Mojo - October 2007

Former Lobbyists Say the Darnedest Things

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 11:43 AM EDT

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Dean Kleckner, who used to run the farmer's lobby and took corn and soybean subsidies for years, calls for farm subsidy reform in today's New York Times. "It's obvious that we need to transform our public support for farmers," he says. "There's something fundamentally perverse about a system that has farmers hoping for low prices at harvest time — it's like praying for bad weather. But that's precisely what happens, because those low prices mean bigger checks from Washington."

Still waiting to hear Doug Brooks come out against military contractors.

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Romney Responds to Rancorous Republican Rival

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 10:55 AM EDT

Ohhh, snap! After John McCain shredded Mitt Romney for being a false conservative and a misleading campaigner, the Romney campaign released a video of McCain endorsing Romney for governor of Massachusetts in 2002.

Says McCain, "You got a great team here but it's led by a man of honesty and integrity. It's led by a man who is prepared to serve and a man who I have grown to know for his honesty, his decency, and his commitment to America... we have a man of unimpeachable integrity, decency, and honor." McCain says the word honesty about a dozen times. I'm not kidding. Take a look.

Boy, the Romney campaign must have been sitting on this for ages, just waiting for an opportunity to use it. And McCain finally gave them one.

(H/T PrezVid)

McCain Mauls Massachusetts Mountebank

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 10:30 AM EDT

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You might think that because the Democratic side of the primary fight is the one with a solid frontrunner and a set of increasingly desperate also-rans, it would be the one with the more vicious and vitriolic attacks.

You would be wrong.

The Democratic side has been relatively civil (though that might change) while the Republican side has been brutal. And it just got worse. Michael Scherer of Salon has the deets:

"...conservatives that have heard me time and again recognize that I do speak for the Republican wing of the Republican Party," Romney told the Nevada gathering, according to the Associated Press.
Less than 24-hours later, McCain responded with a blistering and detailed assault on Romney that read like an opposition research paper. "I don't usually do this but I'm going to depart for a moment from the issues I want to talk to you about today," McCain said at the beginning of his address to the party meeting. "One of the other Republican candidates made an extraordinary statement yesterday. Former Gov. Romney yesterday proclaimed himself the only real Republican in this race. As we all know, when he ran for office in Massachusetts being a Republican wasn't much of a priority for him. In fact, when he ran against Ted Kennedy, he said he didn't want to return to the days of Reagan-Bush. I always thought Ronald Reagan was a real Republican. When Gov. Romney donated money to a Democratic candidate in New Hampshire, I don't think he was speaking for Republicans. When he voted for a Democratic candidate for President, Paul Tsongas, I don't think he was speaking for Republicans. When he refused to endorse the Contract with America, I don't think he was speaking for Republicans. And when he was embracing the Democratic position on many major issues of the day, I don't think he was speaking for Republicans."

Pat Robertson: Flippin' Out

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 9:30 AM EDT

Remember Regent Law, the school founded by Pat Robertson to bring the will of the Almighty to the legal profession? While half of the school's early graduates flunked the bar on the first go-around, Regent has sent a number of its alumni to the Bush administration, including, most famously, former DOJ staffer Monica Goodling. One Regent student who's not likely to get a White House placement any time soon is Adam Key, who's been threatened with expulsion for posting on his Facebook page a YouTube video of the school's founder, well, flippin' the bird during a TV interview. Apparently the will of the Almighty is that the First Amendment doesn't protect those making fun of Pat Robertson.

Here's the offending video.

Update: Blackwater Quit Trade Group to Avoid Scrutiny

| Fri Oct. 12, 2007 8:18 PM EDT

This is an update to my recent piece on Blackwater's withdrawal from the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), a private military industry trade group. Earlier today, the IPOA issued a press release, explaining that Blackwater's sudden departure from the organization, announced yesterday, may have been intended to quash an IPOA investigation of the firm's conduct in Iraq, specifically relating to the September 16 shootings in Baghdad, which killed 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded 24 others. According to the press release:

On October 8, 2007 the IPOA Executive Committee authorized the Standards Committee to initiate an independent review process of Blackwater USA to ascertain whether Blackwater USA's processes and procedures were fully sufficient to ensure compliance with the IPOA Code of Conduct.

Yesterday, I spoke with Doug Brooks, the IPOA's founder and president. He assured me that Blackwater's decision to withdraw from the organization had not been the result of an internal IPOA disciplinary process. He went on to praise Blackwater for its cooperation, saying "they've been quite open with us."

Nevertheless, Blackwater's decision appears to have had the intended effect: According to a source with knowledge of the IPOA's internal deliberations, the group's investigation of Blackwater's conduct has now been cancelled.

Barney Frank Gets Heat from LGBT Advocates

| Fri Oct. 12, 2007 7:26 PM EDT

Gay rights supporters are confronting an unlikely foe—Rep. Barney Frank. Frank, who is gay himself and has been a longtime champion of gay rights, is getting heat from civil rights advocates for supporting a job discrimination bill even though it omits transgender people.

The legislation, which would be the first to protect gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in the workplace, is a compromise that was reached to move the bill forward. A poll done by a popular gay news site shows that its readers are divided on the issue, with one-third supporting Frank's position, one-third opposing it, and one-third saying gay and transgender people shouldn't be lumped together in the first place. At a press conference yesterday, Frank blamed the tension on the "ideological purity that plagues American politics, that holds liberalism back in a number of areas."

As much as I think transgender people should be protected, Frank has a point. The Bush administration's failure to give an inch on everything from Iraq to civil liberties over the last seven years has left our country deeply divided and the population completely disillusioned with government. It's time to let our Democratic leaders lead us in the right direction, even if it takes a while to get to our final destination.

—Celia Perry

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Da Vinci Decoded: Vatican Publish Knights of Templar Papers

| Fri Oct. 12, 2007 7:22 PM EDT

Get ready fans and foes of Dan Brown: The Vatican has "discovered" a cache of documents from the Knights Templar. For those of you who were spared the bad movie and worse prose (via AP):

The military order of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon was founded in 1118 in Jerusalem to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land after the First Crusade. As their military might increased, the Templars also grew in wealth, acquiring property throughout Europe and running a primitive banking system. After they left the Middle East with the collapse of the Crusader kingdoms, their power and secretive ways aroused the fear of European rulers and sparked accusations of corruption and blasphemy.

The documents in question "reproduces the entire documentation of the papal hearings convened after King Philip IV of France arrested and tortured Templar leaders in 1307 on charges of heresy and immorality," which includes "a 14th-century parchment showing that Pope Clement V initially absolved the Templar leaders of heresy, though he did find them guilty of immorality and planned to reform the order, according to the Vatican archives Web site."

AP continues: "Historians believe Philip owed debts to the Templars and used the accusations to arrest their leaders and extract, under torture, confessions of heresy as a way to seize the order's riches."

Okay, this is all juicy stuff but what I love best is this:

Only 799 copies of the 300-page volume, "Processus Contra Templarios," - Latin for "Trial against the Templars" - are for sale, said Scrinium publishing house, which prints documents from the Vatican's secret archives. Each will cost $8,377, the publisher said Friday. An 800th copy will go to Pope Benedict XVI, said Barbara Frale, the researcher who found the long-overlooked parchment tucked away in the archives in 2001.

The Da Vinci Code book was published in 2003. The movie came out in 2006. So the entire stupid "is the Da Vinci Code right or wrong" industry could have been, I dunno, at least arguing over the facts for the past four years had only the Vatican released this earlier.

And, though this isn't strictly relevant, before he became Pope Benedict, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, known until 1908 as the Holy Office of the Inquisition.

Black Ministers Get Religion About HIV/AIDS

| Fri Oct. 12, 2007 11:06 AM EDT

It's about damned time.

It's only been in the last two weeks that the black church came to Jesus about AIDS. Let us pray that it's not too little too late.

Having long ignored the alarms about the AIDS epidemic decimating an already ravaged community, blacks' most prominent ministers officially joined elected officials, the National Medical Association (formed when the AMA was segregated) and other groups in moving past their homophobia and brimstone to reality: blacks must do something about the cultural underpinnings that feed the flames of AIDS. Not since the 60s has the black church so thrown itself behind a community issue.

Read this for a snapshot of the crisis and news about the group's first meeting, but the bottom line is this: black refusal to deal with its attitudes about male privilege, sex, drugs, homosexuality and superstitions (please don't mention Tuskegee again) was threatening us with near extinction (AIDS is the number 1 cause of death for black women 25-34). Blessedly, last week's meeting was a success, complete with action plan:

"Following a two-day conclave, over 150 African American leaders proposed the National HIV/AIDS Elimination Act, which they plan to introduce to Congress as early as January. The act calls on the federal government "to declare the HIV/AIDS Crisis in the African American community a 'public health emergency'" and urges "the Secretary of Health and Human Services to use his emergency authority to redirect resources to address this emergency."

TSA Starts Using New 'Strip Search' X-Ray Machines

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 3:48 PM EDT

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As of today, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has begun using a new kind of x-ray to search passengers for possible weapons. The radiation-free x-ray, called a "millimeter wave," scans a person's entire body. In the process, it creates a blush-inducingly graphic image of the person being scanned. The TSA blurs the face in scans, and only allows a remote screener to see the final scan. But for some, that isn't enough: "If you want to see a naked body," ACLU director Barry Steinhardt told the Associated Press, "this is a naked body."

The millimeter wave is just one of a few kinds of advanced technology (AT) x-rays being tested by the TSA. Another kind of AT x-ray has received similar outcry (it's been called a "virtual strip search"). In response, the TSA altered the machine, but so much so that it obscured the very weapons it was supposed to find, as we reported in our July/August issue. The technology was initially developed for use in prisons and courthouses.

Despite privacy concerns, the TSA seems determined to roll out AT x-rays across the nation: they recently awarded more than $30 million in contracts to the companies that produce the machines and have used them at several airports including New York-Kennedy, Los Angeles International, and Regan National. So far, the machines have been voluntary, as an alternative to a pat-down in secondary screening. And, the TSA says, it has disabled the "save" function so that images cannot be stored or distributed. However, with the TSA's history of violating passengers' rights, I wouldn't bet on it.

Tutu, Part Two

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 3:44 PM EDT

Last week I noted that the University of St. Thomas had rescinded a speaking invitation to Archbishop Desmond Tutu because administrators deemed Tutu's previous criticisms of Israel to be "hurtful" to some Jews. This morning, Scott Jaschik of InsideHigherEd has some good news: St. Thomas' president has reversed his decision and will invite Tutu to campus after all.

The twist here is that Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman wrote a letter to St. Thomas objecting to its decision to cancel Tutu. This is an unusual outburst of sanity from Foxman and the ADL, which Glenn Greenwald has been pounding in recent days for seeming to apply "its outrage practices selectively and politically" and marching in lockstep with the right on issues like Iran. While Foxman still indulges in his annoying tic of describing people in terms of whether they are, in his opinion, "a friend of Israel"—in the letter, he deems Tutu "not a friend of Israel" simply for voicing a criticism of an Israeli policy—the ADL deserves credit here for standing up for free exchange on campus. Maybe the group is taking Greenwald's criticisms to heart.

—Justin Elliott