iTunes for Magazines?

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Heard of Maghound? Will it be the magazine industry's iTunes or Netflix? Read more about Time's soon-to-be service on The Riff.

Can We Talk? The 'Cos and Black Conversation

It's hard to tell whether what Bill Cosby is continuing is a crusade or a tirade, but so far, critics are voting for the second. As usual, average black folks are caught in the crossfire.

In May 2004, Cosby addressed the gala 50th commemoration of Brown v Board (full text here) in a capacity-crowded Constitution Hall in DC. Rather than celebrate the victory and its attendant successes, "America's Granddad" railed at length against a black sloth, nihilism, poor parenting and moribund morality that he believes worse than racism ever was. Here's a taste:

We cannot blame white people. White people -- white people don't live over there. They close up the shop early. The Korean ones still don't know us as well -- they stay open 24 hours....
50 percent drop out rate, I'm telling you, and people in jail, and women having children by five, six different men. Under what excuse? I want somebody to love me. And as soon as you have it, you forget to parent. Grandmother, mother, and great grandmother in the same room, raising children, and the child knows nothing about love or respect of any one of the three of them. All this child knows is "gimme, gimme, gimme." These people want to buy the friendship of a child, and the child couldn't care less. Those of us sitting out here who have gone on to some college or whatever we've done, we still fear our parents. And these people are not parenting. They're buying things for the kid -- $500 sneakers -- for what? They won't buy or spend $250 on Hooked on Phonics.

Let's just say the speech got noticed; three and a half years later, he's still pugnaciously facing off with his detractors who think Cosby is further entrenching racist stereotypes and victim-blaming. The blowback seems only to energize him.

Bipartisan Effort To Strengthen War Powers Act

A bipartisan group of six congressmen—Jones (R-NC), Delahunt (D-MA), Abercrombie (D-HI), Brady (D-PA), Gilchrest (R-MD) and Ron Paul (R-TX)—have introduced a bill strengthening the 1973 War Powers Act. This is an important development for those who care about boring old things like democracy, yet it's gotten little attention online and almost none in the regular media.

To learn more, start with an impressively honest column by George Will and Chris Weigant's useful analysis. You can also check out the bill itself, press releases from Delahunt and from Jones, and well as stories from the Sun-Journal in North Carolina, Voice of America and CNS News.

Imagine What They'll Do to Avoid Retina Scans!

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Since 2004, U.S. border guards have been fingerprinting everyone caught illegally crossing into the U.S. and checking the prints against terrorist watch lists and criminal records. The program has rooted out a few criminals, but it's also had an unexpected side-effect.

According to USA Today, border guards have caught a number of people who've burned off the tips of their fingers to hide their identities. One enterprising money launderer caught illegally crossing the border had recently had skin from his feet grafted onto his fingers. He was still limping when he was apprehended. Most of these folks have been criminals, but at least one woman caught by border guards had undergone plastic surgery on her fingertips so she could be reunited with her daughter.

The government might want to think twice about such unintended consequences before it moves ahead with plans to integrate retina scans into passport documents, or Tom Cruise's eye transplant in Minority Report might seem truly prescient!

Chalabi: Curveball Not Our Fabricator

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:

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:

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.

Romney and Guiliani, Bickering About Lawnmowers? Sorta.

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.

Joe Biden's Amazing Numerical Recall

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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.

John Edwards and the Endless Education Agenda

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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."