2008 - %3, August

Hess Corp., Where Low-Level Oil Workers Donate Thousands to McCain

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 9:51 PM EDT

Alice and Pasquale Rocchio are not the kinds of people you typically see donating $57,000, the maximum combined amount, to a single political campaign. Alice is an office manager; Pasquale, a foreman. They rent their home in Flushing, Queens, a modest, blue-collar suburb of New York City. They drive a 2003 Buick and a 1993 Chevrolet. Yet they both maxed out in donations to Sen. McCain's campaign fund, McCain Victory 2008. Surprised?

Don't be. Alice Rocchio works for the Hess Corporation, a mammoth American oil company, according to Talking Points Memo. At Hess, she joins a slew of employees who have also given the maximum allowable amounts to McCain's fund.

Alice Rocchio told The New York Times that she made the decision on her own and wasn't reimbursed by Hess as a way of circumventing campaign finance restrictions.

If she changes her mind about that, we'll let you know.

—Max Fisher

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Review: HBO's Baghdad High

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 8:20 PM EDT

If you think high school student dramas are played out, HBO's planning to prove you wrong. Tonight, they'll showcase a class clown, an aspiring musician, a sports stud, and a lovelorn teen. But these aren't your average high school teens—these are students of Baghdad High.

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In Congress, A Role Reversal On Energy

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 8:18 PM EDT

Several members of the House of Representatives returned to the House floor today, despite the Congressional recess that began on Friday, to protest Congress' failure to pass legislation combating high gas prices before beginning the month-long vacation. But they're not from the party you might think.

The protesters, who took to the empty House floor this morning despite dimmed lights and switched-off microphones, are Republicans. They're pushing for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to open a vote on allowing off-shore drilling, even though the Department of Energy has stated that opening the shoreline would have no effect on gas prices until 2030. Democrats show no sign of budging.

Normally, Congressional infighting would have ended there. But this is campaign season, so of course the president and the two senators seeking his office got pulled in.

New Videos: Vampire Weekend, The Carribean, The Streets, Spiritualized

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 6:06 PM EDT

Vampire Weekend – "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"

In which the New York band soundtracks some super-awkward party moments at a fancy pad. Don't miss the dreamy shot of lead singer Ezra Koenig superimposed over rolling ocean waves. Swoon!

The Carribbean – "The Go from Tactical"

In which the DC quartet's melancholy tune is illustrated by the cutest little robots you ever did see. It's like Wall-E without the budget!

After the jump: a very long walk and some rather high jumps.

Study: Music Industry Should "Embrace" Illegal Downloads

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 5:20 PM EDT

mojo-photo-piratecat.jpgHey, look, smart people are saying this too! A new study that looks at Radiohead's online release of In Rainbows last year recommends record companies accept—nay, celebrate—the realities of file-sharing. As we mentioned here a few months back, despite the fact that the British combo's album was available on a pay-what-you-want basis, around twice as many people bypassed the official site anyway to use file-sharing web sites or torrents. Maybe, like me, they had trouble logging on to the official site? Yet the study, by the MCPS-PRS Alliance, which represents music rights holders, and Big Champagne, an online media measurement company, sees this as a positive, calling the Radiohead release a "success story" that resulted in strong ticket sales and enormous publicity. Ultimately, the study concludes, record labels should consider "the costs and benefits of control versus the costs and benefits of scale." The UK Guardian suggests purveyors of frozen delicacies take up this strategy as well, by "giving away free ice-cream and selling advertising on the cones," but I'd like to point out the equivalency would be downloading the recipe for ice cream, wouldn't it?

Last.fm Leads to Uncomfortable Musical Self-Awareness

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 3:43 PM EDT

mojo-photo-lastlogo.jpgSome readers out there in Rifftopia might consider your ridiculously-named contributor to be an ahead-of-the-curve proponent of bleeding-edge technology. But nothing could be further from the truth. To be honest, I'm like a curmudgeonly grandpa, grudgingly forcing myself to take up new software and gadgets only after their obvious usefulness has finally seeped through my thick skull, and even then it's a real effort. Crimeny, I didn't have a MySpace page until 10 months ago, and I was the last one of my Nebraska family to even get a cell phone. Pathetically lazy or just wary, I'm no "early adopter."

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Obama Moves to the Center on Energy: Blergh

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 3:28 PM EDT

I suppose if he's going to reach across the aisle in order to (1) form compromises and (2) use conservative ideas that have value, he has to do stuff like this. But it still makes progressives groan.

Anthrax Suspect Bruce Ivins: Another Hatfill?

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 1:10 PM EDT

U.S. bioweapons researcher Bruce Ivins was the FBI's prime suspect in the anthrax attacks. His suicide last week, it was initially reported, came as the Justice Department was preparing to file charges against him. But even as his name is plastered everywhere in relation to the attacks, the facts of the case—the evidence that ties him to the attacks—remains unknown. And despite reports that Ivins' arrest was "imminent," it seems that the FBI may have uncovered less than first thought. The New York Times reports that a source close to the investigation, although characterizing the evidence against Ivins as "damning," acknowledged that it is "largely circumstantial."

Steven Hatfill, the FBI "person of interest" who was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing after years of having his name dragged through the mud, knows a thing or two about circumstantial evidence. In June, he settled with his erstwhile pursuers for $5.82 million. Ivins' suicide, coming when it did, reinforces the perception that he may have been involved in the attacks. In this case, the FBI's novel analysis of anthrax samples appears to have led them back to Ivins, but, the Times reports, more then a ten people had direct access to the same material. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Ivins was in New Jersey at the time the letters were mailed from there in September and October of 2001.

That said, the circumstantial evidence does raise an eyebrow or two. According to the Times:

That evidence includes tracing the prestamped envelopes used in the attacks to stock sold in three Maryland post offices, including one in Frederick, frequented by Dr. Ivins, who had long rented a post office box there under an assumed name, the source said. The evidence also includes records of the scientist's extensive after-hours use of his lab at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases around the time the letters were mailed, the source said.
The FBI's case against Ivins is expected to be released to the public later this week.

Frightening Invasions of Privacy Allowed at the Border

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 12:59 PM EDT

A few years back, I was driving from Vancouver to Seattle with an old high school friend. At the border, we were stopped by an American border agent who asked us some standard questions, then opened the trunk of our car to take a look around. I became alarmed when I heard a familiar series of slow, regular beeps and realized that the agent was clicking through photos on the digital camera in my duffel bag. It felt obviously illegal — there was no cause whatsoever for turning on an electronic device and looking at pictures taken days, weeks, or months earlier.

I complained to friends afterwards, but didn't think much of it. Now I realize it was part of official United States government policy:

Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop computer or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed.
Also, officials may share copies of the laptop's contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement...

USS Cole Suspect Killed in Missile Strike; Bin Laden Deputy Injured?

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 11:45 AM EDT

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A senior Al Qaeda commander believed to have trained the suicide bombers who attacked the USS Cole was killed July 28 in a missile strike on his hideout in Pakistan's tribal region, according to news reports (here and here). Abu Khabab al-Masri, an Egpytian, had a $5-million price on his head at the time of his death, which was confirmed Sunday by a news release on an Al Qaeda-affiliated website. Al-Masri's bio, as described in this morning's Wall Street Journal:

A chemist by training, Mr. Masri started in al Qaeda as a bomb maker but branched out into the development of biological and chemical weapons after the terror group settled in Afghanistan in the 1990s. There he was entrusted with part of al Qaeda's so-called yogurt project to develop weapons of mass destruction, and operated a training camp in the village of Derunta. He tried unsuccessfully to develop an anthrax weapon and, with Dr. Zawahri, tried to develop poisons that could kill more quickly by mixing them with chemicals that caused them to be absorbed into the skin more rapidly.
It isn't clear how much of the research bore results, though U.S. authorities said Mr. Masri did gas some dogs at the Derunta training camp. U.S. authorities said he provided hundreds of mujahedeen with hands-on training in the use of poisons and explosives and distributed training manuals showing how to make chemical and biological weapons.

Al Qaeda acknowledged that three other commanders were killed in the strike, all identified by pseudonyms including the name "al-Masri," which in Arabic means Egyptian. Their true identities are unknown, but an Al Qaeda communication intercepted by CBS News might shed some light on at least one of them. A letter bearing the signature and personal seal of Pakistani Taliban leader Beitullah Mehsud urgently requests a doctor for Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian who is Al Qaeda's number two leader, often pictured alongside Osama Bin Laden. Mehsud wrote that al-Zawahiri is in "severe pain" and "his injuries are infected." Experts have confirmed the missive's authenticity, but when news of the letter was reported, Al Qaeda issued a denial, claiming that al-Zawahiri was not among those injured in the July 28 missile strike.