2006 - %3, June

And Spitup is the New Black

| Mon Jun. 26, 2006 2:02 AM EDT

"I do think that children are becoming the new designer handbags," a baby-bling retailer tells the L.A. Times, a propos the run on the shirt that Shiloh J-P wore in her first public appearance. But then, what would you expect in a country where more than 500 people named their newborns Armani ? Then again, it beats Espn (pronounced Espin), yes, as in the channel.

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"A broader surge in populist organizing"

| Mon Jun. 26, 2006 1:51 AM EDT

Did the Times just happen to discover ACORN, and find someone to tell them that there's a trend here? Or is there, in fact, a "broader surge in populist organizing around the country centered on issues like wages, gentrification, environmental disputes and immigrant rights"?

"Over the last 10 years we've seen pretty explosive growth in the number and scale of community groups working in poor communities and with people of color," said Deepak Bhargava, of the Center for Community Change, a Washington-based support center for local organizers. Mr. Bhargava said the activism was "approaching a scale that could have a transforming effect on American politics and society."

Sure would be interesting (and encouraging) to see the numbers behind this.

Overthrow the Minimum-Wage Earners!

| Sun Jun. 25, 2006 1:25 AM EDT

Ted Kennedy's proposal to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 over three years, offered in the form of an amendment to the defense authorization bill, failed in the Senate last week; no surprise there, alas, though only in the U.S. Senate do you lose even when you win a majority (the measure would have needed 60 votes to pass, but garnered only 52). It was, you see, a vote against oppression: This is "a classic debate between two different philosophies,''
said Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican. "One philosophy believes in the marketplace, the competitive system…and entrepreneurship. And secondly is the argument that says that government knows better, and the top down mandate works.''

The Haditha Soundtrack

| Sat Jun. 24, 2006 2:40 AM EDT

A lot of ink can, and will, be spilled on what makes young men blow childrens' brains out in a war that doesn't make sense. But a song is worth a thousand words, and there's no more chilling (if unintentional) soundtrack to the news from Iraq these days than a song by a Marine that has lots of defenders on conservative websites.

Now it's worth remembering that there's a long tradition of this kind of thing-there was a song in Vietnam called Napalm Sticks to Kids--and of course it's more metaphor than description; horror breeds its own kind of self-caricature. But what makes it work, what makes the Hadji Girl audience chuckle and guffaw, is how close the horror of caricature is to the horror of reality.

As the bullets began to fly
The blood sprayed from between her eyes
And then I laughed maniacally

The Cost of Superfund Neglect

| Thu Jun. 22, 2006 8:52 PM EDT

The 8000 residents living in the town of Glen Avon, California, are lucky; they get to live right next to a 17-acre toxic waste dump:

[The Stringfellow site] served as a hazardous waste disposal facility from 1956-1972, accepting over 34 million gallons of waste from metal refinishing, electroplating and pesticide manufacturing companies. This waste was dumped into surface evaporation ponds. Rainfall caused the ponds to overflow, sending streams of heavily polluted water into nearby neighborhoods. The population of the census tract around the site is 52 percent minority and has a median household income of $43,000.
And no one's cleaning it up. Then there are the 6,491 residents of Montgomery County, Ohio, who live near North Sanitary Landfill. Decades ago, engineers decided that the best way to dispose of liquid industrial waste was to pour it on top of ordinary household garbage, thinking that the garbage would soak up the liquid like a sponge and hold it in place. But then they realized that the landfills started leaking all that toxic liquid, and instead of keeping it in place, the garbage—which covered hundreds of acres—just spread it around:
[T]he 102-acre North Sanitary Landfill sits atop an aquifer used for drinking water, which is composed of highly transmissive sands and gravel. Portions of the site have caught fire several times. It is located in a census tract with a median household income of $25,000.

Group of Republicans stalls renewal of Voting Rights Act

| Thu Jun. 22, 2006 8:20 PM EDT

A spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert says that the Republican leadership "is committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible."

Maybe not. Today, just as the vote to renew the Voting Rights Act was about to take place, some members of the Republican Party met behind closed doors and decided to stall the vote. Their reason? That some of the requirements of the act were no longer relevant to key southern states that historically have tried to prevent African Americans from voting. Two Congressmen from Georgia, Lynn Westmoreland and Jack Kingston, led the movement to delay the vote, and they were joined by 78 other Republicans.

Westmoreland's and Kingston's objection to renewing the act as is was that it requires federal approval for everything. "If you move a polling place from the Baptist church to the Methodist church, you've got to go through the Justice Department," Kingston said. Speaking before Congress, Westmoreland raved about hearing complaints of discrimination from someone "whose brother-in-law told him the wrong polling place."

The Voting Rights Act outlawed poll taxes and literacy tests, but many believe that the Justice Department's approval of picture ID requirements by some states, including Georgia, amount to the same kind of discrimination because a fee is charged for the ID if the voter does not already have a driver's license. Indeed, a federal judge fouind the Georgia law unconstitutional

Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said a bipartisan commission found evidence of recent voting-rights violations in Georgia, Texas and several other states. There is also ample evidence that African American voters were intimidated by Republican operatives in the 2000 Florida presidential election and the 2004 Ohio presidential election.

Steve King, a Congressman from Iowa, objected to renewing the act as is because of its requirement that ballots be printed in languages other than English.

