2009 - %3, October

Happy Bonus Season!

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 11:36 AM EDT

Good news!  The financial industry plans to pick up the stimulus slack as the government's efforts start to tail off next quarter:

Having shaken off the biggest economic decline since the 1930s, almost three in five traders, analysts and fund managers believe their 2009 bonuses will either increase or won’t change, according to a quarterly poll of Bloomberg customers. Only one in four see a decline. Asians are the most optimistic about pay and Americans and Europeans somewhat less so.

“The large banks are knocking the cover off the ball,” said Daniel Alpert, managing director of New York-based investment bank Westwood Capital LLC. The industry is “making money, though with government help.”

Worldwide, a majority of market professionals in the survey also turn thumbs down on government attempts to limit compensation, with 51 percent saying restrictions will stifle useful innovation. Only about 38 percent think pay limits will control excessive risk-taking.

There are still some naysayers out there, like Mark Borges, a compensation consultant at Compensia Inc., who says the survey results "give some fuel to the people who claim that Wall Street hasn't really gotten it."  But me?  I'm just grateful that bankers are going to be part of the economic recovery of struggling Porsche dealerships and Cape Cod real estate agents.  I'd say they get it just fine.

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VIDEO: Chef Anthony Bourdain goes Anime

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 11:34 AM EDT

Once upon a time, before Bravo was the Top Chef channel and the Food Network was dominated by reality shows, before the world was beset by celebrity chefs, Anthony Bourdain was the unlikely face of a genre, the hard living, heroine skinny, Marlboro smoking, potty-mouthed ambassador of all things food. The year was 2001, and the show, A Cook's Tour, was a revolution in TV form.

I count myself among Bourdian's earliest fans. My copy of his 2000 memoir, Kitchen Confidential, circulated through so many hands by the 11th grade that it literally fell to pieces (my English teacher bought me a new one after a friend of his dealt the original its lethal blow). To my mind, the man who wrote from the dark corners of the "culinary underbelly" and simultaneously brought exotic and dangerous world cuisine to the Food Network could do no wrong. 

Then came the fame, expressed as a long list of guest appearances, a litany of mistakes from Miami Ink to Top Chef, and the dubious title of Celebrity Chef appended to his increasingly cringe-inducing name. Bourdain's Travel Channel series No Reservations has all the old backdrops from Cook's Tour, but none of the magic. Fame has softened the chef, robbed him of his urgency, and introduced an unfortunate paunch into his otherwise chiseled and towering physique. Overexposure, and with it, reality, had set in, and the reality is that Bourdain is a better personality than he is either a writer or a cook. 

So, I was pleasantly surprised to see this trailer for Bourdain's newest venture, an animated web series called Anthony Bourdain's Alternate Universe, which debuts on the Travel Channel website this Monday. It seemed...fresh. Urgent. Weird

Should Blanche Lincoln Worry About the Left?

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 11:16 AM EDT

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), a liberal pressure group, is continuing its efforts to change the conventional wisdom about the health care public option through polling. PCCC's latest poll (co-sponsored by Democracy for America, another liberal group) is of Arkansas, and is obviously targeted towards Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who is up for reelection in 2010 and is wavering on the public option. Here's the key finding:

If Lincoln joined Republicans in filibustering a public option, 49% of Democrats would be less likely to vote for her, 7% more likely (7 to 1). Among Independents, 35% to 10% (3 to 1)

Arkansas' voter registration is still heavily Democratic, so Lincoln definitely needs to do well among Democrats if she hopes to get reelected. But because PCCC is an ideological organization, the mainstream media has been slow to pick up on the implications of their results, even though their contractor, Research 2000, is by all accounts a reliable pollster. So what PCCC really needs is a way to get the media to pay more attention to their results. That could mean some polling of the same states by other polling organizations or simply a Nate Silver analysis of the PCCC/Research 2000 polls' accuracy. Even an attack on their polls' credibility might help if it drew more attention to the numbers themselves. The idea that Democrats only have to worry about their right flank is pretty set-in-stone conventional wisdom in Washington and in the national media. If PCCC's hoping to change that, they're in for a tough fight.

Congressional Ethics

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 10:51 AM EDT

The Washington Post has a blockbuster story today based on a House ethics committee report the Post obtained after the document was accidentally made available on a file-sharing network. Dozens of House members are under investigation for ethics violations, according to the document. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit which filed many of the initial ethics complaints against the members in question, rejoiced at the news that so many investigations were actually going on behind the scenes. But Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, cautioned that most of these inquiries don't result in any consequences for members:

[W]e were pleasantly surprised to learn the ethics committee is investigating so many members of Congress, but starting an investigation isn’t enough. The real question is whether any of the members under investigation will ever be held accountable for their conduct. The committee’s record on such matters is dismal. You have only to look back at the Mark Foley investigation—where all of America knew there was wrongdoing yet the committee found none—to be skeptical of the House ethics process. There’s not much reason to think anything has changed, but one can always hope."

