Political MoJo

When Even Kerry Gets Religion It's Time to Start Praying

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 5:16 PM EDT

Liberals are falling over each other these days to show how deeply religious (make that Christian) they are, from the "Faithful Democrats" to the "Red Letter Christians." Even Howard Dean's DNC has gotten itself a "faith advisory committe."

This is all well and good (and possibly even--who knows?--sincere in some cases). But here's cause for concern: John Kerry is starting to sound like Jim Wallis, which can mean only one thing--and not a good thing. Kerry gave a speech yesterday in Malibu, California, in which he said he'd "wandered in the wilderness" after the Vietnam War but, as the Washington Post puts it, came back to the Roman Catholic Church after a sudden and moving revelation in the late 1980s. He also said he wishes he'd given the speech before the 2004 presidential election.

"For 12 years I wandered in the wilderness, went through a divorce and struggled with questions about my direction. Then suddenly and movingly, I had a revelation about the connection between the work I was doing as a public servant and my formative teachings."

Well, let's take his word for that. He also said, of his 2004 run:

"I learned that if I didn't fill in the picture myself, others would draw the caricature for me. I will never let that happen again."

"Again"?! Please, God, no!

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Gore Speech on Global Warming: "An opportunity for bipartisanship and transcendence"

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 3:09 PM EDT

Al Gore's speech at NYU on global warming (which called for, among other things, an "immediate freeze" of greenhouse gas emissions) was superb: urgent, substantive, refreshingly optimistic. (As the excellent Amanda Griscom Little observes over at Grist, "Having seen Gore's lecture on climate no less than seven times, I can vouch for the fact that this effulgent optimism is a new theme for the Veep. The whole lecture, in fact, seemed a response to criticisms I've heard repeatedly about Gore's stump speech and the movie that chronicles it, An Inconvenient Truth -- that they are too heavily clouded in doom and gloom, giving inadequate attention to solutions (despite his repeated insistence that the climate crisis presents equal parts danger and opportunity).

Well worth reading in (almost) full below. (Transcript here.)

(And may I recommend our own recent special report on global warming?)

Al Gore
Sep. 18, 2006
NYU Law School

Ladies and Gentlemen: [...]

A few days ago, scientists announced alarming new evidence of the rapid melting of the perennial ice of the north polar cap, continuing a trend of the past several years that now confronts us with the prospect that human activities, if unchecked in the next decade, could destroy one of the earth's principle mechanisms for cooling itself. Another group of scientists presented evidence that human activities are responsible for the dramatic warming of sea surface temperatures in the areas of the ocean where hurricanes form. A few weeks earlier, new information from yet another team showed dramatic increases in the burning of forests throughout the American West, a trend that has increased decade by decade, as warmer temperatures have dried out soils and vegetation. All these findings come at the end of a summer with record breaking temperatures and the hottest twelve month period ever measured in the U.S., with persistent drought in vast areas of our country. Scientific American introduces the lead article in its special issue this month with the following sentence: "The debate on global warming is over."

Many scientists are now warning that we are moving closer to several "tipping points" that could -- within as little as 10 years -- make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet's habitability for human civilization. In this regard, just a few weeks ago, another group of scientists reported on the unexpectedly rapid increases in the release of carbon and methane emissions from frozen tundra in Siberia, now beginning to thaw because of human caused increases in global temperature. The scientists tell us that the tundra in danger of thawing contains an amount of additional global warming pollution that is equal to the total amount that is already in the earth's atmosphere. Similarly, earlier this year, yet another team of scientists reported that the previous twelve months saw 32 glacial earthquakes on Greenland between 4.6 and 5.1 on the Richter scale -- a disturbing sign that a massive destabilization may now be underway deep within the second largest accumulation of ice on the planet, enough ice to raise sea level 20 feet worldwide if it broke up and slipped into the sea. Each passing day brings yet more evidence that we are now facing a planetary emergency -- a climate crisis that demands immediate action to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide in order to turn down the earth's thermostat and avert catastrophe.

The serious debate over the climate crisis has now moved on to the question of how we can craft emergency solutions in order to avoid this catastrophic damage.

Get Out the Ammo--the Katricians Are Coming

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 2:24 PM EDT

Houstonian Jim Pruett, owner of Jim Pruett's Guns & Ammo, or--as he prefers to call it--your anti-terrorist headquarters--has a radio ad that warns Houston's citizens to arm themselves because the "Katricians"--Katrina evacuees from New Orleans--are going to attack if they do not get more free rent.

"When the 'Katricians' themselves are quoted as saying the crime rate is gonna go up if they don't get more free rent, then it's time to get your concealed-handgun license," Pruett says in his ad. The recent surge in the Houston homicide rate has been attributed by the Houston police to Katrina evacuees. And while there is no doubt they are responsible for some of it, the increase in Houston's violent crime rate had already begun before Katrina came along. To make matters worse, many evacuees wound up in poor, unsafe Houston neighborhoods.

Pruett is no newcomer to stirring things up. He co-hosts a morning radio show, "Pruett & Shannon," and hosts a second show, "Back Talk," in the afternoon. His biography states: "To Jim, happiness is his family, his faith and his membership in the NRA."

Texas officials say that applications for concealed weapons permits were up statewide: 60,328 from January to September 1, as compared with 46,298 for the same period in 2005.

New York Times Appoints a Futurist-in-Residence (A Sure Sign the Future is Now Pass&eacute)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 2:07 PM EDT

From Editor & Publisher: New York Times "apparently seeking to boost its image as a forward-looking paper [sic]," has appointed its first ever "futurist-in-residence." The position will rotate yearly like the public editor job. First up is Michael Rogers, a former Washington Post Company executive and Newsweek.com general manager credited with being ahead of the curve on web innovations. His role is to "expand the paper's push toward more Web and other interactive operations" (which, admittedly, are already kick-ass.)

Military Coup in Thailand

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 1:20 PM EDT

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok amid reports of a coup attempt. (Tanks were seen surrounding Government House in Bangkok.) His problem--or perhaps his good fortune--is that he's at the UN right now. Details are murky but Reuters is reporting that the armed forces and police has set up a commission to decide on political reforms. Thaksin has been accused of undermining democracy. Word is that elections would be called soon and Thaksin will be allowed to take part. No doubt the Council on Foreign Relations will put up something helpful soon to make sense of the background to all this...

One early upshot of the reported coup: emerging sovereign bonds (Thailand has $2.1 billion in debt) "eased slightly" on the news.

Women In Science and Engineering Stymied By Institutional Bias (Or, F*** Off, Larry Summers!)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 11:13 AM EDT

At a ASJA/Berkeley J-School editors' forum I participated in last weekend, a hotly debated topic was what biases do or do not hinder women in journalism, particularly in terms of the byline divide.

So I was shocked, shocked! to read that a report from the National Academy of Sciences has found that women in the science and engineering are hindered not by lack of ability but by bias and "outmoded institutional structures" in academia.

The NAS report found:

Studies have not found any significant biological differences between men and women in performing science and mathematics that can account for the lower representation of women in academic faculty and leadership positions in S&T fields.

Compared with men, women faculty members are generally paid less and promoted more slowly, receive fewer honors, and hold fewer leadership positions. These discrepancies do not appear to be based on productivity, the significance of their work, or any other performance measures, the report says.

•Measures of success underlying performance-evaluation systems are often arbitrary and frequently applied in ways that place women at a disadvantage. "Assertiveness," for example, may be viewed as a socially unacceptable trait for women but suitable for men. Also, structural constraints and expectations built into academic institutions assume that faculty members have substantial support from their spouses. Anyone lacking the career and family support traditionally provided by a "wife" is at a serious disadvantage in academe, evidence shows. Today about 90 percent of the spouses of women science and engineering faculty are employed full time. For the spouses of male faculty, it is nearly half.

You can read the news release here.

And—for a hefty fee that really pisses me off seeing as the whole point of something like this is to challenge disinformation with easily accessible truth—download the full report here. (Should someone find a site where this is posted for free, let me know and I'll pass it on.)

And you can read more about how women are stymied in other ways in "Limited Ambition: Why Women Can't Win for Trying" a set of stats I put together for Mother Jones earlier this year.

