Mojo - July 2008

No Good Veep Choices for McCain?

| Fri Jul. 25, 2008 2:00 PM EDT

This was first posted at CQPolitics.com....

On Friday morning, on NPR's Diane Rehm Show, guest-host Susan Page made me--really, really, really made me--and the two other commentators (PR man/syndicated columnist Tony Blankley and Politico's Jeanne Cummings) predict John McCain's running-mate pick. None of us were eager to prognosticate. But Page insisted.

Earlier in the day, I had pondered the conventional-wisdom short-list of McCain's choices: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Bush budget director Rob Portman, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. At least three of these contenders should be nowhere near McCain's calculations:

* Ridge: He favors abortion rights. That could help McCain with independent voters, when the inevitable McCain-wants-to-criminalize-abortion ads start flooding the airwaves in the fall. But does McCain want to be at war with the base of his party from now until election day? (One problem for McCain is that he cannot win without the party's base, and he may not be able to win by catering to it. What a paradox!)

* Portman: As the economy slides further into a ravine--and Bush's approval ratings remain in the gutter--does McCain want by his side the man who was in charge of Bush's budget? Portman does hail from the must-win state of Ohio, and he's considered an affable and effective campaigner. But McCain would find it harder to distance himself from Bush's economic policies with one of Bush's key economic appointees on the ticket.

* Jindal: As I noted earlier, if McCain opts for this 37-year-old overachiever, he will make exorcism a campaign issue, for Jindal will have to explain his 1994 account of an exorcism in which he participated--and prove his account was true. Also, Jindal's record in Louisiana has been not-so-stellar recently. Senator, once more, can you explain whether you believe that Satanic demons can take possession of an individual and that people like your running-mate can perform amateur exorcisms to drive these spirits away?

So that leaves Pawlenty and Romney. Pawlenty comes from a swing state, but he has no standing on the national stage. "Pawlenty of nothing," one conservative pundit quipped to me recently. As for Romney, he does okay (not great) with the GOP base (the part of which that does not consider Mormonism to be an anti-Christian cult), and he can talk about his business experience at a time when the economy is ailing. One key question is, is McCain still pissed off at Romney over his attacks on McCain during the primary campaign? McCain does have anger issues. (See here for a recent example.)

When pressed for an answer by Page, I went with Romney, noting I was probably wrong. Blankley chose Ridge. And Cummings picked Portman, adding that voters would not necessarily identify him with Bush. But we all stipulated that we had no clue. As for me, I doubt that the veep pick will make much of a difference for McCain's campaign. He (and Barack Obama, too) ought to keep in mind the cardinal rule: first, do no harm. Yet that short-list is full of potential dangers.

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When Blacks Get Their American Dream 'Burb On

| Fri Jul. 25, 2008 1:40 PM EDT

The WSJ reports that, for the first time, 'black' cities like DC and Atlanta are losing their historic black populations to the suburbs. News, certainly. But why they gotta turn it into a big ol' drama?

The only difference between this and white flight is that blacks are running toward something (supposed peace and tranquility) and not away from something (coloreds). We'd a done it sooner but for the economic discrimination that kept us from affording to join those stupid commuters with their 'bowling alone' anomie. And, oh, y'all killing us for trying.

Now, we get our American Dream 'burb on—and we media types can't just report already dramatic news. It's gotta be a race war.

Here's the WSJ's sub hed:

For the First Time in Decades, Cities' Black Populations Lose Ground, Stirring Clashes Over Class, Culture and Even Ice Cream.

Heavens! Formerly black churches are courting newly gentrifying whites rather than, oh, I dunno, closing. White candidates have a shot at winning 'black' mayoralties and municipalities are flinging up jazz spots all over town, knowing that Negroes can't resist a hot sax anymore than Paris Hilton can resist a camera. Race war!

Why can't news about blacks just be that—news about blacks? White folks: Everything ain't about y'all all the time.

Why Talula Does the Hula No More

| Fri Jul. 25, 2008 4:32 AM EDT

Apparently, people who live in New Zealand, and get pregnant, are crazy. From CNN:

A New Zealand judge has made a 9-year-old girl a ward of the court so that her name can be changed from Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii, the country's national news agency reported Thursday.

Family Court Judge Rob Murfitt listed a series of unusual names that New Zealand parents had given their children, and said he was concerned that such strange monikers would create hurdles for them as they grew up.

Among the names Murfitt cited: twins named Benson and Hedges, after a brand of cigarettes; Violence; and Number 16 Bus Shelter.

