Mojo - December 2008

The Rich and Corporations Carry the Tax Burden? Yeah, Right

| Wed Dec. 17, 2008 11:01 AM EST

Kevin helped drive a stake through the heart of a favorite conservative trope yesterday when he put up a chart illustrating the effective tax rate on the rich and superrich. (Hint: It's only slightly higher than the middle and upper middle classes.) This article should finish it off. Guess what the effective tax rate on Goldman Sachs, which made $2.8 billion in 2008, will be this year? One percent.

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The Best of Public Policy in 2008

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 5:12 PM EST

The top ten ethics scandals of 2008, which we've got on prominent display today, is classic Mother Jones content. But we write about things that are positive, too! Or at least we link to them. Sometimes. Like right now!

The Drum Major Institute has a list out of the best public policy from 2008. It includes Los Angeles' attempt to clean up its ports, an executive order from pre-Hookergate Eliot Spitzer, the Second Chance Act for released prisoners, and an attempt to expand health care citywide in San Francisco. Check it out here.

Franken-Coleman Recount Watchable by Web Video Now

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 3:00 PM EST

The Minnesota canvassing board is taking a look at challenged ballots one by one right now. You can follow along via live video at theuptake.org. It's interesting stuff, and a Senate race likely hangs in the balance.

Erik Prince Fires Back

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 2:26 PM EST

Following the indictment of five former Blackwater contractors last week, Erik Prince, the company's founder and CEO, took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal today to defend his company. What he says is less important that the fact that he's saying it at all.

In the past, the firm has responded to damaging news with silence. This is due in part to the firm's contractual obligation to avoid discussing its work for the State Department with the press, but also to the tight-lipped sensibility of the company itself. When it comes to the latter, I have it from two sources that Mother Jones has a little something to do with Blackwater's bunker mentality.

Poll: American Public Opinion Deeply at Odds With Rest of the World

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 2:24 PM EST

A new poll of more than 21,000 people in 21 countries shows that American impressions of the United States government's behavior in the Middle East differ drastically from the impressions of the rest of the world. A majority of Americans (56 percent) believe that the US "shows respect" to the Muslim world, but just 16 percent of worldwide respondents feel this way. Exactly two-thirds of the world feels the United States acts disrespectfully toward the Islamic world. Roughly half who feel this way believe American disrespect is born out of "ignorance and insensitivity" and half say the disrespect is shown on purpose. Importantly, majorities in Iran, Egypt, and Pakistan believe the United States intentionally tries to humiliate Muslims, with near majorities of Palestinians, Turks, and Jordanians agreeing. (Looks like Karen Hughes didn't accomplish all that much.)

American and worldwide opinion is similarly at odds on the question of America's global military footprint. Seventy percent of Americans believe it is a good idea for US naval forces to be stationed in the Persian Gulf, but just 22 percent of the worldwide public agrees. Huge majorities in Gulf states disagree. Full numbers can be found at worldpublicopinion.org.

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The Top Ten Ethics Scandals of 2008

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 1:43 PM EST

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has released its year-end list of the "top" 10 ethics scandals of 2008. Why isn't the recent criminal complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on the list? Well, for one, it's not a Washington-centered problem. But Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, adds that while the Blagojevich case may be the flavor of the week right now, she thinks the scandals on her administration's list will have more of an impact in the long run. Here they are:

1. "Unchecked Congressional Ethics": CREW wants Congress to have a high-powered ethics office with subpoena power. MoJo Blog covered the vote on this earlier this year; we looked at this issue last year, too.

2. "No Guarantee that Bush Administration Records will be Properly Archived": We've been keeping you up to date on the ongoing missing White House emails problem.

3. "Speech or Debate Clause": Lots of politicians who are charged with crimes seek to have their indictments dismissed under the "Speech and Debate" clause of the Constitution, which they claim protects anything in their congressional office from being used against them in court on the grounds that its "legislative material." Sloan says that this may be the biggest of the ten scandals her organization highlighted. If Blagocevich had been a member of congress, Sloan says, he would have been protected from much of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation. Law enforcement would not have been able to tap his office phone or include anything he did in the course of his legislative work as part of an indictment, Sloan says. And both Democrats and Republicans are protecting this hard-line interpretation of the speech and debate clause. "This is a bipartisan issue of protecting members accused of corruption from investigation and prosecution," Sloan says. Mother Jones covered this problem as early as 2006, with the raid on the offices of now ex-Louisiana Democratic Rep. William Jefferson.

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Cheney Spinning His Way Out the Door (on Gitmo and Torture)

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 1:17 PM EST

In his first--dare we say it?--farewell interview, Vice President Dick Cheney told ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl that he'd like to keep Guantanamo open until the "end of the war with terror." How long will that be? "Well, nobody knows," the veep said. To defend his hold-'em-forever stand, Cheney referred to the much-repeated claim that many of those released from Guantanamo have returned to terrorism. He said:

We've had, as I recall now--and these are rough numbers, I'd want to check it--but, say, approximately 30 of these folks who've been held in Guantanamo, been released, and ended up back on the battlefield again, and we've encountered them a second time around. They've either been killed or captured in further conflicts with our forces.

This figure of 30 back-to-the-battlefied Gitmo vets has been used by the administration and its supporters for some time now. One problem: it seems to be hype.

Last year, researchers at Seton Hall University School of Law researched this contention, examining the extensive records covering those who have been released from Guantanamo, and they found that the data did not support this claim:

Will Sect. of State Clinton Ban Private Contractors?

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 1:03 PM EST

In the presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton frequently touted her tough-as-nails stance on private contractors. She was the co-sponsor of the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, which, in her words, would keep firms like Blackwater from performing "combat-oriented and security functions in Iraq." Blackwater employees could keep slinging slop in cafeteria under Clinton's bill, but they couldn't get themselves into horrifying situations like the Nisour Square shooting.

Justin Elliot of Talking Points Memo reports that part of that bill (which did not see any success in the Senate) instructed the Secretary of State to remove private contractors from their posts guarding State Department personnel:

Not later than 6 months after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall ensure that all personnel at any United States diplomatic or consular mission in Iraq are provided security services only by Federal Government personnel.

Now that Clinton is about to take over at Foggy Bottom, she can either institute this rule without getting congressional approval or can prod Congress into taking the Stop Outsourcing Security Act more seriously. But Elliot reports that there is no indication she will do either. Clinton's Senate office isn't answering any questions about Clinton' current position on the use of private forces in Iraq. This may mean that Clinton doesn't want to steal Obama's thunder by appearing to make policy, or it could mean that Clinton's anti-contractor pledge in the primaries was simply campaign bombast. We'll soon know.

In Defense of Caroline Kennedy

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 12:40 PM EST

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Over at his blog, Kevin Drum joins "the almost unanimous blogosphere consensus" that New York Gov. David Paterson should appoint someone other than Caroline Kennedy to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat:

Rich and famous people already have a huge leg up when it comes to winning political office, but at least they still have to run and win. Appointing them instead so they can avoid the whole messy business of engaging in a campaign is just a little too Habsburgian for my taste.

That's fair enough. In general, I agree: appointing the scion of a political dynasty to political office reeks of royalism. But let me play the devil's (or Kennedy's) advocate. The Senate, and especially the Senate in New York, seems to me to be a special case. Each state gets two senators, regardless of population. That means most states are tremendously overrepresented in the Senate, but a few big ones, like California and New York, are hugely underrepresented. (David Sirota pointed out last year that senators representing just 11% of the US population represent enough votes for a filibuster—allowing the representatives of a small fraction of the country's population to block just about anything.) Since every senator gets one vote in the Senate, big states can only really compensate for their underrepresentation in two ways: with seniority (which Clinton's replacement won't have in any case) and celebrity (which Kennedy has in spades).

Why does celebrity help? Well, for one, it gives you a more effective bully pulpit. The national media is more likely to cover Sen. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) than someone that nobody outside of the state has ever heard of. Caroline's celebrity status will garner her instant press attention, regardless of her actual abilities. Press attention magnifies your attacks on your opponents and amplifies your message.

Maybe New York's underrepresentation problem doesn't outweigh the arguments against Kennedy's candidacy. Not everyone gets to be powerful in the Senate by virtue of being a bonafide political celebrity beforehand, Hillary Clinton-style, or by racking up seniority, like Robert Byrd (D-W.V.). Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York, built up his power base by raising enormous amounts of campaign cash for his fellow Democrats. (Of course, celebrity helps with fund-raising, too.) In any case, New York is in big trouble, and I'm not sure it has time to wait for a new senator to earn power. Big states like Ohio and Michigan were certainly regretting the Senate's bizarre one-state, two-votes structure after the auto bailout failed. When New York needs a high-profile Senator to rail against small state obstructionists preventing the next, say, Wall Street rescue, will New Yorkers regret not having a Kennedy in their camp?

Paranoia at Big Coal Headquarters (Video)

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 3:26 PM EST

There's an awful lot that is crazy about this speech by Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, the fourth largest coal company in the country, and member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce board of directors. He says "greeniacs" are trying to take over the country. He says that people who disagree with his retrograde views on global warming and energy (climate change doesn't exist, duh) are "communists" and "atheists." He compares the editors of a newspaper that has criticized him to Osama bin Laden.

But my favorite part is when Blankenship suggests that somehow third world countries have got themselves in their unfortunate states by trying too hard to conserve energy and live sustainably.

I have spent quite a bit of time in Russia and China and India in the last year or two, and I can tell you, that's the first stage. You go from having your own car to carpooling to, you know, riding the bus to mass transit. You eventually get to where you're walking. And your apartments go from being nice apartments and homes with your own bathroom, to sharing bathrooms and kitchens with four families.

Whatever you say, chief. Here are the highlights; they're an excellent view into the thinking of the far Right. More video is over at the NRDC.