Political MoJo

More on the India Nuke Deal

| Tue Mar. 7, 2006 1:15 PM PST

Fred Kaplan gets at some of the problems with the Bush administration's recent nuclear deal with India. Among other worries, India could start building fast-breeder reactors—which can be used to build lots and lots of plutonium bombs—inside its unmonitored military facilities. The whole thing also undermines the Non-Proliferation Treaty: after all, if the U.S. can offer India nuclear technology without requiring the latter to disarm (or even, more weakly, put a moratorium on new weapons), what's to stop Russia and China from offering, say, Pakistan or Iran a similar deal?

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Chinese Censor Ang Lee

Tue Mar. 7, 2006 12:09 PM PST

An AP headline today reads, "Chinese newspaper praises director Ang Lee"—the Academy Award-winning director of Brokeback Mountain. "Ang Lee is the pride of Chinese people all over the world, and he is the glory of Chinese cinematic talent," said China Daily, the official newspaper of China, in a front-page article. But Lee is actually from Taiwan, a detail the People's Republic of China would prefer to omit, since Taiwan is still claimed by China.

And despite the country's praise for Lee's award, Brokeback Mountain is actually banned in China, seen only by those who can get their hands on a pirated copy. Moreover, Chinese censors edited Lee's acceptance speech at the Oscars down for public consumption, taking out both his thanks to "everyone in Taiwan" and his gratitude to "the two gay cowboys." (Until 2001, the Chinese Psychiatric Association considered homosexuality a disease, treatable with shock therapy.)

Supreme Court Backs Military Recuriters

Tue Mar. 7, 2006 11:51 AM PST

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that universities must open their doors to military recruiters if they want to continue receiving federal funds, even if those universities oppose the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Many university law schools had claimed that being forced to associate with the recruiters was an infringement of their free speech rights. But in his unanimous opinion Justice John Roberts countered this argument, citing the federal law that requires universities to accept recruiters in order to receive funding:

Republicans for South Dakota's Abortion Ban

| Mon Mar. 6, 2006 6:42 PM PST

Further evidence that John McCain is no "moderate":

A spokesperson said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would have signed the South Dakota [abortion] legislation, "but [he] would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included."
But, of course, the just-signed law criminalizing virtually all abortions in the state doesn't contain exceptions for rape or incest (it does, however, as Digby notes, contain a "sodomized virgin exception"). And McCain's not the only one: Gov. Mitt Romney (MA) and Sen. George Allen (R-VA)—both top contenders for the GOP's presidential nomination in 2008—are also endorsing the coat-hanger law.

After promising to help families with disabled children, Bush cuts their funding

| Mon Mar. 6, 2006 4:00 PM PST

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed in 1975 and amended in 2004, entitles all children with disabillities to a "free appropriate public education," and currently covers 7 million children. In February, George W. Bush promised to "work to remove barriers that still confront Americans with disabilities and their families." However, as with most of Bush's promises, this one means something other than what it says.

The 2007 White House budget proposes to save $3.6 billion over five years by eliminating key Medicaid funding that helps disabled children. According to Representatives George Miller and Lynn Woolsey, the funds Bush wants to cut are used to provide medical equipment for buses, provide transportation to medical appointments, and cover the administrative costs of identifying children who need special medical and educational services.

In addition to cutting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by $6 billion, Bush has also proposed a cut of $15 billion for the No Child Left Behind Act. And, as Think Progress points out, America's children have already been harmed by the Medicaid cuts made in January. which caused 39,000 children to lose their Medicaid coverage altogether.

The Case for Impeachment

Mon Mar. 6, 2006 3:38 PM PST

A newly-released book, Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush, lays out the legal case against the president. Written by experts at the Center for Constitutional Rights, the book makes four main allegations; "warrantless surveillance, misleading Congress on the reasons for the Iraq war, violating laws against torture, and subverting the Constitution's separation of powers." Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution provides that the president may be impeached for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

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Nuclear Double Standards

| Mon Mar. 6, 2006 2:29 PM PST

Fred Kaplan has a good column today on why people should worry about a nuclear-armed Iran. "We may end up having to live with a nuclear Iran, but it won't be easy to manage; it shouldn't be shrugged at." That seems right. Iran probably would never give a bomb to terrorists, as some fear, but among other things, Kaplan worries that a nuclear Iran could think itself invincible and start provoking conflicts without fear of retaliation. Or, if the chain-of-command and safeguards are shoddy, Iran could accidentally carry out a nuclear attack, as Pakistan nearly did in 2001.

Can't say he's wrong. But those concerns don't just apply to Iran; they're exactly why it's a bad thing when anyone gets nuclear weapons; you never know who might have a hand on the red button. Here in the United States, the inmates in charge have at various times considered revising the nuclear doctrine to include the use of "low-yield" nuclear weapons. Is that really so much less scary than the prospect that Iran may develop its own little atomic bomb some day?

But that's just an argument in favor of figuring out how to create a "nuclear-free" Middle East—not to mention strengthening arms-control treaties around the world—in order to limit everyone's access to nuclear weapons, rather than merely the "bad" countries we happen to think are dangerous. Unfortunately—and Fred Kaplan himself had another good column on this a few days before—the White House now distinguishes between "good" and "bad" nuclear powers, as evinced by its latest nuclear deal with India (which completely violates the actually-quite-successful Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). It's the sort of double-standard that could make nonproliferation even more difficult, and doesn't necessarily reduce the risk that people could still do dangerous things with nuclear weapons.

Why Not a Line-Item Veto?

| Mon Mar. 6, 2006 1:01 PM PST

So President Bush wants to bring back the line-item veto as a way of reining in spending. The veto would allow him to strip away any earmark that he doesn't like from a bill without vetoing the entire bill—a power that would, theoretically, be good for cutting out "wasteful" congressional pork. President Clinton was granted similar authority by Congress in 1996, though the Supreme Court eventually struck the veto down, saying it violated the separation of powers and gave "the president the unilateral power to change the text of duly enacted statues." Presumably the Bush administration thinks their version can pass constitutional muster this time around (or that the Roberts Court will look more kindly on executive power grabs).

This isn't the biggest deal in the world, but it's a decent indication of how unserious the administration is about reining in spending. Frankly, the line-item veto isn't all that effective as a cost-cutting measure: In the eight months that Clinton wielded it he managed to shave off a scant $500 million off the budget. That's a pittance. Pork isn't a big part of the federal budget, and never will be. And anyway, most of the time, Congress had no problem overriding Clinton's cuts. The evidence from the states is no more persuasive: In the 43 states that allow the veto, governors rarely use it, and state legislatures usually just end up vote-trading to divert spending from one wasteful project to another.

No, the only real appeal of the veto lies in its political potential. Clinton occasionally used his power to punish uncooperative Republicans by denying them local projects, as when he struck down tax breaks for Idaho Potato Farmers, just to stick it to one of his more vocal opponents, Sen. Larry Craig. This president could do the same—he could, for instance, influence congressional races by denying Democrats the ability to win votes back home through earmarks, while allowing Republicans to pork out to their hearts content. What would stop him? The opportunities for abuses of power are limitless, and it's silly to think that this president wouldn't take advantage of them. (Brian Doherty's concerns along these lines seem pretty cogent -- and that's from a libertarian.)

National Guard veteran's widow hopes to get pentacle engraved on husband's memorial

| Fri Mar. 3, 2006 3:04 PM PST

The Goddess brings us news that National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart's Northern Nevada Veterans' Memorial Cemetery memorial is blank. Stewart died in Afghanistan in September when his Chinook helicopter was shot down. He was a member of the Wiccan religion, which is not recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for use in veterans' cemeteries. Consequently, his widow's request that a pentacle, the symbol of Wicca, be placed on his memorial, was denied.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and its National Cemetery Administration prohibit graphics on government-furnished headstones that have not been approved as "emblems of belief."

It is obvious from the lengthy list of already-approved emblems that the NCA has been willing to recognize a wide variety of religions, and so it is no surprise that Lt. Col. Robert Harrington, battalion commander of the Nevada National Guard, believes that Stewart will get his pentacle. Roberta Stewart says that she has received a lot of support from the military community to have the emblem included, and Congressman Jim Gibbons has stated he would like to see the Department of Veterans Affairs act quickly on the application.

Avoiding the Torture Ban

| Fri Mar. 3, 2006 2:15 PM PST

Good to see that the Justice Department is taking Congress' ban on torture seriously:

In federal court yesterday and in legal filings, Justice Department lawyers contended that a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cannot use legislation drafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to challenge treatment that the detainee's lawyers described as "systematic torture."

...."Unfortunately, I think the government's right; it's a correct reading of the law," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "The law says you can't torture detainees at Guantanamo, but it also says you can't enforce that law in the courts."Oh, it's one of those unenforceable torture bans. Well why didn't anyone say so? If anyone knows any Kafka references that aren't stale and overused yet, let us know, we could use a fresh supply. Meanwhile, Kevin Drum's probably right to blame John McCain here (although the Bush administration is obviously the main problem here). Whether McCain intended all of this to happen or not, it's pretty clear that when he agreed to the Graham amendment in the same anti-torture bill, which stripped Guantanamo detainees of their right to challenge their detention in federal court, he pretty much did exactly what the White House wanted him to do. As Kevin says: "[McCain]'s certainly mastered the art of sounding reasonable, but it's only an inch deep. Underneath, he's just a standard issue right wing politician."

It might be worse than "standard issue." Digby notes that McCain is currently wildly popular around the country, among both Republicans and Democrats. That's going to be something to watch in the coming years, especially if he runs for president in 2008. All things considered, McCain is even more radical than Bush, especially on foreign policy—among other things, he's talked about ramping up the number of troops in Iraq and going after Iran with military force. And apart from a somewhat sensible approach to the environment—which will no doubt get scuttled once those "bundled" industry donations start pouring in, come 2007—he's not "liberal" in any sense of the word.