Political MoJo

A Look Inside the Sunni Insurgency

| Mon Jan. 15, 2007 2:19 PM EST

An excellent article from the Guardian today on how the Sunni insurgency in Baghdad really works. Lots of excellent details, like the fact that arms for the insurgency are gained through corrupt contacts in the Iraqi government, or that many Sunni insurgents now blame al Qaeda for indiscriminately killing Shiites and bringing the wrath of the Shiite militias down upon them. Most of all -- and this may be clever PR work -- the Sunni insurgency seems less concerned with killing Americans than with defending their neighborhoods, which now have "defence lines, trenches and booby traps," against the Shiites.

Read the whole thing. It's good.

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The Swag Loophole, Filled

| Mon Jan. 15, 2007 9:35 AM EST

Okay, so the Golden Globes may be happening tonight, and the ladies may be dripping in diamonds, but they won't be marching home with swag, not like yesteryear. Turns out that freebie goodies doled out to presenters at awards' shows (last year's Globes' offerings were worth $40,000) caught the attention of the IRS, and the Globes, Oscar and Emmy are all having to pay up.

Last week the Globes' Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced that they would forego the basket distro altogether (instead giving each attendee $600 worth of gifts). The announcement came soon after they agreed to pay all back taxes on the gifts handed out until 2005 and provide celebrities who received goodies in 2006 with the appropriate income tax forms (that's gonna be an awkward handoff). No word on how much loot the IRS collected from the Globes, but it was likely enough to outfit Scarlett underwear to earrings in Harry Winston.

The swag loophole fails thusly: vendors write off the items as the cost of doing business, fine, but A-listers technically receive the "gifts" in exchange for appearing at an event—thus they're taxable income.

In August the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' settled up with the IRS for past swag ($1.2 million for 2005 alone) and said it would no longer shower Oscar presenters with loot that ranges from perfume to cruise tickets to Antarctica. And last year's Emmy presenters got a letter along with their $33,000 swag bags explaining the ensuing tax obligations.

Last summer Clara pointed out the swag-bag trend in her coverage of the perks of privilege (along with a whole lot of other ways the rich stay that way). One for the irony stack:

For performing in the Live 8 concerts to "make poverty history," musicians each got gift bags worth up to $12,000.

Read the rest of Clara's picks here, with sources here.

Our Educator-in-Chief Leaves Us All Behind

| Mon Jan. 15, 2007 1:35 AM EST

In tonight's interview on 60 Minutes - one which the Administration might rethink the wisdom of allowing - Bush, along with the stream of consciousness Clara details below, essentially told the American public, Congress, the military, the international community, all those who have questioned his latest strategy, to sit down and shut up.

"Scott, sometimes you're the commander-in-chief, sometimes you're the educator-in-chief, and a lot of times you're both when it comes to war."

Well, if he's anyone's educator, we're in for a hard lesson.

A telling moment in the interview (this one's not in the transcript, perhaps because it was not in the formal sitdown session) came when Pelley asked Bush whether multiple deployments, two, three, four of them for some, were fair to the troops and their families. Bush answered saying, "this military is motivated," (meaning, and I'm guessing here, that soldiers are more than happy to leave their families and return again and again to Iraq?).

But the toll it's taking on soldiers, pushed Pelley, who then referenced Bush's brief service in the National Guard:

Pelley: In Vietnam as you know, you served 365 and you were done.

Bush: This is a different situation. This is a volunteer army. In Vietnam, it was, 'We're going to draft you and you're going to go for a year.'

Hmm, so if we had a draft (which would be political suicide for the Administration and any Republicans hoping to trail it), then we could relieve our "volunteer" soldiers who are serving mandatory tours over and over again. I wonder why, Mr. President, it came to that, that we had a draft during a long, protracted war that called for more and more ground troops?

A draft, says Rep. Charles Rangel, who has repeatedly introduced a bill for one in Congress, just might shake our nation and its leaders into seeing the true cost of "acheiving success" in Iraq. But now it seems that those in need of convincing are few. On this the Administration stands relatively alone. Alone and in charge.

Ad Nauseam: The New York Times Notices, Too

| Mon Jan. 15, 2007 1:31 AM EST

This story in today's NYT repeats a theme (and several of the actual examples) of "Ad Nauseam" a piece that Dave and Elizabeth did in our current issue on how "Madison Avenue is scrambling to stick ads anywhere it can, from children's books to bathroom stalls."

My personal favorite examples of product placement include:

After Israel bombed Lebanon last summer, Johnnie Walker put up billboards in Beirut showing a damaged bridge with the slogan "Keep Walking." A spokeswoman said the ads were meant to "capture a popular mood about moving forward."

A recent Broadway production of Sweet Charity was rewritten to plug Gran Centenario tequila. José Cuervo described the change as "elegant, organic, not forced."

In Instant Def, an online movie made by Snickers, members of the Black Eyed Peas work in a Snickers factory and battle an evil rapper who is a "fabrication justification of some corporation's imagination."

But the whole thing is a hoot. Read it here. And sources here.

Bush Says Iraqis Not Grateful Enough

| Mon Jan. 15, 2007 12:08 AM EST

That's what he just said on 60 Minutes.

SCOTT PELLEY: Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?
BUSH: That we didn't do a better job or they didn't do a better job?
PELLEY: Well, that the United States did not do a better job in providing security after the invasion.
BUSH: Not at all. I am proud of the efforts we did. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude, and I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean, the people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq.
PELLEY: Americans wonder whether . . .
BUSH: Yeah, they wonder whether or not the Iraqis are willing to do hard work.

Here's a question for Emily Post: What level of gratitude is appropriate when your country has been invaded under false pretenses, tens of thousands of your fellow citizens have been killed, and hundreds of thousands have fled the country due to the very real fear of assasination? Will a muffin basket do it?

Bush then goes on to repeat a whole bunch of canards about Saddam "rushing to compete with Iran for a nuclear weapon" and that "everybody was wrong on weapons of mass destruction." (Uhhh, for the record, not everybody.)

After listening to Bush and Cheney (who seems raring to invade Iran, btw.) do the talk shows today, I'm left wondering: Do these guys really believe their own bullshit? Or is it all just cynical doublespeak? And which is worse? Morally, and for the future of the American and Iraqi people?

For the definitive chronology of the lies the Bush administration told to get us into the war see our our Iraq War timeline, "Lie By Lie: Chronicle of a War Foretold." For a timeline of Bush's own illustrious history of personal military service see "We Were Soliders Once?"

Get Naked, Get the (Military) Boot

| Sun Jan. 14, 2007 11:52 PM EST

An Air Force Seargent who posed nude for Playboy has been relieved of her duties. The pictures, under the headline "Tough Love" apparently feature the staff seargent, Michelle Manhart, in uniform, partially clothed with dog tags, and completely nude. The military has discharged her while they "investigate" (whatever that means), saying, ''This staff sergeant's alleged action does not meet the high standards we expect of our airmen, nor does it comply with the Air Force's core values of integrity, service before self, and excellence in all we do."

Our military is not necessarily in a position to be choosy, and how is posing naked for a magazine justify discharge? As for "integrity, service before self and excellence," Manhart has been in the Air Force since 1994, she served in Kuwait, and trains airmen for a living. Besides, she's even married with two children, none of this don't ask don't tell business even.

A Playboy spokeswoman told the BBC that two serving women have posed nude in the past, and both were eventually discharged. Manhart told Playboy that she considers herself as standing up for her rights saying, ''I didn't do anything wrong, so I didn't think it would be a major issue.''

Maybe she should consider joining the Army, where enlistees with felony records are signed up by the thousands each year, so they should let her in too, right?

Interesting sort-of side note, the February issue of Playboy with the aforementioned photos has a great article (yeah, I know, that's what they say) on Lockheed Martin and how the defense contractor hit the jackpot with 9/11. You can avoid having to skip all those pages of filler and just read the article, "Lockheed Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," online here.


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Lawsuit Questions VA's "Voluntary" Spiritual Assessment

| Sun Jan. 14, 2007 5:54 PM EST

A federal judge has ruled that the Madison, Wisconsin Department of Veterans' Affairs does not violate the separation of church and state by its use of religion in treatment. Last week, U.S District Judge John Shabaz dismissed a suit brought by the Madison chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, saying that the use of religion is helpful in the healing process and does not violate the Constitution when it is voluntary.

The problem, according to the Foundation, is that religion is hardly presented as "voluntary" at the Madison VA Hospital. Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation president, said: "I think the public will be startled to learn that if you're a VA patient and you want a referral to an eye doctor, you have to have a spiritual assessment."

These assessments, which VA officials say help them determine patients' needs, include questions about church attendance and how important religion is in patients' lives. Another concern was the incorporation of religion into the VA drug and alcohol treatment program (something that occurs whenever Twelve Step programs are used, despite ongoing protests that a "higher power" has nothing to do with God), and the integration of chaplain services into patient care.

The Madison Freedom From Religion Foundation is appealing Judge Shabaz's ruling.

ExxonMobil Keeps the Deception Coming

| Sun Jan. 14, 2007 4:09 PM EST

On January 8, the Guardian wrote that ExxonMobil had a cynical and deceitful plan to change its anti-green image.

The leadership at ExxonMobil has promised investors that it will "soften" its public image in a bid to rid itself of a reputation for being green campaigners' public enemy number one.
Chairman and chief executive Rex Tillerson made clear to a select group of top Wall Street fund managers and equity analysts that it would not be changing its basic position on global warming - just explain it better.
...
A note put out after the meeting by Fadel Gheit, oil analyst at the Oppenheimer brokerage in New York, says the company "has clearly taken a much less adversial and more reconciliatory position on key environmental issues."
But the note adds: "Although the tone has changed, the substance remains the same."

Why would Exxon need to change its image? Because in 2005, Mother Jones broke the story that Exxon gives millions of dollars to think tanks, researchers, and media figures to produce and promote phony science purporting to debunk global warming. (For a handy chart, see here.) Since that time, other news organizations have piled on, reporting essentially the same story time and again.

ExxonMobil's plan is already working. Just a few days after the CEO announced that the company was attempting to change its public image, news stories started appearing with headlines like, "Exxon cuts ties to global warming skeptics" and "Exxon Mobil softens its climate-change stance."

So a note to journalists: Read the truth about ExxonMobil. Mother Jones is more than happy to provide the material. The ExxonMobil story, "Some Like it Hot," was part of a larger package on global warming called "As the World Burns." More recently, Mother Jones published "The Thirteenth Tipping Point," a study of twelve climate change hot spots that, if triggered, could "initiate sudden, catastrophic changes across the planet," and "Let Them Eat CO2," which looked at the Bush Administration's spin on the subject.

And for a particularly germane article on corporate responsibility (Subtitle: "Is Corporate Do-Goodery for Real?" Answer here: No.), see "Hype vs. Hope."

Trent Lott -- Not a Fan of the Surge

| Sun Jan. 14, 2007 3:58 PM EST

A Newsweek article found via TPM:

Last Tuesday afternoon, a day before President George W. Bush went on TV to explain his decision to send more troops to Iraq, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called his Republican colleagues together for a private talk. Several GOP senators had already come out against the plan. McConnell, Bush's closest Senate supporter on Iraq, hoped to keep others from defecting. He urged his colleagues to stand together at least until Bush had the chance to speak to the country.
After the meeting, the senators went outside the room to display their unity to waiting reporters. McConnell said he thought more troops were just the thing to "give us a chance to succeed." He then stepped aside so the other senators could second his sentiments. No one came forward. McConnell's eye fell on Trent Lott. "Trent?" McConnell said, motioning him toward the microphone. "I don't think I have anything to add," said Lott.

Will Terror Alert Hit Red Following Greek Tragedy?

| Fri Jan. 12, 2007 5:03 PM EST

That breaking news about the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Athens? Turns out the only damage was "minor damage to an upper-floor window and a room that gets infrequent use." The embassy was empty at the time—before 6 a.m. In fact, the Washington Post reports that "[n]o one was in the area of the building at the time." Except the bombers, that is, who launched their potent missile from just across the street. Color me cynical, but how convenient to have an, err, terrorist attack just as President Bush is calling for more people's kids to go die in Iraq. The U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Charles P. Ries, is totally on board with the distraction game plan, calling the broken window "a senseless act of violence," which he promises to treat as "a serious attack." Supposedly (WaPo reports that Bloomberg reports that Greek officials say), the Greek leftist group Revolutionary Struggle has claimed responsibility. What's next, war with Greece? Giddy up!