2007 - %3, October

The Best Debate Moment Belongs to Joe Biden

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 11:51 AM EDT

The best answer in last night's Democratic presidential debate came not from the leading contenders but from Senator Joe Biden.

In his usual manner, moderator Tim Russert tried to put the candidates into a corner with one of his yes-or-no questions that do not allow for nuance or complexity:

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, would you pledge to the American people that Iran would not build a nuclear bomb on your watch?

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards each wiggled his or her way out of the question, essentially pledging to do what they could to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Then Russert turned to Biden, and Biden threw the question back in Russert's face.

SEN. BIDEN: I would pledge to keep us safe. If you told me, Tim -- and this is not -- this is complicated stuff. We talk about this in isolation. The fact of the matter is the Iranians may get 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium; the Pakistanis have hundreds, thousands of kilograms of highly enriched uranium.
If by attacking Iran to stop them from getting 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, the government in Pakistan falls, who has missiles already deployed, with nuclear weapons on them, that can already reach Israel, already reach India, then that's a bad bargain.
Presidents make wise decisions informed not by a vacuum in which they operate, by the situation they find themselves in the world. I will do all in my power to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but I will never take my eye off the ball.
What is the greatest threat to the United States of America: 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in Tehran or an out of control Pakistan? It's not close.

Biden was taking the mature approach to foreign policy, daring to challenge the false dichotomy: let Iran go nuclear or start a war. A nuclear-armed Iran would indeed be a problem, but a U.S. military strike against Iran could cause greater problems. National security is not always an either/or proposition. Yet Russert, with his gotcha query, was trying to force the complicated Iran issue into such a box. This sort of framing does pervert the national debate, for it precludes serious discussion of the matter at hand and careful consideration of consequences. It also suggests that Americans can have it all—that is, a nuclear-free Iran without creating other difficulties.

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Blackwater: Your Destination for "Rapid Response, Turn Key Solutions"

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 11:32 AM EDT

Blackwater's crisis management campaign has now ventured beyond Eric Prince's tightly scripted television appearances and into the realm of Orwellian propaganda. If you need a "turn key solution" to your pesky insurgency problem, you know who to call...

Debate Reaction: Hillary Clinton's Me-Too Problem

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 9:42 AM EDT

clinton.jpg Hillary Clinton has a Me-Too problem, and it was illustrated perfectly at last night's Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia.

Here's the problem. Clinton allows Barack Obama and John Edwards (and sometimes even Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd) to dictate the policy proposals of the Democratic field. By and large, she puts forward relatively moderate ideas that rely heavily on conventional thinking—until one or more of her competitors takes a more bold, populist stand. Then Clinton immediately embraces the new stand, and the competitor or competitors have nothing on which to run against her.

I wrote a comment on David's post on this yesterday, regarding opposition to Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general. Clinton announced she opposed the nomination, though she was following Edwards, who was following Obama, who was following Dodd. "So is this how a candidate maintains frontrunner status?" I wrote. "Make sure there is not an inch of difference between her and any other candidate? In a word, mimicry?"

That doesn't strike me as true leadership. And yesterday's debate had a moment that illustrated this perfectly. Clinton was asked by Tim Russert if she supported New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's proposal to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. According to Russert, Clinton had told a group of newspaper editors that the idea made sense. Clinton responded approvingly, saying, "What Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform." Illegal immigrants are on the roads and will get into accidents. It's a reality, she said, and we ought to have a system to handle it.

But then Chris Dodd criticized the idea, saying that a driver's license is a privilege and not a right. Clinton instantly said, "I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done." Dodd pounced: "Wait a minute. No, no, no. You said yes, you thought it made sense to do it." Clinton responded by trying to explain that Spitzer's plan included three different kind of licenses. She promptly got lost in the weeds and accused the assembled of playing "gotcha." With that, it was off to the races.

Blotted Democracy in India or Just no Democracy at All?

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 2:03 AM EDT

Recently, the Human Rights Watch, in collaboration with Ensaaf, an Indian human rights organization, published a report addressing the impunity given to the Indian government for its human rights violations during the Punjab counterinsurgency from 1984-1995. Tens of thousands of people died and thousands more were the victims of arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances. To hide the evidence of their brutal actions, Indian security forces secretly cremated its victims. In just one district of Punjab, more than 6,000 cremations were uncovered by two human rights activists. The Indian government itself confessed to having illegally cremated more than 2,097 individuals in Amritsar alone. No one has been indicted to date. The HRW points out that the Indian government looks to the Punjab counterinsurgency operations as a model to follow elsewhere in India.

There has been a frightening amount of impunity granted to the state and its security forces: the anti Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in which the state was complicit in the killing of more than 2,000 people; the situation in Kashmir, the site of the largest troop deployment during peacetime in the world, where an estimated 40,000-60,000 have been killed and thousands are missing; and the atrocities in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, including rape, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings which have all been documented.

The irony is that every time a violation like this occurs, it is referred to as a "blot on Indian democracy." Yet these situations don't appear to be deviations from an otherwise functioning democracy, but rather, something far more symptomatic of a state which has not only evaded, but disregarded, accountability, justice, and equality for all citizens.

—Neha Inamdar

New Media Frontiers: Arkansas Ho!

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 10:18 PM EDT

db55.jpg

It's the kind of hyper-local story that's always been the bread and butter of mid-sized papers like the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: A homeowner in suburban Sherwood confronts a man trying to steal a four-wheeler from his residence, fires pistol shots into the dark and, two days later, the would-be thief is found dead in a nearby ditch.

That story, to me, screams out for a few dozen column inches of cold, smudgy newsprint. Which is why it feels so odd that the website of the Little Rock-based Dem-Gaz now features a professionally-edited video report on the Sherwood incident, with swooshing digital graphics and a spiffy "Arkansas Online" intro sequence. There's something incongruous about watching an old-time Arkansan (or, as the really old-timers prefer, Arkansawyer) in a camo shirt talking about "firing five times into the top of these pine trees and … [emptying] the rest of the magazine of the gun into the creek bank" on a web-only clip with such high production values. Maybe that's because, amid the chatter about newspapers' new media imperative and the flash that goes with it, we forget that local stories are often, well, unexceptional.

I can say it's definitely a milestone that the rock-solid D-G (disclosure: I once worked there), whose owners are notoriously stuck in their ways, has finally embraced online journalism. The paper's homepage, released earlier this year, is flashy and content-heavy and looks great. New media has officially arrived in Arkansas. Whether the model is sustainable hinges on two issues: Is this really how folks want to get their local news? And will the extra videographers and web designers prove financially feasible?

—Justin Elliott

All I Want for Christmas is a Biodiesel Hummer. No, Really.

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 9:30 PM EDT

Think there are no real inventors anymore? That would be news to Johnathan Goodwin, proud creator of the world's most fuel-efficient Hummer.

Read the rest of this post on Mother Jones' environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

—Casey Miner

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All I Want for Christmas is a Biodiesel Hummer. No, Really.

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 9:20 PM EDT

Think there are no real inventors anymore? That would be news to Johnathan Goodwin, proud creator of the world's most fuel-efficient Hummer.

By combining biodiesel and hybrid technology and reconfiguring engines, Goodwin can double the fuel efficiency of a number of giant American cars and nearly eliminate their emissions, using almost nothing but stock GM parts (OK, and the occasional jet engine). He's currently working on the Governator's 1987 Wagoneer, and is slated to overhaul Neil Young's 1960 Lincoln Continental.

As for the country's decaying car capital, Goodwin has little sympathy, pointing out that "Detroit could do all this stuff overnight if it wanted to."

—Casey Miner

Breaking: Supreme Court Halts Execution in Mississippi

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 8:27 PM EDT

Today seven justices voted to postpone the execution of Mississippi death-row inmate Earl Wesley Berry, with Justices Scalia and Alito dissenting (predictably). This move sets the stage for what could be a national moratorium on the death penalty until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of lethal injection next year.

—Celia Perry

Clear Channel Bans New Bruce?

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 7:16 PM EDT

mojo-photo-nobruce.jpgBlogs are atwitter with the news that Clear Channel radio, famous for issuing company wide no-play edicts, has apparently issued another. But this time it's against The Boss, and that's even got Fox News upset:

Bruce Springsteen should be very happy. He has the No. 1 album, a possible Grammy for Best Album of the Year for "Magic," an album full of singles and a sold-out concert tour. Alas, there's a hitch: Radio will not play "Magic." In fact, sources tell me that Clear Channel has sent an edict to its classic rock stations not to play tracks from "Magic." But it's OK to play old Springsteen tracks such as "Dancing in the Dark," "Born to Run" and "Born in the USA."

While Bruce's left-leaning politics bring up memories of the recent blacklisting of the Dixie Chicks, I'm not entirely sure about this. First of all, "sources" say the memo was sent out to classic rock stations, which by definition are stations that play old music. We don't really have a classic rock station in San Francisco, but a quick look at San Diego's 101 KGB, "The Classic Rock Experience," shows their most played songs are "Ballroom Blitz," "White Room," "Rock & Roll All Night," and "Good Times Roll." Not even the rockingest of current rock jams are breaking through into the classic rock pantheon, to say nothing of stuff that sounds a lot like the Magnetic Fields. Clear Channel are probably reminding programmers that just because a standard classic rock artist has new songs, that doesn't mean they fit on the playlist.

This is of course not to defend radio, which at this point is kind of like a nearly deserted mall in a depressed Midwestern suburb: the last remaining stores are mostly selling trash. However, the Fox News article is mistaken on one point: it says tracks from Magic are "not being played on any radio stations, according to Radio & Records, which monitors such things. Nothing." Not true: in fact, "Radio Nowhere" is down from #2 to #3 this week on the Triple A National Airplay chart at Radio & Records, just behind Snow Patrol and KT Tunstall, and just ahead of Spoon. Triple-A radio's snowy-white "adult" brand usually annoys me, but that's not a bad Top 4, and people worried about Bruce not getting airplay should just change the station.

Trumping Bush's Troop Card

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 5:40 PM EDT

We have more vets every day, and, when this endless war finally peters to a close, we'll have even more ex-troops, and many of them will be uninsured. A new study, which will appear in December's American Journal for Public Health, finds that nearly 2 million veterans (12.7 percent of non-elderly vets) were uninsured and ineligible for VA care in 2004, up 290,000 since 2000. An additional 3.8 million members of their households were also uninsured and ineligible for Veterans Affairs services.

Other findings: