Political MoJo

A Peaceful Iraq... in Turkey?

Thu Mar. 30, 2006 3:07 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 It was taken from the upper floor of the Rashid hotel in the Green Zone on July 13, 2005—a little out of date—and one of the buildings depicted has now been completely obliterated.

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Crackdown on Sex-Selection Abortions

Wed Mar. 29, 2006 10:03 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 5:21 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 4:57 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.

FISA Judges Speak Out

| Wed Mar. 29, 2006 2:47 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 8:27 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?"

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FEC Regulates the Internet

Tue Mar. 28, 2006 5:22 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 4:00 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.

U.S.-Shiite Tensions in Iraq

| Tue Mar. 28, 2006 3:25 PM EST

A year ago, military analyst John Robb predicted that the U.S. in Iraq would begin arming and backing "loyalist paramilitaries" to fight the Sunni insurgency, and that that the tactic could backfire badly. As it turned out, they did and it has, now that Shiite militias linked to the Interior Ministry are massacring Sunnis by the dozen each day, and, as military sources told the New York Times yesterday, pose a greater security problem than al-Qaeda and the rest of the Sunni insurgency do.

Now anyone who remembered what happened in El Salvador in the 1980s—when U.S.-condoned "death squads" prolonged, rather than ended, the conflict—could have told everyone that this would happen. In fact, some people tried. But no one listened. And now that the U.S. military has evidently begun carrying out raids against Shiite mosques—and seriously pissing off the Iraqi government—the real problems are just beginning. Robb has a post today noting just how bad things could, conceivably, get:

Here's a likely scenario for how this will play out: deeper entrenchment within US bases (to limit casualties) and pledges of neutrality (Rumsfeld) will prove hollow. Ongoing ethnic slaughter will force US intervention to curtail the militias. Inevitably, this will increase tensions with the militias and quickly spin out of control. Military and police units sent to confront the militias will melt down (again), due to conflicting loyalties.

Several large battles with militias will drive up US casualties sharply. Supply lines to US bases from Kuwait will be cut. Protesters will march on US bases to demand a withdrawal. Oil production via the south will be cut (again), bringing Iraqi oil exports to a halt. Meanwhile, the government will continue its ineffectual debate within the green zone, as irrelevant to the reality on the ground in the country as ever. Unable to function in the mounting chaos and facing a collapse in public support for the war, the US military will be forced to withdraw in haste.

It will be ugly.To say the least.

Newly released documents show U.S. role in bloody Argentine coup

| Tue Mar. 28, 2006 3:20 PM EST

If you have never seen the 1985 Argentine film, La Historia Oficial, you have missed not only a very fine film, but a riveting, unforgettable performance by Norma Aleandro, winner of the 1985 Cannes Best Actress award. The Official Story is about a history teacher whose well-placed husband is able to negotiate their adoption of a beautiful little girl. It turns out that the girl is the kidnapped daughter of one of the many "disappeared," some of whom were pregnant women whose babies were given to the families of government officials. Aleandro's character's slow realization of what has been going on in her country--and right under her nose--is almost too painful to watch.

Between 1975 and 1978, at least 22,000 people were murdered or disappeared in Argentina when a military junta took over the country. Last Thursday, the day before the 30th anniversary of this, Argentina's bloodiest coup, the National Security Archive released a series of declassified U.S. documents, as well as secret documents from Southern Cone intelligence agencies, that reveal detailed evidence of the atrocities committed by the junta.

One of the documents is a transcript of a staff meeting of then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In the transcript, then-Assistant Secretary for Latin America William Rogers advises Kissinger not to be in a rush to embrace the new regime in Argentina:

I think also we've got to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long. I think they're going to have to come down very hard not only on the terrorists but on the dissidents of trade unions and their parties.

Kissinger's reply: "Whatever chance they have, they will need a little encouragement…because I do want to encourage them. I don't want to give the sense that they're harassed by the United States."

The Argentine military warned the U.S. Embassy that "some executions...would probably be necessary" and that they wanted to minimize any resulting problems with the United States. U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Robert Hill wrote that "it is encouraging to note that the Argentine military are aware of the problem and are already focusing on ways to avoid letting human rights issues become an irritant in US-Argentine relations."

Some estimates of the "disappeared" are as high as 30,000. Around 500 babies were taken from their parents and given to other families.