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Even radio producers cant

Even radio producers can't trust Bill Frist.

I was on the Al Franken Show today. And just as we were coming back from a break we got the news that Bill Frist had announced he'd seek no more votes on John Bolton's nomination. Then just as we were coming back on the air (maybe a minute later? 90 seconds?), the show's producer hollers out that Frist has already gone back on his pronouncement. Now Frist says the White House has said the president wants another vote. And when the president says, "Jump!", Bill Frist says, "How high?"

It now seems time to ask a few questions.

A) Who is the last Senate Majority Leader to have as bad a six months as Bill Frist has just had?

B) Has Frist's utter fealty to every direction of the White House now become an embarrassment even to members of his own caucus? Just out of some sense of residual institutional prerogative?

C) What does it say about Bush/Rove's opinion of Frist that they are now happy to humiliate him publicly on something close to a weekly basis.

Thoughts?

Who can tell me

Who can tell me how many bits of White House bamboozlement have been eaten whole by the author of this paragraph from an article in the Associated Press?

Since the beginning of his second term, Bush has been pushing to allow younger workers to create voluntary personal accounts funded out of their Social Security payroll taxes. Democrats accuse the White House of seeking to privatize the Depression-era program and have been unified in opposition to the idea.


Any takers?

Late Update: More commentary here on the dingbat AP story -- more significantly, how the whole lede is wrong. Also, TPM Reader RS pretty much knocked the question above out of the park. Here's the note he sent us ...

Oh Lord, where to begin on that AP report and its "Come To Jesus" approach to President Bush's version of events:

1. "Since the beginning of his second term..." Bush has been pushing to dismantle SS since before he was elected in 2000. His party has been trying to shut it down since it was implemented back in the 1930s.

2. "...voluntary..." It's voluntary if you ignore the rarely-mentioned but critically important cut in guaranteed benefits that everyone will suffer, even if they don't "opt-in" for these private accounts. If this administration has its way, you'd be a fool NOT to take the voluntary account. You'd likely starve without it, and you very well could starve anyway if the market crashes just before you retire.

3. "...personal accounts..." The bamboozler's favorite euphemism. These are private accounts, as in privatized accounts, as in the end of Social Security.

4. "Democrats accuse..." Democrats aren't accusing him of anything. They are stating fact. Bush wants to privatize Social Security.

5. "...Depression-era program..." A cute attempt to imply that Social Security is some relic from the past, instead of the critical safety net that Americans (especially working class Americans!) need when they retire.

I'm pretty sure I missed some, but five bamboozles in a 50-word graf? That's a 0.10 bamboozle co-efficient, which is almost breathtaking.


He even caught some <$NoAd$> I didn't think of. My picks were "voluntary", "personal accounts" and "Democrats accuse". He's got a t-shirt coming his way.

Even Later Update: Another TPM Reader RS sends in these ...

Here's my quick count:

1. “Since the beginning of his second term” The writer forgets that Bush has been trying to gut social security as far back as his first failed run for Congress in the 1970’s.

2. “to allow younger workers” The writer uncritically passes along Bush’s concept of “younger” even though it excludes many fresh faced workers.

3 and 4. “voluntary personal accounts” The writer accepts, without informing the reader, Bush’s strained, but politically preferred, use of the words “voluntary” and “personal.”

5. “out of their Social Security payroll taxes.” The writer falsely implies that Bush’s plan is funded by current tax receipts and not from borrowed funds.

6. “Democrats accuse the White House of seeking to privatize” The writer misleads the reader by letting objective fact appear to be a partisan attack. A fair wording would be “Democrats criticize the White House for seeking to privatize…”

7. “Depression-era progam” The writer apparently believes Social Security is just a minor legacy program that was mistakenly left untouched after the Works Project Administration closed up shop. Social Security’s was created in the Depression era, but the program has been modernized over the last six decades and retains broad contemporary popular support.


What the hell ... A shirt for him too!

So Late We're Partying Like It's 1999 Update: Secret AP writer's identity revealed! Nedra Pickler!

Congressman Issa R floats

Congressman Issa (R) floats a trial balloon version of the Duke's defense?

From the North County Times ...

The North County Times did speak with U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, during a break between votes Monday. Issa defended his Republican colleague and said Cunningham is an honest man. In his opinion, Issa said, the real story is how the real estate agent who suggested the $1.675 million sales price of the home came up with those figures.

Issa also questioned why the man who runs a multimillion-dollar defense company paid higher than market value for the house without getting an independent appraisal, then sold it for below market value. ...

"Wade was either a fool (as a businessman) or a fool in how he tried to curry favor," Issa said. "He accomplished what he wanted to accomplish, but that doesn't mean Duke was in on it."

He said that while he believes the matter should be looked into, and it will be, he believes too much in Cunningham's integrity to think he would be capable of doing anything dishonest.

"Duke has one thing he prides himself on more than anything and that is his integrity," Issa said. "His word is his bond."


Textbook case of serial, predatory <$NoAd$> bribery ...

One of the most

One of the most telling features of the "Duke" Cunningham scandal (CunningScam? Yachthgate?) is that with all the very damning information that has been revealed over the last ten days neither of the principals has managed to say much of anything in their defense.

To the best of my knowledge (and I've followed this fairly closely), MZM CEO and grand poobah Mitchell Wade has not spoken to any reporter about anything related to the story.

For the first few days, his employees put out the word that he was "traveling without access to a telephone", which, for most businessmen today, is rather like drinking without a cup. More recently he seems simply to have gone to ground with no particular need for an any explanation.

At some later day, we may find him looking for the real killers or as the case may be, the real home buyers. But for the moment, he's nowhere to be found. And this is a federal contractor doing business with the USG on super-serious defense and homeland security matters.

Even more telling is the tightlippedness of Cunningham himself. After the story first broke he put out word that he was assembling paperwork that would put all questions to rest. But he now seems to have gone to ground too -- a sitting member of Congress no less.

Here, the North County Times (which has been giving the San Diego Union-Tribune a run for its money on this one) picks up the story. Cunningham spokesman Mark Olson says that the congressman has no timeline for when he'll speak to reporters or come forward with his all-clarifying dossier. But even the local head of the GOP doesn't seem happy about it. San Diego County GOP chief Ron Nehring says: "I think everyone is looking forward to the situation being clarified. There clearly is more information that needs to come out and when that happens we will get a clearer idea of what happens next."

Says Olson: "The congressman is putting together all the relevant records and information and will disclose it at the appropriate time."

Seems like an appropriate time.

Wed heard this was

We'd heard this was coming. Now Copley News Service's Marcus Stern has the goods: "A defense contractor who took a $700,000 loss on the purchase of Rep. Randy Cunningham's Del Mar residence in 2003, and provided a yacht for his use in the nation's capital, forced his employees to make political contributions that benefited the San Diego Republican and other members of Congress, according to three former senior officials of the company.(emphasis added)"

There's also this intriguing nugget: "A third former employee of MZM described being rounded up along with other employees one afternoon in the company's Washington headquarters and told to write a check with the political recipient standing by. The former employee didn't give the name of the politician receiving the donations."

Boy, would it be fun to know who that 'political recipient' was.

And perhaps not that hard since the universe of members of Congress spending serious time on the MZM gravy train seems not to have been that large.

Earlier we told you about Rep. Virgil Goode (R) from Southside Virginia. But don't forget about the rest of folks who got money.

Like Katherine Harris.

In the 2004 cycle the MZM political action committee gave out $34,000 to House candidates. The totals go like this ...

Cunningham, Randy "Duke" (R-CA) $6,000 Forbes, J Randy (R-VA) $5,000 Goode, Virgil H Jr (R-VA) $10,000 Harris, Katherine (R-FL) $10,000 Hunter, Duncan (R-CA) $1,000 Renzi, Rick (R-AZ) $2,000

So Katherine Harris got $10,000 from the MZM Pac. And during the same cycle she got another $32,000 from employees of MZM.

Actually, not just during the same cycle. If you look at this read-out from OpenSecrets.org you'll see that that $32,000 came in 16 checks for $2000 each. And 14 of those $2,000 checks were written out on one day -- March 23rd, 2004, a Tuesday.

The two other were written out on April 1st, 2004 a Thursday by MZM owner Mitchell Wade's wife: Christiane Wade.

