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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Obama Bowls for Pennsylvania Voters











ALTOONA, Pa. — While Democrats increasingly worry about winning ugly, Barack Obama was losing gracefully at a bowling lane in this central Pennsylvania city. He had better luck Sunday during a visit to a dairy farm, winning over a month-old calf with a fresh bottle of milk.

"My economic plan is better than my bowling," Obama told fellow bowlers Saturday evening at the Pleasant Valley Recreation Center.

"It has to be," a man called out.

Obama dropped by the bowling lanes as part of his new emphasis on low-key, face-to-face campaigning during a six-day bus tour through the state. So for two days, he scaled back the big, raucous rallies that have been his calling card.

The Illinois senator said he wanted to "take time for the retail politics that I enjoy and think helps people know me better. ... We'll probably save the rallies toward the end of the campaign."

Sunday morning, Obama visited a dairy farm run by Penn State, where he fed a bottle of milk to a slurping, gulping calf.

Obama laughed as the calf tugged hard on the nipple of the bottle, eventually draining it.

A large crowd later expected later Sunday for a campaign rally at Penn State.

The night before, it was Obama Bowl-a-Rama.

And it was clear from the start of the evening that Obama was way out of his league, certainly any bowling league.

Pennsylvania's April 22 primary is the next contest between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton in their fight for the Democratic presidential nomination. Pennsylvania is the biggest single delegate prize remaining in the Democratic primaries.

Some Democrats worry the hard-fought, drawn-out race is already hurting the party's chances to win in November and Republicans hope they're right.

"I think it's a good competition, but I think the Democratic party is going to be blown apart," said Mark Irvin, a 49-year-old Republican who was bowling at the same time as Obama.

Obama let everyone know he hadn't bowled since Jimmy Carter was president.

He shared a lane with Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr., who endorsed him Friday, and local homemaker Roxanne Hart. As the game went on, several small children bowled with Obama as well.

Obama and Casey had a private game of basketball earlier in the day, but they saved their F-game for the public at the bowling lanes.

On his first warm-up ball, Casey rolled a gutter ball. Obama's first ball flew well off his hand but also ended up in the gutter. On his second try, he knocked down four pins.

About five lanes over, a young man in a T-shirt that said "Beer Hunter" fell on his backside while bowling and still recorded a strike.

The crowd of regulars pressed in to take pictures, get autographs and rib him on his poor skills.

Obama did improve, nearly getting a strike in one frame, and in the seventh, picking up a spare, giving him a score of 37. Casey had a score of 71 after getting a strike, and Hart, with one less frame, racked up a score of 82.

"I was terrible," Obama laughed as he shook hands with a crowd that had gathered outside the building once word spread he was there.

Asked about his game, Hart sounded like a politician, saying: "He has potential."

Original here

Clinton campaign manager served on board of failed subprime lender

WASHINGTON - Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign manager, Maggie Williams, earned about $200,000 on the board of a Long Island subprime lender that charged prepayment penalties — a practice that Clinton, a critic of the subprime industry, now seeks to eliminate.

Williams, who took over the reins of Clinton's campaign in February, served as a director on the board of the Woodbury, N.Y.-based Delta Financial Corp. from April 2000 until the firm declared bankruptcy in December, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records.

She was originally recruited by former New York City Deputy Mayor Bill Lynch, a Delta consultant. Her assignments were to create a new code of "best practices," to improve Delta's relationship with African-American customers, and to improve the company's crisis management operation in the wake of state and federal predatory lending probes that resulted in a $12 million payout to borrowers.

Williams, 53, isn't the only Clinton insider who made money from an industry the candidate has demonized. A month ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that Clinton ally and former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros grossed more than $5 million in stock sales and board compensation from Countrywide Financial, one of the nation's largest subprime lenders.

Once a poster child for predatory practices, Delta's reputation improved substantially until its recent travails, as executives eschewed adjustable-rate mortgages for more stable fixed-rate loans, which have fewer defaults.

To boost revenue in the absence of high-profit adjustable loans, the company charged relatively steep interest rates — 11 percent in 2007 — and levied higher-than-prime-loan closing costs.

And Delta assessed prepayment penalties for borrowers who paid off before their loans matured — a practice Clinton frequently decries on the campaign trail.

"I would eliminate the prepayment penalties that lead to such high rates of default," Clinton said in a March 24 speech at the University of Pennsylvania. "I would require lenders to take into account the borrower's ability to pay property taxes and insurance fees when deciding whether to make a loan in the first place."

Subprime loans come with higher interest rates and are offered to borrowers with poor credit. That lending took off during the housing boom and is one of the underlying causes of the current credit crisis.

Williams downplayed her role at the company, saying, through her assistant, that she served only in "an advisory/oversight capacity."

In a statement released through Clinton's campaign, Delta senior vice president Marc Miller said Williams "did not have a role in the day-to-day operations and management."

Calls to Delta executives, board members and their bankruptcy lawyer weren't returned. The company's switchboard and Web site have been deactivated in the last few days.

Williams turned down repeated requests to be interviewed, although her assistant provided brief responses to several written questions by e-mail.

Asked if she shared her experiences in the industry with Clinton, Williams' assistant, Amee Patel, responded, "She generally does not discuss her business, board memberships or organizational affiliations with the Senator."

For her services on the board, Williams was paid around $30,000 per year plus expenses and granted at least 25,000 stock options, according to the SEC.

Records show she was able to cash in some of the options, realizing a profit of about $15,000 during a temporary uptick in Delta's stock price in July 2007.

"She lost remaining options due to the company bankruptcy," her assistant wrote in an e-mail.

A month later, in August 2007, Delta was hit by a sudden contraction of the credit markets and began a first wave of layoffs. By year's end, the company had laid off all but 50 of its 1,350 employees after bailout attempts failed and the credit crisis deepened.

Like many African-American leaders, Williams, who served as Hillary Clinton's top White House adviser from 1993 to 1997, initially had high hopes subprime lending would offer homeowning opportunities to inner-city families long stymied by discriminatory bank practices.

Speaking to Directors & Boards magazine in June 2000, Williams said she excited about offering Delta's home equity loans to working families trying to move into the middle class.

"There are people who miss payments and have bad credit for all kinds of reasons," she said. "It is a very middle-American kind of problem, although I believe it does affect poor people disproportionately."

In the article, Williams said her first tasks were building a new communications operation and learning the ins-and-outs of subprime lending from Hugh Miller, the company's chief executive.

"Hugh was really my teacher in all of this," she told the magazine.

If Williams was impressed by the Miller family, others remained skeptical of Delta's reinvention, with some watchdog groups arguing the company continued to aggressively market high-fee loans to low-income borrowers, driving them deeper into debt.

"There was some improvement after the settlement, but they were still the most aggressive company," said Matthew Lee, founder of the Bronx-based Fair Finance Watch, a nonprofit that monitors inner-city lending.

Original here

Alice Walker endorses Barack Obama

I have not seen much in the mainstream press about this, and it is a wonder to me that Alice Walker's interesting analysis of the race and gender dynamic of this democratic primary is published on the relatively new black site, theroot.com, and Gloria Steinem's piece was published in the The New York Times.

Alice Walker is no intellectual lightweight and in the feminist movement she is as big as they come. She is not "in vogue" in academic settings as much as she used to be and she spends most of her time traveling and meditating. But the Pulitzer prize winning novelist of The Color Purple has long been a dominant figure in feminist studies and singlehandedly created another school of women-centered ideology, womanism.

When I read Gloria Steinem's inflammatory piece in the NYT, my first thought was of Alice Walker. She and Steinem are long time friends; they famously worked together on Ms. Magazine. I wondered if Alice Walker felt as Steinem did and what her response to the identity politics of this primary would be.

I have a long love affair with Walker. I love her work, have taught her, written about her, and see her very much as a kind of spiritual mother to me. I wish the essay she just published on TheRoot.com had come earlier, though. But better late than never.

Here are some highlights:

When I was born in 1944 my parents lived on a middle Georgia plantation that was owned by a white distant relative, Miss May Montgomery. (During my childhood it was necessary to address all white girls as "Miss" when they reached the age of twelve.) She would never admit to this relationship, of course, except to mock it. Told by my parents that several of their children would not eat chicken skin she responded that of course they would not. No Montgomerys would...During the Depression, desperate to feed his hardworking family, my father asked for a raise from ten dollars a month to twelve. Miss May responded that she would not pay that amount to a white man and she certainly wouldn't pay it to a nigger. That before she'd pay a nigger that much money she'd milk the dairy cows herself.

