Mojo - March 2009

Atheists Rising?

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 1:21 PM EDT

An interesting paragraph from a USA Today article on the declining number of self-identifying Christians in America:

So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the [American Religious Identification Survey] report concludes.

Time for the atheists lobby to issue a press release. Thing is, no matter how numerous atheists get in this country, they will never match the Religious Right. The members of the evangelical community believe passionately in their faith, and want to see it flourish in America. Some atheists are equally passionate about their non-belief, but I think it's the nature of atheism that many of its adherents simply say "meh" when it comes to religion. Not the attitude you need if you want to be a political power.

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Maniacs Need Not Apply

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 11:08 AM EDT
David Addington, former lawyer for then-Vice President Cheney and the brains behind many of the Bush Administration's most horrifying executive power grabs and war on terror policies, is having trouble finding a job. Perhaps he should write a book, like the similarly employment-challenged Alberto Gonzales. Unlike Gonzales, Addington stands strongly and unabashedly behind the work he did. Unlike Gonzales, Addington would probably write a compelling and interesting book.

Would it suck that Addington would make money off a book deal? Yes. Would the book likely be valuable to researchers and historians for years to come? Also yes.

Welcome, NY Times Readers!

| Sat Mar. 7, 2009 10:25 AM EST
Hey, great to see you here! Can we get you something to drink? Something to read about food? How about a quick tour of why MoJo went open source, or more about the two fabulous working moms who run this joint? Yeah, we thought you'd like that.

David Corn's on Twitter raising hell at White House press briefings. We're on Facebook; Kevin Drum, Debra Dickerson, and Julia Whitty are over here, here, and here.

Oh, we can't have you leave without a party favor or two. Free e-box brightener, anyone?

Anyway, welcome. Help yourself to as many National Magazine Award winning stories as you like–we've got lots. Like what you read? Tip your writers and tell your friends.

GOP Gets LESS Tech-Savvy

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 6:13 PM EST

The RNC's top in-house new media and tech guy, Cyrus Krohn, is resigning his post, setting the GOP even further back in its effort to match the Democrats' use of web tools to organize, raise funds, and message. (I've written about the GOP's tech deficit before.) I asked Matt Lewis, a conservative blogger, for his thoughts. They are below.

"I think Cyrus' departure is very bad news for the RNC. It is important for any organization to maintain institutional knowledge, and a lot of that knowledge just walked out the door.  This -- coupled with the fact that the RNC still has not filled key staff positions -- raises serious questions about the RNC's ability to fulfill basic logistical functions.

"Cyrus was a tech guy, which is important because it is easier to teach a tech guy politics than to take a political guy and make him technologically proficient. He was also highly regarded by the conservative blogosphere."

Michael Steele is off to a rocky start as the new head of the RNC. The one thing everyone seemed to agree he was doing right was his unreserved embrace of the web and conservative web activists. With Krohn's move, that too is in peril.

In Lifting Bush's Stem Cell Research Ban, Obama Removes a Bush Lie

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 5:51 PM EST

One of the more infuriating prevarications of the presidency of George W. Bush concerned stem cell research.

On August 9, 2001, Bush delivered his first nationally televised prime-time address, and the subject was the federal funding of stem cell research. In the speech, he announced that he would allow federal funding of research involving stem cell lines that had already been created, but he said he would prohibit federal financing of research using new stem lines. His reasoning was that doing the latter would place the US government in the position of underwriting the destruction of blastocysts (a.k.a., very young embryos), and that would be morally wrong.

But have no fear, Bush said, this restriction would not get in the way of stem cell research, for there were already 60 existing stem lines. These lines, he said, "have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely, creating opportunities for research." Funding research that depended on those existing lines while saying nyet to research utilizing new lines, he maintained, "allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line."

Bush was trying to have his cake and eat it, too. He was protecting blastocysts everywhere (and endearing himself to the Catholic Church and the anti-abortion movement), while maintaining that his administration would be supporting research that could find cures for all sorts of terrible diseases. Yet at the core of his argument was a serious misstatement of fact. There were not 60 lines available for vigorous research. By the estimates of expert scientists, between 10 and 30 lines existed, and not all of them were suitable for the best research. Many could not be regenerated indefinitely. And most were tainted by mouse DNA and not useful for the most advanced and promising sort of research related to finding cures and treatments for human diseases. The scientific community's consensus was unequivocal: The existing lines did not allow researchers to explore fully or effectively the promise and potential of stem cell research. Bush had greatly misled the public on this.

Why recall this now? Because of the news that President Obama will sign an executive order on Monday lifting Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. This will mark yet another move in the effort to undo the damage done by Bush's war on science.

For almost eight years, Bush's based-on-a-lie policy prevented research that could help scientists develop cures for serious diseases. There's probably no way to quantify the number of people who were negatively affected by this Bush decision--those who have suffered with Parkinson's, diabetes or other ailments--but there's no doubt that eight years is a long time when it comes to applying the brakes on promising research. On Monday, Obama will free federally-funded scientists from Bush's restrictions, and he will free the country from one of Bush's more consequential falsehoods.

Should We Pity the Rich?

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 3:44 PM EST

I found this little gem on National Review online via Oliver Willis. I think it says a lot about modern conservative thought. Stick with me all the way through; I think it's worth it.

The doctors, lawyers, engineers, executives, serious small-business owners, top salespeople, and other professionals and entrepreneurs who make this country run work considerably harder than pretty much anyone else (including most of the chattering class, and all politicians). They are not robber barons, or trust-fund babies, or plutocrats, or even celebrities….

No group of people contribute more to their community. And now the president, who followed a path sort of like that, and who claims that his wife's former six-figure income was a result of precisely such qualifications and efforts, is demonizing them. More problematically, he is penalizing their success and giving them very clear incentives to ratchet back on productivity.

So, what happens when the heart surgeons, dentists, litigators, and people who employ 10 or 20 other people in their mid-size businesses decide that they don't want to pay for the excessive, pointless spending that the president finds so compelling? Instapundit speculates on people "going John Galt." I think golf — a time-intensive sport that the hard-working have eschewed for the past decade or two because it took too long — will make a comeback.

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GOP Hispanic Outreach FAIL

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 3:12 PM EST

From the conservative website Right Wing News (via The Next Right):

I was talking to a very credible Capitol Hill source (who wishes to remain anonymous) today and that person told me a story that just blew my mind...

He told me the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 19th Annual Legislative Conference will be taking place next week in DC.

Here's the kicker: supposedly, the Democrats have 20 senators scheduled to attend various events and receptions. The Republicans? Are you ready for this? They have no senators currently scheduled to attend. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

You know what's great about this? This is easy minority outreach for Republicans. It's not like they're being asked to go visit the NAACP or speak to an immigrants' rights march. This is the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, an organization filled with business leaders who presumably have wealth, oppose regulations, and want to see lower corporate taxes. And yet, when the Right Wing News author followed up with the HCC (my acronym), the staff there confirmed that Republicans were taking a pass.

Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the control and will soon dominate politics in the western United States. Effective Hispanic outreach by the Dems and a complete lack of attention by Republicans could mean long-term Democratic control of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada, all current or former key swing states.

Update: Ryan Grim reports that Republican lawmakers have been embarrassed into attending the HCC conference! That was quick.

Are the GOP's Blacks Getting Sloppy Seconds?

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 2:40 PM EST

Black people never run out of conspiracy theories. This is because there's no way we could have ended up in this position without diabolical whites plotting against us all the time. Usually, the theories are either just plain paranoid (e.g. the CIA floods the inner city with crack) or perhaps better explained by other facts (maybe you're unemployed cuz you smoke dope in your mama's basement all day and not cuz The Man won't let a brother get ahead). But every now and then, they make me stop and go hmmm. Like this one. In the Daily Beast, Stanley Crouch writes:

"A fundamental aspect of black barbershop disparagement—what you might call a suspicion of things as they seem to be—is that white people never give any power toys over to black Americans until they are through with them. Or unless they are so rusty that only a fool could not see how far beyond repair those toys actually are."
"The people taking those positions are not defeatists, or do not think of themselves that way. Their sense of the world is not based in Frederick Douglass' observation that power does not give the opposition anything without a fight. They merely think that color rules are hard, fast, and very different. Power is never given or trusted in the hands of those who are not white."

He is, of course, talking about Michael Steele's so far disastrous run as RNC chair. One might even extend the theory to Barack Obama (remember the Onion's classic summation of his election.)

So, brothers get to run a country and a political party brought to its knees by rich white men. Whites get to sit back and throw stones while they try to clean up someone else's mess.

Hmmm...maybe we're not paranoid after all.

Debt Collectors: How Low Will They Go?

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 2:26 PM EST
Not only are local DAs farming out debt collection to sleazoids who then get to be pretend to be law enforcement officials, but guess what else? Debt collectors are now gunning after the dead. From the NYT: 
"The banks need another bailout and countless homeowners cannot handle their mortgage payments, but one group is paying its bills: the dead.
Dozens of specially trained agents work on the third floor of DCM Services here, calling up the dear departed’s next of kin and kindly asking if they want to settle the balance on a credit card or bank loan, or perhaps make that final utility bill or cellphone payment.

The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway."

You have to read the whole piece to understand just how scuzzy their methods are, especially at a time when so many are financially devastated. They give these operators special classes in faking empathy and other forms of emotional blackmail. The only bright spot is that about half of DCM's grave robbers don't make it past the first 90 days of torturing an unemployed person whose mom just died. Yoga and foosball is enough to get the rest of them through the day, though.

Imagine DCM going bankrupt (i.e. corporate death). Would it still pay the debts it had legally incurred but was no longer legally responsible for? Yeah, that could happen.

What to Do About the Miserable February Job Numbers

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 1:28 PM EST

The big news of the day today is the fact that the economy shed 650,000 more jobs in February and the job loss numbers for the previous two months were revised upwards. The nationwide unemployment rate is now 8.1 percent, the highest in 25 years. Since December 2007, which is the technical start of the current recession, the economy has lost 4.4 million jobs.

We gathered the thoughts of Dean Baker and James Galbraith, two of the most prominent economists on the left. Baker makes it clear that not only are things bad, they are worse than expected:

The one piece of somewhat good news in this report is that wages are continuing to rise, with nominal wages rising at 3.5 percent annual rate over the quarter. However, everything else in this report is extremely bad. The economy is in a free fall with no obvious breaks in place. The recent forecasts used in analyzing the stimulus and the budget, which projected 8.5 percent unemployment for the 4th quarter, now look impossibly optimistic. The unemployment rate is likely to hit 8.5 percent by March and will almost certainly cross 9.0 percent by the early summer. Without substantial additional stimulus, it could cross 10.0 percent by year end. This report shows that recent economic projections were overly optimistic.

Galbraith suggests the following steps to spur recovery:

1. Increase Social Security 30 percent across the board
2. Declare a full holiday on the payroll tax.
3. Cut the age of eligibility for Medicare to 55.
4. Make general revenue sharing open-ended.
5. Do the National Infrastructure Fund, also open-ended.
6. Put a moratorium on all foreclosures, and turn over the problems to a new HOLC.
7. Unleash Sheila Bair on the banks.

Somebody mail this to the freaked out Obama economic team.