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Christopher Hayes

Christopher Hayes

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

Lobbying Revenue Jumps 9%

The economy may be looking browbeaten these days, but at least one sector is still thriving: the lobbying industry. According to this week's report by The Hill, last year, the 25 biggest lobbyist firms reported across-the-board increases in revenue--a 9% jump. Topping the charts was Patton Boggs, which broke new earnings records at $42.7 million.

"2006 was the worst time," Van Scoyoc and Cassidy CEO Gregg Hartley explained to Roll Call yesterday: "With so much controversy, a lot of people were backing off the playing field." Yet now, says Hartley, the new lobbyist rules are clear. "This has been a good year, and we would anticipate that appropriations will always be a good, strong, healthy part of our business," he says.

(So far not for everyone, though. In a rather embarrassing move for the lobbying industry--which likes to preserve the delicate appearance of not wielding direct influence over Congress--the National Association of Home Builders recently announced it was freezing its PAC contributions to lawmakers until they came to the aid of the housing sector.)

The Iraq Debate

If you value your sanity, never, ever, ever listen to GOP blowhards like Tom Coburn and Lindsey Graham discourse at length on Iraq. The arguments are so transparently ad hoc, disingenuous and overdetermined they'll make your head explode. (Sample line from Lindsey Graham: "This is the most successful counter-insurgency operation in the history of the world!")

Kevin Drum sums up the pro-surge argument smartly with this line: "I guess the surge is working so well that we have to keep it up forever."

Mukasey: Keep Them Locked Up

Attorney General Michael Mukasey wants us all to be crystal-clear here. The early release of 1,500 prisoners convicted on crack-cocaine charges recommended by the US Sentencing Commission last November is a Very Bad Idea.

After all, as he told the Fraternal Order of Police yesterday, "These offenders are often violent criminals who are likely to repeat their criminal activities." Moreover, Mukasey as noted, "Nearly 80 percent of those eligible [for release]... have a prior criminal record." (Well, yes--after all, they're in prison. Okay, but poor wording aside, given that a "prior criminal record" can span anything from trespassing to turnstile jumping charges, this is not a very tremble-worthy statement. And as the Washington Post noted last Friday, less than 5% of federal crack cases involve any violence.)

According to Mukasey, Congress should void the US Sentencing Commission's policy before it takes effect on March 3. Nevermind how the 100-to-1 crack-cocaine sentencing disparity has helped fill America's prisons with a 2.5 million population overwhelmingly poor and disproprotionately black. Or that, on top of the US Sentencing Commission's recommendations, the Supreme Court also ruled in December to restore sentencing discretion to judges.

When the House Judiciary hears the issue today, following the Sentencing Commission's lead (their latest report marks the fourth time they've called for crack-cocaine sentencing reform), they should ignore Mukasey's shrill alarmism and push to eliminate the race-based sentencing disparities altogether.

Between Abstinence and Global HIV/AIDS

Perhaps Nicholas Kristof put it best: Condoms don't cause sex any more than umbrellas cause rain. Yet this week as Congress gears up to reauthorize the President's program to fight global HIV/AIDS, U.S. funding continues to enshrine an emphasis on pre-marital abstinence thoroughly disconnected from facts on the ground.

In the words of one African reporter who questioned Bush last week during his trip to Africa, the U.S. requirement that one-third of AIDS funding promote such abstinence is a poor use of funds because frankly, "multiple sexual relationships or partner relationships is the reality" in many African societies. In fact, as an LA Times editorial put it on Thursday, often for African girls, marriage can mean a "death sentence," as they can't dictate their husbands' extramarital behavior or condom use.

While the White House's efforts to combat HIV/AIDS are certainly laudable, they also ignore the voluminous science (as well as reports from the Institute of Medicine and General Accounting Office) that indicates the White House's strong focus on abstinence hobbles more effective tools--like condom promotion--which combat HIV.

Last week in Ghana, however, Bush shrugged off such concerns. "I can report, at least to our citizens, that the program has been unbelievably effective," he said. (A curious qualification--at least to our citizens?)

Note: And if you were hoping McCain would be any better, check out this exchange here.

Splitting the Difference on Mandates

Jacob Hacker wades into the great mandate debate this morning in the LA Times. He argues that the sturm und drang over mandates is overblown:

Still, I do not believe that the individual mandate is essential to healthcare reform, as its supporters suggest. That's because Obama and Clinton have rightly rejected reform based on the individual purchase of insurance, choosing instead to allow most people to obtain subsidized coverage through their employers. By emphasizing the individual mandate, Clinton is shifting attention from this fundamental and popular feature of her (and Obama's) approach and actually may be hurting the cause she cares so deeply about.

The cornerstone of both Clinton's and Obama's plans is the same: Employers must provide coverage to their workers or enroll them in a new, publicly overseen insurance pool. People in this pool could choose either a public plan modeled after Medicare or from regulated private plans. Both candidates have promised help for middle- and lower-income Americans, and both have said they will cut costs through administrative streamlining, prevention and quality improvement.

...

The Obama and Clinton plans, by contrast, get most of their mileage out of requiring that employers provide good coverage or help pay for publicly sponsored insurance. As a result, they can sign up most people -- the 95% or so of nonelderly Americans who have some tie to the workforce -- automatically at their place of work.

If enrollment is automatic for virtually all Americans, the big question is whether premiums can be kept low enough that people will want to keep the coverage (or, in the case of Clinton's plan, won't be forced to pay too much). This in turn depends on the generosity of federal subsidies. The federal price tag for Clinton's plan is usually cited as $110 billion a year; for Obama's plan, $50 billion to $65 billion. But the Clinton campaign estimates that her plan will save the federal government $56 billion, so she proposes almost the same amount of new federal spending as Obama does.

This syncs up with some of what I've been reading and hearing on the issue. On a slightly different note, during a recent episode of Bloggingheads Ezra Klein and I discussed the case against mandates from the left.

Now Can We Talk About 9/11

While over its tenure, the Bush administration has increased baseline military spending by 30% to fight a global "war on terror," this month with the release of the President's last budget, Bush delivered a final, parting blow to 9/11 victims of terror at home.

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the cost of treating sick ground zero workers has reached $195 million a year, a cost likely to expand. Nevertheless, Bush's proposed budget cuts 2009 funding for 9/11 healthcare to $25 million--a 77% drop from the previous year's appropriations.

Meanwhile this December, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt eliminated plans for the center that would treat the 10,000-plus First Responders suffering health problems as the result of their service after the attacks.

First Responders are rallying today on the West Lawn for Congressional action.

The FCC Debates the Internet’s Future

It seemed an apt coincidence of timing that as legal scholars and industry representatives debated the future of the internet at yesterday's FCC hearing at Harvard Law School, here in Washington, the House was holding somewhat more anachronistic-sounding hearings on railroad antitrust enforcement.

As Tim Wu put it at a Free Press panel on net neutrality earlier this month, at the turn of the century, the railroad was the new technology driving commerce in the United States. Likewise today, high-speed cable internet is the U.S. economy's new highway. So by blocking or discriminating against competitors' content--as both Verizon and Comcast have done--cable giants are not only protecting their own bottom line, they are crippling America's innovation economy, possibly for good. (A particularly odious turnaround when you consider that cable networks were heavily financed by government tax breaks and guaranteed returns.)

Yet net neutrality isn't just a question of whether Comcast allows us to download high-speed online TV, or the size of our monthly cable bills (which, since 1996, have gone up 93 percent). It's also at the heart of what's inspiring about the Internet: its democratic latitude. Yes, it's a political question (it doesn't take more than Verizon blocking subscribers' ability to receive NARAL Pro-Choice text messages to see that); it's also a question of connectivity and communication.

Our modern-day railroad barons would like to turn the Internet into their own private toll roads, the equivalent of cable television, with users reduced to passive content consumers. We can't let them.

The Freak Show

Time magazine political analyst Mark Halperin (formerly of ABC and The Note) has a post up dispensing free advice to John McCain on how he can attack Obama. The pearls of wisdom dispensed include:

5. Make an issue of Obama's acknowledged drug use.6. Allow some supporters to risk being accused of using the race card when criticizing Obama....11. Emphasize Barack Hussein Obama's unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism.

Aside from this being gratuitous and morally blinkered, I'm wondering what exactly Halperin thought the value-added of this post was. If he wants to be a campaign strategist for the McCain campaign (or any other for that matter), I'm sure he could get a job doing just that. But he's, in name at least, a journalist, with some basic responsibility to provide his readers with insight into the race. There's no insight in this list -- every attack he mentions has been made in the wingnut'osphere and in emails. So, really, what's the point? As far as I can tell it's mostly to burnish a reputation as being a savvy and unsentimental insider. If you were looking for artifacts to collect under the heading Why People Hate The Media, this would be at the top of the list.

Haynes Resigns

Last week, we broke a story about Pentagon general counsel William Haynes, the man charged with impartially overseeing the tribunals at Guantanamo telling a subordinate that "[they]can't have acquittals." Yesterday, came word that Haynes has resigned. We always get our man.

What Exactly Will Go Into the Bush Presidential Library?

When George W. Bush's presidential library opens in Dallas at Southern Methodist University (officials announced the site on Friday), expect Bush to do his best to keep his papers shrouded.

While in 1978, the Presidential Records Act made presidential records the property of American people, according to Bush's Executive Order 13233 (signed less than a month after September 11th), current and previous presidents are empowered to withhold their records--indefinitely.

Last March, an act to undo Bush's Executive Order cleared the House by a 333-93 margin. Though the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs favorably reported a companion resolution this June, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) continues to stonewall its Senate passage. (Take action with Public Citizen to pressure Sessions here.)

According to the Dallas Morning News, a "significant portion" of SMU faculty members objected to the potential construction of the Bush library last year, citing concerns about the library's partisanship. Others were more hopeful: As theater professor Rhonda Blair put it, the library would give Americans a chance to figure out "what the heck has happened during the eight years of [the Bush] administration." But unless the Senate steps up to the plate, such an outcome looks unlikely.

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