Mojo - April 2009

Going Crazy Over North Korea--and Obama

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 10:35 PM EDT

The North Koreans launch a missile that fails to place a satellite into orbit and what does former Reagan Pentagon official Frank Gaffney, Jr. say? That this episodes indicates that the evildoers of North Korea could be planning to hit the United States with a super-duper secret electromagnetic pulse weapon that would throw America back into the Stone Age, that the U.S. ought to hit Kim Jong Il hard before such a catastrophe happens (whether an attack on North Korea triggers a major war in Asia or not), and that President Barack Obama is planning to "submit" to the Taliban and Muslim nations. Yes, that's what Gaffney said when he and I discussed--is that the right word?--the North Korean missile launch on Hardball on Monday night. What's the connection between an EMP sneak attack from North Korea and Obama surrendering to the Taliban? I'm not sure. But it's easier to show than to explain:

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Flogged Pakistani Girl Denies It

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 5:15 PM EDT

Whoever it was (and in all likelihood it was her), a young woman somewhere in Pakistan got her ass literally whipped. Only question is who. The answer to 'why' will never satisfy those of us living in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, next door in Afghanistan, the powers that be just threw their women to the few wolves they were safe from by legalizing marital rape and a severe curtailment of female liberty.

Gates Kills the F-22. Will Congress Revive it?

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 4:33 PM EDT

On Monday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates finally announced his long-planned cuts to big-ticket programs, including the F-22 Raptor and the VH-71 Presidential Helicopter. (Mother Jones  previewed the cuts—and military spending opponents' reactions—last month.) In Gates' proposed budget, the F-22, VH-71, the Navy's DDG-1000 Destroyer, Airborne Laser Missile Defense (a laser mounted on a Boeing 747), and the Army's Future Combat Systems program are all targeted for modification or elimination.

In March, President Barack Obama said he recognized "the real choice between investments that are designed to keep the American people safe and those that are designed to make a defense contractor rich." The proposals Gates revealed today are supposed to reflect that tradeoff. It's no surprise, then, that defense contractors are rebelling against the proposed changes. The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman details the gathering storm:

In January, Lockheed Martin unveiled a website called Preserve Raptor Jobs, arguing that the F-22 fighter jet it produces for the Air Force was a jobs engine during trying economic times. A spokesman for Lockheed told TWI last month that the site was merely intended to “provide information” primarily to the jet’s “supplier base,” but lawmakers from F-22-producing states warned Gates against cutting funding for the jet — which costs approximately $143 million per plane, of which there are currently 183 — using talking points that sounded much like text on the site. Similarly, defenders of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program for tech-enabled land warfare — the target of a Government Accountability Office report this week that criticized its “staggering” cost-overruns of $300 million — have argued in recent days that the program is crucial to soldier safety against insurgent attacks, even though it has yet to be deployed in full. The Politico reported this week that Boeing has deployed 100 lobbyists to Washington to push back against potential cuts.

Lobbyists for defense contractors don't get paid to sit on their hands, so you can bet that there's a whole gaggle of them on Capitol Hill right now telling members of Congress and their aides how important x piece of Cold War-era weaponry is to national security and, naturally, jobs in members' districts. That's the kind of hard work that got the V-22 Osprey (now operational) revived four separate times by Congress after Dick Cheney—Dick Cheney!—tried unsuccessfully to kill it. You can bet that Lockheed Martin will try to ensure the F-22 enjoys a similar resurrection. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), for one, doesn't seem to be over the moon about Gates' proposals. Skelton, the chair of the House armed services committee, released a statement this afternoon calling the proposal "a good faith effort" but emphasizing that "the buck stops with Congress," which will "decide whether to support these proposals."

Lessig on Giannoulias' Forgoing Lobbyist and PAC Money in Illinois Senate Race

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 1:36 PM EDT

Last week, Alexi Giannoulias, who is considering a run for the Illinois senate seat currently held by Roland Burris, announced he would forgo taking money from federal lobbyists and corporate PACs if he does run in 2010. Giannoulias, who is currently the state treasurer of Illinois, narrowly led in a March poll that pitted him against state Comptroller Dan Hynes and Burris. I asked Lawrence Lessig, the publicly funded elections advocate I interviewed last year, about Giannoulias' decision. Lessig writes in an email:

It is an important and valuable statement. But more important is to build a coalition of support for a more fundamental reform—citizen funded elections—as many simply have no such opportunity, and many more will follow this example only to be defeated because of the enormous power of this money.

