Mojo - July 2009

Corn on "Hardball": From Al Franken to Michael Jackson

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 8:18 PM EDT

After joking on Twitter that I was scheduled to appear on Hardball to discuss Michael Jackson's impact on politics--after having been booked to review the latest on embattled Governor Mark Sanford and new Senator Al Franken--I then went on Hardball and actually had to talk about Michael Jackson. That's because both President Barack Obama and ex-President Bill Clinton made statements about MJ today. So we shifted subjects. Jackson, in. Sanford, out. Franken, still in. (Sanford, who was censured by the South Carolina GOP on Monday night, has lucked out. His love life just can't compete with Sarah Palin's wackiness or Michael Jackson's demise.) Here's how it went:

 

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Video: Reporter Emilio Gutiérrez Soto Speaks

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 2:22 PM EDT

Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, the persecuted Mexican journalist who is Chuck Bowden's subject in the current issue of Mother Jones, recently spoke with the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders. Emilio was detained for 7 months by the ICE after he arrived at the border seeking asylum last June. He is now staying with friends in Las Cruces, still waiting for both a temporary work permit and his asylum trial.

MoJo Mix: 7 July 2009

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 2:02 PM EDT

I can't vouch for his cats, but Kevin Drum is one incredibly nice teetotaler in person. All the more reason his non-dirty-hippie's guide to marijuana legalization is well worth a read.

And when you're done weeding that (sorry), here are three more stories MoJo readers are liking today:

1) This reporter fled the Mexican Army. Spread the word and you could save his life.

2) Drug War Quiz: Do you know which anti-pot ad campaign findings the White House buried in 2004? Dust off your short-term memory and test your drug war knowledge.

3) The latest Palin ethics complaint? She allegedly collected per diem payments for living in her Wasilla home. Palin ethics bingo, anyone?

Laura McClure writes the MoJo Mix and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 7, 2009

Tue Jul. 7, 2009 1:35 PM EDT

Army Capt. Christian Lightsey, of Jacksonville, Fla., looks out over the village of Sarhani during a patrol, June 30. Lightsey, and fellow Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, have been patrolling Afghanistan's volatile Kunar province since arriving in early January. (Photo by Sgt. Matthew Moeller.)

Russian Battle Tanks Tracked to South Sudan

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 1:19 PM EDT

Remember those 33 Russian battle tanks discovered last September aboard a Ukrainian ship seajacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia? The ship and the crew of the MV Faina were ultimately ransomed and released, but their load of weaponry continued on its way to Kenyan port of Mombasa amid suspicions that its cargo was ultimately bound for South Sudan. Thanks to Jane's researchers, we now know this to be true. Studying commercial satellite photographs, analysts Lauren Gelfand and Allison Puccioni tracked the tanks to their current location in, yes, South Sudan. Just what the region needs: more ways for people to kill other people. The bulk of the Jane's article is for subscribers only, but you can find a good summary at Danger Room

Palin: Not Free Yet

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 12:34 PM EDT

On Tuesday, I reported that a new ethics complaint has been filed against Sarah Palin, who last week announced she was resigning as governor partly because of all the ethics complaints she has had to confront. In that posting, I glibly noted that ethics watchdogs in Alaska only had three weeks left during which they could pursue Palin. But that's not so. Andree McLeod, one of those watchdogs, sent me a portion of the Alaska state ethics act: 

A violation of this chapter may be investigated within two years after discovery of the alleged violation.

So when--if?--Palin gives up the governorship on July 26, she will not be out of the woods. The ethics-chasers of her state will have 24 more months to submit additional complaints.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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Drug War's Latest Victim: The PAN

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 11:44 AM EDT

Yesterday, the Mexican people handed President Felipe Calderon and his PAN party a stunning rebuke, giving the PRI—the party that held insanely corrupt sway over the country for 70 years—the upper hand in Congress and many of the contested governorships, including some thought to be PAN strongholds.

The reason? Well the economy for one, but also that Mexicans are fed up with drug-related violence consuming their country and don't think that Calderon's war on the cartels has done much good. (A war that we are helping to fund.)

That's no surprise to anyone who reads Charles Bowden's harrowing piece on Emilio Gutíerrez Soto, a reporter who found himself on the wrong side of corrupt army officials who are using the pretext of the drug war to wage their own bid for power. Calderon may honestly be trying to root out corruption, but it is so deep rooted, the cartels so bloodthirsty, that Meixcan citizens are fed up.

The military has again flooded northern Mexico, ever since President Felipe Calderón assumed office in December 2006 with a margin so razor thin that many Mexicans think he is an illegitimate president. One of his first acts was to declare a war on the nation's thriving drug industry, and his favorite tool was to be the Mexican Army, portrayed as less corrupt than the local or national police. Now some 45,000 soldiers, nearly 25 percent of the Army, are marauding all over the country, escalating the mayhem that consumes Mexico. In 2008, more than 6,000 Mexicans died in the drug violence, a larger loss than the United States has endured during the entire Iraq War. Since 2000, two dozen reporters have been officially recorded as murdered, at least seven more have vanished, and an unknown number have fled into the United States. But all numbers in Mexico are slippery, because people have so many ways of disappearing. In 2008, 188 Mexicans—cops, reporters, businesspeople—sought political asylum at US border crossings, more than twice as many as the year before. This is the wave of gore the man rides as he heads north.

Emilio has applied for asylum. The cartels have threatened his US lawyer, who now starts his car with a remote control. Read the piece. Watch his interview with Reporters Without Borders. And then contemplate the fact that the cartels are openly advocating for the candidates of their choice, infiltrating our border patrol, and already operate in 259 US cities.

This is your war on drugs.

Alec Baldwin For Congress?

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 11:43 AM EDT

Alec Baldwin: leading man, comic genius, bad dad, ultra-liberal pontificator, ... member of Congress? Yep, the troubled Hollywood actor, enjoying a resurgence thanks to the popularity of NBC's 30 Rock, tells Playboy that he's looking to join the party on Capitol Hill in 2012, assuming a suitable seat becomes available. "The desire is there, that’s one component,” he says. “The other component is opportunity." 

From the actor's perspective, the timing is perfect. His current contract with NBC expires in 2012, just when his new gig would kick in. Celebrities-turned-politicians are a fixture in American politics: Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, and, most recently, Al Franken, to name a few. But is Baldwin worried that he'll be perceived as just another Hollywood celebrity trading his fame for political power? Nope. He's particularly confident when comparing himself with California's governor. "His only credentials are that he ran a fitness program under some bygone president," Baldwin says. "I'm (Alexis) de Toqueville compared to Schwarzenegger."

Which state would Baldwin most like to represent? Not California. "Who wants to live in California?" he joked. Connecticut meets his approval, particularly if he can face off against Joe Lieberman. But New York seems to be his most coveted spot--if there's a spot open in 2012, that is. "People get sick, die. They're offered lucrative deals and want to cash in and make money for their retirement. People misstep. Unfortunately, an opportunity for me may mean bad things for someone else."

GOP May Delay Sotomayor Hearings

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 11:30 AM EDT

After several concerted weeks of trying, congressional Republicans so far have failed to find any good reason why Sonia Sotomayor should not be confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice. Apparently, though, they just think they need more time to find a smoking gun. CQ Politics reports today that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) may use some procedural rules to delay the confirmation hearings scheduled to start Monday. He told CQ that the Judiciary Committee needed more time to pour over documents from the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, where Sotomayor had long served on the board. He also added that several members of the committee would be tied up with the concurrent health care reform hearings next week. One of Session's colleagues, though, suggested another motivation for the delay: air time.

With both [hearings] “on television at the same time,” said Charles E. Grassley , R-Iowa, who sits on both panels, “What senator wants to be absent from either one of them?”

 

Obama In Moscow: We Are All Community Organizers

| Tue Jul. 7, 2009 10:54 AM EDT

President Barack Obama on Tuesday attended a meeting of civil society NGOs in Moscow at the Metropol Hotel. He continued his call for a thaw in US-Russian relations:

We not only need a "reset" button between the American and Russian government, but we need a fresh start between our societies -- more dialogue, more listening, more cooperation in confronting common challenges.

He, of course, praised the work of the activists before him. But he did so in a unique fashion: 

Oftentimes politicians get the credit for changing laws, but in fact you've created the environment in which those new laws can occur. I learned this myself when I worked as a community organizer in Chicago....I was working in communities that were devastated by steel plant closings, and so I went door to door, I worked with churches, trying to learn what people needed.

And we had a lot of setbacks -- in fact, we had more failures than successes. But we kept on listening to the people, we learned from them, we got them involved. And over time they chose projects to work on -- whether it was building a new play lot or improving a neighborhood park or improving the local school or improving housing in the community -- and slowly, block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, you started to see change happen: more jobs, better housing, more opportunities for young people. And I learned a lesson -- that if you want to bring change, it's not enough just to be an advocate; it's not enough to just wait for the government to act. You have to step up and deliver results, real impact on people's lives.

That's not something that any other modern American president could say--speaking from experience about community organizing. What would be the George W. Bush equivalent: "I know growing a small business is tough. When I was trying to do that, I had to go to one friend of Dad's after another"?

Obama, yet again, was bringing personal credibility to a message he was selling overseas. He's done this effectively in his high-profile speeches in Turkey and Cairo. 

In this address, he recognized that the task of advocacy and organizing is different from that of governing:

Make no mistake: Civil society -- civil groups hold their governments to high standards. And I know -- because this audience includes Americans who've been critical of me for not moving fast enough on issues that are of great importance. They've said it to my face. In the Oval Office. While I was President. (Laughter.) They told me I was wrong. And in some cases they changed my mind; in some cases they didn't. And that's okay, because we're not going to agree on everything -- but I know this: Their voices and their views and their criticism ultimately will make my decisions better, they will make me ask tougher questions and ask my staff tougher questions.

So when human rights advocates criticize the White House for not being more transparent about past abuses or when champions of single-payer health care push the administration to develop the best public option available, they can point to Obama's speech and say, "We're just trying to help you." No doubt Rahm Emanuel will say thank you.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.