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Larry Craig to Stay Guilty

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 1:54 PM PDT

News out of the Minnesota airport bathroom today. The judge in the Larry Craig circus/retrial took one look at the Idaho Senator's attempt to withdraw his guilty plea and said, "No way, buster."

"The defendant, a career politician with a college education, is of at least above-average intelligence," the judge wrote. "He knew what he was saying, reading and signing."

No word on whether Craig will now (finally) resign.

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We are all Uncle Toms Now

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 11:11 AM PDT

It's ridiculous being black.

You have no idea how much time it takes and the stupifyingly asinine conversations one must have. Like whether or not Don Imus' "nappy headed 'hos" comments were, like, problematic. Or, I dunno, Isaiah Thomas saying its bad for white men to call black women bitches but a brother's gotta do what a brother's gotta do. And, oh lordy, the Uncle Tom libretto we're forced to sing every few months. At least this time, the lyrics have changed a tad but the basic storyline is every bit as improbable as an opera's and equally impervious to the ebb and flow of modernity. Now comes Dr. Boyce Watkins, our latest soloist.

On CNN recently, he called Juan Williams "a happy Negro" for defending Bill O'Reilly's infamous comments about his visit to Sylvia's restaurant. O'Reilly had confessed himself surprised, and reassured, that black people behaved well in public and exhibited proficiency with tableware. Williams is right that O'Reilly's comments were less racist than clumsy. He might also have added, 'a paternalistic pat on the head,' a problem from which O'Reilly could have saved himself had he the self-awareness to end his remarks by saying "and boy am I ashamed for having subconsciously believed that black people are so different from me." And, maybe, "Given the public stances I take on race, how could I have lived this long without spending quality time in the 'hood?" But whether or not O'Reilly is racist is irrelevant. The point is whether or not a black person may disagree with the party line without having his black card pulled and his ghetto pass revoked. Apparently not.

For Watkins, "Seeing Williams sitting there congratulating O'Reilly for his bigotry reminded me of the Negro in the white suit defending "massa" at all costs." Since when did slaves, even trusted house slaves, wear white suits? Methinks he's conflating Uncle Ben with Uncle Tom; even we can't tell each other apart. But I digress.

The notion that a 'real' black person holds a particular set of beliefs or applies a particular analytic framework to social issues—god! I am so over this—is pernicious, but even more importantly, stupid and intellectually paralyzing.

The hyper-analytic in me, though, just loves the deliciousness of the 'happy Negro' edifice. Let's take it apart, shall we?

A 'happy' Negro must a) have a false consciousness b) borne of internalized oppressed and self-hatred which c) leads him to crave the approval of white folks. Otherwise he couldn't be happy, seeing as how life is so hideously difficult for us modern Negroes. Ergo, a rational Negro must be a miserable, no wait!, an angry Negro. Like Dr. Watkins.

Alabama Sends Dems to Jail, Republicans to the Senate

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 10:14 AM PDT

Anybody know anything about Alabama politics? Because it appears U.S. Attorneys and various judges in Alabama took a far-reaching series of corruption cases that implicated both Republicans and Democrats and prosecuted only the Democrats. The result? Former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman is in jail, and and former Republican Attorney General Jeff Sessions is now U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions.

It's a big Time investigative report titled "Selective Justice in Alabama?" and one gets the sense Time's editors really wanted to leave that question mark off the end but didn't have the guts.

Poll: 27% of GOP Voters Would Choose 3rd Party over Rudy

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 9:53 AM PDT

A while back, we mentioned that evangelical leaders had gotten together and agreed to consider a third party candidate if pro-choice, pro-gay rights Rudy Giuliani got the GOP nod.

Maybe that decision reflected widespread sentiment amongst their base, or maybe the base is mimicking the thinking of the Christian right's honchos. Either way, a new Rasmussen poll shows 27 percent of Republican voters would rather vote for a third party candidate (from the Christian right) than for Rudy.

Not good news for a guy who makes the case, on the campaign trail, that he is the only Republican that can beat the Democrats.

White House Gives UK Troops a Big Middle Finger on the Way Out of Iraq

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 9:42 AM PDT

Huh, that's odd. I thought you weren't supposed to criticize the troops. But I guess it's okay if you're the White House and the troops you are criticizing are (1) not from this country, and (2) pulling out of the war. From the UK's Daily Telegraph:

The [senior White House foreign policy official] added that Britain would always be "the cornerstone" of U.S. policy towards Europe but there was "a lot of unhappiness" about how British forces had performed in Basra...
"Operationally, British forces have performed poorly in Basra," said the official. "Maybe it's best that they leave. Now we will have a clear field in southern Iraq."

Thanks for the help, chaps!

North Korean Nuclear Deal Shows Wisdom of Diplomacy, Idiocy of John Bolton

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 8:41 AM PDT

Michael Hirsh of Newsweek, who got it exactly right on Petraeus long before the General's much-ballyhooed congressional testimony, hits the lesson of this North Korean nuclear deal right on the head.

Hirsh explains why we couldn't have done this deal a year ago:

The real difference is one of attitude: a willingness to give even an evil tin-pot dictator like Kim Jong Il something he can take away from the table. In his case it seems to be mostly respect that Kim is looking for. That he can never have, but in an effort to avoid war and the horrors of nuclear proliferation... it may just be worth it to pretend. To grit one's teeth, normalize relations and live with his odious regime a little longer. Yes, what Kim is doing may amount to "nuclear blackmail," as the Bush administration once called it. But it's not as if this negotiation is going to set a precedent for every other rogue nation; it took North Korea 50 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to build the popgun nuke it detonated last October.

The difference in attitude has everything to do with the absence of John Bolton, who is, not surprisingly, spitting on the deal as a commentator for Fox News. With his hawkish, don't-give-an-inch approach, Bolton essentially torpedoed any productive talks with North Korea, the very talks that have now created Bush's only significant foreign policy achievement.

Scratch that. There was a previous achievement: getting Libya to dismantle its WMD programs. Now, that had a lot to do with years of work by the international diplomatic community and little to do with the White House. But nevertheless, if you read Hirsh's article, you'll find that Bolton almost found a way to ruin that, too.

Hirsh goes on to explain that we need a willingness to go tit-for-tat with Iran.

Today there are back channels (like the one led by former U.N. ambassador Tom Pickering) and side channels (like the one being conducted by U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker). What we don't have is a senior U.S. envoy who can put all the issues on the table with Tehran at the same time.

Hopefully, this success with North Korea will show the remaining hawks in the administration that war needn't be the answer with Iran.

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Another Key GOP Senator Retiring, This Time in New Mexico

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 8:07 AM PDT

Citing concerns about his health, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici has announced he will not seek reelection in 2008. The six-term Republican (second most senior, to Alaska's Ted Stevens) was one of Capitol Hill's most powerful players when it came to matters of the budget.

This is just the last in a series of Republican retirements in the Senate and the House. Other retirements include Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Wayne Allard of Colorado. Larry Craig, of course, has his own problems.

Possible Democrats to succeed Domenici, according to the AP, are Representative Tom Udall, Albuquerque Mayor Martin J. Chavez, and state Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

If Udall gets the nod, it could be a big year for his family. The son of former congressman and presidential candidate Mo Udall, Tom is the cousin of current Colorado Rep. Mark Udall, who will likely vie for the Senate seat being emptied by Allard.

Update: Karen Tumulty in Time points out that the filing deadline for this race is February 8. That means if NM Gov. Bill Richardson does poorly in the Feb. 5 national primary, he can drop out of the presidential race and try for Domenici's seat. Richardson will be term-limited out of the New Mexico governorship in 2010.

Update: Udall says he's out.

Chart Beat: iTunes' Top Ten Singles

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 6:34 PM PDT

BritneyAnd now, we turn with the usual trepidation towards those thermometers up the wazoo of our nation's zeitgeist: music sales charts. What are we buying, how sick are we? Let's take a look at today's iTunes top ten songs, and for added multimedia enjoyment, open up your iTunes program and listen to the 30-second excerpts of each song. It's 1/6 of a song, for free!

1. Britney Spears – "Gimme More"
Well, as I've said before, there are good things about this song, but none of those things involve Britney Spears. The track's climb to #1 seems to be evidence of some sort of scientific breakthrough: no matter how far an American celebrity dives down to the quantum level of supposedly career-ending debasement, the axiom of "no publicity is bad publicity" still holds true. It's a unified field theory of celebutards!

2. Soulja Boy – "Crank That"
Still hanging around near the top of the charts, I still believe this is a hit only because of the "youuuuu!" part. It's not bad, there's just so little going on: some inoffensive steel drum noodling and a car-commercial-style orchestral stab. But people sure like saying "youuuu!" along with it.

3. Kanye West – "Stronger"
Mr. West apparently not greatly damaged nor greatly assisted by his goofball SNL performance; still a great song.

4. Feist – "1234"
Does everyone at Apple touch themselves when this kind of thing happens? "Look, we put Feist in our commercial and turned the song into a hit! Our power is unlimited! We are so pretty, so very very pretty!" Well, I resisted Feist's charms to no avail: I now love this song.

5. Timbaland – "Apologize" (feat. OneRepublic)
One of the three tracks on Timbo's new album to feature alt-rock dudes in an ill-advised crossover attempt, this isn't even the worst of them. It's still pretty terrible though: a maudlin emo ballad laid awkwardly over a D-level Timbaland beat. You apologize.

'School of Shock' Gets Facebook Group, College Activism

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 5:36 PM PDT

Our current issue's cover story, on a facility in Massachusetts that uses electric shock to discipline special needs and other kids, "School of Shock," has garnered a huge onslaught of responses, prompting legislation in two states and getting literally hundreds of comments on our site. One reader, Brandeis University student Nathan Robinson, was especially outraged by the painful electric shocks administered to autistic and retarded students at the school, and decided to take action himself.

Robinson, who will graduate in 2011, convened an impromptu, late-night meeting of Brandeis students to make fliers and talk about the issue. In the process, the students formed a Facebook group (Massachusetts Students United Against the Judge Rotenberg Center), which now has more than 300 members. Robinson holds regular meetings where concerned citizens coordinate an old-fashioned letter-writing campaign. The group, Robinson says, is trying "to spread the word among students as best we can."

Read more about Robinson's efforts here, and our story on the school and related articles here.

Recall Irony Roundup

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 3:11 PM PDT

Two pieces of news about recalled products stood out today:

First off, there's RC2, the toy company (slogan: "compelling, passionate parenting and play for all ages") that recalled about 1.5 million Thomas & Friends toys in June. To the customers who surrendered their lead-laced toys, RC2 sent a consolation prize: shiny new railway cars.

The ironic twist: Last week, those "bonus gifts" were recalled because of—you guessed it—lead paint.

Then there's the line of canvas and vinyl lunchboxes made by TA Creations in China.

The ironic twist: In California, the lunchboxes are distributed to low-income families as part of the Network for a Healthy California program. The most cringe-worthy detail? The lunchboxes are emblazoned with the message, "Eat fruits & vegetables and be active" in both English and Spanish. Another cheerful health tip could read, "Throw away this lunchbox before it gets anywhere near those fruits and vegetables."