Panhandlers, Blackguards...


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Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe is up in arms that his Republican counterparts have already gone on the air with attack ads in the state governor's race. He has called on the GOP to stop making them, and on local television stations to stop running them.


What makes Poe mad is that the latest GOP ad attacks both candidates in the Democratic primary?attorney Bill McBride and ex-Attorney General Janet Reno?on the grounds that "no one knows where either candidate stands on the death penalty." Poe has been able to convince the St. Petersburg Times that this is a lie, since each candidate has clearly articulated a position on capital punishment.


So what are their respective positions? Well, McBride says he is pro-capital punishment?but that, if elected, he will declare a moratorium on the procedure, out of fears it is being wrongly applied. Reno says she is anti?capital punishment?but has promised to sign any death warrants that cross her desk, out of respect for the wishes of Florida's duly elected representatives.


That makes it crystal clear, doesn't it? You can vote for the pro-execution candidate who wants to stop executing people, or the anti-execution candidate who wants to keep executing people.


Loggerheads


Something similar has happened at the national level, it emerged last week as the result of language that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle sneaked into a spending bill. Daschle had quietly made an arrangement with the Sierra Club and the National Wilderness Society. The two environmentalist groups would sign off on large-scale logging in the Black Hills. In return Daschle would protect 3000 acres of wilderness and get a moratorium on road construction. The problem was, such logging is illegal under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which Daschle supports. So Daschle inserted the exemption from federal law?an exemption that applies only to his state?into the federal budget bill.


Republicans' first instinct was to cry hypocrisy. But as Audrey Hudson of the Washington Times pointed out in an excellent piece of reporting last week, they've now found better ways to work the Daschle exemption to their advantage. The recent rash of forest fires have been a propaganda boon for anti-environmentalist senators in the West, who say the fires are due to excess forest growth, which results from too little "thinning"?i.e., too little logging. If those fucking forests hadn't been there in the first place, they would never have burned.


So absolutely everyone now wants in on the Daschle exemption. House Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen of Utah says that "opposing similar solutions for other vulnerable forests in the West would smack of hypocrisy." Colorado Republican Scott McInnis agrees.


The result over the next few legislative sessions is likely to be the routine carving out of such exemptions. NFMA and NEPA will continue to mandate restrictions on logging all across the country. Except in the states where they don't apply. Which is all states.


In other words, federal environmental policy is beginning to look like Florida Democrats' position on capital punishment. (It should be permitted, unless it's not.) Or like the New York state tax code. (You have to pay high taxes, unless you don't.) More and more laws are coming to look like this. (And the laws apply equally to all of us, unless they don't.)


Blackguards


The great barn-burner of a primary this year is the Michigan Democrats' race for governor, which pits ex-Gov. Jim Blanchard against House whip David Bonior against Attorney General Jennifer Granholm. In the latest EPIC/MRA poll, Granholm is ahead at 34 percent, while Blanchard and Bonior are clustered together at 27 and 26.


Last Wednesday night, the three appeared at a "town hall forum" hosted by the Detroit branch of the NAACP to articulate their subtle differences on the matter of reparations for slavery. Granholm said she definitely favored reparations for slavery. Bonior not only favored reparations for slavery; he even has a black stepson. Blanchard just loved the idea of reparations for slavery; he promised not only to support them but to "lobby" for them.


Two days later, there were a pair of very interesting headlines in the Detroit News. The first was "Granholm rises as front-runner." The second was "Vandal defaces Bonior's office with racial slur." The door of Bonior's campaign headquarters, it turns out, had been spray-painted, and a flier from the American Nazi Party had been left at the scene. Most curiously, according to Oralandar Brand-Williams of the News, "The spray-painted message indicated that the writer favored Attorney General Jennifer Granholm for governor."


This turned Granholm into a sputtering wreck; she declared herself "furious" at the incident, and disavowed the support of the American Nazi Party. This is a rather odd incident, bound to be a boon for Bonior and a blow for Granholm. Bonior does not have a reputation as a dirty campaigner. But it might be hard to convince Granholm staffers of that just now.


Looking Sharp


We can stipulate that Al Sharpton has a tendency to make mountains of molehills, that he is a loudmouth camera hog, that he doesn't deserve the billion dollars he's suing HBO for. But let's be unambiguous, too, that, in his battle with HBO, he is in the right and HBO is in the wrong.


HBO, as every self-respecting tabloid reader will know, aired an FBI surveillance tape of Sharpton from 1983, in which Sharpton sits in a cowboy hat and talks to undercover agent Victor Quintana about cocaine. HBO reporter Bernard Goldberg says, "According to FBI sources, when agents first showed the tape to Sharpton in 1983, he asked them, 'What do I have to do to stay out of prison?' Their answer: 'Become an FBI informant.'"


There are three quite unsavory things about the incident:


1. The bust itself. The fact is, Sharpton never agreed to buy coke from Quintana. If he had, we would have seen it on the tape. And what if he had agreed? When Sharpton says, "I don't know whether he was armed?" it has the vividness about it that indicates he's probably telling the truth. Saying yes to a coke deal when you think that a no might get you shot does not mean yes as you and I understand the term. Any more than saying yes to a pipeful of crack when you think it will convince a pretty young woman to climb into bed with you (as Marion Barry did during his FBI entrapment in 1990) means you're a drug-seeking sociopath.


2. The tape itself. Noting that Sharpton still thinks the FBI was "out to get him," Goldberg said, "I want to make sure to anyone who thinks the FBI is out to get Sharpton in 2002, they didn't give us that tape." Well who did, then? Prosecutors? What are tapes like this doing floating around? Does the FBI sell its old stock of surveillance tapes to used book stores?


3. This informer business. Aren't informers supposed to be the heroes of our war on drugs? Is it possible that Goldberg and HBO have shown Al Sharpton as a man who took more risks to build a Drug-Free America than Bill Bennett ever will?


Swiss Miss


Poor Ukraine?they're ruled by Leonid Kuchma, the last fascist in the former Soviet Union; the country is so poor that its leading export is prostitutes; and last weekend it endured the worst air-show catastrophe in history, when a Russian-built Sukhoi Su-27 lost power and dove into a dense crowd, where it exploded.


It was a bad month for Sukhois. At the Farnborough Air Show in England the week before, Russia had withheld its newer Sukhoi Su-30MK fighters?these are the ones that crashed at the Paris air show in 1999?lest they be seized.


How did it happen that the Russian Air Force wound up running from the repo man? The story seems to have begun in those anarchic days after communism fell, when Russia's new oligarchs (negotiating in the name of the government) were building their financial empires on barter trades using freshly "liberated" Soviet assets. The Swiss company Noga claimed in the early 1990s that the Russian government had welched on their own barter deal, failing to deliver more than $60 million worth of promised oil. In 1997 Noga won a judgment in a Swedish court, and the company now claims the right to seize Russian government assets throughout Europe. Last year, Russia almost lost its Sukhoi fighters at France's Bourget air show?they took off as agents sent by Noga were heading across the tarmac to detain them.


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