Political MoJo

Yearly Kos: "If you really want to do something for marriage, raise the minimum wage..."

| Fri Jun. 9, 2006 6:18 PM EDT

Barbara Boxer was today's lunchtime speaker at YKC 06. The junior senator from California was introduced as "the model of what the netroots wants," owing to her liberal voting record and her position on the Iraq war. (She was one of 23 senators who voted against giving the president the go-ahead.)

The speech was rousing enough. The White House is "dangerously incompetent," and congress is "too eager to write the president a blank check and turn a blind eye," leaving an accountability void that bloggers and their readers have stepped in to fill. "You are the most powerful answer to [executive overreach]."

Boxer was good on the GOP's sudden rediscovery of that preeminent threat to American values, the liberal-homosexual war on marriage--"if you really want to do something for marriage, raise the minimum wage, provide people with health-care"--and on the question of whether it's worth Democrats' time to push for George W. Bush's impeachment: not. Republicans control congress, so the idea wouldn't go anywhere; and anyway, the American people would view it as an unhelpful distraction from important issues. "There's only one thing to do," she said. "Change the Congress." Fair enough.

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School of Americas Debated Again

| Fri Jun. 9, 2006 4:08 PM EDT

Via Cursor, I see the House is debating yet again whether to close the School of Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). Here's a good, totally objective place for background. Here too. Already, four South American countries (Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay) have in recent years stopped sending their officers for training at the school, which has graduated 62,000 officers and 11 dictators throughout its history, including Efraín Ríos Montt, Augusto Pinochet, and Roberto D'Aubuisson, the founder of death squads in El Salvador. Odds are, the House won't vote to shut the school down (Rep. Jim McGovern has been trying to get this done for years now), but might as well note the effort...

New Orleans area residents suffering from increased mental health problems

| Fri Jun. 9, 2006 4:07 PM EDT

Mental health experts report that depression, including suicidal depression, and posttraumatic stress have become increasingly common among people who were affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. An educated guess is that more than 260,000 people are newly affected by anxiety, depression and substance abuse disorders, and there are not enough professionals or facilities to accommodate them. To make matters worse, many behavioral health professionals are also suffering from some of the disorders brought on by the devastation of Katrina and its aftermath.

A well-known television producer killed himself when he lost everything in Katrina. Several doctors have committed suicide, and only last week, an animal rescuer killed herself. In the days following the hurricane, the suicide rate in Jefferson Parish was double what it had been in the same period of 2004. As the population of New Orleans goes down, the volume of mental health problems increases.

Posttraumatic stress disorder is certainly on the rise, and now that the 2006 hurricane season has begun, posttraumatic triggers will increase. Discussions of tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico, television footage of Katrina, Rita, and other big hurricanes, and repeated warnings about hurricane preparation cannot be avoided. One estimate is that a third of the people who lived through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.

To make matters worse, New Orleans area citizens continue to fight with their insurance agencies about the terms of their coverage, many have not yet decided whether to return to the city or have their houses razed, many are living in FEMA trailers or worse, and there is significant stress in homes housing more than one family or several extended family members. Add to that the unemployment or a lower level of employment since the hurricanes, and you have a formula for ever-increasing mental health issues.

People who were seriously mentally ill before the hurricane, or whose illnesses were made worse by the storm, cannot access hospital beds because of the low staffing in psychiatric hospitals.

In my own practice north of Lake Pontchartrain, I am seeing people who had problems prior to Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, but who were coping reasonably well. After losing their houses, jobs, money, or family members, however, they feel they can no longer cope with their daily routines, much less than the larger problems they face. Even people who lost nothing cannot erase the vidual images of people clinging to roofs, suffering in the Superdome, or having their pets taken from them and tossed into the street. A psychiatrist with whom I frequently talk said he is hearing the worst stories he has heard in his career.

Because of low staffing and caregiver stress, there is no solution in sight for what is now a mental health crisis.

Yearly Kos: "When you are a clean-money candidate you can basically give the finger to lobbyists. Which is a beautiful thing."

| Fri Jun. 9, 2006 2:50 PM EDT

Greetings from the Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas, where the netroots mingle with...overweight white people incapable of learning from repeated failures and helplessly chucking their money away on doomed long-shot bets. (That's right—the Democratic Party establishment.) YKC 06, as we insiders have learned to call it, shares space in the garishly carpeted convention center in the basement of the Riviera Hotel with…the NSA (The National Seniors Association, many of whose members appear to be wearing suspicious listening devices in arrogantly plain view) and the national "cue-sports" association.

