Mojo - May 2007

Bushies: We "Will Fight to Keep Meatpackers from Testing for Mad Cow Disease"

| Thu May 31, 2007 8:20 PM EDT

The argument for free market economics—though we here at Mother Jones may have, on occasion, doubted its virtuosity—goes like this: Competition encourages innovation, and customers decide which innovations are worth keeping and get what they want in the process. Here's a case in point: A small business called Creekstone Farms Premium Beef proposed testing all of its cows for mad cow disease. Customers have long been skittish about mad cow disease, and testing would likely cause Creekstone's business to spike.

Innovation? Check. Benefit to consumers? Check. Fostering small businesses? Check. But the USDA has intervened to block Creekstone from conducting the tests. The rationale? It's not fair to agribusinesses, which buy, sell, and butcher so many cows that they couldn't possibly conduct the expensive test on all of them. The USDA also alleged that "widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry."

Protecting the strong from the weak and putting dollars above lives are standard practice at the USDA, which is pretty much a trade group for agribusiness. Mother Jones has highlighted other examples of the same mentality: Read about the USDA's watering down of organic standards here, and its past moves to block safety innovations here.

Now, for another reason to become a vegetarian. PETA has petitioned Congress to create a tax break for non-meat eaters. After all, the animal rights group argues, buying a hybrid vehicle entitles you to a tax break, although it reduces carbon emissions by only two-thirds as much per year as forgoing meat. It seems like a pretty righteous idea to me (full disclosure: I'm a long-time vegetarian, though I might have had a tiny taste of prosciutto last night)—the only problem is, how could the government determine who does and does not eat meat? Testing our poop is obviously out of the question: See above.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Acts of Gratuitous Violence Against Giuliani

| Thu May 31, 2007 6:56 PM EDT

If, like the NYFD, you hate Rudy Giuliani, you will go bananas for Matt Tabibi's verbal pummeling of "America's mayor" in Rolling Stone. Here's a teaser:

If this is a guy who chews over a perceived slight in the middle of a victory lap, what's he going to be like with his finger on the button? Even Richard Nixon wasn't wound that tight.

[Rudy's] political strength -- and he knows it -- comes from America's unrelenting passion for never bothering to take that extra step to figure shit out. If you think you know it all already, Rudy agrees with you. And if anyone tries to tell you differently, they're probably traitors, and Rudy, well, he'll keep an eye on 'em for you. Just like Bush, Rudy appeals to the couch-bound bully in all of us, and part of the allure of his campaign is the promise to put the Pentagon and the power of the White House at that bully's disposal.

.… Whether Rudy believes in this kind of politics reflexively, as the psychologically crippled Bush does, or as a means to an end, as Karl Rove does, isn't clear. But there's no question that Giuliani has made the continuation of Swift-Boating politics a linchpin of his candidacy.

Happy reading.

Mexico Sending Citizens for Health Care on the U.S.'s Tab

| Thu May 31, 2007 6:20 PM EDT

With immigration in the news, let's see what you think of a new program being offered by Mexican Consulates in the United States. The program, called Ventanillas de Salud, or Health Windows, "aims to provide Mexican immigrants with basic health information, cholesterol checks and other preventive tests. It also makes referrals to U.S. hospitals, health centers and government programs where patients can get care without fear of being turned over to immigration authorities," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Illegal immigrants are not eligible for federal entitlement programs such as Medicare, but they are eligible for the Women, Infants and Children program and, like everyone else, must be treated at hospital emergency rooms. The federal government later reimburses hospitals for care provided and not paid for.

I'm having a hard time deciding if I think this program is a good idea or a terrible one. Providing some basic information and diagnostic tests at the consulates seems reasonable enough. And I'm generally in favor of the U.S. government providing basic human services to those that work for us and live among us. But when the Mexican government starts spending money to make sure its citizens in the United States are cashing in on our government's generosity (to the tune of $1.1 billion in Los Angeles alone last year), I find my feathers getting a little ruffled.

The Ventanillas program probably doesn't cost much, from the sounds of it, but why doesn't that money go into providing education, job opportunities, and health care in Mexico? It seems perverse that the Mexican government is eager to be "relevant in the lives of its citizens in the United States," as Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, puts it, when it has failed to meet their most basic needs at home. I mean, is the Mexican government trying to outsource government, thereby admitting that Mexico is a failed state?

Weigh in in the comments section.

Iraq's a Disaster, NCLB Not Far Behind

| Thu May 31, 2007 2:35 PM EDT

This week's Time offers up its take on how to fix No Child Left Behind. The piece is a good primer on all-things NCLB; worth a read if, a) You don't know much about it but you're curious, or b) You need a refresher course on where things stand in 2007.

To fix NCLB, Time suggests that schools go beyond basic NCLB and Adequate Yearly Progress jargon when reporting on their school's progress and provide a fuller, more descriptive picture of school quality. Agreed, but guess what? More expansive reporting requirements are costly and give teachers less time and energy for teaching.

The article also suggests stopping the Feds from slapping "failure" labels on schools and investing in more localized remedies. Great idea. Who likes being told they're a loser? Try investing in local, neighborhood organizations that are already in the school trenches but doing so on shoestring budgets. Solid, community relationships are often already in place, so a little bit of cash from D.C. could go a long way.

Mentioned in the piece are David Berliner and Sharon Nichols, authors of Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools, who say that Bush's NCLB policies are as ineffective as his policies in Iraq. Harsh, maybe, but considering that they found evidence of administrators falsifying test data and forcing low-scoring students out of their schools to avoid public humiliation, maybe they're about right.

Time points out that where Europe has a uniform national curriculum and national tests, state and local jurisdiction is still prominent in the states. In response to state autonomy, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings reacted by saying, "Do you really want me sitting in Washington working on how we teach evolution or creationism? I don't want to!"

Umm, no, we probably don't want you meddling in how, and if, for that matter, teachers teach evolution or creationism. You don't have a teaching credential, so that would be against your own rules.

—Gary Moskowitz

Interim U.S. Attn. and Rove Protege Timothy Griffin Resigns

| Thu May 31, 2007 1:25 PM EDT

I wrote yesterday about the rumors that Thompson's campaign-to-be was courting Karl Rove lackey and interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas Timothy Griffin. Griffin's appointment caused a stir as it became apparent during the imbroglio that is the U.S. Attorneys scandal that Bud Cummins (the former U.S. Attn. Griffin replaced) had been forced out to make way for a Rove protégé. Yesterday, the Arkansas Times blog (thanks to ThinkProgress for spotting this) reports that Griffin has resigned, effective June 1. No word on whether he is joining the Thompson campaign, but the timing seems opportune, no? Griffin is the young prosecutor Monica Goodling mentioned in her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last week. According to Goodling, former coworker Paul McNulty was being untruthful when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee in February that he knew nothing of Griffin's involvement in "caging" (a voter suppression technique). I stand by what I said yesterday. This not the best move for Thompson's campaign. Stay tuned.

FOX Loves New Debate Lineup: Biden, Kucinich, and Gravel

| Thu May 31, 2007 12:42 PM EDT

You've probably heard about this FOX News debate that is slowly bleeding participants. You see, it's a debate for the Democrats, and while some Dems thought it might be a good idea to get their ideas in front of FOX's largely conservative viewership, others felt it legitimized FOX's place at the serious-news table. And serious news FOX is not.

So everyone's been bailing. Edwards, Obama, and Clinton left a while back. Now, Richardson and Dodd have announced they will not participate either. So who's left? Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, and Joe Biden.

You're kidding yourself if you don't think this will be the most entertaining debate of the season. FOX would probably just cancel it if they weren't certain this circus will make Democrats look completely silly and extremist.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

George Bush is Concerned About America Losing its Soul

| Thu May 31, 2007 10:56 AM EDT

Dan Froomkin notes at White House Watch that George Bush was recently asked why he cares so much about the issue of immigration.

"I'm deeply concerned about America losing its soul," Bush said. "Immigration has been the lifeblood of a lot of our country's history." He added: "If we don't solve the problem it's going to affect America. It will affect our economy and it will affect our soul."

He was not concerned about our soul when he mislead a country into war and questioned the patriotism of anyone who objected, nor when he failed to provide health care for the wounded of that war, nor when he suspended habeas corpus, nor when he fought Congress to keep it from passing an anti-torture bill. He was not concerned when he authorized the government to spy on American citizens, nor when the Abu Ghraib photos were released, nor when he underfunded the very education reform bill he touts as his greatest domestic achievement. He was not concerned when federal agencies left a city to drown, nor when Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, and Duke Cunningham turned Congress into a cash register, nor when a congressman was exposed preying on little boys. He was not concerned when he rang up the biggest budget deficits of all time, nor when he appointed a man who had just attempted an end-run around the Justice Department to run the Justice Department, nor when his vice president invited energy companies to help make energy policy, nor when his administration ignored global climate change, the greatest threat to our nation and the world in his lifetime. He wasn't concerned when he pushed to enshrine bigotry against homosexuals into the Constitution, nor when his Administration paid American journalists to support its policies, nor when it was revealed that the military was planting stories in the Iraqi media while simultaneously teaching Iraqis about the freedom of the press.

No. After six and a half years of turning this country into a banana republic that is hated by most of the world, our president is finally concerned. Well, thanks George. We're glad to see you're paying attention.

British Contractors Outnumber British Soldiers Three to One -- Is This the Future of Iraq?

| Thu May 31, 2007 10:08 AM EDT

On AMERICAblog, I spotted an article from the UK's Independent that says there are 21,000 British private contractors in Iraq. That's approximately three times the number of British soldiers in Iraq.

Is this the future of Iraq? Let's say September comes and goes the surge hasn't improved security conditions in Baghdad or elsewhere. Republicans may abandon the president in large numbers, forcing a withdrawal to begin over a presidential veto. The Defense Dep't can simply pay more and more private contractors -- who have no oversight over their spending or their actions on the ground -- to execute a bastardized version of their current mission.

The Democrats can enact laws that mandate stronger accountability over contractors, or even limit the number of contractors the Pentagon can employ. While a bill did pass in May that supposedly provided for stricter oversight over contractors, the bill was criticized by anti-contractor activists and suffered a credibility deficit because it had the support of the contracting industry itself. Congress may not want a strong light shone on the business of contracting, and the military probably likes it that way, but until we know exactly how many contractors operate in Iraq, and specifically what they are doing, we will never be fully sure the war is over.

As an example of the murkiness that surrounds contractors, estimates for the number of private contractors in Iraq range anywhere from 44,000 to 130,000. Mother Jones rode along with a couple of them in our latest issue.

Torture Double-Header: Immoral and Idiotic, and Aided and Abetted

| Wed May 30, 2007 4:42 PM EDT

In the lead-up to an expected executive order outlining new standards for military interrogations, social scientists from around the country are telling the government that, in matters of intelligence, pain does not equal gain. In fact, many of the coercive interrogation tactics—AKA torture—the military has been using since September 11 were adopted from a Cold War training module in which American soldiers were subjected to the worst and most sinister forms of abuse they might receive if captured by the Soviets. No evidence exists that such methods were effective, or even employed. Most of the post-9/11 "torture light" methods date from the Cold War, but at least one military interrogator claims that the even older World War II methods were both more humane and more fruitful—partly because the interrogators spoke the detainees' languages. (There are only 6 Arabic-speakers are on staff at the palatial new American embassy in Baghdad; numerous government employees fluent in the language have been fired because they were gay or, well, Arab.) Bush's executive order is expected to ban waterboarding (or mock drowning) but to authorize aggressive techniques not currently allowed by the Army Field Manual.

Now for part two of your double-header: A subsidiary of Boeing—the same company tapped to build a virtual fence along the border with no government oversight—helped the government enact its immoral and ineffective torture policies, according to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU. The suit charges that the company, Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., of San Jose, "facilitated more than 70 secret rendition flights over a four-year period to countries where it knew or reasonably should have known that detainees are routinely tortured or otherwise abused in contravention of universally accepted legal standards." In an article in the Oct. 30 New Yorker, Jane Mayer reported that a former Jeppesen employee told her that a senior company official announced at a board meeting, "We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights — you know the torture flights."

But don't get excited about learning something about the ultra-secret rendition program. The Bush administration will almost certainly request that the case be dismissed on the grounds that it will reveal state secrets. And even though the ACLU is basing the suit on "publicly available records" and a New Yorker article, the government will probably be granted its request because the "state secrets" privilege is wrongly recognized as a get-out-of-court-free card.

Thompson Campaign Courts Rove Protege, Not Their Best Move

| Wed May 30, 2007 1:55 PM EDT

Amidst the "Fred Thomspson to announce" clamor, TPMmuckraker spotted a Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) article that claims Thompson's campaign is courting Timothy Griffin. Griffin is the young prosecutor and Karl Rove protégé who was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas in December of 2006. His appointment has received a great deal of criticism within the broiling U.S. Attorney firings scandal, as it is believed that former U.S. Attn. Bud Cummins was removed only to make room for Rove's lackey.

But that's not all the dirt on Griffin according to Monica Goodling's long-awaited testimony last week. Goodling claimed that her former coworker Paul McNulty falsely testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee when he claimed he had no information about Griffin's involvement in "caging" (a voter suppression technique). Greg Palast noted back in March that according to BBC Television, Griffin headed up a scheme to suppress 70,000 citizens' votes before the 2004 election, targeting black soldiers and homeless men and women. This, by the way, is illegal. Strangely, no one in the media is touching this, except, of course, Palast, who after Goodling's testimony cried out for people to pay attention to this scandal. Although, in doing so, he got McNulty's name wrong, calling him Kyle Sampson. (Oops, wrong resigned-DOJ official, Greg.) There is bound to be more news on this front but in the meantime a note to Thompson: I don't think this is your best move.