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Long Arm of the Law May Finally Reach Blackwater

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 5:55 PM EDT

The legal black hole in which private contractors have been operating in Iraq may be narrowing. Earlier today, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure that would extend the reach of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) to include any contractor (or subcontractor, at any tier) working outside the United States for any federal agency in any place where the U.S. military is engaged.

This is the second proposed revision of MEJA since 2000. The law initially covered only civilians working directly for the U.S. military overseas. A 2004 amendment expanded its jurisdiction to include employees of any federal agency supporting a DOD mission abroad. But the law still does not apply to civilians working in areas not directly related to the U.S. military.

Blackwater operators involved in the September 16 shootings in Baghdad, which left 17 dead and another 24 wounded, were protecting U.S. diplomats under a State Department contract. It is therefore unclear whether the incident would fall under MEJA's jurisdiction. All contractors are immune from Iraqi law.

This loophole would be closed by the bill—sponsored by David Price, Democrat of North Carolina—that passed the House today by a margin of 389 to 30; all dissenting votes were cast by Republicans. A similar measure is expected to come before the Senate. If senators vote in similar numbers, any veto from President Bush could be easily swept aside.

The White House issued a statement yesterday, opposing Price's bill as carrying "unintended and intolerable consequences for crucial and necessary national security activities and operations." An AP reporter asking for clarification was referred to the Justice Department, which refused comment.

For its part, the private military industry appears to be in favor of Price's bill. The International Peace Operations Association, an industry trade group, has expressed its support, as did Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince in his testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday.

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Why I Hate the Blue Angels

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 5:33 PM EDT

I loathe the Blue Angels. Always have. Maybe it's the screaming noise pollution. Or maybe it's the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on what is essentially a PR stunt. I used to think it was mostly those things, when for the past 10 years, I have had to brace myself for oohs and ahhs on the streets of San Francisco when the Angels come to town.

But now I hate them even more, and less. More because I now have a cousin who's an Air Force pilot who's flying real fighter jets in a real war in Iraq. It's one thing to waste millions of dollars during peacetime, but wholly another to do so when we are sinking hundreds of billions into a war of desperation.

And less because, well, the Armed Forces are desperate for recruits. So the show of speed and acrobatics serves an actual purpose these days. The military needs to spread the patriotic flame amongst everyday citizens, whether it's the Navy's Angels above the Golden Gate or the Marines handing M16s to kids in Times Square. Without a draft recruiting tactics have to become more and more creative. I am not hoping for an onslaught of enlistments necessarily, but it would be nice if we all woke up and realized what the stretch of our military means for those currently fighting, and, who knows, the buzz of a fighter jet might be just the thing to wake us up.

The Democratic Hack Gap

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 5:32 PM EDT

I just want to echo Ezra Klein's thoughts on what he calls the "Democratic hack gap."

Here's what he means. Ann Coulter, that crazy-eyed banshee who moonlights as a conservative commentator, recently said, "If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democratic president. It's kind of a pipe dream, a personal fantasy of mine."

Soooo, that's pretty nuts. But liberals won't make a big deal out of it for two reasons: (1) they just want Ann Coulter to go away, and pulling their hair out over her latest piece of insanity will just draw more attention to her, and (2) this quote is obviously out of Coulter's quasi-tongue-in-cheek rhetorical register, and because it appears half-serious liberals feel stupid arguing its merits.

Fair enough. But Ezra points something else out. He writes, "There'll be a fair amount of meta commentary on why this doesn't make it into the papers, or get the sort of coverage that the "Betrayus" ad did, but not a lot of genuine, direct outrage that would actually launch it into said papers. But there should be. It's a despicable thing to say."

He could just as easily replace "genuine outrage" with "phony outrage" — functionally, it's the same thing. We need more Rush Limbaughs on the left, the argument goes. More Sean Hannitys and Michelle Malkins. Dare I say, more Ann Coulters.

Whether or not we'd still want to be liberals if we shared our political space with the likes of those is up for debate (we don't win just for playin' nice, folks), but the fact that the hack gap exists cannot be denied.

