Mojo - October 2007

Blackwater: Your Destination for "Rapid Response, Turn Key Solutions"

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 10:32 AM EDT

Blackwater's crisis management campaign has now ventured beyond Eric Prince's tightly scripted television appearances and into the realm of Orwellian propaganda. If you need a "turn key solution" to your pesky insurgency problem, you know who to call...

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Debate Reaction: Hillary Clinton's Me-Too Problem

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 8:42 AM EDT

clinton.jpg Hillary Clinton has a Me-Too problem, and it was illustrated perfectly at last night's Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia.

Here's the problem. Clinton allows Barack Obama and John Edwards (and sometimes even Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd) to dictate the policy proposals of the Democratic field. By and large, she puts forward relatively moderate ideas that rely heavily on conventional thinking—until one or more of her competitors takes a more bold, populist stand. Then Clinton immediately embraces the new stand, and the competitor or competitors have nothing on which to run against her.

I wrote a comment on David's post on this yesterday, regarding opposition to Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general. Clinton announced she opposed the nomination, though she was following Edwards, who was following Obama, who was following Dodd. "So is this how a candidate maintains frontrunner status?" I wrote. "Make sure there is not an inch of difference between her and any other candidate? In a word, mimicry?"

That doesn't strike me as true leadership. And yesterday's debate had a moment that illustrated this perfectly. Clinton was asked by Tim Russert if she supported New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's proposal to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. According to Russert, Clinton had told a group of newspaper editors that the idea made sense. Clinton responded approvingly, saying, "What Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform." Illegal immigrants are on the roads and will get into accidents. It's a reality, she said, and we ought to have a system to handle it.

But then Chris Dodd criticized the idea, saying that a driver's license is a privilege and not a right. Clinton instantly said, "I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done." Dodd pounced: "Wait a minute. No, no, no. You said yes, you thought it made sense to do it." Clinton responded by trying to explain that Spitzer's plan included three different kind of licenses. She promptly got lost in the weeds and accused the assembled of playing "gotcha." With that, it was off to the races.

Blotted Democracy in India or Just no Democracy at All?

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 1:03 AM EDT

Recently, the Human Rights Watch, in collaboration with Ensaaf, an Indian human rights organization, published a report addressing the impunity given to the Indian government for its human rights violations during the Punjab counterinsurgency from 1984-1995. Tens of thousands of people died and thousands more were the victims of arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances. To hide the evidence of their brutal actions, Indian security forces secretly cremated its victims. In just one district of Punjab, more than 6,000 cremations were uncovered by two human rights activists. The Indian government itself confessed to having illegally cremated more than 2,097 individuals in Amritsar alone. No one has been indicted to date. The HRW points out that the Indian government looks to the Punjab counterinsurgency operations as a model to follow elsewhere in India.

There has been a frightening amount of impunity granted to the state and its security forces: the anti Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in which the state was complicit in the killing of more than 2,000 people; the situation in Kashmir, the site of the largest troop deployment during peacetime in the world, where an estimated 40,000-60,000 have been killed and thousands are missing; and the atrocities in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, including rape, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings which have all been documented.

The irony is that every time a violation like this occurs, it is referred to as a "blot on Indian democracy." Yet these situations don't appear to be deviations from an otherwise functioning democracy, but rather, something far more symptomatic of a state which has not only evaded, but disregarded, accountability, justice, and equality for all citizens.

—Neha Inamdar

New Media Frontiers: Arkansas Ho!

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 9:18 PM EDT

db55.jpg

It's the kind of hyper-local story that's always been the bread and butter of mid-sized papers like the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: A homeowner in suburban Sherwood confronts a man trying to steal a four-wheeler from his residence, fires pistol shots into the dark and, two days later, the would-be thief is found dead in a nearby ditch.

That story, to me, screams out for a few dozen column inches of cold, smudgy newsprint. Which is why it feels so odd that the website of the Little Rock-based Dem-Gaz now features a professionally-edited video report on the Sherwood incident, with swooshing digital graphics and a spiffy "Arkansas Online" intro sequence. There's something incongruous about watching an old-time Arkansan (or, as the really old-timers prefer, Arkansawyer) in a camo shirt talking about "firing five times into the top of these pine trees and … [emptying] the rest of the magazine of the gun into the creek bank" on a web-only clip with such high production values. Maybe that's because, amid the chatter about newspapers' new media imperative and the flash that goes with it, we forget that local stories are often, well, unexceptional.

I can say it's definitely a milestone that the rock-solid D-G (disclosure: I once worked there), whose owners are notoriously stuck in their ways, has finally embraced online journalism. The paper's homepage, released earlier this year, is flashy and content-heavy and looks great. New media has officially arrived in Arkansas. Whether the model is sustainable hinges on two issues: Is this really how folks want to get their local news? And will the extra videographers and web designers prove financially feasible?

—Justin Elliott

All I Want for Christmas is a Biodiesel Hummer. No, Really.

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 8:30 PM EDT

Think there are no real inventors anymore? That would be news to Johnathan Goodwin, proud creator of the world's most fuel-efficient Hummer.

Read the rest of this post on Mother Jones' environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

—Casey Miner

Breaking: Supreme Court Halts Execution in Mississippi

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 7:27 PM EDT

Today seven justices voted to postpone the execution of Mississippi death-row inmate Earl Wesley Berry, with Justices Scalia and Alito dissenting (predictably). This move sets the stage for what could be a national moratorium on the death penalty until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of lethal injection next year.

—Celia Perry

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Trumping Bush's Troop Card

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 4:40 PM EDT

We have more vets every day, and, when this endless war finally peters to a close, we'll have even more ex-troops, and many of them will be uninsured. A new study, which will appear in December's American Journal for Public Health, finds that nearly 2 million veterans (12.7 percent of non-elderly vets) were uninsured and ineligible for VA care in 2004, up 290,000 since 2000. An additional 3.8 million members of their households were also uninsured and ineligible for Veterans Affairs services.

Other findings:

And if David Duke Could Sing Like Donnie McClurkin?

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 1:54 PM EDT

If you want to hear what Donnie McClurkin said at the Obama rally this weekend, here it is. Let's hope he's a better singer than theologian. Given the backlash, what can be the meaning of allowing him to repeat his controversial message?

I've been waiting for thoughtfully ardent gay rights activist Andrew Sullivan to weigh in on all this but he hasn't seemed very exercised about. Here's his lengthiest statement to date on the subject:

To my mind, this isn't ultimately about the difficulty of forging any kind of alliance between gays and African-Americans. It is the inherent danger of mixing religion with politics. That's called Christianism. Some of us have not spent the last few years trying to rescue conservatism from the toxin of theocracy only to support a candidate who wants to do the same thing on the left. I don't think Obama wants to go that far; I still believe that broadly speaking, his is the only major candidacy right now that offers the kind of change we need. But what happened on that stage was inexcusable, stupid, and damaging. I don't blame any gay American for jumping the Obama ship over it.

I think the salient issue is a black hyper-religiosity which gets a pass on its anti-intellectualism (even for something a-rational), hypocrisy, misogyny, and bigotry, all things we looked to Obama, the thinking person's black Protestant, to confront. There was a time, not so long ago, when he was going to show liberal Dems how to reclaim religion for the left:

There's Hillary

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 1:25 PM EDT

As I noted minutes ago, this morning Barack Obama declared his opposition to Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general. Then John Edwards quickly did the same. Though Clinton, through a spokesperson, had recently said she was troubled by Mukasey's statements on torture and executive power, she had stopped short of saying she would vote against him. The question I posed in the previous posting was this: could Hillary Clinton be far behind? The answer turns out to be, no. At mid-day, Clinton announced she will vote against George Bush's A.G. pick. It's another sign that Clinton will not give an inch—or an hour—to her opponents.

A Junket by Any Other Name..

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 1:12 PM EDT

200px-Mike_Leavitt.jpg So HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt is heading off to Switzerland and the Netherlands next week to learn more about those countries' health care systems, which have been widely touted as a model for what we might do in the U.S. Of course, Bush administration officials tell the New York Times that they have no plans to actually do anything with whatever information Leavitt gleans from his trip.

"We don't have anything cooking that we haven't announced," the department official said. "We would not endorse a system like the Netherlands or Switzerland's. But if there's something we could learn about their system, we should learn about it."

So either the trip is just designed to indulge Leavitt's intellectual curiosity—or it's a chance for him to get out of town on the taxpayer dime and pretend that his boss didn't just derail a major piece of legislation that would have given a few million poor kids health insurance right here at home. No word on whether Leavitt will be commandeering the CDC's private jet for the trip, but hopefully he'll live blog his European vacation.