Mojo - January 2009

White House Replica in Foreclosure

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 12:59 PM EST

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It's not the real thing, but it's about as close as most of us will ever get. Iranian-American developer Fred Milani, citing the dismal state of the housing market, is putting his 16,500 square-foot replica of the White House in Atlanta up for sale. "I don't want to sell, but I will," he told UPI. The house is apparently in foreclosure. No word on whether the faux-White House comes with a staff of butlers and chefs. But hey, you'll just have to make do.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from wharman.

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Updated Senate Phone List Erases Norm Coleman

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 12:09 PM EST

The Democratic Senate leadership is doing everything it can to pretend that Norm Coleman doesn't exist. It shut down his Capitol Hill office earlier this week, and a Senate source provides Mother Jones with a copy of an updated phone list (pdf) sent out Thursday by the Sargeant-at-Arms that makes no mention of the mostly-defeated Coleman.

Coleman's term officially expired over the weekend, and Al Franken hasn't been sworn in, meaning that Minnesota has only one senator on the list.

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Corn on Bloggingheads.tv: Will Congress Treat Panetta Like a Pinata?

| Thu Jan. 8, 2009 11:44 AM EST

On this episode of Bloggingheads.tv, David Corn and James Pinkerton discuss why the Panetta pick could set up a nasty confirmation fight. Watch:

Why CIA chief is a lousy job:

A Question on Burris

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 4:21 PM EST

Does anyone know his positions on anything? Just asking.

Criminal Investigation Into Destroyed CIA Tapes Coming to a Close?

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 3:55 PM EST

For over a year, a federal prosecutor has been quietly conducting a criminal probe into the CIA's destruction of videotapes documenting the interrogations of Al Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The tapes showed the terrorism suspects being subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, possibly waterboarding, and were reportedly destroyed in 2005 due to concerns the videos could prompt legal blowback against agency officials. According to a recent court filing [PDF], the investigation into the matter may soon be coming to close.

Steven Aftergood points us to a declaration filed by John Durham, the US Attorney who's leading the investigation, in a related Freedom of Information Act case. In that case, the James Madison Project, a DC-based nonprofit headed by whistleblower lawyer Mark Zaid, is seeking access to CIA documents pertaining to the destruction of the tapes. Durham was seeking—and on Monday received—a stay in the FOIA case in order to give his team time to wrap up remaining interviews. But it won't be long, he told the court. "Investigators are now in the process of scheduling interviews with the remaining witnesses to be interviewed in this investigation," he wrote in the December 31 filing. "Based on the investigative accomplishments to date, we anticipate that by mid-February 2009, and no later than February 28, 2009, we will have completed the interviews." He also said that a "considerable portion of the work to be done in connection with the investigation has been completed."

Stay tuned.

On "Middle Class Values"

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 1:19 PM EST

I'm wondering why Naomi Riley wrote this short piece in the City Journal. She served (pretty diligently it seems) as a Big Sister to an inner city girl living in a chaotic environment, and found that some people are opposed to mentors consciously trying to instill "middle class values" in their charges. Are we still playing these word games? Call them middle class values, call them "get yourself together" values, call them the road to success if you like—if someone's mired in disadvantage and likely to repeat the patterns they've grown up with, surely something needs to change.

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CIA Insider: Panetta's A Good Pick for CIA Chief

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 11:32 AM EST

The front page of The Washington Post screams, "Obama Is Under Fire Over Panetta Selection." The article notes that "current and former intelligence officials expressed sharp resentment over Obama's choice of Leon E. Panetta as CIA director." CQPolitics.com blogger and national security journalist Jeff Stein, quoting a former CIA operations veteran, reports that the rank-and-file reaction to Panetta at the CIA has been "overwhelmingly negative." Stein notes that many CIA field people aren't keen on bringing an intelligence establishment outsider into the CIA and would rather have someone who knows the nitty-gritty of spy work running the place--though Stein does report that "a number of former top CIA officials" have told him that Panetta could be a good choice, given that he can be expected to have the standing within the Obama administration to bring effective leadership to the agency.

I asked a former top CIA official who had served not too long ago to share his/her view of the Panetta pick. S/he would only do so if not identified. I know it's often unsatisfying to read a long quote from an unnamed source. But his/her perspective is interesting enough to merit presenting the full response. Let me add that this person is savvy in both the ways of Langley and Washington:

I was expecting to be surprised...and I was. It seems to me to be a reasonably good one pick given the cards they had dealt themselves. The Obama transition folks massively mishandled the [onetime contender for CIA chief] John Brennan situation. When they caved to a little outside pressure [which resulted from Brennan's previous association with the CIA's so-called enhanced interrogation procedures] and forced him to remove himself from consideration -- they ended up ruling out a whole class of potential candidates. (i.e. anyone who had served in a position of any significance in intelligence in the past 8 years). So then what could they do?

Transparency and Bipartisanship On the March. Really!

| Wed Jan. 7, 2009 11:24 AM EST

I'm convinced that Obama's massive (and growing) popularity has as much to do with stuff like this as it does with his personal charisma and his plans for fixing the economy, health care, and America's reputation abroad. Even those who opposed Obama during the campaign are seeing that the new administration will be run with respect for the other side and a full embrace of transparency. Jake Tapper:

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Vir., suggested said the [stimulus] bill should be put on the Internet a week before Congress votes on it.
Mr. Obama smiled and said something along the lines of, "maybe if I was better at faking it , I'd say, 'Great idea — we'll take you up on that.' But we've actually talked about this idea."
Obama turned it over to incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who essentially said they would do the Republicans one better. They're planning a Google-like search function to show every program funded by the stimulus package, whether it comes in under or over-budget, whether it is meeting its intended purpose, and how many jobs it is creating.
"Tell you what," Obama said, "we'll still call it the Cantor idea."

Also note that Obama is insisting that the stimulus bill be clear of earmarks. This stuff is catnip for fiscal conservatives and government reform do-gooders alike. (H/T Sunlight)

You Are the Best Readers Ever

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 5:09 PM EST

onion_opinion479.article.jpgA couple of weeks ago we posted about the tough financial times we've encountered as a result of some funders pulling back on previously made commitments (plus of course the general economic meltdown). We asked you to help fill the hole they left--and because you are awesome, you did. We're going into the new year leaner, meaner, but close enough to our fighting weight to take on whatever stories our crack investigative reporters encounter. (Job One: Keep tabs on the new administration, not to mention that line of bailout applicants stretching around the block.) We'll spend your money carefully and we hope you like (and are outraged by) the results.

While we're on house news, next week (we think) we're launching our brand new website—same content, but much better presented and with a spiffy new commenting system that builds on what we've learned from you over the years. Thanks again for being part of the MoJo community. And P.S. The subscriptions department kind of told us not to mention this, but we're going to anyway: There's a super secret special offer going on now whereby you get a MoJo subscription for a year PLUS a pound of Peace Coffee for $10. That's less than a pound of Starbucks! And then you can be just like this guy.

New Congress Begins With Progress on Earmarks

| Tue Jan. 6, 2009 4:38 PM EST

Now we're talking:

The chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees on Tuesday jointly vowed to slice the level of earmarks while providing unprecedented disclosure of Member requests.
House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said that starting with the fiscal 2010 appropriations bills, when Members make their earmark requests, they will be required to post the requests on their Web sites explaining the purpose of the earmark and why it is a valuable use of taxpayer funds....