Mojo - April 2008

African Longshoremen Unite Against Zimbabwe-Bound Arms Shipment

| Mon Apr. 21, 2008 3:15 PM EDT

redbullets.jpg

Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission is now in the process of recounting ballots from last month's presidential election in which the long-time strongman Robert Mugabe appears to have lost out to opposition parties, including the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Mugabe's primary political nemesis, Morgan Tsvangirai.

As the recount continues, there are reports that Mugabe's party, ZANU-PF, could be preparing for a crackdown. Human Rights Watch last week accused the regime of establishing "detention centers" in remote areas, allegedly to be "used as torture camps to punish rural voters for supporting the MDC." Reports today suggest that Zimbabwe's hospitals are quickly filling with victims of political violence.

Meanwhile, there's another ominous sign of trouble ahead—a cargo ship loaded with weapons and ammunition from China, bound for Zimbabwe. According to reports in the South African press, the vessel, called the An Yue Jiang, carries three million AK-47 rounds, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar shells. It was due to arrive in the South African port of Durban last week, but when word of the ship's cargo reached shore, dockworkers refused to unload it. The dispute was referred to a judge, who upheld the dockworkers claim that the weapons, once transported to Zimbabwe, could contribute to "internal repression or suppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

A Tale of Clintonian Spin: Trying to Blow Past the Weathermen Question

| Mon Apr. 21, 2008 1:30 PM EDT

All campaigns spin. All candidates spin. But there is something about Clintonian spin that is...well, spinnier than conventional spin.

Here's an example. Last Thursday, following the mis-moderated Clinton-Obama debate of the previous evening, the Hillary Clinton campaign decided to follow up by blasting Barack Obama on two issues that had been tossed at him the previous evening: his past support of a handgun ban and his connection to William Ayers, a former Weather Underground radical who has become a distinguished professor and education expert. During a conference call that morning, Howard Wolfson and Phil Singer, two senior Clinton aides, hammered Obama for having held a fundraiser in 1995, during his first campaign for state senator, in Ayers' apartment. At the time, Ayers, who has admitted taking part in bombings during the 1970s (which never caused any loss of life) and who was never arrested for any of his radical actions, lived near Obama, and the two served on the board of a nonprofit that provided grants to groups working on poverty issues. Obama, Wolfson insisted, had "to be more forthcoming" about Ayers.

During that conference call, I asked Wolfson whether Senator Clinton supported the pardon Bill Clinton issued in 2001 to two Weather Underground radicals: Linda Evans, who was sentenced to prison for participating in a series of bombings in the 1980s, and Susan Rosenberg, who was charged with being part of a bank robbery that left a guard and two police officers dead. Whether or not the Ayers matter was a non-issue, if Hillary Clinton's aides were going to bash Obama for having once had a connection to a former radical who had never been arrested, it seemed fair to wonder if she had opposed her husband's pardons of two radicals who had served time for their crimes.

U.S. Army, Marines: Recruiting The Best And The Brightest?

| Mon Apr. 21, 2008 1:04 PM EDT

NCO%20slaute%20poster-web.jpg

Both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps have complained that the pace of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the continuous deployments and the limited rest time in between them, has sapped overall readiness by wearing out equipment and restricting the time available for retraining. The heightened wartime risk of injury or death has also had an impact—causing many potential recruits to think twice before signing on the dotted line. Recruiting problems have especially come to plague the Army and Marine Corps, which have borne the brunt of the fighting (and the casualties) in Iraq and Afghanistan. The solution, as has been reported, has been for the service branches to lower their standards by granting "personnel conduct waivers" to recruits who in prior years would have been turned away.

According to the Army Times, waivers granted to new recruits for things like misdemeanor or felony charges have grown 11 percent since 2004. (Recruiters, it should be noted, are still instructed to reject recruits with criminal histories involving sex crimes or substance abuse.) A bewildering truth about the practice of granting conduct waivers is that recruits receiving them typically perform better and are promoted faster than their peers. This, however, has not alleviated concerns on Capitol Hill, where Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, plans to hold a hearing May 22 to look into the matter.

Throwing Clinton Under the Bus To Spite Mom

| Mon Apr. 21, 2008 12:51 PM EDT

In Slate, the indispensable Linda Hirshman tackles feminism's latest head scratcher: Young women rejecting 'embarrassing, old school feminism' just to annoy their moms. I oversimplify, but so do young women who inherited what we mothers fought for and now want us to disappear so our girls can go wild and pole dance without feeling all guilty. Caricatures work both ways, missy.

This schism has become glaringly apparent as Clinton and Obama vie for the nomination while young women say sexism's not much of an issue anymore. The trouble started when us OG feminists surprised young chicks by pointing out that, oh, they're insane to believe that. And that their skirts are too short. It went downhill from there. Young women, like several other groups of humans, don't react well to being told they have a false consciousness. Or that their skirts are too short. In the end, the moms drove the daughters ever farther from Hillary Clinton. Hirshman offers this example:

Homeland Security Deems Illegal Immigrants Threat To Environment

| Mon Apr. 21, 2008 11:31 AM EDT

Ah, isn't it great when the Bush administration starts to channel Ronald Reagan? The linguistic twists alone are so priceless, like this one, from yesterday's Washington Post. In a story about how the new anti-immigrant fence along the Mexican border is threatening endangered wildlife by disrupting migration patterns and cutting off animals from water sources, a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security suggested that the new fence might actually improve the environment by "reducing the trash left by immigrants crossing the border." And ketchup is a vegetable...

Hillary Clinton's Small Town Feeling

| Mon Apr. 21, 2008 2:51 AM EDT

hillary_clinton_PA.jpg

MIFFLINTOWN, PA – Hillary Clinton spent a rainy Sunday afternoon in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the sort of small town that has recently been at the center of her race against Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In a mirror of the Ohio primary, in which Obama took heat for the Goolsbee/NAFTA affair right before election day, Obama has spent the week before Tuesday's Pennsylvania vote explaining his comment that in "a lot of small towns in the Midwest," people are "bitter" and "cling to guns or religion." Clinton has sought to portray Obama as out-of-touch and to portray herself of the true champion of small town values. She entered Greater Johnstown Senior High School (home of the 2007 Laurel Highlands Section 2 softball champions) to the sounds of John Mellencamp's folk rock tune "This Is Our Country." And if that wasn't on-the-nose enough for the thousand or so attendees, she exited to Mellencamp's "Small Town."

But aside from some very subtle references (Clinton said she wanted to be the president of "every city, every town, every village"), the attack de jour was elsewhere.

Governor Ed Rendell, a stalwart Clinton supporter who spoke before the Senator, tipped off the crowd when he paraphrased this statement Senator Obama made earlier in the day:

"You have a real choice in this election. Either Democrat would be better than John McCain. And all three of us would be better than George Bush."

The critique was that Obama was willing to give an inch — the Democratic talking point of the campaign is that McCain is running for a third Bush term, and saying otherwise suggests that the speaker is either soft or naïve.

Clinton used the opportunity to hammer Obama and McCain both, saying:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Happy Passover, Jimmy Carter

| Fri Apr. 18, 2008 10:10 PM EDT

garyackerman.jpg

The hysterical reaction in Congress to Jimmy Carter's trip to the Middle East, where he met with a Hamas leader today, is precisely the sort of thing I hope the new "pro-Israel, pro-peace" group J Street speaks out against. This week Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) said she wants to revoke Carter's passport. And Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-MI) introduced the Coordinated American Response to Extreme Radicals Act (CARTER) Act to cut all federal funding to the Carter Center at Emory University. That's the organization that pours resources into humanitarian projects like eradicating the Guinea worm parasite in Africa and was lauded in Carter's 2002 Nobel Peace Prize citation.

New York Democratic representative Gary Ackerman came out against the CARTER Act, but, in the process, managed to be just as petty and juvenile as his Republican colleagues. As the New York Sun reported today:

"The man is entitled his idiotic, moronic, nonsensical, anti-commonsensical, foolish opinions. And all that being said, he is still entitled to have them. I don't think we should be cutting off funding for any ex presidents to do things. We didn't cut off Richard Nixon," he said. Mr. Ackerman added that if Mr. Carter came to his home for the Passover Seder, he would ask him to read the part of the simple son, the boy who does not know enough to even ask a question about the story of the Jewish exodus from ancient Egypt.

Shouldn't the Democratic leadership be bothered by this kind of rhetoric directed against a former president of their own party? More important, would Ackerman slap his offensive "simple son" label on Colin Powell or Brent Scowcroft or Zbigniew Brzezinski or Lee Hamilton or Shlomo Ben-Ami, all of whom have called for engagement with Hamas. And what about the 64 percent of actual Israelis who favor direct talks with Hamas?

—Justin Elliott

The Delightful Ernie Chambers Leaves the Nebraska Unicameral

| Fri Apr. 18, 2008 3:10 PM EDT

ernie_265x270.jpg The national treasure that is Ernie Chambers is leaving the Nebraska unicameral state legislature after 38 years.

Capitol regulars cried in the halls and fellow state senators gushed with praise for Ernie Chambers' service as the self-proclaimed "defender of the downtrodden."
But the Omaha senator wasn't in any mood to reminisce on Thursday, his last day on the legislative floor he prowled for 38 years. He was a reluctant, mostly absent, observer of his own legislative funeral and mostly spent the day like he has thousands of others since first being elected in 1970 — working....
Chambers logged more years as a state senator than anyone in Nebraska history. And while term limits won't officially push the muscled 70-year-old and state's only black senator out of his cluttered Capitol office until the end of the year, he's done making, and mostly stopping, laws for the state.
"He has just been a stalwart in making sure people get justice and that justice is administered fairly," said Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, one of the 14 other senators who won't return next year because of term limits.
"Nobody's paid in the lobby to speak out on behalf of people on death row, for black youth, for poor kids," said Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha. "Ultimately, the downtrodden will be defended by our conscience, and Ernie is a man of conscience, a man of determination."

A hellraiser in Mother Jones' own tradition, Chambers was able to inspire solemn reverence even in ever-snarky bloggers like this one. He'll be missed.

In Open Letter, Journalists Slam ABC Debate

| Fri Apr. 18, 2008 1:25 PM EDT

Below, an open letter from more than 40 journalists lamenting the petty, nearly substance-free debate ABC hosted on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

We the undersigned deplore the conduct of ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson at the Democratic presidential debate on April 16. The debate was a revolting descent into tabloid journalism and a gross disservice to Americans concerned about the great issues facing the nation and the world. This is not the first Democratic or Republican presidential debate to emphasize gotcha questions over real discussion. However, it is, so far, the worst.
For 53 minutes, we heard no question about public policy from either moderator. ABC seemed less interested in provoking serious discussion than in trying to generate cheap-shot sound bites for later rebroadcast. The questions asked by Mr. Stephanopoulos and Mr. Gibson were a disgrace, and the subsequent attempts to justify them by claiming that they reflect citizens' interest are an insult to the intelligence of those citizens and ABC's viewers. Many thousands of those viewers have already written to ABC to express their outrage.

Sen. Ron Wyden Makes Health Care Reform Funny

| Fri Apr. 18, 2008 1:12 PM EDT

The truly funny and risky political ad is a rare beast. This one, from Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, is about as close as they come. Wyden is trying to promote the "portability" of his universal health care plan (they're not just for presidential candidates!), which in human-speak means the ability to keep your health care coverage when you switch jobs, go back to school, or start your own business. Check it out: