2010 - %3, April

Chutzpah Watch: Financial Regulation Edition

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 7:45 PM EDT

I've been noticing a new conservative meme lately. Basically, it's this: the government failed to stop the housing bubble, so it's folly to suggest that more government will stop any future bubble.

I don't really have anything to say about this. I'm just sort of bemused by the audacity of spending 30 years deregulating everything in sight, watching the financial system implode, and then blaming it all on weak-kneed bureaucrats. It's hard not to admire the chutzpah.

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GOP Rep: Deport US Citizens! (VIDEO)

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 7:01 PM EDT

Lest you think that Mother Jones only scrutinizes the missteps of retrogressives in red states like Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Virginia, Alabama, and South Carolina, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) has jumped in to remind America that hating all things vaguely immigrant-related—including US citizens—transcends state borders.

Hunter—not to be confused with his belligerent, anti-immigration dad of the same name, who more or less bequeathed the 52nd congressional district in San Diego to his son two years ago—traded the Beltway for a California Tea Party meeting last weekend, presumably so he could rail against the entitled Beltway elite class. The conversation turned to those durn'd dirty illegals, because there's no better way to express your solidarity with a bunch of 18th-century British-born colonists than to rail against immigration. Hunter praised Arizona's new "Papers, please" law to round up undocumented immigrants (or anyone who looks like one), calling it "a fantastic starting point." But at one point, his red-meat stumping got really raw. According to Talking Points Memo, things got weird during the Q-and-A:

"Would you support deportation of natural born American citizens that are the children of illegal aliens?" a man in the audience asked.

"I would have to, yes," Hunter said.

He continued:

"You can look and say, 'You're a mean guy. That's a mean thing to do. That's not a humanitarian thing to do.' We simply cannot afford what we're doing right now."

Actually, Duncan, it's not just a mean thing to do. It's kind of illegal. And logistically a bit difficult. 'Cause, you know, where are you going to deport a lifelong US citizen to?

Hunter, who batted for my Navy-Marine Corps team as an Iraq-deployed artillery officer, then explained that "it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen. It's within our souls."

So now, in addition to carrying your birth certificate and handgun with you in Arizona, you should probably steel yourself for any potential run-ins with the soul police. That's totally different from the thought police, though. We swear! Scout's honor!

SCOTUS: Where's the Diversity?

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 5:45 PM EDT

This week, the Congressional Black Caucus kicked off its campaign to move a woman or person of color into Justice John Paul Stevens's Supreme Court seat once he retires. On the nine-member Supreme Court, there are: two women (22%) in a nation where women are 50.7% of the general population, one black justice (11%) in a country where African-Americans are 12.8% of the population, and one Latina (11%) even though Latinos are the fastest growing minority population (currently 15.4%). The high court's gender disparity is the most glaring, and Caucus chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) urged Obama to consider these inequalities when making his high court nominations.

Recently, a report (PDF) by the Congressional Hispanic Staffers Association (CHSA) found that Congress's diversity stats aren't that great either. From The Hill:

Of the 199 offices that responded to the study conducted by the House’s chief administrative officer (CAO), 7.5 percent of chiefs of staff were black, 2.7 percent were Hispanic, 1.6 percent were Asian and 1.1 percent were American Indian. There were no Pacific Islanders. Those numbers lag far behind the racial makeup of the United States population, which the Census Bureau estimated to consist of about 35 percent minorities. Those numbers, which came after the 2000 census, specifically break down to 12.5 percent Latino, 12.3 percent African-American, 5.5 percent some other race, 3.6 percent Asian and 1 percent American Indian.

This news spurred Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to launch a new House-wide initiative that increases the hiring and retention of diverse candidates. The initiative includes a "résumé bank" that targets the employment and promotion of congressional staff candidates who are not white as well as a diversity-oriented awareness program. CHSA also wants qualified, interested minority candidates to be among those interviewed when top-level job vacancies are available, a policy which hasn't been implemented yet.

Can a relatively homogeneous governing body render decisions that reflect the heterogeneous backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints of the US population? Stephanie's Citizen's United article basically spells out the answer to that one. Will a visibly diverse SCOTUS and Congress represent the socio-economic needs of minorities? Maybe not (See: Clarence Thomas or Condoleezza Rice). But it's worth a try.

