2006 - %3, December

Michael Crichton Hits Below the Belt

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 2:32 PM EST

A few weeks ago, I noted that global-warming denier and airport-gift shop supplier Michael Crichton had dissed Mother Jones in his latest tome. Now it looks like we got off easy. The New Republic's Michael Crowley, who had written a harsh assessment of State of Fear, has been immortalized as a poorly-endowed child rapist in Crichton's Next. Writes Crowley: "And, perhaps worse, [he] falsely branded me a pharmaceutical-industry profiteer." [Full article behind NRO sub wall.]

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Bakker: What the Hell is Wrong With Christianity?

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 2:14 PM EST

Over on CNN's site, punk preacher (and son of Jim and Tammy Faye) Jay Bakker offers a quick smack-down of the Religioius Right and others who mix religion and politcs:

What the hell happened? Where did we go wrong? How was Christianity co-opted by a political party? Why are Christians supporting laws that force others to live by their standards? The answers to these questions are integral to the survival of Christianity.

While the current state of Christianity might seem normal and business-as-usual to some, most see through the judgment and hypocrisy that has permeated the church for so long. People witness this and say to themselves, "Why would I want to be a part of that?" They are turned off by Christians and eventually, to Christianity altogether. We can't even count the number of times someone has given us a weird stare or completely brushed us off when they discover we work for a church.

When I spoke with Bakker a few days ago, he said he doesn't like either party laying claim to the moral high ground. As the bumper sticker on his car reads, "God is not a Republican... Or a Democrat." Perhaps God is a registered independent.

Dispatch from Chile: On Pinochet, "He Did Nothing to Me"

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 1:44 PM EST

While the news of Pinochet's death has been met with celebrations and rioting in the streets of Santiago, responses in the more rural environs of the country have been far more staid. Santiago, the political heart of the country, also holds fully a third of the country's 15 million people and they are largely the ones who felt Pinochet's wrath.

In the expansive, sparse southern tip of the lean country the size of California, residents respond with a mix of recollection and resignation. "Presidents don't come to this part of the country," says Theresa Ruiz, a seventy-some year old resident and innkeeper who was born and has lived her entire life in the Patagonian region of southern Chile. "We have had to take care of ourselves, to take care of each other, the government was never much help." Nor, she said, did it particularly hurt her or those around her, saying, "Pinochet did nothing to me," his actions were more of neglect. Ruiz adds that she's glad his reign is over if he harmed people. "I would say that about half the country, a little more than half, are celebrating right now, the other half? They were not as affected." Or, they benefited.

After Castro

| Thu Dec. 14, 2006 12:00 PM EST

With Fidel Castro at death's door, Miami is frothing at the mouth. The authorities are bracing for the worst, anticpating that the leader's death could send an armada of row boats into the seas between Miami and Cuba, as some Cubans rush home to reclaim lost businesses and properties and others to foment a guerrilla war against the weakened regime. "The message we want to send is, 'Do not throw yourself to the waters,'" Amos Rojas Jr., the South Florida regional director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said yesterday. "'Be patient, the trip is very dangerous.'"

What happens in Cuba when Castro dies is in no way predictable. Today the nation is tied into an economic coalition with Venezuela and China. In addition to its important supplies of nickel, used in the manufacture of various types of specialty steels, there are solid signs of an oil field off its north coast. If so, energy independence could be in sight. (In fact, the Caribbean is becoming something of an energy trove—and not necessarily just for the U.S. Trinidad is the center of a major gas field which currently is providing gas for LNG shipments to the east coast of the U.S. where the demand for gas is steadily increasing.)

If the Democrats control the Congress—and with South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson's sudden illness yesterday this is no longer assured—U.S. policy toward Cuba is not likely to change much. In all likelihood it will continue along the same lines it has since 1959, when Secretary of State Christian Herter declared "economic warfare" on Cuba, cutting off the sugar trade and its fuel supply. The idea, as Ricardo Alarcon, Cuba's vice president recently put it in an article printed in Counterpunch, has been "to bring about hunger, misery and desperation among the people of Cuba."

A State Department analysis in April 1960 said that since "the majority of Cubans support Castro, the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship." To weaken the economic life of Cuba there was a need to take a "positive position which would call forth a line of action while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government."

The policy didn't work. After 46 years of ceaseless machinations to kill or topple Castro, the U.S. has gotten nowhere. In 2004, the Bush administration's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba put out a report that insisted the Castro government was about to collapse, after which a U.S. transition team could effect an occupation and remake the place in the democratic image of the U.S. — just like in Iraq.

However, as Wayne Smith, a former U.S. diplomat who served in Cuba and who has extensive knowledge of U.S.-Cuban relations, noted, instead of collapsing, the Cuban economy "has shown strong signs of reinvigoration. Even the CIA gives it a growth rate of 8 percent."

Some Speech Is More Inappropriate Than Other Speech

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 9:31 PM EST

Ever since Rosie O'Donnell joined the cast of The View, she has received sharp criticism from other members of the media. O'Donnell's pique with Kelly Ripa over a supposedly homophobic remark seems silly to some, significant to others. Joe Scarborough--who is as obsessed with O'Donnell as Keith Olbermann is with Britney Spears--has sharply criticized O'Donnell for saying such "inappropriate" things as her observations that radical Christianity is as threatening as radical Islam, and that Bush is less than a stellar example of a leader. Other conservatives were oh, so shocked by O'Donnell's statement that post-September 11 America is like the McCarthy era.

Scarborough has repeatedly said that he does not understand why a principled person like Barbara Walters puts up with O'Donnell. That in itself is absurd. Walters is an uninformed conservative, she is sexist, and she calls herself a "close friend" of the late Roy Cohn. Of course, Scarborough is also confused that politics is discussed on a "women's" show.

Now O'Donnell has gone and done something really offensive--her "ching chong" remark about the news in China, and her detractors are having a field day. She deserves the criticsm. (Her original defense was that she is a comedian, but there are two things wrong with that--she was not doing a comic act when she appears on The View, and she does not make fun of other cultures or minorities.) But those same people have totally ignored Don Imus's recent reference to Jewish CBS radio management as "money-grubbing bastards."

The talking heads pick and choose whose (and which) inappropriate language they attack. They were quick to jump on Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic remarks, but never said a single word about his drunken misogynist remarks, made during the very same traffic incident. And they are quick to jump on gay, liberal O'Donnell whether her speech is truly inappropriate or just truthful.

It is unfortunate that Gibson said vile things about both Jews and women, that O'Donnell made fun of Chinese people, and that Imus perpetuated a terrible Jewish stereotype. But you won't get the full story from their peers in the news--you'll get what they want you to remember.

The Muscles from Brussels

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 8:22 PM EST

Today the European Parliament passed one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching EU regulations in its history, a set of environmental rules that will hold companies liable for the health effects of some 30,000 substances used in everything from computers to laundry detergent. The law—which applies to any company that wants to sell into the huge European market (pretty much any global corporation, these days)—signals the evolution of the EU from a paper tiger into the new global arbiter of environmental standards. The rules are sure to affect products produced and sold in the United States much more so than any law recently passed by the U.S. Congress.

To read more about the new law, known as REACH, for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, and how it will affect the environment stateside, check out The Muscles From Brussels, my article in Mother Jones' November/December issue.

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Breaking News: Dem Senator Has "Stroke-Like Symptoms." Could Balance of Power Shift?

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 5:56 PM EST

Via CNN:

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-South Dakota, was hospitalized Wednesday after he suffered stroke-like symptoms in his Washington office, his staff said.
Johnson, who turns 60 on December 28, was taken to George Washington University Hospital by ambulance about 11:30 a.m., sources in his office said.
A statement issued by Johnson's office said he was suffering from a "possible stroke."
At this stage he is undergoing a comprehensive evaluation by the stroke team," the statement said. Staffers said that Johnson was conscious when he was transported to the hospital.
A lawyer and longtime state lawmaker, Johnson was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986. He served five terms before he was elected to the Senate in 1996.
He is the senior senator from South Dakota and serves on numerous committees, including appropriations, budget, banking, energy and natural resources, and Indian affairs
.Should Johnson not be able to complete his term, which ends in 2008, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, could appoint his replacement, which could shift the balance of power in the Senate.
Johnson battled prostate cancer in 2004, and after surgery, tests showed he no longer had the disease, according to his Web site.

Jay Bakker's Quiet Revolution

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 2:48 PM EST
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Tonight, the Sundance Channel debuts "One Punk Under God," a documentary series that follows Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Since his parents' PTL ministry collapsed in the late '80s, Bakker hit the bottle, got a ton of tattoos, sobered up, rediscovered God, and became a preacher. He's now spreading the word from a Brooklyn storefront, but it's a distinctly different message from the one we're used to hearing from megachurches and televangelists. I recently talked to Bakker about his philosophy, his decision to become a "gay-affirming" church, and what tricks of the trade he picked up from his parents. Check it out here.

Proxy War Anyone?

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 2:42 PM EST

The New York Times reports today that Saudi Arabia will back the Sunni minority in Iraq if the United States withdraws its troops. This move by the Saudi government sends a strong message that they will not be passive observers of Iran's involvement in Iraq. Nawaf Obaid, a security adviser to Saudi Arabia, writing in the Washington Post last month, warned of this impending possibility, although he made clear his views were not those of his country. It appears now that they are. King Abdullah expressed Saudi Arabia's intentions to support Iraq's Sunnis to Dick Cheney during the VP's visit to Riyadh two weeks ago. It's a foregone conclusion that bordering nations will play a role in the outcome of the situation in Iraq. What possible roles are still unknown, but there are several scary prospects floating around. Obaid wrote, "To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks -- it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse."

A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is definitely one of the looming possibilities.

Cheney Cutting and Running

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 1:44 PM EST

U.S. News and World Report is reporting that Dick Cheney's recent absence from the public eye is an attempt to disassociate himself with the war.

"I think we'll see less of him than ever," says [an] associate. "Iraq is now Bush's baby, and Cheney doesn't want to be tarred with it in the eyes of historians."

Right... For a reminder of exactly how involved in the war effort Dick Cheney was, see the "Cheney" portion of the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.