Political MoJo

McCain Officially Forms Exploratory Committee for '08 Run

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 10:56 PM EST

Word leaked a few days ago that John McCain would soon launch an exploratory committee for his 2008 presidential run. Today, he did it. The BBC reports he launched a website as well; readers who believe McCain's reputation as a political maverick to be undeserved may find this website just as interesting.

In other McCain news, his plan to send more troops to Iraq did not fare well when proposed to CentCom commander Gen. John Abizaid. The general said he "met with every divisional commander, Gen. Casey, the core commander, Gen. Dempsey" and asked them if bringing "in more American troops now, [would] add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq and they all said 'no.'"

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Report Links Homelessness To Federal Spending Priorities

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 9:24 PM EST

According to a report released by the Western Regional Advocacy Project, "massive homelessness" has been created in the U.S. over the last twenty-five years because of cutbacks in federal affordable-housing programs. In the last decade, HUD has spent no money at all directly on construction of new public housing. Instead, the government has focused on the Hope VI grant program, which transforms distressed public housing into mixed-income communities.

Also during the last decade, HUD has demolished, sold or re-developed 100,000 housing units. As a result, the report says, there are fewer subsidized dwellings available. Over 4 million families live in HUD-subsidized housing, and between 2 and 3.5 million are homeless in any given year.

This study is of particular interest in New Orleans, whose public housing has been steadily decreasing for years, and because of the damage done by Hurricane Katrina. There has also been a recent controversy in Jefferson Parish, which is just outside New Orleans, involving Parish Councilman Chris Roberts, who maintains that "With the number of jobs out there, nobody should be on public housing unless you're ignorant or lazy."

Roberts and the Jefferson Parish Council have made it clear that they do not want displaced public housing residents from New Orleans moving to Jefferson Parish. The rationale is that low-income housing causes crime. As da po' blog points out, people who relied on public housing in the city before Katrina cannot afford to come back, a lot of working poor rely on public housing, and low-income housing does not cause crime. "You can't eliminate crime by eliminating low-income housing. Try fair education and workers' rights to achieve that end." da po' blog also points out that most of the people not wanted by Jefferson Parish just happen to be African American.

South Africa: Gay is OK

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 9:01 PM EST

Yesterday South Africa became the fifth country to permit gay marriage, joining the liberal likes of Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada and socialist-ruled Spain. The South African Parliament amended the country's marriage laws yesterday in response to a December 2005 Supreme Court ruling that found that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated of the country's liberal constitution.

Conservatives in South Africa didn't like the court ruling any more than conservatives in this country liked Massachusetts' trail-blazing decision. The conservative African Christian Democratic Party interpreted the December ruling to require only that the legislature debate the issue. Errol Naidoo, a spokesman for His People Christian Church, played the Bush of the situation, calling the ruling a weapon of mass destruction against heterosexual marriage. He accused the high court of "surrender[ing] the future of this nation to the unreasonable demands of a sexually confused minority."

But unlike African-American groups in this country, who prickle at the suggestion that discrimination against gays and lesbians is comparable to racial discrimination, the African National Congress embraced the issue. The majority party pushed hard to allow marriage, rather than just domestic partnership despite the resistance of some of its members. Vytjie Mentor, the ANC's parliamentary caucus chairman, said ''How do you give someone permission to discriminate in the name of the ANC?'' Kenneth Meshoe, a member of the ACDP, saw it differently. He called Tuesday the "saddest day in our 12 years of democracy" and warned that South Africa "was provoking God's anger."

Some prominent members of the ANC until recently denied the existence of the AIDS epidemic ravaging the continent, essentially endorsing condomless sex and marital infidelity. But in the ANC's defense, the new law stands in stark contrast to laws in other African nations that punish consensual homosexual sex more harshly than they do rape. It's also far more progressive than U.S. laws: Twenty-two states now prohibit gay marriage with both a statute and a constitutional amendment.

Jack Murtha: Ethics Bill "Total Crap"

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 5:57 PM EST

Yesterday we, among other news outlets, pointed out that Jack Murtha, Nancy Pelosi's pick for Majority Leader, has a few skeletons in his closet when it comes to his ties to lobbying outfits, including one that once employed his brother, Kit. All told, some have suggested, Murtha may not be the best pick for a party looking to place an emphasis on ethics reform and distance itself from the cavalcade of scandals that led, in part, to the GOP's fall from grace. Not helping Murtha's case in the slightest is the fact that, according to Roll Call, he "told a group of Democratic moderates on Tuesday that an ethics and lobbying reform bill being pushed by party leaders was 'total crap.'" Three sources told the paper that Murtha said: "Even though I think it's total crap, I'll vote for it and pass it because that's what Nancy wants." (Perhaps Pelosi is taking a page from the "Hammer," since this is the second time in as many days that I've heard Dems remark that they'll do as she commands. Here's what Rep. Jim Moran, the Virginia Democrat, told The Hill yesterday. "We are entering an era where when the Speaker instructs you what to do, you do it.")

Murtha's alleged ethical lapses don't end with securing earmarks for the clients of favored lobbying firms that he has personal and professional ties to -- unfortunately, that is considered a fairly run-of-the-mill offense in the District these days -- but extend to more serious forms of malfeasance. Back in the late '70s and early '80s, the FBI ran an undercover sting operation, which came to be known as ABSCAM, targeting congressional corruption. TPMmuckraker sums it up nicely:

Around 1980, agents and an informant met with several lawmakers posing as representatives of a fictional "sheik Abdul" to offer them $50,000 in cash for legislative favors. Murtha was one of the lawmakers who met with them.

Ultimately, six lawmakers went down on corruption charges stemming from the operation, nearly all of them Democrats. Murtha wasn't one of them -- but not, as Murtha implies, because his innocence was ever demonstrated.

Though a 13-second video of Murtha's meeting has circulated in the past, The American Spectator, the conservative magazine, recently obtained the tape in its entirety, all 53 minutes and 40 second of it. TPMmuckraker pulls out some of the money quotes:

"I'm gonna be blunt," an FBI man says to Murtha after laying out what favors he was looking to buy. "Are you telling me now. . . you don't want any money on this thing?"

"There's some places I'd like you to invest some money, in the banks, in my district," Murtha responds. "I'd say some substantial deposits." He explains later how he does so many favors for people that, if they weren't all for individuals in his district, "people would say, that son of a bitch. . . is on the take."

"Once they say that, what happens?" Murtha asks the FBI men rhetorically, ignorant of the fact that he was explaining his own M.O. to agents trying to bust him for corruption. "Then they start going around looking for the goddamn money. So I want to avoid that by having some tie to the district. That's all. That's the secret to the whole thing."

At another point on the tape Murtha says:

Lemme tell you something. You came to the right guys in order to get it done. And I think the way I'd handle it, you know, Murphy, and the other guy, they got, all three [Murtha, John Murphy, and Frank Thompson] of us got things we can each do. Each of us got different responsibility in a different area. But I want to do business with you. I mean I want to get the goddamn jobs in the area, you know, a few bank deposits in my area. Nothing I'd like better. Later on, after we've dealt a while, we might change our mind -- we might want to do more business. But right now, I think I can do more this way than any other way. I think I can do more by being completely independent, if you understand what I mean. And listen, it's hard for me, shit it's hard for me to say, just the hell with it. But I think this is the way I can do the best, the most good.

With the heat on, Murtha's claiming that the newly resurrected questions about his ethics record are "swift boat-style" attacks, meaning that they are specious and politically motivated. Maybe he should first explain why was caught on tape saying things like this – and to people whose interests he was not elected to represent: "I haven't been here a long time but I know the right people and I know the system and I went to the ballgame with the president -- in other words there were three of us -- me, Tip [O'Neill, speaker of the House], and that's it -- so I've got as much influence, and I know as much about the goddamn workings as any -- you're not going to have any trouble."

U.S. to Cuba: Surrender to Rich, Creamy Decadence!

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 2:08 PM EST
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What will bring down communist Cuba once and for all? Will it be the post-Castro power vaccum, the trade embargo, or the Cuban people's insatiable yearning for a good box of chocolate? The Miami Herald reports today that a new report from the Government Accountability Office has found some questionable spending by anti-Castro groups getting money from the U.S. government:

One recipient, the GAO says, used USAID funds to purchase a chain saw, Nintendo Game Boys and Sony PlayStations, a mountain bike, leather coats, cashmere sweaters, crabmeat and Godiva chocolates.

Juan Carlos Acosta, executive director of Miami-based Acción Democrática Cubana, told The Miami Herald in an interview Tuesday that except for the chain saw, he bought the items and sent them to people in Cuba.

He said he bought the chain saw to cut a branch that had fallen near the door of his office after a hurricane. He bought ''five or six'' cans of crabmeat and some boxes of chocolate to send to Cuba.

''These people are going hungry,'' he said. "They never get any chocolate there.''

Asked why he'd sent cashmere sweaters to Cuba, Acosta replied, "They [auditors] think it's not cold there." Plus, "At $30, it's a bargain because cashmere is expensive."

Welcome Back, Lotter: Trent Lott Elected to GOP's No. 2 Spot in Senate

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 1:22 PM EST

The party that Ken Mehlman repeatedly insists is reaching out to black people, the party that ran several black candidates at the national level in 2006, the party that made a (albeit half-hearted) bid to install failed senatorial candidate Michael Steele as head of the RNC -- that party just elected a man to the No. 2 position in the Senate who said his state proudly voted for a segregationist presidential candidate and that this candidate would have saved America from "all these problems over the years."

So the GOP is officially the big tent party now. It has room for black people (especially when they give the party a veneer of inclusion and equality), but doesn't feel the need to actually get rid of the people who hate black people, or, for that matter, keep them from the party's most powerful positions. Sounds like coalition-building to me.

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Fox News: Our Brand is Still Crisis

| Wed Nov. 15, 2006 12:31 PM EST

The Huffington Post has obtained one of those infamous internal Fox News memos. Here's FNC's veep for news rallying the troops after the election:

The elections and Rumsfeld's resignation were a major event, but not the end of the world. The war on terror goes on without interruption.... [L]et's be on the lookout for any statements from the Iraqi insurgents, who must be thrilled at the prospect of a Dem-controlled congress.... The question of the day, and indeed for the rest of bush's [sic] term, is: What's the Dem plan for Iraq?... Just because Dems won, the war on terror isnt' [sic] over.

Fox's website may have gone blue, but it looks like the Kool-Aid over there is still bright red.

No Middle East Experts In Iraq Study Group

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 11:43 PM EST

Crooks and Liars points out the obvious--that not one member of the Iraq Study Group is a Middle East expert. James Baker (remember Florida 2000?), Lawrence Eagleburger, Alan Simpson, Charles Robb, William Perry, and Sandra Day O'Connor have a lot of expertise among them, but none of it has anything to do with the Middle East.

If this sounds familiar, it should. The people planning the invasion of Iraq--the "cakewalk" group--had little understanding of Iraq's religious sects and its divided culture. Now the emphasis is on bi-partisanship. Nothing wrong with that, to be sure, but wouldn't it help if at least one person understood the territory?

Foreign Push Pollers Stealing American Robots' Jobs!

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 9:03 PM EST

No comment:

Callers touting Indiana Republican Rep. Mark Souder's tough stance on immigration apparently have thick enough foreign accents that the congressman himself said he couldn't understand them.

According to the United Press International, Souder complained about campaign calls made on his behalf after listening to a message left on his sister's answering machine in which the only word he understood was "Hayhurst," the last name of his Democratic challenger, Tom Hayhurst.

(Souder had to use live callers since robo-calling is illegal in Indiana.) Via The Hill.

Silent Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter: WWF Says Global Warming Could Wipe Out Most Birds

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 7:48 PM EST

Even if you spend a lot of time reporting on the depressing facts of global warming, every so often (actually, at least once a week) a study comes out that really drives home how dire things are. Today it is this:

"Unchecked climate change could drive up to 72 per cent [ed: see below] of the world's bird species into extinction but the world still has a chance to limit the losses, conservation group WWF said in a report on Tuesday.

Needless to say, once the birds go, we go with them. They're pollinators, for one thing. And they keep the numbers of dangerous insects down for another.

Update: The folks at Climate Risk--which is an asset management firm that advises companies and governments how to " make better strategic decisions based on the best available climate science" (fascinating)--have pointed out that the newswire gloss on the study is slightly wrong (Can I also add that WWF's site made it impossible to find the actual study? For shame.):

Here's a more precise summary of the study:

The report also shows that birds suffer from climate change effects in every part of the globe. Scientists have found declines of up to 90 per cent in some bird populations, as well as total and unprecedented reproductive failure in others.
Scientists also analyzed available projections of future impacts, including bird species extinction. They found that bird extinction rates could be as high as 38 per cent in Europe, and 72 per cent in northeastern Australia, if global warming exceeds 2 º C above pre-industrial levels (currently it is 0.8ºC above).
"Birds have long been used as indicators of environmental change, and with this report we see they are the quintessential `canaries in the coal mine' when it comes to climate change," said Hans Verolme, Director of WWF's Global Climate Change Programme. "This report finds certain bird groups, such as seabirds and migratory birds, to be early, very sensitive, responders to current levels of climate change. Large-scale bird extinctions may occur sooner than we thought."
If high rates of extinction are to be avoided, rapid and significant greenhouse gas emission cuts must be made, WWF says.

So, not quite as bad. Still really, really bad.