Political MoJo

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."

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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.

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.

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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.

Mike Huckabee's Long Honeymoon

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 7:24 PM EST

Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, whose name is being thrown around as a 2008 Republican contender, seems to have found a nifty way to get around rules preventing public servants from receiving gifts worth $100 or more. State law allows wedding gifts, and it just happens that Huckabee and his wife, who married in 1974, are still accepting unfashionably late contributions:

"Wedding" registries in the names of Gov. Mike Huckabee and his wife, Janet, have been set up at two department store chains in advance of the Huckabees' move out of the Governor's Mansion into a private home.

The term-limited governor leaves office in January, and friends of Janet Huckabee created the registries at Dillard's and Target stores to help facilitate their transition to private life, Huckabee spokeswoman Alice Stewart said Friday.

The Huckabees purchased a 7,000-square-foot home in North Little Rock this year.

"Some ladies who are friends of Janet's are giving her a housewarming party," Stewart said.

If you're looking for gift ideas, the traditional thing to give for a 32nd anniversary is conveyances.

Suddenly Very Important Abramoff Goes to Prison NOW

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 6:49 PM EST

A Florida judge who has granted federal prosecutors several delays in the actual incarceration of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, so prosecutors can continue their investigation of corrupt members of Congress, has had enough, quite frankly. He has unexpectedly ordered Abramoff to report to a prison tomorrow, and it looks like it's for real. Abramoff's convict profile page on the Federal Bureau of Prisons website has him labeled as "in transit."

A ploy by Republican overlords to hamper the investigation of vulnerable Republicans, you say? Wrong! Says ABC's "The Note":

Sources close to the investigation say Abramoff has provided information on his dealings with and campaign contributions and gifts to "dozens of members of Congress and staff," including what Abramoff has reportedly described as "six to eight seriously corrupt Democratic senators."

For Mother Jones on the Abramoff saga, see Barry Yeoman's "Fall of a True Believer."

Robo-Calls May Have Swung FL-13

| Tue Nov. 14, 2006 6:33 PM EST

Florida's 13th congressional district was home to the one of the closest races in the midterms. Election night results put the count at 119,102 for the Republican Vernon Buchanan and 118,729 for the Democrat Christine Jennings. That's a difference of 373 votes -- small enough for a recount, which was launched yesterday.

As TPM reports, "The fight will center around the district's Sarasota County, where the electronic machines did not register a vote in the Congressional race for 18,000 voters." Because 53% of voters in Sarasota County voted for the Democrat, a correct counting of votes would have won the district for Jennings, the Democrat, by about 600 votes.

But, frankly, the lost votes shouldn't matter. The Jennings campaign got broadsided by the Republicans' dirty robo-calling operation late in the race. As previously mentioned, the robo-calls are automated calls made to likely voters that carry information about a local candidate. The GOP ones late in the campaign season were particularly insidious because they were "false-flag" robo-calls, lending the impression that they were from the Democratic candidate instead of the Republican. Because a person who hung up on the call would assume they were from the Democrat, and then get called back six or seven or eight times, the overall effect was possibly thousands of voters furious with the local Democrat. See this quote from the Herald Tribune:

"They bugged us with their phone calls something terrible," said Betty, who voted for Buchanan because "with all her calls, Jennings, Jennings, Jennings, I wouldn't have voted for that woman if she were the only one running."

These things were pretty much unavoidable. TPM has the numbers: In the last three weeks of the election, the Republicans paid almost $60,000 for robo-calls against Jennings, enough for somewhere between 400,000 and 1.2 million calls in the district.

Remember, Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones was the first to this story.