2008 - %3, February

Civil Rights Hero Makes It Official: I'm Dumping Clinton for Obama

| Wed Feb. 27, 2008 5:06 PM EST

Two weeks ago I identified a possible tipping point for Barack Obama: Representative John Lewis's statement that he probably would vote for Obama as a superdelegate at the Democratic convention.

Now the civil rights hero has made it official by actually endorsing Obama.

Lewis has a lot of cred among House Democrats, among African American Democrats, among superdelegates. His move is an indicator that Clinton, who has a lead in committed superdelegates at this point, may not be able to count on that support. Lewis's announcement--even though it's not so newsy given his previous statement--is rather bad news for the Clinton camp.

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Obama Nets Millionth Donor; Makes Public Financing Irrelevant?

| Wed Feb. 27, 2008 3:09 PM EST

In an impressive feat, Barack Obama has surpassed the one-million donor mark. Marc Ambinder has a pretty good explanation for why that negates all of John McCain's bellyaching about Obama reneging on his public financing pledge.

In essence, the argument is: when one million people donate to your campaign in increments of roughly $110 each, that is public financing.

McCain Making Talk Radio Hate Him Even More

| Wed Feb. 27, 2008 1:38 PM EST

mccain_closeup_250x200.jpg This is awesome.

At a recent Ohio rally, John McCain was introduced by right-wing radio nutjob Bill Cunningham. Cunningham spent his introduction slamming Obama, repeatedly referring to him "Barack Hussein Obama" and calling him a "hack, Chicago-style, Daley politician." He made reference to "CBS the Clinton Broadcasting System, NBC the Nobody But Clinton network, the All Bill Clinton channel ABC, and the Clinton News Network."

The nutjobbery was bad enough that McCain immediately approached reporters after the event and denounced Cunningham's comments. His statement:

Freedom's Watch Backer to Take Stand in Israeli Lawsuit

| Wed Feb. 27, 2008 11:40 AM EST

Casino mogul and Freedom's Watch backer Sheldon Adelson, who's being sued in Israel, takes the stand tomorrow, Ha'aretz's Yossi Melman reports. Among the allegations in this case and related law suits, Melman reports: Adelson helped the Chinese government derail Congressional human rights legislation that would have called for Beijing not to get the 2008 Olympic games. In exchange, the law suits allege, Adelson received Beijing's nod to open a casino in Chinese-controlled Macau. Various businessmen along the way claim that Adelson cut them out of the deals. Melman:

... Besides Moshe Hananel's suit, there are another four against Adelson for hundreds of millions of dollars that were submitted to American courts about the concession granted to companies he owns for the operation of a hotel and casino in Macau. The suits were filed a few years ago by Chinese and American businessmen and by a New York investment house and a Taiwan bank. All parties claim Adelson promised to compensate them for assistance they had given him to gain the Macau franchise. ...

"Adelson, his assistants and companies deny the claims," the paper reports.

Obama and Clinton Debate in Cleveland: No Pain, No Gain

| Wed Feb. 27, 2008 1:40 AM EST

If the political winds in Ohio and Texas are blowing in Barack Obama's favor—and polls in each state show Obama gaining strength—Hillary Clinton did little during Tuesday night's debate in Cleveland to change the weather.

With a week to go before primaries in those important states, this debate was much a repeat of last Thursday's face-off. The two remaining Democratic candidates once again got hot and bothered over the issue of health care insurance mandates. But neither had anything new to say. The Clinton campaign has been pounding Obama for weeks on this front, but the wonky issue has not provided her any traction. And after 16 minutes of grueling back and forth—much of which was devoted to each candidate insisting that unnamed experts had pronounced his or her plan the best—Clinton did not achieve any breakthrough. She claimed the difference between their two health care proposals—she's for a comprehensive mandate that would force all Americans to purchase health insurance; he's for a limited mandate covering insurance for kids—is the defining issue of the Democratic presidential contest. His response: not really. He minimized the gap between their plans. And it's hard for a candidate to have a battle royale with a foe who deftly maintains, we ain't got that big of a dispute here, let's move on. By now it should be clear: mandates are not going to save Hillary Clinton.

The other big squabble of the night came right after the mandates mudwrestle, and it focused on NAFTA, which has emerged as an issue in the past week, with Clinton and Obama competing for blue-collar Democratic voters in Ohio. As part of this tussle, Clinton has in recent days complained that Obama has unfairly tarred her as a flip-flopper on NAFTA. (Her current position: the trade accord is flawed, needs to be renegotiated, and there should be a time-out in negotiating similar treaties.) At the debate, she declared that she's been a critic of NAFTA "from the very beginning." Obama called her out on this—and simultaneously, his campaign sent reporters a link to a YouTube video in which she praises NAFTA. (Obama's campaign website conveniently features a list of Clinton's pro-NAFTA remarks over the years.)

