Mojo - September 2009

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Fiore Cartoon: Worldwide Domination

Thu Sep. 24, 2009 10:41 AM PDT

What if the world dealt with the Nazis of yesterday the same way we deal with the scourge of climate change today?

Watch Mark Fiore's re-vision after the jump:

Interim Kennedy Replacement: Incongrous Pick?

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 9:50 AM PDT

Over at the Sunlight Foundation, Paul Blumenthal runs down the resume of Paul Kirk, the ex-DNC chair and close Kennedy family friend who has been named to temporarily fill the late senator's seat. Given Kirk's background as a drug company lobbyist and ties to a top financial and insurance firm, Blumenthal notes, he seems like a slightly incongruous pick—even on an interim basis—with health care and financial reform topping the congressional agenda.

Some of Kirk's recent career highlights:

Kirk is the CEO and Chairman of Kirk & Associates, a business consulting company, and sits on the board of both an insurance company, The Hartford Financial Group, and a timber and real estate company, Rayonier, Inc. Kirk also previously worked as a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company, Aventis.

...

Kirk sits on the Compensation and Personnel Committee for The Hartford in charge of employee compensation and executive bonuses. While compensation fell significantly from 2007 to 2008, this did not keep The Hartford from escaping criticism for compensation policies. Ramani Ayer, CEO and Chairman of The Hartford, was named by Forbes Magazine one of the most overpaid executives in 2008...

...

In 1999, Kirk represented the pharmaceutical company Aventis as a lobbyist for Sullivan & Worcester. Kirk listed on his lobbying disclosure forms “FDA reform” as the sole issue and the Senate as the only body he was lobbying. In 1997, Congress passed and the President signed into law the FDA Modernization Act. One provision of the bill sought to curb red-tape and regulation to streamline the drug approval process. After the bill’s passage pharmaceutical companies and their lobbying arm, PhRMA, complained about the FDA’s speed at implementing the legislation and continued existence of some regulatory barriers. In 1999, the Senate held hearings on the subject with PhRMA President Alan Holmer told the Senate Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee that the legislation “fails to provide the regulatory relief Congress intended and actually codifies some of the agency’s prior-approval practices that Congress wanted to eliminate.” Kirk’s focus on “FDA reform” for Aventis was likely related to the complaints about the FDA Modernization Act and its implementation.

UPDATE: Here's Public Citiizen's Craig Holman commenting to the Boston Herald on Kirk's appointment: "Obviously, this is a conflict of interest and raises serious concerns. It is distressing. There were many qualified people."

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Will G20 Take to Obama's Fossil Fuel Pitch?

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 5:30 AM PDT

Barack Obama has indicated that at this week's G20 summit in Pittsburgh his administration will urge member countries to end subsidies to fossil fuels—which receive upwards of $67 billion from governments around the world. But exactly what he means by that is not yet clear.

The administration's plans to push the issue of subsidies leaked last week in a letter by Obama adviser on international economic affairs Michael Froman. Froman indicates that the US should call on members of the G20 to eliminate all fossil fuel and electricity subsidies, as a "logical step in combating global climate change." From the letter:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 24, 2009

Thu Sep. 24, 2009 5:24 AM PDT

U.S. Army Soldiers wait in the early morning for two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to pick them and bring them to a nearby town to conduct a patrol in Taji, Iraq, Sept. 18, 2009. The Soldiers are assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division's Company F, 3rd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Travis Zielinski.)

Need To Read: September 24, 2009

Thu Sep. 24, 2009 4:41 AM PDT

Today's must-reads jumped out of the pot:

  • HIV Vaccine Shows Promise (Bloomberg)
  • David Paterson Opens Up (NYT)
  • Bill McKibben: Is Obama Even Trying on Climate? (MoJo)
  • Glenn Beck: Frog Murderer (MoJo)
  • Someone In Creigh Deeds' Campaign Thinks Honesty Is The Best Policy (WaPo)
  • Clinton Compared Gore to Mussolini? (MoJo)
  • How Richard Posner Became A Keynesian (The New Republic)
  • The Spy Who Loved Hamas (MoJo)
  • Jack Shafer: "Sometimes it takes an outsider like Andrew Breitbart to show the press corps the way." (Slate)
  • Things That Make Claire McCaskill's Head "Pop Off" (MoJo)
  • Obama Echoes Bush on State Secrets? (MoJo)
  • Sen. Inhofe's Climate Sceptic Road Show (MoJo)

Follow me! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

 

Score One for Predatory Lenders

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

The Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the proposed regulatory body that would shield Americans from risky loans, predatory bank fees, and other sneaky financial practices, looks like it's going to die a slow, painful death. Yesterday, lawmakers and Obama administration officials agreed to cut a major provision from the legislation that would create the agency by removing a provision that would have required banks and other financial institutions to start offering "plain vanilla" products to consumers. (A "plain vanilla" mortgage, for instance, would include a fixed interest rate and a stable term of, say, 30 years.) Now, that provision is gone. "There has been a lot of concern that if you invest the government with the ability to decide what’s appropriate here and there, that will lead to less competition and choice," said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

This move bodes poorly not just for the future of the CFPA but financial regulation in general. The plain-vanilla provision would have protected consumers from the kinds of deceptive financial products, such as adjustable rate mortgages, that precipitated the current economic mess, as well as predatory products like credit cards loaded with hidden fees. It wouldn't have gotten rid of these financial products, so consumers who wanted them would still have to do their own due diligence. But the plain-vanilla provision could have helped those consumers who aren't financially savvy enough to handle an option ARM or simply don't have the stomach to wade through the fine print of a mortgage contract.

Gutting plain vanilla marks a victory for big business and their allies in Congress, who see it as a major step toward to grounding the CFPA altogether. The US Chamber of Commerce, the biggest business lobby, has shown it will stop at nothing to "kill the bill"—and it has the firepower to do just that, having spent $23 million this year on lobbying (almost twice as much as the second-ranked organization). And the CFPA doesn't have a lot of friends among the regulators, either. The FDIC and the Fed don’t want the CFPA because it would encroach on their turf and steal some of their regulatory thunder.

To be sure, we need the CFPA, which would provide crucial consumer protection that the financial meltdown showed to be glaringly absent. But it's the clear the agency, which is backed by Congressional Oversight Panel chair Elizabeth Warren, now faces a staggeringly uphill battle. And even if it does make it into law, the agency might be stripped down to the point where it's toothless and useless, if this latest cut is any indication.