With Cunningham and Goode, Mitchell Wade had some very specific piece of business he wanted help with. What was his angle on Katherine Harris?

On the House floor

On the House floor today, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R) announced that he'd just been served with four subpoenas. Not that this is out of an abundance of candor. I think it's a House rule that you've got to disclose it in this way.

But apparently, they're not subpoenas over the House debacle, which the feds are also investigating. They're about something else. A Cunningham spokesman said the subpoenas were related to "constituent casework" but declined to give more details.

Now, as I think we've learned, 'constituent casework' can have a rather expansive meaning for the Duke. But there's another bit of this story that's unclear to me.

Right now I'm looking at an AP story at the New York Times website. The headline reads "Rep. Cunningham Discloses Federal Subpoena." But the article says the subpoenas were issued by the "Imperial County Superior Court." That sounds to me like a state court. And presumably this court is the one they're referring to. Either I'm wrong or they made a mistake. And one way or another it's likely a simple error. But what's also notable is that as near as I can tell, none of the Duke's 50th district falls anywhere in California's Imperial County, which happens to be in Rep. Bob Filner's district. (See page 4 of this pdf.)

I'm not expert on trial court nomenclature or San Diego-area congressional districts, so if I've gotten any of these points wrong, please let me know. But it does make me wonder just what other trouble the Duke's gotten himself into.

Late Update: TPM Reader SS alerts me to this late article on the the subpoenas mentioned above. It seems the case in question is one in which Cunningham is merely a bystander.

Theres a pretty funny

There's a pretty funny ad running today at NationalJournal.com. Here's a short snippet about it from <$NoAd$>CongressDaily ...

ETHICS

Stark Runs Satirical Home-Sale Ad In Shot At Cunningham

Rep. Fortney (Pete) Stark, D-Calif., has bought ads on the Web sites of the National Journal Group's CongressDaily and Hotline, targeting Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif., for his home sale to contractor Mitchell Wade, the head of MZM, Inc. "It is ridiculous that the House is still without a working Ethics Committee that can investigate abuses of power," Stark said today. "I took out the ad to highlight that need. Plus, I have found that using humor to prove a point seems to especially get under the skin of the majority party." The $500 ad buy was paid personally by Stark and does not name Cunningham directly. It is a mock real estate ad for Stark's own home whose headline reads: "Attention Powerful Lobbyists! House for Sale by Influential Member of Congress." The ad continues, "From recent practices by defense contractor lobbyists, it appears that you may be able to slip a cool million to a member of Congress with little fear of ethics violations!"


Here's a picture of the ad.

Over the weekend The

Over the weekend The Washington Post had a nice piece detailing the various shenanigans of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R) and MZM, Inc., as well as the company's dealing with Rep. Virgil Goode (R) of Virginia.

To date, it's only fair to point out that Goode's help to MZM seems to have been in return for old-fashioned campaign donations rather than the more innovative personal cash bonuses received by Duke.

But looking at the coverage of the story over the last two days, I wonder whether Cunningham may not have ingeniously sucked all the air out of the coverage of the story by being so obviously guilty that there's little left to talk about.

And another question: who dropped the dime on the Duke?

If Republicans want him off the stage, now'd be about the best time to do it since there's plenty of time for Duke to decide he wants to spend more time with his family and for the local party to recruit another candidate.

He might even be unique and simply say that he wants to spend more time in his new house.

Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders

Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders (I), who's <$NoAd$> running for Senate next year, just started his Table for One guest-blogging stint at TPMCafe.

In his first post he says he'll be reading your comments throughout the day and following up with responses where possible.

Here's the last paragraph of his first post to give you a flavor ...

The political stakes in America have never been higher. If we lose, if the grass roots of America don't speak out, if we do not turn back the radical Bush Administration, we will for the first time in our nation's history see the next generation both less free and less economical prosperous than we are. What an incredible challenge we face. That is why I think it is so important for all of us to be involved in the political process and why I'm so glad to be communicating with you through TPMCafe today. I know I've touched on a lot of topics in a short space but my hope is to spark some interesting and informative exchanges. So pull up a chair to the Table for One and let's get started.


You can read the whole thing here. Do stop by.

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