Mojo - April 2008

Obama Swamping the Airwaves; Plus, the Expectation Game in PA

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 2:25 PM EDT

Wow:

Barack Obama has spent a record breaking $60 million to run more than 100,000 political television ads in pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, a new analysis conducted for CNN shows.
In contrast, John Kerry ran a little more than 19,000 TV ads four years ago in his successful bid for the Democratic nomination, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, CNN's consultant on political television advertising spending.
Kerry wrapped up the nomination in the first week of March 2004, while there is no end in sight in the battle between Obama and Hillary Clinton for the right to be the 2008 Democratic nominee.
Clinton, who trails Obama in fundraising by about $60 million, has run just over 60,000 TV ads in her bid for the White House.

Also, it appears that Obama is making a massive, massive ad buy in Pennsylvania — three times the size of Clinton's. I guess he thinks he might as well go for the jugular: the polls show PA tightening, and if he can pull out a surprise victory there, the campaign is effectively over.

That won't stop the Clinton campaign from spinning, however. "If Senator Obama is not able to win Pennsylvania," said Howard Wolfson on a conference all today, "it will again demonstrate that he has serious problems winning the large states and serious problems closing the deal with voters." Wolfson also said it would be a "significant defeat for [Obama]" if he can't come out ahead in PA. Hard to ignore that 20-point gap from a month ago, though.

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On 5th Anniversary of Iraq Museum's Looting, New Attention to Antiquities Trafficking

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 12:36 PM EDT

iraq-artifacts.jpg Iraq's National Museum, home to artifacts of the world's oldest civilization, was looted five years ago tomorrow. A collection of academics, lawyers, law enforcement officials, and former military personnel commemorated the anniversary with the release of a new book, Antiquities under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War, and an event for interested parties at the National Press Club. That included me.

The invasion of Iraq actually did surprisingly little damage to Iraq's historic sites, in part because McGuire Gibson, an expert on ancient Mesopotamia based at the University of Chicago, gave the military coordinates of thousands of sites it should avoid on its way to Baghdad. "Iraq is Mesopotamia," said Gibson, who spoke at the Press Club. "It is the root civilization for all civilizations." The military did make mistakes, however. On April 10, looting of the Iraq Museum began and, due to a lack of postwar planning (and due to the Bush Administration's unwillingness to treat culture like a legitimate facet of post-war reconstruction), it took six days for American soldiers to show up to help museum staff defend the premises. In all, 15,000 items from the Museum's collection disappeared or were damaged. Theft and vandalism occurred at archaeological sites across the country.

Matthew Bogdanos, a Marine colonel, led the effort to investigate the looting of Iraq's artifacts and to secure their return. Speaking at the Press Club today, Bogdanos showed slides of stolen or damaged artifacts from the Iraq Museum — the first naturalistic depiction of a human face in stone, for example — that could be found nowhere else in the world. Speaking of the unique nature of Iraq's treasures, Bogdanos said, "Everything in Iraq can be prefaced with the word 'first.'"

House Democrats Go Soft on Petraeus, Crocker

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 12:04 PM EDT

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Following on yesterday's lackluster performance by their Senate colleagues, House Democrats, if this morning's Armed Services Committee hearing is any indication, will show themselves to be equally cowed by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the top-ranking military and diplomatic figures in Iraq, and just as unwilling to bring serious challenge to the larger theme promulgated by the morning's testimony—namely that, while "reversible," security (if not political) gains in Iraq are real and the result of an enlightened strategy. Certainly, in this morning's hearing, Democrats failed to subject their witnesses to the sort of aggressive questioning we might have expected from a party that took control of the Congress determined to challenge Bush administration policy in Iraq and, as of last summer, remained determined to affect significant short-term troop withdrawals.

This is not say that there was no loyal opposition to the Petraeus/Crocker message of cautious optimism, but simply to call attention to how exceedingly, excessively, and deferentially loyal it was. Perhaps the most significant challenge to the administration's narrative came from Rep. John Spratt, Democrat of South Carolina, who used his allotted five minutes to display charts showing the tremendous cost of the war to date, as well as projections from the Congressional Budget Office (the Pentagon refuses to speculate on such things) that by 2018, assuming troop levels have already declined to 75,000 by 2013, the U.S. government will have shelled out more than $2 trillion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The point, Spratt said, was that "whenever you spend $2 trillion on one thing, you don't have it for something else"—whether that "something else" is stepped up operations in Afghanistan, reinvestment in the strategic readiness of U.S. forces for future high-intensity conflicts, or any number of other things you can imagine the federal government might do with a couple trillion bucks.

Tick, Tock: Time Running Out on McCain's Membership on Non-Profit's Board

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 11:39 AM EDT

ProjectVoteSmart.gif As Mother Jones reported Monday, the nonpartisan voter-education non-profit Project Vote Smart (PVS) has spent nine months trying to get John McCain to respond to its Political Courage Test. The test is a survey that PVS sends to state and federal candidates every time they run for office — it tries to get politicians to cut the spin and equivocations and tell voters where they really stand.

We all know McCain loves straight talk more than anyone, so it's natural that McCain has been on PVS's board of directors for a decade. But after nine months, 17 phone calls, and eight emails, PVS simply can't get a response to its survey. It's executive committee has a set a deadline: if McCain doesn't respond by the end of the day today, he gets the boot.

Since Mother Jones' story came out Monday, the McCain campaign has not responded to calls for comment or sent any materials to PVS.

A Feminist Hears a Who

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 1:52 AM EDT

I was aghast to hear my four year old daughter playing with her dolls the other day. The dolls are not the problem; the story line was. Tuning in and out while she nattered on, I suddenly realized the dialogue went something like this:

First Princess: "Oh no! The evil witch is coming. We need Prince Sean!" (Sean is the boy she's all but stalking at preschool).

Second Princess: "Oh! She'll cut our guts out. Where are the boys? We need boys."

FP: "Girls aren't strongly brave. We shall die! Who will save us? Oh! It's the prince. He'll save us."

All in a high-pitched and annoying ditzy soprano. It got so much worse than this, I had to sit her down for a chat. Where on earth was she getting this stuff?

I pummel her and her 7-year-old brother with feminist analysis of every medium they encounter, from billboards to story books to cereal boxes. I'm a single mom with a freelance career; they watch me struggle and kick ass everyday, all without help from a 'prince.' Yet, my daughter argues furiously with me that only boys are strong and brave and tough. She was actually offended when I called her a tough cookie after she'd done something cool. "I'm not tough, Mom! I'm a girl." Yeah, and if I'm very lucky, someday I'll get to wipe the sweat from your brow as you push out a fetus as big as you were. Then we'll talk about tough.

I know she's just trying to make sense of all the conflicting messages the world is lobbing at her, but overhearing her made me see just how naive I'd been to think my unrelenting feminist harangues would shield her from the world's low expectations of what she can do. Make her doubt herself, no matter what her actual accomplishments. Her four-year-old brain is telling her that she has to choose between feminity and strength. I know. She'll work it out over time. But, boy, was I freaked.

I fight bigotry for a living; surely my kids would be immune to it, right? The light came on when I took them to the movies this weekend.

Iraq Hoarding Oil Revenue While U.S. Pays For Reconstruction

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 2:53 PM EDT

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Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq, in testimony (.pdf) this morning before the Senate Armed Services committee, heralded increased Iraqi investment in its own reconstruction, noting $18 billion in pending budget allocations by the government in Baghdad and assuring lawmakers that "the era of U.S. funded major infrastructure projects is over." This would surely be welcome news to committee chairman Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, if only he could bring himself to believe it.

Levin, along with Senator John Warner (R-Va.), has for months been expressing concern that the U.S. continues to shoulder the majority of Iraq's reconstruction costs at a time when Iraqi oil exports are finally producing sufficient revenue for the Baghdad government to begin shouldering a greater part of the financial burden. Last month, the senators asked the GAO to conduct a study of Iraq's oil business to determine just how much reconstruction spending should be transferred to the Iraqi side. Indeed, basic details such as total Iraqi oil revenues since 2003, how much of it has been spent on reconstruction and security, and how much the Iraqi government has deposited in banks around the world remain unclear, as do projections for expected revenues from oil exports for the coming year.

In their letter to the GAO's David Walker, Levin and Warner cite pre-Iraq invasion assurances from the Bush administration that Iraq would be able to pay for its own reconstruction. "The oil revenues of that country could bring in between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years," Paul Wolfowitz told Congress in March 2003. "We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon." This, of course, like almost every other Bush administration contention, turned out to be untrue. But today, five years after the invasion, Iraqi oil revenues may finally be reaching the levels required to finance major projects. According to Levin and Warner, Iraq is estimated to have netted $41 billion from oil exports in 2007 and is on track to make $56 billion for the current year, for a total exceeding $100 billion over two years—not exactly chump change.

