Kevin Drum

Don Siegelman Update

| Fri Nov. 14, 2008 11:13 AM EST

DON SIEGELMAN UPDATE....Remember the Don Siegelman case? He was the popular Democratic ex-governor of Alabama who was planning to run again in 2006 but was conveniently prosecuited on flimsy corruption charges and thus put out of action. Background here, here, and here.

Today, Time reports that John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has yet more evidence that Leura Canary, the U.S. Attorney in Alabama who was a major supporter of Siegelman's Republican opponent, remained involved in the case even after she claimed she had recused herself:

Conyers says the evidence raises "serious questions" about the U.S. Attorney in the Siegelman case, who, documents show, continued to involve herself in the politically charged prosecution long after she had publicly withdrawn to avoid an alleged conflict of interest relating to her husband, a top GOP operative and close associate of Bush adviser Karl Rove. Conyers' letter also cites evidence of numerous contacts between jurors and members of the Siegelman prosecution team that were never disclosed to the trial judge or defense counsel.

....The documents — whose authenticity is not in dispute — include e-mails written by Canary, long after her recusal, offering legal advice to subordinates handling the case. At the time Canary wrote the e-mails, her husband — Alabama GOP operative William J. Canary — was a vocal booster of the state's Republican governor, Bob Riley, who had defeated Siegelman for the office and against whom Siegelman was preparing to run again...."A recused United States Attorney should not be providing factual information ... to the team working on the case under recusal," Conyers wrote Mukasey last week.

Will Mukasey do anything about this? Who knows? But if he doesn't, a Democratic replacement just might. Stay tuned.

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Spam

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 4:56 PM EST

SPAM....Wow. One spam host got taken offline Tuesday and the worldwide volume of spam dropped by two-thirds:

The volume of junk e-mail sent worldwide dropped drastically today after a Web hosting firm identified by the computer security community as a major host of organizations allegedy engaged in spam activity was taken offline, according to security firms that monitor spam distribution online.

....The servers are operated by McColo Corp., which these experts say has emerged as a major U.S. hosting service for international firms and syndicates that are involved in everything from the remote management of millions of compromised computers to the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and designer goods, fake security products and child pornography via email....Immediately after McColo was unplugged, security companies charted a precipitous drop in spam volumes worldwide. E-mail security firm IronPort said spam levels fell by roughly 66 percent as of Tuesday evening.

I suppose the spam purveyors of the world will find another host before long, but still. One server farm was responsible for more than half the spam traffic in the entire world? Wow again.

Dingell Defeats Waxman

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 4:25 PM EST

DINGELL DEFEATS WAXMAN... Tim Fernholz of the Prospect has some sad news:

At least two people who would know (blind quotes suck but that's the way of the world) don't expect the Waxman challenge to Dingell at the Energy committee to get anywhere, in part because the last two classes of new representatives are more conservative on the whole than other members and will support the incumbent. The leadership hopes that it won't come to a vote, because Waxman, who is more closely identified with Pelosi (who isn't taking a position on the challenge) will drop out when he realizes he doesn't have the votes.

Dingell, who has been in the House for over 50 years, is a caretaker of Detroit's interests and an impediment to bold action on climate change. It's a shame that he'll be chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce during the Obama Administration.

You would think that as the House gets more and more Democratic, liberal priorities would get a stronger hearing. But every blue district in the country is already held by a Democrat. At this point, the DCCC is using conservative and moderate Democratic challengers to pick off seats in red areas. The paradoxical effect is that as the Democratic caucus grows more powerful, it also grows more conservative.

Dingell claims that he deserves the chairmanship because of his deep knowledge of and connections to the auto industry. But all Dingell has done with that knowledge/those connections is stand by and watch as the industry has driven itself into the ground. In fact, Dingell held the industry's hand the whole way. I'm not sure why he demands such respect, nor why anyone should consider his supposed qualifications as valid any longer.

Financial Meltdown Blogging

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 2:12 PM EST

FINANCIAL MELTDOWN BLOGGING....Hi there. Kevin here. Turns out the jury room here in the Orange County Superior Court has free WiFi and plenty of desks and carrels to work at. Hooray! So, since my number hasn't been called yet, here's some miscellaneous financial meltdown blogging for you. Today, Atrios says:

I think it's important to keep in mind the fact that this looming economic disaster was preventable. The Wise Old Men of Washington and Wall Street have fucked everything up due to a combination of greed and and adherence to ideology regardless of what the facts are. There were many moments in the past few years when something could have been done to at least minimize the problems, and at every step they've done the wrong thing.

No argument on the greed and ideology front, but I'm curious: was there really anyone who made the right call on all this at a policy level? There were, of course, plenty of people who recognized the housing bubble for the idiocy that it was (Alan Greenspan notably not one of them), but were there any major voices making specific policy proposals to slow down the bubble? Or rein in the mortgage market? Or regulate the CDO/CDS market in a way that would have prevented some of the damage? I'm talking specifics here, not just general observations that the FIRE sector was out of control. Arguments about interest rates being too low count, if they were made for the right reason, but I'm interested mainly in more detailed recommendations.

I don't have any big point to make here. I'm genuinely curious. There were many moments in the past few years when perhaps something could have been done, but what? And who was proposing serious measures that would have helped? Any major Dems? Economic pundits? Wall Street mucky mucks? Who were the unsung heroes? Help me out here.

By the way, I'm typing this on the netbook I bought yesterday, an MSI Wind U100. About 400 bucks, the size of a trade paperback, decent keyboard (slightly smaller than full size), good battery life, readable 10" screen, and — annoyingly but not surprisingly — it outperforms my desktop PC in almost every way. So far, the only drawback is that the touchpad is maddeningly sensitive, but hopefully I'll eventually figure out a way to tweak that. More later after I've used it more.

Revitalized Public Financing

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 2:01 PM EST

REVITALIZED PUBLIC FINANCING... I have a post on that subject up now on what Kevin calls the mother blog (aka MoJo Blog). Fred Wertheimer, president of good government group Democracy 21, takes to the Washington Post today to sketch out what a functioning public financing system looks like in the next decade. I point out the highlights.

Transition Dollars

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 1:00 PM EST

TRANSITION DOLLARS... You're probably aware that Obama is still using his network of supporters to raise money. The Capital Eye blog at the Center for Responsive Politics tells us how this works:

According to the Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act, a single donor can contribute a total of $5,000 to the transition effort, even if the donor already gave money to Obama's candidate committee or leadership PAC. Unlike contributions to these committees, however, donations to the nonprofit won't have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission as political contributions because the organization is set up as a 501(c)(4), as designated by the Internal Revenue Service (these contributions are generally not tax-deductible as charitable contributions). Instead, Obama will have to disclose the source, date and amount of each contribution to the General Services Administration by February 20, a month after he's already taken office.
Obama's transition chief, John Podesta, told the Washington Post the team would be disclosing the names of all donors at the end of every month.

Podesta noted in a conference call with reporters earlier this week that the transition will cost a total of $12 million, and that because Obama will receive some assistance from the federal government, he is hoping to raise roughly $7 million. My boss in MoJo's DC bureau, David Corn, asked the appropriate question two days ago: "Given that the nation is spending trillions of dollars to rescue the financial industry, it shouldn't be too hard to fund fully the transition effort. Can't Congress just appropriate another $7 million—which is chump change these days—and let Obama get on with the show?"

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Information Overload

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 10:37 AM EST

INFORMATION OVERLOAD... The New York Times has gotten its ink-stained hands on the seven-page application form for high-level Obama Administration job seekers. (You can download the PDF at the NYT site.) The phrase "application form" is misleading. The document isn't seven pages of questions and their corresponding answer fields. It's seven straight pages of highly invasive questions/demands for information about the applicant's past. No figurative stone is left unturned. Here's a sample.

obama_admin_application.jpg

I wonder if the Obama folks leaked this intentionally, to demonstrate how committed they are to keeping conflicts of interests out of their White House and how adamant they are about avoiding drama (letting an appointee suck up news-space because of a nanny problem is definitely not the Obama Way). Alternatively, an applicant leaked this because he or she was aghast at how over-the-top it is. If that's the case, it's another teachable moment in a lesson Obama is quickly coming to learn: preventing leaks in a campaign is infinitely easier than preventing them in an administration.

Honor

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 10:10 AM EST

HONOR... I don't have anything to add to this, other than it makes me sick to my stomach. The UN Dispatch on an honor killing in Somalia:

Last week, 13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped.
Reports indicate that was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in conflict capital, Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died.
When some of the people at the stadium tried to save her, militia opened fire on the crowd, killing a boy who was a bystander.

Disappointment Watch

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 9:28 AM EST

DISAPPOINTMENT WATCH... If you're looking for an indication of what the first schism between the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress will be, consider the question of investigations.

Congressional Democrats are gearing up for a season of post-Bush inquiries (at least that's what they're saying — remember this?), but Obama has indicated in the past that he isn't excited about the possibility. Earlier this year, he told the press that there needs to be a distinction between "really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity." The latter should be investigated, Obama said, but "I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve."

I side with Congress on this. There is enough evidence to suggest that the Bush Administration may have broken the law and violated the Constitution — investigations, with subpoena power, are the only way to know for sure. No one is suggesting that Congress grill Department of Education bureaucrats about the implementation of No Child Left Behind. Democrats on the Hill aim to examine our torture and detention policies, the wiretapping of American citizens, and the improper firing of US Attorneys — areas where legal experts have already suggested the Bush Administration crossed lines.

Don't get your hopes up, though. Presidents in the past have gone easy on their predecessors. President Bush, for example, blocked a 2001 subpoena by Congressional Republicans seeking to investigate the Clinton administration. I fully expect Obama to embrace the amity that exists between presidents and ex-presidents. And even if Obama gives Pelosi and Co. the green light, history suggests that ex-presidents take with them certain lingering powers that allow them to block investigations. The precedent, established by Truman and outlined by the always excellent Charlie Savage, is flimsy. But if there is one president and vice-president who can be counted upon to stretch executive privilege using dubious legal reasoning, it's our departing duo.

Guest Blogging

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 1:33 AM EST

GUEST BLOGGING....Having done my national civic duty last week (was it really only last week?), today I'm scheduled to do my local civic duty. The Superior Court of Orange County has requested the pleasure of my company in their jury room for the day, so that's where I'll be. Blogging in my place today will be Jonathan Stein, a reporter and blogger in our Washington bureau who normally writes over at the mother blog.

I'll be back on Friday. Don't let Wall Street collapse again while I'm gone.