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Dep't. of Unsexy: Support Disclosure Parity

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 12:14 PM EDT

You want no-brainer legislation? Here's no-brainer legislation.

The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S. 223) eliminates the archaic system by which the Senate files campaign fundraising disclosure forms, a system the House did away with years ago. Currently, House candidates and presidential candidates file their fundraising disclosures electronically to the Federal Elections Commission, meaning that information about who is filling the candidates' coffers gets to the public expeditiously.

The Senate on the other hand has preserved for itself a system that adds darkness and delay to the process. Senate candidates file their reports with the office of the Secretary of the Senate, which prints them out and delivers them in paper to the FEC. The FEC then inputs them into its computer databases, which can accessed by the public online and allows great groups like the Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation to do the things they do so well. The process takes months, meaning that fundraising in the homestretch of any Senate campaign is effectively done without oversight by the public.

Six good government reform groups are pushing for the passage of S. 223, and have set up a website where you can put your weight behind them. You can also see if your senators back the bill.

Two previous versions of the bill have failed, but every time Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduces it, he gains co-sponsors. In 2003-2004, he had 2. In 2005-2006, he had 23. Today he has 42. So the bill has never had a better chance of passing. As the title of this post suggests, disclosure requirements are an unsexy topic, so the few people who actually care have to do what they can to help.

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White House, CIA Forged Pre-Invasion Iraq Intel?

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 10:16 AM EDT

When the Bush White House couldn't find a smoking gun to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks, they simply invented one, or so says Ron Suskind in his new book, The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism. The book, released today, claims that the White House conjured up rumors that Mohammad Atta met with Iraq's intelligence services prior to September 11—one of the "facts" that Dick Cheney has repeatedly cited to justify the Iraq invasion.

From the CBS News:

This letter, in the handwriting of Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, is dated July, 2001. It says that Iraqis hosted Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, who, "displayed extraordinary effort and showed a firm commitment to lead the team which will be responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy."
The letter goes on to suggest that Iraq was importing uranium from Niger for a nuclear program.
The book alleges that Habbush, Saddam's intelligence chief, was in CIA protective custody after the 2003 invasion, that the White House ordered CIA officials to have Habbush write and backdate the letter, and paid him $5 million. The author quotes two former CIA officials who claim to have seen a draft of the letter on White House stationery.

Listen to an NPR interview with Suskind here.

The White House and the CIA deny claims that they faked the letter. According to a White House spokesman, "Ron Suskind makes a living from gutter journalism. He is about selling books and making wild allegations that no one can verify, including the numerous bipartisan commissions that have reported on pre-war intelligence."

Why So Silent, NRA?

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 9:45 AM EDT

Why won't the NRA speak? The National Rifle Association is not known as an organization run by people who are shy with the media. Yet the most powerful player in the gun lobby--and one of the most powerful political organizations around--still won't say anything about Mary Lou Sapone (a.k.a. Mary McFate).

Last week, Mother Jones broke the story of Sapone, who for about fifteen years was a gun lobby mole within senior levels of the gun control movement. Sapone was a self-described "research consultant" who had also penetrated the animal rights movement and environmental groups. But none of her operations--as far as is known publicly--were as extensive as her infiltration of various gun control organizations. And for at least some of the time that Sapone (as Mary McFate) worked at various gun violence prevention groups she had the NRA as a client, according to the deposition of a former business associate (as we explained in our story on her). Other evidence suggests a years-long relationship between Sapone and the NRA or gun rights advocates connected to the NRA.

So shouldn't the NRA have to address this? Before our story was posted, we called the NRA several times, explaining what we were going to report. Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the NRA, promised she would get back to us. She never did. Other media outfits pursuing the Sapone tale have also received the brush-off. The Philadelphia Inquirer published a front-page piece two days after our expose and noted that its reporter had contacted the NRA, extracting no comment from the influential lobby. The same thing happened when ABC News did a report on Sapone. The ABC News team even found more evidence of the Sapone-NRA relationship: her neighbors in Sarasota, Florida, said that she "often spoke about working for the NRA."

Can anyone push the NRA to respond to the Sapone story and explain its involvement in this 15-year-long penetration of assorted citizens groups? Congressional Democrats these days are not too eager to be IDed with the gun control issue, but perhaps one of them in Congress--paging Chairman Waxman or Chairman Conyers?--could send the gun lobby a note asking a few pointed questions.

The NRA has been holding its fire on this one, obviously hoping that it can duck the story and that the Sapone mess will fade away. But maybe not just the media but the NRA's own members (and board members) ought to ask why the lobby was spying on its political foes, who at the organization authorized this covert activity, how much money was spent on it, and, perhaps most important of all, was Sapone its only agent, past or present.

Bacteria Not Flu Killed Most In 1918

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 1:39 AM EDT

1918_1.jpg A new study in Emerging Infectious Diseases concludes that bacteria not influenza killed most people in the 1918 flu epidemic. The lesson: stock up on antibiotics for the next flu pandemic—bird flu, horse flu, or otherwise.

New Scientist reports that researchers sifted through first-hand accounts, medical records, and infection patterns from 1918 and 1919.

They found that bacterial pneumonia piggybacked on surprisingly mild flu cases. And the victims didn't die fast. A supervirus would have likely killed them in three days.

Instead, most people lasted more than a week and some survived two weeks—classic hallmarks of pneumonia.

Most compelling: medical experts of the day identified pneumonia as the cause of most of the 100 million deaths—the most lethal natural event in recent human history.

Other research suggests the brutal mechanism. Influenza killed cells in the respiratory tract, which became food and home for invading bacteria that overwhelmed overstressed immune systems.

Ten years later, penicillin overpowered bacteria in subsequent influenza epidemics. But nowadays we're having those nagging antibiotic problems.

So health authorities are increasingly interested in the role bacteria will likely play in the next pandemic. Yet little action has been taken. "They are just starting to get to the recognition stage," says Jonathan McCullers, infectious disease expert. "There's this collective amnesia about 1918."

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 10:51 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

Review: HBO's Baghdad High

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 9:20 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.

synopsis_baghdad_pic.jpg

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In Congress, A Role Reversal On Energy

| Mon Aug. 4, 2008 9:18 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 7:06 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 6:20 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 4:43 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."