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Thanks to Bush, America is Both Rubber and Glue

| Thu Dec. 20, 2007 10:13 AM EST

From CNN: Torture House, Mass Graves Found in Iraq.

Given our own "torture houses," the tapes of which we've illegally (not to mention, immorally) erased, how exactly is an American to process such an article? I feel myself going all Derrida and po-mo: that article is clearly meant to stimulate feelings of shock, awe, horror, disbelief etc... But how can an American legitimately muster such feelings when we, too, now are torturers and propogandists?

I read this with a clanging sense of cognitive dissonance; one the one hand - how dare they, the Iraqis, commit such overtly heinous crimes against humanity? Still, can't be too surprised; isn't that just like them? Isn't that why America gave it's ok to invade, those lowlifes?

Simultaneously, I have to think - how dare we, Americans, ask how they dare when we dare every day, apparently since two weeks after the Bushies took office?

Exactly who, and what, are we anymore?

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Party Ben's Top 10 (Plus!) Songs of 2007

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 9:22 PM EST

mojo-photo-rifftoptenweek.jpgOr "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Feist." Things have moved around a bit since my half-year list back in July, but the idea is the same: 2007, if anything, was a year of Big Songs. Big triumphant chords, big tragic emotions, big sing-along choruses—this was not the year for quiet ballads. Take "Umbrella," a shoe-in at #1; its genre-crushing intensity and live-remix vocal indulgences made it inescapable, but it was its big-hearted spirit that made it an anthem. Oddly enough, as I look down my list, a lot of these songs have similar emotional landscapes, if not geneses: even LCD Soundsystem seems to be offering up an umbrella for his friends to stand under. There's a theory (maybe?) that pop music gets better as the government gets more right-wing and screwed-up (compare the brilliance of early-80s electro-pop to mid-90s 3rd-tier pseudo-grunge), and maybe you could say these songs all have a fighting spirit, whether the enemies are the boys who "start a war" or the ones who try and make you go to rehab.

Also, three of my Top 11 are in triple-time. Now that's weird.

Here's my Top Ten complete with videos, and then #s 11-20, just cause there were a lot of good runners-up.

Rotenberg Center Blasted By Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Media After A Prankster Gets Employees to "Accidentally" Shock Kids 100 Times

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 8:48 PM EST

SO07_79x101.jpg In our September/October issue, we published a 9,000 word story, "School of Shock: Inside the taxpayer-funded program that treats American kids like enemy combatants," the result of a year-long investigation into the Rotenberg Educational Center by Jennifer Gonnerman: "Located in Canton, Massachusetts, the facility, which calls itself a "special needs school," takes in all kinds of troubled kids—severely autistic, mentally retarded, schizophrenic, bipolar, emotionally disturbed—and attempts to change their behavior with a complex system of rewards and punishments, including painful electric shocks to the torso and limbs. Of the 234 current residents, about half are wired to receive shocks, including some as young as nine or ten. Nearly 60 percent come from New York, a quarter from Massachusetts, the rest from six other states and Washington, D.C. The Rotenberg Center, which has 900 employees and annual revenues exceeding $56 million, charges $220,000 a year for each student. States and school districts pick up the tab."

Gonnerman's story, which was accompanied by hundreds of pages of court testimony, a photo essay, and statements by experts decrying the methods of its founder, Dr. Matthew Israel, prompted legislators in Massachusetts to renew their efforts to shut the facility down, assemblymen in New York to reopen an investigation of the facility, and new D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee to investigate why the city's special ed program was sending its kids all the way to Canton. In addition, readers of our story organized themselves through our website's comments boards. One mother went to the Rotenberg Center to see what would befall her autistic child if she enrolled him there; students from Brandeis organized themselves to investigate and protest the Rotenberg Center.school_of_shock_2_580x720.jpg

In the last few days, developments on this story have been fast and furious. D.C. School Chancellor Michele Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty have promised to have all nine D.C. kids still at Rotenberg pulled from the program—after the local Washington angle on our story was reported out by the D.C. Examiner, the ever incompetent and corrupt D.C. special ed program told Rhee it would remove them, only to, you know, not. Heads supposedly will roll, dear God, please let one be special ed director Marla Oakes.

But the real news is that Massachusetts just released another damning report [PDF] on the Rotenberg Center, this one detailing an incident where a former patient had called into one of the Center's residential facilities and, posing as an administrator, told an orderly to wake two students, restrain and shock them, which they did, delivering 29 (!!) shocks to one student and 77 (!!!) to the other. Via the Patriot Ledger:

According to the report, as the two students protested that they were innocent and howled in pain, other student residents awoke in the night and shouted in protest, the report said. They told staff members the calls were a prank, but were told to go back to bed.
The two students complained they were in pain and asked to see a nurse, to no immediate avail. One, who screamed that his leg was "killing him,'' was found during a hospital examination the next day to have first-degree burn from the skin shocks. The other told staff members his blood pressure was racing and he felt as though he was about to have a stroke.
The report concludes that one employee "was physically abusive toward residents,'' while six others were negligent in their duties.

