Political MoJo

History Don't Know Much About Bush

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 11:45 AM EST

The decider rides again. From George W. Bush's "interview" with Sean Hannity a couple days ago:

I enjoy making decisions. You know, there's something exciting about reading and studying history and realize you're making history with it. And one of the lessons, by the way, about when you read history is that, after your presidency, you know, it's going to take a while for the historians to fully understand the decisions you made, if you're making big decisions, and so therefore you don't worry about history.

I like to say there's a portrait of George Washington in the Oval Office. I often look at him. I've read three history books about him. And if they're still analyzing the No. 1 guy's presidency, old No. 43 needs to not worry about it.

In short, Bush seems to hope that his legacy will rest on a solid foundation of inscrutability. Take that, eggheads!

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Free Nuke Plans, Courtesy of the U.S. Gov't - Again

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 11:29 AM EST

Today's New York Times reports that the federal government stuck plans for a nuclear weapon up on the Internet, free for the taking (until yesterday). The "Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal" was set up at the behest of Congressional Republicans smarting from the failure to find WMD's in Iraq; the website, which contained 55,000 boxes of Saddam-era documents, was meant to be a post-facto freelance intelligence-gathering free-for-all. The Weekly Standard and conservative bloggers were big fans of this idea. But the cache also included what experts are calling a "basic guide to building an atom bomb." Oops. (Not that the amateur WMD-hunters are buying it: Jveritas, an Arabic-speaking blogger who has translated many documents, claims the prospect of, say, Iran using the nuclear plans is "a laughable idea.")

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This is not the first time that Iraqi nuclear plans have been shared online by the U.S. government. As Kurt Pitzer reported in the September/October 2005 issue of Mother Jones, spin got the better of security when the military picked up Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, the mastermind behind Saddam's nuclear centrifuge program in 2003:

On June 26, the CIA posted a press release about Obeidi's cache -- the most valuable WMD evidence the U.S. has yet obtained in Iraq -- on its official website. It also put up digital photos of the components and even one of the key centrifuge diagrams. The pictures, which [former U.N. weapons inspector David] Albright says could be "incredibly useful" to any regime trying to start a covert nuclear program, were online for almost a week -- long enough to be downloaded and made freely available on the Internet -- before the agency took them down. Literally buried for 12 years, some of Saddam's hoard of nuclear knowledge got out because of the U.S. government, not in spite of it.

Read the rest of the story here.

Diebold Asks HBO to Kill Voting Machine Documentary

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 11:07 AM EST

You may have seen the premiere of Hacking Democracy on HBO last night, but the folks over at Diebold wish you hadn't. The doc takes a look at the computers that will count 87% of America's votes on Tuesday and the vulnerabilities of the technology. If follows grandmother turned voting-machine-watchdog Bev Harris through her research of Diebold, and looks at the potential risks of the machines from the perspective of computer security experts. Far from a salacious expose on the GOP's attempt to disenfranchise through computerized voting, it's a measured look at the prospects for hacking, tampering and the other risks that could come as a result of the machines capturing nearly 9 out of 10 votes cast next week.

Turns out Diebold has complained repeatedly to HBO about the film, apparently without even watching it. The company's president, Dave Byrd, wrote letters to executives at HBO, complaining about errors and saying that no one spoke with Diebold about the film. In response, HBO Vice President and Senior Counsel, Peter Rienecker, in a November 1 letter, points out that the directors of the film tried repeatedly to get an interview with Diebold and were rebuffed, and that the errors mentioned were on Diebold's part:

You assert in your letter that the Documentary contains "significant factual errors"; however, based on several of the purported examples you have cited, you do not appear to have viewed the film which will premiere on HBO on November 2. HBO stands by the accuracy and fairness of the Documentary. Of course, if after viewing the film on the HBO service tomorrow evening you continue to have concerns, we would be happy to discuss them with you at that time.

Rienecker goes on to discuss point-by-point Diebold's concerns with the documentary, including:

-Diebold's October 31 press release, which also generally challenges the accuracy of the statements in the Documentary, claims that the Documentary states that "Diebold counted more than 40% of the votes nationwide in the 2000 presidential election". The Documentary contains no such statement or implication.

-Contrary to the assertion in your October 30 letter, the Documentary does not report that a Diebold machine subtracted 16,022 votes from Al Gore in Florida in 2000. Rather, the Documentary indicates that the software involved was owned by Global Election Systems, which (as indicated in your letter) was purchased by Diebold in 2002.

-We do not agree that the results of Harry Hursti's investigation in Leon County, Florida were in any way proved to be a sham. Indeed, his findings as depicted in the Documentary have been verified and confirmed in a February 2006 report issued by the University of California, Berkeley.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter yesterday Diebold executives admitted that they had not actually seen the film but were asking HBO to pull it from its schedule or air company disclaimers questioning its accuracy.

Midnight Rider Terminates Iraq Reconstruction Watchdog

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 10:41 AM EST

Secreted into a military authorization bill that was signed by the president two weeks ago is a provision that will shutter the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction effective October 1, 2007. The office, headed by former White House official Stuart W. Bowen Jr., was established in October 2004 to investigate the potential fraud and abuse of reconstruction funds. Since then it has filed one explosive report after another, revealing, most recently, that the military could not account for hundreds of thousands of weapons it provided to Iraqi security forces. Perhaps Bowen's agency did its job a little too well.

The New York Times reports:

Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who followed the bill closely as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, says that she still does not know how the provision made its way into what is called the conference report, which reconciles differences between House and Senate versions of a bill.

Neither the House nor the Senate version contained such a termination clause before the conference, all involved agree.

"It's truly a mystery to me," Ms. Collins said.

It's no longer a mystery. According to the Times, the provision was placed in the bill by Congressional staffers working for Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (who recently announced he's running for president in 2008).

"I just can't see how one can look at this change without believing it's political," Rep. Henry Waxman told the Times.

It Depends on What the Definition of "Victory" Is

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 1:53 AM EST

Via the folks at PRWatch, a fascinating tidbit about what might be behind the administration's baffling confidence that things will work out just fine in Iraq:

The theme of "victory" was chosen, in fact, at the advice of Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who had joined the National Security Council as a special adviser. Feaver's research at Duke focused on a problem he called "casualty aversion" or "casualty phobia" - his terms for the negative attitudes that Americans develop upon seeing their soldiers killed in war. He had analyzed opinion polls showing that public support for the war was slipping. Conventional wisdom suggested that the growing death toll and economic costs of the war were the reasons for the change in public opinion, but Feaver believed that this was only part of the story. According to the New York Times, he was recruited by the White House "after he and Duke colleagues presented to administration officials their analysis of polls about the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004. They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believe it would ultimately succeed."

So they may not believe it, but they think we can't handle the truth. Too late, though.

Nevada GOP Candidate Accused of Sexual Assault

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 12:24 AM EST

Las Vegas police have released tapes of 911 calls from a cocktail waitress and her sister claiming that the Silver State's Republican candidate for governor attacked her in a parking garage off the Strip. The candidate, Rep. Jim Gibbons, is 61, married and in a close race with a Democratic state senator. Those family-values guys sure have a hard time keeping their hands to themselves....

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New Tools in the Battle For Fair Elections: Cell Phone Cameras

| Thu Nov. 2, 2006 10:07 PM EST

Aiming to get around the sort of he-said-she-said disputes over election irregularities that plagued Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004—disputes that may well have decided the fate of the last two presidential elections—two different groups will use the text and video capabilities of cell phones this year to monitor the polls.

Video the Vote, a project of independent filmmaker Jim Ennis and elections activist James Rucker, began six weeks ago with the launch of a popular video by the same name on YouTube (see below). Drawing more than 100,000 page views, the film ended with a pitch to participate in a project that combines citizen journalism with something akin to a flash mob. The 670 people who have signed on as volunteers will receive text messages on election day and will rush to polling places where irregularities have been reported and document them with digital video cameras. They will then download the footage and make it available to the public and the media. Rucker says the project was motivated by a perceived lack of media coverage of election irregularities in years past. "It's all for making sure these stories actually happen," he told me, "instead of kind of happening a few days later."

A similar effort was launched today by Veeker (as in video + peek), a web startup that aims to be the YouTube of cell phone videos. Founded by Silicon Valley heavyweights Roger Raderman, creator of iFilm, and Alex Kelly, the former head of new media for 21st Century Fox, Veeker is promoting itself with the activist set through the website veekthevote.com. Cell phone users can email their videos into a searchable database on the site that will serve as a source for election footage. The site has partnered with Youth Noise, a networking group for socially minded young people with 115,000 members, some of whom have volunteered to film any irregularities at the polls with their phones. The goal, says spokesperson Vijay Chattha, is to "get more of a realistic picture of what's happing out there."

GOP Rep. Don Sherwood Paid Mistress $500K To Keep Quiet About Abuse Allegations

| Thu Nov. 2, 2006 9:24 PM EST

The AP reports:

A Republican congressman accused of abusing his ex-mistress agreed to pay her about $500,000 in a settlement last year that contained a powerful incentive for her to keep quiet until after Election Day, a person familiar with the terms of the deal told The Associated Press.
Rep. Don Sherwood is locked in a tight re-election race against a Democratic opponent who has seized on the four-term congressman's relationship with the woman. While Sherwood acknowledged the woman was his mistress, he denied abusing her and said that he had settled her $5.5 million lawsuit on confidential terms....
According to a police report, Ore called 911 on her cell phone from the bathroom of Sherwood's Capitol Hill apartment in 2004 and reported that Sherwood had choked her while giving her a back rub. Sherwood admitted having an affair with the woman, but vehemently denied ever hurting her, and criminal charges were never filed. But Ore, now 30, sued for damages.

Whole story after the jump.

Lifelong Christian GOP Columnist Quits GOP Because of Sen. Allen's Smears

| Thu Nov. 2, 2006 7:50 PM EST

It's not everyday you open up your Dallas Morning News and read this:

"I'm a Christian, a writer, a military parent and a registered Republican. On all those counts, I was disgusted by an e-mail I just received that's being circulated by campaign supporters of Republican George Allen, who's trying to retain his Senate seat in Virginia.

The message goes like this: "First, it was the Catholic priests, then it was Mark Foley, and now Jim Webb, whose sleazy novels discuss sex between very young teenagers. ... Hmmm, sounds like a perverted pedophile to me! Pass the word that we do not need any more pedophiles in office." Democrat James Webb is a war hero and former Marine, wounded in Vietnam and winner of the Navy Cross. He was writing about class and military issues long before me and has articulated the issue of how the elites have dropped the ball on military service in his classic novel Fields of Fire. By the way, that's a book Tom Wolfe calls "the greatest of the Vietnam novels."...

Mr. Webb also happens to be running against a desperate opponent supported by people who circulated the stupid e-mail, something that reminds me of a 2000 smear campaign aimed at another war hero, John McCain.

I never served in the military. It was my son's unexpected volunteering that connects me to the military family and to my country. And I've been voting Republican for years. My late father – Dr. Francis Schaeffer – was an evangelical theologian, friend to Jerry Falwell and White House guest of Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and the first President Bush. I have nice handwritten letters from various members of the Bush family, including Barbara, thanking me for my books on military service. So I have every reason to stay in the Republicans' good graces. (It's nice to be complimented on television by the First Lady.)

But enough is enough. I've had it with Republican smears."

[Follow the jump. It gets better.]

Say Goodbye To Sushi: Global Collapse of Fisheries Pending

| Thu Nov. 2, 2006 7:16 PM EST

The NYT reports that Science is about to issue a big study on the state of the ocean's biodiversity. "If fishing around the world continues at its present pace, more and more species will vanish, marine ecosystems will unravel and there will be "global collapse" of all species currently fished, possibly as soon as midcentury, fisheries experts and ecologists are predicting."

 net_losses_265x210.jpg Sigh. We know. We had a huge package on the state of the oceans in the spring. It is an essential read to any one who likes to swim with, gaze at, or eat fish. Or, for that matter, cares about our own survival, because if the oceans go quiet, life on land will follow quickly behind.

So read the amazing overarching piece by Julia Whitty. (Julia also wrote our cover story for the current issue, on getting over our denial and dealing with global warming.) Mike Robbins wrote a nice piece about how the U.S. fisheries regulators are falling down on the job. And H. Bruce Franklin wrote about the long-suffering menhaden, the little fish that anchors the east coast food chain, and which is being fished to extinction by a company owned by a big Bush supporter.

And you can do your part, by learning what fish to avoid eating, and which ones are still doing fine (and free of mercury) by reading Dan Duane's piece on how to eat fish without fear.