2008 - %3, March

Are Genetically Engineered Organics the Future of Farming?

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 2:12 PM PDT

corn200.jpg This past weekend in the Boston Globe, Pamela Ronald, a U.C. Davis plant pathologist, tackled the debate over genetic engineering in organic farming. Without mincing words.

It is time to abandon the caricatures of genetic engineering that are popular among some consumers and activists, and instead see it for what it is: A tool that can help the ecological farming revolution grow into a lasting movement with global impact.

Bold, to be sure. But are these fightin' words? Probably.

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Under for Fire for Pastor's Remarks, Obama To Give Major Speech on Race

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 2:05 PM PDT

I was at a fancy Washington party of politicos this weekend and the No. 1 topic of conversation was the Reverend Jeremiah Wright--that is, what could Barack Obama do about Wright's assorted controversial statements. (Was Jesus really black?) With Fox News and others leading the charge--the cable news network had found videos of Wright's over-the-top sermons for sale at his church's gift shop--Obama quickly distanced himself from his onetime pastor's more provocative statements. ("No one ever said it was going to be easy to elect a black man president," an Obama supporter told me at this party.)

But Obama is not just hunkering down. Today his campaign announced he would deliver a "major address on race, politics, and how we bring our country together at this important moment in our history." Do you think this was scheduled prior to the Wright dustup? Not likely. Will it do anything to counter whatever political damage has been (or can be) done by Wright's remarks? Probably not. Still, it might be necessary. Then again, Obama has done rather well so far by not emphasizing matters of race. With the racial divide apparently growing starker in the recent Democratic primaries (with whites voting for the white candidate and blacks voting for the black candidate), one can only wonder if addressing race explicitly in this rather political manner is to Obama's advantage. But when a preacher speaks, sometimes you have no choice but to take action.

And the dog that didn't bark: There's been no Hillary Clinton campaign conference call in which Clinton aides decry Wright's remarks and push reporters to devote more attention to this matter. After the South Carolina primary and after Geraldine Ferraro, the Clintonites certainly realize they must treat gingerly any matter that involves race. And why yelp when there's already plenty of noise?

GOP Hatchet Man "Predicted" Spitzer's Downfall

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 10:28 AM PDT

Robert Novak's column yesterday carried this interesting nugget: Apparently Spitzer-nemesis and longtime GOP operative Roger Stone predicted the New York governor's political downfall a good three months before it came to pass, telling a talk radio host in early December that ''Eliot Spitzer will not serve out his term as governor of the state of New York." This would seem to suggest that Stone can either see the future—or had a hand in shaping it. According to Novak, though, the former is closest to the truth: "Stone had nothing to do with the investigation and said he had not heard about it when he made a prediction based on his general view of Spitzer."

However, Stone was coy when asked point blank by Newsday columnist Ellis Henican if he had any role in outing Mr. Clean as Client 9:

"No comment on that," Stone said. "I will say I knew it was coming. That's why I wasn't too upset about the results of the special election," where a Democrat grabbed a supposedly safe Republican State Senate seat, leaving Democrats just one vote shy of control.

Hillary Clinton Talks Withdrawal

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 8:32 AM PDT

Hillary Clinton delivered a major speech on the Iraq War this morning. She didn't say anything groundbreaking, but the speech did provide her with a nice opportunity to reiterate her support for a sensible and well-planned withdrawal, the bread and butter of many Democratic voters. Here are chunks of a summary the Clinton campaign blitzed out to reporters.

The basics of her plan have been known for months:

As President, one of Hillary's first official actions will be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She will direct them to draw up a clear, comprehensive plan for withdrawal that starts removing our troops within 60 days...
Hillary knows that as we bring our troops and contractors home, we cannot lose sight of our very real strategic interests in this region. Al Qaeda terrorist cells continue to operate in Iraq, cells that did not exist before President Bush's failed policy. Under Hillary's plan the United States will retain counterterrorism forces in Iraq and the region to fight al Qaeda and will not permit terrorists to have a safe haven in Iraq from which to attack the United States or its allies.

According to the speech, Clinton will ensure that for every month a member of the military spends in the field, they get one month here at home. She will reign in the use of no-bid contracts and private contractors will get the boot:

Clinton's Super Delegate Problem

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 8:28 AM PDT

From MSNBC's First Read:

By our count, the Clinton campaign hasn't publicly announced the support of a new superdelegate since just after February 5. Indeed, since Super Tuesday, Obama has gained 47 new superdelegates, while Clinton has lost seven (including Eliot Spitzer).

Maybe the superdelegates have been reading Jonathan Alter.

Obama Ups the Ante on Disclosure

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 8:17 AM PDT

Obama went before reporters from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times on Friday and cleared the air on the Rezko situation in a big way. Here's the beginning of the Trib's write-up:

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama waited 16 months to attempt the exorcism. But when he finally sat down with the Tribune editorial board Friday, Obama offered a lengthy and, to us, plausible explanation for the presence of now-indicted businessman Tony Rezko in his personal and political lives.
The most remarkable facet of Obama's 92-minute discussion was that, at the outset, he pledged to answer every question the three dozen Tribune journalists crammed into the room would put to him. And he did.

You can read the whole thing here. It's pretty remarkable; it's the closest thing to an acquittal that the press can issue. The Obama campaign tried to use it to push the Clinton-as-serial-nondiscloser story line, immediately urging the Clinton campaign to match their moment of forthrightness by releasing all of Clinton's tax records, disclosing all of her earmarks, and making the donations to Bill Clinton's presidential library and foundation public.

I'm guessing the Clinton campaign will reject all three parts of that suggestion. The question is whether voters in Pennsylvania care. I'm guessing they are a little more worried about things like NAFTA, the economy, and the Iraq War. But that said, if Obama's push on the issue of disclosure reminds just a few people that they are tired of the Clintons and their drama, he might poke a few critical percentage points into his column on election night.

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Greenspan on the Economy: Double Ouch

| Mon Mar. 17, 2008 8:00 AM PDT

greenspan.jpg You have to have an online subscription to the Financial Times to read Alan Greenspan's latest take on the American economy. But even without a subscription, you can read the first line:

The current financial crisis in the US is likely to be judged in retrospect as the most wrenching since the end of the second world war.

Commenting on the economy recently, billionaire/media tycoon Sam Zell said, "Obviously what we have going on is an attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.... We have two Democratic candidates who are vying with each other to describe the economic situation worse." Somebody tell him that Greenspan, something of an authority, sees things the way HRC and BHO do.

SXSW Dispatch: The Show Must Stop

| Sun Mar. 16, 2008 5:55 PM PDT

strangers.jpgI'm coming back from SXSW sleep-deprived and my ears still ringing. My final hours in Austin went a little something like this:

SXSW Dispatch: That's Ludacris, Silly!

| Sun Mar. 16, 2008 1:36 AM PDT

What's the problem with having 1,780 bands performing every night on 81 stages throughout the downtown Austin area? With the barrage of nonstop music being played everywhere you turn, it's possible to walk right by an outdoor perfomance tent where Ludacris is performing and not even know it. He could have been Jesus Christ delivering a Sermon on the Mount #2, and I would have been completely oblivious, had I not stopped and asked a SXSW volunteer, "Uhh, who is that on the mic?"

Day Three at SXSW included enough walking to justify a new pair of shoes, hot enough temperatures to justify wearing shorts, and a late-teens event volunteer washing down her ice cream cone with a can of Miller Lite and telling me, "Well that's Ludacris, silly!"

SXSW Dispatch: Don't Talk to Me About Music, Dammit

| Sat Mar. 15, 2008 10:18 PM PDT

nick-urata.jpgSo here's the catch about covering the music portion of SXSW: after a day or two of playing as many as four sets a day and doing back-to-back interviews, musicians are tired of playing music, and even more tired of talking about it. Sometimes they're hung over, or tired, hungry, annoyed, grouchy, or just a little disinterested. Can't say I blame them; although they knew what they were getting into when they showed up, no?

The up-side is that when you tell someone you're interviewing them for Mother Jones, suddenly their face lights up and they say screw jabbering about music, let's talk politics. It's happened consistently while here in Austin. So, here's a brief glimpse at what's on the minds of musicians at SXSW in 2008: