Friday, October 31, 2008

The “Special Relationship” Frays: British Gov’t Investigating CIA Officers For Torture

So much for the “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain. If it is not in complete tatters, it is fraying badly this morning.

The British Attorney General says he will investigate allegations that a British resident arrested by the US in Pakistan before being “rended” to Morocco, shipped to the black hell hole prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and is now at Guantanamo Bay was brutally tortured after being arrested and questioned by American intelligence officers beginning in 2002.

According to The Independent, British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith wants the attorney general, Baroness Scotland, to bring criminal proceedings against American CIA officers said to be responsible for the rendition and abuse of Binyam Mohamed when he was held in prisons in Morocco and Afghanistan as a result of US rendition.

This follows sharp criticism of US prosecutors by British judges who read secret evidence of torture committed against Mohamed, including allegations his torturers used a razor blade to cut his penis repeatedly. The Attorney General's investigation is expected to include allegations that MI5 colluded in Mohamed's rendition. Mohamed, 30, an Ethiopian national and British resident, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, where he was questioned by an MI5 officer before being handed over to the Americans.

On Tuesday, Government lawyers wrote to the judges hearing Mohamed's case against the UK government in the High Court. In the letter they said "the question of possible criminal wrongdoing to which these proceedings has given rise has been referred by the Home Secretary to the Attorney general for consideration as an independent minister of justice." Baroness Scotland has been sent secret witness statements given to the court and public interest immunity certificates for the proceedings.

Mohamed, 30, accuses MI5 agents of lying about what they knew of CIA plans to transfer him to a prison in North Africa, where he claims he was subjected to horrendous torture to extort a confession. Last night, his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, said, "This is a welcome recognition that the CIA cannot just go rendering British residents to secret torture chambers without consequences, and British agents cannot take part in US crimes without facing the music."

The US State Dept. had no comment this morning on the British claims, a spokeswoman telling me, “we do not comment on matters before foreign courts.” A spokesman for the CIA did not return several phone calls.

McCain’s Dirty Hands

That the CIA was able to do this is partly the responsibility of John McCain. Once a strong campaigner against the US using torture, he caved in to the Bush administration by allowing an ammendment to an anti-torture bill he sponsored and shepherded through Congress that exempted the CIA from the law’s key provisions.

Human rights groups have sharply criticised the British government for allowing CIA “torture flights” to refuel in England as well as fly through its airspace. A special European Parliament investigation condemned the US for its policy of “extraordinary rendition” where individuals suspected of participating in terrorist activities are flown to third countries that use torture as a matter of routine when questioning political prisoners.

“If John McCain had held firm in barring torture by any US government agency, Mr. Mohammed would have avoided being tortured whicforced him to confess to crimes he did not commit,” a spokesman for Human Rights Watch in Britain told me this morning.

“As a result of capitulating to White House demands,” she added, “McCain’s dirty hands are all over this case.”

Another Bush Lie

Torture under any circumstances violates Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention which both the US and Great Britain have signed. At the time of Mohammad’s rendition, George Bush lied repeatedly when he stated at news conferences between 2004 and 2006 “the US does not torture. Period.”

In August, two judges ruled allegations of torture were at least arguable in Mohammad’s case and stated that MI5 information relating to Mohamed was "not only necessary but essential for his defence.” The judges have read statements and interviews with Mohamed between July 28 and 31, 2004, when he says he was forced to confess to terrorism. The judges said, "This was after a period of over two-and-a-half years of incommunicado detention during which Binyam Mohamed … was tortured."

He was first held in Pakistan in 2002, where a British agent interrogated him; he was then sent to Morocco by the CIA and allegedly tortured for 18 months. He was rendered to the secret "Dark Prison" in Afghanistan, where his torture is alleged to have continued. Since September 2004, Mohammad has languished at Guantanamo Bay.

If the British Attorney General finds that the charges of torture are true – which will require merely going through MI5 and MI6 files – then criminal warrants could be issued against Americans who were involved in Mohammad’s torture, rendition and custody. It is doubtful that the Bush Administration would extradite the officers but it could be one of the first diplomatic issues facing the new president in January. If McCain is somehow elected, the officers involved wouldn’t be sent for trial in London but their travelling days and vacations will be limited to the United States.

Another reason to vote for Barack Obama.

Stop The Presses!

The McCain campaign’s latest attempt to portray the press as liberal puppets of Barack Obama — by painting the Los Angeles Times’s refusal to release a videotape of the senator at a farewell dinner in 2003 for Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian scholar and advocate, as part of a vast left-wing conspiracy — is much ado about nothing.

McCain’s previously-discredited spokesman, Michael Goldfarb, accused the Times of “intentionally suppressing information that could provide a clearer link between Barack Obama and Rashid Khalidi.” Goldfarb went on to mention a potentially vote-altering moment wherein the tape could have possibly captured Obama’s reaction to a “hate speech”-filled poem recited at the dinner.

This “intentional suppression” has caused plenty of consternation in the blogosphere. Many writers saw the Times’ refusal as evidence of liberal bias; others were just confused by the paper’s intransigence.

Yesterday, the Times published an article explaining its decision to withhold the video. Editor Russ Stanton said, “The Los Angeles Times did not publish the videotape because it was provided by a confidential source who did so on the condition that we not release it. The Times keeps its promises to its sources.”

Stanton’s explanation is more than plausible; in fact, such deals with sources are quite common in journalism. At one time or another, nearly every reporter has access to a document, allowed to take notes on the document and write a story based on the notes but not allowed to publish or otherwise distribute the document. So unless we’re prepared to call Stanton a liar, there shouldn’t be any problem taking him at his word.

As Bill Sammon, deputy managing editor of FOX News’s Washington bureau – of all people – put it, had LA Times reporter Peter Wallsten who wrote story based on the tape, buckled under the demands of the McCain campaign, sources would have good reason to question his trustworthiness in the future.

Sammon went on to add, “A deal is a deal, even if it’s a dumb deal. Besides, there may be a perfectly legitimate reason for withholding the tape, such as the possibility that it contains footage that would compromise an unnamed source’s identity.”

Furthermore, it’s not clear that the Times even still has the tape but if it does, and it chose to break its promise, what exactly do the McCain folks expect to find? They talk of wanting to see Obama’s reaction to the poem, but do they really think the camera was just zeroed in on the senator all night long, waiting for him to do something suspicious? A terrorist fist-bump, perhaps? Watching with bated breath for a glimpse of the senator as he reacts to a controversial banquet speech is the essence of deliberate oversimplification.

What we do wish the Times had done is be as transparent as possible about how the story came about. Tell us what they can about the source’s motivations and why the editors agreed to grant anonymity and to the restrictions on the use of the tape. This would go a long way toward reassuring the rational public that there is no conspiracy here. For everyone else, it doesn’t matter what the Times does or says.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sarah Winks For Obama

The Obama campaign released a new ad this morning that goes after both John McCain's non-understanding of the economy and his selection of Sarah Palin.

Titled "His Choice," the spot begins with quotes from McCain admitting his lack of economic know-how. The last one has McCain declaring, "I might have to rely on a vice president that I select" for expertise on economic issues.

"His choice?" the visual asks before cutting to footage of Palin winking at the vice presidential debate.

Including Palin shows how large a liability Obama – indeed, the entire political community, including many Republicans – thinks she is for the GOP.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When Did The US Start Valuing Stupid Politicians?

How did it happen? How did politics in the US come to be dominated by people who make a virtue out of ignorance?

Was it charity that permitted mankind's closest living relative to spend two terms as president?

How did Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle and other such gibbering mulyuks succeed?

How were Republican rallies in 2008 drowned out by screaming ignoramuses insisting that Barack Obama was a Muslim and a terrorist?

The US has the world's best universities and attracts the world's finest minds. It dominates discoveries in science and medicine. Its wealth and power depend on the application of knowledge. Yet, unique among the developed nations, learning is a grave political disadvantage in America.

There have been exceptions over the past century: Franklyn Roosevelt, Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton tempered their intellectualism with the common touch and survived. But Adlai Stevenson, Al Gore and John Kerry were successfully tarred by their opponents as cerebral elitists, as if this were a disqualification to be president. Perhaps the defining moment in the collapse of intelligent politics was Ronald Reagan's response to Jimmy Carter during the 1980 presidential debate. Carter – stumbling a little, using long words – carefully enumerated the benefits of national health insurance. Reagan just smiled and said, "There you go again." His own health program would have appalled most Americans had he explained it as carefully as Carter had done, but he had found a formula for avoiding tough political issues and making his opponents look like wonks.

It wasn't always like this.

This great Republic’s founding fathers – Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and others – were among the greatest thinkers of their age. They felt no need to make a secret of it. How did the project they launched degenerate into George W. Bush and Sarah Palin?

Dumb Is As Dumb Does

On one level, this is easy to answer. Ignorant politicians are elected by ignorant people. US education, like the US health system, is a failure. In the most powerful nation on earth, one adult in five believes the sun revolves round the earth; only 26% accept evolution; two-thirds of young adults are unable to find Iraq on a map; two-thirds of US voters cannot name the three branches of government; the maths skills of 15-year-olds in the US are ranked 24th out of the 29 countries of the OECD.

But this merely extends the mystery: How did so many US citizens become so stupid and so suspicious of intelligence? Susan Jacoby's book The Age of American Unreason provides the best explanation I’ve read so far. She shows that the degradation of US politics results from a series of interlocking tragedies.

One theme is both familiar and clear: Religion generally, and fundamentalism specifically, makes you stupid. The US is the only rich, developed country in which Christian fundamentalism is vast and growing.

Jacoby shows that there once was a certain logic to its anti-rationalism. During the first few decades after The Origin of Species was published, Americans had good reason to reject the theory of natural selection and treat public intellectuals with suspicion. From the beginning, Darwin's theory was mixed up in the US with “social Darwinism” and the British writer Herbert Spencer. Spencer's doctrine, promoted in the popular press with help from Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Thomas Edison, suggested that millionaires stood at the top of a scala natura established by evolution. By preventing unfit people being weeded out, government intervention weakened the nation. Gross economic inequalities were both justifiable and necessary.

In other words, Darwinism became indistinguishable from the most bestial form of laissez-faire economics. Many Christians responded with revulsion. It is totally ironic that the doctrine rejected a century ago by prominent fundamentalists like William Jennings Bryan is now central to the economic thinking of the Christian right. Modern fundamentalists reject the tested science of Darwinian evolution but embrace the pseudoscience of social Darwinism.

Local Control

But there are other, more powerful, reasons for the intellectual isolation of fundamentalists. The US is alone in giving control of education to local authorities. Teaching in the southern states was dominated by the views of an ignorant aristocracy of planters and a great educational gulf opened.

"In the south", Jacoby writes, "what can only be described as an intellectual blockade was imposed in order to keep out any ideas that might threaten the social order."

The Southern Baptist Convention, now the biggest denomination in the US, has done more than any other force to keep the south stupid. In the 1960s it tried to stave off desegregation by establishing a system of private Christian schools and universities. A student can now progress from kindergarten to an advanced degree without any exposure to secular teaching.

Worse, Southern Baptist beliefs pass intact through the public school system as well. A 1998 survey by researchers at the University of Texas found that 25% of the state's public school biology teachers believe humans and dinosaurs lived on earth at the same time.

This tragedy has been assisted by the American worship of self-education. Though he greatly regretted his lack of formal teaching, Abraham Lincoln's career is repeatedly cited as evidence that good education is unnecessary; all that is needed to succeed is determination and rugged individualism. This might have served people well when genuine self-education movements like the one built around the Little Blue Books in the first half of the 20th century were in vogue.

But in the age of infotainment, it is a recipe for confusion.

Subversive Intellectuals

Besides fundamentalist religion, perhaps the most potent reason intellectuals struggle in elections is that intellectualism is equated with subversion. The brief flirtation of some thinkers with communism nearly 80 years ago has been used to create an impression in the public mind that all intellectuals are communists. Every day, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly rage against the "liberal elites" destroying America.

The spectre of pointy-headed alien subversives was crucial to the election of Reagan and Bush. A genuine intellectual elite – like the neocons, some of them former communists, surrounding Bush – has managed to pitch the political conflict as a battle between ordinary Americans and an over-educated pinko establishment. Any attempt to challenge the ideas of the rightwing elite is successfully branded as elitism.

Barack Obama has a lot to offer the US and the world but none of this will stop if he wins. Until the great failures of the US education system are reversed or religious fundamentalism withers, there will be political opportunities for people like Bush and Palin who flaunt their ignorance.

Monday, October 27, 2008


The final six minutes of Barack Obama’s “closing argument” speech in Canton Ohio left me with tears in my eyes.

GOP Voter Suppression May Stop Joe The Plumber From Voting

It might be the supreme, ironic, twist of Republicans efforts to keep people from voting. It turns out that Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher – the infamous Joe the Plumber – may not be able to vote.

The Republican Party in Ohio lost a battle it took all the way to the US Supreme Court to force the Secretary of State to use “exact matches” against driver license or Social Security lists to purge voters. It turns out that Wurzelbacher is registered as Worzelbacher and might have found himself blocked from voting.

While this is happening everywhere, it is compounded by a protracted Republican effort to disenfranchise Democratic voters under the guise of combating voter fraud. Voter fraud is a serious issue.

The trouble is that it barely exists.

In the six years since the Bush administration made it a priority, barely 100 people have been convicted and fewer than 200 have been charged with voter fraud. The overwhelming majority either were people who thought they were eligible but weren't such as immigrants and felons or individuals registering fictitious people who couldn’t turn up to vote in any event.

A Worse Fraud

Knowingly false cries of “voter fraud” are a much worse fraud the GOP is trying to foist on the country than the actual crime itself – which doesn’t exist in any event. But its real purpose is to intimidate voters, especially those who are uneducated, poor and black or brown when they show up to vote.

"If they found a single case of a conspiracy to affect the outcome of a Congressional election or a state-wide election, that would be significant," Richard Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola University Law School, told the New York Times last year. "But what we see is isolated, small-scale activities that have not shown any kind of criminal intent."

This doesn’t stop Republicans from trying.

Over the weekend, Pres. Bush sent Attorney General Michael Mukasey a letter asking him to investigate the Ohio case already rejected by the Supreme Court. And don’t forget that five of the 12 US attorneys fired last year in the scandal that led to the resignation of Alberto Gonzales were illegally fired because they refused to pursue voter fraud with sufficient zeal to satisfy their ideologue masters in Washington. It also explains the Republican attacks on Acorn, which pays people to register voters in low income and minority areas. A tiny handful of Acorn workers made up names this year, which was condemned by both Acorn and the Obama campaign; in fact, Acorn flagged suspicious registration forms before submitting them to county clerks, something the GOP vote suppressors never mention when doing cable news interviews.

But there is absolutely no evidence – none, nada, zip – that Acorn or anyone else resulted in a single fraudulent vote ever being cast since Acorn began its large-scale drives in 2004.

While attempts at voter suppression are partisan in intent, they are racial in effect.

The Democrats have not won an election without the black vote since 1964. The most effective and crude way to undermine their base is to minimise the vote in black areas. This is just what happened in Florida in 2000, where Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris lowered dramatically the threshold for including someone on the "purge list." By the time Harris and her minions were done, African-Americans were 88% of purged names even though they account for only 11% of the actual electorate.

Kaftaesque Nightmares

As I wrote here on Oct. 22 (, McCain insiders say that the campaign and the Republican National Committee are allegedly conspiring with outside groups to supress voter registration and turnout. Bush’s weekend letter to Mukasey is another piece of damning evidence that the GOP plans to keep people from voting since they cannot be convinced to vote for McCain.

When I first read Franz Kafka in high school, it struck me that the dark tales he spun were from a society, time and place far removed from the safety of Minneapolis. As I re-read Kafka over the years, the stories became increasingly real – and hit much closer to home. A few nights ago, I had a Kafkaesque nightmare where a group of people kept standing in front of me at a voting machine so I couldn’t cast a ballot.

Despite the legions of voter rights groups and the armies of lawyers on stand-by for any hanky-panky on Nov. 4, I’m convinced by my own reporting and other pieces I’ve read that the Republican Party intends to steal the presidential election if it cannot win it. It’s why a landslide is the only way to prevent this from happening: The GOP can steal a state but it cannot steal an entire country.

But if, somehow, that happens I shudder to think what will become of America and her experiment in democracy.

The "Wassup" Boys Hit Hard Times

Eight years ago, Budweiser’s “Wassup?” boys said good by to each other and to America. Now they catch up with each other.

Turns out everyone is looking for change.

Excuse Me, But I Am A Real American

For the past several weeks, John McCain, Sarah Palin and their surrogates have been busily dividing America into two categories: Real and, I guess, pretend Americans.

To Republicans, Election 2008 is junior high school all over again, complete with cliques and slam books. Us and them. The cool kids and the geeks. The jocks and the nerds.

I’m left trying to figure out what a “real American” might be, at least in the minds of the McCain campaign who see the world in white and black – and I use those words deliberately given the nature of this campaign.

Joyce Lipari, a Cortez Colorado real estate agent, defined a “real” American" to McClatchy as "being normal, having a mom and pop making it in a business, and paying their fair share of taxes."

Oh dear. Her definition eliminates most of the fat cat contributors to the Republican Party, the wealthiest 5% of the nation who didn’t make it in a business, they made it by moving other people’s money around and who often pay no taxes at all let alone their fair share. Remember the hedge fund managers pleading with Congress to remain exempt from income taxes on some flimsy rationale?

"A real American is the average person who works 9 to 5 for an average pay check," says Jan Gardner, a nurse from Dolores, Colorado.

Well, as a writer and journalist, I usually work from 7 to 6 for below-average pay checks. Does this mean I am overqualified to be a “real American” or am I a foolishly unreal American?

A Long Line

I come from a long line of “real Americans.”

My mother’s family washed ashore not long after the Civil War as part of the massive immigration wave from Central and Northern Europe. They worked in Chicago and Milwaukee factories, eventually producing my grandfather and grandmother who started a business in the late 1920s and retired in the early 1970s. Beginning with the 1932 election, they never voted for a Republican and believed to the core of their very soul that FDR saved America and them, personally, from ruin and destruction.

One and two at a time, my father’s family came to the United States from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. By the end of World War I, my grandfather and grandmother were in the US and produced my father, the first of three children. Grandpa worked for a laundry and grandma took in both boarders and laundry to make ends meet through the depression. Although grandmother died in the mid-1950s, grandpa worked until he was 70, retiring to live with one of his daughters. They considered themselves “real Americans” and from the time they became citizens always voted for Democrats because "Republicans drive Cadillacs. Feh" My grandfather drove a Hudson until the company went out of business and then drove a Nash.

