Mojo - August 2008

A Senator Presses the NRA for Information on the Gun Lobby Mole

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 3:36 PM EDT

So far the National Rifle Association's reaction to the Mother Jones investigation that revealed that a NRA-connected mole had penetrated the gun control community for 15 years has been nothing but silence. No matter which media outfit asks the gun lobby for a comment--ABC News, Associated Press, Mother Jones--the NRA declines to say anything. It just refuses to explain its connection to Mary Lou Sapone, the self-described "research consultant" who infiltrated various gun control groups under the name of Mary McFate. As we first reported, a onetime business associate of Sapone said during a deposition that the NRA was a client for Sapone.

Why won't the NRA speak? Can anyone compel it to respond to the Sapone story?

Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, is the first in Congress to give it a try. On Thursday, he sent a letter to John Sigler, the president of the NRA:

I write regarding Mother Jones' recent expose of a reported National Rifle Association (NRA) operative who infiltrated a number of gun violence prevention organizations. This story contains serious allegations and I urge you to address them quickly.
According to Mother Jones, Mary McFate spent more than a decade rising through the ranks at several gun violence prevention organizations, including CeaseFire PA, Freedom States Alliance and States United to Prevent Gun VIolence. At the same time, however, McFate--going by the name Mary Lou Sapone--reportedly was a paid "research consultant" for the NRA. As a result, McFate/Sapone was in a position to learn about, and to report back to the NRA on, the concerns, plans and strategies of various gun violence prevention groups.
In light of these serious charges, I call upon you to immediately:
* Admit whether these charges are true or false;
* If these charges are true, disclose the precise nature of the NRA's relationship with Mary McFate/Mary Lou Sapone, including how much she was paid, the time periods for which she received payment and the services she provided;
* Make public the names (including any aliases) of any other NRA employees, consultants, members, or volunteers who have joined gun violence prevention organizations in order to report to the NRA on their activities; and
* Denounce and discontinue the practice of asking or encouraging NRA employees, consultants, members and volunteers to infiltrate gun violence prevention groups.
Although the NRA and I certainly have had our disagreements over the years, I hope that we can agree that the gun violence prevention debate should be based upon an open and honest exchange of ideas, not on underhanded tactics.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Lautenberg also sent copies of this letter to Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, and Chris Cox, who heads the NRA's political arm.

Will Lautenberg receive a prompt reply of any substance? As an advocate of gun control measures, Lautenberg is indeed not one of the NRA's favorite legislators. But can the gun lobby ignore his request for information about its involvement in the McFate/Sapone episode? And if it does tell him to get lost, what might happen next? But whatever occurs, the NRA's silence up to now hardly allays suspicions about its role in the McFate operation.

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"I Got Your Pledge of Allegiance RIGHT HERE"

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 3:11 PM EDT

Back before he went all crazy and started going pink-faced crazy on people at campaign events, Bill Clinton was pretty good at handling hecklers. It's one of those random skills you have to learn if you're going to run for president, I guess.

Well, Obama took a fairly novel approach to a heckler on Tuesday. He just gave the guy what he wanted. Check it out.

Photographer insists on Pledge of Allegiance before Obama rally

Okay, This Illustrates the Silliness of Polls

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 2:56 PM EDT

Under the short but entirely appropriate heading of "WTF?" Wonkette observes that the Lifetime Network actually commissioned a poll to ask women voters... well, I'll let Wonkette explain.

"NEW YORK (Reuters) - Women would rather carpool or go on vacation with Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama than with his Republican rival John McCain, a new poll of U.S. women voters showed on Tuesday." What the fuck does this even mean? "Carpooling" and "vacationing" are two very distinct acts. So they have asked women across the country, basically, which candidate they would rather schlep to pre-school or, conversely, go to the Jersey Shore with.

And that's relevant how? Lifetime commissioned the poll as part of its "Every Woman Counts" campaign, which seeks to increase engagement in politics by women. Is it making the incredibly patronizing suggestion that women's voting behavior is informed by which candidate they would rather take on a beach getaway? As opposed to, say, the candidates' energy platforms?

We'll know even more after the Golf Channel's poll on which candidate male voters want to snap towels with at the Elks Lodge. Thanks, Lifetime!

Illustrating the Silliness of Polls

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 12:05 PM EDT

Over at Open Left, they've noted something about national polls in the general election. Specifically, they've found that two of the most famous polling companies, Rasmussen and Gallup, consistently poll a closer race everyone else. In the 34 Gallup and Rasmussen polls taken since the general election began, Obama has been up an average of 2.2%. In all the polls taken by 11 other polling companies, Obama has been up 5.4%.

Most times a Gallup or Rasmussen poll comes out, it fuels the conventional wisdom that Obama is under-performing because he is locked into a dogfight in a election season heavily favoring Democrats. As a result, everyone from the media to committed Democrats freak out.

It's nonsense. The counterfactuals could easily go in either direction. If Gallup and Rasmussen were more in line with everyone else, Obama would be seen as having a thin but comfortable lead. If a few more polling companies were like G & R, McCain might even be winning. The lesson? Don't freak out and don't get overconfident either. Things on the whole are better for Obama than the media's evaluation of his performance suggests (after all, as Nate Silver noted, "If you had told a Democrat a year ago that, on the last day of July, their candidate would be ahead in Ohio and Florida, well ahead in Pennsylvania , way ahead in California, tied in Montana, within single digits in a couple of states that went really red in 2000 and 2004, they'd be pretty thrilled with that set of polling.") but things can change at any moment, and have in the past.

