Blogs

Oops - Forget You Ever Saw Pix of the Baghdad Embassy

| Fri Jun. 1, 2007 1:16 PM EDT
marineguard.gif

A couple of days ago, we posted an image of the beach volleyball court inside the monster U.S. embassy complex under construction in Baghdad. The rendering came from the site of the architecture firm that designed it. But now it's pulled the images under pressure from the State Department, which claimed they were a security risk. Despite the warning, a spokesman for the architecture firm gave the bad guys even more ideas by revealing that "Google Earth could give you a better snapshot of what the site looks like on the ground." So I think it's still safe to show you this image of a Marine guard and a tiny pixelated diplomat.

Meanwhile, the embassy project has other problems—such as using coerced labor to get the job done. As Iraqslogger reports, American managers have complained that the builder, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting, has mistreated the thousands of South Asian, Filipino, and other foreign laborers brought in to construct the complex. Some of the allegations:

[C]onstruction crews lived in crowded quarters; ate sub-standard food; and had little medical care. When drinking water was scarce in the blistering heat, coolers were filled on the banks of the Tigris, a river rife with waterborne disease, sewage and sometimes floating bodies, they said. Others questioned why First Kuwaiti held the passports of workers. Was it to keep them from escaping? Some laborers had turned up "missing" with little investigation. Another American said laborers told him they were been misled in their job location. When recruited, they were unaware they were heading for war-torn Iraq.

As one American supervisor explained, "Every US labor law was broken.... I've never seen a project more fucked up."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Ginsburg's Famous White Gloves Finally Come Off

| Fri Jun. 1, 2007 1:19 AM EDT

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg led the dissent to the Court's 5-4 decision Tuesday on Ledbetter vs. the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. The case, which decided that pay discrimination cases could not be brought against employers more than 180 days after any alleged discrimination, also marked the second time in six weeks that Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench: an unusually high rate of occurrence for the historically reticent justice who is described as friends as an etiquette-minded, "white-glove person." In fact, Ginsburg had never read her dissent to the Court's decision aloud twice in one year. Ginsburg went years without employing the tactic previous to this term.

Some, like the co-president of the National Women's Law Center, Marcia Greenberger, are interpreting these vocal dissents as attempts to garner attention for some serious issues. Greenberger characterized Ginsburg's recent vocal dissents as a "clarion call to the American people that… the court is headed in the wrong direction."

Indeed, partisan politics seems to have captured the Court, and Ginsburg can not have helped but notice. Ginsburg, now the only female Justice since Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement, has gone up against the same five justices (Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas) in both recent dissents. Those five frequently form the core of her opposition, and perhaps not surprisingly, three of these five justices were hand-picked by Bush presidents (Alito, Roberts, and Thomas). The other two were picked by Reagan. Ginsburg was joined in her dissent Tuesday by Justice Breyer, the only other justice on the bench appointed by a Democratic President (Clinton, like Ginsburg); by Justice Stouter, appointed by Bush in 1990 and a man who has drawn the ire of conservatives who consider him either an apostate or a phony; and by Justice Stevens, appointed way back in 1975 by Gerald Ford. Unable to persuade a majority of her colleagues on Ledbetter, Ginsburg called on Congress to overturn the Court's decision.

A month ago, Ginsburg criticized the gang of five for the language and logic in their decision to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. She argued that their opinion reflected "ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution -- ideas that have long since been discredited."

In her dissent Tuesday, Ginsburg again accused the majority for being out of touch, this time for not taking into consideration common workplace practices and characteristics of pay discrimination. It can be difficult, she argued, for pay discrimination to be proved in the short 180-day period that the Court requires if pay disparity occurs in small increments over time or if comparative pay information is not available to the employee.

Though Ginsburg spoke up for women in the partial birth abortion case, and spoke up again Tuesday for a female plaintiff, her concerns are broader than her sex. She knows that the decision in Ledbetter could hinder anyone who has reason to bring a discrimination suit based on race, national origin, or sexual orientation. We can only hope that in an increasingly conservative court, we have an increasingly vocal dissenter in Justice Ginsburg.

-- Jessica Savage

Bushies: We "Will Fight to Keep Meatpackers from Testing for Mad Cow Disease"

| Thu May 31, 2007 8:20 PM EDT

The argument for free market economics—though we here at Mother Jones may have, on occasion, doubted its virtuosity—goes like this: Competition encourages innovation, and customers decide which innovations are worth keeping and get what they want in the process. Here's a case in point: A small business called Creekstone Farms Premium Beef proposed testing all of its cows for mad cow disease. Customers have long been skittish about mad cow disease, and testing would likely cause Creekstone's business to spike.

Innovation? Check. Benefit to consumers? Check. Fostering small businesses? Check. But the USDA has intervened to block Creekstone from conducting the tests. The rationale? It's not fair to agribusinesses, which buy, sell, and butcher so many cows that they couldn't possibly conduct the expensive test on all of them. The USDA also alleged that "widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry."

Protecting the strong from the weak and putting dollars above lives are standard practice at the USDA, which is pretty much a trade group for agribusiness. Mother Jones has highlighted other examples of the same mentality: Read about the USDA's watering down of organic standards here, and its past moves to block safety innovations here.

Now, for another reason to become a vegetarian. PETA has petitioned Congress to create a tax break for non-meat eaters. After all, the animal rights group argues, buying a hybrid vehicle entitles you to a tax break, although it reduces carbon emissions by only two-thirds as much per year as forgoing meat. It seems like a pretty righteous idea to me (full disclosure: I'm a long-time vegetarian, though I might have had a tiny taste of prosciutto last night)—the only problem is, how could the government determine who does and does not eat meat? Testing our poop is obviously out of the question: See above.

NASA Chief Not Concerned About Global Warming

| Thu May 31, 2007 7:35 PM EDT

I've always considered it arrogant of humankind to burn enough fossil fuel to kill off half the earth's species. But the NASA chief would call me arrogant for judging. What's really arrogant, he says, is assuming that climate change won't be for the better. So NASA doesn't prioritize studying climate change from space in its $17 billion budget.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, a Bush appointee, tells NPR:

I have no doubt that...a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.... I would ask which human beings—where and when—are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take.

Right. Why won't future generations be better off after the sixth great extinction? What's wrong with displacing 1 billion of the world's poorest people? Who are we to judge?

Acts of Gratuitous Violence Against Giuliani

| Thu May 31, 2007 6:56 PM EDT

If, like the NYFD, you hate Rudy Giuliani, you will go bananas for Matt Tabibi's verbal pummeling of "America's mayor" in Rolling Stone. Here's a teaser:

If this is a guy who chews over a perceived slight in the middle of a victory lap, what's he going to be like with his finger on the button? Even Richard Nixon wasn't wound that tight.

[Rudy's] political strength -- and he knows it -- comes from America's unrelenting passion for never bothering to take that extra step to figure shit out. If you think you know it all already, Rudy agrees with you. And if anyone tries to tell you differently, they're probably traitors, and Rudy, well, he'll keep an eye on 'em for you. Just like Bush, Rudy appeals to the couch-bound bully in all of us, and part of the allure of his campaign is the promise to put the Pentagon and the power of the White House at that bully's disposal.

.… Whether Rudy believes in this kind of politics reflexively, as the psychologically crippled Bush does, or as a means to an end, as Karl Rove does, isn't clear. But there's no question that Giuliani has made the continuation of Swift-Boating politics a linchpin of his candidacy.

Happy reading.

Mexico Sending Citizens for Health Care on the U.S.'s Tab

| Thu May 31, 2007 6:20 PM EDT

With immigration in the news, let's see what you think of a new program being offered by Mexican Consulates in the United States. The program, called Ventanillas de Salud, or Health Windows, "aims to provide Mexican immigrants with basic health information, cholesterol checks and other preventive tests. It also makes referrals to U.S. hospitals, health centers and government programs where patients can get care without fear of being turned over to immigration authorities," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Illegal immigrants are not eligible for federal entitlement programs such as Medicare, but they are eligible for the Women, Infants and Children program and, like everyone else, must be treated at hospital emergency rooms. The federal government later reimburses hospitals for care provided and not paid for.

I'm having a hard time deciding if I think this program is a good idea or a terrible one. Providing some basic information and diagnostic tests at the consulates seems reasonable enough. And I'm generally in favor of the U.S. government providing basic human services to those that work for us and live among us. But when the Mexican government starts spending money to make sure its citizens in the United States are cashing in on our government's generosity (to the tune of $1.1 billion in Los Angeles alone last year), I find my feathers getting a little ruffled.

The Ventanillas program probably doesn't cost much, from the sounds of it, but why doesn't that money go into providing education, job opportunities, and health care in Mexico? It seems perverse that the Mexican government is eager to be "relevant in the lives of its citizens in the United States," as Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, puts it, when it has failed to meet their most basic needs at home. I mean, is the Mexican government trying to outsource government, thereby admitting that Mexico is a failed state?

Weigh in in the comments section.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Criminal Charges Against Pfizer In Nigeria

| Thu May 31, 2007 5:40 PM EDT

Nigeria is bringing criminal charges against Pfizer pharmaceuticals in the wake of its 1996 drug testing during a meningitis epidemic. The Washington Post reports that authorities filed eight charges this month, including counts of criminal conspiracy and voluntarily causing grievous harm. They also filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $2 billion in damages from the world's largest drug company.

The move represents a rare -- perhaps unprecedented -- instance in which the developing world's anger at multinational drug companies has boiled over into criminal charges. The government alleges that Pfizer researchers selected 200 children and infants from crowds at a makeshift epidemic camp in Kano and gave about half of the group an untested antibiotic called Trovan. Researchers gave the other children what the lawsuit describes as a dangerously low dose of a comparison drug made by Hoffmann-La Roche. Nigerian officials say Pfizer's actions resulted in the deaths of an unspecified number of children and left others deaf, paralyzed, blind or brain-damaged. The lawsuit says that the researchers did not obtain consent from the children's families and that the researchers knew Trovan to be an experimental drug with life-threatening side effects that was "unfit for human use." Parents were banned from the ward where the drug trial occurred, the suit says, and the company left no medical records in Nigeria.

Here's a link to a bunch of MoJo coverage of Big Pharma's trixsy ways. --JULIA WHITTY

Extinction Stinks

| Thu May 31, 2007 4:19 PM EDT

500 Years Of Women In Art

| Thu May 31, 2007 4:00 PM EDT

NASA Finds Earth's Climate Approaching Dangerous Point

| Thu May 31, 2007 3:16 PM EDT

NASA and Columbia University Earth Institute research finds that human-made greenhouse gases have brought the Earth's climate close to critical tipping points. Using climate models, satellite data, and paleoclimate records, the scientists conclude that the West Antarctic ice sheet, Arctic ice cover, and regions providing fresh water sources and species habitat are under threat from continued global warming. Lead author James Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, concludes: "If global emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise at the rate of the past decade, this research shows that there will be disastrous effects, including increasingly rapid sea level rise, increased frequency of droughts and floods, and increased stress on wildlife and plants due to rapidly shifting climate zones."

Meanwhile, GW Bush appears to have woken from his Rip-Van-Winkle slumber and is proffering ideas to the world that the world has already processed & left to the dust of history. Somebody give him a cup of coffee, please, and brief him on the fact the G-8 already has proposals on the table ready to be acted on NOW. The only thing holding them up? His administration. --JULIA WHITTY