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36 posts from January 2008

January 19, 2008

NYT identifies Blackwater shooter

The New York times has identified the primary suspect in a federal investigation into the Blackwater massacre at Nissour square, one Paul Slough formerly of the Texas National Guard:

Through a review of case documents and interviews in Texas and Washington, The New York Times identified the gunner as Mr. Slough, a former infantry soldier who joined Blackwater Worldwide after his dreams of joining the Army Special Forces were quashed by recurring problems from an old football injury.

His story offers a rare look at the men employed by the impenetrable private security company with the highest rate of shootings in Iraq. Military officials and executives of other contracting companies have long complained that Blackwater hired younger, financially struggling recruits; encouraged a shoot-first culture, and then used the company’s deep political connections with the Bush administration to shield its guards from punishment when they killed innocent people. [NYT]

Slough was a member of a Blackwater convoy that killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nissour Square on September 16, 2007. Slough and his colleagues claim that the convoy was under attack, but neither military nor civilian investigators are buying their story.

January 18, 2008

RIP Bobby Fischer

Former world chess champion Bobby Fischer has died in Iceland at the age of 64. [BBC]

January 17, 2008

Former Republican Congressman indicted on terrorism conspiracy charges


A former congressman and delegate to the United Nations was indicted Wednesday as part of a terrorist fundraising ring that allegedly sent more than $130,000 to an al-Qaida and Taliban supporter who has threatened U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan.   

The former Republican congressman from Michigan, Mark Deli Siljander, was charged with money laundering, conspiracy and obstructing justice for allegedly lying about lobbying senators on behalf of an Islamic charity that authorities said was secretly sending funds to terrorists.

A 42-count indictment, unsealed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., accuses the Islamic American Relief Agency of paying Siljander $50,000 for the lobbying — money that turned out to be stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Siljander, who served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, was appointed by President Reagan to serve as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations for one year in 1987. [AP]

[Via TPMM.]

The money allegedly went to Afghan warlord and former US ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar during 2003-2004.

Here's a Time Magazine profile of Mark Siljander from 1981:

The man who beat him, and who last week swamped Rodebush by 3 to 1 in a special election to fill Stockman's seat: Mark Siljander, 29, a Fundamentalist Christian perhaps even more conservative than Stockman.

"I'm part of the silent majority that was heard Nov. 4 [when President Reagan was elected]," says Siljander. "My support comes from morally concerned citizens who are sick of the situation in this country." Siljander pledges to battle the Equal Rights Amendment, pornography, abortion, school busing and "big spending." He will champion the neutron bomb, the MX missile and prayer in public schools.

A former prefabricated-house salesman and state legislator, Siljander made his mark by mixing politics and religion. He drew money and manpower from right-to-lifers and support from the Moral Majority—though emphasizing he was not that group's candidate—and spoke on school prayer and "the Christian's role in American government." Rodebush complained that his rivals, including two conservative candidates, had their campaign literature handed out in church bulletins. [Time]

In 1981, Siljander described himself as "part of a growing [conservative] trend that's going to continue."

How a sociologist became "gang leader for a day"

Cool item from the Crime and Justice newsletter compiled by Ted Guest:

How Sociologist Became "Gang Leader For A Day"

For seven years, sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh led a  double life in Chicago, reports National Public Radio. For days, Venkatesh stayed inside one of Chicago's  worst housing projects living with poor families and hanging out with gang members. Then he returned to he tony Hyde Park neighborhood, where he was a graduate student at the University of Chicago.

Now at  Columbia University, Venkatesh ventured into Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes housing project in the  1990s to do research for his doctorate. He befriended the leader of the Black Kings, one of the largest and most violent crack-dealing gangs, and led the group for a day. Venkatesh's new book, Gang Leader for a Day, describes his years inside the projects and how residents and gang members interacted, coexisted, and raised families. Venkatesh's guide during his research was J.T., the leader of the Black Kings who took an interest in the budding academic and showed him the ropes inside the projects. Though J.T. had a college degree, he left corporate America to run a drug operation that made him up to $100,000 a year. National Public Radio

By coincidence, I recently started reading Venkatesh's earlier book about the Robert Taylor Homes, American Project. The writing style is atrocious but the content is fascinating.

