Political MoJo

What do they do, sell the stuff on Ebay?

| Thu Jul. 6, 2006 3:06 AM EDT

It's always fun, the annual roundup of gift-giving to U.S. officials from foreign dignitaries; under current ethics rules, presents worth more than $305 are considered property of the U.S. government while those less than that are the recipient's to keep, though exactly what you'd do with "a 16-inch bronze statuette of an Arab man helping a woman from a bath, mounted on a black-slate base, valued at $300" is not entirely clear (you'd have to ask former CIA head George Tenet, who got the artwork from an unnamed foreign official). Hillary Clinton turned a Versace wallet she was given in India over to the State Department, whose rummage sales must be something to see. Donald Rumsfeld, meanwhile, didn't get to keep the $380 aromatherapy gift set he got from the Jordanian royals around Christmas '04. Pity that.

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Oceans getting more acidic, threatening corals

| Wed Jul. 5, 2006 8:31 PM EDT

In news of ocean degradation unrelated to Rep. Richard Pombo, a new report finds that all this CO2 we're putting in the atmosphere is making the world's oceans more acidic, threatening to destroy coral reefs and "creatures that underpin the sea's food web." One climate scientist calls the trend "the single most profound environmental change I've learned about in my entire career."(Washington Post)

For more on the sorry state of our oceans, see Mother Jones' recent cover story here. Learn what you can do to turn the tide here. And find out more about coral reefs here and here.

Will Bush flip-flop on immigration?

| Wed Jul. 5, 2006 8:01 PM EDT

Joe Klein is going to be terribly disappointed. Here he is writing in May about the split between the White House and the Congressional GOP over immigration policy. The column ran under the headline, "Bush Is Smart on the Border--and the G.O.P. Isn't"

George W. Bush's position on immigration has been consistent and honorable, even when he was clawing his way toward the Republican nomination in 2000, facing conservative audiences who inevitably asked hostile questions about the Mexicans coming across the border. ... He stood by his principles again last week in his prime-time speech, promising to make a greater effort to protect the border while refusing to cave to conservative pressure against a pathway toward citizenship for the 12 million illegals already here. ...[I]t is never easy going against your party's base. ...

[T]he strongest feelings against immigrants tend to come from the places—red-state rural counties—where immigrants don't exist: 59% of voters in counties where immigrants make up less than 5% of the population believe that all illegals should be deported. That constituency is as ancient as the Republic, perennially exploited by unscrupulous politicians who are willing to play to their racial fears—the Democrats for a century after the Civil War, the Republicans ever since.

Today comes word that Bush is signalling, as the New York Times puts it, "a new willingness to negotiate with House Republicans in an effort to revise the stalled [immigration] legislation before Election Day.

Republicans both inside and outside the White House say Mr. Bush, who has long insisted on comprehensive reform, is now open to a so-called enforcement-first approach that would put new border security programs in place before creating a guest worker program or path to citizenship for people living in the United States illegally. ...

Polls show the public is deeply troubled by the problem of illegal immigration, and Mr. Bush, who has made the issue his domestic policy initiative, is eager for a victory on Capitol Hill. But a carefully constructed White House strategy to prod the House and Senate into compromise collapsed last month when skittish House Republicans opted for field hearings instead. ...

One major question is whether Mr. Bush would give up on a path to citizenship for some of the estimated 11 million to 12 million people living here illegally. He has said repeatedly that it is impractical to deport those who have lived in the United States for a long time and built lives here; the Senate bill permits some longtime illegal residents to become eligible for citizenship if they learned English and paid taxes and a fine. ...

Whether Mr. Bush would accept that is not clear. Aides to Mr. Bush, including Karl Rove, the White House chief political strategist, and Tony Snow, the press secretary, say he remains adamant that any bill must address the status of the immigrants who are here illegally.

But one Republican close to the White House, granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, predicted that Mr. Bush would ultimately abandon the idea of a path to citizenship.

And if he does, immigration reform will die this year, and it'll be much harder to make a case for Bush's "consistency and honor" on the issue.

Hillary Clinton: No-mentum for an Independent Lieberman run

| Wed Jul. 5, 2006 7:08 PM EDT

Sen. Clinton, as reported by AP:

I've known Joe Lieberman for more than 30 years. I have been pleased to support him in his campaign for reelection and hope that he is our party's nominee.

But I want to be clear that I will support the nominee chosen by Connecticut Democrats in their primary. Ibelieve in the Democratic Party, and I believe we must honor the decisions made by Democratic primary voters.

The Lamont folks are loving it, of course.

Back from Iraq, vets face homelessness

| Wed Jul. 5, 2006 6:44 PM EDT

From AP, via the Seattle Times, a now familiar story: hundreds of soldiers back from putting their lives on the line in Iraq have sunk into a life of homelessness.

There are from 200,000 to 300,000 homeless vets in the United States, 10 percent from 1991 Gulf War or the current one, 40 percent from Vietnam. Veterans are overrepresented in the homeless population. (Forty percent of homeless men are veterans, although veterans comprise only 34 percent of the general adult male population.) The AP report notes some are suffering residual stress that makes it tough for them to adjust to civilian life; some have a hard time navigating government-assistance programs; others just can't afford a place to live.

Contrary to what we might think, though, homelessness is not clearly related to combat experience--at least according to studies cited by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Research in fact shows that homeless veterans appear less likely to have served in combat than housed veterans; also, veterans at greatest risk of homelessness are those who served during the late Vietnam and post-Vietnam era; and homeless veterans are more likely to be white, better educated, and previously or currently married than homeless nonveterans.

For the most part, homeless veterans are prey to the same larger trends that afflict the general homeless population: lack of affordable housing, declining job opportunities, and stagnating wages.

North Korea Launches a Dud

| Wed Jul. 5, 2006 4:41 PM EDT

As the headlines are all telling us today, North Korea test-fired a bunch of missiles this morning. And the country's much-rumored and much-hyped long-range missile was, as far as we know, a dud, plopping into the Sea of Japan with barely a whimper. The rest were short-range missiles that have been tested before and pose no threat to the United States. So Kim Jong-Il isn't the all-powerful adversary with the ability to incinerate Los Angeles and Seattle after all.

A few points to note. Obviously North Korea's done a bad thing here, and no one should be happy about anyone firing missiles anywhere anywhere, but all things considered, this seems to augur well. North Korea has now fumbled away one of its few bargaining chips. And the United States can no longer overinflate the threat of North Korea and still be taken seriously. So perhaps this means the two sides can now go back to the negotiating table and try to work out their differences like grown-ups.

The botched test also lays bare the foolishness of various suggestions a few weeks back that we should launch a "pre-emptive" strike against North Korea, which was always a ridiculous proposition. (As Jim Henley put it, William Perry and Ashton Carter were basically envisioning a country "so crazy it might nuke the United States without provocation but so sane it won't retaliate with provocation ") And finally, Philip Coyle of the Center for Defense Information notes the fact that the U.S. military is, at present, apparently unable to tell whether North Korea fired six or ten missiles or what. That hardly bodes well for missile defense advocates, no? Hard to stop incoming rockets if you can't even figure out how many have been launched…

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Editorial pages toe the administration line on Iraq

| Wed Jul. 5, 2006 4:15 PM EDT

Greg Mitchell, the editor of Editor & Publisher, has a strong column out today noting that one month after pundits and editorialists, following the approved administration line, declared that the situation in Iraq was on the upswing, the death toll continues to mount.

One more thing remains stupefying and typical: the refusal of newspaper editorial pages to protest above a whisper or support any kind of plan for withdrawal (slow, speedy or in-between). When the history of this war is written, this editorial lethargy will receive just as much condemnation as the faulty reporting on WMD before the war, I believe. ...

Newspaper reporters in Iraq have provided honest, probing and tough-minded coverage of the occupation, despite the danger and others restrictions that hinder their work. But editorial writers and pundits back home have displayed only a fraction of the reporters' courage. Instead they offer feeble faith in staying the course. When the Democrats finally forced the first real debate on withdrawal in Congress last month, few newspapers bothered to comment editorially -- one way or the other. In a few months we will have been in Iraq as long as we were in World War II.

Worth a read. Meanwhile David Corn, writing at TomPaine.com, swats down the ridiculous (and self-interested) conservative line that the New York Times has "declared war" on the Bush administration. As if! "Only someone who didn't read the newspapers could believe it has."

Hunt for Bin Laden Called Off

Wed Jul. 5, 2006 3:47 PM EDT

NPR reported reported on July 3 that the CIA has closed its bin Laden-tracking unit and reassigned its members to other posts. Intelligence officials told the New York Times that "the realignment reflects a view that Al Qaeda is no longer as hierarchical as it once was… and a growing concern about Qaeda-inspired groups that have begun carrying out attacks independent of Mr. bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri." Others said the move reflected changing priorities as the war in Iraq "has stretched the resources" of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

The war on terror has clearly evolved since the days of "wanted: dead or alive." Bin Laden may be less powerful as an individual, though not everyone agrees on that (writing in Terrorism Focus, a former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit said his two recent speeches "strongly suggest that bin Laden remains in control of al-Qaeda"). But as a nation with over 130,000 troops deployed in Iraq, we are also undoubtedly a lot easier to hit. It's good news that the CIA is evolving to stay on top of threats to Americans' safety—just too bad those threats are so much easier to come by these days.

Ann Coulter, Plagiarist?

Wed Jul. 5, 2006 3:43 PM EDT

Move over, Jayson Blair. The New York Post reported on Sunday that Ann Coulter—whom we already knew to be an egomaniacal loon—apparently also holds distinction as a plagiarizer:

John Barrie, the creator of a leading plagiarism-recognition system, claimed he found at least three instances of what he calls "textbook plagiarism" in the leggy blond pundit's "Godless: the Church of Liberalism" after he ran the book's text through the company's digital iThenticate program.

He also says he discovered verbatim lifts in Coulter's weekly column, which is syndicated to more than 100 newspapers, including the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Sun-Sentinel and Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle. As it turns out, accusations to this effect have been circulating on the web for at least a year. And it is from one of these online muckrakers that we get this humorous follow-up to the Post's story:

So what happens when a columnist is found using other's words without attribution? I called Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes Coulter's column to over 100 newspapers.

What's the story? I asked Kathie Kerr, the company's media relations chief. Is your company considering any action against Coulter? Will there be any fallout? "I think [Coulter] is the one that needs to address this," Kerr told me at first.

I noted that in other plagiarism cases -- Jayson Blair, for instance -- the response was not left up to the writer. Indeed, in that case the New York Times and its editors bore responsibility for his misdeeds.

"After the investigation is complete and the allegations are proven correct, that's right," she told me.

So is there an investigation into Coulter's writings? "Not that I know of," Kerr replied.Meanwhile, Ann Coulter's own website has posted a link entitled "Mallard Fillmore on Latest Accusation Against Coulter." nfortunately for us, the Fillmore cartoon it leads to is in answer to another "accusation" entirely: namely, that Coulter has "been hogging the New York Times bestseller list for the past several years." That line of attack, at least, we can be pretty sure she wrote herself.

Ken Lay dies...

| Wed Jul. 5, 2006 3:43 PM EDT

..."from what appears to have been a heart attack." (Bloomberg)

enron.jpg

So much for the nest egg...