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More Answers in the Missing Email Caper

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 6:55 PM EST

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Since as early as 2004, the National Archives has warned the White House that its system for preserving email records was inadequate—and that some of those emails may not have been archived at all, but the Bush administration has been slow to remedy the problem. "I am concerned about the loss of emails," the nation's chief archivist, Allen Weinstein, told Congress on Tuesday. "I'm concerned about maintaining the fullest possible White House records."

In conjunction with its first hearing regarding missing White House emails—perhaps as many as 5 million of them—the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released documents that suggest the White House failed to address serious record-keeping problems identified by its own staff and was largely unresponsive to the concerns of the National Archives.

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The Military Hates Obama. Oh Really?

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 5:48 PM EST

How on EARTH can the Washington Times write an article saying the military is "expressing trepidation" about Barack Obama's candidacy, and add quotes like:

"We're very concerned about his apparent lack of understanding on the threat of radical Islam to the United States," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who is pro-Iraq war and a Fox News analyst. "A lot of retired senior officers feel the same way."

and:

A senior Pentagon official said an Obama swearing-in "will give the Arab street the final victory, the best optics, and the ultimate in bragging rights. They win. We lose."

without ever mentioning the fact that Barack Obama has received more donations from members of the military than any other candidate in the presidential race?

In Letter to Spy Chief, Four National Security Vets Suggest Bush is Fearmongering

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 4:56 PM EST

Can it be that the evildoers are closer to harming the United States because House Democrats won't roll over for President Bush and pass a bill that awards legal immunity to telecom firms that participated in what might have been illegal surveillance requested by the Bush administration? That's what George W. Bush and his aides have claimed. But four former top national security officials yesterday sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell that challenges that melodramatic--and fearmongering--interpretation. The letter--written by Rand Beers, former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council; Richard Clarke, former head of counterterrorism at the NSC; retired Lt. General Don Kerrick, former deputy national security adviser; and Suzanne Spaulding, former assistant general counsel at the CIA--is a good retort to the Bush White House. Here are the key parts:

The sunset of the Protect America Act (PAA) does not put America at greater risk. Despite claims that have been made, surveillance currently occurring under the PAA is authorized for up to a year. New surveillance requests can be filed through current [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] law. As you have stated, "Unlike last summer, there is no backlog of cases to slow down getting surveillance approvals from the FISA court. We're caught up to all of it now." As court orders are received, telecom companies are required to comply. Also, existing NSA authority allows surveillance to be conducted abroad on any known or suspected terrorist without a warrant. It is unclear to us that the immunity debate will affect our surveillance capabilities.

Clarence Thomas, Stoicism Personified

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 3:43 PM EST

cthomas.jpg According to the AP, "Two years and 144 cases have passed since Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas last spoke up at oral arguments."

Maybe he's trying to make a point. Maybe he's dead.

RIP, Clarence Thomas.

Another Dem Debate Tonight? Another Chance to Go Round and Round on Health Care Mandates

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 11:50 AM EST

Another Democratic debate tonight? Enough already. Hillary Clinton has been pushing Barack Obama for more and more debates. But these debates have lost their utility. Do we really need to see the pair bicker once more over health care coverage mandates? That's the only major current policy difference that the two have zeroed in on in their face-offs. They argue their points around and around in a circle like quarrelers in a bad marriage. And they're kinda both right.

If you want to achieve universal coverage at the most efficient price point, then you need as big a pool as possible. That's basic economics. So Hillary Clinton correctly notes that mandates are needed--especially to get into this pool those folks who may not need costly health care. Their premiums will help cover the cost of care for others. That's how insurance works: the more, the merrier.

But Obama has a point when he says that it would not be fair to force people to buy insurance they cannot afford and that may not meet their needs. I recently met someone from Massachusetts--where there now is a health insurance mandate--who complained that she and her husband could not afford the insurance they are mandated to purchase. And, she added, they make just enough money to be beyond qualifying for a subsidy. This couple is considering moving out of the state. Maybe they're over-reacting to the situation. But no one should be compelled to purchase substandard but costly coverage. Consequently, it seems fair to say, "Let's see the policy, before we accept the mandate." No doubt about it, Obama got somewhat trapped in all this. He put out a plan with limited mandates (only for parents regarding coverage for their kids) and was then raised (as in poker) by Clinton. At that point, Obama could not admit he had proposed an insufficient plan. He was forced into a corner--defending the absence of a comprehensive mandate in his plan--and this debate was born.