Walker proceeds to make the point that growing up in the racist South, she was as much a victim of white women as she was of white men. By doing so, she implicitly undermines the victim vs. victim argument that Steinem put forth in her article. Walker is contradicting Steinem quite directly when Steinem wrote:

Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.

It's not that Steinem is wrong about gender; it's just that this is only a partial view of the question of gender. Walker explicitly makes this point:

It is hard to relate what it feels like to see Mrs. Clinton (I wish she felt self-assured enough to use her own name) referred to as "a woman" while Barack Obama is always referred to as "a black man." One would think she is just any woman, colorless, race-less, past-less, but she is not. She carries all the history of white womanhood in America in her person; it would be a miracle if we, and the world, did not react to this fact. How dishonest it is, to attempt to make her innocent of her racial inheritance.

As Walker so astutely points out, so much has been made of Barack Obama's race, while Hillary's race has been completely forgotten. In its own flawed and heavy-handed way,the media has attempted to historicize Barack Obama's blackness--demonstrating his awareness of a black nationalist sentiment of the 1960's, for example. Even Obama's discussion of race in "A More Perfect Union" deconstructs for the American public complicated issues about emotion, race, class, and American history. But no one has talked about the implications tied up in a white woman's rise and desire for power--as if to do so is to undermine the ways in which white women have suffered from sexism.

As I was telling my students yesterday, we have a problem with complicated identities in America. It is hard for black men to understand that they can be simultaneously the victim and the victimizer; tell middle class heterosexual blacks about their sexual and class privilege and they will try to combat that with how racism affects them; it is hard for any group experiencing oppression to understand that there might be ways in which they also have power and privilege, which despite their status as "women" or "blacks" or "gay and/or lesbian" might mean they wield some power over others. The same is true of white women who undoubtedly experience gender oppression, but are also able to wield their whiteness as a weapon against both black men AND black women.

As Walker notes,

It seemed to me then and it seems to me now that white women have copied, all too often, the behavior of their fathers and their brothers, and in the South, especially in Mississippi, and before that, when I worked to register voters in Georgia, the broken bottles thrown at my head were gender free.

She is clearly drawing a parallel between Miss May Montgomery and Hillary Clinton. And Clinton, whether she harbors racist thoughts or not, has shown herself willing to use race against Obama. The race-baiting has been written about ad-nauseum, so I won't repeat it here. But in our discussions of Clinton's race-baiting, we sometimes focus exclusively on the "subject" of race, i.e., blackness, and in this case, Barack Obama. We often forget that race is operating for Clinton too, in the form of white privilege.

Walker takes this racial discussion to a place that it has not gone before; she points out the ways in which we have viewed Clinton only through the "victim" lens of gender and not considered the full context of who she is. She cautions us against doing the same with Barack Obama.

She then goes on to contest Gloria Steinem's most inflammatory set-up in her NYT article:

THE woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity.

Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth?

This was Steinem's dismissal of Obama's experience. To that Walker responds:

I am a supporter of Obama because I believe he is the right person to lead the country at this time. He offers a rare opportunity for the country and the world to start over, and to do better. It is a deep sadness to me that many of my feminist white women friends cannot see him. Cannot see what he carries in his being. Cannot hear the fresh choices toward Movement he offers. That they can believe that millions of Americans –black, white, yellow, red and brown - choose Obama over Clinton only because he is a man, and black, feels tragic to me.

When I have supported white people, men and women, it was because I thought them the best possible people to do whatever the job required. Nothing else would have occurred to me. If Obama were in any sense mediocre, he would be forgotten by now. He is, in fact, a remarkable human being, not perfect but humanly stunning, like King was and like Mandela is. We look at him, as we looked at them, and are glad to be of our species. He is the change America has been trying desperately and for centuries to hide, ignore, kill. The change America must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people other than our (white) selves.

This perfectly captures what so many of us experience when we listen to Obama speak and when we interface with the campaign. I don't think Hillary is "all bad" and that Barack is "all good." Indeed, Walker goes on to talk about the ways in which she disagrees with Obama. I think both have some privilege (he has gender privilege, she has race privilege) and each of those things carry historical weight. Whichever of them ends up being the nominee, either one will see the aspect of their identity that is perceived as a "flaw," (his blackness, her female-ness) used against them and we mustn't tolerate it at all with either of them.

But what Walker calls us to realize is that we cannot allow a script of gendered victimhood to erase all of the historical and institutional power to which Hillary Clinton has access.

And finally, Walker makes a welcome suggestion for this Democrat and Obama-supporter who has been mentally on the ropes over this roller-coaster primary season:

We have come a long way, Sisters, and we are up to the challenges of our time. One of which is to build alliances based not on race, ethnicity, color, nationality, sexual preference or gender, but on Truth. Celebrate our journey. Enjoy the miracle we are witnessing. Do not stress over its outcome. Even if Obama becomes president, our country is in such ruin it may well be beyond his power to lead us toward rehabilitation. If he is elected however, we must, individually and collectively, as citizens of the planet, insist on helping him do the best job that can be done; more, we must insist that he demand this of us. It is a blessing that our mothers taught us not to fear hard work. Know, as the Hopi elders declare: The river has its destination. And remember, as poet June Jordan and Sweet Honey in the Rock never tired of telling us: We are the ones we have been waiting for.

Do not stress over its outcome???? Ok. I'll try. Yes. That is sage advice. I also love how she points out Obama's quoting of the feminists Jordan and Sweet Honey in his slogan "We are the change we have been waiting for," bringing him back to a feminist sensibility, demonstrating his fluency in the feminist language and songs of liberation.

I know that Walker's open letter endorsing Barack Obama might not get a lot of play in the MSM, but it is an important rebuttal to the opening identity politics salvo by Steinem, published way back in January. Steinem's piece debuted the race v. gender conversation. Perhaps Walker's piece will be the swan song on a comparison that will get neither a (white) woman or a black (man) to the White House.

Original here

Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Top 6 Lies to Voters on the Campaign Trail

“Obama’s best hope is that Democratic voters aren’t as dumb as Hillary and Bill Clinton think they are.”–Jonathan Alter

#1 Bill Clinton lied to voters at their rallies and said he had been opposed to the Iraq war from the start.

#2 Hillary Clinton lied and said she had been opposed to NAFTA. After an advocacy group sued to have her First Lady records released, it was revealed that she had supported and advocated for NAFTA.

#3 Hillary Clinton lied to voters about a trip to Bosnia claiming she was running for cover and did not attend a greeting ceremony.

#4 Bill Clinton lied to voters about Barack Obama’s Iraq record.

#5 Bill Clinton just completely made up a story to supporters about Obama dismissing the 90s.

#6 Hillary Clinton said she was instrumental in helping bring peace to Northern Ireland.

Obama campaign says he won Texas

Among Republicans, Ron Paul backers prevail in one of two Travis County conventions.


Barack Obama's campaign proclaimed the senator from Illinois the winner Saturday night of the most delegates from Texas to the Democratic Party's national convention after an estimated 100,000 high-spirited Democrats gathered at regional conventions to choose nearly 7,300 delegates to the state party's June convention in Austin.

An adviser to Sen. Hillary Clinton, who had an edge on Obama of four pledged delegates after winning 51 percent of the popular vote in the March 4 primary, conceded Obama could have gained on her in their tussling for the party's presidential nomination. But the adviser, Garry Mauro, coordinator of Clinton's Texas campaign, said it was too early to say he'd overtaken her.

"I'm stunned," Mauro said. "That's not the way I count it."

Obama's campaign said he won because of his success drawing voters to primary-night caucuses that started a process to choose 67 of the state's 228 Democratic delegates. His campaign said that process, which continued in Saturday's regional conventions, will leave Obama with a 38-29 lead in pledged delegates, meaning he would overtake Clinton with a projected cushion of five pledged delegates from Texas.

According to results compiled from the regional meetings by The Associated Press, Obama had 59 percent of delegates and Clinton had 41 percent, with results reported from 50 percent of the conventions.

Republicans also held regional conventions to choose delegates to the state GOP's June convention, though Sen. John McCain's primary win in the state was not at issue.

Supporters of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Lake Jackson won control of the GOP's Travis County state Senate District 25 convention.

"There are some new legs in the game," said Rosemary Edwards, incoming chairwoman of the Travis County Republicans.

The final sorting of Texas delegates to the party's national convention in August will depend on outcomes of the state convention June 5-7.

But results from the regional conventions had been expected to show whether Obama did well enough at the March 4 caucuses to overtake Clinton.

Obama leads nationally in delegates, 1,623 to 1,499. It will take 2,024 to secure the Democratic nomination.

Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's national campaign chairman, stopped by Saturday's conventions in McLennan, Williamson and Travis counties.

