Political MoJo

National Guard veteran's widow hopes to get pentacle engraved on husband's memorial

| Fri Mar. 3, 2006 5:04 PM EST

The Goddess brings us news that National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart's Northern Nevada Veterans' Memorial Cemetery memorial is blank. Stewart died in Afghanistan in September when his Chinook helicopter was shot down. He was a member of the Wiccan religion, which is not recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs for use in veterans' cemeteries. Consequently, his widow's request that a pentacle, the symbol of Wicca, be placed on his memorial, was denied.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and its National Cemetery Administration prohibit graphics on government-furnished headstones that have not been approved as "emblems of belief."

It is obvious from the lengthy list of already-approved emblems that the NCA has been willing to recognize a wide variety of religions, and so it is no surprise that Lt. Col. Robert Harrington, battalion commander of the Nevada National Guard, believes that Stewart will get his pentacle. Roberta Stewart says that she has received a lot of support from the military community to have the emblem included, and Congressman Jim Gibbons has stated he would like to see the Department of Veterans Affairs act quickly on the application.

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Avoiding the Torture Ban

| Fri Mar. 3, 2006 4:15 PM EST

Good to see that the Justice Department is taking Congress' ban on torture seriously:

In federal court yesterday and in legal filings, Justice Department lawyers contended that a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cannot use legislation drafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to challenge treatment that the detainee's lawyers described as "systematic torture."

...."Unfortunately, I think the government's right; it's a correct reading of the law," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "The law says you can't torture detainees at Guantanamo, but it also says you can't enforce that law in the courts."Oh, it's one of those unenforceable torture bans. Well why didn't anyone say so? If anyone knows any Kafka references that aren't stale and overused yet, let us know, we could use a fresh supply. Meanwhile, Kevin Drum's probably right to blame John McCain here (although the Bush administration is obviously the main problem here). Whether McCain intended all of this to happen or not, it's pretty clear that when he agreed to the Graham amendment in the same anti-torture bill, which stripped Guantanamo detainees of their right to challenge their detention in federal court, he pretty much did exactly what the White House wanted him to do. As Kevin says: "[McCain]'s certainly mastered the art of sounding reasonable, but it's only an inch deep. Underneath, he's just a standard issue right wing politician."

It might be worse than "standard issue." Digby notes that McCain is currently wildly popular around the country, among both Republicans and Democrats. That's going to be something to watch in the coming years, especially if he runs for president in 2008. All things considered, McCain is even more radical than Bush, especially on foreign policy—among other things, he's talked about ramping up the number of troops in Iraq and going after Iran with military force. And apart from a somewhat sensible approach to the environment—which will no doubt get scuttled once those "bundled" industry donations start pouring in, come 2007—he's not "liberal" in any sense of the word.

Census Survey Program to Be Cut

| Fri Mar. 3, 2006 3:58 PM EST

Dean Baker reports that the Bush administration is proposing to cut the Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Why? Presumably it's not just because of the money—the extremely valuable data-gathering program only costs about $40 million a year, or about six hours worth of the Iraq war. Or perhaps it's, as Baker suggests, because the White House wants "to reduce the flow of bad economic news."

Either way, it's a bad idea. Back in the early 1990s, conservatives used to talk about how they would subject every liberal social program out there to a rigorous evaluation, to see if actually worked or not. But it's kind of hard to do that if there isn't any actual data. On the other hand, it's also a lot harder to judge the Bush administration if there isn't any actual data to use. Which seems to fit in the general trend here.

How Effective is Foreign Aid?

| Fri Mar. 3, 2006 3:21 PM EST

Every now and again, William Easterly, a former World Bank official and development expert, will appear on the op-ed pages of the Washington Post and tell everyone that foreign aid doesn't really work all that well in places like Africa, taking a jab at Jeffrey Sachs and all those other good-intentioned "foreign aid" liberals out there in the process. And no doubt, it's good to remember that more than a few grandiose aid projects have ended in disaster, but it's another thing to say that foreign aid is hopeless, now and forever.

Police chief accused of denying CPR to gay man

| Thu Mar. 2, 2006 9:49 PM EST

From Poverty Barn comes the news that in Welch, West Virginia, Police Chief Bobby Bowman has been has been accused in a federal lawsuit of impeding a rescuer from saving the life of 43-year-old Claude Green, who died of a heart attack in June. According to Green's friend, Billy Snead, who performed chest compressions on Green, Bowman ordered him to get away and said that Green was HIV positive.

"He was a police officer so I got out the way. I assumed he would help. I didn't want to be a hindrance," Snead said. "He also told the ambulance drivers that he was HIV positive and to be careful."

Bowman denies that he he refused Green CPR and calls the accusation a "boldface lie" (obviously, he meant a "bald-faced lie"). Rose Saxe, an attorney with the ACLU AIDS Project said that Bowman's alleged actions not only contributed to Green's death (he died half an hour after arriving at the hospital), but also violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Says Saxe: "It's hard to say what was more shameful: that Chief Bowman assumed Claude Green was HIV positive solely because he was gay, or that Bowman was so ignorant about HIV that he felt you couldn't safely perform CPR on an HIV positive person."

Media Offices Stormed in Kenya

Thu Mar. 2, 2006 2:21 PM EST

Last night close to a hundred hooded men armed with AK-47s stormed the Standard Newspaper's central office in Nairobi, Kenya, destroying papers and temporarily halting production. The raid, which was carried out simultaneously with one on the Kenya Television Network, involved the destruction of printing presses, the burning of thousands of newspapers and the beating of staff members. The Kenyan government, considered democratic, has previously accused the Standard of inventing stories on several occasions.

Corruption has raged through the Kenyan government as of late, and the media has fostered political tension by calling into question a series of secret meetings between Kenya President Mwai Kibaki and his main opponent, former Environment Minister Kalonzo Musyoka. The article on that secret rendezvous, published Saturday, led to the detention of three Standard reporters yesterday. After divulging all they knew, and asked to reveal their sources, the journalists were instructed to wait for further instructions "from above."

Information Minister Mutahi Kagwe says he knows nothing about the raids, yet earlier in the week he had threatened government intervention if publications continue their "misreporting and misrepresentation." As he put it: "If you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it." The police now admit to the raid, calling it a "sweep" to gather evidence important to national security.

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Why Hate Heating Assistance?

| Thu Mar. 2, 2006 1:09 PM EST

Fred Clark makes a very good point here. You'd think that pro-corporate Republicans like Joe Barton, Dick Cheney, and George Bush would be all in favor of low-income heating assistance programs, like LIHEAP, that allow poor families to buy oil to heat their homes—because ultimately that money just ends up in the pockets of Exxon and Shell executives. It's corporate welfare, only it actually does some good on the side. Republicans should be all over that, right? Guess not—Congress still refuses to fund the program at the necessary levels, despite record high heating costs this winter, forcing families to rely on Venezuela for heating oil aid. The joy of seeing people freeze to death, apparently, outweighs the joy of helping everyone's favorite oil companies out.

Also, if the GOP really wanted to lower costs for programs like LIHEAP—which, when it comes down to it, only amounts to a percent of a percentage point of the federal budget anyway—the party could support federal proposals to "weatherize" old homes, by plugging up leaks and making old homes more heat-efficient. Everyone's utility bills will be lower in the long run, and Congress could spend less on aid. Again, this too would achieve a core Republican goal—reducing spending—and do good things. But no. Too sensible, apparently.

Bush, Chertoff Warned Before Katrina

Wed Mar. 1, 2006 7:11 PM EST

New video footage shows that Bush was briefed on the probable disaster that could result from Hurricane Katrina, including busted levees, before the storm struck. The video also shows Bush not asking a single question during his final briefing before the hurricane hit. The footage, obtained by the Associated Press, shows

in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster…

.A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome. "I'm concerned about their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe."Just five days later the levees had burst, and Bush stated that he didn't think anyone had any idea that that could happen.

Predicting the Insurgency

| Wed Mar. 1, 2006 5:35 PM EST

The latest scoop by Knight-Ridder's Jonathan Landay and Warren Stroebel has been linked around quite a bit:

U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned the White House beginning more than two years ago that the insurgency in Iraq had deep local roots, was likely to worsen and could lead to civil war, according to former senior intelligence officials who helped craft the reports.

Among the warnings, Knight Ridder has learned, was a major study, called a National Intelligence Estimate, completed in October 2003 that concluded that the insurgency was fueled by local conditions - not foreign terrorists- and drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops.

The reports received a cool reception from Bush administration policymakers at the White House and the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to the former officials, who discussed them publicly for the first time. Okay, so Rumsfeld and the people in the White House are fools. We knew that. And however wrong our intelligence agencies may have been about various things over the years, this is yet more evidence that they were always considerably less wrong than the civilians—hacks, one might call them—in the Bush administration. We've known that too.

But here's a question that doesn't really get answered in the piece. What could Rumsfeld or anyone else have actually done if they had taken the reports seriously? Was there a window of opportunity in October 2003 when the U.S. military could have shut down the Iraqi insurgency, with a change of tactics or whatnot, if only Rumsfeld had just listened to the NIE? Or was it just that the insurgency was inevitable and unstoppable and no amount of forewarning by U.S. intelligence could have changed any of that? I certainly don't know, and it's an important question, at least for those debating whether the occupation of Iraq was a catastrophe because it was a good idea that was completely bungled in the execution (as many a disgruntled hawk now believes) or because it was a bad idea that was bound to fail from the start.

Demographics and Patriarchy

| Wed Mar. 1, 2006 5:03 PM EST

Philip Longman makes a somewhat novel argument in Foreign Policy this month. He notes that population growth rates in the industrialized world are slowing down, because families aren't having enough kids these days. Eventually populations will shrink in many countries—it's already happening in Japan. But Longman argues that, in most of these countries, what he calls "patriarchal" families will still reproduce faster than their godless liberal counterparts. So the world of the future will "disproportionately be descended from parents who rejected the social tendencies that once made childlessness and small families the norm." More kids will come from socially conservative families, basically.

Longman thinks that this explains why America is becoming more conservative; the right-wingers are having more babies. "Among states that voted for President George W. Bush in 2004, fertility rates are 12 percent higher than in states that voted for Sen. John Kerry." Well, maybe. But probably not. Even granted that conservatives tend to have more kids than liberals, that doesn't mean that the kids all stay conservative. Polls in the United States show that every generation tends to be more liberal than their parents, at least on social issues. George W. Bush may be president, but the country as a whole is far more socially liberal than it was, say, thirty or twenty years ago. (Really.) So it's not clear that demographics are necessarily going to lead to "religious revivals and a rebirth of the patriarchal family [rebirth? did it ever die?]" all around the industrialized world. But Longman's argument's worth reading all the same.