Political MoJo

Hunger strike begins at Guantanamo Bay

| Thu Sep. 1, 2005 11:41 PM EDT

Military officials report that 76 Guantanamo detainees are refusing food--attorneys for prisoners declare the number is around 200--in protest of their incarceration. The last Guantanamo hunger strike ended in July when the Pentagon agreed to talk with the prisoners. Those prisoners now say that Pentagon representatives have not kept their word about negotiations for their access to legal representation, or for the establishment of humane treatment at the prison.

Many of the Guantanmo detainees have tried to commit suicide, and many now say they will starve themselves to death until they are either charged and brought to trial or set free. Some of the prisoners are reported to be well into the current hunger strike.

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There Is No Plan

Thu Sep. 1, 2005 5:51 PM EDT

As Tom Tommorow points out, if Katrina makes anything clear, the federal government—Homeland Security, FEMA, the DoD, whatever—has no plan to deal with a major disaster, terrorist or otherwise. Think about it: after an catastrophic event—and this one, at least, was entirely predictable—we've got a major city degenerating into lawlessness, with conditions that make bringing medical attention and other forms of relief very difficult.

That's an accurate description of what's going on in New Orleans now. But it could also describe what might happen in the aftermath of say, a dirty bomb or a biological, chemical, or nuclear attack. Of course there are some differences. But think of the similarities in what would look like an adequate response. Where is the fleet of helicopters? Where are the plans to press gang every bus in a 500-mile radius? Where are the airlift-ready hospitals, water sanitation plants, and tents? Where are the air drops of non-perishable food?

These things are costly. But considering all the talk we've heard over the last four years about the imminence of such a terrorist attack, the constant jiggering of threat level indicators, and the billions supposedly spent on homeland security, you'd think we'd have a plan. But there's only one conclusion:

There is no plan.

It's time to feel the love

| Thu Sep. 1, 2005 4:31 PM EDT

Here is a sampling of what some conservatives are saying about the situation in New Orleans:

On reading about New Orleans' well-known multiculturism:
"I was going to donate a few buck but after hearing that I think I'll go buy a pizza instead."

On the city's poor:
"These people have no room to complain. They have not lost anything! For the most part they have been living off the government for years already."

Some religious wisdom:
"Sometimes God helps those who help themselves."

On the chaos:
"Enjoy it, liberals. Hope you're proud."

On a homeless man viewing his dead loved one on the street:
"[He] belongs to that cohort of useless able-bodied males who couldn't think their way out of a paper bag if left on their own."

On being trapped in 20 feet of water:
"You were told...everyone must evacuate. So take your bitching somewhere else."

"And there are those 'refugees' who will claim lack of transportation ('I couldn't afford to fix the car") or resources ('can't afford no tank of gas") standing on rooftops and balconies waving at rescue copters while smoking $5/pk cigarettes and leaning on TV satellite dishes."

It would be nice to say that the above views are held by a small minority of Americans, but it would not be true. Louisiana is a poor state. New Orleans is a poor city, albeit a beautiful and exciting one. Decades of local and state corruption have done little to help the people who need the most help. As a citizen of Louisiana and a former long-term citizen of New Orleans, I can attest to that corruption and its consequences: bad housing, bad schools, crime, and poverty.

So now that New Orleans' worst fears have come true, the people--those who are still alive--who have suffered for so long at least have all of this unsolicited compassion and wisdom to get them through the crisis.

More Finger-Pointing, Please

| Thu Sep. 1, 2005 3:56 PM EDT

In a post below, Charles points out that it's not inappropriate to play the blame game over Hurricane Katrina right now. I agree; in fact, it's entirely necessary, and I'd like to see more of it. Consider this sentence buried at the end of a Times today, without elaboration: "Efforts to add backup power generators to keep them all running during blackouts have been delayed by a lack of federal money." Okay, so let's have dollar figures, figure out who's responsible, and see how many people are affected, so that everyone can know how decisions in Washington can literally make a life-or-death difference. The hurricane will eventually fade from people's minds; the time to draw the relevant connections is now. It's possible to offer sympathy for those in New Orleans, donate to the Red Cross, and still figure out why this all happened.

