Mojo - July 2007

Intel Committees Weigh in on Security Report

| Thu Jul. 12, 2007 3:11 PM EDT

Today, intelligence officials briefed the White House on a new threat assessment that says Al-Qaida has regained strength, and is able to train, communicate and raise money while operating from safe havens in Pakistan.

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) blames the Bush White House's decision to go into Iraq before finishing off Al Qaida in Afghanistan:

One of the greatest tragedies of Iraq is that it has distracted us from fighting the real threat we face, al Qaida.

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More Charles Barkley Blogging

| Thu Jul. 12, 2007 1:58 PM EDT

We bring you the all-important Charles Barkley endorsement: America's favorite rebounding champ (and walking quote machine) is supporting Barack Obama.

I just want to make sure you stay up-to-date on all the Charles Barkley-related political news (my first report on this is here). I would say that this endorsement is easily as important as the Oprah endorsement that Obama got earlier. Probably more.

Morning Political Trivia for July 12

| Thu Jul. 12, 2007 11:24 AM EDT

To swing it in Swampland (Washington, that is), you have to know your stuff. With that in mind, Mother Jones' DC Bureau is launching a new daily feature on MoJo Blog: morning political trivia. We'll compete every morning in the office, and we'll give you a chance to try your hand at answering the question in the comments section (no Googling!). Then, every afternoon (Pacific time), we'll post the answer and heap praise on the commenters who guess correctly.

As your official quizmaster, I'll be finding the questions and keeping score. If you have a good one, submit it to mojotrivia@gmail.com. I'll credit you if we use your question (please let us know if you got it from another source).

But you won't be the only ones pondering each morning's question. Back in the capital, Mother Jones' DC correspondents will be struggling mightily to best each other in a never-ending battle royale of trivia. And there will be accountability in this administration. I'll let you know who got the question right and who got it wrong, be they intern or editor. So you won't just be getting the answers every afternoon, you'll be getting a chance to heap scorn on political reporters who don't know their political trivia. So, with that in mind, we'll start you out with a doozie (remember, no Googling!):

Name the four state capitals that begin with the same letter as the states they're in.

—Nick Baumann

Another Day, Another Heist in Baghdad

| Thu Jul. 12, 2007 11:05 AM EDT

Hours before the White House released its tepid assessment of Iraq's progress on 18 congressional benchmarks, Baghdad's Dar Es Salaam bank was burgled of some $282 million. Apparently the heist was an inside job carried out by bank guards, who, Iraqi officials are speculating, have ties to the militias. If true, that certainly doesn't bode well for the security situation, raising the possibility that some rather unsavory militants are about to get a large cash infusion.

Believe it or not, but this massive heist is only the second largest in the country's history (not counting the hundreds of millions of dollars that vanished under the watchful eye of Iraq's defense ministry) . The first, which is the world's largest, happened shortly before the U.S. invasion commenced in March 2003, when Saddam Hussein and his family pilfered $1 billion from Iraq's Central Bank.

"Eerily Similar": In 1999-2000, It was Afghanistan. Today, Pakistan

| Thu Jul. 12, 2007 8:56 AM EDT

A Hill staffer correspondent comments, in response to this:

Read your post. It strikes me that we are in an eerily similar situation to 1999 and 2000.
-- The United States is fully aware of Al Qaeda training camps operating openly, with links to cells and operatives in Western Europe elsewhere;
-- Our government is picking up increasing signs of communications, movements of money, and other signals indicative of planning for future attacks;

Miers Won't Even Show Up to "Not Recall" Who Fired Those Attorneys

| Thu Jul. 12, 2007 6:00 AM EDT

President Bush has instructed former White House counsel Harriet Miers to defy a congressional subpoena [PDF] requiring her to testify at tomorrow's hearing on the controversial firings of eight United States attorneys. A letter from Miers' lawyer to House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers (D-Mich.) confirmed that the onetime Supreme Court nominee will definitely be a no-show.

Bush's instructions could prove troublesome for both Miers and the White House. Miers, as a private citizen, could easily find herself slapped with contempt charges (and thrown in jail for up to a year) for defying the subpoena. The president could face even greater problems: One Talking Points Memo reader has dug up a law that seems to say that the president's order to defy the subpoena was itself illegal.

The bigger problem for Miers, as Conyers explains in a letter posted to Nancy Pelosi's blog, is that the subpoena represents a legal obligation to at least appear in front of Congress, while the president's instruction carries no such legal weight. Miers would have some more wiggle room if she followed the example of former White House political director Sara Taylor. Taylor, whom Wonkette called the love child of Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, showed up to testify yesterday but refused to answer many of the committee's questions. There's a very convoluted scenario under which this latest debate over executive privilege could wind up before the Supremes, whose ranks Miers once hoped to join. It's fun to ponder: Would Sam Alito have to recuse himself?

—Nick Baumann

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Weird Weather Watch: Heat Wave Killed Nearly 500 Californians

| Wed Jul. 11, 2007 8:28 PM EDT

Last July was a scorcher in California. The state has officially reported that the record temperatures killed about 150 people. But an AP analysis of death counts by county reveals that nearly 500 more people died that month than normally do in July. The study did not find evidence of a cover-up, but that's not good news. States don't yet have the tools to determine what constitutes a weather-related death, meaning that many more will have to die before climate change is recognized as an urgent public health problem.

New Intelligence Estimate: Threat Level Orange. Dark Orange.

| Wed Jul. 11, 2007 7:28 PM EDT

The United States is paying about $280 million dollars a day for the war in Iraq. As Mother Jones reported in our Iraq 101 package, it's good money after bad. A new intelligence assessment confirms it, concluding that al Qaeda is as strong now as it was just before the September 11 attacks. That and there has been a proliferation of groups with similar ideology. Heckuva job, Georgie.

ISG Report's Recommendations Outdated, Warn Critics

| Wed Jul. 11, 2007 6:00 PM EDT

Growing numbers of Congressional Republicans are (at long last) warming up to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report. In fact, a bipartisan amendment to an upcoming defense authorization bill is being bandied about that would re-emphasize a diplomatic solution to the Iraq conflict, advocate an oil revenue bill acceptable to all three of the country's sectarian groups, and maybe (just maybe) withdraw most U.S. troops by 2008. The amendment puts Harry Reid and the Democrats in a tough position; they obviously prefer the ISG's recommendations to Bush's current game of wait-and-see, but it will take much more than that to appease their base.

For example, the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based progressive policy organization, today released a report warning that much of the ISG report has now been overtaken by events and urging lawmakers to reconsider its recommendations before blindly passing them into law.

Intelligence Briefing on the Hill Today

| Wed Jul. 11, 2007 5:57 PM EDT

The top intelligence analysts for the CIA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) provided a Global Security Assessment to the full House Armed Services Committee today. Committee chairman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Missouri) presided at the hearing briefed by ODNI deputy director for analysis Thomas Fingar (.pdf), CIA director for intelligence John Kringen, and DIA deputy director for analysis Robert Cardillo.

It was sobering. Some key points:

--Concern that Al Qaeda is getting more comfortable in "ungoverned spaces" of Pakistan, due to various factors, including a recent agreement by the Pakistani authorities with tribal leaders to leave Islamic militants in Waziristan alone. Intelligence community seeing more signs Al Qaeda is regrouping, able to train, and communicate in Pakistan (also of Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan). US policymakers have been reluctant to intervene in a major way in a sovereign country, especially as Musharraf's position is vulnerable, and out of the concern that what is now a problem in corners of Pakistan could explode across the whole country of 169 million people. There are a lot of potential terrorist recruits in Pakistan, one of the analysts said. (This focusing one's attention more by Pakistani analyst on BBC this morning comparing US relationship with Musharraf to "Shah of Iran" syndrome). Translation: duck.