Blogs

Top McCain Aide Lobbied for Pro-Russian Foreign Politicians

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 6:42 PM EDT

I know, I know, its hard to keep John McCain's lobbyists-turned-top-advisers straight. There's chief campaign strategist Charlie Black, who lobbied for dictators in the '80s and just about everyone else since. There's campaign manager Rick Davis, who headed a lobbying organization for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for years and was still on Freddie's payroll as late as August 2008. There's top foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann, who has lobbied for Latvia, Macedonia, Georgia, and Taiwan. (And there's 83 others who lobbied for Wall Street before and during the financial crisis.)

But National Journal has a new one for you. Christian Ferry, McCain's deputy campaign manager and Rick Davis's #2 man, has worked for some nasty characters:

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Pillow Talk

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 4:59 PM EDT

PILLOW TALK....Does the NSA intercept telephone calls between Americans? Of course not! That's against the law. Unless, of course, you happen to be an American in one of the NSA's "areas of intercept" when you call home. ABC News talks today to a couple of NSA whistleblowers who say that eavesdropping on Americans was commonplace:

"These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones," said Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist assigned to a special military program at the NSA's Back Hall at Fort Gordon from November 2001 to 2003.

...."We knew they were working for these aid organizations," Kinne told ABC News. "They were identified in our systems as 'belongs to the International Red Cross' and all these other organizations. And yet, instead of blocking these phone numbers we continued to collect on them," she told ABC News.

And there's this from a former Navy Arab linguist named David Murfee Faulk:

"Calling home to the United States, talking to their spouses, sometimes their girlfriends, sometimes one phone call following another," said Faulk.

....Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of "cuts" that were available on each operator's computer.

"Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News.

The official NSA response is to stay mum. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) promises to investigate. Stay tuned.

Palin's Secessionists Problem

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 4:47 PM EDT

Secessionists? Alaska wants to secede from the US (which its leadership "hates") and the Palins are hip deep in it?

She demands to see her Republican opponent's marriage license (how could he be married, as all decent people must be, if his "wife" had a different name?)—but won't release her mysterious fifth child's birth certificate?

All of this feels really smarmy, but that's because Palin feels really smarmy. We've been forced to lay down with that dog and now we're covered with fleas. How can someone so compromised stand on the threshold of the American presidency?

Slicing and Dicing

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 4:03 PM EDT

SLICING AND DICING....The Washington Post editorializes today against John McCain's mortgage rescue plan, and among its bill of particulars it tosses in this:

At least as Mr. Holtz-Eakin described it, it lacks a clear mechanism for reassembling and extricating whole mortgages from the welter of securities "tranches" into which Wall Street slices and dices them.

As I understand things — and I might not — this is a serious problem with any plan to force noteholders to write down their losses and restructure their mortgages to help out distressed homeowners. The problem is that there's no banker to negotiate with. It's not just that mortgages today are bundled up and securitized, it's that the resulting securities are then chopped up and sold into various CDOs. These CDOs are hedged with hundreds of pages of legal covenants, and the end result is that you can't force the mortgages to be restructured unless all of the bondholders agree. And since every CDO has hundreds of bondholders, that's basically impossible.

Obviously this doesn't apply to all subprime mortgages, but I wonder how many it does apply to? And legally and administratively, what's the answer? I really haven't been able to find a coherent explanation of this stuff, but it seems like it's a pretty big deal. Anyone have any reading recommendations?

The National Debt Clock Ran Out of Digits

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 4:01 PM EDT

According to CNN:

The National Debt Clock in New York City has run out of digits to record the growing figure.

As a short-term fix, the digital dollar sign on the billboard-style clock near Times Square has been switched to a figure—the "1" in $10 trillion. It's marking the federal government's current debt at about $10.2 trillion.

The Durst Organization says it plans to update the sign next year by adding two digits. That will make it capable of tracking debt up to a quadrillion dollars.

The late Manhattan real estate developer Seymour Durst put the sign up in 1989 to call attention to what was then a $2.7 trillion debt.

I was in the former Yugoslavia in the late 80's/early 90s, just as they'd had to devalue their currency. My then-boyfriend and I were mystified whenever locals tried to explain to us that we needed to add three zeroes or subtract them, who knew which, from whatever was on the bill. Either our disgusting room cost us $10 or $100, we were never quite sure. Everywhere we went, guys with unibrows and "Natasha-and-Boris" accents were pssst-ing at us and going "change mon-ye? change mon-ye?"

You see, back in those long gone days, US currency was the bomb. Now it's just a bomb, I guess. Will we eventually become the slightly scary guys desperately trying to get foreigners to change their good money for our lousy stuff?

I'll have to check with the ex-boyfriend; maybe that was Hungary. Either way, we seem to be going the same way. Backwards.

The Long Saga of John McCain and the NRA

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 3:19 PM EDT

mccain_nra250x200.jpg Opinions change in Washington. Before the National Rifle Association loved John McCain — it favored McCain with its endorsement Thursday — it had some very sharp disagreements with the Arizona Senator. In 2000, McCain said of the gun lobby, "I don't think they help the Republican Party at all." A year later, the NRA shot back by calling McCain "one of the premier flag carriers for the enemies of the Second Amendment."

There were two reason for the NRA's hostility toward McCain: campaign finance and a bill McCain co-sponsored with Joe Lieberman to close the so-called "gun show loophole." The NRA put McCain on the cover of its newsletter, called "America's 1st Freedom," in July 2001. Next to him were the words, "John McCain, What Are You Thinking?" An article inside explains that earlier that year McCain and Lieberman had teamed up to champion legislation to eliminate the loophole, which the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence explains this way:

Under federal law, anyone who wants to engage in the business of selling firearms must obtain a federal firearms license. The Brady Law requires that when a federal firearms licensee (FFL) wants to sell a firearm, they must contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to ensure that the purchaser is not prohibited from possessing firearms. FFLs must comply with these laws whether they are selling firearms from a gun store or at a gun show.
The Brady Law, however, does not apply to the sale of firearms by non-licensees. Every year, there are thousands of gun sales without background checks by vendors claiming not to need a federal license because they are merely selling from their "personal collection" of guns. Many of these sales take place at gun shows and the problem has become known as the "gun show loophole."

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Rednecks for Obama

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 2:59 PM EDT

If you've seen this and this (careful about the language in that last one), you'll probably need this little story to restore some faith.

Update: Here's another one of these videos. This is getting ugly.

Gay Marriage Ban Succeeding in California

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 2:27 PM EDT

I'm really unhappy that my home state looks like it will pass a gay marriage ban next month. (California's Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, is ahead in the polls.) This serves as a reminder that no matter how badly Barack Obama beats John McCain and no matter how many Senate seats the Democrats pick up, this is not a fundamentally progressive country. This is a country fed up with Republicans. I mean for christ's sake, this is California, the one place you would think voters would embrace gay marriage!

The success of Prop 8 supports a theory I have and that I'm sure many share: electing a black man named Barack Hussein Obama was only possible because of just how screwed we are as a country. Let's keep in mind, during the post-election pats on the back we're all going award ourselves because we elected the nation's first black president, that in a test of our tolerance conducted in a vacuum, one of our most progressive states failed.

(Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Maybe I'm overly-pessimistic. Whatever. I'm in a bad mood about this.)

Sarah's Airplane

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 1:57 PM EDT

SARAH'S AIRPLANE....Alaska's First Dude has finally been forced to give testimony in the Troopergate scandal, and apparently getting ex-brother-in-law Mike Wooten fired from his job as a state trooper became a serious Ahab-like obsession with him:

Todd Palin talked with over a dozen state officials, many of them repeatedly, in his crusade to get a state trooper fired whom he considered to be a bad cop, a dishonest person and a threat to the Palin family, according to his sworn statement given Wednesday to a legislative investigator....Todd Palin's efforts started before his wife became governor and accelerated during the first 19 months of her administration.

...."I had hundreds of conversations and communications about Trooper Wooten over the last several years with my family, with friends, with colleagues, and with just about everyone I could — including government officials," Palin said.

Hundreds! But that's actually not the most interesting part of the story. Todd Palin continues to insist that his anti-Wooten jihad had nothing to do with Sarah Palin's eventual firing of public safety commissioner Walt Monegan, which he says was motivated by an entirely different kind of bad blood: her difficulty getting Monegan to provide her with a plane for official trips:

On the trooper airplane, "It seemed that whenever Sarah needed this plane, it was unavailable," Todd Palin said. "We were concerned that the Department of Public Safety was retaliating against Sarah for selling the Murkowski jet that Department of Public Safety officials enjoyed using." In 2007, the governor sold a jet her predecessor, Frank Murkowski, bought in a controversial defiance of the Legislature.

Please, please, can we hear more about this tussle over airplane use? Apparently Todd Palin thinks that's an entirely proper reason for firing Monegan, and I'm eager to hear Sarah's take on that. Please?

Sarah Palin's Foreign Policy Cred

| Thu Oct. 9, 2008 1:16 PM EDT

SARAH PALIN'S FOREIGN POLICY CRED....Interested in learning about Sarah Palin's real foreign policy experience? David Corn has her official calendar for 2007-08 and spills the beans. Bottom line: she's spent an average of 37 minutes per month on foreign-ish activity during her tenure as governor. There were no meetings with Russian officials of any kind, but her schedule did include 30 minutes at a reception held by the Italian embassy, a meeting with foreign exchange students, and a speech at the Eighth Conference of Arctic Parliamentarians. Plus several miscellaneous meetings with Canadians. Exciting stuff!