Mojo - March 2009

Ex-GOP Senator Decries Limbaugh as "Center of Gravity" of Republican Party

| Wed Mar. 18, 2009 11:07 AM EDT

Former Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, has weighed in on his party's Rush wars.

Rush Limbaugh is "the center of gravity" of the Republican Party, and "we need a new center of gravity," Hagel told me on Tuesday night.

That evening, Hagel was taping an interview with Rachel Maddow for her MSNBC show. Now cochairman of the Commission on United States Policy Toward Russia, he discussed Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's announcement that Russia would begin a "large-scale rearming" and the news that Russia might be putting long-range bombers in Cuba and Venezuela. On the segment, Hagel, who was a foreign policy leader in the Senate, talked about his recent trip to Moscow and called for moving the US-Russia relationship back to a "smart" track. He also criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney for claiming that the Obama administration has placed the nation in danger and noted that Cheney was partly responsible for the "mess" the Bush administration left behind.

On the show, Hagel took a shot at new Republican Party chairman Michael Steele. Asked about Steele's threat to support primary challengers against Republican Senators Arlen Specter, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe, who each defied GOP leaders and voted for Obama's stimulus package, Hagel called it "a very foolish, foolish move," commenting, "there's no room for that kind of silliness." He added, "People expect serious people to deal with serious issues and to govern seriously. And when you don't do that, you become irrelevant."

Maddow did not ask Hagel about Limbaugh. But prior to the taping, Hagel was not shy about bemoaning Limbaugh's drag on his party. He told me that Limbaugh was the opposite of what the Republican Party needs now. "We blew eight years of governing," Hagel said, excoriating GOPers for having "run up" the national debt. "You can only blame Ted Kennedy for so much," he remarked.

Hagel's comments about Limbaugh were not surprising. Before he left the Senate last year, after serving two terms, Hagel developed the reputation of an independent Republican. He flirted with a presidential run in 2008 and then backed off. Last summer, he practically endorsed Obama, traveling to Iraq with the Democratic candidate, when John McCain's campaign was attacking Obama for being soft on defense and accusing him of wanting to lose the war there.

The Rush wars, though, have abated in the past week. Steele has moved on, after apologizing to Limbaugh for calling his broadcasts "ugly" and "incendiary." Pro-administration groups have throttled back on the anti-Limbaugh ads. The mini-uproar over Limbaugh's offensive reference to Ted Kennedy's possible death has subsided. (The new GOP cat-fight is a three-way dust-up involving Laura Ingraham, Meghan McCain, and Ann Coulter.)

But Limbaugh's not fading away, and Republicans will continue to have to figure out their party's relationship to the radio provocateur. And Hagel, for one, does not want his party--he still calls himself a Republican--to be fall prey to Limbaugh's gravitational pull.

Here's Hagel on The Rachel Maddow Show:

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Obama Explains the Budget He Wants You to Support

| Wed Mar. 18, 2009 9:54 AM EDT

Yesterday, I noted that Organizing for America is asking people to call their lawmakers in support of a budget no one from the Obama Administration has explained.

Today, Obama does the explaining himself, in a web video. It's below.

The AIG Mystery: Who's Receiving Those Bonuses?

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 3:32 PM EDT

Just who's getting those AIG bonuses?

For days, media commentators, Republican and Democratic Legislators, and just plain folks have been ranting about the news that AIG, the belly-up insurance-giant-cum-hedge-fund that has been bailed out by the US government to the tune (so far) of $175 billion, is handing out at least $165 million in bonuses to its executives. The outrage has been flying fast and thick. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called for AIG executives to resign or commit suicide. Stephen Colbert screamed and waved a pitchfork. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), declared that some of AIG's employees ought to be fired. President Barack Obama said he was "choked up with anger." Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, promised late Tuesday that Democrats would propose legislation taxing the bonuses at severe rates unless the bonus contracts were renegotiated. At the White House press briefings, press secretary Robert Gibbs has been pelted with questions about what Obama is going to do to stop—or reclaim—the bonuses.

But in all the furor, one unanswered question has been who precisely is receiving this largesse. Andrew Cuomo, the New York state attorney general, has been on the case. On Monday, he subpoenaed AIG for the names of the executives who received bonuses. The idea, presumably, would be to try to publicly shame some of the executives into returning the money. And Cuomo received something of a boost from the White House. At the end of Tuesday's press briefing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Gibbs said that the president is supportive of Cuomo's efforts and is also "looking into" obtaining and making public the names of the AIG employees awarded bonuses. This was not a rip-roaring endorsement, but a signal that Obama wouldn't mind if Cuomo succeeded in publicly humiliating these executives. After all, Cuomo's endeavor makes sense: If it's really so hard to get the money back from these folks (because preexisting contracts supposedly can't be broken), taxpayers should at least know whose bank accounts they're padding.

Hmm, About Mobilizing Those Obama Millions....

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 3:06 PM EDT

Organizing for America, the next iteration of President Obama's campaign apparatus, is launching a web tool today that is designed to mobilize millions of Obamaniacs in support of the president's budget. Right now, the tool, which you can find here, mainly makes calling your elected representatives easier.

Not to be the skunk at the party here, but I have a question: shouldn't people know what is in the budget before they start demanding support for it?

Dear Mr. President: Please Bring Change We Can Believe in to the FEC

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 11:14 AM EDT

The inadequacy of the Federal Elections Commission is an old hobby-horse around here. Today, CREW has some wise things to say on the subject:

Come May 1, President Barack Obama will face a first test of whether he will make good on his promise to change the way Washington works. The test will come at an agency that most Americans have never even heard of — the Federal Election Commission — where there could be three vacancies that day.

...the FEC has long been made up of commissioners hand-picked from the ranks of the political party faithful, and its interpretation of the nation’s campaign finance laws has consistently been to the benefit of the parties rather than the people.

CREW then spends some time providing examples of the FEC's failings, which you should check out if you're not well-versed on the subject. Then it lays out Obama's options:

Blackwater Contractors Looking For New Jobs

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 11:05 AM EDT
Muscled men in dark sunglasses speeding down Iraqi roads in armored SUVs, guns at the ready and looking for trouble, have been a regular fixture in Iraq since 2003. But with Blackwater's State Department contract set to expire in May, many of its highly skilled (if sometimes reckless) security contractors will soon find themselves on the unemployment line. But according to the Washington Post, the lucky ones could be snatched up by Triple Canopy and DynCorps, the two security companies to which the State Department has turned to pick up the slack. "One or both of the firms are likely to undertake the task of rehiring some personnel now working for Blackwater," the Post's Karen DeYoung reports.

Still, there will inevitably be fewer high-paying private security jobs available than there are free agents looking for work (welcome to the recession, guys). General Ray Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, has ordered his forces to begin shedding private contractor jobs at a rate of 5 percent per quarter in favor of hiring more local Iraqis to do the work for less money.

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Bob Gates' Pentagon Revolution

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 10:50 AM EDT

When all is said and done, it may be Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican, who is seen as Barack Obama's most revolutionary cabinet pick. The Boston Globe reported Tuesday morning that Gates is poised to make "the most far-reaching changes in the Pentagon's weapons portfolio since the end of the Cold War," and plans to cancel as many as six major weapons programs this month, including the F-22, the Navy's Zumwalt-class destroyer, and new Army ground transports.

Cutting these programs won't be easy. When Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense, the Globe notes, he tried to cancel the V-22 Osprey four times. Each time Congress resurrected the program. Big weapons programs mean jobs for states, and members of Congress don't want to be blamed for their cancellation, especially in a recession. Besides, if this was easy, it would already have been done: the F-22, for example, has not even been used in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that hasn't stopped it from being built. Andrew Exum (a.k.a. abu muqawama), a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a top counterinsurgency blogger, writes: "Prepare to fight three wars at once: one in Afghanistan, one in Iraq, and one in Washington against the bi-partisan coalition of lobbyists, congressmen, and industry leaders who will fight Robert Gates tooth and nail on this. It is going to be awesome to watch, that's for sure."

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has been campaigning against out-of-control military spending and "Cold War-era weapons" like the F-22 for a quarter-century now. Last month, he and other liberal Democrats hosted a forum on Capitol Hill demanding Obama cut the Pentagon budget and shutter programs like the ones Gates plans to kill later this month. Obama's budget increase for the Pentagon, announced just a few days later, was a setback for Frank and his allies. But now it looks like Frank may have a friend in the Pentagon after all. The next few weeks should give us a better sense of exactly what kind of change Gates can push through.

When Are the Steelers Visiting the White House?

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 10:10 AM EDT

In light of today's news that Steelers owner Dan Rooney will be the next US Ambassador to Ireland, it's only appropriate to ask the most pressing question in Steeler Nation (or at least the little corner of Steeler Nation that works at Mother Jones): when are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won Super Bowl 43 on February 1, getting their customary visit to the White House? Rooney and head coach Mike Tomlin are both huge Obama fans, and before the Super Bowl various Steelers players cited a visit to Barack Obama's White House as extra motivation. Obama himself professes to have been a Steelers fan growing up in Hawaii, and admitted before the Super Bowl that he was rooting for the Steelers over the Cardinals.

Yet six weeks have passed since the Steelers won their NFL-leading sixth ring and no mention of a visit. I called the White House press office this morning to ask for an explanation and received a beleaguered "I don't know" that had strong hints of "please stop bothering us." I understand the White House is busy, put c'mon folks. We're going to have a March Madness champion soon, and NHL and NBA winners after that. You can't let these things pile up.

Photo by flickr user Pixteca MX used under a Creative Commons license.

Steelers Owner Rooney to Be Named Irish Ambassador Today

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 9:38 AM EDT
A Democratic congressional staffer confirms to Mother Jones that Pittsburgh Steelers owner and Obama supporter Dan Rooney will be named the United States Ambassador to Ireland today.

Rooney became president of the Steelers in 1975 and owner in 1988, continuing a line of family ownership that began when Rooney's father, Art Rooney, known as "the Chief," bought the team in 1933 for roughly $2,500 in horserace winnings. In addition to being involved in the Steelers' league-leading six Super Bowl championships, Dan Rooney is known for guiding the creation and implementation of what is commonly called the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate when filling a head coaching vacancy. The rule is widely credited for adding to the diversity of the NFL's coaching ranks. When the Steelers won the Super Bowl last February, their head coach, Mike Tomlin, was only the second African-American head coach to pilot a team to the championship. Rooney was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

Rooney has long ties to Ireland. He created the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and founded the American Ireland Fund. Despite being a lifelong Republican, Rooney supported the candidacy of Barack Obama, going so far as to campaign for him in important swing states.

Currently, Pittsburgh area papers are reporting that Rooney "may" be named to the ambassadorship. The congressional staffer who confirmed the move to Mother Jones said that his member received a courtesy call from the administration informing his office of the appointment.

Update: The White House emailed reporters announcing Rooney's appointment at 10:04 am. Beat 'em by about 25 minutes. Obama had this to say: "I am honored and grateful that such a dedicated and accomplished individual has agreed to serve as the representative of the United States to the Irish people. Dan Rooney is an unwavering supporter of Irish peace, culture, and education, and I have every confidence that he and Secretary Clinton will ensure America’s continued close and unique partnership with Ireland in the years ahead."

Capital Punishment: What Should We Do To Wall Street's Villains?

| Tue Mar. 17, 2009 2:00 AM EDT

According to the principles of retributive justice, punishment is supposed to be more or less in proportion to the magnitude of a crime. So—which do you think is an appropriate punishment for the Wall Street executives whose greed and corruption not only bankrupted their own companies, but set in motion a meltdown that has deprived millions of Americans of their homes and their life savings, driven millions more into unemployment and poverty, and triggered economic chaos, political unrest, and even starvation and death around the world?

A. Don’t give them a bonus this year.

B. Fire their asses.

C. Lock them up and throw away the key.

If you answered A, you are in line with the policies of the Obama administration, which, after giving billions in bailout money to the likes of AIG, discovered that the company intends to pay out millions in executive bonuses.  The administration’s response has been to get really, really pissed off, and say that they just aren’t going to stand for  these guys getting multi-million-dollar bonuses on top of their multi-million-dollar salaries–if only they can figure out a way around those pesky contracts.