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Hamdan Taken Out of Bush's Hands

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 4:57 PM EDT

Salim Hamdan, convicted earlier this week of providing material support for terrorism (a.k.a. being Osama bin Laden's driver), has been sentenced to five and a half years. Because he'll get credit for time served, he could be released in as few as six months. The government asked for 30 years of prison time.

The Bush Administration, which plays by a set of rules that exist only in its collective brain, made it clear before the verdict that it was prepared to continue detaining Hamdan even if he was found not guilty. Presumably, a Bush White House would keep Hamdan locked up well past the six month mark. But half a year of jail means that Hamdan is essentially John McCain or Barack Obama's responsibility — statements from both explaining how they would handle Hamdan's detention would be very interesting.

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New Music: Keane, Jay-Z, Annie & Sam Sparro, M.S.K.

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 4:50 PM EDT

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British popsters Keane have always seemed like Coldplay imitators, and since Coldplay are just U2 imitators, we're talking a pretty washed-out copy. But on Keane's new song "Spiralling," they take a crazy left turn towards '80s synth pop and Billy Squier beats, and it's kind of intriguing. They're offering up a 256kbps mp3 of the track on their website in exchange for your e-mail address, which isn't such a bad deal, I guess.

Jay-Z continues to use his recent feud with Noel Gallagher as creative fodder, dropping a line about "that bloke from Oasis" into a new song the rapper debuted last night in an appearance at Kanye West's show at Madison Square Garden. The track, "Blueprint 3," is pretty awesome, although it too sounds like it stole the rhythm from Billy Squire's "The Big Beat." What's going on?

After the jump: Australian pipes beat Norwegian pipes, and asteroids beat Earth

Circumstantial Evidence Against Ivins Called "Compelling"; Widow Presses Lawsuit

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 3:53 PM EDT

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Shortly after the 2001 anthrax attacks, U.S. bioweapons researcher Bruce Ivins emailed some poems he'd written to a friend, including this one: "I'm a little dream-self, short and stout. I'm the other half of Bruce—when he lets me out. When I get all steamed up, I don't pout. I push Bruce aside, then I'm free to run about." The previous year, he'd confided to a friend that he was feeling deeply depressed and acknowledged that his psychiatrist believed he might be suffering from "Paranoid Personality Disorder." Combined with everything else we've learned about Ivins in the last week—his late nights at the Fort Detrick lab; his professional disappointments; his obsession with sorority girls; his threats against his counselor; his long history of sociopathic and psychotic behavior; his custody of an anthrax vial considered to be the "parent flask" of the material used in the attacks; and even his possession of what the FBI has declared to be a suspicious book, The Plague by Albert Camus (couldn't he just have been well-read?)—Ivins seems to fit the profile of someone capable, personally and professionally, of sending the anthrax letters.

The Justice Department and the FBI appear to be satisfied that he did, declaring at a press conference yesterday that Ivins was "the only person responsible" for the attacks. Even after it described its evidence against him, while ordering the simultaneous public release of 14 affidavits and search warrants, the Justice Department's case remained largely circumstantial—something US Attorney for the District of Columbia Jeffrey Taylor freely acknowledged. "Circumstantial evidence?" Sure, some of it is," he told reporters. "But it is compelling evidence."

Easiest Comeback Ever

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 3:15 PM EDT

It's time for dueling web videos! From the McCain campaign:

And the obvious Democratic response:

Pop Culture Debate Seems to Favor McCain

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 3:10 PM EDT

I know, what with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears taking over the presidential race, we're all a bit sick of trivialities being injected into the campaign. But aren't you just a little curious about the candidates' favorite movies, music, TV shows? Well, Entertainment Weekly did the tough job of tracking down Barack Obama and John McCain's answers on various pop culture topics, including the first movie they saw, which onscreen president they admire the most, and all sorts of completely useless and irrelevant questions. What emerges kind of confirms my suspicions: personality-wise, Obama is kind of boring, and McCain has a pretty good sense of humor. For instance, for favorite TV show, McCain said Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm while Obama said M*A*S*H and The Dick Van Dyke Show, two programs that you could use to torture me if you thought I was a terrorist. Now, I get the sense that Obama is cooler than he's letting on—didn't a Riff reporter uncover his admiration for The Wire?—so maybe he understands the ridiculousness of the exercise enough to feed milquetoast answers to the public. But it is Entertainment Weekly, not Reader's Digest. Anyway, after the jump, see the candidates' answers in a variety of categories.

A Senator Presses the NRA for Information on the Gun Lobby Mole

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 2:36 PM EDT

So far the National Rifle Association's reaction to the Mother Jones investigation that revealed that a NRA-connected mole had penetrated the gun control community for 15 years has been nothing but silence. No matter which media outfit asks the gun lobby for a comment--ABC News, Associated Press, Mother Jones--the NRA declines to say anything. It just refuses to explain its connection to Mary Lou Sapone, the self-described "research consultant" who infiltrated various gun control groups under the name of Mary McFate. As we first reported, a onetime business associate of Sapone said during a deposition that the NRA was a client for Sapone.

Why won't the NRA speak? Can anyone compel it to respond to the Sapone story?

Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, is the first in Congress to give it a try. On Thursday, he sent a letter to John Sigler, the president of the NRA:

I write regarding Mother Jones' recent expose of a reported National Rifle Association (NRA) operative who infiltrated a number of gun violence prevention organizations. This story contains serious allegations and I urge you to address them quickly.
According to Mother Jones, Mary McFate spent more than a decade rising through the ranks at several gun violence prevention organizations, including CeaseFire PA, Freedom States Alliance and States United to Prevent Gun VIolence. At the same time, however, McFate--going by the name Mary Lou Sapone--reportedly was a paid "research consultant" for the NRA. As a result, McFate/Sapone was in a position to learn about, and to report back to the NRA on, the concerns, plans and strategies of various gun violence prevention groups.
In light of these serious charges, I call upon you to immediately:
* Admit whether these charges are true or false;
* If these charges are true, disclose the precise nature of the NRA's relationship with Mary McFate/Mary Lou Sapone, including how much she was paid, the time periods for which she received payment and the services she provided;
* Make public the names (including any aliases) of any other NRA employees, consultants, members, or volunteers who have joined gun violence prevention organizations in order to report to the NRA on their activities; and
* Denounce and discontinue the practice of asking or encouraging NRA employees, consultants, members and volunteers to infiltrate gun violence prevention groups.
Although the NRA and I certainly have had our disagreements over the years, I hope that we can agree that the gun violence prevention debate should be based upon an open and honest exchange of ideas, not on underhanded tactics.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Lautenberg also sent copies of this letter to Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, and Chris Cox, who heads the NRA's political arm.

Will Lautenberg receive a prompt reply of any substance? As an advocate of gun control measures, Lautenberg is indeed not one of the NRA's favorite legislators. But can the gun lobby ignore his request for information about its involvement in the McFate/Sapone episode? And if it does tell him to get lost, what might happen next? But whatever occurs, the NRA's silence up to now hardly allays suspicions about its role in the McFate operation.

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"I Got Your Pledge of Allegiance RIGHT HERE"

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 2:11 PM EDT

Back before he went all crazy and started going pink-faced crazy on people at campaign events, Bill Clinton was pretty good at handling hecklers. It's one of those random skills you have to learn if you're going to run for president, I guess.

Well, Obama took a fairly novel approach to a heckler on Tuesday. He just gave the guy what he wanted. Check it out.

Photographer insists on Pledge of Allegiance before Obama rally

Okay, This Illustrates the Silliness of Polls

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 1:56 PM EDT

Under the short but entirely appropriate heading of "WTF?" Wonkette observes that the Lifetime Network actually commissioned a poll to ask women voters... well, I'll let Wonkette explain.

"NEW YORK (Reuters) - Women would rather carpool or go on vacation with Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama than with his Republican rival John McCain, a new poll of U.S. women voters showed on Tuesday." What the fuck does this even mean? "Carpooling" and "vacationing" are two very distinct acts. So they have asked women across the country, basically, which candidate they would rather schlep to pre-school or, conversely, go to the Jersey Shore with.

And that's relevant how? Lifetime commissioned the poll as part of its "Every Woman Counts" campaign, which seeks to increase engagement in politics by women. Is it making the incredibly patronizing suggestion that women's voting behavior is informed by which candidate they would rather take on a beach getaway? As opposed to, say, the candidates' energy platforms?

We'll know even more after the Golf Channel's poll on which candidate male voters want to snap towels with at the Elks Lodge. Thanks, Lifetime!

Illustrating the Silliness of Polls

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 11:05 AM EDT

Over at Open Left, they've noted something about national polls in the general election. Specifically, they've found that two of the most famous polling companies, Rasmussen and Gallup, consistently poll a closer race everyone else. In the 34 Gallup and Rasmussen polls taken since the general election began, Obama has been up an average of 2.2%. In all the polls taken by 11 other polling companies, Obama has been up 5.4%.

Most times a Gallup or Rasmussen poll comes out, it fuels the conventional wisdom that Obama is under-performing because he is locked into a dogfight in a election season heavily favoring Democrats. As a result, everyone from the media to committed Democrats freak out.

It's nonsense. The counterfactuals could easily go in either direction. If Gallup and Rasmussen were more in line with everyone else, Obama would be seen as having a thin but comfortable lead. If a few more polling companies were like G & R, McCain might even be winning. The lesson? Don't freak out and don't get overconfident either. Things on the whole are better for Obama than the media's evaluation of his performance suggests (after all, as Nate Silver noted, "If you had told a Democrat a year ago that, on the last day of July, their candidate would be ahead in Ohio and Florida, well ahead in Pennsylvania , way ahead in California, tied in Montana, within single digits in a couple of states that went really red in 2000 and 2004, they'd be pretty thrilled with that set of polling.") but things can change at any moment, and have in the past.

Musharraf to Face Impeachment Proceedings

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 10:05 AM EDT

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Today, at a press conference in Islamabad, the leaders of Pakistan's ruling parties announced the decision to pursue impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani general and US terror-war ally who seized power over the country in a 1999 coup. Asif Ali Zadari of the Pakistan People's Party and Narwaz Sharif of the PML-N, the leaders of an uneasy ruling coalition that defeated Musharraf's allies in February's national election, reached agreement on the impeachment after three days of talks. "We have good news for democracy," Zardari declared. "The coalition believes it is imperative to move for impeachment against General Musharraf." It will be the first impeachment process in Pakistani political history.

After his party's loss in the February election, Musharraf gave up his military commission, but retained the power to dissolve parliament—a step he could now take to head off his impeachment. He has not yet issued a public statement on today's events. And despite widely circulated reports that he had decided to remain in Pakistan to manage the political crisis, Musharraf's staff announced today that he will attend the opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics on Friday evening.