2010 - %3, January

Bill O'Reilly Defends Al Franken?

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 10:21 AM EDT

Yes, you read that right. Bill O'Reilly, the bloviating face of Fox News, actually came to the (somewhat) defense of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) the other night on his wildly popular show. O'Reilly was speaking with Jason Mattera, editor of Human Rights, about the latter's recent ambush of Franken (a classic O'Reilly tactic, of course) in an airport and interrogating him on the recently passed health care bill, without ever letting a dismayed Franken actually respond. Shockingly, O'Reilly scolded Mattera, who, as evidence of his intellectual rigor, previously claimed the left's notion of freedom consists of "smoking cocaine," for the Franken stunt: "The mistake you made," O'Reilly intoned, "was you were disrespectful for him—to him, when you called him 'Sen. Smalley,' and you gave him a reason to blow you off."

Here's the video of the exchange, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:

OK, so O'Reilly was just giving Mattera some helpful hints, in father-like way, on how best to be a pesky right-wing journalist. Still, maybe Bill's warming to that loveable senator from Minnesota after all.

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5 Reasons Why Burma's Elections Are Bogus

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 7:20 AM EDT

This week, Burma's National League for Democracy, the party of detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, announced that it wouldn't participate in the country's first elections in two decades, which are to be held sometime later this year. Than Shwe, the general who heads the Burmese junta, insists that the contest will be "free and fair," and despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, some outside observers appear to be buying the hype: ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said that the elections are "a new beginning," and the New York Times ran a bizarrely rosy story about the country's future. But the NLD boycott reflects what everybody in Burma already knows—that the elections are a farce.

Let's take a look at the aforementioned mountains of evidence:

1. The government is already cheating. The military's proxy political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Association, has spent millions currying favor with the populace by paving roads, opening free health clinics, and giving away high school tuition. This started before the junta announced the rules for participating in the election (or even a date; October is the rumor), effectively crippling other parties' ability to start campaigning. When the government finally did reveal the campaign rules, they were so stacked against the opposition—for example, barring Aung San Suu Kyi from participating—that the NLD sued to have them revised. The case was rejected.

2. Even if the generals don't win, they could still "win."
In 2008, 92 percent of Burmese voters allegedly said yea to a constitution drafted by the junta. Never mind that the new constitution basically legalized forced labor or that the vote was held in the chaos following a cyclone that killed 140,000 people. Also, the last time the government held multiparty elections, in 1990, and lost to the NLD by a landslide, it simply declared the results void and kept Aung San Suu Kyi incarcerated.

3. Even if the generals admit that they don't win, they still can't actually lose. According to the constitution, 25 percent of the seats in parliament are reserved for the military, and the current government picks the candidates for president. And in the event that parliamentarians do start exercising too much power, the military machine could always just reassert control of the state, as it did in the coups of 1962 and 1988. Than Shwe reminded the populace of this possibility last weekend when he made the wholly unveiled threat that the army can step into politics "whenever the need arises."

4. Bad guys will continue to hold the purse strings.
The Times has cited the government's decision to sell "a raft of state-run factories and assets to cronies in the private sector" as a sign of progress. But the reason the military is hastily selling off hundreds of state-owned properties—buildings, land, oil and hydro projects, ports, an airline—to its leaders and crooked friends is to guarantee that the country's economy will remain in their grasp no matter what the election outcome.

5. There's the matter of rampant discrimination and war crimes. Don't discount, as most Western media does, the millions of ethnic minorities inside Burma's borders, many of whom will not participate in the elections (the rules of which were published only in Burmese and English) and some of which have armed insurgent groups threatening to come out of retirement in the face of election-related turmoil. Also rarely discussed is the full-on, horribly bloody war in the east of the country. These minorities' continuing disenfranchisement and targeting for annihilation is hardly a move toward peace and democracy. A UN official and more than 50 US congresspeople have called for an investigation into the regime's crimes against humanity, but a clause in the wildly popular constitution stipulates that the perpetrators cannot be brought to justice. 

ASEAN's Pitsuwan may have cause for saying that the Burmese government's decision to hold elections is a "step forward"—after all, that's not saying much about a government known for its total disregard for political and human rights. But such falsely hopeful messages diminish the gaping distance between Burma's current state and true democracy. Did the National League for Democracy have any choice but to sacrifice their chance to play along with the charade?

The Circumcision Circus

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 7:10 AM EDT

"Much Ado About Cutting," Nikhil Swaminathan’s piece from our March/April issue, is about the ongoing circumcision debate in the US. A lighthearted romp through a controversial subject, it features a couple trying to decide whether or not to have their new baby circumcised, adult men trying to restore their foreskins with the assistance of weights, and the professional opinions of both medical researchers and a porn star named the Italian Stallion. 

While fact-checking this article, I was struck by the passionate opinions people held on both sides of the debate, from the larger issues at stake (whether or not US health organizations should recommend circumcision as an HIV prevention measure, after trials in Africa found it to be beneficial in this regard) to the personal details (whether or not snipping male newborns dooms them to a life of diminished sexual pleasure). Everybody seems to have a strong opinion about this, so we’ll be expecting quite a few wily comments concerning the fate of the foreskin. 

Read Nikhil’s piece here.   

 

The Idaho GOP's Pro-Militia Candidate

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

Idaho veterinarian, elk rancher, and political hopeful Rex Rammell first attracted national attention last year when he joked about buying "Obama tags" to hunt the president. Now the conservative activist is running to be the GOP's candidate for governor of Idaho. His platform? Revving up right-wing militias so they are "prepared" to deal with the growing threats to freedom posed by a federal government bent on "socializing" the country.

On ABC's "Nightline" on Tuesday, Rammell explained why it's reasonable for those unhappy with the Obama administration to threaten violence:

“I don't think anyone would argue that America is getting more and more enemies all of the time—both foreign and domestic," said Rammell. "I think the way politics is going in the United States and the Tea Party movement—the whole atmosphere promotes people wanting to get prepared. And I think that is what this is about...

"It's because of the current administration's politics—the more they force upon the states, the more noise there is," Rammell said. "The more concern people have, the less freedom there is. Lots of Idahoans believe the health care bill is very intrusive on our individual rights. ... We are not going to allow them to come into the state and make what we believe are unconstitutional mandates. Even if they can get them passed in D.C., we are not going to all that to happen. These guys want to show a little force behind the scene... I don't have a problem with that."

Show a little force? Was Rammell calling for right-wing militias to try to intimidate the federal government days after the feds cracked down on the Hutaree Christian militia for plotting to kill police officers? Idaho has certainly spawned it own share of militia groups and sympathesizers. Groups like Northern Idaho's Lightfoot Militia claim to have more than a 100 members, though they insist they aren't looking for a "showdown" with the government and consult with local officials to make sure they're above board. But the increasingly hysterical tone of anti-government rhetoric and growing concern about extremism have drawn increasing scrutiny to such heavily armed extracurricular activities.

Rammell himself is a fundamentalist Mormon who has long stood on the fringe of Idaho's right-wing political scene. He began his political crusade as a property rights activis when the state refuse to license his elk ranch due to inadequate fencing. And he first got a taste of the spotlight in 2006, when over a hundred elk escaped from his ranch, prompting the governor to order a large-scale hunt.

Since then, he has espoused a series of extreme views. "All of the evil empires that have ever existed have dictated what their youth would learn and by whom," Rammell thunders on his campaign website, slamming the federal government's role in the education system. A climate change denialist, he argues that those who advocate addressing human-generated global warming are godless fearmongers: "The catastrophic consequences predicted by the doomsayers are evidence of their lack of faith in a Supreme Being who holds the creation and the future of the world in His hands." He has also called upon the Almighty to help save the Constitution during the Obama years: "We are in America's second Revolutionary War to save our freedom, which we paid for with blood. We need God's help and I'm not ashamed to ask for it," he proclaimed in January, around the same time that he held a series of male-only Mormon campaign events.

Rammell's extreme views haven’t always endeared him to his fellow Republicans. He ran for Senate as an independent in 2008 and only managed to get 5.4 percent of the vote. Since he launched his primary campaign for the governor's seat, the state GOP hasn't rushed to embrace him. And after he refused to apologize for his joke about hunting Obama last year, he came under heavy criticism from state and national Republican leaders, as well as the Mormon church. 

