2008 - %3, March

Mad, Mad Response to One Tortured Playlist

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 7:23 PM EST

The Torture Playlist I pulled together—based on a leaked interrogation log, news reports, and the accounts of detainees and soldiers who've been torturers—has gotten, well, a lot of play. Of the feedback, perhaps most disturbing of all comes from DEICIDE's Steve Asheim. The death metal band's drummer says he's stoked that their song F*** Your God has been used to torture detainees. "It's cool. If we're up to military standards of audio abuse, it makes me feel like DEICIDE's doing our part for the troops." Asheim's father, uncle and grandfather served in the Army, so he said, "since I was so busy with the band thing, I'm glad I was eventually able to contribute somehow."

He's not the first artist to say they're glad their music has helped "fight the terrorists." Metallica's James Hetfield told NPR's Terry Gross in a 2004 interview, "For me, the lyrics are a form of expression, a freedom to express my insanity. If the Iraqis aren't used to freedom, then I'm glad to be part of their exposure." Hetfield said his music has been bothering parents for years, so why not the terrorists. "If I listened to a death metal band for 12 hours in a row, I'd go insane, too. I'd tell you anything you wanted to know." (Metallica's Enter Sandman is on the Playlist.)

Others have made statements opposing the use of their music to torture detainees. Clive Stafford Smith, a British lawyer representing several Guantanamo detainees, is spearheading an effort to sue the military based on copyright infringement. Rage Against the Machine (also on the list) even wrote to the State Department and the Armed Forces asking them to stop.

But so far, no comment from Barney or the Meow Mix guys.

—Justine Sharrock

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Bored I-5 Radio Listening Confirms: Rush Limbaugh a Complete Tool

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 7:18 PM EST

mojo-photo-i5rush.jpgOther parts of the country may have rough roads, other far-flung cultures may have haunted paths of doom through dark forests, but we in California have the I-5, a straight-arrow 300-mile death-bahn connecting NorCal and SoCal. It's a harrowing journey through the dust-and-smog-filled wasteland of our dreaded Central Valley, chased by monstrous semis and LA douchebags on their cell phones doing 95. When one's driving it, like I did today, and one gets bored listening to stuff on the iPod-radio system, and turns with great trepidation to the radio, there are few options: lots of Spanish, lots of Jesus, and Rush Limbaugh. I settled on the latter, and it was an interesting day to tune in.

After Altamont, Mick Jagger Targeted For Death by Hells Angels

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 4:40 PM EST

As the Rolling Stones learned at Altamont, be mindful of the company you keep. Mick Jagger's decision to hire members of the Hell's Angels to work security for the band's 1969 free concert at the speedway ended when a fan was stabbed to death by gang members, allegedly after drawing a gun and pointing it at the stage. (See footage above.) Jagger fired the Angels after the show.

That much is the stuff of rock-n-roll legend, but revelations about Altamont's aftermath are still making news. According to a BBC documentary, to be aired today, Jagger's decision to look elsewhere for security guards enraged the Angels, which hatched a plot to kill him. According to the BBC:

"They were going to kill him in retribution for his firing their security forces," former FBI agent Mark Young told the documentary.
"Their plan involved making entry onto his Long Island property, going by boat.
"As they gathered the weaponry and their forces to go out on Long Island Sound, a storm rolled up, which nearly sunk the watercraft that they were in, and they escaped with their own lives.
"They never went back and reinstituted the plan."

Unknown is whether the FBI ever informed Jagger of the plot. The singer has so far declined comment.

The Alt-Weeklies Rip Into Obama

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 4:30 PM EST

My former alt-weekly colleague Todd Spivak has published a sharply critical piece on Barack Obama just in time for the Texas primary. The story appears in the Houston Press, where I worked with Spivak until 2006, as well as in its sister paper, the Dallas Observer. Both are circulated by Village Voice Media in cities that happen to be Obama strongholds. The story follows the admirable Houston Press tradition of pissing people off, but it's also getting ripped up in the blogosphere.

Spivak's piece is based on his years as a cub reporter in Illinois, where he covered Obama when he was still a political unknown. In 2004 Spivak published a favorable profile of Obama in the Illinois Times, but then he felt guilty about giving him a free pass (sound familiar?). He made some calls around the state legislature and found several lawmakers who were angry at Obama for taking credit for bills that they saw as their own. After Spivak ran with the 2004 story, Obama called to berate him. Wonkette sums up the whole thing in more detail here.

The problem with Spivak's piece is that it's somewhat short on context. A slice of the lengthy rebuttal in Daily Kos:

Finally when Spivak gathered all those nasty comments about Obama he was the dark horse in a three way race for the US Senate nomination, and most of the Illinois machine was working for his opponents (namely Dan Hynes son of long time Chicago alderman and self funding millionaire Hull). Nearly all of the folks named are now outspoken advocates and supporters (but they're still hacks).

Though Spivak brings up some woefully underreported dirt on Obama, he would have been better served to shore it up and drop the whole "Obama and Me" narrative. As it stands, the story is most revealing as a cautionary tale for a schizophrenic national media. Being taken in by Obama and then coming to one's senses, so to speak, isn't the best model for coverage. Better to be skeptical from the start, and that includes skepticism of Obama's critics.

Al Qaeda Leader's New Book Hints at Jihadist Divisions Over Use of Violence

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 3:48 PM EST

teralzawahiri.jpg

Ayman al-Zawahiri—technically Al Qaeda's second-in-command, but widely considered among terrorism analysts to have eclipsed Osama Bin Laden in his influence—began his career as an Islamic militant in the early 1980s as an organizer and recruiter for Egypt's Islamic Jihad, at the time an upstart group that focused primarily on fostering domestic mayhem. Jailed after the group's 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, al-Zawahiri's Islamist credentials were burnished under torture by Egyptian authorities while his close-quarters prison association with other influential militants, the core of which formed a sort of Islamic fundamentalist think tank, raised his profile as an emerging jihadist leader. After a period of exile, which included the usual stint fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, al-Zawahiri rose to command a reconstituted version of his old affiliation, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which officially merged with Al Qaeda in 1998.

Such a distinguished background (from a terrorist perspective, at least) placed al-Zawahiri in a position to expound his politics from a high perch—which he did in his December 2001 e-book, Knights Under the Prophet's Banner, presumably written by torchlight in an Afghan cave while American bombs rained outside. Since then, his steady stream of video and audio propaganda has formed the ideological frame for Al Qaeda's violence.

Barack Obama's No-Good, Very-Bad News Day

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 3:35 PM EST

spin_bike.jpg The conference call spin war continues. Mark Penn kicked the day off on a Clinton campaign conference call with reporters by saying that Clinton's renewed focus on national security, the Austan Goolsbee affair (also known as NAFTA-gate), and the Rezko trial opening today in Chicago are combining to create a "tipping point and change in the momentum" in the race for the Democratic nomination.

"NAFTA-gate" is the Clinton campaign's name for this bizarre saga that began when Canadian television reported a senior economic adviser to Barack Obama named Austan Goolsbee met with Canadian officials to assure them that Obama is not as protectionist on trade as his campaign rhetoric suggests. The Obama campaign and the Canadian government both denied the meeting occurred, but a memo proving the meeting was leaked (presumably by someone in the Canadian government) to the American press.

Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, read a series of quotes from Obama campaign members in which they denied in no uncertain terms that the meeting ever took place. Now that the campaign is admitting the meeting took place but insisting that Goolsbee's comments on NAFTA are being misrepresented, said Wolfson, "why should we trust or believe them now?"

The Clinton campaign, probably sounding more assertive and confident than they have on any call in the recent past, also hammered Rezko-gate. The campaign helpfully distributed a memo with all the questions journalists ought to ask the Obama campaign about Obama's relationship with disgraced real estate developer Antoin "Tony" Rezko. "How many times did Senator Obama visit Tony Rezko's house? What was the purpose of these visits?" asked the memo. "Did Sen. Obama intercede on behalf of Mr. Rezko in any governmental capacity?" The implication was clear: Obama is a dangerous choice; he has not been fully vetted.

The truth is that investigations of the Rezko situation by the press has not turned up anything other than the fact that Rezko, who is definitely a sleazeball, helped Obama expand the plot of land on which his house in Chicago sits. Obama has called the fact that he entered into a business transaction with Rezko "bone-headed," but insists that nothing illegal occurred. Rezko's indictment did not mention Obama, but his trial, which begins today in Chicago, holds the possibility of embarrassment for Obama.

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House Capitulation on FISA?

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 2:33 PM EST

Speculation began on Saturday, and was refueled again today, that House Democrats, led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, would figure out a way to--at the very least--make sure a telecom immunity provision becomes law. I haven't been able to confirm any of this myself. More specifically, I've been told both that Reyes really is likely to lead a cave-in, and also that there's no reason to think that will happen, but whatever the case is, we may find out as early as tomorrow. And if, as the L.A. Times article suggests, we're going to see a new bill or set of bills altogether, then it's possible the whole thing will become tied up in the Senate. Again.

Glenn Greenwald has written an important post on the optics of all this, if, of course, the reports from the last two days prove to be correct.

