Mojo - June 2009

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 23, 2009

Tue Jun. 23, 2009 11:58 AM PDT

A UH-60 Black Hawk from Task Force 34, 1st Battalion 244th Assault Helicopter Battalion flies over a mosque during a routine flight on Feb. 27. (Photo courtesy army.mil).

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Best in Blog: 23 June 2009

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 8:19 AM PDT

Three MoJo stories we're liking today:

1) Shock and Audit: The Hidden Defense Budget

Mother Jones dissected the defense budget so you don't have to. You thought $600 toilet seats were bad? Here's how the Pentagon really spends money. Read more.

2) China Corners the Keffiyeh Market

How did a pro-Palestine American hipster trend force the last Palestinian keffiyeh maker to shutter his business? Read more.

3) 98% of Eco Products Not Eco

A study of 4,000 "eco-friendly" consumer products found rampant greenwashing among almost all of them. Will Congress clamp down on misleading claims? Read more.

Plus: Check out the comments on Kevin's "Obama Derangement Syndrome Watch" post.

A Dispatch from Tehran

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 8:12 AM PDT

Babak Rahimi is a professor of Islamic studies at the University of California, San Diego, who has been in Iran studying the elections. He's on his way home. But he sent this email:

I've difficulty having access to my yahoo account here.

This is the latest [information] I've (though much that I have here is based on what I have heard from pro-Mousavi people. I can't confirm any of them, except the first one, which I've seen that myself).

1. The Basij has literally taken over the major parts of the city--at nights that is.
The Sepah seems to be still standing in the background, but they have issued another statement calling for more crackdowns.

2. Mousavi has apparently issued a strike for today, Tuesday. Kurdistan is also going on strike.

3. Rafsanjani appears to be in Qom, mustering support for an eventual confrontation with the pro-Khamenei faction in Tehran.

4. The pro-Mousavi rallies will continue until 18 Tir, the anniversary of the crushed 1999 student uprising. Also, there are plans for a massive rallies for the 40th day of those who have been killed (especially for Neda) by the state police.

I predict more days of violence and bloodshed.
 

Deadly Collision on the DC Metro: The Questions Begin

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 2:25 AM PDT

The latest numbers have at least seven people dead and dozens more injured in the terrible rush-hour crash on the Washington Metro's Red Line (see David Corn's photos from the scene here).

There’s been no official word yet about what caused the crash. But here’s a roundup of some possibilities.

By last night, the Washington Post had quickly confirmed what veteran Metro riders might  have suspected: The automatic “fail-safes” had failed. The Post reports: 

Metro was designed with a fail-safe computerized signal system that is supposed to prevent trains from colliding. The agency’s trains are run by onboard computers that control speed and braking. Another electronic system detects the position of trains to maintain a safe distance between them. If they get too close, the computers automatically apply the brakes, stopping the trains. These systems were supposed to make yesterday’s crash impossible.

This isn’t the first time the Metro’s signal systems have failed–the Post documents several others. The computerized system was also shut down for a year and a half in 1999 to 2000, and the system run manually by train operators, because repairs were needed on the communications relays that are also supposed to prevent trains from coming close enough to collide:

DC Metro Crash Photo - Metro Red Line

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 5:09 PM PDT

David Corn is at the site of today's fatal Metro accident, and forwards this photo:Our thoughts are with the victims and their families.

And the Oddest Political Story Award Goes To....

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 1:46 PM PDT

The weirdest political story in a long time--sorry, Senator Craig. From The State newspaper in South Carolina:

The whereabouts of Gov. Mark Sanford was unknown for nearly four days, and some state leaders question who was in charge of the executive office.

But Sanford’s office told the lieutenant governor’s office Monday afternoon that Sanford has been reached and he is fine, said Frank Adams, head of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s office on aging.

Neither the governor’s office nor the State Law Enforcement Division, which provides security for governors, had been able to reach Sanford after he left the mansion Thursday in a black SLED Suburban SUV, said Sen. Jake Knotts and three others familiar with the situation but declined to be identified.

Sanford’s last known whereabouts had been near Atlanta because a mobile telephone tower picked up a signal from his phone, authorities said. His office now knows where he is, Adams said.

First lady Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press earlier Monday her husband has been gone for several days and she did not know where.

She said she was not concerned.

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Al Qaeda Says It Would Use Pakistan's Nukes on US

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 1:31 PM PDT

The stakes are high in the Pakistani military's fight against Islamist militants in the Swat Valley. If you need reminding, just take Monday's threat by Mustafa Abul-Yazeed, Al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan, said to be the group's number three leader behind Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Speaking to al-Jazeera, he warned that, were Al Qaeda able to gain access to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, it would not hesitate to use it against the United States. Of course, according Bruce Riedel, the former CIA officer who led the Obama administration's retooling of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, Islamabad's nukes are "well protected, concealed, and dispersed." But Abul-Yazeed's claim (empty or not) is a reminder that Al Qaeda continues to think big in terms of the damage it hopes to inflict. From UPI:

"By God's will, the Americans will not seize the Muslims' nuclear weapons and we pray that the Muslims will have these weapons and they will be used against the Americans," [Abul-Yazeed] said in an exclusive interview.

Abul-Yazeed told al-Jazeera that al-Qaida had been assisting Taliban militants in their fight against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and against Pakistani government forces in that country's Swat Valley and tribal areas.

He predicted insurgents would defeat the government in the Swat battles. He also said al-Qaida's two main leaders, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, "are safe from the reach of the enemies, but I don't know where they are and I can't say where they are, but they are aware of everything and all the fighting in the field."

Barney Frank to F-22: Drop Dead

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 1:16 PM PDT

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has authored an amendment that would remove funding for the extra F-22s that the House Armed Services committee slipped into the defense budget authorization bill last week, his office has just confirmed.

Here's the story so far: at around 2.30 a.m. on Wednesday last week, a bare majority of lawmakers on the committee voted to take $368 million allocated for environmental cleanup of defense sites and re-route it to buy parts for the F-22, thus committing the Pentagon to an extra 12 planes. Frank's amendment would reverse that maneuver.

Frank is one of the few reliable voices on the Hill in favor of dramatically reducing military spending: earlier this year he called for the defense budget to be slashed by 25 percent. (The Obama administration declined to follow his advice.) It's too early to tell whether his amendment can overcome the deep congressional support for the F-22—first his proposal has to make it through the Rules Committee, which gets to decide which amendments to the bill will come up for a vote. That will probably happen late Wednesday. We'll keep you posted; in the meantime, you can check out our ongoing coverage of the defense budget here.

UPDATE: On a conference call on Tuesday afternoon about the amendment, Frank was in fine caustic form:

On the F-22: "This will probably be the only combat the F-22 has ever engaged in or will engage in."

On his fellow lawmakers who are keeping it alive:"I'm struck that so many of my colleagues are worried about the deficit but apparently think the Pentagon is funded with Monopoly money."

Frank was very blunt about the significance of the F-22 to Obama's promises to clean up Pentagon waste: "If we cannot hold the line on this, it's very bad news for holding down excesses in military spending."

UPDATE II: Frank's amendment failed. So the F-22 stays in the House version of the bill.

 

Obama and Iran and Intelligence

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 12:58 PM PDT

On Sunday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, said that she wasn't too happy with US intelligence on Iran:

I don’t think our intelligence – candidly — is that good. I think it’s a very difficult country in which to collect intelligence right now. I think our ability to get in there and change the course of human events is very low.

Now there's a big difference in the spy world between intelligence-gathering (obtaining information on what's happening in another state) and covert action (running operations to affect developments in another country, such as fomenting a coup). By and large, most people would like to see the US intelligence community do a good—if not really good—job at the former. But once again, according to DiFi, the spies are falling short.

SCOTUS Won't Hear Valerie Plame's Suit Against Cheney, Rove

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 12:45 PM PDT

No surprise here:

The Supreme Court announced Monday it will not give further consideration to a lawsuit brought by a fired CIA agent and her husband against high ranking Bush administration officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney.

The decision is a victory for Cheney and his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. They and nine unnamed co-defendants were sued by Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband Joseph after her CIA cover was leaked to reporters.

Last month, Solicitor General Elena Kagan wrote a brief urging the Court to deny certiorari to the Wilsons. In her argument, Kagan explains "Congress has enacted a carefully calibrated set of judicial remedies for violations of the Privacy Act [of 1974] and its implementing regulations."

In fact, Congress calibrated those judicial remedies so carefully that they barred Federal employees from being deemed liable for damages when they disclose personal information about a colleague; only the agency is liable.

In other words, codified in our federal law is a provision that protects individuals—Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Richard Armitage and Scooter Libby—from accountability when they violate that same law.