Mojo - October 2009

The Yes Men Punk the Chamber

| Mon Oct. 19, 2009 12:31 PM EDT

The Chamber of Commerce stunned DC on Monday by calling a last-minute press conference to announce a dramatic about-face in its climate policy—it would not only stop opposing the Kerry-Boxer climate bill but would work with them to make it better. But the whole thing turned out to be a hoax mounted by the Yes Men, a notorious band of anti-corporate pranksters.

Reporters received a press release early Monday stating that the Chamber would be "throwing its weight behind strong climate legislation" at an event at the National Press Club in downtown Washington, DC. But when I and others showed up, we were met by a fellow dressed in a suit looking like a typical corporate PR man. This wasn't Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue. And I recognized him as Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum. (I've written about the group previously.) He soon was telling reporters, "We at the Chamber have tried to keep climate science from interfering with business. But without a stable climate, there will be no business."

The Yes Men posted text of the fake speech on a fake website that closely mirrors the actual Chamber site. There were a couple of tell-tale signs that there might be some funny business going on: The speech was to come from "Tom Donahue," while the actual CEO of the Chamber is named "Tom Donohue." And as TPM pointed out, the press release announcing the event was issued by one Erica Avidus, whose last name is Latin for "greedy."

As one might expect, the real Chamber was none too pleased. Eric Wohlschlegel, spokesman for the US Chamber, showed up and protested loudly during the event. "This is a fraudulent press conference!" he yelled. Later he could be heard asking a Press Club employee how they could host this kind of stunt. "How could someone call and represent the Chamber in this way?" he asked. "We do a lot of events here. We're very supportive of the Press Club."

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The Big Winner in the Health Insurance Dustup? Big Pharma

| Mon Oct. 19, 2009 11:15 AM EDT

Big Pharma was the real winner in last week’s shouting match between Obama and the insuranceindustry. Insurance execs took all the heat for attacking the White House's health reform plan after the administration and lawmakers had negotiated for months to craft a proposal that the industry could live with. Meanwhile, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the main industry umbrella group, got to play the good guy—all the while escaping scrutiny for the fact that in recent months it has been quietly jacking up drug prices.

Greening the Government: The Contest

| Mon Oct. 19, 2009 9:49 AM EDT

A few weeks ago, Barack Obama signed an executive order directing the federal government to start setting an example on sustainability. Seems like a reasonable goal, if the administration is serious about overhauling the rest of the economy.

The order directed agencies to set greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for 2020 by the end of the year, and calls on them to improve energy efficiency, reduce oil and water use, and make more sustainable technology and product purchases.

On Monday the White House launched a new website for 1.8 million federal employees to face off on who can be the greenest of all. Top ideas will be presented to a sustainability steering committee. The challenge runs through the end of the month. There aren't many ideas so far, but here are a few:

  • "To promote mass transit use and reduce carbon emissions, I think all agencies should include public transit information on their websites."
  • "Just as some agencies provide parking or public transportation stipends, allow employees to apply those same funds to bicycle purchases."
  • "Require all new constructions to meet minimum LEED standards."
  • "All federally-owned buildings should be audited to identify energy wasted due to poor insulation, then renovated to address identified inefficiencies."
  • "Old windows should be replaced with double paned windows to conserve heat."

All extremely practical, really.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 19, 2009

Mon Oct. 19, 2009 7:01 AM EDT

The battleship USS Missouri (BB 63) arrives at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard on October 14, 2009 to begin a three-month, $18 million effort of extensive maintenance and preservation work. Missouri is the last battleship made by the U.S., and was the site of Japan's unconditional surrender ending World War II. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Mark Logico.)

Need To Read: October 19, 2009

Mon Oct. 19, 2009 6:56 AM EDT

Today's must-reads think you're holding that mop wrong:

Get more stuff like this: Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does 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.)

Chamber Challenges MoJo to Fact Off And...

| Sat Oct. 17, 2009 3:14 PM EDT

Today the US Chamber of Commerce fought back against its critics, taking issue with my assertion that it routinely inflates its membership numbers. "Yes, there are two numbers, direct membership and our federation members--there have always been," wrote Chamber representative Brad Peck on the Chamber's blog. "Both are represented at the Chamber, and we represent both on Capitol Hill."

Peck is correct that the Chamber has cited both numbers (including at a press conference on October 7th). I acknowledged as much on October 14th, when I noted every instance that the 300,000 number appeared in the news database Lexis-Nexis. But what he doesn't say is how infrequent that's been. Total number of uses: three (plus at least one use by the Wall Street Journal, which does not appear in Lexis-Nexis). Contrast that with the number of times the "3 million" figure has appeared: somewhere north of 200. As I've argued, this suggests that the Chamber has been extremely reluctant to cite its real membership number since it began using the "3 million" figure in 1997. Nothing Peck writes refutes that claim.

Indeed, my assertion is borne out by the Chamber's own website and press releases. With no qualifiers, they repeatedly use variations of the same line:  The US Chamber represents "3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions." Meanwhile, the 300,000 figure appears nowhere on the US Chamber's website, uschamber.com. The only time it ever shows up on the seperate URL of the Chamber's blog is today (in response to Mother Jones), and in quoting the above-mentioned Wall Street Journal story. And the Chamber is guilty of more than a sin of omission. Consider the following quote to the New York Times last month from Chamber spokesman Eric Wholschlegel: "We have over 3 million members, and we don't comment on the comings and goings of our membership." 

Furthermore, Peck cites no evidence to support his claim that the Chamber represents both membership figures on Capitol Hill. Indeed, the 300,000 number does not appear in any of the transcripts of the Chamber's Congressional testimony on Lexis-Nexis, but the "3 million" figure often does.

The real purpose of Peck's blog post appears aimed at minimizing  the significance of my reporting by arguing that the ensuing story was not a true "expose" or "result of months of sleuthing." But I've been the first to note that the 300,000 figure was out there for anyone to see. Peck ignores my main point, a point nobody else was making: The Chamber's true membership number had been obscured for more than a decade by its claim to "represent 3 million members" that, in reality, don't qualify for US Chamber membership benefitsdon't pay it dues, don't get to vote to elect its board or leadership, and don't have any effective say in setting its policies. I've also shown that those "members" often don't know that the Chamber is counting them, nor want it to.

In addition to discounting my reporting, Peck characterizes Mother Jones as an untrustworthy news source that shouldn't be relied upon by the mainstream media. How then does he explain the fact that Mother Jones won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence last year? Not mainstream enough? (Maybe he just objected to Mother Jones' editors saying that the Chamber is hostile to investigative journalism.)

Finally, I'd like to conclude with six questions for Peck (not that I expect to get a response, given that I never have from the Chamber until today):

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Podcast: Flu Vaccines, Olympia Snowe, and Gay Rights

| Fri Oct. 16, 2009 7:11 PM EDT

On this week's podcast with David Corn and Kevin Drum:

Where is the GOP hiding all the other Olympia Snowes? What made Kevin decide (thus far) not to get a flu shot this year? And why does David think Glenn Beck still has his work cut out for him in Tennessee? Listen to the latest Friday Week-in-Review podcast here.

Laura McClure hosts weekly podcasts and is a writer, editor, and sometime geek for Mother Jones. Read her recent investigative feature on lifehacking gurus here.

Sheriff Arpaio Cites Fake Law From Internet

| Fri Oct. 16, 2009 6:26 PM EDT

If you read it on the internet, it must be true, right? Unfortunately for America's most notorious law enforcer—Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona—no. Arpaio has been basing controversial immigration crime sweeps on a fake law downloaded from the internet and touted by anti-immigrant organizations. Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement signaled that they would strip Arpaio and his department of the power to make immigration arrests in the field. Arpaio responded by saying that he would continue busting immigrants as planned on the authority of state laws. Fake state laws. The Arizona Republic reports:

Arpaio initially denied knowing which Web site. He later said it came from the Cornell University Law School's Web site.
However, the interpretation actually originated on the Federation for American Immigration Reform Web site and has been reposted by anti-immigrant and border-control groups. Washington, D.C.,-based FAIR opposes immigration, legal and illegal. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the organization as a hate group, which FAIR vehemently denies.

Among other falsehoods, the interpretation states that reasonable suspicions that a person is in the country illegally include "evasive, nervous, or erratic behavior; dress or speech indicating foreign citizenship; and presence in an area known to contain a concentration of illegal aliens."

Corn on "Hardball": What Fuels the Far Right?

Fri Oct. 16, 2009 6:24 PM EDT

David Corn and Ron Brownstein joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the motivations of the far right's opposition to Obama.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Iraq's Official Death Toll Supports Unofficial Tally

| Fri Oct. 16, 2009 2:26 PM EDT

This story first appeared at Miller-McCune.

Slow and steady even in tallying the tragic proves its worth.

The government of Iraq has at long last released its own count of violent civilian deaths following the 2003 invasion, and the numbers are close to those from the organization Iraq Body Count.

A story by The Associated Press, which has been hounding the Iraqi government for the numbers, reports that Iraq's Human Rights Ministry tallied a minimum of 85,694 deaths between the start of 2004 to Oct. 31, 2008. The AP, using that source and others, puts the count from the start of the U.S.-led invasion until today at 110,600 dead. Iraq Body Count, in comparison, put its total at between 93,540 and 102,071.