2006 - %3, December

Everyone Needs A Little Irony For Christmas

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 8:15 PM EST

20,000 "Christmas Packs," available for a donation of $29, have been sold. 508,000 buttons, 125,000 bumper stickers, and 100,000 magnets have been sold. 12,000 legal memos have been sold. The buttons bear the message, Merry Christmas: It's Worth Saying, and the packs include two lapel pins and a 3-page legal memo.

All of this merchandise is moving as a result of the non-existent "war on Christmas,". The Christmas packs are valued at $4 each; however, the seller, the Alliance Defense Fund, says that most of them are going for less than the suggested $29 donation. There is also a "Help Save Christmas" action pack, sold by Liberty Counsel, for $25. This pack includes buttons, bumper stickers and legal advice on celebrating the holidays at work and at school.

Liberty Counsel president Anita Staver says: "When it's an issue affecting Christmas people will sit up and take notice. Then they may look at the other issues we're involved in."

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Top Ten Signs that Your Gay-Hating Has Gone Too Far

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 3:44 PM EST

Number 4 (leaving the top three spots for violent crimes): You join a church under the leadership of a Nigerian man who believes gays shouldn't be allowed to meet in public and should face jail time for their private encounters.

That is what two Virginia Anglican congregations did this weekend when they seceded from the Episcopal Church, establishing themselves as a jerry-rigged Virginia branch of the African Anglican Communion under the leadership of Archbishop Peter Akinola. The churches' votes were a reaction to Episcopalians' growing acceptance of homosexuality, which culminated in the 2003 election of an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, as bishop. (Check out what Diane wrote yesterday for more details.)

Did I mention that the two historic Virginia churches are heavily attended by the D.C. elite? True patriots, the lot of them. Perhaps they could catch a ship in their local Dubai-owned port and head for Nigeria.

Liars in Paradise, or Say Goodbye With a Lie, Don Rumsfeld

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 2:33 PM EST

Conservative columnist David Brooks rarely gets props on MoJoBlog, but during yesterday's Meet the Press — when he commented on Cheney's farewell remarks to Donald Rumsfeld — he hit the nail on the head.

Via Think Progress, you can watch Cheney spouting,

In his regard for our people in uniform, in his unwavering strength through unprecedented challenges, in his example of leadership and patriotic service, I believe the record speaks for itself: Don Rumsfeld is the finest Secretary of Defense this nation has ever had.

Yesterday, Brooks noted that if what Cheney said were true,

Either George Bush is a fool or Dick Cheney is a liar, all right? Because either George Bush just fired at the height of a war, at the greatest national security threat of our country's current era, the greatest secretary of defense in history, or Dick Cheney thinks we're all walking around with a sign that says "Stupid" on it.

Booyakasha! But why not follow the Vice President's advice and let the record speak for itself? Try cross-referencing the Department of Defense's recent homage to Rumsfeld with the Secretary of Defense's many dubious distinctions chronicled in the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.

And PS -- Cheney's got an entry in the MJIWT, too.

-- Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell and Celia Perry

Now We're Holding American POWs?

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 1:39 PM EST

Buried in the Times' stunning piece on the detention of an American whistleblower at Iraq's notorious Camp Cropper -- surreal highlight: camp psychologist tells Vance to think of himself "as a soldier who has been kidnapped, and that you still have a duty to do" -- is a no less stunning two-sentence graf:

[Pentagon spokesman First Lt. Lea Ann] Fracasso said that currently there were three Americans in military custody in Iraq. The military does not identify detainees.

Legalities aside -- and they are disputed: remember U.S. filmmaker Cyrus Kar, who came forward with his own harrowing Iraq detention story last year? He has an all-star cast of lawyers working the case -- only Kafka could have invented a nation founded on the rule of law that lawlessly detains its own citizens in squalid camps overseas, without any kind of lawyer, due process, or shred of information to loved ones. Not to mention holding citizens as enemy combatants and in the process damaging them to the point where their own guards refer to them as "a piece of furniture." AND not to mention claiming that not a single innocent man is being held at Guantanamo, days before 18 innocent men are sent home to their families. When our children grow old enough to ask, we'll have a lot of explaining to do.

A Bird in the Hand? (Dearth of Female Bosses)

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 1:11 AM EST

Today the NYT had a long feature in the business section (by Julie Creswell) on a question of particular interest in this shop: Why aren't there more women bosses in corporate America (or for that matter, lefty non-profit America or magazine publishing)?

According to Catalyst, which charts these things (and lamentably hands out positions on its own board to CEOs of some of the most nefarious anti-women companies): Fewer than 2 percent of Fortune 500 companys have female CEOs. And when it comes to their boards, 53 companies have no women as directors, while 182 other companies each have only one woman on the board.

Creswell drives her piece by focusing on those rare birds: female CEOs (and, tellingly, fomer CEOs) like Carol Bartz, who:

Despite her hard-won reputation as an astute businesswoman, Ms. Bartz found herself repeatedly skipped over during a recent meeting of business and political leaders in Washington. The reason was that the men at the table assumed that she was an office assistant, not a fellow executive. "Happens all of the time," Ms. Bartz says dryly, recalling the incident. "Sometimes I stand up. Sometimes I just ignore it."

That the piece largely hangs on fomer CEO or CEOs from fairly obscure companies is telling. Not only because there aren't many chicks at the top but because:

Women — particularly those who have made it to the top — may also shoulder some of the responsibility for the dearth of female C.E.O.'s. There is little consensus among them over how to approach the topic of women in power, or, in fact, whether the issue should even be addressed. Representatives of nearly all of the Fortune 500 female chief executives contacted for this article said that their bosses were either "too busy" or did not want to participate in an article about female C.E.O.'s. They said that these executives preferred to be acknowledged for their accomplishments, rather than for being women.

Yeah, but...

Another camp of women argues that until stories of women landing top jobs are no longer newsworthy — that is, as long as they remain curiosities or oddities — and until women's occupation of the c-suite reaches a statistical par with men, women owe it to future generations to continue to address the topic.

"The truth is, left alone, I think the situation would get worse," Ms. Bartz says. "I think the reason you see roughly 2 percent of Fortune 500 companies run by female C.E.O.'s is because there has been some discussion about the issue. If the topic didn't continue to be highlighted as important, I do think that percentage would slide backward."

So when reporters ask Monika and I, what are the larger implications of having two women lead a magazine? — (and can I just note here that the NYT chose to run the news of women taking the helm of America's largest progressive/left/investigative magazine in a one-line Arts section [not the B-Section, where such things are usually chronicled] round up, and beneath news of an Eartha Kitt performance) — I can't answer much better than this:

"Women on boards are the ones who pay attention to the pool of employees and succession planning and whether there are women and people of color coming up in those succession plans," says Vicki W. Kramer, a management consultant and co-author of a study, "Critical Mass on Corporate Boards: Why Three or More Women Enhance Governance," [which found that] a single woman on a board is typically viewed as a "token woman" and is unlikely to drive female-related issues because she does not want to be seen as a one-issue director, Ms. Kramer says. The addition of a second woman to the board only slightly changes the environment... The tipping point is the presence of three women on a board. "Somehow, at three, gender goes away and they are much less concerned about being seen together," Ms. Kramer says.

Problem is: Only 76 boards among the Fortune 500 have three or more female members.

So here's my pissed off midnight promise. Starting tomorrow, our reporters will track down those nine-odd Fortune 500 female CEOs or their flacks and reprint here whatever it is that they tell us. And meanwhile, we'll go to those companies who don't have any female leadership in the "c-suite" as the NYT called it (did Julie C. mean that as a cheeky double entendre? I can only hope) and ask them, wha' up with that?

And then we will circle back to the media...

Episcopal Rift Becomes Wider

| Sun Dec. 17, 2006 7:14 PM EST

With the withdrawal of eight Virginia churches from the American Episcopal Church, the divide caused by ordination of gay priests and bishops becomes more pronounced. These churches have chosen to align with the Anglican church, and will have to be adopted by conservative Anglican congregations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The congregations of two large Episcopal churches in Virginia are voting on whether to align with a church in Nigeria. If they do so, they will be answering to an archbishop, Peter Akinola, who believes it should be illegal for homosexuals to form oganizations, read gay literature and eat together in public places.

The Diocese of San Joaquin, California has already split from the American church, and a half dozen other dioceses are expected to follow suit. Three years ago, the Rev. Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of New Hampshire, and there has been nothing but conflct ever since. Such conflict is nothing new; several churches split from the organization when the Episcopal Church began ordaining women as priests and bishops. Then there is the issue of blessing gay unions, which, obviously, is also opposed by the Anglican-leaning congregations.

A key player in the Virginia action is the Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church in Fairfax. Minns has been appointed a "missionary bishop" by Archbishop Akinola, with a mission of establishing a branch of the Nigerian church in the U.S. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who is head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, has made it clear that the Communion does not support what Minns is doing.

Speaking on NPR today, the new Presiding Bishop of the U.S., Katharine Jefferts-Schori, said that the Episcopal Church continues to recognize those congregations that have split from the organization.

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Powell Joins Gen. Abizaid in Shooting Down the "Send More Troops" Plan

| Sun Dec. 17, 2006 5:53 PM EST

Colin Powell said on "Face the Nation" today that he believes the U.S. is losing in Iraq, and that sending additional troops won't really bring peace to the country or help suppress sectarian violence. He added, "There really are no additional troops" to send, and that the United States Army is "about broken."

So now Powell and Centcom commander Gen. John Abizaid have both shot down the McCain (and Lieberman) proposal to send 20,000-30,000 more troops to Iraq, an idea supported by fewer than one in ten Americans. However, just today an anonymous administration official told the BBC that such an increase is likely. Hold onto your hats, America. George Bush isn't done with us yet.

NYT Says "Military Taking a Tougher Line (Than What!?) With Detainees": Or the 2016 PBS Documentary on Guantanamo

| Sat Dec. 16, 2006 6:32 PM EST

Someday, not too many years from now, when Ric or Ken Burns or their successors makes the definitive elegiac 20-hour documentary of the Iraq war and the irreparable harm it did to our country's image and vision of itself I predict the following chapter:

Title Card: "Why Am I in Cuba?" Cue PBS/American Experience Dolorous Male Narrator (hereafter: PBSAEDMN) who will, as "Josephine's Waltz" or some other Irish/Appalachian fiddle lament (hey, maybe the Dixie Chicks) plays in the background, and the camera pans over photos like this and this and this, recount how America, a country founded on the principal of human rights and due process and freedom from tyranny, descended into a pit of barbarity, best exemplified by our treatment of prisoners unlawfully held at Guantanamo Bay.

The PBSAEDMN will explain—along with a gray-haired Michael Beschloss and perhaps an apologetic Peter Beinart or Fareed Zakaria and a still aghast Frank Rich—how the impulse that led to their detentions, their treatment, their lack of legal recourse was perhaps understandable, given how traumatized the nation was after 9/11. The Iraq War; the rush to judgment against Jose Padilla, John Walker Lind, and dozens more U.S. citizens; the enemy combatant limbo imposed upon foreign nationals; the warrantless wiretapping and other corrosions of civil liberties—all these things were supported by good people, smart people, people who went to Harvard.

But then, the PBSAEDMN will explain, the truth about Guantanamo was slowly revealed. The underage prisoners. The chicken farmers sent there because of a bureaucratic mistake or tribal infighting. The torture. The desecration of the Koran. The female guards pretending to smear prisoners with menstrual blood. The rampant depression, psychic breaks, hunger strikes, and suicide attempts—successful and otherwise. The fact that hundreds of prisoners were found to have been misidentified or of "no threat" to the United States (which is to say: innocent).

As the utter miscarriage of justice that was Guantanamo became apparent to the American people and the rest of the world (which was fairly convinced all along) gradually, the PBSAEDMN and various talking heads will explain, the military began to loosen up. Prisoners were divided into population groups depending on their perceived risk and behavior, and scores of non-violent, non-threatening chicken farmers and pencil sellers and taxi drivers and stand-up comedians were quietly released. It seemed, for a while, that some small measure of sanity was creeping into our Guantanamo policy.

But then, in mid December, came news, via the New York Times, that new Gitmo commander Rear Admiral Harry B. Harris—the man who in June told Nightline that, despite all evidence to the contrary, "I believe truly that I am holding no innocent men in Guantanamo" and called the simultaneous suicides of three inmates to be "an act of asymmetric warfare"—had decided that the real problem at Gitmo was that the prisoners had it too easy.

Cue voiceover representing the New York Times:

Security procedures have been tightened. Group activities have been scaled back. With the retrofitting of Camp 6 and the near-emptying of another showcase camp for compliant prisoners, military officials said about three-fourths of the detainees would eventually be held in maximum-security cells. That is a stark departure from earlier plans to hold a similar number in medium-security units.
Officials said the shift reflected the military's analysis — after a series of hunger strikes, a riot last May and three suicides by detainees in June — that earlier efforts to ease restrictions on the detainees had gone too far.
The commander of the Guantanamo task force, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., said the tougher approach also reflected the changing nature of the prison population, and his conviction that all of those now held here are dangerous men. "They're all terrorists; they're all enemy combatants," Admiral Harris said in an interview. He added, "I don't think there is such a thing as a medium-security terrorist."

Cue PBSAEDMN, who will note that Harris felt confident in asserting that now everyone in Gitmo is a terrorist because "the last of 38 men whom the military had classified since early 2005 as 'no longer enemy combatants,' had just been released."

But, the PBSAEDMN will dryly note, another "100 others who had been cleared by the military for transfer or release remained here while the State Department tried to arrange their repatriation."

(Fiddle swells…)

"A few days after Harris made his statement," the PBSAEDM concludes, "another 15 detainees were sent home to Saudi Arabia, where they were promptly returned to their families."

(Fade to black.)

Democratic Primary 2008: Edwards In, Bayh Out

| Sat Dec. 16, 2006 3:01 PM EST

News has leaked from the John Edwards ur-campaign that the former North Carolina senator and vice presidential candidate will launch a run for president later this month. Edwards, Clinton, and Obama will likely outclass the other contendors for the Democratic nomination, including Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, Tom Vilsack, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, and others. (And don't forget the ghosts of elections past, Al Gore and John Kerry, who haven't put an end to speculation that they may be running.) To watch John Edwards talk about labor and the economics of the middle class, see this video from Hardball. He's a charming bugger, that Edwards.

One man who won't be running is Indiana Senator and former Indiana Governor Evan Bayh, who people have been discussing as a potential presidential candidate for years. Bayh didn't use the old "more time with family" line when announcing his non-run. He was actually quite forthcoming about the reason: he just couldn't win.

"And whether there were too many Goliaths or whether I'm just not the right David, ... the odds were longer than I felt I could responsibly pursue," Bayh's statement continued. "This path -- and these long odds -- would have required me to be essentially absent from the Senate for the next year instead of working to help the people of my state and the nation."

Bayh has spent a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire over the last year or so, which makes this decision to drop out at this point a little curious. Best wishes for continued success in the Senate, Mr. Bayh.

Pink Elephant, In Utero

| Fri Dec. 15, 2006 8:18 PM EST

This ultrasound from the journal Nature captures an 165-pound elephant fetus, already decked out with footpads, a trunk, and fur. Due in about three months, it has been gestating for almost 19 months and kicking for probably 14. How did scientists get close enough to get a good image?

Ultrasonographers donned shoulder-length gloves and gave the pregnant mother an enema before inserting an ultrasound probe up the length of her rectum.

Not so cute. But still, the image is breathtaking. Check out that serpentine umbilical chord and the wiry elephant fur. Click on the image to see it up close.

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-- April Rabkin