2008 - %3, April

White House Emails and The Case of the Missing BlackBerrys

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 7:46 PM PDT

During a summit in New Orleans last week, a press aide for the Mexican government took two unattended BlackBerrys belonging to U.S. officials. The aide, Quintero Curiel, has since been fired, but questions remain. Curiel told Mexican newspapers that he thought the PDAs had been abandoned and insists he planned to return them. So his intentions may have been noble. The devices have been recovered, and disaster may have been averted.

Of course, he could be lying. Fox News reported that while Curiel "initially denied taking the devices, but after agents showed him [security camera footage of him taking them], [he] said it was purely accidental, gave them back, claimed diplomatic immunity and left New Orleans with the Mexican delegation." The two BlackBerrys that were taken can each hold around 28,000 printed pages worth of information, and all that data can be easily copied to other devices. And Curiel—an employee of the Mexican government—likely had the PDAs in his possession for more than enough time to copy and either hide or transmit all of the data they contained. No one is saying whether there was sensitive information on the devices. And no one is saying whether Curiel was working for Mexico's intelligence agency, CISEN, or spying for any other country. But if he was, it is very likely that nearly 60,000 pages worth of potentially sensitive material is now in foreign hands.

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Torture Subpoenas?

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 3:38 PM PDT

John Yoo, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the Vice President's Chief of Staff David Addington have now all declined to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the White House's interrogation policies. Committee Chairman John Conyers first responded to their objections, and now has threatened to issue subpoenas.

"I will have no choice," Conyers says, "but to consider the use of compulsory process." Stay tuned.

Rev. Wright: A Neverending Cross for Obama To Bear

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 3:16 PM PDT

UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, Barack Obama denounced Wright's recent remarks and criticized him harshly. Read about it here.

One has to wonder about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. No doubt, he is angry, with some justification, about his treatment in the media, as decades of work and devotion have been compressed to seconds-long clips that emphasize a few extreme-sounding remarks. But he seems dedicated to firing back--or, speaking out--in a manner that it is politically harmful to the most famous member of his church: Barack Obama.

On Friday night, Wright appeared on Bill Moyers Journal and came across as thoughtful and provocative. Moyers played long excerpts of his controversial sermons, and Wright was able to explain some of his more inflammatory quotes ("God damn America" and 9/11 was the chickens "coming home to roost.") His explanations won't do much for voters who don't like angry black men. But when the context of the remarks are provided, they lose some of their edge. Wright's appearance on this PBS show was a net gain for Wright, and it did not seem to generate any political fallout for Obama. Then came Sunday night.

Speaking at an NAACP dinner in Detroit, Wright gave a fiery speech, noting that being different is not the same as being deficient, meaning that because blacks are different from whites they are not inferior. (As an example, Wright claimed that when it comes to music, blacks clap on different beats than whites.) In the speech, Wright mocked white attitudes toward blacks. He made fun of John Kennedy's Boston accent--particularly how Kennedy pronounced his most famous and inspiring line: "Ask not what your country...." He did so to make the point that black children who do not speak Middle-America English are no different from a president. Often breaking into a pretend "white" voice, he displayed a fair amount of disdain for white folks who fail to understand black folks.

New FEC Charge Against McCain, Will Also Go Univestigated by Broken FEC

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 2:07 PM PDT

fec-closed250x200.jpg Right-leaning legal group Judicial Watch has filed a new FEC complaint against John McCain alleging that a London fundraiser may have involved illegal in-kind contributions from foreign nationals.

This of course will join the growing list of complaints that will go uninvestigated by the broken FEC. How many of these have to filed until the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senate Minority Leader McConnell is so great they are forced to break their gridlock and staff the FEC? Due to a near-complete lack of public concern on the subject, I'm guessing... infinity.

"What Are We Going to Change To?"

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 11:38 AM PDT

In a NYT article about how Indiana's old fashioned voters may be resistant to Obama's charms — "Frankly, we want it to be like it used to be," says some dude — there is a question that you've heard many times before, in some form or another:

"What are we going to change to?" asked Ron O'Bryan, 58, a retired auto worker who said he was still trying to decide which Democrat to vote for in the May 6 primary.

I've mulled this over a lot, particularly because I've heard it frequently from voters at Hillary Clinton rallies. They're usually on board for change, but they don't know what Obama is promising. With H. Clinton, they usually operate under the assumption that it'll be back to the future — a return to the familiar philosophies and policies of B. Clinton.

Rove to Obama: Attack! Don't Attack!

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 11:03 AM PDT

Bush's Brain is either a bad political consultant or he is — shocker! — screwing with Democrats.

Karl Rove, The Financial Times, December 2, 2007: "Memo to Obama":

First, stop acting like a vitamin-deficient Adlai Stevenson. Striking a pose of being high-minded and too pure will not work. Americans want to see you scrapping and fighting for the job, not in a mean or ugly way but in a forceful and straightforward way.
Hillary may come over as calculating and shifty but she looks in control. You, on the other hand, often come over as weak and ineffectual. In some debates, you do not even look at her when disagreeing with her, making it look as if you are afraid of her. She offers you openings time and again but you do not take advantage of them. Sharpen your attacks and make them more precise.

Karl Rove again, in the latest issue of Newsweek, May 5, 2008: "Dear Senator Obama...":

Stop the attacks. They undermine your claim to a post-partisan new politics. You soared when you seemed above politics, lost altitude when you did what you criticize. Attacks are momentarily satisfying but ultimately corrode your appeal.

I love that major news outlets keep paying Karl Rove for advice that no one is seeking. Oh, and not disclosing that he's an adviser to John McCain, for cripes sake.

Hat tip The Joshua Blog.

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Time for Cindy McCain to Release Her Tax Returns

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 10:53 AM PDT

McCain's money...

Aside from a Wachovia checking account, in which he keeps between $15,000 and $50,000 (wouldn't some of that money earn more interest in a certificate of deposit?), all of the couple's assets are in Cindy's name. John McCain's tax return is so anemic, so marginal to the couple's actual financial situation, that he doesn't even take a deduction for interest on his home mortgage. Presumably Cindy does, since disclosure forms indicate that she has several mortgages.
We don't know for certain whether she does, because the campaign has declined to release Cindy McCain's tax returns. This data gap sets McCain apart from his Democratic opponents, who have released jointly filed tax records going back a minimum of seven years. Thanks to McCain's lack of genuine opposition in recent months, there has been very little clamor to release Cindy McCain's returns, even from those Republicans who loudly insisted that Hillary and Bill Clinton were hiding something in theirs.

From Slate, via The Plank.

Clapping Along With Bush at the White House Correspondents' Dinner

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 10:37 AM PDT

On Saturday night, as I was sitting at the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner--Washington's official prom--I had a vision of the future.

This is what I saw: it's decades from now, and historians and others are trying to understand what happened in the first years of the 21st century. That was when the United States government initiated a foolhardy war on the basis of fear and hyped-up threats. It was also a period when the people in charge did not take one of their last chances to deal with the real danger of global warming. And, of course, it was during those years that American leaders hocked the nation to China and the nation's global financial standing diminished. And these historians are asking, "What the hell went on."

Well, look at this old tape, one says, it just might explain. And they huddle over a holographic view-screen and watch as George W. Bush, the president during those years, is conducting the U.S. Marine Corps Band at the 2008 correspondents' dinner. He's mugging for the crowd, as he proceeds. The audience of journalists is laughing.

And when the song is over, Bush (and the band) receives rousing cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.

Trying the Impossible: Building Public Support for Fixing the FEC

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 10:27 AM PDT

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has started a new website called fixthefec.org, in order to (1) educate the public about the current situation with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), which is currently out of order due to a lack of commissioners and will may not serve its traditional role of referee in the 2008 elections, and (2) build public support for a fix and pressure the Senate into acting. For everything — everything! — you need to know about why the FEC is broken, and what its inoperability means for the election season, see my recent article on the subject.

CREW's new website is a badly needed effort, but one that is unlikely to succeed. I say that with a tone of resignation. The FEC is not a sexy topic and no one but good government reformers gets excited about it. Besides, there is no one whose interests are directly affected by the agency's work. This was a point made to me by Robert Lenhard, a former nominee for the FEC who withdrew his name from consideration recently because of the delay in getting the FEC fixed. "This is an agency without a constituency group," he said. "There is no one other than the American people in some sort of broad and abstract sense whose self-interest is advanced by the existence of the FEC. There is no group that comes forward and says, 'No, no, no. This agency's work is essential and must continue.'"

Good luck to the folks at CREW in their fight on this issue. They'll need it.

McCain's Bizarre Undiscovered Foreign Policy Ideas

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 8:05 AM PDT

McCain's troubling foreign policy vision on Iraq/Afghanistan/the war on terror is well-known. But he's just as recklessly hawkish when it comes to the rest of the world. For example, he wants to create a League of Democracies that will replace the United Nations. Here's the always insightful Fareed Zakaria:

The approach lacks any strategic framework.... How would the League of Democracies fight terrorism while excluding countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Singapore? What would be the gain to the average American to lessen our influence with Saudi Arabia, the central banker of oil, in a world in which we are still crucially dependent on that energy source?

McCain also wants to throw Russia out of the G8, a potentially world-changing move. He would bring in India and Brazil while excluding China. Again, Zakaria: