Political MoJo

El-Masri: "I Am Not a State Secret"

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 8:53 PM EST

Don't miss Khaled el-Masri's op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. El-Masri was a victim of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, and was held and tortured even after the CIA realized they had mistaken him for Al Qaeda operative Khalid al-Masri. The CIA can't keep el-Masri, an innocent, private German citizen, from talking about his ordeal. But it's fighting mightily to avoid apologizing to him. El-Masri sued the U.S. government, but the government claimed successfully that the entire case is a "state secret," even though it has been widely reported. For more about the absurd and frightening implications of the "state secret" privilege, click here.

El-Masri's op-ed is called, simply, "I am not a state secret." I'm betting this is one guy the CIA wishes they'd never touched.

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In Which I Agree with Ann Coulter

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 8:38 PM EST

Ann Coulter's hateful comments at the CPAC this weekend have been condemned by John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and, more blandly, Mitt Romney. That's no surprise, really—these guys yuck it up in a roomful of conservatives and then tell the media what it wants to hear. What is surprising is that a group of conservative bloggers have written a letter to the conference organizers requesting that Coulter never be invited back. They say—and I can only hope this is how it plays to average American voters—that her hate speech coarsens the political dialogue.

It's funny, though, Coulter and I agree about one thing: Mitt Romney. She supports him and I can't stand the guy, but we have the same take on his past tolerance for gays and abortion: "He tricked liberals into voting for him." (Coulter went on to say, "I like a guy who hoodwinks the voters so easily.")

Breaking: Cheney Treated for Blood Clot

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 3:37 PM EST

CNN is reporting that Vice President Cheney has been treated for blood clot in his leg after experiencing discomfort in his calf. More info as it becomes available.

Update: From CNN.

Doctors found a blood clot in Vice President Dick Cheney's left leg Monday, Cheney's office said.
The vice president was given blood-thinning medication, which he will need to take for several months, and allowed to return to work.

Looks like it was nothing serious. For a guy who has had four heart attacks since 1978, this is probably like a little indigestion.

The Plight of the Ugliest Endangered Animals

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 1:39 PM EST


Watch this Slate slideshow and you'll come out hating pandas for everything they represent. While millions of dollars have gone into saving the last three thousand pandas just because they're cute, at least one sorry creature—the aye-aye—is bound for extinction because it's ugly. The aye-aye looks like a balding, emaciated gremlin. So even though it minds its own business in life, foraging for bugs in tree bark with claws bigger than its face, superstitious people in Madagascar go out of their way to kill it on sight. "Aye-aye, aye-aye," indeed, as the maudlin Ranchero song goes, "Canta y no llores." The world is not fair. Not even environmental philanthropists are.

After pointing out injustice, fortunately, the writer poses solutions. Savvy conservationists can market the most charismatic creatures to raise money for the rest. The World Wildlife Federation already does so with its panda logo. "One lovable animal might stand in for an entire ecosystem—the jaguar, for example, could serve as a spokesmodel for the Amazon rainforest where it lived," Michael Levitin writes. To summarize the argument of biologist David Stokes, conservationists "must understand the ways that aesthetic appeal can be used to motivate the public—and then try to promote the "less attractive" creatures by highlighting their most endearing feature."

To their ideas I'd like to add another. Endangered wildlife t-shirts—the ones painted with blue whales underwater or gray wolves in the snow—went out of fashion by 1990. (I reluctantly retired mine some years later). But can't you picture the aye-aye (or the golden-rumped elephant shrew or the hairy-eared dwarf lemur) becoming an icon emblazoned on ironic t-shirts to raise funds for their conservation? And not just for hipsters. The scrawny, bug-eyed Chihuahua mascot was fast food industry's most effective ad campaign in decades; Americans bought 13 million stuffed ones from Taco Bell and far too many more dashboard bobble-heads. Paris Hilton has one too. And Sam the World's Ugliest Dog ranks among this millennium's most famous canines. Today the t-shirts and mugs made in Sam's memory are sold out. So conservationists who want to draw attention to the less photogenic animals could make use of this trend: in the era of Ugly Betty, a beatific defense of homeliness itself may be garnering popularity.

—April Rabkin

Fired U.S. Attorneys Update -- The Ax is Falling

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 1:37 PM EST

Talking Points Memo reports that in anticipation of the fired federal prosecutors testifying before Congress tomorrow, Michael Battle, the director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, has resigned. According to TPM, Battle was the one who made the calls to the prosecutors letting them know they had been fired. Of course, Battle was complicit in a larger scheme orchestrated by higher-ups in the Bush Administration. His resignation in no way means the culprit has been punished or that the scandal is over.

TPM also reports that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed an ethics complaint against Republican Representative Pete Domenici of New Mexico. Domenici is one of two congresspeople that contacted fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias before the November 2006 elections, pressuring Iglesias to speed up a probe of a Democratic lawmaker up for reelection. Mother Jones recently profiled the woman who is the heart and soul CREW -- possibly the most hated woman in Washington -- Melanie Sloan. Check it out.

Elsewhere, Slate has an excellent article by Dhalia Lithwick on the reasons behind the prosecutor purge.

1) Cronyism (Carol Lam was let go for hurting the GOP; her replacement is a card-carrying member of the Federalist Society.)
2) Candidate grooming (The Bush administration is grooming Republican lawyers for higher office with sweet stepping-stone jobs.)
3) Presidential politics (an opposition researcher gets a prosecutor's gig in Arkansas right before Hillary Clinton's run for president. Sneaky.)
4) It's a very short hop from a U.S. attorney gig to the federal bench. I wouldn't be surprised if Rove and Co.—who truly live to makeover the federal bench—were willing to suffer a little short-term political embarrassment in order to better situate some loyalists for future judgeships.
5) This administration really does see loyalty to the White House as inseparable from loyalty to the law. Historically, the frequent disputes between the DOJ and renegade U.S. attorneys were resolved through compromise. This president doesn't compromise with insubordinate subordinates. He fires them.
6) The conspiracy theorist in me cannot leave unmentioned the possibility that someone at the Bush White House—let's call him "David Addington"—does nothing all day but mark up legislation to diminish congressional and judicial oversight while increasing executive branch authority. Someone at the White House figured out that with a little Wite-Out and the distractions of the Christmas season, the president could remove both the federal judiciary and the Congress from the U.S. attorney appointments process.
7) This was merely a monumental screw-up.

I've rearranged the numbering, but all the words in block quotes are Lithwick's. Check out her full article here. We'll have coverage of the hearings tomorrow as they happen.

Scary New Stat on Health Insurance

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 12:36 PM EST

"Today, more than one-third of the uninsured — 17 million of the nearly 47 million — have family incomes of $40,000 or more." That's from today's New York Times, and if there is a better explanation for why universal health care has broad support amongst voters or a better argument for why we need a new system, anything at all, I certainly haven't seen it.

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Go Deep Inside the Conservative Movement

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 12:20 PM EST

Nation staffer Max Blumenthal went to the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting (known as CPAC) recently and took some excellent video. Yes, he has Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a "faggot" but he also has Michelle Malkin chewing him out over a kinda-funny joke, Grover Norquist saying some intelligent stuff, a dolphin that hates Mitt Romney, a dude refusing to let the video camera see his Confederate flag pin, and other delights. Check it out here.

Whenever I think of CPAC, I think of our friend the principled conservative, Daniel Borchers, who was kicked out of the convention one year and denied entrance two others because he has made it his mission to try and convince his conservative brethern that Coulter is hijacking their ideology and ruining America's political discourse. You can read our short profile on him here. It's called "Counter-Coulter."

In the Red: Bono's AIDS Ad Campaign Tanks

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 11:25 AM EST

Bad news for Red, the Bono-inspired, star-studded ad campaign to sell Gap t-shirts, and—oh, yes—raise some money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Despite all the hype, its total contribution to the Fund so far has been a paltry $18 million. A Global Fund spokesman explains to Ad Age that this was to be expected: "Red has done as much as we could have hoped for in the short time it has been up and running.... The launch cost of this kind of campaign is going to be hugely frontloaded." Translation: Most of the money raised has been blown on ad budgets by Gap, Motorola, Armani, Apple, and other companies that are taking a cut from selling Red stuff. To give you a sense of just how big the corporate cut is, for every special edition Red iPod nano sold, Apple donates just $10.

This isn't the first time an altruistic corporate campaign has been revealed to be too good to be true—we collected some other examples in our November issue. But there's an easy way to not get snooke(red)—cut out the middleman and give directly to the Global Fund. Visit buylesscrap.org to find out how.

Ann Coulter, on a Roll

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 2:19 PM EST

ann_coulter.jpg At the annual American Conservative Union meeting—attended by the V.P. and all the 2008 Republican candidates but McCain—Ann Coulter gave her latest gaydar reading. John Edwards, like Bill Clinton and Al Gore before him, is a "faggot."

Age-Old Tradition Felled by Climate Change

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 1:38 PM EST


Today's New York Times reports that sugar makers in Vermont—maple syrup farmers, that is—can no longer rely on generations-old traditions to tell them when to tap the trees. Maple season has moved up at least a month and become shorter, sugar makers say. The U.S. used to make 80 percent of the world's maple syrup and Canada, 20. Their roles have now reversed as the maples thrive in the northernmost reaches of their traditional range.

Maple trees not only produce the sweet, delicious sap; they also provide the most exquisite of fall foliage.