2007 - %3, February

Another PR Firm Poses as an Activist Group

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 1:38 PM PST

The California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights feels your pain. You've been upset about eminent domain abuse—when cities take land from the little guys and pass it to developers of chain stores, car dealerships, and golf courses—haven't you? It's so un-American. Well, the Alliance sympathizes, and it wants to channel your feelings into… opening up nature preserves and greenbelts to developers.

Up close, the "Alliance" doesn't look like much an alliance. It looks more like a public relations firm. The man running the show, Marko Mlikotin, might be on Wal-Mart's payroll. He was spotted recently drumming up community support for two Wal-Mart supercenters in Chico, Calif. But public relations is a tough job, and he's having a rough go at it. Reporter Tom Gascoyne writes, "When I asked him questions, he would say, 'I'm not sure,' or 'Don't quote me.'"

Anyway, "Marko the Mysterious" just sent out a press release trumpeting a recent survey. The pollster is the Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm which says, "As our roots are in political campaign management, our research is focused on producing information…." Doesn't sound so objective.

You can guess the poll results: People don't like eminent domain abuse. They would support a law to protect homeowners. But the survey didn't differentiate between the private property rights of homeowners and those of Wal-Mart. And what people weren't asked about is how much they value open space and greenbelts and nature preserves. People don't want a law like Prop 90, which citizens smartly defeated in November, because it would have crippled environmental regulation and cost the states billions of dollars. A "pay-or-waive scheme," Prop 90 would have required the government to compensate landowners for new regulations that devalue their property, or waive the regulations altogether. (In Oregon, which has pay-or-waive, property owners in three months last summer filed more than $5 billion in claims).

As far as I can tell, no news agencies have picked up the survey, which means folks are onto Marko and his "alliance." But the point is, they're back. Special interests behind this "alliance" are drumming up support for another Prop 90. Get ready.

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Congressman from Georgia Passes Away

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 1:04 PM PST

Representative Charlie Norwood has died at his home in Georgia, a victim of lung disease and cancer. Norwood, a Republican, was a citizen-politician, serving as a dentist before coming to Congress in 1994. Rest in peace.

Asylum Seekers Greeted With Shackles and Chains

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 11:44 AM PST

The New York Times reported last week that a bipartisan federal commission has found that the Bush administration, "in its zeal to secure the nation's borders and stem the tide of illegal immigrants, may be leaving asylum seekers vulnerable to deportation and harsh treatment."

This comes after a 2005 report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom which found that immigration officials are far from welcoming when it comes to refugees fleeing persecution. The study found that asylum seekers have been incarcerated in prisonlike facilities while they wait to have their claims heard (if they haven't been already expedited), essentially being treated as criminals.

The study also documents inhumane treatment: in one Illinois county jail, the staff used "handcuffs, bellychains, and leg shackles...when detainees leave the facility." In addition, the study found that "the use of segregation, isolation, or solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons was widespread among the detention facilities that we sampled."

Did you get that? You might be fleeing from torture, persecution and violence in your own country. Then you seek refuge in America- "the land of the free" - and guess what you find? More inhumane treatment!

—Neha Inamdar

Matt Taibbi Makes the World Whole Again

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 9:55 AM PST

Want to draw your attention to this article from RollingStone.com, via Alternet, because it does a great job of teasing out and articulating the emotions being felt by those who opposed the war from the beginning and who now have to accommodate buffoons like Joe Klein in their anti-war space.

But mainly because I have a man-crush on Matt Taibbi.

Update: Whoops. That article is almost a week old. Well, whatever. It's not time-sensitive anyway. Take it for what it's worth.

Update on U.S. Attorney Firings

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 9:05 AM PST

We've been following the Bush Administration's purge of politically troublesome U.S. Attorneys across the country. New details from McClatchy today, and they just add to body of evidence that makes this look like a nefarious and coordinated effort by the Bushies to rid the country of independent muckraking DOJ officials and replace them with cronies.

McClatchy reports that of the six attorneys who were fired for "performance-related issues," five "received positive job evaluations before they were ordered to step down." (For the record, most of the fired U.S. Attorneys were given no justification for their dismissals.) This fits with the finding from about a week ago that DOJ no longer has control over hirings and firings and has ceded the subject to political players in the White House. From the WaPo:

One administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in discussing personnel issues, said the spate of firings was the result of "pressure from people who make personnel decisions outside of Justice who wanted to make some things happen in these places."

Hillary Clinton's "I'm Sorry" Problem

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 7:34 AM PST

Richard Cohen has an op-ed in the Washington Post today about the growing issue of whether or not Hillary Clinton will say plainly "I'm sorry" or "It was a mistake" about her vote for the Iraq War authorization. Currently, at campaign events in which voters literally beg her to say "I'm sorry," Clinton refuses and says that the mistakes were all George Bush's. She stubbornly sticks with the position even when voters amend their plea by saying they cannot vote for her until she admits guilt. Meet the Press had a really good synopsis of this whole affair on Sunday. It's long, but worth a read.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Hillary Clinton. She was in New Hampshire yesterday. Her first appearance there in 10 years. And it was quite striking how many times she was asked about her position on the war. Here she is being asked in Berlin, New Hampshire, by a voter, a very serious question. Let's watch that exchange.
(Videotape)
Unidentified Man: And I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance, you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake. And the reason I want to ask is because a lot of other senators have already done so, including some Republicans and including one of your competitors, Senator Edwards. And the reason I ask personally is because I, and I think a lot of other Democratic primary voters, until we hear you say that, we're not going to hear all these other great things you're saying.
SEN: HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that, knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it. But I also—and, I mean, obviously you have to weigh everything as you make your decision. I have taken responsibility for my vote. The mistakes were made by this president, who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged.
(End videotape)

That's the crux of the issue. Hillary will say everything she needs to say except "I'm sorry." She will even say that she has "taken responsibility for my vote," which sounds a lot like she accepts a share of the guilt that is spread all over Washington because of the Iraq disaster, but she will not utter the words that people are dying to hear. The man asking the question was begging for a straightforward, maybe even one-word, response. Analysis from Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: Roger Simon, it's interesting. Reporters have been asking Hillary Clinton, "Was the war a mistake? Was the war a mistake?" because all the other Democratic candidates, major ones, have said that. Now, a voter, several voters have stepped forward. Is this simply "Gotcha" or is this something that's dead serious in the voters' minds?
MR. SIMON: It's dead serious. The questions come because she refuses to make Iraq part of her stump speech. And I think, and many disagree with me, that her current position not to apologize, not to say it was a mistake, is an untenable position for her. I think she will be pushed to say, before we get to the Iowa caucuses, "I was wrong," for two reasons. One, I think that's where the Democratic voters are in Iowa and New Hampshire; and two, it feeds the image that the critics have of her that she's a divisive figure. If this keeps going on week after week, people are going to say, "Why doesn't she just say she was wrong? Why does she keep this controversy growing—going on?" She doesn't want that, and I don't think she's going to be able to stick to that.

A moment later Howard Kurtz added, "this seems like a cautious answer... it also feeds the image that the many journalists have of Senator Clinton as being a kind of a cold and calculating and triangulating politician." I would add that it feeds the image that many voters have of her as a [insert any adjective here] politician. The adjective, you see, is immaterial: this response makes Hillary look like a politician, plain and simple, someone who slices and dices an issue of fundamental importance to avoid any blame and in the process disrespects the seriousness of the thing and loses connection with the everyday person who simply wants to hear straight talk and see genuine emotion.

Newsweek has a new article on John Edwards' authenticity, and the article makes it clear: the beginning of that story, that angle, that part of Edwards' public persona begins in the fall of 2005 when Edwards sat down and wrote on a piece of paper: "I was wrong." His consultants urged him to adopt the position that Clinton uses now: that he regretted his vote but that it was President Bush that was truly "wrong." Edwards rejected the position over and over -- either because his vote for the war was tearing at his soul and this was the most direct way to best his inner demons, or because he knew that apologizing would becoming the only politically savvy position to hold as the war got worse and the public turned further against it.

So do it, Hillary. Apologize. Be willing to admit a mistake. Be willing to let down the guard of strength. Because the fancy footwork is simply not sustainable. Maybe make a big splash with your change of heart; save your "I'm Sorry" moment for the first debate. But however you want to handle it, remember that a growing number of people feel like Cohen. "I don't want to know how Bush failed her," he writes. "I want to know how she failed her country."

Update: Roger Simon, writing at The Politico, says Clinton should "fess up instead of dodging." His elaboration: "Hillary Clinton can be open, charming, funny and warm on the stump. When she talks about her Iraq vote, however, she sounds closed, guarded, calculating and defensive."

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Presidential Campaigns: The Childish Side

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 6:49 AM PST

If you are interested in how presidential candidates use silly maneuvers to upstage one another on the campaign trail, check out this blog post from the New York Times' very good new political blog, The Caucus.

The focus of the post is how John McCain is trying to distract the Michigan press (and voters) from Mitt Romney's formal candidacy announcement, which is due today in Dearborn. Admittedly, writing about stuff like this is the worst kind of horserace journalism -- covering the process of politics, instead of the substance, and focusing on who plays the game better, instead of who would govern well -- so consider it a disclaimer when I say that posts like this one and the one over at The Caucus are for political junkies who enjoy political minutia as the lemon twist on their serious journalism martini.

One Down... Edwards Loses Liberal Blogger

| Mon Feb. 12, 2007 11:50 PM PST

John Edwards has accepted the resignation of liberal blogger, Amanda Marcotte, central player, along with Melissa McEwan of Shakespeare's Sister, in the netroots drama surrounding the former senator's campaign. Writing on her blog today, Marcotte criticizes Catholic League president, Bill Donohue, for driving her out of the campaign.

She writes:

"If I can't do the job I was hired to do because Bill Donohue doesn't have anything better to do with his time than harass me, then I won't do it."

She continues:

[Bill Donohue is a] right wing lackey whose entire job is to create non-controversies in order to derail liberal politics.

Marcotte is fuming and rightfully so. And, don't get me wrong, I completely agree with the right wing lackey comment and that clearly Donohue has nothing better to do with his time, but hey, what about Edwards? Marcotte makes no mention of how his campaign handled the situation (poorly if you ask me). Maybe criticism of the former senator will follow or maybe the blog-girl signed on to the campaign because she truly believes in the guy and isn't interested in a few parting jabs. I say jab away, Amanda. Not only did Edwards not stand up for his liberal outreach team, he publicly condemned their blogging and made them grovel for an apology from right-wing fanatics.

Arkansas House Rejects Thomas Paine

| Mon Feb. 12, 2007 8:45 PM PST

A lot of conservative spokespeople like to say that America's founders were Christian, when, in fact, most of them were not. Members of the Arkansas state House of Representatives now know that Thomas Paine was not a Christian: A proposal to commemorate January 29 as "Thomas Paine Day" failed because of concerns about Paine's criticism of Christianity.

Paine, the author of "Common Sense," was a deist. Arkansas state representative Sid Rosenbaum presented to the legislature Paine's book, The Age of Reason, as "anti-Christian" and "anti-Jewish." As a result of this characterization, the proposal to create "Thomas Paine Day" failed to pass the Arkansas House. Only six more votes are needed, however, and the proposal's sponsor, Rep. Lindsley Smith, plans to introduce it again.

Said Paine in The Age of Reason:

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

HPV Vaccine: A Litmus Test for Sanity?

| Mon Feb. 12, 2007 3:10 PM PST

If nothing else, Merck's new HPV vaccine is good fun because it pits sane against insane conservatives. Sally Lieber—a liberal Democrat who caused some to question her sanity when she introduced a bill criminalizing spanking—rang the bout bell in the California legislature when she introduced a bill requiring vaccination for public schoolgirls.

Arnold, a sane if annoying conservative, has said nothing, but included $11.3 million for the program in his 2007-2008 budget.

Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), apparently coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs, called HPV the result of lifestyle decisions, not contagion. "Is there a more productive way for us to spend the money that may help someone who's in a health situation that has nothing to do with their personal choices?" he asked, according to the LA Times.

Couldn't any contagious disease be called the result of personal choices—like swimming in a certain pool, being poor, attending public school, etc.? Fully half of sexually active people contract some form of HPV in their lifetimes—and that's not unmarried or promiscuous sexually active people, that's all sexually active people.

The vaccine may or may not be the miracle drug it's been cracked up to be (largely by maker Merck), but the more conservatives hoot and holler, the more it looks like a reasonable idea.