Even if Obama ends up with more Texas delegates, "we have millions of people yet to vote," McAuliffe said Saturday afternoon. "Hillary will be in until the end of the process," through the last primaries June 3 in Montana and South Dakota, he said.

Obama, who won the primaries in Travis, Hays and Williamson counties, took 501 of 750 delegates to the state convention awarded at the counties' conventions Saturday.

For the most part, delegates— including a record 9,000-plus voters at Travis County's convention — didn't bemoan delays.

In Williamson County, party officials said toward 3 p.m. the convention couldn't start counting delegates until it filled positions vacated when several delegates didn't show.

Some grumbling ensued as alternates stepped up to serve. But Michael Freeman of Round Rock, a first-time delegate, relished the Republican-red county having a Democratic crush.

"Just great," Freeman said.

Gary Griffin, a Williamson County constable and Republican, surveyed the Democratic convention at Stony Point High School, and said: "It's a false belief to say Democrats are nonexistent in this county. I've been to many Republican conventions, and I've never seen this. ... Phenomenal."

Gridlocked traffic slowed delegates to Travis County's convention, which brought together state Senate Districts 14 and 25 at the Travis County Exposition Center. The last delegates parked shortly before proceedings opened at 11 a.m.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin counseled Hays County delegates against considering McCain if their favored candidate doesn't win the Democratic nod. "I am supporting Barack Obama, and I'm proud to be doing it," he said, but he also acknowledged friends who support Clinton. "I don't think the Republicans can win this election," Doggett said, "but we can sure lose this faster than you can say 'Karl Rove's dream come true.' I hope each of you has taken the same pledge I have taken. If I don't get my first choice, I am going to make the Democratic nominee my first preference in November."

That brought a standing ovation in the Wallace Middle School gym.

State Rep. Valinda Bolton of Austin hammered the unity message at Travis County's convention, saying: "Work your heart out for your chosen presidential candidate. But when one is chosen, don't go away mad. Don't take your toys and go home. Stay. Stay with us. There is a lot of work to be done."

Later, former Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, who supports Clinton, nearly brought the Hays County convention to a halt by questioning whether enough delegates remained to keep a quorum. He withdrew his challenge after about 20 minutes and after every member of the convention's nominations committee was summoned to boost floor attendance.

"Let's keep our tempers," convention chairman Jeff Barton said to delegates at one point.

Austin accountant Robert McDonald was elected the permanent chairman at the Senate District 25 GOP convention at Covington Middle School by fewer than 20 of about 200 votes.McDonald said delegates favoring Paul want certain issues, such as the economy, emphasized in the party platform. Platform resolutions drafted at county and district conventions can be considered at the GOP state convention in June.

Kate McVey of Austin was among activists denied a delegate position at the state convention after Paul supporters prevailed at the convention at Covington Middle School.

Original here

Former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove, during a speech at George Washington University last night, was interrupted by a group holding up a sign reading "War Criminal."

Amid booing and clapping in the crowd, members can be heard yelling "Tase 'em!" as the protesters are escorted out.

"Why is it that you think you evoke such a visceral reaction in many of your detractors?" asks one audience member, curious to know how said detractors would make a determination that Rove was a "fundamentally bad human being" as a result of his policy decisions.

"Look," Rove responds, "first of all, the tail and the horns are retractable...Look: I'm a myth! I mean, I'm like Grendel of Beowulf; I'm not often seen but people talk about me a lot. I don't know."

Video of the speech is embedded below. More can be read at Think Progress.

Original here

Michael Mukasey's tearful lies

(updated below - Update II)

Michael Mukasey has conclusively proven himself to be an exact replica of Alberto Gonzales -- slavishly loyal to every presidential whim and unbound by even the most minimal constraints of truth while serving those whims. Speaking in San Francisco this week, Mukasey demanded that the President be given new warrantless eavesdropping powers and that lawbreaking telecoms be granted amnesty. To make his case, Mukasey teared up while exploiting the 3,000 Americans who died on 9/11 and said this:

Officials "shouldn't need a warrant when somebody with a phone in Iraq picks up a phone and calls somebody in the United States because that's the call that we may really want to know about. And before 9/11, that's the call that we didn't know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn't know precisely where it went."

At that point in his answer, Mr. Mukasey grimaced, swallowed hard, and seemed to tear up as he reflected on the weaknesses in America's anti-terrorism strategy prior to the 2001 attacks. "We got three thousand. . . . We've got three thousand people who went to work that day and didn't come home to show for that," he said, struggling to maintain his composure.

At the time of the attacks, Mr. Mukasey was the chief judge at the federal courthouse a few blocks away from the World Trade Center.

These are multiple falsehoods here, and independently, this whole claim makes no sense. There is also a pretty startling new revelation here about the Bush administration's pre-9/11 failure that requires a good amount of attention.

Even under the "old" FISA, no warrants are required where the targeted person is outside the U.S. (Afghanistan) and calls into the U.S. Thus, if it's really true, as Mukasey now claims, that the Bush administration knew about a Terrorist in an Afghan safe house making Terrorist-planning calls into the U.S., then they could have -- and should have -- eavesdropped on that call and didn't need a warrant to do so. So why didn't they? Mukasey's new claim that FISA's warrant requirements prevented discovery of the 9/11 attacks and caused the deaths of 3,000 Americans is disgusting and reckless, because it's all based on the lie that FISA required a warrant for targeting the "Afghan safe house." It just didn't. Nor does the House FISA bill require individual warrants when targeting a non-U.S. person outside the U.S.

Independently, even if there had been a warrant requirement for that call -- and there unquestionably was not -- why didn't the Bush administration obtain a FISA warrant to listen in on 9/11-planning calls from this "safe house"? Independently, why didn't the administration invoke FISA's 72-hour emergency warrantless window to listen in on those calls? If what Muskasey said this week is true -- and that's a big "if" -- his revelation about this Afghan call that the administration knew about but didn't intercept really amounts to one of the most potent indictments yet about the Bush administration's failure to detect the plot in action. Contrary to his false claims, FISA -- for multiple reasons -- did not prevent eavesdropping on that call.

Mukasey was even more dishonest in demanding amnesty for lawbreaking telecoms. According to today's admiring Wall St. Journal Editorial, this is what Mukasey said on that subject:

The AG also addressed why immunity from lawsuits is vital for the telecom companies that cooperated with the surveillance after 9/11. "Forget the liability" the phone companies face, Mr. Mukasey said. "We face the prospect of disclosure in open court of what they did, which is to say the means and the methods by which we collect foreign intelligence against foreign targets." Al Qaeda would love that.
Mike Mukasey was a long-time federal judge and so I feel perfectly comfortable calling that what it is: a brazen lie. Federal courts hear classified information with great regularity and it is not heard in "open court." There are numerous options available to any federal judge to hear classified information -- closed courtrooms, in camera review (in chambers only), ex parte communications (communications between one party and the judge only). No federal judge -- and certainly not Vaughn Walker, the Bush 41 appointee presiding over the telecom cases -- is going to allow "disclosure in open court of . . . . the means and the methods by which we collect foreign intelligence." And Mukasey knows that.

Worse, FISA itself (50 USC 1806(f)) explicitly provides that telecoms are permitted to present any evidence in support of their defenses in secret (both in camera and ex parte) to the judge and let the judge decide the case based on it. Just go read 50 USC 1806(f) of FISA; it's as clear as day. In fact, it doesn't merely permit, but explicitly requires, the federal judge to review evidence in secret whenever the Attorney General requests that ("the United States district court in the same district . . . shall, notwithstanding any other law, if the Attorney General files an affidavit under oath that disclosure or an adversary hearing would harm the national security of the United States, review in camera and ex parte the application the application, order, and such other materials relating to the surveillance.").

Beyond that, the key provision of the House's FISA bill expressly provides that any classified information in the telecom lawsuits shall be submitted in secret to the federal judge. Mukasey's claims that these lawsuits will result in disclosure of classified information in open court is a complete lie -- term used very advisedly.

Worse still, think about what Mukasey is actually saying. His argument means that government officials must be free to break the law in a classified intelligence setting with impunity, because we can't risk subjecting them to a court of law since, presumably, we can't trust our country's federal judges with classified information and so it's preferable to allow lawbreaking by our highest government officials. That's a pretty extraordinary -- and pretty reprehensible -- argument for a former federal judge and current Attorney General to be making. I hope Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer are very proud.

Michael Mukasey can cry all he wants about the 9/11 attacks. But neither he nor the rest of the Bush administration are the proprietors of those attacks. There were millions of New Yorkers in Manhattan on 9/11 other than Michael Mukasey, who lived and worked there for a long time. Neither Mike Mukasey nor his tearful pleas for unchecked government surveillance power and the erosion of the rule of law are representative of them.

To the contrary, the substantial majority of New Yorkers -- and huge majorities of Manhattanites -- vehemently reject the Bush/Cheney agenda of dismantling our constitutional framework and basic safeguards in the name of these sorts of fear-mongering and manipulative appeals. Unlike Mukasey and other Bush followers, most New Yorkers have ceased quivering in fear long ago -- if they ever did -- and have had their resolve to defend our basic constitutional liberties strengthened, not obliterated, as a result of the 9/11 attack and the subsequent, self-serving exploitation of it by Mukasey's White House bosses. And under no circumstances do Mukasey's tears provide license for this tidal wave of lies in defense of presidential lawlessness, from our nation's highest "law enforcement officer."

* * * * *

Jane Hamsher, Howie Klein and I are working this weekend on creating the content for the various ads that are going to run, beginning April 23, aimed at Democrat Chris Carney of Pennsylvania -- the clear winner (loser) of the poll which asked which Bush Dog Democrat should be targeted. Carney has ceaselessly supported the worst aspects of the Bush agenda and was one of only five House Democrats to vote against the House FISA bill because he wanted to pass the Rockefeller/Cheney bill.

The ad campaign and its purposes were described here. Close to $50,000 was raised in two days, which allows for an extremely hefty, potent package of television, radio and newspaper ads in Carney's district, which we're in the process of creating.

I have some preliminary ideas, but if you have suggestions and concepts for what these ads should convey and how they should be shaped, please email me. In order to keep the email load manageable, I'd really appreciate it if only those people who give some real thought to this and create what they believe is a unique and powerful message actually send me their ideas. It can be anything from the broad topic or general content strategy to a full-scale copy-written television, radio or newspaper ad.

Please review the post I linked to above in order to keep the purpose of the ad in mind. The purpose is to undermine and weaken Carney in the eyes of his largely conservative district by conveying why it is that his Bush-loyal support for warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty -- and his general refusal to fulfill his constitutional duty to provide oversight of the President -- violates the values of that district's voters.

UPDATE: When Hillary Clinton teared up in New Hampshire, here's what Maureen Dowd and the very serious band of National Security Journalists at The New York Times said about it:

When I walked into the office Monday, people were clustering around a computer to watch what they thought they would never see: Hillary Clinton with the unmistakable look of tears in her eyes.

A woman gazing at the screen was grimacing, saying it was bad. Three guys watched it over and over, drawn to the "humanized" Hillary. One reporter who covers security issues cringed. "We are at war," he said. "Is this how she'll talk to Kim Jong-il?"

We're at war. Is tearing and crying how Mike Mukasey intends to deal with Sleeper Cells and other scary Al Qaeda threats? I wonder if national security reporters at The New York Times are now going to be raising those same questions about Mukasey's toughness. Actually, I don't wonder that at all.

UPDATE II: The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the Mukasey speech and is asking some of the right questions:
Mukasey did not specify the call to which he referred. He also did not explain why the government, if it knew of telephone calls from suspected foreign terrorists, hadn't sought a wiretapping warrant from a court established by Congress to authorize terrorist surveillance, or hadn't monitored all such calls without a warrant for 72 hours as allowed by law. The Justice Department did not respond to a request for more information.
As indicated, FISA didn't require a warrant for that call, but these questions have to be pursued. Mukasey can't be allowed to drop such a deceitful little bombshell like this -- blaming FISA for the Bush administration's failure to detect the 9/11 attacks -- and then refuse to answer basic questions about his incredibly manipulative claims.

Original here

Oil for War

After invading one of the most petroleum-rich countries on earth, the U.S. military is running on empty.

Napoleon famously said that an army marches on its stomach. That may have been true for his 19th-century force. But the modern American military runs on jet fuel—and lots of it.

Today the average American G.I. in Iraq uses about 20.5 gallons of fuel every day, more than double the daily volume consumed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2004. Thus, in order to secure the third-richest country on the planet, the U.S. military is burning enormous quantities of petroleum. And nearly every drop of that fuel is imported into Iraq. These massive fuel requirements—just over 3 million gallons per day for Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Energy Support Center—are a key reason for the soaring cost of the war effort.

Controlling Iraq’s oil has historically been a vital factor in America’s involvement in Iraq and was always a crucial element of the Bush administration’s plans for the post-Saddam era. Of course, that’s not how the war was sold to the American people. A few months before the invasion, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared that the looming war had “nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil.” The war was necessary, its planners claimed, because Saddam Hussein supported terrorism and, left unchecked, he would unleash weapons of mass destruction on the West.

Nevertheless, oil was the foremost strategic focus for the U.S. military in Iraq. The first objectives of the invading forces included the capture of key Iraqi oil terminals and oilfields. On March 20, 2003, Navy SEALs engaged in the first combat of the war when they launched a surprise invasion of the Mina al-Bakr and Khor al-Amaya oil loading terminals in the Persian Gulf. A few hours later, Marine Lt. Therral Childers became the first U.S. soldier to die in combat in the invasion when he was killed fighting for control of the Rumaylah oil field in southern Iraq.

Oil was also the first objective when U.S. forces reached Baghdad on April 8. Although the National Library of Iraq, the National Archives, and the National Museum of Antiquities were all looted and in some cases burned, the oil ministry building was barely damaged. That’s because a detachment of American soldiers and a half-dozen assault vehicles were assigned to guard the ministry and its records.

After all, the war’s architects had promised that oil money was going to rebuild Iraq after the U.S. military took control. In March 2003, Paul Wolfowitz told a Congressional panel, “The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years. Now, there are a lot of claims on that money, but … we are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.” As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor explained in their 2006 book, Cobra II, “The Pentagon had promised that the reconstruction of Iraq would be ‘self-financing,’ and the preservation of Iraq’s oil wealth was the best-prepared and -resourced component of Washington’s postwar plan.”

After the invasion, when inspectors failed to find any weapons of mass destruction, Bush and his supporters changed their story, claiming that the U.S. had invaded Iraq to spread democracy in the Middle East. When democracy failed to materialize, the justification for the invasion turned to oil. During an October 2006 press conference, Bush declared that the U.S. could not “tolerate a new terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East with large oil reserves that could be used to fund its radical ambitions or used to inflict economic damage on the West.”

The U.S. military and the new Baghdad government have failed, however, to secure Iraq’s tattered oil sector. As A.F. Alhajji, energy economist and professor at Ohio Northern University, has said, “whoever controls Iraq’s oil, controls Iraq.” For the last five years, it’s never been exactly clear who controls Iraq’s oil. That said, the country’s leading industry is slowly increasing output. In January, daily production hit 2.4 million barrels per day, the highest level since the U.S. invasion.

But America’s presence in Iraq isn’t making use of the local riches. Indeed, little, if any, Iraqi oil is being used by the American military. Instead, the bulk of the fuel needed by the U.S. military is being trucked in from the sprawling Mina Abdulla refinery complex, which lies a few dozen kilometers south of Kuwait City. In 2006 alone, the Defense Energy Support Center purchased $909.3 million in motor fuel from the state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corporation. In addition to the Kuwaiti fuel, the U.S. military is trucking in fuel from Turkey. But some of that Turkish fuel actually originates in refineries as far away as Greece.

In 2007 alone, the U.S. military in Iraq burned more than 1.1 billion gallons of fuel. (American Armed Forces generally use a blend of jet fuel known as JP-8 to propel both aircraft and automobiles.) About 5,500 tanker trucks are involved in the Iraqi fuel-hauling effort. That fleet of trucks is enormously costly. In November 2006, a study produced by the U.S. Military Academy estimated that delivering one gallon of fuel to U.S. soldiers in Iraq cost American taxpayers $42—and that didn’t include the cost of the fuel itself. At that rate, each U.S. soldier in Iraq is costing $840 per day in fuel delivery costs, and the U.S. is spending $923 million per week on fuel-related logistics in order to keep 157,000 G.I.s in Iraq. Given that the Iraq War is now costing about $2.5 billion per week, petroleum costs alone currently account for about one-third of all U.S. military expenditure in Iraq.



Soaring fuel costs are largely a product of the fact that U.S. forces have been forced to defend themselves against improvised explosive devices. The majority of American casualties in Iraq have been due to IED attacks, primarily on motor vehicles. The U.S. military has spent billions of dollars on electronic countermeasures to combat the deadly devices, but those countermeasures have largely failed. Instead, the troops have had to rely on old-fashioned hardened steel. Since the beginning of the war, the Pentagon has introduced numerous programs to add armor skins to its fleet of Humvees.

