2008 - %3, September

Appeal Filed in the Case of Sarah Palin's Secret Emails

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 9:33 PM PDT

Days ago, Mother Jones reported that Governor Sarah Palin's office withheld about 1100 emails in response to an open records act request filed in June and claimed that these emails to and from Palin aides and the governor herself covered confidential and official policy deliberations between Palin and her staffers. But the list (PDF) of the undisclosed emails indicates that many had subject lines suggesting they were not about policy matters. (A series of emails referred to one of Palin's political foes, another set to a well-known Alaskan journalist.) And many of the emails were CC'ed to Todd Palin, the governor's husband, who holds no official position in her administration. On Tuesday, Andrée McLeod, the independent watchdog who filed the original request, submitted an appeal (PDF), asking Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, to review the decision to keep these emails secret. Here is the statement McLeod issued afterward:

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Ungovernable?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 8:39 PM PDT

UNGOVERNABLE?....Via TPM, I see that the McCain campaign has pretty much decided to go all-in on the culture war front. Their latest ad, which Lee Atwater must be chuckling over from wherever he's warming his toes these days, basically says that Barack Obama wants to teach your five-year-old how to put on a condom. This is, the narrator warns ominously, "Wrong for your family."

Which it no doubt would be if it were true. It's not, of course, which certainly raises the pressing question of how Obama ought to respond to this kind of swill — since it's now plain that this is what the McCain campaign plans to spoon out for the next eight weeks. I don't know the answer to that, though, so instead I'll toss out another thought.

John McCain has obviously decided that he can't win a straight-up fight, so he's decided instead to wage a battle of character assassination, relentless lies, and culture war armageddon. So what happens on November 5th?

If McCain wins, he'll face a Democratic congress that's beyond furious. Losing is one thing, but after eight years of George Bush and Karl Rove, losing a vicious campaign like this one will cause Dems to go berserk. They won't even return McCain's phone calls, let alone work with him on legislation. It'll be four years of all-out war.

And what if Obama wins? The last time a Democrat won after a resurgence of the culture war right, we got eight years of madness, climaxing in an impeachment spectacle unlike anything we'd seen in a century. If it happens again, with the lunatic brigade newly empowered and shrieking for blood, Obama will be another Clinton and we'll be in for another eight years of near psychotic dementia.

Am I exaggerating? Sure. Am I exaggerating a lot? I don't think so. McCain, in his overwhelming desire for office, is unloosing forces that are likely to make the country only barely governable no matter who wins. This would be very bad juju at any time, but George Bush has so seriously weakened the country over the course of his administration that we don't have a lot of room for error left if we want to avoid losing the war on terror for good and turning America into a banana republic while we're at it. We need to start turning the ship around now.

McCain doesn't seem to care much about this anymore, but the rest of us ought to. Unfortunately, no one asked us. I'm afraid we have some rocky times ahead.

Budget Bloviating

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 6:57 PM PDT

Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina and one of John McCain's chief surrogates, told CNN today, "I do believe [John McCain] and Governor Palin bring the most hope of changing this place, not Senator Obama and Senator Biden, who have never met a budget they didn't like."

Really? Because we've had record deficits under the Bush Administration and it was John McCain who voted for the budgets that created them. Here are the facts. Of the five "Bush budgets" — budgets submitted by President Bush to a Republican-controlled Congress, which he could have reasonable faith would pass them intact — John McCain voted for four of them.

Bush submitted budgets to a Republican Congress in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. John McCain voted yes for all except 2003. Joe Biden voted no for all, and Barack Obama voted no for 2005 and 2006, the budgets in question submitted after he took office.

So, to correct Lindsey Graham, Barack Obama and Joe Biden have met nothing but budgets they don't like under the Bush Administration. The same cannot be said for John McCain.

Another "Incident" at French Nuclear Plant

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 6:38 PM PDT

Eurodif.JPG A security incident has occurred at a French nuclear site already under scrutiny due to other scares this summer. Reuters reports that two fuel units became snagged in a reactor at Tricastin in southern France on Monday morning when site workers were removing them for maintenance. The reactor building was evacuated. The incident was still being dealt with on Monday evening.

The incident is the latest of several that have highlighted safety concerns in France's nuclear industry, the biggest in Europe, accounting for 80 percent of French power generation. In July, 8,000 gallons of liquid containing nonenriched uranium was accidentally poured onto the ground and into a river at Tricastin, prompting safety checks at all of France's 19 nuclear sites. Weeks later, around 100 staff at the site were contaminated with a low dose of radiation.

An apt reminder that nukes are one of the deadlier solutions to our energy troubles.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

Pedestrian Friendly

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 5:45 PM PDT

PEDESTRIAN FRIENDLY....Atrios has a couple of links today to (a) a new suburban development somewhere in Indiana and (b) his own Philadelphia neighborhood. The Indiana burb was chosen specifically because it was fairly extreme in the sense of being completely isolated and therefore 100% car-centric, about which he says:

Suburban development is inevitably going to be automobile-centric....However, being automobile-centric and being designed in a way which almost entirely excludes the potential for other modes transportation are very different things. The car and the light rail can coexist. Sidewalks can run to areas with retail. One could even allow a corner store and a pub within a residential neighborhood! Maybe, just maybe, there can be small corridors of street level retail without giant parking lots, small town style. Places like this do exist, mostly but not just in older suburbs.

Developo-blogging is pretty far outside my wheelhouse, but I want to wade into this momentarily. Not because I have any huge point to make, but just to provide an illustration of how hard it can be to create genuinely non-car-centric spaces outside of small towns and urban cores.

I live in a subdivision of Irvine, California, called Woodbridge. It's actually fairly famous as one of the original master planned communities of the 60s, and believe you me, it's master planned to within an inch of its life. This has its drawbacks (lots and lots of beige houses), but there are also benefits. The main one is that it really was planned as an integrated community of sorts.

To get an idea of what I mean, here's a Google Earth picture of Woodbridge. It's the piece inside the yellow oval loop plus the strip just outside it, and the total population is about 30,000. There are houses and apartments on the north and south, with the central section reserved mostly for shopping, churches, schools, medical offices, parks, and so forth. There are sidewalks everywhere, of course, and also bike lanes.

The central section is actually pretty handy. There are six separate areas designed for shopping (outlined in red), and those areas include four supermarkets, a couple dozen restaurants, three department stores (though one is shutting down), a bookstore, two movie theaters, two drugstores (with one more about to open), several banks, a hardware store, two Blockbusters, and lots of other miscellaneous shops. Every single one of these places is safe, easily accessible, brightly lit, and a maximum of 1.5 miles from every single point within Woodbridge. Short of being downtown, this is about as walkable as it gets.

And walk it I do. All the time. (This isn't out of environmental altruism, it's because I shop for food daily as a way of forcing myself to get out of the house and get some minimal exercise.) And here's the thing: aside from occasional dog walkers, I have the place to myself. Despite the fact that it's about as pedestrian friendly as a suburb can be, nobody walks anywhere. They don't bike either — the only cyclists I see are biking for exercise. Woodbridge is, as near as I can tell, about 99.9% car-centric despite having a design that's about as pedestrian friendly as you'll find in a suburb.

Like I said, I don't have any big axe to grind here — except to say that as important as pedestrian-friendly design is, it's also possible to overstate that importance. Something more has to happen to reduce our dependence on cars. Maybe the price of gas just needs to double a couple more times. Maybe better mass transit is the key. Maybe something else. But here in Woodbridge, anyway, we built it and they did not come. Not on foot, anyway.

Mercury Music Prize won by... Elbow?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 3:30 PM PDT

Well, yes. mojo-photo-elbow.jpgUK rockers Elbow have won the Mercury Music Prize for their album The Seldom Seen Kid at a ceremony concluding just minutes ago in London. The annual award, judged by a committee of critics and industry types, is given to the best album by a UK artist that year. As I covered earlier, Radiohead's In Rainbows was the odds-on favorite to win, and by "odds-on" I mean actual odds, since this is England, after all. Elbow were tied for third-most-likely-to-win with dubstep mystery man Burial, whose Untrue brought that underground movement to the masses in a way similar to what Roni Size Reprazent did for drum 'n' bass with New Forms, which won the prize back in 1997. In any event, Elbow were apparently quite surprised, with lead singer Guy Garvey calling the award "the best thing that's ever happened to us." Better than, like, being born? Wow. The band have a middling level of fame in the UK but are barely known over here. So, what's the deal?

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"Flat Out Lies, Alex?": Here We Go Again

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 3:25 PM PDT

A friend in the publishing world sent me this CNN excerpt today, subject line: "It's like beating your own head with a rock." The conversation, between Democratic CNN consultant Paul Begala, GOP strategist Alex Castellanos and CNN host John Roberts, concerns what it means that Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin continues to cheerfully repeat in speeches around the country the lie that she told Congress "thanks but no thanks" to the "Bridge to Nowhere" when in fact she originally campaigned for it, and then kept the money after Congress canceled the project.

[CNN HOST JOHN] ROBERTS: That would appear, Paul, to end any argument over whether or not she supported the bridge initially. But why can't Barack Obama make that point stick?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Because the press won't do its job, John. I criticized Barack Obama when he hasn't been tough enough. Barack's job is to run against John McCain, right. Don't shoot the monkey when you can shoot for the organ grinder. His job is not to focus on number two but number one. But it is the media's job when a politician flat out lies like she's doing on this bridge to nowhere so call her on it. Or this matter of earmarks where she's attacking Barack Obama for having earmarks, when she was the mayor of little Wasilla, Alaska, 6,000 people, she hired a lobbyist who was connected to Jack Abramoff, who is a criminal and they brought home $27 million in earmarks. She carried so much pork home she got trichinosis. But we in the media are letting her tell lies about her record.
ROBERTS: Hey, OK. We got to let Alex respond to that. Flat out lies, Alex?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Let's be a little gentle. Look, every elected official in this country works under the system we have, which is you try to get a little bit of your tax money back. You just don't want to leave it all in Washington. The amazing thing about Sarah Palin is when she became governor she actually stood up and said no. And she made it -

Intelligence

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 12:36 PM PDT

INTELLIGENCE....Juan Cole on the latest reports from Iraq:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Ali al-Lami, an Iraqi politician, protege of Ahmad Chalabi, and member of the Debaathification Committee, is being charged by a high unnamed American official with providing information on Iraqis to the "special groups" (Iranian-run cells within Iraqi Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army), which was useful to them in assassinating these individuals.

....So what is being alleged is essentially that the United States (Rumsfeld & Paul Bremer) installed on the Debaathification Commission a secret agent of Iran who was running Iran-backed death squads based on the information to which he became privy by virtue of being on the commission!

Well, points for efficiency, I guess. Of course, I imagine the odds are pretty good that Rumsfeld and Bremer had no idea this was going on, something that's always been our biggest problem in Iraq: we don't know what's going on nearly as well as all the various local actors. How could we, after all? And I'll bet we still don't.

How Disingenuous Can You Be Before You're Actually Lying?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 12:35 PM PDT

John McCain criticized Barack Obama for being soft on military matters on Monday, telling an audience in Lee's Summit, Missouri:

"Of course, now [Obama] wants to increase [the size of the military]. But during the primary he told a liberal advocacy group that he'd cut defense spending by tens of billions of dollars. He promised them he would, quote, 'slow our development of future combat systems.'"

Before I explain why that's stunningly disingenuous, let me point you to the Obama statement that gives rise to John McCain's opprobrium.

"I will cut tens of billions of dollars in wasteful spending. I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems. I will not weaponize space. I will slow our development of Future Combat Systems."

Here's the deal. The "future combat systems" that McCain says Obama will jeopardize is actually Future Combat Systems, a specific, controversial program within the DOD that John McCain himself has suggested eliminating. Here's McCain's top policy man explaining to the Washington Post what spending cuts McCain will use to balance the budget:

Palin's Comments on Mining Measure Pushed the Limits of Executive Power

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 11:55 AM PDT

Palin-Ad.smaller.gif

In Alaska, it's against the law for a governor to advocate for or against a ballot measure. But that didn't matter much to Sarah Palin. At an August 20th press conference a reporter asked Palin her opinion of Measure 4, known as the Clean Water Initiative, which would have imposed new restrictions on mining companies. Fishermen worried that a proposal to build one of the world's largest open-pit gold mines at the headwaters of one of the Alaska's most productive salmon streams could wreck the famed Bristol Bay (which is also the namesake of Palin's pregnant daughter). With the measure to restrict the mine coming down to a squeaker at the polls, this is what Palin said: "Let me take my governor's hat off just for a minute here and tell you, personally, Prop 4 -- I vote no on that."

Her nod-and-wink endorsement was immediately seized by mining companies to create this ad, which ran in papers around the state as part of an $8 million media campaign--one of the most expensive ballot measure ad blitzes in Alaska history. Six days later, the Clean Water Initiative was voted down.

Clearly, Palin's comments violated the spirit of Alaska's law. And this wasn't the only way she pushed legal boundaries to support her friends in the mining industry. Palin's Department of Natural Resources had published a primer on Measure 4 on its website that environmentalists complained was entirely negative and improperly echoed the mining industry's concerns. On August 24th, just three days before voters weighed in on the initiative, the state's Public Offices Commission finally ruled that the enviros were right and ordered the website to undergo changes.

There are weird echoes of the Bush/Cheney war over executive power here.