2005 - %3, August

Director of FDA's Office of Women's Health resigns

| Wed Aug. 31, 2005 7:30 PM PDT

Dr. Susan Wood, director of the FDA's Office of Women's Health, resigned today in protest of the agency's refusal to permit over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception. Last week, the FDA indefinitely postponed its decision over the matter, saying it wasn't sure about the safety of over-the-counter use by adolescents. In 2003, however, the FDA's own scientists declared the contraceptive drug, Plan B, safe for teenage girls. What short memories these bureaucrats have.

Since the Bush administration took office, it has repeatedly ignored its own scientists about global warming and pollution, and it was to be expected that FDA scientists would be ignored in the service of fake "pro-life" rhetoric. All over the nation, pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for morning-after pills, citing "the taking of a life" as the reason, when--if they really did graduate from pharmacy school--they know good and well that that is an out-and-out lie, and has nothing to do with the actual pharmaceutical process.

Or perhaps they, too, have really bad memories.

Controlling women's and girls' reproductive choices--controlling their bodies--has always been the first line of attack in the war against women. Determining who can have an abortion and why, who can use what kind of contraception, and what type of sexual assault is socially acceptable, is the most primitive aspect of rendering women powerless, and it is always done in the name of religion.

Women and girls who believe that their right to make decisions about their own body is guaranteed haven't been paying attention. It is a right they have already lost.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Katrina Donations

| Wed Aug. 31, 2005 7:02 PM PDT

On the off-chance you haven't seen this elsewhere, Glenn Reynolds has a master list of charities and relief agencies that are helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina, if you would like to donate.

As a side note, I've been told that, when giving to an organization like the American Red Cross, it's often better to make the donation out to their "National Disaster Relief Fund" rather than the "Hurricane 2005 Relief," simply because ARC is required to spend the latter fund entirely on hurricanes, and if they get an overflow of donations for Katrina—as seems possible—they can't use the surplus for other, lesser-noticed disasters. Usually these organizations know best where to spend their funds, so I prefer to give them the flexibility, although obviously any sort of donation helps a great deal.

New at Mother Jones

| Wed Aug. 31, 2005 12:25 PM PDT

Patriotic Pork
By Nick Turse
These days, the Army loves to eat out.

The Uninsured: 45.8 Million and Counting ...
By Karen Davenport, Center for American Progress
Yet again the number of Americans living without health insurance has increased.

Katrina's Real Name
By Ross Gelbspan
It's Global Warming.

The Middle Class's Lost Future
By Christian E. Weller, Center for American Progress
Americans need to save more -- and the government needs to make that easier.

The Other Abu Ghraib

Wed Aug. 31, 2005 9:35 AM PDT

It is Iraqi, it is smaller than a breadbox and it shares the same name as the infamous prison. Any clues? Another hint: its edible. Give up? It's a strain of wheat called 'Abu Ghraib,' indigenous to Iraq and once housed in Iraq's national gene bank. Indeed, once upon a time Iraqi farmers cultivated a multitude of wheat varieties, saving their own seeds from year to year specially selected and cross-pollinated to grow in the Iraqi region – a farming history stretching back over 10,000 years.

Yet through a variety of factors, much of this heritage has been lost – although the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas in Syria has been able to preserve a sampling of Iraqi developed varieties.

One might think that as the U.S. lead coalition works to rebuild Iraq, preserving this agricultural heritage would be of first importance – not only reconstituting Iraq's devastated farming industry, but also restoring the indigenous genetic varieties.

Instead, as a recent report notes, $107 million are being spent to turn Iraq into a U.S.-style high-yield corporate agriculture business. And instead of preserving the indigenous genetic heritage, new strains of genetically modified seeds will be introduced from the United States – strains developed and patented by U.S. corporations for profit. And of course, once the newly reconstituted Iraqi farms start to grow these patented GM strains, they will also need to purchase the corresponding pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals, also sold by U.S. corporations. Get the picture?

And thanks to Paul Bremer's orders that he put into place before leaving Iraq, Iraqi farmers will no longer be able to save seeds from year to year to replant – after all, U.S. corporate interests must be protected, and so we must insure that Iraqi farmers will be required to buy new seeds every planting season.

I encourage you to read this entire article.

I get a report from Camp Casey

| Wed Aug. 31, 2005 8:05 AM PDT

I was not able to go to Crawford, but my friend Diana spent the weekend at Camp Casey, and was generous enough to take down my questions and to file a thorough report of what she saw and heard. Diana calls the experience an "encampment on the frontier of consciousness," and says she arrived in Crawford to the sight of restless natives:

…cruisin' the main drag in pick-up trucks and SUV's, spewing invectives with glee out the windows as if they were off to a big football game. Their banners screamed Bush is #1 and Jane Fonda and Cindy Sheehan: American Traitors. They painted Cindy's name on their horses' flanks and plodded them around proudly. Their ranks were mostly male, mostly with cans of beer in hand, smirking their superiority and disdain with every glance and gesture. The Haters were out in force, claiming their moral high ground with Bible verses on scrawled placards.

Amazingly, Diana reports, the detractors seemed invisible to those who arrived at the Crawford Peace House to support Cindy Sheehan and what she stands for. My friend was fortunate enough to ride to the camp with Sarah Oliver, a founder of the Crawford Peace House, who told her that Crawford residents generally "detest" the house, that law enforcement officials had been very helpful, and that—as far as she knew—no threats had been made against Sheehan.

Diana says she then entered a quiet, peaceful gathering of about 2,000 people whose sense of purpose allowed them to survive the sweltering Texas heat.

The presence of Joan Baez added a warm electricity that charged us all with the realization that our ideals of freedom and love are Timeless. Joan had an earthy, radiant beauty that glowed with compassion, sadness and stoicism. It was an act of generosity for her to be there, singing the songs that brought us older ones back to our roots and us younger ones onto the fresh ground of songs sung for peace and freedom. The moments that Joan shared onstage with Cindy Sheehan brought an extra glow to her face, lit up her eyes with what looked like a clarified happiness. At one point during her talk, Cindy said that what had happened in recent months in her life, the movement springing up in the wake of her son's death, was the most important thing that had ever happened to her. Joan responded with a sparkle, "Would you marry me, Cindy?"

Another highlight, according to Diana, was a surprise appearance by activist, author, and artist Russell Means, who acknowledged the leadership power of the women at Camp Casey, and who reminded everyone that a matriarchal society—because it is not fear-based—brings about a balance in which everyone's contribution is appreciated.

Camp gatherers enjoyed an array of delicious fresh food in what was described as a well-organized, smoothly-running operation that exceeded even the customary high level of Texas hospitality. Service was a guiding principle of the group, as expressed in its mission statement: "We will carry out our actions in a manner that reflects the world we want to create, and we will act in the service of what we love."

"Local television news media in Texas misses all of this," says Diana, "in favor of airing the pro-war views that match those of the owners of the airwaves. According to her, you had to have been at Camp Casey to have experienced what she calls a "centrifugal force being focused like a growing biosphere of higher consciousness out here in the middle of a pasture in Crawford."

My final glimpse of the Camp left me with a sense that it is important to act as if the whole world is watching, even if no one is looking: On the dirt road running the length of the Camp, a line of people formed, holding a massive banner that was about 3.5 feet in depth and a distance of at least one city block long. The banner read Support Our Troops: Bring Them Home. The gigantic banner was being held by at least 30 people, displayed to an endless empty field and a road kept almost entirely clear of passing cars by state troopers. No news helicoptors exist in the area, nor any air traffic whatsoever. It was a message being transmitted by good hearts, in belief that it will take hold somehow, even if nobody sees it.

Diana Souza is contributing her vibration to the morphic resonance of
Love from her home in a major city in Texas, where she teaches
communication arts, designs books and plays rock n' roll. You're
invited to visit her website at: www.art-temple.com

"Hurricane party" takes on new meaning

| Tue Aug. 30, 2005 9:26 PM PDT

Though we are experiencing one of the worst hurricanes in the nation's history, this waterfront scene looks peaceful, elegant, and intact. That is because the Hotel del Coronado is in San Diego, far away from Katrina's devastating winds. It is also where George W. Bush spent last night, while thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama fled in snail-like traffic, searched for loved ones, swam through the streets, or hung out of attic windows, yelling for help.

While levees burst, a major New Orleans bridge came apart, buildings were swallowed by floodwaters, and looters took over the city, the National Guard was nowhere to be seen. To patch one of the levees, 3,000 sandbags were to have been dropped by Blackhawk helicopters, but they never arrived.

Though reading The Pet Goat while the country was under attack may have made Bush look inept, partying at an oceanside resort while Americans are losing their homes, their sources of income, and their lives is, at the very least, an example of shockingly poor taste, not to mention an abandonment of leadership. New Orleans is in a state of absolute chaos, despite the presence of a competent mayor and a competent governor. Hurricane Katrina has created a national disaster. Bush has done everything in his power to prevent the restoration of Louisiana's coast, and he has severely cut funding for hurricane protection. It is no surprise that he doesn't want to look Governor Blanco in the eye. But whooping it up at a resort while Gulf Coast states endure a living hell is a new low.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

BAMNed If You Do...

Tue Aug. 30, 2005 5:07 PM PDT

For the record, By Any Means Necessary, the group whose appearance on FBI watch lists motivated Diane's post post, isn't the most-cuddly bunch out there. BAMN is a front organization for the Trotskyite Revolutionary Workers League. And calling themselves a peace organization is a recent framing device; previously, they've made their hay on "defending" affirmative action.

Hard to believe that something deserving to be called a Communist front-group exists in the U.S. these days, but it's true. In a past life, BAMN activists worked to infiltrate a pre-September 11, 2001 leftish-student conference that I helped organize, once it became clear that they weren't going to make much headway at the Rainbow/PUSH conference held across town. They didn't get far with us either, beyond briefly seizing the mic at a plenary session. But it gave a bit of a scare for the few of us in the know.

Nathan Newman wrote a good piece on the group a couple of years ago. There's more info elsewhere. Of course, those who really believe in civil liberties must hold fast even when the most repugnant groups exercise them. BAMN is really no terrorist organization—and certainly isn't one in the usually-understood context. But they probably aren't the most strategic group to pick as a civil liberties poster child.

FBI labels peace workers as potential terrorists

| Tue Aug. 30, 2005 1:23 PM PDT

The ACLU has released an FBI document that identifies a Michigan-based peace group as a potential terrorist organization.

A few months ago, the FBI declared that so-called eco-terrorists and certain animal rights anarchists are more dangerous to America than right-wing militia groups and militant anti-choice groups. The animal rights and environmental groups in question--though they do engage in vandalism and break the law--have never been responsible for the death or maiming of anyone. However, their goals--if achieved--would have detrimental effects on large and powerful American corporations who depend on environmental destruction and animal torture in order to make money.

This return to Nixonian and Reaganite government spying and name-calling is no surprise. Enemies of the State are those who promote peace over war (that is to say, a sound foreign policy over Halliburton profits) and who promote anti-corporate policies.

Too Clever By Half?

| Tue Aug. 30, 2005 12:44 PM PDT

No doubt the John Roberts attack strategy outlined by Eric Columbus in the New Republic today is quite ingenious:

[T]o date [the Democrats have] paid surprisingly little attention to [Roberts'] support for perhaps the oddest legacy of the Rehnquist Court: its unprecedented expansion of the "sovereign immunity" doctrine to greatly restrict the ability of private citizens to obtain money from states that violate their federal rights. Raising the issue at next week's Senate confirmation hearings won't, of course, sink Roberts's nomination. But it just might give Democrats a rare opportunity to claim the mantle of anti-government reform at a time when the whole nation will be watching.

But when I hear "claim the mantle," it's time to stop up short. First, and somewhat beside the point, why on earth do the Democrats want to come out in favor of "anti-government reform"? If anything, a master strategy for liberals should work to persuade people that, in fact, government works quite well, thank you very much, and those who take the kneejerk anti-statist approach, rather than try to fix the problems that exist, are usually wrong. But set that aside. What sort of "mantle" are they going to claim, in all reality? How many people will actually pay such close attention to the Roberts' hearings—so close that they would notice and be swayed by Democratic positioning on a rather complicated issue—besides the usual band of pundits, journalists, and political junkies? Very few, I would guess.