It will be interesting to look back at the Post report a year from now and see how many of the ethics' committee's investigations have actually amounted to anything.

Obama DOJ Plans New Argument on Torture Photos

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 10:16 AM EDT

Over objections from House liberals, President Barack Obama successfully pushed a bill through Congress earlier this month that allows the executive branch to unilaterally exempt photos of detainee abuse from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. The law rendered moot an appeals court decision that would have forced the administration to release the photos. It was also an attempt to preempt a Supreme Court fight over the lower court's ruling.

But the legal wrangling isn't over. The Supreme Court must still decide whether to take up the matter. So both sides—the Obama Justice Department and the ACLU—have to hash out what the new law means for their respective arguments about the photos. It remains to be seen whether the government will still press forward with its appeal given the changed situation. On Thursday, Solicitor General Elena Kagan told the Supreme Court in a letter [PDF] that she plans to file a new brief that takes into account the new legislation, which President Obama signed that day. 

The immediate impact of Kagan's letter is that the Supreme Court will probably postpone its decision, originally scheduled for today, on whether to take up the case. If it does eventually take up the case, it could conceivably rule that the government was right to withhold the photos under its original argument, rejected by the appeals court, that it could withhold any information that might put anyone, anywhere in danger. That decision would blow an even bigger hole in FOIA than the detainee photo legislation already has.

A Particularly Silly David Broder Column

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 9:40 AM EDT

David Broder says that it's unfair to deny health care to some Americans via the "opt-out" public option:

To take but one example: If health-care reform with an opt-out provision were to become law this year or next, one of the first states you might expect to exempt itself would be Texas. Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the Legislature, and the state had no trouble rejecting candidate Barack Obama.

But Texas is also a state with glaring differences among its residents. There are millions of the poor, of Hispanics and African Americans who give their votes to Democrats. Are the Democrats running Washington prepared to say to them (and residents of who knows how many other states): Sorry about this, but you don't get what the rest of us get?

Broder is saying is that if the Democrats go for an opt-out public option because they can't pass a public option without opt-out, and then the Republican governor and legislature of a state (say Texas) choose to opt out, then it'll be the Democrats' fault when people in Texas don't get health care. Don't you see? Liberals forced Republicans and conservative Democrats to oppose a robust public option, and they will be forcing Republicans in Texas to opt-out of health care reform. Republicans in Texas will, of course, not be at fault for denying health care to their constituents.

Sometimes counterintuitive arguments are counterintuitive because they are really dumb.

 

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Bonner's Five Point Plan for Quality Control

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 9:21 AM EDT

Jack Bonner, head of Bonner and Associates, insisted in congressional testimony on Thursday that the forged letters his company sent to lawmakers were the work of a single "rogue" employee, not the result of any deeper problems at his firm. The incident, Bonner's lawyer wrote in a letter to the committee, "was an anomaly in the lengthy and honorable operation of this business."

Regardless, Bonner has now developed a "five point action plan" which it believes will prevent dishonest conduct and help the company "earn the reputation as the industry leader for the highest quality standards." Unfortunately, the big plan reads more like a list of very basic procedures that should have been in place all along, such as checking the resumes of employees, introducing an ethics policy, and making sure employees don't lie. The full plan is below the jump:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 30, 2009

Fri Oct. 30, 2009 6:52 AM EDT

US Army Soldiers conduct a dismounted patrol in a village near Forward Operating Base Blessing, Afghanistan, Oct. 19, 2009. The Soldiers are assigned to the 4th Infantry Division's Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. (US Army photo by Sgt. Jennifer Cohen.)

Quoth the Newspaper Maven, "Nevermore"

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 6:30 AM EDT

Spotted outside a mystery house in Alameda, California, where local news reporters dwell, pondering their dim fates, as apparitions of former colleagues float despairingly in a fog of alcohol and memories, searching for their shrunken and canceled beats; cursing Craigslist, the blogosphere, consolidation, leveraged CEOs, shareholder expectations—all those things that would not kindly stop for the good people who put good stories on paper, nor yield to the needs of a civil democracy, but rather stumble forward: Relentless. Undead. Bloodsuckers and zombies. Happy Halloween!

(You can't tell from the photo, but the hand extending up from the grave is clutching a copy of Dean Singleton's Oakland Tribune.)

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Need To Read: October 30, 2009

Fri Oct. 30, 2009 6:29 AM EDT

Today's must-reads:

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