Mojo - December 2008

More on the Rick Warren Wrangle: It's Not About Gay Marriage

| Fri Dec. 19, 2008 10:03 AM EST

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On Friday morning, I was on the CBS' The Early Show to talk about the Rick Warren controversy. Opposite me (via satellite hookup) was Robert Jeffress, a Baptist pastor from Dallas, who was billed as a friend of Warren.

Asked by Harry Smith to explain why gay and lesbian outfits and progressives were upset by Barack Obama's decision to hand Warren the invocation slot at the presidential inauguration, I noted that it was good that Obama has an inclusive approach toward political and policy debates, that he should make common cause with Warren on issues like poverty and climate change, and that it was wrong for him to grant Warren this high-profile platform because Warren's anti-gay remarks--he recently compared homosexuality to incest and pedophilia--are insulting to a large number of Americans, particularly many who worked long and hard to bring Obama to the White House. It's one thing to sit at the table with Warren and discuss how best to alleviate poverty; it's another to enhance his status.

When Jeffress had his chance, he went on about how it was unfair to slam Warren as a hate-monger because of his fervent opposition to gay marriage.

Gay marriage? Who said anything about gay marriage? Not me. I had pointed out that Warren's big sin had been to equate gays and lesbians with loathsome pedophiles. Is that hate-mongering? Some people might see it that way. But I was not going to judge Warren on that front. His words speak for themselves--and for him.

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Clinton Foundation Donor Info: Playing Hard To Get?

| Thu Dec. 18, 2008 3:47 PM EST

When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton decided to work together--with her becoming secretary of state--part of the deal was that the William J. Clinton Foundation, which funds the former president's globetrotting do-gooding and his presidential library, would release all of its donors going back to 1997. For years, Bill Clinton had declined to reveal who was backing his foundation. But the point, as a foundation press release noted, was "to ensure that not even the appearance of a conflict of interest existed between the Clinton Foundation's operations and Senator Clinton's anticpated service as Secretary of State."

On Thursday, the foundation posted the names of those donors on its website--all 2922 pages of them. The list includes a host of foreign governments (Norway, Kuwait, Qatar, Taiwan), Stephen Speilberg's foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Blackwater, General Motors, Freddie Mac, and Citigroup's foundation.

Beyond the specific contributions, what's notable is that this list is damn hard to navigate. To review the contributors, a visitor--say, a journalist--has to click through nearly 3000 pages. As of today, it was not searchable. And the names are provided without addresses or any identifying information. (Political campaigns have to provide the Federal Elections Commission addresses and employment information for their donors.) So who's this Nasser Al-Rashid, who gave between $1 million and $5 million. Cut to Google: he's a Saudi Arabian businessman, supposedly an influential adviser to the Saudi royal family, and owner of one of the largest yachts in the world. Saudis have been especially generous to the Clinton Foundation.

Hilda Solis: A Nominee To Get Excited About

| Thu Dec. 18, 2008 3:23 PM EST

hilda_solis.jpg Quit yur bellyaching! Obama's pick for Secretary of Labor is reportedly California Rep. Hilda Solis, the proud daughter of a union mom and union dad. In addition to a background as a management analyst at the Office of Management and Budget and a 100 percent rating from the AFL-CIO in 2007, Solis brings a reputation as one of Washington's leading proponents of green jobs. Check out her commitment to working people, courtesy of Harold Meyerson:

In 1996, when she was a back-bencher (and the first Latina) in the California State Senate, Hilda Solis did something that no other political figure I known of had done before, or has done since: She took money out of her own political account to fund a social justice campaign. Under California law, the state minimum wage is set by the gubernatorially-appointed Industrial Welfare Commission, and California's governors for the preceding 14 years, Republicans George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, hadn't exactly appointed members inclined to raise that wage. So Solis dipped into her own campaign treasury and came up with the money to fund the signature-gatherers to put a minimum wage hike initiative on the California ballot. The signature gatherers gathered the signatures, the measure was placed on the ballot, it passed handily in the next election, and California's low-wage janitors and gardeners and fry and taco cooks, and millions like them, got a significant raise.

If you were to sketch an ideal Labor Secretary, you could hardly do much better. (Another example of how Obama has found diversity without sacrificing an ounce of expertise .)

Update: The Economist notes that with the Solis pick, the white-male quotient in Obama's cabinet is under 50 percent.

Should We Get Hot and Bothered By Obama's Personnel Choices?

| Thu Dec. 18, 2008 11:53 AM EST

The man giving the invocation at Obama's inauguration doesn't like gays, his pick for Secretary of Agriculture is a supporter of corn-based ethanol with only incipient reformist tendencies, his choice for Interior seems to have big fans in the oil and mining community, and his next Transportation Secretary is a Republican lacking any serious record on transit issues. In short, the trepidation that Obama's early cabinet picks triggered in parts of the left continues as he fills in the few remaining spots.

So should those of us on the left get all hot and bothered? There are three ways to think about Obama's frequently uninspiring and occasionally troubling appointments.

(1) These appointees are bad symbolism in the service of good policy. Because Obama is picking people who occupy the center, center-left, and center-right, he can count on the support of huge swaths of the people from all ideological backgrounds when he tries to push genuinely progressive policy initiatives.

Unfortunately, we simply cannot accept this as true. Not yet, anyway. We don't know that Obama wants to push genuinely progressive policy initiatives. There are reasons to suggest that he does, of course. But Democrats who take it as a matter of faith that Obama is tapping people like Warren to co-opt the right and get them behind him for when he passes wonderfully liberal policy are projecting their hopes onto Obama's future policy agenda. We don't know the policy yet. All we know is the symbolism.

Besides, Rahm Emmanuel puts the lie to this idea somewhat. Rahm isn't just willing to use bad symbolism in service of good policy. His career in the House leadership involved several episodes where he used bad policy in service of keeping Democrats in power.

Clinton Foundation Releases Donors

| Thu Dec. 18, 2008 11:42 AM EST

The William J. Clinton Foundation, which funds or funded the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Clinton Climate Initiative, the Clinton Economic Opportunity Initiative, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and, importantly, the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, has released all of its donors dating back to 1997. This move was necessitated by Hillary Clinton's move to the State Department, and as the Clinton Foundation explains in its press release, is meant "to ensure that not even the appearance of a conflict of interest existed between the Clinton Foundation's operations and Senator Clinton's anticipated service as Secretary of State."

We plan on digging in, to see if any shady characters have funded the Clintons' (very noble) post-presidency activities as part of some kind of quid pro quo, but at the moment it seems like the rush of journalists with the same intentions has knocked the site on its rear end. You can check in on the contributor list after it gets back up here.

Did Bernie Madoff Bilk Mother Jones? (From the Editors)

| Wed Dec. 17, 2008 4:42 PM EST

Okay, here's the good news: Unlike other nonprofits, Mother Jones did not invest its portfolio with ponzi master Bernie Madoff. But here's the bad news: In recent weeks, we've heard from major donors saying that they've taken such a beating in the market, they have no choice but to pull funding they already promised to us—funding that was paying for our kick-ass reporters in Washington. This is not General Motors-size money we're talking about—about $125,000 so far has evaporated—but for an organization our size, it is a big chunk, especially at a time when we're already slashing the budget to deal with the broader financial crisis and the severe downturn in print advertising. Managers are taking pay cuts, we'll be running somewhat smaller issues, we're subletting office space, but at this point the only way to reduce expenses even further is to lay off reporters and cut back on investigating the powers that be. That's the last thing we want to do: With Washington in transition and billions flying out the door, someone has to dig into where the bailout money is going.

This is where you come in. We're not asking you to pay for private jets or chauffeured Town Cars; every penny of your donation goes to the overworked, underpaid investigative reporters whose work you see here every day. Anything helps, and it's super easy—just follow this link. Think about it: Right now the Wall Street bailout has each and every one of us on the hook for $11,600 and counting. We'll keep track of your money for a lot less than that.

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Rick Warren??

| Wed Dec. 17, 2008 4:12 PM EST

rick_warren.jpg This one puzzles.

Rick Warren is the pastor of the California-based megachurch known as Saddleback and the author of super-bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. He wins plaudits from mainstream media types and Very Serious People because he is trying to expand the evangelical community's priorities beyond the standard social issues. He wants to see more attention paid to poverty, climate change, AIDS, and human rights. That's all well and good, but Warren still has many views that match the hardline right. He strongly supported Proposition 8. He considers stem cells "non-negotiable." He compares abortion to the Holocaust. He has admitted the difference between between him and James Dobson is primarily "a matter of tone." In a move that would make George Orwell proud, he just gave George W. Bush an "International Medal of P.E.A.C.E."

And this is the guy Barack Obama has chosen to give the invocation at his inauguration? A man whose views stand in stark contrast to the ones held by the tens of millions of Americans who elected Obama?

I'm not the only one who is shocked. There is already a petition at whitehouse2.org that urges the President-elect to give this incredible privilege to one of the nation's thousands and thousands of men and women of the cloth whose views match Obama's, and those of the people who will have flown in from around the country to see the inauguration in person. Take a look.

Examining the New Secretary of Agriculture, Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack

| Wed Dec. 17, 2008 12:44 PM EST

tom-vilsack.jpg It is easy to groan at the selection of former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as Barack Obama's Secretary of Agriculture. Ezra Klein over at the Prospect notes that the pick signals two important things that are sure to disappoint food policy reformers. (1) Politicians from agricultural states are enmeshed in the politics of farm subsidies, and Iowa, as the number one corn-producing state in the country, can likely count on a continued flow of poisonous corn subsidies under Vilsack. (2) USDA will continue to be a department for food producers instead of one for food consumers, meaning that food policy decisions will be made with the needs of agribusiness first and the needs of low-income kids with little access to healthy food options second. (If you don't know why those two things are at odds, you haven't been listening to Michael Pollan.) It is because a conventional pick like Vilsack likely means the continuation of policies that harm both eaters and small farmers that food activists were passing around a petition to get a reformer the job. Alas, it didn't happen.

But before we throw our foodie/organic-only/locavore selves into complete despair, let's take a closer look at Vilsack. For a former governor of a corn behemoth, he's actually has the right instincts.

Which State Is the Most Corrupt?

| Wed Dec. 17, 2008 12:00 PM EST

In the wake of the Blagojevich scandal, we've heard a lot about how corrupt "Chicago politics" are. But what's the real story? A pretty graph tells the tale:

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Turns out that while Illinois is more corrupt than most states, it's not Blagojevich but another allegedly-criminal Democrat, now-former Rep. William Jefferson, who comes from the most corrupt state in the union. That's Louisiana, home to sometime GOP presidential aspirant Bobby Jindal. All four of the most corrupt states in the union are red states, and three are in the deep south. And the third-most corrupt state just reelected the Republicans' leader in the senate, Mitch McConnell. Can we stop the ridiculous guilt-by-association game now? Just because a politician's home state has a reputation (deserved or undeserved) for corruption doesn't mean he or she is therefore also corrupt. Even if a sitting governor from the politician's own party has just been arrested.

(Via Matt Yglesias)

Corn on Hardball: Watching Matthews Eviscerate an Iraq War Hawk (Video)

| Wed Dec. 17, 2008 11:23 AM EST

I don't know if Hardball host Chris Matthews will run for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania and challenge incumbent Republican Arlen Specter. I do know that it would be refreshing to have a fellow in the Senate with as much passion as Matthews. Sure, he peeved a number of people with his comments on Hillary Clinton during the recent presidential campaign. But last night, I was a guest on his show and watched Matthews eviscerate former Reagan administration aide Frank Gaffney on the question of whether the Iraq war had been justified. I had been booked to debate Gaffney on the subject. But Matthews tore into him more than I could.

I give Matthews plenty of credit--not just for being right on this issue but for devoting the first quarter of his show to the matter. He shoved aside Blago and Caroline Kennedy to discuss a war that the mainstream media does not sufficiently cover. There aren't many television talk show hosts who still greatly care about whether George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of that crew hoodwinked the country into war. But Matthews does. He wants to win the fight over the history and make sure that the public does not forget how the soon-to-be-gone Bush administration misled the nation. I'm not urging Matthews to run--I enjoy appearing on his show and would be sad to see it disappear--but it would be heartening to see in the Senate a man who displays so much zeal on this front.

I have a feeling that in the coming years the Bush-backers and neocons will not give up the fight; they will relentlessly argue that the war was right and just. Even though the majority of the American public doesn't buy that, the foes of the war will have to push back and do combat over and over on this point. Whether Matthews is on TV or in the Senate, he could be a valuable participant in that (alas) never-ending debate.