2007 - %3, May

Stress-Busting

| Tue May 15, 2007 10:26 PM EDT

When did "stress" become the public enemy of health and creativity? It's an interesting question, now that doctors attribute medical ailments to "stress," corporations hold stress-management seminars, and friends talking about problems are told to just not "stress out," because "stress" itself is their problem. In fact, stress-management is the product sold by several billion-dollar industries.

Author Angela Patmore tells Ode Magazine, "A lot of stress management is tranquilizing people, giving relaxation therapies and massages. I believe that's harmful, because instead of empowering people, it slows them down.... We're creating a society of people who are afraid of working. Besides, all this talk about stress doesn't solve underlying workplace problems. It distracts attention from an organization that is run poorly, for instance."

She writes in the Guardian, "Arousal and emotions have been turned into syndromes, and an industry with more members than our armed forces drip-feeds us alarmist medicalising twaddle known as 'stress awareness' about our brains and bodies, the effect of which is to warn us, 'Let us calm you down or you will die.'"

We should seek resolution, not relaxation, she says, in a philosophical, psychological, and historical critique of that one word that has come to stand for so much.

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Ohio Man Arrested After He and His Wife Protest Military Recruiters In Library

| Tue May 15, 2007 8:55 PM EDT

Tim Coil is a Gulf War veteran with PTSD. In early March, he and his wife visited the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library in Ohio so that his wife, Yvette, could study for a test and he could do some reading. While they were there, they saw two military recruiters approaching potential enlistees in a nearby room. Yvette Coil wrote some messages on 3x5 cards: "Don't fall for it! Military recruiters lie," and "It's not honorable to fight for a lying president." She says that before she displayed the cards through the window, she asked a volunteer for permission. The volunteer directed her to a staff member who said she could display the cards as long as there was "no confrontation."

There was a confrontation. One of the recruiters asked who put the cards in the window, and Coil said she did it. He then asked for her name, which she refused to give. He then told her and her husband that they could not display the cards anymore. At that point, Mr. Coil questioned whether his freedom of speech was being curtailed, and the recruiter went to find the library director. Ms. Coil placed more cards against the window.

The library director told the Coils that they were disturbing library patrons and could not continue displaying cards. Ms. Coil mentioned that she was a library patron, and the recruiters were disturbing her. The police came and arrested Mr. Coil for disorderly conduct. He has refused to make a plea, and he has refused to pay $100 in court costs. He will appear in court on June 5.

Hey, We Have a War Czar!

| Tue May 15, 2007 8:12 PM EDT

Sorry, sorry, the Bush Administration doesn't like the title "War Czar." The official title of the man named to personally oversee the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan on behalf of the president is "assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation." Sure, much easier than "War Czar."

The guy's name is Douglas Lute, and he's a three star general -- as the guy in charge of making Iraq go right, he may have the hardest job in America. My question: what does the Secretary of Defense do all day, play tiddlywinks?

Update: Looks like Lute advocated partial withdrawal in 2005, saying "We believe at some point, in order to break this dependence on the... coalition, you simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward... You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It's very difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus, largely western, foreign troops occupying the country." Man, the White House must have had a real hard time finding someone to take this job -- they couldn't even get someone who supports the central tenets of their war policy!

What's a Life Worth? A Few Thousand Bucks If You're An Afghan or Iraqi

| Tue May 15, 2007 8:01 PM EDT

Trying to calculate the cash value of a human life is a morbid and even impossibly futile endeavor. As we found while researching our Iraq 101 feature, economists estimate that every life lost in the Iraq War is worth around $6 million. The reality, of course, is much different. The families of American soldiers killed in action can expect to receive $500,000 or more; contractors' families can get $100,000 a year; yet Iraqi civilians whose relatives have been killed by, say, an American missile, can expect around $2,500 per person. That may be big money in Baghdad, but it's hard to justify the magnitude of difference between the official valuation of an Iraqi kid and an American GI. And as Tom Engelhardt writes, this official stinginess also extends to Afghanistan, where the Marines recently paid $2,000 in compensation for each of the 19 civilians gunned down in an incident of what the military calls "excessive force." If our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq are truly about spreading the ideal of human dignity, you'd think that coughing up a bit more for our blood debts would be an important gesture. Hearts and minds, hearts and minds...

And if you want some heartbreaking reading, see the excerpts of Iraqi civilians' claims filed with the military, collected by Editor and Publisher. Like this one:

Claimant alleges that on the above date at the above mentioned location, the child was outside playing by their gate and a stray bullet from a U.S. soldier hit their son in the head and killed him. The U.S. soldiers went to the boy's funeral and apologized to the family and took their information to get to them, but never did. The child was nine years old and their only son.

I recommend approving this claim in the amount of $4,000.00.

Find me an American who thinks their child is worth a measly $4 grand.

Common Chemicals Are Linked to Breast Cancer

| Tue May 15, 2007 7:22 PM EDT

New studies link 200 chemicals to breast cancer, the leading cause of death to American women in their late 30s to early 50s. Marla Cone writes in the Los Angeles Times:

Of the 200 breast carcinogens, "73 are present in consumer products or are food contaminants — 1,4-dioxane in shampoos, for example, or acrylamide in French fries. Thirty-five are common air pollutants, 25 are in workplaces where at least 5,000 women are employed, and 10 are food additives, according to the reports.
Only about 1,000 of the 80,000 chemicals registered for use in the United States have been tested on animals to see whether they induce cancerous tumors or mutate DNA. Such tests cost $2 million each."

For more on environmental toxins, read Cone's Dozens of Words for Snow, None for Pollution in our January 2005 issue. "Perched atop the Arctic food chain, the people of the Far North face an impossible choice: abandon their traditional foods, or ingest the rest of the world's poisons with every bite."

Informed Dissent: The Sixth Great Extinction

| Tue May 15, 2007 6:25 PM EDT

We've been blogging about biodiversity loss over at the Blue Marble quite a bit, and Gone, the lead story in our May/June issue, does a great job of covering the issue. If you've already read Gone and it left you wanting to learn and do more, then check out the latest edition of the "Informed Dissent" newsletter, which is full of ideas and ways to take action.

Go here to sign up to receive Informed Dissent every two weeks. Get informed, get involved.

— Martha Pettit

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Jailing Toddlers in Texas

| Tue May 15, 2007 3:32 PM EDT

Close readers of MotherJones.com know that a year ago the government began incarcerating small children for months at a time in a converted Texas prison. The T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center, near Austin, holds roughly 200 kids and their families on immigration charges. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun jailing increasing numbers of kids since August, when it ended its controversial "catch and release" program for families with children who are apprehended on immigration charges.

After the story appeared in the Austin Chronicle and Mother Jones, it hit the New York Times and other major newspapers, and continues to garner headlines. A United Nations human rights official had been scheduled to tour T. Don Hutto last week, but ICE canceled the visit at the last minute because of a pending lawsuit over conditions there by the American Civil Liberties Union, a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, a resolution introduced in the Texas legislature would call on the federal government to seek alternatives to family detention. A coalition of activists, Free the Children, has been holding rallies in support of the bill.

Since our story was published, conditions at the prison have somewhat improved--kids no longer have to wear prison scrubs, and they now receive something akin to school lessons. Still, you'd think ICE would have gotten wise to the root of its ongoing PR crisis. Locking out journalists and human rights inspectors only feeds our worst fears: that this issue really is as black and white as what's implied by "free the children."

Surge Producing Massive Wave of Arrests, Counter to Long-Term U.S. Interests

| Tue May 15, 2007 2:32 PM EDT

If the surge's success can be measured in arrests, we're doing just great. According to a Newsweek article, the number of people residing in Iraqi jails has jumped from approximately 7,000 to 37,641, all since the end of January.

And while U.S.-run detention centers have been closely monitored since Abu Ghraib was splashed all over the front pages in 2004, Iraqi-run jails are "black holes." And independent monitor of Baghdad jails says, "Torture and abusive behavior are widespread."

People on the right might say, "These are Iraqis mistreating other Iraqis, it's not our problem. Let's worry about protecting American troops." And people on the left might say, "These are Iraqis mistreating other Iraqis, it's not our problem. Let's worry about getting American troops home." I say this situation is our responsibility and our problem.

