Political MoJo

House Intel Report on Iran: "Erroneous, Misleading and Unsubstantiated"

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 3:49 PM EDT

The Washington Post reports on complaints to the Bush administration and to a Republican congressman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House intelligence committee, about a recent HIC report on Iran's capabilities, "calling parts of the document 'outrageous and dishonest' and offering evidence to refute its central claims." Those obfuscating, deceiving, complaining Iranians! Except that the complaints, which cite "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements," are coming from U.N. inspectors investigating Iran's nuclear program.

For example:

Among the committee's assertions is that Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium at its facility in the town of Natanz. The IAEA called that "incorrect," noting that weapons-grade uranium is enriched to a level of 90 percent or more. Iran has enriched uranium to 3.5 percent under IAEA monitoring.

A technical quibble, you might say; but wars have been launched on the strength of finer distinctions. (And anyway, privately, several US intelligence officials said the report included "at least a dozen claims that were either demonstrably wrong or impossible to substantiate.")

As said David Albright, a former nuclear inspector said, "This is like prewar Iraq all over again. You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that's cherry-picked and a report that trashes the inspectors."

Another reason--as if one more were needed--to pray the House switches in November.

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U.S. Can't Stay in Iraq and Can't Leave

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 3:43 PM EDT

Kofi Annan, no doubt trying to be helpful, neatly captures the impossibility of the American posture in Iraq.

"The U.S. has found itself in the position where it cannot stay and it cannot leave. I believe that if it has to leave, the timing has to be optimum, and it has to be arranged in such a way that it does not lead to even greater disruption or violence in the region."

I think "optimum" went out the window a while back.

Voting Glitches on Primary Day

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 3:22 PM EDT

As Sasha Abramsky amply details in his recent Mother Jones article, voting can be a dicey business these days, in spite of--and in many cases because of "improvements" introduced by the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Tuesday's primaries brought fresh evidence that the machinery of American democracy doesn't run smoothly everywhere. In Ohio, Texas, Florida, California, and Chicago, (poorly trained) poll workers had difficulty operating new voting machines, or didn't show up; and in one place, suburban Washington D.C., essential voting equipment was missing.

Voting machine companies blame poll workers, often no doubt with good reason. "If you prick their fingers and there's blood coming out, they serve," R. Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, which represents state and local election officials, told USA Today. But of course the machines themselves have a history of screwing up, often in ways that aren't immediately obvious. (And, of course, they can be hacked.)

Some of the problems can be put down to the pace of (enforced) change--resulting in, for example, some counties receiving their touch-screen machines only two weeks before voting day. And many should be ironed out by November. (Yes?) But some election officials take a gloomy view. "I really believe that we've got a crisis of confidence in our voting systems," says one from Travis County, Texas.

Judge to Saddam: "You Are Not A Dictator"

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 2:16 PM EDT

There was I, waxing sentimental about Saddam's trial and the sight of a Kurd taunting the big guy. But now we slide from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Questioning a Kurdish witness Thursday, Saddam said, "I wonder why this man wanted to meet with me, if I am a dictator?"

The judge interrupted: "You were not a dictator. People around you made you (look like) a dictator."

"Thank you," Saddam responded, bowing his head in respect.

I'm no lawyer, but that judge strikes me as less than fully objective.

Saddam and six others have been accused of genocide and other offenses committed in the 1980s. The prosecution alleges that about 180,000 Kurds died.

Saddam also vowed to Kurdish witnesses to "crush your heads" after listening to them tell of the horrors allegedly committed by his regime.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 9:09 PM EDT

That's the title of a new documentary by director Kirby Dick, whose latest project exposes the irrational, incompetent, secretive, and downright bizarre goings-on at the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board.

Dick, who was interviewed by Terry Gross on the NPR show, Fresh Air, said that the names of the board members are kept secret, so he hired a private detective to find out who they were. Once he knew their identities, he said that some of the facts about them did not match the demographics publicized by the MPAA. He also said that none of the rating board members is given any training, and that no one on the board has any expertise in film or child development. In fact, during his tenure as president of the MPAA, Jack Valenti went out of his way to exclude such experts as child psychologists from being part of the process.

Dick studied various films that had been given restricted ratings because of sexual content, and discovered that, though two films may show exactly the same sex scenes, the ones with homosexual characters receive more restrictive ratings. Not surprisingly, there is also evidence that violent scenes are not scrutinized nearly as carefully as scenes containing sex.

In order to understand the secretive ratings system, Dick submitted his documentary for a rating, then took the rating to the secretive appeals board, whose members are all highly ranked motion picture industry executives. At the meeting, everyone wore a number or her or his lapel--including Dick--and when he tried to introduce himself, each appeals board member turned and walked away.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is being released, as you may imagine, without a rating.

P.S.: It's also reviewed in the current issue of Mother Jones.

