Mojo - October 2009

Bonner's Five Point Plan for Quality Control

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 9:21 AM EDT

Jack Bonner, head of Bonner and Associates, insisted in congressional testimony on Thursday that the forged letters his company sent to lawmakers were the work of a single "rogue" employee, not the result of any deeper problems at his firm. The incident, Bonner's lawyer wrote in a letter to the committee, "was an anomaly in the lengthy and honorable operation of this business."

Regardless, Bonner has now developed a "five point action plan" which it believes will prevent dishonest conduct and help the company "earn the reputation as the industry leader for the highest quality standards." Unfortunately, the big plan reads more like a list of very basic procedures that should have been in place all along, such as checking the resumes of employees, introducing an ethics policy, and making sure employees don't lie. The full plan is below the jump:

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 30, 2009

Fri Oct. 30, 2009 6:52 AM EDT

US Army Soldiers conduct a dismounted patrol in a village near Forward Operating Base Blessing, Afghanistan, Oct. 19, 2009. The Soldiers are assigned to the 4th Infantry Division's Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. (US Army photo by Sgt. Jennifer Cohen.)

Need To Read: October 30, 2009

Fri Oct. 30, 2009 6:29 AM EDT

Today's must-reads:

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.)

Should the DOJ Take Up the Letter Fraud Case?

| Thu Oct. 29, 2009 6:25 PM EDT

Will the coal industry representative who may have lied under oath to Congress on Thursday face legal repercussions?

Steve Miller, CEO for American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a major coal industry lobby group, said under oath that his organization "has never opposed the Waxman-Markey bill," when in fact the group both publicly opposed the House climate bill and funded campaigns to convince legislators to vote against it.

Mother Jones contacted the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming to see whether they plan to pursue the issue. "We are currently reviewing the testimony and we will make any assessments on steps going forward after we review the testimony," said Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for the committee.

If the committee decides that there's cause to believe that Miller perjured himself, the matter would be turned over to the Department of Justice for investigation.

Activist groups are already hoping that the DOJ will get involved. After the details of the forged letters broke in August, the Sierra Club asked the DOJ to look into the case as potential wire fraud and MoveOn urged its members to sign a petition asking for a DOJ investigation.

The Golden Years America: Can't Work, Can't Retire (Unless You're a Bailed-Out Banker)

| Thu Oct. 29, 2009 2:36 PM EDT

The National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare reports today on recently released statistics that illustrate the lose-lose situation now faced by many older people, thanks to Wall Street and the recession it spawned.

The National Retirement Risk Index shows that a majority of American households are at high risk of not having enough money in retirement. The 51% finding is the highest at-risk percentage since the index’ creation in 2006. The report concludes: 

"...half of today’s households will not have enough retirement income to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living, even if they work to age 65, which is above the current average retire­ment age. Even if the stock market should bounce back, the housing bubble is unlikely to reappear. And as defined benefit plans fade in an environment where total pension coverage remains stagnant, Social Security’s Full Retirement Age moves to 67, and life expectancy increases, the outlook will get worse over time. The NRRI clearly indicates that this nation needs more retirement saving."

And yet, working longer isn’t as easy as it sounds for the over 60 employee.  The New York Times sums up the unemployment figures for seniors: 

…there are more Americans 65 and older in the job market today than at any time in history, 6.6 million, compared with 4.1 million in 2001.  Less well known, though, is that nearly half a million workers 65 and older want to work but cannot find a job — more than five times the level early this decade and this group’s highest unemployment level since the Great Depression.  The situation is made more dire because of numerous recent trends: many people over 65 have lost their jobs as seniority protections have weakened, and like most other Americans, a higher percentage of them took on debt than in previous generations.

With prospects like this, some old people may start to feel like going before those mythical “death panels” isn’t such a bad idea after all.

