Mojo - October 2006

Our Landlord the Torturer

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 12:11 AM EDT

Over at Harper's, Ken Silverstein reports that the U.S. government is paying $17,500 a month to a rent one of its overseas embassies from a known torturer. The torturer in question is Manuel Nguema Mba, the security minister of Equatorial Guinea, a tiny, oil-rich West African nation that, as Peter Maass wrote in an investigative story in Mother Jones last year, seems like a "parody of an oil kleptocracy," where "a dictator, awash in petrodollars, enriches himself and his family while starving his people." In his article, Maass disclosed the rental deal with Mba (who's the uncle of the country's despot, Teodoro Obiang), but Silverstein adds some new wrinkles to the story. Despite reliable documentation from the U.N. and the State Department, our ambassador to E.G. has pled ignorance of Mba's human-rights record. The Clinton-era ambassador is calling for an investigation into the deal.

Sadly, it's not surprising that we're giving $210,000 a year to a man who has overseen the torture of dissidents. Pay-to-play is the name of the game in E.G.—it's a game that several American oil companies have played in order to get access to the country's crude. (In one egregious—but not atypical—instance, Amerada Hess paid $445,800 in rent to a 14-year-old relative of Obiang.) And apparently it's a game that the Bush administration doesn't mind playing, either.

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Green Groups Get Local

| Thu Oct. 26, 2006 11:07 PM EDT

Seems long overdue, but this is apparently the first year that national environmental groups are directing substantial campaign contributions into state-level races. Outfits like the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have traditionally made all their donations at the federal level, but are now realizing that much of the action is in state capitals. Surprise favorite: Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who imposed caps on industrial greenhouse gases. OK, the guy has a pretty good record on the environment, but does he really need this help more than, say, Green Party candidates?

Tennessee RNC Attack Ad Pulled: Blame Canada?

| Thu Oct. 26, 2006 8:08 PM EDT

What got that racist anti Harold Ford attack ad pulled off the air? Was it complaints from NAACP? The DNC? Or was it our neighbors to the north? This, from a Canadian news station:

It's not often Canadians care about who's running for the U.S. Senate. But when we figure prominently in one of those quintessential American-style attack ads, nearly everyone on this side of the border sits up and takes notice.
A fierce fight between a Tennessee Republican candidate and his Democratic opponent has gotten personal - and Canada is right in the middle of it.
The controversial commercial from right wing candidate Bob Corker attacks a man named Harold Ford. It features supposedly ordinary citizens commenting on the Democrat, indicating he'll increase taxes and take guns out of the hands of residents, two huge issues in the south. There's also a shot of a rather questionable young woman who claims she's spent time with Ford at "The Playboy Club". But it's the next statement that seems to have rankled many. It comes from a comment made about some recent controversial nuclear tests.
"Canada can take care of North Korea," a man who resembles a young Wilfrid Brimley jokes. "They're not busy." The suggestion that we aren't pulling our weight in the world - and the fact that we've lost 42 soldiers in Afghanistan - is never mentioned.
The commercial, which has already been part of an equally nasty campaign between Ford and Corker, has been the subject of a protest by Canada's Ambassador to the U.S. And that complaint has apparently led to action.
Officials in Tennessee have agreed to pull the offending advertisement. But the U.S. Ambassador to this country has a response to our anger. He notes Canadian ads during the last election treated U.S. President George Bush with far more contempt and no one really issued any major complaints about those.

Michael J. Fox: He's Our Man

| Thu Oct. 26, 2006 3:24 PM EDT

Much has been said and written about Rush Limbaugh's extremely off-color comments about Michael J. Fox. But few have mentioned just how much of a chord that Limbaugh may have struck by lashing out against the former teen idol.

For those of us who grew up as children of the 80s, there are certain things that are sacred—relics and remembrances of the past that are cherished and protected like national treasures. These include the Atari video game system, Transformer toys, and Back to the Future and Teen Wolf star, Michael J. Fox.

