Mojo - April 2006

Business leaders join civil rights groups in lawsuit to stop wiretaps

| Thu Apr. 20, 2006 12:07 PM EDT

A group of business leaders and civil rights organizations have joined together to support a lawsuit filed against George W. Bush to stop the Natonal Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of citizens, according to Raw Story. The suit, filed in U.S. District court in the Eastern District of Michigan, seeks a declaration that the wiretapping is illegal, and seeks a permanent halt to the wiretapping program.

The American Civil Liberties Union is joined by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, United for Peace and Justice, and the Japanese Americans Citizens League in an amicus brief filed with the court.

In a separate brief, members of the business community accused the NSA of engaging in wholesale data mining and obstructing economic growth by damaging trust in democratic values. This group includes Michael Kieschnick, President, COO, and a co-founder of Working Assets Funding Service, Inc., Mal Warwick, founder and Chairman of Mal Warwick & Associates, Ronald Algrant, Senior Vice President of HarperCollins Publishers, Adam Kanzer of Domini Social Investments, Peter Strugatz, President of Strugatz Ventures, Inc., Joe Sibilia, President and CEO of Meadowbrook Lane Capital.

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Rape Victims Denied Abortions in Mexico

Wed Apr. 19, 2006 8:42 PM EDT

Human Rights Watch has issued a new report, The Second Assault, outlining the harsh realities facing rape victims in Mexico. And they take place well after the actual rape. Despite the fact that abortions are technically legal in the case of rape in Mexico, women face a myriad of obstacles that usually thwart any attempt at a legal and safe abortion. According to Human Rights Watch:

A number of agencies in various Mexican states – particularly the state attorney general's office, public hospitals and family services – employ aggressive tactics to discourage and delay rape victims' access to legal abortion. A social worker in Jalisco, for example, showed scientifically inaccurate anti-abortion videos to a 13-year-old girl who had been raped and impregnated by a family member. Some public prosecutors threatened rape victims with jail for procuring a legal abortion, and many doctors told women and girls, without cause, that an abortion would kill them. As a result, many rape victims seek to resolve their situation by resorting to back-alley abortions that endanger their lives and health. Underage girls raped by their fathers or other family members often find themselves with no other alternative than to carry the imposed pregnancy to term.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, adds "state laws on domestic and sexual violence fall significantly short of Mexico's international human rights obligations. The definition of incest as voluntary sex is an insult to the thousands of girls who suffer abuse daily. No one, and least of all girls raped and impregnated by their fathers or brothers, should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term."

It's estimated that approximately one million women are raped in Mexico each year. And it wasn't until November, 2005, that the Mexican Supreme Court overturned a law that stated that rape in a married union was legal (so long as reproduction was the goal). Human Rights Watch couldn't be more accurate in declaring that these victims are being assaulted twice—once by the rapist, and then by the public officials who deny them adequate rights.

Welcome to Rumsfeld's fantasyland

| Wed Apr. 19, 2006 6:38 PM EDT

Last week, Donald Rumsfeld brushed off questions about Iran war-planning by saying that it's "just not useful to get into fantasyland." But as I note in this column for MotherJones.com, it's Rumsfeld who dwells in a fantasyland, based on what happened in the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here's how he likely imagined the New York Times would write up his successes by now:

RUMSFELD'S TRIUMPH

Three years later, Iraq's success confounds critics, wins praise.
Stable, prosperous Iraq affirms new DOD strategy.

By Michael Gordon
News Analysis

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2006 - A little more than three years after the invasion of Iraq, which went forward amid a chorus of criticism, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is riding a new wave of respect and praise from both inside and outside the Pentagon. As the retired Mideast commander, Marine Corps Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the former head of the United States Central Command, said on Meet the Press recently, "You've got to admire him for sticking to his guns. Rumsfeld ignored the nay-sayers who said it couldn't be done his way, and he turned out to be right."

In Baghdad, Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi presides over a national unity government where the once-fractious Sunni, Shia and Kurdish religious groups are working together in a prosperous post-Saddam Iraq, with oil production soaring more than 300% over pre-war levels. In fact, the war and reconstruction effort, which the then-White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsay famously speculated might cost as much as an astounding $200 billion, has largely been self-financed through Iraqi oil revenues since the bulk of U.S troops left in September, 2003. "There's a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money," Mr. Rumsfeld's then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, the World Bank president who won last year's Nobel Peace Prize for his work promoting democracy in the Mideast, presciently told Congress in 2003. And to the surprise of some Congressional critics who direly forecasted a Vietnam-style "quagmire," under Mr. Rumsfeld's direction the departing U.S. military left behind only a token force to offer support and technical assistance to a well-regarded 400,000-man Iraqi Army.

Colonel Accused of Corruption in Iraq

| Wed Apr. 19, 2006 3:53 PM EDT

The Los Angeles Times has a story today about Kimberly D. Olson, an Air Force colonel now accused of using her high position in the Coalitional Provisional Authority in Iraq for financial gain (she's the highest-ranking officer to be accused of wrongdoing in connection with reconstruction):

One of the first female pilots in the Air Force, she was a hard-charger with an unblemished reputation for honesty, a high profile in the Pentagon and a commitment to the U.S. goal of creating a democracy in the Middle East.

Today, Olson is at the center of accusations of audacious impropriety in the corruption-plagued reconstruction of Iraq….

Pentagon investigators allege that while on active duty as one of the most powerful figures in Iraq, Olson established a U.S. branch of a South African security firm after helping it win more than $3 million in contracts to provide protection for senior U.S. and British officials, as well as for KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co.Disgusting, I guess, although you sort of have to strain to find any meaningful difference between what Olson did and what passed for "business of usual" throughout the reconstruction. Basically, an American-run administration was installed in Iraq and tasked with privatizing the country's industries and handing off reconstruction contracts to whoever had the slickest and best-connected lobbyists. In early 2005, government watchdogs reported that $9 billion worth of reconstruction funds had somehow up and vanished. Without excusing Olson, the invasion created the perfect atmosphere for looting and corruption; stories like these are the inevitable result.

The Tax Credit Trap

| Wed Apr. 19, 2006 3:33 PM EDT

Tax fraud by the poor amounts to some $9 billion a year. Corporations and the very wealthy, meanwhile, manage to avoid taxes to the tune of some $340 billion a year.

Nevertheless, the IRS spends a disproportionate amount of time and resources hunting down the former set of taxpayers—partly because they don't have high-priced lawyers to argue their case, and partly because it's just easier to determine fraud for the former group. A person claiming undue credits under the EITC isn't going to be resorting to fancy loopholes or ultra-complex financial schemes. In fact, the agency was recently found freezing tax refunds for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans deemed "fraudulent"—most of whom were owed all of the money they claimed.

But here's the thing. Part of the problem with low-income tax credits is that they're unreasonably complex, as Dorothy Brown pointed out in the New York Times yesterday. The EITC's instruction book runs to 50 pages, and even seasoned tax preparers often make mistakes calculating it. Nevertheless, low-income families are supposed to have this stuff down cold—and if they don't, they risk being labeled "fraudulent" and persecution by the IRS. (Another problem, Brown might've noted, is that a whopping 40 percent of low-income taxpayers have never even heard of the EITC.)

As Brown says, the entire system is perverse, and instead of wasting money prosecuting low-income workers, Congress could simplify the tax credit and spend its time going after the corporations robbing the country of $340 billion a year—an amount, keep in mind, that could essentially close the federal budget deficit. Not that the Republicans in Congress are planning anything of the sort, but still.

Donald Rumsfeld: Genius or Hero?

| Wed Apr. 19, 2006 3:05 PM EDT

New at Mother Jones:

Art Levine tries to imagine what Donald Rumsfeld might have hoped Iraq would look like, three years after the invasion. Call it a personal fantasyland.

Michael Klare sees the Bush administration putting China in its strategic sights, and argues that containment of the country is "govern[ing] key decisions regarding the allocation of long-term resources."

And Rami G. Khouri wants to know how long the old, failed ways of thinking will persist in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

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"All options are on the table."

| Wed Apr. 19, 2006 2:44 PM EDT

Bush at his press conference yesterday:

Q Sir, when you talk about Iran, and you talk about how you have diplomatic efforts, you also say all options are on the table. Does that include the possibility of a nuclear strike? Is that something that your administration will plan for?

THE PRESIDENT: All options are on the table.As Belle Waring observes, the déja vu surrounding this latest pounding of the war drums is utterly surreal; we already have the Weekly Standard ready to lock and load all the way to Tehran, the New Republic doing the spadework to support a potential attack, a requisite Mark Steyn column, and "moderate liberals" on TV saying that no options should be off the table. (And of course, there's Joe Lieberman.) It's absurd, it's ludicrous, and it's almost tempting to laugh—surely no one would take these people seriously again, would they?—but Bush sounds quite serious. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq he stressed that he "had no war plans on [his] desk," despite the fact that this was a lie, and, as we now know, he had war on his mind all along. It would be a grave mistake not to think the worst this time around. Nothing is too ridiculous anymore.

