Political MoJo

South Dakota Abortion Referendum (Remember That One?) Almost Too Close to Call

| Mon Oct. 9, 2006 3:46 AM EDT

When South Dakotans overwhelmingly put a vote on their state's "no exceptions for rape and incest" abortion ban (aka Supreme Court bait) on the November ballot, prochoicers allowed themselves a twinge of schadenfreude: For once, it seemed, prolifers had gone too far, committing themselves to a law that even the reddest of red-state voters couldn't abide. Then, in June, came the first big letdown, with almost no national media attention: Four Republican state legislators who had voted against the law lost to more conservative primary challengers. Now--after a couple of months of campaigning, which, as the LA Times reports, features prolife ads with a "feminist" flair--the ban is down only 44 to 47 percent in a poll (commissioned by a prolife group, so grain of salt advised), which amounts to a statistical dead heat. Hard to believe the law will survive, especially if the GOP's hard-core base stays home, but stranger things have happened. For a great primer on what's really at stake here, check out Cynthia Gorney's piece in the New Yorker, which alas is not online, though you get a flavor in this interview.

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Patty Wetterling: A Voice of Conscience on Foley Scandal and Child Abuse (And Why You Should Call Power Line's Scott Johnson)

| Sun Oct. 8, 2006 2:18 AM EDT

Seventeen years ago, when I had just graduated from Carleton College and was living in Minneapolis, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted by gunpoint, in front of his younger brother and a friend, while biking in his St. Joseph, MN, neighborhood. He was never heard from again.

Seventeen years ago, his mother, Patty Wetterling, mounted an enormous effort—one that did not have the advantage of email, blogs, the Internet, or Amber Alerts—to alert the public about her son's case; her son's face is still burned into my brain. And when the months and years that followed, as it became clear that, excepting a miracle, Jacob would not be found alive, she became a force for other missing and abused children. I left Minnesota a few years later, but I was always impressed at her ability to be an advocate on this issue without resorting to needlessly scaring other parents about their chances of loosing a child to stranger abduction (which, despite what shows like CSI and Without A Trace and lesser imitators might lead one to believe, is both low, and no greater now than a few generations ago). She pioneered the first sexual offenders registration law — the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act—and while subsequent refinements on this act (like Meghan's Law) may have tipped beyond what civil libertarians can embrace, still it was an important step in the prevention of habitual sex offenders.

Jacob was a really good looking kid, one not, it seems, picked at random, and I think one of the hardest things for the public, and certainly for his family, was the almost immediate, instinctive knowledge of why this particular kid was likely grabbed.

I had no idea Patty Wetterling was running for Congress until a few days ago, when her name came up as someone commenting on the Foley situation. Now her opponent, Michele Bachmann, has claimed that Wetterling is playing politics with the issue of child abuse. This is appalling, and most especially from an extremely religious, values voting woman, who has nobly raised 23 foster children herself.

I don't want to bash Bachmann here. What I know of her comes from clip searches, and these leave me somewhat confused (used to work for Carter, now darling of far-right mega-churches). But I will say, emphatically, that anyone who says Patty Wetterling is being opportunistic about the issue of child sexual abuse either didn't live in Minnesota in the early 1990s. Or is full of shit.

And for Scott Johnson of the conservative blog Power Line to say, and this is a direct quote of his headline—"Patty Wetterling Molests the Truth"—is seriously in the worst taste I have ever seen in any blog of any political stripe. Johson's bio on Power Line notes:

Scott W. Johnson is a Minneapolis attorney. For more than ten years Johnson has written with his former law partner John H. Hinderaker on public policy issues including income inequality, income taxes, campaign finance reform, affirmative action, welfare reform, and race in the criminal justice system. Both Johnson and Hinderaker are fellows of the Claremont Institute. Their articles have appeared in National Review, The American Enterprise, American Experiment Quarterly, and newspapers from Florida to California. The Claremont Institute has archived many of their articles....He can be reached by phone at (612) 414-6464.

Polls have Wetterling and Bachmann neck and neck.

Bush Objects To New FEMA Director Qualifications

| Sat Oct. 7, 2006 1:02 PM EDT

George W. Bush, having taken a look (or at least having been told about) Congress's proposed overhaul of FEMA, is objecting to--wait for it--the list of qualifications for FEMA's director. The standards set by Congress include five years of management experience, demonstration of emergency management skills, and the authority to make recommendations directly to Congress, a measure also rejected by Bush.

Bush's objections came in the form of yet another signing statement. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who chaired a House Katrina investigation, said "Good luck getting someone confirmed who doesn't meet these standards."

Rove's Gal Friday Quits (Or How Often Do You Get Jack Abramoff, Bruce Springsteen, and Andrea Bocelli In One Headline?)

| Sat Oct. 7, 2006 2:28 AM EDT

Susan Ralston, who has the distinction of having worked for two of the most disliked Republicans in the country pre-Mark Foley, is outta here: She quit her job as Karl Rove's exec assistant on Friday (see also "taking out the trash"), in the wake (sort of) of the fascinating report on her ex-boss Jack Abramoff's "contacts" with the White House. Among other things, Abramoff gave Ralston free tickets to the Wizards, Caps, Orioles, and Springsteen and Andrea Bocelli shows.

Talk about Born to Run.

Mike DeWine, Cat Whisperer

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 8:08 PM EDT

dewine320.jpg

I came across this 2004 photo while browsing around Mike DeWine's website (as one does), and reprint it here because...it's totally weird. That's all. Next up...Sherrod Brown riding a giraffe (to victory!).

Theaters Balk at British "Documentary" Depiciting Bush's Demise

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 7:54 PM EDT

Reuters reports today that the U.S.'s largest chain of theaters, Regal Entertainment Group, has refused to screen a fake documentary investigating the aftermath of the 2007 assassination of President Bush.

The British film, "Death of a President," won the International Critics' Prize at the Toronto Film Festival last month, and was quickly bought by Newmarket Films. Newmarket had planned to release the film in the United States on October 27, shortly before the November elections.

Newmarket was also the distributor for Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which Regal did agree to show.

--Jen Phillips

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Condi v. Warner on Iraq-- "Making Progress" or Taking "Steps Backwards"

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 4:20 PM EDT

This week Condoleeza Rice insisted that Iraq is "making progress"? Even as she arrived in Baghdad amidst mortar fire and met with President Jalal Talabani in the dark, due to electricity outages throughout the city, she emphasized that the country is on course.

But a course toward what? Senator John Warner (R-Va.), who too sojourned recently to Iraq, says the country has taken "steps backwards," referring to the "steady increase in the level of violence" and the "'unacceptable level' of killings and 'heavy casualties' among U.S. forces there." He concluded that the administration may need to abandon its exhausted "stay the course" messaging.

Condi may be feeling the heat. Revelations from Bob Woodward's newest book show that the National Security Adviser was briefed on July 10, 2001 by the CIA about potential domestic threats, and promptly ignored them. Also according to the ubiquitous Woodward, even Big Daddy Bush, who employed Rice on his National Security Council, says she has been a "big disappointment" and is "not up for the job." Maybe he should have passed these choice words onto junior.

Real Estate Magnate Capitalizing on Eminent Domain Outrage

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 3:13 PM EDT

More than a year ago, people and lawmakers across the political spectrum took up arms against eminent domain abuse. The fillip was the Supreme Court ruling that the City of New London could replace a working-class neighborhood with condos, a hotel, and office space related to a Pfizer center.

What alarmed Americans were the evictions of small businesses and working-class neighborhoods for the benefit of corporations and developers. Statehouses rushed to curb the practice. But now the zeitgeist is also being channeled against something else: land-use regulation in general.

Groups backed by Howard Rich, a wealthy New York real estate investor and libertarian activist, have spent about $5 million on initiatives to appear on ballots in four states this November. In California alone, they've spent $3.3 million on Proposition 90. If it passes, the state will have to compensate landowners and developers for regulatory actions that diminish the value of their property.

The Sierra Club is against it. So are the editorial boards of 11 newspapers. A land-use lawyer in San Francisco says what backers of Prop 90 really want is "to gut the government's police power to regulate business, including land use, development, mining, and grazing."

On the other hand, economist Tim Harford in Slate points out instances when environmental protections backfired. He argues that taxpayers should foot the bill to save nature.

--April Rabkin

Independent Panel Says Yes--Santa Susana Site Caused Cancer

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 2:49 PM EDT

A report released yesterday indicates that a nuclear reactor meltdown at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in 1959 may indeed have caused hundreds of cancers to appear in the surrounding community. Santa Susana is located in eastern Ventura County, California.

An independent advisory panel reported that radiation released during the meltdown caused about 260 cancers within a 60-square-mile radius. The panel also said there was an outside chance that 1,800 cancers could have been caused by the meltdown.

Rocketdyne, the company which owned Santa Susana at the time of the meltdown, has joined the federal government in refusing to release many key details of the incident, so the panel relied on technical modeling to gather its results. The result of the meltdown has been a controversy for many years, with Rocketdyne repeatedly declaring that the amount of radioactive released was insignificant.

The panel concluded that local groundwater and soil has also been contaminated because of the Santa Susuana site. Perchlorate, a factor in the development of thyroid problems, was found in a nearby well, but Boeing says that the substance did not come from its lab. Boeing did, however, pay $30 million in damages last year when residents declared that pollutants had given them cancer.

Foley Wasn't Only Public Servant Using Web for "Excessive Indulgences"

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 2:03 PM EDT



Turns out Mark Foley wasn't the only public servant using his taxpayer-funded Internet access for a bit of extracurricular activity. "Excessive Indulgences," a new report [PDF] from the Interior Department (with a cover that screams "stock photography of illicit activity"—Bare midrift! Slot machines! Grocery shopping! Chess!), reveals that in a single week, DOI employees accesed thousands of sex sites, sometimes up to an hour at a stretch. A couple even got busted for surfing child porn at work. DOI staff is also really into online auctions and gambling: The report calculates that they spend 104,000 hours a year bidding and betting. C'mon, House Republicans! You gonna let a bunch of pencil pushing bureaucrats show you up like that?