Political MoJo

The "Global Rich List" Makes This Blogger's Day

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 4:27 PM EST

From time to time, one contemplates the funny little nuances of life as a blogger. Like how bus fare can end up being a sizable portion of a blogger's monthly income, or how health care can be a near impossibility.

But then one finds the Global Rich List web tool, and innocently plugs in a blogger's annual salary. And what does one find? That 93% of the world makes less than a blogger, and that for $30 a blogger could buy an ER DVD boxset or a first aid kit for a village in Haiti. If only a blogger could convince a blogger's girlfriend that a first aid kit for a village in Haiti is what she really wants for Christmas...

To be serious for a moment, the Global Rich List really is a neat tool, and deserves to be forwarded far and wide (many have already seen it). It provides some perspective on how comfortable almost all quarters of the United States population really are. Simply plug in your annual salary and find out what percentile of the worldwide population you place in. The website also provides neat facts, like, "$8 could buy you 15 organic apples OR 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras" and "Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has more wealth than the bottom 45 percent of American households combined."

Count this blogger safely in that 45 percent. Check it out.

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John Muir Meets the Teamsters: Governors Tout a New Environmentalism

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 3:09 PM EST

"Think of this alliance: the steel workers and the Sierra Club," proposed Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) last Friday when he argued that investing in clean energy and job creation can go hand in hand. Not willing to wait for Congress to pass federal legislation on behalf of cleaner power, Richardson and his gubernatorial counterparts in Pennsylvania and Montana unveiled state-level strategies for lessening dependence on foreign oil.

The governors support a roadmap towards energy independence developed by the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of environmental, labor, and religious groups seeking to reframe the debate on energy in the United States. The Alliance, which takes its name from President John F. Kennedy's project to put a man on the moon, is the brain-child of The Breakthrough Institute, whose founders made waves in 2004 by publishing a piece called "The Death of Environmentalism" that criticized the environmental movement's failure to build effective political coalitions.

The governors' recent speeches, an odd mix of environmental concern, populism and economic mercantilism, echo this new attempt to package green energy in a way that appeals to the "can do" spirit of Midwestern swing voters concerned with vanishing jobs and national security. The roadmap calls for incentives to promote alternative fuels, mass-transit development, more efficient American automobiles, and the energy-efficient retro-fittings of buildings. All of which, the three governors argue, will create good-paying American jobs. Some skepticism about ill-conceived subsidies notwithstanding (see Slate for a rundown), it is refreshing to see the seeds of a broad green energy coalition beginning to sprout.

-- Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

Texas' Virtual Vigilantes

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 1:54 AM EST

How many people are sufficiently outraged over illegal immigration, or just plain bored, that they would spend hours staring at a Web-cam focussed on a parking lot? Hundreds of thousands, it turns out. In early November, Texas authorities set up a network of Internet-connected cameras to monitor the Mexican border and allow armchair Minutemen to log in from anywhere, anytime and report anything they deemed suspicious. The site drew nearly a quarter of a million users who fired off over 13,000 e-mails in one month. The results of all this feverish amateur surveillance? One dozen illlegal immigrants detained, one stolen car recovered and one truckload of pot intercepted. The program is now on hold pending further refinements.

Famous Psychiatrist No Longer Endorses Hysterectomies for Teenagers

| Mon Dec. 11, 2006 8:27 PM EST

Louann Brizendine, psychiatrist and author of the much-hyped The Female Brain, admits in the most recent issue of the New York Times Magazine that she's not a fan of placebo-controlled studies.

Deborah Solomon: Although your book draws heavily on other scientists' research, you don't do any clinical research yourself. Isn't that a drawback?

Dr. Brizendine: I don't like doing clinical research because of placebos. In a "double-blind placebo-controlled study," as they are called, neither the doctor nor the patient knows what the patient is taking. I don't want to give patients a placebo. It's cruel.

Hmmm. Sounds like someone does not accept standard scientific methods. And the journal Nature has discredited her book. I wonder if we should really take her seriously.

Oh, guess not. Turns out, Brizendine is not a fan of fact-checking either. She culled the statistic that women use 20,000 words a day, while men use about 7,000 — the bedrock of her thesis — from self-help guru Allan Pease, author of such classics as Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes, Why Men Lie and Women Cry, and Why Men Can Only Do One Thing at a Time and Women Never Stop Talking.

But Brizendine is a fan of Zoloft, so much so that you wonder if she got paid for product placement. A quick scan turns up at least seven mentions of the brand name, as a cure for cases such as Shana, who presented symptoms of depression as early as age 10. But consider these symptoms: Shana "started sleeping till noon on weekends," "waited till the last minute to finish big projects, and she liked to stay up watching television." Her female hormones soon surged to such heights that she talked back to her mother, saying, "I am going to the beach tomorrow and there's nothing you can do about it," and "You don't know what you're talking about." (Read more insults/symptoms on page 44). Her mother slapped her, but came to her senses and sought help from a psychiatrist, the one and only Louann Brizendine.

Dr. Brizendine writes:

Fifty years ago, one successful treatment for PMDD was removing the ovaries surgically. At the time, this was the only way to remove the hormone fluctuation. Instead of removing Shana's ovaries [emphasis mine], I gave her a hormone to take every day — the continuous birth control pill — to keep her estrogen and progesterone at moderately high but constant levels and prevent her ovaries from sending out the big fluctuations of hormones that were upsetting her brain. With her estrogen and progesterone at constant levels, her brain was kept calmer and her serotonin levels stabilized. For some girls I add a medication such as Zoloft — a so-called SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) — which can further stabilize and improve the brain's serotonin level, in other words, improve one's mood and sense of well-being. The following month her teacher called me to report that Shana was back to her good old self again — cheerful and getting good grades.

How creepy. Shana better be happy. Or else the doctor would take out her uterus.

-- April Rabkin

Coming to America

| Mon Dec. 11, 2006 6:19 PM EST

As I wrote last week, the Iraqi refugee crisis is escalating and groups such as Human Rights Watch and Refugees International are calling for an international effort to stave off what some are saying could be the worst refugee crisis yet. Right now Jordan and Syria are baring the brunt of this exodus but soon Iraqi refugees could be settling in a town near you. The Boston Globe reports today that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees "are likely to seek refugee status in the United States." This presents a problem considering only 500 Iraqis are legally allowed to resettle in the U.S. Bush does have the power to increase this number to 20,000, but experts are saying the number could be even higher, especially among Iraqi Christian refugees, of which there are 120,000. More than 80% of Iraqi Christians who have fled the country are expected to look to resettle in the U.S.

But numbers may not be the biggest problem associated with Iraqis resettling here in the land of the free, home of the brave. If refugees from a country we sought to "liberate" are to seek refuge from their country which is no longer safe for them, what message does that send? One of failure? Yup, and for a President who still claims victory in Iraq is possible, any move that could be construed as an admission to failure does not seem likely. Arthur E. Dewey, Bush's former assistant secretary of state for refugee affairs says that "for political reasons the administration will discourage [the resettlement]...because of the psychological message it would send, that it is a losing cause." And what if Bush chooses to open doors only to Iraqi Christian refugees, what message does that send? It does seem like a dire situation for the 1.8 million Iraqi refugees, and even more so, for the Shi'ites who face an even tougher time in predominantly Sunni Syria and Jordan and a fairly unlikely chance for resettlement in the U.S.

Dairy Industry Milks Congress for All It's Worth

| Mon Dec. 11, 2006 6:04 PM EST

Back in April, Mother Jones reported that huge industrial farming companies, such as Dean Foods, were getting into organic milk—only to bend if not break the strict standards governing organic production while the USDA stood idly by.

Milk might seem like a bland issue, but it's big business: Americans consume more than 6 billion gallons of milk annually. Demand for organic milk outstrips supply, making it an especially lucrative industry.

If you have doubts about how industrial farmers squeeze small farmers and agricultural lobbies squeeze members of Congress, don't miss the Sunday Washington Post's narrative piece on how one farmer tried to buck the system, only to watch and learn as industry lobbyists got Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and others to revoke a Depression-era law that allows farmers who bottle their own milk to set their own prices—without so much as a hearing or a floor vote. And that was just to get one farmer to stop following rules they didn't like.

Got balls?

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The Taliban Rules

| Mon Dec. 11, 2006 5:03 PM EST

The AP has found a list of rules the Taliban has put out for its fighters in Afghanistan (and possibly North Pakistan). A very creepy sampling:

- No. 9: Taliban may not use jihad equipment or property for personal ends.

- No. 10: Every Talib is accountable to his superiors in matters of money spending and equipment usage.

- No. 12: A group of mujahedeen may not take in mujahedeen from another group to increase their own power.

- No. 16: It is forbidden to search houses or confiscate weapons without a commander's permission.

- No. 17: Militants have no right to confiscate money or possessions from civilians.

- No. 18: Fighters "should refrain from smoking cigarettes."

- No. 19: Mujahedeen may not take boys without facial hair onto the battlefield, or into their private quarters. This last seems to be an attempt to clamp down on sexual abuse of young boys, a common problem in the area.

- No. 24: No one shall work as a teacher "under the current puppet regime, because this strengthens the system of the infidels."

- No. 25: Teachers who ignore Taliban warnings will be killed.

These final two are the scariest. The Taliban is doing what it can to stop teachers from instructing Afghanistan's youth, and it turns out teachers -- Allah bless them -- can't be stopped by cease-and-desist letters, even when backed by death threats. As a result, 198 schools have been burned and 20 teachers murdered in 2006.

It is somewhat bizarre that the Taliban will punish teaching with death but is struggling to control the child molestation problem in its midst.

Tom DeLay: Exterminator, Hammer...Blogger?

| Mon Dec. 11, 2006 3:47 PM EST

In the "careful what you wish for" department we find Tom DeLay's latest venture, his blog. Supposedly this launched on Friday, was quickly overwhelmed by negative comments, shut down, and then relaunched on Sunday, with the ability to post unregistered comments disabled. Raw Story has the blow-by-blow, but for more fun, check out the archived copy of those precious 75 minutes of America's uncensored reaction to Tom DeLay.

DeLay kicked off his blog with the bromide, "Over the course of my political life I have learned many things, one of which is that not all good ideas come from Washington, D.C.. In fact I think that most of the best ideas come from concerned citizens from all over the United States." Turns out that most of the "best ideas" from the blogosphere can't be reprinted in polite company but here's a smattering of the printable.

Didn't we already stick a fork in your ass and decide you're done?

To paraphrase you: You WERE the Federal Government...now you're a nothing.

The fact that you are trying to keep your name alive by starting a stupid blog is actually kind of pathetic and sad. Please just go away.

December 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Meadows

Everyone already assumes bloggers are unemployed losers... thanks for reinforcing that stereotype...

December 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Marc

Go back to killing bugs, Tom. You did everything you could while in the House to steal money from the American people and channel it to your friends. You deserve jail time, not public discourse.

December 10, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter Person of Integrity

No Room for Bundles of Alegria in New Orleans

| Mon Dec. 11, 2006 2:55 PM EST

The ethnic cleansing of African-Americans in New Orleans continues: Last week, the city made the controversial decision to tear down 4,500 units of damaged public housing, leaving former residents with nowhere to go. (The developments to be destroyed represent half of all public housing available in New Orleans before the storm. Fewer than 1,100 units have been reopened.)

But the Latino workers who went to New Orleans after Katrina ravaged the city are still living there. And now they are having babies, which, the New York Times reports, is putting a strain on the few operational medical facilities in the city. Somehow, these babies are a big surprise to government employees despite the fact that the influx of work-hungry Latinos to New Orleans is no more than a funhouse mirror image of Latino immigration everywhere else in the United States—bigger, but still the same animal.

So, who's the problem, again? The people of color who are trying to survive and procreate, or the people in charge who can't seem to prepare for anything?

"...We Are the Aroma of Jesus Christ"

| Mon Dec. 11, 2006 2:02 PM EST

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group, has asked the Defense Department to investigate whether some Army and Air Force officers violated department regulations by appearing in uniform in a video to promote the Christian Embassy, an evangelical group.

Christian Embassy was founded by Washington officials, businesspeople and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright. Its stated mission:

Our purpose is to care for, serve, encourage and equip leaders at the White House, at the Pentagon, in foreign embassies and on Capitol Hill. We help people in these communities reflect on and integrate their values with their work life to develop personally, professionally and spiritually.

The group's Pentagon-specific mission is to host weekly prayer breakfasts, conduct Bible studies, offer online audio excerpts of Christian Embassy programs, and conduct small groups for Pentagon staff members. These activities, obviously, represent a legal exercise of religious evangelism. The boundary appears to have been crossed when seven Pentagon officials wore their military uniforms in a promotional video, which is on Christian Embassy's website, but is password-protected.

These officers are identified as Pentagon staff members, but there is no disclaimer in the video that would lead viewers to understand that the video is not Pentagon-endorsed. The organization has since added a disclaimer to its website. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is also asking whether the officers in the video received permission to appear in it.

In the video, Army Brig. Gen. Bob Casen talks about the Christian Embassy's efforts to reach admirals and generals through Flag Fellowship groups. Whenever he sees another fellowship member, he says, "I immediately feel like I am being held accountable, because we are the aroma of Jesus Christ."

The main Bush administration precedent does not bode well for setting a tighter boundary between the officers' personal beliefs and their official capacities. In 2003, you will recall, Army Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin was criticized for appearing in uniform before church groups and saying that George W. Bush was "appointed by God," that the United States is "a Christian nation" and that Muslims worship "an idol." The Office of the Inspector General found that Boykin had not violated any rules.