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Obama in Berlin: Another Great Communicator?

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 2:12 PM EDT

Elections, the consultants tell us, are about the future, not the past. And all politics is not only local but aspiration-driven. It's about not only what's gone wrong or what people fear but what voters want and, yes, hope, for. And Barack Obama is quite good at speaking about aspirations, whether at home or abroad.

From his much-anticipated speech in Berlin on Thursday:

People of Berlin – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time. I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we've struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.
But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived – at great cost and great sacrifice – to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom – indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What has always united us – what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America's shores – is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.
These are the aspirations that joined the fates of all nations in this city. These aspirations are bigger than anything that drives us apart. It is because of these aspirations that the airlift began. It is because of these aspirations that all free people – everywhere – became citizens of Berlin. It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation – our generation – must make our mark on the world.

The speech was predictably grand; the photo op, superb, with Obama bathed in golden light. There's not much policy in these eloquent words--though elsewhere in the speech he did speak about the pressing need to globally confront climate change, poverty, and AIDS. But in politics--and in government--inspiration does matter. And being a great communicator of lofty ideals is not a bad credential for a candidate--or a president.

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Former Iraqi P.M. Says Surge Not So Great

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 1:51 PM EDT

When it comes to Iraq, the surge is a great success, right? Well, according to Ayad Allawi, Iraq's former prime minister, that depends on what you mean by "success".

In a briefing before members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday, Allawi answered questions from members of he subcommittee on international organizations, human rights, and oversight. When asked by Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), the subcommittee's ranking member, for Allawi's "assessment of of what's come of the surge," Allawi all but said, not much.

Reminding Rohrabacher that the original objective of the surge was to create a safe environment for a process of national reconciliation, Allawi said, "Now, militarily, the surge has achieved some of its goals. Politically, I don't think so."

Allawi rattled off a laundry list of perils that still confront the Iraqi people: internal displacement of large numbers of people, millions of refugees outside Iraq, security forces he described as sectarian militias dressed in national uniforms, no enforcement of the national constitution, which he described as a "divisive" document.

The former prime minister, who is now a member of the Iraqi parliament, also alleged that the process known as "deBaathification" is "being used to punish people." Originally designed to purge Saddam Hussein's loyalists from the military and security forces, Allawi said the process has become politicized and can be used against virtually anybody, since Saddam Hussein's "Baath party ruled for 35 years, and every individual had to join..."

Carbon Offsets: Laughing off Climate Change?

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 1:41 PM EDT

From the Wall Street Journal, here's the Kyoto Treaty's latest carbon offset scandal:

Rhodia SA manufactures hundreds of tons a day of adipic acid, an ingredient in nylon, at its factory [in Korea]. But the real money is in what it doesn't make. The payday, which could amount to more than $1 billion over seven years, comes from destroying nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, an unwanted byproduct and potent greenhouse gas. It's Rhodia's single most profitable business world-wide. Last year, destroying nitrous oxide here and at a similar plant in Brazil generated €189 million ($300.5 million) in sales of pollution "credits." . . .The [French-owned] Rhodia factory is slated to bring in more money, under the U.N.-administered program, than all the clean-air projects currently registered on the continent of Africa.

This story should lay to rest any doubts that carbon offsets must be treated with the utmost skepticism by lawmakers. It reprises a similar debacle I reported here, involving refrigerant manufactures who were "paid" under Kyoto to create more greenhouse gases so that they could destroy them and call it a carbon offset. The Rhodia case is all the more troubling because the culprit is a French company that should be running green anyway and because Kyoto's regulators were supposed to have learned how to prevent this by now. In short, buyer beware as the United States shops for its own legislative solution to climate change.
So why are these glaring cases of profiteering being glossed over in Washington? As I note in our July/August issue, the biggest carbon offset companies have partnered with some of the world's biggest polluters in an attempt to sculpt the details of a U.S. climate bill. (Lieberman-Warner would have allowed companies to meet up to 30 percent of their emission reductions with offsets). Hardly anybody is talking about this. The offset lobby still enjoys the kind of positive PR that its industrial partners can only dream of. It's a joke, but they're the ones who'll laugh to the bank.
 

