Political MoJo

Whole Foods Smells Weakness, Buys Wild Oats

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 2:56 PM EST

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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

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Tag--You're It

| Thu Feb. 22, 2007 2:23 PM EST

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 1:55 PM EST

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 11:03 AM EST

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 11:15 PM EST

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.

Rampant Abuse of GLBT Students in US Schools

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 7:32 PM EST

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A study released last week by Human Rights Watch reads, in part:

In the United States, only 55 percent of students say they feel safe in school. Human Rights Watch found that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in many U.S. schools are particularly vulnerable to unrelenting harassment from their peers. Despite the pervasiveness of the abuse, few school officials intervened to stop the harassment or to hold the abusive students accountable; in fact, some teachers and administrators encouraged or participated in the abuse. Over time, verbal harassment often escalated into sexual harassment and other forms of physical violence.

Turns out all the drumming up of anti-gay sentiment Republicans have been doing to win elections has real consequences. For kids.

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Thought Things Couldn't Get Worse in Iraq?

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 6:39 PM EST

Wrong again. Today, our last ally of note, the UK, announced that it had seen the writing on the wall and will begin withdrawing troops. (Denmark and Lithuania are also going to begin withdrawal.) Add to that a new tactic being used by insurgents: bombs that dispense lethal chlorine gas. Three such bombs have exploded in the last month, killing 27 and wounding 180, and insurgents haven't yet learned how to use the bombs most effectively.

The insurgents have another new tactic: Shooting American helicopters out of the sky. They've had success with that as well, shooting down their first chopper today since the military said it was changing flight patters to thwart the emerging trend.

Add to that that the much-touted crackdown in Baghdad is a flop (with violence spilling out of the security zones and continuing within) and what you have is a situation anyone in their right mind would get the hell out of, post-haste.

So?

Guess Who's Coming to the GOP Fundraiser?

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 5:21 PM EST

jimmy_camp.gifOne of the GOP hard-hitting political campaign managers in California is a punk musician and one-time druggie who disappears for days at a time running from the police. Said chairman of the state Republican party: "Some of the more conservative (politicos) are taken aback by the tattoos and leather jacket, but that goes away as soon as they realize how good he is at what he does."

If only social conservatives could grant the rest of us the same largesse.

Read a complete (two-part) profile here and here.

John McCain Might as Well be Gay

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 3:40 PM EST

Asked if they'd be willing to vote for a "generally well-qualified" candidate with the following characteristics, here's how Americans responded in a Feb. 9-11 Gallup poll.

Black 94%
Jewish 92%
A woman 88%
Hispanic 87%
Mormon 72%
Married for third time 67%
72 years of age 57%
A homosexual 55%
An atheist 45%

Several things stand out. First, Americans are much more tolerant of inherent characteristics (race, sex) than of things they view as a candidate's choice (religion, sexual orientation, marriage tendencies), which means we've moved past racism to simple prejudice. Take that for what it's worth.

Also, John McCain is old -- so old that his age puts him at the same disadvantage as a gay candidate for president, the very idea of which must horrify a huge portion of our (obviously) homophobic electorate and would galvanize the religious right. I suspect we should take these numbers with a grain of salt, but... wow.

(H/T Crooks and Liars)

Increase in STD Vaccines Signals Trouble for Abstinence Industry

| Wed Feb. 21, 2007 3:35 PM EST

Via Feministing, we learn that there is a new shot to prevent chlamydia in the works. It seems STD prevention in the form of needles is the new black. A few weeks back, Cameron plugged this Prospect piece on the new HPV vaccine. The article discussed that low income girls do not have access to the vaccine, due to lack of funding, but are most at risk. Today, Feministing discusses "the clam" as well as what the proliferation of STD-prevention shots could mean for the abstinence-only education industry. (Mother Jones did a profile on this billion-dollar industry in our November/December 2006 issue.)

"If the scientific community continues to develop STD vaccines, abstinence-only programs are going to have to resort to their far-weaker arguments about the emotional/moral consequences of sex rather than the straight-up medical risks."