Political MoJo

McDonald's Rewrites Definition of Chutzpah

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 1:59 PM EDT
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I'm lovin' it. McDonalds has asked the Oxford English Dictionary to change its definition of "McJob." Since 2003, the OED has defined it as "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector." Mickey D's house lexicographer claims that such a definition "is out of date, out of touch with reality and most importantly it is insulting to those talented, committed, hard-working people who serve the public every day." Actually, the two definitions don't conflict at all; the OED just bothers to mention that service sector jobs are poorly paid. Maybe it should redefine "minimum wage" while it's at it; something like, "An artificially high, mandated wage that prevents the creation of exciting opportunities for talented, committed, hard-working people who want to make people smile." Hopefully, OED will stick to its guns. Otherwise, they may have to redefine "chutzpah," too.

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Obama and the Reds

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 12:58 PM EDT

"How well can Obama really do in the Southern, Red States?": It's what Democrats, unsure of how to cast their primary vote, have been saying under their breath.

Yesterday, those Dems got at least part of their answer when Obama charmed a rally full of people in Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in America. 1,000 people came out to support Obama in Oklahoma City, the state's capitol, a city that boasts a population of just over 500,000—the state's largest.

Just as surprising, Obama's biggest selling point for Oklahomans was his stance against the war.

Historically very Republican, at least in National elections, Oklahoma's electorate voted for Bush in a landslide in 2000. And again in 2004. Even in 1996, while the country was voting for Clinton as an incumbent, 48 percent of Oklahomans voted for Bob Dole. Clinton trailed at 40 percent.

Obama did better yesterday than any might have predicted—perhaps even Obama's own campaign. The Obama camp, possibly trying to forecast their own draw in this reddest of red states, may have billed themselves accordingly. The afternoon rally/fundraiser cost a paltry $25 to attend as compared to the previous afternoon's fundraiser in Colorado where attendees forked over $100 to catch a glimpse of the Senator. Still, Obama's campaign was able to raise $25,000 in Oklahoma yesterday.

"I have never seen a man in politics that had that much sincerity, purpose, vision," Gregory Shields of Collinsville, Oklahoma said.

Many rally attendees went looking to be inspired and many left fulfilled, according to NewsOK's Jennifer Mock, the local reporter covering the story.

Obama told the crowd in Oklahoma that the days of divisive politics are numbered. He could have said, however, the days of Democrats doubting his legitimacy as a presidential candidate are numbered. And we would have known exactly who he was talking to.

Watch and read local news coverage of last night's rally here.

--Jessica Savage

Hillary YouTube Attack Needs a YouTube Response

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 11:45 AM EDT

Joe Klein has an awed response to the famous YouTube ad that attacks Hillary Clinton, and wonders out loud how Hillary's paid staff will respond.

That misses the point. Word is out that the the ad was created not by members of any campaign staff, but by ordinary folks who like Obama and dislike Clinton. Here, I think, is the web's real power over politics. It's not in the candidates' ability to create viral videos and post them on YouTube, MySpace, etc. -- those always feel disingenuous, affected, and smarmy. We know who posted them, so we know why they make the arguments they do. They're not spontaneous, they're not true expressions, they're not labors of love. Besides, they're almost never edgy, funny, or entertaining. The only way Hillary is going to have an effective response to the pro-Obama ad created by everyday folks from the web community is if everyday folks from the web community create a pro-Hillary ad.

You see? Hillary can't respond to this because Obama didn't create it. The central test of YouTube politics is whether or not a candidate can inspire web-savvy users to create content on their own, with no prompting or support from the campaign.

Evidence: Multiple versions of the video of Hillary Clinton announcing her presidency (stilted, stiff, conventional) have been viewed a combined total of 20,000 times on YouTube, and currently have an average rating of three stars. Three versions of the Hillary/1984 video (creative, edgy, cool) have had a combined viewership of more than 1,300,000, and have an average rating of more than four stars. These are inexact, unscientific numbers, but you get the point.

