Mojo - May 2005

New Calls for Intervention

| Tue May 31, 2005 10:18 PM EDT

The International Crisis Group has finally decided to get serious—or at least more serious than they were before—about Darfur and release a new set of recommendations for stopping genocide and alleviating the humanitarian crisis there. The ICG now estimates that a minimum of 12,000-15,000 personnel are needed immediately, within the next 60 days, far more than they've yet recommended, along with a strengthened protection mandate. (This in contrast to the 2,000 or so now on the ground and the 7,500 hopefully scheduled for sometime after the rainy season, when all hell will break loose.) And if the African Union can't do it, ICG says, then NATO ought to. But meanwhile, Paul Wolfowitz says it's much too complex to figure out how to intervene, which, as Eugene Oregon notes, is exactly what they said about Rwanda ten years ago. Ah, lovely, lovely genocide.

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Why Non?

| Tue May 31, 2005 3:09 PM EDT

Max Sawicky's take on France rejecting the EU constitution sounds just about right: it's probably mostly about class. Farmers and workers overwhelmingly voted 'no' on the referendum, and for good reason: it's very possible that further liberalization, and getting yoked ever tighter to the EU's hostile-to-employment central bank, would only harm workers further. Or it might not. At any rate, this is certainly the sort of thing that ought to be debated. Indeed, I wish we could have wide and vigorous public debates about our monetary policy here in the United States. But alas...

Privatizing Global Health

| Tue May 31, 2005 2:54 PM EDT

There's an interesting new article in Globalization and Health about the privatization of global health policy that's well worth highlighting. The story here starts in the late 1980s, when UN agencies began collaborating with private financial institutions on health funding and policy-setting, in part because these agencies were getting less and less aid from developed countries, and in part due to a fear that the UN needed to work more closely with the private sector lest it become irrelevant. At any rate, global health spending now comes increasingly from private organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whereas multilateral agencies themselves contribute only about one third of all global health funding.

Now the article notes that this turn for privatization has also come with a shift in actual health policy—including a sharp focus on communicable and infectious diseases, AIDS and malaria especially, along with malnutrition, maternal health, and child mortality. Similar priorities are set by the UN's Millenium Project, directed by Jeffrey Sachs. This is all genuinely important—and these organizations are doing a lot of good—but one should also note that infectious diseases aren't the main health priority in any region other than sub-Saharan Africa, and altogether represent "less than a third of global ill-health."

Nevertheless, it seems that private organizations have kept the focus on infectious diseases partly because many of these battles are high-profile—especially the battle over AIDS—and partly because it's easier to show results here than it is with, say, non-communicable diseases, or the mundane-but-important task of developing health infrastructure. As well, global health policy is increasingly aligning itself with trade and industrial interests, which often tends to weaken the efforts of health agencies to combat non-communicable diseases by regulating, say, tobacco and alcohol use. At any rate, it's not an easy topic to sort out, and it's not like no one has ever thought about market failures before, but it's still reason to question the increasing role of private firms in setting global policy.

Virtue of Immoderation

| Tue May 31, 2005 2:19 PM EDT

One of the things that's so brilliant about President Bush—no, really—is that he can get many liberals to hate liberal ideas… simply by adopting them. Spreading democracy far and wide across the world? Bush has embraced it. Liberals sneer at it. But, as many pundits have pointed out, an idealistic foreign policy is fundamentally a liberal idea. Ditto for national standards on education. Or deficit spending. Or vast expansions of entitlement programs. Obviously Bush has implemented all these ideas in a terrible way, and no one should applaud that, but it would be a bad thing indeed if liberals—and Democrats in particular—went too far in opposition and became the party of stolid realism abroad, decentralized school choice, balanced budgets, and unduly restrained Medicare spending.

But if you wanted sanctimonious finger-wagging about "what's wrong with the left", I'm sure you can get that elsewhere. I'm not interested. What inspired this little rant was Onnesha's post last week about Hillary Clinton. The Nation recently ran a good profile of Clinton finding that, far from being a shifty triangulator like her husband, she's really quite moderate: "She projects pragmatism on economic issues, and she signals ideological flexibility on social issues." Fair enough, though I worry about a candidate that gets tagged with the "ultra-lefty" label while acting quite moderate in practice; the reverse would be far better. What I do like about Hillary, though, is she potentially has that same quality Bush has—the ability to get conservatives to hate an idea just because she's the one touting it. For instance, here's how Greg Sargent describes Hillary's stance on lowering the number of abortions in America via increased use birth control (and even teen abstinence):

The political beauty of this, as NewDonkey.com's Ed Kilgore has observed, is that it makes a subtle play for Republican moderates by forcing right-wing ideologues to reveal themselves as the true extremists, as foes of the common-sense goal of lowering rates of unwanted pregnancies. "When Democrats speak this way about abortion," says one senior Hillary adviser, "it drives a wedge between sensible Republicans, who want to reduce the amount of abortions, and the right-wing crazies, whose main goal is to stop people from having sex."

Good stuff. More to the point, while naturally I'd love for some moderate presidential candidate to rise in 2008 and "unite this divided country," I'm beginning to think it won't ever happen. As the filibuster deal showed last week, all moderates ever end up doing is making a strange fetish out of compromise, and legitimizing extremists. (Thanks to those moderates who "saved the Senate," Democrats who were opposing a handful of radical judges suddenly became "just as bad" as Bill Frist and the rest of the GOP's nuclear warriors who wanted to shred Senate rules because they found them inconvenient.) From a strategic standpoint, then, a Democratic candidate who viscerally repulsed the conservative establishment—and Hillary is very, very good at that—while appealing to a bare sliver of swing voters may well be the way to go. The upshot here is that when Republicans start foaming at the mouth over the Clintons, they usually end up revealing their own ugliness and lose elections—as was the case in the 1998 midterms.

A note for our readers: Memorial Day

| Mon May 30, 2005 12:56 PM EDT

MoJoBlog is taking a break for Memorial Day. Back tomorrow! All the best.

Exxon shareholders get mad

Fri May 27, 2005 8:15 PM EDT

As reported in today's Guardian, criticism of Exxon Mobil continued today as insurance giant CIS protested the re-appointment of Exxon's boss, Lee Raymond. CIS, which owns $25 million worth of Exxon shares, takes issue with the company's handling of climate change, arguing that Raymond has not only guided Exxon to downplay the significance of global warming, but has also lobbied the U.S. Government against signing the Kyoto treaty.

Meanwhile, Social investment group Claris Consulting has also claimed that unlike some of its competitors, including BP and Shell, Exxon doesn't factor in carbon trading in its financial decision making, which may put it at a competitive disadvantage if carbon-trading programs around the world start taking off. Nor, say other critics, does Exxon disclose greenhouse risks to its investors, as many of its competitors do.

According to the Financial Times, at a shareholder meeting on Wednesday, Raymond dismissed efforts to press the board to make data relevant to Exxon's position on climate change available, as well as to report on how Exxon plans to meet reduction targets in those countries in which it operates where Kyoto has been adopted.

Shareholders proceeded to berate him for relying on "junk science" to support his position on climate change. His response? "Frankly, I think this company is a leader in climate science."

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Holding "history's actors" to account (one day)

Fri May 27, 2005 7:30 PM EDT

Ever ask yourself: how does this administration think it can get away with so obviously authorizing the abuse of war on terror detainees and then denying responsibility? Well, complete disregard for the press and distraction seem to work fairly well. Recall what reporter Ron Suskin was told back in 2002 by a White House aid:

We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

Thing is, if we study close enough, and keep a good paper trail, some of "history's actors" just might end up in jail. In that spirit, I direct you to Emily Bazelon, Phillip Carter, and Dahlia Lithwick's "Interactive Primer on American Interrogation," a compendium of documents that charts the evolution of detainee abuse. When the system finally crashes, following this trail back to its origins just might lead us back to some of the morals and values that we left behind when we began the war on terror.

Mrs. President?

Fri May 27, 2005 3:50 PM EDT

Buzz that Hillary Clinton may run for president in 2008 is nothing new. Perhaps more notable is that a majority of Americans might actually vote for her--as many as 53 percent of Americans according to a CNN/Gallup Poll. Support for the onetime First Lady breaks pretty starkly along age and gender lines, though: 60 percent of women versus 45 percent of men would back her, as would one out of three voters under 30, compared with fewer than half of those 50 and older. Mrs. Clinton aside, a striking--and surely encouraging--sign is that seven out of ten Americans told the pollsters they "would be likely to vote for an unspecified woman for president in 2008 if she were running."

The Ad Campaign vs. the Aid Campaign

Thu May 26, 2005 8:27 PM EDT

AP reports:

Seeking to improve its image among Palestinians, the United States has launched an advertising campaign in the West Bank, using billboards and television commercials filled with grinning children to tell Palestinians they have cleaner water and more classrooms thanks to its generosity.

Apparently, plans to enlist a Palestinian entertainer or athlete to serve as the goodwill ambassador for the U.S. campaign didn't pan out. It's no wonder. Note that President Bush, at the beginning of this year, requested $350 million from Congress, $200 million of which was to go directly to Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. While the House approved $200 million at the beginning of May, none of that money will go to either Abbas or the P.A. Instead, $150 million will "be channeled…through American aid agencies, nongovernmental organizations and philanthropic groups." And the other $50 million? It goes to Israel--to help build checkpoints bordering Palestinian areas. And to top it all off, Congress directed $2 million to the Women's Zionist Organization of America, Hadassah. So much for the "generosity" of U.S. aid to Palestine.

Guilty until proven innocent

Thu May 26, 2005 6:17 PM EDT

Perhaps one the most dangerous, and most damaging, features of the war on terror is the hollowing out of one of the core tenets of our judicial system--the presumption of innocence. Witness the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, Bagram, and elsewhere who have been denied legal rights on the grounds that, well, they're not entitled to any. This argument is of course premised on a presumption of guilt. (Consider how ingrained is this habit of thought among our military and civilian leadership: when asked for comment on the allegations of Koran-flushing, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita said, "It's a judgment call, and I trust the judgment of the commanders more than I trust the judgment of Al Qaeda," by which he meant the detainees at Guantanamo.) As well as being legally and morally objectionable, this presumption, as evidenced by periodic detainee releases, is quite often incorrect.

Nevertheless, this same presumption lies behind the administration's approach to domestic security. Here matters are further complicated by the government's self-contradictory insistence, one, that a suspect shoulder the burden of proving his innocence (the logical flipside to the presumption of guilt), and, two, that crucial evidence against a suspect remain secret -- even from the suspect. Take the Senate Intelligence Committee's discussions on the expansion and use of Patriot Act powers. The Committee is scheduled to have a closed meeting today to discuss classified information on how the Patriot Act, passed in 2001, has been used. The concerns that many Americans have regarding the abuse of power may or may not be discussed. We won't know either way. The reasoning behind any abuses of power—unlawful searches and seizures, amassing lists of Americans based on their political affiliation, medical information, etc.—is classified. Any discussion about this classification? Also classified.

You might be on a list, but the government doesn't have to tell you that, much less why. Essentially, it becomes impossible to prove your innocence, because you don't know what you're innocent of. Take the Homeland Security's "no-fly" lists. A recent Washington Post article notes, "Homeland Security officials will not discuss the criteria that put an individual on the no-fly list, or how one is removed, except to say that the list contains names and other information about people with ties to terrorism. We know, thanks to the ACLU, that quite a few individuals and organizations without any apparent "ties to terrorism," (like the ACLU itself, and certain human rights and advocacy groups) are being watched--and in some cases, intimidated--by local government officials; so clearly the term "terrorism" is being broadly interpreted. How broadly? There's no way of knowing.