So I am a product of “real Americans” and resent being cast as something else, something almost evil, by the McCain-Palin slime machine.

What makes me as real an American as the throngs yelping and whooping “Kill him!” at GOP rallies? It is my system of beliefs about democracy.

Belief In Democracy

Besides the fact that I vote, I am a real American because I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

I am a real American because I use my right to Freedom of Speech to boast about the US when it is at its best and reveal inconvenient truths about my country when it is wrong. I lost friends and incurred public wrath and scorn in 2002 and 2003 when I stated unequivocally that George Bush and his brown shirts were lying about WMDs in Iraq.

I am a real American because I don’t believe anyone should be held without charge or trial, regardless of whatever crime they may or may not have committed.

I am a real American because I don’t believe the government has an inherent right to read my mail, real or e-, or listen to my phone calls or rummage through my life without first demonstrating probable cause to a judge and getting a warrant.

I am a real American because I believe US laws and treaties signed by the United States banning the use of torture must be honored.

I am a real American because I think the rich should pay higher taxes than the poor. If that’s socialism, so be it; we’ve been engaging in socialism for the rich since Ronald Reagan stumbled into the White House and turned the tax tables on its head.

I am a real American because I believe black and yellow and red and white and polka-dot people are all the same regardless of the political party they support, the house of worship they attend (and even if they don’t go to a house of worship at all), or the sex of the person they love.

I am a real American because I believe that people who think the exact opposite of me are also real Americans. More than anything else, I think this is what separates so-called “real Americans” from the “Us vs. Them” crowd hanging out with McCain and Palin. I believe even those folks are real Americans.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Happy Saturday Update On Everything From Polls To Joe The Plumber

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows Barack Obama attracting 52% of the vote while John McCain has dipped to 44%. This eight point advantage matches Obama's biggest lead of the year in a race that has been remarkably stable down the stretch.

Meanwhile, at Nate Silver’s totally wonkish, where a large group of polls are run through massively complex mathematical formulas, regressions, equations and weighting every day before ginning out numbers that mean something, today’s projection sits at:

Electoral Votes

Popular Vote

Senate Seats
Independent...... 2.0

Finally, a bit of levity.

James Carville has a theory on why the McCain campaign found Joe the Plumber. It was because "the Republicans wanted to find someone hanging around a toilet other than Larry Craig," he explains to Meanwhile, when asked if Gov. Sarah Palin is ready to be president, Sen. Joe Lieberman tells the Stamford (CT)Advocate "Thank God she's not going to have to be president from day one."

Or ever.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The GOP Hope Chest: Three Possible “October Surprises”

With Barack Obama’s lead over John McCain increasing on an almost daily basis, the GOP is left with “a-wishin’ and a-hopin’” for a so-called October surprise that could upset the likely election outcome in the remaining 11 days.

Authoritative sources in and out of government indicate three possibilities.

1. Killing bin Laden

The upsurge in US attacks on “suspect Taliban and al Qaeda hideouts” inside Pakistan has one overriding objective: Find and kill Osama bin Laden, even if by accident.

At the same time, three independent sources in the intelligence community say that the Army’s super secret Delta Force crosses the Afghan-Pakistani border regularly to search out bin Laden and other high-ranking al Qaeda officials, sometimes following hard intelligence leads and sometimes following rumors and hear-say. In 2001, before the Afghan invasion, at one point Delta Force was within 500 metres of bin Laden, watching him head down a mountain to trucks waiting to take him and his security guard across the border to Pakistan before being ordered by Washington to stand down, according to Kill Bin Laden by Dalton Fury and Col. David Hunt (R).

Given his universally low approval ratings, handing McCain the head of bin Laden is the only thing George Bush can do directly to try helping the Republican ticket.

2. Israel Attacks Iran

This possibility dropped dramatically when Ehud Ohlmert resigned as Israel’s prime minister and leader of the Kadima Party in the wake of a corruption scandal. He remains as PM but heading a caretaker government which, by law, cannot launch any new initiatives.

In widely published reports, Dick Cheney urged Israel to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities. Ohlmert resisted, mostly because the Mossad and his Air Force commanders doubted such a strike would be successful in anything but launching an all-Arab war against Israel. Moreover, Condaleeza Rice intervened with Pres. Bush, thwarting Cheney’s insane idea.

Yet with Iraq threatening to blow up again at any moment – perhaps before the American election – as American-paid Sunni militias become increasing angry with the al-Maliki government the Bush Administration may be looking for a distraction and a US air strike against Iran is not out of the question. But it is doubtful the Pentagon’s service chiefs would go along willingly with such an expansion of the war.

3. Terrorist Attack Inside the US

This does not mean another 9/11-style attack; in fact, no known terrorist organization in the world has the strength or capability right now to launch such a strike.

Rather, national security sources are more interested in monitoring possible attacks against Western or Arab targets inside the United States, perhaps embassy bombing or grabbing foreign diplomats as hostage. One such scenario has terrorists gaining entrance to an embassy using a plant inside the embassy and then threatening to blow up a “suitcase nuke” even though finding the processed uranium either inside the US or smuggling it into the country is extremely unlikely. Nonetheless, the security services would have to take such a threat seriously.

Another scenario puts Arab speaking and looking Mossad agents at the heart of the operation. If elements inside the Israel government are worried about the policy of an Obama administration towards Israel, they are said by intelligence sources in the US to not be above “staging” an attack before Nov. 4 to sway the election to McCain. Sources confirm that both the Mossad and AIPAC are being monitored, along with the usual al Queda channels.

Reality Or Fantasy?

There are other possibilities, perhaps involving North Korea although with Kim Il Jung reportedly very ill the likelihood of an Army adventure are remote. Russia might cause mischief somewhere in what it sees as its area of influence – in former Soviet republics or in the Baltic countries – but Vladimir Putin is no fool. He’s viewed as not wanting to try influencing the American election, especially anything that might elect McCain who the Kremlin views as irrational and unpredictable. China is too involved in trying to avoid the worst of a Western recession to worry much about American politics.

The question is whether an engineered October surprise is reality or fantasy.

Although chances are remote, the bin Laden scenario is seen as having the greatest possibility of happening. The issue is whether bin Laden would cooperate by staying still long enough for either Predator overflights or a Delta Force squad to swoop down and nail him. It is thought that he and his lieutenants have abandoned satellite and even cell phones under the assumption that every call is monitored and pinpointed by the CIA and National Security Agency.

With the days dwindling before the election, time is running out on any sort of October surprise. This doesn’t mean it cannot happen; it just means it becomes increasingly difficult to engineer and pull off successfully.

What Happened To GOP Outrage Over $400 Haircuts?

I suppose when the Republican vice presidential candidate is discovered spending $150,000 on a campaign wardrobe, it’s hard for the GOP to remember being shocked – Shocked, I tell you! – over John Edwards $400 haircut.

It’s even harder to be publicly outraged over the price of haircuts when the party can’t really figure out what it spent Sarah Palin’s wardrobe allowance on. Turns out the numbers don’t add up – and it looks as if somebody is taking the Republicans for a ride.

On Thursday, the New York Times political blog tried tracing the money reported by the GOP on Federal Election Commission filings. For example, the blog reported, the RNC said it spent more than $4,900 on clothes for Doughty Dude Todd Palin at Atelier in Manhattan. Except Atelier carries what The Caucus describes as expensive cut-up T-shirts and tricky suits from avant-garde designers. I haven’t spotted Todd Palin wearing any “tricky suits” as he stands behind his wife at campaign stops. It is possible he is wearing “cut-up T-shirts” underwear but he doesn’t strike me as the type who wears a $400 T-shirt – let alone one that is cut up in advance and not from too much wear – under his Wal-Mart sport coats.

Atelier says the purchase was made by Jeff Larson, a “consultant” to the Republican National Committee who then put in for the expense reimbursement, according to RNC filings. The question is why dies a Republican consultant like Mr. Larson wear “tricky suits” and pre-torn T-shirts? Isn’t this what “elitist celebrities” wear?

Meanwhile, The Young Turks have taken up the Palin wardrobe malfunction.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Now Greenspan Tells Us!

Whoops! My bad. Sorry.

In effect, this is what former Fed chair Alan Greenspan is telling members of the House Committee of Government Oversight and Reform today by admitting he was wrong about unfettered free markets regulating themselves.

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Greenspan conceded in response to relentless questions by committee chair Henry Waxman.

“I found a flaw,” Greenspan shrugged. “I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Oh, gee, Alan, I’m so sorry you’re “distressed.”

Who’s Really Distressed?

But I wonder if you are as distressed as the millions who lost their homes, or as distressed as the growing ranks of unemployed – which swelled by an unexpectedly high 15,000 more people last week, or as distressed as the tens of millions who’ve seen the value of their retirement accounts slashed by half in less than six weeks, or as distressed as the large and small businesses unable to borrow money to finance on-going operations – all crashing down because of your blind adherence to the ability of banks, the equity and debt markets and the free wheeling new instruments to regulate themselves.

You’re distressed? Mr. Greenspan, you should be apoplectic. And apologetic.

Waxman pressed Greenspan to explain, asking, “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working.”

“Absolutely, precisely,” he conceded.

Greenspan says he is in “a state of shocked disbelief” about the breakdown in the ability of banks to regulate themselves, as if consumer groups, Barack Obama and members of Congress haven’t been warning of precisely this problem for two years.

The former Fed chair went on to warn about the economic consequences of the crisis, saying that he “cannot see how we will avoid a significant rise in layoffs and unemployment.”

Gee, you think? Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits increased last week to a seasonally adjusted 478,000, up from 463,000 the previous week, the Labor Dept. reports on the same day Greenspan is ostentatiously overstating the obvious before Congress.

Bye Bye Reaganomics

It’s a tough week for Republicans, beyond the increasingly bad poll numbers for the McCain-Palin ticket and down ballot Republican candidates across the country.

First, Colin Powell shattered John McCain’s claim to being a more capable president then Obama. Then, Hockey Mom Sarah gets caught with her skirt down in a Neiman Marcus dressing room while holding a $150,000 check from the Republican National Committee to buy fancy new duds. And not even the RNC could stomach Rep. Michelle Bachman’s call for a witch hunt against anti-American members of Congress and cut off its financial support for her re-election.

Finally, Greenspan knee-caps the McCain campaign’s call for even less market regulation. Beyond this – and perhaps more importantly – he did us all a favor by pounding the last nail in the coffin of Reaganomics. That’s the silly notion that if you make the rich richer by leaving them alone and unregulated, the poor and middle class will somehow be able to scramble for leftover bacon drippings and thus fare better in the world.

Reaganomics never made sense, never worked and, as an idea, should have been aborted before the idea was born as tax and regulatory legislation. The so-called “Laffer Curve” and Chicago school of economics on which Reagan’s policies were based has come a cropper along with the global economy and financial system.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are left with Mac-and-Cheeze dinners, food bank handouts and unemployment checks. As usual, it is the middle class and poor paying the price for the “flaw” Greenspan discovers too late to do any good.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sarah Palin's Own Style Of Travelgate

– guest post by Denis Campbell, editor of

Gov. Sarah Palin, you have some explaining to do, as Ricky Riccardo would say to Lucy.

It seems Mr. and Mrs. Alaska charged the state for travel to bring their progeny to events. Gov. Palin charged the state for her children to travel to events where they were not invited, and later amended expense reports to specify that they were on official business.

Remember the first year of the Clinton Administration in 1993? How quaint the Republican Party attack and smear machine now looks trying every trick in the book to stop or slow the new President’s agenda? The relentless attacks from fear against former House Judiciary Committee counsel, then First Lady, now US Senator Hillary Clinton’s attempt to craft a national healthcare program?

Remember the silly kafuffle over the White House Travel Office’s ‘Travelgate’ probe and Republican calls for an independent prosecutor to look into the Administration’s use of that office – which led nowhere? How about the Whitewater Development investigation, where the feds spent hundreds of millions of dollars to investigate a failed real estate investment development that lost money for the Clinton’s?

And then trying to say the terribly sad suicide of family friend and political advisor Vince Foster during the furore was not a suicide, ascribing all sorts of ludicrously nefarious conspiracy theories?

Ah, those were the days.

They were the salad days of the Republican Party’s new foray into a brand of politics from a young Bush 41 advisor named Karl Rove. Say anything enough times and it becomes true whether or not it is. It’s why there was all of that right wing frothing at the mouth over nothing for the first 18-months of the Administration.

Well, you just never know when payback time comes around! The only thing you do know is that it always does.

Expensing Her Life

The charges racked up by Gov. Palin included costs for hotel and commercial flights for three daughters to join Palin to watch their father in a snowmobile race, and a trip to New York where the governor attended a five-hour conference and stayed with 17-year-old Bristol for five days in a luxury hotel. Hey, Mommy bonding time is probably what was needed to keep Bristol from getting in trouble, right?

Palin charged the state $21,012 for her three daughters’ 64 one-way and 12 round-trip commercial flights since taking office in December 2006. In some other cases, she has charged the state for hotel rooms for the girls.

Alaska law does not specifically address expenses for a governor’s children. The law allows for payment of expenses for anyone conducting official state business.

As governor, Palin justified having the state pay for the travel of her daughters — Bristol, 17; Willow, 14; and Piper, 7 — by noting on travel forms that the girls had been invited to attend or participate in events on the governor’s schedule.

Uninvited Guests

But organizers of some of these events say they were surprised when the Palin children showed up uninvited, or said they agreed to insistent requests by the governor to allow the children to attend.

Several other organizers said the children merely accompanied their mother and did not participate. Palin claimed the trips enabled her to spend more time with her children.

Of course, this presumably does not include any of the 300+ travel per diems totalling some $17,000 she claimed for state travel when working from her Anchorage home.

How much do you want to bet the MSM ignores this story?

Denis Campbell is editor of

McCain Aide Acknowledges Voter Suppression Strategy

Six days ago, I wrote about how a solid contact inside the McCain campaign explained to me what’s left for McCain ( in the remaining days of the election battle after his terrible performance in the third debate.

“Voter suppression and wonky Diebold machines,” my contact said then, adding “It’s our last hope.” He stuns me into a long silence. Breaking the awkward pause, he quickly added, “I’m just kidding.”

It turns out that, even though he did not know it at the time, my source was serious.

“There have been meetings and conference calls between people here (at McCain’s campaign headquarters), people at the RNC and groups out in Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania and maybe a few other states creating a strategy to harass voters and challenge ballots,” he tells me this morning in a call he makes to me on his cell phone from the safety of his car.

“This isn’t what I signed up for and I don’t want to be a part of it. I may resign in the next day or two.”

I sit in my office, dumbfounded. Here is a relatively important person inside a presidential campaign acknowledging that McCain and the Republican National Committee are conspiring secretly with outside groups to sabotage the presidential election.

Why, I ask, are they doing this?

“I think it’s because they know the election is lost in a fair fight so they want to cast doubts on the legitimacy of Obama’s victory,” he says. “Hell, we’re losing it in an unfair fight in spite of the bullshit about Ayers.

“Anyway, in the process they might just pull off a win if they can challenge enough voters or scare people away from voting,” my source adds. “With the polls against him, they need a distraction on election day.”

Just Like Zimbabwe

I reach a second contact in the McCain campaign, a woman I’ve known for decades who works in one of the dwindling number of swing states, to learn if she’s heard anything similar.

“Well, I don’t get a lot of the insider scuttlebutt ‘cause I’m not in McLean (Virginia, where McCain’s campaign office is located),” she reminds me. “But it fits with rumors I’ve heard and stuff floating around the office and on the web.”

I wonder whether she thinks it is a legitimate strategy for a presidential campaign to condone.

“Ask Steve Schmidt,” she shoots back with more than a tinge of bitterness in her voice. “It sounds like something straight from Rove’s playbook. If you can’t beat them, scare them. If you can’t scare them, make sure their votes don’t count.”

I hang up thinking this sounds like Zimbabwe. Or Haiti or some other backwater country ruled by a tin pot dictator. I wonder if the United States needs the Carter Center to monitor the US elections as it did in Gaza and some African nations.

Frightening Reality

The frightening reality is that GOP-backed groups are systematically looking for ways to prevent Democrats from casting a ballot Nov. 4.

As Robert F. Kennedy Jr., told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC Tuesday night, ( Colorado has purged up to 12% of all voter registrations and, in a Rolling Stone article ( Kennedy details how the tactic is spreading to other states.

Not coincidentally, Pres. Bush put former Colorado Republican Secretary of State Donna Davidson in charge of showing voting officials how to “clean up” their registration lists. For “clean up” you can substitute “get rid of Democrats, especially minorities in urban areas.”

Even if your name isn’t purged and you aren’t challenged at your voting place, Kennedy notes your vote may still not count. The US Commission on Civil Rights investigated some of the 2000 returns from Florida and found that African-Americans were 10 times more likely than whites to have their ballots rejected, a ratio that holds nationwide, Kennedy reports in his Rolling Stone article.

Fighting First

Unlike the Democrats in 2000 and 2004, Barack Obama’s legal team and the DNC are not sitting passively for the vote to be stolen out from under the country.

I speak with two sources inside the Obama election effort and neither is totally surprised, adding that legal teams are active in every state to help ensure that voters can actually vote. In fact, several thousand volunteer lawyers will be ready to move into counties and precincts on Election Day or during the counting process if trouble is reported.

While there have been some problems with early voting, my friend Pete in Palm Beach County, Florida voted yesterday and said things went smoothly.

“I waited in line an hour because the place was packed. Being curious, I asked an elections official how things were going. And they noted every early place in (the county) was just like this one: Open at 10AM to long lines and it doesn't stop until after 7 PM.

“Like a lot of people voting, the couple in front of me were wearing Obama T-shirts and the guy behind me had an Alaska hat on but was voting for Obama. Why, I asked him? He said it’s because Palin has brought great shame on the state by her actions, greed, and outright fraudulent behaviour. He predicts that Palin will have a primary fight for sure if she loses with McCain. Why he is voting in Florida? He tells me winters are too damn cold in Alaska so he comes to Florida in September, returning in May. His son runs the business in Juneau during the winter.”

Hopefully, things will run as smoothly straight through Election Day. But the McCain campaign, the Republican National Committee and groups they’re supporting are trying to ensure nothing goes smoothly.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Colin Powell’s Best Case For America

Throughout the primary and election campaign, I’ve received lots of smear-mail about Barack Obama. Much of it includes knowingly false statements about him being a Muslim meaning, whether the smear-mail says it openly or not, that he is one step removed from the 19 evil men who crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

Yesterday, in his wide-ranging, stinging criticism of John McCain’s campaign and thoughtful rationale for endorsing Obama, Gen. Colin Powell made the most-compelling shout out I've heard so far against the hate campaign Obama is enduring from so-called loyal Republican Americans.

“I'm also troubled by not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, ‘Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’

“Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?

“Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, ‘He's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.’ This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

“I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards – Purple Heart, Bronze Star – showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.”

Gen. Powell still has a long way to go to rehabilitate his reputation after knowingly telling the world lies about the need to invade Iraq. But his comments on Meet the Press made a good start as well as giving me an answer to send back to the perpetrators of the next smear-mail I receive about Obama being a Muslim:

“He’s not but so what if he is? Why can’t a Muslim – or a Jew, or an atheist or a Hottentot for that matter – be President of the United States? Isn’t that what America is all about?”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Obama Raises $150-Million In September

That’s right.

In October, 362,000 new contributors gave Barack Obama $150-million in September. That brings to 3.1-million people contributing an average of $86 each to his campaign.

If memory serves correctly, in 1960 Jack Kennedy spent a total of about $35-million – including the primaries; there were no caucuses back then and far fewer primaries – in his campaign because, his father told him, “I’m willing to buy a win but not a landslide.”

Meanwhile, listen to Colin Powell’s sound, thoughtful reasoning for why he endorses Obama rather than John McCain.

I'm especially impressed with Powell's comment about smear tactics about Obama being a Muslin by asking, "Why can't a Muslim become president?"

Obama: 61 Newspaper Endorsements, McCain: 16. But Does It Mean Much Anymore?

UPDATE: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorses Barack Obama on Meet the Press this morning.
- - -
There was a time in America when a newspaper’s editorial endorsement of a candidate affected the way some of its readers voted. In the days before 24-hour cable news, daily tracking polls, snap surveys and the internet, many people actually waited to learn who The Daily Foghorn thought should be president or mayor or dog catcher before voting for a candidate.

I doubt that’s quite the case anymore.

For one thing, a relatively tiny percentage of Americans actually read a daily newspaper. For another, there are so many other opportunities to learn about a candidate and his or her position on various issues that whether the Daily Foghorn endorses a specific candidate – or none at all, as happened frequently in 2004 – doesn’t mean very much in terms of how people vote.

But editorial endorsements remain a valuable reflection of how the two presidential candidates are faring across the nation, not so much in terms of poll numbers but in the way that a given community’s supposedly best-informed “wise solons” feel should be entrusted with the privilege of leadership by voters.

Our friend Denis Campbell at painstakingly built an endorsement tote board, finding that 61 newspapers with circulation of more than 9-million readers are endorsing Obama; in 2004, 10 of these newspapers either endorsed George Bush or made no endorsement. By contrast, just 16 newspapers with a combined 1.5-million circulation are backing McCain. All of the newspapers backing McCain endorsed Bush in 2004.

Here’s Denis’ list:


Arkansas Times

The Argus (Fremont)
Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek)
Daily Review (Hayward)
The Fresno Bee
La Opinion (Los Angeles)
Los Angeles Times
The Modesto Bee
The Monterey County Herald
Oakland Tribune
The (Stockton) Record
The Sacramento Bee
San Bernardino Sun
San Francisco Chronicle
San Jose Mercury News
San Mateo County Times
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Tri-Valley Herald

Cortez Journal
The Denver Post
The Durango Herald
Gunnison Country Times
Ouray County Plain Dealer

The Washington Post

The Miami Herald

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Chicago Tribune
Chicago Sun-Times
Southwest News-Herald

The Storm Lake Times

Kansas City Star

The Boston Globe
The Standard-Times (New Bedford)

The Muskegon Chronicle

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Santa Fe New Mexican

The New York Daily News
el Dario La Prensa

Asheville Citizen-Times
Raleigh News & Observer

Cleveland Plain-Dealer
The (Toledo) Blade
Dayton Daily News
The (Canton) Repository
Springfield News-Sun

Mail Tribune (Medford)

The Express-Times (Easton)
Philadelphia Inquirer
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Chattanooga Times
The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)
The (Nashville) Tennessean

The Lufkin Daily News

The Salt Lake Tribune

Falls Church News-Press

The Columbian
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
The Seattle Times

The Charleston Gazette

The Capital Times (Madison)
Wisconsin State Journal (Madison)


Napa Valley Register:
The San Francisco Examiner

Mountain Valley News (Cedaredge):
The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction)
The Pueblo Chieftain

The Washington DC Examiner

The Baltimore Examiner

Boston Herald
The (Lowell) Sun

Foster’s Daily Democrat
Union Leader (Manchester)

New York Post

The (Findlay) Courier

Amarillo Globe-News

(Spokane) Spokesman-Review

Wheeling News-Register

Friday, October 17, 2008

John McCain: Unbalanced, Unglued And Unfit

Over the past two weeks, we’ve witnessed the coming apart of a once-proud man. Whether in his rambling, often incoherent answers during Wednesday night’s debate or his stump speeches that seem to be little more than words dashing around in search of a thought, John McCain is coming unglued, to a trained professional eye and to a casual observer alike.

For whatever reason, as the campaign dwindles to a few remaining days, McCain is in more than political trouble: He is in serious psychological trouble.

A psychiatrist friend noticed it during the second debate.

If he didn’t end up practicing psychiatry, he wanted to be Flapping Lips Wolkowitz, a drummer who is the last living exponent of Chicago Ashkenazi Klezmer blues music. So, he sometimes calls himself Flapping Lips when not treating patients.

“There’s something wrong with McCain,” Flapping Lips tells me after the town hall. “Did you see how he just wandered around the stage? That’s a common sign of confusion in the elderly, usually when they know where they are but aren’t sure why they’re there. ”

In Florida, another friend who’s not a medical professional spots the same problem in McCain. Pete is a decorated Viet Nam vet who now lives in Florida. I find an e-mail from him in my mailbox this morning where he speculates on what McCain has become – and why.

“Maybe it's the dragons still haunting his psyche from 66-months of North Vietnamese captivity. Or it’s the ghosts of a revered military father and grandfather whose accomplishments he could never quite match. Perhaps his cold-hearted abandonment of his first wife and children still disturb him. It might even the demons of his unbridled ambition – remember that he first ran for president in 1992 – that are driving him mad.

“Whatever the causes of the ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in his night, one thing is certain: They all showed up at Wednesday’s debate and keep reappearing every time he stands up before a campaign crowd.

“I no longer loathe the man; I pity him. He has become a sad final chapter in his own life. I hope in retirement he finds some peace. Thursday night he convinced an entire world that he is completely unfit for the office he seeks.”

Frustratingly Stable Race

It’s easy to understand how McCain may have become unhinged. Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll today shows Obama attracting 50% of the vote while McCain is stuck at 46%. These figures reflect a remarkably stable race where, for 22 straight days, Obama is enjoying a four-to-eight point advantage.

The same tracking poll reveals that voters trust Obama more than McCain on seven of 10 key issues, most notably the economy which outweighs all other concerns this election by a wide margin. McCain is more trusted only on abortion, immigration and Iraq – and then by percentage points that are within the margin of error.

More critical to McCain is that he cannot seem to shake Obama’s commanding lead in the Electoral College, with most state-by-state estimates putting Obama comfortably over 300 votes; 270 are needed to be elected president.

This also explains two things.

First, it is why Obama spent much of yesterday cautioning supporters against complacency, reminding them of what happened in the New Hampshire primary and that the only poll that counts is the one Nov. 4. Second, it explains why McCain is sounding increasingly like a desperate man trying to hang on to the last lifeboat rowing away from a sinking ship.

Discombobulated Party

McCain became the candidate more by default than by being the champion of Republican values and beliefs; no one knows what those are any more anyway. While a powerful, well organized block in the GOP, the evangelical right isn’t large enough to nominate a Mike Huckabee, but it is just large enough to block Mitt Romney with his demon Mormon beliefs from winning. Rudy Guiliani spent his entire, brief primary campaign as a punch line, thanks to Joe Biden. Fred Thompson was the Great White Hope until he actually entered the race and turned out to be a dud.

So, a discombobulated party ended up nominating McCain because he was the last one standing, not because anyone really thought he’d be a great candidate let alone a great president.

Besides, the party figured it was John’s turn; the GOP is notorious for picking presidential candidates from the first in line of waiting possibilities.

It would be a shame if finally getting his turn means John McCain has been pushed over the edge entirely, ending his career unbalanced, unglued and unfit.

John Cleese On Sarah Palin

Here's the irascible British national treasure John Cleese, sitting in his back yard in Santa Barbara and being irascible about Sarah Palin on ("I'm sorry, Michael Palin, but you're not the funniest Palin anymore.") Last week, he wrote an irascible poem about the Fox News host Sean Hannity that he sent to Countdown's Keith Olbermann, who read it on the air.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

John McCain: The 30 Minute Man

You know how you feel when you’re overtired at the end of a long day: A bit crabby, out-of-sorts, overwhelmed by a desperate need for sleep, snarling uncontrollably at people who make a perfectly ordinary, civil comment to you.

Well, after watching all three presidential debates, I came to a startling conclusion: When John McCain’s people negotiated the terms of the debates, they should have insisted on keeping them to a half-hour. In each of the three jousts, McCain did well for the first 20-to-30 minutes before lapsing into his grumpy old man routine, leaving the country wondering what is he so angry about.

As I sat watching last night, it dawned on me that maybe McCain’s normal bedtime is around 9.30: Perhaps that’s when he usually jammies up, has a glass of warm milk, swallows his meds (and maybe a Cialis in case the little woman might drop in for a nocturnal visit) and crawls under the sheets. Maybe it’s being stuck on stage for another hour that turns him crabby and out-of-sorts. It’s sure how it appears through the television screen.

If McCain could re-boot the debates as he keeps trying to do with his campaign, my hunch is he would have insisted on either starting an hour or two earlier or limiting the exercise to a half-hour format.

“Our Last Hope Is Voter Suppression”

Things are decidedly downbeat this morning in Virginia where a contact inside the McCain campaign is giving me his post-mortem.

“John can’t win from losing,” is the Cliff’s Notes take on the debate from a source inside the McCain campaign. “In the first two debates he came across as someone who didn’t know where he was. Last night, instead of being stronger he seemed like Grandpa Simpson.”

What about internal polling?

“Base loved him, undecideds are drifting to Obama,” comes the sorrowful answer.

So what’s left for the campaign in the 20 or so days remaining?

“Voter suppression and wonky Diebold machines,” my contact shoots back, adding “It’s our last hope.” He stuns me into a long silence. Breaking the awkward pause, he admits, “I’m just kidding.”

It’s so funny I forgot to laugh.

In fact, the Republican Party may not have a campaign strategy but it does have an election strategy: Keep as many likely Obama voters as possible from casting a ballot. This means minorities in Cleveland and Toledo, and students in the campus towns of Columbus and Cincinnati. Yesterday, an Ohio state court acting on a Republican Party-sponsored motion directed the Democratic Secretary of State to verify – by Friday, mind you – all of the registrations of the several hundred thousand people who registered and voted on the same day during the state’s early voting. One of many problems with the decision is that the wife of one of the judges ruling in favor of the motion is a Republican candidate on the ballot.

I thought bar association ethics rules required judges – and lawyers – to recuse themselves from cases in which they have an interest. Oh, wait a moment: We’re talking about Ohio where the Republican Party perfected ignoring conflict of interest, scamming ethics and driving illegal voter suppression.

Openly Churlish

McCain’s utter disdain and palpable dislike of Barack Obama was written all over his face, and his snarling, openly churlish responses to Bob Schieffer’s probing questions – Schieffer was the best of the debate moderators, by far – told the country far more about what a McCain presidency would be like than anything substantive he said.

The country saw clearly that McCain is a nasty, vicious, pitcher of sour buttermilk three weeks past its “use by” date, who is barely able contain his temper and can't quite grasp what is happening to him.

The lasting image of the night could be the split screen of Obama, maintaining his unflappable demeanor under withering attacks, while McCain slouched in his chair looking coiled, breathing deeply, eyelids flapping like mad, a grimace on his face he tried disguising as a smile, all in an unsuccessful but unmistakable show of impatience.

"We came into the debate with two-thirds of the American people thinking that John McCain is running a negative campaign, and Senator McCain spent 90 minutes trying to convince the other third," Obama campaign chief David Plouffe declared afterwards

Internal Polls

The CBS and CNN snap polls of undecided voters gave the night to Obama, and a group of undecided voters gathered by the Sacramento Bee to watch were asked by Sacramento State University government professor Kimberly Nalder asked "Which candidate has the Joe-mentum?" McCain's strategy to wrest momentum from Obama by constantly referring to Joe The Plumber was roundly ridiculed by the focus group.

In Obama’s Chicago headquarters, equally happy internal polling results are rolling in within an hour of the end of the debate.

“We trounced him,” a trusted, long-time source inside the campaign tells me around midnight. “Undecideds and independents turned against McCain in droves.”

This is confirmed by a second Obama source, who notes “We didn’t lose any of the people who’d already decided to vote for Barack and we gained significantly among undecideds.” She pauses and I hear her clicking through data on her computer screen before she shouting, “Jesus! We picked up some previously committed McCain voters! That’s a good night!”

The question between now and Nov. 4 is how many good nights can overcome an aggressive voter suppression campaign and questionable electronic voting machines.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Open Warfare At Camp McCain: The Schmidt’s vs. The Davis’s

Open warfare has broken out between John McCain’s campaign management with one faction backing Steve Schmidt, the Karl Rove protégé who came on board in July, and the other standing behind Rick Davis, McCain’s long-time campaign manager.

According to two independent sources working inside the campaign, it was Schmidt and his faction who directed last week’s disastrous foray into the politics of smear and hate, causing a near-collapse in support for McCain among independents and undecided voters as well as what passes for the right wing’s intelligentsia who write Op-Ed’s for Very Serious Newspapers.

By week’s end, Davis almost reasserted control over the campaign and its message.

On Sunday, Sen. Lindsay Graham said McCain would trot out a new economic policy message on Monday, which was Davis’ doing. By Monday morning, Schmidt had the campaign announce no such rollout was planned, asserting that the candidate would continue to push its already-announced plans to get the economy back on track. Then, Tuesday morning with Davis back in charge for a moment – surprise! – McCain shows up in Blue Bell PA, a Philadelphia suburb, to give a speech touted by campaign flacks as unveiling a “new economic proposal.”

But not quite. The new initiative is simply a sliced-and-diced rehash of a previously-announced program to have Treasury buy up mortgages at face value from banks and then renegotiate them with homeowners based on the current value of the property along with a few other pandering goodies aimed at seniors but which would have no real impact on their financial well-being.

Capping off the most bizarre 48 hours in McCain bizarre campaign history, economic advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin actually had the audacity to tell reporters accompanying the campaign that the plan was always for the candidate to unveil the proposal today. I guess Holtz-Eakin forgot to tell McCain over the weekend, or on Monday to the spokespeople who pooh-poohed the idea that a new economic plan was forthcoming.


“No Adults Are In Charge”

“Between the infighting and the lack of direction and no consistent message, it’s obvious no adults are in charge,” a long-time friend who has been one of my sources inside the McCain campaign since the primaries complains bitterly. “Given what’s happened with the financial collapse, I’m not sure we could ever win this thing. But Schmidt and Davis aren’t helping.”

“It looks as if we’re going down in a hail of bullets, except it’ll be two sides of the operation firing at each other,” he sighs resignedly. Unabashedly mixing metaphors, he concludes, “All we need is a guy in a toga standing in the middle of the room playing a fiddle while the campaign burns.”

Out in one of the few still-disputed swing states, another long-time contact inside the McCain operation says the disarray is affecting day-to-day work.

“I get contradictory e-mails and text messages all day long,” she says. “I can’t direct workers or volunteers when Alexandria (VA, where McCain’s campaign is based) can’t set a direction and stick to it for more than a few hours.”

I ask her why she thinks this is happening; after all, Republican presidential campaigns have a reputation of being smooth running, well-oiled machines going all the way back to Nixon in 1968.

“Because the internal numbers are worse than the public polls, the horse race stuff that cable news loves,” she explains ruefully. “Much worse.

“They’re grasping at anything.”

Empire’s End

What I’ve been hearing from McCain sources for the past month reminds me of what I read in The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire in school about 100 lifetimes ago. Apparently, it’s dawned on others, as well.

My friend Pete in Florida, a Viet Nam vet and as rabid an anti-Republican as he is a rabid Cubs fan, sent an e-mail yesterday morning observing, “I find myself wondering what the ancient Romans thought when they finally realized their Empire was collapsing around them and the (remaining) choices weren’t going to save their ass. It must have made for very interesting dinner conversations.

“As for me, I’m outtahere,” he continues, reminding me that he and his dazzling Brazilian girlfriend plan to move to Sao Paulo if McCain is elected. “At least I have an exit strategy, which makes me 50 times smarter than every Republican on this planet.”

So it has come down to this: The McCainiacs are fighting over whether to smarm the opposition or shovel out recycled, already-discredited proposals to an unsuspecting public while calling them “new.” It reads like the last days of somebody’s empire, alright.

It didn’t have to come to this. I’m just old enough to remember an era when House and Senate leaders from both parties squabbled like angry over legislation during the day before meeting every Thursday for a cordial evening of Scotch, Texas beef and poker at the White House with Lyndon Johnson. Between dinner and “G’night, boys,” deals were cut and everyone went home friends.

“When I was a young Senate staffer, the place was inhabited by real leaders who actually cared about the nation they served,” Florida Pete, who classifies himself as a recovering Republican, writes. “Today, ‘they’ only care about their ideology and their ability to secure money. We are being sold out by our own narrow-mindedness, stupidity, greed and gods.”

It sounds as if the McCain campaign is being sold out by the same forces.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

American Dream Kills Six, Nearly Seven, In One Day

The Karthik Rajaram family was living the American dream in Sorrento Pointe, a gated community in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains 23 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Yet late last week, the dream came crashing in on them. Beset with financial worries after not finding work for months on end and seeing his future evaporate, Rajaram shot and killed his wife, three children and mother-in-law before turning the gun on himself.

As police were announcing the murder-suicide to reporters, Keith Olbermann was telling viewers about Annie Yoke who was about to be removed from her foreclosed Ohio home by Sheriff deputies. So distraught at what had become of her life, she shot herself in the chest. Deputies found her lying bleeding but alive on the floor when they arrived to evict her. She is 90 years old.

At least six people dead and one attempted suicide in a single afternoon as a direct result of Bush-McCain economic policies that ruined the American economy – to say nothing of destroying countless families’ hopes for living the American dream.

"It is critical to step up and realise we are in some pretty troubling times,'' the deputy police chief told the Los Angeles Times.

Welcome to the United States in 2008.

Country Be Damned

Amidst the despair and dismay gripping much of the nation, reports coming from the Treasury Dept. say that yesterday’s meeting between Secretary Hank Paulson and a dozen CEOs of troubled banks turned acrimonious when the bankers balked at giving up their seven and eight-figure bonuses and severance packages in exchange for a government capital infusion.

These already-wealthy men who, with help from the Republican hierarchy, caused the dire financial crisis gripping the world would rather let the nation get flushed down the toilet than sacrifice a bonus. Of course, their salaries wouldn’t be touched; they’ll still earn millions annually. But Congress attached a few strings to the $700-billion it authorized to bail out the Titans of Terrible – among them, foregoing their Midas-sized bonuses and severance packages that will enable their grandchildren’s grandchildren to live more than comfortably.

In effect, they are yelling, “Nation be damned, I want my bonus!”

Life is tough at the top. But it’s not nearly as tough as it is for people in the middle, to say nothing about those farther down.

Middle income investors have withdrawn more than $81-billion from stock mutual funds since the beginning of the year, with nearly 40% coming in the last six weeks, according to AMG Data Services, an industry research firm.

“It is a lack of faith in America,” Pat Emard, 65, of Aptos, Calif., told The New York Times. Recently retired, now she worries she may have to go back to work. “People have lost faith in our government.”

“It’s very hard to have much faith in what the government is doing when they change it every day,” Jane Snow, a 73-year old retired Chicago school teacher says. “As you read more and more about how we got into this situation, you have less and less faith of how we’re going to get out of it.”

Clearly, people such as Jane Snow are living on a very different planet than that occupied by the CEOs who spent Monday whining about giving up their bonus.


To get a sense of how people are coping, I went to, a discussion board formed by followers of John Bogel, founder of Vanguard Funds. One of the boards asks people how they are coping with financial stress.

“More meds,” declares Linda.

Judsen is more laid back, writing “Mind over matter is how I do it. If I don't mind it don't matter.”

Tall Grass explains, “I get out in the open air and chase hawks with my Remote-Control airplanes ... never catch 'em, they fly better than I do.”

And Jane writes that she maintains her equilibrium by “Venting all my fear, anger, frustration and guilt here on this site instead of bringing it home to my family!” Too bad Karthik Rajaram didn’t know about the bogelhead site; it might have saved his family.

Meanwhile, John McCain is sounding more like a Bobble Head doll than a bogelhead. On Sunday, he said he would announce a major new financial plan on Monday. By Monday, a campaign flack said no such initiative was in the works. But McCain did use a town hall appearance in North Carolina to talk about his once-abandoned, now-resuscitated plan to do something about mortgages. But unlike previous town hall meetings, McCain scampered off before taking any questions.

While McCain babbled nonsense, Barack Obama was laying out a detailed, seven point economic recovery plan to a Toledo audience. Crucially, he said it should be enacted now, not in 99 days when he would take office if elected. His Senate staff is preparing a piece of legislation based on his ideas.

After yesterday’s market rally, some of the bogelheads may feel better. But the market slid again this morning and Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman notes ominously, “we haven’t yet seen anything like a return to normality in credit markets. TED spread is down but still at nosebleed levels; three-month T-bills at 0.48%, showing that flight to safety remains strong.”

Jane Snow, the retired school teacher, is still worried. “You don’t go through life thinking the bank I do business with could go belly up tomorrow. This is a new feeling people are living with.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Paul Krugman Wins Nobel Prize For Economics

Paul Krugman, the New York Times Op-Ed columnist, has won the 2008 Nobel Prize for Economics. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited Krugman today “for his analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity.”

Non-academics best know him for being a frequent guest on the PBS NewsHour, and both Countdown and The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. His observations on the economy, the financial crisis and Henry Paulson's stop-and-start approach to staving off a collapse of the global financial system appear several times every day at his blog at and he is the author of Conscience of a Liberal.

He was awarded the prize, and its $1.4-million honorarium, for explaining why worldwide trade is dominated by a few countries that are similar to each other, and why some countries might import the same kinds of goods that it exports.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hello, Pot? This Is Kettle Calling!

Abuse of power. Violations of ethical standards. Using an official position to pursue personal interests. Cover ups. Failing to co-operate with an investigation.

Oh, yes: Lying.

After eight years of Congress letting George Bush and Dick Cheney get away with all of these high crimes and misdemeanors, it took a heavily Republican-dominated committee of the heavily Republican-dominated Alaska state legislature to call out a Republican senior government official for malfeasance.

Put bluntly, the Legislative Council nails Gov. Sarah Palin for abusing her office, authority and state employees to settle a personal score with a former relative.

She is the pot who spent all of last week calling the kettle black.

Sarah, the GOP’s “everywoman,” turns out to be a cheap political weasler.

She is the phoney “hockey mom” earning a six figure salary who holds a wooden cross of goodness and light high above her head yet turns out to be nothing more than a craven idol, a garden gnome being carted around the real world by pranksters.

The supposed ally of a “Joe Sixpack” who’s trying to survive financially after a disastrous Republican president ruined the economy is worse than the Wizard of Oz in cheap pumps, hiding behind a curtain of false sanctimony. At least the Wizard of Oz tried doing some good; all Palin did this week was promote fear and hate mongering.

Set aside the $35,000 sun tanning bed she installed in the governor’s igloo; forget about charging the state $19,000 for days when she was living in her own home; forget about her whining that she couldn’t always use a state airplane when she wanted to go somewhere; forget about her not remembering the name of a single newspaper she reads; forget about claiming she fired the cook at the governor’s mansion when all she did was change the job title and assign the cook’s salary – but not her duties – to a different department; forget about her lack of knowledge, understanding or even curiosity about the world; forget about her attending five universities in six years; forget about her countless gaffes uttered during interviews; forget about her suspicious connections to a group that demands Alaska secede from the Union.

Forget about all of that.

All you need to know about Sarah Palin is that she is a mean, vindictive, political climber who abuses her public trust regularly, sending the little mister and her official staff out in her name to get someone fired that she doesn’t like.

Not even during the heyday of the Cook County IL Democratic machine with all of its tentacles reaching onto every street corner in the city and no civil service anywhere would the original Mayor Daley (father of the current Mayor Daley) ever try pulling a stunt like this. I know: I lived in Chicago during the last seven years of the life, times and mayorship of the beloved and all-powerful “Hizzoner.”

Sarah Palin is the “Peter Principle” come to life.

Worse, with the documented evidence of abusing her office, violating the law, using her office to pursue personal interests, engaging in cover ups, failing to co-operate with investigators and lying, she is Dick Cheney in drag.

Poor, Poor Sarah

- Guest post by Denis Campbell, editor-in-chief of

I feel like a Cheshire cat who swallowed a big-haired ‘g’ dropping canary whole ‘dontchaknow,’ gives me energy and sustenance without leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Saturday Night Live’s writers are feverishly re-working tonight’s Palin sketch having been handed today’s gift, Sarah Palin was found guilt of abusing the powers of her office in violation of state law by an Alaskan legislative committee when she fired public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan for not firing her State Trooper ex-brother-in-law. The sun shines brighter in Wales and birds sing more beautifully this morning because the lipsticked pit bull finally got caught going “a bridge too far.” Enough twisted metaphors for one paragraph?

I was thinking back to Spiro Agnew, the last Vice President from this party to resign in disgrace. He was investigated by the U.S. attorney in Baltimore for allegedly receiving payoffs from engineers seeking contracts when Agnew was Baltimore county executive and governor of Maryland .

Agnew asserted his innocence, then resigned the Vice Presidency eight months ahead of his boss, Richard Nixon, in 1973. He pleaded nolo contendere, or ‘no contest,’ to a single charge he had failed to report $29,500 of income received in 1967. He was fined $10,000 and placed on three years’ probation. After his resignation he started a successful business career as an international broker.

That seems quaint and honourable compared to destroying a man’s career and opening the state of Alaska to criminal and civil cases that will ensure that former Walt Monegan becomes a very rich man and earns big bucks on the speaking circuit for his troubles.

So the MSM will spend this weekend finally doing their job and digging deeply into Ms. Palin’s questionable tenure as Governor. This is a gift to them because the major networks have been cowed into submission for weeks by McCain campaign attacks of sexism in their coverage. Their gloves now come off and there is nowhere Governor Palin can now go without being hounded by the press to answer all the charges.

I’m halfway through the book written about her Vice Presidential idol, Dick Cheney, subject of the book Angler by Pulitzer Prize Winning author Barton Gellman and can see his fingerprints already all over the predicted McCain/Republican response. “We fully support Governor Palin and will appeal this decision all the way to the Supreme Court. This is a partisan witch hunt. My friends, Sarah Palin is a dedicated public servant persecuted and abused by Democratic demagogues. Who is Barack Obama, why are you not focused on that? The MSM is in the tank for Obama. Obama’s team influenced this.” and the list will go on and on and on.

And the there is the whole secessionist movement where she pals around with terrorists… scary.

The GOP (that’s their new brand hoping we’re dumb enough not to know that those initials stand for the Republican Party) will completely fracture itself live over the next week as moderate Republicans fighting to stay in office try to wipe the stain of BCMP (Bush, Cheney, McCain & Palin) onto flaming wood to distance themselves from the top of this fiasco of ticket.

The word ‘Republican’ will be further eliminated from even more adverts and flyers as the down-ticket races for Senate and House arrange deck chairs on this Titanic and pray nothing else bad hits in the last 24-days of the campaign. And the whacked out far right will fill arenas rushing to defend their poor, poor Sarah, the GOP’s money and celebrity machine.

And this is all so deserving of a woman who snidely and smilingly incited such racial hatred on the campaign trail. See, no one notices this stuff in Alaska . Walt must be very happy she was selected to come under the national spotlight. Is benefits would have run out and been stuck. Now McCain and Co. are sick this morning knowing that the vetting process is exposed as a complete sham.

Like I said, I’m grinning from ear-to-ear because it couldn’t happen to a nicer pit bull and her pals. Now if she and Cindy McCain could also be charged by the Secret Service for inciting crowds against a protectee, I will dance all weekend.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Paul Krugman Sees The Future And Is Terrified

Here are the two most-recent entries at Paul Krugman’s "Conscience of a Liberal" blog at the New York Times. They are realistic, terrifying and I hope he is wrong.

Failure of leadership, part LXXIV
October 10 2008, 2:27pm
Bloomberg reports:
Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven nations signaled reluctance to adopt a coordinated effort to shore up banks, risking a deeper crisis of confidence after this week’s crash in global stock markets.

Do these people have any idea how much is at risk?

Not about the financial crisis
October 10, 2008, 1:43 pm
The (financial) crisis isn’t the only scary thing going on. Something very ugly is taking shape on the political scene: as McCain’s chances fade, the crowds at his rallies are, by all accounts, increasingly gripped by insane rage. It’s not just a mob phenomenon — it’s visible in the right-wing media, and to some extent in the speeches of McCain and Palin.

We’ve seen this before. One thing that has been sort of written out of the mainstream history of politics is the sheer insanity of the attacks on the Clintons — they were drug smugglers, they murdered Vince Foster (and lots of other people), they were in league with foreign powers. And this stuff didn’t just show up in fringe publications — it was discussed in Congress, given props by the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, and so on.

What it came down to was that a significant fraction of the American population, backed by a lot of money and political influence, simply does not consider government by liberals (even very moderate liberals) legitimate. Ronald Reagan was supposed to have settled that once and for all.

What happens when Obama is elected? It will be even worse than it was in the Clinton years. For sure there will be crazy accusations, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some violence.

The next few years are going to be very, very tough.

Good Grief! I Have More Foreign Policy Experience Than Sarah Palin!

Mother Jones has unearthed official Alaska government records documenting Sarah Palin’s foreign policy experience over the 19 months she’s been governor. Including the time when she met 10 foreign exchange students, attending a reception at the Italian embassy in Washington and a 15 minute taping of a video message shown at a trade fair in China, as governor she spent 12 hours either talking to or meeting with people who could be loosely called a “foreign leader.” (See box below)

I’ve never been in government and am not a politician but it turns out I have more experience meeting with foreign leaders – and real ones, at that – than does a candidate for Vice President of the United States. It happened during a period when I was supporting my writing by working in business and I have the vanity photos hanging in my office to prove it.

May 1989 – Hosted a three hour dinner in Minneapolis with Boris Yeltsen, including a half-hour one-on-one meeting with the soon-to-be President of Russia in his limo en route to the dinner venue.

Nov. 1989 – Held a two hour long meeting with Lech Walesca, about to become president of Poland, in his office in Gdansk to discuss building American business investment interest in Poland.

Jan. 1992 – With two other people, participated in a one hour meeting with Canada’s Minister of Foreign Trade on China-Canada trade issues.

Feb. 1992 – Held a half day meeting in Johannesburg with Nelson Mandella and the head of economic development for the African National Congress on building Canada-South Africa business ties as a precursor to a conference in Toronto.

April 1992 – Attended a two hour dinner in Toronto for leaders of South African businesses and senior officials of the ANC.

April 1993 – With three other people, attended a one hour meeting in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People with Zhu Rongji, then Senior Vice Premier for economic modernization who went on to become Premier.

April 1993 – Attended a two hour lunch in Beijing with China’s Minister of Foreign Trade with six other people including Canada’s Ambassador to China.

May 1993 – Attended a three hour private dinner in Toronto with Zhu Rongji.

June 1993 – Attended a two hour negotiating meeting with Zhu Rongji in Beijing’s Jong Non Hi compound.

Sept 1993 – Attended a two hour private meeting with Chnia’s Foreign Trade minister, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and six Canadian executives.

My total experience in foreign affairs and trade: 21 hours. Number of heads of foreign government met: 8. Sarah Palin experience: 12 hours, including the meeting with high school students in Alaska on a foreign exchange program. Number of heads of foreign government Palin met: 5, all during a two day whirlwind tour of New York during the opening of the UN General Assembly.

Why wasn’t I picked to be someone’s vice presidential candidate?

Meanwhile, CNN checked out Palin’s claim that, because Alaska is close to Russia, she’s the nation’s first line of defence in the event “Putin rears his head.”


Sarah Palin’s 12 Hours Of “Foreign Policy” Experience

Jan 19, 2007 – Palin meets with Fentie for 30 minutes, with Lloyd for 30 minutes, and with Bell for 30 minutes. She does not attend the PNWER dinner hosted that night by the Canadian government for Alaskan officials and business leaders.

Feb 24, 2007 – In Washington, DC, for a National Governors Assn. meeting, Palin attends a reception at the Italian embassy. She stays for 30 minutes before leaving for a dinner hosted by the Republican Governors Assn.

Mar 10, 2007 – Palin hosts the annual Fur & Ice reception in Fairbanks for about 30 diplomats and international tourism representatives. A Palin news release issued before the event noted, "Governor Sarah Palin will welcome members of Alaska's diplomatic corps to Fairbanks to view the ice carvings of Ice Alaska's 2007 World Ice Art Championship." Following the afternoon reception, Palin attends the NCAA rifle championships.

Mar 19, 2007 – Palin meets with 10 foreign exchange students.

April, 3, 2007 – Palin spends 15 minutes filming a short video message for a trade show in China.

April 4, 2007 – In Juneau, Palin meets with British Columbia's premier Gordon Campbell and several of his aides for about 90 minutes.

April 16, 2007 – Palin meets with Taiwanese officials for an hour.

May 15, 2007 – Palin holds a "brief courtesy" meeting with Martin Uden, then the head of the British consulate in San Francisco. The calendar notes, "He'll be visiting Juneau today off of one of the Cruise Ships."

July 23-26, 2007 – Palin visits Kuwait to meet with members of the Alaska National Guard. (After Palin was selected as McCain's running mate, her aides, referring to this trip, said she travelled to Ireland, Germany, Kuwait and Iraq. But on this visit, she did not go beyond the Kuwaiti-Iraq border and her “visit” to Ireland consisted of a refuelling stop.)

Aug 27, 2007 – David Akov, Israeli consul general for the Pacific Northwest, pays a 30-minute "courtesy call" on Palin.

Sept 12, 2007 – Palin holds a 15-minute-long "courtesy" meeting with Hideo Fujita, the new chief of Japan's consulate in Anchorage.

Sept 13, 2007 – Palin holds a 15-minute long "courtesy" meeting with Peng Keyu, the head of the Chinese consulate in San Francisco.

Oct 15, 2007 – Palin meets Iceland's president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, for 30 minutes. Grimsson is in Alaska to attend the Arctic Energy Summit Technology Conference. (After she became McCain's running mate, she was asked if she had ever met with a world leader. She said, no — forgetting this meeting.)

Jan 4, 2008 – Palin holds a 10-minute-long phone conversation with Canadian Minister of Industry Jim Prentice. Her calendar also refers to "Canadian officials phone calls" that day.

Jan 21, 2008 – Palin is schedule for a brief "stop by" visit with Joe Balash, a Palin aide, and Brian Mason, a member of the legislative assembly of Alberta, Canada. The calendar says, "Balash Office would like a picture w/GOV."

March 8, 2008 – Palin welcomes guests to the 2008 Fur & Ice reception for the diplomatic corps. Diplomats from the Philippines, South Korea, the Slovak Republic, South Africa, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Poland, Finland, Germany, and Egypt attend. Her calendar lists no separate meetings with any of them.

May 22, 2008 – At 7:15 am, Palin calls Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie; for ten minutes they discuss news that her administration will ask the state legislature to award a license for a 1,715-mile-long natural gas pipeline to TransCanada. (Her administration has turned down bids from other conglomerates, including ConocoPhillips.) Later, she has a five-minute-long phone call with Canadian Minister of Industry Jim Prentice.

Aug 11-12, 2008 – Palin attends a reception and delivers welcoming remarks for the 8th Conference of Arctic Parliamentarians which includes delegates from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. This year, it holds panels on human health in the Arctic region, Arctic marine policy, adaptation to climate change, and energy resources in the Arctic. After welcoming the delegates, Palin leaves to attend a "dedication and blessing ceremony" for a cultural and visitors center in Fairbanks.
Data: Mother Jones

I'll be entertaining offers from presidential candidates until the Red Sox playoff game begins at 8.40 this evening. After that, please don't interrupt me as I'll be busy with Red Sox nation.