Mojo - September 2007

CREW Releases Dossiers on 22 Most Corrupt Members of Congress

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 2:27 PM EDT

Our buddies at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) are doing what they do best: exposing and explaining the misdeeds, corruption, and ethical lapses of those in power. Their latest effort is their third annual "Most Corrupt Members of Congress" report. If you want in-depth info on 22 evildoers and two dishonorable mentions, click the link.

Eighteen of the twenty-two (and both dishonorable mentions) are Republicans, one of whom is actually running for president. The Senate Minority Leader (currently busy slapping democracy in the face) made the list, as did all three members of Alaska's delegation. Perhaps Alaska should consider electing a Democrat once in a while.

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HillaryCare, Version 2.0, Gets Positive Reviews

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 1:02 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton's plan for universal health care was just released (you can find an in-depth summary here), and it looks like it gets an A+ from health care expert Jonathan Cohn. The Sick author also likes Obama's and Edwards's plans. Have a look at Cohn's thoughts at TNR.

Ezra Klein is also a fan.

Another Big Democratic Funder Headed to the Big House

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 12:19 PM EDT

Looks like the Democratic presidential candidate, whomever it is, will be running without the deep pockets of famed plaintiff lawyer Bill Lerach. Lerach is a California securities class action lawyer whose name has struck fear in the hearts of corporate executives for years thanks to his success winning some enormous cases, including a $7 billion settlement from companies that helped Enron hide its wrongdoing.

His crusades against corporate wrongdoing have made Lerach something of a folk hero in certain quarters, and he's won friends in high places for plowing his winnings into Democratic politics. Just in 2004, Lerach's law firm donated more than $1.5 million to 527 groups like the AFL-CIO's Coalition to Defend the American Dream that worked to defeat President Bush. Before the ban on soft money, Lerach and his partner, Melvyn Weiss, donated millions of dollars to Democratic Party entities.

That reliable spigot of campaign funding is likely to dry up now that Lerach has agreed to plead guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge stemming from a seven-year federal investigation. Prosecutors charge that Lerach and his firm paid more than $11 million to people to be plaintiffs in their shareholder lawsuits. Lerach could spend up to two years in prison as a result of his plea. Even if he gets to hang on to most of his money, it's unlikely that many candidates are going to want to take it...

Ernie Chambers, Nebraska's Leading Hellraiser, Sues God

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 12:17 PM EDT

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In early 2006, Mother Jones profiled Nebraska state lawmaker Ernie Chambers, the sole black member of Nebraska's unicameral legislature and one heck of a cool dude. Sara Catania wrote at the time:

He wears sweatshirts and jeans amid a forest of suits and ties; his gray beard contrasts with the clean chins of most of his brethren. He's been described as "left of San Francisco" in a state that for decades has been tightly tucked under the blanket of conservative Republicanism....
Because of Chambers, the Legislature routinely backs bills its members wouldn't otherwise have dreamed of supporting. He cajoled his colleagues into abolishing corporal punishment in schools, correcting the state pension system so that women would be treated equally with men, and backing a switch from at-large municipal elections to district-based voting so that nonwhites would have a chance to serve. Under his sway, Nebraska led the nation in the 1980s in divesting in companies that did business with apartheid-era South Africa.

I can't do Ernie Chambers justice in block quote form — read Sara's article in full for a better picture of the man.

Here's why I bring him up: he's suing God. For real.

Chambers lawsuit, which was filed on Friday in Douglas County Court, seeks a permanent injunction ordering God to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats.
The lawsuit admits God goes by all sorts of alias, names, titles and designations and it also recognizes the fact that the defendant is omnipresent.
In the lawsuit, Chambers said he's tried to contact God numerous times...
[The lawsuit] says God has caused "fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects and the like."
The suit also says God has caused "calamitous catastrophes resulting in the wide-spread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth's inhabitants including innocent babes, infants, children, the aged and infirm without mercy or distinction."
Chambers also says God "has manifested neither compassion nor remorse, proclaiming that defendant will laugh" when calamity comes.

Chambers is reportedly making a point about frivolous lawsuits, but I think he's making a point about being awesome.

Update: Looks like Ernie Chambers reeeally chose the wrong situation to make his point, whatever it is. Read below to see the comments of Lundy, TheSoyMilkConspiracy, and elm.

Gonzales Could be Investigated in Texas, Disbarred

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 11:11 AM EDT

From Michael Roston at Huffington Post:

The woman who literally wrote the book on legal ethics in Texas says it's likely that the Texas State Bar is probing the professional conduct of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
"Given the publicity regarding the allegations concerning Mr. Gonzales, I would be surprised if the [Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the Texas State Bar] is not currently investigating a complaint," said Lillian Hardwick, co-author of the Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics.

The Disciplinary Counsel wouldn't confirm if an investigation is under way. Frankly I find it unlikely that a local office in Texas would take it upon itself to finally resolve the questions of Gonzales' culpability in scandals that such august bodies as the Senate Judiciary Committee are investigating, and have been investigating for many months. Seems a little above their pay grade, so to speak.

AOL Sucks

| Tue Sep. 18, 2007 10:49 AM EDT

When AOL built its new corporate headquarters outside Washington D.C. a decade ago, the company set off an explosion of poorly planned exurban sprawl. By plopping its campus in the middle of nowhere and miles from any public transportation, AOL helped overwhelm local highways with commuter traffic that's now among the worst in the nation and spurred the overdevelopment of the formerly bucolic horse country of Loudoun County, Virginia.

County officials offered AOL lots of tax breaks to come and create this smog-choked mess, but now, the company's top executives have decided that they'd rather be somewhere more interesting. The tech company announced yesterday that AOL's senior management would be fleeing its dreary Dulles office park for the better bagels, pizza and public transportation of New York City. Of course, the execs say that it's because they need to be closer to the advertising business. But I think the rich guys at the top simply hate the very life-sucking suburbs they helped create as much as the rest of us do. Before AOL's entire upper tax bracket decamps to Madison Avenue, Loudoun County should ask for its money back.

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Bush to Poor Kids: We Want You to Have Health Insurance. We Just Don't Want You to Know About It.

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 4:23 PM EDT

Over the past six years, President Bush has proven pretty definitively that he was just kidding when he once claimed to be a "compassionate conservative." But his opposition to providing health insurance for impoverished and working class kids might rank as an all time low, even for him.

The administration has actively opposed reauthorization of the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a highly successful Clinton-era initiative that extended health insurance to families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance. The plan enrolls some 7 million children. In attempting to put a lid on the program, the administration already has banned states from using federal money to cover kids who are above 250 percent of the poverty line, which many had begun to do.

Bush officials have argued that the states hadn't yet enrolled enough eligible poor kids in Medicaid to justify extending government aid to better off families. But now, the administration is trying to prevent states from doing just that--signing up more eligible kids.

On Aug. 31, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a new regulation that would ban states from using federal funds to enroll poor kids for Medicaid or SCHIP if the work takes place in a public school. Not surprisingly, some states have found that the single best way to sign up lots of kids for Medicaid is to do outreach through their schools. If the new rule is approved, those programs will all but disappear, leaving thousands of kids without access to the health care they're already entitled to. Read more about the new reg here.

Another Dem Heavy Enters the 2008 Senate Race

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 2:28 PM EDT

Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic former governor of New Hampshire, announced Friday that she will challenge the vulnerable Republican incumbent, John Sununu, in next year's Senate race. Shaheen stands a good chance of winning in increasingly blue New Hampshire. A University of New Hampshire poll conducted in July had her leading Sununu by a comfortable 16-point margin well before she decided to enter the race. Another Democratic former governor, Mark Warner, said Thursday that he will run for Senator John Warner's seat in Virginia. (John Warner, who is unrelated to Mark Warner, is retiring after five terms in office.) Combined, the entries of Shaheen and Warner are a major blow to the GOP's hopes of regaining control of the upper house.

The Republicans will have to defend 22 Senate seats in 2008, but the Democrats only have to defend 12 to maintain their current razor-thin majority. Now, with Warner the presumed favorite in Virginia and Shaheen's strong challenge in a blue-leaning state, the Democrats look set to not just hold their majority but actually increase their lead.

—Nick Baumann

ATM Fees Soon to Surpass Minimum Wage

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

Last week, the banking behemoth Bank of America quietly raised the fees it charges non-customers to use its ATMs to $3 per transaction, a record high. The rest of the big banks are likely to follow suit, according to USA Today. The Bank of America fee is likely to come on top of fees charged by the non-customers' own bank ATM fees, too, meaning that getting fast cash will cost many Americans nearly as much as an hour of work at a minimum wage job.

Bank of America defended the increase with the dubious claim that it will improve ATM access for its own customers. But I suspect that it's not a coincidence that the fee increase comes at the same time the mortgage industry is melting down. Banks can make a lot of money by nickel and diming the public. I wonder how high the fees will have to go before people will simply stop using ATMs and go back to standing in line at the branch?

(H/T Consumer Law and Policy blog)

Minneapolis's New Tourist Attraction

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 12:58 PM EDT

From a small item in the Washington Post today: Hundreds of people passing through the Minneapolis airport are making time for a pit stop at the now-famous "Larry Craig Bathroom."

"People have been going inside, taking pictures of the stall, taking pictures outside the bathroom door -- man, it's been crazy," said Gee Butler, who shines shoes at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.