Mojo - June 2008

Minnesota Senate Race Hits an Embarrassing Low

| Mon Jun. 23, 2008 11:51 AM EDT

Maybe you've been following the latest developments in the Franken-Coleman Senate race in Minnesota. Liberal bloggers got worked up last week at the possibility that Coleman's wife Laurie had been green-screened into a odd-looking TV ad. It was further evidence, they said, that the Colemans, who reportedly live apart while Laurie pursues a career in LA as a model and actress, have an unconventional or strained relationship. The video is at right.

But instead of just releasing video clips that make it evident no green-screening was used, the Coleman campaign decided instead to mock the whole situation and Franken himself with a second video, one that looks like it was made by a high-schooler. Is the second Coleman video supposed to be amateurish? Of course. Does it lower the state of the debate and embarrass the campaign anyway? No doubt.

Let's leave the jokes to the professionals, okay Norm?

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"Sons of Iran-Contra": Some Clues in Former CIA Director Tenet's Memoir

| Sun Jun. 22, 2008 2:50 PM EDT

It's instructive to read the recent Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the 2001-2003 meetings between Pentagon officials and Iran contra figures Michael Ledeen and Manucher Ghorbanifar, side by side with the 2007 memoir of former CIA director George Tenet, At the Center of the Storm (Harper Collins, 2007, pp. 311-313). Indeed, doing so fills in a few details that were redacted in the Senate report, and amplifies others.

A couple points jump out in Tenet's account of what he dubs "the Sons of Iran-contra" episode. Chiefly, related to my latest article on signs of a possible federal investigation reviewing the matter, that Tenet writes that CIA lawyers threatened in 2002 to file a crimes report with the Justice Department if the channel to Ghorbanifar persisted. And persisted the channel of course did, for more than a year. Tenet:

On July 11, 2002, a senior CIA officer was told by the ambassador to Italy that Ledeen had called him to say he would be returning to Rome the next month to "continue what he had started." Our Rome representative met with his Italian counterparts and asked them not to provide any assistance to Ledeen unless the ambassador or CIA requested that they do so. A senior CIA lawyer contacted his NSC opposite number and asked whether anyone at the NSC had authorized Ledeen's visit. If not, he suggested, CIA might have to file a "crimes report" with the Justice Department., a requirement when we learn of a possible violation of the law.
About two weeks later, the NSC lawyer contacted CIA to say that Steve Hadley had called Ledeen in and "read him the riot act," telling him to "knock it off." In light of that, he said, they didn't see any need for a crimes report.

But Ledeen, and a Pentagon official Harold Rhode, did not "knock it off." Indeed, Rhode went on to meet with Ghorbanifar in Paris in June 2003 - in a meeting Ghorbanifar, laughing at the absurdity of the claim, told me was not in any way accidental, and which the Senate report further documents was planned (Rhode flew from Turkey to Paris for the meeting), but was not apparently authorized by the White House. There may also have been further meetings between Rhode and Ghorbanifar associates in London, the Senate report documents. And possibly another meeting as well in the fall of 2003, on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Rome, that Ledeen definitely and Rhode possibly attended, according to the Senate report, which was never able to definitively determine if Rhode was there.

Does Investigation of the Pentagon's Channel to an Iran Contra Arms Dealer Continue?

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 7:00 PM EDT

When Democratic members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence presented the final installments of the committee's long-awaited pre-war intelligence investigation to the press earlier this month in the Senate gallery, they demurred when reporters' asked them if they intended to pursue possible charges against Bush administration officials whom the Senators said had exaggerated the case for war based on the intelligence available to them. "Nothing else would get done, on Clean Air, FISA, anything," committee chairman Sen. John "Jay" Rockefeller (D-WV) explained why the committee would not pursue such charges. "If we pressed for that, it would be like impeachment."

But there are signs that further federal investigation of at least one aspect of the committee's inquiry may continue.

Mother Jones has learned that one subject of one of the recent Senate Intelligence committee reports has told associates that he has hired a defense attorney in connection to a federal investigation. Pentagon official Harold Rhode, a long-time civilian employee of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessments, who participated in controversial meetings with Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar in Rome and Paris, did not respond to messages sent to his home and Pentagon emails inquiring about the Senate's report on the Ghorbanifar channel, and questions over a possible federal investigation involving him and the hiring of an attorney. Calls to his home went to a fax machine and he did not answer his Pentagon office phone over the past several days.

The MoveOn Decision: Don't Freak Out

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 3:43 PM EDT

obama-crowd-denver.jpg Barack Obama is not unilaterally disarming.

You can be forgiven for thinking that he is. It's the most natural response when you see the report that MoveOn.org is shutting down it's 527, and raising and spending money only through it's PAC.

In a letter to supporters, MoveOn.org chief Eli Pariser explained the decision:

in light of the new politics offered by Barack Obama, I've come to believe it's time to close the 527 forever—and to challenge organizations on the right to do the same thing.
That means that we won't raise any money for our election work from foundations, unions, or even individuals who want to give over $5,000. It's an all-in commitment to the small-donor way of doing things. But the time is right to take the leap.

Obama got the DNC to give up fundraising from PACs and lobbyists, and now has one of the progressive movement's leading independent groups sacrificing its ability to raise funds through its 527, which can accept big money from labor unions, foundations, and rich donors with fat wallets. Instead, MoveOn will accept money exclusively through its PAC, which can only take money from individuals or groups donating less than $5,000. Are other independent groups next? Will the entire progressive movement neuter itself in a quest to raises its standards to match Obama's?

FISA Amendments Pass

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 2:11 PM EDT

The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 passed moments ago in the House by a vote of 293-129.

Joining the significant majority were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and House Intelligence Committe Chairman Silveste Reyes. An angry John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, opposed it.

The bill will in practice provide legal immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the President Bush's Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) through a provision that will result in the dismissal of lawsuits that might have shined some light on the particulars of the administration's warrantless wiretapping activities. It does mandate an Inspector General report on the particulars of TSP, but whether that mandate survives the president's signing statement pen remains to be seen.

During the floor debate, most of Democrats who supported the legislation pointed to a provision that makes FISA the exclusive arbiter of the nation's wiretapping activities--a provision which will allow the supporters of the bill to express their shock and disappointment when this or any future president decides to ignore the law anyhow.

Now the bill moves over to the Senate where all of these, and other provisions will be debated further.

Helpful Microcosm of Obama v. McCain on Taxes

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 1:28 PM EDT

We've compared Obama and McCain on taxes before, but if you want a neat summary of how heavily weighted McCain's policies are to the rich, check out the charts at the Wonk Room that illustrate how much the presidential candidates and their families will save under their respective tax plans. Did you know John and Cindy McCain will save $373,000 under the McCain tax plan? Barack and Michelle Obama save just $6,100 under the Obama plan.

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What to Make of a Recent Israeli Military Exercise: Interview with Israeli Intel Correspondent

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 12:22 PM EDT

While many people are concerned about whether the Bush administration plans to carry out a parting shot strike on Iran's nuclear program before it leaves office, most policy experts in and out of government I've interviewed think that is unlikely, for a lot of reasons. But the U.S., of course, is not the only actor to consider.

Today came reports that Israel carried out a large-scale military exercise over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece earlier this month that clearly seemed to have Iran in mind. More than 100 F-16 and F-15 fighter planes and rescue helicopters were involved in the Israeli military exercise, according to Pentagon and other US government officials cited in a report today in the New York Times. "Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military's capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran's nuclear program," the paper reported. The exercise was so large, U.S. officials told the paper, it was implied that Israel wanted not only Iran, but the US and other allies, to be aware of it.

I asked Yossi Melman, intelligence correspondent for Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, and co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Iran, how to interpret the reported Israeli military exercise (Israeli officials have not commented on it). I also asked him about Israel's timeline for contemplating a possible go-it-alone strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, should diplomacy, international sanctions and other measures be judged to fail.

The Policy Side of Obama's Public Financing Opt-Out

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 12:00 PM EDT

As David and Jonathan have mentioned, Barack Obama has announced that he will opt-out of the public financing system for the general election.

It seems obvious, as David noted in his article, that Obama's decision was made for political expediency and was not the principled stand his campaign is hoping people will see it as. The media has done a good job of covering the political side of this story. Obama is making a politically expedient decision and essentially going back on his "Yes" answer to a questionnaire that asked whether he would forgo private financing if his opponents did the same. But the other part of this story, the policy side, is sorely missing.

Florida Republican Calls Out McCain on Offshore Drilling

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 11:30 AM EDT

There are so many problems with John McCain's idea that we're going to use offshore drilling to alleviate high gas prices and get us out of our current energy pickle.

First, there isn't all that much oil to be found in the continental United States and sucking it out of the ground won't lower prices substantially. Second, there are no ships available to serve new rigs. Third, oil companies currently have leases for some offshore drilling that they aren't using. Fourth, it will take seven to ten years before we can actually get at the oil off American shores, if we were to start drilling today. Fifth, it presents serious environmental concerns.

It's an ineffective attempt at a quick fix. In so far as it keeps Americans from thinking about and coming to terms with long-term structural changes that will actually solve the energy crisis, it's an incredibly damaging idea.

You don't have to be a Democrat to understand this. Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, a Republican, is calling out McCain:

"For anyone to represent that someone drilling off the coast in Florida is going to lower gas prices here or anywhere in this country is disingenuous and a flawed argument," he said. "Oil drilling could take 10 years before any oil is pulled out of the ground, and there are a large number of leases held by oil companies that are not being exploited now. We can't say we need more until we've exploited those."

H/T Think Progress.

McCain Stretching the Truth in Support of Offshore Drilling Pander

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 11:24 AM EDT

John McCain went before a group of oil execs and reiterated his support for the (potentially successful) offshore drilling pander. To bolster his case about the safety of offshore rigs, he argued that "not even Hurricane Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston."

That's an old conservative myth and it makes for easy blogging. The claim is demonstrably false.

Update: It's pretty offensive that McCain is using Katrina as a political prop, considering his miserable record on hurricane recovery.