2008 - %3, April

Holy Wars: Evangelicals Attempt to Exclude Non-Christians From National Day of Prayer

| Thu Apr. 24, 2008 1:29 PM EDT

161992803_f87db32131.jpg

In 1952, when Harry Truman called for a National Day of Prayer, now celebrated annually on the first Thursday of May, it was meant to encourage Americans of all faiths to pray with one another in whatever way felt best to them. It would be an ecumenical celebration of faith that would draw people together in common religious and spiritual contemplation. One can only imagine what Truman would think of this year's event, the planning for which has been marred by bitter squabbling over who should be allowed to participate.

Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson, the conservative founder of Focus on the Family, is this year's chairperson of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a non-governmental organization based in Focus on the Family's offices in Colorado Springs and charged with organizing various events. According to Jay Keller, national field director of the Interfaith Alliance, Dobson has made a point of "excluding Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, and even mainline Christians" from the National Day of Prayer.

Thanks to Dobson, this year's task force volunteers are required to sign pledges, stating: "I commit that NDP activities I serve with will be conducted solely by Christians while those of differing beliefs are welcome to attend." Volunteers must also affirm that they "believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God" and that "Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God." Such oaths violate the non-sectarian nature of the National Day of Prayer and clearly align "a government-sponsored event with a particular Christian denomination, in violation of the basic provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution," says Keller.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

John McCain Officially Most Absent Member of the Senate

| Thu Apr. 24, 2008 12:08 PM EDT

We've written before about the fact that John McCain has more or less abdicated all of his responsibilities in the Senate while running for president. The man almost never votes anymore: he once went five consecutive weeks without voting. Now we learn that he's the Senate's top absentee, passing Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of North Dakota, who suffered a brain hemorrhage in December 2006 and was unable to return to the Senate until last fall, in terms of votes missed. I guess it takes time to suggest doing nothing about America's economic crisis.

Mr. Prince Goes to Hollywood (aka "War, Inc.")

| Thu Apr. 24, 2008 11:41 AM EDT

Opening in a few short days at the Tribeca Film Festival—War, Inc., the first Hollywood comedy about private military contracting.

Banks Give New Meaning to Protection Racket

| Thu Apr. 24, 2008 10:12 AM EDT

Payday loans have gotten a lot of bad press lately as state governments attempt to crack down on the "legal loansharking" outfits that make very short term loans with interest rates going as high as 500 percent. But a new study by Marc Anthony Fusaro, a professor of economics at East Carolina University, found that the overdraft loans given by banks these days make payday lenders look like a bargain. In their "bounce protection" programs, banks will cover checks and ATM withdrawals that exceed customers' balances so they don't incur fees from merchants for bounced checks. This "courtesy" service, which most customers never ask for, comes at a huge cost.

Insufficient fund fees have become a major cash cow for banks, particularly during the latest credit crisis. The Center for Responsible Lending has found that with an average fee of $34, overdraft protection loans generate more than $17 billion a year for banks. About half the fees are triggered when people use debt cards for a small purchase, which the bank allows even though they have no money in their account.

Fusaro looked at overdraft protection as a form of a short-term loan and found that people who occasionally bounce checks (between 1 and 10 times a year) pay interest rates exceeding 6,000 percent. Chronic bouncers in the study, who make up a small percentage of bank customers, paid more than $3,000 in fees annually for the privilege. The average size of the overdraft was pretty small, between $90 and $300. The most extreme case in the study was one poor soul who had a $3 overdraft outstanding for one day, which resulted in an intereste rate of 260,245 percent, a hefty surcharge for using a debt card for a latte.

Riff Q&A: Yoav

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 7:30 PM EDT

mojo-photo-yoav.jpgOne of the more intriguing artists on this weekend's Coachella festival lineup, Yoav is Israeli-born, South Africa-raised, and now London-based. His complicated background might remind you of the Argentinian-Swedish José González, and they also share a focus on the acoustic guitar (as well as diverse musical influences). But while González turns bleak tracks like Massive Attack's "Teardrop" into plaintive ballads, Yoav incorporates effects and treatments into his guitar work to create original music that somehow straddles the line between folk and minimal electronica, with an accessible pop straightforwardness. His debut album, Charmed & Strange, features sounds that you wouldn't expect to hear come out of a guitar: staccato blips, hip-hop thuds, and, on a haunting cover of The Pixies' "Where is My Mind," eerie whines and soft echoing tones. The Riff caught up with Yoav between gigs and tossed a couple quick questions his way.

Carbonfund.org: Seattle Man Offsets Entire Life; Onion: Please Give Our Headline Back

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 4:00 PM EDT

offset.jpg

A typical American life offers no shortage of carbon sins to offset. Eco-conscious consumers can offset their air travel, their weddings, even their offspring. But so far, no one (that we know of, anyway) has gone whole hog and offset everything they've emitted, ever.

Enter Brad Mewhort, 33-year-old vegan, pedestrian, and apologetic air traveler. Earlier this month, carbon offset nonprofit Carbonfund.org announced that that the Seattle sales rep had just finished scrubbing his imprint from the Earth by donating the last $1,500 of a $3,000 contribution to the group. The three grand covers emissions even from family car trips when Mewhort was young, as well as all of the plane trips he must take for his job, and the recent journey to Antarctica that convinced him it was time to take action.

"I was absolutely amazed by what I saw there," says Mewhort. "It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I love penguins, I always have, and they're more incredible than I expected. Their habitat is directly threatened by the impacts of human activity. I decided that I don't want to be personally contributing to this destruction. I decided to purchase offsets as soon as I could."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Sex-Ed Hearing: Not So Sexy

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 3:50 PM EDT

It's hard to believe a hearing on sex could be so dull. This morning, the vaunted Henry Waxman convened a marathon hearing before his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to "assess" the evidence on abstinence-only sex education, on which the federal government has spent more than $1.3 billion in recent years. The program requires states that take the money to refrain from teaching about contraception in school unless it's to talk about scary STDs and condom failure rates, while encouraging young people to avoid sex until marriage, an expectation that 95 percent of Americans fail to meet.

As oversight hearings go, this one turned out to be a snoozer, in large part because there's not much news here. About a bazillion studies have all found that not only does abstinence-only education not work to reduce unwed pregnancy or STDs, but that it perpetuates false information about the reliability of the things that do work, disparages gays and lesbians, promotes religion in public schools, and demeans women.

The federal program has produced one major success: giving life to a bunch of loony fringe religious groups that wouldn't exist but for those federal funds. Many of these groups got their start as "crisis pregnancy centers" that used dubious tactics to dissuade young women from having abortions. But their views were largely left off the panel, a fact that irked Republicans who accused Waxman of stacking the hearing solely with critics. Indiana Rep. Mark Souder complained that Waxman had failed to invite such witnesses as the doctors who treat girls infected with STDs "while using condoms." He fumed about liberals who are promoting a "radical sexual economy" as part of their attack on abstinence programs, and suggested that teaching kids about birth control and condoms was part of that depraved agenda.

Levin Rachets Up Pressure on the Pentagon Puppets

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 2:48 PM EDT

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) has asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to investigate the claims of a recent New York Times report that found retired military officers have been used as Pentagon puppets in the media.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as "military analysts" whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.
Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration's wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.
The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

In a letter to Gates, Levin wrote, "While the media clearly have their own shortfalls for paying people to provide 'independent' analysis when they have such real and apparent conflicts, that doesn't excuse the Department's behavior in giving both special treatment and valuable access to analysts who provide commentary in favor of DoD's strategy, while not offering similar access to some other analysts and cutting off access to others who didn't deliver as expected."

How WWII Trivia Applies to the Pennsylvania Primary

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 2:06 PM EDT

In 1944, the Japanese army sent a man named Hiroo Onoda to the small Philippine island of Lubang with orders to guard the island until the army sent for him. Shortly after Onoda landed Allied forces took the island, killing or capturing all of the Japanese soldiers save for Onoda and three comrades. Onoda took the men into the jungle and hid there.

The Japanese surrendered in August 1945, but no one in the Japanese military got word to Onoda and his men. As time went by, locals tried to convince them that the war was over but the soldiers believed that every note left and every leaflet dropped was a trick of the enemy. The emotional and physical strain growing, the four soldiers started to fired on the locals. One of the four was eventually killed in a skirmish. Another walked away.

Onoda and his single remaining comrade, Kinshichi Kozuka, lived together in the jungles of Lubang until 1972, when Kozuka was shot by Filipino police. News of Kozuka's death alerted Japan to the possiblity that Onoda, who had been declared legally dead years earlier, was still alive. Eventually, he was found by a traveling student, who arranged a meeting between Onoda and his one-time superior officer. In 1974, they met on Lubang and Onoda's superior officer told him that the war was over. In 29 years of hiding, Onoda and his men had killed a reported 30 people and injured over 100 more. Nevertheless, Onoda was pardoned by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and given a hero's welcome in Japan.

I mention this only because Ron Paul received 16 percent of the vote in yesterday's Republican primary in Pennsylvania.

Obama Now Brought to You by Abercrombie & Fitch

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 1:58 PM EDT

mojo-photo-obamaandfitch.jpgBoth Towleroad and Gawker noticed this too: last night, during Barack Obama's Pennsylvania concession speech (in Indiana, naturally), there was a bit of surprising, shall we say, product placement. Three fine-looking young collegiate bros, placed directly behind the candidate, each wearing a clearly-branded Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt. First of all, what are the chances? I can imagine two frat boys leaving the frat house with their A&F shirts, but once a third joins them, you'd think one of them would go back and change. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that this is, as Gawker suggests, "a plot by the Obama campaign to win back the gay community, which has something of a taste for the youth clothing retailer and, especially, its catalogs, but whose vote is basically owned by Hillary Clinton." So true, and oh, the shame. Don't let anybody tell you the gays always have good taste.

So what's going on? Did A&F dispatch a trifecta of models to the arena, hoping for some air time? Or is this an inside deal, with the Obama campaign getting a cut (and maybe some boxer briefs)? If so, you'd think they'd be more about United Colors of Benetton, especially since A&F are well known for, er, marketing group sex to teens. Whose shirts can we expect to show up behind Hillary during her North Carolina concession speech, Polo by Ralph Lauren? Well, I don't care if these speeches turn into runway shows, I just want this thing over.

After the jump, watch the Obama speech and amuse yourself by imagining what each of our Abercrombie boys are thinking at any given moment.