2010 - %3, October

K Street's Kingmakers

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Ever heard of Representative Dave Camp (R-Mich.)? No? K Street sure has. For months, lobbyists and outside spending groups have been preparing for a Republican takeover of Congress by pumping cash into GOP campaigns. But they're devoting special attention to the real centers of potential power: likely picks for key congressional chairmanships.

Count veteran lobbyists like former Senator Bob Dole and accounting giant Ernst & Young among the eager many lining up to wine and dine Rep. Camp. The New York Times reports that the congressman is poised to ascend to the chairmanship of the tax-writing House Ways & Means Committee if the GOP takes back the House, "transforming this low-key conservative Republican almost overnight into one of the most powerful men in town."

Of course, no one knows for sure that the Republicans are going to be calling the shots after November 2nd. But that hasn’t stopped military industry groups—upset over spending cuts proposed by the Obama administration—from backing Republicans like California's Howard McKeon, a possible pick for House Armed Services chair. Here's the Times on that relationship:

For his 2008 campaign, Mr. McKeon collected $86,000 from the military industry for his political action committee and re-election bid. This time, even before the two-year election cycle is over, he has pulled in nearly $400,000, and has emerged as the top recipient of money in both the House and the Senate from military contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

Recognizing the enormous power Mr. McKeon could soon have in helping shape Defense Department policy and spending, military contractors are teaming up with his office to form a new association of military suppliers they are calling the Aerospace Defense Coalition of Santa Clarita Valley, to make sure he can deliver as much money as possible to his district in California, where several of the big contractors already have large operations.

Meanwhile, energy lobbyists are lining up to back Washington's Doc Hastings, a strong critic of Obama's moratorium on new drilling, for Natural Resources Committee Chair. This year, he's collected a tidy $70,000 from the energy industry.

Buying influence during a campaign is a big part of what lobbying and trade groups are built to do. Campaign donations are a great way to ensure access to candidates—and when there's a change in partisan control, the people who it's most important to have access to change, too. You can bet that if the Republicans were in power and the Dems were poised to take over, lots of lobbyist money would be flowing in the exact opposite direction that it is today.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Dispatch from the Last Frontier

| Thu Oct. 28, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

The culmination of the Alaska Senate wil be among the most interesting to watch next week, with its three-way battle between tea-party backed Republican candidate Joe Miller, Democrat Scott McAdams, and incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is making a write-in bid.

Miller and Murkowski are neck-and-neck in the polls, but McAdams has recently been gaining steam. When I wrote about the Democratic candidate back in August, I noted that while Americans might be tired of hearing about mayors from small towns in Alaska, McAdams and his hometown, Sitka, are a far cry from Wasila. The town is an island off the southeastern leg of Alaska, and at just 8,600 people qualifies as the fifth-largest municipality in the state.

One of those residents, Andrew Miller, writes in to Mother Jones to dish more about the town and McAdams:

As much as Sarah Palin is a product of Wasilla, the ultra-conservative bedroom community of Anchorage, Alaska Democratic Senate candidate Scott McAdams may embody his hometown of Sitka. Some say Sitka is the most liberal community in Alaska. In truth, Sitka is like McAdams, leaning only slightly to the left. It’s fueled by hydroelectric dams, keeps its library open later than anywhere in the state, has rejected corporate retailers, and recently elected a lesbian mayor. However, it’s also a place where voters have twice turned down initiatives to outlaw smoking in bars, where voters consistently elect Republicans to the state legislature, and where the new mayor is a fierce fiscal conservative. Sitka is not Berkeley, but it is a stark contrast to Sarah Palin’s Alaska. Not only is Sitka relatively moderate where Wasilla is a Mecca for Tea Party-types, but Sitka is also the type of small town Palin likes to portray Wasilla as being.

As much as Palin likes to talk about small-town values, a trip to Wasilla is a trip to suburbia. Mayor Palin and Wasilla voters put economic development ahead of everything else, and now the town feels like everywhere else with congested highways and a strip of fastfood chains. Meanwhile, Sitka shoppers buy their groceries at the locally-owned SeaMart and still walk downtown to buy new clothes or see a movie. There are no four-lane highways within 100 miles of Sitka.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 28, 2010

Thu Oct. 28, 2010 4:30 AM EDT

A group of Afghan Commandos, with 3rd Commando Kandak, and U.S. Special Forces Soldiers, with Special Operations Task Force - South, wait to board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter before an operation to rid insurgents from PanjwaÕi District, Oct. 15, 2010, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Daniel P. Shook/Special Operations Task Force - South

Voter Fraud, Take 2

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 7:11 PM EDT

Kevin Williamson says I'm wrong to say that voter fraud is practically nonexistent. After all, maybe there really is lots of fraud, but nobody is getting convicted of it so we don't know about it.

Well, OK. That's pretty hard to argue with. But I'd still like to see some evidence that it's actually widespread. And unluckily for me, says Williamson, "Kevin Drum has really, really bad timing, I think." This is based on three examples of voter fraud that turned up just this week. So let's roll the tape:

  • Example #1 is some guy who ran for a seat on the Daytona Beach City Commission back in August and apparently requested 92 absentee ballots under suspicious circumstances. Today he was arrested and charged with committing absentee ballot fraud.
  • Example #2 concerns Patrick Murphy, running for Congress in Pennsylvania, who has done — something. I can't quite tell what. "Flooded" the post office with absentee ballot requests is one version of the story. "Fooled" voters into requesting absentee ballots they didn't need is another version. Created a mailer that looked really official, goes another. But I can't tell what's really going on here. At worst, it appears that Murphy is nudging people to request absentee ballots even though they might not actually be absent on election day. On a corruption scale of 1-100, this rates about a 1.5.
  • Example #3 concerns some felons who apparently voted in Hennepin County in 2008. According to the local prosecutor, "The rate of alleged fraud amounted to about 0.00006 percent of ballots cast....'There was no evidence of any organized effort to enable or promote this activity,' he said."

So that's one (alleged) crook in an obscure municipal race, one election mailer that opponents have objected to, and a tiny bit of unorganized (and quite possibly unintentional) fraud two years ago. That's really not a very impressive tally.

But look: the point isn't that there's no voter fraud. Of course there is. It's a big country. If 50 million people vote and 0.01% of the votes are fraudulent, that's 5,000 fraudulent votes. That might seem like a lot, but it would actually be an indication of a really, really clean election system.

In any case, nobody is suggesting we shouldn't police elections. What I am suggesting is that mountains of evidence demonstrate that the actual incidence of voter fraud is minuscule and nearly always freelance. Nonetheless, every two years Republicans whip up a towering hysteria over the specter of massive organized efforts to steal the election from them. Efforts that quite plainly don't exist. And since no party in its right mind would spend gobs of time and money fighting a tiny problem that affects virtually no actual election results, they must have some other motive for doing this. What might that be?

Cool Tools for Tracking Campaign Cash

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 6:29 PM EDT

If you're trying to make sense of the $2 billion being spent in anticipation of next Tuesday's election, here's a few nifty tools. Maplight.org and Wired have teamed up to create the Influence Tracker, which compiles the latest data on members of Congress' haul during this election cycle as well as their biggest donors. Nice touch: logos of each member's top corporate sponsors.

The Sunlight Foundation's Influence Explorer app creates similar snapshots of canddiates' war chests, but includes challengers who aren't currently members of Congress. Nice 20th-century touch: For $2, you can mail a copy of the data directly to friends and family in postcard form.

 

Worried About the Mortgage

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 5:31 PM EDT

Via Joe Klein, here's a Washington Post poll asking people if they're concerned about making their rent or mortgage payment:

As Klein says, let's concede that there might be some exaggeration here. And that at least a bit of this represents people who knowingly took out mortgages they knew they couldn't afford. It's still a helluva lot, especially considering that about a quarter of all Americans own their homes outright and, by definition, aren't worried about making their mortgage payment. A bit of arithmetic tells us that among people who actually have a rent or mortgage commitment in the first place, something like three-quarters are worried about having enough money to pay it. Yikes.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Will to Win

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 4:21 PM EDT

Mark Thompson writes about the conduct of war:

When I think of wars I've known, they seem to boil down to a three-legged stool: capability, will and time. The U.S. always has plenty of capability; will and time — not so much. Dollars can buy capability, but not the other two.

I think this is a dangerous misconception. He's talking about Afghanistan, a war that's been going on for nearly a decade. Despite the famous impatience of the American public, the United States has had plenty of time. What it's lacked is capability. It's possible that more resources earlier might have helped, but that's not a sure thing by any stretch. This is not a war that can be won simply by pouring more resources into it. One of these days this is something we have to get straight about.

Arkansas School Board Facebooker: Gays Should Die

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 4:07 PM EDT

 Image courtesy of Advocate.com Image courtesy of Advocate.comUPDATE: McCance apologized on CNN.com for his comments and announced that he will resign from the school board.

***

Did you wear purple on October 20 to call attention to gay teen suicides related to bullying? Well, Advocate.com reports that one Arkansas school board member was so outraged by the request that he support LGBT youth by donning a shade of prune that he wrote this on his Facebook page:

"Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE."

Thus far Cilnt McCance hasn't explained his antigay remarks.

Meanwhile, a Facebook page is calling for McCance to be fired. The page had 17,589 members as of 3pm EST Wednesday.

The Arkansas Department of Education released this statement Tuesday: "The Arkansas Department of Education strongly condemns remarks or attitudes of this kind and is dismayed to see that a school board official would post something of this insensitive nature on a public forum like Facebook. Because Mr. McCance is an elected official, the department has no means of dealing with him directly. ... "

Does this mean he'll get to keep his job?

[H/T: Mother Jones reader Larry]

SF Too Pretty to Win World Series

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 1:14 PM EDT

In a sterling op-ed today in the Dallas Morning News, columnist Steve Blow says the Giants don't "deserve" to win the World Series for a number of reasons. Among them, San Franciscans are effete and we don't have enough Regular Joes "like Regular Joe Barton, who represents Arlington in Congress." Maybe Blow has forgotten it was Barton who apologized to BP? The same Joe Barton who said the government trying to secure money to help spill-affected Gulf residents was a "shake down"? If that's a Regular Joe, then Blow's right, we don't have many of those in San Francisco. A few more choice reasons Blow think the Giants shouldn't win the Series, below. None of them are based on the ability to play baseball.

•"The mayor of San Francisco is a guy named Gavin Newsom. Yes, Gavin Newsom. And if the name isn't debonair enough, you should see him. He looks like a movie star or male model."

"The Giants are all decked out in Halloween black and orange—the only holiday devoted to evil spirits."

•"In San Francisco, Giants fans sip hot chocolate and wear coats and jackets to games all summer long."

 

The Price of Fiscal Honesty

| Wed Oct. 27, 2010 1:02 PM EDT

Jon Cohn writes today about the successful Republican attempt to create enormous opposition to healthcare reform among senior citizens. How? By demagoguing the $500 billion in Medicare cuts contained in ACA, of course. Then he says this:

But even to the extent that seniors hold different views, it's surprising they believe Republicans will keep Medicare sacrosanct. After all, this is the party that opposes government-run insurance (which Medicare is) and has tried repeatedly to privatize the program. Young Guns, the new book by three House Republican leaders, calls for turning Medicare into a voucher program that would dramatically reduce the program's guaranteed benefits — an idea that, as [Marilyn Werber] Serafini points out in a separate story, seniors strongly oppose.

I'd guess that two things are going on here. First, seniors just tend to be more conservative than other age groups and also a lot more resistant to change. So a lot of what we're seeing is Republicans pushing on an open door. Second, seniors aren't reading Young Guns. They're watching Fox News and reading stuff on tea party email lists, something that would turn anyone's brain to mush. What's worse, there's not even any pushback from Democrats to any of this. After all, what can they say? Yes, we cut Medicare spending, but it won't have any actual effect? Good luck with that. They're stuck.

This is one of the reasons why I think moderate conservatives give Democrats way too little credit for their relatively honest funding of ACA. Were there some optimistic assumptions there? Sure. Are some of the cost control measures not going to work as well as they hope? Sure. To about the 80% level, though, Democrats really did insist that ACA be fully funded. By ordinary political standards that's pretty impressive, and by recent Republican standards it's just a plain miracle. And it was a pretty costly piece of fiscal honesty too. A big part of how ACA was funded comes from that $500 billion Medicare cut, and that's just a flat out electoral disaster. It may have been necessary, but there's no question that Democrats are going to pay for it at the polls. They really deserve a little more credit for that.