Hillary Responds to Ethics Allegations: Whoopsie!

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Sen. Hillary Clinton has for five years running neglected to report her involvement with a Clinton family charity in her ethics disclosures. After Sen. Bill Frist and Rep. Nancy Pelosi attracted attention (though no penalties) for the same oversight, it seems bizarre at best that Hillary's professional army of advisers would have neglected to report the senator's role in the foundation. (The family foundation is separate from the better known William J. Clinton Foundation.)

More importantly, such pet charities generate temptations for additional ethics violations: An individual connected to a certain corporation can make a contribution to a particular charity as a way of currying favor with a politician. Notorious examples include the Ted Stevens Foundation, a charity whose mission is to "honor and recognize the career of Sen. Stevens." A 2004 foundation dinner was attended by executives whose corporations had business before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Stevens led. Ethics violator extraordinaire Tom DeLay also established a charity whose major donors turned out to be major corporate players.

Finally, there's a personal ethics issue. Here's the Post:

The retired chief of the IRS branch that oversees tax-exempt nonprofits said family-run foundations are commonly created by wealthy Americans, allowing them to earn tax breaks by donating to a charity whose future good works they can control. Such charities need only to give 5 percent of proceeds each year to maintain a tax exemption.

The Post's numbers indicate that the Clintons have given away about 10 percent of what they have put into their private charity. In a sense, holding Hillary accountable for this is unfair since the tax code routinely hands out favors like this to the wealthy, but she is running for president—and as a Democrat—so maybe we can fairly ask a little more from her?

Romney Battle Plan Leaks to the Press

Whoa boy. Somehow the Boston Globe got a hold of a 77-slide PowerPoint presentation created by the Romney campaign that analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of Romney, McCain, and Giuliani. Frankly, the thing is hilarious (the campaign is worried that Romney's helmet-like hair is "too perfect") but I won't be able to do any better chopping the thing up than Kos blogger BarbinMD already did. So enjoy.

Oh, and by the way, if this all sounds familiar, it's because the same thing happened to Giuliani just a little while back. Remember when the Democrats were the ones who ran sloppy campaigns and lacked party discipline?

 john_gibson130.jpg John Gibson is the big-haired FOX host that, amongst few other distinctions, pimps the "War on Christmas" meme more than the rest. Now he's finally got something to really hang his hat on: he's the one FOX guy who will stand up to CNN's "news guy snobbery." Covering the "real" news is for nerds -- elitist nerds! Like soulful, squinty, supernerd Anderson Cooper.

To explain. On his radio show the other day, Gibson defended FOX's non-stop coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death. He said that the story supplies all the drama people love in TV and movies, except the facts are all real. He accused CNN's Cooper of exemplifying the "news guy snobbery" that leads news outlets to shrink from stories like the Smith saga and to instead bore their viewers with Iraq coverage (presumably stuff like global warming, the minimum wage, and the impending war with Iran would also fall in this category; I think it's safe to say John Gibson wouldn't approve of MoJoBlog).

At one point in the show Gibson mocks Cooper, saying, "Oh, 'There's a war on! There's a war on!' Maybe, just maybe, people are a little weary, Mr. Cooper, of your war coverage, and they'd like a little something else." But he doesn't limit his criticism to Anderson Cooper. Also guilty? Basically any self-respecting journalist. Gibson rails against the "high-minded view of a lot of news professionals, people who think, you know, their news program is just another part of Foreign Affairs Quarterly." He again evoked the s-word. "Those people are snobs." Edward Murrow, Dan Rather, David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite -- please exit history, stage left. John Gibson has dismissed you.

[Audio of all the blathering here.]

Well, Mr. Gibson, I propose a deal. If you agree to never consider me a sexmonger because I don't cover the Anna Nicole Smith story, I'll agree to never consider you a journalist. I think that's fair. I'm with ThinkProgress, who points out:

Since Smith's death on Feb. 8, 42 U.S. soldiers have died fighting in Iraq. Approximately 969 Iraqis have been killed. Americans aren't weary of the media's war coverage, they're weary of the war itself.

The Iraqi oil deal, which now goes before the country's parliament, spells the end of the country as a nation state, and signals a great Bush victory in the war.

The Byzantine, nearly incomprehensible scheme for dividing up oil revenues on the basis of population is little more than a sick joke, a façade for the biggest rip off of resources since the British first barged into Mesopotamia over a century ago. The distribution of the money by population in reality provides a means why which the U.S. can pay for the arms and troops it hopes will control those populations.

This law sanctions contracts between regions and foreign oil companies. It effectively puts an end to a nationalized petroleum industry that provides most of the revenue to sustain the country. Oil revenue divvied up among three regions effectively ends Iraq's viability as a nation. Over time, the oil revenues might sustain some sort of Kurdistan, along with a Shia state, and a Sunni state, albeit a small one. The Sunnis don't have much oil — as of now.

While the deal, on its face, splits up control of Iraq's oil among Kurds, Shia and Sunnis, the real power of course is in the hands of the international companies that will strike contracts with one or another of the different entities, put up most or all of the money for exploration, development of infrastructure, and actual production through "device of production" agreements. These agreements, infrequently used in the business, mean that oil revenue will first go to the companies to recoup their expenses and exploration costs. They will be considerable since the industrial infrastructure will have to be rebuilt in many areas and because much of the country has not been mapped. Arguments among the parties will be settled in courts outside the country.

Iraq currently has the second or third largest known reserves in the world. It may well turn out to have the biggest reserves when the nation is completely mapped. These reserves will become more important over time because Saudi Arabia's vast pool of untapped oil is widely believed to be beginning a decline and anyway has been overstated by the Saudis. This deal presents a serious challenge to whatever control OPEC still has over prices and production.

Much of the Iraqi oil goes down through the Persian Gulf. During the war between Iraq and Iran, the U.S. was engaged in supporting Saddam with naval protection for Iraqi tankers, ready to reflag them if necessary, so they might appear to be our own. Now we don't have to reflag them. Our companies will own them.

As for Iran, our interests in the Persian Gulf, that is, the West's interests — the big oil companies are American and British — become ever more important. There is no question that, if challenged, we will fight Iran for that oil. After all, it will increasingly become the key source of supply for us and probably much of Europe.

People who say the U.S. lost the war are wrong. Bush and the oil companies won.

-- James Ridgeway

Kuttner is co-editor of the American Prospect, and we know who he's supporting in 2008.

I have followed politics far too long to fall in love, but I have to say that Barack Obama is like nothing we have seen since Bobby Kennedy and maybe since FDR. If you haven't read his first book, Dreams From My Father, you owe it to yourself.
Obama wrote the book when he was 33, having spent nearly three years as an organizer on Chicago's South Side, and then three years at Harvard Law School where he was elected president of the Law Review. From there he went to Kenya, to come to terms with the African side of his family.
Reading this work, you think: no 33-year-old has the right to such uncommon wisdom and humanity. The comparisons that come to mind are the young Martin Luther King, or Vaclav Havel, or maybe Jefferson.

I think a lot of hard-boiled politicos are softies at heart, just waiting to be inspired. The Obamania 2008 National Tour continues!

Debating the End of the Vilsack Era

There's a mini-debate going on over at the American Prospect blog TAPPED about the reasons Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack dropped out of the running for the Democratic nomination.

Ben Adler chimed in first with the conventional wisdom: Vilsack simply couldn't find any loose dollars hanging around Democratic circles, because high-powered candidates with fully-formed fundraising machines have already taken them all. This is really two explanations in one. First, the campaigns are starting earlier and earlier with only independently wealthy and/or celebrity candidates able to generate enough early buzz to stay in the race. Second, Vilsack didn't have the qualities needed to compete in a Democratic race in which the bar is set very, very, very high.

The blogosphere's best Klein responded with characteristic astuteness:

...the roster of candidates who've already dropped out is instructive. Mark Warner and Evan Bayh, two deeply credible, DLC-type moderates, exited early into the race, and not for lack of funds. Rather, they realized this wasn't a year that could support moderate technocrats. Democratic voters are looking for progressive vision and assertiveness, not small promises and managerial acumen. Vilsack, I'd bet, realized the same thing.

My only contribution here is this. It's not that this year is bad for governors; politics are changing in fundamental ways that make the future bad for governors. Matt Yglesias wrote an article for the Prospect online (that was kind of the inspiration for the debate) in which he decried the inability of Bill Richardson, New Mexico Gov. and second-tier presidential candidate, to get any traction. In the end Matt reasoned that today's political atmosphere only takes "famous" candidates seriously; if you aren't a celebrity, you aren't a contender. This is undoubtably true, and what no one has said yet is that this likely means the end of governor-presidents.

Everyone (including Richardson) says that Richardson's strongest characteristic is that he's a governor, and Americans love electing governors to the presidency. Not any more. If you're governor of California, New York, or Virginia, you can get famous. Otherwise, it'll be real tough. And if you can't get famous, you can't run. And besides, in an era of near constant campaigning, only senators have enough breaks in their work schedule to travel the country; governors have to actually, you know, run things.

The only thing that could resurrect governors' chances nationwide is if the primary schedule is completely redrawn -- which it likely will be -- and states that were previously off the map become extremely important. California, for example, is moving it's primary up to February 5, making the nation's biggest state much more relevant and the man or woman who runs it a much bigger figure.

It was all Iran, all the time over the weekend.

The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh wrote about the United States' increasingly developed and sophisticated plans to attack Iran, and how the Bush Administration is augmenting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a regional push against expanding Shiite influence, an effort that has led it to join forces with al Qaeda-linked groups.

The UK's Times reported that "up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign" if Bush asks the military to strike Iran.

And the LA Times reported that 2007 is groundhog year, with the Bush Administration pushing the same phony intelligence on Iran that it did with Iraq, and the same U.N. agencies doing their best to debunk it all. Says the Times, "most U.S. intelligence shared with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has proved inaccurate and none has led to significant discoveries inside Iran."

It's just a matter of time until Dick Cheney tells us all to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting. Happy apocalypse!

A new AP-Ipsos poll finds that Americans can accurately identify the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq, but badly miss the mark on the number of Iraqi civilians killed.

When the poll was conducted, the number of Americans killed was just over 3,100. Poll respondents guessed 3,000, on average. The number of Iraqis killed is a difficult question, but what we do know is that it's really, really high. From the AP story on the poll: "Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000 and could be much higher; some unofficial estimates range into the hundreds of thousands. The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reports more than 34,000 deaths in 2006 alone."

What do Americans guess? 9,890. Yikes.

But apparently even that badly inaccurate number is too high for an increasingly war-weary country. "Whatever their understanding of the respective death tolls," writes the AP, "three-quarters of those polled said the numbers of both Americans and Iraqis who have been killed are 'unacceptable.'" For an explanation for why the American public doesn't know how many Iraqis have been killed, look no further than the Bush Administration, which was exposed as systematically undercounting Iraqi dead by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Hit this link to read the obvious but damning allegation.

Mother Jones content on counting the Iraqi dead here and here.

Disabled Iraq Vets Shortchanged, Already

On Saturday the Army announced that its Inspector Generals Office has found 87 problems with the service's medical retirement system, including inconsistent training for counselors, inadequate record keeping and a failure to follow Defense Department policy. The announcement came after a yearlong probe where the IG's office talked with 650 soldiers and employees at 32 posts around the world.

Also this weekend we hear, via Army Times, that the Army is holding back disability retirement ratings to cut costs.

"These people are being systematically underrated," said Ron Smith, deputy general counsel for Disabled American Veterans. "It's a bureaucratic game to preserve the budget, and it's having an adverse affect on service members."

Turns out that the number of approvals for disability retirement have remained steady for the other branches—Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force—since 2001 but in the Army, where we are seeing the majority of casualties and the bulk of our 23,000 injured, "the number of soldiers approved for permanent disability retirement has plunged by more than two-thirds, from 642 in 2001 to 209 in 2005, according to a GAO report from last year.

The Army Times also points out that:

While the number of soldiers placed on permanent disability retirement has declined in the past five years, the number placed on temporary disability retirement — with medical conditions that officials rule might improve so they can return to work over time or worsen to the point that they must be permanently retired — has increased more than fourfold, from 165 in 2001 to 837 in 2005.

Compared to the overall size of the defense budget, disability retirement costs are relatively small, compared to what we are spending in theater. In 2004, the military paid more than $1.2 billion in permanent and temporary disability benefits to 90,000 people, the GAO said.

More on the hits our men and women in uniform are taking in Iraq, and everything else you might want to know about the Iraq War, in our Iraq 101 guide, here, and on newsstands later this week.

One for the Bizarro File

Not everyday that you see a CNN headline like this: "Genealogists: Thurmond's family owned Sharpton's kin."

The story is this: Genealogists commissioned by the Daily News discovered that Al Sharpton's great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave owned by a woman named Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was Strom Thurmond's great-great-grandfather. What I really want to know is, did the Daily News get a tip that there was a connection between Sharpton and Thurmond, or do they do genealogical studies of all prominent black Americans to see if their ancestors were owned by the ancestors of prominent white Americans? How creepy would that be?

Late Update: Answers from the WaPo story on the subject:

The genealogy study was produced by researchers for the Web site Ancestry.com. Daily News reporter Austin Fenner initially asked them to research his own roots. He then approached Sharpton and asked if he would permit an investigation of his family history as well, for use in a story. Sharpton agreed. Neither the Daily News nor Sharpton paid for the research.