It's a crucial point. While Giannoulias has garnered praise for his decision, real change won't happen without congressional action. That's why passing the Fair Elections Now Act is so important for good government campaigners. Lessig's organization, Change Congress, has a tool that allows you to track the bill's supporters and how much money they've lost from Change Congress' donor strike. You can even "whip" votes. Check it out.

Breaking News: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Crazytown) Still Crazy

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 1:00 PM EDT

In a move that shocked absolutely no one, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), said another crazy thing this weekend. This time, the Minnesota Independent reports, she warned that the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, an expansion of AmeriCorps program that has already passed Congress, would lead to "re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically correct forums." Any non-crazy people who want to get a sense of how non-controversial this bill is should note that it has been praised by David Broder and passed the Senate 79-19.

The far-right blogosphere is having none of that bipartisan nonsense. Steve Benen rounded up some of the reactions here (one blogger compared it to the "Hitler youth"). Of course, the simple fact that the legislation is not, in fact, a plan for a Hitler youth corps or re-education camps is lost on people who are crazy. And while it may be impolitic to point it out, Michele Bachmann, who not only believes in this insane conspiracy theory but also believes that the US is moving towards a unified global currency, thinks that people should be "armed and dangerous" opposing cap-and-trade legislation, and supports a McCarthyite investigation of "anti-American" liberals, is clearly crazy. She's also a member of Congress, which means we unfortunately have to pay more attention to her than your average kook on the street corner (or your average crazy rightwing blogger or talk radio host, for that matter). Sorry.

What To Do About that North Korean Missile Launch

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 12:50 PM EDT

North Korea wants some attention. So on Sunday it launched a missile that failed to place a satellite in orbit but did travel about 2000 miles, twice as far as previous Korean missiles. President Barack Obama decried this "provocative act." At the United Nations, members of the Security Council met but could not put together a response. So what should be done? New America Foundation think-tanker Steve Clemons has some solid thoughts:

Barack Obama in a well-crafted speech in Prague calling for a return to serious work on constraining the spread of weapons of mass destruction has ratcheted up the decibel level of his protest of the North Korea launch -- saying that their must be consequences.

The problem is that China and Russia, which actually deployed warships and fighters to the region of the launch, believe that the world must not overreact to North Korea's provocation. These two countries have thus far blocked the issuance of any statement from the United Nations Security Council, which met last evening (Sunday) for an emergency session.

North Korea seems to be demanding that it not fall too far down the Obama priority list -- and it has engineered one of the first of many probable global crises designed to test the resolve and strategic course of the Obama administration....

North Korea is already the target of some of the world's most stringent sanctions. And maintaining them -- and even adding some categories of sanctions -- does send a signal, but it is a soft one that the North Koreans may not care about or respect.

If this provocation was designed primarily "to get attention," then the Obama administration should be asking what can be done to give North Korea "more" attention. Attention itself is not a strategic commodity -- or something that a great nation should withhold if there is a chance of securing strategically significant successes over the ability of North Korea to further enhance its nuclear weapon systems capacity.

Giving North Korea more attention will be pilloried as appeasement by voices such as John Bolton and Frank Gaffney who think that there is little else but expedited regime change and military collision that will change North Korea's course.

But what I have learned watching North Korea's engagement with the US over the years is that North Korea does not move behaviorally in straight lines. But after all is said and done, when one looks back, one sees that North Korea is moving generally in a direction that the West may eventually be able to accept.

Clemons suggests that Obama not "put himself into a box" by talking too tough about this particular provocation. He advises Obama to throw some "attention" at North Korea, while keeping the ongoing negotiations (involving China and Russia) alive and while craftily devising ways to embolden and strengthen those interests within North Korea--be they robber barons or so-called progressives who want better relations (or some relations with the outside world)--that might possibly be at odds with Kim Jong Il's regime.

Clemons, a realist-minded expert on Asia, adds:

Bluster [from the United States and other nations] will not work and is not respected. Force actually is respected by the North Koreans but can easily escalate beyond control.

North Korea is not monolithic. It would be prudent to try to generate some leverage on the competing factions around Kim Jong Il.

But hitting North Korea hard now may undermine any chance of teasing out these factions and of generating other more promising scenarios.

In politics, it certainly is difficult to respond to a potential threat (even an exaggerated one) by saying, "We're going to tease out a more promising scenario." And in this instance, neocons and other hawks will be eager to deride and attack any approach that is not a full-throated roar of aggression. For his part, Obama will have to be careful about the rhetoric he uses--so as to not decrease his own options and undermine a policy that might have to depend more on nuance than swagger. That certainly is easier said than done.

