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Voters Shut Out of Indiana Primary Will Have to Appeal to Higher Authority

| Wed May 7, 2008 4:57 PM EDT

I hope someone informs the Supreme Court's mostly Catholic majority that their recent decision to uphold Indiana's voter ID law prevented a convent full of elderly and disabled nuns from casting a vote in yesterday's Democratic primary. In its decision, the court insisted the state had a legitimate interest in depriving lots of people of their right to vote because it would deter phantom fraudsters, even though the state has never had a single documented case of voter impersonation fraud. Clearly, the justices hadn't anticipated the sisters, who don't drive and didn't have much need of ID in the convent. Now shut out of court and the voting booth, the Indiana brides of Christ will have to appeal to God for a remedy.

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Burma: Dispatches From a Nightmare

| Wed May 7, 2008 3:13 PM EDT

In the wake of the devastation left by Cyclone Nargis in Burma, "huge sections of the Irrawaddy Delta lie cut off from the outside world," writes Paul Danahar for the BBC in Southern Burma. "Monks are leading the cleaning-up process in the residential areas," says one blogger in Rangoon. "No electricity means no water; a real crisis, and people don't know whether to pray for rain (no roofs) or not for water."

Below, more excerpts from this week's world press coverage of the crisis.

Burma, burmadigest in Burma Digest blog:

Yangon is Ground Zero; there are no more big trees left…Army Battalion no. 11, 22 and 77 are clearing the big roads. Otherwise, it's mostly kohtu kohta (self-help). Monks are leading the cleaning-up process in the residential areas…

No electricity means no water; a real crisis, and people don't know whether to pray for rain (no roofs) or not for water…People are using water from Inya Lake….

Petrol was 10,000 kyats to the gallon yesterday (maybe less today, because the govt. petrol pumps are selling petrol today). Candles have gone up from 100 to 300 kyats for a medium-sized candle; chicken is 10,000 kyats to the viss; eggs are 280 kyats (100% increase); pebyoke (baked beans) is 400 kyats for 10 ticals (doubled price)…

Tin roofing has gone up from 5000 to 30,000 kyats. General labourers are charging 7000 kyats per day just to drag logs away…

Rangoon has gone backwards 20 years.

"Merchant of Death" Indicted in U.S. Federal Court

| Wed May 7, 2008 2:51 PM EDT

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It was just over two months ago that Viktor Bout, the elusive Russian arms trafficker, was jailed in Thailand after being felled by a months-long DEA sting operation. He remains in a Bangkok prison, pending extradition to the United States, where (short of a plea agreement) he will most likely face federal prosecution in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Yesterday, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia and Acting DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart unsealed the federal indictment (.pdf) against Bout, charging him with four counts of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism.

An excerpt from the press release announcing the indictment:

Between November 2007 and March 2008, Bout agreed to sell to the FARC millions of dollars' worth of weapons—including surface-to-air missile systems ("SAMs"), armor piercing rocket launchers, AK-47 firearms, millions of rounds of ammunition, Russian spare parts for rifles, anti-personnel land mines, C-4 plastic explosives, night-vision equipment, "ultralight" airplanes that could be outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Bout agreed to sell the weapons to two confidential sources working with the DEA (the "CSs"), who represented that they were acquiring these weapons for the FARC, with specific understanding that the weapons were to be used to attack United States helicopters in Colombia...

Breaking News: Hipsters Live in Cheap, Crappy Buildings

| Wed May 7, 2008 2:47 PM EDT

Yes, NYT trend piece fans, it's time for yet another trenchant observation: Art kids live in squalor in Brooklyn. And since everyone knows bedbug bites are like the purple heart of hipsterdom, they're totally jazzed about their tenement, known as the McKibbin:

"The community is a microcosm of artists, musicians and D.J.'s," said Kevin Farrell, who is 29 and works in video production. "You don't have to leave this building, with the exception of food. I don't really speak to the locals."

By comparison, campaign kids, who whined in the Sunday Times about having to couch surf, look pretty square:

"It's so nice to have your own space," said Erin Suhr, 32, the director of press advance for the Clinton campaign. "To come in and not have to talk to anyone, because you know they're going to want to talk about politics."
Since mid-February, Ms. Suhr has been living in Washington, in the basement apartment of Dick and Joanne Howes. Ms. Suhr has her own entrance and said she rarely sees the couple. But on a recent Monday night, Ms. Suhr appeared at their back door and the trio fell into an easy banter.

Fraternizing with the locals? She'd never make it at the McKibbin.

Myanmar's Epic Floods Seen From Space

| Wed May 7, 2008 2:17 PM EDT

5Feb2007-5may2008_L.jpg

Go ahead, tell the people of Myanmar that global-warming-related superstorms aren't anything to worry about. That 100,000-plus aren't dead and 95% of the buildings in the path of Cyclone Nargis aren't demolished. These images from the European Space Agency's Envisat satellite, taken a year apart, show the extent of the flooding. Envisat's radar cut through the clouds to reveal critical Near Real Time situation on the ground. The image on the left (above) is from a year ago. The image on the right shows flooding (black areas) two days after the cyclone's passage. Accuweather reported Nargis made landfall with sustained winds of 130 mph and gusts of 150-160 mph—ramping up with frightening speed from a Category 1 to a strong Category 3 or minimal Category 4 hurricane at landfall. Not as big as they get, but combined with an 11.5-foot storm surge, about as deadly as they get.

226225main_myanmarbefore_20080506_226.jpg 226223main_myanmarafter_20080506_226.jpg

NASA's color images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on its Terra satellite use a combination of visible and infrared light to highlight floodwaters. Water appears blue or nearly black, vegetation bright green, bare ground tan, and clouds white or light blue. The image on the left is from approximately a month before the cyclone. In the May 5 image on the right, the entire coastal plain is flooded. Fallow agricultural areas have been especially hard hit. Yangôn, with a population of over 4 million, is surrounded by floods. Several large cities, with populations between 100,000–500,000, are also inundated. Muddy runoff colors the Gulf of Martaban turquoise.

A Step Towards Victory at the FEC

| Wed May 7, 2008 2:14 PM EDT

Yesterday, President Bush put forward a revised list of nominees for the Federal Elections Commission. As we've reported in-depth, the FEC currently only has two of its customary six commissioners, meaning the body that regulates all federal elections lacks the quorum necessary to do its job. Bush's new slate of commissioners, and the Republicans' new willingness to play ball in the confirmation process, suggests that a fully functioning FEC may be on the horizon.

Here's the deal. Formerly, the nominees were Democrat Robert Lenhard, Democrat Steven Walther, Republican David Mason (the sitting Chairman), and Republican Hans von Spakovsky (HVS). Democrat Ellen Weintraub was already sitting on the FEC. The problem with that roster was that von Spakovsky was objectionable to Democrats, who saw him as the GOP's point man on minority disenfranchisement in his previous activities. Democrats wanted to vote on each nominee individually, leading to the likely rejection of HVS and the acceptance of everyone else. Final result in the Democrats' scenario: a FEC with three Democrats and a sole Republican. The Republicans rejected the idea and said instead that all the nominees, including HVS, had to be approved together. Deadlock ensued.

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Republican Primary Results of Note

| Wed May 7, 2008 1:34 PM EDT

Our friends at Reason provide a solid round-up of Republican primary races that were resolved yesterday. Some good news and some bad. Anti-war Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina, subject of a sympathetic 2006 Mother Jones cover story, beat back a challenge from a pro-war candidate.

"I think more and more Republicans are starting to understand after five years that the Iraqis need to step up and take responsibility," Jones said.
Jones retained some strong military support in his district, particularly among retired Marines and other veterans.
"We are close to the veterans and they knew it," Jones said.

On the other hand, anti-sanity Republican Dan Burton of Indiana, subject of a scathing 2008 Mother Jones blog post, topped a Republican primary challenger by seven points, a sizable victory but a much smaller one than Burton is accustomed to in primary or general elections. For more on Burton, see this 1997 MoJo piece from deep in our archives.

Clinton: Damn the Pundits, Full Speed Ahead

| Wed May 7, 2008 11:57 AM EDT

The morning after, the Clinton crew was unbowed. As Hillary Clinton on Tuesday night was being creamed by Barack Obama in North Carolina and eking out a narrow victory in Indiana, pundits throughout Cable News Land were pronouncing her dead, dead, dead. Tim Russert said the race was over. But when a reporter on the campaign's morning conference call, asked Howard Wolfson, Clinton's communications director, if there had been "any discussions about not going forward," he said, "No discussions." And he seemed to mean it.

