As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Good Judgment

It says something about the Presidential nominee of the Republican Party that the unctuous used-car salesman of a Minority Leader is tougher on corruption than he is. While Boehner has called on indicted Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Culture of Corruption) to resign after the grand jury came back with charges of fraud and money laundering, McCain has decided that he's going to hang back. This is fine if you're a potential juror, but not if you're a Presidential candidate who claims to have the highest integrity, and this guy is a member of your leadership team and a US Representative who's supposed to hold sacred the public trust.

McCain seemed surprised when asked in Indianapolis for his reaction to the indictment, choosing his words carefully, shaking his head and speaking slowly.

"I'm sorry. I feel for the family; as you know, he has 12 children," McCain told reporters on the presidential campaign trail. "But I don't know enough of the details to make a judgment. These kinds of things are always very unfortunate. ... I rely on our Department of Justice and system of justice to make the right outcome."

Look, McCain's running a national campaign, he doesn't need to be that up to date on the latest of every case. However, the Renzi allegations have been out there since 2006, and McCain, in fact, went back to Arizona to defend him at that time. So he's at least familiar with this, and yet he'd rather not presume any manner of judgment. That's because his judgment wasn't very good to begin with.

Meanwhile, emptywheel, as she's wont to do,
has put together a very good timeline of the Renzi case. It should be noted that Paul Charlton, the US Attorney who originally investigated this situation, was one of the 9 US Attorneys fired by the President in 2006. In fact, Renzi's Chief of Staff called Charlton's office and asked him about the indictment shortly before he was fired. So this could be some sort of vindication for Charlton, although DoJ definitely slowed down the investigation as much as they possibly could.

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The Value Of Leadership

Turning to a positive portrait of the candidates after that bit of negativity, it struck me that a couple of the newer themes that both candidates used on Thursday night at the debate have the potential to move the national conversation on those matters.

Hillary Clinton talked very strongly about eliminating the pre-existing condition requirement from the health insurance industry, in a new way. She said, "how is it unconstitutional for us to discriminate against Americans on the basis of race, sex or gender, but it's OK to discriminate against the sick?" I had never heard it put in those terms before, but it's surely a lot more powerful than the wonky term "guaranteed issue." Sure enough, Rep. Steve Kagen, (D-WI), himself a doctor, is sponsoring a bill called the "No Discrimination in Health Insurance Act."

This essential legislation will guarantee access to affordable care for every citizen in America by bringing an end to discriminatory practices employed by insurance companies who deny life-saving coverage to millions of Americans solely because of their pre-existing medical conditions.

The grim reality is our Constitution does protect you against discrimination, until you become ill. Well, my legislation puts discrimination where it belongs -- in the past.

Ending all forms of discrimination is essential, but it's also time we pull back the veil of secrecy and inject transparency into our health care marketplace. Shouldn't health insurance companies be made to openly disclose all their prices, so everyone sees the lowest price for insurance policies? Like prices for gas at the corner service station or food prices in your closest grocery store, every citizen should have the equal opportunity to pay the same price for the same product. It's called competition -- a uniquely American concept.

Go to your favorite restaurant and you'll find a simple solution for solving our health care crisis. They'll hand you a menu with a list of prices before you order.

This is just common sense, and when framed this way it's very hard to refute other than falling back on some kind of "socialized medicine" nonsense. Recission, the practice of retroactively cancelling policyholders, is not something that has a constituency. The $9 million dollar award to a female cancer patient who suffered from recission may put an end to the policy all by itself. But framing this as a rights and discrimination issue is absolutely the way to go. And Clinton's leadership in putting that perspective on display at the highest level makes it easier for people like Kagen to put forward this bill. For his part, a central part of Obama's health care plan, allowing children up to the age of 25 to be covered on their parent's plan, is being picked up by a number of different states.

In addition, Obama showed some leadership in boldly stating what we all know about Cuba policy.

And it's absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure. I mean, the fact is, is that during my entire lifetime, and Senator Clinton's entire lifetime, you essentially have seen a Cuba that has been isolated, but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms that are so important to the people of Cuba.

Donna Edwards was on Hardball this week and basically said the same thing.

If there's anything to be gained by this slightly extended primary season, it's that liberal and progressive ideas will be pushed more and more into the mainstream as the media focuses on Sens. Clinton and Obama. I'm worried that will come to an end in a series of divisive attacks at the debate on Tuesday. But so far, the net effect has been positive. And considering that negative attacks have become progressively less effective throughout this campaign season, I think that dynamic will remain.

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Not Going Gently

Hillary Clinton still believes she can win this primary (she can, though it's remote), and she's hitting Barack Obama very hard on the "Harry and Louise" mailer he's continuing to send into primary states.

"I have to express my deep disappointment that he is continuing to send false and discredited mailings," Clinton said at a press conference after a speech here, holding the mailings in her hand as she railed against them. "He says one things in his speeches and then he turns around does this. It is not the new politics the speeches are about. It is not hopeful. It is destructive."

She added: "Shame on you, Barack Obama. It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. That's not what I expect from you. Meet me in Ohio -- let's have a debate about your tactics."

"Enough about the speeches, and the big rallies, and then using tactics right out of Karl Rove's playbook," she said angrily. "This is wrong and every Democrat should be outraged."

Clinton is well within her rights to attack that mailer. I'm not pleased that Obama, instead of honestly discussing his fundamental difference on mandates, is trying to discredit them using rhetoric from the right. Clinton's plan has subsidies that would help people pay for insurance.

But come on. Democrats aren't idiots. Hillary Clinton's campaign put out mailers in New Hampshire claiming that Obama, who has a 100% voting record on choice, is unreliable on the issue, because of "present" votes in the Illinois state Senate that were at the behest of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. I have to say that is worse, in my view, than the Obama mailer. It misrepresents Obama's position totally.

Plus, it's hard for Clinton to take the moral high road when people she pays to be spokesman go out and try to stir up controversy over this:

The Hillary Clinton campaign pushed to reporters today stories about Barack Obama and his ties to former members of a radical domestic terrorist group -- but did not note that as president, Clinton's husband pardoned more than a dozen convicted violent radicals, including a member of the same group mentioned in the Obama stories.

"Wonder what the Republicans will do with this issue," mused Clinton spokesman Phil Singer in one e-mail to the media, containing a New York Sun article reporting a $200 contribution from William Ayers, a founding member of the Weather Underground, to Obama in 2001. (Obama's ties to the radical group first surfaced last week in a Bloomberg News article.)

In a separate e-mail, Singer forwarded an article from reporting on a 1995 event at a private home that brought Obama together with Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, another former member of the radical group.

That's really the lowest thing you can do. Bill Clinton pardoned a member of the Weather Underground during his term. Most, if not all, of that group has denounced their own tactics. The idea that Barack Obama is a domestic terrorist is just sickening, and the fact that the Clinton campaign and not some Internet yahoo would push it to reporters is worse.

This could all come to a head at the next debate on Tuesday. Clinton obviously believes that focusing on the differences in health care in the strongest possible terms is a winner for her. I do feel that she's being a little reductive in attacking mailers as "Rovian", when Phil Singer is pushing an "Obama is a terrorist" meme to reporters.

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White House: We Damaged National Security

The Boo! Are You Scared? Administration, trying desperately to get what they want from a Congress that has, unusually, not provided it thus far, sent their version of a horse's head in the bedsheets to House Democrats yesterday, telling them that the United States "lost intelligence" as a result of the expiration of the Protect America Act last week.

“We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress’ failure to act,” says an underlined passage of a six-page letter signed by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell.

The letter does not give details [...]

Current intelligence activities are not affected by the expiration for a year. But the government contends that new intelligence targets cannot be certified for surveillance, creating potential gaps in intelligence.

“Because of this uncertainty, some partners have reduced cooperation,” the administration letter says. “We are working to mitigate these problems. ... This uncertainty may well continue to cause us to miss information that we otherwise would be collecting.”

Now, first of all, that is almost certainly untrue, and we're well beyond the point where the White House should get the benefit of the doubt on these matters. In fact, we know it's not true. But for a second, let's assume that it's true. Let's assume that these "partners" have gotten all skittish that they're breaking the law by helping the government in their spying and they shut down their wiretaps (or perhaps, the government forgot to pay the phone bill, as has happened before). For one moment, let's assume that to be the case.

The Democrats in Congress voted, for the most part, to extend the Protect America Act (the sensible ones, knowing it was a brazen giveaway of civil liberties, didn't). Republicans voted against it and the Bush Administration threatened to veto it. And they blocked the extension for a very specific reason.

McConnell acknowledged last week that the White House's refusal to extend the wiretapping law was meant to pressure Congress to pass the Senate bill.

So, the United States has lost intelligence, then, as a DIRECT result of the White House playing political games with national security. They have fully admitted this. The President would rather protect the phone companies and endanger the country than protect the country and endanger a portion of the profits of the phone companies.

Glenn Greenwald has more from that letter sent by Mike McConnell and Michael Mukasey to the House.

In the letter from Chairman Reyes to which McConnell and Mukasey are responding, Reyes pointed out that under the still-existing FISA law, the Government is free to commence surveillance without a warrant where there is no time to obtain one. In response, McConnell and Mukasey wrote:

[You imply that the emergency authorization process under FISA is an adequate substitute for the legislative authorities that have elapsed. This assertion reflects a basic misunderstanding about FISA's emergency authorization provisions. Specifically, you assert that the National Security Agency (NSA) or Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) "may begin surveillance immediately" in an emergency situation. FISA requires far more, and it would be illegal to proceed as you suggest].

Wow, what a blockbuster revelation. Apparently, as it turns out, in the United States it's "illegal" for the Government to eavesdrop on Americans without first complying with the requirements of FISA. Who would have known? It's a good thing we don't have a Government that would ever do that, or a Congress that would ever tolerate such "illegal" behavior. And it's so moving to hear the Bush administration earnestly explain that they are so hamstrung by FISA's requirements that we are all deeply vulnerable to the Terrorists, but they have no choice but to comply with its burdensome provisions -- because to do otherwise would be "illegal." [...]

Since Mike Mukasey himself just said in this letter that spying outside of FISA is "illegal," and since it's indisputable that the Bush administration did just that for years, doesn't that compel him as Attorney General to commence a criminal investigation into this "illegal" conduct?

It's really an open and shut case, should anyone want to prosecute it. The warrantless spying program was illegal when it was enacted, as surely as it's illegal right now. Not only do House Democrats need to hold firm and let the White House scream all they want, but the next Administration needs to open a criminal investigation into every top official who authorized the clearly illegal spying program. I have no faith that this will happy, sadly.

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It's The Lying, It's The Favors

The John McCain/lobbyist story has officially jumped into a serious issue, at least in the eyes of the print media. While St. Maverick is certainly caught in a lie over his blanket denial of writing letters to the FCC on behalf of Paxson Communications, now there are questions over another FCC letter.

WASHINGTON — In late 1998, Senator John McCain sent an unusually blunt letter to the head of the Federal Communications Commission, warning that he would try to overhaul the agency if it closed a broadcast ownership loophole.

The letter, and two later ones signed by Mr. McCain, then chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, urged the commission to abandon plans to close a loophole vitally important to Glencairn Ltd., a client of Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist. The provision enabled one of the nation’s largest broadcasting companies, Sinclair, to use a marketing agreement with Glencairn, a far smaller broadcaster, to get around a restriction barring single ownership of two television stations in the same city.

Sinclair Broadcasting, as we know, is the right-wing media company that made "Stolen Honor," the documentary hit job on John Kerry in 2004. They broadcast it over all their television stations, and at the time John McCain lamented the documentary as a result of media consolidation. Yet here we have him writing letters to keep exactly that kind of media consolidation in place.

(He really should have gone further, by the way, since his military honor is going to come into question as the campaign goes on.)

Emptywheel has the definitive take on this story, and highlights this point:

For its part, Glencairn appeared to have been getting little support in Congress until it retained Ms. Iseman in 1998.

Edwin Edwards, who was the president of the company at the time, said in a recent interview that after retaining Ms. Iseman, he was able to get heard by Mr. McCain.

“We were pounding the pavement in Washington,” Mr. Edwards said. “We recruited help from as many people as we could. We knocked on every door just trying to get support.”

Iseman certainly had the ability to get McCain to do what was beneficial for her clients. The right can try to make this all about sex, but it's really gone well beyond that. This is about Maverick McReform-O-Straight Talk doing favors for corporate interests. All the time.

Not to mention that he's scamming the public financing system, reducing his credibility even further.

Republican Sen. John McCain might well ride out his standoff with federal regulators over his withdrawal from public financing for the primaries.

The contretemps, however, could haunt him in the general election.

The Federal Election Commission's decision to challenge McCain has forced the Arizona senator and likely Republican presidential nominee to defy the government's top campaign finance regulator in an area of law that McCain himself has helped seed with regulations.

His defiance, legally defensible or not, threatens to strip him of the moral high ground he needs to level the financial playing field for the general election.

McCain's defiance of the FEC, if rulings eventually go against him, carry JAIL TERMS of up to five years. Which of course he knows, since he WROTE THE LAW.

Then there are the confluence of interests between McCain, Iseman's lobbying firm, Carnival Cruise Lines (who leased ships to FEMA under a no-bid contract to house rescue workers in the Gulf Coast for a ridiculously overpriced sum), and Jeb Bush. That one's complicated, but if you're interested it's over here.

McCain has a real problem now, one that's going to carry all the way to November. His integrity is in serious question, and he's building a habit of lying to the press, which is breaking down the firewall he nromally holds, where the media won't report on him critically.

Expect many, many more of these stories.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Good Enough For Me

This is an endorsement that matters.

Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, a progressive icon who briefly considered seeking the Democratic presidential nomination himself, said he voted in Tuesday's Wisconsin primary for Barack Obama.

Asked directly about his choice, Feingold answered directly.

"I voted for Barack Obama," said the senator, who indicated that he was "extremely likely" to cast his superdelegate vote at the Democratic National Convention for his colleague from Illinois [...]

"I really do think that, at the gut level, this is a chance to do something special," Feingold said of the Obama campaign and the potential of an Obama presidency, which he said has "enormous historical opportunities for America and for our relationship with the world."

I would have worked for Russ Feingold if he entered the Presidential race. So his vote carries a lot of weight with me. Not that I was on the fence; I cast my vote for Obama on February 5. But Feingold's blessing helps me in thinking about my decision.

This also speaks to Obama's ability to work with a Democratic Senate. David Sirota's article in In These Times explains how a Democratic President interacts with the Congress will define their legacy.

Clinton has promised to be a “hands-on” president and criticized Obama for being vague about his policy prescriptions—a surefire sign that her administration would mean heavy executive branch influence over Congress. As political theorist James David Barber might say, Clinton would be an “active” archetype, involved in the most granular details of the legislative process.

In and of itself, this is not a negative. Passing some of American history’s most important legislation has required such presidential engagement, from the New Deal program of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the landmark bills of the ’60s shepherded through Congress by Lyndon Johnson [...]

The Nation’s Chris Hayes recently wrote that Obama’s overarching “diagnosis of what’s wrong with politics is the way it is conducted rather than for whom.” Put another way, it’s not the “what” but the “how.” Fix how politics is waged—build a “working majority,” as Obama says—and solutions to big problems will come.

This is a theme of famed activist Saul Alinsky, whose community organizations Obama worked with as a young man in Chicago.

As Alinsky wrote in Rules for Radicals, the best organizers possess “a belief that if people have the power to act in the long run, they will, most of the time, reach the right decisions.” A President Obama would probably apply such a principle to Congress.

I truly believe that Obama's method would work best, especially if he gives people like Russ Feingold room to run. Obama is interested in setting the agenda, and letting experienced legislators who are familiar with the details work the bills, and then put into law things that are "more progressive than he is," as Sirota says.

On a completely different note, why wouldn't Tavis Smiley just back up this State of the Black Union event by two weeks, holding it right before the Mississippi primary? It would have been far more intelligent than to chide Obama for not doing all he can to win the Texas and Ohio primaries.

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Bud Paxson has now officially contradicted St. Maverick on his blanket statement that he never met with the broadcasting mogul, which of course was already contradicted by John McCain himself in a sworn deposition.

Broadcaster Lowell "Bud" Paxson today contradicted statements from Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign that the senator did not meet with Paxson or his lobbyist before sending two controversial letters to the Federal Communications Commission on Paxson's behalf.

Paxson said he talked with McCain in his Washington office several weeks before the Arizona Republican wrote the letters to the FCC urging a rapid decision on Paxson's quest to acquire a Pittsburgh television station.

Paxson also recalled that his lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, attended the meeting in McCain's office and that Iseman helped arrange the meeting. "Was Vicki there? Probably," Paxson said in an interview with The Washington Post today. "The woman was a professional. She was good. She could get us meetings."

Of course she could get meetings with John McCain. The man has a soft spot for lobbyists. And it's something when your alibi is "But I never show up for work!"

"Senator McCain was actively engaged in a presidential campaign in 1999-2000, and according to his calendar, the last day he conducted business in the Senate was November 8, 1999, and was frequently absent from the Senate prior to that date," the statement said.

"He returned to the Senate the night of November 19, 1999, for one hour to participate in a budget vote, and the Senate adjourned shortly thereafter on November 22, 1999. Between November 22, 1999 and Christmas, the Senator did not return to the Senate for any substantive meetings as he was involved in a national book tour and a presidential campaign."

Why should I be impressed that you were on a book tour instead of doing your job?

So now here's yet another drip of the faucet, with McCain absolutely caught in a lie, contradicted by everybody involved. And of course, the scenario of McCain doing favors for corporate interests who contributed to his campaigns and let him use the corporate jet is a wormhole into his long history of close involvement with lobbyists. Whatever he did with Iseman, she was certainly around the 2000 campaign, bragging about her access, and told to put and end to it (by named source John Weaver). McCain was holding fundraisers arranged by the lobbying firm aboard the yacht from a cruise line they represented (and he sponsored bills to deregulate the cruise line industry around that same time). And this isn't just a side issue from 2000, it's basically the same setup right now. He has more lobbyists raising money for him than any Presidential candidate. He has more lobbyists on staff than any Presidential candidate. And while he defended them in comments today, these aren't people who represent the poor or the environment or Constitutional rights. They're folks like Charlie Black, the guy who runs his lobbying shop out of the back of the Straight Talk Express bus (no lie).

Among the loudest McCain mouthpieces is Charlie Black, a seasoned Republican operative whose client roster dates back to such paragons as the late Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos and several African dictators, and more recently has featured Erik Prince, the mercenary entrepreneur who founded Blackwater. (Black's wife is a lobbyist too, and his firm, known as BKSH, is owned by Burson-Marsteller, the enormous P.R. conglomerate chaired by Hillary Clinton's top campaign advisor, Mark Penn.) McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, is also a lobbyist, whose client interests in the broadcasting and cable industry overlapped with those represented by Iseman and her firm, Alcalde & Fay. During the off years between presidential elections, Davis collected donations from companies regulated by the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by his boss McCain, for the amusingly named "Reform Institute," which also paid handsome sinecures to Davis and various other McCain campaign consultants. McCain's chief fundraiser is Tom Loeffler, a prominent lobbyist and former Texas congressman whose clients range from PhRMA to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The print media is aggressively reporting this story, as the broadcast media tries to hold back the floodgates. The New York Times deserves some criticism for leading with the sex angle and going with sourcing that is a little thin. But all of these allegations about McCain's lobbyist ties have been out there for some time. They even got printed every so often, but always on the back pages of the paper. It took a bombshell to get most of the media to take notice. Now that they have, we can all see that the sex angle really doesn't have much to do with the fact that Mr. Reform, Mr. Straight Talk, Mr. Maverick, is actually just Mr. John McSame, another Republican crook who rewards those who reward him. And wait until they get to the defense contracts he's shoveled to constituents in Arizona.

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The Continuing Story Of California's Worst Law

This is the impact of lawmaking by emotion instead of reason. Jessica's Law, the initiative passed by the voters in 2006, could increase the risk of crime. No one could have anticipated that, right? I mean, when you force ex-cons to sleep under bridges and give them no hope of rehabilitation, and you hobble police departments and sap their ability to actually track sex offenders, how could crime go up, right?

In the 15 months since voters approved Jessica's Law, which restricts where paroled offenders may live and requires electronic monitoring of their whereabouts, the state has recorded a 44% increase in those registered as transients, according to a report released by California's Sex Offender Management Board.

The law prohibits ex-offenders from living within 2,000 feet of places where children gather, but it lacks adequate definitions of such places, the report says. And in some counties and cities, the law's residency restrictions make large swaths of housing off-limits.

Unresolved questions about major parts of the law make it impossible to determine whether the state is safer now from sex offenders, panel member said. Some said the law could be making things worse.

Tom Tobin, the board's vice-chairman and a psychologist, said that homelessness removes offenders from their support systems, such as family members, which increases the chances they will commit new crimes.

"I see homelessness as increasing overall risk to public safety, and as a very, very undesirable consequence of probably a well-intended law," he said.

While I don't necessarily agree with the connection between homelessness and public safety, certainly THIS kind of homelessness, of former sex offenders, is not desirable. But it falls along the same stupid, shortsighted, Tough On Crime (tm) policies we've seen in California for 30 years. We extend sentences longer and longer and then try to build our way out of the inevitable overcrowding problem (by the way, that building plan was wildly optimistic; they're now talking about 6,900 less beds and a longer time to get them constructed); we punish sex offenders with an unrealistic law that actually endangers the state's citizens instead of protects them. This is the legacy of a failure of leadership.

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My Friends

This is some good stuff from Brave New Films.

While Chris Matthews tried to join McCain in "moving on" today and putting the focus on the NY Times instead of the lobbyist issue, other outlets actually haven't. This is starting to have legs, despite the best efforts of some in the traditional media (of all people to assail the credibility of the media, you get Armstrong "Paid In Full By The Department Of Education" Williams? Seriously?). McCain's been getting a free ride from the media for years; he literally can get away with stuff that no other politician can. Yglesias spells it out pretty well:

One thing reporters like about McCain is that he offers shoot-from-the-hip statements on topics that come up in discussions. Reporters like this for good reason -- the carefully worded, artfully hedged statements in which the vast majority of politicians speak nowadays is really annoying. That said, politicians don't talk like that because they're all douchebags, they talk like that because that's how you have to talk. If you make the slightest slip-up or misstatement, the press will pounce all over you.

Unless, that is, you're John McCain. If you're John McCain you can make an obviously false statement like claiming you've "never done favors for special interests or lobbyists" or saying that "no representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC" when you yourself said in the past that you'd been contacted by Paxson and the press just lets it slide. Why? Because they like him. But they like him because he's spontaneous. But he's spontaneous because they let him get away with this stuff. And they let him get away with it because they like him. It's what makes him such a formidable political figure -- he can run around doing things no other politicians could get away with and actually attract praise for it.

But when the straight talk reformer shuns the media and runs a campaign dominated by lobbyists, suddenly the McCain Rules go out the window. This is extremely damaging, and while the media is split over it for now, some are waking up.

David Brooks actually has a pretty good column about this issue today.

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TV Alert

They buried it on the same night as the Oscars, but 60 Minutes will be airing the Don Siegelman story on Sunday. Siegelman, the Democratic former governor of Alabama, is sitting in a jail cell right now for trumped-up reasons, almost certainly orchestrated by Karl Rove and his charges. Jill Simpson, a former Republican campaign worker, has powerful evidence of this travesty of justice, and she'll go on the record in the story:

A former Republican campaign worker claims that President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, asked her to find evidence that the Democratic governor of Alabama at the time was cheating on his wife, according to an upcoming broadcast of "60 Minutes."

Jill Simpson, who has long alleged that Rove may have influenced the corruption prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman, makes the claim against Rove in a broadcast scheduled to be aired Sunday, according to a statement from CBS.

Simpson testified to congressional investigators last year that she overheard conversations among Republicans in 2002 indicating that Rove was involved in the Justice Department's prosecution of Siegelman. She has never before said that Rove pressed her for evidence of marital infidelity in spite of testifying to congressional lawyers last year, submitting a sworn affidavit and speaking extensively with reporters [...]

According to the CBS statement, Simpson says Rove approached her at a 2001 meeting, when Siegelman was still governor.

"Karl Rove asked you to take pictures of Siegelman?" reporter Scott Pelley asks.

"Yes," Simpson replies.

"In a compromising sexual position with one of his aides," Pelley says.

"Yes, if I could," she responds.

Simpson said she is speaking out because Siegelman's seven-year sentence on corruption charges bothers her, the release said. She said she found no evidence of an affair.

Karl Rove has dodged a lot of bullets in his day, but the entire operation is on the line with this Siegelman story. This involves the US Attorneys scandal, as the real meaning of that scandal was about directing federal prosecutors to bring charges against Democrats and politicize the Justice Department. It involves Rove's project to build a permanent Republican majority through implementing all of the federal agencies at his disposal. It involves the entire impetus of the Bush White House. Kagro X has a fantastic post detailing the implications here.

