2007 - %3, October

State's Security Chief Out Over Blackwater Shooting

| Thu Oct. 25, 2007 11:11 AM EDT

blackwater_bremer250x200.jpg Yesterday, Richard J. Griffin, head of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, became the first senior official to lose his job over Blackwater's September 16 shooting in Baghdad's Nisour Square. As head of State's law enforcement arm, Griffin, a former deputy director of the Secret Service, was charged with overseeing security for diplomats and dignitaries. In Iraq, where much of this function has been outsourced to private military contractors, this amounted to providing oversight of the more than 1,000 armed security operators attached to firms such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and DynCorp. Until recently, according to the Washington Post, these private contractors have been supervised by a mere 36 diplomatic security agents. A review panel convened to examine the State Department's security practices in Iraq, whose conclusions were released on Tuesday, found "there are an insufficient number of Diplomatic Security Service Special Agents assigned to the Embassy to provide the appropriate level of oversight to ensure adherence to the rules and procedures currently in place." The report also determined that "the licensing process for PSD contractors, both as to fees and procedures, is insufficiently clear and expeditious, increasing the risk that armed contractors will carry out their functions with an inadequate legal basis." As we speak, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is seated in 2154 Rayburn, preparing to testify before Henry Waxman's Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, where she will no doubt face some tough questions about her agency's performance in Iraq and its oversight of PMCs.

Update: Well, Rice is indeed facing tough questions at the Waxman hearing. She's just not answering them.

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U.S. Imposes Toughest New Sanctions on Iran Since '79 Embassy Seizure

| Thu Oct. 25, 2007 9:49 AM EDT

The Washington Post reports:

The Bush administration plans to roll out an unprecedented package of unilateral sanctions against Iran today, including the long-awaited designations of its Revolutionary Guard Corps as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and of the elite Quds Force as a supporter of terrorism, according to senior administration officials.
The package, scheduled to be announced jointly by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., marks the first time that the United States has tried to isolate or punish another country's military. It is the broadest set of punitive measures imposed on Tehran since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy, the officials said. ...

Is Climate Change Fueling Huge California Fires?

| Wed Oct. 24, 2007 10:37 PM EDT

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If not, they're a not-so-sneak preview. In fact, the catastrophic SoCal fires are consistent with what climate change models have been predicting for years. They may be a prelude to many more such events in the future, as vegetation grows heavier than usual and then ignites during prolonged droughts, says Ronald Neilson, a bioclimatologist at Oregon State University and with the USDA Forest Service, and a contributor to publications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize:

"This is exactly what we've been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change. You can't look at one event such as this and say with certainty that it was caused by a changing climate. But things just like this are consistent with what the latest modeling shows, and may be another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality, one with serious effects. In the future, catastrophic fires such as those going on now in California may simply be a normal part of the landscape."

Fire forecast models developed by Neilson's research group at OSU and the Forest Service rely on several global climate models. When combined, they accurately predicted both the Southern California fires that are happening and the drought hitting Georgia and Florida, causing crippling water shortages. In studies released five years ago, Neilson and other OSU researchers predicted that the American West could become both warmer and wetter in the coming century, conditions that would lead to repeated, catastrophic fires larger than any in recent history.

Got a fire tent?

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Oh, and northern California might not get off so easy. IDEA forecasts of particulate suggest the smoke could blow ashore in San Francisco in the next 48 hours.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Bruce Springsteen Edges Out Kid Rock for #1 Spot; a Relieved Nation Weeps With Gratitude

| Wed Oct. 24, 2007 6:14 PM EDT

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He couldn't stop George W. Bush, but at least this is something. Billboard magazine is reporting that The Boss' new album Magic just barely beat Kid Rock's Rock N Roll Jesus for the #1 spot this week, with only a few hundred copies separating the two titles. Both albums debuted at #1 (Rock last week and Bruce two weeks ago) and their sales figures fell significantly from previous weeks, with both albums selling just over 77,000 copies, but a few more good Samaritans making sure that Kid Rock's reign was short.

While I haven't heard Kid Rock's whole album, and Kelefa Sanneh of the New York Times kind of liked his show (huh?!), the first single, "So Hott," is probably the most-mocked song of the year amongst people I know, its lyrics ("I don't wanna be your friend/I wanna fuck you like I'm never gonna see you again") so profoundly stupid they almost read as parody. Although, come to think of it, doesn't Thom Yorke sing the first line of that, er, couplet, in "House of Cards" on the new album? Is Kid Rock the American Radiohead?

Back to the charts: in another sign of declining music sales, Jimmy Eat World's latest long-player, Chase This Light, debuted at #5, one notch higher than the 2004 debut of Futures. However, the new CD actually sold only 62,000 copies, less than two-thirds of the 99,000 first-week figure for Futures. And that's without OiNK!

The Greenest (Richest) Colleges

| Wed Oct. 24, 2007 6:07 PM EDT

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The Sustainable Endowments Institute released its 2008 College Sustainability Report Card this week. Download the full report (including a list of the 200 colleges included and their overall green grades) here.

The grades themselves are not especially interesting—with a few exceptions, giant endowment=giant sustainability program. While no one got an A, Harvard and Dartmouth received an A-, and Yale got a B+. Yawn.

But the report does offer a few more newsworthy nuggets. It's interesting to note, for example, that more than one in three schools included in the list have full-time staff dedicated to sustainability, and three in five schools have green building projects.

Freedom Agenda Proponents Depart State Department

| Wed Oct. 24, 2007 5:57 PM EDT

One of the last remaining Liz Cheney acolytes is leaving the State Department. In an email sent to colleagues and friends yesterday and obtained by Mother Jones, David Denehy, who founded the State Department's Office of Iranian Affairs last year and has been a senior advisor on promoting democracy in Iran, announced he is leaving Foggy Bottom later this month.

Here's his email:

Friends:
October 26, 2007 will be my last day with the U.S. Department of State; my decision to leave the administration is due, in part, to my belief that I am better able to serve the goals of the President's Freedom Agenda from outside of government. While there have been many challenges to the work we have done together, the rewards have been equally as great. I leave the Department proud that I was able to work with you to support those seeking to expand personal freedom and democracy in Iran. I urge you that no matter how strenuous the debate of our work that you continue to support those in Iran who cannot speak for themselves. I know that this will not be the last time our paths will cross and wish you all the best of luck in the future; post October 26, 2007, if you would like to write, please feel free to contact me at [redacted].

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Neato Viddys on the Intertubes: Portishead

| Wed Oct. 24, 2007 5:50 PM EDT

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Yesterday, news emerged that legendary (and legendarily unreliable) Bristol combo Portishead were "one day" from finishing their long-awaited third album. Could it be true? With the 'head, one hesitates to get one's hopes up, but just in case, perhaps this is a good time to familiarize ourselves with the band's previous work, or remind you why you care.

Senate Investigates Lack of Radio Love for Arcade Fire (Really!)

| Wed Oct. 24, 2007 4:52 PM EDT

mojo-photo-radio.gifWith the FCC poised to relax media ownership rules again in December, the U.S. Senate is starting to get the message from constituents that maybe it's not such a great idea. During hearings today, Merge records founder and Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan testified about the sad state of radio:

The deregulation that followed the 1996 Telecommunications Act allowed for unprecedented consolidation in commercial radio, which has resulted in a homogeneity that is often out-of-step with artists, entrepreneurs, media professionals and educators—not to mention listeners.

Of course, he couldn't resist getting in a couple plugs for Merge artists Arcade Fire and Spoon:

In 2007, two of the albums we released–by the bands Arcade Fire and Spoon–both debuted in the Billboard Top Ten. They appeared on Saturday Night Live. The mainstream print media has written extensively about them, and both bands tour the world, playing highly successful, sold out concerts. Yet both of these bands have been virtually absent from the commercial airwaves.

Well how do you think they got in the Top Ten? Mac was out there promoting to their target demographics: our nation's elected officials. Actually, he's not being entirely honest: Arcade Fire has received significant radio support, even from giant mainstream juggernauts like LA's KROQ (see "Wake Up" at #37 on their 2005 year-end countdown... right above Foo Fighters). But Arcade Fire are the exception that proves the rule.

Rudy's 'Senior Freedom Adviser': Curtail Arab Birth Rate

| Wed Oct. 24, 2007 3:51 PM EDT

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Lately Philip Weiss, proprietor of the blog Mondoweiss, has been reading up on the work of Peter Berkowitz, a George Mason law professor who moonlights as Rudy Giuliani's "Senior Statecraft, Human Rights and Freedom Advisor" (pretty good gig, if you can get it). Today Weiss dug up a 2004 Weekly Standard article in which Berkowitz offers an analysis of Israeli demographic policies hinging on one overwhelming concern: How do we get Arabs in Israel to stop breeding so damn much? Berkowitz begins by acknowledging that the very term "demographic problem...conjures up illiberal images of a government classifying people by ethnicity, race, or religion." OK, duly noted. And then, natch, Berkowitz goes on to make some chillingly illiberal policy prescriptions. Weiss sums up:

[Berkowitz] said that Arab birth rates are a "threat" to Israel's "political sovereignty and territorial integrity" and came out for a policy aimed at curbing subsidies to large families, thereby limiting Arab birth rates in the Jewish state. It's hard not to describe this attitude as racist. Does Rudy Giuliani endorse such family-planning policies?

Yup, that would be yet another question for an enterprising campaign reporter to ask Giuliani on the trail. I nominate someone from the New York Times, which, as far as I can tell, has completely ignored the Giuliani advisers story. For now, see this American Prospect rundown and this Talking Points Memo video on the subject.

—Justin Elliott

D.C.'s Rich Get Richer (and Black Folks Get Nowhere)

| Wed Oct. 24, 2007 3:33 PM EDT

If George Bush wanted to make record rates of income inequality a major legacy of his administration, he has succeeded wildly right here at home in D.C. A new study by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute shows that the nation's capital leads the country in both high poverty rates and the income gap between white and black people.

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The median income for white people in the nation's capital has skyrocketed to $92,000 in 2006, from $55,000 in 1980. (Apparently all those lobbyists here are really bumping up the numbers!). But the city's black population (nearly 70 percent of city residents) has actually seen its median income fall since 1980, by .6 percent to $34,500. D.C.'s poverty rate is the highest it's been in a decade, and the unemployment rate among black adults is at a 30-year-high. These numbers are all the more stunning when you consider how bad things were ten years ago: the District government was creeping out of bankruptcy, Marion Barry was mayor, and the Redskins has just decamped for Maryland.

The latest bump in poverty and unemployment has occurred during a time of great prosperity in the city, and it's worse than nearly every other major city in America. I can never figure out why the political establishment isn't more ashamed about this. But I guess if you can let New Orleans drown, it's not that hard to ignore the starving masses in the shadow of the White House.