2010 - %3, October

'Tis The Season—For Push Polls

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 6:04 AM EDT

New Hampshire Democrat Paul Hodes is in hot water again this week for allegedly using push-polls in his campaign for Senate. On Thursday, the New Hampshire Republican Party filed a complaint with the state attorney general alleging that Hodes' campaign had violated a state law banning push polls that don't disclose who paid for them. (Push polls are phone surveys that purport to gather opinion research but which actually use slanted questions to intentionally spread negative information about a candidate.)

The GOP complaint comes only a few days after Mountain West Research Center, an Idaho-based firm working for Hodes’ campaign, agreed to pay a $20,000 fine for violating New Hampshire's push-poll law during the GOP primary. (The Hodes campaign fired Mountain West when the allegations surfaced in July). The complaint filed Thursday involves a different firm, the DC-based Americans Direction Group. The Hodes campaign has denied commissioning push polls and said it was only gathering information.

'Tis the season for political dirty tricks, so these probably won't be the only push-polling allegations to surface in the last days before the Nov. 2 midterm election. But less than two weeks before the election, the push-poll embarassment does make Hodes' campaign look a little desperate. Hodes has consistently trailed in the polls since he announced he was running, and forecaster Nate Silver now gives him just a 7 percent chance of beating GOP nominee Kelly Ayotte, a former state attorney general. So even the best push polls probably won't be enough to save Hodes.  But the fact that he'd employ the Mountain West Research Center (or someone who would subcontract with them) doesn't speak that well of his campaign. Here's why:

According to the Idaho secretary of state's office, the manager of Mountain West is David Haynes, who also happens to be the CEO of a Utah-based polling firm called Western Wats. That firm has been tied to push polling for more than a decade, starting at least as early as the 1996 presidential campaign, when Bob Dole admitted using the firm to push poll against Steve Forbes in Iowa during the GOP presidential primary. (The calls told voters that Forbes was not pro-life.)

Since then, Western Wats and the Mountain West Research Center have popped up regularly during competitive election seasons—frequently in conjunction with push-poll allegations. In 2006, democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont’s campaign reported that supporters had gotten push-polled by Mountain West during his primary challenge against Democrat Joe Lieberman. Western Wats also surfaced in the Vermont Senate campaign that year, tied to negative calls against the Senate’s only bona fide socialist, Bernie Sanders. But Western Wats really made news in 2008, when it was identified as the firm behind calls to voters in New Hampshire suggesting that Mitt Romney had dodged the Vietnam draft by serving as a Mormon missionary in France. The campaign behind those calls was never identified, though Rudy Giuliani was the leading suspect. (Ayotte, as attorney general, was charged with investigating the allegations.)

That's not all: some of those calls in previous years may have been made by underpaid children. In April, Western Wats settled a complaint with the US Department of Labor for serious violations of child labor laws. It agreed to pay more than $500,000 for reportedly employing more than 1,400 kids under 16 (some as young as 13) to staff its call centers. Many of the kids were paid less than minimum wage. Naturally, Western Wats dismissed the complaint as mostly full of "technical" violations, but the civil penalty was among the largest ever assessed by the Department of Labor for child labor violations.

None of this should have been a big secret to the campaign geniuses working for Hodes. But the campaign has claimed ignorance. His communications director Mark Bergman said in an email that the campaign did not engage Mountain West, but that one of its vendors had. Bergman says campaign staff was unaware of the connection "until we found they had not followed applicable New Hampshire law in July in conducting survey market research" and says the firm was let go immediately after. (By email, I asked Bergman whether the person or firm that hired Mountain West was also fired; he didn't respond.)

Of course, candidates (except maybe Bob Dole) never admit to having hired Western Wats or its related firm. The companies' names rarely show up on campaign disclosure forms because they are subcontracted through political consulting firms. Such an arrangement allows for plausible deniability should someone start complaining about dubious political phone calls. But it's especially curious that Hodes' campaign "vendors" chose to get down in the mud with such folks when Hodes is so likely to lose anyway. Far better, it seems, to lose gracefully than be forever listed in the annals of political dirty tricks. 

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Pro-Life Dem Driehaus’s Worst Enemy: Other Pro-Lifers

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 5:03 AM EDT

Pro-life Democrats, a disappearing breed these days (more on that here), continue to face political attack by a most unlikely force: fellow pro-lifers. In "Mommy, What's a Pro-Life Democrat?" a new Mother Jones article out today, Nick Baumann examines how anti-abortion politicians who decided to vote for Obama's health care bill, like Steven Driehaus (D-Ohio), Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Penn.), and, most famously, Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), have become punching bags for pro-life groups that are still arguing that the bill provides federal dollars for abortions.

One group, the Susan B. Anthony List, pledged $1 million dollars to try to take down Dem "traitors" to the pro-life cause. Its strategy included a plan to paint billboards across Ohio with the message: "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion." When Driehaus caught wind of this attack a few weeks ago, he filed a complaint with the state election's commission, arguing that the billboard's message was false and violated one of the state's campaign laws. The elections commission sided with Driehaus, and the billboards never went up.

End of the Line for Anti-Abortion Dems?

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 5:03 AM EDT

Remember Rep. Bart Stupak? The Michigan Democrat was a source of immense frustration for liberals during the health care debate. He spent months leading a small group of pro-life Dems who opposed the bill because they (incorrectly) thought it funded abortions. Stupak eventually settled for an executive order promising that no health care funding would be used for abortions, and it seems that he'll soon be out of the spotlight for good, as he's retiring in January. But will Stupak's departure—and the fallout from the health care fight—mark the end for his breed of Democrat? I recently explored the possibility in an article for the print magazine. It's now available online:

Pro-life Democrats come in two varieties: those who tout anti-abortion views on the stump, but largely end up voting with their pro-choice colleagues, and those—typically hailing from deep-red districts—who almost always vote pro-life. As abortion foes mobilize against "faux" pro-life Dems in November, you might think they were going to focus on the first group. But they're really gunning for the second, traditionally the movement's staunchest Democratic allies. We're talking congressmen with ratings of 80 percent or higher from the National Right to Life Committee.

In May, abortion opponents claimed the scalp of the first member of this pro-life cadre—longtime Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.V.). The Susan B. Anthony List (a pro-life political action committee founded to counter the pro-choice powerhouse EMILY's List) spent $78,000 to help defeat him in the primary, and has pledged to spend a total of $1 million to unseat other alleged traitors to the pro-life cause. With most of those members already in tough races, and other anti-abortion groups embracing similar strategies, at least a half-dozen pro-life Dems could be headed for defeat this fall.

Here's the rest of "Mommy, What's a Pro-Life Democrat?"

The outlook for pro-life Dems has arguably worsened since the print magazine came out. Nate Silver, the New York Times' polling guru, says Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) and Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Penn.), two key members of the Stupak bloc, each have just an 8 percent chance of holding onto their seats. (My colleague Maddie Oatman has more on how the abortion fight has affected the Driehaus race.)

Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who drew a deeply flawed opponent in Nazi reenactor Rich Iott, will likely survive. But Rep. Brad Ellsworth will almost certainly lose his Senate race in Indiana, where Reps. Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill also face tough races. So do Chris Carney and Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania.

Other avowedly pro-life Dems, like Marion Berry (D-Ark.) and Charlie Melancon (D-La.) are not running for re-election. (Melancon is in a Senate race against David Vitter, and will probably lose.) Even longtime Rep. Nick Rahall could be in trouble in West Virginia. If Rahall loses, Kaptur would almost certainly be the only representative who attended Stupak's eleventh-hour press conference still serving in Congress come February. The Stupak bloc will have paid a heavy price indeed for backing health care reform. 

Blue Dog Dem Marshall Says No More Pelosi

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Even an old Blue Dog can learn new tricks. In a debate on Wednesday against energetic Republican challenger Austin Scott, Georgia Dem Rep. Jim Marshall announced that he wouldn't back Nancy Pelosi as Speaker if Democrats somehow manage to retain the House on November 2. "I have always preferred a different candidate, but Nancy Pelosi always had her votes," he declared. In previous go-rounds, he said, "[t]here wasn’t much point in sticking a thumb in her eye." Now trailing Scott by almost 3% with less than two weeks till election day, Marshall has changed his mind.

A conservative Democrat, Marshall has supported Pelosi's previous bids for the speakership. And his record—siding with his party 88.5% of the time, including votes for the stimulus and bank bailout—isn't exactly anti-Pelosi. Marshall supporters argue that the reversal is an example of his independent bona fides. But moderate Dems across the country have been distancing themselves from party leadership for some time now. 

Given the 8th district's conservative demographics and recent Republican-friendly redistricting, Marshall's ability to hold onto the seat is something of an anomaly. This year, he's had little choice but to play heavily to the right, and has received endorsements from the Republican-favoring US Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association. Weighty endorsements aside, the Republican leadership smells blood in the water. House Minority Leader and presumptive future Speaker of the House John Boehner paid a visit to the 8th on Tuesday, where he made a speech promising plum committee spots to newbie House Republicans.

But what happens if Marshall and other endangered moderates win? Will they face the wrath of Nancy, Steny, and Co.? Pelosi doesn’t seem to be losing sleep over Marshall's comments or other such denunciations around the country. "I just want them to win," she said recently on the PBS NewsHour. That suggests forgiveness could be in the offing—provided that wayward Dems return to the fold. 

Terror Trial Update: Bin Laden's Pilot Testifies

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Read Karen Greenberg's previous coverage of the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court.

On Wednesday, the Ghailani trial was dominated by the story of an al Qaeda member who had flipped. L'Houssaine Kherchtou, a soft-spoken Moroccan in his mid-forties, took the stand to describe the terrorist organization's training programs, its safe houses, its network of associates, and its military, financial, religious, and media structure.

For the first time in days, the federal courtroom in the Southern District of Manhattan was more than half full. A handful of journalists and the families of victims of the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania listened as Kherchtou spoke freely and informatively about noted figures in the Al Qaeda network, including Omar Abdel-Rahman ("the Blind Sheikh"), Ayman al-Zawahiri, Wadih el Hage, and above all, Osama bin Laden, who used Kherchtou as a pilot. He spoke about the complicity of Sudanese officials in letting al Qaeda men through customs (once with $10,000 or $20,000 in cash), the use of the relief organization Mercy International as a cover for forged travel documents, and the murders of two teenage brothers suspected of disloyalty to the organization. Khertchou's detailed memory stood in stark contrast to the reluctant, often elusive, assertions of the Tanzanian witnesses who had recently testified that they could not remember much of what took place 12 years ago.

Rutherford B. Hayes Speaks!

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Earlier this week, I introduced you to Obama's unlikeliest 2012 challenger (well, other than the Naked Cowboy): Rutherford B. Hayes, a Navy veteran and high-school dropout who's the chief financial officer of Miss Liberty America, the first and only Tea Party beauty pageant. Yesterday, I spoke with Hayes about his campaign.

The first thing Rutherford Bert Hayes makes clear to me is that he is absolutely not related to the disgraced and undemocratically-elected nineteenth president, Rutherford Birchard Hayes. Nor is he even named for the man known to his contemporaries as "Rutherfraud." "It is a coincidence," he says. "Obviously, my dad is a Hayes. But my mother was not, obviously. And her grandpa was named Rutherford. And so it was just a coincidence, because she loved her grandfather, that she named me Rutherford. And then the last name just followed. The nineteenth president, his name was Birchard. And I'm glad I didn't get that. I had enough problems with the name Bert as a kid. You know like, 'Hey Bert, where's Ernie?'"

Hayes is not a Birchard; he is, however, something of a birther: "My birth certificate is Rutherford B. Hayes. That is my real name. And I do have a birth certificate." He explains later in our conversation, "I just kind of put that in there as a jab because [Obama's] had issues with his birth certificate. And the first thing he did when he was in office was seal his records. I mean, I don't kow all the aspects of this stuff, but there have been things that I've seen that definitely question it."

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Our Coming Mega-Drought

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

Here are a few recent data points for you: (1) The New York Times reports that "skepticism and outright denial of global warming are among the articles of faith of the Tea Party movement." (2) In the National Journal, Ron Brownstein notes that "The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones....Of the 20 serious GOP Senate challengers who have taken a position, 19 have declared that the science of climate change is inconclusive or flat-out incorrect." (3) It's not just Senate candidates. ThinkProgress notes that an analysis by Wonk Room "finds that 22 of the 37 Republican candidates for governor this November are deniers of the scientific consensus on global warming pollution." (4) The Wall Street Journal reports that "extreme drought" has taken hold in parts of nine states stretching from the Southeast to the lower Midwest.

As it happens, this southern U.S. drought is probably not caused by global warming — not mostly, anyway. Like most droughts until now, its primary cause is natural climate oscillations (this year's La Niña) and bad luck (no hurricanes so far this season). But don't count on that continuing. In a new paper that reviews the recent literature on drought, Aiguo Dai of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder concludes that we're headed for serious and sustained droughts in much of the world. And not in the far future, either. As the maps on the right show, vast swathes of the world are going to be far drier than they are today in a mere 20 years. "A striking feature," Dai says of his analysis, "is that aridity increases since the late 20th century and becomes severe drought [] by the 2060s over most of Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East, most of Americas [], Australia, and Southeast Asia."

In other words, virtually all of the world except for China and Russia will experience increased drought by 2030 and severe drought by 2060:

This is very alarming because if the drying is anything resembling Figure 11, a very large population will be severely affected in the coming decades over the whole United States, southern Europe, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Chile, Australia, and most of Africa....Given the dire predictions for drought, adaptation measures for future climate changes should consider the possibility of increased aridity and widespread drought in coming decades. Lessons learned from dealing with past severe droughts, such as the Sahel drought during the 1970s and 1980s, may be helpful in designing adaptation strategies for future droughts.

The Sahel drought killed upwards of a million people, and since then the steady increase in drought conditions in sub-Saharan Africa has probably contributed to ongoing crises in Darfur, Chad, and elsewhere. Now imagine what the world will be like when droughts are twice as bad, last twice as long, and cover not just sub-Saharan Africa but upwards of half the landmass of the planet. That's not really something you can adapt to.

And here's some even worse news: these projections are based on midpoint global warming projections from the last IPCC report. But those projections are looking increasingly understated, and the next IPCC report is almost certain to raise its temperature forecasts. So as bad as Dai's drought news is, the reality is probably even worse.

This isn't something that's a century in the future. If we don't do anything about it, it's more like 20 years away. Tea partiers and their Republican enablers can play make believe all they want, but their kids and grandkids are going to pay the price for it. Global climate catastrophe is looking closer and closer all the time.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 22, 2010

Fri Oct. 22, 2010 4:30 AM EDT

A village elder talks to members of the Texas Agribusiness Development Team-04 near the construction site for the Arbaba Environmental Park in Ghazni, Afghanistan, Oct. 12, 2010. 1st Lt. Edgington and other members of the ADT were checking on the progress of the park, which will provide a central location for conservation and agriculture training in Ghazni.
ISAF photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Swafford

The Chamber of Commerce's Hobby

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 11:45 PM EDT

The New York Times writes today about the vast tidal wave of secret cash that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending this year to support the Republican Party:

Dow Chemical delivered $1.7 million to the chamber last year....And Goldman Sachs, Chevron Texaco, and Aegon, a multinational insurance company based in the Netherlands, donated more than $8 million in recent years.

....The chamber makes no apologies for its policy of not identifying its donors. It has vigorously opposed legislation in Congress that would require groups like it to identify their biggest contributors when they spend money on campaign ads....“The major supporters of us in health care last year were confronted with protests at their corporate headquarters, protests and harassment at the C.E.O.’s homes,” said R. Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist at the chamber, whose office looks out on the White House. “You are wondering why companies want some protection. It is pretty clear.”

....The chamber asserts in filings with the Federal Election Commission that it is simply running issue ads during this election season. But a review of the nearly 70 chamber-produced ads found that 93 percent of those that have run nationwide that focus on the midterm elections either support Republican candidates or criticize their opponents.

And the pace of spending has been relentless. In just a single week this month, the chamber spent $10 million on Senate races in nine states and two dozen House races, a fraction of the $50 million to $75 million it said it intends to spend over all this season. In the 2008 election cycle, it spent $33.5 million.

I don't know about the rest of you, but here in California I've been watching the Chamber's "voter education and issue advocacy effort" for the past several weeks, and it sure looks an awful lot like the only issue they care about is making sure that every last resident of the Golden State loathes Barbara Boxer. But I guess everyone needs a hobby. The rest of their secretly funded hobby is illustrated by the Times in handy chart form below:

Target Boos Homemade Costumes

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 6:18 PM EDT

Target recently came out with a new commercial that puts down homemade costumes in favor of store-bought ones. This makes sense, since the company sells costumes and we're in a recession where a $19.99, 100% polyester Iron Man toddler costume may seem like a luxury. The commercial made me think of my own childhood Halloween costumes, which were all hand-made by my mother. Not only were they higher quality than the store-bought kind, they've lasted for generations. A Snow White costume she made for me (from real cotton and satin) lasted for more than 20 years and was handed around from family to family. In 1995, she made a matching baby-and-mama set of elephant costumes (see baby below) that still exist. I can only imagine that making a product that lasts for 20-some years, and is reused, may not be better for the environment as a whole, but may be better for landfills. I'm not sure what the carbon or water footprints of a homemade costume is versus the kind you'd buy at the store. I started looking into the carbon emissions for 3 yards of cotton versus 2 yards of polyester, but there are so many variables (shipping, manufacturing, etc) that I don't think it's really confirmable which is greener.

Of course, not every child has a parent who can, or has time to, cut a pattern, buy fabric, cut fabric, fit, and sew a costume. I definitely understand the appeal of just being able to buy one at Target and being done. Stores also have trend-based costumes, like Iron Man or Legally Blonde. I have to take issue with Target that homemade costumes are necessarily poor quality: mine won 'best costume' several years running. Thanks Mom!