The thing of it is, most of the time when Congress is fiddling with numbers in the budget, it's impossible for voters to get any firm sense of where money goes, or how it actually impacts people's lives in real and concrete ways. The Republican-run Congress knows this perfectly well; earlier this year, for instance, the GOP leadership held separate budget votes on cutting taxes and cutting spending, aware that if people got a sense for how tax cuts drain the public coffers, and a sense for where the money goes and how it actually affects real human beings, they might be a little less prone to aspersions cast on "big government" in the abstract. So it goes with Katrina. People need to know exactly how political decisions—like President Bush's longstanding efforts to dismantle FEMA and stock the agency with political cronies—affect people, and that can best be made clear right now. It's the only way to have any hope of getting the important policy questions right in the future.

Selling Off Iraq

| Thu Sep. 1, 2005 3:26 PM EDT

Herbert Docena has an interesting piece in the Asia Times, looking at how the United States worked behind the scenes to shape Iraq's draft constitution into the neo-liberal document that it is today; one that, in particular, all but requires Iraq to enforce the laws enacted under the CPA that "give foreign investors equal rights with Iraqis in the domestic market; permit the full repatriation of profits; institute the flat tax system; abolish tariffs; enforce a strict intellectual property rights regime; sell off a whole-range of state-owned companies; reduce food and fuel subsidies; and privatize all kinds of social services..." (Indeed, looking at the various drafts side by side, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad managed to catch and strip out an article from an early version that read, "Social justice is the basis of building the society..." The Iraqi drafters, however, seem to have defeated Khalilzad's efforts to limit universal health care.)

Now I've been told before that this old Heritage Foundation paper, entitled "The Road to Economic Prosperity in a Post-Saddam Iraq," garnered a lot of attention in Washington back in the day, and looking through it again, it seems to have formed the basis for Khalilzad's attempts to shape the new constitution. Whether Iraq actually becomes a neoliberal state is another matter—certainly there are many religious leaders who condone no such thing. On the merits, it's pretty obvious that the Arab Socialist model has failed throughout the Middle East—in Egypt and Syria for instance—for a variety of reasons related to corruption and inefficiency. Still, it's possible to go too far in the other direction, and judging by its union-busting efforts of late, the new Iraqi government seems inclined to do just that. Dangerously, though, the inequality that comes with any move to open things up and privatize away will probably mean that there will be a lot of economically marginalized Iraqis who have nothing better to do but start shooting and blowing up stuff for many years to come. On the bright side, foreign oil companies are now free to start buying up assets...

In It Together?

| Thu Sep. 1, 2005 1:30 PM EDT

Yesterday, when Jonah Goldberg over at the Corner wrote this

Several readers complain that it's in fact true that the hurricane will disproportionately affect poor people. I don't really dispute that in the sense most mean it. Yes, the poor will have special hardships. Obviously so. But what I objected to, and still object to, is the reflexive playing of the class card. Is it really true that some middle class retirees who heeded the advice of the government to leave town, only to watch their homes be looted after a lifetime of hardwork for a better life are suffering less than a poor person who lost his rented apartment?

—there wasn't much to say except, "Eh, it's the National Review." But now Jack Shafer of Slate points out that anyone watching TV coverage of Hurricane Katrina is likely to labor under the same confusion:

I don't recall any reporter exploring the class issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn't risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he'd have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm.

Right—it may seem odd that these things need spelling out, but as Goldberg's quote above shows, they really do. Add onto the list of Shafer's concerns the fact that, as public health and disease become increasingly important issues in New Orleans and Mississippi, the poor are the least likely to have access to care. The inevitable shortage of medicine and vital drugs—something as simple as insulin, for instance—in the post-hurricane period will likewise hit the poor the hardest, and people will die if nothing is done. Meanwhile, as the reconstruction process continues, health facilities and other social services in poorer neighborhoods are likely to be the last to be rebuilt. And so on and so on.

It's so especially critical that the media reports these things because otherwise, no one else will think of them. But Shafer's right: "When disaster strikes, Americans—especially journalists—like to pretend that no matter who gets hit, no matter what race, color, creed, or socioeconomic level they hail from, we're all in it together." That's just not true. And perpetuating that myth only leads to further confusion, like the big media "mystery" that not everyone in the city could just shell out $3,000 and leave New Orleans for a few months.

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Too Little, Too Late

Thu Sep. 1, 2005 11:31 AM EDT

Forgive me for playing the blame game but I am angry. I was angry before Katrina pounded New Orleans as the media calmly reported the "touching" personal stories of families who paid up to $3,000 to flee the city. I was angry at the images of those too impoverished to be able to afford to leave the city – New Orleans' poor, black community – as they filed into the Superdome to await their fate. I was angry yesterday when I heard that New Orleans was only just now being evacuated – a move that should have happened last week before the storm ever hit.

And I was angry last night to see the hypocrisy of President Bush flying over the area to express his shock and horror, knowing that in the last few years he and Congress have repeatedly cut federal funding for hurricane and flood protection to the city.

People may think it is inappropriate to play the blame game now when hundreds of bodies are being found dead. But it is not inappropriate. It is not inappropriate to point fingers knowing that this disaster was preventable. It is not inappropriate to point fingers knowing that the busses evacuating people from the city now could have been sent in before the hurricane hit, saving hundreds – maybe thousands – of lives. It is not inappropriate knowing that when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asked for $27 million this year to help pay for increased hurricane protection improvements, that Bush responded by offering only $3.9 million.

Now whatever sympathy New Orleans residents receive, its too little too late. The damage has been done. And Congress and President Bush and people all over the country will try to alleviate their guilt by offering a meager handout saying, "We're so sorry you couldn't afford to leave. We're so sorry you didn't have a car. We're so sorry you could hire someone to drive you to higher ground."

And what will these handouts do? What will happen to the people in the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the hardest hit areas of the city? These people were already among the poorest in the nation, with over 36% classified as below the poverty level. Over half the population in this ward wasn't even in the workforce because they had given up looking for work. Now they will have lost everything they had. How will federal disaster dollars and charitable donations help them?

EDIT: I should note that what really matters in all of this is now becoming clear: the mayor has order 1,500 police to stop rescuing people and start going after looters. Because, after all, that would be the real tragedy in all of this if some Wal-Mart lost their property.

Director of FDA's Office of Women's Health resigns

| Wed Aug. 31, 2005 10:30 PM EDT

Dr. Susan Wood, director of the FDA's Office of Women's Health, resigned today in protest of the agency's refusal to permit over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception. Last week, the FDA indefinitely postponed its decision over the matter, saying it wasn't sure about the safety of over-the-counter use by adolescents. In 2003, however, the FDA's own scientists declared the contraceptive drug, Plan B, safe for teenage girls. What short memories these bureaucrats have.

Since the Bush administration took office, it has repeatedly ignored its own scientists about global warming and pollution, and it was to be expected that FDA scientists would be ignored in the service of fake "pro-life" rhetoric. All over the nation, pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for morning-after pills, citing "the taking of a life" as the reason, when--if they really did graduate from pharmacy school--they know good and well that that is an out-and-out lie, and has nothing to do with the actual pharmaceutical process.

Or perhaps they, too, have really bad memories.

Controlling women's and girls' reproductive choices--controlling their bodies--has always been the first line of attack in the war against women. Determining who can have an abortion and why, who can use what kind of contraception, and what type of sexual assault is socially acceptable, is the most primitive aspect of rendering women powerless, and it is always done in the name of religion.

Women and girls who believe that their right to make decisions about their own body is guaranteed haven't been paying attention. It is a right they have already lost.

Katrina Donations

| Wed Aug. 31, 2005 10:02 PM EDT

On the off-chance you haven't seen this elsewhere, Glenn Reynolds has a master list of charities and relief agencies that are helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina, if you would like to donate.

As a side note, I've been told that, when giving to an organization like the American Red Cross, it's often better to make the donation out to their "National Disaster Relief Fund" rather than the "Hurricane 2005 Relief," simply because ARC is required to spend the latter fund entirely on hurricanes, and if they get an overflow of donations for Katrina—as seems possible—they can't use the surplus for other, lesser-noticed disasters. Usually these organizations know best where to spend their funds, so I prefer to give them the flexibility, although obviously any sort of donation helps a great deal.

New at Mother Jones

| Wed Aug. 31, 2005 3:25 PM EDT

Patriotic Pork
By Nick Turse
These days, the Army loves to eat out.

The Uninsured: 45.8 Million and Counting ...
By Karen Davenport, Center for American Progress
Yet again the number of Americans living without health insurance has increased.

Katrina's Real Name
By Ross Gelbspan
It's Global Warming.

The Middle Class's Lost Future
By Christian E. Weller, Center for American Progress
Americans need to save more -- and the government needs to make that easier.