2008 - %3, June

Court: White House Doesn't Have To Release Documents Relating to Missing Emails

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 3:08 PM EDT

Even though the White House Office of Administration (OA) has complied with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for decades, a court yesterday supported the Bush administration's claim that the OA is not a federal agency and therefore not subject to the FOIA. The Bush administration made the claim last August. The court dismissed a case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which was using the FOIA to seek documents from the OA about missing White House emails. The decision means the OA will not have to release its documents to CREW, which had hoped to use them in a separate lawsuit that aims to force the recovery and preservation of any missing emails.

While the ruling is a setback for CREW and the National Security Archive (NSA), its co-plaintiff in the White House emails lawsuit, the battle is far from over. CREW plans to appeal this decision. In the meantime, the main lawsuit, which focuses on the recovery and preservation of the emails, will carry on without the OA documents. CREW and the NSA already have access to some information about the OA's email failures because House government oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif) obtained and released some of that information earlier this year. Recent developments in the main lawsuit have favored the plaintiffs, with a magistrate judge issuing recommendations that the White House didn't like, including one that suggested the White House be ordered to secure portable devices, like BlackBerrys, that could contain versions of some of the missing emails. The judge in that case could still force the OA to take measures to recover and preserve missing emails. But each day that goes by until then will make any deleted emails present in "slack space" on hard drives harder to recover, and get the Bush White House one day closer to running out the clock.

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McCain on Offshore Drilling - a Sad (and Costly?) Saga

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 3:03 PM EDT

mccain_closeup_250x200.jpg The easiest point to make about John McCain's recently declared support for offshore drilling is that it is a flip-flop. When McCain ran for president in 1999, he supported the current moratorium on offshore drilling, slated to last until 2012. But speaking in the Washington area on Monday, McCain said, "There are areas off our coasts that should be open to exploration and exploitation, and I hope we can take the first step by lifting the moratoria." McCain added that drilling "would be very helpful in the short term in resolving our energy crisis."

It's hard to blame anyone for changing his or her positions on energy issues over the past eight years — markets have changed, America's energy needs have changed, and prices have certainly changed. Even many Democrats have altered their positions on energy; most are much more supportive of climate change legislation than they once were.

You can blame McCain, however, for switching to the wrong position. Controversy over offshore drilling originated in the United States in 1969, when a cracked sea floor created a huge oil spill near Santa Barbara, California. The danger of a reoccurrence still exists, as do risks associated with having oil tankers routinely servicing offshore rigs. More important, offshore drilling is a band-aid. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, lifting the offshore drilling moratorium would have a minor impact on production and prices:

Mean estimates from the [Minerals Management Service] indicate that technically recoverable resources currently off limits in the lower 48 OCS (Outer Continental Shelf) total 18 billion barrels of crude oil and 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas....
The projections in the OCS access case indicate that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017. Total domestic production of crude oil from 2012 through 2030 in the OCS access case is projected to be 1.6 percent higher than in the reference case, and 3 percent higher in 2030 alone, at 5.6 million barrels per day. For the lower 48 OCS, annual crude oil production in 2030 is projected to be 7 percent higher—2.4 million barrels per day in the OCS access case compared with 2.2 million barrels per day in the reference case (Figure 20). Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.

At America's current consumption rates (20.8 million barrels of oil per day), the oil resources made available from lifting the moratorium would last this country less than two and a half years.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. The United States has just 3 percent of the world's oil reserves but consumes 25 percent of the world's oil. It should be clear we're not going to get out of this problem on the backs of our own oil rigs. Temporary solutions such as lifting the moratorium and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (which McCain opposes) only bolsters the illusion that America's long-term energy problems can be solved through achieving fossil fuel-based energy independence. That's a pernicious myth, and one that inhibits real progress.

How the Veepstakes Affect Local Communities

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 2:56 PM EDT

While you're chewing over Obama's VP options, consider how governors ditching their posts for the White House can affect the states they leave behind.

If Virginia's Kaine were picked, the lieutenant governor is Bill Bolling, a Republican, giving the GOP control of the governor's mansion for the first time since 2002.
Arizona doesn't have a lieutenant governor, so Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican, would take over if Napolitano were tapped, giving the GOP the reins of power in both the Legislature and the governor's office.
Montana Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, a Republican, would take over for Schweitzer, whose win in 2004 put a Democrat in the governor's office for the first time since 1989. (Montana is the only state with a Democrat and Republican voluntarily on the same ticket.)
In Kansas, Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson switched to the Democratic Party in 2006 after serving four years as Republican Party Chairman and as a Republican state legislator during the 1990s, so his ascension would put his party leanings to the test.

When Senators are considered for the VP nod, people routinely ask whether their governors are from the same party as them. Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, for example, is a tricky VP pick for Obama because Indiana has a Republican governor who would likely fill Bayh's vacated seat with a Republican. Jeopardizing a 60-seat majority is a major no-no.

The party affiliation of lieutenant governors is a lot less important, but probably worth more attention than it gets.

Waxman to DoD Inspector General: Investigate Contractor Fraud

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 1:47 PM EDT

In a letter (PDF) sent yesterday to Claude M. Kicklighter, the Defense Department Inspector General, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the House government oversight committee chairman, asks the IG to investigate "potentially thousands" of cases of contractor fraud in Iraq. In the letter, Waxman refers to the findings from the IG's earlier investigation of DoD expenses in Iraq, which indicated that 28 transactions worth $35 million "appeared to involve criminal misuse of taxpayer funds." Since the 28 transactions the IG found came from just a small sample of DoD transactions in Iraq, Waxman asked his staff to extrapolate from the small sample and come up with a figure representing how many of the 180,000 Iraq transactions might involve fraud. The results were shocking. From the letter:

Among the transactions you examined, approximately 4% resulted in criminal referrals. When this percentage is applied to the entire pool of 180,000 transactions, it appears that there may be more than 7,000 potential criminal cases involving more than $190 million in federal spending that have not been identified. This is an astounding amount of potential criminal fraud.

Waxman goes on to ask the IG to "assess the extent of potential criminal fraud" in Iraq and make recommendations to DoD and Congress about how to investigate and prosecute "cases of criminal conduct." As Waxman also noted in his letter, the DoD has a record of little cooperation with Waxman or its own IG, so it remains to be seen whether the Congressman will get what he wants. Knowing Waxman, he'll keep trying regardless.

Clintonites Not Happy About This Patti Solis Doyle Thing

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 11:50 AM EDT

They are pissed. "It's a slap in the face"... "Who can blame Obama for rewarding Patti? He would never be the nominee without her"... "the biggest f**k you I have ever seen in politics."

This just deepens the questions I asked yesterday. Obama's decision to make PSD the eventual VP nominee's chief of staff is utterly, utterly confusing. His campaign has done much to court Clinton and her supporters since the end of the primaries, and he now praises Clinton regularly on the campaign trail. Hiring a staffer (specifically to that position) that Clinton broke with publicly and that Clintonites love to hate seems both graceless and politically stupid, two things Obama usually is not.

So did they think putting PSD in a senior spot would be a sop to the Clinton camp, only to have it backfire? Did they intend to stick a finger in Clinton's eye, hoping the press wouldn't notice? Did Clinton tell Obama in their private meeting at Diane Feinstein's house that she didn't want the VP slot, allowing Obama to put the best qualified person in the spot, regardless of past allegiances? Does the Obama campaign know that while many Clinton loyalists sneer at PSD, Clinton worked with her for 15 years and still feels a sense of attachment to her, and might be grateful that Obama offered her a chance to land on her feet?

This is the sort of ridiculous, uninformed, overstretched speculation you get when the chattering class is completely befuddled. It ain't pretty.

What To Make of the J Street Endorsements?

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 10:00 PM EDT

J Street, the new "pro-Israel, pro-peace" group, announced its first PAC endorsements today. The roster of seven candidates, a mix of incumbents and challengers, includes Lebanese-American Rep. Charles Boustany, a Republican; netroots favorite Donna Edwards (MD-04); Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), who is running again after nearly beating a Republican incumbent in 2006; and Darcy Burner (WA-08), author of a plan to get out of Iraq.

I think there will be two indicators of J Street's influence over the next year or so: (1) Will the PAC be able to marshall small donors to put serious money behind these candidates? (2) Will the candidates—during their campaigns or, if they win, early in their terms—make a meaningful attempt to broaden the debate over American policy on Israel/Palestine?

As to how the candidates might broaden the debate, J Street's profiles of the endorsees offer clues. They contain a lot of rhetoric about expanded American engagement in the region and strong support of a two-state solution. To the Arab world—and, in reality, the international community beyond the US—these are baby steps. J Street's endorsees aren't talking about, say, how to put an end to Israeli settlement expansion, or about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Still, in the present American context, the endorsements have to be seen as a positive development.

After the jump, a video of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introducing the endorsements:

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New Music: Tilly and the Wall

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 8:24 PM EDT

mojo-photo-tillyandwall.jpgOkay, dumb DJ with the stupid name, if you're so mad at Coldplay and were kind of underwhelmed by the Lil Wayne album, what do you like? Anything? Or are you just sitting there on your laptop, copy-and-pasting "this sucks" over and over? Alright, inner voice, you shut up, I like stuff, lots of stuff. Here's something: Tilly and the Wall are a 5-piece from Omaha, reason enough to like them, but their claim to fame is that instead of a drummer, they have a tap dancer. Take that, inner voice. Their new album, O, comes out tomorrow, and we've got an mp3 of the first single, a spunky number called "Pot Kettle Black." Yeah, there's a drum set in use here, but the rhythm is still mostly about the tap-dancing stomp, as well as the gleeful punk intensity.

MP3: Tilly and the Wall – "Pot Kettle Black"

Official video, complete with various lovely Omaha scenes, after the jump.

Mixed Reviews for New Coldplay Album

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 5:41 PM EDT

mojo-photo-coldplayviva.jpgWell, we've mocked and dissed, and also grudgingly acknowledged their success, but time keeps on slipping into the future, and now the new Coldplay album, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, is finally set for release tomorrow in the US (after going platinum in the UK in just three days). So, how is the thing itself? Well, reviews are decidedly mixed: Aidin Vaziri over at the San Francisco Chronicle can barely contain himself, calling it "amazing," an "avalanche of brilliant, life-affirming music." Golly. On the other hand, Pitchfork, unsurprisingly, is slightly more sober, giving the album 6.5 awesome hipster points out of 10, acknowledging the band's attempt at an "'experimental' mid-career maneuver" but calling it "diluted," adding lead singer Chris Martin "is still a hopeless sap." Awww. The LA Times gives it three stars, but tries to make excuses:

Have you ever picked up a self-help book from the display table in a big-box bookstore and opened it to find a phrase that exactly applied to your life? The most pedestrian insight can sometimes hit surprisingly hard. Banality might not elevate the intellect, but it helps in a tired, over-wired culture. We're all so distracted that we need to be reminded of the obvious, again and again.

We do? Okay, sure, I'm the first to admit I'm bumbling through life making the same mistakes over and over again like a cartoon coyote hitting himself on the head with a bat, but does that mean I need Chris Martin proclaiming he'll try to fix me?

After the jump: Martin walks out of a BBC interview!

Obama's New Chief of Staff: A Fan of the Bush Tax Cuts?

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 4:50 PM EDT

In a press release issued today, the Barrack Obama campaign announced 14 new senior staff appointments. Most notably, Patti Solis Doyle, who managed Hillary Clinton's campaign for the first half of the primary season, was named chief of staff to Obama's vice presidential nominee (whoever that might be). Doyle's Obamafication was not much of a surprise. More intriguing was the appointment of Jim Messina, chief of staff for Senator Max Baucus, as the campaign's chief of staff (with David Plouffe remaining the top dog).

Messina has been working for Baucus, the chairman of the Senate finance committee, on and off since 1995, serving as his campaign manager in 1996 and 2002. Baucus, a Montana Democrat, has been dubbed "one of corporate America's favorite Democrats." And according to The Missoulian, his Senate office has produced a high number of staffers-turned-corporate-lobbyists. Last year, Ari Berman of The Nation noted that Baucus, then the senior Democrat on the finance committee, in 2005 asked 50 lobbyists to raise $100,000 for his reelection campaign. In other words, Baucus is not about change in Washington.

But should the sins of the senator be attributed to the chief of staff? In Washington, plenty of people work for legislators without personally agreeing with all of their boss's stances and actions. But a few years ago, Messina was interviewed for a newsletter produced by the Gallatin Group, a corporate lobbying firm specializing in issues of interest to the Northwest, and he was asked to name the "most important bipartisan accomplishment of your boss." His answer: "Senator Baucus was the chief reason bipartisan tax cut legislation was enacted in 2001."

Messina was referring to the George W. Bush tax cuts of 2001 and Baucus's instrumental role in the passage of that legislation. And Messina was right. Baucus, bucking his fellow Democrats, was a key supporter of Bush's massive, tilted-to-the-rich tax cuts. His defection helped make the tax cuts happen. At that time, Messina was managing Baucus' reelection campaign.

Big Sky Seeks Big Mileage

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 4:37 PM EDT

prius-mountain.jpg My parents just bought a Prius in Northern California. They reported incredible difficulties in the process — most dealerships had long waiting lists with all sorts of onerous conditions, and those that didn't would sell their available cars within a few hours of putting them on the lot. They finally found a car four hours from their house, and snapped it up the moment they saw it.

Apparently the desperation for a car that gets 50 miles to the gallon extends beyond my parents and their latte-sipping neighbors. Prius-mania is striking Montana, where SUVs are getting retired by the batch and eco- and mileage-friendly cars are taking their place. From the Missoulian:

The largest car and truck auction yard in the Northwest sits just on the south side of the Yellowstone River near Billings. If you're looking to see how $4-a-gallon gas is putting the hurt on Montana, this is a good place to start.
Big, gas-guzzling SUVs are sitting around for weeks, said Jake Gertsch, a salesman at Auto Auction of Montana. Cars are in short supply and they cost more. There's not a Toyota Prius hybrid in sight.
"I wish I had 50 of them," Gertsch said. "We would sell every one we can get our hands on."

According to the article, a Billings Toyota dealership has seen its Prius waiting list double in length in recent weeks and SUVs don't even get sold as used cars anymore. They're sent straight to the auction block.

So let's applaud the spread of the Prius appeal — the hybrid has to break out of fashionable but stigmatized enclaves like Northern California and, uh, Southern California if it is going to make a dent in America's nationwide emissions production. But let's not pretend that the market is working to save the planet here. Yes, as gas prices go up more hybrids are being purchased, which will in turn spur more production. But the market moves much slower than our understanding of global warming (which in turn moves slower than global warming itself). If we wait for the market to force wholesale changes in our energy usage, as we have with cars, we're going to make the changes necessary to save this planet decades too late.

(Photo of Prius by flickr user m/a/z/e & Molliwogg used under a Creative Commons license.)