Mojo - April 2007

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Teens Take Prayers to New Heights

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 4:02 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.

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

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 1:22 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 8:41 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.

Cameras that Watch and Comment

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 6:46 PM EDT

camera.jpgMother Jones has made the point that there are quite a few surveillance cameras watching Americans. But Americans have it good compared to Britons: The UK has one surveillance camera for every 14 citizens. Now, the cameras are going to get voice hookups, so they will be able to scold you if you litter or pick your nose. (Like, why are you watching me if you don't want to see me pick my nose?) Human observers will be making the commentary, so perhaps it will also include catcalls. Ay, mamita, I can't wait.

If Bush Could Give the Man who Murdered a Senator's Mom a Recess Appointment, He'd Do It

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

Democrats don't much care for Sam Fox, who was Bush's nominee to be ambassador to Belgium. Fox was a major contributor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that hit Kerry way below the belt in the 2004 campaign. Senate Democrats were so outraged by Fox's nomination that Bush ultimately withdrew it. Pundits cooed that Bush was really getting the hang of working with Democrats.

No, he's just a nasty, nasty man. With the Democrats gone for spring vacation, Bush gave Fox—and two others—recess appointments. But, he protested innocently, Fox won't draw a government salary. (A) That may be unconstitutional, and (B) Fox is a multi-millionaire.

Who were the other two recess appointments? Well, it just gets better. Bush named Andrew Biggs, a champion of privatization—another issue on which many believed Bush had conceded defeat—as the deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Bush also named Susan Dudley, to whom all regulation looks like a sharpened silver cross does to a vampire, to lead the Office of Management and Budget—you know, the office that has to sign off on most government regulation. Her appointment promises to be particularly damaging following as it does on the heels of an executive order giving the OMB increased control over such important agencies as the EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The New York Times reached Sarah Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Democratic caucus in the House, who managed to say, "Clearly, these are politically provocative acts." I hereby nominate Sarah Feinberg for the grace under fire award.

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Bush's Shell Game Continues

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 5:36 PM EDT

bush_talking.jpgTuesday, President Bush almost seemed to be his old swaggering self in a Rose Garden press conference. But it's easy to go on the offensive when the defense has called time-out: Congress is on spring recess. Bush attacked the Democratic leadership for leaving without finishing the Iraq war funding bill before they left. The president said if Congress doesn't step to, he may be "forced to consider cutting back on equipment, equipment repair and quality-of-life initiatives for our Guard and Reserve forces," to ensure funding for "troops on the front lines."

This assessment was absolute balderdash. A stop-gap funding measure has already provided $70 billion for the Iraq war. Congressional Democrats have reminded that Bush's refusal to be more honest about the costs of the war in his own budget has forced them to approve a series of piecemeal spending packages. And last spring, the Republican-led Congress also left for spring recess without finalizing an Iraq spending package—in fact, they didn't do so until the middle of June.

In the same press conference, Bush charged that the $70-billion supplemental spending bill is loaded with Democratic "pork." The president's War on Pork (WOP) began just as the Democrats took power. Nifty, huh? Yesterday, the White House unveiled an online database of all the earmarks in the 2005 fiscal year budget. Well, all the congressional earmarks, which total $19 billion. The White House neglected to include its own pet pigs, which bring the total to $48 billion.

Mary Cheney: It's a Boy!

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 2:59 PM EDT

Dick Cheney's already a grandfather. There are five young impressionable minds he's molding; let that one settle in. (And all those family hunting trips? Hopefully the grandkids get the good body armor.) Now a sixth is on the way, this one born of his lesbian daughter Mary and her partner, Heather Poe. Cheney has hardly been the bragging granddad to date, but yesterday he went public with his pride as he announced that the baby is a boy.

Cheney told ABC Radio, "I'm looking forward to the arrival of a new grandson." He said that the baby was due next month (but didn't say whether his nursery is filled with purple Teletubbies or is swathed with a rainbow).

He also didn't say that he supports the right of said grandson's parents to be happily married. The bastard.

"I think each state ought to have the capacity to decide how they want to handle those issues . . . And I obviously think it's important for us as a society to be tolerant and respectful of whatever arrangements people enter into."

Cheney's punt to the states is telling. His daughter and her partner live in Virginia, where in November voters approved a sweeping amendment banning gay marriage (and stripping all unmarried couples of many rights). So Poe will have no legal relationship to the child she and Mary are bringing into the world together — how would Dick feel about this one if Poe were the one carrying the baby?

But in some ways, this was a pretty big step for the guy. Remember back in January when Wolf Blitzer asked him about the impending arrival of his grandchild? Cheney warmly replied that the topic was "out of line."

John Walker Lindh Asks for Shorter Sentence in Light of Hicks Plea Deal

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 12:42 PM EDT

In light of David Hicks' sentencing to nine months in an Australian prison, John Walker Lindh is requesting that his 20-year sentence be reduced. An entry on Lindh from the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline:

[Lindh is captured on November 25, 2001 and] will be charged with ten counts, including conspiring to support terrorist organizations and conspiring to murder Americans. Maximum sentence: three life terms and 90 additional years in prison. He will eventually plead guilty to two counts: violating an executive order prohibiting US citizens from giving their services to the Taliban and committing a felony while carrying firearms. He'll be sentenced to 20 years in prison, a long sentence for a nonviolent felony conviction for a first-time offender.

David Hicks is an Australian who was caught fighting for the Taliban by the Northern Alliance. John Walker Lindh is an American who was caught fighting for the Taliban by the Northern Alliance. One could probably argue that Hicks' sentence is too light (and pretty clearly a political move designed to help the unpopular conservative Australian PM John Howard in an election year), and one could probably argue that Lindh's sentence is too heavy. Dude was an incredibly screwed up 19-year-old when he made his way to a Pakistani madrassa and began his journey to "terrorist" status.

Keep in mind that Lindh was tried and sentenced roughly half a year after he was captured, whereas Hicks was held in Guantanamo for almost five years without charge.

And FYI, Mother Jones has done some really good work on John Walker Lindh in the past. See "Trial by Fury" and "Anatomy of a Whistleblower."

Giuliani Flip-Flop-Flips on Flat Tax

| Thu Apr. 5, 2007 12:02 PM EDT

Rudy Giuliani is was one of the GOP's strongest opponents to a flat tax. When Steve Forbes was running for president on the idea in 1996, Rudy "disparaged a flat tax in general and Mr. Forbes's plan in particular," according to the New York Times. Rudy said a flat tax "would really be a disaster."

But what's a disaster between presidential candidates? In exchange for Steve Forbes' endorsement, Giuliani recently announced he was a big proponent of the flat tax. He said of a federal income tax, "maybe I'd suggest not doing it at all, but if we were going to do it, a flat tax would make a lot of sense."

Okay, so that's a flip-flop. Care to reverse your position again, and make it a flip-flop-flip?

[When asked how he could support a flat tax after long opposition, Giuliani said,] "I didn't favor it, I said something academic... What I said was, and it was not a joke, but it was half-jocular, was if we didn't have an income tax...what would I favor? First I would favor no tax. That would be my first position. My second position would probably be a flat tax."
But, he said, the tax "would probably not be feasible."

I love this attitude. Can you imagine him as president? "Oh, did I say we should bomb Iran? I was kidding. But kidding on the square. I was, like, half kidding. Oh, Ahmadinejad launch an attack on Israel as a response? Crap. You're kidding, right?"

The problem with Giuliani, and maybe this is a good problem, is that he isn't comfortable flip-flopping. McCain panders to people he once despised and Romney has reversed his entire playbook on social issues -- and both are sticking to their reversals, no matter how shameless or false they appear, and no matter how hard they get hammered for it. Giuliani, on the other hand, seems uncomfortable abandoning positions he has long held, and after he abandons them, he claims them back, or gets hopelessly muddled.

Maybe that's to his credit.

More on this at Bruce Reed's space on Slate. Also, Cameron blogged about the flat tax and Giuliani's relationship to the crooked Bernard Kerik in an earlier post titled "Giuliani Meltdown."