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A couple of days ago, we posted an image of the beach volleyball court inside the monster U.S. embassy complex under construction in Baghdad. The rendering came from the site of the architecture firm that designed it. But now it's pulled the images under pressure from the State Department, which claimed they were a security risk. Despite the warning, a spokesman for the architecture firm gave the bad guys even more ideas by revealing that "Google Earth could give you a better snapshot of what the site looks like on the ground." So I think it's still safe to show you this image of a Marine guard and a tiny pixelated diplomat.

Meanwhile, the embassy project has other problems—such as using coerced labor to get the job done. As Iraqslogger reports, American managers have complained that the builder, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting, has mistreated the thousands of South Asian, Filipino, and other foreign laborers brought in to construct the complex. Some of the allegations:

[C]onstruction crews lived in crowded quarters; ate sub-standard food; and had little medical care. When drinking water was scarce in the blistering heat, coolers were filled on the banks of the Tigris, a river rife with waterborne disease, sewage and sometimes floating bodies, they said. Others questioned why First Kuwaiti held the passports of workers. Was it to keep them from escaping? Some laborers had turned up "missing" with little investigation. Another American said laborers told him they were been misled in their job location. When recruited, they were unaware they were heading for war-torn Iraq.

As one American supervisor explained, "Every US labor law was broken.... I've never seen a project more fucked up."

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg led the dissent to the Court's 5-4 decision Tuesday on Ledbetter vs. the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. The case, which decided that pay discrimination cases could not be brought against employers more than 180 days after any alleged discrimination, also marked the second time in six weeks that Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench: an unusually high rate of occurrence for the historically reticent justice who is described as friends as an etiquette-minded, "white-glove person." In fact, Ginsburg had never read her dissent to the Court's decision aloud twice in one year. Ginsburg went years without employing the tactic previous to this term.

Some, like the co-president of the National Women's Law Center, Marcia Greenberger, are interpreting these vocal dissents as attempts to garner attention for some serious issues. Greenberger characterized Ginsburg's recent vocal dissents as a "clarion call to the American people that… the court is headed in the wrong direction."

Indeed, partisan politics seems to have captured the Court, and Ginsburg can not have helped but notice. Ginsburg, now the only female Justice since Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement, has gone up against the same five justices (Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas) in both recent dissents. Those five frequently form the core of her opposition, and perhaps not surprisingly, three of these five justices were hand-picked by Bush presidents (Alito, Roberts, and Thomas). The other two were picked by Reagan. Ginsburg was joined in her dissent Tuesday by Justice Breyer, the only other justice on the bench appointed by a Democratic President (Clinton, like Ginsburg); by Justice Stouter, appointed by Bush in 1990 and a man who has drawn the ire of conservatives who consider him either an apostate or a phony; and by Justice Stevens, appointed way back in 1975 by Gerald Ford. Unable to persuade a majority of her colleagues on Ledbetter, Ginsburg called on Congress to overturn the Court's decision.

A month ago, Ginsburg criticized the gang of five for the language and logic in their decision to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. She argued that their opinion reflected "ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution -- ideas that have long since been discredited."

In her dissent Tuesday, Ginsburg again accused the majority for being out of touch, this time for not taking into consideration common workplace practices and characteristics of pay discrimination. It can be difficult, she argued, for pay discrimination to be proved in the short 180-day period that the Court requires if pay disparity occurs in small increments over time or if comparative pay information is not available to the employee.

Though Ginsburg spoke up for women in the partial birth abortion case, and spoke up again Tuesday for a female plaintiff, her concerns are broader than her sex. She knows that the decision in Ledbetter could hinder anyone who has reason to bring a discrimination suit based on race, national origin, or sexual orientation. We can only hope that in an increasingly conservative court, we have an increasingly vocal dissenter in Justice Ginsburg.

-- Jessica Savage

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.