Mojo - February 2010

Corn on Countdown: Bunning's Hall of Shame

Sun Feb. 28, 2010 12:57 AM EST

David Corn joined guest host Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann to discuss the latest obstructionist tactics of Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning.

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Dodd's Consumer Financial Protection Plan

| Sat Feb. 27, 2010 11:45 PM EST

Mother Jones has obtained a copy of Sen. Chris Dodd's plan to house a consumer financial protection office within the Department of the Treasury rather than creating an independent agency. Several other news sources have received copies, but none have made the leaked document publicly available. We're posting Chris Dodd's consumer financial protection plan here (PDF). It seems certain to disappoint experts and progressives who had called for a powerful new agency. (Andy Kroll has more on this.) This is the document's top-line summary:

Create a [Bureau of Financial Protection] inside of Treasury with a Presidentially-appointed director; a dedicated budget (through assessments on large banks, non-banks, and with the Fed making up the shortfall); autonomous rule-writing authority with the regulations to apply across-the-board to all entities offering financial services or products; and examination and enforcement authority for large banks and mortgage companies, small banks in a back-up capacity, and other non-banks on a risk basis, as described below.

The independent agency proposal would be dropped.

As Andy explained Saturday afternoon, Dodd's decision to move financial protection inside an existing agency is an effort to gain Republican votes for financial reform. But it's unclear whether either of the Republicans Dodd has negotiated with to date—Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Al.) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)—will support the new plan. There hasn't been any hint of GOP backing for the proposal in newspaper articles on Dodd's leaked plan.

Even if Dodd can convince Republicans to back the notion of a Treasury-based consumer protection office, this proposal could have problems passing the House. Multiple members of the House Financial Services Committee, including its chair, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), told Andy last week that they were worried about the Senate watering down consumer protection. (Frank said that if the Senate's financial reform plan did not include a standalone agency, it would be a potential "dealbreaker.") Now House Dems' worst fears are already being realized—and as far as anyone knows, Dodd hasn't even won any Republican votes.

Dodd Guts Consumer Protection

| Sat Feb. 27, 2010 7:19 PM EST

UPDATE: Mother Jones has obtained a copy of Dodd's consumer financial protection plan.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) has dealt the death blow to consumer protection. The silver-haired senator, who chairs the Senate banking committee, plans to announce this week the creation of a Bureau of Financial Protection inside the Treasury—not unlike the Food and Drug Administration’s placement with the Health and Human Services Department—instead of an independent, standalone Consumer Financial Protection Agency, according to a leaked document obtained by the New York Times. The fate of consumer protection has been a chronic migraine for Dodd; his initial Republican co-negotiator, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), abandoned talks with Dodd over a dispute on the CFPA, and Dodd’s current dance partner, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), called an independent consumer agency a “non-starter.” If Dodd does indeed gut the CFPA, the decision sets the stage for a showdown with the Obama administration and the House, both of whom want the CFPA, and in particular Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who told Mother Jones the agency was a “dealbreaker” for him.

According to the leaked proposal, the president would appoint the Bureau of Financial Protection’s director and its responsibilities would include overseeing big banks as well as non-banks, like the subprime lenders who peddled millions of explosive mortgages and preyed on unwitting consumers. The agency, the Times reports, would also have the authority to implement new financial regulations, but would handle rule-making a lot like the SEC does now:

The Dodd proposal would require the bureau to consult with other regulators before issuing rules and to make public any objections raised by those regulators, along with an explanation of how the bureau addressed the concerns. Those regulators also could appeal the proposed rule to a new interagency council tasked with detecting systemic risks.

The proposal would exempt banks and credit unions with assets of $10 billion or less. It would give the bureau the power to enforce regulations on large banks and nonbank lenders, in conjunction with other regulators, but would largely have to defer to other regulators in the case of smaller banks.

Dodd’s decision to go with a Treasury-housed consumer-protection agency instead of an independent agency—which he claimed to have supported earlier this month—is undoubtedly a move to garner bipartisan support for financial reform in the Senate. The senior senator has stated on numerous occasions that he wants to pass a major financial-reform bill before he retires this fall, and ditching a tough, standalone Consumer Financial Protection Agency for a more bureaucratic solution is one way to win some Republican support, even though Dodd himself said last fall that "There needs to be an independent agency that looks out for people when they take out a loan, open a checking account or use a credit card."

Inside a Wall Street-inclined Treasury Department—the previous secretary was a former Goldman Sachs CEO; Geithner, while not a banking alum, relies on Wall Street’s advice more than anyone else; and plenty of other current staffers are former Big Finance types—it’s unclear whether consumer protection would actually be a priority or not. Elizabeth Warren, who initially concocted the idea of a CFPA and is a leading consumer advocate in Washington, certainly won’t be pleased with Dodd’s new plan, just as most consumer advocates lobbying for greater crackdowns on predatory practices will be left disappointed.

If there is a winner emerging from Dodd's new consumer plan, it's the lobbyists who lobbied to kill the CPFA. Chief among them is the US Chamber of Commerce, who went so far as to create an entire website, StoptheCFPA.com, to ensure the independent agency met its demise. Now, as Dodd and the banking committee roll out their bill this week, it looks like the lobbying onslaught by the Chamber and its allies paid off.

GOP to the Unemployed: Drop Dead (You Bums)

| Sat Feb. 27, 2010 3:17 PM EST

As of Sunday, unemployment benefits will officially end for hundreds of thousands of Americans, thanks to maneuverings by Senate Republicans to prevent a vote that would have extended those benefits. Unless the extension is passed soon, some 1.1 million of the nation’s unemployed will see their unemployment benefits expire in the coming month, and 5 million will lose benefits by June.

The House finally voted to extend benefits on Thursday, after several days of stalling and posturing. But in the Senate, the measure was blocked by Kentucky’s Jim Bunning. Politico reported that late into Thursday night, Bunning held out against repeated Democratic attempts to pass the extension by unanimous consent. In response to entreaties from colleagues across the aisle, other Republican senators rose to defend Bunning's right to obstruct the vote, and Bunning himself was heard to utter, “Tough shit.”  

Bunning said he wanted to see the cost of the benefits offset by other savings, to keep from adding to the deficit. But earlier in the week, Nevada Republican Congressman Dean Heller offered another objection to extending unemployment benefits: He believes it might create a nation of bums.

Think Progress relayed Heller’s remarks, which were made at a Republican Party function in Elko, Nevada, and reported in the local paper:

Heller said the current economic downturn and policies may bring back the hobos of the Great Depression, people who wandered the country taking odd jobs. He said a study found that people who are out of work longer than two years have only a 50 percent chance of getting back into the workforce.

“I believe there should be a federal safety net,” Heller said, but he questioned the wisdom of extending unemployment benefits yet again to a total of 24 months, which Congress is doing. “Is the government now creating hobos?” he asked.

Minorities In the Tea Party?

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 8:57 PM EST

Tomorrow, Tea Partiers in North Texas plan to celebrate the first anniversary of their anti-government movement with an anti-taxes-for-social-programs rally in front of the Dallas city hall. The scheduled speakers of the event are—surprise!—young-ish people of color. Which is likely a calculated move to counter statistics that suggest this fringe conservative movement is primarily comprised of middle-aged white rural males. To further prove the group's diversity, the Dallas Tea Party (DTP) released a short ad made in the same vein as the Demon Sheep trailer—only (sadly) without the Demon Sheep—attacking MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who recently reported on the movement's monoculture. In the ad, Olbermann asks, "Surely there must be blacks who think they are being bled by taxation? Surely there must be Hispanics who think we should have let the auto industry fail?" His queries are spliced with rebuttals ("Here we are!") from black and Latino DTP members. DTP leader Katrina Pierson makes several appearances in the ad and was also featured on Fox Business Channel this week. After receiving praise from the Fox host for being a Latina from a single-parent home and for going to college without government assistance (totally false), Pierson made the usual conservative resources-over-government-handouts statement:

I'm a firm believer that all it takes is one positive adult influence in a child's life to make that difference. If no one had ever told me I could go to college, I probably never would. But that's the kind of thing that Americans need. They need tools and resources and encouragement. Not handouts or welfare or the redistribution of wealth.

Pierson never goes into detail on what type of resources (or social safety-net programs?) are needed to help Americans during the Great Recession, or where these resources should come from. Regardless, it's pretty unlikely that more minorities will join a movement that opposes a public health option, stimulus aid, and Good Taxes—like the ones that enabled people like Pierson to attend a government-funded community college.

Follow Titania Kumeh on Twitter.

Texas Drinking Problem Gets Worse

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 7:04 PM EST

Yesterday, Mother Jones aroused a lot of online attention with my story, "Cop Walks Into a Bar And...Arrests You. For Having a Drink." It details how Texas police officers can use a broad public-intoxication law to round up—and sometimes beat—its usual suspects: gays, Latinos, African-Americans, and anybody who looks like a potential illegal immigrant. You don't have to be drinking to be arrested—you just have to be in the wrong place, with the wrong face.

You'd think that's the sort of story that would put cops on the defensive—at least make them a little more circumspect about wielding their authority and their brawn.

Or not. Not according to today's news from the Lone Star State.

My story began with the violent police raid of a Fort Worth gay bar, the Rainbow Lounge, on the 40th anniversary of New York's Stonewall Inn riot. (This, after the police officers had already shaken down two "Hispanic bars" that night, according to one of the cops.) The Rainbow Lounge incident yielded a couple of public-intoxication arrests—and numerous injuries to patrons, including at least one cracked head. Public outrage over the police's extralegal, extra-hamfisted tactics extended way beyond the area's gays and lesbians—at one point, federal authorities were rumored to be investigating the officers' conduct. The Fort Worth Police Department initially took a conciliatory stance: apologizing, investigating, then hiring a liaison for the LGBT community. The state's liquor agency—whose cops participated in the raid—even offered to pay the medical bills of bar patron Chad Gibson, who ended up with a blood clot behind his eye. But today, news comes that despite all the good karma being built rebuilt, local police still want to prosecute two bar patrons for public intoxication—including the seriously injured Gibson.

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Fiore Cartoon: Capitalism Clapper

Fri Feb. 26, 2010 3:34 PM EST

Sometimes the government is the problem. Sometimes it's the solution. Sometimes banks are so big, we think they can't possibly fail. Sometimes they're so big, they do fail.

Sometimes America embraces a free market. And sometimes...it doesn't.

Watch Mark Fiore take on our capitalist fickleness below:

Climate Skeptic Sponsored by Fossil Fuel Interests

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 3:02 PM EST

Get the latest on environmental politics on Blue Marble:

Cape Wind Site Not So Sacred After All?

Dirty energy interests (with help from wealthy land owners, including the Kennedys) have been leading a campaign for nearly a decade to block Cape Wind, the country’s first offshore wind farm in the Nantucket Sound. They have been successful in delaying the project, but their real hope for conquering the wind farm once and for all didn’t come until last year, when two local Native American tribes requested that the sound be declared off-limits for development because it would interfere with their spiritual practice. But one tribe member says that argument is a complete fabrication.

Most Credible Climate Skeptic Not So Credible After All

Patrick Michaels has more credibility than your average climate skeptic, and is often featured prominently in the press to offer an alternative view on global warming. But what Michaels doesn't mention in his frequent media appearances is his history of receiving money from big polluters.

EPA Block Bad for Auto Industry, Says DOT

Efforts underway to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions would "profoundly" harm the already-ailing auto industry, warned the Department of Transportation in a letter.

McCain Goes Off the Nuclear Deep End

Obama’s $54.5 billion plan to restart the nuclear industry apparently isn’t good enough for John McCain.

Oath Keepers Boss: Bybee Nixed Me

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 2:40 PM EST

At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, lawyer Stewart Rhodes, founder of controversial "patriot" group Oath Keepers, told a legal reporter that he was rejected for a 2003 clerkship with infamous federal appeals court judge Jay Bybee—co-author of the Bush administration's Torture Memos.  "Of course I didn't get the clerkship," Rhodes said. "But I didn't want it anyway."

The subject of our March/April cover story "Age of Treason," Oath Keepers urges members—mostly active-duty soldiers, police officers, and military veterans—to disobey a set of orders they consider unconstitutional infringements on American liberties. Rhodes says his lack of faith in Bybee stems not from his approval of torture, but from his actions, along with lawyer John Yoo, "justifying applications of the laws of war even on American citizens. I find that very dangerous."

Rhodes and his organization have drawn praise or attention from right-wing icons like Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, and a coterie of GOP congressional representatives and 2010 candidates. But speaking to Rhodes on his program last week, Bill O'Reilly suggested that some of the group's ideals invite anarchy.

Bybee remains on the bench, and although Congress says it intends to hold hearings on the Torture Memos, key details of the case remain mysterious. But when Bybee eventually leaves his robe behind, it looks like there won't be an Oath Keepers membership waiting for him.

Roy Moore: Next Alabama Governor?

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 1:51 PM EST

Roy Moore is running for governor again. The former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice who was thrown off the bench for refusing to remove a giant Ten Commandments sculpture from his Alabama courthouse has long been a darling of the Christian Right. But he still lost the GOP primary in 2006 to Bob Riley by a 2 to 1 margin. This time around, his prospects look a whole lot better as he has been embraced by the burgeoning Tea Party movement and those who want to return to a strict states' rights reading of the Constitution. They've championed Moore not just for his religious displays but because he basically told the federal government to go stick it when he was ordered by a federal judge to get the Ten Commandments out of his courtroom. And according to Moore, even though his Republican opponents are outspending him by millions of dollars, recent polls show he's got a double-digit lead over the next closest candidate in the primary.

Moore spoke Friday at a Tenth Amendment Summit in Atlanta sponsored by Ray McBerry, another "Constitutionalist" candidate running for governor of Georgia, and was greeted with many standing ovations and cheers of "Amen" by the many state legislators, aspiring candidates and various Tea Party and John Birch types assembled for the event. (There was even a guy carrying an actual pitchfork.) He fired up the crowd with rants against federal education spending, federal bailouts and the cap and trade bill, noting that the Constitution doesn't give the federal government authority "over the weather." Moore mixed his campaign platform with long quotes from Patrick Henry and other early patriots, and infused his take on the Constitution with a healthy dose of religion. "From God, all our rights proceed," he intoned.

But the best part of his presentation came when he showed the illicit video footage, "what the federal government didn't want you to see," of his 2002 trial testimony from the lawsuit filed by the ACLU over the Ten Commandments statue. In court, Moore emphatically stated that to uphold the Constitution he had to "invoke the favor and guidance of almighty God" and that regardless of the outcome of the trial, he would never take the Ten Commandments out of his courthouse. Commenting on his testimony Friday, Moore exclaimed, "For once we told the federal government we will not bow down!" He had the Tenth Amendment crowd leaping from their seats. Apparently Moore sees the testimony as so compelling that he's using it in his gubernatorial campaign ads, and you can watch some of it here.

He wrapped up with fighting words: "The war's inevitable. Let it come. This is the war for our Constitution."