Mojo - September 2008

Group Behind Controversial Anti-Islam DVD Identified

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 12:44 PM EDT

The Inter Press Service reports on a previously unidentified group spearheading the distribution of a controversial DVD, "Obsession," being circulated to as many as 28 million voters with their newspaper delivery. Critics charge the film is anti-Islamic propaganda, and one newspaper, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, has refused to distribute it.

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On Iraq's Northern Front, Echoes of Georgia?

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 12:44 PM EDT

The following post is from occasional contributor Douglas Macgregor, an independent military strategist, retired Army colonel, and author of Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century.

Evidence is piling up that the Turkish government will commit its armed forces against the de facto Kurdish state in Northern Iraq sooner rather than later. During his trip to Ankara last week, Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was assaulted with questions from Turkish authorities about Kurdish activities in Kirkuk designed to drive out the remaining Arabs and establish Kurdish control over Iraq's northern oil and gas resources.

What most Americans don't know is that the Turkish government has tried to negotiate a settlement with the Kurds through its new Special Envoy for Iraq, Murat Ozcelik. People who know Ozcelik insist he is the best person to negotiate Turkey's peace with the Kurds. Unfortunately, his Kurdish counterpart, Massoud Barzani, has turned out to be a fool who thinks he leads a pan-Kurdish movement inside Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

Bailout in Trouble?

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 12:07 PM EDT

I'll leave the debating of its merits and flaws to others. But a Hill staffer friend writes today to say the proposed administration bailout plan or variations thereof is in far more trouble on the Hill than media coverage is reflecting.

"I'm telling you, the coverage is not reflecting how much trouble a bailout is in in Congress. The leadership wants it to happen, and maybe it will. But I think [reporters] are getting their stories from leadership, plus the White House, who all want it to happen and play down opposition. But things are ugly, the rank and file - there's just no way they are going to vote for this crap. It just seems to me the bailout is in deep, deep trouble.

"No way it's going to pass," he added in a later email. "It seems impossible. Maybe we will get lucky, we get through the election, the meltdown proceeds apace, and somebody comes up with a save that does not look like - and is not - a bailout for rich Wall Street malefactors. But that is the sine qua non."

Update: Some press reports suggest that Senate Democrats have reached a deal with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, that could be announced Thursday.

Hill friend comments, "Look, we will see, it will be very interesting. One of two things is possible, but not both: either 1) the leadership knows what it is doing, and has some reason to be confident that their plan will pass (they've done whip counts etc) .... OR 2) the leadership has disastrously failed to understand where the caucus stands, despite getting chewed out by rank and file members, they just don't realize that members are really and truly going to vote against it. And that will be an all around disaster. One can hope they know something I do not, and there will be no disaster." Can vulnerable incumbents vote for it?

McCain, Champion Deregulator (Now in Video)

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 11:46 AM EDT

I've been saying for days now that McCain's current pro-regulation posture flies in the face of a career's worth of deregulation-friendly positions and statements. Well, now that argument is being made in video form. Enjoy.

Davis Death Watch Begins... Now!

| Wed Sep. 24, 2008 10:23 AM EDT

A half dozen news outlets have the story today of the dirty dealing of John McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis. It appears Freddie Mac kept Davis' firm, Davis Manafort, on contract to the tune of $15,000 a month up until Freddie was bailed out by the federal government and its lobbying contracts were forcibly dissolved.

What did Davis and his firm do for Freddie? Nothing. He was kept around explicitly because of his proximity to McCain.

Newsweek explains that after Davis' arrangement with the Homeownership Alliance, a lobbying group funded by Freddie and Fannie that was headed by Davis and fought for less regulation, was nixed, Davis went to Freddie to get more cash.

Davis himself approached Freddie Mac in 2006 and asked for a new consulting arrangement that would allow his firm to continue to be paid. The arrangement was approved by Hollis McLoughlin, Freddie Mac's senior vice president for external relations, because "[Davis] was John McCain's campaign manager and it was felt you couldn't say no," said one of the sources.

It appears Davis got paid exclusively because of his connections to McCain, who was widely perceived as running for president in a few short years. He didn't do any actual work to earn the $15,000 a month. Again, Newsweek:

Freddie Mac has had no contact with Davis Manafort other than receiving monthly invoices from the firm and paying them.

The account is bolstered by the New York Times:

[Sources] said they did not recall Mr. Davis's doing much substantive work for the company in return for the money, other than to speak to a political action committee of high-ranking employees in October 2006 on the approaching midterm Congressional elections. They said Mr. Davis's firm, Davis Manafort, had been kept on the payroll because of his close ties to Mr. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, who by 2006 was widely expected to run again for the White House.

Oh, and the Times makes sure to note:

No one at Davis Manafort other than Mr. Davis was involved in efforts on Freddie Mac's behalf, the people familiar with the arrangement said.

The fact that Davis exploited his positions within McCain's inner circle for financial gain is bad enough. But don't forget that: (1) McCain has fingered lobbyists as central players in Fannie and Freddie's failures and in the financial industry meltdown. Yet one of his top people very recently played that role. And (2) McCain was asked about Davis' work with the Homeownership Alliance in an interview Sunday and responded that Davis "has had nothing to do with it since." That's false. Either McCain was lying or Davis lied to McCain.

So... Davis gets fired when?

Yes, Joe Biden's Helicopter Really Was "Forced Down" in Afghanistan

| Tue Sep. 23, 2008 4:31 PM EDT

One of the narratives the blogs are talking about this week is that Joe Biden is—gasp!—"gaffe-prone." Nevermind the fact that this has been the story about Biden for 30 years: now journalists are even finding gaffes where none exist. In a post on The Stump exploring Biden's unfortunate attack on his own campaign's ad, Michael Crowley claims that this Joe Biden anecdote is a "gaffe":

"If you want to know where Al Qaeda lives, you want to know where Bin Laden is, come back to Afghanistan with me. Come back to the area where my helicopter was forced down, with a three-star general and three senators at 10,500 feet in the middle of those mountains. I can tell you where they are.

In an unsigned follow-up post on The Plank (accompanied by an awful Slate-style "gaffe meter"), someone claims that this quote "could teeter into Hillary-in-Bosnia territory." But what exactly is wrong or misleading or inaccurate about Biden's story? The Jake Tapper post Crowley links to is an admirably straightforward fact-check of the story—it turns out Biden's helicopter was forced down by a snowstorm. But did Biden say the helicopter was "forced down under fire" or even "shot at"? No. And Tapper points out that Biden went on, saying this:

[John McCain] says he'll follow [Al Qaeda] to the gates of hell. You don't have to go to hell. Just go to Pakistan. Just go to that area. That superhighway of terror that exists between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Biden's right on in the rest of the quote, too: As far as we know Al Qaeda and bin Laden are in what Biden calls, "That superhighway of terror that exists between Afghanistan and Pakistan."

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So Sarah Palin is Meeting With World Leaders...

| Tue Sep. 23, 2008 4:25 PM EDT

You'd think this is something the McCain campaign would be excited to broadcast to the world, right? You tell me. They let the press observe a meeting between Palin and Afghan President Hamid Karzai for 29 seconds. The press then got 15-20 seconds of a meeting between Palin and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Hmm.

Oh, hey, just FYI? This person might be elected vice president of the United States in less than six weeks.

Obama's Lame New "Bermuda" Ad

| Tue Sep. 23, 2008 2:30 PM EDT

The Obama campaign released this ad today and held a press conference outside the RNC to gin up news coverage of it.

I don't understand why the Obama campaign is running this ad.

I can't wrap my brain around the fact that they are airing an ad this frivolous, low-budget, and general crappy. But that's not my point. I don't understand why they are running this ad now, with all the other news that ought to be focused on. Does anyone care about offshore tax shelters and John McCain's vacation to Bermuda right now? With the Congress debating how to use a sum of money the size of the annual federal budget to keep the American economy from collapsing?

Is the Obama campaign trying to dilute a news cycle that it is benefiting from?

Montgomery McFate Speaks (Sorta)

| Tue Sep. 23, 2008 2:11 PM EDT

The latest issue of Wired carries a piece on Montgomery McFate, the Harvard and Yale educated anthropologist—and onetime go-go dancer—who is one of the primary forces behind the army's controversial Human Terrain Program. The $130 million program, which has been sharply criticized [PDF] by the American Anthropological Association, among others, on ethical grounds, aims to bring cultural understanding to military units operating in Afghanistan and Iraq by embedding social scientists with combat detachments. The article largely focuses on McFate's Human Terrain work, though there was one paragraph that jumped out for me, as it relates to the story we ran in late July, disclosing that for more than a decade a freelance spy named Mary Lou Sapone (also known as Mary McFate) had infiltrated the inner sanctum of the gun control movement. Montgomery McFate is Sapone's daughter-in-law—she once went by Montgomery Sapone—and, according records we obtained, she and her husband Sean McFate (a/k/a Sean Sapone) for some time worked for his mother's private intelligence business.

Wired reports:

McFate herself has drawn fire from others in her field who say she's more spy than scholar. Revelations that nearly a decade ago she worked for her mother-in-law, who allegedly infiltrated left-wing groups on behalf of their opponents, have fed the outrage. (McFate says she researched broad policy topics and that her mother-in-law — from whom she has been estranged for many years—never disclosed her clientele.)

Paulson Faces Skepticism From Senate Banking Committee

| Tue Sep. 23, 2008 2:10 PM EDT

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson faced a tough crowd Monday in the Senate. Appearing before the Senate Banking Committee with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Paulson withstood criticism from Senators on both sides of the aisle who were almost universally skeptical of his bailout plan and the short timeframe in which he wants to see it passed.

Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) said that Paulson's three-page plan, which asks for $700 billion to buy distressed assets from failed banks but contains no provisions for oversight and demands little in return from financial institutions receiving aid, was "hastily concocted." Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) said Congress "must not give Treasury a blank check." Echoing senators from both parties, he said, "we must do more to keep people in their homes."

The suspicion surrounding Paulson's plan was bipartisan. While everyone agreed that a bailout was necessary, senators from both parties asked Paulson and Bernanke why Congress was being asked to "rush into" a bailout. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) demanded to know why Congress had just a week to allocate $700 billion dollars or face financial Armageddon. Who was supposed to see this coming? he asked. And why didn't they?