Mojo - April 2009

Michael Steele, Really Bumbling Through This Specter Situation

| Wed Apr. 29, 2009 10:33 AM EDT

Michael Steele and the RNC sent out an email to supporters late last night trying to raise funds on Specter's switch. "His defection to the Democrat Party puts the Democrats in an almost unstoppable position to pass Obama's destructive agenda," he wrote. "Join me in this fight by making a secure online contribution of $25, $50, $100, $500 or $1,000 right now." For good measure, he calls Specter "craven" and Obama backers a "band of radical leftists."

My favorite bit, though, is when he follows up that name-calling by comparing the RNC and its supporters to America's greatest statesman.

Some will use Specter's defection as an excuse to fold the tent and give up. I believe that you are not one of those people. When Benedict Arnold defected to the British, George Washington didn't fold the tent and give up either.

What's a little self-flattery among friends? Steele also said yesterday that Specter, who is basically a moderate conservative, has a "left-wing" voting record. Which is a pretty clear signal that, oh, 70 percent of Americans and their political views aren't welcome in today's GOP. Nice work, Chairman Steele!

Update: Uh oh. Looks like Steele is facing dissent in-house.

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Swine Flu Gives Pork a Bad Name

| Wed Apr. 29, 2009 12:45 AM EDT

Fewer little piggies are going to market, and farmers are scrambling. News of the now-ubiquitous swine flu fills the headlines (what recession?), everyone's either got it, has symptoms, or can't get the virus off their RSS feeds (sorry). Even the "swine" in swine flu is presenting some with opportunities. The advocacy group Farm Sanctuary has taken the swine flu's 15 minutes and released an advisory on the ills of factory farmed pork. True, the pandemic may represent a policy window for proposed legislation to better regulate mass production of pork, but officials are now saying that the flu's name is misleading.

Also called the North American flu or the catchy "H1N1" virus, swine flu is the name that's stuck (except in Israel where they've pulled the swine reference since no one eats pork in that Jewish/Muslim mess-of-a-state and apparently therefore no one would care?). Earlier today Ag secretary Tom Vilsack practically begged people to stop using "swine flu" and to start referring to the illness by its scientific name HIN1. Too bad the science didn't work out to C3PO.

Is Luce's "American Century" Finally Over?

| Tue Apr. 28, 2009 4:15 PM EDT

Via TomDispatch, Andrew J. Bacevich has an interesting take today on how to drive a stake through the heart of Hank Luce's "American century." A snippet, plus video:

When the Time-Life publisher coined his famous phrase, his intent was to prod his fellow citizens into action. Appearing in the February 7, 1941 issue of Life, his essay, "The American Century," hit the newsstands at a moment when the world was in the throes of a vast crisis. A war in Europe had gone disastrously awry. A second almost equally dangerous conflict was unfolding in the Far East. Aggressors were on the march...

Credit Card Companies Snatch Social Security Payments

| Tue Apr. 28, 2009 3:01 PM EDT

Holes are appearing every day in our so-called safety net. But even amidst all the budget cutting, most elders and disabled people probably feel that their monthly Social Security checks are something they can count on. Having escaped attempts at privatization under Bush, Social Security might appear secure, at least in the short term.

Maybe not. As New America Media reports, debt collectors for credit card companies and other creditors are now going after Social Security payments, which are supposed to be exempt from garnishment in such situations. Their tactics include freezing the bank accounts into which a beneficiary’s Social Security checks are direct-deposited. When this happens, often without warning, old and disabled people find themselve suddenly without the resources to buy food and medicine, which can trigger a desperate medical crisis.

That’s right. The meager amounts deposited into our accounts by the Social Security Administration, which many older people now must rely on more than ever before because of layoffs, the real estate crash, and the 401k collapse, are being illegally siezed, often by the very same companies that brought on the crisis in the first place–the big banks and other financial institutions that issue loans and credit cards. After taking in billions in public stimulus funds, they are wringing out every last dime by going after these public pensions, which are supposed to be protected. When you read stories about how Wall Street is relaxing with the comeback of high pay and big bonuses, think about this:

Margot Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center estimates that “tens of thousands of people every month,” who are elderly or disabled, are being forced into dire financial circumstances. Bank account freezes and illegal garnishments of exempt funds, including veterans’ benefits, are shredding safety nets. In her 2008 testimony before a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, Saunders included a long list of stories.…

K Street Exploits Stimulus Lobbying Loophole

| Tue Apr. 28, 2009 2:27 PM EDT

After the Obama administration levied strict new rules on stimulus-related lobbying late last month, K Streeters didn't just get mad, they got creative. Under the March 20 directive, federal agencies must disclose lobbying contacts on stimulus issues and post them online. And, if lobbyists wish to influence government officials on particular stimulus projects, they have to put these requests in writing—communications that are also to be made public by the relevant government agencies.

