Political MoJo

In Afghanistan, "becoming a Christian is against our laws"

Mon Mar. 20, 2006 5:30 PM EST

In a key test of religious freedom in post-Taliban Afghanistan, reports the Times of London, a court in Kabul is trying 41-year-old Abdul Rahman and could sentence him to death. His crime? Being a Christian. Rahman was arrested last month after his family accused him of having renounced his Muslim faith, an offense punishable by hanging under the Afghan constitution. The judge in the case, Alhaj Ansarullah Mawlawy Zada, called his country's constitution perfect, and said Rahman deserved punishment for "teasing and insulating his family by converting."

Though the Afghan constitution enshrines Islam as the national religion, it includes human rights safeguards forbidding inhumane punishments. Even so, the prosecutor in the case is pretty sure he'll get a conviction. Rahman "would be forgiven if he changed back," to Islam, he said, but not otherwise. "We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty." After this verdict, Rahman will have two shots at an appeal.

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McCain hires player in DeLay money laundering scheme

| Mon Mar. 20, 2006 4:53 PM EST

In 2002, Terry Nelson was the deputy chief of staff for the Republican National Committee. That same year, Sen. Tom DeLay and two of his colleagues allegedly tried to dance around a Texas law which makes it illegal for corporations to fund candidates. According to the indictment against DeLay, John Colyandro, and Jim Ellis, illegal money was laundered through the Republican National Committee via the Republican National State Elections Committee.

There is no doubt that Nelson was directly involved in the scheme, though he has not been indicted. In 2003, Nelson was named political director of Bush-Cheney '04, Inc., and yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Nelson has been selected by Sen. John McCain to be a senior advisor to McCain's Straight Talk America political action committee. One supposes that, with this hiring, Nelson is somehow unindictable with regard to the DeLay money laundering affair. His addition to McCain's team "will be maximize the organization's influence and effectiveness in the 2006 midterm elections, but his hiring also makes a major mark on the 2008 landscape."

Krugman on the failure of a movement as well as a man.

| Mon Mar. 20, 2006 3:30 PM EST

Paul Krugman from behind the Times Select paywall writes:

Mr. Bush, of course, bears primary responsibility for the state of his presidency. But there's more going on here than his personal inadequacy; we're looking at the failure of a movement as well as a man. As evidence, consider the fact that most of the conservatives now rushing to distance themselves from Mr. Bush still can't bring themselves to criticize his actual policies. Instead, they accuse him of policy sins — in particular, of being a big spender on domestic programs — that he has not, in fact, committed.

The actual polices conservatives can't bring themselves to criticize are the Iraq war (which they supported), the wartime tax cuts (an article of faith impervious to reality), and the "systematic dishonesty" of Bush's budgets (They knew he was lying about the budget "but they thought they were in on the con.")

So what's left? Well, it's safe for conservatives to criticize Mr. Bush for presiding over runaway growth in domestic spending, because that implies that he betrayed his conservative supporters. There's only one problem with this criticism: it's not true.

It's true that federal spending as a percentage of G.D.P. rose between 2001 and 2005. But the great bulk of this increase was accounted for by increased spending on defense and homeland security, including the costs of the Iraq war, and by rising health care costs.

Conservatives aren't criticizing Mr. Bush for his defense spending. Since the Medicare drug program didn't start until 2006, the Bush administration can't be blamed for the rise in health care costs before then. Whatever other fiscal excesses took place weren't large enough to play more than a marginal role in spending growth.

So where does the notion of Bush the big spender come from? In a direct sense it comes largely from Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, who issued a report last fall alleging that government spending was out of control. Mr. Riedl is very good at his job; his report shifts artfully back and forth among various measures of spending (nominal, real, total, domestic, discretionary, domestic discretionary), managing to convey the false impression that soaring spending on domestic social programs is a major cause of the federal budget deficit without literally lying.

But the reason conservatives fall for the Heritage spin is that it suits their purposes. They need to repudiate George W. Bush, but they can't admit that when Mr. Bush made his key mistakes — starting an unnecessary war, and using dishonest numbers to justify tax cuts — they were cheering him on.

So there.

Civil War? Who you gonna believe - me or your lyin' eyes?

| Mon Mar. 20, 2006 1:02 PM EST

From the annals of perception-management (WP):

"What we've seen is a serious effort by them to foment civil war, but I don't think they've been successful."
--Dick Cheney on CBS's Face the Nation

"We are losing a day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."
--Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (who is of course no more a disinterested party than is Cheney, but who does seem to have the evidence rather more on his side) talking to the BBC.

Arizona citizens mobilize to defeat factory farm control

| Fri Mar. 17, 2006 9:37 PM EST

Arizona is a major factory-farming state. At some hog-breeding farms, gestation crates are used. These two-foot wide crates keep the hogs confined to a tiny space their entire lives, much the same as hen battery cages and veal crates.

The Humane Farms Initiative was proposed in Arizona so that crates such as these would be outlawed. A similar initiative was successful in Florida, making it the first state to enact such a ban. Arizona factory farm interests fought back with Senate Concurrent Resolution 1035, which would have placed on the November ballot a constitutional amendment to require that all laws dealing with agriculture in the state of Arizona be adopted by an unnamed executive agency only. Passage of SCR 1035 would have made it impossible for the legislature to enact any control over the agricultural industry. The Humane Farms Initiative, even if it passed, would be become void by passage of SCR 1035.

Last month, the Arizona Rules Committee passed SCR 1035, but after a large number of Arizona citizens called, faxed, and emailed their senators, the resolution failed this week in the Committee of the Whole.

Surprising though it may be that Florida has led the way in banning certain of factory farming's more horrific practices, now that the citizens of Arizona have picked up the campaign, there is every reason to believe that soon, other states will begin campaigns to stop at least some of America's institutionalized cruelty against millions of farm animals.

The emotional toll of Katrina: "We are so definitely not OK."

| Fri Mar. 17, 2006 4:17 PM EST

Today's LA Times has a disturbing eye-opener on the emotional toll of Hurricane Katrina. About half a million people need some form of mental health service, at a cost to the federal government of more than $200 million.

In New Orleans, even those trained to offer solace break down easily and often: A hospital nurse, a school psychologist, a paramedic, a counselor all lose composure as they talk about Katrina.

"The truth is, we are not OK. We are so definitely not OK," said Burke Beyer, 31, who leads a federally funded team of counselors in New Orleans.

...The half-year mark should be a milestone; many locals expected recovery to be well underway. Instead, their lives are still a mess, their city is still in ruins, and they can see no end to the chaos.

"You try to adjust but you can't," said Walter L. Collins Jr., 30, a truck driver.

The article says that, nationally, calls to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are up 60 percent since Katrina, and it has these excerpts from a recent survey of second- and third-graders, who were asked to write down their fears:

"I'm worried that I will never see my family again."

"Katrina threw my house somewhere."

"My cat is gone."

"My friends are gone forever."

"What will we do? Where will we go?"

Meanwhile, hurricane season is fast approaching, with the levee system, under repair by the Army Corps of Engineers, "susceptible to flooding with a category two [hurricane]." (At its height, Katrina was a category five.)

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Congress Steps Up Fight Against Porn

Fri Mar. 17, 2006 3:25 PM EST

Legislation introduced yesterday by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Max Baucus (D-MT) would require all "adult websites" to have an .XXX domain, allowing parents more power to censor the internet content of their computers. The bill, called the "Cyber Safety for Kids Act of 2006," specifies that any web "communication" including images, articles, recordings or other "obscene matter," including actual or simulated sexual acts and "lewd exhibition of the genitals or post-pubescent female breast" be categorized under the .XXX domain.

Surprisingly, the bill has generated opposition from the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative organization which argues that the bill would facilitate the proliferation of the porn industry by providing it with its own domain in addition to the "cash cow" of .com sites that the industry will never abandon. The FRC believes porn destroys "marital bonds, and pollutes the minds of child and adult consumers," and would rather see the entire industry totally wiped out, rather than relegated to a specific domain. Meanwhile, The Free Speech Coalition, a "trade organization of the adult entertainment industry," opposes the bill on the grounds that it will "ghettoize content-based speech." Well, maybe they should reconsider the names of their sites, and while they're at it, those horribly offensive pop-ups, if they are feeling sensitive to the potential ghettoization of their brand.

A difficult aspect to the Cyber Safety bill lies in the fact that a significant chunk of the $12 billion dollar internet pornography industry originates off-shore, making it considerably more difficult to regulate. Additionally, the .XXX doesn't do very much to curb the creeps and pedophiles lurking in seemingly benign chat rooms. But the bill would help regulate internet usage in libraries and schools by completely nixing .XXX sites altogether. Clearly this is just a step in the right direction, but parents also need to take a more active role and not turn their thirteen-year-olds loose on the internet.

Congress Raises the Roof on Debt

Fri Mar. 17, 2006 3:20 PM EST

The national debt is currently $8.3 trillion , and Congress just approved a $781 billion increase in the government's debt limit, raising the ceiling for the fourth time in Bush's presidency. Previous increases of $450 billion in 2002, a record $984 billion in 2003 and $800 billion in 2004 have all contributed to the statutory debt limit rising more than $3 trillion since Bush took office.

The new Paul Hackett: "Some have alleged that our president led us to war on false pretenses. I believe we should look into this

| Fri Mar. 17, 2006 3:19 PM EST

Hilarious Daily Show clip on Paul Hackett, erstwhile Democratic congressional candidate and subject of this Mother Jones cover story and these follow-ups. Hackett recently dropped his bid for an Ohio Senate seat, claiming he'd been sandbagged by establishment Dems.

Some highlights:

Paul Hackett: "I was asked by Senator Schumer and Senator Reid and others to get out of the race.... They backed away from supporting me because they realized that I'm outspoken, that I believe in what I say and I'm willing to fight for what I
believe in."

Ed Helms: "There's your problem right there."

On today's Democratic Party:

"If you take a look back at the party of FDR ... and ... of Truman and even Kennedy. That was a party that had balls. The new Democratic Party eventually is going to have to get back to that"

By the end of the segment the "Democratic Party machine" has smoothed out Hackett's rough edges ("Try it again, but without the emotion."), and he's back on message:

Hackett: "Some have alleged that our president led us to war on false pretenses. I believe we should look into this.... I believe we should take care of our environment. That's why I'm standing in front of a river."

Voiceover: "Paul Hackett for Senate—because he won't rock the boat."

Can the WTO Alleviate Poverty?

| Fri Mar. 17, 2006 3:14 PM EST

Trade-bashing probably gets tiresome after awhile, but here's some more of it. A few months ago I looked at some research suggesting that the Doha Round of WTO talks, if completed, was likely to produce very, very tiny gains for developing countries—so tiny that they probably wouldn't offset many of the bad effects from trade liberalization. Well, now Sandra Polanski the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has put out a new study that comes to an even more dire conclusion.