Political MoJo

Live Blogging the Iraq Town Hall, Part 3

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 9:03 PM EDT

People are using the intermission to (1) push the Draft Al Gore movement, (2) pimp filibusterforpeace.org, and (3) call for impeachment. Gotta love MoveOn!

Next up, Hillary Clinton: Asked, "What is the best and fastest way to get out of Iraq?" Clinton responds by touting the legislation she has introduced that (1) guarantees funding, training, equipment for the troops, (2) stops escalation, (3) insists on "real benchmarks" for the Iraqi government, and (4) convene international conference to forge a stable future for Iraq.

Says she will end war if elected. "It is time once and for all to end our involvement in Iraq." That statement is followed immediately with a feisty question about Clinton's recent statement that she supports a continued American presence in Iraq. What would the American troops be there for? What would they be doing? And how many of troops are we talking about exactly? This multipart question gets the first round of applause of the night from the crowd.

Clinton responds that we would have a limited presence for a short period of time. No permanent occupation, no permanent bases. Just some troops to train Iraqi security forces, protect the Kurds, and determine what the American interests in the region are (and protect them afterward). The crowd here doesn't like it. Someone shouts, "Shouldn't take more than 50 to 80 years!"

Clinton has strong rhetoric about bringing the troops home, but people here don't seem to think she has the ideas to back it up.

Chris Dodd (senator from Connecticut): "I believe we should begin redeploying our troops this evening." Finish the redeployment by March 2008. We need a surge in diplomacy, and we need to tie this whole fiasco to a new energy policy.

Energy independence for America is a huge focus in Dodd's answers.

Dodd says we need to rebuild our relationships around the world so America can be a force for good across the world. Believes, obviously, in the power of the United States.

Obama's our last candidate.

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Live Blogging the Iraq Town Hall, Part 2

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 8:43 PM EDT

Kucinich (Rep. from Ohio): We can only engage the world community on Iraq after we announce our intention to leave. Touts his history as an early and loud opponent of the war.

Kucinich does have thoughts on the "Then what?" question (see Biden below). He talks about how to rehabilitate Iraq even though he emphasizes repeatedly the need to end the war and bring the troops home immediately. Primarily, he says, we should not partition Iraq the way Biden suggests. We should instead reach out to the players in the region and convince them that America is changing, that America is no longer the big bully that shoved them and the United Nations around for so long. This was "an illegal invasion, an illegal war, and an illegal occupation," and we need to end the war-mongering culture of America, the culture that allows for the idea of a war of preemption, looks the other way when the United States chooses not to participate in international bodies like the International Criminal Court, and fosters the largest military in the history of the world.

Says he's the only candidate who has consistently voted against funding the war.

Bill Richardson (Gov of New Mexico): "If I were president today, I would withdraw American troops by the end of this calendar year, and leave no residual force whatsoever." Rely on strong diplomatic moves to keep things together in the void created by the departing American troops. One diplomatic move: bring the three sects in Iraq together to hammer out the future form of the Iraqi government. Second diplomatic move: convene all major players in the region and urge them to invest in their neighborhood. The full force of our withdrawal, coupled with the full force of American diplomacy, will (hopefully) stave off a regional conflagration.

Observation: Richardson has ideas that are as bold as Edwards' and Kucinich's, though Edwards is a lot more eloquent in presenting them.

Richardson's focuses (foci?): ending the war immediately, and using diplomacy to deal with whatever fallout results.

Intermission! Back in ten minutes.

Live Blogging the MoveOn Town Hall with All Democratic Presidential Candidates

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 8:32 PM EDT

As mentioned earlier, MoveOn is hosting a virtual town hall tonight asking all Democratic candidates for president their opinions on Iraq. Well, I'm attending one at the Harvard Hillel; here are my thoughts.

Eli Pariser, Executive Director of MoveOn, kicks us off by saying this is the first virtual town hall ever held on this scale. Tonight's focus: Iraq. Two more town halls, health care and global warming, coming later. 600,000 votes were cast by MoveOn members to determine which questions get asked tonight; questions were pre-submitted by MoveOn members. We'll have 10 minutes with each candidate.

First up, John Edwards. Edwards begins: "I was wrong and I take responsibility for that." To paraphrase: We don't need more debate, nonbinding resolutions, abstract goals. Congress should use funding authority to immediately start bringing troops home. "This is not the time for political calculation; it is a time for political courage." Incredibly strong rhetoric from Edwards with incredibly strong recommendations/ideas for ending the war; willing to cut funding for troops, if it means forcing Bush to bring troops home.

Next, Joe Biden. "There is not military solution in Iraq." Need for a political solution. Says that his opponents have offered plans for cutting troops and/or funding, but don't have a political solution that answers the question of "Then what?" We leave Iraq and get our troops home. Fine. No more Americans are dying. Fine. But then what?

Biden has a plan, the only plan put forward by a Democrat running for president. Basically, we decentralize Iraq in order to stabilize it, breaking it up into loosely federated pieces. Limited central government exists to care for borders, army, distribution of oil revenues, and foreign policy. Oil policy should share oil revenues with Sunnis, especially, in an effort to get them to back off the insurgency. Essentially, under Biden's plan, oil money holds the country together.

Bush Doles Out EVEN More B.S. On the Border

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 1:40 PM EDT

Yesterday, Cameron wrote about Bush's trip to Yuma, Arizona to gain support for his immigration bill. Bush heralded tighter border security put forth last year and how it has lead to decreased apprehensions. Border Patrol reports the apprehensions in the Yuma Sector have fallen by 68 percent. "It's amazing progress that's been made," Bush said. As Cameron noted, this is fairly amusing, since last year, Bush was touting more apprehensions as a sign of success. But, more importantly, it is also sort of bogus reasoning. Yes, it appears that increased surveillance and more boots on the ground has lead to a decrease in crossers in this specific area of Arizona and California, but as history has shown us, this is simply how it works. You tighten restrictions in one area, apprehensions are sure to go down. Immigrants will just cross elsewhere. As I reported in September of last year, immigrant experts call this the "balloon effect," meaning if you build a wall or increase manpower in one section, border crossers will just move down the line. It is not an absolute sign of success, by any means. And, aside from fencing off the entire border and manning every inch of it, this ebb and flow will always occur. As for the lull in increases elsewhere (apprehensions along the entire Mexico border are down 30 percent)? Experts say "immigrant smugglers [are seeking] out new crossing routes."

To give Bush a little credit, he does need to work hard to gain the acceptance of hard line and skeptical GOPers (although it does seem like he has done enough catering to them) if he has any hope of passing comprehensive reform. Nancy Pelosi has said she will not even consider voting on a bill unless the president has 70 Republican votes. But, nonetheless, a few words of advice to Bush: a.) be consistent and b.) get your facts straight.

The White House Email Controversy Heats Up

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 12:53 PM EDT

The hidden scandal in the administration's already scandalous purge of eight U.S. Attorneys is the discovery that White House officials have been regularly communicating using nongovernmental email addresses, some of them administered by the Republican National Committee. As we reported a couple weeks ago, this seems a blatant attempt to prevent emails from being archived by the White House computer system and potentially flouts the Presidential Records Act, a law enacted after Watergate to ensure that the papers of presidents and their advisor's are adequately preserved (and eventually made available to the public).

Now that congressional investigators are turning up the heat on the White House to explain this practice and Henry Waxman has asked the RNC to preserve White House communications archived on its servers, the email controversy is "creating new embarrassment and legal headaches for the White House," the Los Angeles Times reports. The paper explains that this "back-channel e-mail and paging system, paid for and maintained by the RNC, was designed to avoid charges that had vexed the Clinton White House — that federal resources were being used inappropriately for political campaign purposes."

Perhaps, but that's just one part of the story. There's evidence to suggest that White House officials aren't simply concerned with separating their political and policy duties. As U.S. News & World Report noted in a brief item in 2004, White House staffers have turned to Web-based email accounts specifically to keep their emails from entering the public record. "I don't want my E-mail made public," one White House "insider" told the magazine.

Not only did White House officials think better of using their official emails, they also instructed the lobbyists who did business with them to avoid the White House system. "...It is better to not put this stuff in writing in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.," one lobbyist to wrote to Jack Abramoff in August 2003 after Abramoff accidentally pinged former Karl Rove aide Susan Ralston on her White House address. "Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc [Republican National Committee] pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system," Abramoff replied.

The White House is trying to play down the controversy, spinning the use of outside email addresses as an honest effort to avoid breaching the Hatch Act, which prohibits most federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job. But here's the thing: Staffers whose salaries are paid from an appropriation for the Executive Office of the President are exempt from certain strictures of that law and are allowed to conduct political business. That is, under most circumstances, White House officials would have no need to use alternate email addresses when talking politics.

Overshadowed by the U.S. Attorney firings, the email controversy has received scant media attention. But it's the email scandal, with its potential to pull back the curtain on the White House's political operation and possibly unveil other scandals, that really has the GOP's teeth chattering. According to the Times:

Some Republicans believe that the huge number of e-mails — many written hastily, with no thought that they might become public — may contain more detailed and unguarded inside information about the administration's far-flung political activities than has previously been available.

One "GOP activist," in what seems a vast understatement, told the paper, "There is concern about what may be in these e-mails."

Terror Watch List Claims Another Victim

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 12:10 PM EDT

A leading constitutional scholar finds himself on the terrorist watch list for giving an anti-Bush lecture. Read the prof's background and full letter here. Watch the offending lecture here. Read a possible debunk, with some interesting stuff in the comments section, here. But first take a gander at the cliff noted version below.

