Mojo - December 2007

Obama Presents His Closing Argument

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 12:01 PM PST

obama-profile.jpg After months of delivering a remarkably consistent stump speech, Barack Obama broke out a brand new one for his "closing argument" to Iowa voters. (Its unveiling yesterday was overshadowed by the Bhutto assassination.) The spirit of the thing is the same as the speech he has been delivering, which is more or less the same as the speech he delivered on the convention floor in 2004.

A couple thoughts. First, the speech is filled with the gently-drawn contrasts that have characterized much of the Democratic race. Aside for a period where Edwards went full bore on Clinton, and a very brief time where Clinton open fire (disastrously) on Obama, the Democratic campaign has been filled with statements like, "Some believe you make change by hoping for it, some believe you make change by demanding it, I believe you make change by working hard for it." Lines such as these require listeners informed enough (Obama=hope; Edwards=fight) to understand their connotations.

Second, Obama has included one of the better lines of the entire campaign. Responding to Hillary and Bill Clinton's accusation that electing him would be a "roll of the dice," Obama says, "The truth is, you can have the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience. Mine is rooted in the real lives of real people and it will bring real results if we have the courage to change. I believe deeply in those words. But they are not mine. They were Bill Clinton's in 1992, when Washington insiders questioned his readiness to lead."

And third, it's kind of amazing that Obama has been able to ride this "new kind of politics" message for so long. It really hasn't changed for years. You can either attribute that to years of fawning, unquestioning press coverage or to a centeredness that hasn't shifted or been shaken by doubts. Plenty of people have said you can't hate American politics and still win in them (i.e. that you have to play the game, just a little), but Obama hasn't compromised.

Things immediately get much, much tougher if he wins the nomination, however.

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Have Yourselves a Kooky Little Kwanzaa

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 9:12 AM PST

A few years back, I wrote an op-ed about my feelings about Kwanzaa. Every year since, I politely decline offers to 'dog' Kwanzaa again and every year the 'afro-sphere' digs it out and dogs me for being a tool of The Man who "hates every drop of black blood in her veins". Yeah, the deep thinkers out there actually write things like that, let alone think them. That little nugget, by the way, came from a Ph D teaching at a leading black university and who heads an organization dedicated to racial progress. Makes home schooling seem reasonable.

That piece has zinged around so much in the last week, I gave up ignoring it. Here it is. Have fun.

See Mary Crash

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 8:57 AM PST

bike-topper.jpgIt's not exactly big news that baby boomers have decided not to ride off into their golden years playing Scrabble in the booth of some tacky Winnebago. Instead, they're flocking to their local Harley dealers and saddling up some big-ass Hogs. The decision to trade the RV for a Harley, though, hasn't come without a price. Boomers, with slower reflexes and quite a few more pounds than their younger counterparts, are slaughtering themselves on the nation's highways in record numbers. The number of people killed on motorcycles who were 50 and older has quadrupled over the past decade.

Among those boomers with some experience crashing a motorcycle is our very own U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters. While she ranks high on the list of "cabinet secretaries you've never heard of," Peters put herself in a public service announcement last month to talk about how her safety gear saved her life when she wiped out on her huge bike in 2005. The PSA is part of her new motorcycle safety initiative aimed at goading boomers into better driving and encouraging Harley Davidson into giving its novice customers driving lessons before letting them zoom off the lot. What it doesn't do, of course, is something really useful, like force boomer-heavy states like Texas and Florida to reinstate their mandatory helmet laws.

DOT's own data show that after Florida repealed its mandatory helmet law in 2000, motorcycle fatalities went off the charts. Texas, which repealed its law back in 1997 under Gov. George W. Bush, had similar results. Apparently Peters, who has championed privatizing the nation's highway system, doesn't want to offend her fellow bikers with heavy-handed regulation, even if it might save some of their lives. But hey, she looks cool in those shades..

Huxley's Brave New World Led to Bush's Stem Cell Decision

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 2:29 PM PST

brave75.jpgA high school English class classic helped Bush make up his mind about stem cells, according to a former Bush adviser. From a Commentary Magazine piece called "Stem Cells and the President: An Inside Account" by Jay P. Lefkowitz, who worked as general counsel in the Office of Management and Budget under Bush:

A few days later, I brought into the Oval Office my copy of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley's 1932 anti-utopian novel, and as I read passages aloud imagining a future in which humans would be bred in hatcheries, a chill came over the room. "We're tinkering with the boundaries of life here," Bush said when I finished. "We're on the edge of a cliff. And if we take a step off the cliff, there's no going back. Perhaps we should only take one step at a time."

H/T Think Progress.

Edwards Campaign Linked to Trouble-Making 527 Group

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 2:07 PM PST

If this gets any major play, it could seriously undercut John Edwards' pro-transparency, pro-clean government message.

In the final days before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, John Edwards has stepped up his criticism of outside organizations that spend money to influence elections, repeatedly disavowing a labor group that is blanketing Iowa with commercials supporting his candidacy.
"As for outside groups, unfortunately, you can't control them," Mr. Edwards said last weekend as he distanced himself from the actions of the group, known as a 527 for the section of the tax code it falls under. He would prefer the group "not run the ads," he said.
But the Edwards campaign may have expected the support of the group, Alliance for a New America, set up by a local of the Service Employees International Union. An Oct. 8 e-mail message circulated among the union leaders who created the group suggests that they were talking with Edwards campaign officials about "what specific kinds of support they would like to see from us" just as they were planning to create an outside group to advertise in early primary states with "a serious 527 legal structure."

From talking to Edwards supporters in Iowa, my understanding is that most of his support is due to his passion, his concern for the little guy, and his anti-corporate message. Maybe this new news won't jeopardize that. But it certainly won't help.

Street Violence, Successors, and Stability: South Asia Expert Daniel Markey on Picking Up the Pieces After Bhutto Killing

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 1:35 PM PST

I've pulled out some highlights from a conference call press briefing today by Council on Foreign Relations South Asia expert Daniel Markey. Markey served on the State Department's Policy Planning staff from 2003 to 2007.

It's a bad day for Pakistan, a bad day for the U.S., and I think we'll be paying the price for it for a while.
Who Did It: With regard to who did this: all indications from any kind of intelligence and semi intelligence would be it's al Qaeda – it's one of the militant groups operating or based in Pakistan's tribal areas. Baitullah Mehsud, one of the militant leaders in conflict with the state of Pakistan has expressed the desire to hit various political candidates including Bhutto, he is a potential candidate. You can't rule anybody out.

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Interview with Former U.S. Intelligence Official on Bhutto Assassination

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 9:56 AM PST

I interviewed a former U.S. intelligence official knowledgeable about Pakistan about the assassination today in Rawalpindi of Pakistani opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. While his comments make clear Bhutto was an irreplaceable political figure in the country, and that her political party cannot exist in the same way without her, he also emphasized his belief that Pakistan and its institutions are far more resilient and disciplined than many people in the West may understand. Here is a summary of the interview:

Former U.S. Intelligence Official (FUSIO): Let us never forget that at least in my lifetime we had two presidents shot and one died, and a likely Democratic presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy killed and Martin Luther King Jr., all in rapid succession. Before we jump in and [scream that Pakistan is a failed nuclear state] and draw conclusions about collusion. If some guy has one hand on a lanyard and the other on a gun, and he's willing to blow himself up, whether it's in Washington or Rawalpindi, if he gets through, he can do his dirty job. It's a conspiracy theorists' dream. …

Mother Jones: There's no doubt that it was some form of Al Qaida who was behind this?

FUSIO: I hate to use that word [because it's not precise]. "Al Qaida" and the "Taliban" – everybody [in the West] can even spell them both. But it is that crowd - - militant Islamists.

Huck You, Romney

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 8:23 AM PST

squirrel.jpeg Mike Huckabee is one passive aggressive Mo-Fo. His pheasant hunting outing yesterday was the perfect example: he was able to showcase his wily criticism, to slam Mitt Romney without ever mentioning his name. And to make broad allusions to political muscle while really only talking about varmints.

He compared killing a pheasant to trying to crossing him politically: "Don't get in my way, this is what happens." In between shots he said that he's the candidate who brings a "level of authenticity and credibility to the campaign."

And by that, of course, he meant Romney is no hunter. He criticized the Massachusetts governor, who has called himself a hunter, for only tracking "small varmints." Then, going after even the varmint vote, Huckabee added that in college he ate his fair share of fried squirrel and Coke. Greased up in his popcorn popper.

Ah, a man of the people.

Pakistani Opposition Leader Benazir Bhutto Killed

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 7:14 AM PST

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a suicide attack along with twenty other people at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. The AP reports: "A party security adviser said Bhutto was shot in the neck and chest as she got into her vehicle, then the gunman blew himself up." The Harvard and Oxford educated Bhutto had become the first female prime minister in the Muslim world. Background on her recent return from exile to Pakistan here.

Santa's Reindeer: Not as Sprightly as They Used to Be

| Wed Dec. 26, 2007 7:16 PM PST

After lugging a sleigh full of Wiis and Hannah Montana dolls across the sky, the reindeer are due for their annual checkup. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen--otherwise known as Discover, Diners Club, PayPal and Visa--have been pulling increasingly huge loads in recent years, and this year was no exception. On Tuesday MasterCard Advisors reported that US holiday sales were up 3.6 percent from 2006. That our plastic reindeer carried such a heavy load through the blizzard of a mortgage crisis is a testament to the power of Rudolph and his nose of red. But is the Red-Nosed Reindeer running his team into the ground?

What's clear is that consumer debt is taking a red nose dive. This week the AP reviewed financial data from the nation's largest card issuers and found a steep rise in delinquencies among accounts more than 90 days in arrears. Some of the nation's biggest lenders reported the accounts have ballooned more than 50 percent compared to a year ago. Overall, defaults jumped by 18 percent.

Rudolph (and Santa) really are to blame for a lot of this. For most of this year consumers seemed to be coming to their senses. The national savings rate was positive for most of 2007, for the first time in years, but then it jumped back to negative leading up to the holidays. For the time being we're once more following Rudolph back to 1929. His flashing red nose is certainly comforting, but it's also why people used to call him names, and wouldn't let him play in any reindeer games.