Political MoJo

John Bolton Will No Longer Hamper Worldwide Diplomacy

| Mon Dec. 4, 2006 12:54 PM EST

John Bolton will resign as U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Amongst John Bolton's many crimes is his forced ouster of Jose Bustani, the former director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a U.N. organ with a role in hunting and regulating WMD in Iraq. Before the war, Bustani advocated solving the perceived Iraq WMD problem through means other than violence; in response, the U.S., led by John Bolton, forced a vote to oust Bustani on trumped-up charges, failed, then threatened to cut funding to the OPCW if it did not have its way, forced another vote, and prevailed. (You can read more about Bustani, and get a full sourcing for his story, by searching "Bustani" at the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline. After losing his job, Bustani reflected on the saga with Mother Jones.) The U.N. would later rule that Bustani was wrongfully dismissed and award him damages.

Looking for something more recent? According to TPM Muckraker, Bolton's last move as U.N. ambassador was to reject a proposal commemorating the 200th anniversary of the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

So, yeah, good riddance.

Recently, Foreign Policy put together a list of Bolton's most likely replacements. Included are Jim Leach, Republican congressman from Iowa who just lost a reelection bid, Zalmay Khalilzad, ambassador to Iraq and second-tier architect of the Iraq War, and Lincoln Chafee, poor schmo.

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Death Row Warden Back as Abolitionist Priest

| Mon Dec. 4, 2006 12:20 PM EST

For some people, there's nothing like personal involvement in administering capital punishment to make them start opposing it. Dennis O'Neill was a warden at two Florida death row prisons for many years, during which time he helped carry out over a dozen executions. The experience so scarred him that he quit his correctional career, got ordained as an Episcopalian priest, and now preaches against the death penalty - from the pulpit of a church in one of the prison towns where he used to oversee death row. Maybe he'll start a support group with Bill Wiseman, the man who invented lethal injection only to later also become an anti-death penalty priest.

Army Spec. Swift Chooses Court Martial Over Signing Agreement

| Mon Dec. 4, 2006 9:46 AM EST

Army Spec. Suzanne Swift made news in June when she went AWOL and refused a second deployment to Iraq. Swift's refusal came about because she was the victim of sex crimes. According to Swift, the seargent who told her mother, "Don't worry, M'am, we'll take good care of your daughter," went on to make her "his private" by coercing her to have sex with him. Swift says that several of his colleagues pressured her for sex, and refusing them led to increased sexual harrassment.

Swift reported the harrassment and abuse to both her team leader and her equal opportunity representative, but nothing was done other than to transfer one of the perpetrators. After she went AWOL, Swift was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis which the Army disputes. The Army did its own evaluation and concluded that Swift suffers from stress, but not from PTSD.

The Army has offered Swift a deal--that she will receive an honorable discharge if she agrees to serve another nineteen months. According to her mother, Swift was inclined to accept the deal until she learned of a caveat--she would have to sign a statement claiming no sexual harrassment ever took place. Swift has refused to sign this statement and is now prepared to accept a Court Martial. Her case has been placed under special Court Martial rules that will restrict her punishment to no more than twelve months.

Many Americans are familiar with the more dramatic cases involving sexual assault and sex abuse and harrassment in the military--such as the 1991 Navy Tailhook case (referred to by Jesse Ventura as "much ado about nothing"), the 1996 Army Aberdeen case, and the 2003 Air Force Academy case. But the problem is chronic: In 2005, the U.S. Armed Services received 2,374 reports of cases involving sexual assault alone.

Are Americans Disengaging or Just Finding Others Ways to Engage?

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 7:10 PM EST

Our Washington Bureau points out that American voices of dissent appear to be waning, which sadly to say was quite evident at a San Francisco anti-war rally I covered back in October for the Center for American Progress' Campusprogress.org. There was a sad showing of maybe 1000 people which paled in comparison to the large swarms of people that took to the streets here in SF leading up to the U.S. invasion in March of 2003. There were many grumblings as to why the turn out was so low: many thought ANSWER, the anti-war group who organizes rallies, has alienated large groups of Americans due to their anti-Israel position (in fact UFPJ, another anti-war group who organizes protests now officially refuses to organize with them on a national level); some felt that people would wait to cast their vote against Iraq (which it does appear they did to some extent); and some were angered by thoughts that perhaps the American people are just plain disengaged. Although the decrease in participation at protests does send a strong message, maybe Americans have found other outlets- like blogging and voting (there was a nearly 5% increase from 2002 in people under 30 who voted this year). And although Iraq was not the only issue Americans had on their minds when they headed to the ballots this year, it was a seminal one. Only time will tell if engaged Americans once again will take to the streets en masse, as sectarian violence in Iraq increases even more and decisions by the administration as to how to proceed in Iraq are made.

Mayhem in Mexico

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 7:08 PM EST

Today's transition from outgoing Mexican president Vicente Fox to his hand-picked and rather bureaucratic successor Felipe Calderón gave the lie to the comforting notion that Mexico has a healthy democracy. Calderón had to bust his way into the congressional chamber to be sworn in.

Calderón's leftist opponent, former Mexico City mayor Manuel López Obrador, has refused to accept the results of the July election. López Obrador's supporters had tried to block the entrances to the chamber. When Calderón managed to enter, flanked by body guards, they booed, whistled, shot birds and fought their way through the swearing-in ceremony (see the Washington Post slideshow).

López Obrador held a strong lead in the months before the election, which seemed to come crashing down in the final weeks of campaigning among accusations that he was a megalomaniac who loves to stir up dissent.

So, is he proving his opponents right, or did they set him up before they stole the elections—by a conveniently narrow margin of 240,000 votes among 41 million ballots cast? Hard to say. Mexico hardly has a solid record of legitimate elections—the PRI party lied, cheated and stole its way to the presidency (and pretty much everything else) in Mexico for more than 70 years. Electoral confidence was higher in the 2000 election of Vicente Fox, the first non-PRI candidate to occupy the presidential palace since that party was formed in the crucible of the 1910-1919 Mexican Revolution.

Those who follow Mexican politics will know it doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to suggest that perhaps the PRI made a back-room agreement to pass the torch to Fox's conservative PAN party precisely to prevent the populist leftism López Obrador represents from taking hold in a country whose rich/poor gap makes the U.S. look like Norway.

Trouble Brewing in Lebanon

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 6:58 PM EST

After a show of force in this summer's conflict with Israel, the Shiite militia Hezbollah is now trying to drive the Western-backed Lebanese government from power. Nearly a quarter of Lebanon's population took to the streets of Beirut earlier today, while the beleaguered prime minister, Fouad Siniora, took shelter behind hundreds of troops and police.

Lebanon has been a mess for a long time. A 15-year civil war with more factions than you can count ended in 1991, leaving the Lebanese government a virtual puppet of Syria. Syria lost its power in the wake of huge protests following the revelation that Syria was involved in the February 2005 assassination of then-prime minister Rafik Hariri. Siniora took office immediately thereafter.

Trouble began brewing for Siniora's government when Hezbollah single-handedly held its own against the Israeli Defense Forces this summer, earning massive popular support. With the assassination of a Christian anti-Syrian politician in late November, the situation in Lebanon started to look eerily like the one that immediately preceded Lebanon's civil war.

The bloodbath in Iraq isn't helping ease tensions between Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, who generally support Siniora's anti-Syrian government, and Shiites, who oppose it.

So perhaps Iraq is a role model after all—not for democracy, but for civil war.

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AIDS Can't be Fought with Sunshine and Puppies

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 6:18 PM EST

According to a story in today's Boston Globe , a number of faith-based organizations used this year's World AIDS Day to lash out at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS (a $6.6 billion organization that supports programs in 136 countries).

Peter L. Brandt, a senior director at Focus on the Family, thinks Congress should cut all spending on the Global Fund's HIV programs, saying that the Fund concentrates too heavily on condoms and discriminates against organizations like his.

They should instead focus on spreading the abstinence message? A lot of good that's done here.

In the Global South, where HIV is spreading fastest, abstinence and marriage are not adequate protection against the deadly virus. To the contrary, it is often the primary site of infection, especially for women. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes, "the stark reality is that what kills young women [in Africa] is often not promiscuity, but marriage. Indeed, just about the deadliest thing a women in southern Africa can do is get married."

Crosscheck that with the following:

-In South Africa, studies suggest that "marital partnerships are mainly responsible for adolescent female [HIV] infection." Studies in Kenya and Zambia show that adolescent girls have an increased risk of HIV infection when they marry significantly older men. (International Center for Research on Women and Population Service)

-In a study of Zambian women, fewer than 25% of the participants believed that a married woman could refuse to have sex with her husband, even if she knew he had been unfaithful or was HIV-positive. Only 11% of participants believed that a woman could ask her husband to use a condom in these circumstances. (United Nation's Fund for Women).

-On Colombia's Atlantic Coast, about half of HIV-positive women are "housewives with a stable partner." (World Health Organization)

Latex anyone?

—Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

Want to Know Your Terror Score? Too Bad, Says TSA

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 4:55 PM EST

Are you a vegetarian who prefers to sit near the front of the plane? If so, prepare to be harassed. CNN recently uncovered that the Homeland Security Department's Automated Targeting System [ATS] assigns a terrorist rating number to every single person entering or leaving the United States. The score is based on the passenger's method of payment, one-way flights, meal preferences, seat assignment, e-mail address, voluntary and involuntary upgrade history, and frequent flier miles. But unlike a credit score, it cannot be challenged or even viewed by the individual. And the score will stay on file for 40 years.

This might not be such a huge problem if passengers' ATS numbers weren't going to be made available to state agencies, students, and private contractors, among others. Theoretically, if a person is, say, denied a job at a post office or a construction company because of their terror score, they'll never know and they'll never be able to challenge it.

Given that many infants have been harassed at airports because they have similar names to terrorists, the chance that the ATS scores and information will be misused seems high. And, with the ATS's new headquarters and a staff that's tripled since 2001, it seems we can expect even more searches and baseless groundings.

—Jen Phillips

Get the Goat This Year

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 3:40 PM EST

This season, the globally aware and trend conscious want to get the goat under their Christmas tree. Charitable organizations have started selling the four-legged critters and other "virtual gifts" in order to address demands for ethical gifts and increase fundraising.

Oxfam is one such organization and has launched a website to sell charitable gifts such as medicines for an entire village, training for a teacher, or even the installation of "lovely loos" to prevent the spread of cholera and typhoid. But goats and chickens have been the best sellers.

While ethical gift giving may be gaining in popularity, some critics say that these karma boosting stocking stuffers may only work as gimmicks—enticing consumers with cute pictures and overly idealistic promises. They say, without the proper resources, goats can actually be detrimental to the vegetation in rural areas.

So be kind, but beware. The Oxfam website sells its goat care kits (including training, food, water and vet care) separately.

--Caroline Dobuzinskis

Iraq Study Group: "Antidemocratic"

| Fri Dec. 1, 2006 2:28 PM EST

An article in the Christian Science Monitor by Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, calls the Iraq Study Group "antidemocratic." Bacevich says the group is in place largely to keep citizens' demands about the war at bay.

Which does beg the question, where has all that citizen anger that was demonstrated on a global scale before the United States invasion of Iraq all gone to? While the war is being widely criticized by media and politicians, voices of dissent in the general public have been quiet. Even after the deadliest month of combat for both American troops and Iraqi civilians, there were no major protests, marches or public outcries calling for an end to the war (with the exception of a Cindy Sheehan led protest on the steps of the Whitehouse that resulted in her arrest on Nov. 9).

Perhaps, as Bacevich suggests, Americans assume the government will take care of it. Or, they are overwhelmed at how badly things have gone. Politicians recently traveling to Iraq experienced shock and awe of their own. After a recent visit to Iraq, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said: "(The Iraqi government) seems to be caught in a crossfire of sectarian angst and violent actions. It's a dangerous environment that will continue to escalate in the weeks ahead."