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What Does 60 Minutes Tell Us About "Curve Ball" We Didn't Already Know?

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 11:20 PM EDT

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From the looks of this press release not much. Here's the news they're claiming to break:

Curve Ball is an Iraqi defector named Rafid Ahmed Alwan, who arrived at a German refugee center in 1999. To bolster his asylum case and increase his importance, he told officials he was a star chemical engineer who had been in charge of a facility at Djerf al Nadaf that was making mobile biological weapons. 60 Minutes has learned that Alwan's university records indicate he did study chemical engineering but earned nearly all low marks, mostly 50s. Simon's investigation also uncovered an arrest warrant for theft from the Babel television production company in Baghdad where he once worked.

Ok, his name is new. And that's big. But him being a liar, and a thief (and also, a sex offender) and a whole bunch of other things 60 Minutes is claiming to have uncovered have in actuality been known for years. You can read all about the Curve Ball saga in our Iraq War Timeline. And much of the original reporting on Curve Ball was done by the LA Times. And former CIA official Tyler Drumheller, the apparent big source for 60 Minutes, has been speaking out for years.

Which is not to say that Bob Simon's two year investigation won't yield some great new stuff. I'm sure it will. But I just wish they'd give credit to the LAT and others who broke or championed the Curve Ball story back before it was fashionable to call out the Bush administration.


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Re: Serviam

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 7:49 PM EDT

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Good for the conservative operatives behind Serviam for advancing the "We Are Rome" narrative by choosing a Latin name for their new merc mag. In explaining "what we mean by serviam" (Latin for "I will serve") they declare an "unabashed … professional editorial commitment to old-fashioned values." So it's pretty clear the Serviam folks want the Roman connection drawn. But perhaps they didn't think through all the implications.

Exactly why the Roman empire fell is a topic classicists have been debating pretty much since it happened (and when it happened is itself unresolved). But one oft-cited reason is—you guessed it—Rome's increasing reliance on vicious, untrustworthy mercenaries to police its empire. For any aspiring merc mag publishers, that's an, um, awkward fact you might consider before going with the cool-sounding Latin name. For fellow classics nerds, there's more on the Roman experience from Edward Gibbon's 18th century classic, The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, after the jump. Be warned, florid Augustan prose ahead:

SC Dems Bar Colbert

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 7:31 PM EDT

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The South Carolina Democratic party voted today to keep comedian Stephen Colbert off the state primary ballot, saying they considered him an insufficiently serious candidate. I guess he wasn't such welcome competition after all.

Putting aside the issue of whether or not Colbert makes the grade (though I don't see anyone else asking supporters to donate $100,000 to schools), what does it take to be considered a "serious" candidate? Do you need supporters? Do you have to want the job? The designation of "seriousness"—and, by extension, viability—tends to reflect the conventional wisdom of the media echo chamber far more than the candidate's actual merit. Call it the spoiler effect, wherein third parties and so-called "fringe candidates" are deleted from polls, kept off ballots, and literally forbidden to debate their better-heeled challengers. With such sparse options, it's no wonder that pundits and voters alike spend hours parsing the lead candidates' general statements for nuance and difference.

Bottom line, this country should welcome candidates who stray from the center and take principled, controversial positions, even if they lose in the end. If we broaden our definition of productive debate, we'll broaden our choices too, and maybe alleviate some of our cynicism. You want to be considered a serious candidate? Earn it.

—Casey Miner

Senators Warn White House on Iran

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 6:48 PM EDT

Thirty Senators have signed a letter sent to President Bush today, expressing concern with the administration's increasingly bellicose rhetoric on Iran.

"We are writing to express serious concern with the provocative statements and actions stemming from your administration with respect to possible U.S. military action in Iran," the letter states. "These comments are counterproductive and undermine efforts to resolve tensions with Iran through diplomacy."

"We wish to emphasize that no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action against Iran," it continues.

