2008 - %3, April

Petraeus To Lead Central Command

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 12:24 PM EDT

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For those serving at the pleasure of the president, it's never been a good idea to speak out against his policies—a lesson Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon learned recently when Esquire magazine, as part of a lengthy profile, described him as the only thing standing between Bush and war with Iran. Fallon tendered his resignation (read: was fired) shortly after the article's publication. The news today is that General David Petraeus, one of Fallon's primary opponents in intra-Pentagon squabbles and a practiced public supporter of the Bush administration's Iraq strategy, will be taking over the job of his former nemesis. Read the AP story here, which reports that Bush plans to nominate Petraeus as the next commander of U.S. Central Command.

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Wal-Mart Rations Rice

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 12:24 PM EDT

rice100.jpgShoot! You were planning a rice-and-beans dinner party for 100, and you thought for sure your local Wal-Mart would meet all your bulk rice needs.

Think again. Because of rising rice prices around the globe and worries about shortages, the biggest big box has announced that it will ration long grain, jasmine, and basmati rice, allowing customers to purchase only four bags per visit.

Since the beginning of 2008, rice prices have risen 68 percent worldwide. This is one of the main reasons that food riots have broken out recently all over the developing world.

Saint Louis Meriska's children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, "They look at me and say, 'Papa, I'm hungry,' and I have to look away. It's humiliating and it makes you angry."

In light of this two-spoonfuls anecdote, Wal-Mart's four-bag limit sounds downright decadent, but rice rationing in the U.S. means that whatever is going on with supply and demand trends is not good. Once land-o'-plenty retailers start fretting about global food shortages, you can be sure it's time to worry.

Will Low-Carbon Diets Catch On?

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 12:20 PM EDT

Britain's largest food retailer, Tesco, says it's going to start putting carbon footprint labels on food in its stores next month. Although the "carbon labels" will only be on food produced under Tesco's own brand name, it will be the first time a major food retailer has made such a move. Tesco worked with the Carbon Trust to find a way to calculate foods' footprints and create the labels. "It has not been simple, but we are there," said Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy. Leahy said details will be revealed and he hopes Tesco's labels "will end up being a standard."

Stateside, the LA Times reports that 400 college eateries serviced by Bon Appetit Management Co. will be able to provide a "low carbon diet" to students. One sign posted at a "low carbon" college cafe had a sign posted saying "Cows or cars? Worldwide, livestock emits 18% of greenhouse gases, more than the transportation sector! Today we're offering great-tasting vegetarian choices." Translation: no hamburgers today.

There have been a few disgruntled students, but Bon Appetit aims to reduce its carbon footprint by 25% by serving more vegetarian entrees and less beef, lamb, and cheese. This may sound like a small change, but if Bon Appétit's parent company also went low-carbon, it would affect 8,000 locations lincluding sports arenas, public schools, and hospitals.

Jihadists "Branding" Internet Propaganda to Control Message

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 11:09 AM EDT

Daniel Kimmage, a senior analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is the author of a new study called "The Al Qaeda Media Nexus" (.pdf) about recent developments in jihadist Internet activities. The study finds that Al Qaeda and related groups "are moving toward a more structured approach based on consistent branding and quasi-official media entities. Their reasons for doing so appear to be a desire to boost the credibility of their products and ensure message control." In essence, Al Qaeda is seeking to emulate the "brick and mortar" structure of mainstream Western media with the creation of elite news brands—a select group of fundamentalist CNNs, if you will, complete with "jihad correspondents"—that can manipulate and control the virtual discussion among terrorist groups. Online propaganda operations like the Global Islamic Media Front, the Al-Sahab Institute for Media Production, and the Al-Fajr Media Center typically receive content, in the form of ideological screeds or videos of bombings or beheadings, from an array of terrorist groups in various conflict zones around the world, to which they afix a logo, suggesting to jihadist readers that the message has received "official" approval from a larger, global movement.

The trend runs counter to Al Qaeda's operational modus operandi, which emphasizes small cells working in isolation with minimal oversight from Al Qaeda central—a fact that could open Al Qaeda's media arm to new vulnerabilities if intelligence agencies can figure a way to disrupt key online hubs for the distribution of propaganda. But the larger threat may come from within, suggests Kimmage. Al Qaeda has long been ahead of the curve in terms of using the Internet to spread its message, but has so far refused to incorporate new technologies focusing on user-generated content... a decision that has the potential to backfire.

According to Kimmage:

In 2006, Al Qaeda released a big position paper and they warned their supporters against creating their own content. They said this was 'media exuberance' and that their supporters should let the official distribution and production groups handle this. Even when Al Qaeda has tried to be interactive, it is quite old-fashioned. So the question that we end up with is: Al Qaeda—which had done so well using the Internet to spread its message over the last few years—are they now doomed to fade with this new more interactive and user-generated network? And will they be replaced by a much larger, much more integrated, much freer, much more empowered world in which it is very difficult to control messages and in which no one has a monopoly on information?
Freer and more empowered networks, in the end, will do more to undermine Al Qaeda's message than the actions of any government. In the end, an idea that takes root in the political sphere—an idea that encourages people and inspires them to commit violence—it only fades and dies when the idea itself is discredited. The discrediting of this idea, of this ideology, will happen online through a large conversation that takes places mainly without governments.

Clinton Ducks the Weathermen Question

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 10:40 AM EDT

The Hillary Clinton campaign keeps ducking on the Weathermen issue that it tried to use against Barack Obama. First, campaign communications director Howard Wolfson broke a promise to tell reporters what Clinton thought of her husband's 2001 pardon of two Weather Underground radicals who had gone to jail for involvement in violent crimes. Then, yesterday, Clinton herself played dumb when asked about those pardons:

I didn't know anything about it? At what point? The question, though, is, what do you think of those pardons? In this interview, Clinton said, "When you run for president...you know that everything is going to be fair game." So if you're going to blast an opponent for having once held a fundraiser at the apartment of William Ayers, a former Weather Underground radical, you ought to be willing to handle questions regarding your closest campaign adviser's decision to pardon two Weather Underground veterans. That's certainly fair game.

Clarification: Clinton did not issue pardons to the two radicals; he commuted their prison sentences. Media accounts often conflate the two different actions. These two commutations were announced by the White House on January 20, 2001, as part of a long list of almost 140 pardons and commutations, which included the infamous pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich--which was a pardon.

In PA, Clinton Wins by Holding Her Ohio Base

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 6:54 AM EDT

Six weeks ago, Hillary Clinton won Ohio by ten percentage points. Tuesday night, she won Ohio's equally bitter neighbor to the east by ten percentage points. The voting blocks she relied upon to win the two states are the same: Hillary Clinton was twice carried to victory by white voters, female voters, and voters lacking a college education. Barack Obama made headway with older voters, but saw young voter turnout drop. He also gained among independents, but fewer of them turned out to the polls. Hillary Clinton won Pennsylvania because she successfully defended her base for the six weeks between the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4 and the PA primary Tuesday.

According to CNN exit polls, women were huge for Clinton in both contests. They were 59 percent of Democratic voters in both Ohio and Pennsylvania, and she won 57 percent of female voters in both contests. White women were particularly important for Clinton. In both states, two-thirds of white women voted for her.

Obama could point to a modest five point jump among white men and four point jump among whites overall. It did not help Obama that the white vote in Pennsylvania was slightly larger than it was in Ohio (80 percent to 76 percent), and the black vote slightly smaller.

In Ohio, those lacking a college education went 58-40 for Clinton. In Pennsylvania, the numbers were a nearly identical 58-42. It's hard to then point to correlations in under $50,000/over $50,000 voting groups (often, voters lacking a college degree and voters making less than $50,000 show identical trends, indicating that they are in fact the same voters), because Clinton won both income groups Pennsylvania, as she did in Ohio. White collar Pennsylvanians were no more receptive to Obama than their blue collar counterparts.

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Pennsylvania: Clinton Is Alive and Kicking - And Threatening To Tear the Party Apart?

