Political MoJo

The Mess After Katrina

Fri Mar. 31, 2006 1:20 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."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

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

| Thu Mar. 30, 2006 11:24 PM 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.

A Peaceful Iraq... in Turkey?

Thu Mar. 30, 2006 2:07 PM EST

Howard Kaloogian, the California congressional candidate who"mistakenly" tried to pass off a photo of a peaceful Turkey street setting as a scene from Baghdad, has now called the blunder a "stupid" web error. Kaloogian is running to fill the space left by Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the Republican congressman who resigned amidst evidence that he accepted at least
$2.4 million
in bribes.

Kaloogian has been touting the accomplishments of Operation Iraqi Freedom for some time, claiming that biased media reports have given Iraq an undeserved reputation as a violent locale. Iraq "is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it–in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort the fight terrorism." In staying with his message about the true tranquility of Iraq, Kaloogian captioned his now-infamous photo: "we took this photo in downtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq." Oops.

But these "stupid mistakes" can no longer slip by unnoticed. Within hours, the blogosphere was pointing out the many faulty aspects in the photo, including western tourists and Roman characters, unlikely in Baghdad. The internet is changing the political landscape, as everything is now fair game for questioning.

For added kicks, check out the latest photo on Kaloogian's site. It was taken from the upper floor of the Rashid hotel in the Green Zone on July 13, 2005—a little out of date—and one of the buildings depicted has now been completely obliterated.

Crackdown on Sex-Selection Abortions

Wed Mar. 29, 2006 9:03 PM EST

An Indian radiologist was sentenced to two years in jail for providing a pregnant patient with an ultrasound and then disclosing the baby's sex. Use of ultrasounds to determine gender is forbidden in India due to widespread abortion of female fetuses. The doctor, Anil Sabsani, was caught when he told an undercover officer that for $35, she could know the sex of her child. Once paid, Sabsani divulged that while the fetus is a girl, it could be "taken care of" (wink, wink). This is the first conviction of its kind in India.

According to the Lancet, a leading British medical journal, "the past two decades have seen the birth of nearly 10 million fewer girls than would otherwise have been expected, nearly all presumed by researchers to have been aborted." Sex-selection abortions have been banned for just over a decade in India, and Lancet suggests they haven't disappeared, estimating that 1 out of every 25 female fetuses is aborted, totaling approximately 500,000 per year.

Many people blame technology rather than the fact that, say, many cultures continue to value boys more highly, partly due to their ability for agrarian work. "This is not a cultural thing," says Donna Fernandez, director of Vimochana , a women's rights group based in Bangalore. "This is much more of an economic and political issue. It has got a lot to do with the globalization of technology. It's about the commodification of choices."

Shutting Down Illegal Immigration

| Wed Mar. 29, 2006 4:21 PM EST

Mark Kleiman has some good thoughts on immigration that are all well worth reading. In particular, he's probably right that severe penalties on employers that hire and exploit undocumented immigrants, along with verifiable national ID cards for all citizens and non-duplicable electronic worker identification documents, would probably do much to halt the flow of illegal immigration by reducing demand. (Robert Reich lays out a similar proposal in the American Prospect.) This will never happen in practice—businesses will oppose it, because it would mean paying more in wages—but it would certainly work better than current policies at stemming illegal immigration.

On the other hand, the downsides to this sort of regime are easy to see: Both the government and businesses would have an increased ability to gather information about individuals, and undocumented workers would have increasingly fewer job opportunities—which would, in turn, reduce remittances to sending countries. (Remittances from immigrants in the United States to developing countries totaled $90 billion last year.) In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to pit the interests of low-wage American workers against the interests of even lower-wage workers in developing countries, but that's what the current debate often boils down to.

What "fundamental debate"?

| Wed Mar. 29, 2006 3:57 PM EST

Think Progress notices that President Bush said in his big speech today, "First of all, the globe is warming. The fundamental debate — is it manmade or natural?" Of course, there's not actually a fundamental debate to be had here; scientists have overwhelming evidence that global warming is man-made.

The only "debate" over the causes of global warming seems to be the one carried out in the media, where, as Ross Gelbspan reported a few months ago in Mother Jones, industry-funded scientists and climatologists are given equal time on TV and in print, despite the fact that one side is right and the other's, well, making stuff up. "Teach the controversy," as it's called in another context. Maybe that's what Bush means.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

FISA Judges Speak Out

| Wed Mar. 29, 2006 1:47 PM EST

Five former FISA judges told the Senate Judiciary Committee today that—brace yourself now—the president shouldn't get to operate above the law, and that whatever super-secret surveillance program the Bush administration might be running these days, it should be subject congressional oversight:

In a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the secretive court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, several former judges who served on the panel also voiced skepticism at a Senate hearing about the president's constitutional authority to order wiretapping on Americans without a court order. They also suggested that the program could imperil criminal prosecutions that grew out of the wiretaps.

Judge Harold A. Baker, a sitting federal judge in Illinois who served on the intelligence court until last year, said the president was bound by the law "like everyone else." If a law like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is duly enacted by Congress and considered constitutional, Judge Baker said, "the president ignores it at the president's peril."Well, that last statement doesn't seem entirely accurate. Has the president actually suffered any consequences for ignoring laws enacted by Congress? No, and he probably won't so long as Congress remains in Republican hands.

Meanwhile, Marty Lederman has an interesting breakdown of Monday's testimony by David Kris, a Associate Deputy Attorney General from 2000 to 2003, who says both that Congress never gave the White House the authority to bypass FISA, as the Bush administration claims, and that existing law could very easily be amended to allow the sort of surveillance the administration reportedly wants to carry out. In fact, this modifications are much narrower than those proposed by Sen. Arlen Specter, which would permit, as Lederman phrases it, "indiscriminate surveillance of any U.S. person who has ever communicated with the agent of a foreign power."

Monitoring Dillingham

Tue Mar. 28, 2006 7:27 PM EST

Now here's a serious waste of Homeland Security dollars. Dillingham, Alaska, with a population of 2,400 (half of which are Native Alaskans), will soon be outfitted with 80 security cameras (over 60 have already been installed) .That's one camera for every 30 residents, all purchased under a $202,000 Homeland Security grant, the devices are intended to prevent terrorism.

Now granted, Dillingham experienced three homicides and six unclassifiable deaths in the last three years, but this doesn't seem like a responsible use of tax dollars. Police Chief Richard Thompson stands by the expense as a protection against terrorists using local ports as a "backdoor" entrance into the rest of the country.

Beyond adding waste to the $41 billion Homeland Security budget, the proportion of cameras to people envisioned for the town is the most disconcerting aspect of the story. The 2,400 citizens of Dillingham, a town with no streetlights, deserve a right to privacy. According to some residents, people don't want to visit mental health facilities anymore out of fear of embarrassment. Local fisherman Ronnie Heyano, puts it best, asking, "who will be watching the watchers?"

FEC Regulates the Internet

Tue Mar. 28, 2006 4:22 PM EST

Yesterday the FEC unanimously approved new regulations that would govern political speech and advertising on the internet. The final rules are less exhaustive than what was originally proposed, and focused on paid political advertisements placed on the internet—campaigns buying such ads will have to adhere to campaign finance laws.

Here are the basic rules:

Immigration and Polls

| Tue Mar. 28, 2006 3:00 PM EST

Yesterday, Tamar Jacoby, a pro-immigration analyst, wrote in the Washington Post that not only were guest-worker policies for immigration immoral, but they weren't even that popular:

The Manhattan Institute and the National Immigration Forum recently conducted a series of focus groups testing two contrasting options: a guest worker program or a more traditional immigration plan based on the idea of citizenship.

The results ran sharply counter to the expectations of policymakers in Washington. Democrats and Republicans alike overwhelmingly preferred the citizenship model for reasons of both principle and practicality. On the other hand, Charlie Cook's "Off to the Races" report today noted that polling reveals that the majority of Americans don't even like guest worker programs:

Respondents were then given two alternative statements. One choice was: "You should grant temporary-worker status to foreigners who are here illegally. Most of them will stay in the United States anyway, and this plan would allow the government to keep track of them and their activities and require them to pay taxes while they are here."

The other option was: "We should not grant temporary-worker status to foreigners who are here illegally, as this would make them and their families eligible for government services while they are here. We should not reward people who have broken the law, and this will encourage even more people to enter the United States illegally."

Given that choice, 39 percent favored temporary status, with 56 percent opposed.That sure sounds like most people just want to kick all undocumented immigrants out of the country, doesn't it? I have no idea how to reconcile these two findings. Probably, as with most policy questions, what people will agree to all depends on the way things are framed. Cook also noted that 71 percent of poll respondents were more likely to vote for a candidate who "favors tougher immigration controls," which leads one to think that we'll see a lot of demagoguery on this subject come the midterms this fall.