Mojo - April 2007

Wildly Different Estimates on Najaf Rally

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 11:21 AM EDT

I blogged earlier about the thousands of Moqtada al-Sadr followers who protested the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad in Najaf today.

Well, it appears there is a major dispute over how many "thousands" were actually there. According to this CNN article, the U.S. military's estimate is "5,000 to 7,000." According to this Reuters article that I cited earlier, it is "tens of thousands." And according to this Agence France-Presse article and this BBC article the number of participants is in the "hundreds of thousands." If that's true, did the military really think they were going to fool anybody with that "5,000 to 7,000" nonsense?

Hoo-boy. Who to believe? We'll keep digging...

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Stunning New Book from Iraqi Government Insider Illustrates Blunders, Ignorance

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 11:03 AM EDT

An Iraqi official who has served as Iraq's trade, defense, and finance minister at various times since 2003 has written a book about his country's four years under the American occupation ("The Occupation of Iraq," published by Yale University Press). According to the AP, it is a detached and nonpartisan look at the United States' and Iraqi government's failings.

Ali Allawi, cousin to former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, was educated in the United States and Britain and demonstrates no preference for the Sunni or Shiite sects within Iraqi society and its badly divided government (he belongs to a secularist political party). He slams a lot of people, but most of all the Americans.

Snippets of Allawi's book, from the AP:

"The corroded and corrupt state of Saddam was replaced by the corroded, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt state of the new order."
First came the "monumental ignorance" of those in Washington pushing for war in 2002 without "the faintest idea" of Iraq's realities. "More perceptive people knew instinctively that the invasion of Iraq would open up the great fissures in Iraqi society," he writes.
What followed was the "rank amateurism and swaggering arrogance" of the occupation, under L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which took big steps with little consultation with Iraqis, steps Allawi and many others see as blunders.

The lies that led to war and the missteps after the invasion that led to failure are all documented in the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.

On U.S. reconstruction failures — in electricity, health care and other areas documented by Washington's own auditors — Allawi writes that the Americans' "insipid retelling of 'success' stories" merely hid "the huge black hole that lay underneath."

There have been a lot of great books about the Iraq War, from Ron Suskind to Thomas Ricks to Michael Gordon to Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Now it looks like there is an Iraqi equivalent.

A Peaceful (!!) Rally in Iraq. Bad News for American Troops

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 9:37 AM EDT

Tens of thousands of people marched in Najaf today to protest the continued American occupation, exactly four years after the fall of Baghdad. (No protests were allowed in Baghdad because the U.S. military shut down the streets.) The protest was anti-American all the way, with chants of "Leave, leave occupier!" and "No, no, to the occupation." The event was organized (or called for, anyway) by Moqtada al-Sadr, and one of his key deputies spoke, saying, "We demand the exit of the occupier and withdrawal of the last American soldier and we also reject the existence of any kind of military bases."

In my mind the most important thing here, after the fact that there is yet more evidence that the Iraqis want nothing to do with us, is the fact that it was a peaceful event. It's safe to say that the majority of the participants were Shiites because al-Sadr is a radical Shiite cleric and major Shiite political player. But the Sunnis stayed away from what was essentially a massive target practice opportunity. Possible reasons: (1) al-Sadr cut some kind of deal, (2) the one thing that brings Iraqis together is hating Americans, or (3) both.

Couple this new sense of cooperation with the face that al-Sadr, who is possibly the most powerful man in Iraq, has called on Iraqis to cease attacking one another to instead focus on killing Americans, and we've got an even more hostile environment in which American forces must operate. Who thought that was even possible?

Update: The number of attendees is in dispute, with estimates ranging from 5,000 to "hundreds of thousands."

A Los Angeles Neighborhood Disturbance... With Strange Origins?

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 9:21 AM EDT

A thirty-foot pole with a robotic arm on top sits on a street corner in the town of San Pedro, outside Los Angeles. As pedestrians walk by, a giant eye at the end of the arm tracks them with a stream of light.

People are concerned. Is there a camera involved? Is this the newest form of public surveillance in an era of already-compromised civil liberties? Or is it a simple prank?

Actually, it's a public art piece. And it's name? Mojo.

Read more about how Mother Jones is driving the Orwellian future here. (PS - Can we sue for copyright infringement?)

Massive Climate Change in the American Southwest

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 8:10 PM EDT

Read about this and other weird weather phenomena on our environmental blog, The Blue Marble.

It's a Gay World After All

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 7:51 PM EDT

disney.jpg
Disney has at last opened their Disney "Fairy Tale Weddings" to same-sex couples. Which means a gay or lesbian couple can now too arrive at their ceremony in a glass coach pulled by four dappled-gray mares, and they can even have Mickey and Minnie Mouse in attendance.

Folks at Disney apparently had a change of heart after last month asserting that a Florida marriage license was mandatory for the Disney World ceremonies that can also take place at the "It's a Small World Mall" and that come complete with a "fairy godplanner."

"We believe this change is consistent with Disney's longstanding policy of welcoming every guest in an inclusive environment," Disney Parks and Resorts spokesman Donn Walker said earlier today. "We want everyone who comes to celebrate a special occasion at Disney to feel welcome and respected."

Yeah, that, and Disney is looking at the bottom line. The Fortune 500 company seems to have finally realized that there is cash money to be made from opening their $8,000 and up wedding operation up to a relatively affluent population. Cameron brings home this economic argument in our current issue:

If half the same-sex couples now living together were to get married (the rate seen in Vermont and Massachusetts) and were to spend a quarter of what straight couples do, it results in a wedding-industry boon of $2 billion.

Cha-ching.

Unclear what the fallout will be from the right. The Southern Baptist Convention enforced a boycott of Disney for years for its "gay agenda," which includes providing health benefits to same-sex partners of employees, and the airing of a primetime show on its ABC network featuring, gasp, Ellen!

The convention dropped its boycott in 2005; but now that Mickey and Minnie will be cheering on gay marriage? We'll see what happens.

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It's the Strategy, Stupid

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 7:47 PM EDT

al_sadr.jpg I blogged in February that insurgents' discovery of chlorine bombs was an especially ominous turn in Iraq—optimistic assessments of the "surge" notwithstanding—because the bombs have far higher death tolls than standard I.E.D.'s.

Today the sixth chlorine bomb in 2 months exploded in Anbar province. A chlorine-laden truck bomb in Ramadi killed 20 and wounded at least 30.

The only believable good news regarding the surge was a drop in the death toll between mid-February and mid-March. In reality, the drop was likely due to Moktada al-Sadr's order that his Mahdi Army militia cease resisting the Americans by violent means.

Even though the military hasn't come right out and told the press that al-Sadr is responsible for the surge's apparent success, they know he is. Last week, the military released a key aide to al-Sadr, which the Sacramento Bee called "a sure sign U.S. officials are working hard to keep al-Sadr's support for the Baghdad security plan." Al-Sadr has called for a demonstration against the American occupation on April 9 and ejected two associates who met with Americans, but he has continued to say that his followers should not resist the security surge by violent means.

So why is the U.S. killing civilians and militiamen in al-Sadr's home turf of Sadr City? Earlier today, U.S. and Iraqi forces raided residential neighborhoods there. They killed 4 and wounded 3 militiamen. But they didn't stop there. After distributing pamphlets encouraging people to cooperate with security forces, American helicopters fired missiles that wounded 15 civilians. The New York Times reports, "American forces later fired on a Toyota sedan, killing all three passengers inside. And two students were killed by mortar when Americans fired on a college residence by mistake, Iraqi police said."

