Mojo - March 2008

New Deadline in Missing WH Emails Case

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 8:10 PM EDT

A federal judge told the Bush administration today that it has three days to give him a good reason why he shouldn't order the White House to make copies of every computer hard drive in the Executive Office of the President (EOP). Judge John M. Facciola's ruling (PDF) is a major victory for two Washington non-profits, the National Security Archive (NSA) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who have been battling the administration in court to ensure the preservation of missing White House emails.

The emails, which could number in the millions, are from between 2003 and 2005 and could include information about the runup to the war in Iraq and the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA agent. (Need to catch up? Read our full coverage of the missing White House emails story.)

In another victory for the plaintiffs, the Judge noted the fact, reported by Mother Jones in January but largely ignored in the mainstream press, that the White House's regular 'recycling' of email backup tapes prior to October 2003 indicates that emails between March and October 2003 are probably not preserved anywhere. This contradicts what Theresa Payton, the White House Office of Administration's (OA) Chief Information Officer, said in January when she claimed that "substantially all" the missing emails would be preserved on backup tapes (PDF). From the Judge's order:

It is nevertheless true that if e-mails have not been properly archived as plaintiffs allege, and copies of those e-mails do not exist on back-up tapes, then the obliteration of data upon which those e-mails may be reconstructed threatens the plaintiffs with irreparable harm. This appears to be the case for any e-mails that were not properly archived between March 2003 and October 2003, during which time no back-up tapes exist. [Emphasis added.]

Facciola's ruling indicates that he takes the plaintiffs' concerns seriously and understands that time is of the essence, since every day that goes by makes it increasingly likely that potentially recoverable email data will be permanently lost. If Facciola does order copies made, it will mean that "while the clock is ticking [the emails] are not going to disappear," explains Meredith Fuchs, the NSA's General Counsel.

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China Accuses Dalai Lama of "Sabotage," but Olympics Still On For Beijing

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 6:18 PM EDT

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Chinese premier Wen Jiabao today accused the exiled Dalai Lama of orchestrating the protests sweeping through Tibet in recent days, with the express purpose of inciting "the sabotage of the Olympic Games." (The Dalai Lama denied the charges.)

But the Chinese needn't worry. Though the information emerging from the region is intermittent and often secondhand—estimates of the number of dead range from the Chinese government's 13 to the Tibetan's 99—what news there is seems to have satisfied the international community: The games must go on.

Dueling SNL Endorsements: Tina Fey vs. Tracy Morgan

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 3:49 PM EDT

You probably saw Tina Fey endorse Hillary Clinton on SNL's Weekend Update a few weeks back. It was good stuff:

But you may have not have seen Tracy Morgan's rebuttal/endorsement of Barack Obama. Honest to God, I'd pay good money to see Tracy Morgan talk about politics for an hour.

(H/T Prezvid)

"Black and More Than Black": Obama's Daring and Unique Speech on Race

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 2:42 PM EDT

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With racial sentiments swirling in the 2008 campaign—notably, Geraldine Ferraro's claim that Barack Obama is not much more than an affirmative action case and the controversy over his former pastor's over-the-top remarks—Senator Obama on Tuesday morning responded to these recent fusses with a speech unlike any delivered by a major political figure in modern American history. While explaining—not excusing—Reverend Jeremiah Wright's remarks (which Obama had already criticized), he called on all Americans to recognize that even though the United States has experienced progress on the racial reconciliation front in recent decades (Exhibit A: Barack Obama), racial anger exists among both whites and blacks, and he said that this anger and its causes must be fully acknowledged before further progress can be achieved. Obama did this without displaying a trace of anger himself.

Speaking in Philadelphia, Obama celebrated his own racial heritage but also demonstrated his ability to view the black community with a measure of objectivity and, when necessary, criticism—caring criticism. But this was no Sister Souljah moment. He did not sacrifice Wright for political ends. He hailed the good deeds of his former minister, noting that Wright's claim that America continues to be a racist society is rooted in Wright's generational experiences. And Obama identified the sources of racial resentment held by whites without being judgmental. With this address, Obama was trying to show the nation a pathway to a society free of racial gridlock and denial. Moreover, he declared that bridging the very real racial divide of today is essential to forging the popular coalition necessary to transform America into a society with a universal and effective health care system, an education system that serves poor and rich children, and an economy that yields a decent-paying jobs for all. Obama was not playing the race card. He was shooting the moon.

Obama delivered his speech in a stiff manner. The melodious lilt and cascading tones that typically characterize his campaign addresses were not present. This was a speech in which the words—not the delivery—counted. He began with a predictable notion: slavery was the original sin of the glorious American project. Removing that stain has been the nation's burden ever since, and he tied his campaign to that long-running endeavor: "This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign—to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America." And he proclaimed that due to his own personal story—"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas"—he both recognizes the need to heal this divide and possesses an "unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people." Unlike the black leaders of recent years, Obama identified with both the winners and losers of America: "I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible." He is E Pluribus Unum.

McCain: Sunni? Shia? What?

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 12:42 PM EDT

Where did all that vaunted national security experience go? WaPo:

Sen. John McCain, traveling in the Middle East to promote his foreign policy expertise, misidentified in remarks Tuesday which broad category of Iraqi extremists are allegedly receiving support from Iran.
He said several times that Iran, a predominately Shiite country, was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, al-Qaeda. In fact, officials have said they believe Iran is helping Shiite extremists in Iraq.
Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back."
Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was "common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that's well known. And it's unfortunate." A few moments later, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate's ear. McCain then said: "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."

McClatchy Skewers Cheney

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 10:56 AM EDT

TPM has a nice catch for Snarky Headline of the Day, courtesy of McClatchy:

Cheney cites 'phenomenal' Iraqi security progress as bombing kills 40

Sometimes I think living in the reality-based community is good for some laughs, but then I realize the crazy people are running the world.

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Iranian Agent of Influence? An Interview with Author of New Ahmad Chalabi Biography

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 8:14 AM EDT

Emmy award-winning investigative journalist Aram Roston, a producer with the NBC Nightly News, has just published a biography of long time Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi, The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Adventures, Life and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi, reviewed by Bruce Falconer in the current issue of Mother Jones. I asked Roston about allegations that Chalabi had such a close relationship with elements of the Iranian security services, that the FBI reportedly investigated him for passing highly classified U.S. intelligence to Iranian intelligence.

Roston's conclusion: "In the end, I came away thinking that the key question, from a U.S. perspective, was not whether or not Chalabi was an Iranian agent, but whether he was more useful to Iran's intelligence services and government, or to America's intelligence services and government," Roston told me. "Here I think it was indisputable that he was far more useful to Iran." Go read the rest.

Mother Jones: What is the conclusion you drew about Chalabi's relationship with Iran?
Roston: Actually, I really didn't find evidence that Chalabi was or is an "Iranian agent," as some have speculated. In other words, I found no evidence that he was controlled or directed by Iranian intelligence. I also did not come across evidence that Chalabi was paid by Iran, or that he received funding from them. (Some Iraqis close to him claim he is but I really didn't find hard corroboration.) Maybe Iran preferred funding other groups, or maybe he preferred simply getting his money from the Americans.
Some former intelligence officers who know him well believe that he was in part an "agent of influence" for Iran, rather than a controlled agent. And a lot of Iraqis who know him well say that he has bolstered his ties to Iran's government to give him more leverage in his work in Iraq.

SF Chronicle to No Longer Run Stories of Cats, Celebrities on Page A2

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 6:15 PM EDT

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Baby steps. But perhaps there's hope that under new leadership the Chron will no longer suck quite so bad.

That would deprive locals and industry watchers a reliable source of cocktail party chatter (why does it suck) since at least as far back as 1976, when Jason Robards playing WaPo editor Ben Bradlee in "All the President's Men" cracked that the Chron was the place to place "yesterday's weather report."

Still, worth the sacrifice.

Fox News Sunday Introduces "Obama Watch"

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 5:21 PM EDT
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There have been subtle and not so subtle messages to voters throughout this election painting Barack Obama as radical and un-American. Most recently, over the weekend, there was wide-spread media coverage of Obama's "anti-American" and "racial" reverend in Chicago.

But none of these are quite as dramatic as Fox's new "Obama Watch." If you aren't already convinced that Barack Obama is an extremist, you might want to tune in to Fox News Sunday. The new feature, announced by Chris Wallace, will give its viewers "a weekly update on Barack Obama." Under the auspices of the network's ongoing hopes to urge the Dems to debate on Fox, "Obama Watch" will be set to a ticking time clock a la 24. I'll give Fox News credit for one thing, they left no subliminal message unturned. If the beep beep, beep beep of Jack Bauer's hit show doesn't say "Obama is a terrorist" I don't know what does.

Under for Fire for Pastor's Remarks, Obama To Give Major Speech on Race

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 5:05 PM EDT

I was at a fancy Washington party of politicos this weekend and the No. 1 topic of conversation was the Reverend Jeremiah Wright--that is, what could Barack Obama do about Wright's assorted controversial statements. (Was Jesus really black?) With Fox News and others leading the charge--the cable news network had found videos of Wright's over-the-top sermons for sale at his church's gift shop--Obama quickly distanced himself from his onetime pastor's more provocative statements. ("No one ever said it was going to be easy to elect a black man president," an Obama supporter told me at this party.)

But Obama is not just hunkering down. Today his campaign announced he would deliver a "major address on race, politics, and how we bring our country together at this important moment in our history." Do you think this was scheduled prior to the Wright dustup? Not likely. Will it do anything to counter whatever political damage has been (or can be) done by Wright's remarks? Probably not. Still, it might be necessary. Then again, Obama has done rather well so far by not emphasizing matters of race. With the racial divide apparently growing starker in the recent Democratic primaries (with whites voting for the white candidate and blacks voting for the black candidate), one can only wonder if addressing race explicitly in this rather political manner is to Obama's advantage. But when a preacher speaks, sometimes you have no choice but to take action.

And the dog that didn't bark: There's been no Hillary Clinton campaign conference call in which Clinton aides decry Wright's remarks and push reporters to devote more attention to this matter. After the South Carolina primary and after Geraldine Ferraro, the Clintonites certainly realize they must treat gingerly any matter that involves race. And why yelp when there's already plenty of noise?