Political MoJo

Congress to the Rescue

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 6:13 PM EDT

WASHINGTON—While strongly supporting Israel, the Congress has decided to sit out the current war in Lebanon. The closest it came to getting involved occurred late last week in a pretty feeble debate over Lebanon, with American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israeli lobby, trying to broker a "bipartisan" resolution on the conflict.

When the Republican majority leader in the House John Boehner approached Nancy Pelosi on the floor and tried to get her to sign on to a joint resolution supporting Israel, she balked, wanting it to include a phrase asking both sides to limit civilian casualties, reports the Hill. When the Republicans refused to add such language, Pelosi said she would back the resolution, but not actually sign it. So, Boehner made an end run around her — co-sponsoring the resolution, which backs Israel and commends Bush for "fully supp orting Israel as it responds to these armed attacks by terrorist organizations and their state sponsors," with Henry Hyde, chair of the International Relations committee and Tom Lantos, the California Democrat and Holocaust survivor who is the ranking minority member.
Republicans pointed out to members who wanted to add softening language, which discouraged the killing of civilians, that doing so would add legitimacy to both Hamas and Hazbollah, placing them in the same category as sovereign Israel.

Meanwhile a handful of Lebanese-American members, led by Darrell Issa of California, made a futile gesture, asking all parties to protect human life. On Monday, Congressman Nick Rahall, a Lebanese American Democrat from West Virginia, called for an immediate cease-fire. It failed.

Dennis Kucinich of Ohio also spoke out strongly against the fighting. He introduced a resolution with 23 backers including New York's Louise Slaughter and John Conyers from Michigan, calling on the President "to appeal to all sides in the current crisis in the Middle East for an immediate cessation of violence and to commit United States diplomats to multi-party negotiations with no preconditions."

Kucinich wants Bush to send a "high-level diplomatic mission to the region to facilitate such multi-party negotiations." He urges "multi-party negotiations to begin as soon as possible, including delegations from the governments of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt; and supports an international peacekeeping mission to southern Lebanon to prevent cross-border skirmishes during such multi-party negotiations."

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Specter's Out of Control

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 5:55 PM EDT

banner_photo.gifIt would be an unmitigated disaster if Congress ends up passing Arlen Specter's NSA wiretapping bill, which would allow the president to get away with breaking the law. Read Glenn Greenwald on why Specter's bill must be stopped, and then read Christy Hardin Smith on how to help stop it. Specter is often lauded in media circles as a "moderate" (or better yet, "principled") Republican; that's always been a fiction, but it would be nice if people could stop pretending he's anything other than an administration stooge.

New at Mother Jones: On the War in the Middle East

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 5:51 PM EDT

We have a couple of excellent articles up at Mother Jones today about the conflict in the Middle East. (Both come by way of Foreign Policy in Focus.) In the first, retired U.S. Army Colonel Daniel Smith writes that just as the Bush doctrine of preventive war has failed to make the United States more secure in the world (while making the world more insecure from the the U.S.), so has Israel's security strategy--responding to any provocation with the application of maximum force--failed to win it peace and security. He writes: "Perhaps the United States and Israel should try something that neither country is very good at: examining policy from the viewpoint of those who do not have overwhelming military firepower."

In the other piece, Stephen Zunes reflects on last week's congressional resolution in support of Israel, which he argues, "reveals a bipartisan consensus on the legitimacy of U.S. allies to run roughshod over international legal norms. The resolution even goes so far as to radically reinterpret the United Nations Charter by claiming that Israel's attacks on Lebanon's civilian infrastructure is an act of legitimate self-defense...despite a broad consensus of international legal scholars to the contrary.

100 civilians a day dying in Iraq

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 5:28 PM EDT

The United Nations has released a figure of 100 civilian deaths a day in Iraq. 3,149 civilians were killed in June, and it is expected that the number will rise in July.

More of this report by The Independent, made available by Alternet, says that Syria now has 351,000 Iraqi war refugees, and there are 450,000 refugees in Jordan.

Forgetting About Iraq?

