Obama Channels Chris Rock

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 10:49 AM EDT

Barack Obama gave a widely-praised speech on fatherhood yesterday from the pulpit of one of the largest black churches in Chicago. You can see it here:

A lot has already been said about this speech, a somber reflection on the duties of being a father. But around 13:03, Obama references some of the most controversial work of comedian Chris Rock. Here's Obama:

"Chris Rock had a routine. He said some—too many of our men, they're proud, they brag about doing things they're supposed to do. They say "Well, I- I'm not in jail." Well you're not supposed to be in jail!"

It's odd enough for a politician to cite the work of a comedian. But Obama's specific reference was particularly intriguing. It wasn't in the prepared text—Obama dropped it in himself. And Obama isn't talking about Rock's recent material. He is referencing one of Rock's most discussed routines, from 1996's "Bring the Pain," an HBO special. It's a bit about "a civil war going on between black people." Here are the few lines from Rock that Obama is paraphrasing:

"You know the worst thing about n*****s? N*****s always want credit for some s**t they supposed to do. A n*****r will brag about some s**t a normal man just does. A n*****r will say some s**t like, "I take care of my kids." You're supposed to, you dumb motherf****r! What kind of ignorant s**t is that? "I ain't never been to jail!" What do you want, a cookie?! You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherf****r!"

In a recent Atlantic article about Bill Cosby, Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out that Rock has stopped performing the "civil war" routine because "his white fans were laughing a little too hard."

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The McCain Brand, Diluted

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 9:37 AM EDT

The Baltimore Sun has bad news for McCain:

John McCain once had the most powerful brand in American politics.
He was often called the country's most popular politician and widely admired for his independent streak. It wasn't too many years ago that "maverick" was the cliche of choice in describing him.
But that term didn't even make the list this year when voters were asked by the Pew Research Center to sum up McCain in a single word. "Old" got the most mentions, followed by "honest," "experienced," "patriot," "conservative" and a dozen more. The words "independent," "change" or "reformer" weren't among them....

Q&A: Gitmo Lawyer Shayana Kadidal on SCOTUS Ruling

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 7:08 PM EDT

Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo project at the Center for Constitutional Rights, isn't afraid to voice his opinion on the latest SCOTUS ruling in favor of Guantanamo detainees.

Below, excerpts from his conversation with MoJo reporter Stephanie Mencimer:

Tim Russert, Dead at 58: Remembering One Q&A with Cheney

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 5:17 PM EDT

Tim Russert suffered a heart attack at NBC News' Washington bureau on Friday afternoon and died at the age of 58. As he was eulogized on air by NBC colleagues Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams, David Gregory, Howard Fineman, Keith Olbermann, and Andrea Mitchell, I thought of a moment when he tried to give Vice President Dick Cheney a decent grilling days before the invasion of Iraq.

That March 16, 2003 edition of Meet the Press was a good moment for Russert. By this point, it was clear George W. Bush was committed to attacking Iraq. Still, Russert hurled sharp queries at Cheney, questioning several fundamentals of the Bush-Cheney case for war. Cheney did manage to slip by--but only because he was willing to deny reality:

MR. RUSSERT: If your analysis is not correct, and we're not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators….
MR. RUSSERT: The army's top general said that we would have to have several hundred thousand troops there for several years in order to maintain stability.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree. We need, obviously, a large force and we've deployed a large force to prevail, from a military standpoint, to achieve our objectives, we will need a significant presence there until such time as we can turn things over to the Iraqis themselves. But to suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don't think is accurate. I think that's an overstatement.
MR. RUSSERT: We've had 50,000 troops in Kosovo for several years, a country of just five million people. This is a country of 23 million people. It will take a lot in order to secure it.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, but we've significantly drawn down our forces in Kosovo and in the Balkans…..
MR. RUSSERT: Every analysis said this war itself would cost about $80 billion, recovery of Baghdad, perhaps of Iraq, about $10 billion per year. We should expect as American citizens that this would cost at least $100 billion for a two-year involvement.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I can't say that, Tim….

There were plenty of times when Russert--like most prominent figures in the media--could be criticized. But this was one of many instances when he posed the right questions and did so in a vigorous and facts-based manner. He did not succeed in forcing Cheney to speak candidly about the challenges of the Iraq war, but, then, Russert was responsible only for the questions he asked, not the answers the politicians gave.

Is Exxon Out of Gas?

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 5:05 PM EDT

exxon.jpgExxonMobil announced this week that it plans to sell off 2,200, or nearly 1/5, of its 12,000 gas stations because they aren't profitable enough. This, from the world's biggest oil company, after having posted the largest yearly profit ever—$40.61 billion—that's almost $1,300 every second. With the average price at the pump having recently breached the $4/gal mark, an increase of more than one dollar from a year ago, you'd think that the money would continue flowing.

But apparently our oil companies are feeling the shift in the winds.

Though many Americans are hit hard by high gas prices, it's increasingly difficult to ignore the ones who are finding alternatives. These days more and more people are commuting by mass and public transit systems, as well as by carpool and bike. Many more are turning to hybrids or filling their tanks with biofuels. And as this latest sell-off suggests, even our oil companies are transitioning. CNN quotes Ben Soraci, the U.S. director of retail sales for ExxonMobil, saying, "As the highly competitive fuels marketing business in the U.S. continues to evolve, we believe this transition is the best way for ExxonMobil to compete and grow in the future."

This may mark the beginning of our energy industry transitioning out of oil. The question remains, what are they transitioning to?

Photo used under creative commons license.

Gas Prices Driving You Crazy? At Least No One's Trying to Burn You Up In Your Truck

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 5:00 PM EDT


The London Evening Standard just published a harrowing report detailing the large-scale, violent fuel protests going on right now all over the world. In more than a few countries, shortages have all but halted the national economies as fishermen, grocers, farmers and truck drivers either refuse or find themselves unable to do their jobs.

You can read about it, but it's the photos that are really sobering: thousands of trucks blockading the road to the Thai capital city of Bangkok; protestors kicking a riot policeman; a lone injured farmer kneeling, arms outstretched, before a line of riot police. In Spain, where things seem particularly bad, a working truck driver narrowly escaped attempts by his striking peers to burn him alive in his cab; in Portugal, farmers say they will have to throw away over half a million gallons of fresh milk because there is no more fuel and no more storage.

This is not happening here in the US. Yes, gas prices are high, and they're disproportionately affecting our country's rural poor. And yes, our leaders continue to suggest startlingly short-sighted solutions. But so far, people seem to have decided to grin and bear it.

Why no riots? I'm not saying truck-burning is the way to go. But the national forbearance that's attended this year's jump in prices is a little unnerving. Even those suffering rural Southerners don't seem angry; just sad and mostly resigned. Have we lost so much faith in our government that we won't even bother demanding action? Or are we just not sure what to demand?

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How Do You Explain a Savings and Loan Scandal to an Eight-Year-Old?

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 4:40 PM EDT

Meghan McCain, who has made a career of sorts out of following her father's campaign, has a book deal. According to Meghan's blog, the recent Columbia grad will soon be writing an illustrated campaign biography of her father. Meghan's book will join the ranks of other literary endeavors by the daughters of Republican politicians, offering children "the unique opportunity to see the character building events that happened over his lifetime" that have prepared John McCain to lead the nation.

One wonders which of many character-building events this book will actually highlight. Seminal experiences in the Senior Senator from Arizona's life include his oft-mentioned torture in Vietnam. Then there was that highly damaging Keating savings and loan scandal that almost destroyed his career in the 1980s. More recently, there was Mrs. McCain's addiction to painkillers. Are these things really so easy to explain to children?

All in all, decidedly interesting reading for America's Republican tykes.

—Daniel Luzer

Evolution Before Our Eyes: How Macaques Learned To Fish

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 1:25 PM EDT


Scientists in Indonesia recently published a paper documenting their field observations of long-tailed macaques going fishing. Even better, they don't just reach into the water to grab their own fish—they watch other macaques at work and learn from their techniques. One researcher theorized that "perhaps a couple of generations back, one primate caught a fish and it was subsequently copied." The scientists suspect that the macaques fish when no other food is available, though they stress that not enough data exists to say for certain.

Okay, so this is cool. It's not often that we see species adapt to changing conditions at a rate that matches the change. (Recovery from human threat and habitat depletion is rare enough.) Further study of this species could teach us a lot, not only about how macaques adapt to changing conditions, but about how we might adapt as well. Unfortunately, if Congress is any indication of how we're doing, right now the macaques are coming out ahead.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from sebr.

Report: Rove Talks "Fairly Regularly" With McCain Camp; Getting Six Figures From Freedom's Watch

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 1:08 PM EDT

In a new National Journal article (not available online), writer Peter Stone dives deep into the conservative establishment and gets campaign staffers, movement operatives, and the ubiquitous "strategists" and "consultants" to talk about Karl Rove's current role in presidential politics. The takeaway? Rove is back. In fact, he probably never left. The campaign that is trying to prove it's not a second coming of George W. Bush is using the President's former chief strategist on a regular basis.

Stone says not to be fooled by Rove's hesitance to be identified with John McCain publicly.

...away from the spotlight, Rove has been busy pitching in by giving informal advice to McCain's team and spending a considerable amount of time as an outside adviser to Freedom's Watch, the conservative political group that is expected to spend tens of millions of dollars to help elect House GOP candidates. William Weidner, a Freedom's Watch board member, recently told National Journal that Rove has offered strategic advice to both the group and its major financial backer, Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson. Weidner, president of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which Adelson chairs, called Rove "an invaluable asset" to the group....

While the top of McCain's campaign won't admit to extensive conversations with Rove, fearing that Rove is too closely associated with the Bush Administration and its worst scandals, some folks are willing to spill the beans off the record.

A Right-to-Lifer and the GOP's Nursing Home Dilemma

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 11:27 AM EDT

Connor_sm.jpgWhen Ken Connor was on Capitol Hill earlier this week, it was clear that people in his party deeply wish that he would go back to worrying about the unborn. The conservative Christian Republican trial lawyer had come to Washington to testify in support of a bill that would ban the use of mandatory binding arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts. Most nursing homes today, as a condition of admission, require vulnerable elderly people and their families to waive their right to sue a facility in the event of a dispute. Instead, they must take any complaints about medical malpractice or abuse to a private arbitrator, chosen and paid by the nursing home, in secret proceedings where any awards are much lower than they would be from a jury. The arbitration agreements are often buried in a stack of complicated paperwork, where in some cases, they have been signed by blind people and those suffering from Alzheimer's.

The nursing home arbitration bill is one of nearly a dozen Democratic-backed measures introduced in Congress over the past year that would ban mandatory arbitration in everything from new car contracts to meatpacking company agreements. With the backing of the powerful AARP, it's also the most likely of the lot to pass, and thus, pave the way for Congress to ban mandatory arbitration altogether. After all, if Congress deems the practice unconscionable for seniors, businesses will have a tough time arguing that it still ought to be forced on everyone else. That's why Republicans really, really don't want to vote for the nursing home bill, and one reason Connor's advocacy is making them squirm.