2009 - %3, September

Commonwealth Ousts Fiji Over Elections

| Tue Sep. 1, 2009 9:54 AM PDT

As writer Anna Lenzer found out first-hand, Fiji's government is run by a military junta that's suspended the national constitution and delayed elections for years. The dictatorship took power in a 2006 coup and has used the excuse of "emergency rule" to extend its reign indefinitely. Three years has been enough for the Commonwealth, however, which has suspended Fiji's membership until its government re-installs democracy.

The Commonwealth, made up of 53 former British colonies and territories, said it suspended Fiji's membership after the government failed to meet today's deadline to set a date for democratic elections. The elections were to be held before October 2010, but as Fiji only continues to insist it will hold elections in 2014, the Commonwealth lived up to its word and suspended it. Although Fiji was kicked out of the Pacific Islands Forum earlier this year, the Commonwealth may hold a bit more sway as it provides funding to the nation, and allows them to compete in the Commonwealth Games. Both funding and athletic participation are suspended until Fiji meets the Commonwealth's requirements.

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Leaving Afghanistan

| Tue Sep. 1, 2009 9:41 AM PDT

George Will, after running through the immense difficulties of nation building in Afghanistan, says this:

Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

One of the things I never seem to hear much about is what the generals think would happen if we withdrew from Afghanistan.  If the answer is that the Taliban is likely to take over completely, that's one thing.  But if it's more likely that the Taliban and the central government would continue fighting, with the Taliban maintaining control over a limited area of the country and the central government maintaining control over the rest, that's quite a different outcome.

If, after eight years, the Karzai regime is so weak that the former is likely, then our task is probably hopeless and we should withdraw in the way Will suggests.  But if the latter is more likely, would it really be necessary to go that far?  Why not offer to lease Bagram from the Afghan government for a billion dollars a year, offer some additional money in military and rebuilding aid, and then continue the mission of fighting al-Qaeda from there while leaving the Taliban to Karzai?  We know how to protect a military base from an insurgent force like the Taliban, and fighting from there would be a helluva lot easier than trying to do it from offshore.

This is probably a hopelessly ignorant suggestion.  Does anyone ever try to maintain a military base in a country riven by civil war?  I'm not sure.  But it would be interesting to hear the experts chime in on this.

Healthcare and the Media

| Tue Sep. 1, 2009 8:30 AM PDT

A reader from outside DC writes to disagree about healthcare policy stories being too complicated and slow moving to get a lot of air/print time:

Engaging health care stories aren't too complicated for newspapers in the flyover states. They've been doing the personal health bankruptcy stuff for months and folding it into the larger picture.

It ain't that complicated, this is what papers do outside of D.C. They look at an important public issue and, realizing it's complex, dry or technical, figure out ways to make it interesting and easy to understand. They find local people and talk to them and report what they hear in ways that people who live around there absorb.

....As a big fan and daily reader, I am chagrined with your simplistic analysis of why the press corps is bungling the health care story. It's an absence of will, direction, hustle and journalistic acumen — a dearth of basic story-telling skills and common sense — that binds these D.C. sycophantic editors and reporters to everyone in DC. But it is not because the story is too complicated.

Anyone else from outside the Beltway care to chime in on this?  Is coverage of healthcare policy really better in Des Moines than it is in the Washington Post?

Misleading Anti-Reform Calls Target Nebraskans

| Tue Sep. 1, 2009 8:29 AM PDT

The Federal Trade Commission's new rules banning certain types of robocalls may have gone into effect today, but these regs won't stop deceptive political calls like the ones blanketing Nebraska presently. The calls—the work of Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing group that has played a key role in organizing tea party and town hall protests—urge Nebraskans to pressure Senator Ben Nelson, who's come under fire by liberal groups for his far-from-enthusiastic position on the public option, to "kill" health care reform.

Greg Sargent reports:

The calls inform recipients that reform would "put Washington in charge of all health care," a misleading reference to the possible inclusion of a public option, and would "cut Medicare by $500 billion," a claim that’s also been widely denounced as misleading...

"Senator Ben Nelson is playing an important role in this debate," the call says, according to a script provided to me by AFP after I was tipped off to the call. "Would you be willing to call Senator Ben Nelson and tell him to vote for the Filibuster and kill the health care bill?"

If the caller responds affirmatively, the operator recites a number for one of Nelson’s district offices. "Please tell Senator Ben Nelson to vote for the Filibuster and kill the health care bill," the call continues. "Can I confirm that you will make this call within the hour?"

Nelson has refused to rule out joining GOP filibusters on major legislation, though he’s also suggested he probably won’t filibuster on health care. The call is a sign that anti-reform forces still view Nelson, who has refused to back a public option, as a potential ally with Republicans in the quest to "kill" reform.

 

Need To Read: September 1, 2009

Tue Sep. 1, 2009 4:45 AM PDT

I'm experimenting with a different style for this morning's must-reads. Please give feedback.

  • Ahmadinejad Coming To America (WaPo)
  • Top US General in Afghanistan Will Probably Ask For More Troops (WaPo)
  • Cameron Todd Willingham Was Executed. Was He Innocent? (New Yorker Investigation/NYT Editorial/Bob Herbert Op-Ed)
  • Top Health Insurance Lobby Won't Say What Its CEO's Co-Pay Is (MoJo)
  • FDIC Head Opposes Super-Regulator (NYT Op-Ed)
  • UN Chief Reaching Out To Dictators (WaPo)
  • Henry Waxman Going After Insurance Companies (FDL)
  • Bruce Bartlett On Why He's Anti-Republican (David Frum's New Majority)
  • Cheney: Screw The Law (MoJo)
  • Dukakis For Kennedy's Senate Seat? (Boston Globe Op-Ed)
  • Advice For Obama From A Reaganite (David Corn/AOL Politics Daily)
  • Virginia GOP's Gubernatorial Candidate's Thesis Demonstrates Deep Discomfort With Modern Society (WaPo)

I post goodies like these throughout the day on twitter. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Dog Days Turn Deadly in America's Prisons

| Tue Sep. 1, 2009 4:27 AM PDT

The summer of 2009 hadn't even begun when Marcia Powell, a 48-year old inmate at Arizona’s Perryville Prison, was baked to death. Powell, whom court records show had a history of schizophrenia, substance abuse, and mild mental retardation, was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution. At about 11 a.m. on May 19, a day when the Arizona sun had driven the temperature to 108 degrees, she was parked outdoors in an unroofed, wire-fenced holding cell while awaiting transfer to another part of the prison. A deputy warden and two guards had been stationed in a control center 20 yards away, but nearly four hours had passed when she was found collapsed on the floor of the human cage. Doctors at a local hospital pronounced Powell comatose from heat stroke, and she died later that night after being taken off life support. Two local churches stepped in to provide a proper funeral and burial.
 
Arizona Department of Corrections director Charles Ryan said the guards had been suspended pending a criminal investigation. But just yesterday, the Maricopa County Medical Examiner ruled the death an accident, caused by "complications of hyperthermia due to environmental heat exposure." This despite the fact that Powell had blistering and first and second degree "thermal injuries" on face, arms, and upper body. 
 
Ryan also expressed “condolences to Ms. Powell’s family and loved ones”–a strange statement, considering Ryan had made the decision to quickly pull the plug on his comatose prisoner because, he said, no next of kin could be found. In fact, as Stephen Lemons of the Phoenix New Times has reported, Powell was judged an “incapacitated adult” and placed under public guardianship–but her guardians were not consulted before the ADC elected to let her die. Lemons also noted some unsavory chapters in Ryan’s recent career:

Ryan’s own bio on the ADC Web site touts that he was “assistant program manager for the Department of Justice overseeing the Iraqi Prison System for almost four years.” Ryan was contracted by the DOJ to help rebuild Iraqi prisons, one of those being the notorious Abu Ghraib.

Following Powell’s death, Ryan banned most uses of unshaded outdoor holding cells in Arizona, except in “extraordinary circumstances.” Most Southern states already restrict their use. But baking in the sun is only one of many ways to die in America’s prisons in the summertime. Recent years have seen scattered reports of heat-related prison deaths in California and Texas, among others. The prevalence of mental illness among the victims may be linked to anti-psychotic drugs, which raise the body temperature and cause dehydration, and at the same time have a tranquilizing effect that may mask thirst.
 
In 2006, 21-year-old Timothy Souders, another mentally ill prisoner, died of heat exhaustion and dehydration at a Jackson, Michigan prison during an August heat wave. For the four days prior to his death, Souders had been shackled to a cement slab in solitary confinement because he had been acting up. That entire period was captured on surveillance videotapes, which according to news reports clearly showed his mental and physical deterioration.

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5 Creative Uses for: Coffee

| Tue Sep. 1, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

Made too much coffee? Got extra grounds? Before you throw it in the sink, consider one of these ideas, brought to you by AltUse.com:

1. Fertilize plants: Before you plant, mix your seeds with used coffee grounds. You'll increase your plant size, and the grounds will also ward off any underground pests attracted to your veggies. Works best for carrots and radishes.

2. Deter ants: Did you know that ants hate coffee? Use coffee grounds instead of traps to keep 'em out of the house without chemicals.

3. Rid the fridge of odors: Works like baking soda: Fill a small bowl with fresh, dry grounds of coffee and place it in the fridge. After a day or two, the smell should be gone.

4. Grill a burger: (OK, sort of a cheat since it's not for coffee itself, but the can.) Cut some holes in the bottom of an old metal coffee can to create a grill-like surface. At the top of the can, cut out a moderate size triangle. Place the can upside down and use the triangle to place newspaper or dry pine needles in to use as a fire starter. Light. Once the bottom of the can is hot enough you can use the surface as a makeshift grill and cook your meat, veggies, or anything else. Great for camping.

5. Stain wood: Brew a pot of fresh coffee and allow it to sit for a minimum of two days. Use a paintbrush to apply the coffee to unstained wood consistently and allow to dry over night. Apply as often as required to create the color and finish you desire.

Check back next Tuesday for more ways to reuse and use up your extras.

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday, September 1

| Tue Sep. 1, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

September already. Rabbit rabbit. Here's today's environment, health, and science stories from beyond the Blue Marble:

Could cap-and-trade become the new health care? Kevin Drum on what might happen if conservatives start treating climate change legislation the way they have health care reform.

Torture docs called to account: A physicians' group says medical personnel who violated professional ethics or the law under the US torture program should be prosecuted and/or lose their license and society memberships.

Forget Fiji: And get yourself a reusable Mother Jones water bottle instead. 

Bad wrap: Think you're just eating the food inside the package? You could be ingesting chemicals from the wrapper, too.

Solar energy from outer space: Not as sci-fi as you might think.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 1, 2009

Tue Sep. 1, 2009 3:41 AM PDT

Chief Warrant Officer Heath Wieseler chats with his sister, Sgt. Andrea Wieseler, in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter on COB Speicher Aug. 13. Heath and Andrea spent a few days together in Iraq after not seeing each other for more than two years. (US Army photo.)