DOJ Doc Dump, Gonzales Under Fire Still

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 11:24 AM EDT

Last night, as anyone who has been following the prosecutor purge knows, the DOJ released a massive amount of documents (3,000 pages of internal emails) that many hoped would shed further light on the recent mass firing of eight U.S. Attorneys. As US News and World Report reported last night, the email causing the biggest stir is one that DOJ spokesman Brian Roehrkasse sent to AG Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson regarding Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty's testimony before Congress in February. McNulty testified about the firing of former USA Bud Cummins who was forced to resign to make room for Karl Rove's former aid and protege Timothy Griffin. McNulty, under questioning from Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the Dems spearheading the investigation into the purge of the eight USAs, did not deny that making room for Griffin was why Cummins had been fired. In fact, he made clear that Cummins had done nothing wrong and his firing was not performance related. Roehrkasse was traveling with the attorney general at the time, who was very unhappy with McNulty's honesty, er...depiction of the firing. Roehkrasse's email "said the attorney general disagreed with his characterization of Cummins's firing, because Gonzales believed that it was at least in part performance related."

As US News and World Report points out, this email highlights an "internal rift" within the department and really, makes Gonzales look a little sneaky. It appears the AG just can't catch a break, not even from the GOP. As was reported by Washington-based Politico, "Republican officials operating at the behest of the White House have begun seeking a possible successor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose support among GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill has collapsed."

Update: Bush calls Gonzales to reaffirm his strong support and backing for the AG to stay in the job. Officials say that reports that the WH is looking for a successor were overblown.

Troops Say: Don't Ask, Don't Care

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 2:01 AM EDT

A reader of my post yesterday on the cost of DADT on the military points out an interesting Zogby poll from December that suggests troops on the ground are much more accepting of homosexuality in the military than the higher ups who have questioned whether gays should serve at all.

The poll found that nearly one in four U.S. troops (23%) say they know for sure that someone in their unit is gay or lesbian, and 59% of those folks said they learned about the person's sexual orientation directly from the individual. Further, the poll of 545 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan found that more than half of troops who know a gay soldier in their unit say that the person's sexual orientation is well known by others.

So maybe, once you are out in the field it's more "don't ask, don't care." Or maybe it's just the kind of situation where, in the downtime and comraderie that exists a war zone, details about your lives and loved ones just come out.

And that's just fine by most. The survey found that 3 out of 4 troops say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians. Of the 20% who said they are uncomfortable around gays and lesbians, only 5% are "very" uncomfortable, while 15% are "somewhat" uncomfortable. Just 2% of troops said knowing that gays are not allowed to serve openly was an important reason in their decision to join the military.

One discouraging note from the poll was the fact that only half of the troops surveyed say they have received training on the prevention of anti-gay harassment in the past three years. And fully 40% say they have not received this type of training, which is mandated by Defense Department policy.

Brit Hume, Right Wing Warrior, Strikes Again

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 8:40 PM EDT

hume.jpgBrit Hume's true colors show on Sundays, when he appears on Fox News Sundays. Previously, Hume had declared that it was "unlikely" that Valerie Plame Wilson carried out covert missions for the CIA. (How he could presume to know such a thing is beyond me.) The evidence is mounting that Plame was in fact a covert operative, including statements by the CIA director and Ms. Plame herself, in her sworn congressional testimony on Friday. But Brit knows best: He's accusing Plame of lying under oath.

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Gates on Gays in the Military: I'm Too Busy for this Crap

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 8:03 PM EDT

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared that homosexuality, like adultery, is immoral and the Army shouldn't allow any immoral behavior. I have a few questions left about that. First of all, immoral according to what standard in a secular state? The Bible? Even the Bible takes adultery to be the bigger issue: It made the top 10; biblical pronouncements on homosexuality are tucked away in odd places and not especially clear. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" is pretty clear. And yet, there's no word from the DoD that a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on adultery is forthcoming.

None of these obvious questions has been asked. The media has, however, tackled likely '08 Democratic candidates Obama and Clinton and asked for their opinion on the morality of homosexuality. They hedged. (Clinton had asked for the gay vote just days before at an under-the-radar speech at the Human Rights Campaign.)