But even the newest armored Humvees, which weigh about six tons, haven’t been enough to protect soldiers against the deadly explosives. Last year, Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon agreed on a four-year plan to spend about $20 billion on a fleet of 23,000 mine-resistant ambush protection vehicles or MRAPs. Last August, the Pentagon ordered 1,520 of the vehicles at a cost of $3.5 million each.

The MRAPs mean even greater demand for fuel from U.S. troops in Iraq. An armored Humvee covers perhaps 8 miles per gallon of fuel. One version of the MRAP, the Maxxpro, weighs about 40,000 pounds, and according to a source within the military, gets just 3 miles per gallon. The increased demand for fuel for the MRAPs will come alongside the need for an entirely new set of tires, fan belts, windshields, alternators, and other gear.

This swelling of the logistics train creates yet another problem for the military: an increase in supply trucks on the road, which demands yet more fuel and provides insurgents with a greater range of targets to attack.

While the U.S. military chases its own fuel tail in Iraq, a country that sits atop 115 billion barrels of oil—about 9.5 percent of the world’s total—the global energy industry is racing forward with new alliances and deals, many of which would have been unthinkable before the invasion. Those alliances have far-reaching significance for America’s foreign and energy policy. The world’s oil market is no longer shaped by U.S. military power. Markets are trumping militarism. As one analyst put it recently, dollars are replacing “bullets as shapers of the geopolitical picture.”

The importance of this point is obvious: as the effectiveness of militarism in controlling global energy trends is declining, the U.S. is spending billions of dollars a week in Mesopotamia on a war effort that—if John McCain is right—could drain the American treasury for decades to come. Meanwhile, America’s key rivals, China and Russia in particular, are using their influence to forge economic alliances that are realigning the global balance of power. They are creating a multi-polar world in which America’s influence will be substantially diminished.

This realignment is particularly advantageous for major energy exporting countries such as Russia, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and of course, Iran. These states are taking advantage of higher energy prices caused by ever-increasing global energy demand and tightening supplies. And while the Bush administration has tried to diminish the influence of countries like Iran and Russia, there’s little, if anything, the U.S. can do to slow the trend. The myriad of energy exploration and production contracts that the Iranians have signed in recent months proves the point.

Meanwhile, Russia’s state-controlled behemoth, Gazprom, has consolidated its hold on the European natural gas market. Add the massive financial power of the sovereign wealth funds of just three countries—Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, who hold a combined $1.4 trillion in assets—and the shift in power becomes even more apparent. Higher energy prices are the main difference between the first Iraq War and the second, says Jeff Dietert, a managing director at Simmons & Company International, a Houston-based investment banking firm that focuses on the energy sector. “It’s a completely different result from the first Iraq War, which was really a demonstration of military prowess. It was quick and decisive versus the current situation in Iraq, which is slow, expensive and drawn out.”

The Kurds have been quick to exploit new opportunities in the fast-changing oil market. In direct defiance of the weak central government in Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government has signed 15 oil exploration deals with 20 companies from 12 countries. Increasing oil production benefits the Kurds. It also helps Turkey, which stands to reap more revenue from the Kirkuk to Ceyhan pipeline, which will carry much of the new production. A Norwegian company, DNO ASA, has already built a pipeline from their Tawke oil field north of Mosul to an interconnection point immediately next to the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline.

Geneva-based Addax Petroleum is another big player in Kurdistan. During a presentation at an oil and gas conference in Connecticut in September, the company’s chief financial officer, Michael Ebsary, said that Addax’s potential reserves in Kurdistan may be as large as 2.7 billion barrels of oil. (Addax’s partner in the project is a Genel Enerji, a subsidiary of the Cukorova Group, one of Turkey’s biggest conglomerates.) “Everyone sees the Kurdish region as an area that has to be developed. There’s tons of oil there,” Ebsary told me. “It has to get out.”

The same can be said for Iranian oil and gas. One of the unintended consequences of the Iraq War has been the strengthening of Iran’s influence in the region. In 2007 alone, the Iranians cut deals—worth perhaps $50 billion over the next few decades—with companies from Britain, Spain, Brazil, China, Austria, Turkey, and Malaysia. In addition to those projects, the Iranian government is still negotiating the pricing formulas for the long discussed, much-delayed Peace Pipeline, the $7 billion, 1600-mile conduit to carry Iranian gas to Pakistan and India. In 2005, Susil Chandra Tripathi, the secretary of India’s ministry of petroleum and natural gas, promised that the deal would eventually go through. He told me that the U.S. may “want to isolate Iran, but that doesn’t mean Iran will quit producing crude oil and gas, or that we will stop buying it.”

Another indication of the shift in power can be seen by looking at the new the Dubai Mercantile Exchange, which last June began trading the Oman Crude Oil Futures Contract. By getting into the energy futures business, Dubai is assuring that the crude oil coming out of the Persian Gulf has its own benchmark price—one that is not reliant on Western crude oil standards such as West Texas Intermediate and North Sea Brent. It also puts Dubai in competition with the traditional trading hubs in New York and London. In July 2006, Gary King, the CEO of the Dubai exchange, told me that the emergence of the exchange and the new futures contract indicates that the Persian Gulf is “the center of the world’s biggest hydrocarbon province. Most of the growth in oil consumption is in Asia-Pacific. So it’s a natural shift in gravity. Our timing is very opportune to be in that center of gravity.”

This change cannot be stopped or ignored. In today’s multi-polar world, economic interests, not military force, predominate. “It used to be that the side with the most guns would win,” says G.I. Wilson, a recently retired Marine Corps colonel, who has written extensively on terrorism and asymmetric warfare and spent 15 months fighting in Iraq. Today, says Wilson, the side “with the most guns goes bankrupt.”

Since World War II, America has held fast to the idea that controlling the oil flow out of the Persian Gulf must be assured at the point of a M-16 rifle. But the cost of that approach has been crippling. As the U.S. military pursues its occupation of Iraq—with the fuel costs approaching $1 billion per week—it’s obvious that the U.S. needs to rethink the assumption that secure energy sources depend on militarism. The emerging theme of the 21st-century energy business is the increasing power of markets. The U.S. can either adapt or continue hurtling down the road to bankruptcy.

Original here

Report from the Senate District 26 Caucus in San Antonio

dirtytricks.jpg

This just in, from a Field correspondent in San Antonio, Texas (name of delegate deleted). Both the delegate and the source to whom she reported are known to me and are of the highest ethics: I trust them not to embellish. You can see that the report is even-handed and sticks to the known facts.

It includes an eye witness report from the caucus convention in Senate District 26, plus second-hand information on similar tactics in Senate District 19.

San Antonio favored Clinton, including in the caucuses, and is where the political machine of former mayor (and HUD secretary) Henry Cisneros operates. This report includes back-room deals prior to and during the event, the stacking the convention committee chairs ahead of time with Clinton operatives, the taking of Obama delegates off the voter rolls, holding a meeting before its scheduled time to lock out Obama delegates, and, get this… suspending the senate district caucus for the rest of the day - before voting - to, no doubt, reconvene the session at whatever hour they estimate they can gain maximum advantage.

Here’s the report:

(The Obama delegate) got there to discover a backroom deal had already been cut by Democratic Party leaders in the county, presumably, to set up the rules committees 50/50 Clinton/Obama people, but all the committee chairs are Clinton people.

Clinton’s campaign has sent a bunch of “at large” delegates to the Sen. 26 caucus to hang out in the event someone doesn’t show up at the right time, so they can step in as delegates. (The Obama delegate) is not certain if the Obama folks are doing the same thing, but she said she had not heard of this practice from the folks she’s dealing with on the Obama side.

Somehow, none of the Obama delegates from our precinct are listed on the rolls, so they have all been categorized as provisional for the caucus. She’s not certain if the Clinton delegates from our precinct suffered the same fate. She said this is strange because someone on the Obama side said they saw all the names entered onto the rolls.

In Senate District 19, she was told, the Clinton people called a meeting to set up rules for the caucus at an appointed time, but then showed up early. When the Obama people showed up at the appointed time, the Clinton people adjourned the meeting. (The Obama delegate) said it turned into somewhat of a racial thing since most of the Clinton people were Hispanic and most of the Obama people were black.

She said it’s truly smoke-filled backroom politics, with a lot of confusion for those who aren’t invited into the backroom. She got there early this morning and it’s expected to last until 8 pm or so tonight. If the delegates aren’t in place at the pricise moment to cast their votes, too bad. The Ceasar Chavez march is today, so the Clinton people managed to get an adjournment of the caucus until the march is over, so they can go to the march. Let’s hope that wasn’t a ploy.

