Mojo - August 2010

Behold: The (Blank) Act of (Blankety-Blankety-Blank-Blank)

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 11:41 AM EDT

Bills change a lot on the way to becoming a law. Their contents change as members of the House and Senate push pet provisions. They get longer (or shorter) and more (or less) expensive. Even their names change. Sometimes, that can lead to mistakes. Take House Resolution (HR) 1586, a bill originally intended to modernize the air traffic control system (and reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration). In August, the Senate gutted the bill and used the HR number as a vehicle to provide money to save teacher jobs and Medicaid aid for the states. There's just one problem: somewhere along the way, the bill lost its name. That's right: the teacher jobs bill (as passed by the House and the Senate and enrolled for the president to sign) is called the "XXXXXXAct ofXXXX." And they didn't just make the mistake once. They made it twice. There are two substitute amendments to the bill with blank-blankety-blankety-blank names. 

Sure, the important thing is that states got money to save teacher jobs and close budget gaps. But it's still funny that Congress doesn't even bother to name its bills anymore. And no one seems to care. After all, this isn't a secret. It's in the congressional record. It's possible that a change was made after the bill was passed and sent to the president (a procedure known as an "enrollment correction"). I've asked the Government Printing Office for a copy of the bill signed by the president to see if that happened. But if that wasn't done, the president himself had to have seen the funny name when he signed the bill on August 10. It's right at the top:

SHORT TITLE

Section 1. This Act may be cited as the `XXXXXXAct ofXXXX'.

Here's a screengrab:

Check all this out for yourself in THOMAS, the Library of Congress' congressional database. Here's the timeline. Here's the list of versions of the bill. And here's the bill itself, as passed by the House and Senate and enrolled for the President's signature. Read it and weep.

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How Corporate Campaign Donors Can Evade the IRS

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 10:30 AM EDT

Deep-pocketed donors are just beginning to take advantage of the post-Citizens United world of campaign finance by pouring money into elections as they never have before. As both corporations and unions ramp up political spending, the Washington Post takes a close look at just how easy it is for big spenders to cover their tracks. TW Farnam explains that the Supreme Court ruling has "largely tied the hands of the Federal Election Commission," preventing it from forcing political advertisers to reveal their donors. Instead, it's now fallen on the Internal Revenue Service to take up far more of a watchdog role, determining which groups are legally obliged to disclose their donors and which aren't.

Battling Till The End For FL Gov

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 6:38 AM EDT

When Florida Republicans vote tomorrow on their pick for governor, one of the most bruising, bitter primary campaigns will come to a close. For the past few weeks, Republicans Bill McCollum and Rick Scott have traded blow after blow in their gubernatorial primary fight in what quickly became an overwhelmingly negative race. The pair even took their fighting into the lord's house over the weekend, with the two accusing each other of lying and skewing facts and track records in respective visits to Florida mega-churches.

A new poll from Public Policy Polling shows Scott's attack ads may be working. Scott leads McCollum 47 percent to 40 percent, an advantage, it's worth noting, that's within PPP's margin of error. According to PPP pollster Tom Jensen, McCollum slightly leads Scott among moderate voters. Which is to say, if Scott wins, "it will be because he destroyed McCollum's reputation with conservative voters," Jensen writes. Scott leads McCollum among conservatives 50 percent to 39 percent.

But as Jensen notes, whoever wins the GOP primary for Florida governor tomorrow will emerge a wounded candidate in voters' eyes:

Regardless of who emerges as the winner Tuesday night Republicans' chances of holding the Florida Governor's office will have been considerably damaged by this primary campaign. Only 46% of primary voters have a favorable opinion of Scott and just 38% see McCollum in a positive light. They've left GOP voters with mixed feelings about them and Democratic and independent voters with pretty negative ones. Five months ago we would have said Alex Sink looked like a dead duck. Now with the way this contest has unfolded she looks like the favorite.

Workers: Pay Up, Jeff Greene

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 6:12 AM EDT

Jeff Greene, the self-made billionaire running for US Senate as a Democrat in Florida, likes to say that "Creating jobs is priority number one." His slogan is "Jobs. Results. Florida." In a new ad, "Never Let You Down," Greene tells Floridians, "I've created thousands of jobs, I understand the economy, and I know what it will take to get things moving again."

Imagine, then, the surprise of some part-time workers for Greene's campaign who claim to have been stiffed by the candidate. In the run-up to tomorrow's primary vote, Greene's campaign said it'd pay $50 each day for workers to canvass neighborhoods, call prospective voters, and otherwise promote the wealthy, largely self-funded Greene. Now, some of those workers claim they're not getting paid for their work. Here's the Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard:

"He's a crook," said 22-year-old Sabrina Height, picking her teeth with a toothpick after enjoying the spread of free food [at a Miami Gardens restaurant on Sunday]. She said she was owed $200. "He's giving us the runaround," she said. "To tell you the truth, I don't even know why I voted for him."

