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Party Ben's European Tour Update #1: Poland

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 9:32 AM EST

mojo-photo-pbpolskie.JPGGreetings from the land of Pierogi and pope-worship, as I'm ramping up the first leg of my amusing little European DJ tour here in Poland. It's my first time here, and my impressions are colored (perhaps unfairly) by the years I lived in Russia: the language, culture and even the look of the place is both oddly familiar and totally weird. Poland seems to have had a head start on capitalist enterprise, and the city is full of fancy restaurants, nice hotels and brightly-lit shops, but the Stalinist "Palac Kultury i Nauki" still towers over the city and rickety old tramways share the rails with fancy new models. But every time I forget I'm in the Eastern Bloc, someone will swear using an all-too-familiar elaborate Slavic-rooted verb construction, and I'll remember: this ain't Vegas.

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Las Vegas Smackdown? Nah, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards Play to a Draw

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 1:14 AM EST

Is that the best they got?

Anyone who watched Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate hoping to see Barack Obama or John Edwards tear Hillary Clinton apart had to be disappointed. In the run-up to the this face-off in Las Vegas, both Edwards and Obama had intensified their attacks on the woman leading in the polls. And with the most recent survey in Iowa showing the race in that all-important state tightening to almost a three-way tie, there was reason to assume that Edwards and Obama would continue the assault.

They did try, but at the end of the two-hour event it was hardly apparent that they had scored any new points. Why not? There were two main reasons. First, Clinton was well prepped for the slams. Second, the attackers had no new ammo to fire at her. Moreover, the audience at the debate was not eager to see Dem-on-Dem violence, and people in the crowd booed when a knife came out.

The first question addressed the meme of the evening. CNN's Campbell Brown asked Clinton to respond to the Obama/Edwards charge that she avoids taking stands on tough issues and practices the politics of parsing. She had her lines down. Joking that her pants suit was made of asbestos, she insisted she had been fighting for women, children, working families, and union members for 35 years and that in this critical election the Democrats must pick a candidate "who's been tested and who is ready to lead on day one." This has been her pitch from day one--and it's a jab at Obama, the freshman senator.

Next Wolf Blitzer gave Obama the chance to advance his offensive against Clinton. Noting that Obama a few nights ago had suggested that Clinton is "triangulating" and "running a textbook Washington campaign," he asked Obama what he meant by that. Obama essentially repeated what he had previously said: Clinton's botched answer in the previous debate to a question about awarding driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and her less-than-specific response to queries about Social Security show she cannot provide "straight answers to tough questions" and cannot respond to the American people's desire for a "different kind of politics" that challenges the "standard practices of Washington."

This was not a major blast. Clinton retorted by accusing Obama of not "stepping up" on universal health care because his health care proposal would not create mandates that force people to obtain insurance. The two then engaged in a rather wonkish back-and-forth on their health care plans. Actually, a calm and detailed discussion about the differences in their plans would have made for an interesting debate. But this exchange looked more personal than policy.

Then it was Edwards' turn. Blitzer asked Edwards to explain his charge that Clinton is a politician who parses. The former one-term senator suggested Clinton could not be trusted because she has said she will end the Iraq war but would still keep some troops there and because she recently voted (with 70-plus other senators) to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist outfit (which could help the Bush administration cook up a case for war). Edwards also maintained that Clinton is a defender of a "broken" and "rigged" Washington system.

She fired back, saying she didn't mind taking shots on the issues but she resented anyone throwing mud at her that is "right out of the Republican playbook." Not content to play defense, she went on the offense, pointing out that when Edwards ran for vice president in 2004 he did not advocate universal health care but does so in this campaign. So perhaps he's the flip-flopper.

In these opening skirmishes, no one gained ground. But that was good news for Hillaryites. She held her own, and neither Obama nor Edwards advanced their critique of her.

Nixon on Tape: Reagan Was "Shallow" and of "Limited Mental Capacity"

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 11:02 PM EST

Richard Nixon, say what you will of this criminally minded president, was a keen observer of politics. But he seems to have underestimated fellow Republican Ronald Reagan (or the American public). On the morning of November 17, 1971, Nixon, while meeting with National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office, shared a few sharp--and negative--comments about California Governor Ronald Reagan, who had recently told Kissinger that Nixon had a "real problem" with conservatives who believed Nixon was not sufficiently hawkish on foreign policy matters.

For years, the Presidential Recordings Program of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia has been transcribing and analyzing the tape recordings Nixon secretly made in the White House. Even though it's been 33 years since a disgraced Nixon left office, his tapes are still being processed by the National Archives, and the Miller Center has only recently gotten to the tape of this particular conversation. According to the newly created transcript of the meeting, both Nixon and Kissinger believed Reagan was not the brightest bulb in the GOP. Here are some key excerpts:

President Nixon: What's your evaluation of Reagan after meeting him several times now.

Kissinger: Well, I think he's a--actually I think he's a pretty decent guy.

President Nixon: Oh, decent, no question, but his brains

Kissinger: Well, his brains, are negligible. I--

President Nixon: He's really pretty shallow, Henry.

Kissinger: He's shallow. He's got no...he's an actor. He--When he gets a line he does it very well. He said, "Hell, people are remembered not for what they do, but for what they say. Can't you find a few good lines?" [Chuckles.] That's really an actor's approach to foreign policy--to substantive....

President Nixon: I've said a lot of good things, too, you know damn well.

Kissinger: Well, that too.

Later in the 24-minute-long discussion, the two discussed the possibility of Reagan running for president:

President Nixon: Can you think though, Henry, can you think, though, that Reagan with certain forces running in the direction could be sitting right here?

Kissinger: Inconceivable.

So much for Kissinger's powers of prognostication. As they were finishing up--after discussing other matters--Nixon slammed Reagan again:

President Nixon: Back to Reagan though. It shows you how a man of limited mental capacity simply doesn't know what the Christ is going on in the foreign area. He's got to know that on defense--doesn't he know these battles we fight and fight and fight? Goddamn it, Henry, we've been at--

Kissinger: And I told him--he said, "Why don't you fire the bureaucracy?" I said, "Because there are only so many battles we can fight. We take on the bureaucracy now, they're going to leak us to death. Name me one thing that we have done that the bureaucracy made us do."

President Nixon: The bureaucracy has had nothing to do with anything.

Kissinger: No, no. They've made our lives harder. They've driven us crazy. But that doesn't affect him.

Shallow, negligible brains, limited mental capacity? Well, Reagan did manage to get elected twice, and he served out his two terms--a feat Nixon did not accomplish. And Kissinger happily served on Reagan's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Kucinich Campaign Hoping to Rolling Out Energy-Efficient Computers Cooled by Veggie Oil. Seriously.

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 10:32 PM EST

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Some say Dennis Kucinich is a little off-kilter (enter UFO joke here), and his most recent idea does seem pretty out there. But is it really? Turns out the campaign's multimedia director, Chad Ely, is also an inventor and is assisting the camp in rolling out veggie-oil-cooled computers to every office. The entire processing system is submerged in oil, which keeps it cool and decreases the energy used to run it. It's also economical and dead quiet (you know, because it doesn't have all those fans). The prototype pictured above, which has been going strong for eight months, lives in a fish tank, although Ely claims the computers going out to the offices will be surrounded by Plexiglass. I think it's pretty wild. Apparently, other "computer modifiers" are already hip to it. This according to our tech guy.

But that's not all. Kucinich signed an agreement yesterday with SmartPower in which he promises that if elected president, he will make the White House 100 percent energy efficient (enter veggie-oil-filled WH joke here). Mother Jones has more fun facts about the presidential campaigns' commitment—or lack there of—to decreasing their environmental impact. Stay tuned.

Correction: Ok, so technically the Kucinich campaign is not yet rolling out these veggie-oil-filled, wonderfully efficient and quiet computers. According to the campaign, it is still waiting on funding, but as commenter Croydon Kemp reminded us, it's more than most are doing for the planet.

Barry Bonds Going (Jail)Yard?

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 9:54 PM EST

In a federal indictment, just handed down, Barry Bonds has been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for denying that he knowingly took illegal steroids. Surprising? Not really. Revelatory? Perhaps not, but for the media mayhem that will inevitably unfold in the latest act of this beleaguered play.

You won't hear much new, or different. Bonds will be torn apart, his records questioned, his career asterixed. He faces up to 30 years if convicted. But lest you miss this on the ESPN or CNN crawl: in all of Barry's years in Major League Baseball, he's never tested positive for steroids. And even this indictment fails to directly charge him with taking the drugs; the evidence that links Bonds to illegal drugs is a doping calendar seized from the home of his former trainer (who was just released from prison today).

Plenty of ballplayers have tested positive recently, some of them playing the very same season. San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman was suspended at the beginning of last season, and he made the Pro Bowl. And as the testing system has ramped up, dozens of minor and major league players have tested positive, and though they've all been fined and suspended, none have lost more than Bonds has.

It's easy to see why he's so vilified:

Ron Paul Refuses to Divest of Donations from Neo-Nazis

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 9:24 PM EST

When I read this very well-documented story in the Lone Star Times about the $500 donation to Ron Paul from well-known white supremacist Don Black, I didn't really blame Paul for taking the money. After all, it's hard to screen out every kook in advance. I assumed Paul would immediately return the money (or donate it to a group like the Holocaust Museum), prevent a link on Black's Neo-Nazi website, Stormfront, from connecting to the campaign's donation page, and announce these moves on the official Ron Paul website. I assumed wrong.

Five days after the Lone Star Times story appeared, Paul spokesman Jesse Benton told the paper he was still unsure whether the campaign would return Black's money. "At this time, I cannot say that we will be rejecting Mr. Black's contribution," he said, "but I will bring the matter to the attention of our campaign director again, and expect some sort of decision to be made in coming days." Would the campaign at least block fundraising links from Stormfront's IP address? Again, Benton said, he'd have to bring up the idea with the campaign director.

Since then, more than two weeks have passed without an update from the Paul campaign, so I sent Benton and email today asking what the campaign manager had decided. Would Paul be returning Black's money and blocking further donations from Stormfront? A few minutes later he wrote back, and this is what he said:

(Continue reading after the jump)

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The Garbage Game

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 8:44 PM EST

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Treehugger posts notice of the Garbage Game produced by The Gotham Gazette. You get to play at garbage commissioner and dig into the stinky reality of New Yorkers throwing away 64,000 tons of garbage a week, 7 billion pounds a year, for a billion dollars a year. You get to decide what to do with your empty water bottles, frayed towels, apple cores, the 3.6 million tons of diapers Americans throw away yearly. Where are you going to send your city's garbage? Next door? Overseas? Learn the consequences of your decisions. Best of all, play the game with your kids and enjoy the light in their eyes when they realize the effects of the profligate lifestyle you're generating on their behalf.

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

Timber! Katrina's Dead Trees Release as Much Carbon as Stored in US Forests Yearly

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 8:06 PM EST

051021_katrinatrees_hlg_10a.hlarge.jpg Scientists from Tulane and the University of New Hampshire using NASA satellite data calculate that Hurricane Katrina killed or severely damaged 320 million large trees in Gulf Coast forests. The damaged trees subsequently released large quantities of CO2 to the atmosphere—the equivalent of 60-100% of the net annual carbon sink in all US forest trees. Why? Because dead trees no longer photosynthesize and can't store carbon. Plus, dead wood is consumed by decomposers whose communities grow in keeping with the bumper crop, and who then "exhale" large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere.

The August 2005 hurricane damaged or destroyed 5 million acres of forest across Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. "It is surprising to learn that one extreme event can release nearly as much carbon to the atmosphere as all U.S. forests can store in an average year," said Diane Wickland, manager of the Terrestrial Ecology Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Climate change forecasts predict more larger and powerful storms like Katrina more frequently in the future.

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

Bombs Sneak Past Airport Security? Shocking!

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 7:51 PM EST

bag-xray.jpgA GAO report released today shows that current TSA restrictions on liquids and gels are just shy of completely ineffective in preventing a terrorist attack.

Really? You don't say.

Earlier this year undercover GAO agents (as opposed to those who run around wearing uniforms and nametags) tested 21 airports nationwide, and managed to get liquids and detonators that can be combined to create IEDs and (another acronym we don't all want to come to know), Improvised Incendiary Devices (IIDs), past airport screeners.

They were universally successful (and this frightening finding comes just before the busiest travel week of the year). In one case, a TSA agent didn't allow the GAO a "small, unlabeled bottle of medicated shampoo" because he said the bottle "could contain acid." The same TSAer permitted a prohibited, liquid IID component to sail through untouched.

L.A. Punk Has a Sense of Humor, Too

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 7:32 PM EST
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The New Yorker has a great piece this week about how punk rock is again flourishing in Los Angeles, which in the early 80s was home base for a slew of Southern California's influential punk and hardcore bands like Black Flag, X, and the Weirdos.

Sasha Frere-Jones describes a vibrant new scene that resides primarily in a small, dingy, downtown Los Angeles space called The Smell, where a close-knit group of friends hang out, play punk-influenced music, make T-shirts, and release one another's records. I know the space well. While living in L.A. in the early 2000s, I saw a handful of shows there, including some extremely noisy and exciting performances by Nels Cline, before he joined the ranks of Wilco.

But to truly expose L.A.'s current punk scene, I'd be remiss if we didn't also mention an equally important venue in the Highland Park area (sort of between Hollywood and Pasadena) called Mr. T's Bowl, a former bowling alley that is now home to a funny, dorky, and quirky L.A. punk contingent.