Mojo - December 2008

Possible Byproduct of a Down Economy: Less Gun Violence

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 5:46 PM EST

Due to increasingly successful gun trade-in programs. The AP, via AMERICAblog:

A program to exchange guns for gifts brought in a record number of weapons this year as residents hit hard by the economy look under the bed and in closets to find items to trade for groceries.
The annual Gifts for Guns program ended Sunday in Compton [in which] the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department allows residents to anonymously relinquish firearms in return for $100 gift cards....
In years past, Target and Best Buy were the cards of choice, with residents wanting presents for the holidays. This year, most asked for the supermarket cards, said sheriff's Sgt. Byron Woods. "People just don't have the money to buy the food these days," he said.
Authorities said Sunday that a record 965 firearms and two hand grenades were handed in during the two weekends the program was in operation. That's more than in any other year and easily eclipses last year's total of 387 guns collected over both weekends.

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Freedom's Watch Not Immune to Financial Crisis

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 5:33 PM EST

After little more than a year in existence, conservative advocacy group Freedom's Watch is closing up shop. The group's primary financial backer was Sheldon Adelson, the owner of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Forbes' third richest man last year. But Sands Corp. stock has taken a 95% hit in 2008, and Freedom's Watch seems to be one of the first casualties along with Adelson's net worth ranking.

There were signs that Freedom's Watch was on its way out before yesterday's announcement. According to the Washington Times, the group spent $30 million on political races this year—a relatively small sum considering it originally planned to hand out $200 million to conservative candidates. Before that, when the cash was still flowing, it funded a $15 million campaign to promote the surge in Iraq. Here's one of those ads:


Patrick Fitzgerald Is Back: Maybe This Time GOPers Will Not Attack

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 3:44 PM EST

Patrick Fitzgerald is back.

With his dramatic arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on an assortment of corruption charges--including the allegation that Blagojevich wanted to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama--Fitzgerald, the hard-charging U.S. attorney in Chicago, has returned to the national stage as a scourge of dishonest government. His last star turn was as the special counsel who successfully prosecuted Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, for having lied to FBI agents and a grand jury during the investigation of the leak that outed CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson.

Throughout that investigation, the no-nonsense Fitzgerald repeatedly insisted that the case was about a simple matter: whether Libby had lied. But he did note it had wider implications. When Fitzgerald presented his closing argument, he declared, "There is a cloud on the vice president." He added: "And that cloud remains because this defendant obstructed justice." Two weeks later, after winning a guilty verdict on four of five counts, Fitzgerald noted, "Mr. Libby had failed to remove that cloud....Sometimes when people tell the truth, clouds disappear. Sometimes they do not." And when Bush commuted Libby's sentence, ensuring that Libby would serve no prison time, Fitzgerald huffed, "It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals."

His not-too-subtle point was that when it came to integrity, the Bush White House--or at least Cheney's wing--was, well, cloudy. (The trial had revealed much about Cheney's hard-edged political operation.)

The Libby case, for some, was a hard-to-follow affair, and conservatives and Republican allies of Libby and the Bush administration had rampaged against Fitzgerald and tried mightily to muddy up the episode. Thus, Fitzgerald's implied indictment of the Bush crowd partially got lost in the middle of a partisan mud fight. With the Blagojevich case, Fitzgerald is once again championing honest government, but this time he appears to have a case less likely to get caught up in the distracting swirl of ideological attacks. After all, Blagojevich has few friends who will go on cable TV to blast Fitzgerald for being a run-amok prosecutor. There may even be Republicans who praise his pursuit of Blagojevich, a Democrat.

In a Wonderful Synthesis of Today's Blog Posts...

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 2:45 PM EST

We've already mentioned that Obama-Biden domains are on sale on eBay. We've also mentioned that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich tried to sell Barack Obama's former Senate seat.

Thus, we would be remiss not to point out that Barack Obama's former Senate seat is now on sale on eBay. Oh, you internets...

And in another funny coincidence, today is International Anti-Corruption Day.

So. Who Will Appoint the Next Illinois Senator?

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 12:43 PM EST

Pat_Quinn_Photo%20Small.jpg Looks like it is Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, the man on the right. He better have zero uncovered corruption scandals in his past, because the entire national media is going to turn its eyes to him as soon as it's done digesting Fitzgerald's complaint.

Given the track record of Illinois governors, I'm not optimistic. Here's the list of pols who have recently held that position: Blago (2003-present?), George Ryan (1999-2003), James Edgar (1991-1999), James Thompson (1977-1991), and Daniel Walker (1973-1977). Blago is Blago. Ryan was convicted of 16 charges of conspiracy, fraud, and lying under oath and currently resides in federal prison. (Patrick Fitzgerald, apparently the greatest prosecutor walking the planet, was Ryan's prosecutor.) Edgar was indicted (but not charged) with saw his subordinates charged with giving a sweetheart deal to a major campaign contributor. Thompson does not appear to have run into any legal trouble, but the law firm he heads did represent Ryan against Fitzgerald. And Walker was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for his role in a savings and loan scandal after leaving office.

So that would be... four three of the last five Illinois governors charged with some kind of wrongdoing. Excellent work, Land of Lincoln.

* Correction made. Thanks to the commentor.

...And Also the Most Deluded

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 11:52 AM EST

blagojevich-sucks.jpg Already pointed out that Blagojevich is incredibly corrupt and incredibly ballsy. He's also incredibly delusional. Look at the reasons why he was considering appointing himself to fill Obama's Senate seat. From Fitzgerald's press release:

Blagojevich also allegedly spent significant time weighing the option of appointing himself to the open Senate seat and expressed a variety of reasons for doing so, including: frustration at being "stuck" as governor; a belief that he will be able to obtain greater resources if he is indicted as a sitting Senator as opposed to a sitting governor; a desire to remake his image in consideration of a possible run for President in 2016; avoiding impeachment by the Illinois legislature; making corporate contacts that would be of value to him after leaving public office; facilitating his wife's employment as a lobbyist; and generating speaking fees should he decide to leave public office.

Really? The two bolded sentences didn't strike him as conflicting in any way? He thought, sure, if I can just get past those impeachment charges, I can run for president! I smell a new segment of "Really!?! With Seth and Amy."

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Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Is the Ballsiest Governor in America

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 11:15 AM EST

Rod_Blagojevich2.jpg The most corrupt politician in America is, apparently, also the gutsiest. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, has been under investigation for three years because of a litany of corruption charges and has the most famous prosecutor in America, Patrick Fitzgerald, circling him — so what does he do? He embarks on an effort to literally SELL the Senate seat vacated by the president-elect. And for that, he is finally in FBI custody.

From Fitzgerald's press release, out this morning:

A 76-page FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month conspiring to sell or trade Illinois' U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife. At various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment, Blagojevich discussed obtaining:

  • a substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions;
  • placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year;
  • promises of campaign funds —l including cash up front; and
  • a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.
Just last week, on December 4, Blagojevich allegedly told an advisor that he might "get some (money) up front, maybe" from Senate Candidate 5, if he named Senate Candidate 5 to the Senate seat, to insure that Senate Candidate 5 kept a promise about raising money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election. In a recorded conversation on October 31, Blagojevich claimed he was approached by an associate of Senate Candidate 5 as follows: "We were approached 'pay to play.' That, you know, he'd raise 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator."

Sounds like some other folks are in trouble as well. Starting with "Senate Candidate 5."

Capitalize on Obamania: Obama-Biden Domains Available on eBay

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 10:28 AM EST

In August of this year, an entrepreneurial webbie bought up a slew of domain names potentially of use to the Obama-Biden ticket (or its enemies) and tried selling them for $100,000. Looks like business wasn't so good, because three of the most useful domains — obamabiden.org, obama-biden.com, and obama-biden.org — are available on eBay now for the greatly reduced price of $1,000. GoDaddy.com and WhoIs.com do not make it clear if the same person was behind both sales.

For Obama, that thousand bucks is loose change, isn't it? Surely he can snag these three URLs before right-wingers arguing that Obama isn't a natural-born citizen make one of them the hub for eight years of conspiracy theories and rumor-mongering?

obama-biden-web.jpg

If you've got someone on your holiday wish list who would like a little piece of Obama web history, you can buy the domains at this eBay auction. You've got roughly 5 days. So far, no bids.

Obama Makes Early Demands of Special Interests Public

| Mon Dec. 8, 2008 5:56 PM EST

Think back to when Dick Cheney formulated energy policy early in President Bush's first term. Because the White House did not release the names of the people Cheney met with, nor the demands they were making of the administration, the public did not know until 2005 that Cheney had met with oil executives, and that those executives supplied Cheney with "detailed energy policy recommendations."

The Obama Administration is determined to do things differently. It is posting the policy proposals it is receiving from special interest groups on a section of its website called "Your Seat at the Table." What is the teacher's union demanding on education reform, for example? Not only can you find out on the transition's site, you can comment on the union's proposals and submit your own ideas on the subject.

It's another early step toward open government for the new administration and it's something to be applauded, especially if it leaves these documents up after decisions start to get made, so watchdog groups can determine whose wishes were fulfilled and whose were not.

Blackwater Contractors Indicted For Manslaughter, "Surrender" in Utah

| Mon Dec. 8, 2008 4:42 PM EST

The Justice Department has unsealed a 35-count indictment (.pdf) against five Blackwater contractors charged with the manslaughter of 17 Iraqis in a Baghdad traffic circle in September 2007. Those indicted, all former US soldiers and Marines, include: Donald Ball from West Valley City, Utah; Dustin Heard from Knoxville, Tenn.; Evan Liberty from Rochester, N.H.; Nick Slatten from Sparta, Tenn.; and Paul Slough, from Keller, Texas. All face up to 30 years in prison under an obscure law dealing with the use of machine guns in violent crimes that federal prosecutors have adapted for the case. A sixth Blackwater guard also involved in the shooting incident, Jeremy Ridgeway, took a plea deal (.pdf) offered by the Justice Department.

The unsealed documents offer a gritty, blow-by-blow account of what happened as "Raven 23," the Blackwater security convoy's radio call sign that day, entered Nisour Square and opened fire—either in self defense, as Blackwater has claimed, or "upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion," as the indictment alleges.

The five Blackwater guards "surrendered" to authorities today in Salt Lake City, Utah, in hopes that a potential trial there would involve jurors more sympathetic to their case, reports NPR.