertises an "Afterword by Jefferson Davis.") Among the book's claims: "How the Confederate States of America might have helped the Allies win World War I sooner," and, of course, "How, if there had been no Civil War, the South would have abolished slavery peaceably."

I know it's probably just because I suffer from the "liberal self-hatred that vilifies America's greatest heroes," but I find the idea of the slave states voluntarily giving up their slaves to be really, really dumb. The Southern states seceded largely because they didn't want to be ruled by Lincoln, who had argued against expanding slavery into new territories. The Confederate constitution says, "No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed." But in case you don't believe me, I asked retired army Lt. Colonel Robert Mackey, author of The UnCivil War and bona fide Civil War geek. Dr. Mackey, a combat veteran who was Assistant Professor of Military History at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, says it's "a heaping pile of bulls**t" and offers up a few reasons why:

The Dems' Charlie Rangel Problem

| Tue Nov. 25, 2008 3:19 PM EST

Congressional Democrats have a serious dilemma on their hands. And he goes by the name of Charlie Rangel (D-NY). Since July, the nineteen-term congressman and chairman of the powerful ways and means committee has been fighting for his political life over a series of alleged ethical lapses, ranging from his use of congressional stationary to solicit donations for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York to his failure to report rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic. And things just got worse for Rangel. Today, the New York Times reports that he "played a pivotal role" in preserving a tax loophole benefiting an oil drilling company, Nabors Industries, whose chief executive pledged $1 million to the center that was named in Rangel's honor. Rangel and Nabors' CEO Eugene Isenberg have denied that there was any quid pro quo here, but the Times story does not paint a pretty picture. Among other things, it notes, Rangel was at one point firmly against the tax shelter in question before suddenly coming out in favor of leaving the loophole in place—a move that saves "Nabors an estimated tens of millions of dollars annually." And then there's this: "while the issue was before his committee, Mr. Rangel met with Mr. Isenberg and a lobbyist for Nabors and discussed it, on the same morning that the congressman and Mr. Isenberg met to talk about the chief executive's potential support for the Rangel center."

If you're House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), this news has got to give you pause. Despite the fact that Rangel is already under investigation by the (notoriously timid) House Ethics Committee for his Rangel Center fundraising, among other matters, he recently managed to maintain his grasp on the chairmanship of the ways and means committee. But keeping Rangel in charge of a committee that crafts federal tax policy while he faces serious allegations that he abused his office—and indeed, accusations of his own tax improprieties—doesn't seem like a strategy that's going to bode well for the Democrats, who assumed control of Congress, in part, by promising to crack down on congressional corruption. According to Politico, Rangel's clout has been muted somewhat in recent months, and Pelosi "has shown ample willingness to intervene directly in his committee's affairs." That said, Rangel's ability to weather this current storm should not be underestimated. After all, he didn't maneuver himself into one of the most powerful perches in Congress by being anything less than a shrewd political operator.

Bad Signs for Chrysler: Buy One Truck, Get One Free

| Tue Nov. 25, 2008 12:12 PM EST

We all knew the Big Three were in trouble when the top executives of Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors flew their private jets to Washington last week, hat in hand, asking for taxpayers' money to save their companies. But this is getting ridiculous. Online consumer watchdog Consumerist.com noticed this ad:

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There's some fine print, but basically the deal is the deal: buy one truck, get a second one free. Maybe those private-jet-flying car company executives really do need a bailout.

Susan Rice to the UN: A Positive Sign for UN-US Relations

| Mon Nov. 24, 2008 6:52 PM EST

article_image.php.jpg ABC is reporting that Susan Rice, a former member of President Bill Clinton's National Security Council and a former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, is about to be named US Ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama Administration. Why is this of note? Rice is extremely close to Obama, and has been for years. Mark Goldberg, of UN Dispatch, is jazzed about what that means for the future of US-UN relations:

This is great news. The fact that President-elect Obama is entrusting US diplomacy at the United Nations to such a close adviser is a sure sign of the high priority to which the new administration will place US-UN relations. Deeper still, her background as a regional Africa expert will come in handy. About 2/3rds of all discussions at the Security Council are about situations in Africa.
More broadly, Rice is known in foreign policy circles as an innovative, forward thinking foreign policy wonk who pays special attention to the connectivity of today's threats and challenges. As a diplomat, I expect her to be fairly sharp-elbowed, which is not a bad quality for Turtle Bay!

I suspect this is a sign that Obama will be involved in (or his administration will be a full partner in) worldwide efforts to bring stability to places like Darfur and Somalia. That's great news. And just take a moment to consider the difference between the Obama Administration and the Bush one. Bush named to this same post John Bolton, a man who believes force is always the right option and is so hostile toward the United Nations that he once said wiping out 10 floors of UN headquarters wouldn't make a "bit of difference." And now we have someone who has spent years studying how to engage in the world in order to reduce conflict. The democratic transfer of power is a remarkable thing.