Political MoJo

A "Communal Civil War"

| Fri Mar. 10, 2006 4:39 PM EST

The other day, Donald Rumsfeld mentioned that he would prefer to avoid a "civil war" in Iraq—right, obviously—but that if one did "break out" (presumably he means if things got really, really bad), then the United States would stay out of it, letting Iraqi security forces "deal with it." That's not exactly comforting, and ignores the fact that U.S. forces might not be able to stay neutral. Gary Hart recently worried that if "all-out civil war breaks out, we could lose our army. If Sunnis and Shiites take to the streets by the thousands, it could literally be impossible to get [the soldiers] out."

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"The Arctic climate of the Bering Sea is in full retreat"

| Fri Mar. 10, 2006 4:21 PM EST

Not to belabor this, but if your appetite for alarming environmental news wasn't sated by our special issues on global warming and, more recently, the roiling sewers that are our oceans, well, then, the LA Times has just the story for you.

Whales, walruses, seabirds and fish are struggling to survive the changing climate of the Bering Sea, their northern feeding grounds perhaps permanently disrupted by warmer temperatures and melting ice, scientists reported Thursday in the journal Science.

By pulling together a broad range of observations and surveys, an international research team concluded that it is witnessing the transformation of an entire ecosystem in a region home to almost half of U.S. commercial fish production.

Then it gets shocking.

...As sea ice diminished, breeding grounds for seals were disrupted and populations plummeted. Polar bears started to drown. Walruses, accustomed to diving in the shallows to feed along the sea bottom, found themselves adrift on broken ice floes in waters 6,500 feet deep. The animals starved.

For more on the effects of climate change on polar bears in particular--if you can take it--see this piece by Marla Cone in the current issue of Mother Jones.

U.S. found guilty of violating human rights of Native Americans

| Fri Mar. 10, 2006 2:41 PM EST

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has urged the United States to "freeze," "desist" and "stop" actions or threatened actions against the Western Shoshone Peoples of the Western Shoshone Nation. This action challenges the United States' government's claim of ownership of almost 90% of Western Shoshone lands.

According to Shoshone spokeswoman Bernice Lalo:

The mines are polluting our waters, destroying hot springs and exploding sacred mountains--our burials along with them--attempting to erase our signature on the land. We are coerced and threatened by mining and Federal agencies when we seek to continue spiritual prayers for traditional food or medicine on Shoshone land.
And from spokesman Joe Kennedy:
...we have rights to protect our homelands and stop the destruction of our land, water, and air by the abuses of the United States government and the multinational corporations. He says "the situation is outrageous and we're glad the United Nations Committee agrees with us.

The land in question has been used for military testing, nuclear waste disposal planning, and open pit cyanide heap leach gold mining. The federal government has seized Shoshone livestock, issued trespass fines, and practiced armed surveillance of Western Shoshone. The Shoshone claim that the U.S. government has also dug up their ancestors' graves.

San Diego woman says she was fired for having an Air America bumper sticker

| Thu Mar. 9, 2006 11:29 PM EST

Linda Laroca has filed suit against her former manager, Beverly Fath, and her former company, Advantage Sales and Marketing, Inc. because, she says, she was fired because of a bumper sticker. According to Laroca, Fath saw her 1360 Air America Talk Radio bumper sticker and called it "that Al Franken left-wing radical radio station." Laroca says Fath then told her: "The country is on a high state of alert. For all I know, you could be al-Quaida," and then fired her.

California's labor law prohibits employers from controlling or directing their employees' political activities. Laroca is seeking lost wages and damages not only for violation of the state labor law, but also for wrongful termination, emotional distress, and violation of the state constitution.

Santorum and lobbyists: Plus ca change...

| Thu Mar. 9, 2006 4:18 PM EST

The Washington Post reports:

After saying in January that he would end his regular meetings with lobbyists, Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), the third-ranking GOP leader in the Senate, has continued to meet with many of the same lobbyists at the same time and on the same day of the week. ...

[The] purpose [of the meetings] is to help Santorum's reelection effort, but many of the same topics other than jobs are discussed, aides and participants said. ...

[T]he new meetings have added 20 to 30 people to their invitation lists, while retaining from the old list 40 of the 70 or so lobbyists who had been regularly invited. ...

One lobbyist called the attendees "the usual suspects," and said they were among the city's best-known lobbyists whose firms represent financial services, telecommunications, pharmaceutical, oil production and tobacco companies. ...

"We're going to formalize this [meeting] into a campaign briefing about once a month," [Mark] Rodgers [staff director of the Senate Republican Conference] said. "This will grow with people who are committed to Rick's campaign."

Recall that this is the guy Senate Republicans put in charge of lobbying reform.

Men's Rights Group Files Abortion Suit

Thu Mar. 9, 2006 3:50 PM EST

The National Center for Men has launched its "voluntary fatherhood" project by filing a federal lawsuit, arguing that as long as women can chose to have an abortion, then men should have the right to chose fatherhood—and to decide whether they pay child support or not. The Center's affidavit reads:

We will ask a United States district court judge to apply the principles of reproductive choice, as articulated in Roe vs. Wade, to men. We will ask that men be granted equal protection of the laws which safeguard the right of women to make family planning decisions after sex. We will argue that, at a time of reproductive freedom for women, fatherhood must be more than a matter of DNA: A man must choose to be a father in the same way that a woman chooses to be a mother.
The lawsuit has little chance of winning, and for good reason. Yes, women have the same access to birth control as men, and also have the right to an abortion. But the problem here is the simple truth that women and men are not equal in their child-bearing roles. The government forcing a woman to carry a baby to term is not the same as a man carrying a financial burden. The National Center for Men can call it a double standard. I call it biology.

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Civilian Deaths Rise in Iraq

Thu Mar. 9, 2006 3:35 PM EST

Today Iraq Body Count released a new report noting that the number of civilian deaths in Iraq has increased each year of the occupation. The figures, which start in May of 2003, rose from an estimated 6,331 civilians killed in the first year to a total of 12,617 killed in the third year (Mar. 2005-Mar. 2006), and are based on data from the morgue in Baghdad.

Even more staggering, the statistics for the third year don't include the majority of civilian deaths that resulted from sectarian violence after the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra—a figure estimated at around a thousand deaths—and exclude January and February data from the Baghdad morgue.

"The initial act that sparked this cycle of violence is the illegal US-led invasion of March and April 2003 which resulted in 7,312 civilian deaths and 17,298 injured in a mere 42 days," IBC co-founder John Sloboda said. "The insurgency will remain strong so long as the US military remains in Iraq, and ordinary Iraqi people will have more death and destruction to look forward to." Following its initial 2003 evaluation, the organization concluded that, by the numbers, the American military was incapable of protecting the civilian population in Iraq from attacks. "And if the US military can't ensure the safety of Iraqi civilians and itself poses a danger to them, what is its role in that country?"

There won't be a civil war. Unless there is. But Iraqi forces can handle it. Unless they can't.

| Thu Mar. 9, 2006 3:25 PM EST

Via the Guardian:

Earlier this week Mr Rumsfeld said reports had overestimated the possibility of civil war breaking out in Iraq following the sectarian clashes provoked after insurgents destroyed an important Shia shrine in Samarra last month.

Today he conceded there was a high level of "tension in the country, sectarian tension and conflict," but he added that it had not yet become a civil war "by most experts' calculation."

Mr Rumsfeld said: "The plan is to prevent a civil war, and to the extent one were to occur, to have the—from a security standpoint— have the Iraqi security forces deal with it, to the extent they are able to."

Feel better now?

Health Care and Debt

| Wed Mar. 8, 2006 10:00 PM EST

This month's Health Affairs has a couple of good pieces on health care costs and debt that are worth reading. The first article, by David Dranove and Michael Millenson, argues that only about 17 percent of all bankruptcies today are caused by unaffordable medical expenses, which is far lower than the 54.5 percent figure found by David Himmelstein and colleagues about a year ago.

So maybe crippling health care costs aren't as crippling as once assumed, right? Hold on. Himmelstein and colleagues respond to the new study here, saying that Dranove and Millenson "misrepresented" their data. Among other things, Himmelstein and friends note that many people who appear before bankruptcy court give as their reason "credit card debt" or "mortgage," even though that problem had been brought about by medical expenses. Yet Dranove and Millenson didn't seem to count these people as those who go bankrupt because of medical bills, even though common sense would say otherwise.

It's a fun debate, but either way, Robert Seifert and Mark Rukavina probably have the last word on the subject in this third piece, noting that regardless of who's right, bankruptcy is really only the tip of the iceberg here. It's still the case that one of six nonelderly adults—some 29 million Americans—are currently shouldering debt caused by medical bills, and another 56 million adults are at risk of incurring heavy debt, should they happen to get hurt or fall ill through no fault of their own. Regardless of how many people are being driven to actual bankruptcy by medical costs, a lot of people are finding themselves in pretty dire straits.

Additionally, the mere prospect of being saddled with medical debt prevents many people from seeking care—they don't fill a prescription, or don't see a specialist, or don't visit a clinic for a medical problem. (Sometimes this is self-imposed, but sometimes not: some providers will refuse treat a patient with previous outstanding medical bills, so a person with too much medical debt may simply be denied care.) It's another indication that merely reducing the number of uninsured Americans won't solve the health care crisis in this country—many of those who are insured still face all sorts of problems associated with not being able to pay for necessary health care.

Church Tries New Approach on Pornography

Wed Mar. 8, 2006 7:08 PM EST

This weekend Florida's Clermont Fellowship Church is hosting a "Free Porn" weekend, with symposiums led by reformed adult porn stars and pastors who have been "freed" from porn. Getting past initial chuckles over events such as the screening of the "award-winning" documentary, Missionary Positions, the church's website seems to take a somewhat unorthodox position on porn—advocating for love, acceptance, and forgiveness rather than pure damnation. As Lead Pastor Tom Casolaro says: