Yesterday, as Pete Sessions' office was heroically trying to spin his "love" note to alleged Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford as an effort to "prevent further tragedy," the Texas Republican, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, blasted out a fundraising appeal to his mailing list. As my colleague David Corn notes over at Politics Daily, the message, laced with harsh rhetoric, slammed "Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and their allies" for putting the country "on a dangerous path toward bankruptcy and strict government control." He added: "Fortunately 2010 offers us a chance to hold the far left accountable and elect Representatives who will stand up for our American values in Congress." The irony, of course, is that while Sessions was preaching accountability he was simultaneously working to avoid it—concocting a pretty weak excuse for why, on the same day the feds accused Stanford of perpetrating a multi-billion dollar swindle, he emailed the following note of encouragement to the disgraced financier: "I love you and believe in you. If you want my ear/voice -- e-mail." As the Miami Herald has reported, this message is now in the hands of federal investigators who are exploring whether congressional lawmakers, including Sessions, did favors for Stanford in exchange for campaign cash and other perks.

Also ensnared in this probe is Gregory Meeks, the New York Democrat, who, according to the Herald, appealed to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Stanford's behalf. Here's the backstory:

The president of his bank in Venezuela had turned on Stanford after being accused of stealing from the company, filing a lawsuit and publicly questioning whether Stanford was orchestrating a fraud.

Enraged at his former executive, Stanford placed a call in March 2006 to Democratic House member Gregory Meeks with a rare request: Go to President Hugo Chávez and seek a criminal investigation of Gonzalo Tirado.

Meeks, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, agreed to carry the message, according to two former U.S. federal agents working for Stanford who were listening to the call on speakerphone.

The politician would travel to Venezuela a month later for a series of meetings with Chávez and other leaders. A year after that visit, Venezuelan prosecutors indicted Tirado on charges of swindling and tax-evasion.

According to the Daily News, Meeks "sometimes accompanied by his wife...took six trips to sun-drenched locales from Antigua to St. Lucia, courtesy of a Stanford nonprofit called the Inter-American Economic Council." Since 2003, the organization spent more than $20,000 on the Meeks' travel, putting them up in such lux accommodations as the Ritz Carleton in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Meeks has yet to speak to these latest charges. If and when he does, don't be too suprised if he has a creative excuse, à la Pete Sessions, for his close ties and suspicous interactions with the man accused of bilking investors of some $8 billion. 

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Miscellany

Three quick items:

  • Yes, the filibuster sucks, but I agree with both Ezra Klein and Bruce Bartlett that the tradition of Senate holds is even more odious. But if it's not possible even to do away with holds, I'll reiterate my suggestion that the Senate scale way, way back on the number of officials that it has to confirm. Maybe the top two officers in each executive department, appellate judges and above, and a few others of similar rank. The rest should just be straight presidential appointments.
  • Can we all, please, chill out about the failed plane bombing, chill out about Janet Napolitano's "the system worked" gaffe, and chill out about Obama remaining in Hawaii? Just. Chill. Out. We don't have to go completely cuckoo every time something like this happens. Instead, let's find out where the system failed instead of hysterically guessing about it, and then figure out what we ought to do about it.
  • For decades now, the initiative process in California has primarily been a tool of the rich and powerful, not the grassroots. Here's the latest outrage.

That is all. You may now return to Monday Night Football.

MTV's hit reality show Jersey Shore is becoming as well-known for its brawls as its Guido accents and big hair. In addition to the infamous Snooki bar fight, the show has sparked a tussle between the show's producers and Italian-American groups who claim it perpetuates offensive stereotypes (like the use of the word Guido).

While some advertisers have pulled their ads in retaliation, cries of bias have largely been brushed aside...and at face value, it does seem silly. The loud-mouthed, spray-haired, skin-baring Jersey stereotype has endured in everything from Marisa Tomei's Oscar-winning My Cousin Vinny performance to YouTube parodies like the 25-million-hits-and-counting "My New Haircut" (warning: it's R-rated). Why put up a fuss now? Plus, caricatures are the stuff reality TV is made of: Just ask the bimbo sexual opportunists of The Girls Next Door, spoiled rich kids of The Hills, or anyone who's ever been featured on Wife Swap.

But the "Jersey Guido" typecast is more deeply rooted in ethnicity and class than the typical reality TV circus, which makes the viewers' sense of superiority a little harder to stomach. It's telling that Italian-Americans are ticked about the portrayal, not the state of New Jersey. And the group tends to be lower-income and not highly educated. It's hard to imagine other reality TV shows based on that brand of bias—like, say, Harlem Ghetto or Mexican Immigrants of LA—getting a similar free pass from the PC Police.

Let's be real: The reason people love Jersey Shore is because it allows them to watch the brashness, cat fights, cleavage, and muscle tees, and think How ridiculous! Thank god I'm not like/better than that! Without the stereotypes, where would the fun come from?

Data nerd that I am, I can't help but pass along this interesting graphic. It's crazy to imagine that in the couple minutes it's taking me to post this, all these things are happening several times over.

every minute
H/T goes to Online Education for putting the graphic together.

January/February 2010 Issue

The Salt Kings are a scruffy alt-country quartet from Illinois; Oscar Micheaux was a legendary African American film director whose career began in the silent era. An unlikely combination, perhaps, but Stace England and company draw plenty of inspiration from Micheaux, who challenged racism in more than 40 movies. England's long-standing interest in African American history (he previously made an album about a former slave house) enriches his latest effort. In some songs, including "Veiled Aristocrats" (about light-skinned blacks passing for white), he tackles the issues head on; in others, such as "The Betrayal," he does it indirectly. Either way, the high lonesome voices and scalding electric guitars are stirring.

Hey readers and holiday revelers, welcome back! Get up to speed on the headlines with today's must-reads:

For more good reads, follow Mother Jones on Twitter! You can check out what we're tweeting and follow the staff of @MotherJones with one click.

Last February, the office of Rep. Pete Sessions initially claimed the congressman wasn't personally acquainted with alleged Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford, who'd donated generously to the Texas Republican's campaign over the years. Then pictures surfaced of Sessions with Stanford during a junket to Antigua in 2005. But how close were the pair really? Close enough for Sessions to use the L-word in an email he sent Stanford on February 17, 2009, hours after US Marshals raided Stanford Financial's Houston headquarters and the SEC charged the financier with bilking investors of some $8 billion. "I love you and believe in you," Sessions wrote, according to the Miami Herald. "If you want my ear/voice -- e-mail."

The disclosure of this sympathetic missive—which appears to suggest Sessions was willing to use his influential "voice" on Stanford's behalf—suggests that Sessions, along with other members of Congress, could be in for an unpleasant 2010. The Herald reports:

The message from the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee represents one of the many ties between members of Congress and the indicted banker that have caught the attention of federal agents.

The Justice Department is investigating millions of dollars Stanford and his staff contributed to lawmakers over the past decade to determine if the banker received special favors from politicians while building his spectacular offshore bank in Antigua, The Miami Herald has learned.

Agents are examining campaign dollars, as well as lavish Caribbean trips funded by Stanford for politicians and their spouses, feting them with lobster dinners and caviar.

For Sessions, this isn't the first time his ties to unsavory characters has been called into question. In 2006, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a Justice Department complaint against Sessions accusing him of doing favors for the clients of lobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for donations to his political action committee, Pete PAC.

UPDATE: Sessions' office has provided TPMMuckraker with the following statement regarding his email to Stanford:

From the government that knighted him to Barack Obama and John McCain, Allen Stanford had everyone fooled, and as Mr. Stanford's scheme has become clear Congressman Sessions has worked to ensure that the investors Mr. Stanford swindled receive the justice they deserve - including signing a letter to the SEC requesting SIPC coverage for the victims.

While the referenced email cannot be authenticated, Congressman Sessions believes that its contents resemble language he would use to communicate with a person in crisis to encourage right decisions and prevent further tragedy.

With that being said, the Congressman maintains the position that Mr. Stanford should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Bravo. This heroic attempt at spin should really win some kind of award.

Follow Daniel Schulman on Twitter.

Iran's Economy

Conventional wisdom says that the Democratic Party's chances in next year's midterm election will mostly depend not on terrorism, not on healthcare, but on simple economics. If the economy is improving, they'll do OK.  If it's not, they'll get hammered.

Juan Cole suggests this dynamic may be playing out in Iran as well, where this weekend's demonstrations have grown ever bigger and more violent. Ideology may seem to be at the forefront, but the economy is probably playing a big role in the background:

Richard Spencer of the Independent reports from Dubai on the darker side of Sunday's events, as crowds went on rampages, setting fire to banks, government buildings and even a local police station....

The report of attacks on banks makes me think that there is an economic dimension to this uprising. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's profligate spending had provoked very high inflation last year, up to nearly 30%. Although the government maintains that inflation is now running 15%, that is still a hit that average families are taking, on top of the high prices of last year.

....Moreover, as as Robert Worth recently reported, the government has been threatening to remove subsidies from staples. I was in Egypt in January of 1977 when President Anwar El Sadat stopped subsidies under pressure from the IMF, and it threw the country into 3 days of turmoil from Aswan to Alexandria. Iranians have been upset by this talk of no more subsidies and it may have fed economic anxieties already inflamed by the high inflation (in fact, removal of subsidies is essentially a form of price inflation for consumers).

More at the link.

Modern Conservativism

Here's the last two weeks in a nutshell:

Conservative response to a guy setting his underwear on fire on an airplane: It's Obama's fault! We should declare war on Yemen! We should stop allowing Muslims on our airplanes! We need to connect the dots! We're all going to die!

Conservative response to providing healthcare to 30 million Americans: It's socialism! It's going to bankrupt America! It's Chicago thug politics! It's going to kill grandma! It's going to turn our healthcare system into an abattoir!

Conservative response to regulating the financial industry that almost destroyed America's banking system: It's Marxism! It's going to cause hyperinflation! It's Uncle Sam's jackboot on the commerce of the country! It's the end of innovation! Buy gold!

Conservative response to catastrophic climate change: It's a hoax from the liberal media. Pay no attention to it.

Feel free to add your own observations in comments.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. displays some holiday spirit Dec. 21, as he speaks to the Soldiers of 1st Armored Division in Germany, about their role in their upcoming deployment to Iraq and how the Afghanistan troop surge will affect it. (US Army photo.)