Mojo - April 2008

Freedom's Watch Finds Its Inner Mother Theresa

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 4:32 PM EDT

Conservative advocacy group Freedom's Watch, funded by billionaires such as Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a famously fierce critic of labor unions (see core issue area three here, "Standing up to Big Labor's radical agenda"), revels in its newly discovered economic populist streak.

Yesterday, it launched an ad attacking House Democrats and speaker Nancy Pelosi for "doing nothing" to reduce high gas prices.

Today, it sends out emails attacking Congressional Democrats for being responsible for the housing crisis, the bad economy, and more high gas prices. And it's rebranded itself as "mainstream," too: "'It is truly astonishing that two years after assuring the American people they possessed a 'commonsense plan' to combat high gas prices, Congressional Leaders are still struggling to put one together,' said Ed Patru, spokesman for Freedom's Watch, a mainstream conservative issues advocacy organization," the group emails.

What's next? After all, with Adelson's fortune valued at $28 billion by Forbes this year, an expressed commitment by the former Boston cabbie to donate $200 million a year to charitable causes he favors, and given the fact that that, according to a recent column by George Will, Adelson's casino empire is now the single largest foreign investor in China, Adelson alone would be in a position to make a meaningful contribution to those Americans losing their homes in foreclosures and consumers hurting at the gas pump. Stay tuned, as they say.

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Iran Picking Sides in Iraq?

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 2:51 PM EDT

From Juan Cole, via Kevin Drum:

Sadr spokesman Salah al-Obeidi (al-Ubaydi) in Najaf bitterly attacked Iran, accusing it of seeking to share with the US in influence over Iraq. He pointed to the Iranian's regime's failure to condemn the long-term mutual security agreement being crafted by the Bush administration and the al-Maliki government. Al-Obeidi's angry denunciation suggests that Iran is backing PM Nuri al-Maliki and his current chief ally, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim against the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr.

This could be misinformation or it could be the beginning of something major.

Hawks Try To Throw Mylroie Overboard

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 1:49 PM EDT

Former American Enterprise Institute Iraq hand Laurie Mylroie wrote a book alleging that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was really behind the 1993 Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center. In the wake of 9/11, Mylroie's book and theories were highly influential on the thinking especially of then deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and former CIA director James Woolsey, who wrote a blurb for her book. Indeed, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Woolsey was reportedly dispatched to the UK to pursue one of Mylroie's theories.

Now, the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, the authorized biographer of Vice President Dick Cheney and like both the Veep and Mylroie, a proponent of the theory that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda worked closely together, tries to throw Mylroie overboard:

Mylroie comes up In several of the books written about the Iraq War as a terrorism analyst who led the Bush Administration into making questionable claims about Iraq and al Qaeda. (George Packer, the New Yorker writer and author of the otherwise well-reported book, "The Assassin's Gate," makes this mistake.) This vastly overstates her role. Although her emails may have occasionally made their way to Bush administration officials, no one I know took her arguments very seriously. For good reason. Mylroie has seen an Iraqi hand behind virtually every terrorist attack on American interests. Indeed, in our one brief conversation, she faulted me for failing to understand that al Qaeda is little more than an Iraqi "front group." That's crazy. Iraq was an active state sponsor of terror and, as the recent Pentagon report confirms, a willing sponsor of al Qaeda leaders, their terrorist associates, and a wide variety of jihadist groups.

Hey, at least the hawks are still loyal to Chalabi.

Siegelman Speaks

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 1:40 PM EDT

don_siegelman.jpg We've covered former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman around these parts before. You can learn about him here or here. Suffice to say, it appears that Alabama Republicans couldn't find a way to beat the Democratic Siegelman, so they stole an election from him and then gamed the legal system until they were able to throw him into prison. Below, you'll find an hour-long interview he did with Air America (Siegelman is out of prison now) in which he puts a large share of blame on Karl Rove and suggests that Rep. John Conyers, head of the House Judiciary Committee, is going to do something about his situation. Settle in.

Fox News: Stephen Douglas and Frederick Douglass, What's the Difference?

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 12:24 PM EDT

Lately, Hillary Clinton has been calling for a "Lincoln-Douglas style" debate, in which she and Barack Obama would speak directly to one another without moderators, in response to the Obama campaign's refusal to do any further televised debates.

Of course, the reference is to the famous series of debates held between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas when both men were campaigning for an Illinois senate seat in 1858.

Fox News apparently didn't get the memo.

I suspect a debate between Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln wouldn't be all that exciting.

Douglass: We should abolish slavery.
Lincoln: I dunno.
Douglass: It's the only way to save the Union.
Lincoln: Okay.

And scene.

Update: Oh, I almost forgot. More Fox hilarity here.

Citing Fort Bragg Conditions, U.S. Army Broadens Barracks Inquiry

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 11:33 AM EDT

In case you haven't seen it, check out the video to the right for a look at the conditions of the 82nd Airborne Division's barracks at Fort Bragg. The footage was taken by Ed Frawley, the outraged father of one of the soldiers living there—a soldier who, along with the rest of his unit, had just returned from a 15-month deployment in Afghanistan, most of it spent at a remote firebase in the mountains. I hazard to guess that upon their return to North Carolina, some of the soldiers may have experienced pangs of nostalgia for the relative comfort of a combat post.

