2007 - %3, November

Andrew Sullivan Ruminates on the Power of Obama's Face

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 11:17 AM PST

obama_face.jpg Many people on the blogosphere have taken note of Andrew Sullivan's ode to Barack Obama in the Atlantic. Sullivan argues that Obama is the only candidate who can break America out of the pro-Vietnam/anti-Vietnam culture war that has gripped America for forty years. The frontrunners, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, whether they like it or not, "are conscripts in their generation's war. To their respective sides, they are war heroes."

I'm not sure I agree with Sullivan's central premise, did I find this supporting argument about Obama interesting:

What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. Such a re-branding is not trivial—it's central to an effective war strategy...
Consider this hypothetical. It's November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America's soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama's face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

This is an argument that Obama himself doesn't make. Perhaps it's because we're in highly homogeneous Iowa (read: 96 percent white), but Obama didn't mention his race once in the time I spent with him. By comparison, Hillary Clinton mentioned her gender on multiple occasions in the time I spent with her. The speakers that introduced her often highlighted it.

The closest Obama came to mentioning his race was in response to a question after the third event he did on the day I followed his campaign. He said that he would be uniquely qualified to resurrect America's standing the world because he would "put a new face" on American leadership. He has a grandmother who lives in a small village in Kenya. He lived in Indonesia. He can listen to the rest of the world in a way no other politician can, and he can get the rest of the world to listen back.

But never once was the word "black" mentioned, nor "African-American." Maybe Obama is as "post-race" as some claim, and maybe that's why he does as well as he does.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Utah To Offer Cops "Sweat Your Meth" Treatments

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 11:17 AM PST

The Scientologists are an enterprising bunch, aren't they? The latest:

The state of Utah is paying $50,000 to the Bio Cleansing Centers of America to treat eight current and retired police officers allegedly sickened from busting up meth labs. The center's detoxification treatment, which seems to consist mostly of sending the overweight cops to the sauna for hours on end, is based on the teachings of Scientology. It's similar to a controversial clinic in New York, set up with a huge donation from the nation's most famous Scientologist Tom Cruise, to treat 9/11 rescue workers. Scientology's late founder L. Ron Hubbard claimed that toxins could be flushed from the body through sweating and taking megadoses of vitamins, among other things, hence the sauna treatments.

Normally state attorneys general get called in to scrutinize such programs for peddling unproven therapies to gullible customers, but in Utah, it's actually the state AG who got the whole thing going. Not only that, but Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff wants the state to throw another $140,000 at the program to expand the treatment to more officers, despite a dearth of evidence showing that it actually works.

Utah residents seem to have an affinity for dubious health care practitioners. The state is home to "celluloid valley," the dietary supplement industry, which has made billions selling bogus natural therapies to unsuspecting consumers. The Scientologists and their sauna should feel right at home there.

Do You Speak Urdu?

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 8:19 AM PST

Mother Jones is pursuing an investigative project that requires the services of an Urdu speaker. You give us about 20 minutes of your time, and we'll give you a free subscription to the magazine. If that's not enough, you'll also get the satisfaction of helping us to break a big story. Those who are interested may write to tocotronicrocks@yahoo.com. Many thanks...

Obama Gets "Vision," Richardson Doesn't

| Thu Nov. 8, 2007 11:18 PM PST

obama_blog.jpg

In my recent article on Bill Richardson, I wrote, "Richardson articulates a platform, not a vision." The New Mexico governor has a habit of listing policy proposals—including incredibly obscure and tiny policy proposals—without explaining how they fit into a narrative or theme that makes the case for his presidency.

I want to provide an example of a campaign that avoids this mistake, to better illustrate what I'm saying. At a event in Bettendorf, Iowa, yesterday, Barack Obama proposed the following things:

  • A middle class tax cut of up to $1,000 for working families.
  • Elimination of income tax on retirees making less than $50,000 per year.
  • Guaranteeing paid sick days and family leave days.
  • Doubling funding for after-school programs and giving a $4,000 tax credit to college students.
  • Cracking down on mortage fraud and predatory credit card policies, ending abusive payday lending practices, and reforming bankruptcy laws.

    In all of these areas, Obama matched concrete policy proposals with an explanation of how they will make the lives of everyday Americans more stable and more prosperous. He discussed taxes, retirement, family issues, education, college affordability, and housing, all within the context of what Obama called a "plan to reclaim the American dream." The whole speech was about the American dream, and about how, under Obama's leadership, it will get easier, not harder, to achieve.

    That's policy matched with vision. And that's what Richardson lacks.

Rudy Giuliani Tells Those Darn Kids If You Don't Vote, "It's Your Fault"

| Thu Nov. 8, 2007 10:29 PM PST

giuliani_blog.jpg

At a Rudy Giuliani event at University of Northern Iowa this afternoon, a public speaking instructor asked Giuliani what he would say to young people who are disillusioned by politics.

