Mojo - December 2008

Obama Takes Initial Open Government Step

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 12:00 PM EST

creative_commons_logo.jpg Who here is interested in the copyright standards of the Obama transition's web-based information, documents, and videos? Everybody, right? Excellent.

Open government advocates are cheering the fact that the Obama transition team has changed the copyright restriction on Change.gov to a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, which allows users to grab content off Change.gov, copy it, remix it, and distribute it without limitation. All users have to do is attribute the content to Change.gov. It is the freest possible version of a copyright and a step in the right direction.

But there's more to be done, of course. The open government community is pushing for a couple more concessions from the Obama people, the primary one being that content needs to be practically accessible in addition to legally accessible. That is to say, it matters little if content on Change.gov can be remixed and modified and disseminated, if the coding of the content doesn't allow it to be copied in the first place. Here's an explanation from open-government.us, where you can find more ideas for a truly open transition:

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The Great Recession

| Tue Dec. 2, 2008 9:02 AM EST

Who will we be after the economic meltdown? This is something I've been pondering a lot lately.

Maybe I'm overreacting, but if we don't all become our parents and grandparents—the ones who survived the Great Depression and used every tea bag thrice—the Visigoths are on the horizon.

Personally, I'm planning a major downsizing, even though I've been living far from large since having two kids. My parents were sharecroppers born in the 1920s Deep South, so I grew up wearing patched hand-me-downs, saving aluminum foil, and scraping the last dregs from every pot to have for lunch the next day. The amount of food my kids waste has always horrified me (all those bananas and PB&J's they were dying for, then took one bite of); since my oldest's birth, my diet has consisted mostly of scarfing down their leavings. Once upon a time, I knew this was laughable. Now I'm telling the whole world: For dinner last night, I had partially eaten raviolis and pre-gnawed garlic bread scraped from both their plates, plus their leftover apple juice (son) and milk (daughter). Pre-Bush, it was just a habit my schmancy friends chuckled at indulgently. Post-Bush, it's a civic duty, a matter of house and home.

So, I'm waiting, hoping, to find that we all become like my tight-fisted Great Aunt Pearl who grew up five to a bed, downwind of the outhouse, but owned four mortgage-free houses by the time I was born. She made an apple last for three days. If you asked her for a Christmas present, she'd glare and say, "You got the day off didn't you?"

HuffPo has inagurated a new column to suss out how, if, we're all adapting to this brave new world of utter insecurity. Maybe now America will become the place where we brag about how many we fit into how little space and not how big our flat screens are. Or maybe this is just a history we're doomed to keep repeating.

Harvey Milk: Local Legend or National Figure?

| Mon Dec. 1, 2008 6:07 PM EST

MilkResized.jpg

Harvey Milk, the San Francisco board of supervisors member who was assassinated in 1978, never considered himself to be a local anything. Milk, who was born in New York and has a high school in Manhattan named for him, also lived in California, Florida, and Texas during his life. He held office in San Francisco for a mere 11 months, but he had dreams of becoming a mayor, a congressman, and after that, who knew? So it seems incongruous that California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would decline to commemorate Harvey Milk's birthday by deeming the first openly gay man in the nation to hold public office a "local" figure.

The Milk bill, sponsored by California assemblyman Mark Leno, sought to make Milk's birthday (May 22) a statewide "day of significance." The bill itself is fairly low-impact: schools and government institutions would remain open for regular business. The bill would only "encourage" educational institutions to "conduct suitable commemorative exercises on that date." In September, Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill saying that Milk's "contributions should continue to be recognized at the local level."

Last week Gus Van Sant's film about Milk opened as a limited release. At the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, the line to enter the movie stretched for almost two blocks. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the movie earned a record-breaking $1.4 million in three-day box office, or $38,375 per location. The film's five-day Thanksgiving Weekend total gross was $1.9 million. Local level, indeed.

—Daniel Luzer

Image by flickr user Sam Spade

Bush Earns Medal for AIDS Efforts

| Mon Dec. 1, 2008 4:58 PM EST

Today, the twentieth anniversary of World AIDS Day, George W. Bush received the first "International Medal of P.E.A.C.E." for his contribution to world peace via HIV/AIDS funding. Starting in 2003, Bush's President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) gave $15 billion to international programs to fight HIV/AIDS, but the programs were widely panned for their focus on abstinence-before-marriage and be-faithful-to-one-partner education. The medal was awarded by Pastor Rick Warren's new P.E.A.C.E. organization, which honors "ordinary people empowered by God."

According to a 2006 year-long study by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the ideological bent of PEPFAR made the programs ineffective in countries with high HIV rates like Uganda and South Africa. South Africa's HIV prevalence rate among adults has increased from 18.8% in 2005 to 25.5% today. And in Uganda, the infection rate nearly doubled between 2003, just after PEPFAR began implementing programs there, and 2005.

If Only Those Dead Indians Hadn't Been So Cowardly

| Mon Dec. 1, 2008 4:29 PM EST

Conservative bloggers, who blamed the Virginia Tech victims for not fighting back against the madman who attacked their school, are back for a second dip in the blame-the-victim cesspool. Here's John Hinderaker:

I wondered earlier today how a mere ten terrorists could bring a city of 19 million to a standstill. Here in the U.S., I don't think it would happen. I think we have armed security guards who know how to use their weapons, supplemented by an unknown number of private citizens who are armed and capable of returning fire. The Indian experience shows it is vitally important that this continue to be the case. This is a matter of culture as much as, or more than, a matter of laws.

Adam Serwer of TAP explains this attitude thusly:

This is a really strange and immature coping mechanism that manifests on the right in times of high profile tragedy. Rather than contemplate being a victim of a terrorist attack, the subject imagines him or herself as the star of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. I'd say it's simple racism, but it really is fear masquerading as bravado, a cultural chauvinism that directs itself at other Americans as readily as it does at foreigners. It is the "short skirt" theory of violence. If it happened, you must have been asking for it.

Hm, yes. I have to say, I have never seen anyone who has actually faced combat criticize the inaction or ineffectualness of untrained, unarmed bystanders when in a life-or-death situations. (If this has happened somewhere, please feel free to correct me.) This thinking appears to be peculiar to a certain kind of conservative keyboard monkey who measures America's strength by the size of its military and considers himself (always a him) more patriotic than liberals because he is more likely to thank a veteran for his or her service, though he himself would never serve.

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The Curious Retention of Robert Gates

| Mon Dec. 1, 2008 2:57 PM EST

Barack Obama's national security team--at this early stage--presents more questions than answers. His selection of Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state has been a much-chewed-over topic of pundit puzzlement. And with the Monday morning unveiling of his senior defense and foreign policy aides, Obama made official another curious decision: his retention of Robert Gates as secretary of defense.

There's an obvious reason for Obama to keep Gates at the Pentagon. Having a George W. Bush appointee in charge will give Obama political cover as he proceeds with his plan to withdraw troops from Iraq. But there are several potential problems with this move. I've consulted two former Pentagon officials--who are critics of standard operating procedure at the Pentagon--who decry this move. (Neither wanted to be quoted, for they might now or later be in contention for a job in the Obama administration.) "It's probably the dumbest thing Obama's done," one said.

They identified three possible pitfalls. First, Gates is a lame duck. There has been no indication how long he will stay in the Pentagon's top post, but it seems Gates will remain there on a quasi-temporary basis. Consequently, Pentagon bureaucrats who don't want to see their prerogatives challenged--if Gates wanted to do such a thing--could try to wait him out. Second, Gates is no agent of change when it comes to the Pentagon budget. In the Bush years, the regular military budget has increased by 40 percent in real terms (not counting so-called "emergency" supplemental spending bills for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan)--partly because of hundreds of billions of dollars in cost overruns. During the campaign, Obama talked about the need to cut "billions of dollars in wasteful spending" from the military budget. But Gates has yet to demonstrate he is truly interested in reworking the Pentagon's out-of-control budget. Keeping Gates in place sends the signal that Obama, who faces a host of hard jobs, is not eager to take on the Pentagon at the start of his presidency. "There are so many problems at home," says one of the critics, "Obama may not want to do anything fundamental about the Pentagon."

Picking Up the Pieces: A Sober, War-Time National Security Cabinet Takes Shape

| Mon Dec. 1, 2008 1:40 PM EST

As they were introduced and made brief remarks this morning, it was hard to envy the team of national security aides President-elect Barack Obama announced today at the Chicago Hilton. President Bush and Vice President Cheney broke the national security apparatus. Are retired Marine Corps General Jim Jones, Obama's designated national security adviser, Sen. Hillary Clinton, the next secretary of state, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who Obama has asked to stay on, up to the task of fixing it? In the midst of two wars, and the most ominous economic crisis in half a century?

Obama expressed confidence in the pragmatism and competence of the bipartisan national security team he had assembled, and the event conveyed sobriety and awareness of the enormous task ahead, more so than any excitement at the prospect of a new, more cooperative and internationalist national security vision to come from Washington. The team he picked reflected the subdued moment: pragmatists over ideologues, managers and technocrats who get things done. These people represent a far cry from the Bush era's hardline, uncompromising, us-versus-them, bellicose rhetoric and often miserable incompetence.

"In this uncertain world, the time has come for a new beginning – a new dawn of American leadership to overcome the challenges of the 21st century, and to seize the opportunities embedded in those challenges," Obama said. "To succeed, we must pursue a new strategy that skillfully uses, balances, and integrates all elements of American power: our military and diplomacy; our intelligence and law enforcement; our economy and the power of our moral example. The team that we have assembled here today is uniquely suited to do just that. They share my pragmatism about the use of power, and my sense of purpose about America's role as a leader in the world."

General Jones, who has served as a Marine Corps commandant, as NATO's supreme allied commander, and, most recently, as Bush's Mideast envoy (trying to assess efforts to build up the Palestinian security forces), is widely respected both abroad and within the turf-conscious national security community in Washington. (A native Kansan, Jones went to high school in France, where his father was stationed as a military officer and speaks fluent French.) Jones is "a good guy," says one former US intelligence official who dealt with Jones during the first Bush term on a European-related issue. "He's politically tuned into Hillary. He's pretty smart guy, speaks French....They like him in Europe. He's a well-respected, good man, a square guy and a good marine. He'll handle the job better than Stephen Hadley."

Other appointments Obama announced today include his long-time campaign foreign policy adviser Susan Rice as US ambassador to the United Nations, which will again be a cabinet level position; Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as secretary of homeland security; and Eric Holder as attorney general. It's worth noting that Obama did not announce a director of national intelligence or director of the Central Intelligence Agency among his other national security appointments today. The reported top candidate for the job, John Brennan, withdrew his name from consideration last week, after coming under criticism in the left blogosphere for allegedly defending the CIA's harsh interrogation practices while serving as an aide to former CIA director George Tenet.