The incumbent governor, Republican Butch Otter, is projected to win another term. But Rammell's entry into the race could still have an impact. Otter has been challenged repeatedly by the right wing of the state party—in addition to Rammell, he has three other challengers in the GOP primary. In response, he has moved to burnish his own conservative credentials—for instance, by making Idaho the first state to sue the federal government over the health care bill. In a crowded primary contest, Rammell's militia hawkery could gain traction with the Tea Party crowd—and push the Idaho Republican Party even farther to the right. "At one time, that wing represented a minority of the state's dominant party," a columnist from the local Lewiston Morning Tribune wrote last year. Now, he noted, "Idaho Republicanism is becoming little different from Rammellism."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 2, 2010

Fri Apr. 2, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

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Afghan Army soldiers patrol near the village of Kusheh, Afghanistan, on March 24, 2010. The Afghan soldiers have been partnering with US Army Soldiers to help bring stability to part of Khost province. Photo via the US Army photo by Spc. Spencer Case.

Domestic Violence Redux

| Fri Apr. 2, 2010 2:46 AM EDT

Speaking of spousal abuse, I just arrived in New Orleans for World Affairs Council and University of New Orleans events. Guess what was on the front page of the Times-Picayune.

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Corn on Countdown: Making the Census Count

Fri Apr. 2, 2010 12:43 AM EDT

David Corn appeared on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann to discuss the importance and quirks of the national census.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Bill O'Reilly Performs a Mitzvah

| Thu Apr. 1, 2010 7:47 PM EDT

Bill O'Reilly is a mensch. A politically obtuse, verbally abusive, filthy rich one, but a mensch nonetheless.

That's no April Fool's Day joke. O'Reilly really is, today, a standup guy.

The conservative pundit put a little more daylight between himself and the Glenn Beck-loving, conspiracy-theorizing right wing Thursday with a touching personal gesture: He offered to help the father of a Marine killed in Iraq after he lost a lawsuit to the neoluddite child-hating Westboro Baptist Church of Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. After Albert Snyder lost his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in a vehicle accident in Anbar province, he was shocked to find Matt's military funeral mobbed by Phelps' crew of sign-carrying flat-earthers, whose shtick involves loudly thanking God for smiting gay-loving, libertine America and its sworn defenders. Snyder did what most grieving parents would have done: he sued the church. "They wanted their message heard, and they didn't care who they stepped over," Mr. Snyder testified. "My son should have been buried with dignity, not with a bunch of clowns outside." The court awarded him $11 million dollars.

Schools Sing Haters Away

| Thu Apr. 1, 2010 7:02 PM EDT

That well-documented religious extremist group from Kansas known as the Westboro Baptist Church recently announced it would picket Bay Area schools and Jewish institutions to show its disapproval of the locals' acceptance of gay people. Palo Alto's Gunn High School—which apparently is still reeling from its recent student suicides—was one of Westboro's stops on its ever-considerate hate-speech trail. Not a bastion of tact, the church attributed Gunn's suicides to a "lack of religious faith."

So in a deft act of Biblical aikido, students, parents, and neighbors countered the so-called Christian organization's "God Hates You" placards with "Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself" signs. Watch the inspirational video below to see the community's myriad slogans and to listen to the songs. You can't miss the songs. Apparently, Stanford University adopted Gunn's counter-protest tactics, using copious amounts of levity to ward off Westboro's Debbie Downer message. One sign read "Gay for Fred Phelps"...my personal favorite.

 

Follow Titania Kumeh on Twitter.

Everyone Hates NCLB

| Thu Apr. 1, 2010 6:32 PM EDT

Roger McShane summarizes the results of an Economist poll about the effect of No Child Left Behind. Here it is:

That's pretty remarkable. Not only is NCLB massively unpopular a decade after it was passed, but it's about equally unpopular with both Democrats and Republicans. Everyone hates it. If Barack Obama really wants to bring the nation together, it sounds like deep sixing NCLB completely might be a pretty good way to do it.