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Better Coverups, Please

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 4:28 PM EDT

China's women's gymnastics team in the 2000 Olympics has been stripped of its bronze medal after an investigation revealed that Dong Fangxiao was 14 years old at the time, not 16 as international rules require. How did our intrepid investigators figure this out? Like so:

Dong worked as a national technical official for the Beijing Olympics. Her accreditation information listed her birthday as Jan. 23, 1986, which would have made her 14 in Sydney. Also, Dong's blog said she was born in the Year of the Ox in the Chinese zodiac (Feb. 20, 1985, to Feb. 8, 1986).

Obviously China's athletic authorities are accustomed to pretty lackadaisical standards in the cover-up arena. Subtlety and thoroughness probably aren't especially urgent in authoritarian states, after all. But if they're going to compete with the West, they need to lift their game. Better coverups, please.

Mysterious Climate Bill Is "Like Sasquatch"

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 4:20 PM EDT

Senate majority leader Harry Reid has taken heat for suggesting that whether he moves energy or immigration legislation first depends on which bill looks most likely to pass. On Tuesday he suggested that climate legislation would have the edge because it's "much further down the road" than immigration. And on Wednesday he was even more firm: "I am going to move forward on energy first." But it remains far from clear that the climate and energy bill that was supposed to be unveiled this week by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has sufficient backing. That's because it appears that almost no-one except the co-authors has actually seen the bill.

Senators and advocates say they have seen outlines or heard summaries of what is expected to be called the "American Power Act." And the co-authors sent a draft of the bill to the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday for analysis, a process that takes five to six weeks and evaluates both the environmental and economic impacts of the bill. But senators have said they haven't seen the draft and can't declare a position on it.

"They were going to give me a draft, but they have not released a draft," said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) on Monday. Snowe is one of only a few Republicans who has voted for cap and trade bills in the past and could be a possible "yes" vote. "I can't make a decision on that. I'd like to, but I said I have to see the bill first."

"I don't know who's seen the entire bill. My understanding is that there's still moving pieces," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). "[Kerry] hasn't pressed the start button yet." Cardin has been a strong supporter of climate and energy legislation, though he listed concerns about how the bill would deal with offshore drilling and existing environmental laws.

Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is one of ten industrial state Democrats who recently outlined demands for the bill. She said she thinks some of their concerns have been covered, but "I'm not sure all of them have been addressed." She adds, "We have been briefed on summaries of what's in it, but we want to see the actual language."

Other fence-sitting senators who have said that they haven't seen the draft yet and thus can't say whether they could support it include Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine). John McCain (R-Ariz.), once a champion of climate legislation before backing away from the issue, said he hadn't seen a bill or even talked to his close friend Graham or colleagues about it.

While the authors have touted the industry support they've drawn for the bill, it's not yet clear whether that will pay off in votes. And it's not just senators who are wondering what the draft will actually look like. Environmental advocates said they have yet to see legislative text. One compared the legislation to Sasquatch, quipping that people have heard talk of the details and glimpsed rough outlines of the bill, but no one has yet laid eyes on the real deal. The most detailed outline of the measure's contents to date has come from a call between Kerry and progressive business leaders just last week. Even before the drama over Graham's involvement, there were still numerous open questions about what the draft might contain. And with the release of the bill now delayed even further, the mystery surrounding the measure continues.

Obama and the Media

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 1:36 PM EDT

If there's anything that reporters can write about at great length, it's themselves. Over at Politico, Josh Gerstein and Patrick Gavin prove that today with a 4,000 word opus about how poorly the Obama White House treats the press corps.

It's actually interesting reading in a gossipy sort of way. I'll just say this, though: I don't think this is an Obama issue, and I don't think it's a Republican vs. Democrat issue. I think it's just one of those things that gets continually worse over time. Nixon ran a tighter press shop than LBJ, Reagan ran a tighter one still (or, perhaps, a more sophisticated one), Clinton took it another step, and then Bush yet another. In the same way that (mostly) Republicans have discovered that a lot of legislative rules are actually just traditions that can be revoked whenever it's convenient, the White House over the years has discovered that it can put a tighter and tigher leash on the press and control its message better without paying any real price. I expect this process to continue regardless of who's in the Oval Office. It's just a reflection of the changing media environment.

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How the Filibuster Redraws the Map

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 1:15 PM EDT

Last week I spoke with Greg Koger, author of a new book on the history of the filibuster. You'll never guess what we talked about. The interview is up here and it's worth a look, but there was one bit of our conversation that didn't make it into the final product, which I think is still worth noting.

Koger pointed out that one unintended consequence of filibuster reform would be that the Senate would start to act more like the House. As he puts it, "that's not necessarily a good thing." Since it sounded like an argument against majority rule, I asked him (in so many words) why he hates democracy.  Here's what he said:

It's not clear what majority rule means in the context of the Senate. The Senate's one of the most malapportioned legislatures anywhere! On the one hand you can tell the story where a bare majority of the Senate represents a very small proportion of the American population. And then the counterargument is that 41 Senators representing an even smaller portion of the population can block legislation. Either way, the main point is that the Senate is a very malapportioned body...so the ability to muster a majority doesn’t necessarily mean that the national interest is being served.

This is a pretty important point and one that gets overlooked a lot when talking about something like the filibuster. But I think it lets the chamber off a little easy: One of the reasons the Senate is so malapportioned in the first place is because the admission of largely unpopulated states to the Union was determined by...the United States Senate. It's kind of a self-fulfilling failure.

Oklahoma: Pro-Life Nanny State

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 1:15 PM EDT

Statistics collected by the National Birth Defects Prevention Network show that fetuses brought to term in Oklahoma have higher incidences of cardiovascular and musculoskeletal birth defects than in the US at large. Oklahoma babies, for example, are 63 percent likelier to be born with gastroschisis, a condition in which the internal abdominal organs—particularly the intestine—are pushed outside the baby's torso. Such babies require immediate—and potentially risky—surgery after birth, and even survivors may have limited digestive functioning and costly, challenging lifelong disabilities.

Why am I telling you this? Because it all relates back to Oklahoma's general distaste for legal abortion. The Sooner State hates a woman's right to choose; this we knew already, from its plan to post women's medical histories online when they choose an abortion, to its shrinking number of clinics able to perform the procedure (three, according to a very scary anti-abortionists' site; Oklahoma's solidly red-state neighbor to the south, Texas, has 46).

But when the state's legislature overrode a governor's veto on two new medieval anti-choice measures yesterday, we learned something new: Oklahoma hates parents' rights generally, and it's willing to create a nanny state around that theme.

One of those new laws should give every parent, or potential parent, pause when mulling over a job offer in Norman or Oklahoma City. That's because it grants immunity from malpractice lawsuits for doctors who refuse to tell parents that their child will be born with a birth defect.

Wall Street And Its Rents

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 12:58 PM EDT

Matt Yglesias points me to Daniel Gross, who writes in Slate about the history of Wall Street opposition to regulation and reform:

For the past several decades, Wall Street has continually told Washington that if the Street can't do things the way it always has, and if the government changes the rules to mandate greater transparency and customer protection, that the geniuses in Lower Manhattan won't be able to make money, and it would stunt the industry. They've been wrong every time.

It's worth noting that in all of Gross's examples, the geniuses were actually right: they complained that they'd make less money, and they did. The reforms may have been good for everyone else, but they really did erode the profits of the banks that had built up their franchises around offering services under the old rules. As Gross says about their latest self-serving whining, "The opposition to moving derivative trades to a clearinghouse isn't about protecting customers. It's about protecting the entrenched positions and profits of large banks."

That's all perfectly understandable, of course. The real puzzlement is why customers haven't ganged up to complain about this more. Or, for that matter, aggressive small banks that think they could break into the derivatives market if it were more transparent. It's pretty obvious why big banks don't want to give up the massive profits of the OTC derivatives trade, but a little less clear why their opposition is so muted.

Supreme Court Quote of Day

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 12:58 PM EDT

The Supreme Court today took up the case of Doe v. Reed, a lawsuit over the constitutionality of Washington State's law requiring public disclosure of the names of people who signed a petition to put an anti-gay initiative on the ballot. James Bopp, the lawyer for the anti-gay group Protect Marriage, had argued in a brief that the petitions must be withheld lest the signers get the Prop 8 donor treatment and--gasp!--get called douchebags in nasty emails. (And yes, that word really appears in a Supreme Court brief; no word yet as to whether it was uttered during oral arguments.)

Surprisingly, arch conservative and good Catholic Justice Antonin Scalia didn't seem to be buying it. During oral arguments this morning, he let loose one of his classic snappy comebacks, telling Bopp:

"Democracy requires civic courage. The First Amendment does not protect you from criticism or even nasty phone calls if you take part in the legislative process."

Hear, hear.