Mojo - March 2009

Corn on "Hardball": Palin Attacks with Prayer

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 5:54 PM PDT

At a recent speech in Alaska before a Republican crowd, Governor Sarah Palin complained that during the presidential race last year she had no one on the McCain campaign with whom she could pray at a crucial moment. (And in a big shocker, she slammed the media for treating her unfairly.) Then there's GOP chairman Michael Steele, who says he might consider running for president--that is, if God gives him a sign. What's with all this God-talk from GOPers with less-than-impressive track records as political leaders? On Thursday night, we hashed it out on Hardball:

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

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Want to Help Us Follow Up on Indonesian Biofuels?

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 4:52 PM PDT

Want to help MoJo link investigative reporters to global activists in the field via mobile tech? Well, here's your chance.

We've submitted a prototype project idea to the NetSquared/UC Berkeley Human Rights Center Mobile Challenge, but we need our community (that's you, dear reader) to vote us up before 3 pm PDT Friday if we're to make it to the next round. (Don't worry, the NetSquared crew encourages entrants to ask for community voting support.)

This particular project would follow up with the Indonesian local groups most directly affected by multinational corporate misbehavior uncovered during this investigation into why biofuels are wrecking the Indonesian rainforest. Cool idea, right? We thought you'd say that.

If you're ready to vote, it'll only take 15 minutes. But be prepared for those 15 minutes to be a little challenging. Here’s a step-by-step how to:

1. Register or Login here.

2. Go to the HRC-UCB Project Gallery.

3. Sort through projects here to find those that interest you. The Mother Jones project is titled: Mother Jones Human Rights Citizen Investigation: Indonesia Biofuels

4. Click on a specific project to add to your ballot.

5. Click on the "Add Project to Your Ballot" link on the top of each profile.

6. To add more projects to your ballot, click on the link to "Return to the HRC-UCB Project Gallery." (You’ll need to vote for 3-5 projects.)

Editing Your Ballot

1. To view or edit your ballot at any time click on the ballot icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

2. To Remove a Project from your ballot, either click on the ballot icon or the specific project link and select "Remove Project from Your Ballot."

Reviewing and Casting your Ballot

1. Once you have chosen the Projects you want to vote for, please review your selections by clicking on the ballot Icon or the "View / Cast Ballot" link.

2. Review and hit "Cast Ballot" at the bottom followed by a FINAL "Submit Ballot."

That's it. Much appreciated, good hellraisers of the world! We'll keep you posted if we make it to the final round March 31.

Post Office Bailout?

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 2:34 PM PDT
If you're like most people, you've probably given up a few extravagances in recent months. Vacations? Fancy dinners? Mailing a letter?

Yes, we're onto you. You've been cutting corners by denying your great aunt her birthday card. And because of your penny pinching ways, the USPS is about to run out of money. According to Postmaster General John Potter, the postal service is on track to be bankrupt before the end of the year.
Potter told a House subcommittee Wednesday the lingering question is: Which bills will get paid and which will not.
He said he will make sure that salaries are paid, but also said other bills might have to wait. Potter is seeking permission to reduce mail delivery to five days a week and wants to reduce other costs.
Nice one.



Regulator Says Banks Pressured him to Avoid Oversight of Derivatives

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 12:53 PM PDT
For the first time, the former chief regulator of the $2.69 trillion municipal bond market has come out swinging at the banks, alleging that they prevented him from regulating the swaps and derivative deals that ultimately cost municipal governments more than a billion in losses.

Until 2007 Christopher "Kit" Taylor was the executive director of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, a body set up by Congress in 1975 to make rules for firms that underwrite, trade, and sell municipal debt. The board is basically run by Wall Street firms, which control 10 of its 15 seats. “The big firms didn’t want us touching derivatives,” Taylor, told Bloomberg yesterday. “They said, ‘Don’t talk about it, Kit.”

Taylor went on to condemn the banks for stalling his efforts to close revolving doors and increase transparency in the bond market, and generally being less concerned about the health of the overall economy than their balance sheets.“I saw more bankers looking out for their self interest in my last years at the MSRB,” he told Bloomberg. “The attitude had changed from, ‘What can we do for the good of the market,’ to, ‘What can we do to ensure the future of my business.’ The profit wasn’t in the underwriting, it was in the swap.”

This story should be put into the fat file called "Why Self Regulation Doesn't Work." When that question is answered by the guy who was supposedly in charge, the need for real regulations seems pretty damn obvious.

H/T tpmmuckracker

Public Financing Bill on the Horizon

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 12:24 PM PDT

OpenSecrets.org's Capital Eye blog reports that a bill establishing public financing for House and Senate campaigns will be introduced next week. Similar bills have failed in the past, but good government advocates are committed to trying again and again. The hope is that by providing candidates with federal money with which to campaign, two things will happen: (1) incumbents will be able to spend their time governing instead of dialing for dollars; and (2) special interests will have a much harder time buying influence with politicians. Here are the details, if you're a campaign finance nerd (and if you are, high five!).

