The Upside of Sarah Palin's Invisibility in the Press

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 12:47 PM EDT

One good thing about the McCain campaign's refusal to grant press access to Sarah Palin? No one takes it seriously when staffers play the why-doesn't-the-press-report-the-good-news card. For example, a couple days ago, this appeared in the Wall Street Journal:

From her campaign's perspective, Gov. Palin isn't getting media attention for her contributions. For example, with foreign leaders last week, she had detailed conversations about the national-security and global implications of the energy crisis, one adviser said.

This got no pick-up whatsoever. Why? Probably because the campaign didn't allow reporters to observe those meetings for longer than 29 seconds.

(Via TNR)

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Iraq's Sunni Militias Placed Under Control of Baghdad's Shiite-Led Government

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 12:35 PM EDT


According to a Pentagon report delivered to members of Congress yesterday, violence in Iraq is down 77 percent from this time last year. The reasons are varied and complex. There's the much-lauded "surge," of course. There's Moqtada al-Sadr's decision to call a ceasefire. There's the natural combat fatigue that follows years of intense violence. And, perhaps most importantly, there's the decision by local Sunni tribesman to stop killing Americans and start killing Islamic extremists. Thanks to their change of heart (however temporary and politically calculated it may be) violence in Anbar has waned and for the first time in years its villages are secure and its roads passable.

All of this is great news. But forgive me for expressing some trepidation at this morning's reports that the U.S. military, as part of its plan to disengage from Iraq, has agreed to transfer control of the Sunni militias to the Shiite-dominated government of Nouri al-Malaki. Until now, Sunni tribesmen have received stipends... a little extra encouragement, if you will... from the U.S. government. But beginning October 31, the 54,000 Sunni militiamen in the Baghdad area will be on Baghdad's payroll to the tune of $15 million a month.

Former CIA Director Porter Goss's Dusty Foggo Problem

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 12:01 PM EDT

On Monday, the CIA's former number three official, a former logistics officer named Dusty Foggo, pled guilty in a Virginia courtroom to one count of federal wire fraud. I reported on the case at Mother Jones overnight, and how relieved CIA executives must have been to see the case go away with a quiet plea agreement, since Foggo was threatening to spill every Agency operational program and the identity of every CIA asset he knew about, which was a lot. But a little history on this story is in order.

Back in 2005, thanks in large part to the extraordinary investigative journalism work of a team of reporters at the San Diego Union-Tribune/Copley News Service (Marcus Stern, Dean Calbreath, Jerry Kammer and George Condon Jr.), Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), agreed to plead guilty to corruption charges. Among his co-conspirators, two defense contractors, Brent Wilkes, and Mitchell Wade, who had plied Cunningham with antiques, meals, travel, hookers, and bought his old home at a profit, in exchange for more than a few hundred million dollars worth of federal earmarks to their companies.

Around the time of Cunningham's agreement to plead guilty to federal authorities back in November 2005, I began hearing from intelligence sources that there was an as yet unreported and unexplored CIA connection to the case. Namely, that Brent Wilkes' best friend was the number three guy at the CIA, Dusty Foggo, and he had also been throwing CIA contracts at his friend Wilkes. So, beginning in November 2005, I first broke several CIA-related aspects of the wider Cunningham case: the name of the Wilkes' front company to get the secret CIA contracts, Archer Logistics, discussions about a covert CIA plane network contract between Foggo and Wilkes, Foggo's connection to Wilkes and the CIA water contract, a magazine piece that raised potential counterintelligence questions about the case. Other journalists -- Calbreath, Jason Vest, Ken Silverstein, Mark Hosenball among others -- were also reporting on aspects of Foggo's long relationship with Wilkes dating back to their days in Chula Vista, CA and running through Central America during the 1980s until more recent reports of a high-tech gadget-filled "playpen" Wilkes set aside for Dusty, along with the prospect of a job, in his ADCS corporate offices outside of San Diego.

Thinking back, I had some rather unpleasant conversations with a CIA spokesman at the time who screamed that I was wrong, that he had marched to Foggo's office and Foggo totally denied what I was saying, and they couldn't find any Wilkes' company that had gotten a CIA contract, etc. And then, after I informed them that one firm, Archer Logistics, was a Wilkes' front company, nominally headed by Wilkes' nephew Joel Combs, the CIA public affairs official stopped yelling. It must have registered as a hit on some database of CIA contractors or something. After that, the conversation returned to polite ordinary civil discourse and the spokesman saying that as a rule the CIA doesn't ordinarily comment on who does or does not get CIA contracts. But the tone was utterly different. And as the evidence accumulated, the CIA was starting to realize that it had a Dusty Foggo problem. (The later 28-count indictment <.pdf> of Foggo revealed just how big a Dusty Foggo problem the CIA had on its hands).

Palin: This Election Is About Change Versus More of the Same

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 11:44 AM EDT

In what has to be seen as a testament to his foresight, Barack Obama has framed his campaign perfectly from the beginning of this election season. He has forced every one he's faced (Clinton, McCain, now Palin) to try and make the case for their candidacies using his verbiage. And that's a losing proposition.

The latest example comes from the now-infamous Palin-Couric interview (which CBS has somehow turned into two weeks worth of news):

COURIC: I know you're heading to Sedona to work on your debate. What is your coach advising you?
Gov. PALIN: I don't have a debate coach.
COURIC: Well, what are your coaches?
Gov. PALIN: I have quite a few people who are giving us information about the record of Obama and Biden, and at the end of the day, though, it is -- it's so clear, again, what those choices are. Either new ideas, new energy and reform of Washington, DC, or more of the same.

That talking point is... shall we say, an underdog.

Katie Couric, by the way? MVP of the last two weeks.

New Voters to Push Obama Over the Top?

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 11:38 AM EDT

Something to chew on from MSNBC's First Read:

According to [a new NBC/WSJ/MySpace poll], new and lapsed voters (those who didn't vote in 2004) back Obama over McCain by a 2-to-1 margin, 61%-30%. If you take the Bush (62 million) and Kerry (59 million) vote totals from 2004, assume turnout increases by 20 million additional voters (about what it did in 2004), and assume Obama wins these additional voters 2-to-1, then Obama would best McCain nationally by more than three million voters, 72.4 million to 68.7 million. But if turnout increases by just 10 million, then the numbers become Obama 65.7 million, McCain 65.3 million -- a virtual tie. "An Obama victory could very well depend on getting these folks to the polls," says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Neil Newhouse (R).

Update: Another quirk from new polls, which all show Obama trending up: Obama is opening up a huge lead among women.

The Next Step on the Bailout

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 1:40 AM EDT

THE NEXT STEP ON THE BAILOUT....It looks like the Senate will be taking up the bailout bill on Wednesday. How can they do this when revenue bills are required to originate from the House? Easy!

Apparently Harry Reid found some ancient mental health bill that the Senate had never acted on, dusted it off, and grafted the bailout legislation on top of it. Then he tossed in an increase in FDIC insurance limits to $250,000 (a bipartisan winner), loaded up a bunch of tax cuts that had already been approved by the Senate but hadn't yet passed in the House, and voilà. Instant bailout bill.

So will it pass? Maybe so. After Wall Street's reaction to the failure of Monday's bill, public sentiment seems to be shifting:

On the morning after the sell-off, Congressional offices reported a shift in angry calls from constituents, with some demanding that lawmakers take some corrective action — a distinct change from the outpouring of public opposition that contributed to the defeat of the plan.

"I started hearing from a lot of people who lost money on their investments thanks to the big drop on Wall Street yesterday," said Representative Steven C. LaTourette, Republican of Ohio, who voted against the plan.

This is not entirely unexpected. The original opposition, after all, probably didn't reflect widespread sentiment so much as it did a narrow slice of highly motivated talk radio and Lou Dobbs fans. Nor is it unjustified. It's true that the stock market isn't a good proxy for the economy as a whole, but a plunging market does have an effect on the real economy. First, since corporations finance their operations partly through share offerings, dropping stock prices make it harder for companies to raise money. Second, although lots of rich people own stock, two-thirds of all stock is held in mutual funds and pension funds, which means a stock market plunge hurts a lot of very ordinary people too. Third, even though the market may not be a great proxy for the entire economy, it's a pretty good proxy for the panic level among bankers.

And the current panic is hardly unwarranted. Our real problem is in the credit markets, and the credit markets are blinking fire engine red right now. Overnight bank lending rates have skyrocketed. Municipal bond markets have cratered. The two biggest providers of short-term credit to restaurant franchises, GE Capital and Bank of America, have exited the market. Rates on overnight commercial paper are up two points. This stuff doesn't hit you or me in the pocketbook immediately, but it does eventually as spending drops, companies can't get financing, and jobs get cut. You wouldn't ignore a speeding truck just because it was still a few hundred yards away, and you shouldn't ignore this either.