Naturally, lobbyists bristled at this attempt to foist transparency on their opaque world. But it didn't take long for the influence industry to devise a very simple workaround: use non-lobbyists to lobby on the $787 billion stimulus. The Wall Street Journal reports that "the rule has brought in a slew of work for nonregistered lawyers, who can call or meet with officials without submitting requests in writing." (That is, so long as they don't spend more than 20 percent of their time peddling influence, in which case they would be legally required to register as a lobbyist.) "Where there's any issue, it's just easier to hand it off to somebody who's not registered," one lobbyist told the Journal. "Certainly people are helping out who normally wouldn't be engaged in this."

The People vs. Dick Cheney vs. Torture

| Tue Apr. 28, 2009 1:06 PM EDT

A Patrick Fitzgerald-style investigation may be the wrong way to get the truth on torture. But what's the right one? And what form will redress take?

Writes Karen Greenberg:

The list of potential legal breaches is, of course, enormous; by one count, the administration has broken 269 laws, both domestic and international.
With these abuses in mind, lawyers, policymakers, and others have identified three models from which to fashion a response to the Bush era. In decreasing order of opprobrium, the choices are impeachment, prosecution, and investigative commission.

Re-read The People vs. Dick Cheney.

Plus: If Congress and the White House punt on prosecution, here are 5 options for who might throw the book at the Bush/Cheney crew.

Hey, did you know our special torture investigation is up for a National Magazine Award? See why: Listen to our exclusive torture playlist and re-read the secrets of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and the war on terror.

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How the Far Right Handed Dems a 60-Vote Majority

| Tue Apr. 28, 2009 12:10 PM EDT

The reason Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched parties on Tuesday is rather obvious. Though Specter explained in a statement released today that it's due to the GOP's rightward shift ("I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans," he said), the more likely reason is that Specter's political career would end if he remained a Republican. Unlike Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords, who abandoned the GOP and caucused with the Democrats in 2001 in a principled decision, declining to run for reelection, Specter is simply reading the tea leaves. Most available polling indicates that the moderate Specter would be trounced in the 2010 Republican primary by a conservative challenger named Pat Toomey.

McCain's Curious Support for "Moving On"

| Tue Apr. 28, 2009 9:35 AM EDT

In my blog post yesterday in which I pointed out that in 2007 John McCain was (correctly) telling people that we executed Japanese soldiers after WWII for waterboarding American POWs, I really should have pointed out that McCain has taken a look at the Bush Administration's actions, including waterboarding a detainee 183 times in a month, and has decided that instead of investigations or prosecutions, "we've got to move on."

Bailout for Breakfast: GM Rolls Out New Plan

| Mon Apr. 27, 2009 5:40 PM EDT

This story first appeared on ProPublica.

It is the latest from ProPublica's new bailout blog. Check out the all-seeing database of the bailout billions.  

This morning, General Motors is rolling out its third new business plan since December. The plan, in brief: cut 21,000 jobs, a third of its workforce, close a number of its plants, drop the Pontiac brand and try to persuade 90 percent of its bondholders to swap their notes for equity in the company.

Treasury officials gave GM a June 1 deadline to restructure. But the government aid isn’t likely to slow any time soon, reports the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. Treasury will extend $11.6 billion more to GM, in addition to $15.4 billion in existing loans. The government will forgive half the debt in exchange for equity in a restructured GM.

Should all that come to pass and GM lands more than $27 billion in aid, that would make the company the fifth largest beneficiary of taxpayer money in the bailout so far, behind AIG, Bank of America, Citigroup and Freddie Mac.

In other auto news, Chrysler says it has struck a deal with the UAW. That’s progress, but the company still has to reach a deal with its big bank lenders by Friday, the deadline set by the administration for a restructuring deal.

"We Could Have Done This the Right Way"

| Mon Apr. 27, 2009 3:27 PM EDT

A must-read from Michael Isikoff of Newsweek starring FBI agent Ali Soufan, the man who would have led the interrogations of America's detainees if the war on terror had been prosecuted in a different universe these past eight years: