Mojo - December 2008

The RNC Needs to Earn Its Ghetto Pass

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 6:02 PM EST

Would we think the whole Barack the Magic Negro brouhaha was racist if it had been an SNL production?

With all (sincere) respect to my colleague Jonathan Stein, and all the other stalwart liberals who've taken umbrage, I'm not convinced this is about racism so much as it's about chickens coming home to roost. Had the RNC/conservatives not spent the last two generations neck deep in undeniable, activist racism, they could tell a SNL-type joke now and then and get the rest of us to laugh along. We laugh at the racial parodies, and even blackface (an SNL staple) of Stewart, Colbert, Mad TV, et al, because they've proved their racial good will—if only by routinely holding the Left's (minorities included) foibles up to vicious mockery when mockery is due. In other words: Liberals have a ghetto pass. Conservatives do not.

Off the top of my head, I can think of bits every bit as harsh as the magic Negro thing:

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Must See: Russian Professor Explains the Future Demise of the United States

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 5:08 PM EST

igor_panarin.jpg Over at the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes note of an increasingly popular scholar in Russia named Igor Panarin who has been predicting the demise of the United States for years. Apparently the Kremlin is a huge fan and is putting him on state television as regularly as possible. Here are some of this thoughts on the old U.S. of A.:

Gaza: Insisting on Peace Now Means No Peace Later?

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 3:33 PM EST

Just listened in on a Council on Foreign Relations briefing-by-phone that addressed the situation in the Gaza Strip. Israeli air forces are bombing the region and systematically destroying symbols of Hamas' power as a response to months of rocket launches into Israeli territory by Hamas and its allies. Hundreds of Palestinians are dead in what Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is calling "all out war."

On the conference call, one point was made repeatedly. The Israeli public broadly supports the air strikes and will continue to do so until Hamas' ability or willingness to rain rockets into Israel is extinguished. If the Americans, specifically the Obama team, insists that the Israelis stop short, it has problematic consequences for the prospects of long-term peace. Here's why. The Americans (and just about everybody else) say they want a two-state solution, which gives the Palestinians an independent state consisting of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. But giving the Palestinians full control over the West Bank would mean that Hamas would have a more strategically located launching pad for rocket attacks. Major population centers (particularly Jerusalem) would be within reach. If the Americans stop the Israelis from achieving their objectives in Gaza, the Israelis will believe they will be stopped from protecting themselves from similar but more deadly attacks launched from the West Bank. As a result, the possibility of Israel allowing the Palestinians to make the West Bank part of an independent Palestinian state slims significantly.

The speakers on the call also suggested that the Israelis don't want to make to make a mess that the new American president will have to deal with, but that because internal Israeli politics are at play here (Barak needs to appear tough because he is seeking the prime ministership), it isn't clear how long the attacks will last or how far Israel will go in fulfilling its objectives.

2008's Best Photographs

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 3:19 PM EST

They're up at Boston.com and they are spectacular. Check out parts one, two (the first photo at that link is amazing), and three. You can find all of Mother Jones' photojournalism here.

Bailout Bonanza

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 2:44 PM EST

In these days of economic turmoil many Americans are worried about staying employed and keeping up with mortgage payments, but one group of former government officials is struggling just to keep pace with an influx of new business opportunities. This "tight-knit" cadre, reports the New York Times, are veterans of the savings and loan bailout of the 1990s who helped to set up and run the Resolution Trust Corporation. These officials have since moved on to the private sector as "private lawyers, investors and lobbyists" and are currently seeking ways to cash in on the economic crisis. According to the Times:

With $700 billion in bailout money up for grabs, and billions of dollars worth of bad debt or failed bank assets most likely headed for sale or auction, these former officials are helping their clients get a piece of the bailout money or the chance to buy, at fire-sale prices, some of the bank assets taken over by the federal government.

Jim Webb Takes on Prison Reform

| Mon Dec. 29, 2008 11:51 AM EST

jim_webb_saluting.jpg Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) is about to take on one of the most thankless issues in America: prison reform. Here's the Washington Post, explaining Webb's interest:

With 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States has imprisoned a higher percentage of its population than any other nation, according to the Pew Center on the States and other groups. Although the United States has only 5 percent of the world's population, it has 25 percent of its prison population, Webb says.
A disproportionate number of those who are incarcerated are black, Webb notes. African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, but they comprise more than half of all prison inmates, compared with one-third two decades ago. Today, Webb says, a black man without a high school diploma has a 60 percent chance of going to prison.
Webb aims much of his criticism at enforcement efforts that he says too often target low-level drug offenders and parole violators, rather than those who perpetrate violence, such as gang members. He also blames policies that strip felons of citizenship rights and can hinder their chances of finding a job after release. He says he believes society can be made safer while making the system more humane and cost-effective.

It may seem like a strange passion for a former military man from a state that is 75 percent white and that, pre-Obama, was proudly conservative. But this effort may be successful precisely because people assume the gruff, hard-charging Webb is a law-and-order type. It would have less credibility if the leader on this issue came out of the Congressional Black Caucus, a scenario that would probably create wrongheaded whispers about how the priorities of likely-to-be-incarcerated young black men were being placed above America's safety. (Of course, a Senate effort couldn't be led by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. There are currently zero black senators.)

But Webb may have to go it alone on this issue, due to the fact that anyone who suggests improving our truly lamentable prison system gets quickly labeled as "soft on crime." We'll soon see if he has the savviness and political clout to make something happen. And have no doubt, something must happen. As Mother Jones illustrated in our July/August 2008 cover package called "SLAMMED," the state of America's prisons is a disgrace, and an unsustainable one at that. If you didn't know, click the link and get educated.

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Madoff Matters

| Sun Dec. 28, 2008 12:44 PM EST

I'm still thinking (as are we all) about Bernie Madoff and the New Year recession. Over at the Daily Beast, an artist conveys what it's like to go from riches to rags over night. I link to it mostly because of the appalling comments it generated.

As the author tells it, she scrimped, saved, and worked her way to a schmancy NY apartment, a vacation cottage in Palm Beach, fancy truffles, and real pearls, refusing even to take alimony post-divorce! Yet, oh so predictably, readers crap all over her. Why? Even if she'd inherited all her money and spent her days in a heroin haze, does that make it all right to steal her money, then vilify her? She was victimized! And the readers victimize her again.

There's a lot of petty emotion from readers too obvious to bear discussion, but these are comments we really need to talk about.

Pray for the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living: Goodbye Al Meyerhoff

| Sat Dec. 27, 2008 6:38 PM EST

Everyone here was stunned to read the news a couple of days ago that Al Meyerhoff, a fighting lawyer who among other things exposed the Saipan scam (whereby American manufacturers have products made in sweatshops in the U.S. protectorate, then slap a "Made in USA" label on them--legally), has died at age 61. Al served for a few years on MoJo's board; he was a memorable presence, expounding in his booming voice—and, later, via the emails that regularly showed up in our inboxes, and no doubt a few thousand others—on this or that corporate or political outrage. He once told a student magazine that he'd developed his "active dislike of the abuse of power" from having been bullied as a kid. Those bullies messed with the wrong guy. We'll miss him a lot.

President Bush to Sink Another Election Bid?

| Sat Dec. 27, 2008 1:04 PM EST

He already sunk McCain. With numbers as bad as the ones below, I have to believe he'll sink his brother, too. Which, of course, is a good thing for dynasty haters. And Americans who don't want to lose their sanity.

From a new CNN poll:

Thinking about the following characteristics and qualities, please say whether you think it applies or doesn't apply to George W. Bush:
Is a strong and decisive leader: Yes 45%, No 55%
Cares about people like you: Yes 37%, No 62%
Brought the kind of change the country needed: Yes 13%, No 86%
Is honest and trustworthy: Yes 37%, No 62%
Managed the government effectively: Yes 25%, No 75%
Is a person you admire: Yes 27%, No 72%
Shares your values: Yes 34%, No 65%
Generally agrees with you on issues you care about: Yes 34%, No 66%
Inspires confidence: Yes 20%, No 80%
Has united the country and not divide it: Yes 17%, No 82%
Was tough enough for the job: Yes 49%, No 51%
Can get things done: Yes 31%, No 69%

A full 75 percent say they are glad President Bush will be leaving Washington. And Jeb thinks Florida will send him there?

No Republicans Have Condemned the "Magic Negro" CD: What Can We Learn?

| Sat Dec. 27, 2008 12:21 PM EST

Brief recap. Chip Saltsman, a Tennessee Republican who is seeking the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee, sent a CD of holiday music to committee members earlier this month. That CD contained a Rush Limbaugh song titled "Barack the Magic Negro." (Listen here.) The song is sung by a white political humorist who tries to impersonate the voice of Reverend Al Sharpton. As Sharpton, the singer complains about Obama being palatable to white people "because he's not from da hood."

Saltsman defended the song, saying it is a "light-hearted political parod[y]." That got me thinking. Has any Republican criticized Saltsman for distributing the song? Here's Mike Allen of Politico, who is stunned to the find the answer is "no."

WHY HAS IT BEEN 18 HOURS SINCE THIS WAS POSTED AND NOT A SINGLE REPUBLICAN OFFICIAL HAS CONDEMNED IT? YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE PARTY FIND IT DISGUSTING/ASTONISHING AND CALLED THE LINK TO OUR ATTENTION AS A 'YA CAN'T MAKE IT UP.'

What's the motivation here? It's not that all Republican officials are racist, of course. I think it has something to do with the fact that conservatives by and large hate political correctness and hate being told by liberals that they stepped over the lines of polite discourse. I've frequently objected to an insensitive joke, only to be admonished, "Lighten up, it's supposed to be funny." Because, obviously, the fact that there is humorous intent makes the racism/sexism/homophobia okay.

The first Republican official who condemns Saltsman will be the first to bend to the will of the liberal PC Nazis (i.e. the biggest wimp). And I think that's why we aren't seeing people speaking out, including the African-American candidates in the race for the RNC chair. If this little episode has enough steam to stick around until after the holidays, top GOPers won't be able to ignore it any longer. They'll have to make a difficult choice. Sticking to their misguided principles will mean a third week of bad press for the Party.

Update: Conservatives are starting to find their voice(s).