Mojo - January 2008

The Literature of Presidential Endorsements: Angelou v. Morrison

| Thu Jan. 31, 2008 8:41 AM PST

The always excellent Laura Miller, Salon book critic (who has edited me in the past), offers a refreshingly brief and lovely review of Maya Angelou's endorsement of Clinton and Toni Morrison's of Obama.
Miller (on Angelou on Clinton):

...a string of campaign-trail clichés: "She is in this race for the long haul. She intends to make a difference in our country. Hillary Clinton intends to help our country to be what it can become." Possibly Angelou means this pablum as a crypto-postmodern witticism, in which Clinton's implied promise to deliver a known quantity to the White House is mirrored by slogans so standardized they seem to have been extruded from the machines that make the plastic toys for McDonald's Happy Meals. But what do you think are the odds against that?

Miller (on Morrison on Obama):

Morrison lauds Obama for his "creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom," then goes on to observe that "it is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naiveté. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it." This is a classic Morrisonian metaphorical progression. It sounds great -- sonorous and rich with lofty concepts and moral authority. Each sentence technically makes sense. Yet somehow, by the time you get to the end, things have gotten out of focus. What exactly is she talking about?

Ah, book nerds. Where would you be without us?

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At GOP Debate, McCain and Romney Bicker Over Whom Reagan Would Love More

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 8:19 PM PST

At the end of the final Republican presidential primary before Super-Duper Tuesday, CNN's Anderson Cooper, the lead moderator, noted it had been "a remarkable evening of politics." Not so.

The debate, held at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California, on Wednesday night, was all-too predictably a contest in Reagan-hugging, with John McCain, the apparent frontrunner, and Mitt Romney, the apparent No. 2, trying to out-Reagan the other. Neither said much new. After all, they agree on keeping in place George W. Bush's war in Iraq and his tax cuts. But the two men needed something to argue about, so they tussled over McCain's charge that Romney last spring supported setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. This was the exchange that would be sliced and diced by the pundits and the analysts. In a way, both McCain and Romney were wrong.

This dust-up began last week when McCain said "Romney wanted to set a date for withdrawal similar to what the Democrats are seeking." McCain pointed to an ABC News interview, during which Romney was asked, "Do you believe that there should be a timetable in withdrawing the troops?" His reply:

Well, there's no question--but that the President and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about. But those shouldn't be for public pronouncement. You don't want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you're gonna be gone. You wanna have a series of things you wanna see accomplished in terms of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police and the leadership of the, of the Iraqi government.

Was Romney talking about a timetable for a withdrawal or a timetable for other steps? He wasn't clear. So the interviewer pressed him: "You wouldn't do it publicly because - the President has said flat out that he will veto anything the Congress passes about a timetable for - troop withdrawals. As president, would you do the same?" And Romney said,

FEMA Creates Its Own Disaster

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 5:18 PM PST

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Remember FEMAvilles? They were those thousands of trailers sitting in a cow pasture while victims of Katrina and other storms remained homeless. In 2006, the empty trailers were just one more insult to the already-battered citizens of the Gulf Coast. Yet amazingly, it gets worse. Not only did FEMA put off distributing the trailers, it also put off testing those trailers for toxic chemicals. Now, new documents reveal that once public outcry finally forced the agency to conduct the tests, it squelched the results of its own report—that the chemicals in question may cause cancer.

Salon reports that in 2006, following reports of a rash of medical problems experienced by trailer residents, the agency asked scientists at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to prepare a "health consultation" regarding toxins in the trailers. When chief of toxicology Christopher De Rosa insisted that the report address the long-term cancer risks associated with formaldehyde (a chemical used for embalming which, in addition to its other health effects, may trigger spontaneous abortions), FEMA went around him and had two of his associates prepare the report instead. When De Rosa discovered the deceit and complained to both his boss and FEMA's attorney, he was removed from his job.

Though the report, initially released at the beginning of 2007, was finally revised to include the cancer risk last October, the damage has likely already been done. Salon reminds us that the people the agency actually did manage to place in trailers "almost immediately...called FEMA to complain of illnesses, from breathing difficulties, bloody noses and rashes to more serious problems, and even deaths, possibly connected to high levels of formaldehyde gas permeating the trailers." And as the victims of Katrina continue to move out of the region, their long-term heath problems will go with them. What's most shocking, though, is the amount of effort the agency continues to devote to obscuring its own mistakes. When the next Katrina strikes, will FEMA have done anything to learn from them?

—Casey Miner

Previewing the Final Debate, Obama and Clinton Attack and Counter-Attack

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 2:47 PM PST

Will the last Democratic debate before Supersaturated Tuesday, scheduled for Thursday night in Los Angeles, be a mano-a-mano slamfest? During the previous gathering of Democratic candidates, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton got rather nasty, as John Edwards attempted to play the grown-up. With Edwards departed from the race, finally there will be a direct Clinton-against-Obama face-off. And the tensions--and stakes--are obviously higher. Yeah, it's easy to depict this as a sporting event. The Super Bowl debate, etc. (CNN calls it campaign coverage "Ballot Bowl '08.") But at this point in the contest, the not-so-great policy differences between the two are not what counts. What matters are the persons--and that includes how they punch, whether they punch, and how they take a punch. Many--if not most--voters will make a final determination based on their impressions of the character, values, judgment, experience, and talents of the two remaining contenders. And here's the last chance Clinton and Obama each have to compare him- or herself to the other--up close and personal.

On Wednesday, the campaigns provided a preview of what could come. During a speech in Denver--where over 10,000 people turned out to see him--Obama presented a sharp critique of Clinton. "Democrats will win in November and build a majority in Congress not by nominating a candidate who will unite the other party against us," he proclaimed, "but by choosing one who can unite this country around a movement for change." He went on:

It is time for new leadership that understands the way to win a debate with John McCain or any Republican who is nominated is not by nominating someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq or who agreed with him in voting to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, who agrees with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don't like, who actually differed with him by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changed.

The Prison-Industrial Complex Keeps on Creating Wealth, For Some: Wanna Play "Don't Drop the Soap"?

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 12:41 PM PST

It was one of those where you check the URL to make sure you didn't accidentally end up at The Onion's site. One of those times when you could only wish you'd been punk'd.

The son of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is peddling a board game titled "Don't Drop the Soap," a prison-themed game he created as part of a class project at the Rhode Island School of Design.
John Sebelius, 23, has the backing of his mother and father, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary Sebelius. ...
John Sebelius is selling the game on his Internet site for $34.99, plus packaging, shipping and handling. The contact information on the Web site lists the address of the governor's mansion. ...the address will change when John Sebelius moves.
"Fight your way through 6 different exciting locations in hopes of being granted parole," the site says. "Escape prison riots in The Yard, slip glass into a mob boss' lasagna in the Cafeteria, steal painkillers from the nurse's desk in the Infirmary."
The game includes five tokens representing a bag of cocaine, a handgun and three characters: wheelchair-using 'Wheelz," muscle-flexing "Anferny" and business suit-clad "Sal 'the Butcher."'

How righteous he must feel for invoking Italian-American stereotypes instead of designing corn row and "grill" game pieces and characters named Raheem, 50 Cent and Deonte'Nazarea.

Rest assured that the young entrepreneur has only harmless fun in mind. It's victimless, no? It in no way reflects on the flaming chasm between the classes (since we don't have those here): "This game is intended for mature audiences -- not children -- and is simply intended for entertainment...".

As were public hangings and chuckling whilst those silly Christians tried to evade those slapstick lions in ancient Rome. Good, clean fun at no one's expense. Pack a pick-a-nick basket and bring the fam.

Please, please let Colbert have this guy on and force him to play his own game while the world watches. I volunteer to hold the stopwatch and see how long it takes for the young designer to either feel ashamed or let loose with a few choice Freudian slips about how 'decent' people really feel about the incarcerated. Disapproving of them is one thing. Dancing on their skulls while they're buried alive is another.

On a trip to Italy, I was all excited to visit the torture museum at San Gimignano. We thought it would be a big hoot, but a mere five minutes in, we were all silent, horrified and ashamed at having tried to find the fun in torture. Finishing the tour seemed like the only possible penance; I've never wanted to escape from anyplace more. Unbelievable, the technology and ingenuity we've devoted to maiming one another. Now I feel silly. What a waste of time feeling bad. We should have designed a game based on it. Anybody got a fiddle I can play while Rome burns?

What Does the Edwards Withdrawal Mean?

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 11:59 AM PST

edwards-drops-out250x200.jpg John Edwards, speaking a few moments ago in New Orleans, withdrew from the presidential race but declined to endorse one of the two remaining candidates. He said he had spoken with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama earlier today and had secured a pledge from both of them that ending poverty would be a central focus of their candidacies and presidencies. Seemingly satisfied with their commitments, Edwards is content to keep his views private for the time being.

Speaking to the working people who have been the feverish focus of his campaign, Edwards said, "We see you, we hear you, and we are with you. And we will never forget you." It was a significant departure from his earlier campaign rhetoric. Previously, Edwards has argued that working class Americans are voiceless, and that he speaks for them. Today, he indicated that their voices are heard, as if Edwards' candidacy has empowered the traditionally ignored.

And he may be right. If Clinton and Obama continue to focus on poverty, they will force the Democratic Party to do the same. The nation's political discourse will have been shifted because of Edwards' valence.

And it won't be the first time. By tomorrow Edwards will be old news, so let's take this opportunity to appreciate him and what he did in this race.

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Blackwater's Disaster Movie!

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 10:24 AM PST

Sent to me by a friend in the security business. The video is apparently another salvo in Blackwater's attempt to market itself as a leader in the "peace and stability industry." I'm told that Donald Rumsfeld makes a cameo appearance in this particular film, although I haven't been able to spot him. Can you?

Coalition Of The Dwindling - Australia Is Leaving; Who's Left?

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 10:20 AM PST

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Yet another "coalition partner" has announced plans to withdraw from Iraq. According to UPI, the new Labor government in Australia has decided to bring home its 550 soldiers by mid-2008. The announcement was made by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith several days after his visit to Washington, where he met privately with Dick Cheney, Robert Gates, and Condoleezza Rice. Where does that leave the Multinational Force Iraq (aka the Bush administration's "Coalition of the Willing")? Well, let's take a look...

Countries other than Australia to have withdrawn their troops: Slovakia, Lithuania, Italy, Ukraine, Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Nicaragua, Singapore, Norway, Portugal, New Zealand, Philippines, Tonga, and Iceland.

Countries so far "staying the course":
United States, United Kingdom**, Poland, South Korea, Romania, El Salvador, Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Denmark, Mongolia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Bulgaria, Armenia, and Latvia.

**It should be noted that the British withdrew from central Basra last year and are now huddled in a secure base outside the city, under regular attack from insurgents. It is widely thought they will withdraw from Iraq sometime during 2008.

They Can Sell Cigarettes, So Why Not Pot?

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 9:52 AM PST

In one of those "only in California" stories, the AP reports that a creative owner of a nutrition center in Los Angeles has installed a 24-hour vending machine to distribute medical marijuana to the chronically ill.

"Convenient access, lower prices, safety, anonymity," inventor and owner Vincent Mehdizadeh said, extolling the benefits of the machine.

 

Naturally, the feds are going to bust him...

Edwards Dropping Out

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 8:32 AM PST

So it's all over the news that John Edwards will be withdrawing from the presidential race today in a speech in New Orleans. The speech is at 1 pm EST: we'll have full coverage after that point. In the meantime, check out some of our past Edwards coverage: possible Atty. General; possible VP; Iowa; Iowa; Iowa; tough love for Dem insiders; New Hampshire; and Nevada. Let no one accuse Mother Jones of perpetuating the John Edwards media blackout!

With word out that Giuliani will be endorsing McCain later today, this is shaping up to be one of the biggest days of the campaign season.

Update: Barack Obama rushes to claim the Two Americas mantle with this statement:

"John Edwards has spent a lifetime fighting to give voice to the voiceless and hope to the struggling, even when it wasn't popular to do or covered in the news. At a time when our politics is too focused on who's up and who's down, he made a nation focus again on who matters – the New Orleans child without a home, the West Virginia miner without a job, the families who live in that other America that is not seen or heard or talked about by our leaders in Washington. John and Elizabeth Edwards have always believed deeply that we can change this – that two Americans can become one, and that our country can rally around this common purpose. So while his campaign may end today, the cause of their lives endures for all of us who still believe that we can achieve that dream of one America."

Update II: Clinton statement after the jump.