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 5:28 PM EDT

Um, what? CNN's homepage is running an article entitled "Iraq: The Forgotten War". Certainly no one should forget that currently over 100 Iraqi civilians are being killed each day in that country, and at least 31 American troops have been killed so far this month.

But leave that aside for a second. A lot of people watch CNN—some 2.4 million at last count. If the network's really worried that people are forgetting about the catastrophe in Iraq, they certainly have the power to do something about it. Instead, as Atrios points out, CNN has been running headlines about Israel and Lebanon noting that "fighting in the Middle East is in its 13th day." With a miniscule attention span, anything's possible!

Middle Class Disappearing From Cities

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 4:48 PM EDT

Over the weekend, the New York Times had a fascinating article, based on this Brookings report, about cities that are slowly losing their middle-class residents. For instance, 43 percent of those in New York City are considered high-income and 41 percent low-income, leaving only 16 percent in the middle. Housing costs, as well as the low supply of middle-class jobs, are pushing people out to the suburbs.

This looks like a complex phenomenon with a variety of causes and consequences, but one rather striking effect is that many poor urban dwellers will have a harder time moving up the economic ladder. As a San Francisco Chronicle article noted a few weeks ago, people living in the poorer parts of this city often have nowhere to move if they want to escape. Meanwhile, many middle-income workers who have jobs in the city have to finding affordable housing in the suburbs or exurbs, but that forces them into long commutes and less time at home (not to mention all the carbon emissions given off by those four-hour drives).

At any rate, economists don't seem to be too worried about any of this, but it seems like the sort of trend that's drastically understudied and could cause problems down the road. Either way, the article's worth a read.

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New Report: Abusive Techniques Were Authorized, Soldiers' Complaints Ignored

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 4:00 PM EDT

A new report out from Human Rights Watch claims that "torture and other abuses against detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq were authorized and routine, even after the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal." This according to new first-hand accounts from soldiers. From the HRW news release:guantanamo.jpg

In the 53-page report, "No Blood, No Foul: Soldiers' Accounts of Detainee Abuse in Iraq," soldiers describe how detainees were routinely subjected to severe beatings, painful stress positions, severe sleep deprivation, and exposure to extreme cold and hot temperatures. The accounts come from interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch, supplemented by memoranda and sworn statements contained in declassified documents.

"Soldiers were told that the Geneva Conventions did not apply, and that interrogators could use abusive techniques to get detainees to talk," said John Sifton, the author of the report and the senior researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism at Human Rights Watch. "These accounts rebut U.S. government claims that torture and abuse in Iraq was unauthorized and exceptional – on the contrary, it was condoned and commonly used."

A statement announcing the report says the findings indicate that "detainee abuse was an established and apparently authorized part of the detention and interrogation processes in Iraq for much of 2003-2005. They also suggest that soldiers who sought to report abuse were rebuffed or ignored."

For more on the human toll of the Bush administration's detainee policy, see this article by Mackenzie Funk from the upcoming issue of Mother Jones. And for our full coverage, see here.

No End in Sight for Iraq

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 3:18 PM EDT

As we know, the United States is nowhere near being able to build the sort of police force in Iraq that's capable of keeping some modicum of order and allowing the U.S. to draw down its troops to some extent. (By "some extent," I'm assuming that the Bush administration wants to keep a small-ish force in Iraq forever, partly as a bulwark against Iran, but also wants to bring enough troops home to get Iraq off the front pages.) Up until now, that hasn't been a rousing success: the police force has been accused of being infiltrated by death squads and engaging in torture, assassination, and all manner of gruesome activities that aren't part of the standard recipe for peace and stability.

tigris.jpg

Anyway, Michael Gordon's piece in the Times today reports further on some of the difficulties that the United States has had in creating a police force—namely, that many Iraqis don't really want to join for fear of being targeted by insurgents. It's a good piece, but I can't let this paragraph go without comment:

The Bush administration in March announced a new strategy for victory in Iraq: "clear, hold and build." Contested towns would be swept of insurgents and held by new Iraqi security forces, while the United States worked to solidify the gains by helping to fix the
infrastructure and build civic institutions.
Right, but isn't it worth noting that the month before announcing this "new strategy," the president announced that he wouldn't seek any more funds for reconstruction in Iraq, despite the fact that much of the previous money had gone toward security costs and corrupt contractors rather than actual reconstruction. So doesn't that make the "new strategy" a bit hard to carry out? Doesn't that mean that there really isn't any sort of strategy in place?

It sure seems that way: Army Gen. George W. Casey recently hinted that, due to the increasingly horrific violence in Iraq, there probably won't be any troop reductions this year, and the U.S. is currently bringing troops in from Kuwait to al-Anbar province, especially as countries such as Italy and South Korea are taking thousands of troops out of the country.

(Note: The photo above, by Kael Alford, shows smoke from burning oil trenches drifts over the Euphrates River near Fallujah in 2003. It's part of a photo essay, "Unembedded," that ran at Mother Jones late last year.)

A Roundup of News Stories on the Middle East War

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 3:12 PM EDT

Rice in Lebanon

U.S. Strategy: A Necon Method Behind the Apparent Madness

Hope for a ceasefire and possible international border force is tied to U.S. neoconservative policy aimed at forcing change in Syria and Iran. ( LINK)

Rice lands in Beirut amidst fierce fighting in the south (LINK)

Rice: "What we're seeing here ... are the birth pangs of a new Middle East and whatever we do, we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one." (LINK)

The Wider Region

Al-Sadr's Shiite militia reportedly prepares to join the fight in Lebanon

The Washington Times, in a report based on an interview in Baghdad, says Sadr's vicious militia is forming a 1500 member unit to fight in Lebanon. If true, this will be taken in Washington as evidence of ties among Shiites across the Middle East--a key element in the neoconservative dream scenario in widening the war for regime change in both Syria and Iran. (LINK)

Israeli Plans

Israel set plans for invasion more than a year ago.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports, "Israel's military response by air, land and sea to what it considered a provocation last week by Hezbollah militants is unfolding according to a plan finalized more than a year ago." (LINK)

The Humanitarian Crisis

Fleeing refugees inundate Syria.

Lebanon's border crossings with Syria to the north and east have been inundated with people, with up to a million Lebanese seeking refuge, according to state-run Syria TV. (LINK)

Hezbollah

Hezbollah adopting Viet Cong-Style Tactics.

Jane's Defense Weekly says Hezbollah is proving a tough opponent for Israel because of its Viet Cong-style network of tunnels in southern Lebanon. (LINK)

--from the Mother Jones Washington Bureau

500 Tons of Squid Caught By Mistake in a Week. That's a Problem.

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 2:39 PM EDT

AP has word of a deal reached between the government and Bering Sea fishermen to reduce the quantity of squid they catch "incidentally" in pursuit of pollock, a bland white fish that goes in sandwiches and fish sticks. In early July, fishermen caught more than 500 tons of squid in a week. (This number is four times what might be expected; it's unclear why there are so many squid in the area this year.) The deal requires that fishermen avoid a 500-square-mile area where most of the squid were found and imposes fines on violators.

bycatch_265x181.jpg

Fish and other marine life caught "incidentally" in the pursuit of another species (such as the seal in this photo) are known as "bycatch." As we reported in our recent special issue on the fate of the oceans, it's a massive problem. According to the U.N., one in four animals caught in fishing gear dies as bycatch, meaning that each year millions of animals are killed, which obviously affects the sustainability of fisheries.

On the bright side, in this particular case squid bycatch plummeted from almost 550 tons in the first week of July to only about four tons last week, according to AP.

By the way, the the U.S. Senate has approved a package to renew the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the fundamental rules for ocean fish catching (which includes provisions relating to bycatch). The House, however, is dallying, and is considering a bill sponsored by Richard Pombo (aka Ocean-Enemy Number One). Pombo's bill, to quote today's San Francisco Chronicle, is "riddled with loopholes," and "mocks the problem" of ocean resources management.