Blogs

United? Not With Other Nations We're Not

| Fri Feb. 9, 2007 1:15 PM EST

What is it about global cooperative bodies that Americans are so averse to? The World Cup? Not so into it. The United Nations, Kyoto, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the list goes on. America is not exactly a team player.

A new Gallup poll shows that the American public continues to look down on the supreme international body, with Americans giving the U.N. its lowest approval ratings ever.

Back in 2003 the U.N.'s public image took a southward turn after Bush's go-it-alone strategy took its course. But that was when we thought there were WMDs, etc. and there was actually support for this war. Now, at a time when opposition to the war is at its peak, and Bush's approval rating is at its nadir (32%), the U.N. still can't catch a break.

Gallup's latest measure of the United Nations' job performance is the lowest Gallup has seen since it began asking Americans as much in 1953: Only 29% of Americans believe the U.N. is doing a good job of trying to solve the problems it has face while 66% say it's doing a poor job. That puts the U.N. in the same boat as Bush as far as American's confidence and job approval rating.

The ill feelings could be due to corruption charges against U.N. officials; particularly those involving former Secretary General Kofi Annan's son. But that was nearly two years ago, there's clearly more to it. And if we don't have faith in our president or in the United Nations, who then do we trust? Maybe no one, or maybe we just don't care enough about the issues to value the body tasked with dealing with global challenges.

Worth noting: today's record negative perception of the United Nations follows a period from May 2000 to January 2003 when the organization received some of its most positive ratings from the American people -- routinely exceeding 50%.

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Waxman Hearings: Big Pharma's Institutionalized Kickback Racket

| Fri Feb. 9, 2007 12:45 PM EST

Witnesses before Congressman Waxman's House oversight committee this morning said regulating drugs is literally impossible because nobody knows what they cost to make.

Steven Schondelmeyer of the University of Minnesota said the pharmaceutical industry insists its products make up a relatively small part of the health care budget. Yet, he pointed out, "half of all working adults and three quarters of elderly use one prescription every week… the drug industry accounts for 4 percent of the nation's overall economy and18-19 percent of the health care dollar."

"Let's quit minimizing drugs," said Shondelmeyer. "This is an institutionalized case of kickback."

Different government agencies pay different prices for the same drugs. "There is no way of knowing whether and how the market works," said Gerard Anderson, a Johns Hopkins professor who has tracked the pharmaceutical industry. "Some states pay five times more than other states."

At the same time, it is pretty well established that Medicare Part D plans (covering Medicare recipients) are paying 20 percent more than the government pays for Medicaid recipients. At the same time, the federal and state governments are pushing people off Medicaid into Medicare where they end up paying higher prices.

"News You Already Knew," Iraq Edition

| Fri Feb. 9, 2007 11:58 AM EST

Highlighting this story on MoJoBlog is a formality at this point, because every reader we have must be familiar with the lies and misrepresentations the Bush Administration fed us in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

But there's a new report out from the Pentagon's inspector general that details exactly what role Douglas Feith and his office had in this dirty business.

Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community, according to a report by the Pentagon's inspector general.

I know, I know, it's old hat. I'm just doing my job...

The New American Dream

| Fri Feb. 9, 2007 11:51 AM EST

A man who served as an interrogator in Iraq has penned a short but powerful article for the Washington Post describing how his actions in that role haunt his thoughts and dreams. A snippet:

Despite my best efforts, I cannot ignore the mistakes I made at the interrogation facility in Fallujah. I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.
American authorities continue to insist that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident in an otherwise well-run detention system. That insistence, however, stands in sharp contrast to my own experiences as an interrogator in Iraq. I watched as detainees were forced to stand naked all night, shivering in their cold cells and pleading with their captors for help. Others were subjected to long periods of isolation in pitch-black rooms. Food and sleep deprivation were common, along with a variety of physical abuse, including punching and kicking. Aggressive, and in many ways abusive, techniques were used daily in Iraq...

Heavy stuff. Worth a read.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 9:30 PM EST

Looks like John Edwards just can't win. The netroots drama that has transpired over the past few days doesn't show signs of letting up. Not only may Edwards have isolated the progressive online audience he sought to reach through liberal bloggers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan (who he fired yesterday and rehired today), he looks to also have upset religious Democrats, a group he has worked long and hard to win over. His wife, Elizabeth Edwards sits on the board of Call to Renewal, a popular religious left organization. Maybe the lesson learned here is: do your homework. If you want to use liberal bloggers to reach out to a progressive audience, but you don't want to isolate a group whose favor you have worked hard to cultivate, you should read their blogs before you hire them.

Guantanamo Bay Investigator Fails To Interview Alleged Victims, Files His Report

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 8:31 PM EST

Col. Richard Bassett, the Army officers assigned to investigate possible abuse at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, has concluded that there is no evidence that guards mistreated the prisoners. In the course of his investigation, Bassett failed to interview any of the alleged victims.

The investigation was created when prison guards allegedly bragged about having beaten some detainees. Marine Sgt. Heather Cerveny reported, in fact, that the guards bragged to her at a bar that beating detainees was a common practice at Guantanamo.

Bassett's investigation team conducted twenty interviews with suspects and witnesses, and then Bassett came to his conclustion. According to a command spokesman, "He talked to all the parties he felt he needed to get information about the allegations that were made."

The investigation, which began in October, was expanded to include a similar allegation made by a civilian employee, who reported a conversation involving a guard. A "letter of counseling" will be sent to that guard, who is supposed to have concocted a fictitious account of detainee abuse.

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Sea Shepherd Ships Attack Japanese Whaling Fleet in Antarctic Waters

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 7:36 PM EST

This just in from the Sydney Morning Herald. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's two ships, the Farley Mowat and the Robert Hunter, have found the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctic waters after six weeks of searching and attacked them.

Sea Shepherd's president, Paul Watson, told the SMH online that his ships evaded satellite surveillance in order to pounce on the fleet near the Balleny Islands, far south-west of Tasmania. "I ran the ships through the ice fields south of the Balleny Islands and came up on them from the other side," Captain Watson said. "We took a pounding in the ice, but the satellite cannot track a ship and wake through ice nor would they be looking there. "The Robert Hunter is easily keeping up with the factory ship. The Nisshin Maru was fleeing the Robert Hunter and came directly towards the Farley Mowat. At two miles, they turned and fled in the other direction."

In their first attack, Captain Watson said his crew cleared the whale-flensing deck of the Nisshin Maru, when they threw a non-toxic "butter acid" on it from an inflatable dinghy. Activists in inflatables armed with nail guns were also fixing steel plates over drain outlets in the side of the fleeing factory ship, preventing the escape of whale blood from the flensing deck. He said the fleet had scattered and the Robert Hunter was still in contact with Nisshin Maru, which was steaming away at high speed and attempting to use its water cannon on the activists. "They are easily avoided," he said.

The attack came almost five weeks after Sea Shepherd began searching for the fleet in the Ross Sea, and with their vessels beginning to run low on fuel. The group has begun negotiations to enter Australia or New Zealand ports, a decision complicated by their status as "pirate" whalers.

Well, the SMH's got it wrong there. The Japanese ships are the only pirate whalers in the Antarctic just now, since their claim of "scientific whaling" is laughably bogus if it weren't so frackin' tragic. Watson's fleet is made up of pirate ships, flying without a flag, as Reuters via the Alaska Report reports.

"We haven't broken any law or regulation, but now we're not registered anywhere -- we're technically a pirate ship without a flag," said Captain Paul Watson from the Farley Mowat. "It means that we could be attacked and confiscated at will by any nation including the Japanese," he said.

All this righteousness from that pirating-nation-of olde, Britain, over butter acid? Back to the SMH:

The Farley Mowat has been stripped of its Belizean registration, and Britain is to de-register the Robert Hunter in 10 days' time. Talks are under way with both the Australian and New Zealand Governments in a bid to avoid arrest.

