Mojo - August 2007

Republicans Flub the Facts at Iowa Debate

| Tue Aug. 7, 2007 12:21 PM EDT

Do you use factcheck.org? You should. Its mission is to... well, its mission is in its title. Here's what it had to say about the Republican debate (the millionth debate, right? Or the millionth and one?) that occurred on Sunday.

  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney falsely claimed U.S. job growth had been nearly 17 times faster than Europe's. Actually, European Union employment grew faster than that of the U.S. last year. Romney's source for the information told FactCheck.org that he himself would no longer use the figures.
  • Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani accused Democratic candidates of "appeasement" toward Islamic terrorists. In fact, leading Democratic candidates have spoken out strongly against terrorism.
  • Sen. John McCain claimed American families spend $140 billion of their income preparing federal income tax returns. We find no support for that figure, which the Internal Revenue Service puts at $19 billion.
  • Rep. Tom Tancredo claimed illegal immigrants "are taking a large part of our health care dollars." But the independent Rand Corp. estimates that undocumented immigrants account for 1.5 percent of health care spending or less.

The site follows these summaries with longer and more substantive debunkings of the candidates' claims. And, as it turns out factcheck.org has hit the Republicans before and even chided the Democrats. Must-read material after any debate, I would say.

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Effective Bullies and Propagandists, Lousy Journalists

| Tue Aug. 7, 2007 11:54 AM EDT

Uh, and how many stories should The Weekly Standard be obliged to recant? Starting perhaps with this Cheney favorite?

More from Ezra Klein.

Got Sarin? Here's a Band-Aid

| Tue Aug. 7, 2007 10:56 AM EDT

This morning I was among a lucky few DC subway commuters to receive a bundle of safety information from a Metro representative. It included an "Emergency Guide," published by the Washington Post several years ago, several pamphlets detailing what to do in the event of a terrorist attack on the subway, and (my favorite) a pocket-size first aid kit, complete with Band-Aids, antiseptic towelettes, and antibiotic ointment. Now I'm ready for anything!! I suppose it makes sense to raise "awareness," but, geesh, reading the literature does remind you how screwed you'd be if you got stuck in one of those tunnels with a cloud of Sarin. Whatever you do, I guess you shouldn't leave the train car. As the Emergency Guide warns:

Seen through the windows of a speeding train, a Metrorail tunnel is little more than a blur of blackness and lights. Outside the train, on foot, it's a complex and treacherous place, riddled with hazards that can cause injury or instant death.

Thank goodness for my new moist towelette...

Fujimori Might Slip Away, Again

| Mon Aug. 6, 2007 9:13 PM EDT

Former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori might once again escape the law. For the last year, Peruvian authorities have sought Fujimori's extradition from Chile for human rights abuses he oversaw during the 1990s, but it's not looking good. A Chilean judge denied Peru's extradition request last month. Peru, of course, immediately appealed the decision. And Peruvians living in Chile also filed separate criminal charges hoping to tie up Fujimori in the courts rather than allowing him to flee should Peru's appeal fall through.

The South American strongman seems to always be escaping the law. In 2000, a corruption scandal forced Fujimori to flee Peru allowing the South American nation to confront Fujimori's human rights violations with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission similar to South Africa's. Meanwhile, Fujimori's Japanese descent afforded him safe exile in Japan from where he faxed in his resignation. During his exile, international arrest warrants building on the commission's findings were issued by Interpol and Peru. But despite the possibility of capture, Fujimori attempted to slip back into Peru via Chile in 2005. And to run for president, no less. Chilean authorities apprehended him as the two countries have an extradition treaty.

But last month, a Chilean Judge turned down Peru's request. Seemingly as a last resort, Peruvian ex-pats filed the new criminal charges, although, to no avail. Last week, the charges were quickly dismissed and it looks as if Chile's supreme court could take three or more months to decide Fujimori's fate. Without new charges, or some other divine hand, it looks like Fujimori might be back in Japan for Christmas.

—Rafael Valero

Turkey To Issue "Final Warning" to Iraq

| Mon Aug. 6, 2007 2:56 PM EDT

I wrote last week of a secret plan to send U.S. Special Forces troops to hunt down Kurdish PKK rebels in the mountains of northern Iraq. The plan was first exposed by columnist Robert Novak. Well, in this morning's Washington Post, Ellen Knickmeyer reports that the Turkish political establishment and military have agreed that the time for action against Kurdish rebels has come. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will visit Ankara tomorrow for discussions with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Knickmeyer writes that the Turkish leader will deliver "a final warning" for Maliki to act against PKK guerillas based on the Iraqi side of the Turkish-Iraqi border. One analyst quoted in the article said that a Turkish incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan could took place as early as August or September.

Meanwhile, Xinhua, the Chinese press agency, reports that Maliki could sign a cooperation agreement with Erdogan during their Ankara summit. According to one Turkish official quoted in the article, "We [asked the Iraqi authorities] to sign a cooperation agreement on counter-terrorism, and they welcomed the offer. They two countries are now working on a draft agreement... There is a chance to sign the agreement during Maliki's visit, if it is completed on time." No word on how the regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan feels about this...

As for U.S. participation in a drive to oust the PKK from Iraq, Novak's column may have altered the political calculus. According to The Journal of Turkish Weekly, published by Ankara's International Strategic Research Organization:

Sources close to the Turkish military say the military did not look warmly to the idea of a joint covert operation with the Americans to capture PKK leaders in northern Iraq because they felt even the gossip of such a plan would be leaked and would drive the terrorist leadership deeper underground thus preventing planners from monitoring their whereabouts.
They feared exactly what happened after the Washington Post leaked a story that American officials had briefed senior congressional members about a planned joint operation to capture leaders of the PKK terrorist organization holed up in the northern Iraqi mountains.
They said the news leak meant such an operation had now become null and void.

Even as the U.S. schemes to expel the PKK from Iraq, the organization's Iranian arm—known as PJAK—is looking to the Americans for help. Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, the group's leader, is visiting Washington this week. In a weekend interview with the Washington Times, he appealed to the U.S. government for support:

We obviously cannot topple the government with the ammunition and weapons we have now... Any financial or military help that would speed the path to true Iranian democracy, we would very much welcome, particularly from the United States.

Both the PKK and PJAK are based in the Kandil mountain range in northern Iraq. More on this as it develops...

CREW Files DOJ Complaint Against John Boehner

| Mon Aug. 6, 2007 1:24 PM EDT

Early last week House Minority Leader John Boehner appeared on Fox, telling Neil Cavuto that "we have a serious problem with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act" and vowing that "Republicans are not going to leave this week until this problem is addressed." Indeed, congressional Republicans and the administration forced Democrats to act on FISA before members of Congress departed for the August recess and succeeded in passing legislation, signed by the president yesterday, that allows the NSA to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreign communications and people "reasonably believed to be outside the United States."

During his Fox appearance, Boehner told Cavuto that a FISA court judge had issued a ruling "over the last four or five months, that prohibits the ability of our intelligence services and our counterintelligence people from listening in to two terrorists in other parts of the world where the communication could come through the United States." By revealing the secret ruling, Boehner may have divulged classified information, a prosecutable offense. To this end, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington just filed a complaint with the Justice Department, requesting an investigation into whether Boehner broke the law by discussing the FISA court ruling publicly.

From CREW's release:

Rep. Boehner apparently made his remarks to Mr. Cavuto in an effort to blame Democrats for failing to pass legislation overriding the court's decision, stating: "The Democrats have known about this for months. We have had private conversations, we have had public conversations that this needs to be fixed. And Republicans are not going to leave this week until this problem is addressed."

Notably, Minority Leader Boehner has previously expressed strong concerns over illegal leaks for political gain. In discussing a long-running court case regarding an illegally intercepted phone call that Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) released to the media, Rep. Boehner stated: "When you break the law in pursuit of a political opponent, you've gone too far. Members of Congress have a responsibility not only to obey the laws of the country and the rules of our institution, but also to defend the integrity of those laws and rules when they are violated."

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One Person Who Won't Be Voting For Giuliani: His Daughter

| Mon Aug. 6, 2007 12:17 PM EDT

Slate breaks the story today that Rudy's own daughter would rather Barack Obama become president than her own dad.

According to the 17-year-old Caroline Giuliani's Facebook profile, she's supporting Barack Obama.

On her profile, she designates her political views as "liberal" and—until this morning—proclaimed her membership in the Facebook group "Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)." According to her profile, she withdrew from the Obama group at 6 a.m. Monday, after Slate sent her an inquiry about it.

So his son hates him. And his daughter won't vote for him. And then there are the two ex-wives who, one imagines, will have plenty to say about him, especially Donna Hanover.

He may go by "America's Mayor" but Mr. Family Man, he ain't.

Cunningham Co-Conspirator U.S. National Security Asset?

| Sun Aug. 5, 2007 6:00 PM EDT

Big hints that alleged Duke Cunningham co-conspirator Tommy Kontogiannis is experiencing highly unusual treatment from the U.S. government. You can read my theories here and here. But in sum, it's becoming increasingly hard not to believe that Kontogiannis is some sort of long time U.S. government national security asset.

More here.

— Laura Rozen

Let the Warrantless Wiretapping Resume

| Sun Aug. 5, 2007 12:02 PM EDT

It's official: The Protect America Act is on it's way to the president's desk and, once it arrives, you can be sure it will be signed promptly so the administration can resume its warrantless eavesdropping program (legally this time). Last night 41 House Democrats sided with their Republican colleagues to pass the measure, greenlighted by the Senate on Friday, which revises the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), allowing the NSA to intercept foreign communications without obtaining a court order. Troubling to civil libertarians and the House Democrats who voted against the legislation is the wording in the bill, which seems just vague enough that U.S. citizens and domestic communications could still be swept up in the surveillance net, which was the whole problem with the first incarnation of the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. According to the bill, electronic intercepts involving people "reasonably believed to be outside the United States" are fair game. The question is what constitutes "reasonable belief" and can the intel community be counted on to adhere to this standard, particularly after the FBI's well publicized abuses of its FISA authority.

Another question that's worth asking is why the Democratic leadership—Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in particular—allowed their caucus to be rushed into action on this bill, bowing to pressure from the White House and congressional Republicans, who have been agitating for a FISA fix.

Presidentials at YearlyKos - Are We Done Yet Edition

| Sat Aug. 4, 2007 3:49 PM EDT

I am so very tired — physically, metaphysically, everything. Barack Obama will have a hard time impressing me here at this small group event.

"Changing political parties is not enough," says Obama. We need to change the way Washington does business. The main thurst of his campaign stated, he opens the floor to questions.

Education comes up first. Obama says he won't vote to reauthorize No Child Left Behind unless serious changes are made to give underprivileged students better opportunities.

Next, trade. Obama has a conventional response about how trade agreements can't serve corporations; they have to serve American workers and the environment. He does point out that the speech he gives to environmentalists about fuel efficiency standards is the same speech he gives to auto executives in Detroit. Sometimes they don't like it; tough.

Obama is asked about coal, and his previous support of it. He talks about how much he supports renewables (a lot), but won't abandon coal. He says that there are coal miners in Illinois and throughout the Midwest, and he cares about their jobs. That's an unnecessary thing to say here, but kudos, I guess. He says the biggest objective in defeating global warming is working with the Chinese and Indians.

"I'm skinny but I'm tough." That's funnier without context. Is he a chicken wing?