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Archive for January, 2008

32 Large.

“Obama’s one-month tally is the most ever reported for January of a presidential election year, Federal Election Commission reports show…Plouffe said the Obama campaign counted 170,000 new donors in the last month, bringing its total to 650,000.” Whatever happens Tuesday and thereafter, it looks like Sen. Obama has the money to play. “‘Our strongest day of the whole month was the day after the New Hampshire primary,’ which Obama lost to Clinton, Plouffe said. ‘We took a lot of encouragement from that because it showed the resolve of our donor base.’Update: As TNR’s Christopher Orr deadpanned, 32 million? Pff. Bill Clinton can make that over dinner.

Kennedy Chats Up El Piolín.

Only two senators marched for immigrant rights on May 1, 2006, one in Washington and the other in Chicago. I marched in Washington and Barack Obama marched in Chicago. He was not afraid to stand up when others wouldn’t.” Ted Kennedy pitches Barack Obama for 20 minutes on the El Piolín radio show, which happens to be the most popular radio show in America. Notes the article: “You simply cannot pay for advertising like that, nor underestimate its impact on the vote next Tuesday particularly in California.”

O-Momentum?

Since the New Hampshire debacle, I’ve been trying to swear off on posting poll information around here. Still, if you’ll forgive one lapse, the trend lines are looking surprisingly good for Senator Obama right now. Recent polls put Obama down 6 nationally (he was down 16 last week), down 6 in Massachusetts (a poll had him down 37 last week), down 12 in New York (a poll had him down 28 a few days ago), and down only 3 in California. Particularly given the proportional allotting of delegates, he’s right in there.

Granted, the political landscape has proven nothing if not volatile of late, none of these polls factor in Edwards’ exit, and there’s a big debate tonight. But, like I said, we definitely seem to be moving in the right direction. Update: Make that down four nationally. Ok…no more polls.

In Our Country, Clinton is Problem.

“I’ve been tested. I’ve been vetted. I have been in the political arena in our country very intensely for 16 years. There are no surprises.” Ah. But, Senator Clinton, what about your husband? A front-page story in this morning’s NYT — a paper so resolutely anti-Clinton it recently endorsed her for president — unearths what look to be some murky political dealings in Kazakhstan involving Bill Clinton and a top donor, former uranium-mining entrepreneur and Lions Gate Entertainment founder Frank Giustra. (He’s the fellow at right.)

It’s a long, convoluted article, but this seem to be the essence of it: Clinton said nice things publicly about the freedom-suppressing dictator of Kazakhstan — in contradiction of US policy, the views of human rights groups, and even Senator Clinton’s professed stance on his government — so his buddy Giustra could land a lucrative exclusive mining contract. A much wealthier man as a result, Giustra later repaid Clinton in absurdly large donations to his Foundation, to the tune of $131 million. Both denied any quid pro quo, and both seem to have lied about at least some of the meetings that took place. This is all explained in more detail below:

  • In September 2005, President Clinton and Giustra, then head of a company called UrAsia and “a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan,” journeyed by private plane to Borat‘s home nation, where “a fortune awaited: highly coveted deposits of uranium that could fuel nuclear reactors around the world.

  • The reason for their visit? To negotiate an exclusive deal to buy into three mining projects controlled by Kazakhstan’s state-owned uranium agency, Kazatomprom. “Kazakhstan, which has about one-fifth of the world’s uranium reserves, was the place to be. But with plenty of suitors, Kazatomprom could be picky about its partners. ‘Everyone was asking Kazatomprom to the dance,’ said Fadi Shadid, a senior stock analyst covering the uranium industry for Friedman Billings Ramsey, an investment bank. ‘A second-tier junior player like UrAsia — you’d need all the help you could get.’

  • Upon arriving, Clinton and Giustra were “whisked off to share a sumptuous midnight banquet with Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whose 19-year stranglehold on the country has all but quashed political dissent.” At this dinner, a deal may have been made.

  • At a news conference soon thereafter, Clinton made a “public declaration [that] undercut both American foreign policy and sharp criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, Mr. Clinton’s wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York…The publicly stated reason for the visit was to announce a Clinton Foundation agreement that enabled the government to buy discounted AIDS drugs. But during a news conference, Mr. Clinton wandered into delicate territory by commending Mr. Nazarbayev for ‘opening up the social and political life of your country.’ In a statement Kazakhstan would highlight in news releases, Mr. Clinton declared that he hoped it would achieve a top objective: leading the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which would confer legitimacy on Mr. Nazarbayev’s government. ‘I think it’s time for that to happen, it’s an important step, and I’m glad you’re willing to undertake it,’ Mr. Clinton said.

  • As noted, this vote of confidence flew in the face of US policy — and statements by Senator Clinton. “Eleven months before Mr. Clinton’s statement, Mrs. Clinton co-signed a commission letter to the State Department that sounded ‘alarm bells’ about the prospect that Kazakhstan might head the group. The letter stated that Kazakhstan’s bid ‘would not be acceptable,’ citing ‘serious corruption,’ canceled elections and government control of the news media…Robert Herman, who worked for the State Department in the Clinton administration and is now at Freedom House, a human rights group, said the former president’s statement amounted to an endorsement of Kazakhstan’s readiness to lead the group, a position he called ‘patently absurd.’ ‘He was either going off his brief or he was sadly mistaken,’ Mr. Herman said. ‘There was nothing in the record to suggest that they really wanted to move forward on democratic reform.’

  • Two days after Clinton’s press conference, Giustra — again, basically an unknown upstart in the uranium business — secured the Kazatomprom deal. “The cost to UrAsia was more than $450 million, money the company did not have in hand and had only weeks to come up with…Longtime market watchers were confounded. Kazatomprom’s choice of UrAsia was a ‘mystery,’ said Gene Clark, the chief executive of Trade Tech, a uranium industry newsletter. ‘UrAsia was able to jump-start the whole process somehow,’ Mr. Clark said. The company became a ‘major uranium producer when it didn’t even exist before.’

  • Nazarbayev was happy. “in December 2005, Mr. Nazarbayev won another election, which the security organization itself said was marred by an ‘atmosphere of intimidation’ and ‘ballot-box stuffing.’ After Mr. Nazarbayev won with 91 percent of the vote, Mr. Clinton sent his congratulations. ‘Recognizing that your work has received an excellent grade is one of the most important rewards in life,’ Mr. Clinton wrote in a letter released by the Kazakh embassy. Last September, just weeks after Kazakhstan held an election that once again failed to meet international standards, Mr. Clinton honored Mr. Nazarbayev by inviting him to his annual philanthropic conference.

  • Giustra got rich. “The monster deal stunned the mining industry, turning an unknown shell company into one of the world’s largest uranium producers in a transaction ultimately worth tens of millions of dollars to Mr. Giustra, analysts said

  • Clinton got paid. “Just months after the Kazakh pact was finalized, Mr. Clinton’s charitable foundation received its own windfall: a $31.3 million donation from Mr. Giustra that had remained a secret until he acknowledged it last month. The gift, combined with Mr. Giustra’s more recent and public pledge to give the William J. Clinton Foundation an additional $100 million, secured Mr. Giustra a place in Mr. Clinton’s inner circle, an exclusive club of wealthy entrepreneurs in which friendship with the former president has its privileges.

  • Clinton and Giustra spun the whole story with barely plausible statements. “A spokesman for Mr. Clinton said the former president knew that Mr. Giustra had mining interests in Kazakhstan but was unaware of ‘any particular efforts’ and did nothing to help. Mr. Giustra said he was there as an ‘observer only’ and there was ‘no discussion’ of the deal with Mr. Nazarbayev or Mr. Clinton. But Moukhtar Dzhakishev, president of Kazatomprom, said in an interview that Mr. Giustra did discuss it, directly with the Kazakh president, and that his friendship with Mr. Clinton ‘of course made an impression.’…He said Mr. Nazarbayev himself ultimately signed off on the transaction.

  • Giustra later helped Kazatomprom’s top man, Moukhtar Dzhakishev, run a new deal by Clinton, one involving a potential Kazakhstani stake in US nuclear tech. “Mr. Dzhakishev, the Kazatomprom chief, said he traveled to Chappaqua, N.Y., to meet with Mr. Clinton at his home. Mr. Dzhakishev said Mr. Giustra arranged the three-hour meeting. Mr. Dzhakishev said he wanted to discuss Kazakhstan’s intention — not publicly known at the time — to buy a 10 percent stake in Westinghouse, a United States supplier of nuclear technology.

  • A cover-up was attempted about this later meeting. It failed. “Both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Giustra at first denied that any such meeting occurred. Mr. Giustra also denied ever arranging for Kazakh officials to meet with Mr. Clinton. Wednesday, after The Times told them that others said a meeting, in Mr. Clinton’s home, had in fact taken place, both men acknowledged it.

    And here’s probably the most serious kicker, regarding a Clinton return to the White House. “Mr. Clinton has vowed to continue raising money for his foundation if Mrs. Clinton is elected president, maintaining his connections with a wide network of philanthropic partners.

    I must say, at the very least, this does not sound like change.

  • Lakoff on the Dem Divide.

    There is a reason that Obama recently spoke of Reagan. Reagan understood that you win elections by drawing support from independents and the opposite side. He understood what unified the country so that he could lead it according to his vision.

    Obama understands the importance of values, connection, authenticity, trust, and identity.

    But his vision is deeply progressive. He proposes to lead in a very different direction than Reagan. Crucially, he adds to that vision a streetwise pragmatism: his policies have to do more than look good on paper; they have to bring concrete material results to millions of struggling Americans in the lower and middle classes. They have to meet the criteria of a community organizer.

    The Clintonian policy wonks don’t seem to understand any of this. They have trivialized Reagan’s political acumen as an illegitimate triumph of personality over policy. They confuse values with programs. They have underestimated authenticity and trust…

    This nomination campaign is about much more than the candidates. It about a major split within the Democratic party. The candidates are reflecting that split. Here are three of the major “issues” dividing Democrats.

    First, triangulation: moving to the right — adopting right-wing positions — to get more votes. Bill Clinton did it and Hillary believes in it. It is what she means by “bipartisanship.” Obama means the opposite by “bipartisanship.” To Obama, it is a recognition that central progressive moral principles are fundamental American principles. For him, bipartisanship means finding people who call themselves “conservatives” or “independents,” but who share those central American values with progressives. Obama thus doesn’t have to surrender or dilute his principles for the sake of “bipartisanship.”

    The second is incrementalism: Hillary believes in getting lots of small carefully crafted policies through, one at a time, step by small step, real but almost unnoticed. Obama believes in bold moves and the building of a movement in which the bold moves are demanded by the people and celebrated when they happen. This is the reason why Hillary talks about “I,” I,” “I” (the crafter of the policy) and Obama talks about “you” and “we” (the people who demand it and who jointly carry it out).

    The third is interest group politics: Hillary looks at politics through interests and interest groups, seeking policies that satisfy the interests of such groups. Obama’s thinking emphasizes empathy over interest groups. He also sees empathy as central to the very idea of America. The result is a positive politics grounded in empathy and caring that is also patriotic and uplifting.

    For a great many Democrats, these are the real issues. These real differences between the candidates reflect real differences within the party. Whoever gets the nomination, these differences will remain.

    It is time for the press, the pundits, the pollsters, and the political scientists to take these issues seriously.

    Linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff — also the recent author of Don’t Think of an Elephant — attempts to explain what he sees as the crucial differences between Clinton and Obama.

    The Aloha of Obama.

    Honolulu is no utopia; its socioeconomic climate is far from Edenic. However, Honolulu’s complexity and diversity are great gifts for a reflective future leader. To grow up in Hawaii is to see the United States from the inside and the outside. The inside view comes from pride in statehood and military tradition. Long before September 11, residents of Hawaii knew what foreign attack was like and valued American protection–Pearl Harbor remains a vital piece of Hawaiian history. The outside view of the United States comes from geographic distance. The Hawaiian islands stand as tiny meeting points for immigrants from Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines, and the far reaches of Polynesia. Hawaii is an outpost among many nations, not a state connected by highways to other states. As a meeting place, the islands are cosmopolitan. As an isolated island chain, the islands are also parochial. The haves in Hawaii travel and see the world. The have-nots, many of them native Hawaiians, lack the means to get away. To grow up in Hawaii is to envision the future of a multiracial society, and also to view up close the disappointment of those left behind.

    In TNR, Allegra Goodman makes a case for the importance of Barack Obama’s Hawaiian youth. “To envision a world where racial identity is more fluid, where men and women are more mobile, and where segregation is a thing of the past is not to envision a post-racial world. Obama knows this, as anyone who has lived in Hawaii must.

    “Empty Suit”…with a Stovepipe Hat.

    The whole thing, really, is a fairy tale.

    I mean, give me a break: The guy gives a good speech. Yes. Give him that. But are we electing a toastmaster or a president of the United States? Let’s look at his record to see what qualifies him for the highest office in the land:

    Eight years in the Illinois legislature? He was a party loyalist and a temporizer who too often put politics ahead of principle and was cautious rather than bold when it came to controversial issues.

    Two years in Washington? Yes, he pontificated about how he opposed the war, but at crunch time he voted to fund it. And his legislative record on Capitol Hill is thin.

    Other accomplishments? The enthusiasm for his candidacy was sparked by one big successful speech and is carried along by his gift for uplifting rhetoric.

    Consider, in contrast, the senator from New York who is his top rival for the nomination: A history in public life going back 30 years. Solid reform credentials. Clearly far more ready for the Oval Office than the younger, audacious Mr. Slim Silver-tongue from Illinois.

    Take that, Lincolnbots. The Chicago Tribune‘s Eric Zorn makes the “experience” case for William H. Seward of New York.

    Obama’s no Abe Lincoln. But, as I observed last February…Abe Lincoln was no Abe Lincoln at this stage of the game either. I point this out simply as a reminder that Lincoln and history went on to make fools of those whose obsession with his shortcomings and failures blinded them to the singular promise of his gifts. Not often, but fairy tales do come true.

    Run for your life, Chuck Norris.

    “He seems like the real deal, you know…I think he’s really the only choice.” Barack Obama has a posse…By way of Yglesias, the inimitable Hulk Hogan is an Obama-backer.

    Edwards is Out.

    “It’s hard to speak out for change when you feel like your voice is not being heard. But I do hear it. We hear it. This Democratic Party hears you. We hear you once again.

    And we will lift you up with our dream of what’s possible: one America — one America that works for everybody; one America where struggling towns and factories come back to life, because we finally transformed our economy by ending our dependence on oil; one America where the men who work the late shift and the women who get up at dawn to drive a two-hour commute and the young person who closes the store to save for college, they will be honored for that work; one America where no child will go to bed hungry, because we will finally end the moral shame of 37 million people living in poverty; one America where every single man, woman and child in this country has health care; one America with one public school system that works for all of our children; one America that finally brings this war in Iraq to an end and brings our servicemembers home with the hero’s welcome that they have earned and that they deserve.

    Today, I am suspending my campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. But I want to say this to everyone: with Elizabeth, with my family, with my friends, with all of you and all of your support, this son of a mill worker is going to be just fine. Our job now is to make certain that America will be fine.

    Senator John Edwards calls it quits. [Transcript, Obama response, Clinton response.] As I’ve said a few times now, Edwards has run a quality campaign focusing on the important and neglected issue of poverty’s persistence, and he should be applauded for it. And, if nothing else, he’d make a great attorney general in the next Democratic administration. And, now, there are two

    While he left the race on his own terms this morning, my guess is Senator Edwards will endorse Obama sometime in the relatively near future (although perhaps after Super Tuesday.) Even if calling Clinton “the candidate of the status quo” in the New Hampshire debate a few weeks ago didn’t telegraph his preference, I’m guessing Clinton’s anti-Edwards robo-calls in South Carolina probably rankled. (And Edwards campaign manager Joe Trippi is on the record as no friend of Mark Penn.) So, let’s hope he comes out for Senator Obama sometime relatively soon.

    That being said, I’m not sold at all on the notion that Edwards supporters will now drift into the Obama camp. True, a sizable amount of Edwards voters are likely anti-Clinton votes. But, I’m guessing an equally sizable number were drawn to Edwards’ “I’m a fighter” message, in which case they might prefer Clinton’s recent pit bull tactics over Obama’s message of unity. And, of course, Edwards’ base was mostly white working-class and rural voters, and — while Obama did well with this demographic in Nevada — thus far said group has leaned toward Clinton. So, it’s an open question.

    If nothing else, though, a 2-person race should help to mitigate the Florida-Michigan delegate issue. And it should make tomorrow’s debate that much more interesting…

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