The Supreme Court's decision striking down limits on corporate election advertising is, as I noted yesterday, a big win for the US Chamber of Commerce, which already has a war chest to influence the 2010 election. Today, National Journal's Peter Stone gives us an inside look at the woman responsible for building their substantial monetary arsenal: Agnes Warfield.

Warfield has been the Chamber's senior vice president of finance and development for nearly a decade, and in the past few years has brought in an average of $200 million to support the group's lobbying, electoral, and legal work. She's by all accounts a force to be reckoned with, bringing in potential funders to meet with president Tom Donohue, who seals the deal with new donors. She helps Donohue plan lavish dinners where Chamber board members and major donors can cavort with political bigwigs; guests during the Bush years included Karl Rove, Chief of Staff Andy Card, and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans.

Those who know Warfield's work give her high marks as a money magician. She is adept at tapping the business lobby group's large team of outside advisers, a number of whom are also lobbyists. Warfield occasionally attends internal policy dinners held for chamber consultants. "She says, 'Help reach into your client base and help us raise money,' " said GOP lobbyist Scott Reed, who is a chamber consultant.
Warfield also takes good care of the chamber's big sugar daddies. "When there's a donor who wants to know about X, Y, or Z, she gets it done," Reed said. "She cracks the whip. Donors like to know what's going on in Washington."

Warfield's heading up the group's $100 million lobbying and political advocacy effort, the Campaign for Free Enterprise. And as Robert Kelner, a GOP election lawyer at Covington & Burling, told the Hotline, yesterday's decision will likely increase the amount of money coming through groups like the Chamber, an idea other campaign-finance experts echoed.

"If people think that individual companies are going to go out and buy ads, there may be some of that, but for the most part companies are going to flow this money through trade groups and other outside groups," said Kelner. "This will open the floodgates for money flowing through groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other associations [that] spend money on political advertising."

I'm guessing Warfield will be a busy woman in the coming months.

Two prominent Muslim scholars will be able to visit the United States for the first time in years following the State Department's effective reversal of a Bush Administration policy that prevented dozens of writers, educators, and artists with negative views of US foreign and counterterrorism policy from obtaining visas. The American Civil Liberties Union, which praised the move, hopes it is a signal that "such ideological exclusions are now entirely in our past."

The decision paves the way for the professors, Adam Habib of the University of Johannesburg and Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University, to apply for visas free of accusations that they have ties to terrorism—charges that both scholars have flatly denied as their visa applications were routinely revoked over the past six years. Habib, a respected South African political analyst and a vocal critic of the war in Iraq, told the Associated Press that his most recent visa application was denied for having "engaged in terrorist activity," but he was never told what that activity entailed. The US government denied Ramadan's visa application to accept a tenured teaching position at the University of Notre Dame because he had contributed money to charities that the US believed supported Hamas. Ramadan denies the veracity of this claim.

The ACLU had been representing the professors in court on behalf of the American organizations that invited them to the United States. Those organizations include the American Sociological Association, the American Association of University Professors, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights. Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU's national security project, said the orders ending the professors' exclusion were long overdue and tremendously important.

"For several years, the United States government was more interested in stigmatizing and silencing its foreign critics than in engaging them," Jaffer said. "The decision to end the exclusion of Professors Habib and Ramadan is a welcome sign that the Obama administration is committed to facilitating, rather than obstructing, the exchange of ideas across international borders."

Both Habib and Ramadan told reporters they plan to apply for new visas soon. But the two professors are still the exception, not the rule. Dozens of other Muslim intellectuals whose cases are not as high-profile remain banned. 

Climate skeptics are frothing at the mouth over the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's admission this week that it relied on inadequate source material when it claimed in its annual report that the Himalayan glaciers would melt away by 2035. But while this assessment may have been an exaggeration, it doesn't change the fact that the glaciers are melting—and fast. 

The IPCC's 2007 report stated that, "Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate."

But it turns out this claim comes from a 2005 report from the World Wildlife Fund, which was in turn based on a quote from a glacier specialist in a 1999 article in The New Scientist. Even worse, the glacier specialist says he was misquoted. While he did say that the glaciers are on the decline, he says he never offered a firm date for their demise. He also said he was referring only to the glaciers in the central and eastern Himalayas, not the entire mountain range. 

It's bad enough that the IPCC bungled such a key fact wrong. But more problematic is the relevation that the IPCC's judgement on the glaciers was not based on peer-reviewed research and was not properly vetted. Instead, it apparently hinged on a report from an environmental group that rested on a single quote in a decade-old magazine article. The IPCC has acknowledged in a statement that the claim was "poorly substantiated" and that "well-established standards of evidence were not applied properly." Christopher Field, co-chairman of the panel subgroup responsible for the report, said that the IPCC "considers this a very serious issue and we’re working very hard to set the record straight as soon as we can."

Still, this episode doesn't change the fact that a) the majority of the world's glaciers are retreating b) in the foreseeable future, we will witness significant decline of glaciers around the world and c) man-made emissions are causing this to happen. The World Glacier Monitoring Service's 2005 global survey of 442 glaciers found that 398 of them were declining.

"Over the last 30 years I've watched many glaciers shrink in South America. But it's not just isolated to that continent—it's happening globally in Europe, North America, China, and the Himalayas. More than 90 percent of the world's glaciers are receding," said Lonnie Thompson, a research scientist and glaciologist at Ohio State University, in a statement this week. And according to a 2008 study co-authored by Thompson, the Himalayas appear to be warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

So while the IPCC's error is embarrassing, it doesn't change the fact that human activity threatens to melt most of the world's glaciers in the not-so-distant future—just not quite as soon as this particular report claimed.

Remember in June, when I told you the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report on the authors of the "torture memos" was due out soon? It was going to be released in "a matter of weeks," Attorney General Eric Holder told a Senate committee. Then, in November, Holder told another Senate panel that the report would come out "by the end of the month." While, it's January now, and the OPR report is nowhere to be found. The American Civil Liberties Union is tired of waiting, so today it filed a lawsuit seeking to compel the release of the report. Maybe that will finally get the Justice Department to keep its promises. Don't count on it, though.

I have a general, albeit sometimes irrational, distaste for quarterbacks. There's something about their deified status, the fact that they're often positioned as Great White Hopes on mostly black teams, their 'me'-in-team attitudes; I admittedly look for reasons to knock them down a peg. Joe Theismann: ridiculous (he changed the pronunciation of his name, 'THEES-man,' to rhyme with Heisman, as in trophy). Joe Montana: privileged (Joe Cool played for the wine-and-cheese 49ers and had the best receivers in the biz). Peyton Manning: whiner (no-huddle does not have to mean all-tantrum). Michael Vick: dog hater (no explanation nec). I could go on, but this isn't a sports' blog, so I'll get on with it:

Catblogging today is a visual metaphor for the dismal week we progressives have been suffering through. It's been raining Old Testament style this week in Southern California, and that means Inkblot doesn't get to go out and play in the morning. Instead, all he can do is stare forlornly out the bleak, gray window, wondering why Daddy won't let him go outside.

Of course, he should know why by now. Daddy did let him go out once or twice earlier in the week and feline opinion was firm: Inkblot. Did. Not. Like. It. At all. Water came out of the sky and fell on his fur! I've told him he should blame it all on Democratic fecklessness and Republican intransigence. And why not? That's what I'm blaming everything else on this week. Might as well get some mileage out of it.

Here's hoping that everyone regains a measure of sanity next week. There's a lot of work to do.

Mark McKinnon | Flickr/Tulane Public Relations (Creative Commons).Mark McKinnon | Flickr/Tulane Public Relations (Creative Commons).Many independent voters and some Republicans seem to agree with most liberals that the Supreme Court's decision to flood elections with corporate money was, quite simply, insane. One of those Republicans is Mark McKinnon, the political operative who did media strategy for George W. Bush and John McCain. McKinnon is on the board of Change Congress, law professor Larry Lessig's aggressive campaign finance reform organization, and he clearly buys Lessig's argument that campaign finance restrictions are good for small-government conservatives. (Short version: Lessig and McKinnon argue that big corporations and interest groups use campaign donations to expand government to benefit themselves.)

The problem, however, is that the Supreme Court's conservatives wouldn't have had the majority they needed to push through this decision if it weren't for Samuel Alito and John Roberts. George W. Bush appointed them, and Mark McKinnon, of course, worked to elect George W. Bush. So I asked McKinnon if he felt partially responsible for the decision he calls "outrageous." The answer: not really. "I didn't agree with President Bush on a lot of things but I supported him for President, did so without reservation, and have no regrets about that," McKinnon said. "I disagree with this decision, I disagree with the notion that corporations need a first amendment vote, and I've always expressed my disagreements with my Republican community and that's why I'm doing so today."

When I asked McKinnon whether he would have preferred for Bush to appoint justices who would have made a different decision on this case, he said that he would have "preferred a different outcome," but that he "didn't get to make those decisions, the president did."

That's all well and good, and it's nice that McKinnon is supporting Change Congress. But it's worth remembering (especially if you're an independent voter disgusted by the decision) that this ruling is the result of Republican rule and conservative Supreme Court appointments.

With very few exceptions, the modern GOP has always been opposed to campaign finance restrictions. That's despite the obvious fact that regulations and the tax code would be simpler, and handouts to government favorites rarer, if members of Congress weren't so dependent on campaign donations.

One of the precedents the Supreme Court gutted (well, contradicted the spirit of) on Thursday was McConnell v. FEC, brought by the current Republican leader in the Senate. Mitch McConnell sued the Federal Election Commission in 2002 claiming that campaign finance laws were, in the words of our own Stephanie Mencimer, "a violation of his First Amendment right to take gobs of corporate money to get elected." McConnell was at the Court again on Thursday to celebrate his ultimate victory.

Wall Street Yawns

"New Bank Rules Sink Stocks" shouted the Wall Street Journal yesterday after President Obama announced his plan to rein in the size and riskiness of the financial sector. But here's an email I got this morning from a friend:

Nobody I've talked to on Wall Street seems to think the proposed reforms (although details remain vague) are anything more than PR, aimed in the wrong direction, don't do anything to make risk-taking more expensive, and are mere structural reforms that will be annoying to get around, but will be gotten around.

We'll see what comes out in the next few days. Maybe there's more to it than telling a bank you can't invest in PE funds. We can hope anyway.

But if the intent was to "go after the banks" and get the HuffPo crowd revved up, it seems to be working. Hey, maybe we can throw in Geithner or Bernanke's scalp and "hope" will re-spring eternal.

Or at least for the next couple weeks.

You know, if investors were really worried that these new rules were going to have teeth, the Dow would have dropped a couple thousand points, not a couple hundred. But the details of Obama's proposal are sketchy, Barney Frank has already made it clear that nothing will happen quickly, and Tim Geithner is busily assuring everyone that he'll make sure it's all done with a light touch. So nothing to worry about, folks.

Obama could have seriously taken on Wall Street last June if he'd wanted to. It's not as if he was too busy with healthcare, since he was mostly leaving that up to Congress anyway, and in any case it's a completely different set of people who work on these things. And it would have been popular. But now? It's pretty hard to suddenly pivot into populist mode and be taken seriously. So no one is taking him seriously.

And once again: the key thing would be to regulate leverage in every form throughout the entire financial system. That would allow us to have a thriving financial sector that's also a safe financial sector. Unfortunately, it's also the one thing that would seriously limit the ability of Wall Street banks to make astronomical amounts of money. So it remains largely off limits.

UPDATE: More here from Felix Salmon, who has a good roundup of whether Obama's proposals are likely to have a serious impact.

When I first saw Cindy McCain's striking Prop 8 ad, I assumed it was in favor of the legislation banning gay marriage in California. This is a woman who exudes upper-crust traditionalism. Of course she would be against gay marriage.

So I was shocked when I found out the ad is for gay marriage

I'm not the only one who's surprised. The website for NOH8, the group the ad is for, notes:

In the year since we've started the…campaign, we've often been surprised at some of the different individuals who have approached us showing their support. Few, though, have surprised us more than Cindy McCain.

The decision has partly been chalked up to the influence of Cindy's daughter Meghan, a vocal gay marriage proponent who's stirred up her own controversy this week by agreeing to speak at George Washington University's upcoming "Gay Marriage Equality Week." (This actually isn't the first time Meghan has recruited her mom in the gay rights cause).

In fact, Meghan's influence may be the most telling part of the whole thing. As Stephanie Mencimer reports in the current issue of Mother Jones, the GOP is increasingly coming up against its young contingent of gay marriage supporters. Cindy may well be the product of a larger generational and cultural shift, whether Republicans want to admit it or not.

As the NOH8 website puts it: 

Cindy McCain wanted to participate in the campaign to show people that party doesn’t matter—marriage equality isn’t a Republican issue any more than it is a Democratic issue. It’s about human rights, and everybody being treated equally in the eyes of the law that runs and protects this country.

Time to Grow a Pair

Andrew Sullivan's frenzied approach to politics doesn't always wear well. But you have to admit, when he's on a roll, he's on a roll. Here he is today on the end of the "phony war" of Obama's first term, in which there was still some hope of co-opting and compromising with the forces of reaction:

But the truth is that these forces have also been so passionate, so extreme, and so energized that in a country reeling from a recession, the narrative — a false, paranoid, nutty narrative — has taken root in the minds of some independents. Obama, under-estimating the extremism of his opponents, has focused on actually addressing the problems we face. And the rest of us, crucially, have sat back and watched and complained and carped when we didn't get everything we want. We can keep on carping if we want to. But it seems to me that continuing that — as HuffPo et al. appear to be doing — is objectively siding with the forces of profound reaction right now.

....Look at what we are facing right now: a take-no-prisoners right, empowered by a massive new wave of corporate money unleashed by the Supreme Court, able to wield a 41 seat minority to oppose anything Obama wants, setting up a cycle of failure for a president whom they can then pillory at the polls, and unrepentant about near-dictatorial powers for the presidency, and the routinization of torture in the American government. These forces cannot be appeased. They simply have to be confronted.

....This is about more than health reform and we have to see it in that context. This is about a cynical nihilist attempt to break this presidency before it has had a chance to do what we elected it to do by a landslide vote. It is an attempt to destroy a majority's morale, to break a president's foreign policy autonomy, to prevent engagement in the Middle East peace process, to stop action on climate change, to restore torture, to increase tensions with the Muslim world, to launch a war on Iran. We cannot delude ourselves that if Obama fails, this is not the alternative. It is.

....So fight, Mr President. And to the House Democrats who won't go along with the only way to salvage health reform: this is the only sure-fire way you will lose in November. If you pass this bill, you may also go down in this climate. But you will have done something you can be proud of. Politics cannot always be about narrow self-interest. If it always is, nothing important can get done.

This really is a defining moment for both Obama and the Democratic Party more broadly. So far both have failed miserably: the party is in a state of meltdown, surrendering completely to a resurgent Republican narrative, refusing to fight for anything it believes in, and caving in to a truly toxic combination of electoral fear and narrow interest group parochialism. For his part, Obama seems either unable or unwilling to rally his troops. I'm not sure which. But the American public really needs to hear some conviction from him, and so far they haven't. He's remained aloof from the healthcare upheaval, pivoted on financial regulation in a way that looks driven more by politics than by core beliefs, and has just generally sounded more chastened than reinvigorated.

This really needs to turn around fast. Another week like this — hell, another day or two like this — and we might as well start measuring the Oval Office drapes for the upcoming Cheney/Palin administration. It's time for everyone to take a deep breath and grow a pair. Today would be a good time to start.