Mojo - August 2006

Bush Flip Flops on New Stem Cell Procedure

| Fri Aug. 25, 2006 7:11 PM EDT

This week the genetic engineering of nonembryos has been all the buzz. That this procedure is a red herring is one issue. But more than that it seems President Bush is wearing the venerable flip flops on this one.

The procedure was actually born out of his own Presidential Council on Bioethics and when Republican Senators Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter co-sponsored a bill that would have allocated NIH funding to this type of research, he was all for it. In a press conference, on July 19 (the same day Bush vetoed the more significant stem cell bill), he had this to say after the Santorum-Specter bill didn’t pass through the House:

"I'm disappointed that Congress failed to pass another bill that would have promoted good research...It would have authorized additional federal funding for promising new research that could produce cells with the abilities of embryonic cells, but without the destruction of human embryos. This is an important piece of legislation...I'm disappointed that the House failed to authorize funding for this vital and ethical research."

But this week a White House spokeswoman told the New York Times that

"The new procedure would not satisfy the objections of Mr. Bush…Any use of human embryos for research purposes raises serious ethical questions. This technique does not resolve those concerns."

So once the science shows progress beyond mice, Bush backs off and shows how much he really supports "promising new research."

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Rocky Mountain Low for Coors Executive

| Fri Aug. 25, 2006 6:07 PM EDT

If you had a beer named after you and were the company's vice chairman, regularly appearing on TV asking your customers to drink, but responsibly, would you make sure not to drive drunk? Pete Coors wouldn't. In May he was stopped after rolling through a stop sign on his own block. He was arrested when a breathalyzer test showed his blood alcohol level to be .088 percent.

The court in Golden, Colorado, decided to make an example of the man whose company has made the town famous. An example, that is, of how to get no more than a slap on the hand for a drunk driving charge. Last Friday, Coors pled guilty to driving while impaired (though his blood alcohol level clearly put him in the more serious category of driving under the influence). His sentence? Twenty-four hours of community service and a suspended license for three months. The judge also waived the $200 fine, which would surely have broken Mr. Coors. With widely-publicized punishments like these, it's no wonder the number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities has skyrocketed this past year.

Shays Sets a Timeline for a Timeline, and Slams Rumsfeld

| Fri Aug. 25, 2006 2:26 PM EDT

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, is breaking with his party to urge withdrawal from Iraq. Sort of. Shays, who is facing a tough electoral challenge from anti-war Democrat Diane Farrell, is expected to produce a timeline for withdrawal after holding a series of hearings next month. But Shays seems to think the main problem in Iraq is flaccid "political will on the part of Iraqis." The congressman believes establishing a timeline would firm up the Iraqis' will, but waffles when it comes to when the troops would actually be withdrawn. "It may be a timeline the American people don't want to hear," he said. "It may not be something that brings them [the troops] out quickly."

But Shays didn't mince words in his criticism of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. As Mother Jones Investigative Correspondent James Ridgeway reports in the current issue, Shays subpoenaed Rumsfeld in his committee's investigation of the Abu Ghraib abuses. Yesterday, Shays said Rumsfeld has made "huge mistakes" in Iraq, adding, "I haven't had faith in the secretary in a long time."

Fidel Castro's Visit to Texas

| Fri Aug. 25, 2006 12:58 PM EDT

In 1959, after the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro visited Texas. Houston residents gave him a standing ovation, the mayor gave him a handshake and ranchers, who had dressed their children in revolutionary garb, gave him a horse. Business leaders were so enthusiastic about Castro that they talked about making a movie of the Cuban revolution starring Marlon Brando. "Fidel Castro swept through Houston in glory bordering on pandemonium, with sirens failing to drown out the cheers of his admirers," the Houston Chronicle wrote at the time. Today, a Chronicle article looks back on the event. It quotes a Houston business leader who visited Castro in Cuba and recalled what must have been an especially Texan fascination with the revolution at the time: "It was almost like walking into the wild, wild West with a Spanish flavor."

The visit, in which Castro was accompanied by his brother Raul, had been orchestrated by then-Texan Senator and future President Lyndon Baines Johnson. At the time Castro was still viewed as a likely force for democracy. Still, the invitation to Texas would seem no less plausible today if it came from President George W. Bush, who has so much in common with the dictator. At Bush's Crawford ranch, the two revolucionarios could talk about limiting civil liberties, detaining and torturing people, usurping executive power and beating up on the media—and maybe adjourn for a bit of target practice. Who knows, maybe Bush will hit it off with Raul. The two men are, after all, both the inheritors of a dynasty.

The Rising Cost of Secrecy

| Fri Aug. 25, 2006 12:45 PM EDT

The Bush administration's penchant for secrecy is no secret (Cheney's office refuses even to provide figures on how much information it classifies), so it should come as little surprise that the government is now spending more than ever to shield information from public view. Still, the numbers just in from the Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees the government's national security classification system and recommends policy to the president, are staggering. During fiscal year 2005 the government spent $7.7 billion on classification, up from $2.7 billion in 1995 and "a 5.8 percent increase above the cost estimates reported for FY 2004," according to the ISOO report. Add to that the $1.5 billion that private industry spends on classification and the total amount rises to $9.2 billion.

Beyond the fact that classifying information is enormously expensive -- in 2004 taxpayers spent $460 each time a classification decision was made -- there is evidence that some information is being classified needlessly. A 2005 report from the watchdog group Open The Government found that "at least 50 types of designations" are being used "to restrict unclassified information deemed 'sensitive but unclassified.' Many of these numerous terms are duplicative, vague, and endanger the protection of necessary secrets by allowing excessive secrecy to prevail in our open society." As the Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood points out over at Secrecy News, "If the classification system were functioning properly to enhance national security, these billions of dollars might all be money well spent. But there is abundant reason to doubt that such is the case."

Nagin's "Hole in the Ground" Comment Draws Claws

| Fri Aug. 25, 2006 12:03 PM EDT

Mayor Ray Nagin probably shouldn't have called Ground Zero a hole in the ground (you can watch him say it on 60 Minutes this Sunday), but does Google News really need to post this article covering it, out of the 246 related ones it had to choose from:

The next few weeks will see a furious struggle to frame two important anniversaries, with the media spinning in overdrive to play up the importance of the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and at the same time to downplay the significance of the five-year anniversary of September 11. The reasons are simple: Katrina helps Democrats, 9/11 help President Bush and the GOP.

This is Google News, not Google Opinion, or Google Soapbox. John McIntyre a conservative pundit who, wait for it, writes for Fox News, goes on:

Let me give a little piece of unsolicited PR advice to Mayor Nagin: comments like that will quickly have the country siding 95% with New York and against New Orleans. I get pissed just thinking about Nagin contemptuously describing the ground where Islamist's attacked and murdered over 2,500 Americans as simply "A hole in the ground." I'd love to see a full scale, accurate and honest documentary covering the entire Katrina crisis period of Mayor Nagin and the New Orleans city government and compare that to Mayor Giuliani and New York City's response to 9/11.

The rub here is that Giuliani and Nagin, no matter how they handled their respective disasters, and one could argue that the former had a lot more to work with, when it comes to catastrophes of this scope the buck stops with the President. Bush can't have it both ways, flexing his executive power to the point of theocracy one day then vacationing when crisis strikes. And Mr. McIntyre doesn't mention two quite relevant things: first, there was ample warning, days in fact, before Katrina struck and Bush did nothing (and then later lied about getting advanced warning). And perhaps more egregious, he failed to learn from his behavior when the twin towers were struck. On both 9/11 and during Katrina our Commander in Chief was paralyzed, inept in the precise moments presidents are meant for.

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We're Here to Pump You Up!

| Thu Aug. 24, 2006 8:05 PM EDT

OK, one more penis pump story and the New York Times style section will be running a trend piece about them. Today's news brings us the story of Mardin Amin, a hapless 29-year-old Iraqi American janitor who was stopped at Chicago's O'Hare airport on August 16 because, prosecutors say, he told officials that the suspicious black rubber device they had plucked from his backpack was a bomb. In fact, it was a penis pump, and his lawyer attributes his less-than-clear enunciation to the fact that he was traveling with his mother and two small children.

