Political MoJo

Stop the Presses: John McCain Voted!

| Fri May 25, 2007 4:10 PM EDT

Last week we noted incredulously that John McCain had missed 43 consecutive votes in the Senate (causing commentor JG to write, "You're complaining?! Have you checked his voting record??"). That streak extended three more votes and sadly has now come to an end.

After 46 straight missed votes, encompassing six weeks, John McCain finally found time to push himself back from the money trough of constant fundraising and cast a vote on behalf of the citizens of Arizona. McCain voted in favor of exempting children of certain Filipino World War II veterans from the numerical limitations on immigrant visas. Just so you know.

And, oh yeah, our taxes pay that man's salary. Which, it shouldn't need to be said, he continued to collect even though he failed to fulfill his most important responsibility as a senator.

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IRS Terrorism Gumshoes: Look for "Middle Eastern Sounding Names"

| Fri May 25, 2007 3:59 PM EDT

Apparently the gumshoes over at the IRS have been investigating nonprofits for potential ties to terrorism in Keystone Cops fashion. According to a report by the agency's watchdog, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, IRS agents pour over nonprofit filings manually, cross-referencing them with a terrorist watch list that is woefully inadequate. "As a result, the IRS provides only minimal assurance that tax-exempt organizations potentially involved in terrorist activities are being identified," the watchdog reports. And that's not even the worst part. Responding to the dismal report in a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson today, Montana Democrat Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, reveals that IRS investigators resorted to racial profiling when looking into potential terrorist financing. "IRS personnel told TIGTA that they primarily look for 'Middle Eastern sounding names' when considering which tax filings to flag for further review." How has this screening process worked out for the IRS? Not very well. Baucus writes: "TIGTA investigators found that the current IRS screening process has never identified any person or organization with links to terrorists."

Death Toll Associated with 9/11 Still Climbing

| Thu May 24, 2007 6:01 PM EDT

Nearly six years after two planes crashed into the Twin Towers, the number of deaths associated with the attacks continues to climb. Yesterday, the death toll reached 2,750 after Dr. Charles Hirsch, New York City's chief medical examiner, amended the death certificate of civil rights attorney Felicia Dunn-Jones. Previously, she had been thought to have died of natural causes. Her certificate now notes that exposure to toxic dust from the ruins of the World Trade Center "was contributory to her death." Dunn-Jones' certificate is the first to be amended, but perhaps not the last.

More than 7,300 people, including New York City police officers, firemen, and other first responders who inhaled toxins during the city's 10-month cleanup effort, filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, complaining of deteriorating respiratory health.

New York Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Vito Fossella, who pushed for a review of Dunn-Jones' case, are continuing to pressure the city's medical examiner to review other cases. Although Hirsch has no plans to do so, his decision to amend Dunn-Jones' death certificate could have far-reaching implications and is likely to be cited as evidence in 9/11-related health suits filed against New York City.

Rudy Giuliani may also catch fire from these suits. The city's mayor, who has framed his presidential campaign around his 9/11 heroism, is facing criticism for his administration's handling of safety measures during the cleanup effort. The New York Times reported earlier this month that, according to public documents filed in a suit, the city "never meaningfully enforced federal requirements that those at the site wear respirators" and "officials also on some occasions gave flawed public representations of the nature of the health threat, even as they privately worried about exposure to lawsuits by sickened workers."

--Jessica Savage

Finally Time to Go Home to Diego Garcia

| Thu May 24, 2007 4:00 PM EDT

Americans may have never heard of Diego Garcia, but today Diego Garcia is very much on the minds of thousands of people.

After more than four decades, Chagossians get to go home to Diego Garcia, a British colony and US air and naval base. Yesterday the British High Court ruled in favor of the Chagossian people. The judges denounced the British government's move to "exile a whole population" from its home as "repugnant" and that the right of Chagossians to return home is "one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings". The High Court also said that the government can no longer appeal as it had unsuccessfully tried three times in the past. Chagossians had won a legal victory in 2000, but in 2004 the British government overturned it via a royal prerogative.

Why were they kicked off in the first place? The British colony has been "colonized by the Americans" since the 1960's, when more than 2,000 inhabitants of the island were forcibly "repatriated" to Mauritius and the Seychelles. The Brits gave the Americans a 50-year lease, which will expire in 2016. The U.S. has launched memorable military campaigns from the Diego Garcia base, including bombing Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the past years, the US military said it was against the idea of allowing Chagossians back to their land because it would undermine the "security" of Diego Garcia. And while it has fought to keep the natives off the land, the US Navy still calls the Diego Garcia base its "Footprint of Freedom."

—Neha Inamdar

Now You Can Shoot an Iraqi from the Comfort of Your Own Home Computer

| Thu May 24, 2007 3:39 PM EDT

Wafaacrop.jpg

It's not just a video game. A performance artist has been holed up in Chicago with a webcam and paintball gun trained on him. Right now Wafaa Bilal is out (late lunch?), leaving just a bedroom splattered with paint, so Web snipers are aiming for the plant instead. It's a statement on that American combination of high-tech trigger-happiness and apathy toward Iraqis. I was going to suggest Bilal was inspired by this technology, "computer-assisted remote hunting." But it's much worse. According to his bio, Bilal grew up in Iraq, and his 21-year-old brother still there was recently killed by stray American gunfire. Maybe he's trying to heal by reenacting the trauma, as they say. Black humor heals all wounds.

Thank you for the tip, Goode.

Oklahoma Bans Abortion in State Hospitals

| Thu May 24, 2007 3:03 PM EDT

We were hoping the governor of Oklahoma would veto a ban on abortion in state hospitals, with exception for only rape, incest, and when a woman's health is in jeopardy. But Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, let it pass yesterday. Here's the fate of other abortion bills this week.

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"Adolescents Play Pranks..."

| Thu May 24, 2007 2:37 PM EDT

Last November, someone set fire to the central wing of a high school in Jena, Louisiana. Then white students beat up a black student because he went to their party. Soon after that, a white adolescent pulled a shotgun on three black adolescents in a convenience store, and then four black students jumped a white student as he came out of the school gym. Following that incident, in which the student received minor injuries, six black students were expelled and were charged with attempted second-degree murder. They face up to a hundred years in prison.

Conversely, the white boy who beat up the student at the party was charged with simple battery, and the boy who held three others at shotgunpoint was not charged with anything. However, his victims were charged with aggravated battery and theft after they grabbed the shotgun in self-defense.

If this sounds like scenes from a 1950s newsreel, that's because Jena is stuck in time when it comes to the issue of racial equality. Enter Jena mayor Murphy McMillian, who says that "Race is not a major local issue. It's not a factor in the local people's lives."

No kidding--he said that.

The latest incident at the high school involves some black students who attempted to sit on the "white side" of the school yard. There, they saw three nooses hanging from a tree. Enter school superindendent Roy Breithaupt, who says that "Adolescents play pranks. I don't think it was a threat against anybody."

Again, he really said that.

The Jena community isn't alone in dismissing violence and threats against women, people of color, the disabled, and members of the LGBT community as "pranks" and "jokes." But this particular piece of denial is so over the top, it would probably shock most reasonable people. The local ACLU calls Jena a "racial powder keg."

Immigration Bill Changing: Guest Worker Program Halved

| Thu May 24, 2007 10:25 AM EDT

Two days ago I wrote that the guest worker program in the Senate's immigration bill would probably be the first provision to be changed or killed. That's exactly what has happened.

Yesterday the Senate overwhelmingly voted to cut the guest worker program in half. Now instead of 400,000 immigrants receiving visas annually to work temporarily in the United States, only 200,000 will. The votes to reduce the number came from Democrats who see the guest worker program as a repeat of the bracero program intended to provide cheap labor to big business and Republicans who see the whole bill as soft on illegal immigration. Pro-business Republicans voted to keep the number at 400,000.

See how the vote broken down along party lines here. See Mother Jones massive and excellent feature on immigration, "Exodus," here.

ABC Story on Covert Ops in Iran: Romney Can't See an Obvious Government Plant

| Thu May 24, 2007 9:43 AM EDT

The ABC News story about covert operations in Iran just turned into a political football, and Mitt Romney, in seeking to emphasize his tough guy credentials yet again, is making an ass of himself.

Two days ago, ABC's investigative unit revealed that the "CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government." But the CIA isn't allowed to kill anyone because the presidential finding authorizing the black op is "non-lethal." In fact, the main thrust of the thing is informational and financial -- the CIA is charged with executing a "coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation, and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions." This is according to current and former officials in the intelligence community.

Now, Kevin Drum makes a couple very good points. The whole leak is suspicious. Insiders go to the press when they feel the CIA or any other government agency has clearly crossed the line -- the NSA wiretapping story, for example, was uncovered by the New York Times because government officials were willing to come forward and say, "This is totally not kosher and public outrage is the only way we have of putting a stop to it." As Drum writes, this business about "disinformation" and "manipulation of Iran's currency" is "just about the mildest possible covert operation you can imagine. Why would anyone at the CIA, let alone multiple sources, be so outraged by it that they decided to leak its existence to ABC News?"

It's a good question. Moreover, writes Drum, "the CIA is mostly populated by hardnosed Republicans who hate countries like Iran and love covert operations like this that strike back at them. It's their bread and butter.... they really, really don't make a habit of disclosing active covert operations to major news organizations. That can get people killed, whether the operation itself is lethal or not."

So the CIA has no reason to be up in a tizzy about this new presidential authorization to go after Iran. Then why did multiple members of the intelligence community go to the press? Drum speculates this was a plant coordinated by the government "as a way of sending a message to Iran."

Supporting Drum's theory is the fact, recently revealed by ABC, that the White House had six days to register any objection at all to the story, and they chose not to act.

The story pretty clearly came out with the Bush Administration's consent.

But that isn't stopping Mitt Romney from trying to score cheap political points. The web is flooded with stories blaring the headline "Romney: ABC Story Puts Lives at Risk." Says Romney, "The reporting has the potential of jeopardizing our national security... it has the potential of affecting human life."

The president of ABC News, David Westin, shot back that ABC wouldn't run a story (and hasn't run stories in the past) that put lives at risk, and that American covert ops in Iran have been reported before. "The facts don't bear out the accusations (from Romney)," Westin said. "I even think that any brief look at the facts says that. This is not a complicated one."

Romney isn't dumb. He has to know this is a story the government intended to put in the public sphere, either to send a message to Iran, as Drum wrote, or amidst news that Iran is three to eight years from having a nuclear weapon, to send a message to the American people. "We're doing something about this," they're saying. "Don't worry." Romney knows this. But it's an opportunity to look macho. Chest-puffing, on display during the second GOP debate when the topic of torture came up, is perhaps the most obscene and disgusting part of the GOP primary.

Oh, and PS -- I'd be willing to bet a ton of money that there are other, more "lethal" covert ops going on in Iran right now, but no official in the intelligence community would ever come forward to tell the press, because it would be a PR nightmare for the CIA and could more directly jeopardize national security.

Joe Klein and John Kerry: Gross

| Wed May 23, 2007 5:02 PM EDT

Michael Crowley excerpts a portion of Bob Shrum's memoir on The Plank today. Shrum, for those who have managed to keep their minds unpoisoned by the insanity of Washington's consultant circles, is a man who has consulted for eight Democratic presidential candidates. All eight have lost. You might think after the fourth, fifth, or sixth loss Shrum would be out of work. You obviously don't know anything about politics.

Shrum writes at length about his experience as a consultant for John Kerry's 2004 campaign. Crowley highlights a disturbing passage about Time columnist and world class blowhard Joe Klein:

Klein himself was trying to play many parts. He was not only reporting on the campaign and preparing to write a book about consultants; he was also a constant critic and yet another sometime adviser. After the Kerry appearance at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, he told [Kerry spokesman] David Wade: "Great speech, but it's too late" -- then turned around and stalked away. With Klein, it was almost always too late for us, in part because we didn't always take his persistent advice. He would chastise Kerry on the phone when he didn't like a speech, counseling both Kerry and me about what the candidate should say and what our strategy should be.

Okay, so it's weird (and probably unethical) that a famous journalist who writes regularly about the presidential campaign is advising one of the candidates. But here's something even more odd:

Rejecting [Klein's] advice was uncomfortable for Kerry, who liked Joe, craved his approval, and worried what his columns would say when we didn't take his recommendations.

Jesus! I'm not even angry that I supported a guy so insecure and unsure of his convictions that he considered how a egomaniacal columnist would evaluate his actions before he took them. I'm angry that I work in a profession where writers and their subjects become so intertwined that it affects the subjects' behavior. How can one reasonably argue that it doesn't affect the writers' also?

I'm not one of the bloggers who criticizes journalists and their sources for running in the same social circles. I've always assumed that these people can separate their personal feelings and professional responsibilities. But if this is how journalism works inside the beltway, good heavens, count me out.