Mojo - October 2007

Why Online Education Will Never Replace the Classroom Experience

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 3:05 PM EDT

The University of Phoenix, a for-profit online school, recently hired this guy as an adjunct English professor. Among other things, he allegedly ogled a student's chest while teaching in Virginia public schools, something that should be a little harder to do over the Internet...

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Outrages, Outrages Everywhere But Not a Word Gets Written

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 2:37 PM EDT

I'm with Dahlia: what's with the QT on Sophie Currier?

A columnist whose work I all but inhale, Slate's Lithwick wondered recently why women, let alone feminists, had assumed radio silence about a story which makes its own gravy: Harvard Med's Sophie Currier won a landmark appeal allowing women everywhere (probably) to have extra break time to express milk during the grueling, nine-hour medical boards. This story's got everything: motherhood, McDoctors, babies, boobies and plain old boobs on the lower court. So offended they were that mothers hesitate to traumatize their infants (and risk turning their milk ducts into infected milk duds) by all of a sudden one day withholding the goods. Speaks volumes about our real interest in 'family values' and the plain old value of women: I'm here to tell you that breasts become a special kind of hell when you need to breastfeed and can't. Breastfed babies tend not to like it either, so the fact that we're talking about doctors here adds a lovely layer of surreality. So why didn't the 'breastfeed til puberty' crowd board buses for Boston while female pundito-activists bumrushed the blogosphere? (It fell to the whip smart Bill Mahr to take a stand (it's at the end of the clip) on this prickly issue, though it precedes Currier and is tangential to the issue of work-related breastfeeding.)

You should read Lithwick for her excellent analysis - to prove her point, I had never even heard about the case until her piece - but a larger point needs to be made. It's the cheapest trick in the book to go looking under bushes for the one measly outrage your enemies missed while picking up their cleaning one day, but every now and then the bullshit flag simply must be thrown; both feminists and the family values crowd either chickened out or played politics with this one.

Note to Mel: People Love Bill

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 2:22 PM EDT

What's that old adage about how generals are always fighting the last war?

Republicans have apparently based their presidential fundraising strategy almost entirely on fanning fears of another Clinton presidency. The Washington Post reports that the Republican National Committee has been sending out fundraising appeals to supporters with a photo of Bill and Hillary stamped "4 More Years?"

Apparently chairman Mel Martinez and the RNC brain-trust missed the memo noting that thanks to Bush, the Clinton years look pretty darn good today, what with the budget surplus, peace, grownups at FEMA and all. Is it any wonder Republicans haven't been inspired by these appeals to dig deep?

Well, "Happy" May Be a Stretch

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 2:15 PM EDT

Best quote of the day, from GOP strategist Ed Rollins on why the Republicans lag nearly $100 million behind Democrats in presidential fundraising:

"The Democrats, they're out there, they're hungry. We just got fat, dumb, and happy."

Turning Tutu Away

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 1:48 PM EDT

What issue could possibly cause a university to disinvite Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the ever-grinning South African human rights crusader, from giving a talk on peace and nonviolence? As Scott Jaschik at InsideHigherEd reports, an Israeli/Palestinian issue did. The University of St. Thomas in Minnesota rescinded an April speaking invitation to the Nobel Peace Prize winner because criticisms he made of Israeli policies were judged to be "hurtful" to some Jewish people. Tutu's main crime was uttering the name Hitler during a 2002 speech in Boston about Israel's occupation of the West Bank. But while the Zionist Organization of America criticized Tutu for his "vicious libel that Israel is comparable to Hitler," Jaschik points out that interpretation is a stretch.

Tutu references Hitler in a part of the speech, delivered to the Palestinian ecumenical group Sabeel, where he encourages the audience to challenge the U.S. "Jewish lobby" and reminds them that radical change is possible:

"People are scared in this country [U.S.], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? ... The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end, they bit the dust."

Tutu's use of the phrase "Jewish lobby" is regrettable, mainly because the pro-Israel lobby he is referring to is not made up exclusively of Jews (remember Texas preacher John Hagee's Christians United for Israel?). But one minor slip five years ago is hardly grounds for blacklisting him. It's also worth noting these dialogue-squashing disinvitations aren't the province of one particular group or ideology. Witness the University of California's recent stay away order to former Harvard president Larry Summers.

—Justin Elliott

U.S. Military Faults Blackwater in Shooting Incident

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 12:50 PM EDT

It looks like military sources on the scene of the Nisoor Square massacre support the horrifying descriptions put forward by the Iraqi government and by the New York Times. (That Times article is a must-read, by the way.)

"It was obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong," said the U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident remains the subject of several investigations. "The civilians that were fired upon, they didn't have any weapons to fire back at them. And none of the IP or any of the local security forces fired back at them," he added, using a military abbreviation for the Iraqi police. The Blackwater guards appeared to have fired grenade launchers in addition to machine guns, the official said.

Of course, none of this stopped the Pentagon from handing Blackwater another contract. But it may lead to the beginnings of oversight.

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Senate Session Southern Style: State Senator Punches Peer

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 12:20 PM EDT

Chaos in the Alabama State Senate! After Democratic State Sen. Lowell Barron of Fyffe called State Sen. Charles Bishop of Jasper a "son of a bitch," Bishop responded by punching Barron in the face. Watch the video!

And just to double the funny, the Calhoun County GOP actually gave Bishop — the puncher, not the punched — a trophy of a boxer. He deserved the honor, said the local party, because of the extent to which Bishop went in the "defending of womankind."

Update: I'm going to use this as an opportunity to post one of my favorite videos from YouTube. It's two politicians from the Czech Republic sorting out their differences. Note the subtitles.

Widestance Forever!

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 11:08 AM EDT

Larry Craig is sticking around, even though his guilt was reconfirmed yesterday. Craig, who earlier said that he would resign if his guilty plea was not withdrawn, released a statement making it clear he intends to serve out the rest of his term.

"As I continued to work for Idaho over the past three weeks here in the Senate, I have seen that it is possible for me to work here effectively," Craig said. "I will continue my effort to clear my name in the Senate Ethics Committee -- something that is not possible if I am not serving in the Senate."

Republicans are not happy. "It's embarrassing for the Senate, it's embarrassing for his party," said Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada.

This is completely awesome.

Senators Write Letters & Demand Torture Docs

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 10:51 AM EDT

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee Jay Rockefeller writes to acting attorney general Peter Keisler, asking why the New York Times has copies of secret torture memoes that the Justice Department has so far refused to turn over to the appropriate Congressional oversight committees, among them his.

Letter below:

October 4, 2007

The Honorable Peter D. Keisler
Acting Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Mr. Acting Attorney General:

The New York Times published an article today entitled "Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations" that describes the classified opinions provided by the Department of Justice on the legality of the CIA's interrogation practices, as well as the internal deliberations surrounding those classified opinions. As Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence I have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice to provide those classified opinions; the Department of Justice has never provided a formal response.

This letter reiterates my longstanding request for the opinions of the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel analyzing the legality of the CIA's interrogation program. In particular, please provide the principal classified Office of Legal Counsel opinions issued since December of 2004 on the legality of CIA's interrogation program. This should include Office of Legal Counsel opinions assessing the legality of the CIA's practices under section 2340A of the U.S. criminal code, which implements the Convention Against Torture; the substantive provisions of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture; the Detainee Treatment Act; Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions; and the War Crimes Act, as amended by the Military Commissions Act.


Long Arm of the Law May Finally Reach Blackwater

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 5:55 PM EDT

The legal black hole in which private contractors have been operating in Iraq may be narrowing. Earlier today, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure that would extend the reach of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) to include any contractor (or subcontractor, at any tier) working outside the United States for any federal agency in any place where the U.S. military is engaged.

This is the second proposed revision of MEJA since 2000. The law initially covered only civilians working directly for the U.S. military overseas. A 2004 amendment expanded its jurisdiction to include employees of any federal agency supporting a DOD mission abroad. But the law still does not apply to civilians working in areas not directly related to the U.S. military.

Blackwater operators involved in the September 16 shootings in Baghdad, which left 17 dead and another 24 wounded, were protecting U.S. diplomats under a State Department contract. It is therefore unclear whether the incident would fall under MEJA's jurisdiction. All contractors are immune from Iraqi law.

This loophole would be closed by the bill—sponsored by David Price, Democrat of North Carolina—that passed the House today by a margin of 389 to 30; all dissenting votes were cast by Republicans. A similar measure is expected to come before the Senate. If senators vote in similar numbers, any veto from President Bush could be easily swept aside.

The White House issued a statement yesterday, opposing Price's bill as carrying "unintended and intolerable consequences for crucial and necessary national security activities and operations." An AP reporter asking for clarification was referred to the Justice Department, which refused comment.

For its part, the private military industry appears to be in favor of Price's bill. The International Peace Operations Association, an industry trade group, has expressed its support, as did Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince in his testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday.