2009 - %3, June

DC Metro Crash Photo - Metro Red Line

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 5:09 PM PDT

David Corn is at the site of today's fatal Metro accident, and forwards this photo:Our thoughts are with the victims and their families.

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New Tupac Album to Drop, Some Things Will Never Change

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 4:36 PM PDT

Well, Death Row Records has done it again. After declaring bankruptcy earlier this year the label is back in action, and another Tupac album is anticipated for 2010. How does this still work? That 13 years after his death people are still clamoring for his albums? For starters, Tupac, for better and worse, shaped today's hip-hop. And because Tupac—while he had lots of issues—was honest and prescient in his lyrics, so much so that his songs continue to tell the story of the day 13 years after his death. In fact, my one-year-old niece is a Tupac fan. She listens to Tupac ("Ooo ooo child, things are gonna get easier...") right alongside Free to Be You and Me, and I'm glad that when she understands the line in Changes, "We ain't ready to see a black President," she'll wonder what he meant. But unfortunately the rest of his classic ballad still holds true today, right down to the war on poverty and the war in the Middle East.

Maybe if Tupac were still alive he'd have gotten sucked into The Surreal Life or I'm a Celebrity... or some other awful reality show, which would mean he likely wouldn't be the Tupac people still admire, the rapper who made his life (and through creative Dr. Dre marketing, his death) about injustice and candor.

Got any favorite Tupac lines? "They got money for wars, but can't feed the poor"; "Do what you gotta do, but know you got to change/ Try to find a way to make it out of the game"; "Time to heal our women, be real to our women / And if we don't we'll have a race of babies / That will hate the ladies, that make the babies/ And since a man can't make one / He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one."

Lyricize in the comments.

SCOTUS Allows Waste Dumping in Alaska Lake

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 4:14 PM PDT

In a major setback for the people and wildlife of southern Alaska, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 today that the Coeur d’Alene Mines Corporation can legally under the Clean Water Act dump more than 4.5 million tons of “slurry”—a mining waste byproduct that’s a mixture of crushed rock and water—in the Lower Slate Lake in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The ruling overturned a May 2007 decision by a lower appeals court denying Coeur d’Alene’s permit, which applies to its Kensington Gold Mine north of Juneau, Alaska's capital city.

But isn’t the Clean Water Act supposed to protect our lakes and rivers and other water sources? Well, yes. For nearly 30 years, the CWA expressly prohibited pumping harmful waste materials into waters, allowing only "fill material" for building structures like seawalls and levees to be dumped, and only then with permits from the Army Corps of Engineers. But in 2002, the Bush Administration tweaked the definition of "fill" to include dangerous waste products with an EPA memo that the public never saw. The memo's expansion of the "fill" definition permitted harmful slurry dumping into lakes and other water sources. In making its decision today, the Supreme Court relied on this memo.
 

Cute Endangered Animal of the Week: Ocelot

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 2:08 PM PDT

Last week's cute endangered animal, the Hawaiian Monk Seal, was an ocean creature, so this week's pick is from the land: the ocelot. The ocelot is a nocturnal wildcat known for its strikingly beautiful coat. The 4'-long, 24 to 35lb animals used to roam from Texas through Louisiana and Arkansas but due to habitat destruction by roads and agriculture, today there are fewer than 100 of the cats in the wild left in the US.

One obstacle to conservation is that like many wild cats, ocelots are solitary and need a large range, 500 acres for a single adult. Ocelots are also picky about what kind of land they will call home: they prefer dense brush with trees (so they can hide and sleep during the day) and need a steady supply of small mammals, rodents, lizards, or other prey to live on. Fun fact: ocelots will pluck all the feathers and fur off their prey before eating it.

Although ocelots are endangered, some people apparently keep them as pets, and they are popular as zoo exhibits. Ocelots seem to do fine in captivity, living up to 20 years: their lifespan in the wild is only seven to 10 years. Though ocelots are endangered in the US, they can be found wild in various parts of Central and South America. The US population, however, has a peculiar enemy: cars. The animals seem to have little concern for traffic running through the nature preserves on which they generally live, and being hit by a car kills 2% of the ocelot population in a given year.

Though the ocelot seems to have little chance for recovery in the US, there is news of a feral population in Florida. Spanish painter Salvador Dali had a pet ocelot named Ozzie, but in general the cats are known to make poor pets. However, those desiring the ocelot's distinctive coat can settle for the "ocicat": an entirely domestic cat that looks like an ocelot, but doesn't have the loudly yowling, aggressively affectionate, spray-happy attributes of its wild cousin. (To hear the growls of an ocelot in heat, click here.)

 

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And the Oddest Political Story Award Goes To....

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 1:46 PM PDT

The weirdest political story in a long time--sorry, Senator Craig. From The State newspaper in South Carolina:

The whereabouts of Gov. Mark Sanford was unknown for nearly four days, and some state leaders question who was in charge of the executive office.

But Sanford’s office told the lieutenant governor’s office Monday afternoon that Sanford has been reached and he is fine, said Frank Adams, head of Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s office on aging.

Neither the governor’s office nor the State Law Enforcement Division, which provides security for governors, had been able to reach Sanford after he left the mansion Thursday in a black SLED Suburban SUV, said Sen. Jake Knotts and three others familiar with the situation but declined to be identified.

Sanford’s last known whereabouts had been near Atlanta because a mobile telephone tower picked up a signal from his phone, authorities said. His office now knows where he is, Adams said.

First lady Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press earlier Monday her husband has been gone for several days and she did not know where.

She said she was not concerned.

Your Intifada: Now Made in China!

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 1:34 PM PDT

Oh, the keffiyeh hipster trend. How long have I waited, in vain, for you to die? Once upon a time, the keffiyeh (spelled many ways but worn only one) was headdress for PLO leader Yasser Arafat and symbol of Palestinian nationalism. Now, thanks to a late aughts explosion of popularity, the symbol of intifada is second only to the Che t-shirt for its global ubiquity and collegiate rebel chic. Today, you can buy this fashion juggernaut from half the street vendors on Earth for a cool five bucks. So with all this popularity, why is the the last keffiyeh factory in Palestine about to go out of business?
That's because the one you're wearing (and, increasingly, the ones Palestinians are wearing) are now made in China.
Here's how it happened: Back in '87, during the first intifada, intifadniks couldn't get enough of Palestinian-made $25 scarves. Looser export restrictions meant that Israelis could rep them too, and slowly but surely the scarf and its emblematic pattern began appearing in the West. By the time the second intifada happened in 2000, hardcore activists and the super cool already had them. Then the keffiyeh trend reached its tipping point, and hipsters' insatiable lust for the scarf lured Chinese manufactures into the gig. Fast forward a decade, and Chinese keffiyehs are the norm.
Ironically, global support for Palestinian-statehood-as-fashion-accessory has put yet another nail in the coffin of the Occupied Territories' beleaguered economy. What's next?

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Al Qaeda Says It Would Use Pakistan's Nukes on US

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 1:31 PM PDT

The stakes are high in the Pakistani military's fight against Islamist militants in the Swat Valley. If you need reminding, just take Monday's threat by Mustafa Abul-Yazeed, Al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan, said to be the group's number three leader behind Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Speaking to al-Jazeera, he warned that, were Al Qaeda able to gain access to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, it would not hesitate to use it against the United States. Of course, according Bruce Riedel, the former CIA officer who led the Obama administration's retooling of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, Islamabad's nukes are "well protected, concealed, and dispersed." But Abul-Yazeed's claim (empty or not) is a reminder that Al Qaeda continues to think big in terms of the damage it hopes to inflict. From UPI:

"By God's will, the Americans will not seize the Muslims' nuclear weapons and we pray that the Muslims will have these weapons and they will be used against the Americans," [Abul-Yazeed] said in an exclusive interview.

Abul-Yazeed told al-Jazeera that al-Qaida had been assisting Taliban militants in their fight against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and against Pakistani government forces in that country's Swat Valley and tribal areas.

He predicted insurgents would defeat the government in the Swat battles. He also said al-Qaida's two main leaders, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, "are safe from the reach of the enemies, but I don't know where they are and I can't say where they are, but they are aware of everything and all the fighting in the field."

Neda

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 1:24 PM PDT

"Neda," it turns out, is Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old native of Tehran who was shot dead during Saturday's clashes at Azadi Square.  Borzou Daragahi of the LA Times reports from Tehran:

Security forces urged Neda's friends and family not to hold memorial services for her at a mosque and asked them not to speak publicly about her, associates of the family said. Authorities even asked the family to take down the black mourning banners in front of their house, aware of the potent symbol she has become.

But some insisted on speaking out anyway, hoping to make sure the world would not forget her. Neda Agha-Soltan was born in Tehran, they said, to a father who worked for the government and a mother who was a housewife. They were a family of modest means, part of the country's emerging middle class who built their lives in rapidly developing neighborhoods on the eastern and western outskirts of the city.

Like many in her neighborhood, Neda was loyal to the country's Islamic roots and traditional values, friends say, but also curious about the outside world, which is easily accessed through satellite television, the Internet and occasional trips abroad....But she was never an activist, they added, and she began attending the mass protests only because of a personal sense of outrage over the election results.

"She was a person full of joy," said her music teacher and close friend Hamid Panahi. "She was a beam of light. I'm so sorry. I was so hopeful for this woman." The Lede has more, including a report that Basij militia members and police officers broke up a memorial service for Soltan on Monday by violently beating and arresting the protesters.

Barney Frank to F-22: Drop Dead

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 1:16 PM PDT

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has authored an amendment that would remove funding for the extra F-22s that the House Armed Services committee slipped into the defense budget authorization bill last week, his office has just confirmed.

Here's the story so far: at around 2.30 a.m. on Wednesday last week, a bare majority of lawmakers on the committee voted to take $368 million allocated for environmental cleanup of defense sites and re-route it to buy parts for the F-22, thus committing the Pentagon to an extra 12 planes. Frank's amendment would reverse that maneuver.

Frank is one of the few reliable voices on the Hill in favor of dramatically reducing military spending: earlier this year he called for the defense budget to be slashed by 25 percent. (The Obama administration declined to follow his advice.) It's too early to tell whether his amendment can overcome the deep congressional support for the F-22—first his proposal has to make it through the Rules Committee, which gets to decide which amendments to the bill will come up for a vote. That will probably happen late Wednesday. We'll keep you posted; in the meantime, you can check out our ongoing coverage of the defense budget here.

UPDATE: On a conference call on Tuesday afternoon about the amendment, Frank was in fine caustic form:

On the F-22: "This will probably be the only combat the F-22 has ever engaged in or will engage in."

On his fellow lawmakers who are keeping it alive:"I'm struck that so many of my colleagues are worried about the deficit but apparently think the Pentagon is funded with Monopoly money."

Frank was very blunt about the significance of the F-22 to Obama's promises to clean up Pentagon waste: "If we cannot hold the line on this, it's very bad news for holding down excesses in military spending."

UPDATE II: Frank's amendment failed. So the F-22 stays in the House version of the bill.

 

Obama and Iran and Intelligence

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 12:58 PM PDT

On Sunday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, said that she wasn't too happy with US intelligence on Iran:

I don’t think our intelligence – candidly — is that good. I think it’s a very difficult country in which to collect intelligence right now. I think our ability to get in there and change the course of human events is very low.

Now there's a big difference in the spy world between intelligence-gathering (obtaining information on what's happening in another state) and covert action (running operations to affect developments in another country, such as fomenting a coup). By and large, most people would like to see the US intelligence community do a good—if not really good—job at the former. But once again, according to DiFi, the spies are falling short.