Mojo - March 2009

Video: Chasing Campaign Cash in DC

| Fri Mar. 20, 2009 2:29 PM EDT

What happens when you try to visit every campaign fundraiser held in Washington DC in a single day? You get turned down at lot, and you realize that lawmakers don't spend as much time slaving away over issue briefs as you might think. From the American News Project:

The way fundraising bastardizes the work of Congress is one of the things that Robert Kaiser, who wrote So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government, talked about in an interview with Mother Jones.

MJ: You write about the way in which the increasing need to raise money has changed the day-to-day activities of congressmen. Talk a little about that.

RK: This is one of the things I simply did not know about before doing the reporting for this book. The members now routinely spend a day, sometimes two days a week—all the time, all year around, election year or no election year—on the telephone calling potential donors, pleading for money. It's a demeaning enterprise, and I think it has an impact on weaning out a lot of people who might consider running for Congress [but don't] once they find out they have to do this every week for the rest of their lives.

Kaiser made it clear that lawmakers, particularly members of the House who have to run for reelection every two years, are raising money, traveling, or attending campaign events so often than they only work about three days a week. Just another argument for public financing of campaigns.

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Iraqi Family Sues Blackwater For War Crimes

| Fri Mar. 20, 2009 1:55 PM EDT
Lawyers representing the widow and two children of an Iraqi vice-presidential guard allegedly murdered by a drunken Blackwater contractor filed suit today in a California court, charging Blackwater (recently renamed "Xe") with war crimes, assault and battery, wrongful death, and evidence tampering. The plaintiffs contend that security contractor Andrew Moonen got drunk at a 2006 Christmas party in the Green Zone, stumbled off and got lost, and then fired shots at 32-year old Raheem Khalaf Sa'adoon, a security guard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Raheem Khalaf, "killing him for no reason."

In a press release announcing the lawsuit, plaintiff attorney Susan Burke describes the shooting as "part of a pattern of illegal Xe-Blackwater shootings around the globe," while her colleague William Gould says that "Blackwater's clever new name cannot obscure the legal consequences of the company's use of excessive and deadly force on innocents."

For a timeline of Blackwater's activities in Iraq, click here.

Now This is Sisterhood

| Fri Mar. 20, 2009 12:35 PM EDT

Remember the Pakistani woman ordered gang-raped in 2002 because her brother had improper relations with a girl from another clan? Never mind that even that heinous justification was a frame job meant to hide the fact that he'd been gang-raped by that other clan—check this out.

Not only has this sister refused to commit suicide like most rape victims due to the associated stigma. Not only did she press charges and go on to live a very public life in which "she runs several schools, an ambulance service and women's aid group while having written an autobiography. By marrying, she has defeated another stigma against rape victims" who live as outcasts. Until they kill themselves.  That's right-I'm applauding her for marrying. As a second wife, no less. Well, I'm not applauding her for marrying (unless it was her choice) but for why and how she married.

From the NYT:

Mr. Gabol [her new husband] was one of a group of police officers deployed to protect her after she was threatened by the rapists’ relatives to try to stop her from pressing charges.
Mr. Gabol had a hard time persuading Ms. Mukhtar to marry. He had been calling her off and on since 2003 but formally proposed a year and a half ago, she said. "But I told my parents I don't want to get married."
Finally, four months ago, he tried to kill himself by taking sleeping pills. "The morning after he attempted suicide, his wife and parents met my parents but I still refused," Ms. Mukhtar said...Mr. Gabol then threatened to divorce his first wife, Shumaila. Ms. Shumaila, along with Mr. Gabol’s parents and sisters, tried to talk Ms. Mukhtar into marrying him, taking on the status of second wife. In Pakistan, a man can legally have up to four wives. It was her concern about Ms. Shumaila, Ms. Mukhtar said, that moved her to relent.
I am a woman and can understand the pain and difficulties faced by another woman," Ms. Mukhtar said. "She is a good woman."
In the end, Ms. Mukhtar put a few conditions on Mr. Gabol. He had to transfer the ownership of his ancestral house to his first wife, agree to give her a plot of land and a monthly stipend of roughly $125.
Asked if she had plans to leave her village to live with her husband in his village, Ms. Mukhtar said no. "I have seen pain and happiness in Meerwala. I cannot think of leaving this place." Her husband, she said, "can come here whenever he wants and finds it convenient."

Something tells me he better not be expecting to get any.

One Way to Avoid the Stimulus Bill's Bonus Loophole...

| Fri Mar. 20, 2009 12:33 PM EDT
The Sunlight Foundation points out that if Congress wants to avoid unpleasant surprises about Wall Street bonus loopholes in federal legislation, a good way to start would be to give lawmakers, the public, and watchdog groups 72 hours to read a bill before lawmakers have to vote on it. I agree. Seems like common sense, no?

The Federal Reserve Passes the Buck—and Prints a Trillion More

| Fri Mar. 20, 2009 10:14 AM EDT

Financial crises have a way of exposing the real structures of economic and political power. The current “big mess”—as the White House has taken to calling the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression—has revealed, among other things, the monstrous power of the Federal Reserve.

I’ve never put much stock in conspiracy theories that posited "shadow governments” pulling the strings behind the scenes. But the Fed is as close as it gets. While we focus all our attention on our elected government—the Democrats and Republicans who fight it out over how much to spend on the stimulus package—the Federal Reserve goes on operating behind closed doors, making financial decisions that could make the stimulus look like chump change.

The Fed’s power was abundantly clear on Wednesday: While the politicians, the press, and the public remained riveted on the battle over a few hundred million in AIG bonuses (which the Fed, it turns out, knew all about months ago, and didn’t bother telling the president), the Federal Reserve decided on its own to pump $1 trillion into the economy—nearly doubling all its previous cash injections. This is accomplished, as the New York Times points out, by “creating vast sums of money out of thin air.” And that’s not just a figure of speech: The privately owned banks that more or less run the Fed are helping themselves to $1 trillion plus by printing new money.

Iraq War, 6 Years and Counting

| Thu Mar. 19, 2009 4:11 PM EDT

I remember vividly this night six years ago, which I spent huddled around CNN with the rest of Salon's News/Politics crew, watching the deadly firefly light of missiles falling for the first time in the Iraqi darkness.

I don't think any of us thought the Iraq War would last this long, though Mother Jones coverage proved awfully prescient. 

Six years later, if you feel a sense of jaded anger coming over you when you consider Iraq's current state, look instead at the burial photos of fallen soldiers, and the faces of the walking wounded, and let this archive of our Iraq War coverage remind you of what we know now and should have known then.

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The Hypocritical Oath

| Thu Mar. 19, 2009 3:33 PM EDT

More than 200 representatives and senators in the 111th Congress have signed Americans for Tax Reform's Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a vow to oppose all tax increases. That put them in a sticky place when they voted Thursday on H.R. 1596, better known as the bill that levies a 90 percent tax on bonuses given out by bailed-out banks.

The bill passed the House overwhelmingly—328 to 93—so doesn't that mean a bunch of lawmakers violated their oaths to Grover Norquist's anti-tax group? Nope, not according to two press releases ATR sent out a few hours before the vote.

The first release notes ATR is "STRONGLY OPPOSED to...the Rangel-Pelosi bill to tax AIG bonuses in order to deflect blame from Secretary Geithner’s failed mismanagement of Treasury funds." But how could pledge-signers vote against the bill when popular ire toward AIG and other banks with taxpayer-subsidized bonuses is so high? Because, according to ATR's second press release, the bill is "illegal, unconstitutional" and "is not a tax bill so much as it is a politically-driven police action by the Congress. The Pledge is intended as a serious commitment by serious defenders of taxpayers."

In Washington, that's what we call spinning for the sake of political cover.

The Same Banking Geniuses that Destroyed Our Economy Get Paid and Paid and Paid

| Thu Mar. 19, 2009 1:48 PM EDT

From CNN: If you're out of work like Steve Lippe, who was laid off from his job as a salesman in January, you know you already have problems. But looking at the fine print that came with his new unemployment debit card, he became livid.

"A $1.50 [fee] here, a $1.50 there," he said. "Forty cents for a balance inquiry. Fifty cents to have your card denied. Thirty-five cents to have your account accessed by telephone."

...The National Consumer Law Center says fees range from 40 cents to a high of $3 per transaction."

And where are these fees going? Banks like JP Morgan Chase which has contracts with seven states and is negotiating with two others. But hey, you're unemployed. If you don't want to pay the fees, just wait ten days for a check.

BTW, in many states, child support payment debit cards nickel and dime you to death this way, too, lest we forget which segments of society must always benefit off the backs of the unfortunate. In both instances, you can opt for direct deposit, but it's hard to know about the fees until your card arrives. Which I'm sure is accidental.

Robbing the Old to Give to the Young (and the Rich)

| Thu Mar. 19, 2009 9:32 AM EDT

Advocates for the preservation of so-called old-age entitlements have been warning for some time that Social Security and Medicare may be offered up as a sacrifice to offset the cost of the bailout and stimulus.  This would suit conservatives, who for years have been looking for ways to undermine the popular programs. Leading that charge are the the “granny bashers” hunkered around the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. With an endowment of $1 billion, the Foundation pursues an agenda that consists mainly of bitching and moaning that greedy geezers are taking money away from poor young things with their unconscionable demands for basic health care and income support. With increasing support from the media, the punditry, and some members of Congress, they warn that aging boomers will soon bankrupt the country and destroy the lives of future generations.

It’s particularly absurd that this argument emanates from the likes of Peterson, himself now an octagenarian, who was Nixon’s Secretary of Commerce and and more recently chair of the Council on Foreign Relations. Peterson, who is worth $2.8 billion, was also head of the now-defunct Lehman Brothers, and is probably best known as senior chairman of Blackstone Group, a finance company currently enjoying harsh criticism from the Chinese for having lost that country $80 billion in lousy business. While attacking the programs that support poor elderly people, Peterson seems to have no objection to government bailouts for his old comrades on Wall Street. Bill Greider recently wrote a comprehensive piece in The Nation on the machinations of Peterson and his anti-entitlement cohort. 

We Rock! Three "Magazine Oscar" Nominations for MoJo

| Wed Mar. 18, 2009 6:19 PM EDT
Who-hoo! Mother Jones has just been nominated for three National Magazine Awards. The NMAs are often described as the magazine world's Academy Awards (without the awful musical medleys). Picking up three Ellie nods is a real honor, and all the more so since we won a General Excellence Award last year. This time, we've been nominated in the General Excellence categories for both print and online (our print submission consisted of three special issues on torture, energy, and the new "ECOnomy"). We're also up in the Public Interest category. As always, we're pitted against a diverse group of formidable competitors—Foreign Policy, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, and Paste, to name a few. We're practicing balancing Ellie statues on our noses, just in case. But it's not too soon to thank you, the key ingredient in our reader-supported journalism, for keeping us on our toes and pushing us to keep going. Winners will be announced April 30—we'll keep you updated. The official press release is after the jump.