2009 - %3, May

Waxman's Climate Bill Speed Reader

| Wed May 20, 2009 11:11 AM EDT

To throw off Rep. Henry Waxman's ambitious plan to deliver a final climate change bill by Memorial Day, the House GOP suggested they might attempt a procedural stall tactic. If Waxman had the audacity to fast-track the controversial legislation through his energy and commerce committee, then committee Republicans said they might force the 900-plus page bill, along with several hundred pages of amendments, to be read aloud. But Waxman wasn't about to let some GOP obstructionism slow down the landmark legislation. Just in case his Republican colleagues attempted this ploy, Waxman hired a speed reader, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A committee spokeswoman said the speed reader—a young man who was on door duty at the hearing as he awaited a call to the microphone—was hired to help staffers. After years of practice, the panel's clerks can read at a good clip. But the speed reader is a lot faster, she said.

"Judging by the size of the amendments, I can read a page about every 34 seconds," said the newly hired staff assistant, who declined to give his name. Based on that estimate, it would take him about nine hours.

This doesn't mean Waxman will meet his self-imposed deadline. Committee Republicans, determined to hold the bill up as long as they can, have snowed the legislation under with hundreds of amendments—only a handful of which the committee was able to tackle after hours of debate on Tuesday. "We might as well plan on being here all next week,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the committee's ranking Republican member and a notorious climate change skeptic. “Bring your sleeping bags.”
 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Weak Steele

| Wed May 20, 2009 10:36 AM EDT

On Tuesday, GOP chairman Michael Steele gave a much-watched speech in which he declared that the Republican Party was undergoing a "renaissance" and that there was no need for his party to apologize any more for its past mistakes. Such statements showed he was in denial. And he also demonstrated his buffoonery by proclaiming, "Change comes in a tea bag!" This was a reference to those over-hyped (by Fox News) anti-Obama protests held on Tax Day by anti-tax conservatives. By the way, Steele's request to speak at one of these so-called tea parties was turned down by its organizers. But Steele's fantasies appeared to have gone over well with his audience. After all, Steele was speaking to a group of GOP state leaders who were considering a resolution calling on the Democratic Party to rename itself the "Democratic Socialist Party."

Steele's speech has been roundly panned by political journalists. Which shows how bad it was. Nothing would be better for political reporters than a good strong fight between Rs and Ds. A good representation of the consensus thumb's down came from MSNBC's "First Thoughts" newsletter, which summed up Steele's big day:

Steele’s Combative Speech: Talk to those close to the RNC chair, and they'll tell you the most important takeaway from his speech to GOP state chairs yesterday was the following: The party plans to more directly confront Obama. As inviting a target as other Democrats may be (see Pelosi), Steele made the case the party won't make progress without starting to inflict political damage on the actual leader of the Democratic -- er, “Democrat-Socialist” -- Party: Barack Obama. “We aren’t going to be silent,” he said. “We are going to speak up, and we are going to show that we have the courage of our convictions.” But for those looking for something substantial, issue-wise, Steele's speech was lacking. It had one too many clichés, and didn't seem to get into exactly what the Republican Party stands for. But remember who Steele’s audience was yesterday: members of the RNC. And the chairman is still trying to win over the trust of these folks. So he needed to throw them some red meat and didn't need to get into the weeds. Steele's goal yesterday was assert himself as leader of the party, and he probably took a step forward with these party insiders. Still, it raises an interesting question for all Republican leaders: Just what does the party stand for? It seemed to be a struggle for Steele yesterday.
Move Along, Folks, Nothing To See Here: Also in his speech yesterday, Steele boldly declared that the Republican Party has turned the corner. “The time for trying to fix or focus on the past has ended…The introspection is now over. The corner has been turned.” But when Steele and other Republicans cite spending and the ways of Washington as the only reasons why they find themselves out of power and at all-time lows in polls, we're not so sure they've learned the lessons from 2006 and 2008 -- which also included Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. attorneys scandal, Harriet Miers, and Terri Schiavo. What do those things have in common? Ideology and favoritism trumped competence and governance; confrontation was more important than compromise. And Republican leaders often stood by and didn’t raise objections. To win elections, you have to win the middle, and right now the middle is breaking Obama’s way, with Arlen Specter joining the Democrats and Jon Huntsman about to work for the administration. One other thing: As Adam Nagourney recently wrote, tone matters in politics. Are RNC members really going to pass a resolution today calling the Democratic Party the “Democrat-Socialist Party”?

The basic GOP problem is that Republican red meat is not in much demand...beyond RNC meetings. Sure, Steele can bolster his tentative standing in the party by going crazy on Obama and the Ds, but until the party is in the hands of savvy political strategists who know how to win elections, the Democrats can worry more about their own actions than those of the opposition.

Help Me, Help You

| Wed May 20, 2009 2:14 AM EDT

Guess what, gang.  It's fundraising time!

Here's the pitch: if you read my blog you're up to speed on most of the greed, corruption and hypocrisy coming out of Wall Street and Washington. You know all about the carried interest loophole.  You've heard of universal default.  You know what a yield spread premium is.

And all for free!  Sort of.  Because I'm actually supported by Mother Jones magazine, which covers all this stuff and more — and producing the magazine is a pretty expensive enterprise.  To do it, we rely on subscriptions, advertising, and donations to the Mother Jones Investigative Fund.  And that's where you come in.

Your contributions help keep our reporters at work (including me!) on these critical stories. We’re independent, nonprofit, and not afraid to take on the big guns of the financial industry. But we can do that only when our readers deliver the financial support we need to stay on the story.  So if you can afford to part with a few dollars, click here to make a donation.  It's a quick credit card donation form, and if you contribute $35 or more you get a subscription to the magazine too.

Thanks!  And the cats thank you too, since they think I get paid in cans of cat food.  (Your donation, however, needs to be in dollars.)

Corn on "Hardball": Is Hillary Playing Obama?

| Tue May 19, 2009 9:10 PM EDT

Is Hillary Clinton playing Barack Obama? Does she have a secret political plan? Are the Clintons up to anything? We discussed this all on Tuesday night on Hardball:

Bitch Slapping the Dems

| Tue May 19, 2009 7:24 PM EDT

I never expected Barack Obama to be anything other than pragmatic and center left.  Still, I confess to feeling a little in the dumps lately over just how much he seems willing to bend and compromise on some key issues.  But then I read things like this:

In an abrupt shift, Senate Democratic leaders said on Tuesday that they would not provide the $80 million that President Obama requested to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

....The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, seemed to ramp up the concerns of Congressional Democrats, insisting during a news conference that lawmakers would never allow the terror suspects to be released into the United States....Pressed to explain if that meant they could not be transferred to American prisons, Mr. Reid said: "We don't want is them to be put in prisons in the United States. We don't want them around the United States."

To repeat: I read things like this.  And I realize all over again just what Obama is up against.  His own party won't support him against even the most transparent and insipid demagoguery coming from the conservative noise machine.  The GOP's brain trust isn't offering even a hint of a substantive case that the U.S. Army can't safely keep a few dozen detainees behind bars in a military prison, but Dems are caving anyway.  Because they're scared.  And then they wonder why voters continue to think that a party that can be bitch slapped so easily might be viewed as weak on national security.

But that's the reality that Obama has to deal with.  Under the circumstances, I guess he's not doing so badly after all.

Credit Card Update

| Tue May 19, 2009 6:43 PM EDT

I see that Chris Dodd's credit card reform bill passed the Senate 90-5 today.  This is even better than I expected, and goes to show the agenda-setting power of being in the majority.  In the past, Republicans could have simply prevented a bill like this from coming to the floor, thus sparing themselves the political difficulty of voting against it.  Now they can't do that.  They have to vote whether they like it or not.  And since credit card reform really is a hot button issue, their sense of self-preservation got the better of them and they gave the bill a massive majority.

Which is fine, but I suspect it also means that Dodd could have played hardball a little more strenuously than he did and negotiated a better bill.  Who knows?  If Dems figure this out, maybe it will be the first legislation in history to actually be improved in conference.

Oh — and all the boo hooing from the credit card industry?  If you believe even a single word of it, you need to run not walk to your local emergency room and have them do an MRI on your brain.  There's a chunk missing.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Clara Jeffery Debates Debra Saunders

| Tue May 19, 2009 5:50 PM EDT

MoJo editor Clara Jeffery and conservative San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders went head to head yesterday on KQED's ForumCould Pelosi have prevented detainee torture? Are small cars safer than big ones? Does the Gallup poll finding that more Americans are pro-life than pro-choice signify a real change?