More, when I figure it all out, on such details as the number of pale and underfed bloggers gathered here, not to mention the activists, mainstream media types, professional politicians, and starry-eyed blog groupies. (I will say for now that, as with most conferences, the panel discussions tend to be sparsely attended, with media folks overrepresented, while the big "keynote"-type events, like the speech last night by Markos Moulitsas-Zuniga (Kos), are packed, possibly owing to the availability of free food.) More, too, on YCK 06 as the progressive blogosphere's coming out party; more on the fact that such Democratic luminaries as Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi feel it necessary to make the pilgrimage here to touch the feet of Kos, this event's presiding deity. And more gratuitous and strained analogies between Democratic politics and the sublime human comedy that is Las Vegas.

For now, though, a word on an 8 a.m. panel I attended (yes, 8 a.m.! This Markos guy does have a sense of humor, after all). The subject was electoral reform and the speakers included grunge legend-turned activist Krist Noveselic of Nirvana fame and the estimable writer Micah L. Sifry. Sifry pointed out—and we all know this but it's worth belaboring—that money is screwing up American politics. The cost of waging a political campaign is massive and getting bigger all the time; prospective candidates who lack big-money backing might as well stay in bed; elected officials spend much or most of their time dialing for dollars and sucking up to donors rather than connecting with their constituents; and special interests buy special favors.

Sifry went on to argue that regulatory fixes (campaign spending limits, disclosure rules) are all fine and dandy, but what's really needed is…a paradigm shift (I know, I know; but hear him out…), one that breaks the dependency of political candidates on moneyed interests—a "clean-money" solution under which candidates, having proven their small-d democratic bona fides by amassing a sufficient number of small (say $5) contributions, receive enough public money to finance their campaigns and agree to forego any more private money. The great state of Maine has tried something similar with good results.

Seems to have potential in Arizona, too. One of the panelists was state representative Kyrsten Sinema, who, speaking from vivid experience, had this to say:

"When you are a clean-money candidate you can basically give the finger to lobbyists. Which is a beautiful thing."

For more on clean-money elections, see Fairvote.org, Public Campaign, and Cleanmoneyday.com.

Women's Rights in Basra Still Dismal

| Thu Jun. 8, 2006 7:23 PM EDT

I take it today's the day when everyone's supposed to be upbeat about Iraq, seeing as how Zarqawi was killed, and Iraqis across the country are, rightfully, ecstatic about the fact. Nevertheless, Terri Judd's report in the Independent on the state of women's rights deserves a reading:

Across Iraq, a bloody and relentless oppression of women has taken hold. Many women had their heads shaved for refusing to wear a scarf or have been stoned in the street for wearing make-up. Others have been kidnapped and murdered for crimes that are being labelled simply as "inappropriate behaviour". The insurrection against the fragile and barely functioning state has left the country prey to extremists whose notion of freedom does not extend to women.

In the British-occupied south, where Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army retains a stranglehold, women insist the situation is at its worst. Here they are forced to live behind closed doors only to emerge, concealed behind scarves, hidden behind husbands and fathers. Even wearing a pair of trousers is considered an act of defiance, punishable by death.Perhaps it's too obvious to need pointing out, but as a reminder, this is what's going on in Basra, the peaceful part of Iraq, where Shiites have—for the most part—set up a stable Islamic government in the provinces and insurgent violence, while not eradicated, is at a minimum. In other words, this is what "victory" in Iraq would look like. According to Judd's interviews, people in Basra say that laws setting aside 25 percent of the legislative seats for women have been a "smokescreen," and it's been impossible for those in power to do much to improve women's rights in the region.

Congress Approves Eye-Eating Fungus

| Thu Jun. 8, 2006 6:52 PM EDT

Awesome. According to Jeremy Bigwood of In These Times, the House recently an amendment authorizing the use of an "eye-eating fungus" to spray on crops in Colombia as part of the U.S. government's "war on drugs." The Colombian government is against the measure, seeing as how the fungus can attack humans and "cause redness and pain that can lead to blindness—requiring a corneal replacement," and could well mutate into something worse in the future.

In related news, Plan Colombia is still a billion-dollar failure that hasn't reduced drug use but has gotten a lot of people killed.

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Turning Against the War

Thu Jun. 8, 2006 5:48 PM EDT

The chorus of voices denouncing the war in Iraq is pretty loud these days, but the addition of critiques by its early proponents continues to be striking. And in his op-ed today, Michael Young, opinion editor for the Lebanese Daily Star, does just that. Young doesn't regret his earlier support for the war, and there is no lost love between him and the Iraqi leaders—or would-be Arab reformers—critical of the occupation. But the noted Lebanese political pundit is also far enough removed to call the war a huge disaster, and to do so with more thoroughness than most Americans care to, even now. Like the My Lai massacre back in 1968, Young writes, Haditha "makes the notion of winning hearts and minds laughable."

