Political MoJo

Uranium for Everyone

| Thu Apr. 6, 2006 2:38 PM EDT

I realize not everyone dashes to the mailbox to see if the latest issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has arrived yet, but there's a story in this month's magazine that's worth reading. Basically, back in the day, the United States used to export highly-enriched uranium (HEU) to other countries for various civilian purposes, until discovering that the stuff can very easily be used to make nuclear bombs, should some crafty terrorist get it into his or her head to do so. No good. So we switched to exporting low-enriched uranium (LEU) instead, which can be used for the same civilian purposes, but can't be used for nuclear weaponry.

Anyway, so it's pretty much LEU for everyone nowadays, except that four major international producers of medical isotopes, which are used for diagnostic procedures and chemical treatments, still buy about 85 kilograms of HEU a year from the United States to make their isotopes. That poses something of a proliferation threat, especially since medical facilities aren't exactly the most secure of sites. Congress, for its part, has tried to introduce laws to force these companies to switch to LEU, which is much safer, to produce their isotopes—something that is technically feasible.

But. These producers are lazy, and in 2003, they successfully lobbied to loosen that requirement in the energy bill, which Bush signed into law last year. So basically, thanks to business lobbying, the United States continues to send bomb-grade uranium around the world—indeed, as a result of the bill, it will probably increase exports of HEU—to unsecured locations. Sweet dreams, everyone.

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Frist's Immigration Compromise

| Thu Apr. 6, 2006 2:15 PM EDT

I'm not sure I understand the point of this "compromise" immigration bill floating through the Senate. In the latest version, all immigrants that have lived here illegally for more than five years could apply for citizenship; anyone that has lived here less than five but more than two years would have to leave and apply for "guest worker" status—or indentured servant status, if you prefer—and any illegal immigrant that has lived here for less than two years would have to leave, period.

Okay, so why would any of those undocumented immigrants who have lived here less than five years ever show their faces? They wouldn't, and this bill will only push those immigrants even further underground. Meanwhile, how will the Department of Homeland Security, which now handles immigration, know which immigrants have been here how long? After all, these immigrants are all undocumented—that's the point. Someone who has been living here ten years illegally might have a hard time proving it.

Then there's another concern. As Jean of Body and Soul observes, the last time the United States cracked down on immigration, in 1929, officials "made no distinction between people of Mexican ancestry who were in the USA legally and those who weren't." There was a lot of intimidation and harassment and shipping people off on trains. All this for a policy that almost certainly won't stop illegal immigration. Moreover, the latest Senate "compromise" will only get worse once it gets compromised further, in conference with the draconian House bill. It's probably time to scuttle immigration "reform" altogether and wait for a more sensible Congress to come to power.

Plenty of opportunities to impeach Bush

| Wed Apr. 5, 2006 10:40 PM EDT

The United States of America has undergone three impeachment proceedings. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached because he removed Secretary of War Edwin Stanton from his position, which was a violation of the Tenure of Office Act. He was not convicted, and Kansas Senator Edmond G. Ross, who cast the vote that saved the president, is profiled in John F. Kennedy's Profiles In Courage. In 1974, President Richard M. Nixon was impeached because of the Watergate break-iin coverup, but he resigned from office before the proceedings could go forth. And in 1998-99, President Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about an affair he had with an intern. Clinton, of course, was not convicted.

In each case, impeachment proceedings were begun because of the perception that the president had violated a law. Patiot Daily points out that Congress may ratify Bush's illegal spying with new FISA legislation so that his actions will be deemed legal and he cannot be impeached for having committed them.

Patriot Daily goes on to say, however, that during the month of March alone, Bush violated enough other laws to make impeachment proceedings possible. The writer of the Patriot Daily piece says that, "to avoid writing a book," it was necessary to omit any violations of law committed before March 1, 2006, violations of humanitarian laws and negligence, and some of the prior laws to which there had not been additional information added.

With these restrictions in mind, here are just a few of the March violations:

Bush signed the spending bill, knowing that violated a Constitutional requirement that the bill must first pass in both chambers.

He violated the material witness law by using it as preventive detention authority who could commit terrorist acts some day but for whom there is no cause for criminal charges.

He violated the Clean Air Act by by loosening emission standards for aging coal-fired power plants. The Clean Air Act makes it clear that only Congress may make such a decision.

In a legal brief written for the U.S. Supreme Court, Bush cited evidence from a debate by two Republican senators. There was no such debate. The evidence was manufactured by the White House.

Bush defined "material support" for terrorists in such a distorted fashion that victims of terrorists wound up being defined as terrorists.

He approved the ports deal, knowing that Dubai's boycott of Israel was illegal under U.S. law.

He failed to hand over delinquent mining company safety violation fees to the Department of the Treasury, as required by law. (He also decreased major fines, and did not collect any in half of the caes.)

He violated the law when he secured the UAE ports deal without the required national security review.

Bush's nuclear deal with India violates U.S. and international nuclear nonproliferation laws.

Patriot Daily lists many more violations committed by the Bush adminiistration, as well as relevant links.

Iraq and Libya Revisited

| Wed Apr. 5, 2006 6:08 PM EDT

This argument hasn't come up in awhile, but way back in the day, Iraq war-supporters used to argue that it was the invasion and ouster of Saddam Hussein that convinced Libya's Muammar Qaddafi to give up his own burgeoning nuclear program. Way back in 2004, I discussed some evidence that this wasn't the case: the relevant policy towards Libya had been put in motion long, long ago, and it took a lot of old-fashioned diplomacy by this administration—so much so that the people negotiating had to sideline John Bolton from the talks—to get Libya to give up the bomb.

Anyway, Arms and Influence links to a new analysis by Dafna Hochmann which says much the same thing: the invasion of Iraq had at most a marginal effect on Libya's decision. Robert Farley also has some good comments on the paper.

Texas' High Teen Pregnancy Rates

| Wed Apr. 5, 2006 5:33 PM EDT

Jill at Feministe points out that Texas—which has, over the years, slashed funding for family planning and teaches abstinence—has the highest teen birthrate in the country, along with a very high rate of unintended pregnancies. According to the Houston Chronicle, 1.5 million women are "without help in avoiding unplanned pregnancies," and that was before the latest round of funding cuts and clinic closings.

Meanwhile, Bitch | Lab has a response very much worth reading, noting that a lack of family planning resources may lead to unintended pregnancies across the board, but it isn't the only factor leading to high teen pregnancy rates: "It's not always lack of information. It's lack of desire to want to avoid pregnancy. And it's sometimes about a desire to want to get pregnant." Among other things, she notes that teen pregnancy is culture specific—Latina teen mothers in particular are much less likely to say that their pregnancy was "unintended" than white and African-American teen mothers, according to various studies. I don't really have a larger point here, I just thought both posts were interesting.

Amnesty Offers New Evidence on Rendition

Wed Apr. 5, 2006 4:42 PM EDT

Last week Diane noted that Amnesty International was set to release evidence proving the CIA used private aircraft operators and front companies to hide its rendition flights. The report is now public, and it gives numerous firsthand accounts from individuals who were flown on nearly 1,000 flights directly linked to the CIA and taken to "black sites" where they were extensively tortured and detained in "complete isolation, in cells measuring about 2m x 3m," and "permanently shackled to a ring fixed in the floor."

According to one account, prisoners were transported somewhere in Eastern Europe, where "all of the guards and officials were Americans" and "the men were never allowed outside, or even to look through a window," while "temperatures were colder than any they had ever known."

According to Condoleeza Rice, "The United States has not transported anyone, and will not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured." But she says nothing about potential transport to "blacksites" or renditions conducted by other governments. To this she states, "where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured." But as Amnesty International points out, "if the practice of torture and ill-treatment in custody is so great that the USA must seek assurances that the receiving state will not behave as it normally does, then the risk is obviously too great to permit the transfer."

Swiss authorities have already confirmed Amnesty's report that six CIA flights landed in Switzerland. Dick Marty, the Swiss senator investigating allegations of secret CIA prisons on behalf of the Council of Europe, welcomed the report. "Interestingly the research was done by civil society and not by the government," he noted. Interesting indeed.

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Privacy Issues Arise in HIV Case

Wed Apr. 5, 2006 3:34 PM EDT

The California Supreme Court is currently hearing an interesting case with potentially far-reaching implications: A woman identified only as "Bridget B." is suing her ex-husband for infecting her with HIV, claiming that she had the right to know that she was at risk of exposure to the disease. The case hinges on the fact that Bridget's ex-husband waited over a year into their marriage to tell her he had previously engaged in sexual relations with men—an action considered "high risk behavior."

