Political MoJo

Mapping Our Rights

Mon Jul. 10, 2006 5:18 PM EDT

A new interactive map created by a consortium of advocacy groups (Ipas, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective) colors the 50 states according to their level of sexual and reproductive freedom. Visually, the result is familiar: the darkest blues -- signifying the states with the least restrictive laws -- are clustered at the coasts. Moving inwards, states turn purple, crimson and finally, in an island chain stretching from North Dakota to Oklahoma, fire-engine red. Interestingly, though, Ohio, with its dearth of hate-crime laws and its myriad restrictions on abortions, ranks as the least free of any state (Oklahoma, by contrast, was merely #46). New Mexico, meanwhile, came in number one.

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Click on the image to go to the interactive map. (Requires Flash)

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Would Japan Go to War?

| Mon Jul. 10, 2006 3:15 PM EDT

The news today that Japan is "considering whether a pre-emptive strike on North Korea would violate its constitution" strikes me as significant. In half-century since World War II ended, Japan's pacifist constitution has forbidden the country from having an offensive military; only a defensive force is allowed. Under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Tokyo has been pushing against that limit for quite some time; not least in the unpopular decision to send troops to Iraq—to provide, in Koizumi's words "humanitarian assistance." So now the question is whether "pre-emptive strikes" fall in that gray area.

On the other hand, it sure seems like Japan's only talking about launching a pre-emptive strike on North Korea not because it would be a good idea—it wouldn't be—but because it just wants to scare China into handling North Korea. China presumably doesn't want to spend a lot of money on a costly arms race with Japan, and would rather calm down Kim Jong-Il than see Japan freak out and start gearing up for a pre-emptive strike. That's my guess, anyway. All a political gambit.

But then, who knows? Chalmers Johnson wrote a good article a while back about Japan's struggle with rearmament, and noted that a number of U.S. government types have been pushing Japan to revise article nine of the constitution and become a significant military force in the Far East, all in order to "counterbalance" China—proving once again that the so-called "China hawks" are probably a greater threat to world peace than most of the tinpot dictators we seem to spend so much time obsessing over.

Lieberman Goes on the Attack

Mon Jul. 10, 2006 2:58 PM EDT

Ned Lamont has attracted a lot of attention for scaring incumbent Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut. (Last week, the man who came a Supreme Court decision away from the vice-presidency announced that he will collect enough signatures to appear on the ballot in November even if he loses the primary.) But Slate's John Dickerson was less than impressed with Lamont's performance in the candidates' debate last week: he says the debate revealed Lamont to be more "conduit" than "candidate."

That may be, but Lieberman's response to the Lamont campaign is telling. Accused of being more Republican than Democrat, Lieberman responded this weekend with an accusation of his own: "I am not a Republican! You are a Republican!" (Note: not his exact words.) Lamont may be a political novice—he may not even have any policy ideas beyond withdrawing US troops from Iraq—but a closet Republican? With nonsense like this flying around, and the Democratic primary still a month away, it's going to be an ugly few weeks in Connecticut.

"We haven't even begun to understand where our enemy is coming from."

| Mon Jul. 10, 2006 2:44 PM EDT

More on the administration's puzzling decision to fold up the CIA's bin Laden-tracking unit despite plentiful evidence that OBL's inspirational role remains undiminished. Michael Scheuer, the unit's first head, puts the move down to what the Guardian calls "bureaucratic jealousies," and says it'll hurt U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Here are some quotes from Scheuer (Guardian).

On the unique value of the unit...

What it robs you of is a critical mass of officers who have been working on this together for a decade. We had a breed of specialists rare in an intelligence community that prides itself on generalists. It provided a base from which to build a cadre of people specialising in attacking Sunni extremist operations, who sacrificed promotions and other emoluments in their employment in the clandestine service, where specialists were looked on as nerds. ...

On bin Laden's role...

How do you explain the fact that he is able to dominate international media whenever he wants to?

Bin Laden has always said the main activity of al-Qaida is the instigation ... of Muslims to jihad.

All of the people who have been picked up have said they were inspired by Bin Laden, that they trained in their own countries and used information picked up on the internet.

So the fire that Bin Laden was trying to set is what we are beginning to see around the world and, unfortunately, nowhere more than in the west.

On those bureaucratic jealousies...

From the very beginning, Alec [the unit] was an anomaly in that it was not subordinated to any area division, and it was given the authority to communicate with overseas stations - with or without the permission of area divisions. That caused a great deal of heartburn among very senior leaders at the agency.

And on the special challenges of combating Al Qaeda and the jihadist threat generally...

One of the things that really slowed down the western response to Sunni extremists, but al-Qaida specifically, is that when intelligence agents looked at a group made up of Yemenis, Egyptians, Saudis, Algerians and converts, the natural response was to say, 'That is not going to last 10 minutes. They can't get along together.' It took a long time for people to realise we were seeing an animal of a very unique nature. We haven't even begun to understand where our enemy is coming from.

More Illegal Spy Programs?

| Mon Jul. 10, 2006 2:26 PM EDT

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.

Health Care Kills in California Prisons

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 7:37 PM EDT

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.

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Defending the homeland...from Gomez and Ramirez

| Fri Jul. 7, 2006 7:26 PM EDT

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 5:29 PM EDT

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 5:05 PM EDT

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 4:27 PM EDT

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