Mojo - June 2009

Obama Keeps the Twitter Revolution Online

| Tue Jun. 16, 2009 3:07 PM EDT

Publicly, Obama administration has been playing it pretty cool on the Iranian election, but it seems that the first tech-savvy White House has already played an important role on the backend of the Twitter Revolution. Reuters reports that over the weekend the State Department urged Twitter not to shut down for an upgrade that would have cut off service to oppostion tweeters in Iran. "We highlighted to them that this was an important form of communication," says an unnamed State official. Twitter delayed the upgrade with no mention of any official pressure. Does the administration deserve props for getting it, technologically and politically? Or should it have kept its hands off a situation that bloggers such as Andrew Sullivan were all over?

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Blackwater's Fired Up by Audit Coverage

| Tue Jun. 16, 2009 1:09 PM EDT

Bruce Falconer and I reported yesterday that a federal audit [PDF] of Blackwater's security contracts in Iraq concluded, among other things, that the firm had regularly failed to meet staffing requirements on two of its State Department task orders and could owe the government $55 million. Blackwater's spokeswoman, Anne Tyrrell, just emailed an "amended statement" on the audit, disputing how its conclusions were characterized in some media reports. I saw this one coming when I read the Wall Street Journal's coverage this morning, which carried the headline, "Audit Finds That U.S. Overpaid Blackwater." (Similarly, ABC is now reporting: "There is no assurance that personnel staffing data was accurate or complete and that correct labor rates were paid.")

Here's what Tyrrell had to say:

The joint audit by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and the United State Department of State Inspector General released yesterday does not, as some press reports have suggested, allege that Blackwater was ever complicit in overbilling the United States government for work it performed in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. The audit does not even state that the government overpaid Blackwater for staffing issues.  All it suggests is that invoices spanning a period of time are reviewed. A $55 million penalty has in no way been determined. 

In fact, the government contracting officer determined that Blackwater was compliant with the terms of the contract at the time for which they were reviewing and the therefore did not apply any deductions or penalties. Blackwater only billed for services provided. 

Obama Sides With Bush on White House Records

| Tue Jun. 16, 2009 12:29 PM EDT

Remember the flap over the White House visitor log? After George W. Bush was elected, the White House instructed the Secret Service to delete its daily record of visitors so that it couldn't be released to the press under the Freedom of Information Act. The deletions were exposed and halted in 2004, before the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington requested records for White House visits made by nine conservative religious leaders, prompting a drawn-out court battle. 
 
Give that Obama has promised to create "an unprecedented level of openness in Government," you might expect his administration to reverse Bush's position. But in January and May, his White House filed court briefs supporting Bush, who'd argued that the logs were protected by the a presidential communication privilege. Though the Obama administration has repeatedly said the Bush policy is under review, today it denied a request filed by CREW for records of White House visits made by coal company executives.
 
Obama's position in nothing unique. Presidential administrations have rarely released their visitor logs. Among the few recent exceptions were releases in connection with the Jack Abramoff investigation in the Bush years and Filegate during the Clinton era. The Obama administration argues that it should be allowed to hold secret meetings in the White House, "such as an elected official interviewing for an administration position or an ambassador coming for a discussion on issues that would affect international negotiations," an Obama spokesman told MSNBC, which has also requested recent visitor logs. Still, it's too bad that those secret meetings can also include coal companies.

Secrecy Corrupts

| Tue Jun. 16, 2009 10:35 AM EDT

Last week, I warned that the White House's argument for suppressing (and perhaps classifying) photos of detainee abuse—that the photos would make the US look bad and inflame anti-American sentiment, thereby endangering US troops—was infinitely extendible. I wondered what would happen the next time information emerged that embarassed the US and might inflame opinion against Americans. Would Obama suppress that, too? It turns out that the answer may be yes. McClatchy reports:

Pentagon wavers on release of report on Afghan attack

WASHINGTON — Defense Department officials are debating whether to ignore an earlier promise and squelch the release of an investigation into a U.S. airstrike last month, out of fear that its findings would further enrage the Afghan public, Pentagon officials told McClatchy Monday.

The military promised to release the report shortly after the May 4 air attack, which killed dozens of Afghans, and the Pentagon reiterated that last week. U.S. officials also said they'd release a video that military officials said shows Taliban fighters attacking Afghan and U.S. forces and then running into a building. Shortly afterward, a U.S. aircraft dropped a bomb that destroyed the building.

However, a senior defense official told McClatchy Monday: "The decision (about what to release) is now in limbo."

Pentagon leaders are divided about whether releasing the report would reflect a renewed push for openness and transparency about civilian casualties or whether it would only fan Afghan outrage and become a Taliban recruiting tool just as Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal takes command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

As Glenn Greenwald points out, this is an exact repeat of the detainee photo argument. Once you start suppressing information that makes the US look bad, it's easy to do it again. And again. The slippery slope of government secrecy is real. And President Obama is sliding down it.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 16, 2009

Tue Jun. 16, 2009 9:32 AM EDT

Today's photo is from Iraq.Spc. Kristopher Doktor, of Peoria, Ill., a Soldier in Company A, 1st Battalion 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, scans his sector of fire through the sights on his M240 Bravo machine gun, on top of Combat Outpost Texas, in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo courtesy army.mil).

TweetWatch: The Many Moods of Chuck Grassley

| Tue Jun. 16, 2009 6:55 AM EDT

Only since the recent rise in popularity of our favorite 140-character messaging service do we actually get to see what some of our most influential leaders are thinking as the thoughts pop into their heads. Inside the head of Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, these thoughts are brutal, banal, and generally make us glad that he doesn't control America's nuclear football. Below, five of our favorite Grassley tweets:


The Tweet: Ran 3miles w 5 delegate of the30th annual DsM Partnership at 515am. Barb had oatmeal for all.

The Analysis: I'm glad that a 75-year-old-man can still run 3 miles, but do I really give a crap that your wife knows how to make OATMEAL? Is this something to brag about?

The Tweet: My carbon footprint is abt 25per cent of Al Gore. I'm greener than Al Gore. Is that enuf?

The Analysis: Really, his carbon footprint is greener than a person? Strunk and White are rolling over in their grammarian graves.

The Tweet: Pres Obama you got nerve while u sightseeing in Paris to tell us"time to deliver" on health care. We still on skedul/even workinWKEND.

The Analysis: FoxNews looked into this Tweet most carefully and Grassley stood by it 100%. I wouldn't exactly call Obama's trip abroad -- where he marked the 65th anniversary of D-Day and visited the sites of other World War II atrocities -- a sightseeing journey. And for the record, George W. Bush spent 487 days at his ranch in Texas during his presidency...

The Tweet: My office softball team beat my Chr Baucus softball team last nite.

The Analysis: This is the guy who criticized Obama for sightseeing in Paris? Get your lazy staff back to work!

The Tweet: Met with new crop of sumer intrns today 1st of 2 6 week sessions I offer in DC office If ur interested in being an intrn ck my website.

The Analysis: I could think of few people who would be more fun to work for than a man who Tweets with as much mindless vigor as Chuck Grassley.

 

[h/t to my buddy Jim Newell and others at Wonkette for first drawing attention to this Mad Tweeter's lack of style.]

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Corn on "Hardball": Panetta vs. Cheney

| Mon Jun. 15, 2009 6:28 PM EDT

In the latest issue of The New Yorker, CIA chief Leon Panetta says of Dick Cheney:

I think he smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue. It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.

Cheney today struck back, saying, "I hope my old friend Leon was misquoted."

Iran is Twittering. Is it Teetering?

| Mon Jun. 15, 2009 12:21 PM EDT

I speculated a few minutes ago that the momentum might be shifting in Iran. Josh Marshall is thinking along the same lines:

On the face of it, Khamenei could call for a review and then decide that it all checks out and that's the end of it. But it's my experience that that's not how these things play out. When regimes ride these crises out successfully they almost always do so with a united phalanx. You simply do not grant the premise of the critics. Force, much as we like to think otherwise, is often quite effective. (See Tiananmen Square.) Once you do, once you legitimize the premise of the protests, which can quickly shift the momentum of the drama, it's a very slippery slope for the regime.

As Josh emphasizes in his full post, the next 24 hours are crucial. Ahmadinejad has already delayed a visit to Russia—another sign that he might be vulnerable.

The Scale of the Iran Protests

| Mon Jun. 15, 2009 12:08 PM EDT

The rallies in Iran are very large. Check out this photo from twitter (via the Lede):

CNN has new video from Iran:

The Latest From Iran

| Mon Jun. 15, 2009 11:19 AM EDT

In the wake of continuing mass protests over Friday's elections that many reasonable people have concluded were stolen, the resolve of the Iranian powers that be seems to be faltering. Reversing his earlier proclamations calling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's win a "divine assessment," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has called for an investigation into the results. PressTV, the Iranian state-run television network, is now covering the protests sympathetically. You may think that the call for an investigation is just a sop to protesters. But the change in state television coverage is certainly relevant. Via Laura Rozen, we hear this:

[The National Iranian American Council's] Trita Parsi told NPR's Washington affiliate Monday he thinks the momentum is starting to shift in favor of those contesting the elections results. Among the signs: the Guardian Council said it would delay certification for ten days, and Khamenei's order for an examination of the elections results seeming to relax police crackdown on demonstrators that had been occurring. The ultimate outcome is uncertain at this point, Parsi said.

At this stage, uncertainty is good news. It's definitely better than the certainty of an Ahmadinejad re-election. David Corn worries that Iran may only have half an opposition. If that's right, we're about to see how far half an opposition can go.