Mojo - November 2008

Are There Any Subprime Saints?

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 5:06 PM EST

What's the difference between a subprime a-hole and a subprime saint? Intent.

One focuses on maximum, nation-crushing profit, the other on providing merely profitable, nation-building services.

Check out Slate for subprime lenders to the working poor and minorities who have late-payment/default rates so low as to be insignificant.

Comparisons such as these alone should provide sufficient bases for thoroughgoing prosecutions once Obama is in power.

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Throw the Bums Out (of Detroit)

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 4:48 PM EST

private_jet.jpg Let's say you're three auto industry executives summoned to Washington to explain why you deserve billions of dollars in taxpayer money. You and your cronies have mismanaged your industry for years, but luckily for you and unluckily for the country too many parts of the economy rely on your continued existence. You watched AIG executives get strafed in the media for throwing lavish corporate retreats (with spa trips!) just after taking bailout funds. You know the public is hyper-sensitive to signs of waste, because middle class Americans are struggling to get by and it's their money you're seeking.

So what do you do? You take separate private jets from Detroit to Washington. You take three flights at an estimated cost of $20,000 each, despite the fact that coach flights are available for under $300 and first class flights are available for under $1,000.

You spend $60,000 when you could have spent $900. And then you go to Congress with your hand out.

Jesus H. Christ. Bailout funds for the industry should be contingent on new leadership taking over and old leadership being put in stocks.

Holder's DC Legacy: Not Much

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 4:32 PM EST

Eric Holder seems poised to sail smoothly into a historic appointment: the first African American attorney general of the United States. He brings to the job everything you might want in the nation's top prosecutor: decades of experience working in the department he will oversee, with a special emphasis on prosecuting corrupt public officials; service as a local DC judge, and a temperament nearly as cool as Obama's. The only possible hitch in his ascension to AG is his role in Bill Clinton's pardon of financier Marc Rich, who was once married to a Clinton donor.

Given Holder's otherwise squeaky-clean reputation and a democratic Congress, that minor hiccup isn't likely to slow him down. What might give some members of Congress pause, however, is Holder's record as US Attorney for the District of Columbia during the Clinton administration. If Democrats are looking for a crusader to clean house at the Justice Department and elsewhere in the federal government, Holder might not be their man.

Hillary - 234; Jesus - 23; Chuck Norris - 2

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 4:25 PM EST

Via Ben Smith, a tally of the write-in votes in Duval County, Florida:

234 HILARY CLINTON
174 RON PAUL
23 NONE OF THE ABOVE
23 JESUS
21 MIKE HUCKABEE
14 MITT ROMNEY
8 COLIN POWELL
6 GOD
4 OBAMA
4 RUDY GIULLIANI
4 STEVEN COLBERT
3 DONALD DUCK
3 DONALD FOY
3 MICKEY MOUSE
3 T. BOONE PICKENS
2 BILL COSBY
2 CHUCK NORRIS
2 CONDOLEEZA RICE
2 LOU DOBBS
2 PAGO POSSUM
2 SARAH PALIN
2 SEANATOR BROWNBACK

Those receiving one vote included Alfred E. Newman, Bill Clinton, Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, Oprah, Joe the Plumber, Willie Nelson, and "Me."

We're All Paying for Alberto Gonzales

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 4:22 PM EST

McClatchy reports the Justice Department will foot the bill for a private attorney to defend former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales against charges—brought by a former DOJ official, of all people—that he politicized hiring and firing within the department during his stint as the Feds' top litigator.

Even though an attorney from the DOJ's civil division could have represented Gonzales, he requested the department pay double for a private attorney:

According to a person with knowledge of the case, the Justice Department has imposed a limit of $200 an hour or $24,000 a month on attorneys' fees. Top Justice Department attorneys generally earn no more than $100 per hour.

So, basically, the taxpayers are bailing out a man who oversaw a department that completely undermined its own credibility and objectivity by actively seeking to tear the blindfold from justice. I want to call it ironic, but epic farce describes it better. —Steve Aquino

Obama's First Drama: Hillary Clinton

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 11:33 AM EST

obama_clinton_faces250x200.jpg I was agnostic on the matter of Hillary Clinton's possible appointment as secretary of state--until last night.

If Barack Obama, the president-elect, wanted to pull a Team of Rivals play, that had seemed fine to me. And placing Clinton in Foggy Bottom would remove her from the dicey business of passing health care reform. Would it unite the party? Well, judging from the election results, the party is pretty darn united already. Despite the griping of a few Hillaryites at the Democratic convention, her voters certainly swung behind Obama in the general election (see Pennsylvania), after HRC and WJC campaigned for BHO in the fall. Unless an explicit deal was made between Obama and Hillary Clinton, it did not seem that Obama, after bypassing her for veep, had to appoint her anything for the party's sake. Still, if Obama and his savvy band of advisers thought that handing her one of the best jobs in the Cabinet would generate political benefits they could use to advance their agenda, I, as a non-fan of Hillary Clinton, was willing to say, okay--for what that was worth.

But then this happened: the presidential transition of no-drama Obama became infected by the never-ending soap opera of the Clintons. And it really is time to turn that program off. There are plenty of policy and political reasons for a progressive not to fancy Hillary. She served on the Wal-Mart board when the mega-firm was fighting unions; she screwed up health care reform for almost a generation; she voted wrong on the Iraq war and then refused to acknowledge she had erred. But, worst of all, as the cliché goes, with the Clintons, it always does seem to be about the Clintons.

So we've had a week of will-she-or-won't-she and what-about-him. Couldn't this have been handled with a little more grace? Maybe not, since it involves the Clintons.

I don't know how the Obama camp approached the issue. But before Obama met last week with Hillary to talk about this, his team should have done a pre-vetting of Bill. And then Obama, at this meeting, ought to have said something like this to her:

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Dick Cheney Is Not Going to Prison

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 11:32 AM EST

Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales have been indicted by a grand jury for illegal detention practices! Time for some celebratory terrorist fist jabs!

Not so fast, champ. Cheney and Gonzales have been indicted in a South Texas county, and it has nothing to do with Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, or black sites. Cheney was indicted because he invests in the Vanguard Group, which holds financial interests in private prison companies that run holding pens for illegal immigrants in South Texas. (This is a booming business in the Lone Star state; we've written about it before.) Gonzales was indicted because he allegedly used his position while in office to stop a 2006 investigation into abuses at one of these privately-run prisons.

Conditions at these places are pretty awful, but that doesn't mean Cheney and Gonzales should somehow end up in jail. The always-delightful Will Bunch gives us all the reasons:

Dick Cheney is not going to jail, not any time soon, at least, and not because of the bizarre report that the vice president of the United States has been indicted in a small, obscure county deep in the heart of South Texas in a scandal over federal prison and detention abuses there. Aside from the obvious fact that a Willacy County, Texas, grand jury lacks authority over federal actions, the indictment of Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other is not even signed by a judge, and the result of a wacky -- controversial wouldn't do the man justice -- renegade lame duck DA. It's almost not even worth noting that Cheney's alleged tie -- investing his millions in Vanguard mutual funds that are major owners of publicly traded federal prison contractors -- is weak beyond belief; by the grand jury's reasoning, one could surmise that others with Vanguard 401K plans (example: journalists at the Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer!) could be charged as well.

The lesson? You shouldn't give a law degree to just anybody. This prosecutor and Alberto Gonzales both prove that.

No Recount in Alaska Senate Race (Probably)

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 10:45 AM EST

You probably know by now that Anchorage mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat, will be the next senator from Alaska. Ted Stevens (R-Felonies), the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, will now spend his time mulling over legal options.

What you may not know is that a recount is not in the offing. According to Alaska law, if the difference in the vote is less than 0.5 percent, the defeated candidate can request a state-funded recount. With just a couple thousand votes left to count, Begich has 150,728 votes and Stevens has 147,004 votes. That's 47.76 percent to 46.58 percent, a 1.18 percent difference.

Alaska law does allow a recount if the margin is larger than 0.5 percent, but the candidate requesting the recount must cover the expense. No word yet if Stevens is considering it. The AP and the Anchorage Daily News are calling the race over, and the state of Alaska will follow suit this week or the next.

Louisiana Court to BBI Spies: Testify or Else

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 5:46 PM EST

A ruling by a Louisiana court could shed further light on the shadowy work of Beckett Brown International (BBI), the now defunct private security and investigations firm that spied on Greenpeace and other targets on behalf of corporate clients.

On Monday, state appeals court judge Kent Savoie ordered two of the firm's former officials, Tim Ward and Jay Bly, to testify or face potential contempt charges in a case related to a massive spill of ethylene dichloride in Lake Charles, Louisiana by chemical manufacturer Condea Vista. Working for Condea in the late 1990s, BBI mounted a wide-ranging operation to gather intelligence on the company's opponents, including local activists and lawyers suing the chemical maker on behalf of clients harmed during the cleanup of the 1994 spill. In addition to tailing activists and obtaining the phone records of Condea opponents, BBI installed a mole inside a Lake Charles environmental group to report inside information about the organization's strategy and campaigns.

The Agents of Change on Obama's Transition Team

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 4:19 PM EST

barack-obama-closeup-250x200.jpg

Last week, the Obama transition team announced its agency review teams, which, according to the office of the president-elect, will examine key departments, agencies, and commissions, as well as the White House, to provide Barack Obama and his key advisers "information needed to make strategic policy, budgetary, and personnel decisions prior to the inauguration." As the media and most political consumers focus on who will get what senior position in the Obama administration, this group of about 130 people will do the nuts-and-bolts work of preparing the agendas for the incoming decision-makers. It's an important band of policy wonks and government experts. Many of the positions were filled, as might be expected, by Washington players who served in the Clinton administration. For instance, Reed Hundt, who chaired the Federal Communications Commission during the Clinton years and who now works for a strategic consulting firm, is leading the team responsible for international trade and economic agencies. And Tom Donilon, a partner at the law firm of O'Melveny & Myers, who was assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Clinton administration, is in charge of the group focusing on Foggy Bottom. (The bio for Donilon released by the transition office neglected to mention his stint as general counsel and executive vice president at Fannie Mae.)

The transition team has its share of lobbyists--despite that Obama once vowed he was "running to tell the lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over." But while most of the transition team members possess the conventional resumés of Washington insiders—albeit Democratic ones--there are several transition team appointments that stand out as harbingers of change. Or at least potential harbingers. These are people whose careers have been anti-Bushian in a deep and profound sense that extends beyond partisan difference. They are academics or policy advocates who have devoted much—if not all—of their adult working lives to advancing the public interest. Their presence on the review teams—even though the transition could use more of such people—enhances the prospect for change beyond the usual. Here's a sampling:

Sarah Sewall is leading the transition's national security team. She is the director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. According to her bio, her "research focuses on U.S. national security strategy, civil-military relations, and the ethics of fighting insurgencies and terrorism." The ethics of fighting terrorism? That's about as non-Bush (or non-Cheney) as it gets. She also started a project to create "a military concept of operations for intervening to halt mass atrocity." Not even Bill Clinton did that.