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John W. McCain at the White House

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 3:03 PM EST

bush-mccain.jpg Today, John Sidney McCain and George W. Bush were one. Bush endorsed McCain at the White House, saying, "John showed incredible courage, strength of character and perseverance in order to get to this moment and that's exactly what we need in a president." If you think Bush is so unpopular that he can't help McCain among conservatives, you're crazy. Hard-core right-wingers, the folks that don't really trust John McCain, love George Bush with an irrational passion. Of course, there's a danger that this endorsement will reinforce the notion that John McCain is running for what is essentially a third Bush term, in terms of both foreign and domestic policy. But the Democrats were going to hammer that point regardless of whether or not McCain made this trip to the Rose Garden.

The two men have a long history, displayed at right courtesy of a Think Progress photo montage.

For more on what John McCain needs to do to shore up the Republican base, see this.

Update: Bush: McCain "is not going to change" my foreign policy.

Update Update: Check out this SNL sketch on McCain swallowing his pride to endorse Bush in 2004.

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FISA and Total Online Awareness

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 1:16 PM EST

New questions have arisen about what, exactly, the government hopes to surveil. On Monday, Kenneth Wainstein, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security spelled it out:

At the breakfast yesterday, Wainstein highlighted a different problem with the current FISA law than other administration officials have emphasized. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, for example, has repeatedly said FISA should be changed so no warrant is needed to tap a communication that took place entirely outside the United States but happened to pass through the United States.

But in response to a question at the meeting by David Kris, a former federal prosecutor and a FISA expert, Wainstein said FISA's current strictures did not cover strictly foreign wire and radio communications, even if acquired in the United States. The real concern, he said, is primarily e-mail, because "essentially you don't know where the recipient is going to be" and so you would not know in advance whether the communication is entirely outside the United States.

Ryan Singel at Wired magazine thinks there's something to this. "That would make sense," he writes, "since email doesn't go directly to a device in most cases, it goes to a server that holds the email until the recipient(s) come to pick up the email—which could be and often is from different parts of the world—think of any business traveler."

Christians Heart Payday Lenders

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 12:12 PM EST

payday-lender.jpgThe Christian Right has used the Bible to bolster many a political issue, from abortion to stem cell research. Strangely enough, however, they seem to have missed one of the biggies: the Bible's many injunctions against usury, or predatory lending to poor people. The Bible is far more explicit in its disapproval of usury than, say, gay marriage. (The book of Ezekiel compares usurious lending to extortion and murder for hire, in fact, and threatens major hellfire for those who practice it.) Yet in parts of the country where the Christian Right wields the most political power, usurious payday lending has flourished more than anywhere else in the U.S., according to a new study by Christopher Peterson and Steven Graves.

Today's payday lenders charge around 450 percent interest on short-term loans, rates ten times higher than the federal definition of criminal loan sharking and nearly double what the Mob charged in its heyday. Peterson's home state of heavily Mormon Utah ranked high on the list of havens for payday lenders. The state claims more payday lending outlets than McDonalds, Burger Kings, Subway sandwich chains, and 7-11s combined, and has failed to pass even modest restrictions on allowable interest rates that exceed 500 percent a year, among the highest in the nation. (One reason may be that the chairman of the Salt Lake City Republican Party, former State Senator James Evans, himself owns several payday-lending outfits.)

Peterson and Graves decline to speculate as to why devout Christians and Mormons who wield considerable political clout continue to tolerate practices that are so clearly at odds with Biblical teachings. They simply attempted to point out the correlation, writing that sadly, "Those states that have most ardently held to their pious Christian traditions have tended to become more infested with the progeny of money changers once expelled by Christ from the Hebrew temple."

Photo by Flickr user ninjapoodles used under a Creative Commons license.

What John McCain Must Do Now

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 2:57 AM EST

mccain_closeup_250x200.jpg Now that John McCain has secured the delegates he needs to become his party's nominee, he has a period for several weeks, possibly several months, during which the Democrats are going to be slugging it out. So what should he do with his time?

(1) Raise money. The Clinton campaign raised a record $35 million in February, and speculation in the media points to a $50 million haul for Obama in the same period. That builds on Obama's $30+ million in January. In contrast, McCain raised $12 million in February.

Over the course of the campaign, Clinton and Obama have each raised roughly $135 million. Through January, Clinton has $29 million left, and Obama has $25 million left. McCain, on the other hand, has raised $53 million over the course of the campaign, and has $5 million left, less than Ron Paul.

But while the Democrats are raising $85 million a month, they can't spend that money defining John McCain or introducing their general election messaging. They have to spend it on 3 a.m. phone ads and the like. That provides McCain with a golden opportunity — now that he has access to all GOP donors, he can build out his fundraising base and start putting out ads that define the Democrats in any negative way he pleases.

But successfully building that donor base means consolidating his support among American conservatives. In order to that he must...

Why Howard Dean's Blood Pressure Is Through the Roof

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 2:30 AM EST

Wanted to add one thought to David's full-bodied analysis of tonight's Democratic results. If you run the numbers, Senator Clinton has almost no chance of catching Obama in the pledged delegate totals, even when you take her wins today into consideration. (Here's the proof.) In order to catch him in the delegate count, she needs to win by completely unprecedented margins in every state going forward. That's not bias. That's fact.

That means she can take her campaign in one of two directions: she can attack Obama so thoroughly that he becomes radioactive and no voters will touch him, or she can use some combination of superdelegates and Michigan/Florida to overrule the will of the people who have voted thus far. Either route creates huge problems for the party. Both damage Clinton even if she does come away with the nomination (because her primary win looks ill-begotten and gangster) and both destroy all of the goodwill and energy currently surrounding the Democratic Party.

I'm not saying Clinton should drop out. She can do as she pleases. But I am saying she should be aware of the consequences on her choices as she decides how to move forward. The difficulties she faces in climbing back into this thing, her wins today notwithstanding, are very real.

Clinton's Triple Win Sets Up a Long, Ugly Slog to Pennsylvania

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 1:58 AM EST

HRCwin.jpg Now it's on to the Democratic death-march in Pennsylvania.

By winning decisively in Ohio and Rhode Island and narrowly in Texas, Senator Hillary Clinton managed to keep her presidential aspirations alive and guaranteed that the bitterly-fought Democratic contest will slog on for weeks, at least until April 22, when Pennsylvania (with its 188 delegates) votes. With these victories, Clinton put an end to Barack Obama's streak--though he still maintains a significant, if statistically slight, lead in the delegates chosen in primaries and caucuses. (Due to the rules governing Texas' odd joint primary-caucus, it seemed possible on Tuesday night, even probable, that Obama would pocket a majority of the delegates there, despite placing second in he popular vote.) More important, Clinton earned the right to claim that her case against Obama, which she and her aides sharpened in recent days, has been seconded by Democratic voters, including two important blocs for the party: blue-collar Dems in Ohio, a decisive state in general elections, and Latino Democrats in Texas. Obama netted his only primary win of the night in Vermont.

At long last, Clinton and her strategists seemed to have gained traction with their attacks on the candidate of hope. As Firewall Tuesday approached, the Clinton campaign did not introduce any new themes. But it did tinker with the mix and accused Obama of falling short on integrity, credibility, and experience. This new mash-up was a success. Catching a break because the corruption trial of Obama's onetime friend and contributor Tony Rezko began this week, Clinton aides repeatedly clamed there were "unanswered questions" about Obama's relationship with Rezko. Obama's aides countered that there were no unanswered questions about this much-investigated episode. (Obama, accused of no wrongdoing in the Rezko matter, has acknowledged it was dumb for him to have entered into a real estate deal with Rezko, especially since the politically-wired developer was under investigation at the time.) Prodded by the Clintonites, reporters started grilling Obama anew about Rezko. And being asked about the dirty dealings of a former pal is never helpful to a candidate selling change and reform. Simultaneously, Obama's camp came under heavy fire--from the Clinton campaign--for falsely denying that a campaign adviser had met with Canadian officials and discussed Obama's position on NAFTA. (The aide denied press reports that he had told the Canadians that Obama's criticism of NAFTA was merely political posturing.) It looked as if Obama the Inspirer was not playing straight.

While casting Obama as just another shifty, sleaze-tainted pol, Clinton and her lieutenants pumped up the volume on their well-worn charge that he's not ready for prime time--that is, when the phone rings in the White House in the middle of the night because there's a crisis somewhere. The Obama camp quickly cooked up a clever retort--Clinton failed her red-phone moment by voting for George W. Bush's Iraq war measure--yet Clinton's heavy-handed commercial, if it did not persuade any individual voter in Texas or Ohio, did define the discourse (and media coverage) in the days before these primaries. Experience, not hope, was the main subject of the debate. Advantage: Clinton.

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Cow Poo Powers California's Grid

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 12:01 AM EST

542696674_1a7a164508_m.jpg Cows crap a lot. As of today, BioEnergy Solutions of California's Central Valley is using a vat of liquid cow poo the size of five football fields and 33 feet deep to produce natural gas. Planet Ark reports that David Albers, lifelong dairyman, aims to provide natural gas to power 1,200 homes a day through his Vintage Dairy Biogas Project. Albers is a partner in the 5,000-head Vintage Dairy and president of BioEnergy Solutions, which funded and built the facility at a cost of millions of dollars. The natural gas he's collecting is now plugged into California's grid via the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, part of an agreement to deliver up to three billion cubic feet of renewable natural gas a year—enough to meet the electricity needs of approximately 50,000 PG&E residential customers.

Good job. Even better: human poo power. Shiteloads of that to go around.

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.

Philip Morris Stubs Out Tobacco Research

| Tue Mar. 4, 2008 11:09 PM EST

108877184_c7c6942c61_m.jpg At last, the tobacco company Philip Morris has ended its program supporting research at dozens of U.S. universities after the University of California decided to monitor such support in its 10-campus system. The Philip Morris External Research Program funded 470 research proposals at about 60 U.S. medical schools for the last 8 years, reports Science. Critics charged the program was no different from earlier, discredited Philip Morris programs, likewise designed to confuse the public about the dangers of smoking…. There might be a spark left in the ashtray though. Look for future tobacco- industry funded studies aimed at "reducing the harm of smoking." —Like quitting?

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.

Ohio Exit Polls - Clinton Gets the Gang Back Together

| Tue Mar. 4, 2008 9:15 PM EST

Voting is staying open late in Ohio due to some nasty weather, but the networks have their exit polls out. Clinton is putting her old coalition (that Obama was meticulously dismantling) back together.

Whites were 75% of the vote — they went 61-38 for Clinton over Obama.

Blacks were 19% of the vote — they went 89-11 for Obama over Clinton.

Voters 44 and under went for Obama. Voters 45 and older went for Clinton.

Men were just 41% of the vote — they went 52-47 for Obama.

Women were 59% of the vote — they went 54-45 for Clinton.

Clinton won voters making under $50,000 a year. Obama just barely won voter making over $50,000 a year. Clinton's 50/50 voters are back!

Self-identified Democrats were two-thirds of the vote. They went 53-46 for Clinton. Self-identified Republicans and independents were one-third of the vote. They went roughly 55-45 for Obama.

Clinton won economic voters (the majority) and health care voters (roughly 20%), while Obama won Iraq War voters (also roughly 20%).

I think it's safe to say that Clinton has arrested Obama's momentum in Ohio. Looking at these numbers, I would guess Clinton takes the state by a small margin. Clinton has her base back together: women, older voters, low-income voters, and core Democrats.

Vermont Comes Up Obama

| Tue Mar. 4, 2008 8:11 PM EST

In an expected move, the networks have called Vermont for Barack Obama. We don't know what the margin of victory is yet, so we don't know how many of the state's 15 delegates will go to the Illinois Senator.

The exit polls show that Obama won majorities in basically every demographic. Tellingly, however, Obama lost people who decided on their candidate in the last three days, underscoring exactly how badly the last half week has been for Obama.