Archive for November, 2007

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The Dangers Of Hannitization

November 30, 2007

Evidence that the “Stop Hillary Express” may have turned into a Crazy Train: Man Takes Hostages At Clinton Campaign Office

Witnesses Say Man Has Bomb-Like Device Strapped To Chest

ROCHESTER, N.H. — An armed man has taken two campaign workers hostage at the Hillary Clinton campaign office in Rochester, police said.

As to be expected, the blogs are buzzing about this one, so here’s the memeorandum link if you want to catch all the reactions.

stophillary.jpg
Hannitized?

Update:  There’s no evidence as of yet that this guy was a Hannity fan, so I sort of regret this post.  It was just the first thing I thought when I saw the story.  I was making light of what could have been a deadly serious situation, and I apologise for that.

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Did Congress “Vote For The War”?

November 29, 2007

Or was their intention simply to show Saddam that “we mean business”? (or something to that effect) 

This element of the popular talking points in today’s political discourse has always bothered and confused me.   I bring it up now because -as we turn the corner and head into the home stretch toward the ’08 presidential election- it is likely to be brought up more and more, especially with regard to Hillary Clinton.   This is also a bit of a followup post to the one I penned yesterday, as this topic is suddenly thrust to the forefront.    For the record, I’m not writing this post as an attempt to defend Clinton’s (or anyone in Congress, for that matter) vote, or her or the former president’s comments on the decision afterward.   Instead, this entry is designed to help clarify my thoughts on the matter and open up a discussion that doesn’t attempt to rewrite history, rather, to explore and reflect on what actually took place.

First, I think that the most important thing to point out that a vote for the October 2002 AUMF against Iraq was not an explicit declaration of war, at least not as it was written.   I did some searching, and Ron Paul summarized it fairly well when he voiced his concerns on the House floor on October 8th of that year (two days before the House passed it):

But I am very interested also in the process that we are pursuing. This is not a resolution to declare war. We know that. This is a resolution that does something much different. This resolution transfers the responsibility, the authority, and the power of the Congress to the President so he can declare war when and if he wants to. He has not even indicated that he wants to go to war or has to go to war; but he will make the full decision, not the Congress, not the people through the Congress of this country in that manner.

However, wording aside, this has always been the $60,000 question:  Can those who voted “yea” say that they didn’t consider the invasion to be a forgone conclusion (at least with a straight face)?  I mean, has Congress passed AUMF’s in that didn’t result in some military action?  Did the majority really have any other expectation?

The popular defense of the vote that came from the Democrats (especially) has always been that the resolution was intended to provide the leverage needed to put Saddam in a situation where he had no other choice but to comply with UN resolutions and allow the inspectors back in.  In fact, at the time that the resolution passed, there is evidence that there were those in Congress who believed that the AUMF was the best hope in avoiding war:

Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, said giving Bush the authority to attack Iraq could avert war by demonstrating the United States is willing to confront Saddam over his obligations to the United Nations.

“I believe we have an obligation to protect the United States by preventing him from getting these weapons and either using them himself or passing them or their components on to terrorists who share his destructive intent,” said Gephardt, who helped draft the measure.

In other words, the best way to disarm Iraq without military action was to use the inspectors, and it appears that the consensus at the time was that Saddam wouldn’t allow the inspectors back in without knowing that the threat of force was real.  Also, I think its fair to say that Congress wouldn’t have passed an AUMF unless the it contained language specifying that all diplomatic options towards enforcing UN resolutions (which called for inspectors) had been “exhausted”.  

One problem that Paul and others had with the resolution was the fact that the AUMF gave the president sole power to decide when those options were deemed “exhausted”.   So, again,  what it comes down to was whether or not the members of Congress believed that Bush was predisposed to invade, and if they were comfortable with that predisposition.  

But did the administration give any indication that he was?   On October 16th, the day he signed the resolution, Bush said things like this:

…”I hope the use of force will not become necessary”….

and

…”Hopefully this can be done peacefully. Hopefully we can do this without any military action”…

Of course, that’s what was said publicly. 

