Political MoJo

More Illegal Spy Programs?

| Mon Jul. 10, 2006 11:26 AM PDT

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) isn't pleased:

I have learned of some alleged Intelligence Community activities about which our committee has not been briefed. In the next few days I will be formally requesting information on these activities. If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the Administration, a violation of law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the Members this committee.
Hoekstra's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and it's pretty clear that the potentially illegal "activities" he mentions here are separate from the stuff we already know about—domestic wiretapping and the like. So the grand-prize question is this: Will Hoekstra actually try to do anything about the program in question? Try to shut it down? Stand up to the Bush administration? Or is he just expressing a bit of nominal concern now—via a letter conveniently leaked to the Times—so that he doesn't look too bad when these "activities" finally come to light? Hard to say. Here's some speculation on what sorts of programs might have Hoekstra so upset.

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Health Care Kills in California Prisons

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 4:37 PM PDT

You wouldn't expect health care in a state prison to be exactly top-notch, but surely we can all agree that a patient dying every week as a result of preventable errors is a bit much. Medical care in California's bulging lockups is so appalling that last year a federal judge, acting in a case brought by the Prison Law Office, appointed a special receiver to oversee the $1.4 billion system. That receiver now reports that things are even worse than had been thought, detailing, as the Los Angeles Times sums up, "widespread evidence of malpractice and neglect — and proof that inmates suffered not just from incompetence but also from cruelty at the hands of some doctors." The problems run from the tragic to the farcical – everything from preventable deaths to massive financial mismanagement to forehead-slappers like the officials at San Quentin who ordered expensive diagnostic imaging equipment four years ago that they still haven't gotten around to unpacking.

Defending the homeland...from Gomez and Ramirez

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 4:26 PM PDT

Writing at Truthdig, Molly Ivins sees the president's apparent tilt toward the enforcement-first approach to immigration reform favored by the House as "the early warning sign that we're about to get an all-out immigrant-bashing campaign for the fall, complete with xenophobia, racism and blaming the weakest, least powerful people in the country for everything that's wrong with it."

House Republicans, who know a good socially divisive issue when they see one, are perfectly happy to blame illegal workers for everything. Trade policy, repealing taxes for the rich, corruption in Congress—it's all done by illegal workers. Everywhere you look in this society, there's a bunch of people named Gomez and Ramirez, all of them making decisions from the top—in charge of the Pentagon, heading the military-industrial complex, deciding the rich need tax relief, in charge of this stupid war, making decisions on Wall Street.

And, if I understand California Rep. Ed Royce correctly, these Gomez and Ramirez characters are also somehow connected, in unspecified ways, to...well...threats to the homeland. Royce, who is chairman of the International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation, held a hearing today at the Mexican border to belabor his point that America's security depends on swift passage into law of the House's draconian immigration bill. He said:

It's elementary that to defend ourselves against our determined and resourceful enemies, our border must be secure."

Better get used to this sort of thing. House committees will hold hearings outside Washington later this month on, among other things, making English the United States' official language.

Attack on Federal Regulations Continues

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 2:29 PM PDT

Good catch by Think Progress. The president is going to nominate Susan Dudley, a longtime opponent of federal regulations, to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which "manages the federal regulatory process." Among other things, Think Progress finds, Dudley is an opponent of action on global warming, air bags in cars, and stronger regulations for arsenic in drinking water.

But okay, what does this position even mean? According to this executive order, OIRA is tasked with reviewing regulations in other federal agencies to make sure they comply with the president's rules, "such as consideration of alternatives and analysis of impacts, both benefits and costs." Now I can't figure out what sort of impact Dudley could have on federal regulations from this perch, but it's safe to say that the administration's ongoing effort to dismantle the regulatory state will continue apace.

Why Trust Bill Keller?

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 2:05 PM PDT

Jack Shafer has a very good column today about whether the New York Times should've published its story revealing a semi-classified terror-financing story or not. Understandably, he trusts Bill Keller over the Bush administration. Nothing to disagree with there, although I'm agnostic on the question of whether the article actually harmed national security in any way; reports suggest that details of the SWIFT program were already somewhat public, and I don't plan on taking the word of administration officials on this matter.

But there's another article I've been meaning to link to, concerning the merits of the program in question. like William Greider, I wish the government would actually more to monitor overseas financial transactions; it would be nice if something like SWIFT could be used to clamp down on offshore tax evasion, securities fraud, CEOs looting pension funds, etc. As it is, the U.S. government is incredibly lax on the issue. Sadly, bankers and corporations tend to be hugely influential, so terrorist financing is the only thing that is likely to get any attention.

Bergen: Decision To Fold Bin Laden Unit "Blew Me Away"

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 1:27 PM PDT

Coupla none-too-sanguine perspectives on the folding up of the CIA's bin Laden unit.

Michael Scheuer, the first head of the unit and now a ubiquitous talking head, on CBS:

"To dismantle the unit who chases that individual and that group seems to me a questionable decision."

"We've seen just in the last couple weeks that [bin Laden] can dominate the international media whenever he wants to, and he reached out and replaced [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi with one of his own people. So the idea that he's not in control is simply a pipe dream."

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And Peter Bergen (who wrote this fine piece for us a few years ago relating how the war in Iraq was diverting essential resources and energy from the hunt for bin Laden and the struggle against violent jihadism), on CNN:

[The decision to close down the unit] blew me away.... I mean... I'm sure there are good bureaucratic reasons for that, but I find it very -- I find it hard to understand that decision.

I mean, here is bin Laden now suddenly popping up with annoying regularity on these audiotapes, Ayman Al-Zawahri releasing more videotapes than Britney Spears, and they're closing down, you know, the bin Laden unit. I don't know -- I think, psychologically, that sends a terrible message.

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Ayman Al-Zawahiri in tape that emerged on the first
anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings

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Conditions Worsening at Guantanamo?

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 12:16 PM PDT

Hard to believe—and of course possibly untrue—but, according to one detainee, guards at Guantanamo have become "very tough" since three inmates killed themselves last month. (What were they before? Merely no-nonsense?) "We're being pushed, pushed, pushed all the time--don't be surprised if things happen," the Australian prisoner told family members on a phone call. Payback for those ruthless acts of asymmetrical warfare...? (Guardian)

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Post-Katrina workers plagued by employer deception, racism, homelessness, and a toxic environment

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 11:42 AM PDT

Dan Nazohni, a member of the White Mountain Apache Nation, was recruited, along with 79 others on his reservation, to do $14-an-hour labor in post-Katrina New Orleans. The broker who did the recruiting was paid $1,600 by the tribal government for gas and incidentals. He then dropped the workers off in New Orleans and disappeared, never to be seen again. The Apache tribal workers were homeless for days, and wound up in a tent city in City Park, where the rent is $300 a month. Nazohni says he has found barely enough work to scrape by.

Gail Duncan works in the kitchen of a New Orleans restaurant, but she cannot afford to rent an apartment. Her family lived for several months in Fort Worth, Texas, but, Duncan says, her daughter was threatened (reason unknown) by the children at her school, and school officials told her to leave the state. Now she and her children sleep on the floor of a relative's public housing apartment.

Mario Fuentes, who does demolition work, traveled to New Orleans from Houston at the end of 2005. After working for four days, the contractors dropped him off at a fast-food restaurant, bought him a hamburger and a cold drink, then drove away and never came back.

Jorge Ramos, a Honduran man from Houston, was part of a team of a dozen tree service workers cleaned up debris in New Orleans' Garden District. They worked twelve hours a day for thirteen days and earned $20,000, but were never paid. They are living in tents in City Park.

These scenarios represent the gist of a report released yesterday by the Advancement Project and the National Immigration Law Project. The report is filled with examples of racism, deception and police harrassment.

The police harrassment concerns the alleged checking of migrant workers for gang tatoos by members of the NOPD. However, an NOPD spokesman says that police officers would never do such checking unless a complaint had been called in.

In addition to being underpaid, denied overtime, not paid at all, and living in cars, tents and flood-damaged buildings, many migrant workers also work in possibly toxic conditions.

The report calls the treatment of workers in New Orleans "a national crisis of civil and human rights." Considering the reaction to the crisis of suffering caused by the U.S. Corps of Engineers during Katrina, it would be near-futile to expect an appropriate reaction to this post-Katrina tragedy.

Neo-Nazis and Other Dangerous Extremists Infiltrating the Military

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 9:39 AM PDT

Oh, great.

Under pressure to meet wartime manpower goals, the U.S. military has relaxed standards designed to weed out racist extremists. Large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the armed forces.

Department of Defense investigators estimate thousands of soldiers in the Army alone are involved in extremist or gang activity. "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," said one investigator. "That's a problem."

So says a new report out from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which says these guys--whose numbers could run into the thousands--are "using their military training to fight wars at home."

Just to give you some flavor...one neo-Nazi, quoted in the report, says, "Join only for the training, and to better defend yourself, our people, and our culture. We must have people to open doors from the inside when the time comes." Another observes, "We have pride in our race, heritage, and culture, and we will do anything to prevent it from being destroyed. White man is the creator, the creator of civilizations."

Via the New York Times.

Sorry about that 16 months of your life; here's a pair of sneakers

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 1:52 AM PDT

There will be many more of these stories. As people begin walking out of Gitmo and the other terror war jails, blinking and trying to figure out if what they just went through was real, we'll hear over and over again how they were detained on some tip, hint, or clue that would prove to be worthless; how their interrogators first thought they'd caught some terror kingpin, only to lose interest when they realized their prisoner was a foot soldier at best, just an unlucky farmer at worst; how there were fewer and fewer interrogations, but still they were not released, for months or years, until some day they were given a pair of white shoes (what an odd souvenir) and a letter saying they were not deemed a threat by the United States, and put on a plane, and told when it landed that they were free. (Read Emily Bazelon's Mother Jones story on tracking the families of detainees here, and her investigation of torture at Bagram--which also notes the peculiar white-shoe detail--here).

And the awful thing here is, even if you stipulate that maybe, after a bloody attack, it's conceivable that a government would arrest anyone it has reason to believe might be connected to that attack or planned future attacks; even if some people might consider it useful to interrogate those people in secret offshore prisons where they are kept in dungeons and humiliated or worse; even then, why, why keep them locked up for so long after you know for sure that you're not getting any intel out of them?