And in the minds of those 80s kids who grew up watching the hit TV sitcom, Family Ties, Fox is the cute, offbeat, and likeable Alex P. Keaton. Ironically, Keaton was the staunch conservative Republican on the show who paraded around the house in a suit and tie, rebelling against his hippie parents with strange antics. The guy even had a picture of President Ronald Reagan displayed above his bed.

According to Wikipedia, "the character of Alex P. Keaton became a symbol of America's move towards more conservative political thinking in the 1980s."

There is no denying that Fox is a truly likeable guy, even AskMen.com says so. Despite being out of the Hollywood spotlight for half a decade now, Fox still has a few fansites. But for a whole generation, he is so much more than that. With his comments, Limbaugh has possibly estranged himself from an entire age bracket of listeners and supporters. Well, at least we can hope.

In the meantime, I suggest buying a Teen Wolf T-shirt on Amazon.com and wearing it prominently in the next few weeks to display your support for Fox and his cause.

-- Caroline Dobuzinskis

While the Administration Struggles with Spin, USIP Forecasts Iraq's Potential "Descent into Hell"

| Thu Oct. 26, 2006 2:55 PM EDT

Folks in the Bush administration just can't seem to get their stories straight. Bush says "we are winning" but has recently abandoned his tagline "stay the course" although he does say his administration will "complete the mission." Rumsfeld, on the other hand, claims the administration is "not backing away from staying the course." And, almost simultaneously, White House press secretary, Tony Snow, jumped on the "abandon the phrase 'stay the course' bandwagon" claiming Bush has only uttered the words 8 times.

But while Bush and company struggle with how to talk about the war in Iraq, the United States Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan think tank, has been doing research on how to actually handle it. Their new report documents the research they have been doing over the past six months which forecasts outcomes for the insurgency in Iraq. And, it doesn't look good. (See this excerpt from the recommendations and conclusions section.)

The administration's ambitious goals ("an Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country"), if possible at all, are attainable only in the very long term. Instead, avoidance of disaster and maintenance of some modicum of political stability in Iraq are more realistic goals—but even these will be hard to achieve without new strategies and actions and the cooperation of Iraq's neighbors.

Yikes. In fact, US News and World Report calls the USIP report "unremittingly grim." It does, I am afraid, appear to live up to this description. There is even a section called "Descent into Hell." Read the full report here.

Nicaragua to Ban Abortions - With Sandinistas' Support

| Thu Oct. 26, 2006 2:30 PM EDT

Here's news to squash whatever vestigial remnants of good feeling ageing lefties (like me) might still harbor for Nicaragua's once-revolutionary Sandinistas: they're now supporting legislation to ban all abortions, even in cases where a woman's life is in danger. The law, expected to win parliamentary approval today, imposes prison sentences of up to 30 years for women who have abortions and for the doctors who perform them.

Not that current Nicaraguan law makes it easy to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Ipas, a US-based reproductive rights group, reports that only 24 women and girls have been allowed legal abortions in Nicaragua in the last three years - including a nine-year-old rape victim - leaving some 32,000 woman to abort their pregnancies illegally.

Sure, the Sandinistas have long since shed many of the egalitarian ideals that won them so much support at home and abroad when they overthrew the US-backed Somoza dictatorship in 1979. But this is an especially depressing rowback from a party that used to trumpet the advancement of women's rights as one of their great victories.

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RNC Plays Up Prejudice in Ads Against Harold Ford Jr.

| Thu Oct. 26, 2006 2:26 PM EDT

In a desperate and vulgar attempt to thwart an increasingly intense senate race in Tennessee, the Republican National Committee released a racially provocative ad last week against Democratic challenger Harold Ford, Jr.

The television ad features several people in mock interviews meant to show Ford as a liberal out of step with average Tennesseans. One of the people "interviewed" is a young blonde white woman with bare shoulders (it is unclear if she is actually wearing anything since the camera only shows her from the collarbone up) who claims she met Ford at a Playboy party. At the end of the ad she says "Harold, call me" while winking at the camera.

