2008 - %3, February

Clarence Thomas, Stoicism Personified

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 2:43 PM EST

cthomas.jpg According to the AP, "Two years and 144 cases have passed since Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas last spoke up at oral arguments."

Maybe he's trying to make a point. Maybe he's dead.

RIP, Clarence Thomas.

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Another Dem Debate Tonight? Another Chance to Go Round and Round on Health Care Mandates

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 10:50 AM EST

Another Democratic debate tonight? Enough already. Hillary Clinton has been pushing Barack Obama for more and more debates. But these debates have lost their utility. Do we really need to see the pair bicker once more over health care coverage mandates? That's the only major current policy difference that the two have zeroed in on in their face-offs. They argue their points around and around in a circle like quarrelers in a bad marriage. And they're kinda both right.

If you want to achieve universal coverage at the most efficient price point, then you need as big a pool as possible. That's basic economics. So Hillary Clinton correctly notes that mandates are needed--especially to get into this pool those folks who may not need costly health care. Their premiums will help cover the cost of care for others. That's how insurance works: the more, the merrier.

But Obama has a point when he says that it would not be fair to force people to buy insurance they cannot afford and that may not meet their needs. I recently met someone from Massachusetts--where there now is a health insurance mandate--who complained that she and her husband could not afford the insurance they are mandated to purchase. And, she added, they make just enough money to be beyond qualifying for a subsidy. This couple is considering moving out of the state. Maybe they're over-reacting to the situation. But no one should be compelled to purchase substandard but costly coverage. Consequently, it seems fair to say, "Let's see the policy, before we accept the mandate." No doubt about it, Obama got somewhat trapped in all this. He put out a plan with limited mandates (only for parents regarding coverage for their kids) and was then raised (as in poker) by Clinton. At that point, Obama could not admit he had proposed an insufficient plan. He was forced into a corner--defending the absence of a comprehensive mandate in his plan--and this debate was born.

Dodd Endorses Obama

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 9:46 AM EST

An email Chris Dodd just sent to supporters:

We have been through a lot in this past year and your friendship and support have meant so much to me. That is why I wanted to let you know of my decision to endorse a Democratic candidate for President - and that I have decided to support Barack Obama.
We all understand how much is at stake in this election and that it is more important than ever that we put a Democrat in the White House.
And while both of our Party's remaining candidates are extremely talented and would make excellent commanders-in-chief, I am throwing my support to the candidate who I believe will open the most eyes to our shared Democratic vision.
I'm deeply proud to be the first 2008 Democratic presidential candidate to endorse Barack Obama. He is ready to be President. And I am ready to support him - to work with him and for him and help elect him our 44th President.

Obama: Cultural Meme in the Making

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 9:41 AM EST

Overheard yesterday at the gym:

Man 1: Did you see any of the movies nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars?

Man 2: Nah.

Man 1: Yeah. There wasn't an Obama movie, one that everybody could like.

McCain's Connection to the Siegelman Case

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 9:15 AM EST

Just yesterday we mentioned the railroaded former Governor of Alabama, Democrat Don Siegelman, who is now in prison after a six-year-long witch hunt prosecuted by that state's GOP.

Turns out, John McCain is connected to the scandal. As head of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, McCain released a report on the Abramoff scandal in 2006 that didn't include any mention of an Abramoff email that implicated Siegelman's opponent in a gubernatorial race later that year, Bob Riley, in Abramoff's influence peddling schemes. Riley went on to win, and Siegelman went to prison. McCain has refused to make the email public since that election; it only came to light because an anonymous source leaked it to the Huffington Post.

Siegelman's Democratic allies in Alabama are calling for a special prosecutor to reexamine his case.

Departing US Iran Envoy Says Nuclear Issue Will Not Be Resolved By Time Bush Leaves Office

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 9:49 PM EST

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns, who is due to leave the State Department after twenty-six years of service at the end of the month, spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington tonight. He discussed a range of issues, from Kosovo to North Korea. He said he believes that perhaps the biggest unanticipated issue for the next administration on the global front will be the energy issue, and its relation to global climate change.

But all were looking to Washington's top Iran envoy for a signal about what the Bush administration plans to do on the Iran nuclear issue over the next ten months; and for signs that Burns' imminent departure might be related to some bureaucratic battle - or simple exhaustion or frustration - at trying to lead the administration's effort to cobble and keep together an international coalition to pressure Iran diplomatically and with economic sanctions and other means to change its behavior on its nuclear program.

And Burns did deliver a fairly clear message on that question. He said that he did not think the Iran nuclear issue would be resolved by the end of the Bush administration and would still be outstanding when a new administration takes office.

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The West Gets 500% Dustier

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 9:41 PM EST

dustbowl.jpg The west wasn't always so dusty. It got a whole more so in the past 200 years, 500 percent more so—thanks to American expansion, complete with trains, ranches, and livestock. Sediment records from dust blown into alpine lakes in southwest Colorado's San Juan Mountains over millennia indicate the sharp rise in dust deposits beginning in the middle of the last century. "From about 1860 to 1900, the dust deposition rates shot up so high that we initially thought there was a mistake in our data," said geologist Jason Neff of the University of Colorado Boulder. "But the evidence clearly shows the western U.S. had its own Dust Bowl beginning in the 1800s when the railroads went in and cattle and sheep were introduced into the rangelands. There were an estimated 40 million head of livestock on the western rangeland during the turn of the century, causing a massive and systematic degradation of the ecosystems." The 1934 Taylor Grazing Act imposed restrictions on western grazing lands, and the deposits show a coinciding decrease in dust that continues to this day.

Another reason to bring back the bison.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Black Immigrants, 'Model' Minority? Plus: Don Imus

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 8:38 PM EST

In my interview with Don Imus last Wednesday, I finally got around to talking about something I rarely get to - black immigrants. More on that in a minute.

It's amazing how much we fawn over Senator Obama's being 'black' without displaying any interest in that blackness, as if being a half-Kenyan mostly ex-pat tells us all we need to know about him. All that's interesting. That's what I was trying to get at generally in my book, The End of Blackness, and in this infamous piece. I finally got to it on, of all places, the Don Imus show.

That interview with Imus was so unbelievable, you simply have to listen to it. Here's part 1 and part 2.

Study: Anything With a Beat Causes Sexism

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 6:36 PM EST

mojo-photo-eminem.jpgVia AllHipHop.com, it's a study that appears to connect hip-hop to sexism, but not in the way you'd expect. Political science professors at North Carolina State University placed male and female students in three groups. One listened to Eminem's "Kill You" (representing the "misogynist" team: "Slut, you think I won't choke no whore/ 'til the vocal cords don't work in her throat no more?"), the second listened to the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" (representing absence of misogyny: "I'm-a set it straight, this Watergate") and the third group "was not exposed to rap music." So did they play them Josh Groban, or just sit them in a quiet room? It doesn't say. Anyway, the study concluded that hip-hop music made people more sexist, no matter what the lyrics were about:

Romney Redux?

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 4:15 PM EST

No, the prodigious Romney spawn are not running for office. Romney himself is thinking about getting back in!

That's according to Josh Romney, the elder Romney's son, who says it is "possible" his father may rejoin the race for the White House, due to John McCain's stumbles.

As hilarious as that would be (I miss the good old days, when the Republican race was completely FUBAR), it wouldn't do Romney much good. According to the AP's delegate count, Romney's former victories gave him just two more delegates than Mike Huckabee currently has. It's commonly acknowledged that it is mathematically impossible for Huckabee to win the nomination. The same goes for Romney.

Mitt, listen. To paraphrase Jay-Z, you got money stacks bigger than John McCain. Enjoy your retirement. Or, make like John Edwards after 2004 and start campaigning in Iowa now.

Update: Josh Romney proves me wrong! He is considering running for Congress!