James Alvin, 43, who said he was owed $250, said he would probably vote for Greene's rival, Kendrick Meek "because of what his mom done." His mother, Carrie Meek, served in Congress from 1992 to 2002, when Kendrick was elected.

Greene spokesman Luis Vizcaino insisted that everyone who worked on the campaign would be paid. "They're here for a back-to-school event,'' he said of the people leaving the restaurant with armfuls of spiral notebooks, folders and No. 2 pencils.

Greene faces Rep. Kendrick Meek in the Democratic primary for US Senate, for which voting day is tomorrow. (Early voting has already begun.) While Greene has challenged Meek, and even surged past Meek in the polls, his controversial past has caught up with him in recent weeks and dogged his campaign. According to a new poll from Public Policy Polling, Meek leads Greene by a whopping 51 percent to 27 percent. As PPP pollster Tom Jensen put it, "Jeff Greene made a bad first impression on Florida Democrats and the more they got to know him the less they liked him."

Disaster Politics

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

The Pakistani government's response to the massive floods that have devastated the country isn't getting the best reviews. Government food aid, medical supplies, and rescue services have been slow to reach affected areas, critics charge. At a press conference on Thursday, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari provided some clarification: he's "not the government", just "governance"—and "governance" doesn't like it when people criticize the government. Cutting a vacation short to return to his flood-devastated country, Zardari struck out against "undemocratic forces [that] were maligning the government with their false propaganda about possibilities of corruption in [sic] utilisation of funds." Such "allegations against the government . . . are malicious and baseless as always, aimed only at weakening the democracy."

Zardari's bizarre statement may be amusing, but reports that Islamist charities have been quick to fill the relief vacuum left by an absconding, slow-footed Pakistani government are no small matter. Regional expert Steve Coll considers how disasters expose what we know about a government, a country, and its most helpless:

A few days after an earthquake, you feel immediately the presence of the state—or its absence. People have reasonable expectations that their government or military or social or religious charities will scramble into action and make themselves felt after an earthquake. Where are the bulldozers? Where are the portable hospitals? Open those roads! If a government doesn’t perform, people can get agitated pretty quickly. Governments rise and fall over earthquakes. [emphasis added]

The point is simple, striking, and a terribly mean-sounding: disasters are opportunities for everyone. If Zardari can't do what the Islamist charities can, he'll continue to shed political capital. That's exactly what seems to be happening, and no one seems particularly surprised.

As Pakistan-based columnist Mosharraf Zaid writes, there's also broader narrative unfolding. Zaid notes the aid dollars donated so far to flood victims—around $16 per affected Pakistani, vs. $1250-per-2004-tsunami victim, and $1000 per Haitian earthquake victim. Here's his theory about that:

[I]n this case, the humanity of Pakistan's victims takes a backseat to the preconceived image that Westerners have of Pakistan as a country. Pakistan is a country that no one quite gets completely, but apparently everybody knows enough about to be an expert. If you're a nuclear proliferation expert, suddenly you're an expert on Pakistan. If you're [a] terrorism expert, ditto: expert on Pakistan. India expert? Pakistan, too then. Of South Asian origin of any kind at a think-tank, university, or newspaper? Expert on Pakistan. Angry that your parents sent you to the wrong madrassa when you were young? Expert on Pakistan. The net result of Pakistan's own sins, and a global media that is gaga over India, is that Pakistan is always the bad guy.

In other words, Pakistanis are too often seen as a project, not a people. Their country is the perfect subject for almost any geo-political dissertation topic. That makes it hard for foreigners to respond to the floods as a human tragedy. Bad things happen in Pakistan because it's Pakistan; from AQ to Zardari, it's all catastrophe. We've come to expect Zardari to screw up, for the Islamist charities to swoop in, and for the American and Pakistani armies to wage a hearts-and-minds campaign because that's just what happens over there.

VIDEO: "We Will Bombard It"

| Mon Aug. 23, 2010 3:53 AM EDT

Wading into the alleged controversy over Park51, the planned Islamic community center on Park Place in Lower Manhattan (aka the "ground zero mosque"), Karen Hughes—the former press secretary for George W. Bush who ran the administration's woeful Muslim "outreach" effort—wrote a Washington Post op-ed imploring the center's planners to move away as a show of "unity" and "uncommon courtesy" to offended Americans. Yet on the ground in New York, the center's protesters showed no courtesy when it came to shaming and shouting down anyone who didn't fit their profile of a good, patriotic American.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 23, 2010

Mon Aug. 23, 2010 2:50 AM EDT

 

COMBAT OUTPOST MIZAN, Afghanistan—US Army 1st Lt. Troy Peterson, right, platoon commander for 3rd Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, assists his radio operator, US Army Pfc. Justin Cobbs, across a ravine during a dismounted patrol near Combat Outpost Mizan, Mizan District, Zabul Province, on Aug. 16, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Senior Airman Nathanael Callon.

Pakistan: Corporations and Flood Relief

| Fri Aug. 20, 2010 4:15 PM EDT

The flood waters in Pakistan continue to rise, affecting 20 million people in an area that would stretch from Maine to North Carolina in the US (see image left). Requests for relief funds have increased on Twitter and Facebook, and yesterday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a personal plea to the American people in this video."Governments cannot be alone in helping the people of Pakistan," she said. She announced the foundation of the Pakistan Relief Fund, whose site says that "The most effective way people can assist relief efforts is by making cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations."

The appeal to Americans is admirable, and so far the US government has pledged $150 million in aid. But I couldn't help but wonder why the State Department didn't emphasize the help that could be given not only by the American people, but by American corporations specifically. Certainly, individual contributions will make a huge difference, but wouldn't it be even bigger if corporations would match them? US companies that do business in Pakistan, like the members of the Chamber of Commerce-affiliated US-Pakistan Business Council, have indeed made donations to relief funds. For example, Coca-Cola ($500,000), Procter&Gamble ($400,000) and Monsanto ($100,000) have donated, but other members like Boeing (which has a partnership with Pakistan International Airlines, and $15 billion in revenues) and Shell have not. If corporations really are people, as the law sometimes says they are, then maybe they should be more heavily targeted by the Department of State since they have more in their bank accounts than most Americans.

Feingold, and the Planet, are in Trouble

| Fri Aug. 20, 2010 3:08 PM EDT

Greg Sargent just posted the actual video of Wisconsin Republican Senate candidate Ron Johnson blaming global warming on "sunspot activity," and the full explanation is even more ridiculous than what we've seen excerpted so far. The full climate quote from his interview with the Journal Sun-Sentinel:

If you take a look at geologic time, we've had huge climate swings. We're sitting here in Wisconsin. Had it not been for climate swings, we'd be sitting on a two or three hundred foot thick glacier. Man wasn't around back then. So no, I absolutely do not believe that the science of man-caused climate change is proven. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I think it's far more likely that it's just sunspot activity, or something just in the geologic eons of time where we have changes in the climate.
The Middle Ages was an extremely warm period of time, too. It wasn't like there were tons of cars on the road. So it always strikes me as a little absurd for anybody to think, Okay, this is the sweet spot in geologic time for climate. And it's such a good place, that we have spent trillions of dollars, and do great harm to our economy, on a fool's errand. I don't think we can do anything about controlling what the climate is.

Here's a solid, brief explanation of why the sunspots argument is bonkers. But, of course, this wouldn't be so problematic if Johnson weren't currently ahead of Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold in the polls.

Watchdogs Worry about Obama's New Ethics Czar

| Fri Aug. 20, 2010 11:57 AM EDT

The newly appointed White House czar for ethics and transparency, Bob Bauer, is raising alarm bells among good government groups who've pointed to his history of defending unchecked special interest spending in elections. Bauer, currently the White House counsel, will be replacing Norm Eisen, who is leaving to become the ambassador to the Czech Republic. As the Washington Independent explains, Bauer has a long history of helping both interest groups and the national party committees get around campaign finance regulations and fight against disclosure requirements:

According to campaign finance reform advocates, Bauer’s biggest transgression comes from his time as lead counsel for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was then that the national party committees exploited a series of loopholes allowing the parties to raise unlimited amounts of “soft money” from corporations and individuals. “It took us ten years to reverse much of the damage that [Bauer] wrought with soft money loopholes,” says Craig Holman, a legislative representative for Public Citizen. “It was his arguments before the [Federal Election Commission] on behalf of the Democratic Party — that was where the soft money loophole first started breaking. And once he got that little hole in the dam, then all these election lawyers just ran with it.”

The “soft money” loophole — which let the national parties use unlimited funds for certain costs unrelated to national elections — had existed since the late 1970s. Under Bauer’s watch, both parties started to exploit it, in earnest.

Watchdog groups accuse Baeur of later working to undermine the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act—also known as the McCain-Feingold Act. They also point to his more recent role in helping EMILY's List challenge the FEC's attempt to limit contributions to non-profit advocacy organizations classified as 527 groups.