2007 - %3, March

Marketing Israel, Soft and Hard

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 7:00 PM EDT

real_israel.jpgThe American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is in the headlines once again for its quasi- mythical abilities to get Congress to toe its hawkish Zionist line. Some say that AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbies are effectively steering U.S. foreign policy, while others argue that Congress and a wave of administrations are simply receptive to pro-Israel lobbies because their agenda fit neatly into U.S. foreign policy objectives. Whatever the case, the AIPAC has an impressive record in wielding its power to advance positions that are arguably politically extremist.

Last week, AIPAC successfully purged any language from the military appropriations bill that would have required the President to get congressional authorization before using force against Iran—despite the fact that the administration's current unilateral war has seen plummeting public approval. This move, and a series of other AIPAC initiatives, has caused American Jews to begin to speak out.

As AIPAC brings on board unsavory characters to tout its neocon platform, such as the evangelical fundamentalist John Hagee, more and more Jews are speaking out to underline the fact that views like the AIPAC's are not the views of all Jews (across the pond, a similar move is being undertaken by the Independent Jewish Voices to counteract the misleading notion that Jews all over the world are uncritical supporters of Israel.)

These dissenting voices have more than just congressional battles to contend with. While AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbies such as the American Jewish Committee are working overtime on Capitol Hill, there's a softer force working on the ground to capture the minds and hearts of Americans who are critical of Israeli state policies. BlueStarPR, a public relations firm is advertising the "Real Israel." Recently, the firm concluded a two-month, $17,000 billboard and public transit campaign in the San Francisco area. Some images include a blonde girl standing in a short dress with an Orthodox Jew walking in the background, or Israelis enjoying Happy Hour, "Israel-style." In response to the campaign, Paul Larudee of the International Solidarity Movement says, "The problem is what you're doing, not how you present yourself."

—Neha Inamdar

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Skywalk Over Grand Canyon Grand Opening: See it Live

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 6:49 PM EDT

I blogged a few weeks ago about the completion of a "skywalk" over the Grand Canyon on Hualapi Indian land. The walk was the brainchild of a white Los Vegas man in the tourism industry, but Native Americans hope it will bring more tourist dollars to their impoverished tribe.

CNN is running live footage of the skywalk's opening right now. Check it out.

The UK Will Require Carbon Footprint Labels on Products

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 6:28 PM EDT

carbonlabel.jpgYou used to be able to count only the calories in your snacks owing to diet-friendly product labeling, but soon it might be just as easy go on a carbon diet—that is, if you live in the United Kingdom. The Carbon Trust in the UK recently announced the launch of a new product labeling method, which the Independent called "a green equivalent to the Fairtrade label." The logo, depicting a black 'C' wrapped around a white arrow, will document the carbon footprint of the labeled commodity. To be eligible to use the label, The Carbon Trust will require companies to do extensive analyses of their products' carbon footprints and make a commitment to reducing this footprint over a period of two years. This is just one more instance of the UK leaping ahead in the race to reduce carbon emissions.

Three British companies have committed to pioneering the label on their products, which serves as a brilliant—but currently untested—marketing strategy with the rise of eco-chic. The Fairtrade label has been doing remarkably well in the UK, as this article on Treehugger notes, which would be incentive enough for a company to hedge its bets on the success of the new carbon label. The first company to launch the label, Walkers, managed to cut the carbon footprint of their soon-to-be-labeled cheese and onion crisps by one-third after doing a thorough carbon analysis. Boots Organics shampoo and Innocent smoothies will be the other two labeling pioneers.

If you aren't lucky enough to live in a place as trailblazing as the UK, you won't be able to discover the carbon released during the production of your organic shampoo, but you can still keep an eye on your own carbon footprint with helpful online tools here and here.

—Rose Miller

New Torture Allegations From David Hicks Revealed

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 6:13 PM EDT

I've written about David Hicks before: he's an Australian man, captured in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, who recently became the first Guantanamo detainee to be charged with a crime in the Bush Administration's system of military tribunals.

Hicks' mother is English, and Hicks has been applying for British citizenship because the British government does more than the Australian on behalf of citizens detained by the United States. As part of his application, Hicks filed a document that detailed his treatment at the hands of his American captors. Among Hicks' claims, which cannot be substantiated:

- The bulk of the abuse occurred before Hicks was deposited at Guantanamo, during a several month period when he was held in Afghanistan or being shuttled between naval ships and unknown buildings.

- When Hicks was interrogated, it was sometimes by as many as five men at a time, who slapped him in the head after every response and told him he was lying.

- At one point, Hicks was made to sit on a window ledge where he could see several American soldiers standing outside pointing their weapons at him.

- Hicks was fed only a handful of rice or fruit three times a day.

- Hicks was forced to kneel for ten hours at a time.

- Hicks was hit by a rifle butt in the back of the head hard enough to make him fall over, "slapped in the back of the head, kicked, stepped on, and spat on."

- While in Kandahar, Hicks and other detainees were forced to lie face down in the mud while solders walked across their backs.

- Hicks was stripped naked, his body hair shaved, and a piece of plastic forcibly inserted into his rectum.

- Hicks was shown pictures of other prisoners who had been beaten black and blue, and promised the same fate if he did not cooperate.

- At Guantanamo, Hicks witnessed other detainees being mistreated. A one-legged detainee was attacked by dogs in his cell, and was later dragged out with blood dripping down his face and across the floor. Hicks says the episode "put me in such fear that I just knew I would 'cooperate' in any way with the U.S."

If all this is true, it seems Hicks suffered the sort of wanton and unguided abuse that we saw in Abu Ghraib. Prison guards and low-level interrogators, drunk with power, uninformed on proper interrogation practices, and either untrained or unsupervised (or both), did whatever they pleased with the helpless people in their command. It doesn't appear that Hicks got the organized forms of torture (waterboarding, etc.) that were the subject of DoJ memos (Al Gonzales' previous scandal) and were generally reserved for high-level captures like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Sorry Karl, Clinton Did Not Purge Prosecutors

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 5:08 PM EDT

Karl Rove and Bush Administration allies have been pushing the talking point that Clinton and most every other president undertook the very normal step of firing U.S. Attorneys.

That's right and wrong. It's correct that most presidents bring in a new crop of U.S. Attorneys when they take office -- the nation's top prosecutors are like any political appointees in that respect. But once U.S. Attorneys are appointed, they serve their four (or eight) years with the comfort of knowing that they are independent of the administration that put them in place -- that justice has nothing to do with politics. Said a former U.S. Attorney who served almost ten years, "Throughout modern history, my understanding is, you did not change the U.S. attorney during an administration, unless there was some evidence of misconduct or other really quite significant cause to do so." She went on to note that attorneys need to serve "without fear or favor and in an absolutely apolitical way."

It's perfectly indicative of the Bush Administration's desire to reshape the entire federal government into a partisan machine (The first czar of Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives resigned in anger, saying, "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything — and I mean everything — being run by the political arm.") that they would corrupt the nation's justice system in order to oust individuals making trouble and appoint more docile or even completely acquiescent replacements. Moreover, it's perfectly indicative of the Bush Administration's record of dishonesty to try and displace blame by smearing the Clinton Administration.

But the Congressional Research Service isn't letting them get away with it. They looked at all U.S. Attorneys between 1981 and 2006 and found that "Of the 468 confirmations made by the Senate over the 25-year period, only 10 left office involuntarily for reasons other than a change in administration." In those 10 instances, serious lapses in personal or professional conduct can explain eight of them. In the other two, the CRS was unable to determine cause.

Thus, in the past quarter century, somewhere from zero to two U.S. Attorneys have been fired for political reasons. The Bush Administration fired seven in one day, and eight total. Just another example of how power has corrupted the Bush Administration, making it greedy and dismissive of custom, good practice, and the principles of good governance.

"Captivity" Campaign is Nobody's Fault

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 5:05 PM EDT

mojo-photo-captivity.jpgLos Angeles area residents were not amused this week after billboards went up around the city featuring a young woman pictured in various unsavory scenarios including "Abduction," "Torture" and "Termination." The icky ads were part of a campaign for an upcoming horror flick called "Captivity," but, garsh, turns out it was all a horrible mistake! The production company, After Dark Films, said that the "wrong files" were sent to the printer, who then apparently went ahead and just made a bunch of billboards without asking anybody, and besides, we were all in Las Vegas when it happened! After Dark CEO Courtney Solomon went so far as to issue a statement saying that he, personally, "wasn't going to go with this campaign," since it was "OTP," which is Hollywood-speak for "over the top," I can't believe you didn't already know that.

Anyone who's ever worked at even the lowliest ad agency, production house, or print shop knows there is no possible way anything ever gets done without about 10,000 proofs, endless back-and-forths, and everyone from the board to the receptionist signing off. Whether they knew the campaign would immediately be taken down, or were just completely clueless, it's hard to fathom how it could have actually been a mistake.

But, hooray! It turns out everyone, everywhere is wrong about everything: Solomon says that, sure, the movie has a woman in a cage, but really, it's "about female empowerment." So, parents everywhere, get your young daughters to LA, quick, so they can be empowered by the billboards before they're taken down this afternoon!

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McDonald's Rewrites Definition of Chutzpah

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 1:59 PM EDT
mcdonaldscrew.gif

I'm lovin' it. McDonalds has asked the Oxford English Dictionary to change its definition of "McJob." Since 2003, the OED has defined it as "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector." Mickey D's house lexicographer claims that such a definition "is out of date, out of touch with reality and most importantly it is insulting to those talented, committed, hard-working people who serve the public every day." Actually, the two definitions don't conflict at all; the OED just bothers to mention that service sector jobs are poorly paid. Maybe it should redefine "minimum wage" while it's at it; something like, "An artificially high, mandated wage that prevents the creation of exciting opportunities for talented, committed, hard-working people who want to make people smile." Hopefully, OED will stick to its guns. Otherwise, they may have to redefine "chutzpah," too.

Baby Polar Bear Cub, "Cute Knut," Wanted Dead by Activists

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 1:05 PM EDT

cuteknut1.jpg

Meet Knut . He's a three-month-old polar bear cub, a roly-poly ball of white fuzz with bright black eyes. He enjoys hugging his soccer ball, gnawing on scrub brushes, and following his keeper around from room to room. Frank Albrecht wants him dead.

Animal rights activist Albrecht says that Knut, who was born at the Berlin Zoo in December and neglected by his mother, is having his natural instincts twisted. By raising the cub themselves, Albrecht says, zoo officials are perverting nature. "Raising him by hand is not appropriate to the species but rather a blatant violation of animal welfare laws," Albrecht told the German newspaper Bild. "In actual fact, the zoo needs to kill the bear cub." Albrecht later said that "If a polar bear mother rejected the baby, then I believe the zoo must follow the instincts of nature."

And Albrecht isn't the only one who wants to put the kibosh on Knut. Rudiger Schmiedel, director of the German Bear Foundation said, "You can't domesticate a wild animal ...When Knut reaches puberty, his keeper is going to get a whack upside the head." Activists from Germany's Green Party and Left Party also expressed opposition to the zoo's decision to hand-raise the cub.

Getting rid of Knut would be a hard sell: daily Berlin papers feature front page pics of the cub's gambolings, tv stations happily broadcast videos of him, and the city's hockey team wants the baby bruin as their mascot. Photographer Annie Liebovitz took Knut's portrait on Saturday for a wilderness conservation campaign. All this is before Knut has even made his public debut. Although fans can see pics of Knut on the Berlin Zoo's website, the real-life cub only just reached his public-display weight requirement (18 lbs) on Friday. Zoo officials say that Knut will be unveiled to Berliners in a week or so.

Zoo officials say that Knut is valuable not just as an attraction, but as part of a dwindling polar bear DNA pool. "Polar bears are under threat of extinction," said Andre Schuele, the veternarian who cares for Knut. "if we feed the bear with a bottle, it has a good chance of growing up and perhaps becoming attractive as a stud for other zoos."

—Jen Phillips

Obama and the Reds

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 12:58 PM EDT

"How well can Obama really do in the Southern, Red States?": It's what Democrats, unsure of how to cast their primary vote, have been saying under their breath.

Yesterday, those Dems got at least part of their answer when Obama charmed a rally full of people in Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in America. 1,000 people came out to support Obama in Oklahoma City, the state's capitol, a city that boasts a population of just over 500,000—the state's largest.

Just as surprising, Obama's biggest selling point for Oklahomans was his stance against the war.

Historically very Republican, at least in National elections, Oklahoma's electorate voted for Bush in a landslide in 2000. And again in 2004. Even in 1996, while the country was voting for Clinton as an incumbent, 48 percent of Oklahomans voted for Bob Dole. Clinton trailed at 40 percent.

Obama did better yesterday than any might have predicted—perhaps even Obama's own campaign. The Obama camp, possibly trying to forecast their own draw in this reddest of red states, may have billed themselves accordingly. The afternoon rally/fundraiser cost a paltry $25 to attend as compared to the previous afternoon's fundraiser in Colorado where attendees forked over $100 to catch a glimpse of the Senator. Still, Obama's campaign was able to raise $25,000 in Oklahoma yesterday.

"I have never seen a man in politics that had that much sincerity, purpose, vision," Gregory Shields of Collinsville, Oklahoma said.

Many rally attendees went looking to be inspired and many left fulfilled, according to NewsOK's Jennifer Mock, the local reporter covering the story.

Obama told the crowd in Oklahoma that the days of divisive politics are numbered. He could have said, however, the days of Democrats doubting his legitimacy as a presidential candidate are numbered. And we would have known exactly who he was talking to.

Watch and read local news coverage of last night's rally here.

--Jessica Savage

Hillary YouTube Attack Needs a YouTube Response

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 11:45 AM EDT

Joe Klein has an awed response to the famous YouTube ad that attacks Hillary Clinton, and wonders out loud how Hillary's paid staff will respond.

That misses the point. Word is out that the the ad was created not by members of any campaign staff, but by ordinary folks who like Obama and dislike Clinton. Here, I think, is the web's real power over politics. It's not in the candidates' ability to create viral videos and post them on YouTube, MySpace, etc. -- those always feel disingenuous, affected, and smarmy. We know who posted them, so we know why they make the arguments they do. They're not spontaneous, they're not true expressions, they're not labors of love. Besides, they're almost never edgy, funny, or entertaining. The only way Hillary is going to have an effective response to the pro-Obama ad created by everyday folks from the web community is if everyday folks from the web community create a pro-Hillary ad.

You see? Hillary can't respond to this because Obama didn't create it. The central test of YouTube politics is whether or not a candidate can inspire web-savvy users to create content on their own, with no prompting or support from the campaign.

Evidence: Multiple versions of the video of Hillary Clinton announcing her presidency (stilted, stiff, conventional) have been viewed a combined total of 20,000 times on YouTube, and currently have an average rating of three stars. Three versions of the Hillary/1984 video (creative, edgy, cool) have had a combined viewership of more than 1,300,000, and have an average rating of more than four stars. These are inexact, unscientific numbers, but you get the point.