Mojo - February 2009

This Is Why Lobbying and Ethics Reform Is Important

| Wed Feb. 18, 2009 2:26 PM EST
An unbelievable $8 billion in financial fraud was enabled by the fact that Washington politicians, in exchange for feeding at Robert Allen Stanford's campaign money trough, acceded to the money manager's wishes and didn't pass a 2002 bill that would have made preventing and discovering fraud of exactly his kind much, much easier. Hey, here's a thought! Maybe when a guy spends millions of dollars urging you and your colleagues not to pass stricter controls on fraud, you should pause and consider his motivations! He's probably into something he's not supposed to be into!

This is infuriating. The lawmakers who took money from Allen should have to write personal checks to the people he defrauded. They bear responsibility for this.

(Serious kudos to OpenSecrets for uncovering this connection.)

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Obama's Mortgage Rescue Plan: Easier To Judge the Pitch than the Policy

| Wed Feb. 18, 2009 2:25 PM EST

On Wednesday morning in Phoenix, President Barack Obama unveiled his $75 billion (and maybe more) home mortgage crisis plan. The package is a grab-bag of provisions. The main ones aim to refinance mortgages for 4 to 5 million "responsible homeowners," to set up a "stability initiative" to help 3 to 4 million "at-risk homeowners," and to reduce overall mortgage rates by committing more money to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Obama also noted his support for changing bankruptcy rules so judges can lower home mortgages for borrowers in bankruptcy. Overall, the details are, at this point, vague. And there's no telling if any of this will work--and arrest a possible death spiral in the real estate market. Policy wonks and partisans will argue over the various components. But what was apparent was Obama's skill as an effective policy pitchman.

The speech hit several important themes for Obama: community, populism, and responsibility.

Supreme Court May Hear Mercury In Tuna Case

| Wed Feb. 18, 2009 2:02 PM EST
Last fall, we published a story about a woman named Deborah Fellner who had sued Chicken of the Sea alleging that she had gotten mercury poisoning from eating the company's canned albacore tuna. Tuna companies have known at least since the 1970s that canned tuna can contain high levels of mercury, which can cause neurological problems that resemble Parkinson's disease and other ailments. (Fellner's hair fell out, among other things.) Yet a New Jersey federal court initially threw out her case thanks to help from the Bush FDA. At the request of the tuna industry in another lawsuit, the FDA had claimed that such lawsuits were "preempted" by federal law because it was already doing such a good job of regulating tuna.  A judge agreed, and using that decision, Chicken of the Sea claimed that Fellner's lawsuit was likewise trumped by federal regulators, largely because they had posting a warning about eating mercury in fish on the FDA website. It was a pretty flimsy argument, and eventually, an appeals court reversed in favor of Fellner. Her lawsuit has been proceeding ever since. And now it looks like it might go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bobby Jindal Is Scheming

| Wed Feb. 18, 2009 1:23 PM EST
Is Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) really going to turn down the roughly $3.8 billion in stimulus funds slated for Louisiana, as he's threatening? Of course not. Louisiana is a poor state with growing unemployment. It is experiencing a budget shortfall. If Jindal turns down the money and the economies in the other 49 states creep upward over the next 12-18 months, Jindal will have committed career suicide.

So what's with his posturing? I would posit that he's simply a crafty and ambitious politician. Jindal is building an reputation as the most conservative member of the GOP's presidential wannabe crowd, which squabbles over who is the most right-wing every time it hits the Iowa campaign circuit. Talking tough about the stimulus nets him press now; quietly taking the money a few weeks from now will almost certainly go unnoticed.

Chamber of Commerce Secretly Trying to Take Down Labor Appointee

| Wed Feb. 18, 2009 12:56 PM EST

Ah, the use of front groups by the Big Business lobby. Always so much fun. Here's the latest example, spotted by the Center for Responsive Politics' Public Integrity's blog, PaperTrail, when it investigated this online advertisement against Labor Secretary-designate Hilda Solis:

 

Clicking on the ad takes you to a petition against Rep. Solis' nomination, which is hosted on the website of "Americans for Job Security." While it’s hard to find anyone these days who would be against job security, the claim that Solis is “anti-worker” doesn't seem to jibe with endorsements from the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and other unions.

 

As it turns out, Americans for Job Security is actually a spin-off of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's most robust business affiliation that has traditionally worked to elect conservative, pro-business politicians and judges is one of the strongest anti-union voices in American politics. The group also lobbied heavily against the Employee Free Choice Act legislation that Solis co-sponsored in 2007 as a member of Congress.

The Chamber of Commerce also says it is committed to "address[ing] energy, security, and climate change challenges," but in reality, it orchestrates a campaign of misinformation on the issue of climate change that seeks to kill the most drastic (and likely most necessary) legislation in favor of business-friendly alternatives. I don't doubt that the Chamber does a lot of good work, particularly for small businesses. But on issues like labor and global warming, it is part of the problem.

Is This Site Slow?

| Tue Feb. 17, 2009 7:55 PM EST
As you know, we relaunched our site a few days ago—and like all such endeavors, this one comes with the occasional hiccup. We're trying to closely monitor site performance--how fast pages load, whether anything looks broken, etc. And we need your help. If you see any problems, could you let us know in the comments? The more specific the better; if you can include the browser and operating system you're on, that would be great. As a nonprofit shop, we can't afford a slew of dedicated coders, so your help is greatly appreciated and keeps our resources flowing to the journalism.

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Obama Goes Alternative for Stimulus Signing

| Tue Feb. 17, 2009 4:55 PM EST

This is change.

Barack Obama was in Denver on Tuesday afternoon to sign the $787 billion stimulus package--a.k.a. the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The occasion was historic. Less than four weeks in office, Obama had won approval of a serious piece of legislation--a tremendous blast of spending and tax cuts designed to boost the collapsing economy. And Obama was laying down a marker: he was promising this measure would save or create 3.5 million jobs. This was a big deal. He was defining his presidency.

What was also intriguing was the atmospherics of the signing. Obama put his John Hancock on the law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. And as part of the signing ceremony there, Blake Jones, a leader of Namaste Solar Electric, a Boulder-based company that designs, builds, and installs solar panels for homes and businesses, introduced Obama. Namaste had installed solar panels on the roof of the museum, and earlier in the day, Jones had given Obama a tour of the panels.

Seeking Campaign Cash for 2010, McCain Triangulates

| Tue Feb. 17, 2009 3:12 PM EST
John McCain, in defeat, isn't retreating. On Monday, he sent out a fundraising appeal, noting that he is running for reelection to the US Senate in 2010, when he will be 74 years old. The short fundraiser, which was signed by McCain, was notable in one regard: he blasts congressional Democrats and says nothing negative about President Barack Obama:

Civilian Casualties Undermining Afghanistan War Effort, Says Report

| Tue Feb. 17, 2009 3:11 PM EST
President Obama's arrival in the Oval Office hasn't stopped at least one controversial Bush-era counterterrorism tactic: aerial attacks on suspected Taliban militants by the missile-armed Predator drones that soar over the Hindu Kush day and night. If anything, such attacks have only increased in frequency. (Read David Case's Mother Jones' piece here.) On Monday, a Predator destroyed a house in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, reportedly killing at least 31 Taliban fighters who had gathered there.

The costs and benefits of deploying death from above are complex. Surely some of these guys are deserving of whatever comes their way. Problem is, many of them may not be. And besides, killing Islamist foot soldiers has comparatively little impact on the overall war effort, whereas the propaganda value for the Taliban and Al Qaeda is immeasurable. Civilian casualties are unavoidable in a war fought by remote control from 10,000 feet--and they are the perfect instrument for radicalizing populations that US and NATO forces will need to win over if they hope to meet with any success in stemming the insurgency.

Turn the Other Cheek, Barack

| Tue Feb. 17, 2009 2:16 PM EST

Hendrik Hertzberg thinks that Obama's continued willingness to engage the Republican minority, despite the fact that it stonewalled him on the stimulus bill, is a crafty decision:

Fifty years ago, the civil-rights movement understood that nonviolence can be an effective weapon even if—or especially if—the other side refuses to follow suit. Obama has a similarly tough-minded understanding of the political uses of bipartisanship, which, even if it fails as a tactic for compromise, can succeed as a tonal strategy: once the other side makes itself appear intransigently, destructively partisan, the game is half won. Obama is learning to throw the ball harder. But it’s not Rovian hardball he’s playing. More like Gandhian hardball.

This makes sense to me. If Obama bends over backward to court Republicans (and, importantly, does so in a highly visible way), the GOP will lose support for refusing to engage, not gain it. And if Obama has the majorities to get his priorities through Congress without Republican support, there's no harm in taking this approach.

So, essentially, here's Obama's task. Get beat up. A lot. Because no one wants to vote for the bullies, the jerks, and the malcontents.