Political MoJo

The idea that Israel's Lebanon offensive had "nothing to do with Hezbollah" is "nothing short of demented."

| Tue Aug. 8, 2006 2:39 PM EDT

In response to an interview with frequent MJ contributor Robert Dreyfuss on Mother Jones Radio, a listener/reader writes:

To the Editors of Mother Jones:

I was in the past an occasional reader of Mother Jones and have recently re-engaged with the magazine through your podcasts, which, up until recently, I have quite enjoyed. This changed when I heard the July 30, 2006 interview with Robert Dreyfuss, which was truly shocking. My impression was that Mother Jones had embraced a moderate leftist political stance, but Mr. Dreyfuss' hateful diatribe against Israeli and U.S. policy was anything but moderate, anything but reasoned. [Rather, it was] the rant of an ill-tempered ideologue.

I think the crux of the matter was reached when Mr. Dreyfuss claimed that Israel's attack in Lebanon had "nothing to do with Hezbollah" and "nothing to do with Syria", but was only an attempt to drag the U.S. into conflict with Iran. Mr. Dreyfuss seems driven by a theological hatred of the Bush administration, and while it is unlikely that Mr. Dreyfuss despises Bush et al. more than I do, that is not an excuse for the public articulation of unsupported, near rabid attacks on his political enemies, in which clearly Israel has equal footing [with] the Bush administration.

The fact that Hezbollah has been attacking Israel for years on a small scale, dictating the terms of the conflict, killing people here and there, while supporting Hamas and engaging in various terrorist excursions is not in dispute. Many critics would advocate a "measured response". That is, when Hezbollah sends over a few rockets, injures or kills the odd Israeli, Israel should be expected to do no more than respond in kind. In other words, Hezbollah gets to set the terms and the timetable of the conflict, justify[ing] its belligerent existence to Lebanon in a never-ending conflict with Israel, while giving courage and leadership to those who would attack Israeli and Jewish targets around the world. The fact that Iran trained and largely armed Hezbollah is also not in dispute. So that when Israel, or more or less anyone, says that Hezbollah is an arm of Iranian foreign policy, it does not follow that Israel's desire to wipe out this incessant threat on its border is a ruse intended to steer the U.S. toward confrontation with Iran.

Whatever you might think of the Israeli offensive in Lebanon, the idea that it had nothing to do with Hezbollah is nothing short of demented. For Mr. Dreyfuss to portray Israel as the bully of the Middle East, leading the U.S around on a leash, while he expresses sympathy for the "poor" (Mr. Dreyfuss' word) Syrians is utterly repellant and entirely immoral. It is true, as he says, that Syria does not want a war with Israel, but this does not stop them from funneling, along with (and largely from) Iran, huge quantities of state-of-the-art weaponry to Hezbollah in order to conduct a proxy war.

One final note: in the absence of substantiating claims for his wild theories, Mr. Dreyfuss in the July 30th interview repeatedly justified his views by saying the "whole word" shares his views of Israel and the U.S. Apart from that not actually being an argument of any kind, the whole world he refers to is overrepresented by Muslim countries who constitute a billion people, and who in most cases have been steeped in long-term propagandist hate-mongering against Israel. Many in Western Europe also share Mr. Dreyfuss' anti-Israeli feelings, but between the ever-growing acceptance of anti-Semitism in Western Europe (presumably, hopefully, not an issue for a man named Dreyfuss), and the large representation of Muslim populations in Western European protests, Mr. Dreyfuss has put himself in some very distasteful company indeed.

What do you think? Comment below or write in to backtalk@motherjones.com

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Death and Destruction in Lebanon

| Tue Aug. 8, 2006 2:24 PM EDT

Dahr Jamail, writing at Tomdispatch, surveys the damage from the ground in Lebanon:

... Physically, Lebanon has been bombed if not yet back to the Stone Age, then at least to a point where much of the country now looks as it did in the worst periods of its brutal civil war, which lasted from 1975 until 1990.

According to statistics provided by the Lebanese Government on July 24th, there had already been well over $2.1 billion of damage to the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon -- all three of its airports and all four of its seaports had by then been bombed, and in the weeks to follow it was only to get worse.

By estimates that go quickly out of date as the brutal bombing campaign continues, there has already been nearly $1 billion of damage done to civilian residences and businesses, with over 22 gas stations as well as fuel depots bombed and the major highways along which fuel resupply would take place badly damaged. Scores of factories, worth over $180 million, have also been damaged or destroyed.

Red Cross ambulances, governmental emergency centers, UN peacekeeping forces and observers, media outlets, and mobile phone towers have all been bombed, each a violation of international law. Mosques and churches have been hit; illegal weapons such as cluster bombs and white phosphorous used; and, as far as can be told at this early point, over 90% of the victims killed have been civilians.

As of this writing, the Lebanese government had already announced at least 900 deaths, and that number is now certainly well over 1,000. At least 60 Israelis are also dead from Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel and fierce fighting inside Lebanon.

Read the rest here. Read Dahr's recent dispatches from Beirut for Mother Jones here. And listen to an interview with him from Lebanon on Mother Jones Radio here.

Joe Lieberman in His Own Words

| Tue Aug. 8, 2006 2:11 PM EDT

Joe Lieberman a progressive? Cliff Schecter at The Huffington Post lets the man speak for himself:

He also pointed out that he is among the least liberal Northern Democratic senators. He cited a National Journal survey of 1992 votes that rated him one of only two non-Southern Democrats -- Nebraska's James Exon was the other -- whose record put him in the more conservative half of the Senate. (Hartford Courant, August 3, 1993)

As early as 1980, when he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House, he said Congress must consider a "supply-side" economic approach. He still favors cuts in the capital gains tax, another Republican mainstay. (Hartford Courant, August 8, 2000)

1993 -- One of the last Democrats to publicly back President Clinton's $496 billion deficit-reduction plan. In explaining his vote, he tells colleagues, "I hate to raise taxes, particularly when the economy is so fragile, and I wish we would cut even more spending." (Hartford Courant, May 15, 2001)

Lieberman likes to say that one thing making him a different Democrat is his pro-business stance. (Hartford Courant, August 3, 1993)

Tuesday, Lieberman joined Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., one of the Senate's more vocal conservatives, in a press conference to announce support for a "school choice" plan...Their plan, which they will offer as an amendment to a Senate education bill, would provide $ 30 million next year for an experimental program that would allow low-income parents vouchers they could use to pay for their child's public or private education. Lieberman has long been an "accommodationist" on church/state issues, said his press secretary James E. Kennedy. (Hartford Courant, February 5, 1994).

Lieberman, though, is pleased to have GOP friends. He noted that Rowland has been a friend "for some time." (Hartford Courant, February 5, 1994)

He insisted that faith has a role in American public life, and even took the argument to a constitutional level -- saying the document guarantees "freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."..."America today is living through a new spiritual awakening," he told the receptive crowd. He quoted George Washington as maintaining that morality cannot be sustained "without religion." (The Hartford Courant, April 28, 2000)

He called the add-ons "a shame and an embarrassment," yet when the homeland security bill passed, special interest provisions and all, Lieberman appeared with his rivals at a Capitol press conference and declared, "We're working together." (The Associated Press, December 27, 2002)

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, whose vocal pro-war support for President Bush has rankled fellow Democrats, emerged from a White House meeting Friday saying the president has turned the corner on Iraq in recent weeks...Lieberman cited the substantial turnout in the Iraq elections this week and Bush's four major speeches on the war as key reasons for the turnaround..."I believe the president has begun a new conversation with the American people, looking back and talking again about why we went into Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, why we remain there, why success in Iraq is so critical to America's national security, and how we intend to win," he said.

Time Up for Joe Lieberman? Or, Joementum No More?

| Tue Aug. 8, 2006 1:29 PM EDT

Time's Up, Joe: **Lamont Lead Slips

As the candidates head into today's Democratic primary, anti-war challenger Ned Lamont hung on to a narrowing advantage over U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, according to the latest Quinnipiac University Poll.

The poll released Monday showed Lamont ahead 51 percent to 45 percent. He was leading by 13 percentage points a week ago. Both polls had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

"There has been a shift in momentum," said Doug Schwartz, director of the poll.
 Connecticut Post

Martin Peretz on Lieberman

Martin Peretz, New Republic editor, Gore guru, and scourge of the left, makes an impassioned plea for Joe. "If Mr. Lieberman goes down, the thought-enforcers of the left will target other centrists as if the center was the locus of a terrible heresy, an emphasis on national strength. Of course, they cannot touch Hillary Clinton, who lists rightward and then leftward so dexterously that she eludes positioning. Not so Mr. Lieberman. He does not camouflage his opinions. He does not play for safety, which is why he is now unsafe."
 Opinion Journal

E.J. Dionne on the Meaning of it All

"...the effort to play the anti-American card can be seen as a sign of the frustration felt by the architects of a war that no longer enjoys popular support and the desperation of those who realize how pervasive the anti-Bush mood has become."  Houston Chronicle

Newt Gingrich Stands up for Joe

"I will be blunt. In Connecticut, if Ned Lamont defeats Sen. Lieberman on Tuesday, it will be a major blow to those of us who believe that America must stand strong in the face of an emerging Third World War. The defeat of this long-serving senator, who just four months ago seemed invulnerable, will be a signal that the appeasement wing of one of America's two main political parties is gaining momentum." Human Events


Karzai promotes crackdown on vice

| Mon Aug. 7, 2006 9:16 PM EDT

In Afghanistan (remember Afghanistan?), people are lining up to apply for jobs within a proposed department that would crack down on vice. Plans are for the department staff to monitor people for "correct" Islamic behavior.

Sound like the old Afghanistan? Blame outsiders. Religious officials say that foreign troops and visitors have introduced alcohol, prostitution and the like to the country, and now something must be done to get rid of them. President Karzai is one of the leaders of this movement against vice. He is motivated, according to the Washington Post, partly by pressure from religious groups, but also by a desire to upstage Islamic Taliban insurgents who continue to attack in the south.

The new department may actually be the old Department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice. Under the Taliban, this branch of the government was brutal--whipping women whose veils slipped and arresting men whose beards were too short. The police have already destroyed thousands of bottles of alcohol and have detained a number of Chinese women suspected of being prostitutes, some of whom were deported. As things stand now, establishments such as restaurants may serve alcohol to foreigners, but not to Afghans.

"We would be as different from the Taliban as earth and sky," said Sulieman Hamid of the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, who would oversee the virtue and vice monitors. Government officials insist that a renewed crackdown on vice will not involve beating people or taking away their rights, but would be "educational" in nature.

The Afghan government recently sent 1,200 South Korean Christians back to South Korea because of fear that their presence would offend Muslims. In March, an Afghan man who converted to Christianity underwent a threat of capital punishment, but instead, he was allowed to flee to Italy. In May, angry mobs vandalized several Chinese brothels.

According to Human Rights Watch, many people in Afghanistan--especially women--are very concerned about the reincarnation of the Department for the Protection of Virtue and the Discouragement of Vice. Sam Zia Zarifi of HRW says:

Unfortunately the international [community] has not helped Karzai economically or from a security standpoint as much as it should have. Therefore Karzai is under pressure from groups who we think want to abuse Afghanistan's current situation and in the name of religion put critics and women and girls under political pressure.

Watching Professional Wrestling Ruins High-School Dates

| Mon Aug. 7, 2006 7:31 PM EDT


From Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, more fodder for the debate over the relationship between violence in media and violence in the real world: a report titled "The Relationship Between Watching Professional Wrestling on Television and Engaging in Date Fighting Among High School Students."

There were significant correlations between frequency of watching wrestling on television during the previous 2 weeks and engaging in date fighting, fighting in general, and weapon carrying for both males and females, although the relationships were stronger among females than among males. The frequency of watching wrestling was highest among students reporting date fighting when either the victim or perpetrator had been drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs. When analyzed using logistic regression, the strongest relationships were observed between the frequency of watching wrestling and date-fight perpetration among females in cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. These findings persisted after adjusting for multiple other factors.

This strongly suggests that the violence depicted need not be real--or even convincing--for it to encourage violent behavior.

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Conyers on the Imperial Bush Presidency: Still Dangerous to Our Democracy

| Mon Aug. 7, 2006 5:42 PM EDT

Writing from Washington, Mother Jones' Jennifer Wedekind notes the release by the office of John Conyers of a 370-page report describing in full numerous instances of lawlessness and misconduct by the Bush Administration. Conyers isn't buying the idea that recent instances of judicial pushback (see, for example, the Hamdan decision) mean Bush has been reined in. Conyers writes: "The unfortunate reality is we are a long way from being out of the constitutional woods under the dangerous combination of an imperial Bush presidency and a compliant GOP Congress."