China Sacks Plastic Bags

| Wed Feb. 27, 2008 1:25 AM EST

Chinese_dragons.gif The dragon is changing its color. China launched a surprise crackdown on plastic bags in January. Now production of ultra-thin bags is outlawed and supermarkets and shops are forbidden from handing out free carrier bags starting June 1. Reuters reports via the Xinhua news agency that the country's largest plastic bag maker—Suiping Huaqiang Plastic Co, which employed 20,000 workers—has closed following a state-led environmental campaign discouraging plastics. Before the ban, China used 3 billion plastic bags a day and refined 37 million barrels of crude oil yearly for packaging.

Compare with America's 380 billion plastic bags a year. That's right: 1 billion-plus "disposable" bags a day. Of which only 1 percent get recycled. The rest go into landfill. Or to kill wildlife.

Go green dragon.

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.

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Financial Aid at Top Private Universities May Be Kiss of Death for Public Schools

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 8:38 PM EST

Last week Stanford University jumped on the ever-growing financial aid bandwagon, announcing the the school would extend support to middle- and upper-middle-class income families—a trend initiated by Harvard University and one that is quickly being adopted by top universities nationwide. Whether prestigious universities with bulging endowments are spreading the wealth to level the playing field for the socioeconomically disadvantaged or to gain prestige to further pad their endowments, lessening the financial burden of higher education is undeniably a great direction in which to head.

What's worrisome about this recent trend is what it implies for public universities around the nation, whose student bodies represent more diverse and democratic socioeconomic backgrounds. At UC Berkeley—a state school with bragging rights of its own for its quality of faculty, students, and research—the estimated cost of attendance (including tuition, room and board, and additional fees) is $25,000. This, of course, isn't cheap, but with Stanford's and many other top universities' estimated cost of attendance topping out at an astronomical $50,000, it has always seemed like a bargain.

More Answers in the Missing Email Caper

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 6:55 PM EST

henry-waxman250x200.jpg
Since as early as 2004, the National Archives has warned the White House that its system for preserving email records was inadequate—and that some of those emails may not have been archived at all, but the Bush administration has been slow to remedy the problem. "I am concerned about the loss of emails," the nation's chief archivist, Allen Weinstein, told Congress on Tuesday. "I'm concerned about maintaining the fullest possible White House records."

In conjunction with its first hearing regarding missing White House emails—perhaps as many as 5 million of them—the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released documents that suggest the White House failed to address serious record-keeping problems identified by its own staff and was largely unresponsive to the concerns of the National Archives.

The Military Hates Obama. Oh Really?

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 5:48 PM EST

How on EARTH can the Washington Times write an article saying the military is "expressing trepidation" about Barack Obama's candidacy, and add quotes like:

"We're very concerned about his apparent lack of understanding on the threat of radical Islam to the United States," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who is pro-Iraq war and a Fox News analyst. "A lot of retired senior officers feel the same way."

and:

A senior Pentagon official said an Obama swearing-in "will give the Arab street the final victory, the best optics, and the ultimate in bragging rights. They win. We lose."

without ever mentioning the fact that Barack Obama has received more donations from members of the military than any other candidate in the presidential race?

In Letter to Spy Chief, Four National Security Vets Suggest Bush is Fearmongering

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 4:56 PM EST

Can it be that the evildoers are closer to harming the United States because House Democrats won't roll over for President Bush and pass a bill that awards legal immunity to telecom firms that participated in what might have been illegal surveillance requested by the Bush administration? That's what George W. Bush and his aides have claimed. But four former top national security officials yesterday sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell that challenges that melodramatic--and fearmongering--interpretation. The letter--written by Rand Beers, former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council; Richard Clarke, former head of counterterrorism at the NSC; retired Lt. General Don Kerrick, former deputy national security adviser; and Suzanne Spaulding, former assistant general counsel at the CIA--is a good retort to the Bush White House. Here are the key parts:

The sunset of the Protect America Act (PAA) does not put America at greater risk. Despite claims that have been made, surveillance currently occurring under the PAA is authorized for up to a year. New surveillance requests can be filed through current [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] law. As you have stated, "Unlike last summer, there is no backlog of cases to slow down getting surveillance approvals from the FISA court. We're caught up to all of it now." As court orders are received, telecom companies are required to comply. Also, existing NSA authority allows surveillance to be conducted abroad on any known or suspected terrorist without a warrant. It is unclear to us that the immunity debate will affect our surveillance capabilities.