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Houston Mounted Police Run Over Protesters

| Sat Nov. 18, 2006 11:27 AM EST

Last night, nearly one thousand striking janitors met at the corner of Travis and Capitol in Houston in preparation for a protest march to Houston Police Department Headquarters on Travis Street. The four-week-old strike resulted in fourteen arrests on Wednesday, when striking janitors and union organizers chained themselve to the Chevron building in Houston. The janitors are striking in the hope of getting health benefits and a raise in wage to $8.50 an hour. The average current wage is $5.30 an hour. They also report numerous civil rights abuses and failure of management to bargain in good faith. The five main companies involved are Hines, Transwestern, Crescent, Brookfield Properties, and Chevron.

Last night's march never took place, however, because mounted Houston police officers rushed into the crowd, injuring four people. Forty-four were arrested. One of the janitors described the scene:

The horses came all of a sudden. They started jumping on top of people. I heard the women screaming. A horse stomped on top of me. I fell to the ground and hurt my arm. The horses just kept coming at us. I was terrified. I never thought the police would do something so aggressive, so violent.

One of the injured strikers was Hazel Ingram, an 83-year-old janitor from New York. Ingram was taken to the hospital for treatment of an arm injury. Several protesters report being stepped on by horses. Spectators said that the police grabbed a sign that said Stand Up For the American Dream, threw it to the ground, stomped on it, and then joined other officers in giving high-fives.

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$2 B for a 700-Mile Fence or $30 B for a Faulty Virtual One?

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 9:00 PM EST

It was $2 billion in appropriations for 700 miles of fencing that Republican Senators Jon Kyl and Jeff Sessions slipped into a Pentagon spending bill in August just before the Senate recessed. Mother Jones reported on the myriad opposition to this original bill in September. Now the program for a virtual fence, which is what the Department of Homeland Security has deemed their preferred plan, is being piloted along a 28-mile area in the Tucson Sector, where immigration is most dense. (Charles Bowden reported extensively on this desert area of Arizona in the September/October issue of Mother Jones.) But the Inspector General's office may have thrown a kink in the DHS' plan. Last Wednesday, the DHS watchdog forecasted that it could cost as much as $30 billion to create the desired virtual fence. And with a Democrat-controlled Congress, the warnings could very wll be heeded. To further add insult to injury, the Inspector General's office released this report in December of 2005, which shows that virtual technology along the border doesn't work anyway.

Oil Company Opts for Legal Hearing in San Francisco. Is Chevron Crazy?

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 7:44 PM EST

The presiding judge in the case seems to think so. Judge William Alsup of San Francisco's federal court, hearing arguments in a case pitting Chevron against aggrieved residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon, was perplexed why Chevron's lawyers hadn't asked to relocate the case to South America. "It's a legitimate question to ask," he recently said from the bench. Alsup was no doubt aware that Texaco (now Chevron) faced a similar case in New York in 1993 (jungle, pollution, health problems) and won a motion to send it to Ecuador. "Let me hear from 'Big Oil,'" Alsup commanded, joking about the Big Oil part (perhaps). "Tell me why you didn't make that motion."

Chevron's lawyers argued the quickest way to dispense with the case would be to press for its dismissal. SF Weekly has been reporting on the trail, and today has an insightful piece on why Chevron is tempting fate at the pink hands of SF liberals instead of the well-greased arteries of a banana republic:

The plaintiffs' lawyers cite a couple of good reasons why Chevron might be wary of sending the present case down to Ecuador. The company may be getting nervous about an ongoing case in Quito, the remnant of the case removed from the United States in the 1990s. The judge recently put the trial on the fast track, and a ruling is expected in the next year. That lawsuit demands a massive environmental remediation effort; Amazon Watch estimates it could cost $6 billion in total. Meanwhile, in New York federal court, Chevron is locked into a lawsuit with the government of Ecuador about who should pay for the cleanup or any other legal damages awarded.

With governmental relations already frayed by the litigation in New York, the company may also be wary of the anti-American, socialist sentiment on the rise throughout South America — what commentators have taken to calling the "pink tide" that has swept leftist leaders into power across the continent. "Ecuador just kicked Occidental Petroleum out, and the government is starting to make populist noises," says Terry Collingsworth, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers. "Chevron is damn nervous."

These macro forces mean little to Judge Alsup, however, as he wades through the muddy legal waters of this case that has its roots in a South American rainforest. In October, he spent a long day hearing testimony from experts flown up from Ecuador. The next day he would have to discuss how the Ecuadorian plaintiffs would be deposed, and whether they could appear for trial; there was some concern that the impoverished Indians wouldn't be able to get visas to enter the United States. It was the end of the afternoon, and the judge finally let his irritation show. "I just don't understand why a case that involves Ecuador is up here!" he burst out. "Now you want a lowly district judge in San Francisco to resolve it! It's all topsy-turvy."

The judge sighed, resigned. "But that's what I've got to do. See you tomorrow," he said, standing up. Chevron's lawyers stayed quiet.

Before You See Fast Food Nation

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 7:02 PM EST
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Fast Food Nation, Richard Linklater's movie adaptation of Eric Schlosser's seemingly unadaptable muckraking book, hits theaters today. Before you dig in, whet your appetite with our recent interview with Linklater and our review of the flim. And check out this piece Schlosser wrote for MJ about slaughterhouses—America's most dangerous workplaces. Bon apetit!

Tom DeLay Adds Another Side to "Exterminator"

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 4:33 PM EST

Tom DeLay, the former House Speaker who began his working life in the Houston suburbs exterminating ants and roaches, made his name in Congress exterminating his opposition, and exterminated himself in a cloud of ethics scandals, has wrapped up his anihilatory political career by exterminating his paper trail. DeLay's former aides, who recently went to work for his interim Republican replacement, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, deleted unnamed (and presumably sensitive) office files this week before quitting en-masse on Tuesday. A DeLay spokesman told the Times the trashing of files and scrubbing of hard drives was standard operating procedure for congressional transfers of power. Still, Sekula-Gibbs, who is occupying the seat until Democratic victor Nick Lampson is sworn in this January, has asked Congress to investigate the file deleting. You've got to hand it to the Exterminator for his skill creating scandals—even as his political life is upside down and twitching.

"Stay the Course" With a Twist

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 3:58 PM EST

President Bush visited Vietnam today for the first time during his presidency, with the primary focus of strengthening business ties with the nation. Bush's trip to the country while we are engaged in a long and drawn out occupation conjured up questions about whether there are lessons to be learned from the war in Vietnam. In response, Bush, true to form, instead touted the country's steadfast resolve to succeed:

"One lesson is, is that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while."

And, although it is hard to tell from the sliced footage of CNN that the folks over at Think Progress have, Bush, seems to continue his response, sticking to his tired guns, saying, "We'll succeed until we quit." Apparently, the big/important lesson from Vietnam seems to have slipped his mind.

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Iraq Study Group a/k/a Baker Commission Outlines Four Point "Victory Strategy"; Will Likely Call for More Troops

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 2:52 PM EST

According to an article in the Guardian, officials at the Pentagon working closely with the Iraq Study Group have leaked the key parts of the group's upcoming report. There appears to be a four point "victory strategy." Because President Bush is rumored to be taking the Iraq Study Group's recommendations very seriously, the content below may be as good an indicator of where Iraq policy is headed as we could possibly have. Worth a read. The points are:

(1) Point one of the strategy calls for an increase rather than a decrease in overall US force levels inside Iraq, possibly by as many as 20,000 soldiers.

(2) Point two of the plan stresses the importance of regional cooperation to the successful rehabilitation of Iraq. This could involve the convening of an international conference of neighbouring countries or more direct diplomatic, financial and economic involvement of US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.... Yesterday, a top state department official, David Satterfield, said America was prepared in principle to discuss with Iran its activities in Iraq.

(3) Point three focuses on reviving the national reconciliation process between Shia, Sunni and other ethnic and religious parties. According to the sources, creating a credible political framework will be portrayed as crucial in persuading Iraqis and neighbouring countries alike that Iraq can become a fully functional state.... To the certain dismay of US neo-cons, initial post-invasion ideas about imposing fully-fledged western democratic standards will be set aside.

(4) Lastly, the sources said the study group recommendations will include a call for increased resources to be allocated by Congress to support additional troop deployments and fund the training and equipment of expanded Iraqi army and police forces. It will also stress the need to counter corruption, improve local government and curtail the power of religious courts.

And, yeah, the President seems to be buying it. Here's the lede from the Guardian article: "President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers."

For Dave Gilson's and Tom Engelhardt's analysis of how all of this might leave us in Iraq indefinitely for months and years, see this blog post, directly below.

Will Gates Open the Floodgates in Iraq?

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 2:50 PM EST
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That's the question posed by Tom Engelhardt in a new piece that deflates some of the hype surrounding the retun of Robert Gates and Jim Baker. The conventional wisdom is that "daddy's boys" have arrived to (once again) save George W. Bush's butt from a fiasco of his own making. (See this week's Newsweek cover for the short version of this satisfying pop psych-meets-poli sci analysis.) But Engelhardt suspects that rather than advocating redeployment or withdrawal, Gates and Baker may just prolong our involvement by signing onto the recently floated plans to send more troops to give it the old school try:

...[P]erhaps the disaster behind us will be nothing compared to the disaster ahead, especially if Daddy's Boys, the Iraq Study Group, other Democratic and Republican movers and shakers, and all those generals and former generals floating around our world decide that this isn't the moment to rediscover a Colin Powell-style "exit strategy," but "one last chance" to succeed by any definition in Iraq. Then, god help us -- and the Iraqis. Sooner or later, we'll undoubtedly be gone from a land so determinedly hostile to being occupied by us, but that end moment could still be a long, long time in coming.

Here, for instance, is Robert Gates' thinking eighteen months ago in a seminar at the Panetta Institute at California State University in Monterey on "phased troop withdrawals" from Iraq:

"But Mr. Gates qualified his comments, noting it sometimes takes time to accomplish your goals. Sixty years after the end of the Second World War, 'there are still American troops in Germany,' he noted. 'We've had troops in Korea for over 50 years. The British have had troops in Cyprus for 40 years… If you want to change history, you have to be prepared to stay as long as it takes to do the job."

So hold onto your hats. Tragedy and more tragedy seems almost guaranteed, and the Pentagon has just submitted to Congress a staggering $160 billion supplemental appropriation request in order to continue its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Engelhardt says we should expect "endless months or years of non-withdrawal withdrawal plans" combined with preparations for a permanent American presence in Iraq (a story that hasn't received much mainstream attention but was covered in MJ last year.) George Bush Sr.'s cavalry may have arrived, but we're far from being rescued.

Robo Call Harassment May Soon be Illegal

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 2:36 PM EST

All too often, winning an election is enough to make a political party forget the dirty tricks it suffered around voting time. Looks like that might not be the case for the 2006 midterms. From TPM: "Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) has introduced legislation that seeks to punish harassing robo calls and other attempts to mislead voters... which he said would be among the first 10 bills in the new Senate."

Obama's press release, also available at the TPM link, pretty much nails it.

The legislation, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2006, would make it illegal for anyone to knowingly attempt to prevent others from exercising his or her right to vote by providing deceptive information and would require the Attorney General to fully investigate these allegations. The legislation would also require the Attorney General, in conjunction with the Election Assistance Commission, to provide accurate election information when allegations of deceptive practices are confirmed.

Note: How is this not already law? To continue:

In House races across the country, reports surfaced of Democrats receiving dozens of harassing robocalls designed to imply that they came from Democratic candidates. In fact, the calls were paid for by Republicans and were intended to suppress turnout among Democrats.

Yup. Mother Jones wrote about this in late October. See the story here.

Bush's New Family Planning Czar: Like Appointing Dennis Kucinich as SecDef

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 4:55 AM EST

To run the federal government's family planning program--no fewer than $283 million in funds serving low-income women nationwide--President Bush has picked Ed Keroack, an ob-gyn who has been running a crisis pregnancy center in Massachusetts that opposes birth control. Not a huge surprise, perhaps, coming from a president who seems to have it in for contraception generally (or at least understands that many of his supporters have moved from fighting abortion to fighting birth control in general). But still. Sometimes you wish it was true about laughter being the best birth control.