In response to the controversy brought on by the Fort Bragg video, the Army has announced an audit of all its barracks worldwide. According to Brigadier General Dennis Rogers, the officer in charge of barracks maintenance, initial inspections were carried out last weekend. The results have not yet been released. According to the Associated Press:

Rogers said it was too soon to know whether the Fort Bragg problem was an isolated incident. He acknowledged the revelations from a video shot by the father of an 82nd Airborne Division soldier showing poor conditions such as mold inside the barracks, peeling interior paint and a bathroom drain plugged with sewage...

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It's a Boondoggle: the Gas Tax Holiday

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 11:19 AM EDT

Everybody who knows anything about energy policy and/or tax policy is calling the gas tax holiday a cynical political pander by Senators McCain and Clinton. Here's the usually Clinton-friendly Paul Krugman:

John McCain has a really bad idea on gasoline, Hillary Clinton is emulating him (but with a twist that makes her plan pointless rather than evil), and Barack Obama, to his credit, says no.
Why doesn't cutting the gas tax this summer make sense? It's Econ 101 tax incidence theory: if the supply of a good is more or less unresponsive to the price, the price to consumers will always rise until the quantity demanded falls to match the quantity supplied. Cut taxes, and all that happens is that the pretax price rises by the same amount. The McCain gas tax plan is a giveaway to oil companies, disguised as a gift to consumers.

Here's economist Dean Baker:

...almost all economists would agree that the tax cut proposed by Senators Clinton and McCain would save consumers nothing. With the supply of gas largely fixed by the capacity of the oil industry (they claim to be running their refineries at full capacity), the price will not change in response to the elimination of the tax. The only difference will be that money that used to go to the government in tax revenues will instead go to the oil industry as higher profits.

Tom Friedman:

[The idea] is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer's travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

Here are the Washington Post, Robert Reich, and the Los Angeles Times. Here are Grist and Vanity Fair. Here's Newsweek, maybe the best of the bunch.

At worst, the gax tax holiday pads the pockets of the oil industry (McCain's version). At best, it accomplishes nothing at all (Clinton's version). So why propose it? Because voters are struggling with gas prices and by suggesting we chop 18 cents off the price of every gallon, a candidate sounds like a populist champion. But it's nonsense and a pander and the candidates know it.

Hillary Clinton has TV ads up in Indiana and North Carolina that attack Barack Obama for saying no to the idea. Awesome.

Carbon Offsets For Tummy Tucks?

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 10:45 AM EDT

Plastic surgery has long posed serious risks for many of its vain victims: death from infection, bursting boobs, migrating silicone and the like. But who knew it was also bad for the environment? The Washington City Paper reports that disposing of all the fat sucked out of people during liposuction and tummy tucks puts 1,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year, largely because the fat (which is 78 percent carbon) is incinerated.

Since belly fat as biodiesel is a tough sell, a local upscale plastic surgery practice is now buying carbon offsets to cover disposing of its nips and tucks. The surgeons tell CP that while jogging would be a healthier alternative for shedding all that fat, it wouldn't make much difference on the environment because the exercise would still "liberate" carbon into the atmosphere. I find this claim somewhat dubious (especially given the self-interest of the source), but since I'm too science challenged to work this out on my own, I'll put this to you, dear readers: Are joggers really the human versions of farting cows, huffing out more carbon that fat incinerators?

Ex-Gitmo Prosecutor Lays Politicization Bare

| Tue Apr. 29, 2008 4:29 PM EDT

morris-davis.jpg Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who used to be the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay and a defender of the Bush Administration's military tribunal system, took the stand Monday on behalf of a man alleged to be Osama bin Laden's former driver in order to disseminate the truth about Guantanamo.

Davis was cross-examined by the Army officer who replaced him after his resignation last October, Col. Lawrence Morris, in one of the most dramatic challenges to the first American war-crimes tribunals since World War II...
Davis said he resigned hours after he was put in a chain of command beneath Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes, one of several officials who had encouraged the use of evidence even if it was gathered through waterboarding... "The guy who said waterboarding is A-OK I was not going to take orders from. I quit," Davis said.

More after the jump...

Obama: Wright is "Wrong" and His Statements Contradict "My Public Life"

| Tue Apr. 29, 2008 3:05 PM EDT

It had to have been a tough moment for Barack Obama—the lowest moment of his campaign. At a press conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Tuesday afternoon, he denounced and rejected his one-time pastor.

After Reverend Jeremiah Wright's four-day media-fest—during which he spoke positively about Louis Farrakhan, equated attacks on himself as attacks on the black church, claimed that the brains of blacks and whites operate differently, mocked white people, and defiantly, if not arrogantly, defended the over-the-top comments that sparked the Wright controversy—Obama had to do something. With an expression of pain and sadness on his face, Obama said he had been "shocked" and "surprised" by Wright's performance Monday at the National Press Club. "I don't think anyone could attribute" Wright's ideas "to me," he remarked, noting that Wright was "wrong" and his recent statements "appalling." He insisted that Wright's remarks contradict "how I was raised," "my public life," "what I said in my book," "my 2004 convention speech," and "everything I've said on the campaign trail."

Referring to his speech last month on race—which was prompted by the first Wright eruption—Obama said that he had tried to "provide a context... and make something positive out of" the Wright affair. Regarding Wright's National Press Club appearance, Obama said it was "a bunch of rants that aren't grounded in truth. I can't construct something positive out of that." Wright, he observed, had "caricatured himself."