Political MoJo

Money Can't Buy Happiness. Yes It Can.

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 2:36 PM EDT

From Germany's Institute for the Study of Labor:

"One of the famous questions in social science is whether money makes people happy. We offer new evidence by using longitudinal data on a random sample of Britons who receive medium-sized lottery wins of between £1000 and £120,000 (that is, up to approximately U.S. $200,000). When compared to two control groups – one with no wins and the other with small wins – these individuals go on eventually to exhibit significantly better psychological health.

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Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 1:57 PM EDT

New from Link TV, a 7-minute report about the film "Iraq for Sale - The War Profiteers," including an interview with director/ producer Robert Greenwald.

"The film takes you inside the lives of soldiers, truck drivers, widows and children whose lives have been changed forever as a result of profiteering in the reconstruction of Iraq. Iraq for Sale uncovers the connections between private corporations making a killing in Iraq and the decision makers who allow them to do so."

Check it out. Also see motherjones.com/iraq_for_sale for our coverage of post-war contracting shenanigans.

California's Solar Babies

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 11:59 AM EDT

There are many things not to like about California, and top of my list, right after the state's self-satisfaction, is its political dysfunction—recalls, referendums, propositions, and the perennial standoff between the governor and the state legislature.

However, as this great NYT story (with a lot of multimedia bells and whistles) demonstrates, California's politicians have put their differences aside to create a bold new carrot-and-stick approach to cut carbon dioxide emissions and energy usage.

That's the kind of leadership we wish could come from Congress or the Bush Administration. But if Arnold, democratic assemblywomen, greens, and even anti-regulatory entrepreneur T. J. Rodgers can get together to save the planet (and turn a profit in the process), maybe there's hope.

Points of interest:

California's per-person electricity usage has remained flat since the 1970s, while the national average has risen by 50%.

A quarter of new hybrids are registered in California, where car dealers report that SUVs are no longer selling well.

Car makers and even dealerships have sued the state, saying that its new law requiring them to reduce the average CO2 emissions in cars sold in California by 30 percent by 2009 (light trucks and SUVs have until 2016) amounts to a backdoor way to legislate fuel efficiency—which is, alas, a federal domain.

The Supreme Court will soon hear a case brought by Massachusetts and a dozen other states arguing that the EPA should declare CO2 a pollutant and regulate it, which, but of course, the Bush Administration claims it has no authority to do. (But you're The Decider!)

And Rudy Giuliani's firm is in the business of defending utilities from all this evil regulation:

Scott Segal, a lawyer for Bracewell & Giuliani who represents electric utilities, summarized California's policy as: "All electrons are not created equal. We're going to discriminate against some of them, and create artificial barriers in the marketplace for electricity." California consumers could end up paying more for their energy and struggling to find enough, Mr. Segal said.
Discriminating against electrons! Start the meme watch.

Soldiers Describe Fighting In Afghanistan

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 11:38 PM EDT

American soldiers in Helmand Province have described to journalists from The Independent that "We are flattening places we have already flattened, but the attacks have kept coming. We have killed them by the dozens, but more keep coming, either locally or from across the border....We have used B1 bombers, Harriers, F16s and Mirage 2000s. We have dropped 500lb, 1,000lb and even 2,000lb bombs. At one point our Apaches [helicopter gunships] ran out of missiles, they have fired so many."

The soldiers went on to say that they are constantly ambushed, and in need of helicopters, but cannot get any. They have praise for the Afghan army, but say that the Afghan police force does not wish to fight the Taliban either because they are afraid to or because they are Taliban sympahizers.

New British troops have arrived to help, but France, Germany, Italy, and Turkey say they have no troops to spare because of the peacekeeping effort in Lebanon. In the meantime, Pakistani troops have withdrawn from the border, after getting a "promise" from the Taliban not to cross over into Afghanistan and continue to mount attacks.

According to Lt. Gen Richards: "You also have to think that each time we kill one, how many more enemies we are creating. And, of course, the lack of security means hardly any reconstruction is taking place now, so we are not exactly winning hearts and minds."

Tracing the Digital Trails We Leave -- and Government Follows

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 7:11 PM EDT

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Here's a cool thing from Medill Journalism School -- a Flash presentation showing how your personal data can be used by the federal government or analyzed by intelligence agencies. (Yes, Flash can be annoying, as we've been hearing a lot lately; but there are some things, like this, that it can do very well; so give it a whirl.) It reveals how the government uses data mining and what data, from both public records and private data aggregators, is studied, what the privacy rules are and whether they're followed - and outlines "the digital trails we all leave in our daily lives."

Princeton: Diebold's Newest Voting Machine...Sucks

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 6:51 PM EDT

Talking of voting hiccups, the Center for Information Technology and Policy got hold of one of Diebold's latest-model voting machine, the AccuVote-TS, and took it for a spin. What they found is not reassuring.

1) Malicious software running on a single voting machine can steal votes with little if any risk of detection. The malicious software can modify all of the records, audit logs, and counters kept by the voting machine, so that even careful forensic examination of these records will find nothing amiss. We have constructed demonstration software that carries out this vote-stealing attack.

2) Anyone who has physical access to a voting machine, or to a memory card that will later be inserted into a machine, can install said malicious software using a simple method that takes as little as one minute. In practice, poll workers and others often have unsupervised access to the machines.

3) AccuVote-TS machines are susceptible to voting-machine viruses — computer viruses that can spread malicious software automatically and invisibly from machine to machine during normal pre- and post-election activity. We have constructed a demonstration virus that spreads in this way, installing our demonstration vote-stealing program on every machine it infects.

4) While some of these problems can be eliminated by improving Diebold's software, others cannot be remedied without replacing the machines' hardware. Changes to election procedures would also be required to ensure security.

In the November 2006 elections, these machines are scheduled to be used in 357 counties representing nearly 10 percent of registered voters.

More on Diebold here and here.

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Politicians Cast Opponents as Villains. No, Really.

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 6:16 PM EDT

Yes, that's right, at least according to AP. Republican candidates "are eager to drop names like Pelosi, Clinton and Kerry [Each of these things is not like the others. Discuss.] in an attempt to associate their opponents with liberals and raise fears about what would happen if Democrats took control of Congress." Other boogeymen include Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il, and, yes, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, described in a recent RNC briefing as "a partisan nutroot who turned his hate-filled blog Daily Kos into a leadership post in the Democrat Party." (The blog can be way grating, true; but he's always struck me as a smart, thoughtful type unafraid to call BS on lame Democrats, which is an odd way of being "partisan.")

Democrats aren't above using boogeymen in their turn, as in a recent ad "showing a montage of GOP Senate candidates and Bush, followed by images of men sneaking across the border sandwiched between shots of bazooka-toting terrorists, bin Laden and the North Korean president." (Huh?) The ad was quickly withdrawn when Hispanic leaders complained. All of which explains, for the umpteenth time, why politicians are held in such widespread contempt--both because this kind of denigration by association can work and because the puerility and lameness of the strategy is so self-evident.

Palestinian Refugees Targeted by Shia Militia

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 5:45 PM EDT

A reminder that the world is complicated and contradictory, and nowhere more so than in the Middle East: Palestinian refugees in Iraq face particularly grave security threats, including targeted killings by mostly Shia militant groups and harassment by the Iraqi government. So says a new Human Rights Watch report.

"Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, Palestinian refugees in Iraq have increasingly become targets of violence and persecution," said SarahLeah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Shia militant groups have murdered dozens of Palestinian refugees, and the Iraqi government has made it difficult for these refugees to stay legally in Iraq by imposing onerous registration requirements."

There are about 34,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq, and they've been targeted largely because of the benefits they received from Saddam's government and their support (real and perceived) for the Sunni insurgency. Since 2003 successive Iraqi governments have either failed to protect them or shown outright hostility. The report calls for Syria and Jordan to open their borders to the refugees, who otherwise have nowhere else to go. (Earlier this year David Enders wrote for MJ.com about the plight of the Palestinian refugees, one of whom told him, "We all just want to leave.")


Amnesty: Hizbollah Guilty of War Crimes

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 5:30 PM EDT

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A new Amnesty International report finds that "Hizbullah's rocket attacks on northern Israel amounted to deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, as well as indiscriminate attacks, both war crimes under international law. Its attacks also violated other rules of international humanitarian law, including the prohibition on reprisal attacks on the civilian population." Hizbullah fired several thousand rockets into northern Israel, killing 43 civilians, including children.

Read the full report here. And click on the image to see a video that accompanies it.

Camel Jockeys in Dubai's Sinister Paradise

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 4:20 PM EDT

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From the BBC: A class-action lawsuit filed in the US accuses the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (and his brother and 500 other defendants), of enslaving thousands of young children from Bangladesh, Sudan and southern Asia and putting them to work as camel jockeys.

Mike Davis had a great piece a while ago on the "sinister paradise" that is Dubai. The Persian Gulf city state boasts a jelly-fish shaped underwater hotel, the world's largest mall, a 24-square-mile archipelago of coral-colored islands in the shape of an almost finished puzzle of the world, high-rise resorts, thousands of mansions, a dinosaur theme park--you get the idea.

As Davis noted, under the "enlightened despotism" of its Sheikh, Dubai also boasts, if that's the right word, labor laws skewed very much to the advantage of Capital.

South Asian contract laborers, legally bound to a single employer and subject to totalitarian social controls, make up the great mass of the population. Dubai lifestyles are attended by vast numbers of Filipina, Sri Lankan, and Indian maids, while the building boom is carried on the shoulders of an army of poorly paid Pakistanis and Indians working twelve-hour shifts, six and half days a week, in the blast-furnace desert heat.

Dubai, like its neighbors, flouts ILO labor regulations and refuses to adopt the international Migrant Workers Convention. Human Rights Watch in 2003 accused the Emirates of building prosperity on "forced labor."