Mojo - July 2009

MoJo Video: United for Iran

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 4:48 PM EDT

Hundreds of activists gathered at San Francisco City Hall Saturday to call attention to human rights violations that followed last month's elections in Iran, which many have criticized as illegitimate. The event, organized by grassroots organization United for Iran, was part of a Global Day of Action taking place in more than 100 cities worldwide, including Oslo, Dublin, and Tokyo. (See our video of the San Francisco rally above.)

Firuzeh Mahmoudi, the Iranian-American who organized the international event, told us that she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of international support that followed the violence in Iran. Though it was formed only a month ago, United For Iran has accumulated thousands of supporters through grassroots activism and social media forums like Facebook and Twitter. High-profile supporters include Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu and U2, who each sent videos of support for the July 25 rallies.

It is unclear what effect the worldwide demonstrations had on internal Iranian affairs or international attitudes toward the Middle Eastern political pariah. Some claimed that the protests marked a watershed moment in Iranian history comparable to the death of  Martin Luther King Jr in the United States and Mahatma Gandhi in India. But with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his second term despite widespread allegations that last month's election was fraudulent, the voices of protestors may fall on deaf ears rather than achieve substantive change.

Event speakers included 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, CA senator Mark Leno, and former captain of Iran's national soccer team Parviz Ghelichkhani. Also present were notorious activists Code Pink and tents representing oppressed Tibetans and Chinese Uighurs, whose mission sometimes muddled the messages coming from the main stage.

Though demonstrations in Iran have calmed and Ahmadinejad is now forming a new cabinet, his political capital remains tenuous at best. Last week, he drew fire from conservative nationalists for promoting the controversial Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a reported friend to Israel, as his chief of staff. Even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei actively opposed the appointment, which led Ahmadinejad to back down. He is also unpopular among liberals, who despise the violence that he endorsed to quell last month's protests. The opposition leader, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who challenged Ahmadinejad in the election, vowed Monday to keep fighting for change. "People made the [1979] revolution for freedom. Where is that freedom now?" Mousavi asked in a statement on his website. "This situation will destroy everyone and will harm the system."
 
Despite the international protests, it could be years before we know whether Iran will listen.

Video produced by Taylor Wiles.

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Accused Killer of Abortion Doctor Could Be Down By Law With a Kansas Jury

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 4:21 PM EDT

As he prepares for a court hearing Tuesday, Scott Roeder, the man accused of shooting Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of his church in June, says he’s full of “relief and joy” over the murder of the Wichita abortion provider. In interviews with the Kansas City Star, Roeder, who is in a Sedgwick County, Kansas, lockup, said he’d been thinking about killing abortion doctors since 1992. He praised Paul Hill, who shot and killed an abortion provider in Pensacola, Florida, in 1994 and was executed for the murder in 2003, and he described several visits to Shelley Shannon, the woman who shot and wounded Tiller back in 1993 and is currently serving 20 years for a series of abortion clinic bombings and arsons.

Roeder believes that these acts qualify as justifiable homicide, explaining to Star reporter Judy Thomas: “When a policeman shoots somebody on the street, for example, and stops somebody from taking the life of innocent people, that’s violence, and everybody’s fine with that,” he said. Since the murder of Dr. Tiller, he said, “I’ve heard that three women have actually changed their minds and had their babies because there’s no availability here,” he said. “Wichita has been abortion-free since that time." He added, “That’s total elation.”

Scott Roeder stops short of stating that he is the man responsible for what he considers the heroic act of killing Dr. Tiller, instead saying that “For the man accused of this, things fell together for that day,” and the shooting “would have been earlier if things had panned out.” Such almost coyly circumspect statements can hardly help Roeder’s case, and his attorney, Steve Osburn, would make no comment on his client’s defense strategy. But Roeder himself raised the possibility of introducing “jury nullification,” which holds that if a jury concludes the law is wrong, it can take matters into its own hands, overriding instructions from the judge, to deliver its own version of justice.
 

Video: Bailout Madness With Air America, MoJo

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 3:39 PM EDT

Always one to talk bailout madness, Mike Papantonio, co-host of Air America's lively "Ring of Fire" weekly program, invited me back recently (see the first interview here) onto his show. We talked about Mother Jones' coverage of the latest debacle surrounding the government's more than $20 trillion financial rescue—the TARP repayment process and the controversy over the government's warrant firesales.

Watch the interview below.

American Economic History

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 3:16 PM EDT

This videographic from the Economist is well worth watching.

Governor Springsteen

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 2:42 PM EDT

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's Community Affairs Commissioner, Joe Doria, had to step down Friday after his house was raided as part of a massive FBI sweep of the state. Zack Roth aptly sums up the details here, but suffice to say that any tie to the corruption and money-laundering investigation is terrible news for the already beleaguered Corzine.

It is, however, further support for my argument that President Obama should ask Bruce Springsteen to run for governor of New Jersey.

More broadly, I don't understand why parties stand by deeply unpopular incumbents like Corzine and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) when it becomes fairly clear that those incumbents are going to lose. Obviously losing the Connecticut Senate seat to the Republicans would be a disaster for Obama and the Democrats on the level of Ted Steven's loss of an otherwise-safe Alaska Senate seat for the Republicans last cycle. But the Democrats have an easy out in Connecticut: if Dodd will get out of the way, the extremely popular state attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, could run in his place. Blumenthal would win going away.

UPDATE: Maybe it's just the Democrats who have this problem: Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), perhaps the Republicans' most vulnerable incumbent, has been forced to retire because GOP officials did everything in their power to cut off his access to funds. Meanwhile, the AP reports that despite his denials, Chris Dodd knew he was getting a special deal back in 2003 when he got two home loans under Countrywide's "Friends of Angelo" program. (This according to secret testimony before the Senate Ethics Committee.) Is that really the horse you want to back, CT Dems?

Misogyny in Sports

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 12:23 PM EDT

Jaclyn Friedman has an interesting article over at the American Prospect about the overwhelming misogyny that supposedly characterizes American sports. Riffing off Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's alleged rape of a Harrah's hotel worker, Friedman writes that "sports misogyny apologists" leapt to Roethlisberger's defense:

You know the ones -- would-be or former jocks with Peter Pan disease, women desperate to be one of the guys, or who dream of being Gisele Bundchen to the next Tom Brady. They all cling to their game and their team above everything else, including evidence, compassion and logic.

It's almost undebatable that American sports culture is characterized by a whole lot of misogyny. But Friedman goes too far—or perhaps not far enough—when she suggests that it's sports celebrity, not celebrity in general, that's the problem. Rich, famous male athletes don't get treated differently than "normal" people because they're athletes. They don't get excuses made for them because they play for the Steelers or the Lakers. They get treated differently because they are rich and famous men. (Sometimes, as in the case of the University of Colorado football player rape case Friedman mentions, just fame is enough.) It's not just the world of sports celebrity that's full of misogyny and anti-feminist attitudes. Those attitudes pervade the entire celebrity culture: movies, music, fashion—even punditry.

That aside, I think Friedman is misreading the nature of fandom when she criticizes people for clinging "to their game and their team above everything else, including evidence, compassion, and logic." That's what a lot of team sports fandom is—rooting for one's team despite x. In a sport like baseball or football, you're rooting for a team that will probably have a very different lineup from one year to the next. If you get caught up in the personalities, good and bad, of the individual players, you're going to be switching teams every year. There are bad people and good people on every team. It should be okay to root for a team that has someone who did something bad on it—provided you condemn that person for the bad thing they did. Otherwise, how are you ever going to be able to pick a team to root for? Every team has a steroid user or a wife-beater or an accused rapist or a dog-fighting enthusiast at one point or another. The goal should be to get those people fired—not to get people to stop rooting for the team.

(This is different in individual sports. It would be hard to excuse rooting for, say, a golfer who beat his wife. But being a Phillies fan does not mean you support Brett Myers hitting his wife.)

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How to Do Congressional Oversight

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 11:41 AM EDT

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) recently published a new handbook outlining "best practices" for congressional oversight of government. It's available free to members of Congress and their staff members. If you are not a denizen of the Hill, you can buy it online.

I'll give you the bottom line for free: don't assume that everyone else knows what you know or is asking the questions you're asking. Wondering why something isn't being investigated? Bother your Congresscritter. Have a whistle to blow? Bother your Congresscritter. Better yet, let us know: a lot of the time, media attention can get the ball rolling when it wasn't before. Try scoop [at] motherjones [dot] com. We're listening.

No Sex, Please, We're Lobbyists

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 11:33 AM EDT

Here's a good indication of the obvious: in Washington, sex scandals trump institutional corruption.

Politico reports that "embattled" Senator John Ensign (R-NV), who has admitted having an affair with an employee whom the Ensign campaign paid $25,000 and who also received $96,000 fom Ensign's family (as possible hush money), remains embattled, with his chief of staff and his communications director jumping ship and with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filing complaints with the Senate ethics committee and the Federal Elections Commission. The newspaper reports:

“He’s trying to do a ‘Vitter,’” a senior Senate GOP aide said of Ensign. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) managed to say virtually nothing but that he was sorry for committing a “very serious sin” after his name turned up in the phone book of the alleged “D.C. Madam” in 2007.

“He’s just trying to get beyond this,” the aide said of Ensign. “I am not sure he can, but he’s trying.”

The article makes it clear that due to the sex scandal, Ensign may not be able to hold on. And toward the end of the piece, there is this little nugget about the fellow who will take the chief of staff slot being vacated by John Lopez:

Aaron Cohen, currently a lobbyist with Jeffrey J. Kimbell and Associates, will replace Lopez. Cohen, who served previously as senior policy adviser to Ensign and former Sen. Richard Bryan (D-Nev.), currently lobbies on behalf of drug companies like Hoffman-La Roche, according to lobbying disclosure records.

Trysting with a subordinate is indeed scandalous. But a senator hiring a drug lobbyist to be his chief of staff is not cause for the blinking of an eye in the nation's capital. Not even when that senator sits on the Senate finance committee, which is in the dramatic throes of drafting major health care reform legislation of tremendous interest to Big Pharma. This is merely S.O.P. No extramarital sex is allowed--but there's nothing wrong with getting into bed with corporate mercenaries. Alas, one of these couplings affects the public interest more than the former.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Baby Steps on Don't Ask Don't Tell

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 10:12 AM EDT

Jason Bellini at The Daily Beast reports that for the first time since the early '90s, the Senate will hold formal hearings on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. After failing to secure 60 votes (remember: we live in a democracy) to filibuster-proof her bill to end DADT, Kirsten Gillibrand lobbied the Senate armed services committee, which agreed to hold hearings in the fall.

I see this as a baby step, albeit one in proper direction. I know the House fight to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, led by Pennsylvania's Patrick Murphy, has momentum: It's picking up about two sponsors a week, but still needs 54 representatives to sign on to ensure passage.

In other words, this looks like it will shape up to be a long slog. The slow pace isn't frustrating per se; some issues require considerable thought and debate. But you would think in the United States our representatives would not have to think twice about purging blatant discrimination from the United States Code.

That's the reason I find myself so frustrated with the speed at which Congress is tackling this issue. (Obviously this is tempered by the fact that we arguably have more important issues on the table—two wars going on during the worst recession in more than 50 years.) But I see it as a civil rights violation that no reasonable person could support. Why so many of our representatives can bloviate about the importance of a strong military while supporting a policy that summarily fires more than 800 able service men and women every year is even further beyond me—and reason.

Fraudsters of Afghanistan's Reconstruction

| Mon Jul. 27, 2009 10:11 AM EDT

Meet Del and Barbara Spier. The Texas grandparents were bankrupt as of March 2002, but they bounced back big thanks to Afghanistan's contracting free-for-all. The ink had barely dried on their bankruptcy filing [PDF], when the Spiers' company, US Protection and Investigations, was handed a multi-million security contract [PDF] by the Louis Berger Group; USAID had selected the construction and engineering conglomerate for the massive task of reconstructing Afghanistan's decimated infrastructure. USPI went on to land work with the United Nations, the World Bank, and others, growing almost overnight from a mom-and-pop firm into a security behemoth, employing thousands of guards on loan to the company from Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior and other local powerbrokers (read: warlords). All the while, according to federal investigators, USPI was quietly defrauding the government of millions in connection with its USAID subcontracts—double-billing for personnel, fuel, and vehicles.

I have a long piece out today on USPI's operations and the fraud allegations facing the Spiers, whose case goes to trial in late September.

Below the fold, a few highlights.