Mojo - May 2008

Bush's Politicking at Israel's Knesset Neglects His Role in Hamas' Election Win

| Fri May 16, 2008 1:08 AM EDT

You've likely already read about Bush using the opportunity of his address to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, yesterday to liken all those who would negotiate with "terrorists and radicals" to Nazi appeasers -- and Democrats' swift and outraged response.

Beyond the fact that Bush's own administration has repeatedly offered to negotiate with Tehran should Iran suspend uranium enrichment, and that his top diplomat in Iraq has talked with his Iranian counterparts, as has his former ambassador to Afghanistan, both with the White House blessing, as well as the ongoing negotiations with Pyongyang, Libya, and the Syrian deputy foreign minister's visit to Annapolis; beyond those recent demonstrated exceptions in action to Bush's rhetoric (I guess the word for it is "hypocrisy"): It's also worth pointing out, as several Israeli security officials and political observers have recently done to me here, a bit of recent history Bush neglected to mention at Israel's parliament. That Israel and the Palestinian Authority have chiefly him to thank for Hamas having a degree of political legitimacy it otherwise would not have had. After all, they point out, it was the Bush administration that "twisted the arm" of Israeli and Palestinian leaders against considerable resistance and skepticism on their part to allow the Palestinian militant group Hamas to run in 2006 Palestinian elections that Hamas won -- an outcome to its policy interventions that the Bush administration once again failed to anticipate.

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Embryos Up for Personhood in Colorado, Even the Gay Ones?

| Thu May 15, 2008 8:09 PM EDT

Lots of big news the last couple of days. The polar bear apparently has the right to protection under the Endangered Species Act. California same-sex couples can, in fact, marry. McCain has amended his Iraq 100-year-plan to say most troops will out by 2013. Hell, we may even tax porn. But amid all of the news of progress have you heard this one?

On Tuesday the group Colorado for Equal Rights submitted 131,245 signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot that would define a fertilized embryo as a person. Voters will decide on the measure that would amend the state Constitution to extend a fertilized embryo equal rights and protections. It would define "any human being from the moment of fertilization" as a "person" for purposes of the state's constitutional provisions "relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law."

Never mind that the 'moment of fertilization' is not a medical definition and is almost impossible to determine. Consensus from women's rights organizations is that the amendment would be catastrophic for women and their ability to determine their own futures. Doctors and legal rights experts say the amendment could trigger governmental investigations into miscarriages, restrict in-vitro fertilization by couples trying to conceive, and could limit birth-control methods.

And to those hundred thousand-plus Coloradoans who endorsed the measure into being, if they so passionately believe in equal rights, what about the gay embryos? Equality still fair game? Just a thought.

And Now, the Honeymoon

| Thu May 15, 2008 7:43 PM EDT

Most people aren't alive for their parents' wedding day, but I was. The date was February 16, 2004, four days after Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that San Francisco would issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples. My parents had been together for 24 years at that point, so it was natural for them to question the value of a piece of paper when the test of time had already validated their relationship. But when the right to marry presented itself four years ago, they jumped on it.

With their friends Frank and John, my moms drove two hours from their home in Monterey to the majestic steps of San Francisco's city hall. That first day, the line of elated couples waiting to be married wrapped around the building, more couples than city officials had time to handle, and so they came back at 6am the next day and stood in line for 13 hours. Cars drove by honking in support, restaurants brought beverages and food to the waiting masses, strangers dropped off flowers and balloons, and cheers erupted each time a set of newlyweds came through city hall's golden doors. And then, what began as a historic event televised around the world became a wholly personal moment for my family. I listened on the phone from Atlanta as my moms exchanged their vows. (Because we'd had no notice of Mayor Newsom's bold move and because no one knew how long the opportunity would last, I didn't have enough time to fly home for the occasion.)

Students Think Liberating Lab Animals Is Lame

| Thu May 15, 2008 7:23 PM EDT

The results of our student activism survey are already flooding in, and respondents—both current and former students—believe the lamest form of activism is liberating lab animals (second place: tree sitting). Don't miss your chance to chime in.

We're still looking for the lowdown on student activism, past and present. Been arrested and regret it? Would your school win the prize for silliest student protest? Was student activism way better when you were in school? Is your cause unique?

Help us put together our best student activism roundup yet. It's our 15th annual! Check out last year's. Answer a few quick questions and you could win some cool prizes.

Click here to begin!

Reliable Replacement Warheads Rejected by House

| Thu May 15, 2008 5:40 PM EDT

Back in April, I reported on the White House's back-door attempts to secure funding for a new generation of nuclear weapons—a missile called a Reliable Replacement Warhead. Well, Congressional Democrats weren't fooled by the administration's efforts and today the House Armed Services committee zeroed out funding for the project in the Defense Authorization bill.

Ten million dollars for the project still remain in the Senate's version of the bill, which will be reconciled with the House legislation later this year.

McCain Sounding Obama-esque

| Thu May 15, 2008 4:16 PM EDT

Here's a portion of that speech that David mentioned earlier today. It's kind of hard to tell which presumptive nominee is speaking.

If I am elected President, I will work with anyone who sincerely wants to get this country moving again. I will listen to any idea that is offered in good faith and intended to help solve our problems, not make them worse. I will seek the counsel of members of Congress from both parties in forming government policy before I ask them to support it. I will ask Democrats to serve in my administration. My administration will set a new standard for transparency and accountability. I will hold weekly press conferences. I will regularly brief the American people on the progress our policies have made and the setbacks we have encountered. When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them. I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the Prime Minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons.

A lot of this is admirable (who knows if it'll actually happen, but it's nice to hear), especially the last line about taking direct questions from the rank and file of Congress. But if McCain wants to "set a new standard for transparency," he might ask his wife to release her tax returns. That would meet the current standard of transparency.

Update: I would also add that the cause of political reconciliation isn't furthered by implying your opponent is a Nazi appeaser.

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McCain to Social Conservatives: No Soup for You!

| Thu May 15, 2008 3:56 PM EDT

John McCain today gave a big speech to describe what the United States would look like in 2013, after four years of a McCain presidency. Boldly and confidently peering into that future, McCain sees that "the Iraq war has been won" and that "Iraq is a functioning democracy." The threat from the Taliban has been "greatly reduced," and Osama bin Laden has been captured or killed. Iran and North Korea no longer hold nuclear ambitions. Sudan is at peace. The United States economy is growing robustly. Government spending has been cut. New free trade agreements have led to prosperity at home and abroad. Public education is "much improved." Health care "has become more accessible to more Americans." The threat from global warming has declined. The border is secured. There have been no terrorist attacks against the United States.

In other words, a fairy tale.

In this address, McCain does not explain how he has managed to orchestrate all these miracles. It's nothing but a wish list. And in the news coverage of the speech, the media have focused on McCain's quasi-promise to win the Iraq war and withdraw most U.S. troops by 2013--which is certainly easier said than done. But what's most interesting about this speech is what's not in it: abortion and gay marriage.

Regarding these two top issues for social conservatives--many of whom have long been wary of McCain--the presumptive Republican nominee says nary a word. Looking into his crystal ball, he envisions no outlawing of abortion or gay marriage during his years in the White House. He doesn't even foresee an effort to do anything on these fronts. The closest he comes to addressing the priorities of the fundamentalist right is to note the appointment (and confirmation!) of federal judges "who understand that they were not sent there to write our laws but to enforce them." This is, of course, code language for judges willing to overturn Roe v. Wade and to hold the line against gay marriage. But McCain's de rigueur right-wing boilerplate hardly substitutes for a vision of a McCain-governed America in which abortion is criminalized and gay marriage banned across the land.

Any self-respecting social conservative should be enraged. On a day when the California Supreme Court has overturned the gay marriage ban, McCain's speech is insult added to injury. It goes to show that those leaders of the religious right who were suspicious of McCain were right to fret that McCain was only a fair-weather--that is, primary season--friend. In his future, their chief concerns are not even worth mentioning.

CA Gay Marriage Ban Overturned

| Thu May 15, 2008 2:59 PM EDT

The California Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved ban on gay marriage today in a ruling that will make California the second and largest state to allow gay and lesbian couples join together in matrimony.

On the steps of the courthouse in Sacramento, Stuart Gaffney and his partner John Lewis, among 19 plaintiffs in the case, were ecstatic. "I'm feeling just complete joy," Gaffney said. "Rarely is a legal decision so romantic, but this one means John and I can now be newlyweds after 21 years together."

Gaffney and Lewis were among thousands of couples married by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004 in a move that was immensely popular in San Francisco but inspired a conservative voter backlash across the country that many people blamed for hurting the electoral prospects of Sen. John Kerry. That August a California court annulled the marriages and appeals have been winding though state courts ever since.

Gaffney and Lewis, star plaintiffs in the case, have compared their fight for legal status to that faced by Gaffney's parents, whose marriage in the 1950s was not recognized in Missouri under the state's strict anti-miscegenation law. Gaffney's father was Irish and his mother was Chinese. California's landmark 1948 Perez v. Sharp ruling was nation's first to overturn such laws and had become a key precedent in the gay marriage case. More broadly, the case rested upon the California constitution's promise of individual liberty, due process, and equal protection under the law.

Although the ruling doesn't validate the 2004 marriages performed by Newsom, and conservative groups have vowed to push for another ballot measure to change the California constitution to specifically ban gay marriage, for now, gay and lesbian couples are in the clear to tie the knot. When Gaffney's mother called him today, she immediately asked, "When is your wedding day?"

"We are going to get married as soon as we can because we have waited long enough," Gaffney said. "But we are going to get married with our friends and families." He paused, fighting back tears. "I'm still just sort of floating from it," he said.

The mood was jubilant that afternoon in San Francisco, where city hall had joined the case as a plaintiff. After a triumphant press conference outside the Mayor's office, same-sex couples milled about and embraced beneath the rotunda as the PA system piped in love songs. "We were on complete pins and needles, very pointy pins and needles," said Jennifer Pizer a plaintiffs lawyer on the case. "And then we got the decision and started tearing up.

"For many of us this isn't just an exercise of the law, it's about our lives--whether we're good enough and our love is good enough." Pizer could not immediately say whether she'd now be getting married. "My partner of nearly 24 years has said yes," she added, "but I should probably talk to her first before I talk to anyone else."

The marriage party could be short lived, however. Conservative church groups have already collected 1.1 million signatures in favor of the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. If the state determines that 694,354 of those signatures are valid, the proposed amendment will qualify for the November ballot. Unlike Proposition 22, the gay marriage ban that was overturned today, the new ballot measure would be immune to court challenge. The question is how many among the 63 percent of Californians who'd supported Prop. 22 have changed their views toward gay marriage since the measure passed in 2000. "I think California has come a long, long way since then," Pizer said. "I think it changed a lot of people's minds to see how much it meant to couples to be able to marry in San Francisco."

As coincidence would have it, Robert and Amy McHale, a white and Asian couple from New York, had shown up in the city hall rotunda today in wedding dress and tuxedo, completely unaware that the Supreme Court had just passed down its landmark ruling. They'd come instead to snap wedding photos. As they stood on the granite steps bathed in the strobe of flash bulbs, a lesbian activist approached to congratulate them. "Understand that you are getting married on such a blessed and auspicious day," she said.

Robert McHale's thoughts on gay marriage? "Sure, why not?" he said. "That's fine if that makes people happy. We are all about happiness."


GOP Can't Win Down Ticket by Tying Dems to Obama

| Thu May 15, 2008 1:18 PM EDT

Not in the South, anyway. As you probably know, Democrat Travis Childers won a special election on Tuesday in a conservative Mississippi congressional district, scoring a big upset for the Dems that many political observers say is a sign of Democratic victories to come. The Republicans botched one part of the strategy, apparently (from the Times, via the Stump):

But the Republican strategy of trying to link Mr. Childers to more liberal national Democratic figures fell short, as it did in Louisiana. Indeed, voters here were bombarded by advertisements equating Mr. Childers with Senator Barack Obama, a tactic intended to turn conservative whites away from Mr. Childers.... [It] may have helped Mr. Childers more than it hurt him, as campaign aides reported heavy black turnout, heavier than in a vote three weeks ago when he came within 400 votes of winning.

Obama Attack Vid: Flag Flag Flllaaaaag

| Thu May 15, 2008 10:57 AM EDT

I guess when you don't have any actual arguments for why you should be in charge, you rely on symbolism instead.

Here's my solution. Obama changes his name to Barack Flag Pin Obama. He automatically convinces everyone of his patriotism, and eliminates the most problematic part of his name. From then on, whenever someone says, "Why don't you wear a flag pin?" Obama can respond, "I am Flag Pin!"