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Charlie Black, John McCain Aide and Super-Lobbyist

| Fri Feb. 22, 2008 2:54 PM EST

John McCain's primary defender in the Lady Lobbyist Scandal* is a man named Charlie Black. As a senior adviser to the campaign who is doing McCain's damage control right now, Black has to explain to the press that John McCain didn't have a romantic relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, didn't treat Iseman's clients with undue favoritism, and isn't too close to lobbyists in general despite his years of anti-lobbyist rhetoric.

Black, of course, is a lobbyist. In fact, as the head of the extremely influential lobby shop BKSH and Associates, he's one of Washington's most powerful influence-peddlers. In the Washington Post story today about the lobbyists that populate the upper ranks of McCain's campaign (here's another guy), Black is listed as working for AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan, and U.S. Airways. He works and has worked for far more companies than that, however.

After the jump, every company BKSH has worked for since 1998, along with the total value of their contracts, as provided by the Center for Responsive Politics lobbying database.

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The CIA's Constant Confesser: Michael Hayden Just Can't Stop Admitting Stuff

| Fri Feb. 22, 2008 2:34 PM EST

Is it just me, or is CIA director Michael Hayden the least secretive spy ever? First he admitted that the CIA waterboarded detainees. Of course, most of us already knew that, but he helpfully laid out the exact details of the dirty work to Congress. Next, he went ahead and confirmed that at least some of those interrogators were paid outside contractors, rather than the highly trained CIA operatives we thought they were. This news shed even more light on the program, if also somewhat muddying the legal waters. To top it all off, yesterday we learned that on a recent trip to London, Hayden informed the British government that, contrary to previous assurances, the U.S. actually did use UK territory for rendition flights. Oops.

In an internal statement to agency employees on Thursday, Hayden said that a new in-house review of CIA records had turned up the "administrative" error. He made no mention of what prompted the review. This in itself is strange: after all, for years now the agency has maintained a hard line on rendition flights, often flat-out denying their existence. For the most part, details about the program have emerged only as a result of foreign governments' own investigations. In short, the CIA doesn't tell us about stuff when they don't have to. So why the sudden openness?

Green Salt and Nuclear Laptop: New IAEA Report Says Iran Answers Some Questions, Still Has Others to Answer

| Fri Feb. 22, 2008 11:23 AM EST

The UN atomic watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has a new report out on Iran (.pdf).

I confess it would take me a very long time and several dictionaries to penetrate its highly technical language. So I turned to one of the smartest nonproliferation experts I know, Jacqueline Shire, a senior fellow with the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), for highlights. "I think that paragraphs 35-42 are the most negative for Iran," Shire says, "Though the IAEA would say that they are just now receiving the info from the US necessary for confronting/challenging Iran's claims of fabrication."

The paragraphs Shire points to are in a section of the IAEA report called "Alleged Studies." They describe in dry, bullet-point form and highly technical language a quiet drama: how IAEA officials in late January and early February presented information handed over after a battle getting it from the U.S. government that concern questions of something called the so-called "Green Salt Project" and an alleged Iranian nuclear laptop that the US government obtained. Iran in turn called some of that American-sourced evidence "fabrications," on other points, the IAEA said it was still awaiting an Iranian response.

Kennedy Canta!

| Fri Feb. 22, 2008 11:06 AM EST

This is half awesome and half embarrassing.

If I work for Kennedy, I'm avoiding my email today.

Update: Wow, the Obama folks are really bumping up their Hispanic outreach. See the Viva Obama video after the jump.

Debate's Final Moment - Transformative?

| Fri Feb. 22, 2008 10:24 AM EST

The Clinton campaign is really pushing the final bit of yesterday's debate (coverage of the full debate here) as some kind of transformative moment. Seconds after the debate ended, Clinton's communications director Howard Wolfson sent out a short email saying this:

What we saw in the final moments in that debate is why Hillary Clinton is the next President of the United States. Her strength, her life experience, her compassion. She's tested and ready. It was the moment she retook the reins of this race and showed women and men why she is the best choice.

Just after midnight, the campaign sent out video of the moment. It's below. And today's Morning HUBdate (an email sent daily to supporters) began, "If You Watch One Thing Today: In the final moments of last night's debate, Hillary demonstrated her strength, life experience and compassion."

But here's the thing. That handshake was seen by some in the media last night as a valedictory. It was a composed, graceful moment that humanized Clinton (and Obama) and showed that beneath their politicians' veneers, they are just fundamentally decent human beings. But the press saw the beginning of the end for Clinton. And indeed, it could be seen as Clinton laying the groundwork for a graceful exit. Keith Olbermann speculated that it was a capitulation, a statement that she is ready to be a VP.

I don't think it was a capitulation, but I do think it was a concession in some way that she is tired of fighting and attacking, especially because her attacks on Obama haven't been working and the race has slipped away from her. It was also an acknowledgment of the fatigue that the campaign season puts a person under.

I wonder if the campaign realized that that the closing moment was dangerous, so they immediately leapt to spin it to their advantage. And because everyone was focusing on that handshake, they included the minute or two beforehand in which Clinton talked about injured vets.

Draw your own conclusions. As a nation, we've already spent fifteen years psychoanalyzing the Clintons; looks like we're not done yet.

Dems Debate: No Shoot-out in Texas, as Clinton Halfheartedly Goes After Obama

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 11:33 PM EST

obama-clinton250x200.jpg Asked if Barrack Obama was ready to be commander in chief, Hillary Clinton ducked the question. When Obama suggested she is not as willing as he is to confront the special interests of Washington, she did not engage. Offered the chance to blast Obama for vowing to meet with the dictatorial leaders of North Korea and Iran in his first year as president, she took a pass. When Clinton did go on the attack at Thursday night's debate in Austin, Texas, she chose to focus on Obama's use of several speech lines borrowed (or plagiarized, according to the Clinton camp) from Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a supporter of Obama. That was, she said, "not change you can believe in; it's change you can Xerox."

With the zinger, Clinton was trying to reinforce one of her campaign's themes: I offer solutions; he offers words. But during this portion of the debate, Obama came on strong. He brushed aside the plagiarism accusation as part of the "silly season in politics," and noted that the fine words of his eloquent speeches convey not only hope and inspiration but also support proposals for tuition tax credits for college, tax relief for working families, and military disengagement in Iraq. And Obama explained that inspiration is essential because "if we can't inspire the American people to get involved in their government," Washington will continue to be a city of gridlock dominated by corporate lobbyists. Clinton didn't have much of a reply to that. She did continue stick to her my-actions-speak-louder-than-his-words assault. But there was no new punch to this now routine line, and she appeared to gain no new ground in the battle between (his) hope and (her) experience.

Which means the debate was no game changer. Obama, who has not been his best at debates earlier in the campaign, performed well in Austin before a pumped-up crowd that cheered on both candidates. (Kudos to CNN for not shushing the candidates' supporters.) Clinton performed well, too, especially when it came to demonstrating her command of policy details and ticking off her legislative accomplishments. But at this point, she needs to do better than well and clobber Obama, and that did not happen. A recent poll in Texas--which holds its primary on March 4--shows the race between the two a statistical dead heat. That is, Obama, if the polls are to be believed, is catching her in the crucial state. And polls in Ohio--the other big prize on March 4--show Obama nipping at a still-significant Clinton lead. But there's still plenty of time for him to close in on her in the Buckeye State.

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Maybe Hitchens Is Right and God Isn't So Great

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 9:32 PM EST

Only yesterday I blogged about the American Christian right ordering (white) Europeans to have more babies, repeal liberal divorce, same sex marriage, and abortion laws lest the Muslim hordes over run them. Mere coincidence, the overlap with their theocratic preferences.

Today, we happen upon yet another example — since we were running low — of the dangerous centrality to male privilege of retaining control over women's bodies, and more importantly, their choices, so as to hold onto power. Fascinating, the lengths to which religious fervor and hegemony go to perpetuate and expand themselves despite the teachings of its holy books; Muslims and Christians in Africa (Nigeria here) are slaughtering each other in the name of religion. Well, it's either that or they're killing each other over the right to exercise immoral power over the designated Other and religion is a good a way as any to identify your inferior. God forbid they should try peaceful co-existence or maybe just focus on their own spiritual uplift. One would think that living up to either the Messiah's or the Prophet's requirements might keep one a little too busy to be looking for qc'ing others.

What's most fascinating, however, is how the battle over who gets stuck on the business end of apartheid — Christians have control now and keep the Muslims second class citizens — quickly became about who has access to which women. Let's just say that's not up to the women in question. No doubt, though, the lure of fighting the designated infidel by withholding their wombs, and their all important love, will prove seductive to many of the Christian women called on to do their duty (i.e. love only your neighbor Christian neighbors). The others will just keep bringing it back home to the Christian Papa to stay alive. Odd, how 'women's work' is only worth noticing when in danger of being performed for someone else.

As the Muslims, galvanized by the 1980s Iranian revolution and who tend to be successful merchants, inter-married with "their" women, the Christian overlords had to step in to set the women straight. Turns out that the "ladies" they're so desperate to keep as to engage in gruesome rampages, "are stupid and attracted to money....Believing that the Muslims were trying to wipe out Christians by converting them through marriage...[the elders] decided to punish the women. "If a woman gets caught with a Muslim man," Sunday said, "she must be forcibly brought back." Rhymes with "harsh interrogation techniques." "Gets caught" not "chooses."

This is bad. Very bad. It's the cover and it's the Atlantic, so it's a hefty, illuminating and worrying read. You shouldn't miss it. Here's the intro:

Fewer Guns, Not More 'Heroes'

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 9:05 PM EST

In the wake of the latest college shootings, Utah's public college students are packing heat. I feel much safer now.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNN) -- The senior at the University of Utah gets dressed and then decides which gun is easiest to conceal under his clothes.
If he's wearing a T-shirt, he'll take a smaller, low-profile gun to class. If he's wearing a coat, he may carry a different weapon, he said.
He started carrying a gun to class after the massacre at Virginia Tech, but the student says he's not part of the problem of campus shootings and could instead be part of a solution.

Utah, according to CNN, is the only state which allows concealed-carry at all public colleges as well as other places around the state. "However, [a university administrator] said the regents are opposing a legislative proposal to allow people with concealed weapons permits to have the weapons visible in public. "We are worried that it may affect their [students' and teachers'] willingness or desire to go to or teach a class on campus," she said.

You don't say?

Where once you had to worry that the slacker next to you might be copying your answers or calling you a tramp on JuicyCampus.com, now you have to worry that he might think that that bulge in your own pocket just might not mean you're glad to see him. I teach at a university - hell, I live in America - and I worry about mall and campus violence and the nice, crowded targets we represent. Call me crazy, but I don't feel any better thinking someone in the room believes he's got the Die Hard focus to avoid all the fleeing bodies and the pandemonium and take out only the deranged shooter who started it all. All, of course, without breaking a sweat or wasting a bullet. Or a classmate. They've probably got their 'just kicked your ass,' toss-off movie one-liner ready — "hasta la vista, baby" and the like.

Maybe this isn't really so much about the 2nd Amendment as some folks' need to believe that they're cowboy cool, all Clint Eastwood, and they're going to NYPD Blue the perp right into the back of a squad car. Then get the keys to the city, a trip to the White House, a movie deal, the blonde...

A Congressional Race That (Almost) Sums Up Northern California

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 9:04 PM EST

Californians, and especially San Franciscans, have a knack for embracing politicians who are larger than life. We've elected Jerry Brown ("Governor Moonbeam"), veteran state Senator John Burton (the flamboyant foul-mouth), and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown ("Slick Willie"), to name a few. Now we've got the Governator in Sacramento and Gavin the Playboy in City Hall. And there are always mayoral also-rans such as Cindy Sheehan, the peace mom, and Josh Wolf, the jailed vlogger. These politicos are as much policy wonks as cultural figures who embody the fears, dreams and excesses of their times--a reflection of the fact that politics and culture are unusually conjoined in the Golden State.

Even in light of this history, voters should brace themselves for the upcoming election to replace the recently deceased Congressman Tom Lantos. It's a race that simultaneously evokes San Francisco's pre-hippie past, touches upon the rise and decay of the counterculture, and speaks to an uncertain future in which technology, political idealism, and ego form a volatile mix. It could be a wild ride. I'll explain after the jump.

Killing Others Makes Us Sicker

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 7:52 PM EST

wildlife_zoonoses_hotspots_500.jpg

Credit: Nature

Oops. More of those unforeseen consequences. Including the first scientific evidence that deadly emerging diseases have risen steeply across the world. Why? Because of human expansion into shrinking pockets of biodiversity and resulting contacts with wildlife (think poor countries). Plus, the bonus factor (think rich countries), new diseases arising from overuse of antibiotics, centralized food processing, and other technologies, nursing other outbreaks, like multidrug-resistant pathogen strains. The study appears in the Feb. 21 issue of the scientific journal Nature.

In the new study, researchers from four institutions analyzed 335 emerging diseases from 1940 to 2004, then converted the results into maps correlated with human population density, population changes, latitude, rainfall and wildlife biodiversity. Disease emergences have quadrupled in 50 years. Sixty percent travelled from animals to humans, most from wild creatures. Hot spots on the map span sub-Saharan Africa, India, and China, with smaller spots in Europe, North America, and South America. Translated: everywhere.

Still waiting for human intelligence to overrule human appetite.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.