2006 - %3, September

Control of the Senate Now A Toss Up...(Could Come Down to Macaca!)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 10:39 AM EDT

Via Rasmussen:

The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is getting closer—much closer. Little more than a week ago, our Balance of Power summary showed the Republicans leading 50-45 with five states in the Toss-Up category. Today, Rasmussen Reports is changing three races from "Toss-Up" to "Leans Democrat." As a result, Rasmussen Reports now rates 49 seats as Republican or Leans Republican while 48 seats are rated as Democrat or Leans Democrat (see State-by-State Summary). There are now just three states in the Toss-Up category--Tennessee, New Jersey, and Missouri.
Today's changes all involve Republican incumbents who have been struggling all year. In Montana, Senator Conrad Burns (R) has fallen behind Jon Tester (D). Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee (R) survived his primary but starts the General Election as a decided underdog. Sherrod Brown (D) is enjoying a growing lead over Ohio Senator Mike DeWine (R).
Four other seats are now ranked as "Leans Democrat"—Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, and Michigan.
Virginia is the only state rated as "Leans Republican."
Democrats have to win all seven states leaning their way plus all three Toss-Ups to regain control of the Senate. While that's a tall order, recent history shows that it is quite possible for one party or the other to sweep all the close races. The Democrats did so in Election 2000 and the Republicans returned the favor in 2002. If the Democrats win all those seats but one, there would be a 50-50 tie. In that circumstance, Vice-President Dick Cheney would cast the deciding vote in his Constitutional role as the presiding officer of the Senate.

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Innocent Man Rendered to Syria, Held and Tortured for One Year (Blame Canada?)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 10:12 AM EDT

Closing (well, except for the well-deserved lawsuits I presume) another dark chapter in the war on terror, Canadian citizen Maher Arar has been completely cleared by a Canadian judicial commission. In a 822-page report, the commission, lead by Justice Dennis O'Connor, ripped the Mounties apart for giving U.S. authorities erroneous and inflammatory "evidence" against Arar, which led to his being detained during a stopover in JFK airport, rendered to Syria, where he was held and tortured for one year.

And let's be clear what we mean by torture here. This isn't just sleep deprivation. This is a Canadian computer consultant returning from a family vacation who, with no ability to access the "evidence" against him, gets bundled off to Syria and beaten with electrical cables.

Arar, a 31-year-old computer consultant and Canadian citizen, was en route from Zurich to Montreal to attend to business following a family vacation in Tunisia, according to a lawsuit he filed against U.S. officials in 2004. He was standing in line waiting to pass immigration inspection when an immigration officer asked him to step aside to answer some questions.
As FBI agents, immigration officials and NYPD officers questioned Arar, he asked to consult an attorney. U.S. officials told Arar that only U.S. citizens had the right to a lawyer and locked him up in the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York City, where he endured more interrogation about his friends, the mosques he attended, his letters and e-mails. U.S. officials then demanded that he "voluntarily" agree to be sent to Syria, where he was born, instead of home to Canada (Arar holds dual citizenship). Arar refused, according to Amnesty International, explaining that he was afraid he would be tortured in Syria for not completing his military service. After more than a week in detention, U.S. authorities determined that Arar was "inadmissible" to the United States based on secret evidence and notified him that he would be deported to Syria.
They took him to New Jersey in the middle of the night and loaded him onto a small plane that stopped in Washington, D.C., and then Rome before proceeding to Jordan. Local authorities in Jordan chained and beat Arar, bundled him in a van and drove him across the border to Syria, where Arar was beaten with electrical cables, interrogated about his acquaintances and beliefs, and kept in a tiny cell for months at a time.

The full O'Connor report is not available (due to, you guessed it, security concerns), but news reports indicate that basically after 9/11 the RCMP not only saw terrorists behind every tree but then passed on raw intelligence that had not been analyzed for accuracy to the even more hot-headed U.S. intelligence forces. Via the Globe and Mail:
"The Mounties, the report continues, should have flagged the material as being from unproven sources and should have taken precautions to make sure it was not used in U.S. deportation proceedings…
U.S. officials refused to testify at the Canadian inquiry. But the report says it "is very likely" they relied on the faulty RCMP intelligence when they decided to send Mr. Arar to Syria, the country of his birth, rather than home to Canada.
"The RCMP provided American authorities with information about Mr. Arar which was inaccurate, portrayed him in an unfair fashion and overstated his importance to the investigation," the report says. "The RCMP had no basis for this description, which had the potential to create serious consequences for Mr. Arar in light of American attitudes and practices" at that time, the report says.
The Mounties also erroneously told the Americans Mr. Arar was in the Washington area on Sept. 11, 2001, when, in fact, he was in San Diego.

When Arar got back, the Mounties mounted a smear campaign against him…Boy, this all sounds so familiar.

The O'Connor report also calls for the further independent investigation of the cases of three other Canadian Muslim men—Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muyyed Nurredin —who were likewise rendered and claim to have been tortured.

These are just some of the cases we know about. God knows how many we don't. McCain, Graham, Warner, and Powell (and now George Shultz!) are all absolutely correct, when we indulge in barbarous behavoir, we can expect more of the same. We may be on the receiving end of some no matter how well we act, but that's not the point. The point is what kind of example do we want to set? To other nations and peoples, and to our own children.

Bush Admin Takes War on Drugs to YouTube

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 8:12 PM EDT

The Bush administration is to distribute anti-drug, public service announcements and other videos via YouTube, the -- as AP puts it -- "trendy Internet video service that already features clips of wacky, drug-induced behavior and step-by-step instructions for growing marijuana plants." (And cooking with them, as in the highly instructive video below.)

"If just one teen sees this and decides illegal drug use is not the path for them, it will be a success," said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the drug office.

On the other hand, Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, points out that these young trendy folks "will quickly edit the government's videos to produce parodies and distribute those on YouTube" (AP's wording).

A safe bet, I'd say.

One Big Fiesta for Immigrants and Homosexuals

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 6:29 PM EDT

That's how Vernon Robinson describes America under the leadership of North Carolina Congressman Brad Miller. Robinson, who is running for Miller's Congressional seat, has radio and television ads that are so offensive, they are funny. Not so funny is Robinson's claim that those who are endorsing this campaign or who have endorsed one of his previous campaigns include Sen. Elizabeth Dole, Bill Bennett, the Police Benevolent Association, Governor Jeb Bush, the Wall Street Journal, and the Greensboro News & Record. If some of these endorsers do not endorse the current campaign, they certainly have not rushed to have their names taken off of the list.

Another of Robinson's TV ads contains this text:

If you're a conservative Republican, watching the news these days can make you feel as though you are in The Twilight Zone. Americans are under attack from Islamic extremists in every corner of the world. Homosexuals are mocking holy matrimony and the lesbians and feminists are attacking everything sacred. Liberal judges have completely re-written the Constitution. You can burn the American flag and kill a million babies a year but you can't post the Ten Commandments or say "God" in public. Seven out of every ten children are born out of wedlock and [Rev. Jesse] Jackson and [Al] Sharpton claim the answer is racial quotas. And the aliens are here but they didn't come in a spaceship, they came across our unguarded Mexican border by the millions.

Robinson, who appears to be obsessed with the subject of homosexuality, was the one who suggested that Congressman Miller was homosexual because the Congressman had married later in life and had no children. Miller then caved in to the baiting and disclosed that his wife had had a hysterectomy prior to their marriage.

When Robinson ran for Congress in 2004, he raised nearly $3 million, almost all of it from individuals. He has also received significant financial support from PACS associated with Congressman Ron Paul of Texas and Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo. Tancredo, you will recall, received overnight fame by suggesting that--should al Qaeda launch a nuclear attack on the U.S.--we retaliate by "taking out" Muslim holy sites.

Accusations of FEC violations have also been made against Robinson, and these are pending. In 2004, he was fined for not filing papers with the FEC. But for those North Carolinians who want to see crotch-grabbing illegal immigrants burning the American flag, election violations probably count as insignificant. Fortunately, the polls show that Miller is likely to win.

Iraq Reporting Should Come With a Warning

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 6:16 PM EDT

At the Nation's blog, Tom Engelhardt, reflecting on a comment by New York Times Iraq reporter that "98 percent of Iraq, and even most of Baghdad, has now become 'off-limits' for Western journalists," has this to say:

Here's the problem. I've been reading New York Times reportage since the invasion of Iraq began and I don't remember running across a figure like that -- and neither has just about anyone else who happens to have been reading a major paper in the US for the last year. When, way back in September 2004, an e-mail from the Wall Street Journal's fine reporter Farnaz Fassihi slipped into public view, suggesting that "[b]eing a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest," it was treated as a scandal in the media; her "objectivity" was called into question; and (if memory serves) she was sent on vacation until after the presidential election. While there was a vigorous discussion in the British press of what came to be called "hotel journalism," it was hardly a subject here, once you got past The New York Review of Books.

Tom's solution: a sort of news consumer's health warning:

Cigarette packs have their warning labels, as do vitamin supplements. Shouldn't our news have the equivalent? How about little pie-chart icons before each Iraqi story suggesting what percentage of the news pie had been available that day. Or a warning label that might say: "This ordinary piece was put together by American reporters locked in their well-guarded and barricaded buildings from scraps of information delivered by Iraqi reporters who can't even tell their families where they work for fear of assassination."

Worth reading in full.

Red Letter Christians: Religious Values Go Beyond Same Sex Marriage and Abortion

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 5:22 PM EDT

"A debate on moral issues should be central to American politics, but how should we define religious values?"

"We must insist that the ethics of war — and whether we tell the truth about going to war — these are moral values issues too."

The speaker? Who else but the ubiquitous (you almost want to say omnipresent) Jim Wallis, who today announced plans to establish a grass-roots network of 7,000 moderate and progressive clergy members. Red Letter Christians, a project of Sojurners/Call to Renewal, plans to use voter guides for congregants and briefings for their leaders to a broader definition of morality and Christian values beyond gay marriage and abortion to war, education, and poverty, among other things.

Wallis has just rolled out a new blog at Beliefnet, where this week he (politely) debates Ralph Reed. (Liberals and conservatives engaging with the issues without resorting to insult and invective! What next?) Worth a look.

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Election 2006: Get Ready for "Major" Voting Problems

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 2:20 PM EDT

Must-read article on voting snafus from the Washington Post, in case you missed it this weekend.

An overhaul in how states and localities record votes and administer elections since the Florida recount battle six years ago has created conditions that could trigger a repeat -- this time on a national scale -- of last week's Election Day debacle in the Maryland suburbs, election experts said. ...

"We could see that control of Congress is going to be decided by races in recount situations that might not be determined for several weeks," said Paul S. DeGregorio, chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, although he added that he does not expect problems of this magnitude. ...

What is clear is that a national effort to improve election procedures six years ago -- after the presidential election ended with ambiguous ballots and allegations of miscounted votes and partisan favoritism in Florida -- has failed to restore broad public confidence that the system is fair.

Read on.

P.S.: Don't miss Sasha Abramsky's investigation of the 11 worst places to vote in the U.S., in the current Mother Jones.

Jim Webb's 2002 Op-Ed Against Invading Iraq

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 1:58 AM EDT

Jim Webb isn't by any means perfect, as Tim Russert revealed in his interview with Webb and George "Macaca" Allen reveals.

For one thing, Webb, like Allen, didn't want to alienate Virginia tobacco growers by saying his or Allen's habit of chewing tobacco was part of a greater health problem. And though the outcry was orchestrated by the Allen campaign, the complaints that women veterans have over Webb's 1979 article decrying women being admitted to the Naval Academy (which Webb also attended) was, certainly, wrongheaded and counterproductive, as he has now admitted.

Still, Webb was right on in his 2002 Washington Post op-ed questioning the Pollyannaish views of the Bushies as to what the long-term consequences of invading Iraq would be:

American military leaders have been trying to bring a wider focus to the band of neoconservatives that began beating the war drums on Iraq before the dust had even settled on the World Trade Center. Despite the efforts of the neocons to shut them up or to dismiss them as unqualified to deal in policy issues, these leaders, both active-duty and retired, have been nearly unanimous in their concerns. Is there an absolutely vital national interest that should lead us from containment to unilateral war and a long-term occupation of Iraq? And would such a war and its aftermath actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism?...
The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences -- ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. The second is that a long-term occupation of Iraq would beyond doubt require an adjustment of force levels elsewhere, and could eventually diminish American influence in other parts of the world....
Other than the flippant criticisms of our "failure" to take Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War, one sees little discussion of an occupation of Iraq, but it is the key element of the current debate. The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years.

Also, as a Virginian, I must point out that Webb really is one, whereas Allen is (gasp!) a Californian—which is why he's raised more "Hollywood money" than Webb. You can read the rest of Webb's 2002 op-ed after the jump.

Barack Running for Prez?

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 1:09 AM EDT

That's the speculation.

One thing is for sure, 2008 is heating up to be the most interesting political season in a long time. Sure, the early money is on (and most of the political money is with) McCain and Hillary. But when wild cards include Gore, Rudy, Biden, Obama, and a host of others—it should be fun.

Now political operative friends tell me that they don't see Obama getting on the DNC ticket because Bill C. is as good as getting out the black vote as anybody—up to and including a black man. That may be true, though I think it underestimates Obama's larger draw.

What I would like to know is what to make of the McCain, Lindsey Graham, Colin Powell anti-torture alliance. Somewhere in that trokia is the perfect GOP ticket...

One that, it must be said, gets them around the McCain age/melanoma issue.

Iraq's Police Force: Murderers' Row

| Sun Sep. 17, 2006 9:22 PM EDT

The NYT's Edward Wong and Paul von Zielbauer report that the efforts of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior to purge the police and internal security forces of Shiite militiamen and criminals is not going well.

The ministry recently discovered that more than 1,200 policemen and other employees had been convicted years ago of murder, rape and other violent crimes, said a Western diplomat who has close contact with the ministry. Some were even on death row. Few have been fired…
There is little accountability. The government has stopped allowing joint Iraqi and American teams to inspect Iraqi prisons. No senior ministry officials have been prosecuted on charges of detainee mistreatment, in spite of fresh discoveries of abuse and torture, including a little-reported case involving children packed into a prison of more than 1,400 inmates. Internal investigations into secret prisons, corruption and other potential criminal activity are often blocked.

The report does contain some good news—"Death squads in police uniforms no longer kidnap and kill with absolute impunity in parts of Sunni-dominated western Baghdad, many Iraqis say. The American military estimates there was a 52 percent drop in the daily rate of execution-style killings from July to August."*—but on the whole the details are most disturbing.

*Update (or rather backdate, from Wong's story the previous day):


There has been a surge in the number of Iraqis killed execution-style in the last few days, with scores of bodies found across the city despite an aggressive security plan begun last month. The Baghdad morgue has reported that at least 1,535 Iraqi civilians died violently in the capital in August, a 17 percent drop from July but still much higher than virtually all other months.
American military officials have disputed the morgue's numbers, saying military data shows that what they refer to as the murder rate dropped by 52 percent from July to August. But American officials have acknowledged that that count does not include deaths from bombings and rocket or mortar attacks.

And don't even get me started about the trenches around Baghdad plan.