Among the thirty members who signed, Senators James Webb, John Kerry, Robert Byrd, Dick Durbin, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Chris Dodd, Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein, Herb Kohl, Byron Dorgin, Jack Reed, Max Baucus, Debbie Stabenow, Claire McCaskill, Barbara Boxer, Daniel Akaka, Tom Harkin, Thomas Carper, Amy Klobuchar, Jay Rockefeller, Robert Casey, Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, Sheldon Whitehouse, Sherrod Brown, John Tester, Ron Wyden, Bernie Sanders, and Barbara Mikulski.

You can read it here.

Mike Davis on the SoCal Flame Blame Game

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 5:47 PM EDT
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The search for someone to blame for the Southern California fires continues. Current top suspects: climate change and kids with matches. In today's TomDispatch, master of urban disaster Mike Davis lays the blame for the San Diego conflagrations at the feet of former city mayor Pete Wilson. Before he went on to become "the baddest governor to ever grab the mic and go boom!"*, Wilson sparked the development boom that turned the city's backcountry into "pyrophiliac gated suburbs and elite estates." And if you think the appeal of these little tinderboxes on the hillside has gone up in smoke, think again, says Davis:

...the new fire cataclysm seems to be rewarding the very insiders most responsible for the uncontrolled building and underfunded fire protection that helped give the Santa Ana winds their real tinder. While conservative ideologues now celebrate San Diego's most recent tragedy as a "triumph" of middle-class values and suburban solidarity, the business community openly gloats over the coming reconstruction boom and the revival of a building industry badly shaken by the mortgage crisis.

* For a recap of Wilson's greatest hits, check out the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy's 1992 version of "California Über Alles," which memorably skewered the then-presidential aspirant: "I give the rich a giant tax loophole / I leave the poor living in a poophole."

California Ballot Initiative: But That Didn't Stop it, it Came Back for More...

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 4:10 PM EDT

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that California Republicans are reviving an effort to change the state's winner-take-all system for allocating electoral votes (a move that could hand the 2008 Presidential election to Republicans). But progressives are raising questions about Arno Political Consulting, the group organizing the new signature drive. In a letter to the California Attorney General, Kristina Wilfore, the Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC), wrote:

In 2006, BISC worked extensively with the committee that opposed an extreme measure known as "TABOR" . . .Our work with these groups placed BISC in a unique position this cycle to witness firsthand several different types of fraud perpetrated by certain signature gathering firms, including but not limited to, Arno Political Consulting.

So there are some doubts about the reputation of the firm promoting this measure. I'm not surprised: the whole thing seems pretty stinky in the first place. But, as I've written before, none of this matters very much because there's a pretty convincing case (via Doug Kendall) that the ballot measure is unconstitutional:

In Article II, Section 1, the Constitution declares that electors shall be appointed by states "in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct." That's legislature.

Let the GOP and Arno waste their time and money gathering signatures. Even if they get the 650,000 signatures they want, it won't do a bit of good. Unless they want to throw out this part of the constitution, too...

(The title of the post is from here. Hail to the King, baby.)

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Evangelicals: Clinton, Giuliani, Anyone? Anyone?

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 2:33 PM EDT

According to a Pew Research Center survey released yesterday, 55 percent of white evangelical Republicans say they would consider voting for a conservative third-party candidate in the 2008 presidential election if Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton were nominated by their respective parties.

Evangelicals make up a third (34 percent) of GOP and Republican-leaning voters, according to Pew and they're divided pretty much evenly among Giuliani, Fred Thompson and John McCain. It's unclear whether a third-party bid would be launched should Giuliani become the nominee. Several dozen conservative Christian leaders met privately in September to discuss that very possibility. Who knows, now they might just meet again.

Oh man, James Dobson is psyched.

I Hate Sigur Ros

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 2:22 PM EDT

HvarfenflarfA while back I posted a link to preview a lovely-looking documentary on Icelandic combo Sigur Rós. The stunning, hi-def shots of the band's homeland and the unusual locations for the live performances were intriguing, despite the fact that their music has always bugged me. So it was with some interest that I awaited the band's new double album, Hvarf/Heim, which comes out next Tuesday. Would it signal a musical evolution, finally allowing me to join my hipster friends in Sigur Rós adoration?