According to materials on the Fair Elections Now Coalition's website, candidates for House races would need to collect at least 1,500 contributions from residents of their state and raise a sum of $50,000 to qualify for public financing monies. Senate candidates would be required to raise a number of contributions in a manner that correlates to the state's population according to the formula 2,000 + (500 x CD's), where "CD's" equals the number of congressional districts in their state--an attempt to provide more money to candidates in large states, where campaigning is pricier.

According to the proponents' website, House candidates who qualify would receive an initial grant of $900,000 to be split between the primary and general elections. Senate candidates would receive $1.25 million, plus another $250,000 per congressional district, to be split between the primary and general elections. Additional public monies could be tapped into through a provision that allows for the matching of additional home-state, small-donor fundraising done by the candidate, up to three times the initial amount. Supporters say this would provide enough money to run a "competitive campaign"--even if a candidate participating in the public financing system is facing a well-financed or self-financed opponent who is not participating in the system...

The money for public campaigns would be provided for by a small fee on large federal contracts, according to OpenSecrets. I'm all for it. The good government community is all for it. President Obama is all for it. And yet the bill faces opposition from not just one specific special interest, but from all special interests -- anyone who wants to continue to buy influence with America's politicians. We'll see where it goes.

How to Prosecute a War Criminal

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 11:40 AM PDT

    Length: 16:10 minutes (14.81 MB)
    Format: Stereo 44kHz 128Kbps (CBR)

War crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has dedicated her career to bringing the world's worst human rights violators to justice. As chief prosecutor for the United Nations War Crimes Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, Del Ponte successfully prosecuted some of the most powerful masterminds of mass murder, including Serbian strongman Slobodan Milošević.

Her recent memoir, Madam Prosecutor, details her experiences in The Hague. I spoke with Del Ponte's co-author, Mother Jones contributor Chuck Sudetic, by phone from Croatia. (Del Ponte, now a Swiss ambassador to Argentina, has been barred by her government from speaking publicly about the book—for the backstory, listen to the podcast).

Two quick highlights from our conversation:

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How Does Taking Nekkid Photos of Yourself Make You a Sex Offender?

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 11:27 AM PDT

Finally, some of the young folks being persecuted by prosecutors for taking scandalous cell phone photos of themselves are fighting back via lawsuits. But I don't understand the charge: Why is it illegal to take/send someone dirty pictures of you, whatever your age? Granted, I will break my kids arms if/when I catch them doing something so stupid—and I certainly wish young girls, especially, wouldn't disrespect themselves this way. But a crime, a sex crime? See if this makes sense to you. From the Times:

The picture that investigators from the office of District Attorney George P. Skumanick of Wyoming County had was taken two years earlier at a slumber party. It showed Marissa and a friend from the waist up. Both were wearing bras.

Mr. Skumanick said he considered the photo "provocative" enough to tell Marissa and the friend, Grace Kelly, that if they did not attend a 10-hour class dealing with pornography and sexual violence, he was considering filing a charge of sexual abuse of a minor against both girls. If convicted, they could serve time in prison and would probably have to register as sex offenders.

It was the same deal that 17 other students—13 girls and 4 boys—accepted by the end of February. All of them either been caught with a cellphone containing pictures of nude or seminude students, or were identified in one or more such photos.

I'm so confused: Who are the minors being sexually abused? Unless the photos were taken without the consent of the subject, I don't see the criminal justice issue. To this DA, possession of a dirty photo of yourself is a crime. To me, it's just really, really stupid.

I guess his heart's in the right place, but where'd he learn legal logic?

On the bright side, maybe this will help Joe Average understand how coercive the criminal justice system can be. These kids have the kind of parents who can wage lawsuits on their behalf; other kids go to jail for crimes they didn't commit, then live with a criminal record.

California's Own Hooverville, Circa 2009

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 11:17 AM PDT

You may have seen Oprah's version of the Sacramento "tent city" story recently, which involves a sensationalist video (preview below, full report here) of reporter Lisa Ling talking to Dorothea Lange-styled Great Recession refugees. NBC and Fox News have also flocked to the story; by last weekend, authorities were turning away news crews. But this week, we went to visit the 300 people living in tents along the American River at the north end of downtown Sacramento, and what we found was quite a bit different from the version you'll see on prime time. Here's the factchecked reality of what's going down at California's "new" Hooverville.

We Have a New FOIA Policy

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 10:59 AM PDT
The Obama Administration has nailed down its Freedom of Information Act policy, which will go a long way in determining whether or not the federal government is open for public inspection the next four/eight years. The verdict: way better than Bush, but not perfect.

Come see Rachel Maddow (in SF)--ticket giveaway

| Wed Mar. 25, 2009 2:51 PM PDT
Genius host Rachel Maddow is graciously doing a fundraiser for Mother Jones in San Francisco this Saturday; we thought that as a thank you to all of MoJoBlog readerdom, we'd give away a pair of tickets to one of you. Let us know in the comments if you're interested--we'll pick one commenter at random by Thursday night. Make sure to register so we have a way to contact you. See you there!

UPDATE: And the winner is... commenter No. 2, reyonthehill! We'll email you about how to get a hold of your tickets. (I'm trying to figure out how to embed a picture of the random.org result, but can't seem to get it to work. Sorry!)