Political MoJo

"Incestuous, undemocratic, and potentially corrupting"

| Tue Jul. 11, 2006 1:56 AM EDT

... is what "critics are calling" the arrangement whereby a former top Congressional staffer goes to K Street, makes millions lobbying his former committee, then goes back to the committee and gets an $2 million handshake from his lobbying firm on the way out. ("Lobbyists," on the other hand, "say it's just the way things work in the complicated world of Washington." Yep. Real complicated.) Need we mention that the committee is Appropriations, aka Pork Central? Along the way, this excellent piece by the Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum notes that this is just one more glimpse into the GOP majority machine:

The Republican Revolution of 1994 ushered in a new congressional majority that professed to be distrustful of government but also worked overtime to maintain its control by directing federal aid into popular programs that would help reelect GOP members. Lawmakers were encouraged to earmark billions of dollars for thousands of home-state projects every year as a way to court their constituents.
And the lobbyists who make sure all that pork goes to the right people then hold Congressional fundraisers, which helps re-elect the incumbents, who turn around and hand out more earmarks, which keeps constituents happy and lobbyists cashy... ad infinitum. Nice work if you can get it.

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Paul Hackett Backs Sherrod Brown's Senate Run

| Mon Jul. 10, 2006 7:24 PM EDT

As conversion experiences go, it's a bit on the homely side, but Paul Hackett says he's had a change of heart. Reports AP:

Hackett, an Iraq war veteran, said his fight with Rep. Sherrod Brown is over, and the two rallied in Cincinnati on Monday to show their unity. Hackett blamed himself for fomenting discord within the party, saying he suddenly realized last Thursday that he was unnecessarily hurting them both by sulking over the way his primary challenge ended.

"I was cutting my grass and said to myself ... it's totally unproductive for me to be largely responsible for this antagonistic relationship between me and Sherrod," Hackett told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Hackett's about-face in supporting Brown was significant. A month ago, he told the AP that Brown was "puking out the same old garbage" and not inspiring swing voters.

Last October, Brown entered the Senate race a few days after Hackett and immediately had the support of key Senate Democrats such as Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the chairman of the party's Senate campaign committee.

See these links for more on Hackett's political rise and (Democrat-engineered) fall.


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Perhaps Zidane should go cut his grass...

Iraqi Police... Still Corrupt

| Mon Jul. 10, 2006 7:18 PM EDT
After the discovery in November of a secret Interior Ministry detention facility in Baghdad operated by police intelligence officials affiliated with a Shiite Muslim militia, U.S. officials declared 2006 "the year of the police." They vowed a renewed effort to expand and professionalize Iraq's civilian officer corps.
That's from this Los Angeles Times story that ran on Sunday. And how did those efforts to "expand and professionalize" the Iraqi police force turn out?
Brutality and corruption are rampant in Iraq's police force, with abuses including the rape of female prisoners, the release of terrorism suspects in exchange for bribes, assassinations of police officers and participation in insurgent bombings, according to confidential Iraqi government documents detailing more than 400 police corruption investigations.
Bush administration officials have said time and time again that training a competent and professional police force is the key to stabilizing Iraq so that U.S. troops can start leaving the country. As far as anyone can tell, that effort has failed. It's failed over and over again. It failed when it was tried in 2003. It failed when it was tried in 2004. It failed when it was tried last year. But supposedly it will succeed this year. Except… as we learn from a Guardian report today, police units in Baghdad simply stood by and watched yesterday as Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army killed at least 61 Sunnis in Iraq's ongoing civil war.

So now the U.S. military is going to try to fix this problem by… opening up a new front in the war and "conducting operations against the powerful Mahdi Army militia." Is there any strategy here besides attacking with overwhelming force whatever entity happens to be the number one problem of the day and hoping, futilely, that the security forces will magically improve? As Dahr Jamail says, it's hard to point to any bit of evidence that suggests that the United States can stop Iraq from disintegrating further by staying in the country indefinitely.

UPDATE: It's worth reading all the way to the bottom of the LA Times piece. Here's the administration's bold strategy for fixing the police force:

Another senior military official said U.S. policy in regard to the ministry [i.e., the Ministry of Interior, which runs the police force and is infiltrated by Shiite death squads and the like] was confused and disengaged. The official, who asked not to be identified because his comments impugned his superiors, said the Pentagon and State Department had failed to coordinate their efforts and were disengaged from the Iraqi police leaders.

"They sit up there on the 11th floor of the ministry building and don't talk to the Iraqis," the official said of U.S. police trainers assigned to the Interior Ministry headquarters tower. "They say they do policy and [that] it's up to the Iraqis — well, they're just doing nothing. The MOI is the most broken ministry in Iraq."Clap louder.

Commanders' requests for interrogation guidance ignored by Pentagon

| Mon Jul. 10, 2006 6:58 PM EDT

Raw Story reports that newly released documents reveal that U.S. military commanders in Afganistan (remember Afghanistan?) sought clarification on interrogation techniques from the Pentagon, but their requests for such clarification were ignored.

The documents, obtained by the ACLU, show that in January of 2003, U.S. commanders described to the Department of Defense the interrogation methods their troops were using, and recommended these methods be approved as official policy in Afganistan. Some of these methods had been approved for exclusive use at the detainee center in Guantanamo Bay, and some had since been rescinded. When the Pentagon failed to approve or disapprove of the techniques described, U.S. commanders in Afghhanistan considered the non-response to be tacit approval.

According to a report by Brigadier General Richard Formica, as late as May 2004 Coalition Joint Task Force-7 was operating under a set of rules that had been approved by Gen. Sanchez in September of 2003, but rescinded a month later. The September order included approval of the use of military dogs, stress positions, sleep adjustment and environmental manipulation. All of these techniques were rescinded in an October memo.

A year later, in February of 2004, an officer attempted to confirm the policy, and in reply, he received a copy of the signed September, 2003 memo, and no mention of the October memo which rescinded the rules. The result ws that commanders felt free to make up their own rules. In one case, a detainee was interrogated for twenty hours a day for almost two months. Another died after having his legs tied to the bars of a window and a strap of engineering tape strapped tightly around his midsection. He remained that way for an hour and a half and died fifteen minutes after the tape was cut.

What Creativity? Where?

| Mon Jul. 10, 2006 5:59 PM EDT

Swatting down baseless stereotypes isn't my idea of a fun afternoon, but here's one of John Derbyshire's reasons why the United States should restrict immigration Mexico:

Our music, our movies, our literature, our entrepreneurship and inventiveness—we have been a Renaissance all by ourselves. Importing masses of foreigners, especially unskilled and unschooled foreigners, from deeply un-creative places like Mexico may end all that. Name one Mexican invention and one fine Mexican movie, tell me the outline plot of one Mexican novel or play, and hum me a Mexican pop song.
Okay… one handy Mexican invention was the color television. For movies, both Y Tu Mama Tambien and Amores Perros are considered "fine" by plenty of critics; on the literary front, Carlos Fuentes and Octavia Paz are no slouches. I haven't the faintest clue what Mexican pop songs sound like—I barely know what American pop songs sound like—but this guy appears to have won nine Grammys and sold 55 million records worldwide, so I imagine he's sung something hummable at one point or another. No one expects xenophobes to know much about culture abroad, granted, but this "deeply uncreative" business is weak even by the standards of the genre.

Republican Senators Try to Mislead the Supreme Court

| Mon Jul. 10, 2006 4:39 PM EDT

Wow. Let's see if we've got this story straight. Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) apparently inserted a fake dialogue into the Congressional Record in order to mislead a Supreme Court on the legislative intent of a law they passed. Emily Bazelon reported on the full story here. It's a bit complex, but Christy Hardin Smith notes that what Graham and Kyl did essentially amounts to "knowingly filing false information with a court[, which is] grounds for disbarment in my state."

It also seems quite weird that members of Congress are allowed to insert things into the Congressional Record that weren't even said on the floor of Congress—or edit remarks after the fact. Seeing as how the courts often use the Record to try to gauge legislative intent, and seeing as how an unscrupulous Senator could easily altar that history without anyone else even noticing, this seems like something that should be stopped, no?