Nope. To be fair, the album isn't entirely new, and is more like a double EP: part 1, Hvarf, consists of "lost" songs from earlier in their career (like, what did they do with them?), and Heim is an acoustic set of older songs. But listen to "Staralfur," from the second EP, on their MySpace. The two-chord structure is just lazy, and the piano trills are so sappy they belong on a Hallmark Movie of the Week soundtrack. Lead singer Jónsi Birgisson sounds like an elf with a nasal infection, and when the track erupts into a supposedly climactic all-strings coda, you get every sad cliché from when a pop band writes for violins: naive, faux-tearjerky melodies, floating around the base of the chord. It sounds like the music from those "The More You Know" PSAs. Hvarf? Blarf!

Now, the accompanying film, Heima, shows that perhaps the Rós are best heard as an inoffensive soundtrack for affecting visuals. But if I ever have state secrets you want to get out of me, skip the waterboarding and go right for Hvarf/Heim at full volume. I'll tell you anything you want to know.

Ron Paul: It's Slightly Less Real Than I Thought

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 2:19 PM EDT

ron_paul_elephant.jpgIllustration: Marc Burckhardt This is interesting. It appears that a portion of Ron Paul's online buzz is fake, and actually illegal. According to the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Spam Data Mining for Law Enforcement Applications project (quite a name, that), which looks at hundreds of thousands of spam emails a month and recently got its hands on some Ron Paul forwards, some of the email support for Paul is coming out of spambots.

The university project received Paul emails with subject headers like "Ron Paul Wins GOP Debate! HMzjoqO" and "Ron Paul Exposes Federal Reserve! SBHBcSO." According to Wired:

The e-mails had phony names attached to real-looking e-mail addresses. When lab researchers examined the IP addresses of the computers from which the messages had been sent, it turned out that they were sprinkled around the globe in countries as far away from each other as South Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom, Nigeria and Brazil."The interesting thing was that we had the same subject line from the same IP address, and it claimed to be from different users from within the United States," [project head Gary] Warner says.
One e-mail was designed to look as if it came from within a major Silicon Valley corporation, he notes. But when the researchers looked up the IP address, the computer from which the note was sent was actually in South Korea.

The emails, which actually include portions of Ron Paul's platform and recite many of the Paul talking points, apparently have been laundered through something called a botnet, which is illegal. The campaign has denied any knowledge of the phenomenon.

Okay. So here's the thing. The massive amount of support Ron Paul gets in the comments section of blogs across the internet can't be faked. (It was so extreme that Redstate.com went all Judge Dredd on its users and banned newbies from discussing Paul.) The money raised and the event turnout can't be faked.

So the well-intentioned Paul supporter who was trying to get his (or her) man's word out through this botnet operation probably did Paul more harm than good. The very real support Paul is getting can now be wrongfully dismissed as no more than internet shenanigans.

Toxic FEMA Trailers

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

fematrailerssmall.jpgTalk about adding insult to injury. It's been more than two years since Hurricane Katrina forced Gulf Coast residents out of their homes, and tens of thousands of them are still living in FEMA trailers today. As if that weren't bad enough, those trailers might be making people sick. FEMA trailer residents—especially kids—have been complaining of breathing problems, headaches, rashes, and allergies.

The EPA has tested trailers for formaldehyde—but strangely, only the empty ones. This led to a showdown between Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and FEMA Director David Paulison at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee federal hearing last summer:

"Did you test any other occupied trailers?" Waxman asked Paulison.
"We did not test occupied trailers," Paulson replied. "We went along with the advice that we received from EPA and CDC that if we ventilated the trailers that would reduce the formaldehyde issue."
Waxman pressed on, asking Paulison if FEMA tested to see whether ventilating the trailers in fact reduced formaldehyde levels. Paulison said that it did reduce levels in the empty trailers.
But Waxman interrupted the response, repeating that FEMA tests were conducted only on empty trailers with blowing fans, open windows and constant air conditioning.

Since the summer, there's been an outcry about the formaldehyde problem. The press has picked up the story, and at least one blog about toxic trailers exists.

In its "For the Record" release about formaldehyde, FEMA recommends that residents "increase ventilation," "keep indoor temperatures cool," and "keep the humidity low." Easy as pie. Unless, of course, you happen to live in cramped quarters in a subtropical climate.