Mojo - September 2007

Another Reason to Skip the Muffin-Top Tattoo

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 1:34 PM EDT

Which hurts more, getting a tattoo or giving birth without drugs?

The Wall Street Journal ($) reports this week that there's some evidence to suggest that those ever-so-popular lower-back tattoos may cause complications from spinal epidurals given for pain-relief during childbirth. Unless they plan someday to make do with hee-breathing, young women contemplating the needle might want to forgo the permanent pink butterfly...

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French FM Kouchner a Class Act with Anti-War Protesters

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 11:53 AM EDT

It was one of those traditional, staid Washington events: an audience of three or four hundred Washington diplomats, policy people, think tank denizens and journalists gathered in the gilded ballroom at the Capital Hilton for an audience yesterday with French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, at an event sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. We had all been offered ear pieces in case we needed translation, but Kouchner, the co-founder of French humanitarian medical relief group Medecins Sans Frontieres, addressed the audience in good if heavily accented English. His speech started with a nod to past tensions in Franco-US relations (remember Freedom Fries?) and was moving onto the Middle East, when a group of women seated towards the front of the huge ballroom started moving to the stage unfurling their pink anti-war banner, and one woman seemed to try to grab Kouchner. The secret service agent could be heard telling Kouchner, 'Sir, we have to take you out," as several other security officers grabbed the women as they began chanting, "No war with Iran, no war with Iran." The audience, the Secret Service, and CSIS president John Hamre, sitting at the raised podium, were all momentarily stunned.

But Kouchner recovered his composure first, and he asked at first it seemed merely perhaps politely, and later fully insisted to his host Hamre, that they let the activists back in. "But they are right. These ladies are right. I don't want war with Iran. Please let them back in." And to my surprise at least, after a couple minutes, the side doors of the large ballroom opened, and the women were escorted back to their seats by suited Secret Service types with the earpieces, not looking fully convinced of the wisdom of the move.

Kouchner directed his remarks at several points to the Code Pink activists during his almost one hour of remarks (video available from C-Span). He said he did not want war with Iran, that he considered it the worst option, and a failure. He told them that an Iran with a nuclear bomb was also a worst case option. He said he advocated "dialogue, dialogue, and dialogue" and sanctions. He engaged them and asked them, what is their solution then. One woman suggested, dialogue with no sanctions. Kouchner responded to her why he felt that was insufficient. A few of the activists, perhaps a bit surprised themselves at the turn of events, offered sheepish thanks from their third row seats to Kouchner for asking that they be allowed back in. Later, one of the women stood on her chair, held up a poster, and let up a lonely chant, "What kind of doctor" blah blah blah. She was removed. The security guard later came back for her bag.

Whatever one thinks of Kouchner and his foreign policy views, one was struck by how hard it is to even imagine any of the current U.S. administration handling such an outburst with anything approaching the willingness to engage shrill critics that Kouchner demonstrated at the scene. This administration and its critics have long operated in entirely different universes, top U.S. leaders have confined themselves to the most staged press and public events purged of critics to the extent possible.

Later, in remarks about Darfur, Kouchner said, "For two years, nobody did anything except the activists. The activists are always right."


Bush's Latest Big Fib

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 10:19 AM EDT

In his press conference yesterday, President Bush let loose some whoppers in defending his plan to veto a popular, bipartisan bill that would extend health insurance to 4 million poor kids. Bush claimed that the bill would allow the program (known as SCHIP) to cover too many rich people, i.e., families earning up to $80,000 a year. Not only would this burden the taxpayers, but, he declared, it would lead all those families to (gasp!) drop private insurance in favor of the public program, making the bill "an incremental step toward the goal of government-run health care for every American."

Most of this just isn't true. A recent Urban Institute study found that the vast majority of the families covered under the pending bill have incomes less than $42,000 (for a family of four!). And even kids covered by SCHIP get their actual insurance from private companies that contract with the states, so no socialized medicine there.

That's why Bush's veto threat may be pretty irrelevant. Most of his own party is behind expanding the children's insurance program, including stalwart conservative Utah Republican senator Orrin Hatch, who provided perhaps the best quote of the debate so far. When asked by the Washington Post whether he would vote to override a Bush veto, he replied, "You bet your sweet bippy I will."

Richardson Courts the Fat Vote

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 3:02 PM EDT

Presidential candidates are famous for promising wars against various social ills—the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, etc.—but Bill Richardson may be the first to launch the "War on Fat." Richardson, who has shed 30 pounds over the past year, bragged yesterday that he was the only person running for president to address The Obesity Society.

In an open appeal to the 66 percent of Americans who now tip the scales as officially overweight, Richardson called for covering the obese under the Americans With Disabilities Act and for federal funding for college PE classes. Future campaign posters to read: "Richardson Fights Freshman 15!"

Wanna Have Breakfast with Turd Blossom?

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 2:24 PM EDT

Well, thanks to dark prince Robert Novak, you can for the low, low price of $595... See Radar Online.

Scooter Needs Your Help!

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 1:51 PM EDT

From a recent Mary Matalin letter written on behalf of Scooter Libby: "Scooter should never have even been put on trial. His conviction was an absolute and total miscarriage of justice." Uh huh, and? "Scooter still has hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding legal bills from his trial." Ohhh. "These bills need to be paid immediately." Yikes. Sorry, somehow I think giving to the Red Cross might be a bit more worthwhile. But try me again next year, when this thing is still on appeal.

You'd think this guy would be better at raising Scooter some dough.

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How Refreshing: A Secretary of Defense with Common Sense and a Grasp on Reality

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 1:32 PM EDT

Let's see what we were missing by being too cheap to pay for (the now extinct) TimesSelect...

Oh, here's a David Brooks column revealing that the Secretary of Defense rejects several of the main tenets of George W. Bush's foreign policy. Nice. From a recent Robert Gates speech:

Throughout the messy years that followed, Gates explained, we have made deals with tyrants to defeat other tyrants. We've championed human rights while doing business with some of the worst violators of human rights....
Two themes ran through his speech. First, the tragic ironies of history — the need to compromise with evil in order to do good. And second, patience — the need to wait as democratic reforms slowly develop.

Using this logic, Gates would likely argue that we should be actively engaging Iran and Syria, regime's we don't approve of, in order to bring order to Iraq. And he would argue that, since "democratic reforms slowly develop," invading countries unaccustomed to democracy and foisting it upon their people isn't too bright. What else?

"I don't think you invade Iraq to bring liberty. You do it to eliminate an unstable regime and because sanctions are breaking down and you get liberty as a byproduct," he continued. I asked him whether invading Iraq was a good idea, knowing what we know now. He looked at me for a bit and said, "I don't know."

Well, that's just about the most honest thing a high-level Bush Administration official has ever said in public. You might claim that Bush's best decision in the Iraq War was appointing this guy to be SecDef. You might also claim that Bush's worst decision was waiting so freaking long.

And wait, Gates isn't done.

I asked him if it was a good idea to encourage elections in the Palestinian territories. He didn't directly address the question, but he noted: "Too often elections are equated with democracy and freedom."
I asked about how we can promote freedom in Iran while taking care of security threats. He emphasized soft power.

It's official! He's the anti-Cheney!

Fox's Hypocrisy on Sally Field Revealed

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 1:13 PM EDT

Surely you remember a few days back when Fox censored Sally Field at the Emmy's because she tried to say the line, "If mothers ruled the world, there wouldn't be any goddamned wars in the first place."

At the time, I wondered if it was because Field was making a political statement or if it was because she said the word "goddamned." To censor her for making an anti-war statement that innocuous would reveal their political leanings too blatantly, right? It was probably just the language she used.

Wrong. It turns out, assuming the worst out of Fox is always the right choice. This video by Robert Greenwald shows that not only have Fox commentators used the word "goddam" in the past, they've thrown it around playfully.

Now, admittedly, Field said the word on Fox, a network, and the commentators in this video said it on Fox News, a cable station. But that shouldn't make a difference. According to the FCC, here are the standards for censoring material on any TV channel:

  • An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.
  • The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law.
  • The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

This situation doesn't fall into any of those three categories. Moreover, there is no list of words that are banned completely, ala George Carlin's seven dirty words, and in this FCC ruling, "goddam" is specifically categorized as "not profane."

(H/T Think Progress)

Mitt Romney and the Formula Makers

| Thu Sep. 20, 2007 11:27 AM EDT

Public health officials across the country have been trying to address record-low rates of breastfeeding among American women, a move that threatens the enormous profits of formula companies (pharma giants all). So the formula makers have responded aggressively, lobbying successfully to water down federal breastfeeding promotion campaigns, among other things.

No good lobbying campaign, of course, comes without the creation of an Astroturf group to demonstrate "grassroots" support for the cause. The formula makers have recently launched two of them, with websites, www.momsfeedingfreedom.com and www.babyfeedingchoice.org, both of which proclaim to champion women's "right to choose" formula. Interestingly, MomsFeedingFreedom is the product of the very same web consulting firm that works for presidential contender Mitt Romney, reports Mothering Magazine this month.

Romney and the formula companies have a long history together. Back in 2005, his state became the first in the nation to ban the distribution of formula samples in hospitals, a move backed by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. But as governor, Romney pressured the Massachusetts Public Health Council to overturn the ban. When it refused, he fired three members of the council and replaced them with members who voted shortly afterwards to allow formula back into the hospitals. Romney clearly won't be the "breast is best" candidate in '08...

(H/T Center for Media and Democracy)

Group Sues Pentagon Over First Amendment Religion Issue

| Wed Sep. 19, 2007 8:14 PM EDT

Yesterday, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and U.S. Army Major Paul Welborne. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, alleges that Army specialist Jeremy Hall, who is currently serving in Iraq, had his First Amendment rights violated last Thanksgiving when he was threatened and otherwise harrassed because he declined to participate in a Thanksgiving prayer ceremony.

According to Hall, who is an atheist, when he refused to join hands with other soldiers and pray, he was told by a staff sergeant (who first had to ask someone what an atheist was) that he could not eat Thanksgiving dinner with his peers. Hall, however, continued to eat his dinner at the table.

According to the complaint, in August, Hall received permission from a military chaplain to organize a group for atheist soldiers, but when the group met, Major Welborne broke it up, and also threatened to charge Hall with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Hall says that Welborne further threatened him that he would block Hall's re-enlistment in the Army if the atheist group continued to meet. Hall alleges that Welborne disrupted the meeting and confronted those in attendance.

Hall's complaint is not unique. Just last month, the Pentagon's Inspector General responded to a complaint by an MRFF that Defense Department officials violated their own regulations by appearing in a video to promote a fundamentalist Christian organization.

A spokesman for the MRFF has indicated that the Hall lawsuit is just the first of many.