Mojo - June 2008

Clintonites Not Happy About This Patti Solis Doyle Thing

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 8:50 AM PDT

They are pissed. "It's a slap in the face"... "Who can blame Obama for rewarding Patti? He would never be the nominee without her"... "the biggest f**k you I have ever seen in politics."

This just deepens the questions I asked yesterday. Obama's decision to make PSD the eventual VP nominee's chief of staff is utterly, utterly confusing. His campaign has done much to court Clinton and her supporters since the end of the primaries, and he now praises Clinton regularly on the campaign trail. Hiring a staffer (specifically to that position) that Clinton broke with publicly and that Clintonites love to hate seems both graceless and politically stupid, two things Obama usually is not.

So did they think putting PSD in a senior spot would be a sop to the Clinton camp, only to have it backfire? Did they intend to stick a finger in Clinton's eye, hoping the press wouldn't notice? Did Clinton tell Obama in their private meeting at Diane Feinstein's house that she didn't want the VP slot, allowing Obama to put the best qualified person in the spot, regardless of past allegiances? Does the Obama campaign know that while many Clinton loyalists sneer at PSD, Clinton worked with her for 15 years and still feels a sense of attachment to her, and might be grateful that Obama offered her a chance to land on her feet?

This is the sort of ridiculous, uninformed, overstretched speculation you get when the chattering class is completely befuddled. It ain't pretty.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

What To Make of the J Street Endorsements?

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 7:00 PM PDT

J Street, the new "pro-Israel, pro-peace" group, announced its first PAC endorsements today. The roster of seven candidates, a mix of incumbents and challengers, includes Lebanese-American Rep. Charles Boustany, a Republican; netroots favorite Donna Edwards (MD-04); Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), who is running again after nearly beating a Republican incumbent in 2006; and Darcy Burner (WA-08), author of a plan to get out of Iraq.

I think there will be two indicators of J Street's influence over the next year or so: (1) Will the PAC be able to marshall small donors to put serious money behind these candidates? (2) Will the candidates—during their campaigns or, if they win, early in their terms—make a meaningful attempt to broaden the debate over American policy on Israel/Palestine?

As to how the candidates might broaden the debate, J Street's profiles of the endorsees offer clues. They contain a lot of rhetoric about expanded American engagement in the region and strong support of a two-state solution. To the Arab world—and, in reality, the international community beyond the US—these are baby steps. J Street's endorsees aren't talking about, say, how to put an end to Israeli settlement expansion, or about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Still, in the present American context, the endorsements have to be seen as a positive development.

After the jump, a video of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introducing the endorsements:

Obama's New Chief of Staff: A Fan of the Bush Tax Cuts?

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 1:50 PM PDT

In a press release issued today, the Barrack Obama campaign announced 14 new senior staff appointments. Most notably, Patti Solis Doyle, who managed Hillary Clinton's campaign for the first half of the primary season, was named chief of staff to Obama's vice presidential nominee (whoever that might be). Doyle's Obamafication was not much of a surprise. More intriguing was the appointment of Jim Messina, chief of staff for Senator Max Baucus, as the campaign's chief of staff (with David Plouffe remaining the top dog).

Messina has been working for Baucus, the chairman of the Senate finance committee, on and off since 1995, serving as his campaign manager in 1996 and 2002. Baucus, a Montana Democrat, has been dubbed "one of corporate America's favorite Democrats." And according to The Missoulian, his Senate office has produced a high number of staffers-turned-corporate-lobbyists. Last year, Ari Berman of The Nation noted that Baucus, then the senior Democrat on the finance committee, in 2005 asked 50 lobbyists to raise $100,000 for his reelection campaign. In other words, Baucus is not about change in Washington.

But should the sins of the senator be attributed to the chief of staff? In Washington, plenty of people work for legislators without personally agreeing with all of their boss's stances and actions. But a few years ago, Messina was interviewed for a newsletter produced by the Gallatin Group, a corporate lobbying firm specializing in issues of interest to the Northwest, and he was asked to name the "most important bipartisan accomplishment of your boss." His answer: "Senator Baucus was the chief reason bipartisan tax cut legislation was enacted in 2001."

Messina was referring to the George W. Bush tax cuts of 2001 and Baucus's instrumental role in the passage of that legislation. And Messina was right. Baucus, bucking his fellow Democrats, was a key supporter of Bush's massive, tilted-to-the-rich tax cuts. His defection helped make the tax cuts happen. At that time, Messina was managing Baucus' reelection campaign.

Big Sky Seeks Big Mileage

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 1:37 PM PDT

prius-mountain.jpg My parents just bought a Prius in Northern California. They reported incredible difficulties in the process — most dealerships had long waiting lists with all sorts of onerous conditions, and those that didn't would sell their available cars within a few hours of putting them on the lot. They finally found a car four hours from their house, and snapped it up the moment they saw it.

Apparently the desperation for a car that gets 50 miles to the gallon extends beyond my parents and their latte-sipping neighbors. Prius-mania is striking Montana, where SUVs are getting retired by the batch and eco- and mileage-friendly cars are taking their place. From the Missoulian:

The largest car and truck auction yard in the Northwest sits just on the south side of the Yellowstone River near Billings. If you're looking to see how $4-a-gallon gas is putting the hurt on Montana, this is a good place to start.
Big, gas-guzzling SUVs are sitting around for weeks, said Jake Gertsch, a salesman at Auto Auction of Montana. Cars are in short supply and they cost more. There's not a Toyota Prius hybrid in sight.
"I wish I had 50 of them," Gertsch said. "We would sell every one we can get our hands on."

According to the article, a Billings Toyota dealership has seen its Prius waiting list double in length in recent weeks and SUVs don't even get sold as used cars anymore. They're sent straight to the auction block.

So let's applaud the spread of the Prius appeal — the hybrid has to break out of fashionable but stigmatized enclaves like Northern California and, uh, Southern California if it is going to make a dent in America's nationwide emissions production. But let's not pretend that the market is working to save the planet here. Yes, as gas prices go up more hybrids are being purchased, which will in turn spur more production. But the market moves much slower than our understanding of global warming (which in turn moves slower than global warming itself). If we wait for the market to force wholesale changes in our energy usage, as we have with cars, we're going to make the changes necessary to save this planet decades too late.

(Photo of Prius by flickr user m/a/z/e & Molliwogg used under a Creative Commons license.)

House Oversight Committee Subpoenas Attorney General for Bush, Cheney FBI Transcripts on Plame

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 12:36 PM PDT

Following up on its letter to him last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform committee has issued a subpoena to Attorney General Michael Mukasey. The subpoena demands that the attorney general turn over to the committee the transcripts of the FBI's interviews with President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding their knowledge of the outing of former CIA covert officer Valerie Plame Wilson. It also requests unredacted copies of documents already in the committee's possession.

Wild and Unfounded Clinton-as-VP Speculation

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 12:23 PM PDT

In a memo to reporters titled "Obama Campaign Fills Out Key Posts for the General Election," the Obama campaign announced today that it's Chief of Staff to the Vice Presidential Nominee is... Patti Solis Doyle.

That's right, Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager and longtime ally is slated to run the VP nominee's operations. But don't immediately assume this means Clinton has an inside track on the spot. Solis Doyle was used as a scapegoat for most of the Clinton campaign's problems, and when she got the boot in February there was no shortage of Clinton staffers willing to trash her anonymously on her way out. Clinton didn't come to her defense. At least not publicly.

Clinton and Solis Doyle reportedly have not spoken since Solis Doyle's ouster. The Obama camp is clearly being strategic by placing her in this spot (there are dozens of other people who could play this role on the campaign, after all). But how?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Obama's "Intellectual Habits"

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 11:14 AM PDT

obama-tophead.jpg From time to time, you'll hear a high-minded liberal (one who probably doesn't worry about his manufacturing job getting shipped overseas, for example) express support for Obama because of his "intellectual habits." The Senator from Illinois isn't a knee-jerk Democratic Party loyalist, they say. He seeks out opposing view points and assimilates their best arguments into his own thinking. Today, Cass Sunstein, a University of Chicago law professor and a friend of Obama's, posts an example of how this plays out in real life. (Note: Sunstein is an informal adviser to Obama and is mentioned as a possible Supreme Court pick in an Obama administration. So take this with the appropriate grain of salt.)

Not so long ago, the phone rang in my office. It was Barack Obama. For more than a decade, Obama was my colleague at the University of Chicago Law School.
He is also a friend. But since his election to the Senate, he does not exactly call every day. On this occasion, he had an important topic to discuss: the controversy over President George W. Bush's warrantless surveillance of international telephone calls between Americans and suspected terrorists. I had written a short essay suggesting that the surveillance might be lawful. Before taking a public position, Obama wanted to talk the problem through. In the space of about 20 minutes, he and I investigated the legal details. He asked me to explore all sorts of issues: the President's power as commander-in-chief, the Constitution's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Authorization for Use of Military Force and more.

Obama Channels Chris Rock

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 8:49 AM PDT

Barack Obama gave a widely-praised speech on fatherhood yesterday from the pulpit of one of the largest black churches in Chicago. You can see it here:

A lot has already been said about this speech, a somber reflection on the duties of being a father. But around 13:03, Obama references some of the most controversial work of comedian Chris Rock. Here's Obama:

"Chris Rock had a routine. He said some—too many of our men, they're proud, they brag about doing things they're supposed to do. They say "Well, I- I'm not in jail." Well you're not supposed to be in jail!"

It's odd enough for a politician to cite the work of a comedian. But Obama's specific reference was particularly intriguing. It wasn't in the prepared text—Obama dropped it in himself. And Obama isn't talking about Rock's recent material. He is referencing one of Rock's most discussed routines, from 1996's "Bring the Pain," an HBO special. It's a bit about "a civil war going on between black people." Here are the few lines from Rock that Obama is paraphrasing:

"You know the worst thing about n*****s? N*****s always want credit for some s**t they supposed to do. A n*****r will brag about some s**t a normal man just does. A n*****r will say some s**t like, "I take care of my kids." You're supposed to, you dumb motherf****r! What kind of ignorant s**t is that? "I ain't never been to jail!" What do you want, a cookie?! You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherf****r!"

In a recent Atlantic article about Bill Cosby, Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out that Rock has stopped performing the "civil war" routine because "his white fans were laughing a little too hard."

The McCain Brand, Diluted

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 7:37 AM PDT

The Baltimore Sun has bad news for McCain:

John McCain once had the most powerful brand in American politics.
He was often called the country's most popular politician and widely admired for his independent streak. It wasn't too many years ago that "maverick" was the cliche of choice in describing him.
But that term didn't even make the list this year when voters were asked by the Pew Research Center to sum up McCain in a single word. "Old" got the most mentions, followed by "honest," "experienced," "patriot," "conservative" and a dozen more. The words "independent," "change" or "reformer" weren't among them....

Q&A: Gitmo Lawyer Shayana Kadidal on SCOTUS Ruling

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 5:08 PM PDT

Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo project at the Center for Constitutional Rights, isn't afraid to voice his opinion on the latest SCOTUS ruling in favor of Guantanamo detainees.

Below, excerpts from his conversation with MoJo reporter Stephanie Mencimer: