Mojo - June 2008

Tim Russert, Dead at 58: Remembering One Q&A with Cheney

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 3:17 PM PDT

Tim Russert suffered a heart attack at NBC News' Washington bureau on Friday afternoon and died at the age of 58. As he was eulogized on air by NBC colleagues Tom Brokaw, Brian Williams, David Gregory, Howard Fineman, Keith Olbermann, and Andrea Mitchell, I thought of a moment when he tried to give Vice President Dick Cheney a decent grilling days before the invasion of Iraq.

That March 16, 2003 edition of Meet the Press was a good moment for Russert. By this point, it was clear George W. Bush was committed to attacking Iraq. Still, Russert hurled sharp queries at Cheney, questioning several fundamentals of the Bush-Cheney case for war. Cheney did manage to slip by--but only because he was willing to deny reality:

MR. RUSSERT: If your analysis is not correct, and we're not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators….
MR. RUSSERT: The army's top general said that we would have to have several hundred thousand troops there for several years in order to maintain stability.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I disagree. We need, obviously, a large force and we've deployed a large force to prevail, from a military standpoint, to achieve our objectives, we will need a significant presence there until such time as we can turn things over to the Iraqis themselves. But to suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don't think is accurate. I think that's an overstatement.
MR. RUSSERT: We've had 50,000 troops in Kosovo for several years, a country of just five million people. This is a country of 23 million people. It will take a lot in order to secure it.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, but we've significantly drawn down our forces in Kosovo and in the Balkans…..
MR. RUSSERT: Every analysis said this war itself would cost about $80 billion, recovery of Baghdad, perhaps of Iraq, about $10 billion per year. We should expect as American citizens that this would cost at least $100 billion for a two-year involvement.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I can't say that, Tim….

There were plenty of times when Russert--like most prominent figures in the media--could be criticized. But this was one of many instances when he posed the right questions and did so in a vigorous and facts-based manner. He did not succeed in forcing Cheney to speak candidly about the challenges of the Iraq war, but, then, Russert was responsible only for the questions he asked, not the answers the politicians gave.

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Is Exxon Out of Gas?

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 3:05 PM PDT

exxon.jpgExxonMobil announced this week that it plans to sell off 2,200, or nearly 1/5, of its 12,000 gas stations because they aren't profitable enough. This, from the world's biggest oil company, after having posted the largest yearly profit ever—$40.61 billion—that's almost $1,300 every second. With the average price at the pump having recently breached the $4/gal mark, an increase of more than one dollar from a year ago, you'd think that the money would continue flowing.

But apparently our oil companies are feeling the shift in the winds.

Though many Americans are hit hard by high gas prices, it's increasingly difficult to ignore the ones who are finding alternatives. These days more and more people are commuting by mass and public transit systems, as well as by carpool and bike. Many more are turning to hybrids or filling their tanks with biofuels. And as this latest sell-off suggests, even our oil companies are transitioning. CNN quotes Ben Soraci, the U.S. director of retail sales for ExxonMobil, saying, "As the highly competitive fuels marketing business in the U.S. continues to evolve, we believe this transition is the best way for ExxonMobil to compete and grow in the future."

This may mark the beginning of our energy industry transitioning out of oil. The question remains, what are they transitioning to?


Photo used under creative commons license.

Report: Rove Talks "Fairly Regularly" With McCain Camp; Getting Six Figures From Freedom's Watch

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 11:08 AM PDT

In a new National Journal article (not available online), writer Peter Stone dives deep into the conservative establishment and gets campaign staffers, movement operatives, and the ubiquitous "strategists" and "consultants" to talk about Karl Rove's current role in presidential politics. The takeaway? Rove is back. In fact, he probably never left. The campaign that is trying to prove it's not a second coming of George W. Bush is using the President's former chief strategist on a regular basis.

Stone says not to be fooled by Rove's hesitance to be identified with John McCain publicly.

...away from the spotlight, Rove has been busy pitching in by giving informal advice to McCain's team and spending a considerable amount of time as an outside adviser to Freedom's Watch, the conservative political group that is expected to spend tens of millions of dollars to help elect House GOP candidates. William Weidner, a Freedom's Watch board member, recently told National Journal that Rove has offered strategic advice to both the group and its major financial backer, Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson. Weidner, president of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which Adelson chairs, called Rove "an invaluable asset" to the group....

While the top of McCain's campaign won't admit to extensive conversations with Rove, fearing that Rove is too closely associated with the Bush Administration and its worst scandals, some folks are willing to spill the beans off the record.