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Hillary Clinton's New Ad Blitz: Some Good, Some Bad

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 12:50 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton is up with five new ads in Pennsylvania. One of them seems to be a product of Mark Penn's departure: her former chief strategist was reportedly opposed to "humanizing" Clinton, and thus would have probably blocked this very good ad:

But the ad's aren't flawless. Look at the text on the screen at the 0:20 second mark in this ad.

Easy joke: maybe Mark Penn was in charge of spell-checking.

Sunni/Shiite Mix Up: Did John McCain Just Do It Again?

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 11:45 AM EDT

Questioning General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in an on-going Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing, John McCain just tried to reaffirm al Qaeda's importance by asking if it was "a minor Shiite group... or minor Sunni group, or anybody else." He was clearly trying to draw out a "no," but that's not the point. The point is that McCain still doesn't seem to understand al Qaeda is a Sunni group.

Most foreign policy experts have known this since the '90s. Those that didn't, found out on 9/12/01. How is McCain doing this over and over and over?

I'm stunned. I'm going to have to check the video when it's available to see if I have this right.

Update: I was close. Here's the transcript:

MCCAIN: Do you still view al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?
PETRAEUS: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was say 15 months ago.
MCCAIN: Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shi'ites overall?
PETREAUS: No.
MCCAIN: Or Sunnis or anybody else.

Video after the jump.

House Republicans Try Wishing Away Housing Crisis

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 10:41 AM EDT

Last month, before members of Congress headed back home for the spring recess, House Republican leaders distributed a "recess kit" to help members for their "district work session." The kit provided members with talking points and reference materials to help them stay on message while dealing with constituents back home. The kit covered such topics as "the urgency of entitlement reform," the "Bipartisan Border Security Discharge Petition," the Columbia Free Trade Agreement, and suggested a variety of strategies for bashing Democrats on taxes. Conspicuously absent, though, was the one issue on everyone's mind right now: the foreclosure crisis.

Even as analysts were predicting that 2 million people were likely to lose their homes, and as the BBC burned up the Internet with its broadcast on "Bushvilles"--the tent cities sprouting up in California, full of former homeowners, Republican House members didn't think the issue warranted much attention. A spokesperson from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office told The Hill that the glaring omission was "appalling." Constituents back home, apparently, set most members straight on the issue.

Protest the Olympics? The Conundrum for San Francisco Liberals

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 12:00 AM EDT

On the surface, San Franciscans seem poised to approach Wednesday's Olympics torch relay much as thousands of progressive activists did on Monday in France: Paris City Hall unfurled its banner supporting human rights "everywhere in the world;" San Francisco Democrat Chris Daly passed his resolution in the city's Board of Supervisors to accept China's torch "with alarm and protest." Nous sommes toutes gauchistes. Or maybe not. Unfortunately, the similarity between Paris and the "Paris of the West" might have less do with politics right now than the prevalence of decent croissants.

Last week, Daly told me he'd begun to detect intimations of a leftist backlash against the Olympics protests. San Francisco activists wondered if challenging China's human rights record made sense when America was occupying Iraq and stuffing bean holes in Gitmo. As mainstream politicians (and some pundits on the Right) have embraced the the idea of protest, the backlash has grown even louder in the comments sections of progressive blogs, on liberal sites such as OpEdNews, and in the conspicuous silence of typical agitators. While the leftist Paris daily Liberation proclaims, "Liberate the Olympic Games," the homepage of the leftist weekly Bay Guardian currently offers no mention of the protests at all (a top headline: "Metal Mania!").

Tomorrow night in San Francisco, the ANSWER Coalition, a national anti-war group, will hold a meeting aimed at convincing activists to stay home during the torch relay. Organizer Nathalie Hrizi sees in the global outrage over China's human rights record the shadowy hand of Bush, Pelosi, and the CIA. In her view, the Dalai Lama is a "member of a feudal aristocracy that had slaves until 1959" and not worth defending. "There is sort of a hysteria being generated about the torch and China," she said. "And it's similar--very similar--to demonization campaigns that the U.S. government has used as a preface to war--for instance, Iraq."