Blogs

McCain Gets the Facts Wrong on Iraq - Again

| Tue Apr. 1, 2008 11:45 AM EDT

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Call it a pattern of mischaracterizations. John McCain recently got the facts wrong on Iraq again when he tried to portray Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's disastrous attempt to take on Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr as a success. (You can learn more about Sadr here.) He said this on the campaign trail:

"Apparently it was Sadr who asked for the ceasefire, declared a ceasefire. It wasn't Maliki. Very rarely do I see the winning side declare a ceasefire."

That's completely misleading. Not only did Sadr come out of the fighting just as strong as he was before (check out Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation), but his people were celebrating what they called a victory over the Prime Minister and, by extension, America:

At the Sadr Office in the centre of the massive slum in northeast Baghdad, home to 2.5 million impoverished Shias, the receptionists greeted visitors with sweets to mark their victory over Nouri al-Maliki, the increasingly isolated Iraqi Prime Minister, who directed the assault on Shia rogue militias in Basra, the lawless southern oil city. "This is for victory over Maliki," one said with a grin. "The fighting ended on our terms."
Certainly Mr al-Maliki's huge gamble appeared to have failed yesterday. Having vowed to crush Shia militias with a 30,000-strong force in Basra, he ended up suing for peace with the people he had described as "worse than al-Qaeda." Al-Mahdi Army kept its weapons and turf.

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Military Report: Let's Co-Opt Blogs

| Tue Apr. 1, 2008 11:26 AM EDT

Wired's Danger Room has found a 2006 report titled "Blogs and Military Information Strategy," written for the Joint Special Operations University. It has some interesting ideas about how the military can deal with that dang blogosphere.

Information strategists can consider clandestinely recruiting or hiring prominent bloggers or other persons of prominence... to pass the U.S. message. In this way, the U.S. can overleap the entrenched inequalities and make use of preexisting intellectual and social capital. Sometimes numbers can be effective; hiring a block of bloggers to verbally attack a specific person or promote a specific message may be worth considering. On the other hand, such operations can have a blowback effect, as witnessed by the public reaction following revelations that the U.S. military had paid journalists to publish stories in the Iraqi press under their own names. People do not like to be deceived, and the price of being exposed is lost credibility and trust.
An alternative strategy is to "make" a blog and blogger. The process of boosting the blog to a position of influence could take some time, however, and depending on the person running the blog, may impose a significant educational burden, in terms of cultural and linguistic training before the blog could be put online to any useful effect. Still, there are people in the military today who like to blog. In some cases, their talents might be redirected toward operating blogs as part of an information campaign. If a military blog offers valuable information that is not available from other sources, it could rise in rank fairly rapidly.

Members of the armed forces need "cultural and linguistic training" before they can blog? Are they serious? The military is filled with cynical 20-somethings—it's built for blogging! There are hundreds, probably thousands, of military men and women already doing it. Of course, they're doing it in good faith, which is not what this report is suggesting.

A military spokesman says the comments were "not 'actionable', merely thought provoking." I don't believe it. Which prominent blogger is a undercover secret agent? Any guesses?

Bush's HUD Secretary Finally Gets Some Press

| Mon Mar. 31, 2008 11:43 PM EDT

When Alphonso Jackson announced today that he would be stepping down as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), he joined a growing list of disgraced or, at the very least, incompetent former secretaries of that agency produced by Republican presidents. Jackson is currently facing investigations by the HUD inspector general, a federal grand jury, and the Justice Department's public integrity section for a host of alleged corrupt practices. The only thing surprising about Jackson's departure, or the scandals that precipitated it, is that it didn't come sooner.

Republicans have never liked HUD very much. GOP presidents tend to turn it into a political backwater, a neglected place where they repay campaign favors rather than orchestrate major policy initiatives. As a result, the agency has been the source of a considerable number of GOP scandals. Jackson's announcement brought back memories of Samuel Pierce, Ronald Reagan's longtime HUD secretary who was plagued by allegations that many of his close associates had engaged in cronyism, mismanagement, and in some cases, outright theft at the agency, all of which occurred as Reagan dismantled the nation's low-income housing infrastructure. At least six major Reagan administration officials ended up convicted of crimes stemming from HUD corruption. Pierce was never convicted of anything, but the rot in his agency was so deep that even the former EPA secretary James Watt got convicted in the mess, as did Pierce's former assistant Deborah Gore Dean (who recently remade herself into a Georgetown antique shop owner).

Modern GOP presidents have relegated the HUD secretary to an affirmative-action posting, a spot where Republicans like to demonstrate their alleged commitment to diversity in the cabinet, while giving those people authority for all the programs Republicans don't care about, or would like, ideally, to get rid of. Indeed, back in the early years of the Reagan administration, Pierce, the only black member of Reagan's cabinet, once famously came to the White House for a reception at which Reagan greeted him by saying, "How are you Mr. Mayor? I'm glad to meet you. How are things in your city?"

Ice Blocking Canada's Seal Hunt

| Mon Mar. 31, 2008 8:56 PM EDT

HarpSeal.jpg Good news. Thick ice is slowing sealing boats from reaching the baby harp seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, reports Planet Ark. Consequently, only three pups out of a quota of 275,000 were killed the first day. This after last year's "hunt" was affected by a lack of ice. The Canadian government has promised the slaughter will be more humane this year. How? After a hunter shoots or clubs a seal, he now must check its eyes to ensure it is dead, and if not, the animal's main arteries must be cut.

Okay, let's get clear about this. That does not qualify as humane.

The Canadian seal hunt is the largest mass slaughter of marine mammals on Earth, according to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Just what are they doing with all those dead baby seals? The furs are made into coats and clothes. And there's a growing market for seal oil, high in omega-3 fatty acid… and PCBs:

American West Heating Twice as Fast

| Mon Mar. 31, 2008 7:52 PM EDT

317488203_967e4514e6_m.jpg Don't think climate change is going to affect you? Well, if you live in the American West, it already is. In fact the west is heating up faster than the rest of the world, reports the National Resources Defense Council. The average temperature rise in the drought-struck Colorado River basin is more than double global average—especially bad news for the 30 million people living in Denver, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego, among the nation's fastest growing American cities and all dependent on the Colorado for water.

The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization analyzed temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for 11 western states and found the average temp in the Colorado River Basin, from Wyoming to Mexico, was 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the historical average for the 20th Century, and more than twice the global rise of 1.0 degree. Throughout the West, the average temperature increased 1.7 degrees. "We are seeing signs of the economic impacts," says study author Stephen Saunders, including $2.7 billion in crop losses since 2000, commercial salmon losses, reduced hunting revenues, and shorter, less profitable ski seasons. The Colorado River Basin is in the throes of a record drought and climate scientists predict more and drier droughts in the future as hotter temperatures reduce the snowpack and increase evaporation. "We need strong leadership from western senators to pass America's Climate Security Act," said Spencer.

How about any leadership? You know, turning off the lights one hour a year ain't gonna work. In 2007 I was optimistic about Earth Hour. A year later, I'm like, is this all we're ever going to do?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Superman Felled by Kryptonite-laced Lawsuit

| Mon Mar. 31, 2008 6:28 PM EDT

mojo-photo-supermen.jpgActually, to be honest, there's no proof of any Kryptonite contamination, but attorney Marc Toberoff may turn out to be Lex Luthor. He just won a case against Warner Bros. on behalf of the heirs of Jerome Siegel, one of the co-creators of Superman in the original Action Comics issue 71 years ago. Variety is reporting that this might put the franchise on hold:

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Has Madonna Finally Lost the Plot?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2008 5:46 PM EDT

mojo-photo-madonna.jpgLike any self-respecting homophile dance music enthusiast, I've always liked Madonna. Er, let me put it more specifically: I've always liked her music. While her mining of the underground often seems to slightly misunderstand it (see "Vogue"), she's one of the few artists who have combined massive success with consistent boundary-pushing. Partly as a result of her continued search for hot new producers, her output has remained compelling, even 25 (!) years after her first album. 2003's American Life was a bit of a disappointment, but 2005's Confessions on a Dancefloor brought producer Stuart Price to the foreground for a brilliant distillation of contemporary dance music styles. Anticipation is high for her 11th studio album, Hard Candy, set for release in April; cover art (left) and the first single ("4 Minutes") are out now. What's the verdict?

Why Hasn't Obama Received Edwards' Endorsement?

| Mon Mar. 31, 2008 4:20 PM EDT

Apparently because he blew it after Edwards' withdrawal from the race.

Speaking to Edwards on the day he exited the race, Obama came across as glib and aloof. His response to Edwards's imprecations that he make poverty a central part of his agenda was shallow, perfunctory, pat. Clinton, by contrast, engaged Edwards in a lengthy policy discussion. Her affect was solicitous and respectful. When Clinton met Edwards face-to-face in North Carolina ten days later, her approach continued to impress; she even made headway with Elizabeth. Whereas in his Edwards sit-down, Obama dug himself in deeper, getting into a fight with Elizabeth about health care, insisting that his plan is universal (a position she considers a crock), high-handedly criticizing Clinton's plan (and by extension Edwards's) for its insurance mandate.

I suspected something like this happened. Back in the salad days of this primary race, I wrote about how Edwards and Obama's messages overlapped to such a degree that they would fit naturally on the same ticket. Their shared rhetoric (and their shared attacks on Clinton) led most to assume Edwards would endorse the Illinois Senator if he endorsed anyone.

Now we know why Edwards' endorsement is still an open question.

Darrell Issa's Software Error

| Mon Mar. 31, 2008 3:34 PM EDT

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During a House Oversight Committee hearing last month on the preservation of White House records, an indignant Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a frequent critic of Chairman Henry Waxman's investigations, did his best to play down the extent of the Bush administration's now well-documented email archiving problems. Defending the White House's decision to switch from the Lotus Notes-based archiving system used by the Clinton administration, Issa compared the the software to "using wooden wagon wheels" and Sony Betamax tapes. To observers of the missing emails controversy, Issa's comments seemed little more than an attempt to deflect blame from the White House for replacing a working system for archiving presidential records with an ad hoc substitute. But to IT professionals who use Lotus at their companies, Issa's remarks seemed controversial, if not downright slanderous. Now, according to an executive at IBM, the software's manufacturer, the California congressman has apologized for his characterization of Lotus and offered to correct the congressional record.

"Following the hearing, several Lotus customers and partners contacted me expressing concern over the way that Lotus Notes was characterized in those hearings," the executive, Ed Brill, wrote on his blog. "The sequence of events that followed... was quite dramatic for me, even after 20 years in the industry—I ended up on the phone with Congressman Darrel [sic] Issa, who could not have been nicer or more understanding of what issues were raised by his comments."

Every Good Government Proposal on One Bill

| Mon Mar. 31, 2008 3:21 PM EDT

Larry Lessig launched "Change Congress" in the hopes of one day having a Congress filled with lawmakers who support four moves that ensure the purity of the governing process and protect our democracy:

1. Eliminating money from lobbyists and PACs.
2. Ending earmarks.
3. Creating greater transparency in Congress.
4. Ushering in publicly financed campaigns.

Good government groups have always sought broader reforms, however, and have always gone into greater detail. If you want to see what the entire good government platform looks like, check out the Transparency in Government Act 2008. It was created by the Sunlight Foundation and is thoroughly badass.

TGA08 (my nickname) goes beyond Lessig's four goals. It wants to put all FOIA responses online, for example, and has a host of measures to increase transparency in the executive branch. According to John Wonderlich, the Program Director at the Sunlight Foundation, TGA is more focused on information access than on process reform, meaning it doesn't advocate the elimination of earkmarks, as Lessig does, but does support making all information pertaining to earmarks public.

The Sunlight Foundation is inviting everyday folks to comment on the bill and all its many provisions. "We made a conscious decision to turn to the Internet community rather than turning to members of Congress first," says Wonderlich. "We think we'll end up with better legislation if it comes out of a community effort." One of the core ideas of Wonderlich's project is that if you give everyday citizens access to government (and legislation) you get better government (and better legislation).

Wonderlich says The Sunlight Foundation has no immediate plans to use an ally on Capitol Hill to introduce TGA08. Wouldn't it be revolutionary if a presidential candidate made something like this bill a key part of his or her platform, and then implemented even half of it after taking office?