Maybe there are a lot of wannabee rock stars down there.

Obama in Berlin: Another Great Communicator?

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 2:12 PM EDT

Elections, the consultants tell us, are about the future, not the past. And all politics is not only local but aspiration-driven. It's about not only what's gone wrong or what people fear but what voters want and, yes, hope, for. And Barack Obama is quite good at speaking about aspirations, whether at home or abroad.

From his much-anticipated speech in Berlin on Thursday:

People of Berlin – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time. I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we've struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.
But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived – at great cost and great sacrifice – to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom – indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What has always united us – what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America's shores – is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.
These are the aspirations that joined the fates of all nations in this city. These aspirations are bigger than anything that drives us apart. It is because of these aspirations that the airlift began. It is because of these aspirations that all free people – everywhere – became citizens of Berlin. It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation – our generation – must make our mark on the world.

The speech was predictably grand; the photo op, superb, with Obama bathed in golden light. There's not much policy in these eloquent words--though elsewhere in the speech he did speak about the pressing need to globally confront climate change, poverty, and AIDS. But in politics--and in government--inspiration does matter. And being a great communicator of lofty ideals is not a bad credential for a candidate--or a president.

Former Iraqi P.M. Says Surge Not So Great

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 1:51 PM EDT

When it comes to Iraq, the surge is a great success, right? Well, according to Ayad Allawi, Iraq's former prime minister, that depends on what you mean by "success".

In a briefing before members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday, Allawi answered questions from members of he subcommittee on international organizations, human rights, and oversight. When asked by Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), the subcommittee's ranking member, for Allawi's "assessment of of what's come of the surge," Allawi all but said, not much.

Reminding Rohrabacher that the original objective of the surge was to create a safe environment for a process of national reconciliation, Allawi said, "Now, militarily, the surge has achieved some of its goals. Politically, I don't think so."

Allawi rattled off a laundry list of perils that still confront the Iraqi people: internal displacement of large numbers of people, millions of refugees outside Iraq, security forces he described as sectarian militias dressed in national uniforms, no enforcement of the national constitution, which he described as a "divisive" document.

The former prime minister, who is now a member of the Iraqi parliament, also alleged that the process known as "deBaathification" is "being used to punish people." Originally designed to purge Saddam Hussein's loyalists from the military and security forces, Allawi said the process has become politicized and can be used against virtually anybody, since Saddam Hussein's "Baath party ruled for 35 years, and every individual had to join..."

Joe and Valerie Wilson: Take Away the Keys to Novak's Corvette

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 9:46 AM EDT

I'm not really sure why Joe and Valerie Wilson saw the need to chime in on this, but the couple have issued a statement to Think Progress commenting on Robert Novak's hit-and-run accident in Washington yesterday. (Novak says he was unaware that he hit someone. An eyewitness, who pursued the columnist on bicycle for a half-block before blocking his car and calling 911, says the victim was "splayed onto the windshield" before rolling off. If so, that would be kinda hard to miss.)

Say the Wilson's, whose lives were upended when Novak blew Valerie's covert CIA cover in a 2003 column:

Our sympathies go out to the victim of Novak's action. Once again Novak has demonstrated his callous disregard for the rights of others, as well as his chronic inability to accept responsibility for his actions.

We have long argued that responsible adults should take Novak's typewriter away. The time has arrived for them to also take away the keys to his Corvette.

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Cayman Island Office Building Home to 9,000 U.S. Tax Cheats

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 9:43 AM EDT

Corporate America and its wealthy executive class has had it good under the Bush administration. Not only has it benefited from massive tax cuts, but the Bush administration has stood idle as huge numbers of American companies have set up phony headquarters in the Cayman Islands so better to avoid what little taxes they might have to pay in the U.S. According to a GAO report scheduled for release today, since 2002, the number of American entities reporting a Cayman Island bank account has jumped from 2,677 to nearly 8,000. Suspiciously, investigators traced more than 9,000 American entities that had registered in the Caymans to a single office building.

Past estimates have put the loss of revenue from such schemes at $100 billion. The move to off-shore accounts hasn't exactly been a secret. But the administration has simply turned a blind eye to it as the IRS has struggled to enforce the law with limited resources. That may change, however. The Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on the issue today to consider whether the IRS ought to get some more money and power to make sure that every U.S. corporation pays its fair share. That should come as welcome news to cash-strapped states, which are now facing a whopping $40 billion collective budget deficit, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, leading to widespread cuts in everything from health care services to Maine's popular fish hatchery program.

