Political MoJo

Israel's Iran options?!

| Tue Mar. 14, 2006 9:18 PM EST

Crazy talk on Iran by way of the Jerusalem Post:

The Pentagon is looking into the possibility of Israel launching a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. In the past months there were several working-level discussions trying to map out the possible scenarios for such an attack, according to administration sources who were briefed on these meetings.

...One of the questions Pentagon analysts are grappling with is how an Israeli attack - if launched - would affect the US and its forces in the region and whether it would force the US to follow with further strikes in order to complete the mission. The US is also discussing what could be the possible avenues of retaliation Iran would take against US's forces and interests in the region.

Well, I don't think you have to grapple very long before concluding that the Iranian response--in Israel as in Iraq--would be fairly robust; and that the Iranians are not apt to make any great distinction between Israeli and U.S. aggression. (Why start now, after all?)

Elsewhere, in congressional testimony, an expansive Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy recently considered loopy options short of all-out airstrikes.

If force were to be necessary, the options are much broader than an air raid like that which Israel mounted in 1981 against Iraq's Osiraq reactor. For instance, Israel put a stop to Egypt's missile program in the early 1960s by arranging the sudden premature death of German scientists working on those missiles in Egypt. Iran's nuclear program is a series of sophisticated, large industrial plants which could encounter industrial accidents.

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Women, Men, and Money

Tue Mar. 14, 2006 7:14 PM EST

According to this month's Money Magazine, finances still cause strife in many marriages.

Okay, so this shouldn't be news to anyone. But what is notable is that the majority of the couples surveyed divide their financial responsibility along very traditional gender lines. Women tend to be responsible for determining daily spending while their husbands plan long-term investments, retirements etc. According to the magazine, dividing duties up this way doesn't necessarily foster communication:

States Take On Electoral College

| Tue Mar. 14, 2006 5:05 PM EST

If you're one of those (totally awesome) people who are obsessed with improving our electoral system, this should come as good news. The New York Times reports on an innovative new state-level campaign to abolish the electoral college:

Past attempts to abolish the Electoral College by amending the Constitution have run into difficulty. But National Popular Vote, which includes several former members of Congress, is offering an ingenious solution that would not require a constitutional amendment. It proposes that states commit to casting their electoral votes for the winner of the national popular vote. These promises would become binding only when states representing a majority of the Electoral College signed on. Then any candidate who won the popular vote would be sure to win the White House.
Come to think of it, had John Kerry won 60,000 extra votes in Ohio in 2004—or not been robbed by Diebold, if that was, you know, the case—and won the presidency while losing the popular vote, there finally would have been a serious bipartisan push to abolish the electoral college. (Okay, that wouldn't have been the only upside to a Kerry victory, but still.) Now no one seems to care, though.

Bear in mind, the possibility that a popular-vote winner could lose an election isn't the only downside to having an electoral college. (Among other things, it forces presidential candidates to pander only to a few select "swing" states.) I tried to lay out the full case against our totally outdated and arbitrary way of picking presidents a while back and still think most of that still holds up. It's not the biggest problem in the world, but it would be nice to fix it finally.

Iraq Body Count Continues to Rise

Tue Mar. 14, 2006 4:45 PM EST

The bodies of 87 people were discovered in Iraq over the last twenty-four hours. All were killed execution-style, with 29 of them found partially naked in a stacked grave. This is the second wave of mass killings since the bombing of the Askariya Shiite shrine in Samarra several weeks ago. Sectarian violence continues to rage, and Shiites living in primarily Sunni areas are abandoning their homes in fear for their safety.

President Bush, unlike Donald Rumsfeld, is starting to acknowledge the threat of civil war. "I wish I could tell you that the violence is waning and that the road ahead will be smooth," he said. "It will not. There will be more tough fighting and more days of struggle, and we will see more images of chaos and carnage in the days and months to come." As civil unrest continues to take its toll on Iraqi civilians, the Iraqi government is still struggling to adapt to the new distribution of power, as the Sunnis (once powerful under Saddam Hussein), are now governed by the Shiites. And the Shiites, who have been shut out of power for the past 14 centuries, are not about to give that up just yet.

Meanwhile, the CNN/Gallup poll found today that the war in Iraq has driven Bush's approval rating to the lowest of his presidency—36 percent. With approval ratings so low, the pressure is on the administration to try to pull out some of the 130,000 troops in Iraq, before the midterm elections.

Canada has its warmest winter ever, and other global warming news

| Tue Mar. 14, 2006 4:39 PM EST

Looks like there might be something to this global warming stuff after all. Here's AP:

TORONTO — The winter of 2005-06 has been Canada's warmest on record and the federal agency Environment Canada said Monday that it was investigating whether it was a sign of global warming.

From December through February, which is considered meteorological winter, the country was 3.9 degrees above normal — the warmest winter season since temperatures were first recorded here in 1948.

Environment Canada climatologist Bob Whitewood said it smashed the previous record set in 1987 by 0.9 degrees.

....Whitewood said the last 10 winters had been warmer than normal and along with this winter reflect a trend that could be explained as global warming.

Hmm, yes, I can see how he might infer that.

Hockey-playing Canadians are said to be "disappointed" about thinner ice. No comment from the thousands of pregnant seals "forced to give birth on shore by unusually mild weather that has prevented the Gulf of St. Lawrence from freezing."

Apropos, it's been at least a day since we last drew attention to this Mother Jones story about the plight of adorable polar bears doomed to (probable) extinction thanks to pollution and global warming. (Their Arctic home is literally melting beneath their feet.)

In other climate change news, NASA has roused itself long enough to tout a survey it says confirms "climate warming is changing how much water remains locked in Earth's largest storehouses of ice and snow." The story has an agency researcher noting an "internal NASA change...to allow scientists greater freedom." Which, if true--and don't count on it--will be quite the cultural shift.

New national security guidelines reflect significant semantic changes

| Tue Mar. 14, 2006 11:45 AM EST

At the end of last year, National Security Advisor Stehpen Hadley did some word tinkering with the "Adjunctive Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information." The result is that the government now has broader, vaguer power to deny information to those seeking it. The overall change puts emphasis on loyalty to the U.S. government, and allows those holding information to look at various "suspect" factors rather than singling out a specific violation as grounds for denying classified information. It also places particular burdens on gay citizens that did not exist before.

For example, in addition to the already existing requirements for U.S. loyalty--things such a voting in a foreign election or expressing a desire to divest oneself of American citizenship--the new version says that the vocalization of allegiance to another country disqualifies a person from receiving information.

Under the category of "personal conduct," Hadley has added:

Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include: credible adverse information that is not explicitly covered under any other guideline and may not be sufficient by itself for an adverse determination, but which, when combined with all available information supports a whole-person assessment of questionable judgment, untrustworthiness, unreliability, lack of candor, unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations, or other characteristics indicating that the person may not properly safeguard protected information.

Deliberately providing "false or misleading" information to an employer could also disqualify a person from receiving classified information under the revised guidelines.

And under "psychological conditions," there is a definition of "adverse behavior":

Behavior that casts doubt on an individual's judgment… that is not covered under any other guideline" is now a condition that could render an individual unfit for approval.

However, a former sentence that would permit access to be denied because of "reliable, unfavorable information from neighbors or coworkers" has been removed.

In the area of leaks, the earlier version of the document listed one condition that could arouse a security concern; the current version lists nine, many of which are related to computer technology, and some of which are related to efforts to gain information "outside one's need to know."

The 1997 version stated that sexual orientation "may not be used" to disqualify applicants, but Hadley's new version states that clearances cannot be denied "solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual." Also, the 1997 version eliminated "adverse sexual behavior" from disqualifying an individual if the behavior was "not recent." However, the new version states that the behavior cannot be used for disqualification if it "happened so long ago, so infrequently, and under such unusual circumstances, that it is unlikely to recur."

In the "criminal conduct" section of the document, Hadley has removed the word "acquittal" from a list of factors to be considered in granting access to information. He has also added discharge from the military "under dishonorable conditions" as a reason to deny access. And though it was removed in the past, Hadley has re-instated the abuse of prescription drugs after a prolonged illness as a reason to deny access.

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Contraceptive issue becomes hot in Connecticut

| Mon Mar. 13, 2006 10:08 PM EST

20% of hospitals in Connecticut do not routinely offer contraceptives to all rape victims, but there is now a pending proposal that would make it illegal to not offer them. Rape counseling activists argue that not only should all hospitals provide contraception to rape victims, but that making women who are already traumatized go to another hospital or pharmacy to get them is contributing to their trauma.

The state has four Catholic hospitals which are, of course, opposed to offering contraception of any kind. What makes the Connecticut conflict interesting is that the state's Victim Advocate, James F. Papillo, is a Catholic, and is opposed to the proposed legislation, which he calls an "attack on religious freedom." Papillo's remarks resulted in calls for his resignation and also a reprimand from Connecticut governor M. Jodi Rell. But--stay with me here--Rell has also said publicly that she is not sure the legislation is necessary.

To make matters even more interesting, Democratic senator Joe Lieberman has spoken out against the legislation, saying that he believes that hospitals who refuse to provide contraception "for principled reasons" should not be forced to do so. "In Connecticut," he said, "It shouldn't take more than a short ride to get to another hospital."

Genocide in Darfur to Accelerate?

| Mon Mar. 13, 2006 9:28 PM EST

Eric Reeves looks at two recent developments that will "accelerate the genocide" in Darfur:

First, the African Union decided not to turn over the task of securing the region to the United Nations for at least another six months. The African Union, out of its depth in Darfur, has proven unable to stop the genocide; and there is little reason to believe it can do any better in the months to come.

Second, Jan Egeland, head of U.N. humanitarian operations, explained to his colleagues that humanitarian efforts in Darfur are facing a major shortfall in funding. In an internal e-mail sent Friday to U.N. personnel, Egeland worried that "the massive gains we made on the humanitarian front over the past year will be lost, and that the tide is starting to turn against us." If the African Union's decision and Egeland's warning are any indication, the twenty-first century's first genocide will not slacken any time soon. On the contrary, it will grow worse.Over at his own site, Reeves has a longer analysis for those interested, which notes that "the lives of some 4 million human beings are at stake" here, as the conflict starts spilling over into Chad.

Democrats Run from Abortion Fight

| Mon Mar. 13, 2006 3:10 PM EST

Let's see. The South Dakota GOP passed a new law criminalizing abortion in virtually all cases, including rape and incest. According to Newsweek, Republicans in Washington are terrified that when voters, who are overwhelmingly pro-choice, start looking at the South Dakota law, they'll wake up and realize that conservatives really are willing to ban abortion:

Catholic Bishops Stop Adoption Services

Fri Mar. 10, 2006 8:55 PM EST

The Boston Archdiocese's Catholic Charities announced today that it will no longer provide adoption services in the state of Massachusetts, because it doesn't want to sanction the placement of children with same-sex couples. Over the past two decades, Catholic Charities has placed 720 children with families, 13 of which were same-sex couples. There are currently 692 kids waiting to be adopted. Despite the fact that the charity's board voted 42-0 to continue providing services, the state's four Catholic bishops overruled the decision, arguing that "gravely immoral" homosexual adoption ''would actually mean doing violence to these children."

Not everyone agrees with the bishops. Seven Catholic Charities board members resigned last week in protest, calling the bishops' ruling a contradiction of the true mission of Christianity—to help those in need. Rev. J Bryan Hehir, president of Catholic Charities, acknowledged that because the world has changed since the organization began, the ministry should adapt "to meet the changing times and needs." Even Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who opposes same sex marriage, said, "It's a sad day for neglected and abandoned children. It's a mistake for our laws to put the rights of adults over the needs of children."