Political MoJo

Brownback: Judicial Activism A-OK When It Favors Austere Religious Values

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 4:45 PM EST

Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, was holding up a roster of 13 judicial nominees by refusing to vote on the appointment of Judge Janet Neff to a Federal District Court. Yesterday, he relented, agreeing to vote on the nomination.

Brownback was stonewalling, as it were, because he had learned that Neff had attended the (lesbian) commitment ceremony of a longtime neighbor's daughter. That's right, Neff was a guest at one same-sex ceremony. Brownback had graciously offered to move forward if only Neff would agree to recuse herself from all cases related to same-sex unions.

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Let's follow this to its illogical extreme. Any judicial nominee who has attended a party sponsored by Budweiser or Absolut must recuse him or herself from all cases related to the alcohol industry. Any nominee who has hugged a woman or in anyway offered support after an abortion must recuse him or herself from all cases related to Roe v. Wade. And so on.

In some cases, more judicial independence could be a good thing. But Brownback hasn't taken that position in the past. Indeed, he has supported appointees who had been outspoken opponents of abortion and same-sex marriage but claimed they would rule based on their legal expertise, rather than their personal opinions. Neff, who hasn't made any outspoken claims supporting or opposing same-sex marriage, has, however, said that her legal expertise would guide her through any decisions on the matter.

What's more, legal scholars have voiced widespread concern that Senator Brownback's request that Neff agree, as a condition of his vote, to handle cases in a certain way is unconstitutional.

When (metaphorically) confronted with a copy of the constitution, Brownback was unabashed. He indicated that he needed more reassurance from Judge Neff that her presence at the ceremony did not indicate insurmountable bias. Brownback would now like Neff to testify before the Senate about her neighbor's ceremony. Neff, and everyone else involved in the private commitment ceremony, are now essentially on trial.

Compare Brownback's single-handed delay of the Senate's confirmation process to the suits filed by Gov. Mitt Romney and Vote on Marriage claiming that the Massachusetts legislature violated their right to due process by tabling an anti-gay marriage amendment. It doesn't take long to see that their homophobia is making a perverse mockery of democracy.

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MoJo's Best of Books, Music, Television and Film, 2006

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 2:18 PM EST

Just in time for the holidays (and holiday shopping), Mother Jones presents our list of 2006 media favorites. We think you'll like these books, albums, shows, and movies; act fast, before the War on Christmas ruins the gift-giving season for everyone.

Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America. By Cynthia Carr. A photograph of a 1930 Indiana lynching is the central mystery and motivating force behind Our Town. As Carr tries to figure out what really happened on the night captured in the picture, she uncovers her own family's shameful history. One of the most fascinating and challenging explorations of race to arrive in a long time.
Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. By Simon Reynolds. Reynolds convincingly argues that '80s postpunk was the most fertile and influential musical period since the Summer of Love. Encompassing everything from Joy Division to Gang of Four to the Specials to Talking Heads to (gasp!) Human League—it's the perfect nostalgia trip for the perennial grad student who still rocks the stovepipe jeans.
The Discomfort Zone. By Jonathan Franzen. The novelist recounts his childhood fears ("spiders, insomnia, fish hooks, school dances, hardball, heights, bees, urinals, puberty, music teachers, dogs, the school cafeteria, censure, older teenagers, jellyfish, locker rooms, boomerangs, popular girls"), awkward adolescence, and adulthood struggle to become a wildly successful writer. Along the way, he discovers bird-watching, which becomes an obsession and his connection to environmentalism.
Pick a Bigger Weapon. The Coup. This Oakland rap duo has been around since the early '90s, but this album, its first in five years, is the most musically rich. Not that the group has smoothed down its political edge. (Sample lyrics: "War ain't about one land against the next/it's po' people dyin' so the rich cash checks.") And don't miss the catchy pre-apocalyptic slow jam, "BabyLetsHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethingCrazy."
The Information. Beck. Moving past Guero's cheesier, poppier tunes, Beck offers honest yet fresh melodies without sacrificing the succinct beats we've come to expect. And how can you resist an album that comes with D.I.Y. cover art and features the line, "Carry my heart like a soldier with a hand grenade"?
This Film Is Not Yet Rated. Director Kirby Dick goes on an undercover quest to expose the opacity and hypocrisy of the the folks who decide whether to slap a PG, R, or a distribution-killing NC-17 on our movies. For his trouble, he earned a NC-17, but don't let that scare you away.

For the full list, go here.

Family of Sen. Tim Johnson Expects Full Recovery

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 1:36 PM EST

News out of South Dakota, where the Argus Leader talks with recovering Senator Tim Johnson's son. To the block quotes!

[Said Brendan Johnson,] "From my conversations with the doctors and based on the progress he has been making, I feel very confident that he is going to be getting back to work sooner rather than later."
It was the first interview given by a Johnson family member since the senator was hospitalized Dec. 13 with stroke-like symptoms followed by brain surgery at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington.
At first, he says that might require someone driving his father to the Capitol and having some physical assistance until he gains his strength.
"But the encouraging thing from what we understand is that his mental functioning and his brain functioning -- so far, all the signs are that there is no reason to believe that he will have anything less than a full recovery," he said.

