Political MoJo

Afghanistan: A Comeback for the Ministry of Vice and Virtues?

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 5:34 PM PDT

The Afghan government is moving to bring back some version of the notorious Vice and Virtues Ministry, which terrorized Afghanistan under the Taliban. In those years busybodies from the ultra-puritan agency went around making sure women were barred from the workplace and schools and remained encased in head-to-toe burkas, and attacking men whose beards were too short. Those failing to meet the ministry's exacting standards--women, say, wearing socks not sufficiently opaque--were publicly beaten, and many "offenders" were imprisoned.

The Karzai government says the new ministry won't be like that at all but will focus on alcohol, drugs, crime and corruption. Human rights activists are skeptical, not least because the existing criminal justice system already has a handle on that stuff. Human Rights Watch just put out a statement saying the plan, to be submitted for parliament later this summer, "raises serious concerns about potential abuse of the rights of women and vulnerable groups." HRW also recently released a report identifying a lack of access to education, especially for girls, as jeopardizing Afghanistan's future.

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Smells Like Apocalypse

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 2:36 PM PDT

There's no shortage of news these days suggesting that the world is more or less imploding. We've got Rush Limbaugh saying that Israel's invasion of Lebanon is a gift to the world and a lot of insane fundamentalist-types primed for rapture. Gory massacres in Iraq have become so commonplace that they barely make the headlines. And here's yet another cheerful item: The Taliban has just taken over two towns in southern Afghanistan. Obviously the liberal media's to blame for all of this.

Middle East Body Count Rising

Tue Jul. 18, 2006 1:33 PM PDT

According to a New York Times article published today:

An average of more than 100 civilians per day were killed in Iraq last month, the highest monthly tally of violent deaths since the fall of Baghdad, the United Nations reported today…
This sharp upward trend reflected the dire security situation in Iraq as sectarian violence has worsened and Iraqi and American government forces have been powerless to stop it.
The article also noted that 14,338 civilians died violently in Iraq in the first half of the 2006. Iraq Body Count, meanwhile, estimates the war's total Iraqi death toll at 43,575. The 230 Lebanese or 60 Palestinians killed in recent Israeli bombings—not to mention 500,000 displaced—may seem small by comparison. But taken on the whole, it's not a good time to be Arab.

US to Citizens: Pay Up to Escape Lebanon

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 1:04 PM PDT

You'd think we'd have gotten better at evacuating Americans in disaster's way after Katrina totalled New Orleans, but apparently not. The Los Angeles Times reports that hundreds of US citizens trying to escape Lebanon are still stranded there, while other countries have already scooted their nationals to safety on hired ferries and buses. The Pentagon has apparently contracted a private cruise ship to pick up some 750 people today - and has told evacuees they will have to reimburse the government for the cost of their own rescues. Any reason they're not sending one of the several US Navy ships stationed in the Meditteranean and nearby Red Sea that were paid for with those would-be evacuees tax dollars?

Facts Never Got in the Way of a Good War

| Tue Jul. 18, 2006 12:47 PM PDT

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies cautions in a new paper that "[a]nalysts and reporters need to be careful to stick to the facts in covering Iran's role in the current fighting" in the Middle East. He notes that "a number of sources -- including Israeli officials and officers" [to which company he might have added our very own U.S. hawks of the Bill Kristol-James Woolsey type] have inflated "suspicions and limited facts into full-blown conspiracies" to justify attacking Iran.

So what are the facts? They include the following:

  • U.S. intelligence has not seen evidence that Iran dominated or controlled Hezbollah, but it has long seen Iran as a major source of money, weapons, and military training (though the last seems to have dropped off in recent years)
  • Syria too plays a role and there seem to be regular meetings between Iranian, Syrian, and Hezbollah leaders
  • Hezbollah appears to use Iran and Syria as much as it is used by them
  • Reports that Iran provides Hezbollah with several hundred million dollars worth of aid a year are "sharply exaggerated guesstimates," though Iran almost certainly does provide financial aid and goods and military services worth some $25-50 million
  • Iran has transferred massive numbers of rockets to Hezbollah to give them a capability to attack Israel
  • Most experts speculate that Iran has given Hezbollah anywhere from 20-120 long-range rockets that are likely beyond the capability of the Hezbollah to operate without Iranian support in the field
  • So: possibly no direct Iranian involvement in this particular campaign. I'm not optimistic the above will do much to inhibit Israeli hawks (or the war-crazed Kristols and Woolseys of the world) who are baying for Iranian blood. One has to hope that the patent insanity of attacking Iran will suffice for cooler, saner heads to prevail.

    Cordesman concludes:

    "...Iran has been supplying rockets and UAVs for years. There is no evidence that it dominates the Hezbollah or has more control than Syria, and the fact its ties to Hezbollah are so well known creates more problems for Iran in European eyes, and raises more risk of Israeli strikes or U.S. strikes in the future.

    Until there are hard facts, Iran's role in all of this is a matter of speculation, and conspiracy theories are not facts or news.

    And nobody ever built a case for war in the absence of hard facts...

    Bigots or Traditionalists?

    | Tue Jul. 18, 2006 11:54 AM PDT

    Julian linked to a very interesting Slate piece that asked whether opposition to gay marriage stemmed from anti-gay bigotry or a "desire to protect [the] traditional sex roles" that marriage has historically enforced. Richard Thompson Ford says that even though there are certainly a lot of plain old anti-gay bigots out there, the latter is a powerful force: "[Marriage] is one of the few social institutions left that rigorously and unapologetically divides the sexes into distinctive, almost ancient, gender roles"—and that seems to be why people like it.

    Anyway, Ford isn't defending traditional sex roles, he's just pointing to it as an explanation. Over at Crooked Timber, though, John Sides sifts through survey data and finds that there's something to this—people who prefer traditional gender roles are very likely to be opposed to gay marriage—but that anti-gay bigotry is a much bigger factor.

    Now there's a third part to this. Chris of the always-fascinating Mixing Memory blog wrote a few days ago on research showing that people who believed that homosexuality is a choice, rather than something immutable in human nature, were much more likely to have anti-gay attitudes. (Chris notes that there could be an upside here: If scientists increasingly discover that there's a genetic basis for homosexuality, this could create a more accepting atmosphere for gay people—although obviously it could also lead to a push among social conservatives for someone to develop a "cure," ala the recent X-Men movie.)

    What's also interesting here is that the people who want to preserve "traditional sex roles" through, say, marriage, are likely to think that gender is something immutable, rather than something socially constructed. In other words, they believe the exact opposite of what those who have negative feelings about gays believe about homosexuality. But it's often the exact same person who believes both things (gender essentialism and negative feelings toward homosexuality tend to go hand in hand). Basically, a lot of people are very confused.

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    Gay Marriage Amendment: Meaningless and Mean-Spirited

    | Tue Jul. 18, 2006 11:04 AM PDT

    AP reports:

    A proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was headed toward a House vote Tuesday with supporters resigned to another losing effort but determined to highlight it in this fall's elections.

    "This vote will serve as an opportunity for each and every member of this body to go on record in support or in opposition to protecting the traditional definition of marriage," said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., at the opening of the debate on the proposal to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

    Opponents disparaged the measure as both meaningless — the Senate last month decisively rejected the amendment — and mean-spirited.

    "This bill, to put it simply and bluntly, is about adding discrimination and intolerance to the United States Constitution," said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.

    If you missed it the first time around, Richard Ford had a piece in Slate last week in which he wondered, a propos the recent proliferation of gay marriage bans, if they reflected not so much anti-gay bigotry as a "deeper-seated anxiety about gender and gender roles," which earned him a good mauling from a number of Slate readers. (I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest they probably stem from...a bit of both.)

    P.S. Meanwhile, a Colorado gay-rights group yesterday accused Focus on the Family founder James Dobson of manipulating research data to say gays and lesbians are not good parents. The NYU sociologist whose research is an issue called Dobson's interpretation "a direct misrepresentation of the research." The group, Soulforce, set out to march 65 miles to Focus H.Q. in Colorado Springs to confront the man himself. (AP)

    Entire Country Tilts Republican

    | Mon Jul. 17, 2006 6:16 PM PDT

    acttemp_277x187.jpg

    ...or else we're experiencing a nationwide heatwave. Either way, the world appears to be ending. (Bowl Judgments (Rev. 16))

    Homelessness: A Blight On Our Streets and a Blot On Our Conscience.

    | Mon Jul. 17, 2006 5:33 PM PDT

    The annual conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) is going on in Washington Monday through Thursday. Mike Bloomberg spoke there today, announcing a new, more aggressive approach to street homelessness in New York City. As reported by the Times, he brushed aside the widely held view that homelessness is a stubborn feature of urban life, to be managed but not eradicated:

    "Our view is that any level of street homeless, no matter how reduced in scope and visibility, is an inexcusable civic failure that consigns our fellow human beings to lives tragically shortened by exposure to the elements, to the ravages of disease, and to their own self-destructive behavior. Such chronic homelessness remains a blight on our streets and a blot on our conscience."

    Well said.

    As best anyone can tell, around 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children (PDF), are likely to experience homelessness in a given year, and the number of homeless has been rising over the past 20-25 years (PDF), thanks largely to a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty (in turn a function of eroding work opportunities). Homelessness in New York is down from its high three years ago. (I'm not aware of research finding the same trend nationally.)

    Bloomberg's administration has committed to creating thousands of new units of supportive housing and providing more services (job training, day care) to keep the formerly homeless from sliding back. Good moves. Mother Jones published an article last year about an approach to supportive housing pioneered in New York City in the 1990s. Called Pathways to Housing, the program is premised on the idea that reversing the order of services to put housing first produces much better results with no greater costs. And it works! Since it launched, Pathways has moved hundreds of mentally ill and homeless New Yorkers into apartments.

    Iraq: No Oil for War...

    | Mon Jul. 17, 2006 4:06 PM PDT

    Washington Post: Government Accoutablility Office chief David M. Walker told Congress last week that "massive corruption" and "a lot of theft" in Iraq's government-controlled oil industry is not exactly helping matters in that country. He said it took him "a second and a half" to figure this out, seeing as how "the numbers just didn't add up."

    Oil production is below pre-war levels, thanks to the insurgency and attendant difficulties in maintaining infrastructure, and apparently about 10 percent of Iraq's refined fuels and 30 percent of its imported fuels are being stolen.

    The GAO had been asked to ascertain, in the words of Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn), "whether we had and have a strategy and to what extent that strategy is meeting the needs of our engagement in Iraq." Doesn't look like it.

    The GAO report criticized the administration's strategy for not identifying which U.S. agencies are responsible for implementation, for not integrating U.S. goals and objectives with the Iraqi government and for failing to identify future costs.

    A big mistake, says the GAO, was to assume oil revenues would pay for the invasion/occupation/reconstruction of Iraq. In the immortal words of Paul Wolfowitz in March 2003, "The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years. Now, there are a lot of claims on that money, but...We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon." Well, as Bush admonished at his press conference with Vladimir Putin last week, "Just wait."