Blogs

Louisiana Court to BBI Spies: Testify or Else

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 4:46 PM EST

A ruling by a Louisiana court could shed further light on the shadowy work of Beckett Brown International (BBI), the now defunct private security and investigations firm that spied on Greenpeace and other targets on behalf of corporate clients.

On Monday, state appeals court judge Kent Savoie ordered two of the firm's former officials, Tim Ward and Jay Bly, to testify or face potential contempt charges in a case related to a massive spill of ethylene dichloride in Lake Charles, Louisiana by chemical manufacturer Condea Vista. Working for Condea in the late 1990s, BBI mounted a wide-ranging operation to gather intelligence on the company's opponents, including local activists and lawyers suing the chemical maker on behalf of clients harmed during the cleanup of the 1994 spill. In addition to tailing activists and obtaining the phone records of Condea opponents, BBI installed a mole inside a Lake Charles environmental group to report inside information about the organization's strategy and campaigns.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

New Music: Amadou & Mariam - Welcome to Mali

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 4:12 PM EST

mojo-photo-amadoumariamwelcome.jpgIt's a shameful fact that I came across Malian duo Amadou & Mariam's entrancing 2005 album, Dimanche à Bamako, well into 2006, too late to include it in my "best albums" list. While the album was produced with a professional sheen by Manu Chao, it still maintained a direct line to traditional Malian sounds while expanding into more complex musical and lyrical territory. Sure, with Chao's help, Bamako achieved international acclaim, but one can hope that it was the album's emotional purity that resonated with listeners worldwide. The duo's new album is called Welcome to Mali, but oddly enough, it finds them moving even further afield.

Album opener and first single "Sabali" ("Wisdom") was produced by Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame, and it's superb, a strange mashup of Gorillaz' "Feel Good Inc." with the rising-and-falling computerized tones and melancholy feel of Grandaddy's "The Crystal Lake." It's a fascinating, retro-futuristic re-interpretation of chiming Afropop, with brief lo-fi transmissions from the past laid over the top.

In Congo Conflict, Endangered Gorillas Are Pawns

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 4:00 PM EST

gorilla150.jpg This is a truly heartbreaking story. The New York Times reports on yet another facet of the bloodshed in the Congo: Endangered mountain gorillas are among the rebels' targets:

Congo's gorillas happen to live in one of the most contested, blood-soaked pieces of turf in one of the most contested, blood-soaked corners of Africa. Their home, Virunga National Park, is high ground — with mist-shrouded mountains and pointy volcanoes — along the porous Congo-Rwanda border, where rebels are suspected of smuggling in weapons from Rwanda. Last year in Virunga, 10 gorillas were killed, some shot in the back of the head, execution style, park officials said.

According to this AP story, the rebels often eat the slaughtered gorillas. But it's unlikely that the militias are killing them solely for their meat. The reason? Read on after the jump.

Housing Bust Update

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 3:23 PM EST

HOUSING BUST UPDATE....The latest from ground zero of the housing bubble:

For the first time in the current housing downturn, the majority of Southern California homes sold in October — 51% — had been foreclosed, a real estate information service reported today. The median sales price for homes fell to $300,000, a level not seen since 2003 and a 41% drop from the peak price set in the spring and summer of 2007.

A 41% drop in 18 months. Jeebus.

The Agents of Change on Obama's Transition Team

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 3:19 PM EST

barack-obama-closeup-250x200.jpg

Last week, the Obama transition team announced its agency review teams, which, according to the office of the president-elect, will examine key departments, agencies, and commissions, as well as the White House, to provide Barack Obama and his key advisers "information needed to make strategic policy, budgetary, and personnel decisions prior to the inauguration." As the media and most political consumers focus on who will get what senior position in the Obama administration, this group of about 130 people will do the nuts-and-bolts work of preparing the agendas for the incoming decision-makers. It's an important band of policy wonks and government experts. Many of the positions were filled, as might be expected, by Washington players who served in the Clinton administration. For instance, Reed Hundt, who chaired the Federal Communications Commission during the Clinton years and who now works for a strategic consulting firm, is leading the team responsible for international trade and economic agencies. And Tom Donilon, a partner at the law firm of O'Melveny & Myers, who was assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Clinton administration, is in charge of the group focusing on Foggy Bottom. (The bio for Donilon released by the transition office neglected to mention his stint as general counsel and executive vice president at Fannie Mae.)

The transition team has its share of lobbyists--despite that Obama once vowed he was "running to tell the lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over." But while most of the transition team members possess the conventional resumés of Washington insiders—albeit Democratic ones--there are several transition team appointments that stand out as harbingers of change. Or at least potential harbingers. These are people whose careers have been anti-Bushian in a deep and profound sense that extends beyond partisan difference. They are academics or policy advocates who have devoted much—if not all—of their adult working lives to advancing the public interest. Their presence on the review teams—even though the transition could use more of such people—enhances the prospect for change beyond the usual. Here's a sampling:

Sarah Sewall is leading the transition's national security team. She is the director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. According to her bio, her "research focuses on U.S. national security strategy, civil-military relations, and the ethics of fighting insurgencies and terrorism." The ethics of fighting terrorism? That's about as non-Bush (or non-Cheney) as it gets. She also started a project to create "a military concept of operations for intervening to halt mass atrocity." Not even Bill Clinton did that.

Lieberman Escapes Dems' Wrath--and That May Be Good

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 2:43 PM EST

Revenge is for those who don't care about results.

That's the mature message of Howard Dean. Moments after the Democratic Caucus in the Senate decided to keep Senator Joe Lieberman, who had campaigned for John McCain's presidential bid, as head of the Homeland Security Committee, Dean, the outgoing head of the Democratic National Committee told the Huffington Post that the Senate Dems had done the right thing:

You know, the desire of revenge is great, of course. But the truth is public policy doesn't run on revenge very well. And when you see the trouble this country has gotten into in terms of foreign policy, where Bush basically ran a foreign policy based on petulance because he was mad at, for example, Mexico, for abstaining on the Security Council when the Iraq War came up, if you have to actually run the country, it is best not to do it based on feeling of anger towards your enemies....
My point of view is that Barack won. He can afford to be magnanimous. And if we happen to win both recounts and Georgia, Joe is the 60th vote. And the truth is -- and I certainly don't have to defend Joe Lieberman because, you know, we have an interesting history -- but the fact is, he does vote 90 percent of the time with the Democrats. And no, he shouldn't have said all those things. But why not clean the state? Why not start all over again? Why not allow him to vote with us on the 90 percent of the stuff? He will be a good vote on climate change -- and this matters. He may be a good vote on election reform, which I hope we will get to. So, you know, he may end up - though it is a little against the odds -- he may end up being the vote that allows us to conduct business when Mitch McConnell decides we shouldn't.

Dean has a point. Netroots Democrats got whipped up into a frenzy over the Lieberman matter. For many Democrats, excommunicating Lieberman--who is an independent now but who caucuses with the Democrats--would have felt great. They wanted to see the Senate Dems flash some political muscle. But getting personal is not always the way to get ahead. When Obama takes the high road, he can gain political capital. When congressional Democrats help him do that, they will be helping themselves. Lieberman is a sideshow--a sanctimonious, irritating sideshow. But the president-elect and the Democrats in Congress have much bigger fish to fry. They could afford to toss this one back into the pond.

By the way, Kevin disagrees.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Advice for Pinch

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 1:02 PM EST

ADVICE FOR PINCH....George Packer says the New York Times should fire Bill Kristol when his one-year probationary period is up in December:

In his year on the Op-Ed page, not one memorable sentence, not one provocative thought, not one valuable piece of information appeared under his name.....Kristol's performance on the Op-Ed page during the most interesting election in a generation is a historical symptom, not merely a personal failure. He wrote badly because his world view had become problematic at best, untenable at worst, and he had spent too many years turning out Party propaganda to summon the intellectual resources that a difficult situation required. Now the Times owes it to its readers to find someone better.

After a couple of months I stopped reading Kristol's columns. It wasn't because I disagreed with him, it was because he was boring. Whatever the meme of the week was in the few days prior to his Monday appearance, you could be almost sure that's what he'd write about. Not only were his subjects often stale by then, but he almost never offered anything more than the tritest conservative conventional wisdom on the subject at hand. Snooze city.

So: who should take his place? Since this is a liberal site, and the Times is looking for a conservative columnist, the answer is probably going to be whoever infuriates you the most reliably. (Kristol didn't. He just put me to sleep.) Consider this an open thread.

Holy Joe Update

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 12:05 PM EST

HOLY JOE UPDATE....I see that Senate Democrats have voted to allow Joe Lieberman to keep his committee chairmanship. I guess they really showed him, didn't they? No Democrat will ever dare to support a Republican candidate for president, speak at the Republican national convention in prime time, and bad mouth the Democratic Party's candidate ever again.

Clintonites

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 12:03 PM EST

CLINTONITES....Just a quick comment on a common meme: Why is Barack Obama surrounding himself with so many Clinton retreads? That's not change we can believe in!

Sure, sure, but look: anybody who's been active in liberal governance for more than eight years is likely to be a Clintonite. It was the only game in town during the 90s. And anybody who's been active less than eight years probably doesn't have the experience to get a top level position. So there's really no way around this. There are some fresh faces around for Obama to tap, but for the most part, when you're staffing highly visible and responsible positions, you want someone who has at least some experience to fall back on. And since Bill Clinton is the only Democrat to hold the presidency in the past 28 years, that means someone who served in the Clinton administration.

I suppose this doesn't bother me as much as it does some people since I never expected Obama to be a huge left-wing break from Democratic tradition in the first place. He's a little farther to the left than Clinton, but not a lot, and it's only natural that he'd find a fair number of Clintonites who hold views similar to his own. What's more, as his campaign showed, he's obviously a guy who values experience and deep knowledge. He'll do fine, Clintonites or not.

Abortion Access: Bush Administration Continues Its Last Minute Moves

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 11:28 AM EST

This is not the first time the Bush Administration has tried to tweak policy in these closing days, and it won't be the last. But it is disheartening nonetheless. The Times:

A last-minute Bush administration plan to grant sweeping new protections to health care providers who oppose abortion and other procedures on religious or moral grounds has provoked a torrent of objections, including a strenuous protest from the government agency that enforces job discrimination laws.
The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their "religious beliefs or moral convictions."
...three officials from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including its legal counsel, whom President Bush appointed, said the proposal would overturn 40 years of civil rights law prohibiting job discrimination based on religion....

The Civil Rights Act already prohibits employment discrimination based on religion. This is fundamentally about protecting pro-lifers who don't want to hand out contraception or perform abortions. That is, making family planning more difficult in America.

The opponents of the new rule include Democratic politicians (including Obama), abortion rights groups, pharmacies, and many states. Notes the Times, "State officials said the rule could void state laws that require insurance plans to cover contraceptives and require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims." That's frightening. If this change was so easily done by the Bush Administration, hopefully it will be just as easily undone by the Obama one.