Political MoJo

Republican Sens. Snowe and Collins -- Hurting Their Own Chances in Future Elections?

I saw on TPM's Election Central that moderate Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are endorsing John McCain for...

| Mon Jan. 29, 2007 2:24 PM EST

I saw on TPM's Election Central that moderate Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are endorsing John McCain for president. It's a bit odd because Snowe and Collins, both from Maine, have come out against the surge that is so thoroughly associated with John McCain that is being called the "McCain Doctrine." But they have years of experience working together in the Senate back when John McCain was a moderate, so I can understand the move.

But it got me wondering. A ton of people are talking about John McCain's presidential hopes like they are dead in the water, because McCain is the main proponent of a failing and miserably unpopular war and because McCain's move rightward to embrace social conservatives/extremists has lost him support amongst independents and failed to convince some of the most important figures of the religious right. If McCain becomes persona non grata in a few months -- previously unthinkable, right? -- will House and Senate candidates avoid him on the '08 campaign trail the same way Republicans avoided Bush in 2006?

Let's say that is the case. The folks who are going to eat it the worst are the moderates, because a leftward shift in American voting (I won't say a leftward shift in America, because I think this is still a conservative country) will swallow up those closest to the water mark. Witness the loss of Lincoln Chafee in last year's midterms. That means Snowe and Collins are up next. Snowe was just reelected in 2006, which is why she can afford to align herself with a potential political landmine like McCain, but Collins has a reelection battle coming up in less than two years. Trouble brewing...

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Fox News Admits Obama/Muslim Story Was Toxic

The New York Times has a story that gets a comment from all the major players in the "Is Obama...

| Mon Jan. 29, 2007 1:43 PM EST

The New York Times has a story that gets a comment from all the major players in the "Is Obama Secretly a Muslim??" semi-scandal that we wrote about as long as ten days ago.

The story -- that Obama was educated at a madrassa for a few years as a child, and has hidden the fact that he was raised Muslim -- was originally published by Insight, a website run by the Moonies that is closely associated with the conservative Washington Times. It carried no byline and used anonymous sources. Not surprisingly, the whole thing was thoroughly debunked by CNN only days after it hit the web. The Times reports that even the Wash Times wouldn't touch the story with a ten-foot pole.

Its national editor sent an e-mail message to staff members under the heading "Insight Strikes Again" telling them to "make sure that no mention of any Insight story" appeared in the paper, and another e-mail message to its Congressional correspondent instructing him to clarify to Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama that the Washington Times had nothing to do with the article on the Web site.

That's funny, because you know who didn't have the journalistic chops to identify a real stinker of a story? Fox News, that's who. They ran with the story big time, with multiple members of their talking head stable hashing it out over and over. Now, they're sorry.

...in an interview, John Moody, a senior vice president at Fox News, said its commentators had erred by citing the Clinton-Obama report. "The hosts violated one of our general rules, which is know what you are talking about," Mr. Moody said.

I suppose there is a joke to be made about how if the standard at Fox actually was "know what you are talking about," they'd put nothing on the air at all, but that'd be.... well, I guess I've already gone and said it, haven't I?

Anyway, Insight's editor, Jeffrey Kuhner, won't back down. "Our report on this opposition research activity is completely accurate," he told the Times. In fact, he thinks CNN got duped when it sent a reporter to Indonesia to talk with officials at the school Obama attended. Fighting words: "To simply take the word of a deputy headmaster about what was the religious curriculum of a school 35 years ago does not satisfy our standards for aggressive investigative reporting."

Hmmm. I guess that makes this little gem even funnier.

Mr. Kuhner, in an editor's note on Insight, said the Web site could not afford to "send correspondents to places like Jakarta to check out every fact in a story."

Florida, New Mexico, Iowa Hop on the Stem Cell Research Funding Bandwagon

The House may have passed a bill calling for an end to the federal ban on new embryonic stem cell...

| Mon Jan. 29, 2007 1:17 PM EST

The House may have passed a bill calling for an end to the federal ban on new embryonic stem cell research lines, but we're still a long way from dollars coming down from the feds (assuming the bill survives a veto). Thus more and more states are continuing to take action, proposing millions to get the research moving, creating what is essentially de facto foundations for research that should be the domain of the National Institutes of Health. Currently, New Jersey, California, Maryland and Connecticut, Maryland and Illinois all mandate state spending to support ESCR (though to date only two, New Jersey and Illinois, have state-funded research in the works). We can now add three more states tp the list of those that could proactively fund this voter-supported research:

Iowa - On Thursday Gov. Chet Culver (D) called on the state Legislature to lift the state's five-year-old ban on a type of embryonic stem cell research called somatic nuclear transfer and proposed the construction of a $12.5 million Center for Regenerative Medicine.