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Will the real 20th hijacker...

| Thu Jun. 22, 2006 5:06 PM EDT

If, as AlQaeda claims, Fawaz al-Nashmi, a Qaeda operative killed in 2004 in Saudi Arabia was the 20th 9/11 hijacker, slated to join the team that took over Flight 93, what happens to Mohammad al-Kahtani, the prisoner at Guantanamo who the Bush administration has been insisting is the 20th hijacker (whenever it's not insisting that Zacharias Moussaoui was the 20th hijacker)? Al-Khatani was the subject of a March 3 Time expose, and the log of his interrogation, if you haven't seen it yet, is an absolute must-read.

Gitanjali S. Gutierrez, a staff attorney at CCR, met with the prisoner in December 2005 and in January of this year. She tells Time that in her meetings with him, Khatani "painfully described how he could not endure the months of isolation, torture, and abuse, during which he was nearly killed, before making false statements to please his interrogators." Al-Khatani, who has not been charged with anything, has withdrawn his statements, and Gutierrez has gone to federal court in the District of Columbia to demand that the government either release or charge him.

The interrogation transcript details conditions so severe, al-Khatani at one point had to be rushed to the hospital, according to CCR, which adds that "the Deputy Assistant F.B.I Director for Counterterrorism described Mr. al-Qahtani's state as `evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma.'"

Here is a brief excerpt from an interrogation on December 16, 2002:


0315: White noise. He was offered a drink of water and he refused.
0400: P/E down. Showed detainee banana rats [sic] standard of life vs his standard of life in his wooden booth. Compared his life in a wooden booth to the life he could have with his brothers in Cuba .
0430: Detainee was walked for 10 minutes. Detainee refused water. 0450: Detainee listened to white noise.
0530: Detainee required to sit and watch as interrogator and linguist played checkers. Laughed and mocked detainee throughout game. White noise present in background.

Edwards Pledges to End Poverty

| Thu Jun. 22, 2006 4:23 PM EDT

Check out Ezra Klein's firsthand account of John Edwards' speech today, in which the former Senator vowed to make a major, major dent in poverty in the United States and put forward a number of quite serious ideas to accomplish that goal. I assume Edwards will be running for president in 2008, and even if he's not a serious contender, it's nice to see at least one Democrat thinking very seriously about these issues.

Gun-Owners Afraid of UN "Conspiracy"

| Thu Jun. 22, 2006 4:19 PM EDT

This would all be quite humorous—

Americans mistakenly worried the United Nations is plotting to take away their guns on July 4—U.S. Independence Day—are flooding the world body with angry letters and postcards, the chairman of a U.N. conference on the illegal small arms trade said on Wednesday.
except for the fact that the NRA tends, quite often, to stoke and inflame conservative fears that the UN really is plotting to erect some sinister world government or other that will take away all our guns. And the fact that the NRA then uses those fears to generate backing for its opposition to sensible regulations on the global light-arms trade, which is one of the major health crises of our time. And people die as a result. So I don't know how "funny" I find it that we have a lot of gun-toting morons in this country.

Is North Korea Really Ready to Launch?

| Thu Jun. 22, 2006 1:45 PM EDT

I've refrained from commenting on this North Korea ICBM business, partly because I'm not exactly an expert on missile technology, but also because most of the information seems to be coming from the always-alarmist Japanese press and the New York Times, both of which are about as illuminating as Tarot cards. So it's hard to know if it's even true that North Korea is about to launch a missile that can reach California. Let's see what better-informed people are saying. Here's Noah Schactman:

The hype kicked into high gear when the New York Times claimed that the Norks "completed fueling a long-range ballistic missile" over the weekend. But the report is getting fishier by the second. The Norks generally rely on a highly corrosive gasoline-kerosene mix for their missile fuel, and an oxidizer containing nitric acid. It's nasty, metal-eating stuff. And once fueled up, the missile has to be launched quickly -- two or three days, I've been told -- or else the missile is basically ruined.

It's now been four days. And there's been no launch. Which means it's becoming increasingly unlikely that a missile has been fueled. Schachtman also notes that North Korea has a history of staging elaborate hoaxes of this sort in order to strengthen its bargaining position. That doesn't clarify what's going on, exactly, but it's very much worth noting. And Joseph Cirincione of Carnegie, an expert on these matters, says that even if the North Koreans were going to fire off a missile that could theoretically reach the United States, they've botched so many missile tests that it's not even clear that this one would be successful.

But that's not enough to stop the panic. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry writes in the Washington Post today that we should conduct a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, although it should go without saying that this is a terrible idea if North Korea's not, you know, actually preparing to launch missiles of any sort. The United States has "activated" its nascent missile defense system, which has proved a complete flop thus far. Jeffrey Lewis of ArmsControlWonk says any attempt to stop a Korean ICBM would almost certainly fail, and suffice to say that a failure on this front would make the Bush administration look utterly ridiculous. (Of course, if this is all just hype, and no missile is ever fired, then at least the "crisis" will garner good press for people who want to waste more money on missile defense—and maybe that's the point.)

Meanwhile, in a little-noticed statement, Pyongyang has apparently announced a "strategic decision" to give up its nuclear weapons—possibly the first time the North Koreans have ever used such language. Obviously that doesn't mean Kim Jong Il has suddenly decided to become nice and cuddly, but it does sound like there's an opening for diplomacy to work, and that seems more promising than panicking over a missile launch that may not even take place. We'll see, I suppose.

UPDATE: William Arkin also makes a convincing case that this North Korea business is wildly overblown. South Korea also appears to distrust U.S. reporting on this matter.