Mojo - February 2007

A Detainee's Story: NYT and MoJo

| Sun Feb. 18, 2007 11:05 AM PST

The Times has an excellent article today about a man named Laith al-Ani who was held for two years by the Americans in Iraq even though he was never accused of any wrong doing. It's a fascinating look at his personal saga and the state of the detention system in Iraq more generally. The use of Tasers plays a big role. Well worth a read.

In our September/October issue of last year, Mother Jones wrote a similar article, titled "A Detainee's Story: The Man Who Has Been to America." The detainee in our story had been through quite an experience -- "four prisons, three countries, two years," including a trip to Guantanamo. Check it out as well.

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Hillary Clinton's "I'm Sorry" Problem Gets Worse

| Sun Feb. 18, 2007 10:39 AM PST

Last week I had a long post about Hillary Clinton's "I'm Sorry" problem, i.e. the fact that she refuses to say "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong" about her vote for the Iraq War in 2002. Even though voters on the campaign trail are making it clear that she needs to say these simple words in order to get their vote, Hillary has insisted that the mistakes were all George W. Bush's, and he should be the one to offer any apologies. It's an untenable position in a primary race filled with voters from the angry anti-war left (which includes me and just about every other liberal I know).

In an article from the New York Times entitled "Clinton Gives War Critics New Answer on '02 Vote," we find that Clinton has... pretty much stayed the same. Here's the Times:

...yesterday morning Mrs. Clinton rolled out a new response to those demanding contrition: She said she was willing to lose support from voters rather than make an apology she did not believe in.

So Clinton is sticking to her guns. She told an audience in New Hampshire that "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from." She is referring to Obama in the first and Edwards in the second.

This makes me think that the stance isn't just a political calculation but instead a deeply held belief that she will not let become a matter of political convenience. But then you read these paragraphs from Times, and it all just feels like stupid campaign politics.

"She is in a box now on her Iraq vote, but she doesn't want to be in a different, even worse box — the vacillating, flip-flopping Democratic candidate that went to defeat in 2000 and '04," said one adviser to Mrs. Clinton.
Indeed, Mrs. Clinton believes that reversing course on her vote would invite the charge of flip-flopping that damaged Mr. Kerry or provoke the kind of accusations of political expediency that hung over Al Gore in 2000 and her and her husband, President Bill Clinton, in the 1990s, several advisers said. She has argued to associates in private discussions that Mr. Gore and Mr. Kerry lost, in part, because they could not convince enough Americans that they were resolute on national security, the associates said.

So it's a matter of image and avoiding the flip-flop label. First of all, I can't imagine that a single flip-flop on this issue will be more damaging than Clinton refusing to apologize for an increasingly catastrophic war at every campaign stop over the next year plus. Second, I'm willing to tolerate campaign trail politics on a lot of different issues, but the Iraq War evokes a deep, visceral response from me: I want it addressed plainly and genuinely, without guile. I don't want it trivialized by political calculations. I think voters on the trail want the same. See my last post on this issue, wherein a voter asked Clinton a question begging -- literally begging! -- for a straightforward but deeply felt response.

What does she actually believe? What is masked by all the political considerations? I don't feel like I know, which is murder for her candidacy.

But as long as we're playing the horse race game.... Hillary Clinton simply will not be able to stick to her guns on this in the long run (because of clear and almost fatal damage to her campaign hopes as months go by) and in the end will be forced to apologize -- making it look like she caved. She should apologize now when she still has some control over the circumstances and coverage of the thing.

White House Backs Down on U.S. Attorney Nomination

| Sat Feb. 17, 2007 12:07 PM PST

I blogged yesterday about the controversial, and seemingly politically motivated, firing of several U.S. Attorneys. The most egregious of 7-10 cases is that of H.E. Cummings III of Arkansas. Mr. Cummings was let go, according to Alberto Gonzalez's deputy, to make room for J. Timothy Griffin, who had served as a political director for the Republican National Committee and a deputy to none other than Karl Rove. (In print, Mr. Griffin is "J. Timothy," but when the White House talks about what a great guy he is, they call him "Tim.")

The White House has finally realized that its claim that this was standard personnel management ain't gonna fly and has agreed not to nominate Mr. Griffin as a permanent replacement for Mr. Cummings. (He will, however, remain as a temporary replacement.)

Now this is the kind of stuff that wouldn't even have made the papers if the Dems weren't in power, and for that we are duly grateful.

Miers Had Hand in U.S. Attorney Firings

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 5:08 PM PST

You might suspect that your firing was politically motivated when (1) it happens 2 days after you indict a high-ranking CIA official in a corruption scandal, or (2) your replacement is a buddy of Karl Rove's. Such are the stories of Carol Lam of San Diego and H.E. Cummings III of Arkansas. Turns out old Harry, as in Harriet "Good Enough for the Supreme Court but Not Good Enough to Insulate Bush, Inc. from the Dems" Miers, who was then counsel for the president, had a hand in replacing Cummings with Rove buddy J. Timothy Griffin. So, uh, which party is it again that opposes judicial activism?

RSC Backs Off On Attack Against Pelosi's Blog, Because, Well, They Were Wrong

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 12:52 PM PST

Judging by the onslaught of comments on my previous post about Pelosi's blog and by this Fox News story, it looks like the RSC is backpedaling on their accusations that "The Gavel" infringes upon C-SPAN copyright laws. (YouTube videos of the network's chamber coverage were posted on the site.)

"Bruce Collins, the Corporate Vice President and General Counsel of C-SPAN, called post release and said that the information provided by the C-SPAN employee to the RSC was incorrect."

Indeed, like many had noted, the C-SPAN video posted on Pelosi's blog is public domain.

Migration Group Says 1 Million Iraqi Refugees Will Flee This Year

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 12:30 PM PST

The International Organization for Migration, an inter-governmental group, reports today that they estimate 1 million Iraqis will flee the country in 2007. The situation in Iraq and for its citizens, a spokesperson for the group said, is not improving. This would be a drastic increase over the 2 million refugees who have fled over a four year period since the beginning of the war in 2003. 1.8 million more have fled their homes to safer areas within the country.

The concern is that four years after the U.S. invasion in March, this number should be getter smaller, not bigger. The Iraqi refugee situation, which some fear could be worse than Darfur, is grave, as I have written about before, because relocation options for refugees are limited. Jordan has closed its doors and increasingly, the country has become more and more unfriendly to Iraqis, especially Shiites. There is talk that Syria will close its borders soon as well.

The announcement, by IOM, comes in the wake of a decision by the Bush administration to allow 7,000 Iraqi refugees to seek asylum in the U.S. Under pressure from Syria, who blames "Washington for the 'humanitarian catastrophe' involving Iraqi refugees," the administration made this small concession. (The U.S. has only allowed 500 refugees into the country in the past four years.)

The Jordanian government is not impressed. A spokesperson for the government noted that 7,000 is just one percent of the number of refugees Jordan has accommodated. Syria has taken in 1 million. The United Nations excuses the U.S.'s "miserly" asylum quota by claiming that most refugees would like to return to Iraq and aren't interested in a home in the U.S. This is bunk on so many levels. Yes, of course, Iraqis would ultimately like to go home, but their native country is unsafe for them and so most of them are willing, I'm sure, to consider a second choice. And more importantly, many Iraqis do want asylum in the U.S. In fact, 100,000 Iraqi Christians are reported to have expressed interest in resettling in the U.S.

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Southern Lawmakers Accuse Jews of Inventing Evolution, Big Bang, Heliocentrism

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 12:00 PM PST

In the mid-1500's Copernicus developed the modern version of heliocentrism, the idea that the sun (and not the earth) is the center of the solar system. Well, these folks believe that Copernicus (or should I say, Coperniberg) and the continued insistence to this very day that the Earth is not a fixed object are part of a "centuries-old conspiracy" composed of Jewish physicists set on destroying Christianity.

Ancient India, Greece, and Persia all suspected that the Earth revolved around the sun, and not vice versa. Clearly, those places were overrun by Jews. Oy vey.

PS - I suppose there are worse things to be accused of than inventing some of science's most fundamental concepts. Like being insane, or worse yet, being dim enough to willingly select insane, bigoted people to govern you.

More on McCain and Romney, the Amazing Pandering Duo

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 11:22 AM PST

Yesterday when I blogged about Mitt Romney following John McCain's lead on the speak-at-universities-run-by-right-wing-zealots front, I couldn't have known that Howard Fineman of Newsweek would be thinking along the same lines.

 fineman_serious.jpg Well, he is. In a "WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY" on Newsweek.com (for the record, everything I write in this space is a WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY) Fineman says that the three "kingmakers" of the right are Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson. Writes the very serious gentleman at right, "There are two main fault lines among them: the one in Virginia, which separates Falwell and Robertson; and the one that separates Dobson, in his mountain fastness of Colorado Springs, from those he genially regards as amateurs (everybody else)."

That means that after Papa McCain cozied up to Falwell and the good reverend made McCain his choice for the Repbulican nomination, Robertson had to go looking for another candidate to endorse (and influence, obviously). And that's why we have news that Romney will be delivering the next commencement address at Robertson's Regent University; the man who once said that George Bush would win in 2004 because the Lord had told him so has selected the First Mormon as his cause.

That leaves Dobson. He's already said "I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances" and, according to Fineman, has said the same about Giuliani. Fineman says that leaves Mike Huckabee, "the personable former Arkansas governor who also spent a good bit of his career as a Southern Baptist preacher."

I can just see the campaign slogans now. "Huckabee '08: Jesus Was a Dark Horse, Too!"

Wait, isn't that a country song?

Philip Perry--Making Sure Our Chemical Faciliities Have No Security

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 9:01 AM PST

Philip Perry, a former member of the powerful Latham and Watkins law firm in Washington, DC, left the law firm in 2000 to become part of the transition team of his father-in-law, Dick Cheney. He then became the third-highest ranking official in John Ashcroft's Justice Department before serving as General Counsel to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

When the post-September 11 Environmental Protection Agency made an attempt to regulate the security at chemical industry facilities, Perry used his position at the OMB to block the attempt. According to Art Levine, writing for Washington Monthly, Perry told executive branch officials, "If you send up this legislation, it will be dead on arrival on the Hill."

That same year, 2003, Perry returned to his practice at Latham and Watkins, which represented a major chemical industry trade group. After two years, however, Perry went to the Department of Homeland Security, where he became General Counsel. Once Perry joined DHS, the department granted itself the power to set aside state laws, which decreased the level of security required for chemical facilities. There is nothing in the Homeland Security law which grants the DHS such power.

One Congressional staff describes Perry as "an éminence grise. He's been pretty good at getting his fingerprints off of anything, but everyone in this field knows he's the one directing it." Levine calls Perry "a key player in the struggle to prevent the federal government from assuming any serious regulatory role in business, no matter what the cost."

In January, Perry announced his intention to leave DHS. During his tenure in the federal government, both at OMB and DHS, he has successfully blocked every attempt made by a federal agency and Congress to provide reasonable security to chemical plants, storage tanks and rail cars.

John Murtha's "Slow Bleed" Plan to End the Iraq War Explained

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 7:54 AM PST

Details are creeping out about Congressman John Murtha's plan to put the clamps on the Iraq War (featured today on the Mother Jones News and Politics page), but I think many people lack a clear understanding of how the plan works.

The idea is to pass a series of small measures that curtail the president's ability to make war, while at the same time showing support the troops. This is seen as more likely to get through the House and Senate than a proposal to cut off funding for the war and is more politically advantageous for the Democrats.

Here's specifically what Murtha's plan would do:

(1) It would not allow American troops to deploy to Iraq unless they meet certain (very high) standards of manpower, equipment, and training. Murtha believes few of the units Bush intends to use for the surge would be able to meet his requirements.

(2) It will limit the length and number of deployments by soldiers in the American armed forces, thereby making it more difficult for the Pentagon to replace troops it rotates out of war zones.

(3) It will mandate that troops get a year off in between stints at the front lines.

(4) It would end the construction of enduring bases in Iraq.

(5) It would raze Abu Ghraib.

When taken together, the plan would limit the number of troops Bush has to work with, while blunting conservative criticism that the Democrats are anti-military or anti-troops.

The plan will be attached to an upcoming $93 billion supplemental spending bill that is needed to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan. Murtha controls the progress of that bill as chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee. In effect, if you aren't willing to support Murtha's plan, you are forced to vote against funding the troops. Not a good position for a Republican lawmaker to be in.

This should all come to a head in late February or early April March when the spending bill needs to be voted on, after which point it would head to the Senate. Anti-war groups with deep pockets are preparing to roll out ad campaigns in favor of the plan, and will specifically target Republican Senators vulnerable in the 2008 elections.