Mojo - April 2008

Pennsylvania: Too Close To Call Early--Or Not?

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 9:07 PM EDT

The polls in Pennsylvania closed a few minutes ago, and CNN and others are reporting that the Obama-Clinton race, according to exit polls, is competitive--that is, too close to call.

But the exit polling, if accurate, indicates a Clinton win--because of the women. The polls show that the electorate was 58 percent female and that the gals voted for Clinton over Obama, 55 to 44 percent. The men--making up a measly 42 percent of the voters--went for Obama over Clinton, 53 to 47 percent, according to the exit polls. If these numbers reflect the real voting, that would mean a narrow Clinton victory, by 3 points.

Already, the Clinton camp is dismissing any interpretation of the margin of victory. A win is a win, Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's campaign manager, said moments ago. Maybe he has that win.

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Earth Day's Shame: Eco-Barbie

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 8:03 PM EDT

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When I first saw the press release about a "green" Mattel collection of accessories called Barbie BCause, I thought it was an April Fool's joke. Mattel's new Barbie line will be released "just in time to celebrate Earth Day in style." Which is pretty ironic, really, given that Barbie dolls themselves are made out of plastic and are packaged in even more plastic. And not the kind of plastic you can throw in the recycling bin, either.

Learn more about Mattel's attempt at greenwashing by reading the rest of this post in Mother Jones's environmental blog, The Blue Marble.

Obama Gets Back to Basics

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 1:27 PM EDT

obama-casey.jpg Touring across Pennsylvania Monday, Barack Obama largely eschewed the daily back and forth of the campaign and refocused on the reasons he entered the presidential race over one year ago. Speaking to a small group of voters at a community college outside of Philadelphia, Obama said he decided to run because he thought the "country was ready for a different kind of politics." He talked about the obvious: the economy, the war, and the energy crisis. And he got even more detailed, discussing skyrocketing autism rates, working conditions for nurses, and net neutrality as an engine for innovation. The vagaries of the campaign season were left behind, perhaps because with one day before voters headed to the polls, the controversies and "manufactured issues" had been addressed and had taken whatever tool they would take. It was time to get back to basics.

In McKeesport, a town near Pittsburgh with a declining population and a disappearing manufacturing base, Obama reintroduced himself. "I have been running for 15 months now," he said. "When I first announced, people asked me, 'Why are you running so soon? You're a young man. You can afford to wait.' And I said, 'I'm not running because of some long-held ambition or because I think it's my turn. I'm running because of what Dr. King called the 'fierce urgency of now.'" He slammed lobbyists and special interests, saying they had a "headlock" on the nation's politics. He said he wanted to "change the culture in Washington." But for a few missing chants ("Fired up and ready to go!" has been left behind), it was the same speech he had delivered in the snowy cornfields of Iowa, home of the first primary.

Obama briefly addressed the new Hillary Clinton ad that features Osama bin Laden, dismissing it as politics as usual. But he did not bother to refer to the so-called "Bitter-gate." But at his rallies, there were voters who identified themselves as bitter. A local man named Roy Kelley who worked in a local hospital for 38 years said that he agreed with the comments that got Obama into trouble. "It is bitter," he said. "I feel bitter. I come from McKeesport here. You drive through this area, you start at Braddock, you come through McKeesport, Duquesne, Glassport, all these cities here. Presidents and Congress come through this area and make promises and nothing ever changes." Kelley felt Obama could deliver where other presidents had failed. "I drive through this town everyday, it makes me cry—what it was and what it looks like now. It pains me every day. My daughter, I mean, I want her to move out of this area. There's nothing here for her."

Chinese Weapons Ship To Head Home?

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 11:56 AM EDT

A series of updates to my earlier post about the plight of the An Yue Jiang, a Chinese cargo vessel currently searching for a suitable African port to offload a shipment of bullets, rockets, and mortars bound for Zimbabwe:


  • Der Spiegel reports that the ship's captain made haste to leave the port of Durban in South Africa last week, in part, because a court order had been issued that would have allowed Germany's state development bank, KfW, to seize the shipment in recovery of unpaid debts owed by Robert Mugabe's government.
  • The Associated Press says that U.S. intelligence agencies are tracking the ship and that American diplomats have requested the governments of South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, and Angola to turn the ship away. A senior State Department diplomat has been dispatched to Africa to underscore U.S. concern.
  • Agence France-Presse quotes a shipping agent as saying that the An Yue Jiang is now heading for Luanda, Angola. But the BBC and the Associated Press report that the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the cargo ship's owners are considering recalling the vessel and canceling the delivery.
  • Meanwhile, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is calling for U.N. intervention to stem the gathering post-election violence in his country, where Mugabe's military is "terrorizing the people."
  • UPDATE (1:00pm, EST): McClatchy says the ship is headed back to China.


    New Study Says Women To Start Dropping Like Flies

    | Tue Apr. 22, 2008 10:38 AM EDT

    For most of recent human history, one of the few places where women have dominated is on the actuarial charts. But the big news today: Life expectancy for women has plummeted in 1,000 counties across the country, in one area by nearly five years. The drop is unprecedented, and marks the first time since the 1800s that women have seen a major dip in longevity. The reasons for the drop aren't too surprising, largely because they track pretty closely to the Virginia Slims revolution, or the time when women embraced smoking in rates closer to men's. While men have reaped huge health benefits from kicking the habit, women are still dying in high numbers from smoking-related lung cancer. Obesity is also playing a huge role, with its complications from type-2 diabetes and other heart-related illnesses. The feminist movement, it seems, has not just brought women opportunities to live more like men, but also to die like them.