The defense claims that the ex-husband in question, "John B.", should be absolved of any responsibility because, while he may have known about his own sexual past, he wasn't aware that he was HIV-positive. A ruling on the case could set a precedent for what sexual partners do and don't have to disclose to each other—the defense argues that should it lose the case, all Californians could potentially be forced to "divulge all past sexual conduct that posed any remote possibility of a contagious disease." The court will hand down a decision within 90 days.

Shocking: Tax Cuts Go to the Wealthy

| Wed Apr. 5, 2006 2:33 PM EDT

In the New York Times today, David Cay Johnston has some data to back up what many people have been saying all along—that Bush's 2003 tax cuts on dividends and other investment income mostly benefited the very wealthy:

Americans with annual incomes of $1 million or more, about one-tenth of 1 percent all taxpayers, reaped 43 percent of all the savings on investment taxes in 2003. The savings for these taxpayers averaged about $41,400 each…

[By contrast, t]hose making less than $50,000 saved an average of $10 more because of the investment tax cuts, for a total of $435 in total income tax cuts, according to the computer model. Meanwhile, Johnston reports that the usual administration line on these tax cuts—that lower taxes on investment will lead to more investment—may not even be true, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. (In fact, they may even lead to lower savings because "people need fewer investments to earn the same after-tax income.) So much for that rationale. But hey, at least the tax cuts were good for growth. No, wait, that's probably not true. Okay, well at least they were affordable and didn't blow a hole in the federal budget. No, that's not true either. Um...

Senate president's son sodomizes 18 boys, is not charged with sexual assault

| Tue Apr. 4, 2006 11:44 PM EDT

Clifton Bennett, 18-year-old son of Arizona state Senate president Ken Bennett, and his friend, 19-year-old Kyle Wheeler, were charged in January of 18 counts of aggravated assault and 18 counts of kidnapping. The charges refer to incidents which occurred at a boys' student government leadership skills camp in June of 2005, at which Bennett confesed that he and Wheeler sodomized several 11- to 14-year-old boys with broomsticks and flashlights in 40 separate incidents.

Wheeler has an additional assault charge based on his choking three boys until they passed out.

Yesterday, the pair was offered a plea agreement that will include no record of sexual assault; they will likely receive 90-day jail sentences, though the judge could reduce the charges and give them no jail time at all.

According to the victims' parents, the boys are having some type of colonic difficulty, they are sleeping with their clothes on, are afraid at night, and have received sexual assault-related counseling. However, the prosecutor told the judge that the "broomsticking" was a "hazing ritual" and a punishment for breaking rules, not sexual assault. The assaults, he said, were not viewed as sexual in nature because the prosecution could not prove that the perpetrators had "sexual intent." One has to wonder how this prosecutor does with other rape cases.

Bennett is an honor student and an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. If convicted of a felony, he would not be allowed to go on a planned church mission in September.

Immigration, Penalties, Incentives

| Tue Apr. 4, 2006 10:25 PM EDT

Mark Kleiman makes yet another good point about immigration here. Immigration reform bills that increase penalties for illegal immigrants themselves—like Jim Sensenbrenner's bill which would make residing in this country illegally a felony—will only make it harder to penalize the actual businesses who hire illegal immigrants, because the undocumented workers will be deterred from doing any whistle-blowing. And it's hard to catch companies breaking the law without whistleblowers.

Meanwhile, steep penalties that deter illegal immigrants from testifying or complaining about their work conditions only makes them more attractive to employers, more likely to be hired, and more likely to be exploited—which contributes heavily towards depressing wages for native workers. Finally, as Kleiman points out, steep penalties for makes them more likely to become the victims of crime—since they're less likely to report anything to the police, for fear of deportation.

If Congress really wanted to slow down illegal immigration, they'd give the immigrants themselves every incentive to blow the whistle on companies hiring illegal immigrants—perhaps by granting citizenship to any immigrant who can she that he or she was illegally hired by a company—and then levy very steep penalties on law-breaking firms. The problem is that the businesses themselves tend to have well-paid lobbyists who can stop these sorts of provisions and penalties, while undocumented voters don't have, for obvious reasons, much of a voice in Congress.