2006 - %3, November

Leave No ID Behind, Said the Poll Workers

| Thu Nov. 16, 2006 1:21 PM EST

Many people who made the grave error of not updating their drivers' licenses after moving [gasp] were rejected from the polls last Tuesday. The GOP's latest disenfranchisement strategy, tightening voter-ID requirements, might have worked a little too well. Among those rejected was Republican Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio. (Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina was also turned away but not because of a new law). They had enough time and will to go home and retrieve another ID. God only knows how many people didn't.

Poll workers zealously enforced new requirements, even in states where courts had struck them down. For one, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan had to argue her way into the booth.

The requirements are a complicated patchwork of laws across the country. States that have recently tightened laws and now require a photo ID are Arizona, Indiana, New Mexico (but only in Albuquerque), and Ohio (but only for in-precinct voting, and a lawsuit is still pending). On the other hand, courts blocked laws that legislatures passed that would require IDs in Georgia and Missouri. Michigan's Supreme Court is currently debating a photo-ID requirement and Arizona has increased the documentation you need to register to vote.

Here are the laws in every state.

—April Rabkin

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Did Robert Gates' Planning Help Bring Black Hawk Down?

| Thu Nov. 16, 2006 2:52 AM EST

When the lame-duck Senate Armed Services committee starts confirmation hearings next week on Robert Gates, President Bush's replacement for Donald Rumsfeld, Gates' performance in his last government job, as head of the CIA, is certain to come up. But will any of the senators ask Gates about his role in the first Bush administration's final blunder—the military operation in Somalia, launched by George H. W. Bush in the lame-duck days after the 1992 election, and brought to a disastrous conclusion six months later under Clinton? John Prados, an analyst at the National Security Archives and author of the new book Safe for Democracy, says it was Gates who approved the "initial architecture'' for the operation, including making arrangements for TV crews in Mogadishu to train their spotlights on the Marines' dramatic night landing. The CIA then led the troops inland, spread them out, and set up bases while keeping tabs on the conflict through its assets with the warlords; by the following spring most of the U.S. troops had been replaced by UN forces, and the rest were pulled after the Black Hawk Down debacle in June 1993.

Despite questions about his handling of the Somalia planning and other intelligence matters, Prados says he expects Gates to be confirmed easily; Armed Services Committee chair John Warner, R-Va., voted for Gates' confirmation in 1991. Once in office, Prados says, Gates could help bridge divisions between the CIA and the military, perhaps even pulling the plug on Rumsfeld initiatives that pit military intelligence initiatives against the CIA. Just don't expect him to crack down on politically influenced intelligence; that, after all, was his specialty.

Pakistan Rape Victims Get Break ...

| Thu Nov. 16, 2006 1:37 AM EST

Here's what passes for progress in the Islamic world these days: Pakistan has repealed a law that required rape victims to produce four witnesses to prove that a crime had been committed against them. Failing that, the victims could be charged with adultery - as several thousand have been since the law was imposed in 1979. The issue has been highlighted by the dogged fight of Mukhtar Mai, a village woman who was gang-raped in 2002 and then had the temerity to try to get her attackers prosecuted. Naturally, she now has a blog.

... and Iranian Gays Get Death

| Thu Nov. 16, 2006 1:09 AM EST

The latest Iranian convicted of "moral corruption, battering and sodomy" was publicly hanged in the western town of Kermanshah to the cheers of hundreds of spectators, the official news agency IRNA reports. As I've mentioned before,
the regime has executed an estimated 4,000 gay men and lesbians since the 1979 revolution.

McCain Officially Forms Exploratory Committee for '08 Run

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 10:56 PM EST

Word leaked a few days ago that John McCain would soon launch an exploratory committee for his 2008 presidential run. Today, he did it. The BBC reports he launched a website as well; readers who believe McCain's reputation as a political maverick to be undeserved may find this website just as interesting.

In other McCain news, his plan to send more troops to Iraq did not fare well when proposed to CentCom commander Gen. John Abizaid. The general said he "met with every divisional commander, Gen. Casey, the core commander, Gen. Dempsey" and asked them if bringing "in more American troops now, [would] add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq and they all said 'no.'"

Report Links Homelessness To Federal Spending Priorities

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 9:24 PM EST

According to a report released by the Western Regional Advocacy Project, "massive homelessness" has been created in the U.S. over the last twenty-five years because of cutbacks in federal affordable-housing programs. In the last decade, HUD has spent no money at all directly on construction of new public housing. Instead, the government has focused on the Hope VI grant program, which transforms distressed public housing into mixed-income communities.

Also during the last decade, HUD has demolished, sold or re-developed 100,000 housing units. As a result, the report says, there are fewer subsidized dwellings available. Over 4 million families live in HUD-subsidized housing, and between 2 and 3.5 million are homeless in any given year.

This study is of particular interest in New Orleans, whose public housing has been steadily decreasing for years, and because of the damage done by Hurricane Katrina. There has also been a recent controversy in Jefferson Parish, which is just outside New Orleans, involving Parish Councilman Chris Roberts, who maintains that "With the number of jobs out there, nobody should be on public housing unless you're ignorant or lazy."

Roberts and the Jefferson Parish Council have made it clear that they do not want displaced public housing residents from New Orleans moving to Jefferson Parish. The rationale is that low-income housing causes crime. As da po' blog points out, people who relied on public housing in the city before Katrina cannot afford to come back, a lot of working poor rely on public housing, and low-income housing does not cause crime. "You can't eliminate crime by eliminating low-income housing. Try fair education and workers' rights to achieve that end." da po' blog also points out that most of the people not wanted by Jefferson Parish just happen to be African American.

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South Africa: Gay is OK

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 9:01 PM EST

Yesterday South Africa became the fifth country to permit gay marriage, joining the liberal likes of Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada and socialist-ruled Spain. The South African Parliament amended the country's marriage laws yesterday in response to a December 2005 Supreme Court ruling that found that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated of the country's liberal constitution.

Conservatives in South Africa didn't like the court ruling any more than conservatives in this country liked Massachusetts' trail-blazing decision. The conservative African Christian Democratic Party interpreted the December ruling to require only that the legislature debate the issue. Errol Naidoo, a spokesman for His People Christian Church, played the Bush of the situation, calling the ruling a weapon of mass destruction against heterosexual marriage. He accused the high court of "surrender[ing] the future of this nation to the unreasonable demands of a sexually confused minority."

But unlike African-American groups in this country, who prickle at the suggestion that discrimination against gays and lesbians is comparable to racial discrimination, the African National Congress embraced the issue. The majority party pushed hard to allow marriage, rather than just domestic partnership despite the resistance of some of its members. Vytjie Mentor, the ANC's parliamentary caucus chairman, said ''How do you give someone permission to discriminate in the name of the ANC?'' Kenneth Meshoe, a member of the ACDP, saw it differently. He called Tuesday the "saddest day in our 12 years of democracy" and warned that South Africa "was provoking God's anger."

Some prominent members of the ANC until recently denied the existence of the AIDS epidemic ravaging the continent, essentially endorsing condomless sex and marital infidelity. But in the ANC's defense, the new law stands in stark contrast to laws in other African nations that punish consensual homosexual sex more harshly than they do rape. It's also far more progressive than U.S. laws: Twenty-two states now prohibit gay marriage with both a statute and a constitutional amendment.

Jack Murtha: Ethics Bill "Total Crap"

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 5:57 PM EST

Yesterday we, among other news outlets, pointed out that Jack Murtha, Nancy Pelosi's pick for Majority Leader, has a few skeletons in his closet when it comes to his ties to lobbying outfits, including one that once employed his brother, Kit. All told, some have suggested, Murtha may not be the best pick for a party looking to place an emphasis on ethics reform and distance itself from the cavalcade of scandals that led, in part, to the GOP's fall from grace. Not helping Murtha's case in the slightest is the fact that, according to Roll Call, he "told a group of Democratic moderates on Tuesday that an ethics and lobbying reform bill being pushed by party leaders was 'total crap.'" Three sources told the paper that Murtha said: "Even though I think it's total crap, I'll vote for it and pass it because that's what Nancy wants." (Perhaps Pelosi is taking a page from the "Hammer," since this is the second time in as many days that I've heard Dems remark that they'll do as she commands. Here's what Rep. Jim Moran, the Virginia Democrat, told The Hill yesterday. "We are entering an era where when the Speaker instructs you what to do, you do it.")

Murtha's alleged ethical lapses don't end with securing earmarks for the clients of favored lobbying firms that he has personal and professional ties to -- unfortunately, that is considered a fairly run-of-the-mill offense in the District these days -- but extend to more serious forms of malfeasance. Back in the late '70s and early '80s, the FBI ran an undercover sting operation, which came to be known as ABSCAM, targeting congressional corruption. TPMmuckraker sums it up nicely:

Around 1980, agents and an informant met with several lawmakers posing as representatives of a fictional "sheik Abdul" to offer them $50,000 in cash for legislative favors. Murtha was one of the lawmakers who met with them.

Ultimately, six lawmakers went down on corruption charges stemming from the operation, nearly all of them Democrats. Murtha wasn't one of them -- but not, as Murtha implies, because his innocence was ever demonstrated.

Though a 13-second video of Murtha's meeting has circulated in the past, The American Spectator, the conservative magazine, recently obtained the tape in its entirety, all 53 minutes and 40 second of it. TPMmuckraker pulls out some of the money quotes:

"I'm gonna be blunt," an FBI man says to Murtha after laying out what favors he was looking to buy. "Are you telling me now. . . you don't want any money on this thing?"

"There's some places I'd like you to invest some money, in the banks, in my district," Murtha responds. "I'd say some substantial deposits." He explains later how he does so many favors for people that, if they weren't all for individuals in his district, "people would say, that son of a bitch. . . is on the take."

"Once they say that, what happens?" Murtha asks the FBI men rhetorically, ignorant of the fact that he was explaining his own M.O. to agents trying to bust him for corruption. "Then they start going around looking for the goddamn money. So I want to avoid that by having some tie to the district. That's all. That's the secret to the whole thing."

At another point on the tape Murtha says:

Lemme tell you something. You came to the right guys in order to get it done. And I think the way I'd handle it, you know, Murphy, and the other guy, they got, all three [Murtha, John Murphy, and Frank Thompson] of us got things we can each do. Each of us got different responsibility in a different area. But I want to do business with you. I mean I want to get the goddamn jobs in the area, you know, a few bank deposits in my area. Nothing I'd like better. Later on, after we've dealt a while, we might change our mind -- we might want to do more business. But right now, I think I can do more this way than any other way. I think I can do more by being completely independent, if you understand what I mean. And listen, it's hard for me, shit it's hard for me to say, just the hell with it. But I think this is the way I can do the best, the most good.

With the heat on, Murtha's claiming that the newly resurrected questions about his ethics record are "swift boat-style" attacks, meaning that they are specious and politically motivated. Maybe he should first explain why was caught on tape saying things like this – and to people whose interests he was not elected to represent: "I haven't been here a long time but I know the right people and I know the system and I went to the ballgame with the president -- in other words there were three of us -- me, Tip [O'Neill, speaker of the House], and that's it -- so I've got as much influence, and I know as much about the goddamn workings as any -- you're not going to have any trouble."

U.S. to Cuba: Surrender to Rich, Creamy Decadence!

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 2:08 PM EST
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What will bring down communist Cuba once and for all? Will it be the post-Castro power vaccum, the trade embargo, or the Cuban people's insatiable yearning for a good box of chocolate? The Miami Herald reports today that a new report from the Government Accountability Office has found some questionable spending by anti-Castro groups getting money from the U.S. government:

One recipient, the GAO says, used USAID funds to purchase a chain saw, Nintendo Game Boys and Sony PlayStations, a mountain bike, leather coats, cashmere sweaters, crabmeat and Godiva chocolates.

Juan Carlos Acosta, executive director of Miami-based Acción Democrática Cubana, told The Miami Herald in an interview Tuesday that except for the chain saw, he bought the items and sent them to people in Cuba.

He said he bought the chain saw to cut a branch that had fallen near the door of his office after a hurricane. He bought ''five or six'' cans of crabmeat and some boxes of chocolate to send to Cuba.

''These people are going hungry,'' he said. "They never get any chocolate there.''

Asked why he'd sent cashmere sweaters to Cuba, Acosta replied, "They [auditors] think it's not cold there." Plus, "At $30, it's a bargain because cashmere is expensive."

Welcome Back, Lotter: Trent Lott Elected to GOP's No. 2 Spot in Senate

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 1:22 PM EST

The party that Ken Mehlman repeatedly insists is reaching out to black people, the party that ran several black candidates at the national level in 2006, the party that made a (albeit half-hearted) bid to install failed senatorial candidate Michael Steele as head of the RNC -- that party just elected a man to the No. 2 position in the Senate who said his state proudly voted for a segregationist presidential candidate and that this candidate would have saved America from "all these problems over the years."

So the GOP is officially the big tent party now. It has room for black people (especially when they give the party a veneer of inclusion and equality), but doesn't feel the need to actually get rid of the people who hate black people, or, for that matter, keep them from the party's most powerful positions. Sounds like coalition-building to me.