"I'll tell you what I'd say," Giuliani said. He clapped his hands fiercely. CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! "Wake up! Look at America!" he said. "You are so lucky. You live in the best country in the world." He explained that America offers opportunity that no other country does, and that if young people are not so excited about America, they should try traveling abroad, because they'd return relieved to live in the old U.S.A. He repeated over and over some version of the line, "Just take a look at what you have around you, look at what you can do. You are very, very lucky."

Sometimes, Giuliani said, you need to "move your perspective around."

Giuliani didn't deny that there are imperfections in American politics that turn young people off, but claimed that young people could change what they didn't like. "You get a chance to vote. And if you pass it up," he said, "it's your fault."

Afterwards, students I asked about Giuliani's response were a little stunned. "Umm, I guess there's not a whole lot I can say about it," said Justin Brinker, a 22-year-old junior.

"Uhhh... I though it was all right," said Dane Embury, a 22-year-old senior. "But I still think it's going to be an issue." He shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno."

The lack of policy proposals that might appeal to young voters, or resurrect their faith in the system, wasn't missed. Jess Paulsen, a 20-year-old junior said, "I don't know. I think it might have been better to add in how he's going to, kinda, do something about student loans. And bring up education in general. Because this is a university and that's why people are here."

John Edwards has a whole agenda for college affordability, which includes a national initiative that pays for one year of public-college tuition, fees, and books for more than 2 million students. It also includes an overhaul of the student loan system and a simplification of the financial aid application process. Barack Obama just proposed a tax credit worth $4,000 for tuition and fees every year. He wants greater support for the American community college system.

Point is, the Democrats have proposals that illustrate (1) an awareness that political disillusionment occurs in part because college-age voters don't believe Washington cares about the squeeze that is being put on them, and (2) a willingness to address the problems of youth voters, even though youth voters don't organize and fight for their needs, and often don't even vote.

But that's not what you get from Rudy Giuliani. Rudy Giuliani is the daddiest member of the daddy party. You kids don't get no stinkin' Pell Grants. You get tough love.

John Coltrane, 101

| Thu Nov. 8, 2007 7:00 PM PST
coltrane.gif

I love jazz biographies as much as the next music nerd, but Ben Ratliff's latest book on jazz giant John Coltrane, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, transcends typical expectations of a biography. It documents how one of the most famous and revered jazz musicians of all time actually developed his sound, style, and technique.

Coltrane, in the hands of this New York Times music critic, is a man constantly searching—and practicing—and pushing himself to the next level musically. He's also a music theory-obsessed saxophonist that people didn't always know what to make of, but he was consistently invited to play anyway; and repeatedly blew people away with his power and tenacity.

The first-person accounts given by fellow musicians, friends, peers and admirers are the charm of the book. French-horn player David Amram recalls Coltrane sitting outside of a club, eating a piece of pie and talking about Einstein's theory of relativity. Testimonies from rock musicians help contextualize Coltrane's influence outside of New York's jazz clubs. The Stooges' singer Iggy Pop, known for his wild physicality on stage, explains "What I heard John Coltrane do with his horn, I tried to do physically." Mike Watt, bassist for the post-punk band The Minutemen, says "[Coltrane] didn't want to get fuckin' nailed down. That's the anarchistic spirit."

In short, it takes Ratcliff 200 pages to describe how an amazing, controversial jazz man worked to transform himself and the instrument he played, and as a result, challenged what people thought (and still think) jazz music should sound like.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Surge of Homeless Vets

| Thu Nov. 8, 2007 3:02 PM PST

For those looking into the real costs of the war in Iraq, as Mother Jones did in our Iraq 101 package, it's been evident for some time that as soldiers returned from war, rates of homelessness would spike.

The New York Times reports:

"We're beginning to see, across the country, the first trickle of this generation of warriors in homeless shelters," said Phil Landis, chairman of Veterans Village of San Diego, a residence and counseling center. "But we anticipate that it's going to be a tsunami."

In fact, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are turning heroes into homeless people faster and more efficiently than Vietnam did.

Special traits of the current wars may contribute to homelessness, including high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and traumatic brain injury, which can cause unstable behavior and substance abuse, and the long and repeated tours of duty, which can make the reintegration into families and work all the harder.

If that weren't depressing enough, because women are seeing far more combat in 21st century wars, more of them are turning up homeless, too. One major risk factor is sexual abuse: 40 percent of homeless female vets report being raped by other American soldiers while on active duty.

And in case you weren't thinking it already, all this for what, exactly?

No Justice In Climate Change

| Thu Nov. 8, 2007 1:00 PM PST

Global-warming-maps_hi-res-sm.jpgWhen it comes to global warming, discussions tend to get real abstract, real fast. How will climbing temperatures actually affect you? Well, it depends where you live—and how rich you are (or aren't). According to a forthcoming study, climate change will disproportionately impact the world's poor.

Jonathan Patz, a professor of public health and the environment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is one of the study's lead authors (and also an IPCC author). Patz says it's time for those of us in the gas-guzzling-est of countries to come to terms with the painful (and inconvenient) truth: Our lifestyle is bad news for the developing world—and we've got an ethical problem on our hands. In a UW-Madison press release, Patz says:

If energy demand drives up the price of corn, for example, this can inflict undue burden on poor or malnourished populations or shift agricultural areas away from other traditional food crops.

And then there are the health issues:

There are many serious diseases that are sensitive to climate, and as earth's climate changes, so too can the range and transmission of such diseases....Many of these climate-sensitive diseases, such as malaria, malnutrition, and diarrhea, affect children.

This isn't the first time someone has pointed out the unfairness of climate change. Among others, Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier has noted that her people's carbon output is a tiny fraction of the U.S.'s, yet global warming is already threatening the Inuit way of life. The IPCC has also predicted that poor people—particularly those in Africa—will be hardest hit by climate change.

To read the study, you'll have to wait till next week, when it will be published in the journal EcoHealth, but you can already check out these cool maps—one shows countries' relative carbon outputs, while the other shows their vulnerability to the effects of climate change.

Huckabee Fever Hits Iowa, Sorta

| Thu Nov. 8, 2007 12:56 PM PST

huckabee_blog.jpg

Mike Huckabee spoke to a crowd of about 100 people in Cedar Rapids this morning. I hate to confirm all the cliches about the Arkansas Governor, but his campaign appeal really does rest on his folksy, down-to-earth charm and his good humor. People at the event said they were considering supporting Huckabee (there were precious few true believers) because he is "genuine," "honest," and/or "charming."

To wit. He opened his speech with a fictional story that made no point about his campaign or his personal history—it was simply a longish joke about a condemned man who would rather hang than listen to a politician campaign. Ba dum.

And from that, Huckabee moved to another story, this time a true one about a woman at a gala dinner in Arkansas who confused Huckabee with a different politician and was unapologetic about it afterwards. "You politicians all look the same to me," she told Huckabee. It's a head-scratcher why he chose to tell us.

As for the body of the speech, Huckabee spoke at length about how abortion is a moral issue that cannot, like Fred Thompson argues, be decided at the state level. That's Huckabee's bread and butter—as a former Baptist minister, he has unique appeal amongst the Christian Right. He took a hard-line approach on illegal immigration, pimped his fair tax idea that scraps the IRS and the income tax in favor of a "consumption tax," and emphasized that the American health care system needs to focus on prevention. It's time we started "killing snakes instead of treating snake bites," he said.

At one point, when an audience member was asking a question, one of the "Mike Huckabee for President" signs taped behind the Governor fell off the wall. Huckabee turned around while the person was still talking, picked the sign up, and smacked it back on. "I don't want anyone saying Huckabee's campaign is falling in Iowa," he said.

After the event, Huckabee's national field director, who also happens to be his daughter, said that Huckabee has to place in the top three in Iowa to stay in the race.

Oh, and after the event, I asked Huckabee if he was disappointed and/or suprised by social conservative Sam Brownback's endorsement of John McCain.

"I would be dishonest to say I wasn't disappointed, but I wasn't that surprised," he said. "I knew that Sam and John McCain were good friends from the Senate. For me, what's more important than just having the Senator's support is having his supporters' support." Huckabee smiled and said, "John McCain can take Sam, I'll take the supporters."

Bob Novak Sees Everything Through a Political Lens

| Thu Nov. 8, 2007 10:03 AM PST

Bob Novak is claiming that social conservatives have had just about enough of Fred Thompson and his moderate views. On a recent Meet the Press appearance, Thompson opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, opposed the congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo case, and opposed a constitutional amendment to ban abortions (though such an amendment has been part of the Republican Party platform since 1980).

And it's this last that is really getting people. On abortion, Thompson said, "You can't have a [federal] law" that "would take young, young girls... and say, basically, we're going to put them in jail." Despite his 100 percent pro-life voting record, Thompson is clearly just not avid enough. Here's Novak:

Thompson's comments revealed an astounding lack of sensitivity about abortion. He surely anticipated that Russert would cite his record favoring states' rights on abortion. Whether the candidate just blurted out his statement or had planned it, it suggested a failure to realize how much his chances for the Republican nomination depend on social conservatives.

Here's what I want to point out. As should be obvious, Thompson's comments revealed a lack of sensitivity about politics; they showed a high level of integrity about abortion. Novak can't distinguish between the two. For him, evaluating a stand or a position on principle is a non-starter, a moot point. A position can only be evaluated based on politics, and how it will help election chances. Blergh.