Mojo - August 2008

The Hillary Hold-ons: Causing Trouble in Denver and Beyond?

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 12:23 PM EDT

Former Congressman Harold Ford Jr., the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, was standing outside a Walgreen's on 16th Street in downtown Denver yesterday. It was a beautiful afternoon, and scores of his fellow Democrats who had arrived for their party's conventions were strolling up and down the 16th Street Mall, past high-end chain stores and restaurants. It felt like something of a block party. Ford, an African-American who lost a 2006 Senate bid after his foes ran an ad featuring a young white woman noting that Ford had attended a Playboy mansion party and asking him for a date, joyously greeted members of Congress, political operatives, and reporters who happened to pass by. But he did have a worry. A worry regarding Hillary Clinton. Not the Senator herself. But her die-hard supporters. Ford said that he feared that Clinton supporters who had come to Denver to demand Clinton receive the party's presidential nomination--and who were planning demonstrations and events during the week--could cause trouble.

Two blocks away, two of those Clinton supporters were hoping--and planning--exactly for that. Nancy Kirlen, a middle-aged woman from San Diego, and Kathy Skerl, also middle-aged and from Asheville, North Carolina, stood at the entrance to the Sheraton Hotel, where media credentials were being distributed, and enthusiastically told reporters of their intentions to derail the convention.

With Senator Barack Obama recognized by the vast majority of Democrats as the presumptive nominee, with Senator Joe Biden tapped as his running-mate, with no major debates under way about the party platform, the convention appears to be short on news, suspense and conflict. With the exception of one possible plot-line: the revenge of the Hillaryites. Reporters looking for a story have focused on the possible clash between this band of activists and the party.

Their goal--to get Clinton nominated by persuading superdelegates to ditch Obama for her--is certainly far-fetched. The question is, can they create enough sound and fury--amplified or not by the mainstream media--to make it appear that there is significant dissension within the ranks? Outside the Sheraton, Kirlen said she expected thousands of Hillary-backers to take to Denver's streets for a Tuesday march. Skerl lowered expectations, saying the crowd might number in the hundreds. In addition to the march, several other rallies for Hillary are planned before the roll call vote at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday night.

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Biden's Worldview

| Mon Aug. 25, 2008 11:19 AM EDT

Barack Obama's pick for his running mate Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has a more than three decade track record in the Senate on foreign policy and national security issues. I asked a former Senate Foreign Relations committee staff member of his about Biden's worldview and foreign policy sensibilities. "Liberal interventionist," says the former Biden staffer, who asked to speak on background, comfortable with the use of American miliary power, in some contrast perhaps to Obama's inner circle of foreign policy advisors. Here's more of the former staffer's response.

Joe Biden firmly fits into the liberal interventionist school of thought that dominated the Democratic Party during the latter half of the 1990s through 2003. At his core, he is a man comfortable with the use of American military power, as demonstrated by the key role he played in encouraging the Clinton Administration to launch air strikes in the former Yugoslavia, setting the stage for the successful Dayton peace talks and the NATO peacekeeping mission. Biden came of age politically in the 1970's, when he saw first hand what the "Vietnam syndrome" did to the Democratic Party for more than a generation. By no means is Biden a "Scoop Jackson" Democrat, as Joe Lieberman has become. He recognizes that military power is but only one tool in our nation's arsenal, and that soft power plays an equally critical role. However, he is not afraid to advocate for military power where appropriate, as he did correctly in the Balkans, to his regret in Iraq in 2002, and today when it comes to Darfur (the judgment remains out on that score).
Obama's worldview, by contrast, appears to be a work still in progress. In his speeches and writings, Obama has made clear that he is not afraid to exercise the ultimate powers of the Commander in Chief. Indeed, he drew criticism from all sides in the summer of 2007 when he advocated the unilateral use of American military force to go after Al Qaeda in Pakistan if Islamabad would not do the job itself. Yet the fact remains that Obama came of age politically this decade, when we all witnessed the disastrous results of a hasty and ill-thought U.S. military intervention. One cannot deny that this experience will have influenced Obama's thinking when he faces the decision on a future U.S. military intervention.

First Two Questions for Vice Presidential Candidate Biden

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 10:45 AM EDT

(1) You said in the primary campaign that you "don't believe" Barack Obama is "ready" to be president. What has changed your mind?

(2) How do you reconcile your plan for partioning Iraq, which your office said you still support as recently as one week ago, with Barack Obama's withdrawal plan?

Obama Taps Biden: A Conventional But Perhaps Effective Pick

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 9:53 AM EDT

In the end, Barack Obama used unconventional means to announce a conventional choice for his running-mate.

Via a three A.M. text message sent to the cell phones of his supporters, donors and volunteers, Obama's campaign declared that he had chosen Senator Joe Biden, the Delaware Democrat, to be "our" veep nominee. (Three in the morning--was this a dig at Senator Hillary Clinton or just a coincidence?) With this I'll-let-you-know-first gimmick, Obama had snagged millions of cell numbers and email addresses his campaign can use in the weeks ahead to motivate voters and push them to the polls on Election Day. So in purely tactical terms, his running-mate rollout was indeed pioneering and widely successful. What remains to be seen, of course, is whether he made a smart pick by attaching his campaign for change to a fellow who has worked Washington's ways in the Senate for 35 years.

Sometimes going conventional is not the wrong course. During the past weeks of veep-frenzy, Biden's assets and liabilities have been dissected repeatedly. He possesses extensive foreign policy experience (which Obama does not). He can do straight-talk relatively well for a senator (while Obama has been accused of not fully connecting with working-class voters). Then again, Biden has suffered in the past from both verbal diarrhea and gaffe-itis. I've attended many committee hearings in the Senate when Biden turned a question into a long-winded monologue that drove people in the room to want to shout, "Question, Senator, do you have a question?!!" And there are times when Biden's mental filter has switched off and he has said the dumbest thing, such as when he famously called Obama "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." (The Daily Mail headlined its account of Obama's pick this way: "Obama names 'gaffe-prone' Joe Biden as his running mate.")

But Biden is a smart legislator who has shown that he can suppress his own faults when he must. He had a good campaign this past year as a presidential candidate. He won few votes but performed well at the debates and demonstrated he could keep his infamous verbosity under control. At the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, while other Democrats got bogged down in legal jargon practically indecipherable to the average person, Biden peppered Roberts with straightforward questions about Roberts' claim that he merely wanted to be an umpire on the bench who calls constitutional balls and strikes. "Much as I respect your metaphor," Biden countered, "it's not very apt, because you get to determine the strike zone. The founders never set a strike zone." It was the best moment of the hearing.

NYT: Seems to be Biden

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 12:00 AM EDT

With sources telling the AP and others that Virginia governor Tim Kaine and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh have claimed they've been informed it's not them, Obama's choice for vice president seems likely to be Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Obama officials have indicated they'll inform voters of his choice on Saturday morning by text message and email.

CIA contra Suskind: Operation Squelch Congressional Investigation

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 5:11 PM EDT

The CIA has now joined the White House and former CIA director George Tenet in releasing a statement denying explosive charges at the heart of a new book by journalist Ronald Suskind, The Way of the World. In the book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former Wall Street Journal reporter charged that a letter falsely alleging that lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta had trained in Iraq, which was purported to have been written by former Iraqi intelligence chief Tahir Habbush and which was leaked to journalist Con Coughlin who wrote about it in the Sunday Telegraph in December 2003, had materialized as the result of a White House ordered CIA forgery plot. Newsweek quickly exposed the letter as a fake, and it was later revealed that the letter had been passed to Coughlin by an Iraqi exile politician close to the CIA Ayad Allawi, who reportedly happened to be in meetings at Langley around the time Suskind claimed the White House directive came down. So how did the letter purported to be from Habbush with the discredited claims come to be? In a statement today, the CIA writes:

Suskind claims that, in September 2003, the White House ordered then-Director George Tenet to fabricate a letter describing a level of cooperation between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida that simply did not exist. The White House has denied making that request, and Director Tenet has denied receiving it. The former Agency officers Suskind cites in his narrative have, for their part, publicly denied being asked to carry out such a mission.
Those denials are powerful in and of themselves. But they are also backed by a thorough, time-consuming records search within CIA and by interviews with other officers—senior and junior alike—who were directly involved in Iraq operations. To assert, as Suskind does, that the White House would request such a document, and that the Agency would accept such a task, says something about him and nothing about us. It did not happen. Moreover, as the public record shows, CIA had concluded—and conveyed to our customers—that the ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida were not as close as some believed.

Tenet released a new statement today too that closely tracks with the CIA denial and was apparently coordinated.

The timing is interesting. Just this week, the House Judiciary committee moved forward with plans to investigate Suskind's claims, issuing letters to several of the participants named asking them to testify. As a reader friend suggests, whether Suskind got details in his account wrong or not, "there can be no doubt whatsoever that what motivated this statement by CIA echoed by Tenet's new statement is an effort to scare off and squelch Congress from pursuing its investigation."

Suskind has said in media appearances that he wants the officials involved to testify under oath. He has also posted the partial transcript of an interview with Rob Richer, a former top CIA official he cites as telling him about the White House order on Habbush. Richer has denied the account took place as Suskind reported it. But his denial is carefully worded. And as my reader friend notes, "Richer's comments on the record on Suskindresponse contradict the CIA's official response, insofar as he simply acknowledges as a fact Habbush's defection while CIA acts like it knows nothing about it and as far as it is concerned Habbush is still a wanted man."

Let's see if Operation Squelch Congressional Investigation succeeds.

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"Houses" Releases the Creativity/Photoshopping Skills of the Blogs

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 3:15 PM EDT

People will have their fun.

mccain_haz_7_houses.jpg

mccaincribs1.jpg mccaincribs2.jpg

Hey, it's a Friday afternoon. We're just biding our time until the big news. Go find an adult beverage.

Lobbyist Linked to NRA Spy Caper Co-Chairs McCain's Sportsmen's Committee

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 2:22 PM EDT

Earlier this week, ABC News reported that the McCain campaign was seeking to distance itself from adviser James Jay Baker, a onetime NRA official and current lobbyist for the gun rights group, who is reportedly a member of McCain's "kitchen cabinet." Questioned by ABC, the campaign played down his involvement, describing him as a "high level volunteer."

It stands to reason why the campaign would want to draw a wide berth around Baker. Until 2002, Baker was the executive director of the NRA's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. During his tenure, the ILA engaged the services of a now defunct private security firm, Beckett Brown, which specialized in spying on activist groups. Beckett Brown's point of contact at ILA was Baker's deputy, Patrick O'Malley. O'Malley also served as an NRA contact for Mary Lou Sapone, who, as Mother Jones reported in July, is a freelance spy who infiltrated the gun control movement from more than a decade on behalf of the gun lobby. When we contacted Baker seeking comment on Sapone's work for the NRA, he said, "I don't have anything to say about any vendors at the NRA." And while maintaining that he had no knowledge of any efforts to penetrate the gun control movement while he was at the NRA, he added: "We got information from whatever sources we can." The NRA has refused to comment on the Sapone story, declining to explain any possible relationship between the ILA and Sapone.

Four-Day School Weeks: For Real Now

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 12:45 PM EDT

schoolbus-gas.jpgAbout a month ago, I wrote that a handful of school districts—due to rising fuel costs—said they could save thousands of dollars in school bus fuel by switching to four-day school weeks. Apparently things have really ramped up since then.

A recent survey says that 1 in 7 school boards nationwide are considering whether to drop a day off the normal five-day school week. About half surveyed said they were planning to cut out field trips, and more than 30% said they were consolidating or eliminating bus routes.

We've been down this road before. During the oil crisis of the 1970s about 100 districts implemented a four-day week also. One small study in Florida in 1973 found that half the students preferred it (Heck yeah: three-day weekends!).

But gas prices aren't the only issue: a shaky economy and some state budge woes led some districts to switch to a four-day week as many as four years ago.

Find Out Where a Gas Tax Holiday Might Have Some Serious Appeal...

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 12:37 PM EDT

When you're done checking out our cool interactive map of America's global military footprint, check out this cool interactive map of global gas prices.

Some of the facts are really remarkable. Citizens of Scandinavia pay almost $10 a gallon and the Turks, who labor under a 72 percent gas tax, pay $11.18. Meanwhile, residents of Turkmenistan pay just $0.76 per gallon, and the first 32 gallons each month are free. Comparatively speaking, we get off pretty easy. (Via Andrew.)