I’m just back to Denver from the YearlyKos Convention in Chicago, and wanted to point folks to two YouTube clips of what were the best and most telling moments - by far - of the conference’s presidential campaign interchanges. As you will see, after John Edwards pushed Hillary Clinton into a corner about her ties to Washington corporate lobbyists at the debate, he continued on the theme in his town-hall-style breakout session - a sign that, coupled with his history from 2004, shows that he is aiming to use the issue as a way to frame the race as him vs. Clinton. This attack on the influence of lobbyists, as many Western political observers know, was key to Democrat Brian Schweitzer’s 2004 gubernatorial election in Montana - and could be a key way for Democrats to go on the offensive in red states all over America. If I were Clinton’s campaign trying to, for instance, paint American politics’ top recipient of health care industry money and lobbyist cash as the candidate of “change,” Edwards’ line of attack is exactly what I would be most afraid of.

Watch the first clip from the debate - and watch how Hillary Clinton gets laughed at, not only by the audience, but by Barack Obama who is sitting next to her. This is about as revealing a moment as you will find on which candidates do - and do not - represent change:

In the face of Edwards’ discussion of how both he and Obama don’t take money from K Street, Clinton actually goes on record bragging that she will continue raking in massive campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists, and claiming that “lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans.”

But my favorite line was when Clinton claimed, “I don’t, I don’t think based on my 35 years in fighting for what I believe in anybody seriously believes I am going to be influenced by a lobbyist or a particular interest group.” Oh really? How about, as just one example, Clinton’s vote for the 2001 Bankruptcy Bill? You remember that bill - it was the one written by the credit card industry that allows them to jack up interest rates on low and moderate income Americans who are struggling to pay their bills. Are we really to believe that vote wasn’t “influenced by a lobbyist or a particular interest group?” Please.

Sure, Edwards voted for that bill, too - as did most of the senators, Republican and Democrat. He’s also since said that, “Like a lot of Democrats, I voted for a bankruptcy reform bill before [and] I can’t say it more simply than this: I was wrong.” But that’s not even the point - the point is that whereas he acknowledges that the campaign finance and lobbying system itself is rigged to regularly create votes like that, she’s actually trying to deny that anything is even wrong, which beyond any one bad vote, is the real problem and the real contrast.

Following the debate I attended Edwards town-hall-style breakout session. As you can see from the video I got below, Edwards continued hammering the lobbyist theme and used it to draw a sharp distinction between him and Clinton, using more clear-cut terms than I’ve seen any of the candidates use in trying to frame the race. Watch the clip here:

Edwards frames the race as a choice. “If you believe we’re gonna get the change that we need in a system that’s rigged, and that that change is going to come working with people who rigged the system, and that’s what these Washington lobbyists are - then you have one choice,” he says, in a clear reference to Clinton. “If on the other hand you believe we should reform not just the government we should [also] reform the Democratic Party, we should make it clear that we are not with those people, that we are not the party of Washington insiders” then, he says, he’s your choice.

You may recall, this theme is nothing new for Edwards. In 2004, he aggressively campaigned against the influence of lobbyists and insiders in Washington to the point that K Street threw public temper tantrums about him being named to the Democratic ticket. My guess is that now that Clinton has provided a TV-commercial-ready soundbites bragging about taking cash from lobbyists and claiming “lobbyists represent real Americans” Edwards will continue pounding on the issue as he did immediately following the debate, and that K Street will react by ratcheting up a defense of Clinton and attack on the former North Carolina senator. Stay tuned - it’s starting to get good.

Cross-posted from Working Assets

CALL TODAY: Join the State-Level Fight for Universal Health Care

REMINDER: Read the new article in the American Prospect about the state-level fight for universal health care and then join today’s national conference call with state legislators from all over America.

In the last few weeks, there has been a bit of moaning and whining from some progressives in Washington claiming that state efforts to expand health care would be “disastrous” because, well, some in D.C. think anything that doesn’t come from D.C. is inherently bad. The Progressive States Network, on whose board I serve, has ably countered this nonsense with data and facts, showing how the one of the best ways to achieve universal health care is for states to continue leading on the issue and to ultimately work in tandem with the federal government in the future, when Washington is finally able to pass meaningful health care reform.

When I say the states are leading, that is no understatement. At a time when Washington politicians of both parties have miserably failed to deliver on health care promises, progressives in states like Wisconsin are aggressively moving forward with proposals that could finally begin our country’s march toward universal health care. In a new article for the American Prospect, Wisconsin State Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Progressive States’ executive director Joel Barkin explain what Wisconsin is considering and why it is so important. Erpenbach is the author of Wisconsin’s bill and chair of the Senate committee that passed the bill, so he knows his stuff.

After you read over that article, I hope you’ll join the Progressive States Network’s national conference call today at 10 AM Mountain Time to discuss the bill and how it can be replicated in states all over the country. This is obviously especially important for Colorado, which is right now in the process of considering state-based health care proposals.

