Mojo - March 2010

Game Time on Climate?

| Wed Mar. 24, 2010 8:50 AM EDT

For the latest in environmental politics, check out Blue Marble:

What Do We Know About the Climate Bill?

Details about the bill from John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)  are leaking out, following meetings with environmental groups and industry types. Here’s what we know so far.

Is Lindsey Graham Looking for an Exit on Climate?

Lindsey Graham says the method Democrats used to pass health care reform "poisoned the well" for bipartisanship. Will he still work across party lines on a climate and energy bill?

Comity on Climate? Eh, Not So Much

Think Republicans might work with Democrats on climate and energy legislation? Think again.

Senators Call for Climate Vote This Year

Twenty-two Democrats call for a floor vote on climate and energy legislation this year. Senators may be getting closer to a deal, but legislation still faces an up hill battle in the upper chamber.

Frack the Climate Bill

Natural gas interests are lobbying legislators to include provisions that would exempt them from regulations under a climate bill.

Big Box Giant Best Buy Takes on the Chamber

Yet another major company distances itself from the Chamber of Commerce's views on climate change policy.

Enviro Groups Supportive of Kerry's Climate Efforts

Environmental advocates cheer Kerry’s efforts, but emphasize that the details that we don’t yet know are also important.

Senators List Demands for Climate Bill

Think the climate bill is weak now? Wait until the rest of the Senate gets their hands on it.

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GOPer: Senate Wall St. Reform "Dysfunctional," Wants to Hold Hands

| Wed Mar. 24, 2010 8:03 AM EDT

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a top GOP negotiator in the Senate, today blasted the Senate's decision to fast-track a financial reform bill out of the banking committee with no negotiations over amendments and with no Republican votes. In remarks at the US Chamber of Commerce today, Corker called the tactic to pass a "very, very partisan bill" by a party-line vote in banking committee a "dysfunctional" move, and said the committee "missed a tremendous opportunity on financial reform." "We had an opportunity this Monday to pass a bill out of our committee in a bipartisan way," Corker said, "and then stand on the Senate floor and hold hands" and begin negotiating together to craft a bipartisan bill.

By choosing to bypass committee negotiations, Senate Democrats have set the stage for a bitter partisan battle on the Senate floor, Corker said, a showdown that's far less likely to produce a bill on which both parties can agree. "It is going to be far more difficult since we missed an opportunity coming into committee to have bipartisan bill," the Tennessee senator said. "It's going to be far more difficult to have a regulatory bill that seeks the middle ground and stands the test of time." Corker lamented that now that the Senate's talks on financial reform were beyond the committee, the talks would likely take place "in a back room someplace." "I think a very strategic mistake has been made," he said. "

He also criticized the Obama administration, calling it "out of balance" for advocating for an independent consumer protection agency. In previous negotiations, Corker has supported enhanced consumer protection but housing it within, say, the Federal Reserve and weaving consumer protection into more traditional bank regulation powers. Overall, Corker said the bill had become a much more liberal bill, and that it will be an uphill struggle to change that. "Now, we've moved way to the left," he said, "and it's going to be difficult to hold people together to get it back in the middle of the road."

Most Americans Despise Wall St.

| Wed Mar. 24, 2010 7:42 AM EDT

A new national poll from Bloomberg today finds that nearly two out of every three Americans dislike top executives in big business, reflecting a broader disdain of Wall Street and Big Finance that wasn't as prevalent as before. 70 percent of those polled, the poll also found, favor giving consumer protection powers to existing bank regulators and not to a new consumer protection agency, as proposed by the House, Senate, and President Obama. And to no one's surprise, a majority of Americans think the government should have the power to limit executive compensation for top Wall Street executives.

Here's more from the Bloomberg poll:

The majority of poll participants—56 percent—say big financial companies are more interested in enriching themselves at the expense of ordinary people, while 40 percent say such firms play a vital role in enabling the economy to grow.

At the same time, Americans are divided over the scope of government regulation. More than 40 percent of Americans say the government has gone too far in measures to fix the financial industry; 37 percent say it hasn’t done enough. Almost six out of 10 people say Wall Street hasn’t gone far enough on its own to protect against future emergencies.

“Anything the government gets their fingers in, they mess it up,” said poll participant Norman White, 60, a community college electronics instructor who lives in Colfax, Louisiana. “I don’t have a very high opinion of the government running anything.” ...

The Fed could use some marketing help, the poll shows. More than a quarter of participants don’t have an opinion about the central bank, while 42 percent have a favorable view and 31 percent hold an unfavorable view.

Truth and Consequences in the Middle East

| Wed Mar. 24, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Considering the Obama administration's ever wobblier attempt to impose "crippling sanctions" on Iran, the New York Times' David Sanger recently wrote, "The delays and the potential for a substantially watered-down resolution, Mr. Obama's allies say, have put the administration's credibility on the line in one of its biggest foreign policy challenges."

Credibility.  Washington policymakers have been in search of it, have even fought wars in its name, for half a century now. In the Vietnam era, realizing that our victory weapons, nuclear bombs, were essentially too powerful to use, American strategic thinkers sought others ways to project, if not power commensurate with our arsenal, then an image of power commensurate with it—"an image of vast national strength and of unwavering determination to use that strength in world affairs," as Jonathan Schell explained in his remarkable book from that era, Time of Illusion. Unfortunately, when you put your faith in "credibility," you also offer power to others in whose eyes you must, of course, be credible.

By that standard, in the age of Obama, the United States has reached a curious moment of rising incredibility on the global stage. Indeed, nothing illustrated this onrushing state more vividly than the whack the Israelis recently gave Vice President Joe Biden—and so the global image of American power. While Biden was in Israel paying homage to that country and trying to jumpstart the "peace process," Israel announced a new building program in East Jerusalem. The news wasn't in itself particularly startling—such building in occupied lands, after all, has been a non-stop reality of Israeli policy for years. New was the stunning timing of the announcement, the way the leadership of a country remarkably dependent on American power and money evidently had no hesitation in administering a humiliating credibility-drubbing to Mr. Number Two.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 24, 2010

Wed Mar. 24, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

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US Army Soldiers leave an overwatch position in Taji, Iraq, on March 7, 2010. The battalion maintained security positions outside polling locations the day of the Iraqi national elections. Photo via the US Army by Spc. Venessa Hernandez.

Corn on "Hardball": GOP Loses Ugly on Health Care

Tue Mar. 23, 2010 7:14 PM EDT

David Corn and Pat Buchanan appeared on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss the Republican response, including the racist and anti-gay remarks hurled at Democratic lawmakers, to the Democrats' passage of historic health insurance reforms.

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

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GOP Rep Wants to Ban Elections

| Tue Mar. 23, 2010 6:36 PM EDT

Though they still intend to make health care reform the focus of their midterm election campaigning, many Republicans have rolled back their doom-and-gloom rhetoric on the legislation passed Sunday. Many, but not all. Almost alone in the vanguard of mad-as-hell conservatives stands Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who thinks the health care debate has exposed democracy's biggest enemy: Democracy itself. And Gohmert is demanding that swift action be taken against this internal threat.

Gohmert argued Monday that the direct election of US senators by the American public has led to "the usurpation of the rights of the states and of the people," which culminated in Sunday's health care vote. You see, 39 states don't like the health care bill law by Gohmert's count (apparently because at least one disgruntled legislator in each of those states has suggested a bill barring local enforcement of the new federal law). And if those state legislatures could simply anoint their US senators, rather than leaving the choice to voters, then the voters' will could win the day. If only it weren't for that doggoned Constitution!  

"Ever since the safeguard of state legislatures electing US senators was removed by the 17th Amendment in 1913, there has been no check or balance on the federal power grab for the last 97 years," Gohmert said in a press release. Later, in House floor remarks, he added that the Amendment enabled the "usurpation of states' rights...Let's get an amendment that gets the balance back into the country and the Constitution, before this Congress destroys what's left."

The merits, as they were, of Gohmert's argument have been well analyzed elsewhere: The irony of taking away the franchise in order to enfranchise America; the fact that, since 27 state legislatures are currently Democratic-run, it's unlikely Gohmert will actually be able to muster the 39 states needed to edit our nation's founding document; and the fact that this kinda sorta undercuts the GOP's contention of recent weeks that Sen. Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts—you know, by, like, voters—represented the Highest Will of the People.

Amazingly, Louie Gohmert was a judge before he was a congressman. In Texas. Also amazingly, he's not the first Republican in this Congress to want state legislatures to get veto power over Senate candidates.

Even as colorful ideologues go, Gohmert is a fascinating study. Lest you suspect he doesn't reflect deeply on his convictions, Mother Jones has compiled the recent highlights of his House tenure:

Chamber Brass to Lead GOP Group

| Tue Mar. 23, 2010 5:56 PM EDT

A top lawyer with the US Chamber of Commerce, the right-wing lobbying behemoth fighting climate change legislation and tough financial reforms, is now spearheading a deep-pocketed GOP group for this fall's election. Former Chamber counsel Steven J. Law has become the head of a conservative 527 political organization dubbed American Crossroads, National Journal reported today. The up-and-coming group, the Journal's Peter Stone reported, "hopes to raise some $60 million to help dozens of congressional Republican incumbents and candidates in this year's elections," an effort surely made easier by having a former top Chamber official at the helm:

Law, who has been at the chamber for about two years, will be leading a group that seems poised to play a big role this fall, according to two sources familiar with the new 527. It recently raked in millions of dollars with the help of ex-RNC chairman Ed Gillespie and one source says it has received pledges for $40 million. Gillespie recently made fund raising stops in Texas and New York City to help American Crossroads get off the ground, although he has told National Journal that he doesn't intend to be formally affiliated with it.

Law is a former chief of staff to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., served as executive director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee under McConnell and was a deputy secretary at the Department of Labor during the George W. Bush administration. Law is known as a tough advocate and is respected for his fund raising prowess. He's bagged big money for the chamber's campaign to defeat "card check" legislation, a top priority of labor unions that, if enacted, would expand their ability to organize.

Outsourcing Oversight

| Tue Mar. 23, 2010 3:47 PM EDT

Last September, the antics of ArmorGroup North America's vodka-butt-shot-taking Kabul embassy guards caused more than a diplomatic embarrassment. The resulting scandal's propaganda and terrorist recruitment potential has been likened to that of Abu Ghraib, and it may have played a role in undermining counterinsurgency objectives in Afghanistan. The episode also exposed deep flaws in the State Department's oversight of the contractors on its payroll, and now the agency has a curious plan to prevent another Embassy-gate. It entails hiring another contractor, this one to police its embassy contractors.

Eric Boswell, the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, described this plan recently in written responses to questions posed by Sen. Claire McCaskill following a hearing last December. Asked about the "options for improved oversight of private security contractors and contracts" his office was considering, Boswell wrote [PDF]:

As a result of the Diplomatic Security (DS) investigation into the allegations of misconduct, DS temporarily assigned a DS Special Agent to reside at Camp Sullivan, where the AGNA guards reside, to augment the Regional Security  Officer’s (RSO’s) contract oversight efforts in Kabul. As part of the long term solution, DS has conducted interviews and is now in the selection and hiring process for a personal service contractor (i.e., an employee engaged directly by the government rather than a third-party contractor) who will reside at Camp Sullivan and further augment the RSO’s contract oversight responsibilities.

The notion of partially outsourcing oversight certainly raised eyebrows in McCaskill's office. Last Friday, she wrote [PDF] Boswell expressing concern "that the steps taken by the Department may not go far enough to ensure that there is sufficient transparency, accountability, and oversight of the contract. In particular, I'm troubled by the decision to employ a contractor to provide contract oversight for the Department."

However counterintuitive, the outsourced oversight model has already been used to a degree by the Pentagon in both Afghanistan and Iraq. For instance, Aegis was awarded a contract to run the Armed Contractor Oversight Directorate in Afghanistan. And DoD brought in a firm called Serco to oversee aspects of a massive KBR logistics contract in Iraq. But if the government is turning to contractors to oversee contractors, who's overseeing them?

(H/T POGOblog)

Why America Needs A Black Agenda

| Tue Mar. 23, 2010 3:15 PM EDT

On Saturday, black intellectuals and public servants at a 6,000-seat inaugural summit debunked the notion that creating a national agenda to aid black communities was exclusionary or racist. Their reasoning: Progressives policies for the public interest and the common good must address the condition of folks at the bottom of the socio-economic totem pole, i.e. the group of Americans with the highest rate of poverty, unemployment, and home foreclosures: black people.

Cornel West, Princeton professor, said: "Anytime you talk about black folk in America, you're talking about a state of emergency, especially for black poor and working people... you're making it a priority to say, 'America, keep track of the prison industrial complex, keep track of the dilapidated housing, keep track of the disgraceful school systems, keep track of the unemployment rates and underemployment rates, and unavailable health care, child care.' That is what it means to talk about the black agenda. Now what does that mean? That means the black agenda has always been the best agenda for the nation."

"We already see that any president is under tremendous pressure from the strong, the corporate elites, Wall Street oligarchs, various powerful folk at the top, who can easily push Obama in such a way that he tilts too much toward the strong and he doesn’t focus the way he ought on the weak, on the poor, on working people. And that’s why we’re here today."

Having a black-identified president was applauded by speakers and audience members alike. But "...a black agenda is not qualified or surrendered because Mr. Obama is in the White House," exclaimed Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson. In the age of Obama, the goals of social justice advocates remains unchanged: the social and economic gap must be closed and Americans with the least amount of resources must not be forgotten. Dyson pointed out that defending a black agenda may ironically "be even more viciously assaulted when we have a black face on an American empire that has historically been insensitive to the causes and claims of black people."

Said Michael Fauntroy, George Mason University assistant professor, "Too many of us are just happy that we have a black president. I'm not sure that a lot of us are prepared to ask this President and this Congress to do what we as American citizens... have a right to petition the government to do...Special problems require special solutions... Just think about what's going on 90 minutes north of here in Milwaukee where in late 2008 the black male unemployment rate was almost 50 percent. In my city, Washington DC, a city that has done reasonably well in this overall recession, the black male unemployment rate is 35 percent. Now that strikes me as a special problem. If Wall Street can identify a special problem that needs to be resolved then why can't we?"

Amid the impassioned speeches, some viable pro-equity solutions (PDF) were offered: grassroots voting, rallying at Congress' door, and redistributing stimulus funds into cities to support threatened institutions like libraries rather than sending the cash to states.

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