Blogs

MoJo Video Contest: Goodbye, George W. Bush

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 3:44 PM EST

If you had 30 seconds to say goodbye directly to Bush, what would you say?

We asked MoJo readers in December for their YouTube video responses to this question; today we'll start posting our favorites on motherjones.com.

You can still participate: Just put your 30-second (or so), PG-13 video on YouTube labeled "Mother Jones Goodbye Bush Video" and send us the link at:

mojobushvideo@gmail.com

All styles of video are welcome, from simply talking at the camera to fancier stuff. Bring it on, we say. Just don't forget to include your snail mail address when you email us if you want to win MoJo swag.

Below, the first MoJo Video community tribute to Bush's departure:

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Adam Freeland Remixes Daft Punk For Bonkers Obama Video

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 2:57 PM EST

Americablog may not know who Daft Punk or Adam Freeland are, but you do, gentle Riff readers, since I post something about the former at least every week or two. But that doesn't make this video, called "Aer OBAMA," any less baffling. The musical accompaniment consists of French duo Daft Punk's "Aerodynamic" (from their 2001 album Discovery) remixed by UK breaks legend Adam Freeland to have a Speak-and-Spell-y Obama theme; the video is a jittery stop-motion story of the President-Elect jetting in from space to, I guess, dance around at a Daft Punk concert. Okay. Let's just stop for a second. I'd like to point something out. First, I'm a huge Obama supporter who blogs for the Mother Jones magazine. Also, I'm a DJ, and in my radio career I managed to actually interview both Daft Punk and Mr. Freeland, to say nothing of the multiple times I've seen them DJ and perform. I've got the political and the musical sides of this pretty much down, so I don't think it's a stretch to say that I, personally, am at the very center of the intended audience for this video. However, it makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, and after watching it, I feel vaguely disturbed, not, you know, "hopeful." Plus, isn't sampling a Speak-and-Spell kind of tired? On top of it all, the very idea that France's greatest robot exports would get remixed by a breaks superstar for a stop-motion video featuring a bunch of Kubrick toys all in tribute to an American president is making me feel like the very laws of physics are collapsing around us. Or maybe I've just had too much coffee?

For Election Law Junkies Only

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 2:30 PM EST

You'll be happy to know that the Federal Elections Commission appears genuinely committed to improving itself. The FEC is conducting what CREW is calling an "unprecedented self-examination of its operating procedures," holding public hearings on its own performance and asking election lawyers from around the country to submit suggestions on its policies and procedures. Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer who has been lending a hand to Al Franken's Senate bid, said, "What they're asking us to do is to comment on how the agency itself functions, and that's pretty unusual.... The commission should be congratulated for doing this." If you want to read about the most significant suggestions to come out of the public hearings, click here.

Don't get too excited, though. (I know, you were getting really excited.) It's admirable that the FEC is willing to do the hard work to improve itself. But it still suffers from a fundamentally flawed structure. The commission is composed of three Republican operatives and three Democratic operatives (all openly partisan and willing to go to bat for their parties and allied interests) who are put into office by the politicians they are tasked to regulated. The result is a perpetually weak enforcement body that will never really ensure clean elections in this country. More on the FEC here.

PS — Did I guarantee myself zero readers with that headline?

Judge to Bush Admin: "You Rolled the Dice...and You Lost"

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 2:12 PM EST

george-bush-computer-250x200.jpg
"You rolled the dice that you'd win, and you lost." That's what Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola told lawyers for the Bush administration at a hearing on Wednesday afternoon in the ongoing case over millions of missing White House emails. By this he meant that if the White House had followed the recommendations [PDF] that the judge had laid out last April—suggesting that the administration search workstations and portable media devices for the missing messages—it might not be in its current predicament. Instead, Bush officials apparently gambled that they would be able to get the case thrown out, an effort that was rebuffed in November. That bet came back to haunt the administration on Wednesday morning when, with days left before Bush officials vacate the White House, it was hit with a last-minute order (issued by Judge Henry Kennedy, who's also presiding over aspects of the case) to search workstations and collect portable memory devices containing saved emails from departing staffers.

During the status hearing before Judge Facciola, government lawyers shed some light on the scope of the missing email problem. In the past, the White House has issued contradictory statements on the subject, once even denying that any emails were missing. "We have absolutely no reason to believe that any emails are missing; there's no evidence of that," White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters last January.

Mary Schapiro

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 1:34 PM EST

MARY SCHAPIRO....The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is a private regulatory body formed a couple of years by merging the enforcement arm of the NASD and part of the New York Stock Exchange's regulatory apparatus. The head of Finra is Mary Schapiro, who has been nominated to lead the SEC by Barack Obama. Today, the Wall Street Journal has a long story on its front page raising questions about whether she's tough enough for the job:

Last year, amid historic market convulsions and Wall Street scandals, Finra often filed tiny cases against small players. During the past few years of Ms. Schapiro's career as a regulator, which earns her over $3 million a year, enforcement fines against firms have plunged.

....Finra levied fines against financial firms totaling $40 million in 2008, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. That was the third straight annual decline in fines levied by Finra or one of its predecessor agencies, the NASD.

....Finra also appears to have lagged behind in a Wall Street mess that affected thousands of individual investors in early 2008 — a freeze-up in the market for what are known as auction-rate securities.

....One of the biggest Wall Street disasters of 2008 was the September bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc....Joseph Mays Jr., a consultant to small broker-dealers and a former NASD examiner, says Finra should have scrutinized the mortgage-backed securities at the root of the crisis. "If I had to assign blame, I'd blame Finra and the SEC, but I'd blame Finra first because it's the first line of defense," he said.

....At Citigroup, which has had huge mortgage-related write-downs and still struggles despite massive federal aid, Finra's largest 2008 action was a fine of $300,000 for failing to supervise commissions on stock and options trades.

Finra also failed to catch the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, which is probably the most defensible of its lapses but also, obviously, the most headline grabbing. Felix Salmon has more, and comes down against confirming Schapiro: "The SEC needs someone in charge who's committed to root-and-branch reform of the regulatory system. So far, there's no evidence whatsoever that the toothless and narrowly-focused Schapiro is that person, and I do wonder how committed the Obama transition is to her nomination." Her confirmation hearing bears watching.

Overturning Prop. 8: No Court-Ordered Equality!

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 1:00 PM EST

In response to California Attorney General Jerry Brown's assertion that the state Supreme Court should overturn Proposition 8, both George Will (who is not gay) and Andrew Sullivan (who is) argue that the best move for the gay community is to wait for a legislative or ballot-based solution. Here's Will:

Just eight years ago, Proposition 22 [defining marriage as between a man and a woman] was passed, 61.4 to 38.6 percent. The much narrower victory of Proposition 8 suggests that minds are moving toward toleration of same-sex marriage. If advocates of that have the patience required by democratic persuasion, California's ongoing conversation may end as they hope. If, however, the conversation is truncated, as Brown urges, by judicial fiat, the argument will become as embittered as the argument about abortion has been by judicial highhandedness.

And here's Sullivan:

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Party News

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 12:56 PM EST

PARTY NEWS....Sarah Palin won't be attending an inaugural dinner in honor of John McCain next week. But was she not invited? Or did she decide not to come? Turns out no one knows.

TARP App Update: MoJo Interns Still Waiting for a Bailout

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 12:45 PM EST

Last week Mother Jones conducted an experiment in which we discovered that it takes a whopping 27 minutes to apply for money under the federal bailout program's astonishingly short application.

Many Mother Jones readers were under the impression that MoJo interns actually submitted our app for TARP funding on Friday afternoon. We did not. We just timed how long it took to fill out the application.

But then we got to thinking, well, why not apply for a bailout? While it's hard to argue that Mother Jones, a nonprofit outfit which employs about 50 people, is too big to fail, the magazine industry in general could certainly use some help. And size hasn't deterred other small institutions from taking advantage of recent federal largess. Plus, if a bank fails, that makes it hard for bank employees to give a small percentage of their income to a nonprofit mag like Mother Jones, right? It takes a village.

Though we were a bit late jumping on the bailout bandwagon, apparently we weren't alone: Treasury's extended the TARP deadline to January 15th for any dawdling financial institutions.

The guidelines for TARP funding explain that:

The maximum amount of capital eligible for purchase by the Treasury under the CPP is the lesser of (i) an amount equal to 3 percent of the Total Risk-Weighted Assets of the applicant or (ii) $25 billion.

While we redacted the amount of total Risk-Weighted Assets from the application posted here, let us assure you that the Foundation for National Progress falls into the (i) category.

The completed information, which we've provided below, has been submitted to two of the institutions that distribute funds: the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision. We'll keep you posted.

TARP-pdf.png

—Alexis Fitts and Daniel Luzer

Going Back for More

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 12:12 PM EST

GOING BACK FOR MORE....Last night I read in the New York Times that a mere 20 months after triumphantly nationalizing several massive oil projects in the Orinoco Belt, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is inviting foreign oil companies back in to bid on a few new projects. The plummeting price of oil explains Chávez's U-turn, but on the other side of the table I had about the same reaction as Dan Drezner:

The willingness of the oil companies to re-enter the fray in Caracas is more intriguing. In recent years there has been a lot of loose talk about how holders of capital also hold the levers in a bargaining situation with debtors, because the latter must do what they can to please the former.

In fact, recent research suggests that when debtors violate their contracts, the price to be paid is often much less than anticipated. Chávez certainly seems quite aware of this fact.

What puzzles me is that Chávez's reputation does suggest that the moment oil prices go up again, he'll reverse course yet again and put the screws on his foreign investors. I understand that exploration opportunities are scarce, but the willingness of these firms to go back is item #345 on Things I Do Not Understand About Energy Markets.

Count me among the puzzled too. I suppose the companies who are bidding on the Orinoco projects may be counting on Chávez failing in his attempt to become president for life, and are thus figuring they won't have to deal with him in the long term. And as the Times points out, oil companies are pretty desperate for projects these days since there just aren't many big new fields left to open up.

Still, it seems kind of masochistic, doesn't it?

Another Way to Lessen the Inauguration Day Crush

| Thu Jan. 15, 2009 12:00 PM EST

White people: Stay home. This blogger's logic is flawless:

Chances Whites have had to go see the inauguration of a White president: 43
Chances Blacks have had to go see the inauguration of a Black president: 1

So, white folks: Do the right thing.

[UPDATE: Read this follow-up post for Sister Toldja's response to Jezebel commenters.]