It's our responsibility because we trained the Iraqi policemen and we built the Iraqi jails. If we went to Iraq to spread democracy, and then did such a bad job that law enforcement there routinely beats its prisoners and ignores the contents of Amendments Four, Five, Six, Seven, and Eight, it's our moral responsibility to do something about it. I know this points towards murky conclusions about our involvement on the war as a whole. I know, I know -- but even if we're not involved in combat operations any longer, we can still work to strengthen Iraq's civil infrastructure, right?

Anyway, more importantly, it's our problem. The people festering in these jails are more likely to (1) hate Americans after their experience, (2) want to disrupt the Iraqi state that has mistreated them, and (3) find connections to extremists through their jail time.

Says Newsweek:

The long-term question is whether mass arrests are actually counterproductive. According to former detainees, community leaders and even Iraqi officials, many prison facilities have become breeding grounds for extremists. New prisoners are quickly won over by, or bullied into joining, militants in the jails. "The biggest school for Al Qaeda is prison," contends Zaidan al-Jabri, an influential sheik from Anbar province who's lived in Jordan since 2005 to escape the instability back home. "All these banned books are allowed in. Speeches and lectures by Al Qaeda terrorists are let in."

Not good news. Everyone in an Iraqi jail is supposed to get a review every six months, but that deadline is routinely missed. Petraeus devised the strategy that is putting tens of thousands in hellish Iraqi jails -- but does he have a plan to deal with the blowback?

Former Aide's Testimony Shows Gonzo Willing to Circumvent the Law

| Tue May 15, 2007 1:31 PM EDT

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey (he held the post before the now-disgraced Paul McNulty) testified before Congress today. Comey is well-regarded in legal circles, and his tenure at DOJ is actually known for good things and not bad ones -- specifically, he was the acting-AG who refused to sign off on the warrantless wiretapping program when then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized, making him one of the few federal employees who took a strong stand against executive overreach. (More on why Comey's professionalism, high character, and effectiveness would make him an excellent candidate for AG in a better world.)

In Comey's testimony today, he described the fascinating scene surrounding the authorization of the wiretapping program -- all of the details he provides make it clear Alberto Gonzales was willing to circumvent the law in order to ram through a supposed national security necessity. Gonzo quite literally ignored the rights and responsibilities of the Department of Justice in an attempt to get what he wanted -- and roughly a year later Bush named him the head of the DOJ! The whole episode sheds light on how fundamentally wrong Gonzales' appointment was, and how shameful it is that he still has a job.

Riveting details courtesy of the Muckraker:

The events took place in March of 2004, when the [wiretapping] program was in need of renewal by the Justice Department. When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft fell ill and was hospitalized, Comey became the acting-Attorney General.
The deadline for the Justice Department's providing its sign-off of the program was March 11th (the program required reauthorization every 45 days). On that day, Comey, then the acting AG, informed the White House that he "would not certify the legality" of the program.
According to Comey, he was on his way home when he got a call from Ashcroft's wife that Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card were on their way to the hospital. Comey then rushed to the hospital (sirens blaring) to beat them there and thwart "an effort to overrule me."

Gonzales Kills McNulty's Credibility on McNulty's Way Out the Door

| Tue May 15, 2007 12:56 PM EDT

Yesterday, when Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty resigned, Alberto Gonzales had nothing but nice things to say about his top assistant. Gonzo called McNulty a "dynamic and thoughtful leader" and said McNulty is "an outstanding public servant and a fine attorney who has been valued here at the Department... On behalf of the Department, I wish him well in his future endeavors."

Wrong! Today, Gonzales threw McNulty under a bus in a big way. Speaking at the National Press Club, Gonzales said this morning, "You have to remember, at the end of the day, the recommendations reflected the views of the deputy attorney general. He signed off on the names... And he would know better than anyone else, anyone in this room, anyone — again, the deputy attorney general would know best about the qualifications and the experiences of the United States attorneys community, and he signed off on the names."

Good luck finding employment, Paul! Go ahead and put "Fall Guy for Major DOJ Embarrassment" at the top of your resume.

Washington can be so vicious, can't it?