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 12:42 AM EDT

clinton-standing250x200.jpgThe Democratic contest has been a 50-50 proposition for months now--more precisely, a 51-49 percent endeavor or maybe a 52-48-percent face-off in Barack Obama's favor, according to the pledged delegate count and the popular vote. Hillary Clinton's 9-point win in the Keystone State (which apparently did not net her a significant pickup in pledged delegates) does not change this. In fact, her Pennsylvania triumph does not change the fundamentals of the race. Obama is still on track to end the primaries with a slight edge in pledged delegates. And Clinton is still in the race, clinging tightly to her candidacy and reiterating rationales to stay in the hunt: I have more experience; I'm better prepared to be commander-in-chief; I've withstood the worst of the GOP attack machine; I've won the big states.

Bottom line: It's not over, and the contest is not likely to end anytime soon. At HRC HQ in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's campaign manager, ebulliently declared, "She is taking this all the way to Denver." But many Democratic superdelegates and insiders are hardly enthusiastic about a bitterly fought campaign that trudges through the next nine primaries (which conclude in early June) and then continues, as a media-driven contest of Democrat-on-Democrat sniping, for three months until the convention in Denver at the end of August. The question is, will these Democrats be able to do anything about it?

If Clinton is committed to going the distance, she cannot be stopped. No one--not even those mighty superdelegates--can literally force her out. She cannot win the final primaries by margins large enough to erase Obama's lead in voter-determined delegates. Everyone knows that. But she can keep on challenging Obama, doing well enough--winning some contests or placing a strong second--to justify, at least to herself and her supporters, her continued presence in the race. During that time, she can hope something happens that does alter the landscape (look, evidence that Obama is indeed a secret Muslim!), and she can also lay the groundwork for a post-primaries effort to persuade superdelegates to overturn Obama's narrow victory among pledged delegates. Yet that project can only succeed with successful assaults on Obama. Her path to the nomination depends on one fuel: fierce attacks. She can win the nomination only by tearing down Obama after the voting is done and by threatening party unity.

Clinton Fundraising in Overdrive

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 11:37 PM EDT

The Clinton campaign is claiming that it has raised nearly $2.5 million since Pennsylvania was declared a Clinton victory earlier tonight. Eighty percent of the donations are from first-time donors. Those are some pretty astonishing numbers.

For all the talk of Obamamania, there is a real excitement behind the Clinton campaign, too. Where were these candidates in 2004?

Exit Polling from Pennsylvania Shows Victory for Clinton

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 8:12 PM EDT

pennsylvania-map.jpg PHILADELPHIA, PA — I'm at the Park Hyatt in downtown Philadelphia, the location of Hillary Clinton's speech tonight. The networks have the race too close to call, so it will probably be a while before Clinton takes the stage here, or Obama takes the stage in Indiana, where he is spending the night. [Update: Networks call it for Clinton. Margin of victory remains to be seen.]

While we're waiting, let's take a look at some exit polling, shall we? Note that if these are the early exit polls, many voters who headed to their polling places after they got off work are not represented here. For more accurate numbers, wait until the real results roll in. Duh.

As David notes below, women were a stunning 58 percent of all Democratic voters and went for Clinton. Men were just 42 percent of voters and went for Obama. David crunches the numbers and says the final result should be a Clinton win by three points. The spinsters in both campaigns and the talking heads will expend much energy telling us which candidate gets to call that a victory.

Looking at some demographics....

Pennsylvania: Too Close To Call Early--Or Not?

| Tue Apr. 22, 2008 8:07 PM EDT

The polls in Pennsylvania closed a few minutes ago, and CNN and others are reporting that the Obama-Clinton race, according to exit polls, is competitive--that is, too close to call.

But the exit polling, if accurate, indicates a Clinton win--because of the women. The polls show that the electorate was 58 percent female and that the gals voted for Clinton over Obama, 55 to 44 percent. The men--making up a measly 42 percent of the voters--went for Obama over Clinton, 53 to 47 percent, according to the exit polls. If these numbers reflect the real voting, that would mean a narrow Clinton victory, by 3 points.

Already, the Clinton camp is dismissing any interpretation of the margin of victory. A win is a win, Terry McAuliffe, Clinton's campaign manager, said moments ago. Maybe he has that win.