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How You Know McCain's Offshore Drilling Reversal Is a Pander

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 10:39 AM EDT

It might seem obvious that McCain's new-found support for offshore drilling is a pander: after all, the federal government itself says that if you were to drill all over the continental United States, you'd find enough oil to last America just two and a half years, meaning we're not talking about a long-term solution. Moreover, offshore drilling will cause only a marginal impact on prices, and even that tiny impact won't be felt for another seven to 10 years, according to the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry trade group that points out that production cannot start right away.

But maybe McCain didn't check the numbers. Is there any other way you can tell that offshore drilling is actually pointless, and serves only as a base election-season pitch to voters angry about high gas prices? There is. There are no ships.

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Warning: This Durex Condom May Be Completely Useless

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 6:56 PM EDT

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If you happened to read the tiny print on the back of a box of Durex Avanti condoms before you bought them, you'd see this: "The risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD's), including AIDS (HIV infection), are not known for this condom." Hmm. Since most people, I think, actually use condoms specifically for those purposes, and not for the diminished sensation in their genitals, should this product really be on the market?

"Perfectly reasonable question," said company PR rep Mark Weaving. "And the answer is that these [studies] were completed. When the Avanti first came out in the US, it formed a completely new category of product, so the FDA wanted some extra studies to be done" on the (novel) polyurethane (as opposed to traditional latex) condoms. In the meantime, Durex could sell the condoms as long as it printed the inconspicuous warning on the box. Those additional studies have since been completed and shown slippage and pregnancy rates to be "well within the normal range." (Durex recently announced that it is discontinuing the Avanti, not because of any issue with the product, but to make way for a new version of it.) Still. As you can't really be too careful when it comes to condom effectiveness, it seems the FDA probably should have made the company postpone Avanti's release until the studies were done. And why wouldn't Durex have voluntarily waited to sell the questionable—and crucial—product in the first place? Speculated Weaving, "I think the pregnancy studies can go on for quite a long time."

Navy Spends Your Precious Tax Dollars ... Buying Crate After Crate of Manga

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 5:19 PM EDT

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Residents of Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, are concerned about the massive nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which is set to be permanently deployed outside their city. Some say the American ship will hurt the fishing industry; others have safety concerns, especially justified after there was a fire on the George Washington last month.

Solution: charm offensive! Specifically, the Navy dropped $72,000 to commission "Manga CVN 73," a 200-page Japanese-style comic book. Produced by two Japanese artists and named after the ship's hull number, it follows the experiences of fictional Japanese-American Petty Officer 3rd Class Jack Ohara. Over 20,000 copies were printed and, earlier this month, a huge crowd lined up outisde the American base to get their free copies. Commented a naval spokesman to the Navy Times:

"The most-read, most-used medium is manga — not TV, not radio, not the Internet. Manga is a traditionally read, heavily sold medium in this country. We went, OK, there you go, the Japanese people have given us the way to talk to them."

Here's my question: Where does this sort of thing appear on the Navy's budget justification? Download the 18 meg .pdf file here here, in Kanji or English text. (via)

Lil Wayne Breaks "A Milli"

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 4:52 PM EDT

mojo-photo-lilwaynesm.jpgTake that, internet naysayers: Lil Wayne's new album Tha Carter III has sold over 1 million copies in the US in its first week, the first time such a figure has been reached since 50 Cent's The Massacre way back in early 2005. Since Wayne has been, shall we say, slatternly when it comes to online mixtapes and file-sharing downloads, the press seems astonished: why are people buying CDs from an artist with so much free stuff out there? The New York Times even set up the dichotomy in the headline, proclaiming that "Despite Leaks Online and File Sharing, Lil Wayne's New CD is a Hit." Maybe they should change that "despite" to a "because"? As file-sharing tracker BigChampagne CEO Eric Garland says in the article, fans who download Lil Wayne grab an average of ten of his tracks (as opposed to two for other artists) and "while people who like an individual song are not going to open their wallets for you, people who like 10 songs will." So having a prodigious amount of your work out there for people to hear may actually help you sell more CDs? Karrr-azy!

Although, as Vulture points out, people may just like candy-themed oral sex metaphors, as both The Massacre and Tha Carter III feature lead singles that "compared a sexual act to the consumption of lollipops." Although if that's the case, why wasn't Lil' Kim's "How Many Licks" a smash?

After the jump: Was Party Ben wrong about Tha Carter III?

Simon Mann In Full: African Coup Plotter Points Fingers

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 4:15 PM EDT

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You wouldn't know it from the American newspapers, but if you click on virtually any British news site today (try here, here, and here), you'll read of a courtroom drama currently unfolding in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, in which British mercenary Simon Mann is casting blame far and wide for the failed 2004 coup plot that aimed to topple the local dictator, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

Details of the coup itself are already widely known, the subject of numerous magazine articles and several books, but in case you missed it: In March 2004, Mann was arrested along with 70 other mercenaries while their plane was refueling on the tarmac of an airport in Zimbabwe during a brief, late-night stopover while en route from South Africa to Equatorial Guinea. The mercenaries were carrying with them 61 AK-47s, 20 light machine guns, 50 heavy machine guns, 100 RPGs, along with tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition—equipment they said they intended to use to secure a mine in the Congo. The Zimbabwean authorities didn't buy it, and Mann spent the next several years in a Harare prison. He was later released for good behavior, but immediately extradited to face criminal charges in Equatorial Guinea, where, if convicted, he could serve up to 32 additional years in prison.

Today in the Malabo courtroom, testifying in his own defense, Mann seemed eager to bring down his co-conspirators, if only perhaps to lessen his own sentence. The Eton-educated, former British special forces officer gave detailed accounts of the plotters motivations—namely, to replace Obiang with a new president who would give conspirators a cut of the country's sizable oil wealth—as well as the leadership structure of the conspiracy.

Among Mann's accusations:

New Details About Life in Gitmo Don't Bode Well For GWOT

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 3:50 PM EDT

McClatchy is running an excellent series this week on US overseas detention centers, focusing on the abuse, carelessness, and mismanagement that have encouraged global terrorism rather than deterred it. What's new here are the details: the news organization accumulated eight months worth of interviews, collected a number of primary source documents, and put together in-depth profiles of recently-released detainees. The specifics of these men's stories take on additional significance in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent ruling on detainees' habeas rights: Due process seems a lot more important when you realize that every day an innocent person spends in Guantanamo is essentially an al Qaeda recruitment opportunity. Things are so bad that even the former US commander of the camp acknowledges that we've more or less enabled our very own terrorist sleeper cell:

Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, until recently the commanding officer at Guantanamo, acknowledged that senior militant leaders gained influence and control in his prison.

"We have that full range of (Taliban and al Qaida) leadership here, why would they not continue to be functional as an organization?" he said in a telephone interview. "I must make the assumption that there's a fully functional al Qaida cell here at Guantanamo."

The commander's assumption, if true, adds another layer of complexity to the detainees' status—how do we handle the release of someone who was innocent of terrorism when we picked them up, but is now eager to work for al Qaeda? If, as alleged, such cases are common at Guantanamo, then the administration has created a self-justifying system that will be extremely difficult to disrupt. Unless we completely overhaul that system, we're stuck with this Catch-22.

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National Review Lamely Attacks Mother Jones To Lamely Defend Phil Gramm

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 1:29 PM EDT

Is this the best a prominent conservative writer can do?

In the latest issue of National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru claims I penned a "hit piece" on Phil Gramm, the cochairman of John McCain's presidential campaign. Ponnuru does so in an article that accuses Mother Jones, Salon, Huffington Post, The Nation and Keith Olbermann of "smearing" Gramm with the threefold mission of discrediting Gramm, McCain, and deregulation. (Gramm, when he was the Republican chairman of the Senate banking committee, was the king of financial deregulation.) Ponnuru has little to say about the fact that Gramm is now an executive at Swiss banking behemoth UBS, who has lobbied Congress on behalf of the bank. Is it appropriate for a campaign official to be working for a foreign-based transnational? Several lobbyists have had to depart the McCain campaign because they toil for private interests. Does Ponnuru believe they should be welcomed back?

But on to his specific complaint about the article I wrote about Gramm. The piece focused on what I called a "sly legislative maneuver" pulled by Gramm in December 2000 that "greased the way to the multibillion-dollar subprime meltdown." During a week of chaos in Washington--Bush v. Gore was being decided by the Supreme Court, and Congress was trying to pass quickly an omnibus spending bill--Gramm attached to that massive spending bill a 262-page measure called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. That bill deregulated financial instruments known as "credit default swaps," which, according to Michael Greenberger, who directed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's division of trading and regulation in the late 1990s, have been at "the heart of the subprime meltdown,"

Here's what Ponnuru wrote about that article:

Why Do We Care If First Ladies Can Cook?

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 1:14 PM EDT

Back when there was still potential for the first spouse to be a man, Parents magazine asked the contenders to submit their favorite recipes for cookies.

Minor scandal ensued. Cindy McCain, revealed Wonkette, actually totally cut and pasted her tasty oatmeal butterscotch cookie recipe from the Hershey Corporation. Sure, she substituted "brown sugar" for "light brown sugar," but (asked pundits) is that really enough of a change?

A better question is: Why do we ask presidential spouses to submit their baking ideas to the nation at all? Even before Hillary Clinton gave the world her 1992 recipe for chocolate chip cookies, presidential cooking contests were nothing new—and always a little forced. Martha Washington provided America with a recipe for mincemeat that likely only slaves had ever produced. Julia Grant offered a somewhat frightening recipe for veal olives. Even Jackie O sallied forth with a recipe for white rum cocktails.

But these days, when unofficial first lady bake-offs finally pit one high-powered corporate exec against another, can't we at last drop the illusion this matters?

—Daniel Luzer

Michael Gerson Has a Complete Lack of Self-Awareness

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 11:35 AM EDT

President Bush launched a war of choice against a country that posed no imminent threat to the United States by misrepresenting intelligence to the American public (or by not vetting intelligence fully enough and not seeking dissenting opinions, if you want to be kinder). That war of choice led to the death of over 4,000 young American men and women and the dismembering and disfiguring of 30,000 more. The number of Iraqis dead counts in the hundreds of thousands, most just civilians. Anti-Americanism has increased dramatically around the world, in both states we count as allies and as enemies, and terrorism has gone up along with it. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, black sites, rendition, waterboarding, and torture exacerbated all of these problems. Americans saw photos of detainees that our soldiers had hooked up to wires or attacked with dogs. President Bush threw fuel on the fire with a bellicosity and an insensitivity that helped turned even his own country against him. "Bring 'em on." "Now watch this drive." "Nope, no weapons over there."

But former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, creator of the phrase "axis of evil," needs you to understand — incivility is key. Incivility will ruin this country.

Flood of Divorces Begin Due to Gay Marriage in CA. That's How This Works, Right?

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 11:19 AM EDT

Heterosexuals were running wild in the streets of DC this morning, divorcing each other left and right. The reason? Yesterday was the first full day of gay marriage in California, and now the decline of marriage has set in.

Come to think of it, my grilled cheese sandwich was a little off last night. And I woke up with a crick in my neck. Must be the gays.