Political MoJo

"...You Have To Trust Us, It's Not About Transgenderism"

| Sun Mar. 25, 2007 12:43 AM EDT

That's what the city commissioners of Largo, Florida said after they finalized the dismissal of City Manager Steve Stanton today in a six-hour meeting. After Stanton announced he was planning to live his life as a woman, the commission voted to dismiss him last month. The mayor and one commissioner voted to keep Stanton, but the other five members of the commission voted to fire him.

"I think we're pretty well convinced," said Commissioner Gay Gentry. "You have to believe us, you have to trust us, it is not about transgenderism."

What, then, you might ask, is it about? According to the commissioners, they "lost confidence in him." There was some talk about his having "bullied" employees, but the commission had not only given Stanton good reviews--they had given him a very large raise. The real reason for the lost confidence is best expressed by commissioner Jimmy Dean: "This little thing has made Largo the laughingstock of the whole country. It's a disgrace." Now that the city has been "cast in a negative light," the commission can no longer feel confident about Stanton's performance.

Got it? Stanton can no longer perform his duties acceptably because the city is embarrassed.

Stanton's contract says he can be fired without cause, and he hasn't decided whether to file a lawsuit against the commission.

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Good News for Ravers: Ecstasy Isn't So Bad

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 6:27 PM EDT

Earlier today researchers at Bristol University published "a landmark paper" that finds that alcohol and cigarettes are more dangerous than many illegal drugs, including ecstasy and pot.

To anyone who didn't already know that ecstasy doesn't give standers-by second-hand cancer or cause people to start fights, the study breaks the shocking news that while (illegal) coke and heroin are ranked most harmful, they're followed closely by (not illegal) barbiturates, alcohol, and tobacco. Pot comes later, and ecstasy way after that.

The real news here is that all the experts agreed that current substance classification is wack. BU's David Nutt hopes that the study will lead to a change in the prevailing "ill thought-out and arbitrary" system by knocking some sense into those on the losing side of the war on drugs.

—Nicole McClelland

Yet Another Reason for Universal Health Insurance

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 5:49 PM EDT

California's Department of Managed Health Care randomly selected 90 (of more than 1,000) cancelled individual Blue Cross plans and investigated whether the company had cause to cancel them. Score: 0 for 90. Blue Cross broke the rules in every single case.

The policies were individually purchased plans in which policy holders had become pregnant or sick, apparently triggering Blue Cross to rescind the policy. Retroactively—leaving individuals, hospitals and doctors holding the bag for care already provided. Policies can only be legally rescinded if the applicant lies on the application to conceal pre-existing conditions.

Individuals pay exorbitant premiums for coverage purchased outside of employer group plans, and are also more vulnerable to such cancellations in California law. But this is bad news for everyone, not just those who have to buy individual plans. Who pays when hospitals and doctors aren't reimbursed? The taxpayers do, one way or the other. The taxpayers also paid for the state's investigation, whose end result is a measly $1-million suit against Blue Cross, whose annual profit is more than three times that. Blue Cross policy holders funded an entire department of the company devoted to finding reasons to cancel the policies of sick or pregnant people.

About 6.5 million California residents, or about 18 percent of the population, lack health insurance.

Optimistic Report on the Surge All Talk

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 4:00 PM EDT

Time has a report card on the effectiveness of the surge, which makes it sound like things are looking up. I'm a skeptic. Not because I hate America, but because this administration and its uniform-wearing parrots have cried wolf once (or thrice) too many times.

The Time report doesn't do much to change my mind.

First, like other reports, it touts the fact that some Iraqi families are returning to their Baghdad homes. But look closer. The numbers given are miniscule, and all they indicate is that those people hope the surge will work—not that it is working.

Second, they caught a few terrorists. Cool. Moving on…

Time repeatedly quotes Petraeus saying things like, "They're really quaking in their boots." These assessments are more meaningless than a coach's halftime interview.

I'll give them this point: "Violence in the city has dropped by about a third since the surge began in mid-February," but (a) one month is not long enough to predict a trend, and (b) it seems some of the new tactical ideas should have been implemented long, long ago:

The tactic of sprinkling U.S. and Iraqi troops like salt across the city — instead of keeping them concentrated in a handful of bases — seems to be paying off so far…Operation Safe Markets — where the U.S. military encircles bazaars with concrete barriers — have kept car bombs away from crowds.

They only just thought of this now?

And for those of you meticulous readers who need me to respond to every bit in the article—or those right-wing bloggers among you waiting for an easy way to prove me wrong (obviously the thing I didn't mention destroys my whole point, right?): The report also mentions helicopters. It's true, I mentioned rise in helicopter shoot-downs as a bad sign, and they have subsided. But:

U.S. military helicopters are flying increasingly under cover of darkness and at 2,000 feet, four times higher than normal, beyond the reach of the crude weapons used by the insurgents to take potshots at airborne targets… Army chopper pilots have long been taught to hug the terrain…to limit their exposure to any individual on the ground seeking to shoot them down. But increasingly, U.S. pilots are trading the protection offered by lack of height for the masking offered by lack of light.

Overall response: C-.

"Hillary 1984" is like Bob Corker's Ad against Harold Ford, Jr.

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 2:57 PM EDT

Have you seen Hillary 1984? You've got to. It's brilliant. About 1.3 million people have already seen it. It's the advent of a new political era. The minute-and-a-half-long clip, spliced from an Apple commercial from Super Bowl, shows hundreds of men as just ashen drones marching in line and then sitting down before a screen under Hillary's head talking, detached from her body. Everything is gray and lifeless. The only dash of color at all is when a busty blonde wearing only a white tank and orange shorts—a Hooters girls outfit but with only one "O" in the logo over her chest—runs through the crowd of men and hurls a javelin at Hillary's head, shattering the screen, spreading light everywhere.

Yep, it's brilliant. And lefty bloggers are cheering it as the advent of "open-source politics" because it's on YouTube. What none of them have mentioned is the reason why it's so effective: It exploits subconscious bigotry, just like the ad for now-U.S. Senator Bob Corker in October. Since blacks weren't recognized as fully human, this country used to have special laws for them. Black men could not sleep with white women, but it was fine the other way around (even the president did). Black men with white women is still taboo—that's why broadcasting a blonde actress crooning, "I met Harold at the Playboy party…. Harry [wink], call me!!" was enough to derail Harold Ford, Jr.'s, campaign. The racism operated subtly and subconsciously enough to change the minds of people who would never admit to being racist. Lefties pointed that out, but not as loudly as they should have. Ford lost.

Likewise, women weren't recognized as fully human in this country until recently, and modern society still has a taboo against women holding power. Lefty bloggers who don't think Hillary has the charisma to win the general election may be happy that this ad will derail her in the primary. But they look like hypocrites unless they stop cheering for a moment to mention that the ad exploits subconscious fears. That goes for you too, Arianna Huffington—author of On Becoming Fearless. "Hillary 1984" is as un-Democratic as the ad against Harold Ford was.

Iraqi Refugees Now Top Asylum Seekers In The World

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 1:44 PM EDT

How much longer can the U.S. deny the refugee crisis in Iraq? According to a new U.N. report, Iraqi refugees are now the top asylum seekers anywhere.

Asylum applications by Iraqis in industrialized countries rose 77 percent last year, from 12,500 in 2005 to 22,200 in 2006. UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler said "There has been an abject denial of the impact, the humanitarian impact, of the war, the huge displacement within Iraq of up to 1.9 million people who are homeless because of the war."

As Leigh wrote earlier this week, Syria has taken a huge portion of Iraqi refugees (some 1.2 million in a country of 19 million) while the United States has so far taken in less than 500 with promises of allowing 7,000 this year. Many of these refugees are Iraqi's who worked for the United States and are now under death threat, as David Case writes in our current issue.

Over at Foreign Policy in Focus, Kristele Younes of Refugees International outlines a number of proposals to help Iraqi refugees, including more funding for the UNHCR (whose budget for dealing with Iraqi refugees is 22 million, less than $7 per refugee) and more international cooperation to address the crisis.

Yet the crux of her argument is this:

The United States must begin by acknowledging that violence in Iraq has made civilian life untenable, creating a refugee crisis that is essentially exporting the nation's instability to neighboring countries.

"Exporting the nation's instability." So in four years the US has managed a war that has not only led to more terrorist attacks worldwide, but has also made for a more volatile region overall.

No one, and I mean no one, is shouting 'four more years' now.

—Amaya Rivera

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Iraq's Deputy PM Injured in Attack

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 12:15 PM EDT

I think it's fair to say that one of the main barometers for the effectiveness of the surge and Baghdad security crackdown Bush has imposed on the nation is the safety of government officials in Baghdad. For the second day in a row, an attack in Baghdad has targeted a government official. Today, the target was the highest ranking Sunni Muslim in the government, the Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubai. Mr. Zubai was among 15 wounded in the attack, in which 9 people died. Not only does the attack cast doubt on the American troops' ability to control Baghdad, it also deals a major blow to the Iraqi government's legitimacy to lose one of its precious few Sunnis.

Learn more on Mother Jones' Sunni/Shiite cheat sheet and primer on Iraqi political parties (including Zubai's Accord Front).

Grenade in Green Zone Just Misses al-Maliki and U.N. Secretary General

| Thu Mar. 22, 2007 4:01 PM EDT

A rocket just missed a building in Baghdad's Green Zone that houses both the U.S. embassy and the Iraqi Prime Minister's office. Both al-Maliki and the U.N.'s new Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were in the building at the time. Both were uninjured, but, tellingly, Ban was frightened where al-Malike appeared unfazed, saying, "Nothing's wrong." Perhaps for obvious reasons, a Secretary-General (in that case Kofi Annan) last visited Baghdad nearly a year and a half ago. And, if you're wondering why the media insists on making Baghdad sound so bad, it's because the folks at the AP office heard whoosh of the rocket launch. That surge is really working, eh?

SC Passes Mandatory Ultrasound-Viewing Bill, Sees Through Shady Abortion-Getters' Tricks

| Thu Mar. 22, 2007 2:32 PM EDT

In yet another scheme to guilt-trip women out of having abortions, the South Carolina House passed a bill yesterday that requires women to view their own ultrasounds before having the procedure.

Yelling and crying ensued as several representatives begged for inclusion of an amendment waiving the requirement for victims of rape and incest. It failed. So did one that would exempt women in cases in which a judge had found probable cause or issued a warrant for sexual assault charges.

Supporters of the bill, whose churches are evidently not-so-separate from the state building in which they were standing, combatted the pleas for compassion with such infallible arguments as "Are you saying God creates mistakes with the lives he creates?" Others rejected the amendments because women [who want abortions are a bunch of lying, manipulative sluts who] "would make up sexual assaults" in order to get around the bill.

In 2005, Focus on the Family announced plans to spend $4.2 million equipping pregnancy centers nationwide with ultrasound machines. Their ministry is becoming law: Seventeen other states have or are considering some kind of ultrasound-before-abortion legislation. (Mississippi has a "listen to your fetus' heartbeat" offer on the table.)

But South Carolina is the first to require that women actually look at the ultrasound. No one in the House would answer Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) when she asked whether the women would have to be held down and forced to view the images.

—Nicole McClelland

Creator of Hillary 1984 Owns Up, Proves Me Right

| Thu Mar. 22, 2007 9:39 AM EDT

The creator of the Hillary 1984 ad has owned up, and I firmly believe that the back story proves correct the theory I blogged earlier: this was the creation of a web-savvy person working on their own, and only a response in kind will effectively combat its popularity and power. (See Hillary's response here.)

The Huffington Post did the digging, and got the creator ("ParkRidge47") to fess up in a blog post. His name is Phil de Vellis and he works (well, worked) for Blue State Digital, an internet consulting company with roots in the Dean campaign and a long track record of working for high profile candidates. Thing is, Blue State Digital now works for Obama. Was Hillary 1984 a premeditated and conventionally-conceived campaign ad? Nope -- de Vellis did the work on the weekend, with his own time, equipment, and creative direction. But surely he was doing the work for BSD in a nudge-nudge sort of way, right? Just because he did the work on his personal computer on a Sunday doesn't mean he wasn't working for the company, and indirectly, Obama. Well, de Vellis has resigned upon being outed, which makes a pretty solid case that he was acting on his own, and in a way that the company wouldn't approve of. The ad, after all, is not in the style of the high-minded campaign Obama is trying to run.

So the facts support my theory. This campaign ad was created by someone working on their own -- an insurgent if you will. If it had been created within the official framework of a presidential campaign, it would have been more careful, more respectful of convention and boundaries, and thus far less interesting.

And FYI - the ad in its various forms has now been viewed almost three millions times on YouTube.

Update: Howard Fineman of Newsweek sees this as part of the "New Uncontrollable Campaign." The old, controllable campaign was controlled by the candidates, their staffs, and prominent members of the major media. Wonder who that would include...