Mojo - November 2008

Notes From A Black Nerd's Memoir

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 10:12 AM EST

John McWhorter has a quickie in New York magazine arguing that Obama's election will destroy, or at least complicate, blacks' ability to ostracize other blacks for being smart and working hard.

(Ta-Nehisi Coates has loads of fun with that here.)

I, too, used to regale any passerby with tales of my own ostracization for being smart. Did that til my 30's. Then, I grew up and realized that I often told these tales, much enhanced, as a plausibly deniable way of talking about how smart I am. (I also usually left out spitefully speaking in French to the dumbest girl in school, or viciously correcting my classmates' English. I guess it was just me who did those things. All the smart black kids are saints, all the non-smart ones Neanderthals.) McWhorter (with whom I'm chummy when we infrequently cross paths and whose work I support, albeit with caveats. Like this entry), nods to those like me who question this but concludes, "[sociological] work has shown that black students do in fact have fewer social connections the higher their grades, to a much greater extent than white students." White students with equally high grades? And besides, if most nerds, whatever their race, spent as much time alone as I do (then and now), lost in books, un-assigned experiments, furious arguments with newspapers and TV pundits, Star Trek arcania, and debating every minor point uttered offhand within earshot, it might explain that pesky lack of "social connections."

Hello, smart kids spend a lot of time studying, something only other nerds want to participate in.

Glad as I am that Obama's win will undoubtedly lead (finally!) to a focus on black interiority and an examination of our complexity, not just what white folks are doing to us on any given day, I'm frustrated with such uninterrogated formulations. This is a good beginning, but we need to complicate it; negroes are no easier to understand than any other group.

The notion that smart blacks are tormented by other blacks until and unless they dumb down and force themselves to be stupid is both insulting and far too easy. Here's why.

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Dennis Kucinich Investigates Treasury's Blank Check

| Fri Nov. 14, 2008 4:35 PM EST

It looks like the Bush administration can create its own reality after all. Just this week Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson turned the $700 billion bailout from a program to purchase toxic assets from troubled financial institutions to one that will invest in banks. Understandably, this abrupt change of course angered members of Congress, who were now left to wonder if they'd been led astray in supporting the stimulus package. At a hearing on Friday, convened to examine the Treasury Department's use of the bailout funds, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle vented their outrage. The question if whether their displeasure will make a dime's worth of difference.

Displaying the range of congressional discontent, both Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the chair of domestic policy oversight subcommittee, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), its ranking member, accused the Treasury of a "bait-and-switch" and questioned Neel Kashkari, the 35-year-old former Goldman Sachs banker selected by Paulson to supervise the bailout, about the sudden reversal.

In response, Kashkari explained that Treasury had "worked very hard with Congress" to negotiate the bailout bill, but as the financial crisis worsened in the weeks following the bailout's passage, Paulson felt he "had to take very aggressive action." And Kashkari assured the committee that his boss had only decided "late last week, earlier this week," that the plan had to change. Issa, who voted against the bailout, suggested that the agency had planned all along to ignore the specific provisions of the bailout and instead wield the broad authority Paulson had originally demanded. "Congress is feeling you played a bait and switch game," Issa said.

This Will Not Help Saxby Chambliss in the GA Run-Off

| Fri Nov. 14, 2008 4:13 PM EST

chambliss.jpg In an interview with WGAU Athens this morning, incumbent Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, currently locked in a run-off with Democrat Jim Martin, said that we can "trust" the "folks in the financial community" with the $700 billion being spent on the bailout. Chambliss added:

"If the smart people in the financial community think this is the best way to go, I think we have to respect that."

Could a statement be more tone-deaf? The smart people in the financial community? You mean the ones who managed to sink the global economy? Those smart people? Chambliss voted for the bailout — his opponent is calling it "disastrous" — and it's one of the main reasons why Chambliss is vulnerable in deep red Georgia. I suspect we'll see and hear Saxby's comments in an attack ad, oh, tomorrow morning.

CIA: Bin Laden Not a Factor in Al Qaeda, But We'd Still Like to Kill Him

| Fri Nov. 14, 2008 4:12 PM EST

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CIA Director Michael Hayden, speaking last night at an event organized by the Atlantic Council, said that Osama Bin Laden is increasingly "isolated" and on the run. "He's putting a lot of energy into his own survival, a lot of energy into his own security," said Hayden. "In fact, he appears to be largely isolated from the day-to-day operations of the organization he nominally leads." All that said, he's still an attractive target, largely for the propaganda value of putting him out of business. "Because of his iconic stature, his death or capture clealry would have a significant impact on the confidence of his followers, both core Al Qaeda and these unaffiliated extremists," Hayden continued. "I can assure you, although there has been press speculation to the contrary, I can assure you that the hunt for Bin Laden is very much at the top of the CIA's priority list."

It's also at the top of the incoming Obama administration's list. The president-elect believes that his predecessor has not done enough to capture or kill the Al Qaeda leader. But turning things around will not be easy. As former CIA Pakistan station chief Robert Grenier told CNN, "If you think of this as sort of a combination of [the hunt for] Eric Rudolph, who was the Olympic bomber, and the movie 'Deliverance,' multiplied by a factor of 10, that's really what you're focusing on in trying to find bin Laden... What you literally need to have is an army of individual informants, hopefully focused on the areas that you think bin Laden is most likely to be hiding in. But again, you need to have a whole lot of them, because one individual who may have access to the families and the clans in a particular valley, if he goes to the valley next door and starts asking questions, he's probably gonna end up dead pretty quickly."



Photo by flickr user Toots Fontaine used under a Creative Commons license.

The Newest GOP Myth: We've Drifted from Our Principles

| Fri Nov. 14, 2008 2:49 PM EST

This was first posted at www.davidcorn.com....

In the aftermath of a decisive defeat, Republicans and conservatives are nursing their wounds and wondering what went wrong. Many have come up with an easy answer: the GOP has drifted from its core principles; consequently, the voters have handed it the pink slip.

But is the drift more to blame than the principles?

Let's look at one example of this argument. Michael Steele, the former Maryland lieutenant governor and an unsuccessful candidate for Senate in 2006, is running to become the new head of the Republican Party. In a statement he released on Thursday, he said,

The Republican Party must present a vision for the future of America that relies on our conservative values and core principles. It is wrong to believe the voters have suddenly become liberal. They have just lost any sense of confidence that the Republican Party holds the answers to their problems. We must face the fact that our party has failed in recent years to live up to our own principles -- we have failed to be 'solutions oriented' in addressing the concerns of all Americans.

Does Steele have it right? Has his party failed to present "solutions" in recent years? Not really. The Republicans have presented plenty of "solutions," but the voters have not cared for them.

What are the two core principles of the Republican Party? Cutting taxes (to ensure a smaller government) and swinging a big stick when it comes to national security. There's also the social issues, such as opposing abortion rights and gay rights. But those lifestyle issues have often been a second-tier matter for many Republican leaders.

Now look at the George W. Bush presidency and the John McCain campaign. The core issues were tended to by both. Bush pushed tax cuts and started two wars (one of them elective!). How loyal to the core was that? He didn't crusade against abortion rights and gay marriage, but he said the right things (from a social conservative perspective). Sure, government spending did go up on his watch--as did the deficit and the national debt (due to his tax cuts)--but much of that was attributed to increased military spending (another conservative idea) and expanding Medicare benefits. Does Steele and his fellow GOP handwringers believe they can get back to the White House by downsizing the Pentagon and undoing that Medicare expansion?

Bush has ended up an unpopular president because he was both conservative and incompetent. He launched an unnecessary war in Iraq and then mismanaged it. He lost an American city. On economic policies, he was a market-oriented fellow who snorted at regulation. For most of his presidency, his economic policy was essentially tax cuts, tax, cuts, tax cuts--and let the market sort out the rest. That conservative approach didn't work. Now he's a corporate socialist, throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at corporations that screwed up. But he had turned off the public long before making that lurch.

As for John McCain, he, too, ran on core conservative principles. He called for an across-the-board freeze on federal spending. He supported supply-side tax cuts (that he had once opposed). He called for a robust national security posture. And he did what many conservatives do: he accused the Democrats of being tax-and-spend liberals ("socialists," his running mate called them) and claimed the Ds were dangerously weak on national security. On health care, he proposed market-oriented tax credits. He and Sarah Palin opposed abortion rights.

So what was there for a voter seeking Republicans loyal to core conservative principles not to like? McCain was offering lots of solutions. He had his (erratically-derived) proposals for addressing the economic meltdown and housing crisis. He said he had a plan for nabbing Osama bin Laden.

