Mojo - June 2009

House Liberals Blocking Photo-Suppression Bill

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 9:10 AM PDT

Finally some good news on the torture photos: top liberal Democrats in the House, led by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)* are blocking the awful, Obama-supported Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009. The "records protection" law would allow the administration to unilaterally block the release of any photos of detainee treatment that it didn't want publicized, bypassing the Freedom of Information Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and the odious Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), passed the Senate by a voice vote earlier this week and was attached to the bill providing supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why do the House liberals have any leverage? Glenn Greenwald explains:

The votes of liberal House Democrats actually matter (for once) because most House Republicans are refusing to support the overall supplemental bill due to their objections to a provision for $5 billion in funding to increase the [International Monetary Fund's] lending capacity.  To pass the supplemental spending bill, House leaders need the votes of numerous House Democrats who are currently refusing to vote for anything that contains the photo suppression amendment.

The photo suppression bill is an abomination that is reminiscent of the worst Bush-era excesses. It gives the executive branch the power to withhold an entire category of information from public scrutiny without any review. This law is Example A of the theory of the Presidency that says citizens should just trust the benevolent executive to do the right thing. Even in you oppose releasing some of the photos, I don't see why you would want to give the White House the power to unilaterally decide what's best. It says a lot about the Congress that members are willing to give Obama this kind of power. It says a lot about Obama that he supports this bill. Thank God for Barney Frank.House liberals.

*Update/Correction: Ok, this requires some more explanation. Frank actually voted for the supplemental the second time it came up, but he told Jane Hamsher this: "I told them [the administration] that they have no chance of passing [the war supplemental authorization] if the pictures are in it. There are many Democrats who are very upset about that." It turns out he was right: the Lieberman-Graham bill was not attached to the final conference report. Sorry for the confusion.

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The Bailout Swindle, Act II

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 9:07 AM PDT | Scheduled to publish Fri Jun. 5, 2009 1:21 PM PDT

Numerous are the ways the government’s multi-trillion-dollar bailout has scammed taxpayers. One estimate, from the Congressional Budget Office, says the taxpayer-funded TARP could subsidize bailout recipients by a whopping $356 billion by 2010. Now, eight months into the bailout and on the back of the Treasury's much hyped stress-test results, several of the largest recipients are itching to return their bailout billions. Early next week, the Federal Reserve will announce which banks can begin repaying their TARP stock investments using the Fed's updated criteria.

But to completely extract themselves from government control, the banks will also look to buy back their government-held warrants. Warrants are basically stock options to buy shares at a set price over a certain period of time. (In this case, that period is 10 years.) The government initially purchased banks' warrants as part of its plan to recapitalize them and bolster their financial health. Banks now want to buy those warrants back—and it’s here that taxpayers could lose big again.

Does Sotomayor Oppose The Death Penalty?

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 8:10 AM PDT

Republicans in Congress have all but given up trying to derail the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor for a Supreme Court seat. Even Manny Miranda, the controversial conservative leading the attacks on Sotomayor, has admitted he has no hope of winning a filibuster because the GOP just doesn't have the numbers. That stark fact apparently won't stop serious right-wingers from attempting to bloody Sotomayor anyway, this time over her stance on the death penalty.

Today, Wendy Long, counsel to the conservative Judicial Confirmation Network, sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee complaining that Sotomayor has failed to make public controversial materials from her 12-year membership in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, where she was once a board member. The documents purportedly show her opposing reinstatement of New York's death penalty back in 1981.  Long is shocked--shocked!--that Sotomayor signed on to a memo suggesting that "Capital punishment is associated with evident racism in our society.”

USNWR: Clemson Can't Fool Us

| Thu Jun. 4, 2009 2:30 PM PDT

Earlier today, Clemson University tried desperately to save face by claiming it had not tried to manipulate the U.S. News and World Report ranking system after all. Now, USNWR's trying to unsully its own reputation by saying it's up to Clemson's tricks, particularly the one where they rate other universities lower than themselves on the reputation survey:

In terms of the reputation survey, U.S. News has safeguards in place to prevent strategic voting from affecting the results. We subtract a few of the highest and lowest scores from respondents before the results are calculated in order to prevent downgrading or upgrading from altering the results. We are confident that such voting practices by respondents are not affecting the results of the reputation survey in any meaningful statistical way.

But Inside Higher Ed quoted Catherine Watt, Clemson's director of institutional research, as saying everyone cheats on the reputation surveys:

And to actual gasps from some members of the audience, Watt said that Clemson officials, in filling out the reputational survey form for presidents, rate "all programs other than Clemson below average," to make the university look better. "And I'm confident my president is not the only one who does that," Watt said.

If everyone does it, then simply throwing out the highs and lows won't fix the problem, right?

Update: Could the Clemson scandal kill USNWR?

The Appearance of Corruption

| Thu Jun. 4, 2009 12:56 PM PDT

Still don't believe that money buys results in Washington? Take a look at this chart from the Sunlight Foundation. This is what Larry Lessig and Change Congress are talking about when they talk about "the appearance of corruption":

France Says All AF 447 Remains May Never Be Found; Brazil Disagrees

| Thu Jun. 4, 2009 12:42 PM PDT

Since Monday, the Brazilian navy and air force have been focused on finding what's left of Air France Flight 447. But in trying to get government officials to comment on the crash, I've been met with only one answer: According to international regulations, it is France’s responsibility to determine the cause of the accident, not Brazil's. Was it caused by the storm? An equipment problem? Answering that is France’s job, Brazilian officials repeat over and over again.

Frustratingly, France doesn’t have any leads either. Air France has ruled out the possibility of the plane having left Rio with some kind of technical problem. Other than that, there seems to be no information. The black boxes could be as far as three miles down into the water, in an area full of rock formations and subject to unpredictable weather. The head of France’s accident investigation agency Paul-Louis Arslanian says they may never be found.

But the optimistic Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva disagrees. “A country that can find petroleum at a depth of six thousand meters (3.7 miles) can find an airplane at two thousand meters (1.2 miles),” he said from Guatemala City.

Let's hope he's right.

Guest contributor Gabriela Lessa is a journalist and blogger spending the summer in her native Brazil. Watch for her regular dispatches over the next few months on MotherJones.com.

 

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Clemson: Accusations of Gaming Rankings Are "Outrageous"

| Thu Jun. 4, 2009 12:16 PM PDT

Yesterday, we reported on Clemson University's basically admitting that it manipulates U.S. News and World Report's college rankings. Now, the university has done an about face and denied any pandering, calling the accusations "outrageous" and "untrue." From a statement issued by Clemson today:

 

Another Good, Obvious Idea That Will Die A Slow, Painful Death In Congress

| Thu Jun. 4, 2009 10:51 AM PDT

It's not just good policy ideas about Medicare and health care costs that fail to become law because entrenched interests oppose them. Good tax reform ideas also die because powerful businesses and interest groups are threatened by them—a fact that helps make our tax code the loophole-ridden mess it is today.

The Great Thing About Media Matters

| Thu Jun. 4, 2009 10:01 AM PDT

media mattersNot everyone likes Media Matters for America, the left-wing media watchdog that seeks out "conservative misinformation" in the media. I do. Like the excellent ThinkProgress, there's a wonderful, understated humor to a lot of Media Matters' content. Both sites have a writing style that focuses on "just the facts." That style can strip some of the color from colorful events. But some things are surreal, brilliant, and hilarious without any comment added. Take this, for example:

Ben Nelson Still Freaking Out Over Change Congress Ads

| Thu Jun. 4, 2009 9:40 AM PDT

change congress logoI'm beginning to think I was wrong to criticize Change Congress' latest ad on Wednesday. The anti-corruption non profit has been slamming Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, for his opposition to giving Americans the ability to choose between private insurance plans and a government-run option. Insurance companies hate the idea of a so-called "public option," and they've given Nelson over $2 million in campaign cash. Change Congress has been pointing out that Nelson's position on a public plan and his acceptance of that campaign money, taken together, create the appearance of corruption. (The fact that this even needs to be pointed out is pretty sad.)