Political MoJo

When Justice Delayed Starts to Look Pretty Good

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 6:05 PM EDT

Big businesses have long argued that arbitration is cheaper and quicker than lawsuits for resolving disputes. That's why they now force customers to waive their constitutional right to sue every time they get a credit card or buy a computer and submit to private arbitration for any future conflict resolution. Now comes the consumer group Public Citizen with a new report on how consumers actually fare when they face off with credit card companies, the major purveyor of arbitration agreements.

As it turns out, arbitration is almost never used to "resolve" a dispute. Instead, credit card companies are using arbitration as a sneaky and unaccountable way to collect debts from overextended customers, even when those customers have been the victim of identity theft or billing errors. In 34,000 cases Public Citizen reviewed, arbitrators (all hired by the credit card companies, of course) ruled against consumers 90 percent of the time, to the tune of $185 million.

Public Citizen's most intriguing finding, though, was the case of arbitrator Joseph Nardulli, who, in a single day, resolved 68 cases—one every seven minutes— all in favor of the credit card companies who hired him. Now that's swift justice!

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Dobson Slams Fred Thompson in Private Email

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 5:59 PM EDT

In a long article about how Fred Thompson has lost the evangelical endorsement many expected him to get (in part because Thompson won't sign on with a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage), Politico cites a private email from Focus on the Family honcho James Dobson. Dobson wrote:

Isn't Thompson the candidate who is opposed to a constitutional amendment to protect marriage, believes there should be 50 different definitions of marriage in the U.S., favors McCain-Feingold, won't talk at all about what he believes, and can't speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail?
He has no passion, no zeal and no apparent 'want to.' And yet he is apparently the Great Hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!

Whoa, boy. Dobson sure is cranky. He's already said, "I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances" and already written, "I cannot, and will not, vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008."

So that leaves Romney. Or a second-tier guy like Huckabee. Or nobody, I guess.

Burma: Saffron Flames Rage Against the Machine

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 5:08 PM EDT

Burma (or "Myanmar," as the military junta christened it) is in the throes of what some are calling the "Saffron Revolution." For the past two days, tens of thousands of Buddhist monks, nuns, students, activists, and civilians have been staging the largest demonstrations since the 1988 uprising, when thousands of unarmed, pro-democracy demonstrators were killed by the security forces.

Initially, fuel price hikes sparked the protests but they seem to now reflect decades of pent up anti-government sentiments and demands for democratic reform have been ringing through Rangoon for the past two days. On Tuesday, the military enacted a day long curfew prohibiting public gatherings of more than five people. Soldiers used tear gas, batons, and automatic weapons to disperse protesters and so far, nine people have died.

Anger about the military's treatment of monks has ignited even more protests. Soldiers launched several raids on Buddhist monasteries. At least 300 monks and other demonstrators have been hauled away in military vehicles.

China, Burma's principal trading partner, notified everyone that it would halt any UN sanctions, which isn't surprising. The US, for its part, tightened sanctions against Burma and has issued a joint statement with the European Union, stating that they are "deeply troubled" that the "security forces have fired on and attacked peaceful demonstrators and arrested many Buddhist monks and others." They "condemn all violence against peaceful demonstrators and remind the country's leaders of their personal responsibility for their actions." The statement then urges China, India, ASEAN, and surrounding countries "to use their influence in support of the people of Burma/Myanmar."

Too bad the US' foreign policies in Asia are not consistent. Some military regimes get scolded while others, namely Pakistan's, receive full US approval, weapons, and a blank check.

— Neha Inamdar

Republicans Can't Find the Cash to Campaign

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 2:57 PM EDT

From The Blotter:

A crucial GOP fundraising committee is nearly broke, according to its latest monthly filing with the Federal Election Committee last week.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) reported $1.6 million in cash on hand and $4 million in debts as of Aug. 31. The group helps bankroll House campaigns for GOP candidates.
Its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, reported $22.1 million, more than 10 times its Republican counterpart.

For the record, I don't call that "nearly broke." I call that "completely broke" or "in debt."

Each party has two other organs, in addition to the House campaign committee.

Senate Republicans are in a state of relative poverty, also. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign has just over $7 million on hand, according to the new filings. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has more than $20 million.
While the Democrats' new congressional majority appears to have sapped much of the GOP lawmakers' fundraising power, its national group, the Democratic National Committee, still lags behind its Republican counterpart.
The RNC reported raising $57.3 million so far this year, with $16 million on hand, while the Democratic National Committee raised $36.8 million so far this year, with $4.7 million on hand.

It's worth pointing out that these trends are seen with the presidentials as well. The top Democratic candidates, Clinton and Obama, are murdering the top Republican ones in the fundraising department.

New Report Says Private Military Contractors Hurt Counterinsurgency Efforts

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 2:06 PM EDT

Long before the latest Blackwater flap, Brookings scholar P.W. Singer has been highlighting the dilemmas and legal loopholes presented by America's increasing reliance on private military contractors in para-military, peacekeeping, and post-war security operations abroad.

Singer sends a new report on this issue today (.pdf), Can't Win With 'Em, Can't Go to War Without 'Em: Private Military Contractors and CounterInsurgency.

Top lines: "Not only is the use of contractors actually undermining [counterinsurgency] efforts," Singer writes, "but the end result is that the military can no longer carry out its core mission of winning the nation's wars."

Worth reading alongside my colleague Bruce Falconer's profile of a PMC lobbyist in Washington. Also check out R.J. Hillhouse's blog, The Spy Who Billed Me, about, you guessed it, the outsourcing of a growing number of U.S. military and intelligence functions, often well beyond the realm of oversight.

Why Can't We Close Guantanamo?

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 1:09 PM EDT

Robert Gates began arguing for the shuttering of Guantanamo as soon as he took office as the Secretary of Defense. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has always agreed with him. In May 2006, President Bush told the German press, "I very much would like to end Guantanamo." In June 2006, he told the American press, "I'd like to close Guantanamo."

So why is Gitmo still open? What force within the national security apparatus is keeping the Guantanamo Bay prison, a national disgrace and monument to how America has lost its ideals, open for business?

It's the Vice President's office, of course. Therein lives Cheney and Cheney's chief lawyer, David Addington, perhaps the most powerful man in the country when it comes to determining this country's approach to balancing rights and security.

Gates acknowledged as much when he went before Congress yesterday and reiterated his desire to close Guantanamo, but said he was unable to do so because "I was unable to achieve agreement within the executive branch on how to proceed."

So if you didn't know, now you know: everyone in the government, including the Secretary of Defense and the President himself want to close Gitmo, but can't because Cheney and his minions are powerful enough to keep it from happening.

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Intelligence Manipulation Alleged

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 12:17 PM EDT

Newsweek reports:

A leading House Democrat has charged that congressional Republicans promoted "bogus" intelligence about a reputed terror threat on Capitol Hill last summer, inflaming debate over the Bush administration's proposal to dramatically expand the U.S. government's electronic surveillance powers.
Rep. Jane Harman, who chairs a key homeland-security subcommittee, has provided new details this week about an alarming intel report in August that warned of a possible Al Qaeda attack on the Capitol. The report, which was quickly discredited, was circulated on Capitol Hill at a critical moment: just as the administration was mounting a major push for a new surveillance law that would permit the U.S. intelligence community to intercept suspected terrorist communications without seeking approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
In the days before the vote on the surveillance bill in early August, the U.S. Capitol Police suddenly stepped up security procedures, and one top Republican senator, Trent Lott, seemed to allude to the report when he claimed that "disaster could be on our doorstep" if the Congress didn't immediately act. Inside the Congress, "there was a buzz about this," Harman told NEWSWEEK. "There was an orchestrated campaign to basically gut FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act], and this piece of uncorroborated intelligence was used as part of it."

Yet another example of the deeply cynical and dangerous way this administration and its supporters have manipulated the public, citing hyped and bogus terror threats for short term political gain. Good for Jane Harman for calling her colleagues on it.

More from Marcy Wheeler who noted Harman's comments a few days ago.

Nixon Hated the Jews: Even More Evidence

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 12:16 PM EDT

Slate just got its hands on some old Nixon-era memos, and wow, did Nixon ever hate those Jews. I guess we already knew that, but the degree to which he tried to root Jews out of the federal government was new to me. The good stuff starts on page two of this article.

Report: Saddam Was Willing to Accept Exile Before Invasion (!!)

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 11:09 AM EDT

Diane mentioned in a blog post yesterday that the Spanish newspaper El Pais claims to have a transcript of a pre-war meeting between George W. Bush and then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. The transcript, El Pais says, shows Bush was determined to invade Iraq regardless of what happened at the U.N. and in the international diplomatic community.

According to a fuller treatment in the Washington Post today, Bush said a lot more than that.

First of all, Bush was apparently uninterested in a report out of Egypt that Saddam Hussein would accept exile rather than see Iraq invaded. "Saddam Hussein signaled that he was willing to go into exile as long as he could take with him $1 billion and information on weapons of mass destruction," says the Post. Bush was not impressed. No indications are given that the administration discussed the possibility.

Also, Bush had nothing but disregard and disgust for foreign leaders that opposed the invasion. Then-French President Jacques Chirac "sees himself as Mr. Arab," said Bush. Others could be, and should be, strongarmed into support. Then-Chilean President Ricardo Lagos "ought to know that the Free Trade Agreement with Chile is waiting for Senate confirmation and that a negative attitude on this could endanger ratification," Bush warned. "Angola is getting money from the Millennium Account, and those agreements could also be in danger if they don't show themselves to be favorable. And [Russian President Vladimir] Putin ought to know that his attitude is endangering relations" with Washington. Bush does not come off as a man who seeks war as a "last resort," as he said publicly so many times before the invasion.

El Pais is a leading Spanish newspaper. It opposed the war. There has been no independent verification that the transcript, which was allegedly prepared by Spain's ambassador to the United States, is legit. According to the Post, El Pais will not reveal how it obtained the transcript.

Sunni Insurgents Launch Assassination Campaign

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 5:04 PM EDT

It began with the September 15 killing of Abu Risha, a Sunni tribal leader in Iraq's Anbar province who had been cooperating with U.S. troops against Al Qaeda in Iraq, and who had met with President Bush only a week before his death. Since then, Sunni insurgents have continued with targeted killings of other tribal leaders, police chiefs, police officers, and other Interior Ministry officials. The New York Times reports that in the last 48 hours alone, insurgents have staged 10 attacks, killing eight and wounding about 30 others. From the Times:

The latest outbreak of violence closely follows the concerted efforts of President Bush and Gen. David H. Petraeus to portray the American troop "surge" as having succeeded in bringing more stability to Iraq. Iraqi officials said Tuesday that the attacks might well have been intended to blunt that message.
"The main reason behind all these attacks are the signs of improvement of the security situation mentioned in the Crocker-Petraeus report," said Tahseen al-Sheikhly, the Iraqi spokesman for the security plan, in a reference to the recent Congressional testimony of General Petraeus and the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker. "The terrorist groups are just trying to say to the world that the report did not reflect the reality of the security situation in Iraq."
Mr. Sheikhly played down the recent violence, though, saying the groups were seeking publicity to compensate for their inability to conduct major offensive operations, which have been sharply curtailed by the surge.
Indeed, the enormous car and truck bombs that plagued Baghdad for so long have been absent in recent weeks. But the string of attacks this week served as a reminder of the insurgency's persistence, particularly in areas outside of Baghdad and its environs.
In addition to the attack on Monday in Diyala, insurgents struck in Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, Falluja, Kut and Samarra. The strikes occurred primarily in mixed areas of Shiites and Sunni Arabs or in exclusively Sunni Arab areas where there is fighting between Sunni Arab tribes and extremist groups like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Each attack on its own would hardly be notable, since almost every day in Iraq brings a few roadside bombings and shootings, but so many attacks singling out similar victims suggest a more concerted campaign.