John McCain Countersues Jackson Browne

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 7:28 PM EST

mojo-photo-mccainbrowne.jpgFor those of you who felt like the McCain campaign, round about early September, started to look like some sort of demented cartoon, don't say "that's all folks" yet. As we discussed here back in August, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne filed suit against the McCain campaign for using his song, "Running on Empty," in a campaign ad. Sure, the suit was more symbolic than anything (considering the ads were probably off the air by the time Browne called his lawyer) but the remnants of the McCain campaign are taking it very seriously, countersuing in U.S. District Court in California. As Reuters reported, McCain filed two motions:

The first is a standard motion to dismiss, claiming that McCain's use of the song was fair use. McCain also says that Browne's assertion that the Lanham Act's prohibition on the implication of a "false association or endorsement" fails because it only applies to "commercial speech," not "political speech." The second filing is maybe even more interesting. It's an anti-SLAPP motion, which is typically used by defendants as a way to seek monetary damages after a plaintiff has subjected a defendant to a lawsuit meant to chill free speech. So far, McCain is only looking for attorney's fees and costs, but claiming an artist has interfered with free speech is quite the poke of an eye in show business.

That's right, McCain is looking to recoup some cash here. To add insult to injury, the first motion included the boastful assertion that using "Running on Empty" in their ad "will likely increase the popularity of this 30-year-old song." Hilarious, but McCain may have a point, as the only major "win" that had anything to do with his campaign was pop-cultural: SNL's ratings bump and Tina Fey becoming America's sweetheart. Maybe Browne should write a book?

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Rainforest Woes? Blame Cocaine.

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 6:09 PM EST

Cocaine1.jpgThere's a new tactic to target casual drug users: Convince them drugs are polluting the planet. On Tuesday, according to the Guardian, Francisco Santos Calderón, the vice-president of Colombia, told a conference of British senior police officers:

If you snort a gram of cocaine, you are destroying 4m square of rainforest and that rainforest is not just Colombian—it belongs to all of us who live on this planet, so we should all be worried about it. Not only that, the money that you use to buy the cocaine goes into the hands of FARC, of illegal groups that plant mines, that kidnap, that kill, that use terrorism to protect their business.

As the Guardian explained, Santos wanted to persuade casual British users, the "social user who drove a hybrid car and was concerned about the environment" to eschew the drug because of its environmental impact. As Gawker asked sardonically, "You might not stop for the sake of your money, your police record, or your septum, but would you give up blow if you knew that every eight ball cost ten square meters of precious rainforest habitat, you Whole Foods junkie?"

While Santos didn't cite any evidence to prove his point (or his 4m square statistic), what he is saying sort of makes sense. The coca plant is a cash crop and Columbia is a tropical country; growing cocaine—like oranges, mandarins, or coffee—obliges farmers to cut down some of the rainforest. Still, something about this seems a little suspicious. Are casual users of cocaine really responsible for pervasive environmental destruction?

While it's true that in the last five years, production of cocaine in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru has increased almost 20 percent, the truth is that the destruction of the rainforest is not due to increased demand from wealthy British cocaine users. In fact, it makes more sense to wonder if inept efforts to eradicate the coca plant don't cause most of the destruction of the rainforest. Farmers grow coca because it's a lucrative cash crop; then drug control agents spray the plants with poison. As Mother Jones explained back in March 2007, this causes farmers to, sensibly, push further into the rainforest.

So yes, it is technically true that the cocaine industry is destroying the Columbian rainforest. But while casual drug use certainly doesn't help, it's not the main cause of environmental destruction; that award goes to Plan Columbia (.pdf). It looks like Santos can't see the rainforest for the coke.

—Daniel Luzer

Image by flickr user Jungle_Boy

The Young Turks Illustrate Progressives' Web Video Dominance

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 6:03 PM EST

My piece out today on frustrated internet activists in the Republican Party begins with a story from Michael Turk, a conservative activist who ran the eCampaign division at the RNC after the 2004 presidential election. In short, the RNC killed an exciting opportunity for web video just as it began to get some coverage because it badly misunderstood the conventions of the genre. (See the piece for more detail.) That episode presaged the current state of affairs. Four years later, Barack Obama used and is using web video as one of many technological tools to reach out to hundreds of thousands of his supporters, while John McCain had a lackluster YouTube channel and generated little excitement around his web operations.

But it isn't just Obama who is capitalizing on the power of web video. It's the left more generally. Consider The Young Turks. A radio show originally on Air America and now on XM satellite radio, The Young Turks has been broadcasting on the web since the pre-YouTube era. Now that it operates a YouTube channel, it is absolutely killing the game. Just this week the channel passed 50 million views, with 32.4 million views coming in a period that maps with the election cycle (January to October 2008). By comparison, the John McCain YouTube channel has just 25.7 million views in its lifetime.

A progressive satellite radio show did better traffic online than the Republican presidential candidate. The Republican activists that I spoke with have a seriously uphill battle.

Blog Bleg

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 4:36 PM EST

BLOG BLEG....I need more blogs to read. Who do you recommend? All subject areas and political affiliations welcome as long as they have interesting things to say. Leave your top picks in comments.

Chinese Democracy Emerges, Pigs Stay Safely On Ground

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 4:29 PM EST

mojo-photo-gnrchinesecd.jpgIt's here: early this morning, the entirety of Chinese Democracy, the new album from Guns N' Roses and their first in 17 years, was posted to their official MySpace page for your 96kbps listening pleasure. The physical CD will go on sale exclusively at Best Buy stores this Sunday, breaking with the odd tradition of Tuesday releases—speaking of democracy, could we do that with elections too? Anyway, Jon Pareles has a lot of fun with it in the Times today:

"Chinese Democracy" is the Titanic of rock albums: the ship, not the movie, although like the film it's a monumental studio production. It's outsize, lavish, obsessive, technologically advanced and, all too clearly, the end of an era. It's also a shipwreck, capsized by pretensions and top-heavy production. In its 14 songs there are glimpses of heartfelt ferocity and despair, along with bursts of remarkable musicianship. But they are overwhelmed by countless layers of studio diddling and a tone of curdled self-pity. The album concludes with five bombastic power ballads in a row.

Glimpses, indeed, and I might add "fleeting."

More CDS Chatter

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 3:33 PM EST

MORE CDS CHATTER....Megan McArdle, who has been skeptical of the role of credit default swaps in the financial meltdown, publishes an email today from a reader that, I think, gets it about right:

As someone with a front-row seat to this crisis, let me say that there are people who trade CDS and do not understand crucial details of contract terms and bond seniority....Moreover, street-side participants in CDS have realized that they are counterparties to obligations they often don't understand, and this has certainly played a role in both a) their unwillingness to extend credit and b) their inability to get credit from lenders who are uncertain of what their CDS obligations mean. THAT is why Buffett called them "financial weapons of mass destruction" — not because they START a war, but because they have immense capacity to radically ESCALATE it.

....[After the fall of Lehman Brothers] everyone started worrying about collateral, and then discovered that they were not able to properly worry about collateral, since they did not fully understand derivative collateral requirements. All they knew is that they were facing something big and scary, and so — once again collectively and naively — we all stopped lending just to be safe.

This is, roughly speaking, my understanding of what happened too. The CDS market is a highly useful one, but it's too opaque; it's too hard to truly know what your CDS counterparty risk really is; and collateral requirements can amplify a downward spiral and cause bank failures that otherwise wouldn't have happened. There are regulatory answers for all these things, and although they probably wouldn't eliminate problems in the future (nothing can do that, I imagine), they might reduce them considerably.

On another note, Megan has apparently cast her vote for "CDSs" as the plural of CDS. I'd opt for "CDSes" myself, but I'm open to anything that's an actual, rather than an implied, plural. Perhaps this will start a trend.

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Nonconventional Warfare

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 3:07 PM EST

NONCONVENTIONAL WARFARE....Speculating on what might happen if Robert Gates stays on for a while as Secretary of Defense seems a little frivolous when we don't even know if Gates is truly in contention for the job, but let's do a bit of it anyway. Gates has taken the position that the Army should focus almost exclusively on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare in the future, something that Michele Flournoy, who's heading Obama's defense transition team, has criticized:

She said the document appropriately emphasizes irregular warfare — focused on terrorists and rogue regimes bent on using insurgency or weapons of mass destruction — but might go too far. "I think irregular warfare is very important, particularly in contrast to preparing solely for conventional warfighting, but it shouldn't be our only focus," Flournoy said, adding that countries such as China likely are preparing for "high-end" warfare and attacks involving anti-satellite technologies and cyberspace.

Barron YoungSmith thinks this is going to cause some tension:

If Gates ends up staying on at the Pentagon, he and Petraeus will almost certainly be able to impose these counterinsurgency-oriented priorities on what Flournoy, who has long-standing plans to revamp DoD, hoped would be a top-down review starting from scratch.

I'll take the other side of this issue. My guess is that the Army's institutional culture is so dedicated to conventional warfare that even a massive push from Gates and Petraeus in the other direction will turn the battleship only a few degrees. Especially if all this stuff is part of a top-down review (which it will be, since the QDR process will be starting up in 2009), a clear and concentrated focus from the start on nonconventional warfare is probably the only way we'll make any progress at all. I think I might be on Gates's side on this.

You Are What You Blog

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 2:27 PM EST

YOU ARE WHAT YOU BLOG....Via Andrew Sullivan, this is just scary. The Typealyzer sucks in the contents of your blog and spits out your Myers-Briggs personality type about two seconds later. Like pretty much everyone of a certain age who's worked in the business world, I've taken the Myers-Briggs test a couple of times, and the typealyzer got my personality type exactly right. (Though my recollection is that it was a close call on the Sensing/Intuition scale.) This is especially impressive considering that upwards of a third of the text on the blog is excerpts from news articles and other blogs.

Methinks the web is getting too smart for its own good. Granted, my personality type probably isn't too hard to figure out even from a 30-second conversation, but it's a little unnerving that some heap of silicon can do it. If they can already do this, how long will it be before our robot overlords take over completely?

Judge Orders Five Guantanamo Detainees Freed

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 2:18 PM EST

After hearing the Bush administration's evidence for holding six Algerians as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, a federal judge appointed by the first President Bush and who had been expected to be sympathetic to the government, sided with the defense and ordered the government to free five of the six men. The New York Times reports:

After the first hearing on the government's evidence for holding detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, a federal judge ruled on Thursday that five of the prisoners are not being lawfully held and ordered their release.
The case, involving six Algerians detained in Bosnia in 2001, was an important test of the Bush administration's detention policies, which critics have long argued swept up innocent men and low-level foot soldiers along with high-level and hardened terrorists.
The hearings for the Algerian men, in which all evidence was heard in proceedings closed to the public, were the first in which the Department of Justice presented its full justification for holding specific detainees since the Supreme Court ruled in June that Guantánamo detainees have a constitutional right to contest their imprisonment in habeas corpus suits.
Ruling from the bench, Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court in Washington said that the information gathered on the men had been sufficient to hold them for intelligence purposes, but was not strong enough in court.

Even more notable, the judge issued an appeal to the government, asking that it not appeal his decision that five of the six were not enemy combatants. He told the government that it would be able to make all its legal arguments when the defense makes it appeal concerning the one detainee whom the judge ruled did qualify as an enemy combatant. In other words, the judge, not exactly a jurist most predisposed toward the defense, emotionally requested that the government let these five fellows, who were detained in the first place under suspicious circumstances, go after many years of unjustified imprisonment.

The Iraq "Surge" Is Working, But Will It Be Enough?

| Thu Nov. 20, 2008 1:45 PM EST


The Fund For Peace has released its eighth in a series of reports about the progress (or lack thereof) of the US occupation of Iraq. The "surge," says the report (.pdf), has been successful at reducing violence, but "a false sense of security is emerging" that this alone will be enough to set Iraq on the course to long-term stability.

Analysts and journalists everywhere seem to have bought into the Bush administration's line that things are looking up—a view reflected in John McCain's campaign claim that we are "on a path to victory." General David Petraeus, however, has been more cautious in his assessment, describing the emerging peace in Iraq as "fragile" and "reversible." This is closer to the truth, say the report's authors.

Yes, violent deaths are down, but not even close to what we'd expect in a functioning civil society. The "surge" has reduced killings by 80 percent over the past year, but even at current levels, 800 people continue to die each month from political violence. "Putting this into a comparative context," the reports reads, "this means that nearly as many people were dying violently in four to five months in post-surge Iraq as had died in three decades of civil conflict in Northern Ireland."

And whatever sense of security Iraqis may enjoy, at least compared with a year ago, remains somewhat fragile—and primarily an outgrowth of the ferocious ethnic cleansing that occurred in Iraqi cities and towns before the "surge" began. Today, Iraqis live highly segregated communities, divided by ethnicity and religion. According to an August 2008 poll, 74 percent of Iraqis said they felt safe at home. But outside of their segregated neighborhoods, only 37 percent felt that way... and fewer still, just 31 percent, agreed that today's Iraq could be described as "stable."

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from