Political MoJo

Biden's Evolving Obama Explanation

| Thu Feb. 1, 2007 1:47 PM PST

Below, Jonathan has a good summary of the Biden flap from yesterday. (And he's probably buying up Biden '08 t-shirts on eBay to resell to ironic hipsters at this very moment.) Granted, Joe Biden inserting foot in mouth is hardly news but what struck me as fishy was his evolving explanation of what he meant. On CNN yesterday afternoon he said that his mother had a saying, "clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack," and that using that context, he meant that Obama was astute. But last night on The Daily Show, he said that he meant to say "fresh" (as in fresh ideas) rather than "clean." So which is it, fresh or sharp? If calling Obama "clean" was not a slur, wouldn't his explanation have remained constant? No doubt he had the benefit of several advisers in the meantime, but the changing story seems to signal that Biden is rightly ashamed of his original impulse and is casting around for a better explanation.

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Valdez Spill, Undiminished, Turns Exxon a Profit

| Thu Feb. 1, 2007 1:36 PM PST

Exxon reports that it earned $39.5 billion in 2006, giving the company the most profitable year ever for a US corporation. This mammoth figure has overshadowed other Exxon related news released today. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study has found that lingering crude oil from the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 has barely budged. NOAA research chemist Jeffrey Short explained, "We expected the natural decay rate was 25% a year. But very little of the oil actually disappeared. What's left is going to be there a long time." Researchers now estimate that the oil is weathering at a rate of only 3% to 4% a year.

Continuing its campaign of disinformation about all things environmental, Exxon spokesman Mark Boudreaux refuted the findings' importance in an e-mail to USA Today: "There have been nearly 350 conference presentations or publications in peer-reviewed journals. Based on that body of scientific evidence, it is clear that there have been no effects on the environment that remain ecologically significant."

How has Exxon remained so profitable, especially when it was responsible for the nation's largest oil spill? It doesn't hurt that the company managed to turn clean-up costs and legal fines it accrued in the aftermath of the disaster into tax write-offs. Additionally, by stretching its payments on a punitive damages settlement over 10 years, Exxon was able to collect millions in interest on money it had yet to pay.

--Celia Perry

General Casey Under Fire

| Thu Feb. 1, 2007 9:44 AM PST

General George W. Casey Jr., former Iraq commander and the man Bush has nominated to be chief of staff of the Army, was raked over the coals at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this morning by Republican senator and presidential contender John McCain. "We have paid a very, very heavy price in American blood and treasure," McCain told Casey, because of his bad "judgment."

The hearing by Democratic Senator Carl Levin's Armed Services Committee is part of a sprawling debate all across official Washington -- within the Pentagon and in both houses of Congress as well -- over the President's decision to send more troops to Iraq. Elsewhere in the Senate, Senator Joe Biden's Foreign Relations Committee was questioning former national security advisor Lt. General Brent Scowcroft about his ideas on Iraq. (Scowcroft advised the administration's of both Gerald Ford and Bush senior and was a critic of our Iraq policy before the war began.) Meanwhile, Democrats are determined to pass a non-binding resolution against boosting troop levels. Republicans who have broken with Bush, led by former armed services committee chair John Warner of Virginia, will be instrumental in pushing through a bipartisan measure, one that protests additional forces but reasserts overall support for the troops serving in Iraq.

This afternoon the Senate will also hold a confirmation hearing on the nomination of retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell to be Director of National Intelligence. McConnell has become controversial because of possible conflicts of interest stemming from his former employment at the consulting firm Booz, Allen, Hamilton and for other possible ties to the defense sector. He is known to be a hardliner on Iran and is likely to support Dick Cheney's views on the war.

Although other military commanders and the President have conceded the Iraq policy hasn't worked, Casey insisted today, "I do not believe the policy has failed." He said he wants two more brigades in Iraq to help secure Baghdad. General David Petraeus, the new commander, has asked for 5 brigades. McCain, for his part, thinks 5 brigades are not enough.

In questioning Casey, McCain quoted Casey's own statement in 2004 saying "we are broadly on track" to accomplishing objectives with Iraqi security forces "to get there by December 2005." After a moment of silence, Casey said, "that obviously has not panned out." Casey has said he doesn't subscribe to the idea Iraq has descended into civil war. Nevertheless, he agrees the situation in Baghdad is "bad."

Al Gore Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

| Thu Feb. 1, 2007 9:12 AM PST

Al Gore has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by two Norwegian members of parliament (socialists, by the way) who feel that global climate change is the newest and possibly biggest threat to the earth's welfare. Getting nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize is notoriously easy (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and uh, George W. Bush have all been nominated), but still, pretty neat.

Bush Says, "There's Some Racial Insensitivity Going Around? Count Me In!"

| Thu Feb. 1, 2007 8:21 AM PST

I love this. President Bush spoke about the Biden/Obama dust-up on Fox News and, well, I'll let the Chicago Tribune explain (via ThinkProgress):

Well-spoken black people hate it when white people call them "articulate." It's the modern-day version of what white people used to say back in the day when they thought that by saying "He's a credit to his race" they were saying something that a black person would welcome hearing.
Those dated words, like Biden's comments, were patronizing at the very least. And they also appeared to carry some pretty negative assumptions about the majority of the race.

Many Americans know this because (1) they aren't stupid, and (2) they've seen the famous stand up routine by Chris Rock where Rock says that anytime white people see an intelligent black person they always say, "He's so well-spoken! He speaks so well!" which is the most patronizing compliment perhaps of all time. Rock used the example of Colin Powell, but this occurs with athletes all the time. Anytime a black athlete gives a post-game interview without saying "um" fifteen times, moms across America say, "Well, he seemed like a nice young man. Very well-spoken."

Anyway, here's the point. Bush on Obama yesterday: "He's an attractive guy. He's articulate. I've been impressed with him when I've seen him in person."

You know, George, usually when a man of any color earns his way into multiple Ivy League schools and gets elected to the Senate, he's able to speak without sounding like a dummy. But I suppose you wouldn't know about any part of that.

Some Day, Hipsters Will Wear "Biden '08" T-Shirts as an Ironic Statement

| Thu Feb. 1, 2007 7:38 AM PST

Want a summary of this Joe Biden/Barack Obama situation? You'll find one below; it doubles as a timeline of the Biden campaign, start to finish.

First, Biden gave a crazy interview to the NY Observer in which he said several things about several people. He may have set the record for most scorn and most Fluffernutter references (one) in any interview ever. "I don't think John Edwards knows what the heck he is talking about," he said, beginning a long tirade about John Edwards' lack of sophistication on the war. "John Edwards wants you and all the Democrats to think, 'I want us out of there,' but when you come back and you say, 'O.K., John, what about the chaos that will ensue? Do we have any interest, John, left in the region?' Well, John will have to answer yes or no. If he says yes, what are they? What are those interests, John? How do you protect those interests, John, if you are completely withdrawn?... So all this stuff is like so much Fluffernutter out there." (There it is!)

Hillary Clinton's position on Iraq would be "nothing but disaster," Biden said, and even though "everyone in the world knows her... she can't break out of 30 percent for a choice for Democrats? Where do you want to be? Do you want to be in a place where 100 percent of the Democrats know you? They've looked at you for the last three years. And four out of 10 is the max you can get?"

But a very special kind of blabbering was reserved for Barack Obama and black presidential candidates. "You got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy... I mean, that's a storybook, man." And that's where Biden's comments leave the realm of Democratic rival-bashing and enter some pretty touchy territory.

Following the interview, Biden immediately started backtracking, telling reporters that even though he was "quoted accurately" they should "call Senator Obama. He knew what I meant by it." (He added, "Barack Obama is probably the most exciting candidate that the Democratic or Republican party has produced at least since I've been around.")

Reporters then found Obama, who was conciliatory. "I didn't take it personally and I don't think he intended to offend."

But later that day Obama released a statement that said, "I didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate... African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."

Reporters pressed Biden on what the word "clean" meant. Biden responded, "[Obama] understood exactly what I meant... And I have no doubt that Jesse Jackson and every other black leader — Al Sharpton and the rest — will know exactly what I meant."

So reporters went to Jesse Jackson, and whoops: "I am not sure what he means — ask him to explain what he meant." Jackson pointed out that when both Jackson and Biden ran for president (in 1988), Jackson lasted longer and got more votes. Al Sharpton, god bless him, pointed out that he bathes every day.

Eventually, audio of Biden's comments to the Observer became available and the inevitable arguments over whether the transcription should have included an extra comma or period, thus mitigating the insensitivity of Biden's comments, began. And that was how Joe Biden doomed himself to a lifetime of frustrated irrelevancy in the Senate.

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Thank You, Molly Ivins

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 11:31 PM PST

I was a cub reporter in Minneapolis -- the city where she'd cut her journalistic teeth a couple of decades earlier -- when I first met Molly Ivins. It was one of those damp blue Midwestern early summer days, and we sat outside the clubhouse where she'd just given a reading, on wrought-iron chairs that she made look like doll furniture. She was tall, and incredibly red-headed, and the biggest personality I'd ever met; also gentle, and funny, and patient as I fumbled with my microphone and asked starstruck questions about her life, her politics, and the town we'd both covered. We compared notes about how remarkably venal and corrupt a city run by supposedly squeaky-clean Democrats could be when given half a chance, which having come of age in the Reagan years I'd somehow been too naive to expect. Mostly, though, I didn't say anything: I just drank up what it was like to see a woman be sharply political and yet uproariously funny, unapologetic and uncompromising, completely confident with the good old boys and completely capable of beating them at their own game, and all this without even seeming to try very hard at all. There were not many women writing like that in the 80s, which is why I dreamed of being Molly Ivins when I grew up; there still aren't many like her today, and magazines like Mother Jones are run and written overwhelmingly by men. Why? I don't know exactly: Because most women are not trained, as many men have been, to presume that the world is dying to hear what we have to say? Because having an outsized personality and convictions to match makes you lonely, as a woman more so than a man? Because so many of us, anxious to get along, learn to lace our opinions, even inadvertently, with qualifiers and fudges, with "I think"s and "I could be wrong, but"s? Molly didn't fudge, but neither did she lecture: She just told you what she thought, and often it wasn't what you might have expected at a time when the left had grown timid and self-referential and obsessed with PC nuance. She went for the roundhouse punch when everyone else was busy wringing their hands, and she liked those -- Democrats, Republicans, men and women, good old boys and bad new girls -- willing to do the same. She made us laugh, and she made us smarter, and she cut through a lot of B.S. Now it's time to thank her for it: As she wrote, in her very last column just a couple of weeks ago: "Raise hell." And have fun.

