Mojo - October 2007

Che-nniversaries

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 4:38 PM EDT

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the killing of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. World Hum has the stories behind the popularity and endurance of the Che image, and Gridskipper has a list of all the places in San Francisco you can go to talk about The Motorcycle Diaries and sip mocha frappa whatevers. As they put it: "Oh socialist politics, you are so delicious when you're co-opted for a capitalist enterprise." Viva La Revolucion!

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Want Health Insurance? Call Us Back When You're Homeless

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 1:58 PM EDT

Does living in a house worth $250,000 in Baltimore make a family of six rich? That's what conservatives seem to think.

After 12-year-old Graeme Frost helped Democrats lobby Congress to pass a bill expanding the State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), conservatives vilified his family, claiming they were too affluent to qualify for the program. The state health insurance program helped pick up the tab when Graham and his sister were injured in a car accident that left them both in comas and hospitalized for five months. Because, among other things, they live in a house assessed at $263,000 (originally bought for $50,000) and make a little under $50,000 a year, critics seem to believe that the Frosts and their four kids were living high on the hog (and were apparently just too cheap to buy private insurance).

"Bad things happen to good people, and they cause financial problems and tough choices," Mark Steyn wrote on the National Review Online. "But, if this is the face of the 'needy' in America, then no-one is not needy."

The implication, of course, is that before getting any help from the government, the Frosts should have sold their home and everything else they own to pay the medical bills first. Aside from being highly irrational—a quarter-million dollars will barely buy a parking space in some parts of D.C., much less cover five months of hospital bills for catastrophic head injuries—what good is government-sponsored health insurance if you first have to become homeless and bankrupt before you're worthy enough to use it? The vicious attacks on the Frosts seem like a harbinger of things to come, unfortunately, should any democratic president actually succeed in getting some sort of health care reform off the ground.

Thomas Friedman Wants You to Be More Radical!

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 11:00 AM EDT

Friedman, from today's column:

I've been calling them "Generation Q" — the Quiet Americans, in the best sense of that term, quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad. But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country's own good.

He's right to call for activism and political engagement, but it's pretty ripe that a war supporter as influential as Thomas Friedman is criticizing young people for being the "Quiet Generation." The Iraq war didn't happen because too few students were marching in the streets. It happened, in large part, because trusted liberal public intellectuals like (gasp!) Thomas Friedman supported it. They legitimized the Bush administration's story and worked as cheerleaders for intervention. Just because it happened behind the TimesSelect paywall or on Charlie Rose doesn't mean we don't remember. The saddest part is that Friedman's still such an influential figure that many people in his generation will pick up on this convenient, self-absolving narrative: "It's all the kids' fault. They didn't protest enough." Don't be surprised if you hear your parents spouting this to you two weeks from now. But that's a pretty big glass house to be throwing stones from, sir.

Lynching Losers

Wed Oct. 10, 2007 10:44 AM EDT

I've been saying loud and long that, post-Imus, -Jena 6 - post-everything - we don't need a 21st century civil rights movement centered around protests and marches. That doesn't mean we shouldn't ever take to the streets, however, and engage in some heavy duty symbolizing and grievance redressing. This heinous, however cowardly and childish, event ought to certainly produce some mass Negro indignation.

A noose was discovered this week on the office door of an African-American professor at Columbia University, school officials and the New York Police Department said. The noose was found in a building at Columbia's Teachers College, said Joe Levine, executive director for external affairs at Teachers College. The noose apparently was placed on the 44-year-old professor's office door sometime before 9 a.m. ET Tuesday, Levine said.

This only happened yesterday, so we don't know much, like why this individual was targeted or who the likely culprits (you know there was more than one cowardly lowlife involved; it takes a gaggle of them to equal one real man. And yes, I'll bet they were male) are since they made sure to avoid surveillance cameras. Still, doesn't matter. Nothing, anyone did justifies hanging a noose on his door; it's a terror tactic no matter who the subject is though it's worse for blacks given our history.

The question is the proper response. There are those, black and not, who will say ignore it and rob it of its power. I tried that on for awhile, but, nah. A noose mean something whether you ignore it or not and they affect those around you even if you've got it in you to simply toss it in the trash. Yesterday's hastily organized demonstration is a great start. Here's hoping it grows and grows, with stalwart university support. Unlike Jena, this is a protest I'd inconvenience myself to attend, knowing the little I know right now. Also, I'm thinking: nooses made of something with in-your-face-*&^hole symbolism hanging from every campus door and a sizeable reward for information leading to the capture of these morons.

There's no doubt that nooses are more a reflection of some whites' sense of waning superiority in the racial hierarchy than of actual threat (without knowing more) but then so can rape and sexual harassment be. The bastards have to be locked back in their cages.

Republicans Go Green on CNBC

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 10:30 AM EDT

republican_debate250x200.jpg

There was a surprise winner at yesterday's Republican presidential debate in Dearborn, Michigan: the environment. The candidates — joined for the first time by Law and Order star Fred Thompson — came out nearly universally in favor of increased research on renewables and a decreased dependence of foreign oil. But their motivations weren't of a Save-the-Whales strain.

"This is a matter of national security," said Rudy Giuliani. "You've got to support all the alternatives. Hydroelectric power, solar power, wind power, conservation — we have to support all of these things. We've got to support them in a positive way. And this is an area in which the federal government, the president has to treat this like putting a man on the moon." And just in case you forgot, he added, "It is a matter of national security."

And while Sam Brownback made it clear he would drill for oil in Alaska and off the coast of basically every American state if it meant the United States imported less oil from the Middle East, he also challenged the automakers who had welcomed the candidates to the Detroit area. "We've got to get more electricity involved in our car fleet," he said. "They've got hybrid cars; they've got flex fuel cars. I think that's a big part of the answer. I'd like to see us move forward with getting those first 20 to 30 miles off of electricity that you plug into at night."

When asked if oil companies should use their record profits to fund renewables research, John McCain sounded just a little like Al Gore. "I would not require them to, but I think that public pressure and a lot of other things [might cause them to do so voluntarily]. Including a national security requirement that we reduce and eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and [that] we stop the contamination of our atmosphere." Climate change, he said, "is real and is taking place."

But no matter how green-friendly the field got, they couldn't separate their rhetoric from the overly-simplistic black-and-white nature of their foreign policy vision. Governor Mike Huckabee, for example, expressed frustration with the slow pace of renewables development ("We keep talking about 15-, 20-, 30-year plans; that's nonsense. If we don't start saying we'll do this within a decade, we're never, ever going to get there.") but then drowned it out with the sound of rattling sabers. "We're in a race for our lives against people who want to kill us," he said. "And a lot of the reasons that we are entangled in the Middle East is because our money buys their oil, that money ends up coming back to us in the way of Islamo-fascism terrorists."

But liberals and environmentalists may just abide the tough talk of Huckabee and his Republican brethren, because the end result is one they can embrace. Said Huckabee, when he closed his thoughts on the subject, "Everything is on the table: nuclear, biofuels, ethanol, wind, solar — any and everything this country can produce."

(Transcript of the debate available through the Wall Street Journal.)

Who Will Hack US Elections?

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 10:11 PM EDT

At an e-crime summit at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh last week security experts predicted voters will increasingly be targeted by internet-based dirty tricks campaigns. And that the perpetrators will find it easier to cover their tracks, reports New Scientist.

Dirty tricks are not new. On US election day in 2002, the lines of a "get-out-the-voters" phone campaign sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party were clogged by prank calls. In the 2006 election, 14,000 Latino voters in Orange County, California, received letters telling them it was illegal for immigrants to vote. But in those cases the Republican Party members and supporters were traced and either charged or named in the press. Online dirty tricks will be much less easy to detect, security researchers say.

Spam email could be used against voters, experts say, by giving the wrong location for a polling station, or, as in the Orange County fraud, incorrect details about who has the right to vote. . . Telephone attacks like the New Hampshire prank calls would be harder to trace if made using internet telephony instead of landlines . . . Calls could even be made using a botnet. This would make tracing the perpetrator even harder, because calls wouldn't come from a central location. What's more, the number of calls that can be made is practically limitless.

Internet calls might also be made to voters to sow misinformation, says Christopher Soghoian at Indiana University in Bloomington. "Anonymous voter suppression is going to become a reality." Manipulation can also happen in more subtle ways. In 2006, supporters of California's Proposition 87, for a tax that would fund alternative energy, registered negative-sounding domains including noon87.com and noonprop87.org and then automatically routed visitors to a site touting the proposition's benefits.

The summit's conclusion: the problem will happen. The only unknowns: when and by whom.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

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Abuse of Presidential Power and the Ghost of Nixon

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 4:57 PM EDT

The Supreme Court today refused to hear the appeal of German citizen Khaled El-Masri, who was contesting a March decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss his lawsuit against the CIA. El-Masri alleged that in 2004 he was kidnapped by the CIA and rendered to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where he was tortured.

The Court's refusal to hear the case affirms the decision of the Appeals Court, which ruled against El-Masri on the grounds that allowing him to seek judicial redress would expose state secrets. The court's opinion relied heavily on the precedent of United States v. Reynolds—the 1953 case that legally enshrined the State Secrets Privilege. Though not based in the Constitution, the Reynolds precedent allows the government to withhold evidence from a legal case if its disclosure would endanger national security—a privilege most notably invoked by Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

In Reynolds, the Court held that the widows of three Air Force contractors who died in a 1948 crash could not be compensated, because litigating the case would expose military secrets. But in 2000, the documents related to the crash were declassified, revealing that what the military sought to conceal was not in fact a state secret, but instead evidence of the Air Force's culpability in the men's deaths. The Court ruled without ever seeing these documents, since they were, at the time, classified.

Anyone else see the legal Catch-22 here? The El-Masri decision is less about national security than it is about the President's right to invoke the privilege of state secrets. Without judicial process, we'll never know if that claim is legitimate or lawful. Before dismissing El-Masri's case, the Court might have looked to another old opinion, also cited in the March ruling of the Appeals Court:

Neither the doctrine of separation of powers, nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances.

That was United States v. Nixon—the famous Watergate decision in which the court ruled unanimously to limit Presidential power.

—Casey Miner

Pakistan Election a Big Sham, No Surprise

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 4:18 PM EDT

This past Saturday, Pakistan held its presidential election. It's no surprise that the good General came out on top. In Pakistan, presidents are chosen by an electoral college, consisting of the Senate, the National Assembly, and the Provincial Assemblies and these governing bodies were elected in 2002 during a rigged election. Musharraf's re-election was a guarantee.

Musharraf now needs approval from the Supreme Court, which will look at the legality of his re—election beginning on October 17. Under the Pakistani constitution, one is prohibited from running for president while still acting as an army chief. Most argue that it's unlikely the Supreme Court will rule against Musharraf.

The White House commented that "Pakistan is an important partner and ally to the United States and we congratulate them for today's election." This response doesn't raise eyebrows: the U.S. stands behind Musharraf quite often and has even helped broker the recent "power—sharing deal" between former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf. This partnership will allow Musharraf to remain in power for another five years, as her support stands to legitimize Musharraf's rule.

No wonder the British publication, the Independent called the election a "charade masquerading as democracy."

—Neha Inamdar

A Label of One's Own

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 2:48 PM EDT

If he's not careful, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson is going to end up in the racial rogue's gallery right next to me, misunderstood and villified by those too blinded by America's moribund racial discourse to know that they're in violent agreement with us. In fact, Robinson's own words show that he, too, suffered from the same myopia from which he seems now to be in the early stages of recovery.

In a now infamous column written earlier this year, I pointed out the obvious: Barack Obama isn't black. He's an immigrant black, or a la Stephen Colbert either a nouveau black or a 'late to the scene' black...call him what you will, just don't call him black and think you've conveyed any useful information. But neither should you think you've conveyed a put down. Just consider it a community service to have bothered to define your terms.

