Blogs

Canadian Corporal Killed by "Roommate's Rifle" in Afghanistan, Case Goes to Court Martial

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 2:17 PM EDT

The Canadian military announced yesterday that it will press ahead with its court martial of the 22-year-old Canadian reservist who shot a fellow soldier in March 2007 at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. Corporal Matthew Wilcox has been charged with manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, and negligently performing a military duty.

This news comes as particularly striking to Mother Jones and its readers as this incident was first widely-publicized in an article we ran last summer. Canadian doctor Kevin Patterson, also a Mother Jones contributing writer, was in Afghanistan at the time helping to triage the understaffed and overwhelmed Canadian-run surgical hospital at Kandahar Airfield. During his few months on the ground Patterson treated civilians and soldiers alike (roughly 2/3rds of the hospital's patients were Afghan civilians and Army personnel, the rest coalition soldiers) and he chronicled his experiences in a frontline diary for the magazine.

Dr. Patterson was on call the evening that Corporal Kevin Megeney, a 25-year-old reservist, was rushed to the ICU after being shot in the chest. It turned out that the the gun was "a roommate's rifle," and at press time the incident was under investigation by the Canadian military. Prior to the article's release Mother Jones sent letters to Megeney's family, informing them of the pending story and the medical detail including regarding Patterson's efforts to save the soldier.

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Is Blackwater Leaving the Security Biz?

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 1:38 PM EDT

If his controversial company exits the private security business, Blackwater president Gary Jackson wants you to know exactly who's to blame: "If you could get it right," he told the AP, referring to the journalists covering Blackwater, "we might stay in the business." According to the AP, which recently visited the company's Moyock, North Carolina headquarters, Blackwater is planning to refocus its operations on aviation, logistics, and training, moving away from the security work that has earned the firm hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts since 9/11. "The experience we've had would certainly be a disincentive to any other companies that want to step in and put their entire business at risk," Erik Prince, the company's founder and CEO, told the wire service.

The company has been a magnet for controversy, the subject of negative news coverage, sustained congressional scrutiny, and activist outcry. Its shoot-first-ask-questions-later rep has at times obscured the company's better deeds, such as when Blackwater operators swooped in to Kenya to rescue three young American women who'd gotten stranded in a part of the country that had descended into violence. But while Blackwater has at times served, unfairly, as a stand-in for all the security contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan—some of them fly by night operations that you probably wouldn't want protecting your local Target—and as the Left's favorite punching bag, its bitter experience in the protection field has more often than not been of its own making.

Some Inconvenient Truths About The Olympics

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 12:06 PM EDT

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The hype machine is now in high gear. You would have to live on the moon not to know: The Olympics are almost here. Prepare yourself to see world leaders dancing in the aisles at the opening ceremony—those who will be there, anyway (Am I the only one who remembers Al Gore's hypnotic gyrations in Sydney?); to listen to countless hours of platitudes about world peace; to see hours of melodramatic footage documenting the life challenges faced by individual athletes; and, of course, to enjoy some world-class sport. Also in the mix, as seems unavoidable, will be mini-documentaries about China's place in the world, the advances it's made, where it's going, etc. We'll see images of picturesque rural landscapes and cities the size of Chicago that none of us have ever heard of.

I must admit, part of me looks forward to all of this, the spectacle even more than the sports. But lost in the pageantry will be the reality that the Olympics—not just those to be held in Beijing next month, but the entire Olympic system—is not always the rosy celebration of international peace and cooperation it purports to be. A piece by Olympic scholar John Hoberman in the current issue of Foreign Policy argues that the Games "often mask human rights abuses, do little to spur political development, and lend legitimacy to unsavory governments." The article itself is available only to the magazine's subscribers, but the following press release outlines Hoberman's attempts to debunk some prevailing myths about the Olympics:

Liberal Lawyer Helping Louisiana Kill That Guy

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 10:28 AM EDT

In one of the more dramatic decisions of the last Supreme Court term, justices voted 5 to 4 to ban the death penalty in a Louisiana child rape case, Kennedy v. Louisiana. The court based its decision in part on the notion that there was a national consensus against executing people for rape, as suggested by the complete absence of any federal statute making child rape a capital crime. As it turns out, though, the court was wrong. There is such a statute under military law, an error pointed out by Linda Greenhouse on her way out the door from the New York Times.

Based on that omission, Louisiana yesterday petitioned the high court to rehear the case. It's still a longshot, but given the nature of the error, not impossible that the court might reconsider. Besides, the state has a good lawyer. Fighting to execute Patrick Kennedy is Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal. Katyal became a darling of the liberal establishment in 2005 after successfully arguing the Hamdan case, in which the Supreme Court found the Bush administration's military tribunals for trying Guantanamo detainees unconstitutional. (Katyal is currently defending Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, in his military trial, which started this week.) The case rocketed the young, telegenic Katyal into the public eye—he was profiled in Vanity Fair, no less--and his name is one of those constantly floating in the ether as a potential democratic Supreme Court nominee.

His role in the Kennedy case suggests that Katyal is not quite the liberal he's been made out to be by the media. Or, he's got tremendous political savvy. His choice to defend the death penalty in a case that even some court conservatives can't stomach brings back faint memories of a young presidential candidate flying home to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a retarded man. If you aspire to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, what better way for a liberal to prove political independence (and confirmability) than to get someone executed?

Meeting in the Ladies' Room

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 11:16 PM EDT

Man, I wish I'd thought to write this piece. Kudos to the Wall Street Journal for taking the ladies' loo seriously.

I have long been amazed at the camaraderie of the average women's bathroom, even in anonymous settings like restaurants and malls. A wedding or party? Forget about it. There's a reason we all pack up and go to pee together, gents: We're having fun and laughing at y'all.

Bad Air Killing Eastern US

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 8:28 PM EDT

800px-Gavin_Plant.JPG Thinks it's just China? Well, every major ecosystem type in the eastern US is being degraded by air pollution. That's right: Adirondack forests, Shenandoah streams, Appalachian wetlands, and the Chesapeake Bay, to name a few.

A new report [pdf] is the first to analyze the combined effects of four air pollutants across a broad range of habitat types.

Most studies focus on one pollutant. And why not? Things always look so much better that way.

But the sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, and ground-level ozone that are released into the air from smokestacks, tailpipes, and agricultural operations fall back to Earth sooner or later. Ooops.

And because the eastern U.S. is downwind from gynormous pollution sources, it receives the highest levels of deposited air pollution anywhere in North America.

That's bad news for wildlife, forests, soil, water, and, guess what?, economies.

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Ten Silliest Digg.com Headlines About The Dark Knight

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 6:13 PM EDT

DiggDigg.com, the web site that allows users to vote on links and stories, is a good place to see what people are talking about (and interested in reading about). Right now, it's all Batman: The Dark Knight, which opened over the weekend to record-breaking crowds. Apparently it's pretty good (this reporter finally managed to buy tickets to an Imax showing tomorrow), enough so that Batman-related stories seem to be taking up a majority of Digg's space, and amidst the box office figures are some pretty ridiculous headlines. I know you're desperate for some Dark Knight-inspired click-throughs, bloggers, but jeez. Here are ten of the more, shall we say, esoteric headlines currently getting votes on Digg:

Fifty Years Without Running Water

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 6:10 PM EDT

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2004 was a big year in Coal Run. After half a century of discrimination, neglect, and bureaucratic runaround, the residents of the mostly-black neighborhood outside Zanesville, Ohio finally got running water. 2008 will be a landmark year too: earlier this month, a jury in the US District Court in Columbus found that racial discrimination lay behind the lack of services, and awarded the affected residents $15,000-$300,000 each.

You can read the details in the original lawsuit (.pdf), and I highly recommend doing so—it's a case study in institutional racism. (During the trial, the town and county argued that they weren't aware that residents didn't have water, and that if they were aware, they weren't sure who had jurisdiction over the neighborhood. That may have been true, but they were happy to charge black citizens up to ten times as much as their white peers to purchase water and haul it home in trucks.)

But as much as this is a story about race, it's also a story about poverty, and how bureaucracy and greed work together to prevent poor people from accessing services that most of us take for granted. 22 percent of Zanesville's residents live below the federal poverty level, including nearly a third of children under 18. Unemployment in Muskingum County, where Zanesville is located, runs at 7.4 percent—significantly higher than the national average. Only 11 percent of city residents have completed college. But just as it took Hurricane Katrina to alert America to the poverty of the Gulf Coast, Zanesville didn't make national news until we heard of something so egregious that we couldn't help but take notice.

Just a week before the District Court decision, Barack Obama spoke in Zanesville about his plan for faith-based organizations to help the country's neediest people. That's a start. But will his administration, or John McCain's, undertake the task of reshaping this society into one that meets the basic needs of all its citizens, no matter how poor or out of the way?

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Andrew|W.

Beijing Spectators Risk Heart Attacks

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 3:40 PM EDT

beijing200.jpgResearchers at Northwestern University warn that pollution in Beijing is so extreme that it could trigger cardiac arrest and strokes in spectators and athletes.

Advice from the docs:

Stay indoors during traffic rush-hour periods. "Indoor air pollution levels are always much lower than outdoor, so staying inside will limit your exposure," Budinger said. He cautioned that Beijing's definition of mild pollution would be a pollution alert day in the U.S.

So that's all good advice for the millions who will be descending upon Beijing for a few weeks, but what about the people who actually live there?

Oh yeah, them: The 750,000 Chinese people that die prematurely from pollution every year—and that the Chinese government doesn't want you to know about. Are they just supposed to stay inside all day every day?

For a good overview of some of the emergency measures Beijing officials have taken to prepare for the Olympics, go here. Hope they keep it up after the party ends. For everyone's sake.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

America Still Working Through That Wardrobe Malfunction Trauma For Some Reason

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 2:54 PM EDT

mojo-photo-malfunction.jpgYes, doctor, we know that it was way back in 2004 when a couple middling pop stars engaged in a flirtatious dance routine during a Super Bowl halftime show that ended in the brief revelation of a boob, but the event apparently still haunts our nightmares. By that I mean, of course, that it's "working its way through the court system," but there was a decision today that may mean an end to our cruel suffering is in sight: a federal appeals court today threw out the original $550,000 FCC fine against CBS for the "wardrobe malfunction." That's right, the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals is pro-bazoom, or at least fleeting bazoom, citing the "nine-sixteenths of one second glimpse" of the breast in question in their decision. But it felt like an eternity!!! Mostly they just pointed out that the FCC had never fined fleeting indecency before: