2006 - %3, May

Newsflash: Tax Cuts Benefit Rich

| Wed May 10, 2006 4:34 PM EDT

Naturally, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has everything you need to know about the latest capital gains tax cut passed by the House and Senate. Republicans apparently had to use every trick in the book to try to hide the cost of the bill. And CBPP's graph in the middle is especially striking: Households with incomes of over $1 million will reap an average of $41,977 from the cut, while the bottom 40 percent of taxpayers will receive an average of $10. Hot damn; now I can finally pay off those library fines...

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What Can $1 Trillion Buy?

| Wed May 10, 2006 1:45 PM EDT

In the Washington Post today, Cass Sunstein says that complying with the Kyoto Protocol would have cost the U.S. a mere $300 billion—far less than the price we're paying to watch an entirely useless bout of mass slaughter and chaos in Iraq. Indeed, there are a lot of things we could've done for a fraction of the price of war. We could've made sure that some of those 4 million infants dying each year—for want of knit caps and clean scalpels—don't actually die. Or done more to halt the genocide in Darfur. That's why the cost of war has to factor in all those useful things we could have done with those hundreds of billions of dollars but didn't.

McCain's planned speeches at universities met with protest

| Tue May 9, 2006 10:53 PM EDT

Senator John McCain of Arizona is about to show up at a couple of places one wouldn't think to find him: He is the speaker at Columbia College's Class Day on May 16, and he is scheduled to give the commencement address at the New School on May 19. McCain was invited to the New School by New School president Bob Kerrey, who is standing by his decision, despite a lot of protest.

Columbia's class of 2006 has constructed a website, John McCain Does Not Speak For Us, which includes a petition to withdraw the school's invitation to McCain to be its Class Day speaker. At the New School, Gregory Tewksbury, a leader of the anti-McCain protests, is suggesting that McCain would be an appropriate guest if New School faculty and students could debate him, but that he is not an appropriate commencement speaker. Others at the school do not think McCain should be a guest there under any circumstances.

The protests against McCain, as expected, are about the senator's strong voting record against gay rights and women's right to choose, and his support of the war in Iraq. But there is something else that has made the protests perhaps even stronger than they might have been: This Saturday, McCain is delivering the commencement address at Liberty University, the school founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Mr. Falwell is also opposed to gay rights and women's right to choose, and drew attention to himself after the September 11 attacks for saying that the attacks were caused by the ACLU, feminists, gays, abortionists, and the federal courts.

McCain says he considers it "an honor" to address the students and faculty at Liberty Univeristy.

Genetic Screening To Expand in UK?

Tue May 9, 2006 9:22 PM EDT

The Guardian reports that the British government may allow women with a family history of breast cancer to use in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in order "to have children free of the disease." Currently, 10 British clinics are allowed to prescreen embryos, but only for genetic diseases with an early onset, such as cystic fibrosis.

Proponents of the measure argue that parents should be able to prevent their children from suffering later in life. "If families would wish to eliminate the threat of serious cancer from their family they should be at liberty to do so," said Simon Fishel, managing director of CARE, a group of fertility clinics. Angela McNab, chief executive of the UK's fertility watchdog, said: "what we are asking people is whether it is appropriate to use embryo screening technology to stop children being born with faulty genes when there is a chance they may never go on to suffer the cancer." The HFEA is slated to review the proposal tomorrow.

Army Recruits Autistic Man

Tue May 9, 2006 6:05 PM EDT

Jared Guinther, 18, was diagnosed at three with moderate to severe autism. He doesn't speak unless spoken to and has been enrolled in special education his entire life. Yet he was recently permitted to enlist in the U.S. Army as a cavalry scout—widely considered the army's most dangerous job because of its frequent engagement with the enemy using "anti-armor weapons and scout vehicles." And despite the fact that he was completely unaware of the war in Iraq until last fall, he enlisted when approached by a military recruiter and offered a "$4,000 signing bonus, $67,000 for college and more buddies than he could count."

His story draws attention to the surge in recruiting improprieties over the last several years. Its possible that recruiters concealed Guinther's disability in hopes of meeting their enlistment targets. According to The Oregonian, Maj. Curt Steinagel, commander of the Military Entrance Processing Station in Portland, said the papers filled out by Jared's recruiters contained no indication of his disability. "I can't speak for Army," he said, "but it's no secret that recruiters stretch and bend the rules because of all the pressure they're under. The problem exists, and we all know it exists."

Bolivia vs. the Corporations

| Tue May 9, 2006 5:55 PM EDT

I've started reading Daniel Cohen's new book, Globalization and its Enemies, which argues that poor countries are poor not because they've been exploited by rich countries and multinational corporations and the IMF and the like, but because they've been unable to enter the global economy, even when they want to.

That may sound like familiar territory, but Cohen actually makes a number of surprising and novel points, and while I'd say that he understates the amount of exploitation going on, there's surely something to his argument that many developing countries suffer not from too much globalization but too little. (I'll try to write more on the book once I'm done; Cohen does put forward a more nuanced account than the usual Economist line that poor countries just need more free trade and everything will be "fine.") So that brings us to Bolivia.

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Contraception and Infant Mortality

| Tue May 9, 2006 4:11 PM EDT

Putting the first and last paragraphs of this New York Times story next to each other is rather illuminating:

More than four million newborns worldwide die each year in their first month of life, comparable to the number of babies born in the United States annually, Save the Children reported Monday. …

Another way to reduce deaths is to give women access to modern contraceptives, the group said. Birth control, it said, allows enough time between births to preserve the mother's health and reduce the likelihood that their babies are born with low birth weights.Yet another reason to oppose the right's ongoing war on contraceptives (as if people needed another). The article also notes that many of those 4 million infants die because of a lack of inexpensive medical items—sterile blades, or antibiotics and knit caps to treat pneumonia. Now lots of critics are fond of saying that foreign aid "doesn't work," but it's fairly obvious here that there are extraordinarily simple things that can save a lot of lives very cheaply. Knit caps. Sterile blades. Of course it would work.

But wealthy countries remain stingy. The Bush administration cut USAID's maternal and health programs from $356 million last year to $323 million this year. That's 0.0001 of all federal spending, and it still gets cut. On the other hand, the White House has somehow found hundreds of millions of dollars for abstinence-only programs overseas, which don't work, and, as the quote above shows, are exactly the wrong way to alleviate infant mortality.

The Coming Water Wars

| Tue May 9, 2006 3:04 PM EDT

Jon Margolis has a very interesting piece in the American Prospect today on Canada's water wars. The country has 20 percent of the world's freshwater and only 0.5 percent of the population. Water's becoming scarce in many places around the world. Why shouldn't Canada ship its surplus out? Well, for one, NAFTA would make it difficult for Canada to pass new environmental laws for its lakes once companies start engaging in the water trade:

According to an August 2004, report by the International Joint Commission, one of the bi-national bodies established to govern and protect the Great Lakes, most climate change models predict lower lake levels as the earth warms. And the same report appears to acknowledge that once a body of water has become "a commercial good or saleable commodity," any effort to protect it could fall afoul of NAFTA. The message seems to be that if you want to protect any of the lakes, or perhaps any bays or inlets thereof, pass the law before some company starts selling the water.
Although I'm sure he's aware of it, Margolis doesn't detail the various—and often serious—environmental problems with bringing in the tankers to haul water out of Canada: fluctuations in water level can accelerate erosion and destroy the surrounding soil, and any transport of water risks introducing new species to new environments, with all the disasters that can bring. And once Canada starts selling its water, NAFTA sharply limits what the government can do to address these problems.

Now in the context of this particular article, the case for conservation seems strong. A bunch of American developers want the Southwest to continue its totally unsustainable population explosion, so they're trying to pillage Canadian water supplies. One could suggest that Americans start choosing to live where there are natural water supplies—although that, as Margolis points out, would probably mean depopulating California. Or, as an interim measure, we simply could learn to conserve water; the United States is terrible in that regard, especially our practice of "irrigating fields that produce crops already in surplus."

But neither suggestion really addresses the underlying issue. About 1.5 billion people around the globe lack freshwater. In about 20 years demand for freshwater will exceed supply by 56 percent. As Margolis notes, "in 1997 the United Nations concluded that the best—perhaps the only—way to get water to them was through a system of international markets and trade." I don't know how true that is, exactly; most countries could stand to manage their own resources more carefully before thinking about water from elsewhere, but it sure looks like we'll have to start talking about a global water trade eventually, which, I think, will get rather dicey.

Border Enforcement Is Still Failing...

| Mon May 8, 2006 7:27 PM EDT

Sunday's New York Times reported that arresting lots of would-be immigrants on the Mexican border still doesn't deter people from trying to sneak in. So Congress, naturally, thinks the answer is more enforcement:

What is certain is the United States keeps building up its border defenses, with more planned this year, including adding 1,500 agents and spending some $35 million in Arizona alone on surveillance equipment.
The U.S. plans to up the number of agents by 10,000 over the next five years, which will make Border Patrol the largest enforcement agency in the country—bigger than the FBI and four times as big as the DEA. This report from the TRAC Immigration Project has some useful numbers on whether more immigration enforcement is effective or not. It doesn't seem so. Between 1995 and 2005 the U.S. doubled its Border Patrol, yet apprehensions went down by 10 percent. But people continue to think that if we just add a few more agents, then this time we'll finally start to crack down on immigration...

Iranian Women Banned from World Cup

Mon May 8, 2006 6:39 PM EDT

Just a month before the World Cup is slated to begin, Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei has overruled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's previous decision to allow women at men's soccer games—provided they were seated in a separate section. Despite the fact Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared in April that allowing women would "improve soccer-watching manners and promote a healthy atmosphere," the president withdrew his request

Conservative Shiite Muslim clerics, who showed strong support for the president's election last year and who have maintained a strong control over Iranian society for the last several decades, lobbied heavily for a reversal of the decision, arguing that it was a clear violation of Islamic law. According to the BBC, one cleric said that had the decision to welcome women remained, "there would have been suicide bombers protesting on the streets of Teheran."