Political MoJo

Controlling the Media to Win "Hearts and Minds"

| Thu May 17, 2007 4:10 PM EDT

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon planned to enact the "Rapid Reaction Media Team" (RRMT) complete with hand-picked Iraqi media experts. Two of the contractors involved were the Rendon Group (a shady firm working in Afghanistan) and Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC) where- guess who?- Paul Wolfowitz's lover Shaha Ali Riza worked until 2003.

"Strategic communication" to serve global US interests in countries that are geo-strategically significant is not new. In Afghanistan, for example, the Rendon Group and Lincoln Group work around the clock to construct favorable press about American military interventions in countries that have been invaded by the US.

Indeed, Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, says that because "there are few places more critical to our interests or in greater need of sustained U.S. attention than South Asia," "free and independent information is the number one means to clearly portray U.S. interests in South Asia 's economic growth and democratic reform." And as such, we need to "support journalism training to attract students and journalists from across South Asia region."

So much for the freedom of the press.

—Neha Inamdar

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Shocker: Presidential Candidates Very Rich

| Thu May 17, 2007 2:59 PM EDT

If you're interested, the FEC released the financial disclosure forms filed by the presidential candidates yesterday. (With some exceptions. Romney, McCain, and Clinton were granted extensions.)

You can read about it here and here, but there are only a couple things of note.

First, everyone is rich. Edwards has $30 million in assets (he gave $350,000 away in charity). Giuliani has made $16.1 million in the last sixteen months, mostly in speaking fees. Romney is expected to disclose a new net worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And so on.

Second, Obama and Republican candidate Sam Brownback divested -- they sold all mutual funds that are invested in companies operating in Sudan.

Third, Rudy Giuliani told a divorce court he had only $7,000 in assets just six years ago, but has now amassed a net worth of more than $30 million. (It's those speaking appearances -- Rudy can charge $100,000-$200,000 per speech in a post-9/11 world.) Giuliani also made $496 in "theatrical royalties" in 2006. Perhaps for this?

Fourth, Bill Richardson, who like all Democrats has called for the reduction in the use of fossil fuels, has hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock of the Valero Energy Corp. He served on Valero's board of directors for little over a year, and was formerly Secretary of Energy under Clinton.

Fifth, Obama has made $572,490 off his two books, "Dreams of My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope." Enough to make any writer jealous.

We'll have another post when Romney, Clinton, and McCain release their numbers. Just 18 months until the election!

Former Generals Reprimand GOP for Tough Torture Talk

| Thu May 17, 2007 2:25 PM EDT

Many people took note of the moment during the GOP debate when Brit Hume proposed a hypothetical in which American shopping centers had been bombed and perpetrators had been caught. How hard do you interrogate the perps, Hume asked, to prevent another attack?

Pretty much every candidate used coded words to say they endorsed torture, or something close to it. Use "enhanced interrogation techniques," said Romney. Let the interrogators use "any method they can think of," said Giuliani. (John McCain, of course, is the exception here; he has been a strong opponent of torture. For a detailed account of what torture did to McCain's body in Vietnam, see the second page of this LA Times feature.)

The crowd loved the tough talk, but you know who was a bit disgusted? Members of the military.

Today, two former generals articulate in the Washington Post what made millions thousands [Ed. Note: Sorry, no one watches these things.] of Americans queasy after the debate:

Fear can be a strong motivator. It led Franklin Roosevelt to intern tens of thousands of innocent U.S. citizens during World War II; it led to Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt, which ruined the lives of hundreds of Americans. And it led the United States to adopt a policy at the highest levels that condoned and even authorized torture of prisoners in our custody....
The American people are understandably fearful about another attack like the one we sustained on Sept. 11, 2001. But it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. Regrettably, at Tuesday night's presidential debate in South Carolina, several Republican candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only John McCain demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation....
This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.

Dilbert Creator for War Czar?

| Thu May 17, 2007 2:11 PM EDT

We might be a little late to the party on this, but Scott Adams, the creator of the cartoon Dilbert, has a plan to end the Iraq war that might have put him in the running to be the White House's war czar.

Adams suggests that we withdraw from all combat operations and instead build a heavily fortified perimeter around all of Iraq's oil interests. As long as the civil war blazes, we continue to pump the Iraqis' oil, with all proceeds going to help the Palestinians (and presumably other downtrodden members of the Arab world). When the sectarian fighting ends and a stable government is established in Iraq, the Iraqis can start pumping the oils themselves and use the natural resources that are rightfully theirs to benefit their own country.

In addition to giving the Iraqis a strong incentive to stop killing one another, the plan should end the loss of American lives because (1) American troops would no longer be in the streets trying to tamp down sectarian violence and (2) they wouldn't be attacked while guarding the pipelines because any disruption to the flow of oil only hurts the Palestinians, and public opinion and diplomatic pressure fro the Arab world would probably keep that from happening.

Is it fanciful? Yes. Is it impractical? Yes. Is it ripe for corruption and exploitation? Yes.

Is it just about as good as anything else we've got going on right now? You bet.

Bush Stages Show-Stopper to Protect Vestiges of Wolfowitz's Honor

| Wed May 16, 2007 8:48 PM EDT

The Bush Administration is really going out on a limb to save its favorite neocon son, Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz has been embroiled in an ethics scandal as president of the World Bank. As it became clear yesterday that the World Bank board would unanimously support firing Wolfie, Bush offered a compromise: Wolfowitz would step down voluntarily and the bank would share the blame for his ethics violations. (Wolfowitz claims he asked for guidance on handling the ethics of getting his Arab girlfriend a security clearance-required position in the State Department where she earns more than the Secretary of State.)

The board didn't bite and continued moving towards a statement that Wolfowitz had broken the bank's ethical standards and damaged its credibility (Note: His primary campaign was to hold borrowing countries accountable for government corruption). Bush's latest desperate intervention was to shut today's proceedings down early, before the board could issue its statement. The stunt bought time for Bush's precious Wolfie to resign rather than being fired. The board and Mr. "They will greet us as liberators" Wolfowitz are now huddled in closed negotiations. If experience serves as any guide, Wolfie would rather be fired than admit he was wrong.

Jerry Falwell, Unintentional Free Speech Hero

| Wed May 16, 2007 4:19 PM EDT
falwell.gif

Let's take a short break from the Jerry Falwell posthumous pile-on to remember the one thing we can thank him for. As Hustler publisher and Falwell foe-turned-amicable sparring partner Larry Flynt pointed out yesterday:

The most important result of our relationship was the landmark decision from the Supreme Court that made parody protected speech, and the fact that much of what we see on television and hear on the radio today is a direct result of my having won that now famous case which Falwell played such an important role in.

Flynt's referring to the 1987 libel lawsuit the reverend filed after Hustler ran a spoof ad in which Falwell described having sex with his mother while "drunk off our God-fearing asses." The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in favor of Flynt, upholding our First Amendment right to take the piss out of public figures. Amen to that! Now we return to the blowhard-bashing already in progress.

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F-16 Pilot Ignites Massive Wildfire in New Jersey

| Wed May 16, 2007 3:35 PM EDT

A military pilot began a wildfire that now encompasses nearly 13,000 acres in New Jersey, forcing 2500 people to evacuate. Is New Jersey wildfire country?, you ask. It didn't used to be. Read more on The Blue Marble's Weird Weather Watch.

Future of State Gun Laws in the Hands of D.C.'s Mayor?

| Wed May 16, 2007 3:20 PM EDT

Last week, I wrote that the case, Parker v. District of Columbia, which repealed D.C.'s gun ban, is likely headed to the Supreme Court. The district's federal circuit court, which ruled in favor of Parker in March, denied D.C.'s request for review before the court's full panel of judges. (The case was originally heard before a three-judge panel.) The court's decision brought the case one step closer to a Supreme Court hearing. Parker marks the first time that a broad interpretation of the second amendment has been used to overturn a state's gun regulations. If the case is upheld before the high court, state gun laws across the nation could be in jeopardy.

Today, in an Op-ed in The Hill, Robert Levy, the man who wielded the second amendment, illuminates an interesting twist in the potential fate of Parker. Levy writes:

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has the Second Amendment in his crosshairs. He faces a crucial choice over the next 90 days with major implications for residents in D.C. and across the country.

The crucial decision -- should Fenty fight the case and risk a victory for Parker before the Supreme Court, which would have far-reaching implications for state gun laws across the nation, or change the District's gun laws, avoid a Supreme court battle, and face the music at home? Mayor Fenty will likely not be making this decision on his own. Anti-gun groups across the nation will urge Fenty not to appeal to the Supreme Court, while his constituents will push for the opposite. D.C.'s mayor is left to decide whether he acts to serve the interests of his citizens or those of the nation. I don't envy him.

Thanks, Exxon: Families Spend $1,000 More on Gas Per Year

| Wed May 16, 2007 2:42 PM EDT

There was a mini-firestorm Monday when I reported that the average price for a gallon of gas is at its highest level ever and asked SUV owners to justify their choice of car in the comments. You can see the results here.

Today, a follow up. A study led by consumer groups shows that American households spend $1,000 more per year on gasoline than they did just five years ago.

Click the chart for a larger version.

 gas_chart300.jpg

You know how every so often there is a news story about how ExxonMobil has set a new record for quarterly profits? They did it again in the first quarter of 2007. Their earnings from January to March of 2007 exceeded their already astronomical quarterly earnings record by 10%. Total take in three months: $9.3 billion.

Thoughts?

Fun Tidbit from Comey's Testimony

| Wed May 16, 2007 2:25 PM EDT

I wrote yesterday about how former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's testimony before Congress shed even more light on why Alberto Gonzales is unfit to be Attorney General, and why Gonzales' behavior during the warrantless wiretapping episode rendered his nomination disgraceful from the beginning. (For an in-depth examination of all of Comey's testimony, see Glenn Greenwald.)

Today, I found this entertaining tidbit from Comey's testimony. Comey is speaking with Arlen Specter, senator from Pennsylvania.

SPECTER: Can you give us an example of an exercise of good judgment by Alberto Gonzales?

[Gap in testimony.]

SPECTER: Let the record show a very long pause.
COMEY: It's hard -- I mean, I'm sure there are examples. I'll think of some. I mean, it's hard when you look back. We worked together for eight months.
SPECTER: That's a famous statement of President Eisenhower about Vice President Nixon: "Say something good." "Give me two weeks."
COMEY: Right.

Full transcript available here.