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Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Right's Journolist

Daily Caller leaks of private Journolist emails continue, now focusing on the fact that one or more "political operatives" were apparently on the list, sometimes spamming colleagues with appeals to pay attention to their message, issue, or candidate. Anyone on a political listserv of any type has received this kind of email -- I often receive them even on academic lists.

The Journolist problem seems to be that such "networking" was conducted by email. After all, the political right has long brought together political operatives, journalists, bloggers and members of think tanks (or interest groups). On July 26, Joe Conason wrote an excellent piece for Salon about one such regular meeting.

Specifically, Conason wrote about the weekly Wednesday meetings hosted by Republican political operative Grover Norquist.
Specific, orderly, disciplined, ideological coordination -- and not the freewheeling blather to be found on Journolist -- has been proceeding every week for nearly two decades at the "Wednesday meetings" convened by lobbyist Grover Norquist in the Washington offices of Americans for Tax Reform.
Conason includes a couple of long quotes from people who attended these meetings and I'd encourage everyone to check out his piece.

Of course, it's actually fairly easy to find information about these sessions. For example, journalist Patty Reinert (Mason) wrote an informative article in 2008, when she worked at the Washington Examiner:
It’s 10 a.m. on Wednesday and Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, and 150 of his closest center-right allies have packed the second-floor conference room at his L Street office for their weekly invitation-only, off-the-record meeting...a whirlwind hour-and-a-half meeting in which speakers on the agenda get three minutes each. The rules are simple: Get up. Talk about what you are working on. Answer questions. Surrender the microphone and sit.

...The “Wednesday Meeting,” which began in 1986 and has since spawned conservative strategy sessions in virtually every state and in many countries around the world, is Norquist’s signature creation
Norquist himself is quoted describing the flow at the meetings:
“The point of the meeting is to get everybody who is center-right to tell each other what they’re doing, to share technology, share tactics, share strategy, tell stories,” Norquist explained during an interview. “You don’t get to talk about mistakes somebody else has made. ... It’s a positive meeting, not a negative meeting.”
Perhaps more importantly, here's how Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson described Norquist in a New Republic article he wrote ("What I Sold At the Revolution") June 9, 1997 (I have EBSCO access):
Norquist is more than your garden-variety Washington lobbyist. He's one of the most influential conservative strategists in America--an intimate of Newt Gingrich, a small-government radical, the Che of the Republican Revolution.

...The purpose, he [Norquist] says, is not simply to influence specific pieces of legislation, but to build and strengthen what he calls the Leave Us Alone Coalition, a nationwide alliance of conservative activists. The coalition is Norquist's version of the Bolshevik vanguard, and, like the early Soviets, Norquist envisions a day when this revolutionary cohort will lead the proletariat to rise up, crush the corrupt liberal ruling class and reorder society along radically new lines.
Finally, consider the money paragraphs from the piece, highlighting the hypocrisy in Carlson's current journalism:
Today, the [Norquist-hosted] meetings draw a group of anywhere from fifty to eighty people--think tank analysts, members of Congress, sympathetic journalists and Hill staffers--who gather every Wednesday morning at 10:30 to talk about how to advance the Movement. The meetings are worth going to, says someone who attends, "if you want to know what The Washington Times and National Review will be writing about next week."

Norquist's meetings were influential partly because he himself was considered above ideological reproach, a man wholly and single-mindedly devoted to the Movement.
Journolist was nothing like that.


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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New banner, etc.

Regular readers probably noticed the new color scheme and banner -- the latter made fairly easily thanks to Picnik. Once again, all the photos are courtesy of the U.S. government, so should not involve any copyright issues:

  • Baseballs (with presidential signature)
  • Earth
  • Mushroom cloud
  • Obama-Clinton

  • If you are looking for new content, I blogged about Journolist ("Identifying Groupthink") over at Duck of Minerva.

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    Monday, July 26, 2010

    Ackerman: Absence of malice?

    On Journolist in 2008, Spencer Ackerman offered some disturbing advice to other list members in the wake of the Reverend Wright scandal that was starting to dominate the news cycle. Ackerman suggested,
    "If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists."
    This was reported last week in the Daily Caller and it has been getting a lot of play in the blogosphere and even in some mainstream media outlets.

    Former Richard Viguerie attorney Mark J. Fitzgibbons claims today in the American Thinker that Ackerman's line shows libelous malice and could be grounds for legal action:
    Ackerman skipped the intermediary suggestion of even asking loaded questions of Obama's conservative critics and proceeded directly to proposing false accusations against figures -- "who cares" -- on the right...

    The malice exhibited in the e-mails is about more than journalistic ethics, and it may have legal consequences, with the immediate potential to cause jitters in the bars of Georgetown and Manhattan...

    Malice is not designed to get to the truth. Quite the opposite: Malice is designed to harm without regard to the truth. Malicious libel against public figures is not a protected press freedom.
    Conservative talking head (and Chapman University Law Professor) Hugh Hewitt says that Ackerman committed slander -- and that the other members of Journolist are complicit because they stood by in silence about the attack.

    In a giant leap of logic, Hewitt compares the incident to a famous crime from the mid-1960s:
    On March 13, 1964, New Yorker Kitty Genovese was attacked and killed near the entrance to her Queens home. The murder remains a much discussed incident because of the number of ordinary New Yorkers who are thought to have heard her cries for help or in some way to have observed all or part of the assault on her and yet to have done nothing.
    Are Fitzgibbons and Hewitt on to something important?

    To get at this, let's consider Fitzgibbons's initial point: Did Ackerman suggest labeling people as racists without reason? Few of the stories about the remark quote Ackerman's next line, which provides a justification for his claim:
    Ask: why do they have such a deep-seated problem with a black politician who unites the country? What lurks behind those problems? This makes *them* sputter with rage, which in turn leads to overreaction and self-destruction.
    For all I know, Ackerman had a particularly bad Barnes CSPAN appearance in mind when he wrote about him on J-list. As Ackerman's then-roommate reported,
    "A right-wing caller to C-SPAN identifies himself as a big Fred Barnes fan and asks a question during the course of which he refers to Barack Obama as “monkey boy.” Barnes doesn’t bat an eye and just moves to answer the question."
    Or maybe Ackerman recalled an unfortunate Barnes suggestion about racial profiling from 2001.

    As for Karl Rove, you don't have to spend much time on Google to come up with a dubious pattern of words and deeds suggesting racial undertones.

    Lay discussions of libel and slander generally say that the claim has to be false.

    Additionally, both Fitzgibbons and Hewitt ignore the fact that these were private comments made on an off-the-record listserv. Can someone commit libel or slander under such circumstances? I don't know, but I'm not the lawyer breathlessly talking about libel or slander. Again, lay discussions of the law tend to emphasize the public (even published) nature of the malicous attack.

    Finally, neither of these attorneys offer any examples of Ackerman or anyone else actually following the young scribe's advice on Journolist. Did J-listers try to distract attention from the Wright story by labeling conservatives as racists without cause? Where are the published claims from the Wright affair?

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    Sunday, July 25, 2010

    Journolist: Reading the comments so you don't have to

    Daily Caller has been cherry-picking embarrassing emails from thousands (probably tens of thousands) of Journolist emails written over a period of about three years. Publisher Tucker Carlson admits they have to cherry-pick because "a lot of the material on Journolist is actually pretty banal."

    Keep in mind that Journolist was an off-the-record listserv that Carlson tried to join ("I can promise you I have no interest in flaming anyone or even debating"), so the leaks are pretty sleazy.

    After the Daily Caller hypes the material (frequently on Fox News), the right-wing blogosphere has been referencing these examples as if they reflected the typical conversations of Journolist and the views of the 400 or so members of Journolist.

    Daily Caller emphasized one tasteless post from someone working in public radio being unwilling to help if she suddenly confronted a suffering Rush Limbaugh and another from a better-known columnist sneering at NASCAR fans just after the 2008 election results. Suddenly, all list members are guilty-by-assocation. It's not a lot different than the "real America" campaign of 2008.

    Clearly, the message seems to be that J-listers are not part of the "real America."

    I've read a lot of the right-wing blogs "reporting" on Journolist this past week and have been appalled at how the writers so often generalize from the same few examples -- even when they are pretty weak tea. Fellow former J-lister Kevin Carey explains:
    For example, in the course of a long string of Journolist emails about Fox News, a law professor wondered whether the FCC could legally decide not to renew Fox's license. A journalist from Time responded by saying, in essence, "that would be a terrible idea." Nobody mentioned it again. Yet this exchange produced a gigantic 60-point Caller headline: "FOX HUNT: Liberal journalists suggest government shut down Fox News." It was an obvious lie: no journalist, much less journalists, plural, had suggested any such thing.
    Much more disturbing, however, are the comments left on these right-wing blog sites. Posters are only too willing to reveal what should happen to non-real Americans.

    For example, take a look at a recent FreeRepublic post, which alleged that it had identified 107 J-listers:
    MindBender26: At the risk of being called an anti-semite, (which I am the opposite of, I am very pro-Israel), has anyone noticed that this list seems to have a very large percentage of Jewish names?

    detective: Thanks for the list. Can we add party affiliation, sexual orientation and a short bio? I have never heard of most of these people and it would be nice to be able to put them in context.

    oldbrowser: What is curious is that these are mostly Jewish names with white faces.

    Tallguy: I probably could have come up with at least 30 of them right off the top of my head. We're not talking about center-left political writers here... these people are flaming communists.

    hosepipe: Look at them.. A whole generation of traitors.
    From an American Thinker post:
    wbhickok: get all 600 something names of these slimy JournoLists... I'm sure it goes much deeper. This is an impressive list of the old communists and red-diaper babies. But there is more...Lot more will come out and more, and more of these people will be exposed as evil anti-American Marxists that they are.

    Syrin: Holy ****ing cow. The grand list of traitors of the state. "Journalists" in favor of censorship. These people should ALL be tried for treason and given the appropriate penalty.

    Cynthia: Are any of the names associated with Saturday Night Live? A sad reality, another one, from 2008 is that an unseemly number of people got their news, their NEWS from snl. pathetic. It's as if the masses have had a frontal lobotomy.

    rashputin: The companies represented by these people are ignoring so they're actually admitting that they're a single monolithic propaganda machine, not multiple competing organizations.

    Pete: Treason.What they have conspired and done is undermine the freedom of the press, and subvert the Constitution. They have conspired and lied to the public, they have broken the trust. Since they have gotten together to defraud the public, they should be prosecuted under the RICO act as a minimum. Treason, or high crimes against the Constitution, seems more appropriate.
    From Patterico's Pontifications:
    Aaron Worthing: My big takeaway is how much these people sound like the idiots at Daily Kos.

    JosephD: This isn’t just scheming to spin the news. This is fascism.
    Journolisters have been taken to task for talking privately and sometimes making intemperate comments that seem indefensible (especially when taken out-of-context).

    By contrast, these members of the right are willing to make intemperate comments anonymously on public blogs.

    I can see why that's so much better [sarcasm -- OFF]. J-listers have been vilified for not publicly rebuking the list members who made dumb remarks. Where are the right-wing blog posts condemning their reader reactions?

    There's more vile invective in these few threads than I recall in nearly three years on J-list. Some J-listers strongly disliked some of the views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict held by the publisher of The New Republic, but they didn't really say anything much different on the list than what they were willing to defend in public.

    Of course, Journolist occasionally hosted heated debates -- but they were generally civil and genuinely dedicated to what Habermas might call "the forceless force of the better argument."

    We've seen nothing made public about the long 2008 primary campaign debate threads about which kind of health care system was needed. And the Hillary Clinton supporters certainly backed their candidate against the lists Obama backers. I'm interested in climate change politics, but even I sometimes felt overwhelmed by long (and well-linked) discussions of the merits of cap-and-trade versus carbon taxes versus regulatory approaches.

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    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Journolist fantasies

    Sorry, a bit more on Journolist.

    What's bothered conservatives most?

    First, list member Spencer Ackerman privately used violent rhetoric to try to inspire fellow J-listers to distract from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright controversy in 2008. He suggested playing a "racism" card.

    Second, a number of conservatives see conspiracy (or groupthink) in some listmembers' attempts to form the "line" on Sarah Palin -- someone largely unknown to the American public when named as John McCain's running mate in 2008.

    Some rebuttal:

    Conservatives seem to have forgotten the public threatened violence emanating from members of their own team.

    And in regards to conspiracy, they forgot the leaked post-2006 election memo from a VP at Fox News.

    And the Iraq war news, supported by paid Pentagon operatives.

    Kudos to John Tabin of The American Spectator (a conservative outlet) for his genuinely more balanced views on all of this.

    See James Fallows too.

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    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Journolist: Conservative hypocrisy

    Conservatives have penned a number of outraged responses to the Journolist hullabaloo, but the most hypocritical response I've read so far was written by Fred Barnes:
    Until JournoList came along, liberal journalists were rarely part of a team. Neither are conservative journalists today, so far as I know. If there's a team, no one has asked me to join. As a conservative, I normally write more favorably about Republicans than Democrats and I routinely treat conservative ideas as superior to liberal ones. But I've never been part of a discussion with conservative writers about how we could most help the Republican or the conservative team.
    This appeared in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal.

    Is Barnes unfamiliar with the so-called "vast right-wing conspiracy"? That phrase likely reflects a measure of hyperbole, but there's clearly intense overlap and message commonality among Republican party operatives and right-wing media outlets.

    In fact, as noted at the end of his column, "Mr. Barnes is executive editor of the Weekly Standard and a commentator on Fox News Channel." The Journal is owned by Ruport Murdoch, who also owns Fox. Barnes went to work for Fox in 1996.

    It's a media trifecta!

    What about the links to Republican party politics?

    The Weekly Standard is edited by William Kristol, who came to fame in part (aside from family connections), because of his work for Dan Quayle and more importantly, his leadership of the concerted effort to stop the Clintons' health care initiative.

    The December 1993 memo, "Defeating President Clinton's Health Care Proposal" was penned under the auspices of the Project for the Republican Future. The memo was "his first of what would become legendary strategy memos circulated among Republican policymakers." Kristol published some parts of the memo in the Wall Street Journal in January 1994.

    Brad DeLong helpfully posted the full memo in March 2009:
    These four pages are an attempt to describe a common political strategy for Republicans in response to the Clinton health care plan.
    The coordination was certainly effective. Media Matters, June 2009:
    As Haynes Johnson and David S. Broder documented in The System (Little, Brown and Co., 1996), during the battle over President Clinton's reform plan, "a loose confederation of special-interest groups nationwide ... united for one purpose -- to kill what they termed derisively 'Clintoncare.'"
    I've searched archives of The New Republic (Barnes employer) in 1993 and 1994 and he frequently cited Kristol's analysis on health care and other issues. On April 4, 1994, Barnes wrote, "Kristol makes a strong case, but few Republicans are willing to join him in attacking universal coverage."

    Barnes seemed to be a team player even before he joined Fox in 1996.

    After Clinton-care was defeated, "The Project [for the Republican Future] was disbanded and the staff incorporated into the operations of the magazine The Weekly Standard when it was begun by Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation in 1995."

    Barnes now seems to be fully committed to the Kristol-Murdoch-Republican cabal.

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    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Journolist updates

    The Journolist leaks continue this week.

    Last month, I failed to notice how former listmember Dave Weigel (forced out of his position at the Washington Post) was criticized for accurately using an inflammatory term with origins in Republican party politics dating to the Watergate-era. I'd say "shame on Jonathan Strong," but that's redundant.

    I also originally missed former listmember Scott Winship's interesting speculations about the likely leaker. The post brought several new suspects to mind.

