Blogs

Obama to Clinton: We've Got Our Own Kitchen Sink

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 3:32 PM EST

kitchen-sink.jpg Going negative worked for Hillary Clinton in Ohio and Texas and the Obama campaign knows it.

On a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Obama's chief strategist David Alexrod acknowledged Clinton's kitchen sink strategy and said, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." Get ready for an ugly six weeks until Pennsylvania, folks.

Axelrod started in on Clinton with the tax return issue. "The vetting of Hillary Clinton has yet to start. The hard questions haven't been asked," he said. "They've talked about change you can Xerox. You can Xerox a tax return. There's not a lot of preparation... it's important people understand what the sources of income are for the household that is going to be the next president."

This all followed on the heels of a memo from the campaign earlier this morning titled, "TAX RETURNS: What does Clinton have to hide?"

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Comcast Must Die

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 2:52 PM EST

Comcast, the cable TV giant, has given its customers lots of reasons to hate the company. They've refused to embrace a la carte programming, charged people $2 to stop sending them junk mail, wrecked people's credit reports, falsely advertised its Internet speed and generally abused the people who pay for its services. Comcast's customer service problems are so acute that Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield started a blog called Comcast Must Die to compile all the gripes about the company from consumers (see the promo video above). But Comcast doesn't really need any help generating bad press.

Last week, the company admitted that it paid people to take up all the seats at an FCC hearing examining complaints that Comcast was blocking file-sharing on its cable modem service. The reason? Comcast wanted to keep its critics out in the cold. The company apparently didn't tell the seat-warmers to stay awake through the proceedings so as not to attract attention of reporters, who immediately suspected Comcast was up to no good.

It's amazing that a company this bad could stay in business as long as it has. It's either a testament to the power of monopolies or sad proof that Americans will endure any amount of corporate abuse to get their Law and Order fix every week. Garfield is hoping his new blog will help change corporate behavior, but I think there's a better way to go than bitching online: just cancel. Pull the plug. Comcast will only die if people stop using it. Really, you can do it. The writers' strike notwithstanding, network TV has never been better, and in these bad economic times, it has the added advantage of being free.

EPA Union Leaders Take on Top Brass Over CA Waiver Decision

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 2:40 PM EST

On Friday, 19 union local presidents representing more than 10,000 EPA employees submitted a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson accusing him of "abuses of our good nature and trust." The complaint cited the California greenhouse gas waiver decision and several other issues, including the oversight of mercury emissions from power plants. It expanded upon a protest of the waiver decision submitted by a smaller group of EPA staffers in January.

That same Friday I happened to attend a forum at UC Davis on California's greenhouse gas regulation efforts. Ken Davis, the point man on global warming lawsuits for the AG's office, mentioned that the EPA had earlier that day submitted a 40-page declaration expanding upon its reasoning for denying the waiver. The EPA was calling the declaration its "final rule," which, he speculated, was an effort to reset the clock on the AG's appeal of the decision. He considered the move a shameless delaying tactic.

Clearly, we haven't heard the last of the global warming fight between California and the EPA. Johnson is increasingly isolated: public opinion, state legislatures, and, of course, the world at large are moving in the opposite direction. Expect an increasing amount of high profile dissent from within the EPA as the political season unfolds--especially if it looks more likely that a Democrat will retake the White House.

The Only Muslim in Congress on the Obama-Muslim Smear

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 2:03 PM EST

Hillary Clinton is trying to take advantage of the emails that allege Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the only Muslim in Congress (and a man who, unlike Obama, actually was sworn in on a Koran), tells Huffington Post. Money quote:

People are going to throw some stuff on the wall and see what sticks and at this point the Clinton camp is trying to do whatever it can to be successful. And if that means benefiting from political bigotry, I don't think they will try to put a stop to it.

Clinton told 60 Minutes straight out that she does not think Obama is a Muslim. But she also said that there was "nothing to base [the smear] on, as far as I know" (emphasis added). Ellison says the qualifier is an attempt to "seed voter doubts," according to HuffPo.

The Clinton campaign denies Ellison's allegations.

John W. McCain at the White House

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 2:03 PM EST

bush-mccain.jpg Today, John Sidney McCain and George W. Bush were one. Bush endorsed McCain at the White House, saying, "John showed incredible courage, strength of character and perseverance in order to get to this moment and that's exactly what we need in a president." If you think Bush is so unpopular that he can't help McCain among conservatives, you're crazy. Hard-core right-wingers, the folks that don't really trust John McCain, love George Bush with an irrational passion. Of course, there's a danger that this endorsement will reinforce the notion that John McCain is running for what is essentially a third Bush term, in terms of both foreign and domestic policy. But the Democrats were going to hammer that point regardless of whether or not McCain made this trip to the Rose Garden.

The two men have a long history, displayed at right courtesy of a Think Progress photo montage.

For more on what John McCain needs to do to shore up the Republican base, see this.

Update: Bush: McCain "is not going to change" my foreign policy.

Update Update: Check out this SNL sketch on McCain swallowing his pride to endorse Bush in 2004.

FISA and Total Online Awareness

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 12:16 PM EST

New questions have arisen about what, exactly, the government hopes to surveil. On Monday, Kenneth Wainstein, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security spelled it out:

At the breakfast yesterday, Wainstein highlighted a different problem with the current FISA law than other administration officials have emphasized. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, for example, has repeatedly said FISA should be changed so no warrant is needed to tap a communication that took place entirely outside the United States but happened to pass through the United States.

But in response to a question at the meeting by David Kris, a former federal prosecutor and a FISA expert, Wainstein said FISA's current strictures did not cover strictly foreign wire and radio communications, even if acquired in the United States. The real concern, he said, is primarily e-mail, because "essentially you don't know where the recipient is going to be" and so you would not know in advance whether the communication is entirely outside the United States.

Ryan Singel at Wired magazine thinks there's something to this. "That would make sense," he writes, "since email doesn't go directly to a device in most cases, it goes to a server that holds the email until the recipient(s) come to pick up the email—which could be and often is from different parts of the world—think of any business traveler."

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Christians Heart Payday Lenders

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 11:12 AM EST

payday-lender.jpgThe Christian Right has used the Bible to bolster many a political issue, from abortion to stem cell research. Strangely enough, however, they seem to have missed one of the biggies: the Bible's many injunctions against usury, or predatory lending to poor people. The Bible is far more explicit in its disapproval of usury than, say, gay marriage. (The book of Ezekiel compares usurious lending to extortion and murder for hire, in fact, and threatens major hellfire for those who practice it.) Yet in parts of the country where the Christian Right wields the most political power, usurious payday lending has flourished more than anywhere else in the U.S., according to a new study by Christopher Peterson and Steven Graves.

Today's payday lenders charge around 450 percent interest on short-term loans, rates ten times higher than the federal definition of criminal loan sharking and nearly double what the Mob charged in its heyday. Peterson's home state of heavily Mormon Utah ranked high on the list of havens for payday lenders. The state claims more payday lending outlets than McDonalds, Burger Kings, Subway sandwich chains, and 7-11s combined, and has failed to pass even modest restrictions on allowable interest rates that exceed 500 percent a year, among the highest in the nation. (One reason may be that the chairman of the Salt Lake City Republican Party, former State Senator James Evans, himself owns several payday-lending outfits.)

Peterson and Graves decline to speculate as to why devout Christians and Mormons who wield considerable political clout continue to tolerate practices that are so clearly at odds with Biblical teachings. They simply attempted to point out the correlation, writing that sadly, "Those states that have most ardently held to their pious Christian traditions have tended to become more infested with the progeny of money changers once expelled by Christ from the Hebrew temple."

Photo by Flickr user ninjapoodles used under a Creative Commons license.

What John McCain Must Do Now

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 1:57 AM EST

mccain_closeup_250x200.jpg Now that John McCain has secured the delegates he needs to become his party's nominee, he has a period for several weeks, possibly several months, during which the Democrats are going to be slugging it out. So what should he do with his time?

(1) Raise money. The Clinton campaign raised a record $35 million in February, and speculation in the media points to a $50 million haul for Obama in the same period. That builds on Obama's $30+ million in January. In contrast, McCain raised $12 million in February.

Over the course of the campaign, Clinton and Obama have each raised roughly $135 million. Through January, Clinton has $29 million left, and Obama has $25 million left. McCain, on the other hand, has raised $53 million over the course of the campaign, and has $5 million left, less than Ron Paul.

