2007 - %3, July

The Return of the "Banana Wars"

| Fri Jul. 27, 2007 1:01 PM PDT

Yesterday, a federal jury in Alabama cleared Drummond, a Birmingham-based coal company, of all charges in a suit that alleged company executives had orchestrated the execution of three Colombian labor activists representing workers at Drummond's La Loma mine in that country's northern Cesar department. The lawsuit, brought by victims' families, invoked the rarely-used Alien Tort Claims Act (circa 1789; originally drafted to fight piracy), which, under certain conditions, allows foreign nationals to sue for damages in U.S. courts. The plaintiff's attorneys have said they will appeal.

The trial focused on the 2001 murders of three union leaders by Colombian paramilitaries. In March of that year, Valmore Locarno Rodriguez and Victor Hugo Orcasita Amaya—president and vice president of the Sintraminergetica union—were pulled from a bus shortly after leaving the mine. Locarno was immediately shot in the head, while Orcasita was beaten and kidnapped. His tortured body was found the next day. Later, in October, Locarno's replacement, Gustavo Soler, was also executed on his way home from work.

The suit alleged that executives with Drummond Ltd., the Colombian division of the privately-owned Drummond Co. Inc., paid Colombian paramilitaries to murder the union leaders, knowing full well that such executions are rarely investigated. Witnesses for the prosecution detailed how Drummond provided housing, food, and transportation for the paramilitaries, ostensibly for defense of the mine. In reality, claimed prosecutors, the relationship was much more sinister and involved Drummond's active engagement of the paramilitaries as contract killers. Defense attorneys—as well as a parade of senior executives from Drummond, who testified at the trial—responded that the charges were without foundation and claimed that Drummond maintains a strict policy against collaboration with paramilitaries.

While the victims' families file thier appeal, the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on human rights is planning to hold a hearing on Drummond's operations in Colombia. In addition, Colombian government investigators are continuing their inquiry into Drummond and the alleged shady dealings of several other U.S. multinationals, including Chiquita, Coca-Cola, Dole, and Del Monte.

Earlier this year, banana company Chiquita agreed to a $25 million fine after admitting that, since 1997, it had paid $1.7 million in protection money to the AUC, an umbrella organization for various Colombian paramilitaries. The payments continued even after the U.S. government designated the AUC as a terrorist organization.

More to follow in the days and weeks to come on the subject of Drummond, et. al, and their alleged dealings with Colombian paramilitaries...

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Say it Ain't So: Republicans Dodging the YouTube Debate?

| Fri Jul. 27, 2007 9:36 AM PDT

Uh oh. Maybe I was wrong.

Update: I like Josh Marshall's take on this: "If they can't face Youtube how can they defeat the terrorists?"

Was Pat Tillman Murdered?

| Fri Jul. 27, 2007 9:10 AM PDT

The AP is reporting new details about the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman, who was killed under suspicious circumstances in Afghanistan in 2004:

Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors - whose names were blacked out - said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.

Henry Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing in late April, nearly three years to the day that Tillman was gunned down in Afghanistan, examining how the military spun the circumstances of Tillman's death (the Pentagon originally claimed Tillman was killed by enemy fire during an ambush). Waxman is not letting the issue drop. He has scheduled a hearing next week that will zero in on what senior Pentagon officials knew about Tillman's death and when they knew it. Among those called to testify is former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. No word yet on whether Rummy will accept the invite, but check back here for coverage of the hearing.

