Political MoJo

The Religious Times, They Are A-Changin'

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 6:41 PM EDT

Here's a nice trend: religious diversity in Congress is increasing. This past November, Minnesota elected the nation's first Muslim to Congress. Now Pete Stark, a congressman from California first elected in 1973, is the nation's first openly nontheist lawmaker. In a response to a question from the Secular Coalition for America, Stark acknowledged recently that he does not believe in God. He's the first federal-level lawmaker in American history to say this publicly.

Anywhere from 8-15% of Americans don't believe in God, according to surveys and census data. Thus, "If the number of nontheists in Congress reflected the percentage of nontheists in the population," says the director of the Secular Coalition, "there would be 53-54 nontheistic Congress members instead of one."

Spotted on The Plank.

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Coulter's Remark a PR Ploy?

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 6:37 PM EDT

coulter.gif When I blogged briefly earlier this month about Ann Coulter's most recent use of discriminatory epithets (in a room filled with big-ticket Republicans), many of the comments scolded me for mentioning her at all. There's a whole movement, it seems, of folks pushing media outlets to turn Ann into the bigot who dare not speak its name. They claim that Coulter is the shock-jock of conservatism, saying whatever will win her the most attention.

Score one for them. Coulter has a new book coming out.

Iraq's Refugee Crisis, Nobody Spared

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 4:30 PM EDT

The refugee crisis in Iraq is dire and affects everyone, as is evident from Elizabeth's post below and this feature in our current issue. Newsweek reports today that the mass flight of Iraqis from their homeland has dwindled the educated class as well. "The exodus has...hollowed out Iraq's most skilled classes—doctors, engineers, managers and bureaucrats," the article reads. This is not entirely new news but has obvious future adverse effects for the rebuilding of a nation. Back in January, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that according to the U.N., 40 percent of Iraq's middle class had fled its country. "Most [were] fleeing systematic persecution and have no desire to return," the article read.

What's most interesting is that this statement regarding the middle class' desire never to return directly contradicts what the U.N. has been claiming most recently; that most refugees want to return to their homeland once the fighting stops. But of course, as I wrote here, many believe the U.N. only uses this as an excuse for the U.S.'s "miserly" asylum quota. And, miserly, it is. Regardless of the escalating crisis in the country, the United States continues to more or less ignore it, placating the situation with negligible assistance. A Refugees International rep., interviewed for the Newsweek article, echoed what I, and many others, have been saying for the past few months. The United States will continue to downplay this crisis, because in order to deal with it on the appropriate scale, it would have to admit how bad the situation actually is; that people in Iraq are dying to leaving their country because it is so unsafe for them. And admitting this would mean admitting the Iraq war has been lost -- something this administration, believe it or not, is still not willing to do.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl to Block U.S. Attorney Legislation

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 1:19 PM EDT

Last Tuesday, Senator Jon Kyl made a short appearance at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the prosecutorial independence of U.S. Attorneys, during which four of the fired prosecutors appeared to testify. The Republican member of the committee was there to show his objection to a bill put forth by Dianne Feinstein to overturn a provision slipped into the Reauthorization of the Patriot Act last year. The provision allows for the Attorney General to have unfettered power in appointing interim U.S. Attorneys, allowing them to remain in their position for the remainder of the president's term. Historically, interim USAs needed Congress approval after 120 days in office. The new provision drastically increased executive power over appointing USAs and has been a hot issue during the investigation of the eight fired U.S. Attorneys. On Friday, Alberto Gonzales agreed to relinquish his absolute power and said the Bush administration would not stand in the way of the new law proposed by the Senate to tighten restrictions for appointing USAs.

TMPmuckraker reports today that Kyl is not going to give up so quickly and plans, despite the fact that the administration has caved to Senate pressure, to block Feinstein's bill. The senator from Arizona has already blocked the bill once.

Iraqi Allies "A Population at Risk"

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 12:32 PM EDT

Last night 60 Minutes ran a piece on the forgotten Iraqi fighters of this war, not the insurgents nor the Iraqi Security Forces, but the translators, the drivers, the guides, the civilians who signed up to work with the US Army early on, and are paying for it with their lives and security now.

In our current issue, on newsstands now, David Case looks at this very issue, reporting that only 291 Iraqis have been granted refugee status in the United States since the war's beginning, and "meanwhile the line outside the UNHCR's gates gets longer every week, and the wait for an interview stands at five months." Read the whole thing, here.

Several (disguised) Iraqis, who have had to flee the country, spoke to 60 Minutes, expressing their frustration, and fear. One man whose leg was shattered in an explosion two years ago when he was working with the Mississippi National Guard said he was told by the State Department that he knew "the danger when you work with the U.S. Army" when he asked for support in leaving the country.

Retired Major General Paul Eaton, who was in charge of training the Iraqi army in 2003 and 2004, called on the President and Congress "to admit that a population is at risk. At risk because they have thrown their lot in with us." By 60 Minutes' tally at least 100,000 translators have worked for the armed forces in Iraq. "Add their families and you're well over a half a million people at risk. How many of them have been allowed to immigrate to the United States? About ten."

This, and the total of 291 Iraqi refugees, is in stark contrast to the 131,000 Vietnamese allowed into the United States in 1976, under Gerald Ford. In just 8 months. The Bush administration, on the other hand even after congressional hearings on refugees in January, has decided to let in 7,000 this year, which, with 2 million Iraqis already displaced is next to nothing.

Hagel-Huckabee Not Happening -- YET!

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 12:31 PM EDT

So, blergh. Chuck Hagel's big announcement about whether he was running for president turned out to be Hagel telling America, "I'm punting." What a waste of everyone's time and CNN's cameras. Here's the relevant quote from Mr. I-Can't-Make-Up-My-Mind.

"I'm here today to announce that my family and I will make a political decision on my future later this year."

Whatever, dude. I was all set to facetiously pimp your candidacy. If you want to read some of what Hagel had to say -- he did speak about his life story, his voting record, what America needs now, blah, blah, blah -- take a look at this story from a local Omaha news station.

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I'll Tell You Chuck Who

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 12:08 PM EDT

I remember the moment I fell out of love with Chuck Hagel. I was writing the blog post that Leigh links to below and decided to do some digging into the Nebraska senator's background. I found out that the Republican I half-revered as Congress's loudest war objector and Bush Administration critic actually voted with the White House more frequently in 2006 than any senator of any party. The man is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. You can see his record at the link I provide above.

And tell me: How is that not the best possible candidate for the Republican nomation? In the eyes of the conservative base, Hagel is perfect on every social and economic issue. The one place he diverges from the party line is the one place where America diverges from the party line. Some are speculating that there isn't a place for an anti-war candidate in the Republican Party. I say if there will ever be a time for an anti-war candidate, it is now. And considering how flat wrong all the frontrunners for the Republican nomination are on key issues like abortion, gay rights, and guns, I think even if the base finds Hagel hard to stomach on Iraq, they'll take him. Hagel-Huckabee '08!

Chuck Who? Americans Don't Know Much About the Potential Prez Candidate

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 11:20 AM EDT

Today, Senator Chuck Hagel is set to announce whether or not he will run for president. But will anyone care? The New York Times' blog, the Caucus, reported this morning that few Americans know enough about the guy to offer any opinion at all. The paper, in conjunction with CBS News, conducted a poll from last Wednesday through last night of 1,266 registered voters nationwide. 75 percent of the polled voters say "they had not heard enough about Mr. Hagel to offer an opinion of him either good or bad." For more info on the guy, read this post by Jonathan, "The Changing Dynamics of the Chuck Hagel Phenomenon."

NM GOP Party Leader Says Rove Had Hand in Firing USA

| Sun Mar. 11, 2007 4:30 PM EDT

As I wrote last Thursday, Karl Rove is making it clear that he does not think the mass firing of eight U.S. Attorneys, now under investigation by both the House and Senate, is a big deal. It appears that perhaps the president's adviser is insisting that the purge is a non-issue because of his potential implication in the situation. Yesterday, McClatchy reported that the New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh admitted to having a conversation in 2005 with a White House liaison to Rove, during which, he urged the White House to fire David Iglesias because the USA had failed to indict Democrats in a voter fraud investigation. Weh claims to have followed up with Rove personally in the winter of 2006. The party chairman inquired as to whether anything would happen to Iglesias (read: would he be fired) and Rove said, "He's gone." Weh responded, "Hallelujah." As McClatchy points out, this directly contradicts what the Justice Department has been saying about White House involvement; that they merely approved a DOJ-created list of attorneys to be fired.