Mojo - April 2009

Fascinating Words from the Iowa Court

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 11:42 AM PDT

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.

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Military Hijacking Aid Effort in Afghanistan, Say NGOs

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 9:12 AM PDT
One lingering result of Donald Rumsfeld's reign at the Pentagon is the US military's increased attention to humanitarian development and aid work that, say critics, puts real-life aid workers at heightened risk of attack and undermines long-term development projects. Rumsfeld's November 2005 Department of Defense Directive 3000.05 (PDF)—titled "Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations"—placed non-combat missions (those aimed at building rule of law and civil society) on equal footing with the Pentagon's other priorities of killing people and breaking things.

Confusion was inevitable, and now a group of 11 NGOs working in Afghanistan have issued a briefing paper (PDF) to the heads of NATO governments now meeting in Bucharest. The NGOs charge that NATO forces, despite a mutually agreed-to guidelines demarcating the roles of militaries and humanitarians in Afghanistan, have largely ignored the rules.

Thank Allah for the Taliban?

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 9:06 AM PDT

Think you've got a strong stomach? Bet me $100, then watch this Allahforsaken video of a 17-year-old girl, from The Guardian. Here's the description:

The two-minute video, shot using a mobile phone, shows a burka-clad woman face down on the ground. Two men hold her arms and feet while a third, a black-turbaned fighter with a flowing beard, whips her repeatedly. "Please stop it," she begs, alternately whimpering or screaming in pain with each blow to the backside. "Either kill me or stop it now."...A crowd of men stands by, watching silently. Off camera a voice issues instructions. "Hold her legs tightly," he says as she squirms and yelps. After 34 lashes the punishment stops and the wailing woman is led into a stone building, trailed by a Kalashnikov-carrying militant."

I made it 30 seconds in before I wanted to close out, but I made myself watch.

How long did you last?

If You Legalize It They Will Come: Iowa Welcome Brides and Grooms!

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 9:03 AM PDT

During caucus season, the saying goes, "As Iowa goes, so goes the nation," which was true for Barack Obama after his win the Iowa kick-started his presidential campaign last year, and in three weeks, Iowa will be the first state in the Midwest to allow gay couples to get married. Though, given the confusion the rest of the country has about the vowel-heavy fly-over states, Ohio and Idaho will probably get some credit too. (The capital of Iowa is Toledo and it is known as the great potato state, right?)

This morning's decision follows years of legal back and forth. In 2005, six gay couples sued Polk County Recorder Timothy O'Brien for denying them marriage licenses. The Polk County District Judge ruled in favor of the couples last year, but the ruling was stayed until the Iowa Supreme Court could review the law.

The excitement around the courthouse this morning was palpable and happy couples and supporters cried and cheered. Mary Hicks, a long time advocate and hopeful bride, described the scene as "amazing." Disappointed conservatives slunked off with their signs to wait and see what would happen with the decision once it reached the legislature. Though, according to the New York Times, advocates don't believe there will be any immediate cause for overturning the decision. And, as Iowa has no residency requirement for marriage licenses, there may be a flutter of May-brides and grooms this spring serving pork tenderloins and sweet corn on their reception buffets.

Republicans to Filibuster Obama Justice Department Nominee Dawn Johnsen?

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 8:45 AM PDT

In January, I wrote about Dawn Johnsen, the strident critic of Bush torture memo author John Yoo who President Barack Obama selected to run Yoo's old office, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. The OLC is responsible for providing legal advice (and, in the case of the Bush administration, legal cover) to the President. Johnsen, as I wrote in January, is the anti-Yoo: an outspoken opponent of torture and an advocate for an OLC that challenges presidential power. But now Senate Republicans may be planning to block her confirmation.

According to a story in Tuesday's New York Times, Senate Republicans "will first gauge whether they can attract some support from conservative Democrats" to filibuster Johnsen. A spokeswoman for Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, refused to say whether McConnell was plotting a filibuster. Reid and McConnell have not been able to reach an agreement on bringing Johnsen's nomination to the floor: "We are discussing how to proceed on the nomination; it is our hope that the Republicans will not obstruct her nomination through filibuster," Reid spokesman Jim Manley told me in an email.

What Would W. Do at the G-20?

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 8:15 AM PDT

Imagine if George W. Bush were still president.

Don't gag. But ponder what might have happened at the G-20. Would Bush have arrived with the same-old agenda and urged other nations to cut taxes for individuals and corporations and to resist the calls for too much reregulation of high-flying financiers? Would he have also advocated, as his fellow Republicans in Congress are doing these days, spending cuts in order to restrain government deficits? And if so, would he have been laughed out of London?

The problem in years past was that Bush, no matter what any foreign leader thought of him, led the biggest economic and military power on the globe. So he could not be laughed off. (See Iraq). Barack Obama, on the other hand, is appreciated, not merely tolerated. And though Bush had entered office promising a certain amount of humility in foreign affairs (and then dumped that vow after 9/11), Obama actually demonstrated how such a pledge could be put into practice. During a Thursday press conference, he said:

We exercise our leadership best when we are listening, when we recognize that the world is a complicated place and that we are going to have to act in partnership with other countries, when we lead by example, when we show some element of humility and recognize that we may not always have the best answer, but we can always encourage the best answer and support the best answer.

Of course, Obama has an interest in lowering expectations. It will be tough enough for him to fix the economic problems of the United States; being responsible for the economic woes of the world would be an even heavier burden. But he's also acknowledging that in the changing world, the United States is no longer the be-all-and-end-all, that it has indeed lost some global clout. A sneeze from the United States can still turn into a cold in other parts of the planet. But America may not be able to function as the world's economic doctor. (Hey, look at our health care system.) Having tapped out all that credit created by the speculation-driven housing bubble, it no longer has the demand to fuel a global rally.

Obama also showed a measure of maturity when he conceded that the steps the United States and the G-20 nations are taking may not work. At that press conference, ABC News' Jake Tapper asked him, "Can you say with confidence that the steps the G-20 nations are taking today...will help the world, or will prevent the world to avoid a depression or a deeper recession?" And Obama replied:

In life there are no guarantees; in economics, there are no guarantees. The people who thought they could provide guarantees, many of them worked at AIG, and it didn't work out so well.

Shades of JFK.

In London, Obama worked cooperatively and collaboratively with 19 other nations to reach an agreement under which these countries will engage in more than $1 trillion in lending to spur growth and will develop tough new regulations for banks and financial firms. Sure, some of this was left vague. But this accord was better than bickering and no resolution. "We never thought we would have such an agreement," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said. Obama may not be solely to credit for the agreement. But it's clear that his presence at the meeting--did you see this picture?--juiced up the proceedings, as he led the G-20 gang to a good-as-can-be-expected (if not a little better than that) deal.

So what would Bush have done? The good news is, we can only guess.

This was first posted at CQPolitics.com. You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

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Explaining the March Jobs Report: Pace of Job Loss Setting Records

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 7:51 AM PDT

According to the grim new jobs report, the economy lost 663,000 jobs in March, pushing the nation's unemployment rate to 8.5 percent. We've lost an average of 684,000 jobs every month since November 2008. Dean Baker, head of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, fills in some details:

While the most disadvantaged groups are feeling the effects of the downturn the hardest – the unemployment rate for African Americans is now 13.3 percent, which is also the rate for people without high school degrees – this recession is hitting everyone. The unemployment rate for workers with college degrees rose by 0.2 percentage points to 4.3 percent in March, almost a full percentage point above the peak for college grads in the last two recessions. While this rate is still just half of the overall average, it is double the 2.1 percent unemployment rate faced by college grads just a year ago. In other words, a college graduate is more than twice as likely to face unemployment today than a year ago.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes a disturbing nugget of news that is slipping under the radar:

The Labor Department’s most comprehensive alternative unemployment rate measure — which includes people who want to work but are discouraged from looking and people working part time because they can’t find full-time jobs — stood at 15.6 percent in March, up 6.9 percentage points since the recession began and the highest level on record in data that go back to 1994.

CBPP also claims that the "pace of job losses is far worse than it was even in the deep 1981-82 recession." So while the overall unemployment rate is not yet as high as it was then, we're losing jobs faster. See the chart below.

A Word of Caution re: Polling

| Fri Apr. 3, 2009 7:43 AM PDT
You probably already knew this, but don't trust Fox News polls. The network's questions are as biased as its hosts are insane.

The Great Paper Heist

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 1:16 PM PDT

Chris Hayes of the Nation has a nice scoop. Apparently, the paper industry has been bilking the federal government in a massive, massive way. Chris explains:

In 2005 Congress passed, and George W. Bush signed, the $244 billion transportation bill. It included a variety of tax credits for alternative fuels such as ethanol and biomass. But it also included a fifty-cent-a-gallon credit for the use of fuel mixtures that combined "alternative fuel" with a "taxable fuel" such as diesel or gasoline.

Enter the paper industry. Since the 1930s the overwhelming majority of paper mills have employed what's called the kraft process to produce paper. Here's how it works. Wood chips are cooked in a chemical solution to separate the cellulose fibers, which are used to make paper, from the other organic material in wood. The remaining liquid, a sludge containing lignin (the structural glue that binds plant cells together), is called black liquor. Because it's so rich in carbon, black liquor is a good fuel; the kraft process uses the black liquor to produce the heat and energy necessary to transform pulp into paper. It's a neat, efficient process that's cost-effective without any government subsidy....

By adding diesel fuel to the black liquor, paper companies produce a mixture that qualifies for the mixed-fuel tax credit, allowing them to burn "black liquor into gold," as a JPMorgan report put it....

Get that? Paper companies are adding an unnecessary and extremely harmful fossil fuel to their manufacturing processes in order to take advantage of a federal subsidy that was intended to help the environment. Hayes says the 10 largest paper companies will get as much as $8 billion this year from this little racket they are running. Hopefully, with enough attention to this story, the federal government can shut it down.

Photo by flickr user toastiest.

Is Homophobia Just Narcissism?

| Thu Apr. 2, 2009 11:46 AM PDT

Ta-Nehisi Coates thinks so:

Bigotry is the heaping of one man's insecurity on to another. Sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Islamism, anti-immigrantism, really all come from the same place--cowardice. In his history of lynching, Phillip Dray notes that mob violence against black men wasn't simply about keeping black men in their place--it was about keeping white women in their place. Lynching peaked as white women went to work outside the home in greater numbers, developing their own financial power base. White men, afraid that they couldn't compete with their women, would cowardly resort to lynching. I am not saying that the anti-gay marriage crowd is a lynch mob. But in tying opposition to the sexual revolution what you see is, beyond a fear of gay marriage, a fear for marriage itself. A fear that their way of life can't compete in these new times.  It's ridiculous, of course. But bigotry always is.

DuBois wrote about racism as "the psychological wages of whiteness". Black equality would cost white people, and, of course, it did. You can't kill or rape blacks with impunity anymore, you can't make them sit in the back of the bus or stop them from drinking from 'your' fountain.  So whites definitely lost things, both tangible and intangible, with the coming of equality.  Of course, whites never had a right to those things. That's why the racial hierarchy had to be established, with all the attendant bennies and burdens nicely justified (whites are smart and work harder, etc.)

So, I think Coates is on to something with this notion - heteros lose one of the few advantages left to those born on the lucky side of any hierarchy, in this case, the sexuality continuum.  Homophobes are manic about losing the right to have someone to openly look down on. To consider innately inferior. Which is convenient because their unworthiness then allows you to collect those psychological wages like straights only in the military, straights only in the classroom, straights only in public office (just imagine an openly gay Prez), straights only with the right to marry and all the bennies that come with it. Notice how quickly the psychological wages become all too tangible.

But this is an issue, like race, whose time has come. Enjoy the last few years left of discriminating against gays 'cuz them days is almost gone.

It's hard out there for a bigot. Homophobia is on a short list of acceptable bigotries. But it's fading fast.