2008 - %3, October

Sarah Palin, Unguarded

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 3:37 PM EDT

armstrongwilliams_palin250x200.jpg In August 2007, Sarah Palin sat down with controversial conservative columnist and TV/radio host Armstrong Williams in Palin's Anchorage offices. In the 35-minute long interview, which is available on YouTube and was taped for Armstrong's TV show The RightSide, Palin sits on a couch bearing a full-length bear skin, speaking naturally and easily. Unencumbered by tough questions—Armstrong asks how Alaskans deal with the long hours of darkness they face in the wintertime, for example—and the glare of the national spotlight, Palin comments intelligently on a variety of topics but also says a number of things she would think twice about saying today.

Armstrong notes repeatedly that at the time of the interview Palin is the most popular governor in the country. When he asks Palin for the secret to her success, she says, "The biggest mistake that a politician can make is trying to fake it, trying to pretend you know more than you know. You know, voters are smarter than that. The public in general is much smarter than that and they know when you're trying to fake it, so just be honest with people."

The comment is ironic considering Palin's performance in the past few weeks, which has even conservatives like David Brooks and George Will admitting that Palin is in over her head. Her attempts to bluff her way through questions on subjects like the Supreme Court and the Bush Doctrine appear to be the definition of "trying to fake it."

Following up on the subject of Palin's popularity, Williams asks what the success women are seeing in politics—the interview takes place with Hillary Clinton leading in the Democratic primary—says about the country. Palin responds by echoing Barack Obama's rhetoric. "It's also, I think, a message that many Americans are just really hungry for something different, for a change."

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McCain Has a Decision to Make on Jeremiah Wright

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 3:13 PM EDT

In April, John McCain condemned a TV ad released by the North Carolina Republican Party that tied Barack Obama to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.

The ad, which called Obama "too extreme for North Carolina" because of his long-time association with Wright, drew McCain's ire. "It's not the message of the Republican Party," he said. "It's not the message of my campaign. I've pledged to conduct a respectful campaign." He added that he wanted to "disassociate myself from that kind of campaigning."

Will McCain disassociate himself from his vice presidential choice? Sarah Palin brought up Obama's connection to Wright in the New York Times yesterday. And is the McCain campaign, in its efforts to get nasty, going to run with this topic despite McCain's earlier statements suggesting Wright is off-limits?

Troopergate Update

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 3:00 PM EDT

TROOPERGATE UPDATE....I don't know if this is really going anywhere, but it looks like the Troopergate investigation is moving forward despite the best efforts to the McCain campaign to kill it:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's attorney general announced Sunday that seven state employees will now honor subpoenas to testify in the legislative investigation of the "troopergate" affair.

Attorney General Talis Colberg said the decision comes in light of Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski's ruling last week rejecting an attempt to kill the subpoenas.

The state Department of Law "consulted with the seven state employees and advised them of their options," a statement from Colberg's office said. All seven have decided to cooperate with the investigation, the statement said.

But look. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about here. After all, the McCain campaign thoroughly vetted Palin before they picked her, right?

Taliban Sues For Peace, Says It Has Split With Al Qaeda

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 2:48 PM EDT

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The Taliban has made news recently with its stepped-up and increasingly deadly attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But behind the scenes, its leaders have for the past two years been laboring to open a dialogue with the Afghan government aimed at bringing about peace. CNN reports today that the Saudis acted as the intermediary in the first round of talks that occurred over the weekend. Saudi Arabia is a logical choice to broker the talks, the report says, because it allows the U.S. to sidestep a troubled Pakistan, which has had mixed results at best in its counter-insurgency effort. The Saudis are also wary of Iranian meddling in Afghanistan, which could expand Tehran's zone of influence while bleeding U.S. and allied forces in the process.

Mullah Omar (pictured right) was not present in Saudi Arabia (he hasn't been seen since 9/11), but his representatives reportedly told the Afghan government that he is no longer allied with Osama Bin Laden. The parties ended the initial round of discussions by agreeing that violence will not solve the conflict in Afghanistan and agreed to meet again in two months.

Half of The World's Mammals Are in Decline, Says Study

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 2:07 PM EDT

According to an international survey of the world's mammals, up to half of all species are experiencing declines in population. The latest "Red List" published by the Switzerland-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) shows that 188 species are "critically endangered," although the real number may be higher since scientists were unable to gather sufficient information on about 836 species to determine the health of their populations. And rates of extinction appear to be increasing. Some 76 mammals are known to have become extinct since 1500, but today 1,141 of the 5,487 mammal species are considered to be "threatened." The leading cause, according to the study, appears to be destruction of habitat, followed by pollution and the hunting of animals for food, medicine, and materials. A dire situation? You betcha, as my favorite politician would say. Just read Julia Whitty.

Regulation Overseas

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 1:50 PM EDT

REGULATION OVERSEAS....Megan McArdle:

Europe's ongoing disaster is starting to match ours. This not only seriously challenge the idea that the main problem is American bank regulation — everyone is having the same problem, despite different regulatory regimes — but also puts us in much deeper jeopardy.

Be careful here. Weak regulation, especially of the shadow banking system, may not be the only culprit in the credit crisis, but it is a culprit. And it's a culprit in Europe as well as the U.S., as Henry Farrell points out:

European business leaders are now complaining that the EU isn't regulating enough – that is, it isn't engaging in coordinated action to stop its own financial markets from tanking. The reasons for EU inaction lie in the lack of any structures that would militate towards concerted action to address problems of market confidence, in large part because European financial markets are even less regulated than their US equivalents (as I've noted before the EU is typically more interested in liberalizing markets than restraining them, contrary to the general impression in the US).

The problems in the European banking system are pretty similar to the problems in the U.S.: too much leverage, too much credulity about the housing market, and too much manic buying and selling of opaque and complex financial derivatives. Like the U.S., the EU could have saved itself at least part of its current pain if it had adopted a more sensible regulatory scheme. But like the U.S., they didn't.

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John McCain, Policy Genius

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 12:02 PM EDT

JOHN McCAIN, POLICY GENIUS....Jon Cohn runs down the McCain campaign's meanderings on healthcare policy today. It goes something like this:

  1. We're going to eliminate the tax deduction of healthcare insurance and replace it with a $5,000 tax credit for families.

  2. Oops, that means a lot of families will end up paying more in taxes. Can't have that. So what we're really going to do is eliminate the income tax deduction, but not the payroll tax deduction. All better now.

  3. Oops again. The new plan saves middle class families from a tax increase, but by doing so it blows a huge hole in the budget. $1.3 trillion over ten years, to be exact.

  4. What do do? Cut Medicare! Hooray!

The McCain campaign, of course, says it's not really "cutting" Medicare. It's going to save $1.3 trillion by "eliminating fraud" and "reforming payment policies" in addition to a bit of other handwaving. You betcha.

I think the lesson here is not so much that McCain is being especially mendacious, but that he was never serious about this plan in the first place. He's never really cared one way or the other about healthcare reform, but Obama had a plan so he needed one too, and this is what his advisors cooked up. If the sums don't work out right — well, tell the numbers guys to jiggle a few things around and then jabber about earmarks or something. And then get back to accusing Obama of palling around with terrorists. Mission accomplished!

Contractors Investigate Contractors In Iraq

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 11:46 AM EDT

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It's now been over a year since Blackwater contractors opened fire in a Baghdad traffic circle, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and wounding 24 others. (To date, no one has been charged with a crime, but six Blackwater guards received target letters from the Justice Department in August, indicating that indictments could soon follow.) The shootings set off a firestorm of media criticism and a renewed effort in Congress to rein in the private security free-for-all in Iraq.

To that effect, the State Department, acknowledging problems with the collection of evidence at Baghdad's Nisoor Square, established a special force tasked with investigating suspected contractor crimes. According to State Department Undersecretary for Management, the new Force Investigation Unit (FIU) was to be "composed of State Department employees." But in a twist that should not surprise any of us at this point, it turns out that more than half of the new unit is staffed with private contractors. According to ABC News, eight members of the FIU are on loan from the U.S. Investigations Services (USIS), a private company, in an "apparent violation of federal regulations that prohibit such work by contractors."

Senator Russel Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, recently fired off a letter to Condoleezza Rice calling the use of private contractors to investigate other private contractors "highly troubling" and demanded that all FIU positions be filled by federal employees. "Anything less will further exacerbate tensions within Iraq and the region caused by our perceived failure to hold U.S. contractors accountable for misuse of force against civilians," he wrote.

The State Department has yet to respond.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from James Gordon.

Picking Palin

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 11:37 AM EDT

PICKING PALIN....My morning LA Times tells me something I didn't know before. Steve Schmidt, the McCain campaign manager responsible for Paris and Britney, the anti-press jihad, the slurs against Obama's patriotism, and all the rest of the McCain campaign's kitchen sink, was also the brains behind McCain's biggest bet-the-ranch stunt of all:

The effort peaked with the choice of Palin as McCain's running mate. Convinced that McCain needed a dramatic gesture to make the race competitive, Schmidt pressed McCain to pluck the Alaska governor from obscurity.

Other than the candidates, no one in the operation has more riding on that decision than Schmidt. And no one has worked harder to turn the decision into a success.

He defended Palin against what he called sexist attacks, and traveled to Alaska to brief her before her first TV interviews. For three days, he was ensconced at McCain's spread in Sedona, Ariz., helping Palin prepare for her performance on the biggest night of her career: the debate against Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden.

In the world of high-octane political campaigns, Schmidt used to have a reputation for both brains and brawn. After this November, I have a feeling brawn is all his reputation will be left with.

Doonesbury Reads Mother Jones

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 10:16 AM EDT

If you take a look at today's Doonesbury, you'll notice an emerging storyline of the campaign that started here at MoJo.

In four panels, Garry Trudeau puts forward a question everyone should be asking: how can John McCain blame our financial woes on Wall Street's lobbyists when 83 current and former Wall Street lobbyists work for his campaign? Shouldn't someone get fired? McCain likes to say that as president he'll ferret out the worst earmarkers in Congress and "make 'em famous!" In that spirit, we published the names of those 83 lobbyists and the financial industry clients they work for on our blog. Now, apparently, those names are working their way into popular culture.

We don't know if Trudeau is a fan of Mother Jones, but we're fans of his.