Mojo - February 2008

No Fond Farewells for Fidel, Who Leaves Behind a Repressive and Impoverished State

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 12:17 PM EST

cuba-fidel-castro250x200.jpg

Please, no tears for Comrade Castro, as he finally gives up power in Cuba. It's a good thing he's going. But his departure has taken far too long (in fact, decades too long) and, alas, in all that time he did little to ease the transition to the free society that Cuba will eventually be. His exit leaves Cuba a repressive state and a nation not prepared for the future. The gains of his revolution—such as the decent universal health care system—are imperiled by the changes that will sooner or later hit Cuba. Rather than manage a transformation from one-party (one-man!) communism to a more open system, Castro has set up Cuba for a possible cataclysmic counterrevolution that may not benefit the people of Cuba.

I've often wondered why some American leftists have been soft on Castro. How could anyone who gives a damn about human rights and freedom root for Castro in his face-off with the Yanquis of the North? As the Committee to Protect Journalists noted last August,

With 24 independent journalists in prison, Cuba continues to be one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, second only to China. Twenty-two of these journalists were jailed in a March 2003 crackdown.

Late last week, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos announced that Cuba would release two of those journalists. That would leave Cuba with 22 reporters behind bars and still in second-place globally as a jailer of journalists. (Iran, as of December, had 12 imprisoned journalists.) As CPJ has described the obvious, there is no freedom of expression in Cuba: "The government owns and controls all media outlets and restricts Internet access. The three main newspapers represent the views of the Communist Party and other organizations controlled by the government."

What's so revolutionary about denying citizens access to the Internet?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

A Nation is Born: The Long, Bitter Path to Kosovo's Independence

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 11:38 AM EST

When, waving Kosovar and American flags, Kosovo Albanians spontaneously took to the streets of their capital Pristina Saturday night to celebrate in anticipation of the province's unilateral declaration of independence on Sunday, I was flooded with memories of some two years spent chronicling the Kosovars' brutal last years under Serbian rule, the staggering exodus of tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians fleeing from Serbian paramilitaries during Nato's 1999 air war against Serbia, and the messy beginnings of their limbo status under NATO-led protection. It was only then, after the Serbian occupation had been driven out, that I learned an ugly lesson: that sometimes when the oppressed are liberated, they act with the brutality of their former tormenters. In the aftermath of the 1999 Nato intervention in Yugoslavia, ethnic cleansing continued, only this time the majority of the atrocities being meted out were by the majority Albanians against the province's minority Serbs, Roma, and Turks. It was a phenomenon witnessed later in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Like almost everything else, Kosovo's independence divided its historic peoples. While the messages coming from Kosovar Albanian friends over the weekend, replete with photos of fireworks and youtube tributes to America (President Bush immediately recognized Kosovo's independence Sunday, followed by Britain and France), were filled with joy ("...At the moment the Kosovar prime minister declared Kosovo as a democratic and an independent state, I started crying," one friend wrote), the messages from friends and associates in the Serbian capital Belgrade simply stopped. As one who spent much of four years chronicling the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia from post-conflict to conflict, I felt a sense of ambivalence, as well as resignation that Kosovo's break with Serbia, while problematic, was also probably inevitable.

That's in part because of the level of brutality -- sometimes casual, sometimes extreme -- that I had witnessed the Kosovars enduring under Serbian occupation. Among those searing experiences, after touring the site of a massacre of a Kosovar Albanian extended family, 53 members in all, in Drenica in 1998, being asked by a young Kosovo Albanian mother in hiding from Serb forces in the hills to please take her baby, who was ill, and she didn't think the baby would survive in the unheated make-shift lean-to she was hiding in in the woody hills. (We took her, terrified, and hardly able to communicate with our group of Russian and American journalists, and her baby in our rental car to a relative in a town to seek medical help). And witnessing the tens of thousands of refugees crossing the border into Macedonia a year later after Nato air strikes had begun.

