Blogs

Breaking News: Former Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet Dead at 91

| Sun Dec. 10, 2006 3:26 PM EST

Augusto Pinochet, the man who ruled Chile with an iron fist for 17 years and who defied all attempts to bring him to justice for the crimes against humanity that happened during his reign is dead. He had a heart attack a week ago, but his condition worsened suddenly according to news reports.

From the SF Chron:

Pinochet will be most remembered for leading a military coup that toppled the world's first democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende, on Sept, 11, 1973. Allende had named Pinochet commander-in-chief of the armed forces just 18 days before the coup.

In recent years, declassified U.S. government documents have shown that the Nixon administration began a program to destabilize the Allende government, which had earned President Richard Nixon's wrath by nationalizing U.S. copper mines and other foreign-controlled businesses, rural estates and banks and recognizing Cold War foes of the United States such as Cuba, North Korea and North Vietnam. Led by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Washington financed labor strikes, propaganda and military plotters, paving the way for Pinochet's rise to power, some historians have argued. "It is not part of American history we are proud of," former Secretary of State Colin Powell said in 2003.

Here's some coverage from Mother Jones over the years about the attempts to prosecute him (including a comparison between Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon (who tried to get Pinochet using international law) and Ken Starr!

Also, don't forget it was a Pinochet protegee who helped convince Bush to try and privatize social security. (There are a 120 other stories in our archives, if you really want to go nuts.)

Finally, here's a nice slide show/history lesson from the BBC.

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Jails For Jesus: An Update

| Sun Dec. 10, 2006 10:37 AM EST

Today the NYT has a long piece on the status of taxpayer funded, faith-based programs aimed at captive audiences, like prisoners and rehab patients.

That's a story that Mother Jones reported back in 2003, in Samantha Shapiro's piece: "Jails for Jesus." In it she chronicles how Prison Fellowship Ministries—a group founded by Watergate's Chuck Colson—got backing from then-Gov and now President Bush to preach to inmates via its InnerChange program. As Samantha writes:

InnerChange represents the cutting edge of President Bush's faith-based initiatives, which seek to have religious groups take over social services once provided by state and federal agencies and, in so doing, fulfill two goals dear to many conservatives: bringing more people to Christ and shrinking government.

Prison Fellowship Ministries is a $56 million dollar a year operation, and given its treatment record of those who do not see the light, in June a federal judge ruled in that PFM's InnerChange program amounted to an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money for religious indoctrination. That case is now on appeal, which is what the NYT details. What the paper declined to get into is the really juicy stuff that Samantha reported, namely:

* InnerChange's programs, which include perks like pizza parties and music lessons to the inmates who sign up, are largely paid for the canteen and exhorbitant phone rates that the general prison population pays for out of the wages they earn from stamping plates or answering customer service calls.

*InnerChange promises to "cure" homosexuality via exposure to Christ—not perhaps surprising, since Colson hawks a brochure he wrote called "Rick Santorum Is Right"—through a form of therapy its officials told Samantha was "a little like AA for homosexuals." The encounter group, she was told, would be led by a man who "had a reputation across the state for being a flaming homosexual," while the other two members were "former cross-dressers." Samantha was then ushered into a room, unattended by any staff or guards, where it became evident that the inmates undergoing therapy

"were not simply 'cross-dressers' but serious sex offenders; Hoffman said he'd attempted to sodomize a blind man, and Gavin had sodomized his four-year-old daughter. Hoffman attended InnerChange because he'd been thrown out of the state-run sex-offender program, which Gavin had completed."
As Samantha notes:
"Letting Christ-based programs 'cure' sex offenders—exempting them from state programs that employ aversion therapy and normative counseling, and releasing them into society armed primarily with polemics about sin—seems risky, to say the least, but [InnerChange official Larry] Furnish is confident the state will go for it. 'We already offer GED, substance-abuse, and pre-release programs. If we get sex-offender treatment, we'll have the whole ball of wax for the state at a bargain-basement price,' he said."

That's your tax dollars at work, folks.

New House Intel Chairman Knows Less About Middle East Than Most MoJoBlog Readers

| Sat Dec. 9, 2006 9:03 PM EST

I've long believed that the skills that make someone good at getting elected are not the skills that make someone good at governing. And yet, I'm still a bit shocked and disappointed when I read stories like this one from Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein. I won't bother to block quote it because it's worth reading in full, but suffice to say Stein sat down with new House Intelligence Committee head Silvestre Reyes and asked a series of questions that are right in Reyes' new wheelhouse: Is al Qaeda Sunni or Shiite? What is Hezbollah? And so on. Reyes, like the Republicans that held his position before him, did very poorly. Demoralizingly so.

George Bush Proven Wrong on His Own Place in History, Gets Agitated

| Sat Dec. 9, 2006 8:31 PM EST

As President Bush winds down his presidential term, folks are talking about his legacy and his place in history. Bush seems to think that history will validate his actions in Iraq. His lack of popularity, he believes, will be ignored by historians who are more interested in the impact his ideas will have worldwide.

That's the point Bush tried to make to congressional members is his going away meeting with the 109th. But the events of that meeting illustrate why Bush is hopelessly misled, and will likely be relegated to the junk heap of history. What do you think history will view George as, a visionary or a stubborn, simple-minded buffon? Judge for yourself.

Bush began his talk by comparing himself to President Harry S Truman, who launched the Truman Doctrine to fight communism, got bogged down in the Korean War and left office unpopular.
Bush said that "in years to come they realized he was right and then his doctrine became the standard for America," recalled Senate Majority Whip-elect Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "He's trying to position himself in history and to justify those who continue to stand by him, saying sometimes if you're right you're unpopular, and be prepared for criticism."
Durbin said he challenged Bush's analogy, reminding him that Truman had the NATO alliance behind him and negotiated with his enemies at the United Nations. Durbin said that's what the Iraq Study Group is recommending that Bush do now - work more with allies and negotiate with adversaries on Iraq.
Bush, Durbin said, "reacted very strongly. He got very animated in his response" and emphasized that he is "the commander in chief."

Hahahaha. Love it. H/T Political Animal.

What's the Price of a Secure Voting System? Less Than the Cost of a Bad One

| Sat Dec. 9, 2006 8:23 PM EST

Enough momentum has been built against America's faulty voting systems to "secure" the systems by 2008, the New York Times reports. By "secure," we primarily mean adding paper trails (paper rolls that voters can check before they leave but that stay in the booth).

That's no a panacea. Models such as Diebold's TSx make voters to go on a wild goose chase to find their vote record. The scroll is covered by an opaque brown door, making the paper trail if not undetectable, then difficult to find. Three in four voters didn't check the paper trail after voting. One study showed Cleveland's paper trail didn't even match the votes. Bev Harris told us, "It's like if you ask a 6-year-old to do the dishes and he leaves gobs of food on the plates. It's almost unusable…. the paper trail is not worth the paper it's printed on, because nobody uses it and nobody can see it."

One snag is voting machine companies lobbying against making their software public. Another is the expense. The $150 million proposed in federal aid for the machines is not enough to pay for the changes. That total, by the way, is $50 million less than we spend in Iraq every day. Isn't it worth more to safeguard voting? Not just because it happens to be the foundation of our democracy, but also because, in a roundabout way, insecure ballots got us into the war in the first place?

-- April Rabkin

Richard Doll Turns Out To Have Been Monsanto's Own

| Sat Dec. 9, 2006 4:13 PM EST

Sir Richard Doll is famous for proving that smoking causes cancer, but I hope that, after a recent disclosure, he also becomes famous for having no integrity whatsoever. It turns out that Doll took money from the devil--otherwise known as Monsanto--for twenty years. During this period, Doll was "investigating" cancer risks within the chemical industry. For $1,500 a day, Doll found the inspiration to declare that Agent Orange did not cause cancer.

Doll also found the inspiration to forget to mention that he was on Monsanto's payroll. And that he was also on the payroll of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, Dow Chemicals and ICI. For this gig, he "proved" that vinyl chloride does not cause liver cancer, a finding disputed by the World Health Organization.

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Gay-Lovin' Skeletons in Romney's Closet

| Fri Dec. 8, 2006 7:23 PM EST

Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has been the very picture of paranoid homophobia in the last few years, becoming an almost-comic figure when he filed a bogus law suit last month in an attempt to force an anti-marriage amendment onto the 2008 ballot in Massachusetts. This from a man who opposes "activist judges" and favors tort reform. Coincidentally (or not), most pundits expect Romney to be a presidential candidate on the ballot in 2008.

But, according to the Boston Globe, Romney sang a different tune in a recently re-released 1994 interview with Bay Windows, Boston's gay paper. Romney said that the gay-lesbian community "needs more support from the Republican Party." Romney advocated letting states decide whether to allow same-sex marriage. "People of integrity don't force their beliefs on others, they make sure that others can live by different beliefs they may have," Romney said. (Note to Bay Windows: SNAP on the re-release, but lose the cutesy name!)

Golly Gee, it turns out that Mitt Romney, like so many other Republicans, has been cynically gay-baiting all these years in hopes of earning kudos and votes from the religious crazies who actually think gay marriage is a pressing issue. (In reality, only about 8,000 same-sex couples have married in Massachusetts. Not only has the sky not fallen, but support for gay marriage has increased statewide.) Well, either Romney has been exaggerating his anti-gay feelings as governor of Massachusetts or he disingenuously downplayed them as a candidate, in efforts to woo gay votes away from his opponent, the notorious liberal Edward Kennedy.

So, did he lie then, or is he lying now? Frankly, I don't give a damn. Romney won't win in 2008, thanks, in a stroke of poetic justice, to prejudice. In this case, against him. A recent Gallup Poll says Americans aren't ready for a Mormon president. See how hating doesn't pay?

-- Cameron Scott

Rummy Reads. Finds Out Civil War Caused American Deaths.

| Fri Dec. 8, 2006 6:27 PM EST

Via Think Progress comes a hysterical soundbite from outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a Pentagon Townhall meeting today.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'm wondering what books you read while you were secretary that you found most useful and edifying.

RUMSFELD: I started reading a number of books about the Civil War...But I stopped. I found the struggle going on — gosh, those years, there were so many people killed and wounded, and they were all Americans.

Goodness, for old Rummy's sake, let's not wait 12 days to swear in Robert Gates.

Things Get Nastier in Lebanon

| Fri Dec. 8, 2006 4:30 PM EST

Beirut was once called the Paris of the Middle East. Not anymore. The war-torn Lebanese capital is again perched on the precipice of civil war.

As I blogged last week, the Shiite militia Hezbollah, invigorated by its pyrrhic victory over Israel in August, is trying to oust Lebanon's Western-backed Sunni prime minister, Fouad Siniora. Earlier today, the Washington Post reports, the situation in Beirut took yet another turn for the worse. Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, accused Siniora of asking the U.S. to cut off Hezbollah's weapon supply lines.

Israel has been accused by the U.N., Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of indiscriminately targeting civilians in Southern Lebanon, where most of the country's Shiites live (Israel claims Hezbollah was using civilians as human shields). Essentially, Nasrallah accused the prime minister of offering the country's Shiites to Israel as sacrificial lambs.

Those are fighting words. If there's any truth in them, no self-respecting Shiite would allow Siniora to remain in office. Then again, many of Hezbollah's followers may believe the charges simply because Siniora criticized Hezbollah for picking a fight with Israel.

Siniora, for his part, made some personal jabs at Nasrallah but didn't directly deny the charges.

-- Cameron Scott

Follow Up: Iraqi Refugee Problem Escalates Sunni-Sh'ia Conflict in Jordan

| Fri Dec. 8, 2006 3:44 PM EST

Today, the New York Times reports from Jordan on the Iraqi refugee problem there. (Leigh blogged yesterday about the new reports from Refugees International and Human Rights Watch the Times mentions.)

Refugees International has called the exodus of Iraqis at a rate of some 3,000 a day "the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world." What's more, mushrooming Iraqi refugee populations are causing tension in the countries that begrudgingly host them. Whereas Jordan initially turned a blind eye to illegal Iraqis, security forces are increasingly seeking them out and deporting them, and more and more are being turned away at the border.

A few highlights from the Times piece:

-- [R]efugees …say the authorities of this officially Sunni country have paid more attention to deporting Iraqi Shiites, fearing that their militias are trying to organize here.

-- Many refugees say the crackdown has focused attention on Shiites....Even before this, Shiite prayer halls, known as Husseiniyas, were strictly banned here....A prominent sheik representing Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Iraq was deported late this summer.

-- "We don't have a problem with someone trying to advance his Shiite faith," [a] security official said. "But we do have a problem with someone proselytizing and being political."

If Sunni-majority countries continue to antagonize the Shiite refugees in their midst, will the Shiites have anywhere to turn but Iran?

-- Cameron Scott