Blogs

Today is Karl Rove's Last Day on the Job

| Fri Aug. 31, 2007 11:41 AM EDT

August 31 is Rove's last scheduled day at the White House, so take a big smile into the holiday weekend. Mother Jones on the Rove resignation here, here, here, and especially here.

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Inspectors Find Iraq's Chemical Weapons... in New York City

| Fri Aug. 31, 2007 11:06 AM EDT

Just weeks before it is set to go out of existence, the UN Monitoring and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC)—whose inspectors scoured Iraq unsuccessfully in search of Saddam's stockpiles of WMD—has finally found something. Problem is, the discovery was made not in Iraq, but in its own New York offices.

According to news reports (here and here), inspectors were archiving old files last Friday when they came upon an unidentified liquid. Subsequent testing, completed Wednesday, revealed it was a small sample of the deadly chemical agent phosgene, apparently removed from Saddam's Muthanna chemical weapons facility in 1996. Inspectors were at a loss to explain how it could have gotten to New York, not to mention how it would then have been forgotten and left in a filing cabinet. The UN has said it will investigate the matter.

The phosgene was discovered in UNMOVIC's 48th Street storage unit, about a block away from UN Headquarters, along with with "an Iraqi Scud missile engine, Russian gyroscopes and 125 cabinets filled with sensitive information on Iraq's past weapons programs." The materials, including the chemical agent, were originally gathered by the agency's predecessor, the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM).

The FBI and New York police collected the phosgene yesterday. It was flown by helicopter to a U.S. military laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland. Environmental testing of UNMOVIC's storage facility revealed no contamination. According to Russian weapons expert Svetlana Utkina, who works with UNMOVIC, accidental release of the phosgene would have been deadly for those exposed. "Your lungs would collapse immediately if you inhale this substance," she told reporters. Inspectors reportedly found about a gram's-worth of the phosgene in a soda-can-sized container sealed in a plastic bag. Asked what would happen if the container broke open, Utkina said, "probably about five people will get severe problems, (and a) couple of people will be dead."

The Larry Craig Interrogation Tapes, Ready for Your Consumption

| Fri Aug. 31, 2007 11:00 AM EDT

Wonkette has audio of the Larry Craig interrogation from immediately after he was arrested in the Minnesota airport bathroom. Worst. Interrogator. Ever. I'm no expert in police work, but I'm guessing yelling "Disappointed! Disappointed!" at your suspect over and over isn't in the manual.

Speaking of Craig, "well-placed" Republican sources are telling CNN that he will resign soon, possibly as early as today. If Craig hasn't actually made his decision yet, that'll certainly be a kick in the pants. FYI, Friday afternoon before a long weekend is a great time for a news dump — people getting an early start on the holiday, and that's basically everyone, will miss the news.

Update: Salon has a truly excellent article called "Why bathroom sex is hot: Larry Craig is the latest politician to get caught with his pants down. So what is the eternal allure of sex in a stall, and does it make you gay?" Highly worth a read if the events of the last few days have left you scratching your head. Of even if they haven't. Good piece of writing.

Radiohead's Kid A Meant to Be Listened to With... Radiohead's Kid A?

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 9:05 PM EDT

Radiohead Kid A
Bloggers are blogging that certain songs on Radiohead's 2000 album Kid A can be, er, enhanced by playing two copies of the CD together, one of them delayed by 17 seconds. Some fans are claiming Thom Yorke has said this mysterious phenomenon is "intentional." As someone who's gone on record as being amused by unlikely juxtapositions, I'm game for this: okay, internet, try me.

The Modern Age has three sample tracks posted, and I gave them each a listen. "Everything in its Right Place (17 Second Delay Version)" comes out, um, muddy and ridiculous; "Kid A" actually does synch up on the beat, but still just sounds like two songs playing at once; "Morning Bell" not only syncs up, but, I'll admit, actually sounds kind of cool. Hmm. What could it mean?

Despite my mashuppy history, I've never actually tried watching The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, although at a party this weekend, the hostess had Hitchcock's "Vertigo" on the TV and a mix CD on the stereo, and when Interpol's sparse, haunting "Pioneer to the Falls" came on, they seemed to go together pretty well. And no, there was nothing funny in the brownies. Anybody have any other secret musical juxtapositions they've enjoyed, either sober or not?

