2006 - %3, August

Note to Readers on Our Redesign

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 5:11 PM EDT

We're getting lots of good feedback (pro and con, but overwhelmingly pro) on our site redesign -- for which, thanks. One thing: if the site looks weird on your browser, hit the "Refresh" or "Reload" button; that should sort things out. And if it doesn't, let us know by emailing backtalk@motherjones.com. Thanks!

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Sunnis and Shiites and Muslims, oh my!

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 4:53 PM EDT

Former ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith says that two months before the U.S. invaded Iraq, George W. Bush did not know that there were two major sects of Islam in Iraq. According to Galbraith, a year after giving his "Axis of Evil" speech, Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, who described to him what they thought the consequences might be if Saddam Hussein were taken out of power.

According to Galbraith, it became clear to them that Bush had no clue that there were Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. The Iraqi American consultants explained the situation to him, and his response was: "I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!"

No one should be surprised. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush could not identify the Taliban. But as he himself has said--it's hard work, being president.

100 Degrees the New Normal (Thanks to Global Warming)?

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 3:56 PM EDT

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Here, via MSNBC, is what most scientists say is certain:

  • The Earth is warming, by 1.4-degrees Fahrenheit since 1920
  • The ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising
    10 of the last 12 years were the warmest since 1850
  • The first six months of 2006 were the hottest since they started keeping records in 1890

And here's more of what they say.

"This heat wave and other extreme events we've seen in recent years are completely consistent with what we expect to become more common as a result of global warming, even though we can't be definitive on any single event," says Jay Gulledge with Pew Climate Change. [...]

"So far, we've had about 80 daily high temperature records broken and in the month of July there were about 50 all-time records for the month of July broken -- that's phenomenal for any air mass, any heat wave that's going on right now," says Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Plan B Approval is Not Assured

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 2:57 PM EDT

The Chicago Tribune puts the FDA's seeming about-turn on Plan B in (cautionary) context:

FDA approval for over-the-counter sales is not assured. One potential hurdle: the FDA wants the company to ensure that pharmacies won't sell the pill over the counter to girls younger than age 18. But isn't that the pharmacies' responsibility? Some advocates worry that such an onerous requirement could be a loophole that would allow the FDA to deny permission for over-the-counter sales.

Dr. Susan Wood, former director of the FDA's Office of Women's Health, resigned in protest last August after the last Plan B delay. She said she was "somewhat encouraged" by Monday's announcement. But she also warned: "I feel they're making it appear they're moving forward. But until we actually see a decision, we can't count on that." Yes, some skepticism is warranted here. Unfortunately, politics may yet trump science again.

The Democrats' Dangerous "Pro-Israel" Stance

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 2:00 PM EDT

Speaking of Iran, Iraq, and Israel, Billmon makes some crucial points here that need to be repeated far and wide. As we know, a lot of purportedly "antiwar" Democrats are against the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Fine. But most of those same Democrats are also in favor of letting Israel kill hundreds of civilians and launch quixotic and bloody wars around the Middle East to fight whatever perceived threats may arise, regardless of what those wars mean for the United States. The problem is that those stances are in grave tension with each other, if not outright contradictory.

If the United States withdraws from Iraq, Iran certainly won't sit still. In the event that the ongoing Sunni-Shia civil war continues to expand, Iran will side with the Iraqi Shiites. It might even send troops in to invade. Israel, of course, will fear that Iranian influence in, or worse, control of Iraq will pose a grave threat to its existence. (After all, 100,000 Iraqi Shiites just marched in Baghdad chanting, "Death to Israel!" and supporting Hezbollah.) So Israel might oppose a U.S. withdrawal in the first place—and House and Senate Democrats could agree, so long as it's Israel at stake.

Worse still, Israel could ask the United States to ensure that Iran stay out of Iraq. That could mean war. It's not as if Olmert and Bush have shown much restraint in the past. And Democrats, tethered as they are to Israel—including those self-proclaimed "antiwar" icons such as Howard Dean and Ned Lamont—could well acquiesce. Why not? They've supported the Lebanon adventure so far. Needless to say, war with Iran would be a disaster—for the United States, for Israel, for the world. The point is that various parts of the Middle East are all connected—Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, the whole of it—the situation is extremely dangerous, and it's looking very likely that the Democratic Party will prove itself utterly incapable of stopping the worst of it.

Is Iran to Blame for Israel's Woes?

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 1:41 PM EDT

Laura Rozen writes:

From a colleague covering the conflict in Israel: "Almost everyone I talk to here is now saying the Iraq war has presented one of the most significant threats to Israel in its history." Namely because it has so empowered Iran, and reduced US ability to deal with Iran now.

Well, that may be true, in a sense, but it's worth thinking this through. It's a lot harder for the United States to invade Iran now, true—after all, we don't have the troops, and any war against Iran would endanger the 130,000 soldiers currently stationed in Iraq. (Of course, that may not actually deter the Bush administration from bringing out the tactical nuclear weapons and starting World War III, but it's at least convinced some top generals in the Pentagon to oppose war with Iran.) By extension, it's now a lot harder for the United States to threaten to invade Iran. But then again, invading Iran was never a good idea, regardless of what happened in Iraq.

The preferred dovish way of "deal[ing] with Iran" is to talk with the leaders in Tehran, and perhaps eventually striking a deal by promising not to attack (which is a horrible and unfeasible idea anyway) in exchange for better behavior. We still have the ability, even after Iraq, to give that a try at least; it's just that the Bush administration just refuses to do so for various ideological reasons. Maybe Iran is actually less willing to negotiate thanks to the war in Iraq. But it's hard to say, since no one has actually tried.

It's also hard to say in what sense Iran has posed "one of the most significant threats to Israel in its history." Iran has armed Hezbollah, yes. And Hezbollah has been firing missiles into Israel, true. But neither of those things pose existential threats to Israel in the way that, say, various Arab armies, backed by the Soviet Union, did back in the 1960s and 1970s.

In any case, it's worth noting that Israel brought the current crisis on itself by invading Lebanon. Iran had little to do with it. Prior to the outbreak of war on July 12, Hezbollah rocket attacks were somewhat desultory and killed relatively few Israelis—it was bad, yes, but not something Israel couldn't live with if there was no good way of dealing with it. And there wasn't a good way of dealing with it. At present, Israel is talking about occupying a greater portion of Lebanon than it did back during its disastrous occupation in the 1980s. How does that help matters? It doesn't, it's a disaster. Iran is a problem, but it's clearly not the sole problem here.

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Geneva report highly critical of U.S. commitment to human rights

| Thu Aug. 3, 2006 8:02 PM EDT

The Geneva hearings are over and the final report has been released. It is not pretty, insofar as the U.S. and human rights are concerned.

Every four years, nations representing the Conventions against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights meet to review meet to review compliance of ICCPR nations. An official report is issued, along with a "shadow report," what The Raw Story refers to as "a rebuttal from non-government organizations (NGO), advocacy groups, and citizen representatives. The US "shadow report" was prepared by The Coalition for Human Rights at Home, a coalition of 142 not-for-profit groups."

This year's 456-page shadow report describes over a hundred instances of human rights violations, in a response to the official report issued by the United States. Also, the U.S. was a mere seven years late in developing its report, which it is obligated to prepare as an ICCPR signatory nation.

The Raw Story goes on to describe correspondence between the Committee and the U.S. as a "cat and mouse game," in which the Committee addresses questions to the U.S., and the U.S. responds by saying it has already answered those questions. When the Committee then says "please clarify when you answered that and what the answer was," it receives no further communication.

Jamil Dakwar, a staff attorney with the Human Rights Program, National Legal Department of the ACLU, calls the interplay a "dialogue of deaf."

David Horowitz Dodges Charge He Didn't Write Parts of His Own Book (As First Heard on Mother Jones Radio)

| Thu Aug. 3, 2006 4:57 PM EDT

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Media Matters:

Appearing with University of California, Irvine professor Mark LeVine on the August 1 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, right-wing activist David Horowitz refused to answer LeVine's accusation that Horowitz "admitted on the air" that he "didn't even write or research the parts of" his book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (Regnery, January 2006), that were about LeVine, and "therefore couldn't comment on how much
of it was true." Instead, Horowitz said, "I'm not going to discuss things that happened on other shows. I have read what Mark LeVine has written."

Horowitz and LeVine appeared on Hannity & Colmes to discuss the Middle East conflict, and during the discussion, Horowitz claimed that LeVine is "an apologist for the terrorists." LeVine responded, "This is absolutely unconscionable for you to say. ... Again, you're lying like you did in your book." LeVine then pointed to a prior debate he had with Horowitz over the research for the chapter on LeVine from The Professors. On the April 9 edition of Mother Jones Radio Broadcast, host Angie Coiro asked Horowitz, "[T]his research [in the LeVine chapter] is credited to Tzvi Kahn. ... How much of your work went into this chapter, per se? Did you clear all the facts, here?" In response to Coiro, Horowitz admitted to never having met Kahn, the researcher credited in the LeVine chapter of The Professors. Horowitz never addressed Coiro's question, which she asked twice, about the extent to which he was involved in the production of that chapter.

Listen to the original Mother Jones Radio interview here.

(Levine bio here, Horowitz bio here.)

Castro to CIA: "Beep! Beep!"

| Thu Aug. 3, 2006 3:26 PM EDT

Apparently the exploding cigars were just the beginning. The U.S. has tried to kill Fidel Castro 638 times, or so says one of his former security guys. Many of the plans—which might have been taken from the reject pile of Wile E. Coyote—never got off the drawing board, like this classic:


Knowing his fascination for scuba-diving off the coast of Cuba, the CIA at one time invested in a large volume of Caribbean molluscs. The idea was to find a shell big enough to contain a lethal quantity of explosives, which would then be painted in colours lurid and bright enough to attract Castro's attention when he was underwater.

Now that its bivalve budget has been slashed, I assume the CIA has moved on from trying to off Fidel. But as it goes after our current crop of international enemies, you have to wonder what kind of half-baked, brilliant-in-their-stupidity kind of ideas it's been tossing around. Why do I have a hunch that someone in Langley is desperately trying to find out Osama bin Laden's favorite candy bar?

Lessons from Cuba: Why Sanctions Don't Work

Thu Aug. 3, 2006 3:13 PM EDT

In addition to recognizing that a Cuba-esque policy won't work in Syria, Jacob Weisberg writes that it probably won't work in Iran either. Weisberg is writing specifically about the futility of imposing sanctions on dictatorial regimes, but his argument begins with the same basic premise—namely, that a policy which has failed to effect change in Cuba for 46 years and counting probably isn't a great policy.

By applying economic restraints, we label the most oppressive and dangerous governments in the world pariahs. We wash our hands of evil, declining to help despots finance their depredations, even at a cost to ourselves of some economic growth. We wincingly accept the collateral damage that falls on civilian populations in the nations we target. But as the above list of countries suggests, sanctions have one serious drawback. They don't work.

Nothing like an ailing Communist dictator over whom we have no influence whatsoever to remind us what constitutes productive diplomatic strategy.