    Expectations for Tuesday's Primary

    | Tue Apr. 22, 2008 3:23 AM EDT

    PITTSBURGH, PA — Tuesday is the big primary and the campaigns are naturally trying to manage expectations.

    Phil Singer, a spokesman for Clinton, has dutifully repeated the Clinton campaign's position, which is that any margin of victory would be great for Clinton considering the commitment, in terms of both money and time, that Barack Obama has made to Pennsylvania. Singer has called Obama's spending in the Keystone State, which outstrips Clinton two-to-one and possibly more, "earth-shattering, record-breaking, eye-popping, extraordinary."

    The Obama campaign, though, is quick to point out that Clinton had huge leads just weeks ago, and that anything close ought to be considered a victory for them (in the weird media universe where things other than victories can be considered victories). Obama told a Pittsburgh radio station this week, "I'm not predicting a win. I'm predicting it's going to be close and that we are going to do a lot better than people expect."

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    Clinton Ad With Osama bin Laden: Meh

    | Tue Apr. 22, 2008 2:18 AM EDT

    The Clinton ad at right is getting a ton of play because it includes an image of Osama bin Laden. Obama fans and some other portions of the left are questioning whether it is tantamount to waving a bloody flag. The outrage writes itself: Using images like this one to scare voters is a Karl Rove tactic!

    Personally, I don't think it's all that bad. The point is that the next president faces immense challenges — finding bin Laden and stopping men of his ilk are two of those challenges. I understand the subtext is pernicious: the whole ad relies on fear, and it paints the likely Democratic nominee as soft on terror (or at least softer than Hillary Clinton). But politics ain't beanbag, and frankly if I'm going to get all worked about fear-mongering, it's going to have to be a lot more blatant than this.

    What do you think?

    Update: The Obama campaign blitzed reporters with this October 2004 quote from Bill Clinton: "Now one of Clinton's Laws of Politics is this: If one candidate's trying to scare you and the other one's trying to get you to think; if one candidate's appealing to your fears and the other one's appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope. That's the best."

    "Charlie Rose" by Samuel Beckett

    | Tue Apr. 22, 2008 2:04 AM EDT

    Great catch by Chris Hayes.

    Google. No. Google? No.

    McCain Tries To Steal the Bloody Shirt of a Civil Rights Hero

    | Mon Apr. 21, 2008 6:45 PM EDT

    Did John McCain travel all the way to Selma, Alabama, today so he could bask in the glory of a civil rights hero with whom he has no connection and who endorsed Barack Obama? Apparently so. As I noted elsewhere:

    Speaking at the site of a critical civil rights clash, McCain described in detail that turning point in America's history:
    Forty-three years ago, an army of more than five hundred marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge; an army that brought with them no weapons, which intended no destruction; that sought to conquer no people or land.

    He went on to cite, in much detail, the heroic actions of John Lewis, who led that protest and who today is a Democratic congressman supporting Obama:

    At the head of the column, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, tie and tan raincoat, marched a twenty-five year old son of Alabama sharecroppers, John Lewis. They had planned to march from Selma to Montgomery, but they knew they would never reach there.....
    On the other side of the bridge, row upon row of state troopers in blue uniforms and white helmets, many on horseback, prepared to charge and stop with violence the peaceful army, intent only on conquering injustice. John Lewis took the first blow, a baton thrust to the stomach that shoved him back on the marchers behind him. He took the second blow, too, a hard swung club to his head, leaving a permanent scar where it struck. Blood poured from the wound, darkening his raincoat. He tried to struggle to his feet, and then collapsed unconscious, his skull fractured.

    McCain went on to note that millions of Americans "watched brave John Lewis fall." He referred to Lewis and his comrades as "the best kind of patriots." He quoted Lewis. ("When I care about something, I'm prepared to take the long, hard road.") He cited Lewis' adherence to Martin Luther King Jr.'s concept of the "beloved community."

    McCain said all this to make a political point: he would be "traveling to places in America that aren't enjoying the prosperity many other parts of America enjoy" and would be listening to those Americans. You know, he would be a compassionate conservative.

    Gates Says U.S. Air Force Mired in "Old Ways of Doing Business"

    | Mon Apr. 21, 2008 6:32 PM EDT

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    The U.S Air Force was created to drop bombs and lots of them. It's a task the service has performed with great enthusiasm over the years... and the job has given way to the image of the Tom Cruise-style fighter jock—the smart-talking, glamour-boy pilot who's a pain in the butt on the ground and your best friend in the air. But just as technological advances have brought into question the usefulness of manned space exploration, the fighter jock is quickly being supplanted by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can track and destroy targets without risking the life of a human pilot, all from the comfort of an airbase in Nevada.

    Perhaps sensing that its Top Gun image stands to suffer from new technologies, the Air Force has continued to invest heavily in big-ticket, Cold War-era defense systems like the F-22 Stealth Fighter, an amazing machine to be sure, but one that is, shall we say, of limited use in a war against IED-planting insurgents.

    Now the Air Force's continued insistence on expensive, pilot-operated planes is under new scrutiny. In a speech today at the Air Force's Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates (himself a former Air Force officer), offered some plain talk on what he expects from the service in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, namely more emphasis on UAVs.

    Excerpts from Gates' speech, as reported by the Associated Press:

    In my view we can do and we should do more to meet the needs of men and women fighting in the current conflicts while their outcome may still be in doubt. My concern is that our services are still not moving aggressively in wartime to provide resources needed now on the battlefield...

    Regarding the slowness to deploy UAVs to the battlefield:

    People were stuck in old ways of doing business, it's been like pulling teeth... All this may require rethinking long-standing service assumptions and priorities about which missions require certified pilots and which do not. I'm asking you to be part of the solution and part of the future.

    Consider the gauntlet thrown down.