Concerning spine and clean needles

Needle exchange for addicts is like driver’s licenses for illegals.
The merits point one way, the politics point the other way.
Guess which of the two Democratic candidates is facing the right way?

Revised due to new information: See Update below

There aren’t many more hated/feared/despised social categories than “illegal immigrant,” but “heroin addict” is almost certainly one of them. The addict version of the driver’s license issue is needle exchange.

It turns out Barack Obama is, and Hillary Clinton is not, willing to take political flak on behalf of the addicts (and of course their sexual partners, and the sexual partners of their sexual partners, and their children) too.

By contrast with the early 1980s, when needle exchange (or syringe legalization) might have put a major dent in the HIV epidemic (and later in the Hep-B and Hep-C epidemics) by now needle exchange comes too late to do any huge amount of good. But it demonstrably does no harm. And for a Democratic candidate, as late as last summer, to be waffling about “looking at the evidence” when the evidence was in more than a decade ago, is just appallingly dishonest, like Republicans demanding more evidence on global warming.

Somewhat to Clinton’s credit, she quickly backed down when challenged on this point and admitted that the problem was political, not scientific. But “We’ll have as much spine as we possibly can, under the circumstances” isn’t quite the tone I’d like to hear from my candidate.

Update I hadn’t seen this story when Ben Smith ran it last summer; I just ran across a link to Politico tonight. In one sense the story is now out of date; HRC seems to have changed her mind about needle exchange late in the fall. Her position on spine remains to be determined.

And the painted ponies go up and down

Obama’s half-sister seems ok. Hillary’s brothers are classic presidential siblings.

Hillary doesn’t have just the novel Bill-in-Kazakhstan problem, which Mark relates. She also has the all-too-familiar Billy/Neil/Roger problem.

Of course, as do most interesting stories, this one involves the country of Georgia (where I live, and where Kazakhstan is the largest investor). Or, rather, an autonomous fief, run by a chess-enthusiast warlord, Aslan Abashidze, who was in league with Hugh and Tony Rodham. And instead of uranium, hazelnuts.

It’s far too involved a tale for me to summarize, so check it out here , here,

here, or here.

Afterword: Shortly after taking office in 2004, freedom-agenda poster child Mikheil Saakashvili deposed Abashidze and sent him packing to Moscow, but without his 80 dogs. Abashidze’s main backer is a fugitive from Georgia and Russia, and a business partner of Rupert Murdoch’s.

“I’m always proud of Wal-Mart”

That’s the voice of Hillary Clinton, speaking as a Wal-Mart board member in 1990.
Now she says she’s learned better.


This is bad:

“I’m always proud of Wal-Mart and what we do and the way we do it better than anybody else,” [Hillary Clinton] said at a June 1990 stockholders meeting.

This is worse:

In a campaign speech last year in New Hampshire, Sen. Clinton said, “Now I know that Wal-Mart’s policies do not reflect the best way of doing business and the values that I think are important in America.”

“Now I know”? What has changed at Wal-Mart since 1990, except for the better?

“A liar needs a good memory”

Mark Penn says Billy Shaheen voluntarily resigned from the Clinton campaign. Billy Shaheen says that Billy Shaheen voluntarily resigned from the Clinton campaign. Hillary Rodham Clinton says that Billy Shaheen was fired from the Clinton campaign.

Or, in this case, a whole collection of liars. Mark Penn insisted that Billy Shaheen had stepped down voluntarily as co-chair of Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign after Shaheen suggested that Barack Obama might have been a drug dealer. (That was just before Penn himself used the word “cocaine” with respect to Obama, just in case the smear hadn’t gotten out all the way.) And the statement released in Shaheen’s name said the same thing.

OK, that was pretty obviously a routine campaign falsehood. Presumably the “resignation” was part of the deal with Shaheen. In return for his stepping down “voluntarily,” the campaign agreed not to fire him, thus sparing his wife, the likely Democratic Senate candidate in New Hampshire, embarrassment. I didn’t complain about it at the time; there’s nothing really wrong with trying to help an ally maintain some shreds of his dignity.

Only someone forgot to tell the candidate.

“We asked him to step down,” Clinton said during a media blitz that saw her go on six morning news shows. “Every time somebody in my campaign says something that we don’t believe is right, appropriate, we take care of it… We move quickly. And we will keep doing it.”

Of course, the campaign didn’t “move quickly” in the first place; it wasn’t until the next day that Shaheen’s “resignation” was announced. But putting that aside, what’s happening here?

The less disgraceful explanation would be that HRC actually ordered Shaheen dumped, or was told my someone in the campaign that the decision to dump him had been made, that he agreed to be dumped quietly in return for making it look voluntary or some campaign honcho decided that the alternative would be too costly in New Hampshire, and that they never go their stories straight. Penn told the agreed lie, and Hillary told the simple truth without knowing that she was contradicting both Shaheen and Penn. But how plausible is it that the candidate was never told about the arrangement and never saw a reference to in in a newspaper or on TV?

The more disgraceful explanation would be that the Senator simply decided to double-cross Shaheen, or. to put the matter more kindly, simply decided to tell the interviewer the thing that sounded best at that particular moment. No one in Iowa cares about the Shaheen-for-Senate campaign, and firing someone for making a dingbat comment suggests leadership and action-on-principle as simply accepting a resignation does not.

Either way, it’s pretty bad. One of the worst things about the Bush Administration is that it has made us tin-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists of us all; no matter how absurd the conspiracy theory &#8212 the White House staff deliberately burning a CIA officer engaged in preventing the acquisition of WMD by Iran, of all the ridiculous notions! &#8212 it has turned out to be true. By the same token, the HRC campaign seems to be doing its best to spread Clinton Derangement Syndrome. I’ll never forgive Hillary for making me into a Hillary-hater.

(Im)plausible deniability

HRC apologizes to Obama for a smear against him by her New Hampshire co-chair. Mark Penn then goes on TV and says “cocaine,” just in case anyone had forgotten the substance of the smear.

I’m glad to see that Hillary Clinton has dumped Bill Shaheen as co-chair of her New Hampshire campaign, and apologized to Barack Obama for Shaheen’s references to Obama’s drug use from college days.

Now all she needs to do is fire Mark Penn, who in discussing the issue on TV after HRC’s apology made sure to use the word “cocaine.”

Apologies From the Heart (of Darkness?)


Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton apologized personally to Senator Barack Obama on Thursday for a top adviser’s public suggestion that Republicans would go after Mr. Obama for his youthful drug use.

This came a day after Mike Huckabee apologized to Mitt Romney, a Mormon, for remarks that suggested Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers.

But in the aftermath of the apologies, both the Clinton and Huckabee campaigns kept the original slurs alive through a series of interviews, raising questions about the sincerity of their apologies, especially in the heat of a wide-open campaign with the first voting less than three weeks away.


On Thursday afternoon, Mrs. Clinton’s top adviser, Mark Penn, appeared on MSNBC with Mr. Obama’s top adviser, David Axelrod, and John Edwards’s top adviser, Joe Trippi. They argued with one another, and it was there that Mr. Penn dropped the word “cocaine,” saying that the Clinton campaign had not raised the issue of “cocaine use.”

That seemed to infuriate the others. “This guy just said ‘cocaine’ again,” Mr. Trippi said.

Anyone who is fooled by HRC’s assertion that there was no central decision to spread slime about Obama must want to be fooled. A fish rots from the head.

Update Wait! It gets worse.

Obama’s ‘surprises’?

Clinton didn’t mention specifics in the taping of an interview on “Iowa Press” this morning, but drew a contrast with unnamed rivals that echoes Bill Shaheen’s now-notorious claim that unexplored elements of Obama’s candidacy will make him an easy Republican target.

“I’ve been tested, I’ve been vetted,” she said. “There are no surprises. There’s not going to be anybody saying, ‘I didn’t think of that, my goodness, what’s that going to mean?'”

This appears to be the emerging core of the electability case against Obama: that elements of his public record and — unspoken — his private past, could scuttle what should be a Democratic sure thing, and that he is untested by real partisan combat.

“Whoever we nominate will be subjected to the full force of the Republican attack machine, and I know that they know I know that and I have no illusions about what this race will entail,” she said.

UPDATE: Asked to elaborate on what she’s suggesting about Obama, Clinton has an answer ready: “I’m only talking about myself.”

I repeat: from the head.

Second update Speaking of going negative … err, “comparative” … Paul Loeb has some comparisons between the conduct of Obama’s “Leadership PaC,” for which HRC has criticized him, and her own conduct. Bottom line: if Hillary hadn’t been such a money hog, spending $40 million to run virtually unopposed and transferring $12 million to her Presidential campaign &#8212 if, that is, she’d acted like Edwards and Obama, who raised money for and gave money to other campaigns nationwide &#8212 Democrats could have picked up a bunch of extra seats in the House and at least one in the Senate.

Defending Hillary

Why shouldn’t a Democrat preview Republican talking points against a rival and try to suppress the youth vote?

I’m sure the perception that the Clinton style involves fighting dirty in the clinches is just a product of Clinton Derangement Syndrome among the mainstream media, and I’m thoroughly ashamed of myself for being taken in by it. After all, if the right wing hated Eleanor Roosevelt and the right wing hates Hillary Clinton, it must follow that Hillary Clinton is Eleanor Roosevelt, and anyone who doubts it suffers from “blind, irrational hatred.”

For example, no reasonable person could consider it in bad taste for one Democratic candidate (acting through a key surrogate in an early-primary state) to preview Republican attack ads about another candidate’s drug use from college days, or inappropriate for a Democrat to suggest George W. Bush’s stonewalling as a model other Democrats ought to emulate. And of course anyone who ever used drugs must have been selling them, right? Especially if he’s black. So why not hint that your opponent was a dope-dealer? At worst, you can make him deny it. If you can keep your fingerprints off the story by pushing it privately to reporters, that’s best, of course, but if that doesn’t work and your opponent is pulling ahead, just go ahead and have someone say it. You can always disavow it later. Throw enough mud, and some of it is bound to stick.

And of course you can disavow the statement without actually parting company with the person who made it. After all, the candidate has no responsibility at all for the actions of campaign officials, and it wouldn’t be reasonable for a candidate to get rid of a state campaign co-chair (and spouse of a Senate candidate) as if he were merely a county co-ordinator. (You were expecting, maybe, leadership? In your dreams!)

Now if Obama were to start mentioning cattle futures or Marc Rich or Norman Hsu, that would be a different matter entirely, and would prove that the ambition he has been harboring since kindergarten has finally gotten the better of his commitment to a new style of politics. And the fact that he hasn’t been doing any of that, even while HRC has been implying that Obama has a “character problem,” just shows how viciously devious he is: no doubt a product of his education at a madrassa.

And of course it’s perfectly natural for one Democratic candidate to use decade-old questionnaire responses from a state senate race to paint a Democratic rival as “too liberal” because he supported abortion rights, gun control, and single-payer health care and opposes the death penalty. Any suggestion that doing so helps the Republicans is plainly absurd.

It would be equally absurd to think that raising baseless vote-fraud charges as a means of vote suppression is a trick Democrats ought to leave to Republicans. If Iowa college students who come form Illinois want to take advantage of the Iowa state law that clearly allows them to register and caucus at their college addresses, of course any candidate not from Illinois should try to discourage them from voting and try to stir up Iowan xenophobia against them. And of course it’s even better if you can get a friendly columnist to raise the issue for you. (The New York Times reports that David Yepsen had dinner with Hillary Clinton last Friday evening; no doubt it was mere coincidence that he penned this slimy farrago of innuendo and half-truth, picking up on HRC’s “Iowans-only” theme, the following Tuesday.)

After all, aren’t Democrats traditionally the party that wants to have as few people as possible, and especially as few young people as possible, coming to the polls?

All Democrats not victims of CDS should join together and defend our former First Lady against these vicious and desperate attacks. The rest of us should just STFU.

Am I deranged?

Yes, there’s lots of irrational Clinton-hatred in the world. But it’s not deranged to fear the prospect of four or eight more years of carefully crafted half-lies from the White House.

For just over fifteen years now &#8212 since sometime in the spring or summer of 1992 &#8212 large chunks of the American right, including not only Rush Limbaugh’s mouth-breathers but also the folks with clean fingernails and expensive neckties who read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, have been consumed by insane Clinton-hatred: for example, believing that the Clintons were responsible for the death of Vince Foster and supporting Slobodan Milosevic’s genocide (in practice, if not in theory) merely because Clinton opposed it.

That makes it natural for liberals and Democrats to dismiss all criticism of anyone named Clinton as evidence of “Clinton Derangement Syndrome.” Natural, but not logical. The capacity to inspire in hatred in one’s opponents is no proof of wickedness, but it’s hardly a guarantee of virtue. That Bill and Hillary Clinton are not over-scrupulous about where they acquire money either for personal consumption or for campaigning and that they and their political operatives have a tendency to be economical with the truth are no less accurate observations because Paul Gigot has also made them. Consider the stopped clock and the blind squirrel.

Whether the Clinton’s cynical attitude toward the press is the product or the cause of the bad press they often get is too hard for me to decide. No doubt both are partly true. Up until now, HRC has benefited from her handlers’ capacity to “work the refs” and their willingness to do so. Contrast the media attention focused on John Edwards’s haircut to that devoted to Mark Penn’s complicity in union-busting and lobbying for Blackwater or to the Norman Hsu affair.

Now reporters and editors may be looking for chances to even the score, and of course the Republican smear machine is working overtime to gin up anti-Clinton stories. But it’s unwise to attribute all negative press about the Clintons to the VWRC. Sometimes they get their bad press the old-fashioned way, by earning it.

Two recent stories, one entirely trivial and one somewhat less so, illustrate.

The trivial one is the now-infamous waitress-stiffing incident. Apparently the candidate’s entourage stopped for lunch at a greasy spoon and someone forgot to leave a tip, which is pretty embarrassing if you’ve been talking about how otherwise invisible people are visible to you. The right thing to do would be for the campaign to point out that the candidate doesn’t handle money and to bring forward the staffer who goofed to make an apology, while the candidate sends a nice handwritten note to every member of the wait-staff, enclosing a $10 bill. End of story.

Instead, the campaign went into full defensive mode, asserting that a tip was left, trying to muscle people either not to talk to the press or (in the case of the manager) to claim that a tip had, in fact, been left, and sending a staffer back to the restaurant with a $20 bill. Unfortunately, the waitress who served the candidate is stubbornly sticking with her story: she didn’t get any tip, and neither did any of her co-workers. That makes the campaign look like a bunch of clumsy liars. [Wrong! See update below.]

The less-trivial one is the question-planting story. Of course this isn’t the first time that’s happened — the Bushoids have turned it into an art-form, planting questions not only at phony “town halls” but also at White House press conferences — but it’s not an entirely trivial problem if people watching what seem to be unscripted candidate-voter interactions on TV can’t be sure whether the whole thing is fixed.

And — here I disagree with Kevin Drum — saying that something has been done before is not the same as saying that everyone does it. Kevin writes of question-planting “There hasn’t even been a suggestion that Hillary does it more than anyone else, let alone that she’s doing anything unusual.” But wait a minute. As far as I know there’s no evidence that Barack Obama has done it at all. So it seems to me we have good reason to believe that she does it more than someone else.

As I said, though, planting a question isn’t the worst offense a campaign can commit. But the Clintonites couldn’t see their way clear to coming clean about it, perhaps because the candidate herself was complicit.

Both incidents left a very sour taste. After the last seven years, wanting to have a President who isn’t surrounded by the morally blind doesn’t strike me as a deranged desire.

Update Which is not, of course, to excusethis sort of stupid crap. Mike Allen ought to know better; if someone called Giuliani a lunatic, would Allen say “What voter hasn’t thought that?” No, I don’t think so either. So CDS is certainly a genuine diagnosis. But merely saying something mean about someone named “Clinton” isn’t an adequate basis for making that diagnosis.

Update Well, perhaps not deranged, but certainly wrong in at least one particular. I’m authoritatively informed that a tip was in fact left; how the waitress failed to get her share seems to be an open question.