2007 - %3, June

The TV Attack Ad Gets a New Lease on Life

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 3:49 PM EDT
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While we're talking about our new Politics 2.0 package and yesterday's Supreme Court decisions, let's take a moment to ponder the future of that less than beloved institution, the 30-second TV attack ad.

In "The Attack Ad's Second Life," Leslie Savan and I examined the idea that the newfound ease of video production and distribution will kill off the negative election ad. Are the days of Willie Horton and "Harold—call me" over? Are we headed into an unregulated, bottomless pit of "macaca" moments on-demand and YouTube mash-ups? Advertising Age columnist and On the Media Host Bob Garfield thinks that TV ads are definitely on the way out—and that's a good thing: "Nobody is going to opt in to see somebody's legislative votes misrepresented in an attack ad—because why would you?" Yet that's not to say that TV ads won't play a role in 2008, or that they won't be as lowdown and dirty as ever.

And now, a new Supreme Court ruling virtually ensures that that will be the case. In another 5-4 decision, the court struck down a provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law that prohibited pre-election ads paid for by unions or corporations. The majority ruled that such ads can not be banned unless they explicitly encourage voters to vote for or against a candidate. This will no doubt open the floodgates for a new slew of "issue ads"—attack ads that not so subtly go after candidates under the guise of informing voters. What this really means—for online fundraising, for swing voters, for the future of McCain-Feingold—remains to be seen. But it seems clear that even if the 2008 race is the TV attack ad's death rattle, its demise will be anything but pretty.

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Bush Finally Gets Serious About Climate Change

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 3:24 PM EDT

OK, this is a little old, but since I've been chuckling about it for a week now, I figured it was worth a post. In one of those special nailing-it moments, The Onion offered this headline:

Addressing Climate Crisis, Bush Calls For Development Of National Air Conditioner

with this handy explanatory graphic:

Rising-Temperatures.article.jpg

Weird Weather Watch: Tahoe Is Burning

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 3:17 PM EDT

A fire in South Lake Tahoe, which began Sunday, has destroyed 2,700 acres of woods and 275 homes. Lake Tahoe's gorgeous blue waters are sprinkled with ashes. The blaze is just 40 percent contained at present, but firefighters expect to have it fully contained by Sunday. The Los Angeles Times called the fire "one of the most destructive in memory." And California isn't in the clear yet: Low rainfall combined with the hotter temperatures brought by climate change have intensified the state's already menacing susceptibility to wildfire.

Indian Crocodiles Guard Dwindling Forests

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 3:02 PM EDT

Dozens of crocodiles bred in captivity in eastern India are protecting their endangered counterparts. Newly released into the wild, these giants are scaring away poachers bent on illegal fishing and timber harvesting in mangrove forests in the states of Orissa and West Bengal, reports Reuters. The disappearing mangroves have led to a steep decline in wild croc numbers, from several thousand a century ago to less than 100 in the early 1970s. But the same species has bred well in captivity and is now being used to solve its own problem. "The swelling number of released crocodiles in the wild is working as a deterrent and keeping people away from the mangrove as villagers are more cautious before venturing into the forests," said Rathin Banerjee, a senior wildlife official. "Unlike guard dogs, crocodiles cannot be tamed and are ferocious and can attack anyone in the swamps." . . . Wow. That's innovation. Can we use them against our own bad-boy loggers? --JULIA WHITTY

Giant Microwave Turns Plastic Back To Oil

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 2:32 PM EDT

A US company has developed a machine using 1200 different frequencies in the microwave range to turn waste plastics back into the oil they came from, plus gas. Global Resource Corporation's Hawk-10 machine, looking like a giant concrete mixer, zaps the hydrocarbons in plastic and rubber until they're broken down into diesel oil and combustible gas, reports New Scientist. Whatever doesn't have a hydrocarbon base is left behind, minus any water it contained, which evaporates. For example, a piece of insulated copper is stripped of its insulation, which becomes diesel and gas, leaving the copper to be recycled. . . This seems to be great news on the plastics recycling front, and desperately needed for the health of the world ocean, at the very least. But dubious on the greenhouse front, where the last thing we need is more oil.

When the Netroots Attack! MoJo's Politics 2.0 Package

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 2:25 PM EDT

Are we entering a new era of digital democracy—or just being conned by a bunch of smooth-talking geeks? That's the central question behind Mother Jones' Politics 2.0 package, which went up on the home page today. (Monika's and my ed note on the topic can be found here.)

In it we explore whether A-list netroots bloggers are acting more like political bosses of old. And chart the GOP/Pay-Pal connection: a bunch of Silicon Valley conservatives now trying to build the right-wing MoveOn from the top down. In light of the Supreme Court's campaign finance decision yesterday, our piece on how despite the advent of viral video like "macaca" and "Hillary 1984," the 30-second TV campaign spot ain't going anywhere yet seems more pertinent than ever.

And we published great excerpts (and full interviews) with 27 netizens, digerati, and politicos including Lawrence Lessig, Esther Dyson, Jimmy Wales, Howard Dean, and the "Hillary 1984" guy.

Oh, and I interviewed Digg founder Kevin Rose to get the scoop on whether his site can be gamed, and what's up with those Ron Paul supporters, and the perils of making video while drinking heavily.

Check it out.

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One Fourth Of Deaths From Environment Are Avoidable

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 1:54 PM EDT

Living in an unhealthy environment kills many times more people than die in car accidents, violent conflicts and natural disasters combined. Though these risks rarely make headlines, reports the World Health Organization via Nature. Furthermore, one-fourth of these deaths could be avoided. Polluted water, poor sanitation, and smoke inhalation resulting from indoor wood-burning stoves are the primary risks in low-income countries. Noise, work stress, and outdoor pollution kill in wealthy nations. The research centers on 'disability adjusted life years' (DALY) that are preventable through healthier environments. The DALY is a commonly used unit that includes years lost when someone dies prematurely, and also takes account of years blighted by chronic disease or disability, writes Quirin Schiermeier. . . Hmm. Think there's any connection between noise, work stress, and outdoor pollution and the depression discussed in the previous post? --JULIA WHITTY

Taking Cheney at His Word

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 1:43 PM EDT

Two can play this game. In response to Dick Cheney's claim that he's not part of the executive branch, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Il.) is taking him at his word and proposing cutting the vice president's office from executive branch funding. Says Emanuel: "If the vice president truly believes he is not a part of the executive branch, he should return the salary the American taxpayers have been paying him since January 2001 and move out of the home for which they are footing the bill." Should the proposal pass, Senate President Cheney would presumably receive full funding to execute his constitutional duty to periodically tell lawmakers to go F themselves.

Common Antidepressants Associated With Lower Bone Density

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

Some antidepressants appear to be associated with an increased rate of bone loss in older men and women. These SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil, treat depression by inhibiting the protein that transports serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in sleep and depression, reports the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) via Science Daily. But serotonin may also be associated with an increased rate of bone loss in older men and women, according to two new JAMA articles. And some data suggest that SSRIs may interfere with the function of osteoclasts and osteoblasts, the cells responsible for the regular breaking down and rebuilding of bone in the body. . . So, there's a choice for you. Depression or broken bones or both. How about looking for the root cause of the depression, not just the (dubious) chemistry? --JULIA WHITTY

Free Speech Takes a Big Hit in "Bong" Case

| Tue Jun. 26, 2007 1:34 AM EDT

Well, that sure ended badly. The Supreme Court ruled today that public schools can limit students' speech if they express themselves in a way that might be construed as pro-drug. The case in question involved an Alaska student who'd been suspended after he unfurled a tongue-in-cheek banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" at a school event. Chief Justice Roberts argued that because the banner just might give someone the idea that toking up is OK, it could be suppressed: ''The message on Frederick's banner is cryptic. But Principal Morse thought the banner would be interpreted by those viewing it as promoting illegal drug use, and that interpretation is plainly a reasonable one." By that standard, couldn't someone reasonably interpret the banner as a religious message and therefore demand its protection? Apparently not.

When this case hit the docket a few months ago, I figured it would be a novelty. Boy, was I wrong. The decision was 5-4, but you already knew that, right?