Archive for August, 2007

Not so fast, Christian soldiers

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Not so fast, Christian soldiers - Los Angeles Times

Maybe what the war in Iraq needs is not more troops but more religion. At least that’s the message the Department of Defense seems to be sending.

Last week, after an investigation spurred by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Pentagon abruptly announced that it would not be delivering “freedom packages” to our soldiers in Iraq, as it had originally intended.

What were the packages to contain? Not body armor or home-baked cookies. Rather, they held Bibles, proselytizing material in English and Arabic and the apocalyptic computer game “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” (derived from the series of post-Rapture novels), in which “soldiers for Christ” hunt down enemies who look suspiciously like U.N. peacekeepers.

The packages were put together by a fundamentalist Christian ministry called Operation Straight Up, or OSU. Headed by former kickboxer Jonathan Spinks, OSU is an official member of the Defense Department’s “America Supports You” program. The group has staged a number of Christian-themed shows at military bases, featuring athletes, strongmen and actor-turned-evangelist Stephen Baldwin. But thanks in part to the support of the Pentagon, Operation Straight Up has now begun focusing on Iraq, where, according to its website (on pages taken down last week), it planned an entertainment tour called the “Military Crusade.”

Apparently the wonks at the Pentagon forgot that Muslims tend to bristle at the word “crusade” and thought that what the Iraq war lacked was a dose of end-times theology.

In the end, the Defense Department realized the folly of participating in any Operation Straight Up crusade. But the episode is just another example of increasingly disturbing, and indeed unconstitutional, relationships being forged between the U.S. military and private evangelical groups.

Take, for instance, the recent scandal involving Christian Embassy, a group whose expressed purpose is to proselytize to military personnel, diplomats, Capitol Hill staffers and political appointees. In a shocking breach of security, Defense Department officials allowed a Christian Embassy film crew to roam the corridors of the Pentagon unescorted while making a promotional video featuring high-ranking officers and political appointees. (Christian Embassy, which holds prayer meetings weekly at the Pentagon, is so entrenched that Air Force Maj. Gen. John J. Catton Jr. said he’d assumed the organization was a “quasi-federal entity.”)

The Pentagon’s inspector general recently released a report recommending unspecified “corrective action” for those officers who appeared in the video for violating Defense Department regulations. But, in a telling gesture, the report avoided any discussion of how allowing an evangelical group to function within the Defense Department is an obvious violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.

The extent to which such relationships have damaged international goodwill toward the U.S. is beyond measure. As the inspector general noted, a leading Turkish newspaper, Sabah, published an article on Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, who is the U.S. liaison to the Turkish military — and who appeared in the Christian Embassy video. The article described Christian Embassy as a “radical fundamentalist sect,” perhaps irreparably damaging Sutton’s primary job objective of building closer ties to the Turkish General Staff, which has expressed alarm at the influence of fundamentalist Christian groups inside the U.S. military.

Our military personnel swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, not the Bible. Yet by turning a blind eye to OSU and Christian Embassy activities, the Pentagon is, in essence, endorsing their proselytizing. And sometimes it’s more explicit than that.

That certainly was the case with Army Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. The Pentagon put him in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in 2003. The same year, Boykin was found to be touring American churches, where he gave speeches — in uniform — casting the Iraq war in end-times terms. “We’re in is a spiritual battle,” he told one congregation in Oregon. “Satan wants to destroy this nation . . . and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.” The story wound up in newspapers, magazines and on “60 Minutes.” And, of course, it was reported all over the Muslim world. The Pentagon reacted with a collective shrug.

American military and political officials must, at the very least, have the foresight not to promote crusade rhetoric in the midst of an already religion-tinged war. Many of our enemies in the Mideast already believe that the world is locked in a contest between Christianity and Islam. Why are our military officials validating this ludicrous claim with their own fiery religious rhetoric?

It’s time to actively strip the so-called war on terror of its religious connotations, not add to them. Because religious wars are not just ugly, they are unwinnable. And despite what Operation Straight Up and its supporters in the Pentagon may think is taking place in Iraq, the Rapture is not a viable exit strategy.

Michael L. Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, wrote “With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military.” Reza Aslan, author of “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” is on the MRFF advisory board.

Young Workers: U Nd 2 Improve Ur Writing Skills

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Young Workers: U Nd 2 Improve Ur Writing Skills - New York Times
In a survey of 100 human resources executives, only 5 percent said that recent college graduates lacked computer or technology skills, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the outplacement firm.

