Political MoJo

"...crime-ridden, obsessed with money and led by an incompetent hypocrite."

| Mon Jul. 3, 2006 10:06 PM EDT

Some special relationship. According to a new poll British folks have never had such a low opinion of the leadership of the United States, with only 12 per cent of Britons trusting them "to act wisely on the global stage." (Twice that number had faith in U.S. leadership in 1975, Vietnam notwithstanding.) Reports the Telegraph.

Most Britons see America as a cruel, vulgar, arrogant society, riven by class and racism, crime-ridden, obsessed with money and led by an incompetent hypocrite. ...

More than two-thirds who offered an opinion said America is essentially an imperial power seeking world domination. And 81 percent of those who took a view said President George W Bush hypocritically championed democracy as a cover for the pursuit of American self-interests.

A U.S. embassy spokesman offered this response: "With respect to the poll's assertions about American society, we bear some of the blame for not successfully communicating America's extraordinary dynamism. But frankly, so do you [the British press]."

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Revealed! How the Republican Party really works (and why Hillary will be the nominee, and...)

| Mon Jul. 3, 2006 5:42 PM EDT

Our man in Washington, Jim Ridgeway, filed a dispatch last week reporting on a breakfast with conservative political guru Grover Norquist (about whom there's lots more in Michael Scherer's Mother Jones profile). Now you, too, can be transported to the American Prospect-sponsored meeting via the magic of audio. Grab some coffee and refrigerator-cold Danishes to recreate the setting, put up your feet, and listen to Norquist explain how the right manages to hold together a "low-maintenance coalition" of gun owners, home schoolers, businesses (not including the kind who want big government subsidies—that's a different coalition) and various faith activists, by catering to them on only their "primary vote-moving issues" and to hell with all the rest.

On the issue that moves their vote, what they want from the government is to be left alone. They want to be left alone to practice their religion and raise their kids in that faith and not have schools throwing prophylactics at kids etc. That's why on the right, we're able to have evangelical Protestants, Pentecostals, as well as conservative Catholics and conservative Muslims and orthodox Jews etc. who may not agree on who goes to heaven and why, but they understand that if they are to have the right to raise their kids and go to heaven, the pagans over there have to have the same right to raise their kids to go to Hades.

So you've got Pat Buchanan and others saying there are all these fissures, on secondary and tertiary issues. But on the primary vote-moving issues, everyone has their foot in the center and they're not in conflict on anything. The guy who wants to spend all day counting his money, the guy who wants to spend all day fondling his weaponry, and the guy who wants to be in church all day, may look at each other and say, "Well that's pretty weird, and that's not what I want to do with my spare time, but that does not threaten my ability to go to church, have my guns, have my property, run my business, home school my kids.

And this handily helps explain why Republicans are the tax-and-spend party these days:

Spending is not a problem because it's not a primary vote-moving issue for anyone in the coalition. If you keep everybody happy on their primary issue and disappoint on a secondary issue, everyone grumbles, but no one walks out the door.

Bonus: How the left works, according to Norquist:

The way I see the vote-moving parts of the left, it's trial lawyers with resources, it's organized labor with resources, it's the two wings of the dependency movement—people who are locked into welfare and people who make $90,000 making sure they stay there—and what we cheerfully call the "coercive utopians" who spend their time telling us that toilets have to be too small to flush and cars have to be too small to have kids.

More (including Norquist responding to questions on his friend Jack Abramoff, on Social Security ("The otherwise very intelligent people at the White House made an error"), on Hillary and the Republican presidential field, on why the Republicans have kept the House and Senate election after election, and what Dems should say on the war:

The best position for Democratic Party is to stand here and go 'Bush and Iraq, how do you like that?' And then shut up. It's like the old joke, 'How's your wife?' 'Compared to what?' I know that there's this constant conversation, we've got to get a theme and all that, and at some point Republicans will say Democrats don't have any answers. But if you've had a problem hung around your neck, 'They don't have any answers' doesn't work as well.

In that spirit (and because a great debate, along with things like this, reminds us of what we love about America), go have a good Fourth.

Afghanistan's opium poppy crop bigger than ever

| Mon Jul. 3, 2006 4:08 PM EDT

What a difference a week makes. On June 26 word came from the U.N. that opium cultivation in Afghanistan was down by a fifth in 2005. Some claimed this as vindication of the U.S. drug interdiction strategy there; others noted the same U.N. report pointed to a likely surge in production this year.

Today, this (Independent):

In 2004, about 130,000 hectares of opium poppy was cultivated, which has been the largest so far, despite poor growing conditions that year. Better conditions across the country this year will help produce the largest tonnage of opium ever. But Afghanistan is already responsible for about 87 per cent of the world's opium and more than 90 per cent of the heroin consumed in Britain.

Hamid Karzai, the President, and his government announced last year ajihad on poppy production, backed by a near-$1bn campaign, led by the UK. It led to a fall by 21 per cent drop in the area under cultivation. Those gains have now been wiped out. [Italics mine]

Feinstein wasn't briefed on the bank monitoring program

| Mon Jul. 3, 2006 3:43 PM EDT

(Via Think Progress.) California' s Sen. Diane Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told George Stephanopoulous on ABC that, contrary to administration assurances that Congress was briefed on the government program that monitors bank records, she wasn't told about it until after word got out the New York Times was publishing the story. See the video.

Children's magazine looks like an Army recruiting tool to some

| Mon Jul. 3, 2006 3:06 PM EDT

The latest issue of Cobblestone, a magazine for children ages 9 to 14, features on its cover a photo of a soldier in Iraq clutching a machine gun. Inside, there are articles on boot camp, careers in the Army, and a detailed description of the Army's "awesome arsenal" of weapons.

The issue also contains a set of teachers' guides, one of which suggests teachers invite a soldier, Army recruiter or veteran to the classroom to talk with students and to ask them if they would one day consider joining the Army. Another suggests that teachers assign students to write an essay about which Army career they would like to pursue, and how they would persuade the recruiter to place them in that career.

There have been about a dozen official complaints to Carus Publishing, whose officials say that they will consider these criticisms in formulating future issues of the magazine. A spokesman said the magazine planned the issue a couple of years ago, and that "It just happened to come out at a time when the country's feelings are in a certain place" about the war in Iraq.

Cobblestone has a paid circulation of 30,000 and is distributed nationwide to schools and libraries.

(Un)Happy Birthday, Death Penalty!

| Sun Jul. 2, 2006 3:10 PM EDT

How time flies when you're killing people. Today marks the 30th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's lifting of the ban on capital punishment. And to celebrate, we've got ten executions scheduled for this month alone! Most of those, as usual, are in Southern states. In fact, as the Death Penalty Information Center reminds, the South has carried out 80 percent of all executions since 1976 – and yet still has the highest murder rate in the nation. The death penalty: deterrent, or just dumb?

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Prison Guards Lock Down Schwarzenegger

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 9:50 PM EDT

In a political about-face as sudden as it is short-sighted, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared that the way to fix the state's problem-wracked prisons is by building more of them and locking more convicts up inside them.

For the last two years, Big Arnold has pushed for a range of progressive reforms in the nation's biggest prison system, from releasing low-level female drug offenders into halfway houses to bringing back education and treatment programs – even adding the word "Rehabilitation" to the Department of Corrections official name.

Why? Because the prison population has hit a record 170,000, and reducing it makes obvious sense in a cash-strapped state that spends over $7 billion a year on incarceration and still has one of the worst recidivism rates in the country. Schwarzenegger was the first governor in years whose campaign wasn't bankrolled with the help of the prison guards' union, one of the state's most profligate political donors, which freed his hand on correctional policies. But now, suffering from sagging poll numbers and facing a fall election, Schwarzenegger has made an alliance with the powerful union; to prove it, this week he called for the construction of two brand new $500 million prisons, and for the defeat of a ballot initiative that would weaken California's notorious "three strikes you're out" law which has put thousands of minor offenders behind bars for life.

As a federal court investigator put it, Schwarzenegger is abandoning "one of the most productive periods of prison reform" in the state's history and giving the guards' union back a "disturbing" degree of say over incarceration policy. C'mon, Arnold - it wasn't that long ago that you were fighting for the freedom of all humans!

You can't leak something that's already overflowing

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 5:15 PM EDT

If anyone tells you that certain leftist newspapers like the Wall Street Journal (though they will probably say the New York Times, which is about as "leftist" as the WSJ) committed treason by leaking intelligence about the U.S.'s secret searches within a vast global database of confidential financial transactions--tell them to go to a "burning hot" place.

Really. Because that is where The Heretik is camped out, exposing the outrageousness of this claim. He explains that the Bush administration has been doing nothing but blabbing for years about its intention to spy on and monitor financial transactions as a way of fighting the so-called war on terror.

"George Bush should look in the mirror," The Heretik says, for "Nobody has done more to...tell terrorists we are on to them, on the financial trail which in some ways is going cold."

He then provides a chronological collection of statements by Bush, beginning September 24, 2001, in which he explains to the world over and over how the U.S. is tracking international financial transactions and freezing the assets of terrorists.

Except, of course, that didn't really happen. The Heretik points out that terrorists do not actually do business with Swift--what a surprise-- only with a few selected Swift banks, and that terrorist assets are easily and quickly converted to things like diamonds, gold and investments in front companies. However, as a result of the fishing expedition, millions of confidential Swift records have been released without authorization, violating privacy laws, and resulting in complaints lodged in thirty-two countries.

"The simple truth is terrorists need little money to do great harm." So says The Heretik. And he refers to Bryan Bender's Boston Globe story, in which Bender quotes former terror financing expert Victor D. Comras:

Unless they were pretty dumb, they had to assume their transactions were being monitored. We have spent the last four years bragging how effective we have been in tracking terrorist financing.

Is Prostitution Really Inevitable?

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 5:11 PM EDT

In the New Republic today, Michelle Cottle argues against Congress' brand new "pimp tax" idea, which aims to use the IRS to crack down on sex traffickers. This, I think, is a sharp point:

Obviously sex trafficking is a global atrocity...But the chairman's current proposal, which lumps together international sex traffickers with neighborhood pimps and down-on-their-luck working girls, comes with a built-in overreach that all but ensures that the agency's pursuit of sex criminals will wind up resembling its pursuit of tax cheats in general over the years: Overwhelmingly, the small fry are the ones netted since they are both the most abundant and the least able to defend themselves. [Here's a good example.]

Fair enough. A sincere effort to crack down on sex trafficking obviously wouldn't just give the IRS some token funding to hound "down-on-their-luck working girls." And there's certainly something to the criticism that many attempts to stop sex trafficking end up hurting women who become prostitutes "voluntarily" (yeah, those are scare quotes). The International Justice Mission, for instance, a Christian organization that helps the Thai police bust brothels, often "rescues" women who don't want to be freed. "We need to make money for our families," one woman said after a raid in 2001. "How can you do this to us?"

Press intimidation: Red meat for the Republican soul

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 3:44 PM EDT

Is it just me, or is the notion that Congress "expects the cooperation of all media news organizations" in keeping classified programs--including, presumably, manifestly illegal ones--secret...a little chilling?

The House of Representatives yesterday voted to condemn the decision by several newspapers to publish details of the Bush administration's secret program to track terrorist financing, in a swipe at the media aimed primarily at The New York Times.

The nonbinding "Sense of the Congress" resolution states that media organizations "may have placed the lives of Americans in danger" by revealing details of the classified program. It goes on to say that Congress "expects the cooperation of all news media organizations" in keeping classified programs secret (Boston Globe).

Hmm, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal all published stories on this, but a special mention for the New York Times (presumably in its role as proxy for elitist Blue America). Could this have to do with...politics?

Never mind that the administration itself has publicly discussed its monitoring of terrorist finances since 9/11; or that by at least one account the program had become decreasingly effective as terrorists got wise to the surveillance; or that the legality of the program has not been established. Never mind any of that. Republican lawmakers feel perfectly entitled to say the New York Times will have "blood...on their hands" (Rep. Peter King), that "loose lips kill American people" (Dennis Hastert), and that the disclosure "jeopardizes the safety of the American people" (John Boehner). This is bullying and demagoguery, plain and simple.

"Let's be honest: We are here today because there hasn't been enough red meat thrown at the Republican base before the Fourth of July holiday," [said Rep. James P. McGovern, a Worcester Democrat]. "The administration and its allies have no problem with leaks to the press when those leaks advance their political agenda. But if a leak contradicts their agenda, suddenly they call it treason."