Political MoJo

Whistleblowers Need Protection

| Wed Feb. 15, 2006 6:21 PM EST

Last week I did a long post arguing that current whistleblower protections for those who want to complain about wrongdoing by the government are hardly sufficient to ensure that everything that needs reporting gets reported. Today the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have a new editorial out that puts this issue in historical perspective and comes to a similar conclusion. The relevant parts below are well worth reading in full:

In the 1980s, CIA employee Richard Barlow discovered that Pakistan, with the blessing of the Reagan and Bush I administrations, was able to buy restricted nuclear technology-related items in the United States. Barlow also unmasked a coordinated attempt by the U.S. intelligence community to lie to Congress about Pakistan's activities. The result? His security clearance was suspended, and he lost his job. The Reagan and Bush I administrations covered up Barlow's discoveries because, at the time, they needed Pakistan's help to fund and supply the Afghans in their bloody fight with the Soviets.

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Confronting the NSA Spy Scandal

| Wed Feb. 15, 2006 6:07 PM EST

Digby has a fantastic post noting that Democrats are quickly becoming afraid of confronting Bush over the NSA spying scandal, and then making the case for why they shouldn't be scared: "If the Democrats in Congress simply stood together on principle instead of listening to overfed, out of touch strategists who have misdiagnosed the problem for years, they would begin to crawl out of this hole on national security."

Starving Hamas

| Wed Feb. 15, 2006 5:23 PM EST

This seems like a strange way to think about democracy in the Middle East:

The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.

The intention is to starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international connections to the point where, some months from now, its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new election. The hope is that Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement.Right. "Vote any way you want, really; we'll just make sure you starve if you happen to vote the wrong way..." I'm no fan of Hamas, but this sort of thing seems pretty unlikely to encourage any sort of "moderation" from the governing party. Maybe that's the point. It's not a hugely novel approach either. In 1990, during the elections in Nicaragua, the United States let voters know in no uncertain terms that massive amounts of aid would be forthcoming if they voted the Sandinistas out of office and voted in the U.S.-backed Violeta Chamorro. (And the Reagan administration certainly found ways to "destabilize" the leftist Nicaraguan government during the 1980s.) And all Nicaragua got for going along with this plan was the opportunity to be a guinea pig in a grand neoliberal experiment that devastated the country. Maybe the Palestinians should take note.

Holy Terror, Batman

Wed Feb. 15, 2006 3:57 PM EST

If reading the newspaper doesn't satisfy your hunger for "war on terror" news, soon there will be a new place to turn: the comic book. Frank Miller, who is credited with giving Batman its noir makeover is again revamping the series to echo the national mood. The days of nemeses like the Riddler and the Penguin are apparently behind us, as now, according to Miller "Batman will be kicking a lot of Al Queda butt." Miller acknowledges the new "Holy Terror, Batman" series as a definite piece of propaganda, and wishes "entertainers of our time had the spine and the focus of the ones who faced down Hitler…. it's silly to have Batman out chasing the Riddler when you've got al Qaeda out there."

While many of us relish CSI-style crime dramas, incorporating the "axis of evil" into comic books interferes with the entire fantasy-driven component of the storyline. Batman fighting the jihad pretty much robs readers of the potential for seeking a pure and escapist form of enjoyment. Is there no getting away from foreign policy any more? Hopefully we can incorporate some domestic issues as well. Stand by for "Batman and Robin's upcoming nuptials" and "Wonder Woman seeks equal pay!"

How Widespread is Censorship in China?

Wed Feb. 15, 2006 3:05 PM EST

While Google and Microsoft continue to be subject to scrutiny over their censorship of web content in China, the Chinese government claimed yesterday that their internet access is not all that different from the United States. According to Liu Zhengrong, the government internet official, "If you study the main international practices in this regard you will find that China is basically in compliance with the international norm. The main purposes and methods of implementing our laws are basically the same."

Zhengrong noted that major American publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post claim that they have their own authority to delete stories and topic threads. Zhengrong acknowledged that the Chinese government operates a firewall to censor "harmful content," stressing the importance of protecting children from nasty sites containing pornography. Additionally, he added that individuals have complete freedom to question politically sensitive material, and it's really just a "tiny percentage" of websites that are restricted in mainland China.

Is Europe Doomed?

| Tue Feb. 14, 2006 4:25 PM EST

Cato Unbound has an interesting debate going on right now over the future of Europe. Theodore Dalrymple asks, "Is 'Old Europe' Doomed?" and argues that at the very least the continent is "sleepwalking to further relative decline," probably, in part because too much left-style regulation is strangling the economy, compared with the "success" of neoliberalism here in the United States. Charles Kupchan takes a contrarian view, noting that the EU is about as wealthy as the United States (and that includes a number of Eastern European countries that are still developing). Anne Applebaum thinks Dalrymple may have a point.

