Political MoJo

Iraq Reporting Should Come With a Warning

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 6:16 PM EDT

At the Nation's blog, Tom Engelhardt, reflecting on a comment by New York Times Iraq reporter that "98 percent of Iraq, and even most of Baghdad, has now become 'off-limits' for Western journalists," has this to say:

Here's the problem. I've been reading New York Times reportage since the invasion of Iraq began and I don't remember running across a figure like that -- and neither has just about anyone else who happens to have been reading a major paper in the US for the last year. When, way back in September 2004, an e-mail from the Wall Street Journal's fine reporter Farnaz Fassihi slipped into public view, suggesting that "[b]eing a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest," it was treated as a scandal in the media; her "objectivity" was called into question; and (if memory serves) she was sent on vacation until after the presidential election. While there was a vigorous discussion in the British press of what came to be called "hotel journalism," it was hardly a subject here, once you got past The New York Review of Books.

Tom's solution: a sort of news consumer's health warning:

Cigarette packs have their warning labels, as do vitamin supplements. Shouldn't our news have the equivalent? How about little pie-chart icons before each Iraqi story suggesting what percentage of the news pie had been available that day. Or a warning label that might say: "This ordinary piece was put together by American reporters locked in their well-guarded and barricaded buildings from scraps of information delivered by Iraqi reporters who can't even tell their families where they work for fear of assassination."

Worth reading in full.

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Red Letter Christians: Religious Values Go Beyond Same Sex Marriage and Abortion

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 5:22 PM EDT

"A debate on moral issues should be central to American politics, but how should we define religious values?"

"We must insist that the ethics of war — and whether we tell the truth about going to war — these are moral values issues too."

The speaker? Who else but the ubiquitous (you almost want to say omnipresent) Jim Wallis, who today announced plans to establish a grass-roots network of 7,000 moderate and progressive clergy members. Red Letter Christians, a project of Sojurners/Call to Renewal, plans to use voter guides for congregants and briefings for their leaders to a broader definition of morality and Christian values beyond gay marriage and abortion to war, education, and poverty, among other things.

Wallis has just rolled out a new blog at Beliefnet, where this week he (politely) debates Ralph Reed. (Liberals and conservatives engaging with the issues without resorting to insult and invective! What next?) Worth a look.

Election 2006: Get Ready for "Major" Voting Problems

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 2:20 PM EDT

Must-read article on voting snafus from the Washington Post, in case you missed it this weekend.

An overhaul in how states and localities record votes and administer elections since the Florida recount battle six years ago has created conditions that could trigger a repeat -- this time on a national scale -- of last week's Election Day debacle in the Maryland suburbs, election experts said. ...

"We could see that control of Congress is going to be decided by races in recount situations that might not be determined for several weeks," said Paul S. DeGregorio, chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, although he added that he does not expect problems of this magnitude. ...

What is clear is that a national effort to improve election procedures six years ago -- after the presidential election ended with ambiguous ballots and allegations of miscounted votes and partisan favoritism in Florida -- has failed to restore broad public confidence that the system is fair.

Read on.

P.S.: Don't miss Sasha Abramsky's investigation of the 11 worst places to vote in the U.S., in the current Mother Jones.

Jim Webb's 2002 Op-Ed Against Invading Iraq

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 1:58 AM EDT

Jim Webb isn't by any means perfect, as Tim Russert revealed in his interview with Webb and George "Macaca" Allen reveals.

For one thing, Webb, like Allen, didn't want to alienate Virginia tobacco growers by saying his or Allen's habit of chewing tobacco was part of a greater health problem. And though the outcry was orchestrated by the Allen campaign, the complaints that women veterans have over Webb's 1979 article decrying women being admitted to the Naval Academy (which Webb also attended) was, certainly, wrongheaded and counterproductive, as he has now admitted.

