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Dover Evolves

Wed Nov. 9, 2005 2:20 PM EST

One small, but nonetheless sweet victory for people who acknowledge the virtues of empiricism: the Dover, PA, school board was thrown out of office by the town's voters. These are the folks who decided to join with the Thomas More Law Center to force a landmark test case in the hopes of establishing "intelligent design"—widely viewed as a stalking horse for biblically-based creationism—as constitutionally permissible classroom instruction.

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Why Paris is Burning

| Wed Nov. 9, 2005 12:53 PM EST

Today at Mother Jones:

Mark LeVine sees in the French riots "a microcosm of the larger struggles of Muslims...to integrate into a globalized order from which they have been marginalized for decades, even centuries." (LINK)

Andrew Testa, in a stunning photo essay, portrays Thailand's sea gypsies, who outsmarted the tsunami but could be swept away by an even greater force--modernity. (LINK)

Jack Hitt confers the Aaron Burr Award for Constitutional Devotion on...Tom DeLay? Rick Santorum? (LINK)

Bill Hogan introduces Dr. Gilbert Ross, onetime jailbird and now America's most aggressive debunker of legitimate scientific research. (LINK)

Clint Hendler warns of Republican attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act. (LINK)

Our Least Green Congressman

Tue Nov. 8, 2005 11:17 PM EST

There are lots of representatives with low marks on environmental issues. But based on a string of recent high-profile actions and missteps, Richard Pombo seems to have developed a special talent for raising the ire of environmentalists.

The California Republican is perhaps best known for the drastic changes to the Endangered Species Act he pushed through the House this Fall, changes friendly to industry groups. (And while we're on the subject, you may want to check out my recently-posted article about one of the bill's key provisions. It would have merely enshrined an earlier, little-noted rule change by the Bush Administration which already, in certain cases, ended oversight of federal projects by the government's endangered species experts.)

Pombo, who chairs the House Resources committee, has also came under fire for recommending that the National Park Service auction off, and thereby privatize, 15 sites. The Center for Public Integrity recently determined that the Congressmen owed taxes on two trips sponsored by a foundation with "highly unusual" management and financial procedures—and funding ties to pro-whaling and fur trade groups.

And today comes a report, from the Environmental Working Group, that Pombo has slipped a line into the House's budget reconciliation bill that would reverse a Clinton-era ban on selling over 350 million acres of public lands to miners, oil drillers and loggers. So far the provision hasn't gotten much attention—and if there ever was an example of falling for blatant-spin, it's this Reuters wire containing the news, entitled "Republican wants to help poor gather firewood." Talk about burying the lede.

Cheney's Torture Kick

| Tue Nov. 8, 2005 4:41 PM EST

Dick Cheney is truly insane. The vice-president is now off making impassioned pleas in defense of torture:

Last Tuesday, Senate Republicans were winding up their weekly luncheon in the Capitol when the vice president rose to speak. Staffers were quickly ordered out of the room—what Cheney had to say was for senators only. Normally taciturn, Cheney was uncharacteristically impassioned, according to two GOP senators who did not want to be on the record about a private meeting. He was very upset over the Senate's overwhelming passage of an amendment that prohibits inhumane treatment of terrorist detainees. Cheney said the law would tie the president's hands and end up costing "thousands of lives." He dramatized the point, conjuring up a scenario in which a captured Qaeda operative, another Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, refuses to give his interrogators details about an imminent attack. "We have to be able to do what is necessary," the vice president said, according to one of the senators who was present.
Andrew Sullivan has been particularly eloquent about the wrongness of torture and the wrongness of forcing our military officers to carry it out and the wrongness of our archipelago of secret CIA prisons around the world. Consider too that Elliot Abrams, the man who covered up the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador during the Reagan years and called the U.S.-backed death squads in that country a "fabulous achievement," is now trying to dissuade Cheney from his views on torture. Once again: Cheney's now too extreme for Elliot Abrams.

Now some people might be tempted to think that yes, Cheney's moral compass is a bit askew, but he is vice-president, he does know a lot that we don't know, and maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt that the executive branch really does need to "be able to do what is necessary." Sorry, but no. Cheney doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt, ever. Throughout his time in Washington he's shown himself to be, frankly, a strategic moron with exceedingly poor judgment, as seen in this anecdote from his tenure during Bush I:

Following one White House meeting at which he'd asked for more time and more troops, Stormin' Norman reports; Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell called to warn the Desert Storm commander that he was being loudly compared, by a top administration official, to George McClellan. "My God," the official supposedly complained. "He's got all the force he needs. Why won't he just attack?" Schwarzkopf notes that the unnamed official who'd made the comment "was a civilian who knew next to nothing about military affairs, but he'd been watching the Civil War documentary on public television and was now an expert."

And then, twenty pages later, Schwarzkopf casually drops the information that he got an inspirational gift from Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney right before the air war finally got under way. Cheney was presenting a gift to a military man, and he chose something with an appropriate theme: "(A) complete set of videotapes of Ken Burns's PBS series, The Civil War."

But that wasn't the only gift that Dick Cheney had for Norman Schwarzkopf. Having figured out that the general was being too cautious with his fourth combat command in three decades of soldiering, Cheney got his staff busy and began presenting Schwarzkopf with his own ideas about how to fight the Iraqis: What if we parachute the 82nd Airborne into the far western part of Iraq, hundreds of miles from Kuwait and totally cut off from any kind of support, and seize a couple of missile sites, then line up along the highway and drive for Baghdad? Schwarzkopf charitably describes the plan as being "as bad as it could possibly be... But despite our criticism, the western excursion wouldn't die: three times in that week alone Powell called with new variations from Cheney's staff. The most bizarre involved capturing a town in western Iraq and offering it to Saddam in exchange for Kuwait." (Throw in a Pete Rose rookie card?) None of this Walter Mitty posturing especially surprised Schwarzkopf, who points out that he'd already known Cheney as "one of the fiercest cold warriors in Congress.This is not a man worth trusting.

On the Backs of the Poor

| Tue Nov. 8, 2005 3:17 PM EST

According to the Washington Post, the Republican Congressional leadership is having trouble finding enough moderate Republican votes to agree to the 2006 budget, which would shave a mere 0.002 percent of federal spending—yes, that's all—by hacking apart important programs for the poor and middle classes. Those cuts would include making Medicaid recipients pay more, hacking student loans, weakening child support enforcement, and limting food stamps. The president, compassionate guy that he is, has promised to veto the Senate's alternative cuts, which would instead save $10 billion by getting rid of a "slush fund" for insurance companies buried in the 2003 Medicare bill. In fact, despite what the Post's headline says, this isn't even fiscal discipline on the part of Congress—the full Republican budget would increase the deficit by $16 billion over five years, due to $70 billion in new tax cuts that were passed separately.

In the end, it seems likely that Hastert and company will get their budget passed, even if they have to twist moderate arms and resort to all the legislative gimmickry in the books. They've done it before. They might even have to jettison ANWR drilling from the bill in order to make it palatable to "moderates"—who will bravely vote to limit food stamps and health care for the powerless—and just sneak it back into the budget later on. Republicans are good at this. Nevertheless, "liberal activists"—at least that's what the Post calls them; one might also say "people with decency"—are putting up a strong fight against the cuts, trying to pressure moderate Republicans:

"It's a different group every week, coming in here, making calls," said John Gentzel, communications director for Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), whose suburban Philadelphia district has been "saturated" with budget protests. "It's just one group after another."…

This week, Democrats will hold a conference call with a Wisconsin college student to talk about student loan cuts and will serve lunch at a District school to highlight the budget's impact on subsidized school lunches. They will also stage a mock hearing to tar the entire budget as an effort to finance tax cuts for the rich on the backs of the poor.Note the Post's language—it's the Democrats who are going to "tar the entire budget." What exactly does this mean? The budget quite obviously is an effort to finance tax cuts for the rich on the backs of the poor. What else would you possibly call it? Who benefits from tax cuts? Who benefits from Medicaid? Which one is getting passed, and which one hacked? The New York Times, refreshingly, actually saw through this budget nonsense, and tore it apart, but the Post can't seem to do anything other than give friendly cover to the Republican Party. No doubt they think it's more "objective" that way.

Europeans have it better?

| Tue Nov. 8, 2005 1:55 PM EST

Today at Mother Jones:

James K. Galbraith knocks a few holes in the notion that Europeans have it better than Americans. (LINK)

Bill McKibben explores the Brazilian city of Curitiba, a global model for development that both respects the earth and delights its inhabitants. (LINK)

Sara Catania profiles hellraising Ukrainian journalist Olena Prytula, whose newspaper keeps the Orange Revolutionaries honest. (LINK)

Nick Turse considers who had the real intel about the war -- the protesters who knew it would be a disaster and that, in any case, it was wrong. (LINK)

Tova Andrea Wang and Jonah H. Goldman argue that requiring voters to present a nationally uniform driver's license at the polls compromises voter rights and won't solve the problem of electoral fraud. (LINK)

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The Truth About Free-Riders

| Mon Nov. 7, 2005 9:44 PM EST

The latest issue of the British Medical Journal has an excellent article on American drug companies. To put this in context, recall that of late, the pharmaceutical industry has been lobbying the U.S. government to sign "free" trade deals with other countries that would: raise prices on patented drugs; extend patent protection to delay the introduction of generics; and block "re-importation" to the United States. Why would they do such a thing? Because, says Big Pharma, the rest of the world hasn't been paying its "fair share" of research expenditures, and it's time for them to stop free-riding. Which brings us to the BMJ article, which basically screams "Liar!"

