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The threatening radio transmission heard at the end of a video showing harassing maneuvers by Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz may have come from a locally famous heckler known among ship drivers as the âFilipino Monkey.â...
In recent years, American ships operating in the Middle East have had to contend with a mysterious but profane voice known by the ethnically insulting handle of âFilipino Monkey,â likely more than one person, who listens in on ship-to-ship radio traffic and then jumps on the net shouting insults and jabbering vile epithets....
Rick Hoffman, a retired captain who commanded the cruiser Hue City and spent many of his 17 years at sea in the Gulf was subject to the renegade radio talker repeatedly, often without pause during the so-called âTanker Warsâ of the late 1980s.
âFor 25 years thereâs been this mythical guy out there who, hour after hour, shouts obscenities and threats,â he said. âHe could be tied up pierside somewhere or he could be on the bridge of a merchant ship.â
And the Monkey has stamina.
âHe used to go all night long. The guy is crazy,â he said. âBut who knows how many Filipino Monkeys there are? Could it have been a spurious transmission? Absolutely.â
Here again is the audio (mp3) of that radio transmission.
On a more serious note, the BBC reports that "Iranian speedboats approached US warships in two previously undisclosed incidents in the Strait of Hormuz in December."
The changes keep on coming in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Less than a month ago, former voting section chief John "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do: They die first" Tanner got canned. And today, his replacement, Christopher Coates, a veteran of the section, demoted Tanner's controversial deputy chiefs, Susana Lorenzo-Giguere and Yvette Rivera. The changes were announced in an email to voting section staff.
The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating whether Lorenzo-Giguere had filed certain lawsuits in order to get paid while living at her Cape Cod beach house. Tanner was under investigating for approving the arrangement. Both were accused by former section lawyers in complaints to OPR and the inspector general of seeking reimbursement for official travel.
Rivera has been accused of discriminating against African-American employees. She oversaw the important Section Five unit, which has the responsibility of reviewing election laws in parts of the country with a history of discrimination. Encouragingly, her replacement is Tim Mellett, one of the staff attorneys who in 2003, found that Tom DeLay's Texas redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act, a finding that was overruled by political appointees.
So it seems that the voting section is truly entering a new era. Whether the voting section will reassume its traditional responsibility of protecting African-American voters from discrimination is another question. Only time will tell.
The day is drawing nigh when the limits of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson's chutzpah will be tested.
Late last year, Johnson, over the unanimous objection of his staff, arbitrarily denied California's petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. He was even told that the EPA would lose the case if California sued -- which they did, as expected, along with fifteen other states.
But even before that fore-ordained court fight takes place, Johnson will have to face Congress. First up is the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, of which Barbara Boxer's (D-CA) the chair. A hearing is set for January 24th, when Johnson will get to explain his rationale in person. Here's his two page denial letter as a preview -- which Cali Attorney General Jerry Brown called "shocking in its incoherence and utter failure to provide legal justification for the administrator's unprecedented action."
In a committee hearing in California yesterday, Brown urged Boxer to not be subpoena-shy, since Johnson has still not provided the requisite supporting legal and technical documents for the decision (after reviewing California's petition for more than two years, Johnson only issued that two page denial). From The Los Angeles Times:
"Subpoena these guys," he urged Boxer. "Send the marshals out. Get them to tell us under oath. They are not going to get away with this. Sooner or later, we are going to uncover real corruption . . . that is dangerous to California and to the whole world."
Brown said that the Bush administration may be able to delay court action a year, until the president's term is over, but that Congress may be able to speed the process. "What you have is a bunch of scofflaws in the White House," he said. "This fellow Johnson is becoming a stooge in a really pathetic drama that hopefully will not play out much longer."
Yesterday we gave you the rundown on Common Sense Issues, a nonprofit group that's been phoning millions of voters in key primary states on behalf of Mike Huckabee. The automated calls ask voters about their views on certain hot-button conservative issues and then provide a barrage of facts demonstrating that Huckabee is stronger.
I spoke with the group's executive director Patrick Davis this morning and asked him to lay it all out for me. Where was the group active? How many calls had they made? And were the calls illegal?
In addition to the approximately 850,000 calls in Iowa and 1 million in South Carolina, the group made 800,000 in New Hampshire, and already hundreds of thousands in Florida (he said it wasn't up to a million "yet"). They're on the phones currently in Michigan, he said, and have reached on the order of two million homes. All the calls are generally identical, he said, with some exceptions.
For instance, the group is calling independent and Democratic homes in Michigan, encouraging them to cross over and vote for Huckabee in the Republican primary because "they don't have much of a choice on their ballot," Davis explained. A commenter to yesterday's post, ROSS in Detroit, said he'd received one of these calls, writing:
"I'm in MI near Detroit. My ZIP Code is heavily Dem. I just got one of the push poll robocalls described. It urged me as a Democrat to cross over and vote in the GOP primary for Huckabee! It was immediately clear at the beginning of the 2 min 45 sec call that this was in favor of Huckabee. . . . ."
See below for another description of the calls by another TPM reader.
Davis defended the calls, saying that the group's activities were "well within federal law." And he repeated the group's explanation as for why these weren't push polls (imitations of polls meant to disperse negative information). Every call is unique, he said, because of the group's "personal identification artificial intelligence" technology. And "every bit of it is factual."
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Joshua Henderson, the Marine who unleashed a 200 round barrage of bullets from his M240 that killed as many as 19 Afghans last March, asserts that he will testify only if he is granted immunity. Other Marines have testified that Henderson fired as many as 10 times and that they did not see any evidence of hostile gunmen or incoming rounds. (LA Times)
The House and Senate Judiciary Committees want more information about former Attorney General John Ashcroftâs no-bid contract to monitor out-of-court settlements of criminal allegations. The contract is worth between $28 million and $52 million. (New York Times)
John McCain's presidential campaign might have broken its own rules by including its fundraising list as collateral for a bank loan. The campaign had promised its donors that it would not sell their information. (Politico)
As far as international incidents go, this one's a little baffling.
