Covering Kin: Why do misdeeds by some politician's relatives get more ink than others?

When politicians feature family members prominently in their campaigns—as attorney general Mike Hatch did when he announced the birth of puppies to family dog Bella in the “Hatch Family” section of his website and Sen. Norm Coleman did when he appeared with his father, a Battle of the Bulge war hero—how can they blame the media for covering fathers, daughters, and wives as news? But as a recent comparison of Twin Cities media coverage suggests, some politicians get different treatment than others when it comes to the misdeeds of their kin.

On July 25, 2006, 81-year-old Norm Coleman, Sr., was spotted in a car outside Red's Savoy Pizza in St. Paul having sex with Patrizia Schrag, a woman 43 years his junior. The father of Sen. Norm Coleman, he was cited for lewd and disorderly conduct, and a court date was set. In total, the Star Tribune wrote fewer than 600 words on the story, according to a search of Lexis-Nexis and the paper’s online archives. The two stories that did run were headlined in a manner that even Star Tribune reader representative Kate Parry notes as “odd.” The first, a 272-word piece published on July 27, read “Coleman vows help for dad cited for lewd conduct.” A second story the following day had the headline “Coleman expresses concern for his father.” (The Pioneer Press' story, which was published online before the Star Tribune's, stuck to the factual: "St. Paul police cite Sen. Norm Coleman's father for lewd and disorderly conduct.") Both Star Tribune pieces concluded with this note:
Sen. Coleman has often referred to his father, a veteran of the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge and a former businessman, as one of his personal heroes.
Even Coleman’s court hearing this week didn’t warrant coverage; says Curt Brown, who reported the initial stories, “It was just a continuance." (The St. Paul Pioneer Press deemed the Coleman story newsworthy and covered it on August 29, noting that Coleman would appear again September 25.) In 2004, another court case, also "just a continuance," was covered by the Star Tribune, and it involved the family members of another Minnesota politician.

Flash back two years: Mike Hatch’s daughter Anne traveled to Chicago to celebrate her 21st birthday at a club with her sister Elizabeth. At around 3 a.m., a guard at the club, Crobar, asked the sisters to leave because they were reportedly intoxicated and “causing a disturbance.” As police charged, a skirmish broke out and Elizabeth is said to have hit an officer in the face. After a trail and media spectacle that lasted 13 months, a Chicago judge acquitted the sisters of all charges, which included simple battery, resisting arrest, and criminal damage to property.

In sharp contrast to the Star Tribune’s sparse coverage of Norm Coleman Sr.’s police encounter, the paper dedicated more than 8,500 words to the “Hatch chicks,” as CJ, the paper's gossip columnist, took to calling them. Half of the stories featured photos of the then 21- and 24-year-old sisters, and the content of stories ran the gamut from factual reportage to essays on the “media buzz” the case had generated in Chicago to CJ’s top-10 list of questions for the sisters, which included, at number nine, “They are BABES! Why do you insist on calling them chicks?” and, at number four, “That Paris Hilton sex video is suddenly looking a lot more innocent isn’t it?”

While the Minneapolis paper didn’t report anything on the results of background checks on Norm Coleman, Sr.—after a phone call, reporter Brown says Coleman had no prior arrests—the day after the Hatch sisters were charged, the Star Tribune ran a 1,200-word piece on Anne Hatch’s arrest in 2001, when, then 18, she tried to use her sister’s ID card to buy liquor.

Jane Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, suggests that the protracted nature of the Hatch sisters’ trial gave reporters more material to print than Coleman’s seemingly open-and-shut case. “News organizations are often criticized for trying and convicting someone in the press before they have been tried and convicted in court,” she says, citing the recent case of JonBenet Ramsey's would-be-murderer John Mark Karr. “Most journalism ethicists would say it is appropriate to wait until an official proceeding occurs.”

In the first four weeks of coverage—roughly the same timespan between Coleman’s arrest and his court date this past Monday—the Star Tribune racked up nearly 3600 words on the Hatch sisters. Between the scuffle with police on March 27, 2004, and their first day in court, June 4, 2004, the paper wrote more than 4400 words on the case—more than half of their total coverage.

Coming in Part 2: The newsroom logistics--and politics--behind these decisions. Look for it Monday.

Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor. Images (top to bottom): Bella and puppies; Norm and Norm Coleman, Sr.; the "Hatch chicks"


Feminist street art. I like it:

Ask and you shall receive: politico delivers on opponent's wish

On Tuesday, Minnesota Secretary of State candidate Mark Ritchie called on his opponent, Republican incumbent Mary Kiffmeyer, to reduce fees he calls "hidden taxes that make it harder for small businesses and non-profits to survive." Within hours, Kiffmeyer did just that, sending out a fax to news organizations at 10 pm that announced the elimination of a $20 business filing fee for expedited counter service--a move she touted as equivalent to a "$1 million-per-year tax cut."

The fees "simply padded the state's general fund," she said. In a 2005 interview with Minnesota Law & Politics she boasted about that padding: "My office actually generates 150% more back to the General Fund than what it takes to run the office. We're a money maker for the state." The office collects around $14 million each year in fees, but operational costs only take up around $6 million, Kiffmeyer says. The about-face, while seeming abrupt, really wasn't, says Kiffmeyer representative Shaun Denham. "This is something we've been planning on doing for months."

[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]


Textbooks: Sacred space or marketplace?

Nine hundred dollars can buy a lot of beer--or concert tickets or music downloads or ramen noodles--but for American college students, that's roughly how much they're spending on required textbooks each year. According to the government's General Accounting Office, the cost of such books has increased at twice the rate of inflation over the last two decades, while over the same period tuition has also outpaced inflation. Students find themselves with two options--not enrolling or not buying the books. But a two-year-old St. Paul-based company says they're coming to the aid of cash-strapped collegiates: they're offering free downloadable books to students; and all young scholars have to do is offer up a little data on buying preferences and endure a few dozen ads in the books. Win-win, right?

To get free books from Freeload Press students must fill out a brief survey. The questions are fairly innocuous: "Which car would you most likely buy after graduating?," with a pulldown menu of options, from Acura to Scion. "What will be your first major purchase when you graduate?" (Options include car, home, jewelry, and electronics.) Once completed, they can choose from a dozen or so books, which are sprinkled with ads for Culver's, FedEx Kinko's, math tutoring software, and the like.) The company won't include ads for beer, tobacco or "edgy kinds of things," says Freeload Chief Operating Officer Howard Quinlan. Ads don't interfere with content, and only appear in natural breaks in the editorial material--endplates and chapter breaks--a decision that came after discussion with students and textbook authors.

So far, Freeload offers books mainly in business-related fields (accounting, economics, math), and Quinlan admits that's because marketing is already part of the vocabulary of such fields. He adds, "Perhaps, if you got into the social sciences, maybe there'd be less acceptance." (The New York Times suggests that the acceptance, which it says is low already, might be tied to a name that "conjures an image of party crashers cadging free beer, not a publishing concern striving for the highest intellectual standards.")

Quinlan admits that there's a quid pro quo: students, "the most over-sampled demographic in America," know that they're being marketed to, but, he says, many of them will support the advertisers in gratitude for making the books available. "Really, there's no punches pulled; it's exactly as you see it and the advertisers that promote this really has a lot of wind in their sales in regard to goodwill."

Freeload doesn't sell student-submitted data, Quinlan promises, and the ads are "limited and tasteful." During a recent visit to the University of Houston Business School, he says he saw a Starbuck's in the student union and corporate ads. "The whole environment today is so significantly different that advertising is a part of this demographic's world. They've been surveyed to death, but if they didn't like it, why would they go out of their way to write a five- or six-sentence pithy response thanking us?"

Quinlan knows that "there's always going to be some people who think that [advertising in textbooks] is going to be sacred territority." One such person is John Schott, a professor of cinema and media studies at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. He sees efforts like Freeload's as akin to getting branded products in high school lunch rooms and bathroom walls. Schott says he's not naive enough to call for an ad-free world, but "The real question is where do we draw lines? For me, there aren’t really clear principles about how to do it. It’s a matter of taste, a matter of aesthetics, and a desire to create a culture that has spaces free from advertising.”

Such places are few and far between, as ads appear on cellphone screens, blimps hovering over the Metrodome, foreheads (and other tattooed body parts), signs held by the homeless, answering machines (damn you, Samuel L. Jackson!), and just about every surface of our urban environments. While somewhat ambivalent about Freeload Press' endeavor, Schott worries about the precedent. “It’s the foot in the door idea. It’s not unlike advertising before the movies. It used to be there would be one Coke ad before movies--and I'd complain to management each time. But, lo and behold, now you have advertising for five or eight or in some cases 10 minutes," he says.

"Every visual experience is going to eventually be associated with some kind of brand message," Schott adds. "I think it’s important to say we value spaces that are free of that. Especially when you look at the new locative media technologies that are being developed--billboards that ring your cellphone when you walk by, for instance--unless controlled, they can get very virulent. This invasion of advertising messages in our society is in a very incipient stage and it’ll be much more invasive in five, which is a reason to have a debate now and ask ourselves where we draw the lines."

[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor. Image credit.]

Anchor leaves mic on in the loo.

Like that scene in Naked Gun (sort of), a CNN anchor left her microphone on in the restroom while George W. Bush was giving a speech on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. What Kyra Phillips said is here.




Agitcrop! Political Art of the Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair's exhibition of crop art is the epitome of democracy: as David Steinlicht, who runs CropArt.com, says, "The art competition in the Fine Arts building is so fierce that your chances of getting in are slim. But a guy with some patience and seeds and glue can get shown, almost 100% of the time." In fact, every submission--unless it breaks one of the very few rules, as one piece, a Jerry Garcia portrait made entirely from hemp seeds, did one year--is hung in the show. Given its radically democratic nature, is the crop-art display--which in recent years has seen an increase in politically themed works--a bellwether of the State of the State?

George W. Bush has been a frequent subject of grain-based art: in 2003, lawyer Laura Melnick created Curious George Looks for Weapons of Mass Destruction. This year the president appears as Popeye, alongside his beloved, and the words "Addicted to Oyl." Another shows Bush's seedy image alongside a passage from the biblical book of Job, "Those who sow trouble, harvest it," and still another is a seed-encrusted cereal box called "Weapons of Mass Distraction." But the critiques take aim elsewhere as well. In 2004, Max Andrews, a British citizen and visiting curator at the Walker Art Center, rendered the Homeland Security terror-alert levels in the seeds abundant in the homeland. And to the dismay of the blog Powerline, one artist in 2004 turned "a cheerful and somewhat goofy craft... to hateful political uses"; "Rightwing pie fling" showed a GOP elephant and a photo of Michele Bachman, leaving viewers to guess the use of said "pies."

But "agit-crop" wasn't the original intent of this artform. While it's only been at the State Fair since the 1960s, the tradition goes back to the middle of the 19th century, when politicians and business leaders in Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakotas devised ways to lure Easterners to the midwest. To show off the incredible agricultural abundance of the area, they threw festivals and fairs, where gigantic squash and buckets of apples were displayed--along with seed art (the famed Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, is a part of this tradition).

It wasn't until 1989 that things turned political. Cathy Camper, a Minnesota writer and librarian now living in Portland, Oregon, created a crop-art portrait of Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia and inspiration for Rastafarians. In following years, her images honored Che Guevara (above), Cesar Chavez, Malcolm X, Nina Simone, and others. Part of her goal was to use the forum of the fair, with its thousands of visitors, to present ideas and icons that'd make people think. "I don't believe people necessarily see something and suddenly change their politics," she says. "But a lot of times, I've done a portrait and someone says, 'I didn't know what that was, but I went and got a book and read about them."

While Camper has generated her share of controversy--her tattoo-like image of a woman, dubbed La Diablita, was yanked from the fair, after winning a ribbon, due to complaints about nudity from visitors--Laura Melnick's work is more viscerally in line with this sentiment about art and politics by Pablo Picasso:

What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes if he’s a painter, or ears if he’s a musician…? Quite the contrary, he is at the same time a political being constantly alert to the horrifying, passionate or pleasing events in the world…No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy.
Melnick's work has taken on "enemies," to use Picasso's too-harsh terminology, from former Gov. Jesse Ventura in 1999 to a Flintstone-inspired piece targeting Ramsey County Commissioner Dino Guerin to, in seven of her last eight works, George W. Bush. On the other hand, crop art can address the personal to be political: Camper, who is Lebanese-American, recently did a timely portrait of the singer Fairouz, who has sung about peace in the Middle East. "With the bloodshed in Lebanon, all those people who'd died, I felt really sad."

While, like any art, crop art can be biting and humorous, aesthetically pleasing or ugly as, well, canned beans, it's the metaphor that appeals to Camper.

"Seeds engender bigger things. A lot of the people featured in my portraits started out small--they weren't representatives of the power structure--but they grew to be huge. It's corny," Camper says, stopping to laugh at her inadvertant pun, "but the medium really has metaphorical possibility."

[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]

Gulf coast stagecraft

The Washington Post:
Bush's visit to Mississippi, carefully scripted by the White House, left little possibility of the president encountering much anger over the federal reconstruction efforts. After meeting with Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and other leaders for lunch, Bush toured a working-class east Biloxi neighborhood that he visited a year ago, passing empty lots and FEMA trailers along the way. The hot sun left his blue shirt sleeves soaked in sweat.

Some of the same people he met last year were in a friendly audience of several dozen local residents who heard from Bush after he finished his tour Monday, a few clutching pictures of themselves being consoled by the president in the aftermath of the storm last September.


Haunted pod village?

The Taiwanese coastal town of San Zhi hosts an array of abandoned modular homes:
There are no named architects since the whole site was commissioned by the government and several local firms. They were trying to create a posh luxurious vacation spot for the affluent and rich streaming out of Taipei. Now this is where things get weird. The local papers say there were numerous accidents during its construction, and as news spread to the urbanites of the island state, nobody wanted to vacation there, much less visit. Locals say the area is now haunted by those who died in vain and because they are not remembered, they linger there unable to pass on.
Via Tropolism.

Tiny street-art

Slinkachu, a 26-year-old London-based artist, is doing a curious art project: he's creating tiny hand-painted figurines and leaving them around the city as commentary on social issues. There's very little info on the site, "Little People - a tiny street art project," so I can't tell if the figures are hand-crafted as well. But the idea is nice--leaving tiny humans in call boxes and sidewalk crevices for passersby to find.

Tim Pawlenty, "blogger."

I've covered Mark Kennedy's un-blog pretty thoroughly, but his campaign seems to understand the medium far better than Minnesota Gov. Gov. Tim Pawlenty's. Like Kennedy, the governor doesn't write anything--so no opinions, no first-person voice-of-the-candidate musings, no feedback mechanism--instead, just links to the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press and announcements are stored there. Makes me wonder: with all the buzz about blogs of late, are politicians just using the language as a stand-in (like Kennedy's comment-free, link-free blog) for populism? Or maybe it's just a typo: "Online Press Office" and "Blog" are merely a dozen or so letters apart.

Rumsfeld: All heart

Donald Rumsfeld doesn't understand why families of an army brigade whose tour of duty was extended just before their return home are mad at him:
"These people are all volunteers. They all signed up. They all are there doing what they're doing because they want to do it. They're proud of what they do. They do it very, very well."
The brigade's tour was extended by up to 120 days, bringing them home around--or after--Christmastime. Rumsfeld:
"I'd love to be Santa Claus. I'm not."

"Gingerly" vs. "Glee": Dems and Republicans on Katrina

As Bush heads to New Orleans to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the New York Times opines on the politicization of the tragedy, wierdly targeting Democrats:
Democrats are seizing this moment of reckoning with something approaching glee, while Republicans are handling it gingerly. For Democrats there are the persistent scenes of destruction and the ongoing misery of lives upended, handy backdrops for criticism of the Bush administration.


Restorative Justice at the Hindu Temple

In times when religious vengeance dominates the news and the term "restorative justice" usually provokes a head-scratching "Huh?," this story is particularly refreshing: members of a Twin Cities Hindu society embraced and forgave vandals who caused around $200,000 in damage to their soon-to-open worship space:
They smashed what they later described to friends as "weird statutes," causing about $200,000 in damage just a few months before the ornate 42,000-square-foot temple was scheduled to open.

On Saturday they stood before their families and about 50 members of the temple and asked for forgiveness. And to their surprise, they were embraced and praised.

"Karma is the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny," Sane, chairman of the temple's board of trustees, told the young men.

But he said neither he nor his religious community hold any grudges against them. "We divide between evil and evildoers," Sane said. "Your actions were inappropriate, and you're responsible for those actions. That, I cannot stop.

"But as human beings, you are nothing but divine. You can make the right choices and achieve the potential that God has bestowed upon you."
Not a bad primer in Hindu for Christians who think their faith is the only "right" one.

Image: a banner shown on the temple's website.

Guilt by association: Powerline on Ellison

Tolerance isn't something you're likely to find at Powerline. When Army Capt. James Yee, a convert to Islam and former chaplain for "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay, was arrested in 2003 on espionage charges, the blog dedicated two posts to the news. The first implied a link to Hitler's ideology: "[Yee] has said that Islam is a religion of peace and the term 'jihad' merely means 'to struggle.' Sort of like Kampf, I guess." Its author, John Hinderaker, added, "This story highlights the danger, obviously, of giving terrorists access to outsiders like clerics and lawyers"--a surprising view, considering Hinderaker's day job as an attorney. There's no hint of innocent-until-proven-guilty in his next post either, where he writes of "the treasonous James Yee, who was supplied with an endless supply of Muslim materials to facilitate his ministering to (or conspiring with) the terrorists at Guantanamo Bay." Had there been a third post, it should've been an apology--after being arrested, manacled, and held in solitary confinement for 76 days, all charges against Yee were dropped.

As Yee visits the Twin Cities to promote his book at an annual Muslim conference this week and attend an event for Muslim business leaders last Friday, it seems Powerline might again be leveling a guilt-by-association attack on another Muslim-American: 5th Congressional District candidate Keith Ellison.

At a fundraiser in Northeast Minneapolis Friday, Ellison reported just coming from an event where "nearly $50,000" was raised. Put on by members of the Muslim business group the United Chamber of Commerce, the event's attendees included Nahid Awad, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which Hinderaker calls the voice of "the 'Wahhabi lobby' and [...] a front for supporters of Islamist terrorism." Dubbing Awad Ellison's "special friend," a characterization Ellison's campaign manager Dave Colling denies, Hinderaker lists Awad's past statements of "enthusiasm" for Hamas while leaving out the fact that Awad shared a podium with George W. Bush at the Washington Islamic Center following 9/11. Powerline doesn't surmise other possible reasons why Ellison might've been at the affair: running to become the country's first Muslim congressperson, Ellison's ties with this community will be key to his successes; further, as a current representative of North Minneapolis, an area with a sizable Muslim population (and, some say, where a large number of crime-attracting corner stores are owned by Muslims), he was convening with constituents. Also, in the wake of Thursday's arson at a South Minneapolis mosque, Ellison's presence was likely important to that community. (He told supporters at the Northeast fundraiser: "People in our government need to model tolerance… When a mosque or a synagogue or a church is desecrated, we must say, no, people’s houses of worship are sacred and we won’t tolerate it.")

Hinderaker does raise a legitimate question, though, about Awad's visit: why didn't Ellison's campaign list the fundraiser along with others that day on its website? With high-profile visitors like Yee and Awad, it seems an oddly secretive choice. Colling from Ellison's campaign says, "It's a fundraiser and 99.9% aren't publicized to the press." He characterized the event as one where Ellison was simply invited to speak; it wasn't organized by Ellison's campaign: "The UCC does not endorse him--they can't endorse him as a group--but their members put this event together." When I asked him about why it's important for Ellison to reach out to the Islamic business community--admittedly, a whiffleball question--Colling replied, "I disagree with your point that he's reaching out to them. It's not like with labor, where we sat down with them and asked for an endorsement."

Stay tuned for more coverage on the United Chamber of Commerce event and this week's Islamic conference by Minnesota Monitor blogger Abdi Aynte.



Military Mike: The peace candidate with the war donors

More reporting on the 5th Congressional District:

In a candidate's debate at the State Fair, Mike Erlandson called for a withdrawal from Iraq, but without a specified date. On his website the Sabo-approved Erlandson writes that he supports diplomacy over military force, and that a transfer of responsiblity for reconstruction and security in Iraq should happen "as quickly as possible." These are all noble causes--but they just don't jive with the campaign contributions he's been accepting--over $4000 from military contractors.

According to the FEC, Erlandson has received $2000 from BAE Systems, a company that's received a slew of Iraq-related contracts. To name but a few:

• A $223.5 million contract, announced earlier this month, to upgrade 96 Bradley Combat Systems vehicles.

• A $180 million contract in June to manufacture 378 Iraqi Light Armored Vehicles. ("The total value of the indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract could reach $445.4 million and 1,050 vehicles if all options are exercised, and deliveries could continue until the end of November 2009.")

• Another contract, worth $27 million, to upgrade 44 Bradley vehicles. ("BAE Systems has been awarded 405 national level reset Bradley vehicles to date under fiscal year 2006 funding, totaling $254.4 million.")

Also on Erlandson's FEC disclosure: a $1000 contribution by the General Dynamics Voluntary Political Contribution Plan, a contractor with recent deals with the army to produce munitions ($187 million) and Abrams tanks ($108 million). Lockheed-Martin, maker of U2 and Blackbird spy planes, F-16 and F/A-22 jet fighters, Hellfire and Javelin missiles, plus nuclear weapons, gave Erlandson $2000; the company received $19.4 billion in military contracts in 2005.

MTS Systems' PAC, a peripheral defense contractor that makes sensor equipment, donated $500, as did a PAC at Parsons Corporation, a firm that won a $900 million Iraq contract--although they couldn't fulfill it:

For example, a $243 million contract held by the Parsons Corporation for the construction of 150 health care centers was cancelled after more than two years of work and $186 million yielded just six centers, only two of which are serving patients. Parsons was also dropped from two different contracts to build prisons, one in Mosul and the other in Nasiriyah.
True, these donations don't add up to much monetarily, but they do add up morally: while Erlandson airs his opinions about the Bush administration's "incompetent" handling of Iraq, how can he accept money from some of the profiteers and bunglers involved with it? Kind of hurts his peace cred, doesn't it? Or As Charley Underwood asks on the Minneapolis Issues Forum:
If Mike truly believes in peace and truly wants to end the war, why is he accepting contributions from these war profiteers and merchants of death?


Monster hail.

Last night, Northfield (about 40 minutes south of Minneapolis) got hit by a major hailstorm. My brother's Passat was totalled by baseball-sized hail, and many others had damage to windows, trees, cars, and yard furniture. Northfield.org has collected more than 100 photos of the monster iceballs and the destruction.
All photos courtesy Northfield Citizens Online/Northfield.org.


Ad of note: Tammy Lee

I've got to concur with Eric: "Shredder" is a nice political ad. For 5th Congressional District Independence party candidate Tammy Lee, it's clever, to-the-point, and--unlike so many campaign ads--not preachy.

Mulching the American dreamscape

Chicago photographer Greg Stimac announces a new series, in which he traipsed across America documenting our endless obsession with the lawn. He emails:
I got the idea to do this one morning having a cup of coffee/looking out the window in the suburbs at the person across the street cutting already short grass, thought about it in terms of a project for a bit then set out on several trips. To me this work isn't so much about the action but what the lawn represents in our American dreamscape. I like the photos of elderly folks mowing the best, they seem the sadder and most effective of the series. To me saying: This is what we get, This is what we live for.

Godless Republicans...

A new survey finds that "that the proportion of Americans who say the Republican Party is friendly to religion fell 8 percentage points in the last year, to 47 percent from 55 percent. Among Catholics and white evangelical Protestants, the decline was 14 percentage points." Y'mean just talking about religion isn't enough?

Kennedy: The blog that wasn't

It seems the only research Mark Kennedy's campaign did on blogs before starting one had to do with learning the acronym MSM, which is hurled there with great frequency. But a look at the site suggests that that alone does not a blog make--and it might actually harm his congressional campaign.

First the logistics: Kennedy doesn't actually blog, so the content, provided by campaign manager Pat Shortridge, is just more campaign talking points, unsubstantiated by links or research (the only hyperlink is to MK's home page, the same one that's hosting the blog). For instance:
The plan and [Kennedy's campaign] tour clearly have our friends on the other side a bit agitated. I think I know why. While they use change as a buzzword, as a political slogan, Mark has offered a real plan with real solutions to bring real change.
There are other criticisms, which Joe lists here, like no permalink function and no comments--so, therefore, only a semblance of real dialogue. But the most glaring thing is the rich opportunity it invites for critique: considering Shortbridge seems to see the medium as merely another vehicle for campaign sloganeering, instead of for conversation that's accountable to a responsive audience, does Shortridge really want to cut down his opponent in this forum? The Kennedy blog's August 22 post, targeting an Amy Klobuchar ad, exposes Kennedy to ridicule moreso than it denigrates Klobuchar:
(1) Why has Amy Klobuchar mentioned only once, in the most cursory fashion, that she is a Democrat? Why is she running from her party? Is it because she knows how far out of the mainstream they have moved?
In Kennedy's most recent ad, he fails to mention his party affiliation. Is he running from his party? Probably. (Only one his TV spots, presumably the one airing just before Shortbridge's post, mention the Republican party.)
(2) Why hasn’t Amy Klobuchar once mentioned one of her heroes, the man she hopes to replace, Senator Mark Dayton? Is she running away from Senator Dayton because his approval rating stands 99th out of 100 Senators?
Nor does Kennedy mention George W. Bush in his ads. Is it because his boss' approval ratings hover around 36%?
(3) Amy Klobuchar has now talked about prosecuting judges, CEOs, scam artists, and tax cheats. Why has she gone out of her way to avoid talking about prosecuting violent criminals? Why is she running away from her record?
Running away from one's record. That's rich.

Shortridge's final finger-wag borders on the Geraldo-esque: "Will we get answers from Amy Klobuchar to any of these questions? Will anyone else even ask?"

Uh, Shortbridge did. But too bad there's no place to leave an answer.

[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]


Michele Bachmann: Harriet Miers on steroids

Harriet Miers' giddy praise for George Bush--"You're the best governor ever!"--sounds positively dignified compared to Sixth Congressional District candidate Michele Bachmamn's gushing diary of her ride to a custard stand in the presidential limo this week. "Little did we know what a treat it would be for us, literally," she says of her shared dessert with the president, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Norm Coleman and Karl Rove. If there's any question whether Bachmann is distancing herself, like other Republicans, from an unpopular president, let this be your proof. Excerpts:
"I could not believe I was discussing what flavor of custard to order with the President of the United States!"

"...President Bush was so incredibly engaging with the servers. He actually stuck half of his body through the order window and asked, "Can anybody get some custard here."

"I was struck by the humility he has towards his role as President of the United States."

"Always the mom, I thought, we need napkins. I asked the President if he had a napkin and he said no. So, I had to quickly grab napkins. I cannot imagine dripping custard in the Presidential limousine."
Omigod, I wonder if Bachmann will be able to resist the presidents' charms and think, like, independently if elected.

Minnesota Monitor has more.

George W. Vader

A protester at yesterday's fundraising visit to Minnesota by George W. Bush, spotted by MNPublius.

New world order....


Bishop to Prejean: Don't be partisan

Sister Helen Prejean of Dead Man Walking fame was uninvited as keynote speaker of a Diocese of Duluth (MN) education dinner in October because she was a signatory in an ad calling for the removal of George W. Bush--but not for reasons you'd think.

The ad, headlined "The World Can't Wait! Drive out the Bush Regime!," was signed by 90 activists and celebrities, including Dead Man star Susan Sarandan, Rep. John Conyers, choreographer Bill T. Jones, Rabbi Joseph Lerner, and Rep. John Conyers, and decries the Bush administration for "illegitimate war," "openly torturing people, and justifying it," and denying lawyers access to detainees arrested under suspicion of terrorism, among others. While Prejean now wishes her name hadn't been on the ad because it includes a reference to abortion--which Prejean opposes--Bishop Dennis Schnurr's decision to cancel Prejean's visit had nothing to do with the pro-life doctrine of the Catholic church. Diocesan spokesperson Kyle Eller explains that the church has an obligation, both morally and legally, to remain nonpartisan, and that "When it gets into attacking (a political figure), that becomes partisan." From a post on her website, it seems Prejean disagrees with that statement on moral grounds:
For me, personally, it would be sinful not to raise my voice publicly in opposition to the life-destructive policies and practices of the Bush administration. That is what led me to sign the ad calling for his removal.
The August 3 ad, which ran in the New York Times, calls for a nationwide "day of mass resistance" on October 5.

[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]


Coleman's welfare stats only tell part of the story

Today, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman hailed the successes of the ten-year-old welfare reform law, signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, citing that "passage of this law has brought nearly a million and a half children out of poverty." Although crediting a single law for ameliorating a problem as complex as chronic poverty seems simplistic, there have been measurable successes. Between 1996 and 2004 the poverty rate among African-American children declined by 17% and by 28% for Hispanic children, Coleman says, and employment among single mothers has increased to 63 percent. But a look at other numbers suggests Coleman's cherrypicking the best stats.

US Census figures do show that overall poverty was at 20.8 percent in 1996, and by the last census, it was at 17.8 percent. What's missing, however is the ironically smiley face–shaped dip: throughought the Clinton years, almost every poverty measure improved, but since George W. Bush took office, both the poverty rate among children and among African Americans have increased every year.

As Media Matters has reported:

Between 1993 and 2000, the percentage of children under the age of 18 living in poverty dropped from 22.7 percent to 16.2 percent. Since 2001, that share has increased to 17.8 percent....

While it is correct that the number of African-Americans living in poverty has decreased dramatically over the past 40 years, it also bears mentioning that the percentage fell under Clinton, from 33.1 percent in 1993 to 22.5 percent in 2000. By contrast, from 2001 to 2004, the poverty rate among African-Americans increased from 22.7 percent to 24.7 percent.

Coleman also praised the law for helping reduce welfare caseloads; here in Minnesota, he says, cases dropped by 52%. If our stats are anything like those nationwide, there's another untold story. Douglas Besharov of the conservative American Enterprise Institute told Marketplace that "of the 60 percent who left welfare, only about half are working in regular jobs."

The other half are making due. Either living with their parents, living with a boyfriend, or just subsisting on various other non-welfare welfare programs. I call it "welfare lite" because we can see many families that are subsisting — and I use the word subsisting here deliberately — on food stamps, housing aid, other forms of assistance that are not pure welfare.
While the successes of this reform are positive--and, admittedly, they fly in the face of predictions made by some on the left--leaders can't rest on the laurels of these advances. If things continue the way they have over the past several years, what will we have to celebrate in another ten?

[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]

Our Savior's Suplex

And the Lord said, "Go ye into all the nations and kick ass in my name." The first part of that quote is what inspired 10 people in 2003 to start the wrestling ministry Wrestling for Jesus. Formatted like a wrestling show, WfJ recreates biblical stories to "present the gospel of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ to a group of people who would normally shun the gospel and harden their hearts to the notion of being 'saved.'"

Behind the touch-screen: Who is ES&S?

This week, Minnesota announced that for the first time all votes in the upcoming election will be counted electronically. While everyone's heard about hack-prone, GOP-friendly voting machine manufacturer Diebold, what's known about Election Systems & Software, the company that's providing voting machines for 83 of Minnesota's 87 counties and the largest election management company in the world?

ES&S' "Republican roots may be even stronger than Diebold's," reported Mother Jones on the Omaha-based company. ES&S made news in 2003 when it was revealed that Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a past CEO of the company, was a part owner of its parent group at the time he won his senatorial race in Nebraska. All of the electronic votes in that race were counted using ES&S-supplied voting equipment (Hagel's campaign finance manager, Michael McCarthy, was also an owner and director at ES&S' parent company, the McCarthy Group). But of more concern than these political leanings is the actual functioning of the machines. While Minnesota Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer expressed her confidence at the switch to electronic tallying, other states have reported problems with ES&S's machines, from the late delivery of paper ballots to coding errors in Arkansas primaries to outright machine failure (For more on reported e-voting errors, visit VotersUnite.)

In June, NYU Law School's Brennan Center for Justice released the first comprehensive study [pdf] on e-voting and categorized 120 security threats in the three most popular voting machines (including ES&S' touch-screen machine to be used in Minnesota), from vulnerability to attacks "involving the insertion of corrupt software or other software attack programs designed to take over a voting machine" to wireless components of machines that can be disrupted by "virtually any member of the public with some knowledge of software and a simple device with wireless capabilities, such as a PDA." Minnesota, to our credit, is only one of two states to ban wireless components on all voting machines.

"These machines are vulnerable to attack. That’s the bad news," says Brennan Center executive director Michael Waldman. "The good news is that we know how to reduce the risks and the solutions are within reach.” The question, however, is whether the report's recommendations will be implemented in time for a clean, fair 2006 election.

Tonight: catch a screening of By The People, a documentary that looks at gritty work of putting on an election [trailer here]. 7:30 pm at The Lagoon in Minneapolis.

[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]


Be very afraid.

Sometimes journalistic bias has little to do with politics and everything to do with a news outlet's business goals. In this case, a fearmongering special advertised on CNN's home page, the cable channel's efforts to scare you into tuning in mesh nicely with the Bush administration's leveraging of terrorism to grab more executive power.


Stay the course!

As Ben Franklin (or was it Einstein? Or my dad?) famously said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." July saw more Iraqis die than any other month since Bush launched this war 3-1/2 years ago. A breakdown of the deadliest-month figures:

During the month, 3,438 Iraqis were killed -- 1,855 because of sectarian or political violence and another 1,583 from bombings and shootings. Nearly 3,600 Iraqis were wounded, the official said.

The release of these figures comes on the heels of a U.N. report that said nearly 6,000 people were killed in Iraq in May and June.

If Bush is of sound mind, he'd change this failed policy, somehow.

Also: Don't miss ThinkProgress' updated Iraq timeline.

The breast advertising strategy?

When an ad showing a solitary person uses the plural "their," I look around for, y'know, groups of people. This truly weird ad for Maidenform bras in the hipster parenting magazine Cookie seems to be suggesting something more akin to Brigid Berlin, Warholian "tit painter," than the off-camera wee ones whose dreams are mentioned (i.e "the girls" we see instead of the ones we don't).

Monks behaving badly.

Monk graffiti? Monks brawling over peace? What gives?

Organizers said there were around 1,000 people in a park in the capital, Colombo [Sri Lanka], listening to a range of speakers when hardline saffron-robed monks opposed to concessions to Tamil Tiger rebels mounted the stage and erected banners.

Some more moderate Buddhist monks, protesting for peace, were already on the stage when punches were thrown. Soon, monks' robes and fists were flying, although no one was badly hurt, witnesses said.

"They were saying we should go to war," said pro-peace monk Madampawe Assagee. "We like to listen to other opinions so we let them do that but then they started fighting and we couldn't control some of our people. They tried to make it a big fight but we settled it in a few minutes."

Earlier: Monkmobiles and bulletproof robes.


The Urban Forest Project consists of 185 tree-inspired banners created by prominent graphic designers and displayed in Times Square. Bringing a "forest of ideas" (gak!) to a tree-free public space, the project aims to raise awareness of, well, trees as metaphor and environmental issue. After the project comes down, the banners--including designs by Michael Beirut, the Walker Design Studio, Futurefarmers, and others--will be made into bags and auctioned off, with proceeds going to art education scholarships. [Via Worldchanging.]

Damn liberal media.

From a masthead that changes from LeMonde to Socialist Workers Daily to columnists including Michael Moore and headlines like "Two Dudes Strokin' It" (in the Arts section) and "Cooking with Placentas and Cocaine" (Dining), The Rightwing New York Times is Huffington Post's take on how the far right might see the Old Gray Lady. [Via Fimoculous.]


Ronald McHummer

In response to McDonald's plan to give away toy Hummers in Happy Meals, activists have set up a McDonald's sign generator: Ronald McHummer. Learn more about why this sends a bad message to kids--wars for oil, bad gas mileage, visual and atmospheric pollution--and then send a bad message to McDonald's.

As Alex at WorldChanging writes, "It's not quite there, as a campaign -- the brilliance of culture jamming lies in its transgression, while this just seems transgressive (really, you're being invited to leave snarky messages) -- still, it's nice to see activists being creative."

Y'don't say?

The AP:

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution.

"Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution," Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion.

Water: Our problem too.

With World Water Week only days away, the World Wildlife Federation has released a new report [pdf] that finds, increasingly, water is all of our problem, not just one people in developing countries need worry about. One of the first comprehensive studies on global water problems, the report's title says it all, "Rich countries, poor water": scarcity and pollution are two issues facing places like Australia, the US, the UK, Japan, Spain. From increased salinity threatening Australia's fresh water to "water-intensive tourism and irrigated agriculture [that] are endangering water resources in the Mediterranean" to the US using more water than can naturally be replenished, the problems outlined are pretty depressing, but the report takes a hard look at the causes and cures. Part of the solution is for the "first world" not to disengage with the problem, the WWF says. True, water isn't a sexy issue--there are no fuzzy baby mammals involved and few celebrity endorsers (I wonder if many have even kept reading this post to this point)--yet it's integral to the life of our cities (which contribute to the largest growth in water demands), our agriculture (WWF points out that most everywhere farms get greater water subsidies than industry), and the manufacture of our products. Please read this important report.


via Indexed, a blog of charts and graphs on index cards.


Radical democracy

I love the message of this t-shirt by graphic designer and Walker pal Emmet Byrne. One of two winners of a design contest at mnartists.org, the concept interprets the art site's commitment to "radical democracy." He writes that the line "naively (optimistically?) speaks to mnartists.org’s mission of inclusion while parodying the language of a failed (dubious?) educational policy that essentially treats its citizens as a homogenized whole." You can head over to Off Center for a chance to win (or buy) a shirt.


Photo of the day

The United States Air Force C-17 Globemaster III Military Transport with the 14th Airlift Squadron located at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina has flown away after releasing flares over the Atlantic Ocean. Smoke from the flare salvo reveals a crisp, dramatic, startling, and beautiful visual of the turbulent air – including two vortices each with an "eye" – created by the C-17 Globemaster III as it flies through the air. May 16, 2006, Over the Atlantic Ocean Near Charleston, State of South Carolina, USA
Via reBlog.


I'm home sick today, so instead of real blogging, I'll just do a link-dump:

Fake bazookas save woman: Doctors for an Israeli woman say she would've died when hit by shrapnel from a Hezbollah rocket-propelled grenade if it weren't for--wait for it--her silicone breast implants.

Support our oops: In a real support-our-troops moment, Laura Bush is stumping for a far-right candidate opposing a double-amputee Iraq vet in an Illinois state Senate race.

"The real world of Virginia": The Washington Post slams Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen for calling an Indian-American student--the only non-white at a Republican rally, a Fairfax-county-born Virginian, and a videographer for Allen's opponent--"macaca, or whatever his name is." Macaca is a genus of monkey. Allen, who has 2008 presidential aspirations, had a fondness for the Confederate flag as a kid and opposed his state's efforts to make MLK Day a public holiday, the Post reports.

Cole on Iran war: Middle East expert Juan Cole writes that "Any US attack on Iran could well lead to the US and British troops in Iraq being cut off from fuel and massacred by enraged Shiites... Without fuel, US troops would be sitting ducks for rocket and mortar attacks that US air power could not hope completely to stop... A pan-Islamic alliance of furious Shiites and Sunni guerrillas might well be the result, spelling the decisive end of Americastan in Iraq.


9/11 pop-up coin

Is this any way to honor the dead? To commemorate the 5th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the National Collector's Mint is selling--for $29.95--non-monetary pop-up coins depicting the World Trade Center:
This truly unique commemorative is created using two distinct struck pieces. First, a traditional round planchet is struck with frosted relief on a mirror-like background. Then, a magnificently engraved skyline featuring the Twin Towers is struck separately and fitted into the background. This World Trade Center skyline can be removed and inserted into a slot on the face of the commemorative. The effect is dazzling -- it is literally transformed into a standing sculpture of the Twin Towers!

Who "abounds in fictions"?

"The piece abounds in fictions," says Tony Snow about Sy Hersh's new New Yorker piece that claims the White House helped Israel plan attacks on Lebanon. Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, has an impressive track record, including breaking the stories of the My Lai Massacre and Abu Ghraib atrocities. The White House, on the other hand, is known for abounding in fictions, from those 16 words about Nigerian yellowcake sold to Iraq to Bush's pledge to fire the leaker of Valerie Plame's identity.

Hersh writes:
The Bush Administration, hohttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifwever, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.
Also: Did the Bush administration politicize the timing of the London terror bust announcement to discount the Democrats and Ned Lamont? Whatever the rationale, the White House did push to make the London arrests earlier than UK officials wanted.


"Islamic Fascism" = War with Iran?

Is George W. Bush's coinage of the term "Islamic fascism" just a precursor to war with Iran? Breaking down the term, James Boyce has some thoughts on the matter:
First, Islam. Now, Islam is one of the world's oldest and most revered religions. One definition of Islam is a monotheistic religion characterized by the acceptance of the doctrine of submission to God and to Muhammad as the chief and last prophet of God.

So we have one of the world's most popular religions functioning as an adjective creating a new type of Fascism. There was German Fascism, Italian Fascism but I can't find any evidence of there ever being any form of Fascism based upon religion. Furthermore, I have deduced that the reason it is not Fascist Islam is that Islam is an older as a religion than Fascism is as as system of government so Islam goes first. I know it sounds stupid, but it's the best I can do, being a Democrat and all.

Next word, Fascism. Fascism is defined as a system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government. Oppressive, dictatorial control.

Put the two together and you have? Well, a system of government oppressively controlled through terror and censorship where the religion is Islam and there's a policy of belligerent nationalism. But Osama Bin Laden does not run a government, the terrorists in Iraq aren't a government, the 9/11 hijackers weren't fascists, so who are the Republicans saying is a threat here?

Sounds to me like we're not fighting terrorists anymore, because it sure sounds to me like we're about to fight Iran.

Bush tried to cut bomb-detection funds

"Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big" said an opportunistic White House staffer, hoping his party can capitalize on yesterday's foiled terror plot in London. The fly in the ointment might be this news: that Bush and the Republicans were quietly trying to divert $6 million in Homeland Security funds away from explosion-detection technologies. While six mil might not sound like a lot, it's in addition to $200 million in R&D money DHS failed to spend in recent years, forcing Congress to rescind the funds.

Light Tiger.

WMMNA rides along with artist Karolina Sobecka to see her project Wildlife, in which she projects moving images of a running tiger using a high-power projector mounted in the backseat of her car:
The animation of the cat is directly linked to the speed of the car, so when Karolina hits the throttle, the tiger starts running along as if on a leash, leaving behind baffled pedestrians. There are also sensors for cars that pull up in direct proximity which will also be represented by smaller animals.
More on Wildlife, presented as part of ISEA2006 in San Diego, here.

Homeland Security hoopty

Terror alerts in London, 9/11, Katrina, wars everywhere: the world's a scary place, so this police force outfitted itself for this new world order. Only trouble is, said police department isn't in the line of fire the way Beirut or New York, London or Washington are. It's in Germantown, Tennessee, where a $184,000 urban-assault hoopty is apparently worth every penny (of Homeland Security dollars). The 37,000-person town outside Memphis isn't the first to get a Lenco Bearcat: Yuma, Sant Fe, and Middletown (WI) now have identical DHS-funded armored vehicles.


Idioms of liberation or imprisonment?

For his sculpture Idiom, Matej Krén gathers books from libraries and bookshops in the city where he installs each version, making towering turrets of collected words, and therefore philosophies, vernacular expressions, and cultural histories. Born in Slovakia, Kren has created this piece in cities including Sao Paulo, Prague, and Jerusalem. While Kren's works are formally interesting and nicely respond to safe ideas about culture, geography, and identity, I can't help but see them through a sociopolitical lens as well, the lens of Israel-Hezbollah, Iraq, al-Qaeda, and George Bush.

On a basic level: how are our books and doctrines--the bible, the Qu'ran, the Torah--locking us in or, conversely, walling us off? (This notion resonates with Huang Yong Ping's Two Typhoons, a pair of World Trade Center-like distended scrolls, one written in Sanskrit, the other in Arabic.) How--like the teardrop-shaped doorway in Idiom--can they free us? Maybe the metaphor in Cuban artist Kcho's Obras Escogidas (Selected Works) (below) is a bit more overt: constructed from Spanish-language books, the image of a Cuban escape vessel, a vehicle both literal and literary, is undeniable. I guess I fall on the side of knowledge: this many books, stacked so high, is freeing; a single book, peered at exclusively, is the prison.
Below, Kren's Omphalos and Gravity Mixer. Via the always excellent placeboKatz.

Speaking of books: Check out Book Mooch, a network for trading in your old books for new, used ones from somebody else's discard pile.