This really demonstrates the lengths to which Bush-Cheney's hyper-politicized Department of Justice can go. If they can railroad the actual governor of a state into prison and have pretty much nobody really sit up and take notice, what does that say about the extent of the damage to the country? Not just the DOJ (which is a goner), but about the supposed watchdogs of the media, who've been in large part either cowed into silence, or distracted by an endless stream of shiny objects?

Seriously, this means they can do this to anybody.

But worse than that, it means that anybody who finds themselves under scrutiny by the federal government now has license to charge that they're being politically targeted. Because if this can happen as Horton describes it happening, all bets are off. It has all the ingredients of the complete and total undoing of all federal law enforcement capability for the foreseeable future [...]

That's the true measure of the damage the Bush-Cheney "administration" has caused. It's no longer just your basic looting of the Treasury. Dollar-based corruption we at least understand. But corruption of the actual mechanisms of the government itself? Corruption not meant to enrich, but to corrode public trust in the only system we have for actually holding corrupt officials to account?

We're now looking at federal law enforcement so grossly politicized that even a landslide victory for the opposition party might not be able to root the corruption out.

I'll be TiVoing on Sunday night. You should too. 52 former state Attorneys General have signed letters in support of re-opening the Siegelman case and investigating the politicization. You should do what you can to help them.

... I should add that this is something that Digby talks about a lot: the right appropriating the critiques of the left. You can bet that if a President Obama or President Clinton tries to get rid of some corrupt Republicans buried deep inside the federal agencies, the bloody shirt of "politicization" will be waved. They poisoned the well of impeachment to innoculate themselves of that potential action, they're sure to use "voter fraud" claims to try and illegitimize elections, and then this. It's something I hope we're thinking about.

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Friday Random Ten

Just had a Zweibel burger!

Subterranean Homesick Alien - Radiohead
A Boy Named Sue - Johnny Cash
No Attention - Soundgarden
Revolving Dora - Fountains Of Wayne
Else - Built To Spill
Sci-Fi Wasabi - Cibo Matto
Temporarily Blind - Built To Spill
Survival Car - Fountains Of Wayne
Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then) - The Decemberists
Glory Box - Portishead


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Here We Go Again

The wingnuts really never learn, do they?

Barack Obama gave an anecdote last night about an Army captain who had a third of his rifle platoon scheduled to ship out to Afghanistan re-routed to Iraq, and "as a consequence, they didn't have enough ammunition, they didn't have enough humvees. They were actually capturing Taliban weapons, because it was easier to get Taliban weapons than it was for them to get properly equipped by our current commander in chief."

The right went NUTS. They claimed it was a scurrilous lie. Trip over your favorite wingnut site and you'll find a denunciation.

Fact check, party of one.

I called the Obama campaign this morning to chat about this story, and was put in touch with the Army captain in question.

He told me his story, which I found quite credible, though for obvious reasons he asked that I not mention his name or certain identifying information.

Short answer: He backs up Obama's story.

The longer answer is worth telling, though.

The Army captain, a West Point graduate, did a tour in a hot area of eastern Afghanistan from the Summer of 2003 through Spring 2004.

Prior to deployment the Captain -- then a Lieutenant -- took command of a rifle platoon at Fort Drum. When he took command, the platoon had 39 members, but -- in ones and twos -- 15 members of the platoon were re-assigned to other units. He knows of 10 of those 15 for sure who went to Iraq, and he suspects the other five did as well.

The platoon was sent to Afghanistan with 24 men.

"We should have deployed with 39," he told me, "we should have gotten replacements. But we didn't. And that was pretty consistent across the battalion."

After Jamil Hussein, and all of these other freak-outs, you'd think they'd learn their lesson. What a bunch of morons.

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On the one hand, on the other hand in Iraq

On the one hand, Muqtada al-Sadr did extend his cease-fire by six months. That will save American lives, so it comes as a great relief, for the near future.

On the other hand, a foreign country has invaded Iraq. Which is, you know, another hand.

Turkish soldiers crossed into northern Iraq in their first major incursion in 11 years, stepping up an assault against Kurdish militants after two months of air strikes.

The troops moved in late yesterday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Ankara without saying how many soldiers were involved. Istanbul-based NTV television said that 10,000 Turkish soldiers pushed 10 kilometers (6 miles) into Iraq. CNN-Turk later said the attack involved a Turkish force of 3,000.

The US was informed of this, and is claiming that the Turks will take great care to only target PKK separatist rebels. Of course, our military isn't all that good at limiting collateral damage, I hasten to think how the Turks are at it.

This could end very badly.

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What $3.8 Million Buys You

Really bad spin and messaging.

The firm that includes Mark Penn, Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategist and pollster, and his team collected $3.8 million for fees and expenses in January; in total, including what the campaign still owes, the firm has billed more than $10 million for consulting, direct mail and other services, an amount other Democratic strategists who are not affiliated with either campaign called stunning.

I would never give Hillary Clinton a dime just knowing that Mark Penn would take a decent amount of it for himself. As The Editors say, "What an amazing gig this guy has. Never won anything, terrible at his job, gets paid truly exorbitant amounts of money for the privilege. He should be appointed head of FEMA."

I don't even know what he's doing for that money. Is he being paid for forgetting that there might still be an election going on beyond Super Tuesday? For getting smoked in GOTV? For relying on big donors so much that the campaign has to hastily assemble an illegal 527 just to keep financial parity? For the messaging of insulting Democrats in every state that won't vote for his candidate? I mean, Hillary's trying to downplay Texas now.

There’s been a lot of talk about what your campaign would do should it get to the convention. Would you commit today to honoring the agreement made earlier not to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations?

Let’s talk about the agreement. The only agreement I entered into was not to campaign in Michigan and Florida. It had nothing to do with not seating the delegates. I think that’s an important distinction. I did not campaign-- [...]

The press seems to have missed the distinction if that’s the case. The talk is that you agreed not to seat the delegation.

That’s not the case at all. I signed an agreement not to campaign in Michigan and Florida. Now, the DNC made the determination that they would not seat the delegates, but I was not party to that. I think it’s important for the DNC to ask itself, Is this really in the best interest of our eventual nominee? We do not want to be disenfranchising Michigan and Florida. We have to try to carry both of those states. I’d love to carry Texas, but it’s usually not in the electoral calculation for the Democratic nominee. Florida and Michigan are.

You can't just trash Texas Democrats and run a 5-state strategy if you want a working majority. 50% plus one doesn't cut it. Mark Penn doesn't get this. He does, however, get $3,8 million dollars in a month, which means that I'm in the wrong line of work.

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It Gets Worse For McCain

It's not the sex, it's the lying.

A sworn deposition that Sen. John McCain gave in a lawsuit more than five years ago appears to contradict one part of a sweeping denial that his campaign issued this week to rebut a New York Times story about his ties to a Washington lobbyist.

On Wednesday night the Times published a story suggesting that McCain might have done legislative favors for the clients of the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, who worked for the firm of Alcalde & Fay. One example it cited were two letters McCain wrote in late 1999 demanding that the Federal Communications Commission act on a long-stalled bid by one of Iseman's clients, Florida-based Paxson Communications, to purchase a Pittsburgh television station.

Just hours after the Times's story was posted, the McCain campaign issued a point-by-point response that depicted the letters as routine correspondence handled by his staff--and insisted that McCain had never even spoken with anybody from Paxson or Alcalde & Fay about the matter. "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC," the campaign said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

But that flat claim seems to be contradicted by an impeccable source: McCain himself. "I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue," McCain said in the Sept. 25, 2002, deposition obtained by NEWSWEEK. "He wanted their approval very bad for purposes of his business. I believe that Mr. Paxson had a legitimate complaint."

While McCain said "I don't recall" if he ever directly spoke to the firm's lobbyist about the issue--an apparent reference to Iseman, though she is not named--"I'm sure I spoke to [Paxson]." McCain agreed that his letters on behalf of Paxson, a campaign contributor, could "possibly be an appearance of corruption"--even though McCain denied
doing anything improper.

Is PAX-TV even around anymore? Never mind, that's besides the point.

This is really, really bad for McCain. He's now contradicted himself in public. This is the kind of thing the media loves to hammer, and today's stories prove that this won't go away. What's more, the FEC is basically telling McCain that he cannot walk away from the public financing system.

The nation's top federal election official told Sen. John McCain yesterday that he cannot immediately withdraw from the presidential public financing system as he had requested, a decision that threatens to dramatically restrict his spending until the general election campaign begins in the fall.

The prospect of being financially hamstrung by the very fundraising system he helped create is the latest in a series of bitter challenges for the presumed GOP nominee, who still faces a fractured conservative coalition as he assumes the mantle of party leadership [...]

The implications of that could be dramatic. Last year, when McCain's campaign was starved for cash, he applied to join the financing system to gain access to millions of dollars in federal matching money. He was also permitted to use his FEC certification to bypass the time-consuming process of gathering signatures to get his name on the ballot in several states, including Ohio.

By signing up for matching money, McCain agreed to adhere to strict state-by-state spending limits and an overall limit on spending of $54 million for the primary season, which lasts until the party's nominating convention in September. The general election has a separate public financing arrangement.

But after McCain won a series of early contests and the campaign found its financial footing, his lawyer wrote to the FEC requesting to back out of the program -- which is permitted for candidates who have not yet received any federal money and who have not used the promise of federal funding as collateral for borrowing money.

The main reason McCain can't back out is that he received a loan using the public financing as collateral. But the most interesting part of this is that the FEC would have to vote to let McCain out of the public system. But they don't have a quorum right now, with the nomination of four members held up in the Senate because Bush won't withdraw the odious Hans von Spakovsky from the position. The other three would easily pass the Senate, but the Republicans have made it an all-or-nothing deal. Who led the fight on the Democratic side to keep von Spakovsky off the FEC? Barack Obama.

What would be hilarious would be McCain going to the White House, hat in hand, pleading with Bush to drop his demands and ditch von Spakovsky so that he can get off the public system that he built.

McCain can deny the sex part of this, and wage war with the New York Times, and get all the wingnuts behind him. But he's been caught in a web of lies, he has lobbyists populating his entire staff, a member of his leadership team just got indicted, his image as a reformer is being buried, and he might not have a dime to spend for the next SEVEN MONTHS.


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Culture Of Corruption

Rep. Rick Renzi, a member of John McCain's leadership team, has been indicted on fraud charges regarding shady land deals in Arizona.

A federal grand jury has indicted Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Renzi of Arizona on 35 criminal counts including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and official extortion, according to court papers unsealed on Friday.

The indictment stems from plan by Renzi and an associate to benefit from a land-exchange plan in order to receive Renzi's support for necessary federal legislation, court documents said.

"It was an object of the conspiracy for Renzi to enrich (his associate) and personally benefit himself," the indictment said.

CREW has the indictment here (PDF).

Very little was known about Renzi prior to getting elected to Congress. He moved to Arizona only a year before his first election in 2002. He said he worked for the Defense Department overseas for a time but there's no record of it.

If he was the CIA's mole in Congress, he was obviously from the Dusty Foggo school of ethics.

The company you keep...

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It Shouldn't Have Taken Down Joe Biden in '88, Either

These YouTubes of Hillary's (very strong) closing argument at the Democratic debate tonight show how silly the whole plagairism/change you can Xerox issue really is:

This is politics, not literature. Everybody steals lines from everybody. Nobody really cares.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Howard Dean HAMMERS McCain on honesty and ethics

Right now we have two candidates in the middle of campaigning. They can't pay attention to the Republican opponent just yet. Someone needs to step in and fill the breach in the light of this brewing John McCain story. Unfortunately, the traditional media filled its rostrum with the usual wingnut welfare recipients and conservative standard bearers. No Democrat was brought on to discuss or describe the Iseman and Maverick scandal at all.

In case that ever changes, Howard Dean today, on the National Journal's radio show On the Air, offered the definitive template on how to handle this.

Q: So there is big news about John McCain -- the story that is in the New York Times, raising questions about his relationship with a lobbyist. This is a story the McCain people are saying is unfair and untrue. What do you think?

Dean: I have no idea whether the affair story is true or not, and I don't care. What I do care about is John McCain -- and this has been well-documented -- is talking all the time about being a reformer and a maverick, and in fact, he has taken thousands of dollars from corporations, ridden on their corporate jets, and then turned around and tried to do favors for them and get projects approved. He has tons of lobbyists on his staff. This is a guy who is very close to the lobbyist community, a guy who has been documented again and again by taking contributions and then doing favors for it. This is not a guy who is a reformer. This is a guy who has been in Washington for 25 years and wants to give us four more years of the same, and I don't think we need that.

First off, decouple the sex story (which is unsourced, lacking in merit and at this point a cheap shot) from the larger story. This is a scandal about a candidate who goes around with the patina of a reformer and a straight-talker, yet has spent 24 years inside Washington engaged in the same corrupt activities that have defined the Republican Party for a generation. Do that immediately. In the first sentence.

Second, connect the dots. The lobbyists on the staff (like his campaign manager), the lobbyists raising money for him, the corporate donations, the quid pro quo relationships, all of it needs to come out. Note that Dean doesn't get too far into the weeds, doesn't overwhelm with details, but he is extremely direct and clear and he never says "alleged." He says that the story on McCain is well-documented and it's sleazy.

Third, hit your opponent right at his strength. The Rove team attacked John Kerry on his national service. McCain uses his "straight talk express" image more than anything else. Go after that. Take him down. Because it's not like he has command of policy details to fall back on. He has 100 years in Iraq and that's it.

Let's look at some more of this interview:

Q: So are you saying that McCain, by virtue of what is spelled out in this story, has somehow suffered a hit in terms of his own legitimacy on the campaign finance and ethics issue?

Dean: Yes, he certainly has. This goes all the way back to the Keating Five Scandal and the S & L scandals, where he took a hundred thousand donations, rode on corporate jets and then intervened on Charles Keating's behalf -- and again and again we see this. We even saw -- it's so hypocritical -- we even saw that he is trying to harass Barack Obama about whether he's going to take public financing in the campaign, and he forewent his own public financing in the primaries after getting a loan, based on the idea that he might take public financing.

This is not a guy who is a reformer. He talks about change, and he makes a big deal about not being like Bush when in fact he is Bush. He voted for Bush's tax cuts after saying he didn't, and has been responsible for a $6 trillion national debt that our children are going to have to pay. He thinks we ought to stay in Iraq for 100 years. He thought it was great that the president vetoed health care for our kids under 18. This is four more years of George Bush, and I don't think the American people are going to buy it.

Now he's folding other elements of McCain's story - the Keating 5 scandal, the public financing double-dealing, the Iraq/100 years comment, the Bush tax cuts, S-CHIP - into this central critique of him being a phony, being more of the same we've seen from Republicans that has made us retch. This is so disciplined and on-message I can hardly even believe it. Dean managed to pack about 6 really good points into one or two paragraphs, and he wasn't overly detailed, he explained them succinctly and truthfully but never lost sight of the main point.

Q: Do you think that running against John McCain -- the Democratic Party -- that ethics is going to be an issue for him in this campaign?

Dean: Yes, because ethics is a huge issue anyway. People are tired of the incredible lack of ethics in the Bush Administration -- what we call the culture of corruption. I think they want somebody who is not going to do that any more, who is not going to mislead the American people -- whether it is on Iraq, or on lobbying or on taking public financing of campaigns, and who is not going to say one thing and do another.

Q: This whole matter, actually though, seems in a funny way to be helping Senator McCain, because the conservatives who were so skeptical about him now are rallying around him and saying he is a victim of the liberal New York Times. Isn't this a development that could actually wind up helping John McCain?

Dean: The conservatives are part of this culture of corruption that the Republicans have brought to Washington. Think of the Scooter Libby problem, the Alberto Gonzales problem, the Doug Feith problem. Think of all of the people in the Bush Administration that have had to leave office under a cloud -- Randy Cunningham, the Republican congressman.

Well, now it looks like John McCain is part of the corruption problem in Washington. He has done things that are legally questionable -- the Keating Five business back in the '90s -- but he doesn't seem to really have an ethical compass. He doesn't seem to have an instinct about what is the right thing to do and what isn't the right thing to do. He talks a good game, but he's just like all those Republicans in Washington have been for all these years, and I don't think the American people want a president like that.

Bush=McCain. That's what a lot of this was leading up to. McCain is running like somebody different, but he's really more of the same. And he's anything but a reformer; in fact he's caught up in the same culture of corruption that Abu Gonzales and the Duke-Stir and Doug Feith and Scooter Libby were caught up in.

"He doesn't really seem to have an ethical compass." That's the take-away.

This is maybe the best five-minute interview I've ever seen in my entire life. I think it's reasonably certain that... well, that no traditional media outlet is going to be booking Howard Dean to talk about this anytime soon. Because he's got McCain nailed. Dead to rights.
UPDATE: And the traditional media borrows the Dean narrative. A1 of the WaPo tomorrow.

Anti-Lobbyist Candidate Is Advised by Lobbyists

For years, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has railed against lobbyists and the influence of "special interests" in Washington, touting on his campaign Web site his fight against "the 'revolving door' by which lawmakers and other influential officials leave their posts and become lobbyists for the special interests they have aided."

But when McCain huddled with his closest advisers at his rustic Arizona cabin last weekend to map out his presidential campaign, virtually every one was part of the Washington lobbying culture he has long decried. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications. His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JP Morgan and U.S. Airways.

Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O Lakes, the UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae.

That's like a kick to the throat. McCain is getting defined before our eyes.

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If At First You Don't Succeed, Scare, Scare Again

So the latest on the FISA bill is this: the House and Senate were supposed to meet today to begin the compromise of the RESTORE Act, which has no telecom amnesty, and the Senate Intelligence Committee version of the bill, which does. But the Republicans took a walk and refused to negotiate.

"In what should have been a bipartisan, bicameral meeting, staff members of the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees met today to work in good faith to reach a compromise on FISA reform. As we have said, we are using this week to work on a compromise that strengthens our national security and protects Americans' privacy. Unfortunately, we understand our Republican counterparts instructed their staffs not to attend this working meeting, therefore not allowing progress to be made in a bipartisan, bicameral way. While we are disappointed that today's meeting could not reflect a bipartisan effort, we will continue to work and hope Republicans will join us to put our nation's security first."

So that extension of the Protect America Act which expired last week, which was such an outrage that all of us were going to wind up dead, in our beds, today, in fact I'm surprised there's anyone alive out there still reading, was apparently not important enough to forsake some political grandstanding.

Apparently President Me First and the Gimme Gimmes isn't allowing a compromise because he doesn't want a compromise. He wants the phone companies to get away with lawbreaking and that's the end of it.

Asked about a potential deal with Democrats, Bush said, "I would just tell you there's no compromise on whether these phone companies get liability protection." The administration says it needs the help of the phone companies for its post Sept. 11, 2001, surveillance.

Bush said his strategy for breaking the deadlock on the surveillance bill will be to keep talking about why it should be passed on his terms. "The American people understand we need to be listening to the enemy," he said.

Considering that nobody is paying attention to this irrelevant President or his little fearmongering games, this seems like a weird tactic. That doesn't mean it won't work - there are still enough Democrats, like North Carolina Senate candidate Kay Hagan, who can be frightened out of their wits into giving up crucial liberties (the preferred candidate to take on Liddy Dole, Jim Neal, gets my support for his stance on this alone) - but the President is operating under a different standard. He still thinks that he's the center of attention and he can whip out press releases filled with falsehoods and that'll be enough to send the Democrats into a tailspin. It still might be, but I'm with publius on this one:

In short, the GOP learned too much from its 2002 victory. Rather than seeing 2002 as a one-time victory based on unique historical circumstances, they’ve come to see it as a universal recipe for electoral success. In their minds, they can win by taking any national security issue on which the Dems are divided and embrace the policy that maximizes executive authority (or more precisely, Bush’s authority – I’m sure they’ll all transform into squawking Hayeks if Obama or Clinton win).

The reason the GOP embraces 2002 so completely is essentially the flipside of why the Dems avoid it – they were, shall we say, deeply satisfied by the results. Winning elections is nice and all. But what made 2002 so orgasmically stimulating was the utter decimation of their opponents’ spirit. It’s fun, I hear, to see groups of people you despise so utterly demoralized and shamed. (I feel that way when the Duke basketball team loses). For them, 2002 was like a first-time heroin rush – and now they keep trying to recapture that lovin’ feeling. (ed. They should watch more than the first 5 minutes of Trainspotting. Agreed.) [...]

These historical subtleties were lost on the GOP though. The lessons they took from the 2002 and 2004 elections were to double down on terrorist demagoguery. My ideological comradskies tend to view this GOP strategy through moral lenses – but the party was simply acting rationally. GOP officials thought fear and demagoguery won them elections, so it’s a strategy they returned to [...]

Today, the long-term costs of that short-sightedness are becoming clear. The 2006 election was the first clue, but it won’t be the last. Remember that, in the run-up to 2006, the congressional GOP had fallen in line behind a “stay the course” strategy. They didn’t care that Iraq wasn’t working. What mattered is that it kept their handy “you hate the troops/love the terrorists” strategy intact. But then, miracle of miracles, the Dems turned the tables and used “stay the course” as an offensive attack [cue 2001 Space Odyssey drums]. Because so many GOP candidates (e.g., the odious George Allen) had advocated that very policy from the get-go, the Dem strategy tied the entire party to the war, which made the candidates politically vulnerable.

The 2008 election is shaping up to be an extension of the 2006 wave – and for similar reasons. It’s no accident that the parties’ enthusiasm is so asymmetrical right now. For one, contrary to what its elected leaders think, the Republican rank-and-file aren’t idiots. They are profoundly demoralized by recent failures – and, frankly, by the second-grade level emotional appeals.

The Dems, on the other side, are simply reconfirming Newton’s Third -- for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When your electoral strategy is based on demonizing 45% of the country, that 45% is going to get pissed off and become more politically active. In this respect, the Dean campaign was essentially the first tremor of what could become an Obama earthquake.

If the Democrats have any self-respect, they'd let the FISA bill just die in conference. The Republicans aren't interested in a good-faith effort, obviously; they want either massive executive power or a political issue. The former is unconscionable; the latter DOESN'T APPEAR TO BE WORKING ANYMORE. This isn't leading news programs. There isn't a grassroots community dying for the telecoms to get off the hook. Republicans reached for the needle to get their sweet heroin rush and found it to be empty.

I don't want to get overconfident but if Democrats can resist the sweet dulcet tones of Jello Jay Rockefeller begging them to save his telecom buddies, they should easily be able to just drop this. And it'll blow away. And the lawsuits will go forward, and maybe someday we'll actually get to the bottom of one aspect of what the Bush Administration has been doing for the last 7-plus years. Thin gruel, I know. But also essential.

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Obama's Afraid To Debate!

Except they're having one, right now. From the opening statements, I think we're going to see another debate that shows off the best of the Democratic Party. They both sound great so far. As long as the race isn't David Axelrod vs. Mark Penn, or Daily Kos vs. MyDD, this is a very appealing duo of candidates. The race is extremely close in Ohio and Texas now, and this could be a defining moment.

If anything noteworthy happens, I'll update.

... Oh, won't the pundit types be mad, this is a substantive debate! Basically, both candidates look quite impressive. I do want to point out that Obama's answers on immigration have been really, really on-target. We cannot deal with the problems of undocumented workers coming over the border without reducing the economic distance between the United States and Mexico. The mutual benefit of having a Mexico that actually offers good jobs to their own people is incalculable. Obama also signaled his support for the DREAM Act, which would allow people who are in this country through no fault or will of their own, who have basically grown up as Americans, to get a chance to go to college and realize the American dream for themselves. Finally, he stressed the need of all Americans to try and learn another language, because in the "global village" that we live in those skills are paramount.

In a day where the Republican front-runner is defending himself over ties to lobbyists, this offers a window into the best that the Democratic Party has to offer. And it's very appealing.

By the way, Lou Dobbs was on right before this demanding that both candidates answer questions about the NAFTA superhighway that doesn't exist. (Eyes rolling) And this debate is AGAIN sponsored by the clean coal industry. (Eyes rolling) Don't expect any questions on global warming.

...CNN forces themselves into the debate and demands conflict! But Obama has been knocking it out of the park for the last five minutes. The crowd is with him like it's one of his rallies. If Clinton was ever going to cut him down a peg, it'd be right now... "this is the silly season... we shouldn't be spending time tearing each other down, we should be lifting the country up." OK, Clinton is getting harsh now. She calls it "Change you can Xerox." The crowd didn't like that. By the way, I saw a speech of hers today where she used "instead of family values, we should value families." That's from John Kerry's 2004 run. Clinton, sensing that this plagiarism thing isn't going to work, moves over to policy differences. The attacks just aren't going to work unless she wraps them in a policy critique, which is perfectly within the bounds.

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The Return of the CA House Races Roundup - Feb. 2008

Welcome back to the long-awaited California House races roundup! These things take up an inordinate amount of time, but I've finally found some, and I'm ready to go with this roundup. There's a lot of additional information, including Q4 2007 fundraising numbers, the turnout in the February primary offering a decent snapshot of Democratic chances in a particular district, and quite a few new candidates to speak about. I'm going to rank the top ten challenges to Republican-held seats across the state, as well as take a look at the two intriguing races held by Democrats. But first, it should be mentioned that the deadline for applying to run for a Congressional seat is fast approaching (March 7, I believe), and 4 of the 19 Republican-held seats in the state still have no challenger: CA-02 (Herger), CA-19 (Radanovich), CA-22 (McCarthy), and CA-25 (McKeon). This is especially distressing in CA-19 and CA-25, where turnout in the Feb. 5 primary was either even or favored Democrats. So anyone in these 4 districts: run for Congress! It's a résumé builder!

(By the way, you can follow all of the candidates in all these races at the 2008 Race Tracker.

OK, let's get into it:


While most of the 34 Democratic-held seats are safe, two are worth noting (actually 3; Minuteman member Jim Gilchrist is going to run against Loretta Sanchez in CA-47, which is hilarious. Apparently he'll campaign in between legal proceedings with other Minuteman members). One race has an upcoming special election:

1. CA-12 (open seat). There will be a special election in this district to replace the late Rep. Tom Lantos. The primary will be held on April 8, with a general election on June 3, the same day as the statewide Congressional and legislative primary. Candidates must get into the race by next Monday, February 25, so we'll know by then if we'll have a contested primary on the Democratic side between former state Senator Jackie Speier and reform advocate Lawrence Lessig, who has set up an exploratory committee.

Lessig, whose name has been bandied about in a draft campaign, has a couple Power Point presentations up about his plan to change Congress and about whether or not to run for Congress. I must admit to some degree of ignorance about Lessig in general, but he has a definite following among Silicon Valley types and the techno-savvy. He would run a reform campaign against earmarks and lobbyist money, and for public financing. Jackie Speier has spent the last couple months consolidating support in the district, however, as she was going to mount a primary challenge to Lantos before his death. She's also reached out to a lot of local bloggers, so I don't think this is exactly establishment vs. anti-establishment. It should be VERY interesting if Lessig jumps in, and either way we'll end up with a great Congressman in CA-12.

2. CA-11. Incumbent: Jerry McNerney. Main challenger: Dean Andal. Cook number: R+3. % Dem turnout in the Presidential primary: 53.9%. Jerry McNerney has fund-raised impressively (over $1.065 million in 2007), and his strong advocacy of the RESTORE Act over the telecom amnesty bill that came out of the Senate, gives me some degree of confidence that 2008 will not feature some of the same missteps as in 2007. I don't think McNerney will be able to draw on exactly the same activism that he did in 2006; but incumbency has its advantages. His strong environmental record, and commitment to constituent services give him a leg up. His opponent, Dean Andal, has put up some nice fundraising numbers (about $535,000 in 2007), but calling him a rock star is a bit of a stretch. The high Democratic turnout in the primary shows that the demographics continue to change here, and I'm confident that McNerney will do well.


I'm going to do three tiers in setting apart the top 10 seats where we have challenges to Republican incumbents.

First Tier

1. CA-04. Open seat. Dem. challenger: Charlie Brown. Repub. challengers: Rico Oller, Doug Ose, Tom McClintock. PVI #: R+11. % Dem turnout in primary: 45.4. A lot to report here. John Doolittle dropped out in January, and since then it's been a feeding frenzy on the Republican side. Former state senator Rico Oller jumped in right away, followed by former Rep. Doug Ose (who's already running ads touting his record on ethics, which is funny since he donated to John Doolittle's legal defense fund recently). And now there's the talk, which has gone beyond rumor, that Tom McClintock will jump into this race. McClintock, by the way, is from Thousand Oaks. So we have three carpetbaggers, coming from far and wide into the Sierras to try and take a Congressional seat, and here we have Charlie Brown, with a ton of money, respect inside the district, and fresh off a near-victory in 2006, who is trying to make positive change right now instead of waiting for November. He's giving more than $23,000 of his campaign money to assist organizations that serve veterans and their families. That's a stark contrast. So while a few people have written off this race, with the prospect of a bruising primary on the Republican side and our excellent candidate, I think Charlie Brown remains well-positioned to pull this off.

2. CA-26. Incumbent: David Dreier. Challenger: Russ Warner. PVI #: R+4. % Dem. turnout: 50.6. I get bullish on this race more and more. First of all, Hoyt Hilsman dropped out of the race, clearing the field for Russ Warner. Warner, who has raised over $400,000 in his campaign, can now commit that entirely to the general election. David Dreier has completely lost sight of this district and he's facing his first real challenger basically since he was elected in 1980. Now, it's not smooth sailing; Dreier has $2 million dollars in the bank. But look at that Democratic turnout on February 5. That excitement gap will continue at the top of the ticket, and Russ Warner needs to ride the wave.

3. CA-50. Incumbent: Brian Bilbray. Challenger: Nick Leibham. PVI #: R+5. % Dem. turnout: 51.2. Another piece of good news with that February 5 turnout. And there is almost fiscal parity in cash on hand. Brian Bilbray has raised $419,000, with $262,000 CoH, and Nick Leibham raised $211,000, with $188,000 CoH. This North County Times article lays out the stakes:

Doug Thornell, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises money for Democratic candidates and ranked the Republican-held 50th district as vulnerable, said party leaders were impressed by Nick Leibham, a Rancho Santa Fe lawyer challenging Bilbray.

In December, Democrats listed the race for the 50th Congressional District seat held by Bilbray as one of the top 40 to watch in the nation, in part due to Leibham's ability to raise campaign funds.

Leibham, an attorney and former criminal prosecutor for the city of San Diego, said his campaign platform includes addressing energy independence, global warming and a "timely and responsible" withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

For his part, Bilbray said that "When I'm in Encinitas getting my hair cut, the feedback I've been getting is great." Which is, you know, extremely sophisticated polling. But his votes against S-CHIP and on other issues could come back to haunt him. His fallback position is to blame undocumented immigrants, but we'll see if he can go to that well again.

Second Tier

4. CA-45. Incumbent: Mary Bono Mack. Challengers: Paul Clay, David Hunsicker, Julie Borenstein. PVI #: R+3. % Dem. turnout: 52.4. In this Palm Springs district, Mary Bono Mack, who likes to hang out with Judith Nathan, has only $219,000 cash on hand. That's more than any of the three candidates set to face her, to be sure, but that's dangerously low. Julie Borenstein is a former Assemblywoman who has a proven electoral record. I'm intrigued by the possibilities here, especially with that turnout number.

5. CA-03. Incumbent: Dan Lungren. Challenger: Bill Durston. PVI #: R+7. % Dem turnout: 53.1. That is the best percentage turnout in any of these Republican-held districts. Dan Lungren is a carpetbagger who found his way into a Sacramento-area district some years ago. Bill Durston has maintained a presence online, hitting Lungren for his environmental record and trying to get him listed as one of the League of Conservation Voters' "Dirty Dozen." Durston, a Vietnam vet, has an excellent public record on the issues. This is obviously a long shot, but 53% Democratic turnout? I don't know, running on getting out of Iraq and fighting global warming could be potent, especially with the top-of-the-ticket coattails. (I must confess that I do like Lungren's X Prize idea.)

6. CA-52. Open seat. Repub. challengers: several. Dem. challengers: several. PVI #: R+9. % Dem. turnout: 47.6. I still think it's going to be very difficult to challenge the likely Republican candidate, longtime Rep. and worst Presidential candidate ever Duncan Hunter's son, also named Duncan Hunter. However, Democrat Mike Lumpkin did raise $78,000 in 2007, which is not a bad number. Here's a story from DKos about the Democratic candidates in this district. Lumpkin is a former Navy SEAL who the diarist calls "the most conservative of the three" candidates (the others are Vickie Butcher and Jim Hester, himself ex-Special Forces). I'm pretty sanguine about our chances here, but I'd like to see what another Fighting Dem can do.