It's an interesting debate, but it's not clear that Europe's really doing so much worse than the United States in the usual economic terms. (Dalyrmple also makes various cultural arguments that I'll set aside here.) Here, for instance, is economist Robert Pozen's take on those perennial Europe-U.S. comparisons:

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UN: Shut Guantanamo Down

Tue Feb. 14, 2006 2:37 PM EST

Following an 18 month investigation directed by the UN Commission on Human Rights, five experts have called for the U.S. to close Guantanamo Bay. Determining that the force feeding techniques employed by the facility are acts of torture, the UN envoys have composed a 38-page report on their findings. Although the report will not be released until the next UN Commission meeting on March 13, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has already started doing damage control, calling the findings "unfounded."

Immigration Agents Pose as OSHA Officials

| Mon Feb. 13, 2006 5:33 PM EST

Steven Greenhouse reported on a ploy by immigration officials to catch undocumented immigrants; the officials would pose as officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and then and deport catch any unsuspecting illegal immigrants who came their way.

Right, very clever. Really, though, all this does is ensure that undocumented workers will be even less likely to seek out actual work-safety officials in the event that they, say, get injured on the job—and Hispanic workers already have disproportionately high injury rates at work. And with fewer immigrants willing to speak out, employers will have even less incentive to maintain safety standards at work. Business wins, while immigrants will continue to resemble indentured servants more and more. Very clever, indeed.

Why Ration Health Care?

| Mon Feb. 13, 2006 5:14 PM EST

In the health care debate, there's often much talk that so much money is "wasted" trying to save those in the last years of their life. (The statistic that gets hauled out here is that the share of Medicare costs incurred by patients in their last year of life is about 28 percent.) In the New York Times last year, Daniel Altman suggested that major health care costs could be saved simply by, well, letting people die earlier:

End-of-life care may also be a useful focus because, in some cases, efforts to prolong life may end up only prolonging suffering. In such cases, reducing pain may be a better use of resources than heroic attempts to save lives.
On the other hand, the other day Max Sawicky highlighted a quote from a textbook by economist Jonathan Gruber that says—regardless of one's moral views on the question—that this is unrealistic:

Cracker Barrel sued for discrimination--again

| Mon Feb. 13, 2006 4:53 PM EST

A gay woman in Londonderry, New Hampshire, has sued a Cracker Barrel restaurant, claiming that management did nothing after she complained of employees sexually assaulting her and making crude references to her sexuality. The woman, Bonnie Usher, joined the Cracker Barrel staff as a cook in 2000. In the complaint she filed with New Hampshire human rights commission, she says that she was denied better work shifts and promotions because she is a woman, that she was subjected to abusive language, was groped by a co-worker, and that a photo of the groping was hung on the wall of the restaurant's employee area.

Usher was fired in 2004, and she is maintaining that the company fired her because she complained about mistreatment on the job. A spokesman for Cracker Barrel says the company was not aware of Usher's complaints.

Bonnie Usher's suit is interesting because it adds gender discrimination and sexual harrassment to a long list of employee complaints over many years. In the early 90's, a Cracker Barrel memo, written by a company executive, was leaked. The memo stated that managers should fire employees who did not "demonstrate normal heterosexual values." One lesbian employee, Cheryl Summerville, said the reason given on her separation papers was "Employee is gay." Summerville's Cracker Barrel was in Georgia, where there is no state protection for gay workers, so she was unable to take legal action against the company. There was a shareholder outcry against Cracker Barrel's policy, and a decade-long boycott of the restaurant by gays and gay rights activists, leading to the addition of a non-discrimination clause in Cracker Barrel's employee policies.

Then there was the matter of discrimination against African Americans. A civil rights investigation found that black diners in Cracker Barrel restaurants in seven states--about 50 Cracker Barrel locations--were segregated from whites in restaurant seating, seated after white customers who arrived later, and given inferior table service. Interviews with employees revealed that managers "often directed, participated in, or condoned the discriminatory behavior."

In 2004, Cracker Barrel agreed to change its training and management practices to prevent discrimination against African American customers, though the company denied the allegations made against it. There were a hundred suits filed by individuals against Cracker Barrel, and--according to attorney Heidi Doerhoff--"They're still fighting tooth and nail against all the private plaintiffs."

Cracker Barrel's Equal Opportunity Statement claims that "Cracker Barrel will not tolerate any form of discrimination, harassment or retaliation affecting its employees or applicants due to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, age, marital status, medical condition, or disability." Though any chain can undergo the misfortune of having one of its franchises dishonor the company's non-discrimination policy, accusations--so far, all of them proven--against Cracker Barrel have been so numerous for so long that the addition of a new one does not speak well for the company's desire to change its ways.