Mojo - September 2007

Breaking: Sunni Tribal Leader Assassinated in Iraq

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 12:43 PM EDT

A key U.S. ally in Iraq was assassinated near his home in Ramadi earlier today. Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, a senior member of the Anbar Salvation Council, was killed along with two bodyguards when a powerful roadside bomb destroyed his car. He had been a leading organizer of the so-called 'Anbar Miracle.' According to the Washington Post:

The council has been credited with helping tamp down violence in the area and retaking control from the insurgents, progress touted by U.S. officials as a sign their current strategy in Iraq is showing results. Abu Risha met just last week with President Bush during Bush's surprise trip to the country.
"This is a tragic loss," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, said of Abu Risha's death. "It's a terrible loss for Anbar province and all of Iraq. It shows how significant his importance was and it shows al-Qaeda in Iraq remains a very dangerous and barbaric enemy."
Along with reaffirming the ability of insurgents to operate in Anbar, Abu Risha's assassination could raise questions about the future of the tribal coalition that had pulled together to quell al-Qaeda influence.
Petraeus, in Washington where he delivered a report to Congress this week, said he was confident the coalition will hold.
"I think that the tribes will pull together and go after whoever did this," Petraeus said in an interview with The Washington Post.
He said it was not clear who might emerge as a successor. He called Abu Risha "an important unity figure" in what had been until recently a fractious and violence-riven community.
Abu Risha, in his mid-30s, was "an organizing force that did help organize alliances and did help keep the various tribes together," the general said.
The emergence of the Anbar council, Petraeus said, caused a "political shift of seismic proportions" -- a dynamic that the U.S. is trying to replicate in other parts of the country.

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Tearing the New Guy to Shreds

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 12:18 PM EDT

George Will is no fan of Fred Thompson, apparently.

Congress Asks CIA Lawyer Nominee to be Withdrawn

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 11:20 AM EDT

The Washington Post's Joby Warrick reports:

Members of the Senate intelligence committee have requested the withdrawal of the Bush administration's choice for CIA general counsel, acknowledging that John Rizzo's nomination has stalled because of concerns about his views on the treatment of terrorism suspects.
The decision followed a private meeting this week in which committee leaders concluded that the troubled nomination could not overcome opposition among Democratic members. It comes less than a month after a key member, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), announced his intention to block the nomination indefinitely.
Rizzo, a career CIA lawyer, has drawn fire from Democrats and human rights groups because of his support for Bush administration legal doctrines permitting "enhanced interrogation" of terrorism detainees in CIA custody.

In other intelligence news, Newsweek reports that intelligence czar Michael McConnell has asked to withdraw a statement to Congress that a recently passed electronic surveillance law contributed to the capture of German terrorism suspects earlier this month. Turns out, it didn't have anything to do with it.

Welcome to the New Mother Jones Website (Call it Version 1.1)

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 9:01 PM EDT

Potentially lacking the wit of our other esteemed bloggers, I hope to let the site speak for itself here... Our tech team has been working late into the night to make the Mother Jones website better looking, more readable, and more useful to you. Yesterday we launched what we might call a "first step" in a much fuller redesign project. We're eager to know what you think so far!

We're even more eager to know what you think about how far we have to go to build the best looking, best performing online media experience you can't get enough of.... I'll be popping on the blog periodically to inquire, but here's the first step: Drop us a comment or two. What do you love and hate about the site? Are you a designer? How about throwing some scrawled on napkins my way? naster-at-motherjones is the address.

We've got some great things up our sleeves — this is only the beginning.

Ignite! Sparks More Controversy

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 7:58 PM EDT

Ignite!, Neil Bush's educational company, has received thousands of dollars from school districts through the federal No Child Left Behind program even though it doesn't meet the program's standards, a DC watchdog group reported today.

"NCLB requires any kind of educational products to have been scientifically peer-reviewed, and Ignite! has not," Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told me. Today CREW sent a letter to the Dept. of Ed Inspector General asking him to investigate the company. "NCLB is really benefiting cronies rather than kids," Sloan added. "I frankly don't understand why so many Democratic senators and congressmen, like George Miller and Kennedy are being so supportive [of NCLB] in the face of these problems."

Ignite! did not return a call from Mother Jones.

Neil Bush, the family's ne'er do well, is best known for his adventures in the savings and loan industry, which led to a taxpayer-funded bailout of $1.3 billion and a lifetime ban from the banking industry. In 1999, with no educational experience, he founded Ignite! with money from his family and international investors. For years Ignite has been dogged by questions about its effectiveness, and its reliance on donations from foundations to fund its purchase in schools. Last year, the Houston Chronicle reported that a donation from Barbara Bush to a Katrina relief fund was earmarked to Ignite! None of this has really slowed the company down of course. As of late it has been working in Russia and China, where I'd expect business will soon be booming.

ABC News Investigates (Itself)

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 4:43 PM EDT

ABC reports that Barack Obama denies he gave an interview to French journalist and counterterrorism expert Alexis Debat that appeared in a French journal, Politique Internationale. Debat himself acknowledges that he conducted the interview through a third party, and has provided an email from that person who says he carried out the interview and asked Debat to sign it and keep his name off it. An Obama spokesperson told ABC that they are not aware of that third party interview taking place either. Debat also acknowledges that he made a mistake. There's just one problem. Debat has been working since 2001 as a consultant for ... ABC News. Many of his reports are co-signed by other reporters at ABC, and one can presume that after an extensive investigation, ABC will determine that all of the stories he worked on as a "source" (but many also with a byline or co-byline) were multiply sourced and therefore they stand by all of them. As a colleague suggests, "Clearly they want to distance themselves from him, while still protecting" the institution. It may well be that all of his reporting is solid, and Debat has personally offered to discuss his sources and reporting with me, at my soonest possible availability. Sources suggest that ABC is not going to take Debat back, even if the investigation outcome is that his stories hold up. Debat firmly stands by all of his reporting for ABC, writing "ABC is currently taking all of my reporting apart, and has not found any reason to doubt it. It will not. I stand completely by 100% of the information I provided ABC."

Questions about Debat's interviews and representations were first raised earlier this week by former Liberation correspondent Pascal Riche at the website, Rue89. Debat has threatened legal action against Riche and Rue89, claiming the article "puts my entire professional life in jeopardy." ABC has indicated it demanded Debat's resignation in June, three months before the Rue 89 piece, saying that a French government official told ABC that Debat did not have the Sorbonne PhD he claimed to have. Debat has written that he recently learned there were administrative problems with his PhD and is working to resolve them.

Update: ABC's Jeffrey Schneider writes in reference to a post at my own blog, here "is a link to our blotter story about Debat. ... We have reviewed that story (and all the other stories he worked on) and we had multiple US and European government sources that informed our reporting. As you will see from the blotter story above, we acted expeditiously to sever ties with Debat when we could not establish his credentials and we did immediately investigate his work."

Meantime, we hear the Washington Post is working on its own story on the matter.

Update II: Here's the Post piece.

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A Military Expert Analyzes Petraeus' Slides

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 4:15 PM EDT

Thomas Mowle, an associate professor of political science at the US Air Force Academy, a former member of the strategy branch, Multi National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I), and editor of Hope is Not a Plan: The Iraq War from Inside the Green Zone, offers these observations about Petraeus' slides, with reference to his testimony. He emphasizes that the below are all his own assessments, not official ones.

Slide 1: Interesting that the PKK is included, though not the MeK (Mujahedeen e-Khalq) or Pezak (the Iranian offshoot of the PKK, also known as PJAK). No reference to the Kurd-Arab/Turkomen violence around Kirkuk. All the yellow boxes list threats... except "anti-AQI Tribal Success" in Anbar --unless that success is being counted as itself a threat to Iraq. Foreign fighters appear to come only from Syria, not Saudi Arabia.
Slide 2: Probably the most effective slide. Long view, since October 2004. al-Askariyah shrine destruction appears to NOT have sparked an overall increase in attacks, but is merely a point on a steady increase from about March 2005 through December 2006. Mid-February listed as "Baghdad Security Plan," with testimony saying "forces began to flow in January." Most reports I've seen suggest the "surge" began in March; this has been difficult to track down. "Surge" was complete in June 2007, at which point the # of attacks drops rapidly. Not clear what is meant by "attacks:" does this include all acts of violence in Iraq, or only those aimed at coalition or Iraqi government targets? If the latter, that could explain the lack of a spike after Samarra, and also the discrepancy between the timing of this drop in attacks and the drop in deaths noted on later slides.
Slide 3: Starts in January 2006. Civilian deaths are down since Dec 06, by 50% in Iraq and 75% in Baghdad. Trend since Jan 06 is up 200% in Iraq and up 400% in Baghdad. Most of the decline is from Dec 06 to Feb 07 -- during the surge period, deaths in Iraq are down 15% and in Iraq down 33%. Baghdad now represents a smaller share of the violence: about 70% at the peak, but now only 33%. That is about its "share" of the Arab population of Iraq, but suggests that violence may have been tranferred to other places.

Big Pharma Misses Lincoln Chaffee

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 3:37 PM EDT

Former Sen. Chaffee wasn't particularly activist on behalf of drug companies, but it was clear today on the Hill that some of those companies are extremely unhappy with his replacement, former Rhode Island attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse. To big companies and the tort-reform industrial complex, Whitehouse is evil incarnate. That's because, before coming to the Senate, he was the attorney general of Rhode Island, where he had the nerve to hire the big-shot plaintiff firm Motley Rice on a contingency basis to represent the state of Rhode Island in litigation against lead paint manufacturers. Motley Rice scored a major jury verdict for the state last year that potentially puts the paint companies on the hook for billions of dollars in paint clean-up costs.

In 2006, the companies campaigned aggressively against Whitehouse, who also earned the wrath of groups like the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), which has since been pushing legislation to ban states from contracting with plaintiff lawyers. But here he was today, presiding over a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the mind-numbing question of whether federal regulatory agencies have been improperly inserting "preemption" language into regulations that would ban lawsuits over dangerous products from coming into state courts—an issue near and dear to the drug companies' hearts.

More Bad News for Edwards, Obama

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 1:57 PM EDT

Kevin Drum blogs today's Los Angeles Times poll (PDF):

[Clinton's] supporters are more firmly in her camp than Edwards' or Obama's. Interesting! I would have guessed that Obama had the bigger corps of highly dedicated supporters. Second, and more important, Hillary leads not just in the general category of "more experienced," but in the very specific categories of "best at fighting terrorism" and "best at ending the Iraq war." And she leads by enormous margins.

Also worth noting is that Clinton leads the "Have the best chance of beating the Republican candidate in November" category by double digits in Iowa and a stunning 30 or more points in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Since concerns about electability derailed Howard Dean's campaign and brought John Kerry to the forefront in 2004, Hillary's advantage in this category could prove to be decisive. The problem, of course, is that primary voters were wrong about John Kerry's electability. Could they be wrong about Hilldog's?

—Nick Baumann

Making Sense of Putin's Dissolution of Russian Government

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 1:20 PM EDT

If you're trying to make sense of today's revelation that Russian President Vladimir Putin has dissolved his country's government, try Nikolas Gvosdev's explanation in the National Interest:

As expected, six months prior to Russia's 2008 presidential elections, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has resigned his position. Fradkov, a technocratic figure who was expected to keep the government's trains running on time, was never expected to succeed Vladimir Putin as president of the country, and it was widely expected that he would be asked to step down in order to allow a possible presidential successor to Putin to, in effect, be anointed.
...It's difficult to see [appointed Prime Minister Viktor] Zubkov as being the designated "heir" to become president. It is important to note that if one looks at the last years of the second term of the Yeltsin Administration, a series of prime ministers were appointed, in part to keep the political establishment off balance.
This also gives some "breathing room" if the overall succession issue has not been settled by having another technocratic prime minister in place for the next several months, while negotiations would continue over how power would be distributed. Remember, the lesson many in the Russian elite learned from the Orange Revolution of 2004 in Ukraine was that when the elite is divided and cannot reach consensus, the system becomes destabilized.

Gvosdev also has something to say about Prime Minister Abe's resignation in Japan. Check out his article here. And thanks to Laura Rozen for forwarding it along.