Political MoJo

Jay Bakker's Quiet Revolution

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 2:48 PM EST
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Tonight, the Sundance Channel debuts "One Punk Under God," a documentary series that follows Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Since his parents' PTL ministry collapsed in the late '80s, Bakker hit the bottle, got a ton of tattoos, sobered up, rediscovered God, and became a preacher. He's now spreading the word from a Brooklyn storefront, but it's a distinctly different message from the one we're used to hearing from megachurches and televangelists. I recently talked to Bakker about his philosophy, his decision to become a "gay-affirming" church, and what tricks of the trade he picked up from his parents. Check it out here.

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Proxy War Anyone?

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 2:42 PM EST

The New York Times reports today that Saudi Arabia will back the Sunni minority in Iraq if the United States withdraws its troops. This move by the Saudi government sends a strong message that they will not be passive observers of Iran's involvement in Iraq. Nawaf Obaid, a security adviser to Saudi Arabia, writing in the Washington Post last month, warned of this impending possibility, although he made clear his views were not those of his country. It appears now that they are. King Abdullah expressed Saudi Arabia's intentions to support Iraq's Sunnis to Dick Cheney during the VP's visit to Riyadh two weeks ago. It's a foregone conclusion that bordering nations will play a role in the outcome of the situation in Iraq. What possible roles are still unknown, but there are several scary prospects floating around. Obaid wrote, "To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks -- it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse."

A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is definitely one of the looming possibilities.

Cheney Cutting and Running

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 1:44 PM EST

U.S. News and World Report is reporting that Dick Cheney's recent absence from the public eye is an attempt to disassociate himself with the war.

"I think we'll see less of him than ever," says [an] associate. "Iraq is now Bush's baby, and Cheney doesn't want to be tarred with it in the eyes of historians."

Right... For a reminder of exactly how involved in the war effort Dick Cheney was, see the "Cheney" portion of the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.

Methane, Midges & Morons

| Wed Dec. 13, 2006 12:56 AM EST

From the AGU (American Geophysical Union) meeting in San Francisco comes word that the frozen fields of methane known as clathrates underlying the seafloor exist at much shallower depths than previously thought. Nature reports that Michael Riedel of McGill University in Montreal and colleagues found methane clathrates off Vancouver Island in only 200 to 400 feet of water—less than half the depth previously predicted, based on our current understanding of the temperatures and pressures required to keep frozen gases stable.

It's ominous because the rapid melting of frozen methane is a feared consequence of global warming, as described in this issue's cover story, The Thirteenth Tipping Point. In a warming world, shallower clathrates would melt sooner, a very bad thing for life on earth.

If you're wondering the extent to which scientists are pouring their efforts into the study of global climate change, from the monumental to the microscopic, check out this study of the changes in midge communities in western American lakes. Also reporting at the AGU, David Porinchu, lead author and an assistant professor of geography at Ohio State University, found that midge species inhabiting western American lakes shifted dramatically as lake temperatures rose the past three decades.

Doesn't matter though to Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, recently deposed chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. According to his Guide to Debunking Global Warming Alarmism:

My skeptical views on man-made catastrophic global warming have only strengthened as new science comes in.

In scientific parlance, that's called skepticitis, a disorder affecting human intelligence in a very bad way for life on earth.

Is Gary Miller (R-CA) a Crook? Ask Jeeves. . .

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 9:51 PM EST

In the latest dispatch from the seismically unstable mansion known as the California Republican Party, former aides of Rep. Garry Miller accuse him of turning them into butlers. The aides say Miller required them to help his children with schoolwork, search for rock concert tickets and send flowers to family members and friends. "There was never a clear line in the office between what was congressional business and what was just business," one former aide told the LA Times. "The expectation was that you would do both." Miller is also accused of new self-dealing involving real estate (a longstanding theme), which I won't bore you with here, except to say that he paid himself $75,000 in rent for the use his real estate development firm as a campaign office, which, it appears, wasn't used for much campaigning.

The theme of gilded excess at the California GOP was dusted off last year when former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham admitted he'd conspired to take bribes that included a Rolls Royce, a yacht and a 19th Century Louis Philippe commode. Of course, Miller has built on the notion of GOP graft with all the embellishment of a Fisherman's Wharf caricature artist. Voters showed they care about such things by ousting Rep. Richard Pombo in November for, among other things, his associations with Jack Abramoff, but the carnage Out West left plenty of other sketchy legislators standing. See MJ's November article, Washington's Shadiest Shoo-ins, for a shout-out to SoCal's indomitable Jerry Lewis.

One might hope that Republicans, being the perpetual underdogs in California, would at least serve as the party of conscience, as advocates of balanced budgets and moral probity. At times they've been known to fill this role, such as last year, for instance, when former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley was implicated in a money laundering scandal and a Republican appointee replaced him (for a few months at least, until he lost this year's election to a Democrat). That the Democrats rebounded from the scandal so quickly underscores how much the Republican voice of conscience has lost its credibility, or been replaced by pillow whispers with the powerful.

Victory for Hemp

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 9:01 PM EST

Starting on the first of next year, farmers in North Dakota can apply for licenses to grow hemp, the biological cousin of marijuana that can be used to make everything from soap to rope to groovy hacky-sack covers. Tired of watching their Canadian neighbors making good money off the stuff, state legislators legalized industrial hemp production last year. But there's still one major hurdle: the DEA has to give approval, since it considers hemp no different from pot - even though you'd have to smoke about an acre of the stuff to get a buzz. Of course, federal authorities have never been known for the rationality of their approach to anything connected with marijuana. The Supreme Court, for instance, just upheld a 55 year sentence for a guy convicted of selling three bags of pot to an undercover cop. Even the judge who was forced to impose the punishment, thanks to mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, called it "unjust, cruel and irrational."

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Is There a "New Way Forward"?

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 8:05 PM EST

The Washington Post reports today that five advisers commissioned by Bush to help him find a "new way forward" (Note to GWB: love the marketing) in Iraq are both critical of the President's old way of handling the Iraq war (main message: fire your National Security Team) as well as the Iraq Study Group's recent recommendations. Think Progress has a good rundown on exactly what these military experts had to say. Four were critical of the ISG's recommendations (mainly the idea of troop withdrawal) and three were in favor of or open to escalation (an increase in troops). Although I do agree that the ISG report left much to be desired, as Jonathan pointed out shortly after it was released (as have many others), an increase in troops isn't the answer either.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday about the Army's cash crunch. I know, no surprise to anyone, but the piece did, for me at least, solidify the point that even if the administration or a bipartisan panel or a slew of military experts thought adding 20,000 troops would suppress sectarian violence, train Iraqi security forces, and lead to a picturesque withdrawal down the road, we can't afford it anyway. And furthermore, many experts say 20,000 wouldn't do the trick, not even close.

Why are there no other options? Why are we left with Option 1: Stay, bleed the 2007 budget, send more troops that we don't have, and potentially see no advancement; or Option 2: Leave (which seems unlikely at this point as Bush has made abundantly clear that victory in Iraq is still possible, at least in his mind), and risk civil war or even regional war? Are there no options because we have dug ourselves so far down, that, like Vietnam, we must admit failure, cut our losses, and retreat? If that really is the only feasible scenario, it is hard to admit, isn't it? And maybe it is hard for those advising Bush to admit as well. Matt Iglesias over at the American Prospect points out that the ISG recommendations are useless for this very reason -- the panel is in denial.

"What's especially egregious about the ISG's recommendations is that the commission clearly recognizes the nature of the problem, as evidenced by the opening section of its own report. It then fails to address its own analysis simply because the only reasonable conclusion to draw from it is the politically unacceptable one that we've lost and we need to leave."

America's next task may be swallowing the idea of defeat.

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

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 5:27 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.

John Muir Meets the Teamsters: Governors Tout a New Environmentalism

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 4:09 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 2:54 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.