Mojo - August 2010

Dems Will Lose House—Unless They Don't

| Thu Aug. 26, 2010 7:39 AM PDT

Today's top headline at Politico: "Democrats privately fear House prospects worsening." An excerpt:

Top Democrats are growing markedly more pessimistic about holding the House, privately conceding that the summertime economic and political recovery they were banking on will not likely materialize by Election Day.

In conversations with more than two dozen party insiders, most of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly about the state of play, Democrats in and out of Washington say they are increasingly alarmed about the economic and polling data they have seen in recent weeks.

They no longer believe the jobs and housing markets will recover — or that anything resembling the White House’s promise of a “recovery summer” is under way. They are even more concerned by indications that House Democrats once considered safe — such as Rep. Betty Sutton, who occupies an Ohio seat that President Barack Obama won with 57 percent of the vote in 2008 — are in real trouble.

In two close races, endangered Democrats are even running ads touting how they oppose their leadership.

Sounds damn grim for the Ds. But--wait!--here's the headline from the National Journal's "Hotline": "Why Democrats Will Keep the House." An excerpt:

House Republicans are measuring the drapes in preparation for big gains in the lower chamber, convinced that Minority Leader John Boehner is going to become the next Speaker of the House. On a macro level, that wouldn't be a bad guess -- Democrats are saddled with bad polls and unpopular leaders, and the national mood wants a change from the status quo.

But the Democratic apocalypse isn't guaranteed just yet. In fact, senior Democratic strategists say they're not only likely to keep the House, but they believe the GOP won't come close to gaining the 39 seats they need to take over.

That's not to say Republicans have no chance of taking back the House. Indeed, for every argument Democrats make about their strengths, Republicans have a counterargument. But Democrats have a compelling case.

The piece goes on to detail "four reasons Democrats shouldn't be counted out of the majority, and republicans shouldn't start counting their chickens, quite yet."

What does this show you? That sometimes it's hard in Washington to concoct conventional wisdom.

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Dems to Lose 7 Senate Seats?

| Thu Aug. 26, 2010 7:23 AM PDT

That's the latest prediction from wunderkind pollster Nate Silver, who just made the move over to his new perch at The New York Times' website. A loss of six or seven Senate seats would leave the Democrats with a slim majority of 52 or 53 seats, nowhere near the filibuster-breaking supermajority of 60. And you can all but rule out the passage of any new, comprehensive legislation—i.e., health insurance reform, financial regulatory reform—if Silver's projection becomes reality this fall. After all, Democrats, with a near-supermajority, could barely scrape together two or three GOP votes on major legislation this spring and summer; there's no chance they'll find seven or eight votes if Silver's right.

It could be even worse for Dems. There's a 20 percent chance, Silver found, that the Dems will lose 10 or more seats, possibly putting them back in the minority. 

When it comes to watching the ongoing Senate elections, Silver writes that it's not the headline-grabbing campaigns—Harry Reid vs. Sharron Angle in Nevada, Barbara Boxer vs. Carly Fiorina in California—worth watching. Instead, he suggests keeping a close eye on some of the less-covered races:

Of late, the source of the Democrats’ problems has not necessarily been in high-profile Senate races where the Republicans have nominated inexperienced but headline-grabbing candidates, like Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky (although the model regards both Ms. Angle and Mr. Paul as slight favorites). Instead, it has been in traditional swing states like Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The last time the Democratic nominee in Ohio, Lee Fisher, held the lead in any state poll, for example, was in June. Representative Joe Sestak, the Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania, has not led any poll there since May, and Robin Carnahan of Missouri has not held a lead since January. The Democratic nominee in New Hampshire, Representative Paul W. Hodes, has not led in any of 17 public polls in New Hampshire against his likely Republican opponent, Kelly Ayotte.

The Democratic candidate lags by single digits in each of these states, and victories there remain entirely possible (perhaps especially so in New Hampshire, where the Republicans have yet to hold their primary). But, at a time when they need to be drawing closer to their opponents as the clock ticks toward Nov. 2, these Democrats instead find themselves falling somewhat further behind. We are now close enough to Election Day that a deficit of as few as 5 percentage points may be difficult to overcome, especially in races where relatively few undecided voters remain.

The odds of the Democrats adding a Senate seat, even regaining their 60-vote majority, according to Silver? Three percent. As we head toward the Labor Day holiday, after which general-election campaigning hits high gear and voters really start to tune in, the Democrats need a pitch-perfect strategy, some good economic news, and a lot of luck if they're going to avoid the kind of result Silver's predicting.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 26, 2010

Wed Aug. 25, 2010 11:59 PM PDT

 

US Army Spc. Russell Altman, with Provincial Reconstruction Team Kapisa, enjoys the view from the gunners hatch of his Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle while traveling through the Surobi district of Afghanistan. Photo via the US Army by Tech. Sgt. Joe Laws.

Corn on "Hardball": Palin the Big Winner in Alaska Primary

Wed Aug. 25, 2010 4:44 PM PDT

David Corn and Pat Buchanan joined Hardball's Chris Matthews to discuss Sarah Palin's role in helping tea party candidate Joe Miller to an all but certain victory over Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska Republican primary.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Ground Zero's Slave Graves

| Wed Aug. 25, 2010 4:32 PM PDT

The outrage about the "ground zero mosque" has turned very ugly, as this video of this recent protest shows. People are calling Mohammed a pig. A New York City cab driver was stabbed today after his passenger asked him if he was Muslim. But I find the righteous outrage of those contending the former World Trade Center site is "hallowed ground" amusing, because they have no idea just how right they are. Before the World Trade Center was even designed (with Islamic architectural elements, incidentally), the ground was indeed sacrosanct: The bones of some 20,000 African slaves are buried 25 feet below Lower Manhattan. As at least 10 percent of West African slaves in America were Muslims, it's not out of bounds to extrapolate that ground zero itself was built on the bones of at least a few Muslim slaves. That is to say, hallowed Muslim ground.

WikiLeaks Shows CIA's Soft Side

| Wed Aug. 25, 2010 1:30 PM PDT

As promised, WikiLeaks today released a secret CIA memorandum on counterterrorism strategy. And while Julian Assange's website has taken a generally dim view of the US government, the memo it chose to leak portrays an intelligence agency that's surprisingly thoughtful and, well, liberal-sounding.

The document was produced by CIA's "Red Cell" team, which was formed after the 9/11 attacks to think creatively about US security strategy. (The Red Cell "takes a pronounced 'out-of-the-box' approach and produces memos intended to provoke thought rather than to provide authoritative assessment," the agency boasts on its own website.) WikiLeaks has drawn water from that well in the past (PDF), but the new memo—dated February 5—asks agency spooks (PDF) a surprisingly self-critical question: "What If Foreigners See the United States as an 'Exporter of Terrorism'?"

The paper's authors list a host of recent terrorist activities perpetrated by US citizens abroad: Five Virginians traveling to Pakistan for jihad training; a spotter gathering surveillance for the 2008 Mumbai massacre; Jews like Baruch Goldstein plotting against "perceived enemies of Israel"; and well-known "financial and material support" provided by Irish-Americans to fight British influence over the Emerald Isle. Note wholly domestic attacks, like Hasan and Feisal Shahzad, aren't mentioned: CIA in this case is wholly concerned with how American citizens can be used to screw with other nations:

Undoubtedly Al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups recognize that Americans can be great assets in terrorist operations overseas because they carry US passports, don’t fit the typical Arab-Muslim profile, and can easily communicate with radical leaders through their unfettered access to the internet and other modes of communication.

How can they possibly get away with this under American noses? Because:

Al-Qa'ida and other extremist groups have also probably noticed that the US Government has been more concerned with preventing attacks on the US by homegrown terrorists or foreigners than with Americans going overseas to carry out attacks in other countries. Most foreign governments do not suspect that American citizens would plot or perpetrate attacks against their citizens within their borders.

Some Americans do notice—or obsess over—"homegrown" terrorists, of course: We call them conspiracy theorists, mostly of the right-wing variety. (See: Geller, Pam, and Gohmert, Louie.) They usually only obsess over US-born terror in the context of a supposed fifth column against America or Israel; they don't seem terribly concerned with Americans killing Indians or Europeans. Even if they did care, the worst thing we could do as a society is let them dominate the debate over domestic-based terrorists, because a closing of American society—more profiling, wiretaps, arrests, secret evidence—will probably produce more militants than it catches.

Anyway, what's the CIA care about all of this? Because if the US doesn't keep better tabs on its domestic terrorists going abroad, that could have disastrous effects for the US's goals on combating terror coming in from overseas:

As a recent victim of high-profile terrorism originating from abroad, the US Government has had significant leverage to press foreign regimes to acquiesce to requests for extraditing terrorist suspects from their soil. However, if the US were seen as an “exporter of terrorism,” foreign governments could request a reciprocal arrangement that would impact US sovereignty... In extreme cases, US refusal to cooperate with foreign government requests for extradition might lead some governments to consider secretly extracting US citizens suspected of foreign terrorism from US soil.

Of course, we've set the precedent for unilateral renditions of suspects on other nations' sovereign territory, just as we've set the standard for pre-emptive war. The Bush administration argued that terrorism was a national security issue that transcended state sovereignty. No matter what credence that argument might have had, its logical consequence was that other nations similarly concerned about their security could resort to the same tactics and justifications, too.

If foreign regimes believe the US position on rendition is too one-sided, favoring the US, but not them, they could obstruct US efforts to detain terrorism suspects. For example, in 2005 Italy issued criminal arrest warrants for US agents involved in the abduction of an Egyptian cleric and his rendition to Egypt. The proliferation of such cases would not only challenge US bilateral relations with other countries but also damage global counterterrorism efforts.

You can read all of this as a push within CIA to have more power for domestic surveillance of terror suspects—something that, before 9/11 at least, was supposed to be an FBI gig. But more likely, America's spooks are themselves spooked by the blowback that could result if America doesn't do a better job of practicing what it preaches on counterterrorism. If so, it seems the Red Cell authors are intent on putting the "intelligence" back in "Central Intelligence Agency."

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Alaska Senate Race Gets Complicated

| Wed Aug. 25, 2010 1:09 PM PDT

Well, this could make things even more interesting in Alaska. Tea party candidate Joe Miller looks likely to unseat incumbent Lisa Murkowski, but now the Daily Beast is reporting that the state's senior senator is mulling a third-party run.

While the deadline for independent candidates to file has passed, "a source within the Murkowski campaign says they know of one possible legal option to pursue a third party run."

And then it gets even more complicated, as rumors fly that Democrats might substitute former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles for Scott McAdams, the winner of yesterday's primary, on the November ballot.

Oh, Alaska. Let no one ever say you don't give us plenty of stuff to write about.

A Tea Party Triumph in Alaska?

| Wed Aug. 25, 2010 7:50 AM PDT

Tea party candidate Joe Miller may upset incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski in Alaska after all. Miller was an unknown until just the past few days, when polls showed him nipping at Murkowski's heels. As of this morning, the incumbent trailed Miller by 2,555 votes with 84 percent of precincts reporting.

Murkowski has 48.6 percent of the vote to Miller's 51.4 percent. It may take another week for the final tally, however, as the 16,000 absentee ballots won't be counted until Aug. 31.

If Miller does win, it would be quite an upset. He was trailing Murkowski by 32 points a month ago, and the state's senior senator outspent him by 20-to-1. Murkowski has been in the Senate since 2002; her father, Frank, appointed her to fill his seat when he became governor of the state.

Miller got a boost from the endorsements of several high-profile conservatives like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The former, of course, has a storied history with the Murkowski family, having unseated Murkowski's father in 2006. An anti-incumbent sentiment may have won out here, even in a state that is known for respecting seniority. Murkowski is currently the ranking minority member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and has played a key role in drafting legislation over the past two years.

The winner in the Republican primary will face Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, who won the Democratic nomination yesterday.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 25, 2010

Wed Aug. 25, 2010 2:00 AM PDT

 

US and Afghan forces conduct a dismounted patrol near Combat Outpost Mizan, Mizan district, Zabul province, Afghanistan, on Aug. 19, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Senior Airman Nathanael Callon.

Rick Scott's Florida Gov Upset

| Tue Aug. 24, 2010 9:01 PM PDT

Rick Scott, the wealthy health care executive and GOP dark-horse candidate, pulled off a surprising upset on Tuesday in Florida's Republican gubernatorial primary race. The tall, bald-headed Scott edged out Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a GOP favorite and former long-time US congressman, by a slim margin of 46 percent to 43 percent, with 96 percent of precincts reporting.

The crux of Scott's campaign was his outsider status, his rejection of Washington and career politicians, his appeal to the far right of the GOP. When not bashing McCollum, Scott's campaign fliers and commercials touted his independence and promise to bring a fresh, pro-business, fervently anti-tax perspective to the Florida governor's office. Polls showed Scott with the backing of a majority of conservative Florida voters, including the state's tea party contingent.

Scott may not have the record of a long-time politician, but he does carry a lot of baggage into his general election fight against Democrat Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer. Scott was at the heart of the country's largest fraud settlement ever, a $1.7 billion Medicare settlement by a hospital corporation he helped to found and led until his ouster. Another health care company Scott started, Solantic, has been accused of allegedly using medical licenses illegally and billing irregularities with Medicare.

That record, which McCollum highlighted time and again during the primary campaign, has tainted voters' view of Scott as he heads into the general election. According to Public Policy Polling, only 46 percent of GOP primary voters had a good impression of Scott. As PPP pollster Tom Jensen put it, "Five months ago we would have said Alex Sink looked like a dead duck. Now with the way this contest has unfolded she looks like the favorite."