Mojo - October 2009

Afghanistan: Pressure on Obama from the Intelligence Community?

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 12:55 PM EDT

Uh oh.

The excellent muckrakers of the McClatchy Washington bureau report:

As the Obama administration reconsiders its Afghanistan policy, White House officials are minimizing warnings from the intelligence community, the military and the State Department about the risks of adopting a limited strategy focused on al Qaida, U.S. intelligence, diplomatic and military officials told McClatchy.

Recent U.S. intelligence assessments have found that the Taliban and other Pakistan-based groups that are fighting U.S.-led forces have much closer ties to al Qaida now than they did before 9/11, would allow the terrorist network to re-establish bases in Afghanistan and would help Osama bin Laden export his radical brand of Islam to Afghanistan's neighbors and beyond, the officials said.

McClatchy interviewed more than 15 senior and mid-level U.S. intelligence, military and diplomatic officials, all of whom said they concurred with the assessments. All of them requested anonymity because the assessments are classified and the officials weren't authorized to speak publicly.

In the past few weeks, it has seemed that the White House has been looking to adopt an in-the-middle course in Afghanistan, not dumping too many more troops in, not drawing down the troops already there. And White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has repeatedly noted that the entire Taliban is not an extension of al Qaeda—an assertion that has tremendous strategic ramifications. If there is a difference between the two, then perhaps the United States and NATO can cut deals with some Taliban elements and isolate those Taliban slices that are in bed with al Qaeda. But if the Taliban and al Qaeda are joined at the hip—as Senator John McCain and others have claimed—then there's a better argument for a bigger military mission aimed at destroying the Taliban.

The McClatchy piece indicates that intelligence officials are pushing the one-and-the-same analysis—meaning they are increasing the pressure (either purposefully or not) for boosting the US/NATO military presence in Afghanistan. If Obama does not head in that direction, he can expect a storm of protest from hawks who will be waving news stories like this—and perhaps leaked reports—and claiming that he's ignoring the intelligence. Afghanistan—as both a political and policy concern—keeps getting messier for the latest Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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Graham Changes the Game on Senate Climate Bill

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 11:30 AM EDT

While I was en route back to the US over the weekend, Washington saw what may well be a game-changer on climate legislation, as Lindsey Graham (R-SC) officially endorsed the Senate climate bill.

Well, maybe.

In an op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday, Graham joined with bill author John Kerry (D-Mass.) to support passing climate legislation this year. They write:

[W]e refuse to accept the argument that the United States cannot lead the world in addressing global climate change. We are also convinced that we have found both a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future that will revitalize our economy, protect current jobs and create new ones, safeguard our national security and reduce pollution.
Our partnership represents a fresh attempt to find consensus that adheres to our core principles and leads to both a climate change solution and energy independence. It begins now, not months from now—with a road to 60 votes in the Senate.

Of course, the op-ed does make it clear that there are some things to be worked out, as the bill remains in draft form. Graham is a big nuclear proponent, so the extent of nuclear support in the final bill will be key. It's also key for other Republicans who are possible "yes" votes, like his close ally John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

The Myth of the Greedy Granny Strikes Again

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 10:49 AM EDT

Just about every week, it seems, the New York Times has yet another piece that adds fuel to what I’ve called the phony intergenerational conflict over health care. Last week it was about how we lucky Medicare-eligible oldsters are scarfing up our free health care while our slightly younger compatriots (ages 50-65) can’t even get health insurance.  This week it’s even worse: We greedy old geezers, it seems, are now responsible for the deprivations faced by helpless little children. 

In an Editorial Notebook” entry this Sunday, Eduardo Porter laments the fact that a majority of people over 65 oppose health care reform efforts that would provide for the uninsured. Porter writes:

The elderly, of course, are already covered by government-run health insurance. The president’s plan offers them little. It might even trim some Medicare expenditures. But their opposition to the expansion of health insurance does make me wonder: what about the grandchildren?

So let me get this straight: The only way for the children of America to get the health care they need is for old people to give up some of ours? Never mind the insurance companies, whose useless, bloodsucking participation in the U.S. health care system raises costs by at least 20 percent. And never mind Big Pharma, who siphon another 10 percent or so directly into their runaway profit margins. Forget all about the bulging pockets of the private health care industry. The real reason little Timmy and Janey can’t afford to go to the doctor is because their selfish old granny wanted a hip replacement, and grandpa insisted on having his blood pressure meds.

But wait, that’s not all. Porter takes things a step further, suggesting that it’s old folks’ gluttony at the public trough that leaves millions of American children living in poverty:

The age gap sheds light on a deep generational inequity. In the United States, as in most industrial countries, government spending skews heavily in favor of the old. Social spending on the elderly amounted to $19,700 per person in 2000, according to one study; children got $6,380.

One might be tempted to think the spending imbalance reflects a difference in needs. After all, the elderly tend to get sick more and require expensive medical treatment. But children could do with more help too. The percentage of the elderly living under the poverty line dropped from 28.5 percent in 1966 to 9.7 percent last year. For those under 18, the incidence of poverty rose from 17.6 percent to 19 percent.

So let’s not talk about military spending, the Wall Street bailout, or the ridiculously low tax rates paid by the rich. Want to know the real reason why the world’s wealthiest nation can’t find money in its budget to lift nearly one in five of its children out of poverty? It’s all because of us greedy old geezers.

Copen-bloggin': Green Conservatism

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 10:20 AM EDT

A last observation on Danish politics when it comes to climate and energy. The country has approved an ambitious plan to draw 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and is already pulling 17 percent of total energy consumption and 30 percent of electricity from renewables. They've also endorsed the European Union's plan to cut emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and are willing to go to 30 percent if other nations sign on.

Their plan was supported almost unanimously by the 175 members of Folketing*, the Danish parliament. On Friday we met with Danish Minister for Climate and Energy Connie Hedegaard, a member of the right-leaning Conservative People's Party. She's been the point person for the country's ambitious climate and energy plan since 2007, and represents the country in international negotiations. She was the Minister of Environment for three years before the parliament created a separate role for climate and energy. Hedegaard is essentially Denmark's Carol Browner, but with more direct influence.

Hearing her talk about why her work is evidence of her values offered a stark contrast to most American conservatives on climate and energy policy. Hedegaard made it clear that she approaches the issue from a conservative world view.

"It's at the core of conservatism to take care of the environment, to protect nature, to use resources responsibly," said Hedegaard. "I can think of nothing that's more conservative than that."

Her priority, she said, is that their policies be vehicles for economic growth. The export of clean tech increased 19 percent last year, triple what it was ten years ago. Just recently it passed pork as the country's leading export product.

Where's Salin Palin—on Twitter?

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 9:52 AM EDT

Where's Salin Palin? On Twitter, that is.

Before resigning as governor of Alaska in July, Palin had become a prolific Twitterer, sending out news of her official doings to about 150,000 followers. She also shared with them quotes from Aristotle, Thomas Paine, and other big thinkers. On July 17—nine days before her resignation was to take effect—she wrote this tweet:

10 dys til less politically correct twitters fly frm my fingertps outside State site.

That seemed a promise: as soon as she left office, she would trade her official governor's Twitter account for an unofficial one and start firing off 140-character missives, telling the world what she really felt about things.

Well, it's been three months since then, and Palin has disappeared from Twitter. There's no new account for her and, thus, no "less politically correct" tweets flying from her fingertips.

What does this mean? Did she consciously decide to pull back for a while? Can she not handle tweeting while writing her book? There's been no explanation for her Twitter silence. Maybe she's too busy with Facebook.

By the way, see my most recent PoliticsDaily.com column for more on the latest Palin news—or non-news.

Daivd Corn is still on Twitter. Check out his feed to follow his latest postings and media appearances.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 12, 2009

Mon Oct. 12, 2009 7:01 AM EDT

"Word can't describe it; this is great—it really is," said Cpl. Clinton R. Smith, a welder with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, after embracing his 3-year-old daughter, Maddison, for the first time in more than six months. Smith, along with 88 other Marines and sailors, returned to the Combat Center Wednesday from their deployment to Ninawa province in the northwest corner of Iraq, near the Syrian border. (US Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Corey A. Blodgett.)

