Mojo - February 2008

McCain Campaign Uses Lobbyist to Strike Back at Iseman Scandal

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 3:14 PM EST

A very interesting email from the McCain campaign:

Well, here we go. We could expect attacks were coming; as soon as John McCain appeared to be locking up the Republican nomination, the liberal establishment and their allies at the New York Times have gone on the attack. Today's front-page New York Times story is particularly disgusting — an un-sourced hit-and-run smear campaign designed to distract from the issues at stake in this election. With John McCain leading a number of general-election polls against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the New York Times knew the time to attack was now, and they did. We will not allow their scurrilous attack against a great American hero to stand.
The New York Times — the newspaper that gave MoveOn.org a sweetheart deal to run advertisements attacking General Petraeus — has shown once again that it cannot exercise good journalistic judgment when it comes to dealing with a conservative Republican....
John McCain has a 24-year record of serving our country with honor and integrity. He has led the charge to limit the money and influence of the special interests in politics and stomp out corruption. His life and his record prove just how preposterous the smear by the New York Times really is...

The problem? The writer of this email, defending John McCain from accusations of being too close to a lobbyist, is McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis, a former lobbyist himself.

Update: Oh, and by the way — even though the McCain campaign is going to war with the New York Times, it is still touting its recent NYT endorsement on its website.

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Belgrade's Burning

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 1:09 PM EST

Ominous news coming from Belgrade, the Serbian capital, which saw a huge and very nationalistic rally today led by Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica against Kosovo's declaration of independence on Sunday. "Kostunica's rally was scary. It is condensed clero- nationalism never seen before, not even in the 90s," a Belgrade-based analyst writes me. "Initiation of new generation. Messages are terrifying and the night will be tough. Groups (many drunk) are devastating everything they come upon. Many embassies are targets. Turkish embassy is the constant target—there is chaos in front of the embassy. Ambassador is in the building and they [are] ready to shoot if they break in."

Another Belgrade contact writes that independent Radio B92 is reporting that "the American embassy is on fire.....and the people are coming in .... police try to put out the people who come in." He later writes that his sister who lives near the U.S. embassy says, "Now is all peaceful ... two floors of the American embassy are still on fire but fireworkers try to locate the fire....."

MSNBC is reporting that all U.S. staff had already been evacuated from the embassy. But news services later reported that "a charred body was found in the U.S. Embassy." With all US embassy personnel accounted for, "Belgrade's Pink TV said the body appeared to be that of a rioter."

My question: How could the international community led by Washington have screwed this up so badly once again?

Conservatives Spinning (in Circles) Over Iseman Scandal

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 11:28 AM EST

So which is it, conservatives? Did the liberal New York Times wait to publish their bombshell until after John McCain had locked up the Republican nomination because the NYT hates Republicans and wants to see the nominee crippled, or did the liberal New York Times wait until John McCain had locked up the Republican nomination because it loves John McCain (it endorsed him, after all), and didn't want to see him maimed with a viable alternative left in the race?

Can we get our spin straight, please?

Update: Oh boy.

Update Update: This post should have conveyed the very real concern I have that this story will end up helping McCain. Hard core conservatives don't like McCain because he is seen as being in bed (ba dum!) with the liberal media — he has repeatedly taken hatchets to his fellow Republicans in order to impress the members of the press, and in return they've showered him with years of adoring coverage. (Or so goes the right-wingers' theory.) Now, he's up against the NYT just like every other conservative has been for years. He's one of them, and deserves their support. Evidence of this thought-process is already evident here.

Can McCain Survive NYT Bombshell About His Coziness with a Female Lobbyist?

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 9:01 AM EST

The angriest man in America this morning? It's not John McCain; it's Mitt Romney. McCain stands accused by The New York Times of having too cozy a relationship with Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist for telecom firms with interests before a Senate committee he led. But Romney must be gnashing his white-as-can-be teeth over the timing of this disclosure. Though the newspaper had been working on the report for months, it was not published until the revelations could do Romney no good. Which is why Bay Buchanan, who was a strategist for Romney, was braying on CNN last night about the Times' playing politics with this piece.

At the same time, she accused the paper of mounting a smear job. The story does put conservatives in an awkward position. Many hate McCain, but they despise The New York Times. So what do Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, and the others do? It's like choosing between Stalin and Hitler.

Smear job did seem to be the preferred Republican reply. The first email to journalists the McCain campaign sent out in response to the story included quotes from Washington power-lawyer Bob Bennett, a Democrat who had represented McCain in negotiations with the Times. He had appeared on Fox News and called the article a "smear job," comparing it to the "smear campaign" waged against McCain in 2000 prior to the South Carolina primary. (In that ugly episode, McCain critics accused him of siring a child out of wedlock, of being brainwashed in Vietnam, and more.)

But the Bennett statements disseminated by the campaign did not dispute a single fact in the Times article, which noted that McCain had taken official action on behalf of one of Iseman's clients. In a real stunner, the Times story includes on-the-record comments from John Weaver, a former top strategist for McCain, who told the paper about a meeting he had with Iseman, during which he apparently warned her to stay away from McCain. This conversation, Weaver said, followed "a discussion among the campaign leadership" about Iseman. He added, "Ms. Iseman's involvement in the campaign, it was felt by us, could undermine that effort." Iseman disputed Weaver's account of the meeting.

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

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 10:17 PM EST

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:

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

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 9:51 PM EST

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.

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

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 5:45 PM EST

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 5:03 PM EST

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 4:55 PM EST

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 3:11 PM EST

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.