Florida- On Tuesday state rep. Franklin Sands (D) filed a bill that would require the state to provide at least $20 million annually over the next 10 years for research using human embryonic stem cells, amniotic fluid-derived stem cells and adult stem cells.

New Mexico- Gov. (and presidential hopeful) Bill Richardson (D) submitted a state budget to his legislature earlier this month that proposes providing $10 million over three years on facilities, equipment, training and staffing for an adult and embryonic stem cell research center at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.

Good. But considering how long it has taken to get these programs off the ground -- California's voter-approved $3 billion initiative passed in 2004 is still wrapped up in court -- it's a little like moving sand with a thimble while the shovel sits in Executive lockdown.

Stuck on the Terrorist Watchlist

If you're falsely accused of being a terrorist, what happens to you once you're freed? It depends on what country...

Mon Jan. 29, 2007 12:59 PM EST

If you're falsely accused of being a terrorist, what happens to you once you're freed? It depends on what country you're dealing with. Apparently, Canada will apologize and give you millions of dollars, but the U.S. will deny any wrongdoing and threaten to arrest you if you set foot in the country.

On Friday, Canada gave Maher Arar an $8.9 million settlement, legal fees, and an official apology for its role in his wrongful detention and torture. Canada had previously provided information which led to the United States' 2002 arrest of Maher, a Syrian-born Canadian. Arar was renditioned to Syria, where he was tortured, forced into false confessions, and eventually released. Last year, Canada's public inquiry cleared Arar of wrongdoing. The U.S., however, has kept Arar on its no-fly list and terrorist watchlist.

The squabble shows that "Canada and the U.S. are on fundamentally different paths when it comes to matters of terrorism and human rights," according to the Toronto Star. But it's not just Canada -- leaders from other U.S. ally states are questioning their own involvement in the United States' extraordinary rendition program.

Domestically, Dems are finally on the attack, asking why the Bush administration won't admit to mistakes like Arar's arrest -- and why we're rendering suspects to countries like Syria at all. Here's Sen. Patrick Leahy to Alberto Gonzales at last week's judiciary committee hearing (yup, the same one where Gonzales argued the Constitution didn't guarantee the right of habeas corpus):

LEAHY: Why was he sent to Syria instead of Canada?...We knew damn well, if he went to Canada, he wouldn't be tortured. He'd be held. He'd be investigated. We also knew damn well, if he went to Syria, he'd be tortured. And it's beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured.

Gonzales dodged the question. So what's the answer to this and other questions about Arar's extraordinary rendition? It looks like Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper was correct when he said "we simply have a U.S. government that won't admit it's wrong."

LISTEN: Click here to listen to Gonzales and Leahy's exchange.

Illegal Imprisonment Not Just For "Suspected Terrorists"--New Orleans Man Held For 7 Months After Katrina

In the autumn of 2005, after flawed levees broke and the streets of New Orleans were flooded beyond recognition, Louisiana...

| Mon Jan. 29, 2007 11:49 AM EST

In the autumn of 2005, after flawed levees broke and the streets of New Orleans were flooded beyond recognition, Louisiana prison officials, left without courthouses, police stations and jails, constructed cages in the back lot of the Greyhound station in order to house criminals. Topped with razor wire and guarded by imported Angola State Prison guards, the makeshift prison quickly became known as New Angola South and Camp Greyhound.

There was no shortage of criminals placed into this new prison: Looting was out of control, and police officers and members of the National Guard covered the city, picking up looters and other criminals whenever they could. One of the men they picked up was James Allen Terry Jr., whom police found on his porch on September 11, 2005. The police also found a broken BB gun and a marijuana cigarette. Terry was declared a looter and taken to Camp Greyhound, where he spent two nights at Camp Greyhound.

There, he slept on oil-soaked concrete. His personal effects were taken from him and never returned. A member of the Iowa National Guard posed with him for a photo, prompting his attorneys to say he was considered a "trophy." After two days, Terry--who had no criminal record--was transferred to a state prison, where he spent seven months without being charged, with an attorney, and without a court date. His name did not--and does not--appear on any records at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Terry's behalf. The suit charges that the mayor, the city of New Orleans, the police, the sheriff, and the state prison system violated Terry's civil rights by holding him for seven months without charging him with a crime, while denying him basic legal rights.

