Political MoJo

A Rwandan Speaks Out on Darfur

| Mon Apr. 24, 2006 5:13 PM EDT

Paul Rusesabagina wants to make sure we pay attention to history so that we do not repeat our mistakes. The Rwandan hotel manager—whose actions during the 1994 genocide saved the lives of 1,268 refugees and inspired the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda—is using his book tour not only to promote his recently released autobiography An Ordinary Man but to also call attention to the devastating slaughter in Darfur, as well as to continuing human rights abuses in Rwanda.

This past Friday evening in San Francisco, Rusesabagina spoke about his ordeal, recounting intense moments of sadness, terror, and heartbreak. The 51-year-old who now lives in exile in Belgium expressed frustration with the ongoing political situation in his homeland, noting, "There are no free elections in Rwanda."

Rusesabagina also challenged his audience to confront the situation in Sudan, comparing the crisis there to Rwanda during the early 1990s. He said the United States needs to send a clear message to the Sudanese government that they are not "untouchable." His recommended action of choice? Begin by freezing the assets of those in power.

As he noted in a recent fundraising letter on behalf of the Save Darfur Coalition, "I see what is going on in Darfur right now and I wonder how the world can let it happen again. This is a shame to mankind."

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Is Appeasement Moral?

| Mon Apr. 24, 2006 5:03 PM EDT

One other point on Iran. A lot of neoconservatives think it would be "immoral" for the United States to offer some sort of grand bargain to Iran—security guarantees, an agreement on our side not to attack, better economic and diplomatic relations—in exchange for nuclear disarmament. And yes, there would be something "icky" about appeasing the Iranian regime, which is hardly one of the world's most cuddly. But Ted Galen Carpenter and Justin Logan say just about all that needs to be said on this:

The Iranian regime is undoubtedly odious. But one of the requirements of an effective foreign policy is to engage with unpleasant regimes when America's national interest requires that step. This is one of those cases.

Moreover, do hawks genuinely believe that the alternative to a grand bargain -- preventive military strikes, perhaps involving up to 400 targets, some of them beneath densely populated urban centers -- is sensitive to the plight of Iranians?

Are we to believe that such a policy, which would involve thousands of civilian deaths, is the policy that best serves the interests of the Iranian people?The whole column is worth reading, but that part's well put.

Brzezinski on Iran

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

Zbigniew Brzezinski's op-ed on why we shouldn't start bombing Iran is truly excellent, but it's worth re-emphasizing the best reasons not to go to war; namely, that it wouldn't actually solve anything. At best, it would only set back Iran's nuclear program a few years and make the mullahs even more determined to acquire the bomb in order to deter the United States (at the moment, they seem to be divided on the subject; Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has even issued a fatwa against actual nuclear weapons). It would also kill off the only long term hope of preventing a nuclear Iran, by making a real disarmament and non-proliferation agreement virtually impossible to put in place. And it would effectively prevent Iran from becoming a more liberal and democratic state anytime soon, which, as Shirin Ebadi pointed out, is the only other viable long-term "solution" here.

Plus bombing would kill lots of civilians, something that's worth repeating again and again. It would very likely escalate into a broader war. And all for something that's not even necessary—Iran is almost certainly still years away from making a nuclear bomb, and even if it were to acquire one, there's little reason to think they'd try to destroy Israel or whatever else we think they'd do (as Matt Yglesias pointed out, when Iran had a chance to help Hamas out earlier this month, it responded with a token aid offering; oddly stingy for a regime supposedly hell-bent on wiping out Israel). We shouldn't be going to war with Iran ever. And for the time being, there's every reason to at least try and negotiate with Tehran.

Revisiting Prewar Intelligence

| Mon Apr. 24, 2006 1:59 PM EDT

In case anyone's missed it, this Josh Marshall post is worth reading. During the run-up everyone's favorite quagmire on the Tigris, apparently, an Iraqi foreign minister had defected and told the CIA that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs. But the White House took no interest in all of this; a non-existent weapons program doesn't exactly bolster the case for war, after all.

But the remarkable thing here is that none of the authoritative-sounding commissions that investigated whether the prewar intelligence was botched or mishandled or distorted looked into this incident. Or rather, they were told about it and ignored it entirely.

San Diego school prohibits student from wearing flag

| Fri Apr. 21, 2006 6:56 PM EDT

When Malia Fontana's friend was told that he could not wear an American flag headband at school, she protested by wearing an American flag in her back pocket. Malia was then told to remove her flag, and when she asked the security guard why she had to remove it, she was taken to the principal's office. Though not required to do detention, Malia had an incident report written that will remain in her records until six months after her graduation from Fallbrook Union High School in San Diego.

In 1969, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines School District, established the right of students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam war. Justice Abe Fortas, writing for the majority, said:

In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are "persons" under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State.

The Tinker decision applies to the situation at Fallbrook Union, and the ACLU has sent a letter to the San Diego County school district comply with the law, apologize to Malia and her mother, and clear Malia's school record.

Taking Global Warming Seriously

| Fri Apr. 21, 2006 4:32 PM EDT

Over at TomPaine.com, Chris Mooney argues that the fallout from Hurricane Katrina might well act as the catalyst that gets everyone thinking seriously about how to prevent global warming. Here's hoping he's right. This bit was interesting, though:

Recently the attorneys general of several progressive-leaning states brought a lawsuit against a group of U.S. electric power companies, trying to hold them responsible for the current and future impacts of global warming on their respective states. The lawsuit has stalled, but it's just the opening salvo in what could be a flurry of global warming litigation. And as the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, plaintiffs should have an easier time gaining standing in court. "You can't be contributing to the destruction of the planet's climate with millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions and not be committing some kind of a tort," global warming litigator Matt Pawa told me last year. "It's just impossible."
That reminds me of the story of Tuvalu, a small island nation in the South Pacific that could literally get washed away and disappear completely if melting ice caps continue to raise the sea levels. Steven Milloy, a "CATO analyst," had a good chuckle over this bit of litigation in a Fox column last year. But who is Steven Milloy? Why, as Mooney himself reported for Mother Jones last year, he's a famous global warming "skeptic" who regularly receives money from Exxon for scoffing at the science behind climate change. So this post has come full circle—that's exciting.

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What's So Great About STAR*D?

Fri Apr. 21, 2006 3:51 PM EDT

Treatment for depression costs the United States a staggering $83 billion each year. Part of this is due to the fact that the treatments themselves involve so much trial and error; there's very little reliable information out on the effectiveness of various drugs and forms of therapy.

So it's good news that today Slate is reporting on a new study called STAR*D, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, that compares and contrasts the twenty options for prescription antidepressants, their dosages, and even the effects of psychotherapy -- something no other study has ever done. For the 19 million Americans who suffer from depression, this is a major step forward. The pharmaceutical industry usually doesn't produce any comparative data on depression, a state of affairs that has previously left most patients and their doctors guessing which treatment will be the best fit.

Comparative, independent trials will also enable doctors to rely less on collected by the pharmaceutical industry. Mark Gibson, deputy director of the Center for Evidence-Based Policy at Oregon Health and Science University, adds that in regards to data provided by drug firms, "it's not unusual for less than 10 percent of studies to meet our standards of quality." And according to Jerry Avorn, professor of medicine at Harvard, comparative studies could motivate drug companies to develop more advanced versions of current drugs, improving on what we already have.

Punishing Whistleblowers

| Thu Apr. 20, 2006 3:58 PM EDT

Jason Vest has a profile in Government Executive about Torin Nelson, a military interrogator who was one of the whistleblowers alerting officials to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. And where is he now? Struggling to find contract work with the military. "They're saying there's no blacklisting policy, but there's clearly a blacklist." It sure seems that way. Here's what someone who does the right thing can look forward to these days:

All Nelson did was pass on what little he had heard and had been able to document. And as far as he was concerned, he'd already paid a fair price for doing the right thing. It was bad enough that word of his meeting with investigators leaked almost immediately at Abu Ghraib. The ostracization that followed was far from pleasant. Worse were the thinly veiled death threats that convinced even as formidable a man as Nelson that he had no choice but to flee not just Abu Ghraib, but Iraq.

Comparatively speaking, Nelson hasn't had the worst of it. Darby [the main whistleblower at Abu Ghraib] and his family, for example, had to be taken into protective custody after receiving death threats. After Provance [yet another whistleblower] spoke to the media about Abu Ghraib and the Fay investigation, his superiors ordered him to cease contact with the press, and subsequently suspended his security clearance, reassigned him and demoted him. Through the graces of Provance's home state senator, torture opponent Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Provance did address a congressional subcommittee on whistleblower protection in February.Nelson, by the way, is now running for congress in Utah.

Shifting of Chairs in Iraq

| Thu Apr. 20, 2006 2:28 PM EDT

I guess it's good news that Ibrahim al-Jaaferi is withdrawing his candidacy for another term as prime minister of Iraq. The Sunnis, Kurds, and the Bush administration all wanted him gone, and on the surface this seems like a) it will mollify some of the minorities in Iraq and hopefully be a step on the path to national reconciliation or whatever people are hoping for, and b) it points to the idea that the United States and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad still have leverage over Iraq and can put pressure on various parties for the better.

That's the surface view. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine that this solves much of anything in Iraq. The Kurds, reportedly, don't like Jaafari because they want a Shiite leader more committed to the breakup of the country into autonomous provinces—something that could create a lot of chaos down the road. The Sunnis presumably don't like Jaafari because he backs Shiite death squads, but his preferred replacement, Abdel Mahdi, is a member of SCIRI, the party running the death squads.

So it's hard to imagine that a change of face will alter any of the fundamental dynamics driving the ongoing civil war in Iraq, or that the U.S. can prevent a crack-up by engineering the ouster of this or that individual. Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni politician, recently said of the various Shiite candidates for prime minister, "All of them are the same. They are not qualified to run the country. But nobody listens to us." That's not a good sign.

Should the Sierra Club Endorse Chaffee?

| Thu Apr. 20, 2006 1:49 PM EDT

Kos is pissed off at the Sierra Club for endorsing Lincoln Chaffee's re-election in Rhode Island, despite the Republican senator's "20 percent" environmental rating in 2004. (Presumably it was the local chapter, and not the national organization, that's endorsing him.) So here we go again; a rehash of the old NARAL-endorses-Chaffee debates. Should liberal interest groups support Republicans who are good for their causes, even at the expense of the Democratic party?

Let's just point out, first off, that I have no idea where that 20 percent rating that Kos cites comes from: the League of Conservation Voters gave Chaffee a 90 percent score in 2005 and a 72 percent score in 2004. He's quite good on environmental issues. More to the point, he's used his perch on the environmental committee to single-handedly hold up the Bush administration's Orwellian-titled Clear Skies Act, and has helped slow Rep. Richard Pombo's attacks on the Endangered Species Act. It's not necessarily an exaggeration to say that thanks to his rather unique position, Lincoln Chaffee has been able to do more for the environment than most Democrats.