Political MoJo

Bush's Stem Cell Veto Will Hurt Hundreds of Thousands of Sick Americans

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 2:51 PM EDT

Bush's much-anticipated veto of H.R. 810, a bill seeking to lift the severe restrictions on federal funding to embryonic stem cell research, is expected today. It will come as a blow to the hundreds of thousands of Americans with Alzheimers, Parkinsons, Diabetes, and spinal cord injuries, many of whom are probably too sick to march on Washington, but for whom the potential use of the 500,000 embryos left over from IVF treatments holds great promise. As I reported in the current issue of Mother Jones:

Two out of three Americans (and even 50 percent of evangelicals) support embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), yet only 3 percent of excess embryos have been designated by parents for research. Since President Bush's ban on federal funding for ESCR in 2001, it has simply not been on their menu of options. ESCR is carried out by only a few private laboratories and state-funded labs in New Jersey and Illinois. (California, where voters approved $3 billion for ESCR in 2004, has yet to distribute research funds because of a lawsuit brought by an affiliate of Focus on the Family, among others.) In either case, these labs get their embryos from the handful of IVF clinics that accept donations for research.

This puts Republicans in an awkward position. How to mollify voters (to say nothing of Nancy Reagan) without alienating their pro-life base? Enter Pennsylvania Republican Senators Rick Santorum (who has likened ESCR to abortion but who is up for reelection) and Arlen Specter (an ardent proponent of ESCR), who, backed by the President's Council on Bioethics, have concocted a novel way to split this political baby. Their bill, S.B. 2754, proposes manufacturing nonviable embryos by replacing the nucleus of a woman's egg with that of an adult cell in which the DNA has been altered. The resulting "entity"—in the words of one researcher; others have called it a "biological artifact"—is "pluripotent," i.e., able to transform itself into most types of human cells, while bypassing the "totipotent" stage, when the embryo could develop into a human being.

The co-sponsor of H.R. 810, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Co.) has called the Santorum/Spector bill, along with Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback's bill to stop "fetus farming"—which is in fact nonexistent; leftover IVF embryos are slated for destruction or what is euphemistically called "expiration"—nothing more than a "fig leaf." As DeGette, whose own 12-year-old daughter has Type 1 diabetes, noted: "I guess what the president is saying is he thinks it would be better to throw these embryos away as medical waste."

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No To U.S. Global Dominance

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 2:15 PM EDT

Just posted at MotherJones.com: Michael T. Klare (via Tomdispatch) responds to the charge, leveled in the conservative Washington Times, that he is a "defeatist" when it comes to America's expansionist military policy abroad. The piece is titled, "An Imperial Defeatist -- And Proud of It," so you get the idea where he's coming from. He writes:

My initial response...was to insist -- like so many anxious liberals -- that no, I am not opposed to American preeminence in the world, only to continued U.S. involvement in Iraq. But then, considering the charge some more, I thought, well, yes, I am in favor of abandoning the U.S. imperial role worldwide. The United States, I'm convinced, would be a whole lot better off -- and its military personnel a whole lot safer -- if we repudiated the global-dominance project of the Bush administration and its neo-conservative boosters. ...

I say: repudiate empire, overcome our oil addiction, and bring the troops back home. This will save lives, save money, and restore America's democratic credentials. Even more significant, it will help us prevail in any long-term struggle with small, stateless groups that employ terror as their weapon of choice.

Let's be very clear: the pursuit of empire and success in what the President calls "the global war on terrorism" are mutually incompatible. The more we seek to dominate the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa, the more we will provoke anti-American fury and the very violent extremism with which we claim to be at war.

Read the piece in full here.

India Dabbles in Censorship

Wed Jul. 19, 2006 2:15 PM EDT

Censorship be a tricky business. India's 40,000 or so bloggers were cut to the quick yesterday when the government demanded that the country's service providers take down 20 or so "extremist" sites, an act which ended up shutting down all of the blogs in India. Goodbye Geocities; bye-bye Blogspot. A blogger for the Times of India wrote angrily, "By trying to curb freedom of expression they might ultimately manage to antagonize the last remaining support" for the government. The Guardian reports that 300 Delhi-based bloggers are circulating a petition to demand the reinstatement of their sites.

In the wake of last week's vicious attacks on seven Mumbai trains, Indian authorities are targeting sites that they say foment religious or political animosities. But as the Times blogger notes, "While one must concede that there are a few rotten apples in every sphere, to typecast blogging, per se, as being anti national, is a bit over the top." Fortunately, it appears the problem will be short-lived: officials are promising to develop a more pin-pointed way to censor Indian bloggers (cyber smart bombs, perhaps?), and to allow the rest of the bunch back online. As one blogger wrote, "It is completely ridiculous… We are not living in China here." Good thing, too.

Waiting for Diplomacy

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 1:43 PM EDT

I can't imagine anyone who reads this blog hasn't been following the front pages, but apparently the Bush administration's plan for the Middle East is to let Israel bomb Lebanon for another week or so in order to weaken Hezbollah—despite the fact that Israel has been bombing targets wholly unrelated to this purpose—and then bring in an international force to create a "buffer zone" in the South. David Ignatius has a good analysis:

Bush's slow-motion diplomacy is partly an effort to allow Israel time to destroy as much of Hezbollah's arsenal of missiles as it can. But what comes next? Israeli officials talk of accomplishing what the Lebanese government would do itself if it had the power: break the Shiite militia. That's a worthy goal -- Hezbollah has it coming -- but one that is almost certain to fail.

Lebanon is as thankless a battlefield as Iraq, as the Israelis well remember. They were initially welcomed as liberators by the Shiites when they invaded in 1982 -- only to be pinned down by Hezbollah's resistance movement and forced to retreat. Only a compulsive gambler would think the odds are any better this time.Right. If Israel doesn't actually succeed in weakening Hezbollah significantly—and it's not clear that they can through an air campaign alone (that hasn't exactly worked for the United States in Iraq, recall)—then they've just killed scores of civilians and incurred a series of rocket attacks on Israeli cities for nothing. Worse, the air war could well provoke a Shiite backlash against the United States in Iraq—Muqtada al-Sadr's already making noises toward this end—which would mean things could get truly horrific.

At the moment, the Bush administration seems to believe that Israel can accomplish just about anything through the use of force, and are acting accordingly. But when have they ever been right about that? Why should we think they're right now?

Civilian Suffering in Lebanon

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 1:37 PM EDT

Via Juan Cole, Israel's bombing campaign now encompasses strikes on Greek Orthodox churches and milk factories far from Shiite areas, suggesting that crippling Hezbollah is only part of the plan. He writes, "These strikes are war crimes and part of a continuing Israeli campaign to ensure that Lebanon is economically poor and weak for decades to come." Late Tuesday the Lebanese death toll stood at more than 200, only a handful of them military. Eric Umansky, reading the Post, notes that Israel is targeting gas stations, and asks, "How long can you keep people without the ability to travel and get food?"

Flying the flag upside down

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 9:32 PM EDT

Flying the American flag upside down is a symbol of a nation in distress, and since the war in Iraq began, more and more people have adopted this custom. One of those people is Iowan Terri Jones. Her son, Jason, returned from Iraq with full-blown posttraumatic stress disorder. Among other things, he saw an insurgent execute a child. He did not go to the VA for help because he was worried about being perceived as weak. Jason killed himself just over a year ago, and since that time, Jones has flown the flag upside down.

In March of this year, someone turned Jones's flag right side up. Jones lives on five acres and has a long driveway, so someone must have been keeping a close eye, she says, and waiting for her to leave so he or she could rearrange the flag. The person who turned it right side up left a note:

I've noticed for quite some time now that you fly your American flag upside down. . . . Please don't disrespect those who have fought and died on our soil preserving your very freedom and mine. . . . Let's rally behind our troops and if they don't believe in what they're doing, let them voice it. Every single person in the armed forces today signed on the dotted line. . . . I know your flag is sending out a message that you might not have though it was sending. So I felt compelled to tell you what I thought.

The note was was signed, "An extremely sincere fellow American citizen and proud of it."

Jones then wrote a letter to the editor of her local newspaper, in which she explained that flying the flag upside down is not a sign of disrespect for the country, but rather, a sign of distress. In the letter, she talked about her son's PTSD and his suicide.

...our country is in distress for the way it has failed its vets. When you drive by my house and see my flag flying I challenge you to help me turn it right side up. Show me that you are willing to do what it takes to help those that protect our rights and freedoms. And when I see that no soldier has been left behind, then that will be a day of joy for me to fly her right side up.

After Jones's letter appeared in the newspaper, someone stole her American flag, pole and all. She bought another flag and hung it upside down.

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The Smelly Fish That Built America

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 8:38 PM EDT

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Nobody will ever write a Moby-Dick about that humble and foul-smelling fish, the menhaden, but PBS will run a segment on it. The NOW program this Friday night features a co-production based on H. Bruce Franklin's article in Mother Jones about how a football tycoon took George H.W. Bush's oil company and used it to declare war on the fish that built America. Check here for your local station and time.

"Yo, Bush! Start Treating Our Prime Minister With Respect"

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 8:22 PM EDT

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I don't quite get how the Bush-Blair-buttered-roll exchange shows the British PM to be the president's "poodle," but the British press has decided it does. "Yo, Bush! Start treating our prime minister with respect," screamed the Daily Mirror, while the Guardian sniffs that Blair "all but offers to carry [Condoleezza Rice's] bags." Looking over the transcript, I don't see it. (Not that it matters all that much; there's a war on after all.) This isn't to deny that Blair has made a fool of himself in relation to Bush over the past five years, all the while disregarding the plain will of the British people. But what shows Blair to be Bush's poodle isn't this particular exchange; it's the relationship itself.

"About that pig..."

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 8:12 PM EDT

This post says it all. Right now is really, really not a good time to have a slack-jawed moron in charge of the most powerful country on earth.

Afghanistan: A Comeback for the Ministry of Vice and Virtues?

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 7:34 PM EDT

The Afghan government is moving to bring back some version of the notorious Vice and Virtues Ministry, which terrorized Afghanistan under the Taliban. In those years busybodies from the ultra-puritan agency went around making sure women were barred from the workplace and schools and remained encased in head-to-toe burkas, and attacking men whose beards were too short. Those failing to meet the ministry's exacting standards--women, say, wearing socks not sufficiently opaque--were publicly beaten, and many "offenders" were imprisoned.

The Karzai government says the new ministry won't be like that at all but will focus on alcohol, drugs, crime and corruption. Human rights activists are skeptical, not least because the existing criminal justice system already has a handle on that stuff. Human Rights Watch just put out a statement saying the plan, to be submitted for parliament later this summer, "raises serious concerns about potential abuse of the rights of women and vulnerable groups." HRW also recently released a report identifying a lack of access to education, especially for girls, as jeopardizing Afghanistan's future.