Because there are few substantive differences between the Democratic presidential candidates on the issues, primary voters are left with less-than-ideal metrics like "likeability" and "who Oprah favors."

I'd like to propose a new and better issue with which to make a distinction: Big Money. That is, Hillary Clinton plays the game of money in politics -- and plays it well -- while Obama opts out, arguing that a political system awash in cash can't possibly serve everyday American citizens. The impetus for this argument comes from an article from today's Hill that reveals "Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has secured more earmarks in the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill than any other Democrat except for panel Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.)." The article goes on to explain the bill has $5.4 billion in earmarks, 26 of which were requested by Clinton, to the tune of $148.4 million in federal spending. (To be fair, most of the earmarks requested by Clinton were also requested by the senior senator from New York, Chuck Schumer.) According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, Clinton secured 360 earmarks in the four years between 2002 and 2006, worth a combined $2.2 billion.

Contrast all that with Barack Obama, who has only one earmark request in the defense bill. It's a request made by several senators on behalf of a Department of Education program for children with severe disabilities.

This shouldn't be mind-blowing stuff. Consider that after Clinton's bid for comprehensive health care reform failed in the nineties, she went on to become the Senate's second-largest recipient of healthcare industry contributions. Or that her advisers "represent some of the weightiest interests in corporate America." Or that she happily takes campaign contributions from lobbyists and special interests, while Obama has pledged to take no money from such folks, even going so far as to return $50,000 in contributions after he discovered the givers were lobbyists.

Clinton is a divisive figure who voted for the Iraq War, occasionally takes ideologically troubling positions, and whose presidency would perpetuate the dynastic nature of America's presidential politics. I'm not saying I can't support her, but I do find it trying. And her willingness to eat from the money trough while other Democrats try to clean up Washington makes it even more difficult.

You may have noted late last week that Gen. Pete Pace got bumped as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the choice to name Michael G. Mullen, chief of naval operations, to the post was a product of how difficult and "divisive" Pace's reconfirmation would have been -- after all, Pace was intimately involved in overseeing the war in Iraq for a number of years and the Democrats in Congress would have had the knives out. Or so the argument goes.

Will Bunch over at Attytood doesn't buy it. He thinks Pace's consistent opposition to military action against Iran was the main problem, and that Cheney and his crew were the leading forces in Pace's ouster. Check out Bunch's thoughts here. Check out Mother Jones' coverage of the possibility of war with Iran here, here, and here.

Duncan Hunter Keeps Bogus Plane Alive Through Earmarks

Presidential candidate and Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter has kept a useless defense project alive for years even though it has been repeatedly rejected by Pentagon officials because the project's maker is a regular contributor to his campaigns, reports ABC News.

An experimental plane that is designed to take off straight up and then fly 700 mph has never gotten more than a few feet off the ground and has crashed four times in four years. Useless, you say? Completely. And the Pentagon agrees. Military analysts have consistently rejected the aircraft as technically flawed since 1986.

So why does the plane continue to be funded? Because San Diego-area congressmen, who have tons of defense interests and contractors to represent, consistently create earmarks to keep it alive. The biggest offenders are presidential candidate Duncan Hunter, former chairman and now ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and former congressman Christopher Cox, who is now chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission.

Cox received $18,000 in contributions from the plane's creator, DuPont Aerospace. Hunter has received at least $36,000 from DuPont for his congressional campaigns and current presidential campaign.

There will be a hearing on the plane tomorrow -- you have to love Democratic leadership in Congress; oversight exists! -- and Hunter is expected to testify. Representatives from DuPont will be right there with him, which is fitting because together they've bilked American tax payers for millions.

(Hat tip, POGO blog.)

If you watched the last GOP Democratic debate, you know Bill Richardson has trouble answering questions that are posed to him. Instead, he tends to recite his resume. Well, his campaign is well-aware of this little problem (how could they not be) and is looking to capitalize on it. Check out Richardson's latest campaign advertisement.

Spotted on Politico.

Update: As the person who manages our News and Politics page, I am aware that Bill Richardson is a Democratic candidate. Apologies for this gaffe.

First the exceedingly troubled Office of Special Counsel nailed General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan for violating the Hatch Act. Then Doan responded that if she was guilty Karl Rove and his crew of goons were guilty too. But even though the OSC is supposedly investigating Rove for potential violations of the Hatch Act, it is unsympathetic to Doan's arguments. In its official recommendation on how to punish Doan, it pulled absolutely no punches yesterday, with OSC chief Scott Bloch writing that Doan's actions were "the most pernicious of political activity" and that he "recommend[s] that Administrator Doan be disciplined to the fullest extent for her serious violation of the Hatch Act and insensitivity to cooperating fully and honestly in the course of our investigation."

Yikes. All that's left now is the denouement: Doan's sentencing by President Bush. Bush is a notoriously loyal man -- is Doan valuable enough for Bush to go out on limb to protect her? Or will he gladly fire a relatively low-level civil servant in the hope that the action takes some of the heat off Alberto Gonzales and all the Bush Adminstration's other scandals?

Department of Weird Weapons: The Gay Bomb

Edward Hammond, of the University of California's Sunshine Project, obtained through a FOIA request Pentagon documents that indicated the military had, in 1994, investigated building a "gay bomb." The bomb would release a strong aphrodisiac that would cause the enemy army to become "irresistibly attracted to one another." You gotta give the military points for consistency: They clearly believe, World War II notwithstanding, that homosexuals in the ranks make the military ineffective. The proposal also indicates that conservatives are willing to act on their belief, notwithstanding the dismal success rates of the ex-gay movement, that sexual orientation is not at all innate. But the $7.5-million proposal's creepiness rating is extremely high. Not to mention the implication that being gay or lesbian is the biggest insult an army can bestow on its enemy—that it essentially equals destroying them—is deeply offensive to gays and lesbians, particularly those who've served with honor and distinction.

