Mojo - June 2009

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 18, 2009

Thu Jun. 18, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

Soldiers of 154th Transportation Company from Fort Hood, Texas, stand in formation prior to leaving for Afghanistan at Baghdad International Airport, Iraq, April 14. The 154th Trans. Co. is the second 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) unit in three weeks to move directly to Afghanistan from Iraq. (Photo courtesy army.mil).

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Kenneth Starr Endorses Sotomayor

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 4:31 PM EDT

Kenneth Starr, the lawyer who chased after President Bill Clinton and his wife, said on Thursday that he supports President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Starr voiced his backing of Sotomayor while delivering the keynote speech at a luncheon held in Los Angeles for Loyola Law School's program for journalists who cover legal issues. He said that he "thinks very well of her." He noted that he has not written any official endorsement letter for Sotomayor but that no one had asked him to do so—suggesting he would if requested. Starr said that he has told more than one US senator that he supports her nomination, but he wouldn't identify which senators he has spoken to about Sotomayor.

Pete Hoekstra "is a Meme" on Twitter

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 1:25 PM EDT

By now you may have seen the deluge of heckles on Twitter directed at  Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra since yesterday, when he tweeted, "Iranian twitter activity similar to what we did in House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House." Wha? Anyway, the resulting tweet storm has been fierce (example: "Arjunjaikumar @petehoekstra i spilled some lukewarm coffee on myself just now, which is somewhat analogous to being boiled in oil").

Capitalizing on the 140-word fury, a new website, Pere Hoekstra is a Meme, is now pairing the best twitter retorts to Hoekstra's gaff with photo illustrations:

 

 

 

Solved: One WH Emails Mystery

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 11:32 AM EDT

Well, I think I've solved one mystery related to the Bush administration's White House email scandal. It's a rather small one considering some of the larger questions hanging out there—the suspicious gap in the OVP emails being one of them—but it certainly did seem curious. I'm referring to the fact that, in 2003, contracting related a new White House email archiving system (a project that was abandoned just as it reached completion) was handled by the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service. You may recall that this particular division, which collects (or fails to) oil and gas royalties, was the subject of a series of scathing reports by the agency's inspector general. Beyond run-of-the-mill corruption and graft, the IG reported “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity.” (One MMS official slept with oil company employees.) 

House Lawmakers Fight for the F-22

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 10:43 AM EDT

This is not a good sign for Obama's big push to rein in wasteful defense spending: the House Armed Services committee has made an early move to restore funding for the F-22 fighter jet. Gates wants to finish production on four more planes and then end the program. (Its flaws are many: here's a useful rundown.) Instead, the committee inserted $369 million into this year's defense authorization bill to pay for parts for another dozen F-22s. This is basically a sneaky way to commit the government to 12 planes while putting off the bill until later: The F-22 officially goes for $143 million each—and the real figure is more like $350 million when you add in things like maintenance and training. So $369 million won't even come close to covering their total cost.

The vote was very close (31-30), and there's still a long way to go—both the House and Senate have to finish marking up the bill, and then negotiators for both chambers will haggle over the details in conference. Still, by coming out so early in defense of the F-22, House lawmakers are sending a pretty blunt signal to the White House that the Gates budget is going to get a bumpy ride. We'll be covering this very closely next week in a special feature on the defense budget—watch this space.

UPDATE: Barney Frank is introducing an amendment to remove the F-22 funding.

 

Iranians Pleased With Obama's Silence?

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 10:36 AM EDT

As Glenn Kessler points out in the Washington Post, Obama is in a tough spot when it comes to Iran. The natural inclination, of course, is to support the hundreds of thousands of protesters (millions, according to a friend of mine in Tehran), who've taken to the streets since last Friday's disputed presidential election. But larger political and national security concerns are not easily brushed aside. The fact is, while it would be wonderful to have a reformer as Iran's president, the mullahs still call the shots, particularly when it comes to the issue of most concern to the United States: Iran's nuclear weapons program. Alienating Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with any perceived American meddling in his nation's internal politics (a touchy issue dating back to the pre-revolutionary Mosaddeq years) could irreparably harm any remaining hope Obama may have of negotiating away Tehran's nukes. 

Even in the midst of impassioned protests, writes Azadeh Moaveni in the Daily Beast, many Iranians seem to agree with Obama's decision to wait and see--at least if the views of her family and friends in Tehran are any indication. She writes:

But in conversations with friends and relatives in Tehran this week, I've heard the opposite of what I had expected: a resounding belief that this time the United States should keep out. One of my cousins, a woman in her mid-30s who has been attending the daily protests along with the rest of her family, viewed the situation pragmatically. “The U.S. shouldn't interfere, because a loud condemnation isn't going to affect Iranian domestic politics one way or the other. If the supreme leader decides to crackdown on the protests and Ahmadinejad stays in power, then negotiations with the United States might improve our lives”...

Other friends I spoke with cited various reasons why the United States should maintain its discrete posture. “If Obama's position until now has been to respect Iran, then he really has no choice but to watch first how things unfold. Mousavi hasn't produced any facts yet, no one has produced evidence of fraud,” said my friend Ali, a 40-year-old photographer. “That's what is needed before Obama takes a major stand.”

My older relatives fretted particularly that any real criticism by the United States would be used as a pretext by Ahmadinejad to blame the protests on “outside enemies,” a reflexive response for the president when dealing with even housing inflation and the rising price of tomatoes. “It's better for Obama to stay out of this. Given what happened with Bush in Florida, Ahmadinejad can always claim the United States is in no position to lecture anyone about fair elections,” my aunt noted.

 

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Realism on Iran: No Change Without Blood?

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 8:31 AM EDT

Wayne White, a former State Department intelligence analyst with expertise on Iran and Iraq, is enthused by the opposition movement in Iran, but he is a realist about its prospects and how far it must go to force--and he means force--change. Bottom-line: the autocrats of Iran will not yield as the Shah did during the 1979 revolution. White sadly notes it will take sacrifice and blood to topple the regime in Tehran.

Here's an email White circulated to colleagues on Wednesday night:

Best in Blog: 18 June 2009

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Today's 5 MoJo must reads:

1) Tehran's declared war on satellite dishes; this email explains the methods.

2) Seattle lost its rain; The Onion wants its headline back.

3) Cheney "lost" those Valerie Plame emails; CREW found some damning docs under a big pile of his BS.

4) Remember the good old days of Obama's presidency, back when no one booed his crazytown health care ideas? Sorry Big O.

5) Last: Hey, a contest! Looks like gay pride flag designers are finally over the rainbow. Does Shepard Fairey know?

Tehran's War on Satellite Dishes

| Wed Jun. 17, 2009 5:07 PM EDT

Shahram Kholdi, a graduate student at the University of Manchester, has been in contact with friends and relatives in Tehran during the past few tumultuous days. He reports that the security forces in Tehran have been focusing on a particular target: satellite dishes.

From an email he has sent to scholars and associates:

New Documents Confirm Cheney's Office "Lost" Plame Emails

| Wed Jun. 17, 2009 4:26 PM EDT

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which sued the Bush White House over millions of missing White House emails, has released a treasure trove of documents relating to the loss of the emails. We're just beginning to go through them, but CREW says the headline item is that the documents seem to confirm that emails subpoenaed by Patrick Fitzgerald regarding the leak of Valerie Plame's CIA identiy were among those missing from Dick Cheney's office.

Update: You can find the documents here.

Update 2: I just spoke to Anne Weisman, CREW's chief counsel. She says these documents, are just the beginning, and CREW both wants and expects to receive more from the Obama White House. This set of documents was originally provided to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) by the Bush administration when Waxman began investigating the missing White House emails case, so they just represent what the Bush administration was willing to release (albeit to a Congressman, not the public) about its own failings. Obviously there's much more—Weisman says this is only a "very small percentage" of the material CREW needs to understand exactly how the White House could lose several million emails.

Weisman says that these new documents do little to allay her concern about the timing of certain gaps in the email archives of the Office of the Vice President (OVP). "I find it incredible that then-WH counsel Alberto Gonzales gets a call from DOJ saying they're opening this investigation and everything has to be preserved, and then the days immediately following that [call] there are OVP emails missing," she says. Maybe Gonzales forgot that he was supposed to make sure everything was preserved?