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Big Pharma Psychs Out the Shrinks

| Mon Apr. 6, 2009 4:36 AM EDT

Just about everyone by now knows how the drug industry works to poison the minds of American doctors—not that many of them have resisted drinking the Kool-Aid, which comes in the form of ego-tripping awards, junkets, dinners, research funding, and cash in exchange for endorsing or prescribing the most lucrative drugs. But even against this backdrop of sleaze, the latest news on the ties between Big Pharma and Big Psych could take your breath away.

It turns out that not just some, but most of the shrinks who wrote the American Psychiatric Association’s most recent clinical guidelines for treating depression, bipolar disorders, and schizophrenia—which together account for $25 billion in prescription drug sales annually—had financial ties to drug companies, according a study to be published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, as reported in the Boston Globe.

Summarizing the findings, which were compiled by researchers largely from public records, the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report states:

According to the study, 18 of the 20 authors of the guidelines had at least one financial tie to drug companies. Twelve authors had ties in at least three categories, such as consulting, research grants, speaking fees or stock ownership, the study found. In addition, the study found that all of the authors of schizophrenia and bipolar guidelines had relationships with the drug industry, while 60% of the authors of the depression guidelines had such connections. According to the study, more than 75% of the authors received funding for research from drug companies. In addition, one-third of the authors served on the speakers’ bureaus of drug companies, the study shows.

TARP Funds Still MIA

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 5:11 PM EDT
The U.S. Public Interest Group has been doing an admirable job of tracking the government's failure to track what banks are doing with the billions in taxpayer dollars they've received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Today, they circulated a nice little chart showing the status of the many alleged efforts at transparency. It's not encouraging. Here's the running tally:

Hearings on or related to the Troubled Asset Relief Program:   24
TARP Special Inspector General reports received from banks:   364
Department of Treasury requests for lending data:   21
General Accounting Office reports urging more oversight: 11
TARP oversight bills pending Congressional action:  14
TARP oversight bills passed into law so far: 0
Comprehensive accountings made to public agencies or the public to date: 0
 
USPIRG observes that "Six months, $565 billion, 24 hearings and 364 reports later, the American taxpayers still don’t know where their money has gone."

 

Should Madonna Adopt Again?

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 4:50 PM EDT
As any tabloid reader knows, Madonna is back in the African country of Malawi, where her 3-year-old adopted son, David, was born. This time she's hoping to adopt a 4-year-old girl named Mercy James, whose 18-year-old mother died shortly after giving birth. Now an American organization that promotes reform in international adoption has started a grassroots fundraising effort to keep the child in Malawi, arguing that Mercy could likely remain with extended family for less than $300 a year. While Ethica admits it doesn't have specific information about the case, its "Call to Action" argues that the child is being fast-tracked to international adoption without regard to possible alternatives. Ethica argues that kids should only be adopted internationally when:

* The child is a "true orphan" with no family (including appropriate extended family).
* The child cannot find appropriate, permanent, in-country care in a family-like setting.
* There is an established system for intercountry adoption in the country of origin.

"For every child that does not meet the three criteria above but that enters the world of intercountry adoption anyway, another child that meets these criteria waits without a home," Ethica maintains. The group is asking supporters to help raise the $2,240 they calculate would be needed for extended family to raise Mercy until she turns 14; they say that if the girl does end up being adopted, they will donate the funds to child welfare efforts in Malawi.

Mother Jones has covered international adoption extensively, most recently here and here. What do you think? Is this fundraiser a good idea? And when is international adoption appropriate--or not?

Fascinating Words from the Iowa Court

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 2:42 PM EDT

We've already weighed in on Iowa's legalization of gay marriage here on the mother blog and over in Kevin's space, but I wanted to add this portion of the court ruling highlighted by Marc Ambinder. Elegant, commonsensical -- it's language like this that gives confidence that more and more courts will begin to see things the same way.

We begin with the County's argument that the goal of the same-sex marriage ban is to ensure children will be raised only in the optimal milieu. In pursuit of this objective, the statutory exclusion of gay and lesbian people is both under-inclusive and over-inclusive. The civil marriage statute is under-inclusive because it does not exclude from marriage other groups of parents--such as child abusers, sexual predators, parents neglecting to provide child support, and violent felons--that are undeniably less than optimal parents. Such under-inclusion tends to demonstrate that the sexual-orientation-based classification is grounded in prejudice or "overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences" of gay and lesbian people, rather than having a substantial relationship to some important objective. See Virginia, 518 U.S. at 533, 116 S. Ct. at 2275, 135 L. Ed. 2d at 751 (rejecting use of overbroad generalizations to classify). If the marriage statute was truly focused on optimal parenting, many classifications of people would be excluded, not merely gay and lesbian people.

Maybe time to rethink the argument I laid out here.