Mojo - June 2009

Jon Voight Calls Obama a "False Prophet"

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 2:30 PM EDT

Jon Voight is a brilliant character actor. More than that, he shares responsiblity for Angelina Jolie, for which we are all eternally grateful. But he's also a committed conservative, a diehard Israel booster, and a guy who's not afraid to let you know it. His most recent role as arch-villian Jonas Hodges (a comically evil version of Erik Prince) on the Fox show 24 is just another acting job, of course, but may not be that far off from reality. The Midnight Cowboy was a featured speaker at Tuesday's Senate House Dinner, a GOP fundraiser, where he held forth before party luminaries like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Needless to say, he's not a fan of our new president.

From the UK's Daily Mail:

He said: 'It was amazing to me how the media and the young generation were taken in by Obama's false haloistic presence... Obama as a candidate portrayed himself as a moderate, but turned out to be wildly radical."

... With an audience that included Vice President candidate Sarah Palin and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Voight said: 'We were the great power of good for the world and we were the liberators of the entire world. We are becoming a weak nation.

'Obama really thinks he is the soft-spoken Julius Caesar. Republicans need to find their way back to power to free the nation from "this Obama oppression".'

Naming various Democrats, he said they can be blamed for the 'downfall of this country'.

 

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No Plans to Invade North Korea, Says US Envoy

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 11:57 AM EDT

It's anyone's guess why North Korea has returned to rattling its nuclear sabre. Some think it's just the same old problem-child behavior: acting out to get attention and receive humanitarian and food aid. Others believe its more closely tied to the country's internal power struggle, underway since Kim Jong Il suffered stroke. For its part, Pyongyang blames... wait for it... the United States, of course. It's a tough sell, considering that the Obama administration has offered to sit down with the North Koreans in direct talks--a move that might have been a major step forward had Kim Jong Il not decided to scrap it all and go for broke.

The question of how to deal with North Korea's recent displays of aggression--the nuclear test, the missile launches, the kidnapping of two US reporters--is one that will require a united international front. To that end, US envoy Stephen Bosworth is emphasizing a renewed diplomatic effort. Speaking to the Korean Society in New York City, he sent a message to the North Koreans assuring them that "we have no intention to invade North Korea or to change its regime through force and we have made this clear ... repeatedly." That doesn't mean there'll be no military reaction, though. "North Korea's recent actions to develop a nuclear capacity and an intercontinental ballistic missile capacity will require that we expand our consideration of possible responses, including our force posture and options for extended deterrence," Bosworth continued. 

But sanctions appear to be the international community's hope at the moment. (Whether they can work is another question entirely.) According to AFP, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Japan and South Korea, have reached agreement on a tougher set of sanctions, which they will present to the 15-member Security Council as early as Thursday.

Dump Corzine. Draft Bruce!

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 11:50 AM EDT

It's become increasingly clear that New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat, is in big trouble in his re-election race against former US Attorney Chris Christie. Do Democrats really want to lose the governorship of an important state like New Jersey because they're backing a weak, unpopular incumbent? Losing the race will undoubtedly be touted as a rebuke to President Barack Obama's agenda. Thankfully, there's a solution: it starts with a "B" and ends in a "ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce." That's right: Democrats should draft the Boss for governor.

It's clear that Springsteen has a lot of sympathy for liberal causes—he may even be to the left of Corzine. The Boss campaigned hard for Obama, so Obama might be inclined to back him if he has to run as an independent (the primary already happened)—although I think that Corzine has enough good sense to pull an LBJ and decline to run if he sees that Bruce is getting in. Bruce is immensely qualified—he's already been the Boss in New Jersey for decades. Being governor would simply formalize the arrangement. Springsteen also makes electoral sense—do you really think anyone is going to be able to beat Bruce Friggin Springsteen in New Jersey? Of course not.

Now, some of you might quibble and say that there's no indication that the Boss is even interested in being governor. That, of course, is where you come in: some enterprising citizen should register DraftBruce.com and TheBossforNJ.net and so on and start the campaign to get Bruce to announce his candidacy. If everything goes as planned, Springsteen will crush Christie, spend a few years in charge of the Garden State, and then run for President. That way my real goal will be achieved: the Maxwell Sachel Weinberg vice-presidency. Also the Clarence Clemons-run Department of Defense.

What Gives? Charitable Giving Takes a Hit

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 11:38 AM EDT

According to a new study, as the economy tanked last year, so did Americans' charitable giving. The Giving USA Foundation reports that we donated nearly six percent less than we did in 2007, the biggest annual drop in 50 years. This is hardly unexpected, but it's still notable that charitable giving didn't drop at the same rate as the stock market or people's retirement funds. Which may suggest that even in hard times, we Americans are a fairly generous lot. Or are we? In our current issue, I explore the question of whether we can afford to give away even more of our hard-earned cash. As residents of the richest nation in the world, do we have an ethical obligation—as philosopher Peter Singer argues—to give away a substaintial chunk of our personal wealth to help others? And even if we do, can we write our favorite causes an IOU until the economic mess works itself out?

My take: I find Singer's basic argument compelling, if guilt-inducing. We should still keep our checkbooks at the ready, not simply because it's the right thing to do, but because nonprofits are an economic engine every bit as important as mismanaged auto companies or short-sighted investment firms. And they're picking up much of the slack in our frayed social safety net. So, if you can afford it, go out and stimulate the economy and your conscience. (I don't say this just because I work for a nonprofit magazine. Really.) Read my article and let me know what you think.

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Remi Jouan.

The Pentagon's Free Rides

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 10:30 AM EDT

We gave the Pentagon more than $500 billion (PDF) last year, but, according to the Center for Public Integrity, that hasn't stopped defense officials from routinely accepting trips bankrolled by special interests.

Despite the Pentagon’s big budgets, DOD personnel routinely accept free flights, accommodations, and hospitality from outside interests, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of thousands of travel disclosure records. From 1998 through 2007, the analysis found, outside sources paid for more than 22,000 trips worth at least $26 million, sponsored by an array of foreign governments, private companies, and other groups which have business with the Pentagon.

The best (or most suspect) trip taken by an American official? A $24,000, Saudi-funded excursion—complete with a trip to a camel race as special guests of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz—taken by Richard Millies and his wife in 2005. Millies is one of the Pentagon's men in charge of selling advanced weapons to foreign governments.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 10, 2009

Wed Jun. 10, 2009 10:19 AM EDT

Yesterday I posted a photo from Afghanistan. Today, it's Iraq.U.S. Army Pfc. Anthony Mariscao of Houston, Texas, from 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, gives an Iraqi girl candy in the village of Raml in Kirkuk, Iraq, June 4, 2009. U.S. Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces are working to identify areas that need road repair in and around Kirkuk, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Bobby L. Allen Jr./Released)

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Uighurs to Palau

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 9:33 AM EDT

Kevin Drum relays the fact that the Uighurs are headed to Palau, an island nation in the North Pacific. You may remember Palau because it's especially threatened by climate change. Mother Jones has covered the story of the Uighurs, 19 Chinese Muslims held in Guantanamo Bay, extensively. In November 2008, when it looked like the Uighurs might be released near Washington, DC, Stephanie Mencimer spoke to members of the local Uighur community. Here's a video from that story (Jonathan Stein narrated):

Later that month, Stephanie reported on the Bush administration's half-hearted struggle to find a home for the Uighurs. Back in January, Kevin wrote that he hoped Obama would be able to settle the Uighurs.

Are the Uighurs Bound for a Doomed Island?

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 9:14 AM EDT

As Nick and Kevin have noted, 17 Uighurs may soon be headed for the tiny Pacific nation of Palau. This strikes me as a little odd, because when Palau's government isn't offering to accommodate Guantanamo detainees, it's publicly fretting that the country may become unliveable because of global warming.

At the United Nations, Palau is one of the savviest, loudest voices (admittedly there aren't many) calling for the international community to help small island countries whose existence is threatened by climate change. Palau says it has already lost one third of its coral reef ecosystems, which it depends on for food and tourism, due to rising ocean temperatures and increasingly frequent storms. The government fears that if these weather patterns continue, the islands will no longer be able to sustain its population of around 20,000 people. Palau's UN ambassador, Stuart Beck, has said that "the destruction of coral reefs is tantamount to the destruction of our country."

Palau's dire predictions never seemed to result in much tangible assistance. Now the US is pledging the country $200 million in development aid. Just to put that in perspective, that's $10,000 per person, and nearly twice as much as the US gives to Rwanda. In 2007, US aid to Palau totaled $27 million. But the extra money has nothing to do with the Uighurs, of course.

Obama's Bailout Doublespeak

| Tue Jun. 9, 2009 7:20 PM EDT

The Treasury Department made headlines today announcing that 10 mega-banks will be allowed to repay their TARP funds. These banks—among them JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, American Express, and Bank of New York Mellon—will return an estimated $68.3 billion to the government’s coffers, almost triple what the Treasury initially estimated.

So what do Obama, Geithner, Summers, and the rest of the gang have in mind for that $68.3 billion? Well, according to Obama's remarks today, the government can save its money and spend it, too:

This [repayment] is not a sign that our troubles are over—far from it... But it is a positive sign. We're seeing an initial return on a few of these investments. We're restoring funds to the Treasury where they'll be available to safeguard against continuing risks to financial stability. And as this money is returned, we'll see our national debt lessened by $68 billionbillions of dollars that this generation will not have to borrow and future generations will not have to repay.

Huh? The $68 billion in repayments are apparently going back to the Treasury to "safeguard against continuing risks to financial stability." This is most likely doublespeak for TARP II, the newest round of bailouts that uses TARP repayments from healthier banks to subsidize the weaker ones. Yet at the same time it's subsidizing banks, that $68 billion is also going to reduce the national debt. This doesn't quite add up.

Obama's contradictory comments on the bailout also fuels the criticism that the government really doesn't have a coherent vision for the bailout, but instead sees it as a endlessly spinning revolving door for taxpayer money coming from and going out to struggling banks. Stay tuned here for more updates on the bailout, and where that $68 billion in taxpayer dollars is really headed.

(H/T Paul Kiel, ProPublica)

Kim Jong Il's Son Is "Not Interested in Politics"

| Tue Jun. 9, 2009 4:47 PM EDT

Things are all smiles in North Korea. At least that's the impression you get from Kim Jong Nam, eldest son of the "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il. His father has suffered a stroke, but remains at the helm of his fantasy land, while a secret transition of power is underway. Such things are touchy subjects in countries like the Hermit Kingdom, where leaders are not so much political figures as living gods. Pyongyang has indicated that Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Jong Un, is likely to inherit the mantle of the North Korea's national deity.

Does this trouble Kim Jong Nam? Not at all! He knows the score. Reports indicate he fell out of favor after being caught in Tokyo's international airport with a fake passport in 2001. Rumors abound that he fled North Korea, but even this is unconfirmed. To hear him tell it, he's just a traveling man, a pleasure seeker untroubled at being passed over by his loving father. A Japanese television crew caught up with him earlier this week, where Nam smiled as he denied his defection to Japan and brushed aside any hard feelings at his father. "Sorry, I am not interested in the politics," he says. You can watch the interview on the BBC's website.