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Thurston Moore Says Maybe Sonic Youth Should Have Broken Up

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 5:33 PM EDT

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We've been covering reunions a bit here on the Riff lately: actual reunions, ones that will never happen, and ones we're hoping for. Sonic Youth, to their great credit, have stayed a band (and a creative, relevant band at that) for almost 30 years, but even they realize that a breakup might have made things more exciting—and more lucrative. In an interview with Spin Magazine, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore said their greatest career "faux pas" was not breaking up:

The Pixies reunion was a real success, and Dinosaur Jr. seems like a big success, and both those bands play as good as they ever did. Mission of Burma blew my mind when they came back. But a band like us never did break up. Which was to our own [detriment]. What would have happened if we did break up after Daydream Nation -- or even after Dirty -- and had gotten back together two years ago? You wouldn't be interviewing me here. You'd be interviewing me at the Chateau Marmont as I'm waiting for my limousine. We probably would have made so much money. That was our biggest career faux pas: not breaking up.

Well, I'm not sure der Yoof would have made Police money, but still, he's probably right—absence makes the heart (and wallet) grow fonder. But with the band continuing to make some of the best music of their career, one hopes they're not seriously considering it. I'll give you $20 to stay together!

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Beastie Boys Are Now, Like, All Mellow and Stuff

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 4:23 PM EDT
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I was surprised by a few things at this past weekend's Beastie Boys performance at San Francisco's Warfield, where the veteran hip-hop/punk band played material from their latest album The Mix-Up. Mainly, I was thrown off by the gray hair and the good manners.

Members of the Beastie Boys have hit their 40s, so it's no big surprise to see MC and bass player Adam Yauch rockin' the salt and pepper up top. But it wasn't just the gray hair that got me. The Beastie Boys were so damned nice and polite. There was no shit-talking or rabble-rousing, and barely any cursing. The atmosphere was one that made you want to sip tea and dance rather than drink beer and punch the guy next to you. I have to say it was jarring to think that not long ago, I was jumping around like a fool at one of their concerts in a sea of hyped-up break dancing and moshing 20-year-olds.

That said, I'm not complaining. I dig it. The musicianship of the band is impressive and the songs are loungy and heavy with organ, percussion, wah-wah guitar licks, and lots of echo, reverb, and sci-fi sounds. It's similar to their earlier instrumentals from Check Your Head and The In Sound From Way Out!, but without any semblance of punk rock.

And the Beasties have traded in their signature Adidas track suits and beanies for old-man suits with pork-pie hats and skinny ties. It's not hip hop, it's mod, all the way. And I'm liking it.

D.C. Schools Chancellor to Investigate "School of Shock" That Mother Jones Exposed Saying, "It's Nuts On Multiple Levels"

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 3:51 PM EDT

In her Washington Examiner column, Jonetta Rose Barras follows up on Mother Jones' "School of Shock" piece and prompts the new D.C. Schools Chancellor to investigate why Washington is sending 10 kids to this controversial facility. Writes Barras:

The District government is spending millions to send children to a controversial special education residential facility in Massachusetts that uses electric shock to discipline students. The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton accepts individuals diagnosed as autistic, mentally retarded, schizophrenic, bipolar and emotionally disturbed. It is "the only facility in the country that disciplines students by shocking them, a form of punishment not inflicted on serial killers, or child molesters, or any of the 2.2 million inmates now incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons," says Jennifer Gonnerman, writing in the current issue of Mother Jones magazine.
Typically, a student at Rotenberg is equipped with a "backpack containing five 2-pound, battery-operated devices, each connected to an electrode attached to" the person's skin. The student is zapped for so-called misbehavior, which could include minor offenses like "yelling or cursing," according to Gonnerman.
Gonnerman's story — "School of Shock" — focuses on students from New York and Massachusetts. But five other states and the District send individuals to the facility. The District's connection isn't detailed. Still, the horrific portrait painted sent me racing to determine how many children from this city are at Rotenberg.
For weeks, I sought answers. The Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health claim no relations with Rotenberg. Marla Oakes, head of special education reform at DCPS, failed to respond to repeated requests for information. (Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee can't clean the central administration fast enough.)
The chief financial officer reports the District paid Rotenberg nearly $4 million — $809,498.50 by the Department of Human Services and $2.93 million by the DCPS — between fiscal 2004 and fiscal 2007.
Matthew Israel, psychologist, founder and executive director of Rotenberg, confirms 10 District children are being treated at the facility.During a telephone interview, he takes exception to Gonnerman's article, calling it "an obviously negative hatchet job."
He directs me to the center's Web site for a detailed rebuttal, in which he calls the center the last resort for many of its residents; says electric shock is an "extremely effective" aversive that is "used for only 43 percent of JRC's school-age students."
In a conversation Wednesday, Rhee told me she has asked for an investigation into the Rotenberg treatment of District students. "It's nuts on multiple levels," she said.
For decades the District has sent some of its most vulnerable children to out-of-state facilities. A 2006 D.C. Board of Education white paper indicated there are more than 11,000 special education students. Twenty percent of them attend 131 private institutions; 91 are residential.
Mayor Adrian Fenty has promised to bring District students home. Let's hope he starts with the 10 at Rotenberg. Tax dollars shouldn't be used for a treatment modality that includes the regular infliction of pain on children already struggling against enormous odds.

Indeed. And I concur with my old Washington City Paper coworker Jonetta, that it is long since time that D.C. clean house when it comes to the school system and the special ed program in particular. Sounds like Teach For America alum Rhee is game to try. Godspeed.

More on other officials taking on the Rotenberg Center here.

Meddling in Elections (in Iraq)

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 1:30 PM EDT

In a column in today's Washington Post, David Ignatius says the U.S. should have done more to interfere with the January 2005 Iraqi elections, supposedly to counter "Iranian influence."

Joe Klein agrees that the administration was naive if it expected an anti-Iranian result from an unmanipulated election. But he says the idea that CIA interference could have positively influenced the elections (or won them for "former CIA favorite Iyad Allawi") is just as silly. Was the CIA going to magically change the demographics of Iraq? As Klein points out, every Iraqi election is effectively a "census," with voting split along ethno-religious lines:

Kurds vote for Kurds. Sunnis vote for Sunnis. Shi'ites vote Sadr or the Hakim family.

Shias were likely to win any Iraqi election with or without Iranian help. The "Iranian influence" Ignatius talks about isn't the problem. The Iranians have influence in the first place because there are so many Shias in Iraq. And the inevitably Shia Iraqi government was inevitably going to be friendly to Iran because Iran is a Shia country.

Pinning American hopes on a change in leadership is just as naive as assuming that "if we can just hold elections, everything will turn out all right." It's unlikely that any Iraqi leader could truly bridge the sectarian divides. And Matthew Yglesias reminds his readers that we've heard the whole "a change of leadership will save us" narrative before:

Back when Allawi was booted from power in January 2005 in favor of Ibrahim Jafari, folks proclaimed this a great success and said Bush's Iraq policy had been vindicated. They were wrong. Back when Jafari was ousted in favor of Maliki, people proclaimed this, too, as a crucial step in the right directed. They were wrong. Now Maliki's the problem and Allawi -- again! -- is the solution. But they're still wrong.

The Iraqi leadership obviously isn't the problem. The whole nation-building project would almost certainly be a lot easier if Iraq was ethnically and religiously homogeneous. But the Shias aren't alone. There are also Kurds and Sunnis, and all three groups hate each other. This is not a good starting point for a democracy. And putting someone new in charge isn't going to solve the fundamental problem that Iraq is an ethnically and religiously divided country.

—Nick Baumann

Breaking: Bush to Receive More Than One Point of View From Advisers

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 1:24 PM EDT

McClatchy reports that since the Pentagon can't agree on what to do about Iraq (and who can, really?), top military leaders will be giving their (presumably different) opinions to President Bush separately. After hearing what his Joint Chiefs, Defense Secretary, assorted generals, and much-touted "commanders in the field" have to say, the president will have "a decision to make," in the words of a Pentagon spokesman. Perfect for the The Decider!

And I bet you can guess what he'll decide...

— Nick Baumann

Vitter vs. Craig: Homophobic Hypocrisy from the GOP

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 1:20 PM EDT

Wouldn't you know it, the GOP is treating Sen. Larry Craig, who solicited sex from a man, very, very differently than it treated Sen. David Vitter, who admitted to using a (heterosexual) prostitution service. You can check out Think Progress for details, but here's what you need to know: a number of Republicans have called for Craig to resign, the party leadership has stripped him of his committee assignments, and the GOP has asked for an ethics investigation into his actions.

