Political MoJo

Does the Decider Care What Anyone Thinks?

| Thu Nov. 30, 2006 2:49 PM EST

Surprise, surprise, as Jonathan reports, Bush is choosing to "Go Long" in Iraq. As the New York Times reports today, Bush outright dismissed the early released reports of the Baker Commission's decisions for a withdrawal of U.S. troops. Predictable. Bush said, "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done so long as the government wants us there." Which is an unfortunately timed statement given that yesterday Moqtada al Sadr and his followers (which make up 30 parliamentarians and 6 ministers) pulled out of the Iraqi government because of Maliki's meeting with Bush. Now this is not to say that al Sadr (whose militias have been carrying out many of the attacks against the Sunni insurgency) should be driving the decisions of the administration. But he is one of the most powerful if not the most powerful political leader in Iraq and as such, he must be acknowledged. As should the Baker Commission's recommendations, which have been $1 million and more than 7 months in the making.

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Boot Camp Guards Charged With Teen's Killing

| Thu Nov. 30, 2006 2:25 PM EST

Eleven months ago, seven guards at a Florida teen-offender "boot camp" were caught on tape kicking and stomping a 14-year-old inmate - who died the next day. The incident led Governor Jeb Bush to dismantle the state's military-style camps for young offenders, cost a top law enforcement officer his job, and have now culminated in manslaughter charges against the guards.

All of which marks the latest and perhaps most serious blow to the once-popular idea of reforming troubled teens in such places. It's an issue Mother Jones highligted several years ago in a piece about the death of another teen in a different boot camp.

More Prisoners (The Non-Secret Kind) Than Ever

| Thu Nov. 30, 2006 2:18 PM EST

A report released today by the Department of Justice shows that the U.S. correctional population (those in jail, prison, probation or on parole) now constitutes fully 3 percent of the U.S. adult population. That's 7 million people, which works out to be one in every 32 Americans.

The report's findings offer a bleak assessment of state and federal prison systems. Federal prisons are running 34 percent over capacity while several states including South Dakota, Kentucky and Montana saw their inmate populations increase by 10 percent or more.

For women and African Americans the findings are even worse. The number of women in federal and state prisons rose by 2.6 percent (compared to 1.9 percent for men) and 8.1 percent of black men between the ages of 25-29 are now in prison.

—Amaya Rivera

Why Does the Iraq Study Group Even Exist?

| Thu Nov. 30, 2006 1:26 PM EST

Word is out on what James Baker's Iraq Study Group is going to recommend: in short, a slow withdrawal of troops tied to no definite timetable, and a transition to a supporting role in the region.

But, hey, that's not what President Bush wants to hear, so even though the actual report isn't out yet, George gave the group a big middle finger today, all the way from his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister and walking catastrophe Nouri al-Maliki. "I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq," said Bush. "We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there."

Oh, I get it. So the only acceptable recommendation from the Iraq Study Group was "stay the course," a phrase and mindset the Administration (apparently fictitiously) abandoned a few weeks back. For all the talk about Bush Sr.'s advisors coming the rescue, you just can't beat George W. Bush's old fashioned hubris, obstinancy, and bull-headedness.

Supremes Run Hot and Cold on CO2 Emissions

| Thu Nov. 30, 2006 12:10 PM EST
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Some interesting observations from yesterday's Supreme Court hearing on whether the federal government has the power to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, via the New York Times. Reading the tea leaves of the justices' reaction to the arguments before them, the Times predicts the court will do its usual 5-4 split on the question, with Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote. John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia seem to be in the "pollutant, shmollutant" camp:

"You have to show the harm is imminent," Justice Scalia instructed [Massachussetts assistant attorney general] Mr. Milkey, asking, "I mean, when is the cataclysm?"

Mr. Milkey replied, "It's not so much a cataclysm as ongoing harm," arguing that Massachusetts, New York, and other coastal states faced losing "sovereign territory" to rising sea levels. "So the harm is already occurring," he said. "It is ongoing, and it will happen well into the future."

Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito both suggested that because motor vehicles account for only about 6 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, even aggressive federal regulation would not be great enough to make a difference, another requirement of the standing doctrine.

Meanwhile, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter seemed willing to consider that automobile emissions pose a serious environmental threat:

Justice Souter engaged Deputy Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre, the lawyer who was defending the administration's position, in a long debate. When Mr. Garre said the plaintiffs "haven't shown specific facts which should provide any comfort to this court that regulation of less than 6 percent or fewer greenhouse emissions worldwide will have any effect on their alleged injuries," Justice Souter demanded: "Why do they have to show a precise correlation?"

"It is reasonable to suppose," the justice continued, "that some reduction in the gases will result in some reduction in future loss." It was "a question of more or less, not a question of either/or," he said, adding: "They don't have to stop global warming. Their point is that it will reduce the degree of global warming and likely reduce the degree of loss."

Mr. Garre replied that given the problem's global nature, "I'm not aware of any studies available that would suggest that the regulation of that minuscule fraction of greenhouse gas emissions would have any effect whatsoever."

Then Justice Breyer took on the government lawyer. "Would you be up here saying the same thing if we're trying to regulate child pornography, and it turns out that anyone with a computer can get pornography elsewhere?" Justice Breyer asked, adding, "I don't think so."

Clarence Thomas seems to have been reliably silent during the hearing.

Standardized Death Threats

| Thu Nov. 30, 2006 1:31 AM EST

A Los Angeles immigration attorney who has been helping Iraqi Armenian refugees resettle in the U.S. writes that her clients tell her that death threats have become so common that terrorist groups have quit writing them by hand. Instead, they use computer-generated forms with their organization's logo and blank spaces where the victim's name is written in.

Another depressing nugget from her essay:

The United States has not liberalized its refugee policy in response to the worsening crisis in Iraq. More than 1 million Iraqi refugees of all religious backgrounds have poured into Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. In fiscal year 2006, just 202 Iraqi refugees were resettled in the United States.

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San Diego Bans Wal-Mart Supercenters

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 6:26 PM EST

In a victory for low-wage workers, these folks, and for Barack Obama and John Edwards, the San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to ban Wal-Mart Supercenters from their city limits. There are 21 Supercenters in California, but none in San Diego. And San Diego, determined to stay classy, will have none.

Mother Jones has written a ton about Wal-Mart in the past, including this feature on Wal-Mart employees being so fed up with low wages, unpaid overtime, and union busting that they started fighting back, this blog post about how Wal-Mart's claims about going organic are a big fat lie, this blog post about how Wal-Mart could raise wages by more than $2,000 per employee and still maintain profit margins almost 50 percent higher than Costco, this short article about how Rick Santorum sided with Wal-Mart over his own beleaguered constituents, this essay about how Wal-Mart's "Made in America" claims are deceitful and disgusting, and on and on. Good on ya', San Diego. For being one of the most conservative parts of California, sometimes you're all right.

Saudi Arabia Plans to Protect Sunni Minority

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 5:42 PM EST

The U.S. is not the only country crafting the fate of Iraq (The Baker Commission's report is set to be released a week from today). Today Reuters reports that Nawaf Obaid, a security adviser to the Saudi government, writing in the Washington Post said that the Saudi government has plans of their own. Obaid writes that if the U.S. begins to withdraw from Iraq, Saudi Arabia plans to protect the Sunni minority from "Iranian-baked shiite militias." The Saudi options are three-fold, much like those of the Pentagon-- although without all those clever names:

-providing "Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with" funding and arms.

-establishing Sunni brigades

-strangling "Iranian funding of the militias through oil policy."

Throughout the Middle East, there is a well-founded fear that the blood of the escalating violence will spill over into the countries that border Iraq, creating even more instability in the region, so the Saudi's interest in helping out is understandable. Although the influence of neighbors does not come without ulterior motives (nor, of course, does the U.S.'s). Liz Sly, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune put it quite well back in October when in response to federalizing Iraq, she said that "While more engagement by Iraq's neighbors might help promote unity, there is also a risk that neighboring states will seek to pursue their own agendas and turn the country into a regional battleground." I think it's safe to say, as many have already done so, that the fear of civil war could soon be trumped by fears of a regional one.

What Kim Jong Il Won't be Getting for Christmas

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 5:10 PM EST

Kim Jong Il has made a sport of defying U.S. efforts to halt his country's burgeoning nuclear program, essentially thumbing his nose at the international community in October by staging North Korea's first nuclear test. Today, after the U.S. government's latest diplomatic overture failed, the Bush administration was forced to take swift and decisive action intended to hit Kim where it hurts – that is, to cut off exports of luxury goods, such as yachts, plasma TVs, Rolexes, and iPods to North Korea in conjunction with the U.N. Also embargoed is Kim's favorite French cognac, Hennessy, which is certain to agitate "Dear Leader," who is reputed to purchase upwards of $700,000 per year of the stuff. As the AP points out, these trade sanctions seem squarely targeted at Kim, a connoisseur of the finer things in life, who's one of the few people in the impoverished nation who can afford to indulge his taste for extravagances. It remains to be seen whether this effort will bring North Korea back into the diplomatic fold. But one would think that Kim, whose regime has successfully negotiated the nuclear black market, probably won't have a great deal of trouble getting his hands on some outlawed hooch.

Pop Quiz: Who Is the Lamest Duck?

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 4:07 PM EST

The New York Times got hold of a secret memo in which National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley describes the lameness of a world leader. Who is it?

"He impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so."

"The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of [deleted word] advisers, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality."

"The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests [name deleted] is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

"He may simply not have the political or security capabilities to take such steps, which risk alienating his narrow [deleted word] political base."

Sounds familiar, right? Of course I gamed the quotes by deleting the words Dawa, Maliki, and Sadrist, but it still made me wonder if Hadley was painting a portrait of Maliki in terms that he thought Bush might understand.

Full text of Hadley's brutally honest November 8 Maliki memo for cabinet-level officials here.