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The Presidential Assasination Attempt That Didn't Bark

| Tue Mar. 11, 2008 11:56 AM EDT

McClatchy:

An exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents that were captured after the 2003 U.S. invasion has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network.

The Pentagon-sponsored study, scheduled for release later this week, did confirm that Saddam's regime provided some support to other terrorist groups, particularly in the Middle East, U.S. officials told McClatchy. However, his security services were directed primarily against Iraqi exiles, Shiite Muslims, Kurds and others he considered enemies of his regime.

What the article doesn't mention is that they apparently also found no evidence that Saddam's regime attempted to kill George H.W. Bush in Kuwait in 1993. We can know this because we can be certain if they had found it, the administration would have let us know loudly and often. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has there been any such evidence found by anyone else since the invasion.

Meanwhile, all of official Washington has become discreetly mum about this, even though it was spoken of constantly from fall, 2002 through spring, 2003 as part of the case for war. More and more it appears Seymour Hersh was correct back in 1993, and it was all a sham.

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Presidential Campaign Leads to Progress on Earmarks

| Tue Mar. 11, 2008 10:45 AM EDT

cartoon_pork.gif Here's something all Democrats, who have seen precious little unity lately, can get behind: Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are sponsoring the one-year moratorium on earmarks that is being included in the 2009 budget plan. They join John McCain and small band of GOP Senators in the effort.

McCain is one of strongest critics of earmarks in Congress, a position that puts him at odds with many epic porkers in his party. McCain has gone so far as to promise that if he is elected president he will veto any budget bill with earmarks in it. It's one of the few good things about a McCain presidency, though I can't agree with the causes that McCain would put the saved money towards. Like 100 years of war and whatnot.

Clinton and Obama are probably toughening up on earmarks because they don't want to cede the issue of good government and fiscal responsibility to McCain in the general election. In the past, Obama has used earmarks to a mild degree while Clinton has been an ample porker, securing 360 earmarks between 2002 and 2006 at a combined cost of $2.2 billion. (Both candidates voluntarily make their earmarks public.) Senator Clinton's current position on earmarks — and to some extent, Senator Obama's — is something of a change of heart, but we welcome it.

Update: Looks like the moratorium may not be going anywhere.

Update: I got my hands on a Taxpayers for Common Sense spreadsheet that tallies all of the earmarks introduced by each member of Congress in FY08 appropriations bills. Come with me for some exploring, after the jump.

Enraged John McCain Charges Bears

| Tue Mar. 11, 2008 12:36 AM EDT

You know, Teddy Roosevelt got a lot of mileage for being nice to a bear. The ubiquitous Teddy bear was the upshot of his refusal to shoot. So you think John McCain would know better. The Washington Post reports a great piece on McCain's standard stump speech fare about a $3 million study of the DNA of bears in Montana. "Unbelievable," he says. Well, what's unbelievable is that no one on McCain's staff has bothered to inform him of the real purpose of the study he's spent so much energy despising since 2003. Katherine Kendall, a kick-ass biologist, and the mastermind of the Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project, is actually doing John McCain and his descendants a genuine favor by tackling the life-and-death issues of biodiversity. According to the WP:

Kendall is one tough field biologist: She's rafted wild rivers, forded swollen streams and hiked through remote backcountry for weeks at a time. She goes to places inhabited by all manner of large creatures with sharp teeth. She was once charged by an enraged grizzly. She stared the bear down… As a scientist with the US Geological Survey, she set out to get the first head count of grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem. She and her co-workers at the USGS have used DNA primarily as a bear-identifying tool… "There's never been any information about the status of this population. We didn't know what was going on—until this study," Kendall said. This was an astonishingly ambitious research project involving 207 paid workers, hundreds of volunteers, 7.8 million acres and 2,560 bear sampling sites [including the bear rub tree seen in the video]. The project did not cost $3 million, as McCain's ad alleges, but more than $5 million, including nearly $4.8 million in congressional appropriations. It had a strong advocate in Congress in Montana's three-term senator, Conrad Burns, a Republican who was defeated in his reelection bid in 2006.

Bear at a rubbing tree.

Bottom line: we need bears. We need tough field biologists whose dedication often means the difference between survival and extinction for their study animals. We need to stand up to McCain when he charges blindly and stare him down. Anyone up for attending a stump speech in a bear costume?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Geraldine Ferraro: Obama Is Lucky to Be Black

| Tue Mar. 11, 2008 12:32 AM EDT

ferraro-clinton.jpg Campaigns make people say crazy things. Here's Clinton surrogate Geraldine Ferraro:

If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.

Hat tip Kos, where DHinMI has some interesting thoughts:

Prescription Drugs Are in our Drinking Water: What to do Now?

| Mon Mar. 10, 2008 8:26 PM EDT

The biggest sex story of the day, besides the expensive sex life of the New York Governor, is the revelation that prescription drugs (including sex hormones) are in the drinking water of 41 million Americans. Forget Room 871's minibar. Maybe Spitzer got horny on tap water.

That drugs are in our water isn't new news, but the AP's five-month investigation will be sure to prompt a rush on Brittas and bottled snowmelt from the Alps. It will also probably lead to a reexamination of our wastewater treatment systems, including the policy of spreading sewage sludge on farmland--sort of the stealth turd in the swimming pool of water politics. Sludge, the black goop that comes out of sewage plants, contains drug residues that have the potential to be absorbed into plants and animals and run off into streams. So does the "purified" water that comes out of the same plants, but the sludge has gotten less attention as of late. Now almost forgotten is the high-ranking EPA scientist, David Lewis, who raised a stink over sludge a few years ago. The EPA fired him, though not before he exposed shortfalls in the EPA's science on sludge and some shady ties between government and industry.

For now, consumers will have to sort out how to deal with the drug-laced water problem on their own. In case you're wondering, one sure-fire water filtration method for removing pharmaceuticals from your tap is reverse osmosis. In arid Southern California, Orange County began operating a reverse osmosis system late last year that extracts drinking water from sewage (they call it "toilet to tap'). The superior cleanliness of this source relative to drinking water from lakes and rivers might have struck me as ironic--before Spitzer exploded my brain's irony synapse.

Bjork "Outburst" Inspires China to Crack Down on Foreign Artists

| Mon Mar. 10, 2008 5:58 PM EDT

mojo-photo-bjork2.jpgThere has been a severe reaction from Chinese authorities after Icelandic singer Björk delved into a bit of a touchy subject for China during a concert in Shanghai. The singer ended her performance with the song "Declare Independence," and chanted "Tibet! Tibet!" as the song wound to a close with the lyrics "raise your flag." Subtle. The Chinese Ministry of Culture issued a somewhat petulant statement, saying "Some artist deliberately turned a commercial show into a political performance, which not only broke Chinese law but hurt Chinese audiences' feelings." No word on whether they stuck out their lower lips and kicked the ground a little. Good thing she didn't mention that their rivers are looking a little red lately.

Now Reuters is reporting that the Ministry of Culture may crack down on foreign performers speaking their minds in China, issuing this statement:

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Will Spitzer Go To John School?

| Mon Mar. 10, 2008 5:25 PM EDT

The details about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's prostitution scandal are still just trickling out—Fox News naturally jumped the gun and had him all but heading off to prison—but if the feds are really going to prosecute Spitzer for ordering up a $4,300 hooker, in all likelihood he would be subject to D.C. and not federal law. (Spitzer was in D.C. when he called the escort service, and unless he was doing something really stupid like using public money to pay the bill, his crime hardly reaches the level of a federal offense and would likely go to local prosecutors.) D.C.s' criminal penalties for prostitution are pretty mild for first-time offenders, as Spitzer would presumably be. He's unlikely to be facing jail time. What he might have to endure, though, is a day-trip to John School.

In D.C., men who get caught trying to pay for sex are frequently required to attend an 8-hour class known as John School, run through the U.S. Attorney's office, where they are schooled about the evils of prostitution, introduced to "survivors" of prostitution, and counseled by a psychologist about sexual addiction. Helpfully, they're also offered free STD testing from the Department of Health. Spitzer wouldn't be the first high-profile person to land in John School. Lots of local professional athletes have been through, including, most recently, Washington Wizards forward Andray Blatche. It wouldn't be fun, but it definitely beats the alternative, which could be a stint in the D.C. jail.

Samantha Power and the Poison Pen

| Mon Mar. 10, 2008 5:06 PM EDT

(Samantha Power is a friend, so factor that in as your read.)

How weird is it that Peggy Noonan, of all people, argued for Samantha Power not to lose her job with the Obama campaign after she let the truth slip out? Ok, after she bellowed to the skies her anger and frustration at Senator Clinton. I'm all paranoid now, what with the Limbaugh-ites giggling about voting for Hillary so they won't have to face Barack in November, but the piece rings true. I think she actually means it.

Noonan's argument is:

Waxman Committee Urges Scrutiny of Blackwater's Employment Practices

| Mon Mar. 10, 2008 4:44 PM EDT

littlebird.jpg

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform are after Blackwater again, this time in relation to the private security firm's compliance with federal tax, small business, and labor laws. Blackwater's controversial practice of treating its employees as "independent contractors" first surfaced last October, shortly after company founder and CEO Erik Prince testified before Waxman's committee to account for a Blackwater team's involvement in an unauthorized shooting in a Baghdad traffic circle that killed 17 and wounded 24 others. Since then, Waxman's staff has been looking into the applicable federal laws and has apparently concluded that Blackwater may be in violation.

Today, Waxman sent letters to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao (.pdf), IRS Acting Commissioner Linda Stiff (.pdf), and Small Business Administration Administrator Steven Preston (.pdf), urging the officials to probe Blackwater's compliance with their respective agencies' rules and regulations.

More after the jump . . .

Eliot Spitzer: Screwed

| Mon Mar. 10, 2008 4:41 PM EDT

littlebird.jpg

Having sex with prostitutes is always a risky proposition for any public official. But when you've pissed off some of the richest and most powerful people in the world, paying for sex may be one of the more stupid things you could do. Jezus, Eliot, what the hell were you thinking?

In case you haven't heard yet, The New York Times reported this afternoon that New York's Governor Eliot Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet a high-priced prostitute at a Washington hotel last month. In a press conference that lasted nanoseconds—there were no questions taken—Spitzer admitted that he had violated "his obligation to his family," but he said nothing else about the news report and gave no hints on whether he intends to remain (that is, try to remain) in office.

Spitzer is so loathed on Wall Street and in the business community that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has devoted entire conferences to figuring out how to bring him down. Tom Donohue, the president of the Chamber, once accused Spitzer of using the "most egregious and unacceptable form of intimidation that we have seen in this country in modern time" in his investigation of Wall Street firms back in 2005, when Spitzer was the state's attorney general.

Business leaders despise Spitzer for his holier-than-thou press conferences in which he denounced them as slimeballs. Among his enemies: former chief of the New York Stock Exchange, Dick Grasso; the entire mutual fund industry; dirty power-plant owners; trillion-dollar banks. Spitzer went after all of them, with an aggressive use of state and some federal law that was derisively known as "Spitzerism." His election as New York's governor showed that he had the ability to win over upstate Republicans, a sign that he might have a future in national politics. And imagine the business world's horror at the possibility of a Spitzer-led U.S. Department of Justice, or worse, the Securities and Exchange Commission.