Blogs

Google Earth Lands in Hot Water in (Surprise) the Middle East

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 7:56 PM EST

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Reports Monday described how the Israeli town of Kiryat Yam is suing Google for slander after a Google Earth user added a note asserting that the town was built on the ruins of a Palestinian locality following the war of 1948. Google has said that it will not remove the note, which appears on the application's "community layer," because it is not "in any way illegal."

But earlier this month another problem developed that is potentially thornier for Google because it involves the company's official cartographic judgment. The problem comes in the form of a letter to Google's CEO from the National Iranian American Council loudly protesting the inclusion in Google Earth of the term "Arabian Gulf"—along with the more common "Persian Gulf."

Only a few years ago, in 2004, Google's co-founders told shareholders that "focused objectivity" was a trait "most important in Google's past success" and "most fundamental for its future." But that was before Google Earth. And if the two complaints this month show anything, it's that a map is a highly subjective thing. Including "Arabian Gulf" was a classic hedge on Google's part, probably an attempt to strive for that ideal of objectivity. NIAC's letter, however, explains the term's somewhat untoward history:

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The Three Trillion Dollar War

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 6:40 PM EST

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The Bush administration has spent a lot of money in Iraq since White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was fired in 2002 for daring to predict the war might cost as much as $200 billion. An estimate issued last August by the Congressional Budget Office suggested the war will have cost at least $1 trillion before it's over. A September report (PDF) by the Democratic staff of Congress's Joint Economic Committee pegged the cost at $1.3 trillion. Now a new book by a Harvard professor and a Nobel Prize winner in economics claims the true cost could be more than twice that—as high as $3 trillion dollars. If you wanted to pay that off with a single wad of $1,000 bills, your billfold would have to be almost 240 miles wide.

Huckabee is Officially Done

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 5:19 PM EST

Plucked this from a McCain campaign email I just received.

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It's official: the former Governor of Arkansas is toast. Now it's just a matter of time until he realizes it and drops out. But hey, he doesn't have anything else to do (other than firing up that popcorn popper). I say let him have his fun.

Dems Poised to Force Contempt Vote - Really

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 5:14 PM EST

House Democrats are poised to push a vote to hold White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. Sound familiar? If so, that's because congressional Dems have been vowing to hold Bolten and Miers to account since last July, when the pair blew off subpoenas compelling them to testify before Congress in connection with the U.S. Attorneys scandal. More than six months later, we're still waiting for the Dems' promised constitutional showdown with the White House.

In late July, the day after the House Judiciary Committee voted to authorize contempt citations against Bolten and Miers, Roll Call reported that the Democrats, citing "the busy House schedule," would hold off on advancing the measure until after the August recess. After House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers offered a "final warning" to the White House in early November, a vote was briefly scheduled for the middle of that month, then quickly postponed until December. Sure enough, December came and went with no House contempt vote (though, the Senate Judiciary Committee finally got around to voting on and approving contempt citations for Bolten and Karl Rove). In January, with contempt supposedly at the top of their agenda, the Democratic leadership again put off dealing with the politically thorny issue, citing their need to hammer out an economic stimulus package with the administration.

That brings us to today, when a number of news outlets are reporting that the House could vote on the contempt citations as early as tomorrow. This afternoon, Conyers introduced two resolutions related to the contempt proceedings, one of which would allow the Judiciary Committee to file suit in federal court if Attorney General Michael Mukasey refuses to enforce contempt charges, as he has already threatened to do. So perhaps the Democrats are moving forward on contempt charges after all. That said, don't be terribly surprised if there's a last minute delay—or if the looming brouhaha with the White House ends without the Dems delivering the hoped for blow to the administration's expansion of executive power.

New R.E.M. Sounds Kind Of Like Old R.E.M.

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 4:52 PM EST

R.E.M.And I mean that in the best possible way. The legendary combo's new album, Accelerate, comes out April Fools' Day, but via Pitchfork comes a just-released single and video, and it's got a little of that old R.E.M. magic. While the intro kind of inverts the start of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go," the rest has that wistful sound R.E.M. patented: "And you cry and you cry," sings Michael Stipe, and Mike Mills does that awesome background thing, "ay-ee-iy-yiy!" Kind of makes you want to get out your dusty copy of Murmur and put it on the hi-fi. Anyway, the video's after the jump.

Wearing White (To A Confirmation Hearing)

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 4:09 PM EST

Yesterday, in a room full of assembled dignitaries, President Bush's controversial nominee for the federal district court in Wyoming stuck out like the trial lawyer that he is. It's the hair, really. In a fashion fancied by many jet-set plaintiffs' lawyers, Richard Honaker came to his confirmation hearing coiffed with a thick mane of salt-and-pepper gray hair slicked back into a flip of curls at the nape. It's not hard to imagine that the man might once have sported a ponytail, and not just because of rumors that he once was a Democrat. But what really set Honaker apart from the crowd, perhaps, was his wife Shannon.

Honaker has been a longtime member of the Home School Legal Defense Association and an anti-abortion crusader. As such, he has earned the enduring scorn of national women's organizations who have branded him something of a cretin. So I half-expected his wife to resemble Phyllis Schlafly. After all, imagine the woman who would marry such a man? Instead, Shannon Honaker looked a lot more like the Ann Coulter without the Botox and anorexia. She is, you might say, hot.

Not only that, but Mrs. Honaker owns a "home-based fashion consulting and clothing business" called Classic Chic. Yesterday, she was wearing one of her own creations, a stark white pantsuit with cropped jacket over a black shirt. Given that it was February and 26 degrees outside, Mrs. Honaker sailed prominently above a sea of the gray flannel of official Washington, where the white suit really doesn't properly debut until after Memorial Day. After the hearing, Mrs. Honaker told me that while her designs are not available in regular department stores, they apparently have gotten something of a following in Republican fashion circles: At the State of the Union address last month, none other than education secretary Margaret Spellings appeared wearing something from the Classic Chic line…

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Clinton to Obama: Yes We Can

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 3:37 PM EST

Just a few hours after Obama campaign manager David Plouffe insisted that Hillary Clinton has virtually no chance to catch his man in the race for pledged delegates, the Clinton campaign held a conference call saying that they intend to be tied with Obama after the March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas.

Clinton strategist Mark Penn pointed out that Texas' Democratic electorate, which is usually 25 percent Latino, could be as much as 40-50 percent Latino this time around. Ohio, Penn said, is suffering the economic ills that only Hillary Clinton—someone in the "solutions business, not the "promise business"—can heal. Also, in a memo sent around to reporters, Penn pointed out that 41 percent of Ohio's Democratic primary voters in 2004 were white women, a block that is larger than the ones we saw yesterday in Virginia and Maryland.

There are vulnerabilities in Penn's arguments, but also points of strength. Economically minded voters no longer seem to trend to Clinton, no matter how many solutions she has to offer. But white women remain a powerful block for her, and while Latinos in the Potomac Primary went for Obama, they were a tiny percentage of the electorate there and are likely a bad data point when predicting Texas' Latino turnout. The Latino community is Texas is more likely to resemble the one in California that voted heavily for Clinton: more first- and second-generation Latinos that are less assimilated than Mid-Atlantic Latinos and closer to the Latino political machines that are loyal to Clinton.

Team Clinton made sure to point out that they are not focusing solely on Ohio and Texas, however. They mentioned an ad buy in Wisconsin—get ready for the WI/HI primary next Tuesday!—and have apparently set up offices and hired staff in every primary state left on the calendar, plus Puerto Rico. They are ready for a long race, that, in Communications Director Howard Wolfson's words, will ultimately hinge on superdelegates.

Putin to Ukraine: We'll Sell You Natural Gas, But Might Nuke You, Too

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 3:01 PM EST

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Break out your Scorpions records and your parachute pants, for the neo-Cold War is here. Just as your high school's star quarterback now daydreams about past glories while stocking the cereal aisle in your local supermarket, Russia's Vladimir Putin has never quite been able to let go of his KGB past. Like any member of the old Soviet elite, he's gripped the reigns of power with an iron fist and has demonstrated his nostalgia for the once-powerful Motherland by emulating its approach to politics—the political assassinations, the press intimidation, and the corrupt, old-boy political style. Now add military gamesmanship, nuclear sabre-rattling, and economic extortion to the list.

At a Kremlin press conference yesterday, Putin and Viktor Yushchenko, his Ukrainian counterpart (disfigured after being poisoned, allegedly by Russian agents, in the run-up to the Orange Revolution) unveiled a last-minute compromise that would allow Russian natural gas shipments to Ukraine to continue. Russia's state-owned gas monoply Gazprom had threatened to reduce supply by 25 percent until Ukraine agreed to pay down what the company said was a $1.5 billion debt. It was not the first time Putin had used the bitter chill of winter to wage what could literally be called a "cold war"—Russia suspended wintertime natural gas deliveries to Ukraine two years ago, only a month after Yushchenko's Western-leaning regime took power after a disputed election. This winter's threatened reduction in supply had stoked fears of a shortage and price increases in Western Europe, where 80 percent of all natural gas imports, while en route from the Russian Arctic to lucrative Western markets, must first pass through Ukraine. The compromise, reached only minutes before a Russian-imposed deadline on talks, pacified Ukraine by eliminating the participation a Swiss middleman company from natural gas deals in exchange for Russia taking a 50 percent share in the Ukrainian natural gas market. Score one for Putin.

Text Your Way to Sustainable Seafood

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 2:52 PM EST

img_posters_114-Sustainable-Fish.jpg These days it's tricky enough navigating the terrain of seafood for health concerns, much less moral ones. Plenty of organizations have compiled comprehensive lists of good and not-so-good fish to eat, depending on whether the fish are imperiled, how they're caught, their overall health, and other factors.

But let's say you're out at a restaurant and there's fish on the menu (for example, the buttermilk fried calamari that was on the menu when I was dining out last weekend) but you forgot your geeky pocket-sized sustainable fish reference guide. Feel caught in a moral quagmire? Simply get out your cell phone and text "fish" and the name of the fish to 30644. You'll get a text informing you about the fish's sustainability.

I tried the service and within seconds got a text back telling me:

squid; (GREEN) few environmental concerns; squid grow quickly making them resistant to fishing pressure

So I forged ahead, and the squid didn't disappoint.

If your choice isn't "green," the text will provide you with alternatives. This nifty service is offered by the Blue Ocean Institute.

—Joyce Tang

Obama to Clinton: You Can't Catch Me

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 1:10 PM EST

David Plouffe, Barack Obama's campaign manager, was not gloating the morning after. But he did have a message for Hillary Clinton's camp: you can't catch us.

That is, in delegates awarded via primaries and caucuses.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call on Wednesday morning--after Barack Obama swept Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia by supersized margins--Plouffe was low-key in manner but confident in substance. He maintained that, by his campaign's number, Obama now had a lead of 136 delegates in the race for pledged delegates (that excludes superdelegates). He termed it an "enormous" advantage and noted that Clinton could not close this gap without running up a string of "blowout" wins in the coming primaries, including big states (such as delegate-rich Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania) and other states. "Even the most creative math does not get her back to even in pledged delegates," he insisted.