Molly was a contributor to Mother Jones for many years, and in the coming days, you'll hear more from the people who worked with her; we'll also have an archive of her stories for this magazine. For a quick sketch of her life, see Josh Harkinson's story here.

Kissinger Testifies on Iraq Plan; Dems Ask "What Plan?"

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 3:30 PM PST

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger arrived on Capitol Hill this morning to offer his assessment on Iraq, which he's reportedly been offering to Dick Cheney and the president behind closed doors from some time now. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kissinger, predictably, expressed optimism for the president's troop surge strategy, saying the plan is "the best way to get the maneuvering room to the changes in deployment and strategy that will be required by the evolving situation." He also endorsed the idea of building permanent military bases in Iraq, noting that the U.S. is likely to a have a military presence there "for a long time to come."

Kissinger, echoing the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, also called for diplomatic talks with countries that neighbor Iraq, including Iran and Syria. He was joined in that sentiment by Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state during the Clinton administration, who also testified at the hearing. "I think we need a surge in diplomacy," she said.

But several democrats on the committee pointed out the obvious, that the president's publicly stated strategy does not include diplomatic regional talks. In fact, said Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, "The president has explicitly rejected international diplomacy [in the region]."

Another presumptive presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, noted that members of Congress are still scratching their heads about what the president's master plan actually is. "The problem in a nutshell is that none of us view the President's projection of forces as his strategy," Obama said. "As far as I can tell no one on this committee knows what this grand strategy is."

-- Caroline Dobuzinskis

Update On Corcpork

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 12:26 PM PST

California's Second Appellate District Division Three Court has ruled in favor of Corcpork, Inc., which means that Farm Sanctuary still cannot bring suit against the company. The merits of the suit were not heard. In the meantime, the Attorney General of California remains silent. Farm Sanctuary is appealing the case to the California Supreme Court.

Global Warming: Back to the Future

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 9:50 AM PST

Against a backdrop of more bad news about global warming coming from top scientists in Paris, the Sierra Club and American Solar Energy Society unveiled a plan in Washington this morning that would dramatically cut carbon emissions. What's so startling about their plan is that it closely tracks similar schemes put forth amidst the energy crisis of the 1970s. And those plans, in turn, were modeled on U.S. experiences with solar energy back in the 1920s. Can environmentalists in Congress override the oil industry to get any of this put into practice? It seems doubtful.

Yesterday Congressman Henry Waxman's oversight hearing on global warming depicted an administration determined to rework scientific findings to coincide with the interests of the oil industry. And while in the president's State of the Union speech he made a vague endorsement of tougher motor vehicle emissions standards, He made no mention of regulations to implement such standards. Bush, his father, and President Reagan were forthright in their opposition to government regulation across the board, including auto emissions. For years the oil and auto industries have successfully blocked tougher standards in one administration after another, and in one Congress after another (Republican and Democratic). Indeed, the two key figures in opposition to standards have been two Democrats -- John Dingell, the Michigan congressman whose wife long worked as a GM lobbyist in Washington, and who is widely viewed as the auto industry spokesman on Capitol Hill. The other powerful opponent of tougher standards has been former Senate majority leader Robert Byrd. He hails from West Virginia, the historic bastion of the coal industry, whose product creates an enormous air pollution problem.

The U.S. can reduce carbon emissions "by 1,100-1,200 million metric tons annually by 2030 with energy efficiency and renewable energy alone," according to the scheme put forward by the Sierra Club and ASES. Most of the reduction in carbon emissions
(82 percent) can be obtained by solar, wind, and increased energy efficiency. The remainder could come from biomass, bio fuels, and geothermal sources.

According to its sponsors, "this plan would achieve the U.S. share of reductions required to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels at 450-500 parts per million and limit additional average temperature rise to 1°C above 2000 levels."

The report goes on to say "renewable energy has the potential to provide approximately 40 percent of the U.S. electric need projected for 2030 by the Energy Information Administration (EIA)."