Mojo - August 2007

Russia Drowns NGOs in Red Tape

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 7:41 PM EDT

Strict enforcement of a new registration law is not only belaboring the work of NGOs in Russia but threatening their very existence. As the English-language daily the Moscow Times reports, many NGOs are struggling to comply with the new law's onerous demands.

Groups whose agenda present a challenge to the power-grasping Putin administration seem to have been singled out. The St. Petersburg-based Citizens' Watch, which seeks to protect constitutional rights from police and military encroachments, is now obligated to submit "the entirety of its written correspondence with anyone or any organization outside the office over a three-year period—including e-mails." Another group, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, which promotes democracy and human rights, plans to take on an extra employee just to deal with the increased paperwork.

Some in the NGO world and elsewhere wonder whether the new measures are, at least partially, in response to the recent revolutions in former Soviet bloc countries. Georgia's Rose Revolution in 2003 and the Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004 both toppled pro-Putin leaders through grassroots protests.

It's a pity Putin doesn't seem to realize that a strong state is helped, not hindered, by a strong civil society. Then again, perhaps it's too optimistic to expect a former KBG man, who has stacked his administration with former comrades, to allow the forces of transparency to operate unfettered.

— Ellen Charles

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Tony Snow Wants You (If You Are a Reserve Officer Who Supports the Surge)

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 4:43 PM EDT

A reader sends this email he received today from a retired Marine general addressed to members of the Reserve Officers Association of the United States. Reserve officers of the supposedly non partisan association are invited to share any "positive (and negative)" developments in Iraq they believe the press may have failed to report.

Electric Shocks Prompt "Impulsive" and "Primitive" Side of Brain

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 4:36 PM EDT

A recent study coming out of Britain finds that when the threat of electric shock looms near, humans shift from the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that governs rational thought) in order to engage the "fight or flight" part of the brain. In the study (published in its entirety yesterday in Science), volunteers played a game similar to Pac-Man, in which they had to evade a predator. When the computer predator caught them, they would receive a shock to the hand. Researchers found that as the predator closed in, the threat of iminent punishment moved the player's thinking from rational to impulsive and primitive.

Continue reading this post on our environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

Surge Is Pushing Iraq Toward Partition

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 4:11 PM EDT

If today's news on Iraq isn't bleak enough for you, take heart: There's more. Since the surge began, the rate of Iraqis fleeing their homes has increased 20-fold. Part of the increase can be attributed to increased monitoring by the Iraqi government (such as it is), but continued sectarian violence is the real driver of displacement: Sixty-five percent of displaced Iraqis interviewed by the U.N. said that they had fled in response to direct threats to their lives. With so many Iraqis fleeing from mixed Sunni/Shiite areas, Iraq is looking more and more like a partitioned state.

Read more here about how the U.S. has hung its Iraqi supporters out to dry.

MSNBC Reports Really, Really Fake News

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 3:44 PM EDT

MSNBC.com reported yesterday that Michael Vick's dogfighting case is dividing African American leaders into two camps—one that criticizes the quarterback's cruelty to animals, and another whose members think his persecution is driven by a racist agenda. Supposedly leading the latter is the Reverend Al Sharpton, who the news group quotes at length.

The problem, as Gawker and National Review Online have noted, is that not one word of the attribution came out of Sharpton's mouth. To the contrary, it came from News Groper [full disclosure: the associate editor was a fact-checker—can you feel the irony?—for Mother Jones], a website made up entirely of satirical celebrity blog entries. Sharpton can be pretty dramatic sometimes, but it's surprising that reporter Alex Johnson wasn't given any pause by the absurdity of the "quote":

"If the police caught Brett Favre (a white quarterback for the Green Bay Packers) running a dolphin-fighting ring out of his pool, where dolphins with spears attached to their foreheads fought each other, would they bust him? Of course not," Sharpton wrote Tuesday on his personal blog. "They would get his autograph, commend him on his tightly spiraled forward passes, then bet on one of his dolphins."

MSNBC got hip to the error and, rather than apologize to its readers for astoundingly sloppy reporting, posted in a correction that it "has determined that the blog is a hoax." The correction doesn't mention what tipped the news organization's meticulous fact-checkers off: News Groper's logo, which is a hand moving toward two globes that look like giant balls, or maybe breasts; Al Sharpton sharing a blog site with Lindsay Lohan, George Bush, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; or the words "fake parody blogs" in the title bar of every page.