Why the Texas Governor Commuted a Death Sentence

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 8:31 PM EDT

Kenneth Foster clearly did not deserve to die. His crime: driving a car used in a robbery that led to a murder he never took part in. But his case was by no means unique in Texas, and so it came as a surprise today when Gov. Rick Perry commuted his sentence. "I'm concerned about Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously," Perry said in a statement, "and it is an issue I think the legislature should examine." A conservative Republican wants to examine capital murder law? To say the least, Perry is doing his part to Keep Austin Weird.

So why did this happen? It certainly helped that Foster had become an international anti-death penalty cause celebre supported by President Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmund Tutu and Susan Sarandon. Still, celebrities and activists have adopted other death row inmates (free Mumia!) to little effect.

Weird as it may sound, the pardon is probably best explained as the result of a gradually increasing skepticism in Texas of the criminal justice system and, yes, the death penalty. Consider this: death penalty prosecutions in the nation's execution capital, Harris County, Texas, have been in steep decline; every major newspaper in Texas has called for a moratorium on the death penalty or opposes it entirely; and in 2005 the state legislature passed a law allowing life imprisonment without parole, which has given judges and jurors a new way to be "tough on crime" without killing people. "Perhaps the reality that people aren't so hip on the death penalty anymore is finally getting across, even to Rick Perry," Jeff Blackburn, the founder and chief counsel of the Texas Innocence Project, told me. "I think this is about where people are at in the State of Texas--the old lies that have been told them are starting to be revealed."

Anyone living in Texas in recent years couldn't help but notice a string of high-profile criminal justice scandals--racism in Tulia, pervasively botched evidence in the Houston crime lab, and most recently, a striking number of exonerations in Dallas on DNA evidence. "Ten years ago if you told people that the criminal justice system falsely convicts the innocent, you were either a communist or a nut or both," Blackburn says. "Now, everybody gets that. Everybody has seen it fail."

Including Perry. Which is not to say that he cares most of the time. Blackburn and other defense advocates still believe plenty of people are wrongly put to death in the state. But Perry is a good politician: he appears to understand that the pendulum--or the scythe--is swinging the other way in Texas, and that he needs to get out of the way before it lops his head off.

Hillary Clinton Nabs Prestigious 50 Cent Endorsement

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 8:07 PM EDT

50 and Hil

In an interview with MTV News, 32-year-old Curtis James Jackson, otherwise known as rapper 50 Cent, revealed his views on our current president ("he has less compassion than a regular human being") and came out in favor of Hillary in '08, for reasons the candidate might call right and not-so-right:

I'd like to see Hillary Clinton be president. It would be nice to see a woman be the actual president and ... this is a way for us to have Bill Clinton be president again, and he did a great job during his term.

While his statement might seem a little self-contradictory, I'll go down on record as feeling a little bit the same way.

So-called "backpack" rappers like Talib Kweli and Common have been giving shout-outs to Obama in their songs lately (Common's single, "The People," says "My raps ignite the people like Obama") but Hil may have a good strategy by going after the platinum-sellers. The big question is: who will get Lil Wayne on their side.

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Want to Know Where the Hurricane Relief Money Went?

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 5:59 PM EDT

The Institute for Southern Studies has released a report suggesting some ways out of the various social, physical, and financial quagmires caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The paper also dedicates a section to that ubiquitous question, "Where did the Katrina money go?" A few answers:

Amount that Bush administration says has been spent on Gulf Coast recovery since 2005 hurricanes: $116 billion
Estimated percent of those funds that are for long-term recovery projects: 30
Amount of FEMA's 2005 disaster relief budget that was spent on administrative costs: $7 billion
Percent of the 2005 relief budget that represented: 22
Of $16.7 billion in Community Development Block Grants earmarked for long-term Gulf Coast rebuilding, percent that had been spent as of August 2007: 30
Of $8.4 billion allocated to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for levee repair in Louisiana, percent that had been spent as of July 2007: 20
As of June 2007, value of controversial "cost plus" Katrina contracts given out by three federal agencies, which allows companies to charge taxpayers for cost overruns and guaranteed profits: $2.4 billion
As of August 2006, value of Gulf Coast contracts that a Congressional study found were "plagued by waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement": $8.75 billion

So the answer to that ubiquitous question in devastated areas—"When will I get my f*cking check?"—still appears to be, "Don't hold your breath."

For more details, check out the report.

Thurston Moore Says Maybe Sonic Youth Should Have Broken Up

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

mojo-photo-sonicyouthgroup.jpg

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!

Beastie Boys Are Now, Like, All Mellow and Stuff

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 4:23 PM EDT
beasties200.gif

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.