Mojo - November 2009

Afghaniscam

| Tue Nov. 17, 2009 6:20 PM EST

This post first appeared at TomDispatch.

It's now a commonplace occurence of the Afghan War. Western leaders in London, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Washington, as well as on flying visits to Kabul or even Kandahar, excoriate Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the "corruption" of his government. In return for their ongoing support, they repeatedly demand that he take significant action to "step up efforts to root out crime and corruption," that he, in fact, "arrest and prosecute corrupt officials."

Can there be any question that there is a plethora of corrupt officials to arrest? The president's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, reportedly on the CIA payroll, is also, as it's politely put in the press, a "suspected player in the country's booming illegal opium trade." Ahmad Rateb Popal, the president's cousin and another figure long linked to the drug trade, runs a local security company protecting American supply convoys that, according to Aram Roston of the Nation magazine, is involved in an industry-wide protection scam, using American Army money to pay off the Taliban not to attack. In addition, American arms and ammunition are clearly ending up in Taliban hands. The recent presidential election was a spectacle of fraud; the Afghan Army, despite years of training, may hardly exist (as Ann Jones reported for this site in September); the ill-paid, ill-trained Afghan police are known to operate on the principle of corruption; and a surprisingly small percentage of foreign reconstruction funds actually makes it out of the pockets of big private contractors and western specialists, as well as security firms, and into Afghan hands.

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Going Rogue: Palin's Fundraising Ploy?

| Tue Nov. 17, 2009 11:47 AM EST

No political book tour would be complete without an accompanying fundraising pitch. So it's no surprise that virtually minutes after Sarah Palin's new book hit the shelves Monday, her political action committee sent out a letter to supporters asking for a donation to further the work of the PAC, which will work as "Commonsense Conservatives for everyday, hardworking Americans by tackling issues that you care about and by helping candidates who will stand up for our nation." Signed with "an Alaska heart," the letter notes an added bonus to donating: Anyone who chips in $100 or more can get a signed copy of Going Rogue. Of course, less affluent Palin-lovers can still pick up the book for $14.50 from Amazon.

An Ethics Investigation for Michele Bachmann?

| Tue Nov. 17, 2009 11:36 AM EST

CREW, the Washington watchdog group, has a new target: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the conservative firebrand who was the godmother for the November 5 Tea Party-ish protest at the Capitol against the emerging health care reform bill. It seems she may have violated House rules by using her taxpayer-funded congressional website to promote a political event and by holding a rally without a permit. CREW explains in a press release:

CREW contends that Rep. Bachmann misused her official congressional website by urging people to come to the Capitol to protest the legislation despite House rules restricting members from using their websites to engage in "grassroots lobbying or solicit support for a Member’s position." Rep. Bachmann’s website urged people to come to the Capitol rally "and tell their Representatives to vote no" on the health care reform bill.

"Taxpayers fund members’ websites and because of that those sites may not be used to organize a public rally for or against any particular legislation," said Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director.

CREW also asked [the Office of Congressional Ethics] to determine if Rep. Bachmann and other members violated House rules by failing to acquire a permit for the Nov. 5 rally and by falsely calling the event a "press conference," though no questions were asked by the media. Politico quoted from a Republican Study Committee email directing staff members to "please make sure your boss does not term this event a rally." A Capitol Police spokeswoman confirmed the lawmakers had no permit for a demonstration. In a TV interview, however, Rep. Bachmann urged opponents of the bill "to come to Washington, D.C. by the car load."

"Whoever heard of a press conference without questions?" asked Sloan. "Calling a rally a press conference to circumvent congressional rules is like calling a Hummer a Prius to meet fuel efficiency standards."

Bachmann will, no doubt, enjoy being targeted in this fashion. Isn't it more proof anti-Americanism runs amok in the nation's capital?

Tracking the Shadow Intel Communtiy

| Tue Nov. 17, 2009 11:02 AM EST

From remotely piloting drones to interrogating detainees to running a nascent CIA assassination program—contractors are now handling some of the intelligence community's most sensitive work. In fact, 70 percent of the government's classified intel budget goes to the private sector. The unprecedented outsourcing of national security was the topic of MoJo contributor Tim Shorrock's fascinating 2008 book, Spies for Hire, and yesterday Shorrock and CorpWatch debuted a useful database to track the shadow intelligence community. Starting with a dozen top intel contractors, it's very much a work in progress that will be supplemented over time, potentially with the contributions of outside researchers and tipsters. Check it out.

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New Baghdad Airport Security Contractor Has Major Bagagge

| Tue Nov. 17, 2009 8:00 AM EST

It's considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world, and starting soon Baghdad International will be under the protection of the same private security empire whose embassy guards in Kabul engaged in a range of misconduct and drunken hazing rituals, including those now infamous vodka buttshots. Recently, Iraq's governing council selected ArmorGroup to take over airport security, replacing a company called Sabre International, which has held the contract for the past year.

The security contract is worth $22.5 million, according to Agence France Presse, and comes a little over two months after the Project on Government Oversight exposed a pattern of misbehavior by ArmorGroup employees protecting the US Embassy in Kabul under a $189 million State Department contract. The controversy led to the firings of more than a dozen ArmorGroup personnel, prompted an ongoing investigation by the State Department's Inspector General, and could eventually end up costing the company the embassy contract.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 17, 2009

Tue Nov. 17, 2009 5:58 AM EST

A Soldier holds a US flag and his certificate of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony Nov. 11, at Camp Victory's Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, Iraq. Nearly 160 Soldiers and Marines, representing 60 different countries, became America's newest citizens during the ceremony. (US Army photo by Lee Crake via army.mil.)

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Need To Read: November 17. 2009

Tue Nov. 17, 2009 5:54 AM EST

Today's must reads:

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Let Them Eat Zoloft

| Tue Nov. 17, 2009 3:46 AM EST

As the Senate takes up health care reform, we’re sure to be treated to yet more scenes of our elected officials bending over backwards to kiss the gold-plated butts of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. So far, just about every new turn in the health care battle is confirming what many have known for some time: The US health care system is run largely for the benefit of these corporate giants, rather than for the American people, and no piece of legislation is likely to change that fact.

But to fully appreciate the license these industries have been given to run roughshod over the public interest, you have to take a trip to Connecticut. The state is a longtime home base for the insurance industry, with 72 companies and the nation’s highest concentration of insurance jobs. It also has more than its share of drug and biotech companies. What luck then, for these industries, that the man who appears to hold a swing vote on health care reform is their own Senator Joe Lieberman, who has enjoyed enormous financial support from the insurance companies and plenty from Big Pharma, as well. 

While Connecticut may be loyal to its health care companies, the opposite clearly is not true. This week the giant drugmaker Pfizer sent shock waves across the state when it announced its decision to shut down its huge research facility in New London. While some workers will be transferred to a facility in a nearby town, the closure represents a devastating loss of industry and tax base for this working-class coastal city. It also marks the disintegration of an elaborate publically financed urban development scheme that began a decade ago.

After the closure of a  naval installation in the mid-1990s left New London in desperate economic straits, Pfizer swept in with promises to revitalize the city with a state-of-the-art R & D headquarters. To serve the company’s interests, the state government decided to use eminent domain to seize private property, uproot residents, and destroy a neighborhood in order to revamp the surrounding area. The state won the right to do so in a landmark Supreme Court case, Kelo vs. New London. But it built nothing on the vacated land. And now Pfizer, as the Wall Street Journal put it, has decided to "bug out." One local resident told the New York Times, "They stole our home for economic development. It was all for Pfizer, and now they get up and walk away."

What Really Happened in Mumbai

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 7:15 PM EST

Nearly one year after the terror attacks in Mumbai, what really happened during the three-day siege remains mired in confusion. Now, VQR is presenting what may be the clearest account yet of "India's 9/11." Over the next few days, it will be publishing a four-part, 19,000-word investigation by Jason Motlagh on its website. VQR editor (and MoJo contributing writer) Ted Genoways says that going long and deep was the only way to get the full story:

The product of multiple trips to Mumbai, interviews with survivors, pages and pages of police records, transcripts of intercepted phone communications between the gunmen and their handlers, video from closed-circuit security cameras, and reports in the Indian media, Jason’s account is a singular journalistic achievement. And no part of the reporting was simple. The gunmen all used aliases, and reports were often conflicting about who was where and when. Some witnesses spoke little or no English, the gunmen conversed only in Urdu, the distress calls from one location (a Jewish center) went out in Hebrew. Witnesses disagreed about timelines and sequences of events. Even police and prosecutors have often seemed confused and overwhelmed as they sort through evidence and present their case at the ongoing trial of Ajmal Kasab, the lone gunman to survive the attacks.

Don't take his word for it—the first installation of the special report, "Ten Gunmen, Ten Minutes" is gripping stuff—and worth setting aside some screen time or printer ink to dive into. Check it out.

 

Eichmann and KSM

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 6:31 PM EST

There is still a lot to talk about regarding the upcoming 9/11 trials and Spencer Ackerman's comparison of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's appearance in a US federal court to Adolf Eichmann's 1962 trial in Jerusalem. Like Spencer, I want to be careful not to equate Al Qaeda and the Nazis or to compare anything to the horror of the Holocaust. But Hannah Arendt's reflections on the nature of political evil are useful in a lot of contexts, and this is one of them.

Spencer says in his excellent post that KSM's rantings at his trial will seem farcical. But he misreads Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem when he says this:

I suspect we’ll have an Eichmann-in-Jerusalem moment—and sorry for the unfortunate Nazi/al-Qaeda analogy; al-Qaeda are not the Nazis; but I couldn’t really think of any other parallel—except instead of the banality of evil, we’ll see the lunacy and vanity and self-absorption of it.