Mojo - July 2006

Democrats On Israel: Mouths Closed, Eyes Shut

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 6:31 PM EDT

Good post by Marc Cooper on the crass political calculations driving the Democrats' Israel "policy."

Fact is, the Democrats' policy on Israel mirrors the Republican policy on Cuba. They both derive from primarily domestic political considerations and not from any measured analysis of foreign policy nor any deliberation on where our true national interests reside.

Republicans want to keep the Cuban-American voting base -- in Florida and New Jersey primarily-- inside the tent. So to hell with any notion of revising a policy toward Castro that has only, in effect, helped maintain his now 47 year long monopoly on power. (Happy 80th, Comandante).

Democrats, likewise, want to retain the majority of the Jewish-American vote and prefer, for the most part, to keep their mouths closed and their eyes shut when it comes to Israel. Cuban-Americans and Jewish-Americans are also important funding sources for both parties (Bill Clinton was actually able to raise tons from both communities, Hilary's borther-in-law being a major muckety-much within the right-wing exile milieu) and neither party wants to offend those who pay their bills. Here's "Speaker" Nancy Pelosi, a liberal darling, enthusiastically enlisting in the ranks of those pledging "unwavering support and committment" to Israel, urging the Bush administration to tighten the screws on Syria and Iran. How's that for an opposition leader?

Hence unconditional bipartisan indulgence of whatever Israel wants to do -- e.g. bomb Lebanon to rubble.

(He also has some interesting observations about where the lefty blogosphere is on all this--which is mostly AWOL.)

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Bush to Poor: #&$@ Off!

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 6:09 PM EDT

As Michael A. Fletcher of the Washington Post reminds us, after Katrina (well, to be precise, weeks after Katrina), Bush talked a good game about ending poverty:

"All of us saw on television, there's . . . some deep, persistent poverty in this region," he said in a prime-time speech from New Orleans's Jackson Square, 17 days after the Aug. 29 hurricane. "That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action."

As it happened, poverty's turn in the presidential limelight was brief. Bush has talked little about the issue since the immediate crisis passed, while pursuing policies that his liberal critics say will hurt the poor. He has publicly mentioned domestic poverty six times since giving back-to-back speeches on the issue in September. Domestic poverty did not come up in his State of the Union address in January, and his most recent budget included no new initiatives directed at the poor.

Six times! Fletcher further notes:

Bush has used the bully pulpit of the presidency not to marshal a new national consensus for fighting poverty but to make the case for cutting taxes along with domestic programs. He has never publicly discussed the growing crisis of young, uneducated black men, whose plight has worsened in the past decade even as the economy has generally flourished, according to a recent spate of academic studies.

Meanwhile, his Office of Management and Budget has sketched scenarios that envision deep funding cuts in an array of programs that aid the poor, including housing assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, community development grants and energy assistance. Budget officials minimize the significance of those projections, saying that they are rarely enacted and that expenditures for many poverty programs have increased sharply since Bush took office.

"Does he often talk about poverty? No," [Press Secretary and former Fox News anchor Tony] Snow said. "There hasn't been a direct discussion of poverty, but he is focused on eliminating the barriers that stand in the way of people making progress."

And you know what that means, don't you? Tax cuts. So once again, let me reiterate what I've written about and blogged about:

President Bush's tax cuts, which were recently extended until 2010, save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those earning $1 million are saved $42,700.

Meanwhile, under his watch, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has steadily risen. Now 13% of all Americans—37 million—are officially poor. And currently, 46 million Americans are uninsured—a 15% increase since Bush came into office in 2000.

Bush has dedicated $750 million to "healthy marriages" by diverting funds from social services, mostly child-care. Bush has proposed cutting housing programs for low-income people with disabilities by 50%. I could go on and on.

And don't think that it's just the poor getting screwed. As Kevin Drum discusses over on his site, the middle-class are getting the shaft as well.

Meanwhile, in Iraq...

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 5:29 PM EDT

It's a nightmare:

Iraqi leaders have all but given up on holding the country together and, just two months after forming a national unity government, talk in private of "black days" of civil war ahead.

Signalling a dramatic abandonment of the U.S.-backed project for Iraq, there is even talk among them of pre-empting the worst bloodshed by agreeing to an east-west division of Baghdad into Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim zones, senior officials told Reuters

Tens of thousands have already fled homes on either side.

"Iraq as a political project is finished," one senior government official said -- anonymously because the coalition under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki remains committed in public to the U.S.-sponsored constitution that preserves Iraq's unity.So that's that. Prepare the body bags. Meanwhile, are some of the president's deep thoughts about the crisis in Lebanon:

President Bush's unwillingness to pressure Israel to halt its military campaign in Lebanon is rooted in a view of the Middle East conflict that is sharply different from that of his predecessors….

In the administration's view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq. Israel's crippling of Hezbollah, officials also hope, would complete the work of building a functioning democracy in Lebanon and send a strong message to the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hezbollah.Basically, we're all fucked. Maybe everyone really should start preparing for the rapture.

Attack of the Killer Jellyfish! (Yet Another Side Effect of Global Warming)

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 5:08 PM EDT

Later today, NPR has promised us an All Things Considered story on swarming jellyfish. Of late they've been a problem in Hawaii, North Carolina, and to Japan's nuclear reactors:

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A mass of jellyfish proved an unlikely thorn in the side of the Japanese nuclear industry this week when they choked a pipe, which feeds cooling water into a coastal plant.

The output from the Hamaoka reactors was slashed by 30 to 40% after the cooling system automatically shut down, returning to full power about three hours later once workers had cleared the jellyfish blockage. This was the first time jellyfish have affected power generation in Japan.

(We know where this leads.)

We here at Mother Jones have been obsessed with the attack of the killer (or at least really, really painful) jellies for the last several years, ever since we heard that in 2000, swarms of 25-pound jellyfish native to Australia invaded the Gulf of Mexico. So numerous were these Australian invaders, that the shrimp fishermen of the Gulf lost a lot of their harvest because the jellies weighed down their nets.

Jelly invasions appear to be yet another result of human-induced global climate change. (More instances of jellie invasions can be found here and here.) Changes to seawater's salinity or Ph levels cause jellies and other species to migrate far beyond their historic range. And tropical storms and hurricanes, which are increasing in number and severity due to climate change, can also reroute the jellies, as just happened in the Carolinas. Also, one of the jellies' main predators, turtles and tortoises, are being decimated, thanks to overfishing, pollution, and the like. (For more on all these issues see Julia Whitty's piece on the fate of the ocean and the rest of our ocean package.)

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According to this story, a new study out of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute reports that tiny jellyfish-like creatures called salps are helping get rid of some carbon dioxide by "transporting tons of it daily from the ocean surface to the deep sea and preventing it from re-entering the atmosphere and contributing again to the greenhouse effect and possibly to global warming."

Which seems like great news, until you realize that way salps do this is by digesting huge amounts of phytoplankton, and as Whitty reports, these plankton, which are the foundation of all life in the sea, are also at risk from warming waters and changing salinity and Ph.

In other words, a potential check on global warming is being threatened by…global warming.

Reporters who didn't buy the WMD line

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 4:41 PM EDT

Over at Nieman Watchdog, Gilbert Cranberg says Knight Ridder's "DC bureau and Landay, Strobel, Walcott deserve high honors for their reports challenging the Bush administration during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq."

Amen.

Radicalism...in Switzerland!

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 4:35 PM EDT

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I'm no expert in End Times and Rapture lore, but if anything portends the Apocalypse it's got to be this headline: In Neutral Switzerland, A Rising Radicalism. (And notice the flag. Right?) Can't you feel the glory bumps?

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"When dealing with people like Bolton, there is no room for dialogue."

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 4:05 PM EDT

As Steve Clemons put it, the op-ed by George Voinovich in Thursday's Washington Post, calling for the confirmation of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the U.N., "blasts the door open"--meaning: this is going to get ugly.

Voinovich wrote: "I cannot imagine a worse message to send to the terrorists -- and to other nations deciding whether to engage in this effort -- than to drag out a possible renomination process or even replace the person our president has entrusted to lead our nation at the United Nations at a time when we are working on these historic objectives." --drawing the ire of The Century Foundation's Jeffrey Laurenti in a commentary just posted at Mother Jones.

