2007 - %3, February

Follow Up to the Rape of Sabrine

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 12:57 PM EST

Two days ago, Jim blogged about the rape of an Iraqi woman named Sabrine that was making headlines. Sabrine had the courage to go to Al Jazeera after she was assaulted by Iraqi security forces, and her story was so powerful it was hard to ignore.

Sheikh Ahmad Abdul Ghafoor al-Samaraei, who according to the New York Times is "the head of the Sunni Endowment, whose organization cares for Sunni mosques and shrines in Iraq," came forward after Sabrine's story went public and said that he knows of many cases of rape by Iraqi security forces. (Sabrine had been taken to a police facility on suspicion of helping Sunni insurgents, and was raped there.)

Prime Minister Maliki, a Shiite and widely considered to be in the pocket of the powerful Shiite militias that control parts of Baghdad, decided to go the strongman route: He fired Samaraei and had his office release a medical report indicating that there were no signs that Sabrine had been raped. The report has some nasty things to add: "We expected this fabricated propaganda... It seems that the success of the law enforcing plan was resented by some people because it foils some political calculations."

The United States has supported some disgusting characters in the past 50-100 years, but as a country we've always had some distance from the chaos and pain our goons created. Now we're getting a history lesson.

Update: Maliki has called the woman an imposter and a criminal and has made her name public. He is insisting that the officers accused of the rape be honored.

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Hillary the Hawk

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 11:38 AM EST

Out of the Hillary fog bank, comes a voice of reason in the form of Bob Scheer's Truthdig blog. He says what every politician knows: Hillary is the Democrats' stealth war candidate.

Let's face it: No matter how much many of us who oppose the war in Iraq would also love to elect a female president, Hillary Clinton is not a peace candidate. She is an unrepentant hawk, à la Joe Lieberman. She believed invading Iraq was a good idea, all available evidence to the contrary, and she has, once again, made it clear that she still does.
"If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast a vote [to authorize the war] or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from," she said in New Hampshire last week, confusing contempt for antiwar Americans — now a majority — with the courage of her indefensible conviction that she bears no responsibility for the humanitarian, economic and military disaster our occupation has wrought.

Read the whole thing here.

This election already is resembling 2004: Moneybags Hillary coming out of the Democratic Leadership Council, as the candidate of the middle class, i.e. status quo. Like Lieberman before her, Hillary is ranked against the so-called left. In 2004 the DLC gang saw Howard Dean as the commie slime. (Dean,of course, is a conservative doctor whose major left wing interest as Vermont governor was providiing children with health care.) But much to the chagrin of the rightwing Dems, Dean is still hanging around. He can be a real pain in the ass. As head of the Democratic National Committee, he knows where the bodies are buried in the Dem garbage dump.

Obama remains a curiosity in all this. The one person who actually might win the election for the Dems is John Edwards. He was a DLCer in 2004, but appears to have shaken off the deadly soccer mom image and is flirting with populist notions. Then there's Gore, who almost surely will get a pat on the back from Oscar for his climate movie and could turn out to be the Hollywood candidate. If that's the case, Gore will have money to fight Hillary.

Mother Jones Exclusive: How the Iraq War Inspired a Wave of Global Terrorism

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 9:30 PM EST
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The White House has long claimed that our presence in Iraq attracts terrorists who might otherwise attack American interests. This assertion has always seemed dubious, but in a new Mother Jones exclusive study, Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank put the "flypaper" theory firmly to rest. They've crunched the numbers and found that the Iraq War has, in fact, led to a significant increase in jihadist terrorism across the globe. Call it the "Iraq Effect." If you include Iraq and Afghanistan, terror attacks have increased 609% since the U.S. took Baghdad; take away Iraq and Afghanistan and the increase drops, but it's still a hefty 35%. Rather than eliminating terrorists, Bergen and Cruickshank explain, the war has energized terror groups and become a "catalyst for the increasing globalization of the jihadist cause." It's a sobering assessment of an overlooked consequence of the Iraq debacle.

The full study will be posted tonight at 10 PM Eastern/7 PM Pacific, when Bergen and Cruickshank will be appearing on Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN to discuss the Iraq Effect. Bergen will appear on C-Span's Washington Journal tomorrow morning at 9:15 AM Eastern/6:15 AM Pacific.

And stay tuned as we roll out more of our "Iraq 101" package tonight. It's loaded with info on everything you wanted to know about the war but were afraid to ask.

Hip-Hop On the Couch, PBS Tonight

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 8:48 PM EST

Don't miss Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a documentary on violence, sexism and homophobia in hip-hop, airing tonight on PBS. Including interviews with some big timers -- Mos Def, Fat Joe, Chuck D, Russell Simmons -- as well as a slew of hip-hop insiders and rap fans, the filmmaker goes there, and some balk (like Simmons and the head of BET).

Byron Hurt, a novice documentarian but veteran hip-hop head, calls out his fellow black men asking how the bravado that encourages guns, violence, sexual violence and homophobia is also the pride of the community. Rap artist Jadakiss asks in response, "Do you watch movies? What kind of movies do you watch?" pointing out that what sells in hip-hop is no different than what sells in Hollywood: sex and violence. In one scene Hurt asks some unknowns to rhyme for him and all they spit are lines about sex, drugs, killing. He calls them on it and one of them starts rhyming about poverty, and drugs in the community, then stops and says, "no one wants to hear that." And more to the point, no one can get a record deal rapping thusly.

Sexism? Just look at politics -- there's a clip of Schwarzenegger's "girly man" comment illustrating that hip hop is not misogyny's first, or only, rodeo. Homophobia, says Hurt and others, comes in part from the macho over-the-top display of physical dominance in hip-hop that means power, where powerful white men, like say Donald Trump, can hide behind the desk (and hair) and still have power.

Other scenes are set in Daytona Beach at BET's annual Spring Bling and show firsthand the sexism at play, and the disconnect between the music and message. Hurt talks with one white kid from suburbia whose blasting rap from his dad's truck. The guy says he's loved hip hop "since forever, the beginning," identifies with it, then in the next breath refers to Byron and black folks as "colored people." (Hurt calls him on it.)

Hurt is knee deep in this one, expressing his conflicted feelings about making the documentary, feeling such allegiance to the medium, hip-hop being part of him, but also wanting to ask the questions no one seems to be asking.

Indeed, there are lots of questions, for every level of the industry, really provocative stuff. And if you are a teacher, or an educator, or a provider of some kind who has an audience for the film Independent Lens is putting together an educational program to match, check it out here.

And for a steady stream of posts on music, films to watch, and general cultural commentary bookmark The Riff.

Hip-Hop On the Couch

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 7:59 PM EST

Don't miss Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a documentary on violence, sexism and homophobia in hip-hop, airing tonight on PBS. Including interviews with some big timers -- Mos Def, Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Russell Simmons -- as well as a slew of hip-hop insiders and rap fans, the filmmaker goes there, and some balk (like Simmons and the head of BET).
Byron Hurt, a novice documentarian but veteran hip-hop head, calls out his fellow black men asking how the bravado that encourages guns, violence, sexual violence and homophobia is also the pride of the community. Rap artist Jadakiss asks in response, "Do you watch movies? What kind of movies do you watch?" pointing out that what sells in hip hop is no different than what sells in Hollywood: sex and violence. In one scene Hurt asks some unknowns to rhyme for him and all they spit are lines about sex, drugs, killing. He calls them on it and one of them starts rhyming about poverty, and drugs in the community, then stops and says, "no one wants to hear that." And more to the point, no one can get a record deal rapping thusly.
Sexism? Just look at politics -- there's a clip of Schwarzenegger's "girly man" comment illustrating that hip hop is not misogyny's first, or only, rodeo. Homophobia, says Hurt and others, comes in part from the macho over-the-top display of physical dominance in hip-hop that means power, where powerful white men, like say Donald Trump, can hide behind the desk (and hair) and still have power.
Other scenes are set in Daytona Beach at BET's annual Spring Bling and show firsthand the sexism at play, and the disconnect between the music and message. Hurt talks with one white kid from suburbia whose blasting rap from his dad's truck. The guy says he's loved hip hop "since forever, the beginning," identifies with it, then in the next breath refers to Byron and black folks as "colored people." (Hurt calls him on it.)
Hurt is knee deep in this one, expressing his conflicted feelings about making the documentary, feeling such allegiance to the medium, hip-hop being part of him, but also wanting to ask the questions no one seems to be asking.
Indeed, there are lots of questions, for every level of the industry, really provocative stuff. And if you are a teacher, or an educator, or a provider of some kind who has an audience for the film Independent Lens is putting together an educational program to match. Find out more here.

This Just In: Gay Stereotype Possibly Misleading

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 4:26 PM EST

While there's much to love in the Sarah Silverman program (like this and this), I think my favorite characters are Steve and Brian, Sarah's "gigantic, orange and gay" neighbors. Played by writer Steve Agee and comedian Brian Posehn, the couple are a bit hefty, with scraggly facial hair and rumpled plaid shirts, and seem to love video games and, uh, farting, more than Cher and Madonna. This kind of portrayal of gays on television is indeed unusual, and one could argue the show is aiming for the simplest kind of comedy by using the least "gay" guys to play the gay guys; but oddly enough they end up being a pretty accurate portrayal of most of the queer dudes I know. Maybe this is just my bizarro world, but all my straight guy friends are hair-gelling, disco-dancing superfreaks, and my gay guy friends are shlubby geeks. (And I mean all that in the best possible way, guys). Are all the gay dudes just trying to act straight, and vice versa, until everything's backwards, or could the stereotypes be (shudder) wrong?