None of this applies, of course, to the people responsible for placing large numbers of America’s seniors in financial peril in the first place. Wall Street is busy whining about he limits on executive pay announced last week by White House “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg. These restrictions apply only to the 25 top execs at each of the seven huge companies that are currently using bailout funds, and allow them to make multiple millions per year. What’s more, unlike the rest of us, these guys can still look forward to getting golden parachutes to cushion their golden years. As the New York Times reports:

...it’s worth noting that certain contentious pay issues were either ignored or shoved under the rug. Ken Lewis, the soon-to-be-retired chief executive of Bank of America, has declined to take a salary in 2009, at Mr. Feinberg’s urging. But he is still going to get around $70 million in retirement pay — which Mr. Feinberg could do nothing about. And so Mr. Lewis will soon join the ranks of other top Wall Street executives who walked away with millions after doing a miserable job.

Fiore Cartoon: S.C.R.E.W. U.

Thu Oct. 29, 2009 2:00 PM EDT

In light of recent reform efforts, the credit card industry has implemented a new plan. They like to call it the Safe Credit Revision Everyone Wins Undertaking, otherwise known as S.C.R.E.W. U.

Watch satirist Mark Fiore outline the plan, which includes fees for breathing or being left or right-handed, below:

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Did Coal Lobby CEO Lie Under Oath?

| Thu Oct. 29, 2009 1:41 PM EDT

In testimony before Congress on Thursday, Steve Miller, CEO for American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a major coal industry lobby group, stated under oath that his organization "has never opposed the Waxman-Markey bill."

But ACCCE's previous statements indicate otherwise. On the day that the House passed the legislation, Miller himself issued a press release stating, "ACCCE cannot support this bill, as it is written because the legislation still does not adequately protect consumers and the domestic economy."

In addition, documents released Thursday by a congressional investigation into 13 forged letters sent to Congress by an ACCCE subcontractor show that ACCCE spent nearly $3 million this year on so-called grassroots efforts to persuade vulnerable legislators to vote against the Waxman-Markey bill. (Miller did tell the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming that ACCCE "supports federal carbon legislation that could include a mandatory cap-and-trade.")

An email exchange between ACCCE's contractor, the Hawthorn Group, and its subcontractor, Bonner and Associates, identifies seven House Democrats to be pressured to oppose the bill. The email describes Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.) as "a potential/probable 'no' vote on here so we're doing a little more intel to determine whether or not to keep him on our target list." The goal was clearly to convince members to vote against the measure. Once they were known to oppose it, they could be taken off the list.

Carney did indeed go on to vote against Waxman-Markey, along with five of the other targeted members. Yet ACCCE testified on Thursday that they did not actively campaign to get members to vote against the bill.

The coal industry group wasn't the only one making questionable claims in the hearing. Jack Bonner, head of Bonner and Associates—the ACCCE subcontractor that sent the forged letters—testified that his organization made a sincere effort to reach out to the community organizations whose names were misappropriated, as well as the lawmakers who received the forgeries. But the written and oral testimony from both Bonner and the community groups makes it clear that Bonner took its time. The Waxman-Markey vote was on June 26, and ACCCE, Bonner and Hawthorn all knew about the forgeries at least 48 hours before that. "Our immediate reaction to the fraud was to advise our client and reach out to the organizations," Bonner told Congress. Yet Bonner staffers didn't actually begin reaching out until June 29 (to one of the community organizations) and July 1 (to members of Congress). They didn't speak to the staff of two forgery recipients until July 13, and never contacted Carney's office at all. Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations for the American Association of University Women, said she only learned about a fake letter bearing her organization's name by reading about it in the newspaper. Hilary Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy and policy of the NAACP, said his group found out when contacted by the media.

By the end of Thursday's hearing, only Select Committee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jay Inslee (D-Wa.) were present to grill the witnesses. But they evidently weren't satisfied with the answers they received: After the hearing, Markey indicated that his committee will continue looking into the case.

More Torture Docs Coming Friday?

| Thu Oct. 29, 2009 1:39 PM EDT

The American public could learn more about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's torture and rendition policies on Friday if the Obama administration follows through on a promise to review a number of internal Bush administration documents. Earlier this month, the administration vowed to make its "best efforts" to process some 224 documents by October 30 to determine what can be publicly released. Government lawyers acknowledged last month that these documents are potentially responsive to a years-old ACLU Freedom of Information Act request for information relating to the death, treatment, and rendition of detainees.

The Bush administration initially considered these documents to be unrelated to the ACLU's FOIA request. But when the Obama administration reviewed a large number of Bush-era documents under its new, less restrictive FOIA guidelines, it reached a different conclusion. The Obama team, however, couldn't find ten of the documents that the Bush administration had originally listed in court filings.

In September, the Obama administration sent these 224 new documents to the CIA and other agencies for possible release. If government lawyers decide they can't justify withholding any of the 224 documents, those records could be made public Friday. "Hopefully they will stick to that date, and hopefully we will get something," says Alex Abdo, an ACLU lawyer working on the ongoing litigation concerning the FOIA request. " If I were to guess, I would say that we will likely get at least a few documents, but it is really hard to know just yet."

But there is one hitch: John Durham, a special prosecutor appointed by the Bush administration to look into the CIA's destruction of interrogation videotapes, could conceivably preempt the release of any documents. In a filing last week in a related case, government lawyers said that Durham was claiming that the release of certain documents could interfere with his investigation and were off-limits. If Durham attempts to block the release of these documents, a court would have to decide whether his assertion of privilege was justified.

As Mother Jones has reported, one document that could be released is a 59-page Department of Defense top-secret memo from July 25, 2002. The document was actually just misfiled by the CIA, and the Obama team found it and sent it to the Pentagon for processing last month. The document is thought to outline the torture techniques, perhaps as part of an argument for using those techniques on detainees.

Economic Dishonesty

| Thu Oct. 29, 2009 12:29 PM EDT

This John Schmitt takedown of economist/New York Times blogger Casey Mulligan seems pretty damning. Mulligan made the argument that requiring paid sick days is counterproductive because it causes people to stay home when they are not sick. Schmitt explains why this could be wrong:

The current system—which does not require employers to provide paid sick days and leaves upwards of 50 million workers without paid sick days—gives strong incentives to workers to go to work sick, lowering productivity and potentially spreading illness.

Of course, offering paid sick days also gives workers incentives to take time off when they are not sick. There is nothing in Mulligan's post that says where we should set the optimal level. He doesn't even make a case that the most generous systems in Europe are too generous, just that they lead to more sickness absences in some cases. For all we know, after we factor in the cost of contagious diseases, the most generous European systems might still be too stingy.

Here's where it gets embarassing for Mulligan and the Times. To support his point, Mulligan published a graph showing how the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway, which have statutory sick leave laws, all have higher absenteeism than the United States.

But Mulligan pulled very selectively from his source material, a chart by the International Monetary Fund. Here's the real chart:

Over to you, John:

In the original, Denmark, Germany, and seven other countries with more generous statutory paid sick days policies all have lower sickness absence rates than the United States. A really interesting question is: how is it that these countries are able to provide both guaranteed paid sick days and lower sickness absence rates? (And why didn't Mulligan include these countries in his graph?)

Um, because he was being dishonest?

 

$100,000 for a Palin Speech?

| Thu Oct. 29, 2009 12:20 PM EDT

Sarah Palin's words of wisdom come at a high price:

A conservative Iowa group’s effort to lure Sarah Palin to its banquet next month has had an unintended effect: Rather than exciting conservatives about the prospect of a visit from the former Alaska governor, the group’s plan to raise a six-figure sum to bring her to the state has GOP activists recoiling at the thought of paying to land a politician's speaking appearance.

In most states, groups pay for speakers to attend their events all the time. Iowa conservatives are used to getting their speakers for free because their state holds the first contests of each party's nomination contests. But running for President does mean sucking up to Iowans, and if Sarah Palin isn't willing to do that, she either has an outrageously inflated sense of her own importance or she isn't planning on running. You can probably find evidence for either of those explanations.