Congratulations to the United Auto Workers, who reached a tentative agreement with General Motors this morning and ended a brief strike that saw 73,000 workers walk off the job around the country. It appears the union received additional job security for its members in exchange for taking over responsibility for the health care costs of GM's retired workers. A union-controlled trust fund will now manage retirees' health care and absorb many of the expenses associated with that health care.

Far more information available here.

College Students: You've Been F#%'D!

Americans for Fairness in Lending (AFFIL) has gone YouTube in its campaign against predatory lending. Its new video bashes credit card companies for targeting unemployed college students and leading them on the path to financial ruin. Serving on the group's board, incidentally, is Janne O'Donnell, whose son committed suicide after running up $12,000 in credit card debt while in college. O'Donnell appeared in the recent documentary Maxed Out, whose director, James Scurlock, also helped create AFFIL earlier this year to promote the cause (and his movie).

Check out the video here:

(H/T CL&P Blog)

In an administration known for appointing one-time lobbyists to oversee the industries they so recently shilled for, and selecting other officials based primarily on their partisan fervor, it makes perfect sense that a fellow like Hans von Spakovsky would be tapped for a six-year term on the Federal Elections Commission. Which is to say it makes no sense whatsoever. Von Spakovsky, a recess appointee whose confirmation comes up for a vote today, previously oversaw the Voting Rights section in the DOJ's very troubled Civil Rights division. There, former colleagues wrote in a letter to the Senate Rules Committee opposing his nomination, he was the "point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division's mandate to protect voting rights." Among other things, they point to his support for an overly strict voter ID law in Georgia. (Von Spakovsky, for his part, has said the letter is "inaccurate and wrong.")

Prior to his coming to the Civil Rights Division in 2001, Mr. von Spakovsky had vigorously advocated the need to combat the specter of voter fraud through restrictive voter identification laws. In testimony before legislative bodies and in his writings, Mr. von Spakovsky premised his conclusions upon the notion - not well-supported at the time and now discredited - that there was a widespread problem with ineligible voters streaming into the polling place to influence election outcomes. In this same period, starting in 1994, the Voting Section had on several occasions reviewed other voter ID laws pursuant to its responsibility under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act, to determine if they had a negative impact on the ability of minority voters to participate in elections. Precedent from these prior reviews was clear: changes requiring voters to provide government-issued photo identification without permitting voters to attest to their identity if they did not have the required ID have a greater negative impact on minority voters than white voters because minority voters are less likely to have the government issued photo identification required by these laws.

Despite his firm position on voter ID laws and his partisan ties to his home state of Georgia, Mr. von Spakovsky refused to recuse himself from considering a Georgia law that would be the most restrictive voter identification law in the country. To the contrary, he was assigned the task of managing the process by the front office. Most disturbing was that just before the Department began consideration of the Georgia law, Mr. von Spakovsky published an article in a Texas law journal advocating for restrictive identification laws. Possibly understanding the impropriety of a government official taking a firm stand on an issue where he was likely to play a key role in the administrative decision concerning that issue, as the Department does under § 5, Mr. von Spakovsky published the article under a pseudonym, calling himself "Publius." Such a situation—where the position he espoused in an article that had just been published is directly related to the review of the Georgia voter ID law—requires recusal from Section 5 review of this law, either by Mr. von Spakovsky or by his superiors. No such action was taken.

(For more on von Spakovsky, Dahlia Lithwick has a nice rundown of his storied career over at Slate. Tagline: "He doesn't want Democrats to vote—unless it's to appoint him to the Federal Election Commission.") As it stands, Senate Dems have expressed concern over the nominee but have stopped short of signaling that they are poised to vote him down. Stay tuned.

Rappers and music executives gave testimony Tuesday at the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on "stereotypes and degrading images" in hip-hop music. Attendees were treated to a guilt-wracked Master P ("I just made the music that I feel, not realizing I'm affecting kids for tomorrow") and a mildly irritated David Banner ("If... hip-hop was silenced, the issues would still be present"), along with slimy CEOs, none of whom seem to have ever seen Martin Short's old Nathan Thrum sketches. Mostly, though, the hearings were about Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who managed to corral all the execs to his little show, proving that despite his liberal credentials (a former Black Panther!) he can exploit fear of art with the best of the conservatives, tossing in some accusations of damaging the black community for added liberal guilt.

To read the full post, see MoJo's badass arts/music/film/culture blog, The Riff.

The Washington Post reports that U.S. military officials are blaming the State Department for letting Blackwater operate lawlessly in Iraq:

In high-level meetings over the past several days, U.S. military officials have pressed State Department officials to assert more control over Blackwater, which operates under the department's authority, said a U.S. government official with knowledge of the discussions. "The military is very sensitive to its relationship that they've built with the Iraqis being altered or even severely degraded by actions such as this event," the official said.
"This is a nightmare," said a senior U.S. military official. "We had guys who saw the aftermath, and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib, and it comes at a time when we're trying to have an impact for the long term." The official was referring to the prison scandal that emerged in 2004 in which U.S. soldiers tortured and abused Iraqis.