While Terry was incarcerated at the over-crowded state prison at St. Gabriel, he slept on a mat on the concrete floor of the prison's carpentry shop. There was a chronic infestation of insects at the prison, and sixty-five men had to share one toilet. Once or twice a week, Terry was allowed to go to the prison yard for one or two hours. While he was imprisoned, he was also denied saline for his disposable contact lenses, so he had blurry vision during his seven-month stay. Terry was told by an unidentified person at the prison that he had been booked with looting (he was picked up at his own apartment), possession of a firearm (a BB gun that did not belong to him) and possession of a controlled substance.

No one knows how many other James Allen Terry Jr.s there were at Camp Greyhound and St. Gabriel, but it is possible that others will step forward now that the ACLU has filed its suit.

Washington Marchers Demand Congress Stop the War

The tens of thousands of antiwar protestors gathered on the National Mall today had their gazes fixed squarely on...

| Sat Jan. 27, 2007 5:35 PM EST

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The tens of thousands of antiwar protestors gathered on the National Mall today had their gazes fixed squarely on the U.S. Capitol, in more ways than one. The theme of the day seemed to be that the new Democratic-controlled Congress could—and perhaps would—stop the war, an idea rooted more in sincere wishful thinking than in reality.

Amid the peaceful demonstration, CNN reported, "about 300 protesters tried to rush the Capitol, running up the grassy lawn to the front of the building." Their chant was "Our Congress," while "several dozen shouting 'We want a tour' broke away and tried to get into a side door." In a move that may well turn out to be highly symbolic, police, after scuffling with the protestors, set up a series of barricades on the Capitol steps.

John Conyers, the Detroit Democrat who heads the House Judiciary Committee, spoke to the demonstrators' hopes, promising to defund the war if Bush doesn't stop it. "George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him the Iraq war is failing," he said, but "He can't fire you." And, in a reference to Congress, "He can't fire us... The founders of our country gave our Congress the power of the purse because they envisioned a scenario exactly like we find ourselves in today. Not only is it in our power, it is our obligation to stop Bush."

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While it may be encouraging to see figures like Conyers in positions of power in Congress, the general attitude of the Democrats is less promising. Antiwar public opinion might stiffen the Dems, but cutting off funds is a doubtful prospect. Any such cutoff of funds must begin in the House Appropriations Committee, where John Murtha's subcommittee on military spending holds sway. Murtha has said he is all for defunding the war, but his principal patron, Nancy Pelosi, has never suggested cutting off money for the troops. The Blue Dog Dems, perhaps the most powerful swing bloc in the House, are even less likely to do so.

In fact, a move in Congress to defund Iraq is just what the Republican Right wants. Since Congress has no power to actually pull out troops, they are left with the prospect of cutting off funding for troops still locked in combat. Pro-war Republicans lie in ambush waiting for that fatal political move, which will send their ranks storming out of the trenches screaming that the Dems want to "cut and run," leaving our troops twisting in the wind.

The presence at the antiwar rally of Jane Fonda, who emerged as the major personage of the day, immediately linked the Iraq conflict to Vietnam, and she made that plain in her speech, citing: "Blindness to realities on the ground, hubris... thoughtlessness in our approach to rebuilding a country we've destroyed." The Vietnam parallel in fact presents a history lesson for those depending on Congress to get us out of Iraq: One Democratic Congress after another backed the Vietnam War. The Democratic president, LBJ, went down because he supported the war. Humphrey backed the war. And in the end, it wasn't Congress, but Richard Nixon, who finally, reluctantly, brought the troops home.

--Photos by Caroline Dobuzinskis

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K-Fed an Insult to Fast Food

K-Fed just can't get a break. Fresh off of his split from Britney, the stay-at-home-rapper swung a sweet deal with...

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 7:15 PM EST

K-Fed just can't get a break. Fresh off of his split from Britney, the stay-at-home-rapper swung a sweet deal with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. (yes, at least someone is "On Your Side," Kev) to star in a Super Bowl commercial where he essentially daydreams of being a star and then wakes up to find himself merely a burger flipper.

Nothing groundbreaking here people. Fast food work is not exactly glory-filled, and pop culture calls attention to that fact quite often. Still, this week the National Restaurant Association asked the insurance company to pull the ad saying that it: "give[s] the impression that working in a restaurant is a demeaning and unpleasant," and stands as a "direct insult to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry."

Now wait, does an ad expressing disappointment at being a minimum wage, part-time worker with no benefits rather than a millionaire rap mogul really strike you as demeaning? (Even if that worker is Kevin Federline.)

Did they also object to the ending of American Beauty where another Kevin (Spacey) got a job flipping burgers so he wouldn't have to think about anything? Maybe the NRA (could have switched around their name for a more kindly acronym?) should come to the rescue of their "insulted" workers in more substantive ways: let them unionize, increase their wages, and improve working conditions. For starters, just leave Kevin alone.

