Blogs

Iranian Nobel Laureate Threatened

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 7:02 PM EDT

Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, the recipient of the Nobel peace prize in 2003, says she is receiving an increasing number of death threats, the BBC reports:

They included notes pinned to the door of her office building in Tehran, warning her to "watch your tongue".
Ms Ebadi, an outspoken critic of Iran's leadership, said she had forwarded the threats to the chief of Iranian police. ...

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Prominent Irish Historian: Clinton Is "Silly" To Say She Was Instrumental in Peace Accords

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 5:17 PM EDT

Last week, Hillary Clinton released a statement celebrating the tenth anniversary of the historic Good Friday Agreement that led to peace in Northern Ireland. She noted,

Ultimately, the real credit for peace can only go to the brave people of Northern Ireland, as well as the leaders of Ireland and the U.K. But I also know that helping to advance the peace process and to achieve the Good Friday Agreement is one of my husband's proudest accomplishments as President. And I too am proud to have played a role in that effort.

The statement--and Clinton's assertion that she had been part of the peace process--did not draw much media notice, a sign that her Irish troubles might have eased. Last month, the Barack Obama campaign had challenged her claim to have "helped to bring peace to Northern Island." And that triggered a transatlantic tempest. David Trimble, the former First Minister of the Northern Ireland, called Clinton "a wee bit silly" for claiming to have been a figure of an importance in the peace process:

She visited when things were happening, saw what was going on, she can certainly say it was part of her experience. I don't want to rain on the thing for her but being a cheerleader for something is slightly different from being a principal player.

But then Clinton's campaign posted on its website a statement from John Hume, who shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with Trimble, in which Hume declared: "I can state from firsthand experience that she played a positive role for over a decade in helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland." And Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams told the Irish Times that Clinton played an important role in the peace process. I met the senator on many occasions....I always found her to be extremely well-informed on the issues."

These endorsements from Hume and Adams did not fully support the claims from Clinton and her camp that she had been a significant participant in the Irish peace process. On NPR, she had said, "I wasn't sitting at the negotiating table, but the role I played was instrumental." And appearing on CNN on March 4, Terry McAuliffe, her campaign chairman, had said, "We would not have peace today had it not [been] for Hillary's hard work in Northern Ireland." Still, Hume's and Adams' statements did somewhat counter Trimble's dismissive remarks. And the campaign flare-up flared down.

But what was the truth? Had Clinton been instrumental? Was McAuliffe correct to say Northern Ireland would today be a bloody landscape had it not been for Clinton? Looking for an expert on the Irish peace process, I contacted Paul Bew. He is a prominent--perhaps the most prominent--historian of Northern Ireland. A professor at Queen's University Belfast, Bew last year published Ireland: The Politics of Enmity 1789-2006, a much-acclaimed work, which is part of the Oxford University Press's Modern Europe series. He once was an adviser to Trimble, and he was appointed to the House of Lords in 2007, in recognition of his own contributions to the Good Friday Agreement.

Blogs: Gawker Media Sells Off Sites

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 5:04 PM EDT

mojo-photo-gawker.jpgGawker Media, the blog "collective" that includes sites like Defamer and Gizmodo, has sold three of its 15 sites as part of an attempt to "hunker down" as they "wait for the internet bubble to burst." Didn't that already happen? Music site Idolator, travel site Gridskipper and politics blog Wonkette have all been sold to companies who can supposedly better sell advertising on them, with Idolator heading to Stereogum-owning Buzznet and Gridskipper migrating to Curbed. Wonkette, a near-legendary site that had been closely identified with Gawker, will now be part of the Blogads network that includes Daily Kos.

Since music is more my thing, I can attest that Idolator has always done a pretty good job, with an anything-goes pop culture policy and ample evidence of the quirky tastes of its writers. But when they post "Top Stories" and it turns out just a couple-hundred page views is all it takes to land there, one wonders how it all makes economic sense. (Not to gloat, as I'm sure Riff page views aren't anywhere close). Besides, Stereogum and Pitchfork also cover a lot of the same ground. Connect the dots to the recent stories about overwhelmed bloggers dropping dead from exhaustion, and this blog downturn ("downblog"? "blogturn"?) could be all too real. Jeez, Mother Jones, don't spin off the Riff to Playboy, you're a non-profit, remember? Guess I gotta up those click-throughs…

ACLU Calls for Independent Counsel After Torture Admissions; Will Anyone Pay Attention?

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 4:09 PM EDT

gitmo-press.jpg I don't quite understand how the media let out a collective yawn when it heard the news that top Bush Administration officials (Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Ashcroft, Tenet) personally signed off on "enhanced interrogation techniques" that included pushing, slapping, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other tactics. Waterboarding is torture, remember?

I'm further confused by the fact that the media remained passive after President Bush admitted that he knew and approved of what his principals were doing. This should have been huge news — the tactics the Administration's top officials approved probably violated the Geneva Conventions, after all — and yet this was less important than "Dog Finds Way to Owner's Funeral"?

Why the "Bitter" Controversy Is So Stupid

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 3:40 PM EDT

Let's be clear: if Barack Obama really believes the things he said in California last week, he's wrong. People "cling" to gun rights, religion, and anti-trade sentiment because those are things they believe in, not because they're bitter or angry. I suspect Obama knows as much, although his tortured and politically foolish phrasing and word choice might suggest otherwise. But there is more at stake here than what the mainstream media likes to refer to as a "gaffe." Because like every other manufactured controversy that's based on something someone said rather than something someone did (like, say, torture people), there's a double standard at work here.

The truth is that the right wing pronounces and the media repeats, with regularity, stupid, stereotypical slurs about large parts of American society, and no one blinks an eye. Trial lawyers, academics in their ivory towers, job-stealing illegal immigrants (with leprosy!), effete wine-drinking liberals, suburban soccer moms, granola-crunching environmentalists, and just about anyone within spitting range of "San Francisco values," are totally in-bounds for any sort of mockery the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world can cook up. But god forbid someone slur "Middle America."

Posted Without Comment, as They Say

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 3:27 PM EDT

From the GOP's Northern Kentucky's 4th Congressional District Lincoln Day Dinner:

"I'm going to tell you something: That boy's finger does not need to be on the button," [Congressman Geoff] Davis said. "He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country."

I'll give you one guess who Davis was talking about. More ugliness here.

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McCain Keeps Riding the No-Talk Express on Rod Parsley

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 1:39 PM EDT

From John McCain's speech to the Associated Press' annual meeting on Monday:

Long ago in my career, I made a decision to be as accessible to the press as the press would prefer me to be....I believe in giving great access to the press....I much prefer long back and forths, where reporters have multiple follow ups and I have an opportunity to explain my views in greater detail...I think reporters are better able to meet their first responsibility of ensuring an informed citizenry if they are allowed to press a candidate for more than a gotcha quote or a comment on whatever the cable driven news environment has decided is the process story of the day....[T]he responsibility of an informed citizenry is as much my responsibility as it is yours. I don't believe in deceiving voters about my positions, my beliefs or how I would govern this country were I to have the extraordinary privilege of serving as President. I want voters to know and understand my positions.

So how come McCain's campaign has refused to address questions about his connection to Rod Parsley, the megachurch pastor who has called for the eradication of Islam? I've called his campaign a dozen or so times to ask for a comment on McCain's relationship with this fundamentalist leader--McCain campaigned with Parsley, accepted his endorsement, and called him a "spiritual guide"--yet no one at McCain HQ would respond. As far as I can tell, McCain has not given a straight answer to the question: will you renounce the support of a person who calls Islam a "false religion" and urges its destruction? His alliance with Parsley is one position McCain does not seem eager to explain.

Richardson Explains How Obama and Clinton Woo

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 1:06 PM EDT

richardson_headshot.jpg This whole article is worth reading because it has Bill Richardson's personal thoughts on the Clinton and Obama campaign's attempts to court his endorsement. But this passage is particularly interesting:

Their manner of courtship -- one wooing, the other arm-twisting -- seemed to reflect the candidates' different personalities and campaign styles, he said.
Obama preferred the soft sell, calling Richardson every three days or so -- "dialing the phone himself, no operator" -- for long discussions about policy and campaign issues. The two developed a bantering relationship, building on the camaraderie they shared off-camera during debates, when they would roll their eyes at some of their rivals' statements.
Clinton was more persistent and tactical. There were eight or more phone calls a day, Richardson said: "Bill calling, Hillary calling, friends of mine that were in the Clinton administration, Clinton operatives, Clinton Hispanic operatives, New Mexico Clinton Hispanic operatives."
Some callers, who suggested Richardson had an obligation to back Clinton, did more harm than good. "I think the Clintons have a feeling of entitlement . . . that the presidency was theirs," Richardson said, and the persistent lobbying from "Washington establishment types" convinced him of a need for some fresher faces on the scene.

The Clinton campaign must be pulling out its collective hair — a persistent, efficient, and professional full-court press got bested by one dude picking up the phone himself and calling once every few days.

That sense of entitlement that Richardson describes must have been awfully strong. Or maybe it was this.

Happy Tax Day to The Richest One Percent!

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 12:20 PM EDT

money.jpg

As many of you scramble to get your taxes done before tomorrow's deadline, Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington-based advocacy group, has released a new report showing just how much love the Bush administration has shown to the richest one percent of Americans... literally at the expense of the rest of us. Not that we didn't already know this, of course, but somehow seeing it all laid out in black and white brings it home all the more clearly.

According to the report, in 2010, when all of the Bush tax cuts will finally have taken effect, the richest one percent of American families—those earning $1.6 million annually—will receive, on average, a $92,000 tax cut. As a share of the population, these families will account for an estimated 53 percent of all tax relief, while the poorest 60 percent will be on the receiving end of just 12-15 percent of tax cuts.

Just what does it take to belong to the richest one percent? Money, of course, and lots of it. According to the report:

In 2008 the best-off one percent will have an estimated average income of almost $1.5 million each. Just to get into this elite group requires an income greater than $462,000. If all of that came from wages, then for single people it would take an average wage of $224 an hour to make it into the top one percent, and $722 an hour to become an average member.
For two-earner couples with both spouses working full time, it would take an average wage for each spouse of $112 an hour to get into the top one percent and $361 an hour each to be an average member of the top one percent.

IRS Scrutiny of Major Corporations at 20-Year Low

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 11:12 AM EDT

According to a new report of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the I.R.S. has seen "a historic collapse in audits," particularly of major corporations, which are being examined less frequently now than at any point in the last 20 years.

In my 2006 interview with tax reporter and author David Cay Johnston, we discussed the I.R.S.'s decreasing ability to bust up the tax dodges of corporations and the superrich. (We also discussed how the tax code is rigged to favor the wealthy and bilk the poor.)

An excerpt, after the jump.