Mojo - May 2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 28, 2010

Fri May 28, 2010 6:43 AM EDT

 

A Soldiers attaches a ratchet strap to a jingle truck on Combat Outpost Jaghato, Afghanistan, on May 20, 2010. Ratchet straps are used to secure a shipping container for transport. Photo via the US Army by Spc. Deyonte Mosley.

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California's Jack Bauer Candidate

| Thu May 27, 2010 6:59 PM EDT

With California's Republican Senate primary less than three weeks away, the candidates are starting to make their closing arguments: former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina says she's the most electable; former Rep. Tom Campbell says, no, he's the most electable; and insurgent candidate Chuck DeVore wants voters to know that he, more than any other candidate, is the most qualified to impale a terrorist with a pair of scissors and find out where the bomb is. Hey, the Senate's a wild place!

Earlier this week, DeVore debuted a 24-style online ad, which runs through his national-security resume: Working in Afghanistan in the 1980s (Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a former mujahid, is a supporter), fact-finding missions to the Middle East, lengthy military service, and fancy-sounding quasi-covert operations he helped plan. Take a look:

That comes just one week after DeVore's campaign released decades-old audio of the candidate being shot at during a trip to  Lebanon, after the Los Angeles Times suggested he was being something less than truthful about the incident. The recent lurch into Tom Clancy territory shouldn't come as much of a surprise, though: DeVore enjoys military-strategy computer games, and in 1996 he co-wrote a novel, China Attacks, in which an imperialist Chinese bureaucrat sparks World War III. Yikes! I spoke with DeVore last month for a story I'm working on about the race, and somewhat unrelated to the story, I asked him about his book...which now seems strangely relevant.

Another Affordable Housing Default

| Thu May 27, 2010 4:06 PM EDT

In yet another blow to the nation's affordable-housing stock, Stellar Management, star of our July/August 2009 story "Mortage Default: Landlord Edition," announced that it will go into default on Parkmerced, a 3,000-unit San Francisco housing project that Stellar purchased a few years back with the goal of remodeling and building new market-rate units.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, Stellar's management presented a $1.3 billion long-term proposal to triple the number of units at Parkmerced—but the company also faces October debt payments estimated at more than $500 million.

"We will be facing challenges in the next couple of months," Stellar spokesman PJ Johnston told the Chron. "This may cause some anxiety to some residents. But we are reassuring them this will not impact their daily lives here. We're still committed to this project."

Is Anti-Government Anger Fueling Violence Against Census Workers?

| Thu May 27, 2010 1:04 PM EDT

Earlier this year, anti-government activists had mounted a crusade against the Census as a constitutional invasion of privacy—even threatening violence against Census takers. "I dare them to try and come throw me in jail...Pull out my wife's shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door," RedState blogger and CNN commentator Erick Erickson said in April.

Now, a new report from the US Census Bureau reveals that more than 113 census workers have been assaulted or attacked since April 1—a number that's significantly higher than the last US Census ten years ago. According to the Washington Post, the incidents involved "29 threats involving a gun, four robberies and three instances of being held against their will or carjacked.” In one incident, a California woman who aimed a shotgun at a census taker on her doorstep was subsequently killed in a confrontation with police officers. In another incident, a 14-year-old carjacked and kidnapped a worker sitting in a car clearly marked with a Census Bureau sign. The Census has hired 635,000 people as temporary workers to follow up with people who didn't send back their questionnaire by the end of April.

The report from the Census Bureau came at the request of Rep. Carolyn Mahoney (D-NY), who wanted to determine whether the attacks on Census workers were the sign of a larger trend. It's unclear whether any of these recent threats and attacks against census workers were politically motivated. But it’s clear violent threats against public officials have escalated on the whole, with the FBI reporting a recent surge in death threats against lawmakers. And when a government worker comes calling, some US residents aren’t hesitating to bring a shotgun to the door.

Will Arizona Encourage Criminals To Prey on Immigrants?

| Thu May 27, 2010 11:00 AM EDT

Proponents of Arizona’s new immigration law regularly characterize immigrants as criminals, pointing to the killing of two Phoenix police officers by illegal immigrants and the (still unsolved) murder of a border-area rancher earlier this year. But in Arizona, as elsewhere, immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, according to many criminologists and non-partisan immigration researchers. Rather than target the perpetrators of crime, Arizona’s new law could actually increase crime and encourage criminals to prey upon immigrants, according to a group of police chiefs from across the country.

The police chiefs—including officials from Tucson, Los Angeles, Houston, and other major cities—met with Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday to discuss their concerns about the impact of the Arizona law, which they believe will make it harder for them to do their jobs by driving a wedge between immigrants and police. Within local communities, “it will put a level of mistrust, and it will break down those relationships we have worked so hard to establish,” said Tucson Chief of Police Roberto Villasenor on a conference call Wednesday. “That will probably increase crime rather than reduce crime.” The police chiefs stressed their fear that Arizona’s law could inhibit people from coming forward as crime victims or witnesses, making law enforcement efforts “doomed to failure,” said Los Angeles Chief of Police Charlie Beck. 

Is BP Dodging $2 Billion in Fines?

| Thu May 27, 2010 10:35 AM EDT

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) ripped oil corporation BP today by claiming they were low-balling the spill's damage to dodge more than a billion dollars in financial liabilities. Markey's attacks come on the same day an independent report put the BP oil spill at between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels a day, far exceeding BP's 1,000 to 5,000 estimate. “What’s clear is that BP has had an interest in low-balling the size of their accident, since every barrel spilled increases how much they could be fined by the government,” said Markey, who chairs the select committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Energy and Environment subcommittee.

According to Markey, the difference between BP's and independent scientists' estimates on the spill's size amounts to tens of millions of dollars everyday. If the spill were really 1,000 barrels per day, the fines would total between $5 to $15 million each day; if 14,000 barrels a day, then BP is looking at fines of $14 to $42 million every day. The current governing financial liabilities for oil spills like BP's, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, mandates fines of $1,000 per barrel or, in the case of "gross negligence," $3,000 per barrel. All told, BP, using scientists' projections on the Gulf spill, the oil giant could face fines of $444 million and $2.1 billion now on the 37th day of the spill.

Here's Markey's full release on BP's financial liabilities:

Following the release of a report on the flow rate of the oil spill by a technical team assembled by the Obama administration, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today continued to raise questions about BP’s potential motivations to low-ball the flow rate and size of the spill, and released new documents showing BP knew the spill could have been much bigger than they claimed.

The report, conducted by the National Incident Command’s Flow Rate Technical Group, found that the spill was likely between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels a day, far above the 1,000-5,000 barrels a day BP estimated for most of the spill’s duration. Rep. Markey has engaged with numerous independent scientists on this issue who claimed the spill was much larger than BP’s estimates.

"Now we know what we always knew—this spill is much larger than BP has claimed," said Rep. Markey, who chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee in the Energy and Commerce Committee. "What’s clear is that BP has had an interest in low-balling the size of their accident, since every barrel spilled increases how much they could be fined by the government."

Yesterday Rep. Markey pressed this point with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, citing documents he obtained from BP that showed BP knew as early as a week after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that the spill could have been much higher than their initial estimate of 1,000 barrels. Secretary Salazar agreed with Rep. Markey that BP could have a financial interest in underestimating the size of the spill.

The documents can be found here

One document, dated April 27, shows that BP’s high estimate for the daily rate of the spill was 14,266 barrels per day, well within the midrange of today’s technical group report. Yet one day later, BP was asserting to the public that the spill was only 1,000 barrels a day—their low estimate for the size of the spill.

The implications for BP’s financial liability are directly tied to the size of the spill. Under current law—the Clean Water Act as amended by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, following the Exxon Valdez disaster—a company that spills oil is subject to fines up to $1,000 per barrel, or up to $3,000 per barrel in the case of gross negligence.

For BP, the difference between an estimate of 1,000 barrels per day and one of 14,000 barrels a day could really be the difference between $5 to $15 million per day in fines versus $14 to $42 million per day. That means, at the end of yesterday, the 37th day of the spill, the difference could potentially be between $37 million in fines or $1.5 billion in fines, according to BP’s own estimates from the documents.

According to the range reached by the technical group today, BP could be subject to between $444 million and $2.1 billion in potential fines for the oil spilled thus far.

"BP has to stop protecting their liability and start dealing with the reality of the size of this spill,” said Rep. Markey. “Knowing the size of the spill is vital to all facets of this spill, from response to recovery to accountability."

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Is DC Granny-Bashing?

| Thu May 27, 2010 6:56 AM EDT

Few may remember it, but before the advent of Social Security in the 1930s and Medicare in the 1960s, the old were widely viewed as a spent force. Nobody talked about happy retirement, in part because, these were people who remembered only too well the Depression. Few looked forward to leisure worlds because the poor house was too recent in so many people's minds. Before old age entitlements, tending to the old was viewed as the job of the family. If you didn't have a family, then it was charity—you joined the begging class. And even if you did have a family, you lived knowing that the young and middle-aged couldn't wait to get rid of you.

The same is more or less true today. Some days it seems the entire city of Washington, DC, the nation's capital, is on a mission against the old. Of course, nobody would ever say that. But there is a war against the old going on here in the form of a vigorous, largely uncontested attack on entitlements—a fighting word for conservatives and conservative Democrats who simply can't stand Roosevelt's New Deal, Johnson's Great Society, and everything they stood for.

In his book The Making of an Elder Culture, recently published by New Society, Theodore Roszak, the cultural historian who more than three decades ago wrote The Making of a Counter Culture, sets out some of the grim history of old people in American society, and in doing so places elders within our current political world.

The old were in fact the worst victims of industrialism, primarily because they were not deemed worth saving. They belonged to that class of unwelcome dependents called the impotent poor—those who could not provide for themselves...as comfortable as many middle-class elders may be today, they share with all older people a long sad history of bleak mistreatment they would do well to remember. For generations the old have suffered wrongs inflicted on them by harsh public policy and often by their nearest and dearest...in the modern western world where the old have been seen as the claim of the dreary past upon the bustling forces of progress.

In the early days of the industrial revolution, Roszak writes, "aged workers became poor. The workhouse and county home were little better than the concentration camp. They were fed gruel, bedded down on straw or bare wood…they had no place to turn save for their children…They were pictured as withered, toothless, bent, lean." You must remember that as recently as 40 or 50 years ago, there was no senior lobby. The political pros never talked about a senior vote. Today all that has changed—yet Roszak sees in today's entitlement wars a serious threat to the well-being of elders.

In the same way that organized labor was once regarded as a potentially tyrannical force able to achieve its own selfish ends, entitlement critics began characterizing seniors as a threat to the democratic process...

Nobody of any political stripe wants to risk the charge of granny-bashing, but the facts are clear. In the United States, gaining even modest degrees of security in retirement has been a struggle against business leaders, political conservatives, and free market economists for whom money is the measure of all things.

In his book, Roszak envisions a society in which rather than cutting social programs for the old, we will extend them to younger people. No one would resent Medicare, for example, if we had universal health care for Americans of all ages. He sees a future where the old and the young join to create a new world devoted to common humane goals: Ending poverty at all ages, assuring education—laying the planks of a new society on the New Deal and LBJ's social welfare project. Such ideas face an uphill battle in today's political culture—but are no less inspiring for that fact.

This post also appears on Jim Ridgeway's personal blog, Unsilent Generation.

Steve Eisman's Next Big Short: For-Profit Colleges

| Thu May 27, 2010 6:55 AM EDT

Steve Eisman, the outspoken investor whose huge wager against the subprime mortgage market was chronicled by author Michael Lewis in his bestselling book The Big Short, has set sights on a new target: for-profit colleges of the kind of you might see advertised on daytime TV and at bus stops. Think ITT Educational Services, Corinthian Colleges, or Education Management Corporation.

In a speech titled "Subprime Goes to College," delivered Wednesday at the Ira Sohn Investment Research Conference, Eisman blasted the for-profit education industry, likening these companies to the seamy mortgage brokers who peddled explosive subprime loans over the past two decades. "Until recently, I thought that there would never again be an opportunity to be involved with an industry as socially destructive and morally bankrupt as the subprime mortgage industry. I was wrong," Eisman said. "The for-profit education industry has proven equal to the task." (All of Eisman's remarks here come from a copy of his prepared remarks obtained by Mother Jones.)

Eisman, a blunt, no-frills portfolio manager at FrontPoint Financial Services Fund, a Morgan Stanley subsidiary, became an overnight sensation as one of the main characters in Lewis' latest. After witnessing the first wave of subprime madness in the 1990s, Eisman grew skeptical of the industry as a whole, Lewis writes. Then, when subprime surged again in the 2000s, he put his knowledge to work. Needless to say, he's a lot richer than he was two years ago.

Sarah Palin's Endorsement Curse

| Thu May 27, 2010 6:55 AM EDT

Quiz: What do these struggling or failed political aspirants all have in common?

  • Vaughn Ward, a GOP candidate for Idaho's 1st congressional district who plagiarized Barack Obama's famous 2004 Democratic National Convention speech and thought Puerto Rico was a separate country;
  • Nikki Haley, the South Carolina gubernatorial candidate embroiled in controversy with a political blogger who claims he had an affair with Haley, who is married with two children;
  • Doug Hoffman, the conservative candidate in last fall's special House election in upstate New York's 23rd district who ultimately lost in an upset to Democrat Bill Owens;
  • Tim Burns, the Republican candidate to fill the late Pennsylvania Democratic congressman John Murtha's 12th district who lost to Democrat Mark Critz;
  • Clint Didier, the Republican candidate for Senate in Washington state trailing incumbent Democrat Patty Murray by anywhere from 15 to 26 percentage points; and
  • John McCain, the Republican loser in the 2008 presidential election

They're all the (un)lucky recipients of campaign endorsements from the Tea Party darling herself, Sarah Palin! Of course, there's no doubt Palin remains a superstar in conservative circles, her every tweet and Facebook message treated as conservative scripture these days. And she has been right on a few occasions—notably, Rand Paul in the recent Kentucky GOP Senate primary. But overall, her political seal of approval may be losing some of its luster.

And some of her fellow Republicans have noticed. In early May, Palin endorsed Carly Fiorina in the California Republican Senate primary. Later that month, Matt Rexroad, a director for political strategy group Meridian Pacific, which is employed by Fiorina's campaign, posted on Facebook  that "if Sarah Palin endorsed me I would be too embarrassed to tell anyone. [F]rom my point of view, I don't know how you quit as the governor of your state and get taken seriously." Ouch.

I guess we'll have to wait and see how the remaining candidates that Palin has blessed with her endorsement—Fiorina, Wisconsin House candidate Sean Duffy, et al—fare before deciding whether Palin's support amounts to a golden touch or the kiss of death.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 27, 2010

Thu May 27, 2010 6:54 AM EDT

 

Soldiers fire .50-caliber machine gun rounds at the base of a training target to indicate to nearby helicopters where to fire their rockets during partnered aerial-ground integration training between US and Iraqi forces on Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on May 21, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.