Mojo - October 2009

Fight the Friday Doc Dump!

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 3:14 PM PDT

Late Friday afternoon, the Obama adminstration released a bunch of its visitor logs as well as notes from Dick Cheney's interviews with the FBI regarding the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert CIA identity. So after you read about how Cheney couldn't remember anything, consider this: Politicians release documents on Fridays when they don't want people paying attention to them.

Politicians know that fewer people read the Saturday papers (actually, few people read papers at all anymore), so fewer people will notice the newspaper articles. They also know that since most people read news websites like MotherJones.com and Talking Points Memo at work and most people work Monday to Friday, fewer people will see the news on the internet. Finally, cable news and broadcast news don't have nearly as large of an audience over the weekend, so they will be less able to amplify what the newspapers and websites report. If you're trying to hide something juicy, Friday is the day to dump it. Even if someone does find it in the huge mass of information you release, by Monday the news cycle will have moved on.

Anyway, you can help fight against the Friday doc dump: check out the visitor logs and the Cheney documents yourself, and send us an email at scoop [at] motherjones [dot] com if you find anything interesting. The faster we find the juicy bits, the better chance we have of letting people know about them. Thanks!

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22 Things Dick Cheney Can't Recall About the Plame Case

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 2:06 PM PDT

Notes from former Vice President Dick Cheney's interview with the FBI about the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert CIA identity were finally released on Friday afternoon after a lengthy legal battle. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued the Justice Department last year to obtain the interview notes; a judge finally ordered their release on October 1. In the interview, Cheney demonstrated a behavior common among Bush administration officials under investigation: he couldn't remember much of anything. Here's a non-comprehensive list of 22 things Dick Cheney claimed he couldn't recall about the Plame case, in the order they appear in the FBI's notes:

  • Whether the Wilson trip was discussed during any of the visits he made to the CIA with his Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby.
  • Any reaction he had to Nicholas Kristof's New York Times' article about the Wilson visit at the time the article was published.
  • Whether he discussed the Wilson situation with George Tenet at their meeting on June 10, 2003.
  • Who he spoke to about Joe Wilson's July 6, 2003 editorial (he did remember speaking to someone, but not who it was).
  • What happened to the Joe Wilson op-ed after he wrote on it suggesting that Valerie Plame Wilson had sent Joe Wilson on a "junket," and put it in his outbox.
  • Any specific advice he gave his press people in the May-June 2003 timeframe regarding the Wilson trip to Niger.
  • Whether he discussed the Wilson situation with Eric Edelman, one of his national security advisers.
  • Whether Cathie Martin, his press secretary, entered his office while both he and Scooter Libby were present and advised both of them that Joe Wilson's wife was employed by the CIA.
  • Discussing Joe Wilson or Wilson's wife with his former press secretary Mary Matalin, although he said it was possible.
  • Ever discussing Valerie Plame Wilson with Libby prior to the publication of Novak's column.
  • Whether Scooter Libby knew about Valerie Plame Wilson on July 12, the day before the publication of the Novak column.
  • If Libby ever told Cheney he had independent knowledge of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert identity
  • Dictating notes to Libby on July 12, 2003 that Cheney said looked and sounded like something he might have dictated to Libby.
  • Discussing the Novak column or any of its contents with anyone at the time it was published.
  • Whether he discussed the Wilson trip with Libby as a sort of "boondoggle" or "junket," although he believed it possible that he had such a conversation.
  • If Libby told him that Libby was not Novak's source.
  • Libby telling him how he first learned that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA operative.
  • Whether he told Libby that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA operative.
  • Waving off Libby when Libby offered to tell him everything he knew about the Wilson matter.
  • Anyone on his staff, including Libby, ever meeting with Judith Miller during the week of July 7, 2003.
  • Having a conversation with Libby during which Libby said he wanted to share the judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate with Judith Miller.
  • Whether Libby told him that certain material in the NIE had to be declassified before it could be shared.

For an interview conducted around a year after the events in question, the Vice President seems to have forgotten a lot, including one very crucial detail: whether he told Libby about Valerie Plame Wilson.

Note to Matt Continetti: Liz Lemon = Not A Real Person

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 9:15 AM PDT

Now that excerpts from Weekly Standard writer Matt Continetti's new book on Sarah Palin are in wider circulation, it's worth revisiting a great post on the subject from earlier this week by my friend Matt Gertz at Media Matters. Here's the relevant excerpt from Continetti's book, via US News' Washington Whispers blog:

Liberal-leaning feminists, especially comic Tina Fey, the 30 Rock star who portrayed Palin on Saturday Night Live, were jealous of Palin. "Palin's sudden global fame rankled those feminists whose own path to glory had been difficult. To them, Palin was less a female success story than she was the beneficiary of male chauvinism," writes Continetti. He holds out Fey and her TV character for special criticism. "It was telling that Fey should be the actress who impersonated Palin. The two women may look like each other, but they could not be more dissimilar. Each exemplifies a different category of feminism. Palin comes from the I-can-do-it-all school. She is professionally successful, has been married for more than 20 years, and has a large and (from all outward appearances) happy family. And while Fey is also pretty, married, and has a daughter, the characters she portrays in films like Mean Girls and Baby Mama, and in television shows like 30 Rock, are hard-pressed eggheads who give up personal fulfillment-e.g., marriage and motherhood-in the pursuit of professional success," he writes. "On 30 Rock, Fey, who is also the show's chief writer and executive producer, plays Liz Lemon, a television comedy writer modeled on herself. Liz Lemon is smart, funny, and at the top of her field. But she fails elsewhere. None of her relationships with men works out. She wants desperately to raise a child but can find neither the time nor the means to marry or adopt. Lemon makes you laugh, for sure. But you also would be hard pressed to name a more unhappy person on American TV."

There is so much wrong with this that it's hard to know where to start. Dave Weigel at the Washington Independent notes that "even the fictional Liz Lemon has fewer problems than the real-life former governor of Alaska, who quit her job under the pressure of frivolous ethics complaints and who seems to get into monthly feuds with her daughter’s ex-boyfriend." But I think Gertz takes an even better tack on this:

Continetti claims that Fey and Palin "could not be more dissimilar." Why? Well, Palin "is professionally successful, has been married for more than 20 years, and has a large and (from all outward appearances) happy family." On the other hand, Fey... well... is also apparently married with a daughter, but the CHARACTERS SHE PLAYS are not. In short, his evidence that Fey and Palin "could not be more dissimilar" is that Palin and LIZ LEMON are different.

Liz Lemon, of course, is not a real person. As Gertz says, this is like comparing Barack Obama and Will Smith (subject of many Obama biopic rumors) based on the number of alien motherships they've blown up.

Important Christmas News

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 9:04 AM PDT

Via Media Matters, I see that Fox News has begun its annual attempt to defend America in the War on ChristmasTM:

(Other groups started their fight to defend Christmas earlier this month.) It's probably hopeless to point this out, but Christians are not an embattled minority in this country and Christmas is in no danger of becoming any less of a holiday. This seems like a good time to repeat my favorite statistic: a higher percentage of America's population is Christian than Israel's is Jewish.

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Should Blanche Lincoln Worry About the Left?

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 8:16 AM PDT

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), a liberal pressure group, is continuing its efforts to change the conventional wisdom about the health care public option through polling. PCCC's latest poll (co-sponsored by Democracy for America, another liberal group) is of Arkansas, and is obviously targeted towards Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who is up for reelection in 2010 and is wavering on the public option. Here's the key finding:

If Lincoln joined Republicans in filibustering a public option, 49% of Democrats would be less likely to vote for her, 7% more likely (7 to 1). Among Independents, 35% to 10% (3 to 1)

Arkansas' voter registration is still heavily Democratic, so Lincoln definitely needs to do well among Democrats if she hopes to get reelected. But because PCCC is an ideological organization, the mainstream media has been slow to pick up on the implications of their results, even though their contractor, Research 2000, is by all accounts a reliable pollster. So what PCCC really needs is a way to get the media to pay more attention to their results. That could mean some polling of the same states by other polling organizations or simply a Nate Silver analysis of the PCCC/Research 2000 polls' accuracy. Even an attack on their polls' credibility might help if it drew more attention to the numbers themselves. The idea that Democrats only have to worry about their right flank is pretty set-in-stone conventional wisdom in Washington and in the national media. If PCCC's hoping to change that, they're in for a tough fight.

Congressional Ethics

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 7:51 AM PDT

The Washington Post has a blockbuster story today based on a House ethics committee report the Post obtained after the document was accidentally made available on a file-sharing network. Dozens of House members are under investigation for ethics violations, according to the document. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit which filed many of the initial ethics complaints against the members in question, rejoiced at the news that so many investigations were actually going on behind the scenes. But Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, cautioned that most of these inquiries don't result in any consequences for members:

[W]e were pleasantly surprised to learn the ethics committee is investigating so many members of Congress, but starting an investigation isn’t enough. The real question is whether any of the members under investigation will ever be held accountable for their conduct. The committee’s record on such matters is dismal. You have only to look back at the Mark Foley investigation—where all of America knew there was wrongdoing yet the committee found none—to be skeptical of the House ethics process. There’s not much reason to think anything has changed, but one can always hope."

It will be interesting to look back at the Post report a year from now and see how many of the ethics' committee's investigations have actually amounted to anything.

Obama DOJ Plans New Argument on Torture Photos

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 7:16 AM PDT

Over objections from House liberals, President Barack Obama successfully pushed a bill through Congress earlier this month that allows the executive branch to unilaterally exempt photos of detainee abuse from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. The law rendered moot an appeals court decision that would have forced the administration to release the photos. It was also an attempt to preempt a Supreme Court fight over the lower court's ruling.

But the legal wrangling isn't over. The Supreme Court must still decide whether to take up the matter. So both sides—the Obama Justice Department and the ACLU—have to hash out what the new law means for their respective arguments about the photos. It remains to be seen whether the government will still press forward with its appeal given the changed situation. On Thursday, Solicitor General Elena Kagan told the Supreme Court in a letter [PDF] that she plans to file a new brief that takes into account the new legislation, which President Obama signed that day. 

The immediate impact of Kagan's letter is that the Supreme Court will probably postpone its decision, originally scheduled for today, on whether to take up the case. If it does eventually take up the case, it could conceivably rule that the government was right to withhold the photos under its original argument, rejected by the appeals court, that it could withhold any information that might put anyone, anywhere in danger. That decision would blow an even bigger hole in FOIA than the detainee photo legislation already has.

A Particularly Silly David Broder Column

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 6:40 AM PDT

David Broder says that it's unfair to deny health care to some Americans via the "opt-out" public option:

To take but one example: If health-care reform with an opt-out provision were to become law this year or next, one of the first states you might expect to exempt itself would be Texas. Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the Legislature, and the state had no trouble rejecting candidate Barack Obama.

But Texas is also a state with glaring differences among its residents. There are millions of the poor, of Hispanics and African Americans who give their votes to Democrats. Are the Democrats running Washington prepared to say to them (and residents of who knows how many other states): Sorry about this, but you don't get what the rest of us get?

Broder is saying is that if the Democrats go for an opt-out public option because they can't pass a public option without opt-out, and then the Republican governor and legislature of a state (say Texas) choose to opt out, then it'll be the Democrats' fault when people in Texas don't get health care. Don't you see? Liberals forced Republicans and conservative Democrats to oppose a robust public option, and they will be forcing Republicans in Texas to opt-out of health care reform. Republicans in Texas will, of course, not be at fault for denying health care to their constituents.

Sometimes counterintuitive arguments are counterintuitive because they are really dumb.