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It's the Strategy, Stupid

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 7:47 PM EDT

al_sadr.jpg I blogged in February that insurgents' discovery of chlorine bombs was an especially ominous turn in Iraq—optimistic assessments of the "surge" notwithstanding—because the bombs have far higher death tolls than standard I.E.D.'s.

Today the sixth chlorine bomb in 2 months exploded in Anbar province. A chlorine-laden truck bomb in Ramadi killed 20 and wounded at least 30.

The only believable good news regarding the surge was a drop in the death toll between mid-February and mid-March. In reality, the drop was likely due to Moktada al-Sadr's order that his Mahdi Army militia cease resisting the Americans by violent means.

Even though the military hasn't come right out and told the press that al-Sadr is responsible for the surge's apparent success, they know he is. Last week, the military released a key aide to al-Sadr, which the Sacramento Bee called "a sure sign U.S. officials are working hard to keep al-Sadr's support for the Baghdad security plan." Al-Sadr has called for a demonstration against the American occupation on April 9 and ejected two associates who met with Americans, but he has continued to say that his followers should not resist the security surge by violent means.

So why is the U.S. killing civilians and militiamen in al-Sadr's home turf of Sadr City? Earlier today, U.S. and Iraqi forces raided residential neighborhoods there. They killed 4 and wounded 3 militiamen. But they didn't stop there. After distributing pamphlets encouraging people to cooperate with security forces, American helicopters fired missiles that wounded 15 civilians. The New York Times reports, "American forces later fired on a Toyota sedan, killing all three passengers inside. And two students were killed by mortar when Americans fired on a college residence by mistake, Iraqi police said."

What? What kind of perverse incentive is that to retain the (albeit lukewarm) cooperation of the Sadrists? Predictably, a representative of al-Sadr's group—which is big and powerful—expressed anger and confusion. Haydar Al Natiq, of the Sadr office in Diwaniya, told the Times, "This operation is unjustified and will stir up the situation in the time where a peace conference was supposed to be held between the Sadrists and the security forces."

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Why Christians Hate Gays, Blackwater USA is Even Creepier than You Thought, and You Shouldn't Buy Bolthouse Farms (All in One Ha

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 5:22 PM EDT

We throw around the term "religious right" so often that sometimes I wonder if it's not as much a bugaboo as the "homosexual agenda." But then I read articles like Sarah Posner's today on AlterNet. Posner profiles an organization called the Alliance Defense Fund. The ADF is a legal organization created in 1994 with support from all the other players in what is actually a small, well funded, clique. Contributing to ADF were James Dobson of Focus on the Family, D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries, and Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Last year, ADF received more than $21 million in charitable donations. Major donors included:

-- the Covenant Foundation (which, in turn, is financed by James Leininger, the "sugar daddy" of the Texas religious right);

-- the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, whose vice president, Erik Prince, founded the Blackwater USA military-security firm; and

-- the Bolthouse Foundation, a nonprofit arm of Bolthouse Farms, the California natural-foods company whose products are often seen at leftie natural foods stores.

The ADF is to the Christian right what the ACLU is to the left. It has trained more than 900 lawyers, who must then perform extensive pro bono legal work for Christian causes. It happily provides free legal services to the (well funded) groups that created it. Its causes? Pro-life, anti-gay, and "religious freedom." ADF has been particularly ingenious in its definition of religious freedom. The group invented the motif of Christian victimhood that fuels everything from claims of a "war on Christmas" to religious groups' "rights" to public funding.

ADF successfully argued in Rosenberger vs. The Regents of the University of Virginia that public bodies which fund non-religious groups "discriminate" against religious groups if they do not fund them. The case did serious damage to the wall of separation between church and state and, as Posner says, "elevated ADF's mythology of the victimized Christian to a legal precedent." The precedent is especially damaging because ADF is now using it to claim that preventing Christians from discriminating against gays and lesbians is actually discrimination against Christians and a violation of their religious freedom.

And there you have it: That's why Christians are on a crusade against gay people. Not because they are actually a serious threat, but because they provide a test case to see how much the religious right can get away with in the name of religious freedom.

States Aim to Reform NCLB

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 4:49 PM EDT

The non-partisan National Governors Association this week asked the federal government for more control over the notorious 2002 education referendum, No Child Left Behind.

Governors hooked up with state superintendents and state school board members just as NCLB comes up for renewal this year.

The law says that all public schools nationwide must meet proficiency standards by the 2013-14 school year. Since it became law in 2002, no school has completely met that requirement. In short, the association is asking for more flexibility to intervene at underperforming schools (currently the federal government can implement school takeovers), alternative assessments for special education students, and more leeway in defining who is a "highly qualified teacher."

A month ago, President Bush told Indiana school children and educators that he wants public schools to personalize and individualize education for each student. He also said he refuses to water down the law.

But its the devilish little details of this law that will determine the face of public education for the next six years. And like they have done with climate change, where there are similarly high stakes, states no longer trust the feds to handle things and are ready to deal with the details themselves.

—Gary Moskowitz

United States is Working to Undermine Mugabe

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 3:47 PM EDT

Three universities are considering revoking honorary degrees awarded to Robert Mugabe before he turned into a brutal dictator. Back when he was seen as a model for African democracy, having liberating Zimbabwe from white tyranny, he received honorary degrees from UMass-Amherst in 1986, University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1984, and Michigan State University in 1990. Also, the US admitted for the first time yesterday that it was actively working to undermine him. Before toppling him and picking a successor, it's worth a refresher on lessons of other interventions in history—and a look at priorities, since we're ignoring a genocide underway not so far north.

Teens Take Prayers to New Heights

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 3:02 PM EDT

God.jpg

Ten private planes will be circling over Ohio this afternoon filled with people praying for the state's 11 million residents. "You see rows and rows of houses, and you know they are full of people you are praying for," says Samantha Ciminillo, 18, a member of Teens for Christ. It's one way to get closer to God, who occasionally comes down to earth, but spends most of His time sitting on clouds, ordering angels around, His beard blowing in the wind.

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High Deductible Health Plans Penalize Women

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 2:52 PM EDT

A recent Harvard study has found that having breasts and a cervix may cost women an arm and a leg when it comes to healthcare.

Women enrolled in high deductible health plans pay up to three times more in medical costs than men. High deductible plans, pushed by Bush as a way to reduce costs, require the insured to pay at least $1,050 and up to $5,000 out-of-pocket before insurance kicks in.

The Harvard researchers found that women's (age 18-64) healthcare costs were, on average, $1,844, while men's were $847. The reason for the disparity, the study found, is that women's yearly routine health costs--pap smears, breast exams, birth control prescriptions--are more than men's.

"High deductible plans punish women for having breasts and uteruses and having babies," the study's lead author, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, told the Washington Post. "When an employer switches all of his employees into a consumer-driven health plan, it's the same as giving all the women a $1,000 pay cut."

According to Hillary Clinton's recent speech, that's not something that women can afford: working full-time, year-round, they still only make 77 cents to a man's dollar.

--Jen Phillips

National Guard: One Weekend a Month...And Two Years in Iraq

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 12:22 PM EDT

Guard units who have already served their year in Iraq are headed back yet again. No one is surprised by redeployments at this point. But 14,000 National Guard troops? That's a heck of a lot of one-weekend-a-monthers who have to, again, leave their real jobs and homes and lives for another tour of duty.

To date no National Guard brigades have been redeployed. Why? The Pentagon's policy, in place since the Iraq invasion began, has been for Guard and Reserve units to be deployed for a maximum of 12 months every five years. The rest of those years the Guardsmen and women are supposed to be available to secure the homefront.

But when Bush announced his surge plan in January, that policy was obviously scratched. They've already sent active-duty troops back again and again, have increased incentives and slashed standards for recruits, without a draft where else would they turn?

Guard troops are not the only one's suffering of course. Active duty troop deployments are now on the fast track. On Monday, the Pentagon said it would send about 4,500 active duty troops to Iraq within a year of their last deployment. The Pentagon's goal for active-duty troops is two years at home for every one year deployed.

How the Sudan Thwarts Humanitarian Work

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 7:41 PM EDT

The world is failing not only to curb a genocide but also to lift a finger for Darfur refugees across the border in the Central African Republic. Only 18 percent of the United Nations' $54 million appeal for refugee aid there has been financed. That's less than the cost of a new high school gym. If your eyes are glazing over those numbers, here's what else John Holmes told the U.N. Security Council yesterday. (Holmes is—this is a mouthful—Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator.)

On his way to a refugee camp, Holmes was stopped and turned around at a military checkpoint. "The Government had later apologized, but, if such an incident could happen on such a visit—with journalists documenting every step—one could easily imagine the daily struggle faced by aid workers on the ground." Yeah, their daily struggle is aggravated by a propaganda suggesting they are spies and have a hidden agenda. Also, Sudanese officials in January orchestrated a raid on offices of the United Nations, the African Union Mission in the Sudan, and humanitarian agencies. Twenty staff were assaulted, arrested, and, just to add insult to injury, criminally charged.

To put this in context, the Sudanese capitol of Khartoum is flush with oil revenue in one of the biggest economic booms anywhere. Why isn't the U.N. using more muscle? Word is that as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, China has thwarted attempts. No accident that more than half of Sudan's oil exports go to China, and Beijing is the Sudan's leading arms supplier. Still, China seems like a lame excuse for other countries to feebly stand by and wait till it's over. There's a lot more we could do, far short of military intervention. Just imagine what that 20,000 troop surge in Iraq could do for Darfur. For more from Mother Jones, check out this photo essay.

Humpback Whales Make Longest Mammal Migration

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 6:25 PM EDT

Humpback whales in the Atlantic have been tracked making the longest migration on record. New Scientist reports that seven individual whales swam 5,160 miles between Antarctica and the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. One mother and calf made the trip in 161 days. While some researchers claim that gray whales hold the record for longest mammalian migration—from Mexico to the Arctic, at 4700 miles—no individual gray whale has been documented travelling the full extent of their migratory range, and it's possible that no individual makes the entire migration. Kristin Rasmussen at Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Washington, says the new humpback data are important in light of proposals to hunt humpbacks, including Japan's decision to catch 50 humpbacks each year as part of its [bogus] scientific whaling program. "Whales don't respect political boundaries," she says. "Killing whales in one area could potentially impact their population half way around the world."--Julia Whitty