Listen to these leading journalists do battle over these questions and more, here:

Supreme Court Upholds the Pension Gender Gap

| Tue May 19, 2009 4:43 PM EDT

Even at a time when most old people have taken a hit to their retirement income, far more older women than older men are living on the edge of survival. A case before the Supreme Court would have helped a few women to slightly narrow the substantial gap between women and men’s retirement earnings. But the Court, in a  7-2 vote on Monday, decided to let the disparity stand.

Until 1978, it was legal for employers to discriminate on the  basis of preganancy. So women who took pregnancy leaves were in some cases given less credit toward their pensions than people who took leaves for other medical conditions. In the case before the Supreme Court, a group of women who formerly worked for AT&T were suing to have  maternity leaves taken before passage of the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) calculated fully into retirement benefits. While a lower court ruled in their favor, the majority on the Supreme Court decided that the law was not meant to be applied retroactively.

But since the pensions in question are being calculated now, long after passage of the PDA, dissenting Justices Ginsberg and Breyer argued that the discrimination is, effectively, taking place now as well. Ginsberg wrote in her dissent that “attitudes about pregnancy and childbirth …have sustained pervasive, often law-sanctioned, restrictions on a woman’s place among paid workers and active citizens.” The women workers, she said:

3-D Geezer Premieres at Cannes; Wall Street Is Nonplussed

| Tue May 19, 2009 4:25 PM EDT

I haven't yet seen the new Pixar film Up, which was the opening-night feature at the Cannes Film Festival and opens here this weekend. But since I write about the politics of aging, it seems worth mentioning, because it’s apparently one of a painfully small number of movies that is geezer-centric. According to a piece in Sunday’s New York Times:

Having tackled toys, monsters, fish, cars, superheroes, rats and robots, the creative team at the studio decided this time, for its first film in 3-D, to center a story around a grumpy septuagenarian balloon salesman named Carl Fredricksen.

“We started off with this list of things we’d always wanted to play with, and an older, grumpy guy was definitely on that list,” said the film’s director, Pete Docter. Inspired by the cartoons of George Booth in The New Yorker, Mr. Docter and his co-director and co-screenwriter, Bob Peterson, wanted to create a curmudgeon with audience appeal.

“A curmudgeon with audience appeal”–that sounds pretty good. But wait, there’s more:

Early in the film, the widowed Carl has isolated himself from the world. Facing a court edict that would put him in a nursing home, he resists by strapping balloons to his house and floating to Paradise Falls in South America, a place he has dreamed of since he was a boy yearning to be an explorer. On the way he meets offbeat characters (including a pudgy 8-year-old named Russell and a dopey dog named Dug) who shake him out of his stiff, cantankerous shell.

Okay, they kind of lost me there. Why is it that all cranky old geezers have to go through a heartwarming transformation in which they mend their codgerly ways and become loving grandfatherly types? I don’t know if this is what happens to Carl, but the description makes me suspicious. I don’t see why Carl should have to undergo an attitude-adjustment. It sounds like he has good reason to be pissed off, what with people trying to stick him in a nursing home. Maybe his home got foreclosed on, too, because he lost all his retirement savings in the stock market. And I’ll bet Medicare Part D wouldn’t pay for his happy pills.

In any case, while Up has done well so far with critics and audiences, not everyone, apparently, is pleased with the idea of a geezer-centered animated film. According to the New York Times, ”To the extreme irritation of the Walt Disney Company [which owns Pixar], two important business camps — Wall Street and toy retailers — are notably down on ‘Up.’”

Credit Card Hell

| Tue May 19, 2009 3:27 PM EDT

Ezra is obviously just pimping content from his new corporate overlords here, but today's Washington Post chat about the credit card industry really does make for interesting reading.  One of the things that comes through loud and clear is that people are almost universally paranoid about their credit scores.  And why not?  We live in a modern economy in which credit is essential, but your access to credit is determined by a process that's deliberately opaque, practically impossible to dispute, controlled almost entirely by credit issuers who make money when they lure you into practices that wreck your credit score, and wide open to fraud because the credit industry doesn't really care about it.

My solution?  For starters, credit scoring companies should be required by law to be far more transparent about their practices.  Beyond that, though, we need to give them an incentive to start caring about fraud: if the credit industry wrecks your credit score by allowing fraud, it's the credit industry that should pay the price, not you.  More here.