Political MoJo

Could he be talking about Karl Rove?

| Wed Jul. 12, 2006 3:11 AM EDT

Fresh on the heels of revelations that he warned the Bush administration not to keep secret spying programs from Congress' intelligence committees, Rep. Peter Hoekstra is suggesting that terrorists, or their friends, are behind recent intelligence leaks. (Thanks to Laura Rozen.)

"More frequently than what we would like, we find out that the intelligence community has been penetrated, not necessarily by al Qaeda, but by other nations or organizations," Hoekstra tells Reuters. "I don't have any evidence. But from my perspective, when you have information that is leaked that is clearly helpful to our enemy, you cannot discount that possibility."

Of course the whole spy/counterspy scenario is real--but to assume that foreign spies are passing secrets to the media to undermine the war on terror... like the man said, "I don't have any evidence."

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Next assignment: Enron

| Wed Jul. 12, 2006 2:54 AM EDT

Having failed to sort out the mess that is the Indian Trust Fund, the Department of the Interior has finally gotten rid of Judge Royce Lamberth, the source of such memorable pronouncements as:

"This Court need not sit supinely by waiting, hoping that the Department of Interior complies with the orders of this Court and the fiduciary obligations mandated by Congress.... To do so would be futile. I may have life tenure, but at the rate the Department of Interior is progressing that is not a long enough appointment."

More on the $176 billion mismanagement case here.

Setbacks For Gay Marriage Rights

Wed Jul. 12, 2006 1:38 AM EDT

A California appeals court heard arguments yesterday to determine the constitutionality of a state law defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman (Los Angeles Times). The arguments presented were pretty much what we're used to hearing by now: gay couples implored the court to uphold their right to happiness and equality (as promised to them by the constitution), while opponents offered their scroll of reasons why marriage plus gay equals certain decay.

California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer went as far as to say that the ban should remain intact since gays "already enjoy many of the rights of the married under the state's domestic partner law," but one member on the court's three-judge panel took a different view--that separate domestic partner law is, well, inherently unequal. We'll likely have to wait until October to see how this one pans out.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts' top court approved a proposed amendment defining marriage as a strictly hetero institution, thus paving the way for the state's legislature to get the amendment on the 2008 ballot.

Massachusetts is currently the only state that extends to same-sex couples the right to marry. All eyes will be on the constitutional convention this Wednesday where legislators will vote on the amendment (a quarter of the legislators will have to approve, and then do the same again next year, for the initiative to go on the ballot).

Israel Tightens the Noose Further

Tue Jul. 11, 2006 7:50 PM EDT

For years now, human rights organizations have decried Israel's restrictions on Palestinians' freedom of movement inside the Occupied Territories (called "unprecedented…in their scope, time, and severity of damage they cause to the three and a half million Palestinians" by the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem).

Now Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily, has reported that the noose has been tightened even further in recent months: Palestinians with foreign citizenship, including Palestinian-Americans, are being denied entry into Israel (and, by extension, the Territories) altogether. According to the report, most of those denied are residents of the Occupied Territories, traveling on foreign passports because Israel has revoked their citizenship.

By various estimates, the ban has so far affected several thousand American and European nationals, whom Israel has kept from returning to their homes and jobs, or from visiting their families in the West Bank. This could potentially impact many more thousands who live in the territories—including university instructors and researchers, employees working in various vital development programs and business owners—as well as thousands of foreign citizens who pay annual visits to relatives there. The policy also applies to foreigners who are not Palestinian but are married to Palestinians, and to visiting academics.
The Israeli Interior Ministry has not actually acknowledged the ban, making its motivations hard to gauge. But according to Electronic Intifada, the conservative Israeli daily Maariv has explained, "According to the plan, the IDF will declare Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] closed to foreign nationals. Denying entry to… activists has been defined as prevention of political subversion and involvement of members of the movement in acts of terrorism, and limitation of friction with Jewish settlers."

The rationale appears to be that Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories have more right to be there than Palestinian-born professors and aid workers. If history is any guide, the chance to blame Palestinians for the lack of civil society and infrastructure that results will just be the icing on the cake.

Zidane a victim of racism? Maybe - but not so fast

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 7:40 PM EDT

Having written a column before the World Cup worrying that racism, in the form of ugly taunts and gestures (and worse) from fans, would mar the competition, and then having seen those fears largely unfulfilled, Dave Zirin, writing at Alternet, seeks to salvage his thesis on the strength of speculation re: l'affaire Zidane. He argues that if, as has been reported, the lavishly tattooed Italian defender Marco Materazzi called Zinedine Zidane, a Muslim of Algerian descent, "a dirty terrorist"--which Materazzi denies--well, then, Italy should hand back the cup.

This makes for an impassioned column, no doubt, but there's a problem. Armies of lip readers ("international lip readers," no less) have been marshaled to decipher the insult leveled at Zidane, and they've come up with a bewildering array of suggestions. Some say Materazzi wished for Zidane and his family an ugly death; others that he insulted the French player's sister; and still others that he told "the balding playmaker" to go fuck himself. I know enough Italian to be reasonably confident these phrases aren't easily confused--so...I don't think much of international lip readers.

Undeterred by the speculative (and agenda-advancing?) quality of the crap flying around about the incident, Zirin takes his opening. (Not a huge deal, but he seems to think Zidane's nickname is Zissou; it's actually Zizou.)

But then in the final act, at the moment of most exquisite tension, it seems racism may have actually emerged from the shadows. I, for one, am damn glad that when it did, it ran smack into Zissou's beautiful head.

We don't know with iron certainty what Materazzi said, but if it turns out to be more of the anti-Black, anti-Muslim, garbage that has infected soccer like a virus, the Italian team should forfeit the cup. They should voluntarily give the greatest trophy of them all back to FIFA as a statement that some things in this world are more important than sports. Racism will be the death of soccer if things don't change. Italy can set the sport back on course, with one simple, stunning gesture. Give the damn thing back.

Racism is a big problem in soccer, no question. But maybe we could hold off on these kinds of stirring summons until the evidence is in, especially when they involve demonizing a guy, Materazzi, who might be guilty of nothing more than standard-variety trash talking, and fanning an already incendiary debate that touches on the most sensitive civilizational and religious divide of our times.

Slapping the *#@! out of copyright violators

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 7:22 PM EDT

U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch has ordered the copyright violators known as "film sanitizers" to cease and desist their activities. Those who scrub DVDs and VHS tapes of what they consider objectionable material are in violation of the studios and directors who own the film rights, Matsch ruled on Thursday.

The companies named in the Denver lawsuit included CleanFlicks, Play It Clean Video and Clean Films. These companies remove profanity, sexual scenes and graphic violence from films and then rent and sell the edited versions. Around ninety video stores, half of them in Utah, rent CleanFlicks movies to customers.

"Their (studios and directors) objective ... is to stop the infringement because of its irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies,'' the judge wrote. ''There is a public interest in providing such protection.''

Judge Matsch has ordered the companies to turn their inventories over to the appropriate movie studios within five days of the ruling.

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Report Your Neighbors

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 7:15 PM EDT

Ever wonder if that jittery guy down the street is really a speed freak? If you lived in Tennessee, you wouldn't have to. Authorities there recently launched a website listing state residents convicted of methamphetamine offenses– searchable by name or address. Why only people involved with this single drug and not, say, murderers or rapists? Well, that's what Jack Shafer calls the moral panic over meth for you.

And then there's illegal immigration, which outrages some private citizens so much that they've set up a similar database
where Minuteman-types can post the names and addresses of anyone they suspect of being undocumented.

All of which ought to make things easier for any excitable vigilantes out there – like the guy in Maine who murdered two sex offenders whose addresses he found on the state's online database.

Defending a Free Press

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 6:23 PM EDT

"When in Doubt, Publish." That's the title of an essay defending the New York Times' decision to run the SWIFT story. "We believe that in the case of a close call, the press should publish when editors are convinced that more damage will be done to our democratic society by keeping information away from the American people than by leveling with them."

I fully agree, and I'd emphasize one point here: The government for too long has abused its classification system. Things that should never be secret are kept bottled up for years for bizarre and purely arbitrary reasons. (The CIA's budget from 1947 is still classified, even though, for instance, the 1998 budget is public.) There's often no reason to trust an official request that this or that be kept out of the papers—and less so with this administration, which has elevated wanton secrecy to an art form. If the government wants to persuade journalists that some state secrets are too sensitive and too important to divulge, then it should stop needlessly keeping secret so many things that don't fall under that category. A clearer line would help everyone here.

UPDATE: Jay Rosen has a very good post on this subject that's worth reading in full.

The Tax Cuts Are Working? Hardly.

Tue Jul. 11, 2006 6:04 PM EDT

As expected, the Bush administration announced today that this year's budget deficit is not nearly as bad as officials had predicted it would be a few months ago. On the off- chance that this strikes you as cause for celebration, you can reuse the same party hat you wore last year. According to the Los Angeles Times, "This will be the third year in a row that the administration put forth relatively gloomy deficit forecasts early on, only to announce months later that things had turned out better than expected. To some skeptics, it's beginning to look like an economic version of the old 'expectations' game."

To President Bush, on the other hand, the news looked like proof that he had it right all along. "The tax cuts we passed work," he declared this morning. Economists at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, meanwhile, dispute this claim, using data gleaned from a Treasury Department analysis presented at the very same Mid-Session Review at which President Bush made his announcement. Guess they shouldn't have commissioned that study…

Big Dig Now Killing People

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 6:01 PM EDT

A slab of concrete fell from one of the Big Dig tunnels in Boston and killed a woman yesterday, according to news reports. This Times story discusses what an out-and-out boondoggle the entire project was. They neglected to note, though, that prior to 2001, the chief executive of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority was Andrew Natsios, under whose tenure "the biggest rise in costs, from $10.8 billion to $14.7 billion, took place." Anyway, Natsios then went on to join the Bush administration and become… head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which was, among other things, responsible for rebuilding infrastructure in Iraq. Make of that what you will, although recurring themes like this one aren't very amusing after awhile.