Mojo - September 2008

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

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 2:55 PM EDT

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.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Can Palin Comment on Abstinence-Only Education?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 2:06 PM EDT

I won't wade into the debate we're having about whether or not it's sexist to discuss Sarah Palin's family (It's not! It kinda is.), but I will say that her daughter's pregnancy does raise an interesting public policy question. Palin is a hardcore advocate of one of the religious right's favorite hobbyhorses: abstinence-only education. Can she legitimately travel the country touting the idea of starving America's teens of information about safe sex when she has an example of abstinence-only education's failure living under her roof?

In this Newsweek video, McCain campaign chief Steve Schmidt struggles to answer that very question, thus giving us some sense of the correct answer.

Reporter: Will she be able to make speeches on abstinence? And will she be able to make speeches on premarital sex? I mean, this is an issue that comes up continually in the Republican Party. Will she be able to do that with her daughter pregnant and having had this situation?
Schmidt: I think that, um, she's going to be a very compelling figure out on the campaign trail. She's going to do a great job. She's going to deliver a great message and, um, the reality is that, um, she's gonna, you know, talk about her life and her experiences, and she's proud of her family and she loves her daughter.

Isn't spin grand?

Troop Shift From Iraq to Afghanistan: Just Window Dressing?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 1:41 PM EDT

20080908-6_p090808cg-0289-713v.jpg

We've known for a while now that President Bush has every intention of leaving the Iraq mess for his successor to clean up, but today he made it official. At a speech this morning at the National Defense University in Washington, Bush announced the withdrawal of 8,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by January 2009, leaving 138,000 troops still in-country. Specifically, 3,400 combat support personnel will leave Iraq after their tours conclude over the next couple months; a Marine battalion will return to the States in November; and an Army brigade will come home in January. The reductions, says Bush, have been made possible by the success of the "surge."

The troop reduction in Iraq will occur amidst a build-up of forces in Afghanistan, where a resurgent Taliban has gained continued strength in recent years. According to Bush's plan, an additional 4,500 troops will head for Afghanistan in the next few months, including some units that had been scheduled for Iraq deployments. The war in Afghanistan is more popular among Americans than the Iraq conflict, and Bush stands to gain from focusing more of his efforts there in the twilight of his presidency. But since U.S. commanders have said that a "surge" in Afghanistan would likely require at least 12,000 more boots on the ground, Bush's offering seems as slim as it does late.

So agrees the National Security Network, which observed today in a press release that "the redeployment is so modest and will take so long to arrive that, effectively, the President remains fixated on Iraq—regardless of the larger implications for U.S. national security." Military expert Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress called Bush's announcement "much ado about nothing," adding that the Iraq surge that Bush hailed this morning "has produced an oil revenue-fueled, Shia-dominated central government with close ties to Iran, and these ruling parties in Iraq have shown few signs of seeking to compromise and share meaningful power with other Iraqis."

Wasilla Paper: Under Mayor Palin, Rape Victims Charged for Own Forensic Tests

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 12:27 PM EDT

An interesting catch by the folks over at AMERICAblog. They found an article from the Wasilla newspaper dated May 23, 2000, that notes the city of Wasilla was one of a few Alaskan municipalities that charged women claiming to have been raped for their own forensic tests. As you probably know by now, Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla from 1996-2002.

[Governor Tony Knowles] signed House Bill 270... The new law makes it illegal for any law enforcement agency to bill victims or victims insurance companies for the costs of examinations that take place to collect evidence of a sexual assault or determine if a sexual assault did occur...
While the Alaska State Troopers and most municipal police agencies have covered the cost of exams, which cost between $300 to $1,200 apiece, the Wasilla police department does charge the victims of sexual assault for the tests.
Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon does not agree with the new legislation, saying the law will require the city and communities to come up with more funds to cover the costs of the forensic exams.
"In the past we've charged the cost of exams to the victims insurance company when possible. I just don't want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer," Fannon said.

In the article, Fannon admits that halting the practice of charging alleged rape victims for their own tests would cost the city... wait for it... $5,000 to $14,000 a year.

Does Sarah Palin Not Read the Newspaper?

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 11:49 AM EDT

cartoon_pork.gif Over the last couple days, every newspaper and network in America has disproven Sarah Palin's claim that she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere. Yet just moments ago at a campaign rally in Lebanon, Ohio, she repeated her familiar refrain on the bridge, claiming she told the federal government, "Thanks, but no thanks."

There appears to be no accountability here; the McCain campaign will trot out Palin to repeat her talking points no matter how many times the press reports that Palin campaigned for governor as a supporter of the bridge and only opposed it when it became obvious the federal government was going to cancel its funding.

Today she went on to say, "If our state wanted a bridge we would build it ourselves." Palin seemed to be suggesting that she had no interest in federal support for infrastructure projects. That, too, is not true. As Kevin has noted, small towns in Alaska never sought federal earmarks until Palin pioneered the tactic, even using an Abramoff-connected lobbyist to get them.

And as governor, Palin continued the trend. Today, states receive roughly $50 per person in earmark funds from the federal government. Alaska gets a stunning $506 per person. For fiscal year 2009, Palin has submitted 31 earmark requests totaling $197 million. According to the Seattle Times, that is "more, per person, than any other state." And, for what it's worth, there are a "road to nowhere" and a second bridge to nowhere that Palin is decidedly less upset about.

Let's be real. The fact that Sarah Palin is not an anti-pork crusader has been reported. Repeatedly. Sarah Palin just seems to be the last to hear the news.

A Liberal's Confession on Sarah Palin

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 8:32 PM EDT

After spending two days sheepishly defending the Lipstick Pitbull to women less liberal than myself, it's time to 'fess up: I kinda like Sarah Palin.

It's a shameful admission to be sure, far worse than an abiding love of Miracle Whip in the Slow Food Nation foodie heartland. But how can you not like a woman who calls herself a pitbull and makes it sound charming?

I'd been baffled by the drinkers of 2000, who for some reason thought W would be a fun guy to get a beer with, and that that was reason enough for the ill-prepared guv to lead.

But Palin's the Mommy Track'd equivalent, and I get it now. The woman has five kids, a full time job, and a sense of humor. Really? You don't want to at least sit down with her for a cup of tea?

Yes, I disagree with her on every issue I care about (and several I don't). No, I don't like her policy, her history, or her hairstyle—and I don't want her running my country. But I wouldn't mind her in my moms' group.

The Dems would be wise to make her look less charismatic somehow, and fast. Or at least stop yammering on about her parenting choices, so I can stop defending them.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Why Every Liberal in Your Office Is Depressed Today

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 1:58 PM EDT

A new USA Today/Gallup poll has McCain leading Obama 50-46 among registered voters and a stunning 54-44 among likely voters. USA Today points out, a bit incoherently, that the convention has seriously energized the Republican base: "Republicans by 47%-39% were less enthusiastic than usual about voting. Now, they are more enthusiastic by 60%-24%, a sweeping change that narrows a key Democratic advantage."

There are a number of reasons not to freak out, of course. A lot can change between now and November, polling isn't everything, Gallup isn't super-reliable, the debates are an X-factor, yada yada yada. I suspect that won't be calming a lot of fluttering hearts. Maybe this will: Obama still holds a decisive lead in the electoral college tally.

Biden Addresses (and Readdresses) Partition in Iraq

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 12:44 PM EDT

I wrote before Joe Biden was picked for VP that his endgame for Iraq appeared fundamentally at odds with Obama's. That has changed: Biden has softened his support for a plan to partition Iraq into three sect-based regions and has embraced Obama's plan to withdraw combat troops in 16 months. A Biden insider told Politico, "There's no daylight between these guys on Iraq now. None."

But things are not so simple in Joe Biden's brain. Asked to comment on the one-time disagreement, Biden spoke for 13 minutes and 20 seconds. ABC News has the full response. It's really something to behold, and touches on almost every aspect of the war in Iraq. The overarching point that Biden makes is, "Withdrawal by itself doesn't work. Partition by itself doesn't work. Staying the course by itself doesn't work. The situation is complex. I understand the complexity."

Sarah Palin's Secret Emails

| Sun Sep. 7, 2008 11:51 PM EDT

sarah-palin-secret-emails-250x200.jpg

The Palin administration won't release hundreds of emails from her office, claiming they cover confidential policy matters. Then why do the subject lines refer to a political foe, a journalist, and non-policy topics?

In June, Andrée McLeod, a self-described independent government watchdog in Alaska, sent an open records act request to the office of Governor Sarah Palin. She requested copies of all the emails that had been sent and received by Ivy Frye and Frank Bailey, two top aides to Palin, from February through April of this year. McLeod, a 53-year-old registered Republican who has held various jobs in state government, suspected that Frye and Bailey had engaged in political activity during official business hours in that period by participating in a Palin-backed effort to oust the state chairman of the Alaska Republican party, Randy Ruedrich. (Bailey has been in the national news of late for refusing to cooperate with investigators probing whether Palin fired Alaska's public safety commission because he did not dismiss a state trooper who had gone through an ugly divorce with Palin's sister.)

In response to her request, McLeod received four large boxes of emails. This batch of documents did not contain any proof that Frye and Bailey had worked on government time to boot out Ruedrich. But there was other information she found troubling. Several of the emails suggested to her that Palin's office had used its influence to reward a Fairbanks surveyor who was a Palin fundraiser with a state job. In early August, McLeod filed a complaint with the state attorney general against Palin, Bailey, and other Palin aides, claiming they had violated ethics and hiring laws. Palin, now the Republican vice-presidential candidate, told the Alaska Daily News that "there were no favors done for anybody."

But more intriguing than any email correspondence contained in the four boxes was what was not released: about 1100 emails. Palin's office provided McLeod with a 78-page list (PDF) cataloging the emails it was withholding. Many of them had been written by Palin or sent to her. Palin's office claimed most of the undisclosed emails were exempt from release because they were covered by the "executive" or "deliberative process" privileges that protect communications between Palin and her aides about policy matters. But the subject lines of some of the withheld emails suggest they were not related to policy matters. Several refer to one of Palin's political foes, others to a well-known Alaskan journalist. Moreover, some of the withhold emails were CC'ed to Todd Palin, the governor's husband. Todd Palin—a.k.a. the First Dude—holds no official state position (though he has been a close and influential adviser for Governor Palin). The fact that Palin and her aides shared these emails with a citizen outside the government undercuts the claim that they must be protected under executive privilege. McLeod asks, "What is Sarah Palin hiding?"

Palin's First Year as Mayor: Off With Their Heads!

| Sun Sep. 7, 2008 1:31 AM EDT

The Seattle Times has unearthed three boxes of archived documents on Palin's first year as the mayor of Wasilla. The year is 1996, and Palin can't seem to decide whether she wants to be Karl Rove or the Queen of Hearts. Elections in this town of 5,000 are officially nonpartisan, but Palin and her supporters turn the race into a senseless proxy war for national issues: they tar her opponent as "pro-abortion" and question his marital status, trumpet her endorsement by the NRA, and roll out the slogan, "Conservative, More Efficient Government." Her backers include an only-in-Alaska coalition of the religious right and bar owners who want to make sure they can keep serving until 5 a.m.

After she's elected, she gets drunk on power and goes on a firing binge. We already knew she pink slipped the anti-book-banning librarian, but here we learn more: she fires the police chief, who'd recently been named Wasilla's employee of the year, and, in a sort of Lord of the Flies scenario, asks the three employees of the town museum to decide among themselves who will get the ax (all three decide to quit). The same year, she's stopped by the city attorney after she tries to stack the city council. The local paper, the Frontiersman, condemns her in blistering editorials and citizens talk of a recall.

Despite all of this, of course, she's reelected in 1999. She's a smoother politician by then. But given the way she later wields the axe as governor (see Troopergate), maybe the editors of the Frontiersman were onto something when they wrote that Palin's philosophy was "that either we are with her or against her." Sounds a lot like king what's-his-name