Political MoJo

A Child Born of Vice

| Wed Dec. 6, 2006 3:42 PM EST

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Mary Cheney, the vice president's 37-year-old lesbian daughter, is pregnant. In Virginia. Last month, Virginia passed an absurdly stringent amendment [PDF] barring domestic partnership benefits—ostensibly for same-sex couples, but the amendment was worded so vigorously that many expect it will affect straight couples as well.

Virginia Republicans strongly supported the measure. Although the younger Cheney called it "a gross affront to gays and lesbians everywhere," in the past she has campaigned for her father, Darth Vader of the Republican Storm Trooper army.

So where does the amendment leave Heather Poe, Mary's partner of 15 years? Nowhere, it seems. Virginia's notoriously conservative courts are leading the charge to deny same-sex partners any rights to the children they help raise. Jennifer Chrisler of Family Pride, the largest gay-lesbian family advocacy group in the country, said that unless the couple moves to a "less restrictive" state, "Heather will never be able to have a legal relationship with her child."

If the couple were to split up, Heather would be especially screwed because her credentials can't compete with Mary's. Cheney has a high-powered corporate job at AOL. Heather is a "former park ranger," who is now renovating the couple's Great Falls, Virginia, home. If history is any guide, the V.P. wouldn't hesitate to use his friendships with judges to get what he wants. Cheney appears to be supportive of Mary and Heather's relationship, but he has, according to Chrisler, "been complicit in the largest full-scale attack on the LGBT community in modern history." It seems safe to say he'd want Mary to have full custody.

For now, the Washington Post reports that the vice president is "looking forward with eager anticipation" to Mary's baby's birth. But can you imagine Dick "Dick" Cheney smiling?

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Iraq Study Group: Some of it is Nonsense, or How is This Going to Work, Exactly?

| Wed Dec. 6, 2006 3:36 PM EST

Reading through the executive summary [pdf] of the Iraq Study Group report, I was struck by how many of the recommendations in the "External Approach" asked foreign governments to do things clearly not in their interest, and by how many of the recommendations in the "Internal Approach" asked the U.S. and the Iraqis to do things they are already doing. Observe:

Iran should stem the flow of arms and training to Iraq, respect Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and use its influence over Iraqi Shia groups to encourage national reconciliation.

Now, why would a government poised to gain (1) vastly increased control over its oil-rich neighbor and long-time enemy, and (2) greater influence in the region, decide to turn it down and say, "You know what? We'll help the Americans out of a jam instead." Especially considering Iran is happily sending arms to Iraq, training Shia militias, and backing/funding/influencing various Iraqi political parties, and shows no signs of stopping?

In particular because the ISG report goes on to say this:

The issue of Iran's nuclear programs should continue to be dealt with by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

So let's maintain the status quo on Iran's number one foreign policy priority, where they are repeatedly getting shut down by the U.S. and the U.N., but expect them to sacrifice the increased power that comes with a wrecked or Shiite-controlled Iraq? I'm not buying it.

More from the ISG:

Syria should control its border with Iraq to stem the flow of funding, insurgents, and terrorists in and out of Iraq.

First of all, if we can't control the border to the stem the flow of funding, insurgents, and terrorists in and out of Iraq, I don't know why we expect the Syrian government, which often can't control whole portions of its own country, to be able to. Second, Syria -- or parts of Syria, if not the Syrian government directly -- sent funding and insurgents into Lebanon during the Israel vs. Hezbollah fight earlier this year. Are we giving them any incentives to turn down the same opportunity for influence this time around?

As for "Internal Approach," here's one example of several recommendations that seem to be either already underway or so commonsensical as to be useless:

The Iraqi government should accelerate assuming responsibility for Iraqi security by increasing the number and quality of Iraqi Army brigades.

As if no one in the American military or diplomatic apparatus has suggested this before? The slow pace in building up Iraqi forces and the inability of Iraqis to take responsibility for security is a failure of capability, not will. Does anyone think Maliki has the ability to set training in motion for four more battalions of Iraqi Army units, but chooses instead to sit and twiddle his thumbs?

Also, the ISG report contains a fair amount of highly patronizing Iraqi-blaming. Things like "encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny." What, exactly, does that mean? Tell them to stop killing each other? Well, the portions of the population killing each other see a Shiite-dominated state or a Sunni-dominated state as their destiny. And the everyday Iraqis who simply want life to return to normal can't do anything to stop the militias and pervading violence. Any who "take control of their own destiny," by speaking out against the militias, or writing for a newspaper, or even wearing shorts in the street as a protest of creeping Islamofacism are likely to be shot. So are we referring to the politicians? Because they have their own agendas that they are working for, sometimes on behalf of the folks trying to kill each other, and probably won't be convinced to change course when we say, "Hey, guys, c'mon. Try harder." I'd like to believe this is more than empty rhetoric from the Baker Commission, but someone is going to have to prove it to me.