Here's a WNBC-NY news report of the incident, including a statement from Governor Elliot Spitzer saying that the practices at the Rotenberg Center are "wrong, and should be ended," and promising to pull NY kids from the program if allowed "the capacity to do so." (Right now, New York City is stymied from doing just that by an injunction filed by some parents of kids at the Rotenberg Center.)

"Don't Tase Me, Bro!" Named Most Memorable Quote Of 2007

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 8:08 PM EST

Fred R. Shapiro, the editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, has determined that the plea, "Don't tase me, bro!" was the most memorable quotation of the year. The plea was made by University of Florida student Andrew Meyer on Sept. 17 as he was assaulted with a taser on the occasion of Sen. John Kerry's speech at the university.

Getting the number two nod was the remark made by the Miss Teen America contest's Lauren Upton, Miss Teen South Carolina, after she was asked why 20% of Americans cannot locate the U.S. on a map: "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and Iraq and everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us."

Anything that comes after that is anticlimactic, but here's number three: ""In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country," a remark made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And--in case you're wondering where it is, coming in fourth was Don Imus's "That's some nappy-headed hos there."

Here is the rest of the top ten:

5. "I don't recall," which was said repeatedly by former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during questioning at a congressional hearing about the firing of U.S. attorneys.

6. "There's only three things he (Republican presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani) mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11." Bad grammar aside, this was the handiwork of Sen. Josephy Biden.

7. "I'm not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody who has a 9 percent approval rating." said Dick Cheney of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

8. "(I have) a wide stance when going to the bathroom." This is probably my personal favorite, and was, of course, Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig's explanation of why his foot touched that of an undercover policeman in a men's room. The Logo Channel has given this wonderful quotation a place in its gay dictionary. Usage: "Sheila, Larry's just not into you--he has a wide stance."

9. Sen. Biden makes the list a second time, discussing Sen. Barack Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."

10. And finally, former president Jimmy Carter: "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history."

I wish there were a few specialized categories. For instance, Chris Matthews could probably have the top ten misogynistic quotations all on his own, with remarks like these:

"[Sen. Clinton gave a] barn-burner speech, which is harder to give for a woman; it can grate on some men when they listen to it--fingernails on a blackboard."

"[House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi will] have to do the good fight with the president over issues such as the minimum wage and prescription drugs. How does she do it without screaming? How does she do it without becoming grating?"

"[Sen. Clinton's] "clapping (at a victory event). I don't get it. It's just not appealing;" It's Chinese or something."

And let's not forget that George W. Bush is still at it:

"All of us in America want there to be fairness when it comes to justice."

"I heard somebody say, 'Where's (Nelson) Mandela?' Well, Mandela's dead. Because Saddam killed all the Mandelas." (This came as a surprise, I'm sure, to Mr. Mandela.)

I'm honored to be here with the eternal general of the United States, mi amigo Alberto Gonzales."

"One of my concerns is that the health care not be as good as it can possibly be."

"The best way to defeat the totalitarian of hate is with an ideology of hope -- an ideology of hate --excuse me--with an ideology of hope."

Bamboo Makes Better Bridges

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 7:58 PM EST

dn13107-1_400.jpg Bridges of bamboo could provide a cheaper, more environmentally sustainable engineering solution than steel. New Scientist reports that a prototype bridge has been built in China using horizontal beams made from a bamboo composite. The 33-foot span proved strong enough to support even heavy trucks. It was also cheaper to build and more environmentally friendly to make than steel or concrete, says developer Yan Xiao of the University of Southern California and Hunan University.

Pound-for-pound, bamboo is stronger than steel when stretched and more robust than concrete when compressed. Stalks mature in a few years, rather than decades for trees, so more can be harvested from the same amount of land. Plus bamboo is a grass that is harvested like mowing a lawn, leaving the roots intact to regrow. Whereas cement production releases 5-10% of total global carbon dioxide emissions, bamboo soaks it up as it grows. All this suggests a more sustainable engineering solution in China, says New Scientist... Sure, for China, but why not everywhere?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

U.K.'s Gordon Brown Plans to Pressure China, India

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:56 PM EST

china-pollution140x147.jpgThe U.N. climate change conference in Bali may be over, but China and India aren't off the hook yet. U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he will press China and India for further support fighting climate change during visits the two countries next month.

China, for one, needs the pressure because, while the country faces grave ecological consequences for its rapid industrialization, the country's environmental enforcement agency, SEPA, has historically been pretty hands off.

Hopefully that's changing somewhat. This year, SEPA rejected at least $91 billion in new factories and enterprises that failed to meet environmental standards—about 30% of all projects submitted to the agency. SEPA is also resorting to publicly shaming polluting corporations, which will hopefully prove effective as fines for polluting are so low that companies often opt to pay them instead of upgrading equipment.

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Fred Thompson: (Hilariously) Lazy as Charged

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:39 PM EST

I'm not going to bother block quoting this Politico article. It is so hilarious and so damaging to Fred Thompson, you're just going to have to read it yourself.

All of the rumors about Thompson—lazy, uninterested in campaigning—appear to be 100 percent true.

Update: Thompson is either delusional or trying to spin his way to the presidency. Despite the evidence seen at the link above, he told CNN that he has the fire in the belly to win in Iowa. "I've had my mojo the whole time." Right...

U.S.'s Dirty Work Behind Pakistani Political Crisis?

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:38 PM EST

bush_musharraf.jpg

The New York Times reports today that Pervez Musharraf is acting quickly to release detainees who were held and interrogated with no paper trail or legal protections to get rid of evidence of the secret program. Detainees have been warned not to talk about their experiences, and in at least one case, an Arab man was released in Gaza, a direly impoverished region surrounded on all sides by Israel.

The Times article reveals that much of the ongoing political struggle in Pakistan stems from conflicts about the detention program. The political conflict began, you may remember, as a power struggle between Musharraf and Iftikar Chaudhry, the chief justice of the Supreme Court—who, in turns out, was attempting to force the dictator to bring the detainees into the court system. Musharraf subsequently removed Chaudhry, and lawyers took to the streets—lawyers who, in some cases, were attempting to represent the disappeared suspects.

One rationale Musharraf gave for imposing emergency rule in November was that the court was releasing suspected terrorists. In fact, it was simply demanding that detainees be charged or freed. You may also recall that Musharraf wasted no time rounding up and jailing human rights workers—who were also quite plausibly advocating for detainees. (The Times' sources are identified as "lawyers and human rights officials.")

A week into his emergency rule, Musharraf reinvigorated amended the 1952 Army Act "to allow civilians to be tried by military tribunals for general offenses. The tribunals are closed to the public and offer no right of appeal," according to the Times. For good measure, the amendment was made retroactive to January 2003, leaving no way to track any criminal charges since then.

To justify the move, a government spokesman said, "Sometimes it becomes difficult to prove a case, but you have reasons that a person poses a threat to humanity and to society."

Pakistan was almost certainly working with the United States in its efforts to interrogate, if not prosecute, the suspected terrorists. One recently released detainee reports that a white, English-speaking interrogator was in the room as his Pakistani captors tortured him.

Although the idea of U.S. officials presiding over the detention and torture of suspected terrorists may not scandalize you anymore, their participation in the detention and torture of ethnic minorities whose only crime is to support regional autonomy ought to. Among the disappeared are thousands of Baluchi and Sindhi nationalists who they have nothing to do with the war on terror.

A Little Holiday Cheer From... Nine Inch Nails?

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:35 PM EST

Holy stocking stuffers, this is funny: Nine Inch Nails lyrics set to the tunes of classic Christmas carols, AKA Nine Inch Noëls. NSFW, needless to say.

Congress Looks to Tighten Military Contractor Accountability

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:05 PM EST

Since her appearance last week on ABC's 20/20, former KBR contractor Jamie Leigh Jones has received a lot of attention, and understandably so. The 23-year-old Houston native alleges that in late July 2005, just four days after arriving in Baghdad's Green Zone, several of her KBR colleagues slipped drugs into her drink and, after she'd passed out, took turns raping her. The following morning, KBR security officers escorted Jones to a U.S. Army hospital, where a military physician confirmed she'd been sexually assaulted. A rape kit was assembled, including doctors' notes, photographs, and tissue swabs—the kind of evidence Jones would need to pursue criminal charges against her assailants. Then, without explanation, the physician handed the evidence over to the KBR security officer. Jones says that for the next 24 hours she was locked in a shipping container against her will and kept under armed guard, and was only rescued after the Gurkha guarding the door allowed her to use his cell phone to call her family in Texas, who, with the help of Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), arranged for her return to Houston.

Such was the story recounted today as Jones, Poe, and expert witness Scott Horton, a Columbia University law professor who specializes in contractor accountability issues, testified before the House subcommittee on crime, terrorism, and homeland security. As the three witnesses explained, no criminal charges have been brought in the case, in part, because much of the rape kit evidence—presumably while in the custody of KBR officials—has been lost. (Another contributing factor is that Jones' employment contract included a binding arbitration agreement, preventing her from filing suit against the company. More on this subject is forthcoming from our own Stephanie Mencimer.)