Political MoJo

16% of Katrina victims say their lives are back to normal

| Mon Aug. 21, 2006 7:46 PM EDT

A survey of over six hundred adults from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama reveals that only 16% consider their lives as "back to normal" after Katrina hit their communities. A third of those who have returned to their homes say they may move away, and half of those who have not moved back say they are unlikely to do so. 63% are living in the houses in which they lived before the storm; this is 8% higher than a fall of 2005 survey showed. 60% are in the same jobs they were in before the storm, compared with 61% last fall.

70% of those surveyed reported that someone went out of her or his way to help them last year, and 25% reported that someone tried to take advantage of them. Those most often named were FEMA, contractors and gas stations. Nearly two thirds said that federal and state response has been "fair" or "poor." Almost that many said the same of local government response.

Financially speaking, 25% said that they "lost everything," 24% took a "major financial hit," 38% "suffered some losses," and 12% said they were "not really hurt" financially by Katrina and its aftermath.

Those who were relatively lucky still have to cope with stores with shortened hours, pine beetles that emerged from the fallen trees and are eating their way through yards, and--in some outlying Louisiana parishes--an influx of residents who have helped create major traffic problems. These issues, however, are very insignificant compared with those faced by the people who are living in crowded conditions with extended family, still living in trailers, or who were never even given a trailer by FEMA.

Many life-long residents have gone away and will never come back. Many are facing the challenge of having lost a job or a business. Even worse, of course, are those who have lost loved ones. There is a shortage of cash, a shortage of mental health treatment in some areas, and the continuing nightmare of insurance company failures, neglect and red tape.

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The Greatest Love of All

Mon Aug. 21, 2006 6:04 PM EDT

Onetime Osama bin Laden "sex slave" and ex-Days of Our Lives writer Kola Boof delves into Bin Laden's fuzzier side in her upcoming autobiography, Diary of a Lost Girl. No, Boof, who Bin Laden allegedly held against her will and riled against for braiding her hair ( "only monkeys do that!") has no soothing pillow talk to share or insight into how he likes his morning eggs. Rather, we're left again pondering the strange twists and turns of the terrorist king's enigmatic psyche: the man, it seems, is obsessed with Whitney Houston. Boof writes:

"He would say what a nice smile she has, how truly Islamic she is but is just brainwashed by American culture and by her husband - Bobby Brown, whom Osama talked about having killed, as if it were normal to have womens' husbands killed...In his briefcase, I would come across photographs of the star, as well as copies of Playboy. It would soon come to the point where I was sick of hearing Whitney Houston's name."

An excerpt from Diary will appear in the September issue of Harper's Magazine.

Noah Was an Environmentalist

| Mon Aug. 21, 2006 12:25 PM EDT

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, I was touring the ravaged Lower Ninth Ward with local environmental justice advocate Margie Eugene-Richard. Convinced that God needed to be reinserted into the environmental debate, Richard had recently graduated from theology school. We were driving that day through a post-apocalyptic landscape of boats dangling in trees and houses smothering cars, and God was clearly on her mind. "Wake up," she said to an unseen congregation. "As it was in the day of Noah, so shall it be on the day of the Son of Man. Get together."

Nearly a year after the hurricane struck, many evangelical Christians seem to have heeded Richard's advice. Or at least started listening to some unlikely prophets. An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's global warming opus, has earned rave reviews on the aptly dubbed website Inconvenient Christians. The website is helping build on the work of the Evangelical Environmental Network, a group that has angered some fundamentalists by seeking to broaden the right-wing conception of family values. Some interesting blogs have begun to chronicle this nascent movement, among them, God's Green Thumb, published by a student at Pontifical University in Rome.

Christian attorneys being trained throughout the nation

| Sun Aug. 20, 2006 7:08 PM EDT

Last week, a commenter on one of my posts expressed surprise/disgust that "groups with Constitutional law expertise" were assisting West Virginia's Harrison County Board of Education in its fight to keep a painting of Jesus on the wall next to the principal's office at Bridgeport High School in Clarksburg. Such groups have been around for a while, using their legal knowledge to fight the ACLU in church/state separation cases. Of course, this gets a bit confusing from time to time, since the evil ACLU has represented some of the Christian defendants.

At any rate, I thought it might be informative to report that this influx of a certain type of Christian lawyer is supported by Liberty University's School of Law, which trains lawyers-to-be who want to put an end to legal abortion, put prayer back into public schools, and ban same-sex marriage. Liberty University was founded by and is guided by Jerry Falwell, who, you will remember, blamed the ACLU, feminists and gay citizens for the September 11 attacks.

The Liberty University School of Law's vision is to "see again all meaningful dialogue over law include the role of faith and the perspective of a Christian worldview as the framework most conducive to the pursuit of truth and justice."

The provisionally accredited law school was founded in 2002, with $14.6 million invested in it so far. Law school students are not allowed to have any body piercings, nor may they wear Birkenstock-type sandals (because we all know that exposure of the toes causes a lapse in reasoning and scholarship).

Liberty is not unique. Pat Robertson's Regency University School of Law and the Ave Maria School of Law represent two of the fifty or so law schools that have some sort of religious affiliation.

Falwell says that his law school is "training lieutenants for the Lord." Former director for the Birmingham's Center for Study of Law and Church at the Cumberland School of Law Chris Doss says that Falwell's law school is very open about "training people to go forth as Christian crusaders. They are very good at bringing forth converts." And from a Liberty graduate: "It is a misperception about our school that we'll all start pounding the Bible in court. Is there a possibility that you could sit across from an interviewer who thinks you got your degree from a Cracker Jack box? Sure, but if you pass the bar, that speaks for itself."

Indeed it does. Christian law schools are doing their best to prepare their students to be good attorneys so that they will have sufficent influence with clients, courts and society in general.

An Army of One Thing After Another

| Sun Aug. 20, 2006 10:00 AM EDT

A six-month investigation by the Associated Press has found that at least 80 recruiters (35 Army, 18 Marine Corps, 18 Navy, and 12 Air Force) were disciplined for sexual misconduct or other inappropriate behavior with potential enlistees last year, way more than in any other decade. The army has had 722 recruiters accused of rape and sexual misconduct since 1996.

The most disturbing reveal:

More than 100 young women who expressed interest in joining the military in the past year were preyed upon sexually by their recruiters. Women were raped on recruiting office couches, assaulted in government cars and groped en route to entrance exams.

So let me get this straight, an army that is struggling with its numbers is taking advantage of the ones who come in to sign up? This is also the same Army that has taken to MySpace to bring in recruits, like this Reserves recruiter who has 554 "friends." Talk about online predators.

Recruitment is a billion dollar business. The DoD committed $1.5 billion to it this year: campus visits, prime time commercials, posters in bus shelters, the full gamut. Military.com is littered with tantalizing hooks -- $40,000 signing bonuses, $70,000 for college, and the motto "no bull, no bias, no pressure." But recruiters are feeling pressure to bring on just about anybody, whether they're autistic, grandmothers, or as Mother Jones reported last summer, those accused of rape. The army is even loosening its standards, letting heavier and tatoo-laden become plebes in a push to boost their numbers.

The pressure is obviously too much. Last week the GAO released its findings that incidents of recruiter wrongdoing increased 50% from 2004 to 2005, to a total of 6600 cases. The report points to a number of challenges facing recruiters, the escalating conflict in Iraq, long hours and stiff quotas. But the number one reason they say times are tough? The economy.

Service recruiting command officials stated that the economy has been the single most important factor recently affecting recruiting success. According to Department of Labor data, the unemployment rate fell each year between 2003 (when it was 6 percent) and 2005 (when it was 5.1 percent). The better the civilian job market, the harder DOD must compete for talent.

How about keeping your hands off recruits? That would help in selling the job in a competitive market. As it is, the women assaulted on couches and in cars got an early glimpse of military culture, and hopefully got the hell out.


Turn Left or Triangulate?

| Sat Aug. 19, 2006 2:13 PM EDT

Matt Bai's analysis of what the Lieberman/Lamont situation really means is being bandied about around our virtual offices:

In the aftermath of the primary, Democrats settled on the idea that Lieberman fell because of his support for the Iraq war. This was technically true, in the same way that a 95-year-old man might technically be said to die from pneumonia; there were, to say the least, underlying causes. The war was a galvanizing issue, but Lieberman's loss was just the first major victory for a larger grass-roots movement. While that movement is identified with young, online activists, it is populated largely by exasperated and ideologically disappointed baby boomers. These are the liberals who quietly seethed as Bill Clinton worked with Republicans to reform welfare and pass free-trade agreements. After the ''stolen'' election of 2000 and the subsequent loss of House and Senate seats in 2004, these Democrats felt duped. If triangulation wasn't a winning strategy, they asked, why were they ever asked to tolerate it in the first place? The Web gave them a place to share their frustrations, and Howard Dean gave them an icon.
Iraq has energized these older lapsed liberals; for a generation that got into politics marching against Vietnam, an antiwar movement is comfortable space. But it was the yearning for a more confrontational brand of opposition on all fronts, for something resembling the black-and-white moral choices of the 1960's, that more broadly animated Lamont's insurgency. Connecticut's primary showdown (which now appears to be headed for a sequel in November) marked an emphatic repudiation not just of the war but also of Clinton's ''third way'' governing philosophy - a philosophy not unlike the Republican ethos of ''compromise'' and ''pragmatism'' that so infuriated Reagan conservatives.

The whole tamale after the jump.

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Axis of Evil Takes to the Blogosphere

| Fri Aug. 18, 2006 6:53 PM EDT

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now blogging on his personal website, where you can take part in a poll on whether the US is trying to start a world war. (Click on the flag in the upper-right corner for the English version.) His first-- and only-- entry last week was a 2,000-word autobiography, so it's probably a bit premature to call it a blog. Right-wing bloggers in the U.S. are worried that the site is just a way to install viruses on U.S. and Israeli computers.

Though Ahmadinejad's site traffic is reportedly good, to date he’s only received one comment: A request for bigger font sizes.

UN Ambassador turned Wal-Mart PR flak stumbles with diplomacy

| Fri Aug. 18, 2006 6:41 PM EDT

Andrew Young, ex-mayor of Atlanta and former United Nations Ambassador, resigned last night from his post at Wal-Mart. Brought in 6 months ago to improve the retail giant's image, this civil rights icon has lost his way. In response to the superstore's displacement of mom-and-pop shops in Atlanta, Young told the Los Angeles Sentinel:

Those are the people who have been overcharging us…I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs.



Certainly a blow to Wal-Mart's image and its already dwindling profits, down 26% in the second fiscal quarter, Young's commentary could bode well for the Democrats' new campaign against the company. Some have reservations—do the Democrats really want to paint themselves as anti-business? But Senator Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) put it this way:

It's not anti-business…Wal-Mart has become emblematic of the anxiety around the country, and the middle-class squeeze.


We can now add ethnic slandering to that happy-faced emblem.

Who'd You Rather Read, Gary Webb or Judy Miller?

| Fri Aug. 18, 2006 4:38 AM EDT

On occasion of the tenth anniversary of "Dark Alliance," the San Jose Mercury News series on CIA-contra-crack connections that set off more major-newspaper handwringing than perhaps anything this side of the Bush-Iraq-WMD fiasco, Nick Schou of the alternative OC Weekly has an op-ed in the LA Times that's worth reading. Doesn't matter whether you're still puzzling over why exactly every major paper in the country saw fit to "debunk" claims Webb had not actually made, or whether you've never heard of the guy; the point is that Webb (whose reporting, as Eric Umansky noted in this space, was in significant regards confirmed by the government itself) was guilty of hyperbole, but not of credulity or subservience. He had the facts, and he made more of them than he should have. But as Schou points out:

Contrary to the wholly discredited reporting on Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction by New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Webb was the only victim of his mistakes. Nobody else died because of his work, and no one, either at the CIA or the Mercury News, is known to have lost so much as a paycheck.

Webb shot himself in late 2004, his career and personal life having come unraveled in the wake of "Dark Alliance." We could use the likes of him right now.

Teenage Embed Helps Convict CIA Contractor in Beating Death of Afghan Detainee

| Fri Aug. 18, 2006 2:45 AM EDT

Dave Passaro was found guilty today of beating Afghan detainee Abdul Wali to death, based in large part on the testimony of Hyder Akbar. Hyder is the young Afghan American whose memoir Come Back to Afghanistan recounts the first few years of the Karzai administration—in which Hyder's dad served as spokesperson and then governor of the Kunar province. Pitching in as translator to U.S. troops, Hyder accompanied Wali to a U.S. Army base to undergo questioning. Hyder assured the terrified Ali the Americans would treat him fairly. Three days later, Akbar returned to collect Wali's corpse.

You can read some background of Hyder's testimony here. Hyder's amazing series of "This American Life" episodes (produced by Susan Burton) can be found here. And you can read my interview with Hyder, in which he talks about the Wali episode, here.