2007 - %3, April

Get Your A$$ Out of Bed

| Mon Apr. 2, 2007 8:51 PM EDT

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ThinkGeek.com, a website featuring "stuff for smart asses," has developed an ingenious device to make sure you're never late to work, sleep through another appointment or simply annoy your partner, children, neighbors, etc. by hitting the snooze button every 10 minutes for and hour and half. Don't lie. You know you've been guilty of snooze button abuse at one point or another…well, no longer. The SnūzNLūz alarm clock—via a WiFi connection and link to your online bank account—will donate money to an organization you hate every time you hit snooze. According to their website:

The SnūzNLūz uses the very complex psychological phenomenon known as 'HATRED'. Basically it's human nature to wish harm upon your enemies. Similarly, it's human nature not to give your enemies gobs of cash so that they can grow big and dominate the world with their totally wrong, stupid and invalid point of view.

Are you a butcher? Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to PETA
Are you a Republican? Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to the ACLU!
Are you a land developer? Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to the Wilderness Society!
Enjoy your freedom V1.0? Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to the GOP, or
Enjoy your freedom V2.0? Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to [the Foundation for National Progress!]
Are you a hippie? Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to the American Coal Foundation.

You gotta love technology!

—Laurin Asdal

Update: Happy April Fool's Day from ThinkGeek. (Those geeks!)

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UN Calls Israeli Apartheid a "Controlled Strangulation"

| Mon Apr. 2, 2007 8:40 PM EDT

Perhaps because it is striking news or a powerful message, the media has heavily focused on only one of the findings of the recent UN Human Rights Council report on the Occupied Territories- that Israel's actions are similar to apartheid. But the coverage doesn't reach into the other two assertions that the report makes: Israel's occupation exhibits elements of apartheid and colonialism. In other words, Israel is violating human rights in three forms: occupation, apartheid, and colonialism.

The report calls Israel's 2005 "unilateral withdrawal" which supposedly ended occupation as "grossly inaccurate" and "not possible to seriously argue." Israel has maintained total control over Gaza's airspace, sea space, external borders, and the movement of people and goods ever since it has withdrawn, including exercising military authority with over 364 military incursions.

"In effect," the report states, "following Israel's withdrawal, Gaza became a sealed off, imprisoned, occupied territory." In addition, serious violations of human rights and war crimes have made life as difficult as possible for Gazans and the economic sanctions that the West and Israel have imposed on Gaza has produced a humanitarian crisis, one the UN calls, "a controlled strangulation that apparently falls within the generous limits of international toleration."

Factor in that 70% of Gazans are unemployed or unpaid, and more than "80% of the population live below the official poverty line." Fully 1.1 million of 1.4 million Gazans, reports the UN, are dependent on food assistance through various agencies.

The situation in the West Bank isn't any better. At checkpoints, where violations occur daily, a rule of law does not exist but rather, a "an arbitrary and capricious regime prevails." 56% of West Bankers live below the poverty line and are dependent on food assistance. The Wall is clearly illegal. It doesn't serve a "security purpose" as the Israelis claim, but a "political purpose": "that the purpose of the Wall is to acquire land surrounding West Bank settlements and to include settlements within Israel can no longer be seriously challenged."

Settlements in the West Bank are illegal - 40% of the land in the hands of the Israeli settlements is privately owned by Palestinians- but they continue to grow, with the full approval of the Israeli government. And the foot soldiers of the Israeli "colonial empire" are violent fanatic settlers who are protected and aided by the IDF in unleashing violence upon Palestinians.

The overall picture for Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories is grim: there are 9,000 Palestinian prisoners of which 400 are children and over 100 women. There are over 700 "administrative detainees, i.e. persons held without charge or trial." Targeted assassinations have killed over 500 Palestinians, reports the UN.

The IDF "inflicts serious bodily and mental harm on the Palestinians" in both Gaza and the West Bank. The culmination of all of this leads the special rapporteur, John Dugard, to ask, "Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group (Jews) over another racial group (Palestinians) and systematically oppress them?"

The report ends by underlining that "the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions- the first time an occupied people have been so treated," noting that the sanctions against the Palestinian people are 'possibly the most rigorous form of international sanctions imposed in modern times." Israel escapes untouched even as it has violated Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, human rights and international law. The EU, United States, United Nations, and the Russian Federation are complicit in the failure to halt Israeli violations of human rights and Palestinian self determination. The report rightfully points out that the Occupied Palestinian Territory is the only place in the developing world "that is denied the right to self-determination and oppressed by a Western-affiliated State."

Last week, Ehud Olmert, in line with his predecessors, rejected the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The IDF has closed the West Bank and Gaza starting Sunday until next week. IDF military incursions into Gaza have been authorized yet again. In the meantime, major Western news outlets such as the New York Times continue to turn a blind eye to the realities that the Palestinians live through.

—Neha Inamdar

Mexico City Will Legalize Abortion

| Mon Apr. 2, 2007 8:20 PM EDT

Mexico City has a particularly left-leaning legislature this session—thanks, in large part, to increasingly open elections in the country, which have curtailed the power of the PRI party that ruled the country in a "soft dictatorship" for 70 years.

Mexico City's legislature made headlines earlier this month when it legalized same-sex marriages. Today, the New York Times reports that the legislature is set to approve a law legalizing abortion for any reason in the first trimester, and the capital's mayor has said he'll sign it. In Latin America, which is predominantly Catholic, only Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guyana have similar laws. The procedure would be free at public health clinics.

Mexico City's 8 million residents are sharply divided along class lines, with between 20 and 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line. Sex education is nonexistent, and at least 110,000 women a year seek illegal abortions.

However, Catholicism still runs deep, and the clergy and some citizens passionately object to the pending law:

Víctor Hugo Círigo Vásquez, the majority leader of the Assembly, said many of the 34 legislators from his Party of the Democratic Revolution who support the measure had received threatening calls and messages on their cellphones, as well as nasty e-mail. They were told they would be excommunicated or go to hell if they approved the law.

"There is a media lynching campaign that has been orchestrated by clerical groups from the very, very far right," he said. He added, "It's a black campaign that's coming hard."

Nonetheless, legislators are standing firm.

The law may have the unintended side-effect of increasing internal immigration to Mexico City which, like the United States, is a magnet for the rural poor, who come to work as maids or drivers or in factories. The law would legalize abortion only within city limits, thereby providing yet another incentive for the rural poor to make their way to the capital.

Tancredo Declares: Who Is Tancredo?

| Mon Apr. 2, 2007 7:10 PM EDT

tancredo2.gifRep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, declared today that he, too, is running for president. Tancredo, founder of the Immigration Reform Caucus, has built a name for himself by outspokenly opposing illegal immigration. His comments often veer awfully close to racism, such as when he compared Miami to a third world nation. In the 2004 election, as Bush spoke Spanish to appeal to Hispanic voters, Tancredo was told to quiet his accusations that recent immigrants have "divided loyalties."

Tancredo will have to compete with the fund-raising power of Mitt Romney, who leads the Republican pack with $23 million, and with the anti-immigration verbiage of Duncan Hunter, a California Republican profiled in the current issue of Mother Jones.

For an in-depth look at the why's and wherefore's of illegal immigration, read Charles Bowden's "Exodus."

Weird Weather Watch: Fire Near L.A.

| Mon Apr. 2, 2007 5:51 PM EDT

As I blogged before, dry conditions and long-lasting Santa Ana winds are making Southern California especially prone to fire. This weekend, a fire in Hesperia burned 2,500 acres. It is now 50 percent contained, and, if winds remain calm, should be fully contained by this evening.

But every fire makes the area's weird weather prospects worse. Fires release carbon dioxide and methane, two key greenhouse gases. Firefighters use helicopters and trucks, which also release carbon dioxide. And lost acres mean fewer trees to absorb those gases.

What to Make of Zell's Purchase of Tribune Co.?

| Mon Apr. 2, 2007 5:21 PM EDT

The Tribune Company has announced that its holdings will be sold off to Chicago real estate tycoon Sam Zell. This is the latest—though hardly the last—chapter in the saga of the Tribune Co., whose attempts to use a "convergence media" model to create editorial "synergy" between its newspapers and TV stations perfectly illustrates the pitfalls of placing profits before reporting. As Eric Klinenberg writes in his article on the sad state of the American newspaper in our current issue, Tribune's "cut and gut" approach has been a disaster, particularly for the once-proud Los Angeles Times, which has been bled dry since being picked up by Trib in 2000.

The company's impending sale made some Angelenos hopeful that a white knight such as David Geffen would buy the paper and save the day. But for now, Zell's the man to watch. He has no experience running a media company, which is a good or a bad thing, depending on whom you talk to. One Tribune Co. critic tells the LAT that "Sam Zell is a hands-off guy, so he will pick good people to run this paper and let them run it. The fact that he is a hands-off, strong player bodes well for journalistic integrity." But as others have observed, Zell has a prickly relationship with the media, including his hometown Chicago Tribune. As Dean Starkman observes over at CJR Daily, Zell's company, Equity Office Properties (EOP), was "famously thin-skinned" when it came to the press. And, he reminds readers, "as the going got tough, EOP resorted to a strategy that will sound familiar to newspaper employees: cost cutting." As Klinenberg writes, once you start to see journalism as just another profit center rather than a public service, you start undermining the very product at the heart of your business. You can't cut finanical corners without hurting editorial quality. We'll soon see if Zell has learned that lesson by watching his new company's past performance.

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Arnold: Do My Errands, Lead a State Panel

| Mon Apr. 2, 2007 4:35 PM EDT

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As Josh blogged on March 8, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's promises to rid state government of its insider ways have been given the lie by, of all things, his handling of the state chiropractic panel. The panel's role has historically been to protect Californians from unqualified or maverick manipulators, but the governator seems to think its role is to "represent the chiropractors"—many of whom cracked and popped his famous bod in his bodybuilding days. The board has taken that mandate and run with it, as Josh's post and this Los Angeles Times article reveal in spades.

Arnold's bone-cracking nepotism is also evident in his appointments to other state panels—many of which he promised to eliminate in his war on bureaucracy:

In February, Schwarzenegger named his appointments secretary, Timothy A. Simon, to the Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the multibillion-dollar telecommunications and energy industries.

Simon isn't just unqualified to sit on one of the most important state bodies: He was actually four years in to personal bankruptcy at the time Arnold nominated him, and his ex-wife claimed he was still taking expensive international vacations.

Also in February, Arnold appointed his personal dentist to the state dental board. So much for conservatives being more ethical than liberals: This one needs a good flossing.

Who's Gunning for Michael Ware?

| Mon Apr. 2, 2007 3:59 PM EDT

Someone's gunning for Michael Ware. Yesterday, a Drudge Report "exclusive" accused the wild-eyed CNN newsman, who's covered the Iraq war since the beginning, of heckling Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham during a press conference in Baghdad. Drudge quotes an unnamed "official" — An administration official? Military? A representative of the Baghdad Taxi and Limousine Commission? — calling Ware's alleged remarks "outrageous" and saying, "here you have two United States Senators in Bagdad [sic] giving first-hand reports while Ware is laughing and mocking their comments. I've never witnessed such disrespect. This guy is an activist not a reporter."

Apparently, this is all news to Ware, who, on CNN this morning, said, "I did not heckle the senator. Indeed, I didn't say a word. I didn't even ask a question. In fact, when I raised my hand to ask a question, the press conference abruptly ended." A video of the press conference backs Ware up, so this seems a fairly shameless effort to smear him and discredit his reporting. But who would want to do that? Well, since Ware has been so persistent about reporting the grim realities on the ground in Iraq and debunking the rhetoric coming out of Washington, it could be any number of people who are paid (i.e. military or administration flacks) or otherwise compelled to put a rosy spin on the horrific situation in Iraq. Painting Ware as an activist certainly makes it easier to claim, as the senator from Arizona did yesterday, that the American public isn't getting "the full picture about what's happening" in Iraq. (This after a brief foray to a Baghdad market, where, as the New York Times notes, "scores of people have died this year in multiple car bombings and other attacks." See Jonathan's post below.)

It's also possible that this could be personal. Last week, after McCain commented that "there are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today," Ware said on CNN's Situation Room that "to suggest that there's any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I'd love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll." (Ware, who once came fairly close to being executed by insurgents, would probably know.) In this context it wouldn't be hard to see someone close to McCain, an aide traveling with the congressional delegation perhaps, using Drudge as a conduit to even the score with Ware. Whatever the case, I'd wager there's a lot more to this story.

Supreme Court Chastises Bush Administration For "Arbitrary, Capricious" Handling of Climate Change

| Mon Apr. 2, 2007 2:35 PM EDT

Even the Supreme Court justices appointed by Bush I and Bush II (Thomas, Roberts, and Alito) couldn't stop the Court from repudiating the current Administration's head-in-the–sand approach for dealing with climate change. Today's 5-4 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, called the administration's approach "arbitrary, capricious ... or otherwise not in accordance with law" and found that the EPA does in fact have the authority to regulate greenhouse-causing gases under the Clean Air Act.

The majority opinion contends that the "EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change." While the decision does not necessarily compel the EPA to regulate carbon emissions (and don't hold your breath), the ruling is significant since it frees the hand of the next President to regulate carbon and methane emissions without Congress passing additional legislation.

What the decision also does is clear the way for states to reduce greenhouse emissions with initiatives of their own. In the past, states like California that have asked the EPA for special permission to apply more stringent carbon emission limits on automobiles have been stymied by the Administration's claim that the Clean Air Act does not provide the authority to do so.

—Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

John McCain, NBC, and Iraqi Insurgents All Make a Fool of John McCain

| Mon Apr. 2, 2007 2:28 PM EDT

John McCain got so much flack and ridicule for his "white Americans could stroll through some parts of Baghdad" comment/gaff that he took to the streets to Baghdad to prove his statment true and save his credibility. He ended up doing more damage.

McCain took a walk through a bazaar and followed the event with a press conference, but NBC used its coverage to point out what McCain was trying to hide: his "stroll" came with the aid of 100 American soldiers, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships. The blogosphere had a field day with this.

And now people are just piling on. The NBC reporter who put out the report of McCain's massive protection entourage went on Imus this morning and noted that with the security force McCain had "even Paris Hilton could ride a bicycle in a bikini through Anbar province." And to make things worse, the terrorists are laughing at McCain too. They just unleashed the largest single attack since the Iraq War began in 2003, killing 152 in a single suicide truck bombing in Tal Afar.

Oh, and that bazaar McCain walked through, with his heavily armed white American friends? It got lit up by snipers right after they all left.