Mojo - July 2009

Podcast: Kevin Drum and David Corn Talk Michael Jackson, Sarah Palin, and the GOP 2012

| Fri Jul. 10, 2009 7:57 PM EDT

Listen to Kevin and David talk today about Sarah Palin's next move, the shrinking list of Republican presidential candidates for 2012, the debate over whether to legalize marijuana, and Michael Jackson's memorial.

Gotta say, I'm with Kevin on the King of Pop.

For more free Mother Jones podcasts, subscribe here, or in our iTunes store.

Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

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The Next Big Bailout Bamboozle

| Fri Jul. 10, 2009 7:15 PM EDT

One of the main watchdogs over the government's $13 billion financial bailout, the Congressional Oversight Panel, released its monthly report for July today, bringing some much needed scrutiny to the repayment of TARP funds and the Treasury Department's questionable oversight of that process. The COP highlighted the sale of government-held warrants (options to buy stock for a set price over a predetermined time period) back to bailout recipients exiting TARP, who, according to Treasury's guidelines, get the first crack at repurchasing their own warrants. This repurchasing process began earlier this spring, when the first bailed-out banks bought their stocks and warrants to extricate themselves from the taxpayer-funded TARP; since then, the process has been dogged by numerous reports showing that the Treasury sold warrants for much less than they could have. By one estimate, taxpayers were shortchanged in those early transactions by millions of dollars.

The COP's latest report puts a number to what many suspected: The Treasury, the panel estimates, sold warrants back to the 11 small banks who've so far completely exited the bailout for only 66 percent of their value. If the Treasury had sold them for closer to market value, taxpayers could’ve recouped $10 million more—a small sum compared to the entire bailout, but nothing to scoff at. And though the warrant-repurchasing process will differ for megabanks like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and several others currently trying to buy back their warrants, applying that 66-percent rate to all government-held warrants could result in a loss of $2.7 billion.

If you've closely followed the COP's reports, you'll notice a troubling similarity to previous reports in this latest finding. The panel's widely cited February report (PDF), which analyzed the Treasury's 10 largest TARP investments in 2008, found that the Treasury had received, on average, only $66 for every $100 spent, resulting in a $78 billion shortfall. (This while Berkshire Hathaway received $110 assets for every $100 when it invested in Goldman Sachs, and Mitsubishi received $91 in assets for every $100 invested in Morgan Stanley.) Which means that the Treasury received a 34-percent markdown on assets it bought (with taxpayer money) last year with its early TARP investments, and received only a 34-percent markdown for its early warrant sales back to banks.

Coincidence? Hardly.

Habitat for Humanity Finds Buying is Cheaper

| Fri Jul. 10, 2009 5:33 PM EDT

 Charlotte, North Carolina, has found a silver lining in the housing crisis:

Charlotte's Habitat is among the first in the nation to start buying up houses in troubled neighborhoods where up to a third of the homes are vacant due to foreclosure. Average cost: $38,000 to $55,000, less than half the original price.

"We're getting them as low as $30,000, knowing we'll put in $10,000 of repairs," said Meg Robertson, an associate director with Habitat. "To build a new one is over $60,000 … we're $20,000 to $30,000 cheaper per home."

So what about Habitat's commitment to sweat equity? To having energetic volunteers "build houses together in partnership with families in need?" Robertson told the Charlotte Observer that she thought it was more important to house as many people as possible.

Besides, subdivisions built in the boom are already falling apart on their own or at the hands of vandals, so there should be plenty of sweat required to restore and maintain them.

Obama Gave Italian Woman's Family "Gifts" After Leering at Her

| Fri Jul. 10, 2009 1:35 PM EDT

Jake Tapper tweets on what I'm calling Assgate:

heard more outrage from conservative tweeps today re: alleged POTUS once-over than about @johnensign, @davidvitter + mark sanford combined

And that's outrage over a photo that doesn't show what they say it shows. In other news, John Ensign's parents gave the family of the woman he was having an affair with a $96,000 "gift."

Now if my headline were true, you'd have a real story.

No, Obama Wasn't Checking Out That Woman's Ass

| Fri Jul. 10, 2009 12:36 PM EDT

You may have seen this photo, highlighted today by Fox News:

You should note that photos can lie, and this one does. It was debunked yesterday by (gasp!) Fox News: 

And yet the network continues to imply that the photo is an accurate portrayal of reality. Shocking, I know. Does Fox not watch its own programming?

(via MediaMatters)

US Military, Private Contractors Trampled Babylon, Says Report

| Fri Jul. 10, 2009 11:08 AM EDT

Attention has shifted to Afghanistan, but the results of the (yes, still ongoing) American presence in Iraq continue to reveal themselves. Among them is a report (PDF) released Thursday by UNESCO, alleging that American soldiers and private contractors sullied one of the world's richest archeological sites after the 2003 invasion. The site has long suffered from plunderers and mismanagement, but the American operation seems to have only worsened things. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, became the location for "Camp Alpha." The impact of thousands of soldiers and their heavy equipment on the historic site caused "a considerable amount of damage," said the British Museum's John Curtis, after the report was released to the press in Paris.  

From the AP:

American troops and contractors, notably from KBR — then a Halliburton subsidiary — dug trenches several hundred yards (meters) long through the ruins, bulldozed hilltops, and drove heavy military vehicles over the fragile paving of once-sacred procession paths, according to a report presented Thursday at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris...

UNESCO officials stressed that the damage didn't begin with the U.S. military or fully end after it left. Many of Babylon's most famous artifacts were ripped off walls by European archaeologists during the 19th century and remain on display at the Louvre and Pergamon Museums in Paris and Berlin.

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein also restored or distorted some of the ruins so badly that it prevented UNESCO from listing Babylon as a World Heritage site in the past, UNESCO officials said.

Looting and black-market trading has continued on a large scale since the site was handed back to Iraqis, they added.

The scale of the damage means it is too early to assess how much money will be needed to restore and fully protect the site, said Curtis and the other experts who prepared the UNESCO report, which caps five years of investigation and multiple findings by Iraqi and international academics.

 

 

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 10, 2009

Fri Jul. 10, 2009 10:47 AM EDT

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Martin, commander, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, talks with a villager during an operation in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, July 3, 2009. The Marines are part of the ground combat element of Regimental Combat Team 3, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released.)

MoJo Mix: 9 July 2009

| Thu Jul. 9, 2009 8:27 PM EDT

My favorite Kevin Drum graf today:

According to a recent Pew survey, 55 percent of scientists are Democrats and only 6 percent are Republicans. This is good news for everyone. Democrats now have quantitative backup for their sneers about Republicans being anti-science. Likewise, Republicans now have quantitative backup for their sneers about scientists just being a bunch of liberal shills who aren't to be trusted on questions like climate change and evolution. We all win!

Plus, four stories for your Thursday MoJo Mix.

1) Where in the World is the FTC? MoJo finds them briefing corporate lawyers in Aruba and Cancun.

2) How many Time journalists does it take to change Sarah Palin's defensive pull-out story into a coherent "just the frontier spirit we need for national office" narrative? (A: Five, at David Corn's last count.)

3) From the "Really, This Kind of Racist %)@* Still Happens?" file: A private Philly swim club booted an inner city day camp after members refused to swim with black kids. Stay classy, Philly.

4) Welcome to the High Sierras, where the woods are lovely, dark, and...full of gun-toting narcofarmers. Still up for a weekend hike?

Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

Paying for the NYTimes.com

| Thu Jul. 9, 2009 6:24 PM EDT

The New York Times is surveying print subscribers (hey, why not me?) to see if they would consider paying an additional $2.50 per month to get the NYT.com content that is currently free. Non print subscribers, the survey explains, would have to pay $5.

This is silly. To be clear, I believe the NYT has every right to charge online readers, if they think that'll work. Journalism takes money.  Journalism is essential for a healthy democracy.  Journalists work hard and deserve to be paid adequately for the work that they do. Yes, yes, I know all about Judy Miller, and some journalists are in it for their own fame. But many got in, and stay in, for the public good. And most toil away with no fame and an unclear future on the horizon.

How bad is it? The Times is the country's best paper, and likely to be the last one standing. Yet management there recently sent out a memo telling staffers to cut out texting, calling 411, and making international calls on staff cell phones and Blackberries. (God forbid we talk to someone in Iraq.) The Bloomberg story which broke the $5 paywall story notes that not only has print advertising all but vanished but online ad sales at the NYT and its sister papers are way down too, falling "8 percent and 3.5 percent in the first quarter and fourth quarter of 2008 respectively. They gained 6.5 percent last year." So much for the theory that online ads will (eventually) save us all.

So yes, charge online. And charge me for my crack-er-mobile access. I'll totally pay. But man alive, are you really saying that if I keep paying for the print edition—which I'm only doing to do my part to keep you afloat, which costs me @ $1,300 a year, which comes at great green guilt despite SF's recycling program—you'll only discount me a small latte's worth of the price you charge everybody else?

According to the Bloomberg piece there are only 647,695 weekday home subscribers. That's a scary low number; MoJo has a little more than a third as many print subscribers. Until the Times, or somebody, anybody, figures out a revenue model to ensure reporting's survival, I'll pony up and pay the $1,300 and the damn $2.50 (x12=$30). But I wouldn't count on most home subscribers to follow suit.

But perhaps the Times scheme will help do the messaging that journalists have been for too long too reticent to do. That we are what stands between you and governmental and corporate corruption. That following decades of deregulation, our watchdog powers are more in need than ever. That sustained beat reporting can't be done by people in their spare time. That lovely features and beautiful photo essays and book and movie reviews and all the rest great journalistic institutions offer is what makes for a great Sunday morning and a bareable subway ride. And that the Daily Show or NPR or CNN or Rachel Maddow can't do their job unless scores of other reporters do theirs. And that reporting takes money, dammit!

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 9, 2009

Thu Jul. 9, 2009 5:57 PM EDT

A terrain board assists Iraqi soldiers in learning to relate what they see on the map to the terrain board and its use in planning missions. This training was part of the Master Trainer Course taught by Soldiers of Company A, 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. (Photo courtesy army.mil.)