Blogs

US Authorities Just Indicted a Bunch of FIFA Officials on Corruption Charges

| Wed May 27, 2015 12:28 AM EDT

Swiss authorities just arrested officials from FIFA on American corruption charges.

As leaders of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, gathered for their annual meeting, Swiss law enforcement officials arrived unannounced at the Baur au Lac hotel, an elegant five-star property with views of the Alps and Lake Zurich. The arrests were made at the request of the United States Justice Department, which brought charges in the Eastern District of New York, based in Brooklyn, according to law enforcement officials.

Prosecutors planned to unseal an indictment soon against more than 10 officials, not all of whom are in Zurich, three law enforcement officials said. The charges include wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering.

USA! USA! Switzerland, also! USA!

Anyway, Twitter is going nuts right now with news that America finally beat the world at soccer (which is what they have to call it now by the way).

This tweet perfectly sums up the response to this news:

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The Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Seems Like A Real Peach

| Wed May 27, 2015 12:05 AM EDT

OMG Look At These Adorable Baby Bears Boxing Each Other. I Want To Hug Them Forever.

| Tue May 26, 2015 6:53 PM EDT

The Department of the Interior just tweeted this Vine and it is so cute that I want to die. I am dead. I am blogging from the afterlife.

Goodnight and good luck.

Qatar Is Treating Its World Cup Workers Like Slaves: Nepal Earthquake Edition

| Tue May 26, 2015 5:39 PM EDT
FIFA President Sepp Blatter

We're still seven years away from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but it seems like the event has been buried under bad news for a decade: everything from allegations of bribery and corruption to terrible human rights violations. And it doesn't look like it's getting better anytime soon.

The latest in a string of embarrassments? Qatar's reported refusal to grant bereavement leave to the roughly 400,000 migrant workers from Nepal building stadiums for the World Cup following the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 8,000 countrymen. As a result, many Nepali workers instead must mourn from construction sites in Qatar.

"Those on World Cup construction sites are not being allowed to leave because of the pressure to complete projects on time," Nepal's labor minister told the Guardian.

On Saturday, the Guardian reported that the Nepali government called on FIFA and its sponsors to compel Qatar to grant a short-term leave for Nepali migrant workers and improve conditions for the 1.5 million workers from throughout South Asia. But the Persian Gulf state rebuffed that request, Nepali labor minister Tek Bahadur Gurung told the Guardian: "Those on World Cup construction sites are not being allowed to leave because of the pressure to complete projects on time."

Qatari officials challenged that claim, noting that the nation had granted temporary leave to more than 500 Nepali workers. That's roughly 0.1 percent of the Nepali migrant workers on the stadium construction project.

The latest Guardian report adds to the mounting criticism from human rights organizations, corporate sponsors, and foreign officials on Qatar's World Cup preparations. A 2013 Guardian investigation estimated that at least 4,000 migrant workers, who face dire working and living conditions and meager pay, will die before kickoff in 2022. Squalid conditions already have led to more than 1,200 worker deaths since Qatar won its 2010 bid to host the World Cup, including at least 157 Nepali workers in 2014. (Nepali workers have died at a rate of one every two days.)

Despite calls to move the event to another host country, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has guaranteed that the 2022 World Cup will take place as scheduled. In fact, Qatari labor minister Abudullah bin Saleh al-Khulaifi said in May the nation would need more workers to complete the $220 billion stadium and infrastructure construction projects by 2022.

Meanwhile, the 2018 World Cup in Russia isn't exactly shaping up to be a model event, either: On Monday, Russian officials announced plans to transport prisoners from camps to work at factories in an effort to drive down the World Cup's cost.

Judges Are Just Extensions of Political Parties These Days

| Tue May 26, 2015 5:33 PM EDT

From a post by Dara Lind about a court ruling on President Obama's immigration plan:

The two Republican-appointed judges hearing the case sided against the administration, while the Democratic-appointed judge on the panel sided with the White House.

How many times have we read sentences exactly like this? It's a wonder that anyone in the country still believes that federal judges are honest brokers these days.

Bernie Sanders Has the Most Glorious 404 Error Page Ever

| Tue May 26, 2015 4:38 PM EDT

Think you've landed on the wrong page of Bernie Sanders' campaign site? Fear not. In order to help guide you back to the page you were trying to reach, Sanders, who just announced his presidential bid, created the most terrific error page of any 2016 candidate. Just take a look:

Follow his directions: "Just scoot down to the bottom of the page and you'll find your way back home to where you should be!" The site is further enhanced by the perfect URL: berniesanders.com/wtf.

Bravo, Bernie. The broken links may have turned into your first big win.

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Remembering Powerhouse Photographer Mary Ellen Mark

| Tue May 26, 2015 4:33 PM EDT
Photographer Mary Ellen Mark in 2013.

I found out about the death of photographer Mary Ellen Mark the way we learn about the passing of anyone these days—Facebook. My feed is currently flooded with condolences, remembrances, and laminations for Mark, who died yesterday at age 75.

Mark was a powerhouse photographer, a true legend. Her early '80s project on homeless youth, Streetwise, remains a canon of documentary photography. In the late '80s and '90s, Mark's work graced the pages of Mother Jones numerous times. Art Director Kerry Tremain made great use of her, both picking up archival images and making assignments such as portraits of journalist I.F. Stone and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

Mark's work was also featured early in the Mother Jones Fine Prints and Portfolios program, which led to the creation of the Mother Jones Documentary Photo Fund. Her print was part of the New York Portfolio I, alongside other heavy hitters like Nan Goldin, Duane Michaels, Ralph Gibson, and Inge Morath. (Sorry, we no longer have any of the print portfolios.)

No doubt there will be many eulogies and recollections of Mark and the impact she made on photography, particularly on social documentary photography, the kind of photography that's been our bread and butter here.

Though it's a just a shallow slice of her deep legacy, here's a collection of some of Mark's work for Mother Jones.

I.F. Stone, September 1989

 

Russell Simmons, November 2003

 

Mother Jones 15th anniversary issue, 1991
 

 

Story on Ms. magazine, November 1990

 

Story on Ms. magazine, November 1990

 

Jessica Mitford and Maya Angelou, November 1992

 

"Hollywood's Washington" cover, January 1991

 

And here's a short piece that Leica produced on Mark:

This Is the Unprecedented New Law France Just Passed to Eliminate Supermarket Waste

| Tue May 26, 2015 2:39 PM EDT

On Thursday, France's parliament unanimously approved a new law prohibiting large supermarkets from throwing out unsold food, instead mandating stores donate any surplus groceries to charities or for animal feed use.

The law, which aims to reduce waste in a country where people trash up to 30 kilos of food per person annually, is part of a more general energy and  environmental bill.

"There's an absolute urgency—charities are desperate for food," MP Yves Jégo said. "The most moving part of this law is that it opens us up to others who are suffering."

The new regulations will also ban the common practice of intentionally destroying unsold food by bleaching it—a process meant to prevent people from searching for food in dumpsters, which has lead to lawsuits after people became sick from eating spoiled food.

Now, the local politician who sparked the law's creation is hoping other countries will adopt similar bans on supermarket waste. Arash Derambarsh, who slammed such bleaching practices as "scandalous" to the Guardian, will take his campaign to a United Nations' summit discussing ways to end poverty this November.

In the United States, nearly half of all food goes uneaten and sent to landfills.

How Many US Troops Will Be In Iraq By the Time Obama Leaves Office?

| Tue May 26, 2015 1:10 PM EDT

Over the past few days I've been trying to catch up with the fall of Ramadi and what it means for the war against ISIS. But it's not easy figuring out what really happened.

According to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Ramadi was yet another debacle for the Iraqi military: "What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered; in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves."

The inevitable Kenneth Pollack, however, says that just isn't the case:

I think it important to start by putting the fall of Ramadi in its proper perspective. Da’ish [ISIS] forces have been battling for Ramadi since December 2013, so while the denouement may have come somewhat suddenly and unexpectedly, this is not a new front in the war and it ultimately took Da’ish a very long time to take the city. Although Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) did eventually retreat from the town and abandoned at least some heavy weapons doing so, most reports indicate they fell back to defensive positions outside the town. They did not simply drop their guns and run pell-mell, as many did in June 2014.

So what does Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi think? He's certain that Carter was fed bad information. Iraqi troops, he says, are just fine: "They have the will to fight, but when they are faced with an onslaught by [the Islamic State] from nowhere . . . with armored trucks packed with explosives — the effect of them is like a small nuclear bomb — it gives a very, very bad effect on our forces,” he said.

Contra Pollack, then, Abadi thinks ISIS did indeed come "from nowhere." Also, he wants us to know that his troops have the will to fight, but not when facing an enemy that uses actual weapons. Or something.

Beyond this, all the usual suspects blame the whole thing on President Obama and his usual weak-kneed reluctance to support our friends overseas. Unfortunately, that matters, regardless of whether or not it's just reflexive partisan nonsense. When it's loud enough and persistent enough, it starts to congeal into conventional wisdom. And if conventional wisdom says that things aren't going well in the war against ISIS, then the pressure to do something ratchets up steadily—and not just from the usual suspects. The pressure also comes in more reasonable form from sympathetic critics. For example here, from Doyle McManus of the LA Times, and here, from Pollack himself.

Zack Beauchamp thinks this friendly criticism matters a lot. Here he is responding to Pollack's piece:

First, Pollack is right on certain points. For example, the US campaign to equip some Sunni fighters hasn't panned out very well....Second, critics like Pollack are going to jack up the pressure on the administration to put American troops in harm's way. Pollack wants Obama to put American forces on the front lines to more accurately call in US airstrikes. He blames the administration's insistence "that not a single American be killed in this fight" for why this hasn't happened.

It's true that the administration has strongly resisted putting American troops in combat positions. That's because they're trying very hard to avoid slouching toward another Iraq war, with a large and growing US combat force that very well might do more harm than good. No combat troops is a red line designed to prevent that escalation.

....The foreign policy consensus in Washington is relatively hawkish, so problems with US interventions tend to be seen as problems resulting from not using enough force or committing enough resources. The more the elite consensus shifts against Obama, the more political pressure to escalate will mount. Obama probably will resist it, but the costs of doing so are going up — as Pollack's piece demonstrates.

So now I feel like I've caught up a bit on this. And it hardly matters. It's the same old stuff. On the surface, everyone agrees that this is an Iraqi fight and Iraqis need to fight it. But of course our training of Iraqi troops is woefully inadequate—something that should come as no surprise to anyone who remembers that a decade wasn't long enough to train Iraqi troops back when George Bush was running things. If Obama could make it happen within a few months, he really would be a miracle worker.

But if our training mission isn't working, the alternative is wearily obvious: more American boots on the ground—which is to say, on the front lines. And again, this comes as no surprise. Anyone who was paying attention knew that Obama's lightweight training-first strategy was likely to take years. We also knew that virtually no one in Washington has that kind of patience. Six months is the usual limit. So even among centrists and moderate hawks, pressure is going to grow to adopt a more aggressive strategy. And that means more Americans fighting on the front lines. And when that isn't enough, even more Americans.

Can Obama resist this pressure? If anyone can, it would be him. But I'm not sure that even he can hold out for too long.

Sen. Lindsey Graham: Iranians in Pool Halls Are All Liars

| Tue May 26, 2015 11:20 AM EDT

Lindsey Graham is the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the US Senate. Here he is, slipping into his Mr. Hyde role:

Senator Lindsey Graham, the first speaker Friday morning, appearing from Washington via video, spoke of losing his parents as a teenager, working in a pool hall and having to help raise his younger sister — and how it relates to his leadership style.

"Everything I learned about Iranians I learned working in the pool room," he said. "I met a lot of liars, and I know the Iranians are lying."

Well, there you have it. It's not entirely clear to me how you'd become so adept at spotting liars in an open game like pool, but I guess ol' Lindsey managed it.

In any case, this is certainly the level of nuance and understanding of world affairs that we're getting accustomed to from the Republican presidential field—and it's only May. By the time, say, September rolls around, they're going to be competing with each other the same way they did four years ago over border security. It won't be long before we start hearing about nukes, giant domes, and Iron Curtain 2.0. Should be lotsa fun.

UPDATE: The BBC has corrected its Lindsey quote. He didn't say "I know the Iranians are liars." He said, "I know the Iranians are lying." I've corrected the text.