2008 - %3, February

A Campaign to Stop Stoning Abroad, the Un-Liberation of Women and the De-Closeting of Gays at Home

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 8:17 PM PST

It was inevitable that calls from western feminism to crack down on violence against women in other countries would both help and hurt women there. Take Iran, where a 2002 moratorium ordering a ban on the practice hasn't stopped the carnage. From The Nation:

In the most recent case, two sisters, Zohreh and Azar Kabiri, have been sentenced to stoning for "adultery." (This sentence came after the ninety-nine lashes meted out for "inappropriate relations," which came after a trial notable for its lack of due process.). Equality Now has the whole horrific story, with addresses of officials to address letters calling for a ban on stoning and the decriminalization of "adultery."

That a few men have also been stoned for adultery is no sign of (does this need saying?) either equality or progress. Now, according to Katha Pollitt and Equality Now, Iran is speeding up the process, and maybe efficiently cleaning up the decadent gene pool, with sibling pairs.

According to a comment, the petition included in the article has stopped accepting signatures, but try anyway.

Since we're discussing theocracies, The Nation also analyzes this message for Europe from US conservatives: "have more white babies" because the mongrel hordes of Islam are out-breeding lazy, selfish whites. But that's not really what they're saying, I think. What they're really saying, important as the white supremacy is to them, is: "Quick! Return women to barefoot pregnancy before it's too late and get the gays back in the closet". It's the kindler, gentler stoning and the lash, however infinitely preferable to the real kind, as in Iran:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Mississippi's Criminal Justice System: Still Burning the Poor Alive

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 7:51 PM PST

Today Slate, ran a piece on the travesty that is Mississippi's criminal forensics 'system' that defies even this blogger's facility with hyperbole and exaggeration. Where to begin?

According to the National Association of Medical Examiners, a doctor should perform no more than 250 autopsies per year. Dr. Hayne has testified that he performs 1,200 to 1,800 autopsies per year. Sources I spoke with who have visited Hayne's practice say he and his assistants will frequently have multiple bodies open at once, sometimes smoking cigars and even eating sandwiches while moving from corpse to corpse. They prefer to work at night, adding to their macabre reputation.

These jokers aren't even certified, having failed the exam in the 1980s and, Mississippi being Mississippi, knew not to bother re-testing. Think I'm being hard on the state (from which my own dear cotton-picking mother fled in the 40's)?
Mississippi's system is set up in a way that increases the pressure on forensics experts to find what prosecutors want them to find. The state is one of several that elect county coroners to oversee death investigations. The office requires no medical training, only a high-school diploma, and it commonly goes to the owner of the local funeral home. If a coroner suspects a death may be due to criminal activity, he'll consult with the district attorney or sheriff, then send the body to a private-practice medical examiner for an autopsy. The problem here is that a medical examiner who returns unsatisfactory results to a prosecutor jeopardizes his chance of future referrals. Critics say Hayne has become the preferred medical examiner for Mississippi's coroners and district attorneys, because they can rely on him to deliver the diagnoses they're looking for.
Under state law, this whole process is supposed to be overseen by a board-certified state medical examiner. The last two people to hold that office, Dr. Lloyd White from 1988 to 1992 and Dr. Emily Ward from 1993 to 1995, were appalled at the way the state was handling death investigations. Both tried to implement reforms. And both were met with fiery resistance. Dr. Ward's tenure was particularly raucous. West (who at the time was the elected county coroner for Forrest County) circulated a petition signed by slightly more than half the state's coroners calling for her resignation. The legislature has largely refused to fund the office since. It's been vacant since 1995.

Read the whole piece and take a gander at how judges handled the piece's three poster boys for wrongful, heartbreaking, incarceration. Call me a victimologist, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that poor blacks outnumber the many never-had-a-chance good ole boys also no doubt moldering unjustly at the state's notorious prisons. Yes, railroading the poor is bad. Railroading by race is worse.

Some things just take away the words. Either pieces like this keep you up at night or they don't. It's not the racial angle, overwhelmingly. It's knowing that this sort of injustice could happen even to the non-usual subjects in a system like Mississippi's, should the kingpins take a mind to do so. Injustice anywhere is truly injustice everywhere. If it could happen to 'them' it could happen to you.

Can a Texas Pol Who Supports Obama Name One of His Accomplishments? Evidently Not.

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 3:45 PM PST

Appearing on Hardball last night to support Barack Obama, Texas State Senator Kirk Watson couldn't name a single piece of Obama legislation. In one of the most painful minutes of live television in recent memory, Chris Matthews wouldn't let him off the hook:

Score one for the empty-hope meme.

The segment would have been more revealing, and fair, if Matthews had posed the same question to the Clinton supporter. Perhaps he was too afraid. Matthews, who is normally unfriendly to just about everyone, has nonetheless taken heavy flack for several particularly harsh attacks on Hillary, most notably last month on MSNBC's Morning Joe:

The reason she's a U.S. Senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front runner is her husband messed around. That's how she got to be senator from New York. We keep forgetting it. She didn't win on her merit.
On Morning Joe Matthews went on to describe Obama's January 9th New Hampshire concession speech as "the best speech I've ever heard" and confess to tearing up as he listened. So much for equal opportunity invective.

If Matthews singled out Watson last night to make up for being too nice to Obama (a common charge against the press by the Clinton campaign), he certainly succeeded.

This morning the shell-shocked Watson faced the world on his blog, in perhaps the only way he could: with humor.

"So. . .that really happened," he began.

He went on to list the Obama legislative accomplishments he'd forgotten. "Most of all," he concluded, "he has the record to prove that all of this is possible. It's something no one should forget."

". . .Even though I did."

". . .On national television"

AFRICOM Will Not Be in Africa

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 3:03 PM PST

africa_1890.jpg

The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), a new organizational construct intended to unify the entire African continent (except Egypt) under a single U.S. commander, is due to become fully operational later this year. Since its founding in October 2007, it has been based in an old German military barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, until a suitable African location can be found to house its command infrastructure. But according to the BBC, AFRICOM has now stopped searching for a permanent home due to a lack of interest among all but one of the 53 African nations falling under its area of responsiblity:

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua announced in November that he would not allow his country to host an Africom base and that he was also opposed to any such bases in West Africa.
South Africa and Libya have also voiced strong reservations.
Only Liberia, which has historic links to the US, has offered to host it.
There has been concern that Africom is really an attempt to protect US oil and mineral interests in Africa, amid growing competition for resources from Asian economies, says the BBC's Alex Last in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
Then there are fears about the continent being drawn into the US war on terror, our correspondent adds.

At a press conference held earlier today in Ghana, the latest stop on President Bush's tour through Africa, the U.S. commander-in-chief tried to reassure his African audience about American intentions on the continent. An excerpt from the transcript on AFRICOM's website:

We do not contemplate adding new bases. In other words, the purpose of this is not to add military bases. I know there's rumors in Ghana, 'All Bush is coming to do is try to convince you to put a big military base here.' That's baloney. (Laughter.) Or as we say in Texas, that's bull. (Laughter.) Mr. President (Kufuor) made it clear to me, he said, look, we -- you're not going to build in any bases in Ghana. I said, I understand; nor do we want to. Now, that doesn't mean we won't develop some kind of office somewhere in Africa.

Unless that office is to be located in Liberia, it's unlikely to open any time soon.

Democratic Politicos Discuss "Bottom Up" Politics

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 2:55 PM PST

I attended an event at the left-leaning NDN think tank that featured Joe Trippi, former chief strategist for John Edwards, Simon Rosenberg, NDN's President, Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, and Andres Ramirez, NDN's Vice President for Hispanic Programs. It was a typical inside-the-beltway panel discussion where intellectuals pontificate in front of other intellectuals about the future of politics and the political parties. I say that dismissively, because in a macro sense events like these are a touch ridiculous. But some fairly interesting things were said, which I'll reproduce here, with some links for additional reading.

  • Amy Walter pointed out that though Hillary Clinton's attacks on Barack Obama's lack of experience don't seem to be working now, they may work in the general election. The problem with the current attacks may be the messenger, not the message, she said.
  • Andres Ramirez took at a look at the electoral college map and made the following observation: if you take the states that are safe blue states and you add four states that have expanding Latino populations, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado, you've got an easy presidential victory for the Democrats in every cycle. This was a reason for substantial Democratic Party investment in the Latino demographic, Ramirez argued. He also produced a number of figures and charts that are very likely available here.
  • Ramirez also tried to debunk the notion that Democrats lose their advantage among Latinos, earned while defending immigrants from the GOP's nativist insanity, if the general election is between John McCain and Barack Obama. The argument is that McCain led the fight for comprehensive immigration reform (the humane approach to immigration reform), which Latinos like, while Obama is black, which Latinos supposedly don't like. Ramirez said that turnout numbers from the states that have already voted in primaries don't support that theory.
  • The word of the day was "bottom up." The assembled politicos seemed to think that Obama's success was a product a newly energized electorate that for the first time in ages were invested in their nation's politics. This was the cause of the increased number of small-value donations, the increased number of volunteers, and the dramatically increased number of voters. Democrats, starting with Trippi's work for Howard Dean in 2004, have worked and reworked their approach to "bottom up" politics, while the Republicans are years behind. Simon Rosenberg pointed out that if all of this citizen excitement (which the assembled said has "renewed our democracy") is subverted by superdelegates who want to hand the Democratic nomination to the less-popular choice, it would damage the Democratic Party in critical ways. Ways that could very well hand the election to John McCain.

McCain Tries to Backtrack on 100 Years of War

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 1:11 PM PST

John McCain has finally gone to the press and backtracked on his quote that he would comfortable with a 100-year-long American presence in Iraq, saying that he "was taken out context -- wildly."

Uh, actually no. Our very own David Corn was at the event where McCain made the 100 years comment, and asked the candidate about it afterward. Check the link. McCain can't weasel out of this one.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Does Clinton Need To Retool? Nah, Just Pump Up the Negative

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 11:17 AM PST

On a conference call with reporters on Wednesday morning, Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's communications director, was asked if within the Clinton camp there was any sense that the campaign needs to "retool or overhaul." The answer: no. In fact, throughout the call, Wolfson and Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, showed no signs of any shifting. Instead, they signaled that the campaign's gameplan is to continue to pound away at Obama. Wolfson pushed two points: Obama "lifted" portions of a speech from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Obama seems to be backing out of a promise to participate in the public campaign finance system (and thus live within a spending limit) in the general election. "He's running on the power of his oratory and the strength of his promises," Wolfson said. Yet, he asserted, Obama's oratory is plagiarized and his promises are broken.

The problem: the Clinton campaign threw all this (and much more) at Obama before Wisconsin, and it didn't stick. Perhaps Clinton and her aides believe they have to pump up the volume on the attacks to have a fighting chance in Ohio and Texas on March 4.

Why do they believe they can triumph in those states? Wolfson and Penn were asked. "Growing scrutiny," Wolfson replied, is being paid to Obama--by the media, by the Republican Party, and by Senator John McCain, the likely GOP nominee. In other words, Obama's due for a fall--eventually. And the Clinton people will do what they can to bring about such change before Ohio and Texas. Their strategy appears to be to help tear him down, rather than find a better way to lift her up. The race got nasty before Wisconsin--and it looks as if it's going to get nastier.

Deja Vu: Muslim Didn't Work So Now Obama's a Commie Pinko

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 9:58 AM PST

Just a few hours ago, a smart chick I know predicted that the unscrupulous right would expand their smear-scope to dog Obama's mama. She figured: 'tramp who married a Kenyan then an Indonesian, getting her nice white genes all dirty. She's a 'ho.' Foolishly, I couldn't buy it. Well, she was right, but it's even worse. Mrs. Obama had to have been a Commie (no doubt also a tramp). What else explains why a nice white girl went crazy enough to marry so suspiciously since it couldn't possibly be love?

From NRO, via Andrew Sullivan:

...all of my mixed race, black/white classmates throughout my youth, some of whom I am still in contact with, were the product of very culturally specific unions. They were always the offspring of a white mother, (in my circles, she was usually Jewish, but elsewhere not necessarily) and usually a highly educated black father. And how had these two come together at a time when it was neither natural nor easy for such relationships to flourish? Always through politics. No, not the young Republicans. Usually the Communist Youth League. Or maybe a different arm of the CPUSA. But, for a white woman to marry a black man in 1958, or 60, there was almost inevitably a connection to explicit Communist politics. (During the Clinton Administration we were all introduced to then U. of Pennsylvania Professor Lani Guinier — also a half black/half Jewish, red diaper baby.)
I don't know how Barak Obama's parents met. But the Kincaid article referenced above makes a very convincing case that Obama's family, later, (mid 1970s) in Hawaii, had close relations with a known black Communist intellectual. And, according to what Obama wrote in his first autobiography, the man in question — Frank Marshall Davis — appears to have been Barack's own mentor, and even a father figure. Of course, since the Soviet Union itself no longer exists, it's an open question what it means practically to have been politically mentored by an official Communist. Ideologically, the implications are clearer.

They're not serious, are they? You can't scare the kids with that played out nonsense. But maybe the plan is two-pronged: McCain's refining his message that not only is Obama inexperienced (i.e. not in danger of a cardiac event), but he's so focused on what's wrong with America that he won't pay attention to the dangers of terrorism. That message may not focus the kids, but it should bring out the greatest generation in droves. Just in case the right thinks they might give in to silly notions like returning to our bedrock values and not fighting a war we've already won.

Interesting Fact About Wisconsin Election Results

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 9:38 AM PST

Yesterday's 17-point win for Obama in Wisconsin was the smallest margin of victory in his 10-state streak since Super Tuesday.

February 9
Virgin Islands +82
Louisiana +21
Nebraska +36
Washington +37

February 10
Maine +19

February 12
District of Columbia +51
Maryland +23
Virginia +29

February 19 (yesterday)
Wisconsin +17
Hawaii +52

Yesterday's Full Results

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 8:38 AM PST

For the Democrats:

Wisconsin
Obama 58%, Clinton 41%
Obama wins 40 delegates, Clinton wins 28

Hawaii
Obama 76%, Clinton 24%
Obama wins 12 delegates, Clinton wins 4

Current delegate count, including superdelegates
Obama 1356, Clinton 1267 (2025 needed to win)

For the Republicans:

Wisconsin
McCain 55%, Huckabee 37%, Paul 5%
McCain wins 35 delegates, Huckabee and Paul win 0

Washington
McCain 49%, Huckabee 22%, Romney 20%, Paul 7%
McCain wins 14 delegates, Huckabee, Romney, and Paul win 0

Current delegate count
McCain 967, Huckabee 245, Paul 14 (1191 needed to win)

Full analysis of the state of the Democratic race here.

Update: Those delegate totals are from Real Clear Politics, which has changed its numbers since I checked them this morning. They've been changed to reflect RCP's update. Also note that many news outlets have different delegate totals.