(And, for the record, let's not forget who chose this "destiny" for the Iraqi people. They don't bear the brunt of the responsibility for fixing this mess; we do. To some extent, the international bodies tasked with helping failed states do. So don't blame them for being so shellshocked they can't create a civil society out of the ashes of a totalitarian regime.)

While the rest of the report may make good points about the Iraqi criminal justice system, the oil sector, reassignment of troops with a new emphasis on special ops, budgeting, and so forth, the fuzziness on the main points leads me to believe that Baker, Hamilton, and everyone else involved with creating this report know the cynical side of why they were asked to do it in the first place: putting the current zeitgeist (essentially, recognizing the obvious) into a formal form so it can be lauded and cherrypicked from by the Bush Administration, which can gain PR points for trying to solve this mess.

But, then, if Bush rejects or ignores all of these recommendations, it's all moot in the end.

Iraq Study Group: "Situation in Iraq is Grave and Deteriorating"

| Wed Dec. 6, 2006 12:02 PM EST

The bottom line in the much anticipated Iraq Study Group report, which was released this morning, is a new emphasis on embedded special operations and combat teams within the Iraqi military, allowing a drawdown of troops in the region. Under this model, intelligence and logistical support would likely continue to come from the U.S., and, since Iraq has no air force, the U.S. would probably fill this gap as well.

The report, which notes that "the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating," says that U.S. military operations in Iraq "should evolve" so that "by the first quarter of 2008… all combat brigades not necessary for force protection should be out of Iraq. At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams, and in training, equipping, advising, force protection and search and rescue."

The CIA irregulars played such a key role in Afghanistan and Robert Gates, who seems likely to be headed for confirmation as Secretary of Defense, is especially knowledgeable about irregular warfare and covert actions, almost ensuring the elevation of special operations within the overall military structure.

The study group's report also addresses the question of oil, which will almost certainly play a large role in the unfolding diplomacy in the region, but especially in Iraq and Iran where American companies have long sought access. Improving relations with Iran, as the study group advocates, could open the way for trade with the U.S. and possibly access to pipelines transporting oil — and especially natural gas — from central Asia. In Iraq, much of the discussion has focused on economic, if not political division of the country, and potentially divvying up oil revenues to Shia, Sunni, and Kurd territories, with each group cutting its own deals with the big oil companies. But the study group's recommendations run counter to this thinking, and it advocates a strong central government: "The United States should support as much as possible central control by governmental authorities in Baghdad, particularly on the question of oil revenues." Overall, the study group proposes reorganizing the oil industry as a "commercial enterprise."

Poor Pregnant Women with Herpes Don't Get Meds, and Someone Notices

| Wed Dec. 6, 2006 8:03 AM EST

GlaxoSmithKline, in testing their herpes med, Valtrex, may have put women in harm's way. This according to Public Citizen, which, in the Dec 1 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology accuses the pharma giant of withholding important medication from poor and minority women.

In a recent clinical trial 168 pregnant women were given a placebo rather than an alternative herpes drug, while the other 170 were given medication. This, despite the fact that research has shown that the drug and its generic, acyclovir, reduces risks associated with herpes and pregnancy (the virus can be fatal for infants who contract the disease at birth).

The study, which took place earlier this year and was funded by GlaxoSmithKline, enrolled more than 300 black and Hispanic pregnant women at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The hospital serves a largely indigent population. Public Citizen's Dr. Peter Lurie is outraged:

"What I don't understand is how you can do a research study and conclude that a drug is effective and then stare a bunch of pregnant women in the face and withhold the very drug you've just recommended."

A doctor involved in the study, Dr. George Wendel, would not comment specifically on allegations that poor women were taken advantage of, instead saying that the study was designed and conducted "according to good research practices" and was approved by the hospital's ethics review board.


Justice for Thai Drug War Victims?

| Wed Dec. 6, 2006 1:42 AM EST

The families of thousands of Thai citizens slaughtered in a 2003 government assault on alleged drug dealers may finally get a measure of justice. Gen. Surayud Chulanont, Thailand's new prime minister who seized power in a recent coup, has pledged to look into dozens of cases in which families of those killed in the crackdown by the former government have lodged formal complaints. Thai human rights groups say the former prime minister gave security forces a "license to kill" in the anti-drug campaigns. To date, not a single person has been prosecuted for the 2,600 killings they carried out.

Income Inequality in the U.S.? Nah.

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 8:46 PM EST

Via Think Progress, you can see Paul Krugman and Neil Cavuto duke it out over Krugman's new article, "How the Super-Rich Are Screwing America," in Rolling Stone Magazine. Cavuto tells Krugman he is lying to people and that income inequality is actually not worse now than it was 10 and even 20 years ago, as Krugman argues in his piece. Income inequality seems to be the topic of the day. Over at the Economist's Free Exchange, they argue, citing an in-house report, that although "high earners experienced more than a 30% increase in their real income over the last thirty years...[and] the bottom 50% of wage earners saw their real income increased by only 5-10%," income inequality isn't that marked and if it is, who really cares anyway? It might spawn economic growth. Whether you want to argue that economic inequality creates an incentive for education, which then leads to a more productive workforce and greater economic growth, as the folks over at the Economist have done today, is up to you. Although Clive Crook from the Atlantic Monthly would definitely disagree. In his article "A Matter of Degrees," Crook argues that education is not an "economic cure-all," which it is so often touted as, but in fact it is just a way to differentiate oneself from another (so if everyone is going to college, then it won't give you a leg up anyway). Regardless, the facts are in. The income gap is growing and the effects of this are dire (for many). In "How the Rich Get Richer" and "Poor Losers," Mother Jones highlights this growing chasm between the rich and the poor:

In 2005, there were 9 million American millionaires, a 62% increase since 2002.

Since 2000, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has steadily risen. Now 13% of all Americans—37 million—are officially poor.

Only 3% of students at the top 146 colleges come from families in the bottom income quartile; only 10% come from the bottom half.

Since 1983, college tuition has risen 115%. The maximum Pell Grant for low- and moderate-income college students has risen only 19%.

Bush's tax cuts give a 2-child family earning $1 million an extra $86,722—or Harvard tuition, room, board, and an iMac G5 for both kids.

Bush's tax cuts (extended until 2010) save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those earning $1 million are saved $42,700.

You can get all the stats here and here.

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Who's Classless Now?

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 8:23 PM EST

By now, most people have heard about the exchange between George W. Bush and newly elected Congressman Jim Webb of Virginia. To refresh your memory: At a White House reception, Bush asked Webb, "How's your boy?", referring to the Congressman's son Jimmy, who is serving in Iraq. "I'd like to get them out of there," Webb replied, and Bush said "I didn't ask you that, I asked how's he doing."

"That's between me and my boy," was Webb's final statement to Bush. Webb, not known for verbal niceties, was immediately attacked by the press. George Will called him a boor, Bill O'Reilly called him "rude" and "disrespectful," and The National Review called him "classless."

Here is the rest of the story, according to Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia: Jimmy Webb was recently standing next to a vehicle in Iraq that was blown up. All three Marines in the vehicle were killed. Before the reception, Bush was briefed on the young Webb's close call, and was also warned to be extra sensitive in discussing him with his father.

So there you are. Just imagine if Bush hadn't been warned.

Warner: Best Hearing Ever

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 4:59 PM EST

Before the Senate Armed Services Committee interrupted its questioning of Robert Gates to break for lunch, outgoing chairman John Warner commented that today's hearing was among "the best we've had" in his 28 years in the Senate – "best" being code, one assumes, for least contentious. The hearing was certainly uncharacteristically civil and free, for the most part, of partisan barbs, save for one surreal moment when Senator Hillary Clinton questioned Gates on whether he believed the President and the Vice President are "intelligent men." But absent from the hearing as well were any tough questions about the serious allegations that have been leveled against Gates in the past, including his role in Iran-Contra and in politicizing intelligence at the CIA.

Senator Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, came the closest to raising these issues, asking Gates to comment on a passage from former Secretary of State George Shultz's memoir, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State, which relates a conversation Shultz had with Gates, then the acting CIA director, in January 1987. "I don't have any confidence in the intelligence community," Shultz reportedly told Gates. "I feel you all have very strong policy views. I feel you try to manipulate me. So you have a very dissatisfied customer. If this were a business, I'd find myself another supplier."

Gates responded by telling Levin that he believed Shultz's view of intelligence was colored by his fractious relationship with former CIA director (and Gates' mentor) William Casey. "Bad blood influenced the Secretary of State's view of intelligence," he said, pointing out that Casey had once written to President Ronald Reagan recommending that Shultz be fired. Levin did not press him further.

Certainly Shultz was not the only one who distrusted the information coming out of the CIA. So did some career CIA analysts who believed Casey and Gates were subverting the intelligence process in order to play up the Soviet menace. One of them was Mel Goodman, a longtime friend of Gates and a veteran Soviet analyst, who became one of his most vocal critics, offering damaging testimony during Gates' confirmation hearings in 1991 as he sought to become the director of Central Intelligence. "My major concerns are issues of integrity," Goodman told me recently. "For me, basically, the test of character is what you do when no one's looking. I don't think Bob Gates can be trusted when no one's looking."

Perhaps the Democratic wing of the Armed Services Committee, who would seem the most likely to raise questions about Gates' past, feel this is ancient history, but it certainly seems relevant given the intelligence failures – to put it charitably – that preceded the Iraq war.

During the hearing Gates, who has previously been circumspect about what he knew about Iran-Contra, was praised repeatedly by members on both sides of the aisle for being a straight-shooter. "Dr. Gates, thank you for your candor," Clinton remarked. "That's something that has been sorely lacking from the current occupant in the position that you seek to hold." She was referring to the way Gates had fielded questions about Iraq, at one point answering "No, sir" when asked by Carl Levin whether "we are currently winning in Iraq." Sadly, it seems any semblance of truth passes for candor in Washington these days.

Trouble in Paradise

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 4:28 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.

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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.

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

| Tue Dec. 5, 2006 3:56 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.