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Mapping Our Rights

Mon Jul. 10, 2006 4:18 PM EDT

A new interactive map created by a consortium of advocacy groups (Ipas, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective) colors the 50 states according to their level of sexual and reproductive freedom. Visually, the result is familiar: the darkest blues -- signifying the states with the least restrictive laws -- are clustered at the coasts. Moving inwards, states turn purple, crimson and finally, in an island chain stretching from North Dakota to Oklahoma, fire-engine red. Interestingly, though, Ohio, with its dearth of hate-crime laws and its myriad restrictions on abortions, ranks as the least free of any state (Oklahoma, by contrast, was merely #46). New Mexico, meanwhile, came in number one.

map.jpg.
Click on the image to go to the interactive map. (Requires Flash)

Would Japan Go to War?

| Mon Jul. 10, 2006 2:15 PM EDT

The news today that Japan is "considering whether a pre-emptive strike on North Korea would violate its constitution" strikes me as significant. In half-century since World War II ended, Japan's pacifist constitution has forbidden the country from having an offensive military; only a defensive force is allowed. Under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Tokyo has been pushing against that limit for quite some time; not least in the unpopular decision to send troops to Iraq—to provide, in Koizumi's words "humanitarian assistance." So now the question is whether "pre-emptive strikes" fall in that gray area.

On the other hand, it sure seems like Japan's only talking about launching a pre-emptive strike on North Korea not because it would be a good idea—it wouldn't be—but because it just wants to scare China into handling North Korea. China presumably doesn't want to spend a lot of money on a costly arms race with Japan, and would rather calm down Kim Jong-Il than see Japan freak out and start gearing up for a pre-emptive strike. That's my guess, anyway. All a political gambit.

But then, who knows? Chalmers Johnson wrote a good article a while back about Japan's struggle with rearmament, and noted that a number of U.S. government types have been pushing Japan to revise article nine of the constitution and become a significant military force in the Far East, all in order to "counterbalance" China—proving once again that the so-called "China hawks" are probably a greater threat to world peace than most of the tinpot dictators we seem to spend so much time obsessing over.

Lieberman Goes on the Attack

Mon Jul. 10, 2006 1:58 PM EDT

Ned Lamont has attracted a lot of attention for scaring incumbent Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut. (Last week, the man who came a Supreme Court decision away from the vice-presidency announced that he will collect enough signatures to appear on the ballot in November even if he loses the primary.) But Slate's John Dickerson was less than impressed with Lamont's performance in the candidates' debate last week: he says the debate revealed Lamont to be more "conduit" than "candidate."

That may be, but Lieberman's response to the Lamont campaign is telling. Accused of being more Republican than Democrat, Lieberman responded this weekend with an accusation of his own: "I am not a Republican! You are a Republican!" (Note: not his exact words.) Lamont may be a political novice—he may not even have any policy ideas beyond withdrawing US troops from Iraq—but a closet Republican? With nonsense like this flying around, and the Democratic primary still a month away, it's going to be an ugly few weeks in Connecticut.

"We haven't even begun to understand where our enemy is coming from."

| Mon Jul. 10, 2006 1:44 PM EDT

More on the administration's puzzling decision to fold up the CIA's bin Laden-tracking unit despite plentiful evidence that OBL's inspirational role remains undiminished. Michael Scheuer, the unit's first head, puts the move down to what the Guardian calls "bureaucratic jealousies," and says it'll hurt U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Here are some quotes from Scheuer (Guardian).

On the unique value of the unit...

What it robs you of is a critical mass of officers who have been working on this together for a decade. We had a breed of specialists rare in an intelligence community that prides itself on generalists. It provided a base from which to build a cadre of people specialising in attacking Sunni extremist operations, who sacrificed promotions and other emoluments in their employment in the clandestine service, where specialists were looked on as nerds. ...

On bin Laden's role...

How do you explain the fact that he is able to dominate international media whenever he wants to?

Bin Laden has always said the main activity of al-Qaida is the instigation ... of Muslims to jihad.

All of the people who have been picked up have said they were inspired by Bin Laden, that they trained in their own countries and used information picked up on the internet.

So the fire that Bin Laden was trying to set is what we are beginning to see around the world and, unfortunately, nowhere more than in the west.

On those bureaucratic jealousies...

From the very beginning, Alec [the unit] was an anomaly in that it was not subordinated to any area division, and it was given the authority to communicate with overseas stations - with or without the permission of area divisions. That caused a great deal of heartburn among very senior leaders at the agency.

And on the special challenges of combating Al Qaeda and the jihadist threat generally...

One of the things that really slowed down the western response to Sunni extremists, but al-Qaida specifically, is that when intelligence agents looked at a group made up of Yemenis, Egyptians, Saudis, Algerians and converts, the natural response was to say, 'That is not going to last 10 minutes. They can't get along together.' It took a long time for people to realise we were seeing an animal of a very unique nature. We haven't even begun to understand where our enemy is coming from.