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Oh, I Forgot to Mention

| Mon May 5, 2008 11:15 AM EDT

Obama won Guam. It was close. He and Clinton will split the territory's four delegates evenly.

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Lawmakers Continue to Push for Investigation of Pentagon Puppets

| Mon May 5, 2008 10:35 AM EDT

Building on the early efforts of Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), forty members of Congress have sent a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, demanding an investigation of the now-suspended Pentagon puppets scandal. Can't be long before the Waxman gets involved, I suspect.

RumInt: New Bush Iran Finding?

| Fri May 2, 2008 5:58 PM EDT

Counterpunch's Andrew Cockburn reports today that six weeks ago, Bush signed a new Iran "finding" that expands US aid to opposition groups to the Tehran regime:

Bush's secret directive covers actions across a huge geographic area – from Lebanon to Afghanistan – but is also far more sweeping in the type of actions permitted under its guidelines – up to and including the assassination of targeted officials. This widened scope clears the way, for example, for full support for the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, the cultish Iranian opposition group, despite its enduring position on the State Department's list of terrorist groups.

Chasing down such a potentially explosive report on one of Washington's first balmy Friday afternoons is a challenge. Asked if the report sounded plausible, one Hill source contacted indicated, no, it does not. A second responded, "I have no information to support or refute this article. However, [the report's] credibility is undermined by the notion that a ship commander, during a moment of crisis that only is of several minutes duration, would have the time and luck to reach the CENTCOM head to solicit his advice and feedback during this short window of time."

Will keep chasing. Stay tuned.

Music: Just How Good is the New Portishead Album?

| Fri May 2, 2008 4:14 PM EDT

mojo-photo-portisheadthirdcover.jpgOkay, I promise that my week-long series of Coachella afterglow posts will come to an end right after this one. In fact, while my appreciation of the long-dormant Bristol combo Portishead was confirmed by their spectacular performance in the desert Saturday night, I'd been enjoying their new album, Third, for a while. While I (lovingly) mocked it a while back here on the Riff for the, er, intensity of its lyrical misery, there's something exhilarating about Third. It's that rarest of comeback albums: less a return to form than a return to function, evidence of a band's determination to explore new musical territory (and new depths of despair), just as they always have.

After the jump: what's Rob Sheffield's damage?

McCain Defends Gas Tax Holiday With More Hackery

| Fri May 2, 2008 3:40 PM EDT

john-mccain-pillar.jpg John McCain is apparently getting frustrated trying to defend the base political pander he calls the gas tax holiday. (Typical appraisal from those in the know: "It's about the dumbest thing I've heard in an awful long time from an economic point of view." — Michael Bloomberg) Here's McCain responding to a voter's question:

"You'd think that I was attacking Western civilization as we know it. The special interests [say], 'Oh, my God. This will destroy our transportation system in America. This will have disastrous consequences.' Look, all I think is we ought to give low-income Americans, in particular, a little relief."

Okay, first of all, to suggest that opponents of the gas tax holiday are "special interests" is preposterous. Experts and economists of all ideological types have criticized the gas tax holiday as braindead. Second, the special interests, specifically the oil companies, are cheering the idea. If you take an 18-cent tax off the price of a gallon of gas, you allow the oil companies to add 18 cents per gallon in additional profits. That's why the original criticisms of the McCain version of the gas tax called it a giveaway to the oil companies!

And one other note. John McCain seems to think that the gas tax holiday helps low-income Americans the most because they drive the farthest. In fact, the opposite is true.

Republican Attack Dog Burton to Finally Get Ousted?

| Fri May 2, 2008 2:17 PM EDT

dan_burton.jpg Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana is a different kind of hard core right-winger. Like any loyal Republican, he has the consistent record against abortion and for guns. But Burton takes things a step further, into crazy-land. In 1990, Burton introduced legislation that would impose the death penalty on drug dealers. (He's lucky it didn't pass, because Burton's son would later be arrested for transporting multiple pounds of marijuana across state lines.) When the House passed a measure prohibiting members from accepting gifts and free trips from lobbyists, the vote was 430-1. Burton was the one. Time once reported that Burton thought the Clinton White House bugged his phones, and that he was "so afraid of catching AIDS that he brings his own scissors to the House barbershop and refuses to eat soup at public restaurants."

But his conservativism and his nuttiness aren't what he's known for. Burton is best known as one of the most vicious attack dogs in Congress when Bill Clinton was president. He led the investigation into Democratic fundraising abuse, even though he has his own questions about fundraising ethics. He called the president a "scumbag" and said "no one, regardless of what branch of government they serve, should be allowed to get away with these alleged sexual improprieties," even though he has fathered a child out of wedlock. In 1998, he released edited transcripts of prison audiotape from Webster Hubbell, an act so partisan and sloppy that it brought rebuke from even Newt Gingrich. And the coup de grâce: Burton was so dogged in his pursuit of the Vince Foster allegations that he shot a pumpkin in his backyard with a pistol, to mimic the alleged murder.

And now, finally, it appears Burton may get the boot. The 13-term Congressman, who routinely wins reelection by wide margins, is facing a Republican primary challenger named John McGoff, who, as a member of the National Guard, flew missions into Iraq and Afghanistan as a flight surgeon. McGoff says that he was once an active Burton supporter, but now he's simply had enough. According to the Indianopolis Star, McGoff's plan to put ethics at the center of his campaign is making serious headway among Indiana voters. It helps that Burton, who has drastically outspent his opponent, has more less validated the strategy by spending $190,000 in taxpayers' dollars on constituent mailings that look suspiciously like campaign advertisements.

Perhaps instead of running a pro-ethics campaign, McGoff can run an anti-blockhead campaign.

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Perspective, Please

| Fri May 2, 2008 1:47 PM EDT

Can we get a little perspective here? Yes, Jeremiah Wright's statements (and especially his National Press Club performance) damaged Barack Obama. Yes, Obama is a flawed candidate, and he's connected to some sketchy people. But let's be real: the media's portrayal of Obama as the only candidate with questionable associations is ridiculous.

The GOP knows that Obama is still the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. That's why he's being hit so hard right now while Hillary Clinton is getting relatively fair, issue-based questions and other softballs tossed at her — by Bill O'Reilly of all people. But remember when Clinton was the frontrunner? There wasn't so much of a focus on the skeletons in Obama's closet back then. It was all about Hillary. All the old Right-wing smears were flying: Vince Foster. Whitewater. Cattle Futures. They even made a movie about the Democrat's presumptive nominee. It was named after her, but it wasn't flattering.

It is good and generally-followed rule in American politics that we ignore what our enemies abroad say about our foreign policy — it can be safely assumed that they are operating in bad faith. Democrats would also be wise to ignore their rivals' advice about choosing their leaders. Bill Kristol and Karl Rove are many things, but they are not stupid. They will write and say whatever they think serves their party best. Right now that's attacking Obama, who will almost certainly be the Democrats' nominee. But rest assured that you'd be hearing a totally different tune from the Right and its allies in the media if Hillary Clinton was winning.

Obama Gets Hit By a Gravelanche

| Fri May 2, 2008 1:40 PM EDT

I don't know that Obama rebounds from this devastating attack.

Mike Gravel is the gift that keeps on giving. More Gravel-based video amusement here and here.

Wow, Kentucky, I Don't Know What to Say...

| Fri May 2, 2008 1:30 PM EDT

George Packer takes a stroll down Kentucky way.

On Wednesday, I was in Inez, Kentucky, the Appalachian town where L.B.J. declared war on poverty forty-four years ago this month. John McCain was on a tour of "forgotten places," and had come to Inez to let the coal miners and town notables know that he will be the President of all Americans.... After his speech, I left the county courthouse and crossed the main street to talk to a small group of demonstrators holding signs next to McCain's campaign bus. J. K. Patrick, a retired state employee from a neighboring county, wore a button on his shirt that said "Hillary: Smart Choice."
"East of Lexington she'll carry seventy per cent of the primary vote," he said. Kentucky votes on May 20. "She could win the general election in Kentucky." I asked about Obama. "Obama couldn't win."
Why not?
"Race," Patrick said matter-of-factly. "I've talked to people—a woman who was chair of county elections last year, she said she wouldn't vote for a black man." Patrick said he would't vote for Obama either.
Why not?
"Race. I really don't want an African-American as President. Race."

That's a Democrat speaking! More after the jump...

Nelson Mandela on U.S. Terrorist Watch List

| Fri May 2, 2008 11:43 AM EDT

mandela.jpg A sign that perhaps things have gotten out of control.

Nobel Peace Prize winner and international symbol of freedom Nelson Mandela is flagged on U.S. terrorist watch lists and needs special permission to visit the USA. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls the situation "embarrassing," and some members of Congress vow to fix it.
The requirement applies to former South African leader Mandela and other members of South Africa's governing African National Congress (ANC), the once-banned anti-Apartheid organization. In the 1970s and '80s, the ANC was officially designated a terrorist group by the country's ruling white minority. Other countries, including the United States, followed suit.

The terrorist watch list has been, at times, a comedy of errors. Ted Kennedy was on it, as was civil rights hero and Georgia congressman John Lewis. A Marine returning from Iraq found his homecoming delayed because he was on the watch list. Babies have routinely had problems. The artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, is famously on the watch list, and Catherine ("Cat") Stevens, wife of Senator Ted Stevens, has had trouble when flying as a result. 60 Minutes once did a segment that featured a group interview with 12 Robert Johnsons, all of whom routinely had trouble boarding airplanes.

The DOJ reported in April 2007 that the terrorist watch list includes 700,000 names, and is growing by 20,000 a month. The ACLU is hosting a countdown to July, when it anticipates the one-millionth name will be added. "Small, focused watch lists," it points out, "are better for civil liberties and for security."