Mojo - January 2011

Did the US Government Have an American Teenager Beaten In Kuwait?

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 12:55 AM EST

UPDATE, January 7, 7:30 p.m.: Gulet Mohamed "was not detained at the behest of the United States government," Philip Crowley, a State Department spokesman, told reporters on Friday. "We are aware of his detention. We have provided him consular services, and we are ensuring his well-being, as we would for any citizen in detention." Mother Jones will have more as this story continues to develop. Keep reading below for why Mohamed's family and lawyer think the US was involved.


Gulet Mohamed, an American teenager detained in Kuwait who claims to have been brutally interrogated there, was arrested and questioned by Kuwaiti security on behalf of the US government, his lawyer and family members charged on Thursday.

Mohamed, a 19-year-old from Alexandria, Virginia, called the New York Times' Mark Mazzetti and Salon's Glenn Greenwald this week via a cell phone another inmate smuggled into the prison where he is being held. In the interviews, Mohamed recounted being severely beaten. He said he was forced to stand for hours, and that interrogators threatened to torture him with electricity and imprison his mother. 

Questions that Kuwaiti interrogators asked Mohamed "indicated a level of knowledge about his family and actions" that could only have been obtained from American law enforcement, the teen's lawyer, Gadeir Abbas, told the two reporters at a sparsely attended press conference Thursday afternoon. In fact, he added, interrogators mentioned a specific, off-the-cuff conversation Mohamed had at a mosque in the US some time ago—a conversation that he claimed they could only have learned about through surveillance. Since the idea that Kuwaiti intelligence forces are spying on US mosques strains credulity, Abbas and Mohamed's family believe American officials were passing information to the Kuwaitis.

Mohamed's case is an example of "proxy detention," Abbas said. Instead of the US detaining and interrogating Mohamed, or using extraordinary rendition to send him to be tortured in Egypt or Syria, the government is "taking one step back and trying to accomplish the same goal: the unlawful torture and detention abroad of an American citizen by a country that is known to engage in human rights abuses," Abbas argued. 

Salon's Greenwald has suggested that Kuwaiti interrogators' questions about Anwar al-Awlaki, the American cleric and Al Qaeda propagandist who is in hiding in Yemen, are further evidence of American involvement in Mohamed's detention. Al-Awlaki has "become an obsession of the Obama administration," Greenwald wrote Thursday, and "the idea that [Kuwait] would do this to an American citizen without the American government's knowledge, if not its assent and participation, is implausible in the extreme."

In a letter to the Justice Department sent Thursday, Abbas wrote that  "the manner of his detention and the questions asked of Mr. Mohamed indicate to him that he was taken into custody at the behest of the United States." The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

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House v. EPA, Round One

| Thu Jan. 6, 2011 6:19 PM EST

That didn't take long. On the first day of the 112th Congress, a group of Republican members—and one Democrat—offered a bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating planet-warming gases under the Clean Air Act.

E2 Wire flagged a note in the Congressional Register that Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) yesterday introduced a bill to amend the Clean Air Act, though the description didn't include much detail. A spokesman for the representative confirmed to Mother Jones that the new bill is exactly the same as HR 391, which Blackburn and others filed in January 2009. She's introduced a measure just like it, though the new text isn't posted yet.

The measure is just over one page in length, and would alter the Clean Air Act to specifically exclude greenhouse gases from regulation. It goes so far as to specify that carbon dioxide should not be considered pollution at all. "The term 'air pollutant' shall not include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, or sulfur hexafluoride," the bill states.

In case that wasn't enough, it goes on: "Nothing in the Clean Air Act shall be treated as authorizing or requiring the regulation of climate change or global warming." The measure has 45 Republican co-sponsors and one Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma.

This is, of course, another tactic for subverting the Supreme Court's 2007 determination that greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act if those gases are determined to pose a threat to human health. The EPA formally made that finding nearly two years ago, and is now following through with new regulations, which began phasing in on Jan. 2. Another option that Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has floated would use the Congressional Review Act to block the EPA rules from going into effect. Upton is, notably, not a cosponsor of Blackburn's bill.

This is likely only the opening salvo in the fight against EPA regulations in the House this year.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change

| Thu Jan. 6, 2011 6:16 PM EST

The conservative fetish with the Constitution came to a new apex on Thursday, when lawmakers read the document aloud on the House floor—not quite in its entirety—at the behest of the new Republican majority. But even as they lavished praise on the venerated document, some Republicans were quick to ennumerate the ways they'd love to change it—as well as radically reinterpret its provisions.

Jerry Brown vs. the Parent Trigger Law?

| Thu Jan. 6, 2011 4:26 PM EST

Editors' Note: This education dispatch is part of a new ongoing series reported from Mission High School, where education writer Kristina Rizga is known to students as "Miss K." Click here to see all of Mojo's recent education coverage, or follow The Miss K Files on Twitter or with this RSS Feed.

After a week of depressing announcements about looming budget woes, the California Teachers Association is celebrating some good news for a change. On Wednesday, The Sacramento Bee reported that governor Jerry Brown plans to spare K-12 education and community colleges from another massive round of cuts—if, and this is a big if—California voters can accept higher taxes on their purchases, cars, and income. Brown plans to hold a related special election this spring.

Today, Brown's office released the names of the seven members who'll sit on California's State Board of Education, the state body that sets education policies for the state. Gone is a member who supported the "parent trigger" law, a controversial education reform that union members staunchly opposed. Anti-charter advocate and education professor Diane Ravitch views the new board as a victory, tweeting that control has shifted from big-business/foundations to teachers and teacher unions.

Speaking of charter schools, Brown opened two himself when he was mayor of Oakland and has since signaled to pro-charter advocates, including US education secretary Arne Duncan, that he now believes charter schools are driven by faith in overly simplistic solutions with a "pervasive technocratic bias and an uncritical faith in the power [of] social science."

Can the Military Tolerate Dissent?

| Thu Jan. 6, 2011 3:58 PM EST

Over at The Atlantic, Tim Kane wrote a fascinating story about brain drain from the military ranks. It's a far-ranging piece, but he touches on a critical issue facing our nation, security-wise and culture-wise:

Why are so many of the most talented officers now abandoning military life for the private sector? An exclusive survey of West Point graduates shows that it's not just money. Increasingly, the military is creating a command structure that rewards conformism and ignores merit. As a result, it's losing its vaunted ability to cultivate entrepreneurs in uniform.

Why is this important? Because it totally pisses off conservative rah-rah types by attacking their carefully assembled myths about America and its armed forces. One of the leading right-wing milblogs, Blackfive, neatly captures those myths:

I was unaware that cultivating entrepreneurs in uniform was an ability we would even want to vaunt...The military is a top-down hierarchy that will stifle creativity and free thinking by design...You cannot have a cohesive military command structure if everyone is following their own idea of what a standard operating procedure should be. Will this chafe the cones of some highly talented people who if left to their own devices would do some awesome things? Of course it does, tough shite. At some point the highly talented maverick becomes a drag on the over all effectiveness.

Gene Sperling and the Revolving Door

| Thu Jan. 6, 2011 2:15 PM EST

Earlier today, I posted a piece that looked at the criticism that Gene Sperling, who seems likely to be named Lawrence Summers' replacement at the White House, is a Wall Street insider. My verdict: he ain't. I reported on how he came to make a boatload of money working on a $100 million charitable project for Goldman Sachs' foundation. In that piece, I noted that Reuters blogger Felix Salmon was one of Sperling's critics, and he's quasi-responded in a post assailing "the revolving door" between Washington and Wall Steet. He writes:

It's fascinating to see how Corn reports on the institutionalization of the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, to the point where taking $887,727 from Goldman Sachs is positively self-abnegatory.

Given our age difference, I'd wager I have spent far more years decrying this revolving door than Salmon. My point was not to discount the problem of the revolving door; it was to show that Sperling was not a good example of it. Yes, he was paid much by the Goldman Sachs foundation to implement a project to provide business education to 10,000 women in developing nations. But as my story made clear, Sperling had consciously chosen not to spin through the revolving door after leaving the Clinton administration. But it should come as no surprise to Salmon that Sperling was routinely told by the poobahs in his world that he ought to trade on his government service and do Wall Street's bidding to earn millions annually. That's what many do. He didn't take the advice, and, instead, spent years engaged in nonprofit work to advance the cause of universal education in developing nations. For a much better case study of the revolving door, check out the new White House chief of staff, William Daley, most recently of JPMorgan Chase.

Salmon notes, "If the revolving door is really as institutionalized as Corn says that it is, that’s a very serious problem." Agreed. And it's been that way for decades. Sperling's tale, though, shows that a fellow can leave the White House and avoid racing through that oh-so-tempting portal to cash in.

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Is The Jobs Recovery Finally Here?

| Thu Jan. 6, 2011 10:29 AM EST

Has the once-mightly American jobs machine finally lurched back to life? According to a startling new employment report, the answer to that question is a long-awaited yes.

On Wednesday, business data corporation ADP said in its monthly jobs report (PDF) that private employers had added 297,000 jobs in December 2010. That figure exceeded—and, in some cases, nearly tripled—estimates by economists and the business press for December, and far outpaced the total for November, which was 92,000. Indeed, 297,000 jobs is the biggest jump since ADP began keeping jobs records in 2001.

There's no one answer for why hiring spiked in December. One theory: "Companies have been pretty cautious and they've accumulated a lot of spending power, and we’ve seen that in purchases of equipment and software," one economist told Bloomberg News. "Now they need more workers to man the equipment.

So how much should we care about the ADP report? The Wall Street Journal's Dave Kansas writes that ADP, for the most part, tended to underestimate jobs gains month by month in the past year. That's partly due to government hiring, like the temporary jobs created by the Census in 2010, which briefly made the jobs rolls look healthier than they probably were. But in all but one month of 2010, the ADP jobs report low-balled the official report, released by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics a few days after ADP's report comes out. Economist Mark Thoma, however, says ADP is not the most reliable of sources, especially when reporting on jobs during the holiday season, when figures fluctuate even more than usual.

Now, if the Labor Department does report encouraging numbers on Friday, it'll be bittersweet news for the Democrats. They were trounced in midterm elections largely for their inability to jumpstart America's jobs market, yet it was the Democrats who laid the groundwork for jobs growth last month. No doubt both parties will try to spin any good jobs news—even if it's not as optimistic as ADP's report—as evidence of their hard work bearing fruit.

But even if the economy added 300,000 jobs in December, that's nowhere close to filling the massive jobs deficit plaguing the American economy. The jobs market needs not one or two but dozens of months of job growth—think 300,000 jobs or more—to be on the path to recovery. Right now, we're not even close.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 6, 2011

Thu Jan. 6, 2011 6:30 AM EST

Soldiers and Marines walk through rotor wash from a UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter as they move toward a Forward Operating Base in the village of Darrah-I-Bum, Badghis Province, Afghanistan Jan. 5, 2011. The cadre of personnel accompanied the International Security Assistance Force Command Sergeant Major, Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin L. Hill on a visit to the Marines, sailors, and Soldiers of Special Operations Task Force-West living and working in Darrah-I-Bum. U.S. Marine photo/Sgt. Brian Kester

If You Dig Political Muckraking, Thank Wayne Barrett

| Wed Jan. 5, 2011 6:11 PM EST

Spend a day working for Wayne Barrett, and you'll get a taste of his great loves in life: punctuality, precision, Google Documents, and the word "fuck."

Spend a semester with him, and he'll develop an even deeper passion: you.

On Tuesday, Wayne—one of the last giants of political investigative reporting in New York City—offered an elegaic farewell to his readers at the Village Voice, where he'd raked the muck full-time since 1978—the year of my birth. Beleaguered by financial woes (as we all are), searching for a sound balance between costly longform reporting and cheap blog snark, the Voice can no longer afford Wayne. It loses longtime metro columnist Tom Robbins in the deal, too, because in a profession full of neurotics and back-stabbers, Tom is the most generous, empathetic guy you'll find, from humoring an intern's anti-Yankees trash talk, to running a license plate for a cub reporter, to donating a kidney to a friend, to "going out with the guy who brought me to the dance"—as he told Wayne when explaining why'd he quit the Voice, too.

Let's not cry over these guys yet. Though the addresses may change, they'll keep on transforming our weird world with wicked good writing. Tom's honesty, lyrical prose, and insistence on keeping 10-year-old interview tapes once freed an ex-FBI agent dubiously accused of a mob murder. Wayne—well, among other things, you can thank Wayne for the fact that "President" and "Rudolph Giuliani" don't go together in a sentence.

But now's as good a time as any to reflect on Wayne's reach, because it goes far beyond his own writing: He's a one-man journalism school for aspiring copy-slingers, indirectly responsible for much of what you read in MoJo and the rest of the investigative world. He's always leaned on a cadre of unpaid interns to assist with his research. Unpaid internships generally get a well-deserved bad rap: free labor, exploitation, insecurity. But if you worked for Barrett and paid him a hefty sum each day for the privilege, you'd still be making out like a greasy politician on the deal. From Politico to Rolling Stone to here and here and here at MoJo and far beyond, hundreds of Wayneniks are out there, and we pretty much all feel the same way: His guidance humbled us and empowered us. It made us better reporters and people.

Pelosi's Defectors

| Wed Jan. 5, 2011 3:37 PM EST

On their first day in the minority, Democrats were anything but united: 19 members defected and refused to vote for Nancy Pelosi as their party's leader in the House. Most of the dissident Dems voted for Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), the Blue Dog who launched a longshot bid to challenge the former Speaker. He managed to convince 10 other conservative Democrats to support him. A handful of other members cast votes this way and that: Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Rep. Dan Cardoza (D-Calif.) voted for each other, and one member cast a ballot for Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Pelosi's right hand man. One surprising defection came from Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), a rising star in the party who voted for many of the biggest Democratic bills but who faced a steep challenge during her re-election race.

Pelosi still prevailed with 173 votes, but the defections sent her a message that not everyone is on board with her hard-charging, liberal style. "When you lose in such a devasting way...you need to step aside and let someone else take the reins," Shuler said in an interview shortly before the vote on Wednesday.

While the liberal contingent of the House Democrats has already raised a ruckus—protesting vehemently during the tax-cut compromise—the party's diminished Blue Dog Caucus has warned the party against resorting to GOP-style partisan obstructionism. "My hope is that everyone received the message that was sent to members on both sides of Congress that we've got to start working together," said Shuler. "Don't play political games—that disrupts progress to the country—let's try to work with our colleagues across the aisle...just because one side does it doesn't make it always appropriate for the rest."

Though conservative Democrats were one of the biggest casualties of the midterms, Blue Dogs like Shuler could end up being empowered in the next Congress if President Obama decides to tack toward the center to sway independent voters, much as he did during the tax-cut compromise.

That being said, even Shuler—who voted against health care reform—came to the defense of the Democrats' biggest legislative accomplishments. Shuler vowed to oppose repeal of health reform, listing some of the major benefits of the law and insisting that incremental tweaks would fix the rest. "I actually think it would be immoral to take that away from the children with pre-exsiting conditions right now. From a moral standpoint, I cannot see voting to repeal on that," Shuler said. In the face of the oncoming GOP assault, the Democratic Party will need to overcome its internal divisions and muster all the moderate support that it can get.