2011 - %3, November

House Republicans Subpoena Solyndra Docs

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 10:45 AM PDT

On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted along party lines to subpoena White House documents on Solyndra, the solar company that went under after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee.

It's not out of the ordinary for Congress to subpoena documents. There were several attempts during the Bush administration to get a hold of documents related to controversial environmental decisions, but the administration blew them off. This subpoena, however, comes despite the fact that the Obama White House has already provided 85,000 pages of documents, and has been attempting to work with the committee.

As you can imagine, Democrats on the committee aren't as enthused about this matter as House Republicans. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the committee, issued this statement Thursday morning that speaks pretty well to the situation. The rest is below the fold:

In my 35 years in Congress, I have presided over the issuance of only one subpoena in the time I served as a Committee Chairman. It, too, concerned an environmental policy matter that began during the Bush Administration. But unlike this subpoena for every single internal White House email related to Solyndra, the one I issued was issued on a bipartisan basis, with my Ranking Republican Member, Jim Sensenbrenner, fully supporting my efforts to learn more about the Bush Administration’s response to global warming.

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Desperately Seeking Anita

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 10:33 AM PDT

Slate's Dave Weigel reports that Iowa Rep. Steve King doesn't see the big deal about sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain that have surfaced in recent days. For him, it comes down to one thing:

"Where’s the Anita Hill?" he said. "This is an Anita Hill issue, and from what I see, without substance, this shouldn’t have been a story."

It's funny, however, that King should mention Hill, the former Equal Employment Opportunity Commission employee who testified under oath that she had been harassed by then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, since it's not as though no Republicans have dealt with sexual scandals since then. Rather, as Jesse Taylor points out, "There haven't even been enough black Republicans of note in the past two decades to have another scandal."

King's reference to Hill may have greater meaning than merely recalling the last time a prominent black conservative was accused of sexual harassment. As it so happens, two of the women who accused Cain of harassment are bound by confidentiality agreements as part of the settlements reached over the allegations. One of them was considering coming forward but changed her mind, according to the New York Times. Why? According to her attorney, Joel P. Bennett, "She has a life to live and a career, and she doesn't want to become another Anita Hill."

Beliefs about Thomas' guilt tend to fall along partisan lines—if you're a Democrat you think he was lying, if you're a Republican you think Hill was lying. What isn't a matter of perception, however, is that when Hill came forward, the right set out to completely destroy her at all costs. David Brock, the former right-wing journalist who defected and formed the left-wing media watchdog Media Matters, wrote a book about Hill that portrayed her as a mentally unstable, promiscuous liar, a characterization immortalized by Brock's description of Hill as "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty." Brock's The Real Anita Hill was later eviscerated by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, and Brock himself later recanted, but Hill's reputation was destroyed and Thomas was confirmed.

I don't know whether the allegations against Cain are true—the settlements confirm the existence of the allegations and not necessarily their veracity. An accuser coming forward would provide the right with an obvious target, someone to destroy, rather than simply watching Cain helplessly try to deflect the issue by blaming other campaigns for leaking the existence of the settlements. 

Things have changed since The Real Anita Hill. Destroying someone's reputation is as simple as a selectively edited YouTube clip. Given the combined heavy artillery of the vastly expanded Republican noise machine, it's easy to understand why Republicans are looking for a "new Anita Hill," and why Cain's accusers don't want to be her. Cain aside, the only real winners in this scenario are powerful men of all political stripes who would rather keep their bad behavior secret. 

An Abortion Law Even Conservatives Balk At

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 10:21 AM PDT

Tim Murphy directs my attention to the very conservative Haley Barbour today. Barbour says he's having second thoughts about a Mississippi ballot measure that would define human life as beginning at the moment of fertilization:

I believe life begins at conception. Unfortunately, this personhood amendment doesn't say that. It says life begins at fertilization, or cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof....I am concerned about some of the ramifications on in vitro fertilization and ectopic pregnancies where pregnancies [occur] outside the uterus and [in] the fallopian tubes. That concerns me, I have to just say it.

Since I'm basically fine with abortion under nearly all circumstances, I don't normally pay a lot of attention to the minutiae of when, down to the second, conservatives believe that life begins. But is this for real? It's like counting angels on the head of a pin. Life, Haley is suggesting, begins not at fertilization, for some reason, but only at conception — which means what? Implantation in the uterus? But if that's the case, then the Plan B emergency contraceptive should be fine and dandy, shouldn't it?

But the anti-abortion crowd hates Plan B. And they're OK with in vitro fertilization. Even by their standards, does this make any sense? Do I really have to start reading up on this stuff, or can I continue ignoring it the way I have for the past 50 years?

(And yes, just to forestall the obvious, I know perfectly well what's going on. Plan B = sluts who can't control their animal urges. In vitro = loving married couples who just want to have a family. So one way or another, conservatives have to figure out a way to oppose the former and support the latter. But it's tougher than it sounds, isn't it?)

Cain Invents a Cover Story for His Nuclear Blunder

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 9:31 AM PDT

Ah. I see that Herman Cain has revised and expanded his remarks the other day about the nature of China's nuclear arsenal:

Maybe I misspoke. What I meant was China does not have the size of the nuclear capability that we have. They do have a nuclear capability. I was talking about their total nuclear capability. So that's what I meant by that.

Roger that. This is why I'm annoyed at Judy Woodruff for not following up on Cain's original statement in her interview on Monday. She didn't have to be confrontational about it. Just a flat, non-leading followup would have been fine. Something like this:

What exactly do you mean when you say China is "trying to develop" nuclear capability?

At that point, Cain either says something that makes it clear he knows China has nukes and he's actually talking about something else, or else Cain says something along the lines of "Well, I've seen reports in the news media that China would like to develop nuclear weapons, and that's something we can't allow."

Instead, she did nothing, and that gave Cain plenty of time to invent a cover story and then retail it to a friendly interviewer. What a wasted opportunity.

Greece is Doomed! Greece is Saved!

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 9:12 AM PDT

Things move fast in the eurozone. Here's the latest bullet-point summary from the Guardian as of an hour ago:

  • The plan for a referendum on Greece's membership of the eurozone has been cancelled. Prime minister admits to cabinet that it cannot go ahead.
  • There is now growing acceptance that a National Unity government may need to be created. But it is unclear if the New Democracy opposition will agree.
  • UK admits that it may have to pay more into the IMF to support financial recovery. David Cameron says it's the right thing to do
  • Finance minister Evangelos Venizelos forces PM's hand in early morning speech. Eurozone membership too important, he said
  • European Central Bank cuts interest rates. Mario Draghi lowers borrowing costs to 1.25%

Well, that whole referendum thing didn't last long, did it? What's unclear to me is what Prime Minister George Papandreou's original goal was. Option A: He wanted to use the threat of a referendum — and a possible No vote — as leverage to get a better deal out of Germany and France. Option B: He wanted to use the referendum as a way of forcing his own citizens — and his political rivals — to come firmly to grips with the cost of rejecting the deal on offer from France and Germany.

I sort of assumed originally that Option A was his motivation, but in the end it looks like maybe it was really Option B. Papandreou had spent months negotiating this deal and felt like it was the best Greece was going to get. But riots in the streets were continuing, his own party was rebelling, and the opposition was licking its chops at the possibility of the government falling. So he wanted to force everyone's hand with something dramatic. The referendum, it turns out, was probably his version of a come-to-Jesus moment. Do you really want the government to fall? Do you really want to reject the deal and (probably) exit the euro and leave the European Union? The answer, it turns out, is that everyone blinked. Maybe the deal isn't so bad after all. Maybe a government of national unity isn't a such bad idea either.

Anyway, that's the latest. Stay tuned.

(And keep in mind that even if Greece now accepts its fate and takes the deal, there's still plenty of skepticism that the deal is enough to save the eurozone. The fat lady hasn't sung yet.)