Third Tier (Orange County corruption sector)

7. CA-46. Incumbent: Dana Rohrabacher. Challenger: Debbie Cook. PVI #: R+6. % Dem. turnout: 47.6. This one actually has a chance to get interesting. Everyone knows that Dana Rohrabacher is out of his mind. His statements are routinely offensive and astonishing, and his ties with child molesters and even the Taliban are well-known. But he's never really had to run a tough race in his nine elections to Congress. Debbie Cook is the mayor of Huntington Beach, the biggest city in the district. She's running in this seat, she just announced at the Democratic Party of Orange County convention. If she can get the money, I think she has the potential to be a formidable opponent. Here's her statement of candidacy:

“Our nation faces big problems: a growing energy gap, a struggling economy, global warming, the escalating costs of health care, and the war in Iraq.” Mayor Cook said. “We need new people with new passion and new ideas who have experience working across party lines to get results.”

More here and here.

8. CA-41. Incumbent: Jerry Lewis. Challengers: Tim Prince, Dr. Rita Ramirez-Dean. PVI #: R+9. % Dem. turnout: 46.8. Tim Prince had a kickoff party recently and is organizing on the ground in the district. Dr. Dean is doing the same. Both face an uphill battle against Lewis, but it should be entirely focused on corruption. Lewis received more earmark money than anyone in Congress in 2007, despite being in the minority party, getting over $137 million for pet projects. He's still under an FBI investigation. There's still a lot of stuff you can pin on Lewis, it'll just take the right candidate and a lot of money.

9. CA-44. Incumbent: Ken Calvert. Challenger: Bill Hedrick. PVI #: R+6. % Dem. turnout: 50.1. That is an enticing number. Bill Hedrick needs the resources to compete. Ken Calvert is also under investigation by the FBI, and the Jurupa Parks district recently turned down a half-million dollar settlement in a case where Calvert profited from a shady land deal. Again, a lot of smoke. Hedrick needs to pick up on it.

10. CA-42: Incumbent: Gary Miller. Challengers: Ron Shepston, Ed Chau. PVI #: R+10. % Dem. turnout: 44.2. Ron Shepston is the sentimental favorite, someone who came out of the netroots to make this challenge against corrupt incumbent Gary Miller. He's built a campaign team (including some of those who helped Jerry McNerney defeat Richard Pombo) and is planning a lot of house parties. However, there's a primary challenger (Ed Chau) which will eat up some money, and the turnout number in the February 5 primary is worrying. Like these other races, there are corruption allegations that you can sink your teeth into.

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World Report

From time to time I round up global events in a little ditty I like to call "World Report." I'm going to write it for you now.

• There's little in the way of actual news coming out of Cuba, where the transition from brother Fidel Castro to brother Raul appears to be fairly seamless. There's some great commentary around the Web, however. Steve Clemons calls the situation a "historic opportunity" to change American Cold War-era policies with Cuba, lift the embargo and move toward normalized relations. Tony Karon discussing, in a fascinating way, the allure of Castro to foreign leaders, as someone willing to stick it to the Americans. And both Matt Yglesias and ">Ezra Klein synthesize these two perspectives:

"for good reasons and for bad ones, the romance of thumbing one's nose at the USA has powerful and important resonance for a lot of people around the world. Under the circumstances, it rarely serves our interests to get into dramatic confrontations with leaders who are far too puny to objectively threaten our interests. After all, what significance would Castro have without his superpower adversary? US persecution of the Communist regime in Havana is really the only thing it has going for it."

A corollary to that point is that the more unpopular America is, the more political appeal opposing us will have. So the more we do to stoke anti-American sentiment, the more we strengthen the domestic political hands of the very leaders we oppose. It's a vicious circle, and one the Bush administration has been pursuing with all the zeal of a kid who just discovered ring-around-the-rosie.

• In Pakistan, the two leading opposition parties, Benazir Bhutto's former Pakistan People's Party and Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League-Q, will form a coalition government. This puts even more pressure on the Pervez Musharraf, who is trying to cling to power with an assist from the United States. Meanwhile, the opposition parties want to enter into dialogue with the militants who have been stepping up their attacks, in addition to restoring a free press and an independent judiciary.

• Angry crowds in Belgrade, Serbia attacked the US Embassy in protest of American recognition of an independent Kosovo. Riot police eventually secured the embassy. This bears watching.

• Where have I read a story like this before?

An exiled Iranian opposition group has claimed that Tehran was speeding up a program to develop nuclear weapons.

"The Iran regime entered a new phase in its nuclear project," Mohammad Mohaddessin, of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, said Wednesday.

So you have an exile group that wants to overthrow a Middle Eastern government, hyping fears about a nuclear arsenal in their home country.

And it starts with an "I".

• Oh yeah, that's it, Iraq!!! It's unclear whether or not our troops are going to be having to dodge a larger stream of bullets come Saturday, when the deadline for Muqtada al-Sadr's cease-fire is reached. The LA Times says that the truce may not be extended, because US forces haven't been cooperative, particularly by bombing Shiite outposts and arresting Mahdi Army members. But Reuters claims that Sadr will actually extend the truce for another six months. So we'll see.

At any rate, the fact that prospects in Iraq are so definitively tied to whether or not a militant who seeks our destruction keeps his fighters off the battlefield is ominous, to say the least. Russ Feingold says a bit more.

Since the beginning of this disastrous war, people have asked me repeatedly why we are in Iraq, instead of going after Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. It's clear to many Americans that this war has warped our national security priorities. And top U.S. military commanders have started to acknowledge the same thing, indirectly, as they identify the serious threat to our security in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the strain that the war in Iraq is putting on our military force.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently warned that an attack on the U.S. will most likely come from al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan. This solemn warning, from the senior ranking member of the Armed Forces, demands that we focus our energy and resources on eliminating this threat to our country. The resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan is a grave threat to our national security, yet our military is stretched so thin because of Iraq that we don't have enough resources to address it. As U.S. military General George Casey, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, said, "The Army today is out of balance," and "We're deploying at unsustainable rates." [...]

The administration can't seem to get its national security priorities straight, even with the increasing threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. But Congress is to blame, too -- we've been sitting by and watching as the administration bungles our national security strategy. The administration has had blinders on for too long, focusing on Iraq at the expense of our overall security. We have to force them to take the blinders off and come up with a new strategy, one that focuses on going after the threats we face, not staying mired in the mistakes they've made.

I know that most Democrats in Congress have given up on changing course in Iraq, but Russ Feingold has a little more integrity than that.

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Filthy Lucre

The McCain campaign is using the Iseman and Maverick story as a fundraising tool. Which is to be expected. But the optics are terrible. The fundraising appeal is attributed to John McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis. He's a well-connected lobbyist trying to knock down a story about John McCain's relationship with a lobbyist.

-- Rick Davis arranged a cocktail meet and greet with McCain and a Russian businessman, Oleg Deripaska, so controversial that the US has revoked his visa -- at an economic conference in Switzerland. Davis' lobbying firm was trying to secure business with the Russian at the time, while the firm was already representing a competing political interest in Ukraine [...]

-- Mr. Davis, while working with the McCain 2008 campaign, also managed to procure a fat internet services contract from the campaign and kept lobbying for clients whose interests were opposed to McCain's own policy pronouncements.

Not only that, but there's a paragraph in the email that talks about how "objective observers" have dismissed the article as a smear job, and one of those "objective observers" they cite is... Bob Bennett, MCCAIN'S LAWYER in this case!

This is just sloppy pushback, and it doesn't add up.

A couple of things John McCain said at his press conference this morning didn't pass the smell test.

The first was when he said that the then-chairman of the FCC "said that was more than an appropriate" for McCain to have sent a letter to the Commission about a pending matter, one that involved a lobbying client of Vicki Iseman's. Paul Kiel tackles that one at TPMmuckraker.

The other comment from McCain that rang as false was when he said that he had not tried to get The Times to spike the story. He personally may not have, but his campaign staff certainly did, according to a number of reports, including the latest from The New Republic.

As a look at how the McCain camp responds in a crisis, well, it's a pretty good indicator. The right is rallying around them and trying to frame the story as "all about sex" and a spawn of the hated liberal machine as personified by the New York Times. Neither are true. But maybe he'll solidify the right but that was bound to happen. It's just a bloody shirt to wave so they can delude themselves into thinking that they don't have substantive disagreements with McCain. The point here, however, is that the bloom among independents, of this straight-talking maverick, is coming off the rose.

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