2008 - %3, May

Books: Shelf Help for Mother's Day

| Tue May 6, 2008 11:19 PM EDT

If their "Mother's Day Shopping Guide" is any indication, Barnes and Noble takes a rather dim view of maternal reading habits.

Categories that warrant 40 percent off before Sunday include: "Biographies and Memoirs," "Food and Wine," "Homes and Hobbies," "New Fiction," and "Self-Improvement, Inspiration, and Humor.'

But the pink ghetto in Borders may win this week's catfight. A quick stroll past the Mom-bait table in a Washington, D.C. store today revealed not just a cornucopia of hot pink, cherub-encrusted photo frames and a healthy portion of the "Chicken Soup for the __ Soul" (Grandma, Chocolate Lovers, etc.) empire, but such titles as:

"Don't Go To the Cosmetics Counter Without Me," (7th Edition),

"Busy Woman's Slow Cooker Recipes," (Tagline: "Make 'em happy. Come home to dinner."),

"You, Staying Young,"

and,

"God Thinks You're Wonderful, Mom!"


You know what I want for Mother's Day this year? A wireless mouse. Let me know when you catch up, big B bookstores.

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The Effect of Shifting Expectations

| Tue May 6, 2008 10:37 PM EDT

The numbers out of Indiana show a narrowing race — the difference between the candidates is roughly 33,000 votes out of just under a million cast. That's a four percent lead for Hillary Clinton.

The response from the TV pundits: Is a two-point or three-point victory for Clinton effectively a loss? Does Clinton's massive loss in North Carolina and her tiny victory in Indiana mean that she needs to exit the race? Will superdelegates take her seriously after those results?

What's so interesting about this is that a week or two ago, a lot of polling showed Obama winning Indiana by one to five percent. Almost all of it showed him winning North Carolina by double digits. But Obama had such a miserable two weeks going into today's vote that the expectations shifted. Ironically, the beating Obama has taken recently may have helped him.

Update: Just want to add something quickly. The Clinton campaign surrogates on TV tonight are latching onto Michigan and Florida as their lifeline. If only Obama hadn't blocked a revote in Michigan and Floriday, they say, this would be an even race. I'm not sure that's true. If you assume Clinton nets 50-70 delegates in those two states (and that's being very generous), Clinton is still losing the pledged delegate count. That's how large Obama's lead is at the moment.

NC for Obama, Indiana Undeclared; Let's Look at the Exits

| Tue May 6, 2008 9:12 PM EDT

If you're following the primary tonight, you've probably seen the news on TV: Obama has won North Carolina, in what appears to be a decisive victory, and Indiana is too close to call.

Here's what the exits are saying. In North Carolina, Clinton won white women 64-32 and white men 54-40. In Indiana, she won white women 61-39 and white men 58-41. Those numbers are roughly equivalent, and would suggest that the results from both states ought to be the same. The reason they likely will not be? The size of the black population. In North Carolina, blacks are 33 percent of the vote. In Indiana, they're just 15. In both states, they went for Obama by over 90 percent. The takeaway: racial voting blocks acted in consistent fashion across states today; it was their size that made the difference.

Comparing today's numbers to Ohio's should give us a fair sense of how the race has changed since March 4. In the Buckeye State, Clinton won white women 67-31 and white men 58-39. That means that Obama is doing slightly better nowadays with white women and roughly the same with white men. It's hard to read too much into these numbers, because the differences in question are probably just barely outside the margin of error, if they are at all. That said, the fact that Obama is doing as well with white voters as he did before the Reverend Wright situation really took off (he may even be doing slightly better!) is a sign of good things for Obama.

Happy 60th. Sorry About That Indictment.

| Tue May 6, 2008 7:03 PM EDT

Talk about awkward timing. Next week, President Bush heads to Israel to mark that country's sixtieth anniversary celebrations. But as Israeli media have reported this week, a rapidly moving corruption investigation has put the political future of Bush's chief interlocutor there, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, in jeopardy.

Israeli media are subject to a sweeping court gag order inhibiting them from reporting details of the investigation. But today, the New York Post reported that a New York financier, Morris Talansky, with residences in Long Island and an apartment in Jerusalem, is central to the investigation of whether Olmert took bribes when he served as mayor of Jerusalem:

Music: New Coldplay Single Downloaded Two Million Times, Kind of Sucks

| Tue May 6, 2008 5:29 PM EDT

mojo-photo-coldplayviva.jpgBritish band Coldplay posted a link to a new song, "Violet Hill," on their official website starting last Tuesday, and since then the free download has been accessed over two million times, reports the UK Telegraph. To put it in perspective, the Telegraph says that all the UK top 40 singles combined sold around 500,000 copies in the same period. Lesson: People like free stuff.

Coldplay released the single in advance of their somewhat-anticipated new album, Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (out June 17th), an appallingly-titled collection of songs which, as we reported here on the Riff last year, were supposed to have a "Hispanic theme." However, "Violet Hill" has about as much Latin flavor as an Eskimo pie, and lead singer Chris Martin is even singing about cold weather: "Was a long and dark December/From the rooftops I remember/There was snow/White snow." As opposed to the purple kind? The song opens with a whooshy, 40-second intro, then erupts into a turgid, stomping beat, reminiscent of nothing so much as "Bennie and the Jets." It should either be twice as fast or twice as slow. Okay, I guess I kind of like the refrain, "If you love me, won't you let me know," but let's compare and contrast: the other day I heard "Warning Sign" on the radio, a stunning ballad from 2002's Rush of Blood to the Head. An insistent, wobbling tone, alternating between two notes, gives the song a hypnotic sense of uncertainty, building in intensity until a sudden acoustic coda in a new key finds Martin hoping to "crawl back into your open arms." Structured similarly but lacking even a modicum of "Sign"'s emotional complexity, "Hill" is a pale, white-snow-colored imitation.

Download "Violet Hill" on Coldplay's web site here.

After the jump, check out a cute fan-made video for "Warning Sign."

White House Admits It Is Missing Email Backup Tapes From Start of Iraq War

| Tue May 6, 2008 4:27 PM EDT

The White House acknowledged in a court filing last night that it no longer has backup tapes of email from between March 1 and May 22, 2003, a period that includes the beginning of the Iraq war.

Yesterday's filing (PDF) is the latest development in the ongoing White House emails lawsuit, in which two non-profits, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the National Security Archive (NSA), are suing to force the administration to recover any missing emails and institute a more effective email archiving system. (For the full story on the missing emails, check out our missing White House emails index.) The filing comes on the heels of several seemingly contradictory statements by administration officials about whether the allegedly missing emails are available on backup tapes. The court had asked the administration to clear up the confusion by clearly stating which backup tapes it does and does not have for the period between March 2003 and October 2005.

In their filing, administration officials claim they have 438 backup tapes for the period between May 23, 2003 and September 29, 2003. The White House stopped its foolish policy of recycling backup tapes in early October 2003, so all the backup tapes made after that date are supposedly preserved—some 60,000 of them. But even the emergency recovery backup tapes the White House does have are far from a fool-proof source for recovering missing emails. Any email that arrived and was deleted in between backups wouldn't be preserved, since backup tapes take a digital "picture" of the data on a drive at a given time. And while that problem applies to all the backups, it's especially concerning for the period between May 23 and September 29, 2003, for which the White House says it has 438 backup tapes. That is a low number of backup tapes per day for an entity as large as the Executive Office of the President, so backups may not have been made for all offices in the EOP on all days during that time. Even if backups were made every day for every component of the EOP, emails could still escape archiving if they were sent, received, and deleted in between backups.

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Syriana, the Rendon Group Edition (Updated)

| Tue May 6, 2008 4:20 PM EDT

Is Washington showing new signs of willingness to test out opportunities for increased diplomacy with Syria?

On May 5, the Rendon Group, a government consulting group which worked closely with Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, was asked to organize a "narrow focus discussion group" to examine the case of Badran Turki Hishan Al Mazidih, according to a Washington source with an ear on the Levant. The Syria-based Al Mazidih, also known as Abu Ghadiyah, runs the Al Qaeda in Iraq "facilitation network, which controls the flow of money, weapons, terrorists, and other resources through Syria into Iraq," the Treasury Department said in a February press release announcing his designation as a terrorist. "Former AQI leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi appointed Badran as AQI's Syrian commander for logistics in 2004. After Zarqawi's death, Badran began working for the new AQI leader, Abu Ayyub Al-Masri. As of late-September 2006, Badran took orders directly from Masri, or through a deputy."

The group assembled by Rendon yesterday consisted of Defense, State Department and Intelligence analysts, according to this source. They concluded, he said, "that the US needed to send a message requesting Damascus' assistance on Abu Ghadiyah. But it should not be seen by Damascus as an American message." Ideas were floated to ask the Turks, or the French to play the intermediary. "A request will be made to the Iraqis to ask the Syrians for Abu Ghadiya's extradition," he says.

The alleged Rendon Group meeting comes amid reports that principal deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs Jeffrey Feltman, a former US ambassador to Lebanon, recently held a rare meeting with Syria's ambassador to the US Imad Mustafa. After the meeting, the Syrian ambassador flew to Damascus for consultations.

What's going on?

As Putin Leaves, Russia Rolls Out The Tanks (And Prepares For War?)

| Tue May 6, 2008 4:02 PM EDT

putinstalinlenin.jpg

Tomorrow, eight years after taking power, Russian president Vladimir Putin will turn the reigns of government over to his anointed successor, Dmitry Medvedev. And in keeping with the spirit of Putin's rule, the former KGB man's departure (and the arrival of the like-minded Medvedev) will be celebrated with one last dose of Soviet anachronism: a parade of military hardware in Red Square, the first such demonstration since the fall of the "Evil Empire." According to the Wall Street Journal's Andrew Osborn, over 100 tanks and mobile missile launchers, escorted by about 6,000 ground troops, will parade past the Kremlin, while more than 30 strategic bombers and fighters roar overhead.

More from the Journal:

Departing President Vladimir Putin said Monday that the parade isn't irresponsible saber-rattling but proof of the country's military resurgence. "We are not threatening anyone and don't plan to," he told a farewell cabinet meeting. "This is a demonstration of our growing defense capability."
The parade will be the first time the successor to the Red Army has showed off its armor and missiles on the storied square since 1990, when the faltering Soviet Communist party celebrated the Russian revolution for the last time. Friday's parade will mark the anniversary of the allied defeat of Nazi Germany.

Why Democrats Are Promoting Gingrich's Worries Regarding the 2008 Elections

| Tue May 6, 2008 3:06 PM EDT

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee--the Democratic Party entity responsible for supporting House candidates--is happy that Newt Gingrich is not happy. On Tuesday, it zapped around a piece that Gingrich wrote for the conservative Human Events magazine, in which he cited the Democrat's recent win in a congressional special election in Louisiana as one helluva warning for the Republican party. Gingrich wrote:

Saturday's loss was in a district that President Bush carried by 19 percentage points in 2004 and that the Republicans have held since 1975.
This defeat follows on the loss of Speaker Hastert's seat in Illinois. That seat had been held by a Republican for 76 years with the single exception of the 1974 Watergate election when the Democrats held it for one term. That same seat had been carried by President Bush 55-44% in 2004.

Gingrich notes that congressional Democrats lead congressional Republicans in generic polling by 18 points nowadays, "reminiscent of the depths of the Watergate disaster." And bashing Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton ain't gonna help the GOPers running for House and Senate seats:

MoJo Nukes Convo: Judith Lewis Highlights

| Tue May 6, 2008 1:23 PM EDT

judith-headshot.jpgJudith Lewis, author of our May/June 2008 feature "The Nuclear Option," has been writing about nuclear energy-related issues for some time. While she has some safety concerns about nuclear power, she says that if we are as concerned about carbon in the environment as we say we are, then we cannot afford to ignore the relatively carbon-free electricity nuclear plants provide. At the same time, she says, "while we consider it, we also have to understand that the nuclear industry also has a lot of problems associated with it."

The main problems, as Lewis sees them, are the radioactive waste produced by nuclear power, the industry's faulty monitoring agency, and a geologic waste repository built on top of an active fault line. In the end, Lewis says, "only public participation can force industry and government regulators to do their jobs right."

Here are some of Judith Lewis's key comments from last week's Blue Marble expert-moderated reader conversation:
"On greenhouse gas emissions alone, nuclear energy does very well. While coal-fired electricity generation emits around 900 kg of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, nuclear leaves us with only 16 to 55 kg CO2 per MWh (that's including mining, milling, enrichment, plant construction, waste disposal—the whole deal)...whether the pros outweight the cons really does depend on how urgently worried we are about catastrophic climate change."

"The notion that coal releases more radioactivity than nuclear is a popular one in with the nuclear industry right now, but I'm not sure it's their soundest argument. Many coal plants were built before we knew enough to put buffer zones between them and residential communities, so people live closer to whatever radioactivity they release. We do know that 24,000 people die a year because of pollution from coal-fired power plants...and then there's the carbon."

"I notice that this discussion swings wildly between extremes (Nuclear has no environmental impact! Solar is the only way! Nuclear will save the world!), but I suspect the real answers lie somewhere in the middle."

Our readers also had some words for Judith. Below are a few highlights:
"Judith: Thank you for your response that included the numerical data from nuclear fuel cycle studies. It is nice to see someone who thinks and recognizes that facts and figures matter more than vague generalizations."—Rod Adams

"Coal plants cause ~24,000 deaths annually, in addition to being the largest single source of global warming. Nuclear plants have no measurable impact (~0 deaths) and have a negligible global warming impact. Even the worst possible accident/meltdown event that could occur at a Western reactor would cause far fewer deaths than US coal plants do ANNUALLY."—Jim Hopf

"There is a reason there seems to be little middle ground in these nukes versus renewables debates (of which this one seems fairly typical) which is that there really isn't any. I don't see a "mix" of nukes and renewables as being desirable because of the horrifying killing power of atomic energy, both weapons and reactors. And since I agree with Al Gore that nuke power is not a solution to global warming, I am opposed to any and all of them."—Harvey Wasserman

Read the full conversation here.