Herman Cain Sits Down With...Clarence Thomas' Wife

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 8:36 AM PDT
GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain was accused of sexual harassment by three former female employees.

When in the course of human events a long-shot presidential candidate surges in the polls and finds himself battling multiple allegations of sexual harassment, it becomes necessary for said candidate to sit down with the one woman in America who can best understand his plight: Clarence Thomas' wife, Ginni.

So naturally, that's what Herman Cain did on Wednesday, the same day a third woman stepped forward to allege that she had been sexually harassed by Cain while working at the National Restaurant Association. Thomas, who recently left a voice message for Anita Hill, the woman who accused her husband of sexual harassment, asking Hill to apologize, sat down with Cain for a Daily Caller exclusive. In the interview, Thomas peppered Cain with questions like, "Are reporters setting you up to be guilty until proven innocent?" and "Is campaigning in Washington, DC a disorienting experience?" Here's a characteristic exchange:

GINNI THOMAS: 30 congressmen are calling for A.G. Eric Holder to resign over Operation Fast and Furious. Will you join them?"

HERMAN CAIN: I'm disappointed in all of the conflicting stories. I have not followed it closely enough to say that I want to pile on, but I happen to believe that 30 congressmen can't be wrong, in terms of the determination that they have made, that suggests that it may be better for him to step down. I trust those congressmen and the analysis that they made.

To be clear: 30 congressmen can be very wrong, very easily. On any given issue, the odds are quite high that 30 congressmen are calling for something that Cain completely disagrees with. To choose a subject of concern for Cain: 220 congressmen voted for the Affordable Care Act—or to put it another way, "7.33 groups of 30 congressmen voted for the Affordable Care Act."

The bigger picture here is that Fast and Furious is another serious news story that Cain, by his own admission, hasn't paid any attention to. On Monday, he told an audience at the National Press Club he didn't have a position on student loans. It would be a lot easier for Cain to change the subject away from harassment if there was any other subject he was actually comfortable talking about.

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Mary Cheney's Shadow Group Smears Teachers Unions in Ohio Mailers

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 8:15 AM PDT

A slew of outside political groups are pumping millions of dollars into Ohio to influence the November 8th referendum on the fate of Gov. John Kasich's anti-union bill, SB 5, which curbs collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers. One of those outside groups is the Alliance for America's Future (AAF), a Virginia-based conservative outfit whose leadership includes Dick Cheney's daughter Mary. AAF has pledged to spend "over seven figures" to defend Kasich's bill, including bankrolling mailers that describe a vote to uphold Kasich's bill as a rebuke of President Obama's policies.

Mother Jones obtained copies of AAF's latest mailers, in which Cheney's group smears teachers' unions as greedy and out to protect incompetent and deviant workers. The mailers also hype up the tenuous connection between Obama and Issue 2, the ballot measure that will decide whether SB 5 survives.

One Alliance for America's Future mailer relies on dodgy statistics to portray public workers as grossly overpaid, citing an American Enterprise Institute study claiming public-sector workers earn 43 percent more than their counterparts. (Fact-check sites have repeatedly debunked AEI's conclusion.) It claims, "There's a Reason Government Unions Don't Want Good Teachers Rewarded...It Might Upset the BAD ONES."

Make no mistake, some teachers' unions are indeed hidebound, and in rare cases, end up forcing cash-strapped school districts into costly legal fights over what appear to be indefensible acts by unionized teachers. But what's far more indefensible is tarring all "government" unions as only out to shield "bad teachers."

Here's another mailer set against two photos of a stern-looking Obama, reading, "If He Wants You to Vote NO on ISSUES 2 & 3...You'll Probably Want to VOTE YES."

