Political MoJo

Department of Veterans Affairs Backs Down, Allows Pentacles On Headstones

| Sat Apr. 28, 2007 3:53 PM EDT

In March of 2006, I reported that the widow of a Nevada National Guardsman shot down in Afghanistan was trying to get permission from the Department of Veterans Affairs to have a pentacle engraved on her husband's headstone. Her request was denied.

Both the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed lawsuits against the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of families whose loved ones' headstones remained blank. The ACLU's suit involved three individuals and two churches. The DVA settled the suit brought by Americans United, an act which automatically settled the ACLU suit.

Under the terms of the settlement, which was reached April 23, the DVA will add the pentacle to its list of approved emblems of belief, and will provide appropirate headstones to the families who filed the lawsuits.

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Provo, Utah Business Community Forms Blacklist Of Protesting Students

| Sat Apr. 28, 2007 12:44 PM EDT

First, the Provo School District denied a venue to Brigham Young University students who wanted a place to hold an alternative commencement ceremony. The students, who did not want to attend the official ceremony with speaker Dick Cheney, had been promised space at a local high school, but then a memo suddenly appeared, telling all principals to deny use of their schools for the event. An anonymous member of the Provo School Board says that, in denying space to the students, the board is violating its own rental policy.

But that was just the beginning of the story. A local businesswoman has tipped off the students that their names are now also on a "do not hire" list circuated by local businesses. "Many businesses are noting the names involved," she says.

Bush's FBI/DOJ Neglect Hate Crimes and Other Civil Rights Cases

| Fri Apr. 27, 2007 1:25 PM EDT

A few weeks back, Jonathan wrote about Bush being soft on crime, especially white-collar crimes. Following 9/11, GW restructured the FBI, tasking it with counter-terrorism efforts. Because the bureau was given no additional funds to handle the increased work-load, something had to go. Well, it turns out the FBI hasn't just neglected bank fraud and ID theft, civil rights cases have been ignored as well. Seattle Post Intelligencer reports that there were "two-thirds fewer investigations targeting abusive police officers, cross-burners and other purveyors of hate from 2001 to 2005." According to the FBI, it wasn't just the budget crunch that lead to the decrease, but that they gave up on investigating these types of crime because only 10 percent of the cases referred to the Justice Department were prosecuted. As Jonathan noted, the DOJ was maybe too busy with "show trial terror prosecutions" or was it the politicization of the department that had them otherwise engaged?

The Real Headline from the Dems' Debate: "Nothing Happened"

| Fri Apr. 27, 2007 9:51 AM EDT

Every news outlet seems to be leading with the debate the Democratic presidential candidates had in South Carolina last night. The reporters had to mine a thoroughly uneventful evening for a news hook, and so if you look around the web you'll find stuff like, "Everyone attacked Obama!" or "Obama was great, Hillary was awful!" or "Democrats target Bush!" Or whatever. In reality, here's what happened: nothing.

Obama was Obama. Edwards was Edwards. Clinton was Clinton. They didn't lash out at anyone except President Bush, which they've been doing every day for months. Richardson talks too much. Joe Biden knows what he's talking about, but has no chance. Dennis Kucinich doesn't talk about issues, he talks about philosophies and how they lead to positions on issues. He doesn't have a chance either. Chris Dodd was a non-entity. Mike Gravel (pronounced Gruh-VELL) is crazy and hilarious and you don't know who he is. But let's emphasize this, he's really crazy. Brian Williams was a fine moderator until the last ten minutes, when he let things get out of control and Obama and Kucinich started bickering about bombing people.

Everyone was so careful and timid and uninterested in attacking their opponents that they could have debated for three days instead of 90 minutes and there wouldn't have been a single worthwhile news hook. And that's all you need to know.

Guess How Many People are Running for President? (Now Add One More)

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 8:30 PM EDT

Because former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore just announced he's in too.

If you're like, 'Jim who'? That's OK. It was my reaction and I'm from Virginia.

Gilmore is unknown to most Americans and a recent filing to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) showed that he has just $90,000 in his campaign account — well behind the totals reported by other Republicans. Gilmore said today that the presidential campaign is a "very long race" and that he will reach voters and increase his name recognition through the Internet. Gilmore's speech was broadcast live over his campaign Web site. (NYT/CQ)

Love that his campaign is trying to spin his virtual announcement as a sign that he's web savvy. And not, you know, the guy who couldn't get reporters to come to his press conference.

Seriously, how many people are running for president? I've lost count.

Rare Lung Disease Found In Food-Flavoring Plant Employees

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 8:28 PM EDT

Bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare, life-threatening lung disease, has been found in eight in eight individuals who worked in California food-flavoring plants between 2003 and 2007. Contracting this disease was apparently the result of inhaling diacetyl, which is also linked to the occurrence of bronchiolitis obliterans in people who work in the microwave popcorn industry.

And the latest issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that women who work in battery manufacturing plants have elevated lead levels.

"Bronchiolitis obliterans is a severe lung disease that can be prevented with appropriate measures, such as engineering controls, work practices, medical surveillance, and a respiratory protection program," according to report co-author Dr. Rachael Bailey, an epidemic intelligence service officer at the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

There are no regulations governing U.S. food flavoring plants.

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Gov't Watchdogs Call the OSC's Rove Investigation Dead in the Water

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 7:20 PM EDT

As Dan Schulman reported this week, the Project on Government Oversight—a reputable nonprofit dedicated to rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in government—has expressed doubt that Scott Bloch and the Office of Special Counsel have the authority to investigate Karl Rove as they've promised to do. Today, POGO and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility issued a joint press release detailing their objections. First the obvious: OSC head Bloch is under investigation by the White House, so how can he impartially investigate the White House?

Bloch aside, PEER and POGO claim it is "unclear at best" whether the OSC has the authority to oversee White House (and RNC) activities. The office almost certainly doesn't have the authority to look into former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias's claim that his firing amounted to discrimination against an armed services member (one of the rationales the DOJ gave for firing him was that he was out of the office too often; he serves in the Navy Reserves). Finally, the OSC can issue subpoenas, but can't enforce them. Do you really think Rove would submit to such a weak legal request?

Finally, as Dan reported in the current issue of the magazine, Mr. Bloch has hardly been an overachiever in the past, and has very little experience conducting large-scale investigations. PEER director Jeff Ruch put it this way: "Scott Bloch brings the investigative acumen of an Inspector Clouseau to a very complicated and delicate matter."

Ecuador Asks Us to Pay for the Amazon

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 6:22 PM EDT

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This dilemma cuts to the core of environmentalism today. Ecuador is asking for international financial compensation to leave alone a major oilfield in the heart of the Amazon. Ecuador's president says he will wait up to one year for a response before drilling. At stake are not only plant and animal species, but also the homeland of tribes living in voluntary isolation. Environmental groups are in disagreement. To pay or not to pay? Keep reading on The Blue Marble.

Military B.S. Alert

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 4:05 PM EDT

Remember James Yee, the poor Guantanamo chaplain who was charged with a laundry list of offenses, all of which were later dropped?

There's a new James Yee. His name is Lt. Col. William H. Steele. He's been accused of aiding the enemy, a charge that can bring a death sentence. The reason? He allowed detainees at Camp Cropper near the Baghdad airport to use an unsecured cell phone. All the charges against him sound suspiciously floppy:

He was also accused of illegally storing and marking classified information, disobeying orders relating to his possession of pornography, dereliction of duty regarding government funds and conduct unbecoming of an officer for fraternizing with the daughter of a detainee since 2005 and for maintaining "an inappropriate relationship" with an interpreter in 2005 and 2006.

The military is mum on the charges, but outside analysts who have seen them say the fraternizing charge probably did not involve a sexual relationship.

Now get this: The military accused Yee of disturbingly similar violations, including aiding the enemy, failure to obey a general order, adultery and storing pornography on government computers.

So the real question isn't whether detainees were using Steele's cell phone to harm Americans (much less whether Steele knew it, which would have to be proven for the charge to stick), it's what Steele did to piss off the Pentagon. Or is this simply an attempt to distract the public from the security surge's failure? (Now even Gen. Petraeus is saying things will get worse before they get better.) Stay tuned.

McCain Neglects to Vote on Iraq War Spending Bill and Everything Else, Really

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 3:45 PM EDT

I just updated my McCain post below with this news, but decided it deserved its own slot. The LA Times reports that presidential candidate John McCain was one of three senators who did not show up to vote today on the Iraq war spending bill (it just passed in the Senate). "This is the fourth major Iraq-related vote missed by McCain." But, it's not just Iraq votes that McCain skips. Politico points out that according to Congressional Observer Publications, McCain doesn't show up to vote for much these days. In fact, since January, he has missed one in three votes. Need a little context? The senator's Democratic cohorts, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both missed just three.