Mojo - August 2008

Land of Nukes and Noodles: North Korea Digs In Its Heels

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 10:50 AM EDT

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An estimated one million North Koreans died of starvation in the late 1990s. Since then, the country has managed to feed itself only by accepting large quantities of foreign food aid. But now, in the midst of what the United Nations says is its worst food shortage in more than a decade, the so-called "Hermit Kingdom" of Kim Jong Il has designed a staple that it hopes can ward off mass hunger, something not unlike the Elven bread that sustained Frodo and Sam during their trek into Mordor. According to Choson Shinbo, a Japan-based newspaper sympathetic to Pyongyang, North Korean scientists have developed a wonder noodle, made of corn and soybeans, that delays hunger pangs. It packs twice the protein and five times the fat of the average noodle, says the newspaper. "When you consume ordinary noodles (made from wheat and corn), you may soon feel your stomach empty. But this soybean noodle delays such a feeling of hunger."

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On Opening Night, the Obama Campaign Goes Warm and Fuzzy

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 2:50 AM EDT

The first evening of the Democratic convention was Warm and Fuzzy Night. There were a host of speeches over several hours. Veterans, workers, elected officials of different colors and genders, and common folks addressed the thousands of delegates in Denver's Pepsi Center. But none of that mattered. The two main prime-time features were a tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy, who is fighting brain cancer, and Michelle-fest, a celebration of Barack Obama's wife. After a film highlighting Kennedy's long political career and his passion for sailing, the liberal lion of the Senate delivered a rousing speech declaring "the dream lives on." It was an emotional moment--and an authentic one. Minutes later, the convention turned to its next order of business: demonstrating to voters that Michelle Obama is a fine woman, who loves her fine family, and who would make a fine first lady. Throughout the night, there was not much bashing of the most unpopular president in recent decades and little smacking of John McCain.

The iconification of Michelle Obama--daughter, wife, mother and professional--was perhaps an obligatory exercise. Narrating a film about her daughter, Michelle Obama's mother revealed that Michelle is a "wonderful, caring mother" who has been able to "find a balance between a career and being a mom." In the film, Barack Obama noted how "kindhearted" her deceased father had been. Michelle and Barack cutely recalled their early days of courtship. (She resisted; he persisted.) Then her older brother came on stage and shared the facts that she woke him up early on Christmas mornings, played piano to calm him down before big games in high school, and memorized every episode of The Brady Bunch.

Next, Michelle delivered a speech in which she noted that her personal story--and that of her husband--shows "that the American dream endures." Noting how hard so many Americans work to provide for their kids, she said, "That is why I love this country."

She handled the speech well, and it was full of passages that seemed genuinely heartfelt. She also praised Senator Hillary Clinton for having put "those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling," graciously using the disputed popular vote count promoted by the Clinton campaign during the primaries. But a question is, was all this I-love-my-family-and-country stuff necessary? The answer might be yes. Clearly, the Obama campaign was following recent political tradition: going Hallmark (or Lifetime) at the convention. ("I blame Ronald Reagan for this," lamented Salon's Walter Shapiro in the press section.) But in the case of the Obamas--due to their race, his unusual pedigree, and her comment about having not been proud of America (and the trashing she has received on right-wing talk radio)--it seemed that Team Obama had decided to lay it on awfully thick. The Obama campaign press release promoting her brother's speech noted he would "focus on values that shape her."

Political experts routinely maintain that voters' perceptions of politicians' values greatly influence how they vote. And that's probably especially true for those voters who pay less attention to the details of political races (such as the policy positions of the candidates) and who are, consequently, more driven by impressions. In other words, the undecided voters who decide elections. After the speech, Republican strategist Michael Murphy told me that he believed Michelle Obama had succeeded in "breaking down the wall" between her and some voters. But, he added, "I would have wanted more family talk in the speech and less candidate-y stuff about policies." But despite all the warmth she generated--and her speech was capped with a touching appearance of the two Obama daughters who spoke to their father through a video hookup--there was something demeaning about the whole exercise. At the Republican convention next week, will Cindy McCain have to prove she loves her kids and her country?

Obama Assassination Attempt Stopped

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 12:36 AM EDT

Holy crap.

CBS4 has learned at least four people are under arrest in connection with a possible plot to kill Barack Obama at his Thursday night acceptance speech in Denver. All are being held on either drug or weapons charges.
CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass reported one of the suspects told authorities they were "going to shoot Obama from a high vantage point using a ... rifle … sighted at 750 yards."
Law enforcement sources tell Maass that one of the suspects "was directly asked if they had come to Denver to kill Obama. He responded in the affirmative."

A Clintonite Channels Joe Lieberman

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 9:25 PM EDT

Today on Sean Hannity's radio show, Lanny Davis, who was one of Hillary Clinton's most prominent surrogates during the primaries, said:

You know, I would consider voting for McCain on character and on the kind of human being he is because I have great--I know him--I have great admiration for him. I would sleep well at night if John McCain is President. But on the issues, Barack Obama is for the issues that I care about.

That, as they might say at Obama HQ, is not helpful. If Hillary Hold-ons pose a problem for Barack Obama (as I noted earlier), then the key placers in Hillaryland have to do all they can to encourage these voters to put aside any resentment and swing behind Obama. Cynical political observers--and perhaps not-so-cynical observers--can wonder if Davis' remarks reflect a reluctance within the inner Clinton circle to do that and a desire to keep the anti-Obama pot boiling.

At the Democratic Convention, Getting Jimmy Carter Right

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 9:01 PM EDT

For over two decades, Democrats planning their party's presidential conventions have faced a dilemma: what to do with Jimmy Carter? After losing his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Carter was not the most popular fellow around. In the following years, the party wasn't eager to remind voters that Carter had once been its leaders. In recent years, Carter, while engaged in multiple humanitarian efforts at home and abroad, has sparked controversy with his candid talk about Middle East matters.

This time around, the convention planners devised a smart and appropriate way to use and acknowledge--and pay tribute--to one of the best ex-presidents in U.S. history. They showed a film in which Carter, labeled both president and humanitarian, interviewed victims of Hurricane Katrina in their still-devastated New Orleans neighborhoods. Carter also narrated the film, noting that Katrina "sent a signal around the world that our own government couldn't take care of own people." He noted that what has happened--and not happened--in New Orleans is similar to what he has seen in the poorest regions of the world. "We have been forgotten," one New Orleans resident told him, as he nodded sympathetically. That sympathy was obviously genuine. And Carter took the obvious jab at George W. Bush, noting that Barack Obama, if elected, will make sure that such an inadequate government response never happens again.

Once the film ended, Carter hit the stage, with his wife, Rosalynn. The thousands of Democratic delegates cheered loudly for them. He said nothing. He waved. He left. It was well done--and a reminder that this ex-president has been more effective than the current one.

New Poll: Obama Can Win Reagan Dems With Economic Populism

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 5:34 PM EDT

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A new poll released today at the Democratic National Convention suggests that a strong message of economic populism would help Barack Obama with blue-collar workers. The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners, was released at a Change to Win press conference in Denver this morning. Change To Win is a coalition of seven largely service-worker-oriented unions that broke off from the AFL-CIO in 2005. The coalition has been especially active in electoral politics since then, and plans to commit tens of millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours to electing Barack Obama in November.

The Lake poll focused on the idea of the American Dream, which labor contends has been disappearing in recent years. Most of the "working Americans" surveyed agreed, with 79% saying the American Dream has become harder to achieve in recent years. Economic populism is very popular with the workers surveyed: By overwhelming numbers, American workers support a progressive tax system, guaranteed health care, and fair trade. They also support Barack Obama by a two-to-one margin. There's also bad news for Obama in the survey, and you've heard it before: white workers are split between Obama and McCain. But the results offer hope:

Senator Obama can win white working Americans over. While Senator McCain and Senator Obama remain locked in a tight battle for the votes of white working Americans, a solid majority believe Senator Obama understands their economic struggles (59%) and would be able to improve wages and working conditions if he were President (51%). They have a net positive opinion of Senator Obama (+10, 50 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable) and they tend to think Senator McCain is the one who is more influenced by big corporations and CEOs (42% McCain, 16% Obama). White working Americans also believe it is Senator Obama who has the best vision for restoring the American Dream (39% Obama, 25% McCain), and that Senator Obama best represents the values of the American Dream (41% Obama, 35% McCain).

White workers may be split, but there seems to be a lot of evidence that Obama can win more of them to his side. How successful he is at doing that could determine the outcome of the election. It'll be interesting to watch. You can find the full poll results here.

Photo by flickr user Saad.Akhtar used under a Creative Commons license.

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Hey PUMAs: McCain Wants to Overturn Roe. This Isn't a Joke

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 4:22 PM EDT

Debra Bartoshevich is a Hillary Clinton supporter (aka PUMA) who just cut an ad supporting John McCain. In a press conference launching the ad, she had this to say about John McCain's record on choice:

Going back to 1999, John McCain did an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle saying that overturning Roe v. Wade would not make any sense, because then women would have to have illegal abortions.

That's true, he did. John McCain has a history of making statements that would appear to put him on both sides of an issue. It's hard to make sense of his positions sometimes. Here, specifically, is McCain's quote from 1999: "I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations."

And here's Carly Fiorina, top McCain surrogate, furthering the confusion earlier this year: "[McCain] has never signed on to efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade."

But the 1999 quote is outdated and Fiorina is just plain wrong. McCain is an uncompromising pro-lifer. Why not take a look at what the McCain website has to say? It's pretty explicit. Here's a screenshot:

Voting Machine Humor!

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 4:10 PM EDT

If aren't familiar with xkcd, you're missing out.

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"I Am Hillary Clinton and I Do Not Approve That Message"

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 3:40 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton has responded to the McCain ad that uses her image and words:

Every one of us could stand up and recite all the reasons why we must elect Barack. The Supreme Court is at stake; our educational system needs the right kind of change. We've got to become energy independent; we have to create millions of new green collar jobs. We've got so much work to do around the world.
None of that will happen if John McCain is in the White House. I just want to make it absolutely clear we cannot afford four more years of George W. Bush's failed policies in America and that's what we would get with John McCain.
Now I understand that the McCain campaign is running ads trying to divide us and let me state what I think about their tactics and these ads: I am Hillary Clinton and I do not approve that message.

So let there be the no mistake about it, we are united. We are united for change.

Will that be enough to convince these folks? Probably not. It doesn't help that every sign of reconciliation (Bill and Hillary slated to speak at the convention, for example), seems to come with another report that the Clintons feel, rightly or wrongly, disrespected by the Obama campaign.

Focus Group: "Change" is Tired, Hello "Accountability?"

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 12:24 PM EDT

Time's Joe Klein sat in on a focus group of undecided voters yesterday. The results were sobering for both candidates, he writes: for McCain, because he is seen as "more of the same," and for Obama, because his "change" message no longer resonates. What do these people seem to want? Accountability.

What do they want? Given a list of 31 personal attributes the next President might have and asked to pick the eight most important, "Accountability" finished highest with 13 votes, next was "Someone I can trust" with 12, "honest and ethical" was third with 11. "Agrees with me on the issues" got one vote. They didn't care if the candidate was a Washington insider or outsider. "A dynamic and charismatic leader" got two votes...

Worth a read.