Mojo - December 2008

Redefining Hard Power

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 12:55 PM PST

Errr, just click the link.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Wish List from the Good Gov't Community: A Decent FEC

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 11:34 AM PST

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?

| Fri Dec. 26, 2008 10:45 AM PST

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.

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

| Thu Dec. 25, 2008 11:09 PM PST

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.

Meet the Woman Whose Bra Brought Down a Governor

| Thu Dec. 25, 2008 10:23 AM PST

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.

God Rest Ye Worried Gentlemen: The Recession Hits Old Folks Hard

| Thu Dec. 25, 2008 9:52 AM PST

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.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Scrooged by the Democrats: Will the Rich Ever Pay Their Fair Share?

| Wed Dec. 24, 2008 3:46 PM PST

All of us who have been taught the Biblical story of Christmas (since my grandfather was a Methodist minister, that certainly includes me) will remember that Jesus is supposed to have been born in a stable because there was "no room at the inn." Less often repeated is the reason why his parents had hit the road in the first place, despite the fact that Mary was nine months gone at the time. According to the Book of Luke, "it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed." The Romans ordered all people to go to their home towns to register for a census, which was needed in order to institute the new tax system. That's why the holy family was schlepping the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem when Mary went into labor.

The Bible never tells us how much Joseph—an impoverished carpenter with two dependents, one of them a kid who wasn't even his—ended up having to pay in taxes. But it's safe to assume that the local Romans, and the wealthy Sadducees who supported them, got off easy in comparison to working stiffs like Joseph. Maybe they even got off as easy as rich Americans have, under the tax cuts passed by the Bush Administration in 2001 and 2003.

During the Democratic primary campaign, Barack Obama, along with all of his Democratic contenders, promised a swift repeal of these tax cuts. A rollback of tax cuts benefitting only corporations and the wealthiest individuals was supposed to provide the financing for Obama's policy proposals, from education and health care to infrastructure and green energy. But by September, the Democratic nominee was already backpedaling on his pledge, and within three weeks of his election, Obama's economic advisors confirmed that, after all, the new president might just let the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule in 2011, rather than eliminating them two years earlier. The decision is based on the premise that it is unwise—in economic as well as political terms—to raise taxes during a recession, since lower taxes stimulate the economy.

What Gays Can Teach Blacks About Civil Rights

| Wed Dec. 24, 2008 10:11 AM PST

I've been mulling over this column by Andrew Sullivan on Rick Warren. He gets it right; his logic is elegant and even moving.

"And this Rick Warren flap at its core, I think, is about the difference between those who see a civil rights movement as a means to wield power and those who see it as a means to spread freedom."

"My long conflict with some parts of the gay left is precisely about this distinction, and [his book] Virtually Normal was an attempt to construct a theory for gay civil rights which rests on as much freedom and as little power as possible. I want to live in a free society alongside people who genuinely believe I am a sinner destined for hell - and I want to get along with them. I am concerned (but not obsessed) with changing their minds, but totally repelled by the idea of coercing or pressuring them to do so. I am simply interested in having the government treat me as it would treat them. Once we establish that, we can all believe and say and argue for precisely what we want."

Amen, brother. The civil rights movement wasn't about forcing America to love black people. It was about forcing America to treat us like other citizens and otherwise leave us the hell alone. So what if the guy next door hates blacks or faggots? Hate on, moron. Unless he takes some sort of action that infringes on my rights—like burning a cross or gay-bashing me. Then my government better damn well ride to the rescue.

Too many blacks, I think, have forgotten this essential truth about our quest for justice. It's not about power. It's about freedom. And it shames me the extent to which blacks are using their all too new power to help oppress others. Any time a black person invokes the phrase 'civil rights', they should be required to define the term. I got a dollar that says most will wax eloquent on black rights and the wrongs done them. All too few would speak in universal terms. Don't let them (us) get away with it. They'll thank you later.

This is Almost Too Easy

| Tue Dec. 23, 2008 3:00 PM PST

Yesterday I wrote about writer Nomi Prins' amazing challenge gift to help raise money to plug the budget hole left by some major funders who pulled out from supporting our Washington bureau. Now it's even easier to pitch in: we have PayPal! You can give any amount (of course). I just tried it--and trust me, if I could handle it, so can you.

Senators Target Fat Cat Abuse of Financial Bailout Money

| Tue Dec. 23, 2008 12:15 PM PST

As we've seen from numerous contracting scandals in Iraq, the federal government can be great a handing out money (sometimes literally shrink-wrapped piles of it), but less skilled in tracking where it goes. So it's without much surprise that we now see it throwing hundreds of billions of relatively unaccounted for dollars at financial companies as part of the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP). But if senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) get their way, the free-for-all may soon be reined in. According to a statement released today, they plan to reintroduce their Accountability for Economic Assistance Act (.pdf) to the Senate when it reconvenes in January. "At present, we don't know whether these companies are using these funds to fly on private jets, attend lavish conferences or lobby Congress," says Feinstein. "This bill puts clear restrictions on how funds can be used and mandates public reporting requirements to allow taxpayers to find out how their money is being spent."

The bill's provisions, according to the press release:


  • Prohibit firms receiving economic assistance from Treasury or emergency loans from the Federal Reserve from using such funds for lobbying expenditures or political contributions;
  • Require that firms receiving assistance provide detailed, publically available quarterly reports to Treasury outlining how federal funds have been used;
  • Establish corporate governance standards to ensure that firms receiving federal assistance do not waste money on unnecessary expenditures; and,
  • Create penalties of at least $100,000 per violation for firms that fail to meet the corporate governance standards established in the bill.