Mojo - March 2009

Bounties Offered For Mexican Cartel Leaders

| Tue Mar. 24, 2009 11:31 AM EDT
The drug-fueled violence along the US border with Mexico--the subject of an excellent piece in the New York Times on Monday--has reached fever pitch. Since January 2008, some 7,000 people have been killed (descriptors like dissolved in acid, butchered, burned, or decapitated may be a more apt) across Mexico. There appears to be no end in sight to the violence, despite intervention by the Mexican military, among the only state entities believed to be relatively free of contamination by the cartels.

Several drug lords have been arrested in recent years, but, ironically enough, it has only accelerated the bloodletting as ambitious up-and-comers have vied for control of lucrative smuggling corridors. (This is not a new problem. Read Terrence Poppa's narco-classic Drug Lord for an insider's view of how the Mexican drug business functions.)

But don't let history and the facts get in the way. The Mexican government, in advance of this week's scheduled visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, placed bounties on 24 of the country's most-wanted cartel leaders, offering $2 million for information leading to the capture of any one of them. Additional $1-million rewards were offered for 12 lower-level drug smugglers. It seems doubtful that this will make much difference. First, drug lords are scary guys, and the intimidation factor (something they work hard to achieve) looms large. Second, as scary as they are, historically speaking, they also invest in local communities, give to charity, and are often seen as local heroes.

The $25 million bounty on Osama Bin Laden's head has so far gone uncollected. Should we expect these arguably more powerful and scary guys in Mexico will be sold out for less?

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Geithner: Home Alone?

| Tue Mar. 24, 2009 11:27 AM EDT

On Monday, after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner finished briefing reporters on the administration's new toxic assets plan, journalists filed out of the Treasury building--which conveniently and symbolically sits next to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue--and spotted something interesting in the lobby: a case that holds the photographs of the Treasury Department's top officials. And the case looked rather empty.

Under Geithner is Stuart Levey, the under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. He's a holdover from the Bush administration. Below him are Neel Kashkari, an interim assistant secretary in charge of the Office of Financial Stability, which has been overseeing various bailouts. He's another Bush holdover. Next to him are Kennther Carfine and Janice Bradley Gardner, two other assistant secretaries appointed during the Bush years. Below them are Eric Thorson, the department's inspector general. He, too, was named by President George W. Bush. And next to him is Neil Barofsky. He was tapped by Bush last November to be a special inspector general overseeing Treasury's Wall Street bailout.

So it's Geithner and a handful of Bush appointees. Sure, there are aides whom Geithner has brought into the department. He has a chief of staff who once was a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs. Gene Sperling, a top Clinton administration economic policy adviser (and well-known workaholic), is a counselor to Geithner. But a glance at the case does leave the unnerving impression that the guy who is supposed to save the economy is home alone.

WSJ: Bankers Admit to Holding Economy Hostage

| Tue Mar. 24, 2009 9:32 AM EDT

If you have a chance, read this Wall Street Journal piece (via Hilzoy) about how bankers' feelings are really hurt because some people said some really mean things about them and how the Obama Administration is trying to make nice so everyone can work together to save the economy. If you look closely, you'll find all the evidence you need to indefinitely detain these Wall Street clowns on an extrajudicial island in the Caribbean.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his colleagues worked the phones to try to line up support on Wall Street for the plan announced Monday.... Some bankers say they turned the conversations into complaints about the antibonus crusade consuming Capitol Hill. Some have begun "slow-walking" the information previously sought by Treasury for stress-testing financial institutions, three bankers say, and considered seeking capital from hedge funds and private-equity funds so they could return federal bailout money, thereby escaping federal restrictions....

And later on:

Bankers were shell-shocked, especially when Congress moved to heavily tax bonuses. When administration officials began calling them to talk about the next phase of the bailout, the bankers turned the tables. They used the calls to lobby against the antibonus legislation, Wall Street executives say. Several big firms called Treasury and White House officials to urge a more reasonable approach, both sides say. The banks' message: If you want our help to get credit flowing again to consumers and businesses, stop the rush to penalize our bonuses.

You probably don't need anyone to interpret that for you, but here's what it says: bankers are holding the economy hostage until they're promised their six-figure bonuses won't be touched. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being lost every month because rich jerks can't figure out how they'd live without things like $87,000 area rugs.

Hilzoy calls it shameful. Ezra calls it unpatriotic. I think it ought to be criminal. I know "rank populism" is considered gauche in this country, but at times like these I wish I owned a pitchfork and the right to use it.

Whole Foods vs. Unions

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 7:25 PM EDT

In what's being euphemistically dubbed the 'third way', the CEOs of Whole Foods, Costco, and Starbucks have joined together to lay out a 'compromise' to the management/labor stand-off over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). At issue is whether employees interested in forming a union would be allowed to choose their union formation process. Current law lets companies insist upon a secret-ballot election, even when employees would prefer a majority sign-up method.

I'm not going to restate the merits of labor's position (you can read about it here and here) but surely we can agree that employees should be able to choose how they decide to form a union, right? Well, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey thinks it's un-American.

"Trash" Is the New N Word

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 4:03 PM EDT

Right wing hateration against the Obamas (and black people in general) continues.

Someone named Tammy Bruce, guest hosting for Laura Ingraham, waxes philosophical about "the trash in the White House". According to HuffPo's transcript, the psycho-pundit said:

"...You know what we've got? We've got trash in the White House. Trash is a thing that is colorblind, it can cross all eco-socionomic...categories. You can work on Wall Street, or you can work at the Wal-Mart. Trash, are people who use other people to get things, who patronize others, who consider you bitter and clingy..."

Really, you have to listen to believe. I have to hope she was high because it's pure insanity.

Loco as this is, HuffPo also links to a Townhall piece which tries to fake deep thinking proving that Michelle is...wait for it...a bitch. Think even THEY couldn't be this pathetically obvious in their need to keep the Negroes in their place?

"The burning question in my circle is: If the First Family gets a female dog, will she be the First Bitch or will she have to settle for second place?"

OK. I gotta ask: Where is this moron's circle, exactly? 

The Importance of Pakistan

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 1:35 PM EDT

David Kilcullen, an Aussie military man who is (was?) a top adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, sat down with the Washington Post to talk about the war on terror. He emphasized, above all else, Pakistan.

What is the real central front in the war on terror?

Pakistan. Hands down. No doubt.

Why?

Pakistan is 173 million people, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the U.S. Army, and al-Qaeda headquarters sitting right there in the two-thirds of the country that the government doesn't control. The Pakistani military and police and intelligence service don't follow the civilian government; they are essentially a rogue state within a state. We're now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state, also because of the global financial crisis, which just exacerbates all these problems. . . . The collapse of Pakistan, al-Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover -- that would dwarf everything we've seen in the war on terror today.

You can see the whole thing here. Kilcullen, who is promoting a new book, also spoke with Wired's Danger Room.

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Facebook For Refugees

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 12:50 PM EDT
Facebook helped you reconnect with your ex, check up on your favorite band, and join Chesley Sullenberger's fan club, and sure, those things are fun. But what about helping the global diaspora of displaced persons figure out where their former neighbors are and what's become of them? A bit more important, you might say, and the goal of a new social networking site created by German NGO Refugees United. Der Spiegel reports that the site is already available in 23 languages, with developers currently putting together a Bhutanese version to serve the surging number of refugees arriving in the United States from Nepal; Washington recently agreed to take 60,000 of them.

From Der Spiegel:
The idea is actually a very simple one. Each year, millions of people are uprooted by war, famine or natural disaster. Escaping catastrophe, though, is not always an orderly process. Families can easily get separated and, once the displaced cross borders, often get sent to widely dispersed destinations. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are over 1.5 million minors who have lost contact with their parents...
The Red Cross system, though -- as efficient as it may be -- requires refugees to apply for help from a third party. Requests are sent first to Red Cross headquarters in Geneva from where they are then sent to personnel working in the conflict zone in question. Should Refugees United, as the Mikkelsens call their organization, attract enough members, it could provide the displaced with a new way to search -- one that they control themselves.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from tracyhunter.

More on the Dems' Quiet Oversight of Obama

| Mon Mar. 23, 2009 11:21 AM EDT

On Thursday, Mother Jones broke the story that congressional Democrats had sent a private letter to the Obama administration asking key questions about what the president is doing to recover millions of White House emails that went missing during the Bush administration. The Democrats sent their letter a little over a week after the committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), wrote the administration asking about email issues, but the Dems did not make their letter public until today. What we had heard at the time, but could not confirm, was that one of the reasons the Democrats on the House oversight committee might have wanted to keep their letter private was that they had in fact copied-and-pasted their questions from Issa's letter. It turns out that the copy-and-paste story is true: Mother Jones has finally obtained a copy of the Democrats' letter (PDF of both letters). Two of the Democrats' four questions are word-for-word reproductions of questions Issa asked in the letter he sent to Gregory Craig, the White House counsel, a little over a week before. The other two questions in the Democrats' letter are very similar to ones in Issa's letter.

Republican staff members told the Washington Times on Saturday that they had asked the majority Democrats to sign onto Issa's letter. Jenny Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for committee Democrats, told the Times that emails from the Republicans asking the Democrats to sign on were "overlooked." But Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Issa, claimed that the Dems were "clearly embarrassed... that they sent essentially the same letter to the White House that congressman Issa had already asked congressman Towns to sign on with him jointly."

Whatever the truth of the matter, Rosenberg promised the Times that the Dems will put their letter online today. They just did, but there's no explanation of why it took so long. The date on the Dems' letter is February 27.

Obama's Stimulus Steps Hint at Future Lobbying Reform?

| Fri Mar. 20, 2009 4:13 PM EDT

Speaking today to the National Conference of State Legislatures, President Obama placed some stiff new restriction on stimulus lobbying:

Decisions about how Recovery Act dollars are spent will be based on the merits. Let me repeat that: Decisions about how Recovery money will be spent will be based on the merits.

They will not be made as a way of doing favors for lobbyists. Any lobbyist who wants to talk with a member of my administration about a particular Recovery Act project will have to submit their thoughts in writing, and we will post it on the Internet for all to see. If any member of my administration does meet with a lobbyist about a Recovery Act project, every American will be able to go online and see what that meeting was about. These are unprecedented restrictions that will help ensure that lobbyists don't stand in the way of our recovery.

These are great new rules, and any good government crusader would support them. The only question: why can't this be the standard for all executive branch lobbying?

The White House put out a memo today titled "Ensuring Responsible Spending of Recovery Act Funds." It provides details on the lobbying restrictions above. It also includes a funny little quirk -- I'll add that below.

Angola 3 Prisoner Herman Wallace Moved to New Prison

| Fri Mar. 20, 2009 2:21 PM EDT

The Louisiana Department of Corrections has transferred Herman Wallace, who has spent more than three decades in solitary confinement in the state's notorious Angola prison, to another prison in the state, Mother Jones has learned. Wallace is a member of the so-called Angola 3, a group of prisoners who spent decades in solitary after being convicted of prison murders based on questionable evidence. The prolonged confinement of Wallace and fellow Angola 3 member Albert Woodfox is the subject of a civil habeaus corpus suit charging Angola with cruel and inhuman punishment. Wallace's transfer follows stories by NPR and Mother Jones raising questions about the evidence and witness testimony used to convict Wallace and Woodfox of the 1972 murder of Angola prison guard Brent Miller.

According to one of Wallace's lawyers, Nick Trenticosta, prison officials moved Wallace unexpectedly--and without informing his attorneys-- on Wednesday night to the Hunt Correctional Facility in St. Gabrielo, Louisiana. Hunt is used as both a permanent prison and as a way station where prisoners are evaluated before being sent on to other facilities. Wallace's defense team has been scrambling to contact their client, though they have been told by corrections officials that they won't be able to speak with him until next week. (Corrections officials at Angola did not return a call for comment).

Federal Magistrate Judge Docia L. Dalby, in a decision rebuffing the state of Louisiana's attempt to dismiss the civil case, describes the decades of solitary confinement endured by Wallace and Woodfox as "durations so far beyond the pale that this court has not found anything even remotely comparable in the annals of American jurisprudence." In a 2008 deposition in the suit, Angola Warden Burl Cain claimed the men had been held in solitary for so long due in part to their association with the Black Panther party.