Political MoJo

America's Chapter 11

Fri Jul. 14, 2006 4:58 PM EDT

Batten down the hatches, mates; it's almost over. According to a new report an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the U.S. government is bankrupt—or, at least, it will be soon. Battered by a growing budget deficit spurred by tax cuts we can't afford and an unsustainable commitments to welfare and pension pay-outs, the authors say, the country is nearing insolvency.

So what to do? An article in The Telegraph recounts the report's "terrifying" suggestions: "One solution is an immediate and permanent doubling of personal and corporate income taxes. Another is an immediate and permanent two-thirds cut in Social Security and Medicare benefits." Right… well, for those of you willing to go down with the ship, just stick tight and keep paying your share of the damage. I'll call you from Tehran.

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Israel Ready to Negotiate?

| Fri Jul. 14, 2006 4:34 PM EDT

Behind the scenes, are Israeli ministers trying to find a negotiated solution to the situation in Lebanon? Via Garance Franke-Ruta, it sure sounds that way from this story:

There are already Israeli government ministers discussing the need for some sort of prisoner exchange, despite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's declared steadfast opposition to such a move. Peretz, The Jerusalem Post has learned, believes Israel should be willing to release prisoners in what he has called a "gesture" to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, if Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev are released. …

"A military operation will not solve the Hizbullah problem," a high-ranking Northern Command officer said. "The international community needs to get involved and place pressure on the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbullah. That is the only way out."That's encouraging to hear.

Latinos: Immigration Debate is Increasing Discrimination

| Fri Jul. 14, 2006 3:28 PM EDT

A new survey out from the Pew Hispanic center gauges the effect on Latinos of the immigration debate. More than half say it has increased discrimination, and three-quarters that it will push many more Latinos to vote in the November mid-terms. Almost two-thirds think the pro-immigrant marches mark the beginning of a significant new social movement.

The survey shows that Latinos "to some extent" blame the GOP for "negative consequences" of the immigration debate, but that doesn't automatically translate to support for Democrats, who register "no significant gains" among Hispanic registered voters, and who by some measures have lost support. "If anything," says Pew, "the survey shows that a growing number of Latinos are dissatisfied with both of the major parties." (Survey here.)

Time for Diplomacy in Lebanon

| Fri Jul. 14, 2006 2:58 PM EDT

Haaretz is calling for a ceasefire in Lebanon: "If the aim is really to drive the Hezbollah forces from the [Israel-Lebanon] border, it is possible that an agreement on this issue can already be reached by the relevant parties." Indeed.

Meanwhile, Michael Young in the New York Times makes the point raised here yesterday—Israel can certainly go to the international community and get support for the disarmament of Hezbollah, using Security Council resolution 1559 as a "cudgel." Would Hezbollah obey? Possibly. Anthony Shadid reports that the group may have lost much standing in Lebanon after its latest antics, which have, among other things, provoked a response that has ruined the country's tourist season, one of its few major sources of income. (As a bonus link, check out the Los Angeles Times on whether Syria and Iran instigated this crisis by using Hezbollah as a proxy—basically, it's not at all clear.)

So there's all the makings of a possible diplomatic resolution to this crisis. It at least needs to be tried. But the Bush administration is doing nothing. No leadership. No signs that it wants to try to hold Israel back. Nothing. Why? Because region-wide war in the Middle East and outright chaos is the goal? It's certainly beginning to look like that.

What Foreign Policy Successes?

| Fri Jul. 14, 2006 2:35 PM EDT

The Wall Street Journal has a piece today ($$$) headlined "Mideast Violence Darkens Bush's Policy Successes." It opens thus: "The surge in Mideast violence means conditions are deteriorating in the very places -- Israel, Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Afghanistan -- that President Bush had been able to point to as bright spots for his policies."

Well, this is puzzling. As best I can tell, the Bush administration has not had any discernible policy in relation to Israel and the Palestinian territories, beyond willful neglect and an indulgence of pretty much any policy Israel has wanted to pursue. (And the election of a Hamas government counts as a bright spot?) The best known politician in Lebanon was blown up, which led to massive anti-Syria protests and then even more massive pro-Syria protests courtesy of Hizbollah, the strongest political force in the country, whose power seems undiminished. Syrian troops withdrew, yes, but that wasn't the Bush administration's doing. Afghanistan...is in an advanced stage of total meltdown. If these are foreign policy successes, what would failure look like!? Don't answer that.

Why Not Electrocute Immigrants?

Fri Jul. 14, 2006 2:11 PM EDT

Now here's an idea: Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has actually designed his own version of an electrified fence to run along the U.S.-Mexico border. He quickly assembled the thing during a presentation on the House floor Tuesday, explaining as he finished:

"Now you could also deconstruct it the same way. You could take it back down. If somehow they got their economy working and got their laws working in Mexico we could pull this back out just as easy as we could put it in. We could open it up again or we could open it up and let livestock run through there, whatever we choose.
I also say we need to do a few other things on top of that wall, and one of them being to put a little bit of wire on top here to provide a disincentive for people to climb over the top or put a ladder there. We could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would simply be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time."
Got that, ladies and gentlemen? "We do that with livestock all the time." This is the man, as Wonkette notes, who once famously observed that "D.C, is more dangerous than Iraq." And with people like him running around, we can see why.

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Specter's Folly

Fri Jul. 14, 2006 11:00 AM EDT

Two PR coups in one week. Not bad for a lame duck president. First came news of the Pentagon's sudden love affair with the Geneva Conventions, swallowed whole by the press. By Friday morning the press had turned to praising the good sportsmanship of Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter on the surveillance issue, i.e. caving in lock, stock and barrel to the White House.

Specter had advertised his new wiretapping legislation as a bill that would force the National Security Agency to go before the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so the program's legality and constitutionality can be assessed. But Specter's "victory" is nothing more than an elaborate ruse that will actually increase the president's ability to listen in on Americans at his own discretion, should Congress approve it. In fact, the hearing is not even in the bill's text. It is simply something Bush "agreed" to pending the approval of the bill in Congress. Furthermore, he may revoke that agreement at any time.

The illegal wiretapping program is already being reviewed in many courts around the country and bringing the case before FISA would "short-circuit" those cases, said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a Washington, D.C., civil liberties group. "Those courts should rule on the legality of the program." She feels the administration is deliberately trying to stop the cases already in progress and faults Congress for not obtaining the essential information necessary to adequately review the president's claims of executive privilege. "The bill is not a compromise between the White House and Congress," Martin told Mother Jones Friday morning. "It would be a surrender to the president's claims that, one, he can wiretap without a warrant, and two, that he can break the law."

More comments from some of the experts:

"Specter's bill repeals each and every restriction on the President's ability to eavesdrop, all but forecloses judicial challenges, and endorses the very theory of unlimited executive power which Hamdan just days ago rejected (and in the process, rendered the administration's FISA-prohibited eavesdropping on Americans a clear violation of the criminal law)," writes Glenn Greenwald, an attorney and first amendment expert. "With this bill, Specter—the self-proclaimed defender of Congressional power—did more to bolster the administration's radical executive power theories than anything the administration could have dreamed of doing on their own, especially in the wake of Hamdan (permit me here to apologize for all of those times I tepidly defended Specter by characterizing as unduly pessimistic and cynical predictions that he could cave completely; the humiliations he is willing, even eager, to publicly endure are without limits).''

"Barely two weeks after Hamdan, which appeared to be the most important separation of powers decision in our generation," writes Jack Balkin, the Yale Law School lawyer who specializes in constitutional law and director of Information Society Project, "the Executive is about to get back everything it lost in that decision, and more."

Encapsulated in this bill are several measures that essentially reinforce Bush's warrentless surveillance and/or give him more ways to do it. The bill:

  • gives the administration greater flexibility in making emergency applications to the FISA court; it extends the grace period (the time period where the president can order a wiretap before applying for a warrant) from 3 days to a week.
  • would allow for roving wiretaps instead of taps that pick up a specific phone line or email address
  • says monitoring a call between two overseas locations that is transmitted through the U.S. would NOT need FISA approval
  • does not require the government to get a warrant for each individual case; basically, under "the constitutional authority of the executive" it would allow the administration to tap into anyone's phone or computer without judicial approval
  • says that if the NSA program is taken before the FISA court, even if it is found unconstitutional, the court will consider an explanation about how the program is "reasonably designed to ensure that the communications intercepted involve a terrorist agent of a terrorist or someone reasonably believed to have communications associated with a terrorist." (i.e. the very argument the White House has previously been using to justify its actions)
  • "Other than that," Martin remarked, "it's a great bill."

    We'll tell you what you said, but don't tell anyone, OK?

    | Fri Jul. 14, 2006 2:55 AM EDT

    So Jose Padilla is getting to see "government secrets" to help prepare his defense, an "unusual" move for which security will be "extraordinarily tight": The guy who was, with such exquisitely convenient timing, accused of plotting a dirty bomb attack, and is now getting ready for trial on terrorism charges, will have to go with his defense lawyers to the inner sanctum of a courthouse, with a U.S. marshal standing in the doorway at all times. And those explosive, double super secrets? "32 Defense Department documents that summarize statements Padilla made during his years in military custody" as well as "57 videotapes of interrogations he underwent during that same period." Forgive us if we're missing something here...

    Plame Sues Cheney, Rove, and Libby

    | Thu Jul. 13, 2006 7:58 PM EDT

    rove_265x182.jpg
    Photo: AP

    AP reports:

    The CIA officer whose identity was leaked to reporters sued Vice President Dick Cheney, his former top aide and presidential adviser Karl Rove on Thursday, accusing them and other White House officials of conspiring to destroy her career.

    In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador, accused Cheney, Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of revealing Plame's CIA identity in seeking revenge against Wilson for criticizing the Bush administration's motives in Iraq.

    Here's the complaint.

    ACLU files suit on behalf of New York corrections officers

    | Thu Jul. 13, 2006 7:14 PM EDT

    The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today against the New York City Department of Correction on behalf of two female officers who claim they faced both discrimination and retaliation when they reported sexual and physical assaults by male officers.

    "There are supposed to be procedures that protect officers who have been assaulted, but they have proven hollow, and I've been punished for speaking out," says one of the plantiffs, Danielle Simmonds. Simmonds was sexually assaulted by a male officer while she was on duty late at night. She says she followed departmental procedure and reported the assault, but that there was no response and she was given no protection. Her colleague, Sonya Henderson, was beaten severely by her then-partner, who was also her co-worker. He was arrested, but the DOC took no disciplinary action against him, despite his repeated violations of a court order of protection. The officer in charge of investigating the charge against Simmonds' perpetrator has never contacted her and has never returned her calls, though the incident occurred over a year ago.

    Both women maintain that they have been treated with "hostility and suspicion" by their supervisors and have been the objects of multiple disciplinary actions.