Mojo - December 2008

Background on the Shoe-Throwing Iraqi Journalist

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 2:24 PM EST

For background on the Iraqi journalist who on Sunday hurled two shoes at George W. Bush during a press conference in Iraq, there's this November 18, 2007 report from Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders voiced deep concern today about the disappearance of Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi of satellite TV station Al-Baghdadiyah, who was kidnapped in central Baghdad on 16 November. The news agency reports of his abduction offer little reason for optimism.
"The kidnapping of a journalist in Iraq is often a prelude to his murder, and we have every reason to fear for Zaidi's life," the press freedom organisation said. "This war has resulted in massive bloodshed for both the Iraqi and foreign media. Never before in history have journalists suffered so much in a war. We urge all the security forces present in Baghdad to work together to find Zaidi. And we extend our support to his family and colleagues."
The Associated Press quoted an Al-Baghdadiyah editor as saying Zaidi went missing in central Baghdad while on his way to work. The editor said that, when Zaidi failed to turn up, a colleague called his mobile. A strange voice answered and said: "Forget Muntadhar."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Dep't of Energy Making It Harder to FOIA Bush-Era Docs

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 2:10 PM EST

foia.jpg

As President Bush prepares to leave office, his appointees in the executive branch agencies seem to be doing their best to cover his tracks. With President-elect Barack Obama set to announce his choice of Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy later today, that department is trying to make it harder for the public to dig into its activities. Secrecy News reports that the Bush DOE wants to remove a guideline that encourages it to release information under the FOIA that it's not legally required to release if doing so would serve the "public interest." The likely result would be that the DOE would never release information unless under a legal mandate, echoing a policy former Bush Attorney General John Ashcroft implemented at the Justice Department, which actually encouraged withholding information whenever there was a "sound legal basis" for doing so. Secrecy News, which is run by the Federation of American Scientists, has FAS' comments on the proposed regulation:

[T]here is a widespread and well-founded expectation that the incoming Obama Administration will rescind the Ashcroft FOIA policy and define a more forthcoming disclosure policy. In light of that probable scenario, I would urge DOE to cancel its proposed revision of [the public interest balancing test], or else to suspend action on it for six months while the new Administration prepares new government-wide FOIA guidance.

Seeing as the Bush administration won't extend the courtesy of allowing the Obamas to move into the official White House guest house a few days early, it seems unlikely that DOE will hold off on its proposed revision out of amity toward the incoming administration. But I guess it's worth a shot.

The Cynicism of John McCain's VP Choice, Illustrated by John McCain

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 11:29 AM EST

When you choose a person as your partner on a presidential ticket, what are you saying about that person? If you're acting honestly and in the best interest of the American people, you're saying that he or she is the second most qualified person in the country, after you, to be president. (Or, to bow somewhat to political realities, you are saying he or she is the second most qualified person who also happens share your ideological leanings.)

That's why it is completely absurd that on Sunday, John McCain wouldn't tell an interviewer that he would support Sarah Palin if she chose to run for president in 2012, saying "I can't say something like that. We've got some great other young governors." McCain cited Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Jon Huntsman of Utah. Why, then, wasn't Pawlenty or Huntsman his choice for VP?

Let's get real. In 2012, McCain is going to endorse someone for the Republican nomination who is hawkish on foreign affairs but socially and environmentally moderate. He'll endorse from the point of view of 2000 John McCain instead of 2008 presidential election John McCain. He most certainly will not chose someone who is a rabid right-wing fundamentalist Christian.

Meaning he won't endorse the person he wanted to install in the White House just a few short months ago.

UN to Assist in Preserving Mass Graves in Afghanistan

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 11:24 AM EST

The UN pledged today to preserve Dasht-e-Leili, a mass grave site in northern Afghanistan, which was recently excavated and emptied of bodies, allegedly by Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum is believed to have removed the corpses out of fear that shifts in Afghan leadership might open him to charges of war crimes. The story was first reported by McClatchy.

Norah Niland, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters that the UN "remains ready to assist all Afghan stakeholders, including victim groups, to take immediate and concerted action to preserve grave sites."

The move comes a little late, as the remains have already been excavated. The site was thought to contain the bodies of up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners captured by the Northern Alliance after the siege of Kunduz in late 2001. News reports at the time indicated that a small number of prisoners had suffocated by accident after being left in shipping containers. The truth, based on recent FOIA release from the US government, indicates that the deaths were not accidental and were far more numerous than previously thought.

From Physicians for Human Rights, a Washington-based NGO that initially investigated the deaths in 2002 and subsequently filed the FOIA request with the Defense Department, the State Department, and the CIA:

The FOIA response reveals startling information that contradicts official US public statements. The Bush Administration stated in 2002 that only several dozen prisoners had died during transport to Sheberghan prison after surrendering to General Dostum and to US Special Forces. The FOIA response, however, contains a State Department intelligence assessment from November 2002 advising government officials that the remains of between 1,500 and 2,000 individuals were deposited at the site, and that approximately four Afghans who witnessed the death of the prisoners and/or the disposal of their remains had been detained, tortured, killed, and/or disappeared. Despite having this information, the US Government did not revise its public statements on the issue, nor did it launch a vigorous investigation into the circumstances surrounding these alleged crimes.

According PHR chief Frank Donaghue, "removing evidence of an alleged mass atrocity is itself a war crime and must be investigated." What about concealing knowledge that a war crime has taken place?

Iraqi TV Journalist Throws Shoes at Bush at Press Conference

| Sun Dec. 14, 2008 3:45 PM EST

President Bush is in Baghdad today for a surprise visit to mark the finalizing of the Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the presence of American troops in Iraq going forward. One journalist at the press conference Bush held with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki decided to use the opportunity to express his feelings about Bush. Watch it below.

Bush stated in a recent interview that he wants his legacy to rest, in part, on the fact that he "liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace." But let's be real. There isn't any glory in Bush's legacy. There isn't even dignity. The final image of our occupation of Iraq during the Bush Administration will be an Iraqi citizen making a small, futile, but enraged attempt to make a statement about his supposed "liberator."

And, by the way, that man will never have to buy a drink in Baghdad again. Whenever he gets out of Gitmo, of course.

Monday Update: When I made a joke yesterday about this journalist (whose name is Muntadhar al-Zeidi, by the way) being a local hero and being tossed in Gitmo, I didn't think I'd be right one day later. The headline from today's Washington Post article on the subject: "Across Mideast, Arabs hail shoe-hurling journalist." From the article:

Financial Illiteracy, Still Keeping Americans Poor

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 8:19 PM EST

Given our economy, I'm with those who believe we owe our kids a thorough grounding in economics, both in elementary and high school. My kids, K and 2nd grade, make deposits in a local savings account every Wednesday, along with most other kids at the school. As I scramble around for money to tuck into their deposit envelopes Tuesday nights at midnight, I always think: Ok, this is a start. By fifth grade, maybe they'll be on to derivatives and exactly why they can never, ever trust the government with their money. As they age (our school is new and so far just K-2), we PTA Nazis plan to involve them in our fundraising activities, making budgets, figuring out profit margins, working the cash register, making change, deciding how to spend funds, etc.

Recently, an economist attempted much the same thing; he spent time teaching financial literacy to young mothers in homeless shelters, bless his heart. He learned many discomforting things (See his diary here) but I'm with him that one thing in particular is troubling. From the Economist:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Two Quick Auto Bailout Links

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 2:59 PM EST

For your viewing pleasure:

(1) A list of the 18 Republican Senators who voted for the $700 billion bailout for America's banks but against $14 billion to save America's automakers. (Cutting wages and benefits, which was of crucial importance when it came to the Detroit, didn't seem to matter all that much when it came to Wall Street.)

(2) A well-reasoned case by Nobel Laureate (and Mother Jones contributor/interviewee) Joe Stiglitz in favor of letting American automakers go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

FEMA Ratchets Up the Warnings on... Social Networks?

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 1:14 PM EST

A press release dropped in my email box this morning that was titled:

FEMA Warns: We Are At War With An Enemy That Wants To Destroy Our Way of Life

"Oh, neat," I thought to myself. A couple years after Hurricane Katrina, FEMA is finally waking up to the very real danger of global warming. This "we are at war" angle is their hip, cool way to raise awareness.

Whoops. Here's what the press release is actually about.

Ira Grossman, Chief Architect of FEMA, warned architects and security executives in his keynote address at the GTRA Symposium, about the risks associated with collaboration tools, stating that "as we move to a Web 2.0 collaborative environment, we are at war with an enemy that wants to destroy our way of life and society through coordinated terrorist attacks followed by cyber attacks."

That's right. The danger FEMA wants us to be aware of is Facebook, not climate change. Or more accurately, federal employees potentially making government information vulnerable by using Facebook, MySpace, and other social networks. As in, "Federal employees are now using social networking tools on the job, raising new challenges that executives need to deal with immediately." That "we are at war with an enemy that wants to destroy our way of life" language is 100 percent earnest.

Please rest easy. FEMA is on the job. Or a job, anyway.

White House Will Just Bail Out Detroit Itself, Without Help From You Jerks in Congress

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 11:52 AM EST

With Senate Republicans intent on doing nothing, the White House (which supported the auto industry bailout so strongly that Dick Cheney actually went to Senate Republicans on Wednesday and said, "If we don't do this, we will be known as the party of Herbert Hoover forever") is considering using a portion of October's $700 billion bailout package intended for Wall Street to save the automakers. Here's a press release from Press Secretary Dana Perino:

It is disappointing that while appropriate and effective legislation to assist and restructure troubled automakers received majority support in both houses, Congress nevertheless failed to pass final legislation. The approach in that legislation provided an opportunity to use funds already appropriated for automakers, and presented the best chance to avoid a disorderly bankruptcy while ensuring taxpayer funds go only to firms whose stakeholders were prepared to make the difficult decisions to become viable, competitive firms in the future.
Under normal economic conditions we would prefer that markets determine the ultimate fate of private firms. However, given the current weakened state of the U.S. economy, we will consider other options if necessary - including use of the TARP program -- to prevent a collapse of troubled automakers. A precipitous collapse of this industry would have a severe impact on our economy, and it would be irresponsible to further weaken and destabilize our economy at this time.

That's how off-the-deep-end congressional Republicans have become. They're making the Bush White House look sane.

Update: Speaking of off-the-deep-end, one conservative blogger is now claiming that benefits to gay partners are sinking automakers.

More Substantive Update: Treasury is telling the press it will only do enough to keep the Big 3 afloat until January, when the new Congress (which will have larger Democratic majorities) can decide on a more permanent course of action.

Michigan Will Not Vote Republican For a Generation

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 11:02 AM EST

When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he reportedly turned to his press secretary, the now well-known journalist Bill Moyers, and said, "We have lost the South for a generation."

I think it's safe to say we've seen something similar this week. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans blocked a bailout for the auto industry late Thursday night, leaving the Big 3 and the hundreds of thousands who rely on them for their daily wages in the lurch. Here's the key point: McConnell and company didn't decide that ruining Christmas for thousands of families was worth it because they felt Detroit needs to be retrofitted for a 21st century economy and that that fundamental realignment can only happen by scrapping the whole operation and starting over under new management. That would be a legitimate reason for opposing the bailout. I'm not sure I agree with it — if we have hundreds of billions for the financial industry, I'm sure we can find some for the automakers that the government can tie to innovation benchmarks and new management quotas. But it's a reasonable position to take.

No, the GOP decided that they would block the auto industry bailout because they couldn't take a big enough jab at the United Auto Workers union. Both Democrats and the UAW agreed that Detroit's workers should lower their wages and reduce their benefits to match those of Toyota, Nissan, and Honda workers in the United States. They wanted to do it by 2011. The Republicans wanted it done by 2009. And because that difference couldn't be resolved, the GOP blocked the bailout and likely cratered a massive segment of the Michigan economy and a significant segment of the American economy.

And that's why I say Michigan — as recently as November a crucial presidential swing state — won't vote Republican for a generation, or more. Republicans can crow all they want about how they are letting the "free market" reign, but the free market doesn't vote. Everyday people, who understand the Republican Party opposed a bailout of their industry because the screws being twisted on them weren't being twisted enough, well, they do vote. And they'll likely do anything they can to vote against McConnell and his pals.

Update: There are two possibilities for saving the auto industry at this point. (1) If the Big 3 can find a way to limp through the holidays, the enlarged Democratic majorities that will take office on January 6 will find a way to pass a bailout, which the White House will then sign. (2) Treasury can bail out the auto industry using TARP funds. There are already hints that this will happen.

Photo from flickr user donbuciak used under a Creative Commons license.