Mojo - April 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 6, 2011

Wed Apr. 6, 2011 4:30 AM EDT

Members from the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team conducts combat jump operations from a C-17 Globemaster III during a joint coalition training exercise March 23, 2011, at Aviano Air Base, Italy. More than 1,400 personnel from the 173rd ABCT, the 8th Air Support Operation Squadron and Italian Army paratroopers participated in the weeklong event. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nadine Y. Barclay)

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CEO Pay Shoots Up At Expense of Workers

| Tue Apr. 5, 2011 5:00 PM EDT

Here's the latest on how much richer the rich have gotten: Last year, according to a USA Today analysis of corporate filings, median CEO pay jumped 27 percent. Compare this to the paltry 2.1 percent pay raise earned by the typical American worker.

Stock options have rewarded CEOs for layoffs instead of growth.

In general, CEOs did so much better than everyone else due to their generous stock options, which surged in concert with last year's bull market. Wall Street argues that there's nothing wrong with such incentive-based pay; it alignes the interests of corporate execs with their companies' shareholders.  But is that all that matters? UMass economics professor William Lazonick notes that a huge chunk of corporate profits last year came not from legitimate gains, but from downsizing:

The fact that CEOs’ pay is rising along with stock prices underscores the disconnect between pay and companies’ true underlying performance, Lazonick says. While companies in the S&P 500 boosted profit 47% last year, much of that was due to cost-cutting and layoffs, not from the creation of businesses and growth, Lazonick says. Revenue, a gauge of the money flowing into businesses for selling goods and services, grew at a much slower pace than profit — and ended the year up just 7%.

So in other words, a 7 percent pay hike for CEOs might have been fair; a 27 percent raise looks a lot more like profiting off the misery of the people who once worked for you.

GOP Rep. Simpson: For the Right Flank, It's "$61 Billion or Die"

| Tue Apr. 5, 2011 2:11 PM EDT

With a government shutdown looking increasingly likely, Republicans are blaming Democratic leaders for failing to come to an agreement on government funding for the rest of 2011. If House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the Democrats fail to strike a deal by Friday, the government will shut down. "There's no other explanation except that [Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader] wants to have a government shutdown and blame it on Republicans," Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

But other Republicans have made it clear that there's major resistance within the GOP itself to any compromise whatsover. Those Republicans have concluded that any deal that falls short of the drastic $61 billion in cuts that the House GOP is demanding would constitute abject failure. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) explained the position of the House's right flank to reporters on Tuesday: 

It's also clear from the number of people who have gone up at the microphone at our conferences that it's $61 [billion] or die…

Many of our constituents will think we've caved if it's less. Now the reality is if you get to $58 or to $59 or $60 [billion], then say it's just silly to not take a deal like that. But you never know. There will be some that will say, if it's less than $61, if it $60.5 [billion]—someone's going to say it's not enough.

There was a phrase coined for such posturing during the last government shutdown, when Newt Gingrich was speaker: the Perfectionist Caucus. And if Boehner has too many ideological purists on his hands, he won't have any choice but to shut down the government—or else risk being stripped of his leadership role by his own caucus members. 

This Week in Your Uterus (Video)

| Tue Apr. 5, 2011 1:23 PM EDT

Have you been keeping up with #uterusgate? Last week, Mother Jones told the story of a Florida Democratic state rep who was rebuked by House Republican leaders for suggesting that his wife "incorporate her uterus" to keep conservatives from interfering with her lady business. A progressive meme ensued: See Twitter's #GOPnames4uterus. But this week, the Sunshine State's right-wing lawmakers showed no signs of a U-turn in their war on the U-word. Here's the haps:

With Transparency Bill, Federal Government Acknowledges Internet Exists

| Tue Apr. 5, 2011 10:05 AM EDT

The federal government produces a lot of paper: memos, data sheets, research reports, and the actual legislation that makes it into law. Stuff that curious, concerned citizens should have easy access to. On, say, the internet.

Now Congress wants to help people access that data. On Monday, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-New York) introduced complementary legislative proposals in the House and Senate that are intended to improve public access to government records. The Tester-Israel Public Online Information Act (POIA, pronounced poy-ah) would require all government-held information that's already supposed to be public to be posted online. "By freeing government information from its paper silos, the Public Online Information Act gives the public what they need to participate in government as active and informed citizens," said Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation.

The liberated information will include reports on lobbying activities by government contractors, financial filings of high-level government officials, and information on the trips made by executive branch officials and paid for by non-government third parties. POIA also gives government agencies three years to prepare to comply with the new rules, and asks the Office of Management and Budget's "E-Government Administrator" to guide the rest of the government through the process. Since POIA will apply only to "newly created" government information, or data released after the bill is enacted, it puts less of a burden on agencies. Unfortunately, that means that vital, hard-to-access information that has already been published in paper form wouldn't necessarily be posted on the web.

Despite its shortcomings, Tester is proud of the bill. "We’ve got to make sure transparency is keeping up with technology. A little sunshine on government is always a good thing, " he said Monday. Israel shares Tester's joy at the soon-to-be-tapped potential of storing stuff online. "People across the country—from scholars to school children—should be able to see any public government information from the convenience of their computer," he said.

POIA is a huge first step towards a more open government. But its exemption of older records weakens the bill. Eventually, all that stuff should go online, too.

Is Medicaid More Popular Than Washington Thinks?

| Tue Apr. 5, 2011 10:04 AM EDT
Via the Kaiser Family Foundation/kff.org

With much hoopla and fawning press coverage, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is rolling out his 2012 budget plan on Tuesday. Though his budget's reach is massive, promising $4 trillion in cuts, critics have seized on Ryan's proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system.

As I reported in February, Republicans have been preparing for months to gut Medicaid by proposing a "block-grant" system that would radically transform the program and allow states to make major cuts in benefits and eligibility. The prevailing assumption inside Washington is that Ryan's proposal to privatize Medicare is far more politically combustible than his attempt to cut health care for the poor. And Democrats are already trying to make hay of his attack on seniors. 

But new polling from the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation also suggests that Medicaid is more popular than Beltway insiders might assume. Though public support for Medicaid lags slightly behind support for Social Security and Medicare, it's still robust: According to the KFF poll, only 13 percent of the public was willing to support major cuts to Medicaid, as compared to 8 percent on Social Security. According to Drew Altman, KFF's CEO and president:

Sixty-four percent supported "no reductions" at all in Social Security as a way to reduce the deficit, 56% in Medicare, and 47% in Medicaid, hardly the mark of an unpopular program.  Forty-six percent of independents and a little more than a third (35%) of Republicans said they would "not support any reductions at all" in Medicaid to reduce the deficit…

Fifty-nine percent of the American people said Medicaid was either "very important" to them or their families (39%) or "somewhat important" (20%).

Altman explains that part of the support for Medicaid comes from the services it provides for the elderly and disabled: though the program's usually described as an entitlement for the poor, seniors and the disabled make up two-thirds of Medicaid costs. But there are other reasons that Medicaid has such robust public support. Due to the economic recession, more families are on Medicaid than ever, with 69.5 million Americans now on the rolls. Altman writes:

[Medicaid] has become more ingrained in the fabric of American life than has been generally realized…Medicaid now covers nearly one in three children, with the recession driving many previously middle-income children onto the program, providing coverage their parents no doubt value.

So neither Democrats nor Republicans should assume that Americans simply will look the other way if there are deep cuts to Medicaid. With more Americans benefitting from the program than ever—and still hurting from the impact of the recession—there could be a bigger backlash than anyone expects.

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What's Hurting White America? It's Not the Welfare State

| Tue Apr. 5, 2011 8:32 AM EDT

Since the election of Barack Obama, right-wingers like Glenn Beck have made a concerted effort to craft a narrative in which whites are the new oppressed and reverse-racism, rather than actual racism, is the new great challenge of our times. CNN captured the zeitgeist last month, when it headlined a story, "Are whites racially oppressed?" (the actual article was far less hysterical).

Charles Murray, the libertarian scholar most famous for his book The Bell Curve, thankfully, did not go down that path in his "State of White America" address to the American Enterprise Institute last night. Instead, he focused on a set of social trends he believes "will end what has made America, America." Specifically, an ever-widening gap between what he calls "the new lower class" and "the new elite," which he attributes to the slow creep of the European-style welfare state.

He's offered a glimpse of this before, but he expanded on it at AEI: Essentially, he says, the four virtues that hold the key to American Exceptionalism—marriage, religiosity, work ethic, and honesty—are in steady decline among the white lower class, with destructive consequences. It's an age-old problem: the government gives you food stamps, and the next thing you know, your marriage has collapsed, you've quite your job, you've turned your back to God, and you're facing 5 to 10 for holding up a Piggly Wiggly.

"The parallel that keeps nagging at me is Rome," he explained, comparing the nation's current precipice to the classical civilization's conversion from a republic to an empire. We're not going to collapse, he says, but society will become a lot more stratified.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 5, 2011

Tue Apr. 5, 2011 4:30 AM EDT

U.S. Army Spc. Justin Lance (left) and Pfc. Tyquan Dozier, 59th Mobility Augmentation Company, 8th Engineer Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas, provide security during a route clearance mission in Zabul province, Afghanistan, March 25, 2011. Photo via US Army.

College Republicans Still Acting Like College Republicans

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 4:20 PM EDT

Here's the Dallas Morning News:

An SMU junior and chairman of Texas College Republicans resigned his post this week after a video was posted of him describing getting "hammered," "hooking up" with a young woman and calling political opponents a homosexual slur.

He also calls his political opponents "nerds," which, I'm told, is a word people used to use to make fun of other people in the late 1980s. The context is that this was part of an endorsement speech for Alex Schriver, a leading candidate for chairman of the College Republicans, who was so enthused by the speech he posted it on his website. Now, one of Schriver's opponents—presumably a nerd—has turned it into an attack ad, complete with scary background music and the requisite white-text-on-black-background. Witness:

This is more or less business-as-usual for the College Republicans, who for decades have operated as basically a training camp for future GOP operatives (Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff, and Roger Stone are all alums). Here's what Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote six years ago:

[W]hen I talked to College Republicans in North Carolina, I heard constant, ridiculous allegations thrown at rivals within the organizations. This rival had an illegitimate son in Tennessee, that one paid for an abortion for some poor girl from Missouri. When I asked an innocent question about a network of political consultants in Raleigh, one College Republican stopped me imediately: "Surely you must have heard," he said ominously, his drawl thick, "about them bisexual orgies."

For what it's worth, Charles McCaslin, the former Texas College Republicans chairman, has since apologized to any gays, women—and, yes, nerds—he may have offended.

Obama to Try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Military Court

| Mon Apr. 4, 2011 4:00 PM EDT
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in a Red Cross photo taken at Guantanamo Bay (left) and a photo (right) reportedly taken by US forces shortly after they first captured Mohammed in early 2003.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, civil libertarians hoped that Barack Obama would roll back what they saw as the worst of the Bush administration's counterterrorism policies. Obama fell far short of their hopes, and now he's dealt them yet another punch to the gut. On Monday afternoon, just hours after the Obama campaign texted its launch announcement to supporters, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that purported 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other suspected 9/11 plotters will be tried by Obama's version of the Bush-era military commissions.

So on the same day he formally asked America for a second term in office, Barack Obama moved to ensure that the Bush administration's Guantanamo-Bay-based system of two-tiered justice for horrific terrorism-related crimes will endure.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, popularly known as KSM, is not just the self-proclaimed "mastermind" of the September 11th attacks. He's also perhaps the most prominent target of Bush-era interrogation policies. He was waterboarded multiple times and held in CIA "black sites," where detainees were subjected to extreme temperatures, solitary confinement, extreme sleep deprivation, "stress positions," and a form of beating known as "walling." KSM's trial, civilian or otherwise, is sure to be among the most followed and most controversial in history—a true "trial of the century." And by opting for a military commission trial for KSM, Obama was putting a final stamp of approval on some of the central elements of the Bush administration's handling of terrorism suspects.

During the press conference, Holder seemed frustrated that the administration had been forced—by congressional maneuvering, political demagoguery, and public opposition—to change its position. After all, it wasn't supposed to happen this way. The Obama team originally planned to try KSM and his compatriots in federal civilian court in New York City, following a precedent that has led to the conviction and imprisonment of hundreds of terrorists. But New York's mayor and chief of police balked, and any remaining political support for federal court trials collapsed. Now, KSM et. al. will face a military commission in Guantanamo Bay—a system that has convicted just a handful of people, most of whom received lighter sentences than are generally handed down for terrorism-related convictions in civilian courts.

Many people believe that, if he's guilty of the crimes he's accused of—namely, the cold-blooded murder of thousands of Americans—KSM deserves to die. But the military commissions, even under Bush, have never sentenced anyone to death. None of the military lawyers at Gitmo have ever defended a capital case through to the penalty phase. And as Holder pointed out in his press conference, it's still an "open question" whether someone who pleads guilty in a military commission can even be executed at all. But hey—at least John McCain and Joe Lieberman are happy.