2008 - %3, May

The Wisdom of Crows

| Mon May 19, 2008 2:15 PM EDT

I'm fascinated by crows and the fact that they are always left off the list of super smart animals (dogs, dolphins, chimps). In fact, crows use and even create tools in impressive ways, and adapt to their environments so quickly it may shock you. Here's an interesting video on this subject from TED.com, where you can find a wealth of videos on perhaps more serious topics like how the news is geographically distorted and why we eat all wrong.

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Naughty GOPers Won't Go Quietly

| Mon May 19, 2008 12:22 PM EDT

It's every ethically troubled man for himself in today's GOP. MSNBC nails it:

How about things you missed in politics because they had nothing to do with the presidential primaries... Start with Vito Fossella and lump him in with Larry Craig and Ted Stevens. The three, if the full barrage of the national political press corps had focused on their issues, all three would likely have made different decisions. Craig and Fossella probably would have resigned; Stevens probably would have retired, saving, potentially three seats that shouldn't be in play -- two in the Senate and one in the House. But all three are in play now. Now, scandal alone isn't the reason why the GOP is on the brink of another disastrous downballot election cycle, but the decisions by these three lawmakers haven't helped things. That Idaho Senate seat should have an appointed incumbent Risch running for a full term; the GOP should be dealing with a fascinating primary to replace Stevens in Alaska; and if Susan Molinari's offspring were old enough to run for Congress, then Fossella might have already been forced out. Seriously, Alaska, Idaho, and Staten Island shouldn't be where the GOP is playing this fall.

I would add Rep. Don Young (also of Alaska) to that terrible trio. Republicans are dying to unseat him in the primary. Young (who shares responsibility with Stevens for the Bridge to Nowhere, is awash in Abramoff money, and is under criminal investigation because of his links to an oil company) has won reelection with over 70 percent of the vote in the past; Charlie Cook currently has his race rated as a toss up.

McCain-Huckabee: Dream Team?

| Mon May 19, 2008 11:45 AM EDT

Every time one of my more moderate Democratic friends mentions that they could probably vote for John McCain because they think he's a moderate, I jokingly remind them that a vote for McCain could also be a vote for former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. He's a longshot, but it's clear that Huckabee is stumping for the VP slot.

Yesterday on Meet the Press, Huckabee said,

"There's no one I would rather be on a ticket with than John McCain...All during the campaign when I was his rival, not a running mate, there was no one who was more complimentary of him publicly and privately. ... I still wanted to win, but if I couldn't, John McCain was always the guy I would have supported and have now supported. But whether or not I do the best for him, that's something that only he can decide."

While McCain's best hope, of course, is to ignore the Christian Right and run as a centerist, if he does at some point decide he needs someone on the ticket to mobilize evangelicals in November, there's nobody better out there right now than Huckabee. The Baptist minister won the Iowa caucuses and seven other states before dropping out of the presidential race. As someone who can't get enough of the squirrel-in-the-popcorn-popper story, I'm rooting for him. The only thing better for political reporting this fall than a McCain/Huckabee ticket would be if McCain picked Ron Paul as his running mate.

Is Charlie Black Next to Fall?

| Mon May 19, 2008 9:52 AM EDT

If you've been paying attention, you know that John McCain has a lobbyist problem. A longtime critic of special interests and Washington's lobbying culture, John McCain has built a campaign with lobbyists in dozens of key positions. Under pressure to clean up his shop last week, McCain forced all of his staffers to fill out a disclosure form that detailed lobbying contracts and possible conflicts of interests. The first to leave this week, and the fourth to leave in the last two weeks due to lobbying connections, is one of McCain's national finance chairman, Tom Loeffler. Loeffler's lobbying for Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments was revealed by Newsweek over the weekend.

McCain's critics are pushing hard for the resignation of Charlie Black, the man who reportedly plays the role of McCain's Rove. McCain told the media that "Charlie Black and Rick Davis are not in the lobbying business; they've been out of that business." (Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, is also a former lobbyist.) But according to the Washington Post, Black was the chairman of the super-powerful lobbying shop he helped found, BKSH and Associates, until March 2008. So Black has been "out of that business" for all of two months. And don't forget that Black doesn't mind mixing his lobbying work with his campaign work; in February, he admitted that he makes lobbying calls from on board the Straight Talk Express.

In February, we posted all the lobbying clients of BKSH and Associates that we could find since 1998. They are below.

Update: Black responds here.

On Iran, Bush May Talk Tough, But the Results Are Lacking

| Mon May 19, 2008 12:29 AM EDT

Shmuel Rosner, chief Washington correspondent for Israel's leading newspaper Ha'aretz, has been a critical observer of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. But in an analysis of Bush's Iran comments in Israel this past week, he points out that while Bush has talked tough on Iran, his Iran policy has thus far been a failure:

Bush should be measured by the same yardstick. Meetings will not stop Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but neither will speeches in Knesset.
Bush may not be as naive as Obama, but U.S. foreign policy under his leadership has failed time after time on the Iranian issue. International sanctions are too skimpy to mount any real pressure against Iran's uranium enrichment program, and Tehran is gaining.

