2008 - %3, July

Solar Nirvana

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 9:03 PM EDT

Dish_Stirling_Systems_of_SBP_in_Spain.JPG Science is publishing an MIT paper (in press) outlining a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal boutique energy source into the mainstream.

The breakthrough revolves around storing energy when the sun isn't shining—an expensive pitfall until now.

The new method uses the sun's energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Like photosynthesis.

Later the two can be recombined inside a fuel cell to create carbon-free electricity. Like running a fuel cell backwards.

The good part is the system would work day or night. The other good part is it requires nothing but abundant, nontoxic natural materials.

"This is the nirvana of what we've been talking about for years," said senior author Daniel Nocera. "Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon."

For those who want to know how it works…

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McCain Finally Gets His Very Own Song

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 8:35 PM EDT

mojo-photo-mccainandrich.jpgWith all these terrible tributes to Obama, it has seemed unfair that McCain hasn't had any unintentionally hilarious tunes penned for his campaign. But now that imbalance has been rectified, and it's almost too good to be true: it's a song called "Raising McCain" and it's by John Rich of Big and Rich. Honestly, this is the kind of stuff that makes me glad to be alive. Billboard has this quote from the song's lyrics:

He stayed strong,
Stayed extra long,
Til they let all the other boys out.
Now we've got a real man
With an American plan
We're going to put him in the big White House.
Refrain: We're all just raising McCain.

Does "house" rhyme with "out?" And is anybody else getting a weirdly homoerotic vibe? "Extra long," "real man," "raising"... no? You don't want to go there? Okay, but either way, it's just spectacular. Rich told Billboard that he'll debut the song tomorrow at "Country First," a festival in Panama City, Florida, with McCain in attendance. "The entire world is looking for a way to sucker punch us," said Rich, "I think John McCain is the guy to keep us safe." But who will protect us from terrible country-rock ballads?

New Music: Plastilina Mosh - All U Need is Mosh

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 7:09 PM EDT

mojo-photo-pmoshalluneed.jpgWhen is a band not a band? Okay, the bio says Plastilina Mosh is a duo from Monterrey, Mexico, and they have albums and some hit singles just like other bands. But they sure don't take themselves very seriously. In a recent interview, multi-instrumentalist Alejandro Rosso said they didn't think of P-Mosh as a "career":

At this point, if you think about it, most of the groups that started with our generation, like Molotov, Control Machete, Zurdok, they're no longer here, and we go on with the same idea, that is to not take everything so seriously, we do not believe that we are the truth nor are we an innovative group. We are a project that amuses us and we take this lightly, and somehow it's worked.

It's worked, but it can be a little disorienting. For All U Need is Mosh, the duo's first album of new material in five years, they've reinvented themselves again, with strange, intriguing results.

Hunting Season is Open on Polar Bears' ESA Listing

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 4:12 PM EDT

Even before the polar bear received "threatened" status under the Endangered Species Act in May, a host of organizations were already laying the groundwork for a legal challenge. As early as last January, Jim Sims, the president and CEO of the Western Business Roundtable, which reps for oil and mining interests, sent an email to colleagues detailing a strategy to "quite possibly reverse" the ruling, if the worst came to pass. Part of it would involve litigation filed by a "truly extraordinary plaintiff": Roy Innis, the chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a decades-old civil rights group that has taken a sharp turn to the right under his leadership, joining forces with conservative activists particularly on issues related to the environment.

It looks like the plan is finally in motion. On Wednesday, the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative legal advocacy group that is representing CORE, the California Cattleman's Association, and the California Forestry Association, has sent what's known as a "60-Day Notice" (which is required before formally filing suit in this case) to Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. "You are advised immediately to withdraw the Final Rule as unlawful and unwarranted," the letter states. "Failure to do so will result in legal action to invalidate the final rule."

Have Your Say on Proposed Government Transparency Legislation

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 3:33 PM EDT

While it continues to press its "Let Our Congress Tweet" campaign, the Sunlight Foundation—a Washington-based non-profit that pushes ways for technology to increase transparency in government—today released a revised version of another of its projects, the Transparency in Government Act 2008. The model legislation, which intends to update congressional disclosure requirements to meet modern technological standards, is the product of a period of public comment hosted electronically at PublicMarkup.org. Since March, interested netizens have been able to use the site to add their input to the bill on subjects like whether Congressional Research Service reports should be made public, whether political action committees and candidates should be compelled to disclose campaign finance receipts, and whether disclosure requirements for lobbyists should be expanded. You are now free to comment on the revised version if you wish, while Sunlight continues negotiations on Capitol Hill for the bills introduction in Congress.

Richest 1 Percent Get Biggest Share of Income Ever; Inequality At Record High: What Do We Do?

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 3:32 PM EDT

In 2006, the richest one percent of Americans garnered the largest share of the national income since 1929, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. The Journal, which based its conclusions on the most recent available IRS data, also noted that in 2006 the richest one percent's average tax rate fell to its lowest level in 18 years. Who are these richest one percenters we hear so much about? Well, in 2008, the richest one percent of Americans make at least $462,000 a year, and the average income of the group is almost $1.5 million. Bush administration tax policies have been especially kind to this group, which has reaped the bulk of the country's economic gains since 2001. That has led to record income inequality, and, of course, to hearings on Capitol Hill. More on that after the jump.

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Oliver Stone on the President's Son

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 3:21 PM EDT

The barely credible drama of the Bush family has been compared before to the Kennedys, the Corleones, and even the Macbeths, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before Oliver Stone took it on.

And now he has.

Here's the trailer for W., the new Stone movie that takes viewers through the 43rd president's action-packed life. Josh Brolin—who apparently got really involved in the role—plays our president from his time as a college student through the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

Stone is no supporter of Bush, and the movie is sure to be unflattering.

Still, it doesn't look like there will be any big surprises in W. Bad student, bad businessman, bad governor, bad president. Sprinkle on a little drug use and alcoholism and it's the standard bad Bush presentation. And because this is Oliver Stone, W. will probably be full of lies. That's too bad, because there's not really much need for embellishment in this story.

One made up moment in the film occurs when George Bush Sr. is elected president: "I'll never get out of Poppy's shadow," W. tells his wife. "They'll all keep saying what's the boy ever done … I mean who ever remembers the son of a president?"

The future first lady then reportedly gives a deeply ironic three-word answer: " John Quincy Adams."

W. appears in theaters October 17.

—Daniel Luzer

Primary Sources: DOJ Memos to CIA

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 2:44 PM EDT

Last week, the ACLU released three previously sealed memos written by various CIA and Department of Justice officials, from George Tenet on down the line, that outlined the departments' policies on torturing prisoners. The heavily redacted notes shed more light on just how slyly the two agencies sidestepped the law to escape any blame for torture.

One memo from 2004 indicates interrogators should only use "interrogation techniques, including the waterboard" if they clearly understand the "legal and policy matters" of those devices. The problem is those policy matters contradict each other and ultimately present an incredibly narrow opinion of what constitutes torture. The memo reminds the interrogator the US has implemented Article 16 of the UN's Convention Against Torture. Article 16 outlaws "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" during an interrogation that do not necessarily amount to torture.

Judge: Current and Former White House Aides Must Comply With Congressional Subpoenas

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 1:56 PM EDT

white-house.jpg

U.S. District Judge John Bates issued a ruling today that former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten must comply with the subpoenas issued to them by the House Judiciary Committee. The subpoenas were issued as part of Congress's investigation into the allegedly politically-motivated firing of eight US attorneys. The White House had argued that Miers and Bolten were immune from testifying or sending documents to Congress, but Bush-appointed judge John D. Bates was having none of it. Bates, regarded as a pro-administration judge, said in his decision that the White House's claim that its aides were always and in all circumstances immune from subpoenas was "unprecedented" and "without any support in case law." Glenn Greenwald, who goes deeper into the legal implications of this ruling, pointed to a passage from page 78 of the ruling as especially important:

The Executive cannot identify a single judicial opinion that recognizes absolute immunity for senior presidential advisors in this or any other context. That simple but critical fact bears repeating: the asserted immunity claim here is entirely unsupported by case law. In fact, there is Supreme Court authority that is all but conclusive on this question and that powerfully suggests that such advisors to not enjoy absolute immunity.

That's a pretty serious smackdown of the administration coming from the same judge who said in 2002 that Dick Cheney could keep his Energy Task Force records secret from the Government Accountability Office. The White House will likely appeal the ruling, but it's unlikely to get a judge more favorably inclined towards the Bush administration than Bates. Still, the appeal will keep Bates' ruling—which would have required Miers to testify and required both Bolten and Miers to hand over documents—from being enforced until there is a final judgment. And as in the White House emails case, the Bush administration may be able to simply run out the clock.

Photo by flickr user dcjohn used under a Creative Commons license.

Leaders of "Al Qaeda in Iraq" Now in Afghanistan?

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 1:29 PM EDT

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With this morning's report by the Washington Post that senior leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq may now be operating in Afghanistan, it's difficult not to see the decreasing violence in Iraq in a new light. Attacks are way down, yes, and the number of insurgents crossing into Iraq from neighboring countries has fallen to about 20, down from an average of 110 last summer, according to an intelligence analyst interviewed by the Post. But Al Qaeda, despite the intense military pressure being brought to bear on it, has proven to be remarkably resilient and tough to kill, organizationally-speaking.

The problem, according a new report (.pdf) by the RAND Corporation, lies in how we've chosen to deal with Al Qaeda. The "War on Terror" paradigm is fundamentally misguided, says Seth Jones, the study's lead author. "Police and intelligence agencies, rather than the military, should be the tip of the spear against al Qaeda in most of the world."

To make their case, RAND researchers analyzed 648 terrorist groups that operated between 1968 (the year Palestinian extremists inaugurated terrorism's modern age) and 2006. How did these terrorist groups meet their end? The study found that 43 percent of them entered the political process, whereas 40 percent were dismantled by the efforts of police and intelligence organizations or by decapitation strikes against their leadership. Just 7 percent were subdued by military force. (The remaining 10 percent of terrorist groups achieved their goals... so don't believe the mantra that terrorism doesn't work. Unfortunately, it does, at least on occasion.)