Mojo - December 2008

ProPublica: Bush's Presidency, Harper's Index-style

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 5:14 PM PST

From ProPublica:

Number of Illegal immigrants deported in 2001: 110,000. In 2008: 350,000.

Number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in 2000: 2.2 million. In 2007: 21.8 million

Number of personnel who process FOIA requests in 2000: 5,378. In 2007: 5,367

It's pretty grim reading. But it confirms that we were right to throw that particular bum out.

[Also, speaking of ProPublica, check out their nifty 'Degrees of Hank Paulson' interactive game while you're there.]

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The Best Part of Obama's Multicultural Cabinet: The Effortlessness Of It

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 1:34 PM PST

I think Ben Smith gets this exactly right:

Bill Clinton, former aides say, worked hard for his Cabinet that "looks like America," and reached outside the normal establishment channels for some of his picks. George W. Bush, reaching into a less diverse GOP, did the same in some cases.
Sixteen years later, Obama hasn't had make any apparent special effort to avoid having a cabinet dominated by white guys: People like Susan Rice, Steven Chu, Eric Shinseki, Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, Janet Napolitano, and Eric Holder are obvious choices, with their own power bases, relationships with Obama, and/or establishment credentials -- some earned at high levels of the Clinton administration -- that the notion of a special effort to ensure diversity at the top level of this administration seems sort of irrelevant.

It's true. All of the appointees Smith lists are minorities or women, but they are so accomplished and talented that no one has dared called them affirmative action picks. They mirror Obama in that way.

In my short article on things Bush got right (did I mention it's a short article?), I noted that Bush put together the most diverse executive branch team in history. Obama's will rival his but may not top it. The important point, though, is that Bush's cabinet secretaries and aides performed so poorly that it almost felt like W. was making a high-stakes argument against affirmative action. He didn't know it, but in actuality he was making a high-stakes argument against prioritizing loyalty over competence. See Gonzales and Miers in that regard.

Would You Pay $10,000 for Sarah Palin's Emails?

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 10:32 AM PST

How much would you pay for access to the emails Sarah Palin has sent and received as governor of Alaska? Would you part with $10,000 for them? That's basically what her office is asking.

During the general election, I filed an open records act request for all emails that had gone to and from Palin in her official capacity. And Alaska citizen watchdog Andrée McLeod, who had long been peppering Palin's office with similar requests, did the same. At a time when Palin was on the hot seat as Senator John McCain's vice presidential running mate, her office replied that it would cost over $65,000 to round up all of Palin's emails and that Mother Jones would have to cover this cost.

The problem: Palin had used at least two nonofficial email accounts (such as a Yahoo account) to conduct her state business. Given that the governor's office did not have access to those accounts, its information specialists had concluded that the only way to gather all her emails would be to search the state email accounts for about 70 people who worked within the executive offices of the governor and look for emails to and from Palin's nonofficial email accounts. Palin's office estimated it would cost almost a thousand dollars for each search of these 70 or so official accounts.

Palin Delusion at the Weekly Standard

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 8:47 AM PST

The conservative magazine The Weekly Standard let the founder of a Sarah Palin advocacy group called "Team Sarah" write an article about the state of Palin's image in America, which is an awful lot like commissioning the head of GM to write an unbiased evaluation of the auto industry bailout. And in a real shock, the Standard writer concludes Palin's "popularity is undimmed." In fact, she compares Palin to Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Despite the best efforts of the media, left-of-center feminists, and a brigade of political elites, including more than a few Beltway Republicans, to write obituaries for Palin's national political career, she continues to be the second biggest phenomenon of the 2008 election cycle, behind only the president-elect....
Some of the most eloquent [Palin supporters] are women ecstatic over the new brand of feminism Palin represents: populist and pro-life. There is no other woman on the national political stage like her--and hasn't been in recent times. To whom could she be compared--Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein? She doesn't begin to fit this cookie-cutter model of pro-choice, pro-gender-quota woman in politics that left-feminism has served up.
But Palin has forebears in American politics. She looks a lot more like the early suffragists than anyone on the national stage now, especially in her pro-life stance. Susan B. Anthony, for whom my organization is named, for instance, called abortion "child murder." Elizabeth Cady Stanton called it a sickening symptom of women's mistreatment: "When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women to treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit."

(The writer also notes that part of Palin's appeal is that "she likes being a woman." This is an important point because, as you know, all female feminists on the left hate themselves.)

Of course, this is the sort of article you would get from an admitted Palin supporter whose only reporting appears to have been talking to or observing other Palin supporters. It gets the state of Palin's national popularity exactly wrong. It is not "undimmed." A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that while Palin is popular among this country's diminishing set of self-identifying Republicans (73%-13% approval vs. disapproval rating), Palin's overall popularity rating is a net negative, 35%-45%. You know what that means? Palin's popularity is in fact very, very dimmed among Democrats and independents.

Polls Suggest Obama Insulated From Blago Situation

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 8:04 AM PST

New poll numbers suggest that America is solidly behind Obama as he takes office — more so than previous presidents-elect. MSNBC's First Read postulates that, as a result, Obama will be able to (1) withstand distractions like the Blagojevich situation without seeing his honeymoon coming to end, and (2) be more aggressive in his initial policy initiatives.

Obama is enjoying a bigger honeymoon than his recent predecessors ever did. Just consider these numbers in the latest NBC/WSJ poll: 67% say they're pleased with Obama's early appointments, 75% believe that the level of his involvement in making policy has been exactly right, and his fav/unfav rating is 67%-16%. By comparison, a month after their initial presidential victories, Bush's rating was 48%-35% and Clinton's was 60%-19%. These scores -- combined with the fact that nearly 80% believe Obama will face bigger challenges than other recent presidents have, and 90% who say the nation's economy has gotten worse over the past 12 months -- seem to have given Obama some leeway with the American public. "We're seeing a president who has been given a longer leash by the American public," says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R). "This is not a traditional start of a presidency where people give you just a couple of months." For Obama that means, potentially, he has the opportunity to throw the long ball in his first year in office, as well as withstand an early setback or two.

Chicago/Illinois Corruption Numbers, Cont'd.

| Wed Dec. 10, 2008 11:50 AM PST

Yesterday I noted that three of the last five Illinois governors (including Blagojevich) have been charged with some kind of major wrongdoing. Today, Slate points out that it isn't just the governors; politicians across the state are caught with their hands in the cookie jar with a stunning frequency.

...in the last three decades, at least 79 local elected officials have been convicted of a crime, including three governors, one mayor, and a whopping 27 aldermen from the Windy City. What makes Chicago so corrupt?
...to some degree because the city never had the benefit of a reformist mayor like New York City's Fiorello LaGuardia, who had political ties to FDR. Instead, Chicago moved towards a one-party system that made it even more vulnerable to corruption: The city's last Republican mayor left office in 1931. Today, not even the Democratic primaries are competitive—for the most part, once you're in office, you stay there. The weak campaign finance laws in Illinois probably helped to stave off competition in recent years....
How do we know that Chicago's so corrupt? The most straightforward way to measure corruption is to check the number of convicted local officials. Between 1995 and 2004, 469 politicians from the federal district of Northern Illinois were found guilty of corruption. The only districts with higher tallies were central California (which includes L.A.), and southern Florida (which includes Miami).

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So Where Does the Blago Situation Go From Here?

| Wed Dec. 10, 2008 8:53 AM PST

Rod Blagojevich woke up today as the head of the Illinois government, fully vested with the ability to appoint someone to fill Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat. It's unlikely, of course, that the Senate would allow a Blago-appointee to actually take office, but the fact remains that Illinois still has a crazy man in power. Worse, he's a crazy man with a clear history of audacious actions and nothing to lose.

So what can be done to get the midwestern Tony Soprano out of power? Progress Illinois runs down the options. At current, it looks like Blago can resign, the General Assembly can impeach him, and the Supreme Court can use a little-known state judiciary rule to boot him from office. Click the link for a full explanation. Also note that the legislature in Illinois has made noises about passing a bill instituting a special election for the Senate seat, but such a bill would have to be signed by Blago himself.

Matt Cooper Sends Blago Some Advice About Patrick Fitzgerald

| Wed Dec. 10, 2008 8:02 AM PST

Journalist Matt Cooper, who almost got put in jail during Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the Valerie Plame leak, has some suggestions for disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Here's Cooper, writing in Portfolio:

[Fitzgerald's] a hard ass, but a reasonable one and I think, if you believe you are guilty and are going to lose at trial, you might get a decent deal out of this. Sure, you'll have to do time but you're a relatively young guy. Fitz will deal....
You wanna deal with Fitzgerald directly, you and him. When I became a government witness, he interviewed me alone and knew the details of my case better than I did....

The GOP's Fannie/Freddie Fixation

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 3:05 PM PST

aig-lehman-fannie-freddie-gravestones-300x225.jpg

Congressional Republicans finally got their big chance to blame the financial crisis on the Democrats. Ever since the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform began investigating the causes of the nation's current economic troubles in early October, the panel's Republican members have been agitating for a hearing on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They charged that their Democratic colleagues failed to rein in the two government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), which were placed in receivership in September, frequently noting that Democrats had accepted significant campaign contributions from the companies. (Republican members of the committee also took in their fair share.) Many GOPers blame the financial crisis on the extension of mortgages to poor people and minorities who couldn't afford them, which they say was facilitated by lax oversight of Fannie and Freddie. On Tuesday, with the presidential election safely over, committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) gave the GOP members their hearing.

Deluder in Chief

| Tue Dec. 9, 2008 3:02 PM PST

president-bush-150x110.jpgRod Blagojevich may well be the nation's ballsiest governor, but his delusions of grandeur pale in comparison to those of our sitting president. The LA Times has obtained a copy of a talking points memo, sent by the White House to cabinet members and top officials, highlighting successes in Bush's tenure.

From the Times:

Titled "Speech Topper on the Bush Record," the talking points state that Bush "kept the American people safe" after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lifted the economy after 2001 through tax cuts, curbed AIDS in Africa and maintained "the honor and the dignity of his office."

The document presents the Bush record as an unalloyed success.

It mentions none of the episodes that detractors say have marred his presidency: the collapse of the housing market and major financial services companies, the flawed intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina or the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

In a section on the economy, speakers are invited to say that Bush cut taxes after 2001, setting the stage for years of job growth.

As for the current economic crisis, the memo says that Bush "responded with bold measures to prevent an economic meltdown."

The document is otherwise silent on the recession, which claimed 533,000 jobs in November, the highest number in 34 years."

And the kicker: The memo concludes with a quote from Bush's 1999 memoir, A Charge to Keep:

"Above all, George W. Bush promised to uphold the honor and the dignity of his office. And through all the challenges and trials of his time in office, that is a charge that our president has kept."

For another perspective, Mother Jones's September/October issue features interviews with myriad historians, scientists, lawyers, and policy-makers on Bush's legacy and How to Fix a Post-Bush Nation. You can find all of their interviews here.

We want to hear from you, too: Did Bush succeed in upholding the "honor and dignity" of the office of president?

Photo used under Creative Commons license.