Mojo - June 2006

Prison Guards Lock Down Schwarzenegger

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 8:50 PM EDT

In a political about-face as sudden as it is short-sighted, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared that the way to fix the state's problem-wracked prisons is by building more of them and locking more convicts up inside them.

For the last two years, Big Arnold has pushed for a range of progressive reforms in the nation's biggest prison system, from releasing low-level female drug offenders into halfway houses to bringing back education and treatment programs – even adding the word "Rehabilitation" to the Department of Corrections official name.

Why? Because the prison population has hit a record 170,000, and reducing it makes obvious sense in a cash-strapped state that spends over $7 billion a year on incarceration and still has one of the worst recidivism rates in the country. Schwarzenegger was the first governor in years whose campaign wasn't bankrolled with the help of the prison guards' union, one of the state's most profligate political donors, which freed his hand on correctional policies. But now, suffering from sagging poll numbers and facing a fall election, Schwarzenegger has made an alliance with the powerful union; to prove it, this week he called for the construction of two brand new $500 million prisons, and for the defeat of a ballot initiative that would weaken California's notorious "three strikes you're out" law which has put thousands of minor offenders behind bars for life.

As a federal court investigator put it, Schwarzenegger is abandoning "one of the most productive periods of prison reform" in the state's history and giving the guards' union back a "disturbing" degree of say over incarceration policy. C'mon, Arnold - it wasn't that long ago that you were fighting for the freedom of all humans!

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You can't leak something that's already overflowing

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 4:15 PM EDT

If anyone tells you that certain leftist newspapers like the Wall Street Journal (though they will probably say the New York Times, which is about as "leftist" as the WSJ) committed treason by leaking intelligence about the U.S.'s secret searches within a vast global database of confidential financial transactions--tell them to go to a "burning hot" place.

Really. Because that is where The Heretik is camped out, exposing the outrageousness of this claim. He explains that the Bush administration has been doing nothing but blabbing for years about its intention to spy on and monitor financial transactions as a way of fighting the so-called war on terror.

"George Bush should look in the mirror," The Heretik says, for "Nobody has done more to...tell terrorists we are on to them, on the financial trail which in some ways is going cold."

He then provides a chronological collection of statements by Bush, beginning September 24, 2001, in which he explains to the world over and over how the U.S. is tracking international financial transactions and freezing the assets of terrorists.

Except, of course, that didn't really happen. The Heretik points out that terrorists do not actually do business with Swift--what a surprise-- only with a few selected Swift banks, and that terrorist assets are easily and quickly converted to things like diamonds, gold and investments in front companies. However, as a result of the fishing expedition, millions of confidential Swift records have been released without authorization, violating privacy laws, and resulting in complaints lodged in thirty-two countries.

"The simple truth is terrorists need little money to do great harm." So says The Heretik. And he refers to Bryan Bender's Boston Globe story, in which Bender quotes former terror financing expert Victor D. Comras:

Unless they were pretty dumb, they had to assume their transactions were being monitored. We have spent the last four years bragging how effective we have been in tracking terrorist financing.

Is Prostitution Really Inevitable?

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 4:11 PM EDT

In the New Republic today, Michelle Cottle argues against Congress' brand new "pimp tax" idea, which aims to use the IRS to crack down on sex traffickers. This, I think, is a sharp point:

Obviously sex trafficking is a global atrocity...But the chairman's current proposal, which lumps together international sex traffickers with neighborhood pimps and down-on-their-luck working girls, comes with a built-in overreach that all but ensures that the agency's pursuit of sex criminals will wind up resembling its pursuit of tax cheats in general over the years: Overwhelmingly, the small fry are the ones netted since they are both the most abundant and the least able to defend themselves. [Here's a good example.]

Fair enough. A sincere effort to crack down on sex trafficking obviously wouldn't just give the IRS some token funding to hound "down-on-their-luck working girls." And there's certainly something to the criticism that many attempts to stop sex trafficking end up hurting women who become prostitutes "voluntarily" (yeah, those are scare quotes). The International Justice Mission, for instance, a Christian organization that helps the Thai police bust brothels, often "rescues" women who don't want to be freed. "We need to make money for our families," one woman said after a raid in 2001. "How can you do this to us?"

Press intimidation: Red meat for the Republican soul

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 2:44 PM EDT

Is it just me, or is the notion that Congress "expects the cooperation of all media news organizations" in keeping classified programs--including, presumably, manifestly illegal ones--secret...a little chilling?

The House of Representatives yesterday voted to condemn the decision by several newspapers to publish details of the Bush administration's secret program to track terrorist financing, in a swipe at the media aimed primarily at The New York Times.

The nonbinding "Sense of the Congress" resolution states that media organizations "may have placed the lives of Americans in danger" by revealing details of the classified program. It goes on to say that Congress "expects the cooperation of all news media organizations" in keeping classified programs secret (Boston Globe).

Hmm, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal all published stories on this, but a special mention for the New York Times (presumably in its role as proxy for elitist Blue America). Could this have to do with...politics?

Never mind that the administration itself has publicly discussed its monitoring of terrorist finances since 9/11; or that by at least one account the program had become decreasingly effective as terrorists got wise to the surveillance; or that the legality of the program has not been established. Never mind any of that. Republican lawmakers feel perfectly entitled to say the New York Times will have "blood...on their hands" (Rep. Peter King), that "loose lips kill American people" (Dennis Hastert), and that the disclosure "jeopardizes the safety of the American people" (John Boehner). This is bullying and demagoguery, plain and simple.

"Let's be honest: We are here today because there hasn't been enough red meat thrown at the Republican base before the Fourth of July holiday," [said Rep. James P. McGovern, a Worcester Democrat]. "The administration and its allies have no problem with leaks to the press when those leaks advance their political agenda. But if a leak contradicts their agenda, suddenly they call it treason."

Coming soon: stem cell showdown

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 2:14 PM EDT

From the Washington Post:

Senate leaders from both parties agreed yesterday to schedule a vote on a package of bills that would loosen President Bush's five-year-old restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research.

With head counts suggesting there are enough votes to pass the legislation and with Bush having promised he would veto it, yesterday's action sets the stage for what could be the first full-blown showdown between the chamber and the president.

Bring it!

The package would allow federal funding of research on embryos slated for destruction at fertility clinics--embryos rich in the useful kind of stem cell. (Bush yesterday called them "society's vulnerable members." How's that for a frame?) As Mother Jones reports this month, there are lots and lots and lots of those embryos.

And so, far from going away, the accumulation of human embryos is likely to grow, and grow, and grow. And in growing, the embryo overstock is likely to change—or at least complicate—the way we collectively think about human life at its earliest stages, and morally what is the right thing to do with it. At some point, embryos may alter or even explode the reproductive landscape: It is ivf embryos, after all, that are at the center of the nation's stem cell debate, which itself has prompted a new national conversation about life and reproductive liberty, creating new alliances as well as schisms. In 2001, as one of his first major domestic policy decisions, George W. Bush banned federal funding for labs developing new stem cell lines using leftover ivf embryos; then in May 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill approving funding for stem cell research using these same embryos, setting the stage for an eventual conservative showdown. In the course of this debate, embryos have emerged as another tool for truly hardline conservatives looking for new ways to beat back abortion rights. Like "fetal rights" laws that seemingly protect unborn children from acts of homicide, "embryo rights" are being waved about as a weapon in the assault on abortion rights, as anti-abortion lawmakers talk about seizing control over frozen embryo stores; limiting the creation of new embryos; or both.

But the impact of the embryo is also taking place on a more subtle and personal level. The glut's very existence illuminates how the newest reproductive technologies are complicating questions about life; issues that many people thought they had resolved are being revived and reconsidered, in a different emotional context.

Read the full article, by Liza Mundy, here.

Clarence Thomas Wears Combat Boots?

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 1:40 PM EDT

This quote, from Aziz Huq's analysis of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, pretty much says it all:

Ironically, Justice Thomas refers to Justice Stevens' "unfamiliarity with the realities of warfare"; but Stevens served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1945, during World War II. Thomas's official bio, by contrast, contains no experience of military service.
Sort of like how, on the one hand, we have a bunch of retired military officers opposed to the administration's policies on torture, and on the other hand, we have notable non-veterans like Dick Cheney and David Addington insisting that their critics are unfamiliar with the "realities of warfare"…

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The U.S. couldn't find Gitmo detainee trial witnesses; the Guardian found them in three days!

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 1:08 PM EDT

From the Guardian: so, so wrong...:

The U.S. government said it could not find the men that Guantánamo detainee Abdullah Mujahid believes could help set him free. The Guardian found them in three days.

Two years ago the U.S. military invited Mr Mujahid, a former Afghan police commander accused of plotting against the United States, to prove his innocence before a special military tribunal. As was his right, Mr Mujahid called four witnesses from Afghanistan.

But months later the tribunal president returned with bad news: the witnesses could not be found. Mr Mujahid's hopes sank and he was returned to the wire-mesh cell where he remains today.

The Guardian searched for Mr Mujahid's witnesses and found them within three days. One was working for President Hamid Karzai. Another was teaching at a leading American college. The third was living in Kabul. The fourth, it turned out, was dead. Each witness said he had never been approached by the Americans to testify in Mr Mujahid's hearing. [Italics mine]

The paper says Mujahid was one of 380 Guantánamo detainees whose cases were reviewed at "combatant-status review tribunals" in 2004 and 2005. "By the time the review tribunals ended last year the US government had located just a handful of the requested witnesses. None was brought from overseas to testify. The military lawyers simply said they were 'non-contactable. That was not entirely true." No kidding.

If it talks like George W. Bush and acts like George W. Bush...

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 12:49 PM EDT

Coming a bit late to this...but it's worth a look: Via Lamontblog, the campaign blog of Ned Lamont, who's trying to nab Joe Lieberman's spot on the November ballot, a feisty new Lamont campaign ad. It features video of George W. Bush but the voice and statements of Lieberman, and ends with the capper, "If it talks like George W. Bush and acts like George W. Bush, it's certainly not a Connecticut Democrat." (The ad is the handiwork the legendary Bill Hillsman, interviewed here by MJ.com.)

20060623.LiebermanBushCommercial.sm.jpg

Deep, cleansing breath

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 3:27 AM EDT

Bikram Choudhury, the "hot yoga" entrepreneur/franchiser/guru who is fighting a string of legal battles over his claim that he owns the copyright to various ancient yoga practices, is in a spat with the L.A. building department. After finding, the LA Times reports, 160 people in Bikram's warehouse packed into a space suitable for 49, plus not enough fire exits and other violations, the city has slapped Bikram with 10 criminal charges. Ever mellow, Bikram "said that he's the victim of a five-year campaign of harassment by employees of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. He also said that he had had it with Los Angeles and was moving the world headquarters of his Yoga College of India to Honolulu. 'Thanks a lot, L.A.,' he said. 'I've made up my mind.'"

Berkeley: As go styrofoam containers, so goes Bush...

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 8:23 PM EDT

Fresh off of declaring Tuesday "Cindy Sheehan Day," the City of Berkeley voted this week to put the impeachment of Bush and Cheney to a popular vote on the November ballot. On the red-blue political map of America, of course, Berkeley shows up as black. Mother Jones is too right-wing for Berkeley! But don't take my word for it; reading between the lines of this bland comment, you can just about glean where Berkeley's mayor is coming from politically: "It's not about Bush and Cheney, much as I despise them. It's about the Constitution and what they're doing to it."

Anticipating some eye-rolling, Bates also said, "Some people might say, 'Oh, only in Berkeley.' But things that start in Berkeley have a history of eventually being adopted by the rest of the country." To which my first reaction was, Name one! Well...

[F]irst city to desegregate its public schools, first to establish curbside recycling, first to divest itself of investments in South Africa, first to establish a citizens' police review commission, first to ban Styrofoam containers and first to mandate curb cuts for disabled access.

It's easy to make fun of Berkeley, of course--even if you love the place, as I do--but on this one I hope the city proves as ahead of the curve as it did on styrofoam.