Just this weekend San Francisco welcomed the International Bear Rendezvous, an "annual gathering of bears and bear lovers." A bear, for the uninitiated, is, according to Wikipedia, a "male individual who possesses physical attributes much like a bear, such as a heavy build, abundant body hair, and commonly facial hair." My apartment happens to be situated on a street between two of the main host bars, and all weekend, buses pulled up and disgorged crowds (herds?) of large, hirsute men. And I'm not sure if this is related, but the distinct odor of garlic fries seemed to waft over the neighborhood as well. Do bears eat garlic fries? Anyway, as I walked up to the subway station Saturday night, I found myself assuming every bearded, baseball-cap-wearing, chubby guy I saw was heading for the bear festivities, until I realized: no, these are probably just, you know, Americans. Are Sarah Silverman and my neighborhood portents of a near future in which gay stereotypes are so mixed up nobody gives a damn any more, or are we just so deep in the subculture we can't see straight any more? Either way, I could really go for some garlic fries.

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Not So Fast Senator...I Was Wondering If We Could Discuss That War

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 4:10 PM EST

Via the New York Times' political blog, the Caucus, we find out this week's Congressional recess will surely not be a break from the Iraq war debate, or er... lack of debate. Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a multi-million dollar coalition, consisting of Moveon.org, the Center for American Progress, and other anti-war groups, doesn't plan to allow Congressmen and women to escape from this important issue for even a second. The group has put together 300 events across the country, "an exhaustive schedule of town-hall-style meetings and public appearances." The list of events has been sent to local supporters in hopes they will attend and "in an e-mail alert, the group also urged activists to 'pummel' lawmakers with phone calls." Happy Recess!

Towns Launch Cold War Over Who's More Inhospitable

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 2:21 PM EST

This week's crazy intellectual property showdown: International Falls, Minnesota, and Fraser, Colorado, are in a spat over who legally owns the title "Icebox of the Nation." Fraser reportedly gave IF permission to use the title, which it trademarked. But then IF let the trademark lapse, and Fraser has filed to get it back. Part of the reason the towns are claiming to be the most inhospitable place in the continental U.S.? It's a great marketing tool: Fraser renamed its main drag after the antifreeze company that gave residents a free supply one year, and Goodyear once provided snow tires for every car in town. This spat is reminiscent of the 13-year fight over the title "Surf City," one of many examples of IP overkill MJ collected last year. Can't they just settle this with a snowball fight?

I'm Already Bored of Republican Flip-Flop Coverage

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 2:12 PM EST

Right now, it's all ideological reversals, all the time:

McCain: "Which side am I on? As John McCain eyes the White House in '08, he is at war with himself over Bush's escalation in Iraq." Salon, Feb 20, 2007.

McCain: "Welcome to McCain's flip-flop express." Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb 18, 2007.

Romney: "The Talented Mr. Romney." Washington Post, Feb 20, 2007.

Romney: "Governor Romney, Meet Governor Romney." Newsweek, Feb 26, 2007 issue.

That's just stuff I found surfing the web today. If you have been paying attention, you'll have noticed coverage of Romney and McCain's flip-flops at this nefarious institution.

Late Update: It's two in two days for the WaPo editorial section! "Mitt Romney's Extreme Makeover" Washington Post, Feb 21, 2007.

John McCain (Consistently?) Against Abortion Rights

| Tue Feb. 20, 2007 12:13 PM EST

When John McCain made a campaign stop the other day and said "I do not support Roe vs. Wade. It should be overturned," I thought it was old news. MoJoBlog had already written about how McCain's new support for criminalizing abortion was at odds with his previous position and that the whole thing was a part of McCain's attempt to redraw his own image in a more conservative way.

But I want to draw your attention to this post on TAPPED, which makes the case that McCain's past moderate statements on abortion aside, he's always been pretty thoroughly a foe of a woman's right to chose. A snippet:

...it should be pointed out that his record is in fact fundamentally consistent: he's for it [criminalizing abortion]. He has a 0% NARAL rating. He's never met a federal abortion regulation he doesn't like. He voted for Robert Bork, which would have meant Roe being overturned 15 years ago. He favors a constitutional amendment banning abortion. It's true that he has said that he wouldn't want his daughter forced by the state to carry a pregnancy to term, but basically all American social conservatism comes with an implicit self-exemption for rich white people, and John McCain's daughter won't have a problem obtaining a safe abortion if Roe is overturned.

Fair enough.

Update: I missed this old blog post from Brad Plumer way back in the day. He made all these points a year ago, and added this salient note:

Look: In 2008 this country will elect a new president. Presumably sometime shortly thereafter the 86-year-old John Paul Stevens will retire from the Supreme Court. Replacing Stevens with a pro-life judge would provide the fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Do we really think that as president John McCain, a man who voted without hesitation to confirm Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito despite serving in a pro-choice state—and a man who, as president, would be under unimaginable pressure from conservative interest groups and would need to satisfy "the base" to win re-election—would really nominate a pro-choice justice?