Military officials also summed up how detested Blackwater is in Iraq:

"It's not necessarily a bad thing these guys are being held accountable. Iraqis hate them, the troops don't particularly care for them, and they tend to have a know-it-all attitude, which means they rarely listen to anyone -- even the folks that patrol the ground on a daily basis."

Pushing back, the State Department told the Post that the Pentagon has more contracts with Blackwater than Foggy Bottom.

Yesterday, the office of Congressman Henry Waxman informed the press that Blackwater indicated it was being ordered by the State Department to withhold documents from his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Here is the letter from Blackwater's attorney to Waxman's committee indicating the State Departmtent was ordering it to withhold cooperation (.pdf), and here is the State Department letter to Blackwater ordering it to not turn over requested documents (.pdf; it's worth noting that the name of the State Department Security Office contracting officer who signed the letter ordering Blackwater to stay mum is, in one of those out-of-central-casting events, named Kiazan Moneypenny).

All in all, the mercenaries who provide security to the US embassy in Iraq may be looking for their own sort of protection in Washington.

Supreme Court Enters the Lethal Injection Debate

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court began chipping away at capital punishment when it put a stop to executing mentally retarded people. Since then, it has ruled that sentencing juveniles to death is also unconstitutional, and today it decided it will review the hot button topic of lethal injection. So that's good news; the end of capital punishment must be near. Well, not so fast. What today's action and the landmark rulings over the past five years have done is to legitimize the practice, not end it. As long as we're not killing kids and people with an IQ of 50, then the death penalty doesn't seem all that wrong, right?

At the heart of the public debate surrounding lethal injection are the three chemicals used. The first one anesthetizes the individual, the second paralyzes him, and the third sets off a massive cardiac arrest. The sole purpose of the paralyzing agent is to mask a botched execution should the anesthesia not work, leading to a deceivingly peaceful death. But the court is unlikely to address this troubling issue and determine whether lethal injection is inhumane or even mandate a new deadly mix. Instead, it's likely to simply establish the standard by which lethal injection qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. That way states can make the proper adjustments to their execution protocols, and get back to the business of executing people. "It will clarify what the rules are, but it is unlikely to answer the question once and for all of whether lethal injection is unconstitutional," says Ty Alper, associate director of the Death Penalty Clinic at U.C. Berkeley's law school, which prepares its future lawyers to tackle capital punishment cases.

If nothing else, the Court's decision to review the issue will almost certainly halt all executions until a ruling is made. Oral arguments are scheduled for January.

—Celia Perry

It's Facebook day here on MoJoBlog! The two posts we've had about it today (here's the first) may be two more than we've ever had.

Here's the occasion for the second post: The candidate-based Facebook group that had the most members for many, many months — "Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)" — has finally been topped. And it's been topped by Hillary Clinton, but not in a good way for the New York senator.

The group "Stop Hillary Clinton (One Million Strong AGAINST Hillary)" has more than 418,000 members, which beats Obama's 355,000 members. And it crushes any pro-Clinton groups, the two biggest of which combine for just under 10,000 members.

So Hillary Fever isn't catching on with the kids. Obama's campaign is very aware of the advantage it has among this demographic, and has made it a crucial part of its Iowa strategy. From an internal Obama campaign memo that Marc Ambinder nabbed:

On a related point, polls consistently under-represent in Iowa, and elsewhere, the strength of Barack's support among younger voters for at least three reasons. In more than one survey, Barack's support among Iowa young voters exceeded the support of all the other candidates combined. First, young voters are dramatically less likely to have caucused or voted regularly in primaries in the past, so pollsters heavily under-represent them. Second, young voters are more mobile and are much less likely to be at home in the early evening and thus less likely to be interviewed in any survey. Third, young voters are much less likely to have a landline phone and much more likely to rely exclusively upon cell phones, which are automatically excluded from phone surveys. So all of these state and national surveys have and will continue to under-represent Barack's core support – in effect, his hidden vote in each of these pivotal early states.

Update: It was Rudy Giuliani's daughter's membership in the Barack Obama Facebook group mentioned above that tipped the media to the fact that she disagrees with her dad's politics.

Chiquita Banana: Tales of "The Octopus"

You may have read here (and here) before about U.S. corporations' shady dealings with Colombian paramilitaries. The next issue of Virginia Quarterly Review (edited by Mother Jones' contributing writer Ted Genoways) includes an excellent piece by Philip Robertson on Chiquita's dark history in the Colombian banana business. The new VQR doesn't come out until next week, but you can read an electronic version of Robertson's piece here.

Laura Dern as Katherine Harris?

Can it be? Variety reports that Laura Dern will don heavy make up and big hair to portray the former Florida Secretary of State in an HBO movie about the 2000 Florida recount debacle. Harris should be flattered by the choice. Gore campaign lawyer David Boies didn't fare so well. He'll be played by Ed Begley Jr., but HBO did show some inside-the-beltway savvy in casting hunky Denis Leary as the Democrats' little known get-out-the-vote genius Michael Whouley. The film is scheduled to air smack in the middle of the presidential campaign next fall.

(H/T Washington City Paper)

This is about as dumb as ol' Mahmoud's claim that there are no gays in Iran.

Civil war has been averted in Iraq and Iranian intervention there has "ceased to exist," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said yesterday.

From the Post.