2007 - %3, February

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 8:30 PM EST

Looks like John Edwards just can't win. The netroots drama that has transpired over the past few days doesn't show signs of letting up. Not only may Edwards have isolated the progressive online audience he sought to reach through liberal bloggers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan (who he fired yesterday and rehired today), he looks to also have upset religious Democrats, a group he has worked long and hard to win over. His wife, Elizabeth Edwards sits on the board of Call to Renewal, a popular religious left organization. Maybe the lesson learned here is: do your homework. If you want to use liberal bloggers to reach out to a progressive audience, but you don't want to isolate a group whose favor you have worked hard to cultivate, you should read their blogs before you hire them.

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Guantanamo Bay Investigator Fails To Interview Alleged Victims, Files His Report

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 7:31 PM EST

Col. Richard Bassett, the Army officers assigned to investigate possible abuse at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, has concluded that there is no evidence that guards mistreated the prisoners. In the course of his investigation, Bassett failed to interview any of the alleged victims.

The investigation was created when prison guards allegedly bragged about having beaten some detainees. Marine Sgt. Heather Cerveny reported, in fact, that the guards bragged to her at a bar that beating detainees was a common practice at Guantanamo.

Bassett's investigation team conducted twenty interviews with suspects and witnesses, and then Bassett came to his conclustion. According to a command spokesman, "He talked to all the parties he felt he needed to get information about the allegations that were made."

The investigation, which began in October, was expanded to include a similar allegation made by a civilian employee, who reported a conversation involving a guard. A "letter of counseling" will be sent to that guard, who is supposed to have concocted a fictitious account of detainee abuse.

Sea Shepherd Ships Attack Japanese Whaling Fleet in Antarctic Waters

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 6:36 PM EST

This just in from the Sydney Morning Herald. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's two ships, the Farley Mowat and the Robert Hunter, have found the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctic waters after six weeks of searching and attacked them.

Sea Shepherd's president, Paul Watson, told the SMH online that his ships evaded satellite surveillance in order to pounce on the fleet near the Balleny Islands, far south-west of Tasmania. "I ran the ships through the ice fields south of the Balleny Islands and came up on them from the other side," Captain Watson said. "We took a pounding in the ice, but the satellite cannot track a ship and wake through ice nor would they be looking there. "The Robert Hunter is easily keeping up with the factory ship. The Nisshin Maru was fleeing the Robert Hunter and came directly towards the Farley Mowat. At two miles, they turned and fled in the other direction."

In their first attack, Captain Watson said his crew cleared the whale-flensing deck of the Nisshin Maru, when they threw a non-toxic "butter acid" on it from an inflatable dinghy. Activists in inflatables armed with nail guns were also fixing steel plates over drain outlets in the side of the fleeing factory ship, preventing the escape of whale blood from the flensing deck. He said the fleet had scattered and the Robert Hunter was still in contact with Nisshin Maru, which was steaming away at high speed and attempting to use its water cannon on the activists. "They are easily avoided," he said.

The attack came almost five weeks after Sea Shepherd began searching for the fleet in the Ross Sea, and with their vessels beginning to run low on fuel. The group has begun negotiations to enter Australia or New Zealand ports, a decision complicated by their status as "pirate" whalers.

Well, the SMH's got it wrong there. The Japanese ships are the only pirate whalers in the Antarctic just now, since their claim of "scientific whaling" is laughably bogus if it weren't so frackin' tragic. Watson's fleet is made up of pirate ships, flying without a flag, as Reuters via the Alaska Report reports.

"We haven't broken any law or regulation, but now we're not registered anywhere -- we're technically a pirate ship without a flag," said Captain Paul Watson from the Farley Mowat. "It means that we could be attacked and confiscated at will by any nation including the Japanese," he said.

All this righteousness from that pirating-nation-of olde, Britain, over butter acid? Back to the SMH:

The Farley Mowat has been stripped of its Belizean registration, and Britain is to de-register the Robert Hunter in 10 days' time. Talks are under way with both the Australian and New Zealand Governments in a bid to avoid arrest.

Greenpeace's ship Esperanza, which had hoped to be first to reach the whalers, was about a day's sailing away from the position where Sea Shepherd found them, and approaching from the west, a Greenpeace spokesman said. The Japanese Government's Institute for Cetacean Research, which owns the fleet, is harpooning up to 935 minke whales and 10 fin whales under its program of "scientific research".

Meanwhile, Watson delivered this message to the Japanese pirate whalers:

Nisshin Maru, this is Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd vessel Farley Mowat. Please be advised that you are killing whales in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. You are targeting endangered species of whales in violation of international conservation law. You are killing whales in violation of the IWC global moratorium on commercial whaling. Please cease and desist your illegal whaling operations and leave the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. We are acting in accordance with the principles of the United Nations World Charter for Nature. The Charter authorizes non-governmental organizations and individuals to uphold international conservation law.

Aye aye.

Edwards Keeps Liberal Bloggers, Grows Thicker Skin, Sort of

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 5:50 PM EST

Presidential candidate John Edwards has decided to keep his two female liberal bloggers after all, even though numerous sources reported the two were fired yesterday. The former senator's HQ released statements today, from Edwards, Amanda and Melissa (the two bloggers). The folks over at Tapped and Pandagon have the whole rundown. But essentially, Edwards reprimanded Amanda and Melissa for their "intolerant language." (I really think Bill Donohue is the one who needs a reprimand but it's not like anyone takes him seriously anyway.) And, surprise, surprise, Amanda and Melissa had to apologize to appease the right wing fanatics. Honestly, this is just another example of Democrats succumbing to pressure from the right. Are the Dems ever going to learn that walking the moderate line just doesn't win votes? The ironic part is that Edwards hired Amanda and Melissa to reach a progressive audience, one he might have just isolated.

Iran vs. U.S.: What About the Oil?

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 3:34 PM EST

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, has now warned that should the U.S. attack, Iran will strike U.S. interests around the world. In that case, what would happen to Middle Eastern oil, which flows through the Iranian-controlled Straits of Hormuz on its way out of the Persian Gulf, into the Arabian Sea, and on to world markets?

Iran might shut down the Straits of Hormuz, through which 20 percnt of Middle Eastern oil flows. Or, on the other hand, because it is so dependent on oil revenue, it might not. Nobody knows.

Beginning a year ago, Japanese oil refineries, which obtain 14 percent of their supply from Iran, began to diversify to Saudi and Kuwait crude. Japan must import literally all its oil and gas from abroad and Iran is the third largest supplier. Iran is the fourth largest supplier of oil to South Korea. China buys substantial and growing amounts of oil from Ira. Most Iranian oil exports go to Asia, followed by Europe, where major purchasers include Italy, Turkey, and France.

"When Bush announced that he would fill our Strategic Petroleum Reserve last spring and also expand it, crude prices went up by $1.50 in just 20 minutes because of speculation that the U.S. might attack Iran. If the US attacks and oil prices rise, Bush would likely release oil from the SPR to soften the blow to the oil markets," Matt Piotrowski, an oil market analyst at the Oil Daily, told Mother Jones.

Cal. Dem Seeks Repeal of Statute of Limitations on Sex Crimes

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 2:42 PM EST

Democratic California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber has introduced a bill to eliminate California's statute of limitations on rape and child molestation. The state now has a 10 year limit, which it unsuccessfully tried to shed in 2003 during the priest child molestation scandal. (That attempt was shot down by the Supreme Court because it would have applied retroactively.)

The state's defense lawyers wasted no time speaking out against the measure, arguing that it would be unfairly difficult to prove an alibi for a crime that took place more than 10 years previously. But isn't it equally difficult to prove guilt in those cases? Particularly in instances of child molestation--where the child him or herself cannot press charges--it seems unfair to allow the statute of limitations to expire before the child reaches 18.

But this tough-on-crime measure ought to be accompanied by a rethinking of the lack of limitations on how much and how often sex offenders can be punished for the same crime, once found guilty.

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How NYPD Blocked Anti-Bush Protest at 2004 Convention

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 12:46 PM EST

The New York Civil Liberties Union has released documents showing the NYPD deliberately set out to quash protests at the 2004 Republican National convention in New York with a plan to arrest and jail protesters. More than 1800 people were arrested during the four-day convention. Since the NYPD was acting in tandem with federal law enforcement officials, such as Secret Service and FBI to name but two, this then raises the question whether the Bush Administration itself actually ordered the smack down,or knew about it in advance.

"The NYPD documents indicate that as early as May 2004, the Department planned to arrest protestors at the August convention as opposed to issuing summonses. The NYCLU says as a result people were jailed for as long as three days," reports WNYC, the New York radio station. You got to a judge in New York faster during the convention than you would have had you robbed a bank.

The documents show the cops themselves agreed with the protestors in that 40 officers filed occupational health forms complaining about environmental conditions at the 57th Street pier, a former MTA bus depot, that served as a holding and processing facility. The officers said they were exposed to asbestos, carbon monoxide, sludge, oil, fumes and toxic materials.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office is investigating the situation as is the Justice Department, but these have the earmarks of superficial pro forma paper shuffling exercises. The city says the makeshift jail was adequate.

Obama's New Spending Proposal, and Possible Motivations

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 9:01 AM EST

Barack Obama has a new proposal that could shake up the 2008 presidential election. He wants to limit fundraising and spending in the general election to public financing limits, which are hundreds of millions lower than what the candidates are expected to raise. Obama says that his justification is saving the public financing system, which is on the verge of death due to the fact that several high-profile candidates -- McCain, Clinton, and Edwards -- have all started raising money outside of the system, knowing they'll easily exceed the system's limits. Other candidates -- Obama, Giuliani, Romney, Gingrich, Gore? -- would likely exceed the limits as well, if they raised money unbridled.

But Obama's explanation is hard to believe, because the public financing system is clearly inadequate for today's campaigns and not much worth saving: while the public financing limits are $150 million, current speculation says that the major party nominees will likely raise and spend over $500 million. Any system that is that badly outdated needs to be revamped, not protected. Especially because even if Obama alters the fundraising dynamics of this race, the public financing system will be even more outdated in 2012. The market simply won't allow the limits as they currently exist.

The New York Times gets at the easy explanation -- targeting Hillary:

Mr. Obama's inquiry appears to be a pointed response to Mrs. Clinton, whose campaign was the first to announce that it would forgo public financing for both the primary and general elections.

Now that doesn't make sense, if I read the Times article correctly and the Times is reporting Obama's proposal in full. Obama is suggesting that candidates go through the primary spending as much as they please, and after the party conventions the nominees would come together and agree to limit spending from that point forward.

This pretty clearly hurts Obama, because Clinton has the biggest war chest and has proven to have the strongest fundraising abilities. She could outspend Obama in the primary and then face another fundraising behemoth in the general. To be frank, it's impossible to tell what would happen in the general, because McCain's popularity could go in any number of directions, and the Republican base's reaction to Giuliani and Romney -- while initially not positive -- hasn't been fully seen. Clinton could face someone with the same amount of money as her, or significantly less.

The real explanation, in my eyes, is that this move burnishes Obama's image as the savior-cleanser of modern politics. In the video released on his website declaring his intention to form a presidential exploratory committee, Obama said he is more concerned with the "smallness of our politics" than anything else. This is a way to act on that rhetoric. It feels disingenuous to me, a purely political, image-based move, because the proposal is likely to go nowhere (it's asking the heavy-hitters to give up wayyy too much money), but I wonder if we can expect more of these sorts of drain-the-Washington-swamp ideas from the Barack Obama campaign.

Snickers Pulls "Kiss" Ad; Nation Confused

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 1:23 AM EST

By now, most people know about the controversy surrounding Snickers' Super Bowl ad. The spot featured two mechanics whose lips accidentally meet, in a Lady and the Tramp-style kiss, as they both chow down on the same appetizing candy bar. Their horrified reaction, and subsequent bizarre attempt to "do something manly" by pulling out their own chest hair, was apparently supposed to be funny in some way. More disturbing was the "extra content" available on the Masterfoods Snickers website, where you could watch "alternate endings" to the commercial, one of which included the two men beating the crap out of each other, and footage of Bears and Colts players reacting with disgust to the chocolatey lip-lock. Gay rights groups, sports writers and bloggers were not amused, and called for the ad and website to be pulled. On Tuesday, Masterfoods (what kind of a name for a company is that, by the way?) relented and pulled both the ad and the website.

Right-Wingers Lambast Edwards' Liberal Bloggers, Campaign Caves

| Wed Feb. 7, 2007 10:30 PM EST

If this is any indication of what the 2008 presidential campaign will look like, we are in for some netroots drama. Tim Grieve from the War Room on Salon reports that John Edwards has indeed fired two liberal bloggers he hired to reach the progressive online audience. Right-wingers dug their teeth into Amanda Marcotte (Pandagon) and Melissa McEwan (Shakespeare's Sister) due to "anti-catholic" comments they had both made on their own blogs.

An article in the New York Times, this morning, reported that Edwards was asked by Catholic League president Bill Donohue to fire the two women, calling them "anti-Catholic vulgar trash-talking bigots." I can only imagine Amanda and Melissa's comments were less offensive. There is even a news release on the Catholic League site demanding the two women be fired. It seemed according to the Times, the two had not yet been let go, but Salon claims they have been. Over at Pandagon, they are discussing how Edwards caved and the fact that depending on where you are surfing, the two liberal bloggers have either been fired, have not been fired or have been fired and now rehired.

Regardless of the outcome, this is not the first web blunder for Edwards. Must we recall his eloquent presidential candidacy announcement that was scooped by his website. But all web jokes aside, if Edwards wants to realistically utilize the powerful tool of netroots, he surely needs to grow a thicker skin.