Mojo - January 2008

Mitt Romney's Lobbyist Connections

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 3:10 PM EST

romney-old-headshot.jpg In a tense exchange with an AP reporter on Thursday, Mitt Romney insisted that even though a registered lobbyist is one of his senior advisers, lobbyists do not "run" his campaign.

The claim is part of Romney's new self-styled outsider message: lobbyists are part of a broken Washington system and Romney has nothing to do with them.

"My campaign is not based on Washington lobbyists," Romney said. "I haven't been in Washington. I don't have lobbyists at my elbow that are arguing for one industry or another industry and I do not have favors I have to repay to people who have been in Washington for years."

The truth is that Romney is tied closely with many lobbyists. The AP reporter Romney exchanged sharp words with later reported that several Romney aides and advisers are lobbyists. Additionally, as the Nation first reported, Romney has accepted the second most money from lobbyists of any Republican presidential candidate, and has received the most endorsements from lobbyists.

The lobbyists who have endorsed Romney have represented, in 2007 alone, nearly every part of the health care and financial services industries, the NRA, members of the tobacco industry, and gambling interests.

In fact, nearly every lobbyist who has endorsed Romney is peddling influence for the health care industry. They represent insurance companies like AIG and New York Life; trade groups like the Health Industry Group Purchasing Association and the Healthcare Leadership Council (which reps "chief executives from all disciplines within the health care system"); pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer; and other extensions of the American health care apparatus like the California Association of Physicians Groups, the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, the American Dental Association, and the Biotechnology Industry Association.

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Obama Supporters Cross the Line in Nevada

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 12:57 PM EST

Barack Obama has generally been less nasty and more truthful than Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race, but this week his supporters in Nevada crossed the line.

The textile and hotel workers' union UNITE-HERE, which is supporting Obama, is ticked off that Clinton supporters filed a lawsuit to make it more difficult for its members to caucus tomorrow. (The lawsuit failed.) So it aired a Spanish-language radio ad in Nevada that is pretty unfair. Here's the translated text:

Hillary Clinton does not respect our people. Hillary Clinton supporters went to court to prevent working people to vote this Saturday — that is an embarrassment.
Hillary Clinton supporters want to prevent people from voting in their workplace on Saturday. This is unforgivable. Hillary Clinton is shameless. Hillary Clinton should not allow her friends to attack our people's right to vote this Saturday. This is unforgivable; there's no respect.
Sen. Obama is defending our right to vote. Sen. Obama wants our votes. He respects our votes, our community, and our people.
Sen. Obama's campaign slogan is "Si Se Puede" ("Yes We Can"). Vote for a president that respects us, and that respects our right to vote. Obama for president, "Si Se Puede."

It's pretty ridiculous to say that "Hillary Clinton does not respect our people." Clinton has long-standing ties to the Hispanic community, and has worked with it and for it for many years. She's been rewarded with the endorsements of many Hispanic leaders. Clinton may not play politics in the cleanest way sometimes, and she may not be as committed as other candidates to driving lobbyists and special interests out of Washington, and she may be a touch too hawkish on foreign policy—but her commitment to minority issues is unquestioned.

A Problem for Barack Obama

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 11:36 AM EST

No matter what happens in the Democratic caucus in Nevada (this Saturday) and the Democratic primary in South Carolina (next Saturday), Barack Obama has a problem. Mind you, I'm not predicting his demise. But as he and Hillary Clinton head toward Supersaturated Tuesday on February 5, Obama will have a profound challenge that she will not.

Both have money and organization. But she is running a conventional campaign; he is not. She waves her resume, cites her experience, and proclaims she is ready to do the heavy lifting on Day One. He claims that he can change politics--and, thus, government policymaking--because of his vision and strength (and force) of character. He is mounting a campaign that aspires to be transformative. She is heading a campaign that seeks to put its candidate into a job.

After South Carolina, the presidential campaign will be dominated and shaped by ads. With so many states--including California--in immediate play, there's no way the candidates can do retail politicking that matters (like they did in Iowa and New Hampshire). It will be easy for Clinton to sell herself (in conventional terms) through television ads, radio spots, mailers, and the like. Obama may find in tougher to convey the intangibles he is banking on--hope, faith (in him), transcendence--via 60-second snippets. Before signing up with a noble crusade, some Democratic voters might need first to feel the Obama magic. On the other hand, no voter needs to experience Clinton's soul to conclude she is the most qualified for the job.

Connecting with voters in a transformative manner will be a difficult task for Obama in the crazy nine days between South Carolina and February 5. As a more conventional candidate, Clinton could have an advantage at this stage. After all, the conventional often works.

I explain this all a bit further here.

Reporter Calls Romney On Lie in Mid-Sentence

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 11:25 AM EST

We've discussed the campaign press a fair amount recently. I'll make an additional observation: a reporter's feistiness tends to be inversely proportional to his or her seniority. The most vocal agitators are college kids with cameras. After them are journalists from small, ideologically driven magazines and small-time reporters with nothing to lose. But as reporters gain prominence and work for increasingly "serious" publicans, they have more at stake, including their reputations and the reputations of their employers. Also, they tend to be older and less interested in direct confrontation. (I'm speaking in generalities, of course, and there are exceptions.)

That's why what Glen Johnson of the AP did to Mitt Romney is so unlikely and so outstanding. He actual called a candidate on a deliberate falsehood in mid-sentence.

Notice that, afterward, the debate raged over whether Ron Kaufman "runs" Romney's campaign. That's not really relevant. The sentence Romney was saying when Johnson interrupted was, "I don't have lobbyists that are running my campaign. I don't have lobbyists that are tied to my..."

Kaufman may not be running the campaign, but he is most certainly "tied" to it.

Update: Glen Johnson's article on all this is out, and it's a doozy. He looks at a whole slew of Romney aides and advisers who are lobbyists or well-connected Washington politicos, significantly undercutting Romney's claim that he is running an outsider's campaign.

Blackwater's Latest Contract

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 10:27 AM EST

Blackwater has had a rough year PR-wise, as the company has faced allegations ranging from murder to tax evasion, while also managing to kill the New York Times' possibly feral pooch Hentish along the way. But, in the aftermath, Erik Prince's companies certainly haven't suffered for business. In late September, less than two weeks after Blackwater contractors opened fire on a Baghdad street, killing 17 civilians, the company's air cargo and transport subsidiary, Presidential Airways, was awarded a 4-year, $92 million contract by the Pentagon to provide its services in central and southern Asia. And, just yesterday, the agency announced that it was throwing the company another $50 million contract—this one, no-bid—to provide "heavy lift fixed-wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance, and supervision necessary to perform passenger and cargo (combi) Short Take-Off and Landing air transportation services." The area of operations, as in the first contract, is Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.

Though lesser-known than Blackwater, Presidential Airways also has a somewhat controversial history. Its planes, and those operated by its parent company, Aviation Worldwide Services, have been linked to CIA rendition flights. And both companies face a wrongful death suit filed by the families of three soldiers who were killed when one of Presidential's CASA 212's crashed in Afghanistan in 2004. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the crash, reported that "the probable cause of the accident was the captain's inappropriate decision to fly a nonstandard route and his failure to maintain adequate terrain clearance, which resulted in the inflight collision with mountainous terrain." According to the report, the pilot had failed to file a flight plan or "adhere to a defined route of flight," and the company itself failed to "ensure that the flight crews adhered to company policies" or FAA or Defense Department regulations. At the time of the crash, the report says, Presidential's crew was intentionally flying through a valley at low altitude for "fun."

Shrub's Hot Air Economic Balloon

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 9:48 AM EST

Returning from his desert sojourn, President Bush is facing tanking stock markets, a housing collapse that, as long predicted, is pulling down the whole economy, an enfeebled currency, and a do-nothing political climate both in Washington and on the campaign trail. His response: a pipsqueak economic stimulus plan.

According to a report yesterday from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Bush's scheme is a lot of hot air. Robert Greenstein, executive director of the center, said the rebate temporarily eliminating the 10 percent income tax bracket isn't aimed at the people who would spend the money. "This plan would bypass altogether, or provide only partial help to, the more than 40 percent of tax filers — over 50 million filers — with the most modest incomes. Families of four below $40,950 would get partial help or nothing at all."

You can read the center's report at www.cbpp.org, along with more effective suggestions for economic stimulus.

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Eugene Debs, Meet Bobby Kennedy

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 12:29 AM EST

If Edwards can't win, somebody's forgotten to tell the candidate. With a day left before Nevadans caucus Saturday morning, John Edwards is pulling out all the rhetorical stops to wow his supporters.

Several hundred fans, a large number of them blue-collar workers, crammed into the Carpenters' Union hall in Reno Thursday evening to hear the candidate deliver an impassioned plea for change.

Eleven months ago, when the Democrats held their first candidates' forum, in Carson City, Nevada, I covered the event for Mother Jones. Back in '04, I'd found Edwards somewhat syrupy. In Carson City, by contrast, he was magnetic. And in the year since he has honed his message and his delivery still further.

The Goldberg Variations (On Lame): What Happens When Certain Right Wingers Leave the Amen Corner

| Thu Jan. 17, 2008 11:24 PM EST

Having given up TV, I now appear to be obsessed with it. Check out Jon Stewart's dismemberment of Jonah Goldberg and his book "Liberal Fascism." It's sooo delicious, mostly because Stewart, a consistently gentlemanly interview, isn't trying to dismember him, he just comes to understand that Goldberg has nary a clue what the hell he's talking about. He actually believed he's drawn a straight line between Mussolini and Hillary Clinton. To ask him a simple question about his own book was to hear a grown man babble. My favorite was when Goldberg excoriated liberals for invoking fascism too often and Stewart said wonderingly, holding up the book, "so...you thought you'd put it in the title?" Goldberg was equally unconvincing justifying the smiley-face-with-Hitler-mustache cover. Handily, Goldberg proved Tim Noah's analysis that Goldberg is one of the few "winners" left standing from Monicagate. (I don't know if Goldberg has railed against liberal nepotism, but check Noah to see how his mom got him where he is.) This performance alone validates FP's 10 Commandments of Punditry.

Granted, condensing something you spent years thinking about into six minutes isn't easy. I've done book interviews that were train wrecks because the host was either an idiot or an ideologue for whom I was present as a mere prop, so I know how these things can throw you. You have no idea how hard it is to debate a moron who thinks he's Einstein. I once spent long minutes on one of these wannabee "Nu Afrikan" radio shows so incredulous at the insanity I was speechless, which the host, and his nutjob "kill whitey" audience interpreted as my bowing to their brilliance. I hung up on a racist, fascist O'Reilly wannabee in Colorado or someplace, he was such a mouth-breathing bully with no idea how stupid he was. I would imagine he and his audience say I lost that debate. But Stewart ain't stupid. He taped for 18 minutes, trying to get a usable six.

Best case: Goldberg needs media training. Worst: he should never stray from the echo chamber of right wing true believers. Or visit only those liberal hosts who aren't smart, who don't bother to read the book they're discussing and who don't care about anything but their egos and income.

White House: What Missing Emails?

| Thu Jan. 17, 2008 8:43 PM EST

dana-perino-250x200.jpg

Today, the White House dramatically changed its tune on the 5 to 10 million emails reportedly missing from its servers. Since early 2007, the administration has repeatedly acknowledged (to the press and Congress) that it had experienced a "technical issue" and that a still unknown quantity of emails might not have been archived, as required by the Presidential Records Act. But, asked by reporter about the missing emails today at a White House press conference, Tony Fratto, the deputy press secretary, contradicted the administration's previous statements.

"Hillary: The Movie" Headed For The Supreme Court

| Thu Jan. 17, 2008 5:10 PM EST

Yesterday, a lawyer for Citizens United filed a notice with the U.S. District Court that it will be taking its challenge of the McCain-Feingold act to the Supreme Court. The conservative advocacy group has sued the Federal Election Commission to try to win approval to broadcast ads for its anti-Hillary movie without having to comply with campaign finance laws requiring the group to disclose its donors. Citizens United has argued that "Hillary: The Movie" is a documentary, not campaign propaganda, and that the ads are protected commercial speech advertising the film.

Those arguments literally got laughed out of federal court last week in a hearing on the case. Tuesday, a three-judge panel formally ruled against Citizens United, saying that, "The Movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her."

Undaunted, Citizens United has notified the court that it intends to appeal, and will be asking the Supreme Court for an expedited decision so that it could potentially air the ads during the election season. While some of the group's arguments about the nature of the film are indeed enough to get a federal judge to laugh, some of the more substantive arguments in its appeal should cause concern for campaign finance watchdogs. If Citizens United should happen to win its case, outside interest groups will be free to run all sorts of "issue ads" against political candidates during elections, without ever having to disclose who paid for them.