Mojo - June 2010

Wall St. Reform's Final Bout, Revolving Door Edition

| Thu Jun. 10, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

The fate of Congress' massive financial reform overhaul now rests in the hands of a few select lawmakers—top Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate. Starting Thursday, this small group has two weeks or so to merge 3,000 pages of dense, overlapping legislative text into a single bill to deliver to President Obama.

These same lawmakers also happen to be among the most well-connected to Wall Street, big banks, and their lobbyists in Washington—that is, the very industries they're seeking to regulate. A review by Mother Jones of lobbying records shows there are 70 current or former financial lobbyists who've previously worked in the Capitol Hill offices of these lawmakers. The lawmakers participating in the conference process with the most Hill staffers-turned-finance-lobbyists include Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the banking committee chairman; Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), banking committee’s ranking member; and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), a longtime ally of Wall Street.

The close ties between the financial reform conferees and finance lobbyists are a stark reminder of how much clout Wall Street has here in Washington, and how ingrained the big banks are in the legislative process. A recent report (pdf) by the Public Accountability Initiative, titled "Big Bank Takeover," put it this way: "The big banks have employed an unrivaled network of in-house lobbying teams, hired guns, industry associations, front groups, and behind-the-scenes influence peddlers with deep connections to Congress and the Obama administration, including the leadership of the House financial services committee, the Senate banking committee, the Treasury Department, and key regulatory agencies."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 10, 2010

Thu Jun. 10, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

 

A member of an Afghan-international security force secures the area while in pursuit of militants north of Naglham, Kandahar District, Afghanistan, on June 1. Photo via the US Army photo by Joseph Joynt.

Nevada Tea Partier's Memory Hole

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 11:56 PM EDT

[UPDATE: A version of Sharron Angle's "issues" page has been revived, misplaced commas and all. How long will it last??]

That Internet thing is mighty tricky for Republicans to master. Sharron Angle—Tea Partier, Oath Keepers supporter, anti-fluoride crusader, and new GOP candidate for Senate from Nevada—is already demonstrating her solidarity with party luminaries like Ted Stevens, George W. Bush, and the entire House Republican caucus by staging an epic Web fail of her own. In a possible bid to play down her more right-leaning, less mainstream views—which are bound to be a liability in a general election fight with Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid—Angle's campaign website was scrubbed of its spiciest material. Previously, her site featured an "issues" page, where Angle champions nuclear waste while deriding the UN, the Department of Education, "Obamacare," "illegals," and "an unscientific hysteria over the man-caused global warming hoax." That web page became inaccessible.

Unless, that is, you search for the cached page.

So, here, saved for posterity with annotations, are 11 top "issues" statements by Sharron Angle that should be remembered...or at least fact-checked...between now and November:

AP: Alvin Greene Facing Felony Charge

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 2:13 PM EDT

First, Alvin Greene (whom MoJo's Suzy Khimm interviewed last night), shocked political observers by seemingly coming out of nowhere to win South Carolina's Democratic Senate primary. Now the unemployed vet has another surprise in store. Turns out, he's presently facing a felony rap for an incident that involved Internet porn and a University of South Carolina co-ed. Via the AP:

Court records show 32-year-old Alvin Greene was arrested in November and charged with showing obscene Internet photos to a University of South Carolina student. The felony charge carries up to five years in prison.

Greene said he had no comment when asked about the charge Wednesday and hung up on a reporter. The unemployed veteran posted bond after his arrest. He has yet to enter a plea or be indicted.

Records indicate Greene showed photos to a woman and talked about going to her room at a university dorm.

 

Newt's Dumb Headlines Are Dumb

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 12:46 PM EDT

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, is promoting a new book in which he basically argues that Barack Obama is destroying America. You know, the usual. But in the full-court press to promote To Save America (yes, that's really what the book is called), Newt has been getting increasingly hilarious. I loved the headline on his column on the right-wing website Human Events today:

The Democrats’ Job Killing Policies Kill Jobs

Okay then! Color me convinced. (No matter that we've gone from losing 750,000 jobs a month to gaining jobs in the 16 months since President Obama took office.) You'll never guess which the non-job killing alternative Newt supports. Actually, you can probably guess. It's cutting taxes!:

Reducing the payroll tax by half for 2010 to provide immediate liquidity for companies and employees;

Eliminating the capital gains tax to encourage investment in new companies;

Reducing the corporate tax rate to 12.5%, to make us competitive globally;

Permanently eliminating the death tax so small businesses and family farms can continue creating jobs for future generations;

Providing immediate business expensing so American workers have the best equipment and are the most productive.

Everything there disproportionately benefits big business and/or rich people. The exception, the payroll tax cut, is only for the rest of the year. It's good to see the GOP bringing new ideas to the table. 

What's Really In BP's Oil Spill Dispersants?

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 12:22 PM EDT

As the BP leak has dumped thousands of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico each day—and the responses of the oil firm and the Obama administration have been questioned—one critical issue has been the use of dispersants, especially the main dispersants deployed by BP: Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527. The Obama administration and members of Congress have raised concerns about the substances, which are supposedly more toxic than available alternatives.

This week the EPA, with no fanfare, posted on its website the chemical components of these two dispersants. Here's the list:

Chemical Name
1,2-Propanediol
Ethanol, 2-butoxy-
Butanedioic acid, 2-sulfo-, 1,4-bis(2-ethylhexyl) ester, sodium salt (1:1)
Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate
Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs.
Sorbitan, tri-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs
2-Propanol, 1-(2-butoxy-1-methylethoxy)-
Distillates (petroleum), hydrotreated light

We don't have on-staff chemists at Mother Jones. And if you look up these compounds, you find that Sorbitan, for example, is used to make chemicals that allow liquid to spread more easily and allow two liquids to mix better. But we already knew that—that's what dispersants do. Unfortunately, it's hard to determine from the list itself if dumping these chemicals into the Gulf might create more problems than they are supposed to solve. But we'll look for experts who can assess these compounds. And if you happen to know anything about octadecenoate, let us know.

Update: A spokesman for NALCO, the company that makes Corexit, writes in to scoop [at] motherjones [dot] com (You can, too! Try it!):

I read Nick Baumann's posting on the EPA's release of the ingredients in our COREXIT dispersants. Please note that since their original posting they have updated the information to clarify the Ethanol, 2-butoxy- is included only in COREXIT 9527 and is not in COREXIT 9500.

This is a key point since COREXIT 9500 is the sole product we have been making for Gulf responders since the spill began. Only limited quantities of COREXIT 9527, which were drawn from existing dispersant stockpiles from around the world, have been used in the Gulf spill response.

Both COREXIT dispersants have been approved by the EPA as part of the National Contingency Plan for treating oil spills.

In addition, a May 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control concluded that ‘because of the strict guidelines that must be followed to utilize dispersants, it is unlikely that the general public will be exposed (directly) to (the) product.’ The report further states that ‘ingredients are not considered to cause chemical sensitization; the dispersants contain proven, biodegradable and low toxicity surfactants.’

We have posted information about the ingredients in COREXIT dispersants on our website: http://nalco.com/news-and-events/4297.htm

I hope you find this in formation useful.

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

This Just In: Politicians Lie

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 11:15 AM EDT

On Tuesday, the Democratic National Committee blasted reporters with a Huffington Post piece on Illinois Senate candidate Mark Kirk's history of "exaggeration[s]." Kirk, a moderate Republican congressman who is running for Barack Obama's old Senate seat, has been under fire for embellishing parts of his (already impressive) military service record. But the HuffPo piece wasn't about that. It was about an episode in 2008 when Kirk claimed that China was drilling for oil off the coast of Cuba. Mother Jones' Jonathan Stein explained why this was wrong at the time:

Problem is, that's all false. Like, completely false. China is not currently drilling off the shores of Cuba; in fact, it doesn't even have a off shore drilling contract. What is does have is a permit to drill on Cuban land. "China is not drilling in Cuba's Gulf of Mexico waters, period,'' Jorge Piñon, an energy expert at the University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy, told the Miami Herald. In fact, it is not yet drilling on Cuban land, either.... The Congressional Research Service also debunks Republican claims: "While there has been some concern about China's potential involvement in offshore deepwater oil projects, to date its involvement in Cuba's oil sector has been focused on onshore oil extraction in Pinar del Rio province through its state-run China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation. (Sinopec)"

So the whole thing was totally false. But Kirk wasn't the only person to make the claim. In fact, a whole gaggle of Republicans were talking about the phantom Chinese drilling in 2008 as part of a remarkably transparent effort to push for more offshore drilling. If the communists were doing it, well, we should too, right? Anyway, it was bull-hockey, but that didn't stop them. Here's former Vice President Cheney:

"[O]il is being drilled right now 60 miles off the coast of Florida. We're not doing it. The Chinese are in cooperation with the Cuban government... Even the communists have figured out that a good answer to high prices is more supply. Yet Congress has said... no to drilling off Florida.''

Here's House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), another 2010 Senate candidate:

"Even China recognizes that oil and natural gas is readily available off our shores; thanks to Fidel Castro, they've been given a permit to drill for oil 45 miles from the Florida Keys."

Here's House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH):

"Right at this moment, some 60 miles or less off the coast of Key West, Florida, China has the green light to drill for oil in order to lower energy costs in that country."

The point here is that politicians don't always tell the whole the truth. In fact, they often don't tell the whole truth. But for whatever reason there's only a media firestorm when politicians mislead about themselves. If you claim that the health care bill has death panels, you can still be taken seriously. But woe unto the politician who says something wrong about him or herself. Anyway, I bet that Kirk's misleading statements about Chinese drilling won't become an issue in the campaign. If we started expecting politicians to tell the truth, then we'd have to make a fuss every time Rand Paul distorted the Americans With Disabilities Act. Fact-checking legislative issues is boring. But catching someone lying about their past? Fun!

And The GOP New Media King Is...

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 11:04 AM EDT

After much anticipation, the GOP House Conference has finally released the names of the winners of its six-week "new media" challenge, in which members competed to see who could sign up the most new Facebook fans, Twitter followers and YouTube subscribers. In a hotly contested championship final, Louisiana Rep. John Fleming emerged Wednesday as the winner (1st prize: an iPhone), followed by Georgia's Phil Gingrey (flip phone) and Lamar Smith from Texas, who seems to have gotten a bit of a booby prize for coming in third (a set of steak knives as a symbol of the need for the GOP to be on the "cutting edge" of new media).

The challenge netted the House Republicans a pretty nice foothold in the social media sphere, with 11,000 new Twitter followers, 30,000 new Facebook fans, and 1100 new YouTube subscribers. The contest was apparently so successful that it prompted the Democrats to launch their own competition to try to close the fan gap, which is significant. When the GOP started its new media challenge, 79 percent of House GOP members were already on Facebook but only 39 percent of Dems were, and only 20 percent of Democratic House members were tweeting, compared with 64 percent of Republicans. The disparity apparently shamed House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi into getting on the Twitter. She still has a ways to go to catch up with her Republican counterpart, Minority Leader John Boehner, who has nearly 44,000 Twitter followers. Perhaps the possibility of winning some steak knives might spur some ferocious tweeting.

Shining Light on Wall Street Reform's Final Round

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 10:59 AM EDT

The American people are about to get a glimpse of the negotiations in which top Democratic and Republican lawmakers will merge their two financial reform bills into a final product to send to President Obama. But not the full picture. C-SPAN will only be televising tomorrow's opening day of the financial reform conference. The rest of the process will be available via a grainy, unpredictable webcast on the House financial services committee's website.

Enter Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the financial services committee. Frank, who'll be leading the conference process, wants C-SPAN to be in the room as much as possible, at all the public sessions and conference committee votes. Today, on the eve of the conference's opening, Frank wrote a letter to C-SPAN chairman Brian Lamb urging him "to provide the necessary resources to ensure that the American people are able to watch the public portions and the voting of the Conference Committee."

Democrats see C-SPAN's presence as a chance to expose those shilling for Wall Street and other financial players. The spotlight also gives lawmakers the chance to rail against colleagues who try to obstruct the process or blunt tough new reforms. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), for instance, took every chance he could get during the Senate's financial reform debate to bash GOPers as "making love to Wall Street" and paint their obstructionist tactics as "anti-American." If Democrats grow equally exasperated with GOPers during conference, watch for similar kinds of criticisms.

Full broadcasting of the conference process would also bolster Obama's claim that he wants full transparency for all his big legislative battles. As many remember, the president promised that the health care debate would be entirely out in the open and then reneged on that promise, for which he was strongly criticized. Making sure the television cameras are at every public session and vote for financial reform could restore some faith in Obama's transparency pledge.

Here's Barney Frank's full letter to CSPAN's Brian Lamb:

June 8, 2010

Dear Mr. Lamb,

Thank you for committing the necessary resources to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage of the opening day of the historic House-Senate Conference on the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. As we move forward, I urge you to provide the necessary resources to ensure that the American people are able to watch the public portions and the voting of the Conference Committee. I believe it is vital that after the financial crisis of 2008, the American people are able to view the public proceedings. I thank you for your consideration of my request.

BARNEY FRANK

Chairman

Alito: The Chamber of Commerce's Supreme Court Ringer?

| Wed Jun. 9, 2010 10:22 AM EDT

Was the Citizens United case, in which the Supreme Court voted to allow unlimited corporate spending on elections, just an aberration? Or is the Roberts court really as pro-business as critics allege? Well, the Constitutional Accountability Center decided to test that thesis by examining the justices' voting records in cases where the U.S Chamber of Commerce was a party or filed an amicus brief. On Wednesday, it released the results of its empirical study. As it turns out, the five-justice conservative majority ruled in the chamber's favor in 64 percent of the cases, and even more often--71 percent--in the closely divided cases, which included Citizens United and the Lilly Ledbetter case involving gender discrimination.

By far the most reliable Chamber vote on the court turned out not to be the leading suspect, Chief Justice Roberts, but Justice Alito, who voted for the Chamber in 75 percent of the cases. Even more striking, however, is that in the most contested 5-4 cases, Alito never voted against the Chamber. He was the only justice with such a one-sided record. On the other end of the ideological spectrum, Justice John Paul Stevens rarely sided with the Chamber in the close cases, but overall still voted for business interests almost 40 percent of the time.

The CAC's analysis didn't include the court's newest justice, Sonia Sotomayor, because of her short time on the court. But the group did find that in the seven business cases in which Sotomayor participated, she voted against the Chamber in five of them, more than any other member of the court. While CAC says the Sotomayor votes aren't a statistically significant sample, they still contrast sharply with many liberal predictions last year that she would turn out to be a closet conservative. Her votes so far in the Chamber cases suggest she may prove more liberal than David Souter, the man she replaced, who tended to vote right down the middle, with 50 percent of his votes for the Chamber and 50 percent against.