2006 - %3, November

Obama to Reporter: I'm Sorry for "Messing Up Your Game"

| Mon Nov. 20, 2006 5:11 PM EST

In the past Barack Obama has been accused of many things -- having ties to a crooked political fundraiser, for one -- but this, I dare say, is a first. In a recent column in the Henry Daily Herald of McDonough, Georgia, reporter Nicklaus Lovelady lambasts Obama for ruining his chances with a love interest working for a rival paper. Best to let Lovelady take it from here:

I had the looks, I had the charm and I had my eye on this pretty young thing who was doing an internship for a competing paper.

It took me nearly two months of running into each other at various news events before I worked up the nerve to begin talking to her.

And then Obama shows up.

The senator made his way to SIUE one day to introduce some legislation that would increase grants for students. Prior to that, me and the girl became really cool as I let her in on a few tricks of the trade.

The day Obama came, there was a huge press conference at the university's student center with about 100 people inside the conference room and hundreds more viewing the conference on a big screen in the lobby.

Obama did his thing, and at the end there was segment for questions by the media.

After about five questions from different television and newspaper reporters, I stood up to ask mine.

"Wait a minute son, this is for professional media only," Obama said to me.

"What do you mean? I work for the local paper," I said with a crackling nervous voice.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were a college student. You have such a baby face," he said with an unremorseful grin.

At that point everyone in the room turned to look at me and laugh. The 800 people in the lobby laughed as my face was projected on the big screen.

Alas, the "pretty young thing" was laughing, too. And, after that humiliating episode, she was no longer interested in Lovelady's "tricks of the trade." "Obama owes me a public apology for making me look like a court jester and for blocking my shot," Lovelady's column concludes. "Until that time, Hillary or Giuliani will get my vote."

Not about to lose Lovelady's vote, Obama, who has yet to declare whether or not he'll seek the presidency in 2008, phoned the reporter "to publicly apologize for messing up your game. I read that; I felt terrible. I didn't know there were any ladies around. I just wanted to let you know that I'm deeply sorry."

Presidential material? Definitely.

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Guantanamo Roundup: New Courtrooms, Shackles in the O.R., and the Quiet Release of More Detainees

| Mon Nov. 20, 2006 5:04 PM EST

In today's Gitmo news... The Miami Herald reports that the Pentagon has big plans for the detention center there—a $75 million-plus "legal compound" to house the long-awaited military commissions. Some features of the offshore hall of justice:

It would have two courtrooms; housing for up to 1,200 U.S. forces, lawyers, members of the news media and other visitors; a 100-car motor pool; an 800-person dining facility; conference and closed-circuit television facilities and a secure work space for classified material.

Amnesty International has slammed the Pentagon for planning "a permanent homage to its failed experiment in second-class justice." The scheme still has to get through Congress.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has denied a prisoner's request to get a cardiac procedure off-site. The prisoner is Saifullah Paracha, AKA Detainee 1094, who needs a cardiac catheterization.

Paracha's lawyer said that his client complained that several simple diagnostic examinations were not performed adequately by doctors at Guantanamo Naval Hospital. Gaillard Hunt, Paracha's lawyer, said that his client has had his hands and feet shackled when being examined at the base hospital and that several attempts to perform an electrocardiogram, or EKG, proved difficult for base medical staff.

The judge said he was "troubled by the shackling allegations," but ruled against Paracha anyway. Paracha caught our attention a few months ago for being a bit of a wise guy in one of his tribunal hearings.

And in a quiet milestone, the U.S. has released "the last remaining Guantanamo detainees determined to be no longer enemy combatants." The three prisoners are being sent to Albania, leaving behind 430 detainees in Cuba, awaiting their day in the shiny new coutroom.

Orgasms for Peace, Deep Fried Flags, Terrorist Stamps and Other Ways to Win People Over

| Mon Nov. 20, 2006 4:00 PM EST

Call it deft showmanship or call it the equivalent of making a bonfire with your furniture after winning the NCAA tournament—either way, you've got to hand it to our liberal activists as of late for keeping things entertaining. I mean, how do you top the stalwart men and women who four years ago brought us the word "Peace" spelled out on fields and hills around the world in naked bodies? Well, one way would be to sign up for their next project: Global Orgasm for Peace. According to Sunday's story in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The Global Orgasm for Peace was conceived by Donna Sheehan, 76, and Paul Reffell, 55, who live together on a houseboat along scenic Tomales Bay in Marin County, just north of San Francisco.

Their immodest goal is for everyone in the world to have an orgasm on December 22 while focusing on world peace.

"The orgasm gives out an incredible feeling of peace during it and after it," Reffell said on Sunday. "Your mind is like a blank. It's like a meditative state. And mass meditations have been shown to make a change."

Or rock the boat, at least.

Speaking of rocking the boat, you probably noticed at some point since, say, 1976, that burning a flag is generally no longer an effective political statement. You could, however, take a cue from an artist in Tennessee and deep fry it. From the AP today:

Art student William Gentry said his piece, "The Fat Is in the Fire," was a commentary on obesity in America. "I deep-fried the flag because I'm concerned about America and about America's health," Gentry said.

The exhibit, at the Customs House Museum in Clarksville, featured more than 40 flags fried in peanut oil, egg batter, flour and black pepper. Apparently, the Southern appetite for everything from fried Twinkies to fried Snickers bars has its limits, though. The museum removed the exhibit, saying it conflicted with "community values."

For another eloquent (and not necessarily effective) challenge to the values voters, see also this 2005 exhibit at the Houston art gallery DiverseWorks. Among the highlights: The image of a baby strapped with TNT, below the words "Hamas Baby Bomb," appeared on a faux postage stamp, which artist Michael Hernandez de Luna had stuck to an envelope and repeatedly mailed to himself without a glitch. Now that there's reason to beleive public opinion has turned against Bush and the war, ever-catchier agit-prop this sort may be coming to an inbox near you.

CBS on the "Group of Weirdos" Who Ran the GOP House

| Mon Nov. 20, 2006 2:53 PM EST

When liberals complain about the conservative bias of the media, they often invoke clichés such as "serving corporate ownership" or "putting profit ahead of truth." And while there are elements of truth to the clichés, a much bigger factor in journalists' deference to power is civility. As CBSNews.com's editorial director, Dick Meyer, put it in this decidedly impolite column, "the media didn't call a duck a duck, because that's not something we're supposed to do."

The "duck" in this case is the "group of weirdos" who ran the House of Representatives for the past 12 years. Just in time for Thanksgiving, Meyer roasts a few ducks of his own: Newt Gingrich is called out for having "lived out a very special hypocrisy" which he did with "epic sanctimony." And Dan Burton, Robert Livingston, Henry Hyde, and Dennis Hastert all get served with a side of good riddance. Here is Meyer's surprisingly candid appraisal of the architects of the Contract With America:

The iconic figures of this era were Newt Gingrich, Richard Armey and Tom Delay. They were zealous advocates of free markets, low taxes and the pursuit of wealth; they were hawks and often bellicose; they were brutal critics of big government.

Yet none of these guys had success in capitalism. None made any real money before coming to Congress. None of them spent a day in uniform. And they all spent the bulk of their adult careers getting paychecks from the big government they claimed to despise. Two resigned in disgrace.

Meyer begins his column with an apology: "This is a story I should have written 12 years ago when the "Contract with America" Republicans captured the House in 1994. I apologize."

That's okay, Dick. Others did write those stories. Your complimentary copies of impolite and unapologetic Mother Jones issues from a decade ago are on their way.

Union Pacific Case on Contraceptive Coverage Could Change the Rules Nationwide

| Mon Nov. 20, 2006 2:28 PM EST

Last week the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case against Union Pacific Railroad, which is being sued for failing to cover contraceptives in its health plans. In July 2005 a U.S. District court ruled in favor of the two women who filed the suit along with Planned Parenthood. The original ruling stating that Union Pacific, which employs about 49,000 workers nationwide, including 1,300 (that's 2.6% for those of you keeping track), illegally discriminates against female employees by not providing contraceptive coverage in its health plans.

The lower court went further, saying that Union Pacific's policy is in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discrimination based on gender or pregnancy. The policy was deemed discriminatory because it covered many preventive health medications -- including drugs for erectile dysfunction -- but not contraception.

The company has argued that it did not need to provide contraceptive coverage "because fertility is 'normal,'" and, therefore, birth control is not "medically necessary." Ah, and Viagra is sooo necessary.

Judge Pasco Bowman, who sits on the appeals court panel said Thursday that if the ruling holds it could mandate all companies to cover birth control in their plans.

Nicaragua to South Dakota: On Abortion, We've Got Your Back

| Mon Nov. 20, 2006 3:02 AM EST

South Dakota's "no exceptions" abortion ban may have gone down in flames November 7, but Nicaragua (thanks in part to revolutionaries like once and future President Daniel Ortega) is about to pick up where the Great Faces Great Places State left off: From now on, not even abortions to save a woman's life will be legal. Venceremos indeed.

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Rangel Says Bring It On, The Draft That Is

| Sun Nov. 19, 2006 9:07 PM EST

Cheney and co. have been worried about Rep. Charles Rangel's (D - NY) ascendancy to the chairmanship of the House Committee on Ways and Means, fearing that he will unravel the administration's tax cuts for the wealthy when he takes control in January. But taxes aren't all Rangel is focused on, as he tries to force Congress to face the toll that an all-volunteer army is having on a country entrenched in an increasingly dangerous war.

