"Barry from DC"

Tim Kaine, the outgoing Democratic governor of Virginia (and current chair of the Democratic National Committee), was on DC's WTOP FM this morning when a "Barry from DC" called in to the show. Here's video:

Barry, otherwise known as President Barack Obama, had some "questions about traffic in Northern Virginia," but mostly focused on praising Kaine. The American Prospect's Tim Fernholz tweets that he's "torn between thinking this is hilarious and thinking Obama has other things to do." I just think the president shouldn't bait the birthers by referring to himself as "Barry." That's just mean.

In an interview with ABC New's Diane Sawyer that aired Monday night, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad walked back his promise to help three American hikers—including Mother Jones contributor Shane Bauer—detained in Iran.

Bauer and his companions, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd, accidentally wandered into Iran while hiking in Northern Iraq on July 31, their traveling companion, Shon Meckfessel, explained in a statement in early August. But in the interview with Sawyer, Ahmadinejad suggested that he didn't believe that story. "How do you know they have accidentally crossed into Iran? How do you know they were looking for waterfalls and forests?" Ahmadinejad asked Sawyer in response to her questions about the hikers. He also refused to say he would release the three Americans. You can watch the full interview here.

Bauer and his companions have been charged with espionage and face trial. Want to learn more? Their families have a website where you can follow the story and help out.

Afghan National Army soldiers pay their respects to two Marines from Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, during a memorial service on Contingency Operating Base Sher, in Garmsir, Afghanistan, Dec. 13, 2009. Lance Cpl. Nicholas J. Hand, an assaultman with Fox Company, and Lance Cpl. Jonathan A. Taylor, a rifleman with Fox Company, were killed in action while conducting counterinsurgency operations in Garmsir, Afghanistan. (US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dwight A. Henderson.)

Need To Read: December 22, 2009

Today's must reads:

Get more stuff like this: Follow Mother Jones on twitter! You can check out what we are tweeting and follow the staff of @MotherJones with one click.

There are a bunch of things that happen pretty regularly in Washington that would probably outrage the average citizen but which both political parties don't really care much about. One example is the constant awarding of federal "small business" contracts to megacorporations. Defenders of the practice point out that the government has a small business contracting "target," not a requirement. (The target is 23 percent, but although it awards many of the "small business" contracts to businesses that aren't actually small, the government misses that goal anyway.) They also argue that some contracts are just too complicated or sensitive to be carried out by small businesses. But that doesn't make it sting any less when a Fortune 500 company like Bechtel Bettis is awarded an $128 million "small business" contract.

The contract in question seems to be for the Energy Department's Pittsburgh Naval Reactors Office, which is associated with the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, which is basically a joint DOE-Bechtel venture. (This isn't unusual. The public and private sector are inextricably intertwined throughout much of America's defense infrastructure. The people who work at the Bettis lab are Bechtel employees, not federal employees.)

Anyway, none of this is a good excuse for counting the deal as a "small business" contract. Sure, it could be an error, but it's probably not: In recent months, other "small business" contracts have gone to General Dynamics, Xerox, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, British Aerospace (BAE), and Dell, according to the American Small Business League. Maybe it's too much to ask that the federal government not rely on big corporate contractors for this kind of work. But it shouldn't be so hard for them to be honest about it.

Flickr/wallyg (Creative Commons/).Flickr/wallyg (Creative Commons).Has the backlash to the Goldman Sachs backlash officially begun? Jessica Pressler over at New York's excellent Daily Intel says "it's become so fashionable to hate Goldman Sachs that it's actually unfashionable." Singled out for criticism is this Bloomberg piece on the firm. The article centers on the claim that Goldman benefited from 9/11 because "Building a new headquarters cater-cornered to where the World Trade Center once stood qualified the firm to sell $1 billion of tax-free Liberty Bonds and get about $49 million of job-grant funds, tax exemptions and energy discounts." Pressler calls BS: 

First of all, why not just headline the story "Goldman Sachs Benefited From 9/11," Bloomberg, because that is clearly the audience you're trying to reach? We guess you can't, since that would be grotesquely untrue. Second, what exactly are you telling us here? That Goldman Sachs took advantage of tax breaks to get a discount on a new headquarters? That they ran a cost-benefit analysis and came away thinking, hey, that's a pretty good deal for us? YOU DON'T SAY.

Of course they did! That's what they do. Also breaking: They sometimes package bunches of crap and make it look attractive so that they can sell it for more money. You know who else does that? The makers of CEREAL. The guy who runs American Apparel. Oh, and pretty much everyone else because that is what business is. In this case, Goldman Sachs's new tower helped keep a lot of jobs in lower Manhattan, despite the ice-skating snafu, so we can't say we're all that bothered. Honestly, news cycle, bring us some real evidence that Goldman had something to do with the intelligence saying there were WMDs in Iraq, or get the hell out of our office.

The reason that most consumer goods companies are very careful about product safety isn't just that it's good business. It's also that there's usually a regulator—the Consumer Product Safety Commission or what-have-you—that's in charge of bringing the hammer down on them if they sell us unsafe products. (Even the notoriously lax FDA is better than nothing.) Financial products don't have that kind of dedicated safety agency, which is why Elizabeth Warren suggested a Financial Product Safety Commission. It's also why that new agency is part of the proposed regulatory reforms the House passed earlier this year.

This all goes back to an idea that I'm going to keep harping on. It's ridiculous to expect all individuals—or companies—to act responsibly in the absence of laws and regulations restricting their behavior and imposing penalties for noncompliance. While everyone's outrage is focused on Goldman Sachs, the other banks will have more freedom to do fishy stuff and improve their competitive position. That's why liberals believe that if you're going to fix big problems like the ones that led to the financial crisis, you have to make those difficult changes to laws and incentives—not just rail against a single corporation.

Want more on all this? Check out the January/February issue of Mother Jones.

Rod Parsley, a fundamentalist pastor who John McCain praised as a "spiritual guide" during the 2008 presidential campaign, is in big trouble—demonic trouble. Parsley has claimed that Islam is "the greatest religious enemy of our civilization and the world," and argued that the historic mission of America is to see "this false religion destroyed." (You can watch a video highlighting those comments here. After weeks of controversy, McCain finally repudiated Parsley in May 2008.) But it's not Islam that's causing Parsley problems these days. It's Satan himself. The Columbus Dispatch reports that Parsley is saying his ministry is under a "demonically inspired financial attack." Here's the clip from his television program, "Breakthrough":


The proximate cause of Parsley's trouble, it seems, is a $3 million deficit for the fourth quarter and a $3.1 million legal settlement over a 2006 incident in which a two-year-old child in a Parsley-affiliated daycare center was spanked so hard that his "buttocks and legs were covered with welts and abrasions":

The boy, then 2, said he was spanked with a "knife" by a substitute teacher. His parents, Michael and Lacey Faieta, believe it was a ruler.... The Faietas said Parsley refused to meet personally with them and that the church did not apologize or take accountability for the beating.... Mr. Faieta said he and his wife were "disgusted" and "saddened" by Parsley's words.

The devil works in mysterious ways.

(h/t Right Wing Watch)

Today is the day that aging Tea Partiers across the country are supposed to burn their AARP cards to protest the group’s support for health care reform. At least, that's what one right-wing blogger is encouraging them to do. Last week, self-described "Tea Party Patriot" Sam Mela announced the "1st Tea Party Winter Fest for Health Care Freedom & AARP Card Burning":

The Tea Party Movement is initiating a nation-wide AARP Card Burning, on the first day of winter, December 21, 2009. This is in response to AARP’s duplicitous stance in support of Congress’ attempted thievery of ample health care away from the American people. This response is being called for due to the fact that Congress has turned a deaf ear to the will of the American people, one of the most vulnerable groups of our society, our American Seniors….

Don’t forget your lighters, AARP cards and any other AARP printed material/mailings; home made cards a/or signs…you could even dress up like Santa, or his elves, Scrooge, Tiny Tim, whatever your favorite Christmas character…don’t forget your cameras & video recorders! If YOU don’t send this message NOW, the die will be cast!

It seems unlikely that more than a few stragglers will turn out in Santa suits today to torch their membership cards (and a good thing, too, since as one of my the readers of my Unsilent Generation blog pointed out, the cards are plastic, so they won't burn so much as "melt and make a big stink"). When a West Virginia Tea Party organizer called for a day of AARP card burnings earlier this month, the only reports were of a half-dozen protesters huddled around a fire in Charleston. But this hasn’t stopped Republican politicians from picking up the battle cry. John McCain recently urged AARP members to trash their cards both in Arizona speeches and on the Senate floor. (To his credit, McCain told them to cut the cards in half and send them back to AARP, rather than burn them.) 

None of this represents much of a threat to AARP. Although the group has lost tens of thousands of members over the health care reform issue, that’s a tiny fraction of its 45 million total. President Obama and Democratic senators have been making much of AARP’s support for the reform legislation, leading Sam Mela, in a post yesterday, to lament the fact that "in terms of Public Relations and Public Perception, the AARP has been able to steamroll over the Tea Party movement, without encountering even token resistance, although it would have been a simple matter for the Tea Partiers to neutralize them at any time."

Merrick Alpert, the only Democratic primary challenger to Connecticut's embattled Senator Chris Dodd, sounds like a career politician. He is comfortable spinning a yarn about the hands of working class people, the importance of small business, and his staunchly moral lifestyle. 

But Alpert, who has been critized as unqualified and too conservative, embraces his outsider status and says he's the only Democrat who can win Dodd's seat in November. Although he trails the five-term Senator by more than 30 points according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, Alpert notes that he currently has only one or two percent name recognition in Connecticut, compared to Dodd, who "has been around for longer than the Israelites wandered in the desert."  

This could be Alpert's moment to surge against Dodd, who was recently deemed "unelectable" by the respected elections predictor the Cook Political Report. Read his conversation with Mother Jones (below the jump) for more on Alpert's policy stances, Chris Dodd's failures, and the state's Republican primary throw down.

For all the furor over Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone story on Obama's economic team, you couldn't argue with the basic thesis put forward: At the very least, Obama has surrounded himself with powerful Wall Street-centric thinkers and bankers and leaders who dictate his Wall Street-friendly economic agenda. Instead of using the financial meltdown to implement radical and necessary changes, Taibbi writes, "What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place." In May, Simon Johnson described this very revolving door between Washington and Wall Street in a more articulate and less, well, Taibbian piece for The Atlantic; Johnson called Wall Street's takeover "the Quiet Coup."

In our hard-hitting Wall Street package in the new January/February issue of Mother Jones, I put some names on that image of the Washington-Wall Street revolving door. As you'll see, these aren't all midlevel, pencil-pushing bureaucrats. Some of the Wall Street alums now in Obama's upper ranks include:

  • Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's deputy and his chief of staff;
  • Obama's own chief of staff and chief economic adviser;
  • the head of TARP;
  • and the managing executive of the SEC's enforcement division.

Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse. Check out the list of names here, and be sure to check out all of our financial stories as they come out.