Jonathan blogged on Monday about the disturbingly wide range of estimates of the number of Iraqis who attended an anti-American rally in Najaf that day. Dutiful wonks at ThinkProgress, to the rescue! ThinkProgress points out that credible sources like The New York Times, the Washington Post, Reuters, AP, and the Wall Street Journal all put attendance in the "tens of thousands" (which, at least according to strict Mother Jones rules, means at least 20,000). Mother Jones also reports, in our Iraq 101 package, that Muqtada al-Sadr, who called for the rally, has "tens of thousands" of followers. The military, however, put attendance at 5,000-7,000, and conservative bloggers jumped on that figure.

ThinkProgress claims that a photo used to support lower estimates is, in fact, cropped. Check it out: It sure looks cropped.

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ThinkProgress then shows another photo, of a side road not included in the allegedly cropped photo.

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Problem is, neither of these photos have credible sources. The conservative blog Gateway Pundit, in a post including the photo in question, claims ThinkProgress's photo was taken before its photo, and therefore may well show some of the same people, not additional attendees as it claims. I'm gonna say touché on that one, but ThinkProgress has a solid record—and when you pair it with The New York Times, the Washington Post, Reuters, AP, and the Wall Street Journal and, ahem, Mother Jones, its reliability veritably trounces Gateway Pundit's. One caveat: It does seem a little bit odd that all the sources have used precisely the same wording in providing their estimates—but this is Iraq, and it's not like the Park Service is out there counting.

As for why Mother Jones believes papers of record and not the military, see below.

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Will Cancer Kill Candidate Thompson?

thompson2.jpgFred Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee Senator, announced earlier today that he had lymphoma. Thompson claimed that the lymphoma, a form of cancer, was slow growing and probably wouldn't affect either his life span or his quality of life. The fact that Thompson allowed his doctor to speak about his condition makes it pretty clear that the announcement was a final trial balloon before formally announcing a bid for the White House.

It's a cancerous year on the campaign trail, to be sure. Have Americans moved beyond their ban on sick presidents (or presidents with sick wives)? Wait and see—Fred Thompson is.

It's no wonder that a guy who makes millions on shady law firm consultations and high-flying speaking engagements is a little out of touch with the common man. Asked by a reporter in Alabama about the prices of a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread, Rudy Giuliani answered:

"A gallon of milk is probably about a $1.50, a loaf of bread about a $1.25, $1.30."

Reality?

A check of the Web site for D'Agostino supermarket on Manhattan's Upper East Side showed a gallon of milk priced at $4.19 and a loaf of white bread at $2.99 to $3.39. In Montgomery, Ala., a gallon of milk goes for about $3.39 and bread is about $2.

Two observations: (1) This is a classic "gotcha!" question that reporters love, and every presidential candidate should be given a commodities rundown with their morning briefing ("Mrs. Clinton, bags of potatoes are down 30 cents, closing yesterday at $3.49."). You have to believe Mitt Romney's and John Edwards' people are scrambling to get this sort of information to their candidates this very second, because reporters are probably salivating about the idea of catching a second candidate looking silly today.

And (2) I'm not sure I would know the exact price of those things. In my mind, living in New York, the answer is "Too much." I remember seeing a gallon of orange juice at almost $10, and I stopped caring completely. "Just take all my money," I say to the checkout counter lady. "I don't care how much anything costs anymore. You win."

Of course, this all recalls a classic George Bush Sr. moment:

His difficulty with grocery items recalled another Republican's supermarket run-in. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush expressed amazement at a high-tech supermarket scanner, prompting critics to argue that he was out of touch with average Americans. The White House cried foul, pointing out that during a grocers' convention Bush had been impressed by a special scanner that could read torn labels.

Via Kos.

George W. Bush: Soft on Crime

Excellent article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today about the dwindling efficacy of the FBI. The Bush Administration restructured the FBI after 9/11 to focus on national security, but did not eliminate any of the FBI's traditional responsibilities. And to handle all the extra work, the FBI was given no additional money. ("Do more with less," it was told.) The result? You guessed it. Lower prosecution rates. Says one retired FBI official, "we realized we were going to have to pull out of some areas -- bank fraud, investment fraud, ID theft -- cases that protect the financial infrastructure of the country."

The White House and the Justice Department have failed to replace at least 2,400 agents transferred to counterterrorism squads... Two successive attorneys general have rejected the FBI's pleas for reinforcements behind closed doors.

As the quote from the retired official would indicate, it appears the lack of manpower has mainly hit the FBI's ability to prosecute white collar crime. The P-I's findings:

Overall, the number of criminal cases investigated by the FBI nationally has steadily declined. In 2005, the bureau brought slightly more than 20,000 cases to federal prosecutors, compared with about 31,000 in 2000 -- a 34 percent drop.
White-collar crime investigations by the bureau have plummeted in recent years. In 2005, the FBI sent prosecutors 3,500 cases -- a fraction of the more than 10,000 cases assigned to agents in 2000.

The paper looks at specific cases of Native Americans and elderly residents in the Seattle area who were fleeced by sophisticated financial scams -- the sort of thing that has been traditionally part of the FBI's jurisdiction. In the cases examined by the P-I, none of the victims got the help they requested from Bush's FBI.

It's a long, long article. If you're interested, you can read the whole thing here. Also, I can tell you what the FBI was busy doing from 9/11 until the invasion of Iraq: partnering with the Department of Justice to scare the bejeezus out of Americans with show trial terror prosecutions and conveniently timed terror alerts, all of which are documented in the "DoJ/FBI" section of the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.

The Rutgers women's basketball team just played in the biggest game there is. They made it to the national championship game in the Big Dance. Did you hear about their upset win over #1 Duke in the Sweet 16 last month? You probably hadn't even heard of the team at all last week when Don Imus went and called them "nappy headed hos."

Which is too bad. They deserve to be lauded as student athletes, but instead they are, unwittingly, part of the Imus Show. And the most recent turn? They've gone and agreed to meet with Imus, to "reserve judgment" on whether he should be fired untill they hear his side of the story. His side? He's an ignorant shock jock who doesn't deserve their energy and attention. He's not going to give "ho a whole new definition," as one player wondered.

What he is going to do is continue to apologize, backpeddle, and do whatever he can to save his job. The sad fact remains that Imus has gotten more attention in these past few days than the Rutgers women have gotten all season. Which in the end reinforces his behavior. The more outrageous he is, the more play he gets on the national stage.

At least now though, people are interested in women's basketball, or at least the players, the "rough girls," involved. The Scarlet Knights, it seems, have more backers now than ever before.

Live Blogging the Iraq Town Hall, Part 4

Obama: First question, "What is the best and fastest way to get out of Iraq?" Obama's response, and this is the first sentence out of his mouth, "As you know, I opposed this war from the start." Says there is no military solution to the war; there is nothing American troops can do to win this thing.

Touts his "very specific" plan that forces the Sunnis and Shiites to find a political reconciliation. Also, redeployment of American troops should begin in May 2007 and end in March 2008. (Non-combat troops can remain.)

Says if Bush vetoes the recent war funding bill passed by the Democratic Congress (the one that includes a timetable for withdrawal), the Democrats should re-confront the president, multiple times if necessary. This echoes statements made by other candidates earlier.

Open dialogue with Syria and Iran, says BHO. Invokes the fact that Reagan called the Soviet Union "the evil empire" and yet met with them, because "power without diplomacy is a prescription for disaster."

Observation: Despite his reputation, Obama is less fiery and probably less eloquent than Edwards today. Edwards really was a rhetorical rock star.

Good night everybody! MoveOn will have town halls on health care and global warming in the near future.

Live Blogging the Iraq Town Hall, Part 3

People are using the intermission to (1) push the Draft Al Gore movement, (2) pimp filibusterforpeace.org, and (3) call for impeachment. Gotta love MoveOn!

Next up, Hillary Clinton: Asked, "What is the best and fastest way to get out of Iraq?" Clinton responds by touting the legislation she has introduced that (1) guarantees funding, training, equipment for the troops, (2) stops escalation, (3) insists on "real benchmarks" for the Iraqi government, and (4) convene international conference to forge a stable future for Iraq.

Says she will end war if elected. "It is time once and for all to end our involvement in Iraq." That statement is followed immediately with a feisty question about Clinton's recent statement that she supports a continued American presence in Iraq. What would the American troops be there for? What would they be doing? And how many of troops are we talking about exactly? This multipart question gets the first round of applause of the night from the crowd.

Clinton responds that we would have a limited presence for a short period of time. No permanent occupation, no permanent bases. Just some troops to train Iraqi security forces, protect the Kurds, and determine what the American interests in the region are (and protect them afterward). The crowd here doesn't like it. Someone shouts, "Shouldn't take more than 50 to 80 years!"

Clinton has strong rhetoric about bringing the troops home, but people here don't seem to think she has the ideas to back it up.

Chris Dodd (senator from Connecticut): "I believe we should begin redeploying our troops this evening." Finish the redeployment by March 2008. We need a surge in diplomacy, and we need to tie this whole fiasco to a new energy policy.

Energy independence for America is a huge focus in Dodd's answers.

Dodd says we need to rebuild our relationships around the world so America can be a force for good across the world. Believes, obviously, in the power of the United States.

Obama's our last candidate.

Live Blogging the Iraq Town Hall, Part 2

Kucinich (Rep. from Ohio): We can only engage the world community on Iraq after we announce our intention to leave. Touts his history as an early and loud opponent of the war.

Kucinich does have thoughts on the "Then what?" question (see Biden below). He talks about how to rehabilitate Iraq even though he emphasizes repeatedly the need to end the war and bring the troops home immediately. Primarily, he says, we should not partition Iraq the way Biden suggests. We should instead reach out to the players in the region and convince them that America is changing, that America is no longer the big bully that shoved them and the United Nations around for so long. This was "an illegal invasion, an illegal war, and an illegal occupation," and we need to end the war-mongering culture of America, the culture that allows for the idea of a war of preemption, looks the other way when the United States chooses not to participate in international bodies like the International Criminal Court, and fosters the largest military in the history of the world.

Says he's the only candidate who has consistently voted against funding the war.

Bill Richardson (Gov of New Mexico): "If I were president today, I would withdraw American troops by the end of this calendar year, and leave no residual force whatsoever." Rely on strong diplomatic moves to keep things together in the void created by the departing American troops. One diplomatic move: bring the three sects in Iraq together to hammer out the future form of the Iraqi government. Second diplomatic move: convene all major players in the region and urge them to invest in their neighborhood. The full force of our withdrawal, coupled with the full force of American diplomacy, will (hopefully) stave off a regional conflagration.

Observation: Richardson has ideas that are as bold as Edwards' and Kucinich's, though Edwards is a lot more eloquent in presenting them.

Richardson's focuses (foci?): ending the war immediately, and using diplomacy to deal with whatever fallout results.

Intermission! Back in ten minutes.

As mentioned earlier, MoveOn is hosting a virtual town hall tonight asking all Democratic candidates for president their opinions on Iraq. Well, I'm attending one at the Harvard Hillel; here are my thoughts.

Eli Pariser, Executive Director of MoveOn, kicks us off by saying this is the first virtual town hall ever held on this scale. Tonight's focus: Iraq. Two more town halls, health care and global warming, coming later. 600,000 votes were cast by MoveOn members to determine which questions get asked tonight; questions were pre-submitted by MoveOn members. We'll have 10 minutes with each candidate.

First up, John Edwards. Edwards begins: "I was wrong and I take responsibility for that." To paraphrase: We don't need more debate, nonbinding resolutions, abstract goals. Congress should use funding authority to immediately start bringing troops home. "This is not the time for political calculation; it is a time for political courage." Incredibly strong rhetoric from Edwards with incredibly strong recommendations/ideas for ending the war; willing to cut funding for troops, if it means forcing Bush to bring troops home.

Next, Joe Biden. "There is not military solution in Iraq." Need for a political solution. Says that his opponents have offered plans for cutting troops and/or funding, but don't have a political solution that answers the question of "Then what?" We leave Iraq and get our troops home. Fine. No more Americans are dying. Fine. But then what?

Biden has a plan, the only plan put forward by a Democrat running for president. Basically, we decentralize Iraq in order to stabilize it, breaking it up into loosely federated pieces. Limited central government exists to care for borders, army, distribution of oil revenues, and foreign policy. Oil policy should share oil revenues with Sunnis, especially, in an effort to get them to back off the insurgency. Essentially, under Biden's plan, oil money holds the country together.

Bush Doles Out EVEN More B.S. On the Border

Yesterday, Cameron wrote about Bush's trip to Yuma, Arizona to gain support for his immigration bill. Bush heralded tighter border security put forth last year and how it has lead to decreased apprehensions. Border Patrol reports the apprehensions in the Yuma Sector have fallen by 68 percent. "It's amazing progress that's been made," Bush said. As Cameron noted, this is fairly amusing, since last year, Bush was touting more apprehensions as a sign of success. But, more importantly, it is also sort of bogus reasoning. Yes, it appears that increased surveillance and more boots on the ground has lead to a decrease in crossers in this specific area of Arizona and California, but as history has shown us, this is simply how it works. You tighten restrictions in one area, apprehensions are sure to go down. Immigrants will just cross elsewhere. As I reported in September of last year, immigrant experts call this the "balloon effect," meaning if you build a wall or increase manpower in one section, border crossers will just move down the line. It is not an absolute sign of success, by any means. And, aside from fencing off the entire border and manning every inch of it, this ebb and flow will always occur. As for the lull in increases elsewhere (apprehensions along the entire Mexico border are down 30 percent)? Experts say "immigrant smugglers [are seeking] out new crossing routes."

To give Bush a little credit, he does need to work hard to gain the acceptance of hard line and skeptical GOPers (although it does seem like he has done enough catering to them) if he has any hope of passing comprehensive reform. Nancy Pelosi has said she will not even consider voting on a bill unless the president has 70 Republican votes. But, nonetheless, a few words of advice to Bush: a.) be consistent and b.) get your facts straight.