Still, Webb was right on in his 2002 Washington Post op-ed questioning the Pollyannaish views of the Bushies as to what the long-term consequences of invading Iraq would be:

American military leaders have been trying to bring a wider focus to the band of neoconservatives that began beating the war drums on Iraq before the dust had even settled on the World Trade Center. Despite the efforts of the neocons to shut them up or to dismiss them as unqualified to deal in policy issues, these leaders, both active-duty and retired, have been nearly unanimous in their concerns. Is there an absolutely vital national interest that should lead us from containment to unilateral war and a long-term occupation of Iraq? And would such a war and its aftermath actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism?...
The first reality is that wars often have unintended consequences -- ask the Germans, who in World War I were convinced that they would defeat the French in exactly 42 days. The second is that a long-term occupation of Iraq would beyond doubt require an adjustment of force levels elsewhere, and could eventually diminish American influence in other parts of the world....
Other than the flippant criticisms of our "failure" to take Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War, one sees little discussion of an occupation of Iraq, but it is the key element of the current debate. The issue before us is not simply whether the United States should end the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whether we as a nation are prepared to physically occupy territory in the Middle East for the next 30 to 50 years.

Also, as a Virginian, I must point out that Webb really is one, whereas Allen is (gasp!) a Californian—which is why he's raised more "Hollywood money" than Webb. You can read the rest of Webb's 2002 op-ed after the jump.

Barack Running for Prez?

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 1:09 AM EDT

That's the speculation.

One thing is for sure, 2008 is heating up to be the most interesting political season in a long time. Sure, the early money is on (and most of the political money is with) McCain and Hillary. But when wild cards include Gore, Rudy, Biden, Obama, and a host of others—it should be fun.

Now political operative friends tell me that they don't see Obama getting on the DNC ticket because Bill C. is as good as getting out the black vote as anybody—up to and including a black man. That may be true, though I think it underestimates Obama's larger draw.

What I would like to know is what to make of the McCain, Lindsey Graham, Colin Powell anti-torture alliance. Somewhere in that trokia is the perfect GOP ticket...

One that, it must be said, gets them around the McCain age/melanoma issue.

Iraq's Police Force: Murderers' Row

| Sun Sep. 17, 2006 9:22 PM EDT

The NYT's Edward Wong and Paul von Zielbauer report that the efforts of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior to purge the police and internal security forces of Shiite militiamen and criminals is not going well.

The ministry recently discovered that more than 1,200 policemen and other employees had been convicted years ago of murder, rape and other violent crimes, said a Western diplomat who has close contact with the ministry. Some were even on death row. Few have been fired…
There is little accountability. The government has stopped allowing joint Iraqi and American teams to inspect Iraqi prisons. No senior ministry officials have been prosecuted on charges of detainee mistreatment, in spite of fresh discoveries of abuse and torture, including a little-reported case involving children packed into a prison of more than 1,400 inmates. Internal investigations into secret prisons, corruption and other potential criminal activity are often blocked.

The report does contain some good news—"Death squads in police uniforms no longer kidnap and kill with absolute impunity in parts of Sunni-dominated western Baghdad, many Iraqis say. The American military estimates there was a 52 percent drop in the daily rate of execution-style killings from July to August."*—but on the whole the details are most disturbing.

*Update (or rather backdate, from Wong's story the previous day):


There has been a surge in the number of Iraqis killed execution-style in the last few days, with scores of bodies found across the city despite an aggressive security plan begun last month. The Baghdad morgue has reported that at least 1,535 Iraqi civilians died violently in the capital in August, a 17 percent drop from July but still much higher than virtually all other months.
American military officials have disputed the morgue's numbers, saying military data shows that what they refer to as the murder rate dropped by 52 percent from July to August. But American officials have acknowledged that that count does not include deaths from bombings and rocket or mortar attacks.

And don't even get me started about the trenches around Baghdad plan.

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I Left My Gun In San Francisco

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 7:43 PM EDT

In 2004, Morgan Quitno Press ranked San Francisco as the ninth safest American city with a population over 500,000, putting it in the top 30%. This apparently did not impress Republican consultant Ed Rollins, who, on Wednesday, declared that House minority leader Nancy Pelosi "comes from San Francisco, one of the bastions of lawlessness in this country."

Rollins' point about Pelosi was that she "is certainly not going to be the one that's going to convince Americans that the Democrats are going to get tough" on issues of national security.

Bad grammar aside, Rollins' comment, made on Lou Dobbs Tonight, is a reliable Republican talking point that has grown even more popular since Americans have indicated that they are fed up with the war in Iraq. There is also a concentrated effort to brand Pelosi as a "San Francisco liberal," a phrase which conjures up such notions as free love, drugs, gay sex and "radical" ideology.

This is an old theme. I remember standing in the Post Office line right after the 2004 election and hearing one of the clerks say to a customer, "Thank God the 'other one' wasn't elected. Can you imagine what would become of us?" I was hoping to wind up at her station so I could say "Yes, a war hero and geo-political expert--that would have made a really scary president." Unfortunately, I didn't get to say it.

Unless the opposition can do an effective job of showing the obvious--that the Bush administration has made America less safe than ever--the "Democrats cannot protect you" theme is guaranteed continued success.

Whistleblower: FCC Spikes Own Study After It Doesn't Match Ideology

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 4:39 PM EDT

The Federal Communications Commission was accused today by a whistleblower of discontinuing and concealing a study that showed locally owned TV stations broadcast more local news because the data conflicted with its agenda of media consolidation. Reported today in the Los Angeles Times, the accusation by former FCC attorney Adam Candeub provides some of the strongest evidence to-date that the Bush FCC has become a pawn of big media companies.

"The initial results (of the study) were very compelling, and it was just stopped in its tracks because it was not the way the agency wanted to go," Candeub told the Times. "The order did come down from somewhere in the senior management of the media bureau that this study had to end … and they wanted all the copies collected."

Media conglomerates have in the past disputed that their news coverage is inferior to that provided by independently owned outlets.

The year the FCC spiked the study, the agency was run by Michael K. Powell, son of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and an infamous skeptic of all things regulatory."Losing Signal," a 2001 Mother Jones article by Brendan Koerner, provides ample background on how the FCC under Powell could have become sufficiently ideological to ignore its own research. Koerner reports, for example, that Powell gave a speech on the future of communications in which he declared with almost religious certitude: "The oppressor here is regulation."

Koerner went on to write:

On these and other far-reaching questions, the agency's positions are shaping up to be virtually identical to the ones being drawn up in corporate boardrooms. In April, during a panel discussion conducted by the American Bar Association, Powell dismissed the FCC's historic mandate to evaluate corporate actions based on the public interest. That standard, he said, "is about as empty a vessel as you can accord a regulatory agency." In other comments, Powell has signaled what kind of philosophy he prefers to the outdated concept of public interest: During his first visit to Capitol Hill as chairman, Powell referred to corporations simply as "our clients."

Ney Pleads Guilty, Could Face 2 Years in Jail

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 4:18 PM EDT

AP:

Ohio Rep. Bob Ney admitted improperly accepting tens of thousands of dollars worth of trips, meals, sports tickets and casino chips while trying to win favors for a disgraced Washington lobbyist and a foreign aviation company run by a gambler known as "the Fat Man."

Ney, a six-term Republican, had defiantly denied any wrongdoing for months, but he reversed course and agreed to plead guilty in court papers filed Friday. Prosecutors will recommend he serve 27 months in prison. Ney was expected to formally plead guilty in court Oct. 13.

"I have made serious mistakes and am sorry for them," Ney, 52, said in a statement. "I am very sorry for the pain I have caused to my family, my constituents in Ohio and my colleagues." His lawyer said he had begun treatment for alcohol dependency.

Ney became the first lawmaker to admit wrongdoing in the election-year congressional corruption probe spawned by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ney said he was hopeful "that someday the good I have tried to do will be measured alongside the mistakes I have made."

Fat chance.

Money Can't Buy Happiness. Yes It Can.

| Fri Sep. 15, 2006 1:36 PM EDT

From Germany's Institute for the Study of Labor:

"One of the famous questions in social science is whether money makes people happy. We offer new evidence by using longitudinal data on a random sample of Britons who receive medium-sized lottery wins of between £1000 and £120,000 (that is, up to approximately U.S. $200,000). When compared to two control groups – one with no wins and the other with small wins – these individuals go on eventually to exhibit significantly better psychological health.