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The Atmosphere Ate My Laptop

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 1:07 PM EDT

The Government Accountability Office, source of so much amusement to the denizens of DC, has released a report (PDF) that says NASA employees stole almost $100 million in supplies from the agency in the past decade. From the New York Times:

One thief appropriated an office laptop as his own by declaring the machine lost. It had been thrown from the International Space Station, he explained, apparently with a straight face, and burned up in the Earth's atmosphere.

The GAO report uses very strong language to condemn NASA's management, noting a "lack of accountability" and "weak internal controls." Let's not forget that this is at the organization responsible for sending people into space. Maybe a little accountability is in order? Just a thought.

— Nick Baumann

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If the Election's Tomorrow and Clinton's the Nominee...

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 12:39 PM EDT

...Then she wins big, says Chris Bowers, who compiled the state-by-state head-to-head polls to put together two electoral maps. Clinton wins the electoral vote 335-203 over Giuliani and 430-108 over Romney. And Bowers thinks this is the Democrats' "worst case scenario":

It is important to keep in mind that Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are the two frontrunners for the Republican nomination right now, and that Hillary Clinton is supposedly the least electable Democrat of the four early state candidates in double digits. To put it another way, this is supposedly the worst-case scenario for Democrats right now. On top of this, what do you think will happen to either Giuliani or Romney's numbers when, for nine consecutive months next year (February 6th through Election Day), they are on every media possible, every day, arguing that we don't need to withdraw any troops from Iraq?

Good news for the Dems, if it's true. Part of it, at least, may not be: according to some polls, Clinton is not the "least electable Democrat." Of the top three Democratic candidates, only Clinton won all three head-to-head contests with Giuliani, McCain, and Thompson. But seriously: 430-108? If you're a Republican, that has to make the prospect of a Romney nomination look pretty bleak.

— Nick Baumann

"Private Eyes, They're Watching You..."

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 12:28 PM EDT

Last week, while addressing a border security conference in El Paso, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell confirmed that about 100 people in the United States are currently subject to court-approved wiretaps. "On the U.S. persons side, it's 100 or less," McConnell said. "And then, the foreign side—it's in the thousands." The eavesdropping is part of ongoing counter-terrorism investigations. McConnell's comments were reported in a piece by Joby Warrick in this morning's Washington Post.

In related news, starting next Monday, U.S. intelligence agencies will begin screening thousands of people who work for charitable organizations that receive funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The move apparently comes in response to a GAO report from 2005, which revealed that six organizations receiving U.S. funding were later determined to have ties to terrorist organizations. From the Post:

The program is described in the notice as the Partner Vetting System. It demands for the first time that nongovernmental organizations file information with the government on each officer, board member and key employee and those associated with an application for AID funds or managing a project when funded.
The information is to include name, address, date and place of birth, citizenship, Social Security and passport numbers, sex, and profession or other employment data. The data collected "will be used to conduct national security screening" to ensure these persons have no connection to entities or individuals "associated with terrorism" or "deemed to be a risk to national security," according to the notice.
Such screening normally involves sending the data to the FBI and other police and intelligence agencies to see if negative information surfaces.
The new system would also require that the groups turn over the individuals' telephone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses, another indication that those numbers would be checked against data collected as part of a terrorist screening program run by the U.S. intelligence community.
Until now, under an earlier Bush administration initiative, nongovernmental organizations had been required to check their own employees and then certify to AID that they were certain no one was associated with individuals or groups that appeared on applicable governmental terrorist listings.

Obama on Cuba: Another Heterodoxy?

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 11:41 AM EDT

Barack Obama is back with another challenge to the foreign policy orthodoxy. (His willingness to attack Pakistan and his ruling out of a nuclear attack to eliminate terrorists are two others.)

This time, it's about Cuba. Obama stated a position in a Miami Herald op-ed that makes sense but doesn't take into account the political world's customary set of panderings. Members of the Cuban exile community that has huge sway in Florida politics take a hard line against the island nation, and any politician who hopes to win the Sunshine State usually follows their lead. They want to cut off or heavily restrict remittances and travel to Cuba, so as to kill Castro's regime by a slow strangulation. Obama said that he wants to ease restrictions, so Cubans in the U.S. can visit their relatives on the island, and send money home if desired.

Hillary Clinton and the Republicans, who all support the status quo, attacked Obama for his position, arguing that it is borne out of naiveté and that it illustrates the lack of strength and seriousness that makes the Illinois senator unfit for the role of Commander-in-Chief. Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, and Dennis Kucinich, however, all said they agree with Obama in the wake of his Herald op-ed.

Stuff like this is getting Obama called gaffe-prone (see Hannity and Mitt Romney in this video), but in reality these aren't traditional faux pas; he's just refusing to accept conventional wisdom. Can you win a presidential election when you are frequently at odds with the think tanks, most of Congress, the powerful interests, and the status quo? Well, he was right on the Iraq War, and all those folks were wrong... What do you think?

Bush Administration's Own Report Doubts Maliki Gov't

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 11:22 AM EDT

In Bush's Iraq-as-Vietnam speech that Monika blogged about early this morning (lots of interesting stuff in the comments section, btw), he said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a "good man with a difficult job." He's half right, I suppose.

But why come out in favor of Maliki when you are about to undercut him? From the Times:

The administration is planning to make public today parts of a sober new report by American intelligence agencies expressing deep doubts that the government of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, can overcome sectarian differences. Government officials who have seen the report say it gives a bleak outlook on the chances Mr. Maliki can meet milestones intended to promote unity in Iraq.

You can read all about the miserable Maliki government here. To date, Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton have called for Maliki to get the boot — it appears the intelligence community isn't far behind.

Update: For a rundown of Maliki's possible replacements, see this Time article. Looks like the U.S.'s hopes lie with a guy named Mithal Alussi. The real question is, who on earth would want this job?

Bush Vietnam Speech: We Have Met the Enemy, and It Is You

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 7:37 AM EDT

Everyone has a take on the president's stunning Iraq-Vietnam analogy (message: things get better the longer we stay), but the VFW speech is a fascinating list of every other war rationale the Bush administration has tried and failed to make stick. There is the "the war in Iraq is all about fighting al Qaeda" line, with its easy conflation of insurgents and jihadists:

Like our enemies in the past, the terrorists who wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places seek to spread a political vision of their own -- a harsh plan for life that crushes freedom, tolerance, and dissent.
Like our enemies in the past, they kill Americans because we stand in their way of imposing this ideology across a vital region of the world.

And the "if you're not with us, you're with them" smear, reincarnated as "peaceniks lost Vietnam, and that's why the terrorists are winning" (at least when John McCain goes down this road, he has a shred of integrity):

There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today's struggle -- those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that "the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today."
His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda's chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to "the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents."
…Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility -- but the terrorists see it differently.

Read the whole thing for yourself, and let us know what else jumps out at you in the comments.

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State Officials Respond to Mother Jones' "School of Shock" Story, Call the Judge Rotenberg Center "Inhumane"

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 1:52 AM EDT

Jennifer Gonnerman's yearlong investigation for Mother Jones into the Judge Rotenberg Center—a taxpayer-funded "school" that takes autistic, mentally retarded, and emotionally disturbed kids from eight states and Washington D.C. and punishes them with electric shocks—is eliciting strong statements from state officials.

The first is from Massachusetts state Senator Brian A. Joyce and Representative John W. Scibak; Joyce has been trying for years to shut the Rotenberg Center down:

Senator Brian A. Joyce and Representative John W. Scibak are calling for the immediate passage of legislation that would strongly regulate the use of "aversive" therapy on children in light of a new report highlighting the practices of a Massachusetts-based school now infamously known as the "school of shock."

In the September edition of the national magazine Mother Jones, the reporter, who spent a year researching the article and interviewing Judge Rotenberg Center founder and director Matt Israel, refers to the schools as a high school version of Abu Ghraib and describes heartbreaking stories of children (some as young as 9-years-old) being painfully shocked by accident, shocked for swearing or being shocked over decades for the same behavior.

Eight states (including Massachusetts) send children with autism, mental retardation, ADD, ADHD and emotional problems to the Canton-based school that punishes them with food deprivation and powerful electric shocks. JRC currently treats about 230 children and brings in annual revenues exceeding $56 million.

Massachusetts legislators have been working with disability advocates for over twenty years to ban the use of shock (aversive) therapy with little results.