Appeasement Watch

| Sun May 18, 2008 11:51 PM EDT

These were the remarks of Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the American Academy of Diplomacy on May 14 -- a day before his boss President Bush likened those who would advocate negotiating with the Tehran regime to Nazi appeasers in an address to Israel's parliament, the Knesset:

. . . I think that the one area where the Iraq Study Group recommendations have not been followed up is in terms of reaching out the Iranians. And I would just tell you I've gone through kind of an evolution on this myself. I co-chaired with Zbig a Council on Foreign Relations study on U.S. policy toward Iran, in 2004. But we were looking at a different Iran in many respects. We were looking at an Iran where Khatami was the president. We were looking at an Iran where their behavior in Iraq actually was fairly ambivalent in 2004. They were doing some things that were not helpful, but they were also doing some things that were helpful.
And one of the questions that I think historians will have to take a look at is whether there was a missed opportunity at that time. But with the election of Ahmadinejad and the very unambiguous role that Iran is playing in a negative sense in Iraq today, you know, I sort of sign up with Tom Friedman's column today. We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage with respect to the Iranians and then sit down and talk with them. If there's going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can't go to a discussion and be completely the demander with them not feeling that they need anything from us.

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Problematic FEC Nominee Withdraws Name... Finally

| Sat May 17, 2008 4:35 PM EDT

Hans von Spakovsky, the major hold-up in seating the FEC and the GOP's point man in disenfranchising minority voters, may finally exit the national stage.

President Bush's contentious nominee for the Federal Election Commission removed his name from consideration Friday, potentially ending a lengthy stalemate that had paralyzed the work of the agency.
Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official who never had Democratic support to win confirmation, withdrew his nomination, saying it was time for the protracted deadlock to end....
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., welcomed von Spakovsky's withdrawal. Democrats have charged that von Spakovsky tried to suppress voter participation through new restrictions such as voter identification laws and voter roll purges.
"Democrats stood united in their opposition to von Spakovsky because of his long and well-documented history of working to suppress the rights of minorities and the elderly to vote," Reid said. "He was not qualified to hold any position of trust in our government."

Progress has already been made on the FEC. This may seal the deal. Next step: Get to work.

Scenes From a Nader Fundraiser at a San Francisco Dive Bar

| Sat May 17, 2008 2:50 PM EDT

The 540 Club, in an old bank building at 540 Clement Street in San Francisco, is the only bar in town to call an elephant its mascot. A 300-pound stuffed pachyderm blobs on a ledge above the front door, a cast-off inherited after the San Francisco zoo shuttered its elephant exhibit. The bar's logo, a pink elephant found on its tables, its business cards and the forearm of its soda jerk, is described by the staff as "the universal symbol of alcoholism and sloth etc," and not as any sort of inducement to Republicans. In fact, the threat, in liberal San Francisco, of being labeled a GOP sympathizer never really occurred to the owner of the bar, Jamie Brown—until this week, that is, when he found himself debating whether to supplement the elephant with a stuffed donkey. The bar was set to hold a fundraiser for none other than the Great Spoiler, Ralph Nader. "What the hell?" Brown said Sunday morning, apropos of nothing, as he dragged on a Camel and waited for Nader's entourage to arrive. "Just in general, what the hell?"

Brown had sent two emails announcing the event. One said Nader would be coming. The other said this wasn't a joke. The local media had called to ask if the fundraiser was a ploy to sell drinks. Patrons hadn't known what to think. A few days after the email went out, during the bar's "Uptown 20s Jazz and Big Band" night, one drinker had supposed Nader would read from Don Quixote; another wondered of the man: "What did he do? Was it a car dealership?"

"I still think people think it's a joke," Brown said that morning before the Pabst Blue Ribbon clock struck noon. Nader was running late. A small crowd at the bar nursed pint-sized bloody marys. Brown, who sported several days stubble and a severe bed head, excused himself for a moment. "I need a shot, sunglasses, and a pack of cigarettes," he said.

Right Wing Hackery the Same the World Over

| Fri May 16, 2008 6:56 PM EDT

Who else is attacking their domestic political opponents for failing to wear a flag pin? Lawrence of Cyberia has the extremely enjoyable answer: Hamas.

Popular Vote Musings on a Friday Afternoon

| Fri May 16, 2008 4:14 PM EDT

A friend just alerted me to the fact that the popular vote section at Real Clear Politics has myriad different totals for the Democratic primary race. Enough to make the notion of a "popular vote" useless, in fact.

Here are the different ways you could calculate the popular vote. If there's something I'm not thinking of, tell me in the comments.

1. Just the primaries.
2. The primaries with Florida.
3. The primaries with Florida and Michigan with Michigan's "uncommitted" going to Obama.
4. The primaries with Florida and Michigan with Michigan's "uncommitted" going to no one.
5. The primaries, plus caucuses.
6. The primaries with Florida, plus caucuses.
7. The primaries with Florida and Michigan with Michigan's "uncommitted" going to Obama, plus caucuses.
8. The primaries with Florida and Michigan with Michigan's "uncommitted" going to no one, plus caucuses.

You can see why people are so confused. Further complicating the picture: Iowa, Nevada, Maine, and Washington state are caucus states that have not released public figures on caucus attendance. Estimates are needed in those instances.

I think in scenario 4, Clinton might be winning the popular vote. Maybe. Or something.