Mojo - January 2007

Stuck on the Terrorist Watchlist

| Mon Jan. 29, 2007 11:59 AM EST

If you're falsely accused of being a terrorist, what happens to you once you're freed? It depends on what country you're dealing with. Apparently, Canada will apologize and give you millions of dollars, but the U.S. will deny any wrongdoing and threaten to arrest you if you set foot in the country.

On Friday, Canada gave Maher Arar an $8.9 million settlement, legal fees, and an official apology for its role in his wrongful detention and torture. Canada had previously provided information which led to the United States' 2002 arrest of Maher, a Syrian-born Canadian. Arar was renditioned to Syria, where he was tortured, forced into false confessions, and eventually released. Last year, Canada's public inquiry cleared Arar of wrongdoing. The U.S., however, has kept Arar on its no-fly list and terrorist watchlist.

The squabble shows that "Canada and the U.S. are on fundamentally different paths when it comes to matters of terrorism and human rights," according to the Toronto Star. But it's not just Canada -- leaders from other U.S. ally states are questioning their own involvement in the United States' extraordinary rendition program.

Domestically, Dems are finally on the attack, asking why the Bush administration won't admit to mistakes like Arar's arrest -- and why we're rendering suspects to countries like Syria at all. Here's Sen. Patrick Leahy to Alberto Gonzales at last week's judiciary committee hearing (yup, the same one where Gonzales argued the Constitution didn't guarantee the right of habeas corpus):

LEAHY: Why was he sent to Syria instead of Canada?...We knew damn well, if he went to Canada, he wouldn't be tortured. He'd be held. He'd be investigated. We also knew damn well, if he went to Syria, he'd be tortured. And it's beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured.

Gonzales dodged the question. So what's the answer to this and other questions about Arar's extraordinary rendition? It looks like Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper was correct when he said "we simply have a U.S. government that won't admit it's wrong."

LISTEN: Click here to listen to Gonzales and Leahy's exchange.

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Illegal Imprisonment Not Just For "Suspected Terrorists"--New Orleans Man Held For 7 Months After Katrina

| Mon Jan. 29, 2007 10:49 AM EST

In the autumn of 2005, after flawed levees broke and the streets of New Orleans were flooded beyond recognition, Louisiana prison officials, left without courthouses, police stations and jails, constructed cages in the back lot of the Greyhound station in order to house criminals. Topped with razor wire and guarded by imported Angola State Prison guards, the makeshift prison quickly became known as New Angola South and Camp Greyhound.

There was no shortage of criminals placed into this new prison: Looting was out of control, and police officers and members of the National Guard covered the city, picking up looters and other criminals whenever they could. One of the men they picked up was James Allen Terry Jr., whom police found on his porch on September 11, 2005. The police also found a broken BB gun and a marijuana cigarette. Terry was declared a looter and taken to Camp Greyhound, where he spent two nights at Camp Greyhound.

There, he slept on oil-soaked concrete. His personal effects were taken from him and never returned. A member of the Iowa National Guard posed with him for a photo, prompting his attorneys to say he was considered a "trophy." After two days, Terry--who had no criminal record--was transferred to a state prison, where he spent seven months without being charged, with an attorney, and without a court date. His name did not--and does not--appear on any records at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Terry's behalf. The suit charges that the mayor, the city of New Orleans, the police, the sheriff, and the state prison system violated Terry's civil rights by holding him for seven months without charging him with a crime, while denying him basic legal rights.

While Terry was incarcerated at the over-crowded state prison at St. Gabriel, he slept on a mat on the concrete floor of the prison's carpentry shop. There was a chronic infestation of insects at the prison, and sixty-five men had to share one toilet. Once or twice a week, Terry was allowed to go to the prison yard for one or two hours. While he was imprisoned, he was also denied saline for his disposable contact lenses, so he had blurry vision during his seven-month stay. Terry was told by an unidentified person at the prison that he had been booked with looting (he was picked up at his own apartment), possession of a firearm (a BB gun that did not belong to him) and possession of a controlled substance.

No one knows how many other James Allen Terry Jr.s there were at Camp Greyhound and St. Gabriel, but it is possible that others will step forward now that the ACLU has filed its suit.

Washington Marchers Demand Congress Stop the War

| Sat Jan. 27, 2007 4:35 PM EST

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The tens of thousands of antiwar protestors gathered on the National Mall today had their gazes fixed squarely on the U.S. Capitol, in more ways than one. The theme of the day seemed to be that the new Democratic-controlled Congress could—and perhaps would—stop the war, an idea rooted more in sincere wishful thinking than in reality.

Amid the peaceful demonstration, CNN reported, "about 300 protesters tried to rush the Capitol, running up the grassy lawn to the front of the building." Their chant was "Our Congress," while "several dozen shouting 'We want a tour' broke away and tried to get into a side door." In a move that may well turn out to be highly symbolic, police, after scuffling with the protestors, set up a series of barricades on the Capitol steps.

John Conyers, the Detroit Democrat who heads the House Judiciary Committee, spoke to the demonstrators' hopes, promising to defund the war if Bush doesn't stop it. "George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him the Iraq war is failing," he said, but "He can't fire you." And, in a reference to Congress, "He can't fire us... The founders of our country gave our Congress the power of the purse because they envisioned a scenario exactly like we find ourselves in today. Not only is it in our power, it is our obligation to stop Bush."

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While it may be encouraging to see figures like Conyers in positions of power in Congress, the general attitude of the Democrats is less promising. Antiwar public opinion might stiffen the Dems, but cutting off funds is a doubtful prospect. Any such cutoff of funds must begin in the House Appropriations Committee, where John Murtha's subcommittee on military spending holds sway. Murtha has said he is all for defunding the war, but his principal patron, Nancy Pelosi, has never suggested cutting off money for the troops. The Blue Dog Dems, perhaps the most powerful swing bloc in the House, are even less likely to do so.

In fact, a move in Congress to defund Iraq is just what the Republican Right wants. Since Congress has no power to actually pull out troops, they are left with the prospect of cutting off funding for troops still locked in combat. Pro-war Republicans lie in ambush waiting for that fatal political move, which will send their ranks storming out of the trenches screaming that the Dems want to "cut and run," leaving our troops twisting in the wind.

The presence at the antiwar rally of Jane Fonda, who emerged as the major personage of the day, immediately linked the Iraq conflict to Vietnam, and she made that plain in her speech, citing: "Blindness to realities on the ground, hubris... thoughtlessness in our approach to rebuilding a country we've destroyed." The Vietnam parallel in fact presents a history lesson for those depending on Congress to get us out of Iraq: One Democratic Congress after another backed the Vietnam War. The Democratic president, LBJ, went down because he supported the war. Humphrey backed the war. And in the end, it wasn't Congress, but Richard Nixon, who finally, reluctantly, brought the troops home.

--Photos by Caroline Dobuzinskis

K-Fed an Insult to Fast Food

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 6:15 PM EST

K-Fed just can't get a break. Fresh off of his split from Britney, the stay-at-home-rapper swung a sweet deal with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. (yes, at least someone is "On Your Side," Kev) to star in a Super Bowl commercial where he essentially daydreams of being a star and then wakes up to find himself merely a burger flipper.

Nothing groundbreaking here people. Fast food work is not exactly glory-filled, and pop culture calls attention to that fact quite often. Still, this week the National Restaurant Association asked the insurance company to pull the ad saying that it: "give[s] the impression that working in a restaurant is a demeaning and unpleasant," and stands as a "direct insult to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry."

Now wait, does an ad expressing disappointment at being a minimum wage, part-time worker with no benefits rather than a millionaire rap mogul really strike you as demeaning? (Even if that worker is Kevin Federline.)

Did they also object to the ending of American Beauty where another Kevin (Spacey) got a job flipping burgers so he wouldn't have to think about anything? Maybe the NRA (could have switched around their name for a more kindly acronym?) should come to the rescue of their "insulted" workers in more substantive ways: let them unionize, increase their wages, and improve working conditions. For starters, just leave Kevin alone.

NY Times Pokes Fun at an Iraqi Parliament in Shambles

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 6:07 PM EST

You know there's trouble when this is the lede in the New York Times:

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's presentation of a new Baghdad security plan to the Iraqi Parliament on Thursday broke down in bitter sectarian recriminations, with Mr. Maliki threatening a Sunni Arab lawmaker with arrest and, in response, the Sunni speaker of Parliament threatening to quit.

Nice. What else can you tell us, gray lady?

The prime minister's claim [that Iraqi law enforcement will hit Shiites as hard as Sunnis] was challenged by Abdul Nasir al-Janabi, who represents a powerful Sunni Arab bloc. "We can not trust the office of the prime minister," he said over jeers from the Shiite politicians before his microphone was cut off.

And how did our esteemed Prime Minister respond? With the equanimity of someone in his illustrious and weighty position, I presume? With the knowledge that his behavior in this time of national strife could determine the outcome of a new republic?

Mr. Maliki could barely contain his rage, waving his finger in the air and essentially accusing Mr. Nasir of being a criminal.
"I will show you," Mr. Maliki said. "I will turn over the documents on you" showing all your crimes, "then you can talk about trust," Mr. Maliki said.

Oh my. But it did eventually settle down? Must have, right? After all, this session of parliament was televised for the Iraqi citizenry to see.

As the prime minister continued, Shiites encouraged [the Prime Minister] on and Sunni Arabs tried to shout him down.
Mr. Mashhadani [speaker of the Parliament] yelled for everyone to "shut up."

Wow. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison this group is not. Tell me, New York Times, was there anything super-ironic that might make all of this even more absurd?

The lawmakers had their shouting match while sitting beneath a banner with a phrase from the Koran extolling civil debate as the key to good decisions.

Well, good. Now America's greatest newspaper has subtly mocked the country we invaded and then provided with a broken infrastructure and sham government. Somehow, I feel as though everyone involved in this depressing circus has let each other down.

Lower Breast Cancer Rates May Not Mean Less Cancer

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 5:15 PM EST

According to a report released today by the CDC, fully 1.1 million fewer women aged 40 and over had mammograms last year than in 2000. This decline might explain, in part, the recent drop in breast cancer rates in the U.S., meaning rates might not actually be going down. Fewer diagnoses does not mean fewer cases, just fewer known cases. So, while we have seen detection rates decrease, deaths from breast cancer could increase, the report says.

The reason for the drop is unclear but the CDC researchers point to a couple of disturbing trends that move beyond the taking-it-for-granted explanation:

"One study has indicated that breast-imaging facilities face challenges such as shortages of key personnel, malpractice concerns and financial constraints."

"Because the number of U.S. women aged more than 40 years increased by more than 24 million during 1990 to 2000, the number of available facilities and trained breast specialists might not be sufficient to meet the needs of the population, whose overall median age continues to increase."

This feels wrong. Wrong, not in the incorrect sense, but wrong in the how can there not-be-enough-facilities-for-such-basic-needs sense. And let's get some more "breast specialists" trained, this is a must people.

The report did not look at mammography rates by age, geographic region or socioeconomic status though the researchers say they do plan on examining whether the decrease in mammography rates is concentrated among certain groups, such as the poor and uninsured.

Each year, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer and about 40,000 die from the disease. According to the report, screening might reduce breast cancer mortality by 20% to 35% among women ages 50 to 69 and by 20% among women ages 40 to 49.

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Q: What Do Dolphin-Mounted Weapons and NSA Wiretapping Have in Common?

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 5:06 PM EST

A: The government has claimed that they are "state secrets" and therefore cannot be discussed in court. The state secrets privilege, as Mother Jones reported in August, is basically a get-out-of-court-free card.

Bad news for Bush, the government's attempt to invoke the privilege was denied in several suits brought against it as a result of warrantless wiretapping by the NSA. But, the New York Times reports today, the government is still using Kafkaesque tactics to make the suit difficult for the plaintiffs. The Justice Department is filing its legal briefs in an office in its own building. It promises the employees guarding the briefs and the litigators in the case are separate and that the documents have not been altered—but the funny thing about lying is that it makes everything you say in the future suspect. Government lawyers have also demanded that a document accidentally provided to an Oregon Muslim charity, documenting warrantless surveillance of the group, be returned to the FBI even though the document is the primary evidence the charity is using to claim damages.

Kinda makes your head spin, doesn't it?

Victory Over Wal-Mart for Overtimers

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 4:55 PM EST

Mother Jones has always been hot on the Wal-Mart beat. In November of last year, when San Diego banned Wal-Mart Supercenters, I summarized on MoJoBlog.

Mother Jones has written a ton about Wal-Mart in the past, including this feature on Wal-Mart employees being so fed up with low wages, unpaid overtime, and union busting that they started fighting back, this blog post about how Wal-Mart's claims about going organic are a big fat lie, this blog post about how Wal-Mart could raise wages by more than $2,000 per employee and still maintain profit margins almost 50 percent higher than Costco, this short article about how Rick Santorum sided with Wal-Mart over his own beleaguered constituents, this essay about how Wal-Mart's "Made in America" claims are deceitful and disgusting, and on and on.

Today, a new addition. Wal-Mart has agreed to settle a case in which 87,000 employees sued for unpaid overtime wages. Specifically, Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $33 million, which averages out to be $379 per employee involved. Hilariously, though, the damages paid to each employee range from a few cents to, in one instance, $39,000.

If you are a Wal-Mart employee and are wondering if you are due any unpaid overtime, you can go here to find out.

Bernie Kerik To Try His Luck In Guyana

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 3:15 PM EST

Bernie Kerik, who rose to fame after 9/11, is now headed to Guyana where he will be a new state security advisor, working alongside the President and the national security ministry. Kerik was the New York City police commissioner when the 9/11 attacks occured and was subsequently praised for his department's valor.

But Kerik's career since then has been marred by scandal. And, we mustn't forget his stellar performance in Iraq. The NYPD hero took over a police advisory role in the country in May of 2003, but due to his less than sufficient preparation -- he watched A&E documentaries on Saddam Hussein to prepare -- and lack of experience in Iraq, he proved to be incompetent in the role. He held only two staff meetings while in the country and returned having failed. (To be fair, the administration did not send enough advisers to Iraq despite numerous recommendations to do so.) The lack of competent police advising would prove to be one of the gravest errors made by the adminstration to date. For more examples of the adminstration's incompetence regarding Iraq, see the Mother Jones timeline.

Kerik, though, certainly has a nose for a deal. One can only imagine how much his one year contract in Guyana, which begins next month, is worth.

More Good News About Factory Farming

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 1:47 PM EST

Smithfield Foods Inc., the nation's largest pork producer, announced yesterday that it is phasing out the use of gestation crates at all of its farms. Smithfield says that within ten years, it will have no gestion crates at any of its facilities. Ten years is a long time for hundreds of thousands of pigs to continue to suffer, but the announcement is nevertheless a major breakthrough in the fight against corporate animal abuse.