Mojo - October 2007

Jenna Bush: Her Mother's Daughter?

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 2:29 PM EDT

Jenna Bush has finally grown up — so claims the American Prospect in its recent review of Jenna's new book, Ana's Story, the biography of an HIV-positive teen mother the president's daughter met while working for UNICEF in Panama. It would be easy to rustle up familiar stories from Jenna's sordid youth or quote from the book's supply of less-than-elegant prose, as others have, but the Prospect instead chose to focus on the incongruity between W.'s policies and those of his more enlightened daughter:

As her father threatens to veto the entire $34 billion 2008 foreign aid budget just because congressional Democrats have finally snuck in loopholes providing condoms and abortion services to women in the developing world, Jenna is on a nationwide book tour and media blitz, spreading the message that safe sex and education are some of the most important tools in fighting disease.

Good for Jenna! I wonder if she inherited a progressive streak from her mother. Laura was a Democrat before marrying a Bush and even veteran leftist Alexander Cockburn once called her "the frail hawser linking G.W. Bush to reality." In Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, Laura is seen obliquely voicing misgivings about the Iraq war. And just this summer, the First Lady publicly broke with her husband when she told CNN that condoms are "absolutely essential." Like mother, like daughter.

—Justin Elliott

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2.2 Million People in Prison: Who's Going To Do Something About It?

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 12:50 PM EDT

I don't have much to add to this article on prison reform by Bradford Plumer at The New Republic. It's excellent — check it out.

If you're wondering, the only senators with the guts to do something about America's prison problem are Jim Webb (D-Va.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and maybe Barack Obama (D-Il.). For more on how we became an incarceration nation — we lock up 750 out of every 100,000 people, murdering the world average of 166 per 100,000 — check out Mother Jones' special package "Debt to Society."

Give the Nuclear Power Industry Credit for Creativity

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 12:15 PM EDT

Nuclear energy companies, salivating over the prospect of millions of dollars in new federal subsidies, are eager to launch a construction boom of new power plants. In the past, nuclear power plant construction has been hampered by such nettlesome things as construction permits and public hearings on the construction's environmental impact. To fix that problem, Bloomberg reports, the Nuclear Energy Institute successfully lobbied federal regulators to redefine what they meant by "construction."

Now, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says such bulldozer-heavy activities as excavation, road building, and the erection of new cooling towers no longer count as construction under permitting rules. The change comes over protests from the agency's own environmental oversight official, who believes that the change will allow 90 percent of the environmental impact of new power plants to escape federal oversight.

It took the NRC 11 years to come up with new rules for drug-testing plant workers, but the new industry-friendly construction reg sailed through in a mere six months. Of course, the industry had a ringer in the regulatory agency. One of the NRC commissioners who voted for the new regs, Jeffrey Merrifield, cast his vote while looking for a new job. He now works for a company that builds nuclear power plants.

(H/T Center for Media and Democracy)

The Best Bad Option for Iraq?

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 12:00 PM EDT

If the U.S. can't achieve reconciliation of Iraq's national political parties, is our best option government by warlord?

I think it's very possible that in five years Iraq will be ruled by a Saddam Hussein clone. At least we know what Gulf War III will look like under President Giuliani.

National Reconciliation is Impossible, Say Iraqi Leaders

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 11:28 AM EDT

National reconciliation? What national reconciliation?

After months of hearing from everyone from General Petraeus to President Bush that the ultimate goal in Iraq is reconciliation of the country's three religious sects, we hear from high-level Iraqi politicians that national reconciliation is impossible and most decidedly not one of their objectives.

"I don't think there is something called reconciliation, and there will be no reconciliation as such," said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a Kurd. "To me, it is a very inaccurate term. This is a struggle about power."
Humam Hamoudi, a prominent Shiite cleric and parliament member, said any future reconciliation would emerge naturally from an efficient, fair government, not through short-term political engineering among Sunnis and Shiites.
"Reconciliation should be a result and not a goal by itself," he said. "You should create the atmosphere for correct relationships, and not wave slogans that 'I want to reconcile with you.'"

You can read more at the Washington Post.

If you're wondering, yes, national reconciliation was the point of the surge. President Bush has said, "[The surge] is aimed at helping the Iraqis strengthen their government so that it can function even amid violence. It seeks to open space for Iraq's political leaders to advance the difficult process of national reconciliation, which is essential to lasting security and stability."

Update: Joe Klein at Swampland points out that even the administration admits there is no military victory to be had in Iraq; it is a war that must be won by Iraq's politicians. Considering their unwillingness to come together, Klein wonders what the point of our continued commitment is.

So remind me again, what's the mission at this point? I mean, seriously: What specifically are the metrics of success? What is the military goal--if not providing the space for reconciliation? What is the political side of the plan? This seems like basic stuff, but we haven't heard it from the Administration. This sort of strategic focus has to come from higher than Petraeus- and Crocker-level operatives. The incompetence, the lack of rigor is mind-boggling.

Fred Thompson Gets Skewered, SNL-Style

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 11:20 AM EDT

This Saturday Night Live spoof nails all the negative stereotypes that are quickly solidifying about Law and Order star and presidential candidate Fred Thompson. "How do you campaign when you don't like hard work and people make you sick?"

As for Thompson repeatedly begging for applause, the origin of that is this New York Times article.

(H/T The Caucus)

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Indian American Politics Look A Lot Like Pro-Israeli Politics

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 6:50 PM EDT

Recently, Indian American politics have been garnering attention in the mainstream media. The New York Times and Washington Post report that Indian American political groups such as the US-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) look to pro-Israeli lobbies like AIPAC and AJC as models. This collaboration is nothing new. At a joint AJC and USINPAC reception in 2003, Congressman Tom Lantos stated that Indians and Jews "share a passionate commitment to respect for others, for the rule of law, and for democracy," and that "lately we have been drawn together by our joint fight against mindless, vicious, fanatic Islam."

Lantos and the USINPAC may speak on behalf of Jews and Indians respectively, but they have a strange take on Jewish American and Indian American politics. For example, in 2005 the State Department revoked Gujarat Chief Minister Narenda Modi's U.S. visa for his complicity in an anti-Muslim pogrom in the state of Gujarat, which killed approximately 2,000 people and displaced 98,000 Gujarati Muslims. The USINPAC called the visa revocation an "unfortunate incident."

The USINPAC also takes a strong stand against "Islamic terrorism," to which they argue India is victim, yet they remain curiously silent about the terrorism carried out by the Indian state. They haven't said a peep about human rights violations carried out by the Indian armed forces in Kashmir over the past decade. Instead, they market India as a "remarkably harmonious nation."

The similarities to AIPAC and AJC are fairly remarkable. For all of their talk about stopping "Islamic terrorism," they conveniently don't mention the illegal occupation and ongoing colonization of Palestinians or Israeli state terrorism against Palestinians.

Sanjay Puri, USINPAC's chairman, says that "we will use our own model to get to where we want, but we have used them [the Jewish community] as a benchmark." Looks like the USINPAC hasn't quite found their own model yet. As they continue to mirror a certain strand of pro-Israeli Jewish American politics, they show that they woefully lack their own vision.

—Neha Inamdar

House Dem Bill Would Deny Telcos Retroactive Immunity for Domestic Snooping

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 6:40 PM EDT

Congressional Quarterly's Tim Starks reports:

Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said Thursday that the bill [governing electronic surveillance] would not grant retroactive liability protection to telecommunications firms that cooperated with government surveillance efforts since the Sept. 11 attacks, which Republicans say is essential.
Reyes also said he favors a requirement that intelligence agencies secure a warrant for monitoring communications involving U.S. citizens in the United States beyond a short emergency period, even if the target of the surveillance is a foreigner located outside the country.
But Reyes did not specify whether the legislation would mandate individual warrants in all cases, as civil liberties advocates are seeking, or broader, programmatic court approval for international surveillance. ...

But, Starks reports, Senate Dems may cave:

Senate Intelligence Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., is negotiating legislation with Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., with an eye toward marking up legislation Oct. 18. No details have been made available about that bill, but civil liberties advocates are worried that the Senate measure will include retroactive liability protection for telecommunications firms.


Of Pork Chops and Politics

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 4:44 PM EDT

In the 90's, on a rare trip back home, I found myself the guest of honor at an old school Negro feast, the kind my arteries hadn't encountered since I'd left home - Prissy and Mammy might have slaved over that spread. Mustard greens. Ham hocks and butter beans. Cornbread. Fried chicken. Peach cobbler. Mac and cheese. Pound cake that actually weighed more. Red and blue Kool-Aid. But, for some reason, it was the fried pork chops that got me. The involuntary grunt of pleasure I made swooning over that table both embarrasses me as I type this years later and reminds me that I need to schedule a trip back home soonest. But, it would have been self-destrctive to have more than seconds and I somehow managed to drag myself away. That moment came back to me this morning because I had just such a pavlovian, gut deep response when I ran across this. It made me so happy deep down in my soul, I was bouncing in my seat and cackling like a cave woman.

Chicago's mayor is hiding behind his city attorney to keep the names of officers accused of excessive force out of the public's hands. "That would be up to her ..," the mayor said. "She is a lawyer. I'm not the lawyer for the city." Under court order, they've turned over a list but -get this!- with all the names blacked out, Soviet style. But at least now we know that, "the top four were members of the controversial Special Operations Section. All had 50 or more misconduct complaints over the last five years. The top 10 special operations officers on the list had a total of 408 complaints lodged against them.

Also Wednesday, a group of religious leaders and family members of two men fatally shot by Chicago police joined one alderman in calling for a hearing on police-involved shootings,...The report found that of the 85 police-involved fatal shootings since 2000, nine officers had been sued for at least one other allegation of misconduct, and five for more than one."

Boo ya! Does it get any better than this?

So gleeful I could barely find the keys, I was halfway through a blistering post in the same amount of time I'd been halfway through a Simpsonian snoutful of fried pork chops that day. But just as I realized, sadly, I had to step away from the pork chops, I knew, sadly, I had to step away from that post. Post-Imus and -the Jena 6, like much of the black community, I'm focused on helping figure out a pragmatic way forward for the community and scorching frontal attacks don't seem like the path; they end dialogues, not begin them. If we're truly invested in any kind of 21st Century Civil Rights Movement, we'll have to exercise an unflinching self-control no matter how juicy the inducement to be rash. No matter how tantalizing the racial porn. That means our leaders and that means us as individuals.

Overarchingly, there were two things that the Movement was: non-violent and thoroughly strategized. My problem with the Jena 6 was the lack of restraint on the part of some of its leaders and, most of all, that the poster victims had engaged in violence and had had previous run-ins with the law. The movement wouldn't have touched them with a ten foot pole. If you think Rosa Parks was the first sister to refuse to give up her on seat on a segregated bus, let alone one in Montgomery, you've got a lot of reading to do. The Brown girls? Folks noticed the segregation in Topeka long before them. Those public faces and test cases were very, very carefully chosen and orchestrated, the off stage maneuvering as intricate as a ballet. Are we capable of less when things are so much easier? The black legions that boarded those buses for the Million Man March a dozen years ago, and Jena, Louisiana a few weeks ago are looking for wise leadership (at every level. No Messiahs, please) and substantive ways to be involved beyond protest. My fear is that we'll find neither. We didn't after the March. We haven't since the Movement.

You don't get to be a Chicago pol by being either naive or inexperienced, so I'm betting that they're thinking strategically about how to manage this situation for maximum public benefit, for instance, seriously entertaining explanations justifying police secrecy. Trading the names, for now, for a much-wanted hearings on police-involved shooting, for innovation and experimentation in community policing, sentencing and the like. And let's not forget money for local programs. From my reading, the leaders in Chicago are mostly avoiding incendiary rhetoric and tactics, though I have no doubt they're capable of either if the time comes. So I'm hopeful. What else can I be? I link to articles about job training for ex-cons and 'take back the night' events in inner cities and argue against group think. I try not to make things worse. Like most blacks, what I do mostly is remain watchful for good leaders to emulate. The ones who know when to step away from the pork chops.

GOP Tries to Steal Election; Democrats Do Something

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 3:35 PM EDT

The New York Times yesterday offered up an interesting new take on the California ballot measure that has garnered a great deal of media attention as of late, suggesting that its probable demise next month will be largely due to a shock-and-awe style assault on it by supporters of Hillary Clinton. The initiative would redistribute California's electoral votes by congressional district, effectively handing Republicans 20 free points in the otherwise blue state. The measure, sponsored by a Republican law firm, has been linked to supporters of Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani. Surprisingly, however, opposition has come not from grassroots internet stalwarts but instead from influential supporters of the Clinton campaign.

The snappiest analysis comes from Bruce E. Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, who the article quotes as saying that "Clinton's people have taken the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive military strikes against hostile nations and applied it to domestic campaigns."

The article attributes the bulk of the tactical work to Chris Lehane, a former member of Bill Clinton's administration and a Democratic heavy-hitter with enough influence to rally national Democrats, state Democrats, and the Democratic mayors of three major California cities to an unprecedented level of active opposition. But why this sudden vigilance, when normally it takes an outcry from local and internet activists to elicit even general condemnation from the elite—never mind actual action? Is this a sign that Clinton's people simply don't want to take the risk of losing those votes, or a long-awaited expression of moral certitude? Let's hope it's the latter and that our Democratic Congress takes the hint.

—Casey Miner