Mojo - March 2008

A New FISA Whistleblower

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 5:32 PM EST

Some powerful congressmen are raising new questions about telecom immunity based upon the allegations of a new industry whistleblower. In a letter released yesterday, three senior members of the House Energy and Commerce committee, including its chairman, John Dingell (D-Mich.) highlight the case of Babak Pasdar, who has charged "at least one major wireless telecommunications giant" of giving "a Governmental entity access to every communication coming through that company's infrastructure, including every e-mail, Internet use, document transmission, video, and text message, as well as the ability to listen in on any phone call."

Pasdar has been known to the committee for some time, but he has come forward publicly now because the Bush administration has blocked every effort to investigate his charges privately.

His allegations mirror those of retired AT&T technician Mark Klein, who came forward accusing his company of providing the government access to, well, just about everything. Dingell, (along with subcommittee chairmen Edward Markey and Bart Stupak) write "Members should be given adequate time to properly evaluate the separate question of retroactive immunity."

At least. The letter can be accessed here.

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Viktor Bout's Arrest in Bangkok Orchestrated by DEA

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 3:51 PM EST

New details are emerging about Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout's capture at a five-star hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. At a press conference yesterday, Michael J. Garcia, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Acting DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart confirmed scattered press reports indicating that Bout's arrest was the result of a DEA operation. According to a press release:

Between November 2007 and February 2008, Bout and Smulian agreed to sell to the FARC millions of dollars worth of weapons -- including surface-to-air missile systems ("SAMs") and armor piercing rocket launchers. During a series of recorded telephone calls and emails, Bout and Smulian agreed to sell the weapons to two confidential sources working with the DEA (the "CSs"), who held themselves out as FARC representatives acquiring these weapons for the FARC for use in Colombia.
In addition, during a series of consensually recorded meetings in Romania, Smulian advised the CSs, among other things, that: (1) Bout had 100 SAMs available immediately; (2) Bout could also provide helicopters and armor piercing rocket launchers; (3) Bout could arrange to have a flight crew airdrop the weapons into Colombian territory using combat parachutes; and (4) Bout and Smulian would charge the CSs $5 million to transport the weapons. During one of the meetings with the CSs, Smulian provided one of the CSs with a digital memory stick that contained an article about Bout, and documents containing photographs and specifications for the SAMs and armor piercing rocket launchers that Smulian had previously said Bout could provide.

Rep. Chris Cannon To Car-Scam Victim: Move On!

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 3:25 PM EST

chris%20cannon.jpgWhen regular citizens come up to Capitol Hill to tell their stories about whatever evil has befallen them—foreclosure, food poisoning, etc.—members of Congress, as a rule, treat them gently, even if they don't agree with the bill those citizens have come to support. Yesterday, though, Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) seemed to have forgotten that rule during a hearing on a bill that would ban the use of forced arbitration in automobile sale and leasing contracts.

More after the jump...

Dem Candidates on Iraq: We're Pretty Much Committed to a Withdrawal

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 1:25 PM EST

Informal Clinton adviser and retired four-star general Jack Keane on Hillary Clinton's Iraq plans:

"I have no doubts whatsoever that if she were president in January '09 she would not act irresponsibly and issue orders to conduct an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, regardless of the consequences, and squander the gains that have been made."

Recently deposed Obama adviser and respected academic Samantha Power on Barack Obama's Iraq plans:

"You can't make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan — an operational plan — that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn't have daily access now, as a result of not being the president... [His stated plan is] a best-case scenario."

I actually don't have a problem with what these advisers are saying: Clinton and Obama will take the information they have available to them as president and reevaluate their plans for withdrawal. That makes sense to me. But for many Democrats, getting out of Iraq is the number one issue and the fact that the candidates have told them what they want to hear, while possibly holding more nuanced positions in secret, will raise some justifiable anger.

In "Monster"-Gate, Clintonites Get Away with a Slur, While Respected Obama Aide Falls

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 1:01 PM EST

The big news today--if you listen to the Hillary Clinton camp--is that Samantha Power, a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama (and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide), referred to Clinton as a "monster" in what she believed was an off-the-record remark with a reporter. She did apologize. But the Clintonites, ever on the lookout for an issue (or non-issue) to hype, quickly called on Obama to fire Power.

Non-News Flash: Aides to presidential candidates routinely refer to the competition in harsh terms, particularly when they talk to reporters off the record. More than once, a top Clinton person has told me that s/he believes Obama is a self-righteous fraud--or worse. It was, of course, always off the record. But if I had reported any of these remarks, I could have gotten the pop The Scotsman has received for disclosing Power's comment.

The Clinton people do deserve chutzpah points for trying to turn this nothing-burger into a full-course feast. During a conference call with reporters yesterday, Clinton's top spinner, Howard Wolfson, compared Obama and his aides to Kenneth Starr because they dared to question Clinton's refusal to release her income taxes. (In The Washington Post, Dana Milbank credited me with asking the question that prompted the Ken Starr remark --a quip obviously locked and loaded before the call.) The comparison was ridiculous. But in Democratic circles, there's not much of a bigger slur than, Hey, you're Ken Starr! For Democrats, Starr is the functional equivalent of a monster.

Congress Calls For Top Afghanistan Diplomat and General to Testify

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 12:56 PM EST

IMG_0354.jpg

Remember last September's false promise that with the testimony before Congress of David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the highest-ranking U.S. general and diplomat in Iraq, some major change in the Iraq War was imminent? Nothing happened, of course, other than some very deft rhetorical deflection (evidence of Petraeus' political talents?) and calls for more time for the "surge" to work. (Some, including John McCain, now argue that it has, others that it hasn't.) If Joe Biden and Carl Levin, the respective chairmen of the Senate foreign relations and armed services committees, get their way, we'll be treated to yet another media spectacle in coming weeks, this time focusing on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

More after the jump...

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Final Texas Delegate Count

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 11:43 AM EST

The final results won't be known until June, but it looks like Barack Obama will come out of Texas with more delegates: 98-95. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the primary and took 65 delegates out of that contest to Obama's 61. Obama made up the difference in the caucus. (As most everyone knows by now, Texas had both a primary and a caucus.)

Point is, I was right.

Trouble in Paradise? Freedom's Watch Prez is Out

| Thu Mar. 6, 2008 9:36 PM EST

Brad Blakeman, the president of the hawkish, pro-surge advocacy group Freedom's Watch, has resigned amid infighting among the group's leadership. "Sources close to the conservative nonprofit say that [Blakeman] drew fire for focusing too much on administrative tasks and neglecting major projects since the group sponsored a $15 million television ad campaign in 2007 to promote the Iraq war surge," reports National Journal's Peter Stone, who wrote a profile of Freedom's Watch backer, casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson, for Mother Jones' January/February issue. "Freedom's Watch reportedly plans to spend as much as $200 million on pro-Republican TV ads on national security and domestic issues this year."

Adelson has also provided $2 million to back a TV/ radio campaign by a lobby group, Defense of Democracies, to go after House Democrats who don't support the White House's preferred domestic surveillance legislation, Stone reports. The Republican bill would provide retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies being sued for billions of dollars by consumers who charge the companies illegally provided the government access to their private communications data. Defense of Democracies was recently set up as a 501(c)4 group by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which has received State Department funding. The ads targeting Democrats prompted Democratic members of the advisory board of the previously ostensibly bipartisan Foundation for the Defense of Democracies to resign en masse earlier this month, charging FDD had basically set up an openly partisan front group.

House Races Across the Country: Time for the GOP to Scare Up Some Dollars

| Thu Mar. 6, 2008 5:12 PM EST

A list of the 24 Democratic-held House seats that the Republican Party is targeting in '08 was released today, and it provided the Campaign Finance Institute with everything it needed to go to town.

The folks there compared the fundraising and cash-on-hand for the supposedly weak Democratic incumbents and their Republican challengers. Take a look at these numbers.

Arizona 8
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) - $1,317,357 on hand
Timothy Bee (R) - $161,246 on hand

California 11
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) - $924,605 on hand
Dean Andal (R) - $471,190 on hand

Kentucky 3
Rep. John Yarmuth (D) - $659,231 on hand
Erwin Roberts (R) - $95,076 on hand

Texas 23
Rep. Ciro Rodriquez (D) - $661,224 on hand
Francisco "Quico" Canseco (R) - $45,430 on hand

These numbers, lopsided as they are, were more or less chosen at random. In no race does the Republican challenger have more money than the Dem incumbent; in only one, New Hampshire's 1st, is it even close. Usually, the Democrat has anywhere from two to six times the cash on hand. The exception is Oregon's 5th, where there is no incumbent.

Check out the full list here. And check out how much each of the major party organs have here. There is a serious problem for the GOP. It's what I meant when I said John McCain has to rebuild the Death Star.

Let's Do Some Delegate Math

| Thu Mar. 6, 2008 1:28 PM EST

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter points out that the delegate math that was already difficult for Hillary Clinton got more difficult after Ohio and Texas, because she made up a very small portion of the delegate deficit and now has fewer states in which to make her comeback. Alter runs down a very Clinton-friendly hypothetical:

Let's assume that on Saturday in Wyoming, Clinton's March 4 momentum gives her an Ohio-style 10-point win, confounding every expectation. Next Tuesday in Mississippi, where African-Americans play a big role in the Democratic primary, she shocks the political world by again winning 55-45.
Then on April 22, the big one—Pennsylvania—and it's a Clinton blowout: 60-40, with Clinton picking up a whopping 32 delegates. She wins both of Guam's two delegates on May 3 and Indiana's proximity to Illinois does Obama no good on May 6. The Hoosiers go for Clinton 55-45 and the same day brings another huge upset in a heavily African-American state. Enough blacks desert Obama to give North Carolina to Hillary in another big win, 55-45, netting her seven more delegates.