Christmas may have come and gone, but Obama still has the opportunity to give a gift to those who care about good government reform. Here's the New York Times:

For all the talk of change in Barack Obama's Washington, it is cynical business as usual for the ever-feckless Federal Election Commission. As a senator, Mr. Obama's signal reform achievement was a new law designed to crack down on lobbyist "bundlers" who package money from fat-cat donors seeking political favors. The F.E.C. — the bipartisan watchdog that loves to play dead — has now issued regulations for the law that poke it full of loopholes....
We have had little enthusiasm for the F.E.C. But the future only looks grimmer now that Donald McGahn has taken over as chairman. He is a party wheelhorse who was formerly the ethics lawyer for Tom DeLay, the ethically impaired ex-majority leader who quit under a cloud of money-raising scandals.
As president, Mr. Obama will have the power to confront the F.E.C.'s machinations. Three of the six commissioners are due to be replaced. Instead of rubber-stamping nominees suggested by Congressional leaders, he should broaden the process — with a blue-ribbon search panel, perhaps. It would be a real change to have an election watchdog with integrity and bite.

I say forget a blue-ribbon panel. That's a namby-pamby Washington-esque half-step. Create a wiki where the public can say who it wants on the FEC. The public will never, ever point to milquetoast party operators who will let politicians off the hook. (For more on how the FEC is in the pocket of the two major parties, read the article I wrote in April, back when the FEC lacked a quorum.) Also, a public wiki will guarantee that folks from the Sunlight Foundation, Democracy 21, Common Cause, and the Center for Responsive Politics — the folks who promote no interest other than getting the government to better serve the public interest — will have a voice. Currently, there is an implicit agreement whereby congressional lawmakers, the folks that the FEC regulates, tell the president who to appoint. I say the folks who regularly work for better regulation, instead of worse, should get that privilege.

Richardson in Trouble? Or Just Causing Trouble?

The Obama campaign has cleared itself of all wrong-doing in Rod Blagojevich's attempted sale of the vacant Illinois Senate seat, but they might have their own pay-to-play scandal on their hands.

...two former state officials say they've recently been questioned by a federal grand jury specifically about allegations that [Secretary of Commerce designate Bill] Richardson or aides pushed state business worth nearly $1.5 million in fees toward CDR Financial Products in 2004. The company is headquartered in Beverly Hills.
This was about the same time as CDR's founder, Rubin, donated $100,000 to two of Richardson's political action committees; mainly it appears to cover expenses of the governor and his staff at the Democratic Party's National Convention in Boston that summer.
Rubin also donated another $29,000 to Richardson's unsuccessful presidential campaign this year and last.

Right now, Rahm Emanuel is screaming, "[Bleeping] Richardson!" Or he's screaming, "[Bleeping] vetters!" Because in a transition focused on avoiding drama, headed by a president-elect who has made ethics reform a major part of his political persona, the fact that a high-level appointee may be guilty of straight-up corruption means someone screwed up big time. Either the massive questionnaire that Obama Administration job seekers had to fill out was ignored for top people, or Richardson lied to the Obama staffers who were in charge of scrutinizing his background.

Either way, Rahm probably isn't the only one who is pissed. Obama himself can't be happy. He's going to be dogged by this for as long as the investigation goes forward (it probably isn't problematic enough that he can just cut Richardson loose tomorrow), and while he would probably be willing to endure that for one of his superstars (Clinton, Summers, Holder), he must be frustrated that he is forced to endure it for a small potatoes pick like Richardson.

Quote of the Day - 12.26.08

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Michael O'Hare, after reading some disturbing news:

Great challenges, widespread deprivation, and collective enterprise need more chocolate, not less.

Quite so, and Barack Obama better not forget it. All together, I think I received about four pounds of chocolate this Christmas, so I'm set for the next couple of days. After that, store shelves better remain fully stocked if everyone expects this blog to continue.

Climate Change Update

CLIMATE CHANGE UPDATE....My morning paper delivers some good news and some bad news on climate change. The bad news:

In one of the report's most worrisome findings, the agency estimates that in light of recent ice sheet melting, global sea levels could rise as much as 4 feet by 2100. The intergovernment panel had projected a rise of no more than 1.5 feet by that time, but satellite data over the last two years show the world's major ice sheets are melting much more rapidly than previously thought. The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing an average of 48 cubic miles of ice a year, equivalent to twice the amount of ice in the Alps.

I wouldn't be surprised to see this number grow further as more studies are done. But there's also good news:

The report is reassuring [] on the prospects for some potentially drastic effects, such as a huge release of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, that is now locked deep in the seabed and underneath the Arctic permafrost. That is unlikely to occur in the near future, the scientists said.

"It's unlikely that we're going to see an abrupt change in methane over the next hundred years, but we should worry about it over a longer time frame," said Ed Brook, the lead author of the methane chapter and a geosciences professor at Oregon State University....By the end the century, Brook said, the amount of methane escaping from natural sources such as the Arctic tundra and waterlogged soils in warmer regions "could possibly double," but that would still be less than the current level of human-generated methane emissions.

The release of methane from melting permafrost is one of the worst of the feedback-loop scenarios that could cause climate change to spiral out of control during the middle part of the century. If we really have a hundred years or more before it gets out of hand, that's good news.

Milk

MILK....Matt Yglesias explains why he didn't like Milk as much as he expected to:

My first instinct was to say that the problem with the film is that the pacing is odd, but I think the problem may actually be that on some level Harvey Milk's story isn't that interesting.

This is an underappreciated phenomenon. When it comes to fiction, everyone understands that an uninteresting story is a death knell. But when it comes to stories based on real people, filmmakers too often seem to think that just because a person has done something of note, it means that this person's life story is inherently interesting. But it's not. Harvey Milk did worthwhile things and his life ended in a dramatic way, but his life story is actually fairly ordinary. The same can be said for the subjects of a disturbingly large number of biopics.

Which isn't to say that Milk is bad. I didn't think it lived up to its hype, but it was still pretty good. And Sean Penn did a phenomenal job in the title role. The film might be worth seeing just for that.

How Would You Say "Goodbye, George W. Bush"? Tell Him

Office sort of quiet? Itching to spice up dinner conversation at the in-laws'? Dying to test drive the camera Santa brought? How about making an entry for our "Goodbye, George W. Bush" video contest? 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 entries are welcome, from simply talking at the camera to fancier stuff. Winners will be featured on the MoJo site and get prizes, not to mention more YouTube views than Straight No Chaser.
P.S. Spread the word! Contests are only as good as the number of entries they get, and we can't afford to advertise--so tweet, blog, and link away.

A Very Grinchy Christmas

A VERY GRINCHY CHRISTMAS....There's just no way to sugar coat this. Retail sales fell off a cliff this year:

When gasoline sales are excluded, [retail sales fell] 4% in December.... The holiday retail-sales decline was much worse than the already-dire picture painted by industry forecasts, which had predicted sales ranging from a 1% drop to a more optimistic increase of 2.2%.

....A final burst of spending retailers hoped for last weekend never came. Shopper traffic fell 27% compared with the same time last year, while sales declined 5.3%, according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which tracks sales in retail outlets nationwide.

Christmas this year was pretty grim in China too. And they're expecting worse next year.

Meet the Woman Whose Bra Brought Down a Governor

From The New Yorker:

Pamela Davis, blond suburban mother of three, was told that her bra would be the best place to wear the wire that kick-started a long investigation into Chicago graft and that ultimately caught the governor of Illinois trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat. Davis is the president and CEO of Edward Hospital, in Naperville, Illinois. She is proud of the fact that on her twenty-year watch the hospital has grown from a hundred-and-sixty-two-bed community facility to a four-hundred-and-twenty-seven-bed regional medical center that leads the county in babies delivered.

Back in 2003, Davis was trying to get approval for a new medical office building from the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board. A night or two before a hearing was to be held, Davis recalled, something strange happened. A business acquaintance of hers, Nicholas Hurtgen, then a managing director of the Chicago office of Bear Stearns, called her at home and told her that unless she agreed to use a certain contractor she should pull her building request, because it wasn't going to be approved.

Greed, I understand—if not to this extent. But I will never understand why these morons continue to use the phone (see: Eliot Spitzer) for their shenanigans.

But, anyway, here's to pissed off chicks everywhere! Read the piece. Davis is open about her disrespect both for Chicago corruptions and bumbling FBI drones who refused to take her seriously. Good thing she didn't give up.

Merry Christmas!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!....Santa brought Inkblot and Domino an exciting collection of boxes, ribbons, and wrapping tissue! They're very excited. What did Santa bring you?

This holiday season brings no glad tidings to America's old folks. A recent report from the Urban Institute outlines the recession's impact on older workers, and its implications for retirees, as well. The report is so concise and comprehensive—and so grim—that it is worth including here almost in it entirety. The gist of it is that old people are far worse off than they were in the last deep and protracted recession, in the early 1980s, because we have lost more jobs, more government benefits, and more of our life savings.

For older workers, this recession is unprecedented. Last month, 298,000 Americans ages 65 and older were unemployed, 50 percent more than when the recession began a year ago.

During previous downturns, relatively few older Americans were counted as unemployed. Although many lost their jobs, they generally retired instead of looking for work. During the severe 1981-82 recession, seniors' unemployment rate grew by just 0.8 percentage points – only about one-fourth the increase for prime-age workers (25 to 54).

Today, however, seniors are nearly as likely as their juniors to join unemployment lines, because pink-slipped seniors can no longer afford to put their feet up. Shrinking Social Security benefits, traditional pension plans, and 401(k) balances combine with soaring health care costs to force them to keep pounding the pavement.