Political MoJo

Halliburton Tried to Shaft Its Own War Heroes

| Wed Sep. 20, 2006 3:56 PM EDT

A Senate panel investigating U.S. military contractors Monday unveiled a letter sent from Halliburton subsidiary KBR to a former employee that sought, under the guise of awarding a medal, to waive the company of any liability for the infamous Good Friday Massacre, in which six Halliburton truck drivers were killed and others injured while delivering fuel in Iraq.

The letter notified former truck driver Ray Stannard that he would "most certainly qualify" for the Pentagon's Defense of Freedom medal, an award created in the wake of 9/11 to recognize citizens injured while aiding the military. But as a condition of releasing Stannard's medical records to the military, the letter asked him to sign a form that would absolve KBR and the military "from any and all claims and any and all cause of action of any kind or character, whether known or unknown, I may have against them."

"That is almost unbelievable to me that a company would do that," said Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. Democrats held the hearing on their own, arguing Republicans who control the Senate have shown little interest in pursuing the matter, the Houston Chronicle reported.

So much for Republicans supporting our boys in Iraq.

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The Other 98 Percent of Iraq

| Wed Sep. 20, 2006 2:25 PM EDT

This morning's Column One feature in the Los Angeles Times is a terrific first-person account of life in Baghdad. It is written by an unnamed Iraqi reporter for the paper, and reading almost any random paragraph shows why he had to go unbylined.

I see my neighbors less and less. When I go out, I say hello and that's it. I fear someone will ask questions about my job working for Americans, which could put me in danger. Even if he had no ill will toward me, he might talk and reveal an identifying detail. We're afraid of an enemy among us. Someone we don't know. It's a cancer.

It's a revealing look at the unspoken, and unreported, reality behind the news we do get from Iraq. Dexter Filkins, who has done terrific reporting for the New York Times from Iraq, recently said that 98 percent of Iraq, including most of Baghdad, is now off-limits to Western journalists, a startling figure that begs the question of why reports from Iraq don't include such a disclaimer

Filkin's talk at Manhattan offices of the Committee to Protect Journalists offered a revealing look behind the scenes of Iraq reporting. Editor & Publisher noted that the Times, employs "45 full-time Kalashnikov-toting security guards to patrol its two blast-wall-enclosed houses—and oversee belt-fed machine-guns on the roofs of the buildings."

American journalists, [Filkins] said, spend their days piecing together scraps of information from the Iraqi reporters to construct a picture, albeit incomplete, of what life is like these days in the war-torn country. But he says that the work is slow and difficult, and it is hard in such an atmosphere for reporters to nail down specifics. "Five people doing a run-of-the-mill story takes forever," he said.

Filkins' reading of the situation overall raises the question of where to Bush administration is getting its optimistic assessments of progress in Iraq:

Most troubling was Filkins' assessment that the U.S. military may not know much more than the Times does about what life is like on the ground in Iraq. Soldiers barely leave their bases and they don't interact very much with average Iraqis, he said, so it is hard to say who, if anyone, has an accurate picture of the current situation.

Opposing Torture Hurts McCain in 2008? (That's Sick.)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 9:04 PM EDT

One thing that changed after 9/11 is this: we now live in a twilight zone where it's possible that a senator, John McCain, in expressing qualms at the Bush administration's determination to interpret the Geneva conventions at whim, can be seen as hurting his own presidential prospects. See this Washington Post piece, titled, "McCain's Stand On Detainees May Pose Risk For 2008 Bid."

The Geneva Conventions say wartime detainees must be "treated humanely." Bush says the United States complies so long as CIA interrogators abide by a 2005 law barring "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of captives. McCain and his allies say that the requirement is too narrow, and that they are concerned Bush's approach would invite other nations to interpret the conventions in lax ways that could lead to abusive treatment of captive U.S. troops.

A Republican strategist tells the Post, "The politics of this for [McCain] are pretty dangerous. This is an issue that's the most important issue to the Republican base overall, and they're strongly with the president on this."

All of which goes to show that whatever changed after 9/11, very little has changed--at least not for the better--since Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

When Even Kerry Gets Religion It's Time to Start Praying

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 6:16 PM EDT

Liberals are falling over each other these days to show how deeply religious (make that Christian) they are, from the "Faithful Democrats" to the "Red Letter Christians." Even Howard Dean's DNC has gotten itself a "faith advisory committe."

This is all well and good (and possibly even--who knows?--sincere in some cases). But here's cause for concern: John Kerry is starting to sound like Jim Wallis, which can mean only one thing--and not a good thing. Kerry gave a speech yesterday in Malibu, California, in which he said he'd "wandered in the wilderness" after the Vietnam War but, as the Washington Post puts it, came back to the Roman Catholic Church after a sudden and moving revelation in the late 1980s. He also said he wishes he'd given the speech before the 2004 presidential election.

"For 12 years I wandered in the wilderness, went through a divorce and struggled with questions about my direction. Then suddenly and movingly, I had a revelation about the connection between the work I was doing as a public servant and my formative teachings."

Well, let's take his word for that. He also said, of his 2004 run:

"I learned that if I didn't fill in the picture myself, others would draw the caricature for me. I will never let that happen again."

"Again"?! Please, God, no!

Gore Speech on Global Warming: "An opportunity for bipartisanship and transcendence"

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 4:09 PM EDT

Al Gore's speech at NYU on global warming (which called for, among other things, an "immediate freeze" of greenhouse gas emissions) was superb: urgent, substantive, refreshingly optimistic. (As the excellent Amanda Griscom Little observes over at Grist, "Having seen Gore's lecture on climate no less than seven times, I can vouch for the fact that this effulgent optimism is a new theme for the Veep. The whole lecture, in fact, seemed a response to criticisms I've heard repeatedly about Gore's stump speech and the movie that chronicles it, An Inconvenient Truth -- that they are too heavily clouded in doom and gloom, giving inadequate attention to solutions (despite his repeated insistence that the climate crisis presents equal parts danger and opportunity).

Well worth reading in (almost) full below. (Transcript here.)

(And may I recommend our own recent special report on global warming?)

Al Gore
Sep. 18, 2006
NYU Law School

Ladies and Gentlemen: [...]

A few days ago, scientists announced alarming new evidence of the rapid melting of the perennial ice of the north polar cap, continuing a trend of the past several years that now confronts us with the prospect that human activities, if unchecked in the next decade, could destroy one of the earth's principle mechanisms for cooling itself. Another group of scientists presented evidence that human activities are responsible for the dramatic warming of sea surface temperatures in the areas of the ocean where hurricanes form. A few weeks earlier, new information from yet another team showed dramatic increases in the burning of forests throughout the American West, a trend that has increased decade by decade, as warmer temperatures have dried out soils and vegetation. All these findings come at the end of a summer with record breaking temperatures and the hottest twelve month period ever measured in the U.S., with persistent drought in vast areas of our country. Scientific American introduces the lead article in its special issue this month with the following sentence: "The debate on global warming is over."

Many scientists are now warning that we are moving closer to several "tipping points" that could -- within as little as 10 years -- make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet's habitability for human civilization. In this regard, just a few weeks ago, another group of scientists reported on the unexpectedly rapid increases in the release of carbon and methane emissions from frozen tundra in Siberia, now beginning to thaw because of human caused increases in global temperature. The scientists tell us that the tundra in danger of thawing contains an amount of additional global warming pollution that is equal to the total amount that is already in the earth's atmosphere. Similarly, earlier this year, yet another team of scientists reported that the previous twelve months saw 32 glacial earthquakes on Greenland between 4.6 and 5.1 on the Richter scale -- a disturbing sign that a massive destabilization may now be underway deep within the second largest accumulation of ice on the planet, enough ice to raise sea level 20 feet worldwide if it broke up and slipped into the sea. Each passing day brings yet more evidence that we are now facing a planetary emergency -- a climate crisis that demands immediate action to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide in order to turn down the earth's thermostat and avert catastrophe.

The serious debate over the climate crisis has now moved on to the question of how we can craft emergency solutions in order to avoid this catastrophic damage.

Get Out the Ammo--the Katricians Are Coming

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 3:24 PM EDT

Houstonian Jim Pruett, owner of Jim Pruett's Guns & Ammo, or--as he prefers to call it--your anti-terrorist headquarters--has a radio ad that warns Houston's citizens to arm themselves because the "Katricians"--Katrina evacuees from New Orleans--are going to attack if they do not get more free rent.

"When the 'Katricians' themselves are quoted as saying the crime rate is gonna go up if they don't get more free rent, then it's time to get your concealed-handgun license," Pruett says in his ad. The recent surge in the Houston homicide rate has been attributed by the Houston police to Katrina evacuees. And while there is no doubt they are responsible for some of it, the increase in Houston's violent crime rate had already begun before Katrina came along. To make matters worse, many evacuees wound up in poor, unsafe Houston neighborhoods.

Pruett is no newcomer to stirring things up. He co-hosts a morning radio show, "Pruett & Shannon," and hosts a second show, "Back Talk," in the afternoon. His biography states: "To Jim, happiness is his family, his faith and his membership in the NRA."

Texas officials say that applications for concealed weapons permits were up statewide: 60,328 from January to September 1, as compared with 46,298 for the same period in 2005.

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New York Times Appoints a Futurist-in-Residence (A Sure Sign the Future is Now Pass&eacute)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 3:07 PM EDT

From Editor & Publisher: New York Times "apparently seeking to boost its image as a forward-looking paper [sic]," has appointed its first ever "futurist-in-residence." The position will rotate yearly like the public editor job. First up is Michael Rogers, a former Washington Post Company executive and Newsweek.com general manager credited with being ahead of the curve on web innovations. His role is to "expand the paper's push toward more Web and other interactive operations" (which, admittedly, are already kick-ass.)

Military Coup in Thailand

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 2:20 PM EDT

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok amid reports of a coup attempt. (Tanks were seen surrounding Government House in Bangkok.) His problem--or perhaps his good fortune--is that he's at the UN right now. Details are murky but Reuters is reporting that the armed forces and police has set up a commission to decide on political reforms. Thaksin has been accused of undermining democracy. Word is that elections would be called soon and Thaksin will be allowed to take part. No doubt the Council on Foreign Relations will put up something helpful soon to make sense of the background to all this...

One early upshot of the reported coup: emerging sovereign bonds (Thailand has $2.1 billion in debt) "eased slightly" on the news.

Women In Science and Engineering Stymied By Institutional Bias (Or, F*** Off, Larry Summers!)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 12:13 PM EDT

At a ASJA/Berkeley J-School editors' forum I participated in last weekend, a hotly debated topic was what biases do or do not hinder women in journalism, particularly in terms of the byline divide.

So I was shocked, shocked! to read that a report from the National Academy of Sciences has found that women in the science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and "outmoded institutional structures" in academia.

The NAS report found:

Studies have not found any significant biological differences between men and women in performing science and mathematics that can account for the lower representation of women in academic faculty and leadership positions in S&T fields.

Compared with men, women faculty members are generally paid less and promoted more slowly, receive fewer honors, and hold fewer leadership positions. These discrepancies do not appear to be based on productivity, the significance of their work, or any other performance measures, the report says.

•Measures of success underlying performance-evaluation systems are often arbitrary and frequently applied in ways that place women at a disadvantage. "Assertiveness," for example, may be viewed as a socially unacceptable trait for women but suitable for men. Also, structural constraints and expectations built into academic institutions assume that faculty members have substantial support from their spouses. Anyone lacking the career and family support traditionally provided by a "wife" is at a serious disadvantage in academe, evidence shows. Today about 90 percent of the spouses of women science and engineering faculty are employed full time. For the spouses of male faculty, it is nearly half.

You can read the news release here.

And—for a hefty fee that really pisses me off seeing as the whole point of something like this is to challenge disinformation with easily accessible truth—download the full report here. (Should someone find a site where this is posted for free, let me know and I'll pass it on.)

And you can read more about how women are stymied in other ways in "Limited Ambition: Why Women Can't Win for Trying" a set of stats I put together for Mother Jones earlier this year.

BTW: The NYT saw fit to run the story about the NAS report in the Science section, which is fine, except why do all those bullshitty (statistically and otherwise) stories about women "opting out" always run on page 1?

Control of the Senate Now A Toss Up...(Could Come Down to Macaca!)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 11:39 AM EDT

Via Rasmussen:

The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is getting closer—much closer. Little more than a week ago, our Balance of Power summary showed the Republicans leading 50-45 with five states in the Toss-Up category. Today, Rasmussen Reports is changing three races from "Toss-Up" to "Leans Democrat." As a result, Rasmussen Reports now rates 49 seats as Republican or Leans Republican while 48 seats are rated as Democrat or Leans Democrat (see State-by-State Summary). There are now just three states in the Toss-Up category--Tennessee, New Jersey, and Missouri.
Today's changes all involve Republican incumbents who have been struggling all year. In Montana, Senator Conrad Burns (R) has fallen behind Jon Tester (D). Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee (R) survived his primary but starts the General Election as a decided underdog. Sherrod Brown (D) is enjoying a growing lead over Ohio Senator Mike DeWine (R).
Four other seats are now ranked as "Leans Democrat"—Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, and Michigan.
Virginia is the only state rated as "Leans Republican."
Democrats have to win all seven states leaning their way plus all three Toss-Ups to regain control of the Senate. While that's a tall order, recent history shows that it is quite possible for one party or the other to sweep all the close races. The Democrats did so in Election 2000 and the Republicans returned the favor in 2002. If the Democrats win all those seats but one, there would be a 50-50 tie. In that circumstance, Vice-President Dick Cheney would cast the deciding vote in his Constitutional role as the presiding officer of the Senate.