On Face the Nation this morning Rangel said that he'll introduce a bill next year that would reinstate the draft. This will be the third time Rangel, a Harlem Democrat, will introduce the prospect of a draft, though this time he will do so from a more prominent position of power, in a climate of an increasingly stretched armed forces, and in the face of, as Bush-confidante Henry Kissinger put it today, the impossibility of victory in Iraq.

Some of you may remember (though it was not well-publicized) back in January 2003, before this war even got rolling, when Rangel proposed a draft for 18-26 year olds -- the bill was defeated 402-2. This year he offered a plan to mandate military service for men and women between age 18 and 42; it also went nowhere.

Rangel has consistently argued that the all-volunteer military disproportionately puts the burden of war on minorities and lower-income families. A Korean War veteran himself Rangel received both a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service. In February Rangel had this to say of the prospect of a draft:

"Every day that the military option is on the table, as declared by the President in his State of the Union address, in Iran, North Korea, and Syria, reinstatement of the military draft is an option that must also be considered, whether we like it or not. If the military is already having trouble getting the recruits they need, what can we do to fill the ranks if the war spreads from Iraq to other countries? We may have no other choice but a draft."

Rangel went on:

"I don't expect my bill to pass; my purpose in introducing this legislation is for it to serve as a constant reminder that we have lost 2,200 of the best, brightest and bravest Americans, have had thousands more maimed, and countless Iraqi citizens killed. As the President speaks of a national response involving the military option, military service should be a shared sacrifice."

It's unclear how symbolic a gesture the bill will be this time around. Senator Lindsey Graham (R - S.C.), who is also in the Air Force reserve, responded to the idea saying, "I think we can do this with an all-voluntary service, all-voluntary Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. And if we can't, then we'll look for some other option."

Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress last summer that "there isn't a chance in the world that the draft will be brought back." But then again, Bush said Rummy would be with us till the end, so hey, anything's possible.

Americans Buying Organs of Executed Chinese

| Sun Nov. 19, 2006 12:53 AM EST

It's been widely rumoured for years, but now the Chinese government has admitted it: the organs of executed criminals are sold to people needing transplants, many of whom are Americans looking for cut-rate body parts. In fact, dead prisoners are the country's top source of harvested organs, second only to car-crash victims. At least 1,700 people were put to death last year in the People's Republic, and thousands of kidneys, livers and hearts were transplanted. Guess they've topped the US in both capital punishment and capitalist innovation.

Houston Mounted Police Run Over Protesters

| Sat Nov. 18, 2006 10:27 AM EST

Last night, nearly one thousand striking janitors met at the corner of Travis and Capitol in Houston in preparation for a protest march to Houston Police Department Headquarters on Travis Street. The four-week-old strike resulted in fourteen arrests on Wednesday, when striking janitors and union organizers chained themselve to the Chevron building in Houston. The janitors are striking in the hope of getting health benefits and a raise in wage to $8.50 an hour. The average current wage is $5.30 an hour. They also report numerous civil rights abuses and failure of management to bargain in good faith. The five main companies involved are Hines, Transwestern, Crescent, Brookfield Properties, and Chevron.

Last night's march never took place, however, because mounted Houston police officers rushed into the crowd, injuring four people. Forty-four were arrested. One of the janitors described the scene:

The horses came all of a sudden. They started jumping on top of people. I heard the women screaming. A horse stomped on top of me. I fell to the ground and hurt my arm. The horses just kept coming at us. I was terrified. I never thought the police would do something so aggressive, so violent.

One of the injured strikers was Hazel Ingram, an 83-year-old janitor from New York. Ingram was taken to the hospital for treatment of an arm injury. Several protesters report being stepped on by horses. Spectators said that the police grabbed a sign that said Stand Up For the American Dream, threw it to the ground, stomped on it, and then joined other officers in giving high-fives.

$2 B for a 700-Mile Fence or $30 B for a Faulty Virtual One?

| Fri Nov. 17, 2006 8:00 PM EST

It was $2 billion in appropriations for 700 miles of fencing that Republican Senators Jon Kyl and Jeff Sessions slipped into a Pentagon spending bill in August just before the Senate recessed. Mother Jones reported on the myriad opposition to this original bill in September. Now the program for a virtual fence, which is what the Department of Homeland Security has deemed their preferred plan, is being piloted along a 28-mile area in the Tucson Sector, where immigration is most dense. (Charles Bowden reported extensively on this desert area of Arizona in the September/October issue of Mother Jones.) But the Inspector General's office may have thrown a kink in the DHS' plan. Last Wednesday, the DHS watchdog forecasted that it could cost as much as $30 billion to create the desired virtual fence. And with a Democrat-controlled Congress, the warnings could very wll be heeded. To further add insult to injury, the Inspector General's office released this report in December of 2005, which shows that virtual technology along the border doesn't work anyway.