2007 - %3, May

Finally Time to Go Home to Diego Garcia

| Thu May 24, 2007 4:00 PM EDT

Americans may have never heard of Diego Garcia, but today Diego Garcia is very much on the minds of thousands of people.

After more than four decades, Chagossians get to go home to Diego Garcia, a British colony and US air and naval base. Yesterday the British High Court ruled in favor of the Chagossian people. The judges denounced the British government's move to "exile a whole population" from its home as "repugnant" and that the right of Chagossians to return home is "one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings". The High Court also said that the government can no longer appeal as it had unsuccessfully tried three times in the past. Chagossians had won a legal victory in 2000, but in 2004 the British government overturned it via a royal prerogative.

Why were they kicked off in the first place? The British colony has been "colonized by the Americans" since the 1960's, when more than 2,000 inhabitants of the island were forcibly "repatriated" to Mauritius and the Seychelles. The Brits gave the Americans a 50-year lease, which will expire in 2016. The U.S. has launched memorable military campaigns from the Diego Garcia base, including bombing Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the past years, the US military said it was against the idea of allowing Chagossians back to their land because it would undermine the "security" of Diego Garcia. And while it has fought to keep the natives off the land, the US Navy still calls the Diego Garcia base its "Footprint of Freedom."

—Neha Inamdar

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Now You Can Shoot an Iraqi from the Comfort of Your Own Home Computer

| Thu May 24, 2007 3:39 PM EDT

Wafaacrop.jpg

It's not just a video game. A performance artist has been holed up in Chicago with a webcam and paintball gun trained on him. Right now Wafaa Bilal is out (late lunch?), leaving just a bedroom splattered with paint, so Web snipers are aiming for the plant instead. It's a statement on that American combination of high-tech trigger-happiness and apathy toward Iraqis. I was going to suggest Bilal was inspired by this technology, "computer-assisted remote hunting." But it's much worse. According to his bio, Bilal grew up in Iraq, and his 21-year-old brother still there was recently killed by stray American gunfire. Maybe he's trying to heal by reenacting the trauma, as they say. Black humor heals all wounds.

Thank you for the tip, Goode.

One In Six European Mammals Threatened With Extinction

| Thu May 24, 2007 3:39 PM EDT

The first assessment of European mammals finds nearly one in six mammal species threatened with extinction. According to the World Conservation Union, 27% of all mammals have declining populations. Only 8% are increasing, including the European bison, thanks to successful conservation measures. Europe is now home to the world's most threatened cat species, the Iberian Lynx, and the world's most threatened seal, the Mediterranean Monk Seal, both classified as critically endangered. --JULIA WHITTY

Global Warming's Effect on Whales And Dolphins

| Thu May 24, 2007 3:23 PM EDT

Whales, dolphins and porpoises are facing increasing threats from climate change. A report published by the World Wildlife Fund and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, released in advance of the 59th meeting of the International Whaling Commission, finds many populations to be vulnerable to global warming. Cetaceans that rely on polar waters-–belugas, narwhals, and bowhead whales-–are likely to be dramatically affected by the reduction of sea ice. Less sea ice will allow more commercial shipping, oil, gas and mining exploration and development, and military activities in previously untouched areas.

Other impacts of global warming include less habitat for river dolphins, the acidification of the oceans as they absorb CO2, more cetacean disease epidemics, and lower reproductive success and survival rates. Climate change could also be the nail in the coffin for the last 300 or so endangered North Atlantic right whales. The survival of their calves has been directly related to the effects of climate variability on prey abundance.

Check out why we need all these species. --JULIA WHITTY

Oklahoma Bans Abortion in State Hospitals

| Thu May 24, 2007 3:03 PM EDT

We were hoping the governor of Oklahoma would veto a ban on abortion in state hospitals, with exception for only rape, incest, and when a woman's health is in jeopardy. But Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, let it pass yesterday. Here's the fate of other abortion bills this week.

Alarming Acceleration In CO2 Emissions Worldwide

| Thu May 24, 2007 2:54 PM EDT

Worldwide CO2 emissions have increased at more than three times the rate of the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2004, the rate increased from 1.1 % per year to 3.1% per year—as alluded to in an earlier post. The Carnegie Institution reports that not only is no region is decarbonising its energy supply, but a long-term trend toward greater energy efficiency and reduced carbon intensities is being reversed.

"Despite the scientific consensus that carbon emissions are affecting the world's climate, we are not seeing evidence of progress in managing those emissions in either the developed or developing countries. In many parts of the world, we are going backwards, " remarked co-author of the study Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology. The research also shows that the actual global emissions since 2000 grew faster than the highest of the scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The acceleration is greatest in the exploding economies of developing regions, particularly China.

Of course, by refusing to tackle our own emissions (the largest in the world), we in the U.S. paralyze whatever superpower muscle might be brought to bear on the issue worldwide. Another casualty of six years in the Bush leagues. --JULIA WHITTY

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Dem or Repub? Half of the Answer is in Your Genes

| Thu May 24, 2007 2:39 PM EDT

A new study from New York University shows that your political preference is more than just a preference: part of it is written in your DNA. "40, perhaps 50 percent of our political beliefs seem to have a basis in genetics," said Josh Hibbing, political science professor at University of Nebraska, who contributed to the study.

Hibbing's research showed that identical twins were more likely to share political beliefs than fraternal twins, regardless of how they were raised. But DNA does not "hardwire" the belief itself, it merely affects how a person responds to a given situation. A control-happy neat-freak is far more likely to be a conservative because he or she prefers order and the comfort of the familiar in their life, whereas a touchy-feely, globe-trotting artist is more likely to be a liberal because he or she enjoys new experiences.

But the environment is just a strong a factor as genes, especially when personal security is threatened. Thirty-eight percent World Trade Center survivors, said they grew more conservative after 9/11; only 13 percent said they were more liberal.

—Jen Phillips

"Adolescents Play Pranks..."

| Thu May 24, 2007 2:37 PM EDT

Last November, someone set fire to the central wing of a high school in Jena, Louisiana. Then white students beat up a black student because he went to their party. Soon after that, a white adolescent pulled a shotgun on three black adolescents in a convenience store, and then four black students jumped a white student as he came out of the school gym. Following that incident, in which the student received minor injuries, six black students were expelled and were charged with attempted second-degree murder. They face up to a hundred years in prison.

Conversely, the white boy who beat up the student at the party was charged with simple battery, and the boy who held three others at shotgunpoint was not charged with anything. However, his victims were charged with aggravated battery and theft after they grabbed the shotgun in self-defense.

If this sounds like scenes from a 1950s newsreel, that's because Jena is stuck in time when it comes to the issue of racial equality. Enter Jena mayor Murphy McMillian, who says that "Race is not a major local issue. It's not a factor in the local people's lives."

No kidding--he said that.

The latest incident at the high school involves some black students who attempted to sit on the "white side" of the school yard. There, they saw three nooses hanging from a tree. Enter school superindendent Roy Breithaupt, who says that "Adolescents play pranks. I don't think it was a threat against anybody."

Again, he really said that.

The Jena community isn't alone in dismissing violence and threats against women, people of color, the disabled, and members of the LGBT community as "pranks" and "jokes." But this particular piece of denial is so over the top, it would probably shock most reasonable people. The local ACLU calls Jena a "racial powder keg."

Immigration Bill Changing: Guest Worker Program Halved

| Thu May 24, 2007 10:25 AM EDT

Two days ago I wrote that the guest worker program in the Senate's immigration bill would probably be the first provision to be changed or killed. That's exactly what has happened.

Yesterday the Senate overwhelmingly voted to cut the guest worker program in half. Now instead of 400,000 immigrants receiving visas annually to work temporarily in the United States, only 200,000 will. The votes to reduce the number came from Democrats who see the guest worker program as a repeat of the bracero program intended to provide cheap labor to big business and Republicans who see the whole bill as soft on illegal immigration. Pro-business Republicans voted to keep the number at 400,000.

See how the vote broken down along party lines here. See Mother Jones massive and excellent feature on immigration, "Exodus," here.

ABC Story on Covert Ops in Iran: Romney Can't See an Obvious Government Plant

| Thu May 24, 2007 9:43 AM EDT

The ABC News story about covert operations in Iran just turned into a political football, and Mitt Romney, in seeking to emphasize his tough guy credentials yet again, is making an ass of himself.

Two days ago, ABC's investigative unit revealed that the "CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government." But the CIA isn't allowed to kill anyone because the presidential finding authorizing the black op is "non-lethal." In fact, the main thrust of the thing is informational and financial -- the CIA is charged with executing a "coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation, and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions." This is according to current and former officials in the intelligence community.

Now, Kevin Drum makes a couple very good points. The whole leak is suspicious. Insiders go to the press when they feel the CIA or any other government agency has clearly crossed the line -- the NSA wiretapping story, for example, was uncovered by the New York Times because government officials were willing to come forward and say, "This is totally not kosher and public outrage is the only way we have of putting a stop to it." As Drum writes, this business about "disinformation" and "manipulation of Iran's currency" is "just about the mildest possible covert operation you can imagine. Why would anyone at the CIA, let alone multiple sources, be so outraged by it that they decided to leak its existence to ABC News?"

It's a good question. Moreover, writes Drum, "the CIA is mostly populated by hardnosed Republicans who hate countries like Iran and love covert operations like this that strike back at them. It's their bread and butter.... they really, really don't make a habit of disclosing active covert operations to major news organizations. That can get people killed, whether the operation itself is lethal or not."

So the CIA has no reason to be up in a tizzy about this new presidential authorization to go after Iran. Then why did multiple members of the intelligence community go to the press? Drum speculates this was a plant coordinated by the government "as a way of sending a message to Iran."

Supporting Drum's theory is the fact, recently revealed by ABC, that the White House had six days to register any objection at all to the story, and they chose not to act.

The story pretty clearly came out with the Bush Administration's consent.

But that isn't stopping Mitt Romney from trying to score cheap political points. The web is flooded with stories blaring the headline "Romney: ABC Story Puts Lives at Risk." Says Romney, "The reporting has the potential of jeopardizing our national security... it has the potential of affecting human life."

The president of ABC News, David Westin, shot back that ABC wouldn't run a story (and hasn't run stories in the past) that put lives at risk, and that American covert ops in Iran have been reported before. "The facts don't bear out the accusations (from Romney)," Westin said. "I even think that any brief look at the facts says that. This is not a complicated one."

Romney isn't dumb. He has to know this is a story the government intended to put in the public sphere, either to send a message to Iran, as Drum wrote, or amidst news that Iran is three to eight years from having a nuclear weapon, to send a message to the American people. "We're doing something about this," they're saying. "Don't worry." Romney knows this. But it's an opportunity to look macho. Chest-puffing, on display during the second GOP debate when the topic of torture came up, is perhaps the most obscene and disgusting part of the GOP primary.

Oh, and PS -- I'd be willing to bet a ton of money that there are other, more "lethal" covert ops going on in Iran right now, but no official in the intelligence community would ever come forward to tell the press, because it would be a PR nightmare for the CIA and could more directly jeopardize national security.