2010 - %3, July

YouTube's Big Gay Fail [VIDEO]

| Tue Jul. 27, 2010 3:12 AM PDT

While the Lutheran church has finally reconciled its faith with the shocking reality that members of its congregation and clergy might be gay, it seems YouTube might still need some help from users.

Ryan James Yezak has a prolific YouTube channel, including an online gay reality show, "In the Loop." But, it's his parody of Katy Perry's summer jam "California Gays" (see below for both videos) that struck internet gold—until YouTube slapped it with an adult content warning. Is a video of boys in short shorts dancing with beach balls really worse than one of Katy Perry in an ejaculating bikini? Let's compare the two:

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 27, 2010

Mon Jul. 26, 2010 11:57 PM PDT

 

US Army Spc. Russell Altman, with Provincial Reconstruction Team Kapisa, mans a M240B machine gun atop a Military All-Terrain Vehicle just outside the Alasay District Center in Afghanistan. Photo via the US Amry by Tech. Sgt. Joe Laws.

Quote of the Day: Political Footballs in Congress

| Mon Jul. 26, 2010 9:34 PM PDT

From Sen. Kay Hagan (D–NC), bemoaning the Judiciary Committee's inaction on a measure congratulating Jimmie Johnson for winning the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup:

I hope we can overcome the stalemate on sports resolutions, so that we can again congratulate great athletes in North Carolina and across the country.

Preach it, senator. You speak for millions of patriotic Americans who are furious at Congress's refusal to honor the University of South Carolina baseball team, the University of Alabama football team, the LSU baseball team, Duke University's basketball team, and U.S. Open golf champion Lucas Glover. Maybe if you ask the White House, Obama will honor these fine athletic heroes via a recess proclamation.
 

Did You Like Inception?

| Mon Jul. 26, 2010 6:24 PM PDT

Do I really have to put a post about Inception below the fold even though it's been out for over a week? I guess so. So it's below the fold.

Steve Gibson is Coming After You

| Mon Jul. 26, 2010 5:03 PM PDT

Threat Level reports that a guy named Steve Gibson has hit on a semi-new way to make money:

Borrowing a page from patent trolls, the CEO of fledgling Las Vegas-based Righthaven has begun buying out the copyrights to newspaper content for the sole purpose of suing blogs and websites that re-post those articles without permission. And he says he’s making money.

....Gibson’s vision is to monetize news content on the backend, by scouring the internet for infringing copies of his client’s articles, then suing and relying on the harsh penalties in the Copyright Act — up to $150,000 for a single infringement — to compel quick settlements. Since Righthaven’s formation in March, the company has filed at least 80 federal lawsuits against website operators and individual bloggers who’ve re-posted articles from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, his first client.

....Gibson claims Righthaven has already settled several lawsuits, the bulk of which are being chronicled by the Las Vegas Sun, for undisclosed sums.

Full disclosure: last year I received a surprise windfall of $75 because, apparently, some newspaper somewhere reprinted one of my blog posts. Mother Jones collected the licensing fee and sent it along to me. Marian and I had a nice dinner with the proceeds, and this has naturally made me permanently beholden to Big Licensing.

That said, I'm surprisingly ambivalent about this. I feel like my immediate reaction ought to be outrage over The Man using a stable of high-priced lawyers to extort settlements out of little guys who are hardly more than the e-equivalent of old style xeroxed newsletters sent to a fan base of a few hundred. Doesn't corporate America have better things to do?

On the other hand, reposting entire news articles is such a plain copyright infringement that it's hard to feel that copyright owners shouldn't have any redress. I mean, come on: everyone knows you aren't allowed to reprint entire articles.

On the third hand, threatening to sue? Seriously?

On the fourth hand, I wonder if some of the early settlements are just warmups for going after aggregation sites that repost huge quantities of material? I don't have much sympathy for these sites, the same way I didn't have much sympathy for Napster. Having RIAA take high school kids to court for sharing songs is nasty stuff, but taking down an entire site devoted to massive copyright infringement? Well, why not?

On the fifth hand, isn't this a self-extinguishing business model? If Gibson starts winning some big settlements, then people will figure out the danger and stop infringing. Or else they'll take it offshore, or hide their ownership somehow. In either case, Gibson's revenue stream dries up. RIAA was trying to get people to stop sharing songs, so their cyber-terror campaign could be judged successful if it reduced the traffic in music and video sharing regardless of whether it was a net money maker.1 But making money is all Gibson wants to do. How can he do that in the long run?

So....I dunno. On balance, it all seems pretty scummy to me unless Gibson starts going after some big guns instead of random dudes who run fan sites. Pick on someone your own size, Steve.

1I'm curious: was it successful? I'm guessing it probably wasn't, but I don't keep up enough with this stuff to know. Did song and video sharing go down at all during RIAA's five-year reign of lawsuit hell?

UPDATE: An anonymous commenter says: "Heard on the radio the other day that the RIAA has spent $57 million on lawyers and has recovered $3 million or so. Meanwhile downloads have increased 40X since they started. I haven't seen that level of incompetence since Cheney was president."

"Heard on the radio the other day" doesn't exactly scream reliability, but we'll go with it for now. Apparently the whole effort was not only incredibly dickish, it was a massive fiasco too.

BP Lies (Again), This Time on Drilling "Mud"

| Mon Jul. 26, 2010 2:40 PM PDT

With the Gulf storm Bonnie now dissipated, work has resumed on plugging BP's gushing well once and for all. The company and federal government responders expect to start pumping drilling mud in from the top next week in an operation known as a "static kill," and then begin injecting mud via the relief well in order to close off and cement the hole permanently. But even though the oil is no longer spewing into the Gulf, this "mud" they're planning to pump into the well is actually a highly toxic chemical potion.

BP has been dodgy about the mud, much like they've been about everything else in the Gulf (see: dispersants, flow rate, underwater plumes).

BP dumped tens of thousands of gallons of the sludge into the well as part of the failed "top-kill" attempt in May, most of which ended up in the ocean. They are expected to use hundreds of thousands of gallons in these next attempts to kill the well. Asked about the toxicity of the mud at a hearing last month, BP CEO Tony Hayward told a congressional panel, "I believe all of the mud that had gone into the ocean is water-based mud with no toxicity whatsoever."

Except, it's not. According to written responses released to congressional investigators on Friday, the mud contains ethylene glycol, a highly toxic chemical commonly used in anti-freeze, and caustic soda, a compound more commonly known as lye that is is also toxic.

This, of course, also raises the question of how much of this stuff is pumped into the ocean on a regular basis. Drilling companies use about 100,000 gallons of this sludge for each operation. It's a question that Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.) raised in a statement over the weekend, following BP's disclosure of the ingredients of the mud.

"Do all drilling activities involve the use of highly toxic formulations?" asked Markey. "If so, how many tens of thousands of barrels more may have been sent into our waters or onshore wells in even the most standard of operations?"

Oceans advocates have raised the question as well, noting that companies regularly dump hundreds of thousands of gallons of this stuff into the ocean, and we have no idea of its impact. Richard Charter, a policy advisor for Defenders of Wildlife, says "drilling discharges have always been a dirty secret." Using these chemicals is also perfectly legal under current law. Most of the time, companies don't even have to disclose the chemicals they're using.

In a statement, Capps also points to this as another good reason to give the power of subpoena to the oil spill commission. A bill to do that stalled in the Senate. But as Capps notes, "Time and time again, BP has failed to disclose critical data and information that is essential to our ability to track the long term effects of this spill."

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Afghanistan's Other War: Army vs. Police

| Mon Jul. 26, 2010 2:05 PM PDT

Reading through the trove of documents released by WikiLeaks Sunday, one could come away with the impression that members of Afghanistan's discipline-challenged security forces spend more time fighting each other than they do the Taliban. Among the 92,000 documents released by the group are dozens of reports detailing so-called "green-on-green" incidents, the military's term for friendly fire episodes involving Afghan personnel. Here the phrase "friendly fire" (what the US military dubs "blue-on-blue" when it involves American or coalition service members) is a bit misleading. While some reported green-on-greens involved accidental shootings—like when a trio of police officers were engaging in "horseplay" and shot an official from Afghanistan's National Security Directorate and another man—many are the result of score-settling and disputes, occasionally drug-fueled, that turn violent. Many of these internecine conflicts pit members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) against the Afghan National Police (ANP). If even remotely representative of the professionalism of the ANA and ANP, these incident reports make Hamid Karzai's goal of taking over primary control of security by 2014 seem like a pipe dream—and seriously call into question whether the Obama administration can deliver on its strategy. What follows are some lowlights (spelling mistakes, etc. in the originals): 

In this episode last November US military personnel—who surely have more important things to do—were forced step in as peacemakers when an altercation between the ANA and ANP turned violent:

ANA [Afghan National Army] and ANP [Afghan National Police] get into a verbal engagement, and the ANP shot the ANA in the Chest.

…ANA are trying to mass on the old bridge however we have elements on the ground… holding both ANP and ANA back.

But right now there is tension b/w ANA and ANP

ANA died of wounds.

You know what they say about drugs making you paranoid. Circa February 2008:

At 1747Z, TF Helmand reported 1x ANP was in the public shower smoking hash. 2 ANA walked in, the ANP felt threatened and a fire fight occurred. The ANP fled the scene and was later shot.

How Reid's Parliamentary Maneuvering Could Doom Reforms to the Oil Industry

| Mon Jul. 26, 2010 1:45 PM PDT

With hopes for a comprehensive climate bill dead, the latest question for climate-watchers is whether or not Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid will offer a vote on Sen. Jay Rockefeller's amendment to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases for two years. Without a carbon pricing scheme or even a renewable electricity standard, the EPA is the only remaining avenue to restrict carbon emissions. The agency has drafted a slew of new regulations that would begin in January, but Republican senators and some moderate Democrats who fear the economic effects of unwieldy new restrictions have mounted a campaign to halt or stall these rules.

President Obama came out against Sen. Lisa Murkowski's bid to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases altogether, and a White House official said on Friday that the President would veto legislation that included Rockefeller's two-year delay. Reid is in a tricky position because in order to convince moderate Dems to vote against Murkowski's measure, he promised them a later vote on Rockefeller's watered down version. But now, with the White House firmly opposed to a bill that includes this delay, Reid would risk losing otherwise viable oil industry reform if he lets EPA opponents tack on the stalling measure as an amendment.

As a solution, Reid will most likely not allow amendments on the oil bill he is introducing this week. His office has not yet announced this decision, but rumors are circulating to that effect. Reid's procedural history shows a fondness for this tactic, which he used to squeeze the health care bill through the Senate. When a Senate majority leader does not accept amendments, he is said to be "filling the tree." This phrase refers to a diagram in the Senate rule book that maps out how many amendments members can attach to a bill. The majority leader proposes amendments first, so if he fills all the branches of this tree with inane, place-holding proposals, other senators can't introduce amendments of their own. This tactic, however, does not preclude a filibuster and therefore must be used in tandem with cloture.

A Congressional Research Service report (PDF) from January found that Reid has resorted to this procedure more than any other Senate majority leader going back to 1985, though Republican majorities have relied heavily on it as well. Reid's habit of "filling the tree" demonstrates the paralyzing partisanship that characterizes this Congress. Reid fills the tree in order to prevent petty minority obstructionsim, but in doing so he does not allow for bipartisan formation of bills. 

If Reid does decide to go this route with the oil bill, here's what the process would look like: he introduces the bill this week with a series of inconsequential amendments that prevent other senators—including Rockefeller—from proposing amendments of their own. He would then invoke a cloture vote and hope to round up 60 "yea"'s to push the bill through. After recess, he could consider granting floor time to Rockefeller's measure as a bill rather than an amendment, all the while knowing that Obama would veto it if it reached his desk.

The risk of "filling the tree," though, is that Reid's strong-armed tactics could piss off the senators whose votes he needs for cloture. The CRS report (PDF) found that between 2005 and 2008, the majority of amendment tree-filling attempts did not work. Over 50 percent of the time, the majority leader ended up pulling the bill from the floor or opening it to other amendments. 

The oil bill, now that it's been stripped of its more contentious energy measures, is a fairly bipartisan measure. But alienating Democrats on an energy vote is never a good idea. If Rockefeller and his supporters interpret Reid's amendment-blocking as a reneging on his previous promise, they could decline to grant cloture, essentially dooming what should be a slam-dunk bill.       

This post was produced by The Atlantic as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Sam Brownback to the Rescue?

| Mon Jul. 26, 2010 12:29 PM PDT

Renewable energy advocates are making a last-ditch effort to get Majority Leader Harry Reid to include a renewable electricity standard (RES) in the oil-spill and energy bill he's bringing to the floor this week. And they got a hand today from an unexpected source: Kansas Republican Sam Brownback.

Brownback is better known to progressives for his aggressive pro-life positions and his opposition to manimals. But he voted for the bipartisan energy bill that included a 15-percent-by-2020 RES in committee last year. His home state of Kansas also happens to have quite a bit of wind power to harness.

To be sure, Brownback didn't let the opportunity to bash cap-and-trade legislation pass. But he was clear in a statement today that an RES should be part of the bill debated this week:

As we begin consideration of comprehensive energy legislation, it's essential we include ideas that will help drive our national energy production in the direction of more clean, renewable energy. The RES title passed out of the Energy Committee requires by 2020 that 15% of our country's energy be produced using agreed upon forms of renewable energy, such as wind, solar, and biomass. Under this proposal, utilities are allowed to meet up to 4% of the requirement through energy efficiency.

I think it was wise that Senate leadership decided against including any form of cap and tax in the proposal. With unemployment still hovering close to 10%, the American people have no appetite for legislation that would hurt our economy, while doing little to reduce global temperatures. I would argue that most Americans believe that in addressing any challenge, it's necessary to adopt a balanced, pragmatic strategy. In this case, a moderate RES would be an important step towards a cleaner energy future, but without the job-killing provisions that come with cap and tax.

With Brownback is out there rallying for an RES, it will be extra pitiful if Democrats can't get their act together in support of even a bare-minimum standard.

Pakistan and the Taliban

| Mon Jul. 26, 2010 11:50 AM PDT

This is pretty rich. Here is Pakistan's reaction to the WikiLeaks documents showing that the ISI has long supported the Taliban in Afghanistan:

Diplomats and intelligence officials dismissed the reports as false and warned that they could have damaging consequences for Pakistan's relations with the United States, particularly whether the Americans could be trusted with sensitive information.

Yeah, that's the real problem: Pakistan might no longer be able to trust Americans with sensitive information. Points for chutzpah.