Political MoJo

Abramoff Offered His Services to Sudan

Tue Apr. 4, 2006 6:08 PM EDT

Adding to the laundry list of unethical behavior by lobbyist Jack Abramoff is the new discovery that he attempted to sell his "services" to the destitute and crooked Sudanese government. Abramoff and his camp are denying the story, but according to eyewitnesses the lobbyist wanted to help Sudan improve its image during a genocide that has left more than 400,000 dead.

That's no easy task, granted, which must explain the alleged $16-18 million price tag that Abramoff was charging. At the moment, Abramoff is headed to jail for fraud, tax evasion and conspiring to bribe public officials, which includes bilking an estimated $66 million out of Native American tribes.

According to Sudan's ambassador and a prior Abramoff aide, the idea for a grassroots image campaign dates back to 2002 when Abramoff wanted to retain the services of Christian Coalition front man Ralph Reed to help convince evangelicals—who have often put pressure on the administration over Sudan—to back off a little. The former aide said, "Abramoff waved two videotapes at me that were made by a Christian-rights organization and said that the tapes showed the need for Sudan to have Washington representation that could relieve this kind of pressure."

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Amnesty International says CIA used private airlines for rendition

| Mon Apr. 3, 2006 11:03 PM EDT

According to The Raw Story, Amnesty International is about to release evidence that the CIA utilized private aircraft operators and front companies to hide its rendition flights. The report presents locations throughout the world from which rendition flights landed and took off.

The countries that allowed the CIA to crross their airspace and use their airports cite the Chicago Convention, or Convention on International Civil Aviation, which allows private non-commercial flights to fly over a country without giving prior notification. Under this convention, states lack the authority to question why a private, non-commercial craft if flying over or making technical stops.

According to Amnesty International, the U.S. has transferred hundreds of individuals via rendition, and "rendition is part of an elaborate clandestine detention regime that includes the use of 'black sites' and 'disappearances,' as well as torture and inhuman treatment."

Obama Tells Bush to Wake Up

Mon Apr. 3, 2006 7:41 PM EDT

Today Barack Obama addressed the nation's energy policy, condemning the Bush administration for stubbornly refusing to prioritize environmental issues.

Bush announced in his last State of the Union that the U.S. has a serious problem with oil dependency, yet has made little attempt to remedy the problem, which Obama equated to "admitting alcoholism and then skipping out on the 12-step program. It's not enough to identify the challenge – we have to meet it. … I was among the hopeful. But then I saw the plan," he said. "[Bush's] funding for renewable fuels is at the same level it was the day he took office. He refuses to call for even a modest increase in fuel-efficiency standards for cars. And his latest budget funds less then half of the energy bill he himself signed into law - leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in under-funded energy proposals."

Rush Limbaugh's (Surprise) a Misogynist

Mon Apr. 3, 2006 7:07 PM EDT

Rush Limbaugh's loose banter is rarely worthy of acknowledgement. However, he crossed the line on his Friday show when he criticized the woman who was allegedly raped by several members of the Duke University Lacrosse team.

When asked by a caller why Rev. Al Sharpton has recently been quiet about the immigration debate, Limbaugh quipped that Sharpton is busy "trying to figure out how he can get involved in the deal down there at Duke where the lacrosse team ... supposedly, you know, raped some, uh, hos." When confronted by another caller, Rush acknowledged that his idiocy filter failed, saying "I knew somebody was gonna call and give me a little grief so I'm takin' the occasion of your call to apologize for it. That was, it was a terrible slip of the tongue. I'm sorry." Limbaugh then essentially nullified his apology by stating "I wish you didn't hear me say it."

This is a good opportunity for people to see Mr. Limbaugh's true uncensored feelings. It would be nice to believe this is a solitary incident, but something tells me Rush's misogynistic feelings run much deeper.

Should Immigrants Be Able to Vote?

| Mon Apr. 3, 2006 4:42 PM EDT

Paul Krugman is still uneasy about large-scale immigration, judging from his column on Friday. Unskilled immigration, he says, depresses the wages of low-skilled workers. Well, yes, but again, with properly-designed policies—living wages, full employment, labor laws that allow unions to flourish, earned-income tax credits, and the like—I think you can mitigate this, while preserving the very, very large benefits immigration brings for immigrants and the countries that send them. It's awfully odd to think that shutting the border is really the best possible thing we can do for low-skilled native workers.

But okay, we've been over that. This passage in Krugman's Friday piece, on the other hand, is new and deserves comment:

Imagine, for a moment, a future in which America becomes like Kuwait or Dubai, a country where a large fraction of the work force consists of illegal immigrants or foreigners on temporary visas -- and neither group has the right to vote. Surely this would be a betrayal of our democratic ideals, of government of the people, by the people. Moreover, a political system in which many workers don't count is likely to ignore workers' interests: it's likely to have a weak social safety net and to spend too little on services like health care and education.

This isn't idle speculation. Countries with high immigration tend, other things equal, to have less generous welfare states than those with low immigration. U.S. cities with ethnically diverse populations -- often the result of immigration -- tend to have worse public services than those with more homogeneous populations.Well, I agree. Creating a Dubai-style underclass of disenfranchised immigrants who have few rights and even less voice in the country they help prop up is an awful idea. That's why everyone should oppose "guest worker" policies that allow companies to import a captive labor force that are here at the mercy of their employers, can't bargain for better wages, speak out against shoddy work conditions, or organize and strike. But I'd go even farther. Why should non-citizens have to be disenfranchised? Why not just let anyone living here legally vote?

It seems a bit crazy, but it's worth putting out there. Non-citizen immigrants seem to be constitutionally barred from voting at the federal level in any case, but nothing's stopping anyone from giving them the vote in state and local elections. And why not? Presumably immigrants should have a say in, for instance, what goes on in the schools they're sending their kids to. And it's perfectly possible: Takoma Park in Maryland allows non-citizens to vote, although I don't think it's affected voter participation or local politics very much there. (San Francisco has considered similar measures at various points, too—it's unsettling, by the way, that 4.6 million people in California, one-fifth of the state population, can't vote.)

Who knows, a bit of civic participation might even make immigrants more "patriotic" or "assimilated" or whatever it is nativists worry about. (Even though the evidence shows that even Hispanic immigrants are assimilating just fine.) At the very least, non-citizen voting would help prevent the United States from turning into another Dubai. It's just not very likely to happen, although maybe a well-placed and influential New York Times columnist could do his part to help this idea gain momentum...

How Britain Reduced Child Poverty

| Mon Apr. 3, 2006 3:18 PM EDT

Jared Bernstein and Mark Greenberg have a good op-ed in the Washington Post today discussing Tony Blair's plan, introduced in 1999, to eliminate child poverty in Britain by 2020. How did it fare? Well, over the past five years child poverty in the country has dropped 17 percent—below the government's target, sure, but still pretty dramatic. Over the same time period, child poverty in the United States has risen 12 percent, to 13 million.

So why don't we have the same sort of national plan here? Well, the short answer is because we have a corrupt Republican administration in power that doesn't really care about poor children and the like. But this one bit from the op-ed, on the power of simply declaring a national goal, is good: "What if you don't end child poverty by the targeted date of 2020, we asked [British policymakers]. The question didn't really interest them. The target, they argued, focused the minds of the politicians, the agencies and the public. Without it, they would never have gotten as far as they have." I hear there's a minority party out there in search of a grand sweeping "vision," and like Bernstein and Greenberg say, what's wrong with this one?

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France and Labor Law Reform

| Mon Apr. 3, 2006 2:43 PM EDT

I don't really know whether the riots in France are going to create a political crisis in Paris or what, but I do know I'm not quite convinced by the "sensible" view on this side of the Atlantic that France absolutely needs to make it easier to fire young people if it wants to reduce unemployment. Of particular interest is this 2004 paper put out by researchers at the Center on Economic Policy Research which looks at evidence from the OECD countries and finds no evidence that, in general, "employment protection" laws have much impact on unemployment rates. (The paper also criticizes a much-cited IMF study that found just such an impact.)

That doesn't make a ton of sense at first glance—intuitively, one would think that if companies could fire people more easily, they'd be quicker and more likely to hire people—but then again, if employment really is mostly determined by demand for goods and services, then maybe regulations governing the hiring and firing employees don't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. The European Central Bank has been keeping interest rates high over the past few years, and maybe that does more to explain France's high unemployment.

It's interesting that other European countries have high levels of employment protection, yet still manage happily low levels of unemployment—Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands. Perhaps deregulation's not the answer after all. The CEPR paper argues that, for instance, changes to labor market institutions "contributed nothing at all" to the drastic reduction in unemployment in Ireland between 1980 and 1998. Meanwhile, Olivier Blanchard and Thomas Philippon argue that the main reason for a similar fall in unemployment in the Netherlands during that period was a national agreement by Dutch unions to moderate their wage demands—and not deregulation. So I don't necessarily see conclusive evidence that European unemployment is high because labor laws are too "rigid" and "inflexible."

Now all that said, granted, in this particular case, Chirac's latest proposed revision to the labor reform—instituting a one-year trial period during which companies could fire young workers with just cause—doesn't seem very draconian or unreasonable. Then again, I don't follow French politics very closely, and if, say, people are looking at this as a potential first step on the march towards creating a more "flexible," American-style labor market in France, I can see why they'd oppose it. And they should.

MORE: This DailyKos diary is worth a read, noting among other things that the true unemployment rate among French youths is greatly exaggerated—although I think the author's neglecting to count people who are discouraged from finding jobs—and that the rate of job creation and destruction in France is the same as in the United States. One can also add that in any case the originally-proposed reform would let employers fire workers for race- or gender-related reasons. Don't we have laws against even that here in the "dynamic" ol' U.S. of A.?

ACLU sues South Dakota school district on behalf of Native Americans

| Sat Apr. 1, 2006 11:28 PM EST

The American Civil Liberties Union has just filed a class action suit against South Dakota's Winner School District. The suit charges that the district maintains an environment hostile to Native Americans by giving Native American students harsher discipline and by forcing them to sign confessions for minor rule-breaking.

According to the ACLU, Native American students in the Winner District are given very different treatment from white students. They are three times as likely to be suspended from school, and ten times more likely to be referred to law enforcement. In the Winner district, Native American students are coerced into signing confessions, which are then used to get convictions in juvenile court.

The Attorney General of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe noted that the school district is the second largest employer in the county, yet only two employees out of more than 100 are Native American.

"Native American students are accused of gang-related activities for walking in groups of three or more or wearing bandanas, while their white counterparts are encouraged to wear bandanas at sporting events. And Native Americans are actively discouraged from participating in sports activities."

The ACLU, in challenging the "school to prison pipeline" which is becoming more prevalent in American communities, has identified several policies and practices which exist: zero tolerance policies which criminalize minor school infractions, the bypassing of due process for children, and policy initiatives emphasizing testing and statistics, which lead to pushing out low-performing students.

The Mess After Katrina

Fri Mar. 31, 2006 2:20 PM EST

Seven months after Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans residents are still largely without jobs, emergency housing, flood protection, mortgage relief, and health care. African-American residents have been hit especially hard by the slow recovery—a recent Gallup poll reported that 53 percent of black respondents had lost "everything" in the wake of Katrina, as compared to 19 percent of whites.

To make things worse, according to the Brookings Institution, rebuilding has proceeded unevenly, and has exacerbated the racial and socioeconomic divides. "The [white, relatively upscale] French Quarter and Uptown, you see life basically as it was before the storm," said Matt Fellowes, a senior research associate at Brookings. "It's eerie, because life really is normal in those neighborhoods and then you cross over the Industrial Canal and enter the lower Ninth Ward or eastern New Orleans, and it looks like a bomb just went off yesterday." And it's possible that this is deliberate policy: Mike Davis has a piece in the Nation this week reporting that "mayor-appointed commissions and outside experts, mostly white and Republican, [are] propos[ing] to radically shrink and reshape a majority-black and Democratic city."

Bush told repeatedly that aluminum tubes were not for building a nuclear weapon

| Fri Mar. 31, 2006 12:24 AM EST

In October of 2002, a National Security Estimate summary called a President's Summary, was written specifically for George W. Bush. In that document, Bush was told that despite the buzz that Iraq's procurement of aluminum tubes was "related to a uranium enrichment effort," the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Energy Department's intelligence branch "believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapons."

This memo, however, did not stop Bush from announcing, three months later, in the State of the Union speech, that Iraq was procuring high-strength aluminum tubes in order to build a nuclear weapon. Later that year, when then-Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley did a review of documents, and discovered the President's Summary, Karl Rove gathered White House aides together and explained that it would look bad if the American people knew that Bush had been advised that the aluminum tubes were probably harmless.

Hadley was reviewing classified records because of statements made by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson that Bush's claims about the uranium were not true. George Tenet, who was CIA director at the time, took the blame for the gaffe in the State of the Union address, saying his staff had failed to warn Bush that the uranium claims might not be true. However, two weeks before Bush was given the President's Summary, Tenet had already told him that both the Department of State and the Department of Energy had doubts about the tubes, and that the CIA was also doubtful. In addition, Bush was advised that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had doubts about the aluminum tubes, also.

Bush clearly knew he was not being accurate when he implied that Iraq was building a nuclear weapon. The State Department knew he was not being accurate. The Department of Energy knew he was not being accurate. The CIA knew he was not being accurate. They all made a circle around him, but eventually, there could not be enough protection for so great an instance of misleading the American people.

For a detailed looked at the history of the memo and everything surrounding it, you may read the complete report in National Journal.