Dodd Endorses Obama

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 10:46 AM EST

An email Chris Dodd just sent to supporters:

We have been through a lot in this past year and your friendship and support have meant so much to me. That is why I wanted to let you know of my decision to endorse a Democratic candidate for President - and that I have decided to support Barack Obama.
We all understand how much is at stake in this election and that it is more important than ever that we put a Democrat in the White House.
And while both of our Party's remaining candidates are extremely talented and would make excellent commanders-in-chief, I am throwing my support to the candidate who I believe will open the most eyes to our shared Democratic vision.
I'm deeply proud to be the first 2008 Democratic presidential candidate to endorse Barack Obama. He is ready to be President. And I am ready to support him - to work with him and for him and help elect him our 44th President.

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Obama: Cultural Meme in the Making

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 10:41 AM EST

Overheard yesterday at the gym:

Man 1: Did you see any of the movies nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars?

Man 2: Nah.

Man 1: Yeah. There wasn't an Obama movie, one that everybody could like.

McCain's Connection to the Siegelman Case

| Tue Feb. 26, 2008 10:15 AM EST

Just yesterday we mentioned the railroaded former Governor of Alabama, Democrat Don Siegelman, who is now in prison after a six-year-long witch hunt prosecuted by that state's GOP.

Turns out, John McCain is connected to the scandal. As head of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, McCain released a report on the Abramoff scandal in 2006 that didn't include any mention of an Abramoff email that implicated Siegelman's opponent in a gubernatorial race later that year, Bob Riley, in Abramoff's influence peddling schemes. Riley went on to win, and Siegelman went to prison. McCain has refused to make the email public since that election; it only came to light because an anonymous source leaked it to the Huffington Post.

Siegelman's Democratic allies in Alabama are calling for a special prosecutor to reexamine his case.

Departing US Iran Envoy Says Nuclear Issue Will Not Be Resolved By Time Bush Leaves Office

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 10:49 PM EST

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns, who is due to leave the State Department after twenty-six years of service at the end of the month, spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington tonight. He discussed a range of issues, from Kosovo to North Korea. He said he believes that perhaps the biggest unanticipated issue for the next administration on the global front will be the energy issue, and its relation to global climate change.

But all were looking to Washington's top Iran envoy for a signal about what the Bush administration plans to do on the Iran nuclear issue over the next ten months; and for signs that Burns' imminent departure might be related to some bureaucratic battle - or simple exhaustion or frustration - at trying to lead the administration's effort to cobble and keep together an international coalition to pressure Iran diplomatically and with economic sanctions and other means to change its behavior on its nuclear program.

And Burns did deliver a fairly clear message on that question. He said that he did not think the Iran nuclear issue would be resolved by the end of the Bush administration and would still be outstanding when a new administration takes office.

The West Gets 500% Dustier

| Mon Feb. 25, 2008 10:41 PM EST

dustbowl.jpg The west wasn't always so dusty. It got a whole more so in the past 200 years, 500 percent more so—thanks to American expansion, complete with trains, ranches, and livestock. Sediment records from dust blown into alpine lakes in southwest Colorado's San Juan Mountains over millennia indicate the sharp rise in dust deposits beginning in the middle of the last century. "From about 1860 to 1900, the dust deposition rates shot up so high that we initially thought there was a mistake in our data," said geologist Jason Neff of the University of Colorado Boulder. "But the evidence clearly shows the western U.S. had its own Dust Bowl beginning in the 1800s when the railroads went in and cattle and sheep were introduced into the rangelands. There were an estimated 40 million head of livestock on the western rangeland during the turn of the century, causing a massive and systematic degradation of the ecosystems." The 1934 Taylor Grazing Act imposed restrictions on western grazing lands, and the deposits show a coinciding decrease in dust that continues to this day.

Another reason to bring back the bison.

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.