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An epilogue, of sorts:

Disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley, whose e-mails and instant messages to teenage former congressional pages shocked the country, may avoid criminal prosecution in Florida because of the state's three-year statute of limitations.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement did not start a criminal investigation of Foley until November 2006, making it nearly impossible to prosecute what some officials regarded as the best case, an explicit instant message sent by Foley to a 17-year-old high school student in February 2003, when Foley was in Pensacola, Fla.

Time to move some goalposts. The White House today released its third benchmark report (pdf) on Iraq, and, miracle of miracles, it shows some achievements. Iraq is now making "satisfactory" progress toward de-Baathification reform. Repeat after me, in your best Johnny Drama voice: Victory!

Of course, the Iraqi parliament has been on vacation for all of August, almost half of the time since the White House's last benchmark status update. Needless to say, no law relaxing the purge of overwhelmingly Sunni ex-Baath Party officials has been passed. Just last week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office bluntly assessed the de-Baathification benchmark as "not met" in its report. So what gives?

What gives is the White House has seized on an agreement between the different factions of the Iraqi government in August to relax the de-Baathification program as evidence of progress. Now, the salient fact here is that the government of Nouri al-Maliki doesn't contain any Sunnis. One influential Sunni official, Tariq al-Hashemi, signed onto the agreement. But that was largely out of politesse. Not only did his Sunni political bloc not rejoin the government, but one of his deputies dismissed the agreement as "an irrelevant media production."

And that's exactly why it's good enough for President Bush. The report expects the American people to believe that yet another in an endless litany of promises is a sign of the inevitable march of sectarian healing. "The fact that legislation has not yet passed the [parliament] should not diminish the significance of the agreement," the report hectors. But the GAO included the agreement in its assessment, which is far more realistic: "No consensus exists on reforming the current de-Ba'athification policy, and many Iraqis are concerned about the prospect of former Ba'athists returning to power."

And there lies the new way forward for the Iraq war: to paraphrase Senator George Aiken of Vermont, declare victory and stay in forever.

I don't have half the brainpower necessary for economics reporting, but luckily, the Media Consortium's Brian Beutler does. Beutler examines the statistics cited by Amb. Ryan Crocker during his testimony this week, and finds that -- somehow! -- they don't really add up to the success story that Crocker related:

Perhaps Crocker's single biggest claim during his two days on Capitol Hill was this: "The IMF estimates that economic growth will exceed 6 percent for 2007." It's a true statement as far as it goes, but the International Monetary Fund's Executive Board reported the figure with less enthusiasm. "Economic growth has been slower than expected," the IMF fretted, "mainly because the expected expansion of oil production has not materialized."

Indeed, it's typical for a country as damaged as Iraq to see its economy fluctuate wildly, resulting in spurts of growth much more substantial than 6 percent.

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The going suspicion in Washington has always been that politicians are not prone to ask too many questions of contributors as long as the checks keep coming. But never has a contributor's hidden past blown up in a campaign's face quite like it has for the Clinton campaign in the case of Norman Hsu.

The story began just two weeks ago when The Wall Street Journal noticed that one of Hillary Clinton's biggest donors was a family that lived in a single story home near the San Francisco airport. The father, William Paw, was a mail carrier; his wife was a homemaker. And yet the couple and their children had given $45,000 to Clinton since 2005. The contributions closely, and suspiciously, matched the timing of those by a New York businessman named Norman Hsu. It's illegal to reimburse individuals for making campaign contributions.

The next day, The Los Angeles Times made the story a scandal when it reported that Hsu had been convicted in California state court of stealing $1 million from investors in the early 90s. He'd failed to show at a sentencing hearing and been on the lam ever since.

After that story, he made his way back to California, but then promptly disappeared again after posting $2 million for bail. After sending out a "To Whom It May Concern" suicide note via FedEx to acquaintances and charitable organizations to whom he'd donated (like, ironically enough, The Innocence Project), he hopped on an Amtrak train to Chicago. On the train, he locked locked himself in a compartment. A passenger discovered him the following morning shirtless, wedged against the door in the fetal position. Pills were scattered over the floor. He was arrested after being transferred to a hospital in Colorado.

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Gen. Petraeus downplayed the non-al-Qaeda Sunni insurgency in his testimony and subsequent press appearances. But a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service last week pointed out that al-Qaeda in Iraq is a miniscule fraction of the insurgency. From Kenneth Katzman, the lead Iraq analyst for Congress' independent, nonpartisan research wing, AQI is:

A numerically small but politically significant component is non-Iraqi, mostly in a faction called al-Qaeda Iraq. Increasingly in 2007, U.S. commanders have seemed to equate AQI with the insurgency, even though most of the daily attacks are carried out by Iraqi Sunni insurgents.

Katzman puts AQI's active strength at between 1500 and 3500 fighters. (Terrorism expert Malcolm Nance pegs it at about 1300.) That's compared to about 25,000 Sunni insurgents, according to U.S. estimates, though the Iraqi government puts them at about 40,000, with 150,000 "supporters." AQI certainly punches above its weight class -- Petraeus said it's responsible for today's murder of anti-AQI Sunni shiekh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, though George Washington University professor Marc Lynch thinks Sunni insurgents may have killed him -- but it's important to remember that the insurgency isn't a monolith under the control of al-Qaeda.

It just goes to show: Lee County, Florida was asking for trouble when it decided to rebuff Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) pork. Now if they're hit by a hurricane and need help and can't get it, they'll only have themselves to blame.

The Department of Transportation warned Lee County, Florida in a letter last week that it has jeopardized receiving emergency funds by voting to return the extra-Constitutional $10 million earmark Rep. Don Young (R-AK) slipped them in 2005.

DOT wrote the county ominously saying:

Since Florida is in the middle of hurricane season, this action could jeopardize potential funding from the Emergency Relief Program, which provides for the repair and reconstruction of Federal-aid highways and roads on Federal lands which have suffered serious damage as a result of (1) natural disasters or (2) catastrophic failures from an external cause.

In order to ensure such funding, the DOT wants the county to revise the process by which it rejected Young's $10 million.

This won't help Adm. Mike McConnell's flagging credibility on Capitol Hill. On Monday, in response to questioning from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), McConnell, the director of national intelligence, proudly claimed a victory for the new Protect America Act -- the broad new surveillance law McConnell helped push through Congress last month that revised the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. McConnell claimed that three German terrorism suspects arrested last week for plotting to blow up nightclubs frequented by U.S. military personnel had come to the attention of German authorities thanks to U.S. intercepts made possible by the new law.

Only one problem: it had been widely reported that the suspects had been under surveillance for months. The Protect America Act wasn't even a month old at the time of their arrest. Almost immediately, intelligence officials queried by Newsweek's Mike Isikoff and Mark Hosenball backtracked on McConnell's dubious statement.

Yesterday, bowing to pressure, McConnell released this statement retracting his claim:

During the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on September 10, 2007, I discussed the critical importance to our national security of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the recent amendments to FISA made by the Protect America Act. The Protect America Act was urgently needed by our intelligence professionals to close critical gaps in our capabilities and permit them to more readily follow terrorist threats, such as the plot uncovered in Germany. However, information contributing to the recent arrests was not collected under authorities provided by the Protect America Act.

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John Rizzo, President Bush's choice for the CIA general counsel, has gotten opposition for standing by a 2002 memo that defined torture as pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of body function, or even death." Now the Senate intelligence committee has requested that Rizzo's name be withdrawn for the nomination.

The day after Norman Hsu turned himself in to California authorities he penned a suicide note that he sent to several acquaintances and charitable organizations. The note apologized for putting people "through inconvenience or trouble." This afternoon he faces a Mesa County judge. (WSJ)

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has been forced to withdraw his assertion that a new electronic surveillance law was instrumental in the recent uncovering of a terror plot in Germany. However, four intelligence-community officials, who came forward anonymously to refute McConnell, insisted that the new law played little if any role in the unraveling of the German plot. Instead, the U.S. military should have been credited for the surveillance work they completed months before the new law was enacted. (Newsweek)

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Former Veco CEO Bill Allen testified in the criminal prosecution of state Rep. Pete Kott (R-AK) yesterday, in yet another example of how he likes to keep pols on the hook:

"... Allen talked about overpaying a flooring job done by Kott by more than $7,000 and of scheming to get at least some of that money to Kott's son so that he could work on Kott's 2006 campaign, when a poll showed he was in surprising trouble. Even the poll itself was secretly paid for by Veco, which if true would be a hidden -- and illegal -- campaign contribution by the company to Kott."

Allen also testified that Kott joked about wanting a job handing out towels to women on beaches in Barbados, but that he had genuinely planned to give Kott a job as a Veco lobbyist, which pays $6,000 to $12,000 a month.

One week later, here it is: Gen. Petraeus' definition of sectarian violence.

Ever since the GAO report last week said it was "not clear" that the surge had contributed to a drop in sectarian deaths, Gen. Petraeus has been under pressure to explain his methodology. The GAO was agnostic on whether or not sectarian attacks had declined in recent months, citing that it required knowing a perpetrator's intent -- a task beyond the capabilities of the agency. But GAO was, at least inferentially, skeptical, noting that the broader pattern of attacks on civilians -- of which sectarianism is a proportion -- hasn't declined. And further reporting suggested problems with how MNF-I has tabulated sectarian casualties: one famous Washington Post story cited a senior intelligence official claiming MNF-I looks at where a bullet entered someone's head to divine sectarian intent.

Petraeus has disputed all of this. Yesterday, in Washington, Petraeus took a stab at an explanation. And in Baghdad, the Los Angeles Times reports, so did the U.S. military command, known as Multinational Forces Iraq, to combat the accusation that it's cooking the books to exaggerate the success of the surge. However, it's not exactly clear what that methodology tells us:

Stung by accusations that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, had presented selective statistics during his testimony before Congress, the military released a statement here outlining its definition of sectarian violence: bombings, killings or other attacks committed by an ethnic group or religious sect against another, for purely sectarian purposes.

That seems a little circular. As I wrote last week, determining sectarian killings isn't a matter of determining intent. There's plenty of evidence from a body that a killing was driven by sectarian motivations. Victims of sectarianism "generally are males found without identification documents and shot execution-style. The bodies usually are blindfolded and bound at the wrists, and often bear signs of torture," writes the LAT's Tina Susman. It may be that MNF-I's methodology makes sense, and the GAO was unduly harsh. Or not.

Here's MNF-I's statement in full:

Multi-National Force-Iraq defines ethno-sectarian murder as a murder committed by one ethnic/religious person/group directed at a different ethnic/religious person/group, where the primary motivation for the event is based on ethnicity or religious sect.

Ethno-sectarian violence is defined as an event and any associated civilian deaths caused by or during murders/executions, kidnappings, direct fire, indirect fire, and all types of explosive devices identified as being conducted by one ethnic/religious person/group directed at a different ethnic/religious person/group, where the primary motivation for the event is based on ethnicity or religious sect.

In our collection of data, a shot to the front or back of the head is not used to determine ethno-sectarian murder.

The number of ethno-sectarian murders has declined significantly since the height of the sectarian violence in December 2006. Iraq-wide, the number of ethno-sectarian deaths has decreased by over 55 percent, and it would have decreased much further if it not for the casualties inflicted by barbaric al-Qaeda bombings attempting to reignite sectarian violence.

It remains unclear why, as reported, the GAO, DIA and CIA have difficulty accepting MNF-I's definition of sectarian violence.


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