Mojo - June 2009

Would Mike Dukakis Have Won in 2008?

| Tue Jun. 2, 2009 9:47 AM EDT

No.

This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.(TM Atrios)

Also, and this should go without saying: Mike Dukakis is no Barack Obama. The available evidence suggests Obama would not look like a fool around military equipment. And there's no way Mike Dukakis could pull off those shades.

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Obama's Calculated GOP Outreach

| Tue Jun. 2, 2009 8:49 AM EDT

President Barack Obama will appoint yet another moderate Republican to a top post in his administration on Tuesday. Obama's expected nomination of John M. McHugh, a GOP congressman from New York, to be Secretary of the Army comes less than three weeks after the president picked Jon Huntsman, the popular Republican governor of Utah, as his ambassador to China.

The nomination follows a pattern. While the Republicans Obama has asked to join his team have been unquestionably qualified for the jobs he selected them for (Huntsman speaks Mandarin; McHugh is the top Republican on the Armed Services committee), the picks have also provided Obama with clear political advantages. 

Did a Secret Wall Street Memo Make Geithner Go Soft on Derivatives?

| Tue Jun. 2, 2009 12:20 AM EDT

Given that credit default swaps caused the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression, you'd think that the folks responsible for them, people who are now surviving on the taxpayer dime, might be laughed out of Washington if they were to suggest that they be the ones to decide how to regulate them. Sadly, it's the opposite.

On Monday, the Times' Gretchen Morgenson published a little-noticed but excellent piece about the CDS Dealers Consortium, a group created in November by the nine biggest participants in the derivatives market to lobby against stricter regulation of derivatives. The move came a month after five of them had received bailout money. The group's head lobbyist, Edward J. Rosen, who was paid $450,000 by the banks for four months, wrote a secret policy memo that he shared with the Treasury Department and leaders on Capitol Hill. A few months later Tim Geithner released a suspiciously similar regulatory plan. 

It gets much worse: in February Rosen testified before Congress on derivaratives without disclosing his ties to the CDS Dealers Consortium. From 2007 to 2008, five banks in the consortium spent a combined $47.7 million on campaign donatations and lobbying.

Geithner's bank-friendly plan to regulate derivatives would force them to be traded on a privately-managed clearinghouse, rather than on an open exchange, similar to the stock market, where many experts believe that they'd be less subject to manipulation. Morgenson reports:

Critics in both the financial world and Congress say relying on clearinghouses would be problematic. They also say Mr. Geithner's plan contains a major loophole, because little disclosure would be required for more complicated derivatives, like the type of customized, credit-default swaps that helped bring down A.I.G. A.I.G. sold insurance related to mortgage securities, essentially making a big bet that those mortgages would not default. . .

But increased transparency of derivatives trades would cut into banks' profits — hence the banks' opposition. Customers who trade derivatives would pay less if they knew what the prevailing market prices were.

The Times piece is long, but reading it goes a long way towards understanding what is often a huge gulf between the Obama Administration's rhetoric and its tepid approach to bank regulation.

 

Digital Revolution from Tehran to Tiananmen Square

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 5:13 PM EDT

Guest blogger Mark Follman writes frequently about current affairs and culture at markfollman.com.

June 2009 could be a big month for democracy on the world stage, with digital technology playing no small part.

With a landmark speech in Cairo on Thursday, Barack Obama will continue his quest to connect with the Muslim world and repair the grave damage done to U.S. standing under George W. Bush. It remains to be seen how much he might also press for government reform by Hosni Mubarak. Egypt is considered a crucial U.S. ally in the Middle East, but more light has been shed on its dark human rights record particularly since 2007, when a video circulated on the Internet showed a man being sodomized with a stick in a Cairo police station.

Stimulus: Your Chance to Act Locally

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 4:37 PM EDT

Our story on architect Ed Mazria's "14x" plan noted that the building sector guzzles about three-quarters of the nation's electricity and half of our overall energy—and is responsible for almost half of America's carbon emissions.

Not only that, CO2 emissions have also risen fastest (details below) in that sector, which consumes energy not just for construction but also to light, heat, and cool buildings, heat water, cook food, recharge your iPod, and all that good stuff. To break it down, about 8 percent of the nation's power goes toward construction and building materials—what Mazria called "embodied energy"—while 42 percent is consumed by the aforementioned activities. (Also see our May/June 2008 package, "The Future of Energy.")

Obama White House Shows Progressives Not Much Love

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 3:14 PM EDT

The crowd at this year's Campaign for America's Future annual conference--think of a DC-based ProgFest for liberal activists and policy wonks from across the country--was much smaller than in years past. The conference, which opened on Monday, seemed to have about one-fourth the attendees of last year, when about 2000 people turned up for the "Take Back America" shindig. This year's event was dubbed "America's Future Now!"

The drop-off is not surprising. In fact, it's the cost of success. Now that George W. Bush is long gone (even if the same cannot be said for Dick Cheney) and Barack Obama, the onetime community organizer, is in The House, it's natural that some of the fire on the left is gone. Winning can demotivate a political side. And I remember that in 1994, after the Democrats lost the House to the Republicans for the first time in decades, Representative Barney Frank told me that it was more fun to be in a fired-up opposition.

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On Hanging Out With Anti-Abortion Extremists in Wichita

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 2:35 PM EDT

In January, 2007, I visited the Wichita, Kansas, abortion clinic operated by Dr. George Tiller, who was shot to death in church yesterday by an anti-abortion crusader. Tiller's clinic had just become the last one in town. A shuttered clinic nearby had been purchased by an anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue, which was in the process of converting it into its headquarters, complete with a prayer garden and a memorial to the 50,000 unborn children that the group claims were murdered there. Over the next two days, I learned a lot about Wichita's radical hothouse of abortion foes.

Troy Newman, Operation Rescue's charismatic leader, who some have suspected is partly to blame for Tiller's murder, drove around town with me and vented his rage that nobody had yet shut down Tiller, who he called "the abortionist to abortionists."  A few days earlier, Wichita's district attorney, Nola Foulston, had moved to dismiss indictments against Tiller that had been filed by the state's outgoing attorney general. She later conducted her own investigation of Tiller and found he'd complied with the law, but Newman believed Tiller's clinic had killed a woman. "Our field plan is to expose the lies and misdeeds that they do," he said. "It's pretty simple: They're scum of the earth, they're dirtbags."

It struck me that Newman was deeply disillusioned with the legal system. "All laws are thrown out the window once you talk about abortion," he complained. "In the movement, we call it 'abortion distortion.'"

The next morning, at a bright cafe in the heart of town, Newman and two women discussed how to turn up the pressure on Foulston. Operation Rescue is famous for a strategy of harassing its foes outside their homes. "People have a public identity that they like to keep seperate from their private identity," Newman explained, "but we believe you can't separate the two when you are talking about killing babies. And people are more likely to listen to what you say and be influenced when you bring the issue home to where they work and live." It was a full-court press of constant annoyance: "You poke, poke, poke until they scream," he added, "and then you just keep poking some more."

Despite Newman's tough tactics, he was civil and professed to have  friends who disagreed with him on abortion. After spending two days with him, I'm willing to take him on his word that his pro-life views extend to grown humans, even abortion doctors. But it was easy to see the militaristic rhetoric of Newman, who is the son of an army recruiter, was goading people on towards something more extreme. "A lot of what we do is demoralize the enemy," he said. "This is a battle, and that's the strategy."

Later that afternoon I drove to Tiller's clinic and was promptly booted from the parking lot by a security guard. It was too dangerous to allow lone men inside, I was told when I called the clinic on my cell phone. So I parked on the curb, next to a "truth truck" that displayed a giant billboard of an aborted fetus.

Arrayed on the grassy median in front of Tiller's walled building were rows of white crosses and the plastic figurines of a nativity scene. Writen on chalk near the building's drivway was Psalm 94:20: "Can unjust judges be allied with you God? No!" Anti-abortion activists sat alongside the driveway in lawn chairs and pounced at any cars that tried to enter. As a frightened young woman was driven inside, one of them commented, "Another parent bringing in their daughter to have their grandchild killed."

An abortion protester who would only give his name as Brian spoke favorably of an array of local anti-abortion groups in town. He declined to give his affiliation, but pointed out that a group called Operation Save America had bought a house just across the street from Tiller's office. "Everybody has got a different approach," he said, "a different style."

Those words seem much more chilling when you consider the multiple attempts on Tiller's life. Newman's world is also one in which David Leach, publisher of the Prayer and Action News, which printed essays by Tiller's alleged murderer, can tell the New York Times that "To call this a crime is too simplistic. . .There is Christian scripture that would support this." Religious fundamentalism is still alive and well in the heartland, and isolation and defeat is likely to make some of its radicals even more desperate.

Pro-Lifer Links Movement to MLK, Damns Slain Abortion Doc

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 12:38 PM EDT

What does the pro-life movement have in common with the '60s-era civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King?

According to Randall Terry—the fiery pro-lifer who founded the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue—they're both "peaceful" crusades. At a press conference on Monday at the National Press Club, Terry responded to criticism that the pro-life movement's highly charged rhetoric was partly responsible for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the Wichita abortion provider shot dead at his church on Sunday morning. The suspect in the murder, Scott Roeder, reportedly had ties to Operation Rescue.

"We train [pro-life activists] to be peaceful and nonviolent, just like Dr. King trained people in the civil rights movement," Terry said. Terry said Roeder "wasn't working with us" before adding: "Pro-life leaders and the pro-life movement are not responsible for George Tiller's death. George Tiller was a mass murderer and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed."

Asked to clarify, Terry responded, "He sowed death, and then he reaped death in a horrifying way."

Terry said that he held the press conference as a way to signal to pro-lifers that they "must not lose focus"—that is, dial down their rhetoric—in the wake of the murder of Dr. Tiller, one of the few doctors in the US who provided late-term abortions, and who was a frequent target of protests by pro-lifers.

In fact, the prospect that pro-lifers might tone down their campaign against abortion seemed to annoy Terry more than the shooting itself. "Tiller's death poses a great problem for the pro-life movement because there are many political leaders who are going to be intimidated, and keep saying 'Oh, we're peaceful, we're peaceful, we won't use highly-charged rhetoric," Terry said. "That's a problem."

Terry repeatedly called Tiller a "mass murderer" who died with "blood on his hands." That's probably not how Martin Luther King would have responded to the killing. Asked if those kinds of remarks could cause some to link Terry and his followers to violence, Terry responded, "We run that risk, but that is the cost of saying the truth."

Dick Cheney Presents a Journalism Award

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 12:21 PM EDT

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is speaking at the Gerald R Ford Foundation annual journalism awards ceremony today. He'll be taking questions afterwards. One question I would suggest: Why is Dick Cheney giving a journalism award? Is it because of his great respect for the press?  This is up there with this story.

Agent Orange: Treatment For Vets Still Lagging, Says Report

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 10:25 AM EDT

The Ford Foundation will release a report Tuesday calling for continued study of the environmental and health effects of Agent Orange, as well as for stepped-up diagnosis and treatment of US veterans exposed to it. Used as a defoliant in Vietnam to destroy vegetation used as food and cover for the Viet Cong, the dioixn--named for the orange stripe on its label--has been the subject of controversy ever since its first use in 1962. Over the ensuing ten years of hard combat, some 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides were sprayed over six million acres of Vietnamese jungle. (See the box below for a selection of Mother Jones' earlier coverage of Agent Orange and the federal government's history of inadequate response to veterans' complaints.)

Agent Orange's widespread use in Vietnam was not the only instance in which US soldiers were exposed to harmful chemicals without a clear understanding of the risks; see my recent piece about a group of vets suing the federal government for their unwitting treatment as guineau pigs during US Army and CIA chemical weapons experiments at Edgewood. But in terms of scale, Agent Orange is without parallel. Hundreds of thousands of US troops and many millions of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were exposed . The precise number of those placed in danger will never be known, nor will the number who have since died from health complications.

The aim of the Ford Foundation's report is to take a look at what's been done so far in terms of diagnosis and treatment of US vets (not as much as should have been) and to urge expanded care, not only for vets but for their children, many of whom now appear to be suffering next-generation effects from their parents' toxic exposures.