Mojo - March 2010

Reconciliation and the Filibuster

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 8:35 AM EST

An acquaintance of mine who works on the Hill had this as his away message recently:

Ok Republicans, how about we agree not to use reconciliation, and you agree not to filibuster?

It's a good point. The media tends to treat reconciliation, the process Democrats may use to pass "fixes" to the Senate health care reform bill by majority vote, as a "controversial" process. Republicans have been describing reconciliation as basically a parliamentary "trick." It's true that reconciliation isn't in the Constitution—it was created in the 1970s. But the filibuster, which creates a sixty-vote requirement to end debate in the Senate, isn't in the Constitution either.

Coverage of the Democrats' pursuit of reconciliation should note that, absent Republicans' use of the filibuster, Democrats would be highly unlikely to use reconciliation. They wouldn't need to: if the GOP doesn't filibuster, bills can pass the Senate by a simple majority, as the framers intended. And Republicans who criticize the Democrats for pursuing reconciliation should be asked whether they really think the Dems would be using it if the GOP didn't plan to filibuster.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Is Neal Katyal a Terrorist Sympathizer?

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 8:05 AM EST

Last week, I received an email that tried to argue that Obama Justice Department officials who represented terrorism suspects in their (often successful) suits against the government are "terrorist sympathizers":

Commander Kirk S. Lippold, former Commander of the USS Cole and Senior Military Fellow at Military Families United released the following statement regarding Attorney General Eric Holder’s admission that nine or more DOJ employees currently setting policy on enemy combatants have defended terrorists prior to joining the Department: 


"I was deeply troubled today by Attorney General Eric Holder’s admission that at least nine or more employees of the Department of Justice used to defend the terrorists in our own court system. These same employees now set our nation’s policy on terrorist detainees. To move from defending terrorists in court to setting national security policy for detainees at the Department of Justice is an inexcusable breach of ethics and common sense."

This attack is focusing on people like Neal Katyal, the lawyer who won Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the case that struck down the Bush administration's military commissions system.

Is beating the Bush administration in court an offense that should disqualify someone from government service? Of course it isn't. This whole situation is, of course, ridiculous. The main line of attack is fatally flawed. No one wants to "defend terrorists." The people in the Obama DOJ who once fought the Bush administration on detainee issues were defending terrorist suspects—people who had been accused by the government of planning committing terrorist acts. And a lot of those folks turned out not to be terrorists.

Spencer Ackerman is somewhat more colorful in condemning this smear job. In a post titled, "And Oh By The Way, Did You Notice NEAL KATYAL ISN’T WHITE?????," Spencer writes:

This “Gitmo Nine” fucking bullshit is beneath the dignity of all thinking people. There is not a single shameful thing about representing a Guantanamo detainee. And singling out Neal Katyal — only a fucking tool or a racist will deny the racial overtones in suggesting that brown man at the Justice Department is a terrorist sympathizer. Katyal is a proponent of creating national-security courts, for Christ sake, something absolutely appalling to civil libertarians.

Between this situation and the rejection of Craig Becker, a nominee for the National Labor Relations Board, because he was too "pro-labor," you're seeing right into the heart of what Washington is like. Members of Congress like to pretend that their opposition to various nominees are appointees is based on concerns about those people's qualifications or temperment. Sometimes, those concerns are real. But most of the time, Republicans oppose Democratic appointees and Democrats oppose Republican appointees because they disagree with the appointees' politics. Many people would argue that there's nothing wrong about fighting for labor unions or representing a Guantanamo detainee. But in some Republican circles, doing either could make you a pariah.

Can Consumers Trust Treasury?

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 7:45 AM EST

By proposing a Bureau of Financial Protection within the Treasury Department as opposed to an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency, is Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the Senate's architect of financial reform, dooming the future of consumer protection? As a leaked outline of his watered-down plan for consumer protection (PDF) shows, Dodd plans to give more power to the Treasury, whose internal agencies already regulate national banks (the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) and thrifts at the state and federal levels that were at the forefront of the mortgage meltdown (the Office of Thrift Supervision). The OCC and OTS, both at the center of the regulatory lapses before the crisis, offer a glimpse of why Dodd's plan could spell disaster for consumer advocates lobbying for tougher reforms and better regulation.

The much-maligned OCC and OTS, you'll remember, sided with lenders in the run-up to the meltdown, kept lowering the regulatory bar for the institutions they monitored, and let countless cases of fraud and wrongdoing occur under their watch, as numerous media reports have shown. Under the OTS' watch, three of the biggest banks its was supposed to be regulating were shut down in 2008, including Washington Mutual—the largest bank failure in history. An OTS regulator was even demoted for approving backdated documents from IndyMac making the bank look healthier than it was. (IndyMac failed two months later.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 1, 2010

Mon Mar. 1, 2010 7:00 AM EST

war photo 022810

Spc. Daniel Kennedy, from Decatur, Ill., a gunner for C Troop, 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment, works with Department of Border Enforcement guards from the Zaafran Border Fort on assembling one of their crew-served weapons. Photo via the US Army.