Mojo - July 2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 19, 2010

Mon Jul. 19, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

 

Posting security just outside the walls of a Combined Security Checkpoint, Crew Chief Sgt. Fred Oser, A. Company 2-25, Combat Aviation Brigade, attached to 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, stands watch for hostile threats as US soldiers and Iraqi dignitaries board a UH-60 Black Hawk before taking off in the Ninewa province, on July 2. Photo via the US Army.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Help Wanted: Take MoJo's Reader Survey!

Fri Jul. 16, 2010 6:37 PM EDT

MoJo wants to hear from you. We want to know your hopes, your dreams, whether you prefer beer or cordials... Please take a few minutes to fill out our reader survey. We’ll use your advice to polish up our website, improve our content, and to try to make MoJo the the best darned source for news and investigative reporting out there. And to show our thanks we'll float you some free stuff.

First, we’ll give you a free Mother Jones tote bag—a reusable shopping bag with an attached stuff pouch that makes it easy to stow. This fashionable bag weighs only 1.5 ounces but has a 25-pound carrying capacity, making it perfect for a trip to the grocery store or farmers' market.

Plus, you'll be entered into a drawing to win a $100 gift card from Patagonia (redeemable online, through mail order, or at any Patagonia store).

So go on, tell us what you think. We’ll use your feedback to make Mother Jones the absolute best it can be. So claim your prize today! Take our survey now.

 

Tea Party Express' Racist Letter

| Fri Jul. 16, 2010 6:20 PM EDT

Wow, Tea Party Express! What better way to defend your stale astroturf movement against charges of racism than by writing a racist letter to the... National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The letter excerpted below is from Tea Party Express spokesperson Mark Williams, who wrote it in response to the NAACP's recent resolution to condemn the party's racist antics. After the NAACP passed the measure on Tuesday, Williams told CNN "I am disinclined to take lectures on racial sensitivity from a group that insists on calling black people, 'Colored.'"

I read Williams's letter. And after calming my visceral aversion to its blatant bigotry which almost stopped me from writing about it, all I can say is... thank you Mark Williams! Thank you for exposing your organization's true intentions better than any Yes Men parody ever could. The letter has since been removed from Williams' Website, but thanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates from the Atlantic, excerpts from it appear below. You can read it in its entirety here:

Dear Mr. Lincoln

We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!...

The tea party position to "end the bailouts" for example is just silly. Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn't that what we want all Coloreds to strive for? What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare? What they need to do is start handing the bail outs directly to us coloreds! Of course, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the only responsible party that should be granted the right to disperse the funds.

And the ridiculous idea of "reduce[ing] the size and intrusiveness of government." What kind of massa would ever not want to control my life? As Coloreds we must have somebody care for us otherwise we would be on our own, have to think for ourselves and make decisions!

Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government "stop raising our taxes." That is outrageous! How will we coloreds ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist!...

UPDATE: On Sunday, the National Tea Party Federation expelled Tea Party Express and Mark Williams "because of the letter that he wrote which he, I guess, may have considered satire but which was clearly offensive,” Federation spokesperson David Webb told CBS. That same day, NAACP president Ben Jealous issued a statement calling on Sarah Palin and Dick Armey to now denounce tea party racism. The NAACP has received death threats and hate mail in the wake of its resolution. It has published a slideshow of offensive tea party signs which you can view here.  

Senate to Probe BP-Libya Deal

| Fri Jul. 16, 2010 11:40 AM EDT

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee says it will probe the role BP played in freeing convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Megrahi, the only person who has been convicted of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing that killed 270 people in 1988, was released last August from a Scottish prison. It has since come to light that BP may have lobbied for his release in order to secure a $900 million deal to drill in the Gulf of Sidra.

BP has admitted that it lobbied the British government in late 2007 on a prisoner transfer agreement. "BP told the UK government that we were concerned about the slow progress that was being made in concluding a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Libya," the company said in a statement yesterday. "We were aware that this could have a negative impact on UK commercial interests, including the ratification by the Libyan government of BP's exploration agreement." The oil giant says it was not involved in discussions about Megrahi specifically, however.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) announced late yesterday that the panel will hold a hearing on the issue on July 29. "I opposed Megrahi’s release on medical grounds last year as a travesty and the details that have emerged in recent days in the press have raised new concerns," said Kerry in a statement. "On behalf of those victims and their families, we must get to the bottom of what led to the mistaken release of the only person ever convicted for that terrible crime." New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez will chair the hearing.

Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison in 2001, but was released last August after a Scottish court granted him freedom on compassionate grounds. Doctors told the court that he was facing terminal prostate cancer and only had three months to live; now one of those doctors says he was paid by the Libyan government to make that determination, and he could live another ten years as a free man.

Britain's ambassador to Washington, Nigel Sheinwald, called the decision to release al-Megrahi "a mistake" in a statement yesterday. But he added: "Claims in the press that Megrahi was released because of an oil deal involving BP, and that the medical evidence used by the Scottish Executive supporting his release was paid for by the Libyan government, are not true."

Sheinwald emphasized that the new British administration disagreed with the Lockerbie bomber's release, but there is no process in place for returning him to prison. "We have to accept that the release licence does not provide a mechanism for a person who has been released on compassionate grounds to be returned to prison if they have survived for longer than the period diagnosed by the relevant medical authorities," said Sheinwald.

Four Democratic senators also asked the State Department to conduct its own investigation into the case. Andy Laine, a spokesman for State, said Friday that they are reviewing the letter and will respond to the senators' request.

Scott Brown and the DISCLOSE Act

| Fri Jul. 16, 2010 11:27 AM EDT

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) sure is enjoying his moment in the sun. He was one of the key votes on financial regulatory reform, and now a crucial target for supporters of the DISCLOSE act, a bill that attempts to deal with some of the consequences of the Supreme Court's corporations-can-spend-whatever-they-want-on-elections Citizens United decision.

Basically, DISCLOSE would require companies to stand behind the ads they buy—"I'm Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, and I approved this message." If the Dems can't get Brown on DISCLOSE—an already watered-down collection of half-measures—getting past a GOP filibuster is going to be close to impossible.

Brown said this week that he won't support the new law. The transparency groups that back DISCLOSE—campaign finance reformers like Democracy 21, Common Cause, and Public Citizen—are still begging the rookie senator to change his mind (or at least oppose a GOP filibuster). But you can tell by the tone of their latest letter to the senator that things aren't going so well:

The 2010 congressional elections are expected to involve hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by corporations, labor unions, advocacy groups and trade associations to influence the voters’ decisions. Voters have a basic right to know who is behind the money being spent in their elections, as the Supreme Court made clear in the Citizens United decision.

You have stressed the importance of government transparency and accountability in the past, so we are understandably puzzled by your response indicating you would not vote for the DISCLOSE bill, without which voters will not be able to know who is financing the flood of campaign ads expected during the 2010 congressional elections.

You can read the rest of the letter here. I don't expect Brown to change his mind without significant public pressure from constituents back home in Massachusetts. Blocking DISCLOSE and other campaign finance laws is a top priority of Brown's party boss, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (McConnell has a history of filing lawsuits to block campaign finance laws.) Brown's votes so far show that he clearly has an interest in being reelected—he's tried to make some compromises with Dems. In this case, pressure from other Republicans probably outweighs letters from reform groups. Without massive public outcry in Massachusetts, DISCLOSE could be done for.

Over at HuffPo, Sam Stein reports that Dems still plan to bring DISCLOSE to the floor of the Senate this month because "it is too important not to." But the same piece also notes earlier comments from Dem aides saying they had put all of their eggs "in the Brown basket," and acknowledges that there's been "little indication" that either Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins of Maine might support the law. 

The only solace for Brown haters, really, is that he probably won't be in this powerful Ben-Nelson-on-health-care-like position for long. After the November elections, it's almost certain that some other senator (Charlie Crist? Mark Kirk? Linda McMahon?) will represent the 60th person the Dems need to convince if they want to pass any legislation. Brown won't be the center of attention forever.

Warren vs. Geithner: The Teapot Tempest

| Fri Jul. 16, 2010 11:13 AM EDT

[Update: The Treasury Department sends a response to the Huffington Post article, which is included below.]

Citing a single "source with knowledge of Geithner's views," the Huffington Post led its homepage this morning with a story that says Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner doesn't want Elizabeth Warren, a top bailout watchdog, Harvard law professor, and tough consumer advocate, to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The independent Bureau, to be housed in the Federal Reserve, is the centerpiece of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, passed Thursday afternoon, and its leader will be a presidential appointee confirmed by the Senate.

Up in arms with the non-revelation of Geithner's opposition, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) blasted out an email this morning asking supporters to sign a petition urging President Obama to appoint Warren. The PCCC also said it was "launching ads today targeting Geithner" for opposing Warren.

OK, everyone take a deep breath. The news that Tim Geithner, joining several other Obama economic advisers, isn't keen on Elizabeth Warren and might not want her as CFPB head (even though the Bureau was her idea) is hardly breaking news, no matter how big HuffPo's headline is. Indeed, anyone who's followed the work of Warren's Congressional Oversight Panel could tell you that. After all, Warren's public grillings of Geithner have taken on an almost ritual quality—not a month goes by, it seems, without the blunt, Oklahoma-raised Warren bashing Geithner for AIG's backdoor bailouts or the Treasury's botched homeowner relief programs or the failure of megabanks to resume lending again, despite trillions in government assistance. Little wonder Geithner might not like Warren.

Moreover, comparing Treasury's economic policies with Warren's ideas, you can easily see where the conflict arises. If there's one quality that characterizes Treasury's economic relief programs—especially its homeowner programs—it's that they don't rock the boat much, don't rattle the status quo. (Had they done that, they would've required, say, principal reductions in the HAMP program or actually cracked down on mortgage servicers whose HAMP performance has been miserable—something Treasury has yet to do.) Warren, however, has done just that and she'd no doubt shake things up as CFPB head, which surely could make people in power a bit uneasy. In past testimonies and commentary, Warren was an advocate of "plain vanilla" financial products—making credit card contracts two pages long and simple to read, selling mortgages without hidden interest rate clauses and explosive terms. In financial circles, those are radical ideas—so radical, in fact, that Congress killed the plain-vanilla provision in its financial reform bill.

The differences between the Geithner and Warren are clear. It doesn't take a single anonymous source who supposedly knows what Geithner's thinking to know that.

The Treasury Department sends Mother Jones this response to the Huffington Post article:

"Elizabeth Warren has been a driving force behind the creation of the consumer financial protection bureau, and we have worked very closely with her over the past year and a half to make that idea a reality.

"Given her strong leadership on consumer protection, Secretary Geithner believes that Elizabeth Warren is exceptionally well qualified to lead the new bureau, and, ultimately, that’s a decision the President will have to make."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Congressional Bloopers: Sheila Jackson-Lee Edition

| Fri Jul. 16, 2010 10:28 AM EDT

Here's Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.) holding forth recently on how "today we have two Vietnams, side by side, north and south, exchanging and working." Wait, what?

Could she be talking about North and South Korea? No, not even remotely. Conservative blogs, meanwhile, are having a field day with this clip, as well as with comments she made at the NAACP's recent conference likening tea partiers to Klan members:

All those who wore sheets a long time ago have now lifted them off and started wearing, uh, clothing, uh, with a name, say, I am part of the tea party. Don't you be fooled. Those who used to wear sheets are now being able to walk down the aisle and speak as a patriot because you will not speak loudly about the lack of integrity of this movement.

The GOP-Islamic Alliance Against the Gays

| Fri Jul. 16, 2010 10:05 AM EDT

The anti-gay contingent of the Republican Party has found some strange new bedfellows. Foreign Policy's Colum Lynch reports that some House Republicans are coming to the defense of some of the United Nations' most conservative Islamic governments who want to exclude the U.S.-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission from participating in UN meetings. The Republican attack comes as the Obama administration has made a push for the LGBT group's UN accreditation, which would allow them to participate in UN meetings on human rights, health, and other issues, alongside thousands of other non-governmental organizations. Lynch explains:

Congressional Republicans Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-Az) have rallied behind a coalition of Islamic governments urging foreign governments to oppose a U.S.-led effort to support a bid by an American gay and lesbian organization to gain full-fledged membership as a U.N. nongovernment organization… In a letter to U.N. members, Smith and Franks expressed concern that the U.S. initiative would improperly bypass a U.N. committee, which is dominated by socially conservative Islamic governments, that normally accredits U.N. NGOs…

In criticizing the current U.S. position, Smith and Franks drew upon arguments presented by Egypt and other conservative governments that allow little freedom of expression on their own soil….Egypt's representative, Wael Attiya, raised concern back in June that such principles could be used to subject religious leaders, who condemn homosexual behavior, to be persecuted. If a "preacher says that a relationship between same sex [couples] is wrong, will the preacher be hunted," he said in June.

So this appears to be one of those times when conservative anti-gay paranoia trumps conservative anti-Islam paranoia. It's a particularly bold move for Franks, who was among the House Republicans who demanded that the chamber's sergeant-at-arms investigate the possibility of "Muslim intern spies" infiltrating congressional offices on Capitol Hill. But when it comes to rallying against the gays, some GOP social conservatives have decided that the enemy of your enemy really should be your friend.

Helicopter Ride With Glenn Beck? Priceless!

| Fri Jul. 16, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Have you got an extra $75,000 burning a hole in your pocket? Maybe you’d like to give it to Glenn Beck, who in return will fly you over New York City in a helicopter to the Westchester airport, where his chauffer will drive you to Beck’s house in Connecticut and Mrs. Beck will make everyone dinner. That all assumes, of course, that you can pass a stringent background check first. The helicopter ride and dinner with the famous talk-show host is but one of the many Beck-centric offerings available for auction as part of Beck’s "Restoring Honor" extravaganza on the National Mall next month.

Beck has chosen to host a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (pending a permit from the Park Service) on August 28, the very day and place that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech 47 years ago. (Alexander Zaitchik has a good rundown here of why this is particularly offensive.) The rally, also headlined by Sarah Palin, is ostensibly focused on American troops and designed to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which helps the families of service members killed or injured in the line of duty. Money raised from the auction will go to SOWF, but only after all the expenses for the rally have been covered. (The rally is estimated to cost $2 million, and SOWF says it has already netted that much from the event.)

Of course, "Restoring Honor" is really all about Beck. The logo for the event has a drawing of him sheathed in light like he's the second coming of Christ. By far the biggest ticket item in the auction is the dinner with Beck, and there are tons of Beck memorabilia and books in the mix, but there are some other interesting items up for grabs.

Political junkies might be interested in lunch with Karl Rove, who can be had for a mere $7,500—$500 less than a scholarship to the online version of Jerry Fallwell’s Liberty University. A tour of the Capitol with Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman is up to $13,000. Now that Arizona has become the subject of boycotts and its sports teams are suffering, Beck is apparently doing his part to fill some seats. There are lots of Arizona Diamondbacks packages to bid on, including a luxury suite for 18 people going for a mere $1,000. By far the most novel item up for bid is the autographed bag used by Kiefer Sutherland in the shooting of 24: Redemption in Africa, going for $1,200—far more than the autographed copy of South Carolina Sen. and tea party fave Jim DeMint's book, Saving Freedom.

No doubt this says something about Beck fans (though I’m not sure what), but a copy of Beck’s book, Arguing with Idiots, that both Beck and former green jobs czar Van Jones signed, is a strangely hot item, up to $4,250 by Thursday afternoon. The one signed by Beck and former Weatherman Bill Ayers is only fetching $1,600.

The home page of the auction site also touts VIP tickets to see shows featuring Bill Cosby and Ellen DeGeneres, both of whom seem unlikely candidates for a Beck auction. As it turns out, at least as of Thursday night, you can't actually bid on those. Don't worry, though. You can still bid on the recently added giant statute of the Ten Commandments, much like the one that used to grace the courtroom of former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore. That rock is going for $2,750.

If you want dibs on all this great stuff, you’d better hurry! The auction ends 3 p.m. Monday.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 16, 2010

Fri Jul. 16, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

 

US Army Staff Sgt. Brandon Shepp of 3rd Platoon, "Fighting Eagles" Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment directs US Army Pfc. Travis Maize from Colorado Springs, Colo., to push sand dunes away from the roadside using a bucket loader during a route sanitation operation in Maysan province, Iraq, on July 3. Photo via the US Army by Pfc. Lukas McWhorter.