2009 - %3, July

The 18½ Minute Gap

| Tue Jul. 28, 2009 12:27 PM EDT

Analysts have tried for years to recover the famous 18½ minute gap from Richard Nixon's taped conversation with Bob Haldeman a few days after the Watergate break-in.  No dice.  So far, it just doesn't look possible.

But Haldeman also took notes of that conversation.  The pages that correspond to the gap appear to have been deep-sixed at the same time the tape was erased, but a Watergate buff named Phil Mellinger, a former NSA systems analyst, has proposed a way to recover the notes anyway.  David Corn has the news:

Mellinger had an idea: electrostatic detection analysis. That's a proven forensic technique used to capture indentations and impressions on a piece of paper—such as the marks made on a page in a pad by a pen writing on the pages above it.

....Days after his eureka moment, Mellinger emailed David Paynter, the archivist in charge of the Watergate records, requesting that the Archives submit the two pages of Haldeman notes to this procedure....After he filed his request, a document forensics expert at the Archives examined the Haldeman notes, found indented writing on the second page, and concluded that electrostatic detection analysis could work on this document, according to Paynter. So Paynter recommended to higher-ups at the Archives that the Haldeman notes be tested. At press time, Paynter was awaiting the green light from his superiors. "The reason we're going forward with this," Paynter says, "is that we've already tried with the tape itself. Here's another avenue to shed light on an important episode in history. It's very exciting."

If they successfully recover the notes, maybe we can turn them back into tapes by having William Shatner do a dramatic reading?

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 28, 2009

Tue Jul. 28, 2009 12:14 PM EDT

Marines from India Company, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, take a break during a hike on a Middle Eastern military base June 29, 2009. The 22nd MEU conducted a theater security cooperation exercise with a regional military to enhance interoperability and tactical proficiency between forces. The 22nd MEU is currently serving as the theater reserve force for U.S. Central Command. (Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. David Castillo)

Red Star Rising....In Arabic

| Tue Jul. 28, 2009 12:03 PM EDT

Marc Lynch reports:

China officially announced the launch of its long-rumored Arabic TV station CCTV the other day.  It thus joins the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and Iran — and possibly soon India — in having a state-backed satellite television station broadcasting in Arabic.   Why, given that none of them are likely to ever capture much of a market share or have much impact on Arab public opinion?

Good question!  As it turns out, Marc doesn't really have a clue himself.  But hey — if the United States can sponsor a useless, expensive media sinkhole, then I guess the Chinese figure they can do it even better.  Or something.

Or maybe it's just an example of that famous long-term Chinese thinking.  Maybe they don't really need an Arabic-language propaganda outlet now, but they might need one in 2050.  And if they do, they'll be prepared.

Obama's Doc: Single-Payer Now!

| Tue Jul. 28, 2009 11:51 AM EDT

Barack Obama's former doctor thinks Barack Obama is wrong about health care. David Scheiner, M.D., thinks Obama and Congress should be pursuing a government-run single-payer system. That's probably because such systems are cheaper and produce better health outcomes than our current system. But nevermind that. Scheiner and the advocacy organizations Physicians for a National Health Program, Healthcare-NOW, and Public Citizen are holding a press conference and rally for single-payer in Washington on Thursday. Needless to say, it won't go anywhere. The president actually said in the past that he supported single-payer, but that's gone out the window due to the vagaries of a political system that gives Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Olympia Snowe, Chuck Grassley, and other small-state senators who have taken large amounts of money from the health care industry enormous amounts of power over health care reform.

If Dr. Scheiner really wants single-payer, he should support political reform—including publicly-funded elections, for example—first. He should also read that Hendrik Hertzberg article I mentioned earlier.

The Photo That Explains the Health Care Fight

| Tue Jul. 28, 2009 11:45 AM EDT

Today's New York Times includes a photograph that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the health care fight going on in the Senate Finance committee. It's here. As Ezra Klein explains, you should be thinking about who is not in the photo.

How to Think About the Health Care Bills

| Tue Jul. 28, 2009 11:13 AM EDT

The latest news on the health care front is that the version of the bill the Senate Finance committee is working on will not include a public option or a requirement that employers provide insurance for their workers. Meanwhile, "Blue Dog" Democrats in the House are still fighting Energy and Commerce committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) over that committee's bill. There are a couple of ways to think about these conflicts.

Despite their intransigence, lawmakers who oppose the public option often represent districts that would benefit greatly from a public plan. Jacob Hacker, a Yale political science professor and public option expert, explains:

A public health plan will be particularly vital for Americans in the rural areas that many Blue Dogs represent. These areas feature both limited insurance competition and shockingly large numbers of residents without adequate coverage. By providing a backup plan that competes with private insurers, the public plan will broaden coverage and encourage private plans to reduce their premiums. Perhaps that's why support for a public plan is virtually as high in generally conservative rural areas as it is nationwide, with 71 percent of voters expressing enthusiasm.

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Speculation in the Oil Patch

| Tue Jul. 28, 2009 10:59 AM EDT

Were speculators responsible for the spike in oil prices last year?  The Wall Street Journal has two stories on the subject today.  First up, the news from London:

Britain's financial regulator has found no evidence that speculators are behind big swings in oil prices, as politicians in the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere have suggested, according to people familiar with the matter.

Hmmm.  And now Washington DC:

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission plans to issue a report next month suggesting speculators played a significant role in driving wild swings in oil prices — a reversal of an earlier CFTC position that augurs intensifying scrutiny on investors.

In a contentious report last year, the main U.S. futures-market regulator pinned oil-price swings primarily on supply and demand. But that analysis was based on "deeply flawed data," Bart Chilton, one of four CFTC commissioners, said in an interview Monday.

....Mr. Chilton said the new report will contain a more-thorough analysis of the investors in contracts tied to oil and other commodities, and reveal cases in which single traders hold massive market positions. "We now have multiple sources, and confidence from different sources," he says. He said he believes the data on trading outside exchanges is also more reliable.

I'll remain agnostic until both the FSA and the CFTC actually release their reports, but the CFTC study should be the more interesting of the two, since proving a case is generally more difficult than the opposite.  Stay tuned.

CSI: The Watergate Version

| Tue Jul. 28, 2009 10:55 AM EDT

Next week will be the 35th anniversary of the very final days of President Richard Nixon. On the evening of August 8, 1974, he announced he would resign the presidency the next day at noon. Shortly after his resignation took effect, he boarded a helicopter on the White House lawn—and was gone.

What made Nixon's resignation unavoidable was the release of the so-called "smoking gun" tape, which had captured a conversation he had with his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, six days after the Watergate break-in of 1972. On the tape, Nixon and Haldeman could be heard plotting to block the Watergate investigation by encouraging the CIA to tell the FBI that national security issues were involved. With this tape public, many of the Republicans still supporting Nixon gave up the ghost.

Nixon departed the White House and was subsequently pardoned by President Gerald Ford. And he left behind several mysteries, including what the Watergate burglars were after (if anything specific) and how involved Nixon was in the caper. Another big mystery was the 18 and a 1/2 minute gap on the tape of another meeting between Nixon and Haldeman, this one held just three days following the break-in. The missing minutes, a panel of audio experts found, were the result of several deliberate erasures.

What was wiped out? Did these passages further incriminate Nixon or explain the break-in? The National Archives a few years ago tried to use new technology to coax that conversation back to life--and had no luck. Now, as I report, the Archives, thanks to the prodding of a Watergate hobbyist, is weighing a new approach. It's considering using a CSI-ish procedure to recover what might be missing Haldeman notes from this infamous meeting. David Paynter, the archivist in charge of the Watergate collection says, "Here's another avenue to shed light on an important episode in history. It's very exciting.

Read all about it here.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

This Explains A Lot

| Tue Jul. 28, 2009 10:49 AM EDT

William Shatner reads Sarah Palin's "North to the Future":

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday, July 28

| Tue Jul. 28, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Today's science, health, and environment posts from our other blogs:

Above the law? James Ridgeway on the possibility of jury nullification in the abortion doctor killing case

File under "totally obvious": Texting while driving is a pretty bad idea.

The problem with private: Health insurance companies are all well and good if you're healthy, but they avoid sick people like the plague.

Hype alert: Climate change denialists are trying to spin scientific uncertainty into proof that global warming is a hoax. Here's why they're wrong.