Ford, who is 36, single and African American, admitted he attended a Playboy party at last year's Super Bowl but critics have pointed to the ad's obvious racist overtones.

Ford is attempting to become the first African American senator from the south since Reconstruction. His opponent Bob Corker, who has already spent more than $2 million of his own money on the race claims to have nothing to do with the television spot (though he did approve a spot this week that plays tom-tom drums every time Ford's name is mentioned).

John Greer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University says the Playboy ad "is playing to a lot of fears" and "frankly makes the Willie Horton ad look like child's play."

--Amaya Rivera

Cheney Calls Waterboarding a "No-Brainer"

| Thu Oct. 26, 2006 12:50 PM EDT

In a radio interview on Tuesday Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledged that the U.S. has been using waterboarding techniques in interrogations of suspected terrorists.

According to the interview transcript, released by the White House yesterday Scott Hennen of WDAY Radio in Fargo, N.D. told Cheney that listeners had asked him to "let the vice president know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives."

"Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?" Hennen asked. "I do agree," replied Cheney. "And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high-value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation."

Hennen then asked Cheney, "Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" The Vice President's response:

"It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president 'for torture.' We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that."

Waterboarding simulates drowning by repeated dunking or running water over cloth or cellophane placed over the nose and mouth. It has been recognized by national and international law as "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment" and just last month the DoD released revised guidelines on interrogation techniques (see page 97) that explicitly prohibit the use of waterboarding by U.S. military personnel.

So if Cheney sees the technique as part of a robust interrogation program then who exactly does he see doing it? A spokeswoman denied that Cheney endorsed the practice by U.S. interrogators which basically spells out that yes, it's happening, and we're paying non-military personnel (read: contractors and the like) to do it.

Governor Blanco Stands Up To Feds--Round 1 Goes To Louisiana

| Thu Oct. 26, 2006 12:46 PM EDT

In July, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco filed a lawsuit against the federal government, in an attempt to stop a scheduled offshore lease sale. The suit alleged that the federal government's environmental assessment of the sale failed to include damage done by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Blanco had already threatened to stop any lease sales until the federal government began paying royalties to Louisiana, something it has never done.

On Tuesday, Blanco announced that the suit had been settled, thereby avoiding a November trial. A federal judge dropped a big hint that Louisiana was going to win the lawsuit, so the federal government conceded and is going to do an up-to-date assessment of the environmental impact of the sale.

That assessment will include:

...mitigation measures that should be taken to limit damage from offshore oil and gas exploration. In turn, that should lead to more money for the state to help offset the damage. Such measures could include, for example, more money for a key highway, Louisiana 1, to offset increased offshore-related traffic on the two-lane road to Port Fourchon.

"It means that we actually now know that we can halt (drilling) activity if necessary to demand mitigation," Blanco said.

Unfortunately, Congress--busy approving rape and torture in detainee facilities--did not have time to come to an agreement about paying Louisiana its long-awaited oil and gas royalties. Both the House and the Senate have versions of a bill that would do just that, and the next step is for a compromise to be reached. That could be difficult, however, because the conflicting versions are significantly different from one another.

U.S. Seeks To Restrict Attorney-Client Communication At Guantanamo Bay

| Wed Oct. 25, 2006 10:25 PM EDT

Inmates at Guantanamo Bay will have significantly less communication with their attorneys if the U.S. government has its way. Government officials claim that attorneys are providing prisoners with "inflammatory information," e.a., reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.

Approval is being sought for new rules that would restrict attorneys to only four visits to their Guantanamo Bay clients, and would restrict the topics under discussion and the information that can be shared. A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. is currently reviewing a Guantanamo Bay case, and the court's ruling on that case will affect all detainees.

According to an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, none of the attorney actions objected to breaks prison rules or violates prison security.