Political MoJo

An Anxious World, Contemplating a Fiery Extinction, Turns to...Harvard

| Thu Oct. 12, 2006 7:12 PM EDT

It's easy to make fun of Harvard (but why is it so easy?) -- and it's also fun, so let's. As "malign narcissist" Kim Jong-Il poises a manicured finger over the nuclear button and all of humanity cringes in fear, the Harvard Crimson will not (will not!) be distracted from Topic Number 1.

This is a headline. A real one:

Nukes in Korea, But Eyes Turn To Harvard

And this is a real lead paragraph:

North Korea's alleged nuclear test this week occurred deep underground in a mountain tunnel in the North Hamgyong Province, but in its aftermath, the world's eyes are on Harvard Square.

Harvard is on this.

Harvard's experts are in demand because the University's extensive infrastructure, including the MTA Project at the Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Negotiation Project at Harvard Law School, has been geared toward resolving the stalled talks and nuclear problem in North Korea since long before Monday's approximately half-kiloton nuclear blast.

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Um...okay. (Heckuva job!)

So what should we think? What can we do? What does this all mean?

  • "This is what happens when you are long on heated rhetoric but short on consequences." -- Ashton Carter of Harvard's Preventative Defense Project

  • "[I am] shocked but not surprised" -- Carter again (we laypeople may be surprised, but only experts get to be shocked.)

  • "Despite the fact that [North Korea] has previously been warned, they disregarded it at a cost they were prepared to take." -- Graham Allison of the Kennedy School

  • "The next step should be to stop, take a deep breath, look the reality in the face unblinkingly, and recognize that the policy we and others have followed has failed." (Allison again)

  • "One may consider a few sanctions, but those would be largely symbolic since North Korea is pretty isolated." -- Jeffrey G. Lewis, head of Harvard's Managing the Atom project.
  • Next up: Harvard psychologists on Foleygate ("Clearly, this is a guy who's into young boys"); Harvard literature profs on Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Prize ("This will undoubtedly raise his profile."); and the stars of the Kennedy School on the Iraq war ("We stay, we lose; we leave, we lose; Oy!"). Where would we be without Harvard?

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    The Housing Bubble May Have Burst, But Discrimination Hasn't

    | Thu Oct. 12, 2006 7:10 PM EDT

    Not only have foreclosure rates been on the rise but just this week, the National Fair Housing Alliance released a scathing report documenting racially discriminatory practices among real estate agents in New York, Georgia, and Illinois.

    Some details:

    -In Atlanta Coldwell Banker agents required African American applicants to provide bank pre-approval letters before being allowed to view homes while no such documentation was required by whites.

    -In Chicago, Coldwell Banker agents practiced "blatant" discrimination towards African American buyers looking to purchase homes on the north side, showing them an average of 7 units versus 36 units shown to white buyers.

    The reports harshest words, however, were saved for the Corcoran Group in Brooklyn. African American home buyers were routinely given limited information and, in a move reminiscent of red-lining commonly practiced by real estate agents until the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, one agent drew red lines on a map around predominantly white neighborhoods, steering white clients to white neighborhoods.

    As the report said of this practice, "During our 16 years of existence, the National Fair Housing Alliance has never seen such a literal and blatant example of sales steering."

    Doesn't say much for progress.

    --Amaya Rivera

    Positively K Street--Only When Rove Says So

    | Thu Oct. 12, 2006 3:16 PM EDT

    According to The New Republic, a friend of former Congressman Mark Foley's reports that by early 2006, Foley had planned to retire from Congress and set himself up as a lobbyist. The problem, according to this source, was that Karl Rove wanted otherwise. Rove allegedly made it clear to Foley that if he did not run for re-election, his future as a lobbyist was uncertain.

    "The White House made it very clear I have to run," Foley is said to have remarked to his friend. The New Republic source explains that Foley was told that serving another two years in the House would "enhance his success" as a lobbyist.

    Whether Rove and his minions knew about Foley's problem with pages is unknown, of course, but given both Rove's tendency to know everything and Foley's lack of discretion, it seems very unlikely that they wouldn't.

    Out of the Closet and Into the Polling Booth

    | Thu Oct. 12, 2006 2:26 PM EDT

    There are more queers in the heartland than there were five years ago, according to a new analysis of 2005 Census data released [PDF] by the Williams Institute, a think tank focused on sexual orientation. Nationwide, the number of out same-sex couples increased by 30 percent in five years—five times the 6 percent growth rate of the general population. The Midwest saw the largest gains.

    The study suggests that far from driving gays and lesbians into the closet or into Straight to Jesus programs, anti-gay ballot measures may be helping bring gays and lesbians out of the closet. States that were among the first to forbid same-sex marriage have seen greater than average growth in the number of same-sex couples living together and announcing it on government forms. The surge may surprise supporters of the anti-gay measures on the ballot in eight states: In six of those states, the number of same-sex couples has increased by 30 percent or more since the 2000 Census.

    The larger numbers of gay and lesbian voters may affect more than just gay issues in November. As it turns out, of the 10 states that have seen the number of same-sex couples increase by half or more, eight figure among the key congressional races in the upcoming election.

    Pollsters have hardly been in hot pursuit of how gays and lesbians will vote.

    Repro Rights Groups Asks Judges to Subpoena White House Docs in Lawsuit Over Plan B

    | Thu Oct. 12, 2006 1:57 PM EDT

    Yesterday the Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of the several women's rights groups, asked federal judges to grant a subpoena of White House documents and officials in its lawsuit against they filed last year against the FDA. The suit claims the prescription drug regulatory arm did not follow procedure when it sent a "not approvable" letter in response to the original application for sale of Plan B over-the-counter. The May 2004 letter ultimately led to a more than two year delay of non-prescription access to the emergency contraceptive.

    Chris Mooney wrote for Mother Jones about the letter, which was sent in spite of a 23-4 vote in favor of approving the drug by the Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. One opposed adviser was David Hagar, a Kentucky obstetrician who was staunchly opposed to RU-486, had attacked the birth control pill for promoting promiscuity, and had written a book in which he advised Bible readings to relieve premenstrual syndrome, all before he was appointed by George W.

    The FDA's letter cited Hager's concern for "inadequate sampling of younger age groups" saying there needed to be more data on Plan B's use among girls younger than age 16. Never mind that scores of drugs are approved every year without data targeting specific age groups.

    Barr Laboratories (now Barr Pharmaceuticals) subsequently submitted a revised application to make the drug available without a prescription only to girls and women ages 16 and older. The drug was finally approved for sale to those 18 and older, in August. (See Mother Jones' full timeline of Plan B hurdles here).

    The FDA says it plans to file a motion for dismissal.

    Angelides vs. Leno

    | Thu Oct. 12, 2006 1:40 AM EDT

    You know things are getting bleak when the best California's Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides can do is to whine about not getting as much face time with Jay Leno as Leno's old pal Arnold Schwarzenegger. Protesters gathered outside Leno's studio and Angelides' campaign manager sent a letter to NBC to decry what they called the network's unfair gift of extra exposure to Arnold, in the form of a cozy interview yesterday. OK, it's true that Schwarzenegger has refused to participate in more than a single debate with Angelides, thereby limiting the Dem's free time on broadcast TV. But c'mon, Phil. Maybe if you had some actual ideas or positions that anyone was excited about, Jay would want to talk to you, too.

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    Schwarzenegger's Affirmative Electoral Action

    | Thu Oct. 12, 2006 1:19 AM EDT

    Republicans have been muttering about wooing African American and Latino voters away from the Democrats for years - and Arnold Schwarzenegger is the latest to give it a serious shot. Not content with the stomping in the polls he's already giving his challenger, state treasurer Phil Angelides, California's depressingly popular governor has been stumping hard in black and brown neighborhoods in Los Angeles and elsewhere. His staff is even helping black churches apply for grants from the after-school program he helped launch before his run for office. It seems to be paying off: polls are showing that while only nine per cent of California's African Americans are registered Republicans, 20 per cent support Schwarzenegger.

    Who Decides What A Dual-Use Item Is?

    | Wed Oct. 11, 2006 8:56 PM EDT

    Robert M. Thorson, a Connecticut geologist, has traveled throughout his career to conferences and conventions, and for the last three years, he has taken with him one of his favorite rocks, a banded piece of the Hebron Gneiss, which he describes as resembling "a broken slice of layer cake composed of licorice and cream cheese." This is one of Thorson's favorite rocks, and, he says, a touchstone for those who have attended his lectures.

    While attempting to fly to Hood River, Oregon, to attend the Stone Foundation's annual meeting, Thorson had his rock confiscated by TSA staff at Bradley International Airport. Thorson does not check luggage on business trips, so the rock was in his carry-on bag. A TSA employee pronounced it a "dual-use item," then called her supervisor, who inspected the specimen and also declared it a dual-use item. Thorson was given the option of going back to the ticket counter and checking his rock as baggage, but he did not think he had time to do so. He then asked if he could claim the rock upon his return, and was told that he could not.

    In his editorial in the Hartford Courant, Thorson muses that perhaps a stethoscope should be considered a dual-use item because a doctor could strangle someone with it. For some time now, I have been asking why pockets knives have to be confiscated, but neckties and tube socks are okay, despite the fact that both could be used to strangle someone, as could the cord of a notebook computer or other electronic device or appliance.

    Says Thorson:

    Who knows? Perhaps your tax dollars will be used by an internal think tank of agency hire-ups to ponder why on earth a geologist would travel with a rock. Who knows? Perhaps the government will wiretap my phone or check my library records to see whether I have checked out a Koran or a book about stone-age warfare.

    Pombo Denies Abramoff Ties, Even as Evidence Mounts

    | Wed Oct. 11, 2006 5:04 PM EDT

    Recently released documents from the Northern Mariana Islands indicate that Richard Pombo's (R-Ca) relationship to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was much cozier than he has let on.

    The AP is reporting that previously unseen lobbying records from the Marianas show Abramoff billed for phone calls to Pombo's office in 1996. They also establish that between 1996 and 2001 Abramoff and his associates met with Pombo's staff on more than two dozen occasions.

    Pombo's spokesman Brian Kennedy told the AP that those meetings "never happened" and the staff-level contacts were "greatly inflated." Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in a congressional corruption investigation, is "an admitted felon" who can't be trusted, Kennedy said.

    As Mother Jones reported in September, Pombo has received at least $31,250 from Abramoff, his associates and clients, and even accompanied him on a delegation to the Marianas in 2004.

    Will this influence voters' come November 7? Pombo and his opponent Jerry McNerney are in a tight race for California's 11th congressional district seat; as of last week Pombo held a two-point lead in the polls. Last Thursday, at the first and only debate between the candidates Pombo said of Abramoff "I met the guy two or three times in my whole life--he never once lobbied me on anything."

    --Amaya Rivera

    Firm Must Pay for Asbestos Cleanup in Libby, Montana, Say Supremes

    | Wed Oct. 11, 2006 4:53 PM EDT

    Yesterday the Supreme Court let stand earlier rulings that W.R. Grace, which had operated an asbestos mine in Libby, Montana, must pay $54 million to the EPA for Superfund cleanup costs at the mine, according to the Los Angeles Times.

    For a devastating portrait of the town, whose residents, according to an EPA toxicologist, suffered "the most severe residential exposure to a hazardous material this country has ever seen," read Maryanne Vollers and Andrea Barnett's "Libby's Deadly Grace" from the May/June 2000 issue of Mother Jones.