Political MoJo

Condi v. Warner on Iraq-- "Making Progress" or Taking "Steps Backwards"

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 4:20 PM EDT

This week Condoleeza Rice insisted that Iraq is "making progress"? Even as she arrived in Baghdad amidst mortar fire and met with President Jalal Talabani in the dark, due to electricity outages throughout the city, she emphasized that the country is on course.

But a course toward what? Senator John Warner (R-Va.), who too sojourned recently to Iraq, says the country has taken "steps backwards," referring to the "steady increase in the level of violence" and the "'unacceptable level' of killings and 'heavy casualties' among U.S. forces there." He concluded that the administration may need to abandon its exhausted "stay the course" messaging.

Condi may be feeling the heat. Revelations from Bob Woodward's newest book show that the National Security Adviser was briefed on July 10, 2001 by the CIA about potential domestic threats, and promptly ignored them. Also according to the ubiquitous Woodward, even Big Daddy Bush, who employed Rice on his National Security Council, says she has been a "big disappointment" and is "not up for the job." Maybe he should have passed these choice words onto junior.

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Real Estate Magnate Capitalizing on Eminent Domain Outrage

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 3:13 PM EDT

More than a year ago, people and lawmakers across the political spectrum took up arms against eminent domain abuse. The fillip was the Supreme Court ruling that the City of New London could replace a working-class neighborhood with condos, a hotel, and office space related to a Pfizer center.

What alarmed Americans were the evictions of small businesses and working-class neighborhoods for the benefit of corporations and developers. Statehouses rushed to curb the practice. But now the zeitgeist is also being channeled against something else: land-use regulation in general.

Groups backed by Howard Rich, a wealthy New York real estate investor and libertarian activist, have spent about $5 million on initiatives to appear on ballots in four states this November. In California alone, they've spent $3.3 million on Proposition 90. If it passes, the state will have to compensate landowners and developers for regulatory actions that diminish the value of their property.

The Sierra Club is against it. So are the editorial boards of 11 newspapers. A land-use lawyer in San Francisco says what backers of Prop 90 really want is "to gut the government's police power to regulate business, including land use, development, mining, and grazing."

On the other hand, economist Tim Harford in Slate points out instances when environmental protections backfired. He argues that taxpayers should foot the bill to save nature.

--April Rabkin

Independent Panel Says Yes--Santa Susana Site Caused Cancer

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 2:49 PM EDT

A report released yesterday indicates that a nuclear reactor meltdown at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in 1959 may indeed have caused hundreds of cancers to appear in the surrounding community. Santa Susana is located in eastern Ventura County, California.

An independent advisory panel reported that radiation released during the meltdown caused about 260 cancers within a 60-square-mile radius. The panel also said there was an outside chance that 1,800 cancers could have been caused by the meltdown.

Rocketdyne, the company which owned Santa Susana at the time of the meltdown, has joined the federal government in refusing to release many key details of the incident, so the panel relied on technical modeling to gather its results. The result of the meltdown has been a controversy for many years, with Rocketdyne repeatedly declaring that the amount of radioactive released was insignificant.

The panel concluded that local groundwater and soil has also been contaminated because of the Santa Susuana site. Perchlorate, a factor in the development of thyroid problems, was found in a nearby well, but Boeing says that the substance did not come from its lab. Boeing did, however, pay $30 million in damages last year when residents declared that pollutants had given them cancer.

Foley Wasn't Only Public Servant Using Web for "Excessive Indulgences"

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 2:03 PM EDT



Turns out Mark Foley wasn't the only public servant using his taxpayer-funded Internet access for a bit of extracurricular activity. "Excessive Indulgences," a new report [PDF] from the Interior Department (with a cover that screams "stock photography of illicit activity"—Bare midrift! Slot machines! Grocery shopping! Chess!), reveals that in a single week, DOI employees accesed thousands of sex sites, sometimes up to an hour at a stretch. A couple even got busted for surfing child porn at work. DOI staff is also really into online auctions and gambling: The report calculates that they spend 104,000 hours a year bidding and betting. C'mon, House Republicans! You gonna let a bunch of pencil pushing bureaucrats show you up like that?

The Legislative and Judicial Branches are Overrated Anyway

| Fri Oct. 6, 2006 11:49 AM EDT

The Bush administration's crusade to expand executive power beyond all reckoning has continued unabated. And, on Wednesday, when President Bush signed the homeland security bill passed by Congress last week, he reserved the right, in one of his infamous signing statements, to disregard at least 36 provisions in the legislation. Among them is a new law establishing the minimum job qualifications for future FEMA directors, which would prevent the president from appointing someone based on politics not experience (i.e. Michael Brown). It's not as if the requirements are that stiff. The candidate, according to the law, must have "a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management" and "not less than five years of executive leadership." Seems reasonable, but apparently the president found these prerequisites too restrictive. According to the Boston Globe, the president also took aim at "a provision that empowers the FEMA director to tell Congress about the nation's emergency management needs without White House permission."

Last week, Bush challenged 16 provisions in the 2007 military budget bill. The Globe reports:

The bill bars the Pentagon from using any intelligence that was collected illegally, including information about Americans that was gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable government surveillance.

In Bush's signing statement, he suggested that he alone could decide whether the Pentagon could use such information. His signing statement instructed the military to view the law in light of "the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief, including for the conduct of intelligence operations, and to supervise the unitary executive branch."

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service, which notes that legal claims made in some of the president's signing statements are "generally unsupported by established legal principles," states that "the broad and persistent nature of the claims of executive authority forwarded by President Bush appear designed to inure Congress, as well as others, to the belief that the President in fact possesses expansive and exclusive powers upon which the other branches may not intrude." Not that we really needed a CRS report to tell us that.

Is "Salacious Exchanges With Underage Male Pages"-gate the Dems' October Surprise?

| Thu Oct. 5, 2006 8:51 PM EDT

Dennis Hastert, in mid-death rattle, is "lashing out" at Democrats and the media for "fueling the Mark Foley sex scandal."

When the base finds out who's feeding this monster, they're not going to be happy,'' he told the Chicago Tribune. "The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives.''

I'd say someboday needs to strip down and get relaxed.

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Q: Who's Running Against Hastert in Illinois? A: 32-Year Old Vet with Intelligence Credentials You Say?

| Thu Oct. 5, 2006 8:41 PM EDT

Our own Josh Harkinson has just put up a story about John Laech, the 32-year-old vet who's running against the embattled Denny Hastert. The NYT has its doubts that he can make a real run this late in the game, but on the other hand, he seems like the perfect candiate for the moment. As Josh writes:

Looking for adventure and a challenge, Laesch joined the Navy in 1995 and rose to a post in Bahrain as an intelligence analyst. His job included monitoring video footage from Iran. At the time, a popular parade route in Iran had been painted with American and Israeli flags so that soldiers could trample them when they marched past. But after Iran's moderate president Mohammad Khatami came to power, Laesch noticed the flags were removed. He saw the move as an opportunity for rapprochement which was later dashed when President Bush dubbed the country part of the Axis of Evil. "Our actions create an equal and opposite reaction on their side," he says. "And this is why terrorism is growing."
Honorably discharged in 1999, Laesch studied history and political science at Illinois State University and was drawn to politics. In 2004 he talked with men who worked at a Maytag factory that was shuttering in the town of Galesburg and moving to Mexico. "That bothered me," he says. That year Laesch managed the congressional race of Democrat David Gill, a doctor running for the 15th district of Illinois on a health care platform. He felt under qualified for the job, but even so, Gill turned in a strong showing. The next year, when Laesch's brother, Pete, was sent to Iraq a week after his wife gave birth to a child, the munitions sergeant urged his brother to run against Hastert. "It hadn't even realistically crossed my mind," Leasch says, "But when Pete got his orders to Iraq, I said, 'I'm gonna do it.'"
tLike many "fighting democrats," Laesch believes the U.S. needs to set a imetable to withdraw from Iraq—arguing that a widespread belief among Iraqis that U.S. forces are on an imperialist mission is fueling the insurgency. He also wants to see a wider peacekeeping role for the United Nations and the Arab league, but doubts the Bush administration possesses the diplomatic resources to pull it off.

Anti-war, anti-pedophilia sentiment isn't the only thing going for Laesch in Illinois District 14. Locally, he says, Republicans have been less outraged by the sex scandal than revelations that Hastert used a federal road project to pad his bank account. A former high school wrestling coach who entered politics a man of modest means, Hastert personally earmarked the highway bill last year with $207 million for the Prairie Parkway, a road that serves about as little purpose as its name implies, many locals say, but which will run within a few miles of land Hastert bought in 2002 near Plano, Illinois. Hastert and his business partners then sold the land to a developer, netting a cool $1.8 million.

And I'm not even reprising Laesch's time in Africa...

Fox: Republicans in Meltdown! Massive Losses! Hastert Must Go!

| Thu Oct. 5, 2006 8:23 PM EDT

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Barely contained hysteria from Fox News, reporting that "House Republican candidates will suffer massive losses if House Speaker Dennis Hastert remains speaker until Election Day, according to internal polling data from a prominent GOP pollster."

"The data suggests Americans have bailed on the speaker," a Republican source briefed on the polling data told FOX News. "And the difference could be between a 20-seat loss and 50-seat loss."

In other words, buh-bye.

In the photo accompanying the piece, Hastert looks as if he's about to break Mark Foley and a bevy of apple-cheeked pages over his meaty knee (not to mention Roy Blunt, John Boehner...).

For good measure, the latest AP/Ipsos poll has half of likely voters saying the Foley scandal will be "very or extremely important" when it comes time to vote on Nov. 7.

I think Hastert should hang tough, don't you?

When In Doubt, Blame Soros

| Thu Oct. 5, 2006 2:10 PM EDT

As the Foley scandal casts its long, dark shadow over the GOP, embroiling the likes of Dennis Hastert, John Boehner, and Tom Reynolds, among others, no amount of damage control seems capable of containing the fallout. But you have to hand it to the Republicans for trying. Over the last couple days they've dusted off a well worn line, which they never fail to trot out when things are looking particularly bleak for the GOP: George Soros is behind this.

Why Soros? After all, he wasn't the one sending creepy emails or dirty IMs to congressional pages. That was Mark Foley. Nor is he at fault for failing to act after being warned of Foley's lascivious behavior toward the pages. That was Hastert. In the minds of some Republicans, Soros, the billionaire financier and philanthropist who has donated generous sums of his fortune to democratic candidates and causes, is the kingpin behind a vast conspiracy to dismantle the Republican Party. So, in their thinking, it would follow that Soros and the watchdog groups that are funded by his Open Society Institute, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), are pulling the strings on a well-timed effort to taint the Republican Party just before the mid-term elections by leaking Foley's emails to the press.

"The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros," Hastert (who has previously intimated that Soros' philanthropic efforts may be funded by "drug money") told the Chicago Tribune yesterday. On Fox last night, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly were also preoccupied by this prospect. Interviewing Brian Ross, the ABC reporter who broke the scandal, O'Reilly said, "Now the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is a far left group. George Soros gives a lot of money to it through his Open Society Institute. They apparently are the ones that drove this thing behind the scenes. Is that what you're hearing?"

"I'm not familiar with them," Ross responded. "They didn't drive us."

Of course, there isn't a shred of truth to the Soros/CREW conspiracy angle (though CREW was in possession of some of Foley's emails earlier this summer and forwarded them to the FBI). As The Hill reported today, the source who provided the Foley emails to several news outlets back in July, via an intermediary, was a House GOP aide. According to The Hill:

That Foley's scandalous communications came to public light during Congress's final week in Washington was largely determined by the media outlets which obtained the suspicious e-mails in the middle of the summer, said the person who provided them to reporters several months ago.

This, unfortunately, is not likely to stop right wingers from dissembling. Unable to scapegoat Soros or CREW, they will simply move onto their next favorite target – the liberal media, led by Brian Ross, who no doubt timed his report to deal a death blow to the GOP.

House Ethics Committee Takes Up Foley Scandal

| Thu Oct. 5, 2006 11:58 AM EDT

The Foley scandal lurches into the dormant House Ethics Committee Thursday morning. This committee is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and hasn't been able to get up the nerve to investigate anything for the last year-and-a-half. The Jack Abramoff scandal was decided in the courts, and the congress was barely able to scrape together a tepid lobby reform in its aftermath. With Bush supporting Hastert, John McCain, an all but declared presidential nominee for 2008, has jumped in to push the ethics committee on and show the Christian Right he is morally correct. Mind you these are the people who smeared McCain in 2000. But in recent months McCain has made every effort to make up with them.

If the Ethics committee actually wants to get anywhere, that is, to conduct an investigation along the lines of congressional inquiries into former Speakers Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich, it will need to hire an independent counsel. That might well be the kiss of death for Hastert, if he hangs on that long, since his own top aide is being accused of helping to cover up the scandal. To make matters worse, one of his supporters had proposed he handle the mess by temporarily shutting down the House page program, leading to yet more outcry.

Yesterday, the Republican leadership was dumping on Hastert and blaming the Democrats. George Will this morning scathingly attacks Hastert, quoting his feeble defense of himself on Rush Limbaugh: "We have a story to tell, and the Democrats have — in my view have — put this thing forward to try to block us from telling the story. They're trying to put us on the defense." This line isn't going to work. There's a good chance the ethics committee, egged on by the Hastert defenders, will stop attacking Democrats and launch an attack on gays. "Investigators for the House Ethics Committee want to know if gays in the House conspired to protect Foley," Capitol Hill Blue reports today. "We're talking
tip of the iceberg here," one House Ethics Committee staffer tells the website. "This thing will just keep getting worse."

UPDATE: The House Ethics Committee, which convened this morning, just announced that it will handle the inquiry into the page program. Republican Doc Hastings and Democrat Howard Berman have been selected to lead the investigation, which Berman said will be concluded in a matter of "weeks, not months." The AP is also reporting that in addition to the Ethics Committee investigation Hastert will also ask former FBI director Louis Freeh to "examine the page system and make recommendations on how to improve the program."