Mojo - January 2011

Obama's Regulatory Overhaul

| Tue Jan. 18, 2011 10:20 AM PST

In a clear attempt to head off attacks on the administration's regulatory agenda, President Obama today issued a new executive order and several supporting memorandums outlining the administration's plans to review and streamline regulations from all federal agencies. Obama also took to the pages of today's Wall Street Journal to discuss his administration's plans for a "government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove out-dated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive."

The executive order, Obama writes, will "ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth," and will seek to "root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb."

In a call with reporters, a senior administration official says that the order had been in the works for "months, if not over a year." But the pressure on the administration on regulations has certainly increased in the past few months. The new Republican leadership in the House has asked business interests to hand over a wish-list for regulatory cutbacks. The Business Roundtable also released its priorities on the matter last month, a lengthy list of regulations its members would like to see overhauled.

The order directs agencies "consider costs and ways to reduce burdens for American businesses when they develop rules," said the administration official. It also directs them to revisit the thousands of rules already on the books to evaluate which need to be eliminated, streamlined, or expanded. Agencies are expected submit a preliminary plan to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for responding to this directive within 120 days.

While there is a clear appeal to business interests in the move, the administration was also sure to outline one key example of success it has already had in making regulations less complicated—but one that actually had the impact of drastically improving health and environmental standards. The administration's rule for automobiles, announced in 2009, was the first to combine fuel economy standards from the Department of Transportation, greenhouse gas emission standards from the Environmental Protection Agency, and a patchwork of state regulations into a single federal standard—adopting the highest of the standards at the federal level with the endorsement of all key stakeholders.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

John Edwards' Hush Money Headache

| Tue Jan. 18, 2011 9:53 AM PST

The long, embarrassing end to John Edwards' political career may have another chapter after all. Federal criminal investigators are probing whether Edwards, the 2008 presidential candidate and 2004 vice presidential nominee, used campaign cash to cover up his affair and child with Rielle Hunter, the Associated Press reports.

The crux of the investigation, in which a grand jury in North Carolina is currently poring over Edwards' campaign records and testimony, concerns whether donations to Edwards-connected political groups were used to cover up Edwards' affair with Hunter, and to keep Hunter and campaign aide Andrew Young out of the public eye so Edwards could run for White House. According to the AP, the case hinges on whether that cover-up should be considered campaign donations or not, which would violate campaign finance law.

Revelations of Edwards' affair were first reported by the National Enquirer in July 2008, after Edwards has been knocked out of the presidential race but was still eying the vice presidential nomination. It wasn't until later that fall that the former North Carolina senator admitted that he'd lied as a presidential candidate about his affair with Hunter. Yet at the time he denied paying hush money to Hunter to keep her quiet.

A slew of Edwards-connected groups are included on a subpoena for the latest investigation, according to the AP. That includes Alliance for a New America, a 527 political group, and two of Edwards' political action committees—New American Optimists, which was created after Edwards' 2000 Senate victory, and the One America Committee.

Here's more from the AP:

Several people interviewed by investigators said the questions focused on Edwards' knowledge of campaign finance law, going as far back as whether he used his Senate office to conduct political business in violation of congressional rules. Subpoenas issued in the case request e-mails, records and other material related to more than two dozen individuals and organizations connected to Edwards and his allies throughout his political career…

A person involved in the investigation and who is familiar with the financial transactions told AP that Baldick provided Young about a $30,000 raise to move off the Edwards campaign payroll onto one of Baldick's private organizations around the time Young began taking care of a pregnant Hunter in fall 2007, when the primary campaign was heating up. Young also got more than $150,000 as commission for money he raised for Alliance for a New America. A month after Young got his last campaign paycheck on Nov. 14, 2007, he publicly claimed paternity of Hunter's child.

Young has long since renounced his paternity claim and broken with Edwards. In a book, "The Politician," Young said he was covering up Edwards' fatherhood of the child. Edwards admitted paternity last year.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 18, 2011

Tue Jan. 18, 2011 3:30 AM PST

Vice President Joe Biden, speaks to a crowd of more than 200 servicemembers and civilians about the partnership with the Iraqis and his appreciation for military members and their families Jan. 13 on Camp Victory, Iraq. The vice president said he brought a word of thanks from the American people to the military members in the fight for Operation New Dawn. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Andrew Lee

Our Industrial-Complex Complex

| Mon Jan. 17, 2011 3:06 PM PST

Fifty years ago today, outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower took to the airwaves to warn of the nation's burgeoning military-industrial complex. With that, he not only introduced a powerful and still-relevant concept, but also a handy all-purpose suffix for describing ominous-sounding social forces. Google's Ngram Viewer shows that in the years following Ike's 1961 farewell address, usage of the phrase "industrial complex" took off, peaked during the Vietnam War, and has remained fairly constant since. That's not a scientific measure, since it no doubt includes mentions of unrelated things like this. But it also reflects the spread of Ike-inspired phrases such as the now ubiquitous prison-industrial complex, Michael Pollan's organic-industrial complex, the celebrity-industrial complex, the Christian-industrial complex, and the sports/athletic-industrial complex. Not to mention the sex-industrial complex, the baby-industrial complex, the diaper-industrial complex, the birthday-industrial complex, the wedding/marriage-industrial complex, and the divorce-industrial complex.

Who's behind the industrial-complex complex? Some of the blame must go to neologism-happy journalists like, well, us. Here are a few of Mother Jones' recent contributions to the list: medical-industrial complex, political-industrial complex, electoral-industrial complex, academic-industrial complex, housing-industrial complex, credit-industrial complex, tort reform-industrial complex, geoengineering-industrial complex, beauty-industrial complex, cancer-industrial complex, intelligence-industrial complex, security-industrial complex, mini-homeland-security-industrial complex, foreign aid-industrial complex, spelling-industrial complex. Phew. Did I miss any?

Today Baby Doc, Tomorrow Toto Constant?

| Mon Jan. 17, 2011 11:46 AM PST

With Haiti in the midst of fresh political turmoil, Mac McClelland's on-the-ground scoop about the return of dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier to quake-ravaged Haiti (accompanied by Mark Murrmann's great photos) was a creepy reminder of something that manipulative Haitian thug leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant told MoJo contributor Bernice Yeung back in 2008.

Then in jail awaiting trial for real-estate fraud in the United States—he fled Haiti in 1994 when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned to power, landing in Queens, New York—Constant revealed that he still had political aspirations. "I can even be the president, the prime minister," he told Yeung. "It's strange to be locked up in prison upstate and talk about being president of Haiti, right? It's strange.... Strange meaning it's happened before. That people have come from jail to become leaders of their country."

Will the GOP's Budget Cuts Gut the Middle Class?

| Mon Jan. 17, 2011 4:00 AM PST

It’s the biggest task facing the new House Republican majority now settling into life in Washington: Making good on its promise to slash the federal budget and shrink the size of government. Top Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California have pledged to slim government down to 2008 budget levels, a strategy that's been called "back-to-Bush." In early January, Boehner told reporters, "On September 24, we made clear in the [Pledge to America] that we want to go back to 2008 spending levels...There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it."

Problem is, no one knows where exactly House Republicans plan to apply the scalpel. It's not clear they themselves know where they’ll cut. The "Pledge to America" only calls for reductions to non-security discretionary programs; that means agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Homeland Security, and Defense Department would be exempt. The GOP's plan would cut non-security discretionary funding—the roughly one-third of government spending controlled by Congress, which excludes programs like Social Security and Medicare—by nearly 22 percent, shaving $105 billion off of President Obama’s $483 billion 2011 budget proposal.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 17, 2011

Mon Jan. 17, 2011 3:30 AM PST

U.S. Army Pfc. Nicholaus Jones, Chicago, Ill., 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, provides security at a landing zone in the Daymirdad District, Wardak province, Afghanistan, Jan. 9, 2011. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Sean P. Casey

US, Kuwait, and United Airlines Heading for Anti-Terrorism Clash?

| Sat Jan. 15, 2011 4:00 PM PST

UPDATE, 6:00 p.m. EST Sunday: Gulet Mohamed did not make it on to his flight, his lawyer says. Count that as a win for the US government, UA, and the no-fly list, and a loss for the Kuwaitis (and Mohamed and his family, of course).

Original Post: There's a looming confrontation between the United States, Kuwait, and United Airlines over a Kuwaiti attempt to deport to the US an American teenager, Gulet Mohammed, who has been detained in the Arab nation for several weeks and reportedly questioned by the FBI about terrorism. (His relatives and lawyer in the United States say he was beaten while in Kuwaiti custody.) Kuwaiti authorities plan to deport Mohamed, whom they have detained for several weeks, on Monday morning, they told Mohamed's family on Saturday.

Kuwaiti officials hope to force Mohamed onto United Airlines Flight 981, a direct flight from Kuwait to Dulles International Airport near Washington, DC, despite the fact that US authorities have reportedly placed Mohamed on the federal no-fly list. (Mother Jones has obtained a copy of Mohamed's receipt that confirms he is booked on the flight.) The key flash points will be around midnight Kuwaiti time (4:00 p.m. EST) on Sunday, when Kuwaiti authorities try to place Mohamed on the flight, and around 6:00 a.m. EST on Monday, when the flight is expected to approach US airspace. "We have high hopes that Gulet will be back in Washington soon, God willing," Gulet's older brother Mohed told Mother Jones in a phone interview from Kuwait on Saturday. 

Mother Jones placed requests for comment with the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security (which manages the no-fly list), and the White House. The State Department declined to comment, and DHS and the White House said they would first have to check on the matter. A United Airlines media representative also said the airline would have to review the situation before saying anything. A call to the Kuwaiti embassy in Washington was not  returned. (You can follow the latest developments in this story by following me on Twitter: @nickbaumann. This post will be updated with any major developments.)