House Republicans Aren't Giving Up On Immigration

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 6:49 PM EDT

House Republicans prove that fear of terrorism isn't the only card they have to play this fall. Back by popular demand -- and despite talk that it would reced as an issue -- it's...fear of immigrants!

House Republicans said Tuesday that they're preparing a package of tough border security initiatives that they hope will satisfy constituent demands for a crackdown on illegal immigration before they face voters in the Nov. 7 midterm elections.

The initiatives, which are expected to include more Border Patrol agents and unmanned aerial vehicles and possibly hundreds of miles of fencing along the U.S-Mexico border, will be unveiled this week amid fading prospects for more comprehensive legislation embracing President Bush's call for an immigrant guest-worker program. [...]

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., on Tuesday reiterated the House leadership's position that Congress must first take aggressive action to "stop the bleeding" at the border before considering a guest-worker program. "We've got to get the border fixed first," he said.

Hastert presided over a roundtable conference of House committee and subcommittee chairmen who held 22 hearings in 13 states during the August recess to reinforce the House leadership's call for tough border enforcement. The hearings also were aimed at spotlighting what lawmakers saw as shortcomings in the Senate bill, which many House conservatives have denounced as "amnesty" that rewards illegal behavior.

"Stop the bleeding" at the border, eh? Nice Freudian slip.

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Guantanamo a "Shocking Affront to the Principles of Democracy"

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 6:28 PM EDT

The highest-ranking official in the British legal system says how he really feels about US detention policy:

Guantánamo Bay is a "shocking affront to the principles of democracy" and a violation of the rule of law, the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, said today. ...

Lord Falconer said Washington was "deliberately seeking to put the Guantánamo detainees beyond the reach of law" and that "use of torture by a state is contrary to fundamental human rights law".

"Democracies can only survive where judges have the power to protect the rights of the individual," he said.

Of course, Falconer has about as much pull with the Bush administration as...hmm...Tony Blair, so don't expect this to have much effect. But it's an indication that the pressures brought to bear on administration policies--which contributed to last week's (very) qualified climbdown on secret prisons--is unlikely to let up.

Kurd to Saddam: "Congratulations! You Are in a Cage."

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 6:05 PM EDT

Without getting into whether it's "worth" all the blood that's been spent over the past three years, I do think it's pretty great that such a thing as this can happen (Los Angeles Times).

A Kurdish villager mocked Saddam Hussein in court Tuesday as the man recalled the disappearance of his relatives during a 1980s military campaign in northern Iraq.

"Congratulations! You are in a cage," said the witness, Ghafour Hassan Abdullah, addressing Hussein and his six codefendants seated behind metal grates in the courtroom.

Worth reading also for the nutball utterances of the former dictator himself. ("When I am right I cannot be scared, and I don't think there is a power on Earth that can shake even one hair of my mustache." etc. etc.)

An Indictment of Our Long-Term Counterterror Strategy

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 4:35 PM EDT

Okay, so we've got a deadly spike in violence in Afghanistan, a terror attack in Syria and a deteriorating situation in western Iraq. Terror experts are saying this kind of thing:

Dan Benjamin, a national security analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the surge of violence in Afghanistan shows a familiar pattern. "It is clearly the case that tactics pioneered elsewhere, such as Iraq, particularly suicide bombing, have been taken up in Afghanistan," he said.

"There is no question that there is a global circuit now. Technology and strategy and tactics are being shared among different groups in different theaters," Benjamin added.

Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, said episodes like the increase in violence in southern Afghanistan, western Iraq and the bombing attempt in Syria show things are getting worse, not better. "It's an indictment on our long-term counterterror strategy that we haven't had any great success in reducing the long-term trends toward more terrorism," he said. (AP)

And, as noted earlier, a new poll says the American people, who a week or so ago trusted the Democrats more to keep us safe, now, after an all-out fear-mongering offensive by the administration, have more faith in Republicans to fight terror. Right, then.

Texas Court to Reconsider DeLay Conspiracy Charge

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 4:05 PM EDT

AP reports that Texas's highest criminal appeals court said today it would consider reinstating a conspiracy charge against Tom DeLay, further delaying his felony money laundering trial. As a reminder:

Prosecutors accuse DeLay and the two consultants of violating state law by funneling $190,000 in illegal corporate money to the Republican National Committee, which then donated the same amount to Texas candidates. Under Texas law, corporate money can't be directly used for political campaigns.

DeLay and the consultants, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, say the transaction was legal.

The dispute over the dismissed charge centers on whether the conspiracy statute applied to the state's election code in 2002. DeLay was accused of conspiring to violate the election code, but his attorneys say that transaction was not illegal at the time. DeGuerin says the dropped charge accuses DeLay of conspiring to violate the election code as it stood in 2003.

The other conspiracy count DeLay faces accuses him of conspiring to launder money.