Political MoJo

Congressional Battle Over GAO's Iraq Report Continues

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 5:47 PM EDT

Building on yesterday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, today the House of Representatives grilled U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker about the contents of a new GAO report, which concludes that the Iraqi government has achieved only 3 of 18 political, economic, and security benchmarks. Walker fought off attacks from Congressional Republicans in a morning hearing with the House Armed Services Committee and again in an afternoon appearance before the House Foreign Relations Committee.

At yesterday's event, senators from both parties grimly accepted Walker's determination that the Iraqi government is "dysfunctional." But today, Republicans seem to have gotten their talking points and came out swinging. Numerous GOP congressmen assailed the GAO's methodology, accusing Walker of downplaying recent "progress" in Iraq and complaining that his metrics for assessing the benchmarks (met, partially met, and did not meet) were insufficiently flexible to reflect accurately the difficult and fluid situation on the ground. Walker responded that his task, unlike that of similar Bush administration assessments, was to examine whether the benchmarks had been achieved, not whether progress had been made. He suggested that the Congress take both approaches into account, but warned that the forthcoming Petraeus/Crocker report would probably paint a rosier picture, as both men ultimately report to President Bush. "The GAO represents the only independent and professional assessment that the Congress will receive based on these 18 benchmarks," he said. This caused something of a stir until Walker acknowledged that both Petraeus and Crocker are "professionals." He stuck to his opinion, however, that their conclusions, whatever they may be, would not be completely independent.

The primary argument at both of today's hearings centered on Benchmark 13: "Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security." All parties are in agreement, Walker said, that militias remain the primary arbiters of local security. But, as reported in today's Washington Post, serious disagreement exists with regard to the number of recent sectarian attacks. The figures are classified, but the Pentagon insists sectarian attacks are down as a result of the 'surge,' and reportedly requested in advance of the GAO report's release that this be recognized. Walker, however, insisted that he was "not comfortable" with the military's methodology in differentiating between sectarian attacks and random violence. Jim Saxton, the ranking Republican in the House Armed Services Committee, referred to the Post article and suggested that the feeling of discomfort was mutual. Walker's response was blunt. "It's not uncommon for those being held accountable to be uncomfortable," he said, adding later, "There is still significant sectarian violence."

During the afternoon hearing, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, encouraged Walker to discuss matters outside of the GAO's mandate, such as the unequal sacrifice for the Iraq War being asked of a small portion of the population and the war's effect on the U.S. military. Walker accused the Bush Administration of passing the buck. "We're not paying for this war; we're debt-financing this war," he said. "Our children will pay it off with compound interest." He went on to describe the U.S. Army as "stressed and strained," stating that the current approach is "unsustainable." This invited the ire of Republican ranking member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who asked, "What in the world qualifies you to say that?" She went on to thank Walker for his efforts, but expressed frustration with his conclusions. The GAO report "seems to be having a lot of credibility with the American people that I think is unwarranted," she said.

The battle will continue tomorrow with the delivery of Marine General James Jones' report on the training and capabilities of Iraq's security forces. Click here for a complete schedule of upcoming events.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Saddest Picture of the Day Alert

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 5:23 PM EDT

It takes a special kind of person to get this kind of reception at a campaign event and keep on plugging. It's hard out there for a pimp crazed right-winger who refers to stem-cell research as "research on the youngest of humans."

Since Nothing Else Important Going on in World, Congress Takes on Hip-Hop

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 2:50 PM EDT

We've covered Al Sharpton's protests against sexism and violence in hip-hop, as well as the movement against homophobia and violence in reggae lyrics. Some of us may have also posted a hip-hop video here whose cheeky references to pregnancy some found offensive.

Well, the government is here to straighten this mess out. Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced today that Congress will hold a hearing later this month regarding media "stereotypes and degradation" of women, focusing on hip-hop lyrics and videos.

Continue reading on the Mother Jones arts/culture blog, The Riff.

Chevron Releases Video Game

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 2:20 PM EDT

Energyville is like Sim City where the laws are written by Chevron. You must power your city with a mix of energy sources, and, of course, you can't win without oil. The game is part of Chevron's "Will you join us?" campaign, a dubious effort to spark dialogue about energy and the environment. I can't imagine who Chevron sees as its target audience—kids will find the game all too 1997; any adult who buys the pitch might also be interested in a REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS ASSISTANCE from Nigeria. Still, the game is getting lots of press.

Driven by novelty and interactivity--never underestimate the interest of bored office workers--advergames are becoming hot marketing tools in the political realm. The outfit Persuasive Games will whip one up for $40,000, complete with Sim City street grids or flash-animated conveyor belts. My favorite is Airport Security, a game in which you're a TSA baggage screener. (Courtesy announcement: "Please be advised: Security personnel are authorized to use groping.") For other examples, see page 86 of the Sept/Oct issue of Mother Jones.

In Defense of Gumshoes

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 1:33 PM EDT

McClatchy reports that authorities stopped two major terror plots in Germany and Denmark. Turns out the governments didn't have to torture anyone to stop either of the bombings—it was just good old-fashioned police work. "Both groups had been under surveillance for months," according to the McClatchy story. But instead of immediately arresting suspects and bringing them in, authorities watched them, found out who they were connected to, and built a legal case against them. As Bruce Grady reminded John O'Hagen, "It's called routine police work." The Financial Times reported that police had been watching the German group since spotting one of its members spying on a U.S. military base in Hanau in December 2006. Would someone who was noticed spying on a military base in the U.S. be followed and watched for eight months instead of simply shipped off to Guantanamo and water-boarded?

— Nick Baumann

U.S. Nukes Accidentally Roaming the Country

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 1:09 PM EDT

How does this happen exactly?

A B-52 bomber mistakenly loaded with at least five nuclear warheads flew from Minot Air Force Base, N.D, to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30, resulting in an Air Force-wide investigation...

Wonkette speculates that Cheney is trying to finish off New Orleans. I doubt it. I'm guessing John Travolta and Howie Long are somehow involved; only Christian Slater can save us now.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Breaking: Republican Congressman Dies

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 12:54 PM EDT

Ohio Rep. Paul Gillmor was found dead in his apartment today. There's still no word on the cause of death.

Given the recent carnage--corruption scandals, a resignation, and now a death--you could almost say the Republicans are in solidarity with the harried legislators of Iraq.

CNN Allows Captain Obvious to Write Headlines

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 12:28 PM EDT

CNN headline for an AP story:

"Men want hot women, study confirms."

Note that other outlets found more informative ways to summarize the article. From ohio.com: "Women choosy, men competitive in picking mates." From the Tacoma News-Tribune: "Dating study finds superficial guys, choosy ladies."

Tomorrow on CNN: "Parents love children, study shows" and "Americans overweight, census data indicate."

Bill Clinton, Still the Charmer-in-Chief

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 11:08 AM EDT

Politico has a wonderful little article on Bill Clinton today. There's almost no analysis, just the sights and sounds of Bill Clinton wandering a state fair while ostensibly campaigning for his wife. Take a look if you'd like. Here's a neat moment.

At the state fair, Bill finally makes his way to where Hillary and her press corps are waiting, in a shed with enormous pumpkins the size of beanbag chairs. The blue-ribbon-winning pumpkin is an incredible 1,004 pounds.
I ask Bill Clinton if the famous watermelons in Hope, Ark., his hometown, ever get this big.
"Watermelons don't get this big," he says. "Last one I saw was some 270 pounds. That's a big watermelon."
He talks about pumpkins and watermelons — are you surprised that he knows about pumpkins and watermelons? — and how these competition fruits cannot have any holes or breaks in the skin.
"It's seeds plus soil plus care," he says. "Too much water and the skin breaks and you are eliminated. Use too little, and somebody beats you. It is about constant judgment. Like the presidency. Make it as big as you can without breaking the skin."

I don't know what that means exactly, but I'm pretty sure if I had been there and Bill Clinton had said it to me, I'd have immediately written it down like it was a brilliant Yoda-esque koan.

Larry Craig Badly Deluded About Future Prospects

| Wed Sep. 5, 2007 10:11 AM EDT

Larry Craig sure isn't making this easy on the GOP. I'm sure Republican leadership in Congress wants ol' Wide Stance out of the public eye as quickly as possible, but with Craig fueling new rumors almost daily that he is reconsidering his resignation (is that allowed?), it looks like this sordid drama might be drawn out for a while.

From what can be deciphered from news reports, it appears Sen. Arlen Specter made a courtesy phone call to Craig after Craig announced his intention to resign, just to tell the disgraced Idaho senator to keep his chin up. Craig interpreted that as meaning he has the support of his colleagues (which he doesn't). He may hold off on giving up his seat while he seeks to have his conviction overturned.

Now, it's unclear why Larry Craig wants to undo his guilty plea so he can take this case to court, because a public hearing is only going to put the senator's conduct, which is already a joke, under harsher light. Everyone familiar with the details of cruising seems to say Craig followed the patterns of a man seeking anonymous gay sex perfectly.

Maybe that's why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had this to say about the will-resign-won't-resign rumors: "I think the episode is over. We'll have a new senator from Idaho at some point in the next month or so, and we're going to move on."