"When I tried to use the curb-side check in at the Sunport, I was denied a boarding pass because I was on the Terrorist Watch list. I was instructed to go inside and talk to a clerk. At this point, I should note that I am not only the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence (emeritus) but also a retired Marine colonel. I fought in the Korean War as a young lieutenant, was wounded, and decorated for heroism. I remained a professional soldier for more than five years and then accepted a commission as a reserve office, serving for an additional 19 years."
"I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that." I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. "That'll do it," the man said."
"After carefully examining my credentials, the clerk asked if he could take them to TSA officials. I agreed. He returned about ten minutes later and said I could have a boarding pass, but added: "I must warn you, they=re going to ransack your luggage." On my return flight, I had no problem with obtaining a boarding pass, but my luggage was "lost." Airlines do lose a lot of luggage and this "loss" could have been a mere coincidence. In light of previous events, however, I'm a tad skeptical."

Emphasis mine. Looks like I'm probably on a list somewhere. Are you?

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Pelosi's Syria Trip -- in Video Blog Form!

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 12:04 PM EDT

I'm linking to this for a couple reasons: (1) it's a very good rundown of the dust up surrounding Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, and (2) it's a great example of how video blogging can be done well. Kudos, Josh!

See Hillary, John, and BHO Tonight

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 11:51 AM EDT

Interested in finally seeing what all the fuss is about with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and the rest of the Democratic field? Live in one of the roughly 45 states that never see a presidential candidate in the primaries?

Today's your lucky day: MoveOn.org is hosting a virtual townhall, in which people gather in homes and community centers around the country to get online and watch the Democratic candidates joust and spout. You can find one near you here. Hooray for the internet!

Liberalism Is In

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 12:16 AM EDT

Americans have grown more concerned about the gap between rich and poor. Support for the social safety net has grown too, while our military appetite has shrunk, according to a recent Pew survey of public opinion.

More Americans agree with the assessment that "today it's really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer." Today, 73% feel that way, up from 65% five years ago.

It follows that more of us believe the government should take care of people who can't take care of themselves. Fifty-four percent of Americans say the government should help more needy people, even if it adds to the national debt, compared to just 41 percent in 1994.

Just five years ago, 43 percent of of us identified as Republicans, and same for Democrats. Now 35 percent identify as Republicans, and half the country as Democrats.

Also, racism and homophobia are both down. More than 83 percent agree that "it's all right for blacks and whites to date," up six percentage points since 2003 and 13 points from 10 years ago. The number of people who believe that school boards should have the right to fire gay teachers is at 28 percent, down from 51 percent in 1987.

The MoJo summary of all of the above: Americans are getting in touch with reality.

But the sad part may be that "the public is losing confidence in itself." The percent agreeing that Americans "can always find a way to solve our problems" has dropped 16 points in five years. Americans feel more and more estranged from their government. Barely a third would agree that "most elected officials care what people like me think," a 10-point drop since 2002. Saddest of all, young people, who have the rosiest view of government, are the least interested in voting or other political participation.

Bush Doles out More B.S. on the Border

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 8:22 PM EDT

Maybe President Bush genuinely wants to solve the United States' immigration woes, or maybe he's grasping for another hot-button (hate) issue to drum up conservative support. Today, he proposed immigration reforms in Yuma, Arizona, which were a far cry more punitive than those he advocated last year. A 3-year work visa would cost an immigrant $3,500—a sum beyond the imaginings of most rural Mexicans looking for grunt work in the United States. To get a green card, workers would have to return to their home countries, apply for reentry, and pay a $10,000 fine. The proposal brought 10,000 Latinos to the streets of Los Angeles.

Just two weeks ago, I blogged about a Los Angeles Times article that suggested that last year's immigration legislation (sans the fence that, thankfully, has not materialized) has brought illegal border crossings down. The article took the number of illegals caught to be representative of the total number. Bush today made the same point: Fewer caught crossers is good news. But, as Think Progress points out, a year and a half ago, Bush pointed to increased apprehensions as a positive indicator of Border Patrol's performance. As with drugs, the government can manipulate "apprehension" statistics however it wants. (In my previous blog post, I cited Charles Bowden's assertion in "Exodus" that "On the line, all numbers are fictions. The exportation of human beings by Mexico now reaches, officially, a half million souls a year. Or double that. Or triple that.")

If illegal immigration is indeed waning on its own, why are we talking about it now? Wouldn't the war on terror—which we're losing—be a better policy to rehash? But here I seem to have answered my own question: Yes, it would. Bush tactic: Distract; dissemble; drum up hate for some other group. If illegal immigration isn't waning—which seems far more likely—doesn't that beg the question, again, of why we're not addressing its causes like the European Union does?