BTW: The NYT saw fit to run the story about the NAS report in the Science section, which is fine, except why do all those bullshitty (statistically and otherwise) stories about women "opting out" always run on page 1?

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Control of the Senate Now A Toss Up...(Could Come Down to Macaca!)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 10:39 AM EDT

Via Rasmussen:

The battle for control of the U.S. Senate is getting closer—much closer. Little more than a week ago, our Balance of Power summary showed the Republicans leading 50-45 with five states in the Toss-Up category. Today, Rasmussen Reports is changing three races from "Toss-Up" to "Leans Democrat." As a result, Rasmussen Reports now rates 49 seats as Republican or Leans Republican while 48 seats are rated as Democrat or Leans Democrat (see State-by-State Summary). There are now just three states in the Toss-Up category--Tennessee, New Jersey, and Missouri.
Today's changes all involve Republican incumbents who have been struggling all year. In Montana, Senator Conrad Burns (R) has fallen behind Jon Tester (D). Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee (R) survived his primary but starts the General Election as a decided underdog. Sherrod Brown (D) is enjoying a growing lead over Ohio Senator Mike DeWine (R).
Four other seats are now ranked as "Leans Democrat"—Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, and Michigan.
Virginia is the only state rated as "Leans Republican."
Democrats have to win all seven states leaning their way plus all three Toss-Ups to regain control of the Senate. While that's a tall order, recent history shows that it is quite possible for one party or the other to sweep all the close races. The Democrats did so in Election 2000 and the Republicans returned the favor in 2002. If the Democrats win all those seats but one, there would be a 50-50 tie. In that circumstance, Vice-President Dick Cheney would cast the deciding vote in his Constitutional role as the presiding officer of the Senate.

Innocent Man Rendered to Syria, Held and Tortured for One Year (Blame Canada?)

| Tue Sep. 19, 2006 10:12 AM EDT

Closing (well, except for the well-deserved lawsuits I presume) another dark chapter in the war on terror, Canadian citizen Maher Arar has been completely cleared by a Canadian judicial commission. In a 822-page report, the commission, lead by Justice Dennis O'Connor, ripped the Mounties apart for giving U.S. authorities erroneous and inflammatory "evidence" against Arar, which led to his being detained during a stopover in JFK airport, rendered to Syria, where he was held and tortured for one year.

And let's be clear what we mean by torture here. This isn't just sleep deprivation. This is a Canadian computer consultant returning from a family vacation who, with no ability to access the "evidence" against him, gets bundled off to Syria and beaten with electrical cables.

Arar, a 31-year-old computer consultant and Canadian citizen, was en route from Zurich to Montreal to attend to business following a family vacation in Tunisia, according to a lawsuit he filed against U.S. officials in 2004. He was standing in line waiting to pass immigration inspection when an immigration officer asked him to step aside to answer some questions.
As FBI agents, immigration officials and NYPD officers questioned Arar, he asked to consult an attorney. U.S. officials told Arar that only U.S. citizens had the right to a lawyer and locked him up in the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York City, where he endured more interrogation about his friends, the mosques he attended, his letters and e-mails. U.S. officials then demanded that he "voluntarily" agree to be sent to Syria, where he was born, instead of home to Canada (Arar holds dual citizenship). Arar refused, according to Amnesty International, explaining that he was afraid he would be tortured in Syria for not completing his military service. After more than a week in detention, U.S. authorities determined that Arar was "inadmissible" to the United States based on secret evidence and notified him that he would be deported to Syria.
They took him to New Jersey in the middle of the night and loaded him onto a small plane that stopped in Washington, D.C., and then Rome before proceeding to Jordan. Local authorities in Jordan chained and beat Arar, bundled him in a van and drove him across the border to Syria, where Arar was beaten with electrical cables, interrogated about his acquaintances and beliefs, and kept in a tiny cell for months at a time.

The full O'Connor report is not available (due to, you guessed it, security concerns), but news reports indicate that basically after 9/11 the RCMP not only saw terrorists behind every tree but then passed on raw intelligence that had not been analyzed for accuracy to the even more hot-headed U.S. intelligence forces. Via the Globe and Mail:
"The Mounties, the report continues, should have flagged the material as being from unproven sources and should have taken precautions to make sure it was not used in U.S. deportation proceedings…
U.S. officials refused to testify at the Canadian inquiry. But the report says it "is very likely" they relied on the faulty RCMP intelligence when they decided to send Mr. Arar to Syria, the country of his birth, rather than home to Canada.
"The RCMP provided American authorities with information about Mr. Arar which was inaccurate, portrayed him in an unfair fashion and overstated his importance to the investigation," the report says. "The RCMP had no basis for this description, which had the potential to create serious consequences for Mr. Arar in light of American attitudes and practices" at that time, the report says.
The Mounties also erroneously told the Americans Mr. Arar was in the Washington area on Sept. 11, 2001, when, in fact, he was in San Diego.

When Arar got back, the Mounties mounted a smear campaign against him…Boy, this all sounds so familiar.

The O'Connor report also calls for the further independent investigation of the cases of three other Canadian Muslim men—Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muyyed Nurredin —who were likewise rendered and claim to have been tortured.

These are just some of the cases we know about. God knows how many we don't. McCain, Graham, Warner, and Powell (and now George Shultz!) are all absolutely correct, when we indulge in barbarous behavoir, we can expect more of the same. We may be on the receiving end of some no matter how well we act, but that's not the point. The point is what kind of example do we want to set? To other nations and peoples, and to our own children.

Bush Admin Takes War on Drugs to YouTube

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 8:12 PM EDT

The Bush administration is to distribute anti-drug, public service announcements and other videos via YouTube, the -- as AP puts it -- "trendy Internet video service that already features clips of wacky, drug-induced behavior and step-by-step instructions for growing marijuana plants." (And cooking with them, as in the highly instructive video below.)

"If just one teen sees this and decides illegal drug use is not the path for them, it will be a success," said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the drug office.

On the other hand, Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, points out that these young trendy folks "will quickly edit the government's videos to produce parodies and distribute those on YouTube" (AP's wording).

A safe bet, I'd say.

One Big Fiesta for Immigrants and Homosexuals

| Mon Sep. 18, 2006 6:29 PM EDT

That's how Vernon Robinson describes America under the leadership of North Carolina Congressman Brad Miller. Robinson, who is running for Miller's Congressional seat, has radio and television ads that are so offensive, they are funny. Not so funny is Robinson's claim that those who are endorsing this campaign or who have endorsed one of his previous campaigns include Sen. Elizabeth Dole, Bill Bennett, the Police Benevolent Association, Governor Jeb Bush, the Wall Street Journal, and the Greensboro News & Record. If some of these endorsers do not endorse the current campaign, they certainly have not rushed to have their names taken off of the list.

Another of Robinson's TV ads contains this text:

If you're a conservative Republican, watching the news these days can make you feel as though you are in The Twilight Zone. Americans are under attack from Islamic extremists in every corner of the world. Homosexuals are mocking holy matrimony and the lesbians and feminists are attacking everything sacred. Liberal judges have completely re-written the Constitution. You can burn the American flag and kill a million babies a year but you can't post the Ten Commandments or say "God" in public. Seven out of every ten children are born out of wedlock and [Rev. Jesse] Jackson and [Al] Sharpton claim the answer is racial quotas. And the aliens are here but they didn't come in a spaceship, they came across our unguarded Mexican border by the millions.

Robinson, who appears to be obsessed with the subject of homosexuality, was the one who suggested that Congressman Miller was homosexual because the Congressman had married later in life and had no children. Miller then caved in to the baiting and disclosed that his wife had had a hysterectomy prior to their marriage.

When Robinson ran for Congress in 2004, he raised nearly $3 million, almost all of it from individuals. He has also received significant financial support from PACS associated with Congressman Ron Paul of Texas and Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo. Tancredo, you will recall, received overnight fame by suggesting that--should al Qaeda launch a nuclear attack on the U.S.--we retaliate by "taking out" Muslim holy sites.

Accusations of FEC violations have also been made against Robinson, and these are pending. In 2004, he was fined for not filing papers with the FEC. But for those North Carolinians who want to see crotch-grabbing illegal immigrants burning the American flag, election violations probably count as insignificant. Fortunately, the polls show that Miller is likely to win.