2005 - %3, April

New at Mother Jones

| Fri Apr. 15, 2005 8:55 PM EDT

A Tragedy of No Importance: Before Iraq, before Afghanistan and before Bosnia, the West set out to heal another ruined country—Cambodia. By Rich Garella and Eric Pape.

Who She Was: An Interview with Samuel G. Freedman: A son's search for his mother's life—and for atonement. By Julian Brookes

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The neo-con beetles

Fri Apr. 15, 2005 3:29 PM EDT

Ah, the age-old conundrum of what to call newly-discovered species. Two U.S. scientists, self-identified political conservatives, faced no such pained deliberations over their newly-discovered beetles. The BBC reports that the three new mold-eating beetles discovered will be called Agathidium bushi, Agathidium cheneyi and Agathidium rumsfeldi. "One of the entomologists said he admired all three men for 'having the courage of their convictions' and standing up for freedom and democracy." There is no finer tribute.

Fighting terrorism with torture

Fri Apr. 15, 2005 3:14 PM EDT

Human Rights Watch released a new report today documenting the widespread and growing practice of Western governments "outsourcing" torture. It's about time. The report shows that it's not just the U.S. that has been expanding the practice, known as "extraordinary rendition": Canada, Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany have all been implicated as well.

It's no surprise, then, that the UN Commission on Human Rights has proposed the creation of a special rapporteur to monitor "counterterrorism laws and practices for their compatibility with human rights, act to prevent human rights violations arising from counterterrorism measures and provide technical assistance to states." It's also no surprise that a small number of states, led by China, Russia, and the U.S. are trying to block the move. Particularly amusing is China's argument that it is "too early" to establish a position like this. Too early? Well, it's true. There are probably a lot more people that could be outsourced and tortured before that pesky UN gets involved.

It's tough being Donald Rumsfeld

Fri Apr. 15, 2005 2:53 PM EDT

Check out the transcript of Donald Rumsfeld's talk with U.S. troops in Kyrgyzstan. He opens up the question and answer session with this:

Now I'd like to hear a few questions. It's late in my clock. We've been traveling, so if you have any tough questions --If you have any questions that require diplomacy, the Ambassador's right here. And if you have any nice, easy ones, I'm happy to respond.

And after fielding a somewhat difficult question, he wraps up with, "Last question. Make it an easy one. I've had a long day. I started in Baku."

It's not like he's talking to the press here. The people he's talking to are risking their lives for our country and are simply asking questions regarding their mission. At one point, true, Rumsfeld acknowledges the difficult circumstances they're in:

So, I know that you folks are a long ways from your families and that they also sacrifice even though they're not in a war zone or in a difficult situation - they're not living in tents. I saw the tents when I came by. I can't imagine what they look like with 10 or 12 inches of snow. Has anyone been here for that? Did any of the tents cave in? Did the heat go out? [Laughter]. Well, life's like that.

Yet he repeatedly asks them to "go easy" on him in their questions. Pretty poor form. Check out Intel Dump for Phillip Carter's further analysis of the substance of the Q&A session.

House of Scandal

| Fri Apr. 15, 2005 2:26 PM EDT

The ultimate Tom DeLay resource has finally arrived. Check it out. And pass it around!

Compromise on trade

| Thu Apr. 14, 2005 6:57 PM EDT
Over at the new Democracy Arsenal blog, Heather Hurlbert suggests that "free trade" and "fair trade" liberals try to reach a compromise on trade issues:

Both parties are really stuck right now, to my mind, between ideological free-traders and old-style protectionists. Meanwhile, we don't have free trade, never have, and never will, given what it would do to Florida sugar and orange growers, just to name two commodities of many.And the 1990s "Washington consensus" of expert advice for emerging economies, including extreme free-trade prescriptions, has quietly been walked back by the World Bank and IMF, and more loudly abandoned by countries in Latin America and elsewhere.

Somebody is going to figure out a smart new middle ground on this issue. It will include real supports for workers who lose their jobs, not tiny hikes in assistance to community colleges. It will reverse US intellectual property policies that block life-saving medicines from the people who need them, and may eventually even restrict how we get healthcare here at home. It will include some global re-thinking about where freer trade is working in favor of stability and freedom and where it is not.

That seems exactly right to me, and I wish Democrats could come together on this. Part of the problem, I think, is a simple trust issue. Whenever the "fair trade" crowd raises objections to this or that treaty, as with CAFTA, the neoliberal contingent thinks that certain caveats—labor standards, or environmental protections—are merely a stalking-horse for overt protectionism. In other words, that opposition to trade treaties are being made in bad faith, as an excuse to scuttle trade in general. Now certainly that's true for some people; there are any number of bona fide protectionists out there who simply don't understand the first thing about comparative advantage, etc., and really want to go back to the old days of Smoot-Hawley. Fine. But a good number of fair-traders are quite sincere about blending trade with the proper sort of labor protections that make the world a better and richer place. There's no reason for free-trade Democrats to reject all dialogue with these folks; certainly the hostility between the two groups doesn't need to be so bitter.

Organized labor in particular gets tarred with the protectionist brush far too often. Again, to be sure, there are genuine tariff-mongerers among the various labor unions. But those groups certainly don't hide their contempt for trade; as with the steel industry in 2002, when the protectionists want tariffs they just come right out in the open and say so. Meanwhile, A good portion of organized labor has no fundamental opposition to freer trade: most union workers, after all, work in high-skill export industries, so they have a lot to gain from lowering tariffs the globe over. Certainly this pro-trade bloc includes Andy Stern and the SEIU, which is currently struggling for ascendancy within the AFL-CIO. It's hard to tell whether the end result here will be a mass labor alignment towards a pro-trade position, but even if it's not, there's still room for compromise among various liberal groups on trade issues, and Heather's sketched out a nice start. Here's another, from Gene Sperling.

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Iraq's WMDs... found!

| Thu Apr. 14, 2005 6:38 PM EDT

This is usually Onnesha's territory, but nevertheless, it seems the Justice Department is once again doing wacky things with definitions. Steven Aftergood notices that the DoJ recently indicted three British nationals for conspiring to detonate, quote, a "weapon of mass destruction." Weapon of mass destruction! Sounds dangerous! Well, was it chemical, biological, or maybe even nuclear? Um, well, no, none of those. But no matter: Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey said, "a weapon of mass destruction in our world goes beyond that and includes improvised explosive devices." Oh, okay then.

It's funny, one moment we're told that you have to parse the president's exact words very, very carefully to discover that he didn't actually say that Iraq was an "imminent threat" back in early 2003. And the next, words are allowed to mean anything the administration damn well wants them to mean.

New at Mother Jones

| Thu Apr. 14, 2005 5:24 PM EDT

Blair's Last Stand? Tony Blair has lost the trust of the British public. He'll probably win a third term, but don't expect him to see it through. By Burhan Wazir.

Random drug tests for teenagers?

Thu Apr. 14, 2005 3:16 PM EDT

Today is National D.A.R.E. Day, a day in which we not only have to worry about our government pumping money into an ineffective drug education program for our kids, but also fret over other, more insidious forms of "drug prevention." This coming Tuesday marks the kickoff of a taxpayer-funded summit to promote random student drug testing. Attendees of the summit will probably not hear about a 2003 federally-funded study of some 76,000 students across the country that found that there is no difference in drug use between those students who were subjected to the testing, and those who weren't.

Beyond effectiveness, the ACLU and Drug Policy alliance point out (PDF) that issues of privacy make the practice legally risky, undermine trust between teachers and students, and deter students from extracurricular activities (you know—those things that keep kids off drugs). One wonders what the logic of the measure is. Say a student tests positive for a drug. The punishment will most likely be some form of suspension. So, that kid, whose parents probably work, will be out of school, and with a whole lot of time to kill... Brilliant!

Many school officials and parents strongly oppose the measure. As one parent noted(PDF), "The concerns of parents [in opposing a student drug testing proposal] have ranged from the budgetary issues to losing our focus on education to creating a threatening environment." So why would any school agree to such a counter-intuitive measure? Turns out that the federal government plans to offer a generous grant program to schools that agree to implement the drug-testing program.

Take away money from low-performing schools and throw money into those that agree to implement an ineffective top-down strategy? If this administration is going to run public education like a company, they could at least try for effective measures.

Many happy returns

| Thu Apr. 14, 2005 2:13 PM EDT

Wow. The Bush administration has spent $2.2 million promoting a program nobody actually wants. That's taxpayer dollars, by the way. I never thought I'd say this, but they'd probably be better off just putting the money into D.A.R.E.