Mojo - March 2010

Fighting the GOP for Independence

| Fri Mar. 5, 2010 1:20 PM EST

The Senate banking committee's talks on crafting a comprehensive financial-reform bill are still slogging along this week, with no bill in sight despite expectations we'd see a draft this week. So what's holding up the negotiations? Top of the list of stumbling blocks involves the creation of a new consumer-protection agency—and, more specifically, the independence of that new agency. 

Back in November, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), chair of the banking committee, unveiled an early draft of financial reform that notably contained an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). The CFPA would be a watchdog with its own budget and rule-writing and enforcement power to protect consumers against predatory lending, abusive credit-card practices, hidden overdraft fees, and the like. There were two watchwords for the CFPA back then: One was "standalone," meaning the new agency would look like the EPA and wouldn't be housed within an existing organization. The other was "independen." Unlike regulators like the Office of Thrift Supervision or financial gatekeepers like the credit ratings agencies, all of which became captive to the people they were supposed to regulate before the crisis, independence meant the agency wouldn't rely on fees from the people they were supposed to be regulating, letting them rein in banks and non-banks freely and effectively.

Today, creating a consumer agency that's standalone isn't nearly as important—or controversial—as one that's independent. Indeed, independence has turned out to be the lightning-rod issue. As Dodd recently explained, he doesn't care all that much where a consumer agency is housed—the Treasury, the Fed—so long as it has the independence to do its job. "We're talking about an agency...that has the autonomous ability to craft rules and to be directly involved in the enforcement of those rules," he said. "Now where that's located is less relevant."

Consumer advocates, who've been openly critical of several of Dodd's proposals, agree that independence is paramount. "There is a difference between a standalone agency and an agency that is independent but might be within another agency," says Heather Booth with Americans for Financial Reform. "We don't necessarily need it to stand alone, but we're still fighting for an independent consumer protection agency that has real teeth."

Senate Republicans, however, aren't so keen on that independence. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Dodd's main negotiating partner, and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the banking committee's ranking member, recently pitched a watered-down version of a consumer agency within the Fed that would report to the Fed chairman—a death blow to the agency's independent power. They also don't want a consumer agency to have the kind of enforcement and rule-writing power that Dodd and other Democrats do. All of which is to say, in the coming days keep your eye on the issue of independence for a new consumer-protection agency. With it, consumers stand to gain from Dodd's new reforms; without it, any attempt at protecting consumers is merely window dressing.

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Rove's Inadvertent Admission: Bush Wasn't Angry About Rove's Lie

| Fri Mar. 5, 2010 1:03 PM EST

Yesterday, I noted that a key point of Karl Rove's new book—Bush didn't "lie us" into the Iraq war—is undermined by the historical record, and I provided a list of brazen and blatant misstatements and distortions made by the Bush crew during the run-up to the invasion that showed the Bush administration had indeed engaged in a willful campaign of misrepresentation. (I also discussed this on Hardball.) But there's more: the book also demonstrates how the Bush White House got away with lying about the CIA leak case.

Those of you who followed that episode—I co-wrote a book on the matter, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War— will remember that the White House cleared Rove of any involvement in the leak that outed undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Yet Rove had been one of the two administration sources for the leak, which appeared in a Robert Novak column. As I point out in my PoliticsDaily.com column,

So the White House had peddled false information. As [White House press secretary Scott] McClellan noted in his memoir, that was because Rove had lied to him. And Rove stood by silently when McClellan subsequently told the world that Rove hadn't played any part in this caper.

But what happened when Bush found out about all this lying? Not much, according to Rove's book, which is due out on Tuesday. In the book, Rove recounts that at some point he told the president he had been one of Novak's sources for the Plame leak. How did Bush react? According to Rove, "Bush sounded a little annoyed." And that was it.

The president was not angry that Rove had lied to McClellan, that McClellan had passed that lie to the public, or that he (Bush) had publicly confirmed the lie. Moreover, Bush did not take any action against Rove, as he had promised to do with whoever had been behind the CIA leak. Nor did he do anything to correct the false information McClellan had placed on the public record. Bush allowed Rove's lie to stand....

What's the moral of this tale? A top White House official can lie about a national security investigation with impunity and then go on to make money writing a book showing that the president didn't care about this lie. Don't share this lesson with your children.

Book reviewers ought to take note of this telling anecdote—and interviewers should ask Rove about it.

The Army of Chronic Unemployment

| Fri Mar. 5, 2010 11:39 AM EST

There aren't any major shockers in the latest monthly employment report for February out today from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most commonly used unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent, and the economy shed 36,000 jobs—up from 22,000 in January. What you should care about in the latest jobs report is the army of unemployed Americans who remain chronically unemployed, meaning they've been without work for 27 weeks or more. As you can see in the graph below from the invaluable economics site Calculated Risk, in the past two years the number of chronically unemployed Americans has skyrocketed, shattering the previous record in the early 1980s.

Today, 4 percent of the population has been without work for 27 weeks or more. No story of the ongoing job crisis is complete without the graph below, especially given that the longer people are out of work, the harder it is for them to get back into the workforce. Likewise, no solution to our job nightmare will be sufficient without addressing this army of the long-term unemployed.

UnemployedOver26WeeksFeb2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 5, 2010

Fri Mar. 5, 2010 8:00 AM EST

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U.S. and Iraqi artillerymen fire American 105 mm howitzers during live-fire training on Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Feb. 21, 2010. Photo via the US Army taken by Spc. Michael J. MacLeod.

Woolsey: Obama Will Support Public Option If Votes Are There

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 8:05 PM EST

With some 36 Senators (and counting) now signed on to support the public option, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, expressed cautious optimism about the proposal passing through reconciliation. "I’m not sure that the public option is dead at this point," Woolsey told Mother Jones on Thursday, adding that support for government-run health care plan in the Senate keeps "growing and growing."

Woolsey, along with other members of key House committees, met with Obama on Thursday and pressed the issue with the president. "The president doesn’t believe there are 51 votes in the Senate, but if there [are], he’ll support it," she said. The Progressive Caucus has been actively lobbying the upper chamber to include the provision in the package of reconciliation changes to the comprehensive bill, which has already passed the Senate and is pending a vote in the House.

Whether or not the public option makes it into the final legislation, Woolsey emphasized that House progressives would generally support the bill. "We’re pretty together as a caucus," Woolsey said. "The President laid out the broad outlines of the plan—I know that’s probably all that he could have gotten from the Senate."

Corn on "Hardball": Rove on the Wrong Side of History

Thu Mar. 4, 2010 7:47 PM EST

David Corn joined Michael Shear on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss Karl Rove's new book and its defense of the Bush administration's lies surrounding the Iraq war.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

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Dems Fundraise Off RNC Memo

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 4:04 PM EST

The Democratic Party is using a lurid Republican National Committee strategy presentation as part of its own pitch for campaign dollars. In two separate emails sent out today, both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) blasted the RNC presentation, which was reported on Wednesday, for spreading “GOP lies”—and solicited contributions in an effort to stop them.

In an email solicitation Thursday, the DSCC described how the RNC presentation instructed members to “capitalize on fear of President Obama and his ‘trending toward socialism’ to raise money,” citing a slide titled “The Evil Empire” depicting Obama as the Joker. “We know they use fear and lies, but this evidence shows that it is part of a coordinated effort at the highest level of the Republican Party,” the email says. “If this type of attack infuriates you half as much as it infuriates me, you need to act now. Make an immediate donation to the DSCC to fight the Republican lies and smears.”

Fiore Cartoon: Death Plummet

Thu Mar. 4, 2010 3:47 PM EST

America is in a freefall. But there are those who refuse to pull the government parachute chord because it would mean "socialism" and "tyranny."

As satirist Mark Fiore demonstrates below, that can only end one way...

Can Japan Say No to Washington?

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 3:32 PM EST

When it comes to cracks in America's imperial edifice—as measured by the ability of other countries to say "no" to Washington, or just look the other way when American officials insist on something—Europe has been garnering all the headlines lately, and they've been wildly American-centric. "Gates: Nato, in crisis, must change its ways," "Pull Your Weight, Europe," "Gates:  Europe's demilitarization has gone too far," "Dutch Retreat," and so on. All this over one country—Holland—which will evidently pull out of Afghanistan thanks to intensifying public pressure about the war there, and other NATO countries whose officials are shuffling their feet and hemming and hawing about sending significant reinforcements Afghanistan-wards. One could, of course, imagine quite a different set of headlines ("Europeans react to overbearing, overmuscled Americans," "Europeans turn backs on endless war"), but not in the mainstream news. You can certainly find some striking commentary on the subject by figures like Andrew Bacevich and Juan Cole, but it goes unheeded.

The truth is that Europe still seems a long way from being ready to offer any set of firm noes to Washington on much of anything, while in Asia, noes from key American clients of the past half-century have been even less in evidence. But sometimes from the smallest crack in a façade come the largest of changes. In this case, the most modest potential "no" from a new Japanese government in Tokyo, concerning US basing posture in that country, seems to have caused near panic in Washington. In neither Europe nor Asia have we felt any political earthquakes—yet. But just below the surface, the global political tectonic plates are rubbing together, and who knows when, as power on this planet slowly shifts, one of them will slip and suddenly, for better or worse, the whole landscape of power will look different.

John Feffer, the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus and a TomDispatch regular, already has written for this site on whether Afghanistan might prove NATO's graveyard. Now, he turns east to explore whether, in a dispute over one insignificant base on the Japanese island of Okinawa, we might be feeling early rumblings on the Asian fault-line of American global power.

EMILY's List Attacks Lincoln

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 1:37 PM EST

Having being dumped on this week by environmental groups, labor, and the progressive netroots for her conservative views, Senator Blanche Lincoln has picked up yet another detractor from the left: EMILY’s List, the long-standing political action committee that supports pro-choice Democratic women running for office.

In a withering blog post, EMILY’s List founder Ellen Malcolm blasted the endangered Arkansas incumbent for having “failed to hold up her end of the bargain” after the PAC had supported her original Senate campaign in 1998.

In fact, EMILY’s List had formally “delisted” Lincoln back in 1999 after her vote to support Rick Santorum’s bill to ban partial-birth abortion. According to Malcolm, Lincoln had double-crossed the organization by promising to insist upon a health exception to protect women’s health and voting for the bill without the provision anyway.