Mojo - July 2007

McCain's Campaign Suffers Further Setbacks

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 4:30 PM EDT

What we know is John McCain's two top aides have left his campaign. What we don't know is if the dire financial conditions and general bumbling of the McCain campaign led them to quit or if the excessive spending of the campaign — it reported only $2 million on hand after the second quarter, less than Ron Paul, according to the NY Times — led McCain to fire them.

The DC media is portraying this as a sign that the McCain campaign is adrift, and it's hard to argue. Is it time for me to get sentimental again?

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Brownback Blowback

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 4:27 PM EDT

Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican presidential candidate vying for the Christian evangelical vote in 2008, failed today in his attempt to block the confirmation of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet Neff to federal district court. Judge Neff is not a lesbian, nor has she endorsed gay rights. Her sin was to attend the lesbian commitment ceremony of a longtime neighbor's daughter. The vote was 83-4.

Hustler (!!) at the Heart of the Vitter Sex Scandal

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 2:11 PM EDT

If this story keeps getting more entertaining, we may blog nothing else. Turns out, Hustler was the news organization ("news organization") that discovered Senator Vitter's presence on the DC Madam's phone list. They called Vitter for comment, and Vitter, realizing the game was up, ran to the AP with the admission, so as to preempt the Hustler story. Larry Flint, grand don of all things Hustler, is on an ongoing campaign to expose the hidden sexual misdeeds of the powerful, so there may be more of this glorious nonsense coming down the pipe.

Fredo and the FBI

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 12:50 PM EDT

The Washington Post has assembled a database of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales being notified - repeatedly - of FBI violations of the law governing the use of national security letters. But here's what Gonzales told the Senate Intelligence committee on April 27, 2005: "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse."

According to the files obtained by the Post, Gonzales had in fact been notified at that point already six times in his short tenure as AG that the FBI had violated department guidelines to the degree that the FBI general counsel determined the violations needed to be reported to the Inspector General and the Intelligence Oversight Board. Here are a couple of examples of notifications Gonzales received (pdf and pdf).

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse parses the gap between the truth and what Gonzales testified to with what's become a growing collection of unfathomable statements. ( "...When Gonzales testified, he was speaking 'in the context' of reports by the department's inspector general ... that found no misconduct or specific civil liberties abuses related to the Patriot Act").

It's hard to imagine that the department Gonzales leads is comfortable with his record of misleading testimony to Congress and statements to the American public. Almost anticipating today's Post's revelations, Justice Department attorney John Koppel outlined his frustration in a cry of outrage that ran in the Denver Post over the weekend:

More Vitter Hypocrisy - Time to Resign

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 12:30 PM EDT

Apparently, confirmed adulterer/hypocrite David Vitter thinks that being unfaithful to one's spouse is grounds for resignation from public office. When Bill Livingston stepped down from the Speaker's role in the mid '90s because of the disclosure of his various extramarital affairs, Vitter said, "I think Livingston's stepping down makes a very powerful argument that Clinton should resign as well and move beyond this mess."

Vitter's situation isn't quite the mess that Clinton's was, but then, Clinton didn't actually pay for sex like Vitter did. You make the call.

Bonus question: If the DC Madam is being prosecuted for running a prostitution ring, and there is evidence that Vitter was one of her clients, should he be prosecuted too? Or is it simply too hard to prove he actually had sex with one of the Madam's call girls?

Senator David Vitter - Hurricane of Sex and Hypocrisy

| Tue Jul. 10, 2007 9:38 AM EDT

We might feel bad about blogging a plain old sex scandal — I criticized FOX News for sucking at the teat of the Anna Nicole story — but when a sex story comes buried under mountains of hypocrisy, that's more than any blogger can resist.

First the basics: the infamous "DC madam" is a Heidi Fleiss clone who sent call girls to DC's elite. Now that she's being charged with racketeering (not a particularly successful racket, by the way, netting her $2 million in 13 years), she's on a helter-skelter campaign to generate media attention and make money while she can — and sink a few semi-famous people along the way.

She put a list of clients' phone numbers on her website yesterday and Senator David Vitter's number was on it. Vitter (R-LA), who is best known for misleading the public in the immediate aftermath of Katrina and then criticizing the feds response to the disaster, immediately owned up. "This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible," he said in a statement to the press. He added that he has already made peace with his wife and his God.

But let's get to the hypocrisy, shall we? In 2004, when Vitter was a congressman running for a seat in the Senate, Vitter campaigned with a promise of "protecting the sanctity of marriage." He went on to become a co-author of the "Federal Marriage Act" that sought to prohibit courts from interpreting same-sex marriage laws, and said of marriage, "I don't believe there's any issue that's more important than this one."

Thought we were done? Nope. Vitter once compared same-sex marriage to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The first line of his official biography reads, "David Vitter is dedicated to making life better for his young family and all Louisiana families."

But then, hypocrisy runs across Vitter's "young family." After extramarital affairs by Louisiana rep and now-you-see-him-now-you-don't Speaker of the House Bill Livingston were revealed, Vitter's wife was asked how she would react if her husband had been caught in an affair, like Livingston and Bill Clinton. "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary [Clinton]," she said. "If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me."

Whoa! David Vitter's wife is awesome, even though she doesn't stand by her word. Actually, maybe she does and we just don't know about it. That would mean Vitter has paid for this more dearly than any of us know...

Oh, and PS — Vitter is the Southern Regional Chair of Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. Man, Rudy is having a tough time down south. Considering the man's own sordid past, I guess it comes as no surprise that they aren't terribly serious about vetting people at his campaign.