Read the piece in full here.

Nets with Holes in Them Reduce Unwanted Fish Catch by 70 Percent

| Mon Aug. 7, 2006 4:24 PM EDT


Some good news, for a change, concerning the oceans: The U.N. is reporting that fishing nets with "exit holes" being introduced under a project to salvage depleted world fisheries are helping shrimp trawlers reduce "bycatch" by up to 70 percent. (Reuters)

Bycatch (whereby large numbers of marine animals are caught "incidentally" in fishermen's nets) is a massive problem, contributing to the already intense overfishing of the seas. One in four animals caught in fishing gear dies as bycatch, meaning that each year millions of animals--especially sea turtles, dolphins, seals (pictured), sharks, swordfish and whales--are killed.

Shrimp fishing (a $12 billion-a-year business) is particularly wasteful owing to the fineness of the nets used, and more than 60 percent of what is currently caught (sharks, turtles and more) is discarded.

(More on the state--and the fate--of the ocean here.)

Urban Poverty: How the Other Half Lives -- and Not Just in New Orleans

| Mon Aug. 7, 2006 3:16 PM EDT


Bruce Katz of Brookings, writing recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education, reminds us that Hurricane Katrina laid bare a New Orleans starkly divided by race and class, with the brunt of the disaster being being borne by poor, minority households. (Before Katrina, African-American residents made up 67 percent of the city's total population, but 84 percent of its population below the poverty line. And those poor African-American households were highly concentrated in 47 neighborhoods of extreme poverty, where the poverty rate topped 40 percent.) But, as he points out, though New Orleans has always been one of the cities with the most geographically concentrated poor populations in the country, it's hardly unique.

[Some] cities—like Baltimore, Cleveland, and Milwaukee—are former industrial giants whose populations have suffered from severe economic restructuring over the past several decades. Others—like Fresno, Los Angeles, and Miami—have faced challenges in integrating new immigrant populations who often arrive in gateway neighborhoods with low levels of education and labor-market skills. Still others—Atlanta, Memphis, and Washington—lie at the heart of growing regions but continue to grapple with legacies of racism, segregation, and intergenerational poverty holding back their most distressed neighborhoods.

The existence in our midst of concentrated poverty--complete with failing schools, unsafe streets, run-down housing, and few local jobs or employment networks --is a standing affront to American values and basic morality, of course. But, as Katz makes clear, it also entails a series of cascading effects that spread the cost to society at large.

  • Cities are forced to pay for the higher cost of delivering health, education, police, fire, judicial, and other services in high-poverty environments, often amounting to hundreds of dollars per city resident.
  • With higher expenses come higher taxes, harming cities in their competition for middle-class families, which are the backbone of resilient economies.
  • Suburbs with weak central cities see less appreciation in housing prices and incomes, given the interdependence of economies.
  • The concentration of neighborhood poverty leads inexorably to the concentration of school poverty.

So, what to do? Katz points out that there are available policy tools, focused on broadening access to affordable housing, employment, and educational opportunities--designed to transform poor neighborhoods into healthy ones attracting families with a broad range of incomes. He concludes:

The bottom line is that America knows how to promote housing choice and build mixed-income communities that work economically and socially. The only question is whether we have the political will to apply the best lessons and innovations not only to the rebuilding of New Orleans but to the housing of Katrina-displaced and other low-income families throughout the country.

(For more on how the poor get poorer--and the rich get richer--see the two most recent issues of Mother Jones, in which Clara exhaustively details how the deck is stacked against poor Americans and very much in favor of wealthy ones -- in ways that aren't always obvious.)

Things Still Don't Look Good for Lieberman

| Mon Aug. 7, 2006 2:37 PM EDT

The Lieberman camp is cheering," according to AP, with their man generating some belated Joementum the day before Connecticut's Democratic primary election. They're heartened by a Quinnipiac University poll that shows Lieberman cutting into Ned Lamont's lead, which last week hit double digits. Lamont now has "a slight lead of 51 percent to 45 percent" over Lieberman among likely Democratic voters.

Well, it's getting tighter, but a six point deficit still doesn't look good for Lieberman.

(Plus, McJoan at Daily Kos: Lieberman a "principled" politician? Yes -- but not the way you think. Call it "the Lieberman Principle: What is good for Joe is good." And McJoan has the flip-flops to prove it.)