2007 - %3, May

Live Earth Making Enemies

| Wed May 23, 2007 4:20 PM EDT

mojo-logo-liveearth.jpgAl Gore's Live Earth concerts (the lineup of which I controversially dissed a while back) are getting some more negative publicity. First up, last week, a surprisingly coherent Roger Daltry of the Who told England's The Sun that "the last thing the planet needs is a rock concert." Well now! How do you feel, Mr. Daltry, about using a notoriously wasteful type of event to raise environmental awareness? "I can't believe it," he says, "let's burn even more fuel." Daltry did of course play both LiveAid and Live8, which were apparently not powered by fuel but by magical unicorns on treadmills. Speaking of LiveAid, Sir Bob Geldof himself was even more harsh on Live Earth, saying "everybody" already knows about global warming. Knows about, and rejects, Sir Bob, just like that crazy idea we evolved from monkeys.

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Joe Klein and John Kerry: Gross

| Wed May 23, 2007 4:02 PM EDT

Michael Crowley excerpts a portion of Bob Shrum's memoir on The Plank today. Shrum, for those who have managed to keep their minds unpoisoned by the insanity of Washington's consultant circles, is a man who has consulted for eight Democratic presidential candidates. All eight have lost. You might think after the fourth, fifth, or sixth loss Shrum would be out of work. You obviously don't know anything about politics.

Shrum writes at length about his experience as a consultant for John Kerry's 2004 campaign. Crowley highlights a disturbing passage about Time columnist and world class blowhard Joe Klein:

Klein himself was trying to play many parts. He was not only reporting on the campaign and preparing to write a book about consultants; he was also a constant critic and yet another sometime adviser. After the Kerry appearance at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, he told [Kerry spokesman] David Wade: "Great speech, but it's too late" -- then turned around and stalked away. With Klein, it was almost always too late for us, in part because we didn't always take his persistent advice. He would chastise Kerry on the phone when he didn't like a speech, counseling both Kerry and me about what the candidate should say and what our strategy should be.

Okay, so it's weird (and probably unethical) that a famous journalist who writes regularly about the presidential campaign is advising one of the candidates. But here's something even more odd:

Rejecting [Klein's] advice was uncomfortable for Kerry, who liked Joe, craved his approval, and worried what his columns would say when we didn't take his recommendations.

Jesus! I'm not even angry that I supported a guy so insecure and unsure of his convictions that he considered how a egomaniacal columnist would evaluate his actions before he took them. I'm angry that I work in a profession where writers and their subjects become so intertwined that it affects the subjects' behavior. How can one reasonably argue that it doesn't affect the writers' also?

I'm not one of the bloggers who criticizes journalists and their sources for running in the same social circles. I've always assumed that these people can separate their personal feelings and professional responsibilities. But if this is how journalism works inside the beltway, good heavens, count me out.

Spellings' Grade: Needs Improvement

| Wed May 23, 2007 3:17 PM EDT

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has an uncanny ability to whisk responsibility away from her turf, the Department of Education. In the first 30 seconds of her Daily Show interview last night, she laughingly deferred Jon Stewart's joke about Lunchables to agriculture officials, and Stewart's food pyramid question to Health and Human Services.

But her "hands are tied" arguments are wearing thin.

With inappropriate dealings in the $85 billion student loan industry widely reported, alleged mishandling of the Reading First early literacy program and the pending reauthorization of No Child Left Behind this year, she's got a lot of stepping up to do.

One education blogger even draws parallels between Spellings and Alberto Gonzalez, saying that if Gonzalez weren't hogging the spotlight so much right now, Spellings would be getting more attention.

That's not the comparison to be shooting for, especially with her qualifications in question. After admitting to during a Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in March that the only teaching she had ever done was as an uncertified substitute early in her career, and that her college pursuits were in political science and journalism, one frustrated congressman said there was a "disconnect" in her ability to execute on meaningful public policy.

Still, Spellings stood firm on these issues during a recent oversight committee hearing testimony, and recently told NPR that she feels "very good" about the "aggressive role" she has taken in the "raging fire" that is American higher education policy. Problem is, she also called the student loan scandals a "teaching moment for us," too.

—Gary Moskowitz

Fred Thompson Shuts Down His PAC--And There Goes His Son's Income

| Wed May 23, 2007 2:19 PM EDT

Former Tennessee senator, stunningly bad actor, and possible presidential candidate Fred Thompson has seen fit to shut down his political action committee. The PAC in question has raised $66,700 for election campaigns and committees in the four years it has been in existence. It has also paid $178,000 in consulting fees to Daniel Thompson Associates. Daniel is Fred Thompson's son, and while it is legal to hire a family member to consult for your PAC, it is quite obviously questionable for that family member to get more than two and a half times the funds raised to support the PAC's reason for being.

Thompson, who is known for how little he accomplished in the U.S. Senate, is getting a closer look from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Hydrogen Breakthrough Could Open the Road to Carbon-Free Cars

| Wed May 23, 2007 1:54 PM EDT

Here's good news on the hydrogen storage front. UK scientists have developed a compound of the element lithium that may make it practical for hydrogen fuel cell cars to drive more than 300 miles before refuelling. Fuel cells produce carbon-free electricity by harnessing electrochemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen. Today's prototype HFC cars have a range of only 200 miles, and a 300-mile range would require storage the size of a double-decker bus.

But the UK research has focused on a different approach enabling hydrogen to be stored at a much higher density within acceptable weight limits. The option involves a well-established process called 'chemisorption', in which atoms of a gas are absorbed into the crystal structure of a solid-state material and then released when needed. This could tip the balance in favor of a truly marketable technology.

Fuel-cell technology could assist the emergence of a hydrogen economy rather than a carbon economy. A 2004 report concluded that hydrogen vehicles alone would enable the UK to meet its Kyoto targets for CO2 reductions.

Let's hope this technology gets on the road fast. --JULIA WHITTY

Predicting Catastrophe

| Wed May 23, 2007 1:32 PM EDT

What makes a tipping point finally tip? New research reveals a fascinating mechanism. Complex systems, like the earth's climate, coral reefs, oceans, and social-economic systems, often react in a surprising way to change. When conditions change gradually, the system may respond little until a critical tipping point is reached, after which the system may collapse completely. After collapse, it's nearly impossible to restore the original state of the system. Yet managers have had difficulty predicting catastrophic transition without a deep knowledge of the underlying mechanisms.

But now, Egbert van Nes and Marten Scheffer have analyzed models concluded there's a simpler way to predict a catastrophic transition. Their work, in the June issue of The American Naturalist, shows that after small disturbances the system recovers much more slowly if a collapse is near. They argue that this slower recovery serves as an early warning signal for upcoming shifts. In practice, the recovery rate can be determined from small experiments, or by analyzing the natural variations in a time series.

So, will we do it? It's kind of like taking a DNA test to see if you're going to inherit a fatal disease or not. Few at risk do. --JULIA WHITTY

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DA Refuses to Prosecute Rape Case, Despite Eye Witnesses, DNA

| Wed May 23, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

What's the penalty for the alleged gangrape of a drunk, 17-year-old girl at a party with 10 of your buddies? Bupkus, said the Santa Clara, California District Attorney's office yesterday.

The alleged rape occurred March 3 at a wild, off-campus party hosted by a member of the DeAnza College men's baseball team in San Jose, California. Three partygoers, members of the school's women's soccer team, said they saw a young girl on a mattress on the floor, clothes around her ankles and vomit on her face, with one man on top of her and approximately 10 more looking on in a dark bedroom. Feeling "something wasn't right," the girls pushed their way into the room and rushed the victim the the hospital.

In the months since the contested rape, a grand jury has taken testimony in the case, DNA samples from some partygoers have been obtained, but an assistant district attorney cited "insufficient evidence" as the reason the DA would not prosecute. The men will not be charged with a crime, not even statutory rape. The only consequences so far have been that eight baseball players were suspended, resulting in the cancellation of three games. At least one of the players brought in by the grand jury thinks justice has been served: "From the beginning, I kind of felt like it was a witch hunt and the De Anza players were victims, and not really this girl," pitcher Chris Knopf told the San Jose Mercury News.

One of the infamous Duke lacrosse players made a similar statement just last month when prosecutors dropped all charges in that case, saying that "this entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice." He was talking about himself, not the African American stripper hired for the players' party.

Undoubtedly, the Duke case and its rush to judgment is in the minds of those at the Santa Clara DA's office when they say they don't have confidence the case could be proved without a doubt. The District Attorney in the Duke case, Michael Nifong, was removed from the case and now faces ethics complaints from the North Carolina state bar related to the year-long investigation. The Santa Clara DA office may be looking to avoid a similar debacle. But there are essential differences in the two situations: this girl was underage, and three eyewitnesses have come forward.

Granted, eyewitness accounts are not always what they seem, something the media often glosses over, but the Santa Clara sheriff's office says it's not yet done investigating the case. Two of the witnesses have gone to the media to draw attention to the case. "What we saw was rape. It was a crime," one told told a local television station. The other said the lack of charges "makes us think that no girl is ever going to want to come forward and say they were violated as this girl was, because they're going to think it doesn't even matter...But it does."

—Jen Phillips

Another Reason to Expect Dem Victory in '08: Low GOP Turnout

| Wed May 23, 2007 12:51 PM EDT

From time to time, members of the liberal blogosphere will ask their brethren to slow the '08 optimism. Yes, the Republican frontrunners are all comically out of step with the GOP base, but one of them has to win the primary, and at that point the winner's moderate stances will make him appealing to independents. It may be a tougher road for the Dems than anyone thinks.

My response is this. Yes, some independents may find Romney's previous embrace of gay rights appealing, and some may find Giuliani's pro-choice position attractive, and yet others may find McCain's history of bucking the Republican party line honest and refreshing. I'll concede that: let's say the Republicans manage as much support from independents at the Democrats do.

The Republicans are still more likely to lose. Why? Because the Republican base is so depressed by their options and so sick of the mismanagement of the people they sent to the White House last time that they won't vote. And now my theory has evidence to back it up:

In Kentucky's gubernatorial primary, held yesterday, 348,759 Dems cast votes in the Democratic primary. Only 202,131 Republicans cast votes in the GOP one, despite the GOP race being higher profile. That's less than two-thirds, and in a reliably red state! It's irrefutable: Republican voters are disillusioned, and disillusioned voters don't make contributions, don't walk precincts, and don't head to the polling booth on election day.

Now consider this: if just five percent of the voters who voted for Bush in 2004 choose to stay home in 2008, and the Democratic nominee gets the same number of votes as Kerry, the Democrat wins the popular vote. You can find 2004 results here, do the math yourself.

And the Democrats' X-factor? No Karl Rove pulling get-out-the-vote magic tricks out of his hat.

A Breakthrough in Electric Slide Deregulation

| Wed May 23, 2007 12:29 PM EDT
electricslide.gif

Good news for dancers and copyfighters: the creator of the Electric Slide has just taken a step back and agreed to allow non-commercial use of the disco-era dance which, as Wikipedia helpfully explains, "is still done frequently at social occasions to virtually any music." Ric Silver, the man behind the moves, had been sending legal notices to people who posted videos of the dance, asserting his copyright over it. Now, he's going to license the dance through Creative Commons (which apparently includes letting Spiderman and a Transformer do it, as they do in this image from his website). There's no word, however, on the Funky Chicken patent dispute.

See Mother Jones' roundup of intellectual property run amok.

Romney Takes Lead in GOP Field and the Knives Come Out

| Wed May 23, 2007 12:13 PM EDT

With frontrunner status comes increased scrutiny. Is that bad news for Mitt Romney?

According to new polls, the former one-term governor of Massachusetts is leading the Republican field in Iowa and New Hampshire. And leading in a big way: the Des Moines Register puts Romney at 30 percent in Iowa, compared to 18 for McCain and 17 for Giuliani. A Zogby poll in New Hampshire shows Romney at 35 percent, with both McCain and Giuliani stuck at 19. Those are leads big enough to withstand the vagaries of public opinion.

A quick aside: Giuliani lost his lofty lead as Republican voters began to hear more and more about his positions on social issues, the conventional wisdom goes. Then how to explain Romney's rise? He previously held all of the same positions as Giuliani -- he's just trying to lie about them while Giuliani is standing for what he believes in. Says a political scientist at Northeastern University in Boston, "After studying presidential nominations for 30 years, I've never seen somebody who has so completely renounced his past record when he decided to run for president." That's what the GOP wants? That's the best they can get?

Anyway. McCain, for one, isn't taking the Romney Rise quite so well. Quotes from the McCain camp include:

"The question for voters is, does a one-term governor from Massachusetts have the foreign policy experience necessary to deal with the challenges of today's world?"

And:

"Mitt Romney has been consistent in one regard: that nearly every position he holds now is opposite of what it was when he was governor of Massachusetts."

So now all the pot shots are directed at Romney, and they will continue to be until someone else takes the lead. I'm sure Romney, Giuliani, and McCain are all loading up attacks on Fred Thompson, should he step into the ring jump out to a strong start. The media scrutiny gets tougher too. AlterNet is slamming Romney for having a poor record on diversity and minorities, and Time recently published "Tongue Tied - Mitt Romney's Top Ten Gaffes." The question for presidential contenders is not who can earn the spotlight, but who can survive it.