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The Key to Weight Loss -- Gut Bacteria?

This article originally appeared on Mother Jones, and is reprinted here with their permission.

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5 Christians Who Make Their Living Telling Kids Outrageous Lies About Sex

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Should Colleges Buy Ammo for Student Gun Clubs?

Concealed-carry laws are not the only controversy to hit college campuses since the recent wave of mass shootings sparked a national debate about guns. Last week, the student congress of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill passed a bill making it harder for the school's Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club to use student government funds to buy ammunition. The vote prompted a lawsuit within the school's student supreme court, while the Young America's Foundation, a national group promoting conservative politics on college campuses, charged that students with liberal views on guns had improperly targeted the gun club.

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9 Wild Campaign Money Stats

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The Nasty Truth About the Online Retailers You Probably Used for Your Holiday Shopping

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Arsenic in Your Apple Juice? How a Dangerous Poison Found Its Way Into Fruit Juice

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The 10 Worst Post-9/11 Military Contracting Boondoggles

 After three years, the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting completed its business this week. In its final report to Congress [1] (PDF), it estimates that the federal government has lost [2] between $31 and $60 billion to contractor fraud and waste since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq started. "The government was not prepared to go into Afghanistan in 2001 or Iraq in 2003 using large numbers of contractors, and is still unable to provide effective management and oversight of contract spending," said [3] commission co-chairman Michael Thibault.

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The 5 Funniest Things Molly Ivins Said About Rick Perry

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Could You Live a Year Without Money?

By choice, Mark Boyle basically doesn't have a cent—or, more accurately, a pence—to his name. Boyle lives in rural England in a trailer he spotted on Freecycle.org. He feeds himself by growing everything from barley to potatoes, foraging wild edibles like berries and nettles, and occasionally dumpster-diving for luxuries like margarine and bread. He cooks with a wood stove fashioned from large restaurant olive cans; brushes his teeth with his own mixture of cuttlefish bones and fennel seed; and makes paper and ink from mushrooms. He barters labor for rent, Internet service, and whatever else he can't find, grow, or make.

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Tea Party Travel Agents Duke It out for Protest Business

Tea Party marches on Washington have gotten so big and unwieldy that the grassroots conservative movement has spawned its own travel agents. And the business is cutthroat -- sparking a clash between tea party entrepreneurs replete with allegations of slander, backstabbing, and threats of legal action.

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A Louisiana Tea Party for More Oil Drilling

When my colleague Stephanie Mencimer notified me that some Tea Party types would be holding a rally in Houma, Louisiana, on Saturday to protest the new federal moratorium on deepwater oil drilling, I had some concerns. Namely that Tea Partiers getting involved in the issue could make it look like only crazy people are against the drilling ban down here, when in fact plenty of non-crazy people are mad that it could endanger as many as 20,000 jobs.

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Which Veggie Burgers Were Made With a Neurotoxin?

This is about the time of year when I start keeping packages of veggie burgers in the freezer, just in case of an impromptu barbecue. In the past, I haven't had much fake meat brand loyalty: I've found that once I smother my hunk of textured vegetable protein in barbeque sauce, all soy patties are pretty much created equal. But after reading a recent investigation by the Cornucopia Institute, I'm going to be a lot more picky: The food and agriculture nonprofit found that most non-organic veggie burgers currently on the market are made with the chemical hexane, an EPA-registered air pollutant and neurotoxin.

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Are Some Conservatives Treading the Line When it Comes to Treason?

In the fall of 1964, not long after Barry Goldwater had clinched the Republican nomination for president, historian Richard Hofstadter penned an essay for Harper's called "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." It was an instant classic—not because it was so elegantly written, but because in just a few pages it described with deadly accuracy one of the major strains of our national dialogue.