On the call, Wolfson, deputy communications director Phil Singer, and chief strategist Geoff Garin were forward-looking. They claimed to be "happy" about the 1.8-percent win in Indiana--but without sounding at all jubilant about the squeaker. As for North Carolina--where she lost by 14 points--they claimed "progress" there and pointed to the fact that she beat Obama among white voters by 24 points (as if the increasing racial polarization within the Democratic primary electorate is something to celebrate). They acknowledged that Clinton had in recent weeks loaned her campaign nearly $6.5 million--and claimed it was a sign of her commitment to moving ahead and, of course, fighting for real people. They repeated the campaign's call to seat the disputed delegations of Florida and Michigan, and they indicated they were ready to rumble in the upcoming primaries. Voters in those states, Garin said, should be given the ability "to express their voice." He added, "All we are doing is suggesting the process ought to play out."

In other words, damn the pundits, full speed ahead. It appeared that Clinton--faced with three alternatives: fighting on as if nothing has changed, dropping out, or planning a graceful exit strategy--has for the time being settled on option one.

Would Seating Michigan and Florida Change the Race?

| Wed May 7, 2008 11:28 AM EDT

Short answer? No. Here is MSNBC's First Read:

...on the delegate front, if Florida and Michigan were seated as is and Obama got the uncommitted delegates in Michigan, Clinton would net an additional 32 delegates from Florida and 18 from Michigan -- for a total net of 50. So add those numbers into the current pledged delegate count and Obama still would lead in the pledged delegate count by more than 100, approximately 110 in fact. So let's use 110 as the baseline. For Clinton to overtake him in the pledged delegate lead using THEIR math on Florida and Michigan, she'd need to win 75% of all remaining delegates. That's an impossible task. Most importantly, knowing the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee the way we THINK we do, the likelihood of the committee NOT punishing Florida and Michigan in some way (say a cut in half of their delegates a la the Republicans) would then make this FL/MI exercise moot.

I made a less precise version of this point yesterday in a post about how shifting expectations affected the race.

NY Times Op-Ed Plugs MoJo Article on Corporate Espionage

| Wed May 7, 2008 10:42 AM EDT

Last month, MotherJones.com broke the story that a private security firm, Beckett Brown International, had spied on Greenpeace and other environmental groups while working for its corporate clients. In today's New York Times, Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser cites the Beckett Brown story and others like it, arguing for congressional hearings on corporate espionage. Doesn't seem hearing-worthy? Maybe you don't know the full story of Beckett Brown. From the piece:

BBI, which was headquartered in Easton, Maryland, on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, worked extensively, according to billing records, for public-relations companies, including Ketchum, Nichols-Dezenhall Communications, and Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin. At the time, these PR outfits were servicing corporate clients fighting environmental organizations opposed to their products or actions. Ketchum, for example, was working for Dow Chemical and Kraft Foods; Nichols-Dezenhall, according to BBI records, was working with Condea Vista, a chemical manufacturing firm that in 1994 leaked up to 47 million pounds of ethylene dichloride, a suspected carcinogen, into the Calcasieu River in Louisiana.

Or what about this, from an internal Beckett Brown document cited in our piece:

Received a call from Ketchum yesterday afternoon re three sites in DC. It seems Taco Bell turned out some product made from bioengineered corn. The chemicals used on the corn have not been approved for human consumption. Hence Taco Bell produced potential glow-in-the-dark tacos. Taco Bell is owned by Kraft. The Ketchum Office, New York, has the ball. They suspect the initiative is being generated from one of three places:
1.Center for Food Safety, 7th & Penn SE
2.Friends of the Earth, 1025 Vermont Ave (Between K & L Streets)
3.GE Food Alert, 1200 18th St NW (18th & M)
#1 is located on 3rd floor. Main entrance is key card. Alley is locked by iron gates. 7 dempsters [sic] in alley—take your pick.
#2 is in the same building as Chile Embassy. Armed guard in lobby & cameras everywhere. There is a dumpster in the alley behind the building. Don't know if it is tied to bldg. or a neighborhood property. Cameras everywhere.
#3 is doable but behind locked iron gates at rear of bldg.

Want more of the dirty details? Read the full story.