Sunday, September 30, 2007


The folks at Sadly, No! have possibly shed some light on commenter Ban/Nasi/Somaya, who had some pretty choice words for me when I linked to Sadly No’s original post about a movie still used to justify hate-monger David Horowitz’s bizarro “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.”

Apparently there is someone named Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi whose father is an Iranian political prisoner who has been shopping this movie-still-cum-photographic-evidence around to the fringe right-wing set who are so eager to justify their war-thirst for Iran.

What’s sad is that instead of trying to shine light on a real human rights issue, they’re using phony evidence of atrocities to drum up public support for bombing Iran. I guess things are going so swimmingly in Iraq, our military has nothing better to do, eh?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Divorce American Style

One of those widely accepted assumptions that never gets questioned is
that “about half of all U.S. marriages end in divorce.” We hear it all the time from “pro-family” groups like James Dobson’s Focus On The Family (which even claims that "evangelicals who attend church regularly divorce at a rate 35 percent lower than secular couples.” I wonder how that rate compares to non-evangelicals and couples of other faiths who attend worship services regularly? Sadly, Dr. Dobson doesn’t tell us.)

But an Op-Ed in Saturday’s New York Times by the Wharton School’s Betsey Stevenson and Justine Wolfers says divorce rates are actually at historic lows:
The story of ever-increasing divorce is a powerful narrative. It is also wrong. In fact, the divorce rate has been falling continuously over the past quarter-century, and is now at its lowest level since 1970. While marriage rates are also declining, those marriages that do occur are increasingly more stable. For instance, marriages that began in the 1990s were more likely to celebrate a 10th anniversary than those that started in the 1980s, which, in turn, were also more likely to last than marriages that began back in the 1970s.

But, the authors note, last week the New York Times ran with 25th Anniversary Mark Elusive for Many Couples:

More than half the Americans who might have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversaries since 2000 were divorced, separated or widowed before reaching that milestone.

Stevenson and Wolfers blame a statistical glitch on the erroneous report, which got picked up by papers all around the country. I’ll let you click through to read their explanation of the statistics involved -- nothing bores me more than reading about statistical methodology. They also point out that counts of divorce certificates “show the divorce rate as having peaked at 22.8 divorces per 1,000 married couples in 1979 and to have fallen by 2005 to 16.7.”

This interests me because this story shows the tenacity of certain American myths. On a more cynical note, it also shows the willingness of our news media to publish virtually any juicy human interest story that crosses the wires because some editor thought it felt plausible, based on that tenacious American myth. The 25th anniversary story appeared everywhere from to the Chicago Sun-Times to the Houston Chronicle to the Christian Post. The Post's story generated a comment spouting the predictable BS about divorce being the product of sinful behavior, premarital sex, cohabitation, etc.

This is why this story bothers me. These erroneous beliefs eventually manifest as public policy: covenant marriage laws, for example, or the ridiculous notion that society’s acceptance of GLBT relationships has weakened heterosexual marriages because "gee, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce!" I wonder how many papers that published the “fewer 25th anniversaries” story will print the Stevenson and Wolfers piece? Probably none. Will the Christian Post? Doubtful.

What Makes An American?

Yesterday‘s New York Times has a story about the new citizenship test immigrants wishing to be naturalized will have to pass:
The redesign of the test, the first since it was created in 1986 as a standardized examination, follows years of criticism in which conservatives said the test was too easy and immigrant advocates said it was too hard.

The new questions did little to quell that debate among many immigrant groups, who complained that the citizenship test would become even more daunting. Conservatives seemed to be more satisfied.

I happen to have a friend going through the naturalization process and last month she quizzed Mr. Beale and me on our civics and American history, using the 100 sample questions she was given (we passed with flying colors, BTW.)

I can see why conservatives said the questions were too easy, and I can also see why they’d be hard for a non-native born American (although it always shocks me when I hear how many Americans can’t answers them, either.) This is because the questions are deeply rooted in what I call our American mythology: the stories we grew up with as kids, the “one if by land, two if by sea” and “give me liberty or give me death” stuff. These are iconic pieces of the American story and they tell us how we came to be, but so do a lot of things.

I had to wonder: do immigrants really need to know who Betsy Ross is? Or how many stripes are on the flag? Or who Frances Scott Key is? Is that the most important thing for a new citizen to know? Shouldn’t they know how our government works? Granted, some of the questions did cover a few of these topics (and it was interesting to see my friend, who grew up in a country with a parliamentary system, struggle to understand America’s unique three-branch system of government). Shouldn't new citizens know how our courts system works, how representative democracy works, where spending bills get their start, or the difference between a state government and a federal government?

The new test addresses that:

Several historians said the new questions successfully incorporated more ideas about the workings of American democracy and better touched upon the diversity of the groups — including women, American Indians and African-Americans — who have influenced the country’s history.

Would-be citizens no longer have to know who said, “Give me liberty or give me death,” or who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But they do have to know what Susan B. Anthony did and who the speaker of the House of Representatives is.


Immigration officials said they sought to move away from civics trivia to emphasize basic concepts about the structure of government and American history and geography. In contrast to the old test, which some immigrants could pass without any study, the officials said the new one is intended to force even highly educated applicants to do reviewing.

This seems more to the point. And yes, I know a really large percentage of native-born Americans won’t be able to answer these questions, either. Maybe that’s a benefit of being a natural-born American: the luxury of being as clueless and uninformed about how our government works as you want to be, at least until you’re humiliated on national television by Jay Leno.

Oh, and one more thing:

The agency will begin to use the revised test on Oct. 1, 2008, leaving a year for aspiring citizens to prepare and for community groups to adjust their study classes.

Looks like my friend, who is to take her test in November, will be OK knowing who came over on the Mayflower and other such trivia.

BTW, Mr. Beale disagrees with me on the "current events" type stuff: “I could give a shit if they know who the Speaker of the House is. The main thing they need to know is what the House does. They need to know where spending bills start. They need to know the Speaker of the House is third in line to the President. They don't need to know Nancy Pelosi by name.”

Well, yeah, how our government works is important. But I do think a modicum of current events knowledge is important. I don't expect new citizens to know who the Secretary of Transportation is (heck, I'd have to Google it myself right now), but the people whose names are in the news regularly--Nancy Pelosi, Condoleezza Rice, Chief Justice John Roberts--shouldn't new citizens know who these people are? Shouldn't we all? I say yes.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Wrapped In A Flag, Carrying A Cross (& Gun)

I’m as big a fan of capitalism as the next person, but there are some things I don’t think should be profit-motivated, chief among them the military.

Think about it: if a corporation is making a profit from war and unrest, doesn’t that give them an incentive to create more war and unrest?

This is why Blackwater USA scares me so much. The company has been in the news lately for shooting civilians in Iraq. So I can’t say I’m thrilled to learn they want to bring their business Stateside:
It is that lack of oversight and accountability that has Walker and others concerned about Blackwater's intention to take their private security operation domestic. The company has met with leaders in several states to offer their security services in the event of a natural disaster. In California, they have suggested earthquake relief. In New York, they offered help in case of terrorist attack.

Their thinking is simple. The Iraq war won't last forever, so if the company wants to stick around, it needs an alternate business plan. Work here at home is one solution.

"From a capitalist point of view it is brilliant," said Walker. "You want to diversify your market to diversify your downside risk. But do you really want someone diversifying this service? This is hired gun service. And you are going to diversity this among the 51 jurisdictions in the U.S.? This makes me really nervous. This is not a good thing."

It bears remembering, Blackwater wouldn’t have been needed in New Orleans (or at any other disaster on American soil) if our National Guard were not occupied in Iraq right now.

The more I learn about Blackwater, the scarier it gets. For instance, I did not know that Blackwater founder Eri Prince and Dick Devos are related--Devos (of Amway fame) is Prince’s brother in law. Both men are mega-millionaires involved with conservative Christian organizations and major GOP donors. And Prince owns the world’s largest private army.

Am I the only one bothered by this?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fiction Vs. Realty, 2.0

Seems like just yesterday I was telling folks how Jack Bauer is really a fictional character from tee-vee. But it appears a few students were absent from class that day. Once again we have to remind the conservative media that their favorite photo to promote Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week (no, you can’t make this stuff up), is actually ... drum rolll ... a movie still:
That’s a reprinted press release from David Horowitz’s FrontPageMag. The text reads, “The photo accompanying this article, which shows a teenage girl buried before being stoned to death for alleged sexual offenses, will serve as the poster for the protest Week. The stoning took place in Iran.”

This photo turns up all over the right-wing media, but the ’stoning’ actually takes place in a 1994 Dutch indie film called De Steen, directed by Mahnaz Tamizi. The ‘teenage girl’ is actress Smadar Monsinos.

Oh, snap!

Yes, there’s still plenty of abuse of women going on the Middle East as, indeed, it occurss all around the world -- including, believe it or not, right here in the USA.

And by the way: Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week? Are you kidding me?

(Via Atrios.)

Takes One To Know One

It’s bad enough that we have Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling gays -- and by association, the thousands of gays who serve in the U.S. military -- immoral. Now that jokester Rush Limbaugh has stuck his foot in it by calling troops who support withdrawal "phony soldiers":
During the September 26 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh called service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq "phony soldiers." He made the comment while discussing with a caller a conversation he had with a previous caller, "Mike from Chicago," who said he "used to be military," and "believe[s] that we should pull out of Iraq."

Along with everyone else, my first thought was of the seven active-duty soldiers who wrote the now-famous op-ed, "The War As We Saw It.” Not long after its publication, two of the authors were killed in Iraq and one was shot in the head, though is expected to recover.

To be called “phony soldiers” by chickenhawk Rush who avoided serving in Vietnam because of a cyst on his ass is beyond despicable.

Is this the way conservatives support the troops?

(Via Atrios.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Righteous “Values Voter” Smackdown From One Of Their Own

Apparently I wasn’t the only one appalled by last week’s Values Voters Debate. Joe Murray, former staff attorney for the American Family Assn., which sponsored the debate, had some harsh words, too:
As an individual that has worked, and continues to work, in the arena of Christian rights, this author was shocked at the degree of political pandering carrying the banner of religious righteousness. From the very beginning, this debate was more hubris than humility.

Its website is topped with a large banner proclaiming Values Voters as "America's largest voting bloc" and its organizers, arguing Values Voters wield the power of the GOP nomination, predicted doom for those candidates failing to appear. This behavior has undermined the Christian faith and caused the bride of Christ to weep.

It is not coincidental that the road to Hell is paved with the best of intentions, thus while one hopes that conservative leaders, such as Don Wildmon, began their crusade motivated by morality, it appears that a number of them have been hypnotized by the siren song of the almighty dollar.

Christian activism has become a lucrative business. According to its 990 form, the AFA took in millions. Arguably, such revenue was made possible by sending out "Action Alerts" warning homosexuals will throw Christians in jail under the hate crimes bill. Such rhetoric is misleading at best, dishonest at worse.

How does one protect Christianity? Send money. Call it cash-back Christianity, and the VVD was no different.

The VVD had an opportunity to restore sanity to Christian public activism, but it quickly became a political sideshow to see which candidate was the political Christian of choice.

The result? A conservative carnival.

This strong indictment of modern Christian activism touched on all the major points that have disgusted me about the “family values” crowd. For a complete look at what Murray calls their “crimes against Christianity,” read the entire piece. It’s powerful stuff.

(h/t, AmericaBlog.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Why I No Longer Work In Country Music

Along with the music sucking, of course, it’s divisive, partisan moves like this:
Hannity To Keynote Radio Seminar 39

(Nashville, TN - September 24th, 2007) Multimedia broadcaster Sean Hannity will deliver the keynote address at the opening session of next year's Country Radio Seminar ® (CRS-39), which will be held March 5th through March 7th, 2008. The opening session is scheduled for Wednesday, March 5th, 2008 at 10:30 a.m.

Gee, I’m surprised they didn’t invite Mitt Romney, since his Bain Capital now owns Clear Channel.

Eavesdropping For Fun & Profit

Was that the free hand of the market reaching into my telephone, or are they just happy to see me?
Pudding Media, a start-up based in San Jose, Calif., is introducing an Internet phone service today that will be supported by advertising related to what people are talking about in their calls. The Web-based phone service is similar to Skype’s online service — consumers plug a headset and a microphone into their computers, dial any phone number and chat away. But unlike Internet phone services that charge by the length of the calls, Pudding Media offers calling without any toll charges.

The trade-off is that Pudding Media is eavesdropping on phone calls in order to display ads on the screen that are related to the conversation. Voice recognition software monitors the calls, selects ads based on what it hears and pushes the ads to the subscriber’s computer screen while he or she is still talking.

Let’s hope this idea finds a place in the bad product cemetery right beside New Coke and Crystal Pepsi. Seriously, how much can customers prostitute themselves? We went from 10-cents a minute to free calls--if you let us listen in and shove advertisements your way? And it gets worse:

Pudding Media is working on a way to e-mail the ads and other content to the person on the other end of the call, or to show it on that person’s cellphone screen.

Let me go on record as saying, if you are a Pudding Media customer, do not call me. Ever.

I’ve blogged about this before but I am offended that corporate America sees me as nothing more than a giant throbbing wallet. Whatever happened to innovators whose creations were conceived to make life better for people? Now all they’re designed to do is make money for someone.

I’m tired of the constant assault of advertising. You can’t walk out the door without being hit with dozens of advertising messages. They’re on billboards, on the grocery cart at the store, on public transportation, not to mention what you hear on the radio.

It’s relentless and the message is always the same: buy! Buy this! Buy that! Buy buy buy! Buy me! Have we really become a nation of whores? Or is this the inevitable result when you have an economy no longer based on creating things, and now based solely on consuming things?

[UPDATE]: A poster over at Digby's pointed this out, which I neglected to mention:

Mr. Maislos founded Pudding Media with his brother, Ruben. Each had spent several years doing intelligence work for the Israeli military.

Great selling point, guys. We've got the Mossad creating a service where they can eavesdrop on your phone calls, yeah I'll be signing right up. {eyeroll}

And here's another point: Maislos claims that “The trade-off of getting personalized content versus privacy is a concept that is accepted in the world.” But I don't want personalized content. Americans run from advertisements, we fast-forward on the TiVo, we have Spam-blocking, we sign up for "Do Not Call" lists. In short: we do not want this crap. Quit shoving your "personalized content" at me because I don't want it.

You Bought It, You Own It

Austin Cline over at The General’s place has this just about right:
Every Republican running for office, no matter what the office, should be judged, at least in part, on the record of George W. Bush personally and the Republican control of the government generally. They should be expected to answer for it and defend it if they want to run as Republicans, promoting the Republican and conservative philosophy of government. If they want to promote some other philosophy of government, they should stop calling themselves Republicans — as some have had the courage to do, recognizing that what it means to be a Republican has changed in recent years.

Republicans have carried water for President Bush for the past six years, letting the government listen in to our phone calls and find out what books we’re reading, funding a war to the tune of $12 billion a week while cutting Section 8 housing grants and other services to the poor for fiscal reasons--all while claiming to promote a “culture of life.” It makes my head spin.

Yes, some Democrats have voted for these things too. And what conservatives refer to as the "far left wing" of the Democratic Party is forcing these candidates to answer for this support. Hillary Clinton has been dogged by anti-war activists for her pro-war votes at nearly ever campaign stop. There are “anti-DINO” campaigns all over the lefty blogosphere.

But Republicans have rubber-stamped everything Bush has done, and now they think they can run away from an unpopular president:

How candidates handle the 800-pound elephant in the room now could have implications beyond the primary. Privately, Republican strategists agree their nominee will lose next fall if the general election is a referendum on Bush. They say GOP candidates are wise to distance themselves from the president now, given his unpopularity among the public at large.

But facts are facts. It is hypocritical to deny active-duty troops more R&R time while claiming you support the troops. It’s hypocritical to say you don’t have the money for low income housing while billions of dollars go unaccounted for in Iraq:

Paul Bremer, meanwhile, had a slush fund in cash of more than $600 million in his office for which there was no paperwork. One U.S. contractor received $2 million in a duffel bag. Three-quarters of a million dollars was stolen from an office safe, and a U.S. official was given $7 million in cash in the waning days of the CPA and told to spend it “before the Iraqis take over.” Nearly $5 billion was shipped from New York in the last month of the CPA. Sources suggest that a deliberate attempt was being made to run down the balance and spend the money while the CPA still had authority and before an Iraqi government could be formed.

The only certified public-accounting firm used by the CPA to monitor its spending was a company called North Star Consultants, located in San Diego, which was so small that it operated out of a private home. It was subsequently determined that North Star did not, in fact, perform any review of the CPA’s internal spending controls. Today, no one can account for billions of those dollars or even suggest how the money was spent. And as the CPA no longer exists, there is also little interest in re-examining its transparency or accountability.

The above is from a 2005 story in the American Conservative, not really the “liberal media.” Paul Bremer received a medal of freedom along with George Tenet and Tommy Franks. Where is the Republican outrage over this fiscal irresponsibility? Every GOP candidate, be it for President or Congress, should be asked about this outrage and many others.

Are these conservative values? Is this the Republican Party? Why have you remained silent? Why aren't you doing anything about it? How can we ever trust Republicans to run the government, to be in charge of American foreign policy, when you got us in this mess to begin with?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Invisible Hand

And they wonder why we’re so cynical about the Great And Glorious Power of the Free Market:
More Profit and Less Nursing at Many Homes

Habana Health Care Center, a 150-bed nursing home in Tampa, Fla., was struggling when a group of large private investment firms purchased it and 48 other nursing homes in 2002.

The facility’s managers quickly cut costs. Within months, the number of clinical registered nurses at the home was half what it had been a year earlier, records collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicate. Budgets for nursing supplies, resident activities and other services also fell, according to Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.

The investors and operators were soon earning millions of dollars a year from their 49 homes.

Residents fared less well. Over three years, 15 at Habana died from what their families contend was negligent care in lawsuits filed in state court. Regulators repeatedly warned the home that staff levels were below mandatory minimums. When regulators visited, they found malfunctioning fire doors, unhygienic kitchens and a resident using a leg brace that was broken.

But hey, if your loved one receives poor care, is injured or even dies, you can always turn to the courts, right? After all, the courts are where we traditionally have gone for restitution, and more importantly, to deliver a punitive smack at corporations. You know, a $3 million judgment certainly eats into the profits, right?

Heh, well, funny thing about Bush’s America:

In the past, residents’ families often responded to such declines in care by suing, and regulators levied heavy fines against nursing home chains where understaffing led to lapses in care.

But private investment companies have made it very difficult for plaintiffs to succeed in court and for regulators to levy chainwide fines by creating complex corporate structures that obscure who controls their nursing homes.

By contrast, publicly owned nursing home chains are essentially required to disclose who controls their facilities in securities filings and other regulatory documents.

The Byzantine structures established at homes owned by private investment firms also make it harder for regulators to know if one company is responsible for multiple centers. And the structures help managers bypass rules that require them to report when they, in effect, pay themselves from programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Someone remind me, how is the free market supposed to work here? For the Carlyle Group, their chain of nursing homes is just a profit center alongside businesses like Dunkin' Donuts. When all you care about is profits, how is this supposed to be good for people?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Memory Hole

Because when it comes to supporting the troops, it's good to have some perspective:
Remember the Purple Heart Bandages at the 2004 Republican National Convention? It was a crass stunt by the GOP to make light of the Purple Hearts which Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry earned for injuries suffered in Vietnam.
It infuriated Military Order of the Purple Heart and Purple Heart recipients everywhere:
"I have received numerous calls from members of our organization to protest the misuse of our award," said Robert Lichtenberger, national commander of the group, "They are outraged that an award that has been earned by them for shedding blood on the battlefields of the world would be so denigrated by using it for the purpose of political advantage."
The idea came from Karl Rove's mentor, Morton Blackwell, and coupled with Rove's Swiftboat lies you can see that the GOP made attacking Kerry's honorable service in the military their #1 priority.
And why not? Almost EVERY SINGLE member of Bush's team had never served their country or not seen one single day of combat and most used their influence to avoid the Vietnam war. Not Bush, not Cheney, not Rove. None of them served their nation. Even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had never seen combat and got his "street creds" from three years as a FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR!!

MSNBC interviewed this delegate, Ms. Pat Peale, making a mockery of the military and Purple Hearts recipients everywhere on national television. And yes, (groan) she's from Texas. The day Ms. Peale had her 15-minutes of fame I want her to know that U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Aaron N. Holleyman was killed in Iraq. He was only 26 and taken away from his family by the man Ms. Peale gleefully supported. A man who never served, who has never asked his two partying daughters to serve, and who could have put a stop to the purple bandages and yet never did.

Yes, when we're gnashing our teeth and pulling our hair over advertisements in the New York Times, it's good to remember that not one person clutching their pearls over the ad said a word when delegates sported purple heart bandages at the Republican National Convention.

No one. Not Rudy Giuliani, not Ann Coulter, not Bill O'Reilly, not Limbaugh.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Keep It Up

Somehow I knew that all of the conservative condemnation of would backfire:
And then came the donations. By midnight, over 12,000 people had donated $500,000—more than we've raised any day this year—for our new ad calling out the Republicans who blocked adequate rest for troops headed back to Iraq.

The message from MoveOn members was loud and clear: Don't back down. Take the fight back to the issues that matter.

I confess, I sent some turkee their way. Now with GOP candidates like Rudy Giuliani going way overboard, I expect this whole thing will blow up, Schiavo-like, in conservatives’ faces.

Olbermann Issues Bush Smackdown

I loves me some pissed off Olbermann!

On last night’s “Countdown,” Keith Olbermann issued a righteous smackdown to President Bush for his response to that planted question that was the finale of his strange, rambling press conference (when the President started shrieking “Mandela! Mandela!” I thought he’d finally lost it).

Honestly, we all had to know that question was a plant; when has President Bush ever given a response so pointed and articulate to a press conference question? Sadly, he was just reading his lines in another pathetic piece of political theater. Wake up, Sheeple, it's all just smoke and mirrors.

Olbermann wasn't fooled, in fact, he was outraged. Crooks & Liars has the video and transcript, and here are a few choice excerpts:
Deliberately, premeditatedly, and virtually without precedent, you shanghaied a military man as your personal spokesman — and now you’re complaining about the outcome, and then running away from the microphone?

Eleven months ago the President’s own party — the Republican National Committee — introduced this very different kind of advertisement, just nineteen days before the mid-term elections.

Bin Laden.

And Zawahiri’s rumored quote of six years ago about having bought “suitcase bombs.”

All set against a ticking clock, and finally a blinding explosion… and the dire announcement:

“These are the stakes - vote, November 7th.”

Terrorizing your own people in hopes of getting them to vote for your own party has never brought as much as a public comment from you?

The Republican Hamstringing of Captain Max Cleeland and lying about Lieutenant John Kerry met with your approval?

But a shot at General Petraeus — about whom you conveniently ignore it is you who reduced him from four-star hero to a political hack — that merits this pissy juvenile blast at the Democrats on national television?

[. . .]

But Mr. Bush, you have hidden behind the General’s skirts, and today you have hidden behind the skirts of ‘the planted last question’ at a news conference, to indicate once again that your presidency has been about the tilted playing field, about no rules for your party in terms of character assassination and changing the fabric of our nation, and no right for your opponents or critics to as much as respond.

That, sir, is not only un-American — it is dictatorial.

And in pimping General David Petraeus, sir, in violation of everything this country has been assiduously and vigilantly against for 220 years, you have tried to blur the gleaming radioactive demarcation between the military and the political, and to portray your party as the one associated with the military, and your opponents as the ones somehow antithetical to it.

You did it again today, sir, and you need to know how history will judge the line you just crossed.

Go to C&L and hear the whole thing.

[UPDATE]: ThinkProgress has the goods on the conservative reporter who asked Bush the question.


Some Christian folks just baffle me:
Christian Theater Troupe Scolds Griffin

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Members of a Christian theater troupe are spreading the word that they're irate about Kathy Griffin's off-color speech in accepting a creative arts Emmy earlier this month.

The Miracle Theater in Pigeon Forge spent $90,440 on a full-page advertisement in USA Today that ran nationally Monday, proclaiming "enough is enough."

In accepting the Emmy for her Bravo reality show, "My Life on the D-List," Griffin said that "a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus."

She went on to hold up her Emmy, make an off-color remark about Christ and proclaim, "This award is my god now!"

"We at The Miracle Theater consider it an honor to stand for Jesus today," the ad said. "We may never win a national award. We may never be household names. We may never be seen in Hollywood. Although others may choose to use their national platform to slander our God, we are honored as professional entertainers to stand for Christ."

Honestly, was that the best way to stand for Jesus, by spending $90,000+ on a full-page ad? Y’all couldn’t think of some better way to show how much God means to you? Nothing?

((h/t, HuffPo)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

But Wait, I Thought The Surge Was Working?

Right-wing blogger Richard Miniter claims the Iraqi government’s crackdown on Blackwater USA (which I blogged about on Monday) is having a deleterious effect on our glorious operations in Baghdad:
Movements of key CIA station personnel in Baghdad—along with most State department diplomats and teams building police stations and schools—have been frozen for the second day in a row, according to a State department source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Essentially, the CIA, State department and government contractors are stuck inside the International Zone, also known as “the Green Zone,” in Central Baghdad. Even travel inside that walled enclave is somewhat restricted.

How this “save Blackwater” message is supposed to synch with the “our great glorious surge is working and Baghdad is way safer than evah!” message is beyond me.

Dobson Just Says No To Fred

Well, not that we didn’t see this one coming, but I must say I was surprised by James Dobson's brutal critique of Fred Thompson:
In a private e-mail obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, Dobson accuses the former Tennessee senator and actor of being weak on the campaign trail and wrong on issues dear to social conservatives.

"Isn't Thompson the candidate who is opposed to a Constitutional amendment to protect marriage, believes there should be 50 different definitions of marriage in the U.S., favors McCain-Feingold, won't talk at all about what he believes, and can't speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail?" Dobson wrote.

"He has no passion, no zeal, and no apparent 'want to.' And yet he is apparently the Great Hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!"

But don’t worry, FredHeads. As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post, I think the religious right is horribly out of touch with the country. People are sick of the so-called “culture wars,” they’re more worried about the economy and healthcare and other bread and butter issues than whether evolution is taught in Kansas schools or the 10 Commandments are posted in the courthouse.

So, Dobson’s disparaging opinion of the candidate that sends so many Tennessee GOPers’ hearts aflutter probably won’t amount to anything. In fact, it might be the best “endorsement” he gets.

(h/t, Volunteer Voters)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

60 Is The New 50

Digby’s post on ”E-Z filibusters” is a must read. Under the current political rules of “IOKIYAR” and “can’t win for losing,” it seems even a razor-thin Senate majority hasn’t helped Democrats. Republicans are threatening to filibuster everything in sight, which means 60 is the new 50.

Digby links to Kevin Drum’s post on the topic. For the uninitiated:
[...] Republicans aren't just obstructing legislation at normal rates. They're obstructing legislation at three times the usual rate. They're absolutely desperate to keep this stuff off the president's desk, where the only choice is to either sign it or else take the blame for a high-profile veto.

As Drum and Digby point out, the press has done a pretty half-assed job of reporting this; I mean really, a vote to give Utah and the District of Columbia House representation was going to be filibustered? For real?

“Democratic obstructionism” was the mantra of conservatives pre-November 2006. Go on, Google it, I dare you. Now that they're in the minority, obstructionism is business as usual for GOP senators, and the press hasn’t bothered to notice. I know, I keep forgetting, IOKIYAR.

Even worse, the Democrats are enabling this behavior, counting the votes ahead of time and calling for floor votes instead of forcing a real filibuster. Digby’s solution? Call their bluff. “Make ‘em talk,” she says:

The Democrats are going to have to force real filibusters. I know that it will disrupt the business of the senate, but there's really no other choice. Look at that chart. The Republicans have successfully halted virtually anything worth doing with these EZ-Filibusters. Forget cloture. Make 'em talk.

I'm still looking forward to hearing Huckleberry Graham doing his dramatic reading of Miss Mellie's death scene. And I hear St John McCain does an amazing rendition of Captain Queeg's "strawberries" soliloquy. Let 'em stand there and blather on until they're hoarse. It's the only way to break this silly deadlock and instruct the country about who's stopping the congress from getting anything done. The press certainly isn't getting the job done. Everybody's blaming the Dems for being ineffectual so they really have no choice but to force these Republicans to filibuster for real or risk paying the price at the ballot box when the Republicans run against the "do-nothing congress."

I like the way this girl thinks. Make 'em talk. If they’re threatening to do it, then make them do it. Stand up there for 20 hours reciting Aunt Martha’s favorite recipes to block passage of some legislation granting Utah more House representatives. Or denying children’s healthcare coverage. Or shredding the Constitution by killing off habeas corpus.

Go on. I dare you.

Shiver Me Timbers

Apparently it's International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Sadly, I've exhausted my knowledge of pirate vernacular with this headline. I got nuthin' .

[UPDATE]: I just learned my pirate name is "Stutterin' Uma Bonny."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

“Values Voters” Get Testy

No wonder none of the top-tier GOP candidates showed up at the great Values Voter Debate Monday night. If I were Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney or the rest, I’d have stayed away, too.

For this crowd, “values" are defined as anti-gay and anti-abortion. Poverty, the war, environmental destruction (aka, “Creation Care”), the death penalty, corruption, or any number of other values are not on their radar. Surely the 25 million or so evangelical Christian voters care about other things besides gay marriage and abortion? But to the self-appointed leaders of the religious right, it's a two-issue movement. And they call us out of touch?

Anyway, War Room posted a few of the questions candidates were asked, whether they were in attendance or not:
Question for Giuliani, asked by a teenage girl with an apparent speech impediment:
"Eighteen years ago, an abortionist was hired to kill me, but he failed. Nuns came and rescued me and took me to the hospital, where I stayed for two months. My heroic parents then adopted me. Mayor Giuliani, your position on abortion would have left me dead. Now that you see me, Mayor Giuliani, do you honestly believe that an abortionist had a right to kill me?"

Yeah, I’m sure any candidate would have loved to take that question.

The other questions posted were just as bad. I think more than anything it’s a sign of the imploding religious right. With layoffs at Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition headed for insolvency, the religious right is headed toward irrelevancy, and the top GOP candidates know it. That explains why they stayed away from this ridiculous excuse for a debate; why subject yourself to a stupid “values” exercise where the only sure result will be an embarassing headline?

Much as I wish Mike Huckabee or Sam Brownback would win the GOP nomination, I just don’t see it happening. Guess Democrats will have to work just a little bit harder for their 2008 win.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Breaking: Blackwater Banned From Iraq

Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of thugs and mercenaries:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's Interior Ministry has revoked the license of Blackwater USA, an American security firm whose contractors are blamed for a Sunday gunbattle in Baghdad that left eight civilians dead. The U.S. State Department said it plans to investigate what it calls a "terrible incident."

Earlier this year I attended a workshop with an Iraq War veteran, a National Guardsman. He told me when U.S. troops would get to a street or area they needed “cleared” (his word, not mine), something that the military is forbidden to do, they’d call in the guys from DynCorp and Blackwater and have them do it. I have no way of verifying what he told me, but let me add he was very pro-war, and believed in the mission. He’d be there now if his wife hadn’t told him she’d divorce him if he reenlisted.

In all of this talk about the troop “surge” and numbers of soldiers deployed, no one has ever mentioned all of the private contractors serving in Iraq. This CNN story puts the number at 25,000, but last December the Washington Post reported on a new military census that put the total closer to 100,000:

There are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the U.S. military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield.

[ ... ]

In addition to about 140,000 U.S. troops, Iraq is now filled with a hodgepodge of contractors. DynCorp International has about 1,500 employees in Iraq, including about 700 helping train the police force. Blackwater USA has more than 1,000 employees in the country, most of them providing private security. Kellogg, Brown and Root, one of the largest contractors in Iraq, said it does not delineate its workforce by country but that it has more than 50,000 employees and subcontractors working in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. MPRI, a unit of L-3 Communications, has about 500 employees working on 12 contracts, including providing mentors to the Iraqi Defense Ministry for strategic planning, budgeting and establishing its public affairs office. Titan, another L-3 division, has 6,500 linguists in the country.

The Pentagon's latest estimate "further demonstrates the need for Congress to finally engage in responsible, serious and aggressive oversight over the questionable and growing U.S. practice of private military contracting," said Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has been critical of the military's reliance on contractors.

Indeed, for those serious about ending this war, instead of demanding an end to funding, what if we demanded an end to private contractors? Because short of reinstating the draft, I just don’t see how we could make up for the loss of those additional 100,000.

Unless some pro-war conservatives out there want to enlist?

* crickets *

Should Dems Say Bye-Bye To Bubba? has a controversial article up today about electoral demographics. Looking at the 2008 primary, author Thomas Schaller asks: has the Democratic Party finally given up on the white, male, working-class vote?
Start looking on milk cartons for Bubba because he has vanished, and not a moment too soon: The Democratic obsession with the down-home, blue-collar, white male voter, that heartbreaker who crossed the aisle to the Republicans many decades ago, may finally be coming to a merciful end.

The simplest explanation for Bubba's absence to date is that none of the 2008 Democratic presidential contenders provides an obvious home for his vote. [ ....] But the candidacy that most testifies to Bubba's declining stock is that of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

At first blush, Edwards, the Southern populist nonpareil, seems ideally situated to corner the market on working-class, white male voters. But aside from his homegrown accent, Edwards displays none of the affectations or semiotics that might once have signaled his intent to woo them. There are no Lamar Alexander-style flannel shirts; there is no sponsorship, à la Florida Sen. Bob Graham four years ago, of a NASCAR racing team. Instead, Edwards -- whose father worked in a textile mill -- hammers the issue of economic justice largely, if not completely, without overt cultural appeals. If he were a character from Southern literature, the former trial lawyer would be Atticus Finch of "To Kill a Mockingbird," not Henry Drummond of "Inherit the Wind." [...]

Schaller then points out that “Super-Bubba” Bill Clinton didn’t depend on white male voters either; in 1992, 22% those votes went to Ross Perot. In 1996, only 11% of white male voters supported Perot, but “Clinton's support improved by a meager 1 percent.”

The article generated a good deal of criticism in the comments, saying it was racist and relied on stereotypes not demographics. Others found it right-on; one commentor called it a “remarkably prescient piece.”

Either way, it struck a nerve, especially Schaller’s conclusion: to win, Dems need to forget about wooing Bubba.

So should Democrats really be all that worried about Bubba? After snubbing him during primary season, should they revert to form during the general election, and begin their familiar, unrequited quest for his affections? Republican pollster Whit Ayres has a clear preference. "I would dearly love for the Democrats to spend millions of dollars trying to persuade NASCAR fans to vote for the Democrats," Ayres chirped last summer. "They tend to be disproportionately southern, disproportionately white and disproportionately male, which pretty well defines the core of the Republican Party." In other words, it's a waste of time and resources for the Democrats to pursue them -- a classic sucker's bet.

It’s easy to see why Schaller’s article was viewed as inflammatory; no one likes to be pigeonholed because of the way they vote.

I’m seeing a more regional bias reflected in Schaller’s words. Schaller notes that white, male union workers still overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party--although he doesn’t mention that this is itself a declining demographic. But when Schaller refers to the “Bubba” vote it’s obvious he’s referring to the Southern vote. Maybe what Schaller is really saying is, Democrats have lost the white Southern vote, but should they care? I'd clarify this to say, have Democrats lost the rural white Southern vote, and should they care?

This is a hotly debated topic, ever since Howard Dean claimed he wanted Democrats to appeal to "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.” I’ve never understood why he got so much flak for that comment; it’s not like there aren’t guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks all over the place, especially outside big cities like Nashville.

I just spent a weekend at a tiny rural community on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, miles from the nearest Interstate. I saw more Confederate flags in 24 hours than in the whole past year. I saw a pick-up truck with a flag-pole-sized Confederate flag attached to the back, waving proudly as the truck whizzed down the highway. I saw one African American person all weekend, and he was sweeping the sidewalks. When asking a local about the town’s Mexican restaurant, my traveling companions said the response was: "I don't like no Mexicans and I don't like their damn food, neither." This fellow was the stereotypical Bubba; this town was the stereotypical rural Southern town.

Does anyone think Democrats can get this vote? Should they care if they can’t?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Hoax With The Most

We all suspected was a hoax -- at least, I know we all hoped it was (though with movements like QuiverFull it’s hard to know).

Now Newsweek has interviewed the creator of the site. Yes it is a hoax--sort of:
As it turns out, Ordover’s intentions go deeper than poking fun. He says he was hired by a group of women from a local support group who'd been married out in similar fashions—and wanted to draw attention to a very real problem. Marriage laws vary by state in the U.S. and are often in conflict with statutory-rape laws, he says—meaning that, with parental permission, it's not uncommon to find girls as young as 13 married with children in states where the legal age of sexual consent is more like 17. "This is an issue that people are extremely complacent about, and I said, 'I think I can find a way to get people to care, or at least start talking about it'," Ordover says. He hopes the site will generate controversy and spur outraged readers to pressure their local legislators to elevate the marriage age.

The MarryOurDaughter site received 60 million hits in one week, according to the article; what’s truly creepy is the real e-mails the site received, like this one:

“Darling Makayla, Seeing your bright smile among the other girls on this site was a joy among joys—to see someone so obviously full of life and laughter made me keep coming back to your profile,” writes one suitor, who identifies himself as Mark B. “I want to provide you with everything you need, I want to have a partnership that will last a lifetime. You love to laugh, and I would love to make you laugh for the rest of our lives ... Please consider me as a husband.”

Makayla is the 15-year-old whose “bride’s price” was $24,995.

And then there's this e-mail:

Someone who appears to be a mother signing up her daughter writes that her 16-year-old, Elizabeth, is “uppity but very pretty, and says she wants to work for the United Nation when she grows up. She's a liberal, and extremely smart and needs a strong, Christian man to help guide her.” Her bride price: $45,000—set high, she says, “because we see this as an investment."

Of course, there’s no way of knowing if these e-mails are hoax responses, but I suspect at least a few are not.

There’s something truly wrong with a culture that still, after all this time, views women as property, incapable of making their own decisions, needing “guidance.” Baby's still got a long way to go.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Thank God For Weekends

Julius assumes the position.

It's been a busy week, but the weekend looks to be glorious. Enjoy it.

Troop Withdrawals & Other Amazing Fairy Tales

Oh, Mr. President. You tease.

Last night’s promise to withdraw as many as 20 combat brigades from Iraq next spring might sound good to those not really paying attention. But what President Bush is really telling us is that the surge is ... temporary! Gee, I thought that was the point all along.

The truth is, promising a troop withdrawal is perhaps second only to phony terror alerts as a favorite election ploy. It never happens, much as Adminstration folks talk about it.

Let’s jump into the memory hole for a look at what I’m talking about. Here’s something from June 2006:
WASHINGTON, June 24 — The top American commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that projects sharp reductions in the United States military presence there by the end of 2007, with the first cuts coming this September, American officials say.

According to a classified briefing at the Pentagon this week by the commander, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the number of American combat brigades in Iraq is projected to decrease to 5 or 6 from the current level of 14 by December 2007.

The media enablers were all over this story, reporting it as if it actually meant something. It's not going to happen, though, is it? Instead we got “the surge.”

We heard a similar fairy tale in Nov. 2005:

Defense official: Rumsfeld given Iraq withdrawal plan

Plan calls for troops to begin pulling out after December elections

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The top U.S. commander in Iraq has submitted a plan to the Pentagon for withdrawing troops in Iraq, according to a senior defense official.

Gen. George Casey submitted the plan to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. It includes numerous options and recommends that brigades -- usually made up of about 2,000 soldiers each -- begin pulling out of Iraq early next year.

We heard similar stories in this May, 18 2005 Washington Post story:

Nonetheless, by the middle of next month -- after one more assessment is run -- Casey and his staff intend to send a recommendation to the Pentagon on whether to reduce U.S. troop levels and by how much. One proposal gaining favor, according to another general in Iraq involved in the planning, envisions shrinking from 17 U.S. combat brigades to as few as 13 brigades next year, meaning a cut in troops from 138,000 to about 105,000, although the general stressed that this option is far from final.

Of course, General Casey was fired and replaced with the "sycophant” currently in charge. Pre- and post-surge, our troop levels will stay at around 130,000. That’s not progress, that’s staying in the same place.

(I also think it’s really clever to start referring to troop levels in terms of “combat brigades” not troop numbers. Because, 15 combat brigades sounds so much better than 30,000 troops).

The truth is, we’re never leaving Iraq, not when you remember the gigantic “embassy” (*cough*cough*MilitaryBase*cough*cough*) we’re building there. From April 2006:

Three years after a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, only one major U.S. building project in Iraq is on schedule and within budget: the massive new American embassy compound.

The $592 million facility is being built inside the heavily fortified Green Zone by 900 non-Iraqi foreign workers who are housed nearby and under the supervision of a Kuwaiti contractor, according to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report. Construction materials have been stockpiled to avoid the dangers and delays on Iraq's roads.

"We are confident the embassy will be completed according to schedule (by June 2007) and on budget," said Justin Higgins, a State Department spokesman.

ThinkProgress has more on this “embassy” (*cough*cough*MilitaryBase*cough*cough*), which is supposed to open this month and include a 9,500-square-foot “cottage” for the deputy chief of mission in Iraq, and a 16,000-square-foot residence for the U.S. Ambassador. Sweet.

We’re not leaving Iraq. Ever. Thousands of troops are going to be needed to maintain security for years to come--security, not for Iraqi civillians, and not for Americans at home, but to make sure people like Ray Lee Hunt can stay in business.

America has sold its soul.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mr. Pot, Meet Mrs. Kettle

ThinkProgress has an interesting item up about Bill O’Reilly, who opined on his radio show that Middle Easterners “don’t want democracy”:
In my opinion, they just don’t. They want their meals. They want to smoke. They want to go to the mosques. They want to sit around, and that’s what they want to do. Do they want to vote? Do they want to get involved? Not really.

I’m going to pass that along without comment except to point out that the citizens of Nashville/Davidson County just elected a new Mayor and a new City Council, and turnout was about 28%--nearly 13% for early voting, 15% on election day.

I guess folks were just lazy, sitting around eating, smoking and going to church.

A Good Idea for Nashville?

I always thought this was a great idea, but I wonder how it would play out in a city like Nashville. The concept is car-sharing, and here’s how it works in Philadelphia.

The basic idea is instead of owning a car, and having to pay such things as insurance, maintenance, registration, parking fees, etc., you “share” one, using it just when you need it--for an hour or for the day. Unlike a traditional car rental service, you don’t have to go through some elaborate check in rigamarole at the airport. Vehicles are available 24/7 at dozens of “pods” located all around the city; you go online to reserve your vehicle (Philly Car Share says cars are often available on a moment’s notice), then go to the location and vehicle you selected and unlock the car with your personalized electronic keyfob.

Sounds pretty cool to me. What’s great is the variety of vehicles available: if you want to impress a client, rent a Mercedes! Need to haul a bunch of furnture? Rent a pick-up! Doing errands at a bunch of far-flung locations in town? Then a gas-miser like a Prius is for you.

It helps keep extra vehicles off the roads, and people drive less. However, I wonder if it would really work in a place like Nashville, where public transportation isn’t very user-friendly. It seems a better idea for cities like Philly, where there’s commuter rail, buses, and others ways of getting around for the daily commute.

Still, until Nashville gets better public transportation, there still might be a need for a car sharing service. Maybe some two-car households would do fine with one car if they had a service like this to fall back on. Just an idea.

((h/t, Atrios)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Petraeus: “Ass-Kissing Little Chickenshit”

No, that’s not the latest MoveOn ad. That’s a description of General Petraeus from his superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM):
WASHINGTON, Sep 12 (IPS) - In sharp contrast to the lionisation of Gen. David Petraeus by members of the U.S. Congress during his testimony this week, Petraeus's superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM), derided Petraeus as a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad last March, according to Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting.

Fallon told Petraeus that he considered him to be "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" and added, "I hate people like that," the sources say. That remark reportedly came after Petraeus began the meeting by making remarks that Fallon interpreted as trying to ingratiate himself with a superior.

That extraordinarily contentious start of Fallon's mission to Baghdad led to more meetings marked by acute tension between the two commanders. Fallon went on to develop his own alternative to Petraeus's recommendation for continued high levels of U.S. troops in Iraq during the summer.

The enmity between the two commanders became public knowledge when the Washington Post reported Sep. 9 on intense conflict within the administration over Iraq. The story quoted a senior official as saying that referring to "bad relations" between them is "the understatement of the century."

Of course, we can’t be sure if this story is true. But what we do know is, Gen. Petraeus came on board after Gen. Casey and Gen. John Abizaid were fired because they opposed President Bush’s troop surge. I recall joking at the time that the President was going to "listen to the Generals on the ground"--as long as they said what he wanted them to.

So in my opinion it really was a foregone conclusion that Petraeus was going to call the surge a success of one sort or another, and recommend a “stay the course” policy. I mean, that’s why he was hired. Duh.

(h/t, ThinkProgress).

Is This What You Episcopal Folks Had In Mind?

[Update I & II below]

Memo to the handful of “breakaway” congregations that left the Episcopal Church for the Anglican Church of Nigeria over the issue of gays. I realize you were really upset over the ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, but I’m wondering if this is really what you had in mind:
Anglican bishop calls LGBT people inhuman

The Anglican Bishop of Uyo, Rt. Rev. Isaac Orama, this month condemned the activities of homosexuals and lesbians, and described those engaged in them as “insane people.”

In an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria, earlier this month, Orama said: "Homosexuality and lesbianism are inhuman. Those who practice them are insane, satanic and are not fit to live because they are rebels to God's purpose for man."
The Bishop noted that the Anglican Church in Nigeria had continued to lead the fight against the practice especially in the US where it led the opposition to same sex marriages.

Is this really your vision for the modern American Episcopal church? Do you agree with Rt. Rev. Orama that gays and lesbians are "satanic" and "inhuman"?

Just wondering.
[UPDATE]: John in comments links to this article, in which the quote is denounced as false:

A spokesman for the Church of Nigeria, Archdeacon Akintunde Popoola, told The Living Church the quote attributed to the bishop was false.

The Bishop of Uyo “denied making such a statement,” Canon Popoola said. While the bishop’s address to his diocesan synod did speak to the issue of human sexuality dividing the Communion, and the Church of Nigeria’s position on these issues, “he did not say that [gays and lesbians] are to be hated, nor that they are insane or unfit to live.”

The News Agency of Nigeria reporter has “apologized for the misrepresentation and promised a retraction,” Archdeacon Popoola told TLC.

This is an interesting story, for a lot of reasons. For one thing, the story appeared in UPI, owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. Rev. Moon, the controversial cult leader, has called gays and lesbians "dung-eating dogs,” so if the report truly was false, I wonder if there will be any repercussions?

Nor does it let the African Anglican churches off the hook for preaching homophobia. There have been plenty of other incidents involving the Anglican Communion in Africa, less heinous ones, perhaps. From the Boston Globe last week we have this:

Criticizing the Episcopal Church's embrace of gays and lesbians, the Rev. Samuel Muchiri told the 1,000 worshipers "we in Kenya feel this is not what God wants." An usher advised a visiting reporter to "remember that Sodom and Gomorrah was demolished because there were homosexuals." Another warned that the reporter could be assaulted if he asked worshipers about the issue, and said that America's permissiveness toward homosexuality had led Osama bin Laden to attack.

Those sentiments have been building for years, and now a group of Anglican archbishops is attempting to plant the seeds for a new, conservative Anglicanism in North America that will either transform or replace the Episcopal Church.

This is truly ominious for the American “Anglicans.” Here in Nashville we have one church that covered the “Episcopal” in their church sign with a black banner following the ordination of Bishop Robinson. They now call themselves “St. Andrews Parish Anglican Communion.”

I wonder, do they believe gays are the reason for the 9/11 attacks?


Another blogger on the story points to this bill before the Nigerian Parliament that would strip gays and lesbians of all rights.

Division in the church is hurtful, if not inevitable, but those American congregations who feel the need to split over the issue of gays need to know what kind of deal they’re making.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Creepy NeoCon Of The Week

Doug Feith, formerly third in charge at the Pentagon, continues to scare the crap out of me.

The warmongering PNACer is one of the architects of the Iraq mess, who “stovepiped” cherry-picked intelligence to the top, and whose fingerprints are on such war fiascos as Abu Ghraib and the Guantanamo Bay detainee mess. This is also the guy General Tommy Franks called ”the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth,” okay?

So when Feith writes the following in answer to the New York Times’ question, “what three questions would you ask Gen. Petraeus and Ambassader Crocker,” I’ve got to wonder if he’s also batshit insane:
1. Ambassador Crocker, in Iraqi elections, voters pick national party lists, not individuals to represent specific district constituencies. Has this system made it harder for Iraqi leaders to achieve legislative progress? If so, can it be changed?

Can it be changed? By whom? I thought Iraq had a “democracy” that they, you know, created themselves. Is he suggesting we rewrite their constitution? I’m sure they’d be so grateful.

2. What changes in United States law could help you succeed in your work in Iraq?


I’d like to know where he’s going with this. Reinstating the military draft, maybe? Ya think?

3. Should the United States create a civilian reserve corps to train, equip and deploy volunteer civilians for civilian reconstruction tasks, just as we do military reservists for military tasks?

See number two.

Doug Feith is one creepy NeoCon who needs to slink off into the netherworld, or else be hauled off to prison like his assistant Larry Franklin (you know, the guy who’s now serving 12 years for passing classified information on to the Israelis).

From the looks of his questions he’s still thinking like someone involved in crafting policy related to Iraq. Lord help us.

Monday, September 10, 2007

It’s About The Oil, Stupid

As a war weary nation turns its attention to the Petraeus report, it’s good to remember why we’re fighting to begin with. As if on cue, Dallas-based Hunt Oil makes a timely announcement:
The Hunt Oil Company of Dallas has become the first international company to receive permission to drill for oil in the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq since the local government issued an oil-and-gas law last month.

Under its contract with the Kurdistan regional government, Hunt, a closely held company, will join the Impulse Energy Corporation to survey for oil in the Dihok district this year before drilling its first well in 2008. The information was contained in a Hunt Oil statement posted yesterday on Ame Info, a business Web site based in Dubai.

They announced it on a Dubai website? What, were they were hoping we wouldn’t notice? Must be embarassing with all this "surge" stuff in the news.

The Chairman of Hunt Oil is none other than Ray Lee Hunt, the “Bush Pioneer” whom President Bush appointed to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. According to the White House, the group’s function is as follows:

The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) provides advice to the President concerning the quality and adequacy of intelligence collection, of analysis and estimates, of counterintelligence, and of other intelligence activities. The PFIAB, through its Intelligence Oversight Board, also advises the President on the legality of foreign intelligence activities.

Yeah, sure, I can see why the president would want the chairman of an oil company on the PFIAB. How nice for him that Hunt Oil gets to be the first foreign company to profit off the Iraqi oil revenue. Purely coincidental, I’m sure.

“1 ... 2.. 3.. 4, what the hell are we fighting for?”

A Modern Anti-War Movement

“Why aren’t we hitting the streets about (fill in the Bush Administration outrage du jour)!”

Ah, the oft-heard progressive lament. It’s usually followed by a list of complaints about the ignorant American “sheeple,” too consumed with sports scores and Lindsay Lohan news to care about what the government is doing in their name. I don’t necessarily buy this. I think Americans are able to pay attention to Lindsay Lohan and follow news about the Iraq War.

When someone cries out to me “why aren’t we hitting the streets!” my first answer is usually, we are--including massive rallies in New York City during the Republican National Convention and the huge Sept. 2005 march on Washington, D.C.

