Mojo - September 2006

G.O.P. Seen to Be in Peril of Losing House (NYT Goes Out On a Limb)

| Mon Sep. 4, 2006 3:10 PM EDT

"G.O.P. Seen to Be in Peril of Losing House " That's the headline for this NYT story. And bold, isn't it? Not "is" in peril—as the panoply of polls, analysts, and GOP pols say in the body of the piece itself—but "seen to be."

Is or Seen To Be, this is not news. Everybody knows the GOP is in danger of loosing the House. Indeed many political insiders see it as a given, provided the DNC doesn't blow it (and, granted…). The real issue is the Senate. Here, the NYT says:

"A turnover in the Senate, which would require the Democrats to pick up six seats, is considered a longer shot. Democrats' greatest hopes rest with Pennsylvania, Montana, Rhode Island, Ohio and Missouri; the sixth seat is more of a leap of faith. It would require Democrats to carry a state like Tennessee, Arizona or Virginia, where Democratic hopes are buoyed as Senator George Allen, a Republican, deals with the fallout from his using a demeaning term for a young man of Indian descent at a rally last month."

"Using a demeaning term for a young man of Indian descent at a rally last month"—it is so weird hearing that incident described in such white-paper language, isn't it? More on how key the Virginia Senate race to the overall outcome of the midterm eletctions here.

Another sign the GOP is in trouble: its own candidates calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resisgnation, as Thomas H. Kean Jr., a New Jersey state senator who's running for the U.S. Senate, did "just shy of midnight" on Friday. "What compelled him to advocate publicly for a "fresh face" leading the troops, Mr. Kean said (via the NYT), were Mr. Rumsfeld's recent remarks chiding critics of the war for "moral and intellectual confusion," and comparing them to those who advocated appeasing Nazi Germany in the 1930's. "By engaging in that kind of rhetoric," Kean said, "this secretary has stepped over the line." (More on Rumsfeld's Nazi rhetoric here.)

Also the NYT offers some really cool interactive maps and databases to track all the races. You can navigate to them from any of the above NYT links.

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Note to Readers: Labor Day

| Mon Sep. 4, 2006 1:12 PM EDT

Posting today will be light at best in observance of Labor Day. We'll be back at full force tomorrow. Have a great holiday.

Donald Rumsfeld's Dance With the Nazis (Set Frank Rich Free!)

| Sun Sep. 3, 2006 6:31 PM EDT

As he does week in and week out, Frank Rich has knocked one out of the park with his column: "Donald Rumsfeld's Dance With the Nazis."

Last week the man who gave us "stuff happens" and "you go to war with the Army you have" outdid himself. In an instantly infamous address to the American Legion, he likened critics of the Iraq debacle to those who "ridiculed or ignored" the rise of the Nazis in the 1930's and tried to appease Hitler. Such Americans, he said, suffer from a "moral or intellectual confusion" and fail to recognize the "new type of fascism" represented by terrorists. Presumably he was not only describing the usual array of "Defeatocrats" but also the first President Bush, who had already been implicitly tarred as an appeaser by Tony Snow last month for failing to knock out Saddam in 1991.

What made Mr. Rumsfeld's speech noteworthy wasn't its toxic effort to impugn the patriotism of administration critics by conflating dissent on Iraq with cut-and-run surrender and incipient treason. That's old news. No, what made Mr. Rumsfeld's performance special was the preview it offered of the ambitious propaganda campaign planned between now and Election Day. An on-the-ropes White House plans to stop at nothing when rewriting its record of defeat (not to be confused with defeatism) in a war that has now lasted longer than America's fight against the actual Nazis in World War II.

Here's how brazen Mr. Rumsfeld was when he invoked Hitler's appeasers to score his cheap points: Since Hitler was photographed warmly shaking Neville Chamberlain's hand at Munich in 1938, the only image that comes close to matching it in epochal obsequiousness is the December 1983 photograph of Mr. Rumsfeld himself in Baghdad, warmly shaking the hand of Saddam Hussein in full fascist regalia. Is the defense secretary so self-deluded that he thought no one would remember a picture so easily Googled on the Web? Or worse, is he just too shameless to care?

Mr. Rumsfeld didn't go to Baghdad in 1983 to tour the museum. Then a private citizen, he had been dispatched as an emissary by the Reagan administration, which sought to align itself with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam was already a notorious thug. Well before Mr. Rumsfeld's trip, Amnesty International had reported the dictator's use of torture — "beating, burning, sexual abuse and the infliction of electric shocks" — on hundreds of political prisoners. Dozens more had been summarily executed or had "disappeared." American intelligence agencies knew that Saddam had used chemical weapons to gas both Iraqi Kurds and Iranians.

According to declassified State Department memos detailing Mr. Rumsfeld's Baghdad meetings, the American visitor never raised the subject of these crimes with his host. (Mr. Rumsfeld has since claimed otherwise, but that is not supported by the documents, which can be viewed online at George Washington University's National Security Archive.) Within a year of his visit, the American mission was accomplished: Iraq and the United States resumed diplomatic relations for the first time since Iraq had severed them in 1967 in protest of American backing of Israel in the Six-Day War.

In his speech last week, Mr. Rumsfeld paraphrased Winston Churchill: Appeasing tyrants is "a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last." He can quote Churchill all he wants, but if he wants to self-righteously use that argument to smear others, the record shows that Mr. Rumsfeld cozied up to the crocodile of Baghdad as smarmily as anyone. To borrow the defense secretary's own formulation, he suffers from moral confusion about Saddam.

Mr. Rumsfeld also suffers from intellectual confusion about terrorism. He might not have appeased Al Qaeda but he certainly enabled it. Like Chamberlain, he didn't recognize the severity of the looming threat until it was too late. Had he done so, maybe his boss would not have blown off intelligence about imminent Qaeda attacks while on siesta in Crawford.

The whole column is brilliant, and should be read by as many people as possible. So screw Times Select. Read it after the jump.

Senator "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens Outted For Placing Secret Hold on Bill to Create Government Spending Database Available to P

| Sun Sep. 3, 2006 4:38 PM EDT

In a coup for the blogging community, which mounted a "call your Senator" campaign to figure out who was the Pro-Pork Senator blocking the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA), the Senator in question has been revealed. It is, as FFATA co-sponsor Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) predicted, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)

FFATA, co-sponsored Sen. Barak Obama (D-Ill.), "would require the Office of Management and Budget to create a user-friendly Web site listing details on every grant and contract handed out by the federal government. Information would have to be posted within 30 days of Congress' authorization of the spending." (Via this editorial, which is popping up in a variety of papers)

That would be a problem for Sen. Stevens, probably the reigning king of pork. Now that he's been outted, pressure must be brought to get him to release the bill. FFATA has broad bipartisan support, 29 Senators joined Coburn and Obama in co-sponsoring it, it sailed through the appropriate committees, and it deserves a full "up or down" Senate vote, as the administration is fond of saying.

Ironically, the Senate voted 84-13 in April to ban secret holds. The bill—another bi-partisan effort, this one sponsored by by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)—would permit Senators to object to legislation, but not secretly. (The Wyden-Grassley amendment, No. 2944, was rolled into the Senate's ethics reform package, which is, but of course, held up in conference committee.) All of the 13 no votes were cast by Republicans—Senators Allard, Bunning, Burr, Coburn, DeMint, Ensign, Frist, Gregg, Kyl, McConnell, Sessions, Sununu, Thune; Democratic Senators Byrd and Rockefeller did not vote, along with Republican Lindsey Graham. (Byrd, another notorious porker, explained his absence as being due to a death in the family.)

So Stevens votes in favor of a bill banning secret holds, but continues to use them. Coburn votes against the ban on secret holds, but rails against Stevens for using them. And this may be a simple case of pay back. It was Coburn, after all, that got Stevens' bridge to nowhere killed.

Ain't Washington fun?


It's a Good Day to Take Out the (9/11) Trash

| Sat Sep. 2, 2006 4:11 AM EDT

In yet another classic Friday-afternoon "take out the trash" maneuver to bury bad news on a slow news day (how much slower can it get than the Saturday of Labor Day weekend?), the Transportation Department's Inspector General is recommending discipline for FAA executives who gave the 9/11 commission false information, reports the New York Times. Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this; for our part, CYA looks like a perfectly good explanation, especially from an agency that has a lot of A to cover when it comes to 9/11. For more on that, see Jim Ridgeway's summary of FAA failures as part of his call for nine new congressional investigations in the most recent issue of Mother Jones; for even more, check out Michael Scherer and Barry Yeoman's MoJo piece, which among other things shows how much of this was known well before 9/11, here.

Attention Gay Wal-Mart Shoppers...

| Fri Sep. 1, 2006 7:52 PM EDT

Wal-Mart has formed a partnership with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, a move that Wal-Mart calls "a very sincere effort to reach out to people who are a significant part of our customer base."

As sincere as the effort may be, Wal-Mart chose not to announce the new partnership, leaving that job to the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. And now that the word is out, there has already been some backlash from conservatives.

Wal-Mart does not offer benefits to domestic partners, though the company is said to be considering making a change in that area. At last count, Wal-Mart gave 85% of its political donations to the Republican Party, which has actively sought to curtail rights for GLBT citizens.

Wal-Mart discriminates against women in a variety of ways and is the defendant in several gender discrimination lawsuits. Wal-Mart also discriminates against working people in a variety of ways, too. Yet women and working people stand in line to shop there, so there is every reason to believe that GLBT citizens will also be sucked into the company's latest marketing ploy.

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Federal Judge: Supressing Voter Registration Not an Option in Ohio

| Fri Sep. 1, 2006 6:10 PM EDT

As noted yesterday, Sasha Abramsky has a piece up at Mother Jones cataloguing the worst places in America to vote (or even try to). Of Ohio, he writes:

Election activists don't have Florida's Katherine Harris to kick around anymore, but in a system where most states' top election officials are also politicians, there's no shortage of other nominees for worst secretary of state. The current leading candidate must be Ohio's Ken Blackwell, now a Republican candidate for governor, who seems intent on making sure as few Ohioans as possible are registered to vote.

In 2004 Blackwell achieved national notoriety when he announced that his office would accept only voter-registration forms printed on paper of at least 80-pound weight. Blackwell had to back off that requirement, but a slew of other restrictions remain, including one under which door-to-door registration workers must sign in with county officials, and another requiring them to personally mail in the registration forms they collect.

"The constant promulgation of rules and regulations keeps members of the Board of Elections jumping around like cats on a hot tin roof," says Chris Link, executive director of the Ohio ACLU. "And this essentially hurts Democrats. Who is newly registering? People who've just become citizens, young people who've just gotten the right to vote." Meanwhile, Blackwell's office has done nothing to inform voters that come Election Day this year, they will have to bring photo IDs to the polls -- guaranteeing that tens of thousands of mostly Democratic voters will be turned away.

Well, today brings some good news in that regard:

CLEVELAND, Ohio, Sept. 1 /U.S. Newswire/ -- A federal court in Cleveland today blocked enforcement of an Ohio state law enacted earlier this year that would have imposed crippling requirements on voter registration groups. The plaintiffs, civic and religious organizations and voting rights groups that have been working in Ohio through many election cycles without government interference, say that the law had dramatically curtailed their efforts to help eligible voters get on the rolls.

"This is a win for democracy and, coming on the heels of the similar decision in Florida on Monday, the beginning of a national trend of courts rejecting unreasonable barriers to voter registration," stated Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and co-counsel to the plaintiffs in both the Ohio and Florida cases.

"This decision and the Florida decision will send a message to states and could help head off comparable voter-suppression statutes in Georgia, New Mexico and Colorado," continued Weiser.

"This is the third time in as many years that a federal judge said "No" to a state's efforts restrict voter registration activities," said Jehmu Greene, Project Vote's National director. "We hope other states learn the lesson that suppressing voter registration is not an option," continued Greene.

Polar Bear Penises Shrink - Are Humans Next?

| Fri Sep. 1, 2006 3:33 PM EDT

Bristly, 1000-pound brutes willing to claw it out for females and whisk them off for a week of spirited shagging, male polar bears might hook up with several mates in a season. They are not the stripe of male to suffer from any image problems when it comes to, well, having the right equipment—not, at least, until today, when the Nunatsiaq News of the Nunavik region of Arctic Quebec—surely an authority on polar bears--reported that their penises are shrinking.

A photograph accompanying the article shows a woman holding 20-odd polar bear penis bones, which were found by a recent study to be significantly shorter in bears exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals. The findings, published last month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, adds fuel to concerns that a massive buildup of pesticides in the bodies of Arctic animals and hunters is causing environmental and health problems (see the story in Mother Jones). The issue may compound troubles caused by the bears' loss of Arctic habitat. "Added to the stress of climate change," the Nunatsiaq News points out, "this could be bad news for their survival."

The same toxic buildup taking place in polar bears is happening to a lesser but increasing degree in the fatty tissues of humans--even in some places outside the Arctic. For the sake of our own mating rituals, let's hope the global masculinity index isn't going bearish.

Predatory Payday Lenders Ground Thousands of Troops

| Fri Sep. 1, 2006 1:45 PM EDT

This summer, Mother Jones reported on the ways the poor get taken by lenders who prey on the cash-strapped, including payday loans with average annual interest rates of 400%. It seems the government is finally paying attention. But it's not the pound-of-your-flesh interest rates that have the government concerned. Rather, it's the fact that soldiers whose debts amount to a third of their income cannot be sent overseas.

This policy exists because major financial problems are thought to make soldiers more vulnerable to bribes that would force them to reveal sensitive information. If that's the case, it's another example of the Bush administration hurting rather than helping national security. Since Bush took office, the number of sailors and Marines who could not be deployed as a result of financial problems has increased 150-fold.

Payday lending outlets cluster by the dozen around military bases, where soldiers are paid poorly. Currently, just 12 states have laws capping interest rates at 99%. Congress is now considering a law that would cap rates at 36%, and the Pentagon is on board. It's about time.

Pulitzer Prize Winner Jailed by Sudan's Government for Darfur Reporting

| Fri Sep. 1, 2006 1:18 PM EDT

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Salopek sits in a Sudanese jail, charged with espionage and reporting "false news." Basically his crime was sneaking across the border to report on Darfur. (Reporters need to sneak in, because the Sudanese government doesn't want the press to expose how it supports the militias behind the atrocities.)

That he's won the Pulitzer twice speaks to his skill as a reporter and writer. He's also a great guy, as anyone who's ever had even a passing acquaintance with him will tell you. A dozen or so years ago, my dad, then an editor at the National Geographic, hired Paul into a staff writing job, a hire that still makes dad feel like a genius, as he likes to joke. The position in question was mostly a desk job and Paul quickly outgrew it. He went to the Chicago Tribune in 1996 and got into the field. Over the last decade he won his Pulitzers for his Tribune reporting, and has written lyrical, probing features for the Geographic, for whom he was on assignment when arrested by the Sudanese thugs. As his former Tribune colleague Ken Armstrong points out in this moving piece, Paul's known for chasing the tough story, the dangerous story, the story on the downtrodden and ignored:


He's told stories from Africa, Afghanistan, Asia and the Balkans, stories about refugees, rebels and victims of war, about pirates, poachers, gunrunners and killers, about a child in Ethiopia forced to marry at age 7 and a 13-year-old schoolgirl in Angola tortured for being a witch. He's told stories through hardship and will, with datelines like: THE MOUNTAINS OF WESTERN KOSOVO; THE SHOMALI PLAIN, Afghanistan; THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS OF ETHIOPIA.

The State Department has intervened on Paul's behalf, and I'm sure the Tribune, the Geographic, and the CPJ are doing whatever they can to ensure his release.

Paul didn't let his success go to his head. So I'm sure he'd be the first to point out that his fate is inexorably linked to other journalists doing dangerous work, often without such large, powerful institutions behind them. In reporting on Paul's situation yesterday, NPR noted that while he's been moved to a relatively decent jail, a Slovenian filmmaker who faced the same charges has been sentenced to two years, and is being held in what sounds like an absolute hell hole. Paul's driver and interpreter, both Chadians, have also been arrested. The trial for the three of them is scheduled for September 10th.