Mohamed, a 19-year-old from Alexandria, Virginia, was first arrested and detained by Kuwaiti authorities last month. He says he was beaten and otherwise abused in custody, and asked questions about Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Al Qaeda propagandist who is supposedly hiding out in Yemen. Mohamed did visit Yemen and Somalia in 2009, but his lawyer and family maintain he was getting in touch with his roots and learning Arabic, and he told the New York Times, "I despise terrorism."

Mohamed is just the latest in a series of Muslim Americans who have been detained by foreign authorities while abroad, interrogated by the FBI, and denied the chance to return home because of their presence on the no-fly list. On Wednesday, Mohamed's lawyer, Gadeir Abbas, filed a complaint with the Justice Department, asking the agency to investigate Mohamed's charges that the FBI has repeatedly questioned him in Kuwaiti custody despite his continued requests for counsel and his invocation of his right to remain silent. Mohamed also says he was beaten by Kuwaiti authorities. Mohamed, his lawyer, and his family have suggested that Mohamed was originally detained at the behest of the United States—a charge the State Department has denied.

The Great Republican Purge

| Fri Jan. 14, 2011 12:13 PM PST

UPDATE 5:24 PM: Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus won the nomination for the RNC chair.

UPDATE 4:40 PM: Michael Steele dropped out of the chairman's race on Friday afternoon and endorsed Maria Cino as his replacment. In the next round of voting, Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus pulled ahead of the pack with 80 votes, needing 85 to win.

ORIGINAL POST: Officially, Republicans are meeting today to select a new chairman of the Republican National Committee. Unofficially, they are about to finally purge the party of any last vestiges of moderation.

The RNC's 168 members will decide the fate of Michael Steele in a major vote to select their next chairman. The election has been closely watched, as Steele has been highly unpopular in many corners of the party. The race is also drawing a lot of attention because, for the first time, outside groups like the tea party-allied FreedomWorks have sought to influence the outcome.

It wasn't so long ago that the RNC was headed up by former tobacco lobbyist and current Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who irked social conservatives recently by suggesting that there was room in the party for pro-choice candidates. Ken Mehlman, the RNC chair during the second term of George W. Bush, turned out to be a closeted gay man who has come out in support of gay marriage. But it was clear even last month at two debates for the chairman's race that neither Barbour nor Mehlman would have a prayer of winning back their old jobs today. In the last RNC chair debate, Steele, the lone black man, was the only one of six candidates who rejected a narrow view of the Republican Party. He argued the GOP has room for some ideological diversity and that it might actually need those voices to appeal to the larger American public. He's likely to go down in flames today, toppled by someone who has supported platform purity. Steele's ouster is being engineered by a host of conservatives, most notably Indiana RNC represenative and GOP legal eagle James Bopp.

Last month, Bopp, the longtime counsel to the National Right to Life, joined with the tea party group FreedomWorks to host a forum for RNC chairman candidates in a very public effort to help unseat Steele. Bopp did not support Steele in the last election because of his involvement with the Republican Leadership Council, a political action committee co-founded by pro-choice former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and other moderate Republicans who sought to make the party more socially inclusive.

Bopp has been on the forefront of a movement to shrink the GOP's big tent and ensure that it only supports candidates who commit to a fairly limited conservative agenda, and who notably also don't support positions in conflict with the RNC platform on issues like abortion. His activism in the RNC chairman's race is as much an anti-moderate movement as it is an anti-Steele campaign. 

Health-Care Industry <3s Reform?

| Fri Jan. 14, 2011 10:40 AM PST

The health insurance industry turned against the Affordable Care Act before the law passed, arguing that the onerous new regulations and reforms would make their business unsustainable. But despite its vocal objections, industry insiders now appear to believe that reform will help health insurers and other big stakeholders. Politico reports that industry investors are becoming more confident that President Barack Obama's health care initiative won't massively disrupt the health industry and is likely to bring insurers new business.

"There was initially a concern among investors that health reform would kill their business model. Now, that hasn't happened," one health care investor told the paper. The story continues: "[I]nvestors say they’re increasingly optimistic on health insurers’ future for two crucial reasons: regulations released this year have been relatively industry-friendly, increasing stability, and the health reform’s new business opportunities are beginning to look more tangible."

What's more, health-care investors and insurance executives at a recent conference barely addressed the House GOPers' health-care repeal bill, dismissing it as merely a symbolic gesture. Their working premise seemed to be that the major elements of health reform—including the individual mandate and insurance exchanges—are going to be coming on line as planned.

Such realities could undercut Republican claims that federal health reform will massively disrupt the insurance and health-care marketplace, with industry-choking regulations that bankrupt insurers. The health-care industry itself has remained largely mum in the latest round of this debate. But this might be an argument the Democrats can use—industry is not asking for repeal—when Congress resumes the repeal debate on Tuesday.