Political MoJo

Question for Rumsfeld: How Many More Catastrophes? And Victory for Whom?

| Tue Aug. 29, 2006 2:19 PM EDT

Donald Rumsfeld, deploying an analogy as cliched as it is scurrilous (at least in this case), likens critics of the Bush administration to those who opted for appeasement in the face of the Nazi threat.

"I recount this history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism," he said.

"Can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?" he asked.

"Can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America — not the enemy — is the real source of the world's troubles?"

We needn't waste time tackling the substance, such as it is, of this slur. Far more interesting is Rumsfeld's later invocation of Clemenceau.

"You know from experience that in every war — personally — there have been mistakes and setbacks and casualties," he said. "War is," as Clemenceau said, `A series of catastrophes that results in victory."

This represents a sort of progress, I suppose: at least it recognizes, if obliquely, that the Iraq campaign has been catastrophic. But it also shows he's learned very little. That kind of self-serving, open-ended utopianism -- "just wait, you'll see" -- is precisely the habit of mind that got us into this mess. It could be that these catastrophes will lead to victory. But how many more catastrophes (avoidable and not)? At what cost? And victory for whom? (pace James Fallows, that's still a live question, in my opinion.) The corollary to Clemenceau's glib maxim is that one side has to lose.

Rumsfeld's optimism--to the extent that it's sincere--no doubt serves a psychological function as he contemplates a conscience-haunted retirement. But it also demonstrates that his hubris--one pulverized country and tens of thousands of lives later-- still knows no limits.

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Blackwater Update: How They Got Those Contracts

| Tue Aug. 29, 2006 1:45 AM EDT

Yesterday (okay, very early today) we noted that military-contracting giant Blackwater may have to go to court after all to defend its claim that it's not liable when its guards get killed in places like Fallujah. Over at TPM Muckraker, Justin Rood points out another interesting bit of Blackwater news, namely a tale about how you get started running one of the world's largest mercenary firms. Hint: It helps to have a friend at Langley.

Apple Gets Low Grade From Greenpeace

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 11:07 PM EDT

Greenpeace's new guide to green electronics puts Nokia and Dell at the top of the list and Apple near the bottom. Companies received scores on elimination of toxic chemicals and take-back and recycling. On a scale of 1-10, Apple scored 2.7 overall. Only Acer, Motorola and Lenovo scored lower.

For a company that claims to lead on production design, Apple scores badly on almost all criteria. The company fails to follow the precautionary principle, withholds its full list of regulated substances and provide no timelines for eliminating toxics Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and no commitment to phasing out all uses of Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs). Apple performs poorly on product take back and recycling, with the exception of reporting on the amounts of its electronic waste recycled.

Apple markets itself as hip and progressive, so these scores should have an impact on environmentally conscious customers.

Chris Mooney's Republican War on Science, Revised and Updated

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 6:03 PM EDT

Last summer in the pages of Mother Jones, science writer Chris Mooney exposed ExxonMobil's efforts to thwart climate change research, complete with details you may not have seen until they showed up in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, a year later.

Today Mooney's New York Times bestseller, The Republican War on Science comes out in paperback. You can check out an excerpt on intelligent design and read the book's new intro, online. And Mooney's headed out on tour and may be coming to your town; he's a prescient writer, not to be missed.

-N.B., you can also catch Chris on Mother Jones Radio September 17th.

How's New Orleans Doing on Katrina's Anniversary?

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 5:15 PM EDT

One year after Katrina, "renewal" or "depraved indifference"? Discuss.

Why It's Not Working in Afghanistan

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 2:23 PM EDT

TomDispatch has a valuable piece by Ann Jones, whose new book, Kabul in Winter, Life Without Peace in Afghanistan, begins thusly: "I went to Afghanistan after the bombing stopped. Somehow I felt obliged to help pick up the pieces. I was a New Yorker who had always lived downtown, and for a long time after the towers fell I experienced moments when I couldn't get my bearings... Four thousand collateral civilian deaths in Kabul brought no consolation for the death of thousands from around the world in the fallen towers of the city that had so long been my home. I thought America had lost its bearing too. So I left."

Today's piece wonders why Afghanistan, post-Taliban, has devolved into a state of chaos.

She writes:

The story of success in Afghanistan was always more fairy tale than fact -- one scam used to sell another. Now, as the Bush administration hands off "peacekeeping" to NATO forces, Afghanistan is the scene of the largest military operation in the history of that organization. Today's personal email brings word from an American surgeon in Kabul that her emergency medical team can't handle half the wounded civilians brought in from embattled provinces to the south and east. American, British, and Canadian troops find themselves at war with Taliban fighters -- which is to say "Afghans" -- while stunned NATO commanders, who hadn't bargained for significant combat, are already asking what went wrong.

The answer is a threefold failure: no peace, no democracy, and no reconstruction.

Read the rest here.

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Blackwater: Soldiers Or Contractors?

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 4:35 AM EDT

In connection with the news that Blackwater, the huge private security company, has lost its bid to keep a lawsuit in connection with its Iraq operations out of federal court, take a look at Barry Yeoman's early coverage of the company in Mother Jones. This story, reported before the invasion of Iraq, notes that Blackwater's business has been growing by leaps and bounds because the military increasingly prefers to have contractors do the work of soldiers.

When the companies do screw up, however, their status as private entities often shields them -- and the government -- from public scrutiny. [...] "Under a shroud of secrecy, the United States is carrying out military missions with people who don't have the same level of accountability," says Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a leading congressional critic of privatized war. "We have individuals who are not obligated to follow orders or follow the Military Code of Conduct. Their main obligation is to their employer, not to their country."

Ironically, Blackwater is now citing a program designed to protect the military--the Defense Base Act, which provides benefits to the families of soldiers killed on the battlefield--to argue that it can't be held liable by the families of four of its contractors who were killed in Fallujah in 2003 (after, the families say, being sent into a warzone unprepared and unequipped).

Thanks for Keeping Our Profits Up. Sorry, Can't Afford a Raise.

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 4:22 AM EDT

"The most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income." That's the wisdom from the smart guys at Goldman Sachs, per the New York Times' drab, but crucial story on how workers are still making American business more productive--but take a smaller share of the national pie than they did at any time since the government began keeping track just after WWII.

"For most of the last century, wages and productivity — the key measure of the economy's efficiency — have risen together, increasing rapidly through the 1950's and 60's and far more slowly in the 1970's and 80's.

But in recent years, the productivity gains have continued while the pay increases have not kept up. Worker productivity rose 16.6 percent from 2000 to 2005, while total compensation for the median worker rose 7.2 percent, according to Labor Department statistics analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. Benefits accounted for most of the increase.

"If I had to sum it up," said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the institute, "it comes down to bargaining power and the lack of ability of many in the work force to claim their fair share of growth."

And next time you hear the president talk about rising family incomes, take note: All of that "rising" involves the families at the very top of the income scale. The rest of you are just working harder to finance someone else's profit.

When is a Soldier a Murderer?

| Mon Aug. 28, 2006 3:16 AM EDT

Not very often in Iraq, according to the military justice system: "Though experts estimate that thousands of Iraqi civilians have died at the hands of U.S. forces," reports the Washington Post in an excellent piece, only 20 of those killings have resulted in formal charges, and only 12 service members served prison time in connection with those cases. To make up your mind (or not) about what this means, you really have to go read the story, which makes it clear that many Iraq veterans are convinced that crimes do happen, and that they go unpunished in part because prosecution is entirely at local commanders' discretion. Most of all, though, what you come away with is a deepened sense of dread and regret for both the troops we're sending over there and the Iraqis unlucky enough to run into them at the wrong place or the wrong time:

The cases highlight the sometimes fine line between a criminal allegation and the bloodshed that is a part of war. Spec. Nathan Lynn, a Pennsylvania National Guardsman, shot and killed a man in the darkness of a Ramadi neighborhood in February. Lynn said he considered the man a threat and believes he did nothing wrong.

The man was not armed, and Lynn was charged with voluntary manslaughter. But a military investigator agreed that Lynn acted properly in a difficult situation, and the charges were dropped.

"I was extremely surprised when I was charged because it was clear the shooting fell within the guidelines of my rules of engagement," Lynn said. "This is a war. It's not a police action."

Dirty Dancing in Iraq a Morale Boost, For Some

| Sun Aug. 27, 2006 7:22 PM EDT

Today the New York Times ran a piece on the Purrfect Angelz' third tour in Iraq, part of an ongoing effort to "keep up morale in a war that is more dangerous than ever." The scantily-clad dance group was invited back despite objections voiced by female troops when they toured last year.

"The show only appeals to men, and in my mind has the potential to increase sexual advances toward female soldiers afterward," said one female Air Force officer. "To me, if the military really cared about sexual harassment, they would not sponsor such a show."

Last week, Ann and I blogged about some bad news in this department, sexual harassment by military recruiters and a Citadel survey finding that 20 percent of female cadets report having been assaulted.

Fully one in six of the country's active duty military, Reserve and National Guard troops is a woman and more than 100,000 women have served in combat since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yes, the war is more dangerous than ever, so women shouldn't have to feel in danger amongst their peers. Having five erotic dancers perform for an evening certainly can't help an already volatile situation.