Political MoJo

State Officials Respond to Mother Jones' "School of Shock" Story, Call the Judge Rotenberg Center "Inhumane"

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 12:52 AM EDT

Jennifer Gonnerman's yearlong investigation for Mother Jones into the Judge Rotenberg Center—a taxpayer-funded "school" that takes autistic, mentally retarded, and emotionally disturbed kids from eight states and Washington D.C. and punishes them with electric shocks—is eliciting strong statements from state officials.

The first is from Massachusetts state Senator Brian A. Joyce and Representative John W. Scibak; Joyce has been trying for years to shut the Rotenberg Center down:

Senator Brian A. Joyce and Representative John W. Scibak are calling for the immediate passage of legislation that would strongly regulate the use of "aversive" therapy on children in light of a new report highlighting the practices of a Massachusetts-based school now infamously known as the "school of shock."

In the September edition of the national magazine Mother Jones, the reporter, who spent a year researching the article and interviewing Judge Rotenberg Center founder and director Matt Israel, refers to the schools as a high school version of Abu Ghraib and describes heartbreaking stories of children (some as young as 9-years-old) being painfully shocked by accident, shocked for swearing or being shocked over decades for the same behavior.

Eight states (including Massachusetts) send children with autism, mental retardation, ADD, ADHD and emotional problems to the Canton-based school that punishes them with food deprivation and powerful electric shocks. JRC currently treats about 230 children and brings in annual revenues exceeding $56 million.

Massachusetts legislators have been working with disability advocates for over twenty years to ban the use of shock (aversive) therapy with little results.

Senator Joyce and Representative Scibak recently filed two bills to safeguard and delineate a narrow range of behavior problems where aversive therapy may be appropriate and would address many of the egregious scenarios described in the article such as children being painfully shocked for swearing.

The bills are the culmination of hundreds of hours of work and discussions between behavior analysts and the psychological community, legislators, and disability and civil rights advocates.

"We believe that it is government's fundamental duty to protect our most innocent and vulnerable populations," said Senator Joyce noting that prominent behavior-modification experts, including some cited by Matt Israel, call the JRC ineffective and outmoded. The Canton-based school is in Senator Joyce's district.

And this is from New York State Assemblywoman Joan L. Millman who represents Brooklyn (52nd District), home to several of the kids sent to the Rotenberg Center:

As the author of New York State's Billy's Law, which led to on-site visits and inspections of a score of out-of-state residential treatment facilities, I was encouraged by your recent article describing the non-professional practices at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, located in Massachusetts. The so-called treatment of mentally retarded, autistic and bipolar youngsters, which consists of electric shock treatment, specialized food programs (i.e. the withholding of food), the lack of sufficient academic and special education instructions, and the limited provision of related services, all contribute to the inhumane conditions that exist at the center. To subject our most vulnerable children to months and even years of such treatments, is an extreme and inhumane form of intervention, not based on current research. Thank you for shedding light on this controversial institution.

We'll keep you posted about what other elected officials are saying and doing (the story has been sent to all pertinent Congressional delegations and state representatives, so you can follow up too) about the Rotenberg Center. Meanwhile, you can read all about it here.

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Nina Berman's Photos on Wounded Soldiers: Mother Jones First Ran Them Back in 2004

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 3:28 PM EDT

Today the New York Times has a nice piece heralding the work of photographer Nina Berman, who for years has been documenting the plight of soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Times made mention of the fact that "20 of her portraits were published as a book, 'Purple Hearts: Back From Iraq' (Trolley Books, 2004), with an introduction by Verlyn Klinkenborg, a member of the editorial board of The New York Times." What the Times failed to mention, however, is that that book came out of a Mother Jones photo essay that appeared in 2004.

Interesting, because back then, neither the Times nor most other major papers were doing much to chronicle the fate of the wounded. Or the dead. Mother Jones, on the other hand, made a concerted effort to get photo essays that nobody else would publish into our pages. You can see these photo essays and other topics that will eventually be covered elsewhere (like what's happened to women in Afghanistan post-invasion) on our photo essay archive page. Where an interview with Nina also lives.

That, too, ran four years ago. But good to see the Times catching up.

Half of America's Gain in Income Goes to Richest 0.25 Percent

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 11:10 AM EDT

New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston is kind of an awesome dude. Yesterday, he dropped one of his customary bombshell reports:

[Earners of over $1 million/year,] who constitute less than a quarter of 1 percent of all taxpayers, reaped almost 47 percent of the total income gains in 2005, compared with 2000.
People with incomes of more than a million dollars also received 62 percent of the savings from the reduced tax rates on long-term capital gains and dividends that President Bush signed into law in 2003...

So less than one-quarter of one percent of all taxpayers took in almost 50 percent of the nation's revenues revenue gain. And what about the little guy? Screwed, as you would suspect.

Americans earned a smaller average income in 2005 than in 2000, the fifth consecutive year that they had to make ends meet with less money...
Total income listed on tax returns grew every year after World War II, with a single one-year exception, until 2001, making the five-year period of lower average incomes and four years of lower total incomes a new experience for the majority of Americans born since 1945.

Mother Jones has written in the past about how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We've also interviewed David Cay Johnston.

Bush Draws Parallel Between Iraq, Vietnam

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 11:04 AM EDT

Finally, something war champions and war critics can agree upon.

Kucinich Wins Debate Poll, ABC Covers Up Results

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 10:49 AM EDT

Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich's supporters (and, according to his website, even some non-supporters) are demanding that ABC explain its actions of the last few days.

On Monday afternoon, Congressman Kucinich took a significant lead in the ABC online poll: Who won the Democratic debate? About the time that he took that lead, ABC removed the poll from its prominent position on the ABC website. Then a new poll suddenly went up, "Who is winning the Democratic debate?"

Those events could be seen as technical glitches, but there was more to come. Kucinich took the lead in the second poll, also, and that poll, too, was dropped. ABC also "forgot" to announce the results (Kucinich tied with Sen. Hillary Clinton as the winner), and news about the poll is nowhere to be seen on the ABC website. Kucinich was also cut out of a group photo of all the candidates in the debate.

It's a wonder viewers were even able to vote for Kucinich in the poll. He was not permitted to answer a question from debate moderator George Stephanopoulos until the debate had been under way for half an hour.

So far, the network has failed to respond to questions about these events.

Michael O'Hanlon Versus the Troops: Battle of the Op-Eds

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 10:06 AM EDT

Two days ago, I pointed our readers to a New York Times op-ed written by seven active duty American soldiers in Iraq. The soldiers argued the surge isn't working and that "four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise." Their call for withdrawal was a direct rebuke of Michael O'Hanlon and his recently-stated pro-surge views. Witness the opening line of O'Hanlon's pro-war op-ed ("A War We Just Might Win"):

Viewed from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel... the political debate in Washington is surreal.

And the opening line from the soldiers ("The War as We Saw It"):

Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal.

Now, O'Hanlon is acknowledging the smackdown. But he won't back down, insisting that the American military is partnering better with the Iraqis, is getting better intelligence, and is on the offensive against the insurgents. Civilian casualties are down in Iraq, he argues, though that's been contested.

What O'Hanlon refuses to recognize is that the surge was designed to slow violence in Iraq only in service of political ends. Going on the offensive against the insurgents is fine, but it's only an important development if Iraqi politicians seize the opening and make progress towards a reconciled nation and a functioning government. They haven't done that. They haven't even come close.

Without political progress, the surge (and the military success O'Hanlon believes it is having) is just another swing in the cycle of war. We're doing better now, but the insurgents will return with new and different tactics in a few months. Military officials agree. Check out this sentence from a recent McClatchy article: "Without reconciliation, the military officers say, any decline in violence will be temporary and bloodshed could return to previous levels as soon as the U.S. military cuts back its campaign against insurgent attacks."

Oh, and as to why the troops writing in the Times might not be impressed with the surge's so-called "success," maybe it has something to do with the fact that this summer has been the deadliest summer of the war for American troops.

June-July-August 2003: 113 Americans killed
June-July-August 2004: 162 Americans killed
June-July-August 2005: 217 Americans killed
June-July-August 2006: 169 Americans killed
June-July-August 2007: 229 Americans killed so far

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Breach of Contract

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 8:36 AM EDT

A front-page story in this morning's Washington Post reveals that federal no-bid contracts are not the exception to the rule: to a growing extent, they are the rule. Such contracts are awarded without "full and open" competition and often go to a small group of well-connected companies. Those companies appear to be cleaning up: a recent congressional report found that spending on no-bid contracts has tripled to $207 billion since 2000. Proponents say that foregoing competition by-passes delays, permitting important work to be completed more quickly. Now, one could argue there are situations in which no-bid contracts are appropriate. Say, in New Orleans after Katrina, where there was a desperate need for immediate action.... or in the reconstruction of Iraq. But the potential for (and, sadly, the reality of) abuse is ever present.

For that, reference the Post's Business section. In what is said to be the largest bribery case to come out of the Iraq reconstruction, investigators say that Army Major John L. Cockerham, his wife Melissa, and his sister Carolyn Blake took $9.6 million in bribes from contractors and expected to receive another $5.4 million before they were arrested. Cockerham was a contracting officer deployed to Camp Arifjan near Kuwait City. His position allowed him to approve contracts for up to $10 million. He quickly leveraged his authority to suit his own needs. From the Post:

The Cockerhams and Blake were arrested in late July after investigators searched the Cockerhams' house at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and allegedly found evidence linking them to the bribery scheme. Aspects of the case read like a spy novel: a briefcase with $300,000 in cash in a Kuwaiti parking lot; handwritten ledgers that identify money sources with code names like Destiny Carter; and instructions telling co-conspirators to, in a pinch, toss safe-deposit keys out a window, stash key documents in the bosom and, lastly, destroy the instructions.

But, if you believe Cockerham's lawyers, the Major and his co-conspirators were motivated by a desire to please God.

Defense attorneys, however, say the Cockerhams and Blake are hardworking, church-going people. The Cockerhams have confessed to taking money in exchange for the awarding of contracts, according to an affidavit from an Army criminal investigator, but put the amount at a little more than $1 million. Blake told investigators the money was to be used to set up a church, according to the affidavit...
By all accounts, the Cockerhams had not recently gone on any visible spending sprees. As of July 31, the most recent hearing in the case, the couple owed $13,000 in car payments and were driving a 2004 Toyota minivan and 1993 Isuzu pickup. John Cockerham reported an additional $54,000 in debt, in part from credit cards and student loans...
According to the investigator's affidavit, Blake acknowledged that she kept a ledger [of bribes she accepted], but she says it was for a different purpose. She said she wanted to start a church in Africa. On a trip to South Africa, she visited a school for poor girls funded by television star Oprah Winfrey. Blake says she was inspired to do something similar, according to Wilson, her attorney. "She thought this was a calling from God," Wilson said.

Remember Freedom Fries?

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 7:32 AM EDT

It was only four years ago that Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Walter Jones (R-NC) announced the official name change in Congressional cafeterias from French fries and French toast to Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast. "This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," said Ney at the time.

My, how les temps have changed!

Now ex-Rep Ney is serving 30 months jail time, Jones has become a fierce war critic, and lo and behold, the French may be coming to the rescue in Iraq. From the Washington Post:

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner used a surprise trip to Baghdad to call on European countries to help the United States repair Iraq. Kouchner's comments represent a major departure from former French president Jacques Chirac's stance on Iraq. Relations between France and the United States were severely damaged after Chirac led global opposition to the 2003 invasion.
Since his election in May, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has sought to strengthen ties with the United States. Kouchner told a French radio station that Iraq's leaders are "expecting something" from the French government and that he planned to assist U.S. efforts.
"The Americans can't get this country out of difficulty all alone," Kouchner said.

Kouchner's humanitarian background as co-founder of the medical relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres may begin to explain the willingness to overlook the anti-French GOP posturing of the not-so-distant past and to let bygones be bygones. Pass the pâté.

Amidst Devastation, Ex-Peruvian Dictator Might Walk

| Tue Aug. 21, 2007 7:53 PM EDT

So when is the best time for an ex-Peruvian dictator to have an extradition hearing in front of Chile's full Supreme Court? While Peru is recovering from a devastating 8.0 earthquake that has killed more than 500 civilians.

Today, Chile's Supreme Court is convening to decide the fate of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. He is wanted in Peru for human rights violations he committed while leading a so-called "war on terror" against two insurgencies in Peru between 1990 and 2000. Fujimori's capture and extradition process has been long and twisted. Many Peruvian officials and human rights organizations want his head for the atrocities he oversaw, but many suspect that Peru's current President, Alan Garcia—although you wouldn't know from all his government's posturing over the extradition—would rather Fujimori escape justice and return to Japan, where he lived in exile for nearly five years. To pass his conservative economic legislation, Garcia's dealings with the Fujimoristas in Peru's congress came with an implicit quid pro quo—the Fujimoristas want Fujimori to escape trial.

So while Peruvians are distracted by a natural disaster, Fujimori's final extradition hearing is conveniently taking place months before anyone predicted it would. The Chilean Supreme Court has been dragging its feet for the last year, ratcheting up tensions inside Peru.

Earlier this month, I bet Fujimori would be home for Christmas, but it looks like he could be home well before Thanksgiving.

—Rafael Valero

Breaking: Report Reveals CIA Failures Before 9/11

| Tue Aug. 21, 2007 7:32 PM EDT

From the Los Angeles Times:

The CIA never developed an overall strategy for confronting Al Qaeda and let precious expertise and resources go unused in the years leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, according to an internal investigation...

Some key findings:

  • The CIA failed to spend all its funding for counter-terrorism, even while agency officials expressed concern about the growing threat of terrorism and asked for increased funding.
  • The CIA let its battles with other agencies get in the way of its efforts.
  • The report points to overall incompetence rather than any smoking gun.

The CIA has tried to suppress its own report for more than two years.

Read more on the CIA's role in 9/11 here.