Political MoJo

What Do Jet Blue and Gavin Newsom Have in Common?

| Fri Feb. 23, 2007 12:00 AM PST

They are both really, really good at apologies. (Jet Blue's here. Gavin's latest, in which CBS asks him about "the man code" here.)

I never had any doubts that Jet Blue could recover from its PR nightmare, for the simple fact that I fly cross country a fair bit on Jet Blue, and I haul my butt over to Oakland because their fares are lower, the flights are always, in my experience, on time, and I can indulge in 6 hours of HGTV if I care to do so. (Sadly, I do.) Gavin, I wasn't so sure (and by recovery here I mean: bid for Sacramento or Washington). But then I saw his "exclusive" interview (and most recent apology) with the local CBS affliate.

Damn, the man is good (though was it the lighting, or does he have a bald spot? Check the video).

He was frank, he managed to be funny, he hit a lot of demos (including dyslexics, like me!) without appearing to pander, he got away with saying "I am who I am" without sounding like Popeye...

Now granted, the interview had the fingerprints of Peter Ragone and Chris Lehane all over it, but Peter's sock puppet incident aside (Dude! didn't you learn the lesson of Lee Siegel? Though Ragone's lesson was a promotion. His boss' scandal hit just in time.), there's a reason why these guys, all three of them, are considered killers.

Gavin killed.

UPDATE: Check out the Wiki war on Gavin, specifically if dating a Scientologist reflects badly upon him. (On that subject, don't even get me started.) And let's hope Ragone's not indulging in any Wiki reverts.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Billionaires Toast to Merrill Lynch Underwriting Coal-Fired Power Plants

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 7:06 PM PST

The Billionaires for Coal had a grand old time cavorting outside Merill Lynch in downtown San Francisco yesterday. Toasting with champagne glasses, tossing out one-liners, they sneered at a group of earnest, banner-waving protesters nearby. Just a few pairs of hipster sneakers and some scruffy facial hair poked out from under the Billionaires' suits, top hats, and cocktail dresses.

"Why travel to the tropics when we can bring the tropics to us?" asked Jodie van Horn. In real life she's an activist with Rainforest Action Network, but as a Billionaire she goes by Alata Monie. "We'll convert our winter properties to summer properties, and our summer properties to scuba properties."

Read the rest of this blog and more on The Blue Marble.

Cal. to Consider Bolstering Mental Health Care in Prisons

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 4:53 PM PST

prison.jpgCalifornia ushered in the dark trend of turning the mentally ill out to the streets to fend for themselves (leading to an explosion in homelessness). Perhaps the state can also pioneer a saner way of dealing with mental illness.

About a quarter of the state's immense prison population suffers from a major mental illness, but there is little mental health care available in prison. Mentally ill men are 10 times more likely to commit violent crimes. Ergo, the golden state is graced with the highest recidivism rates in the country.

A bill to be introduced tomorrow in Sacramento will call for a complete overhaul of prison mental health care. It might cost money, but it will also almost certainly save the state money in the end since a precursor program cut incarceration rates by 72 percent.

Rape, Murder, War Crimes and a Plea

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 4:02 PM PST

While we're on the subject of rape in Iraq, remember, back last March when five U.S. soldiers gang raped the Iraqi teenager and killed her and her family? Well, a second American soldier, Sergeant Paul Cortez, has pleaded guilty to the gang rape of a 14 year old in Mahmudiyah.

According to Cortez's plea,

"While we were playing cards Barker and Green started talking about having sex with an Iraqi female. Barker and Green had already known..." Cortez said before breaking down. He bowed his head and remained silent, sniffling occasionally, for a full minute before continuing. "Barker and Green had already known what, um, house they wanted to go to. They had been there before and knew only one male was in the house, and knew it would be an easy target," Cortez said.
Cortez went on to describe how the group changed their clothes so they would not be recognized as American soldiers on the way to the house. When he began crying again, his lawyer asked the court for a recess, which was granted.
When the court-martial opened Tuesday, a military judge read a guilty plea in which Cortez described how, in addition to raping the girl, he held her down and acted as a lookout so other soldiers could take their turns raping her before she was shot to death. In the plea agreement, Cortez said he held the girl's hands while Barker raped her, then he raped her himself...
Meanwhile, the suspected ringleader, Steven Green, shot dead the girl's father, mother, and 6-year-old sister. He then raped the girl while Cortez acted as a lookout and Green finally shot the girl dead.

What an atrocity. And is it any wonder that we are now seeing Iraqi forces accused of rape? Look who trained them.

But at least this case was uncovered. How many barbaric acts such as these go unreported or undiscovered? Several media outlets are reporting that this case "was considered among the worst in a series of alleged atrocities by U.S. military personnel in Iraq" but there may very well be many more cases of violations and war crimes that we never hear of. We should also remember that war crimes are more prevalent and systematic than we think.

— Neha Inamdar

Obama's Smear Staff

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 1:52 PM PST

clinton_obama_130_140.gif
It's hard to say (and not worth the effort) who was in the wrong in yesterday's bitchfight between Barack and Hillary (for everything you need to know about it, see the Top Story box of MoJo's News and Politics page). Sure, former Clinton-backer David Geffen's comments about Hillary and Bill were pretty personal—and IMHO, Maureen Dowd was off the mark to publish them. But Hillary's campaign exaggerated Geffen's position on Barack's staff. So call it a tie. But it turns out that Barack (I'm going to call him by his first name since everyone calls Hillary by hers) executed his response based on the advice of Robert Gibbs, whom DailyKos calls "a well-known smear-meister best known for his work trashing other Democrats"—this from a guy who talks about keeping it positive. End result: Bleh for them both.

Whole Foods Smells Weakness, Buys Wild Oats

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 12:56 PM PST

whole_foods.jpg
Whole Foods, the Wal-Mart of organic and health food, announced yesterday it will acquire rival chain Wild Oats for $565 million.

Whole Foods made the decision to pursue Wild Oats after the chain suffered a debilitating sequence of mishaps in late 2006. In November, Wild Oats' CEO resigned over contract disputes, and the company closed 8 underperforming stores. The cost of the closings was more than $25 million, and Wild Oats' CFO resigned in December.

"I thought, gosh, maybe this would be a good time to approach Wild Oats," said Whole Foods' CEO/Founder, John Mackey. Mackey said the acquisition deal with Wild Oats' interim CEO, Gregory Mays, came together in a matter of weeks.

Currently, Wild Oats has 72 stores in 22 states. Whole Foods has 193 stores in 32 states, the U.K., and Canada. Despite Whole Foods' commitment to the environment, organic goods, and animal rights (they recently stopped selling live lobster except in Maine), the company has been vocally criticized for their flat denial to provide a worker's union. CEO Mackey memorably compared unionization to herpes, saying: "It doesn't kill you, but it's unpleasant and inconvenient and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover." Whole Food also imports much of its organic produce.

Whole Foods most recently opened stores in London, Brooklyn, and Portland, Maine, and a huge new store in New York City's historic--but rapidly gentrifying--Lower East Side, on a spot formerly occupied by one of the city's largest Jewish theaters.

--Jennifer Phillips

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Tag--You're It

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 12:23 PM PST

About 50 students at New York University have signed up to play a game, "Find the Illegal Immigrant," created by student members of the College Republicans. One student is chosen to wear a tag identifying her as an illegal immigrant, and the first student "immigration enforcement agent" to find the tagged student wins a prize.

About 500 students have signed up to protest the game, which they consider "ignorant" and "dehumanizing." NYU has issued a statement supporting the College Republicans' right to free speech and the resulting debate that is created by the illegal immigrant hunt.

A CNN news segment is available here.

What's the Best Case Scenario With Iran?

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 11:55 AM PST

Kevin Drum has some thoughts on whether or not it's feasible to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iran, and I quibble only with his assertion that there is the possibility that Iran could turn not only from an enemy into a partner, but from an enemy into a friend.

Here's Drum:

Iran is not some wayward child with a heart of gold that can be made into our bosom buddy by sitting down and swapping a few stories. It's a harsh, illiberal theocracy that's been a state sponsor of terrorism for decades. But the weird thing is that this senior official [Earlier, Drum quotes a senior Iranian official who calls the U.S. and Iran "natural allies."] is right: there really aren't any fundamental geopolitical reasons that Iran and the United States need to be enemies. Iran isn't territorial, they're happy to sell their oil to the highest bidder, and they really do hate al-Qaeda.

Agreed on all counts. I would argue that in addition to the three criteria Drums lists at the end of this paragraph, we have to include the subject of Israel because there are too many staunch defenders of Israel in Congress, Washington's think tanks, and America's special interests. And on the Israel question Iran fails absolutely. But Drum isn't dumb and anticipates my thinking. "I know, I know. There's still Israel. And obviously I don't have any magical solution to that," he says. "But even there, there might be a deal to be struck. Not an easy one, or a quick one, but something."

I don't know if a deal needs to be struck. We're not talking about pacifying the region here; we're just talking about whether or not the U.S. and Iran can get along well enough to start talking again. I would venture that all we need are guarantees from Ahmadinejad to stop making loony "Death to Israel" pronouncements and to start making high-profile assurances that Iran's nuclear program is not meant to be a threat to Israel. Some people in the United States aren't going to be satisfied with that that. They're still going to see Ahmadinejad as a dangerous wildcard and will insist that we can't negotiate with a country run by such a man. They'll just have to realize that talks with Iran fundamentally make the United States safer. Right now we have no influence over Iran, and, if anything, continue to antagonize them. Entering a tense but workable diplomatic relationship humanizes both sides, allows them to talk through grievances, and begins the process of making concessions and finding middle ground.

Think of it this way: There's a crazy man running around down the street and the neighbors are getting worried. Do you poke him with a stick? Or do you try to settle him down and find out what ails him? And do you wait to act until the crazy man gets a gun in his hand, or do you try and talk to him before it gets to that point?

Here's the quibble that I mentioned earlier. Drum says:

The Soviet Union turned from implacable enemy to semi-friend in a remarkably short time, and that conflict was far longer lasting and more deeply rooted than our conflict with Iran. And remember: Ronald Reagan ensured his legacy by cutting a deal with the Soviets during his final two years in office. Maybe Bush should try to do the same.

I guess I just don't see it. The Soviet Union was a westernizing country that was ready to admit that the models it had used to construct its economy and basic national outlook were corrupt and rotting. They were ready for an alternative. If the people of Iran are dying to burst out of their burquas and hit the club, I haven't seen any indication. I think the best we can hope for with Iran is detente, but I think that's good enough. And like Drum, I think we'll never know unless we try.

Second Rape Charge In a Week for Iraqi Forces

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 9:03 AM PST

Earlier this week we reported that a 20 year-old Iraqi woman was taken to a police facility and gangraped by three members of the Iraqi security forces. Then came Prime Minister Maliki's thoroughly disgusting response -- he exonerated the suspects after an "investigation" that lasted less than a day, declared that they should be honored (for unspecified actions), made the name of the accuser public, and finally, called her a criminal and a fraud.

Now it seems that the U.S. military, led by recently-elected Gen. David Petraeus, has ordered its own investigation into the rape, and has already appointed an American officer to take charge of gathering evidence.

This comes as a second rape allegation surfaces, with the AP reporting that four Iraqi soldiers have been accused of raping a 50-year-old Sunni woman and the attempted rape of her two daughters. In Muslim society in particular, rape victims rarely speak publicly, fearing shame and even death at the hands of male relatives seeking to save the family honor. Yet this victim chose to speak out, and even appeared today on Al-Jazeera television, saying the soldiers asked her about certain individuals and accused her of lying to them when she insisted that she didn't know them. No word yet on Maliki's response this time around.

—Jen Phillips

Archbishop Akinola Needs To Watch Some Nature Shows

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 9:15 PM PST

Nigeria's Anglican archbishop, Peter Akinola, has declared that homosexuality is ''an aberration unknown even in animal relationships,'' a statement so ignorant, you have to wonder how one gets to be an archbishop these days. Hundreds of species, from beetles to primates, exhibit homosexual behavior as a way of bonding or communicating. Of course, Akinola also believes it should be illegal for homosexuals to form organizations, read gay literature and eat together in pubilc places.

Akinola is not alone in his quest to get the gay out of the Anglican Communion. On Monday, the Communion gave the Episcopal Church of the U.S. a September deadline to stop blessing same-sex unions. "If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the church in the life of the communion,'' the statement said. The request to stop blessing same-sex unions was first made in 2004.

Seven archbishops showed their frustration with the Episcopal Church of the U.S. by refusing to take communion with U.S. presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, an outspoken supporter of gay congregants. Several Episcopal congregations in Virginia and one in Kansas have broken away from the national church because of the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of gay bishop Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire, in 2003. Robinson, by the way, wore a bullet-proof vest under his cassock during the ordination ceremony.