Greenpeace's ship Esperanza, which had hoped to be first to reach the whalers, was about a day's sailing away from the position where Sea Shepherd found them, and approaching from the west, a Greenpeace spokesman said. The Japanese Government's Institute for Cetacean Research, which owns the fleet, is harpooning up to 935 minke whales and 10 fin whales under its program of "scientific research".

Meanwhile, Watson delivered this message to the Japanese pirate whalers:

Nisshin Maru, this is Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd vessel Farley Mowat. Please be advised that you are killing whales in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. You are targeting endangered species of whales in violation of international conservation law. You are killing whales in violation of the IWC global moratorium on commercial whaling. Please cease and desist your illegal whaling operations and leave the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. We are acting in accordance with the principles of the United Nations World Charter for Nature. The Charter authorizes non-governmental organizations and individuals to uphold international conservation law.

Aye aye.

Edwards Keeps Liberal Bloggers, Grows Thicker Skin, Sort of

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 6:50 PM EST

Presidential candidate John Edwards has decided to keep his two female liberal bloggers after all, even though numerous sources reported the two were fired yesterday. The former senator's HQ released statements today, from Edwards, Amanda and Melissa (the two bloggers). The folks over at Tapped and Pandagon have the whole rundown. But essentially, Edwards reprimanded Amanda and Melissa for their "intolerant language." (I really think Bill Donohue is the one who needs a reprimand but it's not like anyone takes him seriously anyway.) And, surprise, surprise, Amanda and Melissa had to apologize to appease the right wing fanatics. Honestly, this is just another example of Democrats succumbing to pressure from the right. Are the Dems ever going to learn that walking the moderate line just doesn't win votes? The ironic part is that Edwards hired Amanda and Melissa to reach a progressive audience, one he might have just isolated.

Iran vs. U.S.: What About the Oil?

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 4:34 PM EST

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has now warned that should the U.S. attack, Iran will strike U.S. interests around the world. In that case, what would happen to Middle Eastern oil, which flows through the Iranian-controlled Straits of Hormuz on its way out of the Persian Gulf, into the Arabian Sea, and on to world markets?

Iran might shut down the Straits of Hormuz, through which 20 percnt of Middle Eastern oil flows. Or, on the other hand, because it is so dependent on oil revenue, it might not. Nobody knows.

Beginning a year ago, Japanese oil refineries, which obtain 14 percent of their supply from Iran, began to diversify to Saudi and Kuwait crude. Japan must import literally all its oil and gas from abroad and Iran is the third largest supplier. Iran is the fourth largest supplier of oil to South Korea. China buys substantial and growing amounts of oil from Ira. Most Iranian oil exports go to Asia, followed by Europe, where major purchasers include Italy, Turkey, and France.

"When Bush announced that he would fill our Strategic Petroleum Reserve last spring and also expand it, crude prices went up by $1.50 in just 20 minutes because of speculation that the U.S. might attack Iran. If the US attacks and oil prices rise, Bush would likely release oil from the SPR to soften the blow to the oil markets," Matt Piotrowski, an oil market analyst at the Oil Daily, told Mother Jones.

Cal. Dem Seeks Repeal of Statute of Limitations on Sex Crimes

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 3:42 PM EST

Democratic California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber has introduced a bill to eliminate California's statute of limitations on rape and child molestation. The state now has a 10 year limit, which it unsuccessfully tried to shed in 2003 during the priest child molestation scandal. (That attempt was shot down by the Supreme Court because it would have applied retroactively.)

The state's defense lawyers wasted no time speaking out against the measure, arguing that it would be unfairly difficult to prove an alibi for a crime that took place more than 10 years previously. But isn't it equally difficult to prove guilt in those cases? Particularly in instances of child molestation--where the child him or herself cannot press charges--it seems unfair to allow the statute of limitations to expire before the child reaches 18.

But this tough-on-crime measure ought to be accompanied by a rethinking of the lack of limitations on how much and how often sex offenders can be punished for the same crime, once found guilty.