Blogs

Who Is the Real Most Liberal Senator?

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 1:17 PM EST

So the National Journal's contention that Obama is most liberal member of the Senate has been pretty widely discredited across the internet. So who is the most liberal? A much more trustworthy rating system provides some answers here.

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Something Strange Happened When Manila Banned Publicly Funded Contraception

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 12:59 PM EST

From Salon:

...choosing between contraception and food for their children, multiple pregnancies after being told it would be dangerous for them to have more children, unwanted pregnancies forcing families into extreme poverty, abstinence leading to troubled marriages and divorces, backroom abortions, maternal deaths from multiple pregnancies, abortion deaths... you name it.

And, by the way, a violation of the Philippine constitution and a coupla international treaties, since Manila's ultra-religious mayor has right to issue such a decree. While the lawsuit aimed to end the ban winds its way through the legal system, poor women, poor families, will just go paying the price for other's opinions and religious beliefs.

Blogging While Brown

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 12:43 PM EST

Someone forwarded me a link to a blog called Electronic Village which is tabulating rankings for black blogs. Somehow I qualify, even though it's the MoJo Blog (a 'problematic' they address). I offer this not because I'm on it but because it's a convenient way to figure out where to go looking for black blogs/topics of interest (there's a looong list of black blog links).

I can't vouch for quality (see below for mention of anti-Toni Morrison misogyny), or the quality of the organization itself, but their top 10 rankings for February 2008 are as follows:

U.S. National Guard and Reserves Face "Appalling" Shortfalls, Study Finds

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 12:36 PM EST

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The war in Afghanistan was the subject of three independent reports, all released yesterday. Buried by the resulting coverage, a fourth report by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, also published Thursday, warns that our non-professional soldiers—the ones shouldering much of the burden in Iraq and Afghanistan—are stretched to the breaking point.

Until Iraq, the Guard and Reserves were long considered a "backup" force, a sort of safety valve that could be pulled in the event of an emergency. But the occupation of Iraq (not to mention the hot-cold Afghan conflict), have fundamentally challenged the nature of what is expected from America's citizen soldiers. It's no longer the one weekend a month sort of deal it used to be. Rather, Guard and Reserve units have quickly evolved into crucial operational components of how the U.S. military projects power around the world. Trouble is, investment of personnel and resources remains stuck in an earlier time, and it's a disconnect that threatens the viability of the current U.S. force structure.

What to Read This Winter

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 12:18 PM EST

A la yesterday's post on the literature of campaign endorsements, today Slate is running a wonderfully enticing compendium of books recommended for our winter reading pleasure. They cover all genres, but, being a non-fiction nerd, this one caught my eye:

Texas Death Row by Bill Crawford, ed. When I cracked open Texas Death Row, I thought, oooh, I see, it's a catalog of all the folks who've been put to death there, not the kind of book you sit down and read cover-to-cover. Then, I sat down and read it cover-to-cover. Not only because I knew a few of the unfortunates who wound up "riding the needle" from my long-ago stint covering Texas prisons, but because it's impossible to turn away from this inch-by-inch indictment of a culture that would feed a man with a 7th-grade education enough food to kill him right before actually doing so, and call that justice. (And how could anyone choke down a last meal of "fifteen enchiladas, onion rings or fries, eight pieces of fried chicken, eight pieces of barbecue chicken, eight whole peppers, ten hard-shell tacos with plenty of meat, cheese, onions and sauce, four double-meat, double-cheese, double-bacon burgers, T-bone steak with A-1 sauce, and a pan of peach cobbler?" No idea, but nobody dies hungry in Huntsville.)
Bill Crawford's book contains no commentary, just basic biographical information about the 391 men and women executed in Texas in the last 25 years. On page after page you see person after person who never made it past the seventh or eighth grade, and crime after crime connected with drugs—so tell me again why you still hear Texans boo-hoo about that awful Ann Richards, making them fund schools and treatment programs? This should be required reading for anyone even thinking about uttering the words fair or deterrent or closure in connection with the death penalty. As this compilation of loss makes clear, most of these people weren't thinking much of anything when they threw their own and others' lives away.
As if we readers didn't already have too many titles we're trying to get to. The same strategy that works with crackheads works all too well with us; we know we shouldn't read all those reviews but, dammit, we're just too addicted. Need more temptation?

Dem Debate: A Cordial Twosome in Hollywood

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 1:05 AM EST

obama-clinton-happy250.jpg Tonight in Hollywood, with celebrities packing the seats of the historic Kodak Theater, anyone expecting a blockbuster debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was sorely disappointed. Neither made a bold play for the other's supporters. Neither took any chances. In general, both were civil, composed, and very impressive. One could argue that Obama won as a result, because he showed a national audience of newly attentive February 5 voters that he could match Hillary Clinton point for point. One could also argue that the calmness of the debate favored Clinton, who, as the frontrunner, avoided any incidents that could jeopardize her supremacy.

One could also argue the campaigns decided that, because the delegate count will be relatively close after February 5, they had no reason to go for broke and were content to leave the night as a wash.

There were moments, however, that rewarded close attention. Early in the debate, the candidates were asked a question about whether illegal immigrants take African American jobs. Obama, responding first, argued that there are systemic problems in the American economy that steal opportunities from minorities and the poor. To point to illegal immigrants is to make them a scapegoat. Clinton responded by pandering to downscale voters.

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Casualties of War Down in Iraq, Up at Home

| Thu Jan. 31, 2008 8:50 PM EST

Military officials announced today that Army suicides increased by 20% in 2007, and attempted suicides went up more than 40%. These grim statistics come in the wake of President Bush's final State of the Union address, during which he touted the troop surge as the answer to violence in Iraq. The president said, "high profile terrorist attacks are down, civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down."

But with more troops serving and staying longer in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's not surprising they come home carrying more baggage. Some are even bringing the violence home with them. Earlier this month, the New York Times revealed that 121 veterans of the two current wars have been charged with murder on U.S. soil. Many of the cases have been easily traced back to combat trauma and the stress of deployment. It goes to show that the aftermath of war is never confined to the war zone; it always hits home.

—Celia Perry


Be Still My Heart and Lower my DMV fees

| Thu Jan. 31, 2008 8:34 PM EST

Go ahead and laugh, but I think Vermont is on to something.

A bill is pending there to allow its citizens to opt out of driver registration fees - for life - if they agree to donate their organs when they die. At Vermont's rates, drivers would save $480 (depending on how long they live and drive) while another magazine noted that:

that there were 530,000 valid driver's licenses in the state as of 2006. So, there are a lot of available organs – in Vermont alone – to help the nearly 1 million people on transplant waiting lists in the U.S.

While stolen organ-rackets may be an urban legend here, they're not in India and certainly not among China's executed prisoners. While the need is acute generally, African Americans in particular face an severe shortage of donor kidneys, for instance, which largely have to come from other blacks to be compatible. Unfortunately, they have a low donation rate. Until more states try such initiatives, we simply won't know what it takes to raise these rates. Imagine: just a few states could eliminate the need for donor waiting lists!

But now?

Sadly, store clerks are routinely surprised to see that I'm an organ donor when they check my driver's license and look at me like I'm either Mother Theresa or some freak-show, wild-eyed pagan. But initiatives like Vermont's might just get more of us out of our comfort zones and our life-giving hearts out of our dead bodies. We shouldn't have to be paid to do something so easy - though I will greedily accept the discount - yet such an unbelievable blessing to the suffering. But if it will save more lives (and stop the desecration of the Third world's living humans) - small price to pay. And an idea brilliant in its simplicity. Here's hoping the Vermont bill passes and that it's opponents get the pillorying they deserve.

Study: Republicans Don't Care About Warming Planet

| Thu Jan. 31, 2008 7:56 PM EST

Maybe this just confirms what you already knew, but a new study by Pew shows that Republicans don't care about global warming. Only 12% of Republicans in the January 2008 poll thought dealing with global warming should be a "top priority," as oppposed to 47% of Democrats and 38% of Independents. In fact, global warming was the issue Republicans cared least about.

For a Mother Jones summary of where the candidates, Republican and Democrat, stand on issues like global warming, check out our "Primary Colors" package here.

Remember Afghanistan?

| Thu Jan. 31, 2008 7:05 PM EST

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Afghanistan. In the 1980s, we sent in the CIA, gave weapons to the mujahideen, and defeated the Soviets. In the 1990s, we got out, allowed our erstwhile allies to kill each other, and sat by as the country was taken over by religious fanatics and terrorists. After 9/11, we realized our mistake, went back in, chased Al Qaeda and the Taliban out of their caves, and declared victory. Afterward, we invaded Iraq and once again forgot all about the place. But the pendulum still swings, and now, as before, our willful ignorance of that troubled country (if indeed it meets that definition) is coming back to bite us.

Or so conclude three separate reports released yesterday by the National Defense University, the Atlantic Council, and the Afghanistan Study Group (ASG). "Make no mistake," says the Atlantic Council report, "NATO is not winning in Afghanistan... Urgent changes are required now to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failing or failed state." The problem (and don't say you didn't see this coming) is that the war in Iraq drained political will, money, and military resources away from Afghanistan, allowing it to drift back into the very same chaos that first attracted Bin Laden to the sanctuary of its caves. According to the ASG report:

Afghanistan stands today at a crossroads. The progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country. The United States and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid, and without a clear and consistent comprehensive strategy to fill the power vacuum outside Kabul and to counter the combined challenges of reconstituted Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a runaway opium economy, and the stark poverty faced by most Afghans.