Mojo - July 2009

Mike Castle (R-Reality)

| Mon Jul. 20, 2009 12:56 PM EDT

Some people don't think President Barack Obama is an American citizen. Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) isn't one of them. Not everyone's too happy about that:

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Shorter Economist: GOP Should Try Lying

| Mon Jul. 20, 2009 12:41 PM EDT

The Economist's Democracy in America blog is right about pretty much everything in this post:

Everyone in Washington knows that a delay of a health-care bill this year will mean the death of health-care reform for the foreseeable future. But they can't say that.... The Republicans can't really afford to be this blunt, because the White House will happily use that against them.

It's worth pointing out, however, that the (anonymous) blogger is essentially encouraging Republicans to go ahead and lie about their dreams of killing health care reform.

Health Care Time, Finally?

| Mon Jul. 20, 2009 11:04 AM EDT

It seems that President Obama is finally switching gears and going to all health care, all the time. He's doing health care events almost daily now, and he's holding a prime-time presser on Wednesday to put the spotlight on the issue. But the real question is whether the President's push is coming too late. The August recess looms. Can the Democrats get the job done, or will they have to wait another generation for another chance? There is some good news: Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) supports a public option available on day one. The next two weeks are crucial.

DOD Withholds Key Weapons Spending Report

| Mon Jul. 20, 2009 10:34 AM EDT

Every year, the Pentagon is required to send Congress a round-up of the total cost of major weapons systems. The Select Acquisition Report, or SAR, is one of the few publicly available tools with which to keep track of how major programs measure up with their original cost estimates—you can find them here. GAO uses the SARs to calculate that the DOD's biggest programs are currently running nearly $300 billion over budget.  Outside analysts have combed the reports to estimate that if the Pentagon doesn't change its ways, those programs will go an average 46 percent over budget in the next 10 years.

But this year, the Pentagon won't be compiling a SAR. The official excuse so far is that the weapons portfolio will be dramatically overhauled during the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) later this year, and so the DOD plans to put together a SAR after that review is completed. That doesn't strike me as very convincing. The Pentagon is required by law to submit a SAR every year.  Even if the weapons portfolio happens to change in 2010, Congress and the public are entitled to an explanation of weapons spending as it stands now. In fact, releasing that information would surely help Obama and Gates make the case during the QDR that more troubled weapons programs should be slashed—and would also lend weight to their ongoing efforts to overhaul the Pentagon's messed-up procurement process.

Given Obama's rhetoric on the campaign trail about making government more transparent to citizens to help them pressure elected officials to serve their interests, one might have hoped that his DOD would make this kind of information more accessible, not less so. Indeed, because pro-defense industry lawmakers are predictably resisting Gates' weapons cuts, getting the public on board is probably the only hope Obama has of making those cuts stick—and there's never been a better time to argue that the country can't afford the DOD's out-of-control spending. But right now, the information the DOD does release about acquisitions programs is slapped haphazardly onto this epicly crappy website. It's hard to use and difficult to navigate. Even if a concerned citizen wanted to learn more about how the Pentagon is wasting his money, it's likely that all he'd get for his trouble is a bunch of "file not found" messages and a giant migraine. A Pentagon rep will be meeting with congressional representatives next week to discuss the missing SAR. Let's hope lawmakers press the DOD to change its mind.

Dear Senator Lieberman

| Mon Jul. 20, 2009 9:11 AM EDT

Dear Senator Lieberman,

I know we haven't always seen eye-to-eye, but I need your help. I'm confused. I thought you were supposed to be hawkish on foreign policy and Israel, moderate on social issues, and liberal on economic issues. That seems to be the conventional wisdom. But if you're so progressive on economic issues, why are you trying to hold up health reform? You must realize that if health care is going to get done, it's going to have to be this year—2010 is an election year.

The Republicans have been all over television talking about how if they can just delay health care past October, they can "break" President Obama. So why are you signing letters urging the President to "resist timelines"? Just because you think it would be better for things to move slower doesn't change the political reality. The longer this takes, the less likely it is to happen. You used to be a Democrat: you know, the party that's been trying to give Americans universal health care since Harry Truman's presidency. It's been over sixty years. Haven't Americans waited long enough? Progressives might disagree with you about Iraq. But that doesn't mean they wouldn't love to see you leading on health care. Do it.

-Nick Baumann

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 20, 2009

Mon Jul. 20, 2009 9:02 AM EDT

U.S. Army soldiers fire mortar rounds at suspected Taliban fighting positions during Operation Mountain Fire in Barge Matal, a village in eastern Nuristan province, Afghanistan, July 12, 2009. U.S. and Afghan forces secured the remote mountain village, which was overwhelmed by insurgent forces several days before. The U.S. soldiers are assigned to the 10th Mountain Division's 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Matthew C. Moeller.

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My Favorite Frank McCourt Story

| Sun Jul. 19, 2009 10:09 PM EDT

Frank McCourt died on Sunday.

He was best known as the author of Angela's Ashes. But in everything that he did--teaching, writing, reciting limericks--he was a wonderfully delightful entertainer. I was fortunate to spend a week on a cruise ship with him a few years ago. I don't think I ever laughed so hard. It was a pleasure to listen to him tell tales for as long as he could. One amusing anecdote involved the time he met the Pope. Despite his best efforts to not be overwhelmed, McCourt reverted to a slobbering Catholic schoolboy and kissed the ring. He told me that he had a whole collection of obscene lullabies but said he had stopped reciting them ever since he had given up drinking. (Darn, I thought.)

But the funniest story was about the time McCourt, who had been a much-celebrated creative writing teacher at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, ran into a past student of his. I'm blanking on the student's name (so I'll make one up), and it went something like this:

One day I was walking down Second Avenue, and this young man stopped me. "Mr. McCourt, Mr. McCourt," he said excitedly. "It's me, Rocky Malone."

"Yes, hello, Rocky."

"Rocky Malone. Do you remember me, Mr. McCourt?"

"I do, Rocky. I do."

"Do you remember I was in your class, Mr. McCourt?"

"I do, Rocky, I do."

"Do you remember I was in your class?"

"Yes, Yes, Rocky. I remember."

"Do you remember that I wrote poetry in that class? Do you, Mr. McCourt?

"Yes, I do, Rocky."

"And you liked the poetry, Mr. McCourt. You liked it."

"Yes, I remember that, Rocky. It was very good."

"And you told me I'd make a good poet. Do you remember that, Mr. McCourt?"

"I do, Rocky. Yes, I do."

"Well, because of you I went on to become a poet, Mr. McCourt....And now I have no money, Mr. McCourt. No money. So, fuck you, Mr. McCourt! Fuck you!"

And Rocky stormed off.

McCourt laughed deeply when he told that anecdote, and he flashed his mischievous smile. He loved his stories. He really did.

This was first posted at www.davidcorn.com. You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Podcast: Kevin Drum and David Corn Talk Sotomayor Kabuki and Dick Cheney's CIA Surprise

| Sat Jul. 18, 2009 1:04 PM EDT

Listen to Kevin and David talk Friday about Sonia Sotomayor's excellent deadpan, secret vs. not-so-secret CIA assassinations, and the two most undercovered stories this week.

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Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

Walter Cronkite Dead at 92

| Fri Jul. 17, 2009 7:41 PM EDT

The world of journalism takes another hit. Walter Cronkite was the voice of a generation, maybe not mine, but he shaped media for decades, not in the anchor chair necessarily, but in people's living rooms. From what I remember, and from what my grandfather would tell me (he just passed away at the age of nearly 101), Cronkite made people feel a part of the news as it unfolded. "He was right there," he'd say, "giving you the straight scoop!"
 
Cronikite shaped what people cared about at a time when there weren't the Twittering masses to do the telling. And he knew what he was talking about, all the time. Not that we necessarily want to return to such a narrow sieve through which we hear the day's truths, but he did a fine job with such a weighty task.
 
And that's the way it was.

How Restorative is Rwanda's Justice?

| Fri Jul. 17, 2009 3:50 PM EDT

With the help of $44 million from the US government, Rwanda decided last week to extend its multi-layered judicial system for another year. The system is comprised of an international criminal tribunal for the most heinous criminals associated with the 1994 genocide, and the semi-traditional gacaca courts, which practice restorative justice on the community level. The extension has been praised because it gives the government a chance to determine the innocence or guilt of many of the alleged criminals that remain untried. But Hutus claim that the Rwandan government is partial to the country's Tutsi minority—largely the victims of the 1994 genocide—and that the process is fueled by revenge, not justice. Is the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) government manipulating the courts for its own political and ethnic gain with US dollars?

(Check out Mother Jones' fantastic photo essay on Rwanda: "Can You Love a Child of Rape?")

Gacaca, literally “on the grass,” is a restorative system which allows perpetrators responsible for crimes including isolated murder and destruction of property during the genocide to decrease their prison sentences if they plead guilty, apologize, and agree to supplement their shortened jail time with community service. But the gacaca courts have been instructed by the RPF to focus only on crimes that occurred during a limited timeframe, most of which were committed by Hutus. During the protracted civil war that preceded the genocide, though, The Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Army was also responsible for murder, rape, and destruction of Hutu property. Also, gacaca judges are untrained and elected by the community, which raises concerns about international standards of due process and impartiality.

While it's important that the major perpetrators of the genocide be held accountable for their crimes, without fair trials that cut across ethnic groups, these supposedly restorative courts could perpetuate, not end, Rwanda's horrific cycle of violence that has plagued Hutu and Tutsi controlled governments for the past half-century.