Mojo - February 2007

Still Fewer "Criminals" in the Army Than in Your Neighborhood Bar

| Thu Feb. 15, 2007 3:19 AM EST

For years now, the Army has been stretching to keep its numbers up by compromising everything from enlistment standards to the quality of new recruits to the character of recruiters themselves. As Peter points out below, today's New York Times now warns us about the rash of waivers being given to incoming soldiers. Salon posted this snarky response under the headline "Need more recruits for Iraq? Take more criminals":

The good news: As the Times explains, "soldiers with criminal histories made up only" -- only! -- "11.7 percent of the Army recruits in 2006."

There are 52 million individuals in the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System criminal history database; that's about 17% of Americans who've been in trouble for some crime at some point in their lives. So the percentage of recruits with criminal histories, less than 12%, is lower than that of the general population with criminal histories.

Moreover, people with criminal records don't equal lifetime criminals; working at a bank two years ago doesn't make you a teller any more than having sold pot in college makes you a dealer. It's not enough that ex-cons face employment discrimination and legal restrictions on where they can live in some states. The public is, evidently, so opposed to letting them establish legitimate lives that we don't even want them doing it in a war zone six thousand miles away.

—Nicole McClelland

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Twisters Create Emergency In New Orleans, Bush Responds With...You Guessed It--Nothing

| Thu Feb. 15, 2007 12:06 AM EST

A tornado system with twisters up to 135 miles per hour ripped through three major New Orleans neighborhoods early Tuesday morning, killing one person, injuring a few dozen, and doing what is estimated to be $20 million worth of damage. Several houses that had been rebuilt or almost rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina were torn apart, as were many FEMA trailers. Schools were closed, highways were shut down, piles of rubble were everywhere, trees were uprooted, and thousands of people were left without electricity.

Governor Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency yesterday afternoon, and asked the White House to do likewise. As of right now, late Wednesday night, the response from George W. Bush is that he will present the governor a timetable for when he will "consider" declaring the New Orleans area in a state of emergency.

If this sounds familiar, it should. The scenario lacks playful guitar strumming and a birthday cake at a desert resort, but it is all too similar to what happened in early September of 2005.

Bush declared an emergency within 24 hours of a tornado which recently struck Mississippi.

Army Lowers Recruiting Standards (Again)

Wed Feb. 14, 2007 10:39 PM EST

army_recruit.jpg

From today's New York Times:

The number of waivers granted to Army recruits with criminal backgrounds has grown about 65 percent in the last three years, increasing to 8,129 in 2006 from 4,918 in 2003, Department of Defense records show.

It's actually a bigger story about the Army's change of standards regarding education, fitness, and criminal history (although not, of course, sexual orientation). For a helpful overview, check out Liz Gettelman's piece in the current issue of the magazine.

Al Qaeda Wants to Choke off U.S. Oil Supply

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 8:13 PM EST

Al Qaeda called yesterday for attacks on U.S. oil suppliers worldwide, not just in the Middle East. The call came in the online newsletter of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. (Yup, Al Qaeda has a website: Check out this nifty guide to jihad on the internet.)

The funny thing is, the new targets include Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. Can you imagine how psyched the Bushies would be to have Al Qaeda take out Hugo Chavez?

Poor Canada and Mexico are busy battening down the hatches, probably trying to figure out why, why this is happening to them.

For a handy-dandy reference on the role of oil in the U.S.'s battle with al Qaeda and the war in Iraq, go to the Mother Jones timeline, and click the oil tag.

State Farm Bails on Miss. Homeowners

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 7:36 PM EST

State Farm announced today that it will stop writing new policies for homeowners in Mississippi. The action comes in the wake of $1.1 billion in payouts the company has made for Katrina-related lawsuits. The company's post-Katrina claim that water damage was not covered prompted even Trent Lott, notorious critic of frivolous lawsuits, to sue.

It's not global warming and the increasing risk of mega-hurricanes that has State Farm worried—insurance companies have been budgeting for environmental destruction for 30 years. Rather, State Farm's Mike Fernandez told the Washington Post, it's the "political and regulatory and legal environment" in the state. Lott always did call Mississippi "the center of jackpot justice." Too bad the state's residents will have to empty their wallets for pricier policies as a result of State Farm's action.

The Pure Products of America Go Crazy

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 6:22 PM EST

Americans love their cars. A lot: We take 88 percent of all trips by car, pay high and unfair car insurance rates and tolerate 40,000 annual traffic-related deaths without flinching. Not to mention our parking woes.

Now with global warming hard and fast upon us and Democrats back in power, will the government take action to curb our enthusiasm for driving? Probably not, according to an article in the American Prospect.

Bush's proposed budget cuts funding for Amtrak and increases highway funding. The Democrats have requested a few additional pennies for railroads (remember mass transit?), but haven't said peep about the highway funding. Of course, the highway money could buy bike lanes, but it almost certainly won't. That's because improved mass transit has no one to lobby for it: The largest mass-transit lobby in the country has scarcely a dozen staffers. Meanwhile, big environmental groups tend to focus narrowly on saving land and species, failing to make a persuasive case against new roads or continued car emissions.

Americans' inability to rethink the car is what leads to dubious solutions like corn ethanol, which uses almost as much gas to produce as it replaces.

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Are Americans Ready for Some Flava in the White House?

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 4:46 PM EST

Full disclosure: I hate Mitt Romney. In the same blind, irrational, unflinching way that he hates me and the rest of the gays. So, when I began looking at The Fix's analysis of how Americans feel about a Mormon president, I hoped to find they weren't interested. But I'm a good person—really!—so I had to question my own base desires. What I came up with, besides the disclosure above, is that it's absurd for Romney to be running on a religious right platform. Since he doesn't believe in the same Christian values as the religious right, he's using religion, loosely defined, to justify a government that interferes in your private life without helping you out in any way (bye, bye Roe v. Wade, hello lower taxes for the rich). Either that or Romney thinks Mormonism should be the moral foundation for government, which makes far less sense than the also-problematic idea that Christianity should.

(By the way, the polls show that Americans are on the fence about voting for a Mormon candidate, which makes me think that a Mormon running on a religious platform won't make the cut.)

The polls the good little wonks over at WaPo parsed held another surprising tidbit. While a higher percentage of people indicated they would be "more likely" to vote for a candidate who was African-American than "less likely," fully twice as many said they would be less rather than more likely to vote for a female candidate (7 percent more/14 percent less). That's a strong showing for the women-aren't-as-competent contingent.

Isn't it hard to believe we're actually conducting polls about whether the U.S. is ready for anything other than a middle-aged Protestant white man for president? Dozens of countries have had female leaders and at least a handful have been led by members of an ethnic minority.

Al Franken Declares Bid for Senate With Top-Rate Video

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 4:30 PM EST

Hands down, without a doubt -- the best candidacy announcement video yet. This is how a proud, unabashed liberal speaks. A must see.

I invite you to give your thoughts on an Al Franken candidacy -- and on the video -- in the comments below.

Update: Al Franken is a friend of Mother Jones'. He wrote about his USO Tour experiences for us here, we reviewed a movie about him here, and he sat down for an interview as far back as 1996 here.

Republicans Hand Down Order on Debating Iraq: "Don't Mention, You Know, Iraq"

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 11:46 AM EST

The House of Representatives has begun debating the Democrats' Iraq War resolution that expresses disapproval of the president's troop increase. Republican leadership has handed down an edict on how all good GOPers are to behave.

We know this because Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-MD) office somehow got a letter from Reps. John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) to their Republican colleages entitled "Iraq Resolution Debate, Their Terms or Ours?" I've excerpted below. Via ThinkProgress:

"The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose."
"Rather, the debate must be about the global threat of the radical Islamic movement."

There's more on this "global threat" -- enough to make Muslims around the world think we're fighting a war against them, even -- and a jab at the "liberal mainstream media." Read the full letter in pdf format here.

Update: Democratic talking points here.

Gov't Rules Padilla (aka "Piece of Furniture") Fit to Stand Trial

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 11:16 AM EST

I find it amusing and terrible that the doctors who have some say in determining if Jose Padilla is fit for trial are associated with the prison system accused of making him unfit in the first place. Padilla, of course, is the U.S. citizen held in varying forms of unconstitutional imprisonment by the United States for three and a half years before finally being brought up on terrorism charges in a civilian court. He was known as the dirty bomber, even though charges of trying to create a radioactive dirty bomb were later dropped. (See more at the "Terror Prosecutions" section of the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.)

Today Reuters carries the unsurprising news that prison doctors have declared Padilla suitable for trial, ignoring Padilla's claims that he has been tortured by the United States and has become unresponsive as a "piece of furniture" due to years of sensory deprivation techniques that keep him from seeing, hearing, or touching anything.

It doesn't help that Padilla himself claimed to be sane, but descriptions of his imprisonment are harrowing (see below) and doctors from the defense argue that Padilla is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder compounded by years of isolation, and that he only claims to be sane because he has become pathologically afraid anyone would think otherwise. So the prosecution says Padilla is fit for trial, the defense say he isn't. On February 22, the court will hold a hearing to determine who it agrees with.

Please enjoy the following example of the United States government violating the human rights of one of its own citizens:

Padilla was kept in a 9-by-7-foot (3-by-2-metre) cell, the lone occupant in a two-story, 10-unit block, defense lawyer Andrew Patel wrote in an affidavit. The windows were blocked so no light could enter and meals, often cold, were delivered through a slot in the door, Patel said.
Interrogators ordered his pillow and foam mattress removed, forcing Padilla to sleep on a bare steel platform.
Padilla was kept without a clock, calendar or reading material, sometimes for long periods in darkness, and other times for long periods under bright light. He was subjected to extreme cold, deprived of sleep, chained in painful positions and drugged with what he believed to be "truth serum," the documents alleged.
"I have been advised that his cell was electronically monitored and that Mr. Padilla had no contact with other human beings," Patel wrote.
...
For the first two years, he was not allowed to speak with a lawyer nor send or receive mail, except for a brief note sent to his mother in Florida through the International Committee of the Red Cross.
When Patel was first allowed to visit his client in March 2004, the brig staff told him that Padilla "was so docile and inactive that his behavior was like that of a piece of furniture," Patel wrote.
Nonetheless photos introduced in the court case showed that when Padilla was taken to see a dentist, he was shackled at the hands and feet, wearing blackout goggles and earmuffs, and escorted by guards whose faces were hidden by riot helmets.