2008 - %3, February

The Military-Scholastic Complex

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 9:17 PM EST

peace%20corps.gif There's a lot of disquiet on the Internet these days concerning the relationship between the Peace Corps and United States intelligence agencies. The issue has found new legs in the wake of recent claims that Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar were asked by a United States Embassy official in Bolivia "to basically spy" on Venezuelans and Cubans working in Bolivia. In an interview last week with ABC News, Fulbright scholar John Alexander van Schaick said that he was told by Assistant Regional Security Officer Vincent Cooper "to provide the names, addresses, and activities of any Venezuelan or Cuban doctors or field workers I come across during my time here." Cooper had made a similar request to a group of 30 Peace Corps volunteers and students.

For soliciting Peace Corps members' and Fulbright scholars' assistance, Cooper has paid a price. Bolivian President Evo Morales has now declared him an "undesirable" person whose actions amount to an "attack" on Bolivia, and he has already been recalled to Washington D.C. As CrooksandLiars points out, just today, in a groundbreaking move, Bolivia filed espionage charges against Cooper. Cooper should have foreseen the firestorm that would likely ensue if his actions were made public. So why did Cooper feel it was appropriate to use Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar for intel work? Maybe there is a precedent that the rest of us are not aware of. The Huffington Post points out that there was a four-month span between when Cooper met with the Peace Corps volunteers and when he approached van Schaick. Clearly this was not an isolated event.

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Fear and Loathing in Romania

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 7:52 PM EST

4-months-150.jpgThe film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, which tells the story of a woman who helps her friend arrange to have an illegal abortion in Romania in 1987, is an incredibly tense movie-going experience. Its dark, gritty images—and the raw emotions that they invoke—have lingered with me for days after seeing it.

The Great Tech Challenges Ahead

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 4:13 PM EST

2083995467_3b20b1d4bf_m.jpg There's four of them, sort of. At least according to the National Academy of Engineering, which convened an international group of tech thinkers to identify the grand challenges facing us in the 21st century. The report was released at today's AAAS annual meeting in Boston. Robert Socolow, mechanical and aerospace engineer at Princeton, reports the list was too subjective to assemble in order. Instead they identified four broad categories of challenges:

(1). environmental wholeness: the need for humans to take care of our earthly home and to be good stewards of the environmental quality that we depend upon (2). our own wellness: the medical side of human life (3). vulnerability: recognition of the fact that we live on a planet that experiences earthquakes and tsunamis, and that we are a species that causes trouble for itself. (4). the joy of living: after you've got health and environmental soundness and you feel protected against the bad side of both human nature and Mother Nature, there is still something else to aspire to: self-knowledge and enlightenment.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

'Boston' to Huckabee: Stop Playing Our Song!

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 4:01 PM EST

It's not often you can feel genuine sympathy for rock stars that made truckloads of cash polluting the world with their catchy, but crappy songs. But given the above performance by Mike Huckabee's cover band Capitol Offense, it's easy to understand Boston founder and songwriter Tom Scholz's deep, unending shame for the artistic transgressions of his youth, lucrative though they were. Huckabee's recreation of the band's 1976 oh-my-god-please-make-Clear-Channel-stop-playing-that hit "More Than a Feeling" at an Iowa campaign stop—which featured a guest appearance by one-time Boston lead guitarist Barry Goudreau, a Huckabee supporter—invites, no, begs for all the mockery one can muster. Turns out, though, that Schulz's problem with the performance (aside from that it sucked) was Huckabee's use of the song to promote his presidential candidacy. Scholz, who alleges that the Huckabee campaign has continued to use the song since the ill-considered performance in Iowa, wrote a letter to the presidential contender yesterday, explaining his troubled mind:

Boston has never endorsed a political candidate, and with all due respect, would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston stands for.

NIU Shooting: Different School, Same Questions

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 3:18 PM EST

NIU.jpgUnfortunately, yesterday's shooting at Northern Illinois University seemed quite familiar. Young man in dressed in black walks into a school, shoots and kills five students, injures dozens more, and then shoots himself. He was mentally ill, unpredictable, acting strange in the weeks before the event. The public safety director of Northern Illinois University's response: "Unfortunately, these things happen."

LOST: Finally, This Season Gets Going!

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 1:30 PM EST

lostep3.jpgLOST has lost many viewers because they find the series frustrating. It poses myriad questions, has a complex mythology, and lots of confusing flashbacks: All of this moves the plot at a glacial pace. That changed last night, with the third episode of the new season.

Finally, someone's made it off that darn island! And not just in a flash-forward, in real-time. But in typical LOST fashion, the latest plot twist raises as many questions as it answers. Why's Sayid gone all Jason Bourne as a spy for Ben? What's the meaning of Naomi's bracelet? Why does Ben have all those passports in his closet? Why does Charlotte look so much like Nicole Kidman in Dead Calm? Okay, just kidding on that last one, but seriously, about ten new plot lines will now have to be explored.

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Women in War Zones: Female Correspondents Face a Second Line of Fire

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 1:10 PM EST

As MoJo's own Elizabeth Gettelman pointed out, journalists are dying by the score in our war on terror. Horrendous, no question. If I were a young journalist today, I doubt I'd have the nerve to go after that story. No, I don't doubt it - I know I wouldn't.

Given the dangers there, it is the brave Iraqi journalists, translators, etc who are suffering, disappearing and dying disproportionately which adds another, special layer to the tragedy. Still, it's one thing to be kidnapped or killed by inexcuseable terrorists. What of female journalists being raped, harassed and exploited while working as foreign correspondents? It's ok if they both matter, isn't it, though death and imprisonment are surely worse?

Hearing Regrets

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 12:00 PM EST

So even Rep. Henry Waxman thinks the steroids-in-baseball hearing this week was a three-ring circus he wishes he'd never convened. But come on, what did he expect? Roger Clemens gave a preview of his performance on national television a few weeks ago. The fact that he was under oath this week probably wasn't going to change his tune much. Besides, Waxman should recall that one of the side-effects of performance-enhancing drugs is extreme mood swings and occasional violent outbursts. And of course, extreme denial (see Floyd Landis and Marion Jones et. al.)

John Lewis Dumps Clinton for Obama: A Tipping Point?

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 9:30 AM EST

If there are tipping points in presidential contests, this surely is a possible one: Representative John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights era, has flipped. He had endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic contest. But on Thursday, Lewis, a superdelegate, said he would vote for Barack Obama at the Democratic convention.

Up to now, it's been the Obama camp and Obama supporters who have seemed the most worried about those hundreds of superdelegates who could decide the race. Many Obama fans have expressed the fear that these Democratic insiders will pour into some backroom at the convention and throw their votes to Clinton, even if she places second in the race for the pledged delegates produced by the primaries and caucuses. But Lewis, who cited the "sense of movement" and "sense of spirit" in Obama's campaign, is proof that the wind can blow the other way. Put simply, insiders like a winner.

Lewis noted that he could not vote against the clear wishes of the voters in his Georgia district, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama in that state's Democratic primary. And as perhaps the leading African American member of the House, he was, with his opposition to Obama, in an awkward position. How could he stand against the first African American (and Democratic) candidate with a decent chance of becoming president? But it turned out not to be such a tough spot to escape. The Clintons must be seething. Not just because they have lost Lewis's vote but because of the signal he sends to other superdelegates committed to or leaning toward Clinton: Yes, you can.

Lewis paves the way for others who are also moved by Obama's "movement"--or, to be polite about it, motivated by his momentum. While Clinton appears to have a modest lead in superdelegates, it is far from insurmountable. And like Lewis, many of the superdelegates will look to see what's happened on the ground before deciding how to cast their votes. If Obama's march does end up winning more popular support than Clinton's, many of these powerbrokers will not want to be left out of the parade.

The SEIU Picks Obama

| Thu Feb. 14, 2008 8:53 PM EST

seiu_logo.gif

The national executive board of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) endorsed Barack Obama Thursday evening. The members of the board voted electronically following a conference call that was scheduled for 6 p.m. A high level union official tells Mother Jones there was "overwhelming support" for Sen. Obama during the call. The endorsement doesn't become official until union locals representing 60 percent of the SEIU's members actually email in their vote, the official said. The locals have until 7:00 a.m. on Friday to do so, but given the results of the conference call any change in course seems highly improbable. An email from the union confirmed it will make a "major political announcement" on Friday at 1:00 p.m.

The SEIU has stayed neutral in the national contest until now, allowing its state affiliates to endorse any candidate. Many of the state organizations backed former Sen. John Edwards. But Edwards dropped out of the race shortly after a poor showing in South Carolina, where where he was born.

The SEIU's endorsement comes at a crucial time. Hillary Clinton, who has lost eight straight contests since Super Tuesday, is leading in the polls in Ohio and Texas, two delegate-rich states that will vote on March 4. Wins there could conceivably help her narrow the lead Obama has recently opened up in the delegate count. But the SEIU endorsement could alter the balance.