2006 - %3, June

Homelessness a threat to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan

| Tue Jun. 27, 2006 9:39 PM EDT

The government estimates that, on any given night, hundreds of military veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan are homeless. Some cannot adjust after being in a war zone, some cannot navigate federal red tape, and some simply do not have the money to afford a place to live. The problem is the worst in New York City because of the high cost of housing.

The Veterans Administration provides grants to nonprofit housing organizations that provide about 8,000 beds a night across the nation.

Almost half of the U.S.'s disabled veterans receive $337 a month or less in benefits, which makes matters worse. Only those who are classified as 100% disabled receive $2,393 a month, but that group makes up only 10% of all disabled veterans.

Add to this problem the thousands and thousands of homeless Vietnam veterans who were already in the country. Both groups of veterans suffer from high degrees of posttraumatic stress syndrome, in addition to physical handicaps.

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The Bush administration is not incompetent. Really.

| Tue Jun. 27, 2006 7:06 PM EDT

Liberal-progressive-reality-based rock star George Lakoff has a new paper out explaining, once again, that liberals have their framing all wrong.

Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush's plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush's "failures" and label him and his administration as incompetent. Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point. Bush's disasters—Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit—are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault.

Hence,

...The issue that arises every day is which philosophy of governing should shape our country. It is the issue of our times. Unless conservative philosophy itself is discredited, Conservatives will continue their domination of public discourse, and with it, will continue their domination of politics.

Obviously, he has a point (though small-government conservatives might disagree that their "philosophy" has been greatly advanced under GWB). What it ignores, though, is that these guys manifestly don't know what they're doing half the time (hence their abysmal approval numbers; surely those aren't part of the master plan). Seems a shame to ditch the incompetence frame entirely—especially if you can stretch it to cover the Republican Congress. And maybe the dichotomy's a bit overblown. Why not split the difference and say—to paraphrase Alan Wolfe's argument in this month's Washington Monthly—that the conservative governing philosophy is a philosophy...of incompetent governance?

Actually-Existing Fascism

| Tue Jun. 27, 2006 6:10 PM EDT

"For the first time in more than thirty years, and to a greater extent than even then, our constitutional form of government is in jeopardy." That's what Elizabeth Drew recently wrote with regards to George W. Bush's unprecedented use of "presidential signing statements" during his tenure in office, as first documented by Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe. Over the past six years, the president has tacked addendums onto over 750 laws passed by Congress noting that he has the "right to ignore numerous sections of the bills." L'etat, c'est moi and all that.

And the kicker is that, as Dan Froomkin points out in his column today, very few reporters have bothered to follow up on this story. The president has openly stated that he's above the law, and no one seems to care. It's apparently of no interest whatsoever to find out what laws Bush "hasn't felt like" obeying. Meanwhile, conservatives seemed to have collectively decided that this week's the week to chuck away whatever last scraps of rationality they still had and suggest that Bush prosecute the New York Times for treason because of a story it published. In the midst of all this, it would take a very daft commentator indeed to worry about signs of incipient fascism in the blogosphere of all places.

Leaving Afghanistan

Tue Jun. 27, 2006 4:05 PM EDT

Much has been made recently of the Bush administration's plans to draw down troops in Iraq in anticipation of midterm elections next fall. But according to Ahmed Rashid, a reporter for the Daily Telegraph and author of the 2001 bestseller Taliban, the U.S. is also planning to pull troops out of Afghanistan—only this time, it could have disastrous consequences. Writing in The New York Review of Books, Rashid says that the scheduled departure of 23,000 US troops from Afghanistan this summer "is particularly disillusioning for millions of Afghans who, unlike their Iraqi counterparts, still equate a sizable US military presence with security, continued international funding, and reconstruction."

Indeed, the renewed Taliban offensive that has claimed over 600 lives since April only seems to have added to the feeling: one woman from the area of the fighting told The Washington Post today, "We only see foreign soldiers once in a while. There is no one to protect us."

According to Rashid, these American troops are leaving just when Afghanistan needs them most: despite some signs of progress, Rashid writes, the country is "near collapse once again… What has gone wrong has been the invasion of Iraq." And now, with the war in Iraq less popular than ever, Republicans seem to have realized that electoral victory in November will likely require a reduction in the number of troops deployed abroad (one Democratic Senator calls the plan "the worst kept secret in town"), forcing Afghans once again to suffer the consequences of a disastrous war in Iraq.

So Much for Democratization

Tue Jun. 27, 2006 3:31 PM EDT

Have the Bushies have given up on promoting democracy in the Middle East? A new crop of articles in the Daily Star, Foreign Affairs and the Washington Post all say that they have.

"The rhetoric of the Bush revolution may live on," writes Philip Gordon in this issue of Foreign Affairs, "but the revolution itself is over." The reasons he posits are both practical and philosophical: having overstretched itself in Iraq, alienated key US allies, and worn down domestic support for spreading democracy abroad (only 20 percent of Americans today say that should be "a very important goal"), the administration just can't do it anymore. Another reasons, the other two authors say, is fear of what free elections might bring, fueled by Hamas's ascendance in Palestinian elections and the Muslim Brotherhood's in Egypt. Plus, Gordon explains, Bush's post-9/11 revolution in foreign policy was enabled by "a feeling of tremendous power." And, well, we have seen what that did for us. Good job, George.

More than a prayer: activists take on corruption and poverty today

| Tue Jun. 27, 2006 1:05 AM EDT

Progressive activists are launching new initiatives today that take on, in different ways, our distorted government priorities fueled by crony capitalism and a corrupted Congress. Hundreds of faith-based leaders, led by the Rev. Jim Wallis and his Sojurners-affiliated groups, will be marching to Capitol Hill before noon and lobbying members of Congress about specific goals to end poverty here and abroad.

Meanwhile, at hundreds of homes around the country tonight, activists led by Public Citizen and other clean government groups, will be screening a riveting new film, "The Big Buy," about how Tom DeLay helped sell off and gerrymander Congress to benefit special interests and Republican donors. (There's still time to join up and learn about both actions. Read more below.)
One goal of that "Clean Money Day" is to promote a new "Voters First" pledge by candidates to commit to public financing of federal campaigns and lobbying reform.

Even though the activists may be different, their reform efforts reflect a battle against an underlying wrong: a federal government and budget rigged on behalf of the rich at the expense of the poor and middle-class. The slashed funding for social needs that the progressive Christians are protesting was shaped by a Congress and federal government that was turned into a Republican money-making machine for special interests with earmarks, tax breaks and lucrative contracts from Iraq to Katrina.

But Wallis, though, is shrewdly seeking to make the ending of poverty a bipartisan moral crusade, so Republican Senator Sam Brownback and Senator Barack Obama will be addressing the faithful. Wallis and his allies are calling their effort a solutions-oriented Covenant for a New America, declaring that "poverty is not a family value."

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Don't Ask, Don't Tell, just spy

| Mon Jun. 26, 2006 8:21 PM EDT

The Pentagon has been conducting surveillance of groups who protest the U.S. military's ridiculous Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which has done nothing but make it as difficult as usual for gay soldiers to remain in the military. This revelation came out in a Freedom of Information request made by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

The surveillance, which was done on a more extensive level than previously reported, may have been part of an undercover operation. Emails sent by student groups in California, New Jersey and Connecticut, protesting Don't Ask, Don't Tell have been intercepted and monitored by the government, and at least one undercover agent attended a student protest (held at Southern Connecticut State University).

Says SLDN executive director C. Dixon Osborn:

Americans are guaranteed a fundamental right to free speech and free expression, and our country's leaders should never be allowed to undermine those freedoms. Surveillance of private citizens must stop. It is the suppression of our constitutional rights, and not the practice of them, that undermines our national security. It is patently absurd that this administration has linked sexual orientation with terrorism.

