2008 - %3, February

Hear My PRI "Fair Game" Election 2008 Discussion...

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 3:49 PM EST

...with Faith Salie. Smart host, good interview that made me think. Didn't call anyone a sphincter.

Note: PRI = Public Radio International. Quality stuff.

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PBS Does its DNA Magic with Celebrities for Black History Month Again

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 3:17 PM EST

Skip the usual suspects ranting and raving in kente cloth this month and check out some worthy black history:

"African-American Lives 2," a four-part series on PBS that begins on Wednesday night, belies its sleepy name with the poetry of history, the magic of science and the allure of the family trees of Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Tina Turner, Don Cheadle, Tom Joyner and Maya Angelou.
It is the latest incarnation of the highly rated, critically successful star genealogy program that its host, the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., presented in 2006. Then Oprah Winfrey, Chris Tucker, Quincy Jones and Whoopi Goldberg were among Professor Gates's eight guests for "African-American Lives." That was followed in 2007 by "Oprah's Roots."
This time scientists use DNA samples, and scholars peruse slave ship records, wills and other documents to recreate the histories of 12 people, including Professor Gates and one Everywoman guest.

Check the link for a video excerpt of the show in which Chris Rock learns that his great great grand daddy fought in the Civil War, or that Tom Joyner's two great uncles were likely lynched back in the day.

Yes, yes, non-blacks want to know their history, too. The only difference is, that if your ancestors didn't keep your stories alive, that's on them. Keeping us invisible, except as property or criminal cases, was against our will.

I got myself invited onto the Colbert Report. Wonder how I get myself a free DNA test and have PBS investigators find out how I came to be me.

Happy Anniversary, Colin Powell

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 1:51 PM EST

Today is not only Super Tuesday; it's the fifth anniversary of Colin Powell's important speech to the U.N., during which he greased the way to George W. Bush's war in Iraq with his own prestige. In our book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Michael Isikoff and I detail how the speech came to be: how Scooter Libby and others at the White House tried to fill the speech with even more dubious allegations than it ended up containing, how Powell ignored complaints from State Department intelligence analysts who told him that parts of the speech were inaccurate, how Powell's claim of a "sinister nexus" between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda was based on bad information obtained from an al Qaeda suspect during violent interrogations. We also published on-the-record comments from Powell, in which he complained he had been unfairly tagged by this speech. What about members of Congress? he asked. What about President Bush? They all said the same things that he had said. Why, he groused, do people still keep blaming him?

Fair or not, Powell went to bat for Bush's war at the United Nations. Every major WMD charge in that speech—not most, but every—turned out to be wrong. (Jonathan Schwartz details it all here.) And Powell then stuck by the president through the initial mismanagement of the war and through the election in 2004—helping Bush to win reelection. What a public servant.

Today is a good moment to reflect on where Powell is now: nowhere. He has largely left public life. He makes speeches at how-to-succeed conferences—no doubt, pulling in $50,000 to $100,000 (or more) a pop. But he has no voice in the national discourse. He barely weighs in on policy debates. He doesn't hit the op-ed pages much. He's not on television. He doesn't write books. Perhaps he's decent enough to feel shame over his role in the fiasco.

And are any of the candidates seeking his endorsement? Would it help any of them? Powell was once one of the most popular men in America. He seemingly could have waltzed into the White House, but chose not to run. Were he to endorse Barack Obama, that would clash with Obama's antiwar street cred. Were he to endorse John McCain, that would remind voters of the war's start—and two-thirds of Americans tell pollsters they believe the war was a mistake.

It's true that many others bear culpability for the war—Bush and Dick Cheney foremost among them. But Powell enabled them all. He was the front man. So if he did become the fall guy, he was a guilty one.

What's in Bush's $3 Trillion Budget for the Environment?

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 1:50 PM EST

bush-signing2.jpgBush's FY2009 budget, much criticized for its $3.1 trillion price-tag, has some surprising plans for the nation's environment like the Birds Forever Initiative, and some not-so-surprising endeavors, like the proposal for drilling in the Arctic that Congress previously blocked. Here's a summary of the environmental highlights.

The Good
—The new Birds Forever Initiative" grants an $8 million increase to Fish and Wildlife Service for monitoring, assessment, and conservation of migratory bird species. Would continue 2008 budget increase of $35.9 million for conservation of 200,000 acres of vital stopover habitat.
—$103 million to NASA and $74 million to NOAA for new equipment to continue climate research. NASA would also receive $910 million through 2013 to fund new missions.
—$49.2 million for "clean diesel" grants.
—Increased enforcement budget for the EPA, including additional $2.4 million for criminal enforcements.

The Bad
—Projects to improve sewer systems and clean up waterways reduced by $134 million from 2008, putting more costs on state governments.
—Funding for low-income residents to "weatherize" their homes (better windows, more insulation) cut from $280 million to $60 million.
—$110 million cut from Land and Clean Water Conservation Fund.
—Proposals to drill for oil and natural gas in the Outer Continental Shelf and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
—$3.7 million cut from endangered species program.

The 2009 budget also included a request from the Department of Energy for $648 million for "clean coal" research and technology, the largest request from the department in more than two decades.

Erik Prince: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier...Author?

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 12:46 PM EST

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Erik Prince, the founder and CEO of Blackwater Worldwide, accused of multiple unlawful killings in Iraq, will defend his company in a new book, due out this summer. Conservative newspaper Human Events reports on its website that Prince has signed a book deal with Regnery, a publisher of conservative political screeds. According to Human Events:

Prince's book, tentatively titled We Are Blackwater, will be released this summer. It is the only insider's account of the controversial company that has supplied bodyguards and support-and-rescue personnel to hot spots around the world, including the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Prince, a former Navy SEAL, will reveal how he created Blackwater, refute criticisms of the company, and take the reader on thrilling Blackwater missions into hostile territory, from rescuing teenage missionaries in Africa, to helicoptering wounded Marines to safety, to inventing, testing, and manufacturing armored vehicles to better protect our troops in the field.

Additional Details on Bush's Budget

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 12:15 PM EST

Following up on our discussion of Bush's budget from yesterday, you can find more details here and here.

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How Obama's Autobiography Convinced One Writer to Vote for Him

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 11:35 AM EST

In the spirit of my post on the literature of campaign endorsements, I had to pass this on. Gary Kamiya (with whom I worked) at Salon has made up his mind on Obama after reading his autobio, Dreams From My Father. Biracial himself, Kamiya's appreciation of Obama's odyssey to understand himself, and his race, takes us along as the candidate allows himself to transcend that crazy category and move on to full humanity. It's a beautiful, beautiful piece, as Kamiya's always are. Should read the whole thing, but here's a taste:

More on Which Dem Can Beat McCain

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 10:40 AM EST

I left out a couple things in my long blog post yesterday on which Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, can beat John McCain. So get ready...

The first thing I didn't mention is this: Hillary Clinton has more experience combating the right wing's attacks. Yes, there probably more mud to sling at her, and yes, conservatives have already spent decades doing research on the Clintons—but as she's said on the campaign trail, she's taken the worst they can throw at her and she's still standing.

Obama is coasting along with relatively low negatives right now, but in a general election the Right will find a way to drive those up. They'll find mud to sling at him too, and if they can't find any, they'll create some out of thin air. Obama won't mobilize Republican donors, volunteers, and voters the way Clinton will, but he will still get attacked as violently and as frequently as she would. Will Obama be able to respond effectively? We honestly don't know. He's never run a tough race against a nasty Republican.

It's fair to say that because Clinton is a known quantity for so many Americans, and because the Right has already revealed its cards in how it's going to attack her, she has a tight ceiling and tight floor. If she wins this election, it'll be an incredibly hard fought battle with McCain that ends up 51-49 or 52-48. If the Democratic wave that we all foresee doesn't occur, she could lose by that same two to four point margin.

Obama on the other hand has a higher ceiling and a lower floor. He's energizing young people, minorities, independents, and people of all ages who don't traditionally engage in politics. He has fewer angles of attack for the Republicans to use, and presents a greater contrast to McCain. He could win a huge electoral college landslide and usher in new Democratic senators and congressmen around the country. But he could also screw up in the general election when he starts facing real nastiness for the first time in his career and lose by a substantial margin.

More after the jump...

The U.N. Deception: What Exactly Colin Powell Knew Five Years Ago, and What He Told the World

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 4:10 AM EST

Colin Powell presented the case against Iraq to the UN Security Council five years ago today, on February 5, 2003.

As much criticism as Powell has received for this—he calls it "painful" and something that will "always be a part of my record"—it hasn't been close to what's justified. Powell was far more than just horribly mistaken: the evidence is conclusive that he fabricated evidence and ignored repeated warnings that what he was saying was false.

Unfortunately, Congress has never investigated Powell's use of the intelligence he was given. Even so, what's already in the public record is extremely damning. So while the corporate media has never taken a close look at this record, anyone can go through Powell's presentation line by line to examine the chasm between what he knew, and what he told the world. As you see below, there's quite a lot to say about it.

Powell's speech can be found on the State Department website here. All other sources are linked below.

Leno Reminds Brokaw That He Dissed Reagan in a 1983 issue of Mother Jones

| Mon Feb. 4, 2008 10:58 PM EST

When Tom Brokaw appeared on The Tonight Show Friday night to promote his new book, Boom!: Voices of the Sixties: Personal Reflections on the '60s and Today, Jay Leno surprised him by asking him about a 1983 Mother Jones interview in which Brokaw offered a surprisingly blunt assessment of Ronald Reagan.

In the interview, conducted by Frank Browning and appearing in the April 1983 issue, Brokaw opined that Reagan's values were "simplistic," that he had no understanding of the challenges faced by the poor, and that supply-side economic theory was a "disaster." In responding to Leno's question about the response to his interview, Brokaw made it sound like Nancy Reagan was the only one who had a problem with it. In fact, the interview set off a wave of criticism, with Brokaw getting hammered hard by conservatives, and even some liberal columnists, for his harsh assessment of Reagan: