2006 - %3, December

Pentagon Preparing "Show of Force" Against Iran; MoJo is All Over the Story

| Wed Dec. 20, 2006 1:28 PM EST

The AP is reporting that the Pentagon is considering "a major buildup of U.S. Navy forces in the Gulf as a show of force against Iran." While seemingly insane -- Thanks for suggesting diplomacy with these folks, Iraq Study Group. Now get out of town. -- this should come as no surprise to regular Mother Jones readers.

In July 2006, we published "Next We Take Tehran: The confrontation with Iran has very little to do with nukes—and a lot with the agenda of empire."

Also in July 2006, we published "Three Days in Rome: In which a neoconservative jack-of-all-trades, a pair of Pentagon hawks, and an Iranian exile with a knack for tall tales try to outflank the CIA and conjure a coup in Tehran."

In October 2006, we published "Meet the "Whack Iran" Lobby: Exiles peddling shaky intelligence, advocacy groups pressing for regime change, neocons bent on remaking the Middle East. Sound familiar?"

And also in October 2006, we published "Has Washington Found its Iranian Chalabi?: Introducing the talented Mr. Fakhravar."

So get educated! (Oh, and in a recent issue of Vanity Fair, Frank Gaffney, assistant secretary of defense under Reagan and president of the hawkish Center for Security Policy, which has close ties to the top levels of the Pentagon, said, "I would say that the likelihood of military action against Iran is 100 percent." So there you go.)

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Gen. John Abizaid, Who Opposes Sending More Troops to Iraq, to Retire

| Wed Dec. 20, 2006 12:56 PM EST

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There are two possible explanations for the impending retirement of Army General John Abizaid, who currently commands all U.S. troops in the Middle East.

The first is that Abizaid has led the fight in Iraq for three years and we've lost thousands of lives and moved backwards over that time (see graphic on left side at this link), to the point where, amazingly, the most stubborn-minded segments of American society are admitting we're not winning. Even in an administration where accountability doesn't exist, those responsible for failure sometimes leave on their own.

The second is that Abizaid opposes adding more troops to the war effort, saying publicly that it will exacerbate problems in country. Since Bush and the Pentagon are formulating plans to send more troops to Iraq, Abizaid may be receiving the boot out of respect or out of a desire to make the troop movement easier.

Who knows? Maybe Abizaid will write a book telling all, like his predecessor. All we do know is that he'll get a fancy award.

The Muslims Are Coming!--Rep. Goode Freaks Out

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 10:36 PM EST

Virgil Goode, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia, is concerned about immigration. "I fear," he said in a letter to his constituents, "that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt strict immigration policies."

Goode also made a reference to newly elected Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Muslim, and asked Americans to "wake up" or more Muslims will be elected to office. He warned:

I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.

Goode has proposed an amendment to the Constitution to make English the official language of the United States. Part of his reasoning is that if things continue to go as they are, language-wise, we could wind up like Canada.

My personal fear is that, in the next century, we will have many more Congressional bigots in the United States.

American Apparel Sells Out; Cashes In

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 6:34 PM EST

American Apparel, the cotton t-shirt, underwear, and socks company made famous by risqué ads and forward-thinking labor practices, will be sold to Endeavor Acquisition Corp, reportedly for $382.5 million. After the transition to new ownership, American Apparel founder and president Dov Charney, who freely admits to sleeping with employees and hiring girls on the spot in nightclubs, will continue to manage the company's 145 stores.

American Apparel is a rare business success story among a field of still-born garment firms sporting decent labor practices. Other high-minded startups, such as worker-owned cooperative Sweat-X, which drew venture capital from Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, have tried to upset the sweatshop model in recent years, to no avail. Sweat-X, for example, had to close their doors in 2004 after some bad luck and poor marketing, despite rules limiting compensation for managers at eight times the wages of those working the sewing machines. (See an interesting documentary called No Sweat for a comparison of the inner-workings of Sweat-X and American Apparel.)

If you have not been keeping tabs, American Apparel has a mixed social record at best. On the one hand, seamstresses are known to receive massages, low-cost health care plans, and free classes in English, but flamboyant owner Dov Charney has been criticized for hindering employee efforts to unionize and several employees have charged him with sexual harassment.

Indeed, sleazy owner-operator Charney seems to run the company as if it his own Bacchinalian bachelor pad: he personally photographs many of the company's young models in amateur-porn-like settings. He has given a vibrator to at least one female employee, has posted covers from Penthouse magazine on store walls, and famously masturbated while being interviewed by a reporter from Jane magazine. In photo shoots, Charney, not surprisingly, favors a fair share of crotch-shots. The recent sell-out is just the last of many signs that American Apparel is far more about satisfying the whims of its founder than making the garment industry more humane.

Whether one believes that Dov Charney has simply traded one form of the exploitation for another -- substituting his sexual reign for the tyranny of sweatshops -- American Apparel's legacy will be determined by Endeavor Acquisitions, which saw its stock shoot up 22 percent after announcing the buyout.

-- Jen Phillips and Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

In the Battle for the Public's Right to Know, ACLU Wins a Round

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 5:28 PM EST

Count one for the good guys. In the government's ongoing fight to control information in the public sphere, someone with the right combination of chutzpah, legal expertise, and media savvy finally got the government to back down in a stand off.

That "someone," of course, was the ACLU, who as of late has be enmeshed in a battle with federal prosecutors over a document detailing the Army's new internal regulations on photographing detainees. (The document is now available on the ACLU website and is relatively harmless.)

What's remarkable is that there is no national security justification for suppressing the document. It was a use of the legal apparatus by the government to quash unflattering news, which is pretty draconian. Of course, the ACLU has some boasting to do: "This was a legal stand-off with enormous implications for free speech and the public's right to know, and today the government blinked," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "The Bush Administration's attempt to suppress information using the grand jury process was truly chilling and is unprecedented in law and in our history as an organization. We could not be more pleased to have turned back the government from its strong-arm tactics."

This is part and parcel with the Bush Administration's fight with the press. "In this case," said Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment lawyer, "the ACLU's function is presslike" in that is acts as a government watchdog and delivers important information to the public. A while back, Mother Jones mentioned that the number of subpoenas that the Heart Co. has received of its lawyers has increased twentyfold over the last few years. Other examples of press suppression abound, which is why the United States tied for 53rd in the last Press Freedom Rankings.

Brownback: Judicial Activism A-OK When It Favors Austere Religious Values

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 4:45 PM EST

Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, was holding up a roster of 13 judicial nominees by refusing to vote on the appointment of Judge Janet Neff to a Federal District Court. Yesterday, he relented, agreeing to vote on the nomination.

Brownback was stonewalling, as it were, because he had learned that Neff had attended the (lesbian) commitment ceremony of a longtime neighbor's daughter. That's right, Neff was a guest at one same-sex ceremony. Brownback had graciously offered to move forward if only Neff would agree to recuse herself from all cases related to same-sex unions.

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Let's follow this to its illogical extreme. Any judicial nominee who has attended a party sponsored by Budweiser or Absolut must recuse him or herself from all cases related to the alcohol industry. Any nominee who has hugged a woman or in anyway offered support after an abortion must recuse him or herself from all cases related to Roe v. Wade. And so on.

In some cases, more judicial independence could be a good thing. But Brownback hasn't taken that position in the past. Indeed, he has supported appointees who had been outspoken opponents of abortion and same-sex marriage but claimed they would rule based on their legal expertise, rather than their personal opinions. Neff, who hasn't made any outspoken claims supporting or opposing same-sex marriage, has, however, said that her legal expertise would guide her through any decisions on the matter.

What's more, legal scholars have voiced widespread concern that Senator Brownback's request that Neff agree, as a condition of his vote, to handle cases in a certain way is unconstitutional.

When (metaphorically) confronted with a copy of the constitution, Brownback was unabashed. He indicated that he needed more reassurance from Judge Neff that her presence at the ceremony did not indicate insurmountable bias. Brownback would now like Neff to testify before the Senate about her neighbor's ceremony. Neff, and everyone else involved in the private commitment ceremony, are now essentially on trial.

Compare Brownback's single-handed delay of the Senate's confirmation process to the suits filed by Gov. Mitt Romney and Vote on Marriage claiming that the Massachusetts legislature violated their right to due process by tabling an anti-gay marriage amendment. It doesn't take long to see that their homophobia is making a perverse mockery of democracy.

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MoJo's Best of Books, Music, Television and Film, 2006

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 2:18 PM EST

Just in time for the holidays (and holiday shopping), Mother Jones presents our list of 2006 media favorites. We think you'll like these books, albums, shows, and movies; act fast, before the War on Christmas ruins the gift-giving season for everyone.

Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America. By Cynthia Carr. A photograph of a 1930 Indiana lynching is the central mystery and motivating force behind Our Town. As Carr tries to figure out what really happened on the night captured in the picture, she uncovers her own family's shameful history. One of the most fascinating and challenging explorations of race to arrive in a long time.
Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. By Simon Reynolds. Reynolds convincingly argues that '80s postpunk was the most fertile and influential musical period since the Summer of Love. Encompassing everything from Joy Division to Gang of Four to the Specials to Talking Heads to (gasp!) Human League—it's the perfect nostalgia trip for the perennial grad student who still rocks the stovepipe jeans.
The Discomfort Zone. By Jonathan Franzen. The novelist recounts his childhood fears ("spiders, insomnia, fish hooks, school dances, hardball, heights, bees, urinals, puberty, music teachers, dogs, the school cafeteria, censure, older teenagers, jellyfish, locker rooms, boomerangs, popular girls"), awkward adolescence, and adulthood struggle to become a wildly successful writer. Along the way, he discovers bird-watching, which becomes an obsession and his connection to environmentalism.
Pick a Bigger Weapon. The Coup. This Oakland rap duo has been around since the early '90s, but this album, its first in five years, is the most musically rich. Not that the group has smoothed down its political edge. (Sample lyrics: "War ain't about one land against the next/it's po' people dyin' so the rich cash checks.") And don't miss the catchy pre-apocalyptic slow jam, "BabyLetsHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethingCrazy."
The Information. Beck. Moving past Guero's cheesier, poppier tunes, Beck offers honest yet fresh melodies without sacrificing the succinct beats we've come to expect. And how can you resist an album that comes with D.I.Y. cover art and features the line, "Carry my heart like a soldier with a hand grenade"?
This Film Is Not Yet Rated. Director Kirby Dick goes on an undercover quest to expose the opacity and hypocrisy of the the folks who decide whether to slap a PG, R, or a distribution-killing NC-17 on our movies. For his trouble, he earned a NC-17, but don't let that scare you away.

For the full list, go here.

Family of Sen. Tim Johnson Expects Full Recovery

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 1:36 PM EST

News out of South Dakota, where the Argus Leader talks with recovering Senator Tim Johnson's son. To the block quotes!

[Said Brendan Johnson,] "From my conversations with the doctors and based on the progress he has been making, I feel very confident that he is going to be getting back to work sooner rather than later."
It was the first interview given by a Johnson family member since the senator was hospitalized Dec. 13 with stroke-like symptoms followed by brain surgery at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington.
At first, he says that might require someone driving his father to the Capitol and having some physical assistance until he gains his strength.
"But the encouraging thing from what we understand is that his mental functioning and his brain functioning -- so far, all the signs are that there is no reason to believe that he will have anything less than a full recovery," he said.

Science At Its Best & Worst

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 1:05 AM EST

A team of neuroscientists and engineers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, get paid to launch undergraduates on a scent trail in an open field, blindfolded, ears blocked, on their knees, following a track of chocolate essential oil. The results show that we can apparently sniff out the world better than previously believed, at least in pursuit of chocolate.

"Our sense of smell is less keen partly because we put less demand on it," says lead author Jess Porter. "But if people practice sniffing smells, they can get really good at it."

So we're more like dogs and rats than we know. But are they enough like us to make using them in medical research worthwhile? Check out this comparative analysis published at BMJ.com, a free open access online research journal. Researchers in Britain and Argentina conclude that at least half the animal studies they've examined are so flawed as to produce no data clinically relevant to human beings.

For a dose of science at its best, check out this new electric car design project inaugurated by a former BMW employee in Germany. Using the same cooperative open source movement that brought us the software Linux and the browser Firefox, Markus Merz, is asking anyone with a good idea to join the design team design for Oscar, named after the Open Source Car Project. Merz is hoping to attract designers and engineers to contribute ideas free of the restraints of secrecy, patents, or ownership. As reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

"The most effective tool you can have to get anything done is passion and creativity and that needs to be unleashed, and then it's much more powerful than money," says Lukas Neckerman, head of automotive business development at a financial services company in Munich.

Iraq: One Attack Every Ten Minutes

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 8:26 PM EST

In a sign of how difficult things are going to be for newly-installed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Pentagon report released today shows that attacks in Iraq over the last three months have been the highest recorded over the course of the war. Adds the New York Times, "While the majority of attacks were directed at American forces, most of the casualties were suffered by the Iraqi military and civilians."

As for the actual numbers, in the period of early August to early November, there were an average of 959 attacks (by insurgents, sectarian militias, etc.) every week against American and Iraqi targets. That's 137 a day; roughly six per hour and one every 10 minutes.

For detailed information on Iraqi civilian deaths, see Iraq Body Count, one of the best sources of data on the subject. And for a Mother Jones story about Iraq Body Count's strange saga, see "Dead Reckoning: Counting Iraq's Civilian Dead."