I wish I could say I was surprised by progressives in Washington attempting to rhetorically undermine the courageous work of Wisconsin and other states, but frankly, I wasn’t. Washington is a weird place. It is a city where, for instance, Republicans can publicly argue against providing health care for American children because they claim there might be a tiny possibility illegal immigrant children would also receive health care. And it is a city where some progressives apparently feel their relevance is injured if Washington isn’t the center of attention - even though, of course, most major movements in American history didn’t start in Washington but in the states.

When it comes to the big issues of the day, Washington seems to have no problem naysaying and navel-gazing, even when people are dying. Beltway naysaying and navel-gazing is what has led to the absurd situation whereby the vast majority of Americans want an end to the Iraq War, and yet the Congress refuses to act to end the war and stop the killing. We can’t let that same thing continue to happen on health care.

At a time when 18,000 Americans are dying each year because they don’t have health insurance, polls show the majority of Americans want the government - state or federal - to provide universal health care to all Americans. That means we need to shove aside the Wise Old Experts of Washington and get focused on working to achieve universal health care at ALL levels - and especially at the state level where real successes are already happening.

More Rocky Mountain Republicans Rejecting Grover Norquist-ism

Over the last month, I’ve written a series of posts about how Rocky Mountain voters - and even some Rocky Mountain Republican officials - are rejecting the Washington-based conservative movement’s economic zealotry, and specifically its cut-taxes-at-all-cost religion. Now it looks like that’s happening in the reddest of red states, Wyoming. The Associated Press reports that the state’s Republican-dominated legislature is moving a bill “to increase the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel by 10 cents phased in over three years.” The Wyoming GOP also voted “to increase driver’s license and other fees by 70 percent.”

These tax and fee increases, of course, are wildly regressive in that they hit low and middle income people harder as a percentage of their income than they hit wealthy folks. But the fact that they are being pushed by the Republicans in one of the most Republican states in the nation is just more evidence that Grover Norquist and his anti-tax economic fundamentalism is being rejected even by his own ideological cronies.

CO Sen: GOP’s Bob Schaffer Under Fire

This afternoon, Colorado’s ProgressNowAction launched a statewide petition calling on State Board of Education Member Bob Schaffer (R) – who’s running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Wayne Allard (R) — to immediately return campaign contributions he received from the owner of a for-profit education company that was rewarded a contract with the SBOE. 

According to ProgressNow Action’s press release, Schaffer cast the decisive vote to grant the contract to this company:

Schaffer, in his current role as a member of the Colorado State Board of Education, recently cast the deciding vote for a for-profit company, owned by David Brennan, to continue to receive tens of thousands of Colorado taxpayer dollars for programs that the company sells to Denver’s charter schools. (Denver Post, May 10, 2007)….

Schaffer failed to disclose to the State Board that Brennan has been the subject of numerous requests for investigation in other states to determine whether he has personally pocketed millions of taxpayer dollars through his for-profit school programs. (Tampa Tribune, July 16, 2006; Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 19 and 24, 2006)

Schaffer failed to disclose to the State Board during the vote that he has taken campaign contributions from Brennan going back to 2004. (www.opensecrets.org )

ProgressNowAction called on its statewide membership to join their call for Schaffer to immediately return the contributions he took while serving on the State Board of Education. The petition can be signed at www.BackwardsBobEthics.com

ColoradoPols puts the effort into context:

According to the press release, Schaffer failed to disclose his involvement with Brennan to the State Board of Education, on which he was elected to serve in 2006. If the facts in this case are correct (see full press release below), we’ll probably see this episode in a campaign ad sometime next year. This certainly looks bad, and can be made to look even worse since Schaffer took in additional contributions from Brennan soon after the favorable vote.

Allard’s seat is considered the most vulnerable of the 22 seats that Republicans must defend next year. (Democrats must defend only 12 seats.) U.S. Rep. Mark Udall (D), the presumptive nominee for the seat, already has $2.5 million on hand.

One of the more interesting prisms from which to view the 2008 presidential race is not what is offered by the pundits or spinmeisters, but how the real money is being wagered. Intrade.com is one of those overseas sites that allows people to trade real futures contracts on a seemingly endless number of political propositions.

Simply, futures contracts are bought and sold for real money, with each contract eventually expiring at either 0 or 100.  (For instance, if you believe that Democrats will win the White House in 2008, that contract currently trades at 56.7. If a Democrat wins, the contract will be worth 100 at expiration. It will be worth zero if a Democrat does not win. A similar contract on a Republican victory trades today at 39.9.)

A couple of propositions are worth noting: which political party will win each state’s electoral votes in 2008, and which candidates will win each party’s nomination for president and vice president.

According to Intrade, Democrats are favored to exceed their 2004 performance when John Kerry (D) failed to win any of eight Rocky Mountain states. Based on current trading, Democrats are slightly favored to win the presidency in Nevada and New Mexico, very competitive in Colorado, and showing some support in Arizona. 

  1. Nevada (Dem 55.5, GOP 44.5)
  2. New Mexico (Dem 55, GOP 45)
  3. Colorado (Dem 40, GOP 60)
  4. Arizona (Dem 27.5, GOP 72.5)
  5. Montana (Dem 12.5, GOP 87.5)
  6. Utah (Dem 7.7, GOP 92.3)
  7. Wyoming (Dem 7.5, GOP 92.5)
  8. Idaho (Dem 5, GOP 95)

On the presidential side, the money shows a clear two-way race for the Democratic nomination with Hillary Clinton besting Barack Obama. However, while Bill Richardson is barely seeing any money on him winning the nomination, he currently leads the pack among vice presidential nominees:

DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE

  • Clinton 48.0
  • Obama 35.7
  • Edwards 7.1
  • Gore 4.7
  • Richardson 3.0
  • Biden 1.3

DEMOCRATIC VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE

  • Richardson 30.7
  • Obama 18.5
  • M. Warner 14.2
  • W. Clark 10.2
  • Edwards 7.0

Memo to Cons: States Still Exist In Tom Friedman’s World

My Denver Post blog colleague David Harsanyi today falls prey to what has become a fairly typical and, frankly, boring media meme - the one about how only the Very Serious Foreign Policy People in Washington should have any say over Serious International Affairs even if those international affairs affect all levels of government, and even if those same Very Serious Foreign Policy People are the same folks who walked us into the worst foreign policy disasters in a generation. Writing about Colorado Democratic and Republican lawmakers looking at ways to divest state funds from holdings in Sudan and Iran, he says that “last time I looked, foreign policy was the bailiwick of the federal government” and that “barely any [state legislators] were elected to the state House” to deal with international issues.

Except actually, state legislators were elected to oversee, administer and deal with state resources, meaning we did elect them to decide - or at least have a say over - where those resources are invested. Making wars may be the bailiwick of the federal government, but in a globalizing world, states have an increasingly important role to play in international issues as those issues relate to their responsibilities to state taxpayers and constituents. And I’m not just talking only about divestment campaigns. I’m talking about the whole ball of wax that the good folks I work with over at the Progressive States Network deal with all the time.

To see what I specifically mean, check out my response to Harsanyi over at Politics West. This is an especially important point for Mountain West states that are facing massive forest fires and a National Guard depleted by the war in Iraq. It is also a critical issue considering the Colorado legislature’s bipartisan international trade bill in 2006.

Is Bill Richardson Quietly Surging?

Maybe for the first time in my adulthood, I don’t have any strong preference among the Democratic presidential nominees and am not in anyone’s camp. I feel blessed to be able to sit back and objectively watch a pretty impressive group of candidates knowing that I’d be just fine with any of the top six (particularly the top four) emerging as my nominee.

So far, the punditry seems obsessed with the Hillary Clinton v. Barack Obama race, with John Edwards lurking just behind them. But based on recent polling, are they missing the clear emergence of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson?

While the national polls continue to show Richardson flat-lining around three percent…
National Presidential Primary Polls
…that’s such a useless measurement of the strength of a presidential candidacy since we elect our nominees in a series of primaries and caucuses (albeit more compressed than ever).

What I find to be noteworthy is the clear uptick for Richardson in recent Iowa and New Hampshire polls — early states where he’s been focusing his time and money:
Iowa Presidential Polls
New Hampshire Presidential Polls

As you can clearly see, Richardson’s polling average has passed John Edwards in New Hampshire and is on the heels of Barack Obama in Iowa. And between Iowa and New Hampshire is the Nevada Caucus, a state where Clinton currently dominates but where about 10 points separatesObama, Edwards and Richardson.

Certainly, if Clinton were to win both Iowa and New Hampshire it would be hard to imagine she could be denied the nomination given the series of large-state primaries soon thereafter.

But what if Edwards hangs-on and wins Iowa, with Richardson a strong third (ahead of Obama), and then five days later Richardson does well in the western state of Nevada (finishing second or third), and then three days later he finishes third, defeating Edwards — all of which is entirely plausible based on current polling?

Would Richardson become the media darling just as the race heads into California and New York and Florida, all large states with large Hispanic populations?

Obviously, it’s too far out to make predictions. Few of us expected that John Kerrycould rise from single-digits to becoming the nominee in a matter of weeks. Anything is possible. But I have to wonder whether the media is so focused on the Clinton-Obama-Edwards race that they’re missing the dark horse that seems to be trending in the early states at just the right time.

Food for thought…

(Be sure to checkout Pollster.com for more of these awesome polling graphics.)

(cross-posted at Sirotablog and Working Assets)

Today, by a 22-17 party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee issued contempt of Congress citations against White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and President Bush's former legal counsel, Harriet Miers. The committee sanctioned the pair for their refusal to comply with subpoenas on the firings of several U.S. prosecutors, as they simply refused to show-up when ordered. The matter is now sent to the full House which will consider the possibility of fines and prison sentences. Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) offered his rationale for opposing holding White House officials in contempt for their actions:

"The real argument here is not over the audacity of the White House, but over the strength of our legal argument."

Ironically, Cannon is one of six current members of the same Judiciary Committee that voted, in a straight 21-17 party-line vote, to impeach President Clinton in 1998. Those six members currently rank first, second, third, fourth, fifth and seventh in seniority among committee Republicans.

Here’s what Cannon had to say in December 1998 about why impeaching Clinton was necessary:

We are at a defining moment in our history. What we do here will set the standard for what is acceptable for this and future presidents.

I believe profoundly that the behavior of this president is unacceptable because I agree with John Jay, one of our Founding Fathers, who said, "When oaths cease to be sacred, our dearest and most valuable rights become insecure."

..President Kennedy thought that if a president were not to fulfill his obligations, the obligations of his oaths, that he would begin — that is, the president, any president he suggested — that he would begin to unwind this most extraordinary constitutional system of government. He was not, and we are not, talking about separation of powers. We're not talking about the other constitutional concepts, like the delegated powers, the reservation of powers to the states. Kennedy and Jay are referencing something more fundamental. They are talking about the glue that holds our system together.

Similarly, here are excerpts from the self-righteous preachings by those other five Republican members who served on the 1998 Judiciary Committee and eagerly pursued impeachment against President Clinton, but today refused to hold White House officials in contempt for their law-breaking actions:

Ranking Member, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.).:

The framers of the Constitution devised an elaborate system of checks and balances to ensure our liberty by making sure that no person, institution or branch of government became so powerful that a tyranny could be established in the United States of America. Impeachment is one of the checks the framers gave the Congress to prevent the executive or judicial branches from becoming corrupt or tyrannical.

Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC):

I represent a district far removed from the Beltway and its accompanying mentality. Here we are surrounded by Beltway advisers, who demand fees in excess of $500 per hour. And many of these adept advisers, lawyers, counselors are "spinmeisters." They attach their spin, and oftentimes confusion results.

…I take umbrage to charges that some are out to get the president. Mrs. Bono, the gentlewoman from California, earlier said this week that it is not we on this committee who created the problem that's now before us; that was the president's doing.

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.):

Lying after swearing before God and country to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is a very serious offense. It is taken very seriously by our judicial system, one of the three equal branches of government in the United States.

…Our legal system, which protects the rights and liberties of all citizens, is dependent on people telling the truth under oath. The president is our chief law enforcement officer and our chief magistrate. When he lies under oath he undermines the integrity of our judicial system and threatens the rights and liberties of every one of us.

Mr. Chairman, I'm not a lawyer — one of the few on this committee — however, everyone that knows me knows I believe in the rule of law — believe the rule of law is fundamental to our society. A society without laws is anarchy. Societies that ignore the laws are condemned to violence and chaos.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.):

I have a constitutional duty to follow the truth wherever it leads. The truth in this case leads me to believe that the president knowingly engaged in a calculated pattern of lies, deceit and delay in order to mislead the American people, impede the search for truth, deny the right of his accuser to have her day in court, and protect himself from criminal prosecution. Therefore, I have no alternative but to support articles of impeachment against President Clinton.

…The precious legacy entrusted to us by our founders and our constituents is a nation dedicated to the ideal of freedom and equality for all her people. This committee must decide whether we will maintain our commitment to the rule of law and pass this precious legacy to our children and grandchildren, or whether we will bow to the political pressure for the sake of convenience or expediency.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio):

As a member of Congress, and as an attorney, I'm very troubled because every day in courthouses throughout this nation, Americans raise their right hands and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

They do so under the penalty of perjury. Yet in this case the President of the United States, the chief law enforcement officer of this land, has made an utter mockery of that fundamental precept. That is a travesty. No person stands above the law. All Americans, no matter how rich, how powerful, how well connected, should be held accountable for their actions. Every American must be held accountable.

…Finally, in constructing this cover-up, President Clinton used the power of his office to mislead, impede and obstruct a federal grand jury, a civil deposition, and the American people. He used government resources, including government attorneys and staff to disseminate his deceitful story to the public and to the grand jury.

…I ask my colleagues to search their hearts and answer this question: What message are we sending the youth of America if we abdicate our constitutional duty and allow perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power to go unpunished. When we cast our votes, we are not voting as Republicans or Democrats, we are voting as Americans. Our allegiance does not lie with any one president but with our country. Our charge is not handed down from any one political party but from the Constitution. Every member of this body is duty-bound to put politics aside, follow our conscience, and uphold our oath of office.

