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Problematic FEC Nominee Withdraws Name... Finally

| Sat May 17, 2008 5:35 PM EDT

Hans von Spakovsky, the major hold-up in seating the FEC and the GOP's point man in disenfranchising minority voters, may finally exit the national stage.

President Bush's contentious nominee for the Federal Election Commission removed his name from consideration Friday, potentially ending a lengthy stalemate that had paralyzed the work of the agency.
Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official who never had Democratic support to win confirmation, withdrew his nomination, saying it was time for the protracted deadlock to end....
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., welcomed von Spakovsky's withdrawal. Democrats have charged that von Spakovsky tried to suppress voter participation through new restrictions such as voter identification laws and voter roll purges.
"Democrats stood united in their opposition to von Spakovsky because of his long and well-documented history of working to suppress the rights of minorities and the elderly to vote," Reid said. "He was not qualified to hold any position of trust in our government."

Progress has already been made on the FEC. This may seal the deal. Next step: Get to work.

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Scenes From a Nader Fundraiser at a San Francisco Dive Bar

| Sat May 17, 2008 3:50 PM EDT

The 540 Club, in an old bank building at 540 Clement Street in San Francisco, is the only bar in town to call an elephant its mascot. A 300-pound stuffed pachyderm blobs on a ledge above the front door, a cast-off inherited after the San Francisco zoo shuttered its elephant exhibit. The bar's logo, a pink elephant found on its tables, its business cards and the forearm of its soda jerk, is described by the staff as "the universal symbol of alcoholism and sloth etc," and not as any sort of inducement to Republicans. In fact, the threat, in liberal San Francisco, of being labeled a GOP sympathizer never really occurred to the owner of the bar, Jamie Brown—until this week, that is, when he found himself debating whether to supplement the elephant with a stuffed donkey. The bar was set to hold a fundraiser for none other than the Great Spoiler, Ralph Nader. "What the hell?" Brown said Sunday morning, apropos of nothing, as he dragged on a Camel and waited for Nader's entourage to arrive. "Just in general, what the hell?"

Brown had sent two emails announcing the event. One said Nader would be coming. The other said this wasn't a joke. The local media had called to ask if the fundraiser was a ploy to sell drinks. Patrons hadn't known what to think. A few days after the email went out, during the bar's "Uptown 20s Jazz and Big Band" night, one drinker had supposed Nader would read from Don Quixote; another wondered of the man: "What did he do? Was it a car dealership?"

"I still think people think it's a joke," Brown said that morning before the Pabst Blue Ribbon clock struck noon. Nader was running late. A small crowd at the bar nursed pint-sized bloody marys. Brown, who sported several days stubble and a severe bed head, excused himself for a moment. "I need a shot, sunglasses, and a pack of cigarettes," he said.

Right Wing Hackery the Same the World Over

| Fri May 16, 2008 7:56 PM EDT

Who else is attacking their domestic political opponents for failing to wear a flag pin? Lawrence of Cyberia has the extremely enjoyable answer: Hamas.

Popular Vote Musings on a Friday Afternoon

| Fri May 16, 2008 5:14 PM EDT

A friend just alerted me to the fact that the popular vote section at Real Clear Politics has myriad different totals for the Democratic primary race. Enough to make the notion of a "popular vote" useless, in fact.

Here are the different ways you could calculate the popular vote. If there's something I'm not thinking of, tell me in the comments.

1. Just the primaries.
2. The primaries with Florida.
3. The primaries with Florida and Michigan with Michigan's "uncommitted" going to Obama.
4. The primaries with Florida and Michigan with Michigan's "uncommitted" going to no one.
5. The primaries, plus caucuses.
6. The primaries with Florida, plus caucuses.
7. The primaries with Florida and Michigan with Michigan's "uncommitted" going to Obama, plus caucuses.
8. The primaries with Florida and Michigan with Michigan's "uncommitted" going to no one, plus caucuses.

You can see why people are so confused. Further complicating the picture: Iowa, Nevada, Maine, and Washington state are caucus states that have not released public figures on caucus attendance. Estimates are needed in those instances.

I think in scenario 4, Clinton might be winning the popular vote. Maybe. Or something.

John McCain and the NRA Make Nice

| Fri May 16, 2008 4:36 PM EDT

McCain is speaking at the NRA today, as part of his quest to woo traditional parts of the Republican base. Like with so many other situations, McCain has a history opposing the group he now seeks to cozy up with. Here's McCain in 2000:

For its part, the NRA called McCain "one of the premier flag-carriers for enemies of the Second Amendment." Nowadays, though, the organization is ready to play ball. Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president told the press that there are "vast numbers of areas" where McCain and the gun lobby agree. And McCain showed last year that he can parrot the right talking points when necessary: "I strongly support the Second Amendment and I believe the Second Amendment ought to be preserved — which means no gun control."

MoJo Staff Picks: May 16

| Fri May 16, 2008 3:50 PM EDT

mojo-staff-picks-250x250.jpgWelcome back to the "staff picks" shelf at The Riff. Fresh off production of our July/August issue, we're happy to be playing some music.

1. You've heard it before, but not like this. "Cotton Eyed Joe" in its true Appalachian splendor—one fiddle, one voice. A New Yorker by origin, Bruce Molsky travels deep in the backwoods of America collecting tunes and learning technique from porch-sittin' old-timers. An immaculate musician, in this track, Molsky nails the true scratchin' style of old-timey music—complete with quarter tones and double stops, he fiddles and sings at the same time.

2. Has the Democratic race been divisive? Is it threatening to tear apart the party? My grandfather thinks so, and it's certainly a lively topic in political America these days. So I thought I'd add a little music to the discussion by one of my favorite new LA bands, Division Day. Next time you're caught in an argument between BHO and HRC, you may just find yourself hoping the damage is "Reversible." (Click here to listen to the full song played to a picture of the band.)

3. I was first introduced to Oliver Rajamani a couple years back while working in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. I was immediately intrigued by his seemingly effortless success in blending diametrically different musical traditions. His songs, like "Unnai Marenthal," are mostly sung in Tamil, an ancient Dravidian language, but are mixed with Hindi, Urdu and Spanish. His music similarly pulls motifs from various cultures—Brazilian rhythms, flamenco guitar, Indian drums, and gypsy spice. Makes for daringly good party music.

4. I'm not the first to point out that when under incredible pressure, consumed by guilt, or facing impending doom, we humans tend to exhibit a curious response—the nervous tic. The calmly capable Andrew Bird, master of live-looping, has noticed as well. If you ever find yourself with a slight "Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left," you may want to tune in, strap on the sumo suit, and relieve some stress.

Encore. She told me, to my face, there's a good man's in my place. This is the crux of "Fare Thee Well Blues," as played by Big Apple old-timer Bruce Molsky (because I know you wanted more). This is a satisfying blend of grit and talent with enough blue notes to catch the attention of even the mildest blues fan. The song is derived from a 1920's rendition by Mississippi bluesman Joe Callicott, which Molsky found on an LP in the back of a record store as a teenager.

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Waxman to EPA Official: When You Appear Before Me, You Shall Bring Documents

| Fri May 16, 2008 2:14 PM EDT

On Friday Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the chair of the House oversight committee, sent a letter to Stephen L. Johnson, the EPA administrator. It wasn't a friendly note. Waxman is frustrated that the EPA has failed to comply with his May 5 subpoena for "more than 30 documents relating to communications with offices in the White House." (The committee is investigating political interference with the work of EPA scientists.) Waxman explains that Johnson has "two basic options for each of the documents: provide the document to the Committee or assert executive privilege with respect to the document."

So far, the White House hasn't asserted executive privilege with regards to the documents Waxman wants. That means that if he doesn't bring the requested documents to a May 20 hearing where he is expected to appear, Johnson will be in defiance of the subpoena. The Chairman didn't mince words, either. The first sentence of the letter reads: "I am writing to advise you that when you appear before the Committee on May 20, 2008, you should appear with documents."

Waxman's not known for bluffing, so it should be quite a scene if Mr. Johnson shows up next Tuesday without his homework. I'll keep you posted.

Devastating Article by Israel's Top Journalist on Casino Mogul Sheldon Adelson

| Fri May 16, 2008 2:10 PM EDT

One of Israel's top journalists and commentators Nahum Barnea writes in his column at Yediot Aharanot today about Sheldon Adelson throwing his political weight around in Israel.

When Sheldon Adelson gave his speech on the podium of the International Convention Center two days ago, I looked at Shimon Peres. I was happy for him. [...]

As a citizen of the country, I was less happy. I saw a gambling tycoon from Las Vegas who bought my country's birthday with three million dollars. I thought with sorrow: Is the country worth so very little? Were the champagne and the wine and the sushi that were given out for free in the lobby, unlike what is conventional for such events, worth the humiliation?
Adelson is a Jew who loves Israel. Like some other Jews who live at a safe distance from here, his love is great, passionate, smothering. It is important to him that he influence the policies, decisions and compositions of Israeli governments. He is not alone in this, eithe ... This kowtowing to other people's wallets-that is the common denominator of Rabin and Peres, Netanyahu, Barak and Olmert. [...]
Adelson is like the others, and yet different. He has the gift of authority and the bluntness of someone who made a lot of money quickly. He does not ask. He commands.

Bush's Politicking at Israel's Knesset Neglects His Role in Hamas' Election Win

| Fri May 16, 2008 2:08 AM EDT

You've likely already read about Bush using the opportunity of his address to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, yesterday to liken all those who would negotiate with "terrorists and radicals" to Nazi appeasers -- and Democrats' swift and outraged response.

Beyond the fact that Bush's own administration has repeatedly offered to negotiate with Tehran should Iran suspend uranium enrichment, and that his top diplomat in Iraq has talked with his Iranian counterparts, as has his former ambassador to Afghanistan, both with the White House blessing, as well as the ongoing negotiations with Pyongyang, Libya, and the Syrian deputy foreign minister's visit to Annapolis; beyond those recent demonstrated exceptions in action to Bush's rhetoric (I guess the word for it is "hypocrisy"): It's also worth pointing out, as several Israeli security officials and political observers have recently done to me here, a bit of recent history Bush neglected to mention at Israel's parliament. That Israel and the Palestinian Authority have chiefly him to thank for Hamas having a degree of political legitimacy it otherwise would not have had. After all, they point out, it was the Bush administration that "twisted the arm" of Israeli and Palestinian leaders against considerable resistance and skepticism on their part to allow the Palestinian militant group Hamas to run in 2006 Palestinian elections that Hamas won -- an outcome to its policy interventions that the Bush administration once again failed to anticipate.

Embryos Up for Personhood in Colorado, Even the Gay Ones?

| Thu May 15, 2008 9:09 PM EDT

Lots of big news the last couple of days. The polar bear apparently has the right to protection under the Endangered Species Act. California same-sex couples can, in fact, marry. McCain has amended his Iraq 100-year-plan to say most troops will out by 2013. Hell, we may even tax porn. But amid all of the news of progress have you heard this one?

On Tuesday the group Colorado for Equal Rights submitted 131,245 signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot that would define a fertilized embryo as a person. Voters will decide on the measure that would amend the state Constitution to extend a fertilized embryo equal rights and protections. It would define "any human being from the moment of fertilization" as a "person" for purposes of the state's constitutional provisions "relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law."

Never mind that the 'moment of fertilization' is not a medical definition and is almost impossible to determine. Consensus from women's rights organizations is that the amendment would be catastrophic for women and their ability to determine their own futures. Doctors and legal rights experts say the amendment could trigger governmental investigations into miscarriages, restrict in-vitro fertilization by couples trying to conceive, and could limit birth-control methods.

And to those hundred thousand-plus Coloradoans who endorsed the measure into being, if they so passionately believe in equal rights, what about the gay embryos? Equality still fair game? Just a thought.