Mojo - July 2010

Meg Whitman's Spanish-Language Makeover

| Fri Jul. 9, 2010 2:00 PM EDT

California gubernatorial contender Meg Whitman seems to be bouncing back with Latino voters after a Spanish-language media blitz, despite having railed against illegal immigrants during the Republican primary. Though her Democratic opponent Jerry Brown still has a lead with Latino voters in the states, his allies are already worried that he’s losing support from a crucial voting bloc in the state. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Since the June 8 primary, Whitman has aired ads on Spanish-language television during the World Cup and on radio. Her campaign has erected billboards in Latino communities and spoken on Spanish-language media outlets. Her efforts appear to be paying off.

Though Brown held an 11-point lead among Latino voters in a Field Poll released earlier this week, Whitman had the support of 39%, a 14-point gain since March and at the level that strategists say she needs to be to win in November.

Whitman’s new ads have touted her opposition to Arizona’s harsh new immigration law, as well as California’s Prop 187—the anti-immigration law that poisoned Latino voters against the Republican Party in the 1990s when then-GOP governor Pete Wilson pushed it through.

But Whitman’s Spanish-language makeover in the general election is a marked reversal from the tone that she struck in the GOP primary, when the challenge from conservative Steve Poizner pushed her to the right on the issue. During the primary, she touted her opposition to illegal immigration, screened an ad featuring Pete Wilson and a border fence, and accused Poizner of supporting “amnesty.”

Brown is now trying to remind voters of Whitman’s harsh talking points during the primary. And Latino Democrats insist that voters will see through her opportunism. “While our community is bilingual, we're not naïve,” one Latino state senator told the LA Times. But given Whitman’s recent bounce in the poll, there’s still a chance that Latino voters will either forgive or forget her earlier bombast. And she’s certainly not alone among Republican nominees who’re hoping that their hardline primary positions will simply go down the memory hole.

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Strickland, Kasich, and LeBron James

| Fri Jul. 9, 2010 12:07 PM EDT

You probably haven't heard, but NBA star LeBron James is leaving Cleveland to join the Miami Heat. What impact will "King James'" decision have on the Ohio gubernatorial race? More than you might think. As part of an ongoing effort to paint his opponent as "out-of-touch" with Ohio, allies of Dem Gov. Ted Strickland (one of the stars of the already-embarassing video above) have been pushing a video of Republican nominee John Kasich saying "the last guy" he "worries about is LeBron James." This is actually a bit misleading. Here's some more context (via the National Review's Jim Geraghty) from Kasich's interview with Alan Colmes:

"Alan, we’ve lost 400,000 jobs out here and the last guy I worry about is LeBron James. You know I mean, we all hope he’ll stay in Cleveland. We think we’ve got a great guy there that can turn everything around, but we got some serious problems," Kasich said.

Kasich, flashing a bit of sports knowledge, did sympathize with Cleveland fans who are still waiting for a championship from the Cavs, Browns or Indians.

"It’d have been so great for the Cavs to be playing because Cleveland has struggled with its sports teams and we need a little, we need a little victory so we might need to steal some players out of New York to help us out," Kasich told Colmes.

Now that James has left Cleveland in the worst possible way, Kasich's mixed feelings about his departure could actually play well. Does anyone in Ohio feel good about LeBron James today? There's little doubt that the Strickland campaign will keep trying to make the election about Kasich—with his Lehman Brothers past, the Republican is just too juicy of a target. The huge amounts of money that will be poured into this race—perhaps north of $20 million by the time it's over—will almost ensure that it gets nasty. Not every voter is going to like that. If Strickland can't make Kasich radioactive, he has to at least do some damage. I'm not sure the LeBron angle is going to do the trick.

Lady Gaga, National Security Threat?

| Fri Jul. 9, 2010 9:40 AM EDT

Apparently if you're trying to smuggle classified Defense Department data for leaking purposes, all you need is a catchy dance-pop CD—in disguise. The New York Times reports today on the latest updates in the case of 22-year-old Pfc. Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of leaking some 150,000 cables, secret videos, and government presentations. At least one of those leaks, a video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two journalists, was published online by Wikileaks in April under the title "Collateral Murder." Earlier this month, Manning was charged with leaking the data, and could face up to 52 years in prison. For his efforts, Manning has been hailed by some as his own generation's Daniel Ellsberg, the former military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

What we've learned today is how Manning did it—and that he had help. From pop star Lady Gaga. Yes, that Lady Gaga. Apparently Manning pulled the data off a protected Defense Department computer, the Times reports, using a sneakily labeled music CD and a bit of play-acting:

He was able to avoid detection not because he kept a poker face, they said, but apparently because he hummed and lip-synched to Lady Gaga songs to make it appear that he was using the classified computer’s CD player to listen to music.

Adrian Lamo, a well-known former hacker, had traded electronic messages in which Private Manning described his unhappiness with the Army—and, Mr. Lamo said, his activities downloading classified data.

Mr. Lamo said Private Manning described how he had used compact discs capable of storing data, but tucked inside recognizable music CD cases, "to bring the data out of the secure room."

"He indicated he disguised one as a Lady Gaga CD," Mr. Lamo said Thursday in a telephone interview. "He said he lip-synched to blend in."

Where to start?! First, kudos to Times reporter Thom Shanker for slipping that "poker face" reference into this Gaga-inspired story. (If you don't get it, watch this.) Honestly, I thought the news pages of the old gray lady were too stiff for a quip like that. Second, Lamo says Manning "lip-synched to blend in." Really? Are we to think that intel officers in Iraq and Afghanistan sit around all day humming hits like "Love Game" and "Alejandro"? (They're certainly not letting them watch that ludicrous "Alejandro" video, at least.) And finally, who still owns CDs anymore? In the age of the iPod/Zuma/Pandora/etc., the fact that anyone would own an actual compact disc and bring it to work is about as suspicious as a steel-plated briefcase handcuffed to your wrist.

Jokes aside, though, this is pretty serious stuff, that a soldier could so easily lift 150,000 diplomatic cables from a supposedly protected computer. So much for "classified" data. And just like Defense Secretary Robert Gate's crackdown on media access after Gen. Stanley McChrystal's resignation, keep an eye out for a ban on postmodern, synth-heavy, dance-pop CDs wending its way through the halls of the Pentagon right now.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 9, 2010

Fri Jul. 9, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

 

US Army Pfc. Wayne Doyle, left, of 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division provides, security while his platoon attends a local council meeting outside Forward Operating Base Taji, Iraq, on July 3, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Spc. Joshua E. Powell.

Was Petraeus' Replacement Planned?

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 4:26 PM EDT

So...is it possible the White House had it planned all along?

When Gen. Stanley McChrystal handed his Afghanistan job over to doctor of philosophy and rock star Gen. David Petraeus last month, it raised a big question: What would happen with Petraeus' old post at the top of US Central Command? To head for Kabul, Petraeus had to relinquish his CENTCOM crown—and oversight of both the Afghan and Iraq wars—with no obvious successor on the horizon.

We now know who'll succeed him. Defense Secretary Robert Gates today announced that he wants a Marine general, James Mattis, to take over the CENTCOM post. This, according to Military.com and the AP, is an eyebrow-raiser:

He is a bit of a surprising pick. On the one hand, Mattis has significant ground combat experience and is considered an intellectual who grasps the nuances of fighting a complicated counterinsurgency.

But he is also known to speak bluntly and off-the-cuff—much like Petraeus' predecessor Gen. McChrystal who was fired for speaking ill of his civilian bosses.

Except that if you look back to events in June, Mattis' pick is totally understandable; in fact, it raises a bigger question: Could the Obama administration and the Pentagon have planned McChrystal's firing and Petraeus' move, well before McChrystal's controversial Rolling Stone profile came out?

Here's what we know:

Operation Enduring War

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 3:50 PM EDT

Some words have a way of enduring. Take "endure." As the Bush administration headed into Iraq in the spring of 2003, the Pentagon already had plans on the drawing board to build at least four gigantic American bases in that country and garrison them for the long haul. But when questioned on the subject, administration officials and spokespeople were eager to avoid linking the word "permanent" to those as-yet-unbuilt bases and so, for a while, referred to them instead as "enduring camps," a phrase that had a certain charm and none of the ominous overtones of "permanent base." In the end, of course, more than four massive bases were built and garrisoned. Given the slow American drawdown in that country, their fate remains unknown—and typically undiscussed in the US—but as of this moment, they still "endure" and, huge as they are, they couldn't look more permanent.