Funny how things change for these six hypocrites in less than ten years…

(cross-posted at Sirotablog and Working Assets)

Talk About An Image Problem…

When it comes to which political party is to blame for the world's problems — including the biggies like war, poverty, corruption, global warming and prejudice — well, it isn't even close, at least according to the massive Zogby Poll released today which tested an astounding 10,387 American adults (margin of error +/- 1 percent!):

  • War: 62% blamed Republicans vs. 14% Democrats
  • Global Warming: 56% blamed Republicans vs. 10% Democrats
  • Prejudice: 52% blamed Republicans vs. 22% for Democrats
  • Poverty: 49% held Republicans accountable; 29% Democrats
  • Corruption: 47% blamed Republicans vs. 31% Democrats

Society apparently blames Democrats for crime.

Not exactly the branding the GOP was hoping for as they head into the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.

Meanwhile, President Bush's approval rating heads into no-man's land with an unimaginable 25% approval (and 71% disapproval) in today's American Research Group poll. Even worse, only 23% give him a passing grade on handling the economy.

(Cross-posted at Sirotablog and Working Assets)

Global Warming In Real Time In The Rocky Mountain States

One of the great selling points about moving to Helena, Montana was the especially mild summers (particularly to someone like me raised on San Francisco weather). So pleasant are the summers that homes with air conditioning are the exception, not the norm. In fact, the average high temperature in Helena in July is just 82 degrees, with an average low of 52. (Actually, the average high on July 1st is 79 and that rises to 84 on July 31st). Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it?

But a funny thing happened. It seems that Al Gore was right.

Not since June 26th (when it was 77 degrees) has Helena seen an “average” day. In fact, the high temperatures in those 24 days since have been, on average, 14 degrees above the historical average, with half of those days at least 95 degrees.

Of course, a month-long heat wave isn't proof of any long-term climate change. But then I came across this note in today's Helena Independent Record:

Helena has had as much hundred-degree weather in the first seven years of the 21st Century as it had in all of the 20th Century.

That was amid news that the region is in the midst of an eight-year long drought, together forming the catalyst for the worst wildfires throughout Montana and the other Rocky Mountain states since 1934 (during the Dust Bowl years). The main culprit for the fires (beyond the parched timber and grassland) is a phenomenon called "dry lightning."

The secondary effects of the drought and heat are all too noticeable as you browse through the local newspapers with countless fishing bans across the area's streams and rivers due to dangerously low water levels, and elevated water temperatures that have begun to kill fish, not to mention reports of the formation of toxic blue-green algae in lakes, reservoirs and stock ponds due to the hot weather (which is killing and injuring dogs playing in the water).

And that's just during the summer months.

In the winter you'll find increasing stories about diminished snowfall leading to a reduced snowpack, resulting in its early melting, which aside from the eco-system changes it brings, also means less runoff in the form of the very water that the region is fully dependent upon for its own needs.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, a prominent scientific report stated that the causes of the present severe drought differ greatly from those caused during the 1930s and 1950s:

The dynamical causes of imminent subtropical drying appear distinct from the causes of historical North American droughts such as occurred in the 1950s and during the 1930s Dust Bowl…

The succession of 'megadroughts' - droughts like the Dust Bowl but which lasted for decades at a time - that occurred in the West in Medieval times have also been linked to equally persistent La Nina-like conditions in the tropical Pacific….

In contrast to historical droughts, future drying is not linked to any particular pattern of change in sea surface temperature but seems to be the result of an overall surface warming driven by rising greenhouse gases. Evidence for this is that subtropical drying occurs in atmosphere models alone when they are subjected to uniform increases in surface temperature.

The report concluded that the region (particularly the Southwest) will experience "permanent drought" within decades "because of global warming." Environmental experts warn that the region will see a recurring, and accelerating, pattern of less snow, less water, more drought, and more wildfires.

Complicating things even more is that the region is the fastest-growing population in the United States. Between 2000 and 2005, the nation's population grew by two percent, while the eight Rocky Mountain states grew by nine percent.

And it's not hard to find the region's culprit. According to a 2006 climate report using U.S. Department of Energy data:

The Rocky Mountain region saw a 292 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions between 1960 and 2001, the largest percentage increase of any other region in the country

Percent growth in emissions between 1960 and 2001:
Colorado: 221 percent
Idaho: 98 percent
Montana: 202 percent
New Mexico: 218 percent
Oregon: 144 percent
Utah: 194 percent
Washington: 173 percent
Wyoming: 575 percent

And then, stepping back for a moment, is a visual released last month from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on global temperatures:

Finally, to cap things off for me today, there was this remarkable story about Abondance, a ski resort in the French Alps, which like others in European resorts, are having to close because of a lack of snow:

The city council of Abondance — its name a cruel reminder of the generous snowfall it once enjoyed — voted 9-6 last month to shut down the ski station that has been its economic raison d’etre for more than 40 years. The reason: not enough snow.

Abondance is the French Alps’ first ski station to fall apparent victim to global warming. It will almost certainly not be the last.

At 3,051 feet, this station between Mont Blanc and Lake Leman falls in the altitude range climate scientists say has seen the most dramatic drop in snowfall in recent generations.

