Mojo - November 2006

Next RNC Chair Hates the Elderly

| Mon Nov. 13, 2006 3:17 PM PST

According to breaking reports, Florida Senator Mel Martinez will be the next head of the RNC, replacing Ken Mehlman.

Martinez is best known nationally as the senator whose staffer wrote a memo calling the Terri Schiavo situation a "great political issue." The memo suggested ways Republicans could exploit the issue in the media and created a firestorm of criticizism surrounding the freshman senator. The staffer eventually resigned.

But the public might soon know Martinez for other reasons. He has the standard GOP connection to Jack Abramoff: Before Martinez was a senator, he was Bush's head of HUD. Convicted former Congressman Bob Ney lobbied Martinez on behalf of Abramoff's Indian clients; the clients got $4 million in HUD money in two years and Martinez later got $250,000 at a fundraiser co-chaired by Abramoff. Martinez also may have had an inappropriate relationship with a major Florida engineering firm that got government business in exchange for making donations to Martinez's campaigns through straw donors.

But let's not forget Martinez's ethical problems that Mother Jones drudged up.

In the run-up to the 2002 midterm election, for instance, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez appeared in New Hampshire with GOP Senate candidate John Sununu to announce more than $1.6 million worth of grants to cities in the state from the Community Development Block Grant program, which he called "one of the most successful ways the federal government provides funding for...communities across the nation." At the time, Bush was proposing that $1.3 billion be chopped from the program, which provides money for everything from housing rehabs to Meals on Wheels for the elderly.

So there you have it. The new RNC chair hates old people.

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Abortion Clinics Resurrected as Fundamentalist Chapels

| Mon Nov. 13, 2006 2:18 PM PST

In a practice at least as old as the Crusades, Christian fundamentalists are converting conquered territory—in this case, abortion clinics—into chapels. According to the right-wing Family News in Focus, pro-lifers have purchased mothballed abortion clinics in five states for memorials to the "pre-born." FNIF happily notes that the number of abortion clinics in America has dwindled from a high of around 2,000 in the early '90s to only 750 today—presumably creating a buyer's market for the faithful.

The practice seems reminiscent of the Dark-Age sacking of mosques or the Spanish razing of Cuzco, right down to the hasty plans for remodeling. Notes FNIF:

[R]edeeming an abortion clinic means tearing down a few walls. When Central Women's Services in downtown Wichita closed, Troy Newman of Operation Rescue purchased it, then gutted the building.

"We're thrilled by the prospect of being in this building – having a chapel here where women can come and even mourn the loss of their baby."

He wants to build a prayer garden behind the building so women can leave flowers for the babies they lost to an abortion.

Cheney: The Business Record Revisited

| Sun Nov. 12, 2006 12:54 AM PST

In the "Headlines you don't see often enough" department, a favorite recent entry is "Buying Cheney's Blunder," over a Floyd Norris piece that the New York Times tucked away in the Friday business section. You'll recall how, back in the Bush honeymoon days, we heard about Cheney's successful record as a businessman, cf. his tenure at Halliburton. Now comes news that Halliburton is selling off Kellogg Brown Root, the subsidiary that handles most of its overpriced work in Iraq, at what may quite possibly be a fire-sale price. But the liability of owning KBR is not, in fact, mostly the Iraq stuff: The division is tangled in legal problems that, for Halliburton, "serve as a reminder of a deal gone awry." Now then:

That deal was Halliburton's $7.7 billion 1998 acquisition of Dresser Industries. Engineered by Dick Cheney, then Halliburton's chief executive, the merger accomplished a major strategic goal, making Halliburton the world's largest provider of oil field services.

But Halliburton's due diligence failed to either uncover or appreciate the importance of some significant issues. There were asbestos liabilities, which ended up forcing some Halliburton units into bankruptcy and cost the parent company billions.

Halliburton also failed to notice what it now says may have been illegal behavior overseas at Kellogg, a Dresser subsidiary that is now part of KBR. It says that there appears to have been bribery of Nigerian officials for years in connection with contracts there and that similar behavior may have occurred elsewhere. The Justice Department is investigating possible violations of the foreign corrupt practices act, and Britain has a similar inquiry.

While looking into those charges itself, Halliburton found evidence that Kellogg "may have engaged in coordinated bidding with one or more competitors on certain foreign construction projects, and that such coordination possibly began as early as the mid-1980's," KBR says in its prospectus.