It seems that voters just aren't keen on conservative solutions now. They do not appear to be yearning for a smaller government that does less. Many actually are hoping that the government will take steps to help them and their fellow citizens in these tough (and getting tougher) times. If conservatives are going to claim, as Palin explicitly did, that government is the problem and an obstacle to freedom, they can be credited for sticking to their ideological guns, but they're not likely to put together a governing coalition at this moment.

There certainly have been periods when the conservatives' siren song of lower taxes and less government appealed to many Americans. But it's easier for conservatives to sell those core notions either (a) during not-so-hard times or (b) after a left-of-center administration has messed up. (For the latter, think Jimmy Carter.) In a vacuum, American voters don't crave conservative solutions. For many Americans, ideology is relative. That is, what they want depends on what is happening around them.

So Steele and his comrades are stuck--with a lousy brand (thank you, President Bush) and with core principles that are not in sync with the current market demand. This is not to say that the party is dead. There are no permanent majorities in the United States. If the Democrats botch the job in the next two years, that ol' pendulum could swing back and knock them on their backsides. But for the time being, the Republicans must move beyond this return-to-core-principles line--unless they are content to tread water in a pool of self-delusion.

If Steele truly believes his back-to-the-future rhetoric, Democrats ought to be rooting for him.

Joe the Increasingly Desperate for Attention

| Fri Nov. 14, 2008 12:54 PM EST

Joe the Plumber has a website. Here's the link. There's not a whole lot you can do on it yet. You can get a free "We Are Joe" membership or, for committed JTP fans, a $14.95 "Freedom" membership. You can advance order a copy of Joe's book, which is titled "Fighting for the American Dream." Soon you'll be able to read Joe's blog and use Joe's discussion forum to talk directly to Joe. You can look at pictures of Joe.

I've never been so convinced in my life that someone is planning on running for office. Any Republican who has been building his or her resume over the course of several years with the hopes of someday representing Ohio's 9th district, just put away your power tie or pantsuit now. You're going to get steamrolled in the primary by Joe the Media Darling. See you in 2010, Joe, you living manifestation of the Republican Party's crippling anti-intellectualism!

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Wanna Work for Obama? Prepare for a Strip Search

| Fri Nov. 14, 2008 9:58 AM EST

CNN has the scoop on the background check it takes even to be considered for a 'Bama job:

The Obama transition team is sending a seven-page, 63-item questionnaire to every candidate for Cabinet and other high-ranking positions in the incoming administration.

The questions cover everything from information on family members, Facebook pages, blogs and hired help to links to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, American International Group and troubled banks as well as lawsuits, gifts, resumes, loans and more.

...It also asks about writings, speeches, testimony, online communications and even personal diaries.

An entire section requests details on any criminal or civil legal action in which the applicant may have been involved. The last question in that 11-item section asks for details on any child support or alimony orders.

In an apparent effort to avoid the problems faced by several nominees in the last two administrations, a block of four questions is devoted to ferreting out details—including the immigration status—of any domestic help the applicant may have hired....

I include these details (follow the link for the full Monty) just to camouflage which, of many, would disqualify me. But I think this one is enough without his henchmen ever getting to that pesky marijuana farm I, or someone who bore a striking resemblance to 'me,' ran. Allegedly.

Hedge Fund Managers To Congress: Go Ahead, Regulate Us

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 7:18 PM EST

What a difference two years and a financial crisis make. When Congress last floated the idea of regulating the hedge fund industry in 2006, proposing a bill that would have forced them to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the industry revolted and the bill died in committee. But on Thursday, in the face of growing economic tumult and an incoming pro-regulation Democratic administration, top hedge fund managers signaled they are now willing to deal on the thorny issue of oversight.

Testifying before a congressional oversight committee, fund managers Philip A. Falcone, Kenneth C. Griffin, John Paulson, James Simons, and George Soros agreed that hedge funds may require increased government regulation. Even minor regulation or increases in transparency would be a big change for the hedge fund industry. "Currently, hedge funds are virtually unregulated," said Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held the hearing. (Mother Jones also covered Waxman's previous hearings on Lehman Brothers, AIG, credit rating agencies, and federal regulators.) The 1998 rescue of Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) demonstrated that the failure of just one highly leveraged, unregulated fund could require government intervention. Because LTCM was considered "too interconnected to fail," the Clinton administration arranged for a bailout of the fund by Wall Street banks. Most of the committee members (and, naturally, the hedge fund managers) believe that hedge funds were not the cause of the financial crisis. But with the economy already in dire straits, members of Congress are determined that the hedge fund industry not produce another LTCM. "In our prior hearings, we have focused on what went wrong in the past," Waxman said. "Today's hearing lets us ask what could go wrong in the future so we can prevent damage before it occurs." With President-elect Barack Obama entering office in January, the writing is already on the wall when it comes to increased regulation of the financial sector. By demonstrating their willingness to accept some increased regulation, the hedge fund managers who testified on Thursday made the imposition of new rules on their funds' behavior almost inevitable.

Will Hillary Clinton Be Taking Those 3:00 am Calls After All?

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 5:18 PM EST

While Sen. Hillary Clinton has been discussed as a possible contender for various appointments in an Obama administration, her name didn't officially enter the short list of those reportedly under consideration to serve as Obama's secretary of state until today. The Washington Post reports:

There's increasing chatter in political circles that the Obama camp is not overly happy with the usual suspects for Secretary of State these days and that the field may be expanding somewhat beyond Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and maybe former Democratic senator Sam Nunn of Georgia.
There's talk, indeed, that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) may now be under consideration for the post. Her office referred any questions to the Obama transition; Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment.
The pick of the former presidential contender and Senate Armed Services Committee member would go a long way toward healing any remaining divisions within the Democratic Party after the divisive primaries. Also, Clinton has long been known for her work on international women's issues and human rights. The former first lady could also enhance Obama's efforts to restore U.S. standing amongst allies worldwide.

While the appointment might rub some Obama partisans still bitter over the prolonged nomination battle the wrong way, Hillary Clinton would have many advantages for the post. The Clintons are revered and familiar faces abroad, the appointment would please her own partisans, and one of the most coveted cabinet jobs would go to a woman.

It also would solve one possible problem. Senate staffers say if Obama picks Sen. John Kerry to be secretary of state, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) would be next in line to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and that might cause the new administration something of a problem, as Feingold has voted differently from Obama and Biden on key issues in the committee.

Similarly, if Obama asks Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense (for a year or more), he might not want to give a second top cabinet post to a Republican, that is, retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel. Every appointment has its repercussions.

And that sometimes makes it hard to figure out what moves are under way. But more to come as we hear it.


Of Mortgages and Macoutes

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 3:49 PM EST

ConstantResizedGood.jpgIn a surprising twist in the American housing crisis, Judge Abraham Gerges in Kings County, New York, handed down a stiff sentence to Haitian-born Emanuel "Toto" Constant on October 29: 12.3 to 37 years for mortgage fraud.

If almost four decades in prison seems rather severe for white-collar crime, observers point out that, as Mother Jones wrote of Constant, he was also a violent criminal, responsible for numerous beatings, kidnappings, rapes and murders in his native Haiti during the early 1990s. Constant founded the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), which can be characterized as part political faction, part charity, part gang, and part terrorist organization whose goal was to intimidate supporters of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Leaving Haiti when the situation became politically difficult, Constant sometimes bragged that he enjoyed a close relationship with the CIA. A federal immigration judge signed an order to deport Constant to Haiti in September 1995 but the Clinton Justice Department later ordered the INS to release Toto. After 1996 the former torturer lived openly in Queens. Many believed the American government protected Constant because of his role in suppressing supporters of Aristide. Free from legal pressure, Constant went into real esate. He also got involved in new and more complicated crimes. Apparently while working as a real estate agent in Queens, he took part in a scheme that defrauded several banks of more than $1 million.

Like Al Capone, sentenced to 11 years for tax evasion in 1931, the judicial system has now nailed Constant for the least of his crimes, but nailed him all the same. Judge Gerges reportedly took Constant's crimes against the Haitian people into account when determining sentencing. Jennie Green of the Center for Constitutional Rights said of Constant's jail time: "One day, when the Haitian government and courts are in the position to hold him accountable, Constant will return to Haiti to be tried for murder, rape and other torture in his campaign of terror as head of a paramilitary death squad."

Anyone want to bet on when that will happen?

—Daniel Luzer

Image by flickr user CCRPics