Fred Kaplan has a good column today asking "Why not negotiate with Iran?," something we've been saying over and over. Not clear that there are clearer heads listening to this sort of thing, though (when Bush says "all options are on the table," that may include a potential nuclear strike, but it almost certainly doesn't include face-to-face negotiations with Iran); read Billmon on this.

McCain a Pro-Choicer? Please.

| Wed Apr. 19, 2006 2:05 PM EDT

Scott Lemieux rips apart the conceit that John McCain is somehow a closet abortion rights activist who only plays a pro-lifer on TV. See, for instance, Jacob Weisberg in Slate, or Jon Chait in the New Republic. Among other things, McCain's liberal defenders want us to believe that despite a lifetime record in the Senate of voting against abortion rights—including a zero rating from NARAL in 2004—the "maverick" would somehow pull away the mask and reveal his liberal colors if he ever made it to the White House.

That's all very quaint, but come on. Look: In 2008 this country will elect a new president. Presumably sometime shortly thereafter the 86-year-old John Paul Stevens will retire from the Supreme Court. Replacing Stevens with a pro-life judge would provide the fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Do we really think that as president John McCain, a man who voted without hesitation to confirm Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito despite serving in a pro-choice state—and a man who, as president, would be under unimaginable pressure from conservative interest groups and would need to satisfy "the base" to win re-election—would really nominate a pro-choice justice?

No, he wouldn't. Whatever McCain's "private" views might be, he will never be a pro-choicer when it counts. I can't even see the theoretical case for thinking otherwise.

U.S. Ignored Militia Warnings

| Tue Apr. 18, 2006 2:24 PM EDT

Every now and again it's tempting to become "reasonable" and imagine that the Bush administration isn't quite so insular and close-minded and impervious to common sense as it's usually portrayed to be. But then comes along an article like this telling us that, no, it's all true:

U.S. officials were warned for more than two years that Shiite Muslim militias were infiltrating Iraq's security forces and taking control of neighborhoods, but they failed to take action to counteract it, Iraqi and American officials said….

"The American politicians couldn't understand the deepness and complications of the region," said Falah al-Nakib, the interior minister from June 2004 to April 2005, who said he raised the militia problem and the growing Iranian influence in Iraq with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. "They didn't take us seriously."...

Senior officials dismissed the reports as "nay-saying" and "hand-wringing," said two former senior officials in Washington who were responsible for Iraq policy through most or all of that period and one top official who remains in government.Any complaints that went against the steady drumbeat of triumphalism were waved aside. Sound familiar? (Maybe they figured the "biased" media was inflating the strength of the Badr Corps.) Granted, stopping the infiltration of Shiite militias was a difficult task in any case, but stories about senior officials ignoring steady streams of dire warnings about this or that have also become much too common to be chalked up to mere coincidence.

Will Nuclear Power Save Us?

| Mon Apr. 17, 2006 7:18 PM EDT

Patrick Moore writes in the Washington Post over the weekend that the U.S. needs to start ramping up production of nuclear power plants if we ever want to reduce carbon emissions. And he's certainly not going to let a bunch of tree-hugging Naderites get in the way:

When I attended the Kyoto climate meeting in Montreal last December, I spoke to a packed house on the question of a sustainable energy future. I argued that the only way to reduce fossil fuel emissions from electrical production is through an aggressive program of renewable energy sources (hydroelectric, geothermal heat pumps, wind, etc.) plus nuclear.

….Here's why: Wind and solar power have their place, but because they are intermittent and unpredictable they simply can't replace big baseload plants such as coal, nuclear and hydroelectric. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is too expensive already, and its price is too volatile to risk building big baseload plants. Given that hydroelectric resources are built pretty much to capacity, nuclear is, by elimination, the only viable substitute for coal. It's that simple.Well, that's nice. But I want numbers first. How many power plants are we talking about? In 2004, Stephen Pascala and Robert Socolow argued in a much-discussed Science article that the world's carbon output will rise from about 7 billion tons today to 14 billion tons in 2054. In order to keep carbon concentrations under 500 ppm by mid-century, and avoid bad global warming scenarios, the world should be emitting only 7 billion tons of carbon by 2050.

Now in order to replace one billion tons of those emissions with nuclear energy, Pascala and Socolow estimate that the world would have to add an additional 700 GW in nuclear capacity, double what's produced at present by 440 reactors. So that means 880 new reactors, unless technology makes our plants much more efficient and the like. Since the United States is responsible for roughly a fourth of all carbon output, we'll say that the U.S. would need to build around 220 new nuclear reactors by 2050. Just to cut future emissions by a seventh.