Political MoJo

After Castro

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 12:00 PM EST

With Fidel Castro at death's door, Miami is frothing at the mouth. The authorities are bracing for the worst, anticpating that the leader's death could send an armada of row boats into the seas between Miami and Cuba, as some Cubans rush home to reclaim lost businesses and properties and others to foment a guerrilla war against the weakened regime. "The message we want to send is, 'Do not throw yourself to the waters,'" Amos Rojas Jr., the South Florida regional director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said yesterday. "'Be patient, the trip is very dangerous.'"

What happens in Cuba when Castro dies is in no way predictable. Today the nation is tied into an economic coalition with Venezuela and China. In addition to its important supplies of nickel, used in the manufacture of various types of specialty steels, there are solid signs of an oil field off its north coast. If so, energy independence could be in sight. (In fact, the Caribbean is becoming something of an energy trove—and not necessarily just for the U.S. Trinidad is the center of a major gas field which currently is providing gas for LNG shipments to the east coast of the U.S. where the demand for gas is steadily increasing.)

If the Democrats control the Congress—and with South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson's sudden illness yesterday this is no longer assured—U.S. policy toward Cuba is not likely to change much. In all likelihood it will continue along the same lines it has since 1959, when Secretary of State Christian Herter declared "economic warfare" on Cuba, cutting off the sugar trade and its fuel supply. The idea, as Ricardo Alarcon, Cuba's vice president recently put it in an article printed in Counterpunch, has been "to bring about hunger, misery and desperation among the people of Cuba."

A State Department analysis in April 1960 said that since "the majority of Cubans support Castro, the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship." To weaken the economic life of Cuba there was a need to take a "positive position which would call forth a line of action while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government."

The policy didn't work. After 46 years of ceaseless machinations to kill or topple Castro, the U.S. has gotten nowhere. In 2004, the Bush administration's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba put out a report that insisted the Castro government was about to collapse, after which a U.S. transition team could effect an occupation and remake the place in the democratic image of the U.S. — just like in Iraq.

However, as Wayne Smith, a former U.S. diplomat who served in Cuba and who has extensive knowledge of U.S.-Cuban relations, noted, instead of collapsing, the Cuban economy "has shown strong signs of reinvigoration. Even the CIA gives it a growth rate of 8 percent."

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Some Speech Is More Inappropriate Than Other Speech

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 9:31 PM EST

Ever since Rosie O'Donnell joined the cast of The View, she has received sharp criticism from other members of the media. O'Donnell's pique with Kelly Ripa over a supposedly homophobic remark seems silly to some, significant to others. Joe Scarborough--who is as obsessed with O'Donnell as Keith Olbermann is with Britney Spears--has sharply criticized O'Donnell for saying such "inappropriate" things as her observations that radical Christianity is as threatening as radical Islam, and that Bush is less than a stellar example of a leader. Other conservatives were oh, so shocked by O'Donnell's statement that post-September 11 America is like the McCarthy era.

Scarborough has repeatedly said that he does not understand why a principled person like Barbara Walters puts up with O'Donnell. That in itself is absurd. Walters is an uninformed conservative, she is sexist, and she calls herself a "close friend" of the late Roy Cohn. Of course, Scarborough is also confused that politics is discussed on a "women's" show.

Now O'Donnell has gone and done something really offensive--her "ching chong" remark about the news in China, and her detractors are having a field day. She deserves the criticsm. (Her original defense was that she is a comedian, but there are two things wrong with that--she was not doing a comic act when she appears on The View, and she does not make fun of other cultures or minorities.) But those same people have totally ignored Don Imus's recent reference to Jewish CBS radio management as "money-grubbing bastards."

The talking heads pick and choose whose (and which) inappropriate language they attack. They were quick to jump on Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic remarks, but never said a single word about his drunken misogynist remarks, made during the very same traffic incident. And they are quick to jump on gay, liberal O'Donnell whether her speech is truly inappropriate or just truthful.

It is unfortunate that Gibson said vile things about both Jews and women, that O'Donnell made fun of Chinese people, and that Imus perpetuated a terrible Jewish stereotype. But you won't get the full story from their peers in the news--you'll get what they want you to remember.

The Muscles from Brussels

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 8:22 PM EST

Today the European Parliament passed one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching EU regulations in its history, a set of environmental rules that will hold companies liable for the health effects of some 30,000 substances used in everything from computers to laundry detergent. The law—which applies to any company that wants to sell into the huge European market (pretty much any global corporation, these days)—signals the evolution of the EU from a paper tiger into the new global arbiter of environmental standards. The rules are sure to affect products produced and sold in the United States much more so than any law recently passed by the U.S. Congress.

To read more about the new law, known as REACH, for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, and how it will affect the environment stateside, check out The Muscles From Brussels, my article in Mother Jones' November/December issue.

Breaking News: Dem Senator Has "Stroke-Like Symptoms." Could Balance of Power Shift?

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 5:56 PM EST

Via CNN:

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-South Dakota, was hospitalized Wednesday after he suffered stroke-like symptoms in his Washington office, his staff said.
Johnson, who turns 60 on December 28, was taken to George Washington University Hospital by ambulance about 11:30 a.m., sources in his office said.
A statement issued by Johnson's office said he was suffering from a "possible stroke."
At this stage he is undergoing a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team," the statement said. Staffers said that Johnson was conscious when he was transported to the hospital.
A lawyer and longtime state lawmaker, Johnson was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986. He served five terms before he was elected to the Senate in 1996.
He is the senior senator from South Dakota and serves on numerous committees, including appropriations, budget, banking, energy and natural resources, and Indian affairs
.Should Johnson not be able to complete his term, which ends in 2008, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, could appoint his replacement, which could shift the balance of power in the Senate.
Johnson battled prostate cancer in 2004, and after surgery, tests showed he no longer had the disease, according to his Web site.

Jay Bakker's Quiet Revolution

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 2:48 PM EST
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Tonight, the Sundance Channel debuts "One Punk Under God," a documentary series that follows Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Since his parents' PTL ministry collapsed in the late '80s, Bakker hit the bottle, got a ton of tattoos, sobered up, rediscovered God, and became a preacher. He's now spreading the word from a Brooklyn storefront, but it's a distinctly different message from the one we're used to hearing from megachurches and televangelists. I recently talked to Bakker about his philosophy, his decision to become a "gay-affirming" church, and what tricks of the trade he picked up from his parents. Check it out here.

Proxy War Anyone?

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 2:42 PM EST

The New York Times reports today that Saudi Arabia will back the Sunni minority in Iraq if the United States withdraws its troops. This move by the Saudi government sends a strong message that they will not be passive observers of Iran's involvement in Iraq. Nawaf Obaid, a security adviser to Saudi Arabia, writing in the Washington Post last month, warned of this impending possibility, although he made clear his views were not those of his country. It appears now that they are. King Abdullah expressed Saudi Arabia's intentions to support Iraq's Sunnis to Dick Cheney during the VP's visit to Riyadh two weeks ago. It's a foregone conclusion that bordering nations will play a role in the outcome of the situation in Iraq. What possible roles are still unknown, but there are several scary prospects floating around. Obaid wrote, "To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks -- it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse."

A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is definitely one of the looming possibilities.

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Cheney Cutting and Running

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 1:44 PM EST

U.S. News and World Report is reporting that Dick Cheney's recent absence from the public eye is an attempt to disassociate himself with the war.

"I think we'll see less of him than ever," says [an] associate. "Iraq is now Bush's baby, and Cheney doesn't want to be tarred with it in the eyes of historians."

Right... For a reminder of exactly how involved in the war effort Dick Cheney was, see the "Cheney" portion of the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.

Methane, Midges & Morons

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 12:56 AM EST

From the AGU (American Geophysical Union) meeting in San Francisco comes word that the frozen fields of methane known as clathrates underlying the seafloor exist at much shallower depths than previously thought. Nature reports that Michael Riedel of McGill University in Montreal and colleagues found methane clathrates off Vancouver Island in only 200 to 400 feet of water—less than half the depth previously predicted, based on our current understanding of the temperatures and pressures required to keep frozen gases stable.

It's ominous because the rapid melting of frozen methane is a feared consequence of global warming, as described in this issue's cover story, The Thirteenth Tipping Point. In a warming world, shallower clathrates would melt sooner, a very bad thing for life on earth.

If you're wondering the extent to which scientists are pouring their efforts into the study of global climate change, from the monumental to the microscopic, check out this study of the changes in midge communities in western American lakes. Also reporting at the AGU, David Porinchu, lead author and an assistant professor of geography at Ohio State University, found that midge species inhabiting western American lakes shifted dramatically as lake temperatures rose the past three decades.

Doesn't matter though to Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, recently deposed chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. According to his Guide to Debunking Global Warming Alarmism:

My skeptical views on man-made catastrophic global warming have only strengthened as new science comes in.

In scientific parlance, that's called skepticitis, a disorder affecting human intelligence in a very bad way for life on earth.

Is Gary Miller (R-CA) a Crook? Ask Jeeves. . .

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 9:51 PM EST

In the latest dispatch from the seismically unstable mansion known as the California Republican Party, former aides of Rep. Garry Miller accuse him of turning them into butlers. The aides say Miller required them to help his children with schoolwork, search for rock concert tickets and send flowers to family members and friends. "There was never a clear line in the office between what was congressional business and what was just business," one former aide told the LA Times. "The expectation was that you would do both." Miller is also accused of new self-dealing involving real estate (a longstanding theme), which I won't bore you with here, except to say that he paid himself $75,000 in rent for the use his real estate development firm as a campaign office, which, it appears, wasn't used for much campaigning.

The theme of gilded excess at the California GOP was dusted off last year when former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham admitted he'd conspired to take bribes that included a Rolls Royce, a yacht and a 19th Century Louis Philippe commode. Of course, Miller has built on the notion of GOP graft with all the embellishment of a Fisherman's Wharf caricature artist. Voters showed they care about such things by ousting Rep. Richard Pombo in November for, among other things, his associations with Jack Abramoff, but the carnage Out West left plenty of other sketchy legislators standing. See MJ's November article, Washington's Shadiest Shoo-ins, for a shout-out to SoCal's indomitable Jerry Lewis.

One might hope that Republicans, being the perpetual underdogs in California, would at least serve as the party of conscience, as advocates of balanced budgets and moral probity. At times they've been known to fill this role, such as last year, for instance, when former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley was implicated in a money laundering scandal and a Republican appointee replaced him (for a few months at least, until he lost this year's election to a Democrat). That the Democrats rebounded from the scandal so quickly underscores how much the Republican voice of conscience has lost its credibility, or been replaced by pillow whispers with the powerful.

Victory for Hemp

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 9:01 PM EST

Starting on the first of next year, farmers in North Dakota can apply for licenses to grow hemp, the biological cousin of marijuana that can be used to make everything from soap to rope to groovy hacky-sack covers. Tired of watching their Canadian neighbors making good money off the stuff, state legislators legalized industrial hemp production last year. But there's still one major hurdle: the DEA has to give approval, since it considers hemp no different from pot - even though you'd have to smoke about an acre of the stuff to get a buzz. Of course, federal authorities have never been known for the rationality of their approach to anything connected with marijuana. The Supreme Court, for instance, just upheld a 55 year sentence for a guy convicted of selling three bags of pot to an undercover cop. Even the judge who was forced to impose the punishment, thanks to mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, called it "unjust, cruel and irrational."