Gaza Strife Raises Urgency of Israeli Calls for Talks with Hamas

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 12:28 PM EST

After a weekend ground operation in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip that left more than 100 people dead, many of them civilians, Israeli Defense Forces pulled out of Gaza Monday. The withdrawal could be a gesture to placate an important visitor: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to arrive in Israel Tuesday to try to advance stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and all out-warfare going on in the background to her peace mission would no doubt be an embarrassment to Washington.

But as former Israeli intelligence chief Efraim Halevy told me in a recent interview, Israel and Rice are not talking to a key player: Hamas. Halevy advocates that Israel and Washington back indirect proximity talks between Israel and Hamas, conducted by a trusted third party. He is not alone. News media report that Egypt is trying to broker a cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, an arrangement publicly supported by Israeli Labor minister Ami Ayalon, among others. If a cease fire is not able to be achieved and Hamas' Qhassam and Grad rockets continue to hit the Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, Israeli officials are warning that last weekend's incursion will be dwarfed by a full scale ground invasion of Gaza in coming weeks. "It makes sense to approach a possible initial understanding including Hamas—but not exclusively Hamas—at a time when they are still asking for one," Halevy told me. "No side will gain from a flare up leading to Israel re-entering the Gaza strip in strength to undo the ill-fated unilateral disengagement of 2005."

Here is the interview with Halevy.

Whoops - Obama Adviser Did Talk NAFTA With Canadian Gov't

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 11:32 AM EST

By now, everyone is familiar with the Canadian television report that alleged an Obama adviser went to the Canadian government and told officials that Obama's NAFTA-bashing is merely campaign rhetoric, and shouldn't be taken seriously.

Also well known are the Obama campaign's denials, and the Canadian government's denials.

Turns out, it may well be true. Someone leaked a memo to the AP that describes a meeting between Obama's senior economic policy adviser Austan Goolsbee and officials with the Canadian consulate in Chicago. In the memo, Goolsbee's comments on NAFTA on portrayed this way:

"Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."

Clinton Says Obama Was MIA on Afghanistan. But Was She, Too?

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 11:17 AM EST

In the past few days, as Hillary Clinton has intensified her attacks on Barack Obama prior to the all-important primaries in Ohio and Texas, she has claimed that he has been "missing in action" regarding Afghanistan. Clinton has been trying to make the case that she's better prepped than Obama to be commander-in-chief and more qualified to answer the phone at 3:00 a.m. when crisis strikes. To prove her point, she notes that Obama, who chairs a foreign relations subcommittee covering European matters, has held not one hearing on how to bolster NATO in Afghanistan. This weekend she told reporters on her campaign plane that he has failed in a "responsibility that is directly related to Afghanistan." She urged the journos to grill Obama on this. She said that Afghanistan is "one of the two most important challenges internationally." And she added, "I think he was missing in action...because he was running for president."

It's true that Obama has convened no meetings of the subcommittee, but his camp counters that he became chair of the subcommittee early last year, just as he was starting his presidential campaign. Clinton is technically correct that Obama could have used the subcommittee to conduct oversight of actions and policies related to Afghanistan. But the full foreign relations committee, under the guidance of Senator Joe Biden, has held several hearings on Afghanistan that covered NATO's role there. It's not as if the foreign relations committee did nothing on Afghanistan because Obama did not take on the mission. Also, as happens with many committees, the chair of the full committee reserves the right to handle the big issues him- or herself, and Afghanistan counts as a big issue.

Clinton ought to be careful about hurling stones in this area. As she always tells campaign crowds, she is a member of the Senate armed services committee. In February the committee held two hearings on Afghanistan. On February 8, it focused on appropriations for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was a witness. Eight days later, the committee zeroed in on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, holding a two-part hearing examining recent reports on Afghanistan. Key witnesses included senior officials from the State Department and the Pentagon responsible for the administration's Afghanistan policy.

Clinton attended neither of these hearings. She was on the campaign trail.

Many hearings occur on Capitol Hill without all members--or even a majority of members--of the committee in attendance. In fact, that's more common than not. At plenty of hearings, the committee chair is the only senator or representative present. So it's no surprise or scandal that Clinton was not there for these two Afghanistan hearings. (She did participate in two hearings on Afghanistan held by the committee in the first half of 2007.) But in a campaign season, a spinner could easily say that she's guilty of the same charge she tosses at Obama: putting presidential campaigning ahead of Afghanistan. Her neglect, certainly, is not the same as his: he held no hearings for a year; she attended no hearings this year. But as Clinton throws the kitchen sink at Obama, she ought to make sure nuts and bolts don't bounce back at her.