Blogs

ABC News Investigates (Itself)

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 4:43 PM EDT

ABC reports that Barack Obama denies he gave an interview to French journalist and counterterrorism expert Alexis Debat that appeared in a French journal, Politique Internationale. Debat himself acknowledges that he conducted the interview through a third party, and has provided an email from that person who says he carried out the interview and asked Debat to sign it and keep his name off it. An Obama spokesperson told ABC that they are not aware of that third party interview taking place either. Debat also acknowledges that he made a mistake. There's just one problem. Debat has been working since 2001 as a consultant for ... ABC News. Many of his reports are co-signed by other reporters at ABC, and one can presume that after an extensive investigation, ABC will determine that all of the stories he worked on as a "source" (but many also with a byline or co-byline) were multiply sourced and therefore they stand by all of them. As a colleague suggests, "Clearly they want to distance themselves from him, while still protecting" the institution. It may well be that all of his reporting is solid, and Debat has personally offered to discuss his sources and reporting with me, at my soonest possible availability. Sources suggest that ABC is not going to take Debat back, even if the investigation outcome is that his stories hold up. Debat firmly stands by all of his reporting for ABC, writing "ABC is currently taking all of my reporting apart, and has not found any reason to doubt it. It will not. I stand completely by 100% of the information I provided ABC."

Questions about Debat's interviews and representations were first raised earlier this week by former Liberation correspondent Pascal Riche at the website, Rue89. Debat has threatened legal action against Riche and Rue89, claiming the article "puts my entire professional life in jeopardy." ABC has indicated it demanded Debat's resignation in June, three months before the Rue 89 piece, saying that a French government official told ABC that Debat did not have the Sorbonne PhD he claimed to have. Debat has written that he recently learned there were administrative problems with his PhD and is working to resolve them.

Update: ABC's Jeffrey Schneider writes in reference to a post at my own blog, here "is a link to our blotter story about Debat. ... We have reviewed that story (and all the other stories he worked on) and we had multiple US and European government sources that informed our reporting. As you will see from the blotter story above, we acted expeditiously to sever ties with Debat when we could not establish his credentials and we did immediately investigate his work."

Meantime, we hear the Washington Post is working on its own story on the matter.

Update II: Here's the Post piece.

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A Military Expert Analyzes Petraeus' Slides

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 4:15 PM EDT

Thomas Mowle, an associate professor of political science at the US Air Force Academy, a former member of the strategy branch, Multi National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I), and editor of Hope is Not a Plan: The Iraq War from Inside the Green Zone, offers these observations about Petraeus' slides, with reference to his testimony. He emphasizes that the below are all his own assessments, not official ones.

Slide 1: Interesting that the PKK is included, though not the MeK (Mujahedeen e-Khalq) or Pezak (the Iranian offshoot of the PKK, also known as PJAK). No reference to the Kurd-Arab/Turkomen violence around Kirkuk. All the yellow boxes list threats... except "anti-AQI Tribal Success" in Anbar --unless that success is being counted as itself a threat to Iraq. Foreign fighters appear to come only from Syria, not Saudi Arabia.
Slide 2: Probably the most effective slide. Long view, since October 2004. al-Askariyah shrine destruction appears to NOT have sparked an overall increase in attacks, but is merely a point on a steady increase from about March 2005 through December 2006. Mid-February listed as "Baghdad Security Plan," with testimony saying "forces began to flow in January." Most reports I've seen suggest the "surge" began in March; this has been difficult to track down. "Surge" was complete in June 2007, at which point the # of attacks drops rapidly. Not clear what is meant by "attacks:" does this include all acts of violence in Iraq, or only those aimed at coalition or Iraqi government targets? If the latter, that could explain the lack of a spike after Samarra, and also the discrepancy between the timing of this drop in attacks and the drop in deaths noted on later slides.
Slide 3: Starts in January 2006. Civilian deaths are down since Dec 06, by 50% in Iraq and 75% in Baghdad. Trend since Jan 06 is up 200% in Iraq and up 400% in Baghdad. Most of the decline is from Dec 06 to Feb 07 -- during the surge period, deaths in Iraq are down 15% and in Iraq down 33%. Baghdad now represents a smaller share of the violence: about 70% at the peak, but now only 33%. That is about its "share" of the Arab population of Iraq, but suggests that violence may have been tranferred to other places.

Are Babies Causing Global Warming?

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 4:06 PM EDT

Yes. Yes, they are.

White Stripes Cancel Entire U.S. Tour, Cite "Anxiety"

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 4:03 PM EDT

White Stripes
After cancelling their upcoming appearance at Austin City Limits , Detroit duo White Stripes have gone one step further and cancelled their entire Fall U.S. tour. Yesterday the band announced they would be pulling out of the Austin City Limits festival this weekend due to a "nervous breakdown" on the part of drummer Meg White; the reason being given for the full tour cancellation is that Meg "is suffering from acute anxiety and is unable to travel at this time." Refunds are available at points of purchase.

All the best to Meg, but I do have to say this clears up a bit of a conflict here in the Bay Area: the Stripes' 9/21 show in Berkeley was to be the same night as the Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem show at the Shoreline in Mountain View, as well as Simian Mobile Disco's local debut, although I'm probably the only one who cares about that last one.

Big Pharma Misses Lincoln Chaffee

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 3:37 PM EDT

Former Sen. Chaffee wasn't particularly activist on behalf of drug companies, but it was clear today on the Hill that some of those companies are extremely unhappy with his replacement, former Rhode Island attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse. To big companies and the tort-reform industrial complex, Whitehouse is evil incarnate. That's because, before coming to the Senate, he was the attorney general of Rhode Island, where he had the nerve to hire the big-shot plaintiff firm Motley Rice on a contingency basis to represent the state of Rhode Island in litigation against lead paint manufacturers. Motley Rice scored a major jury verdict for the state last year that potentially puts the paint companies on the hook for billions of dollars in paint clean-up costs.

In 2006, the companies campaigned aggressively against Whitehouse, who also earned the wrath of groups like the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), which has since been pushing legislation to ban states from contracting with plaintiff lawyers. But here he was today, presiding over a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the mind-numbing question of whether federal regulatory agencies have been improperly inserting "preemption" language into regulations that would ban lawsuits over dangerous products from coming into state courts—an issue near and dear to the drug companies' hearts.

Led Zeppelin Announce Reunion Show, Crash Website

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 3:35 PM EDT

Led Zeppelin
As we reported earlier in the rumor stage of things here on the Riff, seminal British rock band Led Zeppelin will reunite for one show only at the 22,000-capacity O2 Arena in London on November 26th. Jason Bonham, son of original drummer John Bonham, will join the three surviving members of the band for a two-hour set. The show will be part of a tribute to Ahment Ertegun, the co-founder of Atlantic Records, who died last year; other performers include The Who's Pete Townsend, Foreigner's Mick Jones and Paolo Nutini, as well as former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and possibly current Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.

The chance to buy a pair of £125 ($254) tickets was to be awarded via lottery, but the event's website, Ahmettribute.com, crashed within minutes of its 4pm (UK time) opening, and appears to still be offline. In the meantime enjoy a couple Led Zeppelin mashups.

DJ Zebra - Icky Thump (Whole Lotta Thump Mix) (White Stripes vs. Led Zeppelin)
Me - Drop It Like It's a Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin vs. Snoop Dogg)
DJ Moule - "Black Sabotage" (Led Zeppelin vs. Beastie Boys)

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In the Arctic, Chemicals Disrupt Gender Balance

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 2:05 PM EDT

We already knew that our greenhouse gases were causing problems for the Inuit. Now, we find out that some other little "presents" we've given the Arctic Circle—chemicals from our electronics—are wreaking havoc, too.

In many Inuit communities these days, twice as many girls as boys are born. Scientists recently traced the trend to a buildup of chemicals present in common electronic devices (like televisions and computers). When the chemicals enter the bloodstream of a pregnant woman, they can, scientists believe, act like hormones, causing a fetus to undergo a sex change in the earliest stages of development.

This is not a good thing. In one community in Greenland, only baby girls were born during the course of the study. And if that's not alarming enough, consider the wider implications:

The sex balance of the human race - historically a slight excess of boys over girls - has recently begun to change. A paper published in the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences earlier this year said that in Japan and the US there were 250,000 boys fewer than would have been expected had the sex ratio existing in 1970 remained unchanged. The paper was unable to pin down a cause for the new excess of girls over boys.

This does not bode well for humanity. Not to mention lines for the ladies' room.

More Bad News for Edwards, Obama

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 1:57 PM EDT

Kevin Drum blogs today's Los Angeles Times poll (PDF):

[Clinton's] supporters are more firmly in her camp than Edwards' or Obama's. Interesting! I would have guessed that Obama had the bigger corps of highly dedicated supporters. Second, and more important, Hillary leads not just in the general category of "more experienced," but in the very specific categories of "best at fighting terrorism" and "best at ending the Iraq war." And she leads by enormous margins.

Also worth noting is that Clinton leads the "Have the best chance of beating the Republican candidate in November" category by double digits in Iowa and a stunning 30 or more points in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Since concerns about electability derailed Howard Dean's campaign and brought John Kerry to the forefront in 2004, Hillary's advantage in this category could prove to be decisive. The problem, of course, is that primary voters were wrong about John Kerry's electability. Could they be wrong about Hilldog's?

—Nick Baumann

Making Sense of Putin's Dissolution of Russian Government

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 1:20 PM EDT

If you're trying to make sense of today's revelation that Russian President Vladimir Putin has dissolved his country's government, try Nikolas Gvosdev's explanation in the National Interest:

As expected, six months prior to Russia's 2008 presidential elections, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has resigned his position. Fradkov, a technocratic figure who was expected to keep the government's trains running on time, was never expected to succeed Vladimir Putin as president of the country, and it was widely expected that he would be asked to step down in order to allow a possible presidential successor to Putin to, in effect, be anointed.
...It's difficult to see [appointed Prime Minister Viktor] Zubkov as being the designated "heir" to become president. It is important to note that if one looks at the last years of the second term of the Yeltsin Administration, a series of prime ministers were appointed, in part to keep the political establishment off balance.
This also gives some "breathing room" if the overall succession issue has not been settled by having another technocratic prime minister in place for the next several months, while negotiations would continue over how power would be distributed. Remember, the lesson many in the Russian elite learned from the Orange Revolution of 2004 in Ukraine was that when the elite is divided and cannot reach consensus, the system becomes destabilized.

Gvosdev also has something to say about Prime Minister Abe's resignation in Japan. Check out his article here. And thanks to Laura Rozen for forwarding it along.

Russia Explodes 'Father of All Bombs'

| Wed Sep. 12, 2007 12:19 PM EDT

According to news reports (here and here), the Russian military has successfully tested what it hails as the world's most destructive non-nuclear bomb. The device—unofficially named the 'Father of All Bombs,' an apparent play on a similar U.S. device nicknamed the 'Mother of All Bombs'—relies on an initial explosion to disperse a cloud of explosive material that is then ignited by a secondary blast. The weapon contains 7.8 tons of high explosives, compared with more than 8 tons in its U.S. counterpart. But its explosive power is equal to 44 tons of TNT, about four times more powerful than America's MOAB. The BBC says the differential is due to "a new type of explosives developed with the use of nanotechnology."

General Alexander Rukshin, Russia's deputy armed forces chief of staff, described the new bomb as "relatively cheap" and effective, with explosive power "commensurate with a nuclear weapon." He went on to say the new bomb would allow Russia's military to "protect the nation's security and confront international terrorism in any situation in any region."

Sure, if there's one thing we've learned from Iraq, it's that the best way to dispose of a guy hiding in a roadside shack with his finger on an IED detonator is to blow up his entire city.

Best of all, though, Rukshin pointed out that fuel-air bombs don't emit radiation and therefore are environmentally friendly.