Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Memos: No more $13 teas, $70 lunches for legal aid outfit
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The $13 per person "high tea" service and $12 bagel breaks will be gone from the January directors meeting of the government's legal aid program for the poor. And the meeting will be held at the headquarters conference room rather than the upscale hotel used in the past.

After severe criticism from Congress, stinging reports from a financial watchdog and several articles by The Associated Press, the Legal Services Corp. has decided to temper the expensive tastes of its top officials while poor clients are turned away for lack of program funds.

Internal memos, provided to the AP voluntarily by a Legal Services official, made clear there would be no more $70 lunches and $14 "Death By Chocolate" desserts at board meetings.

Only in special circumstances would there be a repeat of hotel costs that shot through the government's room rate ceiling, limousine services and first-class air travel.

The AP documented in August and September how the program's executives spent freely while the corporation's own study showed many poor Americans -- in need of legal help -- were being turned away at local clinics funded by the corporation....

Monday, December 25, 2006

"Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping and unintelligent."
-- H. L. Mencken

America's Red Ink
The largest employer in the world announced on Dec. 15 that it lost about $450 billion in fiscal 2006. Its auditor found that its financial statements were unreliable and that its controls were inadequate for the 10th straight year. On top of that, the entity's total liabilities and unfunded commitments rose to about $50 trillion, up from $20 trillion in just six years.

If this announcement related to a private company, the news would have been on the front page of major newspapers. Unfortunately, such was not the case -- even though the entity is the U.S. government.

To put the figures in perspective, $50 trillion is $440,000 per American household and is more than nine times as much as the median household income....

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Inside Christian Embassy
An exclusive interview with the chief of staff of Christian Embassy, the behind-the-scenes ministry in the news for proselytizing in the Pentagon.

Little while ago I received a phone call from Mikey Weinstein, the prime mover behind the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, created in the wake of 2005's revelations of widespread evangelical proselytizing at the Air Force Academy. Weinstein told me that he'd spent Thanksgiving morning reading my December, 2006 Harper's feature, "Through a Glass Darkly" (online in January), which included a brief discussion of the now infamous Christian Embassy video featuring high-ranking military officers testifying testifying in uniform on behalf of the behind-the-scenes fundamentalist organization, an apparent violation of military regulations. Weinstein has since launched a secular crusade of his own in response to the video, with the backing of a group of generals determined to maintain separation of church and state in the military.

The first public notice of the video came at the end of a longer discussion on the surprising importance of confederate General Stonewall Jackson to American fundamentalist historiography...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Diplomat's suppressed document lays bare the lies behind Iraq war
The Government's case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

A devastating attack on Mr Blair's justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests."...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pastor resigns over homosexuality
In a tearful videotaped message Sunday to his congregation, the senior pastor of a thriving evangelical megachurch in south metro Denver confessed to sexual relations with other men and announced he had voluntarily resigned his pulpit.

A month ago, the Rev. Paul Barnes of Grace Chapel in Doug las County preached to his 2,100-member congregation about integrity and grace in the aftermath of the Ted Haggard drugs-and-gay-sex scandal.

Now, the 54-year-old Barnes joins Haggard as a fallen evangelical minister who preached that homosexuality was a sin but grappled with a hidden life. ...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Manliness is next to godliness
NASHVILLE -- The strobe lights pulse and the air vibrates to a killer rock beat. Giant screens show mayhem and gross-out pranks: a car wreck, a sucker punch, a flabby (and naked) rear end, sealed with duct tape.

Brad Stine runs onstage in ripped blue jeans, his shirt untucked, his long hair shaggy. He's a stand-up comic by trade, but he's here today as an evangelist, on a mission to build up a new Christian man — one profanity at a time. "It's the wuss-ification of America that's getting us!" screeches Stine, 46.

A moment later he adds a fervent: "Thank you, Lord, for our testosterone!"...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jeff Sharlet on how fundamentalists are "reimagining" American history
Jeff Sharlet has been coming at us over the past several years with a series of studies which should scare the pants off any small-d democrat. He reveals myriad ways in which fundamentalism is succeeding in changing American politics and culture.

We see fundamentalists as a relatively contained group of self-righteous crackpots who are tiresome to deal with on local school boards and, god knows, in the White House. After all, we're smarter than they are. But winning majorities in both houses of Congress last week should not comfort us with the belief that the nation has returned to "normalcy," that Bush has been disarmed, that the fundamentalist leadership has suffered a setback.

The threat of fundamentalist persistence – and in his latest article in Harper's,* Sharlet reveals the taste for violence in his subjects – is not behind us. America is not more sane now than it was a month ago. As Sharlet writes in his latest piece for Harper's, fundamentalists are not “a burp in American history... an unpleasant odor that will pass.” ...