Political MoJo

Indian Bloggers Help Out

Wed Jul. 12, 2006 5:56 PM EDT

The response of Indian bloggers to the train bombing yesterday in Mumbai was truly touching. One site, Mumbai Help, offered to try to reach residents of the city on behalf of their relatives abroad, who could not get through the clogged phone system. Eventually, the site's 30-odd contributors were able to lay the fears of dozens of people to rest. A recent report in the Times of India said that nearly 86 percent of India's internet users regularly check blogs, creating an impressive potential for bloggers to help in times of crisis (although obviously no one hopes there will be more crises like this one).

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Zidane Not a Victim of Racism

| Wed Jul. 12, 2006 4:07 PM EDT

Appearing on French TV, Zinedine Zidane said Marco Materazzi insulted his mother and sister, and he denied speculation—fueled by international lip readers—that the Italian defender had called him a "terrorist." Good lesson in reserving judgment till the facts are in, eh Dave?

This, of course, makes Zidane's behavior even less explicable—insults against mothers being fairly standard, regrettably, wherever men gather to compete—and therefore even sadder. There's talk, now, of having him stripped of the Golden Ball Award, which is probably fair enough—though on the merits he certainly earned it. (Worth noting, too, that the guy is a genius and deserves to be remembered primarily as such.)

The Imperial Presidency, Part 587

| Wed Jul. 12, 2006 4:01 PM EDT

I'm trying to figure out what's scarier: The news that the Bush administration will likely disregard the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld and carry on with a domestic spying program that's now very clearly illegal, or… the fact that the Justice Department is apparently of the view that "The president is always right."

The Midwest Is a Dangerous Place

Wed Jul. 12, 2006 3:52 PM EDT

Where in the United States is most vulnerable to a terrorist attack? The federal antiterrorism database has an unexpected answer for you: Indiana. But of all the places Hoosiers might think to flee, Wisconsin should not be on the list. According to the database, the Cheese State is home to the second greatest number of potential terrorist targets of any state nationally.

Right… this is so strange, you just might want to read about it yourself—especially if you were contemplating a vacation to those well-known terrorist stomping grounds in the Midwest.

Putin: Cheney Shooting Self in Face; or Something Like That

| Wed Jul. 12, 2006 2:37 PM EDT

He may be a cold, steely authoritarian who increasingly has his country by the cojones and exhibits an odd penchant for "kittenish" boys, but Vladimir Putin appears to have a sense of humor. (AP)

Asked about Cheney's remarks [that Russia is increasingly undemocratic and is using its energy reserves as a weapon against its neighbors] Putin said, "I think the statements of your vice president of this sort are the same as an unsuccessful hunting shot."

Jokes aside, though, this is one more small indication that "U.S.-Russia relations are clearly headed in the wrong direction."

Halliburton: No Bid, No Dice

| Wed Jul. 12, 2006 2:18 PM EDT

About three years too late, the Army is dumping Halliburton Co., Dick Cheney's old company, as the provider of first, second, and third resort (no questions asked, no cost too high) provider of logistical support to U.S. troops worldwide. (Washington Post)

A reminder of why that arrangement, in effect since 2001, has proved less than ideal:

Under the deal, Halliburton had exclusive rights to provide the military with a wide range of work that included keeping soldiers around the world fed, sheltered and in communication with friends and family back home. Government audits turned up more than $1 billion in questionable costs. Whistle-blowers told how the company charged $45 per case of soda, double-billed on meals and allowed troops to bathe in contaminated water.

The Post reports that last year the Army paid Kellogg, Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary that performs this work, more than $7 billion under the contract, with $4-5 billion coming this year. An Army official says the company did a bang-up job and the decision reflects a desire not to have "'all our eggs in one basket' because multiple contractors will give them better prices, more accountability and greater protection if one contractor fails to perform." (It took them this long to figure that out?)

For more on Halliburton, see Ed Harriman's unsparing examination of the Iraq reconstruction boondoggle in the London Review of Books and Michael Scherer's look at the company's global reach in Mother Jones.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Geneva Conventions: More Bush PR

| Wed Jul. 12, 2006 12:41 PM EDT

WASHINGTON—Yesterday's embrace of the Geneva Conventions by the Pentagon isn't likely to change much of anything. But it can mean plenty of trouble for top Bush officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who had conveniently gone to Iraq to be with the troops.

That's because the Pentagon brass have speculated among themselves that adherence to Geneva could end up exposing top administration officials to war crimes charges.

There are a number of loopholes in the Pentagon announcement, which render it more of a PR exercise than anything else. "I'm really chuckling away reading all these headlines about how the adminstration's done an about face, an 180 degree turn, to which I say I'll believe it when I see it," said Scott Horton, professor of international law at Columbia University and an expert on human rights issues. A few loopholes:

*Even if the CIA is brought in under this ruling, it is unlikely the Agency will be prevented from sending prisoners to jails in other countries. The government can argue the US has no control over what happens to such prisoners.

*While the Supreme Court's decision symbolically gave all prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay the rights afforded to them by the Geneva Convention, it also leaves an opening for Congress to introduce new legislation and essentially reinstate the military tribunals that were just deemed unconstitutional. As the Washington Times reports, "Now it is up to Congress to create a judicial system that meets Geneva's requirement for a regularly constituted court system, but does not, in the Pentagon's view, give detainees all the rights afforded a criminal defendant in the U.S."

*According to White House Spokesman Tony Snow, about 100 of the 450 prisoners being held at Gitmo will now be able to return to their homelands, but there's a catch: many of these inmates, particularly those from Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, are enemies of their own governments and would undoubtedly be re-imprisoned or killed as soon as they set foot on their native soil. Our government might then be obligated to grant these "terrorists" political asylum in U.S.

Such a directive has apparently been under consideration for some time, but has met resistance at high levels of the Pentagon -- particularly by undersecretary of defense for intelligence Stephen Cambone and the Defense Department's general counsel William Haynes, who rejected the idea of establishing an official DOD policy to ensure that detainees were treated in accordance with Common Article Three. As described in an article by the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, though "military officers argued for returning the U.S. to what they called the high ground" during a Pentagon meeting held last year, Haynes and Cambone "argued that the articulated standard would limit America's 'flexibility.' It also might expose Administration officials to charges of war crimes: if Common Article Three became the standard for treatment, then it might become a crime to violate it. Their opposition was enough to scuttle the proposal."

--The staff of Mother Jones' Washington bureau

Could he be talking about Karl Rove?

| Wed Jul. 12, 2006 3:11 AM EDT

Fresh on the heels of revelations that he warned the Bush administration not to keep secret spying programs from Congress' intelligence committees, Rep. Peter Hoekstra is suggesting that terrorists, or their friends, are behind recent intelligence leaks. (Thanks to Laura Rozen.)

"More frequently than what we would like, we find out that the intelligence community has been penetrated, not necessarily by al Qaeda, but by other nations or organizations," Hoekstra tells Reuters. "I don't have any evidence. But from my perspective, when you have information that is leaked that is clearly helpful to our enemy, you cannot discount that possibility."

Of course the whole spy/counterspy scenario is real--but to assume that foreign spies are passing secrets to the media to undermine the war on terror... like the man said, "I don't have any evidence."

Next assignment: Enron

| Wed Jul. 12, 2006 2:54 AM EDT

Having failed to sort out the mess that is the Indian Trust Fund, the Department of the Interior has finally gotten rid of Judge Royce Lamberth, the source of such memorable pronouncements as:

"This Court need not sit supinely by waiting, hoping that the Department of Interior complies with the orders of this Court and the fiduciary obligations mandated by Congress.... To do so would be futile. I may have life tenure, but at the rate the Department of Interior is progressing that is not a long enough appointment."

More on the $176 billion mismanagement case here.

Setbacks For Gay Marriage Rights

Wed Jul. 12, 2006 1:38 AM EDT

A California appeals court heard arguments yesterday to determine the constitutionality of a state law defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman (Los Angeles Times). The arguments presented were pretty much what we're used to hearing by now: gay couples implored the court to uphold their right to happiness and equality (as promised to them by the constitution), while opponents offered their scroll of reasons why marriage plus gay equals certain decay.

California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer went as far as to say that the ban should remain intact since gays "already enjoy many of the rights of the married under the state's domestic partner law," but one member on the court's three-judge panel took a different view--that separate domestic partner law is, well, inherently unequal. We'll likely have to wait until October to see how this one pans out.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts' top court approved a proposed amendment defining marriage as a strictly hetero institution, thus paving the way for the state's legislature to get the amendment on the 2008 ballot.

Massachusetts is currently the only state that extends to same-sex couples the right to marry. All eyes will be on the constitutional convention this Wednesday where legislators will vote on the amendment (a quarter of the legislators will have to approve, and then do the same again next year, for the initiative to go on the ballot).