Political MoJo

The Latest: War in the Middle East

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 9:22 AM EDT

FIGHTING AT BAALBEK
Haaretz provides a blow by blow description of Tuesday night's (around 10:20 local time) Israeli commando attacks on this ancient city: Rapid air attacks, bombing, then landing and entering hospital, killing some guerrillas and capturing others, civilian deaths.

Also from Haaretz: "Witnesses in Baalbek said they saw dozens of IAF helicopters hovering over the city. They said the hospital in Baalbek, filled with patients and wounded people, was bombed by IAF helicopters late Tuesday. Plumes of burning smoke billowed from the hospital after it was directly hit, they said."

Attacks came before Israeli pause in fighting had ended. It is the first time since 1994 that Israel has gone this far into Lebanon. Haaretz says the hospital was financed by Iranian charities. Wednesday Hezbollah fired a rocket some 70 kilometers into Israel, the deepest strike to date. The BBC says there were no casualties.

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EPA Insider: Agency a "Private Industry Licensing Program"

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 4:11 AM EDT

"Unions representing thousands of staff scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency say the agency is bending to political pressure and ignoring sound science in allowing a group of toxic chemicals to be used in agricultural pesticides," reports the Times. The story is based on a "newly disclosed letter" from the unions that was "given to the The New York Times on Tuesday by environmental advocacy organizations."

Minor point: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility posted a press release on the selfsame letter, which was sent May 24, more than two months ago. But we all know that things don't really exist until they are "given to the Times," and quibbles aside, the story is awfully good. The chemicals in question, carbamates and organophosphates, (as we reported six years ago) are known, to the EPA and everyone else, to be bad news. So why, you ask, are they still legal?

"It's how the game is played," said an E.P.A. specialist involved in the pesticide program who spoke on the condition of anonymity because, he said, critics within the agency often lose choice assignments.

"You go to a meeting, and word comes down that this is an important chemical, this is one we've got to save," he said. "It's all informal, of course. But it suggests that industry interests are governing the decisions of E.P.A. management. The pesticide program functions as a governmental cover for what is effectively a private industry licensing program."

Bush Advisor: Oil Future "Looking So Ugly Nobody Wants to Face It"

| Wed Aug. 2, 2006 1:23 AM EDT

Do yourself a favor and read the Chicago Tribune's fantastic series tracing the oil that goes into your tank backward across the globe--to Africa, where more and more of it comes from (causing an affluent superpower to "rattle its half-empty oil can at the world's poorest continent"), to the Middle East, to places you may not have thought of. Along the way, Pulitzer winner Paul Salopek discovers that kicking oil habit is no longer just a matter of virtue, or environmental responsibility, or even finite resources (as Paul Roberts showed in his Mother Jones piece on "peak oil") but of getting out of the way of the inevitable collapse:

(The) globe-spanning energy network... today is so fragile, so beholden to hostile powers and so clearly unsustainable, that our car-centered lifestyle seems more at risk than ever.

"I truly think we're at one of those turning points where the future's looking so ugly nobody wants to face it," said Matthew Simmons, an energy investment banker in Houston who has advised the Bush administration on oil policy. "We're not talking some temporary Arab embargo anymore. We're not talking your father's energy crisis."

Mel Gibson wants Jews to help him on a "journey through recovery." Really.

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 9:17 PM EDT

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It would be easy to ridicule Mel ("sugar tits") Gibson's flailing attempts to salvage his rep -- which currently stands at Judas Iscariot/Pontius Pilate levels. So let's. Today, Mel dons his crown of thorns to issue this very, very pathetic statement:

"There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. I want to apologise specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law enforcement officer the night I was arrested.

"I am in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from during that drunken display, and I am asking the Jewish community, whom I have personally offended, to help me on my journey through recovery...

I know there will be many in that community who will want nothing to do with me, and that would be understandable. But I pray that that door is not forever closed."

Leaders of the community, meanwhile, are rightly content to withhold absolution until Gibson has self-flagellated a good while longer.

Several Jewish leaders said he must first complete his recovery program and perform acts of goodwill, such as visiting Nazi death camps.

"We will know when the time is, but the time is certainly not when his press agents think it is," said Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Gibson's alleged sexist comments go practically unnoticed

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 9:17 PM EDT

Actor and director Mel Gibson, who is reported to have said some outrageously vile things when he was stopped for lawless driving a few days ago, is having both his drunken words and his apology analyzed and judged by the news media, crisis managers and members of the Anti-Defamation League. Gibson is alleged to have said:

"Fucking Jews....The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." He then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"

Gibson is alleged to have cursed and carried on like this for some time. What isn't being discussed is that he is also alleged to have called one of the female officers a "bitch," and called another one "sugar tits."

There are some people who are defending Gibson because he was intoxicated when he ranted about Jews. This defense in itself is rather frightening, but nonetheless common in our culture. What is more disturbing, though, is that none of the pundits, crisis managers, media experts, or other analysts seems to be the least bit disturbed about Gibson's alleged sexist remarks.

It is well known that Gibson is anti-feminist, and there was a time--at least in the United States--when calling women, especially women in authority, inappropriate names would have gotten someone into a bit of trouble. Now, though, it seems that if Gibson can somehow make it right with the Jewish community, he will home free, regardless of how he may have treated female officers of the law.

Senate Okays Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Or, "Back to Drill, Drill, Drill..."

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 8:38 PM EDT

The U.S. Senate just passed a bill opening up 8.3 million acres of Gulf of Mexico coastline to oil and natural gas drilling, ending a ban against offshore drilling.

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This, of course, may be just the first step toward dismantling the federal moratorium protecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from drilling, which is precisely what a much more sweeping House bill, pushed by ocean enemy No. 1 Richard Pombo (pictured), would do.