The United States government is engaged in a campaign to characterise other industrialised countries as free riding on high US pharmaceutical prices and innovation in new drugs...

The campaign, strongly backed by the pharmaceutical industry, seems to have started in the late 1990s as a response to a grass roots movement started by senior citizens against the high prices of essential prescription drugs. This issue was the most prominent one for both parties in the 2000 elections and has since been fuelled by a series of independent reports documenting that US drug prices are much higher than those in other affluent countries...

We can find no convincing evidence to support the view that the lower prices in affluent countries outside the United States do not pay for research and development costs. The latest report from the UK Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme documents that drug companies in the United Kingdom invest proportionately more of their revenues from domestic sales in research and development than do companies in the US.

Prices in the UK are much lower than those in the US yet profits remain robust. Companies in other countries also fully recover their research and development costs, maintain high profits, and sell drugs at substantially lower prices than in the US.Interestingly, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry's claim that European countries "free ride" seems to be based primarily on a 2004 report produced by Bain & Company, a consulting group in Boston. (The AARP passed it widely around.) But that report doesn't provide any evidence for its claim that "innovative drugs" are somehow less available in Europe as a result of overly-low prices. Perhaps American pharmaceutical companies aren't marketing their absolute latest and flashiest patented drugs in Europe, true. But considering how many of these are "me-too" drugs with little to no significant medical benefit, perhaps it's no surprise that Europeans aren't suffering much for the loss.

The IRS finally looks at church/state separation

| Mon Nov. 7, 2005 7:50 PM EST

After Justice Sunday passed this year, some of us were wondering whether the Internal Revenue Service would ever investigate blatantly political churches like Two Rivers Baptist in Nashville.

Now, we learn that the IRS is indeed going after a church for political involvement: All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena may lose its tax-exempt status because its rector, J. Edwin Bacon, preached an anti-war sermon two days before the 2004 election.

In all fairness, it should be noted that in 1992, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of a Binghamton, New York church because it ran ads opposing the candidacy of Bill Clinton. The tax code explicitly prohibits churches from becoming involved in campaigns and elections. Though an argument can be made that opposing the war in Iraq was a campaign issue in 2004, the same argument can be made that August's Justice Sunday, which involved many churches, was a direct promotion of the Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts. Then there is the matter of large tax-exempt church-related organizations such as Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition, which routinely involved themselves in election matters.

I am opposed to the tax exempt status of churches because I perceive them as primarily as private clubs at the least, and agents of social control at their very worst. But if the tax-exempt status is to remain in place--and we know it is--how odd that, after thirteen years, the only target is a liberal institution in California.

Wal-Mart in the Sights

Mon Nov. 7, 2005 4:38 PM EST

The latest issue of the American Prospect features a piece reiterating charges of cruel working conditions at those Central American plants where Wal-Mart sources a good deal of its clothing. So what's new? The source of the charges. Harold Meyerson profiles Jim Bill Lynn, who in 2002 took over the company's internal labor monitoring program. And after being drummed out on an unrelated violation of the company's fraternization policy, he's not happy. According to Lynn, the company undermined his findings of actual malfeasance and sought to limit his investigatory powers after he reported back to the behemoth's Bentonville headquarters and agitated for genuine accountability.

But more interesting than the charges, is how the article is coordinated with the upcoming release of Robert Greenwald's (the director of Outfoxed and Uncovered) new film WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Prices. It's the newest evidence of the growing coalition of labor, human rights, community, and environmental groups that are questioning Wal-Mart's business model. It will be quite interesting to watch the groups at work over the coming months (and indeed years) to see what sort of concessions they may be able to win from America's largest corporation, while still holding a diverse group of partners—with differing short term goals—together.

 

Taken on its own, it will surely be a big battle. But if successful, it could provide the blueprint for a bigger coalition that might be able to emerge to take bigger underlying questions about the nature of today's corporate capitalism. In any case, it seems to have Wal-Mart quite scared; last week The New York Times explained how company has drawn a page—and staff members—from the political world, to set up its own rapid-response war room.

The Lie Factory

| Mon Nov. 7, 2005 4:11 PM EST

New at Mother Jones:

On Mother Jones Radio Robert Dreyfuss explains how in the run-up to war the Bush administration—with Scooter Libby a major player—set up a "lie factory" in the White House to push bogus intelligence about Iraq. (LINK)

Gary Greenberg details how a pulverized, liquefied, and doctor-prescribed form of marijuana could transform the drug-war landscape. (LINK)

Tom Engelhardt proposes a "Wall of Shame" to honor the Bush administration for having "heaped favor, position, and honors on those who have blundered, lied, manipulated, and broken the law (not to say, cracked open the Constitution and the republic)." (LINK)

Montana's Governor Brian Schweitzer makes the case for synthetic fuels—including gasoline derived from coal; they might just give us a push down the road to energy independence. (LINK)