Ron Paul: It's Slightly Less Real Than I Thought

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 2:19 PM EDT

ron_paul_elephant.jpgIllustration: Marc Burckhardt This is interesting. It appears that a portion of Ron Paul's online buzz is fake, and actually illegal. According to the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Spam Data Mining for Law Enforcement Applications project (quite a name, that), which looks at hundreds of thousands of spam emails a month and recently got its hands on some Ron Paul forwards, some of the email support for Paul is coming out of spambots.

The university project received Paul emails with subject headers like "Ron Paul Wins GOP Debate! HMzjoqO" and "Ron Paul Exposes Federal Reserve! SBHBcSO." According to Wired:

The e-mails had phony names attached to real-looking e-mail addresses. When lab researchers examined the IP addresses of the computers from which the messages had been sent, it turned out that they were sprinkled around the globe in countries as far away from each other as South Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom, Nigeria and Brazil."The interesting thing was that we had the same subject line from the same IP address, and it claimed to be from different users from within the United States," [project head Gary] Warner says.
One e-mail was designed to look as if it came from within a major Silicon Valley corporation, he notes. But when the researchers looked up the IP address, the computer from which the note was sent was actually in South Korea.

The emails, which actually include portions of Ron Paul's platform and recite many of the Paul talking points, apparently have been laundered through something called a botnet, which is illegal. The campaign has denied any knowledge of the phenomenon.

Okay. So here's the thing. The massive amount of support Ron Paul gets in the comments section of blogs across the internet can't be faked. (It was so extreme that went all Judge Dredd on its users and banned newbies from discussing Paul.) The money raised and the event turnout can't be faked.

So the well-intentioned Paul supporter who was trying to get his (or her) man's word out through this botnet operation probably did Paul more harm than good. The very real support Paul is getting can now be wrongfully dismissed as no more than internet shenanigans.

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Toxic FEMA Trailers

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

fematrailerssmall.jpgTalk about adding insult to injury. It's been more than two years since Hurricane Katrina forced Gulf Coast residents out of their homes, and tens of thousands of them are still living in FEMA trailers today. As if that weren't bad enough, those trailers might be making people sick. FEMA trailer residents—especially kids—have been complaining of breathing problems, headaches, rashes, and allergies.

The EPA has tested trailers for formaldehyde—but strangely, only the empty ones. This led to a showdown between Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and FEMA Director David Paulison at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee federal hearing last summer:

"Did you test any other occupied trailers?" Waxman asked Paulison.
"We did not test occupied trailers," Paulson replied. "We went along with the advice that we received from EPA and CDC that if we ventilated the trailers that would reduce the formaldehyde issue."
Waxman pressed on, asking Paulison if FEMA tested to see whether ventilating the trailers in fact reduced formaldehyde levels. Paulison said that it did reduce levels in the empty trailers.
But Waxman interrupted the response, repeating that FEMA tests were conducted only on empty trailers with blowing fans, open windows and constant air conditioning.

Since the summer, there's been an outcry about the formaldehyde problem. The press has picked up the story, and at least one blog about toxic trailers exists.

In its "For the Record" release about formaldehyde, FEMA recommends that residents "increase ventilation," "keep indoor temperatures cool," and "keep the humidity low." Easy as pie. Unless, of course, you happen to live in cramped quarters in a subtropical climate.

Move Over Soldier of Fortune, Here's the New Mag for Mercs

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 12:53 PM EDT


It was only a matter of time before an entrepreneurial publisher seized on the private military contracting boom—and all those untapped ad dollars—in order to give Soldier of Fortune, long the preeminent mag for hired guns, a run for its money. That time has arrived and the mag is called Serviam (Latin for "I will serve"). Edited by conservative author and think tanker J. Michael Waller and published by EEI Communications (whose president, James T. deGraffenreid, is a board member of Frank Gaffney's hawkish Center for Security Policy), the magazine bills itself as a provider of "accurate and actionable information about private sector solutions to promote global stability." Serviam is a sleeker, tamer version of SOF, which, like the companies it caters to, is seeking to soften the mercenary image, casting soldiers-for-hire as international peacekeepers.

Homies and Hospitals

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 12:40 PM EDT

Black people are so weird.

For some reason, which will no doubt take eons to figure out, blacks are those most likely to check themselves out of the hospital against medical advice:

In an analysis of more than 3 million discharges from U.S. hospitals in 2002, the researchers found that 1.4 percent were made against medical advice. Compared with white patients, African Americans were 35 percent more likely to opt for such a "self-discharge," the researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health.
In contrast, Hispanic patients were 10 percent less likely than whites to check out against medical advice...

It's unsurprising that men bolt more often than women and the young more than the old, but why blacks? The discrepancy holds true even when the researchers controlled for income (a brother can't lose his job) and Medicare/Medicaid receipt. Given that past studies (and common sense) indicate that going AWOL from the hospital is bad for your health, this is the kind of issue blacks should tackle as opposed to this one.

The Judge Gets Judged

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 12:31 PM EDT


Philadelphia's Bar Association rebuked the judge who refused to punish a rapist since the victim was a prostitute. No comment from the judge but her lawyer put things nicely in perspective: ''The transcript doesn't necessarily tell the whole story,'' Bochetto said. He said Deni also considers a witness' tone of voice, demeanor and other factors in her rulings."

Can't imagine what those "other" factors were.

