Mojo - November 2007

Jefferson-Jackson Dinner - Most Exciting Live Blog Ever!

| Sat Nov. 10, 2007 8:59 PM EST

Okay, let's get it on.

8:13 - Nancy Pelosi takes the stage, which is in the shape of a square and surrounded on all sides. Pelosi, like all speakers today, will have to speak while walking in a circle.

8:14 - Pelosi says "all the eyes of the world are on this dinner tonight." The disproportionate amount of power that Iowa has in American presidential elections really is ridiculous.

8:15 - Peeking at Marc Ambinder's blog, I see John McCain had a kind of insane day today, filled with bucketloads of attack politics.

8:20 - The Hillary Clinton supporters here are wearing shirts that read, "TURN UP THE HEAT. TURN AMERICA AROUND." New slogan?

More after the jump, including the Edwards speech.

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Iowa's Most Important Dinner - Happening NOW

| Sat Nov. 10, 2007 7:27 PM EST

I'm in the Veterans Auditorium in Des Moines for the Iowa Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. For voters nationwide, the JJ, as it's called, is a blip on the radar. But here in Iowa it's huge, particularly in the year before an election. One Obama supporter described it to me thusly: "If the Iowa Caucuses are the Super Bowl, this is the halftime show."

iowa.jpg Six presidential candidates will be speaking to 9,000 of Iowa's most prominent (and richest) Democrats. Also on hand are assorted politicos from the Midwest. Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and current Ohio governor Ted Strickland wandered by when I was waiting in the consession line, for example. Nancy Pelosi is the master of ceremonies.

This is an only-in-Iowa event. A rambunctious crowd of young supporters for every candidate have packed the balcony level and are shouting slogans and chants at an ear-rattling volume. They also have coordinated sign gimmicks, like at halftime of a college football game. The youngsters spent all day putting thousands and thousands of signs up inside this auditorium and on the streets surrounding it. Media from all over the world is here.

The JJ can make or break a candidate in this state. Iowans credit the 2003 JJ with making John Kerry's Iowa victory. Before the event, Kerry was down in the polls, looking up at frontrunner Howard Dean. But Kerry unveiled a new stump speech and a new slogan, as many candidates do here, and it propelled him to a caucus win, and eventually the nomination.

I'll be liveblogging things as they happen. If you've got nothing better to do on a Saturday evening, I invite you to follow along.

If Grover Norquist Speaks, Does Anyone Still Listen?

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 4:22 PM EST

new-grover-headshot.jpg So Grover Norquist thinks that Fred Thompson is the "worst" GOP candidate out there. His major sin? He has refused to sign a pledge from Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, refusing to ever raise taxes. Also, he has said that rich people might have to pay higher premiums for Medicare and is opposed to federal tort reform.

Norquist's remarks apparently came during his regular Wednesday off-the-record meeting in D.C. with the grand poobahs of the GOP, which used to be the place to be in D.C. if you wanted to know what was going on in politics. In the old days, such a pronouncement would leave a candidate shaking in his boots. But ever since the news broke that Norquist had been deeply involved in some of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's Indian tribe schemes, and Democrats took over Congress, he seems to have been relegated to the sidelines, at least publicly. It will be interesting to see how much his attacks on Thompson will really matter. After all, Thompson's positions are pretty fiscally responsible, something Republicans used to care about...

Columbia Dating Scientists Up the Heeby-Jeeby Factor

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 4:01 PM EST

dating.jpgNumber one on Slate's "most read" list at the moment is "An Economist Goes to a Bar and Solves the Mysteries of Dating." The name pretty much says it all: A bunch of researchers from the economics department at Columbia ran a speed-dating service for students at a favorite campus watering hole. After each mini-date, participants were asked to rate their partners on variables such as attractiveness, intelligence, and ambition. Their findings were a cliché come true: Men "did put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner's beauty, when choosing, than women did," and "intelligence ratings were more than twice as important in predicting women's choices as men's." As for ambition, men "avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition—a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man considering her for a date."

What does it all mean? Simply refer to this neat little paragraph that sums up the researchers' findings:

So, yes, the stereotypes appear to be true: We males are a gender of fragile egos in search of a pretty face and are threatened by brains or success that exceeds our own. Women, on the other hand, care more about how men think and perform, and they don't mind being outdone on those scores.

Never mind the depressing fact that these unimpressive, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus-ish attitudes are present at Columbia, where your typical student is supposed to be busy learning how to "work across disciplines, embrace complexity, and become a fluid, fearless, forward-looking global citizen and scholar." Far more unsettling is the fact that a key point seems to have evaded both the researchers and Slate: Complex and fluid though it may be, Columbia University is most certainly not a microcosm of the larger world. Just because 400 Columbia students (who most likely have a slightly different relationship with the terms "ambition" and "intelligence" from the rest of the population) embraced these unfortunate stereotypes doesn't mean everyone else does.

The researchers' creepiest conclusion by far, though, was that "women got more dates when they won high marks for looks." From whom did the women win these high marks? Not their speed dating partners, but "research assistants, who were hired for the much sought-after position of hanging out in a bar to rate the dater's level of attractiveness on a scale of one to 10." File under: Ewwww!

This all brings us to the ultimate question: Don't Columbia economists have better things to do than scope out co-eds at a campus bar?

Beating Up On Barney Frank

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 2:21 PM EST

barney.jpg One of the GOP's most reliable fundraising pitches in the run-up to the 2006 mid-term elections was a vision of Democrat Barney Frank as the chair of the House Financial Services Committee. The gay congressman from Massachusetts was supposed to be the devil incarnate for the credit card and banking industry. Now that Frank has actually taken over the committee, though, one group he really seems to have pissed off is a bunch of liberal consumer advocates unhappy with his efforts to address the meltdown of the subprime lending industry.

Andrew Sullivan Ruminates on the Power of Obama's Face

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 1:17 PM EST

obama_face.jpg Many people on the blogosphere have taken note of Andrew Sullivan's ode to Barack Obama in the Atlantic. Sullivan argues that Obama is the only candidate who can break America out of the pro-Vietnam/anti-Vietnam culture war that has gripped America for forty years. The frontrunners, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, whether they like it or not, "are conscripts in their generation's war. To their respective sides, they are war heroes."

I'm not sure I agree with Sullivan's central premise, did I find this supporting argument about Obama interesting:

What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. Such a re-branding is not trivial—it's central to an effective war strategy...
Consider this hypothetical. It's November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America's soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama's face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

This is an argument that Obama himself doesn't make. Perhaps it's because we're in highly homogeneous Iowa (read: 96 percent white), but Obama didn't mention his race once in the time I spent with him. By comparison, Hillary Clinton mentioned her gender on multiple occasions in the time I spent with her. The speakers that introduced her often highlighted it.

The closest Obama came to mentioning his race was in response to a question after the third event he did on the day I followed his campaign. He said that he would be uniquely qualified to resurrect America's standing the world because he would "put a new face" on American leadership. He has a grandmother who lives in a small village in Kenya. He lived in Indonesia. He can listen to the rest of the world in a way no other politician can, and he can get the rest of the world to listen back.

But never once was the word "black" mentioned, nor "African-American." Maybe Obama is as "post-race" as some claim, and maybe that's why he does as well as he does.

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Utah To Offer Cops "Sweat Your Meth" Treatments

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 1:17 PM EST

The Scientologists are an enterprising bunch, aren't they? The latest:

The state of Utah is paying $50,000 to the Bio Cleansing Centers of America to treat eight current and retired police officers allegedly sickened from busting up meth labs. The center's detoxification treatment, which seems to consist mostly of sending the overweight cops to the sauna for hours on end, is based on the teachings of Scientology. It's similar to a controversial clinic in New York, set up with a huge donation from the nation's most famous Scientologist Tom Cruise, to treat 9/11 rescue workers. Scientology's late founder L. Ron Hubbard claimed that toxins could be flushed from the body through sweating and taking megadoses of vitamins, among other things, hence the sauna treatments.

Normally state attorneys general get called in to scrutinize such programs for peddling unproven therapies to gullible customers, but in Utah, it's actually the state AG who got the whole thing going. Not only that, but Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff wants the state to throw another $140,000 at the program to expand the treatment to more officers, despite a dearth of evidence showing that it actually works.

Utah residents seem to have an affinity for dubious health care practitioners. The state is home to "celluloid valley," the dietary supplement industry, which has made billions selling bogus natural therapies to unsuspecting consumers. The Scientologists and their sauna should feel right at home there.

Do You Speak Urdu?

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 10:19 AM EST

Mother Jones is pursuing an investigative project that requires the services of an Urdu speaker. You give us about 20 minutes of your time, and we'll give you a free subscription to the magazine. If that's not enough, you'll also get the satisfaction of helping us to break a big story. Those who are interested may write to tocotronicrocks@yahoo.com. Many thanks...

Obama Gets "Vision," Richardson Doesn't

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 1:18 AM EST

obama_blog.jpg

In my recent article on Bill Richardson, I wrote, "Richardson articulates a platform, not a vision." The New Mexico governor has a habit of listing policy proposals—including incredibly obscure and tiny policy proposals—without explaining how they fit into a narrative or theme that makes the case for his presidency.

I want to provide an example of a campaign that avoids this mistake, to better illustrate what I'm saying. At a event in Bettendorf, Iowa, yesterday, Barack Obama proposed the following things:

  • A middle class tax cut of up to $1,000 for working families.
  • Elimination of income tax on retirees making less than $50,000 per year.
  • Guaranteeing paid sick days and family leave days.
  • Doubling funding for after-school programs and giving a $4,000 tax credit to college students.
  • Cracking down on mortage fraud and predatory credit card policies, ending abusive payday lending practices, and reforming bankruptcy laws.

    In all of these areas, Obama matched concrete policy proposals with an explanation of how they will make the lives of everyday Americans more stable and more prosperous. He discussed taxes, retirement, family issues, education, college affordability, and housing, all within the context of what Obama called a "plan to reclaim the American dream." The whole speech was about the American dream, and about how, under Obama's leadership, it will get easier, not harder, to achieve.

    That's policy matched with vision. And that's what Richardson lacks.

Rudy Giuliani Tells Those Darn Kids If You Don't Vote, "It's Your Fault"

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 12:29 AM EST

giuliani_blog.jpg

At a Rudy Giuliani event at University of Northern Iowa this afternoon, a public speaking instructor asked Giuliani what he would say to young people who are disillusioned by politics.

"I'll tell you what I'd say," Giuliani said. He clapped his hands fiercely. CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! "Wake up! Look at America!" he said. "You are so lucky. You live in the best country in the world." He explained that America offers opportunity that no other country does, and that if young people are not so excited about America, they should try traveling abroad, because they'd return relieved to live in the old U.S.A. He repeated over and over some version of the line, "Just take a look at what you have around you, look at what you can do. You are very, very lucky."

Sometimes, Giuliani said, you need to "move your perspective around."

Giuliani didn't deny that there are imperfections in American politics that turn young people off, but claimed that young people could change what they didn't like. "You get a chance to vote. And if you pass it up," he said, "it's your fault."

Afterwards, students I asked about Giuliani's response were a little stunned. "Umm, I guess there's not a whole lot I can say about it," said Justin Brinker, a 22-year-old junior.

"Uhhh... I though it was all right," said Dane Embury, a 22-year-old senior. "But I still think it's going to be an issue." He shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno."

The lack of policy proposals that might appeal to young voters, or resurrect their faith in the system, wasn't missed. Jess Paulsen, a 20-year-old junior said, "I don't know. I think it might have been better to add in how he's going to, kinda, do something about student loans. And bring up education in general. Because this is a university and that's why people are here."

John Edwards has a whole agenda for college affordability, which includes a national initiative that pays for one year of public-college tuition, fees, and books for more than 2 million students. It also includes an overhaul of the student loan system and a simplification of the financial aid application process. Barack Obama just proposed a tax credit worth $4,000 for tuition and fees every year. He wants greater support for the American community college system.

Point is, the Democrats have proposals that illustrate (1) an awareness that political disillusionment occurs in part because college-age voters don't believe Washington cares about the squeeze that is being put on them, and (2) a willingness to address the problems of youth voters, even though youth voters don't organize and fight for their needs, and often don't even vote.

But that's not what you get from Rudy Giuliani. Rudy Giuliani is the daddiest member of the daddy party. You kids don't get no stinkin' Pell Grants. You get tough love.