But there’s another reason. Sunday’s New York Times Magazine contained an article about the new, post-hippie style of war protest--the K Street kind. The article looks at Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, “a coalition of activists, policy outfits and labor unions,” working to lobby Congress as well as mobilize constituents. The question they ask is, Can Lobbyists Stop the War?
The playbook for opposing a war has changed markedly since the street-protest ethos of the anti-Vietnam movement. Tie-dyed shirts and flowers have been replaced by oxfords and BlackBerries. Politicians are as likely to be lobbied politely as berated. And instead of a freewheeling circus managed from college campuses and coffee houses, the new antiwar movement is a multimillion-dollar operation run by media-savvy professionals.

“They are to the left what the N.R.A. is to the right,” says a
Democratic strategist with close ties to the party’s congressional leadership. “They’re very effective in turning up the volume and demanding a response.”

This is all true. I’m not sure the right wingers have completely grasped the truth about the modern anti-war movement, that we’re not tie-dye wearing hippies munching on vegan stew and driving to protests in biofuel-powered vehicles. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, of course.) Part of the reason is that we do still have old school war protests; who can forget all that media coverage of Joan Baez serenading Cindy Sheehan and her fellow protestors at Camp Casey? The media loves this stuff because it’s an easy sell; the image is already in the collective unconscious: “anti-war protestor = hippie.”

And that’s fine with me. While the wingers and MSM focus on obvious targets, coalitions like Americans Against Escalation in Iraq are lobbying Congress and raising funds, and have pushed the anti-war movement farther, faster, than the previous generation’s Vietnam War protests did, and we don’t have a military draft to fuel our movement. We have righteous outrage at an unjust war that is bankrupting the country.

And then there’s this:

“The moment we’re in can change the course of American history,” he said. “We can show that conservatives can never again be trusted to run the foreign policy of this nation.”
A.A.E.I. is far more integrated into the political and media establishments than the hippies ever were. “They couldn’t figure if they wanted to take their clothes off, smoke pot, burn the Capitol or end the war,” Wiley Pearson, Matzzie’s other deputy, says of the 1960s counterculture protesters. Pearson, who is 59, spent 22 years in the Marines before finding a second career promoting progressive causes. Matzzie says political and lifestyle radicalism was a gift to supporters of the Vietnam War that his allies will not give again. “Nixon’s strategy was to demonize his opponents,” Matzzie says. “Some of the politicians who are supporting the war want to be protested by fringe groups. We’re not going to play that game — we’re not going to let them off the hook. We’re going to put their own constituents in their faces.”

The message to pro-war conservatives is simple: We're organized. We're well-funded. We're politically connected. We have access. And we will win this debate because the American people are with us. We are the American people, rank and file. So you can either get on board now and end this debacle in Iraq, or you can go down in history as the political party that can never be trusted to run our foreign policy again. It's your choice.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Your Tax Dollars At Work

I just saw this “PSA” on TV. In this case, I think the “p” stands for Propaganda:
Dad. Mom. It's me. We gotta talk.
We have to talk about sex. It's okay. I can handle it. Can you?
Talk to me about sex. Tell me how you feel.
Tell me you want me to wait.
I may roll my eyes. Act all bored. But I'm listening. I'll hear you.
So talk to me about sex. 'Cause my friends do. It's all over the Internet.
Now it's your turn.
Tell me, "Son, you have the world at your feet." Or, "Honey, the sky's the limit."
Tell me what you want for me. An education. A family. A career. Happiness.
Tell me to wait to have sex. I know you're nervous. Weirded out.
Me too. Me too. Me too. But we gotta do this.
Announcer: Tell your kids you want them to wait 'til they're married to have sex. And talk with them early and often so they'll have a better chance at success.

For the full, horrid, video effect, go see it for yourself. Then remind yourself, that this ad campaign -- dubbed “4parents”-- is really our government telling us what to say to our kids about sex. Know that this is how the Dept. of Health & Human Services is spending its taxpayer money.

This just screams of Fundie Bible thumper anti-sex, pro-marriage (but not for gays!) crusading and it’s pissed me off. Do we really need the government snooping in our family life like this?

It’s also extremely reminiscent of the “One Less” advertisements for Gardasil, the anti-genital herpes HPV-virus vaccine that has the conservative Christians up in arms because they think it will encourage underage sex. I wonder if some highly-placed Focus On The Family-type encouraged someone at the DHHS to invest money in an anti-teen sex campaign?

I suspect they knew this ad would be controversial because their "contact us" page contains a phone number and mailing address ... no e-mail. But it's a campaing of the Dept. of Health & Human Services, so I'm sure we can all contact our Congress Critters and find out why the government is wasting our money on this kind of indoctrination. I know I plan to.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

File this under “creepy sycophants with the President’s ear”:
George Bush isn't talking to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But he is speaking to Iranian student dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar. And Fakhravar's dead set on keeping it that way.

The thirty-two-year-old looks the part of a revolutionary. He has the fierce green eyes of a panther, and an eerie confidence that makes you wonder if he sees something you can't. Dressed in mesh shorts and a T-shirt, he ushers me into his bare D.C. apartment late one night. There's a desk flooded with papers in one corner. On the wall hang a pre-revolutionary Iranian flag and a cowboy hat.

The flag is for Iran's past and future, he says, and the cowboy hat is for his greatest hero: George Bush. "Bush and I were both born on July 6, within the same hour" he says. And because of this cosmic occurrence, "[we] are both hard line, passionate people" who want to rapidly, unabashedly change the world. But far more than a birthday and a cowboy ethos bonds the two men.

Last year Bush's neo-conservative confidant, Richard Perle, former head of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee who advocated invading Iraq, helped Fakhravar flee Iran's jails for the U.S. Once in D.C., Fakhravar found more allies in the White House who supported an aggressive stance toward Iran. He made the rounds, speaking out at senate hearings, democracy conferences and conservative think tanks. This led some Iranians, including student dissidents like Kouroush Sahati, to ask: is this really fate or just opportunism?

Gee, good question. I wonder ... where have we heard this story before? Let me think .... oh yeah, it was this guy. Of course, I’m not the first to compare Fakhravar with Chalabi, down to his neo-con backers and the fact that his fairy tales are being stovepiped directly to President Bush. Mother Jones did an excellent piece on this guy, "Has Washington Found its Iranian Chalabi?”, which I urge everyone to read.

The only thing that puzzles me is how stupid the Washington “foreign policy establishment” can possibly be to buy the same crappy snake oil from a different salesman at the same store. I mean honestly, when Richard Perle comes knocking on your doors and whispering, “Pssst ... buddy ... I got something for ya here,” you should run, run far, run fast. It’s common sense.

But really, it’s like they’re not even trying anymore. When Richard Perle introduces you to a guy named Fakhravar who spouts crap like this:

"...many Iranians would actually welcome a military strike by the U.S. because of how strongly they wish to get rid of their government." Americans would be greeted as liberators, he says...

you gotta wonder: they’re just playing with us, right? Really, truly, they don’t think we’re that stupid, do they?

Do they?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Art For Everybody

Apparently the grand plans for public art in Nashville have hit a snag:
A month after Metro installed its first publicly funded sculpture, the city’s Arts Commission appears to be patiently biding its time until Mayor Bill Purcell leaves office and a new Metro Council convenes to, again, ask the Metro Parks Board for permission to install a significant series of sculptures on downtown’s public square.

So far, only Alice Ayock’s Ghost Ballet for the East Bank Machineworks on the Cumberland River’s east bank facing Lower Broad’s eastern terminus has been erected.

Say what you will about Ghost Ballet, it's at least a start. Nashville’s lack of public art gives it a provincial, hayseed image. It’s not the hallmark of the progressive city Nashville wants to be.

I’m not sure what the problems between the Metro Arts Commission and the mayor’s office have been, but this quote from Public Art Committee Chairman Jeff Ockerman sure can’t help:

”... our community doesn’t understand public art — even our so-called art ‘experts’ don’t, and from that perspective I wouldn’t trust local opinions — especially because Thomas Sayre [one of the chosen public square artists] is nationally-recognized...”

Ouch. The truth hurts, Nashville.

The fact that we couldn’t put Musica in a public roundabout without inspiring outrage of the “look, Vern, they’re nekkid!”-type was embarassing. How about, “look, Vern, the sculpture is way too big for the site, and there’s no way for the public to interact with it because it’s located on a traffic island!”

And what’s up with all this art at the airport? When I’m at the airport I’m either rushing to a flight or rushing to get home. How about putting this stuff where we all can enjoy it? The catfish and guitars were cute, but since Chicago started the whole craze with their “Cow Parade,” dozens of cities have done similar projects. It wasn’t exactly original. And don’t even get me started on that garish monstrosity off I-65 that’s supposed to be Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (OK, to be fair, the last one isn’t “public art,” since someone with more money than taste decided to erect it himself.)

Chicago knows how to do public art. During my visit last week, I was impressed with all the varieties of public art on display everywhere, on virtually every street corner and in every pocket park. The art is accessible and, most importantly, it engages the public. It’s a draw in itself.

A perfect example is Cloud Gate (artist: Anish Kapoor), in Millennium Park. It’s an amazing thing to see in person, and a huge draw with the public. I had fun just watching everyone interact with the mirrored surface, taking pictures of themselves or their kids or the distorted Chicago skyline.

Another fun piece of art is Crown Fountain (artist: Jaume Plensa). The fountain's two 50-foot glass block towers spill water as they project video images representing Chicago's ethnic diversity. The kids love to play in it, and everyone laughs when the video mouths "spit" water.

When I asked why art is so prevalent on the downtown Chicago streets, I was told that it’s city law. Developers erecting new skyscrapers must either put a piece of art in front of their building or contribute money to a public art fund. I don’t know if this is true, but I thought it was a fabulous idea.

Nashville has precious little public art, and it's a shame. For an example of how art can enhance a neighborhood, just check out the Dragon at Dragon Park. It’s artistic, colorful, and kids love to climb on it. It’s the centerpiece of the park (seriously, who calls it Fannie Mae Dees Park, anyway?). You can touch it, interact with it, have your children play on it.

This is what public art should be. Not some static thing that you look at from across the road or from an opposite river bank, but a tangible thing that you can interact with, that becomes part of the fabric of city life.

Will Nashville "get" it? I hope so.

Bush Knew Saddam Lacked WMD Before Invading Iraq has quite a shocker today: according to this exclusive interview with two former CIA officers, President Bush knew Saddam had no WMD’s months before the invasion. Not only did he know, but he squelched the information, called the “Sabri intelligence,” dismissed it as irrelevant, and didn’t share it with Colin Powell, Congress, or even Britain’s MI6.

Sabri was Saddam’s foreign minister, also working as a CIA informant:
Both the French intelligence service and the CIA paid Sabri hundreds of thousands of dollars (at least $200,000 in the case of the CIA) to give them documents on Saddam's WMD programs. "The information detailed that Saddam may have wished to have a program, that his engineers had told him they could build a nuclear weapon within two years if they had fissible material, which they didn't, and that they had no chemical or biological weapons," one of the former CIA officers told me.

On the eve of Sabri's appearance at the United Nations in September 2002 to present Saddam's case, the officer in charge of this operation met in New York with a "cutout" who had debriefed Sabri for the CIA. Then the officer flew to Washington, where he met with CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, who was "excited" about the report. Nonetheless, McLaughlin expressed his reservations. He said that Sabri's information was at odds with "our best source." That source was code-named "Curveball," later exposed as a fabricator, con man and former Iraqi taxi driver posing as a chemical engineer.

The next day, Sept. 18, Tenet briefed Bush on Sabri. "Tenet told me he briefed the president personally," said one of the former CIA officers. According to Tenet, Bush's response was to call the information "the same old thing." Bush insisted it was simply what Saddam wanted him to think. "The president had no interest in the intelligence," said the CIA officer. The other officer said, "Bush didn't give a fuck about the intelligence. He had his mind made up."

We’ve known for a long time that intelligence showing Saddam lacked WMD was shoved aside, ignored, and suppressed, while fake intel showing the opposite was “stovepiped” straight to the top. We know they were aware that the whole “yellow cake from Niger” story was a fairy tale. We’ve suspected that President Bush knew he was selling the country a bill of goods when he made his case for war, but now President Bush himself has been said to have personally ignored intelligence showing Iraq lacked WMDs. Not his aides, or the CIA, or someone who wrote a report, or an advisor, but the President himself.

Even worse, the intel was twisted and changed to make the case for war:

The CIA officers on the case awaited the report they had submitted on Sabri to be circulated back to them, but they never received it. They learned later that a new report had been written. "It was written by someone in the agency, but unclear who or where, it was so tightly controlled. They knew what would please the White House. They knew what the king wanted," one of the officers told me.

That report contained a false preamble stating that Saddam was "aggressively and covertly developing" nuclear weapons and that he already possessed chemical and biological weapons. "Totally out of whack," said one of the CIA officers. "The first [para]graph of an intelligence report is the most important and most read and colors the rest of the report." He pointed out that the case officer who wrote the initial report had not written the preamble and the new memo. "That's not what the original memo said."

The report with the misleading introduction was given to Dearlove of MI6, who briefed the prime minister. "They were given a scaled-down version of the report," said one of the CIA officers. "It was a summary given for liaison, with the sourcing taken out. They showed the British the statement Saddam was pursuing an aggressive program, and rewrote the report to attempt to support that statement. It was insidious. Blair bought it." "Blair was duped," said the other CIA officer. "He was shown the altered report."

Of course, we all know what happened. Warnings from German authorities that “Curveball” was an unreliable source were ignored; French intelligence supporting the Sabri intel was suppressed and ignored. George Bush and Dick Cheney had their hearts set on war. Commander Guy wanted to be a “war president,” even if it meant the wrong war for the wrong reasons.

But the question remains: why hasn’t this come out before? Well, here’s one thought:

In 2005, the Silberman-Robb commission investigating intelligence in the Iraq war failed to interview the case officer directly involved with Sabri; instead its report blamed the entire WMD fiasco on "groupthink" at the CIA. "They didn't want to trace this back to the White House," said the officer.

The only question I have is, will this be enough to impeach the President? Or is impeachment just for blow jobs?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sign Of The Times

Available: 2,250-square-feet of commercial space on Glen Echo Road in Green Hills. Prime Location. Available immediately.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Swift Boating the CA Vote

Via Digby, it seems the California ballot initiative that would change how that state awards its 55 electoral votes has ties to Texas Swift Boat smear moneybags Bob Perry.

Imagine that. The departure of Karl Rove et. al. has not seen the demise of the “Texas mafia,” after all. Instead, as many folks warned, they’ve moved their operations underground.

For those who don’t know, California currently awards its electoral votes in presidential elections the same way virtually every other state in the country does: to the statewide winner. Under a new proposal that would help Republican presidential candidates, the statewide winner would get two votes and the rest would be distributed based on congressional district.

Supporters claim this will usher in a “new era of fairness.” Huzzah. Except, with Perry’s financial backing, it now seems to carry the stench of GOP partisanship:
LOS ANGELES – Lawyers behind a California ballot proposal that could benefit the 2008 Republican presidential nominee have ties to a Texas homebuilder who financed attacks on Democrat John Kerry's Vietnam War record in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Charles H. Bell and Thomas Hiltachk's law firm banked nearly $65,000 in fees from a California-based political committee funded almost solely by Bob J. Perry that targeted Democrats in 2006. Perry, a major Republican donor, contributed nearly $4.5 million to the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that made unsubstantiated but damaging attacks on Kerry three years ago.

The Perry-financed committee in California, the Economic Freedom Fund, continued to spend money this year, mostly on legal expenses tied to an ongoing legal dispute in Indiana over phone calls made to voters in 2006. It lists the Sacramento law office's address as its home and its Web site directs contributions to the firm, Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk. In addition, Bell serves as the committee's treasurer.

Isn’t that cute. Another phony “grassroots” organization with the name “freedom” in it. The Republicans are good at creating these fake organizations; another one I like is Move America Forward, the GOP front group founded by Howard Kaloogian and Melanie Morgan to attack Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” They still con the gullible media into covering their pro-war “truth tours.”

Anyway, it will be interesting to watch this California electoral debate, particularly because of the money issue.

Then again, with the housing bubble bursting, maybe Bob Perry should be focusing more on his own business, and leave politics alone for a while.

Yet Another GOP Scandal


Fun with history: Wonkette finds more GOP toilet fun, diving into the memory hole and getting the goods on Mississippi arch-conservative Republican Congressman Jon Hinson.

If this keeps up, I might need to bring back my “GOP Hypocrite Of The Week” feature. North Carolina’s Coy Privette, a social conservative and president of the Christian Action League, resigned last month after being caught red-handed taking in some “action” with a prostitute.

The 74-year old retired pastor has pleaded guilty to SIX counts of soliciting a prostitute. It seems he tried to pay the woman with a blank check (so much for fiscal conservatism), which was how he got nabbed.

Problem is, Privette is also a Cabarrus County commissioner, and he doesn’t think this incident should preclude him from serving on the board, since he’s had this seat for nine years.

TPM Muckraker has the goods:
Privette would be happy to leave the embarrassing matter at that, having very publicly learned his lesson (i.e.- if you've got world enough and time, don't pay for a prostitute with a blank check). But local Republicans aren’t having it. They are furious that Coy has not resigned his commissioner position (if you recall, North Carolina GOP have already had its share of embarrassment from former state reps). Each of his fellow commissioners (all Republicans) has publicly demanded he resign. On Friday, the state Republican chairman sent him a letter demanding he step down, saying, "he's dishonored and disgraced."

For his part, Privette said Friday he is staying on the job. But the moment of truth will likely be this Tuesday, when he meets with the entire board of commissioners. It promises to be an awkward conversation.

I appreciate the whole "Republicans will clean their own house" talking point, but it does seem to me that when said housecleaning is finished, there won't be anyone left to mind the store.