Mojo - June 2008

National Review Lamely Attacks Mother Jones To Lamely Defend Phil Gramm

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 1:29 PM EDT

Is this the best a prominent conservative writer can do?

In the latest issue of National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru claims I penned a "hit piece" on Phil Gramm, the cochairman of John McCain's presidential campaign. Ponnuru does so in an article that accuses Mother Jones, Salon, Huffington Post, The Nation and Keith Olbermann of "smearing" Gramm with the threefold mission of discrediting Gramm, McCain, and deregulation. (Gramm, when he was the Republican chairman of the Senate banking committee, was the king of financial deregulation.) Ponnuru has little to say about the fact that Gramm is now an executive at Swiss banking behemoth UBS, who has lobbied Congress on behalf of the bank. Is it appropriate for a campaign official to be working for a foreign-based transnational? Several lobbyists have had to depart the McCain campaign because they toil for private interests. Does Ponnuru believe they should be welcomed back?

But on to his specific complaint about the article I wrote about Gramm. The piece focused on what I called a "sly legislative maneuver" pulled by Gramm in December 2000 that "greased the way to the multibillion-dollar subprime meltdown." During a week of chaos in Washington--Bush v. Gore was being decided by the Supreme Court, and Congress was trying to pass quickly an omnibus spending bill--Gramm attached to that massive spending bill a 262-page measure called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. That bill deregulated financial instruments known as "credit default swaps," which, according to Michael Greenberger, who directed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's division of trading and regulation in the late 1990s, have been at "the heart of the subprime meltdown,"

Here's what Ponnuru wrote about that article:

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Michael Gerson Has a Complete Lack of Self-Awareness

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 11:35 AM EDT

President Bush launched a war of choice against a country that posed no imminent threat to the United States by misrepresenting intelligence to the American public (or by not vetting intelligence fully enough and not seeking dissenting opinions, if you want to be kinder). That war of choice led to the death of over 4,000 young American men and women and the dismembering and disfiguring of 30,000 more. The number of Iraqis dead counts in the hundreds of thousands, most just civilians. Anti-Americanism has increased dramatically around the world, in both states we count as allies and as enemies, and terrorism has gone up along with it. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, black sites, rendition, waterboarding, and torture exacerbated all of these problems. Americans saw photos of detainees that our soldiers had hooked up to wires or attacked with dogs. President Bush threw fuel on the fire with a bellicosity and an insensitivity that helped turned even his own country against him. "Bring 'em on." "Now watch this drive." "Nope, no weapons over there."

But former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, creator of the phrase "axis of evil," needs you to understand — incivility is key. Incivility will ruin this country.

Flood of Divorces Begin Due to Gay Marriage in CA. That's How This Works, Right?

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 11:19 AM EDT

Heterosexuals were running wild in the streets of DC this morning, divorcing each other left and right. The reason? Yesterday was the first full day of gay marriage in California, and now the decline of marriage has set in.

Come to think of it, my grilled cheese sandwich was a little off last night. And I woke up with a crick in my neck. Must be the gays.

Idaho: Best Senate Race Ever?

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 10:49 AM EDT

Honestly, I wish I could just post this entire Wall Street Journal article, but considering you have to be a subscriber to access it online, that's probably illegal. It begins, "The launch of Rex Rammell's Senate bid didn't go as planned. The mud pit and the monster trucks were an insurmountable distraction. The would-be supporters were too drunk to think about the election." Classic, right? Here's what you need to know:

(1) Dr. Rex Rammell is a conservative independent who is running in the Idaho senate race to replace Sen. Larry Craig. He is only running because the Republican in the race, a man named Jim Risch, once had Fish and Game Department officers kill 43 members of Rammell's private elk herd. Risch was serving as interim governor at the time. Rammell, who staged a sit-in on a fresh elk carcass that game officers were trying to remove, vowed at the time "to see Jim Risch never gets elected in this state again."