The problem now is more basic. Nearly half the executives said that entry-level workers lacked writing skills, and 27 percent said that they were deficient in critical thinking.

It seems that some young employees are now guilty of the technological equivalent of wearing flip-flops: they are writing company e-mail as if they were texting cellphone messages with their thumbs.

In response, employers are sending a message of their own: When you’re in the office, put on those dress shoes and start spelling your words correctly, and in full.
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Bourdain keeps it real on ‘No Reservations’

Monday, August 27th, 2007

One of our favorite shows… 

Bourdain keeps it real on ‘No Reservations’ - Destinations -

Anthony Bourdain suffered quietly as he dined on wart hog — encrusted with sand, fur and fecal bacteria — in the African country of Namibia.

Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations,” finished the meal knowing he would become terribly ill. But who was he to complain as a VIP guest of the same arid landscape where Angelina Jolie delivered Brad Pitt’s baby?

Spitting out nasty bits of wart hog would be rude to the locals he was dining with.

Still Singing Those Post-Katrina Blues

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

Still Singing Those Post-Katrina Blues -

President Bush said, “Great job, good job!

“What the levees have done to this poor Creole’s land . . . .”

Backstage, in between sets, the Virgin Mary gazes down from her perch on the wall while the bar’s managers count the proceeds, every single, every fiver, every ten-spot, counting aloud, one, two, three, four . . . $147. They count again . . . $147. And then hand the loot to Boutte, the son of seven generations of musicmaking New Orleans Creoles.

“I’m rich,” Boutte says sardonically, fanning out the bills in his hands like a deck of cards.

Two years post-Katrina, it’s like this for the city’s musicians: New Orleans may be the music mecca, the birthplace of jazz, the place where you go to get your juice. But it’s no place to make money.

“People tell me I should get the [expletive] out,” says Boutte, at 48 and 5-foot-3, a bronze-skinned, bellicose, curly-haired Pan.

“Hell no. Why should I leave? This is my home. My ancestors’ bones are here. . . .

“They’ve squashed my joy. But I’m not extinguished yet.”

DNC Strips Florida Of 2008 Delegates

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

DNC Strips Florida Of 2008 Delegates -
The Democratic National Committee sought to seize control of its unraveling nominating process yesterday, rejecting pleas from state party leaders and cracking down on Florida for scheduling a Jan. 29 presidential primary.

The DNC’s rules and bylaws committee, which enforces party rules, voted yesterday morning to strip Florida of all its delegates to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver — the harshest penalty at its disposal.

Henry Rollins: Just Getting By

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

Henry Rollins: Just Getting By - Business on The Huffington Post
Advertisers and companies who attempt to set the trends for the American consumer are slowly but surely separating good people from their hard-earned money by changing the perception of what “getting by” looks like.

Getting by used to mean that when you didn’t have much money, you were careful with it so you could…get by. The new version of “getting by” looks like pretty large living to me and has for many proven to be a costly and potentially dangerous trip into financial insatiability. I wonder how many people can really afford to run up those cell phone hours, drive a new car, take a vacation when they don’t even work full-time and buy a home when they can’t even pay their rent. It’s this one that the banks really sank their teeth into. Offering sub-prime loans that even the poorest Americans were sure they could afford. Through a non-stop advertising assault by banks and lenders, many Americans got it in their heads that they couldn’t get by without a house. The president says there’s more people buying houses in America than ever before. He leaves out the part about the rise in foreclosures though.

I’ve seen so many ad campaigns that promise a life of relative leisure and contentment that can be yours, should be yours, and will be yours by just calling this number, what are you waiting for?! If you can just ease a little more into credit debt, you can have it, for awhile. How ironic that people I know who actually have money live way below their means and those who have very little money seem to be hell-bent on having even less. My bottom line is this: There are lot of people in America who will insist that when they drove that new car down that gentle slope laden with warning signs to the abyss — they were just getting by.

– Henry Rollins

Palast: Hurricane George: How the White House Drowned New Orleans

Friday, August 24th, 2007

By Greg Palast

It’s been two years. And America’s media is about to have another tear-gasm over New Orleans. Maybe/archives/date/2007/08/lower9th.jpg Anderson Cooper will weep again. The big networks will float into the moldering corpse of the city and give you uplifting stories about rebuilding and hope.

Now, let’s cut through the cry-baby crap. Here’s what happened two years ago - and what’s happening now.

This is what an inside source told me. And it makes me sick:

“By midnight on Monday, the White House knew. Monday night I was at the state Emergency Operations Center and nobody was aware that the levees had breeched. Nobody.”

The charge is devastating: That, on August 29, 2005,

the White House withheld from the state police the information that New Orleans was about to flood. From almost any other source, I would not have believed it. But this was not just any source. The whistle-blower is Dr. Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, the chief technician advising the state on saving lives during Katrina.

I’d come to van Heerden about another matter, but in our talks, it was clear he had something he wanted to say, and it was a big one. He charged that the White House, FEMA and the Army Corp hid, for critical hours, their discovery that the levees surrounding New Orleans were cracking, about to burst and drown the city.

Understand that Katrina never hit New Orleans. The hurricane swung east of the city, so the state evacuation directors assumed New Orleans was now safe - and evacuation could slow while emergency efforts moved east with the storm.

But unknown to the state, in those crucial hours on Monday, the federal government’s helicopters had filmed the cracks that would become walls of death by Tuesday.

Van Heerden revealed:

“FEMA knew at 11 o’clock on Monday that the levees had breeched. At 2p.m. they flew over he 17th Street Canal and took video of the breech.”

Question: “So the White House wouldn’t tell you the levees had breeched?”Greg and van Heerden

Dr. Van Heerden: “They didn’t tell anybody.”

Question: “And you’re at the Emergency Center.’

Dr. Van Heerden: “I mean nobody knew. The Corps of Engineers knew. FEMA knew. None of us knew.”

I could not get the White House gang to respond to the charges.

That leaves the big, big question: WHY? Why on earth would the White House not tell the city to get the remaining folks out of there?

The answer: cost. Political and financial cost. A hurricane is an act of God - but a catastrophic failure of the levees is a act of Bush. That is, under law dating back to 1935, a breech of the federal levee system makes the damage - and the deaths - a federal responsibility. That means, as van Heeden points out, that “these people must be compensated.”

The federal government, by law, must build and maintain the Mississippi levees to withstand known dangers - or pay the price when they fail.

Indeed, that was the rule applied in the storms that hit Westhampton Dunes, New York, in 1992. There, when federal sea barriers failed, the flood waters wiped away 190 homes. The feds rebuilt them from the public treasury. But these were not just any homes. They are worth an average of $3 million apiece -/archives/date/2007/08/westhampton.jpg the summer homes of movie stars and celebrity speculators.

There were no movie stars floating face down in the Lower Ninth Ward nor in Lakeview nor St. Bernard Parish. For the ‘luvvies’ of Westhampton Dunes, the federal government even trucked in sand to replace the beaches. But for New Orleans’ survivors, there’s the aluminum gulag of FEMA trailer parts. Today, two years later, 89,000 families still live in this mobile home Guantanamo - with no plan whatsoever for their return.

And what was the effect of the White House’s self-serving delay?

I spoke with van Heerden in his university office. The computer model of the hurricane flashed quietly as I waited for him to answer. Then he said, “Fifteen hundred people drowned. That’s the bottom line.”

They could have survived Hurricane Katrina. But they got no mercy from Hurricane George.

For the rest of the story, get the DVD, “BIG EASY TO BIG EMPTY: The Untold Story of the Drowning of New Orleans,” as reported by Greg Palast from Louisiana for Democracy Now - with Amy Goodman and the music of “the city that care forgot.” Watch a clip on our Youtube page.

And read the full story of our investigation in the added chapter on New Orleans in the new paperback edition of “Armed Madhouse: from Baghdad to New Orleans - Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild.” Click here to donate to our Investigative Fund and receive a book signed by Greg Palast as a gift from us.

New Bumperstickers

Friday, August 24th, 2007

WordFaery’s Xanga Site - 8/23/2007 4:46:37 PM

Bush on Comparing Iraq to Vietnam:

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Bush on Comparing Iraq to Vietnam: “I think the analogy is false.” — Rockridge Nation
George W. Bush’s comparison of Iraq to Vietnam in remarks to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention today stands in stark contrast to the public statements of a recent president — himself.

Why Mommy is a Democrat

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Why Mommy is a Democrat

Bill Maher: What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Bill Maher: What I Did on My Summer Vacation - The Huffington Post

Some of the Best Travel & Food Deals on the Net!

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007 has some great deals on getaways, food and merch. Check it out–and support public TV to boot!