Blogs

NSA Warrantless Wiretapping Case Dismissed

| Sat Jul. 7, 2007 4:10 PM EDT

A three-member federal appeals court ruled very narrowly yesterday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program should remain in place until a plaintiff comes along who can prove s/he was spied on, resulting in concrete harm. The decision suggests that the program might be illegal, but states clearly that the lawyers and journalists who brought the suit had no standing to do so.

There are some important sticking points in the decision, however. First, what about the generalized harm that results when any number of law-abiding citizens clam up because they believe, with a some justification, that they are being monitored? Second, people could only know for sure that they were spied on if the government told them. The government claims that that information is a "state secret"—information that, if revealed, would threaten national security. (One of the two judges in the decision determined categorically that the plaintiffs had no standing; the other wrote that the state secrets privilege prohibits the court from knowing.) The government's claim is, of course, only true if warrantless wiretapping were only conducted on people who posed a genuine threat, but it allows no legal avenue to determine if that's the case. Many legal experts argue that the state secrets privilege should not serve as a get-out-of-court-free card, but rather should simply require careful handling of the potentially secret material by the federal judges. After all, if we can't trust presidentially appointed federal judges to maintain confidentiality—which they already do as a routine part of their jobs—who can we trust? The same Bush administration that leaked Valerie Plame's name?

A case in San Francisco in which the plaintiffs claim to have proof that they were monitored is still pending.

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Matches Go To War

| Sat Jul. 7, 2007 2:12 AM EDT

Conflagration.

First Listen: Interpol - Our Love To Admire

| Sat Jul. 7, 2007 1:36 AM EDT

mojo_cover_interpolourlove.JPG
Total number of animals pictured in the cover booklet's photographs of nature dioramas: 21

Percentage of those which appear to be male Greater Kudu antelopes: 10%

Rank of Track 1, "Pioneer to the Falls," a bottomlessly bleak track dominated by an epic and mournful guitar melody, on the List of Best Interpol Songs of All Time According to Me: #4 (behind "Untitled," "PDA," and "NYC" from Turn On the Bright Lights, 2002)

Number of days frontman Paul Banks claims he hasn't slept on Track 8, "Rest My Chemistry," in what is apparently a reference to a cocaine binge: 2

Amount of time into the 4 minute and 30 second Track 10, "Wrecking Ball," a TV On the Radio-reminiscent lament, before the band are joined by what sounds like a full orchestra: 3:09

How heard-rendingly sad the Spanish-style guitars that accompany album closer "The Lighthouse" are on a scale where 1 equals Spongebob Squarepants and 100 equals the inevitable death of the universe in a entropy-driven whimper: 99

Average rating out of 100 for the album in reviews compiled so far by Metacritic: 90

Random sampling of adjectives used in the featured reviews: "ominous," "doomy," "funereal," "reverberating," "devastating," "terrible," "brooding," "magnificent," "cadaverous"

Number of offices and studios out of which one could hear Our Love to Admire playing after advance copies arrived at our radio station this afternoon: 4

Date on which the general public can purchase and enjoy this brutal, majestic album: Tuesday, July 10, 2007

MTV.com website where you can stream the entire album: right here

SOS For Live Earth

| Fri Jul. 6, 2007 7:12 PM EDT

The concerts. You know. 7/7/07. New York, London, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, Sydney, Hamburg. JULIA WHITTY

Gray Whales Going Hungry

| Fri Jul. 6, 2007 4:21 PM EDT

Scientists are reporting an unusually high number of undernourished whales for the first time since malnourishment and disease claimed a third of the gray whale population in 1999 and 2000. Ken Weiss at the Los Angeles Times reports that so far this year scientists haven't seen a decline in numbers. Nor are they sure what's causing the whales to waste. But they suspect the same thing that triggered a die-off eight years ago &mdash a rapid warming of the whales' Arctic feeding waters. Gray whales consume tons of small crustaceans in order to pack on the pounds for their long migration to Mexican breeding lagoons. But as Arctic ice recedes, the crustaceans on the Bering Sea floor are disappearing. . . Add this to the bad news for gray whales on the other side of the Pacific too. JULIA WHITTY

CO2 Weakens Soybeans

| Fri Jul. 6, 2007 3:37 PM EDT

Elevated atmospheric CO2 may negatively impact the relationship between some plants and insects. A new study from the University of Illinois finds that soybeans exposed to elevated levels of CO2 become more susceptible to attack by Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica), reports the American Society of Plant Biologists. Furthermore, as the beetles consume the weakened soybeans, the insects' invasive abilities also intensify. . . So how will the naysayers spin this? JULIA WHITTY

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National Monument Saved From 4x4 Enthusiasts

| Fri Jul. 6, 2007 3:10 PM EDT

A federal judge recently ruled that Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument may not be used as an ATV playground, putting an end to nine years of heated disputes between off-road vehicle activists and equally dedicated conservationists. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Earthjustice acted as defendants in the case and Kane and Garfield counties, within which the monument lies, were plaintiffs.

The 1.9 million-acre monument, established as such in 1996 by President Clinton under the Antiquities Act, became the second largest monument in the continental United States and and is habitat for countless endangered species.

The Grand Staircase is one of many monuments, for which counties supportive of off-roading have invoked a 1866 mining statute called RS 2477 (a law that allows road construction over public lands), to counteract usage restrictions that monument status brings. Effectively, if the county can prove a road had been established before 1976, they have a shot at re-opening it to the public and, of course, for off-roading. In that spirit, horse trails, boulder-strewn washes, dried up creeks, and even hiking paths became possible ATV highways, sometimes even private property as we reported in our most recent issue.

The recent federal ruling puts ownership of these public lands firmly in federal hands, which hopefully means fewer 18" tires will be traversing (and destroying) the monument's unique ecosystem. But most likely, the ruling will also increase the ire of 4x4 activists dedicated to driving public lands, regardless of what's on them.

This marks one of the first times the federal government has stepped into the debate in favor of environmental conservation. Previously, the Bush administration loosened restrictions on off-roading in national parks and has repeatedly made it easier for counties to claim RS 2477 road rights.

Mike Gravel the "Avant Garde of the New Artpolitical Era"?

| Fri Jul. 6, 2007 1:19 PM EDT

I didn't know we were entering into a new "artpolitical" era. And if this is a new one, was there an old one?

I probably don't know these things because I'm not an art history professor writing in the LA Times. If I was, I would understand that Mike Gravel, what with his crazy campaign ads, is a genius on par with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Jackson Pollack. And the interpretation of Gravel and his campaign goes something like this:

Gravel's works confront us with our own existences and our deaths, the brute thereness of truth, the skull beneath the $400 haircut, the cellulite under the pants suit. His is neo-existentialist, post-apocalyptic, post-post modern art, a silence that screams and cajoles.
Gravel's politics are a politics of the body and of the physical world, of what is underneath our language and above it, what is broken and beautiful, the real world of human beings.
I suggest to you that a Gravel presidency would lead to an entirely new America, doing to us what cubism did to post-impressionism: dragging us moaning in glorious epiphanic pain into a new world.
It may be that Gravel, like Vincent van Gogh, Friedrich Nietzsche or indeed, Crispin Sartwell, is a premature birth of an astonishing future. He may toil in obscurity, misunderstood or ignored in his own time. And yet, whether we can fully theorize him or not, Mike Gravel, though he may never be president, has brought us all to the very brink of political ecstasy.

A ten on the crazy meter? That's probably what most Times readers will say. But I'll go with an eight -- there are some kernels of truth in there.

And good golly, I enjoyed that op-ed more than any other in a long, long time.

Via The Plank.

Why Didn't Libby's Defense Team Focus on Cheney?

| Fri Jul. 6, 2007 12:20 PM EDT

Sorry to be so monotonous, but the holiday week has left people with an absence of news and a lot of time to speculate on all things Libby. So here's some more worthwhile block quoting. Did Libby's defense team threaten to expose Dick Cheney's crimes during the trial? And did they only back off after being guaranteed a commutation or pardon? Follow the clues, it makes a lot of sense...

If you ask any criminal defense attorney, they said we would make Dick Cheney the focus of the trial. He is perfect. He's all over this case. It really was an investigation about what Dick Cheney ordered, what Dick Cheney said, what Dick Cheney did. It's just that Dick Cheney wasn't indicted.
So no one was that surprised when the defense team made it clear they were going to call him to the trial and they were going to take the gloves off. And then suddenly, it changed and they said they were not going to call him.
They barely talked about him in any sinister way. And they adopted what could only be described as a passive defense. They virtually walked Libby into a conviction. I don't mean to be too harsh, but it seemed to me a pretty passive performance.
Well some of us speculated at the time that it seemed to be preserving the chance for a pardon. He was a loyal soldier. He took the hit in court and he remained quiet even after his conviction and even after his sentencing.

Crooks and Liars has video.

Scooter Libby, Ordered to Jail by a Republican System

| Fri Jul. 6, 2007 12:02 PM EDT

Over at TPM, Josh Marshall has an excellent rebuttal to the people who say Scooter Libby's trial, conviction, and sentencing were all politically motivated. He goes down the list of the major players in this sordid drama and identifies them all as conservatives or leaners in that direction.

1. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Decided a special prosecutor was needed and then recused himself from the decision because of his proximity to the probable targets of the investigation.
2. James Comey. Yes, he's the darling of the Dems now because he spilled the beans about the hospital stand-off. But Comey is, dare we say it, a REPUBLICAN. And not just any Republican but a pretty tough law-and-order type who only months earlier had been appointed Deputy Attorney General by President Bush. He had it in for Scooter? He let his partisanship get in the way?
3. Patrick Fitzgerald. Again, a darling of the Dems now for obvious reasons. But anyone who knows the guy's history knows that while this registered independent may not lean ideologically right (in the way movement whacks might recognize) he certainly doesn't lean to the left. It's no accident that his appointments have come under Republicans.
4. Judge Reggie Walton. Let's start with this: He was appointed by George W. Bush. And if that doesn't do it for you, he was appointed to previous judicial appointments by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

There's bonus material in there as well: some bashing of Marty Peretz and Josh's take on why a pardon might have been acceptable but a commutation is just ridiculous. Check it out.