2008 - %3, April

Italy's CIA Rendition Trial Back On -- For Now

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 8:38 PM EDT

What timing. In the same week that Italy elected the flamboyant Silvio Berlusconi to serve as its prime minister again, so too comes the news that the long-delayed trial of those officials accused of being involved in the CIA's 2003 extraordinary rendition of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar from Milan to Egypt is back on. Armando Spataro is the Milan prosecutor pursuing the case, which has faced multiple obstacles getting to the courtroom, and staying there. Among the hitches faced, charges that the case threatened state secrecy, the geopolitical complications of the fact the US refuses to turn over for trial the almost two dozen CIA officials named by prosecutors as having carried out the botched and highly troubling rendition, and the fact that among those Spataro contends had knowledge of the CIA snatch were top official in the Italian military intelligence service, Sismi.

Tonight, Spataro emails reporters following the case that the prosecution is celebrating a rare moment of victory (I tweaked the English a bit):

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A Very Serious, Very Thoughtful Debate Live Blog

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 6:05 PM EDT

We've decided to try to hold off on the snark for this, the 1052nd Democratic presidential debate. Instead, we'll deliver a debate live blog of the kind that has never been written with such detail or such care. Joining me in the Mother Jones debate coverage center (read: my living room) is Mr. G, a proud member of the vast left-wing conspiracy.

The main topic of campaign discussion for the past week has been the "bitter" controversy, which I wrote about earlier this week. Everyone's hoping the moderators steer away from the "bitter" stuff (and Hillary's alleged screw the Reagan Democrats comment), but that doesn't seem likely. George Stephanopoulos told Sean Hannity that "electability" issues like the "elitism" controversy and the Jeremiah Wright situation will be a prime focus of the debate. If Stephanopoulos keeps his word, Mr. G (a diehard Yankees fan) and I (a proud member of Red Sox nation) will be itching to switch to ESPN2 (You want to see bitter, watch a Sox-Yankees game with a divided crowd).

8:05: Both candidates spent their fairly uninspiring boilerplate opening statements talking about issues—health care, the economy, government responsiveness. It will be interesting to see how much time the moderators choose to spend asking them about those issues.

8:07: Gibson asks the "dream ticket" question: "Will you take the losing candidate as your vice president?". It's pretty disappointing that ABC led with such a totally unoriginal question that neither candidate is likely to answer in full. But Clinton's answer was very gracious and hit all the right notes.

8:11: Here's the "bitter" question. Let's see how Obama responds.

8:16: Clinton articulated her criticism of the "bitter" controversy very well. Obama seemed a little uncertain.

8:18: Clinton and Obama both say that the other can win.

8:20: Obama's second try at responding to the "bitter" stuff is brilliant. He's attacking the politics of soundbites. This is the clip that will be played all day tomorrow. "This is what passes for our politics."

8:22: Jeremiah Wright. We still haven't heard about issues. Clinton's playing really rough here. But Obama's response to Stephanopoulos' follow-up: "If it's not this, it would be something else," was very clever.

How Many Calories In a Big Mac? NYC Residents Soon To Know

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 5:51 PM EDT

It looks like residents of New York City will no longer be able to delude themselves about the potential damage a Big Mac will do to their waistlines. A federal judge today upheld New York City's requirement that fast-food joints disclose calorie information on their menus. The city's restaurants had sued over the measure, arguing that somehow providing the information violated their free speech rights, and if not that, the city's regulation was preempted by federal law, which doesn't require any such thing. Judge Richard Hollwell was having none of that, and found that while the calorie listings (Double Whopper w/cheese: 990 calories) might not end the obesity epidemic, it might help a few people lose a few pounds, which was, he thought, a worthy public goal. The decision paves the way for other cities to follow suit.

High Court Rules in Favor of Lethal Injection, But Throws the Debate Wide Open

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 5:35 PM EDT

The Supreme Court this morning ruled that lethal injection is not "cruel and unusual punishment," at least not in Kentucky, that is. The case under review, Baze v. Rees, originated from the appeals of two death row inmates in Kentucky and will likely end the nation's de-facto death penalty moratorium by establishing the standard with which states can determine whether their lethal injection protocol violates the Constitution.

But despite the Court's 7-2 decision, there are strong indications that the debate surrounding lethal injection is nowhere near over and in fact the case may be a springboard for new challenges to capital punishment. The Court's opinion was badly splintered with no opinion garnering more than three votes, which means that while the majority of justices agreed that Kentucky's procedure was not unconstitutional, they did not agree on the reasons why. Justice John Paul Stevens, although he voted with the majority, issued his own opinion stating,

Instead of ending the controversy, I am now convinced that this case will generate debate not only about the constitutionality of the three-drug protocol, and specifically about the justification for the use of the paralytic agent, pancuronium bromide, but also about the justification for the death penalty itself.

As Justice Stevens noted, pancuronium bromide, the second drug administered during lethal injection's three-drug procedure, is likely to remain at the center of the firestorm.

Cindy Crawford Is Your Eco-Everywoman

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 5:32 PM EDT

cindy-crawford100x150.jpgCindy Crawford—remember her? From the 1990s?—is back. But she's not modeling or acting: she's pimping PUR water in Vanity Fair's blog. This "working mom" is, she says, "changing world by changing her lifestyle. Think of me as your eco-everywoman." Fair enough. We should all try to unplug our appliances when not in use and recycle our plastic bottles.

Just a few paragraphs later, this "eco-everywoman" begins a rather heavy-handed, PR-ish thread about how she had an epiphany when she realized "I loved the taste of water after it had been through a PUR filter." Turns out Crawford is now designing a re-usable aluminum water bottle with PUR for a campaign called "Thirsty for Change." It launches next month, and Crawford wants us all to check in on her future blog posts and "wish me luck!" Once again, Vanity Fair's green coverage is heavy on the celebrities, light on the cause celebre.

Photo from VanityFair.com

Music: Concert Review: Cat Power at the Warfield

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 5:17 PM EDT

mojo-photo-catpowerwarfield.jpgIt used to be that you'd go to a Cat Power show with some anxiety, like a dinner with one of your friends who drinks too much and has a tendency to freak out and get loud. But these days, Chan Marshall has cleaned up her act, and while the volatility is gone, it's been replaced by a feeling that she's holding back.

My review of her latest album, Jukebox, lauded her soulful (and sometimes barely-recognizable) takes on the standards, and on Tuesday night, we got three standout Jukebox tracks right away: The Highwaymen's "Silver Stallion," during which Marshall paced relentlessly around the stage, stretching her microphone cord to the limit; "New York, New York," which came off even more smoky and dark than on CD; and best of all, "Ramblin' (Wo)Man," twisted to evoke early Portishead with a lethargic tempo and throbbing electric piano. Sadly, as other reviews of this tour have pointed out, Marshall's whispery voice can get buried under the band, barely audible, much less intelligible. And when the show is all about a solo artist, you kind of want to hear them.

After the jump: can a Cat get a spotlight?

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Preserving White House Emails... Eventually

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 4:38 PM EDT

The missing White House email scandal raises one very obvious set of questions. Namely: Where'd they go and what did they say? Those questions will hopefully be addressed as Congress investigates the controversy, but the inquiries won't answer another, perhaps equally important question: How can this be prevented from happening again?

The solution may lie in a new piece of House legislation, a summary of which was circulated at an unexpectedly pre-empted Oversight hearing that had been scheduled for today. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), chair of the Information Policy, Census, and National Archives subcommittee has sponsored the Electronic Communications Preservation Act, which modernizes the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act and "directs the Archivist [of the United States] to issue regulations requiring agencies to preserve electronic communication in an electronic format."

The bill comes on the heels of two recent reports--one by the Government Accountability Office and another by the non-profit government watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington--each of which found that federal agencies, lacking uniform guidelines for preserving electronic records, have regularly resorted to "print and file" systems, resulting in significant losses of official documents.

The hearing itself was postponed at the last minute because of a series of votes on the House floor, but in prepared testimony (which remains unofficial and subject to change until the rescheduled hearing is conducted) one open-government advocate suggests that the bill doesn't go far enough. Addressing the portion of the bill which updates the Federal Records Act, Patrice McDermott, director of openthegovernment.org noted that the National Archives and Record Administration "has been talking since at least 1996 about working 'with agencies on the design of recordkeeping systems for creating and maintaining records of values.'"

"[T]he agencies," she wrote, "have done nothing. NARA and the agencies don't need another 18 months to 'establish mandatory minimum functional requirements...' Nor do the agencies need three more years--beyond the 18 months--to comply with a requirement to implement the regulations and an electronic records management system." The bill summary notes that the Archivist will have "18 months to promulgate the regulations," and that agencies "will have no more than four years following the enactment of the Act to comply."

Scripting the Democratic Convention, West Wing-Style

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 2:34 PM EDT
convention200.jpg

Watching the slow-motion train wreck that is the Democratic nomination process is entertaining in a horrible kind of way, but just wait until the flaming hulk comes hurtling into the station. That's what New York magazine asked West Wing writer Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. to do, commissioning him to a draft a movie treatment of this August's Democratic confab-slash-conflagration in Denver. The result, "Four Days in Denver," is a brilliant piece of political theater, featuring lots of closed-door hijinks, a decisive Clinton-Obama staredown, an inconveniently thin Al Gore, an implausibly popular Wes Clark, and a convincingly savvy Michelle Obama. Plus there's lots of satisfying trash talk, like this Charlie Rangel comeback to Bill Clinton: "If your wife is elected president, I'm still gonna be chairman of Ways and Means and she's gonna need me every fucking day. So how do you wanna leave it: Fuck you, Charlie, or I'm sorry, Mr. Chairman?" Who knew superdelegates with appropriation powers could be so much fun? If you're looking for an amusing, semi-realistic guess about what's happening behind the poll numbers and delegate counts, check it out.

The Romney Flip Flop Is Back!

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 1:33 PM EDT

Happy days are here again!

Three months after Mitt Romney said Washington experience does not translate into economic wisdom, the former Republican presidential contender was on television Tuesday touting the economic credentials of John McCain in part on the strength of his congressional tenure.
The change comes as Romney tries to boost his former rival's chances of winning the White House -- and after he acknowledged he would be interested in serving on the GOP ticket if McCain asked...

Warning Warning Warning: Nader at 8-10% in Michigan

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 12:10 PM EDT

nader-michigan.jpg The Clinton campaign woke up with a big case of the I-told-you-so's.

A Michigan poll from Lansing-based polling outfit EPIC-MRA shows 78 percent of Michigan voters think the country is on the wrong track, 42 percent think the economy is the most important issue in the election, 75 of the country has a negative estimation of how the President has performed, and oh yeah, eight to ten percent plan to vote for Nader.

The polls shows these general election match-up results:

McCain 46%, Clinton 37%, Nader 10%
Obama 43%, McCain 41%, Nader 8%

Michigan is a battleground in November, and the Dems can't afford to lose eight to ten percent to Nader. In 2000, Nader took two percent in Michigan. In 2004, it was one percent. It's possible that voter dissatisfaction with the Democrats, who do not plan on using the results of the Michigan primary, will push McCain over the edge. Especially if homestater Mitt Romney is his VP pick.

Michigan's 17 electoral votes aren't a foregone conclusion, of course. Obama beats McCain in the poll, and a lot of angry Democrats will "come home" to the Democratic nominee before election day. But if the Democrats aren't going to heed the Clinton campaign's (admittedly self-serving) advice to hold a do-over in Michigan, the nominee is going to have to do a lot of make-up work there.