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Mormons Against Romney

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 5:54 PM EST

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Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on so many of the major issues in today's politics, it's clear that his behavior isn't a series of changes-of-heart. It's a fundamental willingness to do and say anything to be president. So maybe it's not surprising that Romney is waffling in small but important ways on his own religion. Nevertheless, some Mormons are pissed.

Here's why Romney has drawn their ire, according to Josh Patashnik in TNR.

(1) In a TV interview, Romney disputed the claim that Mormonism differs from evangelical Christianity by believing that Jesus will return to America instead of the Middle East. Romney said that "the Messiah will come to Jerusalem... It's the same as the other Christian tradition." Except it's not. Mormons do believe Jesus will return to the Middle East, but they also believe that Jesus will establish a new Jerusalem in Jackson County, Missouri. From Jackson County, Jesus will rule for 1,000 years. That's a fairly significant period of time for Romney sweep under the rug.

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Breaking Campaign Laws: Crime That Does Pay

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 5:32 PM EST

Crime does pay...when it comes to breaking campaign finance laws.

A few days ago, the Federal Elections Commission settled a case against the Media Fund, a pro-Democratic 527 group that spent more than $50 million in so-called soft money in 2004 trying to influence the presidential election that year. What was the penalty assessed? $580,000. The Media Fund--which was partly bankrolled by George Soros--will have to pay that much in a fine. It sure sounds like a lot, but it's only a wee bit more than 1 percent of the money the group, which was headed by Harold Ickes, the former White House deputy chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, pumped into the campaign.

The FEC declared that the Media Fund, which is no longer active, had violated campaign finance laws by using unlimited contributions from labor unions and other financial benefactors (soft money, that is) for ads supporting John Kerry and attacking George Bush. (Here's one critical deconstruction of a Media Fund ad.) Lawyers for the Media Fund and other 527s have argued that in 2004 such activity was believed to be legal by the folks running 527s (which take their name from the provision of the tax code that applies to them), and the FEC has stated that the Media Fund did operate in accordance with the advice it received from its attorneys. But the FEC has ruled that only political committees that register with the FEC and abide by contribution limits and public disclosure requirements can directly attempt to influence a presidential election.

The Media Fund is the latest target of the FEC's crusade against the largely unregulated 527s that were operating in 2004. It has also gone after America Coming Together, another pro-Democratic campaign group, and two pro-GOP outfits: Progress for America Voter Fund and the Swfit Boat Veterans for Truth. (After the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, groups like these became major recipients of the soft money that used to flow to the political parties.) All together, these four groups spent $200 million in what the FEC has determined to be illegal soft money. All together, these four groups have to pay $2.4 million in fines.

These punishments--while historic for the FEC--will hardly serve as a deterrent. Such fines, which come long after the offending activity transpired, can easily be considered an inconvenience, the cost of doing business. They will do little to persuade political operators on both sides to throttle back.

Is Your Vote Worth More Than an iPod?

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 4:06 PM EST
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Here's another story that will no doubt be dumped into the Those Apathetic Millenials file, so let me preemptively remind you that the youth turnout in 2006 was the biggest ever in a mid-term election.

That said, this is sad: A survey of NYU students finds that 20 percent would forfeit their right to vote in the 2008 election in exchange for an iPod. Two-thirds said they'd give it up in exchange for free tuition. Alright, politicians suck and higher education is exorbitantly expensive, so I understand why someone would see it as worthwhile to sit out this election in return for a four-year free ride at a great school (worth $140,000+ at current rates). But giving up your vote for a $300 piece of soon-to-be-obsolete electronics? That's nuts, yet considering that a vote once could be bought with free beer, this could be taken as evidence that the value of a vote has risen considerably. (The survey also found that half of respondents would give up voting forever for $1 million.) But the real question is, just how low would a vote-trading college kid (or Gen X-er or Boomer for that matter) go? I bet that would be truly discouraging. And likely would involve free beer.

