Political MoJo

World War III: Saudi Arabia vs. Iran?

| Fri Dec. 22, 2006 1:38 PM EST

Not to oversensationalize or anything, but it is a little unsettling when the Saudis let it be known (as they have for some time now) that if (and that's not really a very big if, is it?) Iran goes nuclear, they will too... and that they would not hesitate to intervene in Iraq's civil war on the side of the Sunnis if Shia power gets too great... and when, at the same time, the office of the Vice President comes down hard in favor of a Shia government in Iraq, butchery of Sunnis notwithstanding... and when, finally, news that there's a major struggle going on in the Saudi government over "a clash of civilizations" with Iran is buried on Page 14 in the New York Times. Peace on earth, everyone.

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Scary Science & the Solstice

| Thu Dec. 21, 2006 9:30 PM EST

The BBC reports on a British government study looking ahead to the next 50 years:

"Robots could one day demand the same citizen's rights as humans… If granted, countries would be obliged to provide social benefits including housing and even "robo-healthcare."

I suppose British robots might get somewhere with that. American ones would be SOL.

NewScientist reports it's so warm bears aren't hibernating in Spain this winter. Though a Japanese man apparently pulled off the torpid feat for three rip-van-winkle weeks.

If you're in the southern hemisphere, in, say, Madagascar, this solstice and planning a balmy night under the stars without a tent, reconsider. Imagine, moths that breach your eyelids and drink your tears while you sleep. Well, birds' tears at any rate. The moths are apparently after salt not liquid. Nevertheless, it looks unnerving, the moths and their harpoonlike proboscises:

If that's too creepy, check out the University of Alaska's Geophysical Institute's online aurora borealis forecast, and plan your trip north accordingly. After all, how many more years do you want to pass without seeing this wonder?

Happy Solstice.

New Evidence on the Prevalence of Robo-Calls

| Thu Dec. 21, 2006 2:37 PM EST

Turns out, our strenuous coverage of the robo-call issue during the mid-term elections was unnecessary: if you're a voting American, you likely experienced robo-calls first hand!

A new poll by the Pew Internet and American Life project says 64% of registered voters received at least one robo-call during election season. From Pew's brief summary:

These so-called "robo-calls" were the second most popular way for campaigns and political activists to reach voters, trailing only direct mail as a key tool of political communication. Some 71% of registered voters got direct mail campaign solicitations, while 24% received phone calls from real human beings urging their vote for a particular candidate, 18% were visited at their homes, and 14% received email solicitations.

As TPMmuckraker notes, we still don't know how many people received the harassing robo-calls that called six, seven, or eight times in a row, in a GOP ploy to discourage Democratic turnout.


Wonkette: "If You're Wondering What Victory in Iraq Looks Like..."

| Thu Dec. 21, 2006 1:48 PM EST

A link too good to pass up. For the world's saddest victory celebration (we handed Najaf to the Iraqis), see this Wonkette post. To be frank, the keyboardist -- who actually has a day's work -- looks more grateful than the stiff-as-a-board Iraqi politicians who have to clean up this mess.

Update: MoJo intern Celia Perry adds the following: The AP reports that during the ceremony commemorating the return of Najaf to local control, "a small group of [Iraqi] soldiers stepped forward with a live rabbit and tore it to pieces. The leader bit out the heart with a yell, then passed around the blood-soaked remains to his comrades, each of whom took a bite. The group also bit the heads off frogs, as some of those in the crowd held their noses from the stench." Later, police drove in shiny new vehicles around a track littered with fur and frog legs. Apparently, chewing on live animals is a traditional display of ferocity that was used by elite military units during Saddam Hussein's regime. I guess old habits die hard.

Update II: Apparently the celebration was bigger than the picture at Wonkette would suggest. From the AP story mentioned above: "About 1,500 police officers, soldiers and security personnel staged a parade around an infield of stubby brown grass, in festivities complete with warriors on horseback."

Nature is a Vengeful Creature

| Thu Dec. 21, 2006 1:31 PM EST

Two for the irony department.

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma is America's foremost global warming denier (he called global warming "the greatest hoax every perpetrated on the American people" and compared global warming warnings to the deceptions of the Third Reich), and as the chairman of the Environment and Public Works committee is probably more responsible than anyone except President Bush for America's inaction on the subject. Well, God or Nature or someone is pissed off, and it/they know exactly who to go after.

Oklahoma, it seems, is experiencing the worst drought conditions and wildfires in the United States. Nine and a half million acres have been burned by wild fires nationwide in 2006, a record. One could say proof of global warming is shining Inhofe in the face like sun glare off a prairie highway.

But the irony doesn't end there. Australia, the only industrialized country other than the United States not to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is experiencing its worst drought in 1,000 years. Predictably, losses in crop production have resulted in the slowest economic growth in recent years. More from the very good Climate Progress and "As the World Burns," Mother Jones' 2005 package on global warming.

By the way, considering how things have gone for Oklahoma and Australia, it is only a matter of time until a lightening bolt hits Air Force One or a mudslide buries Michael Crichton's house. I say this for your own safety, Mr. President: please do something. We don't want you to end up like this man.

Oh, So That's Why

| Thu Dec. 21, 2006 1:25 PM EST

Apparently, the reason certain American states may play such a decisive role in the nation's political elections may be their powerful position according to the rules of feng shui:

Cho Jun Hyung, a retired television station manager turned feng shui master, says [incoming UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's] appearance fulfilled a 2,500-year-old Chinese prophecy, first uttered by Confucius himself, that a "world dominator" would emerge from the northeast, meaning neighboring Korea. Cho says Sangdong has exceptionally good feng shui because it sits at the navel of the Korean Peninsula, and a nearby row of three mountains channel in natural forces.
"This is very rare geography," he said. "In America, Massachusetts and Ohio have similar alignments, which is why they produce so many presidents."

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Troops as Props: Decoding the Press Reports From Gates' Trip to Iraq

| Thu Dec. 21, 2006 12:26 PM EST

What a strange little world the traveling press is. On Wednesday, an AP story led with the sentence, "Defense Secretary Robert Gates found American commanders wary of a proposal to rush more U.S. troops to Iraq as he visited the war-ravaged country." The body of the story was the same rundown of "will-he-or-won't-he" material: Bush is considering sending more troops, which means Gates is considering sending more troops, Gen. Casey says this, Gen. Abizaid says this, yada yada. The only new nugget was in the lede: commanders on the ground, to whom Bush promised to listen, don't really buy the idea. Not good for the Bushies, if they know sending more troops is likely, or inevitable.

And then this morning, a new AP story with the lede, "U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the rest of the Bush administration may be undecided on whether to send more troops to Iraq. But several soldiers he met with at Camp Victory here on Thursday morning said extra forces would help."

The story makes note of the dissonance between the commanders' feelings and the troops' feelings, but I can't help but feel the press has been suckered. Was this a PR job intended to repair the damage of Wednesday's story? The military knew the press would be watching Gates eat his scrambled eggs with the soldiers; in fact, the military probably invited the press and made sure they'd be there. Were the soldiers selected because their viewpoints were likely to match the message the military wanted to get out? Or worse, were they coached? It's not like this would be the first time the administration used the troops as props in a media stunt.

Maybe the soldiers on the ground really do wish they had more of their colleagues helping out. It's not surprising: why wouldn't they want someone to share the burden on a difficult and unwinnable situation? But Nick Kristof noted in February that a poll examining soldiers' opinions on the war found 72 percent wanted to withdraw in a year and 29 percent wanted to withdraw immediately. So we're expected to believe that it just so happened that Gates met with a crowd of soldiers and every one present was in the minority of troops that wants to prolong the war? Smells as rotten as a fake turkey.

Hillary Hearts the Holidays: Senator Clinton Visits "The View"

| Wed Dec. 20, 2006 6:39 PM EST

hillaryChristmas.jpg
What War on Christmas? Hillary hit the couch on "The View" this morning as part of a PR blitz for the reissue of It Takes a Village. Her big revelation? That "we are probably as fanatic about Christmas as anybody you'll meet." Really? Have you met Melody Howell, who decorates her home with 52 fresh-cut Christmas trees, including one in her bathtub? Now that is Christmas fighting back with the big guns.

The Viewsters did try to ask Hillary the big questions, with Joy Behar asking if she was sorry for voting for the Iraq War (and getting the usual "if we had known then..."), and guest host Crystal McCrary Anthony asking the world's most torturous version of "are you running?" Crystal's wind-up was so labored that she gave Hillary lots of lifelines to grab; Hillary went with some blather about the "hyper-connectedness" of today's world, which gave her ample opportunity to be worried "for our kids," bringing us back safely to It Takes a Village territory. Responding to the question of whether we are ready for a female president, Hillary made the point that there's only one way to find out, but conceded: "It's such a leap of faith, and I'm well aware of that—it's way out there."

But line of the day goes to Rosie, who capped a discussion of Hillary's love of crafts (hey, it was "The View," not "Meet the Press") with "you'd be surprised how crafty she is." Yep, the ability to take the innocuous and turn it into a backstabbing—now that is presidential. You heard it here first: Rosie for President!

Shop for America! (It's a Very GWB Christmas!)

| Wed Dec. 20, 2006 5:48 PM EST

In light of George W. Bush's recent instruction that Americans do their part to hold off economic recession by shopping more, Mother Jones brings you a collection of GWB action figures and dolls -- perfect for that unreconstructed hawk or delusional hard-line right-winger on your gift list!

First, the "Top Gun" George W. Bush 12-inch action figure:

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Says the product description: "Comes dressed in a full flight suit, helmet, goggles, breather, and tanks that are identical to the ones George Bush wore when he landed on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln." Who doesn't want to relive that great moment in American history! Can we get some boilerplate hero-worship, please? "Lambasted by his political critics for using the opportunity to boost his political career, President Bush remained as unflappable as ever. His flight outfit features pouches, pockets, straps, buckles, and all the accessories of an original. This item does not talk." Even better!

Also comes with "Turkey Dinner" George W. Bush, commemorating the time our President surprised the troops in Iraq with a Thanksgiving visit carrying a fake turkey! Hooray for photo ops!

Up next is "Elite Force Aviator" George W. Bush:

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This 12-inch action figure is a "meticulous 1:6 scale recreation of the Commander-in-Chief's appearance during his historic Aircraft Carrier landing." Oh no, not that again! How does it compare to our first action figure? "The realism and exacting attention to detail demanded by today's 12-inch action figure enthusiast are met and exceeded with this action figure." Well, if you're an "action figure enthusiast," maybe you'll want two!

Third in line is Frowny Face President Bush:

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Ever wanted to hear an unhappy-looking doll with a massive tie and crazy shoelaces tell you that he is "glad to be in the midst of patriots"? Then this is the doll for you! Comes with a biographical pamphlet detailing George W. Bush's life before he was a disastrous president!

And finally, the Mr. Eloquence President Bush:

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How many times have you given an all-American child an all-American doll on Christmas, only to find out the doll was made in China? Well, no problem here! This doll speaks, and it actually says, "I come from Texas." It also says, "...working hard to put food on your family." Countries get the leaders they deserve, and people who want this gift probably won't know what that means!

* Brought to you by Liberal Bloggers Fighting the War on Christmas.

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Reports

| Wed Dec. 20, 2006 4:44 PM EST

The Bush Administration has made a habit of discontinuing regularly-produced studies and reports that reflect poorly on its performance. TPMmuckraker has put together a list, and we have an addition. Some from their list, which started at the Carpetbagger Report:

In March, the administration announced it would no longer produce the Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation, which identifies which programs best assist low-income families, while also tracking health insurance coverage and child support.
In 2005, after a government report showed an increase in terrorism around the world, the administration announced it would stop publishing its annual report on international terrorism.
When Bush's Department of Education found that charter schools were underperforming, the administration said it would sharply cut back on the information it collects about charter schools.
In December 2002, the administration curtailed funding to the Mass-Layoffs Statistics program, which released monthly data on the number and size of layoffs by U.S. companies. His father attempted to kill the same program in 1992, but Clinton revived it when he assumed the presidency.

As for our entry. In January 2006 we noted that the Bush Administration's reaction to the lack of progress women have made in the workplace is to stop collecting the facts: "Under Bush, the Labor Dept. has eliminated 25 publications on pay inequity and child care."

The source is a report titled "MISSING: Information About Women's Lives," which can be found here [pdf]. From the introduction: "Vital data have been deleted, buried, altered, or otherwise gone missing from government websites and publications: priorities have changed, funding cut, research findings distorted, important social differences masked, critical committees and programs dismantled."