From one of my dispatches at the time:

Clinton Seeks to Flip Pledged Delegates?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 10:35 AM EST

Politico's Roger Simon is reporting that the Clinton campaign will try to get pledged delegates that Obama has won in primaries and caucuses to abandon their commitment to Obama and vote for Clinton at the convention. This is primarily done, one suspects, by promising delegates tons of goodies in the upcoming administration.

On its face, this seems like an insane idea. People are already freaked about the possibility of superdelegates reversing a narrow pledged delegate lead, and thus taking the Democratic nomination out of the hands of the people and putting it in the hands of party insiders. The anger and resentment at Clinton would be far greater if she promised a few unscrupulous delegates some sweet Clinton Administration jobs and subverted the decisions of the people. This win-at-all-costs strategy is self-defeating, because it would undermine the Democratic Party's excitement about their nominee in the general election.

But how much credibility can we assign to the report? Simon cites a single, unnamed source. The only quote from that source is this:

"I swear it is not happening now, but as we get closer to the convention, if it is a stalemate, everybody will be going after everybody's delegates... All the rules will be going out the window."

That doesn't necessarily mean there will be a coordinated strategy to pursue pledged delegates. Maybe Simon was told more but didn't think he needed to include additional quotes. I wish he had. We'll see how the Clinton campaign's responds.

But will going after pledged delegates even matter? Let's say the pledged delegate count is within a couple hundred (or less!) going into the convention, and Clinton gets a couple to flip. Let's go so far as to say she gets a couple dozen to flip. Isn't the difference between herself and Obama still within that "superdelegate buffer" that ensures the margin of victory of the 795 superdelegates by one of the two candidates will determine the nomination?

Update: Clinton campaign issues a strong denial.

Time To Ban Beef From School Lunch

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 9:28 AM EST

Yesterday, news broke that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was recalling a record-breaking 143 million pounds of beef from a California meat packer. The Humane Society had caught employees at the Hallmark/Westland Meat company last month on video using a forklift to prop up sick "downer" cows long enough to pass inspection, in violation of a host of federal regs. The USDA hasn't exactly snapped into action on this one. Eating meat from sick cows can spread mad cow disease, yet most of the beef suspected of being contaminated had already been consumed by the time USDA announced the recall. And you know who ate it? Little kids.

A big chunk of the nation's poorest quality beef is routinely dumped on federally subsidized school lunch programs. Not surprisingly, beef in school lunch has caused a fair amount of food poisoning. No one knows how the mad cow problem will play out, since it takes years for the disease to show up in humans. But one thing is certain: As the Humane Society's video reaffirmed, USDA seems largely incapable of guaranteeing the safety of beef in this country. (The USDA tests fewer than 1 percent of all slaughtered cows for mad cow disease, and Bush administration, in fact, went to court to prevent one beef producer from voluntarily testing all his cattle for mad cow disease because it would make all the other companies look bad.)

Given that little kids are far more vulnerable to the effects of food poisoning than adults are, it seems to me that it's time to simply ban beef from the school lunch program. It's not like kids will suffer much. Most of them spend plenty of time at McDonalds. In fact, in light of the current obesity epidemic, there's a strong argument for banning beef solely based on its fat content. But putting school children at risk of illness and death from dangerous beef to subsidize ranchers and shoddy meat companies is criminal. Let the kids eat garbanzo beans and force the meat companies to find somewhere else to peddle their sick cows.

Why Shutting Down Wikileaks Will Backfire

| Mon Feb. 18, 2008 4:50 PM EST

A federal judge in California has ordered the whistleblower website Wikileaks to go dark. But the site wasn't taken out by the Feds— who have good reason to be upset with it for posting sensitive information about Gitmo and rendition flights—but rather a Swiss Bank that filed suit after the site posted documents suggesting that it was up to some financial hanky-panky in the Caymans. The bank may have won round one, but Wikileaks and its friends are already winning round two. The site is being mirrored in several places (see list here) and the bank's docs are readily available as a download. I suspect that this instance of judicial overreach will be overturned and the main Wikileaks site will be back. And in the meantime, some Swiss bankers are about to get a lesson on how hard it is to stuff digital genies back into their bottles.

Secretary of State 2008?

| Mon Feb. 18, 2008 10:54 AM EST

From Salon:

Getting through these dark times
Foreign policy whiz Samantha Power sheds light on a legendary diplomat killed in Iraq, advising Barack Obama and how America can emerge from the Bush era.

Having won the Pulitzer in 2003 for A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide" she's pub'ing her new book "Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World." It's about the UN envoy and great hope for peace in the Middle East who was killed in a terrorist bombing early in our occupation of Iraq.

She's a good friend, maybe because she's one of the only people I know who is both destined for greatness and just plain cool as hell. Latest proof: she works for Obama. My hat, as always, is off to her.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Our Election Through Australia's Eyes

| Mon Feb. 18, 2008 8:47 AM EST

My interview with Australian radio airs today and is available online for a month.

The Military-Scholastic Complex

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 9:17 PM EST

peace%20corps.gif There's a lot of disquiet on the Internet these days concerning the relationship between the Peace Corps and United States intelligence agencies. The issue has found new legs in the wake of recent claims that Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar were asked by a United States Embassy official in Bolivia "to basically spy" on Venezuelans and Cubans working in Bolivia. In an interview last week with ABC News, Fulbright scholar John Alexander van Schaick said that he was told by Assistant Regional Security Officer Vincent Cooper "to provide the names, addresses, and activities of any Venezuelan or Cuban doctors or field workers I come across during my time here." Cooper had made a similar request to a group of 30 Peace Corps volunteers and students.

For soliciting Peace Corps members' and Fulbright scholars' assistance, Cooper has paid a price. Bolivian President Evo Morales has now declared him an "undesirable" person whose actions amount to an "attack" on Bolivia, and he has already been recalled to Washington D.C. As CrooksandLiars points out, just today, in a groundbreaking move, Bolivia filed espionage charges against Cooper. Cooper should have foreseen the firestorm that would likely ensue if his actions were made public. So why did Cooper feel it was appropriate to use Peace Corps volunteers and a Fulbright scholar for intel work? Maybe there is a precedent that the rest of us are not aware of. The Huffington Post points out that there was a four-month span between when Cooper met with the Peace Corps volunteers and when he approached van Schaick. Clearly this was not an isolated event.

'Boston' to Huckabee: Stop Playing Our Song!

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 4:01 PM EST

It's not often you can feel genuine sympathy for rock stars that made truckloads of cash polluting the world with their catchy, but crappy songs. But given the above performance by Mike Huckabee's cover band Capitol Offense, it's easy to understand Boston founder and songwriter Tom Scholz's deep, unending shame for the artistic transgressions of his youth, lucrative though they were. Huckabee's recreation of the band's 1976 oh-my-god-please-make-Clear-Channel-stop-playing-that hit "More Than a Feeling" at an Iowa campaign stop—which featured a guest appearance by one-time Boston lead guitarist Barry Goudreau, a Huckabee supporter—invites, no, begs for all the mockery one can muster. Turns out, though, that Schulz's problem with the performance (aside from that it sucked) was Huckabee's use of the song to promote his presidential candidacy. Scholz, who alleges that the Huckabee campaign has continued to use the song since the ill-considered performance in Iowa, wrote a letter to the presidential contender yesterday, explaining his troubled mind:

Boston has never endorsed a political candidate, and with all due respect, would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston stands for.

NIU Shooting: Different School, Same Questions

| Fri Feb. 15, 2008 3:18 PM EST

NIU.jpgUnfortunately, yesterday's shooting at Northern Illinois University seemed quite familiar. Young man in dressed in black walks into a school, shoots and kills five students, injures dozens more, and then shoots himself. He was mentally ill, unpredictable, acting strange in the weeks before the event. The public safety director of Northern Illinois University's response: "Unfortunately, these things happen."