Mojo - February 2010

Stimulus Failing People of Color

| Wed Feb. 17, 2010 8:14 AM EST

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), the $787 billion stimulus bill designed to "assist those most impacted" by the recession by creating and preserving jobs. And so far, it has failed communities of color. On Monday, the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity (pdf)  disclosed that many of the employment gains from ARRA are not reaching workers of color who inhabit the communities hardest hit by the recession. According to the institute's press release:

The stimulus did not go far enough in terms of marginalized communities, and it lacked transparency and accountability in regard to racial equity. Because people are situated differently, groups in declining urban centers with lower access to job creation face different needs for well-targeted investments in critical community infrastructure such as transit, schools, and parks and development of new recruitment and training standards that help new workers secure jobs.

Along with outlining federal job creation strategies (a future jobs bill should develop new recruitment and training standards that help new workers get into jobs and it should invest in critical community infrastructure such as transit, schools and parks), the 44-page report proposes state-level solutions to unemployment's racial disparities such as improving tracking of ARRA resources and outcomes based on gender and race and increasing small and minority business participation. The institute also suggests increasing employment opportunities for ex-offenders and ensuring that marginalized communities are included in "green job" initiatives.

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Need to Read: February 17, 2010

Wed Feb. 17, 2010 8:02 AM EST

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

Pimping Weapons to the World

| Wed Feb. 17, 2010 8:00 AM EST

As last week ended, the American and British military in Afghanistan finally launched a long awaited operation to occupy the city of Marja in Taliban-controlled Helmand Province. According to Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, to win "hearts and minds," the US Army and Marines were arriving with "a government in a box"—Afghan governing and security structures evidently ready to be unpacked as part of the sort of nation-building operation that once would have staggered the American officer corps.

Not surprisingly, when it comes to the Afghan War, "hearts and minds" pieces are now a dime a dozen in the US press. (Can McChrystal's new counterinsurgency strategy of "protecting the people" work? Will the Afghans start to love us, love themselves, and reject the Taliban?) In one recent piece about Marines in a Taliban "stronghold" near the southern city of Kandahar, "Forces Strain to Hire Afghans," Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov described the crisis a US Army captain faced. He had more than a million dollars to spend on reconstruction projects meant to gain local loyalties, and few Afghan takers. The third paragraph of his piece went like this: "Yet, the only construction work here so far has been the hammering of US Navy Seabees, or construction troops, erecting a vast American base overlooking Senjaray. The town's unemployed men prefer to stay home, for fear of Taliban retribution."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 17, 2010

Wed Feb. 17, 2010 8:00 AM EST

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As seen through a night-vision device, U.S. Army Soldiers, members of a Chinook helicopter crew, receive a flight briefing on Falcon Base, Afghanistan, Feb. 10, 2010. US Army photo by Spc. Egorov Victor.

Obama Goes Nuclear

| Tue Feb. 16, 2010 8:38 PM EST

For the latest on environmental politics, see Blue Marble:

Energy Sec Unaware That Nuclear Loans Have 50 Percent Risk of Default

The Obama administration announced the first federal loan guarantee for a new nuclear plant on Tuesday. But Energy Secretary Steven Chu told reporters he was unaware of the Congressional Budget Office study that indicated a default rate of "well above 50 percent" for this type of loan.

Oil Companies Abandon Climate Partnership

ConocoPhillips, BP, and Caterpillar drop out of the United States Climate Action Partnership, the influential business-environmental group coalition formed to guide climate legislation.

Enviros Launch Offensive Against Blanche Lincoln

The Sierra Club joins the League of Conservation Voters in criticizing Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln's efforts to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide.

Fixing the IPCC

Climate scientists offer some suggestions for improving the beleaguered Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the latest edition of Nature, with recommendations ranging from hiring a full-time, paid staff, to establishing a Wikipedia-style forum where scientists can exchange ideas and information.

The Revenge of Ron Paul

| Tue Feb. 16, 2010 4:41 PM EST

ron paulRon PaulToday, David Barstow of the Times begins to touch on one of the most underreported aspects of Tea Party populism: Its deep ideological and organizational ties to 2008's Ron Paul Revolution. The press has tended to treat the Tea Party movement as a sui generis outpouring of rage against a black president and an expanding government. But the grassroots network that Barstow examines, Friends of Liberty, has "been shaped by the growing popularity in eastern Washington of Ron Paul, the libertairan congressman from Texas," he writes. There's good reason to believe that Friends of Liberty is less the exception than the rule.

My 2008 Mother Jones piece, The Apostles of Ron Paul, noted that his GOP presidential bid mobilized an outpouring of grassroots support and online activism unlike anything ever seen on the political Right. Paul trumped his competitors in both parties on just about every metric of online organizing, including support on Meetup.com, where his backers outnumbered those of the leading candidates combined. Though his campaign ultimately failed to win a single state primary, I pointed out the parallels between his formidable netroots machine and that built in 2004 by Howard Dean, which ultimately became a major factor in the Democratic victories of 2006 and 2008. "Whichever way the Paulites go, candidates would be smart to study their movement's trajectory," I wrote. "It, not Paul, is the real revolution."

Flash forward to 2010, and a close look at  local Tea Party chapters reveals strong ties with Paul supporters. Barstow reports that the head of Friends of Liberty was first politicized by watching Paul's speeches on YouTube. The Bay Area rEVOLution, the Paul Meetup group that I profiled in 2008, is now campaigning for "Tea Party" Republican congressional candidate John Dennis and holding a "Tea Bomb" for him modeled on the "Money Bombs" that raked in millions for Paul. Across the country, 180 Meetup groups now mention both the Tea Party and Ron Paul on their websites.

The overlap makes perfect political sense. Paul was the only GOP presidential candidate who was legitimately fiscally conservative and pro-civil liberties (not to mention anti-government). Conservative populists' fear of what a black president might do with the Patriot Act and their rage over the Wall Street bailouts finds a perfect outlet in Paul's desire to slash taxes, abolish the federal reserve, and reinstate a commodity-backed currency similar to the gold standard, as well as his tolerance of extremist backers such as 9-11 truthers and neo-Nazis. It's the reason why Michelle Bachman recently held a town hall meeting with Paul in Minnestota. And why both liberals and conservatives need to pay more attention to libertarians. 

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A Hit List Miss

| Tue Feb. 16, 2010 4:09 PM EST

Secrecy expert Steven Aftergood points out that the Washington Post ran a correction on Friday explaining that no, the CIA does not maintain a list of US citizens to kill. That's apparently the job of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). I emailed Aftergood to ask him how relevant the difference is. Here's what he said:

As a policy matter, it hardly makes a difference which agency is pulling the trigger. But as a student of CIA operations and public perceptions of intelligence, I thought it was noteworthy that CIA was mistakenly accused in this case.

Fair enough—the CIA shouldn't be wrongly accused of plotting to kill Americans. But the fact remains that the Obama administration claims the power to assassinate Americans without due process, and a hit list targeting American citizens apparently exists. That's scary stuff.

Evan Bayh Fail

| Tue Feb. 16, 2010 1:48 PM EST

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), who announced on Monday that he will retire at the end of this term (perhaps throwing the seat to a Republican), continues to be incredibly unhelpful to Democrats. Today, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House minority leader, is blasting out Bayh's statement on CBS Tuesday morning that Congress hasn't created even "one job" in the private sector over the past six months. Aside from the fact that he's endorsing the other party's talking points, Bayh is just wrong. According to an estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus plan passed by Congress last year ensured that there were between 800,000 and 2.4 million more jobs in the fourth quarter of 2009 than there would have been without the stimulus.

Iceland: Offshore Haven for Journos?

| Tue Feb. 16, 2010 1:08 PM EST

Could Iceland soon be to journalists what the Cayman Islands is to wealthy magnates? Supporters of the groundbreaking Icelandic Modern Media Initiative introduced a proposal today to establish the European island nation as the world's first "offshore publishing center." The proposal is based on the business model of offshore financial centers like Switzerland, which attracts foreign depositors with an enticing combination of low taxes and strict bank secrecy laws. The IMMI aims to do the same for investigative journalists by compelling Icelandic legislators to pass the strongest combination of source protection and freedom of speech laws in the world.

The IMMI was drafted with help from Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt, two of the founders of Wikileaks, an otherwise anonymous whistleblower website dedicated to publishing leaks of sensitive governmental, corporate, organizational, or religious documents. Wikileaks, which is currently offline due to fundraising difficulties, has already experimented with ways of breaking stories on a particular country by publishing outside their legal jurisdiction. Last May, when the UK's strict libel laws prevented the BBC from posting documents detailing the dumping of 400 tonnes of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, the papers appeared on Wikileaks days later. At the end of the summer, an Icelandic broadcaster listed the URL for Wikileaks on TV to circumvent a ruling blocking it from revealing a list of the country's creditors.

Johnathan Stray of the Neiman Journalism Lab asks, "Could global news organizations with a home office in Reykjavík soon be as common as Delaware corporations or Cayman Islands assets?" In the wake of an economic collapse that some legislators feel was brought on by a lack of transparency, the Guardian reports that the proposal "has widespread backing" among Iceland's 51 members of parliament. "The main purpose is to prevent something like our financial crisis from taking place again," MP Lilja Mósesdóttir told Stray, noting the country's financiers had great influence over the Icelandic media. "They were manipulating the news."

Most news about IMMI has focused on the increased accountability that could result from passage of the groundbreaking proposal. But serious questions remain about the viability of the proposal. For instance, every country has libel laws for a reason. How will the IMMI ensure that it becomes a hub for investigative journalists and not the tabloid capital of the world? And if Icelandic MPs intend to remedy the country's financial woes via journalism, they are likely to be sorely disappointed. As Gawker notes, "if you're trying to pull in money from investigative journalists, Iceland, that's strike two for you."

A Single Tear for Billy Tauzin

| Tue Feb. 16, 2010 11:50 AM EST

Billy Tauzin | Wikimedia Commons.Billy Tauzin | Wikimedia Commons.Poor Billy Tauzin. The Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-head of the pharmaceutical company lobby, PhRMA, is losing his job. The New York Times says it's because his constituents (pharmaceutical companies) think he "bargained away their profits" and spent too much money supporting a health care reform bill that he thought would inevitably pass. Tauzin and the White House made a secret deal last year that would limit the pharmaceutical industry's costs over the first ten years of the health bill to some $80 billion. Both sides thought they needed the deal—Tauzin because he was certain the bill would pass, and the White House because they were worried it might not if PhRMA opposed it.

Sure, PhRMA's support probably helped health care reform get to where it is now—stalled on the five-yard-line. It's a bummer to lose your job. But Tauzin has been making $2 million a year since 2004, when he got the PhRMA job a few months after negotiating (as a GOP member of Congress) the huge Medicare prescription drug benefit—widely seen as a massive giveaway to drug companies. So pardon me if I don't feel too bad for not-so-poor Billy.