Blogs

Chalabi: Curveball Not Our Fabricator

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 12:22 PM EST

On Sunday, CBS' 60 Minutes revealed the identity of Curveball, the Iraqi defector who falsely claimed first to German and then U.S. military intelligence that Iraq was producing mobile biological weapons labs. Rafid Ahmed Alwan, aka Curve Ball, made bogus claims -- later repeated by Colin Powell -- to the Germans from whom he was seeking asylum, which he has reportedly since received. In response to the CBS report, the Iraqi National Congress sent this statement today:

The release of the name of Iraqi defector known as Curveball by CBS News 60 Minutes is the final evidence that there is no link between this person and the Iraqi National Congress. The INC can state categorically that there has never been any person at any level of the INC who is related to anyone named Rafid Ahmed Alwan.

It's worth noting that the Robb Silberman commission determined that one of the confirming sources for Curveball's fabrications about mobile bio weapons labs was shepherded to the Defense Intelligence Agency by none other than the INC. As the commission reported:

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Pakistan Unleashes Teams of Lobbyists on Washington

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 11:54 AM EST

Talk about hired guns. The Politico reports on Pakistan's lobbyists roaming the halls of Congress to try to preserve US foreign aid to Pakistan -- some $10 billion mostly in military aid since 9/11.

"The focus is on the Hill right now," said Mark Tavlarides, a former national security aide in the Clinton administration whose firm, Van Scoyoc Associates, is paid $55,000 a month from the Musharraf government — a significant boost from the $40,000 the firm earned before July.

Other Pakistani entities have retained other firms:

Former Intel Officials Urge Senate Judiciary to Hold Mukasey Nomination

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 10:34 AM EST

waterboarding.gifOn Friday, four former JAG officers—two of them admirals, two of them generals—sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, urging him to consider Michael Mukasey's nomination in light of his failure to go on the record about the legality of waterboarding. "This is a critically important issue," they wrote," but it has not, and never has been, a complex issue, and even to suggest otherwise does a terrible disservice to this nation. All U.S. Government agencies and personnel, and not just America's military forces, must abide by both the spirit and letter of the controlling provisions of international law. Cruelty and torture—no less than wanton killing—is neither justified nor legal in any circumstance." Today, as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on Mukasey's nomination, a group of 24 former intelligence officials—among them, Valerie Plame Wilson—fired off their own letter to Leahy and ranking member Arlen Specter, calling on them to hold the nomination of the president's AG pick until he clarifies his position on the controversial interrogation practice. "Judge Mukasey's refusal to comment on waterboarding, on grounds that it would be 'irresponsible' to provide 'an uninformed legal opinion based on hypothetical facts and circumstances,' raises serious questions," they wrote, noting that the "conundrum created to justify the nominee's silence on this key issue is a synthetic one."

It is within your power to resolve it readily. If Mukasey continues to drag his feet, you need only to facilitate a classified briefing for him on waterboarding and the C.I.A. interrogation program. He will then be able to render an informed legal opinion. We strongly suggest that you sit in on any such briefing and that you invite the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to take part as well. Receiving the same briefing at the same time (and, ideally, having it taped) should enhance the likelihood of candor and make it possible for all to be—and to stay—on the same page on this delicate issue.

If the White House refuses to allow such a briefing, your committee must, in our opinion, put a hold on Mukasey's nomination. We are aware that the president warned last week that it will be either Mukasey as our attorney general or no one. So be it. It is time to stand up for what is right and require from the Executive the information necessary for the Senate to function responsibly and effectively. It would seem essential not to approve a nominee who has already made clear he is reluctant to ask questions of the White House. How can a person with that attitude even be proposed to be our chief law enforcement officer?

Despite the strongly worded letters, it seems likely that the Judiciary Committee will greenlight Mukasey later today, without learning his stance on waterboarding, given that two key Democrats on the committee (Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein) broke ranks with five of their colleagues last week, announcing that they would back the nominee. So, after a full Senate vote, we could be looking at AG Mukasey as early as weeks end.

Update: By a margin of 11 to 8, the Judiciary Committee just cleared the way for Mukasey to up for a full Senate vote. Schumer and Feinstein were the only Dems to vote yay.

Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - Reviewing Metacritic's Best-Reviewed Albums of the Year

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 3:10 AM EST

Well, Riffers, this will be my last Top Ten for a few weeks as I'm leaving for a European Tour this coming weekend; yes, that's right, Europeans will apparently part with their hard-earned euros (and zloty and koruny!) to watch me play CDs. Zut alors. So for this Top Ten, I figured I'd start the long, tortuous process of winnowing down a year-end "Best Albums" list by taking a look at the Metacritic Top Ten Best-Reviewed Albums of the Year.

Metacritic is a site that tallies up reviews from around the world of cultural criticism with a somewhat fallible mathematical formula, assigning points from 1 to 100 based on the grade given in the review. They've been adding up the points for the year so far, and their list is interesting both for its errors and its accuracy (for instance, hip-hop is noticeably absent from the top ten). Here's their list with my thoughts and where each album might end up on my personal year-end list.

Robert Wyatt10. Robert Wyatt – Comicopera
The 62-year-old former drummer for Soft Machine famously lost the use of his legs in an accident in 1973, and found his voice as a solo artist in the '90s. Comicopera is airy and jazzy, and Wyatt sounds delicate and emotional, almost like the reincarnation of Nick Drake. The album's themes revolve around protest; protest against war, against civilization in general. It's often quite beautiful and affecting, but also a bit scattered.
PB sez way lower

Battles9. Battles – Mirrored
Prog rock is back, and it's got techno in it! The New York combo sound distinctly British here in their ability to combine rock intensity with electronic experimentalism, and the album was appropriately released on Warp Records, home to Aphex Twin. But despite all that, it's immensely listenable, with lead single "Battles" taking on a kind of Gary Glitter-style swagger and ending up in Diplo DJ sets mashed up with M.I.A.
PB sez same

Panda Bear8. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Good vibrations indeed, this reverb-laden tribute to the major-chord psychedelic pop of Brian Wilson has something in common with the Magnetic Fields: it achieves its traditional-sounding warmth via decidedly non-traditional methods. This is basically the solo project of Animal Collective's Noah Lennox, yet the sound is full and rich with harmonies.
PB sez kinda lower

LCD7. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
A triumphant and grief-stricken album of plain-spoken dance music, Silver so perfectly defines its own place that it's hard to imagine how we lived in its absence. Band leader James Murphy digs in the crates of classic disco, Talking Heads, and New Order, and created an album that holds together as such, despite the standout brilliance of many of its singles. The unlikely centerpiece, "Someone Great," has entered the pantheon of melancholy electro classics like "Don't You Want Me," with its mechanical blips coalescing into a majestic tribute to a lost friend.
PB sez way higher

Les Savy Fav6. Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends
The indie-punk band has built a reputation as a blistering live act, and this album captures an intensity that's infectious. The Fav were doing angular guitar rock before Bloc Party knew how to walk, and Friends has moments of "this is how it's done" greatness. "What Would Wolves Do" is the highlight, a ticking, melancholy track with soaring guitar lines reminiscent of early U2, but they also wander a bit into muddy ballads.
PB sez way lower

Romney and Guiliani, Bickering About Lawnmowers? Sorta.

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 2:47 AM EST

sancturary.bmp So, at least the Democrats aren't the only ones turning on one another down the home-stretch to primary season. This week Mitt Romney sent a letter to Iowa Republicans slamming GOP frontrunner Guiliani on immigration. Specifically he cites "sanctuary cities" that explicitly avoid crackdowns on illegal immigrants, calling out San Francisco and New York in particular.

Sanctuary cities are essentially areas where law enforcement basically follow a don't ask, don't tell approach to immigration that may not be legal. What I want Romney to explain is what he thinks the dozen-plus major cities with such policies would do if they cracked down on laborers in the country illegally? The concept, sanctuary cities, is right up there with Bush's guest worker program; find as many ways to keep the cheap labor for industry, without having to grant secure status or acknowledge the strain the arrangement has on the workers, or in this case, on law enforcement.

In response, Guiliani has predictably chosen offense as the best defense, charging that, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney had "a record that included allowing the number of illegal immigrants to skyrocket while he was in charge, and even hiring some of them to work on his lawn while he was governor."

Ah, Mitt, if only the grass was greener.

iTunes For Magazines?

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 2:32 AM EST

Time Inc. is at work on Maghound, which is akin to an online newstand where readers will pay a monthly fee—$4.95 for three magazines, $7.95 for five or seven for $9.95—and can then mix and match magazines of their choosing (the magazines they offer, that is, I don't see Mother Jones pop up on the cover crawl).

Brian Wolfe, president of Time Consumer Marketing, calls Maghound, set to officially launch next year, the answer to Amazon for books, Netflix for movies, and iTunes for music. "The magazine industry," he recently told AdAge (subscription), "has done nothing essentially to make the consumer experience better." The online service, though, only goes so far. No digital, paperless versions. But one user improvement that will surely attract subscribers, those renewal notices won't pile up. But no promises on what bait-to-switch will fill your Inbox.

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Joe Biden's Amazing Numerical Recall

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 1:27 AM EST

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Following Joe Biden on the campaign trail earlier today, I heard him address the issues of education and high-speed internet access at the Iowa Valley Continuing Education Conference Center in Marshalltown, Iowa. Biden drifted off and on prepared remarks, shifting from his written notes to paragraphs of memorized stump speech to long, off-the-cuff monologues. The result was a speech that fluctuated pretty wildly in volume and energy. In all, though, Biden had an excellent command of the facts and was able to draw on years of experience in the senate (the man was elected at 29 and is now 65) to illustrate his points. I'm going to write more about him, likely tomorrow, but for now, I want to point out something fun.

Joe Biden really loves facts and figures. I was stunned at the quantity of numbers he could pack into a paragraph. Here are two examples. Remember, these are verbatim quotes.

Websites Blocked By the Denver International Airport Free Wireless Service

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 12:39 AM EST

mojo-photo-dia.jpgI returned from a quick trip to Nebraska today via DIA, and during my layover, logged onto their free wireless service. When I tried to check a few web sites, I got the following messages:

Boing Boing
"Your request to URL http://boingboing.net/ has been blocked by the URL Filter Database. The URL is listed under categories (Incidental Nudity, Blogs / Wiki), which are not allowed by your administrator at this time. The following reputation level was assigned to it: Neutral.

Towleroad
"Your request to URL "http://www.towleroad.com/" has been blocked by the URL Filter Database. The URL is listed under categories (Provocative Attire, Politics / Opinion), which are not allowed by your administrator at this time. The following reputation level was assigned to it: Neutral."

The Drudge Report, however, came up just fine. Just letting you know.

John Edwards and the Endless Education Agenda

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 12:10 AM EST

edwards6.jpg

I'm hopping from campaign to campaign in Iowa this week. Yesterday, I followed John Edwards as he made three stops. I discuss the first two in my article for the website published earlier today. I'll add a quick note about the third here.

The third event was a forum on education at the University of Northern Iowa. Edwards talked about a number of things: paying teachers more, finding ways to attract stellar college students to the profession, the silliness of No Child Left Behind's "cheap" standardized tests, fixing the student loan system, and on and on.

What he didn't mention, though, is his nearly endless list of initiatives, programs, and plans.

There's the national "Great Promise" partnership (quality education for every four-year-old in the country); the national "Smart Start" program (expanded health services for children under five); and the "Great Schools" initiative ("build or expand 1,000 successful schools"). The last shouldn't be confused with Edwards' "Second Chance" schools (havens for high school dropouts). And let's not forget the "School Success Fund," which Edwards may or may not have been referencing when he spoke of his plan for "educational swat teams."

He did mention his National Teacher University ("a West Point for teachers") by name, and he mentioned his College Opportunity Agenda (aka the national "College for Everyone" initiative), without mentioning its formal title(s). So credit where it's due.

The man has a million ideas on education, many I didn't list here because they don't have kitschy names. I'm making fun of Jedwards because of his program-for-everything approach that so neatly fits into the stereotype of American liberals. But it's better than the Republicans minimalist approach. Rudy Giuliani is instructive. The education platform on his website is 67 words and boils down, more or less, to the phrase "strong supporter of school choice."

Prince Declares Images of Prince Off-Limits

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 11:51 PM EST

mojo-photo-noimage.JPG

Lawyers for Prince have ordered several of the superstar's biggest fan sites to remove any image that bears his likeness prompting fans to form a group to fight the demands. Three websites: housequake.com, princefams.com and prince.org have come together to form 'Prince Fans United' in response to the situation, which even sees demands to remove images of fans own tattoos. - NME

Bruce Springsteen has instructed his legal team to track down all web sites which feature his ass and have them eliminated, the Riff has learned. The New Jersey star's rear, clad in worn denim, bulged proudly on the cover of the 1984 album Born in the U.S.A., and lawyers believe any internet representation of the cheeks' signature curves could constitute an income loss, as fans ogle the booty for free instead of purchasing the album. The Boss has enlisted a squadron of buttock investigators to identify his own personal posterior amongst what experts say must be "as many as 30" other backsides pictured on the internet. No bloggers were available for a rebuttal.

Chicago rappers Cool Kids have demanded all pictures of cool kids be removed from all websites, despite the fact that the members of the band themselves are not kids, and only cool in a kind of ironic sense. "We saw some pictures of like a couple actual cool kids on the news, and we had the feeling maybe the news guys were making fun of us, since that's the name of our band," said Cool Kid Mikey Rocks, wearing a fluorescent pink baseball cap. When asked if they were trying to be funny or ironic or artsy with their request, he replied, "I don't even know any more," while making air quotes with his fingers.

In a related story, obscure 80s combo The The have demanded all instances of the article which they doubled to form the name of their band be excised from the internet, starting at the end of the sentence you are reading on the Riff right now. "There's tons of other determiners around for people to use that don't interfere with our clients' ability to control their own image," said a spokesperson, "like 'a,' or even 'an,' and in many circumstances, 'da.'" Da spokesperson then ran out of da room, so nobody could take his picture.