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Christopher Hayes | The Nation

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Christopher Hayes

Christopher Hayes

Nation editor-at-large and host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.

Two Cheers and a Caveat

This week, Obama made the point that by now is clearly manifest: More than anyone, his campaign has come close to virtually (literally and figuratively) capturing campaign finance reform's holy grail--that is, a campaign powered on the shoulders of small-time contributors. As he told guests at a donor dinner on Tuesday, "We have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign, they can get on the Internet and finance it." Last February, for example, fully 56% of Obama's whopping $55 million haul came from small donors.

Fair enough. But while the presidential race remains the focus of the public campaign financing debate, it's really Congress that should be the locus of concern over the influence of money in politics. (Incidentally if you missed Dana Milbank's column on campaign contributions behind the housing bill, read it here). And when it comes to Congressional fundraising, in recent years, large-donor clout has in fact steadily calcified. In the current race, for example, Democratic Senate challengers have raised only 20% of total funds from small donors; for Democratic incumbents, that figure scrapes the barrel still further at 6%.

Last year in a bold move Hillary Clinton has yet to emulate, Obama signed onto Dick Durbin's full public financing bill in the Senate. These days no matter how dazzling his own fundraising, let's hope he stays attuned to the realities of how his colleagues have to finance their own races, too.

You Ain't a Goin' Nowhere

Bush today about Petraeus' request for a "pause" in troop withdrawals:

"He'll have all the time he needs."

Torturers

By now, everyone is familiar with Hannah Arendt's famous phrase "the banality of evil"

Like many I was disposed to view some of the most abhorrent abuses of the Bush administration as being a classic example of the type. But this new report from Jan Crawford Greenberg makes me think that maybe we're just dealing a bunch of sadistic maniacs.

"Half Devil and Half Child"

Petraeus today on the Iraqi government:

Assisting the new Iraqi government is like teaching a young child how to ride a bicycle, Petraeus observed, noting the United States is "trying to support it as much as we can, while keeping as light a hand on the bicycle seat as possible.

Recalls an earlier era doesn't it?

Quote of the Day

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Iraq, at a rally before this morning's Armed Services hearing: "The only thing between us and winning is the Congress."

Into the Great Wide Open

Ryan Crocker this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee, on the White House's intent for future U.S. security agreements with Iraq:

"It is our intention to negotiate as an executive agreement...we don't intend to negotiate any binding commitments that would require the Senate's advice and consent."

Well, you can't put it any more plainly than that. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports today that a leaked copy of the draft strategic framework agreement contains no limits on the number of US forces that will be maintained in Iraq, the weapons they're able to deploy, their legal status, their power over Iraqi citizens, or the length of time they'll remain.

The point here, of course, isn't whether the administration can keep the agreement's language from veering into the terrain that would technically classify it as a treaty. The point is that once again, the White House has reinforced its unwavering stance that when it comes to maintaining an open-ended occupation of Iraq, both public and Congressional opinion don't matter one whit.

McCain's Unintentionally Revealing Ambiguity

My favorite snippet from McCain's speech today on Iraq:

Iraqi forces recently battled in Basra against radical Shi'a militias, supported by Iran...

Note the grammatical indeterminacy. Are the Iraqi forces "supported by Iran" or are the radical Shi'a militias the ones "supported by Iran"? Unclear, both in the text of the speech and in real life.

1/6th There

If you can't beat the Electoral College, join them. Since last April, New Jersey and Maryland have signed onto the National Popular Vote compact, and today with Governor Blagojevich's signature, Illinois--a state both presidential candidates skipped during the 2004 general election--took the pledge as well.

The compact needs 270 electoral votes to take effect; including Illinois, the plan is now one-sixth of the way there. Organizers aim to have the system in place by 2012.

In the meantime, what's particularly egregious is how several governors (that is, Hawaii's Linda Lingle and California's Arnold Schwarzenegger) are using their veto power to block their states from signing onto the compact. Given, perhaps, the specter of what might've happened in 2000 under NPV, the GOP has generally been more reluctant to embrace the system. Yet the system's benefits would accrue to anyone whose votes currently aren't counted--and that includes Democrats in Texas as much as Republicans in California.

This Week On Tap

Talk of the Iraq War will dominate business on the Hill this week, as Gen. David Petraeus and ambassador Ryan Crocker offer their latest post-surge Congressional updates. It's been four months since their last report, and this time as the war slogs on, all eyes are likely to be on the presidential candidates, who return to Washington this week to question the witnesses.

Meanwhile in the Senate, members will resume consideration the bipartisan housing legislation (HR3221) introduced last Wednesday. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has filed cloture to limit debate and speed the package's passage; a vote on that motion is scheduled for Tuesday. The most contentious proposal--an attempt by Sen. Durbin (D-Il.) adjust bankruptcy law to aid struggling homeowners--failed last week by a 58-36 vote. "The provision I offered was narrowly tailored and provided real help to more than half a million American homeowners facing foreclosure," said Durbin. "Unfortunately, my amendment was strenuously opposed by the banking lobby and their powerful friends in the Bush Administration and in the Senate."

Given last month's grim 80,000 job loss, Speaker Pelosi received the Senate bill--which the Joint Tax Committee reports offers businesses $25 billion in tax relief, but just $3 billion to homeowners--fairly coolly. House Democrats are pushing a more ambitious plan to aid up to 1.5 million homeowners by expanding the availability of federally insured loans; hearings on the proposal begin Wednesday.

Also this week, the Senate holds hearings on appropriations, Iran sanctions, last August's SCHIP directive and field hearings on the foreclosure crisis. The House votes on the Beach Protection Act and the National Landscape Conservation System Act, and additionally holds hearings on greenhouse gas emissions, the Family Medical Leave Act, war powers and FEMA's response capabilities. Despite Democratic opposition, the White House is likely to send the Colombia free trade agreement to Congress, setting into motion a 90-day timeline for a vote on the pact.

A Free Trade Thought Experiment

Imagine a country where CEO's live in fear. In just the past five years, 400 CEO's -- from manufacturing, banking, real estate -- have been shot down in cold blood. (Thousands over the past 15 years.) Almost none of these murders have been solved. Indeed, over the past five years the percentage of CEO murders simply brought to trial has declined from 30% to zero. CEO's now more or less live in fear.

Can you imagine the US have friendly relations with such a place? Can you imagine a president expending political capital to treat that country favorably in an international agreement? Right. Of course not.

Of course, such a place does exist, but they're not murdering CEO's.

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