According to an agreement signed at the end of George W. Bush's second term, all American "combat troops" are to be withdrawn from Iraq by this August, hence the US military is planning to relabel any post-August "combat operations" as "stability operations." Think of that as linguistic "endurance." In the same spirit, all US troops are supposed to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, but as Tim Arango of the New York Times noted recently, "[F]ew believe that America's military involvement in Iraq will end then. The conventional wisdom among military officers, diplomats, and Iraqi officials is that after a new government is formed, talks will begin about a longer-term American troop presence. 'I like to say that in Iraq, the only thing Americans know for certain, is that we know nothing for certain,' said Brett H. McGurk, a former National Security Council official in Iraq and current fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. 'The exception is what's coming once there's a new government: they will ask to amend the Security Agreement and extend the 2011 date. We should take that request seriously.'"

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Sharron Angle's BP Gaffe...And Apology

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 3:41 PM EDT

When Sharron Angle, the tea party-loved candidate gunning for Harry Reid's Senate seat in Nevada, branded BP's $20 billion escrow fund a "slush fund" this week, the comment raised more than a few eyebrows. Angle reportedly agreed with a caller to a local Nevada radio station who said the fund equated to "extortion," with Angle adding, "Government shouldn't be doing that to a private company. And I think you named it clearly: It's a slush fund." The Washington Post's Greg Sargent dubbed it her "Rand Paul moment." Of course, Angle's remark wasn't all that surprising, given that the "slush fund" label has been thrown around by other Republicans like Rep. Joe "We're sorry, BP" Barton (R-Tex.). And also given that Angle herself is prone to gaffes, including calling a reporter an idiot for quoting her website and suggesting armed revolt if "this Congress keeps going the way it is."

What is surprising is Angle's response and retraction, offered today in a statement from her campaign. The former Nevada assemblywoman now says the slush fund quip was "incorrect" and insensitive on her part. The statement also says, "My position is that the creation of this fund to compensate victims was an important first step—BP caused this disaster and they should pay for it." Here, in full, is Angle's statement:

Setting the record straight about BP and the Obama Administration

There's been some confusion this morning regarding my position on BP and the oil spill.

Having had some time to think about it, the caller and I shouldn't have used the term "slush fund"; that was incorrect.

My position is that the creation of this fund to compensate victims was an important first step—BP caused this disaster and they should pay for it. But there are multiple parties at fault here and there should be a thorough investigation. We need to look into the actions, (or inactions) of the Administration and why the regulatory agency in charge of oversight was asleep at the wheel while BP was cutting corners. Every party involved should be held fully accountable.

All in all, a pretty thorough correction by Angle, and a necessary one. Now, if she would only retract her armed insurrection idea, and her lemons-into-lemonade reference when talking about pregnancies resulting from incest and rape, and her idea to abolish the Department of Education, and her claim that the unemployed are "spoiled"...well, then we might be able to take her a bit more seriously.

Does Kagan Support Stoning?

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 12:34 PM EDT

The National Review Online seems to be the designated dumping ground for any and all opposition research related to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. On the second day of her confirmation hearings last week, NRO created a big stir when it published a critical piece from a former Justice Department official who claimed Kagan encouraged the American College of OB/Gyns to alter its medical opinion of the partial-birth abortion procedure to help President Clinton's political position on the issue. Several Republican senators asked Kagan questions during the hearing that came almost straight from the story. Today the NRO is capitalizing on recent news about Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian mother about to be stoned to death after being convicted of adultery, to revive charges that Kagan is a Muslim-loving "champion of sharia." 

Andrew McCarthy writes:

Had the solicitor general heard about Ms. Ashtiani’s plight, one imagines, she’d have told her to get herself to the nearest courthouse and seek the protection of the law. Alas, it is pursuant to the law that this barbarity will take place. The stoning of this 43-year-old mother of two has been ordered by a court in her native Iran, where the only legal code is Allah’s law, sharia. ...

Sharia is the cause of indescribable suffering in the world: for homosexuals, women, non-Muslims, and Muslims who wish to embrace the West. Yet for Kagan, sharia’s repugnance is irrelevant. Like opposition to DADT and support for abortion, the engagement of Islamists, the embrace of their case against American capitalism, is a progressive cause célèbre. So count Ms. Kagan in. She’ll worry about logic and sharia victims like Sakineh Ashtiani later — if ever.

Linking Kagan to sharia-sanctioned stoning is a huge stretch, but McCarthy gives it a whirl. His argument goes something like this: While Kagan was at Harvard law school, Harvard University president Larry Summers accepted a $20 million gift from Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who once blamed American foreign policy for the 9/11 attacks. Summers not only took his cash but named an Islamic studies program after the prince. (Incidentally, bin Talal owns a big chunk of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., the owner of Fox News, but McCarthy doesn't slam Murdoch for it.)

Kagan did not offer up a peep of protest, probably because she was too busy banning military recruiters from the campus, according to McCarthy, who notes that sharia law is far harsher to gays than the US military is. Not only did Kagan fail to protest the Saudi gift, but according to McCarthy, she "forged" an "Islamic finance project" at Harvard to promote "sharia compliance" in the U.S. finance industry. Ergo, Kagan must support stoning, since that's part of Islamic law. (For the record, Harvard University created the IFP in 1995. In late 2003, it was brought into the law school, which Kagan wasn't named to run until April that same year. And the program's study of sharia compliance is often related to poverty-reduction efforts through micro-lending.)

Conservatives tried this line of attack on Kagan shortly after she was nominated, but it didn't gain much traction. None of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked her about her feelings about sharia (or stoning, for that matter) during her confirmation hearings. But now that the NRO has taken up the cause, it's likely to be part of the anti-Kagan drumbeat as the committee gets ready to vote on her confirmation, which could happen as early as Tuesday. It's hard to know whom these attacks are designed to persuade. Most of the Republicans are already set to vote against Kagan. There are the moderate Maine senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who voted to confirm Justice Sonia Sotomayor last year. Perhaps the sharia link might give them adequate cover with their feminist base to join with their party (and the cranky tea party) in opposing Kagan's nomination.  Even so, Kagan doesn't need their votes to get confirmed. Could there be some wavering conservative Democrats out there?

Two Inmates Die in Agony as Prison Staff Stands By

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

In the past few weeks, we've seen two separate stories of prisoners who died alone in their cells, while their moans of pain and cries for help were ignored by prison staff. If this isn't cruel and unusual punishment, it's hard to see what would be.

At the Onondaga County Justice Center in upstate New York, 21-year-old Chuniece Patterson died last year from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. What is described by the local news station as "a blistering report" on the death has just been issued by the New York State Commission of Correction; it states: "Had Patterson received adequate and competent medical care, her death would have been prevented."

Reporting in the Syracuse Post-Standard, John O'Brien described the young woman's final hours.

Chuniece Patterson was pregnant and complaining of abdominal pain in her cell at the Justice Center jail in Syracuse. Fourteen hours later, she was dead.

The jail's records of Patterson's medical care give no indication that anyone examined her abdomen. No pelvic exam. No ultrasound. Any of them would've shown she had an ectopic pregnancy in her fallopian tube and would've probably indicated that it had ruptured, according to a doctor. Surgery could've saved her life, he said.

The records of Patterson's two-day stay at the Justice Center in November describe a night of torment, with Patterson screaming and rolling on the cement floor of her cell for most of those 14 hours. Patterson leaned against her cell toilet, scooping water out with a cup and splashing it onto her face, a deputy reported.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 8, 2010

Thu Jul. 8, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

 

Afghan children walk alongside US Army Spc. Steven London, from 2nd Platoon, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army Europe, during a patrol outside Combat Outpost Sangar in Zabul province, Afghanistan, on June 27, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Spc. Eric Cabral, U.S. Army.