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38 posts from July 2009

July 24, 2009

Legionnaire's unease

All nighter kit, originally uploaded by oreolla.

Since 1830, the French Foreign Legion has offered a face-saving refuge for screw-ups. If you've really blown it, professionally, romantically, or let's say, in the eyes of the criminal justice system, you can always become a Legionnaire--or so Frank Sinatra has led me to believe. But where do you go if you're already in the Foreign Legion when you make your colossal error? That's what happened to the Legionnaire who accidentally set fire to 1,300 hectares of scrub land with a tracer bullet he'd been ordered not to use. Dude nearly burned down Marseilles. The blaze was so huge that the Prime Minister flew in to call the fire a "clear and inexcusable professional blunder." The forty-something adjutant has been suspended. Maybe Blackwater's hiring?

Get more stimulating international news with your Morning Coffee.

Healthcare reform and budget reconcilliation

The leader of Senate Democrats, Harry Reid sketched out a couple of targets today. He said the Senate Finance Committee would come up with its overhaul plan before the Senate begins its monthlong break in about two weeks. Reid said he would then hammer out a combined bill from that and the bill already passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The failure to meet Obama’s deadline for pre-recess action on Senate and House bills doesn’t represent a fatal blow to his overhaul goals. But generating momentum toward a target can be crucial in Washington. [WSJ]

Obama wanted the Senate to be done by mid-August in order to preserve the option of achieving healthcare reform through budget reconciliation, right?

Some Democrats hoped to circumvent a filibuster by inserting healthcare-related language into the budget when first and last budget resolutions are reconciled.

If we're not getting a bill until the fall, does that mean the Democrats have given up on the idea of passing healthcare reform with 50 votes?

July 23, 2009

Chris Matthews demolishes "birther" G. Gordon Liddy

You know, Chris Matthews is pretty smart when he remembers to take his Ritalin. Watch him demolish G. Gordon Liddy, the Watergate burglar turned "birther" (a term for those conspiracy theorists who believe that president Barack Obama is an illegal alien from Mombassa, Kenya). For more on the birther phenom, check out my friend Dave Weigel's recent appearance on Rachel Maddow:

God is my OB-GYN: Unassisted childbirth for Christ

Kathryn Joyce reports on one sad result of the ultra-pro-natalist Christian Quiverfull movement's love affair with unassisted childbirth: Carri Chmielewski, a mother of eight, has died ended up in intensive care from complications following an unassisted birth that also killed her baby.

The Quiverfulls are Protestants who refuse birth control because they think women should bear as many children as God sends them. They reject birth control because they object on principle to women making choices about their fertility.

As Kathryn explains in her excellent book, Quiverfull, the movement prizes large families as proof of wifely submission.

Resigning yourself to 12 or 13 children sounds pretty submissive, but every flock has its overachievers. Some Quiverfulls demonstrate that extra measure of self-abnegation by accepting as many life-threatening complications as God thinks they should have.

For these folks, trusting a healthcare provider shows a lack of resignation. They see it as a slap in the face to God.

I'm not making this up.  Joyce quotes from Carri's own blog: “God never meant for man (Pregnant Women) to surrender himself (herself) to the total control of man (dr./technology, etc.) God considers that idolatry. We are to surrender ourselves to GOD.”

Continue reading "God is my OB-GYN: Unassisted childbirth for Christ" »

July 22, 2009

That's Surgeon General, not Surgeon Spokesmodel

Koop reagan picture Did anyone ever suggest that C. Everett Koop was too portly to be Surgeon General?

Obama's nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, is a distinguished physician and a noted humanitarian. But she's not skinny. Random people on the internet who have never met her guess that she's a size 18. 

It's hard to imagine a more qualified Surgeon General. She has been honored with a MacArthur "Genius" grant, a Nelson Mandela Award, a Kellogg Fellowship and a Rockefeller Next Generation Leader Award. She's an expert on hot topics like rural health and telemedicine.

Benjamin was the first black woman and the first person under 40 to lead the American Medical Association. She earned an MBA on the side. She treated destitute evacuees after Hurricane Katrina and founded her own rural health clinic that serves as a model for similar facilities nationwide. She did missionary work in Honduras. She's active in the United Way, the Girl Guides the Mobile Chamber of Commerce, and other community groups. She's served select committees and blue ribbon commissions too numerous to name. In her spare time, she enjoys adventure tourism.

Healthy is as healthy does. Dr. Benjamin obviously has a lot of energy. If she's unhealthy, I want to know her secret.

Regina BenjaminBut sanctimonious twerps in the news say it would "send the wrong message" to have a Surgeon General who looks like Benjamin (read: female, black, and curvy). That's really all they're going on. Benjamin's critics have no idea whether she's healthy or what her lifestyle is like.

At first these attacks were confined to fringe outlets like Fox News, but now ostensibly serious publications are concern trolling Dr. Benjamin's BMI. The Washington Post's health blog is actually running a poll asking whether Benjamin's physique should disqualify her outright. The question mirrors the media criticism. Benjamin's fiercest detractors aren't just saying that her weight is one demerit to set against her otherwise impressive resume. They're suggesting that it should bar her from the job.

Regina Benjamin is an incredibly accomplished woman who is being slandered as fat and lazy(?!) because she doesn't fit some bigot's stereotype of what good health looks like.

Benjamin isn't the only female Obama nominee to have her fitness for office questioned because of her weight. When Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court, people said she was too fat to serve. Did we hear that about Antonin Scalia?

If Benjamin's critics cared about "sending the right message" they wouldn't degrade her. In a society where eating disorders are rampant, these meanspirited attacks send the message that no matter how much they achieve, their worth is still contigent on looking a certain way.

David Simon, objectively pro-cartel

David Simon, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

No, he's not putting in a good word for the New Day Co-op. Journalist and TV producer David Simon began by calling on the feds to relax the anti-trust laws so that newspapers can collude to put all their content behind pay walls at once. That idea went nowhere. Now Simon has penned an open letter encouraging giant news corporations to simply ignore anti-trust laws:

Most of all, I know that here you are being individually asked to consider taking a bold, risk-laden stand for content—that antitrust considerations prohibit the Times and The Post, not to mention Rupert Murdoch or the other owners, from talking this through and acting in concert. Would that every U.S. newspaper publisher could meet in a bathroom somewhere and talk bluntly for fifteen minutes, this would be a hell of a lot easier. And yes, I know that if one of you should try to go behind the paywall while the other’s content remains free, then, yes, you would be destroyed. All that is apparent.

I can't believe I'm hearing this from an outspoken liberal like David Simon. Especially considering that he's made a career of calling out the toxic influence of Big News on real journalism.

Weakening the anti-trust laws would set a terrible precedent. What happens when the next struggling industry wants a license to team up to squeeze the consumer?

Besides which, an industry-wide pay wall wouldn't help. Most people won't pay for online news, period. Even if they suddenly feel the need, subscriptions were never that lucrative. In the golden age of newspapers, most of the money came from now-obsolete genres of advertising: classifieds and colorful supplements for local department store sales. Papers can still sell ads online, but competition is fierce and rates are low compared to print.

If all the big papers started charging, they would guarantee their own irrelevance because readers would gravitate towards other free news including TV, radio, and of course, the press releases that governments and companies are only too happy to give away.

July 21, 2009

Is Tiller's assassin a domestic terrorist?

My latest story at RH Reality: Is George Tiller's Assassin a Domestic Terrorist?

July 20, 2009

Anonymous Basiji describes prison rape in Iran

A man alleged to be an active member of Iran's brutal Basiji militia spoke to a reporter about his role in suppressing the recent street protests and about earlier abuses of prisoners. The Basij's most explosive claim is that he raped Iranian virgins in order to facilitate their executions:

In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin, he explained. Therefore a "wedding" ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard - essentially raped by her "husband."

"I regret that, even though the marriages were legal," he said.

Why the regret, if the marriages were "legal?"

"Because," he went on, "I could tell that the girls were more afraid of their 'wedding' night than of the execution that awaited them in the morning. [Jerusalem Post]

I tend to be skeptical of the claims of anonymous sources, on general principle, particularly when they're making such politically charged allegations. Does anyone know how plausible the militiaman's claims are? Is it really legal in Iran to force prisoners into marriage, and marital rape, in order to make them eligible for execution?

Something about the story seems off to me, like it's all too perfectly horrifying--it's not just prison rape, but raping virgins under the color of law in order to kill them. It seems like a story calculated to push all of our emotional buttons and lay the blame directly at the feet of the regime.

Make no mistake, pro-democracy activists are being raped in prison in Iran. Independent reports attest to these atrocities.

There's no question that Iran has a terrible human rights record and a penchant for executions. So did Iraq under Saddam Hussein. But the true stories of mass graves and poison gas weren't enough for the pro-war lobby group that fabricated a story about Iraqi troops ripping Kuwaiti infants out of their incubators.

July 18, 2009

"Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation as you really want to."

NBC's David Gregory tried to entice disgraced South Carolina governor Mark Sanford onto Meet The Press by promising a friendly hearing. Gregory subscribes to the Burger King model of journalism: Have it Your Way.

"Meet The Press allows you to frame the conversation as you really want to," Gregory assured Sanford's press secretary by email. Unfortunately for Gregory, that email found its way into the hands of a South Carolina paper that published it online.

The press secretary abruptly resigned after the letter came to light, but Gregory still has a job. I don't see why the press secretary should resign, it's his job to subvert journalistic integrity to assure favorable, preferably sycophantic, coverage for his boss. It's Gregory who should step down over this.

"We completely understand the public's concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population"

Defense contractors Robotic Technologies, Inc. and Cyclone Power Technologies, Inc. would like to address multiple media reports that they are using government money to invent a robot that feeds on the corpses of the slain enemies of the United States of America:

“We completely understand the public’s concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission,” stated Harry Schoell, Cyclone’s CEO. “We are focused on demonstrating that our engines can create usable, green power from plentiful, renewable plant matter. The commercial applications alone for this earth-friendly energy solution are enormous.” (emphasis in the original)