The Roots of American Unpopularity

Mon Jun. 26, 2006 6:42 PM EDT

According to this year's Pew Global Attitudes Project, the percentage of people with a favorable opinion of the United States has fallen in all but a handful of countries over the last five years (the winner is Turkey, where only 3 percent of the population has confidence in the U.S.). The interesting part is that the roots of discontent appear to run a lot deeper than the war in Iraq or recent actions by the Bush administration.

After serving on a discussion panel in London that turned into an "extended round-robin denunciation of American foreign policy," Robert Kagan wrote in the Washington Post that there was almost no mention of Bush or the war in Iraq among critics of the United States. Instead, he writes, the criticism focused on "American policy during the Cold War for imposing evil regimes, causing poverty and suffering throughout the world, and blocking national liberation movements as a service to oil companies and multinational corporations."

Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune found that the United States' handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict concerned people at least as much as the war in Iraq. Some interviewees in Muslim countries told the Tribune that the contrast between the "blind eye" that the US turns to Israeli strikes on Palestinians and its condemnations of Palestinians who launch their own attacks "shows that the West is biased in dealing with Muslims." That doesn't mean the Iraq war is insignificant in affecting opinions (indeed, it's one major reason for the United States' plummeting popularity), although in truth it probably doesn't matter—it's hardly the shot in the arm that America's image abroad clearly needs.

Keep Guantanamo Open?

| Mon Jun. 26, 2006 4:39 PM EDT

Marty Lederman makes a good point here: Calls to shut down the military detention camp at Guantanamo are all well and good, but we want to make sure that if it ever does close that the prisoners won't get transferred to something even worse. Lederman suggests preserving Guantanamo, but actually bringing it under the rule of law and then transferring all the prisoners held in the CIA's "secret prisons" to Guantanamo. That would be better than the status quo, certainly, although Guantanamo is probably too notorious as a symbol of American human rights violations to stay open, period.

It also goes without saying that the Bush administration simply isn't going to bring its vast network of prisons under the rule of law anytime soon. One problem with the fact that the U.S. has been abusing a bunch of "suspects" in its custody is that, as Philip Carter argued, whatever evidence they may have offered up under torture is inadmissible in court. And that could make it harder to prosecute a number of terrorist suspects:

Evidence (such as a confession) gathered as a result of torturing a person like [alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik] Mohammed will be excluded at his trial, if he ever sees one. This is true both in federal courts, which operate under the Federal Rules of Evidence, and military courts, which operate under the Military Rules of Evidence. Both the Fifth Amendment's right against compulsory self-incrimination and the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process preclude the use of a defendant's coerced statement against him in criminal court.

In addition, any evidence gathered because of information learned through torture (sometimes called "derivative evidence") will likely also be excluded. Furthermore, the Supreme Court suggested in its landmark Fifth Amendment case, Oregon v. Elstad, that it might exclude evidence gathered after the use of any coercion, regardless of attempts by police and prosecutors to offset the coercion with measures like a Miranda warning. If Mohammed were prosecuted, and a court followed the line of reasoning set forth in Elstad, he might well see the charges against him evaporate entirely for lack of evidence.So unless the federal government wants to face the possibility that Mohammed could be set free, it might have to keep him in some sort of extralegal detention center… well, forever. (Carter suggests that the Bush administration could still, potentially, bring al-Qaeda suspects before military tribunals and avoid this problem, but even that's not clear.)

Can Iraq Be Reconciled?

| Mon Jun. 26, 2006 2:48 PM EDT

Borzou Daraghai of the Los Angeles Times has the best coverage I've seen yet of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's new "national reconciliation plan" for Iraq. The plan, according to the Washington Post, was watered down after "several revisions"— after some hectoring on the part of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, perhaps?—but it still contains an amnesty measure for insurgents along with proposals to build up the Iraqi security forces and dismantle the Shiite militias that are causing such havoc nowadays.

In other words, it's an attempt to convince disgruntled Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms and start participating in Iraq's fragile political system, which currently looks more like rule by gangsters and kleptocrats than it does any sort of democracy. Still, it's a step. So what's wrong with it? Most crucially, as Daraghai reports, the reconciliation plan is vague about laying down markers for U.S. troop withdrawal: