Mojo - October 2011

UN: Rampant Torture in Afghan Prisons

| Mon Oct. 10, 2011 4:02 PM EDT
Freed Afghan prisoners leave a jail in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

A United Nations report released on Monday reveals some lurid details about abuses committed by Afghan security forces under supervision of American trainers, The New York Times reports:

The report found evidence of "a compelling pattern and practice of systematic torture and ill-treatment" during interrogation in the accounts of nearly half of the detainees of the intelligence service, known as the National Directorate of Intelligence, who were interviewed by United Nations researchers. The national police treatment of detainees was somewhat less severe and widespread, the report found. Its research covered 47 facilities sites in 22 provinces. "Use of interrogation methods, including suspension, beatings, electric shock, stress positions and threatened sexual assault is unacceptable by any standard of international human rights law," the report said.

It was unclear from the report whether any information extracted under torture was used by either the Afghan government or its foreign military allies. One detainee described being brought in for interrogation in Kandahar and having the interrogator ask if he knew the name of the office and then, after the man answered, "You should confess what you have done in the past as Taliban—even stones confess here."

The man was beaten over several days for hours at a time with electric wire and then signed a confession, the report said.

The Afghan government has admitted that, thanks to years of war, suicide bombings, and other acts of terrorism, "deficiencies" remain in its security protocols. The government also insists that it has brought in a special unit to look into the torture allegations, and already fired several employees at one of the most problematic units. After reviewing an early version of the UN's report in September, NATO officials halted all prisoner transfers to the sixteen facilities suspected of employing abusive practices. 

These revelations could also trigger the Leahy amendment, a provision that prevents the US from offering certain forms of military assistance to foreign entities that commit rampant human rights violations. But it's not clear if this will get that far. Political pressure to reduce the size of the American footprint in the region has made American overseers loathe to entangle themselves in thorny issues like prisoner abuse. Trying to tackle the serious problems of Afghan prisons, it seems, doesn't fit into the plan.

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WATCH: Perry Endorser Calls Judaism, Catholicism Path to Hell

| Mon Oct. 10, 2011 2:35 PM EDT
Dallas pastor's call for Evangelical voters to apply a religious test on GOP presidential candidates has put Rick Perry's campaign in hot water.

Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress says that he is not going to be Rick Perry's Jeremiah Wright. That's probably true. But Jeffress, who introduced Perry at the Values Voter Summit on October 7, certainly isn't doing the Texas governor any favors with his argument that Mitt Romney belongs to a cult (Mormonism) and holds religious views that should be held against him at the polls this winter. Jeffress's appearance on-stage was approved by the Perry campaign, according to the event's organizer, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins.

It's only getting worse. Alex Burns flags comments Jeffress made at his church on Sunday that, "Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Mormonism are all false religions and I stand by those statements." But Jeffress left one major world religion out: Judaism. That wasn't always the case. Here's what he said in his Politically Incorrect lecture series in 2010:

Dark Money Showdown: Kochs vs. American Crossroads

| Mon Oct. 10, 2011 1:00 PM EDT
Karl Rove.

Think of it as Washington, DC's second earthquake of 2011, except this time it's not natural—it's political.

Politico reported on Monday that the two biggest forces in outside political spending—the Koch brothers and Karl Rove's Crossroads network—have split in their efforts to vanquish Democrats in 2012 and win back the US Senate and White House. Unlike in 2010, when an array of right-leaning outfits, some of them Koch-funded, coordinated their electoral strategies with the Crossroads groups, this time a rift has formed between traditionally Republican and more hard-line, free-market-oriented organizations. And what a money war it will be: For 2012 the Kochs are planning to spending as much as $200 million, while American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS say they'll spend $240 million.

Evangelical Firebrand Knocks Romney on Immigration

| Mon Oct. 10, 2011 11:46 AM EDT
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has made illegal immigration an issue in the GOP presidential race.

You probably heard about Mitt Romney's on-stage condemnation of an anti-Muslim* speaker at the Values Voter Summit this weekend in Washington, DC. But there was another, less-noticed truth-to-power moment at the conference: Liberty University law school dean Matt Staver calling out his fellow conservatives for policies and language that alienate Latinos.

"Personally I am very concerned about who occupies that White House, but I'm also very concerned about the future of the Latino population," Staver said in his Friday afternoon address. "And I'm concerned that we will push them...into a liberal, political, leftist machine that is contrary to their values but also is seemingly open to them I am concerned about the rhetoric conservatives use with regard to the Latino community. They are not our enemies; they are our friends, they are our allies, and we need to engage them."

And then he played the trump card: 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 10, 2011

Mon Oct. 10, 2011 5:57 AM EDT

US Army Sgt. Brandon Bregel(left), team leader attached to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, secures an area as US Army Spc. Kevin Medeiros, rifleman also attached to PRT Zabul, plays soccer with children during a foot patrol in Qalat City, Afghanistan, Sept. 25, 2011. Sergeant Bregel and Specialist Medeiros are both deployed from Charlie Company, 182nd Infantry Division, Massachusetts National Guard. (US Air Force photo/Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras)

 

Meet 4 Middle-Class Americans Who've Been Politicized by #OccupyWallStreet

| Sun Oct. 9, 2011 1:15 PM EDT

For Occupy Wall Street to keep gaining steam, it must begin to attract people who aren't part of the typical protest crowd. Based on my experience at Zuccotti Park this weekend, this has begun to happen—in spades. Throughout the day I ran into people who'd never been to a protest until now. None of them belonged to activist groups or trade unions. They'd simply heard about the occupation and decided to come. Some were blue-collar folks out of work, others college students who feared they'd never land a job. Here are four of their stories:

Kevin Monahan, a laid-off sanitation worker, says the Occupy Wall Street activists aren't scared of terrorists. "We are scared of living alone on the streets for the rest of our lives.": Josh HarkinsonKevin Monahan, a laid-off sanitation worker, says the Occupy Wall Street activists aren't scared of terrorists. "We are scared of living alone on the streets for the rest of our lives." Josh Harkinson

Kevin Monahan, laid-off sanitation worker

Monahan is hard to miss at McDonald's, where a long line of occupiers waits for the restroom. He wears long hair wrapped in a skull-pattern headband, a jean jacket with a Confederate Flag patch, and a button on his lapel that says, "The rich bailed out, the poor sold out." 

About a year ago, Monahan lost his job as a garbage truck driver in upstate New York. At 24, he's embarrassed that he's had to move back in with his parents. He tried attending college for a while but dropped out when he lost his financial aid. He now competes with teenagers for minimum-wage cashier jobs. He knew that Wall Street was partly to blame for his problems, but when he saw a YouTube clip of New York cops macing peaceful demonstrators at Zuccotti, "it just threw fuel on the fire." He begged friends for gas money and drove down to Manhattan.

Monahan doesn't exactly know how to describe his politics. "I don't trust the government whatsoever," he says. He's a fan of Ron Paul and a believer in his campaign to "End the Fed." But he also strongly believes that the wealthy need to pay more taxes. He hates Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly and scoffs at the concept of trickle-down economics, which he sees as a tax on the poor for the benefit of fat cats. "Take as much as you can, that's the whole point of capitalism," he says. "Get as rich as possible, profit is the only means. So what do we do when they have it all?"

As he talks, his voice often wavers with emotion, and his eyes go glassy. At home he often feels alone; here people constantly embrace him. "I've run into socialists, communists, liberals, gutter punks, rastas, thugs, and believe it or not, everybody is getting along," he says. "We have the same common enemy. None of us is scared of terrorists. We are scared of living alone on the streets for the rest of our lives."

 

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Get Up to Speed on #OccupyWallStreet

| Sun Oct. 9, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

With production by Celine Nadeau and James West.

Mitt Romney, Mormonism Divide the Values Voter Summit

| Sat Oct. 8, 2011 4:35 PM EDT
Mitt Romney came in sixth place at the Values Voter straw poll, with just 4 percent of the vote.

If Mitt Romney has ever had a "Sista Soulja moment," it came on Saturday morning at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, when he called out a scheduled speaker, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, for using "poisonous" rhetoric. Speaking to a crowd that politely acknowledged his best lines but hardly embraced him, Romney did not refer to Fischer by name (a fact that left the many attendees who do not receive email alerts from People for the American Way utterly confused) and did not specificy what exactly set him off. But there's no question about this: Romney made absolutely certain that his comments—and the role of Mormons in the GOP coalition—would be a dominant topic at the event.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, the host for this weekend's festival, came to Fischer's defense (sort of) when I asked him about the speech. "Discourse is important," he said. "But we don't want anybody shutting down the debate, and that's part of the problem with maybe more inflamed rhetoric, is there is one side that's trying to shut down the debate. The left is trying to shut off debate and not have a discussion." Perkins said he didn't know enough about Fischer's statements to comment on them.

Why New Yorkers Heart #OccupyWallStreet

| Sat Oct. 8, 2011 3:01 PM EDT

In the New York Metro section of yesterday's New York Times, Cara Buckley portrays the Wall Street occupiers as an unruly band of outsiders who've come to terrorize the locals. They rudely befoul restaurant bathrooms without buying anything. They crowd moms and baby strollers off the sidewalks. They flash their tits in broad daylight. The image that comes to mind is that of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd gone wild, or college tourists on spring break at the Jersey Shore. 

Even if there's some truth to this, I can confidently say that Buckley and many other reporters are missing something: Occupy Wall Street was bound to happen at some point even if the Manhattan police sealed off every one of the island's bridges and tunnels. The same vast economic disparities that have outraged so many middle class Americans are only magnified here. A little-known fact about Manhattan, otherwise known as New York County, is that it has the highest level of income inequality of any urban county in the nation. The only US county with a wider gap between rich and poor is Willacy County in South Texas, a ranching community packed with unemployed farm workers where one wealthy individual owns a third of the land.

Without a doubt, many people who live near the New York Stock Exchange feel under siege. It's less clear whether most other Manhattanites give a damn. Consider this: the average price (PDF) of a Financial District studio apartment in Manhattan is more than $2,200 a month (and that excludes apartments with doormen, which cost more). According to a 2006 story in the Gotham Gazette, the district that includes the Financial District and Greenwich Village had the highest median rent of any part of Manhattan. While I couldn't find more recent stats on the area's median housing cost last night, it's pretty safe to assume that most New Yorkers who are hurting from the recession don't live there.

Why does this matter? Certainly, trashing bathrooms or intimidating stroller moms is never OK. (As for nudity, well, I'm from San Francisco).  Given the social and economic divisions in New York, though, it's amazing that those are the worst things that have happened.

Going forward, the mainstream media could do a better job reporting how New Yorkers feel about Occupy Wall Street. And Occupiers from out of town would do well to consider how to bring in more locals, who could help give the movement staying power. It's one of the many things I hope to explore when I set up Mother Jones' outpost in Zuccotti Park later today.

 

Mitt Romney Slams One Anti-Muslim Activist, Praises Another (Updated)

| Sat Oct. 8, 2011 10:32 AM EDT
2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

In his morning address to the Values Voter Summit on Saturday, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney slammed Bryan Fischer, the speaker slated to take the stage after him, for spouting "poisonous language that does not advance our cause." As we reported in September, American Family Association issues director and radio host has said that Mormonism is not protected by the First Amendment, called pre-Columbian Native American societies a "slop bucket," and called for the mass deportation of American-born Muslims. A ubiquitous presence at conservative confabs like VVS, GOP politicians like Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) have been regulars on Fischer's radio program and have consistently blocked questions about his incendiary rhetoric. Not Romney. Here's what he said, toward the end of his remarks: