So That's Why Don't Ask, Don't Tell Still Exists

| Tue Mar. 13, 2007 8:49 AM EDT

Homophobia in the highest ranks of the military, of course! General Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that he supports the Clinton era "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" program because homosexual acts "are immoral." Pace analogized being gay to having an affair, and finished by saying -- I think -- he'd prosecute both homosexuality and adultery.

"As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else's wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior."

You're already thinking this, but I think it's self-evident that anyone who had vocal and unrepentantly anti-Semitic or racist views would be immediately disqualified from being one of the nation's top military servicemen. If Pace had said, "I would prosecute black people, because I was raised not to approve of them as people," the calls for his dismissal would come flying from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

This was spotted in the Chicago Tribune, which elaborated on why the military needs gay servicemen and women now:

A 2005 government audit showed that about 10,000 troops have been discharged because of the policy. Among those discharged were more than 322 linguists, including 54 Arabic specialists, according to the Government Accountability Office report. The U.S. military, like the nation's foreign service and intelligence community, faces shortages of foreign-language specialists.
"The real question is: What is moral about discharging qualified linguists during a time of war simply for being gay or lesbian?" said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group.

Over half the country thinks gay people should be allowed to serve openly in the military. If you're in that half, don't get too angry about this -- the Pentagon might start monitoring your emails.

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Price for Iraq War Just Went Up, Again

| Tue Mar. 13, 2007 1:28 AM EDT

It feels like deja-vu all over again: The Congressional Quarterly reports that

The first full draft of the emergency supplemental spending bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan totals $124.1 billion — $21.1 billion more than the president's request...

Every year the administration asks for more [PDF] and more "emergency supplemental appropriations." If they are not asking for more money, they are worried about Iraq's trade and economy rather than the hundreds of thousands of people dying. And why wouldn't they be? The Bush administration and its oil-industry allies are going to reap the rewards.

As Americans pay and pay for the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's no surprise that the administration still won't pony up for health care for (all) its citizens.

More on the ever-mounting cost of the Iraq War in our handy Iraq 101 guide, here.

—Neha Inamdar

University of Nebraska Takes Matters Into Its Own Hands

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 10:54 PM EDT

The University of Nebraska has a specialty in the study of indigenous peoples, so it decided to hire Bolivian expert Waskar Ari as an assistant professor of history and ethnic studies, to teach from August 15, 2005, to May 16, 2008. However, Professor Ari has yet to teach a class because the Department of Homeland Security will not process his paperwork. The university paid $1,000 for expedited processing, which guarantees a response in fifteen days. DHS returned the $1,000 and explained that it was waiting for security checks and clearance. Apparently, these have never taken place.

On March 2, the University of Nebraska filed a lawsuit against DHS and DHS director Michael Chertoff, and others. The suit was filed to stop the agency from "unlawfully withholding or unreasonably delaying action" on the university's petition. The suit also argues that DHS did not have the authority to investigate security allegations during the employer's petition stage.

Immigrant Life and the Streets of New York

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 8:02 PM EDT

While the politicians argue over the border and the yuppie environmentalists gnash their teeth over miles per gallon, the U.S. economy runs on the backs of immigrants — like it always has. In New York the Center for an Urban Future recently released a report that demonstrates the economy there and in other big cities is propelled not by Citicorp, but by thousands upon thousands of small immigrant entrepreneuers. These are the people who Tom Tancredo and his supporters want to run out of the country, the people hunted down by the posses in the southwest. Baiting immigrants is the lifeblood of every politican — liberal or conservative.

And yet these people have become the economic heartbeat of the nation. Neither they nor their children have health care. They are denied food. There is no unemployment insurance. They are picked up on the corner and dragged off to jail before being returned to their native lands. And, of course, if they are Muslims, they face the very real prospect of being labelled terrorists in which case they are denied even the most basic legal rights. The sweat shop all too often looks like a commodious modern workplace to many of them. They live in the wonderful Victorian world the conservatives have designed for them. And it's not just the conservatives. It's the liberals — the politicians in Washington, the upper classes in Manhattan, the smug yuppies of San Francisco and Northern California, swaggering yahoos of Texas, who haggle over whether immigrants, illegal or legal, should receive basic social services.

In New York earlier today in a wrenching funeral service at a mosque, hundreds of West Africans prayed in the streets for the nine children and one woman killed in last Thursday's fire in the South Bronx. Some of the children were buried in New Jersey. Others will be buried in Mali.

"We will see what we can do in terms of housing, in terms of employment, in terms of ensuring health care, in terms of ensuring that a community that is so much a part of New York City as every immigrant community is, is tended to and is understood and appreciated," Governor Spitzer said. Spitzer at least might turn out to be a politician with some populist leanings. At least, he is no Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton.

"Immigrant entrepreneurs have emerged as key engines of growth for cities from New York to Los Angeles,'' says the Center for an Urban Future study. "…starting a greater share of new businesses than native-born residents, stimulating growth in sectors from food manufacturing to health care, creating loads of new jobs, and transforming once-sleepy neighborhoods into thriving commercial centers. And immigrant entrepreneurs are also becoming one of the most dependable parts of cities' economies: while elite sectors like finance (New York), entertainment (Los Angeles) and energy (Houston) fluctuate wildly through cycles of boom and bust, immigrants have been starting businesses and creating jobs during both good times and bad."

You can read the study here [pdf].

True Rainbow Colors Shining Through

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 7:48 PM EDT

cyndi_lauper.jpgMTV and the gay TV network Logo are sponsoring a concert tour to drum up support for gay rights. After all, you've been drumming along to gay bands' tunes for years. Think Erasure ("Sexuality"!), the Indigo Girls, and Rufus Wainwright. These groups will perform, but the tour's headliner is long-time friend-of-the-gays Cyndi Lauper, whose song "True Colors" gives the tour its fitting name. The 15-city tour kicks off in Las Vegas on June 8 and ends in Los Angeles on June 30. (June is Gay Pride month.) Other performers include gay icons Debby Harry and Margaret Cho and lesbian favorite The Gossip. She bop, I bop, you bop!

The Religious Times, They Are A-Changin'

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 6:41 PM EDT

Here's a nice trend: religious diversity in Congress is increasing. This past November, Minnesota elected the nation's first Muslim to Congress. Now Pete Stark, a congressman from California first elected in 1973, is the nation's first openly nontheist lawmaker. In a response to a question from the Secular Coalition for America, Stark acknowledged recently that he does not believe in God. He's the first federal-level lawmaker in American history to say this publicly.

Anywhere from 8-15% of Americans don't believe in God, according to surveys and census data. Thus, "If the number of nontheists in Congress reflected the percentage of nontheists in the population," says the director of the Secular Coalition, "there would be 53-54 nontheistic Congress members instead of one."

Spotted on The Plank.

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Coulter's Remark a PR Ploy?

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 6:37 PM EDT

coulter.gif When I blogged briefly earlier this month about Ann Coulter's most recent use of discriminatory epithets (in a room filled with big-ticket Republicans), many of the comments scolded me for mentioning her at all. There's a whole movement, it seems, of folks pushing media outlets to turn Ann into the bigot who dare not speak its name. They claim that Coulter is the shock-jock of conservatism, saying whatever will win her the most attention.

Score one for them. Coulter has a new book coming out.

Movie Big Success! War Good! Freedom Not Free! Hey, Do You Work Out, Bro?

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 5:40 PM EDT

All weekend, the Drudge report breathlessly screamed the headline, as if putting it in a big enough typeface could prove W. right and destroy the liberal peacenicks forever: BOXOFFICE BLOODBATH!!!!! That's right, it was a massacre in the cinema, and I don't mean like when Divine asked "who wants to die for art" in "Female Trouble." I mean "The 300," the latest in a long tradition of things whose name is a dramatic combination of a number and a "The." The movie broke some box office records this weekend, and, if I may join in the thematic word play, pillaged over 70 million smackeroos from the chain wallets of our nation's slack-jawed youths. What does it all mean? Isn't America supposed to be weary of warmongering, tired of knuckleheaded pseudo-freedom fighters, sick of meaningless video game-style violence? Sure. We're over Applebee's and fast cars too. H. L. Mencken, you just have to keep being proven right, don't you. Oh, you.

I haven't seen the damn movie, but I have seen a blog post referencing a dramatically-lit "feature" from Men's Health on the manly exercise habits of one of the stars. Lift tires, make muscles big for movie! Also the snarky reviews in the liberal media have been pretty entertaining. Hilarious, even. Is this the only way I can enjoy anything these days: by scrounging around in the sarcastic reactions to it? Well, no-one ever lost money overestimating my desire to look at rippling torsos on the internet or read witty put-downs of popular culture.

Iraq's Refugee Crisis, Nobody Spared

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 4:30 PM EDT

The refugee crisis in Iraq is dire and affects everyone, as is evident from Elizabeth's post below and this feature in our current issue. Newsweek reports today that the mass flight of Iraqis from their homeland has dwindled the educated class as well. "The exodus has...hollowed out Iraq's most skilled classes—doctors, engineers, managers and bureaucrats," the article reads. This is not entirely new news but has obvious future adverse effects for the rebuilding of a nation. Back in January, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that according to the U.N., 40 percent of Iraq's middle class had fled its country. "Most [were] fleeing systematic persecution and have no desire to return," the article read.

What's most interesting is that this statement regarding the middle class' desire never to return directly contradicts what the U.N. has been claiming most recently; that most refugees want to return to their homeland once the fighting stops. But of course, as I wrote here, many believe the U.N. only uses this as an excuse for the U.S.'s "miserly" asylum quota. And, miserly, it is. Regardless of the escalating crisis in the country, the United States continues to more or less ignore it, placating the situation with negligible assistance. A Refugees International rep., interviewed for the Newsweek article, echoed what I, and many others, have been saying for the past few months. The United States will continue to downplay this crisis, because in order to deal with it on the appropriate scale, it would have to admit how bad the situation actually is; that people in Iraq are dying to leaving their country because it is so unsafe for them. And admitting this would mean admitting the Iraq war has been lost -- something this administration, believe it or not, is still not willing to do.

African Dust Cooled 2006 Hurricane Season

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 3:35 PM EDT

Right-coasters and south-coasters can thank African dust for a quiet hurricane season in 2006. A little puff from just the right place in the Sahara cooled the pyrotechnics of storm formation. The Mother Jones piece "The 13th Tipping Point" (Nov/Dec 2006), explained just how Saharan dust is one of the critical global-warming tipping points keeping our world in balance—and likely to screw things up right royally if it falls out of balance.

From the MoJo article:

Global warming is expected to shrink the Sahara by increasing rainfall along its southern border. A greener Sahara will emit less airborne desert dust to seed the Atlantic and feed its phytoplankton, to suppress hurricane formation, and to fertilize the CO2-eating trees of Amazonia. Hardly a neighborhood on earth will look the same if Africa tips.

And the latest news from

Meteorological signs were unanimous in foretelling yet another hyperactive hurricane season, the eighth in 10 years. But the forecasts were far off the mark. The 2006 season was normal, and no hurricanes came anywhere near the United States or the Caribbean.

Now two climatologists are suggesting that dust blown across the Atlantic from the Sahara was pivotal in the busted forecasts. The dust seems to have suppressed storm activity over the southwestern North Atlantic and Caribbean by blocking some energizing sunlight, they say.

But, unremarked by forecasters, an unusually heavy surge of dust began blowing off North Africa and into the western Atlantic at the 1 June beginning of the official hurricane season. Two weeks later, the surface waters of the western Atlantic began to cool compared with temperatures in the previous season.

Climatologists William Lau of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Kyu-Myong Kim of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in Baltimore argue in the 27 February issue of Eos that the arrival of the thick dust and the subsequent cooling were no coincidence. The dust blocked some sunlight and cooled the surface, they say. That cooling went on to trigger a shift toward less favorable conditions for the formation and intensification of storms in the western Atlantic, they argue. As a result, no storm tracks crossed where nine had passed the previous season.