The point isn't that immigrant blacks aren't 'authentic' or that they haven't suffered through the slavery experience and are therefore unworthy of blackness, concepts which I reject as puerile and unworthy. The point is that the term 'black,' in the American socio-political context, simply doesn't make room for them. It leaches them of all context except an inapplicable one - descent from American slaves and the legacy of Jim Crow. Other than skin color, 'black' doesn't tell you anything you need to know about immigrant blacks - the function of a label, if I'm not mistaken - and in fact misleads you with false information. Be honest: when someone is described to you as black or African American, doesn't it make a difference to learn that their parents came here from Jamaica or that they recently arrived from Ethiopia and speak only Amharic? Trick question, because if it doesn't it should; there's no reason to assume a political or cultural consonance between immigrant blacks and the slave-descended. So why use the same term? Labels ought to illuminate more than they obscure, a test which the label 'black' fails pretty abysmally in 2007. We don't need yet another word for blacks (colored, Negro, Black, African American - a person could get dizzy.) What we need is to interrogate the label wherever we encounter it until 'black' or 'African American' means what Asian, for example, does: not much until you have more information. Are they Viet Namese, Korean or Tibetan? Now those are labels that actually illuminate a few things whereas 'Asian' only gives you over-broad physiognomic hints. If 'Asian' matters in any particular situation - quick! what's the Asian attitude toward affirmative action? - you can't procede until you know which flavor, which region of America. Ironically, if only to me, many of the hundreds of insulting emails I received in the wake of that column began something like "I'm from Ghana. You are a m(*&^..." or "My parents came from Trinidad and your mama is a m(&^..." If black skin is all that counts, all it takes to helpfully occupy the same term, why mention their homelands? How odd, their insistence on minimizing what is surely more important to their identity than the cotton my ancestors picked. How odd, to help keep whites' racist essentializations alive and well. Eugene Robinson, who criticized my take on Obama, is beginning to agree though he isn't fully 'there' yet.

In his latest column, he wrote, "black America" is an increasingly meaningless concept -- nearly as imprecise as just plain "America." ...Let's start by opening our eyes and recognizing that if there ever was a monolithic "black America" -- absolutely and uniformly deprived and aggrieved, with invariant values and attitudes -- there certainly isn't one now."

It isn't new for blacks to point out that their community isn't an affirmative action-supporting, 'hood-living, OJ-supporting one-note wonder. Unfortunately, though, that's usually a Potemkin village erected only to highlight white disinterest in black complexity; any black who stray off the plantation (Clarence Thomas, Sec. Rice), intermarry or offer internal critiques of the party line are swiftly punished and ex-communicated. So much for diversity. What is new is an apparent willingness for a leading thinker to follow that train of thought to its logical conclusion - a redefinition of the term 'black' and a possible wholesale realignment of the politics of blackness. The piece deserves a read.

Unfortunately, Robinson, like most blacks, ignores entirely the existence of immigrant blacks, a glaring omission in a discussion of black diversity and suggests that it might best be those immigrants who lead the charge for a label of their own. Their quiescence is a testament to both the strangle hold that traditional blacks enjoy on the race discourse and, one has to believe, an immigrant buy-in to that discourse such that it needs its consciousness raised as to its own marginalization. What must they think when they read reports like this one (emphasis added):

'Any black student will do'
A disturbing report shows some African Americans are being squeezed out of the US university population. Joanna Walters reports.
When Shirley Wilcher went to a reunion at her prestigious alma mater, Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts, she got quite a shock. The number of black graduates whose parents were born outside the US seemed to have grown dramatically compared with those whose families had been in America for generations - back to the times of slavery - like herself. She suspected that, in the process of becoming more diversified, top universities had recruited more black students but, increasingly, they were not those from post-slavery African-American US backgrounds who were supposed to be the main beneficiaries of the civil rights movement and controversial policies such as affirmative action.
Wilcher demanded data from reluctant admissions officials and her suspicions were confirmed: student recruits from what is termed the native, or domestic, US African-American population had been dropping. Not only were blacks overall still under-represented, but within the black student population African-Americans were being squeezed out.
"It's shocking. Awfully short-sighted, at best. I'm disappointed," she says.
Wilcher is the executive director of the American Association for Affirmative Action, which promotes policies that discriminate in favour of black students in an effort to correct the long legacy of racism in the US. And there was wider confirmation of her informal research to come.
A report just released shows African-Americans losing out at selective colleges across the country, particularly at elite universities, and their places being taken by first- or second-generation American immigrants, at least one of whose parents was born in the Caribbean or Africa.
The joint University of Pennsylvania-Princeton report found that although immigrant-origin black students make up only 13% of the black population in the US, they now comprise 27% of black students at the 28 top US universities surveyed.
And in a sample of the elite ivy league universities the figures were even more dramatic. More than 40% of black students in the ivy league now come from immigrant families.
"Immigrant and second-generation blacks are over-represented at these schools, while overall black students are still too few," says Dr Camille Charles, sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the report's co-authors, "which means the problem of access for African-Americans - that group which has the longest history of oppression in the US - is of even greater concern than we thought."

My, oh my. Where to begin with such madness?

Let's just say that the above is what I mean by the way 'black' and 'African American' are used on the socio-political ground, whatever its politcally correct definition. When those terms are not meaningless they're worse; they're tools for silencing immigrant blacks even as blacks fight to keep their 'brothers' in their place.

Come on over to the dark side, Eugene. But don't forget your flak jacket.

Making a Killing: A Blackwater Timeline

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 1:46 PM EDT

An investigation ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into Blackwater's September 16 shooting in Baghdad, in which 17 civilians were killed and another 24 were wounded, has determined that the company's operators opened fired indiscriminately and without provocation. The official Iraqi report on the incident demands that the U.S. government pay $8 million in compensation to each of the victims' families and sever all Iraq-based contracts with Blackwater within the next 6 months. It also demands that the Blackwater operators involved in the shootings be handed over to Iraqi authorities for possible prosecution in Iraqi courts.

It's unclear if the U.S. government will comply and perhaps even more unclear if it could meet the Iraqi government's demands even if it wanted to. Civilian employees of the State Department rely on Blackwater for protection. If the company were banished from Iraq, U.S. diplomatic operations would be paralyzed, at least until another private contractor could be hired for the job. Even if this were to happen, it's doubtful that booting Blackwater would make much difference. More than likely, its operators would quickly find work with competitors like Triple Canopy and DynCorp, who would have to fill the Baghdad security void in Blackwater's absence. The private security sector is a small one after all. Even Andrew Moonen, the Blackwater operator who got drunk in the Green Zone last Christmas Eve and murdered one of the Iraqi vice president's security guards, found a new job with Combat Support Services Associates, which put him back to work in Kuwait just two months after the shooting.

So, will Blackwater survive this latest scandal? It's impossible to know for sure, but there's little reason to believe otherwise. The company, which started as a small-scale provider of firearms training in 1998, has grown into a billion-dollar Goliath, complete with an army of lobbyists and sympathetic politicians to press its agenda on Capitol Hill. Guided by its reclusive founder, Erik Prince, the company, over its short history, has deflected controversy with ease, all the while simultaneously expanding its reach into new markets and generating ever more profitable government contracts. What follows is a timeline that documents Blackwater's rise and its history of misconduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.

1965
Prince Corporation is founded in Holland, Michigan, by Edgar Prince, father of future Blackwater founder Erik Prince. The company specializes in auto parts.

June 6, 1969
Erik Prince is born.

1973
Prince Corporation begins marketing the "lighted sun visor" to car companies, a wildly successful innovation that nets the company billions of dollars.

February 1979
Erik Prince's older sister Betsy marries Dick Devos, CEO of Amway and a billionaire contributor to the GOP and right-wing political causes. Devos was the Republican candidate for governor in Michigan in 2006.

1988
Gary Bauer and James Dobson found the socially conservative Family Research Council, funded primarily by the Prince family. Erik Prince interns there, before moving on to an internship in President George H.W. Bush's White House.

1992
Erik Prince earns a commission in the U.S. Navy. He goes on to become a Navy SEAL and serves in Haiti, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

March 2, 1995
Edgar Prince dies of a heart attack.

July 22, 1996

Prince Corporation is sold for $1.35 billion. Erik Prince retires early from the U.S. military.

December 26, 1996
Erik Prince's Blackwater Lodge and Training Center Inc. is incorporated in Delaware.