New (-ish) Music: Siouxsie - Mantaray

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 5:28 PM EDT

mojo-photo-siouxsie.jpgWas it really almost 30 years ago that Siouxsie & the Banshees, along with their buddies in The Cure, defined what it means to be goth? Just imagine: if they had decided to wear orange instead of black, how different the club scene would be today. Fashion choices aside, the Banshees, like Blondie, always seemed subsumed under the sheer force of their singer's personality, and their music naturally evolved towards pop, with the success of "Peek-a-boo" the greatest evidence of that transformation. But even that was 20 years ago. Does Ms. Sioux survive the transformation into a one-name persona?

Well, thankfully, her voice is as unique and captivating as ever. Check out "About to Happen," where she struts and teases her way over a beat somewhere between the retro-rock of Wolfmother and the glammy electro of Goldfrapp: "Tension mounts / about to blow." "Here Comes That Day," with its trumpets and loping beat, could be straight out of the Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse school of updated R&B, but in Siouxsie's hands, it takes on a kind of vampy, cabaret-style appeal. That cabaret sound emerges full force by track 5, "If It Doesn't Kill You," where you can almost see the well-dressed patrons in a smoky lounge, drinking martinis as Siouxsie drapes herself over a piano.

Mostly, though, the sound is definitely current, but still idiosyncratic: it never tries too hard, and despite Siouxsie's longtime absence from music, there's nothing desperate about Mantaray. There's also nothing that urgent; if you never cared about Siouxsie and the Banshees, you probably won't discover yourself falling in love with Siouxsie now. It's the way of the world: a solo record, 30 years after your band helped ignite a whole movement, will probably be a more sedate, professional affair. But if that's a given (and considering how embarrassing these late-career "returns" can be), Mantaray is often very good, both as a tribute to Siouxsie the image, and as a purely enjoyable listen.

Mantaray is out now on Decca.
MP3s: "Here Comes That Day," "Into a Swan," and "If It Doesn't Kill You" from Nine Bullets

Video: "Into a Swan"

"Here Comes That Day" live on "Erasercuts"

Larry Craig to Stay Guilty

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 4:54 PM EDT

News out of the Minnesota airport bathroom today. The judge in the Larry Craig circus/retrial took one look at the Idaho Senator's attempt to withdraw his guilty plea and said, "No way, buster."

"The defendant, a career politician with a college education, is of at least above-average intelligence," the judge wrote. "He knew what he was saying, reading and signing."

No word on whether Craig will now (finally) resign.

We are all Uncle Toms Now

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 2:11 PM EDT

It's ridiculous being black.

You have no idea how much time it takes and the stupifyingly asinine conversations one must have. Like whether or not Don Imus' "nappy headed 'hos" comments were, like, problematic. Or, I dunno, Isaiah Thomas saying its bad for white men to call black women bitches but a brother's gotta do what a brother's gotta do. And, oh lordy, the Uncle Tom libretto we're forced to sing every few months. At least this time, the lyrics have changed a tad but the basic storyline is every bit as improbable as an opera's and equally impervious to the ebb and flow of modernity. Now comes Dr. Boyce Watkins, our latest soloist.

On CNN recently, he called Juan Williams "a happy Negro" for defending Bill O'Reilly's infamous comments about his visit to Sylvia's restaurant. O'Reilly had confessed himself surprised, and reassured, that black people behaved well in public and exhibited proficiency with tableware. Williams is right that O'Reilly's comments were less racist than clumsy. He might also have added, 'a paternalistic pat on the head,' a problem from which O'Reilly could have saved himself had he the self-awareness to end his remarks by saying "and boy am I ashamed for having subconsciously believed that black people are so different from me." And, maybe, "Given the public stances I take on race, how could I have lived this long without spending quality time in the 'hood?" But whether or not O'Reilly is racist is irrelevant. The point is whether or not a black person may disagree with the party line without having his black card pulled and his ghetto pass revoked. Apparently not.

For Watkins, "Seeing Williams sitting there congratulating O'Reilly for his bigotry reminded me of the Negro in the white suit defending "massa" at all costs." Since when did slaves, even trusted house slaves, wear white suits? Methinks he's conflating Uncle Ben with Uncle Tom; even we can't tell each other apart. But I digress.

The notion that a 'real' black person holds a particular set of beliefs or applies a particular analytic framework to social issues—god! I am so over this—is pernicious, but even more importantly, stupid and intellectually paralyzing.

The hyper-analytic in me, though, just loves the deliciousness of the 'happy Negro' edifice. Let's take it apart, shall we?

A 'happy' Negro must a) have a false consciousness b) borne of internalized oppressed and self-hatred which c) leads him to crave the approval of white folks. Otherwise he couldn't be happy, seeing as how life is so hideously difficult for us modern Negroes. Ergo, a rational Negro must be a miserable, no wait!, an angry Negro. Like Dr. Watkins.

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Alabama Sends Dems to Jail, Republicans to the Senate

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 1:14 PM EDT

Anybody know anything about Alabama politics? Because it appears U.S. Attorneys and various judges in Alabama took a far-reaching series of corruption cases that implicated both Republicans and Democrats and prosecuted only the Democrats. The result? Former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman is in jail, and and former Republican Attorney General Jeff Sessions is now U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions.

It's a big Time investigative report titled "Selective Justice in Alabama?" and one gets the sense Time's editors really wanted to leave that question mark off the end but didn't have the guts.

Poll: 27% of GOP Voters Would Choose 3rd Party over Rudy

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 12:53 PM EDT

A while back, we mentioned that evangelical leaders had gotten together and agreed to consider a third party candidate if pro-choice, pro-gay rights Rudy Giuliani got the GOP nod.

Maybe that decision reflected widespread sentiment amongst their base, or maybe the base is mimicking the thinking of the Christian right's honchos. Either way, a new Rasmussen poll shows 27 percent of Republican voters would rather vote for a third party candidate (from the Christian right) than for Rudy.

Not good news for a guy who makes the case, on the campaign trail, that he is the only Republican that can beat the Democrats.

White House Gives UK Troops a Big Middle Finger on the Way Out of Iraq

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 12:42 PM EDT

Huh, that's odd. I thought you weren't supposed to criticize the troops. But I guess it's okay if you're the White House and the troops you are criticizing are (1) not from this country, and (2) pulling out of the war. From the UK's Daily Telegraph:

The [senior White House foreign policy official] added that Britain would always be "the cornerstone" of U.S. policy towards Europe but there was "a lot of unhappiness" about how British forces had performed in Basra...
"Operationally, British forces have performed poorly in Basra," said the official. "Maybe it's best that they leave. Now we will have a clear field in southern Iraq."

Thanks for the help, chaps!

North Korean Nuclear Deal Shows Wisdom of Diplomacy, Idiocy of John Bolton

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 11:41 AM EDT

Michael Hirsh of Newsweek, who got it exactly right on Petraeus long before the General's much-ballyhooed congressional testimony, hits the lesson of this North Korean nuclear deal right on the head.

Hirsh explains why we couldn't have done this deal a year ago:

The real difference is one of attitude: a willingness to give even an evil tin-pot dictator like Kim Jong Il something he can take away from the table. In his case it seems to be mostly respect that Kim is looking for. That he can never have, but in an effort to avoid war and the horrors of nuclear proliferation... it may just be worth it to pretend. To grit one's teeth, normalize relations and live with his odious regime a little longer. Yes, what Kim is doing may amount to "nuclear blackmail," as the Bush administration once called it. But it's not as if this negotiation is going to set a precedent for every other rogue nation; it took North Korea 50 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to build the popgun nuke it detonated last October.

The difference in attitude has everything to do with the absence of John Bolton, who is, not surprisingly, spitting on the deal as a commentator for Fox News. With his hawkish, don't-give-an-inch approach, Bolton essentially torpedoed any productive talks with North Korea, the very talks that have now created Bush's only significant foreign policy achievement.

Scratch that. There was a previous achievement: getting Libya to dismantle its WMD programs. Now, that had a lot to do with years of work by the international diplomatic community and little to do with the White House. But nevertheless, if you read Hirsh's article, you'll find that Bolton almost found a way to ruin that, too.

Hirsh goes on to explain that we need a willingness to go tit-for-tat with Iran.

Today there are back channels (like the one led by former U.N. ambassador Tom Pickering) and side channels (like the one being conducted by U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker). What we don't have is a senior U.S. envoy who can put all the issues on the table with Tehran at the same time.

Hopefully, this success with North Korea will show the remaining hawks in the administration that war needn't be the answer with Iran.