2008 - %3, August

In Election's Racial Divide, Battered Clintons Side with McCain

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 12:35 PM PDT

It certainly didn't take long. With weeks to go before either party's political convention, and neither candidate having selected a running mate, the issue of race has already become a theme of the just-begun general election. Sens. Obama and McCain are now accusing one another of using race as a political tool. Obama, apparently unprovoked on the issue, suggested McCain would use Obama's "funny name" and appearance to scare voters. McCain's campaign accused Obama of playing the race card "from the bottom of the deck."

Some Democrats may expect the Clintons, who enjoyed tremendous support from African Americans for many years but have lost some due to insensitive remarks about race during the primary, to step in and defend Obama, but no such luck. The Clintons have remained silent and some suggest that members of Sen. Clinton's presidential campaign, after bearing similar accusations from Obama during the Democratic primary, may be quietly celebrating Obama's difficulty with the issue.

Politico reports anonymous Clinton aides declaring "I feel slightly vindicated" and that "the chickens have come home to roost." One stated, "We were being considered a racist campaign ... so there aren't a lot of people rushing to inoculate [Obama] on that account." In an interview yesterday, a visibly angry Bill Clinton chastised a reporter for asking about race, stating "I am not a racist." Video of the interview—and why Democratic infighting still defines this election—after the jump.

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Hey, Oregon GOP: Just Fold Already

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 12:06 PM PDT

It's the Grand Obama Party out there in the Beaver State.

Potential VP Evan Bayh: Better Than Expected, But Not Good Enough

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 11:14 AM PDT

evan_bayh.jpg When I put together my primer on Obama's VP options (sadly leaving off Tim Kaine, a current frontrunner), I described Indiana Senator Evan Bayh as a moderate and a milquetoast. It wasn't a radical description — read any description of Bayh and "boring" and "centrist" are bound to come up. As a result, a lot of progressives are growing worried as Bayh emerges as a frontrunner.

But Nate Silver over at fivethirtyeight.com disagrees, at least on the "centrist" part. He created a chart to examine how well the voting habits of sitting senators (liberal, moderate, or conservative) matches the political persuasions of the states they are from. Turns out that Bayh, a Democrat from conservative Indiana, is more liberal that Ben Nelson, for example, a Democrat from conservative Nebraska. He's also more liberal than Tim Johnson, a Democrat from conservative South Dakota. In fact, says Silver, "there is no senator more liberal than Bayh in any state more conservative than Indiana."

Pelosi Urges Dems To Hedge on Off-Shore Drilling

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 11:00 AM PDT

Last week, Sen. Obama raised eyebrows by suggesting he would back off-shore drilling, despite House Speaker Pelosi's long-held opposition to opening the coastline. Some feared the policy difference would lead to a split and tension within the party.

It turns out, however, that Pelosi has been quietly urging fellow Democrats to publicly split with her on the issue and support off-shore drilling in order to gain political points for the coming elections. It may be a somewhat duplicitous strategy, but more Democratic seats in Congress would mean greater ability to pass comprehensive energy legislation, even if it does come at the cost of coastal drilling.

Pelosi's plan, it seems, is to publicly present a Democratic Congress divided over allowing off-shore drilling, enticing Republicans to offer more compromises on energy legislation than they otherwise would to woo hard-line Democrats. The strategy also allows Democrats up for reelection to appear independently minded on energy.

—Max Fisher

And Volvos Sound Like Oppressive Islamic Extremism

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 10:57 AM PDT

John McCain is at the 68th annual Sturgis Rally at Buffalo Chip campground in South Dakota today. It's got beer, semi-naked gals, and bikers — lots and lots of bikers. When those bikers showed their appreciation for John McCain by revving their engines, he reportedly responded:

"I recognize that sound. It's the sound of freedom."

What? Either he meant the freedom of the open road or John McCain is completely incapable of understanding anything (or even hearing sounds) outside the prism of our transcendental struggle against radical Islam.

Which may be what some Americans are looking for in a president. I dunno.

By the way, McCain also encouraged his wife to participate in Buffalo Chip's beauty pageant, which, according to CNN, is "an infamously debauched event that's been known to feature topless women." Classy.

More on Obama and the Blown Town Hall Opportunity

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 10:03 AM PDT

A commenter at the Plank has another reason why dismissing John McCain's town hall idea was a missed opportunity for Barack Obama (we discussed this yesterday): it would have distracted attention away from all the attacks that conventional wisdom says are dragging down Obama's poll numbers.

Here's jobeek2:

In 2004, the Republicans used the summer lull of non-news to ceaselessly hammer out the trivia of character assassination, and it worked. They're trying it again now... If Obama had agreed to a series of townhall debates, those encounters would have sucked up all the attention, and we wouldnt have had the news vacuum in which rumours and slander thrive...
I thought Obama should have agreed to the townhall debates even if it *had* been strategically disadvantageous, just because it would have been good for political culture and discourse, for the country basically. But even on a strategic level, participation would have escaped Obama the sordid mess he's confronting now.

Agreed.

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Dep't. of Unsexy: Support Disclosure Parity

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 9:14 AM PDT

You want no-brainer legislation? Here's no-brainer legislation.

The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S. 223) eliminates the archaic system by which the Senate files campaign fundraising disclosure forms, a system the House did away with years ago. Currently, House candidates and presidential candidates file their fundraising disclosures electronically to the Federal Elections Commission, meaning that information about who is filling the candidates' coffers gets to the public expeditiously.

The Senate on the other hand has preserved for itself a system that adds darkness and delay to the process. Senate candidates file their reports with the office of the Secretary of the Senate, which prints them out and delivers them in paper to the FEC. The FEC then inputs them into its computer databases, which can accessed by the public online and allows great groups like the Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation to do the things they do so well. The process takes months, meaning that fundraising in the homestretch of any Senate campaign is effectively done without oversight by the public.

Six good government reform groups are pushing for the passage of S. 223, and have set up a website where you can put your weight behind them. You can also see if your senators back the bill.

Two previous versions of the bill have failed, but every time Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduces it, he gains co-sponsors. In 2003-2004, he had 2. In 2005-2006, he had 23. Today he has 42. So the bill has never had a better chance of passing. As the title of this post suggests, disclosure requirements are an unsexy topic, so the few people who actually care have to do what they can to help.

White House, CIA Forged Pre-Invasion Iraq Intel?

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 7:16 AM PDT

When the Bush White House couldn't find a smoking gun to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks, they simply invented one, or so says Ron Suskind in his new book, The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism. The book, released today, claims that the White House conjured up rumors that Mohammad Atta met with Iraq's intelligence services prior to September 11—one of the "facts" that Dick Cheney has repeatedly cited to justify the Iraq invasion.

From the CBS News:

This letter, in the handwriting of Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, is dated July, 2001. It says that Iraqis hosted Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, who, "displayed extraordinary effort and showed a firm commitment to lead the team which will be responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy."
The letter goes on to suggest that Iraq was importing uranium from Niger for a nuclear program.
The book alleges that Habbush, Saddam's intelligence chief, was in CIA protective custody after the 2003 invasion, that the White House ordered CIA officials to have Habbush write and backdate the letter, and paid him $5 million. The author quotes two former CIA officials who claim to have seen a draft of the letter on White House stationery.

Listen to an NPR interview with Suskind here.

The White House and the CIA deny claims that they faked the letter. According to a White House spokesman, "Ron Suskind makes a living from gutter journalism. He is about selling books and making wild allegations that no one can verify, including the numerous bipartisan commissions that have reported on pre-war intelligence."

Why So Silent, NRA?

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 6:45 AM PDT

Why won't the NRA speak? The National Rifle Association is not known as an organization run by people who are shy with the media. Yet the most powerful player in the gun lobby--and one of the most powerful political organizations around--still won't say anything about Mary Lou Sapone (a.k.a. Mary McFate).

Last week, Mother Jones broke the story of Sapone, who for about fifteen years was a gun lobby mole within senior levels of the gun control movement. Sapone was a self-described "research consultant" who had also penetrated the animal rights movement and environmental groups. But none of her operations--as far as is known publicly--were as extensive as her infiltration of various gun control organizations. And for at least some of the time that Sapone (as Mary McFate) worked at various gun violence prevention groups she had the NRA as a client, according to the deposition of a former business associate (as we explained in our story on her). Other evidence suggests a years-long relationship between Sapone and the NRA or gun rights advocates connected to the NRA.

So shouldn't the NRA have to address this? Before our story was posted, we called the NRA several times, explaining what we were going to report. Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the NRA, promised she would get back to us. She never did. Other media outfits pursuing the Sapone tale have also received the brush-off. The Philadelphia Inquirer published a front-page piece two days after our expose and noted that its reporter had contacted the NRA, extracting no comment from the influential lobby. The same thing happened when ABC News did a report on Sapone. The ABC News team even found more evidence of the Sapone-NRA relationship: her neighbors in Sarasota, Florida, said that she "often spoke about working for the NRA."

Can anyone push the NRA to respond to the Sapone story and explain its involvement in this 15-year-long penetration of assorted citizens groups? Congressional Democrats these days are not too eager to be IDed with the gun control issue, but perhaps one of them in Congress--paging Chairman Waxman or Chairman Conyers?--could send the gun lobby a note asking a few pointed questions.

The NRA has been holding its fire on this one, obviously hoping that it can duck the story and that the Sapone mess will fade away. But maybe not just the media but the NRA's own members (and board members) ought to ask why the lobby was spying on its political foes, who at the organization authorized this covert activity, how much money was spent on it, and, perhaps most important of all, was Sapone its only agent, past or present.

Bacteria Not Flu Killed Most In 1918

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 10:39 PM PDT

1918_1.jpg A new study in Emerging Infectious Diseases concludes that bacteria not influenza killed most people in the 1918 flu epidemic. The lesson: stock up on antibiotics for the next flu pandemic—bird flu, horse flu, or otherwise.

New Scientist reports that researchers sifted through first-hand accounts, medical records, and infection patterns from 1918 and 1919.

They found that bacterial pneumonia piggybacked on surprisingly mild flu cases. And the victims didn't die fast. A supervirus would have likely killed them in three days.

Instead, most people lasted more than a week and some survived two weeks—classic hallmarks of pneumonia.

Most compelling: medical experts of the day identified pneumonia as the cause of most of the 100 million deaths—the most lethal natural event in recent human history.

Other research suggests the brutal mechanism. Influenza killed cells in the respiratory tract, which became food and home for invading bacteria that overwhelmed overstressed immune systems.

Ten years later, penicillin overpowered bacteria in subsequent influenza epidemics. But nowadays we're having those nagging antibiotic problems.

So health authorities are increasingly interested in the role bacteria will likely play in the next pandemic. Yet little action has been taken. "They are just starting to get to the recognition stage," says Jonathan McCullers, infectious disease expert. "There's this collective amnesia about 1918."

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.