Mojo - November 2007

Bill Clinton and Richard Mellon Scaife Do Lunch

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 12:19 PM PST

The Clintons' (highly successful) campaign to win over their worst enemies from the '90s continues. Hillary has already bagged Rupert Murdoch, and now Bill's got Richard Mellon Scaife.

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Al Gore: Venture Capitalist

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 12:08 PM PST

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No one really still thinks Al Gore is going to run for president (hair's too long, waistline too expansive). But here's one more signal that he's not running: Gore yesterday announced that he's joining a prestigious venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, where he'll direct investments that help combat global warming.

Despite the green-sounding job description, and promises from the firm that Gore would be an "active" partner, it's hard to imagine Gore will be doing much to save the world there. After all, when would he find the time? He also serves on the board of Apple, he's a senior adviser to Google and has a pretty extensive public speaking schedule. No doubt he'll be out campaigning for a candidate or two this year as well. The new job does, however, offer something his nonprofit climate change group doesn't: stock options, which Gore apparently needs after a lifetime in public service.

Tancredo Go Boom

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 11:09 AM PST

I actually laughed out loud at the end of this, which means I either hate America or the cartoonish presidential candidates on the fringes have really upped the ante. Mike Gravel, what say you?

Thompson's Fancy Footwork Wins Him Right-To-Life Crown

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 10:14 AM PST

Fred Thompson has chutzpah.

In a campaign press release hailing his endorsement by the National Right To Life Committee, Thompson declared:

In supporting me, those who have worked tirelessly to defend life are supporting a consistent conservative who has stood with them yesterday, who stands with them today, and will stand with them tomorrow.

The press release went on to say,

Fred Thompson is pro-life. He believes in the sanctity of human life and that every life is worthy of respect. He had a 100% pro-life voting record in the Senate and believes Roe v. Wade was a bad decision that ought to be overturned. He consistently opposed federal funding to promote or pay for abortion.

What about his days as a lawyer-lobbyist when Thompson aided abortion rights groups trying to persuade the administration of President George H.W. Bush to ease restrictions on federal payments to health clinics that offered (among other services) abortion counseling? When The Los Angeles Times broke this story in July, Thompson's campaign first denied he had done anything such thing. But as records surfaced showing he had helped the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, Thompson claimed he was merely doing his duty as a lawyer:

The practice of law is a business as well as a profession. It's the way you support your family. And if a client has a legal and ethical right to take a position, then you may appropriately represent him as long as he does not lie or otherwise conduct himself improperly while you are representing him. In almost 30 years of practicing law I must have had hundreds of clients and thousands of conversations about legal matters. Like any good lawyer, I would always try to give my best, objective, and professional opinion on any legal question presented to me.

But no lawyer is obligated to work for a client he finds morally reprehensible. Thompson certainly had the right to tell his law firm that he would prefer not to assist a group advocating abortion rights (or, as the anti-abortion crowd puts it, the right to commit mass-murder). He chose to put the code of business above a moral concern. That was his prerogative. What's wrong is how he has tried (and succeeded) in double-talking his way out of a predicament. He worked for this abortion rights group, then ran for Senate as an anti-abortion candidate. When the story came out about his pro-abortion toils, his campaign issued a false denial. After incontrovertible proof emerged, he hid behind his duty as a lawyer. After all that, Thompson ends up with the right-to-life crown.

It's a tale of contortions. But look at the GOP field. One of the leading candidates is a supporter of abortion rights trying to convince the anti-abortion crowd he's not that pro-choice (Rudy Giuliani). Another is a former supporter of abortion rights attempting to persuade potential Republican voters he has been converted (Mitt Romney). And a third once railed against the leaders of the religious right and has tried to mend fences with the social conservatives (John McCain). So Thompson's pirouettes are not much in comparison. In the land of GOP contortions, Thompson's dance is about as straightforward as they come.

Upscale Buenos Aires Shopping Mall Once Housed Torture Chambers

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 8:23 AM PST

For anyone who ever suspected there's something less pleasant lurking under shopping mall muzak, Naomi Klein's new book The Shock Doctrine provides confirmation, in the chapter about the 1976-83 dirty war in Argentina:

In 1987, a film crew was shooting in the basement of the Galerias Pacifico, one of Buenos Aires' plushest downtown malls, and to their horror they stumbled on an abandoned torture center. It turned out that during the dictatorship, the First Army Corp hid some of its disappeared in the bowels of the mall; the dungeon walls still bore the desperate markings made by its long-dead prisoners: names, dates, pleas for help.
Today, Galerias Pacifico is the crown jewel of Buenos Aires' shopping district, evidence of its arrival as a globalized consumer capital. Vaulted ceilings and lushly painted frescoes frame the vast array of brand-name stores, from Christian Dior to Ralph Lauren to Nike...
For Argentines who know their history, the mall stands as a chilling reminder that just as an older form of capitalist conquest was built on the mass graves of the country's indigenous peoples, the Chicago School Project in Latin America was quite literally built on the secret torture camps where thousands of people who believed in a different country disappeared.

The Galerias Pacifico website is here. As of today, this information has not been added to the mall's English-language wikipedia page.

Assassination Jokes, Anthrax Spores, and Russian Mobsters

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 6:47 AM PST

My inbox this morning had a few of these press releases forwarded to me:

ExecutiveAction today announced it will hold a press conference on Wednesday, November 14, at 10:30 a.m. at the National Press Club to release the threat assessment – Spores: The Threat of a Catastrophic Anthrax Attack on America. At the press conference will be:
Neil Livingstone – CEO of ExecutiveAction and one of the nation's top terrorism experts. R. James Woolsey – Former Director of the CIA and Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton. Professor Yonah Alexander – Senior Fellow at the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University and author of more than 90 books on terrorism and international affairs. David Wright – CEO of PharmAthene, a biodefense company headquartered in Annapolis.

The arresting name of the company holding the press conference, Executive Action—code for assassination—is fully intended. "Think of us as a McKinsey & Company with muscle, a private CIA and Defense Department available to address your most intractable problems and difficult challenges," declared its CEO and founder Neil Livingstone when the group opened its doors in the Watergate last summer.

But it hasn't been all assassination jokes for Livingstone, who has taught terrorism courses at Georgetown and was reportedly an associate of Oliver North during Iran Contra. As Harpers' Ken Silverstein and US News' Washington Whispers reported last spring, Livingstone was sued for $2 million by his old firm, Global Options, for allegedly taking customers. Among the clients Livingstone was accused by Global Options of taking with him to ExecutiveAction, according to Whispers, "a firm owned by the daughter of Uzbekistan's strongman president; one secretively dubbed 'Project M'; and the feuding family of Sumner Redstone, chair of Viacom."

A Wall Street Journal story earlier this year would seem to suggest that a possible candidate for Project M is one Simeon Mogilevich, a post Soviet entrepreneur indicted on 45 counts by the Feds. As the Journal reported, last year, Livingstone brokered high level meetings for a Mogilevich hired gun with top levels of the Justice Department:

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Obama Touches the Third Rail, Sort Of.

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 6:01 AM PST

On "Meet the Press" this weekend, Barack Obama struck out at Hillary Clinton over her refusal to commit to raising the cap on payroll taxes to help keep Social Security solvent. Obama's focus on payroll taxes was refreshing after all the recent focus on the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). The AMT is the 1960s measure designed to catch a handful of super-rich tax cheats that now ensnares a lot of ordinary upper-class people and which Congress has pledged to fix.

Payroll taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare, only apply to the first $94,200 of a worker's wages. Income from investments and other passive earnings that make up a lot of the super-rich's income aren't subject to payroll taxes at all. That's why Obama was suggesting raising the income cap, a reasonable idea given that the number of people in the upper tax bracket has soared under the Bush administration. John Edwards has also said he'd support such a measure. But Clinton is on the fence.

Which is too bad, because payroll taxes are highly regressive. More than half of wage-earning Americans pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes, and they fall heaviest on people earning less than $40,000 a year, eating up more than 15 percent of a minimum-wage workers paycheck. The AMT, though, only hits people who make more than $100,000 a year. If Obama is serious about taking on payroll taxes, he ought to consider giving them a major overhaul, not just to fix Social Security, but to relieve some of the burden on the working poor.

Iranian-American Scholar Fears War Within Months - Can He Help Stop It?

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 11:43 AM PST

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Here's how high Trita Parsi thinks the stakes are getting on the Iran question: "In the next couple of months, we may end up in a military conflict between these countries," the Iranian-American scholar said in San Francisco last week, referring to the United States, Israel, and Iran. Parsi, who supports diplomacy and thinks it has a fair shot, believes this type of conflict "would be an absolute shame," not to mention what a war between these nations would actually mean. For any attack to effectively reverse Iran's nuclear capability, Parsi said, "you would have to kill 6,000 Iranian nuclear scientists."

Prez Candidates: Schools? What Schools?

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 11:10 AM PST

With big issues like the war and Iran hounding '08 presidential candidates, have domestic schooling issues gone completely off their collective radar?

Education has never been the sexiest of topics, but as Education Week points out, the next president needs to hone in on a few dry, but important, issues: the future of No Child Left Behind, the expansion of prekindergarten programs, and how much federal dollars should be spent on charter schools or private school choice. An interactive chart in the same article gives the low-down on where all the red and blue candidates stand on the issues.

The education think tank Education Sector argues that candidates should focus on improved recruitment and compensation for teachers, and opening new schools in low-income areas.

And here's one more candidate-by-candidate comparison on issues like school vouchers and social promotion. Just because the candidates aren't talking about it, doesn't mean we can't.

Little Steven Goes to Washington...and Wants To See Laura Bush

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 10:33 AM PST

Little Steven wants to chat with Laura Bush.

That's what Steven Van Zandt--a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, the actor who played Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, and the host of the syndicated radio show, Little Steven's Underground Garage--told me on Monday after a press conference in which he teamed up with the National Association for Music Education to promote music in primary education. At the event, Van Zandt announced his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation is creating a music appreciation curriculum for middle and high schools that will cover the history of rock and roll.

Van Zandt is no fan of the Bush administration. He has long identified with progressive causes. His 1984 album, Voice of America was loaded with rough anti-Reagan sentiment. In 1985, he pulled together dozen of top recording artists--Bob Dylan, U2, Run DMC, Springsteen--for the antiapartheid anthem, "Sun City." And in 2004, Van Zandt (with Springsteen and the rest of the band) was part of the Vote for Change tour that hit swing states to encourage people to, well, vote for change--that is, to vote against George W. Bush.

But now Van Zandt is pushing an issue that he says "transcends politics." At the press event, he was joined by John Mahlmann, the executive director of the National Association for Music Education, who noted that student access to music education has dropped about 20 percent in recent years--thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act. Mahlmann also said that students' "contact time" with music and all the arts has fallen 40 percent. The No Child Left Behind law, Mahlmann claimed, has caused schools to obsess over testing for math and reading and that "pushes out other areas of the curriculum."