However, later on, the evidence that Bush was being disingenuous about this began to surface, culminating with the infamous Downing Street Memo:

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

So, did Congress (or at least, a percentage of the yeas) unwittingly give Bush the green light to commence a war that he had already decided to undertake?  The puzzle pieces seem to fit.  Bush wasn’t going to war without an AUMF, and Congress wasn’t going to approve an AUMF unless it called for diplomacy first.  So, if Bush wanted war, all he had to do is make sure that the resolution was worded in such a way that gave him the power to declare when the diplomacy had failed.  As it turned out, that appears to be precisely the wording that Congress approved in October 2002.   So, inspectors went in long enough to perhaps give the appearance that there was a legitimate effort to pursue a diplomatic solution and impose the UN resolutions, but it looks like Bush had decided at some point that March ’03 was the right time to “give up” and pull the proverbial trigger. 

Needless to say, it’s a little disturbing to think that Bush didn’t really care if the inspectors actually found anything, but perhaps it really was just part of the dog and pony show to sell the war.

What’s also pretty unsettling is the fact that members of Congress didn’t seem to have a coherent view on what they were voting on.  Some obviously saw it as essentially a war declaration, while others saw it as simply a means of granting leverage.  Still others, like Paul, objected to it as a violation of the Constitution in principle.

It could very well be that this resolution passed because too many members made the mistake of trusting the president.   It would be interesting to know how many of those who voted for the AUMF honestly felt the way Gephardt did, and assumed that their vote was actually a necessary step toward a peaceful solution.  We’ll probably never have a full account of what all these people were thinking privately, unfortunately.   Part of the problem is that the public isn’t really seeing this for what it was because the facts and rhetoric are blurred by politicians who are trying to balance a reasonable explanation for their position with the desire to avoid having their name and words like “unwittingly” mentioned in the same sentence (not to mention the pundits who have an interest in saving face as well).  This dynamic would certainly explain why there are statements that lead to accusations of “flip-flopping” on the issue permeating the political discourse and the media for so long, as well as the fact that the whole thing is debated… even five years later

So, did members of Congress “vote for the war”?  I guess it would depend on which one of them you ask (or, perhaps which pundit you’re listening to).   Technically, however, I think that Paul was right, in that they ultimately voted to let Bush decide.

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Damn, Those Clinton Fact-Checkers Are FAST!

November 28, 2007

I noticed today that a good portion of both the cable news networks’ time and blogger’s bandwidth was spent analyzing Bill Clinton’s supposed “flip-flop” on his Iraq war position after he made the following comment during a speech in Iowa:

“Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning, I still resent that I was not asked or given the opportunity to support those soldiers,”

The comment prompted Hannity & Colmes to do an entire segment “deconstructing” Clinton’s alleged rewriting of history and even started another spat with Senator Obama.

Sometime during my perusing of all these articles and analysis/spin, I recalled that the NY Times had a story about a new website that the Clinton campaign had established, as the Times described it, “dedicated exclusively to the instantaneous rebuttal of charges or news reports it deems offensive or wrong”.  It’s called “The Fact Hub“, so I decided to go over there to see if it had any, you know, facts to add to all this.  Sure enough, right there under “Latest Facts” was this: Fact Check: Bill Clinton On The Iraq War 

After reading through a few of the Clinton quotes that were obviously posted to clarify his position on the subject, I glanced up toward the top and noticed the timestamp “11/27/2007 7:22:53 PM”.   This was, of course, yesterday.   

Intrigued, I decided to do a little more searching to see when this story really got its legs.  Over on Memeorandum, the headlines about it didn’t appear until around midnight (from what I could quickly gather using their handy “snapshot” feature).  ABC’s article on the comment is on their Political Radar site and is timestamped “November 27, 2007 7:19 PM”.   Every other article or blog post I could find on the subject is dated November 28th, including a splashy headline on the Times’ site.

