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First 'Dems for Romney' Video Released; Plus Michigan Analysis

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 4:46 PM EST

More on the Michigan Democrats for Romney movement:

Tomorrow's the MI primary — here's your pocket analysis. Journalists and pundits who haven't been properly chastened by New Hampshire will tell you that if Romney doesn't win in the state where he was raised, his campaign is over. Don't believe them. Romney has a ton of money. He'll be around to fight another day. (That said, I've seen Romney on the stump multiple times and I'd be surprised if he wins a single state.) If McCain wins, the media will anoint him the frontrunner heading into the January 19 South Carolina primary. If Huckabee wins, the media will say he's "one of the frontrunners" because they don't like Huckabee as much as they like McCain, and because they don't believe someone who appeals so exclusively to evangelical Christians can win the big states on February 5th. Polling currently has Romney first, McCain second, and Huckabee third. But the polling is going to have to predict a bunch of these things correctly before the public or the press corps really trusts it again.

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If a Golden Globe Falls in the Forest and Nobody's There to Watch It...

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 2:21 PM EST

mojo-photo-goldenglobes.JPG…Are they more likely to give them to deserving shows? Answer: kind of. Honestly, I'm being a bad journalist here since I didn't actually see any televised reading of the winners; apparently Nancy O'Dell and Billy Bush chuckled their way through a list of winners on NBC and the E! network featured a half-hour reading at some point. When I was flipping through the channels last night, my Comcast program guide showed a "Golden Globes Pre-Show" leading directly into a "Golden Globes Aftershow," giving the impression that the event had been compressed into a single point like a black hole. And when Time Magazine headlines their article: "The Golden Globes – Who Cares?" you know things are bad.

Clinton Supporter Who Slammed Obama on Race, Drugs Has Not-So-Progressive History

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 1:25 PM EST

robert_johnson.jpg After Hillary Clinton supporter Bob Johnson argued at a Clinton rally that Barack Obama has no standing on the issue of race because he was a teenager doing drugs "in the neighborhood" back when the Clintons were working on issues important to minorities, no one asked this question: What on earth is Hillary Clinton doing using Johnson, the founder of BET, as a campaign surrogate?

According to a 2001 profile in the New Republic, "Johnson is not a man with a deep sense of social obligation." He has a long history of teaming with the Bush Administration to fight against progressive goals (many of which would benefit the African-American community) in order to further his own financial ends. A few years ago, for example, he got a group of rich African-Americans together to falsify evidence and argue in favor of eliminating the death tax, a key Bush Administration goal. "As Robert Johnson of Black Entertainment Television argues," said President Bush, "the death tax and double taxation weighs heavily on minorities." This, of course, is false, and both Bush and Johnson knew it. The death tax only hits those who have large estates to leave to their children, a population far more white than black.

Johnson has engaged in union-busting. "On one occasion he laid off or reduced the hours of BET workers who joined an electricians' union, an action that a federal judge subsequently ruled illegal," writes Jonathan Chait in TNR.

And he fought for President Bush's Social Security privatization plan. Johnson served on the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security. From that post, he argued that blacks don't receive as much from the current Social Security system than whites because they are more likely to die before retirement age. That argument is specious for two reasons. I'll let Chait explain:

First, Social Security does more than pay benefits to retirees. It also gives benefits to the families of workers who die or are disabled at a young age. Since black workers are more likely to suffer workplace injuries, they benefit disproportionately from this part of the program. And the more Social Security tax dollars are drained away into private accounts--as Bush proposes to do--the less that is available for survivors' benefits.
Second, Social Security's retirement benefits are progressive: They offer a higher rate of return to lower-paid workers. Since black workers, on average, earn less than the population at large, they benefit from this redistribution. This more than makes up for any loss they suffer from dying younger. On the whole, then, Social Security redistributes money from whites to blacks. Most plans for private accounts do not. As with the estate tax, Johnson has his racial analysis backward.

Johnson also has a long history of refusing to give back to the black community, while shamelessly using his race to further his own ends (i.e. make more money). The TNR profile is worth reading in full. Hopefully someone in the Clinton campaign will do so, and reconsider their connection to Johnson.

The Fight for Increased Transparency in Senate Campaign Finance Reports

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 12:44 PM EST

While presidential and House candidates file their campaign finance reports electronically, Senate candidates file theirs on paper. It takes the Federal Elections Commission months to process these paper records and put them online, where the public can see them. The upshot: voters don't know who donated to Senate candidates in the last three months of their campaigns. Did Republicans fund Joe Lieberman's last minute push, for example? You could only find out after you've voted.

The good folks at the Sunlight Foundation have identified which Senators are working for more transparency (primarily Russ Feingold) and which ones are working for less (primarily John Ensign). And they also know how you can take action. Check out their web video.

AFRICOM Enters the Blogosphere

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 12:20 PM EST

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The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was created last February to coordinate U.S. military activities on the continent; Africa had previously been the shared responsibility of the European, Central, and Pacific commands. Last December 21, AFRICOM added a blog to its website to better communicate its mission. According to the initial blog post from General William Kip Ward, AFRICOM's commander:

As we build U.S. Africa Command, we want to talk to people about what the U.S. military is doing in Africa. Just as importantly, I want everyone on the staff to also listen and learn. So we have launched a new forum called AFRICOM Dialogue as a way for members of the Africa Command staff to describe what we're doing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for transparency and dialogue. But it struck me... aside from the Nigerian scammers who relentlessly pound away at my inbox, how many Africans actually have Internet access? Turns out, not that many—about 4 percent.

So, I wish AFRICOM all the best with its blog, but I suspect that most of its earnest declarations of "mutual trust, respect, and confidence" in its African partners will go unnoticed by ... well, almost everyone that counts.

At least one African, though, has already chimed in: "With all due respect, AFRICOM is not needed whatsoever in Nigeria or anywhere else in the West African Sub-sahara," wrote "Olaopin in Unspecified." Good luck, AFRICOM.

Living Large in Kabul

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 12:00 PM EST

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Taliban militants have attacked a luxury hotel in Kabul, the BBC reports. Wait a second, there's a luxury hotel in Kabul? Yep, the Kabul Serena. First opened in 1945 as the Kabul Hotel, it was destroyed during the Afghan civil war and rebuilt in January 2006 with help from the Aga Khan Foundation for Economic Development. And, hey, it looks pretty nice, certainly better than any hotel this reporter has ever stayed in. From the press release announcing the hotel's 2006 reopening:

An oasis of luxury in a war-ravaged city, the hotel offers such unheard of luxuries (by local standards) as: 177 rooms; all with stylish soft furnishings, marble bathrooms, satellite TV and Internet connections on demand. Guest amenities include a business center, health club, swimming pool and a beauty salon.
As for restaurants, the Café Zarnegar offers 24-hour international buffet services, while the exquisite Silk Route Restaurant specializes in a selection of Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian and Thai cuisine. Commenting on the initial success of the hotel, a spokesman for the Aga Khan Foundation for Economic Development, Aly Mawji, said, "mainstream tourism is still years away, but we hope the hotel will encourage some more adventurous travellers".

According to the BBC, four men armed with AK-47s, grenades, and suicide vests stormed the hotel earlier today. One of the attackers detonated his explosive inside the hotel, while the others exchanged gunfire with hotel guards before escaping. Adventure travel, indeed. Nightly rates at the Serena range from $277 for a standard room to $1,333 for the "presidential suite."

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Reason #2,359 to Support Universal Health Care

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 10:51 AM EST

American businesses seem to have a never-ending supply of creative ways for dropping people off their health care plans. The latest: employee insurance audits. Big companies have started demanding that employees prove that their dependents are really dependents and eligible for the company health care coverage. Naturally, consulting firms have sprung up to assist with the purges, demanding tax returns, marriage licenses and other personal documents from lowly service workers in the hopes of catching some cheaters, or at least people without good filing systems.

Newhouse News reporter Katherine Reynolds Lewis notes that the Ford Motor Company used audits to drop 80,000 people off its health care plan. Such numbers have apparently inspired a rush to audit. GM is currently auditing its entire 1 million strong workforce. A GM spokesperson told Lewis that the audits were worth the expense: "For every one that we drop, it's about a $1,000 savings," she said. If only the American auto industry managed to devote such innovation to producing cars! At some point, though, the auto makers and other big companies ought to just ask the government to take health care off their hands. At the rate they're going, it won't be long before none of their employees have health insurance anyway. They might as well just make it official and do something constructive about it.

Clinton Smears Obama on Iraq - Again

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 9:54 AM EST

Senator Hillary Clinton appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday, for the entire show, and asserted once again that Senator Barack Obama's rhetoric does not match the reality of his record. Referring to voters, she remarked, "I want them to have accurate information about our respective records." Yet moments later, Clinton, ostensibly providing voters with information about Obama's record, falsely characterized what Obama had once said about Saddam Hussein--to make it seem that prior to the war Obama was weak on Saddam.

During the show, Tim Russert brought up Clinton's vote in October 2002 for the legislation authorizing George W. Bush to take military action against Iraq, and he quoted a speech Obama gave at that time:

I know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors....I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.

Russert then asked Clinton, "Who had the better judgment at that time?" Meaning you or him.

Clinton insisted that her support for the war resolution had been merely a vote to pressure the Iraqi dictator to allow weapons inspectors into Iraq. She quickly moved on to attack Obama:

And in Senator Obama's recent book, he clearly says he thought that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, and that he still coveted nuclear weapons. His judgment was that, at the time in 2002, we didn't need to make any efforts. My belief was we did need to pin Saddam down, put inspectors in.

You can read it in his own book, Clinton was saying: Obama didn't want to do anything to stop Saddam, even though he feared that Saddam did possess chemical and biological weapons.

That was one helluva charge. Obama was willing to sit back and let a WMD-toting dictator go along on his merry own way (while Clinton was doing what she could to pin down that snake). Could this be true? Had Obama been a do-nothing appeaser of Saddam in 2002? (Forget for a moment that it turned out Saddam had zilch in the WMD department at the time.) I emailed Howard Wolfson, the communications director for the Clinton campaign, and asked for a citation to back up this incendiary allegation. He quickly replied, directing me to page 294 of Obama's Audacity of Hope.

Clinton "So Proud" of Obama

| Sun Jan. 13, 2008 9:28 PM EST

Funny how things turn out. When you're campaigning in front of the heavily black Democratic electorate in South Carolina, you can only bag on the black candidate in the race for so long until people get ticked off. So, you have to change your message. And you have to change your message so quickly, even the mainstream media throws in a sly criticism. From ABC News:

After an hour-long television interview critiquing Sen. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton went to an African American church, where the only words she had for her democratic rival -- were of praise....
"We never thought we would see the day when an African-American and a woman were competing for the presidency," Clinton said. "I am so proud of my party, I am so proud of my country, and I am so proud of Sen. Barack Obama."

I know it has been a Clinton-heavy day of blogging. Apologies for that. In non-campaign news, a high-level foreign policy official in the Bush Administration finally called waterboarding torture. That's important stuff and probably warrants it's own blog post, not the last line of a horserace post...

New Clinton Surrogate Raises Obama's Drug Use

| Sun Jan. 13, 2008 8:15 PM EST

clinton_obama_profile.jpg The Clinton folks aren't letting anyone forget about Barack Obama's drug use. Just one month after New Hampshire campaign co-chair Billy Shaheen (now resigned) raised the possibility of Obama selling drugs as a teenager, Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson said at a Hillary Clinton rally:

"And to me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood –­ and I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in the book –­ when they have been involved."

The probability of Johnson freelancing on this is incredibly low. The Clinton campaign has a track record of using surrogates to do its dirty work. A Hill staffer who is supporting Clinton but is unaffiliated with the campaign told me he loved the Clinton campaign's hardball tactics. "The Clintons are so gangster," he said. "I love it!"

I'll just say this. When I found out Obama admitted to using marijuana and cocaine in his early writings, I gave him credit. Most politicians would try to bury stuff like that. Obama put it on the table, even though he must have known it would eventually be used against him. I assumed it would be used against him by Republicans; perhaps that was naive. The Obama campaign has chosen not to bring up some of the nastier parts of the Clintons' past (he has gone only so far as to say that America doesn't need to refight the "fights of the '90s"), and that's obviously part of his take-the-high-road approach. But I'm growning skeptical of that plan's chances of success. Even if Obama is committed to hitting back hard when attacked, he will still be on the defensive for the entire campaign.

As I've said before, you don't win by playing nice. But if Obama plays nasty, he'll undercut his brand. It's tough out there for a positive campaigner.