Political MoJo

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.

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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.

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

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    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.

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    Gaza Resolution Vetoed

    Thu Jul. 13, 2006 6:48 PM EDT

    The United States vetoed a UN resolution today that would have condemned Israel's military offensive in Gaza. Haaretz, the Israeli daily, reported that it was the first time a UN Security Council was vetoed in nearly two years. The last veto, not surprisingly, was also cast by the U.S. to thwart a resolution condemning Israel's excessive use of force against Palestinians in Gaza. According to The Jewish Virtual Library, the US has vetoed 40 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel since 1972.

    Why Invade Lebanon Now?

    | Thu Jul. 13, 2006 6:04 PM EDT

    Not surprisingly, The New Republic is busting out the pom-poms and cheering on Israel's latest incursion into Lebanon. Here are two telling quotes:

    The attacks [by Hamas and Hezbollah] were unprovoked, except by the attackers' view of the world. Israel has rightly chosen to regard these provocations very seriously, and so far it has earned the sympathy of decent observers everywhere. ...

    Hezbollah has always been Hamas's teacher in the great madrassa of anti-Israeli terrorism. Now the teacher has taken a cue from the student and taken its own Israeli hostages. Israel must now remind its adversaries that it was deadly in earnest when, decades ago, it proclaimed that it would tolerate no such aggression along its northern border.The first part, sloppy ad hominems aside (i.e., suggesting that anyone who disagrees shares "the attackers' view of the world"), basically makes a fair point as far as Lebanon is concerned: Hezbollah did launch an unprovoked attack and was wrong to do so. Israel may well have the "right" to respond (although thus far its actual response has been massively disproportionate and completely unjust). But just because they have the right doesn't mean it's the smart thing to do.

    As many people remember, "decades ago" when Israel "proclaimed that it would tolerate no such aggression along its northern border," as TNR put it, the end result was an occupation of southern Lebanon that didn't really solve much of anything. And it's hard to imagine that going in immediately, bombing a bunch of Lebanese civilians and disabling the Beirut airport, and potentially turning Lebanon into a failed state is going to solve much of anything this time around, either.

    That's especially true given the other options that were available here. The UN has long demanded that Hezbollah disarm and it's quite possible that a greater amount of diplomatic pressure could've potentially been brought to bear on Lebanon by the international community before full-scale war "needed" to be launched. Meanwhile, it appears that the Bush administration's preferred solution to this crisis is to ramp up tensions with Iran. That should end well, no doubt.

    The Hidden War on Women in Iraq

    | Thu Jul. 13, 2006 4:48 PM EDT

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    Photo: AP

    The rape and murder of an Iraqi girl by American soldiers is a focus of media attention right now, but the larger issue of what's happened to the majority of Iraqi women in war-ravaged, occupied Iraq goes largely unexamined. Via Tomdispatch, Ruth Rosen takes up a crucial but overlooked question: What has the U.S. "liberation" of Iraq meant for that country's women?

    Like women everywhere, Iraqi women have always been vulnerable to rape. But since the American invasion of their country, the reported incidence of sexual terrorism has accelerated markedly. -- and this despite the fact that few Iraqi women are willing to report rapes either to Iraqi officials or to occupation forces, fearing to bring dishonor upon their families. In rural areas, female rape victims may also be vulnerable to "honor killings" in which male relatives murder them in order to restore the family's honor. "For women in Iraq," Amnesty International concluded in a 2005 report, "the stigma frequently attached to the victims instead of the perpetrators of sexual crimes makes reporting such abuses especially daunting."

    This specific rape of one Iraqi girl, however, is now becoming symbolic of the way the Bush administration has violated Iraq's honor; Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has already launched an inquest into the crime. In an administration that normally doesn't know the meaning of an apology, the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad and the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. both publicly apologized. In a fierce condemnation, the Muslim Scholars Association in Iraq denounced the crime: "This act, committed by the occupying soldiers, from raping the girl to mutilating her body and killing her family, should make all humanity feel ashamed."

    Shame, yes, but that is hardly sufficient. After all, rape is now considered a war crime by the International Criminal Court. ...

    No one accuses American soldiers of running through the streets of Iraq, raping women as an instrument of war against the insurgents (though such acts are what caused three Bosnian soldiers, for the first time in history, to be indicted in 2001 for the war crime of rape).

    Still, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has had the effect of humiliating, endangering, and repressing Iraqi women in ways that have not been widely publicized in the mainstream media: As detainees in prisons run by Americans, they have been sexually abused and raped; as civilians, they have been kidnapped, raped, and then sometimes sold for prostitution; and as women -- and, in particular, as among the more liberated women in the Arab world -- they have increasingly disappeared from public life, many becoming shut-ins in their own homes.

    Read the full article at MotherJones.com.

    P.S. David Enders wrote last year from Baghdad for MJ.com on women and sharia in Iraq.

    Will Specter Rein In the White House?

    | Thu Jul. 13, 2006 4:22 PM EDT

    I'm not sure what to make of Arlen Specter's latest proposed bill that would authorize the FISA court to review the constitutionality of the Bush administration's domestic spying program. It seems like a step to bring oversight to the program, and to determine whether it's legal or not, but why couldn't this have been done with from the beginning? And what if the FISA court finds that the administration has been acting illegally all this time? At any rate, as with most "policy shifts" from the White House these days, this strikes me as quite suspicious, so I'll hold off rejoicing until we learn more.