So sure: we should all hope that after the election we can pass legislation that attacks the roots of the financial crisis. This includes financial market regulatory reforms, macroeconomic stimulus, and broad relief measures. Maybe it even includes a better bailout program if this one isn't enough. But right now, we have what we have, and complaining about it is like refusing to turn a fire hose on a burning building because you're afraid the water is flouridated. It's time to pass the bill.

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Acid Oceans Also Noisier

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 12:25 AM EDT


Increasing atmospheric CO2 increases the acidity of seawater, which allows sounds, like whale calls, to travel farther. Image: (c) 2008 MBARI (Base image courtesy of David Fierstein)

The acidification of seawater due to absorption of atmospheric CO2 is also enabling sound waves to travel farther. That's bad news for marine life, including whales and dolphins, who rely on sound for hunting and communication and who are already stressed by noisy ship traffic and military sonar.

A team from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute predicts that underwater sounds will travel up to 70 percent farther in some areas in 2050 than they do today. Whales could be heavily impacted. Military sonar already disrupt whale behavior more than 300 miles away. Dolphins and fish that use sound to locate prey, to avoid predators, and to defend their territories, will also be affected.

Election Day Is Deadly

| Tue Sep. 30, 2008 11:27 PM EDT

441px-Accident_Nehoda_Uhersk%FD_Brod_2.jpg American presidential elections change the world. They also have a direct effect on public health. Fifty-five percent of the American population is mobilized to vote. Most rely on motor vehicles to get to a polling place. The result: an 18 percent increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes on presidential election day.

According to new research forthcoming in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the increased risk also extends to pedestrians. It persists across ages, sexes, regions, polling hours, and whether a Democrat or Republican is elected. Believe it or not, election day risks exceed those of Super Bowl Sunday and New Years Eve. Explanations: speed, distance, distraction, emotions, unfamiliar pathways to polls, and the potential mobilization of unfit drivers. (What about unfit candidates? Fear of them drives me faster to the polls.)

The investigators looked at all US presidential election days in the past 32 years, starting with Jimmy Carter. They also examined the Tuesday immediately before and immediately after election days as controls. The average presidential election leads to ~24 deaths from motor vehicle crashes. . . Talk about the ultimate sacrifice. All the more reason to make sure your candidate is really worth it.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

Cleaning Up the Rot

| Tue Sep. 30, 2008 8:03 PM EDT

CLEANING UP THE ROT....Atrios on the credit crisis:

CNBC just said what most aren't: the reason why interbank lending rates are so high is because banks don't trust each other. The reason they don't trust each other is they don't know how much and which pieces of big shitpile they own.

Yep. That's why having the Treasury Department buy up all those toxic assets is probably a good idea. Recapitalization isn't enough if it leaves banks still owning securities with values so variable that it's too risky to lend to them anyway. We need to get that stuff off their balance sheets in order to make their financial position more transparent and we need to increase their capital base (which the Paulson plan accomplishes by paying above-market prices for the toxic sludge in return for a guarantee of equity down the road if the sludge eventually has to be sold at a loss). That combination has a better chance of working than either one alone.

And why is the toxic sludge so hard to value? Can't we just make banks open their books and provide detailed information on all this stuff? Sure. But you've still got two problems. First, in the later days of the mortgage free-for-all, mortgages were packaged up with no documentation at all. So no one, not even the banks, knows for sure just how good or bad their mortgage portfolios are. Second, even if we knew that, their value would still depend on how much farther down home prices have to go. And that's anyone's guess.

So: get this crap out of the banking system, where it's causing systemic rot. Recapitalize the financial industry. Get equity guarantees in return to protect against future losses. And then hold your breath and hope it's enough.

House to Voters: Please Stop Emailing Us

| Tue Sep. 30, 2008 6:45 PM EDT

So much for taxpayer feedback on the House's failure to pass the $700 billion bailout plan. If you email your Rep. right now, here's the automated raspberry you'll likely get in return:

Subject: House of Representatives is limiting constituent email due to volume
Please be advised that the House of Representatives is currently imposing limits on inbound communications from constituents because volumes are so high that Congressional websites and web forms are becoming non-responsive. A limit on the number of emails that can be sent via the "Write Your Rep" web form system (the software that a majority of Representatives use to power their web forms) is being imposed during peak email traffic hours. Clients may want to adapt their campaign timing or switch contact methods (to phone) to avoid delivery disruptions due to these limits. The throttling is dynamic, so unfortunately there is no simple guidance we can offer that will ensure delivery. The throttling is likely to remain in place until the end of the current legislative session.