Mojo - December 2007

What Oprah and Hillary Have in Common - and What They Do Not

| Mon Dec. 10, 2007 8:48 AM EST

When he was campaigning for president in 1992, Bill Clinton had a stock line in his stump speech:

My wife, Hillary, gave me a book that says, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

Speaking at a rally for Barack Obama on Saturday, Oprah Winfrey declared,

If we continued to do the same things over and over and over again, I know that you get the same results.

In 1992, Bill Clinton was selling himself as the candidate of change. This time around, Obama is trying to corner that market, with Hillary Clinton promising the best of both worlds: change and experience. In an auditorium filled with signs proclaiming, "Chage You Can Believe In" (get the dig at Hillary?), Winfrey pronounced Obama the genuine agent of change and not-too-indirectly slammed Hillary Clinton:

I challenge you to see through those people who try and convince you that experience with politics as usual is more valuable than wisdom won from years of serving people outside the walls of Washington, D.C.

In other words, don't buy Clinton's most powerful argument. While pitching Obama, Winfrey is unselling Clinton. And the Clinton people certainly are not going to do what politicos usually do in such a circumstance: attack the messenger. After all, who wants to get into a tussle with Oprah? The question, of course, is, will Winfrey, who is campaigning with Obama in several early states, really help Obama? No one will know until January 3. But certainly none of this is likely to hurt the candidate of more change.

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Congress, Including Leading Dems, Briefed on Torture as Early as 2002

| Sun Dec. 9, 2007 10:57 AM EST

This kind of makes me nauseous.

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.
Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.
[snip]

Bye-Bye Cookie

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 5:49 PM EST

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Reuters reports that Howard "Cookie" Krongard has decided to resign as the State Department's inspector general. The decision comes after a disastrous appearance last month before Rep. Henry Waxman's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, where Krongard's testimony invited charges of perjury. Krongard, who had allegedly interfered in an arms smuggling investigation targeting Blackwater USA, initially denied that his brother Buzzy Krongard (a former high-ranking CIA official) was a member of that company's advisory board. He later changed his tune after reaching Buzzy by phone during a break in the hearing.

It's unclear why Cookie would have lied. But if by doing so he was trying to protect his brother, the favor went unreturned when reporters reached Buzzy for comment: He explained that he'd told Cookie about his Blackwater affiliation weeks before the hearing. Seeing as Cookie's congressional testimony had been under oath, the revelation may have opened him up to prosecution. So much for brotherly love.

I spoke with several congressional staffers last week, who suggested that both Cookie and Buzzy would be called to appear before Waxman's committee to account for Cookie's bizarre testimony. But now that Cookie has thrown in the towel, it's unclear if the hearing will take place. According to a statement released this afternoon by Waxman's office, "Mr. Krongard's decision removes an enormous distraction from the Inspector General's office and will allow the office to focus on its important oversight responsibilities. The Committee will certainly take this new development into account."

Whatever happens, the lack of affection between the brothers Krongard appears to be indicative of larger family dramas. The Washington Post reported in September that Cookie's son and daughter-in-law, Kenneth and Kristin Krongard, had filed a restraining order to get him to stop sending "unprofessional and highly offensive" emails, in which he threatened that they'd be "put out on the street" if they lost a lawsuit he had brought against them. Cookie filed suit last year, alleging that the couple had defaulted on a $320,000 home loan. Although they paid back the loan in full after the suit's filing, Cookie is pressing his case, demanding interest and other penalties, as well as reimbursement of at least $114,000 in legal fees. Does Krongard feel guilty about suing his son's family? Who can say for sure, but the tone of this August missive points to no. "If you are willing to put your wife and children's future in jeopardy, that's your business," he wrote. What a guy.

Obama's Health Care Problem: Why It Has Become the Biggest Mistake of His Campaign

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 5:45 PM EST

obama_back.jpg When Barack Obama released his health care plan, the health care heavies around the web noticed it lacked the mandate that John Edwards' plan had. That was a demerit. The whole point of universal health care is that because the healthy have to buy health care, there is a enough money around to pay for the exorbitant health care costs of the sick. Obama claims that his plan makes health care affordable so the poor can buy in, but the problem isn't just the poor. It's the young and strapping, who have no incentive to buy health care at any price.

But the aforementioned heavies didn't attack Obama on the issue. They even praised him. His plan was a serious one that represented a substantial improvement over the status quo. When Hillary Clinton came out with her plan, which mimicked to a great extent Edwards', everyone considered the three health care plans essentially the same. Obama, and even the other candidates, conceded the differences were minor.

But then the Clinton camp found a Jonathan Cohn article in which he crunched the numbers and found that Obama's plan would leave 15 million people uninsured. Cohn later said that the number was a "very, very rough estimate" but that it was "more right than wrong." Regardless of its accuracy, it was now campaign fodder.

Impressive Speech From Sheldon Whitehouse

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 4:27 PM EST

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) delivered an important speech today full of shocking information, if it's still possible to be shocked by the Bush administration. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Whitehouse has access to the Justice Department's secret legal determinations. He then was able to get some of the determinations declassified, or at least the summaries he wrote down while reading them in a secure room. This is how he characterizes three of them:

1. An executive order cannot limit a President. There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.

2. The President, exercising his constitutional authority under Article II, can determine whether an action is a lawful exercise of the President's authority under Article II.

3. The Department of Justice is bound by the President's legal determinations.

In other words, the president is the law. Whitehouse concludes:

When the Congress of the United States is willing to roll over for an unprincipled President, this is where you end up. We should not even be having this discussion. But here we are. I implore my colleagues: reject these feverish legal theories.

There is, of course, little reason for Whitehouse to be optimistic this will happen. Still, it's a surprise to see even one senator demonstrating he cares about these issues, and explaining them in a way normal people can understand.

For more, see Marcy Wheeler's typically cogent commentary.

Fiscal Conservatives Hit Huckabee on His Tax Record

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 2:20 PM EST

The problem with the Republican Party is that it is composed of various groups—small government fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, national security hawks—whose interests don't always align.

Usually the GOP can find a candidate, like George W. Bush, who satisfies all three groups. This time around, though, they're not so lucky. The candidates who "check all the boxes" are either faking it (Romney) or are only kinda interested in running (Thompson), and those who don't are getting beaten up by the portions of the party they leave dissatisfied.

Take this ad, for example. The fiscally conservative, tax-hating Club for Growth is hammering Huckabee for his moderate economic record.

The bad thing about Huckabee's tax hikes mentioned here is that they weren't progressive (except possibly the income tax "surcharge"); they hit the middle and working classes as hard or harder than they hit the upper class. That means that if Huckabee survives these attacks at gets the GOP nod, he'll probably be attacked for this stuff by the Democrats, too.

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The Next Financial Crisis: Credit Cards

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 1:42 PM EST

The next step in the growing financial squeeze—what the banking community likes to call the "soft landing"—is coming down in credit cards. Take a look at those offers you're getting in the mail. Gone are the promises of permanent low APRs on purchases or balance transfers. Instead, the companies are offering a low rate for 6 or maybe 12 months, and then it shoots up to 15 or 20 percent or higher. And there's usually a 5 percent transfer fee on your whole balance—the ceilings on transfer fees are disappearing. So even if you get, say, a 4.9 percent APR for 12 months, it's really 9.9 percent.

Does Huckabee Believe Angels Intervene in Hunting Contests?

| Fri Dec. 7, 2007 12:56 PM EST

That's the question I've tried to get the Mike Huckabee campaign to answer.

The surging social conservative who once was a Baptist preacher, as AP reports, is refusing to discuss theology and the "intricate, nit-picky things of church doctrine"--even though he recently attributed his success in the polls to divine intervention. For instance, he has declined in recent days to talk about his view of creationism (at an early debate he indicated he supports it) or to say whether he believes women should be permitted to serve in pastoral leadership roles (a controversial matter within some fundamentalist circles).

But what about angels? As I've noted previously and elsewhere, Huckabee gave a rather intriguing speech at the NRA in September, during which he deftly merged his heartfelt evangelical beliefs with his deep passion for gun rights and hunting. He recalled the time he was in an antelope hunting contest in Wyoming. After several hours of stalking prey on a miserably cold, windy and snowy day, Huckabee had his chance. An antelope was 250 yards away, but right at the edge of his range as a shooter. Then a miracle happened:

I decided that one way or the other, this hunt is about to be over, because I can't stand any more of this cold. And somehow, by the grace of God, when I squeezed the trigger, my Weatherby .300 Mag, which has got to be the greatest gun, I think, ever made in the form of a rifle -- for my sake in hunting, I've never squeezed the trigger and not gotten something -- did its work, and somehow the angels took that bullet and went right to the antelope, and my hunt was over in a wonderful way.

Thanks to those angels, that elk was dead.

After hearing that speech, I sent an email to the press office of the Huckabee campaign asking if the former Arkansas governor does "believe that angels literally intervene in the affairs of human beings and that such intervention includes hunting events." I received no reply. I tried again. Still silence.

Huckabee is delighted to let people know he's a firm believer in God. He's well aware that helps him with Republican primary voters, especially in Iowa. But he doesn't want to answer questions about his beliefs. That's trying to have it both ways--the glory without explaining. With less than month to the Iowa caucus, can Huckabee continue to duck questions about spiritual affairs? Maybe with the help of angels.

Here's Your Damn Baby, Now Where Are My #@%&ing Diamond Earrings?

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 10:35 PM EST

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Not to begrudge any woman who's toiled through nine months of pregnancy and multiple hours of labor, but there's something quite sickening about this NYT story about how new mothers are expecting their husbands and partners to pony up with some really sweet bling.

This bonus goes by various names. Some call it the "baby mama gift." Others refer to it as the "baby bauble." But it's most popularly known as the "push present." That's "push" as in, "I the mother, having been through the wringer and pushed out this blessed event, hereby claim my reward." Or "push" as in, "I've delivered something special and now I'm pushing you, my husband/boyfriend, to follow suit."
"It's more and more an expectation of moms these days that they deserve something for bearing the burden for nine months, getting sick, ruining their body," said Linda Murray, executive editor of BabyCenter.com. "The guilt really gets piled on."
A recent survey of more than 30,000 respondents by BabyCenter.com found that 38 percent of new mothers received a gift from their mate in connection with their child. Among pregnant mothers, 55 percent wanted one. About 40 percent of both groups said the baby was ample reward.

You heard that right, only 2 in 5 kids can rest assure that Mom wasn't disappointed that their arrival wasn't accompanied by a tennis bracelet.

It is not the fact that Moms are getting a token of their hard work that bugs me, it is that you know that the diamond industry has their hands in this. Just as they invented a "tradition" of diamond wedding rings, the "three months salary" rule, and the "three-stone anniversary ring." Hey, you can hear DeBeers' pitchmen saying: Why not a carat for each pound of baby? Don't you care, Dad?

I'm just saying. Because no man would ever dare.

(For a timeline of diamond marketing, follow the jump. And there's more here.)

Under Goss's Leadership, CIA Destroyed Torture Videotapes, CIA Admits

| Thu Dec. 6, 2007 6:58 PM EST

Breaking: The New York Times reports:

The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in the agency's custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about the C.I.A's secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.
The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terror suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques. They were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy, several officials said.
The C.I.A. said today that the decision to destroy the tapes had been made "within the C.I.A. itself," and they were destroyed to protect the safety of undercover officers and because they no longer had intelligence value. The agency was headed at the time by Porter J. Goss. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Goss declined this afternoon to comment on the destruction of the tapes. [...]