Finally, someone has gotten around to asking the Secretary of Defense what he thinks.
Robert Gates veritably brimmed with substance and insight when he said, "I think we should just move on at this point." Asked whether he thought Pace should apologize, Gates said no. Gates went on to say that he was too busy to evaluate whether "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"—which less than half the nation supports and which costs a strapped military 4,000 soldiers a year—is an effective policy.

Which is Worse, Murder or Genocide?

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 6:41 PM EDT

This is not a moral invective but a scientific fact: We care more about one murder than a genocide.

It's a truth both Joseph Stalin and Mother Teresa lived by. He said, "One man's death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." She said, "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at one, I will."

The mental flaw responsible for the moral one is exposed in this psychology study: "Donations to aid a starving 7-year-old child in Africa declined sharply when her image was accompanied by a statistical summary of the millions of needy children like her in other African countries. The numbers appeared to interfere with people's feelings of compassion toward the young victim," writes Paul Slovic.

So the more people dead or in danger, the less we care. It's the reason we've said, "Never again," over and over again after the Shoah, then Cambodia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kosovo, and Rwanda. But still so few Americans recognize the name, Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who has already orchestrated the killing of at least 200,000 people. That's at least 199,999 too many to grasp—are your eyes glazing over already?

For more on "psychic numbing" or "compassion fatigue," check out Slovic's slide presentation. Also watch our photo essay on Darfur.

From a previous Blue Marble post, another explanation for our blindness to injustice is system-justification theory. People want to see the world as fair and just, so they blame the victim to help themselves feel better about the status quo.


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Nowhere To Run To...But Really This Time

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 4:50 PM EDT

Last week, Germany's Spiegel Online reported Iraqi refugees stand to have yet another door slammed in their faces. The Syrian government, which has absorbed the majority of the refugee burden since the beginning of the war -- and even more so since Jordan has closed its doors -- is bursting at the seams. Syria has taken in 1.2 million of the nearly 4 million Iraqis who have fled their homes in the past four years. (2 million have fled to other countries and 1.8 million have been displaced throughout Iraq.) Spiegel reminds us that for a country of 19 million (the pop. of Syria), that is quite a bit, six percent to be exact. The United States would have to take in nearly 18 million Iraqi refugees to bear a comparable burden (we have taken in less than 500 in the past four years). The article reads:

"Syria's economy is now groaning under the strain. The population suffers from water scarcity, electricity blackouts, increased competition for jobs and higher rent and food prices."

But regardless of this burden, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) in Syria, Lauren Jolles, says, the country does not complain even though the international community has "abandoned [it]." Jolles acknowledged that things have to change and that a United Nations aid conference set to happen in April in Geneva will have to yield a very "large aid package."

As I have written many times before, Iraqi refugees face very few asylum options. If Syria can no longer be a haven for the country's citizens, the outcome will be devastating. The United States needs to pick up the slack as well. As Liz wrote last week, the Bush administration "has decided to let in 7,000 this year, which, with 2 million Iraqis already displaced, is next to nothing." As David Case writes in our current issue, on the newsstands now, "Refugees International labels this the world's fastest-growing humanitarian crisis." The international world seriously needs to get moving.

Hard Times at Pfizer

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 3:33 PM EDT

When Pfizer vice chair Karen Katen got passed over in her bid to become chair of the giant drug maker, she prepared to bail out and will leave the company at the end of this month. The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog rummaged through an SEC proxy statement to add up her compensation package: "Katen's eligible for a pension accrued over a 32-year career that, if taken as a lump sum, would be worth about $40.7 million. Her 401(k) retirement savings plan and some deferred stock are worth another $21.8 million. Add in bonuses, previously disclosed severance of $5.5 million, some stock awards and the like and you come up with the balance of the $76.8 million." She will get an additional $178,000 for unused vacations.

Sounds like a lot, but as the Health Blog points out, Karen's pay out seems like small potatoes compared with former chair Henry "Hank" McKinnell, who got $200 million on his departure.