Big Squid In California Waters

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 5:58 PM PDT

The Los Angeles Times and others are reporting on the "voracious" jumbo squid "invading" California waters and "preying" on local anchovy, hake and other commercial fish populations. . . .Hmm. Sound a little hysterical? Could anything actually be more voracious, invasive, or predatory than one of our very own? JULIA WHITTY

You compare. This:


Or this:

Beijing To Build Windmills For 2008 Olympics

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 5:22 PM PDT

Beijing has started work on 33 windmills to supply clean energy in time for the 2008 Olympic Games. Reuters reports the $76 million power stations, situated on the outskirts of Beijing, are expected to produce an estimated 100 million kilowatts of electricity a year to reduce the city's reliance on polluting coal-fired generators. The windmill project, which China claims to be the 10th largest in the world, would also cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least 10 million tons a year. . . So, how to harness the muscle power of those athletes with their Olympic-sized carbon footprints? JULIA WHITTY

Low Literacy Equals Early Death Sentence

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 4:44 PM PDT

Older people with poor health literacy have a 50 percent higher mortality rate over five years than people with adequate reading skills. Low health literacy is defined as the inability to read and comprehend basic materials like prescription bottles, appointment slips, and hospital forms, according to the study from Northwestern University. Low health literacy was the top predictor of mortality after smoking, surpassing income and years of education. Most of the mortality differential was due to higher rates of death from cardiovascular disease. "When patients can't read, they are not able to do the things necessary to stay healthy," said David Baker, M.D., lead author of the study. "They don't know how to take their medications correctly, they don't understand when to seek medical care, and they don't know how to care for their diseases." This is the likely reason they're much more likely to die. . . No Elder Left Behind, anyone? JULIA WHITTY

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Air Pollution Link To Clogged Arteries

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 4:23 PM PDT

New research shows that air pollution plays a role in atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. This in turn contributes to heart attacks and/or strokes, according to a study published in the open access journal Genome Biology. The fats that clog arteries apparently work in conjunction with air pollution particles to trigger the genes behind inflammation, which leads to increased lesions in the clogged arteries, and the potential for thrombi, and resultant heart attacks or strokes. . . Listen up Dick Cheney, master of the clot. Clean air is good for you. JULIA WHITTY

Badgers and Squirrels and Iran, Oh My!

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 1:48 PM PDT

TAPPED has a great post today summing up all the crazy animal-related foreign policy news of the past week. The lead items? Iran accusing the U.S. of using trained squirrels as spies, and the belief, widely held by the inhabitants of Basra in southern Iraq, that the British military has released man-eating badgers into the city.

The U.S. and the British have denied all squirrel- and badger-related activity (one Foreign Office official called the squirrel story "nuts"), but suspicions remain. From one of TAPPED's commentators, on a British spokesman's statement that "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.":

That's sort of a lawyerly non-denial denial, isn't it? Maybe the badgers eat women and children, but not men.

Good point. Reminiscent of the famed (and possibly fake) killer dolphins set loose by Katrina.

— Nick Baumann

Galifianakis Explains "Alternate" Kanye Video

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 1:03 PM PDT

mojo-photo-galifianakis.jpg

This week Kanye West posted on his website an "alternate" video for his new song "Can't Tell Me Nothin'," featuring comedian Zach Galifianakis (right) and musician Will Oldham as a pair of rural yokels, carousing on tractors and accurately lip-synching to Kanye's lyrics.

Watch it here.

The world responded with a collective "WTF?!"

Today Galifinakis talked to MTV News about what inspired the clip, saying basically that he and Oldham were "drunk in my basement:"

"Kanye's trainer, Harley Pasternak, is a friend of mine, and he showed Kanye some of my videos. Then Kanye came to a stand-up show of mine and asked me afterwards if I would produce and perform a video for him," Galifianakis told MTV News. "I was flying to my farm in North Carolina the next morning [and] I told him that if I could shoot it there, then I would do it. There was no audition. I did whatever I wanted. He told me to just do what I thought would work. … [The song has] lots of words that are quite fast. Plus, my horrible dancing throws off the rhythm inside my head."

Question: Zach Galifianakis has a farm, with tractors just ready to go? Does that make him a comedian who farms, or a farmer who tells jokes?

Political Trivia for July 26

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 10:37 AM PDT

Today's question comes (again) courtesy of cqpolitics.com, and it's a tough one:

How many years after the historic Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960 was the next debate between the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees?

No googling, just guessing. If you have a trivia question to suggest, email it to mojotrivia@gmail.com.

Update: As two commenters correctly guessed, it was 16 years later, in 1976.

— Nick Baumann