Mojo - May 2007

God Bless America And You Stay In Your Seat

| Mon May 28, 2007 11:45 AM EDT

Before September 11, 2001, the song "God Bless America" was played in Yankee Stadium only on holidays. But since mid-October of 2001, it has been played before the bottom of the seventh inning at every game. It seems like that would be punishment enough, but George Steinbrenner has taken the punishment a step further: While the song is being played, fans are not allowed to leave their seats.

"Not allowed" means that off-duty uniformed police officers, ushers, security personnel, and aisle chains are used to restrict the movement of patrons. One end of each chain is held by someone to prevent the chaining system from being a fire hazard.

A spokesman for the Yankees said that the system was put in place after hundreds of fans complained that other fans showed a lack of respect for "God Bless America" by not observing silence while it was played. The spokesman also said that no one has complained about the system. The Mets do not restrict movement during the playing of patriotic songs. However, several other teams do, but with personnel only, not chains.

The New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has stated that since Yankee Stadium is private property, the restriction practice is not illegal. However, if someone is arrested for disobeying the rule, the ACLU would consider stepping in.

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Meltdown in the Texas House

| Sun May 27, 2007 1:50 PM EDT

"Good thing we've still got politics in Texas--finest form of free entertainment ever invented," the late Molly Ivins once wrote. Where's Molly when we need her? I smile wondering what she'd make of the latest dustup in the Texas House, where politics has never ceased to be a full-contact sport. Although the last physical scuffle in the U.S. Congress dates (I think) to 1902, when South Carolinian Senator John McLaurin punched a colleague in the jaw, the most recent one in Texas dates to Saturday, when booing and hissing Texas congressmen launched an insurrection against House Speaker Tom Craddick that ended with Craddick bolting from the chamber and Democrats, who stormed the speaker's podium, being restrained by the House sergeants-at-arms. Call in ESPN and set up the bleachers!

Craddick's iron-fisted rule over his fellow Republicans has made him increasingly unpopular among moderates in his party, who complain that his insistence on party discipline has put them at odds with the interests of their districts. As I reported in October, close followers of Texas politics have predicted that Craddick's strategy could backfire. Houston Republican Martha Wong appeared particularly vulnerable at the time, having kowtowed to Craddick on abortion and environmental issues. In November, her socially moderate constituents ousted her.

Wong's unsuccessful reelection slogan was "Be Right, Vote Wong." Add an "R" in there, and it could also be a perfect slogan for Craddick.

Ohio Execution by Lethal Injection Takes 2 Hours

| Fri May 25, 2007 6:19 PM EDT

Lethal injection has gotten a lot of well-deserved scrutiny for being kind of cruel and unusual. The three-drug cocktail that is almost universally used in the United States is usually administered by a guard or other non-medical prison official, leading to a high number of mistakes, and the drugs are rumored to cause excruciating pain that often goes undetected. Governors across the country are halting executions in their state until the matter is investigated further. For example, former governor Jeb Bush put a moratorium on executions in Florida after it took a man named Angel Nieves Diaz 34 minutes to die, during which time reporters saw Diaz in obvious pain. Diaz's body had 12 inch burns on its arms after the ordeal.

Yesterday's execution of Christopher Newton in Ohio should add momentum to the fight against lethal injection. Newton took two hours to die. He had to be stuck at least 10 times with needles to insert the shunts where the chemicals are injected. An ACLU lawyer said that Newton had been effectively tortured to death.

This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Lethal injection was invented by an Oklahoma state legislator who wanted to see executions become more humane. But not only is there evidence that death by lethal injection is horribly grotesque, executions have actually become more common because the public has become more comfortable with lethal injection that it ever was with the electric chair (whose head fires -- executions where a prisoner's head would catch fire -- unmistakably illustrated the method's problems). That Oklahoma legislator is now a priest, and he preaches for the end of the death penalty. His remarkable story, and lots of info on the problems with lethal injection, can be found in this 2005 Mother Jones feature, "A Guilty Man."

Prosecutor Firings: Goodling's Testimony, the Gift that Keeps on Giving

| Fri May 25, 2007 6:05 PM EDT

Monica Goodling, former Department of Justice (DOJ) White House liaison and Senior Counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before the House Judiciary Committee under the protection of a use immunity this past Wednesday. Former Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Paul McNulty bore the brunt of her freely flowing testimony. Goodling noted, referring to the DAG's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, "The Deputy's public testimony was incomplete or inaccurate in a number of respects." (McNulty could face a criminal investigation.)

But McNulty is not the only one that stands to catch fire from the former DOJ White House liaison's testimony. While admitting that she may have used a political litmus test to screen career positions, as well as political appointees, she pointed a finger at the department's Office of Legal Counsel, claiming that in 2005 Kyle Sampson told her "some years earlier" the office had said civil service rules (rules that bar politics from being weighed as a hiring factor for civil service employees) do not apply to immigration judges as they do to other career positions. The Office of Legal Counsel has fired back claiming the office never held such an opinion.

And, as TPMmuckraker points out today, the appointments of immigration judges during Bush's tenure do look sort of fishy, calling upon a Legal Times article from last year for its information:

Among the 19 immigration judges hired since 2004: Francis Cramer, the former campaign treasurer for New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg; James Nugent, the former vice chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party; and Chris Brisack, a former Republican Party county chairman from Texas who had served on the state library commission under then-Gov. George W. Bush.

But the plot gets a little thicker. Goodling's lawyer, John Dowd, released a response to the Office of Legal Counsel's response. (And round and round we go.) Dowd wrote that Goodling realized there was no official order made by the Office of Legal Counsel and that Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin had made the suggestion. As TPM notes, this means it "came from the top." Stay tuned.

Obama and McCain -- We've Got Ourselves a Pissing Match, Folks

| Fri May 25, 2007 4:24 PM EDT

After Barack Obama opposed the recently-approved war funding bill that replaces timelines for withdrawal with toothless benchmarks, John McCain said the position was "the equivalent of waving a white flag to al Qaeda." Mitt Romney also had harsh words.

Obama responded:

"This country is united in our support for our troops, but we also owe them a plan to relieve them of the burden of policing someone else's civil war. Governor Romney and Senator McCain clearly believe the course we are on in Iraq is working, but I do not.
"And if there ever was a reflection of that it's the fact that Senator McCain required a flack jacket, ten armored Humvees, two Apache attack helicopters, and 100 soldiers with rifles by his side to stroll through a market in Baghdad just a few weeks ago."

(For background on what Obama is referring to, see these blog posts.) McCain shot back less than two hours later:

"While Senator Obama's two years in the U.S. Senate certainly entitle him to vote against funding our troops, my service and experience combined with conversations with military leaders on the ground in Iraq lead me to believe that we must give this new strategy a chance to succeed because the consequences of failure would be catastrophic to our nation's security.
"By the way, Senator Obama, it's a 'flak' jacket, not a 'flack' jacket."

Who needs policy analysis, right? We've got eighteen months of petty sniping to look forward to!

Actually, this should take the humor out of this whole situation -- the insurgents made an example out of that bazaar McCain visited in a flak jacket, ambushing, binding, and murdereding 23 workers shortly after the Senator's visit.

Stop the Presses: John McCain Voted!

| Fri May 25, 2007 4:10 PM EDT

Last week we noted incredulously that John McCain had missed 43 consecutive votes in the Senate (causing commentor JG to write, "You're complaining?! Have you checked his voting record??"). That streak extended three more votes and sadly has now come to an end.

After 46 straight missed votes, encompassing six weeks, John McCain finally found time to push himself back from the money trough of constant fundraising and cast a vote on behalf of the citizens of Arizona. McCain voted in favor of exempting children of certain Filipino World War II veterans from the numerical limitations on immigrant visas. Just so you know.

And, oh yeah, our taxes pay that man's salary. Which, it shouldn't need to be said, he continued to collect even though he failed to fulfill his most important responsibility as a senator.

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IRS Terrorism Gumshoes: Look for "Middle Eastern Sounding Names"

| Fri May 25, 2007 3:59 PM EDT

Apparently the gumshoes over at the IRS have been investigating nonprofits for potential ties to terrorism in Keystone Cops fashion. According to a report by the agency's watchdog, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, IRS agents pour over nonprofit filings manually, cross-referencing them with a terrorist watch list that is woefully inadequate. "As a result, the IRS provides only minimal assurance that tax-exempt organizations potentially involved in terrorist activities are being identified," the watchdog reports. And that's not even the worst part. Responding to the dismal report in a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson today, Montana Democrat Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, reveals that IRS investigators resorted to racial profiling when looking into potential terrorist financing. "IRS personnel told TIGTA that they primarily look for 'Middle Eastern sounding names' when considering which tax filings to flag for further review." How has this screening process worked out for the IRS? Not very well. Baucus writes: "TIGTA investigators found that the current IRS screening process has never identified any person or organization with links to terrorists."

Death Toll Associated with 9/11 Still Climbing

| Thu May 24, 2007 6:01 PM EDT

Nearly six years after two planes crashed into the Twin Towers, the number of deaths associated with the attacks continues to climb. Yesterday, the death toll reached 2,750 after Dr. Charles Hirsch, New York City's chief medical examiner, amended the death certificate of civil rights attorney Felicia Dunn-Jones. Previously, she had been thought to have died of natural causes. Her certificate now notes that exposure to toxic dust from the ruins of the World Trade Center "was contributory to her death." Dunn-Jones' certificate is the first to be amended, but perhaps not the last.

More than 7,300 people, including New York City police officers, firemen, and other first responders who inhaled toxins during the city's 10-month cleanup effort, filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, complaining of deteriorating respiratory health.

New York Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Vito Fossella, who pushed for a review of Dunn-Jones' case, are continuing to pressure the city's medical examiner to review other cases. Although Hirsch has no plans to do so, his decision to amend Dunn-Jones' death certificate could have far-reaching implications and is likely to be cited as evidence in 9/11-related health suits filed against New York City.

Rudy Giuliani may also catch fire from these suits. The city's mayor, who has framed his presidential campaign around his 9/11 heroism, is facing criticism for his administration's handling of safety measures during the cleanup effort. The New York Times reported earlier this month that, according to public documents filed in a suit, the city "never meaningfully enforced federal requirements that those at the site wear respirators" and "officials also on some occasions gave flawed public representations of the nature of the health threat, even as they privately worried about exposure to lawsuits by sickened workers."

--Jessica Savage

Finally Time to Go Home to Diego Garcia

| Thu May 24, 2007 4:00 PM EDT

Americans may have never heard of Diego Garcia, but today Diego Garcia is very much on the minds of thousands of people.

After more than four decades, Chagossians get to go home to Diego Garcia, a British colony and US air and naval base. Yesterday the British High Court ruled in favor of the Chagossian people. The judges denounced the British government's move to "exile a whole population" from its home as "repugnant" and that the right of Chagossians to return home is "one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings". The High Court also said that the government can no longer appeal as it had unsuccessfully tried three times in the past. Chagossians had won a legal victory in 2000, but in 2004 the British government overturned it via a royal prerogative.

Why were they kicked off in the first place? The British colony has been "colonized by the Americans" since the 1960's, when more than 2,000 inhabitants of the island were forcibly "repatriated" to Mauritius and the Seychelles. The Brits gave the Americans a 50-year lease, which will expire in 2016. The U.S. has launched memorable military campaigns from the Diego Garcia base, including bombing Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the past years, the US military said it was against the idea of allowing Chagossians back to their land because it would undermine the "security" of Diego Garcia. And while it has fought to keep the natives off the land, the US Navy still calls the Diego Garcia base its "Footprint of Freedom."

—Neha Inamdar

Now You Can Shoot an Iraqi from the Comfort of Your Own Home Computer

| Thu May 24, 2007 3:39 PM EDT

Wafaacrop.jpg

It's not just a video game. A performance artist has been holed up in Chicago with a webcam and paintball gun trained on him. Right now Wafaa Bilal is out (late lunch?), leaving just a bedroom splattered with paint, so Web snipers are aiming for the plant instead. It's a statement on that American combination of high-tech trigger-happiness and apathy toward Iraqis. I was going to suggest Bilal was inspired by this technology, "computer-assisted remote hunting." But it's much worse. According to his bio, Bilal grew up in Iraq, and his 21-year-old brother still there was recently killed by stray American gunfire. Maybe he's trying to heal by reenacting the trauma, as they say. Black humor heals all wounds.

Thank you for the tip, Goode.