Blogs

Sex and Abortion in the City (Mexico City)

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 1:17 PM PDT

In Mexico, feminism never took. Gender relations there are pretty close to what they were in the United States in the early 60s. And because the country is largely Catholic, birth control isn't widely used among married or unmarried couples. (Arguably, the most effective contraceptive is the cultural convention of living with your family until you get married—a convention that leads to some embarrassingly heavy public petting.)

Mexico is also a country with a gaping maw of an income gap. The wealthy have live-in maids, whose own homes have dirt floors and no running water. The poor have virtually no education and no opportunities. Meanwhile, the wealthy fly to San Antonio to shop—and sometimes to have abortions, which were until yesterday illegal in Mexico except in cases of rape or serious danger to the woman's health. Yesterday, Mexico City legalized abortions in the first trimester. (Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, accounts for nearly a fifth of the country's total population.)

The timing couldn't be more ironic: The United States took a huge step backward on abortion earlier this month, banning a legitimate abortion procedure regardless of timing or circumstances. Mexico has been able to move forward recently (it also legalized same-sex marriage) due to increasingly open national and local elections, which have given power in the capital to liberals. The Times also attributes the change to the church's loss of prestige following the pedophile priest fiasco. Apparently, Mexicans are more attuned to hypocrisy than Americans, who continue to let people like Newt Gingrich and Ted Haggard preach sexual morality.

However, the Mexican conservatives—members of president Felipe Calderón's PAN party—have clearly taken a page from the religious right's playbook. PAN's Jorge Romero said legalizing abortion would "support juvenile imprudence"—a claim which is especially annoying in a country where maids, who have no idea what sex even is, are frequently raped by sons of the wealthy. And Catholic Lawyers, the main opposition group, in an echo of Mitt Romney's Desperate Conservatives move in Massachusetts, protested that the city government had violated the Constitution by ignoring a petition for a referendum on abortion.

Maybe instead of them cribbing from our shoddy, hypocritical playbook, we ought to shed our superiority complex long enough to learn a lesson or two from our neighbors to the South.

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Tillman Family, Jessica Lynch Have Strong Words for Military

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 12:33 PM PDT

Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman's brother Kevin strongly challenged the government and the military in their statements yesterday before Henry Waxman's congressional committee. Lynch made it clear that the narrative of her capture and rescue put out by the military was overblown (though we already knew that) but stopped short of offering speculation as to why the military would distort the truth.

Kevin Tillman, on the other hand, did not hold back.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his brother was killed in Afghanistan three years ago, Kevin Tillman told a congressional hearing that the Army and administration officials had exploited his brother's death to divert attention from the detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib prison...
Kevin Tillman, who gave up a minor-league baseball career to enlist with his older brother after the 9/11 attacks and was nearby the day Pat Tillman was shot by fellow soldiers, said the military's early, heroic depiction of his brother's death was "utter fiction."
"To our family and friends, it was a devastating loss. To the nation, it was a moment of disorientation. To the military, it was a nightmare," Kevin Tillman said, his voice wavering with emotion. "But to others within the government, it appears to have been an opportunity. "
In his brother's case, he charged that evidence had been destroyed, an autopsy did not conform to regulations and eyewitness testimony "disappeared into thin air."

Here's Kevin Tillman's very moving and very damning opening statement.

And here's a link to the story I believe provides the best taste of Pat Tillman's unique personality and the clearest explanation of his death. It's from Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith, possibly the best sports writer on the planet.

Ahh, Now for the Good Stuff: Congress Subpoenas Condi Rice

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 12:19 PM PDT

The Democratic Congress is still moving forward with its various inquiries, but now it's adding the big kahuna to its list of targets: the mishandling, misuse, and misrepresentation of intelligence in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. Specifically, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Waxman's at it again!) has subpoenaed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in order to investigate the now-disavowed claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. Isn't oversight grand?

Future BHO and John McCain to Duke it out on MySpace, and Maybe on TV

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 11:27 AM PDT

Today, MySpace and reality TV show producer Mark Burnett (Survivor and The Apprentice are his claims to fame, to name a few) announced they will be teaming up to produce a political reality show, wherein politicians-to-be will go head-to-head for $1 million, the Wall Street Journal reports. The show will appear on MySpace's social networking site but the duo is also looking to score a network spot. Apparently, the "venture is part of a bid by News Corp.'s MySpace to expand its video presence and better compete with Google's YouTube." It also appears to be a realization on the part of the company that in order to keep up with the intersection of technology, politics and citizen involvement, video is key. MySpace users can interact with the show's contestants using their profiles and the "topics that generate the most buzz on the site -- whether it's climate change or immigration reform -- will determine the kinds of 'challenges' created for the live network show."

There seems to be no disagreement about video's rising importance in politics. Google's YouTube has already flexed its political muscles with YouChoose '08, an initiative that allows candidates to strut their stuff in video form. In a recent discussion I had with blogger and Deputy Research Editor for ThinkProgress, Nico Pitney, he affirmed that video is definitely an important aspect to success within today's political landscape:

"Many people who are active in politics now grew up in the age of television. They're much more comfortable with video as a medium and you can make points through video that have an emotional impact that you can't communicate through text."

But the medium also has to entertain and as Gary pointed out a few weeks back, some of YouTube's YouChoose content is quite the "snoozefest." So, maybe MySpace has just the remedy. Reality TV. Of course. People engage in that, right? If people care enough to watch Donald Trump sit around a boardroom table and discuss his future lackey prospects, why not the next BHO wrangling with McCain II. And if they engage in dialogue about immigration or climate change? Well, then, all the better, I say!

Walter Reed Conditions Were Not New News (to DoD), Dpt. Held Focus Groups for Years

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 10:05 AM PDT

It turns out the Department of Defense held focus groups at Walter Reed Medical Center. The Force Health Protection and Readiness department met with wounded soldiers monthly to "monitor Army healthcare and provide military officials with direct information about it," Salon reports. That's a good thing, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out they've been holding these group discussions since before the start of wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, yet have neglected to employ the information garnered to affect any real change. But, how could they -- the DoD kept no records of the interviews.

This not only speaks to the blatant neglect on the part of the department to remedy problems within the system but shows that the DoD has not been forthcoming throughout the investigation into the conditions at Walter Reed. In February, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr claimed all the accusations being thrown at the facility caught him by surprise. If the DoD was conducting focus groups, I am pretty sure the man tasked with overseeing military medicine would know it. Right? Although, I guess ignorance of your agency's actions is common practice within government departments under the Bush administration. I mean, AG Alberto Gonzales was "not involved" in the firing of nearly 10 percent of the nation's U.S. Attorneys.

In our last issue, Mother Jones provides more insight into the administration's maltreatment of the nation's soldiers.

OSC Investigation Into Rove Came After Fired U.S. Attorney Filed Complaint

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 8:37 AM PDT

There has been speculation that because of the Office of Special Counsel's horrible reputation for killing investigations damaging to the White House, the new investigation into Karl Rove might just be a way to obstruct or head off more aggressive congressional inquiries. (Mother Jones covers the OSC's rep in a feature story in our new issue.)

Well, the situation just got more complex. The spark for the Rove investigation may have come when former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias filed a complaint with the OSC charging that Rove violated the Hatch Act when he allegedly engineered the now-famous purge of eight U.S. Attorneys, a group that included the very vocal Iglesias. Iglesias filed the complaint on April 3rd and subsequently spoke with OSC head Scott Bloch, who made it clear an investigation was forthcoming. Iglesias can't say for a fact that his complaint is the genesis for the investigation, but he believes strongly that it was.

This would give hope that the investigation into Rove is legit, and not something dreamed up by the White House to keep other investigations at bay.

The Hatch Act, by the way, prohibits the use of government property for political activities. Like, for example, using the federal email system and tax payer-funded computers and Blackberries to gin up the firing of federal employees who are out-of-step with the White House's political agenda and won't use their prosecutorial power to influence elections directly before a midterm. Or, using work hours to present a PowerPoint presentation on how to reorient the activities of various federal offices to benefit Republicans politically.

We'll continue to follow the story on Mother Jones. Oh, and don't forget, Wolfowitz is still floundering!

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Kucinich Moves to Impeach Cheney

| Tue Apr. 24, 2007 6:33 PM PDT

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich motioned to impeach Cheney today. Cheney, not Bush, he explained, because "if we were to start with the president and pursue articles of impeachment, Mr. Cheney would then become president.... you would then have to go through the constitutional agony of impeaching two presidents consecutively."

This is a one-man move, since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said impeachment is off the table. The party has strongly denied that it would ever impeach, in order to prevent the possibility from mobilizing the Republican base. Even though the motion is dead in the water, it's a powerful political statement.

Since Kucinich is putting himself in the limelight for another presidential run here, it's worth mentioning that he is not the liberal gold standard his radical supporters think. As Katha Pollitt pointed out, he has actually voted pro-life at every opportunity.

