Friday, July 18, 2008

Hearing-Gate Exposed! McCain Has Worse Afghanistan Hearing Record Than Obama

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf reports from Capitol Hill: The McCain campaign criticism of Sen. Barack Obama's hearing record on Capitol Hill led us to put the shoe on the other foot.

It turns out that presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain has attended even fewer Afghanistan-related Senate hearings over the past two years than Obama's one. Which is a nice way of saying, McCain, R-Ariz., the top Republican on the Senate Armed Service Committee, has attended zero of his committee's six hearings on Afghanistan over the last two years.

Meanwhile, Obama attended the full Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Afghanistan in March 2007, although he used the opportunity to ask Gen. James L. Jones, then the commander of NATO, about Pakistan.

Jones also came before the Senate Armed Services Committee that week. But McCain was a no-show.

The findings are surprising given the fact that the McCain campaign loudly criticized Obama this week for failing to schedule any hearings on Afghanistan in the last year and a half. Obama chairs the European Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has oversight of military operations in Afghanistan.

“As the situation in Afghanistan grows more tense, it is time for us to hold a hearing on the mission there,” Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a McCain surrogate and ranking member of Obama's subcommittee wrote in a letter to the Illinois senator. “The success of Afghanistan is critical to the future of NATO and vital to our efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

Of the three Afghanistan-related hearings that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has had over the past 22 months, Obama, the presumptive Democratic candidate, has only attended one.

Meanwhile, DeMint, who most recently attacked Obama over Afghanistan, didn't attend any. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, missed one of the Afghanistan hearings too -- while he was in the midst of his own presidential campaign.

A review of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings as listed on the committee Web site for the past two years reveals that McCain's committee has held six hearings that included the word "Afghanistan" in the title or Central Command -- which overseas U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

McCain missed them all.

He missed the hearings with Adm. William Fallon, then the CentCom commander, with authority over Afghanistan, on March 4, 2008, and May 3, 2007.

There was also hearing on June 7, 2007, on the nomination of Gen. Douglas Lute to be the White House war czar with oversight over Afghanistan.

Gen. Jones testified before the Armed Services Committee on Sept. 6, 2007, but that hearing was on Iraq and while McCain showed up late for his opening statement, he was there.

But he missed the hearing on Afghanistan strategy Feb. 14 with representatives from the State Department and Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler.

He also missed the hearing April, 10, 2008 on the war in Iraq and the "situation in Afghanistan" where Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen both testified.

McCain also missed the Feb. 6, 2008 hearing where the committee considered the fiscal year request for authorizations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But McCain gets a pass for the most egregious Afghanistan-related hearing we could find. In February, 2006 when Republicans were in charge of Congress, Gen. Jones testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and only two senators -- both Republicans -- showed up.

Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., were the only senators who spoke at the hearing. No Biden. No Dodd. No Obama. No DeMint, although to be fair he was not on the committee at that time.

The finger pointing about who attended what hearing when seems besides the point anyways.

Both men have been AWOL from their day jobs for most of the past two years while they are running for president.

Update: McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers, in a statement to ABC News, argued that McCain's years of previous foreign policy experience make up for his recent lack of attendance at hearings.

"The point is that Obama claims to be a leader on Afghanistan, but had the power to hold hearings on our NATO operations there and failed to do so," wrote Rogers in an e-mail, although he did not say why McCain missed his own Armed Services Committee hearings over the past two years.

"John McCain has visited Afghanistan four times, spent 22 years in the military, served for years on the Armed Services Committee, and is a recognized international leader on national security policy," he said. "Obama has never visited Afghanistan once before this week and has no other foreign policy or national security experience to speak of. It isn’t even close."

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John McCain's Fake Town Halls

The John McCain town hall meeting is a fraud. Unlike other writers at HuffPost, I want John McCain to do well this summer, so it pains me to report this. "I believe the town hall meeting is the most important element of democracy," Senator McCain said last week in Portsmouth, Ohio. I wouldn't go that far, but I would hate to see one senator hand the election to another. It's not good for Senator Obama, who already exudes enough confidence to power a wind turbine; it's not good for us, because we profit from spirited debate. And isn't that what a town hall meeting is supposed to be?

The town hall meeting yesterday in Albuquerque, New Mexico is typical in that the real action is not on the ground in the small conference room of Hotel Albuquerque but in the internet air war waged at the same time. There's an old-fashioned quaintness to John McCain's insistence on the centrality of the town hall meeting -- even he doesn't really believe in it, for he always shapes his meetings not to the locals and their concerns but to the action taking place in the campaign email and conference call skirmishes over the addled attention of the press that particular day. McCain, for example, gives his Albuquerque supporters a speech on Afghanistan (much to the surprise of some, who had been hoping to hear about social issues and the economy) because that very day Obama delivers his major foreign policy speech, "A New Strategy for a New World," at the same time in Washington, D.C. Obama is setting the pace elsewhere, far from New Mexico. The McCain Campaign is as usual playing catch-up in Albuquerque, for Obama has been warning about the need to win the war in Afghanistan at least as far back as his Pennsylvania speeches before that state's primary.

Beyond the illusion of locality, there's the atmosphere to these meets. Despite the crackle in the air war, the town hall meetings themselves are soporific. Sometimes we begin with the hagiography of American patriotism: the trooping of the colors, the singing of patriotic hymns, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem. That was the drill in Portsmouth. But then quickly, and without fanfare, Mrs. Cindy McCain, as she's called, is giving a two-line introduction of her husband, and there's something about her soft voice -- I'm ready for a nap. Maybe because Cindy McCain is absent, Albuquerque isn't such a yawner. For one thing, the air war is heated, especially over what Senator Obama did or did not say about "the surge." For another, there is a plethora of security -- in addition to the usual suspects, five state troopers standing and staring, perhaps because most of New Mexico's Republican Party poobahs are seated in the small conference room. (A fillip to the unusual drama is that Governor Bill Richardson is holding an Obama fundraiser nearby at the same time.)

The absence of Mrs. Cindy McCain may be significant, for John McCain does not begin well, delivering his "Comprehensive Strategy for Victory in Afghanistan" speech haltingly. And he had spoken so beautifully just the day before at the La Raza convention in San Diego! I know the Senator is having an off day when he leans on the phrase "my friends" too often. (The McCain Campaign has tried to put their candidate on a "friends-free" diet.) From there Albuquerque descends into gaffe-querque, with poor John McCain stumbling through a series of verbal missteps.

Picked up ad nauseam by the national media is John McCain's calling the Czech Republic "Czechoslovakia" for the second time in two days. In answer to a question about buying gas, the Senator typically ranges far afield and wanders (no surprise) into one of his favorite topics, Iran. "As you also know, in recent days they [the Iranians] have tested missiles which could probably, in some ways, deliver a nuclear weapon, so it's very serious, a very serious situation. Now I believe that we are seeing a positive response from our European friends. I suggested a long time ago a League of Democracies, and it's very clear that Russia and China, especially Russia, will veto significant measures which will impact the behavior of the Iranians. Now I regret that. And I regret some of the recent behavior that Russia has exhibited, and I will be glad to talk about that later on, including the reduction of oil supplies to Czechoslovakia after they [the Czechs] agreed with us on missile defense system, etc."

It's too bad John McCain doesn't confine himself to a "talk about that later on." And what's up with the missiles that could probably, in some ways, deliver a nuclear weapon? Shouldn't Senator John McCain be able to speak more to the point than "in some ways?" He has a problem with vagueness all morning long, but it is this first question, the one on buying gas, that is most illustrative. A gentleman suggests that, as a way to help with the gas price crisis, "we first list the people who are selling us gas and doing us harm," like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Then, according to this man, we should have "a good list and a bad list" and buy only from the good.

In reply John McCain says, "I think that you are right. I think that the American people are beginning to understand more clearly that this huge transfer of $700 billion a year of your money is one of the greatest transfers of wealth in history. And it is a national security issue, my friends. It is an environmental issue, clearly an economic issue. But we can't afford this as far as our national security is concerned -- that money goes -- you mentioned a couple of them, Venezuela, ah, some other countries that -- that are clearly not our friends, and there is compelling evidence that some of that money ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations. So it is a national security issue. And I would be glad to identify them, although the American people, whom we tend sometimes to underestimate, have figured a lot of this out."

Who are the "we" who "tend sometimes to underestimate?" Aren't all of us in the room in Albuquerque Americans? Besides the condescension in we v. the people, what's clear is not that "some other countries" are our enemies but that John McCain cannot think of them. This is the third thing that is wrong with the town hall meetings: John McCain is no longer able to muster the facts necessary for spirited discourse. He is not the master of policy detail that is required now, in 2008, to make a credible run for the presidency. Ironically, we have George Bush to thank for raising the bar. The American people are no longer willing -- at least, I believe this to be so -- to proffer their trust to a candidate merely because of his good humor and personality. From what I've seen of John McCain in the summer's town hall meetings, he relies entirely too much on jokes and bonhomie to slide past the specifics he may not be able to recall quite in the moment.

The fourth bit of fakery in the town hall meetings is the lack of purported back-and-forth. At almost every event, Senator McCain encourages questioners to ask a follow-up, to get deep into the subject with him. But in fact McCain seldom zeroes in on the issue raised; instead he steers away to his talking points, a typical politician, moving the "conversation" in a direction that interests him, not the questioner. In Albuquerque, when he gets a question about the future of Los Alamos and the other national labs in New Mexico, for example, John McCain talks about an event in Silicon Valley, California, he recently attended where he met two guys who have built a $100,000 electric car. (This must be some car, because Bill Clinton used to talk about it all the time, too.) Then he salutes the fact that "the government invented the internet," before saluting "the large numbers of men and women that are based here in the state of New Mexico who are charged with defending the nation." Finally, in answer to the question about the labs, he brings on Congressman Pearce (behind in the polls in a fierce re-election fight) for a brief word. And once again, in this peculiarly gaffe-laden event, McCain adds a stunner. "The first telephones cost a thousand dollars and they were about that big! We all remember that!" We do??? I'm roughly the age of the average McCain supporter here, and I don't recall any such thing.

Sometimes political town hall meetings appear staged (and this happens at Obama events, as well) when a supporter feeds the candidate a question that the supporter knows will either flatter the candidate or play to his strong points. In Albuquerque, John McCain gets a question from a handsome young Hispanic guy wearing a white cowboy hat. "How are you going to secure the prosperity for the economic backbone of this country, the small businesses, the middle class businesses, the engine of the American economy?" The very wording of the question should be a clue to everybody. I, for one, already know this man, for I've interviewed him earlier. He is Aaron Henry Diaz, and he's the president of the Young Republicans of Dona Ana County. "John McCain is definitely an amigo," he has told me. It is unclear whether John McCain recognizes Aaron Henry when he says, "You epitomize to me what America is all about." McCain savors the moment and gets into trouble, again. "I want to tell you [to Aaron Henry] without getting emotional about it when I think about America I'll think about you and your wonderful partner next to you, and--" Titters. McCain realizes he has made a mistake. "And--a friend! Excuse me. Your friend next to you." Oops. Big oops. Because the young woman sitting next to Aaron Henry is also Hispanic, poor John McCain has drawn a certain conclusion. (She is, in fact, an aide to Congressman Pearce.) "I look at you both, and I see the face of America. That's why these town hall meetings are so important."

If the face of America is the John McCain town hall meeting, we're in trouble, because the McCain town hall meetings are old and white. There are always a few African-Americans (maybe three in Portsmouth and three in Albuquerque). There is a smattering of Hispanics in Albuquerque -- although nothing near a half-audience that would be roughly representational of New Mexico. There are always a number of Veterans -- the most intriguing in Albuquerque being a Hungarian army man who emigrated here in 1946 and looks way too young to have fought in World War Two. When I compliment him, he says, "I used to spend my summers in Transylvania." So even the John McCain town hall meetings along the trail have their moments.

But mostly the town hall summer makes me sad. It is an opportunity lost. Barack Obama had nothing to fear from John McCain in appearing with him at these events, even though he would've been playing "cool" to McCain's "warm." Of course, most likely the Obama Campaign has known this all along and has turned down the repeated McCain invitation not out of fear but out of disdain, not wanting to give these events the imprimatur of credibility. Nevertheless, a summer of joint appearances would have been a good thing, a good thing for us, the American people, because the events would have brought McCain supporters and Obama supporters together in the same room. Isn't that what the Obama Campaign is supposed to be about? And I get the sense that here in New Mexico, Democrats and Republicans live in two separate worlds.

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Socialism vs. Capitalism


Why Karl Rove Should Go To Jail

Again last week, we saw the arrogance of former White House advisor Karl Rove when an empty chair sat for him in front of the House Judiciary subcommittee where he was required by subpoena to testify. Not only did he refuse to appear before the committee -- let alone testify -- but he defiantly left the country thereby blatantly ignoring his obligations under the congressional subpoena served on him. When he did return to the country, Rove found the time to gab with TV reporters on a summer press tour in Beverly Hills, but failed to stop by the Judiciary Committee in Washington.

After my ruling that Mr. Rove's claims of immunity are not legally valid, Congressman Conyers and I gave him one last chance to comply with the law. He ignored us. As he let yet another deadline slip by this week, Mr. Rove's disregard for Congress has become intolerable. Mr. Rove needs to understand that he is not above the law and should obey a subpoena just like any other American is required to do.

Mr. Rove should not be able to hide behind the president to avoid the American public. Americans are fed up with this administration flaunting the law. They expect Congress to hold people accountable and that is exactly what we intend to do. Letting Mr. Rove get away with this would set a dangerous precedent. I have recommended that we hold Mr. Rove in contempt of Congress. If we need to revive the inherent contempt procedure which gives Congress the authority to arrest those who defy Congressional subpoenas, then so be it.

The courts have made clear that no one, not even the president, is immune from compulsory process. Any person who scoffs at the law and who has committed an offense that is punishable by jail time should be put in jail. This includes Karl Rove.

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Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'

WASHINGTON, DC–Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."

Enlarge Image nation nightmare

President-elect Bush vows that "together, we can put the triumphs of the recent past behind us."

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"

On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further.

Wall Street responded strongly to the Bush speech, with the Dow Jones industrial fluctuating wildly before closing at an 18-month low. The NASDAQ composite index, rattled by a gloomy outlook for tech stocks in 2001, also fell sharply, losing 4.4 percent of its total value between 3 p.m. and the closing bell.

Asked for comment about the cooling technology sector, Bush said: "That's hardly my area of expertise."

Turning to the subject of the environment, Bush said he will do whatever it takes to undo the tremendous damage not done by the Clinton Administration to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He assured citizens that he will follow through on his campaign promise to open the 1.5 million acre refuge's coastal plain to oil drilling. As a sign of his commitment to bringing about a change in the environment, he pointed to his choice of Gale Norton for Secretary of the Interior. Norton, Bush noted, has "extensive experience" fighting environmental causes, working as a lobbyist for lead-paint manufacturers and as an attorney for loggers and miners, in addition to suing the EPA to overturn clean-air standards.

Bush had equally high praise for Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft, whom he praised as "a tireless champion in the battle to protect a woman's right to give birth."

"Soon, with John Ashcroft's help, we will move out of the Dark Ages and into a more enlightened time when a woman will be free to think long and hard before trying to fight her way past throngs of protesters blocking her entrance to an abortion clinic," Bush said. "We as a nation can look forward to lots and lots of babies."

nation nightmare jump

Soldiers at Ft. Bragg march lockstep in preparation for America's return to aggression.

Continued Bush: "John Ashcroft will be invaluable in healing the terrible wedge President Clinton drove between church and state."

The speech was met with overwhelming approval from Republican leaders.

"Finally, the horrific misrule of the Democrats has been brought to a close," House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told reporters. "Under Bush, we can all look forward to military aggression, deregulation of dangerous, greedy industries, and the defunding of vital domestic social-service programs upon which millions depend. Mercifully, we can now say goodbye to the awful nightmare that was Clinton's America."

"For years, I tirelessly preached the message that Clinton must be stopped," conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said. "And yet, in 1996, the American public failed to heed my urgent warnings, re-electing Clinton despite the fact that the nation was prosperous and at peace under his regime. But now, thank God, that's all done with. Once again, we will enjoy mounting debt, jingoism, nuclear paranoia, mass deficit, and a massive military build-up."

An overwhelming 49.9 percent of Americans responded enthusiastically to the Bush speech.

"After eight years of relatively sane fiscal policy under the Democrats, we have reached a point where, just a few weeks ago, President Clinton said that the national debt could be paid off by as early as 2012," Rahway, NJ, machinist and father of three Bud Crandall said. "That's not the kind of world I want my children to grow up in."

"You have no idea what it's like to be black and enfranchised," said Marlon Hastings, one of thousands of Miami-Dade County residents whose votes were not counted in the 2000 presidential election. "George W. Bush understands the pain of enfranchisement, and ever since Election Day, he has fought tirelessly to make sure it never happens to my people again."

Bush concluded his speech on a note of healing and redemption.

"We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two," Bush said. "Much work lies ahead of us: The gap between the rich and the poor may be wide, be there's much more widening left to do. We must squander our nation's hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent. And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it."

"The insanity is over," Bush said. "After a long, dark night of peace and stability, the sun is finally rising again over America. We look forward to a bright new dawn not seen since the glory days of my dad."

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Expert: Rove executive privilege claim won't stand up in court

NYU professor says Bush power claims 'wider than Nixon'

In the waning days of George W. Bush's presidency, it seems that every week brings a new showdown with Congress over the president's refusal to let his aides testify in the investigation of the US Attorney firing scandal.

MSNBC host Dan Abrams discussed the latest subpoena showdowns involving former Bush aide Karl Rove and Attorney General Michael Mukasey Wednesday night. Rove ignored a subpoena to testify a a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing, and Mukasey is refusing an Oversight Committee subpoena to hand over transcripts of the FBI's interview with Vice President Dick Cheney during its Valerie Plame investigation. So far neither committee has voted to hold the officials in contempt of Congress.

New York University law professor Michael Waldman told Abrams Congress' threats were becoming "hard to believe" and he worried about the extent to which Congress was willing to recognize Bush's claims of executive privilege. Abrams qualified the restrictions as "no one is allowed to testify if they work for the president."

"It's much wider than previous administrations have claimed, even than Nixon claimed," Waldman said. "And the fact of the matter is I think something like that will not stand up in court."

"If I was the president I wouldn't be too worried about this Congress either," Abrams scoffed. "The fact that they have taken no action against Karl Rove -- almost a week after he refused to even show up to assert his privilege -- sure makes it seem like they're willing to take it on the chin and avoid taking any action to enforce these subpoenas."

This video is from MSNBC's Verdict, broadcast July 16, 2008.

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