2008 - %3, June

McCain Reportedly Declines Meeting with Billy Graham

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 11:41 AM EDT

john-mccain-billy-graham-250x200.jpg Conservative news outlet Newsmax is reporting that its attempts to facilitate a meeting between John McCain and longtime pastor-to-the-presidents Billy Graham have been rebuffed by the McCain campaign.

Here is Newsmax writer Doug Wead:

In recent weeks I have been involved with Brian Jacobs, a Fort Worth, Texas, minister and consultant to the Billy Graham Association, to broker a meeting between McCain and Graham. In May, we contacted the McCain campaign with an offer to arrange such a meeting, as we had done between candidate George W. Bush and Graham during the 2000 election.

In response to their overtures, McCain's director of scheduling sent Wead and Jacobs an emailing saying, "Senator McCain appreciates your invitation and the valuable opportunity it represents. Unfortunately, I must pass along our regrets and do not foresee an opportunity to add this event to the calendar."

The hesitance on the part of the McCain campaign may be because of McCain's past experiences with pastor's this campaign season: he's had to dump endorsements from John Hagee and Rod Parsley after controversial statements from both men made it politically impossible for McCain to stay associated with them. (Caveat: there may be no hesitance at all; Newsmax may have gotten this story wrong.)

Billy Graham isn't Hagee or Parsley. He has had a relationship with every president since Eisenhower, Republicans and Democrats alike. He has been thoroughly and completely vetted; no one would blame McCain for meeting with him. The campaign's reported decision to avoid Graham may be part of a novel strategy for a modern Republican presidential candidate, one that jettisons the Religious Right in favor of moderates. It's already being manifested in ways that are leaving prominent Christian leaders wary. "For John McCain to be competitive, he has to connect with the base to the point that they're intense enough that they're contagious," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told the New York Times. "Right now they're not even coughing."

Writes Wead:

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Punditry: Still White, Still Male

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 10:21 AM EDT

Over at the Nation, Ari Melber points out that Clinton's run for the White House, which was increasingly a feminist quest and ended with a strong statement for the rights of women, hasn't changed much in the world of punditry, where white men still dominate.

In print:

The most traditional location to reach the political establishment, the Washington Post opinion section, is brazenly male-dominated. Seventeen of the 19 columnists are men; only three of the columnists are racial minorities. Guest op-eds could present more voices, but they rarely do. This year, only 12 percent of the Post's guest pieces came from women, according to a May count by ombudsman Deborah Howell. At the New York Times, eight of the ten weekly columnists are men; one is black.

And on TV:

Afghanistan: Still Nothing To Brag About

| Sun Jun. 8, 2008 11:48 PM EDT

Last Tuesday, a new U.S. General, David McKiernan, took command of Afghanistan's NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) saying, "Insurgents, foreign fighters, criminals and others who stand in the way... will be dealt with." McKiernan will command around 50,000 troops, up from 36,000 a year ago, in his attempts to quell the increase in violence and stabilize a weakening Karzai government.

Much of this increased violence is occurring in the ISAF's U.S.-led Regional Command East—RC(E). If you aren't familiar with the layout of the ISAF, you might take a read of NYU professor Barnett Rubin. As Rubin explains, the ISAF consists of five different Regional Commands: East (led by the U.S.), West (Italy), South (Canada), North (Germany), and Capital (Italy). Bordering Pakistan, RC(E) is about the size of South Carolina and contains 14 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces and 25% of the country's population.

You can view a map here.

In gauging U.S. success in the East, Rubin points to this chart comparing the number of weekly violent incidents in the RC(E) to a year ago.

RCE%2Bwk%2B20.jpg

Sadly, years later, Afghanistan is still nothing to brag about.

Does It Matter If Bob Dylan Supports Obama?

| Sun Jun. 8, 2008 5:52 PM EDT

The wad of celebrity endorsements Barack Obama has in his back pocket got a bit thicker once rock legend Bob Dylan told The Times of London that Obama was "redefining the nature of politics from the ground up."

Now for the real question: Are times really a-changin' so much that McCain supporters will swap sides to Barack n' Roll?

Just recently The Weekly Standard's blog chided "failed kingmaker" Bruce Springsteen for his political outspokenness, while praising Dylan for making the "smart career move" of never publicly supporting a candidate.

So much for rocker silence; now for the echo.

—Steve Aquino

Even in Defeat, Clinton Makes History

| Sat Jun. 7, 2008 6:08 PM EDT

clinton-standing250x200.jpg Standing between two soaring pillars in the ornate Great Hall of the National Building Museum in Washington, Hillary Clinton officially brought her campaign to an end Saturday, delivering a moving valedictory that will seal her place as a legendary figure within the Democratic Party—and within our nation's history itself. Gracious in defeat, effusive in praise for the nominee—she was all the things the talking heads demanded she be, but also much more than that. Unburdened of the pressures of the campaign trail, she spoke openly and directly about the history she and her rival for the Democratic nomination have made by coming this far.

While her speech was one of party unity and reconciliation, the hall was full of Clinton supporters stung deeply by her defeat. "I'm exactly Hillary's age, so this breaks my heart," Dianne Cooperman, an IT systems engineer from Maryland, told me. "I'm devastated." She shook her head. "She came so close."

Though disappointed, and bitter about the way the press covered Clinton's candidacy, Cooperman plans to vote for Obama. "Hillary's a real Democrat and she'll support the Democrat in the fall. I have the same criteria. And there's no way I could vote for four more years of the same."

Another Clinton supporter, Mary Ogum, also from Maryland, said that Clinton's loss was "very disappointing."

"The party never really supported her," she said. "Barack Obama came along and everyone jumped on the bandwagon. It just wasn't her time, I guess."

The Cocktail Napkin Plan for Regime Change in Iran

| Sat Jun. 7, 2008 9:43 AM EDT

Enlisting high-level contacts in the White House, Pentagon and Congress, Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen relentlessly pushed a freelance intelligence collection and Iran regime change plan on behalf of another veteran of the scandal, according to a report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (PDF) released Thursday.

The proposed plan to change the Iran regime, which requested $5 million in initial "seed" money from the U.S. government, was outlined on a cocktail napkin by Iran contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar at a Rome bar during a three-day meeting in December 2001 that brought the Iran contra actors together with two officials from the Pentagon. The Pentagon officials' attendance at the meeting was authorized by Stephen Hadley, now the top White House national security advisor, the report found. Revelations that Iran Contra figures Ledeen and Ghorbanifar were involved in a new channel to the Bush administration set off alarm bells throughout the US government, and prompted multiple inquiries into whether the channel amounted to an unauthorized covert action and a possible counterintelligence threat. The latter issue was never resolved, after a top Pentagon official shut down the counterintelligence inquiry only a month after it had begun.

Later operations would require as much as $25 million, Ledeen and Ghorbanifar advised US officials, but could be financed in part, they said, by a foreign government in exchange for commitments of future Iran oil contracts to the foreign government's state energy company, believed to be Italy's ENI. Italy's military intelligence service Sismi facilitated Ledeen's Rome meeting, which, highly unusually, was not cleared with the US embassy in Rome or the CIA, even though it involved interaction with a foreign intelligence service.

The new Senate Intelligence committee report presents more evidence that the U.S. government under the Bush administration has been uniquely vulnerable to the intelligence schemes and foreign policy freelancing of discredited individuals and deemed fabricators such as Manoucher Ghorbanifar, and potentially even counterintelligence threats of an Iranian or other nature. It details how top officials in the Bush administration endeavored to permit such an ill-advised channel, took affirmative measures to conceal it in order to bypass the professional intelligence service, and then took steps to protect their role in the matter by shutting down the counterintelligence investigation launched by the Pentagon and to stall the Senate probe. The report also documents that Ghorbanifar has been able to influence US policy and intelligence channels in particular through Ledeen's contacts within Cheney's office and the Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz Pentagon.

"The questions is: is information from Ledeen and Ghorbanifar still going to the vice president's office, and is it affecting them?" a former senior CIA offiicial said. "It's a logical assumption. That is what is known in the intelligence business as circular reporting: the same information, coming through the same source, peddled through different channels, slightly altered to make it look like it's coming from multiple sources. And it's one of the biggest dangers in the intelligence business. That is what Iraq Niger was all about."

On one of the December evenings in an unidentified Roman bar, Ghorbanifar used the cocktail napkin to sketch out a coup plan that would start with the "simultaneous disruption of traffic at key intersections leading to Tehran," the report states. The traffic jams "would create anxiety, work stoppages and other disruptive measures." Ghorbanifar wanted $5 million to get the plan off the ground.

Ledeen and Ghorbanifar advised US officials of a foreign government—presumably Italy—"support for this information collection opportunity and financing by [foreign] corporate enterprises midway through the interviews," the report states. The contracts "would be part of "multimillion-dollar business deals that the [Italian] government arranged for the two Iranian interlocutors." Ledeen refused to identity the two Iranians who Ghorbanifar had brought to the meeting to Pentagon human intelligence officers, the report found, until the US government indicated it was committing to the Ghorbanifar plan.

The report sheds additional light on the actions of highly placed U.S. officials who were involved in approving the Ledeen Iran channel and suppressing knowledge of it from normal US government intelligence channels.

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Rapper Nas Produces Obama Song That Isn't Terrible

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 4:27 PM EDT

I know, we all got sick of the Will.I.Am track pretty quickly (although the McCain spoof was pretty awesome), and let's not even link to Obama Girl. But leave it to New York rapper Nas to come up with an Obama-referencing track that actually sounds pretty good. MTV news has a clip of the new track, called "Black President," which started out as part of a mixtape, but will now be included on the as-yet-untitled upcoming Nas album. Part of what makes this song interesting is its complexity: rather than being a goggle-eyed campaign sing-along, it actually expresses some doubts, with lines like "These colored folks and Negroes hate to see one of their own succeeding/America: surprise us, and let a black man guide us." Nas even wonders aloud if Obama really can "keep it way real." Plus, it's, uh, got a good beat. Check out a clip after the jump.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao Explains Rising Unemployment

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 2:39 PM EDT

The Labor Department reported today that the unemployment rate rose from 5.0 percent to 5.5 percent in May, the largest monthly spike in more than two decades. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao's explanation?

"Today's increase in the unemployment rate reflects the fact that unusually large numbers of students and graduates are entering the labor market."

Sounds ridiculous? That's because it kind of is. Here's some sense from Jared Bernstein at EPI:

"An increase in the youth labor force played a role in May's unemployment spike. However, even if we take teenagers out of the data, unemployment still rises from 4.5% to 4.8%, a considerable 0.3% increase, and well above the 4.0% adult rate of one year ago."

Behold the Sperm Remote

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 12:45 PM EDT

From EcoGeek via Grist comes word of a nifty new birth control method for men:

The remote control, implanted device will allow users to 'press pause' on their sperm. (although it doesn't mention whether a 'rewind' function is in the works). The device has been developed by Australian scientists, and could herald a new dawn of even more convenient contraception for men, which has the potential to keep population growth under control more effectively.

Which of course raises the age-old question: Who controls the remote?

Fox News Isn't Even Trying Anymore

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 11:51 AM EDT

Maybe the Republican Party's struggles are driving Fox News employees to hit the bottle. Because there's no other explanation for this video clip. Make sure to watch the second half, which is arguably worse than the first.

What I love about this is that, while it's conceivable that the Fox News producers mixed their clips up, the host and his guest plow on through like there isn't a problem. Like they aren't literally creating attacks out of thin air.

(H/T Ben Smith, who doesn't need the traffic)