Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute. His new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, will be published in August 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He has written extensively about American politics, civil rights, and the intersection of money and politics. His stories have also appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and The Guardian, and he is a frequent guest and commentator on MSNBC and NPR. His first book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, was published in 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Photo by Ports Bishop)
So much for the DC madam's client list not being newsworthy. Tell that to Senator David Vitter, the conservative Louisiana Republican and first major politico linked to Madam Deborah Jane Palfrey.
After the AP reported that his phone number appeared in Palfrey's phone records, Vitter apologized for "a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible." He continued: "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling." It was unclear if that was before or after a prominent Louisiana Republican accused Vitter of repeatedly shaking up with a prostitute in New Orleans' French Quarter.
Vitter, in yet another delicious slice of religious right hypocrisy, is one of the most outspoken social conservatives in the Senate. He co-sponsored legislation to federally finance abstinence-only education and called a ban on gay marriage the most important issue in the country today. He also told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that "infidelity, divorce, and deadbeat dads contribute to the breakdown of traditional families."
The newest GOP buzzword: anguished. That's the phrase most often used these days to describe how Republicans feel about the war in Iraq. Three prominent GOP Senators have rhetorically broken with the Bush Administration in the past two weeks. More are sure to follow.
According to the New York Times, "White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush's Iraq strategy are collapsing around them." Maine Senator Olympia Snowe says enough is enough. She invokes another Iraq buzzword: benchmarks. The Iraqi government must meet the targets requested by Congress by much-vaunted September. Or else.
Yet another dissident Senator, Indiana's Richard Lugar, says "there's no conceivable way that" the benchmarks will be met. And the White House may be preparing to scrap those goals altogether in search of "alternative evidence of progress."
When news of the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program became public, Senator Hillary Clinton called the eavesdropping "strange" and "far-fetched." In a fundraising email she went on to blast "a secret program that spies on Americans!"
Now her chief strategist and pollster, Mark Penn, may have a spying problem of his own.
A lawsuit filed in New York by a former employee of Penn's polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland, alleges that when the employee left the firm and started a rival consulting business, workers at PSB hacked into his BlackBerry and illegally monitored his email. The lawsuit, filed in mid-June and reported by the AP on Wednesday, claims that Penn approved of the surveillance.
Barack Obama hit another one out of the park. By now you've heard all about the $32.5 million the Illinois Senator's campaign raised in the second quarter of this year. That's five million more than the big kahuna, Hillary Clinton, who was easily supposed to win the money chase. And well more than three times the amount of John Edwards.
Obama tapped over a quarter million donors en route to smashing all primary fundraising records. That's a very impressive number. But let's not lose sight of what it all means.
Obama's first quarter take was powered by a lot of small donors. And to his credit Obama doesn't accept money from lobbyists. But that didn't stop him from cozying up to powerful sectors such as Wall Street and raising a boatload from places like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. We'll know the details of the second quarter take soon enough.
It was not so long ago that Republicans threatened to "nuke" the Senate if Democrats employed the filibuster to block President Bush's judicial nominees, particularly those to the Supreme Court (which in light of recent decisions, they clearly should have).
Fast forward two years later, with Democrats narrowly in control, and the Senate is in a state of permanent filibuster. It takes 60 votes to get "cloture" and pass just about anything.
As a result, pieces of legislation that won a majority but failed to garner 60 votes, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, a minimum wage increase without tax breaks for business, major investments in renewable energy and mandates for clean-energy sources, the importation of cheap prescription drugs from Canada, allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices under Medicare, countless amendments to the immigration bill and on and on.
Written and reported by Matthew Blake:
The death penalty is finally beginning to remerge as an issue inside the halls of Congress--and it only took the second Congressional power shift in 50 years and the unprecedented Department of Justice dismissal of 8 or 9 US attorneys to make it happen.
Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold on Wednesday held a hearing of the Senate Judiciary's Subcommittee on the Constitution that drew attention to the lack of information available about when the Justice Department seeks capital punishment and the financial and social costs involved when it does. Fired US Attorney Paul Charlton testified that even he did not know death penalty protocol under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and told the committee that he was fired after refusing to authorize the death penalty for a case with no corroborating forensic evidence.
You've heard all the stereotypes. Students are apathetic, complacent and unaware of the world around them.
There's a grain of truth to that statement. But a whole lot of falsity. Just ask the 1,000 student journalists and activists who converged on Washington early this week from every single state for the third annual Campus Progress conference.
On Monday The Nation co-sponsored a journalism training day at the Center for American Progress with over 150 student journalists, featuring speeches by Katrina vanden Heuvel and two of America's best muckraking journalists, Barbara Ehrenreich and Eric Schlosser, panels on covering corruption and the courts, featuring the likes of Helen Thomas, Dahlia Lithwick, David Corn, John Nichols and yours truly, and workshops on culture, blogging, investigative journalism and reporting beyond the Beltway.
Remember that old story about the pot and the kettle. Well, Tom Edsall of the Huffington Post reports today that John McCain, the once-crusading reformer, has more lobbyists on his staff than any other '08 presidential candidate.
Two of his top guns are Congressmen-turned-lobbyists Tom Loeffler of Texas and Slade Gordon of Washington, who represent clients such PhrMA, the powerful pharmaceutical industry trade group whose influence McCain used to regularly deride. McCain called the Medicare privatization bill of 2003 the "Leave No Lobbyist Behind Bill." Now those very same lobbyists are members of his inner circle.
One of McCain's top operatives is Charlie Black, an ally of Ahmad Chalabi and Lockheed Martin, another company McCain has criticized for its sweetheart deals with the Defense Department. (Black's lobbying firm, BKSH & Associates, also happens to be a subsidiary of Burson-Marsteller, the huge PR firm run by Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn.)
As the post-Watergate presidential financing system collapses and Congressional elections grow more expensive by the millions every cycle, Senators Dick Durbin and Arlen Specter believe it's time to fundamentally change the way campaigns are financed and run. Earlier this year they introduced the first bipartisan bill to publicly finance federal races, modeled after successful "clean election" laws at the state and local levels. (See The Nation's "Making Elections Fair.") This week the Senate Rules Committee held the first of what reformers hope will be many hearings on Durbin-Specter and the corrupting influence of big money on politics. Our Washington intern Matthew Blake attended the hearing and filed this report:
On Wednesday morning, Senators Durbin and Specter were given a chance to make an impassioned plea to their colleagues about why the current financing system was broken--and how their bill would fix it.
"Politicians spend so many hours with special interests and wealthy donors that we don't know what life is like for average working people," Durbin told the committee. "We need to get out of the fundraising business and into the constituent and policy business."