Mojo - October 2009

Mexican Mayor Latest Drug War Casualty

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 1:26 PM EDT

The mayor of the Mexican border town of Palomas, Estanislao Garcia, was kidnapped yesterday morning and then found dead yesterday afternoon. Whether it was the drug cartels or the Mexican army that tortured and shot Garcia, he has become a statistic in the Mexican drug war. So far in 2009 6.8 people have been murdered each day in the drug siege. And the 2nd-year mayor has now become one of the 14,000 people killed since Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006. 

Mother Jones contributing writer Charles Bowden visited Palomas while reporting the story of Mexican reporter-on-the-run Emilio Gutiérrez Soto. Bowden describes the town in our summer issue:

In Palomas, a town that like Ascensión falls within the gravitational pull of the sprawling border city of Ciudad Juárez, the entire police force recently resigned, forcing the police chief to seek shelter in the United States. The town is dying. Few people cross from America to shop because of the violence. There is a gray cast to the children begging in the streets that suggests malnutrition. Work has fled—the people-smuggling business has moved because of US pressure in the sector and so the town is studded with half-built or abandoned cheap lodgings for migrants heading north. Also there is an array of narcomansions whose occupants have moved on. And there are eyes everywhere. I walk down the dirt streets tailed by pickups with very darkly tinted windows. The biggest restaurant in town for tourists closes every day at 6 p.m.—get home before dark.

To follow developments in the Mexican drug war, the Juárez region, and the ongoing plight of Emilio Gutiérrez Soto, join the Frontera Google Group maintained by NMSU librarian and border expert Molly Molloy. I will also be posting updates on Emilio's trial here as the preliminary proceedings get underway later this month.

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Ex-Lobbyist Confirmed to CFTC

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 12:12 PM EDT

Meet the newest addition to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. If you've been reading Mother Jones recently, then you already know quite a bit about Scott O'Malia. Like the fact that he once worked as a top in-house lobbyist for an energy company, Mirant, that manipulated California's market Enron-style. Or that, while on this company's payroll, he lobbied against a bill to expand the CFTC's authority to police derivatives. Or that the Senate Agriculture Committee, which reviewed his nomination, declined to ask him any specific questions about his pro-deregulation lobbying on not one but two occasions.

O'Malia and two other nominees were unanimously confirmed late Thursday. He will fill the seat vacated by Walter Lukken earlier this year, serving a five-year term that expires in April 2015. O'Malia's tenure on the 5-member commission comes at a time when the Obama administration is pushing an ambitious financial reform overhaul, which, among other things, includes strengthening the historically toothless CFTC. During his recent confirmation hearing, O'Malia expressed [PDF] his commitment to bolstering oversight and said he would work to "ensure the CFTC uses all of its legal authorities to curb excessing speculation and prevent abusive trading practices, including fraud and manipulation." Given his track record, there's reason to be dubious. An energy analyst recently raised the theory that O'Malia's nomination caused a rally in the oil market, with investors betting he'd reduce "the risk" the commission will take an aggressive stand on speculation.

It's always possible that in the years following his stint at Mirant, O'Malia shifted his views on regulation and oversight. It's possible that he'll work to strengthen the rules his former company worked to undo. But if not, the Obama administration has succeeded in undermining its own agenda.

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Obama Nobel: Affirmative Action?

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 11:35 AM EDT

After finding out that Barack Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize, the American Prospect's Adam Serwer asked, "I wonder who's going to be the first righty to complain about affirmative action?" RedState's Erick Erickson won the prize:

I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota for, but that is the only thing I can think of for this news.

Stay classy!

Nobel Decision

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 11:34 AM EDT

Jeez-Louise, what's with all the catcalls against the Nobel Committee's decision to award this year's Peace Prize to President Obama -- particularly the ones coming from progressives?

Me, I agree with and applaud the committee's decision.

I admit, though, that my first reaction on hearing the news was, "Yeah, but what has he actually done to deserve this award?"

Copen-bloggin': Obama, the Nobel, and the Problem of Low Expectations

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 11:07 AM EDT

Danish Minister for Climate and Energy Connie Hedegaard said she came home one day last February to find her teenage son painting a giant mural of Barack Obama on his bedroom wall. The painting, she said, should be a symbol for Americans of just how much hope the new president has instilled in the rest of the world.

"How many years is it since you had an American president that a new youth generation, not only in Denmark, not only in Europe, in Asia, in Africa ... who through his presidency has allowed hope in the United States?" said Hedegaard. "It's fantastic that a new generation of youth worldwide sees this new hope in American leadership."

"I know all the troubles back home on your domestic scene," she continued. "But those of us who love the US, it is a fantastic and unique possibility of reinventing the American strong position in the world."

Hedegaard noted this in a meeting with a small group of American reporters here in Copenhagen on Friday, just minutes after word hit the press that Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Denmark, like the rest of the world, is abuzz about the award. Like many Americans, I'm befuddled by the choice. While I hope that he may some day earn such a prize, I'm not sure that he's done anything in his barely nine months in office that would merit this honor.

On climate change in particular, I'm rather surprised by the credit he's getting. The prize committee stated, among other reasons, that, "Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting." Hedegaard, Danish leaders, and the average Danish citizens I've met here also seem to be giving him quite a bit more credit than is deserved on this issue.

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Win: Instant Analysis

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 10:21 AM EDT

In the age of the 24-hour news cycle and, more important, twitter, you can quickly get all possible reactions to a story. Here's a sample of some of the most interesting and amusing tweets responding to Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize win:

  • AdamSerwer Just woke up and heard aboyt rhe nobel. The right is going to go berzerk today.
  • AdamSerwer No joke obama should turn the nobel peace prize down until he's finished with his two wars.
  • lehmannchris: Biden now convinced he has a shot at the Chemistry prize.
  • basseyworld: Mr. Pres., I'm happy for you and I'm gonna let you finish but Nelson Mandela was the best Peace Prize winner of all time.
  • chrislhayes Kind of happy I'm headed out of the country just when we're about the achieve post-Nobel peak wingnut.

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Quote of the Day RE: Obama Nobel

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 10:08 AM EDT

"Apparently Nobel prizes now being awarded to anyone who is not George Bush."

—Ana Marie Cox, via twitter

The Government's Next Housing Bubble

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 7:37 AM EDT

Is the next housing bubble already on the horizon? And is the federal government the one inflating it?

That's what lawmakers in Washington fear, the Los Angeles Times reports. As private mortgage insurers fall by the wayside in this dismal, bottomed-out housing market, the Federal Housing Administration—the government's mortgage insurance company—has stepped in to maintain lending to homeowners. Reports the Times, the FHA insured 21.5 percent of all new mortgages in 2008, (up from less than 6 percent in 2007), including nearly 2 million mortgages worth at least $328 billion. This year, the agency essentially backstopped the housing market.

But is the FHA doing too much to prop up the market by lending to people who could be at risk for default and foreclosure? The catch with FHA loans is that little payment is required up front to get the loan—which means borrowers who face hardship, job losses, or a plunge in home values, are more likely to walk away from their homes. Then the FHA is stuck with worthless mortgages, eating millions in losses. (Sound familiar?)

The Chamber's Inconvenient Truth

| Fri Oct. 9, 2009 7:02 AM EDT

Faced with a wave of bad publicity over his organization's obstructionist role in the climate debate, US Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue is fighting back. "We don't have regrets about our position, and we're not going to change it," he told reporters yesterday. The National Journal also published a letter from Donohue in which he told Chamber members that he wasn't opposed to tackling climate change and urged them to stand united for a business-friendly solution. But many of the claims he and other Chamber officials are making are contradicted by interviews with Chamber board members and its own lobbying record. 

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice-president for government affairs, said that its climate policy—which led Nike and Apple to quit the group—came out of its energy and environment committee. But that assertion was flatly contradicted by the committee chair, Donald Sterhan, in an interview with Mother Jones last week. "There was no vote," Sterhan said, describing the committee's role. "It's just a discussion about the concerns, the risks, the potential threats. It was really more of an information discussion." He added that "there was no action taken" on the committee to approve any of the Chamber's positions on climate change.

Josten also said that Nike was the only Chamber member to question how its policies were made But according to a spokesman for a company that participated on the Chamber’s energy committee, several companies sought a forum to change the Chamber’s approach and were rebuffed. (He requested that his company not be named because it was concerned about the Chamber's response to its criticism.) Members of the energy committee that questioned the Chamber's climate stance "were told that basically this was not the forum to do it," he says. "There's basically no outlet for changing the policy."

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

Fri Oct. 9, 2009 6:57 AM EDT

U.S. Army Spc. Zackery Cely provides security from a tower on Forward Operating Base Lane in the Zabul province, Afghanistan, Oct. 5, 2009. Cely is assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Tia P. Sokimson.)