When David Vitter rose to speak in front of his fellow Republicans a few days after he admitted the "sin" in his past, he received "thunderous applause" from his colleagues.

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John McCain and the Sensitivities of Suffering

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 1:07 PM EDT

I have enormous respect for the suffering John McCain experienced as a P.O.W. in Vietnam, and for the courage he displayed during his captivity. I remember being stunned by this article in the LA Times that described the mangling of his body:

George "Bud" Day, a Medal of Honor recipient, vividly remembers the day McCain's broken body was brought by guards through the door of Hoa Lo prison, the infamous Hanoi Hilton.
"He had been starved," Day said. "He was emaciated and weighed around 100 pounds. He had lost a third of his body weight. He had a fracture of his right knee that had been unskillfully repaired, as well as multiple fractures of his right arm. His left shoulder was dislocated and he had been bayoneted in the left leg. And he was filthy. You could smell him a quarter-block away.
"I expected he would die before morning," Day continued. "I thought the Vietnamese had dropped him off with us so he would die with us and they would be able to blame his death on us. About 40% of the prisoners had some kind of a broken limb or combination of broken limbs or skull fractures. I would say John was in the top 2% of the worst-injured in the system."

I don't object to McCain making this part of his campaign narrative. But check out this new campaign video (spotted on The Plank), which is a solid twelve minutes of this stuff. At a certain point, you can't help but having one of two reactions: (1) disgust at the war-porn nature of the whole thing, or (2) pity for McCain. Neither make really make you want to vote for him.

Missing Weapons Found in Turkey

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 1:03 PM EDT

As mentioned here before, a large number of U.S. weapons supplied to the Iraqi Army have gone missing. According to today's New York Times, at least some of them have been located in Turkey. Pentagon officials have confirmed that the serial numbers of an unspecified number of Glock handguns matched those on a list of weapons originally provided to Iraqi military units in 2004 and 2005; estimates for the number of weapons recovered vary from dozens to hundreds. The Turkish government alleges that the U.S. arms have been used in "crimes" committed in Turkey by members of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group. U.S. officials say they have no proof of this, but they have apparently taken Turkish claims seriously enough to dispatch a high-ranking Pentagon official to investigate the claims. According to the Times article:

Mr. Gates sent the Pentagon general counsel, William J. Haynes II, to Turkey last month for talks with Turkish officials, who had been complaining for months that American-supplied weapons were being used in murders and other violent crimes carried out, in some cases, by Kurdish militants.
Turkey's allegations that Iraq was being used as a sanctuary to carry out attacks inside Turkey have strained relations between the Bush administration and Ankara over the past six months, with Turkey not ruling out a military intervention into northern Iraq to stop the activity.
American officials said that it appeared that the weapons found in Turkey were given to Iraqi units in 2004 and 2005 when, in the rush to build police and army units, controls on distribution of firearms had been much weaker. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was then in charge of training and equipping Iraqi forces and who is now the top American commander in Iraq, has said that the imperative to provide weapons to Iraqi security forces was more important at the time than maintaining impeccable records...
Pentagon officials said Wednesday that the problem of weapons turning up in Turkey was part of a larger investigation being carried out by the Pentagon inspector general, Claude M. Kicklighter, a retired Army three-star general, into allegations that American-supplied weapons had been improperly accounted for and fallen into the wrong hands.

The Turkish government claims that Iraqi security forces, particularly Kurdish units loyal to Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's northern Kurdish region, may have sold or simply given the weapons to the PKK, which bases itself in the remote mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. U.S. officials counter that it's more likely the weapons were smuggled across the border into Turkey after being stolen or lost during firefights with insurgents.

Either way, the Pentagon announced this week the establishment of two panels to investigate failures in the military contracting system that may have contributed to the weapons falling into the wrong hands. From the Times:

One panel of retired generals and civilian contracting experts, led by Jacques Gansler, a former top Pentagon acquisition official, will examine the Army contracting system and report back in 45 days how to improve its organization, staffing levels, auditing ability and other functions to prevent fraud, waste and abuse.
The second review, led by Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III and Kathryn Condon, two Army contracting specialists, will examine current operations, Mr. Geren said. It will look for improprieties in the 18,000 contracts awarded from 2003 to 2007 by the Army's big contracting office in Kuwait. Those contracts to clothe, house and feed American forces moving in and out of Kuwait are valued at more than $3 billion.

In related news, the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies has released its annual "Small Arms Survey." The study found that civilians possess three times more weapons than are held by all the world's armies and police forces combined. Of the estimated 875 million small arms in existence, as many as 650 million belong to private citizens. Researchers contend that growing instability and violence of megacities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have contributed to civilians' growing desire to arm themselves. As reported by the BBC, gun-related deaths in Brazil's cities outnumber those of many countries at war.

GAO Report: Iraqis Meeting 3 of 18 Benchmarks

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 11:21 AM EDT

In advance of the much-ballyhooed September 15 report on Iraq that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are not writing, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is due to release its own report. Today, courtesy of the AP, we have a sneak peek at the contents.

The Associated Press has learned the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, will report that at least 13 of the 18 benchmarks to measure the surge of U.S. troops to Iraq are unfulfilled ahead of a September 15 deadline.... [A] July report said the administration believed the Iraqis had made satisfactory progress on eight of the 13 benchmarks.

The administration is already downplaying the GAO's report, claiming the standards the GAO used are far too demanding.

The GAO, however, has been told to "assess whether or not such benchmarks have been met," and the administration plans to assert that is too tough a standard to be met at this point in the surge, the officials said.
"It's pretty clear that if that's your measurement standard a majority of the benchmarks would be determined not to have been met," said one official. "A lot of them are multipart and so, even if 90 percent of it is done, it's still a failure...The standard the GAO has set is far more stringent," he said. "Some might argue it's impossible to meet."

Okay, so we've got a GAO report that says the Iraqis are meeting 3 of 18 benchmarks, and an upcoming Sept 15 report that is destined to say things are going well, or at least, on balance, not too bad. Just more fuel for congressional members on both sides of the issue. I smell a stalemate. A further stalemate, I mean. The liberal's dream of congressional Republicans giving up on the war one by one this fall looks unlikely to come true.

And what happens to the $50 billion, the $147 billion, and the $460 billion?

"State Secrets" Win Protects Nevada Defense Contractor Connected to Governor, Air Force

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 11:13 AM EDT

Here's the background you need for this story. The FBI is reportedly investigating Nevada governor Jim Gibbons, a former Congressman and House Intelligence committee member, for possible corruption. The crux of the corruption probe centers on alleged evidence that Gibbons accepted trips, gifts and cash from a Nevada defense contractor, Warren Trepp, of eTreppid, in exchange for throwing eTreppid defense and intelligence contracts - many of them apparently from the black budget. Trepp, in turn, has enlisted the help of the FBI, in going after a former employee, Dennis Montgomery, who provided his firm key technology and took it with him when he left the company. There's been lots of spooky stuff about the legal process playing out between Montgomery and Trepp, with an Air Force special investigator apparently having enlisted the FBI to help Trepp go after Montgomery, the sealing of documents, and other mysteries suggesting the Air Force really really doesn't want a court process to uncover just what it hired eTreppid to do.

Got that?

Ok. Today, the Reno Gazette-Journal reports:

In a ruling that could make it difficult for former eTreppid software designer Dennis Montgomery to argue his lawsuit against the company, a federal judge Wednesday granted a Department of Defense request for a protective order to ensure no material involving national security is released.
All sides in the lawsuit involving eTreppid Technologies, the Reno company Gov. Jim Gibbons is accused of helping obtain defense contracts in exchange for gifts and trips, are prohibited from sharing certain information that is subject to the state secrets privilege, U.S. District Judge Philip Pro said in his order.
The information also cannot be used as evidence at trial, Pro said. Disclosure of certain materials "could be expected to cause serious, and (in) some cases exceptionally grave damage to national security," he said.
Pro made a number of exceptions. He said the two sides can discuss the "Big Safari" contract between eTreppid and the Air Force, "including but not limited to the fact that the Big Safari contract required eTreppid to perform data analysis," and involved "image identification technology."

Here's the court order (.pdf).

Nevada is home to a lot of U.S. Air Force real estate, among it Nellis Air Force base and reputed Area 51.