[N]o one expected a renewed effort to legitimize the administration's brash and polarizing ambassador to be wrapped in the mantle of combating Hezbollah and terrorists everywhere. Once again, its critics underestimated the chutzpah of the administration's political operatives.

For which chutzpah, see...

In recent years the White House has compiled a notably tawdry track record of squeezing political advantage from death and destruction. The leveling of the World Trade Center by a handful of Saudi nationals armed with boxcutters became, in its skilled hands, the administration's pretext for renouncing the antiballistic missile treaty, embarking on a crash program of "Star Wars" deployment, and launching an invasion of Iraq. Hurricane Katrina became an opportunity to abrogate union-scale wages on federal projects.

Meanwhile...

It is fair to say that no one has done more to isolate the United States in world councils than Mr. Bolton, who has virtually alone opposed, time and again, the path-breaking reform initiatives that have passed the U.N. since he arrived. He vociferously opposed the hard-won reform of U.N. human rights machinery, marshalling just three client states to vote with him against the new Human Rights Council.

Strongly indicating that...

Compassionate Conservatism Declared Dead Six Years Too Late

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 3:33 PM EDT

The Washington Post notices that President Bush doesn't talk much about poverty anymore, hasn't actually done much about poverty during his tenure in office, and that basically his brand of "compassionate conservatism" is sort of a sham.

Well, no kidding. We didn't have to wait until this year to realize that. This should have been abundantly clear back in 2000. All one would've had to do was note that Bush, as governor of Texas, supported a $250 million cut to kindergarten funding while cutting property taxes by $1.2 billion; tried to raise the eligibility threshold in the state's Children's Health Insurance Program, which would have dropped 200,000 of the 500,000 children eligible (only to be thwarted by Texas Democrats); and used large budget surpluses in 1997 and 1999 to cut taxes rather than fund programs that had been underfunded for years—despite the fact that his state, under his watch, ranked at the very bottom of most poverty measures.

So yes, when Bush started making "heartfelt" noises on the campaign trail about helping the poor, he was just trying to win votes from gullible moderates. Unlike Ezra Klein, I don't believe Bush has ever cared about poverty. He worked with Ted Kennedy to pass No Child Left Behind because he wanted to be known as the "education president" and do something grand and sweeping, not because he had some heartfelt interest in improving public schools. Molly Ivins, who has followed the man's career longer than most journalists, had it right when she wrote that when it comes to seeing how his policies affect people, Bush just doesn't get it, and never will.

The Boyfriend Crisis

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 3:26 PM EDT

In its July issue, Esquire gets its boxers in a twist over what editor David Granger calls "the looming crisis in manhood" [sorry, article not online]. No, not the growing ranks of men who wear black shoes with tan suits and don't recognize Tom Hanks as the "official man of American men", but the so-called "boy crisis" (short version: after centuries of getting high test scores, boys are coming in second to uppity girls). In rehashing the stats that supposedly confirm the emergency, the glossy notes that for every 58 women in college and grad school, there are only 42 men. Which prompts this somber conclusion: "That means one in four female students can't find a male peer to date." Esquire's worried about a collegiate sex ratio skewed in favor of straight guys? Things really must be serious...

Last Domestic Detainee Released -- 5 Years After the FBI Concluded He Was Innocent

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 3:14 PM EDT

The U.S. war on terror has robbed hundreds of innocent people of years of their lives. (See for example Mackenzie Funk's recent report for Mother Jones about the emblematic case of one innocent man, a Tajik, scooped up in Pakistan on suspicion of terrorist activities and held for two years in the legal black hole of the U.S. War on Terror—in four prisons and three countries.)

After 9/11, of course, large numbers of people--1,200 mainly Muslim men--were swept up in this country, too, and held in detention centers. No terrorists among them. Yesterday brought yet another grim milestone in our journey from Sept. 11: the release of the last of these detainees--an Algerian air force lieutenant who spent just under five years in captivity even though the FBI concluded in November 2001 that he had zero connection to terrorism.

The man is applying for political asylum in Canada, and the Washington Post quotes the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees as saying, "Obviously, there is enormous relief. But I am extremely bitter that five years of a person's life can be taken away."

For more, see Mother Jones' full coverage of U.S. detainee policy here.