If anyone else can find an earlier posting that suggested that Clinton’s comment was raising eyebrows, post it here.  In the meantime, I guess I’m just left to conclude that either a) the Clinton camp knew this was going to be an issue, whether it be just out of wisdom or hearing some inside buzzing, or b) they were able to post a “fact check” to rebut an ABC blog post with a response time of 3 minutes.  

“Instantaneous rebuttal”, indeed.

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Thoughts On Comment Moderation

November 26, 2007

This post is addressed specifically to members of the WordPress.com Political Blogger Alliance for discussing the subject of moderating comments. 

Now, I’m well aware of the different rationale behind it, but I suppose that in the spirit of debate and timely responses I would encourage alliance members to turn their automatic moderation off.  Personally, I have my spam settings set so that a comment with 2 or more hyperlinks will sit in the moderation que.  It seems to be a good formula, but I’ve thought about changing it.  In fact, every time it blocks a netizen that is backing up their arguments with a few links I feel kinda guilty if I didn’t get around to making their post appear until hours later.  So,  I guess I don’t like the idea of having a lively debate on one of your blogs hampered by having to wait for the author to get around to approving every single comment, but I’m open to input on this.

In the end, it’s your blog, and if you’ve been experiencing a influx of undesirables coming onto your site and leaving turds I guess I can understand this move.  At the same time, however, askimet does a pretty good job with the spam, and it’s relatively easy to block persistent trolls.

Thoughts?

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“Iraq For Sale”, For Free

November 23, 2007

I just finished watching the Robert Greenwald documentary about Iraq war profiteering, Iraq For Sale, on Comcast’s On-Demand service.   It was quite an eye-opening experience, and I’d consider it recommended viewing for any American taxpayer, regardless of political persuasion.  So, if you have Comcast cable and a digital set-top box, you should be able to view the film for no extra charge.  It’s in the on-demand section under “Free Movies!” (for a limited time, I presume), and is presented in it’s original widescreen format.  I just thought I’d let everyone know.

Iraq for Sale - The War Profiteers

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John Bolton Delivers Another Head-Scratcher

November 22, 2007

And when I say “another”, it’s in reference to the Bolton quote I featured here in the Chamber a little while ago.

Today’s nugget is once again on the subject of Iran.  Mr. Bolton, appearing on Hardball, is chiming in on Iran’s possible reaction to an attack on their nuclear facilities (h/t NewsBusters):

JOHN BOLTON: I give the Iranians more credit than you [addressing himself to Matthews] do. I think they’re smart enough to understand that an attack against the nuclear program is not directed against them.

I’m not sure if Bolton actually believes this, or if he’s just saying whatever he thinks he needs to in order to sugarcoat his position (which, needless to say, is quite hawkish). 

It’s hard not to envision that, after an attack, the Iranian state run TV would run clip after clip of burning buildings and lifeless bodies being dragged out from under the rubble.  I’d assume that Ahmadinejad would make sure that the footage played in every TV set in the country, and probably the world.  Does Bolton really think that the Iranians are just going to sit there and collectively think “Well, they were just nuclear facilities.  They had it coming.” or something like that?  I mean, come on

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Please, Make It Stop

November 19, 2007

Here’s a commercial that football fans in Minnesota are undoubtedly familiar with by now.  Over that last few weeks, it seems like I’ve seen it a few dozen times.  crystal-and-chantelle.jpgIt’s an ad for the local radio station KXXR (aka 93.7 FM aka 93X) and it features two fairly attractive females clumsily lip synching the vocals of various music clips.  That in and of itself is pretty cheesy, but when you add the parts where they mouth the words of dubbed in male voices shouting things like “93X Rocks!”, the result is something that is slightly, um…deranged.  The intent here was obviously to focus on sex appeal, but the overdubbing absolutely kills it to the point of being somewhat disturbing.

The folks at 93X obviously think they’ve hit one out of the proverbial park:

Meet Crystal and Chantelle … You can check them out in 93X‘s latest commercial. If you haven’t seen it yet … it’s HOT!

Hot?  Sure, if you like girls sporting a baritone.  Interestingly, this isn’t the first ad for 93X with this theme:

2006 w/ Playboy Playmate

And there’s more.  93x isn’t the only radio station to decide that this type of thing appealed to their target market.  Also on YouTube:

KSLX

KDKB

One gets the impression that it’s possible that all these were produced by the same people.  Producers who appear to have some strange fetish for having male voices coming out of female lips.  After all, it’s hard to believe that market researchers sat in on focus groups and had some epiphany that led them in this direction. 

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“Chuck Norris Approved”

November 18, 2007

Here’s a recent campaign ad that gave me a chuckle.  Mike Huckabee brought in Chuck Norris (ranked #71 on The Telegraph’s Top 100 most influential conservatives) to help him out on this one, playing on those infamous satirical “facts” (h/t RedState):

Milking #71 for all he’s got.  Seriously though, this is a pretty memorable ad, and from a marketing standpoint this is probably going to be effective. 

Also, check out the Chuck Norris Random Fact Generator.

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Chamber Readability

November 18, 2007

cash advance

I’m not sure what formula the site was using, but this isn’t too far from where someone would want to be when trying to reach a fairly broad audience.  The NY Times’ website, for example, gets the same rating.  For more info on readability, just google “readability”.

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New Avatar

November 17, 2007

OK, I pulled up my blog this morning and I happened to notice that the good folks at WordPress decided, in their infinite wisdom, to change the layout of the theme that I’ve been using on this site for almost a year now.  Specifically, they chose to pay homage to the original programmer of the “Neat!” motif and include the little flowers that crown the widgets in the sidebar:

“Spectacular”, I thought to myself.  Actually, it was more like “WTF?”.  I searched the WP message boards and found the thread where they were discussing it, and left the following comment:

I’m sorry, but this really sucks for me. I chose this theme almost a year ago based on it’s simplicity. I’ve custom made 15 headers and color coded the images in the widgets and made tables that fit within the sidebar. All this was done under the assumption that there wouldn’t be little flowers in there one day. And needless to say, choosing a different theme would be a heck of a lot of work.

Please, please, please, make this something that I can turn off. I know next to nothing about CSS. I know that this is a free service and everything, but just adding it (especially something effeminate like flowers) back in there unannounced without giving the option to disable it is a pretty raw deal.

Shortly afterward, I started thinking.  Given the fact that it is pretty unlikely that the people at WP will change their mind solely based on my plight, maybe there’s a creative way to handle this.  I’m going to go ahead and assume that those “flowers” aren’t really “flowers”.  Those things are shuriken aka Chinese throwing stars… in motion.  Yep.

So, after some deliberation, a quick search on Google and some quality time with my ancient photoshop program, I’ve made up my mind.  I’m going to ditch the yin yang avatar that I’ve used for years and switch to a throwing star:

 star128.jpg

I’ve gone ahead and updated all the sites that I used the old yin yang avatar with this new one. 

Flowers?  What flowers?  lol

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What Is It With Terrorism And Shopping Malls?

November 12, 2007

I imagine that just about every American who watched the events of September 11, 2001 has, at some point, envisioned other nightmarish scenarios that could plausibly come to pass.  It would be natural to wonder what else the dark side of humanity is capable of after something like that.  Certainly the prospect of terrorists armed with WMD’s was beaten into our collective psyche in the run-up to the Iraq war, and I’m guessing that visions of catastrophe have run the span of imagination and beyond.

In light of the upcoming Holiday season, I wonder… So why in the heck does the attack at a shopping mall keep coming up?  If the active ingredient in terrorism is fear, is this scenario really that scary?   To highlight what I mean, consider the following:

-(CBS/AP) A Somali native living in Ohio has been charged with plotting with other al Qaeda operatives to blow up a Columbus-area shopping mall, according to an indictment unsealed Monday. (June 14, 2004)

-A Chicago-area man has been charged in an alleged plot to attack a local mall and government buildings. (Dec. 8, 2006)

-Jack (Bauer) goes undercover when the terrorists try to release a canister at the Sunrise Hills shopping mall, and Jack stops the attempt against the orders of the President. (Day 5)

-“The questions in this round will be premised on a fictional, but we think plausible scenario involving terrorism and the response to it. Here is the premise: Three shopping centers near major U.S. cities have been hit by suicide bombers. Hundreds are dead, thousands injured. A fourth attack has been averted when the attackers were captured off the Florida coast and taken to Guantanamo Bay, where they are being questioned. U.S. intelligence believes that another larger attack is planned and could come at any time.” (Brit Hume, May 15, 2007 Republican Presidential Debate in South Carolina)

-“To walk out of Iraq right now would plant a seed that ultimately would lead to destabilization there, hundreds of thousands of deaths, loss of our influence in the region, would create instability throughout the Middle East throughout East Asia, throughout Europe. And sooner or later it would come to our shores, to a shopping mall near you.” (Tony Snow July 12, 2007)

-“The FBI is warning that al Qaeda may be preparing a series of holiday attacks on U.S. shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago, according to an intelligence report distributed to law enforcement authorities across the country this morning.” (November 08, 2007

-“Tom Tancredo’s new ad, set to run in Iowa — if any stations will accept it, that is — is a true original. The ad depicts the dire consequences of our open borders through a dramatization of a fictitious terrorist attack in the middle of a shopping mall. Furthermore, it even ends with the sound of an explosion!” (Today, h/t TPM):

Tip of the iceberg, as they say, as that was just a few examples.  For a little perspective, however… U.S. Shopping Malls: Unlikely al Qaeda Targets

A terrorist attack against a shopping center in the United States has the potential to cause panic among the public and damage the economy at a time when retail stores expect large numbers of holiday shoppers. In terms of the number of victims, a truly devastating attack would require coordination at several locations. Even then, such an attack is unlikely to produce a high number of casualties, as previous attacks overseas have demonstrated. A suicide bombing in May at a mall in Ankara, Turkey, for instance, resulted in six deaths, while a car bomb outside a busy shopping center in Beirut, Lebanon, killed one person.

And yet, there appears to be no shortage of fear going around over it.  But why shopping malls, and not, say, a high school football game?  To disrupt the economy, especially during the holidays?  I’m going to propose that if this ever were to happen, the patriotic thing to do would be to run to your local mall and buy something. If the active ingredient in terrorism is fear, it’s easy to fight.  All you have to do is chose not to be afraid.

 mallgoers.jpg
Home of the Brave

And for the record, according to one source, the odds of dying as a result of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil is about 80,000 to one, which is about the same odds as dying as a result of being struck by lightning.  So be careful out there.

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ChenZhen’s Approved

November 11, 2007

I’ve visited hundreds of blogs and message boards across the political spectrum, and in my travels I’m happy to say that the vast majority of them are wide open to comments from passers by.  However, to make my blog surfing a little easier, I’ve gone beyond my membership here at WordPress and registered for accounts with Blogger and TypeKey, and have had the familiar yin yang enshrined at gravatar.  It saves time and serves to verify that the “ChenZhen” commenting on your site is, in fact, me (I’ve had one instance of a rather inept impostor leaving comments on another blog).  I’m officially, um…official.

Many blogs have either very limited or closed registration, but I’ve only come across a few sites that’ve required some sort of review before being allowed to leave comments, and for those I really didn’t bother with the effort…until recently.  So with this post, I’m happy to announce that I have received approval for membership on two sites that, by most accounts, reside on opposite sides of the political divide:  Wonkette and NewsBusters

It’s still early, and we’ll have to see how this goes.  I’m still not exactly sure what either of them were looking for in my application, but I’ll take the nods nevertheless.  I suppose it’s worth noting that I was given a “hat tip” with just my second post on NewsBusters, so I’ve got that going for me. 

And to anyone who happens to visit from either site, I’d just like to say that I have no particular allegiance here.  I’m just going to call it like I see it.  Fair?

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The Two Al Qaedas Are On The Same Page

November 8, 2007

Or as I’m observing, this would be the “new” and the “original” al Qaeda.   I’ve always thought of “al Qaeda” as less of an actual organization and more of an ideology.  An ideology, incidentally, that is easily fermented by the reality of American troops invading and occupying Islamic countries, so I guess that one shouldn’t be surprised by the existence of the former in light of what’s happened in Mesopotamia.  Anyway, I bring it up because it just so happens that stories about both showed up on memeorandum today.

First, there seems to be quite a bit of back-patting going on in the blogosphere over the news that, after half a trillion dollars, tens of thousands dead and the destruction of our credibility worldwide, we’ve managed have some success battling the “new”:  Militant Group Is Out of Baghdad, U.S. Says

BAGHDAD, Nov. 7 — American forces have routed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi militant network, from every neighborhood of Baghdad, a top American general said today, allowing American troops involved in the “surge” to depart as planned.

Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commander of United States forces in Baghdad, also said that American troops had yet to clear some 13 percent of the city, including Sadr City and several other areas controlled by Shiite militias. But, he said, “there’s just no question” that violence had declined since a spike in June.

Great news, I suppose, but it would seem that the incredibly costly cleanup of the “new” situation didn’t really do anything to affect the status of the “original” one, as on the same memeoranum page you see this:  Exclusive: FBI: Al Qaeda May Strike U.S. Shopping Malls in LA, Chicago

The FBI is warning that al Qaeda may be preparing a series of holiday attacks on U.S. shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago, according to an intelligence report distributed to law enforcement authorities across the country this morning. (Click here for full text.)

The alert said al Qaeda “hoped to disrupt the U.S. economy and has been planning the attack for the past two years.”

I’m compelled to assume that these two stories appearing right next to each other like this is nothing more than a coincidence that happens to serve as a reminder that we can have a legitimate discussion about whether or not we’re any better off (from a homeland security standpoint) because this whole Iraq endeavor.  I know that I’ve never bought into the “fight ’em over there so we don’t have to fight them here” rhetoric, but I’m pretty sure that plenty of Americans have.  I’ve always believed that it was going to make the overall situation worse, and perhaps I’m guilty of selectively highlighting evidence that supports this viewpoint while downplaying evidence that doesn’t, but it’s really hard to make the argument that we’re really any safer because of it (at least in the short term).  At this point I think that, at best, we’re pretty much back where we started even with a “working” (I love that concept) “surge”..  But time will tell, as they say. 

BTW-  There is one more thing at the end of this ABC blotter “exclusive” I thought I’d leave open to discussion as well.  It’s this little nugget:

“We have no credible, specific information suggesting an imminent attack,” a DHS official said.

So what, exactly, is the point?  You see, it’s this type of thing that serves as fodder to those who make claims of fearmongering (as I’ve done a few times, admittedly).  Be on the lookout for…what, nothing specific?  What are they hoping to accomplish with this warning?  I mean, aren’t we always on The Two Al Qaedas Are On The Same Page regardless?

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60 Minutes Exposes “Curveball”

November 7, 2007

I’m a couple days late on this, but I thought I’d post about the episode of 60 Minutes that I watched on Sunday, where we finally heard the name of the CIA “informant”* that was the cornerstone of the case that Colin Powell made before the UN in the run-up to the Iraq war (a case, incidentally, that I was very sceptical of when I saw it).   The following video will, in the very least, make you shake your head and wonder…

Part I

Part II

*I use the parentheses because, of course, the CIA never actually interviewed Curveball directly, rather they relied on information that was passed on to them by the Germans. 

Punchline: “One of the deadliest con-jobs of our time”

Not to mention one of the costliest?

My takeaway on this is the point that the piece didn’t stress enough;  the administration wasn’t that concerned about Curveball’s credibility.   What mattered to them was that they could use the story to make the case for the war.   That was the real “con-job”.  What we’re seeing here is just part of the bigger picture.

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