A Right-to-Lifer and the GOP's Nursing Home Dilemma

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 9:27 AM PDT

Connor_sm.jpgWhen Ken Connor was on Capitol Hill earlier this week, it was clear that people in his party deeply wish that he would go back to worrying about the unborn. The conservative Christian Republican trial lawyer had come to Washington to testify in support of a bill that would ban the use of mandatory binding arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts. Most nursing homes today, as a condition of admission, require vulnerable elderly people and their families to waive their right to sue a facility in the event of a dispute. Instead, they must take any complaints about medical malpractice or abuse to a private arbitrator, chosen and paid by the nursing home, in secret proceedings where any awards are much lower than they would be from a jury. The arbitration agreements are often buried in a stack of complicated paperwork, where in some cases, they have been signed by blind people and those suffering from Alzheimer's.

The nursing home arbitration bill is one of nearly a dozen Democratic-backed measures introduced in Congress over the past year that would ban mandatory arbitration in everything from new car contracts to meatpacking company agreements. With the backing of the powerful AARP, it's also the most likely of the lot to pass, and thus, pave the way for Congress to ban mandatory arbitration altogether. After all, if Congress deems the practice unconscionable for seniors, businesses will have a tough time arguing that it still ought to be forced on everyone else. That's why Republicans really, really don't want to vote for the nursing home bill, and one reason Connor's advocacy is making them squirm.

Obama vs. McCain on Taxes: A Simple Video Explanation

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 8:44 AM PDT

I don't say this often, but one of the major news networks did a really good job of digging into policy recently. Specifically, CNN was excellent when discussing the effects the Obama tax plan and the McCain tax plan would have on different income brackets. The numbers make things simple to understand:

This puts the lie to many McCain campaign claims. The most brazenly false ones are from McCain economic adviser and failed Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who claimed that Obama has not proposed "a single tax cut" and wants to "raise every tax in the book." "Everything he's proposed is a tax increase, not a tax cut," she told Fox News. That's self-evidently false, if you (1) know anything about Obama's economic plan, which centers around a $1,000 tax cut for working families, or (2) have watched the video above.

The point here is not to get into a "our tax cuts are bigger!" argument, because tax cuts don't substitute for sound economic policy. And "tax relief," which the Obama campaign likes to say it is offering everyday folks, is most commonly used as a right wing framing device that justifies tax cuts for people who don't need them. Obama's economic proposals include much more than tax cuts: he is also proposing a stimulus package, help for struggling homeowners, and greater and more effective oversight of the financial sector.

But people tend to focus more on taxes than on any of those things, so let's make sure everyone knows how Obama and McCain stack up. The differences are stark.

Update: More here for those who want to dig deeper.

Why Is Carly Fiorina - a Symbol of Corporate Excesses - McCain's Favorite CEO?

| Fri Jun. 13, 2008 6:29 AM PDT

When John McCain wants to talk economic policy with voters—especially female voters—he sends out Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, a senior adviser to McCain's presidential campaign, and chairwoman of the Republican National Committee's Victory Fund. For example, days ago, after Barack Obama accused McCain of proposing an additional $300 billion in tax breaks for "big corporations and the wealthiest Americans," Fiorina appeared on CNN to defend the Arizona senator. (She first claimed that Obama was wrong to say that ExxonMobil would receive additional tax breaks from McCain, but then she acknowledged McCain's tax cuts for all corporations would cover big oil companies.) And this week, McCain dispatched Fiorina on a speaking tour in Ohio and Pennsylvania targeting female voters. She's even been mentioned as a possible McCain running mate.

But why should anyone listen to—let alone vote for—Fiorina?

Her stint as a corporate titan was more mixed than master-of-the-universe. In 1999, Fiorina took over Hewlett-Packard, the troubled computer company, becoming one of the top women in Corporate America. Previously, she had built a successful career mostly in marketing and sales at AT&T and Lucent, but she had the not-so-good fortune to be taking the helm of an engineering-driven tech company as the tech boom was ending. Her solution to HP's ailments was controversial: buying Compaq. She pushed the $19 billion acquisition over the opposition of many HP stockholders, including, most notably, Walter Hewlett, the son of the company's founder, who argued the merger would not make HP more competitive.

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A Blog To Watch: Young People Pushback

| Thu Jun. 12, 2008 1:19 PM PDT

The good folks at Campus Progress have launched a flashy new group blog, Pushback, for and by progressive young people. Editor Rob Anderson describes it as "sort of like MTV's reality show The Real World before it got really trashy: an experiment in which we jam strangers into a confined space and ask them to share with the world their thoughts, their ideas, and their work."

Aiming to keep The Real World analogy on the up and up, Pushback contributor Matt Zeitlin immediately posted this survey from the MIT-Wellesley Journal of Campus Life:

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But it's not just sex, people, they've got politics, too. Check it out.

Video: Live From Main Street Minneapolis

| Thu Jun. 12, 2008 12:43 PM PDT

FYI, if you ever find yourself wondering how independent progressive media in Minneapolis feel about playing host to the GOP convention this fall, wonder no more. They were pretty vocal about it earlier this week for Laura Flanders:


You can watch the full video here. Next up: Miami in July.

GOP Claims China Drilling Off Cuban Shores; Actually, That's False

| Thu Jun. 12, 2008 12:25 PM PDT

offshore-oil-rig.jpg

To gin up support for off-shore drilling, the Right has an ace up its rhetorical sleeve: the Chinese in Cuba. Here's Vice President Cheney.

"[O]il is being drilled right now 60 miles off the coast of Florida. We're not doing it. The Chinese are in cooperation with the Cuban government... Even the communists have figured out that a good answer to high prices is more supply. Yet Congress has said... no to drilling off Florida.''

"Even the communists" is a nice flourish. Mix the red scare with the yellow scare and get Uncle Dick's own Orange Scare. Guaranteed to freak out Americans concerned about their energy security. Here's House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), piling on:

"Even China recognizes that oil and natural gas is readily available off our shores; thanks to Fidel Castro, they've been given a permit to drill for oil 45 miles from the Florida Keys."

Adds House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), "Right at this moment, some 60 miles or less off the coast of Key West, Florida, China has the green light to drill for oil in order to lower energy costs in that country."

Problem is, that's all false. Like, completely false. China is not currently drilling off the shores of Cuba; in fact, it doesn't even have a off shore drilling contract. What is does have is a permit to drill on Cuban land. "China is not drilling in Cuba's Gulf of Mexico waters, period,'' Jorge Piñon, an energy expert at the University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy, told the Miami Herald. In fact, it is not yet drilling on Cuban land, either. The Herald added:

Post-Jim Johnson, Does Obama Need a "Change Ombudsman"?

| Thu Jun. 12, 2008 9:55 AM PDT

Here's an item I posted at CQPolitics.com....

A friend of Jim Johnson, the Washington player who resigned Wednesday as an unpaid veep-vetter for Barack Obama, tells me that Johnson woke up that morning, looked at the newspapers, saw that he had become a front-page problem for Obama--after The Wall Street Journal a few days earlier had reported that Johnson had received too-sweet home loans from Countrywide Financial--and made the snap decision to quit. By the end of the day, Johnson, who had canceled appointments he had lined up for the day, had left Washington and was in Sun Valley.

It was a quick end to the controversy. Obama fans can be encouraged by the fact that decisive action was taken fast. But Obama initially defended Johnson. So perhaps Obama himself was hoping to ride this one out, even though the episode had the potential to undermine his message of change.

The selection of Jim Johnson was itself troubling--whether or not Johnson did anything wrong regarding his dealings with Countrywide. He's a longtime Democratic Party insider, a "big-business Democrat," as Craig Crawford put its, who headed Fannie Mae in the 1990s and forged a close relationship with Countrywide. He's no agent of change in Washington.

The Democratic Party is full of "wise" men and women who jump between government jobs, campaigns, and well-paid private gigs. They can be campaign strategists one year, and corporate consultants or lobbyists the next--or sometimes, as in the case of Mark Penn, both at once. They are part of Washington's permanent establishment. And some will be making a beeline to the Obama campaign, now that he's the party's presumptive nominee.

To keep his message of change clear and honest, Obama is going to have to say no to these folks, even though they might come with experience and the best of intentions. He's already told Democratic lobbyists they cannot contribute to his campaign. And he will have to extend the rope-line further. Here's a suggestion: he should designate within his campaign an aide to be a "change ombudsman." This person will vet the vetters and everyone else working at a high level for the campaign to make certain none are agents of the status quo.

I'm being only semi-facetious. The Obama campaign will be growing now that he's the all-but-nominated nominee and absorbing Hillaryites and others. Someone on the Obama staff ought to be watching so that no other "big-business Democrats" are placed in positions where their mere presence could undercut Obama's overall message.

Obama's going to have a tough time working and calculating his relationship with the party establishment. (Remember all the corporate-sponsored sky boxes at past Democratic party conventions?) Some party insiders have gotten used to doing well in addition to doing good. Jim Johnson, for instance, was an advocate of extremely generous compensation packages for CEOs, made his own bundle at Fannie Mae, and benefited from accounting manipulations there (though he was never accused of wrongdoing).

Johnson is a warning for the Obama campaign. Beware the consummate Washington players who stock campaigns, transition teams, and administrations. Many are not in it for the change.