In the course of his Chicago fieldwork, Venkatesh obtained the hand written records of a crack dealing gang in the Taylor Homes. Economist Stephen Levitt drew heavily on these records for a chapter of his successful popular work, Freakonomics. The chapter is called "Why Do Crack Dealers Live With Their Mothers?"

January 16, 2008

Photojournalist at Gitmo because of US war on Al Jazeera

Amy Goodman interviews Asim Al-Haj, the brother of imprisoned photojournalist Sami Al-Haj. Sami has been held without charge at Guantanamo for over 5 years.

Asim says that Sami's captivity is part of a larger campaign by United States to intimidate Al Jazeera, his brother's employer. The independent network Al Jazeera has long been a thorn in the side of the US military. President Bush allegedly floated the idea of bombing Al Jazeera, according to a leaked memo from 2004.

The US military is waging the battle for information supremacy in a very literal way. Journalists in Iraq are getting locked up left and right.

Just before Christmas, Scott Horton provided an update on the woefully unfair trial of Pulitzer-prizewinning photojournalist Bilal Hussein. Hussein is not allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses or meet with his lawyer in private. The US has assigned its own military lawyers to prosecute the case, even though the case is supposedly being tried in the wonderful new Iraqi court system.

Horton, who is both a lawyer and a journalist, participated in the defense of Bilal Hussein in 2007:

I was involved with Bilal Hussein's case through the end of last year and I personally conducted investigations that disproved many of the contentions advanced – and then quickly withdrawn – by U.S. Forces in Iraq. From my own examination of the case and discussions with U.S. representatives, I was convinced that Bilal Hussein was seized and has been held in captivity for the last year for one reason: the Pentagon was embarrassed by the photographs he took of the fighting in Al-Anbar province. They contradicted the message the Pentagon was putting out about the nature and scope of fighting in Al-Anbar and senior figures in the Bush Administration were particularly galled that the AP won the Pulitzer Prize for its photographic coverage of the war. The Pentagon wanted to send a message to the entire press community in Iraq: Cross us, and we can just lock you up. And we don't need reasons. This is justice in the style of the Bush administration.

The judge imposed a gag order, so the public only hears what the US military chooses to leak to right wing blogs and other friendly outlets.

January 15, 2008

Huckabee wants to rewrite the US constitution

Radical cleric and Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee wants to rewrite the constitution:

The United States Constitution never uses the word "God" or makes mention of any religion, drawing its sole authority from "We the People." However, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee thinks it's time to put an end to that.

"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."

When Willie Geist reported Huckabee's opinion on MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski was almost speechless, and even Joe Scarborough couldn't immediately find much to say beyond calling it "interesting." [Raw Story]

For starters, Huckabee (may have) supported a proposal to rewrite the 14th Amendment to deny citizenship to children born on US soil to undocumented immigrant parents. Huckabee is the only presidential candidate to have called for the elimination of birthright citizenship.

Correction: Earlier I wrote that Huckabee opposed birthright citizenship. Actually, it's more complicated and interesting than that. Huckabee's ally Jim Gilchrist of the Minuteman Project reported on January 8th that Huckabee promised to oppose birthright citizenship, but on January 9th Huckabee contradicted Gilchrist saying he'd made no such promise:

Mike Huckabee yesterday contradicted his own top immigration surrogate, announcing he will not support a constitutional amendment to end birthright citizenship for children born in the United States to illegal aliens.

It was a stark reversal after The Washington Times reported that James Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, said Mr. Huckabee promised to pursue an amendment to the Constitution.

In an article in yesterday's editions, Mr. Huckabee's spokeswoman did not challenge the former Arkansas governor's statements to Mr. Gilchrist and said the two men shared the same goals on immigration.

But by yesterday afternoon, Mr. Huckabee had backed away from that position."I do not support an amendment to the Constitution that would prevent children born in the U.S. to illegal aliens from automatically becoming American citizens. I have no intention of supporting a constitutional amendment to deny birthright citizenship," Mr. Huckabee said in a statement posted on his campaign Web site. [WT]

I'll leave it to you to decide who's more credible, Jim Gilchrist or Mike Huckabee...



Neuroses in microcosm: The Starbucks "Skinny Platform"

Zuzu at feministe reports that something called a "Skinny Platform" may be coming soon to a Starbucks near you:

Starbucks is, apparently, introducing something called “The Skinny Platform,” which proposes to simplify ordering by designating as “skinny” drinks with the following characteristics: skim milk, sugar-free syrup, no whip. I have some issues with the perpetuation of the idea that a drink should be designated “skinny” (because the ones with whole milk are “fat” or something?), particularly when it’s not exactly calorie-free anyhow. It seems like Starbucks is just reacting to the fact that people are starting to wake up a bit to just how many calories and grams of fat are in their drinks. So we’ll just introduce the Skinny Platform! Now everyone can hear how virtuous you are as the barista calls out your order and you pick up the Venti Skinny Mint Mocha!

In other words, the marketing folks want to use "Skinny" to designate lowest calorie version of a drink--the one made with non-fat milk, sugar free syrup (where applicable), and no whipped cream. 

Dumb idea.

Say what you will about the ethics of of associating skinniness with products that are, essentially, junk food. Starbucks deals in hot caffeinated sundaes, not coffee. Arguably, this tactic feeds into the pernicious myth that some foods are inherently good or harmless, regardless of the quantities in which they are consumed, or their place in the consumer's diet as a whole. But that's marketing for you.

Unfortunately for the marketing team, the term "skinny" is already in use among consumers of milky espresso drinks. To most customers, a "skinny" coffee just means a drink made with skim milk. The "skinny platform" will create confusion, without benefiting the customer or the staff. I was a Starbucks barista in college, so I know whereof I speak.

Starbucks Gossip published an email from a New York barista to Starbucks HQ, arguing against the proposed change. Zuzu chronicles the rapid devolution of the SG comments thread into fat-bashing the anonymous author, who provides no physical description of herself whatsoever. 

The "skinny platform" smacks of desperation. Analysts say the Starbucks chain has grown too fast and that marketers are casting about for quick fixes to restore the "romance and theater" allegedly drew customers to the Seattle-based chain in the early days. Starbucks stock fell 42% in 2007.

Hilzoy's case against Clinton

Interesting essay by hilzoy of Obsidian Wings about why she's not supporting Hillary Clinton.

Speaking of which, Greg Palast did some old fashioned muckraking on HRC last May.

January 13, 2008

Presidents cry, big deal

BushtearsxlargeFor Maureen Dowd and all those vapid pundits who jumped on Hillary Clinton for letting her voice tremble in New Hampshire, this quote from Theodore Roosevelt seems apropos:

"It's not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the doer of deeds might have done them better. Instead, the credit belongs to the man in the arena whose face is marred by sweat and blood and tears."

Man or woman, as the case may be...

Presidents and presidential candidates tear up from time to time. It's no big deal.

Hillary Clinton's voice breaks in New Hampshire and we get endless "analysis" of Hillary's mental stability and questions about whether she's "tough enough" to be president. Mitt Romney's have welled up twice in one week, and it didn't lead anyone to question his emotional stability or his fitness for command.

Tears are as old as the presidency itself:

George Washington "was obliged to wipe his eyes several times," according to the account of one Dr. Cogswell, at his heady arrival in New York for his swearing-in as the first President. And Teddy White wrote that "the elegant and controlled" John F. Kennedy had "tears in his eyes" the night he was elected in 1960.  [NYT, 1993]

Sitting president William Howard Taft burst into tears on the campaign trail in 1912, exclaiming to a reporter, "Roosevelt was my closest friend."

Bill Clinton shed tears in 1993 at the swearing in of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Former president George H. W. Bush wept openly in 2006. 

Modern campaign coverage is a numbers game. Train a camera on anyone long enough, and you're bound to observe some anomalous reactions.  The professionals call these "gaffes" or "moments." Get that Rorschach footage and you can peddle dimestore psychology as news.

Photo caption: Tears run from the eyes of President Bush during a Medal of Honor ceremony for Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham at the White House in Jan. 2007.--USA Today

Recommended pre-RNC reading: Army riot control doctrine

Steve Aftergood of Secrecy News supplies links to US Army doctrine on riot control.