[...]Halliburton began unloading parts of Dresser soon after Mr. Cheney became the vice president of the United States in 2001, and while some Dresser operations have been integrated into Halliburton, the disposal of KBR would remove a major reminder of that deal. That it will have taken more than eight years is a reminder of how long an ordeal can result from a big decision made with poor information.

So to review. Cheney led a major takeover, ignoring evidence that it was going to lead to a quagmire, overlooking possible illegal behavior, and leaving, in the end, to an ignominious bailout. (Oh yeah, and helped create the monster in the first place). Companies, to paraphrase the old saw, sell their mistakes. Countries bury theirs.

Iran, Al Qaeda Endorse Dems

| Sat Nov. 11, 2006 1:26 PM PST

It's nice to have friends abroad, but there are some that should probably be left off the Ramadan greeting card list. Nancy Pelosi is undoubtedly less than pleased that both Iran and Al Qaeda in Iraq have hailed the Democrats victory as a triumph for their causes as well. At least Rush Limbaugh is enjoying himself.

How Did Robo Calls Affect the Election?

| Sat Nov. 11, 2006 9:58 AM PST

According to TPM Muckraker.com, voters in more than two dozens districts throughout the country were barraged with sometimes-harrassing robo calls in the weeks prior to the election. In at least seven of those districts, Democrats lost by margins of only a couple of thousand votes.

In Florida's 13th District, Democrat Christine Jennings, who is involved in a recount, lost the election by only 386 votes. In the last three weeks of the campaign, the Republican Party spent over $58,000 on robo calls against Jennings. In the case of Jennings and other candidates, people receiving such a call at first thought the caller was the Democratic candidate because of the call's misleading opening. Several voters complained about this. If a voter listens to the entire call, only then does she discover that the call comes from the Republican Party. But the majority of people, of course, hang up. The problem is that the phone rings again...and again and again and again, until the voter listens to the entire call. Since most people do not want to listen, voters are left with the impression that they are being harrassed by Democratic candidates.

Democrats have asked the FEC, the FCC and the Department of Justice to investigate the nature of campaign robo calls.

The Post-Election Price of Oil: Up, Up, and Away?

| Fri Nov. 10, 2006 2:57 PM PST

The analysts at New York Global Securities, a major investment strategy firm, didn't see a plot by oil companies to lower prices during the election. But they do believe speculators will now push up the price of oil to the extent they believe the government will let them get away with it. From their October 18 report, Speculation in the Oil Market and the U.S. Midterm Elections:

We believe that following the U.S. midterm elections on November 7, 2006, the price of oil is likely to test the tolerance of the market and the new members of Congress; that is, we believe that after the elections oil will appreciate until there is fear in the market that Congress will take action. It is too early to speculate on the exact level of the increase, but our recommendation at this time is to become progressively long oil at these prices as the election approaches, with the expectation that a topping test pattern will become clear shortly after the election. We believe that the last three major declines in the price of oil coincided with various U.S. Senatorial hearings and expectations surrounding the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. We further believe that these events may have caused speculators within the oil markets to become cautious, resulting in a drop of more than 20% in the price of oil. With regard to the two prior declines, once the Senate hearings were over and the Senate did not take any significant action, the price of oil began to increase. We expect that following the current U.S. elections the price of oil will again rise testing the tolerance of the new Congress.

So far, it's too early to tell if NYGS will be right.

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No Joy in Jerusalem Pride Parade

| Fri Nov. 10, 2006 2:23 PM PST

There's something sad about gay groups cheering the passage of seven more anti-gay marriage amendments (because they passed with just a small majority), and journalists, myself included, taking heart that the measures didn't tilt the election in the Republicans' favor. After all, fewer than a handful of Democrats have promised to protect gay rights—employment or housing, much less marriage.

And in Jerusalem today, gays, lesbians and their allies were forced to stage their pride "march" in a stadium at the Hebrew University surrounded by police. Gay groups have been demanding the right to march in the holy city since June, the traditional gay pride month. Two weeks ago, ultra-Orthodox Jews, Muslims and Christians gave up battling each other and took to the streets in violent protest of the pending march. The Vatican also demanded that the march be cancelled. The story was scarcely reported in the U.S.—the Chicago Tribune followed it, and the AP gave it a quick blip:

Ultra-Orthodox Jews have rioted in Jerusalem nearly every night over the past week, burning garbage cans, blocking roads and assaulting police officers in an attempt to get the authorities to call off the march, approved months ago by the Supreme Court.

Where faith and regard for historic holy spots have been unable to check religious groups' mutual animosity in Jerusalem, their shared hatred of gays and lesbians has succeeded. There's no pride in that.

Grover Norquist: "Imagine There's No Dubya..."

| Fri Nov. 10, 2006 1:24 PM PST
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At Grover Norquist's weekly conservative confab this Wednesday, the topic was how the GOP can get its groove back in the next two years. You gotta hand it to the K Street Project mastermind. Dude is cocky:

Despite short-term setbacks, Norquist said, the conservative movement is "perfectly healthy. No one is losing because they favor tax cuts, are pro-life, pro-gun or pro-growth.

"In two years, there is no George W. Bush and almost no Iraq war as presently constructed," Norquist said.

"And Democrats will be standing there, naked to the winds, having been forced by Nancy Pelosi to vote for tax increases, gun control and impeaching the president," he added, referring to the future speaker of the House.

Visions of disrobed Democrats aside, note how Norquist's smugness actually reveals his eagerness to get beyond Iraq and George W. Bush (echoing the neocons' new favorite theme). Yet somehow I suspect Republicans are going to have to confront those two issues in 2008 before they can get back to the business of being "real" conservatives. If only the Bush legacy could be drowned in the bath tub before then!

Firebombing Eco-Activists Plead Guilty, Get Prison

| Fri Nov. 10, 2006 1:16 PM PST

Four enviromental activists connected with the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front have plead guilty in federal court to participating in a five year campaign of arson crimes, a move that could net them each several years in prison. That brings to a total of 12 guilty pleas federal prosecutors have squeezed out of the clatch of so-called eco-terrorists wanted for attacks in several states whom they arrested in December. Mother Jones ran a searching piece on their most spectacular attack, the firebombing of a Colorado ski resort, shortly after it happened. And here's some background on the post-9/11 crackdown on eco-terror.

Word on Washington's K Street

| Fri Nov. 10, 2006 12:22 PM PST

Now that Democrats have control of the House and Senate, what of K Street? Some have started to speculate on the fate of the famed corridor, replete with suit-wearing self-professed "political junkies," steakhouses built for power lunches and the odd vending table of knock-off purses.

The Hill reported that former Republican senators Jim Talent and Mike DeWine are being touted as "good catches" for the street's business community. Meanwhile, based on contributions made to liberal Democrat Nancy Pelosi's campaign, the National Journal's Hotline has K Streeters leaning to the left.

I ventured out to the K Street Corridor on a balmy afternoon Thursday to catch people on their lunch breaks and get their opinions on the outcome of the mid-term election.

Robin Baldwin, who works in contracting with the US Army Corps of Engineers was lounging in the sun on a park bench, taking a break before having to go give a deposition. Baldwin didn't predict any major changes.

"There is something about having a lobbyist come visit you and I think that as representative or a senator, it makes them feel more important," she said. "I don't know if they'll necessarily be more liberal. Whoever pays the most money, that's the way they'll lean."

This thought was echoed by a dark-suited man on the sidewalk at K and 20th who did not want to be named, but identified himself as an "expert." "I'm a consultant," he said. "I have been in Washington since 1968."

"I've been here for a long time and every year the political environment has gotten harsher and nastier," he said. "There's a very brief honeymoon period and then the party in power abuses the party that they just kicked out."

I found Dean Stoline, an attorney for the American Legion and proud Iowan (Democrats now control the state legislative and executive branches in his home state for the first time in 42 years), walking down K Street toward 18th Avenue. Wearing a grey suit and sporty sunglasses on the sunny day, Stoline was upbeat and already excited about the next election.

"As a political junkie I think this will be the best presidential campaign of my lifetime because it will be wide open in 2008," said Stoline.

While taking a cigarette break on a sidewalk bench, a lawyer from Pennsylvania in recruiting for a K Street firm (who chose to be unnamed) said he was disappointed by the mid-terms. The Republican was also looking forward to the next presidential election.

"I wanted Rick Santorum to win and I felt that because he was tied in with George Bush and he's a Republican he wasn't given a fair deal," he said. "I hope that Rudy Giuliani decides to run [for president] and win. I respect him."

Down the street Jeff, a bike courier waiting for a taxi delivery, was hoping for lower gas prices but was happy that Donald Rumsfeld was out of his former job as Defense Secretary.

"There's one of them out," he said. "It's going to take two more years for the next one."

--Caroline Dobuzinskis