Mojo - January 2010

6 Things: Gay Marriage Trial Background

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 7:59 PM EST

Perry vs. Schwarzenegger continues into its second day here in San Francisco. A few articles for anyone interested in learning more about the case:

1.    Margaret Talbot for The New Yorker wonders if it's too soon to petition the Supreme Court on gay marriage: "A Risky Proposal"

2.    Gabriel Arana for The American Prospect writes about the larger issue of "suspect classification": "Gay on Trial"

3.    Bob Egelko writes about Judge Vaughn Walker for The San Francisco Chronicle

4.    Dan Levine at The Recorder profiles Yes on 8 attorney Charles Cooper

5.    No on 8 attorney Theodore Olson editorializes in Newsweek: "The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage"

6.    Linda Hirshman writes about the YouTube broadcast controversy for Salon

Polar opposites The Advocate and Protect Marriage are both live-tweeting the case.

Have you run across any other informative articles lately, MoJo readers? Feel free to post links in the comments field. Below, watch the Yes on 8 television ad that was discussed in yesterday’s hearings:

 

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Chamber Mulls Legal Challenge to EPA's Emissions Rules

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 5:36 PM EST

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue indicated on Thursday that the organization is mulling a legal challenge to an Environmental Protection Agency finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and should therefore be subject to regulation.

"Are we going to sue the EPA on the endangerment finding?" Donohue said at a press conference following a speech on the State of American Business 2010. "Maybe."

"There are a number of options and processes available both in the courts and in other parts of government," he added. "We will not stand still and let the endangerment finding, as narrow as it was intended to be, stand, since it has declared now that CO2 is a pollutant." 

Donohue maintained that the Chamber isn't disputing the idea that carbon dioxide is a threat to human health (although in the past it has done just that). The Chamber just doesn't think the EPA has the legal ability to restrict emissions (even though the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that it does). The EPA's efforts to curb carbon pollution, he said, amounts to "a retirement program for, amongst other things, class action lawyers." "We're not arguing the science. This is a legal issue, which basically hands the whole thing over, everything companies are doing everywhere, to the trial lawyers, so we will take some constructive steps," he said.  

Failure Insurance for College Drop-Outs?

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 4:45 PM EST

As the country prepares to force necessary legislative reform on the long-reviled health insurance industry, two economists have proposed the creation of a whole new insurance market—one that "protects" college drop-outs from enormous student loan debt. The authors explained their  concept in a working paper last week at an American Economic Association meeting.

Satayajit Cjatterjee of Philadelphia's Federal Reserve Bank and Felicia Ionescu of Colgate University suggest that insuring college students against the full cost of their (potentially incomplete) education may increase enrollment. Students with failure insurance might only have to pay half of their student loan debt upon dropping out, so if students are less worried about the financial ramifications of doing poorly in college, they might be more apt to stay enrolled, work harder in their classes, and ultimately obtain a degree, Cjatterjee and Ionescu argue. According to the authors' calculations, failure insurance could increase college enrollment by 3.5 percent and college graduation by 3.8 percent. But it would also mean that students who pay for insurance and don't drop out have unnecessarily spent hundreds on monthly insurance payments. Failure insurance's idiosyncracies aside, Cjatterjee and Ionescu still think its an important concept considering that 47 percent of ex-students who took out loans don't have college degrees, according to the Fed's Survey of Consumer Finances. Without a degree, college dropouts also make less money and retain more educational debt than graduates. So even if they wanted to complete their degree later on, finances might make it difficult.

“The financial risk of taking out a student loan but being unable to complete college may discourage some people from taking out a loan and enrolling in college,” the economists write. “Thus, even though prospective students may not be credit constrained, a mechanism to share the risk of failing to complete college—college failure risk—might improve the welfare of enrolled students and encourage more people to enroll and complete college.”

When did a student's decision to drop out of college become financial in nature? I was recently a college student myself, and I can't think of a single person who worried: "What if my Cs turn into Ds and I have to drop out? I should probably quit now before my student loan debt grows any further." And if there is too much financial risk tied to giving higher education the ol' college try, then why not make it less financially risky, i.e. more affordable? If college was a generally cheaper endeavor, more students might matriculate without taking out five or six figures in student loans. Cjatterjee and Ionescu have certainly proposed an interesting concept, but failure insurance is merely a bad solution to a symptom of a larger problem: the soaring costs of higher education for all students. 

James McCusker of the Everett, Washington Daily Herald has a pitch-perfect response to the criticism that failure insurance tackles the wrong problem:

We need to do something about higher education, but the dropout rate is a symptom, not the source of the problem. The costs of higher education continue to rise uncontrollably and borrowing to meet that cost makes little sense for most people. Notably, dropouts are not included in the calculations when college marketers tout the economic benefits of higher education.
We need to address the distorted costs of higher education, not underwrite the existing cost structure by offering risk-sharing insurance. We also need to address the decaying standards of our secondary schools, not encourage unprepared students to enroll in college—only to saddle them with indenture-like loans when they drop out.

To see the rest of James' analysis, check out the Daily Herald here, and to see an interview with Chatterjee and Ionescu, check out the Chronicle of Higher Education here.

Chamber Chief Pledges to Wage "Most Aggressive" Election Fight Ever

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 4:04 PM EST

In strident speech in Washington this morning, US Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue renewed his assault on the Obama agenda and pledged to fight the President's allies in the 2010 elections. The Chamber will wage "the largest, most aggressive" campaign in it's 100-year history, he said, to "highlight lawmakers and candidates who support a pro-jobs agenda, and hold accountable those who don't."

Lashing out out at Democrats' leading initiatives, Donohue called health care legislation pending in Congress "a prescription for fiscal insolvency and eventual government takeover of American health care." And he said the Waxman-Markey climate bill "would tie economic activity in knots and eliminate jobs from one end of the country to another."

As I reported in Mother Jones' January/February issue, the Chamber of Commerce's image as the voice of  American businesss is increasingly at odds with it's right-wing political agenda and undemocratic leadership structure. Greenwire recently reported that a third of the Chamber's massive budget--it spends upwards of $300,000 per day on lobbying--comes from a mere 19 supporters (it has long refused to name its backers or members).  "People have criticized us for helping industries or individual companies," Donohue told the Wall Street Journal last year. "What the hell do you think we do? That's our business!"

Gawker Says What Needs To Be Said

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 1:57 PM EST

Gawker's Alex Pareene on Harold Ford's plan to (maybe) run against Kirsten Gillibrand for US Senate in New York:

The problem most people had with Kirsten Gillibrand was that she was a moderate from upstate whose career wasn't particularly distinguished and who held some beliefs (mostly gun control) that wouldn't fly with New York City Democrats.

So, of course, these brilliant minds decided that she would best be challenged by a conservative from Tennessee whose career is a joke and who holds no beliefs. Honestly, Democrats? Field conservative and moderate Democrats in conservative and moderate districts and states. In New York, field a fucking liberal New Yorker. There is not a Republican Senator from Mississippi who happens to be an anti-war atheist. There should not be a pro-gun anti-choice Senator from New York. [Emphasis added.]

The rest is here. The man who works for Nick Denton is right. There's a pretty good liberal argument to be made for Harold Ford as a senator from Tennessee. But you'd have to think that Sen. Ford (D-N.Y.) would make Nate Silver's next list of "least valuable Democrats." This doesn't make much sense.

Erroll Southers and "Christian Identity"

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 1:26 PM EST

Flickr/cesarastudillo (Creative Commons).Flickr/cesarastudillo (Creative Commons).RedState's Erick Erickson has been doing a lot of lying about Erroll Southers, the Obama administration's nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration. Erickson is trying to suggest that Southers said anti-abortion activists and Christians in general are a major terrorist threat to the US—bigger than Al Qaeda. As you can probably guess, none of that is true. The trigger for all this lying is this statement by Southers, who was responding to the question "Which home-grown terrorist groups pose the greatest danger to the US?":

Most of the domestic groups that we have to pay attention to here are white supremacist groups. They're anti-government and in most cases anti-abortion. They are usually survivalist type in nature, identity orientated. If you recall, Buford Furrow came to Los Angeles in, I believe it was 1999. When he went to three different Jewish institutions, museums, and then wound up shooting people at a children's community center, then shooting a fellow penal postal worker later on. Matthew Hale who's the Pontifex Maximus of the World Church of the Creator out of Illinois and Ben Smith who went on a shooting spree in three different cities where he killed a number of African Americans and Jews and Asians that day. Those groups are groups that claim to be extremely anti-government and Christian Identity oriented.

Erickson—and Andrew Breitbart's breitbart.tv, which also picked up the "story"—either don't know or are pretending not to know what "Christian Identity-oriented" means. Mother Jones' own James Ridgeway knows. So does my friend Matt Gertz at Media Matters, who enlightens the unenlightened:

According to the Anti-Defamation League, "Christian Identity is a religious ideology popular in extreme right-wing circles. Adherents believe that whites of European descent can be traced back to the 'Lost Tribes of Israel.' Many consider Jews to be the Satanic offspring of Eve and the Serpent, while non-whites are "mud peoples" created before Adam and Eve. Its virulent racist and anti-Semitic beliefs are usually accompanied by extreme anti-government sentiments."

I really hope that the mainstream media isn't dumb enough to make this mistake.

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Lobbyists, Ex-Bush Staffers Help Write Murkowski Climate Bill

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 1:26 PM EST

In her effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from taking action on climate change, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is getting help from some familiar faces: some of George W. Bush's top environmental officials who now lobby on behalf of dirty energy interests.

The Washington Post reports that Bush-era EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation Jeffrey R. Holmstead and general counsel Roger R. Martella, Jr. have worked with Murkowski to draft legislation cutting off the EPA's ability to regulate emissions.

Holmstead now heads the environmental strategies group at Bracewell & Guiliani, which lobbies on behalf of energy giants like Southern Company, Progress Energy, Duke Energy, and the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council. Martella is a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, where he lobbies on climate on behalf of clients like the National Alliance of Forest Owners and the Alliance of Food Associations.

Former Bush EPA officials know plenty about how to successfully avoid action on emissions—they ignored the issue for eight years. But letting lobbyists so explicitly help write legislation also raises some big ethical questions. Kert Davies, director of Greenpeace's PolluterWatch, told the Post that his group will ask the Senate Ethics Committee to look into it.

Murkowski's spokesman argued that there is nothing "improper" about working with "outside experts," and that it is "responsible legislating" to do so. Murkowski was expected to introduce a new bill dealing with EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions next week, but now it seems her measure might be considered at a later date.

Ag Lobby Vows Even More Aggressive Fight Against Climate Bill

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 12:47 PM EST

The American Farm Bureau, the major agricultural lobby group, is calling on farmers to be even more aggressive in their opposition to climate legislation. And in a vehement speech to an AFB conference last weekend, the organization's president, Bob Stallman, set the tone by comparing proposed regulation of the agriculture sector to a policy to attone for slavery following the Civil War. "A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule," said Stallman. "The time has come to face our opponents with a new attitude. The days of their elitist power grabs are over."

Stallman's comments signaled that the farm lobby intends to intensify its already strenuous attacks on any government attempt to curb carbon emissions. Stallman vowed in his speech that his group would fight "aggressively" against "misguided, activist-driven regulation." The conference also included a session disputing the existence of climate change—titled "Global Warming: A Red Hot Lie?" and featuring climate skeptic Christopher Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

And the lobby's allies in Congress are taking notice. The Washington Independent reports that Agriculture Committee Chair Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who voted for the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in the House, recently told a conservative talk radio show that if a climate bill passes the Senate he wouldn't support its final passage. "First of all, this isn’t going anyplace in the Senate," Peterson said. "But if it did and we ended up with a bill that was similar to what came out of the House and that was going to become law, I would vote no."

What To Watch Tonight

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 12:25 PM EST

Via the New York Times, I see that BBC World News has a truly incredible story on tap for tonight's broadcast:

New to Facebook, Brandon Neely was searching the site for acquaintances in 2008 when he typed in the names of some of the detainees he had guarded during his tenure as a prison guard at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Neely, an Army veteran who spent six months at the prison in 2002, sent messages to one of the freed men, Shafiq Rasul, and was astonished when Mr. Rasul replied. Their exchanges sparked a face-to-face meeting, arranged by the BBC, which will be shown on Tuesday. Mr. Neely, who has served as the president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, says his time at Guantánamo now haunts him, and has granted confessional-style interviews about the abuses he says he witnessed there. In a message to Mr. Rasul, Mr. Neely apologized for his role in the imprisonment.... The BBC paid for Mr. Neely’s flight to London last month, where a camera crew filmed him meeting Mr. Rasul and a second former detainee, Ruhal Ahmed, on a Saturday afternoon.

(Click through to the Times story for a great photo.)

Neely is the same guard who gave the UC Davis' Center for Study of Human Rights in the Americas 15,000 words of testimony about his participation in prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay. He caught a lot of flak for that.

There's more over at the BBC's site, including this:

Mr Ahmed admits they had a secret agenda for entering Afghanistan, but it wasn't to join al-Qaeda.

"Aid work was like probably 5% of it. Our main reason was just to go and sightsee really and smoke some dope".

These guys don't sound like hardened jihadis. Anyway, I'll be watching. 

The Maine Redemption: Bill Challenges Solitary Confinement in State's Prisons

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 11:27 AM EST

Most Americans’ knowledge of the Maine prison system probably ends with the grim, gray penitentiary depicted in The Shawshank Redemption.  But the prison of Stephen King’s imagination is a benign place compared with the current reality of incarceration in Maine’s state prisons–especially its 100-man solitary confinement unit. Conditions in the lockdown unit have become the subject of public debate in recent years, and of a bill now making its way through the state legislature that would restrict and closely monitor the use of solitary confinement. If the bill is passed, Maine would become the first state in the union to directly confront this form of domestic torture through the legislative process.

One hundred out of some 900 cells at the Maine State Prison at Warren comprise what is euphemistically known as the Special Management Unit (SMU), where prisoners live in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement (24 on weekends), allowed out only to take a shower, make a phone call, or exercise alone in what looks like the run in a dog kennel. About half of the inmates in the unit are there for disciplinary reasons, the other half because of special problems, mental or physical illness.  (For the record,  Maine’s Associate Commissioner of Corrections, Denise Lord, told The Crime Report in October that only 27 of Maine’s 2263 prisoners are in solitary.)

In 2005, Lance Tapley, a freelance journalist  for the Portland Phoenix, began writing about what he called “Torture in Maine’s Prisons.” Tapley treated the good people of Maine to a series of articles documenting conditions in the SMU. In one article, accompanied by a video, Tapley describes guards dragging a prisoner out of his cell, naked and screaming, forcing him into restraint chair (an excerpt appears at the end of this post).