Senator Joyce and Representative Scibak recently filed two bills to safeguard and delineate a narrow range of behavior problems where aversive therapy may be appropriate and would address many of the egregious scenarios described in the article such as children being painfully shocked for swearing.

The bills are the culmination of hundreds of hours of work and discussions between behavior analysts and the psychological community, legislators, and disability and civil rights advocates.

"We believe that it is government's fundamental duty to protect our most innocent and vulnerable populations," said Senator Joyce noting that prominent behavior-modification experts, including some cited by Matt Israel, call the JRC ineffective and outmoded. The Canton-based school is in Senator Joyce's district.

And this is from New York State Assemblywoman Joan L. Millman who represents Brooklyn (52nd District), home to several of the kids sent to the Rotenberg Center:

As the author of New York State's Billy's Law, which led to on-site visits and inspections of a score of out-of-state residential treatment facilities, I was encouraged by your recent article describing the non-professional practices at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, located in Massachusetts. The so-called treatment of mentally retarded, autistic and bipolar youngsters, which consists of electric shock treatment, specialized food programs (i.e. the withholding of food), the lack of sufficient academic and special education instructions, and the limited provision of related services, all contribute to the inhumane conditions that exist at the center. To subject our most vulnerable children to months and even years of such treatments, is an extreme and inhumane form of intervention, not based on current research. Thank you for shedding light on this controversial institution.

We'll keep you posted about what other elected officials are saying and doing (the story has been sent to all pertinent Congressional delegations and state representatives, so you can follow up too) about the Rotenberg Center. Meanwhile, you can read all about it here.

Neato Viddys on the Intertubes

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 8:41 PM EDT

Hey, it's a Movie Trailers Edition, specifically, Trailers for Upcoming Movies that Have Something to Do With Music!

I'm Not There (out October 21st)
The Todd Haynes-directed Bob Dylan biopic in which Bob is played by (deep breath) Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, and Cate Blanchette. Also, David Cross as Alan Ginsburg. For real.

Walk Hard (out in December)
The Judd Apatow-produced biopic parody starring John C. Reilly as musician Dewey Cox. "I do believe in you… I just know you're gonna fail!"

Where Are All the Dolphins?

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 8:09 PM EDT

Worrying news from Europe on the lack of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in the Bay of Biscay this summer. Researchers from the wildlife conservation group Marinelife have been conducting scientific surveys of whales, dolphins and seabirds in the English Channel and Bay of Biscay every month for the last 13 years. All told they've counted more than 20 cetacean species and more than a hundred thousand animals. However, as Science Daily reports, this summer is proving alarmingly different. The three main dolphin species, Common Dolphin, Striped Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin, are down ~80% from last year. Seabirds — auks, shearwaters, and gannets — are also largely absent. The year is also marked by a collapse of the anchovy fishery — such that fishing bans are in place for the Spanish and French fleets. The researchers worry this reduction in fish stocks, which may be due to overfishing, may also be linked to climate change (read MoJo's The Last Days of the Ocean package for more on these issues). Furthermore, dolphins in these waters are frequent bycatch victims of the fishing fleets, with thousands dying each year in the nets, and many of them washing up dead on the beaches. . . Well, there's a lovely way to start your summer holiday, on a beach devoid of any living thing but loaded with the sad carcasses of dead dolphins. Can we get a louder SOS from the ocean? 

Nina Berman's Photos on Wounded Soldiers: Mother Jones First Ran Them Back in 2004

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 4:28 PM EDT

Today the New York Times has a nice piece heralding the work of photographer Nina Berman, who for years has been documenting the plight of soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Times made mention of the fact that "20 of her portraits were published as a book, 'Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq' (Trolley Books, 2004), with an introduction by Verlyn Klinkenborg, a member of the editorial board of The New York Times." What the Times failed to mention, however, is that that book came out of a Mother Jones photo essay that appeared in 2004.

Interesting, because back then, neither the Times nor most other major papers were doing much to chronicle the fate of the wounded. Or the dead. Mother Jones, on the other hand, made a concerted effort to get photo essays that nobody else would publish into our pages. You can see these photo essays and other topics that will eventually be covered elsewhere (like what's happened to women in Afghanistan post-invasion) on our photo essay archive page. Where an interview with Nina also lives.

That, too, ran four years ago. But good to see the Times catching up.