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Need To Read: October 12, 2009

| Mon Oct. 12, 2009 6:26 AM EDT

Today's must-reads are at work on Columbus Day:

  • "Is Columbus Day Sailing Off the Calendar?" [WSJ]
  • Obama's speech on gay equality was "highfalutin bullshit" [Sullivan/The Atlantic]
  • Don't Ask, Don't Tell protects bigots [WaPo op ed]
  • Great Recession Landmark: 100 failed US banks [NYTimes]
  • Nobel Prize in economics goes to Americans Oliver Williamson and Elinor Ostrom, the first woman win the award [BBC]
  • George Soros invests a cool billion in clean tech [FT]
  • "Yes We Can (Get Republicans to Support Climate Bill)" [NYTimes op ed]
  • Obama should earn that Nobel at the Copenhagen Climate Conference [MoJo]
  • The White House goes on the offensive against Fox News [TPM]
  • Iran sentences three post-election protesters to death [AP]
  • Armenia and Turkey sign a peace deal and reopen their border for the first time since 1993 [Reuters]
  • The dangers of drudgery: bad jobs are killing people [The Economist]
  • Google co-founder Sergey Brin defends the controversial Google Books project [NYTimes op ed]
  • Listen to Michael Jackson's final single, the appropriately titled "This Is It" [Bitten and Bound]

Nick Baumann posts pieces like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow him for more must-reads. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman, Rachel Morris, Kate Sheppard and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Angola 3 Appeal Denied

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 10:25 PM EDT

The Louisiana State Supreme Court Friday denied an appeal from Herman Wallace, who has been held in solitary confinement for more than 37 years. Wallace and Albert Woodfox are members of what has become known as the Angola 3, whose story has been covered extensively by Mother Jones. Convicted of the 1972 murder of a prison guard at the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, both men maintain their innocence; they believe they were targeted for the crime and relegated to permanent lockdown because of their organizing work with the prison chapter of the Black Panthers. Wallace, who is now 68 years old, was recently transferred from Angola to the Hunt Correctional Center near Baton Rouge, where he continues to be held in solitary. Two days ago, Wallace descended even deeper into the hole, placed in a disciplinary unit called Beaver 5 for unknown violations of prison policy.

Herman Wallace launched the appeal of his conviction nearly a decade ago. His lawyers have introduced substantial evidence showing that the state’s star witness, a fellow prisoner named Hezekiah Brown, was offered special treatment and an eventual pardon in exchange for his testimony against Wallace and Woodfox. In 2006, a judicial commissioner assigned to study the case found that there were grounds for overturning the conviction, but Wallace’s application was subsequently denied--by the state district court, court of appeals, and now by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

While every setback comes as a blow to a man nearing 70 who has spent nearly four decades in lockdown, one of Wallace’s attorneys said tonight that this denial by the state’s highest court came as no surprise, since it has a reputation for refusing to overturn the decisions of lower courts. Today’s ruling opens the doors to a federal habeas corpus challenge, beginning with the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana at Baton Rouge. Here, if Wallace is lucky, his case will be reviewed by a fact-finding federal magistrate, and his conviction overturned by a federal judge. This is what happened to Albert Woodfox last year. Yet Woodfox, too, remains in prison--and in solitary confinement--as the state appeals the judge’s decision.

Louisiana’s Attorney General, James “Buddy” Caldwell, has stated that he opposes releasing the two men “with every fiber of my being,” while the Warden of Angola and Hunt prisons, Burl Cain, has more than once suggested that the two men must be held in solitary because they ascribe to “Black Pantherism.” In addition to their criminal appeals, Wallace and Woodfox (along with Robert King, who was released in 2001), have a case pending on constitutional grounds. They argue that the conditions and duration of their time in solitary confinement constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that they are being held there for their political beliefs, in violation of the First Amendment.
 

Corn on "Hardball": Did Obama Deserve the Nobel?

Fri Oct. 9, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

David Corn and Pat Buchanan joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Obama's Nobel Peace Prize.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Who is Herta Muller?

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 1:38 PM EDT

Herta Muller, who won this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, may not be known in the US, but she has been honored in Europe for exposing the treatment of minorities in Communist Romania. Muller herself was born into Romania's German minority. Her mother spent years during and after World War II in a Soviet slave labor camp in the Ukraine. Her father was in the Waffen SS during the war. She herself was fired from a job in engineering at a factory because she refused to inform on fellow workers to the Romanian secret police.

One of the reasons she received the award is doubtless for writing the story that accompanies Kent Klich’s photography in a book called The Children of Ceausescu. According to her American publisher, a small Brooklyn company called Umbrage Books, it tells the story of the 10,000 Romanian children "given AIDS by injection while wards of state run hospitals and orphanages."

A fuller description below the jump: