Blogs

Let's Hope the Clinic Showed Baywatch Reruns

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 5:28 PM EDT

The missing mayor of Atlantic City has officially resigned after spending a week in a psych hospital. Robert W. Levy may have been in a little over his head as mayor. Before getting elected, he had served for decades as the city's chief lifeguard...

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Che-nniversaries

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 4:38 PM EDT

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the killing of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. World Hum has the stories behind the popularity and endurance of the Che image, and Gridskipper has a list of all the places in San Francisco you can go to talk about The Motorcycle Diaries and sip mocha frappa whatevers. As they put it: "Oh socialist politics, you are so delicious when you're co-opted for a capitalist enterprise." Viva La Revolucion!

Want Health Insurance? Call Us Back When You're Homeless

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 1:58 PM EDT

Does living in a house worth $250,000 in Baltimore make a family of six rich? That's what conservatives seem to think.

After 12-year-old Graeme Frost helped Democrats lobby Congress to pass a bill expanding the State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), conservatives vilified his family, claiming they were too affluent to qualify for the program. The state health insurance program helped pick up the tab when Graham and his sister were injured in a car accident that left them both in comas and hospitalized for five months. Because, among other things, they live in a house assessed at $263,000 (originally bought for $50,000) and make a little under $50,000 a year, critics seem to believe that the Frosts and their four kids were living high on the hog (and were apparently just too cheap to buy private insurance).

"Bad things happen to good people, and they cause financial problems and tough choices," Mark Steyn wrote on the National Review Online. "But, if this is the face of the 'needy' in America, then no-one is not needy."

The implication, of course, is that before getting any help from the government, the Frosts should have sold their home and everything else they own to pay the medical bills first. Aside from being highly irrational—a quarter-million dollars will barely buy a parking space in some parts of D.C., much less cover five months of hospital bills for catastrophic head injuries—what good is government-sponsored health insurance if you first have to become homeless and bankrupt before you're worthy enough to use it? The vicious attacks on the Frosts seem like a harbinger of things to come, unfortunately, should any democratic president actually succeed in getting some sort of health care reform off the ground.

Thomas Friedman Wants You to Be More Radical!

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 11:00 AM EDT

Friedman, from today's column:

I've been calling them "Generation Q" — the Quiet Americans, in the best sense of that term, quietly pursuing their idealism, at home and abroad. But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country's own good.

He's right to call for activism and political engagement, but it's pretty ripe that a war supporter as influential as Thomas Friedman is criticizing young people for being the "Quiet Generation." The Iraq war didn't happen because too few students were marching in the streets. It happened, in large part, because trusted liberal public intellectuals like (gasp!) Thomas Friedman supported it. They legitimized the Bush administration's story and worked as cheerleaders for intervention. Just because it happened behind the TimesSelect paywall or on Charlie Rose doesn't mean we don't remember. The saddest part is that Friedman's still such an influential figure that many people in his generation will pick up on this convenient, self-absolving narrative: "It's all the kids' fault. They didn't protest enough." Don't be surprised if you hear your parents spouting this to you two weeks from now. But that's a pretty big glass house to be throwing stones from, sir.

Lynching Losers

Wed Oct. 10, 2007 10:44 AM EDT

I've been saying loud and long that, post-Imus, -Jena 6 - post-everything - we don't need a 21st century civil rights movement centered around protests and marches. That doesn't mean we shouldn't ever take to the streets, however, and engage in some heavy duty symbolizing and grievance redressing. This heinous, however cowardly and childish, event ought to certainly produce some mass Negro indignation.

A noose was discovered this week on the office door of an African-American professor at Columbia University, school officials and the New York Police Department said. The noose was found in a building at Columbia's Teachers College, said Joe Levine, executive director for external affairs at Teachers College. The noose apparently was placed on the 44-year-old professor's office door sometime before 9 a.m. ET Tuesday, Levine said.

This only happened yesterday, so we don't know much, like why this individual was targeted or who the likely culprits (you know there was more than one cowardly lowlife involved; it takes a gaggle of them to equal one real man. And yes, I'll bet they were male) are since they made sure to avoid surveillance cameras. Still, doesn't matter. Nothing, anyone did justifies hanging a noose on his door; it's a terror tactic no matter who the subject is though it's worse for blacks given our history.

The question is the proper response. There are those, black and not, who will say ignore it and rob it of its power. I tried that on for awhile, but, nah. A noose mean something whether you ignore it or not and they affect those around you even if you've got it in you to simply toss it in the trash. Yesterday's hastily organized demonstration is a great start. Here's hoping it grows and grows, with stalwart university support. Unlike Jena, this is a protest I'd inconvenience myself to attend, knowing the little I know right now. Also, I'm thinking: nooses made of something with in-your-face-*&^hole symbolism hanging from every campus door and a sizeable reward for information leading to the capture of these morons.

There's no doubt that nooses are more a reflection of some whites' sense of waning superiority in the racial hierarchy than of actual threat (without knowing more) but then so can rape and sexual harassment be. The bastards have to be locked back in their cages.

Republicans Go Green on CNBC

| Wed Oct. 10, 2007 10:30 AM EDT

republican_debate250x200.jpg

There was a surprise winner at yesterday's Republican presidential debate in Dearborn, Michigan: the environment. The candidates — joined for the first time by Law and Order star Fred Thompson — came out nearly universally in favor of increased research on renewables and a decreased dependence of foreign oil. But their motivations weren't of a Save-the-Whales strain.

"This is a matter of national security," said Rudy Giuliani. "You've got to support all the alternatives. Hydroelectric power, solar power, wind power, conservation — we have to support all of these things. We've got to support them in a positive way. And this is an area in which the federal government, the president has to treat this like putting a man on the moon." And just in case you forgot, he added, "It is a matter of national security."

And while Sam Brownback made it clear he would drill for oil in Alaska and off the coast of basically every American state if it meant the United States imported less oil from the Middle East, he also challenged the automakers who had welcomed the candidates to the Detroit area. "We've got to get more electricity involved in our car fleet," he said. "They've got hybrid cars; they've got flex fuel cars. I think that's a big part of the answer. I'd like to see us move forward with getting those first 20 to 30 miles off of electricity that you plug into at night."

When asked if oil companies should use their record profits to fund renewables research, John McCain sounded just a little like Al Gore. "I would not require them to, but I think that public pressure and a lot of other things [might cause them to do so voluntarily]. Including a national security requirement that we reduce and eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and [that] we stop the contamination of our atmosphere." Climate change, he said, "is real and is taking place."

But no matter how green-friendly the field got, they couldn't separate their rhetoric from the overly-simplistic black-and-white nature of their foreign policy vision. Governor Mike Huckabee, for example, expressed frustration with the slow pace of renewables development ("We keep talking about 15-, 20-, 30-year plans; that's nonsense. If we don't start saying we'll do this within a decade, we're never, ever going to get there.") but then drowned it out with the sound of rattling sabers. "We're in a race for our lives against people who want to kill us," he said. "And a lot of the reasons that we are entangled in the Middle East is because our money buys their oil, that money ends up coming back to us in the way of Islamo-fascism terrorists."

But liberals and environmentalists may just abide the tough talk of Huckabee and his Republican brethren, because the end result is one they can embrace. Said Huckabee, when he closed his thoughts on the subject, "Everything is on the table: nuclear, biofuels, ethanol, wind, solar — any and everything this country can produce."

(Transcript of the debate available through the Wall Street Journal.)

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Who Will Hack US Elections?

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 10:11 PM EDT

At an e-crime summit at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh last week security experts predicted voters will increasingly be targeted by internet-based dirty tricks campaigns. And that the perpetrators will find it easier to cover their tracks, reports New Scientist.

Dirty tricks are not new. On US election day in 2002, the lines of a "get-out-the-voters" phone campaign sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party were clogged by prank calls. In the 2006 election, 14,000 Latino voters in Orange County, California, received letters telling them it was illegal for immigrants to vote. But in those cases the Republican Party members and supporters were traced and either charged or named in the press. Online dirty tricks will be much less easy to detect, security researchers say.

Spam email could be used against voters, experts say, by giving the wrong location for a polling station, or, as in the Orange County fraud, incorrect details about who has the right to vote. . . Telephone attacks like the New Hampshire prank calls would be harder to trace if made using internet telephony instead of landlines . . . Calls could even be made using a botnet. This would make tracing the perpetrator even harder, because calls wouldn't come from a central location. What's more, the number of calls that can be made is practically limitless.

Internet calls might also be made to voters to sow misinformation, says Christopher Soghoian at Indiana University in Bloomington. "Anonymous voter suppression is going to become a reality." Manipulation can also happen in more subtle ways. In 2006, supporters of California's Proposition 87, for a tax that would fund alternative energy, registered negative-sounding domains including noon87.com and noonprop87.org and then automatically routed visitors to a site touting the proposition's benefits.

The summit's conclusion: the problem will happen. The only unknowns: when and by whom.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Who Will Hack US Elections?

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 10:07 PM EDT

138907447_a23ad0acb3_m.jpg At an e-crime summit at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh last week security experts predicted voters will increasingly be targeted by internet-based dirty tricks campaigns. And that the perpetrators will find it easier to cover their tracks, reports New Scientist.

Dirty tricks are not new. On US election day in 2002, the lines of a "get-out-the-voters" phone campaign sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party were clogged by prank calls. In the 2006 election, 14,000 Latino voters in Orange County, California, received letters telling them it was illegal for immigrants to vote. But in those cases the Republican Party members and supporters were traced and either charged or named in the press. Online dirty tricks will be much less easy to detect, security researchers say.

Spam email could be used against voters, experts say, by giving the wrong location for a polling station, or, as in the Orange County fraud, incorrect details about who has the right to vote. . . Telephone attacks like the New Hampshire prank calls would be harder to trace if made using internet telephony instead of landlines . . . Calls could even be made using a botnet. This would make tracing the perpetrator even harder, because calls wouldn't come from a central location. What's more, the number of calls that can be made is practically limitless.

Internet calls might also be made to voters to sow misinformation, says Christopher Soghoian at Indiana University in Bloomington. "Anonymous voter suppression is going to become a reality." Manipulation can also happen in more subtle ways. In 2006, supporters of California's Proposition 87, for a tax that would fund alternative energy, registered negative-sounding domains including noon87.com and noonprop87.org and then automatically routed visitors to a site touting the proposition's benefits.

The summit's conclusion: the problem will happen. The only unknowns: when and by whom.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Using Bees To Save Elephants

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 9:37 PM EDT

3779_file_Elephant2_Balfour.jpg Fact #1: Elephants fear bees and run when they hear angry buzzing. Fact #2: African elephants are being squeezed into smaller and smaller wild neighborhoods. Problem: Elephants don't generally buy into our notions of land ownership and cross onto private property (imagine) to eat farmers' crops. Solution: Strategically placed beehives, or even just recordings of bees, to create "fences" elephants understand.

The new study, published in Current Biology, suggests a low-tech elephant deterrent and conservation measure. Way, way better than shooting them.

The researchers who deserve kudus: Lucy E. King of the University of Oxford, and Save the Elephants in Nairobi; Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants in Nairobi; and Fritz Vollrath of the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, and Save the Elephants in Nairobi.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Abuse of Presidential Power and the Ghost of Nixon

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 4:57 PM EDT

The Supreme Court today refused to hear the appeal of German citizen Khaled El-Masri, who was contesting a March decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss his lawsuit against the CIA. El-Masri alleged that in 2004 he was kidnapped by the CIA and rendered to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where he was tortured.

The Court's refusal to hear the case affirms the decision of the Appeals Court, which ruled against El-Masri on the grounds that allowing him to seek judicial redress would expose state secrets. The court's opinion relied heavily on the precedent of United States v. Reynolds—the 1953 case that legally enshrined the State Secrets Privilege. Though not based in the Constitution, the Reynolds precedent allows the government to withhold evidence from a legal case if its disclosure would endanger national security—a privilege most notably invoked by Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

In Reynolds, the Court held that the widows of three Air Force contractors who died in a 1948 crash could not be compensated, because litigating the case would expose military secrets. But in 2000, the documents related to the crash were declassified, revealing that what the military sought to conceal was not in fact a state secret, but instead evidence of the Air Force's culpability in the men's deaths. The Court ruled without ever seeing these documents, since they were, at the time, classified.

Anyone else see the legal Catch-22 here? The El-Masri decision is less about national security than it is about the President's right to invoke the privilege of state secrets. Without judicial process, we'll never know if that claim is legitimate or lawful. Before dismissing El-Masri's case, the Court might have looked to another old opinion, also cited in the March ruling of the Appeals Court:

Neither the doctrine of separation of powers, nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances.

That was United States v. Nixon—the famous Watergate decision in which the court ruled unanimously to limit Presidential power.

—Casey Miner