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How Refreshing: A Secretary of Defense with Common Sense and a Grasp on Reality

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 1:32 PM EDT

Let's see what we were missing by being too cheap to pay for (the now extinct) TimesSelect...

Oh, here's a David Brooks column revealing that the Secretary of Defense rejects several of the main tenets of George W. Bush's foreign policy. Nice. From a recent Robert Gates speech:

Throughout the messy years that followed, Gates explained, we have made deals with tyrants to defeat other tyrants. We've championed human rights while doing business with some of the worst violators of human rights....
Two themes ran through his speech. First, the tragic ironies of history — the need to compromise with evil in order to do good. And second, patience — the need to wait as democratic reforms slowly develop.

Using this logic, Gates would likely argue that we should be actively engaging Iran and Syria, regime's we don't approve of, in order to bring order to Iraq. And he would argue that, since "democratic reforms slowly develop," invading countries unaccustomed to democracy and foisting it upon their people isn't too bright. What else?

"I don't think you invade Iraq to bring liberty. You do it to eliminate an unstable regime and because sanctions are breaking down and you get liberty as a byproduct," he continued. I asked him whether invading Iraq was a good idea, knowing what we know now. He looked at me for a bit and said, "I don't know."

Well, that's just about the most honest thing a high-level Bush Administration official has ever said in public. You might claim that Bush's best decision in the Iraq War was appointing this guy to be SecDef. You might also claim that Bush's worst decision was waiting so freaking long.

And wait, Gates isn't done.

I asked him if it was a good idea to encourage elections in the Palestinian territories. He didn't directly address the question, but he noted: "Too often elections are equated with democracy and freedom."
I asked about how we can promote freedom in Iran while taking care of security threats. He emphasized soft power.

It's official! He's the anti-Cheney!

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Fox's Hypocrisy on Sally Field Revealed

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 1:13 PM EDT

Surely you remember a few days back when Fox censored Sally Field at the Emmy's because she tried to say the line, "If mothers ruled the world, there wouldn't be any goddamned wars in the first place."

At the time, I wondered if it was because Field was making a political statement or if it was because she said the word "goddamned." To censor her for making an anti-war statement that innocuous would reveal their political leanings too blatantly, right? It was probably just the language she used.

Wrong. It turns out, assuming the worst out of Fox is always the right choice. This video by Robert Greenwald shows that not only have Fox commentators used the word "goddam" in the past, they've thrown it around playfully.

Now, admittedly, Field said the word on Fox, a network, and the commentators in this video said it on Fox News, a cable station. But that shouldn't make a difference. According to the FCC, here are the standards for censoring material on any TV channel:

  • An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.
  • The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law.
  • The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

This situation doesn't fall into any of those three categories. Moreover, there is no list of words that are banned completely, ala George Carlin's seven dirty words, and in this FCC ruling, "goddam" is specifically categorized as "not profane."

(H/T Think Progress)

Mitt Romney and the Formula Makers

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 11:27 AM EDT

Public health officials across the country have been trying to address record-low rates of breastfeeding among American women, a move that threatens the enormous profits of formula companies (pharma giants all). So the formula makers have responded aggressively, lobbying successfully to water down federal breastfeeding promotion campaigns, among other things.

No good lobbying campaign, of course, comes without the creation of an Astroturf group to demonstrate "grassroots" support for the cause. The formula makers have recently launched two of them, with websites, www.momsfeedingfreedom.com and www.babyfeedingchoice.org, both of which proclaim to champion women's "right to choose" formula. Interestingly, MomsFeedingFreedom is the product of the very same web consulting firm that works for presidential contender Mitt Romney, reports Mothering Magazine this month.

Romney and the formula companies have a long history together. Back in 2005, his state became the first in the nation to ban the distribution of formula samples in hospitals, a move backed by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. But as governor, Romney pressured the Massachusetts Public Health Council to overturn the ban. When it refused, he fired three members of the council and replaced them with members who voted shortly afterwards to allow formula back into the hospitals. Romney clearly won't be the "breast is best" candidate in '08...

(H/T Center for Media and Democracy)

Group Sues Pentagon Over First Amendment Religion Issue

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 8:14 PM EDT

Yesterday, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and U.S. Army Major Paul Welborne. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, alleges that Army specialist Jeremy Hall, who is currently serving in Iraq, had his First Amendment rights violated last Thanksgiving when he was threatened and otherwise harrassed because he declined to participate in a Thanksgiving prayer ceremony.

According to Hall, who is an atheist, when he refused to join hands with other soldiers and pray, he was told by a staff sergeant (who first had to ask someone what an atheist was) that he could not eat Thanksgiving dinner with his peers. Hall, however, continued to eat his dinner at the table.

According to the complaint, in August, Hall received permission from a military chaplain to organize a group for atheist soldiers, but when the group met, Major Welborne broke it up, and also threatened to charge Hall with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Hall says that Welborne further threatened him that he would block Hall's re-enlistment in the Army if the atheist group continued to meet. Hall alleges that Welborne disrupted the meeting and confronted those in attendance.

Hall's complaint is not unique. Just last month, the Pentagon's Inspector General responded to a complaint by an MRFF that Defense Department officials violated their own regulations by appearing in a video to promote a fundamentalist Christian organization.

A spokesman for the MRFF has indicated that the Hall lawsuit is just the first of many.

Washington Post Fact Checks Fred Thompson, Two Weeks After MoJoBlog Did the Same

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 6:27 PM EDT

A while back on this blog, I pointed out the ridiculousness of this statement by Fred Thompson: "Our people have shed more blood for the liberty and freedom of other peoples in this country than all the other countries put together." I cited some figures on American dead in various wars, then pointed out that among other massive casualty figures, tens of millions of Russians died in WWII. That dwarfs anything America has experienced. Not to belittle the sacrifices our country has paid, but Thompson's statement was wayyy off base.

As a result, the comments section lit up. The highlights:

- "Stein's unambiguous dislike for the Tennessean has cluttered his mind."
- "Johnathan [sic] Stein hearts Stalin."
- "Mr. Stein is- and has always been- free to relocate to any of the few remaining Stalinist 'paradises' left on Earth."

Well, I'm still here. And it turns out that, empowered by the shouting of our commentors, Fred Thompson decided to ignore my debunking and continued using the statement in his campaign. And so, the new truth-rooting wing of the Washington Post, called Fact Checker, had to take Thompson to task.

It's conclusion?

While heavy, U.S. military casualties are still relatively low in comparison to the military casualties of its World War II and World War I allies. In World War II alone, the Soviet Union suffered at least eight million military deaths, or ten times the number of U.S. deaths in all wars combined....
Even if we exclude the Soviet Union from the calculation, U.S. military deaths in all wars combined remain lower than those of the British Commonwealth ("a combination of nations," in Thompson's phrase) in World War I and World War II.

So please, folks, click over to the Post and tell them to move to the Stalinist 'paradises.' I don't deserve your scorn.

Daytime TV Providing New Cross-Promotional Opportunities for Today's Music Stars

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 6:23 PM EDT

Days of our Klaxons?

Timbaland is trying something new. The 35-year-old rapper-producer, who has collaborated on No. 1 songs for Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, will appear on ABC's "One Life to Live" on Oct. 9, the network said Wednesday. "This is a new experience for me, I am looking forward to having a great time and sharing my music!" he said in a statement. - AP

"It just seemed like a natural fit," said Madonna in a statement. "By appearing on 'Guiding Light,' I hope to show America what a guiding light the Kabbalah has been for me." The singer is one of many following Timbaland's lead by appearing on daytime television, in what some are calling the most inspired cross-promotional concept since the Chicago Bears' 1985 hit, "Super Bowl Shuffle." Meg White plans to use her "down time" to join "The Young and the Restless" for an exciting seven-week subplot about anxiety disorders, and look for UK sensations Klaxons to ride their post-Mercury Prize publicity wave to a guest appearance on "Days of Our Lives," where the band will play a trio of adorable space aliens who come to Earth and discover that Earth women may be more than they bargained for.

"As the World Turns" attracted Ricky Martin, although he maintained the show's groundbreaking gay love story had "nothing to do with it." "Any hot three-ways I engage in with the two actors will just be, you know, acting," said the Latin heartthrob in a statement.

Intriguingly, the members of legendary UK combo The Smiths plan to take over an entire season of Dr. Phil, where the notoriously ornery psychologist will try to get to the root of the band's "issues" over the course of 70 heart-rending episodes. "Honestly, I think we just need to 'get real,'" said lead singer Morrissey in a statement, "and if we're ever going to reunite as a band, we'll have to 'shape up.' Plus I really think Dr. Phil can help me lose these last 5 pounds."

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Democrats Rush to Return Lawyer's Money After Guilty Plea

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 5:49 PM EDT

Now that famed securities lawyer Bill Lerach is officially going to prison, Democratic candidates are scrambling to get rid of all the money he's donated to their campaigns, the New York Sun Reports. Fellow trial lawyer John Edwards donated nearly $5,000 he'd taken from Lerach to charity, and Joe Biden's campaign said it had given $2,700 in Lerach funds to a prostate cancer group earlier this year. No word from Hillary Clinton, whose presidential campaign hasn't taken Lerach donations, but whose Senate campaign did...

Men Without Women

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 4:44 PM EDT

Europe's population is in decline. By 2050, the continent is projected to be home to at least 50 million fewer people than it is today. But the Europeans do not plan to go down without a fight.

Three years ago, the governor of Russia's Ulyanovsk region declared an annual "sex day" to give locals the chance to stay home from work and make babies for the Motherland. Women who give birth on June 12 (Russia's national day) can win prizes, such as new cars and televisions. The joy of sex apparently wasn't enough to motivate young Russians to get busy. Prizes, though, seem to have done the trick: the region's birth rate has jumped 4.5 percent over the last year.

The Russians' procreative success may now have inspired the Germans. The former East Germany has been depopulating rapidly ever since the Berlin Wall came down. Women have been leaving in droves. According to a piece in the German magazine Der Spiegel, a local politician has decided to stem the flow. Earlier this year, Klaus Mättig, mayor of the town of Freital in eastern Germany, jokingly suggested the local government should offer $2,791 to any woman who would agree to sign a three-year lease in his town. But when his comments were reported in the local newspaper, the mayor received letters from over 50 women eager to take him up on his offer:

The response was especially unexpected because Mättig's offer was only half serious. Freital, after all, has not been overly hit by the mass movement westwards and, as the mayor says, "it's not like there aren't any women on the streets here or that there are only singles wandering around." It is also unclear whether the Freital electorate would even put up with such an offer. They aren't getting paid to stay, after all...
Even if Mättig's offer never actually comes to pass, he may nevertheless be on to something. Many of the letters he received were from former eastern Germans who were dissatisfied with their new lives in the West. "I want to come back as soon as possible," one wrote. "When one leaves their home, it doesn't automatically mean that everything will be better," penned another.
The letters, though, have also made Mättig take his own idea more seriously. He has responded to every one of the inquiries received, explaining that the initiative has yet to be passed.
"But," he says, "we are going to keep the idea in mind and will take a closer look at it here at city hall."

Mättig's approach, if ever it is implemented, would surely be more effective than another effort to woo women back to the East: Wolfgang Tiefensee, the government minister responsible for economic development in eastern Germany, has suggested that the best way to keep women from leaving would be to establish mobile libraries to drive around the countryside. Nothing says "stay in East Germany and have babies with East German men" quite like a good book.

Evangelical Influence on the Amish

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 3:51 PM EDT

Religion News Service has a great story about Steve Lapp, a former member of the Amish community who became an evangelical healer.

While Lapp himself is an interesting character, the story is bigger than just him: Some members of the Amish community, it seems, have begun to adopt evangelical styles of worship:

With his talk of supernatural healings and events, Lapp seems more at home—at least theologically—in Pentecostal churches than among the Amish. But he is just the most extreme example of an evangelical influence creeping into the Old Order Amish community, according to a number of observers. The trend may be most evident here in Lancaster County, which, with 25,000 members, is one of the world's largest Amish settlements.

The Amish "are realizing that the Great Commission is about going into the world and preaching the gospel and not just having your little community rules and regulations," Lapp said.

More and more Amish talk about "a personal relationship with Jesus," and the "assurance of salvation and forgiveness" while attending Bible studies, singalongs and revival meetings. Alarmed Amish leaders have banned large-group prayer meetings and Bible readings as dozens of Amish families consider joining other churches.

Increasingly, evangelical churches are non-denominational, since many church leaders feel that the differences between Christian sects are arcane and ultimately unimportant. The Amish, though, have long valued their separateness from the rest of society. If evangelical nondenominationalism is beginning to reach all the way into this insular community, its influence must be profound indeed.

Global Warming Bolsters Bone Trade

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 3:07 PM EDT

We keep hearing about the strange side effects of global warming. Certain species—from poison ivy to cats—seem to be thriving in the warmer weather.

The latest species to enjoy the short-term benefits of climate change? Bone collectors.

As the Arctic thaws, all kinds of prehistoric bones are becoming more accessible, and museums and private collectors are paying hefty sums to the people who know where to find them.

Luckily, at least one of the bone hunters has a sense of perspective:

Davydov acknowledges that rising temperatures in Siberia have been a boon for bone collectors. "As the permafrost thaws, we obtain yet more objects for study," he says.

But then he reflects: "From the point of view of humanity, it would have been better if this had never happened."