What? What kind of perverse incentive is that to retain the (albeit lukewarm) cooperation of the Sadrists? Predictably, a representative of al-Sadr's group—which is big and powerful—expressed anger and confusion. Haydar Al Natiq, of the Sadr office in Diwaniya, told the Times, "This operation is unjustified and will stir up the situation in the time where a peace conference was supposed to be held between the Sadrists and the security forces."

Why Christians Hate Gays, Blackwater USA is Even Creepier than You Thought, and You Shouldn't Buy Bolthouse Farms (All in One Ha

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 5:22 PM EDT

We throw around the term "religious right" so often that sometimes I wonder if it's not as much a bugaboo as the "homosexual agenda." But then I read articles like Sarah Posner's today on AlterNet. Posner profiles an organization called the Alliance Defense Fund. The ADF is a legal organization created in 1994 with support from all the other players in what is actually a small, well funded, clique. Contributing to ADF were James Dobson of Focus on the Family, D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, and Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Last year, ADF received more than $21 million in charitable donations. Major donors included:

-- the Covenant Foundation (which, in turn, is financed by James Leininger, the "sugar daddy" of the Texas religious right);

-- the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, whose vice president, Erik Prince, founded the Blackwater USA military-security firm; and

-- the Bolthouse Foundation, a nonprofit arm of Bolthouse Farms, the California natural-foods company whose products are often seen at leftie natural foods stores.

The ADF is to the Christian right what the ACLU is to the left. It has trained more than 900 lawyers, who must then perform extensive pro bono legal work for Christian causes. It happily provides free legal services to the (well funded) groups that created it. Its causes? Pro-life, anti-gay, and "religious freedom." ADF has been particularly ingenious in its definition of religious freedom. The group invented the motif of Christian victimhood that fuels everything from claims of a "war on Christmas" to religious groups' "rights" to public funding.

ADF successfully argued in Rosenberger vs. The Regents of the University of Virginia that public bodies which fund non-religious groups "discriminate" against religious groups if they do not fund them. The case did serious damage to the wall of separation between church and state and, as Posner says, "elevated ADF's mythology of the victimized Christian to a legal precedent." The precedent is especially damaging because ADF is now using it to claim that preventing Christians from discriminating against gays and lesbians is actually discrimination against Christians and a violation of their religious freedom.

And there you have it: That's why Christians are on a crusade against gay people. Not because they are actually a serious threat, but because they provide a test case to see how much the religious right can get away with in the name of religious freedom.

States Aim to Reform NCLB

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 4:49 PM EDT

The non-partisan National Governors Association this week asked the federal government for more control over the notorious 2002 education referendum, No Child Left Behind.

Governors hooked up with state superintendents and state school board members just as NCLB comes up for renewal this year.

The law says that all public schools nationwide must meet proficiency standards by the 2013-14 school year. Since it became law in 2002, no school has completely met that requirement. In short, the association is asking for more flexibility to intervene at underperforming schools (currently the federal government can implement school takeovers), alternative assessments for special education students, and more leeway in defining who is a "highly qualified teacher."

A month ago, President Bush told Indiana school children and educators that he wants public schools to personalize and individualize education for each student. He also said he refuses to water down the law.

But its the devilish little details of this law that will determine the face of public education for the next six years. And like they have done with climate change, where there are similarly high stakes, states no longer trust the feds to handle things and are ready to deal with the details themselves.

—Gary Moskowitz

United States is Working to Undermine Mugabe

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 3:47 PM EDT

Three universities are considering revoking honorary degrees awarded to Robert Mugabe before he turned into a brutal dictator. Back when he was seen as a model for African democracy, having liberating Zimbabwe from white tyranny, he received honorary degrees from UMass-Amherst in 1986, University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1984, and Michigan State University in 1990. Also, the US admitted for the first time yesterday that it was actively working to undermine him. Before toppling him and picking a successor, it's worth a refresher on lessons of other interventions in history—and a look at priorities, since we're ignoring a genocide underway not so far north.