On Tuesday, we gave you the rundown of Sunday's incident in the Strait of Hormuz, when three hulking American naval ships were greeted by five Iranian speedboats. U.S. officials said that the boats maneuvered aggressively, dropped two white boxes in the water, and issued threats over the radio. Just when the boats were getting too close for comfort, they said, and the Americans were preparing for a warning shot, the boats sped away.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon released an edited video of the incident, which you can see here:
On the audio (mp3) of the radio communication, a voice slowly pronounces the words "I am coming to you," and then as the American tries to communicate, says, "You will explode after a few minutes."
But since then, the American version of the incident has undergone a revision. The radio threat, the Navy now admits, may not have come from the Iranian boats after all. The voice, a number of observers have pointed out, seems to come out of nowhere and doesn't have the expected engine noise in the background, and in fact, The Washington Postreports, the accent doesn't even sound Iranian.
The Iranians, meanwhile, have steadfastly insisted that nothing of this sort ever happened. To that effect, they released a video yesterday of a completely ordinary greeting between Iranian and naval vessels. But it's impossible to tell whether it's even the same incident. U.S. officials say that it's not.
So.... It remains unclear what happened really happened there and why. William Arkin of the Post's Early Warning blog suggests that Iran "wanted to send a not-so-subtle message to their Persian Gulf neighbors that they could disrupt the flow of oil and that any U.S.-Iranian confrontation would hurt the pocketbooks of the ruling sheiks."
The Bush administration took the ball and ran with it, playing up the "confrontation," though President Bush seemed to indicate an initial dearth of talking points. He regained his footing later, warning of "serious consequences" if it happened again. And if it does happen again, maybe it will all seem less strange.
It's not much of a mystery which candidate the nonprofit group Common Sense Issues supports. After all, they run a website called Trust Huckabee. And they've made millions of calls in key primary states on Mike Huckabee's behalf.
From the various reports, the automated calls are transparent examples of push polls -- i.e. calls posing as polls, but really intended to give negative information about a particular candidate.
Common Sense has some considerable experience with this. In the 2006 elections, the group paid for calls attacking Democrats in at least five states. The robo calls followed their favored formula -- extremely leading questions followed by a barrage of "facts." In Maryland, voters were asked whether they supported medical research experiments on unborn babies. In Tennessee, voters were asked "Would you prefer to have your taxes not raised, and if possible, cut?" and then "Do you believe that foreign terrorists should have the same legal rights and privileges as American citizens?" You can listen to one of the Tennessee calls here. Always, the "facts" based on the voter's response.
When I talked to one of the leaders of the group, he told me that the questions used "accurate characterizations," and added: "There are a fair number of things that are unpleasant to talk about, but that doesn't make [our questions] any less accurate."
The group doesn't mind pushing the envelope. Since December, they've paid for calls supporting Huckabee in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, and South Carolina; because they are robo calls, they've been able to reach hundreds of thousands of households (1 million in South Carolina and Michigan each, and approximately 850,000 in Iowa). Florida is apparently next. The group also ran a TV ad in Iowa which you can see on their website called "Who Can You Trust?" Just in case voters didn't get the message, they were directed to CannotTrustMittRomney.com, which includes a series of old TV clips of Romney proclaiming his pro-choice stance.*
Well, Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) finally made his much-anticipated announcement, and curiously enough, the ongoing federal investigation and his near-certain defeat in the Republican primary apparently didn't figure into his decision to retire. From the AP:
Republican Rep. John Doolittle of California, who is under investigation in a congressional lobbying scandal, said Thursday that he'll retire from Congress at the end of his current term.
"My wife, Julie, and I have made this decision after much prayer and deliberation. It was not my initial intent to retire, and I fully expected and planned to run again right up until very recently," Doolittle said after addressing supporters in his Northern California district.
"But it distilled upon us that we were ready for a change after spending almost our entire married lives with me in public service. We are at peace with this choice and look forward to starting a new chapter in our lives."
The criminal case is tied up in litigation right now, as he's contested a Justice Department subpoena for congressional records. But that should be wrapped up eventually, so that Doolittle really can get started with that "new chapter" in his life.
As far as Blackwater's manysins go, this one's pretty minor. But it's got that special Blackwater touch.
Back in 2005, The New York Timesreports, a Blackwater helicopter dropped tear gas (CS gas) on a checkpoint in Baghdad's Green Zone. "An armored vehicle on the ground also released the gas, temporarily blinding drivers, passers-by and at least 10 American soldiers operating the checkpoint.... A number of Iraqi civilians, both on foot and in cars waiting to go through the checkpoint, were also exposed. " The gas, which the American military itself "can use only under the strictest conditions and with the approval of top military commanders," causes burning eyes, skin irritation, coughing, difficulty breathing and sometimes even vomiting.
Blackwater's explanation, by way of spokeswoman Anne Tyrell, was that "a CS gas canister was mistaken for a smoke canister and released near an intersection and checkpoint." If there was some mistake, both the helicopter and the vehicle on the ground seem to have been mistaken. Oops.
Oddly enough, Army officers told the Times that "the Blackwater convoy appeared to be stuck in traffic and may have been trying to use the riot-control agent as a way to clear a path." Now, how blinding everyone in the area would help traffic to clear isn't immediately clear to me. Nor is it clear to Capt. Kincy Clark who was hit by the gas and wrote, "Why someone would think a substance that makes your eyes water, nose burn and face hurt would make a driver do anything other than stop is beyond me.â
Note: Blackwater hired its third lobbyist recently.