2007 - %3, January

What Exactly is Going on in Somalia?

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 3:38 PM EST

A nice article by Matt Yglesias released today over at the American Prospect online, mainly hinging on the fact that with this Somalia business, "nobody can quite explain what it is we've accomplished, what we hoped to accomplish, or what we think we may in the future accomplish by doing this."

To review, news reports began reaching the United States around Christmas time indicating that Ethiopia had invaded its neighbor, possibly acting on its own and possibly acting at the behest of Somalia's extremely weak and internationally-"supported" government, in an attempt to break the power of Islamist rebels. "Rebels" was the term used by most of the media, but in truth, as Matt explains, the Islamic Courts Movement ruled much of the country and was the first non-warlord form of governance in Somalia since the last legitimate government fell apart over a decade ago.

Then reports came in saying that the United States had launched a rocket attack on Somalia in an attempt to kill a handful of suspected al Qaeda operatives. These reports were quickly followed by the news that no al Qaeda terrorists were actually killed and that the United States had assisted Ethiopia with ground troops.

Yglesias ponders the role of Lieutenant General William Boykin in this confusing turn of events. Boykin is a "mastermind of secret American special forces operations against suspected terrorists" and a Christian zealot, and was strangely fired shortly after the Somalia situation intensified. But that sort of speculation could be completely off-base: the real intrigue here is that no one has any idea what's going on. Here's Matt:

Boykin is, in short, exactly the sort of person who might think a Christmas-week invasion of Muslim Somalia by Christian Ethiopia backed by American special forces was a peachy idea whether or not it actually made sense on normal counterterrorism grounds. Maybe he just ordered this up while everyone was on vacation, only to get sacked as soon as his boss got back to work at the Pentagon. Or maybe Bush and his whole administration were on board after all. Nobody real knows.
And more to the point, nobody in Washington is talking about what we've actually done and why. Troops sent into Somalia to follow up on the AC-130 strike told The Washington Post that "no one can confirm a high-value target" was present at the scene. They did, however, find documents indicating that Aden Ayrow, not an al-Qaeda figure but a commander in the ICU military, had been there. The strike looks, in short, as if it was simply undertaken in support of Ethiopia's military adventure. Mogadishu is descending into chaos, with gun battles on the streets and predictable popular anger at the foreign invaders, their foreign backers (i.e., us), and their domestic puppets in the de jure government. An untold number of people have already been killed in the fighting, and many more are likely to die if Somalia devolves again into civil war, a situation that will only make the country more hospitable to al-Qaeda.

The emphasis above is mine. The fact that, in the end, this may be a case of nothing more than getting a regional power to do our dirty work dovetails nicely with something Peter Beinart wrote in TIME recently:

The Bush Administration has begun cribbing from a very different doctrine: Richard Nixon's. The Nixon Doctrine is the foreign policy equivalent of outsourcing. Nixon unveiled it in 1969 to a nation wearied by Vietnam. No longer would Americans man the front lines against global communism. In Vietnam, we would turn the fighting over to Saigon. In the Persian Gulf, we would build up Iran to check Soviet expansion. America would no longer be a global cop; it would be a global benefactor, quartermaster and coach--helping allies contain communism on their own.
Now President Bush is trying something similar. For much of 2006, Administration officials fretted about Somalia, where some of the ruling Islamists had terrorist ties. Next door in Djibouti, America stations around 1,000 troops. But instead of sending them in, we turned to Ethiopia, Somalia's neighbor and longtime rival. When the Ethiopian military rolled into Mogadishu and sent the Islamists fleeing last week, the Bush Administration kept a low profile, applauding the invasion and thanking its lucky stars that it was Ethiopia that launched it, not us.
It's becoming a familiar story. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has handed over much of the anti-Taliban fight to NATO. On North Korea, America works largely through China. On Darfur, we have banked on peacekeepers from the African Union. This past summer the Bush Administration briefly put Israel in charge of our Iran policy, supporting Jerusalem's war against Hizballah in hopes of crippling Tehran's powerful Lebanese ally.

The problem is obvious, and it's the same as when Nixon was in power. With Nixon's support of Iran, Beinart notes, the Shah got heady and cracked down on all political dissent. With time, he established a dictatorship that routinely violated human rights. Following him, of course, were the ayatollahs and the Iran we currently deal with today. In short, your proxies can do any old thing after you've gifted them support, arms, and legitimacy, and are not trustworthy agents of a properly conducted foreign policy.

By the way, this is not helping our image abroad. The African media is already calling Somalia "Bush's Fourth War Against the Muslims."

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Sen. Allard (R-Co.) Not Running for Re-Election in 2008, Senate Gets Crazier

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 1:22 PM EST

The Republicans' bid to reclaim the Senate in 2008 got harder Monday, when Colorado Senator Wayne Allard announced he will make good on a self-imposed term limit of twelve years and not seek reelection.

This is good news for Democrats, who have made recent gains in Colorado, winning the governor's office, two House districts and a Senate seat in the last four years. Further optimism comes from the presence of two strong potential candidates. From the Rocky Mountain News:

Rep. Mark Udall, of Eldorado Springs, has about $1.3 million in a congressional committee campaign fund that he could transfer to a Senate run, although he says he has not made a final decision.
Another Democrat, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, often is mentioned for statewide races. But he downplayed that talk on Monday, citing the need to continue working on city issues such as homelessness and Denver's role hosting the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Allard is described by allies as a "work horse" not a "show horse," with "down-home appeal" and an "affable" nature. He is an "underestimated" politician. Talking about damning with faint praise. I wonder what his critics say about him.

Oh, wait. TIME magazine, April 14, 2006. "The Five Worst Senators. Wayne Allard: The Invisible Man."

Obama to Form Exploratory Committee

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 12:51 PM EST

Because it's our job to tell you these things, Barack Obama has posted a video on his website declaring his decision.... to form a presidential exploratory committee.

Obama says that what concerns him most about the current atmosphere in America is the "smallness of our politics." He continues, "Today, our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common-sense way. Politics has become so bitter and partisan and gummed up by money and influence that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions, and that's what we have to change."

To bring the field up to date, former VP candidate and senator from North Carolina John Edwards has declared his candidacy, as have Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. Senators Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut have also said they will seek the nomination.

Other Democrats mentioned as possible candidates include John Kerry, Al Gore, New Mexico Gov. and former ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson, retired Army General Wesley Clark, and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Oh, and Hillary.

Ohio Wal-Mart Refuses Couple's Request For Over-the-Counter Pregnancy Prevention Pill

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 12:41 PM EST

For the past few years, American pharmacists, clearly in violation of their own code of ethics, have been refusing to fill prescriptions for reproductive health items. The result has led to inconvenience, and--in some cases--pregnancy.

Now, a pharmacist and store manager at a Wal-Mart in Columbus, Ohio have taken the battle a step farther, refusing to sell an over-the-counter product. Tashina Byrd and her partner went to a Wal-Mart to buy
Plan B, and the pharmacist behind the counter just "shook his head and laughed."

Plan B, though an over-the-counter drug, is still stocked behind the pharmacy counter because a prescription is needed for females under the age of eighteen. The Wal-Mart pharmacist said that "I do not believe in ending life, and life begins at conception." The store manager told the couple that "The pharmacist has the law on his side."

Byrd has contacted Ohio governor Ted Strickland, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Wal-Mart Watch about the incident.

34,452 Iraqi Civilians Killed in 2006, Three Times Previous Estimates

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 8:39 AM EST

The U.N. envoy to Iraq has revealed that the correct number of Iraqi civilians killed in 2006 is 34,452.

The figure is nearly three times higher than calculations previously made on the basis of Iraqi interior ministry statistics for 2006.
Accurate figures are difficult to acquire, and previous UN estimates have been rejected outright by Baghdad.
Mr Magazzeni said his figures were compiled from data collected by the Health Ministry, hospitals, mortuaries and other agencies.

It should be no surprise that the Iraqi interior ministry apparently underreports civilian deaths in a substanial way -- after all, the Iraqi interior ministry has been accused of being one huge Shiite hit squad, responsible for much of the death ongoing in Baghdad, and they work for and are funded by the Americans, who have been revealed time and again to skew the Iraqi death count.

The Bush administration routinely has underreported the level of violence in Iraq in order to disguise its policy failings, the Iraq Study Group report said Wednesday.
On page 94 of its report, the Iraq Study Group found that there had been "significant under-reporting of the violence in Iraq." The reason, the group said, was because the tracking system was designed in a way that minimized the deaths of Iraqis.
"The standard for recording attacks acts a filter to keep events out of reports and databases," the report said. "A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count."

Mother Jones has reported on the Iraqi civilian death count multiple times. In mid 2006, Adam Shemper wrote about Iraq Body Count, the only nonprofit bothering to come up with a realistic guess as to how many civilian Iraqis have been killed in the war.

"It's a bit like the movie Groundhog Day," he said, his voice weary. "It just keeps repeating over and over and over. There might be new governments, new parliaments, new democracy in Iraq, but the violence just continues." Three years ago, Dardagan, now 45, quit his job teaching computing and dedicated his nights and weekends to sifting through reports from more than 150 news sources, from Fox News to Al Jazeera, trying to determine how many innocent Iraqis were dying in the American invasion of Iraq and its aftermath. By his most current count, more than 37,000 Iraqi civilians have died since March 2003.
This tally is updated daily on his website, Iraqbodycount.net, which Dardagan cofounded and runs with a team of 16 volunteers. The site, also known as IBC, has been the only consistent record of the war's human toll, making it the go-to source for reporters, activists, and even the Bush administration.
...
The Pentagon does keep a tally of Iraqi civilian casualties based on combat reports, but these figures are incomplete and are not immediately accessible. "We say the only reliable source is the Iraqi Ministry of Health," Major Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman, told Mother Jones. But the ministry stopped readily providing journalists with numbers in the summer of 2004 as civilian casualties started to rise, and it was recently accused of suppressing the numbers of victims executed by Shiite militias. There have been more than a dozen independent surveys of civilian casualties, including a 2004 report in The Lancet that concluded 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed, but IBC remains the most-cited source for casualty numbers.

Additionally, in 2005, Judith Coburn, writing for Tom Engelhardt, discussed the how, when, and why of body count reporting and underreporting.

MoJo Authors Whitty and Ehrenreich Speak!

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 2:06 AM EST

If you live in San Fran, we have some great back-to-back events to alert you to. Contributing writer Julia Whitty—author of many of our great recent environmetal pieces (here, here, and here)—is speaking about global warming tipping points at the World Affairs Council on the evening of Tuesday the 17th (details here). And our long-time contributor/goddess, Barbara Ehrenreich, is speaking at the Commonwealth Club the next day and at the Herbst Theater on behalf of City Arts & Lectures that same evening.

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L'Oreal Slips Through Golden Globe Swag Loophole?

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 12:09 AM EST

Elizabeth reports below that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (known only for producing the Golden Globes) have, thanks to IRS pressure, eschewed handing out ridiculously lush goodie bags to celebrities earning multi millions at a ceremony designed to up their status and therefore their earnings.

Who's gonna tell Vanity Fair? In the January issue, the FanFair section (which seems designed to get its editors swag aplenty) reports:

The Kwiat Diamonds [their boldface] compact for L'Oreal Paris [ditto], valued at $10,000, will be included in all Golden Globe nominees gift bags. Kwiat's design was inspired by Old Hollywood glamour, complete with a "red carpet" ruby embedded in the clasp. A less expensive version in rhinestones, which benefits the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, is now available.

Ugh, especially love the treachly pinkwashing justification. L'Oreal, btw, is a regular advertiser in Vanity Fair and the sponsor of the Golden Globes — their once-a-break ads star folks like nine-time nominee, two-time winner Diane Keaton. Hey, now that's synergy! (And Heather Locklear, six [!!!] nominations, which is kinda all you gotta say about the Golden Globes.)

Here at Mother Jones, there's not nearly enough swag. Sometimes we get free Clif Bars. I thought for a moment that TerraPass had sent me some swag (free fluorescent lightbulbs!), but then I realized: it was my Mom.

(You can read about other perks of privilege here.)

MLK Jr's Estate Charges Academics $50 Per Sentence to Reprint "I Have a Dream" Speech

| Mon Jan. 15, 2007 1:59 PM EST

That's one of the more outrageous examples of "Intellectual Property Run Amok" that I put together last year. (Source: McLeod, Kembrew. Freedom of Expression®: Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity, Doubleday: 2005.)

THE CLASSIC civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize can't be aired or sold because much of its archival footage is copyrighted. (This has since been resolved, read letter to that effect here.)

AFTER ROSA PARKS sued OutKast for using her name as a song title, the group and their label settled by paying for a Parks tribute CD and TV special.

THE VILLAGE PEOPLE refused to let their songs be used for a documentary called Gay Sex in the '70s because they want to be thought of as "mainstream."

Not all the examples are related to Civil Rights, but they're all loony. Read the whole thing here. Sources here.

Dobson: "I Would Not Vote for John McCain Under Any Circumstances"

| Mon Jan. 15, 2007 1:56 PM EST

Bad news for John McCain. His very high profile attempts to make nice with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have not quieted the ire of James Dobson.

Dobson, who is not allowed to pass judgment on political candidates in his capacity as the head of a non-profit ministry, instead passes judgment as a private individual. Thus, we get sentences from a new article that include, "Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances," and "Well, let me say that I am not in the office. I'm in the little condo so I can speak for myself and not for Focus on the Family... [but] I pray that we won't get stuck with him."

Does Dobson know that as America's most prominent evangelical leader, his thinking on politics is respected and sought out by thousands, maybe millions, of evangelical Christians? Of course. Is it legal for him to do this sort of wink-wink political punditry? Kind of, yeah. We addressed all this and more in our 2005 special issue called "God and Country: Where the Christian Right is Leading Us."

This all has to do with John McCain's former support of gay unions and abortion rights, and statements during the 2000 campaign that the leaders of the religious right are bad for America. Not easily undone, it seems.

(Hat Tip, AMERICAblog)

Update: For Dobson's place in the evangelical universe, see this nifty spread.

Hagel and Lieberman: Just Switch Parties Already

| Mon Jan. 15, 2007 1:48 PM EST

The war in Iraq's unexpected consequence at home: the complete blurring of the line between Republicans and Democrats.