Mojo - October 2007

Maybe Clarence Thomas Can Help With The Appeal

| Tue Oct. 16, 2007 10:00 AM EDT

UCLA law prof Richard Sander has a resume that screams bleeding heart liberal. A former Vista volunteer, he has spent his whole life studying social and economic inequality. Lately, though, Sander has won a following from the Clarence Thomas fan club and other affirmative action foes. Sander has published research showing that only one in three African-Americans who goes to an American law school passes the bar on the first try, and that the majority never go on to be lawyers. For this, Sander blames affirmative action.

Sander has argued that black students, admitted with weaker academic records, are unprepared for the law schools that admitted them, and as a result, many dropped out or failed to pass the bar when they did graduate. Sander wants to investigate the phenomenon further, and recently asked the the State Bar of California for permission to mine its 30-years worth of data on student test scores, bar passage rates and law school admissions to learn more about how black law students are faring.

Civil rights groups support the study, but the bar apparently sees it as waaay too controversial, and voted recently to keep Sander out, even though it has given access to other researchers. Naturally, Fox News sees a conspiracy here....

(H/T Above the Law)

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Bye Bye Columbus Day?

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 9:12 PM EDT

Friday marked the anniversary of Christopher Columbus' chance landing in the Americas. To mark the occasion, Columbus Day has traditionally been celebrated throughout the hemisphere, yet these days in Latin America it is more in protest than in recognition.

We might have a few places that have chosen to change the holiday to reflect what Columbus meant to the native people—in Berkeley it's officially Indigenous People's Day, in South Dakota it's Native American Day, and in Hawaii it isn't even a holiday—but for the most part the legend of Columbus holds strong and there have been few attempts, in our textbooks or statehouses, to change the day's intention.

In Latin America, though, it's national leaders who are working to readjust the public's view of Columbus and his impact on the Americas. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez renamed Columbus Day and Avenue Columbus to Indigenous Resistance Day and Avenue Indigenous Resistance. Chavez has made Venezuela's 35 different tribes visible, literally, to the urban public by broadcasting television stations from their regions. Bolivia's Evo Morales marked the anniversary by attending a conference of indigenous people from across Latin America in Chapare, Bolivia.

Last week city officials in Caracas confirmed that a statue of Columbus that was toppled in a square three years ago will not be restored. That statue could very well have been that of any dictator, torn down by the masses as they take to the streets as a new voice begins to emerge.

—Andre Sternberg

GOP to Introduce Universal Health Care Plan; Have Dems Already Won?

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 4:34 PM EDT

Look who's joining the party:

Under fierce attack by Democrats over the children's health insurance plan, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner said Sunday Republicans will unveil their own health care plan over the next few months.
"Republicans are working on a plan that will provide access to all Americans to high quality health insurance, make sure that we increase the quality of insurance that we have in American, and we want to foster a sprit of innovation," said Boehner on "Fox News Sunday." "This is a plan we'll see over the next coming months where we put the patients in charge of their health care."

I agree with Steve Benen's analysis: "I'm well aware of the fact that the Republican plans for universal coverage aren't going to be very good. That's the not the point. It's more important to realize the big picture — we'll soon have Dems and Republicans arguing not over whether to have every American insured, but how best to have every American insured."

Yup. The debate is shifting in the right direction. Soon, it will be very easy for a Democratic president to put a universal health care plan forward to the American people, because the need for such a plan will already be well-established.

The same can be said for global warming, in large part thanks to Nobel laureate Al Gore. It cannot be said for the Iraq War. It feels like that issue is still being fought on Republicans' turf.

Bill Clinton: President Hillary's Lead Negotiator in the Middle East?

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 3:36 PM EDT

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I was reading Matt Yglesias' summary of Hillary Clinton's foreign policy plan (one-line synopsis: just like Edwards' and Obama's, but a shade more hawkish) and noted this paragraph from Clinton on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process that would mean security and normal relations for Israel and the Palestinians. The fundamental elements of a final agreement have been clear since 2000: a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in return for a declaration that the conflict is over, recognition of Israel's right to exist, guarantees of Israeli security, diplomatic recognition of Israel, and normalization of its relations with Arab states. U.S. diplomacy is critical in helping to resolve this conflict. In addition to facilitating negotiations, we must engage in regional diplomacy to gain Arab support for a Palestinian leadership that is committed to peace and willing to engage in a dialogue with the Israelis. Whether or not the United States makes progress in helping to broker a final agreement, consistent U.S. involvement can lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region.

It will be nice to have a president come into office with this mindset. In comparison, George W. Bush announced at his first National Security Council meeting, "We're going to tilt back toward Israel." When Colin Powell warned that such an attitude might lead to excessive uses of force by the Israeli army and a victimized Palestinian population, Bush responded, "Sometimes a show for force by one side can really clarify things."

So we're miles ahead of nonsense. In fact, a commander-in-chief with Clinton's position on the issue would mean that we're roughly back to the attitudes that led to the last serious shot at peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, under President You-Know-Who. Which begs the question, if Bill is looking for role as First Gent ("If Hillary wins, I want to do whatever she wants me to do."), maybe he can be America's lead negotiator on this issue. Lord knows he's got the gravitas and the experience.

Greed: Why You Pay A Higher Tax Rate Than Buffett

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 2:34 PM EDT

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The incomparable Mark Shields (any News Hour fans out there?) quotes Mr. Warren Buffett:

In my office, I have 18 or so people there, and I ask them to compute line 63, which is their tax, and then add payroll taxes, and compare it to line 43, which is their taxable income. And these people who make anywhere from $50,000 to $750,000 a year ... and the lowest person in the office pays a higher rate than I do. I paid 17.7 percent last year, counting payroll taxes. ... The [employees'] average was twice mine. [Private equity managers] say they fix up companies and they get paid for doing that. On balance, they're paying a 15 percent tax rate on that and no payroll taxes, and somebody that fixes up the restroom is paying 15.3 percent in payroll taxes, just to start with. [The janitor who works] for peanuts pays a higher tax rate than people who fix up companies [for] hundreds of millions of dollars annually in income [emphasis added].

That's right: on average, Warren Buffett's employees pay twice as much of their income in taxes as he does. That means you probably pay a higher percentage of your income in taxes than the second-richest person in the world. Thank God the new Democratic Congress is ignoring the fact that the industry gave "77 percent of its $8.2 million in donations to Democratic candidates" and cracking down on unfairly regressive taxation anyway. Oh, wait:

In Washington, D.C. last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office confirmed that the Senate will take no action this year on closing the tax loophole that saves private equity and other private investment fund managers an estimated $12 billion a year.

So what does all that money buy besides huge yachts? Well, it looks like there's a sale on politicians! Get them while the getting is good!

Losing the War in Afghanistan in Four Steps

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 1:47 PM EDT

Terrorism expert Peter Bergen writes in the New Republic's most recent cover story, "Today, Afghanistan resembles nothing so much as Iraq in the fall of 2003, when the descent into chaos began." In searching for why that's the case, he identifies four primary factors.

1. Allowing Osama bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora.

2. Under-funding and under-manning the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and refusing international help early in that process.

3. Turning the military's attention to Iraq before Afghanistan could be stabilized.

4. Appeasing, and not demanding more out of, Musharraf and the Pakistani government.

The whole thing is worth a read, but if you want an easily digestible yet expanded list, take a look at something Bergen put together for Mother Jones this past summer. We call it "The Iraqization of Afghanistan."

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The SecDef Tells The Truth

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 1:35 PM EDT

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From McClatchy:

"Following contentious and unproductive encounters with Russian officials on Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates Saturday said he isn't certain that Russia is interested in cooperating with the United States to defend Europe against Iranian missiles or whether Moscow simply wants to stop the U.S. from building missile defenses in Eastern Europe."

It's pretty shocking that news reports on this subject haven't made Russia's objection clear (maybe because U.S. and Russian diplomats have been beating around the bush to the press). But let's spell it out: Russia does not want American missile defenses in Eastern Europe. They do not want them on a train, they do not want them on a plane, they do not want them here or there, they do not want them anywhere.

US News: "Waxman Hunting for Bush Lies"

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 1:06 PM EDT

US News' "Washington Whispers" columnist Paul Bedard reports:

Rep. Henry Waxman, considered the meanest dog in town by the GOP, is still sniffing around the White House for proof the president lied when making the case for going to war in Iraq. We hear that he's been quietly summoning former Bush aides, especially speechwriters, to testify behind closed doors about what they knew and how they phrased his words on the issue. Whispers hears that one called in was John Gibson, a former National Security Council speechwriter. He wouldn't spill to us. The committee had no comment either, but an administration official says, "It is yet another item on the ever growing fishing expedition list from Representative Waxman."

After interviewing those NSC officials, here's another reference Waxman's investigators can peruse.

Comcast's Fee to the Government and Policy on Domestic Surveillance

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 12:58 PM EDT

The Federation of American Scientists' government secrecy guru Steve Aftergood reports:

Upon lawful request and for a thousand dollars, Comcast, one of the nation's leading telecommunications companies, will intercept its customers' communications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The cost for performing any FISA surveillance "requiring deployment of an intercept device" is $1,000.00 for the "initial start-up fee (including the first month of intercept service)," according to a newly disclosed Comcast Handbook for Law Enforcement.

Portrait of Presidential Sadness, in Dots

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 12:20 PM EDT

The failures of the Bush presidency are not lost on the stipple portraitists at the Wall Street Journal.

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Spotted on Trailhead.