| RACE AND RELIGION
Blackout And Brownout
Roughly one-third of the U.S. population — 100 million people — is composed of minorities, “reflecting the continuing evolution of an American national identity that transcends ethnic and religious boundaries.” But as America moves toward greater diversity, many conservatives are resisting this change, advocating instead for religious and ethnic homogeneity. After top GOP presidential candidates skipped a minority-focused debate last week, the media asked if conservatives were “writing off many black voters.” But snubbing the debate is just the tip of the iceberg, as many conservatives have been actively preaching intolerance for several years. While there are certainly conservatives who value religious and cultural diversity, a sizeable portion of the right wing has engaged in a shameful “pattern” of marginalizing Americans of different races, ethnicities, and religions. “No one should be elected president of this country in 2008 if they think that along the way they can ignore people of color,” said talk show host Tavis Smiley. “If you want to be president of all America, you need to speak to all Americans.”
‘OUTRAGED’ AND ‘EMBARRASSED’: Last week, Smiley moderated a Republican presidential forum, where candidates — for the first time — answered questions from “a panel exclusively comprised of journalists of color.” The event was mired in controversy, however, as the four Republican frontrunners — former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson — skipped the debate due to “scheduling conflicts.” (Giuliani, for example, held a $2,300 per plate fundraiser with actress and model Bo Derek.) The conservatives are “trying to go through this entire primary process and never have to address voters of color and never queried journalists of color,” Smiley said. Other candidates were upset by the poor showing. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said he was “embarrassed,” and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) felt “outraged.” The Washington Times opined that “some run-of-the mill fund-raiser” should not be “more important…than building up their relationships with black and Hispanic voters.” Former congressman J.C. Watts called the move “stupid.” President Bush appeared to condone the snub, saying general election candidates should reach out to people of color, while giving primary candidates a pass. This marks the third minority-focused debate that conservative front-runners have ditched, also missing a gay issues and Spanish-language debate. The Spanish-language forum was scrapped completely after only McCain agreed to participate. In fact, conservatives are being increasingly identified by Hispanics “with pushes to crack down on border enforcement and illegal immigrants already in this country.” Presidential candidate Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), for example, has suggested mass deportation of undocumented immigrants.
MARGINALIZING ISLAM: As conservatives rally behind Bush’s war on terror policies, their rhetoric demonizing Islam has been ratcheting up. Recently, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, stated, “Unfortunately, we have too many mosques in this country.” King also alleged that Muslims are “an enemy living amongst us.” Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said he worried that presidential candidates “don’t use the term ‘Islamist extremism‘ or ‘Islamist terrorism’ in the debates.” “I can’t imagine who you insult if you say Islamic terrorist,” said Giuliani. Tancredo has even suggested bombing Mecca. Such rhetoric is self-defeating, as former CentCom Commander Gen. John Abizaid argued. “The battle of words is meaningful, especially in the Middle East to people,” he stated. In fact, a recent World Public Opinion poll showed that “more than 70 percent of Egyptians, Pakistanis, Indonesians and Moroccans believe the United States is trying to weaken and divide the Islamic world.”
PANDERING TO RELIGIOUS HOMOGENEITY: This weekend, McCain suggested having a religious litmus test for presidential candidates. “I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith,” said McCain, adding that the “number one issue” for Americans should be whether the President will carry on the “Judeo Christian principled tradition.” Former Bush White House aide David Kuo said McCain was “pandering to what he thinks the Christian conservative community wants to hear.” But McCain’s desire for homogeneity echoes the comments of many conservatives in Congress. In Dec. 2006, after Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) was elected as the first Muslim congressman, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) warned that “American citizens” need to “wake up” or “there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office.” And after the first Hindu prayer was delivered in Congress, Rep. Bill Sali (R-ID) stated, “We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now.” High-ranking conservatives have supported religious homogeneity through their courtship of right-wing Christian activists like the late Jerry Falwell, who also believes the U.S. is a “Christian nation.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich cited the opportunity “to convert all of America” at Falwell’s Liberty University.
JUDICIARY — SUPREME COURT TO OPEN NEW TERM WITH CONTROVERSIAL SLATE OF CASES: The Supreme Court today begins its term with “a socially and politically contentious docket.” The issues “include the legal rights of Guantanamo detainees, the constitutionality of lethal injections for executions, photo identification cards for voters and investors’ struggle to find accountability in cases of fraud.” There is also a racial discrimination case that “could provide a vehicle for limiting remedies available under one of the country’s oldest civil rights laws.” In addition to those already scheduled, “the court could add a blockbuster case to its calendar if the justices opt to take a Second Amendment case from Washington, D.C., that would test limits on the right to own guns.” The opening cases could “chart a course for whether the court is ideologically purely conservative or more balanced” this term. In its first term under Chief Justice John Roberts, conservative justices maintained a narrow but solid majority that consistently ruled in favor of conservative arguments. Last term, 23 cases divided the Court 5-4, with Bush appointees Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito voting together in 21 of those cases.
IRAQ — PENTAGON ISSUES BLACKWATER USA A NEW $92 MILLION CONTRACT: Last month, Blackwater USA, a private security firm, was involved in the fatal shooting of 11 Iraqi civilians. While the Iraqi government swiftly condemned the contractor, the Bush administration has continued to back Blackwater’s story that it was “defensive fire.” Last Thursday, Gen. Peter Pace told reporters, “Blackwater has been a contractor in the past with the department and could certainly be in the future.” The next day, that future arrived. The Pentagon issued a new list of contracts, including one worth $92 million to Presidential Airways, the “aviation unit of parent company Blackwater.” “Presidential Airways, Inc., an aviation Worldwide Services company (d/b/a Blackwater Aviation), Moyock, M.C., is being awarded an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) type contract for $92,000,000.00,” reads a press release. Government officials have repeatedly ignored Blackwater’s transgressions. Senior Iraqi officials have “repeatedly complained to U.S. officials” about Blackwater’s “alleged involvement in the deaths of numerous Iraqis, but the Americans took little action to regulate the private security firm.”
ADMINISTRATION — BUSH’S CASE FOR HITTING IRAN HAS ‘SHIFTED,’ NOW FOCUSED ON ‘SURGICAL STRIKES’: In a new article for The New Yorker called “Shifting Targets,” Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh writes that there has been “a significant increase in the tempo of attack planning” for war with Iran within the Bush administration. Hersh, who has been warning for months that the White House has been planning for war with Iran, writes that President Bush’s focus has shifted from a broad bombing attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities to “surgical” strikes against Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities throughout the country. Hersh explained on CNN yesterday that this new rationale would “sell” better, stating, “You can say to people…we’re only hitting those people that we think are trying to hit our boys and the coalition forces” in Iraq. Hersh maintains that the Iranians are “nowhere” in the process of making a nuclear weapon and that “there isn’t enough evidence to justify a bombing raid.” When asked how the drumbeat for war with Iran compares to the Vietnam War or to the months preceding the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003, Hersh replied, “You’d think in this country with so many smart people, that we can’t possibly do the same dumb thing again. I have this theory in life that there is no learning. There is no learning curve.”
Blackwater contractors have alleged that a Sept. 16 deadly shooting in Iraq was initiated in response to hostile fire. But an “extensive evidence file” put together by the Iraqi National Police — including documents, maps, sworn witness statements, and police video footage — concludes that the Blackwater vehicles “opened fire crazily and randomly, without any reason.”
“Congress again has extended funding for a core abstinence-education program, sparking protests from sex-education advocates who want Democrats to pull the plug on such programs.”
Gen. David Petraeus said the United States is prepared to “reciprocate” if Iran halts shipments of arms to Iraq’s Shia Muslim militias. Meanwhile, Ali Larijani, head of the Supreme National Security Council, rejected accusations that Iran is providing weapons. He added that Iran is ready to work with the U.S. to “help them materialize” a withdrawal from Iraq.
“For the fifth time since 2001, Congress is raising the debt limit, increasing it by $850 billion to $9.815 trillion. The Senate approved the plan on a 53-42 vote Thursday night. The House of Representatives has already signed off on the plan, without a direct vote.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates “told a group of U.S. House Democratic lawmakers that the multinational mission in Afghanistan is suffering from a lack of resources, citing the war in Iraq and the reluctance of U.S. allies to contribute more troops, participants at the meeting said.”
Yesterday, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq “criticized a Senate resolution that could lead to a division” of the country “into sectarian or ethnic territories, agreeing with a swath of Iraqi leaders in saying the proposal ‘would produce extraordinary suffering and bloodshed.'”
“Out of a political stalemate over Iraq, domestic policy is surging to prominence on Capitol Hill” this week, with “Republicans and Democrats preparing for a time-honored clash over health care, tax policy, the scope of government and its role in America’s problems at home.” According to the Washington Post, Republicans view the shift away from Iraq as “a relief.”
Defense contractor Brent Wilkes goes on trial tomorrow “to fight federal charges that he funneled more than $700,000 in bribes” to former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham “in the form of both cash and perks ranging from a Sea-Doo jet boat to the services of two prostitutes at a high-end Hawaiian resort.”
And finally: Last week, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) was seen sporting an “icky” “bloodshot eye.” A Byrd spokesman confirmed to Roll Call that the injury was not the result of a scuffle with Vice President Cheney, but an “all-out battle” with his grandchildren, who “challenged their 89-year-old great-grandpa to a game of ‘how long can you hold your breath‘ in a swimming pool.”
The Military Lending Act, which protects soldiers against predatory lending, takes effect today. The legislation bans “predatory lenders from gouging military families with payday loans that trap borrowers in debt.”
MICHIGAN: State officials manage to avoid a full shutdown of the government early this morning.
MISSOURI: Many key state boards are suffering from vacancies.
CALIFORNIA: Reading scores for California students are “shameful again.”
THINK PROGRESS: The dark humor of the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol: President Bush’s “heartless assault on our children” is “a good idea.”
THINK PROGRESS: Counterterrorism analyst raises doubts about alleged death of top al Qaeda leader.
GLENN GREENWALD: Fox News Analyst Col. Dave Hunt: “Our generals are betraying our soldiers…again.”
CARPETBAGGER REPORT: The Associated Press labels Freedom’s Watch, a group of millionaires and former Bush administration insiders, as “outsiders.”
“Blackwater has been a contractor in the past with the department and could certainly be in the future.”
— Gen. Peter Pace, 9/27/07
“Presidential Airways, Inc., an aviation Worldwide Services company (d/b/a Blackwater Aviation), Moyock, N.C., is being awarded an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) type contract for $92,000,000.00.”
— Pentagon press release, 9/28/07