Kucinich said the imperative for impeachment is to prevent Cheney from leading us to war with Iran. Maybe this is too optimistic, but at this point, Congress has got to be too Democratic and too jaded to fall for that one again. If not, well, what's the use in cutting off the head of the hydra?

In a review of the impeachment lit, Tim Dickinson wrote last fall, "There's little doubt that, both legally and morally, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have earned an early retirement. Hell, the administration has even lost the father of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley Jr., who said of Bush in late July: 'If you had a European prime minister who experienced what we've experienced, it would be expected that he would retire or resign.' " .....[But] I'm confident the American people would far prefer a porn star or a midget, fairly elected—or, for that matter, two more years of the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush—than to see the White House change hands in what could only be described as an administrative coup." Read on....

Wall Street and the Rest of Us

| Tue Apr. 24, 2007 5:04 PM PDT

Tony Soprano is right about the stock market: "You have to be high up in the corporate structure to make that sh-t work for you." Or, as economist Ilene Grabel of the University of Denver told me, "Stock markets prove profitable for a small proportion of the U.S. and global economy, but the relationship between the stock market and the underlying economy has never been established."

Have you ever wondered how the world might be a different—and better—place if Wall Street didn't demand ever-widening profit margins? The income gap would likely shrink, making 90 to 99.9 percent of Americans happier. And a broader view of corporate success might lead corporations to show some respect for the environment and their workers.

The New Yorker brings a little good news on this front (caveat: It's the magazine's job to make New Yorkers feel good about themselves). James Surowiecki calls bullshit on the "7 percent rule," a handy rule of thumb that sprung up during the dotcom boom, suggesting that any company announcing layoffs would see a 7 percent rise in its stock value.

Surowiecki argues that layoffs only make long-term financial sense when demand changes significantly—not, as they have become of late, as "a default business strategy, part of an inexorable drive to cut costs." Stock prices may feel as cold and hard as a surgical knife, but Surowiecki claims they generally reflect what you know is true if you've ever worked through a round of layoffs: "Downsizing may make companies temporarily more productive, but the gains quickly erode, in part because of the predictably negative effect on morale."

Stock prices consider my feelings? That feels a bit too cheerleader-y, so let's get back to the bad news. The flies in the ointment are, you guessed it, C.E.O.s and analysts. (What would the world look like without them?) Many analysts push companies to downsize, and companies have to act like they're listening even though the analysts aren't always right. And C.E.O.s are all about quick and dirty: "The average C.E.O.'s tenure today is just six years, long enough to see the benefits of downsizing (like a lower payroll) but not long enough to suffer costs that may appear in the long term."

Assuming no one will take my suggestion to abolish the stock market seriously, here's a few quick partial fixes that are good for the rest of us. Can you say labor unions, where wages are higher and layoffs more difficult? We could also stop paying C.E.O.s so much, at least in stock options. And less golf for bigwigs.

Castro: Not Dead Yet

| Tue Apr. 24, 2007 4:15 PM PDT

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It's been nearly 9 months since Fidel Castro was seen in public, but new photos released Saturday suggest that Castro's health is getting better not worse. The photos show Castro wearing his now ubiquitous Adidas track suit and speaking with Chinese official Wu Guanzheng.

The news has thrown a wrench into preparations being made in this country for Castro's death. As word spread that Castro was ill and relinquishing most of his power to his brother Raul in July, American nightclub owners squealed with delight about the possibility of building Cuban outposts of their clubs. In August, Tommy Puccio, co owner of several hotels and clubs in Miami told the New York Daily News that he wanted to be "the first one to serve Jell-O shots in Cuba. Here it is 2006, and it might just be reality now." And in late January, the city of Miami announced plans to throw a huge "Castro is dead" party at the Orange Bowl, complete with souvenir t-shirts and live entertainment.

It's still unclear how Castro's health or his brother's planned economic changes will affect Cuba in the long run, but for now at least, the Jell-O shots will have to wait.

--Amaya Rivera

You Ordered Lube Online in 2003? We Know

| Tue Apr. 24, 2007 4:03 PM PDT

About 250,000 people will think twice before ordering free sex products at the next giveaway. Ryan Singel at Wired has been unraveling the latest case of a leaked customer database. "There's no such thing as a free lubricant," he writes. All too true. Way to stay on top of the story, Ryan. Customers are worried about what will come out of their next prospective employer's Google search, but I think the Astroglide corporation is going to have to do the biggest reputation clean-up of all. Bloggers: hurry and get your lewd puns in now before the story goes cold.