Musharraf to Face Impeachment Proceedings

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 11:05 AM EDT

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Today, at a press conference in Islamabad, the leaders of Pakistan's ruling parties announced the decision to pursue impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani general and US terror-war ally who seized power over the country in a 1999 coup. Asif Ali Zadari of the Pakistan People's Party and Narwaz Sharif of the PML-N, the leaders of an uneasy ruling coalition that defeated Musharraf's allies in February's national election, reached agreement on the impeachment after three days of talks. "We have good news for democracy," Zardari declared. "The coalition believes it is imperative to move for impeachment against General Musharraf." It will be the first impeachment process in Pakistani political history.

After his party's loss in the February election, Musharraf gave up his military commission, but retained the power to dissolve parliament—a step he could now take to head off his impeachment. He has not yet issued a public statement on today's events. And despite widely circulated reports that he had decided to remain in Pakistan to manage the political crisis, Musharraf's staff announced today that he will attend the opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics on Friday evening.

A Brief History of Claims the White House Has Called "Absurd"

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 11:03 AM EDT

This week, after a new book by journalist Ron Suskind reported that the White House had ordered the CIA to plant a forged letter that alleged that 9/11 lead hijacker Mohammad Atta had trained extensively in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a White House spokesman called Suskind's allegation "absurd."

"The notion that the White House directed anyone to forge a letter from [former Iraqi intelligence chief] Habbush to Saddam Hussein is absurd," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Today, washingtonpost.com columnist Dan Froomkin lays out a brief history of other recent White House statements calling past allegations similarly absurd. Froomkin:

Fratto's response is also highly reminiscent of some previous White House non-denials.
One of my favorites has always been former press secretary Scott McClellan's response to a British press report in 2005, to the effect that Bush had raised with British Prime Minister Tony Blair the idea of bombing al-Jazeera television headquarters. All McClellan would say about that is: "Any such notion that we would engage in that kind of activity is just absurd."

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Dems Hitting McCain Hard on Lobbyist Ties

| Wed Aug. 6, 2008 9:02 PM EDT

Democrats began today what is sure to become a long-term campaign of attacking McCain for his ties to lobbyists. Democrats seek to target McCain's reliance on lobbyists for fund raising and, frequently, upper-level staffing.

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The Democratic National Committee launched a strategy today of using images—always tinged deep Republican red—to disseminate the idea that McCain is owned by big oil. One such image, a fake check for $2 million from "Exxon and friends" comes on the heels of some suspicious donations from Hess employees.

The campaign finance watchdog group, Public Campaign Action Fund, also piled on today, launching a website dedicated to cataloging McCain's lobbyist ties.

Future President Paris Hilton Responds to McCain Ad

| Wed Aug. 6, 2008 2:30 PM EDT

Paris Hilton, never one to pass up an opportunity to display money or pander for attention, has produced a video response to Sen. McCain's attack ad comparing Sen. Obama with Hilton.

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

The helpful wonks over at The New Republic actually fact-checked Hilton's energy spiel (slow news week, guys?), so check that out if you want. Ok, so maybe she won't be our next Secretary of Energy—and she's not that funny, either.

But, unlike the two senators actually running for the most important job in the free world, she demonstrates a working knowledge of satire and the ability to make a simple joke without offending the entire English-speaking world. With both candidates gaffing their way through the summer, Republicans protesting in dark, empty rooms, and Democrats plotting secret back-room strategies that get immediately leaked, Paris Hilton may actually be the political MVP of these first few days of August.

And that is the state of American politics today. How long until Rasmussen starts tracking her in the polls?

—Max Fisher

Hamdan Guilty on One Count

| Wed Aug. 6, 2008 1:52 PM EDT

Salim Hamdan, he who will always be detained, was found guilty of one charge today, providing material support for terrorism. Considering Hamdan never denied he was Osama bin Laden's driver, it's stunning that it took the United States government seven years to get this verdict. Here's an interesting point from Ken Gude, Associate Director of the International Rights and Responsibility Program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund:

The worst aspect of this whole episode is that the Bush administration has completely devalued the concept of a war criminal. War crimes should be reserved for the most serious offenses and war crimes trials are extraordinary. Charles Taylor is a war criminal. Radovan Karazdic is a war criminal. Salim Hamdan is a chauffer. He is clearly guilty of the crime of material support for terrorism. But now he has been elevated to the status of warrior, legitimizing al Qaeda terrorists' belief that they are waging a holy war against the United States and our allies.
We waited seven years to convict a low-level al Qaeda figure of a crime he never denied.

Ivins Accused FBI of Stalking; Investigation Details Forthcoming, Says FBI

| Wed Aug. 6, 2008 10:25 AM EDT

In the absence of specific evidence linking Bruce Ivins to the anthrax attacks, there is gathering speculation that the FBI's case against him might not be as strong as first thought. To be sure, the circumstantial case is there, but Steven Hatfill will tell you: circumstantial evidence doesn't always lead in the right direction. According to NPR, the Department of Justice could be preparing to put doubts to rest by releasing the details of its case against Ivins, perhaps as early as today.

In the meantime, reports are emerging that before his suicide Ivins had accused the FBI of stalking him and his family. This included, Ivins claimed, offering his son $2.5 million to give evidence against Ivins and attempting to turn his hospitalized daughter against him. From the Associated Press:

Ivins complained privately that FBI agents had offered his son, Andy, the money plus "the sports car of his choice" late last year if he would turn over evidence implicating his father in the 2001 anthrax attacks, according to a former U.S. scientist who described himself as a friend of Ivins.
Ivins also said the FBI confronted Ivins' daughter, Amanda, with photos of victims of the anthrax attacks and told her, "This is what your father did," according to the scientist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The scientist said Ivins was angered by the FBI's alleged actions, which he said included following Ivins' family on shopping trips.
The FBI declined to describe its investigative techniques of Ivins.

UPDATE: The Justice Department has released a file of court documents related to the investigation. Read them for yourself.