    List founder Ezra Klein outed former listmember Gautham Nagesh, who used to work for Tucker Carlson's website that is leaking the emails. Former listmember David Dayen notes that Carlson asked to join Journolist shortly before he started publishing the leaks. Carlson was not asked to join. Nagesh says he is not the leaker -- and confirms that the list was wonkish and not a place for birthing conspiracies.

    Klein demonstrates that the latest sensationalist headlines are very misleading and the stories reference individual emails often taken completely out of context. Here's a nice overview of the situation, written by a former listmember, who does not think the tentacles from this story are fully extended. If that's true, Matt Welch of Reason explains that Carlson and Strong have some serious work to do ahead:
    The real spade-work on the JournoList trove is not just fishing for a single chunk of Drudge-bait, but tying an off-the-record listserv conversation with a coordinated flurry of on-the-record commentary. Locker-room trash-talk can be fun to spy in on (in a train-wreck kind of way), but if there's a real opinion-journalism scandal underneath any of this it will lie in attempts, concscious or unconscious, to foist political message discipline on disparate and unsuspecting audiences. This ain't that.
    Media Matters pursues the fairly obvious conspiracy to make Journolist look like a conspiracy.

    BTW, full disclosure, I'm not on Cabalist.

    I'd probably like to be.

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    Tuesday, July 20, 2010


    I realize the blogging around here has been light, but you can find several more substantive posts of mine elsewhere in the blogosphere.

    At Duck of Minerva, I wrote a post today "Hypocrisy Watch" concerning the U.S.-South Korean flap about nuclear reprocessing. Once again, I find neorealists perhaps a little too interested in hypocrisy.

    June 14, I blogged "So long for now, New England," which briefly mentions a personal academic angle to my family's June college tour.

    Duck readers also had the opportunity to read about my car purchasing decisions and the demise of Journolist.

    Meanwhile, on my Climate Politics: IR and the Environment blog for e-IR, I finally wrote several recent posts. Here are the titles and opening sentences:

    Global Governance and Geoengineering
    July 18, 2010 

    In a review of Jeff Goodell’s new book on geoengineering, How To Cool The Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth’s Climate, Grist’s David Roberts notes that the topic raises a variety of “big questions about progress, responsibility, [and] the future of humanity.” Roberts:
    To begin with, consider that by some estimates a l…

    Framing climate change
    July 12, 2010 

    At my home institution, I’m involved in a project to reduce carbon emissions via individual behavioral changes. A relatively small group of scholars and administrators have been looking at some interesting theoretical and empirical social science research to bolster our efforts.
    To understand what I have in mind, consider an example of behavioral change mentioned ear…

    Scientific illiteracy and religion
    July 10, 2010 

    The May/June 2010 Utne Reader has a brief piece on science versus religion that reframes classic tensions in terms of climate change:
    Everyone needs to remember, however, that “not all of the religious have a problem with science,” Chris Mooney, author of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, tells Free Inquiry (Feb.-March 2010). An atheist (a…

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    Sunday, July 18, 2010

    Michigan, 2010

    Long-time readers may recall that my family often heads north to Michigan in the summer to escape the heat in Louisville. Three-fourths of us returned there these past weeks, though it wasn't quite the same as it used to be.

    My oldest daughter, only a year away from departing the nest for college, is in a five week program for Kentucky's talented seniors-to-be. My younger daughter, moreover, spent three weeks in Michigan apart from us at one of the country's finest camps (and schools) for young artists.

    Thus, my spouse and I spent most of the past week vacationing without our children -- something we really hadn't done since our 10th anniversary in 2001. Prior to that, we spent time locally car shopping and enjoying some shows and films. Check out "Winter's Bone," which has a Kentucky connection (the lead actress is a former local).

    Once in Michigan, on our way to collect our theatre student, we hit the beach for a day, enjoyed the local brews, went for a woodland hike, sampled a variety of tasty local cherry products, and purchased a large box of delicious blueberries for home consumption. We even had a taste of Europe one evening at a very good cafe. That night, we stayed across the street from the Cadillac dealer of Cadillac! My Dad would have liked that.

    As a side note, as it has in the past, the nation's political scene intersected our visit to Michigan. However, we once again decided not to attempt to combine politics (my business) and pleasure.

    On the beach, I missed the persistent "look at me, Daddy" that our lakeside neighbors got to hear. On the other hand, I was able to complete a very long and interesting novel. And since Interlochen concluded with a fine show featuring my daughter, I got to experience the "watch me" moment nonetheless.

    Incidentally, we drove the new Altima Hybrid and got over 37 mpg on the trip.

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    Friday, July 09, 2010

    2010 Nissan Altima Hybrid

    2010 Nissan Altima Hybrid
    Originally uploaded by Jerry Durant Auto Group

    Update: We bought this same Navy Blue car in Maryland. It got over 35 mpg on the trip home!

    My experience with the dealership wasn't 100% positive and our relationship is not finished. Once my check clears, they have to send me a certificate of ownership and a completed form for registering the car in Kentucky.

    Monday, July 05, 2010

    Richard III

    Kentucky Shakespeare is presenting "Richard III" in Louisville's Central Park for the next week or so. Several days ago, my spouse and I attended the performance and it was very good. This year, they are also serving (Shakes)beer and wine!

    The actor (Brian Hinds) playing Richard III is particularly impressive. Shakespeare made the character a diabolical villain, but wickedly funny at times. Hinds brings him to life.

    While it's seemingly too hot in Louisville to think about a "winter of our discontent," pick a mild evening and check out the show. The production is free -- and the play even features a real horse. Stick around until the end and you'll learn whether Richard is able to pull off a lopsided trade involving that steed.

    Hint: There's a lot of talk about despair and death.

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    Sunday, July 04, 2010

    Please help me buy a hybrid car

    Cross-posted at Duck of Minerva.

    I've been doing some car shopping this past week and it appears as if one of the best bargains around is the 2010 Nissan Altima Hybrid. The base car's invoice price is a bit less than $26,000. However, Nissan is offering $5000 (!!) cash back in some areas of the country -- $4000 that has been available for many months, $500 that is a generic Nissan incentive over the next month, and $500 more for the holiday weekend.

    That means that some dealers are offering the vehicle for under $20,000.

    Additionally, because Nissan hasn't sold many of these cars, they are still eligible for a nice tax credit from the federal government: $2350.

    We're now talking about a midsize Sedan Hybrid for $17,500. The non-hybrid version of this car is the top-rated vehicle in its class according to Consumer Reports. Prius may be a better mobile billboard, but the Altima seems like a very good car. Plus, Nissan licensed Toyota's hybrid technology.

    Personally, I'd add the K01 "convenience package" to the base brice, which provides an electrically adjustable driver seat and some other stuff for $1300. Indeed, including that option, I've been quoted $21,280 from a dealer I found on-line. The tax credit would reduce the price another 10% next year.

    Here's the catch -- and the reason for my bleg: I apparently cannot buy (or even test drive) the car in Kentucky. Or anywhere near here. The dealership I linked is geographically the closest to my home and it is over 400 miles away.

    Nissan is only marketing this vehicle in states that have adopted the "California emissions standards." These are mostly in the northeastern U.S. -- or on the west coast.

    Thanks to, I found a used 2009 version of the car in Louisville and gave it a test drive. As some reviewers had warned, the vehicle hesitated (jerked?) a bit when switching from electric to gas-power. However, the car I drove had over 30,000 miles on its odometer as it was a former fleet car. I presumed the automobile had been worked hard and was not an especially good representative of the model.

    Has anyone been behind the wheel of a 2010 Nissan Altima Hybrid? Rental agencies sometimes have them. Does anyone own an older model? If so, I'd really appreciate your feedback. I'm seriously thinking of heading east to get this car -- and that with the knowledge that the closest certified Nissan service technician for its hybrid is in Indianapolis, just over 100 miles away. Local dealers could only work on the non-hybrid parts of the car. In my view, AAA would provide any needed towing if something major went wrong.

    Most reviewers disliked the vehicles limited availability and relatively high price (before rebates). Doesn't it seem as if those problems can be resolved?

    Anyone want to talk me back from the brink?


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