Digby wrote something similar last week, in a rather brilliant piece of analysis that nevertheless still seems completely far-fetched to me. (And I'd be happy to be proven wrong.) He noted that yes, Wesley Clark's recent suggestions for fixing Iraq, as outlined in the Washington Post, probably don't stand up on the merits. But, he says, that's besides the point:

Clark's piece should be seen for what it is --- laying a benchmark for Bush's failure. By the time any Democrats have a chance to implement any real plans for Iraq, Wes's plan will be moot. The doors that he sees as still being slightly open are closing very rapidly. The state of play in 2006 and 2008 is going to be very different. But it's useful for Wes Clark, retired General, to be on the record with an alternative in 2005 that clearly lays blame on the Bush administration and sets forth in exactly what ways they've failed -- militarily, politically and diplomatically.

"Damn," I thought, "that's good stuff! Clark's a clever one…" But no, wait a minute, who on earth is paying attention to what Clark's saying right now, besides political activists, the chattering classes, and the small handful of people who pore over the Washington Post? On the broader issue, Digby's absolutely right: trying to persuade Bush to shift course on Iraq is an exercise in futility at this point, and Democrats should worry only about how best to position themselves politically over the war, in order to crowbar the people who dragged us into this mess out of office. It's slimy, but necessary. But is there such thing as too clever?

As it happens, I suspect that the Democratic establishment has glommed onto a strategy of sorts for Iraq: lay out Clark-style critiques right now that argue that Bush isn't doing everything in his power to win the war, and then, come 2006, say, "Well, he blew his chance to win this thing, it's time to leave." Rally the base. But is anyone going to buy it? Is anyone paying attention? I don't know. I do know that there are an awful lot of people in this country who follow politics for maybe a week every two years—right before the election—and the only way for a party to claim any sort of "mantle" is probably just to pick some very basic things to stand for, repeat it over and over again ad nauseum (I recently saw someone suggest that the Democrats introduce a constitutional amendment that guaranteed the "right to privacy"—good stuff), and hope the basic message filters down to voters when it counts. Subtle political strategizing and positioning makes for a fun read, but it's hard to believe that this is what wins elections.

The Save Gitmo Movement

| Tue Aug. 30, 2005 11:10 AM PDT

In the National Review, Deroy Murdock doesn't want the Guantanamo prisoners transferred abroad. These "al-Qaeda assassin[s]," after all, could escape from prison in Yemen. No word, of course, on whether the prisoners in Guantanamo are actually as dangerous as he says they are. As far as we know, the truly nefarious prisoners in U.S. custody—including operations planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and recruiter Abu Zubaydah—are off in some undisclosed location around the world. Those left in Cuba, as one counterterrorism official told the New Republic's Spencer Ackerman, are "the ash-and-trash jihadi picked up in Afghanistan," and not the "honest-to-God, cardcarrying members of Al Qaeda--operatives who are worth a shit."

But no! Says Murdock! You don't understand! Army general and Southern Command chief Brantz Craddock recently told us, "We have and we are today still getting information that is relevant, that is actionable, and is supporting our service members in the field in the global war on terrorism." This might be true. On the other hand, it might not. Most of those prisoners have been lounging around in Cuba for three years. How much could they really know? As one official told Ackerman, they can still provide a decent amount of background knowledge—how al-Qaeda works, how people interact, which ethnic groups work with which ethnic groups—but after a time, this too becomes obsolete, as the face of al-Qaeda has changed and the center of the organization's gravity moves toward Iraq. Well, says Murdock, picture this little smoking gun scenario:

Imagine that the FBI caught a terrorist in March 2006 named Mustafa al-Fissi carrying detailed diagrams of the San Onofre, California, and Seabrook, New Hampshire, atomic energy plants. Today, no Gitmo interrogator could ask detainees about the still-undetected al-Fissi. Next March, however, one or more Gitmoites might be persuaded to sing about al-Fissi, his contacts, his bankers, etc. Sending these intelligence sources beyond U.S. control will, at best, delay our ability to connect these dots. If our foreign friends limit access to transferred Guantanameros, FBI agents might stare at al-Fissi without knowing what some of his terrorist brethren know about him.

Okay, that's scary, but really, what kind of argument is this? We can't keep people locked up forever because someday they might—might—know some dude who knows another dude who's related to a terrorist picked up in San Onofre. On the other hand, Murdock has one point right: the detainees will be much better off in Guantanamo than baking in some hellhole prison in Yemen or Saudi Arabia. But that's not an excuse to maintain an extralegal prison that undermines the rule of law and hampers law-enforcement efforts, it's an argument for sorting this stuff out.