2008 - %3, January

First Two Questions for Vice Presidential Candidate Biden

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 11:45 AM EDT

(1) You said in the primary campaign that you "don't believe" Barack Obama is "ready" to be president. What has changed your mind?

(2) How do you reconcile your plan for partioning Iraq, which your office said you still support as recently as one week ago, with Barack Obama's withdrawal plan?

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Obama Taps Biden: A Conventional But Perhaps Effective Pick

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 10:53 AM EDT

In the end, Barack Obama used unconventional means to announce a conventional choice for his running-mate.

Via a three A.M. text message sent to the cell phones of his supporters, donors and volunteers, Obama's campaign declared that he had chosen Senator Joe Biden, the Delaware Democrat, to be "our" veep nominee. (Three in the morning--was this a dig at Senator Hillary Clinton or just a coincidence?) With this I'll-let-you-know-first gimmick, Obama had snagged millions of cell numbers and email addresses his campaign can use in the weeks ahead to motivate voters and push them to the polls on Election Day. So in purely tactical terms, his running-mate rollout was indeed pioneering and widely successful. What remains to be seen, of course, is whether he made a smart pick by attaching his campaign for change to a fellow who has worked Washington's ways in the Senate for 35 years.

Sometimes going conventional is not the wrong course. During the past weeks of veep-frenzy, Biden's assets and liabilities have been dissected repeatedly. He possesses extensive foreign policy experience (which Obama does not). He can do straight-talk relatively well for a senator (while Obama has been accused of not fully connecting with working-class voters). Then again, Biden has suffered in the past from both verbal diarrhea and gaffe-itis. I've attended many committee hearings in the Senate when Biden turned a question into a long-winded monologue that drove people in the room to want to shout, "Question, Senator, do you have a question?!!" And there are times when Biden's mental filter has switched off and he has said the dumbest thing, such as when he famously called Obama "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." (The Daily Mail headlined its account of Obama's pick this way: "Obama names 'gaffe-prone' Joe Biden as his running mate.")

But Biden is a smart legislator who has shown that he can suppress his own faults when he must. He had a good campaign this past year as a presidential candidate. He won few votes but performed well at the debates and demonstrated he could keep his infamous verbosity under control. At the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, while other Democrats got bogged down in legal jargon practically indecipherable to the average person, Biden peppered Roberts with straightforward questions about Roberts' claim that he merely wanted to be an umpire on the bench who calls constitutional balls and strikes. "Much as I respect your metaphor," Biden countered, "it's not very apt, because you get to determine the strike zone. The founders never set a strike zone." It was the best moment of the hearing.

Outside Lands: Radiohead Makes History

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 4:59 AM EDT

Thirteen sets and two Natalie Portman-sightings later, the first night of San Francisco's Outside Lands festival wrapped up by 10 p.m.

While acts ranged from Cold War Kids to Manu Chao to Beck, the night had one consistent theme: confusion. You couldn't find a sign leading you to an entrance, but we found a stash of unused signs, including the much needed "Restrooms this way," stored in the crew area. And in lieu of "branded stages" companies sponsored interactive exhibits such as exclusive lounges that required a specific Visa card for admittance.

Yet efforts toward greening the event, the unique food selection (think shrimp ceviche), and a spectacular location helped us forget the organizational troubles. Not to mention talented visual artists decorated each stage. Plus, as the first group to ever play in Golden Gate Park at night, Radiohead's show was as visually stunning as the music was enthralling.

Despite some organizational glitches, the Outside Lands festival is off to a solid start.

—Brittney Andres

Veepstakes Update

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 3:25 AM EDT

VEEPSTAKES UPDATE....Biden is it. Pretty good choice, I think, but I sure hope I don't hear anyone talking about Joementum when October rolls around.

Anyway, David Brooks should be happy, and that's what really counts, isn't it?

NYT: Seems to be Biden

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 1:00 AM EDT

With sources telling the AP and others that Virginia governor Tim Kaine and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh have claimed they've been informed it's not them, Obama's choice for vice president seems likely to be Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Obama officials have indicated they'll inform voters of his choice on Saturday morning by text message and email.

Six Years O' Blogging

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 12:11 AM EDT

SIX YEARS O' BLOGGING....In all the excitement of moving to a new home, I forgot to mention that today is my sixth blogoversary. Or is it blogiversary? In any case, I've been doing this for six years now. Let that be a lesson to you all.

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Shipwrecks Wreck Reefs

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 8:49 PM EDT

800px-RMS_Rhone_2003_10.jpg Shipwrecks on coral reefs appear to increase the invasion of alien species. A US Geological Survey study finds unwanted species completely overtake the shipwreck and eventually the surrounding reef, eliminating all native corals and dramatically decreasing the diversity of other reef organisms.

