mojo-photo-obamaseal.jpgI've written before about the artwork inspired by Barack Obama's run for the presidency, as well as his own campaign's choice of fonts, and it's all good, but their latest design choices are apparently causing some controversy. While the campaign's eschewing of the candidate's name on podium placards raised eyebrows, their current podium design has even the Drudge Report giving it an alarmist link: "Obama Changes Presidential Seal," he claims. It turns out the campaign debuted a new design (right) that appears to be "inspired" by the actual presidential seal, but with some important differences, as the Associated Press reports:

Instead of the Latin 'E pluribus unum' (Out of many, one), Obama's says 'Vero possumus', rough Latin for 'Yes, we can.' Instead of 'Seal of the President of the United States', Obama's Web site address is listed. And instead of a shield, Obama's eagle wears his 'O' campaign logo with a rising sun representing hope ahead.

After the jump: the dreaded "P" word, and I don't mean "public financing."

When Democratic members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence presented the final installments of the committee's long-awaited pre-war intelligence investigation to the press earlier this month in the Senate gallery, they demurred when reporters' asked them if they intended to pursue possible charges against Bush administration officials whom the Senators said had exaggerated the case for war based on the intelligence available to them. "Nothing else would get done, on Clean Air, FISA, anything," committee chairman Sen. John "Jay" Rockefeller (D-WV) explained why the committee would not pursue such charges. "If we pressed for that, it would be like impeachment."

But there are signs that further federal investigation of at least one aspect of the committee's inquiry may continue.

Mother Jones has learned that one subject of one of the recent Senate Intelligence committee reports has told associates that he has hired a defense attorney in connection to a federal investigation. Pentagon official Harold Rhode, a long-time civilian employee of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessments, who participated in controversial meetings with Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar in Rome and Paris, did not respond to messages sent to his home and Pentagon emails inquiring about the Senate's report on the Ghorbanifar channel, and questions over a possible federal investigation involving him and the hiring of an attorney. Calls to his home went to a fax machine and he did not answer his Pentagon office phone over the past several days.

obama-crowd-denver.jpg Barack Obama is not unilaterally disarming.

You can be forgiven for thinking that he is. It's the most natural response when you see the report that is shutting down it's 527, and raising and spending money only through it's PAC.

In a letter to supporters, chief Eli Pariser explained the decision:

in light of the new politics offered by Barack Obama, I've come to believe it's time to close the 527 forever—and to challenge organizations on the right to do the same thing.
That means that we won't raise any money for our election work from foundations, unions, or even individuals who want to give over $5,000. It's an all-in commitment to the small-donor way of doing things. But the time is right to take the leap.

Obama got the DNC to give up fundraising from PACs and lobbyists, and now has one of the progressive movement's leading independent groups sacrificing its ability to raise funds through its 527, which can accept big money from labor unions, foundations, and rich donors with fat wallets. Instead, MoveOn will accept money exclusively through its PAC, which can only take money from individuals or groups donating less than $5,000. Are other independent groups next? Will the entire progressive movement neuter itself in a quest to raises its standards to match Obama's?

The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 passed moments ago in the House by a vote of 293-129.

Joining the significant majority were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and House Intelligence Committe Chairman Silveste Reyes. An angry John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, opposed it.

The bill will in practice provide legal immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the President Bush's Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) through a provision that will result in the dismissal of lawsuits that might have shined some light on the particulars of the administration's warrantless wiretapping activities. It does mandate an Inspector General report on the particulars of TSP, but whether that mandate survives the president's signing statement pen remains to be seen.

During the floor debate, most of Democrats who supported the legislation pointed to a provision that makes FISA the exclusive arbiter of the nation's wiretapping activities--a provision which will allow the supporters of the bill to express their shock and disappointment when this or any future president decides to ignore the law anyhow.

Now the bill moves over to the Senate where all of these, and other provisions will be debated further.

We've compared Obama and McCain on taxes before, but if you want a neat summary of how heavily weighted McCain's policies are to the rich, check out the charts at the Wonk Room that illustrate how much the presidential candidates and their families will save under their respective tax plans. Did you know John and Cindy McCain will save $373,000 under the McCain tax plan? Barack and Michelle Obama save just $6,100 under the Obama plan.

While many people are concerned about whether the Bush administration plans to carry out a parting shot strike on Iran's nuclear program before it leaves office, most policy experts in and out of government I've interviewed think that is unlikely, for a lot of reasons. But the U.S., of course, is not the only actor to consider.

Today came reports that Israel carried out a large-scale military exercise over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece earlier this month that clearly seemed to have Iran in mind. More than 100 F-16 and F-15 fighter planes and rescue helicopters were involved in the Israeli military exercise, according to Pentagon and other US government officials cited in a report today in the New York Times. "Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military's capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran's nuclear program," the paper reported. The exercise was so large, U.S. officials told the paper, it was implied that Israel wanted not only Iran, but the US and other allies, to be aware of it.

I asked Yossi Melman, intelligence correspondent for Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, and co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Iran, how to interpret the reported Israeli military exercise (Israeli officials have not commented on it). I also asked him about Israel's timeline for contemplating a possible go-it-alone strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, should diplomacy, international sanctions and other measures be judged to fail.

As David and Jonathan have mentioned, Barack Obama has announced that he will opt-out of the public financing system for the general election.

It seems obvious, as David noted in his article, that Obama's decision was made for political expediency and was not the principled stand his campaign is hoping people will see it as. The media has done a good job of covering the political side of this story. Obama is making a politically expedient decision and essentially going back on his "Yes" answer to a questionnaire that asked whether he would forgo private financing if his opponents did the same. But the other part of this story, the policy side, is sorely missing.

There are so many problems with John McCain's idea that we're going to use offshore drilling to alleviate high gas prices and get us out of our current energy pickle.

First, there isn't all that much oil to be found in the continental United States and sucking it out of the ground won't lower prices substantially. Second, there are no ships available to serve new rigs. Third, oil companies currently have leases for some offshore drilling that they aren't using. Fourth, it will take seven to ten years before we can actually get at the oil off American shores, if we were to start drilling today. Fifth, it presents serious environmental concerns.

It's an ineffective attempt at a quick fix. In so far as it keeps Americans from thinking about and coming to terms with long-term structural changes that will actually solve the energy crisis, it's an incredibly damaging idea.

You don't have to be a Democrat to understand this. Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, a Republican, is calling out McCain:

"For anyone to represent that someone drilling off the coast in Florida is going to lower gas prices here or anywhere in this country is disingenuous and a flawed argument," he said. "Oil drilling could take 10 years before any oil is pulled out of the ground, and there are a large number of leases held by oil companies that are not being exploited now. We can't say we need more until we've exploited those."

H/T Think Progress.

John McCain went before a group of oil execs and reiterated his support for the (potentially successful) offshore drilling pander. To bolster his case about the safety of offshore rigs, he argued that "not even Hurricane Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston."

That's an old conservative myth and it makes for easy blogging. The claim is demonstrably false.

Update: It's pretty offensive that McCain is using Katrina as a political prop, considering his miserable record on hurricane recovery.

Our calculations about car efficiency tend to be wildly off the mark. The Fuqua (I am not making that up) School of Business at Duke University studied it every which way and found that improving the most energy inefficient cars with ones that are even slightly more efficient saves WAY more fuel than trading in your not-so-bad Honda Civic for a hybrid. Most of us assume otherwise. The problem arises from the fact that we're talking miles per gallon when we should be talking gallons per mile. The video explains all.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.