Mojo - March 2007

Blanco Decides Not To Run Again--Leaves With A Reputation Somewhat Worse Than She Deserves

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 5:16 PM PDT

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco announced this evening that she does not intend to seek a second term as governor. Only a few days ago, she announced her intention to run, but had a change of heart. She will be remembered as the governor who bungled both Katrina and post-Katrina, and that is not an accurate picture of her governorship.

Let me start by saying I have never been a very enthusiastic supporter of Blanco, who holds two types of views--conservative views, and non-conservative views she feels she has to hide from the public. But it was important to me that in the last election, she defeat Bush-boy Bobby Jindal, a fast-talking ex-White House bureaucrat whose views are rigidly right-wing and extreme Christian right. One of the things that helped Blanco win, in fact, was her campaign's emphasis on Jindal's belief that all abortions--with no exceptions of any kind--should be illegal.

Since she has been governor of Louisiana, Blanco's activities have fallen into three areas: 1. stupid things she is said to have done which she did not do; 2. stupid things she did do; and 3. good things she did for which she received no credit.

A victim of an especially vicious Rovian campaign during Hurricane Katrina, Governor Blanco was simply not guilty of most of the accusations of incompetence hurled at her. The record bears this out, but many Louisianians, looking for a scapegoat and refusing to believe that George W. Bush would abandon them, were quick to jump on the "blame Blanco" bandwagon. She never recovered from the smear campaign.

Later, she put her name on the "Road Home" program created by the Louisiana Recovery Authority, and that name has stuck. The Road Home--better known as the Road to Nowhere-- has to be one of the most mishandled, user-unfriendly, ghastly government programs to come around in a long time. People who had no houses and had to live out of state in order to make money were told that they would not get Road Home funds, even though they wanted to return to Louisiana. Thousands of people who signed up for the program were asked to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops, it was like dealing with FEMA all over again.

Applicants waited and waited, but no money came. Finally, after months, most of them received letters telling them they had been turned down, or giving them checks for a very small amount. Some were turned down for not having houses, though their houses were standing, plain as day. When the frustrated, enraged citizens placed calls to find out what had gone wrong, they were repeatedly told "I don't know," "I can't answer that," and "I have no idea" by contract employees whose company, hired by Blanco, botched the entire program.

The final blow came last week when HUD's federal office declared that Louisiana was wrongly requiring homeowners to wait for a series of small reimbursements rather than giving them the option of taking a lump sum. According to HUD, the state's method of distributing the money would trigger long delays for environmental and other regulations.

Finally, on to the good things. Blanco is the first governor in Louisiana history to stand up to the federal government and demand that Louisiana receive its fair share of oil and gas revenues. Blanco threatened to not permit any leases until the state receives its rightful share (which would, by the way, turn Louisiana's fate around dramatically).

Blanco also stood up to the federal government over the issue of Louisiana's environment, something else Louisianians do not see from their governors (the governor who proceeded Blanco became famous for helping to trash the environment). She was successful in halting a scheduled offshore lease sale because the federal government's assessment of the sale failed to include environmental damage done by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. She also vetoed a proposed natural gas port because whose construction would have hurt Gulf fisheries, and forced the energy company to change its design to a closed loop system port.

Rep. Jindal is again running for governor of Louisiana, and the Democratic candidate may be former Sen. John Breaux, who is now a lobbyist, and who periodically loves to tease the state with talk that he may run for governor. This time, he may really do it, Breaux is very popular in Louisiana and he already has a state health plan ready to present.

For her part, Blanco made a total mess of Louisiana's post-Katrina efforts. But she is not the completely incompetent, clueless governor that Karl Rove and the news media would have us believe.

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Marketing Israel, Soft and Hard

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 4:00 PM PDT

real_israel.jpgThe American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is in the headlines once again for its quasi- mythical abilities to get Congress to toe its hawkish Zionist line. Some say that AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbies are effectively steering U.S. foreign policy, while others argue that Congress and a wave of administrations are simply receptive to pro-Israel lobbies because their agenda fit neatly into U.S. foreign policy objectives. Whatever the case, the AIPAC has an impressive record in wielding its power to advance positions that are arguably politically extremist.

Last week, AIPAC successfully purged any language from the military appropriations bill that would have required the President to get congressional authorization before using force against Iran—despite the fact that the administration's current unilateral war has seen plummeting public approval. This move, and a series of other AIPAC initiatives, has caused American Jews to begin to speak out.

As AIPAC brings on board unsavory characters to tout its neocon platform, such as the evangelical fundamentalist John Hagee, more and more Jews are speaking out to underline the fact that views like the AIPAC's are not the views of all Jews (across the pond, a similar move is being undertaken by the Independent Jewish Voices to counteract the misleading notion that Jews all over the world are uncritical supporters of Israel.)

These dissenting voices have more than just congressional battles to contend with. While AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbies such as the American Jewish Committee are working overtime on Capitol Hill, there's a softer force working on the ground to capture the minds and hearts of Americans who are critical of Israeli state policies. BlueStarPR, a public relations firm is advertising the "Real Israel." Recently, the firm concluded a two-month, $17,000 billboard and public transit campaign in the San Francisco area. Some images include a blonde girl standing in a short dress with an Orthodox Jew walking in the background, or Israelis enjoying Happy Hour, "Israel-style." In response to the campaign, Paul Larudee of the International Solidarity Movement says, "The problem is what you're doing, not how you present yourself."

—Neha Inamdar

New Torture Allegations From David Hicks Revealed

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 3:13 PM PDT

I've written about David Hicks before: he's an Australian man, captured in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, who recently became the first Guantanamo detainee to be charged with a crime in the Bush Administration's system of military tribunals.

Hicks' mother is English, and Hicks has been applying for British citizenship because the British government does more than the Australian on behalf of citizens detained by the United States. As part of his application, Hicks filed a document that detailed his treatment at the hands of his American captors. Among Hicks' claims, which cannot be substantiated:

- The bulk of the abuse occurred before Hicks was deposited at Guantanamo, during a several month period when he was held in Afghanistan or being shuttled between naval ships and unknown buildings.

- When Hicks was interrogated, it was sometimes by as many as five men at a time, who slapped him in the head after every response and told him he was lying.

- At one point, Hicks was made to sit on a window ledge where he could see several American soldiers standing outside pointing their weapons at him.

- Hicks was fed only a handful of rice or fruit three times a day.

- Hicks was forced to kneel for ten hours at a time.

- Hicks was hit by a rifle butt in the back of the head hard enough to make him fall over, "slapped in the back of the head, kicked, stepped on, and spat on."

- While in Kandahar, Hicks and other detainees were forced to lie face down in the mud while solders walked across their backs.

- Hicks was stripped naked, his body hair shaved, and a piece of plastic forcibly inserted into his rectum.

- Hicks was shown pictures of other prisoners who had been beaten black and blue, and promised the same fate if he did not cooperate.

- At Guantanamo, Hicks witnessed other detainees being mistreated. A one-legged detainee was attacked by dogs in his cell, and was later dragged out with blood dripping down his face and across the floor. Hicks says the episode "put me in such fear that I just knew I would 'cooperate' in any way with the U.S."

If all this is true, it seems Hicks suffered the sort of wanton and unguided abuse that we saw in Abu Ghraib. Prison guards and low-level interrogators, drunk with power, uninformed on proper interrogation practices, and either untrained or unsupervised (or both), did whatever they pleased with the helpless people in their command. It doesn't appear that Hicks got the organized forms of torture (waterboarding, etc.) that were the subject of DoJ memos (Al Gonzales' previous scandal) and were generally reserved for high-level captures like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Sorry Karl, Clinton Did Not Purge Prosecutors

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 2:08 PM PDT

Karl Rove and Bush Administration allies have been pushing the talking point that Clinton and most every other president undertook the very normal step of firing U.S. Attorneys.

That's right and wrong. It's correct that most presidents bring in a new crop of U.S. Attorneys when they take office -- the nation's top prosecutors are like any political appointees in that respect. But once U.S. Attorneys are appointed, they serve their four (or eight) years with the comfort of knowing that they are independent of the administration that put them in place -- that justice has nothing to do with politics. Said a former U.S. Attorney who served almost ten years, "Throughout modern history, my understanding is, you did not change the U.S. attorney during an administration, unless there was some evidence of misconduct or other really quite significant cause to do so." She went on to note that attorneys need to serve "without fear or favor and in an absolutely apolitical way."

It's perfectly indicative of the Bush Administration's desire to reshape the entire federal government into a partisan machine (The first czar of Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives resigned in anger, saying, "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything — and I mean everything — being run by the political arm.") that they would corrupt the nation's justice system in order to oust individuals making trouble and appoint more docile or even completely acquiescent replacements. Moreover, it's perfectly indicative of the Bush Administration's record of dishonesty to try and displace blame by smearing the Clinton Administration.

But the Congressional Research Service isn't letting them get away with it. They looked at all U.S. Attorneys between 1981 and 2006 and found that "Of the 468 confirmations made by the Senate over the 25-year period, only 10 left office involuntarily for reasons other than a change in administration." In those 10 instances, serious lapses in personal or professional conduct can explain eight of them. In the other two, the CRS was unable to determine cause.

Thus, in the past quarter century, somewhere from zero to two U.S. Attorneys have been fired for political reasons. The Bush Administration fired seven in one day, and eight total. Just another example of how power has corrupted the Bush Administration, making it greedy and dismissive of custom, good practice, and the principles of good governance.

McDonald's Rewrites Definition of Chutzpah

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 10:59 AM PDT
mcdonaldscrew.gif

I'm lovin' it. McDonalds has asked the Oxford English Dictionary to change its definition of "McJob." Since 2003, the OED has defined it as "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector." Mickey D's house lexicographer claims that such a definition "is out of date, out of touch with reality and most importantly it is insulting to those talented, committed, hard-working people who serve the public every day." Actually, the two definitions don't conflict at all; the OED just bothers to mention that service sector jobs are poorly paid. Maybe it should redefine "minimum wage" while it's at it; something like, "An artificially high, mandated wage that prevents the creation of exciting opportunities for talented, committed, hard-working people who want to make people smile." Hopefully, OED will stick to its guns. Otherwise, they may have to redefine "chutzpah," too.

Obama and the Reds

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 9:58 AM PDT

"How well can Obama really do in the Southern, Red States?": It's what Democrats, unsure of how to cast their primary vote, have been saying under their breath.

Yesterday, those Dems got at least part of their answer when Obama charmed a rally full of people in Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in America. 1,000 people came out to support Obama in Oklahoma City, the state's capitol, a city that boasts a population of just over 500,000—the state's largest.

Just as surprising, Obama's biggest selling point for Oklahomans was his stance against the war.

Historically very Republican, at least in National elections, Oklahoma's electorate voted for Bush in a landslide in 2000. And again in 2004. Even in 1996, while the country was voting for Clinton as an incumbent, 48 percent of Oklahomans voted for Bob Dole. Clinton trailed at 40 percent.

Obama did better yesterday than any might have predicted—perhaps even Obama's own campaign. The Obama camp, possibly trying to forecast their own draw in this reddest of red states, may have billed themselves accordingly. The afternoon rally/fundraiser cost a paltry $25 to attend as compared to the previous afternoon's fundraiser in Colorado where attendees forked over $100 to catch a glimpse of the Senator. Still, Obama's campaign was able to raise $25,000 in Oklahoma yesterday.

"I have never seen a man in politics that had that much sincerity, purpose, vision," Gregory Shields of Collinsville, Oklahoma said.

Many rally attendees went looking to be inspired and many left fulfilled, according to NewsOK's Jennifer Mock, the local reporter covering the story.

Obama told the crowd in Oklahoma that the days of divisive politics are numbered. He could have said, however, the days of Democrats doubting his legitimacy as a presidential candidate are numbered. And we would have known exactly who he was talking to.

Watch and read local news coverage of last night's rally here.

--Jessica Savage

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Hillary YouTube Attack Needs a YouTube Response

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 8:45 AM PDT

Joe Klein has an awed response to the famous YouTube ad that attacks Hillary Clinton, and wonders out loud how Hillary's paid staff will respond.

That misses the point. Word is out that the the ad was created not by members of any campaign staff, but by ordinary folks who like Obama and dislike Clinton. Here, I think, is the web's real power over politics. It's not in the candidates' ability to create viral videos and post them on YouTube, MySpace, etc. -- those always feel disingenuous, affected, and smarmy. We know who posted them, so we know why they make the arguments they do. They're not spontaneous, they're not true expressions, they're not labors of love. Besides, they're almost never edgy, funny, or entertaining. The only way Hillary is going to have an effective response to the pro-Obama ad created by everyday folks from the web community is if everyday folks from the web community create a pro-Hillary ad.

You see? Hillary can't respond to this because Obama didn't create it. The central test of YouTube politics is whether or not a candidate can inspire web-savvy users to create content on their own, with no prompting or support from the campaign.

Evidence: Multiple versions of the video of Hillary Clinton announcing her presidency (stilted, stiff, conventional) have been viewed a combined total of 20,000 times on YouTube, and currently have an average rating of three stars. Three versions of the Hillary/1984 video (creative, edgy, cool) have had a combined viewership of more than 1,300,000, and have an average rating of more than four stars. These are inexact, unscientific numbers, but you get the point.

DOJ Doc Dump, Gonzales Under Fire Still

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 8:24 AM PDT

Last night, as anyone who has been following the prosecutor purge knows, the DOJ released a massive amount of documents (3,000 pages of internal emails) that many hoped would shed further light on the recent mass firing of eight U.S. Attorneys. As US News and World Report reported last night, the email causing the biggest stir is one that DOJ spokesman Brian Roehrkasse sent to AG Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson regarding Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty's testimony before Congress in February. McNulty testified about the firing of former USA Bud Cummins who was forced to resign to make room for Karl Rove's former aid and protege Timothy Griffin. McNulty, under questioning from Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the Dems spearheading the investigation into the purge of the eight USAs, did not deny that making room for Griffin was why Cummins had been fired. In fact, he made clear that Cummins had done nothing wrong and his firing was not performance related. Roehrkasse was traveling with the attorney general at the time, who was very unhappy with McNulty's honesty, er...depiction of the firing. Roehkrasse's email "said the attorney general disagreed with his characterization of Cummins's firing, because Gonzales believed that it was at least in part performance related."

As US News and World Report points out, this email highlights an "internal rift" within the department and really, makes Gonzales look a little sneaky. It appears the AG just can't catch a break, not even from the GOP. As was reported by Washington-based Politico, "Republican officials operating at the behest of the White House have begun seeking a possible successor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose support among GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill has collapsed."

Update: Bush calls Gonzales to reaffirm his strong support and backing for the AG to stay in the job. Officials say that reports that the WH is looking for a successor were overblown.

Troops Say: Don't Ask, Don't Care

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 11:01 PM PDT

A reader of my post yesterday on the cost of DADT on the military points out an interesting Zogby poll from December that suggests troops on the ground are much more accepting of homosexuality in the military than the higher ups who have questioned whether gays should serve at all.

The poll found that nearly one in four U.S. troops (23%) say they know for sure that someone in their unit is gay or lesbian, and 59% of those folks said they learned about the person's sexual orientation directly from the individual. Further, the poll of 545 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan found that more than half of troops who know a gay soldier in their unit say that the person's sexual orientation is well known by others.

So maybe, once you are out in the field it's more "don't ask, don't care." Or maybe it's just the kind of situation where, in the downtime and comraderie that exists a war zone, details about your lives and loved ones just come out.

And that's just fine by most. The survey found that 3 out of 4 troops say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians. Of the 20% who said they are uncomfortable around gays and lesbians, only 5% are "very" uncomfortable, while 15% are "somewhat" uncomfortable. Just 2% of troops said knowing that gays are not allowed to serve openly was an important reason in their decision to join the military.

One discouraging note from the poll was the fact that only half of the troops surveyed say they have received training on the prevention of anti-gay harassment in the past three years. And fully 40% say they have not received this type of training, which is mandated by Defense Department policy.

Brit Hume, Right Wing Warrior, Strikes Again

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 5:40 PM PDT

hume.jpgBrit Hume's true colors show on Sundays, when he appears on Fox News Sundays. Previously, Hume had declared that it was "unlikely" that Valerie Plame Wilson carried out covert missions for the CIA. (How he could presume to know such a thing is beyond me.) The evidence is mounting that Plame was in fact a covert operative, including statements by the CIA director and Ms. Plame herself, in her sworn congressional testimony on Friday. But Brit knows best: He's accusing Plame of lying under oath.