Even for those of us who supported the war, it's plain that this is a March 1968 moment, though Johnson had a much easier choice to make than Bush. South Vietnam was never as crucial a place as Iraq is, and for the US there is, quite simply, no way out. Democracy is a long-lost hope; Arab liberals who congratulate themselves for having discredited the war from the outset can lustily applaud the humiliation of the last administration that will plead their case in many years. If there is no way out for Bush, freedom in the Arab world has also hit a brick wall.

Lest this sound too cynical, Young does make a few recommendations, the first of which is that Rumsfeld get the boot, and quickly.

GOP Agenda Sputtering

| Thu Jun. 8, 2006 3:44 PM EDT

It's great news by any measure that the Senate failed to repeal the estate tax today, although I'm shocked that it was so tough, seeing as how there are more Republican senators than there were in 2004, or 2002. Same thing with the vile gay marriage amendment; more Republicans in the Senate, but it failed by an even larger margin than it did the in 2004. Don't know what it means, but it's a good sign. One can only hope this ridiculous flag-burning amendment will get shot down as well.

U.S. Military Kills Zarqawi

| Thu Jun. 8, 2006 2:24 PM EDT

I was just reading Mary-Anne Weaver's long profile of Abu Musab Zarqawi in the Atlantic Monthly and suddenly, the man gets himself killed in an airstrike. So, he's dead. Good riddance, and this does seem like genuinely good news for Iraq, although I guess the smart thing to say is that his death won't make a difference to the overall level of violence there. That's what Weaver's piece suggests. "If Zarqawi is captured or killed tomorrow, the Iraqi insurgency will go on," according to a "high-level" Jordanian intelligence official.

That's almost certainly right. The Sunni insurgency has mostly been run by Iraqis opposed to both the U.S. occupation and the prospect of Shiite rule of Iraq. Zarqawi played at best a supporting role. At one point, it seemed like Zarqawi's willingness to engage in big, bloody attacks against Shiites was genuinely exacerbating what was then a nascent sectarian war in Iraq. Maybe he was making a real difference then. But nowadays that sectarian war isn't so nascent anymore, and Sunnis and Shiites are capable of killing each other by the dozens each day without Zarqawi's help. One can hope that getting rid of Zarqawi will change things, but it seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, over at TNR's blog, Michael Crowley notes that some caller on the "Diane Rehm Show" wants to know how many civilians were killed in the raid. Seems like a fair question to me. There have been lots of airstrikes on "safe houses" thought to be harboring Zarqawi. Here's a failed strike on an al-Qaeda safe house that left 40 dead last November. Here's another one two years ago, on a wedding party, that left "40 dead, including children." Another missed attempt at an al-Qaeda leader, possibly Zarqawi. And that's just after a quick google search.

These all add up. Sure, it's easy to say that there's a moral difference between accidentally killing civilians while trying to track down mass murderers and the actual mass murderers themselves, but at some point the fact that we're doing counterterrorism by dropping "precision-guided munitions" on lots and lots of houses across the country should make people realize that there's not really a moral way to conduct this war. I guess that counts as insufficient cheerleading...

UPDATE: Steven Benen provides a bit of historical context, noting that the Bush administration had the opportunity to take out Zarqawi before the war, but needed him alive to preserve the fiction that Saddam Hussein was harboring terrorists. On the other hand, perhaps Zarqawi's death will give the White House the excuse it needs to declare "victory" and start pulling troops out of Iraq.

MORE: Fred Kaplan's piece on Zarqawi's death is (as usual) quite good.

John Bolton upset over U.N. official's criticism of U.S.

| Wed Jun. 7, 2006 6:42 PM EDT

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said today that a U.N. Deputy Secretary-General's remarks about the United States "can only do grave harm to the United Nations." Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown said yesterday in a speech that the U.S. relies on the U.N as a diplomatic tool, but then does not defend the body before critics at home. Brown went on to say that news of the U.N.'s good work that reaches much of the U.S. has been "largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such a Rush Limbaugh and Fox News."

Bolton called Brown's remarks a "very, very grave mistake" that could undermine Secretary-General Kofi Annan's efforts to effect a reform agenda for the U.N. Bolton told Annan that his deputy's remarks displayed a "condescending, patronizing tone about the American people."