Mojo - January 2009

Welcome, 44*

| Tue Jan. 20, 2009 12:20 PM EST

It's official, we can all sigh a breath of relief and hope, and George Bush can go crawl back under his Texas rock and be forgotten, or prosecuted, or whatever. Here's the full text of President Obama's (how sweet the sound) inaugural address.

*One quibble, one that is trivial, but important for historical accuracy (and judging by my last post on this you are all going to rip into me for focusing on what doesn't matter in such trying times). Obama said this toward the beginning of his address:

"Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath...."

But, dear President, only 43 Americans have taken the presidential oath. In ordinal terms there have been 44 presidents, but as far as cardinal numbers go, how many presidents we've had in total, Obama is number 43. Why? Because Grover Cleveland was president in two non-consecutive terms.

Again, this is not a game-changer but at such a historic moment why not be totally true to what's transpired in our centuries of history? We've endured eight years of misinformation and misunderestimation, and more importantly, we've endured centuries of, let's call it like it is, white, male presidents. I concede that the time that this has been the case is the most important thing, that it took this long for a change is more significant than the number of men who shaped it, so moving forward what's matters is this day and this moment, but I'm still thankful that it only took 42 men before him, and that the real 43 is someone to be proud of.


Footnote: Here in San Francisco some clever cat went out and changed all the "Bush" street signs to read "Obama" this morning (pic). Maybe the city can make it official?

Onward and upward, 44.

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MoJo Video: Goodbye, Bush

| Tue Jan. 20, 2009 12:19 PM EST

I think it's now safe to show the Bush video featuring our Riff columnist and resident DJ, Party Ben. Below, his take on Bush's departure:

Welcome, 44!

Obama Inspires Black Iraqis

| Mon Jan. 19, 2009 3:58 PM EST

Didn't know they existed, did you? They do, and in substantial numbers. They are still commonly referred to as "abed," which means "slave" in Arabic. A valuable report from CNN:

Text version here.

We Win!: The Inaugural Celebration Caps a Victory in the Political Cultural War

| Mon Jan. 19, 2009 2:43 PM EST

It was a moment of victory in the political cultural war that has gripped the United States since the tumultuous days of the 1960s. It came in the middle of the inauguration celebration held at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday. And its bearer was Garth Brooks. The man who has epitomized country music, the official music of Red-State America, was hailing the election of a man who represents what many people with a Red-State mentality oppose: an America that embraces liberal attitudes of diversity and tolerance, that does not equate Ivy League-style education with effete elitism, and that does not hold on to traditions to block social change and progress. True, Brooks is no rock-ribbed redneck. His 1992 song, "We Shall Be Free." essentially endorsed gay marriage. But when he performed the old Isley Brothers soul classic, "Shout," before a massive crowd of Obama supporters, you could almost hear some Red-Staters wail, "They've turned our Garth into a black guy!" When he finished, Brooks doffed his cowboy hat toward President-elect Barack Obama, who sat with his family to the side of the stage.

The show at the Lincoln Memorial contained other moments signaling that the cultural civil war that began with the civil rights crusade, the movement against the Vietnam War, and the rise of hippie-dom was done—at least for now—and that the libs had won. Toward the end of the HBO-aired event, Bruce Springsteen, once a greaser-rocker, brought out folk music hero and activist Pete Seeger, once derided by conservatives as a commie, and Seeger led the crowd in "This Land Is Your Land." This song is the liberal national anthem, written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 as a populist-minded response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," which was too rah-rah for Guthrie's liking. (Beyoncé then hit the stage and belted out "God Bless America.")

Earlier in the day, minutes before HBO threw the on-switch for its taping, gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson delivered an invocation that probably would be considered heretical by many fundamentalists. He began:

George Mitchell Under Consideration For Middle East Envoy Post

| Mon Jan. 19, 2009 1:00 PM EST

mitchell_1.jpg

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who successfully mediated peace in Northern Ireland in the late 1990s, is reportedly on the short list of candidates to become the Obama adminisitration's special envoy to the Middle East. Recent reports have indicated that Richard A. Haas, a former State Department official and current president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is also under consideration, but the Council denies Haas is up for the job.

At first glance, Mitchell may not seem the most obvious choice for the Middle East envoy job. Others have far more experience in the region, and Mitchell's success in Northern Ireland does not necessarily translate to the intractable conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. But what you may not know is that Mitchell is himself of Lebanese ancestry; his father, John Kilroy, was an Irishman adopted by a Lebanese family, and his mother was a Lebanese Maronite Christian.

More than that, Mitchell had a brief, albeit unsuccessful, run as Middle East envoy during President Bill Clinton's last-minute attempt to broker peace there before he left office. The so-called "Mitchell Commission" studied the conflict in detail for several months before releasing a report in April 2001 to the newly inaugurated Bush administration. (It's recommendations were largely ignored, as indeed was the entire Middle East peace process.)

Americans' Attitude Toward Obama: Patient

| Mon Jan. 19, 2009 12:31 PM EST

Americans are feeling a lot of emotions right now. They're elated and apprehensive. They're hopeful and worried. According to a new poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News, 79 percent of Americans are optimistic about the next four years (the highest such response of any of the past five incoming president), but upwards of 80 percent also feel the country is headed in the wrong direction.

For all of that, Americans dominant state of mind may be patience.

Most Americans told The Times that they did not expect real progress in improving the economy, reforming the health care system or ending the war in Iraq — three of the central promises of the Obama campaign for at least two years.
The poll found that two-thirds of respondents think the recession will last two years or longer — midway through Obama's four-year term as its 44th president.

This obviously bodes will for Obama. He's facing monumental challenges that may not be fixed or even assuaged by the time he faces reelection. If voters understand that these problems can't be fixed with a wave of a wand, he likely won't see a potentially massive dip in his popularity numbers. Another thing that bodes well for Big O: Americans appear to place blame for all the problems mentioned above on George W. Bush. He leaves office with just a 22 percent approval rating, the lowest ever in the poll.

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TARP Moves Forward With Promises, Not Guarantees, of Improvements

| Fri Jan. 16, 2009 2:41 PM EST

So it's confirmed. Chris Dodd, head of the Senate Banking Committee, will do nothing to ensure that there are oversight and executive compensation provisions in the second half of the TARP rollout. He will not legislate in aid for families in foreclosure, either.

The reason? Larry Summers, writing on behalf of the President-elect, wrote him a letter assuring him that the executive branch could and would police itself. Don't worry, Chris, we got this! As I pointed out before, Dodd is an awfully credulous fellow. Hank Paulson convinced him of the exact same thing. How'd that turn out?

Will Obama and company will do a better job than Paulson? Probably. Should Dodd and the Senate Democrats assume that they can take a hands-off approach to things like TARP because the man in the Oval Office is from their party? Absolutely not.

Wingnuts: Obama Plans to "Completely Decimate and Destroy our Armed Forces!" by Letting Gays Serve Openly

| Fri Jan. 16, 2009 12:53 PM EST

If you ever feel like the Right is getting a little too friendly towards Obama, Human Events' mailing list (which it rents out to other right-wing groups) will quickly dispel that notion. The latest item to come over that wire is an email from ExposeObama.com that claims Obama will destroy the military by letting gays serve openly. "You can STOP this unholy alliance between Barack Hussein Obama, those who hate America and our men and women in uniform, and the radical homosexual movement," ExposeObama claims, if you are willing to send spam faxes to the Republican and Democratic congressional leadership.

Aside from the homophobia, the most pathetic thing about this email is how ineffective it is likely to be. The country has changed a lot since the early 1990's, when Bill Clinton faced a political firestorm over the issue of gays in the military. Today, a policy that costs the US military 4,000 troops a year just isn't that popular. Three-quarters of Americans, including 64 percent of Republicans and a majority of evangelicals, support allowing gays to serve openly. That's one reason, as Kevin noted last week, Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs could say this:

When Inflation Rips Apart a Country

| Fri Jan. 16, 2009 11:20 AM EST

It's kind of amusing that Zimbabwe is printing a $100 trillion note, but the mind-blowing inflation in that country is destroying what vestiges of a civil society remain there. CNN:

Even vegetable vendors prefer the U.S. dollar, South African rand or Botswanan pula, and most workers now demand their salaries in foreign currency. Doctors and nurses have been on strike since last September, demanding salaries in U.S. dollars. The strike coincided with a cholera epidemic that now has claimed more than 2,000 lives.
Last week, the state media reported that most teachers had left their jobs. As a result, the end-of-year examinations taken in November are yet to be graded after the markers demanded their wages in foreign currency. Schools are yet to re-open this year awaiting the examination results.

The inflation rate in Zimbabwe is currently over 230,000,000%. I really have no idea what that looks like in real terms. I once found an anecdote about what 200,000% inflation looks like; you can find it here.

(H/T Boing Boing)

Obama Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan Pushing For New Approach to Iran

| Fri Jan. 16, 2009 11:06 AM EST

CIA veteran John Brennan was an early lightning rod for President-elect Obama after word got out that he was being considered for the agency's top job. (Brennan had advised Obama on intelligence and foreign policy during the campaign.) The primary complaint was Brennan's past statements in defense of the CIA's practice of "rendering" terrorism suspects to other countries for interrogation—places where harsh interrogations go far beyond waterboarding. In 2006, he told a reporter that "we do have to take off the gloves in some areas," but went on to say that it must be done in a way doesn't "forever tarnish the image of the United States abroad."

Since 2005 Brennan has been CEO of the Analysis Corporation, which advises the federal government and private companies on counterterrorism. The firm's parent company, London-based Global Strategies, has come under fire for its activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it hired Third World private security contractors at cut rates and once shut down Baghdad's airport for several days during a contract dispute with the Iraqi government.

Obama has been critical both of the CIA's practice of rendition and the unregulated use of private security contractors in conflict zones, but seems satisfied that Brennan has not been tarnished by his connection to either one. Dropping him from consideration for CIA director (instead picking Leon Panetta), Obama went on to tap Brennan to be his top advisor on counterterrorism—a position that does not require congressional approval.