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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?

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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.

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.

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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.

Obama on Withdrawal

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 3:57 PM EDT

OBAMA ON WITHDRAWAL....Here is Obama's official statement on the news that we've reached a tentative agreement with the Iraqi government on a timetable to withdraw American combat troops:

I am glad that the Administration has finally shifted to accepting a timetable for the removal of our combat troops from Iraq. Success in Iraq depends on an Iraqi government that is reconciling its differences and taking responsibility for its future, and a timetable is the best way to press the Iraqis to do just that. I welcome the growing convergence around this pragmatic and responsible position.

....Senator McCain has stubbornly focused on maintaining an indefinite U.S presence in Iraq, but events have made his bluster and record increasingly out of touch with reality. While Senator McCain continues to offer unconditional military and economic support for Iraq, I strongly believe that we need to use our leverage with the Iraqi government to ensure a political settlement. In addition to a timetable, we should only train Iraqi Security Forces if Iraq's leaders reconcile their differences, and we must insist that Iraq invests its $79 billion surplus on rebuilding its own country.

That's a good tone to take. Also interesting is that despite the 2011 date we've apparently badgered the Iraqis into accepting, Obama is sticking to his 16-month/2010 guns.

Fundraising Woes

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 3:35 PM EDT

FUNDRAISING WOES....Over in GOP-land, it looks like fundraising pleas are falling on deaf ears:

"It has become clear that my call has gone largely unanswered," Sen. John Ensign of Nevada fumed in a statement. "I have no control over the timing or content of (independent) ads, but I have had no choice but to decrease the total budget for our (independent expenditures) unit."

Republican lawmakers contributed $1.1 million to the NRSC through June, while Democrats chipped in nearly $5 million [to the DSCC, presumably, unless Dems are feeling unusually generous this year –ed.], according to FEC reports.

....Ensign had challenged his colleagues to step up back in July by increasing their fundraising efforts or by providing more of their own direct contributions. His statement amounted to a renewed call to arms.

That's a mighty sad state of affairs, isn't it? I wonder why no one wants to give Republicans any money this year?

Lobbyist Linked to NRA Spy Caper Co-Chairs McCain's Sportsmen's Committee

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 3:22 PM EDT

Earlier this week, ABC News reported that the McCain campaign was seeking to distance itself from adviser James Jay Baker, a onetime NRA official and current lobbyist for the gun rights group, who is reportedly a member of McCain's "kitchen cabinet." Questioned by ABC, the campaign played down his involvement, describing him as a "high level volunteer."

It stands to reason why the campaign would want to draw a wide berth around Baker. Until 2002, Baker was the executive director of the NRA's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. During his tenure, the ILA engaged the services of a now defunct private security firm, Beckett Brown, which specialized in spying on activist groups. Beckett Brown's point of contact at ILA was Baker's deputy, Patrick O'Malley. O'Malley also served as an NRA contact for Mary Lou Sapone, who, as Mother Jones reported in July, is a freelance spy who infiltrated the gun control movement from more than a decade on behalf of the gun lobby. When we contacted Baker seeking comment on Sapone's work for the NRA, he said, "I don't have anything to say about any vendors at the NRA." And while maintaining that he had no knowledge of any efforts to penetrate the gun control movement while he was at the NRA, he added: "We got information from whatever sources we can." The NRA has refused to comment on the Sapone story, declining to explain any possible relationship between the ILA and Sapone.