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Bush Claims Executive Privilege re: U.S. Attorney Firings

| Mon Jul. 9, 2007 8:00 PM EDT

The president refused today to hand over subpoenaed documents related to the U.S. attorney firings, or to allow the subpoenaed testimony of former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former political affairs advisor Sara Taylor. Bush claimed that doing so would violate his executive privilege to obtain candid advice from his administration. Every president since World War II has eventually complied with congressional subpoenas, although Nixon and Clinton went to court and lost before acquiescing. There is little constitutional precedent establishing how far the privilege really extends, and Congress is standing firm in its demands, so a showdown is in the making.

Bush's exact words were: This violates my legislexecutive—what is it again, Dick? My executive prilivege—just leave me the hell alone, okay, y'all? Damn! I'm the decider! (Note: This last part may or may not actually have occurred.)

Climate Change The Root Of Armed Conflicts?

| Mon Jul. 9, 2007 7:00 PM EDT

Climate change and its resultant shortage of ecological resources could be to blame for armed conflicts in the future. According to a paper published in Human Ecology, changing temperatures and dwindling agricultural production correlated with warfare frequency in eastern China in the past. The authors reviewed warfare data from 899 wars in eastern China between 1000 and 1911, and cross-referenced these data with Northern Hemispheric climate data for the same period. They found that warfare increased significantly when temperatures fluctuated enough to affect food crops. Their conclusion: in times of ecological stress, warfare could be the ultimate means of redistributing resources. JULIA WHITTY

Debating the Surge at AEI

| Mon Jul. 9, 2007 5:33 PM EDT

Before a packed house including Vice Presidential daughter Liz Cheney and former VP aide Mary Matalin, Iraq surge godfathers Frederick Kagan and Gen. Jack Keane faced off against a proponent of a phased withdrawal from Iraq at a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute today. "I think I am the designated skunk at the AEI surge garden party," said James Miller, of the new centrist think tank, Center for a New American Security, a former Clinton era deputy assistant secretary of defense, from the panel. And in a way, that's exactly what he was meant to be.

Miller is the co-author of a recent CNAS Iraq report, Phased Transition, that argues that the U.S. should reduce its troop presence in Iraq by 100,000 troops over the next year, and withdraw completely over the next five years. By arguing for a planned phased withdrawal, Miller says his plan hopes to avoid what it sees as the likely alternative: a precipitous withdrawal in January 2009 when the Bush administration leaves office. The report also argues for an increased advisory role for the U.S. in Iraq.

AEI military expert Tom Donnelly recently brought out the big guns, taking to the pages of the Weekly Standard (several floors below AEI) in an article entitled "Orderly Humiliation" to tar the CNAS report as the "Clintonista" plan -- in case any potential moderate Republican supporters of such a plan didn't understand CNAS' genetic bloodlines. Conservative scholar Max Boot went after it on the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times the same week. Such coordinated critiques as well as today's event indicate that the architects of the Iraq invasion and the surge are nervous about the political pressure growing on the White House to rethink the U.S. strategy and reduce the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Pressure that is increasingly coming from Senate Republicans.

At the AEI event today, Miller argued that the surge had had two goals: 1) reducing the violence in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, and 2) facilitating political reconciliation. He said that violence has partially subsided in Baghdad but is now increasing elsewhere; and that there has been essentially zero progress in furthering political reconciliation among Iraq's ethnic groups.

Kagan, a bespectacled resident scholar at AEI, argued, contra Miller, that the surge is showing signs of political progress. "Are we so impatient? Are the stakes so low? Is it easier to declare failure?"

An Iraq expert who attended the event comments, "The AEI crowd thinks that we are making real progress, should ignore politics at home, and cut the Iraqi government some slack ... They completely fail to grasp that in pursuing the surge until our country is strategically and politically exhausted, and not thinking about a transitional presence as part of a responsible withdrawal, they will end up triggering a precipitous withdrawal the minute Bush leaves office."

The AEI debate on this sweltering Washington day drew the kind of crowd you would expect to see for the kind of high stakes event the think tank ran during the height of the Iraq invasion. And the stakes are high: while the panel moderator Danielle Pletka mourned at the end everyone was only talking about the surge in the context of U.S. domestic politics, and not U.S. national security, the event organizers too are arguing for a strategy they see as urgently necessary for political vindication, but one that has lost the support of the vast majority of the American public. As the presence of Cheney daughter Liz and aide Matalin attest, the public debate continues a private discussion with a more receptive audience of two in the White House.

NSA Warrantless Wiretapping Case Dismissed

| Sat Jul. 7, 2007 3:10 PM EDT

A three-member federal appeals court ruled very narrowly yesterday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program should remain in place until a plaintiff comes along who can prove s/he was spied on, resulting in concrete harm. The decision suggests that the program might be illegal, but states clearly that the lawyers and journalists who brought the suit had no standing to do so.

There are some important sticking points in the decision, however. First, what about the generalized harm that results when any number of law-abiding citizens clam up because they believe, with a some justification, that they are being monitored? Second, people could only know for sure that they were spied on if the government told them. The government claims that that information is a "state secret"—information that, if revealed, would threaten national security. (One of the two judges in the decision determined categorically that the plaintiffs had no standing; the other wrote that the state secrets privilege prohibits the court from knowing.) The government's claim is, of course, only true if warrantless wiretapping were only conducted on people who posed a genuine threat, but it allows no legal avenue to determine if that's the case. Many legal experts argue that the state secrets privilege should not serve as a get-out-of-court-free card, but rather should simply require careful handling of the potentially secret material by the federal judges. After all, if we can't trust presidentially appointed federal judges to maintain confidentiality—which they already do as a routine part of their jobs—who can we trust? The same Bush administration that leaked Valerie Plame's name?

A case in San Francisco in which the plaintiffs claim to have proof that they were monitored is still pending.