Mojo - January 2010

Corn on "Hardball": Pimps, Wiretaps, and ACORN

Tue Jan. 26, 2010 6:44 PM EST

David Corn and Pat Buchanan joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the latest developments in the ACORN fake pimp's plot to wiretap Mary Landrieu's senate office.

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Coal Finally Gets a Voice in Congress

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 3:09 PM EST

The coal industry has never seemed to have much difficulty pushing its views on Capitol Hill. In 2008 alone, the industry spent more than $47 million on lobbying and ad campaigns aimed at winning lawmakers' loyalty—and thanks to its efforts, received $60 billion in the House cap-and-trade bill to develop coal capture-and-storage technology. Nevertheless, some legislators apparently feel that the coal lobby has been unfairly marginalized, and so they've formed a bipartisan coal caucus to stand up for "America's most abundant and affordable energy resource."

The new grouping includes Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), Tim Holden (D-Pa.), Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), John Salazar (D-Col.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.). All of them voted against the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. Their opposition came even as Rick Boucher (D-Va.), another reliable coal booster, hailed it as a boon for the industry. The new coal caucus seems to be concerned with being perceived as champions of coal above anything else.

But although the new caucus says it will speak with a "unified voice" on behallf of coal, its members' positions can be contradictory. In a statement Holden touted his support for government investment in carbon storage technology. Yet Shimkus believes that the planet is "carbon-starved" and worries that regulations on emissions means "taking away plant food from the atmosphere." If that's the case, why would the industry need generous funding to capture and store carbon dioxide?

The six are also seeking additional legislators for their caucus, and may manage to pick up a few extra members—perhaps Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) who jumped out of a plane to demonstrate his support for coal last year, or maybe one of the Republicans who let the industry write their talking points in the House.

A Mulligan for Ethically Challenged GOP Rep?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 2:22 PM EST

Indiana Republican Rep. Steve Buyer formed the Frontier Foundation in 2003 to provide scholarships to students in his state—and since then his charity has raised an impressive $880,000 in corporate donations. Unfortunately, none of that money has found its way to needy undergrads. It has, however, paid for a lot of Buyer's swanky golf junkets. Speaking recently with CBS Evening News about his foundation, the nine-term congressman—a graduate of the Citadel with a degree in business administration and Frontier's "honorary chairman"—suggested that he "was so focused on making sure that we were legal, that I probably didn't pay as close attention as I should have on, quote, appearances."

And the appearances aren't pretty. After a thorough review of Frontier's tax filings, the government accountability organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has recommended that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) investigate Buyer and what they refer to as his "so-called charity." CREW alleges Buyer has used Frontier "to foot golf fundraisers at exclusive resorts where he hobnobs with corporate donors—who also contribute to his campaign committee and leadership [political action committee]." In 2008, the most recent year for which tax returns were available, the foundation wrote off over $25,000 in expenses for "meals" and "travel for fund-raising." These fundraising outings got the golf-loving Republican onto the links at Disney World, the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, and the Phoenix-area Boulders resort.

Most of the $10,500 in donations that the foundation has made in its seven-year history went not to college scholarships but to the National Rifle Association and "a charity run by a pharmaceutical company lobbyist." And Buyer's family benefited too: both his son and daughter were paid to serve as directors at the charity, which until recently shared its headquarters with the congressman's campaign office. "It is hard to imagine something more callous than playing golf on the backs of poor students—at least one of whom surely could have gone to college on the money Frontier spent on Rep. Buyer's golf trips," CREW's director, Melanie Sloan, said in a statement.

Cut Weapons, Not Education

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 1:35 PM EST

A pillar of Obama's State of the Union address on Wednesday, we're learning, will be a three-year spending freeze in domestic areas like education, transportation, housing, national parks, and farm subsidies, among others. Reeling from Massachusetts Sen.-elect Scott Brown's victory last week and a growing disenchantment with his ambitious domestic agenda (health care, climate change, financial reform), Obama's move is no doubt intended to show he's tough on the deficit, and to allay fears among fellow Democrats staring down a potentially bleak November election season. Its political utility aside, the spending freeze, as it stands now, is a wrongheaded, ill-fated move—not only because it targets areas where more funding is needed, but it exempts the most pork-riddled, wasteful area of them all: defense spending.

Why are Dems Being Blamed for Healthcare Failure?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 1:34 PM EST

In a recent video message, Princeton University professor and civil rights icon Cornel West questioned Obama's backbone, asking "how deep is your love for poor and working people?" So far, he said, Obama has amounted to little more than a "colorful care taker of an empire in decline and a culture in decay."

This rings true for healthcare reform. In theory, the Democrats' support for reform indicates a priority for Americans who cannot afford basic necessities like health care. But they have played dead on all legislation that is not guaranteed by a 60-vote supermajority. The minute Scott Brown won in Massachusetts, for example, the media, GOP establishment, and many Democrats proclaimed the bill dead. 

An SOTU Tradition: Blame Your Predecessor

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 12:23 PM EST

Some excerpts of the first State of the Union address of a new president:

Today marks my first State of the Union address to you, a constitutional duty as old as our republic itself. President Washington began this tradition in 1790 after reminding the nation that the destiny of self-government and the "preservation of the sacred fire of liberty" is "finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." From this podium, Winston Churchill asked the free world to stand together against the onslaught of aggression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke of a day of infamy and summoned a nation to arms. And Douglas MacArthur made an unforgettable farewell to a country he had loved and served so well. Dwight Eisenhower reminded us that peace was purchased only at the price of strength and John F. Kennedy spoke of the burden and glory that is freedom.

When I visited this chamber last year as a newcomer to Washington, critical of past policies which I believe had failed, I proposed a new spirit of partnership between this Congress and this Administration and between Washington and our state and local governments. In forging this new partnership for America we could achieve the oldest hopes of our republic's prosperity for our nation, peace for the world, and the blessings of individual liberty for our children and, someday, for all of humanity.

It's my duty to report to you tonight on the progress that we have made in our relations with other nations, on the foundation we've carefully laid for our economic recovery and, finally, on a bold and spirited initiative that I believe can change the face of American government and make it again the servant of the people.

Seldom have the stakes been higher for America. What we do and say here will make all the difference to auto workers in Detroit, lumberjacks in the Northwest, to black teen-agers in Newark and Chicago; to hard-pressed farmers and small businessmen and to millions of everyday Americans who harbor the simple wish of a safe and financially secure future for their children.

To understand the State of the Union, we must look not only at where we are and where we're going but where we've been. The situation at this time last year was truly ominous....Late last year, we sank into the present recession....This time, however, things are different. We have an economic program in place completely different from the artificial quick-fixes of the past....If we had not acted as we did, things would be far worse for all Americans than they are today. Inflation, taxes and interest rates would all be higher.

A year ago, Americans' faith in their governmental process was steadily declining. Six out of ten Americans were saying they were pessimistic about their future. A new kind of defeatism was heard. Some said our domestic problems were uncontrollable that we had to learn to live with the-seemingly endless cycle of high inflation and high unemployment. There were also pessimistic predictions about the relationship between our Administration and this Congress. It was said we could never work together.

Actually, that's not what President Barack Obama is going to say on Wednesday night. It was the start of Ronald Reagan's first State of the Union speech. (I tweaked just a few words to not give it away, but only a few.) What's notable is that Reagan began that address by playing up the problems of the past—essentially pointing a finger at Jimmy Carter. With Republicans and conservative poised to jump on Obama for daring to note that he's still dealing with profound problems bequeathed to him (and the nation) by the Bush-Cheney administration, fair-minded observers should recall that the Great Gipper was also a pretty good blamer.

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

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Are the Swift Boaters Mounting a Stealth Climate Attack?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 11:10 AM EST

Creative Response Concepts, the public relations firm behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth smear campaign, appears to be mounting an under-the-radar attack on climate action via Twitter. They just don't want me to know what they're up to.

Staffers over at CRC have been tweeting furiously on global warming issues for the past few months—attacking not only climate legislation but climate science.

A few examples, from CRC senior vice president Michael Russell:

UN Scientist admits issuing phony climate data to put pressure on world leaders http://bit.ly/7s6ezP #tcot
SF Chronicle on Copenhagen climate summit - many arrived in carbon burning private jets and limos http://bit.ly/4ZNvok #tcot cap and trade
Economist, author,Thomas Sowell writes on the "Science Mantra" of global warming and its hysteria. http://bit.ly/90D5kz #tcot cap and trade

CRC president Greg Mueller and account associate Marianne Brennan have also been hyping up stories about the "ClimateGate" hacked emails and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's inaccurate glacier data.

So who is CRC working for? It's not clear if their Twitter efforts are independent or on behalf of a particular client, though their list includes many players seeking to undermine climate science. The firm's clients have included the National Republican Congressional Committee, National Taxpayers Union, Republican National Committee, Free Enterprise Foundation, American International Automobile Dealers Assoc., Corn Refiners Association, and the creationists at the Discovery Institute. CRC also has close ties with the conservative media machine, using avenues like the Drudge Report and Cybercast News Service to push the Swift Boat story. I called CRC headquarters to find out more about their climate campaign, but Russell didn't return calls—and then blocked me from following him on Twitter. Of course, like anyone else I can still access the CRC staffers' Twitter page. Is there something that CRC wants to hide?

US To Appeal Blackwater Ruling. Then What?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 8:00 AM EST

Let's hope this isn't one of Biden's gaffes. 

Speaking at a Baghdad press conference with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani this Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden said that the US will appeal a federal judge's dismissal of charges against Blackwater Worldwide contractors, who stand accused of opening fire on Iraqi citizens in 2007. "The U.S. is determined to hold to account anyone who commits crimes against the Iraqi people," he said.

The 2007 Nisour Square incident, which killed 17 Iraqi civilians, sparked outrage across the region, particularly in Iraq, which eventually demanded Blackwater's expulsion. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates stirred controversy last week when he appeared to acknowledge that Blackwater still has a presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan's interior minister, who has vowed to resign if it is proven that Blackwater is still in Pakistan, dismissed the suggestion this weekend as "part of a conspiracy." 

The Blackwater ire resurfaced last month when a federal judge dismissed charges against five of the contractors involved in the shooting, arguing that the State Department forced them to give incriminating statements, a "reckless violation" of their constitutional rights.  One week later, two contractors employed by Paravant, a Blackwater subsidiary, were indicted for the murder of two Afghan civilians in May. 

Economic Illiteracy

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 7:14 AM EST

On Sunday, Harold Ford, the former Tennessee congressman who's considering a run for the New York Senate seat held by Kirsten Gillibrand, published a column on the New York Times' op-ed page. He didn't explain what his job was at Merrill Lynch the past three years, but he did find space to argue that Democrats should cut taxes and reduce deficits. Unfortunately, Ford didn't identify how, exactly, one might cut the federal deficit while cutting taxes without reducing spending. And although he says that a "bipartisan commission to recommend spending cuts to rein in deficit growth" is a good idea, he doesn't identify any actual cuts he would support. Clearly, Ford has access to a magic deficit wand that will allow us to slash deficits and taxes without cutting spending. Either that or he wants the political benefit of being a "deficit hawk" without the political costs of acknowledging that cutting the deficit without raising taxes means slashing Social Security and/or Medicare spending. 

In related news, Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate minority leader, seems to be ignorant of the fact that cutting government spending in the midst of a recession hurts the economy. Economist Dean Baker vents:

If Senator McConnell really is unaware of such basic economics then it would be appropriate to have a news story highlighting his ignorance. This would be equivalent to not knowing that Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the September 11th attack. Mr. McConnell's gaffe on this issue is certainly far more newsworthy than items like President Obama's comment on how white working class people were "bitter" during the primaries. That comment was the topic of many news stories.

It's a good bet that we will not see a mainstream media story about Ford or McConnell's trouble with economics.

Need to Read: January 26, 2010

Tue Jan. 26, 2010 7:00 AM EST

 The must-read stories from around the web and in today's papers: