Mojo - March 2008

Does Wartime Service Matter in Presidential Elections?

| Fri Mar. 28, 2008 2:26 PM EDT

An interesting point to consider as you digest McCain's hero-heavy entrée into the world of general election advertising, from Matt Stoller, via The Plank:

1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 all saw the candidate without military service elected over the candidate who had served, in several cases heroically.

One could argue that Vietnam is a bigger part of John McCain's persona and appeal than it was of Al Gore's when he ran for president. And while John Kerry made a big deal of his wartime service, it essentially got dismantled by the Swiftboat folks. I'm not denying the trend; just saying we should be on the lookout for a possible exception this time around.

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Obama and Clinton Speak About Housing and the Economy: A Compare and Contrast

| Fri Mar. 28, 2008 1:45 PM EDT

This past week, all three presidential candidates gave major speeches on housing and the economy. Hillary Clinton highlighted her extensive work on the subprime housing crisis and Barack Obama emphasized a modernization of the institutions that regulate the financial industry for the federal government. John McCain, in a widely panned speech, offered no new proposals on either subject. In late January, McCain told reporters, "Even if the economy is the, quote, No. 1 issue, the real issue will remain America's security… I am running because of the transcendental challenge of the 21st century, which is radical Islamic extremism."

Clinton and Obama's speeches, though they had slightly different focuses, underscore the difference between the Democrats and the sole Republican in terms of economic aptitude.

Both Clinton and Obama said that trouble on Wall Street eventually hurts Main Street, and vice versa. Both offered sympathy to families going through foreclosures and tough love for bankers and financial types who rode mortgage-backed securities to ruin. Obama was willing to say plainly "our economy is in a recession," while Clinton went only so far as to say "our economy is in serious trouble."

Clinton claimed that she's been on the subprime hunt for a while now, and she's right. In March 2007, she told the National Community Reinvestment Coalition that she wanted to expand and reinvigorate the Federal Housing Authority, so it could offer "more mortgages at better rates." She also called for "more counseling and information" for potential homeowners, so they could avoid high-interest loans. Shortly thereafter she introduced the 21st Century Housing Act, a bill which, if it were to become law, would use these proposals and others to address the subprime mortgage crisis.

McCain Ad: Cue the Ugly "American" Campaign

| Fri Mar. 28, 2008 11:10 AM EDT

The American president Americans have been waiting for!

That's the tag line on John McCain's new ad, which features a film clip of McCain as a captured POW and a baritone-voice narrator asking, "What must a president believe about us, about America?" He kindly provides the answer: "That she is worth protecting." Could the implication be that Barack Obama is not quite American and that he is not interested in protecting our country, which the ad describes with the feminine pronoun. In other words, the half-black dude with a funny name--who might be a secret Muslim--can't protect her. Has Lee Atwater been resurrected? This smacks of the George H.W. Bush smear-tossing campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988--but also of Hillary Clinton's claims that Obama is not yet ready to be commander in chief.

By the way, when has America not had an "American president"?

If the Republican campaign is this vulgar and creepy seven months ahead of the election, expect much worse in the fall.

Railroaded Former Alabama Gov. Released from Prison; To Tesify Before Congress

| Fri Mar. 28, 2008 10:18 AM EDT

don_siegelman.jpg A federal appellate court has ordered former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman released from prison while he appeals his 2006 conviction for bribery. Siegelman, you'll remember, is the Democrat who went to prison under extremely suspicious circumstances after a long-term witch hunt conducted by the Republican party apparatus in the state. (Karl Rove was involved, too.)

The House Judiciary Committee has invited Siegelman to come testify about his case. Should make for good viewing.

GOP's New Jersey Senate Snafu

| Fri Mar. 28, 2008 9:49 AM EDT

The GOP is struggling to find a viable challenger to four-term Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. Republican party leadership courted millionaire Goya Foods heir Andy Unanue, a man that fringe Republican campaigns are calling "a slick New York-inhabiting nightclub-owning playboy."

When it became apparent that Unanue lives in Manhattan, and that his supposed home in New Jersey actually belongs to his parents, Unanue's campaign manager said, "Andy Unanue lives in New Jersey, he votes in New Jersey, his car is registered in New Jersey, he pays New Jersey auto insurance, and his business is in New Jersey. Andy Unanue is New Jersey."

When Unanue himself was asked for comment, he admitted, "For the past few years I've lived in New York. I'm in the process of moving back to New Jersey."

Props to Blue Jersey for spotting this. Unanue's (supposed) qualification for the Senate appears to be the fact that he was, for a short time, the COO of his parents' business. He was eventually run out by other family members and the reviews of his work were not good:

Robert Unanue, who emerged from the court battle as Goya's president, testified he "had information Andy was going to work drunk" and "wasn't projecting the right image for the company." Joseph Perez, a vice president, testified about Andy, "I've seen him come to the office drunk or smelling of alcohol."
...Joseph Perez, a vice president, testified Andy Unanue was "coming in late, leaving early, to the point I spoke to him and that I was concerned that perhaps he was ill." He rated Andy's leadership skill as "'fair to poor," adding that he could be "'arrogant and cutting."

Rest easy, Senator Lautenberg.

New Hope for the DREAM Act

| Fri Mar. 28, 2008 9:38 AM EDT

The bipartisan DREAM Act is a favorite bill of mine, and its been painful to watch it get killed over and over. Now there's new hope. Brave New Films is launching an ad campaign called "A Dream Deferred" that aims to force the new president to make the DREAM Act a priority in 2009. If you visit the "A Dream Deferred" website, you'll find a petition in support that you can send to Senators Obama, Clinton, and McCain. Here's Brave New Films' first ad:

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Bush's Latest Nuclear Catastrophe

| Thu Mar. 27, 2008 8:59 PM EDT

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is demanding a full inventory of all U.S. nuclear weapons and materials. The announcement comes in the wake of the Pentagon's realization last week that four nuclear warhead fuses were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan in 2006. This is just the latest chapter in the Bush administration's mismanagement of nukes.

In "Failure to Launch" (January/February 2008), James Sterngold writes, "the real problem with Bush's nuclear policy...was simple neglect. From the dawn of the nuclear era more than six decades ago, every administration, whether in peaceful or violent times, has maintained a solemn focus on its policies for the only weapon that can end civilization. But not this one."

Read more here.

—Celia Perry

Obama to Clinton: Show Me Your Taxes

| Thu Mar. 27, 2008 8:28 PM EDT

Barack Obama posted his and Michelle's tax forms yesterday, and it seems that their recent rise to fame has also brought a rise in fortune. From 2004 to 2006, the Obamas' combined income increased five-fold to just under $1 million: $983,826 (adjusted gross income). Must be nice. During this same period, from 2004 to 2006, the personal savings rate in the U.S. declined significantly, even dipping negative at the end of 2005—something that hadn't happened since the Great Depression.

This may stir doubts among cautious Obama supporters. Can Moneybags relate to the average American? However, in the battle over transparency with rival Hillary Clinton, this may be a winning move. HRC has positioned herself as the establishment candidate, which breeds a certain amount of resentment in itself, and her hesitancy to release her tax forms might only deepen the feeling. If she doesn't release them, she appears secretive (already a problem for her); but if she brings more media attention to her and Bill's wealth, she'll make Obama look like a regular working stiff.

"Blackwater Fever" Boils Through Anbar Province

| Thu Mar. 27, 2008 3:03 PM EDT

It begins with the chills, matures into a fever, and gives its victims cold sweats. It kills red blood cells and ultimately can induce failure of the liver or kidneys. And, most noticeably to many of the Iraqis who now suffer from it, it turns urine reddish black—a detail that has caused it to be called "Blackwater fever."

The illness has nothing to do with Erik Prince's security company, but Blackwater's reputation among Iraqis has now become the stuff of dark humor as a virulent form of malaria has begun to burn its way across Iraq's Anbar province, particularly the Sunni strongholds of Fallujah and Ramadi. From the Inter Press News Agency:

Talat al-Mukhtar is an Iraqi doctor now studying abroad. IPS asked him to comment on the Blackwater fever outbreak in Iraq.
"Malaria is endemic in Iraq, mainly in the northern part. However, it is prevalent in the milder forms; the severe form had been reported but not at an epidemic level."
Dr. Mukhtar said this form of malaria requires a "triple-drug treatment programme because it is an aggressive infection." He said the patient "requires meticulous medical and nursing care, and might even need time in an intensive care unit, as it can easily lead to kidney and liver failure."
Like the other doctors IPS spoke with, Dr. Mukhtar was clear that the Iraqi ministry of health needs to take a proactive role before the disease spreads further...
The spread of this condition follows the outbreak of other diseases. According to the WHO, as of Oct. 3, 2007 cholera outbreaks in Iraq had spread to nine of 18 provinces, and roughly 30,000 people had fallen ill with acute diarrhoea, with 14 deaths.
An Oxfam International report released last July showed that the humanitarian disaster in Iraq is compounded by a mass exodus of medical staff fleeing chronic violence and lawlessness. The report said the lack of doctors and nurses is breaking down a health system now on the brink of collapse.
The report said many hospitals had lost up to 80 percent of their teaching staff.

Zimbabwe: What 200,000% Inflation Means in Real Terms

| Thu Mar. 27, 2008 1:56 PM EDT

robert-mugabe.jpg Zimbabwe goes to the polls Saturday to see if it can manage to democratically oust 28-year despot Robert Mugabe. I say "manage" because Mugabe can't win a fair election, but he can rig it so that he wins, as he is widely suspected of having done in the past. Opposition candidate Simba Makoni presents a stronger challenge than any Mugabe has seen recently, but suspicions about the election have already been raised.

What makes Zimbabwe unique among the world's failed states is its inflation: a historic 200,000 percent. Here's what that means in real life, from Somewhere in Africa, via Andrew Sullivan:

To understand what 200,000 percent inflation means, a journalist friend I was traveling with, N., said that on Friday, he had lunch at a hotel in Harare , where a local beer cost 2 million Zimbabwean dollars (less than $1). He passed by the hotel after work the same day and the same beer was going for more than 4 million.

Earlier this month, the AP reported that $1US was worth 25,000,000 Zimbabwe dollars.