Palin Knows How To Debate

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 1:22 PM EDT

Sarah Palin's Katie Couric interviews have made her look like a goofball, but maybe that was the idea. Noodling around with the media certainly has depressed expectations for her performance tomorrow night in the debate with Joe Biden, but perhaps the campaign was hoping to downplay the fact that the former TV sportscaster, according to the Wall Street Journal, is a damn good debater. During the Alaska gubernatorial debates in 2006, Palin trounced her opponents with her folksy nature, which trumped her utter lack of specific policy knowledge. The Journal says:

"her métier was projecting winsomeness -- making a virtue of not knowing as much about the minutiae of state government because, for most of her adulthood, she was immersed in small-town life and raising a family. The candidates she squared off against, and the reporters who posed questions in several debates, recall that she related high gas prices to the difficulties her family had buying a car. She explained that she was in tune with environmentalists because she named a daughter, Bristol, for Alaska's Bristol Bay. She demonstrated her affinity for Native American culture by citing the teachings of her husband's Yu'pik Eskimo grandparent. "

The old guys at the table didn't have a chance. You can watch the video clips here and decide whether Biden is in big trouble.

Advertise on

Debate Impressions

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 1:13 PM EDT

DEBATE IMPRESSIONS....From the latest Pew poll, John McCain doesn't seem to have done well in the first debate. The good news for both candidates is that the top impression they left was a positive one: 50 respondees thought Obama was "confident" and 61 thought McCain was "experienced." The bad news for McCain is that noticeable minorities also thought he was old, condescending, aggressive, and angry. Obama, by contrast, left audiences with only two negative impressions.

Easy come, easy go. That's the price you pay for acting like a jerk, I guess. In other Pew news, Obama's stock has gone up almost across the board. Not only does he lead McCain in their general election polling by seven points, but he's improved his standing in the areas of crisis judgment, personal qualifications, and handling the economy. McCain has dropped in all three areas.

UPDATE: The "Impressions" part of the Pew survey measured raw numbers, not percentages. I've corrected the text to reflect this.

Gas Shortage Update: Southeast Still Suffering

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 1:09 PM EDT

2892569352_8e69bf7ec5_m.jpgThe Citizen-Times reports that while Asheville's gas problems are improving, similar shortages throughout the Southeast mean that supplies could decline again over the next few days. In Atlanta things are so bad that Georgia's governor wrote to President Bush to ask him to step in. Even Newt Gingrich has noticed, telling the AP that the Southeast is "like a Third World country."

Speaking of politicians, here's something else: Barack Obama is apparently going to be hanging around Asheville over the next few days as he preps for his second debate with John McCain, scheduled for next Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn. The debate will be town-hall style, which means residents of Nashville—another city hard-hit by the gas shortage—will be asking the questions. Though the crisis has gained national attention over the past week, the candidates haven't weighed in yet. What solutions will they offer Tuesday night?

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from abbyladybug.

Question: Can Biden Query Palin Tomorrow Night?

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 12:43 PM EDT

Here's a question. Will it appear condescending if Joe Biden asks Sarah Palin for specifics at tomorrow night's debate in St. Louis? For example, here are two scenarios that I image would lead to trouble for Palin:

Palin: Senator McCain and I are understand that force is the last option. We believe in exercising soft power in order to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.
Biden: With respect Governor, can you tell me, specifically, how you would do that?

Or another:

Palin: Senator McCain had the foresight to see the crisis on Wall Street coming.
Biden: Again, with respect. Name one way in which he did.

If you saw my blog post from two days ago, you know I believe Joe Biden will win the debate by shutting up and letting Palin stumble. Asking questions fits perfectly in that strategy. And it's not like Biden needs to make the case for himself. All the Obama campaign really needs out of this debate is one bad moment from Palin that will be played over and over in post-debate coverage, lampooned on SNL, etc. That will go a long way in solidifying the emerging consensus that Palin is not ready for the vice-presidency.

But the tactic can easily appear patronizing and disrespectful, especially if Biden does it too many times. I'm interested in your thoughts.

Mission Creep Dispatch: Nick Turse

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 12:32 PM EDT

turse.jpg As part of our special investigation "Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide," we asked a host of military thinkers to contribute their two cents on topics relating to global Pentagon strategy. (You can access the archive here.)

The following dispatch comes from Nick Turse, associate editor and research director of, and author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives.

The Pentagon's Mad Scramble for Africa

On October 1, according to the Defense Department, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) will finally become an "independent unified command." And while recently proposed budget cuts may hold the new command's ambitions somewhat in check, they aren't likely to significantly alter the Pentagon's ambitions for Africa and an increasingly permanent US military presence on the continent in the years ahead.

Selling the Bailout

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 12:26 PM EDT

SELLING THE BAILOUT....One of the ongoing mysteries of the bailout plan is why the Bush administration did such a lousy job of selling it. As Ezra Klein points out, if this were the first term crew, the plan would have been rolled out with some kind of snazzy, disingenuous name (how about the Financial Reconstruction and Emergency Employment Act, or FREE?) and accompanied by a blizzard of fact sheets that completely misrepresented what the Act would cost and what it would do. Opponents would have been demagogued, talk radio would have been harnessed, and Bush would have been giving speeches and press conferences daily. So what happened?

Well, who knows? But I'll take a few guesses:

  • This is no longer the White House of Karl Rove, Andy Card, and Dan Bartlett, and it shows.

  • Bush's heart was never in this. He didn't want to sponsor a bailout and only signed on under extreme duress when Paulson and Bernanke convinced him we were facing a genuine emergency. (This is ironic, of course, since some of the opposition to the bill has compared the administration's "fearmongering" of the financial crisis to the runup of the Iraq war. This is 180 degrees backward. Bush has spent the last year desperately trying to ignore the financial crisis, not selling the country on a solution. If anything, distrust of Bush ought to convince you that maybe this bill is necessary after all.)

  • The main impetus behind the bailout bill was Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke, who may be conservative but who aren't hacks. A typical Bushian razzle-dazzle sales campaign just isn't their style.

  • The events of the week of September 19th were so catastrophic that Paulson honestly didn't think there would be any serious opposition to the bill. He figured it was like the Pearl Harbor Resolution: just draft up something short and simple, hand it over to Congress, and it would be approved 434-1 the next day. He and Bernanke simply had no idea that it would get the reception it did.

  • On a political note, Democrats are now in charge of Congress, which means the bailout bill had to pass through the Democratic leadership. The Bushies just aren't used to that and didn't really know what to do. So they flailed.

  • Bush and his staff still have no clue about just how low their political capital has fallen. They simply didn't realize that even their own party would laugh in their faces even when faced with a genuine emergency. (On the other hand, I'll bet they know now. This has been a very rude wakeup call for them.)

One way or another, this has been a monumental cockup. For more, check out David Colker and Tom Hamburger's piece in the LA Times today. Nickel summary: they just totally screwed the pooch on this.

Advertise on

Debate Preview

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 11:54 AM EDT

DEBATE PREVIEW....The LA Times heads to Alaska to find out how Sarah Palin is likely to do in tomorrow's debate:

As she began her run for governor of Alaska, Palin repeatedly proved difficult to prep for a debate, recalled her two former political aides, who had pivotal roles during her campaign but declined to be identified because of their continuing involvement in Alaska politics.

Palin, the former aides said, had a sharply limited attention span for absorbing the facts and policy angles required for all-topics debate preparation. Staffers were rarely able to get her to sit for more than half an hour of background work at a time before her concentration waned, hindered by cellphone calls and family affairs. "We were always fighting for her attention," said one of the aides.

But — you knew there was a but coming, didn't you? — apparently she's a fast learner:

By the final key televised debate in late October, Palin had grown used to the format, her aides and rivals recalled. Still using index cards, she was breezily confident in her back-and-forth with Halcro and former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles.

....Larry Persily, a panelist questioner in the campaign's final televised debate, said Palin flummoxed her rivals "like Muhammad Ali dancing around the ring." She avoided statements and tough questions that could have impaled her and repeatedly stung her opponents. And Palin, a former sportscaster, was easily the most comfortable in front of the camera. "She knows television," said Persily, who participated in other debates and has watched Palin closely for years. "She knows how to look at her interviewer."

The good news for Joe Biden, then is (a) she doesn't prep very well, and (b) she doesn't get a series of debates this time, just the one. So if she stumbles out of the gate there's no time for her to improve. The bad news is that she might just wow everyone with her index cards anyway.

Bottom line: Tomorrow we'll either see Dr. Jekyll or Mrs. Hyde. Should be an edge-of-your-seat performance either way.

The Upside of Sarah Palin's Invisibility in the Press

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 11:47 AM 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)

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

| Wed Oct. 1, 2008 11:35 AM 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 11:01 AM 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).