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Trouble in Paradise

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 5:28 PM EST

The New York Times is running a fantastic article today about homelessness in Hawaii. Rents there have skyrocketed in recent years, leaving many working class Hawaiians with no other option than to set up camp along the state's gorgeous coastlines (see Cory Lum's amazing photo for the Times below). The problem is especially bad along the Waianae coast of Oahu, where the population is largely native Hawaiian.

 hawaii_tents.gif

Needless to say, Hawaii's officials are displeased. Lester Chang, Waianae's parks and recreation director, said "I think all communities have to deal with this situation, but Hawaii is unique because it's an island. There's no place to push them off to."

To their credit, local and state officials are looking into substantive solutions to the problem. They face an uphill battle, since the state dissolved its housing department in the late 90s in the wake of a scandal. But it's a bigger scandal to have such a lavish gift of nature converted into a dumping ground for island natives who have jobs and are able to pay reasonable rents, and still can't find a place to live in their homeland.

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Al Sadr's Mouthpiece Chimes in on Iran, Secession and Saddam

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 4:56 PM EST

The Oxford International Review, an international affairs journal, released their special coverage of Iraq in early November (and has subsequently been releasing transcripts each week). OIR has compiled exclusive interviews with Iraqi and coalition leaders. (The Iraq Special Edition in its entirety is available for purchase here, but Foreign Policy has an excerpted interview in their November/December issue.) The interview is with Baha al Araji, the spokesman of powerful Iraqi leader, Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al Sadr. Some highlights:

FP: What should be the role of Iraq's neighbors?

BAA: They think that there is major collaboration between Iraqi Shia and Iran, but we will control this. It is a very big mistake to think that our community works at the behest of Iranian allies and friends.I don't think Iran likes Iraq. Iran is the beneficiary of this current situation. Iran's enemy is the United States, so Iran does everything in its power to fuel instability in the new Iraq so that Iran can remain strong and keep the United States distracted. The reason nobody is doing anything about Iran's nuclear program is that they are all too busy trying to salvage Iraq.

FP: Do you think Kurdistan will split off from Iraq? Will the south also secede?

BAA: Of course other regions want to secede. Would you want to be part of this mess by choice? If you believed that you could build a prosperous life and leave the forces of violence to fight their own petty wars of attrition on the streets of Baghdad, you would do it. These threats of secession say nothing of Iraqi unity or fragmentation. People just want a normal life.

The release of these interviews is interestingly timed as President Bush faces decisions to be made about the future of Iraq. The Baker Commission's recommendations are set to be released tomorrow. Like I have said before, I do not think al Sadr should be driving the decisions of the adminstration or those of the Iraqi government, for that matter, but nonetheless, al Sadr is a powerful dissenting voice (although by no means is he the only one) who could shape the future of Iraq much more than the President, the Baker Commission or the Pentagon, so it is best not to ignore him.

Hopefully Bush is springing for the entire edition.

List of Bush Officials Indicted, Convicted, Investigated, Etc.

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 3:20 PM EST

They are doing God's work over at TPMmuckraker. They've thrown together a list of the Bush Adminstration officials who have been indicted, convicted, forced to resign due to scandal, or bumped from the nomination process due to ethical problems. We highly recommend checking it out. It's a long list, topped, of course, by Scooter Libby, but in total there are only 26 names.

In contrast, consider this quote, from Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years: "By the end of his term, 138 Reagan administration officials had been convicted, had been indicted, or had been the subject of official investigations for official misconduct and/or criminal violations."

Don't worry, George! You only need 112 more convictions, indictments, or resignations-in-disgrace to catch up to your role model. That's only 4.5 per month for the last 25 months of your presidency. With a Democratic Congress, you might have an outside chance!

Gates on Iran and Syria

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 1:02 PM EST

Amid the predictable softball questions directed at Robert Gates at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, it was only Robert Byrd, the elder statesman of the Senate, who cut to the chase.

When Byrd asked Gates if he supported an attack on Iran, Gates replied, "I think military action against Iran would be a last resort…. Military consequences [could be] quite traumatic."

What about the likely consequences of a US attack on Iran, Byrd asked Gates. "While Iran cannot attack us directly militarily, their capacity to close off the Persian Gulf to exports of oil and to unleash a significant wave of terror in the Middle East, in Europe, and even here is very real."

An attack on Syria? "Syrian capacity to do harm to us is far more limited…."

Gates, prompted by Byrd, added that an attack on either Syria or Iran would lead to greater American casualties in Iraq. "I think that it would give rise to significantly greater anti-Americanism than we have seen to date. I think that it would immensely complicate our relationship with virtually every country in the region."

Byrd, possibly testing Gates to make sure he'll not simply be a shill for the administration, then asked the nominee who he believed was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. "Osama bin Laden," Gates responded quickly.

Seven Questions for Robert Gates

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 10:50 AM EST

No one expects that Robert Gates, the nominee for Defense Secretary who begins his testimony this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee, will face the withering scrutiny he did in 1991, when he was confirmed as the director of Central Intelligence after a monthlong series of hearings that spotlighted many of his alleged misdeeds as a senior official at the CIA. But one can only hope the Committee members don't steer clear of Gates' questionable past and ask the nominee some pointed questions. Among them:

-Why did the CIA fail to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union?

-What role did you have as a subordinate of CIA director William Casey in the Afghan war against the Soviets?

-Please tell us all the occasions since 1988 (under both Bush administrations) on which you were asked for advice on the Afghan and Iraqi wars and what advice you gave.

-In 1984 you wrote Casey that: "It is time to talk absolutely straight about Nicaragua," and added, "The Nicaraguan regime is steadily moving toward consolidation of a Marxist-Leninist government, and the establishment of a permanent and well-armed ally of the Soviet Union and Cuba on the mainland of the western hemisphere. Its avowed aim is to spread further revolution in the Americas." You said this was an "unacceptable" course and argued the U.S. should do everything "in its power short of invasion to put that regime out." Any hopes of causing that regime to reform itself for a more pluralistic government are "essentially silly and hopeless." With Daniel Ortega back in power, what should we do now? Does he now pose a threat to the western hemisphere? Are hopes for a pluralistic government still "essentially silly and hopeless"? Your views, please.

-In 1985 you wanted to "redraw the map of North Africa," advocating invading Libya with a force of 90,000 American soldiers, seizing half the country, and overthrowing Muamar Ghaddafi. On the basis of your advice, Casey ordered up a list of Libyan targets. Please explain your thinking on Libya.

-You have said that you first learned of the operation we now know as Iran-Contra when Eugene Hasenfus's plane was shot down over Nicaragua on October 5, 1986. If that is so, tell us about your meeting on October 1, 1985 with the CIA's National Intelligence Officer, Charles Allen, who told you of his suspicion funds were being diverted to the Contras. What action did you take when he told you this?

-Some of your former colleagues at the CIA allege that you played a role in politicizing intelligence at the agency, a claim you have long denied. Can you explain how a memo came to be drafted under your direction, based on information from one source, that alleged Soviet involvement in the Papal Plot? Why did your cover note on this memo, which was sent to the president and the vice president, call this assessment a "comprehensive examination"?

Posse Comitatus, We Hardly Knew Ye

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 4:07 AM EST

Just when we got done digesting news that federal detention has turned alleged enemy combatant Jose Padilla into "a piece of furniture" comes CQ's Jeff Stein with a report that tucked into this year's defense authorization bill (aka the John W. Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2006, signed into law October 17) is a tidbit that on its face "seems to be about giving the federal government a far stronger hand in coordinating responses to Katrina-like disasters.

But on closer inspection, its language also alters the two-centuries-old Insurrection Act, which Congress passed in 1807 to limit the president's power to deploy troops within the United States.

Now before you think we (or CQ) are going all black-helicopter on you, rest assured that this is not about the federal government marching jack-booted thugs into your living room... we think. It's just that the law adds

"natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident" to the list of conditions permitting the President to take over local authority — particularly "if domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order."

Since the administration broadened what constitutes "conspiracy" in its definition of enemy combatants — anyone who "has purposely and materially supported hostilities against the United States," in the language of the Military Commissions Act (PL 109-366) — critics say it's a formula for executive branch mischief.

Oh yeah, the critics. Turns out that the indefatigable Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont is among the vanishingly small number of people who have even been paying attention, warning that "using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy." Oh, that.

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Barrick Gold Pledges to Stop Killing Glaciers

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 3:38 AM EST

The largest gold-mining company in the world finally posted a report on the Pascua Lama mine today, as promised to shareholder activists.

The mine was the target of a chain email last summer because the gold is under three glaciers that irrigate an arid farming valley of thousands, high in the Andes, spanning the border of Chile and Argentina. At first Barrick Gold Corp. said it would "relocate" the glaciers to get the gold.

As if global warming weren't enough, these poor farmers also had to worry about their glaciers being relocated. Exactly how remains a mystery. But what's worse is the prospect of tailings polluting the melt water that feeds their crops. The byproducts of one plain wedding band are 5.5 pounds of lead, 3 pounds of arsenic, almost 2 ounces of mercury, and 1 ounce of cyanide, out of 20 tons of waste.

In protest last year, hundreds of farmers dumped chunks of ice at the presidential palace in Santiago, to no avail. The Chilean government gave the go-ahead in February, and this week Argentina will too. No surprise, since mining accounts for a third of Chile's $100 billion GDP and 60 percent of its exports.

A few things stand out in the report, for which the authors reviewed and interviewed only Barrick employees, not locals.

  • The mine will draw 39 percent of the water of the Taguas River. "However, withdrawal points are high in the respective basins where stream flows are relatively small."
  • The design can manage one in 100-year storms and geologic events.
  • Barrick did not hold enough formal public hearings to meet World Bank standards, which it was not obligated to follow because it is not using World Bank funding. But an environmental consultant friend of mine at the EPA said the World Bank's "best practice" standards are what multinationals should follow in developing countries.
  • To avoid harming the glaciers, Barrick pledged to refrain from taking one million ounces of gold. That's 5 percent of the estimated $11 billion yield.


By the way, Barrick hates to call them glaciers, preferring "ice sheets." Barrick apparently named the mine Pascua Lama, which translates to Passover lamb or sacrifice. That's a biblical allusion to the lamb's blood that marked the Israelites' doors to spare them from God's worst plague to Egyptians, death of the firstborn.

Speaking of euphemisms, we reported last month on lead-poisoning by the sweetly-named Doe Run Co.

-- April Rabkin

Supreme Court Update 2: Race in Public Schools

| Mon Dec. 4, 2006 4:12 PM EST

The Supreme Court heard opening arguments today in a case that will determine the fate of diversity programs in public schools. The policies of two school districts, in Seattle and Louisville, are under attack by parent groups who want to end the use of race as a factor in making public school assignments.

Not surprisingly, Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Roberts were the most skeptical of the districts' position in today's hearing, with Kennedy and Scalia favoring food metaphors to get their points across. Scalia said the district was saying, "you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs," while Kennedy opined that the district was telling its students that "everybody can get a meal," but that only certain people can get "dessert."

But as the Seattle district's attorney Michael Madden argued, "This is not like being denied admission to a state's flagship university." Seattle students are "not being denied admission, they are being redistributed." In fact, the district's use of race in maintaining racial balance has been upheld by several Federal appeals courts, including one decision in the Seattle case written by Regan appointee Alex Kozinski who said the district's assignment plan "carries none of the baggage the Supreme Court has found objectionable."

The court's decision will affect perhaps thousands of school districts around the country who consider race when making school assignments. Given the fact that most neighborhoods remain highly segregated, a decision in favor of the parents (which seems highly likely given the current make up of the court) would mean a gradual re-segregation of public schools (which may already be happening).

For more background on this story read my interview with David Engle, principal of Ballard High in Seattle where this case originated.

-- Amaya Rivera

Supreme Court to Consider "Bong Hits 4 Jesus"

| Mon Dec. 4, 2006 2:44 PM EST

Oh boy. I really can't wait for the transcript of this Supreme Court case. The Supes have agreed to hear a First Amendment case involving an Alaska teen who was suspended for unfurling a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." The student says he did it as a prank to try to get on TV, but his principal said he'd violated the school rules by promoting drug use. (I guess promoting religion didn't work in his favor.) An appeals court sided with the kid, declaring that his free-speech rights were violated. But the school—represented by Kenneth Starr—has appealed to the Supreme Court. Serious questions of free expression aside, I think it's safe to say this will be the first time the phrase "bong hits" will be uttered in those hallowed halls (any SCOTUS watchers out there know otherwise?). If ever a Supreme Court hearing deserved its own drinking game, this is it.

John Bolton Will No Longer Hamper Worldwide Diplomacy

| Mon Dec. 4, 2006 1:54 PM EST

John Bolton will resign as U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Amongst John Bolton's many crimes is his forced ouster of Jose Bustani, the former director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a U.N. organ with a role in hunting and regulating WMD in Iraq. Before the war, Bustani advocated solving the perceived Iraq WMD problem through means other than violence; in response, the U.S., led by John Bolton, forced a vote to oust Bustani on trumped-up charges, failed, then threatened to cut funding to the OPCW if it did not have its way, forced another vote, and prevailed. (You can read more about Bustani, and get a full sourcing for his story, by searching "Bustani" at the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline. After losing his job, Bustani reflected on the saga with Mother Jones.) The U.N. would later rule that Bustani was wrongfully dismissed and award him damages.

Looking for something more recent? According to TPM Muckraker, Bolton's last move as U.N. ambassador was to reject a proposal commemorating the 200th anniversary of the end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

So, yeah, good riddance.

Recently, Foreign Policy put together a list of Bolton's most likely replacements. Included are Jim Leach, Republican congressman from Iowa who just lost a reelection bid, Zalmay Khalilzad, ambassador to Iraq and second-tier architect of the Iraq War, and Lincoln Chafee, poor schmo.