Joe and Valerie Wilson: Take Away the Keys to Novak's Corvette

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 9:46 AM EDT

I'm not really sure why Joe and Valerie Wilson saw the need to chime in on this, but the couple have issued a statement to Think Progress commenting on Robert Novak's hit-and-run accident in Washington yesterday. (Novak says he was unaware that he hit someone. An eyewitness, who pursued the columnist on bicycle for a half-block before blocking his car and calling 911, says the victim was "splayed onto the windshield" before rolling off. If so, that would be kinda hard to miss.)

Say the Wilson's, whose lives were upended when Novak blew Valerie's covert CIA cover in a 2003 column:

Our sympathies go out to the victim of Novak's action. Once again Novak has demonstrated his callous disregard for the rights of others, as well as his chronic inability to accept responsibility for his actions.

We have long argued that responsible adults should take Novak's typewriter away. The time has arrived for them to also take away the keys to his Corvette.

Cayman Island Office Building Home to 9,000 U.S. Tax Cheats

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 9:43 AM EDT

Corporate America and its wealthy executive class has had it good under the Bush administration. Not only has it benefited from massive tax cuts, but the Bush administration has stood idle as huge numbers of American companies have set up phony headquarters in the Cayman Islands so better to avoid what little taxes they might have to pay in the U.S. According to a GAO report scheduled for release today, since 2002, the number of American entities reporting a Cayman Island bank account has jumped from 2,677 to nearly 8,000. Suspiciously, investigators traced more than 9,000 American entities that had registered in the Caymans to a single office building.

Past estimates have put the loss of revenue from such schemes at $100 billion. The move to off-shore accounts hasn't exactly been a secret. But the administration has simply turned a blind eye to it as the IRS has struggled to enforce the law with limited resources. That may change, however. The Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on the issue today to consider whether the IRS ought to get some more money and power to make sure that every U.S. corporation pays its fair share. That should come as welcome news to cash-strapped states, which are now facing a whopping $40 billion collective budget deficit, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, leading to widespread cuts in everything from health care services to Maine's popular fish hatchery program.

Why Former Addicts Dread Addiction Memoirs

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 8:33 PM EDT

Below is a guest blog entry by MoJo author Maia Szalavitz:

I'm starting to dread reading about addiction. One would imagine that coming up on the 20th anniversary of my own decision to stop using cocaine and heroin that I would either be utterly bored by it or alternatively, entranced with a subject that touches on free will, morality, neuroscience, sociology, psychology and endless politics.

Typically, I engage in the latter obsessions—but when I read media portrayals of addiction like Sunday's front-page New York Times magazine excerpt of the its columnist David Carr's addiction memoir, I cringe.

It's not that I don't have sympathy and compassion for people who struggle with this disorder—how could I not? It's not that I don't recognize that other people will have different perspectives from my own. My problem is that virtually every addiction memoir—whilst strenuously arguing otherwise or, as in this case, self-consciously highlighting the clichés—tells the same story.

Meanwhile, other equally true stories of addiction go untold. And worse, these untold stories actually represent the majority of cases, according to the research data. For example, a large proportion of people who recover from opoid addiction do it using methadone—not abstinence. Ever read a methadone memoir? And most people who quit cocaine addiction do it without treatment or even self-help groups. Ever read that one?

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Bush Won't Pardon Marion Jones Because Steroids are Not a Matter of National Security

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 8:25 PM EDT

This spring once track uber-star Marion Jones applied for commutation of her six-month prison sentence, which she is serving for her involvement in the BALCO steroids scandal, for perjuring herself, and for check fraud. Jones, who gave up her five Olympic medals from Sydney in 2000 (three of them gold) has been in jail since March. She applied for the commutation (not a pardon) soon after she started her detention in a Texas slammer, in part because she has an eight-month old son, and because, well, people who do far worse are pardoned all the time.

Scooter Libby, who was convicted on five counts of federal obstruction of justice and perjury charges resulting from the grand jury investigation into the CIA identity leak of Valerie Plame didn't have to serve a day of his 30-month prison term. Bush commuted Cheney's former chief-of-staff's sentence (without Libby even applying for the commutation) calling the sentence "too harsh."

Today the head of the USA Track and Field sent Bush a letter, imploring him not to pardon Jones. "To reduce Ms Jones' sentence or pardon her would send a horrible message to young people who idolized her, reinforcing the notion that you can cheat and be entitled to get away with it." He also said that a commutation or pardon would reinforce the notion that those with "athletic talent, money or fame" enjoy the benefits of a legal double standard.

Double standards in this administration is the standard. Lying and obstructing justice when it comes to a steroids scandal is inexcusable, but lying when it comes to national security is, by action taken, excusable?

Amazing Obama Poster Pays Tribute to Bauhaus Design

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 8:18 PM EDT

mojo-photo-obamaberlin.jpgJeez, I know I've already blubbered endlessly over the sophistication of Obama's graphic design, but you just gotta see this. It's a poster being used to advertise the senator's upcoming speech in Berlin, and it may be the finest piece of contemporary mainstream political art I've ever seen. All text is set at a 45-degree angle on varying shades of Obama Blue, with one thin swath of brick red emphasizing that "Tickets are not needed." Barack's profile is oddly de-emphasized, yet the whole poster seems to be covered in a subtle gradient, creating a definite glow from that side of the page. Some rabble-rousers think that any poster with a profile is Hitler-esque, but the blog Meaningful Distraction more accurately sees the poster as a tribute to classic German modernism, specifically the Bauhaus movement, which, like constructivism, revolutionized graphic design by setting type on diagonals, around corners, and even spirals. Of course, it fits right in with my theory about Obama's design being an example of his post-modern campaign, as much about the references as anything else, but whatever, it looks really cool. See a larger version after the jump.

Top Five: ABBA Songs

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 7:36 PM EDT

mojo-photo-abbaalbums.jpg

With the release of the new film Mamma Mia!, ABBA fever has returned: the soundtrack, which features the Swedish quartet's songs, has just hit #1 on the U.K. album chart, and the now-classic ABBA Gold just jumped back into the Top 5. While John McCain recently took some heat for admitting to enjoying a little ABBA now and then, I'll happily admit to ABBA-love. Not only am I gay, but I was just becoming aware of popular music during the band's heyday; and, perhaps most importantly, I'm half-Swedish. Ikea, meatballs, Bergman, it's all good. However, my admiration for ABBA is somewhat selective: I've always felt some of their songs were as transcendent as pop music can be, while others were either hyperactive and shrill or maudlin and overdramatic. Everybody's got their favorites, I'm sure, but here are mine.

Country Music: Not Just for White People Anymore

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 5:26 PM EDT

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I caught a free show in San Francisco's Union Square on my lunch break this afternoon—a country singer, with a voice rivaling Patti Loveless and Lucinda Williams. But this girl ain't your standard Nashville crooner: Miko Marks is a Michigan native, current Oakland resident, and the first black country singer that I personally have ever seen.

Though country, like rock n' roll, has its roots in black music, these days the twangy genres are not exactly renowned for their ethnic diversity. But Marks is a rising star, and she's not the only one: Turns out that while the rest of us were drooling over Amy Winehouse, black women have been taking the country world by storm. Other notable names are Rissi Palmer, Sunny Daye, and Vicki Vann. While all three women draw on a variety of musical influences, there's no question that the sound is country.

The country music establishment has started to take notice, as have the chroniclers of black popular culture: Ebony magazine recently profiled Marks as part of a feature entitled, "What Does Black Sound Like?" and more than one blog has applauded the women's foray into an almost-totally white musical sphere.