Maybe the scariest part of the story was this:

Gerald Giraud of the Snow Study Center of Meteo-France at Grenoble said altitudes of 2,950-4,900 feet are where ‘‘global warming will pose the greatest problems.’’

As a point of reference, Helena stands at an elevation of 4,157 feet. In fact, nearly all of the major cities in the Rocky Mountain states are at elevations between 3,000 and 5,300 feet. Smack in the middle of the same range plaguing the Alps.

While I've never considered myself an evangelist on the immediate catastrophic consequences of not moving quickly on climate policy, I have followed the discussion pretty closely and have certainly become a great deal more concerned about the latest scientific findings and know that we must act, collectively, sooner rather than later.  But my concern has grown noticeably in the past month since moving to Helena, Montana as a result of the very evident slippery slope of pretty massive chain reaction events we're experiencing here in Montana, and thoughout the Rocky Mountain region.

Thankfully, one remarkable thing about the global warming debate here in Montana is that there really isn't one. Global warming is something that people across all ways of life are in agreement, be they farmers, ranchers, sportsmen, or environmentalists. But even more remarkable is that the issue isn't a partisan issue either. Everyone acknowledges climate change is happening and needs to be addressed. Maybe this is a sign of things to come. Mother Nature is screaming her warnings to us and let's hope the rest of country is paying heed to what's happening here in the Rocky Mountain states.

(cross-posted at Sirotablog and Working Assets)

Contrasting Iraq Politics In the Rocky Mountain West

With Senate Republicans yesterday successfully filibustering Democrats plans - and the vast majority of the American public's desire - to end the war, it's instructive to take a glance around the West's political landscape to see how different political leaders are taking on the issue, considering this data that shows this region has been particularly skeptical of the war and is bearing a huge burden from it.

New West's Joan McCarter notes that according to a study just released by the Carsey Institute, Idaho, Wyoming and  Montana are among the top ten states with the highest death rates from the war. That follows a groundbreaking poll from the Center for Rural Strategies that debunks Washington consultants' claim that being pro-Iraq War is a good way to attract conservative rural voters. The antithesis to this war goes back all the way to the beginning of it, even in places like Colorado that have strong military presences. Just this weekend, the Denver Post reminded us that polls in 2003 showed that  "Coloradans were more skeptical of the Iraq war than most Americans from the outset."

So how are some key Democratic lawmakers doing about the war? It's a complicated question because they are all over the map.

Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar (D) has been the most visible in the news, as he has come down with a severe case of Autoshadowphobia - the fear of one's own shadow. He proposed a sham bill to supposedly implement the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group - but he wrote the bill to be deliberately toothless. Not surprisingly, Republicans have flocked to it as a way to provide themselves political cover for not supporting stronger legislation to actually end the war. Even the Grand Junction Sentinel's editorial board, which claims those who want to end the war as being for "defeat," smacked Salazar for trying to "hide behind empty policy recommendations." Similarly, the Denver Post noted that Iraq War vet John Soltz, head of VoteVets.org, said Salazar's move put his political career above "the lives of American soldiers" and said the legislation was "a fake amendment" aimed at "political cover," nothing more. Oh, and just in case you believed Salazar's rhetoric that he really does want to end the war, take a gander at Fox 31's report today where Salazar refuses to say "whether he would have supported the troop-withdrawal amendment sponsored by Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island."

Contrast Salazar's autoshadowphobia with the behavior of the Rocky Mountain region's freshman Democratic lawmakers. There's my buddy Jon Tester, the senator from Montana - a state far more Republican than Colorado, and with its own significant military presence. This month, he has been leading the drumbeat to end the war, first delivering a scathing speech at the state capitol in Helena and is now leading an effort to stop war profiteering. Unlike Salazar hiding in a corner, Tester told reporters that Reid-Levin is "a step in the right direction."

Then there's freshman Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO). He's not only voted to end the war, but has joined Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) in authoring a bill to "withdraw National Guard troops and their equipment from Iraq within 90 days of its being enacted," according to the Denver Post. The bill was a legislative response to the Colorado National Guard's admission that it is facing a "long-standing equipment shortage" - shortages that are region-wide out here, and potentially threaten the region's ability to respond to natural disasters like forest fires.

Salazar seems to be operating under the Washington Beltway's old, outdated and out-of-touch model that equates support for the Iraq War with being "strong" - and prioritizes accolades for ignoring the public from people like David Broder over the demands of the vast majority of Americans that Members of Congress are supposed to represent. He looks particularly silly and particularly afflicted with Autoshadowphobia (and Potomac Fever) not only because his local media is exposing his moves as cheap ploys, but because folks like Tester and Perlmutter show what real political courage and leadership looks like. And as this debate continues and more votes come up, that contrast will only be more vivid.

Cross-posted at Working Assets

UPDATE: Here's a shocker - Time Magazine power-worshiper-in-chief Joe Klein says he cannot understand why Democrats aren't supporting Ken Salazar's toothless nothingness designed only to provide cover to career politicians who don't want to deal with the Iraq issue in a serious way. Along with Klein's typically self-indulgent name dropping ("I received a call from Mario Cuomo the other day"), the Time columnist distorts the basic facts, claiming Salazar's resolution includes "the provision that U.S. combat forces be pulled from Iraq by March 2008." It may include language saying that's a nice goal, but, as the Washington Post and every other news organization has reported, the bill "does not include specific terms for a withdrawal of U.S. forces." Then again, this is the same Joe Klein who took to national TV to advocate for the U.S. invasion back in 2002, and then when the war became wildly unpopular pretended as if he never actually did that, and worse, tried to retroactively bill himself as one of America's greatest and most courageous leaders voicing outrage at the invasion when it was originally initiated happened. He's also the guy who deliberately changed around chronologies to fabricate a story that never happened. So I guess we shouldn't be surprised that he's once again butchering the facts in order to smooch the rear end of power and Beltway conventional wisdom - a rear end he's made a career out of kissing.

Will K Street’s Counter to Populism Damage Dems in the West?

Yesterday, I wrote about how the reemergence of the populist wing of the Democratic Party bodes well for the party's prospects in the Rocky Mountain West. Today, we find out that reemergence is being aggressively challenged inside of Washington, D.C.

In a story fit for The Onion, Roll Call newspaper reports that a group of Democratic Senate staffers-turned-lobbyists are putting together a new corporate fundraising machine to siphon as much cash as possible to the K Street-friendly Senators because - get this - doing Corporate America's bidding inside the U.S. Senate supposedly makes it hard for these senators to raise money.

Leading the charge is Montana's own Sen. Max Baucus (D). His former Senate Finance Committee chief of staff - the guy who left Congress after writing the Medicare bill and immediately became a drug industry lobbyist - is among those listed as a top organizer of the new PAC. Baucus himself is slated to appear at the group's first Big Money fundraiser, which will also be headlined by Joe Lieberman's former chief of staff-turned-Enron lobbyist.

So, just in case you were wondering why some senators like Baucus, who represents one of the poorest states in the country, could push job-killing trade policies that may threaten this region's high-tech economy, or oppose a plan to use a tiny tax increase on millionaires to finance a plan to prevent a massive tax increase on middle class families, make sure to read this story - it makes everything clear (well, other than why a reporter would label people who oppose such a plan as "ideological moderates" rather than out-of-the-mainstream lobbyists in Senators' clothing). It also will give you some sense of how Democrats, thanks to their tight connections to Washington lobbyists, may be their own worst enemy in this region.

The Growing Fracture Of The Republican Coalition

The Arizona site, A Democrat's Lament, has a very interesting and thoughtful post about the growing fracture within the usually disciplined Republican Party, and points to its current internal struggle and fallout over immigration as one tell-tale example.

Here's an excerpt:

Here is another example of the R's coalition breakdown in Arizona. Now we have Russel Pierce considering a challenge to Jeff Flake. It is not like Flake is some sort of liberal. He is a hard-core conservative Republican. Also, think back to the CD 8 race last year with Randy Graf and Gabby Giffords. The civil war is on…

Immigration is an unsolvable problem for the Republicans. Either way they are likely to lose. The simple fact is that parties go through periodic restructuring of their underlying coalitions. The Democratic Party saw this happen starting in 1980 and ending 1994 with loss of many working class white voters and the South. I would argue that Republicans are moving through this kind of transition. They have lost most the North East and the Mountain West is trending away from them. It will be impossible to build a coalition with hard-core anti-immigration activists, Wall Street Journal Republicans and Hispanics. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

While the argument was focused on the political environment in Arizona, I don't believe the problem is unique to that state, though it may be more pronounced given its front-line position on the immigration debate. But there are growing fractures within the GOP over Iraq, global warming, as well as how the Bush Administration continues to ignore Congress' constitutionally-mandated oversight functions.

While intra-party disputes on these issues aren't anything new, the functional difference is that prior to January 2007 Republican leadership was able to carefully control the legislative agenda, ensuring that what reached the floor would be crafted in a way to keep Republicans together. That's why no meaningful immigration legislation was ever offered, nor any serious examination of the war in Iraq ever undertaken. It was all whitewashed or just blissfully ignored. Now that Democrats run the show, you're seeing stark divisions among Republicans over what is being debated and where they stand on the issues.

For 12 long years (particularly the last six), the GOP kept the spotlight on Democrats representing conservative swing districts, knowing that they were the key to passing whatever the GOP wished while stoking internal dissent among the rest of the Democratic caucus. What we're seeing now is just the reverse, along with the added bonus that the American public has largely abandoned the Republican/Bush agenda, allowing the Democrats to claim they represent mainstream America. Now, it's the Democratic congressional majorities that are forcing Republicans from more moderate districts (many of which were first won 12 years ago) to either come their way, or cast potentially career-ending votes come next year.