(2) Rammell's daughter is Miss Idaho USA. After winning her crown, she refused to have her photograph taken with Risch, due to the aforementioned dispute between Risch and her father. She called Risch a "weasel."

(3) One of the fringe candidates in the race (okay, one of the other fringe candidates in the race) is named Pro-Life. That's his whole name. He is an organic-strawberry farmer who, apparently, cares passionately and exclusively about the rights of the unborn.

Republicans are legitimately worried that Rammell will take a few percentage points away from Risch, thus giving the seat to the Democratic contender, Representative Larry LaRocco. If Democrats are winning in Idaho this fall, say hello to a 60-vote majority.

"Broken Laws, Broken Lives": New Physicians' Report

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 10:08 AM EDT

Physicians for Human Rights has released a new report that examines the medical evidence that it says confirms the "first-hand accounts of men who endured torture by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay. These men were never charged with any crime."

From the report's preface, written by retired US Maj. General Antonio M. Taguba, one of the whistleblowers on abuse at Abu Ghraib:

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

Seymour Hersh profiled Taguba in the New Yorker here.


Bush Trips Up McCain on Offshore Drilling

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 9:48 AM EDT

Yesterday, John McCain gave a speech announcing that he is reversing his position on offshore drilling: he's now strongly in favor.

Today, in a move that must have Rick Davis and Charlie Black pulling their hair out, President Bush will publicly proclaim his support for McCain's idea. President Bush should have to refund the McCain campaign for all the money it spent on these ads.

Update: This is putting McCain-supporting Florida Republicans, all of whom opposed offshore drilling, in an awkward position.

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Court: White House Doesn't Have To Release Documents Relating to Missing Emails

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 2:08 PM EDT

Even though the White House Office of Administration (OA) has complied with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for decades, a court yesterday supported the Bush administration's claim that the OA is not a federal agency and therefore not subject to the FOIA. The Bush administration made the claim last August. The court dismissed a case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which was using the FOIA to seek documents from the OA about missing White House emails. The decision means the OA will not have to release its documents to CREW, which had hoped to use them in a separate lawsuit that aims to force the recovery and preservation of any missing emails.

While the ruling is a setback for CREW and the National Security Archive (NSA), its co-plaintiff in the White House emails lawsuit, the battle is far from over. CREW plans to appeal this decision. In the meantime, the main lawsuit, which focuses on the recovery and preservation of the emails, will carry on without the OA documents. CREW and the NSA already have access to some information about the OA's email failures because House government oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif) obtained and released some of that information earlier this year. Recent developments in the main lawsuit have favored the plaintiffs, with a magistrate judge issuing recommendations that the White House didn't like, including one that suggested the White House be ordered to secure portable devices, like BlackBerrys, that could contain versions of some of the missing emails. The judge in that case could still force the OA to take measures to recover and preserve missing emails. But each day that goes by until then will make any deleted emails present in "slack space" on hard drives harder to recover, and get the Bush White House one day closer to running out the clock.

McCain on Offshore Drilling - a Sad (and Costly?) Saga

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 2:03 PM EDT

mccain_closeup_250x200.jpg The easiest point to make about John McCain's recently declared support for offshore drilling is that it is a flip-flop. When McCain ran for president in 1999, he supported the current moratorium on offshore drilling, slated to last until 2012. But speaking in the Washington area on Monday, McCain said, "There are areas off our coasts that should be open to exploration and exploitation, and I hope we can take the first step by lifting the moratoria." McCain added that drilling "would be very helpful in the short term in resolving our energy crisis."

It's hard to blame anyone for changing his or her positions on energy issues over the past eight years — markets have changed, America's energy needs have changed, and prices have certainly changed. Even many Democrats have altered their positions on energy; most are much more supportive of climate change legislation than they once were.

You can blame McCain, however, for switching to the wrong position. Controversy over offshore drilling originated in the United States in 1969, when a cracked sea floor created a huge oil spill near Santa Barbara, California. The danger of a reoccurrence still exists, as do risks associated with having oil tankers routinely servicing offshore rigs. More important, offshore drilling is a band-aid. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, lifting the offshore drilling moratorium would have a minor impact on production and prices:

Mean estimates from the [Minerals Management Service] indicate that technically recoverable resources currently off limits in the lower 48 OCS (Outer Continental Shelf) total 18 billion barrels of crude oil and 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas....
The projections in the OCS access case indicate that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017. Total domestic production of crude oil from 2012 through 2030 in the OCS access case is projected to be 1.6 percent higher than in the reference case, and 3 percent higher in 2030 alone, at 5.6 million barrels per day. For the lower 48 OCS, annual crude oil production in 2030 is projected to be 7 percent higher—2.4 million barrels per day in the OCS access case compared with 2.2 million barrels per day in the reference case (Figure 20). Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.

At America's current consumption rates (20.8 million barrels of oil per day), the oil resources made available from lifting the moratorium would last this country less than two and a half years.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. The United States has just 3 percent of the world's oil reserves but consumes 25 percent of the world's oil. It should be clear we're not going to get out of this problem on the backs of our own oil rigs. Temporary solutions such as lifting the moratorium and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (which McCain opposes) only bolsters the illusion that America's long-term energy problems can be solved through achieving fossil fuel-based energy independence. That's a pernicious myth, and one that inhibits real progress.

How the Veepstakes Affect Local Communities

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 1:56 PM EDT

While you're chewing over Obama's VP options, consider how governors ditching their posts for the White House can affect the states they leave behind.

If Virginia's Kaine were picked, the lieutenant governor is Bill Bolling, a Republican, giving the GOP control of the governor's mansion for the first time since 2002.
Arizona doesn't have a lieutenant governor, so Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican, would take over if Napolitano were tapped, giving the GOP the reins of power in both the Legislature and the governor's office.
Montana Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, a Republican, would take over for Schweitzer, whose win in 2004 put a Democrat in the governor's office for the first time since 1989. (Montana is the only state with a Democrat and Republican voluntarily on the same ticket.)
In Kansas, Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson switched to the Democratic Party in 2006 after serving four years as Republican Party Chairman and as a Republican state legislator during the 1990s, so his ascension would put his party leanings to the test.

When Senators are considered for the VP nod, people routinely ask whether their governors are from the same party as them. Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, for example, is a tricky VP pick for Obama because Indiana has a Republican governor who would likely fill Bayh's vacated seat with a Republican. Jeopardizing a 60-seat majority is a major no-no.

The party affiliation of lieutenant governors is a lot less important, but probably worth more attention than it gets.

Waxman to DoD Inspector General: Investigate Contractor Fraud

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 12:47 PM EDT

In a letter (PDF) sent yesterday to Claude M. Kicklighter, the Defense Department Inspector General, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the House government oversight committee chairman, asks the IG to investigate "potentially thousands" of cases of contractor fraud in Iraq. In the letter, Waxman refers to the findings from the IG's earlier investigation of DoD expenses in Iraq, which indicated that 28 transactions worth $35 million "appeared to involve criminal misuse of taxpayer funds." Since the 28 transactions the IG found came from just a small sample of DoD transactions in Iraq, Waxman asked his staff to extrapolate from the small sample and come up with a figure representing how many of the 180,000 Iraq transactions might involve fraud. The results were shocking. From the letter:

Among the transactions you examined, approximately 4% resulted in criminal referrals. When this percentage is applied to the entire pool of 180,000 transactions, it appears that there may be more than 7,000 potential criminal cases involving more than $190 million in federal spending that have not been identified. This is an astounding amount of potential criminal fraud.

Waxman goes on to ask the IG to "assess the extent of potential criminal fraud" in Iraq and make recommendations to DoD and Congress about how to investigate and prosecute "cases of criminal conduct." As Waxman also noted in his letter, the DoD has a record of little cooperation with Waxman or its own IG, so it remains to be seen whether the Congressman will get what he wants. Knowing Waxman, he'll keep trying regardless.