Standing next to his mother, an embarrassed Amin whispered out of one corner of his mouth that it was a "pump"—as in a penis pump. The guard misunderstood the Iraqi man and thought she heard the word "bomb," Amin's attorney told a Cook County judge Wednesday.
"He told her it's a pump," attorney Eileen O'Neill-Burke said as a cluster of burly, snickering police officers watched the court proceedings. "He's standing with his mother. Of course he's not going to shout this out."

Two days later an Oklahoma judge was sentenced to four years in prison on four counts of indecent exposure for using a penis pump under his robes over a period of two years.

All this would be nothing more than snicker-worthy were it not for the fact that prosecuting Iraqi Americans for carrying penis pumps is apparently considered a legitimate use of airport security and law enforcement resources.

Out-wit, out-last, out-race! Literally.

Thu Aug. 24, 2006 6:17 PM EDT

CBS show Survivorannounced yesterday that it would divide this season's 20 contestants into tribes based on race: there'll be African American tribe, Asian American tribe, Hispanic tribe and White tribe. Which means that in an amazing twist, in addition to subsiting on grubs and subjecting themselves to humiliating displays of desperation, cast members will also have to be super self-conscious when hurling insults at other tribes. Apparently inspired less by neo-Darwinism than pure cluelessness, host Jeff Probst (a non-Hispanic White) appeared on "The Early Show" today to explain the organic process by which this amazing moment in American popular culture came about:

"It wasn't until we got to casting and started noticing this theme of ethnic pride . . . that we started thinking, wow, if culture is still playing such a big part in these people's lives, that's our idea, let's divide them based on ethnicity."

70% of Post-Katrina Contracts Awarded Without Full Bidding

| Thu Aug. 24, 2006 2:29 PM EDT

Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted by FEMA in the awarding of Katrina recovery contracts, according to a U.S. House of Representatives study released today by House Democrats. Audits show that of $10.6 billion worth of contracts awarded, more than $7.4 billion were given with either no bidding or limited bidding. In addition, nineteen contracts worth $8.75 billion wasted taxpayer money in part through double-billing or non-use of purchased items.

While acknowledging that some of the contracts needed to be awarded on an emergency, no-bid basis, Democrats pointed out that, as time passed, the number of no-bid or limited-bid contracts actually increased. Bechtel, CH2M Hill Inc. and Fluor--companies with strong political connections--were found by auditors to have wasted post-Katrina recovery money. These same companies were just awarded millions of dollars worth of temporary housing contracts by FEMA.

Yoga for Warmongers

| Thu Aug. 24, 2006 1:38 PM EDT

As the Associated Press pointed out recently, yoga has expanded so far beyond the hippie realm that it has finally touched the polar opposite: the military. The August issue of Fit Yoga Magazine features a photo of two Naval aviators doing yoga in full combat gear on the tarmac of an aircraft carrier. They are, of course, doing a pose known as Warrior II. "And on their faces," wrote Fit Yoga editor Rita Trieger, "their serene smiles relayed a sense of inner calm that only yogis can truly understand."

An op-ed in the Los Angeles Times today suggests that if yoga can benefit warriors, maybe it should also be administered to other violent professions:

Yoga could really help predatory tow-truck drivers; maybe they could start with something familiar, like the locust pose. . . . Aggressive drivers and tailgaters might try the wind-relieving pose, which closely resembles an appendicitis attack — on your back with your arms clutching your knees — but feels much nicer.

One possibility the story leaves out, however, is using yoga to calm down the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and his fellow warmongers. A New York Times story revealed today that senior Bush administration officials, apparently having learned nothing from the intelligence failures that led to the invasion of Iraq, have been pressuring American spy agencies to give them more of a justification for taking on Iran. To help them ponder the ramifications of such an approach, I'd suggest the Plank Pose (considering an invasion would be akin to walking one), the Noose Pose, or the Corpse Pose, which is, of all the poses, the most relaxing.