Mojo - July 2008

Expanding the Map: Obama Money Funneled to Key State Parties

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 12:17 PM EDT

The Democratic Party has set up a fundraising mechanism that automatically funnels a portion of every dollar Barack Obama raises some of the money Obama raises* to state parties in 18 states. Here's Roll Call:

The new fund, the Committee for Change, will parcel a fixed percentage of the contributions it receives to each of the 18 state parties, infusing those parties with new federal dollars and a list of new donors who can be helpful in future campaigns.

Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the DNC, says this move has the power to strengthen the party long-term. "This is going to help us build the party up and down the ticket in all of those states," he said.

Here's the important part. Check out the list of states: Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

A number of these are standard swing states: New Mexico (Bush by 1 percent in 2004), New Hampshire (Kerry by 1), Iowa (Bush by 1), Michigan (Kerry by 3), Ohio (Bush by 2), etc. But a number are solid red states that haven't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in years, and tend to produce lopsided Republican victories.

Alaska? Bush 61, Kerry 36. Georgia? Bush 58, Kerry 41. Indiana? Bush 60, Kerry 38. North Dakota? Bush 63, Kerry 36.

But Obama is not Kerry, and the political environment of 2008 is not the political environment of 2004. The Democratic Party is betting on three things. (1) Obama's appeal to independents in these states means tying him to downticket Democrats actually gives those Dems a chance to win for the first time. (2) Obama may not win in these states, but a little extra cash might make them competitive, thus forcing John McCain to campaign and make ad buys in places he previously thought safe. And (3) the political environment is so bad for Republicans right now that if there is any time where Democrats can bring new voters into the fold, it's now. Using this money to build out party operations will be helpful in 2008, but also in 2012 and 2016.

*Clarified with the press team at the DNC. Donors who write checks to the Obama campaign directly will have their money put to Obama and Obama alone. But donors who write checks (presumably larger donors) to this Committee for Change will see their money divided between Obama, the DNC, and the 18 states.

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Republican Donors Starving Downticket Candidates to Feed McCain

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 12:11 PM EDT

Interesting observation from MSNBC's First Read:

McCain really doesn't have a money problem. In fact, as Rick Davis bragged last week, money isn't going to be the issue many thought it would be just two months ago. Why is this? It appears many Republican donors are buying into the argument that the ONLY shot Republicans have of winning anything is the presidency. And this is hurting Republicans running for the House and Senate where Democrats are dominating on the financial front. Yesterday, the DSCC released a list of 11 races being held in GOP-held seats, and the Democrats were nearly on par or ahead in every race, according to the most recent fundraising report. Question: Are we seeing the reverse '96 effect taking place inside the GOP? In 1996, the word went out that Dole was a lost cause, and all of the GOP's resources went to saving House and Senate candidates in order to preserve their control of Congress.

Obama raised $52 million in June, while the DNC raised $22.4 million. Together, they reportedly have $92 million cash on hand. McCain raised $22 million in June, with the RNC adding $25.7 million. Together, they have $95 million on hand.

So yeah, McCain is hanging tough in the money race. We'll see if that continues into the general election period after the conventions.

White House Threatens Veto Over Expanded Intelligence-Sharing With Congress

| Thu Jul. 17, 2008 11:00 AM EDT

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On Wednesday, the House passed the Intelligence Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2009 (H.R.5959), which, once reconciled with its Senate counterpart, will travel up Pennsylvania Avenue for the president's signature. It's unlikely to get it, though, for the bill has become the latest flash point in the White House's ongoing battle to expand executive power.

The bill contains provisions calling for prohibiting detainees from being interrogated by contractors (like at Abu Ghraib); the establishment of an inspector general of intelligence; regular reports to Congress on the nuclear weapons programs of Iran, Syria, and North Korea; and a regular National Intelligence Estimate on Syria's WMD programs. More controversial, though, and more troubling to the White House, it mandates that the president provide members of the House intelligence oversight committee with expanded access to secret information about intelligence activities (such as classified legal opinions, risk assessments, and cost estimates), and requires that the intelligence community brief the committee on all covert actions that were in effect as of April 24, 2008. The bill details a punishment for White House non-compliance: 75 percent of the budget for covert actions will be withheld.

Primary Sources: Gitmo Interrogations (Video and Memos)

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 11:03 PM EDT


We knew Gitmo had juvie, but this video really hammers home just what 'juvenile interrogation' means. From the Guardian, above is the alleged first live action peek into a Guantanamo interrogation. The subject? Sobbing Canadian 16-year-old (at the time) Omar Khadr.

Knowing how we got to this point doesn't make it any more palatable. But it does make this treasure trove of internal memos and primary source documents I stumbled across recently while fact-checking even more revealing.

For example, check out the 'milder' options listed in this Joint Task Force Guantanamo 2002 internal memo (PDF) which starts with "SUBJECT: Request for Approval of Counter-Resistance Strategies":

Washington's Iran Pivot: How Big a Shift?

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 7:45 PM EDT

Even as some Washington observers were still marveling at the Bush administration's decision to send a diplomatic envoy to international nuclear talks with Iran to be held in Geneva this weekend, some analysts and close administration associates cautioned that the Bush administration really had not changed its underlying demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment before agreeing to sustained negotiations, and that the new diplomatic approach could be stillborn.

"If [Tehran agreeing to] zero enrichment is the expressed [US] objective, then this could be dead on arrival," said Trita Parsi, president of the pro-engagement National Iranian American Council. "If [the US] is more flexible, and will consider something along [former US diplomat Thomas] Pickering's plan," for an internationally supervised nuclear enrichment facility in Tehran, then the talks might have some momentum, he said.

"Nothing has changed," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Wednesday. "If they don't accept this offer, one, there will not be negotiations and two, there will be additional sanctions."

"The substantive position remains unchanged -- substantive negotiations on the issues await Iranian suspension of uranium enrichment," said Philip Zelikow, former advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. US Iran envoy William J. "Burns will personally reinforce that message and join the Europeans in hearing the response.

John McCain's Looming Seniors Problem

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 2:30 PM EDT

ss_disgrace.jpg Social Security was not a battle John McCain wanted to fight. The Arizona Senator has avoided putting out a concrete plan on Social Security (his website, for example, doesn't have a section on the issue), and he has been less than exact in his public comments on the subject throughout the campaign.

Unfortunately for him, his flub last week in which he described the basic funding mechanism of Social Security as a "disgrace" — "Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today, and that's a disgrace, it's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed" — has given labor unions and seniors' groups, in conjunction with the Democratic Party, the opportunity to highlight McCain's past support for President Bush's highly unpopular plan to privatize Social Security.

On a conference call with reporters today, a coalition of groups similar to the one that fought Bush's privatization initiative in 2005 announced that they would mobilize their supporters and members in the hopes of informing voters nationwide of the fact that, as AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee put it, John McCain wants to "gamble with Social Security." In addition to an online campaign, they plan to have volunteers protest McCain events in the near future. Many will be holding yellow signs provided by the DNC that say "Hands Off My Social Security" on one side and "My Social Security Is Not a Disgrace" on the other. According to a spokesman for the coalition, they will be "heavily incorporating the anti-privatization message on the road at each of the nearly 150 stops on the Bush Legacy Tour." The DNC has made a video highlighting McCain's record on Social Security to accompany the campaign.

McCain opened himself up to these attacks by refusing to take a firm position on the issue. In fact, Social Security appears to be one of an increasing number of issues where McCain has multiple positions at the same time.

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Lieberman: Trading Facts for Fear To Help McCain

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 2:23 PM EDT

On Wednesday, Senator Joe Lieberman went on Fox News (where else?) to blast Barack Obama for sticking to what Lieberman called a policy of surrender in Iraq. And he slammed the presumptive Democratic nominee for his upcoming trip to Iraq:

He's already decided his position. He's not going to listen to Petraeus. He's not going to listen to our troops. He's not going to listen to his own eyes with what he sees there. I think that's not the kind of leadership we need in the Oval Office.

Listen to his own eyes? It's as if Lieberman was channeling George W. Bush. But put that aside. Lieberman was trotting out again his I-know-Iraq-best stance, as he continues to be a leading surrogate for John McCain on the war and terrorism. But why should Lieberman have any standing on these matters? He can be as uninformed about national security as McCain (who several times confused Shia and Sunni). Two weeks ago, Lieberman appeared on Face the Nation and said,

But we need a president who's ready to be commander in chief on day one. Senator McCain is....Why? Because our enemies will test the new president early. Remember that the truck bombing of the World Trade Center happened in the first year of the Clinton administration. Nine-eleven happened in the first year of the Bush administration. John McCain is ready to take the reins on January 20th, 2009. He doesn't need any training.

Was Lieberman right in his history? Do the evildoers really mount terrorist operations to test new presidents early in their terms? I put this question to Peter Bergen, a journalist who is an expert on al Qaeda and terrorism. (He's written two good books on al Qaeda.) Bergen replies:

What's Next for Gitmo?

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 2:17 PM EDT

Now that detainees held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have the right of habeas corpus, members of one congressional body are asking, how will that work?

While the Supreme Court, with its decision in Boumediene v. Bush, granted prisoners held as enemy combatants at Guantanamo the right to their day in court, many questions remain unanswered—including whether the Boumediene decision applies to "enemy combatant" prisoners held by the US in facilities other than the famed prison camp in Cuba. On Monday, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an entity of Congress also known as the Helsinki Commission, asked the guidance of three experts in a packed hearing room. (Though officials from the departments of justice, defense, and state were invited to testify, none attended.)

The Last Thing to Bear Jesse Helms's Name

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 11:46 AM EDT

Maybe Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) has a really wicked sense of humor.

How else do you explain her current attempt to rename an appropriations bill intended to provide assistance to foreign countries combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases after recently deceased Senator Jesse Helms?

Helms was a throwback to the period when bigots could serve openly and proudly in the U.S. Senate. He fought funding for AIDS research, saying, "The government should spend less money on people with AIDS because they got sick as a result of deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct." At a different time, he contextualized his comments by saying, "Nothing positive happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, and nothing positive is likely to happen to America if our people succumb to the drumbeats of support for the homosexual lifestyle." He once said that AIDS prevention literature was "so obscene, so revolting, I may throw up."

Those his position on AIDS in Africa would soften over time, he remained a steadfast opponent of progress in the States. The man didn't mince words, and wasn't ashamed of his positions. "The Bible is unmistakably instructive on the sin of sodomy," he said in the mid-90s. "I confess I regard it as an abomination." He once admitted he voted against a Clinton appointee "because she's a damn lesbian."

And now an AIDS bill may carry his name. That's either an incredibly vicious way of marring the bill and insulting AIDS victims, or its an incredibly savvy way of tarnishing Helms's legacy. Which do you think it is?

US Mediator Will Attend International Talks with Iran

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 10:09 PM EDT

In an historic development, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns will attend international talks with Iran on its nuclear program, to take place this weekend in Geneva. The Washington Post reports:

In a significant departure from longstanding policy, Undersecretary of State William J. Burns will join a scheduled meeting in Geneva between European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, according to a senior State Department official.
Burns will not negotiate with the Iranians nor hold separate meetings, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been announced. Instead, he will advance the White House's position that serious negotiations can only begin after Iran suspends its enrichment of uranium. [...]
The U.S. official said Burns would not participate in any further discussions during the freeze-for-freeze period. "This is a one-time deal," he said.

"European officials hailed the news that Burns would come to Geneva as a breakthrough, one that sends a clear message to Iran that the international community was interested in negotiating a solution to the nuclear impasse," the Post further reports. Said one European official cited by the paper, "It is a very interesting and important sign by the United States." The pro-engagement National Iranian American Council also welcomed the move.

With a lot of recent Iranian noises in different directions, some indicating they are considering going for a "freeze for freeze" offer -- in which Iran would freeze further installations on its nuclear enrichment program (but not suspend enrichment) and the UN would freeze further sanctions for a six week "pre-negotiations" period -- Burns' forthcoming presence in Geneva signals to Iran that Washington would actually support such a deal. It would also seem to signify that for now anyhow, Bush continues to entrust the major thrust of his administration's second term Iran policy to its relatively more pragmatic wing, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

If Iran and the internationals, joined by the US, are even able to get to the "freeze for freeze" six week prenegotiation period, how will Washington proceed if Iran demands some face-saving way around a total halt to uranium enrichment activities? Former US diplomat Thomas Pickering and colleagues have a proposal.