Merck, the maker of the new vaccine to protect against the strains of the HPV virus that cause cervical cancer, succumbed to pressure from Christian groups to cease lobbying for mandatory vaccination programs. As Salon put it, "New [Parenting] Rule: If you don't think your daughter getting cancer is worse than your daughter having sex, then you're doing it wrong." (The other metaphors in this article are a bit, err, saltier, but it's laugh-out-loud funny.)

The only state Merck had persuaded was Texas, where Governor Rick "Goodhair" Perry circumvented the legislature and mandated vaccines by executive order. Lawmakers are now rallying to supersede his order because they're more frightened of their daughters having sex than they are of them getting cancer.

It's not clear if Merck had made significant headway in New Mexico when it called off its lobbying efforts, but the legislature there has delivered a bill to Governor Bill Richardson's desk. Richardson, whom Jonathan would like to see become Secretary of State, has said he will sign the bill.

What do you cut when your publication's in a financial pinch? Diversity programs, of course. The Associated Press just announced its decision to terminate the 2007 "Diverse Visions / Diverse Voices" minority mentoring program—a week after the Feb. 15 application deadline. Students received a letter informing them that due to limited resources, the 5-day workshop would not take place. Applicants were required to submit a resume, three writing samples, a 500-word essay, and two letters of recommendation. The AP said it would run the program "every other year." We'll see.

The AP isn't the only program to add insult to injury in cutting minority programs. The Village Voice pulled a similar stunt last spring, when it announced days after the application deadline for its Mary Wright Minority Fellowship that the program would be suspended because of the paper's purchase by New Times (now Village Voice Media). Again little comfort to those who hustled to get the lengthy application form to the paper's Cooper Union headquarters on time. The program is, however, happily back on track and now offers a weekly stipend of $400, instead of the previous $150.

Village Voice also recently replaced its self-declared "white male Jew from the Upper West Side" editor-in-chief, David Blum, with a Latino, Tony Ortega, after Blum's mostly-white hiring policies were challenged in a story meeting. Blum didn't apologize for who he was, and was, the Huffington Post reports, the subject of complaints from minority staffers. Blum argued that there were only so many qualified minority candidates, and that journalism schools like Columbia University, where he was formerly an adjunct professor, were "98 percent white." As a Columbia J-school alum, I can say that the program at least felt diverse with tons of international students, plenty of Hispanics, a couple of Asians, and an ample helping of Jews—thought it was woefully lacking in African-Americans. Ortega will be the Voice's 5th Editor-in-Chief since the publication was bought by New Times, revealing that maintaining diversity may be one of the Voice's lesser problems.

Speaking of faltering New York papers, Newsday announced last week that it is losing Mira Lowe, associate editor of recruitment, and John Gonzales, the paper's court reporter. Lowe, whose always-friendly face was a regular at media job fairs in New York City, is moving on to Chicago to work on recruitment at Ebony and Jet, and she's taking her African-American husband, Newsday reporter Herbert Lowe, with her. Gonzales is going to New Orleans to join the AP in covering Hurricane Katrina recovery. Seems they're interested in minority issues.

Newsday has lost 6 other journalists of color since December of 2006. This is a serious blow to the publication, which prides itself on covering issues in the heavily-ethnic New York boroughs and Long Island that papers like The New York Times tend to ignore.

For Mother Jones' coverage of newspapers in peril, click here.

—Jen Phillips

Today, Senators Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein held a press conference (above) to discuss the most recent developments in the case of the fired U.S. Attorneys, namely how shady the Justice Department and the White House appear to have been, and to make clear that the stepping down of Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff, "does not take heat off the attorney general." If you haven't been following the investigation, both Schumer and Feinstein give a good chronology of events. (TPMmuckraker was nice enough to transcribe for us.)

There were several things worth noting from both Feinstein and Schumer's speeches. Schumer called again for Alberto Gonzales to step down and said:

"Attorney General Gonzales has either forgotten the oath he took to uphold the Constitution or just doesn't understand that his duty to protect the law is greater than his duty to protect the president."

Schumer called on Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and George Bush to come forward and explain themselves. Schumer says of Bush:

"The president must clarify his role in this whole matter...the cloud over the U.S. attorneys, the cloud over the Justice Department is getting darker and darker."

Feinstein went on to discuss most notably the Patriot Act:

"We now know that it is very likely that the amendment to the Patriot Act... might well have been done to facilitate a wholesale replacement of all or part of U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation."

This is an interesting part of the probe because it not only implies careful calculation on the part of the White House and the DOJ but it may implicate Senate Judiciary Committee (the senate committee investigating the firings) Ranking Minority Member Arlen Specter, whose chief of staff Michael O'Neill, under "orders from the DOJ," slipped the amendment into the Reauthorization of the Patriot Act. Specter is now co-sponsoring a bill to reverse the amendment -- perhaps to save face?

I love divided government!

worldmapper.pngIf you prefer to process global politics visually or if you just have a map fetish, Worldmapper is worth checking out. The site hosts several "density-equalizing" maps that depict the world according to demographic statistics ranging from total population, to the slightly more unique and topically relevant carbon emissions increases, greenhouse gasses, and nuclear waste. While other maps typically portray these statistics using icons and color-coding, these density equalizing maps resize landmass to account for the statistics in question. The maps depicting nuclear waste and wealth both show a hugely ballooned Northern Hemisphere and an atrophied Southern Hemisphere.

—Rose Miller

Bob Novak, the columnist affectionately known among Washington journalists as the prince of darkness and author of the Valerie Plame scoop, hosts an Off The Record luncheon from time to time with high officials, such luminaries as Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Al Gore, Bill Frist and so on. You might think these people are inaccessible, but for Novak they talk, answering questions, participating in the conversation. For a moment, however brief, you are on the inside track.

But, like all good things, there is a hitch. Novak only takes 70 people into his off the record briefings so there is a real scramble to get a seat. To obtain a seat at his April 26 lunch costs $595. (You can bring guests for $395 per person.) The affair is sponsored by the conservative paper Human Events.

The result: "I was able to get the straight scoop on the economic forecast," says Fred Jones, former president of Citicorp, in one blurb. "With that guidance, I was able to make the correct business decisions in the following months -- saving my company millions."

If you want to go, originate your petition here.


Just as the media hype surrounding the backstabbing sexual exploits San Francisco's glossy-haired, white-wine-guzzling mayor was being artfully supplanted with promises of free bus rides and bon fires on the beach, Gavin Newsom's penchant for loquacious women has the mayor's career-damaging personal life front and center once more.

Mayor girlfriend and actress, best known for her role as "Younger Woman in Market" in Something's Gotta Give Jennifer Siebel (shown right in happier, more sultry times) defied all reason and PR manuals when she told the San Francisco Chronicle the "the woman was the culprit" in the Mayor's recently revealed affair with the wife of his friend and campaign manager. But the real meltdown didn't occur until Siebel took it upon herself to defend her comments in a post to local blog, the SFist, which had criticized her remarks. A sample of the ramblings, which begin so innocently, with "hey there" and quickly spiral out of control to the point that the Chronicle declined to reprint the entire post:

i am not going to blindly support a woman who has cheated on her husband multiple times and watch while my boyfriend is the only one who gets punished..and, what, for something a long time ago when the man was going through a crises- divorce, the loss of his mother, the pressures of being mayor, etc. and he was vulnerable and lonely? and, what's your definition of affair? he's been so hurt by this all -- personally and professionally- and it was a few nothing incidents when she showed up passed out outside of his door. come on guys, have a heart. I have tried to see Ruby's side of the story but unfortunately everyone near to her has stories and says she is bad news.

And, most sadly, especially since she's about to get dumped, ends:

gavin is and has taken responsiblity and it's not like i haven't given him tough love through this at times. but anyone close to him knows he is a good man and a great mayor and think what you want of me, i'm just trying my best and obviously making mistakes here and there. i didn't know i was getting into this mess in the first place and it's been a hard position to be in. i hope you all will just leave me out of this...and let the past stay in the past.

Siebel apologized (concisely) earlier today, but so much for the Mayor's 1 month sober.

We're with Wonkette: this is one of the worst campaign ads in a long time. From the weird Survivor-like wind pipes at the beginning, to the ominous music, to the scary echoing audio, to the complete lack of coherent message... just terrible all around. Wonkette's hypothesis: "McCain's depressed campaign team clearly wants him to drop out and settle at one of those Del Webb retirement communities in Phoenix, where he'll have far less opportunity to start a nuclear war with somebody. This isn't a campaign ad so much as a cry for help." Hard to argue.

It seems like the kind of campaign that other aging dark war horse, Dick Cheney, might run. (And, yes, I've blogged about four candidates for the Republican nomination in one morning.)

I wrote yesterday about how a Chuck Hagel presidential bid would directly question whether or not there is room in the Republican Party for an anti-war candidate. (On this issue, Hagel announced yesterday that he had nothing to announce.) According to a new New York Times/CBS News poll, the answer is a resounding yes.

Let's start with some of the other interesting numbers from the poll. Republicans are dreary, depressed, and despondent: while only 12% of Democrats think the opposition party will win the White House this year, a whopping 40% of Republicans do. And it's justified: if the election were held today, an unnamed Democrat would beat an unnamed Republican by 20 percentage points, according to the poll. Further, Republicans acknowledge that backing Bush's war policies will be a huge disadvantage in 2008 and suggest they are open to supporting a candidate who breaks with the president on Iraq. From the Times:

Asked what was more important to them in a nominee, a commitment to stay in Iraq until the United States succeeds or flexibility about when to withdraw, 58 percent of self-identified Republican primary voters said flexibility versus 39 percent who said a commitment to stay.

That's got Chuck Hagel's name written all over it: he's easily the loudest and most prominent GOP critic of the war. Also, consider the fact that in the same poll 60 percent of Republican respondents said they wanted more choices in the race for their party's nomination. So the frontrunners -- Giuliani, McCain, and Romney -- aren't satisfying the base and Republicans would prefer someone who isn't an ardent supporter of the Iraq War. Are you listening, Chuck?

Oh, and about Giuliani's supposedly massive lead in the polls? About 50 percent of respondents say they don't know enough about the candidates -- even the frontrunners -- to form an opinion. When they do learn more, I think Giuliani's in trouble (see "How to Swiftboat Rudy Giuliani" below). It's time for Hagel-Huckabee, people. How many times do I need to say it?

 mitt_romney130.jpgMitt Romney is so wrong for the Republican base on so many issues, he's made a lot of enemies within his own party. Now that he's running for president, each one of those enemies can find a national platform to slam the helmet-haired flip-flopper. But Romney has a solution: pay everyone to shut up.

In The Nation, Max Blumenthal writes that Romney has made large donations out of his personal fortune to the National Review Institute, the Federalist Society, and the Massachusetts Family Institute, which is a local affiliate of James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Each of these entities disagree with Romney in principle, and said as much until they received $10,000+ from the candidate. Now they sing his praises.

Maybe this is how politics is practiced by the very wealthy. In the end, though, not even Romney has enough money to buy off everybody.

The key to a good Karl Rove attack is not going after the target's weaknesses, but going after his or her strengths. John Kerry had a number of vulnerabilities in the 2004 campaign, and he was attacked for them all, but nothing was so viciously slammed as his service in Vietnam, which, if you saw his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention, was meant to be his calling card and greatest asset.

 giuliani165.gifRudy Giuliani can be approached in the same way, argues a new Salon article. Instead of focusing on his support of civil unions, his support for abortion rights, his flip-flops to cover up these positions, his almost draconian gun laws, his many marriages (including one to his second cousin) and his estrangement from his children, his dressing up in drag, his voting for George McGovern, his yada yada yada -- Rudy's opponents should instead go after 9/11.

Sounds crazy, right? But Giuliani campaigns on 9/11 and little else, if you knock that out from under him, he's toast. And as it turns out, that's easier to do than commonly thought.

...the country's largest union of firefighters hates "America's mayor" with a passion.
The International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents most of the nation's paid firefighters, initially declined to invite Giuliani to its bipartisan presidential candidates forum on Wednesday, March 14. Giuliani was the only major candidate from either party who didn't get an invite. The organization drafted a blistering letter to explain why it was snubbing him. After the IAFF leadership relented on March 5 and decided to ask Giuliani to attend after all, they shelved the letter. When Giuliani said scheduling conflicts would keep him from attending the forum, the letter leaked out. It blasted Giuliani for his "disgraceful" order of November 2001 that forced hundreds of New York firefighters to stop searching ground zero for the remains of their fallen brethren.
"Our disdain for him," said the letter, "is not about issues or a disputed contract. It is about a visceral, personal affront to the fallen, to our union and indeed, to every one of us who has ever risked our lives by going into a burning building to save lives and property."

The Salon article also has the story of Rosaleen Tallon, who lost her brother, a firefighter, on 9/11 because his radio wouldn't work and he couldn't hear "mayday" calls from his superiors. Turns out, the firefighters had fought long and hard to have the radios replaced because they were known to be defective. The reason they weren't replaced? The ineffectiveness or the unwillingness of Rudy Giuliani.

The whole situation is ripe for an attack ad. But it would be brutal, and it would have to reinvent a lot of the myths of 9/11. Is that territory Democrats will have the courage to revisit? It might pay dividends.

...imagine what a talented and aggressive Democratic media consultant could do with Giuliani's real 9/11 record. Imagine Rosaleen Tallon and a Greek chorus of angry, bereaved New Yorkers in a spate of heart-tugging commercials. The ads could include not only the family members of men and women killed on 9/11, but also hard hats sickened by prolonged exposure to the toxic ground zero air that Giuliani declared safe to inhale within days of the attack. And the chorus could include the mayor's downtown constituents, who were left to rid their homes of chemical dust without city assistance, risking their own well-being. The New York City government now estimates that 43,000 people have significant 9/11-related health problems. Many, no doubt, would gladly go on camera.

In the end, what's more damning that angry firefighters? And boy are they angry. The Giuliani campaigns must have nightmares about these guys.

"He has alienated pretty much everybody in the 8,000-member fire department -- by and large, we all resent him," said New York City Fire Capt. Michael Gala... "We don't forget. That's the big thing -- we don't forget."