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Whole Foods Really Is Bad for the Planet

Earlier this week I pondered whether Whole Foods, or more specifically, its CEO John Mackey, is bad for the planet. Mackey's latest comments questioning whether mankind is warming the planet prompted the piece, but I also looked at some of the greater questions about just how much, if anything, Whole Foods is doing to back up its green image. Well, low and behold, a study of grocers and their sustainability efforts documents just how little the company actually does when it comes to climate and related environmental issues.

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Is Whole Foods Bad for the Planet?

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has probably brought more people to organic foods than anyone else in the United States. And many of the folks shopping at his markets undoubtedly consider themselves to be environmentally aware. They might even believe that by purchasing their groceries at Whole Foods outlets they are doing their part to help the planet. But certainly many of them would probably be startled to learn of of Mackey's position on climate change: he's a global warming denier.

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Conservative Activists Furious at GOP Consultants Hijacking Tea Party Name

Would a true Tea Party patriot drop nearly $1,600 in donor money for a small meal at a fancy steakhouse? Robin Stublen says no, and he's mad as hell about the profligate expenditures of a GOP political organization that has glommed on to his grassroots movement. Stublen is the organizer of the Punta Gorda, Florida, Tea Party and a member of Tea Party Patriots, a national grassroots organization that has no offices, no president, raises virtually no money, operates largely on volunteer efforts, and, most importantly, doesn't endorse candidates. But unbeknownst to many, there's another outfit claiming ownership of this conservative movement. It's called the Tea Party Express, and it has dominated Fox News coverage over the past year with its multi-state bus tours and political rallies.

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Will Copenhagen Lead to Radical Climate Experiments?

You won't find geoengineering on the official agenda at the climate summit in Copenhagen. But for anyone watching the trajectory of the climate change debate, the controversial notion of intentionally modifying the planet or its climate system to counteract the effects of global warming is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Attracting almost no attention, Russia may have already conducted the first-ever geoengineering field trial. And if the climate talks at Copenhagen fail, it could give geoengineering advocates the lucky break they've been waiting for.

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Obama Is Playing Politics With Gitmo

Liberals have not done enough public wrestling with Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf's Time article on the ouster of White House counsel Gregory Craig. Perhaps that's because they don't want to deal with the article's troubling implications. As Kevin explains, Craig was "the White House lawyer tasked with dismantling Bush-era interrogation and detention policies. At first, Obama was on board with Craig's plans.  Then, reality set in."

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Anti-Abortion Group to Protest Palin

When she was running for governor of Alaska in 2006, Sarah Palin reportedly said that even if her then-14-year-old daughter were raped, she would "choose life" and force her to bear a child. Comments like that that have endeared the fiery Alaskan politician to most pro-life voters, who lionized her for not aborting her Down's Syndrome baby. But Trig isn’t enough to protect Palin from a phalanx of anti-abortion activists who plan to protest her appearance on Thursday to promote her book in the conservative heartland of Indiana. Their reason? They think she's not really pro-life.

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Teabagging Alan Grayson

Barack Obama, the Fed, Hitler, Marxism, the government seizing control of health care, ACORN. Somehow all of this came together at a town hall meeting held in Tavares, Florida, on Monday night by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fl.), when dozens of teabaggers, those right-wing activists associated with the so-called Tea Party movement, showed up to slam Grayson and vent their anger at a political world -- that is, their version of it.

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Finally the Feds Crack Down on Right-Wing Terrorists

When the Department of Homeland Security warned in April that the financial crisis and Barack Obama's election were inflaming right-wing extremists, many conservatives were outraged. But a spate of high-profile murders this year has prompted questions about whether the government should have been more proactive. In April, Richard Poplawski, a 22-year-old frequenter of white supremacist websites, was charged with fatally shooting three Pittsburgh cops. In May, former militiaman Scott Roeder was accused of gunning down abortion doctor George Tiller (he pleaded not guilty this week). In June, 88-year-old neo-Nazi James von Brunn allegedly killed an African American security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Only then did the government spring into action. Later that month, federal agents in three states moved against a prominent far-right leader and his associates, with almost no attention from the national press.

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The Supreme Court Forgets the Little People

The line forms early on Friday mornings at Foundry United Methodist Church, a nearly 200-year-old institution located a few blocks from the White House. Famous in some circles as Bill Clinton's church, among the city's down and out, Foundry is better known as one of the few places around that offer help securing a government-issued photo identification.

Two weeks ago, Deborah Killebrew, 58, was one of those queued up outside the church to pick up a copy of her birth certificate, which Foundry volunteers had helped her obtain. Six years ago, Killebrew was hit by a drunk driver. Her fiance was killed in the crash, and she was left with cervical spine injuries that eventually put her in a wheelchair. After a string of bad luck, she wound up living in a D.C. homeless shelter. Somewhere along the way, she lost her expired Virginia driver's license. Killebrew was unable to get a new one because she didn't have an official copy of her birth certificate from the state of Indiana, where she was born. But to get her birth certificate, Killebrew had to send the state a copy of her driver's license or a stack of other documents -- like a car registration or mortgage document -- that she also didn't have. Eventually, she just gave up until she was referred to Foundry.

Without a photo ID, Killebrew may not be able to drive or apply for food stamps, but here in D.C., one thing she can do is vote, which she does regularly. If she still lived in Indiana, though, she'd be out of luck. Two days before she arrived at Foundry to claim her birth certificate, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit over a strict new Indiana law requiring all voters to show a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot. The plaintiffs argued that the law was an unconstitutional burden on voters, particularly minority, poor and elderly voters, who are the least likely to have the requisite ID. The law does allow people without an ID to cast a provisional ballot, but it won't get counted until the voter turns up at a county clerk's office to present identification.

If the justices rule against the plaintiffs, they will clear the way for other states to implement similar laws restricting voting rights for the less fortunate. Judging from the oral arguments in Crawford v. Marion County Elections Board, that's just what the justices are poised to do. While John Roberts worked at a steel mill during college, and Clarence Thomas came up dirt-poor in Pin Point, Ga., the Supreme Court of late hasn't shown much interest in people like Killebrew who reside at the bottom of the economic food chain. The court's docket is increasingly dominated by business litigation -- patent challenges, anti-trust suits and attempts by big businesses to insulate themselves from all sorts of legal liability and litigation brought by their employees, investors or aggrieved customers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently bragged that it had its best year yet before the high court in 2007, racking up a string of impressive victories for big business that even surpassed the chamber's record-breaking year in 2006.

Topped off by last week's decision in Stoneridge Investment Partners v. Scientific Atlanta, which sharply restricted the ability of shareholders to sue entities that abet corporate fraud, recent winners before the Supreme Court have included Enron and the banks that facilitated its scam, payday lenders, investment banks that engage in price fixing and tobacco companies, among others. Losers have been small investors, poor black schoolchildren, working-class women paid less than men -- and one kid who was paralyzed after a police officer rammed his car because he was speeding.

Not only are "the people" losing at a rapid clip when they come before the court, but it has gotten much, much harder for the average person to even get into court in the first place. Over the past two decades, Supreme Court decisions have quietly prevented a wide swath of the American population from even reaching the courthouse, much less prevailing there when they've challenged better-funded and more powerful interests. Lee Epstein, a professor at Northwestern law school, says that the court is "shutting down access to plaintiffs in all sorts of ways. The court seems to be saying 'stay out.'"

In the last term, the court ruled, for instance, that taxpayers had no right to challenge the federal government's use of tax dollars to pay for religious-based social services. The case overturned years of precedent giving people a say in how their money is spent if it seems to mix too much church with state business. In a complicated anti-trust case, the court basically rewrote the rules for filing a civil lawsuit, making it harder for plaintiffs to even get into a courtroom under the guise of protecting business from allegedly frivolous lawsuits.

Many civil rights lawsuits are brought by private individuals rather than the government through agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, making them the primary mode of enforcing anti-discrimination laws passed by Congress. Yet the Supreme Court has moved to sharply limit such lawsuits through decisions that, for instance, restrict the awarding of attorneys fees to plaintiffs so that lawyers can no longer afford to bring such cases.

Epstein says that while it's true many of these decisions break down along ideological lines, some of rulings also may stem from the justices' personal backgrounds. Never has the Supreme Court been more homogeneous, she says, noting that race and gender aside, the range of professional experience of the current court is extremely limited. All of the current justices came straight from the federal appeals courts, she points out, and most spent the bulk of their careers in government service or academia. Today's sitting justices are even geographically homogeneous, having lived most of their adult lives in Washington or other nearby East Coast metro centers. Before they were appointed, Epstein says, "Most of these people could have taken the Metro or Amtrak to get to work."

At least with Sandra Day O'Connor on the court, Epstein says, there was not just a female voice, but someone from the West who had a different background from the other justices. O'Connor had been an Arizona state legislator and served as an elected trial court judge in Maricopa County. Epstein suggests that some of the court's rulings in recent years may have as much to do with the justices' service on appellate courts as ideology. None of them has much experience as private-practice litigators or trial judges, where they would be forced to look the plaintiffs in the eye and hear their stories. Epstein believes that the current crop of justices is inclined to think that "the judges below them get it right."

The insular experience of the Supreme Court justices seems to be spilling over into their decision making in a way that goes beyond partisan politics. Indeed, some of the more arcane business cases, which will nonetheless have a profound impact on such things as consumer protection, were decided by majorities that included Clinton appointees. All of the justices seem reluctant to do anything that might mess with business too much, even when those businesses could use some messing with.

In Watters v. Wachovia last year, for instance, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a former ACLU lawyer, wrote the opinion for a majority that also included liberal Steven Breyer in a case that declared that states have no right to regulate the operating subsidiaries of national banks. On its face, this might sound like no big deal, until you recognize that some of those operating subsidiaries were engaged in subprime and other shady mortgage lending that's now wreaking havoc on the economy. The states had attempted to step in to combat some of the fraud at work long before the feds even noticed there was a problem.

But the court's liberals deferred to the federal banking regulators in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The decision was a huge victory for the banks, leaving their subsidiaries largely immune to regulation or lawsuits based on state consumer protection laws.

Ginsburg and Breyer also came down with the majority in a decision that upheld the use of mandatory-arbitration clauses in contracts for services that are themselves against the law. In Buckeye Check Cashing v. Cardegna, the court said a consumer could be forced to arbitrate a dispute with a payday lender rather than go to court even though payday lending is illegal in Florida, where the case originated.

During the oral arguments, Breyer expressed concern that if the court ruled for the consumer, businesses might suffer because so many of them now use mandatory arbitration to keep people out of court. He seemed to believe that letting people go to court would somehow lead to economic ruin, even when they were suing companies that had defrauded them. "I wouldn't want to reach a decision … that would make a significant negative difference in the gross national product of the United States," Breyer said. The case greatly expanded the number of people who can no longer bring their consumer disputes before a judge or jury.

Despite a few of these sorts of decisions, it is still the conservatives on the court who seem to be most out of touch with the people who will be affected by their rulings. The oral arguments during the Indiana voter ID case serve as a case in point. There was Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. with his movie-star good looks and a smile and smoothness that seemed so reasonable and reassuring during his confirmation hearings. And yet, during the oral arguments, Roberts couldn't have been more dismissive of the plight of poor and minority voters at the heart of the case. Like the other conservatives, Roberts, who earned $1 million a year in private practice, couldn't seem to fathom that there are people in this country who don't have a photo ID. When informed that a voter who didn't have an ID would have to travel to a county clerk's office to provide addition documentation for her vote to be counted, Roberts quipped that in his home state of Indiana, county clerk's offices weren't too far apart.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Paul Smith, countered that for a poor person living in Gary, Ind., the county clerk's office was quite a schlep, 17 miles. ("Seventeen miles is 17 miles for the rich and the poor," Antonin Scalia chimed in.) Smith gently reminded the justices that the people he was talking about didn't have driver's licenses. That's why they couldn't vote at their local polling places. For them, getting to the clerk's office would require using public transportation, which, anyone who's ever spent much time on public transit would surely know, gets less and less frequent and reliable the farther you have to travel.

What was striking about the exchange between Smith and Roberts, though, wasn't just Roberts' unfamiliarity with riding the bus, but his lack of any apparent understanding of the lives of people on the lower end of the economic spectrum. In this regard, Roberts is not alone on the court. It's clear that many of the justices would rather not see these sorts of folks appearing on their docket at all. Simon Lazarus, public policy counsel at the National Senior Citizens Law Center, calls it the "arrogant abstractness" that predominates the court today.

The court's overt hostility to average- or low-income people is in itself keeping people out of court. One possible reason the Supreme Court docket is so crowded with business cases is that liberal public interest lawyers are avoiding it, says John Bouman, the president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. "There's very little empathy on the court," he says, and as a result "people are showing restraint as to whether to take things up at all."

The change in the docket may only reinforce the court's ivory-tower qualities. The fewer everyday people who make their cases in court, the fewer opportunities the justices will have to let their perceptions evolve. One of the selling points of lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices is that it can free them from politics and allow them to focus on the law and the facts of the cases before them. It is supposed to allow for evolution, which has been known to happen. Justice John Paul Stevens, now the last remaining reliable liberal on the court, is himself a Republican appointee nominated by Gerald Ford. His views on such hot-button issues as affirmative action and obscenity have changed during his many years on the court. Even former Chief Justice Rehnquist, who as a law clerk once wrote that he thought Plessy v. Ferguson, the case upholding racial segregation, ought to be reaffirmed, eventually came to champion Brown v. Board of Education.

But you do have to wonder about the current crop of young conservatives like Roberts. Insulated from the real world through an adult life of privilege, insulated from actual people by years of conservative legal rulings, it's hard to see where the opportunities for growth will come from. As Arthur Bryant, the executive director of Public Justice, a public-interest law firm, says, "Our system of justice cannot do justice if people cannot get into court."

Gentrifying Diversity

In a recent email to Louisiana officials, FEMA curtly turned down the state's request for funding to notify displaced residents that they could cast absentee ballots in the city's crucial February mayoral election. FEMA also declined to share data with local authorities about the current addresses of evacuees.

In the eyes of many local activists, FEMA's refusal to support the voting rights of evacuees is consistent with a larger pattern of federal inaction and delay that seems transparently designed to discourage the return of black residents to the city. As one Associated Press dispatch presciently warned, "Hurricane Katrina [may] prove to be the biggest, most brutal urban-renewal project black America has ever seen."

Ethnic Cleansing, GOP-style
In the weeks since Bush's Jackson Square speech, FEMA has alarmingly failed to advance any plan for the return of evacuees to temporary housing within the city or to connect displaced locals with reconstruction jobs. Moreover for lack of a tax base or emergency federal funding, local governments in afflicted areas have been forced to lay off thousands of employees and are unable to restore many essential public services.

Bush's promise to promptly help the region's unemployed--282,000 in Louisiana alone--has turned into slow-moving House legislation that would benefit less than one-quarter of those made jobless by Katrina. The powerful House Republican Study Group has vowed to support only relief measures that buttress the private sector and are offset by reductions in national social programs such as food stamps, student loans, and Medicaid.

The Republican leadership accordingly has blocked bipartisan legislation to extend Medicaid coverage to all low-income hurricane victims and has imposed unprecedented demands for loan repayment upon local governments. Katrina's victims, as Paul Krugman has pointed out, have been "nickel and dim[ed]" to an extent that casts grave doubt over whether large-scale reconstruction "will really materialize."

In the meantime more than two-thirds of FEMA contracts (according to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco) has gone to out-of-state firms, with a blatant bias toward Halliburton and other Texas-based investors in Bush Inc. Simultaneously, unscrupulous employers have saturated Latino neighborhoods in Houston and other southwestern cities with fliers advertising a cornucopia of jobs in New Orleans and Gulfport.

With Davis-Bacon and affirmative-action requirements suspended by executive order, immigrant workers--housed in tents and working under appalling conditions--have flocked to jobs sites in the city, largely unaware that tens of thousands of blue-collar evacuees who would relish these jobs are unable to return for lack of family housing and federal support. Ethnic tensions are artificially inflamed by speculations about a "population swap" and impending "Latinization" of the workforce.

New barriers, meanwhile, are being erected against the return of evacuees. In Mississippi's ruined coastal cities, as well as in metro New Orleans, Landlords--galvanized by rumors of gentrification and soaring land values--are beginning to institute mass evictions. (Although the oft-cited Lower Ninth Ward is actually a bastion of blue-collar homeownership, most poor New Orleanians are renters.) Civil-rights lawyer Bill Quigley has described how renters have returned "to find furniture on the street and strangers living in their apartments at higher rents, despite an order by the Governor that no one can be evicted before October 25. Rents in the dry areas have doubled and tripled."

Secretary of Housing Alfonso Jackson, meanwhile, seems to be working to fulfill his notorious prediction that New Orleans is "not going to be as black as it was for a long time, if ever again." Public-housing and Section 8 residents recently protested that "the agencies in charge of these housing complexes [including HUD] are using allegations of storm damage to these complexes as a pretext for expelling working-class African-Americans, in a very blatant attempt to co-opt our homes and sell them to developers to build high-priced housing."

Minority homeowners also face relentless pressures not to return. Insurance compensation, for example, is typically too small to allow homeowners in the eastern wards of New Orleans to rebuild if and when authorities re-open their neighborhoods.

Similarly, the Small Business Administration--so efficient in recapitalizing the San Fernando Valley in the aftermath of the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake--has so far dispensed only a few million dollars despite increasingly desperate pleas from tens of thousands of homeowners and small business people facing imminent foreclosure or bankruptcy.

As a result, not just the black working class, but also the black professional and business middle classes are now facing economic extinction while Washington dawdles. Tens of thousands of blue-collar white, Asian and Latino residents of afflicted Gulf communities also face de facto expulsion from the region, but only the removal of African-Americans is actually being advocated as policy.

Since Katrina made landfall, conservatives--beginning with Rep. Richard Baker's infamous comments about God having "finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans"--have openly gloated over the possibilities for remaking New Orleans in a GOP image. (Medically, this might be considered akin to a mass outbreak of Tourette Syndrome, whose official symptoms include "the overwhelming urge to use a racial epithet.")

Republican interest in reducing the black Democratic vote in New Orleans--the balance of power in state elections--resonates with the oft-expressed desire of local elites to purge the city of "problem people." As one major French Quarter landowner told Der Spiegel, "The hurricane drove poor people and criminals out of the city and we hope they don't come back. The party's finally over for these people and now they're going to have to find someplace else to live in the United States."

Nor are downsizing and gentrification necessarily offensive to Democratic neo-liberals who have long advocated breaking up concentrated poverty and dispersing the black poor into older suburbs. The HOPE VI program, the showpiece of Clinton-era urban policy, demolished traditional public housing and 'vouchered out' residents in order to make way for mixed-use, market-rate developments like the St. Thomas redevelopment in New Orleans in the late 1990s that has become the prototype for elite visions of the city's future.

There exists, in other words, a sinister consensus of powerful interests about the benefits of an urban 'triage' that abandons historical centers of black political power like the Ninth Ward while rebuilding million-dollar homes along the disaster-prone shores of Lake Ponchartrain and the Mississippi Sound.

The New Urbanism Meets the Old South
Into this fraught and sinister situation now blunders the circus-like spectacle of the Congress of New Urbanism (CNU): the architectural cult founded by Miami designers Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk.

Twenty years ago, when Duany was first barnstorming the nation's architectural schools and preservation societies, the New Urbanism seemed to offer an attractive model for building socially diverse and environmentally sustainable communities based on a systematization of older 'city beautiful' principles such as pedestrian scale, traditional street grids, an abundance of open space, and a mixture of land uses, income groups and building forms.

In practice, however, this diversity has never been achieved. Duany and Plater-Zyberk's Seaside--the Florida suburb so brilliantly caricatured in the 1998 film "The Truman Show"--was an early warning that kitsch would usually triumph over democracy in New Urbanist designs.

Despite the populist language of the CNU manifesto, moreover, Duany has always courted corporate imaginers, mega-developers and politicians. In the mid-1990s, HUD under Secretary Henry Cisneros incorporated New Urbanist ideas into many of its HOPE VI projects.

Originally conceived as replacement housing for the poor, HOPE VI quickly morphed into a new strategy for replacing the poor themselves. Strategically-sited public-housing projects like New Orleans St. Thomas homes were demolished to make way for neo-traditionalist townhouses and stores (in the St. Thomas case, a giant Wal-Mart) in the New Urbanist spirit.

These "mixed-use, mixed-income" developments were typically advertised as little utopias of diversity, but--as in the St. Thomas case--the real dynamic was exclusionary rather than inclusionary, with only a few project residents being rehoused on site. Nationally, HOPE VI led to a net loss of more than 50,000 units of desperately needed low-income housing.

Smart developers accordingly have been quick to put New Urbanist halos over their otherwise rampant landgrabs and neighborhood demolitions. Likewise, shrewd conservatives like Paul Weyrich have come to recognize the obvious congruence between political traditionalism and architectural nostalgia.

Weyrich, the founding president of the Heritage Foundation, recently wrote that the "new urbanism needs to be part of the next conservatism," a conservatism that remakes cities by purging their criminal underclasses. (After Katrina, Weyrich castigated New Orleans for "its welfare state and entitlement mentality… a prototype for Liberals" and questioned whether it should be rebuilt at all.)

Weyrich was the spiritual bridesmaid during the recent nuptials between the CNU's Andreas Duany and Harley Barbour, the sleazy former tobacco lobbyist and Republican chair, who became governor of Mississippi by wrapping himself in the Confederate battle flag.

Barbour, long King of K Street, is nobody's fool, and he is trying to extract as much long-term political and economic advantage from Katrina as possible. One of his declared priorities, for example, is bringing the casinos ashore into larger, more Las Vegas-like settings; another is to rapidly restore shoreline property values and squelch any debate about resettling the population on defensible higher ground (north of I-10, for example).

It was thus a rather brilliant stroke for Barbour to invite the CNU to help Mississippi rebuild its Gulf Coast "the right way." The first phase was the so-called "mega-charrette', 11-18 October, that brought 120 New Urbanists together with local officials and business groups to brainstorm strategies for the physical reconstruction of their communities.

Duany, as usual, whipped up a revivalistic fervor that must have been pleasing to Barbour and other descendants of the slave masters: "The architectural heritage of Mississippi is fabulous … really, really marvelous."

With Gone with the Wind as their apparent script, the CNU teams spent a frenzied week trying to show the locals how they could replace their dismal strip malls with glorious Greek Revival casinos and townhouses that would rival any of those that once existed on MGM's backlot. The entire exercise stayed firmly within the parameters of a gambling-driven 'heritage' economy with casinos "woven into the community fabric" and McMansions rebuilt on the beach.

In the end, however, what was important was not the actual content of the charrette, nor the genuine idealism of many participants, but simply the legitimacy and publicity that CNU gave to Barbour's agenda. Duany, who never misses an opportunity to push his panaceas to those in power, has foolishly made himself an accomplice to the Republicans' evil social experiment on the Gulf Coast.

Reprint queries can be directed to FeatureWell@featurewell.com.

Fortune Cookie Policy

As the image-conscious Republicans gaveled open their national convention Monday morning – kicking off a four-day festival of faux moderation – the conservative activists who helped shape the party platform were nowhere to be seen at Madison Square Garden. In fact, they were holed up across the street, at a gloomy Howard Johnson's with a handful of reporters and a large bag of fortune cookies.

The Family Research Council, Eagle Forum, and American Conservative Union – three organizations that hold considerable sway within the GOP – had pushed hard to made the Republican Party platform more appealing to traditional Christian voters. In particular, after Vice President Dick Cheney made his "freedom means freedom for everyone" speech on Aug. 24, the organizations demanded that the GOP platform become even more explicit in opposing legalized gay and lesbian relationships. They were successful: New language in the platform, added just a few days before the convention, criticizes not just same-sex marriage but also civil unions like Vermont's. "Legal recognition and the accompanying benefits afforded couples should be preserved for that unique and special union of one man and one woman which has historically been called marriage," the revised wording says.

Still, the three organizations believe the Bush administration hasn't gone far enough in courting "pro-family" voters. In particular, they're angry the convention's original lineup of speakers lacked a personality from the party's right wing. (The GOP, conceding the point, added Senators Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sam Brownback of Kansas at the last minute, but neither will speak in prime time.) So while the convention's opening session was getting underway, the GOP's rightmost flank rented a small hotel conference room with low ceilings and black leatherette sofas. They piled several hundred fortune cookies onto a dainty table and threw open their doors to reporters. Only a few showed up, and those who did were largely from the religious media.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, opened with a criticism of George W. Bush's excessive moderation four years ago. "The president narrowly won the 2000 election," said the former Louisiana state legislator, "and the evangelical movement has been chastised for the four-and-a-half million evangelicals who stayed home. They stayed home because there was no candidate in the race who enthusiastically embraced [their] issues." Since taking office, Perkins added, Bush has proven a pleasant surprise: "He has shown that he will protect the lives of American citizens, born and unborn. He has taken steps to protect the institution of marriage." Nonetheless, Perkins fears that "this administration has done all it intends to do on these core issues, and that would be unfortunate." Taking religious votes for granted would bode poorly for the "fortune of the party" – hence the cookies. But it was not time to open the plastic wrappers yet.

A reporter from the Salem Radio Network, a Washington-based Christian news organization, lobbed a softball question at Perkins: "Tony, can you speak about why traditional marriage is a fundamental building block of American society and why it's essential to raising children?" Perkins' answer parroted the platform language he'd helped devise. "Thirty years of research has concluded that the best environment for raising children is a two-parent heterosexual environment," he said. "No society has ever been able to sustain itself, let alone prosper, under the disintegration of the family."

Phyllis Schlafly, president of the hard-right Eagle Forum (which argues on its web site that laws barring sex discrimination in school athletics hurt the United States during this summer's Olympics), was supposed to attend but didn't. In her place came Lori Waters, the organization's executive director, with a strong message about liberal jurists. "Imagine it's the fifth inning of a baseball game and a batter's up, and he gets called out after two strikes," she said. "This is what activist judges have been doing – they've been changing rules midstream." She cited not only the Massachusetts marriage ruling, but also a two-year-old 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. (The Pledge case was later overturned on technical grounds.) Waters called on members of Congress to impeach offending judges or even close down their courtrooms. "They created the lower courts," she said. "They could eliminate the court system if they wanted to."

At last, it was time for the fortune cookies, which the conservative activists plan to distribute by the thousands to delegates. Perkins, Waters, and Richard Lessner, Executive Director of the American Conservative Union, all unwrapped their cookies and received identical messages: #1 Reason to Ban Human Cloning: Hillary Clinton. (Another cookie said, Real Men Marry Women.) "That's kind of mean," murmured a television reporter about the Clinton fortune. Asked about the offensive messages, Perkins shot back, "If you can't take a joke, get out of politics."

When asked her name afterward, the TV reporter wouldn't identify herself or her organization. "Don't get me in trouble," she said. "I'm from a faith-based, family-friendly network. But don't you think that's mean?"

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