Mojo - March 2010

Burmese Junta Rejects Opposition Leader's Appeal

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 8:00 AM EST

Late last week, Burma's oppressive military junta denied the appeal of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a central opposition leader, over her 18-month house arrest. The politically charged ruling was met with immediate criticism from the international community.

In a statement released by UN Secretary-General's office, Ban Ki-moon said that he "reiterates his call for the release of all political prisoners and their free participation in the political process...These are essential steps for national reconciliation and democratic transition in Myanmar." British ambassador Andrew Heyn said the decision was not a surprise and that Suu Kyi "should be released immediately, along with the other 2,000 and more prisoners of conscience." For his part, French ambassador Jean-Pierre Lafosse said she was "the victim of a sham trial."

In our current issue, Mother Jones human rights reporter Mac McClelland reports on her time palling around with so-called terrorists in Burma. Mac's story explains in grotesque detail the daily life of many Burmese, and the particularly horrifying risks that people opposing the government expose themselves to every day:

If you're one of those stragglers, and you're a woman, or a girl five or older, prepare to be raped, most likely gang-raped, and there's easily a one-in-four chance you'll then be killed, possibly by being shot, possibly through your vagina, possibly after having your breasts hacked off. If you're a man, maybe you'll be hung by your wrists and burned alive. Maybe a soldier will drown you by filling a plastic bag with water and tying it over your head, or stretch you between two trees and use you as a hammock, or cut off your nose, pull out your eyes, and then stab you in both ears before killing you, or string you up by your shoulders and club you now and again for two weeks, or heat up slivers of bamboo and push them into your urethra, or tie a tight rope between your dick and your neck for a while before setting your genitals on fire, or whatever else hateful, armed men and underage boys might dream up when they have orders to torment, and nothing else to do.

Reading Mac's story, it's easy to understand why Aung San Suu Kyi would risk everything to hold the Burmese junta accountable for its actions against the country's Karen ethnic minority. It also becomes glaringly clear that the international community needs to be much stronger in its political and economic opposition to the Burmese government if there's any hope to end the treatment that Mac describes. Read the story for more on Aung San Suu Kyi, the Karen people, and the United States' inadequate repudiation of Burmese leadership.

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Kerry, Swift Boat Kingpin Make Nice

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 5:23 AM EST

Well, if lions and lambs can work things out, why can't John Kerry and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? Politico is reporting that, in his search for support on a climate change bill, the Massachusetts senator is reaching out to an old political foe: the billionaire energy maven (and brillantly named) T. Boone Pickens.

Pickens has acquired some juice, earned or not, in the past couple of years as an advocate for alternatives to fossil fuels. But he was also the overstuffed wallet behind the Swift Boat campaign against Kerry in the 2004 presidential election—a campaign that's become, in many ways, the model for today's GOP and the Tea Parties. At the time, Pickens gave the Swift Boaters $3 million and offered another $1 million prize to anyone who could debunk the group's attack ads. (He subsequently reneged when some former sailors did just that.)

Back then, Kerry was not a happy camper. "It is disturbing that in reaffirming the challenge you issued, your parsing and backtracking seems eerily reminiscent of the entire approach of the SBVT," Kerry wrote in an open letter to Pickens during the campaign. "Say one thing, put out an allegation, then duck and weave, hedge and bob when your words catch up with you."

Coakley’s Pollster Joins Halter Campaign

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 4:09 AM EST

After Martha Coakley's disastrous run for the Senate in Massachusetts, one might wonder what's next on the agenda for the consultants and operatives who staffed her campaign. Coakley's pollster Celinda Lake has landed well. She's now working for a very different kind of candidate: progressive darling Bill Halter, the Arkansas Lieutenant Governor who announced Monday that he would challenge Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the state's Democratic primary.

Lake confirmed to Mother Jones that she is working for Halter's primary bid, though she declined to comment further without clearance from the campaign staff. A leading Democratic pollster, Lake was among those whom Rahm Emanuel and other top officials reportedly blamed for Coakley’s spectacular defeat.

Jim Bunning: Tea Party Darling

| Tue Mar. 2, 2010 3:30 PM EST

If you ever wondered what type of candidate the Tea Party movement would like to see elected to Congress, look no farther than Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R), the man who is single-handedly holding up unemployment benefit extensions and health insurance coverage for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans. While the rest of his party is quietly trying to ignore him, Bunning is giving Tea Party activists in Kentucky much to love.

"We're all in support of Sen. Bunning," says Wendy Caswell, the founder of the Louisville Tea Party. She says Tea Party activists believe that Bunning is being fiscally responsible, and that's a core Tea Party value. "He is kind of one of our models of a good representative of the people of Kentucky."

Tea Party activists aren't the only ones coming out to support Bunning's obstructionism. The Louisville Tea Party website today posted several endorsements from other state Republican leaders, including both candidates running to replace Bunning, Rand Paul and Trey Grayson. Paul, who is one of the Tea Party activists' favorite candidates, is also staging a rally in front of Bunning's office this afternoon to show support for the senator's position. Paul said in a statement, “Jim Bunning is being unfairly attacked for saying we should spend money already set aside for benefits rather than borrowing more. He deserves our support and he is going to get it.”

Fed Consumer Agency a "Grave Mistake"

| Tue Mar. 2, 2010 2:44 PM EST

Sen. Chris Dodd's leaked proposal to potentially house a consumer-protection agency within the Federal Reserve has been blasted by consumer advocates today. They say the Fed failed to protect consumers from predatory lending and hidden penalties in the run-up to the financial meltdown, and hardly deserves to have an agency tasked with building and enforcing safeguards for consumers under its auspices. "The Federal Reserve is the last place an agency designed to protect consumers should be housed," said John Taylor, the head of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, in a statement today. "It will be more waste of taxpayers' money because we’ll have to pay for the appearance of protection without getting any." Taylor goes on to say:

As early as 1998 and 1999, we urged Chairman Greenspan and then later Chairman Bernanke to take action against lenders targeting high cost loans to blacks and Hispanics. We presented them hard, cold data backing up these practices, and they did nothing. They refused to send cases to the Justice Department. It took the Federal Reserve board fourteen years to issue rules related to unfair and deceptive lending practices. This was long after the power was granted to them in 1994, and long after we pleaded and cajoled them to do something and, more importantly, after the market collapsed.

Had the Fed exercised their authority and enforced consumer protections, they could have nipped the foreclosure crisis in the bud. Now to turn over consumer protections to the very people who allowed the abuses to happen in the first place is simply beyond belief.

Similarly, Travis Plunkett, legislative director at the Consumer Federation of America, decried yesterday the powerful sway of the financial services industry and their lobbyists on Capitol Hill. It's these forces, Plunkett told the New York Times, that were diluting financial reforms proposed in the Senate—like an independent consumer protection agency—and weakening reform of big banks, mortgage lenders, payday lenders, and so on. "The financial services lobby and particularly the big banks are driving the agenda right now," Plunkett told the Times. "They are the ones gaining ground. Their strategy is clear: death by a thousand cuts."

DC "Insiders" and Question Time

| Tue Mar. 2, 2010 12:06 PM EST

Proponents of Question Time will be interested in a survey the National Journal conducted of over 200 "insiders"—mainly Democratic and Republican consultants, strategists, and pollsters. The question: Would your party benefit from another televised session between President Obama and Hill Republicans? Democrats said yes (82 to 15 percent). Republicans, though, said no (52 to 46 percent).

The magazine provides sample quotes from unidentified respondents explaining their support or opposition. Here's some of what the pro-Question Time Dems said:

"Anytime the debate becomes a choice between our ideas and theirs, we win. Anytime it becomes a defense solely of our plan, we lose."

"It benefits President Obama more, but it helped Republicans on the margins."

"Have several: Obama comes off as in touch and knowledgeable, while the Republicans come off as political."

"The contrast between Obama talking to the nation and Republicans talking to the 'tea party' is wonderful."

"He appears as a leader and willing to reach across the aisle and get something done."

"The speeches, while beautifully delivered, may have run their course. But one-on-one, the contrast between the president putting forth practical solutions and the Republicans' bleating and posturing becomes clear."

"Anytime Peyton Manning can operate against a high school defense, it's good for Peyton Manning."

"Can we do it in prime time, please?"

The Republicans supporters of Question Time noted,

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Dodd's Financial Hypocrisy

| Tue Mar. 2, 2010 10:10 AM EST

After saying last fall that the Federal Reserve had been "an abysmal failure" in its role protecting consumers, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), in the latest twist in the Senate's financial-reform talks, now wants to put the well-being of consumers in the hands of the Federal Reserve, proposing to house a consumer-protection agency within the opaque Fed. The head of this hypothetical consumer agency would be appointed by the White House, according to the Washington Post, and while the agency would have rule-making powers, it would be up to existing regulators to enforce those consumer-oriented rules. It's unclear who'd win out in a power struggle between this Fed-housed consumer agency and other banking regulators, and whether the hypothetical consumer agency's jurisdiction would include certain non-banking institutions. But if there's one thing to take away from this latest leak from Senate's financial-reform negotiations, led by Dodd and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), it's this: Dodd's not taking the high road, and appears willing to appease Republicans to almost any length if it helps him gets a bill passed.

This is the same Chris Dodd, you'll remember, who lambasted the Fed last year for its regulatory failures in the run-up to the crisis. In November, Dodd wanted to strip the Fed of practically all of its oversight power, creating a superregulator for financial institutions and leaving the Fed only to deal with monetary policy. And before that Dodd had generally opposed expanding the Fed's power at all, instead supporting the idea of an independent consumer protection agency. Meanwhile, Dodd's main Republican counterpart on the Senate banking committee, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), has been an even more boisterous opponent of the Fed on numerous occasions: He's cited the Fed's "history of failure in supervision and regulation" and opposed the renomination of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, who "fiddled while our markets burned," as Shelby put it.

Undoubtedly, the source of the Fed consumer-protection plan is Corker, the main Republican negotiator on financial reform since Shelby abandoned the talks in mid-February. But is the support of a single Republican senator enough to garner bipartisan backing for handing consumer protection off to the Fed? Or as one Senate aide familiar with the negotiations told Mother Jones recently, "Those who are arguing for real reform are arguing, 'Why even compromise if they're going to oppose it anyway? Why are you negotiating against yourself?'"

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 2, 2010

Tue Mar. 2, 2010 7:00 AM EST

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A US Army Soldier maneuvers through the village of Heydark Hel as part of a presence patrol in Sayed Abad district in Afghanistan's Wardak province, on Feb. 19, 2010. Photo via the US Army photo by Sgt. Russell Gilchrest.

Corn on "Hardball": Is Bunning Hurting the Republicans?

Mon Mar. 1, 2010 9:56 PM EST

David Corn joined Jay Newton-Small on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning's obstruction of federal unemployment benefits and whether or not it will hurt the Republican party.

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

Tea Party Hero's $110K GOP Tab

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 9:42 PM EST

Fiscal responsiblity. Yes sir, that's what it's all about these days. Along with iPods, plasma high-def televisions, and Snuggies, talking about fiscal responsibility has become a staple of American life (but irony, sadly, not so much). It's not just for Tea Partying, gun-toting conservatives or obstructionist congressional Republicans, but "moderate" Democrats, too—and of course, so-called "independent" voters who have never voted for anyone to the left of Ted Nugent. Health care? Unemployment? Why are we talking about spending more money that we ain't got? That's not how everyday people operate their budgets, we're told, and it shouldn't be how the government operates, either. (Except if the government is run by a Reagan or a Bush, in which case: Spend away).

Nobody's been a bigger beneficiary of all this belt-tightening, balanced-budget posturing than Marco Rubio, the frontrunner for Florida's open Senate seat. The Republican speaker of the state House has styled himself as a Tea Party-friendly, arch-conservative alternative to moderate GOP Gov. Charlie Crist (a maverick who's been burdened with the task of actually governing and managing a budget. And who also has committed the unpardonable sin of being civil to President Obama.) Rubio's red meat has been government waste: His campaign call is for "limited government and opposition to the Crist-Obama agenda of tax, borrow and spend."

Except Rubio loves to borrow and spend—and if you've ever given to a GOP-connected cause, you've probably helped him. The Miami Herald recently broke the news that in 2007 and 2008—the prime recession years, when all our 401(K)'s evaporated—Rubio charged $109,618 to an American Express card opened by the Republican Party of Florida. That included a $133.75 haircut at Churchill's—a high-flying barbershop in his hometown of Miami (insert John Edwards comparison joke here), and $4000 to fix his busted family minivan. Rubio paid the GOP back for what he deemed "personal" expenses on the account, letting the unpaid balance—all $93,566 of it—ride on the card. The state party eventually paid that tab, which included Rubio's broken-car fees.

In fact, this is part of a larger media investigation into the Florida GOP's free-spending ways. Just-deposed state Republican Chairman Jim Greer liked private jets and "lobster dinners," both of which apparently put him in a good state of mind to rail against "unnecessary pork barrel spending" by Democrats.

So Rubio's not the only big spender in the Florida Republican Party. But he's one of the most hypocritical, since he made Crist's acceptance of federal stimulus money the focal point of his political offensive. In a page straight out of the Tea Party playbook, Rubio has said that Obama's and Crist's spending policies "will rob my children and their generation of their prosperity, and some of their freedoms."

Thank God! At least we now know that, if the worst happens, Rubio's children will be reimbursed by Amex and the Grand Old Party. Until, of course, Obama's socialist regime bans credit cards.