It's noteworthy that when Democrats began to speak-out in larger numbers against the Iraq War in 2004 and 2005, it was painted as he far-left taking over the party. Recall what was said after Ned Lamont defeated Joe Lieberman in the primary. That worked for a little while, but then public opinion began to move in the same direction. As a result, the center-of-gravity among congressional Democrats shifted left (as did the nation), allowing them to win back both chambers last year.

Clearly, Republicans are now experiencing a similar dynamic, with the hardcore elements of its party more often challenging other Republicans who appear to be embracing issues like immigration reform, as Russell Pierce is doing in Arizona by seriously contemplating a primary challenge to Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), despite the fact that Flake is hardly a moderate. This is the Republican version of Lamont v. Lieberman. But the public is much more divided over immigration than they are over a war that is clearly going bad and getting worse.

A Democrat's Lament raises the seminal issue here for Republicans: now that they've lost the Northeast, are hemorrhaging in the Mountain West, and long ago lost the West Coast, how do they stop the slide and regain their footing? Once upon a time, when Karl Rove was considered the Michael Jordan of politics, their grand plan was to move the ever-growing group of Hispanic voters their way. Unfortunately, after the GOP's attack on immigration reform, it's hard to imagine Hispanics giving the GOP another look for decades to come.

How much longer before we start seeing actual party-switching defections of some Republicans to the Democratic side in hopes of saving themselves? As MyDD reminded us last year:

In 1994, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Dick Shelby, Jimmy Hayes, Greg Laughlin, Billy Tauzin, and Nathan Deal all switched when the repubs had their little "Revolution."

I don't think we're there yet, but I can't help but wonder whether we're getting close in places like Oregon and Maine, especially as the Iraq pot continues to boil over…

Media Bias, Yellow Journalism, or Just Poor Judgment?

Yesterday's lead editorial in the Helena Independent Record blared:

     "Majority against Tester plan"

But when you read the piece, you quickly learn that the "majority" was nothing more than the 677 visitors to the newspaper's website who took its online Question of the Week poll. 

Last week's question asked whether readers supported Sen. Jon Tester's (D-MT) backing of legislation that would de-authorize the Iraq War. We're told that, by a 368-309 margin, readers did not support such an approach. Hence the headline and editorial.

I haven't lived in Helena long enough to discern the political leanings of the I-R's editorial board, and whether this is symptomatic of its writings or bias, but I know questionable media efforts when I see them. To utilize a wholly unscientific online poll and then morph those meaningless results into an editorial headline telling us "Majority against Tester plan" seems grossly irresponsible to me.

It's even more disappointing in light of the series of stories the paper ran earlier this month about the results of the June Mason-Dixon poll sponsored by Lee Newspapers (parent company of the I-R). That scientific poll told us that only 29 percent of Montana voters supported President Bush's handling of the war and, by a 46% to 37% margin, supported a withdrawal by year's end.

I strongly believe that it's examples like "Majority against Tester plan" that feeds into the growing belief among the public that the media fails to provide accurate and objective information, particularly on the issue of the Iraq War where organizations like The New York Times and Washington Post so woefully failed to ask the tough questions on the lead-up to the Iraq War and became little more than cheerleaders during our march on Baghdad. Even editorials should strive to avoid misleading statements, regardless of its political leanings.

Following-up my post from last weekend concerning the $200,000 that former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) has disbursed for legal fees from leftover campaign funds since leaving office, Hayworth now confirms that the legal activity was related to the large donations he received from Indian tribes as part of DOJ's Abramoff investigation. Hayworth acknowledged such on his talk radio show yesterday.

According to media reports, Hayworth responded to the issue by offering the following:

  • Hayworth claims he has "never been named a target" in any Justice Department investigation;
                  
  • It was only after the election that his legal counsel got a call from the Justice Department asking for "several documents";
             
  • He also claimed he did not hold back funds to pay his legal bills, as the unspent campaign funds in 2006 was similar to the amounts of cash on hand he reported after the 2002 and 2004 elections.

Okay, let's un-parse Hayworth's assertions.

First, the argument that he was not "named a target" is a distinction without meaning. The story in East Valley Tribune says that a DOJ spokesman confirmed that "the agency has no requirement that it notify a potential target of an ongoing criminal investigation."

Secondly, $192,000 in legal fees for "several documents" by a member of Congress — who routinely respond to FOIA requests and constituent inquiries is either a blatant misstatement or his lawfirm is padding its bills (I suspect the former).

Finally, Hayworth indeed left about $250,000 in funds in House account following the 2002 and 2004 elections. However, unlike his 2006 race, he won in 2002 by a 61% to 37% margin, and in 2004 by a 60% to 38% margin, knowing full well he could save funds for a future race. Last year, all the late polls had Hayworth had the race in the margin of error, before Hayworth lost by four points. Nevertheless, Hayworth left $262,000 in unspent money in his campaign account last year.

Something tells me there's a lot more about this story.


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