Said Richard Charter, co-chairman of the National Outer Continental Shelf Coalition, of the bill: "This is death by a thousand cuts for coastal protections nationwide. The senators who support this bill have made it clear that while this is as much as they can open now, they ultimately want to open much more of the coast to drilling. So the question really becomes: How much happens this year ... and how much might be left for next year?"

Environmental groups and some Democrats say, reasonably, that opening coastal waters to drilling only feeds US demand for fossil fuel. As Sen. Harry Reid put it, "The Democratic caucus is very clear that there will be no more offshore drilling. This is it. Don't go back to the drill, drill, drill theory." Which is weird; but you get the idea.

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Lebanese Intellectuals Unite

Tue Aug. 1, 2006 6:20 PM EDT

In a stirring editorial in today's Guardian, former British Foreign Office press secretary John Williams declares, "This crisis is a terrible failure for President Bush's championing of Middle East democracy." His rebuke stems from the fact that Israel's invasions of Gaza and Lebanon seem, at the present time, to have rendered moderate leaders like Mahmoud Abbas and Fouad Siniora impotent and marginal, while strengthening the hands' of extremists such as the leaders of Syria and Iran.

In the meantime, the Bush administration, and the neocons lauding its response to the crisis in Lebanon, can take comfort, perhaps, that Lebanese civil society—a crucial component of democratization—seems to be strengthening. In a letter being circulated online among intellectuals inside the country and abroad, 50-odd journalists, professors and poets have signed on to a core set of declarations and demands for their government and their peers. The unity comes with strong language:

We the undersigned declare:

1) Our conscious support for the Lebanese national resistance as it wages a war in defense of our sovereignty and independence, a war to release Lebanese imprisoned in Israel, a war to safeguard the dignity of the Lebanese and Arab people.

2) Our unambiguous refutation of the logic that accuses HizbAllah of having provided the "pretext" for the Israeli invasion. Israel did not invade Lebanon, destroy its infrastructure, displace and murder its populace because of the heroic operation carried out by HizbAllah. Israel has never needed a pretext to breach the sovereignty of Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, or other nations… How strange that Israel should wish to be the policeman in charge of executing UN Resolution 1559 when it has not yet executed any of the previously issued UN resolutions addressing its own actions, with the exception of the partial implementation of Resolution 425, which resulted essentially because of strikes inflicted by the armed Lebanese Resistance.

3) Our staunch condemnation of official American support for, and contribution to, the Israeli aggression. The war crimes Israel is currently committing, as well as those it committed in the past and will commit in the probable future, would not have occurred or occur yet without America's political and military support for Israel, that which is unmitigated by its allegedly unswerving espousal of Lebanese freedom, sovereignty, and independence.

But then, that's probably not what quite what the White House had mind…

Rising "Voluntary" Unemployment Among Men

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 5:25 PM EDT

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an interesting story about how men between the ages of 30 and 54 are voluntarily dropping out of work, unable to find a job that interests them, and preferring instead to live at home, doing things that they find more fulfilling. The numbers are hardly insignificant: about 10 percent of men in this age group—roughly 3 million workers—are out of work and not looking for jobs.

The article mostly delves into the causes of this trend—in particular, there's the decline of stable, unionized jobs, especially in manufacturing and technology, and the unwillingness of those who are laid off to seek work that's beneath them, preferring instead to pursue other interests. In that case, the fault resides with an economy that's chiefly creating low-paying, unfulfilling, and overly stressful jobs. There's also the fact that roughly 2 million men in this age group have prison records, thanks largely to the surge of drug-related convictions in the 1980s and '90s, and have trouble finding work.

Neoconservatives Happy About Lebanon

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 4:02 PM EDT

Let's take stock. Who's pleased with the way things are going in the Middle East? After the IDF allegedly killed at least 57 Lebanese civilians in Qana over the weekend, including 37 children, a lot of people in Lebanon certainly aren't very pleased. The citizens of Bint Jbeil don't seem pleased that their city has been bombed into rubble and is "no longer a place of the modern world." On the other hand, according to the Financial Times, neoconservatives are extremely pleased with all this, and back in the Bush administration's corner after a spate of dissatisfaction earlier this year:

Neo-conservative criticism [of the Bush administration] reached a peak after Ms Rice, secretary of state, offered conditional talks to Iran in late May on its nuclear programme. But their attacks on Mr Bush ceased after 12 July, when Israel launched its military campaign against Hizbollah.

"This is exactly the right strategy, which you could call 'Don't just do something, stand there [while Israel continues its military campaign]'," said David Frum, a former speechwriter to George W. Bush, who helped draft the president's 2002 'Axis of Evil' address.

Well as long as a former speechwriter sitting comfortably at his phone far away from the carnage is pleased, things must be going well, no?

Will the White House Push for a Ceasefire in Lebanon?

| Tue Aug. 1, 2006 3:50 PM EDT

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Bush administration slowly seems to be realizing that Israel's offensive in Lebanon isn't going to accomplish much besides leaving a lot of civilians dead and stir up a lot of potentially deadly resentment towards both Israel and the United States:

A senior administration official said the U.S. believed Israel would have only a matter of weeks to strike Hezbollah before international pressure for a cease-fire forced an end to the fighting, especially if civilian casualties climbed. Now, the official said, the U.S. is beginning to fear that it could be left both with mounting regional fury and an emboldened Hezbollah that has withstood the initial assault without losing its ability to inflict casualties on Israeli troops and civilians.

No kidding. Perhaps the next step is for administration officials to realize that the same goes for the war in Iraq. An overwhelming air war is completely counterproductive when it comes to defeating insurgent groups that have broad civilian support. Kevin Drum has a number of good posts on this very subject, especially this one.