Mojo - December 2008

Alberto Gonzales Is Going to Write an Awfully Short Tell-All

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 2:40 PM EST

AlbertoGonzalesClap.jpg Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, head clown for some of the Bush Administration's wackiest episodes, will write a tell-all book about his experiences at the Department of Justice. I find this curious. After all, Gonzales is the guy who went before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the U.S. Attorneys scandal and managed to utter the words "I don't recall" 64 times in five hours. (Relevant Daily Show clip here.) Considering his all-encompassing amnesia about his work, what's he going to put in the memoir?

My guess? The book will be three pages.

Page one: Table of Contents.
Page two: "Everything was awesome. I did nothing wrong, certainly nothing I should go to jail for, haha!"
Page three: About the Author.

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Something Bush Got Right on Healthcare?

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 2:23 PM EST

Looks like my list of the things Bush got right left something out. From the New York Times:

Although the number of uninsured and the cost of coverage have ballooned under his watch, President Bush leaves office with a health care legacy in bricks and mortar: he has doubled federal financing for community health centers, enabling the creation or expansion of 1,297 clinics in medically underserved areas.
For those in poor urban neighborhoods and isolated rural areas, including Indian reservations, the clinics are often the only dependable providers of basic services like prenatal care, childhood immunizations, asthma treatments, cancer screenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases....
With the health centers now serving more than 16 million patients at 7,354 sites, the expansion has been the largest since the program's origins in President Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty, federal officials said.... The centers now serve one of every three people who live in poverty and one of every eight without insurance.

But there's more work to be done. An August study found that 43 percent of the country's medically underserved areas lack a health center site and the National Association of Community Health Centers and the American Academy of Family Physicians estimated last year that 56 million people are "medically disenfranchised" because they cannot reach adequate primary care. There's hope that Obama will expand the centers' reach when in office. His healthcare point man, Tom Daschle, referred to them as a "godsend" in a recent book, and Michelle Obama worked with community health centers when vice president at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Just another factor in the amazingly complex quest to get every American healthcare, one that President Bush deserves a degree of credit for.

Bobby Rush, Not Done Yet

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 1:27 PM EST

Obama's intervention in the Roland Burris situation has assured that any further demagoguing Bobby Rush does on Burris' behalf will only serve to make him look more ridiculous. And it appears Rush is up to the job. Here he is on TV this morning comparing Burris' exclusion from the Senate to the Little Rock Nine:

"You know, the recent history of our nation has shown us that sometimes there could be individuals and there could be situations where schoolchildren -- where you have officials standing in the doorway of schoolchildren," Rush said. "You know, I'm talking about all of us back in 1957 in Little Rock, Ark. I'm talking about George Wallace, Bull Connor and I'm sure that the U.S. Senate don't want to see themselves placed in the same position."

Okay, listen. No one will object if an African-American wins a special election for that seat. No one will object if the power to appoint falls to the lieutenant governor and he selects an African-American. Roland Burris' troubles have nothing to do with the fact that the is African-American. Surely Bobby Rush can understand this. And yet, he is likening Harry Reid (and by extension, everyone who is opposed to seating Burris, including Barack Obama!) to some of the most odious figures in civil rights history. Surely this isn't the smartest way to go about getting what he desires.

Update: Nice, Ta-Nehisi Coates chimes in:

Best Art: Hillary's Prayer and More Design Picks

| Wed Dec. 31, 2008 12:10 PM EST

After you check out our Photo Editor's Favorites of 2008, check out the Society of Publication Designers' favorite art. The 43rd Publication Design Annual hit the mailboxes of art directors across the country this week, and sure enough, MoJo was amply represented. The SPD runs arguably the most prestigious juried competition for visual journalism in the world. Created by design firm Weapons of Choice, the book is a tour de force of design about design, not to mention eye candy to art junkies everywhere.

Mother Jones is represented by three Merit Award winners. Here's what they loved:

"The Hidden Half", a moving photo essay on women in contemporary Afghanistan by Lana Šlezi?.

Steve Brodner illustrates the Office of Special Counsel head Scott Bloch's ignoring of the whistleblowers his organization was supposed to protect in art for "Don't Whistle While You Work."

Andy Friedman imagines Hillary at the Last Supper, sitting at Jesus' right hand, in "Hillary's Prayer."

Mother Jones was also honored in the SPD's Spots competition:

Obama Defuses a Racial Bomb Ignited by Bobby Rush

| Tue Dec. 30, 2008 9:20 PM EST

It was supposed to be just another absurd day in the absurd life of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Then Bobby Rush showed up.

Blagojevich held a mid-afternoon press conference Tuesday to name former Illinois Comptroller and Attorney General Roland Burris to Illinois' vacant Senate seat, an act that stood in defiance of both the stated wishes of every Democratic senator in Washington and Majority Leader Harry Reid's threat to refuse any Blagojevich appointee entrance into the Senate. The appointment, which the Secretary of State of Illinois stated he would not certify, would likely create weeks of legal wrangling and prolong the sideshow atmosphere surrounding Blago. So far, so bizarre, so good.

Then Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois' 1st district stepped to the mic in support of Burris, who is black, and said, "I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer." Lynch. That's crazy even by Blago standards.

Let's have no doubt: In a different world and at a different time, Burris would have legitimate claim to the seat. The first black man to win a major statewide office in Illinois, he served three terms as comptroller (beginning in 1979) and one as attorney general (beginning in 1991). In his era, he was popular throughout the state. He managed to serve for 16 years without scandal, which may be a record in Illinois. But despite his accomplishments, Burris cannot hope to untangle himself from the web of scandals woven by Blagojevich. And even if those scandals were not so all-consuming, few prominent politicians in Illinois would stand up for Burris: half want the seat he has been appointed to fill, and the other half would rather endorse someone who will be a future power player, someone who could repay the favor down the line. Few would see the sense in supporting a man who, though a distinguished public servant, is in his seventies and hasn't held public office in over a decade.

Gangsta Rap != Street Violence

| Tue Dec. 30, 2008 4:48 PM EST

Ta-Nehisi Coates, blogging his way through the holidays just like us, finds that statistics support his suspicion of a long-prevailing cultural myth. Says Coates: "Anyone who knows hip-hop knows that when the music was most conscious—late 80s, early 90s—the streets were insane. And when the streets were most sane—mid to late 90s—any fool who could gun-talk was going platinum."

So don't blame gangsta rap for the dramatic rise in murders among young black men that has been getting ink lately. Gangsta rap sales have declined as murder among young black men has risen. The numbers, courtesy of dallaspenn.com:

cdsalesgraph.jpg

In fact, from the looks of this chart, we need to bring back gangsta rap. Apparently, nothing drives down street violence like Ice T records. That said, here's a caveat: record sales are tanking across genres as Internet downloading makes those plastic coaster things that used to play music more and more obsolete. Gantsa rap's relation to street violence may not be an inverse one, but instead merely nonexistent.

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It Would Probably Be Cheaper Just to Take Cabs, Charlie Rangel

| Tue Dec. 30, 2008 3:10 PM EST

What's more bizarre, the fact that the ethically challenged Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) paid for parking tickets using campaign donations as Dan notes below, or the fact that he somehow earned himself $1,540 in said tickets in just two years?

Couple other points on top of Dan's: (1) This sort of entitlement, bred over years of being in power, makes a solid argument for term limits. (2) Rangel is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. If he is this irresponsible with his own money, how does he expect to have any credibility when spending taxpayers' money? (3) What on earth will it take for Charlie Rangel to finally get the boot? Does he have to murder a guy and then pay for the cover-up using campaign contributions from nuns?

A Very Rangel Holiday Scandal

| Tue Dec. 30, 2008 1:54 PM EST

If you're Charlie Rangel, your New Year's resolution has got to be to dust off that congressional ethics handbook and brush up on the dos and don'ts of elected office. Lately, when the New York congressman's name has surfaced in the press, it has often been in connection with allegations of conduct unbefitting a member of the US Congress. Today's report by CQ Politics that Rangel has, in the past two years, used more than $1500 in campaign funds to pay DC parking tickets rates relatively low on the outrage meter, particularly considering that he also stands accused of trading a legislative favor for a sizable contribution to the center for public service at the City College of New York that was named in his honor. But parking ticket-gate caps off a horrendous year PR-wise for the Rangeler, who also faces charges of failing to disclose rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic; renting four below-market-rate apartments in a building owned by the family of a campaign contributor; using a congressional parking garage—in violation of congressional rules—as long-term storage for his undrivable 1972 Mercedes-Benz; and receiving a tax break on his DC home that he was not entitled to.

Get a Real FEC, Not One that Protects Special Interests

| Tue Dec. 30, 2008 1:09 PM EST

When do-gooders waste precious blogosphere space to do boring things like beg for a FEC that actually plays an active role in regulating America's elections (i.e. does its damn job), this is why. Bloomberg:

The Federal Election Commission, in a party-line vote, has overruled a recommendation by its counsel to fine a U.S. Chamber of Commerce group accused of illegal spending practices in attacking the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004.
The Republican members of the FEC opposed the penalty against the chamber's November Fund, creating a 3-3 deadlock that rejected the counsel's recommendation.
The November Fund was accused of violating federal campaign spending limits by using $3 million it received from the chamber to attack Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, a former trial lawyer, in 2004. The FEC deadlock in the November Fund case was announced last week.
"The FEC has transformed itself from a merely dysfunctional agency to one that now openly thumbs its nose at the law," said Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center.

The facts of the case seem to suggest this should have been an open-and-shut deal. The Republicans who are declining to fine the Chamber are refusing to justify their decision to the press. But don't think this is a partisan problem. The three Republican commissioners on the FEC protect the GOP and its most valuable allies (in this instance, that mean the Chamber of Commerce) and the three Democratic commissioners on the FEC protect the Democratic Party and its most valuable allies. If the group in question was the SEIU and not the Chamber, you'd have similar gridlock.

The FEC's incompetence and unwillingness to take aggressive action is borne out of the same conflict of interest created when the Bush-era EPA decided to let corporations self-police their emissions. The regulated do the regulating. As long as the politicians that fall under the FEC's purview are allowed to appoint the FEC's commissioners (and currently, congressional lawmakers basically tell the president who to install), you will have a body that prioritizes the powers that be over the public interest.

And one final point. Why on earth is the FEC still adjudicating cases from the 2004 election? (Part of the answer here.) Any major special interest — like the Chamber of Commerce, for example — that knows it can influence an important election and then tie up the relevant regulatory body for four years is going to take advantage of that option. Who would blame it? Just another reason why the FEC badly needs reform.

Corn on Newshour: Obama's To-Do List Is Horizontal, Not Vertical

| Tue Dec. 30, 2008 12:11 AM EST

Newshour asked me to join a panel discussion on Monday night's program to ponder this issue: when it comes to foreign policy, does President-elect Barack Obama have too much on his plate, and should he get started now by, say, involving himself in the Gaza crisis? Here's a slice:

RAY SUAREZ: So, David Corn, what's President Obama's role beyond simply waiting until January 20th?
DAVID CORN, Mother Jones Magazine: You know, there are some times when political rhetoric is useful because it's true and convenient. His camp keeps saying over and over again, "We have one president at a time." And they are not saying anything at all about this foreign policy matter or basically any other.
It's true that President Obama has, you know, received calls from leaders from around the world, but he insists -- or his people insist -- they've talked about nothing substantive in these calls. It's all just been congratulatory.
And so right now I think he's kind of just waiting. And I assume that he's hoping that whatever is going on now, whatever Israel is intending to do, that they have a two-, three-week timeline on it so, when he comes into office three weeks from tomorrow, that maybe the shooting end of this aspect of the crisis will have passed and, you know, we'll be back to having the Middle East as a problem, but at least not with this type of imagery that you have now, because it's, indeed, true that I think the rest of the world will be turning to him rather soon, if not even before January 20th, to do something about this, whether he's in power to do so or not.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, you just heard Trudy Rubin suggest that this inevitably pushes up Israel and the Palestinians on the lists of Obama administration priorities. Do you agree?