This is just a peek at all the mud getting thrown around in Ohio, where the fight will only get dirtier in the final days before the vote. Campaign finance experts predict as much as $40 million could be spent on the November 8 election, topping the $35 million spent in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

Poll: Even Wingers Think That Wingers are Tanking the Economy

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 8:05 AM PDT

Via Steve Benen, here's a fascinating little poll result. It's from Suffolk University, and it's limited to registered voters in Florida, but it's still the first time I've ever seen this question polled:

Do you think the Republicans are intentionally stalling efforts to jumpstart the economy to insure that Barack Obama is not re-elected?

Results are below. What's interesting isn't just that half of all voters think the answer is yes, it's the breakdown: A quarter of all Republicans and a third of all conservatives also think the answer is yes. In other words, this isn't just a liberal conspiracy theory. Even a lot of conservatives recognize what's going on. I wouldn't make too much of a single state poll, but those numbers are high enough that they might represent a glimmering recognition of something that's only been Beltway chatter up to now. If even their own supporters start to believe that they're deliberately tanking the economy for partisan gain, it could spell trouble for Republicans.1 It would be interesting to see further polling on this question at a national level.

1Assuming, of course, that conservatives who understand what's going on actually disapprove of this. If they hate Obama enough, they might think it's actually a fine and dandy strategy.

Mississippi Personhood: Too Extreme for Haley Barbour?

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 6:03 AM PDT
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R)

Next Tuesday, Mississippi voters will vote on a constitutional amendment, ballot question 26, to define life as beginning at the point of fertilization—a move that would make all abortion illegal, even in cases of rape. It would also ban many kinds of birth control (a spokesman for the Yes on 26 campaign calls the morning-after-pill a "human pesticide") and make in-vitro fertilization exceedingly difficult. Despite all of that, both the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor and attorney general have endorsed the measure, as has Mike Huckabee and Deanna Favre (wife of Brett).

But via Tanya Somanader, at least one Mississippi Republican is voicing concerns with the measure: outgoing Governor Haley Barbour. In an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd on Wednesday morning Barbour suggested that, although he hadn't made up his mind, he might vote against it:

"I believe life begins at conception," he explained. "Unfortunately, this personhood amendment doesn't say that. It says life begins at fertilization, or cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof. That ambiguity is striking a lot of pro-life people here as concerning. And I’m talking about people that are very, outspokenly pro-life." When Todd asked Barbour if he would vote for it, the Governor said, "Really I haven't decided. If you would have asked me when this was first proposed, I would've said, a.) the legislature would've passed it 100 to 1. And b.) I believe life begins at conception and therefore I would be for it. I am concerned about some of the ramifications on in vitro fertilization and ectopic pregnancies where pregnancies [occur] outside the uterus and [in] the fallopian tubes. That concerns me, I have to just say it."

Barbour's in good company, at least nationally. James Bopp, the counsel for National Right to Life, opposes Personhood amendments as a rule, on the grounds that they'll result in counterproductive court rulings.

Building a Nuclear Power Plant on a Fault Still Not a Great Idea

| Thu Nov. 3, 2011 4:00 AM PDT

When the East Coast was rocked by an earthquake this summer, there was a momentary bout of concern about a Virginia nuclear power plant that sat right on the fault line. The 5.8 quake was stronger than what the North Anna plant was designed to withstand, and the reactors had to be shut down. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still in the process of deciding whether they should be turned back on.

The watchdogs at the Project on Government Oversight are asking NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko to release records related to the plant before a decision about reopening it is made. The group has requested records from plant owner Dominion, but were told that a lot of those records are sealed and housed at the University of Virginia's library. POGO included with itsb letter a 34-year-old memo from the Department of Justice that indicates that the plant's original owners knew that they were building it on a fault line as far back as 1970, but hid that from regulators at the time.

The memo, from May 1977, was the conclusion of an investigation into whether criminal charges should be brought against VEPCO for concealing this info. It notes that the plant's original owner, Virginia Electric Power Company, along with engineering contractors the company hired, tried to cover up the fact that a fault had been found under the site in 1970. The company had already invested $730 million in the plant, and didn't want the plant's ability to get a license to operate compromised. From the memo: