Mojo - August 2008

Frightening Invasions of Privacy Allowed at the Border

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 1:59 PM EDT

A few years back, I was driving from Vancouver to Seattle with an old high school friend. At the border, we were stopped by an American border agent who asked us some standard questions, then opened the trunk of our car to take a look around. I became alarmed when I heard a familiar series of slow, regular beeps and realized that the agent was clicking through photos on the digital camera in my duffel bag. It felt obviously illegal — there was no cause whatsoever for turning on an electronic device and looking at pictures taken days, weeks, or months earlier.

I complained to friends afterwards, but didn't think much of it. Now I realize it was part of official United States government policy:

Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop computer or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed.
Also, officials may share copies of the laptop's contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement...

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USS Cole Suspect Killed in Missile Strike; Bin Laden Deputy Injured?

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 12:45 PM EDT

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A senior Al Qaeda commander believed to have trained the suicide bombers who attacked the USS Cole was killed July 28 in a missile strike on his hideout in Pakistan's tribal region, according to news reports (here and here). Abu Khabab al-Masri, an Egpytian, had a $5-million price on his head at the time of his death, which was confirmed Sunday by a news release on an Al Qaeda-affiliated website. Al-Masri's bio, as described in this morning's Wall Street Journal:

A chemist by training, Mr. Masri started in al Qaeda as a bomb maker but branched out into the development of biological and chemical weapons after the terror group settled in Afghanistan in the 1990s. There he was entrusted with part of al Qaeda's so-called yogurt project to develop weapons of mass destruction, and operated a training camp in the village of Derunta. He tried unsuccessfully to develop an anthrax weapon and, with Dr. Zawahri, tried to develop poisons that could kill more quickly by mixing them with chemicals that caused them to be absorbed into the skin more rapidly.
It isn't clear how much of the research bore results, though U.S. authorities said Mr. Masri did gas some dogs at the Derunta training camp. U.S. authorities said he provided hundreds of mujahedeen with hands-on training in the use of poisons and explosives and distributed training manuals showing how to make chemical and biological weapons.

Al Qaeda acknowledged that three other commanders were killed in the strike, all identified by pseudonyms including the name "al-Masri," which in Arabic means Egyptian. Their true identities are unknown, but an Al Qaeda communication intercepted by CBS News might shed some light on at least one of them. A letter bearing the signature and personal seal of Pakistani Taliban leader Beitullah Mehsud urgently requests a doctor for Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian who is Al Qaeda's number two leader, often pictured alongside Osama Bin Laden. Mehsud wrote that al-Zawahiri is in "severe pain" and "his injuries are infected." Experts have confirmed the missive's authenticity, but when news of the letter was reported, Al Qaeda issued a denial, claiming that al-Zawahiri was not among those injured in the July 28 missile strike.

Obama Learns: What's Bad for the Brand Is Good for the Pocketbook

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 12:23 PM EDT

One of 2008's political axioms has been proven yet again.

Over and over in the Democratic primary, candidates would have their best fundraising periods right after a crucial primary loss (or, in one notable case, right after the candidate was forced to make a sizable loan to the campaign), leading me and others to observe that in presidential fundraising nowadays, nothing succeeds like failure.

Late last Friday, Marc Ambinder observed it in effect yet again. Apparently, all the McCain ads that have been beating Obama up are driving more donors, new and old, to give to Obama.

The Town Hall Idea Dies: An Opportunity Wasted for Obama?

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 9:07 AM EDT

Many months ago, the McCain campaign tried to push for a regular schedule of joint town halls that would replace the standard presidential election paradigm of three formal debates between the conventions and the general election. The Obama campaign suggested that it was interested, and back in those naive months of spring it seemed like the town halls were an example of where an Obama-McCain election, contested between two practitioners of politics-as-unusual, would break the mold.

Nope. The Obama campaign, realizing that it would be wise to do nothing that jeopardizes its lead, sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates (the what now?) agreeing to three debates on September 26, October 7, and October 15. The campaign also agreed to the standard vice presidential debate.

The letter, written by David Plouffe, appears to rule out the possibility of more debates, saying, "Due to the late date of the two parties' nominating conventions, and the relatively short period between the end of the conventions and the first proposed date, it is likely that the four Commission debates will be the sole series of debates in the fall campaign."

You Don't Understand. Joe Lieberman Wants to Be a Uniter

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 8:38 AM EDT

I'm back from two weeks in Africa and what better way to get back in the saddle than by nailing Joe Lieberman for being a hypocrite and a phony? On Meet the Press, Lieberman discussed the possibility of speaking at the Republican convention by saying, "If Sen. McCain feels that I can help his candidacy…I will do it." But he insisted his motives are pure:

I'm going to go to a partisan convention and tell them — if I go — why it's so important that we start to act like Americans and not as partisan mudslingers.

For some reason, I don't know that I believe Joe. Maybe it's because he once speculated that Obama is a socialist, despite the fact that after serving with Obama in the Senate for three years, he must know he isn't. Or that he once suggested electing Barack Obama would lead to an attack on America, because terrorists would try to test a new president as unprepared as Obama supposedly is. Or that he pushed the Obama-is-endorsed-by-Hamas nonsense and said it "suggests the difference between these two candidates." Or that he actually believes (or is willing to say publicly) that Obama is choosing to lose the Iraq War.

That sounds like an awful lot of bad faith and mudslinging from a guy who plans on going to the Republican convention as an envoy for comity and bipartisanship. Also, for the record, if Joe Lieberman fancies himself such an effective advocate for clean, friendly politics, maybe he could have a word with the man he's shilling for.

It feels good to be back in my "mother's basement and ranting into the ether."

Former Gun Control Colleagues 'Shocked' by Mary Lou Sapone's 'Malicious Duplicity'

| Fri Aug. 1, 2008 6:14 PM EDT

States United to Prevent Gun Violence, where gun lobby spy Mary Lou Sapone served until recently as the director of federal legislation—the organization's chief federal lobbyist on gun control issues—has issued a press release on the "malicious duplicity" of their former colleague:

Members of States United to Prevent Gun Violence were profoundly disturbed to learn of the malicious duplicity of a longtime gun violence prevention activist. An investigative article published online on the Mother Jones web site reported that Mary McFate, the legislative director for States United to Prevent Gun Violence, was in actuality a mole for the gun lobby.

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Alleged Anthrax Attacker Commits Suicide

| Fri Aug. 1, 2008 11:59 AM EDT

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Bruce E. Ivins, an anthrax scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, died Tuesday at a hospital in Frederick, Maryland, after ingesting a massive dose of prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine. He was 62. According to the Los Angeles Times, he was among the nation's leading experts on the military uses of anthrax. A native of Lebanon, Ohio, Ivins received his doctorate in microbiology from the University of Cincinatti, had worked in the Fort Detrick laboratory for 18 years, and, in 2003, was honored with the Pentagon's highest civilian award for resolving technical problems afflicting the Army's anthrax vaccine. He sat on USAMRIID's protocol and animal rights committees. He lived in a small white house near the laboratory with his wife. And on Sundays, he played keyboards at his church. He also, according to the FBI, is the man responsible for the anthrax attacks of 2001.

Ivins' apparent suicide occurred after he learned that the Department of Justice was preparing to file criminal charges against him for mailing a series of anthrax-laden letters in fall of 2001 that killed five people, sickened another 17, interrupted mail service, and shut down a contaminated Senate building for several months.