Mojo - October 2009

Obama and Afghanistan: You Can't Handle the Truth?

| Tue Oct. 6, 2009 6:20 AM PDT

The Obama White House keeps running smack into fundamental and inconvenient contradictions concerning its tough slog in Afghanistan. Most recently, on Monday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declared that pulling out of Afghanistan is "not a decision that's on the table" for President Obama. Yet a few days earlier, he had said that the Obama administration can only succeed in Afghanistan if it has a partner there that "is free of corruption and transparent." That description certainly does not fit the Kabul government—not even close. So how can the Obama administration hold on to both of these notions: that it will stick with this war and that it cannot triumph if the Afghan government and its security forces are not effective, competent and honest?

Looking for an answer to this critical question, I asked Gibbs about the apparent conflict between these two ideas at Monday's press briefing. Here's the exchange:

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 6, 2009

Tue Oct. 6, 2009 4:58 AM PDT

Spc. Gilad Wolbe provides security for fellow Soldiers nearby during a humanitarian mission in Baghdad on Feb. 26. (US Army photo by Spc. Olanrewaju Akinwunmi.)

Need To Read: October 6, 2009

Tue Oct. 6, 2009 4:35 AM PDT

Today's must-reads are tired of never-ending lunacy:

Get more stuff like this: Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Apple Resigns from US Chamber of Commerce Over Climate

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 4:24 PM PDT

Apple quit the US Chamber of Commerce today, and sent Chamber president Tom Donohue an exhortation to think different:

We would prefer that the Chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis. However, because the Chamber's position differs so sharply with Apple's, we have decided to resign our membership effectively immediately.

At this point, it might be time to announce a new subgenre of corporate communications literature: the trade group smackdown. Donohue has gotten so many similar letters from other large companies that it's starting to feel routine. Not that Apple isn't a major feather in the cap of climate campaigners. Now, I'm half expecting to see an ad casting Donohue as PC Guy. 

Corn on "Hardball": Is the Right Wrong to be Happy Chicago Lost the Olympics?

Mon Oct. 5, 2009 4:02 PM PDT

David Corn and Jonathan Martin joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the right's gleeful reaction to Obama's Olympic embarrassment.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

 

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

Attack of the Taxpayers' Watchdog: Barofsky Bashes the Bailout

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 1:48 PM PDT

Treasury Inspector General Neil Barofsky has released another biting report on his department's mismanagement of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). This latest assessment will probably make former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson's retirement a bit less comfortable and Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis' likely court appearances a whole lot more interesting.

Barofsky, whom Mother Jones profiled last week, accuses Paulson of misleading Americans about the precarious state of the financial industry in the immediate aftermath of the bailout. One example he cites is the secretary's assurances on October 14 that the banks were "healthy" and that they'd accepted the TARP funds for "the good of the U.S. economy." The Fed concurs with Barofsky's assessment, but his bosses at the Treasury have attempted to defend Paulson's statements by suggesting that they "must be considered in light of the unprecedented circumstances in which they were made."

Barofsky's report also seems to lend credence to Lewis's claims that the Treasury Department forced Bank of America's troubled merger with Merrill Lynch. As the New York Times notes, Bank of America received only $15 billion of the $25 billion it was eligible for under TARP, with Merrill receiving the other $10 billion. Although the two companies had agreed in principle to the merger when the funds were disbursed in October, their deal had not yet been approved by regulators or shareholders. Bank of America's restricted TARP funding may have been a way to force Lewis into an awkward arrangement with the troubled investment bank and a sign that Treasury already considered the shotgun marriage a done deal.

Although the inspector general's report was primarily intended to address TARP, Barofsky has also raised some troubling questions about both the credibility of Treasury and its role in the ill-fated BofA-Merrill merger. Some of these questions may soon be addressed if Ken Lewis appears in court to address unrelated concerns about bonuses payed to Merrill traders. Stay tuned.

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Copen-bloggin': The Danish Story

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 1:00 PM PDT

Ahead of the big climate summit in December, the Danish government has invited a small group of reporters from the US to the country so they can show us all the climate-related activities they've been up to. I'll be reporting from here this week.

Our first day started out with a meeting at the Climate Consortium, a private-public partnership that the Danes created in June 2008 to promote and enhance the political, business, and public relations opportunities related to their climate work. As executive director Finn Mortensen describes it, the goal is to promote "Danish solutions in climate and energy."

The group organizes trips such as the press junket we're currently attending, as well as visits for political and business leaders from all over the world. They've also developed a website that uses Google Maps technology to highlight projects around the country.

Denmark has plenty to show off, and with the biggest climate meeting in history coming here in just 62 days, they've got an incentive to entice other countries to follow suit. The country has maintained a steady level of energy consumption since the 1970s, and continues to see a decline in use.

Meanwhile, the percentage of renewables has ticked steadily upward; they're now the world leader in wind energy and have a burgeoning biomass industry. Twenty percent of energy now comes from electricity generated by wind turbines, and they've set a goal of drawing half their power from wind by 2050. They also intend to end fossil fuel use by that time.

The Qahtani Interrogation Tapes

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 12:10 PM PDT

The Center for Constitutional Rights relays the news that audio and video tapes of the interrogation of Mohammed al Qahtani still exist. For now, a court is just requiring the government to release tapes depicting the period immediately before Qahtani underwent the most extreme interrogation under Donald Rumsfeld's "First Special Interrogation Plan":

The videotapes the government is required to produce will reveal the time period at the end of three months of intensive solitary confinement and isolation that immediately preceded the implementation of the "First Special Interrogation Plan," a regime of systematic torture techniques approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for use against Mr. al Qahtani.  In a letter to his superiors reporting possible abuse of men in U.S. custody, T.J. Harrington, Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, FBI described Mr. al Qahtani during this time as "evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non-existent people, reportedly hearing voices, crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end)."

Now seems like an appropriate time to remember that even Jay Bybee, the author of the worst of the torture memos, thought that techniques that caused "prolonged mental harm" qualified as torture.

AFP Musters Small Protest on Health Care Reform

| Mon Oct. 5, 2009 7:57 AM PDT

On Friday and Saturday the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) held its third annual Defending the American Dream Summit. (AFP was one of the main corporate-sponsored advocacy groups organizing this summer’s town hall protests.) On Friday, after a morning of “Grassroots Trainings”—which included social media lessons for conservatives and speeches by such notables as Newt Gingrich—participants ventured from the summit’s Arlington Marriot venue into DC for a health care town hall at the Capitol. According to the AFP website thousands of conservatives were expected to come from far and wide to attend the summit, but it looked like only about two or three hundred made it to the rally.

The crowd was old and young, overwhelmingly white, and though the intended theme of the rally was health care, people seemed concerned with a variety of issues on the GOP agenda. One man dressed as Napoleon lamented "the overall loss of American freedom." After an hour of fist shaking in the direction of the congress, the American dream defenders headed back to the Marriot for the Tribute to Ronald Reagan dinner.

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 5, 2009

Mon Oct. 5, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

A mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored all-terrain vehicle is loaded onto a C-17 Globemaster III Sept. 30, 2009, at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. Two M-ATVs were loaded and flown to Afghanistan to support combat missions. The C-17 is based out of McChord AFB, Wash. (U.S. Air Force photo/James M. Bowman)