Bush Won't Pardon Marion Jones Because Steroids are Not a Matter of National Security

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 8:25 PM EDT

This spring once track uber-star Marion Jones applied for commutation of her six-month prison sentence, which she is serving for her involvement in the BALCO steroids scandal, for perjuring herself, and for check fraud. Jones, who gave up her five Olympic medals from Sydney in 2000 (three of them gold) has been in jail since March. She applied for the commutation (not a pardon) soon after she started her detention in a Texas slammer, in part because she has an eight-month old son, and because, well, people who do far worse are pardoned all the time.

Scooter Libby, who was convicted on five counts of federal obstruction of justice and perjury charges resulting from the grand jury investigation into the CIA identity leak of Valerie Plame didn't have to serve a day of his 30-month prison term. Bush commuted Cheney's former chief-of-staff's sentence (without Libby even applying for the commutation) calling the sentence "too harsh."

Today the head of the USA Track and Field sent Bush a letter, imploring him not to pardon Jones. "To reduce Ms Jones' sentence or pardon her would send a horrible message to young people who idolized her, reinforcing the notion that you can cheat and be entitled to get away with it." He also said that a commutation or pardon would reinforce the notion that those with "athletic talent, money or fame" enjoy the benefits of a legal double standard.

Double standards in this administration is the standard. Lying and obstructing justice when it comes to a steroids scandal is inexcusable, but lying when it comes to national security is, by action taken, excusable?

Has National Enquirer Taken Edwards out of Veep-Play?

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 4:15 PM EDT

Usually, there's no reason to pay much attention to the scandal news of the National Enquirer. But in a recent report, the mag claims that several of its reporters witnessed and confronted John Edwards at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, where a woman, who months ago was alleged by the magazine to have become pregnant due to an affair with Edwards, was checked in--with her child. (The woman and Edwards initially both denied they were romantically involved.) The latest story is full of firsthand details--Edwards fleeing the Enquirer snoops, hiding in a bathroom, being escorted out by a security detail--that perhaps even the Enquirer would be hesitant to fabricate. After all, it can be sued by either Edwards or the woman.

Blogger Mickey Kaus has complained that the MSM hasn't touched the matter: "Will this be the first presidential-contender level scandal to occur completely in the undernews, without ever being reported in the cautious, respectable MSM?" But it's tough for responsible journalists to figure out how to handle a report from the gutter about a potential vice presidential candidate. Yet whether you read about this matter in the Times or not, the veep-vetters of the Obama campaign have probably paid the story notice. If Edwards is still in contention, he better have for them a rather convincing denial to allay suspicions that this time the scandalmongers of the Enquirer might have actually gotten it right.

Iraq Contract Fraud: Senators Call For Arrests, Recovery of Funds

| Wed Jul. 23, 2008 2:55 PM EDT

byrd.jpg

This morning, the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, heard testimony from Pentagon officials about their efforts to counter waste and fraud in federal contracts related to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Byrd expressed outrage at the "appalling" mismanagement of funds. "Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are lost, ... gone!" he cried, his outrage visibly building as he spoke. "How many minutes have passed since Jesus Christ was born? A billion! So, that's a lot of money! ... This is a failure of leadership. Individuals think they can get away with bilking—they're not just milking—bilking the U.S. and Iraqi governments... taking bribes, substituting inferior workmanship, or plain, old-fashioned stealing! Stealing!" he exclaimed.

Byrd cited a April 2007 GAO report (.pdf) that concluded, among other things, that the Pentagon "lacks clear and comprehensive guidance and leadership for managing and overseeing contractors" and "does not have a sufficient number of oversight personnel to ensure that contracts that are in place are carried out efficiently and according to contract requirements." To illustrate the scale of the waste and fraud, the report estimates that the Army Material Command loses about $43 million each year solely on the provision of free meals to contractors who also get per diem food allowances. Another GAO report (.pdf), released in May 2007, found that the amount of money obligated in DOD contracts for support services "exceeded the amount the department spent on supplies and equipment, including major weapons systems." [Emphasis added.] And with all this money being spent, often under cost-plus arrangements (the more a contractor spends on expenses, the more it collects in fees), the scale of abuse, fraud, and "plain, old-fashioned stealing" has been historic. We still do not know exactly how much money has been lost, and we may never know. But last year, the Defense Contract Audit Agency identified $4.9 billion wasted on overcharging or fraud, and an additional $5.1 billion spent without any documentation. Since only a sampling of contracts have yet been audited, the murky waters of corruption remain largely undisturbed.