NY Times Pokes Fun at an Iraqi Parliament in Shambles

You know there's trouble when this is the lede in the New York Times: Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's presentation...

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 7:07 PM EST

You know there's trouble when this is the lede in the New York Times:

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's presentation of a new Baghdad security plan to the Iraqi Parliament on Thursday broke down in bitter sectarian recriminations, with Mr. Maliki threatening a Sunni Arab lawmaker with arrest and, in response, the Sunni speaker of Parliament threatening to quit.

Nice. What else can you tell us, gray lady?

The prime minister's claim [that Iraqi law enforcement will hit Shiites as hard as Sunnis] was challenged by Abdul Nasir al-Janabi, who represents a powerful Sunni Arab bloc. "We can not trust the office of the prime minister," he said over jeers from the Shiite politicians before his microphone was cut off.

And how did our esteemed Prime Minister respond? With the equanimity of someone in his illustrious and weighty position, I presume? With the knowledge that his behavior in this time of national strife could determine the outcome of a new republic?

Mr. Maliki could barely contain his rage, waving his finger in the air and essentially accusing Mr. Nasir of being a criminal.
"I will show you," Mr. Maliki said. "I will turn over the documents on you" showing all your crimes, "then you can talk about trust," Mr. Maliki said.

Oh my. But it did eventually settle down? Must have, right? After all, this session of parliament was televised for the Iraqi citizenry to see.

As the prime minister continued, Shiites encouraged [the Prime Minister] on and Sunni Arabs tried to shout him down.
Mr. Mashhadani [speaker of the Parliament] yelled for everyone to "shut up."

Wow. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison this group is not. Tell me, New York Times, was there anything super-ironic that might make all of this even more absurd?

The lawmakers had their shouting match while sitting beneath a banner with a phrase from the Koran extolling civil debate as the key to good decisions.

Well, good. Now America's greatest newspaper has subtly mocked the country we invaded and then provided with a broken infrastructure and sham government. Somehow, I feel as though everyone involved in this depressing circus has let each other down.

Lower Breast Cancer Rates May Not Mean Less Cancer

According to a report released today by the CDC, fully 1.1 million fewer women aged 40 and over had mammograms...

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 6:15 PM EST

According to a report released today by the CDC, fully 1.1 million fewer women aged 40 and over had mammograms last year than in 2000. This decline might explain, in part, the recent drop in breast cancer rates in the U.S., meaning rates might not actually be going down. Fewer diagnoses does not mean fewer cases, just fewer known cases. So, while we have seen detection rates decrease, deaths from breast cancer could increase, the report says.

The reason for the drop is unclear but the CDC researchers point to a couple of disturbing trends that move beyond the taking-it-for-granted explanation:

"One study has indicated that breast-imaging facilities face challenges such as shortages of key personnel, malpractice concerns and financial constraints."

"Because the number of U.S. women aged more than 40 years increased by more than 24 million during 1990 to 2000, the number of available facilities and trained breast specialists might not be sufficient to meet the needs of the population, whose overall median age continues to increase."

This feels wrong. Wrong, not in the incorrect sense, but wrong in the how can there not-be-enough-facilities-for-such-basic-needs sense. And let's get some more "breast specialists" trained, this is a must people.

The report did not look at mammography rates by age, geographic region or socioeconomic status though the researchers say they do plan on examining whether the decrease in mammography rates is concentrated among certain groups, such as the poor and uninsured.

Each year, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer and about 40,000 die from the disease. According to the report, screening might reduce breast cancer mortality by 20% to 35% among women ages 50 to 69 and by 20% among women ages 40 to 49.

Q: What Do Dolphin-Mounted Weapons and NSA Wiretapping Have in Common?

A: The government has claimed that they are "state secrets" and therefore cannot be discussed in court. The state secrets...

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 6:06 PM EST

A: The government has claimed that they are "state secrets" and therefore cannot be discussed in court. The state secrets privilege, as Mother Jones reported in August, is basically a get-out-of-court-free card.

Bad news for Bush, the government's attempt to invoke the privilege was denied in several suits brought against it as a result of warrantless wiretapping by the NSA. But, the New York Times reports today, the government is still using Kafkaesque tactics to make the suit difficult for the plaintiffs. The Justice Department is filing its legal briefs in an office in its own building. It promises the employees guarding the briefs and the litigators in the case are separate and that the documents have not been altered—but the funny thing about lying is that it makes everything you say in the future suspect. Government lawyers have also demanded that a document accidentally provided to an Oregon Muslim charity, documenting warrantless surveillance of the group, be returned to the FBI even though the document is the primary evidence the charity is using to claim damages.

Kinda makes your head spin, doesn't it?