No Dice on "No Confidence" Vote

It's fish-or-cut-bait time in the Senate. Democrats failed to obtain the 60 votes they needed to conduct a "no confidence" vote on AG Alberto Gonzales. (Best AG AG insult of the day: "This is a little man in a very big job, and he has embarrassed his country and his president in the way he has carried it out," wrote Martin Frost.) Democrats have approved but not issued subpoenas for the testimony of evil mastermind Karl Rove and, well, Harriet Miers. The Dems also have the legal right to impeach Gonzales.

Joining Democrats in calling for the "no confidence" vote were Arlen Specter (Pa.), John Sununu (N.H.), Gordon Smith (Ore.) Chuck Hagel (Ne.), and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine. Seven more votes were needed.

And, now all but officially a member of the Republican Party, one-time Democratic VP contender Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut voted "no."

Finally, finally, Congress is set to act to demand that American automakers improve the fuel efficiency of their cars and trucks. The Senate is expected to vote in the next two weeks on a bill demanding an average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Left to their own devices since 1985, the automakers have been in reverse: 1987 model-year vehicles averaged 26.2 miles per gallon; last year's fleet averaged 25.4 mpg. Clearly, know-how is not the problem.

But the automakers will say any old thing to avoid changing, even when their declining market share suggests that, from a purely financial perspective, change is necessary. GM's chief begged lawmakers to be "responsible" so as not to "disadvantage the domestic industry." Yet it may well be the lack of fuel efficiency that has put Detroit at a disadvantage in recent years relative to Japanese automakers Honda and Toyota.

GM also lashed out against CAFE, charging that the law "has not accomplished what it set out to do," because American fuel consumption has continued to increase. Here again, lies, bloody lies. The auto industry has lobbied continuously and aggressively against strengthening fuel standards since they were first introduced. And, they've backslid from the efficient cars they made in the 70s and 80s.

Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.) reportedly gave the Big Three the schooling they've long needed. "We protected you from CAFE and you lost market share, jobs and money anyway." (GM, Ford and Chrysler lost a combined $16 billion last year and put thousands of Americans out of their jobs.) "You've lost," Dorgan said. "Your position is yesterday forever."

Good riddance.

Indefinite Domestic Detention Suffers Major Blow

Just a week after the only two detainees at Guantanamo Bay charged with crimes had the charges against them thrown out by military courts, the only captive in the war on terror held within U.S. borders was freed by a federal appeals court. He was freed only momentarily, but I'll get to that in a second. The more important point is that the judiciary (even the military judiciary) is in revolt, protecting our civil liberties from the Bush Administration's out-of-control war on terror tactics.

The ruling today pertains to Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari national who was studying computer science in Peoria, Illinois, until his December 2001 arrest for allegedly being an al Qaeda agent. The federal government chose not to put al-Marri through the court system reserved for all other incarcerated people, instead labeling him an enemy combatant and keeping him at a naval brig for South Carolina for four years. Much of that time was spent without charges or any sense of when his detention would end.

The court did not find Al-Marri innocent. Instead, it found that civilians arrested in this country -- not abroad -- and held domestically -- not at Guantanamo -- cannot be held indefinitely and eventually tried in a military tribunal system that parallels the regular court system but offers fewer rights and operates in secrecy. On a macro scale, the ruling says you can't round people up in the United States, call them terrorism suspects, and then hold them in shady places while making shady claims about trying them in shady courts. It's a victory for anyone who didn't want to see a Children of Men scenario play out within our borders.

But because the court didn't find al-Marri innocent, it is ordering him from the military custody he was previously in into a different state of the government's choosing. He can be charged in the civilian court system, he can be deported, he can be held as a material witness, or he can be released. But he can't be held in military detention any longer. Wrote the court:

"To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians...even if the President calls them 'enemy combatants,' would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution... We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic."

Powell Calls for Guantanamo to be Closed

powell_mtp.jpgAh, Meet the Press: What is it about little Timmy Russert that makes politicians drop their juiciest little morsels on his show? This Sunday it was former Secretary of State Colin Powell's turn to make waves on the show. The big news is that Powell called for Guantanamo to be shut down. The continued detention—sans lawyers and, in most cases, charges—of 365 men, Powell said, has "shaken the belief that the world had in America's justice system." Powell expressed faith in that system, arguing that the country "has 2 million people in jail, all of whom had lawyers and access to writs of habeas corpus…. We can handle bad people in our system."

Powell, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the Clinton administration helped draft the disastrous "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, also titillated news whores and homosexuals everywhere when he implied that the policy may need to be revisited. It was "an appropriate response to the situation back in 1993. And the country certainly has changed," he said. However, unlike his successor as chair of the Joint Chiefs, John Shalikashvili, Powell stopped short of denouncing "Don't ask, don't tell." (More recently, chairman Peter Pace called homosexuality immoral. And, yes, it is hard to keep a chairman of the Joint Chiefs for long in these troubled times.)

Powell's final move to separate himself from the Bush administration he once served came as he announced that he hasn't decided whether to support a Republican or a Democrat in 2008. That's great, but I can't help but wonder why Powell, who's evidently a competent and decent guy, didn't know better than to serve under Bush and Cheney in the first place.