Political MoJo

It's All About Iran

| Sat Aug. 12, 2006 2:58 AM EDT

Is it starting to look like the administration has trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time? For weeks now the not-so-subtle message from the White House has been that Lebanon is all about Iran (must rein in Hezbollah in order to contain Iran's ambitions); now comes word from Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq (and, lest we forget, the neocons' favorite Afghan long before all this war stuff started), that increased carnage in Iraq is also about Iran.

Iran is pressing Shiite militias here to step up attacks against the American-led forces in retaliation for the Israeli assault on Lebanon, the American ambassador to Iraq said Friday. Iran may foment even more violence as it faces off with the United States and United Nations over its nuclear program in the coming weeks, he added.

This could keep going for a while. Oil prices? Iran. Climate heating up? Iran. Lieberman defeated? Iran, or maybe the terrorists... Read Bob Dreyfuss' Mother Jones piece here for one take on what the Iran focus is all about.

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Katrina victims get finger-printed and photographed--not everyone is happy

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 11:30 PM EDT

Calling it "a little bit too much Department of Homeland Security," Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, criticized Louisiana's Road Home program for taking fingerprints and photographs of people applying for home loans. Ashdown's organization is known for its harsh criticism of Katrina fraud. Nevertheless, Ashdown said that contractors could accomplish their goals just as easily by asking for multiple forms of identification.

A spokeswoman for ICF International, the company hired by the state to help homeowners determine what kinds of grants and loans they need, called the procedure "minimally intrusive," and a spokesman for the Louisiana Division of Administration said that none of the applicants had complained about being finger-printed and photographed.

One can hardly imagine a homeless person who is living in a cramped trailer, a relative's crowded house or an out-of-state apartment to make waves when she is trying to get help with a loan. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin confirmed that outside of the application facility, people had indeed complained.

"They said it made them feel like a criminal when they were just trying to get help. One guy even said he was so taken aback that he asked them if they wanted some blood also."

ICF International maintains that using these procedures will not only expose fraud, but will cause fraudulent applicants to change their minds and not even bother with applying.

The Louisiana Recovery Authority has not yet made a decision as to whether the finger-printing and photographing will remain in place. The Louisiana ACLU has expressed a concern that the government could use the fingerprints and photographs for purposes unrelated to home loan applications, or that identity theft could be increased because of the process.

One hopes that if the state decides it is best to continue using this procedure, that the people doing the finger-printing and photographing are trained to carry out the procedures in a non-threatening way.

Darfur: "From Really Bad to Catastrophic"

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 9:22 PM EDT

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"Peace" brings only war to Darfur.

"The signing of the peace agreement unfortunately took a lot of effort from large parts of the international community and very little after that in terms of monitoring, pushing for implementation and holding parties accountable," said Dave Mozersky, Sudan analyst for the International Crisis Group.

But what the world has agreed to call peace, still looks very much like war.

In July Darfur saw the bloodiest month for the world's largest aid operation since the conflict began 3-1/2 years ago with eight humanitarian workers killed. Access to the 3.6 million dependent on aid is at its lowest ever level.

Government planes are again bombing rebel factions who rejected the deal, U.N. officials say. Rebel leader Minni Arcua Minnawi, who signed the accord, is accused of torturing his opposition, and other rebels have factionalised. A new alliance has declared renewed war with the government.

U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said in Geneva on Thursday: "It is going from really bad to catastrophic in Darfur."
(Reuters)

Click on the image for more information on the Darfur crisis.

Killing Endangered Species To Save Them?

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 8:56 PM EDT

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That's the thinking behind a program designed to sell a limited number of permits to hunters to help communities conserve indigenous populations of endangered sheep. Daniel Duane went on his first hunt a while ago and wrote about it for Mother Jones, an experience that made him re-think his notions about hunting. ("I felt privileged to be there and I did feel that at least in the one setting in which I participated, hunting could really be an extraordinary way to participate in the rhythms of life.") The radio show Living on Earth is rebroadcasting an interview with Dan this week. Check out the LOE website for more details.

Significant Drop in Risky Sex Among Teens?

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 8:44 PM EDT

According to a CDC study released today the number of US teenagers who have had sex and/or are sexually experienced is on the decline, and condom use is on the rise. The report finds that the proportion of high school students who are sexually experienced decreased by 13% from 1991 to 2005. The Washington Times is quick to point out that the percentage of students who said they had ever had sexual intercourse decreased 9%, from 54.1% in 1991 to 46.8% in 2005. Yet the paper fails to mention that since 2001, when the Bush Administration started funding and promoting abstinence only education in schools, the numbers are a wash -- 46.8% said they had ever had sex last year vs. 45.8% four years earlier, a neglible difference at best given the 3.3% margin of error.

In fact, the proportion of teens who had sex with four or more partners and those who had had sex within the preceding 3 months actually increased slightly from 2001 to 2005. Condom use was the only category with a statistically significant improvement with an increase in those four years, by 5% to nearly 63% of teens. Meaning those who are having sex--and the numbers seem to be remaining quite steady these days, are getting smarter about it.

19 Percent of 2004 Bush Voters Say They'll Vote Dem

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 8:24 PM EDT

Many Americans might not have things quite straight when it comes to WMD in Iraq, and there are those who don't know which state Kentucky Fried Chicken comes from, but large and swelling numbers are starting to get a clue about George W. Bush's administration.

Republicans determined to win in November are up against a troublesome trend — growing opposition to President Bush.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted this week found the president's approval rating has dropped to 33 percent, matching his low in May. His handling of nearly every issue, from the Iraq war to foreign policy, contributed to the president's decline around the nation, even in the Republican-friendly South.

More sobering for the GOP are the number of voters who backed Bush in 2004 who are ready to vote Democratic in the fall's congressional elections — 19 percent. These one-time Bush voters are more likely to be female, self-described moderates, low- to middle-income and from the Northeast and Midwest.

Two years after giving the Republican president another term, more than half of these voters — 57 percent — disapprove of the job Bush is doing. (AP)

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Bombing Pakistan Would Not Be a Good Idea, Whatever the Weekly Standard Says

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 6:07 PM EDT

Defiantly refusing to draw the obvious conclusion from yesterday's terrorist plot revelations--namely, that rigorous, decidated, internationally cooperative police work is our best weapon in fighting terror; or at least it seems to have yielded better results than, say, invading, occupying, and getting stuck indefinitely in Muslim countries--the Weekly Standard floats the notion of military strikes...on Pakistan.

Pakistan's willingness to fight terrorism has been uneven. While President Musharraf's regime has provided some key al Qaeda leaders and actionable intelligence in the past, it has also arguably not done enough to crack down on al Qaeda's rear bases on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border (and on other terrorists operating on its soil). But if the early reporting is right, Pakistan has now provided crucial cooperation in stopping the largest planned attack since 9/11.

It will be interesting to follow the details of the plotters' ties to Pakistan. Who did they meet with? Why hadn't Pakistan arrested those terrorists previously? Will the U.S. and U.K. pressure Pakistan to arrest those terrorists now, if they have not yet? Or, will the U.S. and U.K. attempt more aggressive measures, as they did earlier this year when America bombed a home thought to have housed al Qaeda's Ayman al Zawahiri?

Pakistan has now been the launching pad for one major attack and one planned attack on British soil. And while the Pakistanis have proven increasingly willing to cooperate with American and British counterterrorism officials, it is clear that a substantive al Qaeda network still operates from there.

Pakistan is not our friend, granted. And Musharraf is playing--perforce--a double game. But if you want to make it even harder for him to pitch in in the war on terror, sure, bomb his country. Way to shore a guy up! And aside from the specifics of Pakistan, it's not my impression that the military-first approach has worked out all that well for us so far...

Conservatives Against the War on Drugs???

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 5:00 PM EDT

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That's right -- and in Nevada, no less. If an odd coalition spanning the political divide gets its way this fall, it might be as easy to fire up the ol' bong in Reno as in Amsterdam. Sasha Abramsky has the details.

David Beckham Dropped From England Squad. How About Dropping Blair, too?

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 2:48 PM EDT

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"I told David I'm looking to the future and looking to take the team in a different direction,'' [Steve] McClaren, [the new England coach] who took charge on Aug. 1, told reporters in London today. "He's not part of that.'"

If only Tony Blair had a coach who wanted to take the team in a new direction...

Feds Say: California and Oregon Salmon Fisheries a "Failure"

| Fri Aug. 11, 2006 12:18 PM EDT

AP's Jeff Barnard reports: "Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez on Thursday declared commercial salmon fishing a failure off Oregon and California this year, based on sharp harvest cutbacks imposed to protect struggling returns to the Klamath River."

This is, on the one hand, good news for fisherman, in that it frees up $80 million in federal aid. But it's bad news for them, as well as all the other people concerned with the plight of fisheries and the ocean (and no one more than us), because it is yet another sign marine ecosystems are crashing.

What, in this case, is to blame? Via the AP:

Gutierrez blamed five years of drought in the Klamath Basin for low water and growing infestations of parasites that are diminishing salmon returns there.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and salmon fisherman Mike Newell of Newport, a member of the Oregon Salmon Commission, blamed the problems on the failure of the Bush administration to deal with long-standing problems of poor water quality and loss of habitat in the Klamath Basin. "It's a long overdue recognition our fisheries are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy because of the lack of a viable season," DeFazio said. "We have a very sick river system that needs a significant amount of investment, or this will just happen again and again."

Both are right. As the AP's Barnard notes, "the Klamath River has been a flashpoint for conflicts between the Bush administration and farmers on one side and fishermen, Indian tribes and conservation groups on the other over allocations of scarce water between farms and fish."

In 2003, Bruce Barcott wrote a nice piece for us on the Klamath called "What's a River For?"