Mojo - April 2008

Clintons Release Tax Returns - Here Are Most of the Details

| Fri Apr. 4, 2008 6:21 PM EDT

clintons.jpg After weeks of pressure from the media and the Obama campaign, the Clintons have released their tax returns from 2000-2007. If you're a financial voyeur, you can read them all in pdf form here.

Over the last eight years, the Clintons have made roughly $109 million, have paid roughly $34 million in taxes, and have donated over $10 million to charity.

The Friday afternoon news dump is usually used to catch the media and its readership/viewership off-guard: nobody writes, reads, or watches much news going into a weekend. But these tax returns have been a hot topic in the presidential race for ages. Much scrutiny will be applied to the sources of the Clintons income over the next several days, primarily because of questions about whether Bill Clinton's worldwide business dealings allow nefarious interests to try and curry favor with the husband of a potential future president.

The Clintons asked for an extension on their 2007 taxes, meaning we don't know what the former President has been up to in the last year. The campaign did list some sources of income, including $150,200 from Senator Clinton's salary and $186,600 from President Clinton's pension. Less transparently, there is also $2,750,000 from unspecified "partnership income" and $400,000 from "advisor income" from a sketchy company called InfoUSA.

On this issue, the Clinton campaign does have a legitimate gripe with the media: reporters have not been good about presuming innocence. That said, the campaign fueled speculation about the tax returns' contents by not releasing them, despite endless calls for them to do so, and not providing a reason for why.

Note: Prior to this, the last time the Clintons released their tax returns (which has been the norm in presidential politics since the 1970s) was in 2000 when they made $416,039. They've certainly seen an income uptick.

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Hillary's Prayer, Revisited

| Fri Apr. 4, 2008 6:18 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton's campaign is doing its part to keep the Obama-Rev. Wright controversy alive. A few days ago one of Clinton's top advisers acknowledged that the campaign is aggressively pushing the Obama-Wright connection in its pursuit of uncommitted super-delegates. Hillary herself has repeatedly said that Wright "would not have been my pastor." And while there's no doubt the Wright issue will continue to be a headache for Obama, our prediction that Hillary's own untoward religious connections would become an issue has come true.

Last night NBC interviewed MoJo author Jeff Sharlet on Hillary's longtime participation in a secretive Capitol Hill group called the Fellowship.

Regular Mother Jones readers will be familiar with Hillary's involvement in the group from Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet's feature on the topic last September:

Religious Conservatives Revolt Against... Mitt?

| Fri Apr. 4, 2008 6:11 PM EDT

mccain_no_romney.jpg The movement conservatives that had long-standing problems with John McCain have begrudgingly come to accept him. Now some of them are threatening to leave McCain again... if he chooses Mitt Romney as his VP.

According to a newspaper ad taken out by the Government Is Not God PAC and signed by 26 conservative leaders, Mitt is a deal-breaker because "his recent 'conversion' to conservative and pro-life principles is not credible." Romney's "well-timed conversions," says the ad, are "mere political opportunism, and are offensive to those who demand 'straight talk' from their leaders."

The ad carries a threat, as well. After pointing out Romney's previously moderate positions on abortion and gay marriage, the writers tell McCain a Romney VP choice would "fatally harm your appeal to voters with deep constitutionalist and social conservative commitments." Decoded, that means "don't count on us turning our people out if you put Romney on the ticket."

GING-PAC, which also has a petition Romney-haters can sign, is explicit about this being push back against "Karl Rove, Sean Hannity and others in the economic wing of the Republican Party."

Clinton and Obama: We (Heart) Gays, Especially in Pennsylvania

| Fri Apr. 4, 2008 5:12 PM EDT

gay-obama-08.jpgHillary Clinton and Barack Obama want you to know they're not just tolerant, they really like gay people. And they want their votes, especially in Pennsylvania later this month.

In her effort to court the gay vote, Clinton gave an exclusive interview to the Philadelphia Gay News during which she talked about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," among other issues. The publisher of the paper says both Clinton's and Obama's campaigns have made noises about buying ad space, "but we haven't gotten an insertion order."

Though Barack Obama hasn't done a Pennsylvania-specific appeal to gay voters yet, he has in other parts of the country. According to Editor&Publisher, in March Obama bought full-page, full-color ads in four Ohio and Texas LGBT publications shortly before their state primaries. It was the first time (sez Obama's campaign rep) that any presidential candidate has placed ads in local gay/lesbian publications for the express purpose of "asking for the support and the vote of LGBT voters statewide."

Consequences for Yoo?

| Fri Apr. 4, 2008 4:35 PM EDT

On Tuesday, the Pentagon released former Bush Administration Lawyer John Yoo's notorious March 2003 interrogation memorandum. Add this to the heap of evidence that Department of Justice lawyers helped legitimize questionable White House policies toward "enemy combatants." There may not be much new information to be gained from the declassified memo—with the exception of the disavowed footnote—but it did get me thinking about the consequences for lawyers who provide legal justification for illegal wartime actions.

Besides a good public shaming, there don't seem to be many consequences. After Yoo's stint at the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel, he returned safely to his prior job as a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. And with the signing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Yoo and his former colleagues seem untouchable.

However, there is one precedent that has gone largely overlooked, maybe to the future detriment of Yoo and Co.

What Was Mark Penn Thinking?

| Fri Apr. 4, 2008 2:46 PM EDT

mark_penn.jpg The Austen Goolsbee affair, in which Barack Obama's top economics adviser told Canadian government officials (with a disputed degree of seriousness) that Obama's anti-NAFTA rhetoric isn't to be taken seriously, was used by the Clinton campaign every single day before the Ohio and Texas primaries — chief strategist Mark Penn and communications director Howard Wolfson told reporters on literally dozens of conference calls that the incident called into question Obama's credibility, honesty, and progressive bona fides on economic policy.

So one has to wonder what Mark Penn was thinking when one hears that Penn, the CEO of PR giant Burson-Marsteller Worldwide in addition to his job with the Clinton campaign, met with the Colombian ambassador to discuss how to secure congressional approval for a bi-lateral trade agreement that Columbia supports and Hillary Clinton vocally opposes. According to the Justice Department, the Columbian government has paid Penn's firm $300,000 to lobby for Columbia's point of view and to secure $5 billion for the war on drugs program known as Plan Colombia.

When news of the meeting went public, Penn was immediate contrite, saying in a written statement, "The meeting was an error in judgment that will not be repeated and I am sorry for it. The senator's well-known opposition to this trade deal is clear and was not discussed."

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McCain's Tricky History With the MLK Holiday

| Fri Apr. 4, 2008 1:00 PM EDT

John McCain is in Memphis today commemorating the death of Dr. King, but he can't run from his spotty history on the MLK holiday and civil rights. In 1983, McCain was one of 77 Republican Congressmen to vote against establishing a federal holiday in MLK's honor. McCain was in the minority even among his GOP colleagues: even Dick Cheney, who voted against the holiday in 1978, voted for it in '83. Later, McCain would explain his vote by saying he "thought that it was not necessary to have another federal holiday, that it cost too much money, that other presidents were not recognized."

In 1999 McCain admitted that he was wrong to vote the way he did. He told NBC's Tim Russert, "on the Martin Luther King issue, we all learn, OK? We all learn. I will admit to learning, and I hope that the people that I represent appreciate that, too. I voted in 1983 against the recognition of Martin Luther King… I regret that vote."

The 1983 vote, however, is the not the end of the issue. In 1987, Arizona's Republican Governor repealed the state's recognition of King; McCain supported the decision. He changed his mind in 1990, when a King holiday was put to a vote in the state.

But even by 1990, McCain hadn't come to appreciate what King stood for. The Civil Rights Act of 1990 sought to overturn "Supreme Court rulings that made it much more difficult for individual employees to prove discrimination." The legislation was fought by big business, because it imposed new penalties on employers convicted of job discrimination. McCain voted against the act four times.

And in his 2000 presidential campaign, McCain employed a man named Richard Quinn in his South Carolina organization. Quinn was a toxic figure, writing:

80,000 Jobs Lost in March

| Fri Apr. 4, 2008 12:25 PM EDT

The unemployment rate jumped from 4.8 percent to 5.1 percent in March, a total loss of 80,000 jobs. That marks the biggest decline in five years, and follows 76,000 jobs lost in both January and February. "There doesn't appear to be any silver lining," an interest rate strategist at Credit Suisse told Reuters. "It shows that we're right in the middle of a recession that will probably take a while."

20080404_POLL_GRAPHIC.190.gif Considering this news, it's not surprising that 81 percent of Americans say that "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track," according to a New York Times/CBS News poll. That figure is the highest ever recorded in the poll, which started in the early '90s. It's a bleak picture:

A majority of nearly every demographic and political group — Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school — say the United States is headed in the wrong direction. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was better off.

See the graph at right: one might observe that the Bush Administration's second term has been one long ever-worsening crisis of confidence.

The Death of MLK Jr.: RFK Said It Best

| Fri Apr. 4, 2008 11:38 AM EDT

It's been four decades since Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed. On the occasion of this anniversary, there's much media coverage of his life and his death. In all the years that have passed since that tragic moment, a flood of commentary has flowed. Yet it remains hard to improve upon what Bobby Kennedy said on the night of that assassination in Indianapolis, where he was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. He spoke extemporaneously and had the hard task of informing the crowd of King's violent death. Here is the audio of Kennedy's remarks accompanied by a photo montage:

As many commentators have noted, there were riots in cities across America when people learned of the news of King's murder, but there was calm in Indianapolis that horrible night.

Two months later, RFK would be shot and killed. If you want to see actual footage of Kennedy speaking to the crowd in Indianapolis (with Italian subtitles superimposed), you'll find it after the jump:

"A PhD in Strippernomics"

| Thu Apr. 3, 2008 10:03 PM EDT

The always thought-provoking Gary Kamiya, at Salon, posted a column this week asking whether America's puritanism might just be waning in the wake of Spitzer, Paterson, men's room foot-tapping, mother-daughter pole dancing, and the like. He writes:

America seems to be slowly but surely weaning itself from its addiction to shrill moral judgments. Only 10 years ago, former President Bill Clinton was almost removed from office because he fooled around with a White House intern. Ten years before that, Douglas Ginsburg lost his shot at the Supreme Court because he admitted he had smoked marijuana. But when New York Gov. David Paterson recently copped to having had extramarital affairs and doing cocaine, the public reaction was a collective yawn. Admittedly, Paterson chose the best possible time to make his public confession: after the Eliot Spitzer train wreck, he probably could have revealed that he had dabbled in necrophilia while high on smack and gotten away with it. But still, Paterson's get-out-of-jail-free card would have been inconceivable just a few years ago.

I've been trying to convince my journalism students of this very point, and that the media deserves the lion's share of the credit for America's maturation on morals issues. Exhaustively covering these issues (Religious Right, anyone?) allows America to look itself in the mirror and ask questions like: Is it really my business if Paterson and his wife took a 'vacation' from their marriage? No. Mr. "Morals" Spitzer's 'hoing? Yes. But I'm swimming upstream trying to sell them on the notion that the media is our only way of figuring out which conversations we no longer need to have.