Sadly, we've been deliberately sinking ships for decades, imagining they might "anchor" healthy new reef communities. But the new study published in the open access journal PloS One is the first to document how manmade structures rapidly destroy the coral community.

The study was conducted at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the central Pacific. This remote area has seen little human activity since WWII. Scientists began surveying a 1991 shipwreck in 2004. Since then, they've observed exponentially increasing populations of a anemonelike animal, Rhodactis howesii, around the wreck. The densities decrease with distance from the ship. Although Rhodactis are rare to absent in other parts of the atoll, they're also populous around buoys.

CIA contra Suskind: Operation Squelch Congressional Investigation

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 6:11 PM EDT

The CIA has now joined the White House and former CIA director George Tenet in releasing a statement denying explosive charges at the heart of a new book by journalist Ronald Suskind, The Way of the World. In the book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former Wall Street Journal reporter charged that a letter falsely alleging that lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta had trained in Iraq, which was purported to have been written by former Iraqi intelligence chief Tahir Habbush and which was leaked to journalist Con Coughlin who wrote about it in the Sunday Telegraph in December 2003, had materialized as the result of a White House ordered CIA forgery plot. Newsweek quickly exposed the letter as a fake, and it was later revealed that the letter had been passed to Coughlin by an Iraqi exile politician close to the CIA Ayad Allawi, who reportedly happened to be in meetings at Langley around the time Suskind claimed the White House directive came down. So how did the letter purported to be from Habbush with the discredited claims come to be? In a statement today, the CIA writes:

Suskind claims that, in September 2003, the White House ordered then-Director George Tenet to fabricate a letter describing a level of cooperation between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida that simply did not exist. The White House has denied making that request, and Director Tenet has denied receiving it. The former Agency officers Suskind cites in his narrative have, for their part, publicly denied being asked to carry out such a mission.
Those denials are powerful in and of themselves. But they are also backed by a thorough, time-consuming records search within CIA and by interviews with other officers—senior and junior alike—who were directly involved in Iraq operations. To assert, as Suskind does, that the White House would request such a document, and that the Agency would accept such a task, says something about him and nothing about us. It did not happen. Moreover, as the public record shows, CIA had concluded—and conveyed to our customers—that the ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida were not as close as some believed.

Tenet released a new statement today too that closely tracks with the CIA denial and was apparently coordinated.

The timing is interesting. Just this week, the House Judiciary committee moved forward with plans to investigate Suskind's claims, issuing letters to several of the participants named asking them to testify. As a reader friend suggests, whether Suskind got details in his account wrong or not, "there can be no doubt whatsoever that what motivated this statement by CIA echoed by Tenet's new statement is an effort to scare off and squelch Congress from pursuing its investigation."

Suskind has said in media appearances that he wants the officials involved to testify under oath. He has also posted the partial transcript of an interview with Rob Richer, a former top CIA official he cites as telling him about the White House order on Habbush. Richer has denied the account took place as Suskind reported it. But his denial is carefully worded. And as my reader friend notes, "Richer's comments on the record on Suskindresponse contradict the CIA's official response, insofar as he simply acknowledges as a fact Habbush's defection while CIA acts like it knows nothing about it and as far as it is concerned Habbush is still a wanted man."

Let's see if Operation Squelch Congressional Investigation succeeds.

"Houses" Releases the Creativity/Photoshopping Skills of the Blogs

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 4:15 PM EDT

People will have their fun.

mccain_haz_7_houses.jpg

mccaincribs1.jpg mccaincribs2.jpg

Hey, it's a Friday afternoon. We're just biding our time until the big news. Go find an adult beverage.

Friday Cat Blogging - 22 August 2008

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 4:00 PM EDT

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING.... So, how about if we see if Friday Catblogging works here at the new digs? Let's see: (1) take cute picture of cats, (2) upload to MoJo site, (3) click Preview.

Hey, how about that! It works just like it used to. What a relief. That new kid Benen over at the Monthly does have a cat — cute little thing, too — but I don't know if he's going to let himself get badgered into catblogging every week. I guess the regulars are going to have to work on him about that. Over here, though, the tradition continues.

Today we have a rare picture with both cats in the same frame. A couple of early Christmas presents arrived the other day, and for Domino, the box full of peanuts was an early Christmas present too. Inkblot, bless his tiny little feline brain, seemed pretty sure something was up but never quite worked up the energy to actually look in the box and confirm his suspicions. Instead he just rolled around beside it while Domino waited for the worst. Never happened though, and eventually he just fell asleep.