But while the Democrats are raising $85 million a month, they can't spend that money defining John McCain or introducing their general election messaging. They have to spend it on 3 a.m. phone ads and the like. That provides McCain with a golden opportunity — now that he has access to all GOP donors, he can build out his fundraising base and start putting out ads that define the Democrats in any negative way he pleases.

But successfully building that donor base means consolidating his support among American conservatives. In order to that he must...

Why Howard Dean's Blood Pressure Is Through the Roof

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 1:30 AM EST

Wanted to add one thought to David's full-bodied analysis of tonight's Democratic results. If you run the numbers, Senator Clinton has almost no chance of catching Obama in the pledged delegate totals, even when you take her wins today into consideration. (Here's the proof.) In order to catch him in the delegate count, she needs to win by completely unprecedented margins in every state going forward. That's not bias. That's fact.

That means she can take her campaign in one of two directions: she can attack Obama so thoroughly that he becomes radioactive and no voters will touch him, or she can use some combination of superdelegates and Michigan/Florida to overrule the will of the people who have voted thus far. Either route creates huge problems for the party. Both damage Clinton even if she does come away with the nomination (because her primary win looks ill-begotten and gangster) and both destroy all of the goodwill and energy currently surrounding the Democratic Party.

I'm not saying Clinton should drop out. She can do as she pleases. But I am saying she should be aware of the consequences on her choices as she decides how to move forward. The difficulties she faces in climbing back into this thing, her wins today notwithstanding, are very real.

Clinton's Triple Win Sets Up a Long, Ugly Slog to Pennsylvania

| Wed Mar. 5, 2008 12:58 AM EST

HRCwin.jpg Now it's on to the Democratic death-march in Pennsylvania.

By winning decisively in Ohio and Rhode Island and narrowly in Texas, Senator Hillary Clinton managed to keep her presidential aspirations alive and guaranteed that the bitterly-fought Democratic contest will slog on for weeks, at least until April 22, when Pennsylvania (with its 188 delegates) votes. With these victories, Clinton put an end to Barack Obama's streak--though he still maintains a significant, if statistically slight, lead in the delegates chosen in primaries and caucuses. (Due to the rules governing Texas' odd joint primary-caucus, it seemed possible on Tuesday night, even probable, that Obama would pocket a majority of the delegates there, despite placing second in he popular vote.) More important, Clinton earned the right to claim that her case against Obama, which she and her aides sharpened in recent days, has been seconded by Democratic voters, including two important blocs for the party: blue-collar Dems in Ohio, a decisive state in general elections, and Latino Democrats in Texas. Obama netted his only primary win of the night in Vermont.

At long last, Clinton and her strategists seemed to have gained traction with their attacks on the candidate of hope. As Firewall Tuesday approached, the Clinton campaign did not introduce any new themes. But it did tinker with the mix and accused Obama of falling short on integrity, credibility, and experience. This new mash-up was a success. Catching a break because the corruption trial of Obama's onetime friend and contributor Tony Rezko began this week, Clinton aides repeatedly clamed there were "unanswered questions" about Obama's relationship with Rezko. Obama's aides countered that there were no unanswered questions about this much-investigated episode. (Obama, accused of no wrongdoing in the Rezko matter, has acknowledged it was dumb for him to have entered into a real estate deal with Rezko, especially since the politically-wired developer was under investigation at the time.) Prodded by the Clintonites, reporters started grilling Obama anew about Rezko. And being asked about the dirty dealings of a former pal is never helpful to a candidate selling change and reform. Simultaneously, Obama's camp came under heavy fire--from the Clinton campaign--for falsely denying that a campaign adviser had met with Canadian officials and discussed Obama's position on NAFTA. (The aide denied press reports that he had told the Canadians that Obama's criticism of NAFTA was merely political posturing.) It looked as if Obama the Inspirer was not playing straight.

While casting Obama as just another shifty, sleaze-tainted pol, Clinton and her lieutenants pumped up the volume on their well-worn charge that he's not ready for prime time--that is, when the phone rings in the White House in the middle of the night because there's a crisis somewhere. The Obama camp quickly cooked up a clever retort--Clinton failed her red-phone moment by voting for George W. Bush's Iraq war measure--yet Clinton's heavy-handed commercial, if it did not persuade any individual voter in Texas or Ohio, did define the discourse (and media coverage) in the days before these primaries. Experience, not hope, was the main subject of the debate. Advantage: Clinton.