Blogs

Grandma Sarah

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 2:04 PM EDT

GRANDMA SARAH....The latest from the campaign trail:

The 17-year-old daughter of Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain's running mate, is five months pregnant, Senator McCain's campaign advisers announced today.

The daughter, Bristol, plans to marry the father, the campaign said.

In a statement, Mrs. Palin said: "Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows that she has our unconditional love and support."

....The campaign intends to cast this as the kind of situation that ordinary American families face.

Best wishes to Bristol. I hope, however, that the McCain campaign won't actually cast this as anything, and I also hope the national media manages to restrain itself covering this story. Sure, it's news, but report it and then let it go.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Slow Food Wrap-Up: Is Dinner Enough?

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 1:51 PM EDT

slow_food_nation_sf.jpgOn Sunday night I attended a six-course feast at Camino restaurant in Oakland. The $125-dollar-a-plate dinner—a benefit for the West Oakland food-justice nonprofit People's Grocery—came at the end of Slow Food Nation, the San Francisco Bay Area's weekend-long celebration of all things local, seasonal, and delicious.

The mood was jolly, the dining indulgent. From the spongy, triangular nettle-cake appetizers to the flaky peach and blackberry handpies for dessert, the plates just kept coming out of Russell Moore's (formerly of Chez Panisse) open kitchen. Once the diners—an older, mostly local crowd—were seated, epi loaves (long rows of linked baguette rolls shaped to looks like a stalk of wheat) were placed directly on the table, no plates necessary. Soon after, the wait staff brought out fire-roasted squid served with plump, fresh chickpeas. Then, onto the soup course—a cool gazpacho of sweet tomatoes. Hearty fish paella, which had been roasted over the open fireplace in three massive terracotta pots for hours, came steaming out next. Even after that thick, creamy rice dish, few of us could resist the rosemary-scented roasted pork and homemade sausages that arrived for our fourth course. Beans from People's Grocery's Sunol farm made for a perfect pairing—crisp veggies and piquant meat. An organic salad with fresh ricotta preceded the aforementioned handpies.

Just as we were finishing dessert (and ready to burst), Brahm Ahmadi, executive director of People's Grocery, presented a seven-minute video. While we digested our enormous gourmet dinners, we learned about West Oakland, a community of 30,000 where there are zero grocery stores but 53 liquor stores. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death. And an estimated $30 million worth of business leaves the community each year as residents must go elsewhere for food.

We knew coming in that a portion of each ticket would go to People's Grocery, but I got the sense that even after Ahmadi's presentation, most of us diners still felt a world away from the 'food desert' outside Camino's doors. After a cheer for Camino and People's Grocery, one woman called out, "Support businesses in neighborhoods you're scared of!" An awkward silence followed.

Mad About Cows

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 1:46 PM EDT

MAD ABOUT COWS....Four years ago I first reported about the travails of Creekstone Farms, a Kansas beef producer that wanted to initiate 100% testing of its cattle for mad cow disease so that it could sell into the Japanese market. It was the free market at work: a plucky little company taking advantage of emerging technology to maintain its share in a foreign market and help improve our trade deficit. Just the kind of thing George Bush talks about all the time.

Except that George Bush wouldn't let them do it. Might upset the big producers, you see, who were afraid consumer pressure might force them to eventually perform 100% testing too. Today, via Dean Baker, I see that the DC Circuit Court has finally ruled in the Bush administration's favor. America's meat processing industry — which, coincidentally I'm sure, favors the GOP in its campaign contributions by more than 3:1 over Democrats — can breathe a sigh of relief.

Focus Group Hell

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 1:26 PM EDT

FOCUS GROUP HELL....I confess that I've always been sort of weirdly fascinated with Joe Klein's periodic reports on Frank Luntz's focus groups. I can't really say why, since I don't have any idea whether the data they produce is at all reliable, but the fascination persists. Today, Klein reports that Luntz's latest batch of independents was deeply unimpressed with prospective vice president Sarah Palin:

Only one person said Palin made him more likely to vote for McCain; about half the 25-member group raised their hands when asked if Palin made them less likely to vote for McCain. They had a negative impression of Palin by a 2-1 margin...a fact that was reinforced when they were given hand-dials and asked to react to Palin's speech at her first appearance with McCain on Friday — the dials remained totally neutral as Palin went through her heart-warming(?) biography, and only blipped upwards when she said she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere — which wasn't quite the truth, as we now know.

Klein also reports that far from neutralizing McCain's age issue, his choice of Palin actually intensifies it — something I anticipated months ago when people were talking up the even younger Bobby Jindal as a potential running mate. Luntz apparently thinks this debacle can be salvaged with a good convention speech, but I think Klein's take is the more clear-eyed one: "They really saw this pick as a gimmick — and one that reflected badly on John McCain's judgment."

Cuba

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 1:14 PM EDT

CUBA....Paul Richter reports on the latest round of neo-Cold War warnings from unnamed "officials" in the Bush administration:

Amid rising tensions over Georgia, U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that Russia is moving to rebuild one of the most dangerous features of the old Soviet Union's security structure — its alliance with Cuba.

....Russia "has strategic ties to Cuba again, or at least, that's where they're going," a senior U.S. official said recently, speaking, like others, on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive implications of the assessments...."It is very Cold War retro," said a government official. "The topic could be reminiscent of the Cuban missile crisis, and that is a chapter that people don't want to revisit."

Could anything be more inane? I mean, ignore the fact that this stuff is probably just generic BS being trotted out to a gullible press. Even if it's true, we all know there's a fast and painless way to put the kibosh on it: deep six the lunatic Cuba policy that's held our political classes hostage for the past 50 years. Tell Raul Castro that we don't like the way he governs his country, but that we think it's time to open up constructive relations anyway. Trade, diplomatic relations, investment, cultural exchanges, etc. etc. All the stuff we do with nearly every other country in the world, including the ones we don't like much. (Like, for example, Russia itself these days.)

Yeah, I'm dreaming. Bush won't do it, and for that matter even Barack Obama won't do it. John McCain would rather have his big toe cut off than do it. And Florida is still a swing state. Sigh.

The Return of the Mayberry Machiavellis

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 12:32 PM EDT

THE RETURN OF THE MAYBERRY MACHIAVELLIS....Marc Ambinder reports this morning about the vetting — or, rather, lack of vetting — that John McCain and his team carried out on Sarah Palin before announcing her to the world on Friday. Despite the fact that legions of bloggers figured this stuff out within 48 hours, apparently they didn't know that Palin had actually supported, not opposed, the Bridge to Nowhere; that the true scope of the "Troopergate" scandal she's enmeshed in is a wee bit larger than she fessed up to; that she raised taxes and public debt substantially as mayor of Wasilla; that she supported a windfall profits tax on oil companies as governor of Alaska; and that she's skeptical about human contributions to global warming. McCain's team talked to very few people in Alaska who knew Palin, didn't do much (any?) archival research on her, and McCain himself had barely even met her before he offered her the job.

So why did she get the nod? Hard to say. George Bush met with Vladimir Putin for a couple of hours back in 2001 and immediately announced that "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul." McCain, likewise, after campaigning with Sarah Palin for a few hours on Saturday, went on TV the next day to announce, "She's a partner and a soulmate."

So sure: this is vintage McCain at work. His choice of Palin was naive, cynical, reckless, and impulsive. But what about his staff? Why did they go along?

Well, in case you've ever wondered what John DiIulio meant when he described the Bush White House as "the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis," I think this is it. DiIulio was talking about an executive staff that cared almost nothing for substantive policy, and was instead obsessed with junior high school levels of political cleverness. How will this play with the base? How will it put Democrats into a corner? How can we twist the real intent of legislation so that nobody knows what's really going on? What are the political angles? What congressional districts will this put in play?

I'd guess that the same thing is going on here. You can almost hear the McCain staff cackling in the background, can't you? Palin will draw off disaffected Hillary supporters! Her Down syndrome baby will totally sucker the base into falling in love with McCain! Joe Biden is going to have to walk on eggshells to avoid looking like a bully during the vice presidential debate! If anyone even remotely close to the Obama campaign says anything we can even remotely pretend is sexist, we'll trumpet it to the skies and the press will eat it up! Sure, maybe Palin isn't prepared for the actual job itself, but just look at the box it puts Democrats in! Politically it's genius!

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Hurricane Gustav: Helping and Hurting Bush and McCain

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 2:19 PM EDT

Hurricane Gustav is threatening the residents of New Orleans and the Gulf coast. It is also threatening the Republican convention in St. Paul, where John McCain will be nominated this week. Or is it helping McCain?

On Sunday afternoon, President Bush announced that due to the hurricane he would skip the GOP convention, where he and Dick Cheney were scheduled to speak on Monday night, and the McCain campaign said it would cancel most of the convention program for that day. (Cheney, too, is taking a pass on St. Paul.) Instead, Bush will head to Houston to be near hurricane rescue efforts. As if his presence there is going to matter. Bush is wisely not going to New Orleans, for a presidential visit there would surely disrupt rescue operations.

But is Bush's absence from St. Paul a win or loss for McCain? Certainly, he could do hurricane-like damage to the McCain campaign if a split-screen television shot on Monday night showed Bush addressing the GOP delegates and Gustav slamming into New Orleans. Any junior image-manipulator would know that such a thing must be avoided at all costs. Even without a hurricane, Bush's appearance at the McCain-fest in St. Paul could have been dicey. The Obama campaign is doing all it can to tie McCain to the most unpopular president in decades. No doubt, some of convention planners would have liked from the start to have a Bush-less program. But had they not invited the president, they would have created a major issue that would have dominated the convention. Now they can say, Thank God for the weather. And Bush has a good excuse for staying clear.

There is a cost. Hurricane Gustav is damn powerful reminder of Hurricane Katrina and the Bush administration's abject failure. So whether Bush is at the convention or not, the ghost of Katrina will hover over the proceedings--even if the convention planners get their thousands of delegates to eschew the parties and do volunteer work to help Gustav victims. Moreover, Gustav may rob media time and attention from the GOP effort to define--that is, delegitimize--Barack Obama. Fewer hours of convention equals fewer hours of Obama-bashing. And if there is a crisis under way, a hyper-partisan attack might seem untoward.

Gustav ought to be also a reminder of McCain's own failure to lead during the Katrina disaster. As Jonathan Stein noted in April (when McCain toured the hurricane-damaged areas of New Orleans):

But McCain's record on Hurricane Katrina suggests that he was part of the problem, not the solution. McCain was on Face the Nation on August 28, 2005, as Katrina gathered in the Gulf Coast. He said nothing about it. One day later, when Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, McCain was on a tarmac at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, greeting President Bush with a cake in celebration of McCain's 69th birthday. Three days later, with the levees already breached and New Orleans filling with water, McCain's office released a three-sentence statement urging Americans to support the victims of the hurricane.
Though McCain issued a statement the next week calling on Congress to make sacrifices in order to fund recovery efforts, he was quoted in The New Leader on September 1 cautioning against over-spending in support of Katrina's victims. "We also have to be concerned about future generations of Americans," he said. "We're going to end up with the highest deficit, probably, in the history of this country."

Here's a visual reminder:

20050829-5_p082905pm-0125-515h-1.jpg

It's a shot that ought to be circulated widely this week--whether or not Bush is in St. Paul.

Quotes of the Day

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 2:09 PM EDT

QUOTES OF THE DAY....George Bush on his former ambassador to the UN, neocon lunatic John Bolton:

"Let me just say from the outset that I don't consider Bolton credible."

I don't often agree with President Bush, but credit where it's due: when he's right, he's right. Next up is NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher, commenting on the number of high-profile no-shows for this week's Republican convention:

"It's probably easier to say who is attending."

But why? Hurricane Gustav? Campaigning duties? Nope: "The party brand is in tatters," said [a Republican] aide. "The president is highly unpopular. There doesn't seem to be much excitement around the candidate. And there's a real fear of being tagged with the Republican label and being seen with George Bush."

Palin's Governing Style

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 1:51 PM EDT

PALIN'S GOVERNING STYLE....We all know that after she became governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin sold the executive jet on eBay and fired the chef at the governor's mansion. But how is she at actually governing? Here's Anchorage Daily News reporter Gregg Erickson:

It is clear that she has not paid much attention to the nitty-gritty unglamorous work of government, of gaining consensus, and making difficult compromises. She seems to be of the view that politics should be all rather simple....The Republican chair of the Alaska State House Finance budget subcommittee on Heath and Medicaid says he can't find anyone in Palin's executive office who cares about helping bring that budget under control. He is furious with her about that.

That would be Republican Mike Hawker, who confirms his opinion of Palin to the LA Times:

"Her administration had the appearance of paying absolutely no attention to any of the rest of the unglamorous side of government," said Hawker, "whether it be dealing with human services, public services, highways, all the routine aspects."

And Democrats agree! Here's state senator Hollis French:

French faulted Palin for not helping the Legislature pass a bill to raise the benefits threshhold for children and pregnant women from 175% of the poverty level to 200%. (Most states set them at 200% to 250%.) "She said she wanted to help us raise it," French said, "but couldn't be bothered to do anything in the closing days of the Legislature, when she could have helped it through."

So in addition to not having much curiosity or interest in political affairs outside of Alaska, she apparently doesn't have much curiosity or interest in political affairs inside Alaska either. Sounds like the perfect successor to W. No wonder McCain fell in love with her.

The Latest From Iraq

| Sun Aug. 31, 2008 2:48 AM EDT

THE LATEST FROM IRAQ....Coming up for air from Palin-mania, I see that there are still other things going on in the rest of the world. For example:

At the "make-or-break" stage of talks with the U.S. on the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has swept aside his negotiating team and replaced it with three of his closest aides, a reshuffle that some Iraqi officials warn risks sabotaging the agreement....In disclosing the switch to the Los Angeles Times this weekend, a senior Iraqi official close to Maliki also suggested that the two sides remained deadlocked on key issues.

....The latest version of the agreement, which was read to The Times by the Maliki confidant, says all U.S. forces will leave Iraq by the end of 2011, unless Iraq requests otherwise. It also says the Americans will withdraw from cities in June 2009, unless the Iraqis ask them to stay.

The new wording is a departure from the White House's insistence on a conditions-based timeline for a pullout. Under the new language, Iraq, not the U.S. military, decides when the troops will leave. U.S. officials have gone back to Washington to consult on the language, the Maliki confidant said.

Read the whole thing to get the rest of the story. I continue to predict that an agreement will eventually be reached, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's more on Maliki's terms than on ours.