Update: Whatever tactics the Clinton campaign is using today, they haven’t seemed to help it in the three small counties that have just reported their caucus results. According to the Burnt Orange Report (the go-to place to get today’s caucus convention results from Texas), San Augustine County in the east, Moore County in the North and Edwards County in the Border-Valley region have their results in and the number of delegates being sent to the state convention are: Obama 25, Clinton 23.

That’s verrrryyyy interesting because here are the primary results from those counties, according to CNN’s nifty little county-by-county primary results map:

San Augustine County: Clinton 53 percent, Obama 35

Moore County: Clinton 64 percent, Obama 33

Edwards County: Clinton 55 percent, Obama 41

So, Clinton won those counties in the primary by 18, 21 and 14 point landslides respectively, but still lost the overall delegate battle in today’s county caucuses. If that trend continues statewide, put on your seatbelts for another game-changing moment.

Again, those are just three caucus conventions out of 284 statewide, but from three distinct regions, each of which Obama lost in the primary, but where he appears to be winning today.

Original here

Clinton Risks Credibility Gap Over `Fudged' Claims, Stances

March 28 (Bloomberg) -- Hillary Clinton, accused of exaggerating her experience and reversing policy positions, risks a widening credibility gap that may undermine her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The New York senator, who this week admitted to misrepresenting the danger she confronted in Bosnia, also has come under fire for allegedly distorting her role in opposing free trade and the war in Iraq, and overstating her involvement in bringing peace to Northern Ireland and health insurance to children.

The debate over these and other statements is fueling distrust among voters, according to analysts and recent polls. A Pew Research survey released yesterday showed 30 percent of white Democrats -- a group Clinton needs in order to win the remaining primaries -- regard her as a ``phony,'' twice as many as those who perceive rival Barack Obama that way. In late February, just 7.8 percent of voters surveyed by Pew described her as ``untrustworthy.''

``She's either fudged her positions or been downright disingenuous,'' said Dan Gerstein, a Democratic strategist who isn't working for any candidate. ``Any one'' episode ``wouldn't hurt her, but the accumulated weight has turned Democratic voters against her.''

Clinton spokesman Jay Carson dismisses questions about her credibility. ``She made a mistake recounting a trip she made as first lady to what was in fact a war zone,'' he said, referring to Bosnia. Voters ``don't ask for perfection, they just want to know that you are working hard for them, and no one works harder than Senator Clinton.''

More to Mine

While Obama, 46, an Illinois senator, has also been accused of padding his resume and taking more credit than he deserves, Clinton's longer record offers more material to mine for contradictions. And some observers say she's held to a tougher standard.

``We pay more attention to her because we know more about her,'' said Hank Sheinkopf, an unaligned Democratic strategist. ``The Clintons have been part of the daily American soap opera for 20 years.'' By contrast, ``Barack Obama doesn't have enough experience in the Senate to `get him' on things,'' he said.

A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll conducted Feb. 21-25 found registered voters thought Senator John McCain, 71, the presumed Republican nominee, ``has more honesty and integrity'' than Clinton by a margin of 45 percent to 31 percent. Obama rated equally with McCain on those qualities.

Sheinkopf said Clinton hasn't done any more ``issue switching'' in the campaign than most candidates. ``What is new is the ability to catch it,'' he said. ``You can go online and check stuff instantly. Nobody gets away with anything.''

Offering Ammunition

Still, Clinton, 60, has provided ammunition to opponents. She has insisted that she supported weapons inspections, not war, in Iraq in 2002, although she gave speeches that year advocating action against Saddam Hussein before voting to authorize the use of force.

Clinton did another turnabout on Jan. 25, 10 days after she won the primary in Michigan, where she was the only major candidate on the ballot. She said both Michigan's and Florida's delegates should count -- even though she had previously agreed they wouldn't because the states had violated party rules.

While she has asserted on the campaign trail that she opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement from the start, Robert Reich, who was secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton, said she never expressed to him concern about the labor and environmental issues that she highlights today.

``It was clear her concern about Nafta was about timing,'' Reich said in an interview, adding that she was afraid it might interfere with her universal health-care initiative.

Peacemaking

Clinton has said she helped ``bring peace to Northern Ireland'' and ``create the Children's Health Insurance Program.'' Those are overstatements, according to principals in those events, some of whom say that while she was supportive, she wasn't a main negotiator.

Her Northern Ireland claims are a ``wee bit silly,'' Nobel laureate and former First Minister David Trimble was quoted as saying March 8 in the Telegraph, the British newspaper. ``Being a cheerleader'' is ``different from being a principal player,'' he said. But John Hume, who shared the Nobel Prize with Trimble, credited Clinton with ``playing a positive role for over a decade in helping to bring peace.''

Last month, she called on Obama to reject support from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan because of anti-Semitic remarks. When a Dallas TV station challenged her to denounce a Hispanic leader who said black politicians had never helped her people, Clinton replied, ``People have every reason to express their opinions. I just don't agree with that'' -- before her campaign rejected the remarks.

Wright Videos

This week, Clinton said if she were Obama, she would have left the church of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his longtime pastor from whom Obama distanced himself only after videos of incendiary remarks circulated. Yet Clinton critics said she embraced Suha Arafat in November 1999 after a speech in which the late Palestinian leader's wife, in Arabic, accused Israel of using toxic gas on Palestinians.

Clinton said the translation she heard was incomplete; hours later, when she received a fuller transcript, she condemned the remarks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Indira Lakshmanan in Washington at ilakshmanan@bloomberg.net.

Original here

The Whitewater Proxy

Hillary Clinton's been all the news this week, after she "misspoke" about Whitewater, Travelgate, missing files, suspicious pardons, Johnny Chung and cattle futures. Oh wait, after she "misspoke" about Bosnia. Oh wait, same thing.

That's one way to make sense of the unrelenting, unforgiving, 24/7 news coverage of Mrs. Clinton's fictional telling of Bosnian sniper fire and the subsequent debunking of her every word. In a nasty primary battle that has already featured racial slurs and Chicago slum lords, missing tax documents, and a "monster," you might expect this slip-up to have been yet another blip in the media cycle.

[Hillary Clinton]

But that would have been to deny the press, the pundits, Democrats, and even Barack Obama, the catharsis of finally -- finally! -- getting a chance to confront the Clintons' questionable mores. Hillary's and Bill's scandals have been the elephant in the primary room ever since she first signaled a run. Yet up to now everyone has been too scared, or too loyal, or too weary to touch the ugly past. Her Bosnia misspeak is now serving as proxy for all the truths about the Clintons' non-truths, allowing even liberals to break free from their Clinton dependence.

And how liberating it is! The video of Mrs. Clinton's speech about Bosnian sniper fire, twinned with real footage of calmly strolling down the Tuzla tarmac, has been running on one continuous TV loop. Reporters have dug up every last person who accompanied her on the sedate trip to pour a little more salt in the wound. "The Audacity of Hoax," yelled a blog posting in the liberal Nation magazine, which innocently asked: "What else is she fibbing about?" Bill Burton, Barack Obama's spokesman, gleefully noted that Mrs. Clinton's recent attacks on his candidate were designed to deflect attention away from her "made up" Bosnia story. Heavy emphasis on the "made up" part. No need to mention Vince Foster, Red Bone, Marc Rich or Webster Hubbell. All this will do.

The real beauty of Mrs. Clinton's Tuzla torture is that it's self-inflicted. Up to now, Team Clinton had done a surreal job of keeping the scandal genie in its bottle. Think about it: Most of 1990s politics was defined by the Clinton White House, which in turn was defined by the Clintons' endless ethical firestorms. The American public remembers this, one reason why a majority consistently says in polls that Mrs. Clinton is "untrustworthy." And yet even as the former First Lady has lobbed ethical accusations at Mr. Obama -- slamming him for "plagiarizing" speeches, hitting him for his relationship with "slum landlord" Tony Rezko or the Reverend Jeremiah Wright -- her own past has remained a no-go zone for most of the press and for her rival.

This is hangover from the remarkable job the Clintons did in painting themselves as the victims of the so-called "right-wing attack machine." They, and their devotees, have carried that victim mentality into the present, and have made clear that anyone who revives the issues of billing records or cattle futures is little more than the second coming of Ken Starr. They've done such a remarkable job of portraying any investigation into their undeniable shenanigans as a "partisan" venture that even the press has looked away and whistled.

As for Mr. Obama, the Clintons have boxed him in with his own rhetoric. Mrs. Clinton is working hard to convince all those superdelegates that Mr. Obama would carry too much baggage with him in a general election. That's a debate he'd love to have, as he noted that he could fit his luggage neatly into an overhead compartment while she'd drag along a cargo hold of past scandals.

But this past weekend offered an example of how the Clinton team would fight back. That's when Obama Iowa coordinator, Gordon Fischer, used his blog to take issue with recent Bill Clinton comments about patriotism. "Bill Clinton cannot possibly seriously believe Obama is not a patriot, and cannot possibly be said to be helping -- instead he is hurting -- his own party. B. Clinton should never be forgiven. Period. This is a stain on his legacy, much worse, much deeper, than the one on Monica's blue dress," he wrote.

The blowback from the Clinton camp was tsunami-like. "This attack . . . the disgusting comments . . . a negative message . . . gutter politics," sputtered Clinton advisers on a conference call. "It's important that voters know that at the same time Sen. Obama talks about changing the tenor and tone of our politics," said communications director Howard Wolfson, Mr. Obama's campaign is attacking Sen. Clinton's "personal life." The Obama campaign sensed danger, and within a few hours, Mr. Fischer had donned a hair shirt and replaced his post with this: "I sincerely apologize for a tasteless and gratituous [sic] comment I made here about President Clinton. It was unnecessary and wrong."

No more apologizing. Now comes the euphoria, the liberation, the freedom of . . . Bosnian snipers! Suddenly, liberals all over are remembering that they never really liked the Clintons, even as they defended them in the 1990s. Suddenly, they can sidle into a discussion about Mrs. Clinton's ethics, and all on a subject that (bonus!) is relevant to today's race. Suddenly, they can break free of the Clintons, much as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson did earlier this week, with a look of ecstasy, as he ran toward the daylight and endorsed Mr. Obama.

Which is why it is no surprise that this week also saw the beginning of a tide of Democrats, many of them one-time Clinton defenders, calling on her to abandon her bid, laying out the reasons for why she cannot win this race, and telling her to let go for the good of the party. Mrs. Clinton, being a Clinton, may well ignore them. But what is clear is that questions about her character and honesty are no longer verboten. If she does stay in, answering them will become the new reality of her campaign.

Original here

Hagel: Barack Best to Unite Country

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said last night that, among the 3 remaining candidates, he thought Barack Obama had the best chance of bringing the country together. While he did not dismiss McCain (he's done that in the Senate) or Clinton (she's had some success in the Senate, not as much as McCain), he said that he believed that Barack Obama, for generational reasons, could best bring the country together.

Hagel also stated that he believes the inventory of problems the next President will face is unprecedented and that that is why it is so important that the country be brought together so that it could really solve problems. Although Hagel did not endorse Obama, he did not rule out the possibility.

Hagel, who is retiring from the Senate and, for awhile, from public life, pointed to data showing 81% of the country believe we are on the "wrong-track", that registration numbers show Republicans to be in the teens and Independents higher than Democrats, and that trust in Congress and the President is at all time lows.

"In a democracy", said Hagel, "people push something else out there" to take the place or transform institutions. He believes that that is what this election will ultimately be about.
[Comments made on Charlie Rose Show].

Original here

McCain guru linked to subprime crisis

Phil Gramm and John McCain

Phil Gramm stood by John McCain in his worst days last summer when his campaign went broke and his candidacy was all but written off by political observers.
Photo: AP

The general co-chairman of John McCain’s presidential campaign, former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), led the charge in 1999 to repeal a Depression-era banking regulation law that Democrat Barack Obama claimed on Thursday contributed significantly to today’s economic turmoil.

“A regulatory structure set up for banks in the 1930s needed to change because the nature of business had changed,” the Illinois senator running for president said in a New York economic speech. “But by the time [it] was repealed in 1999, the $300 million lobbying effort that drove deregulation was more about facilitating mergers than creating an efficient regulatory framework.”

Gramm’s role in the swift and dramatic recent restructuring of the nation’s investment houses and practices didn’t stop there.

A year after the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed the old regulations, Swiss Bank UBS gobbled up brokerage house Paine Weber. Two years later, Gramm settled in as a vice chairman of UBS’s new investment banking arm.

Later, he became a major player in its government affairs operation. According to federal lobbying disclosure records, Gramm lobbied Congress, the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department about banking and mortgage issues in 2005 and 2006.

During those years, the mortgage industry pressed Congress to roll back strong state rules that sought to stem the rise of predatory tactics used by lenders and brokers to place homeowners in high-cost mortgages.

For his work, Gramm and two other lobbyists collected $750,000 in fees from UBS’s American subsidiary. In the past year, UBS has written down more then $18 billion in exposure to subprime loans and other risky securities and is considering cutting as many as 8,000 jobs.

Gramm did not respond to an e-mail, and was unavailable for comment, according to a UBS spokesman. The bank has no official position on the subprime crisis, the spokesman said, but is a member of the Financial Services Roundtable and other industry groups that are actively lobbying Congress on the issue.

Now, some housing experts and economists see Gramm’s thinking in the recent housing proposal from McCain, the Republican Party’s presumed presidential nominee. Gramm is often a surrogate for the Arizona senator, particularly in meetings focused on the economy. And McCain has hinted he’d consider the former Texas senator for Treasury secretary in a McCain administration.

McCain delievered an economic speech Tuesday that had Gramm's input, but it was written by domestic policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin.

“Sen. Gramm was one of dozens of folks who Sen. McCain has consulted on the housing issue, including Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman from eBay," said McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers. "They've been friends for years and he values Sen. Gramm's advice."

In the speech, McCain rejected the type of aggressive government intervention in the economic meltdown that has been embraced by his Democratic opponents — and even some Bush advisers.

“I have always been committed to the principle that it is not the duty of government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly, whether they are big banks or small borrowers,” McCain said. “Government assistance to the banking system should be based solely on preventing systemic risk that would endanger the entire financial system and the economy.”

McCain’s campaign later clarified that he would support programs for “deserving” homeowners and reforms that would improve transparency and accountability in capital markets.

Andrew Jakabovics, a housing expert at the liberal Center for American Progress, said McCain’s interpretation of the crisis puts little blame on investment banks for their role in packaging the subprime loans into dangerously complex and ultimately hard to value financial instruments.

“I’d characterize this as the deux ex machina theory of financial products,” Jakabovics said. “He views this as a market problem that manifests at the local level as housing, meaning he’s more likely to argue in favor these guys when they argue for deregulation.”

Wall Street firms are increasingly under scrutiny for contributing to the economic downturn by packaging and selling risky mortgage securities. When the home loans tied to the mortgages defaulted, investors and the banks lost billions, contributing to a widespread credit crunch.

“I think [McCain’s] attitude is the market can basically handle this and government doesn’t need to be heavily involved,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard and Poor’s.

McCain and Gramm have a long political history. The two became close when they worked together as senators to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 1993 health care plan, holding meetings at hospitals and clinics across the country.

In 1996, McCain was national chairman of Gramm's unsuccessful presidential bid.

In 2000, the duo had a rare parting when Gramm backed his home-state governor, George W. Bush, for president instead of McCain. But they’ve reunited in this presidential race.

Gramm stood by his former Senate colleague in his worst days last summer when his campaign went broke and his candidacy was all but written off by political observers.

Gramm, who had joined the campaign in March as a domestic policy adviser, was among those who helped cut staff and shrink the budgets. He traveled with McCain in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and stumped for him in Georgia.

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McCain Stumbles on H.I.V. Prevention

Senator John McCain at a town hall meeting today. (Photo: Greg Brown/Associated Press)

SOMEWHERE in NORTHERN IOWA — The unthinkable has happened. Senator John McCain met a question, while sitting with reporters on his bus as it rumbled through Iowa today, that he couldn’t – or perhaps wouldn’t – answer.

Did he support the distribution of taxpayer-subsidized condoms in Africa to fight the transmission of H.I.V.?

What followed was a long series of awkward pauses, glances up to the ceiling and the image of one of Mr. McCain’s aides, standing off to the back, urgently motioning his press secretary to come to Mr. McCain’s side.

The upshot was that Mr. McCain said he did not know this subject well, did not know his position on it, and relied on the advice of Senator Tom Coburn, a physician and Republican from Oklahoma.

His press secretary, Brian Jones, later reported that Mr. McCain had a record of voting against using government money to finance the distribution of condoms.

All this took place on the second day of the reprise of the “Straight Talk Express” bus trips that Mr. McCain made a central part of his campaign in 2000. It also comes as Mr. McCain has eagerly been trying to ease strains with social conservatives in the party who, for the most part, do not support using government money to pay for condoms.

A transcript of the encounter follows. (Weaver is John Weaver, his senior adviser, and Brian is Mr. Jones, his press secretary):

Reporter: “Should U.S. taxpayer money go to places like Africa to fund contraception to prevent AIDS?”

Mr. McCain: “Well I think it’s a combination. The guy I really respect on this is Dr. Coburn. He believes – and I was just reading the thing he wrote– that you should do what you can to encourage abstinence where there is going to be sexual activity. Where that doesn’t succeed, than he thinks that we should employ contraceptives as well. But I agree with him that the first priority is on abstinence. I look to people like Dr. Coburn. I’m not very wise on it.”

(Mr. McCain turns to take a question on Iraq, but a moment later looks back to the reporter who asked him about AIDS.)

Mr. McCain: “I haven’t thought about it. Before I give you an answer, let me think about. Let me think about it a little bit because I never got a question about it before. I don’t know if I would use taxpayers’ money for it.”

Q: “What about grants for sex education in the United States? Should they include instructions about using contraceptives? Or should it be Bush’s policy, which is just abstinence?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “Ahhh. I think I support the president’s policy.”

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Q: “I mean, I think you’d probably agree it probably does help stop it?”

Mr. McCain: (Laughs) “Are we on the Straight Talk express? I’m not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception – I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.”

Q: “But you would agree that condoms do stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Would you say: ‘No, we’re not going to distribute them,’ knowing that?”

Mr. McCain: (Twelve-second pause) “Get me Coburn’s thing, ask Weaver to get me Coburn’s paper that he just gave me in the last couple of days. I’ve never gotten into these issues before.”

This went on for a few more moments until a reporter from the Chicago Tribune broke in and asked Mr. McCain about the weight of a pig that he saw at the Iowa State Fair last year.

Original here

26,000 Cosigners to FEC Complaint Against McCain…And Counting

John McCain addresses pork via IowaPolitics.com.

We've had over 26,000 people cosign the complaint to the FEC against John McCain for campaign finance law violation (Christy has the background here). We're going to be delivering the signatures on Monday to the FEC with the help of Joe Sudbay of AmericaBlog and Reverend Lennox Yearwood, and we'd love to get to 30,000.

This is what Mr. Straight Talk said on the floor of the Senate in 2003 (h/t bemar):

The purpose of the presidential public financing system is to allow candidates to run competitive races for the presidency without becoming dependent on or obligated to campaign donors. That purpose is undermined when a candidate opts out of the system to raise and spend large amounts of private money for a primary or general election race. Such candidates should not be able to reject public financing and then get the system’s benefits when it suits their tactical advantage. A candidate should have to opt in or out of the system for the whole election.

John McCain doesn't just change his positions to pander to the fundies, he also does it for his own political convenience. Flauting the very campaign finance laws he helped to pass -- "for thee but not for me" -- makes it clear that he's not a maverick, he's not an independent, he's just a garden variety Republican hypocrite.

If you'd like to add your name to the complaint, you can do it here.

And if you have friends you'd like to tell about it, you can send them an email here.

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Getting Mrs. Clinton

I think we've reached a signal point in the campaign. This is the point where, with Hillary Clinton, either you get it or you don't. There's no dodging now. You either understand the problem with her candidacy, or you don't. You either understand who she is, or not. And if you don't, after 16 years of watching Clintonian dramas, you probably never will.

That's what the Bosnia story was about. Her fictions about dodging bullets on the tarmac -- and we have to hope they were lies, because if they weren't, if she thought what she was saying was true, we are in worse trouble than we thought -- either confirmed what you already knew (she lies as a matter of strategy, or, as William Safire said in 1996, by nature) or revealed in an unforgettable way (videotape! Smiling girl in pigtails offering flowers!) what you feared (that she lies more than is humanly usual, even politically usual).

[Getting Mrs. Clinton]
AP

But either you get it now or you never will. That's the importance of the Bosnia tape.

Many in the press get it, to their dismay, and it makes them uncomfortable, for it sours life to have a person whose character you feel you cannot admire play such a large daily role in your work. But I think it's fair to say of the establishment media at this point that it is well populated by people who feel such a lack of faith in Mrs. Clinton's words and ways that it amounts to an aversion. They are offended by how she and her staff operate. They try hard to be fair. They constantly have to police themselves.

Not that her staff isn't policing them too. Mrs. Clinton's people are heavy-handed in that area, letting producers and correspondents know they're watching, weighing, may have to take this higher. There's too much of this in politics, but Hillary's campaign takes it to a new level.

It's not only the press. It's what I get as I walk around New York, which used to be thick with her people. I went to a Hillary fund-raiser at Hunter College about a month ago, paying for a seat in the balcony and being ushered up to fill the more expensive section on the floor, so frantic were they to fill seats.

I sat next to a woman, a New York Democrat who'd been for Hillary from the beginning and still was. She was here. But, she said, "It doesn't seem to be working." She shrugged, not like a brokenhearted person but a practical person who'd missed all the signs of something coming. She wasn't mad at the voters. But she was no longer so taken by the woman who soon took the stage and enacted joy.

The other day a bookseller told me he'd been reading the opinion pages of the papers and noting the anti-Hillary feeling. Two weeks ago he realized he wasn't for her anymore. It wasn't one incident, just an accumulation of things. His experience tracks this week's Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showing Mrs. Clinton's disapproval numbers have risen to the highest level ever in the campaign, her highest in fact in seven years.

* * *

You'd think she'd pivot back to showing a likable side, chatting with women, weeping, wearing the bright yellows and reds that are thought to appeal to her core following, older women. Well, she's doing that. Yet at the same time, her campaign reveals new levels of thuggishness, though that's the wrong word, for thugs are often effective. This is mere heavy-handedness.

On Wednesday a group of Mrs. Clinton's top donors sent a letter to the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, warning her in language that they no doubt thought subtle but that reflected a kind of incompetent menace, that her statements on the presidential campaign may result in less money for Democratic candidates for the House. Ms. Pelosi had said that in her view the superdelegates should support the presidential candidate who wins the most pledged delegates in state contests. The letter urged her to "clarify" her position, which is "clearly untenable" and "runs counter" to the superdelegates' right to make "an informed, individual decision" about "who would be the party's strongest nominee." The signers, noting their past and huge financial support, suggested that Ms. Pelosi "reflect" on her comments and amend them to reflect "a more open view."

Barack Obama's campaign called it inappropriate and said Mrs. Clinton should "reject the insinuation." But why would she? All she has now is bluster. Her supporters put their threat in a letter, not in a private meeting. By threatening Ms. Pelosi publicly, they robbed her of room to maneuver. She has to defy them or back down. She has always struck me as rather grittier than her chic suits, high heels and unhidden enthusiasm may suggest. We'll see.

What, really, is Mrs. Clinton doing? She is having the worst case of cognitive dissonance in the history of modern politics. She cannot come up with a credible, realistic path to the nomination. She can't trace the line from "this moment's difficulties" to "my triumphant end." But she cannot admit to herself that she can lose. Because Clintons don't lose. She can't figure out how to win, and she can't accept the idea of not winning. She cannot accept that this nobody from nowhere could have beaten her, quietly and silently, every day. (She cannot accept that she still doesn't know how he did it!)

She is concussed. But she is a scrapper, a fighter, and she's doing what she knows how to do: scrap and fight. Only harder. So that she ups the ante every day. She helped Ireland achieve peace. She tried to stop Nafta. She's been a leader for 35 years. She landed in Bosnia under siege and bravely dodged bullets. It was as if she'd watched the movie "Wag the Dog," with its fake footage of a terrified refugee woman running frantically from mortar fire, and found it not a cautionary tale about manipulation and politics, but an inspiration.

* * *

What struck me as the best commentary on the Bosnia story came from a poster called GI Joe who wrote in to a news blog: "Actually Mrs. Clinton was too modest. I was there and saw it all. When Mrs. Clinton got off the plane the tarmac came under mortar and machine gun fire. I was blown off my tank and exposed to enemy fire. Mrs. Clinton without regard to her own safety dragged me to safety, jumped on the tank and opened fire, killing 50 of the enemy." Soon a suicide bomber appeared, but Mrs. Clinton stopped the guards from opening fire. "She talked to the man in his own language and got him [to] surrender. She found that he had suffered terribly as a result of policies of George Bush. She defused the bomb vest herself." Then she turned to his wounds. "She stopped my bleeding and saved my life. Chelsea donated the blood."

Made me laugh. It was like the voice of the people answering back. This guy knows that what Mrs. Clinton said is sort of crazy. He seems to know her reputation for untruths. He seemed to be saying, "I get it."

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