Mojo - February 2007

Guantanamo Bay Investigator Fails To Interview Alleged Victims, Files His Report

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 8:31 PM EST

Col. Richard Bassett, the Army officers assigned to investigate possible abuse at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, has concluded that there is no evidence that guards mistreated the prisoners. In the course of his investigation, Bassett failed to interview any of the alleged victims.

The investigation was created when prison guards allegedly bragged about having beaten some detainees. Marine Sgt. Heather Cerveny reported, in fact, that the guards bragged to her at a bar that beating detainees was a common practice at Guantanamo.

Bassett's investigation team conducted twenty interviews with suspects and witnesses, and then Bassett came to his conclustion. According to a command spokesman, "He talked to all the parties he felt he needed to get information about the allegations that were made."

The investigation, which began in October, was expanded to include a similar allegation made by a civilian employee, who reported a conversation involving a guard. A "letter of counseling" will be sent to that guard, who is supposed to have concocted a fictitious account of detainee abuse.

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Edwards Keeps Liberal Bloggers, Grows Thicker Skin, Sort of

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 6:50 PM EST

Presidential candidate John Edwards has decided to keep his two female liberal bloggers after all, even though numerous sources reported the two were fired yesterday. The former senator's HQ released statements today, from Edwards, Amanda and Melissa (the two bloggers). The folks over at Tapped and Pandagon have the whole rundown. But essentially, Edwards reprimanded Amanda and Melissa for their "intolerant language." (I really think Bill Donohue is the one who needs a reprimand but it's not like anyone takes him seriously anyway.) And, surprise, surprise, Amanda and Melissa had to apologize to appease the right wing fanatics. Honestly, this is just another example of Democrats succumbing to pressure from the right. Are the Dems ever going to learn that walking the moderate line just doesn't win votes? The ironic part is that Edwards hired Amanda and Melissa to reach a progressive audience, one he might have just isolated.

Iran vs. U.S.: What About the Oil?

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 4:34 PM EST

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has now warned that should the U.S. attack, Iran will strike U.S. interests around the world. In that case, what would happen to Middle Eastern oil, which flows through the Iranian-controlled Straits of Hormuz on its way out of the Persian Gulf, into the Arabian Sea, and on to world markets?

Iran might shut down the Straits of Hormuz, through which 20 percnt of Middle Eastern oil flows. Or, on the other hand, because it is so dependent on oil revenue, it might not. Nobody knows.

Beginning a year ago, Japanese oil refineries, which obtain 14 percent of their supply from Iran, began to diversify to Saudi and Kuwait crude. Japan must import literally all its oil and gas from abroad and Iran is the third largest supplier. Iran is the fourth largest supplier of oil to South Korea. China buys substantial and growing amounts of oil from Ira. Most Iranian oil exports go to Asia, followed by Europe, where major purchasers include Italy, Turkey, and France.

"When Bush announced that he would fill our Strategic Petroleum Reserve last spring and also expand it, crude prices went up by $1.50 in just 20 minutes because of speculation that the U.S. might attack Iran. If the US attacks and oil prices rise, Bush would likely release oil from the SPR to soften the blow to the oil markets," Matt Piotrowski, an oil market analyst at the Oil Daily, told Mother Jones.

Cal. Dem Seeks Repeal of Statute of Limitations on Sex Crimes

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 3:42 PM EST

Democratic California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber has introduced a bill to eliminate California's statute of limitations on rape and child molestation. The state now has a 10 year limit, which it unsuccessfully tried to shed in 2003 during the priest child molestation scandal. (That attempt was shot down by the Supreme Court because it would have applied retroactively.)

The state's defense lawyers wasted no time speaking out against the measure, arguing that it would be unfairly difficult to prove an alibi for a crime that took place more than 10 years previously. But isn't it equally difficult to prove guilt in those cases? Particularly in instances of child molestation--where the child him or herself cannot press charges--it seems unfair to allow the statute of limitations to expire before the child reaches 18.

But this tough-on-crime measure ought to be accompanied by a rethinking of the lack of limitations on how much and how often sex offenders can be punished for the same crime, once found guilty.

How NYPD Blocked Anti-Bush Protest at 2004 Convention

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 1:46 PM EST

The New York Civil Liberties Union has released documents showing the NYPD deliberately set out to quash protests at the 2004 Republican National convention in New York with a plan to arrest and jail protesters. More than 1800 people were arrested during the four-day convention. Since the NYPD was acting in tandem with federal law enforcement officials, such as Secret Service and FBI to name but two, this then raises the question whether the Bush Administration itself actually ordered the smack down,or knew about it in advance.

"The NYPD documents indicate that as early as May 2004, the Department planned to arrest protestors at the August convention as opposed to issuing summonses. The NYCLU says as a result people were jailed for as long as three days," reports WNYC, the New York radio station. You got to a judge in New York faster during the convention than you would have had you robbed a bank.

The documents show the cops themselves agreed with the protestors in that 40 officers filed occupational health forms complaining about environmental conditions at the 57th Street pier, a former MTA bus depot, that served as a holding and processing facility. The officers said they were exposed to asbestos, carbon monoxide, sludge, oil, fumes and toxic materials.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office is investigating the situation as is the Justice Department, but these have the earmarks of superficial pro forma paper shuffling exercises. The city says the makeshift jail was adequate.

Obama's New Spending Proposal, and Possible Motivations

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 10:01 AM EST

Barack Obama has a new proposal that could shake up the 2008 presidential election. He wants to limit fundraising and spending in the general election to public financing limits, which are hundreds of millions lower than what the candidates are expected to raise. Obama says that his justification is saving the public financing system, which is on the verge of death due to the fact that several high-profile candidates -- McCain, Clinton, and Edwards -- have all started raising money outside of the system, knowing they'll easily exceed the system's limits. Other candidates -- Obama, Giuliani, Romney, Gingrich, Gore? -- would likely exceed the limits as well, if they raised money unbridled.

But Obama's explanation is hard to believe, because the public financing system is clearly inadequate for today's campaigns and not much worth saving: while the public financing limits are $150 million, current speculation says that the major party nominees will likely raise and spend over $500 million. Any system that is that badly outdated needs to be revamped, not protected. Especially because even if Obama alters the fundraising dynamics of this race, the public financing system will be even more outdated in 2012. The market simply won't allow the limits as they currently exist.

The New York Times gets at the easy explanation -- targeting Hillary:

Mr. Obama's inquiry appears to be a pointed response to Mrs. Clinton, whose campaign was the first to announce that it would forgo public financing for both the primary and general elections.

Now that doesn't make sense, if I read the Times article correctly and the Times is reporting Obama's proposal in full. Obama is suggesting that candidates go through the primary spending as much as they please, and after the party conventions the nominees would come together and agree to limit spending from that point forward.

This pretty clearly hurts Obama, because Clinton has the biggest war chest and has proven to have the strongest fundraising abilities. She could outspend Obama in the primary and then face another fundraising behemoth in the general. To be frank, it's impossible to tell what would happen in the general, because McCain's popularity could go in any number of directions, and the Republican base's reaction to Giuliani and Romney -- while initially not positive -- hasn't been fully seen. Clinton could face someone with the same amount of money as her, or significantly less.

The real explanation, in my eyes, is that this move burnishes Obama's image as the savior-cleanser of modern politics. In the video released on his website declaring his intention to form a presidential exploratory committee, Obama said he is more concerned with the "smallness of our politics" than anything else. This is a way to act on that rhetoric. It feels disingenuous to me, a purely political, image-based move, because the proposal is likely to go nowhere (it's asking the heavy-hitters to give up wayyy too much money), but I wonder if we can expect more of these sorts of drain-the-Washington-swamp ideas from the Barack Obama campaign.

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Right-Wingers Lambast Edwards' Liberal Bloggers, Campaign Caves

| Wed Feb. 7, 2007 11:30 PM EST

If this is any indication of what the 2008 presidential campaign will look like, we are in for some netroots drama. Tim Grieve from the War Room on Salon reports that John Edwards has indeed fired two liberal bloggers he hired to reach the progressive online audience. Right-wingers dug their teeth into Amanda Marcotte (Pandagon) and Melissa McEwan (Shakespeare's Sister) due to "anti-catholic" comments they had both made on their own blogs.

An article in the New York Times, this morning, reported that Edwards was asked by Catholic League president Bill Donohue to fire the two women, calling them "anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots." I can only imagine Amanda and Melissa's comments were less offensive. There is even a news release on the Catholic League site demanding the two women be fired. It seemed according to the Times, the two had not yet been let go, but Salon claims they have been. Over at Pandagon, they are discussing how Edwards caved and the fact that depending on where you are surfing, the two liberal bloggers have either been fired, have not been fired or have been fired and now rehired.

Regardless of the outcome, this is not the first web blunder for Edwards. Must we recall his eloquent presidential candidacy announcement that was scooped by his website. But all web jokes aside, if Edwards wants to realistically utilize the powerful tool of netroots, he surely needs to grow a thicker skin.

Well, It's Definitely Not Disney World

| Wed Feb. 7, 2007 7:52 PM EST

"'Run!' Mr. Santiago shouted, frantically directing us toward a concrete bridge at the bottom of the sloping road. 'Shut off that light, they're coming. Fast, fast. Damn it, shut off that light!'"

"Poncho shooed us into a thicket of bush. We'd nearly been discovered by the Border Patrol. We hid as men with flashlights roamed the field in front of us, taunting us in Spanish and accented English."

Just an account of an immigrant's arduous journey across the U.S.- Mexico border? Nope. It's the latest in the tourism industry. In the Hñahñu Indian's Parque EcoAlberto, a communally owned eco-park in Mexico, women, men and children can embark on a make-believe trek across the Rio Grande River, a journey many real immigrants make everyday. Kind of makes you scratch your head, right? But like the New York Times reports in this article, it's not the first time that groups have tried to raise awareness through "reality tourism." (I just made that up, but it works, right?)

Over 3,000 tourists, mostly Mexicans, have paid $18 to set out across the Rio Grande in groups with guides from Parque EcoAlberto. One of the guides says, "They learn to value the liberty they have in their own countries, that they don't have to run and be chased in their own lives." 800,000 Mexicans cross the U.S.-Mexico border every year. I guess this is one way for them to know what their fellow citizens have endured.

Shots Exchanged on Israel-Lebanon Border

| Wed Feb. 7, 2007 7:20 PM EST

The BBC reports that Israeli troops searching for explosives over the Lebanese border (as they have continued to do since the August ceasefire) came under fire on Monday. The troops returned fire, but no casualties were reported. Lebanon remains a hotspot, with "domestic" problems (as much as anything is truly domestic in Lebanon, which serves as a tug-of-war rope for its neighbors) and continued friction with Israel. If you haven't read Mother Jones' article on the summer conflict and its after-effects, better catch up before the next battle breaks out!

Bush DOJ Has Orders to Sic Dems

| Wed Feb. 7, 2007 5:50 PM EST

Not only has the Bush administration been purging out-of-favor U.S. attorneys across the nation, it has also been using its DOJ to investigate Democrats far more frequently than Republicans, according to TPMmuckraker. From 2001 to 2006, when Democrats made up just half of all elected officials (local and national) in the country, 79 percent of the DOJ's investigations targeted Dems. The data comes from a study by two retired professors, Dr. Donald C. Shields of University of Missouri-St. Louis and Dr. John F. Cragan of Illinois State University. "The chance of such a heavy Democratic-Republican imbalance occurring at random is 1 in 10,000," reported the study's authors.