Obasketball

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 1:37 PM EDT

If you want to be President, you've got to have a mean jump shot:

(H/T Marc Ambinder).

Of course, it's not beating the point guard of the Bobcats at HORSE, but it's something. Just one question: what would CNN be saying if he missed? I can almost see it now: "This is a HUGE gaffe by Obama, thinking that he can play, when he can't even make an open three. Very damaging... Why is he distracting voters from the issues?"

YouTube also has old school Obamastketball/Obamaball/Obasketball for your viewing pleasure.

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Renzi Won't Seek Re-election

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 1:36 PM EDT

Three-term Arizona congressman Rick Renzi, who the watchdog group CREW ranks among the "20 most corrupt members of Congress," said yesterday that he won't seek reelection in '08, a decision that surely has something to do with the fact that he's under investigation by the FBI for a suspect land deal.

The Arizona Daily Star reports:

Renzi helped promote the land sale that netted $4.5 million for his former business partner and campaign donor James Sandlin, according to state records and officials.

Renzi also found himself caught up in the controversy over the firings of eight U.S. Attorneys after it was revealed that Arizona prosecutor Paul Charlton was targeted for dismissal by the Justice Department shortly after opening an investigation into Renzi.

Surge-tastic!

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 1:05 PM EDT

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly has some data from the Brookings Institution (home of Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, surge defenders extraordinaire) and finds that, contrary to O'Hanlon and Pollack's recent upbeat assessment in the New York Times, "the news sure doesn't look very good." The numbers are from Brookings' own Iraq Index Project, so Matt Yglesias wonders "how it is that Brookings fellows like Peter Rodman, Michael O'Hanlon, and Kenneth Pollack seem so unaware of it."

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports the Joint Chiefs want significant troop cuts in Iraq, Yglesias notes Fred Kagan evaluating his own work on the surge in the Weekly Standard, and Iran invades Iraqi Kurdistan. Back in the White House, President Bush has "stepped up his high-pressure sales job... to stay the course in Iraq." But then again, as a Bush aide told Ron Suskind, people like Kevin Drum and McClatchy reporters and Peter Pace and the Los Angeles Times and Suskind himself — people who criticize the President — are "In what we call the reality-based community," and "that's not the way the world really works anymore.... We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

— Nick Baumann

Gen. Pace v. Gen. Petraeus

| Fri Aug. 24, 2007 12:57 PM EDT

The Los Angeles Times reports that outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Major Gen. Peter Pace will call for cutting U.S. forces in half next year, putting him at odds with another general whose September report is much anticipated:

Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military. This assessment could collide with one being prepared by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, calling for the U.S. to maintain higher troop levels for 2008 and beyond.
Petraeus is expected to support a White House view that the absence of widespread political progress in Iraq requires several more months of the U.S. troop buildup before force levels are decreased to their pre-buildup numbers sometime next year. ....
Pace is expected to offer his advice privately instead of issuing a formal report. Still, the position of Pace and the Joint Chiefs could add weight to that of Bush administration critics, including Democratic presidential candidates, that the U.S. force should be reduced.

The newspaper further reports, "the Joint Chiefs in recent weeks have pressed concerns that the Iraq war has degraded the U.S. military's ability to respond, if needed, to other threats," including Iran.

Pace retires at the end of September.

Judges Nod Off as Fujimori's Hearing Continues

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 11:51 PM EDT

Today several of Chile's Supreme Court judges had trouble staying awake as the court continued to consider the human rights charges against former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Does their exhaustion stem from a night of agonizing over the ex-dictator's extradition proceedings? Highly unlikely. As much as I'd like to believe that the court appreciates the gravity of Fujimori's crimes, it just does not seem to be the case. In fact, earlier this week I wrote how odd it was that Chile fast tracked the case days after Peru's catastrophic earthquake, apparently hoping few people would notice.

It seemed likely that Chile's court would render a quick verdict in the favor of Fujimori when it was reported that the proceeding would be wrapped up in a day. But perhaps because members of the victims' families and human rights organizations have been present in court, and the judges realized they had to put on a bit of a show, a thorough reading of the corruption and human rights charges is being allowed.

— Rafael Valero