St. Louie Woman: Sickness in the Suburbs

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 10:42 AM EST

This is one of those stories that you just can't stop thinking about and wondering what the hell is so wrong with people. You read the news and suddenly the whole hermit/Walden Pond thing just makes so much sense. If only there was a way to legislate against stupidity and viciousness. There isn't, but that didn't stop suburban St. Louis politicians from doing it anyway. Wrong as the underlying act was, heinous as it was, making online harassment, without a clearly stated threat, a punishable offense only makes things worse. Ninety percent of the blogosphere is prima facie harassment; they better get a lot more jails built and be ready to face a whole lotta 1st Amendment cases.

It's been hard to miss the story about the 13 year old girl who committed suicide after a MySpace boyfriend wooed, then cruelly mocked and dump her. The 'boyfriend' turned out to be the mom of her former best friend and only four houses down the leafy suburban cul de sac. As horrible as was a grown woman intentionally setting out to spy on a child (how dare she de-best friend her daughter), the details are even worse. The New York Times has the goods:

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Hillary Clinton Says Bye-Bye to Indicted Trial Lawyer

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 10:16 AM EST

scruggs.imageBad news for trial lawyers, and bad news for Bill and Hillary, too. Famed Mississippi plaintiff's lawyer Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who was slated to host a Clinton fundraiser next month, was indicted yesterday for allegedly trying to bribe a state court judge. The indictment comes a day after the FBI raided his office looking for a document, and two days after Scruggs' brother-in-law, Trent Lott, announced his resignation from the Senate.

When the FBI first raided Scruggs' office, Lott said the timing of his resignation was just a coincidence. But you do have to wonder. The indictment is pretty damning, and includes apparently taped conversations between the judge and some of the other lawyers involved in the alleged scheme.

The indictment will no doubt have other political fallout. Scruggs is a high-profile figure, having just used his private jet to ferry the new University of Mississippi football coach to Oxford hours before turning himself in to law enforcement authorities. He made millions off the state's lawsuit against the tobacco companies in the 1990s and has been leading the litigation against insurance companies over denied Katrina claims, including Lott's. Scruggs has been a generous Democratic political donor, particularly in Mississippi, where he used some of his tobacco winnings to found a now-defunct PAC to help elect liberal candidates to state office.

But his political loyalties have always been a little suspect, and not just because of his in-law status. This year, for instance, he has given nearly $30,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and several thousand dollars to Joe Biden. But he's also contributed to Republican John McCain. Next month, Bill Clinton was scheduled to headline a fundraiser for his wife at Scruggs' Oxford home. Not surprisingly, today a Clinton spokesman tells Mother Jones that the event is "not happening."

Giuliani Straining to Defend Himself on Hamptons Trysts

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 10:09 AM EST

RudyWingman.jpg By now you may have heard yesterday's big news, other than the fact that the Republicans smacked each other something vicious on CNN. When Mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani took trips to the Hamptons to visit his then-mistress and now-wife Judith Nathan and billed the tens of thousands of dollars in security expenses to obscure New York City agencies like the Loft Board. Giuliani was still married to his second wife at the time. Also billed to small agencies were expenses for campaign trips during Giuliani's aborted 2000 Senate campaign and trips to Los Angeles for his then-wife Donna Hanover. The full, sordid details are available at Politico.

What's less well known is that Giuliani is having a hell of a time explaining himself.

At the debate yesterday, Giuliani pinned the blame on the cops who were assigned to protect him. "They put in their records. They handled them in the way they handled them. I had nothing to do with the handling of their records," he said.

In the Politico story, a Giuliani campaign aide said the problem was due to "accounting."

On a CBS News follow up, the campaign said "this is common practice." A top aide named Tony Carbonetti told the media "these were all legitimate expenses."

But Carbonetti seemed to reverse himself later, saying that he had ordered an investigation.

In 2001 and 2002, Giuliani handled this differently. When city auditors questioned the expenses, the Mayor's staff refused to provide them by citing "security."

The Giuliani campaign clearly was not prepared for this, meaning that the former mayor's New York City staff, who has been dealing with questions over this behind the scenes for over five years, chose not to brief them. Or the campaign's research department didn't ask the right questions. Or Giuliani himself didn't tell them to look into it.

No matter what, though, Giuliani had better figure out what his position is, because every time he takes a new stance, he extends the story through another news cycle. And this is so damaging, he'll want it to go away as soon as possible. If it ever does, and here's betting it doesn't.

The French Nuclear Connection

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 9:24 AM EST

The deal between the French nuclear behemoth Areva and the Chinese to build two nuclear power plants and run others in China may be part of an answer to that country's growing energy demand. Not to mention gross pollution. It also gives the now struggling nuclear business a big shot in the arm, and brings a little known, and growing power into focus as a major energy player: Sarkozy's France.

The Bush administration has hoped it could pump up nuclear as a clean alternative fuel. Since Three Mile Island the business has been in the dumps, mired in controversy over waste disposal and overall safety. As part of its expanding operations, Areva now wants to enter the U.S. market and has cut a deal with Constellation Energy, a Baltimore utility, to sell power plants here. The French, of course, have long played an important role in the oil and gas business with historic interests in Algeria, where the first major LNG exports to the U.S. originated; in West Africa, where the Gulf of Guinea has become a hot spot in the search for what's left of the world's oil and gas; and the Middle East.

Republicans Feud Over Immigration at the Debate: What It Says About the GOP Field

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 12:43 AM EST

romney-giuliani-youtube-deb.jpg Ernie Nardi from Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, did us all a service. The question on sanctuary cities that Nardi asked at last night's Republican YouTube debate—the first question of the night—set the stage for an epic confrontation between the candidates that included some of the sharpest attacks of the campaign season. The fight over immigration, quickly becoming the most contentious issue of the race, lasted for almost twenty minutes, long enough that each candidate got to say his piece. That meant something insightful could be learned about the entire field.

Giuliani began by insisting that "New York City was not a sanctuary city." Giuliani then went on to detail and defend three ways in which New York City was in fact a sanctuary city: the Big Apple opened education and health services up to illegal immigrants, and allowed them to report crimes without fear of deportation. Giuliani stuck up for these three policy moves, while repeatedly insisting that they didn't make New York a sanctuary city (a term, by the way, that is largely meaningless). He didn't help his case by saying "we reported thousands and thousands and thousands of names of illegal immigrants who committed crimes to the immigration service."

Mitt Romney fired right back, saying, "How about the fact that the people who are here
illegally have violated the law?" He went on to say that as Mayor, Giuliani welcomed and protected illegal immigrants.

Throughout the night, host Anderson Cooper gave anyone who was attacked 30 additional seconds to respond. This meant that anyone who got into a tit-for-tat got the lion's share of the airtime. And it meant that fights got extended, as this one did.

Giuliani shot back at Romney, saying, "Mitt generally criticizes people in a situation in which he's had the worst record." Giuliani claimed that there were multiple sanctuary cities in Massachusetts when Romney was Governor. Then it got personal. "There was even a sanctuary mansion," Giuliani said. "At his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed."

Telling Moments from the GOP Debate: Romney Freezes, Rudy Slashes, McCain Shines

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 12:26 AM EST


Wednesday night's CNN/YouTube Republican debate contained no Hillary Moment--that is, no time when a leading candidate muffed an answer in a manner that created an opportunity for the others to pile on. (Remember Clinton's triple-reverse answer to that question about issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants?) But this latest face-off did produce telling moments.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had the most difficult ones. He froze more than once--which is odd, considering he's had ample opportunity to ready himself for this Republican Party-sponsored debate. In one video query, a fellow named Joseph from Dallas held up a Bible and said, "How you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?" The question first went to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He seemed unsure of how to start, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who was ordained as a Baptist minister, quipped, "Do I need to help you out, Mayor, on this one?" Giuliani recovered quickly and offered the obvious answer: It's "the greatest book ever written....I read it frequently," some parts are "allegorical," some are "meant to be interpreted in a modern context."

Then came Romney's turn. "I believe," he said, "the Bible is the word of God, absolutely." CNN's Anderson Cooper reminded him of the question: "Does that mean you believe every word?" Romney stuttered: "You know--yes, I believe it's the word of God, the Bible is the word of God." He then repeated that answer twice and said, "I don't disagree with the Bible." In other words, he stumbled through a question about the Holy Book. When Huckabee fielded the question, he handled it, naturally, with natural aplomb: "As the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite god, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small." For any social conservatives who care about a candidate's relation to the Bible, Huckabee had slammed Romney.

Later in the debate, Romney hit another bad spot in an exchange during which Senator John McCain shined. A college student from Seattle named Andrew offered this question: "Senator McCain has come out strongly against using waterboarding as an instrument of interrogation. My question for the rest of you is, considering that Mr. McCain is the only one with any firsthand knowledge on the subject, how can those of you sharing the stage with him disagree with his position?" Romney went first: "I do not believe that as a presidential candidate, it is wise for us to describe precisely what techniques we will use in interrogating people. I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way, shape or form." It was a non-answer, and Cooper pressed him: "Is waterboarding torture?" Romney repeated himself: "I don't think it's wise for us to describe specifically which measures we would and would not use."

McCain moved in:

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Hillary Clinton's NEW Plant Problem (It's CNN's Problem, Too)

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 11:12 PM EST

keith-kerr.jpg The gay general (as he shall forever be known) who asked a question about gays serving in the military at the just-completed Republican YouTube Debate is apparently a member of a Hillary Clinton's "LGBT Americans For Hillary Steering Committee." This was not disclosed by the general, the Clinton campaign, or by CNN during the debate.

The man's name is Keith Kerr and he's a retired Brigadier General who served for 43 years. He was actually seated in the crowd tonight and was invited by Anderson Cooper, CNN's host, to provide comments after the candidates tried to answer his question. (Romney's answer was particularly pathetic, because he once said he "looked forward" to the day when gays could serve openly in the military, causing yet another flip-flop. Romney has a troubled history with gay rights, from the Republican point of view.) Kerr went on for some time, drawing scattered boos from the Republican crowd.

They would have booed louder if they had known that Kerr is with the Clinton campaign. The questions become: Did Cooper know about this? If so, why didn't he disclose it? Did the Clinton campaign coordinate with Kerr? If so, is it accurate to say Hillary Clinton has another plant problem? And if not, Kerr probably just gave the campaign he supports an additional headache.

Kerr's question is after the jump.

Update: Clinton camp denies the General was planted. CNN denies knowing he is affiliated with the Clinton campaign. "Certainly, had we had that information, we would have acknowledged that in using his question, if we had used it at all," said Anderson Cooper.

Holiday Music Mercy Courtesy of The Killers

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 8:17 PM EST

The holiday season offers no shortage of peril: themed turtleneck sweaters, Bûche de Noël, office party punch. And of course, the one holiday intrusion that none of us can avoid, from the dawn of Black Friday through 'til Christmas Day, is the ubiquitous playing and marketing of Christmas music. This year, if all the harking of angels on high and Beach Boys covers are getting you so down that even Neil Diamond's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" can't raise you up, The Killers have just the song for you. "Don't Shoot Me Santa" is the feel-good—in a super dark way—iTunes download of the season, with all its proceeds going to AIDS charities as part of Bono's RED campaign. For those of us who have always dreamed of tying up Brandon Flowers with tinsel and tormenting him in the desert, Christmas has come a little early this year.

God Does A Flip-Flop - Tells Richard Roberts To Resign From ORU

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 7:52 PM EST

Richard Roberts resigned as president of Oral Roberts University today. He did so against his will, because, he said, God told him to do it. According to Roberts, the son of ORU founder Oral Roberts, God has been waffling lately with regard to Roberts' future.

A lawsuit accuses Roberts of lavish spending while the university faced more than $50 million in debt. According to the suit, he went on shopping sprees, bought a stable of horses, and sent his daughter to the Bahamas aboard the university jet. Referring to the three former professors who filed the suit as his "persecutors," Roberts said that God had originally instructed him to deny all allegations, but on Thanksgiving Day, did a turnaround and told him to resign his post.

The lawsuit was not just about Roberts' alleged spending during a time when ORU was $50 million in debt, but also included an allegation that Roberts illegally mobilized students to campaign for a Republican mayoral candidate. Another allegation was that Roberts' on-campus house had been remodeled fourteen times in eleven years, and one that did not make the lawsuit was that Roberts used university-purchased cell phones to text messages to under-age males in the middle of the night.

Here is the text of what Roberts said God told him after God had a change of mind about the matter: "We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit ... is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion."

Not all of the news was bad. According to Roberts, God also said that something miraculous would occur on the university's behalf if he resigned. And now Mart Green, founder of the Christian office and educational supply store chain Mardel, said he would immediately give $8 million to the university, with another $62 million to come after a review of the university's financial records.

Clean Up the Coal Plants, Then Clean Out the Fridge

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 7:38 PM EST


While the filthy coal industry touts its far-off "clean coal" technology to help keep federal subsidies flowing, perhaps there's a simpler solution to the emissions and toxins these plants belch. A Texas company called Skyonic has developed a process it claims can reduce smokestack carbon by up to 90 percent by transforming the C02 into solid NaHCO3, better known by the brand name Arm & Hammer. Hey, baking soda from coal waste! Great idea, especially if—as the company claims—the stuff comes out food-grade clean. (Even so, I think I'll just use mine to eliminate fridge odors.)

The process, which is now being tested on a pilot scale in Texas, is driven by heat from the waste gases. It involves an input of sodium hydroxide (lye), which is produced on-site, and produces as byproducts hydrogen and chlorine gases, which could be sold at a profit along with the baking soda, the company says.

Skyonic CEO Joe David Jones told ZDNET, where you can read more on this, that his company's "SkyMine" technology also eliminates 97 percent of the heavy metals and most of the acids and nitrogen compounds, which would eliminate the need for pricey smokestack scrubbers. The company is working on a full-scale system it hopes to install in 2009 that would, it says, absorb the waste output of a large (500MW) plant—which includes about 338,000 tons of carbon annually.

Sounds almost too good to be true; pie-in-the-SkyMine, you might say. Still, if it pans out, there'll be plenty of baking soda for that pie, and one less reason to hate the coal industry. 'Course, there is a little matter of blowing the tops off mountains. ...