Americans' Embarrassing Short Term Memory Loss on 9/11 Attacks

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 3:02 PM EST

At the end of Missoula, MT, article on presidential poll numbers in Montana, I found this line:

Just 68 percent [of poll respondents] were able to identify the correct year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (2001).

Which reminded me of these videos:

If you've watched those videos, you'll know why I'm struggling to think up any insightful commentary. Is it worth pointing out that every society has its share of blissfully uninformed citizens, or that through the dark arts of video editing anyone can be made to look stupid? Or should I point out that we now realize the "Never Forget" slogan was at once overly optimistic and incredibly naive, considering the character and attention spans of the American people?

Actually, no. You know what? These videos are a great indication that the terrorists didn't win. If the terrorists wanted to intimidate the American public or create a paradigm shift in the public's thinking, they completely and utterly failed. Terrorism is the most important issue in the upcoming election for one percent of Democrats and five percent of Republicans. And, apparently, some of us think the September 11th attacks happened on August 16th. Take that, Osama.

Iraqi PMC Involved In Latest Civilian Shooting

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 1:33 PM EST

The news this morning is that 43 foreign contractors have been detained in Baghdad in relation to yesterday's shooting of an 18-year old woman in the city's upscale Karrada neighborhood. The contractors were reportedly working in association with Almco, a Dubai-based firm that performs construction work for the U.S. military.

The Washington Post reports that four of the company's vehicles came under attack by an Iraqi mob as they passed through Karrada, apparently en route to Baghdad's airport, where the group of contractors—Sri Lankans, Indians, and Nepalese—were scheduled to depart Iraq. The convoy was protected by a security detail composed of 10 Iraqis and 2 Fijians, both carrying U.S. Department of Defense identity cards.

It was unclear from news reports if the security detail worked directly for Almco, or if it was comprised of subcontractors from a separate private security company. To find out, I spoke with Almco's Chairman and CEO Namir El Akabi. I reached him by phone earlier this morning in Baghdad. He assured me that Almco hires its own security contractors and declined further comment. I then reached his brother Surmid El Akabi in Almco's London office. Surmid said he was aware of "commotion about some kind of incident." Despite what his brother Namir may have said, he told me that Almco typically subcontracts an Iraqi company to provide security for its convoys. I emailed Namir to confirm this information. In response, he identified a local Iraqi firm—Al Iraq Al Moaser Security Company—as having provided security for yesterday's convoy to the airport.

If true, the incident would demonstrate that its not only Western private military firms that stand accused of unlawful use of force. Its unclear from press reports whether the shooting was done by Iraqi security contractors or by the two Fijians. If the former, would they be covered by the blanket immunity granted to other security contractors operating in Iraq? If the latter, will the Iraqi government pursue the Fijians as aggressively as they've gone after U.S. security contractors?

Almco plans to release an official statement tomorrow.

EPA Removes Everglades Expert From Restoration Project

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 1:24 PM EST

everglades200.jpgHow do you reward an employee for years of faithful service on a project? A new watch? A raise? At least a pat on the back? Nah. If you're following the lead of the EPA, you remove him from the project.

Richard Harvey has been serving as an EPA representative on the Everglades restoration since it began in 1999. The project has been plagued by environmental problems since the get-go, and Harvey hasn't been shy about pointing them out. When water authorities diverted excess water from polluted Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, Harvey warned that this wasn't a great idea.

The most recent scuffle started last fall, when officials wanted to install an underground pipe to shunt excess water from the lake. A pipeline is not a magician, though, and dirty water has to go somewhere. In this case, Harvey said, the water would flow into Biscayne National Park. Another not-so-great idea. At a meeting, via conference call, he said:

Once again we're routing dirty water....We are extremely concerned because the track record when the district and the corps move dirty water around is some resource gets trashed.

Little did Harvey know, a reporter was also at the meeting, and she quoted him in print. A few months later, Harvey's supervisor removed him from the project.

The restoration is now almost a decade old, and some people seem to think that the park is all better. Last summer, for example, the U.N. World Heritage Committee removed the Everglades from its list of endangered places. But most experts agree with Harvey—the River of Grass still has a long way to go.

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Five Bullet Points of the Latest IPCC Report

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 1:00 AM EST

global_intro_240x394.gif Thanks to Nature, here are the highlights of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The UN body won the latest Nobel Peace Prize (along with Al Gore), and maybe that emboldened them to take off the gloves in this round. The five talking points of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2007:

• Warming of the world's climate is "unequivocal" — 11 of the past 12 years (1995-2006) rank among the 12 warmest years since 1850. • It is "likely" (meaning a 66% likelihood) that there has been significant man-made warming on every continent except Antarctica over the past half-century. • Continued greenhouse-gas emissions at or above current rates would induce climate changes that would be "very likely" (meaning a 90% likelihood) to exceed those observed during the twentieth century. • Fossil fuels will dominate the world's energy portfolio until at least 2030, and emissions look set to rise by 25-90% during that time. • Given our current understanding, it is too difficult to estimate the extent of future sea-level rise.

The real question: will this overdue urgency translate into anything resembling action at next month's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali? Or will it go the way of Kyoto, stymied by American, and now (inspired by our example) Chinese, stonewalling?Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

An Inside Look At Newspaper Cuts

| Mon Nov. 19, 2007 10:45 PM EST

I blogged last week with a few updates on newspaper cutbacks, and the Washington Post this week offers an insider's take on cuts at the San Jose Mercury News. Some readers' pride in the paper has dropped pretty low ("Personality: The Merc has none"); and their criticism is often harsh ("Most of the articles seem to be written at a 6th grade level at best").

Make sure to read all the way through for thoughts on the risks of un-fact-checked blog rumors guiding the news.

"Bombingham" Pastor Dead at 82

| Mon Nov. 19, 2007 8:48 PM EST

The pastor of Sixteenth Street Baptist in "Bombingham" where the "four little girls" died, has also died.

I haven't been able to find out what 'flavor' Baptist the church was, but I'm betting it wasn't Southern Baptist, given that it split with the national Baptist convention in 1845 over slavery. The Southern baptists were in favor of it, just so you know.

Politics V. Endangered Species, or The Julie MacDonald Drama (Again)

| Mon Nov. 19, 2007 8:02 PM EST

T_eques-low.jpg Good article in today's Christian Science Monitor on how political efforts to undercut the Endangered Species Act are facing fire in the courts. In each case, Bush's political appointees overrode federal scientists' recommendations, with little or no justification, according to six lawsuits filed Thursday by the Center for Biological Diversity. Who are the losers? Mexican garter snakes, Mississippi gopher frogs, Santa Ana suckerfish, to begin with. We've heard this before but—

"This wave of lawsuits is different—and what makes them so different is that the agency itself and its inspector general have provided a lot of compelling evidence of political interference with the proper functioning of the act," says J.B. Ruhl, a law professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee and an expert on the ESA. A big factor in the CBD's legal fusillade hinges on the April release of a scathing report [pdf] by the Interior Department's inspector general on the actions of Julie MacDonald, the department's former deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks. The report found numerous questionable actions on endangered species and criticized her release of internal documents to outside groups opposed to the ESA.

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Moreover, the Endangered Species & Wetlands Report revealed that Julie MacDonald received a Special Thanks for Achieving Results (STAR) award for her work during 2004. That amounted to a tidy $9,628 windfall—just short of the $10,000 threshold that would have triggered a review by the Office of Personnel Management. This, according to DOI, for "an outstanding one-time accomplishment or contribution of a non-recurring nature that produces tangible savings or intangible benefits."

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Oh. Is that what they call eviscerating a stellar piece of legislation?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.