Science At Its Best & Worst

| Tue Dec. 19, 2006 1:05 AM EST

A team of neuroscientists and engineers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, get paid to launch undergraduates on a scent trail in an open field, blindfolded, ears blocked, on their knees, following a track of chocolate essential oil. The results show that we can apparently sniff out the world better than previously believed, at least in pursuit of chocolate.

"Our sense of smell is less keen partly because we put less demand on it," says lead author Jess Porter. "But if people practice sniffing smells, they can get really good at it."

So we're more like dogs and rats than we know. But are they enough like us to make using them in medical research worthwhile? Check out this comparative analysis published at BMJ.com, a free open access online research journal. Researchers in Britain and Argentina conclude that at least half the animal studies they've examined are so flawed as to produce no data clinically relevant to human beings.

For a dose of science at its best, check out this new electric car design project inaugurated by a former BMW employee in Germany. Using the same cooperative open source movement that brought us the software Linux and the browser Firefox, Markus Merz, is asking anyone with a good idea to join the design team design for Oscar, named after the Open Source Car Project. Merz is hoping to attract designers and engineers to contribute ideas free of the restraints of secrecy, patents, or ownership. As reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

"The most effective tool you can have to get anything done is passion and creativity and that needs to be unleashed, and then it's much more powerful than money," says Lukas Neckerman, head of automotive business development at a financial services company in Munich.

Iraq: One Attack Every Ten Minutes

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 8:26 PM EST

In a sign of how difficult things are going to be for newly-installed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Pentagon report released today shows that attacks in Iraq over the last three months have been the highest recorded over the course of the war. Adds the New York Times, "While the majority of attacks were directed at American forces, most of the casualties were suffered by the Iraqi military and civilians."

As for the actual numbers, in the period of early August to early November, there were an average of 959 attacks (by insurgents, sectarian militias, etc.) every week against American and Iraqi targets. That's 137 a day; roughly six per hour and one every 10 minutes.

For detailed information on Iraqi civilian deaths, see Iraq Body Count, one of the best sources of data on the subject. And for a Mother Jones story about Iraq Body Count's strange saga, see "Dead Reckoning: Counting Iraq's Civilian Dead."

Everyone Needs A Little Irony For Christmas

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 8:15 PM EST

20,000 "Christmas Packs," available for a donation of $29, have been sold. 508,000 buttons, 125,000 bumper stickers, and 100,000 magnets have been sold. 12,000 legal memos have been sold. The buttons bear the message, Merry Christmas: It's Worth Saying, and the packs include two lapel pins and a 3-page legal memo.

All of this merchandise is moving as a result of the non-existent "war on Christmas,". The Christmas packs are valued at $4 each; however, the seller, the Alliance Defense Fund, says that most of them are going for less than the suggested $29 donation. There is also a "Help Save Christmas" action pack, sold by Liberty Counsel, for $25. This pack includes buttons, bumper stickers and legal advice on celebrating the holidays at work and at school.

Liberty Counsel president Anita Staver says: "When it's an issue affecting Christmas people will sit up and take notice. Then they may look at the other issues we're involved in."

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Top Ten Signs that Your Gay-Hating Has Gone Too Far

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 3:44 PM EST

Number 4 (leaving the top three spots for violent crimes): You join a church under the leadership of a Nigerian man who believes gays shouldn't be allowed to meet in public and should face jail time for their private encounters.

That is what two Virginia Anglican congregations did this weekend when they seceded from the Episcopal Church, establishing themselves as a jerry-rigged Virginia branch of the African Anglican Communion under the leadership of Archbishop Peter Akinola. The churches' votes were a reaction to Episcopalians' growing acceptance of homosexuality, which culminated in the 2003 election of an openly gay man, Gene Robinson, as bishop. (Check out what Diane wrote yesterday for more details.)

Did I mention that the two historic Virginia churches are heavily attended by the D.C. elite? True patriots, the lot of them. Perhaps they could catch a ship in their local Dubai-owned port and head for Nigeria.

Liars in Paradise, or Say Goodbye With a Lie, Don Rumsfeld

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 2:33 PM EST

Conservative columnist David Brooks rarely gets props on MoJoBlog, but during yesterday's Meet the Press — when he commented on Cheney's farewell remarks to Donald Rumsfeld — he hit the nail on the head.

Via Think Progress, you can watch Cheney spouting,

In his regard for our people in uniform, in his unwavering strength through unprecedented challenges, in his example of leadership and patriotic service, I believe the record speaks for itself: Don Rumsfeld is the finest Secretary of Defense this nation has ever had.

Yesterday, Brooks noted that if what Cheney said were true,

Either George Bush is a fool or Dick Cheney is a liar, all right? Because either George Bush just fired at the height of a war, at the greatest national security threat of our country's current era, the greatest secretary of defense in history, or Dick Cheney thinks we're all walking around with a sign that says "Stupid" on it.

Booyakasha! But why not follow the Vice President's advice and let the record speak for itself? Try cross-referencing the Department of Defense's recent homage to Rumsfeld with the Secretary of Defense's many dubious distinctions chronicled in the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.

And PS -- Cheney's got an entry in the MJIWT, too.

-- Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell and Celia Perry

Now We're Holding American POWs?

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 1:39 PM EST

Buried in the Times' stunning piece on the detention of an American whistleblower at Iraq's notorious Camp Cropper -- surreal highlight: camp psychologist tells Vance to think of himself "as a soldier who has been kidnapped, and that you still have a duty to do" -- is a no less stunning two-sentence graf:

[Pentagon spokesman First Lt. Lea Ann] Fracasso said that currently there were three Americans in military custody in Iraq. The military does not identify detainees.

Legalities aside -- and they are disputed: remember U.S. filmmaker Cyrus Kar, who came forward with his own harrowing Iraq detention story last year? He has an all-star cast of lawyers working the case -- only Kafka could have invented a nation founded on the rule of law that lawlessly detains its own citizens in squalid camps overseas, without any kind of lawyer, due process, or shred of information to loved ones. Not to mention holding citizens as enemy combatants and in the process damaging them to the point where their own guards refer to them as "a piece of furniture." AND not to mention claiming that not a single innocent man is being held at Guantanamo, days before 18 innocent men are sent home to their families. When our children grow old enough to ask, we'll have a lot of explaining to do.

A Bird in the Hand? (Dearth of Female Bosses)

| Mon Dec. 18, 2006 1:11 AM EST

Today the NYT had a long feature in the business section (by Julie Creswell) on a question of particular interest in this shop: Why aren't there more women bosses in corporate America (or for that matter, lefty non-profit America or magazine publishing)?

According to Catalyst, which charts these things (and lamentably hands out positions on its own board to CEOs of some of the most nefarious anti-women companies): Fewer than 2 percent of Fortune 500 companys have female CEOs. And when it comes to their boards, 53 companies have no women as directors, while 182 other companies each have only one woman on the board.

Creswell drives her piece by focusing on those rare birds: female CEOs (and, tellingly, fomer CEOs) like Carol Bartz, who:

Despite her hard-won reputation as an astute businesswoman, Ms. Bartz found herself repeatedly skipped over during a recent meeting of business and political leaders in Washington. The reason was that the men at the table assumed that she was an office assistant, not a fellow executive. "Happens all of the time," Ms. Bartz says dryly, recalling the incident. "Sometimes I stand up. Sometimes I just ignore it."

That the piece largely hangs on fomer CEO or CEOs from fairly obscure companies is telling. Not only because there aren't many chicks at the top but because:

Women — particularly those who have made it to the top — may also shoulder some of the responsibility for the dearth of female C.E.O.'s. There is little consensus among them over how to approach the topic of women in power, or, in fact, whether the issue should even be addressed. Representatives of nearly all of the Fortune 500 female chief executives contacted for this article said that their bosses were either "too busy" or did not want to participate in an article about female C.E.O.'s. They said that these executives preferred to be acknowledged for their accomplishments, rather than for being women.

Yeah, but...

Another camp of women argues that until stories of women landing top jobs are no longer newsworthy — that is, as long as they remain curiosities or oddities — and until women's occupation of the c-suite reaches a statistical par with men, women owe it to future generations to continue to address the topic.

"The truth is, left alone, I think the situation would get worse," Ms. Bartz says. "I think the reason you see roughly 2 percent of Fortune 500 companies run by female C.E.O.'s is because there has been some discussion about the issue. If the topic didn't continue to be highlighted as important, I do think that percentage would slide backward."

So when reporters ask Monika and I, what are the larger implications of having two women lead a magazine? — (and can I just note here that the NYT chose to run the news of women taking the helm of America's largest progressive/left/investigative magazine in a one-line Arts section [not the B-Section, where such things are usually chronicled] round up, and beneath news of an Eartha Kitt performance) — I can't answer much better than this:

"Women on boards are the ones who pay attention to the pool of employees and succession planning and whether there are women and people of color coming up in those succession plans," says Vicki W. Kramer, a management consultant and co-author of a study, "Critical Mass on Corporate Boards: Why Three or More Women Enhance Governance," [which found that] a single woman on a board is typically viewed as a "token woman" and is unlikely to drive female-related issues because she does not want to be seen as a one-issue director, Ms. Kramer says. The addition of a second woman to the board only slightly changes the environment... The tipping point is the presence of three women on a board. "Somehow, at three, gender goes away and they are much less concerned about being seen together," Ms. Kramer says.

Problem is: Only 76 boards among the Fortune 500 have three or more female members.

So here's my pissed off midnight promise. Starting tomorrow, our reporters will track down those nine-odd Fortune 500 female CEOs or their flacks and reprint here whatever it is that they tell us. And meanwhile, we'll go to those companies who don't have any female leadership in the "c-suite" as the NYT called it (did Julie C. mean that as a cheeky double entendre? I can only hope) and ask them, wha' up with that?

And then we will circle back to the media...