Mojo - September 2009

The Inhofe Climate Skeptic Roadshow

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 8:48 PM EDT

As world leaders gathered in New York this week for a major United Nations summit on climate change, back in Washington, leading Senate global warming skeptic James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has been hard at work lining up a climate "truth squad" to travel to treaty negotiations in Copenhagen this December.

Inhofe told the National Review Online that his squad (he has not yet named any participants) will make it clear to world leaders that although the House passed the Waxman-Markey bill and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will probably approve a bill as well, the United States Congress isn't going to pass climate legislation anytime soon—no way, no how. The senator, famous for his claim that global warming is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," took a similar group of skeptics to climate change negotiations in Milan, Italy in 2003. "I was the outcast at that time," Inhofe told NRO. "Now, I want to make sure that those attending the Copenhagen conference know what is really happening in the United States Senate."

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Murkowski Moves to Thwart EPA Regulation of Emissions

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 7:50 PM EDT

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced an amendment on Wednesday that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, saying such a course of action could result in an "economic train wreck."

Murkowski’s amendment would block the EPA from creating regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources—like power plants, refineries, and manufacturers—for another year, though the agency could continue work on regulating emissions from automobiles. Murkowski says the "timeout" is needed "in order to give Congress time to act on legislation that would address climate change responsibly, hopefully with as little economic impact as possible."

Obama Echoes Bush on State Secrets?

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 6:50 PM EDT

Is "the most transparent administration ever" echoing the Bush administration's position on a key transparency provision?

On Wednesday, the Justice Department released new guidelines for how it will invoke the State Secrets privilege, a doctrine that allows the government to exclude information from legal cases when it believes its release could threaten national security. But the new rules are weak reforms to the way the doctrine was used during the Bush years, when it was invoked to shield government torture, detention, and rendition policies from outside scrutiny and frequently used to dismiss entire cases.

The new rules require the DOJ "be satisfied" that it has evidence for its assertion of the privilege, run its decision by an internal committee and the Attorney General, and consider turning over evidence of government wrongdoing to agency inspector generals when state secrets might otherwise "preclude the case from going forward." But the executive branch retains the power to make the most important decisions about whether, when, and how it uses the privilege. That has raised speculation that the new rules may be an attempt to preempt legislation offered by three prominent Democrats that would totally overhaul the use of the doctrine.

"It seems intended to undercut and preempt legislation that would address the broader structural problem," with the State Secrets claim, said Ben Wizner, an ACLU staff attorney who represented five rendition victims in a lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary that allegedly served as the CIA's travel agent for the agency's extraordinary rendition program. (At one point their case was dismissed because the Bush administration claimed the State Secrets privilege.) Now, Wizner said, "The same executive branch that engages in torture and illegal surveillance and extraordinary rendition can, on the basis of an affidavit from the perpretatror himself, have a case thrown out."

The Democrats proposing the State Secrets reform, Vermont's Patrick Leahy and Wisconsin's Russ Feingold in the Senate and New York's Jerrold Nadler in the House, each released statements Wednesday responding to the White House's move. Leahy said the rules marked "progress," but worried that they did not go far enough. "I remain especially concerned with ensuring that the government make a substantial evidentiary showing to a federal judge in asserting the privilege," he said, and expressed a hope that the administration would "work with Congress to establish this requirement." Feingold said the new measure was "disappointing, because it still amounts to an approach of 'just trust us.'" Nadler also criticized the move, warning that "these reforms fall short of what is necessary": 

We must not understate the extent to which the abuse of the state secrets privilege poses a major threat to our system of justice. We still need legislation to guide the courts, which do not take a consistent approach to claims of state secrets. And we must ensure that all of the necessary reforms are codified into law in order to prevent any future administration from abusing the state secrets privilege.

"The heightened standard is designed in part to restore the confidence of Congress, civil liberties advocates and judges, who have criticized both the Bush White House and the Obama administration for excessive secrecy," the Washington Post reported Tuesday. But neither members of Congress nor civil liberties advocates seem particularly confident. Even if the White House does win back the confidence of judges—no sure bet, since it's been losing in one of the most important State Secrets cases, al-Haramain v. Obama—one out of three is pretty bad.

Wizner, the ACLU lawyer, said Nadler, Leahy, and Feingold were on exactly the right track. "Real legislative reform would allow judges to scrutinize the executive branch's State Secrets claims," he said. "We don't need kinder and gentler executive branch self-policing, we need genuine judicial and congressional oversight of the executive branch."

Should America Talk to Iran? Hamas? Hezbollah?

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 6:01 PM EDT

At the UN's big shindig in New York this week, President Obama finds himself dealing with two Mahmouds—Abbas and Ahmadinejad—in radically different ways. Yesterday, the prez met privately with Palestinian leader Abbas and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge them back toward the negotiating table. But Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, and upon whose cooperation any Palestinian peace agreement will likely hinge, is persona non grata here. Obama's handlers are likewise doing their best to avoid any chance encounter in the UN halls between Obama and Ahmadinejad, although low-level diplomatic talks are expected on the nuclear issue.

Engaging with groups like Hamas, and with the likes of Ahmadinejad, isn't easy. Least of all after the guy warms up to a visit on your home turf by spewing provocations and denying the slaughter of 6 million Jews, as Iran's president has done these past days. And least of all following the regime's brutal crackdown on Iran's post-election protests. But with a nuclear Iran and peace in the territories hanging in the balance, many observers (including the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski) believe that maintaining some level of engagement with our foes is the wiser path.

But former British spy Alastair Crooke, profiled by David Samuels in the latest issue of Mother Jones (see "The Spy Who Loved Hamas") would like to see the West go much further. Crooke runs Conflicts Forum, a Beirut-based organization that nurtures a back channel for communication between Western officials and militant Muslim factions such as Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which operate under the umbrella of Iran.

Paul Kirk to Fill Ted Kennedy's Vacant Seat

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 3:05 PM EDT

FOX News correspondent Major Garrett reported on Twitter today that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will appoint Paul Kirk as a temporary replacement for the late Edward Kennedy's vacant Senate seat. Kennedy's wife Vicky and two sons Patrick and Edward Jr. have endorsed Kirk for the position.

Kirk served as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee in the late 1980s and worked closely with Ted Kennedy as a special assistant from 1969-1977. Since, Kirk is best known for his role as the co-Chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, the body that organizes debates for leading Presidential candidates. Under Kirk's leadership, critics have said that the CPD waters down policy discussion (or avoids it altogether), pretends to be non-partisan despite heavy party control, and is fueled by corporate lobbyists. In 1988, the League of Women Voters withdrew sponsorship of the CPD debates after George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis agreed to cut fringe candidates out of the debates, saying the pact "would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter."

Earlier this week, the Massachusetts State Legislature voted that Gov. Patrick could appoint Kennedy's replacement, despite voting in 2004 that former governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, could not appoint Sen. John Kerry's replacement if he were elected President.

The announcement is expected tomorrow.

Obama Comes Through On Nukes

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 1:48 PM EDT

President Obama's climate speech to the United Nations may have been a big letdown, but he has come through in one key area: nuclear disarmament. In his address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, Obama promised to introduce a draft UN resolution later this week that would herald a significant shift in American nuclear policy compared with the Bush administration, which let the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty wither unratified in the Senate and stymied other important arms control initiatives. Obama's resolution indicates that the US will renew efforts to ratify the treaty, and, among other things, proposes that a country's right to use nuclear energy should be contingent on meeting its nonproliferation obligations. (That would currently bar Iran, for instance, from enriching uranium.) Later in the week, the president will head a UN Security Council meeting on nuclear nonproliferation—the first time an American president has done so.

Obama also announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the Test Ban conference this week—a glaring contrast with the Bush administration, which didn't even send a delegation to the last four meetings. Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton huffed to the National Review that this meeting would be an "incredible waste of time for [Clinton]." (He also thought Obama's speech to the UN was too "UN-centric.")

Ridding the world of nuclear weapons has long been a pet cause for Obama—he spoke about them on the stump while running for the Senate way back in 2004. Later, he forged a close relationship with Sen. Richard Lugar on the issue, accompanying him on a trip to Russia to inspect weapons facilities and co-sponsoring legislation to secure loose nukes. "If we fail to act," Obama told the UN on Wednesday, "we will invite nuclear arms races in every region, and the prospect of wars and acts of terror on a scale that we can hardly imagine."



 

  

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Racism in the Water at Philly Suburb Swim Club

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 1:10 PM EDT

You know you're racist when you kick a group of 56 black and Hispanic children out of a suburban swim club for no apparent reason. At least that's what the Pennsylvania Human Relations Committee confirmed today.

In what MoJo editor Clara Jeffery said was potentially the racist outrage of the year, the Swim Valley Club, located in one of Philadelphia's mostly white, affluent suburbs, booted a summer camp group although each child had paid more than $1,900 for the privileges to swim in the pool. In an oblivious statement, club president John Duesler said "there was a concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion...and the atmosphere of the club."

Duesler later admitted that this was a "terrible choice of words" and the club now claims that the group was removed because there were simply too many children in the pool to be monitored by the lifeguards on duty and that many of the children could not swim.

Hmm. Let's look at the details. There's the clearly racially tinged initial response from the club, the fact that one camper overheard a club member say "what are all these black kids doing here?" and "I'm scared they might do something to my child," and ONLY the minority children were booted from the club. Another parent wrote in an email that "when the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool."

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission saw through the lifeguard excuse and ordered the club to pay a $50,000 penalty for discrimination against the child whose parents filed the complaint. The summer camp's attorney Brian Mildenberg said that the fine could become millions if other families decide to sue. "If the award stuck on appeal," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "that would shut them down."

Patriots In Denial

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 12:58 PM EDT

Conservatives have always been a patriotic bunch, but their flag-waving seems a lot more aggressive these days. The two big conservative events in DC this month, the Values Voters Summit and the 9/12 march on Washington by the so-called tea party protesters, were patriotism on steroids. Values Voters kicked off with a full Boy Scout color guard, the pledge of allegiance and a rousing rendition of the national anthem. The 9/12 march featured numerous flags, anthem-singings and even a crowd rendition of America the Beautiful. As I was leaving, a guy on the sidewalk chirped, “So wonderful to see all you great patriots out here!”

After spending many hours at these gatherings, I was left with the impression that many Americans are responding to the recession with a newfound nationalism. Republican politicians are egging them on, insisting that despite the collapse of the banking system, the foreclosure crisis, and the utter destruction of American manufacturing, the U.S. has always been and still is the greatest country in the world, one made that way by God. And they really, really hate anyone realistic enough to suggest otherwise—especially if that person happens to be President Barack Obama.

Things That Make Claire McCaskill's Head "Pop Off"

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 12:31 PM EDT

It's been a rough week for the Defense Contract Audit Agency, home to the Pentagon beancounters charged with insuring the goverment doesn't get robbed blind by military contractors. They are supposed to be doing that, at least. Recently, though, there have been questions about how effective the agency has been in protecting billions in taxpayer dollars from falling prey to waste, fraud, and abuse. On Tuesday, the Commission on Wartime Contracting—which has a former DCAA deputy director as its co-chair—blasted the problem-plagued DCAA, along the Defense Contract Management Agency, for failing to provide adequate oversight. Today, in tandem with a Senate hearing on the DCAA, the Government Accountability Office followed with a report [PDF] that found big time flaws with the agency's audits and operations. How big? Well, let's put it this way: Of the 69 audits and cost-related reviews the GAO looked at, it determined that every single one of them had problems— and the majority of them had "serious" ones. The GAO explains the heart of the issue:

A management environment and agency culture that focused on facilitating the award of contracts and an ineffective audit quality assurance structure are at the root of the agencywide audit failures we identified. DCAA’s focus on a production-oriented mission led DCAA management to establish policies, procedures, and training that emphasized performing a large quantity of audits to support contracting decisions and gave inadequate attention to performing quality audits. An ineffective quality assurance structure, whereby DCAA gave passing scores to deficient audits compounded this problem.

Flawed audits are just the half of it. An earlier GAO report [PDF], in July 2008, found abusive work environments at two DCAA field offices, including auditors who were threatened with disciplinary action if they refused to change audit findings or draft favorable reports. Today, the Pentagon's Inspector General, Gordon Heddell, told [PDF] the Senate homeland security committee that an investigation by his office had centered on one senior DCAA official in particular, the deputy director responsible for the agency's west coast operations. Heddell said his office concluded that she "improperly directed changes" to one audit that "could have allowed Boeing to recover $271 million in unallowable costs."

In the past, committee member Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)—a former auditor herself—has demanded changes at the DCAA, saying in 2008 that "somebody needs to be fired this." The "the top of my head is about to pop off" she tweeted during today's hearing, remarking on the "unbelievable" problems at the agency. "In the world of auditing," she said later, "what has been committed here is a capital crime."

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GOP Health Care Ideas Run Gamut From Non-Existent To Nefarious

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 11:16 AM EDT

When you get right down to it, it’s hard to believe Republicans want to run against health care in next year’s midterm elections. But that does seem to be the road they’ve chosen, as Dana Milbank’s report in the Washington Post makes clear. You’ve got Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky complaining how the Baucus bill "tramples on American freedom and liberties," (before nodding off to sleep). There’s John Kyl sounding like a broken record: "This bill is a stunning assault on liberty." In fact, the Republican contribution to the "debate" in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday had little to do with health care reform at all.

But that’s not to say the GOP has nothing to contribute to the subject. The Republican Study Committee, an alliance of more than 100 self-identified fiscal conservatives headed by Tom Price, has issued a slew of health care proposals, surely intended to protect members on the stump in 2010.