Political MoJo

The New Jersey X Factor

| Mon Oct. 30, 2006 10:32 AM EST

While polls show Robert Menendez slightly ahead of Tom Kean Jr. in New Jersey's cliff hanger Senate race, political pros fear Menendez is a likely goner. The New Jersey senator was expected to put a clamp on the race last week, but instead, suddenly got hammered by young Kean, who is subjecting the New Jersey democrat to a blistering attack, claiming, among other things, that Menendez is subject to a federal corruption probe.

Kean's offensive is getting sharper. One ad opens with a demand for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, then blasts Menendez for giving Social Security to illegal aliens. The ad ends on a family note, with his children helping their father read a campaign disclosure statement.

People in New Jersey would like to think Kean is a chip off the old block. His father, the former New Jersey governor and head of the 9/11 Commission, sometimes looks like a more or less independent Republican, who has departed from the party line to criticize the Bush administration for its failure to carry forward the reforms proposed by his commission. But they forget that the elder Kean acted like a Bush yo-yo during the probe, letting the President call the shots on how he was to be interviewed and what documents could and could not be made public. Still, the Jersey voters seem to love the man.

Sunday editions of the Bergen Record, a key New Jersey daily, show Menendez leading Kean 48 to 42. Strangely, though, New Jersey voters seem to prefer Kean to Menendez. According to the Record's poll, "voters found Kean more trustworthy by a 49-36 percent ratio, and they personally like him more than Menendez, 48-33 percent. But of those voters who consider Kean more trustworthy, 35 percent are voting for Menendez because they feel other factors, such as the war in Iraq and putting Democrats back in control of Congress, are more important."

In this type of climate, where Kean is actually perceived as the better candidate, the tide could turn quickly.

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Slap-happy in Wyoming

| Mon Oct. 30, 2006 1:54 AM EST

Wyoming's single House seat, held by Republicans since 1979, has come within reach of a Democrats' grasp. The latest poll finds seven-term incumbent Rep. Barbara Cubin leading by only four points - in part, it seems, because after a recent debate she told a wheelchair-bound third-party candidate, "If you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you across the face". Now that's compassionate conservatism.

NBC changes "Shut Up & Sing" to "Shut Up"

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 11:53 PM EDT

According to distributor Harvey Weinstein, NBC is refusing to air a promotional spot for the Dixie Chicks' new documentary, "Shut Up & Sing," because it is "disparaging of President Bush." The ad, which can be seen here, contains clips from the documentary that are familiar to many people. Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines tells a London audience that she is ashamed that Bush is from Texas, and Maines also pronounces Bush as dumb.

According to Weinstein, the CW rejected the spot, too, saying "We do not have appropriate programming in which to schedule this spot." A representative from the CW disputes this version of the story and says he was told that the Weinstein Co. was not going to make a national buy for the Dixie Chicks spot.

Justice For Pinochet Takes the Weekend Off

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 7:58 PM EDT

A Chilean judge ordered the arrest of General Augusto Pinochet today, charging the former dictator with 36 kidnappings, 23 counts of torture, and a murder. As part of an ongoing investigation, Judge Alejandro Solis met with Pinochet at his home earlier this month. The 90-year-old reportedly denied involvement in the torture and disappearance of political prisoners during his 17-year dictatorship. But Solis came away doubting Pinochet's claim that he suffers from dementia, saying he did not observe any symptoms of mental illness during his visit.

Judge Solis' announcement is the most recent development in what has seemed like an endless series of court proceedings aimed at prosecuting Pinochet for human rights abuses. But the saga isn't quite over yet. The arrest isn't expected to take place until Monday.

In the meantime, check out some of Mother Jones recent stories about the quest to bring Pinochet to justice, including this recent profile of torture survivor and crusader Hector Salgado and this 2004 profile of Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge who tried to extradite Pinochet in 1998.

—Celia Perry

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White House Recants on Cheney Water Boarding Confession

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 7:10 PM EDT

So now the White House is saying that Dick Cheney wasn't really talking about water boarding when he said that water boarding is "a no-brainer" Tuesday. As Tony Snow explained, "You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about water boarding. Never would, never does, never will. You think Dick Cheney's going to slip up on something like this? No, come on." Put aside the laughable notion that Cheney never slips up for a moment. What's Snow really saying? That we don't waterboard or we just don't talk about it? If it's the latter, does this mark the first time in six years that Cheney has leaked something the administration doesn't want the public to know about?

Meanwhile, if you're wondering what waterboarding really looks like, check out this video in which a gutsy young journalist endures 24 minutes of near-suffocation (and talking with Alan Dershowitz) to find out if it really is torture. Not easy to watch.

Companies in China Ask... What's In a Name Anyway?

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 5:52 PM EDT

Chinese companies, popping up all over Shanghai and Beijing, bare a striking resemblance in name and/or logo to overseas companies, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. See below a picture of a Chinese local coffee shop called Shanghai Xingbake Cafe Corp.

 chinese_starbucks_web.gif

Look familiar? And the logo is not the only similarity. The word Xingbake means Starbucks in Chinese. Although Starbucks appears to be dealing with the most egregious copycat company, the American corporation is not alone. Here is a list of Chinese brands side by side their overseas predecessors.

chinese_starbucks_chart_web.gif

Advertising and branding experts excuse the Chinese companies saying the copycatters simply lack ingenuity and funds to pay for branding but others aren't willing to be so generous. Many companies are suing their mimics. Honda won a case against the Motorcycle company Hongda and GM and Chery, a Chinese car company, have recently reached a settlement. Most entertaining of all though are the excuses created by the copycatters. Chery claims its English name is based on the sound of Quirui, the Chinese name, which means "unusually lucky" and Shanghai Xingbake Cafe Corp claims its name is based on the character Simba in "The Lion King," which in Chinese is Xinba.

Hmmm…

For more branding wars and naming games, see Mother Jones's "What's in a Name."

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Hacking Democracy

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 5:45 PM EDT

"The American electoral system is rotten and we need to deal with that," Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections in Leon County, Florida, told Mother Jones Radio. Sancho and Bev Harris, founder of Black Box Voting, point out the vulnerability of our voting system in an HBO documentary, Hacking Democracy, airing November 2.

The film follows Harris and Sancho as they stumble upon Diebold's software on their FTP site, dig through trash and find illegally discarded voting records, and stage a mini-election with a computer hacker. In that election, the outcome of the vote is opposite the votes cast: 7:1 instead of 2:6.

As Sancho points out, this is not just a Diebold problem. It is a problem with all electronic voting machine companies: "The other companies are just much better at keeping secrets." Hacking Democracy should cure anybody of trusting electronic voting machines that do not have a paper trail.

When It Comes to Press Freedom, We're Number 53!

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 3:15 PM EDT

Reporters Sans Frontières recently released its annual ranking of press freedom around the world, and it's not good news for the United States. Our ranking's been steadily dropping since the survey started in 2002, when we were in the index's top 20. Now we're at a dismal 53rd place, down from an undistinguished 44th last year. That puts us in the same league as tiny democracies like Botswana, Croatia, and Tonga. To be sure, we're a long way from the atrocious rankings of Iran, China, Burma, Cuba, and North Korea. But it's nothing to write home about.

The United States' poor showing is largely to blame on the excesses of the war on terror. As RSF explains, "Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of 'national security' to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his 'war on terrorism.'" And then there's the journalists we've got locked up, such as a Sudanese Al-Jazeera cameraman being held in Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who's been in U.S. custody in Iraq for 6 months without charge. That's just the official hostility to the press. During the past year, right-wing commentators debated whether the editor of the New York Times should be sent to the gas chamber or the firing squad for revealing a program to track terrorist funds. It's not clear whether this episode figured into RSF's rankings, but it was another sign of why, when it comes to freedom of expression, we've got a long way to Number One.

[Ed. Note: This week's Sports Illustrated carries an excellent column on Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the San Francisco Chronicle reporters who used leaked grand jury testimony to blow the lid off the steroid scandal. They'll be heading to jail soon for failing to reveal their sources, and may still be in the big house when Barry Bonds, documented to have commited several crimes in Fainaru-Wada and Williams' reporting, breaks baseball's all-time home run record.

A detail from the column, which unfortunately is subscription-only: The Chronicle has received 80 subpoenas of reporters over the last 18 months, compared with five over the previous 18. That's the world's strongest democracy, leading by example.]

Jane Pauley Sues the NYT for Duping Her into an Advertorial

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 12:33 PM EDT

Jane Pauley is suing the New York Times for fraud. Pauley claims that the paper misled her an interview where she discussed her struggles with bipolar disorder for what turned out to be a pharmeceutical company-funded advertisement. In the lawsuit filed Tuesday seeking unspecified damages, Pauley charges that the Times interviewed her last fall for what she believed was a news article on mental health issues. The interview came out in October as part of a "special advertising supplement" (complete with a full-page photo of Pauley) that was funded by Eli Lilly and other drug companies. Smoking Gun has a copy of the lawsuit, here.

Our Landlord the Torturer

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 1:11 AM EDT

Over at Harper's, Ken Silverstein reports that the U.S. government is paying $17,500 a month to a rent one of its overseas embassies from a known torturer. The torturer in question is Manuel Nguema Mba, the security minister of Equatorial Guinea, a tiny, oil-rich West African nation that, as Peter Maass wrote in an investigative story in Mother Jones last year, seems like a "parody of an oil kleptocracy," where "a dictator, awash in petrodollars, enriches himself and his family while starving his people." In his article, Maass disclosed the rental deal with Mba (who's the uncle of the country's despot, Teodoro Obiang), but Silverstein adds some new wrinkles to the story. Despite reliable documentation from the U.N. and the State Department, our ambassador to E.G. has pled ignorance of Mba's human-rights record. The Clinton-era ambassador is calling for an investigation into the deal.

Sadly, it's not surprising that we're giving $210,000 a year to a man who has overseen the torture of dissidents. Pay-to-play is the name of the game in E.G.—it's a game that several American oil companies have played in order to get access to the country's crude. (In one egregious—but not atypical—instance, Amerada Hess paid $445,800 in rent to a 14-year-old relative of Obiang.) And apparently it's a game that the Bush administration doesn't mind playing, either.