Just in Time For The Holidays, Blackwater's "Special Edition" Sig Sauer Handgun

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 11:25 AM EDT


Blackwater's recent troubles (the alleged indiscriminate killing of Iraqi civilians by the company's "independent contractors") have led to speculation that Erik Prince, Blackwater's founder and president, may seek to lead his company into new and perhaps less controversial lines of business. What better way to do that than by marketing a signature handgun? That's right, the embattled private military firm has apparently partnered with arms manufacturer Sig Sauer to offer a "Blackwater Special Edition P226," a 9mm handgun. According to the ad (posted to Wired's Danger Zone), "When personal protection of world leaders in high-risk environments is your job then you only want the best equipment." Run and get yours now while supplies last.

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Ron Paul - It's Real, Get Over It

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 11:15 AM EDT


It's getting harder and harder for those fascists at Redstate to claim Ron Paul supporters are nothing more than "a bunch of liberals pretending to be Republicans." From Time:

Paul... is not only drawing impressive crowds (more than 2,000 at a postdebate rally at the University of Michigan last month) but also raising tons of cash. In the third quarter of 2007, Paul took in $5.3 million (just slightly less than GOP rival John McCain), mostly in small, individual donations. On Oct. 22, he aired his first TV ads, $1.1 million worth in New Hampshire.
The numbers are even more impressive considering that as of early October, 72% of GOP voters told Gallup pollsters they didn't know enough about Paul to form an opinion.

I'll say it again—insisting that Ron Paul supporters are liberals in disguise, as members of the right are doing, is a particularly pathetic blend of paranoia and denial, and it's only going come back to bite them in the rear. There is something real about Ron Paul (maybe it's the fact that Paul, as Frank Luntz says, is the candidate "the most likely to look at the camera during the debates and say, 'Hey, Washington, f____ you.'") that has tapped into the energy and enthusiasm of a bunch of voters that are internet-savvy, willing to donate, and politically educated. That's a group Republicans ought to be courting, not ostracizing.

Just When We Thought We'd Heard the Last of Bernie Kerik

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 10:38 AM EDT

Remember Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani's former business partner, driver, bodyguard and New York City police commissioner? Well, apparently Kerik incurred significant legal fees defending himself from charges that he he let a mob-connected company seeking city contracts renovate his New York City apartment for free. And now, reports the Wall Street Journal, the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski is suing Kerik for more than $200,000 in unpaid legal fees related to all the investigations.

Maybe Rudy's firm should quietly pick up the tab so Kerik can go back under a rock during the presidential election season. Much of the focus on Giuliani of late has been on his autocratic tendencies as mayor of New York, but his close relationship with Kerik remains one of his biggest vulnerabilities, right up there with the fact that he once married his cousin.

Brooding With Beirut

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 11:18 PM EDT

Beirut's newest release, The Flying Club Cup, has been haunting me for more than a week.The album, released by Ba Da Bing Records earlier this month, is sentimental, pretty, melancholy, and eery. And I can't get enough.

The 21-year-old Zach Condon, the brains of Beirut, made the album as an homage to the culture, music, history, and fashion of France, where he moved after spending two years studying Balkan folk music and Eastern European music scales. The album is an indie kid's interpretation/infatuation with nostalgic notions of European sounds and styles; sort of like a hipster marching band parading through the Old World.

Safety Commission Says No to Toy Safety?

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 10:20 PM EDT

Yesterday, after the summer's spate of high-profile toy recalls, the Senate Commerce committee passed the most significant legislation affecting CPSC since the agency was created more than thirty years ago. Sponsored by Senator Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), the bill increases CPSC's budget from $63 million to $142.7 million by 2015, and raises the cap on civil penalties the agency can levy against companies that hide product defects, from $1.8 million to $100 million. The bill gives CPSC a couple of new responsibilities—the agency will credential independent third-party testing labs whose job it will be to safety-test toys, and it will have the authority to investigate and respond to safety-related whistleblower complaints made by company employees.

Acting CPSC chairman Nancy Nord opposes the bill. Voicing her objections in a five-page letter to the committee, Nord argued that CPSC would be overwhelmed by its new responsibilities, and that many of the bill's provisions would do little more than increase litigation. Nord doesn't think CPSC should be in charge of credentialing testing labs, she wants nothing to do with whistleblower complaints, and, using a bizarre logic that apparently makes sense to her (and to industry), concludes that increasing the civil penalty cap to $100 million will make it more likely that truly dangerous products will not reach CPSC's radar screen. Overall, Nord said, the bill would have the "unintended consequence of hampering, rather than furthering consumer product safety."

Most of Nord's complaints are identical to those voiced by industry trade groups, chief among them, the National Association of Manufacturers, whose chief lobbyist, Michael Baroody, President Bush had nominated to fill Nord's job a year earlier. (Baroody withdrew his nomination before this Senate confirmation hearings). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has called on Nord to resign. That the agency needs more resources and authority is clear, Pelosi said; the problem is that Nord simply does not understand "the gravity of the situation."

Today Nord issued a statement saying she has no intention of stepping down.

Consumer groups, who have been pushing for many of the bill's provisions for decades, were jubilant after the Commerce committee vote. "This bill is the most comprehensive product safety bill to have emerged from any House of Congress in decades," said Rachel Weintraub, general counsel for the Consumer Federation of America. "It makes giant strides forward in solving problems that have been plaguing CPSC for years."

The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill by Christmas. I write about the CPSC's history of mishandling toy safety regulation in the current issue of Mother Jones. Read it here.

—E. Marla Felcher