Another Dem Heavy Enters the 2008 Senate Race

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 11:28 AM PDT

Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic former governor of New Hampshire, announced Friday that she will challenge the vulnerable Republican incumbent, John Sununu, in next year's Senate race. Shaheen stands a good chance of winning in increasingly blue New Hampshire. A University of New Hampshire poll conducted in July had her leading Sununu by a comfortable 16-point margin well before she decided to enter the race. Another Democratic former governor, Mark Warner, said Thursday that he will run for Senator John Warner's seat in Virginia. (John Warner, who is unrelated to Mark Warner, is retiring after five terms in office.) Combined, the entries of Shaheen and Warner are a major blow to the GOP's hopes of regaining control of the upper house.

The Republicans will have to defend 22 Senate seats in 2008, but the Democrats only have to defend 12 to maintain their current razor-thin majority. Now, with Warner the presumed favorite in Virginia and Shaheen's strong challenge in a blue-leaning state, the Democrats look set to not just hold their majority but actually increase their lead.

—Nick Baumann

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Visa Problems Keeping More British Artists from U.S.

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 11:06 AM PDT

Lily Allen

Saturday's Wall Street Journal is probably the most unlikely place you'll see Lily Allen's picture this week, as the paper featured an article on the problems British musicians are having getting visas to come to the U.S. It's the kind of thing that raised conspiracy theories with M.I.A. (maybe they didn't like her lyrics!) but when you look at the range and number of artists who have had tours delayed or canceled because of visa problems, it turns out Immigration officials just don't like the U.K. As the Journal reports:

At least three anticipated tours by British artists scheduled for this month alone have been called off or pushed back because of musicians' visa problems. That is on top of at least 10 scuttled tours by buzzed-about British acts in the last year. Part of the problem, immigration specialists say: The traditional visa system isn't set up to cope with the new face of popular music. To get into the U.S., many foreign music acts need to secure a document known as the "P-1"-class visa. This visa requires acts to prove that they have been "internationally recognized" for a "sustained and substantial" amount of time.

That's right: Immigration officials are deciding which artists are "recognized" enough for you to be allowed to see them. That means bands like Klaxons are submitting magazine reviews and blog postings (let's hope they read the Riff!) to try and help their case, but even then, it's far from guaranteed. The Journal focuses on the business impact of last-minute tour cancellations, detailing how Lily Allen's cancelled performance in Portland Oregon meant a 1500-capacity venue was dark on a Friday night. However, it's clear that it's music fans' hearts which are suffering the most:

When the London indie-rock band Mystery Jets had to cancel its U.S. concert debut this summer because of visa problems, 21-year-old Krisan Cieszkiewicz of Portage, Ind., was devastated. "I've never experienced anything more heartbreaking or cruel in my life," says Ms. Cieszkiewicz, who had planned to see the band in Chicago.

Okay, come to think of it, maybe Americans could use a little hardship.

ATM Fees Soon to Surpass Minimum Wage

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 10:22 AM PDT

Last week, the banking behemoth Bank of America quietly raised the fees it charges non-customers to use its ATMs to $3 per transaction, a record high. The rest of the big banks are likely to follow suit, according to USA Today. The Bank of America fee is likely to come on top of fees charged by the non-customers' own bank ATM fees, too, meaning that getting fast cash will cost many Americans nearly as much as an hour of work at a minimum wage job.

Bank of America defended the increase with the dubious claim that it will improve ATM access for its own customers. But I suspect that it's not a coincidence that the fee increase comes at the same time the mortgage industry is melting down. Banks can make a lot of money by nickel and diming the public. I wonder how high the fees will have to go before people will simply stop using ATMs and go back to standing in line at the branch?

(H/T Consumer Law and Policy blog)

Minneapolis's New Tourist Attraction

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 9:58 AM PDT

From a small item in the Washington Post today: Hundreds of people passing through the Minneapolis airport are making time for a pit stop at the now-famous "Larry Craig Bathroom."

"People have been going inside, taking pictures of the stall, taking pictures outside the bathroom door -- man, it's been crazy," said Gee Butler, who shines shoes at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Alan Keyes Running for President

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 9:20 AM PDT

Josh Marshall, who isn't in a very kind mood, says Keyes has thrown "his straitjacket" in the ring. More info here.

Whoa — Keyes already has a website.

Sally Field Censored During Fox's Emmys Broadcast

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 9:04 AM PDT

So watch the video below:

You probably noticed the bizarre cut that censored the last sentence of Sally Field's moving tribute to the mothers of those in war. Here's what she was trying to say: "If mothers ruled the world, there wouldn't be any goddamned wars in the first place."

You can argue she was censored because she used the word "goddamned" or you can argue she was censored because Fox isn't too terribly keen on an anti-war political statement being made on its time. More fuel for the debate over whether Fox is evil how evil Fox is.

(H/T Think Progress.)

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Ambassador Crocker Reminds Bush Administration of Obligation to Iraqi Refugees

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 8:39 AM PDT

United States Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is trying to draw more attention to what is an open secret in Washington: America is screwing up the refugee situation in Iraq, big time.

He wrote a sensitive but unclassified memo called "Iraqi Refugee Processing: Can We Speed It Up?" I'm sure the recipients were familiar with these facts:

About 2 million Iraqis are displaced inside Iraq, and an estimated 2.2 million more have fled to Syria, Jordan and other neighboring countries, where they are straining local resources and threatening to destabilize host communities, the United Nations has reported. With 60,000 Iraqis fleeing their homes each month, Jordan largely closed its borders to Iraqis earlier this year, and Syria said yesterday that it will begin requiring visas for Iraqis at the conclusion of Ramadan next month, essentially closing off exit routes from the country.

And they're probably also aware of this:

Since February, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees has referred about 10,000 Iraqis to the U.S. refugee program. The State Department, however, has admitted just 829 Iraqis this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and officials caution that they may admit only about 1,750 by the end of the year.
Since 2003, the year of the U.S. invasion, the United States has admitted 1,521 Iraqi refugees.

So Crocker thinks a little public shaming might help remind the United States government of its responsibility to those fleeing the country it wrecked. I wish him the best of luck.

Crocker must be maddening to work with for the rest of the government, by the way. At times he's a willing shill, at other times he publicly embarrasses his superiors to get results.

Blackwater Booted from Iraq for Civilian Killings

| Mon Sep. 17, 2007 8:06 AM PDT

Blackwater has been run out of Iraq. Following an attack on a State Department convoy Sunday, Blackwater contractors serving as guards opened fire in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad, killing eight civilians and wounding 13. The behavior may not be characteristic of contractors, exactly, but it certainly plays into the stereotype of them as brutish mercenaries unconstrained by the law or the rules of war.

And while the incident may not lead to charges of any kind — contractors are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as soldiers are, nor are they subject to prosecution under Iraqi law — it has gotten Blackwater's license revoked.

''We have canceled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory," said Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf, according to the New York Times.

So the American government, which employs Blackwater contractors by the hundreds (and possibly by the thousands), will have to find new forces to guard convoys and escort dignitaries. Might be a good opportunity to use an Iraqi firm.

Mother Jones has written a ton about contractors since the Iraq War began. We sent a reporter to ride along with them earlier this year, and sent a different reporter to one of their training camps in 2003. We've noted the "South African hit men, Serbian paramilitaries, and other human rights violators" in their ranks, and twice explained how they work the system to make heaps of cash.

Update: One of Mitt Romney's top national security advisers, Cofer Black, is the Vice Chairman of Blackwater USA.

Breaking: Wesley Clark Endorses Hillary Clinton

| Sat Sep. 15, 2007 6:11 PM PDT

So lock that endorsement up. Clark is a big-time favorite of the netroots: he was a star at Yearly Kos and routinely does well in self-commissioned polls of the Daily Kos community. Will his endorsement help Clinton amongst the netroots? She trails in the Democratic field with those folks.

More on the ABC Debat Affair: Annotating ABC's Jundullah Report

| Sat Sep. 15, 2007 9:26 AM PDT

A striking comment by ABC's Brian Ross in today's NYT:

ABC News has sent a producer to Pakistan as part of its second investigation into reports involving Mr. Debat. One report it is re-examining concerned a guerrilla organization called Jundullah, which, ABC reported in April, had the support of the United States and Pakistan for operations that led to the kidnapping and murder of several Iranian officials.
Pakistani officials ferociously denied the report, calling it "an absurd and sinister insinuation." ABC announced that it was standing by its reporting and quoted Mr. Debat, saying that he had "just returned from the region." Brian Ross, the correspondent who worked most closely with Mr. Debat, said the Jundullah story had many sources.
"We're only worried about the things Debat supplied, not about the substance of that story," he said.

Does Ross really dismiss the importance of whether the substance of what he reported is true?

That US is backing the Jundullah story represents among the most problematic of the Debat-Ross collaborations. And it's no small matter perhaps that Ross's name is on it.

My annotated version of that story (Brian Ross and Christopher Isham, "The Secret War Against Iran," ABC, April 3, 2007) suggests that the key allegations in the piece were sourced by Mr. Debat, ABC used Debat as a confirming expert analyst in the piece for dubious information he himself supplied, and that other sources cited in the piece deny the basic gist of the report.

Are Debat's interviews with tribal sources -- which form the very essence of this report -- any more real than his interviews with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Alan Greenspan, Nancy Pelosi, and Kofi Annan? The evidence says no. History shows no. Knowledgeable regional experts say no. That people who fabricate something as easily, provably deniable as an interview with Senators and presidential candidates and the UN Secretary General cannot be trusted to be telling the truth about what the Pakistani tribal sources are telling them is, of course, obvious. The capacity for an extraordinary degree of mendacity demonstrated by Debat claiming to have conducted such high profile fake interviews speaks for itself.

Notice no where in the above report does a US or other official confirm what Debat is providing and the story is asserting. And that ABC used Debat as the channeled reporter on the main substance of the piece, providing the information from the tribal sources, and then featured him as a confirming commenter/analyst in the report. It's a sleight of hand an ordinary viewer might not have noticed, but nevertheless not worthy of a serious news organization that cares about telling its viewers and readers the truth.

In other words, if you remove the information provided by Mr. Debat in this report, and his presence in the report as an expert analyst, there would be nothing there but background information on Jundullah, and U.S. officials denying the report.

See my original story, "Subject to Debat" here.

(Parts of this cross-posted here)

Update: Spoke with Brian Ross, who says that "I feel very comfortable very with the thrust of that [Jundullah] report. ... We really did have a number of U.S. and European government sources who walked us through that story, which essentially is the US is not funding that group, but is offering advice and guidance and is in contact with that group." He couldn't provide more details on the record but could say that "We feel comfortable wih sources not from Debat that the U.S. has at least contact with and communication with that group on an ongoing basis ... to help fight al Qaeda."