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House Capitulation on FISA?

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 2:33 PM EST

Speculation began on Saturday, and was refueled again today, that House Democrats, led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, would figure out a way to--at the very least--make sure a telecom immunity provision becomes law. I haven't been able to confirm any of this myself. More specifically, I've been told both that Reyes really is likely to lead a cave-in, and also that there's no reason to think that will happen, but whatever the case is, we may find out as early as tomorrow. And if, as the L.A. Times article suggests, we're going to see a new bill or set of bills altogether, then it's possible the whole thing will become tied up in the Senate. Again.

Glenn Greenwald has written an important post on the optics of all this, if, of course, the reports from the last two days prove to be correct.

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Gaza Strife Raises Urgency of Israeli Calls for Talks with Hamas

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 12:28 PM EST

After a weekend ground operation in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip that left more than 100 people dead, many of them civilians, Israeli Defense Forces pulled out of Gaza Monday. The withdrawal could be a gesture to placate an important visitor: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to arrive in Israel Tuesday to try to advance stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and all out-warfare going on in the background to her peace mission would no doubt be an embarrassment to Washington.

But as former Israeli intelligence chief Efraim Halevy told me in a recent interview, Israel and Rice are not talking to a key player: Hamas. Halevy advocates that Israel and Washington back indirect proximity talks between Israel and Hamas, conducted by a trusted third party. He is not alone. News media report that Egypt is trying to broker a cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, an arrangement publicly supported by Israeli Labor minister Ami Ayalon, among others. If a cease fire is not able to be achieved and Hamas' Qhassam and Grad rockets continue to hit the Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, Israeli officials are warning that last weekend's incursion will be dwarfed by a full scale ground invasion of Gaza in coming weeks. "It makes sense to approach a possible initial understanding including Hamas—but not exclusively Hamas—at a time when they are still asking for one," Halevy told me. "No side will gain from a flare up leading to Israel re-entering the Gaza strip in strength to undo the ill-fated unilateral disengagement of 2005."

Here is the interview with Halevy.

Whoops - Obama Adviser Did Talk NAFTA With Canadian Gov't

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 11:32 AM EST

By now, everyone is familiar with the Canadian television report that alleged an Obama adviser went to the Canadian government and told officials that Obama's NAFTA-bashing is merely campaign rhetoric, and shouldn't be taken seriously.

Also well known are the Obama campaign's denials, and the Canadian government's denials.

Turns out, it may well be true. Someone leaked a memo to the AP that describes a meeting between Obama's senior economic policy adviser Austan Goolsbee and officials with the Canadian consulate in Chicago. In the memo, Goolsbee's comments on NAFTA on portrayed this way:

"Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign. He cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."

Clinton Says Obama Was MIA on Afghanistan. But Was She, Too?

| Mon Mar. 3, 2008 11:17 AM EST

In the past few days, as Hillary Clinton has intensified her attacks on Barack Obama prior to the all-important primaries in Ohio and Texas, she has claimed that he has been "missing in action" regarding Afghanistan. Clinton has been trying to make the case that she's better prepped than Obama to be commander-in-chief and more qualified to answer the phone at 3:00 a.m. when crisis strikes. To prove her point, she notes that Obama, who chairs a foreign relations subcommittee covering European matters, has held not one hearing on how to bolster NATO in Afghanistan. This weekend she told reporters on her campaign plane that he has failed in a "responsibility that is directly related to Afghanistan." She urged the journos to grill Obama on this. She said that Afghanistan is "one of the two most important challenges internationally." And she added, "I think he was missing in action...because he was running for president."

It's true that Obama has convened no meetings of the subcommittee, but his camp counters that he became chair of the subcommittee early last year, just as he was starting his presidential campaign. Clinton is technically correct that Obama could have used the subcommittee to conduct oversight of actions and policies related to Afghanistan. But the full foreign relations committee, under the guidance of Senator Joe Biden, has held several hearings on Afghanistan that covered NATO's role there. It's not as if the foreign relations committee did nothing on Afghanistan because Obama did not take on the mission. Also, as happens with many committees, the chair of the full committee reserves the right to handle the big issues him- or herself, and Afghanistan counts as a big issue.

Clinton ought to be careful about hurling stones in this area. As she always tells campaign crowds, she is a member of the Senate armed services committee. In February the committee held two hearings on Afghanistan. On February 8, it focused on appropriations for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was a witness. Eight days later, the committee zeroed in on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, holding a two-part hearing examining recent reports on Afghanistan. Key witnesses included senior officials from the State Department and the Pentagon responsible for the administration's Afghanistan policy.

Clinton attended neither of these hearings. She was on the campaign trail.

Many hearings occur on Capitol Hill without all members--or even a majority of members--of the committee in attendance. In fact, that's more common than not. At plenty of hearings, the committee chair is the only senator or representative present. So it's no surprise or scandal that Clinton was not there for these two Afghanistan hearings. (She did participate in two hearings on Afghanistan held by the committee in the first half of 2007.) But in a campaign season, a spinner could easily say that she's guilty of the same charge she tosses at Obama: putting presidential campaigning ahead of Afghanistan. Her neglect, certainly, is not the same as his: he held no hearings for a year; she attended no hearings this year. But as Clinton throws the kitchen sink at Obama, she ought to make sure nuts and bolts don't bounce back at her.

China's More-Child Policy?

| Sun Mar. 2, 2008 6:48 PM EST

566394520_9e9b6d4f93_m.jpg China is considering scrapping its one-child policy because of worries about an ageing population and how much of a social net the country can afford without the traditional reliance on large families to care for the aged. "We want incrementally to have this [one-child policy] change," said Vice Minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission Zhao Baige. Planet Ark reports that teams studying the issue would have to consider the strain of China's huge population on its scarce resources.

Okay, it doesn't take a lot of number crunching to recognize that no amount of young workers "supporting" the elderly will make up for droughts, floods, deforestation, dustbowls-for-croplands, climate change, sea-level rise, extinctions, and economic meltdown that will follow in the wake of more people on our little world. This goes for all nations toying with or employing pronatalist policies: US, France, Russia, Australia, Canada, Japan, and growing…

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.

Buckley's '69 Preview of a Pax Americana

| Fri Feb. 29, 2008 8:01 PM EST

buckley.jpg

William F. Buckley, a man so idiosyncratic he could only be described as a caricature of himself, died on Wednesday. A conservative writer, magazine founder, failed NYC mayoral candidate, and television host, Buckley's views and his magazine, the National Review, could very well be considered Mother Jones' ideological counterbalance, a publication that, as described by the New York Times, "isolated [the] cranks from Mr. Buckley's chosen mainstream."

I found this gem of a video today, Buckley going up against Noam Chomsky in a 1969 debate on American imperialism and intervention. It shows a classic Buckley, so enamored with his own mannerisms and quirks that he hardly notices Chomsky tearing him apart. In making the case for an imperialism that seeks to "help" as opposed to exploit, Buckley says, "There is an observable distinction by, ahem, intelligent man between a country that reaches out and interferes with the affairs of another country because it has reason to believe that a failure to do so will result in universal misery, and that country which reaches out and interferes with another country because it wants to establish Coca Cola plants and Chase national banks and whatever and exploit it." And there you have it, one of the founders of the modern conservative movement lays out an ideology that will come in handy for a certain group o' buddies 34 years later.

Video after the jump:

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LOST: Following the Money Trail

| Fri Feb. 29, 2008 8:01 PM EST

lost-the-constan.jpgWow, last night's episode of LOST was chock-full of action. There was a love story, time traveling, an art auction, even military exercises in the rain. It was almost as if the creators didn't feel they had enough time to pack everything into one episode.

Time, of course, is the key to the island and why our plucky survivors are still there instead of in balmy Los Angeles. The time difference—now established beyond a shadow of a doubt, though exactly how long it is is still to be determined—is why people are so keen to study the island, and also why it's so darn hard to get off it. But there's still the question of who knows about this time difference and what they are doing, or trying to do, to exploit it. To answer that question, let's use an old journalism maxim: follow the money.

Clinton Camp to Press: All We Want is Willing Suspension of Disbelief

| Fri Feb. 29, 2008 4:10 PM EST

The Clinton campaign's press call with reporters this afternoon felt like a scene from a bizarro universe, where the suspension of disbelief was demanded at the door.

Reporters were primed for the call by a memo disseminated by the campaign earlier in the morning that referred to the four primaries on March 4 as "Obama Must-Wins." It cited Obama's spending advantage in Ohio and Texas and the fact that he has campaigned heavily in these states. "Should Senator Obama fail to score decisive victories with all of the resources and effort he is bringing to bear," it said, "the message will be clear: Democrats, the majority of whom have favored Hillary in the primary contests held to date, have their doubts about Senator Obama and are having second thoughts about him as a prospective standard-bearer."

The memo didn't bother to answer some obvious questions, such as, Given that the Clinton campaign has lost 11 primaries in a row, how can Obama losing a few close contests on Tuesday in states where he has trailed in the polls be considered a repudiation of his campaign? And considering that streak of losses, how can this be a must-win for anyone but Clinton?

But on these questions and others, the Clinton representatives on the call, including communications director Howard Wolfson and chief strategist Mark Penn, stuck to the party line, no matter how ridiculous.

New Clinton Advertisement: Protect the Kids!

| Fri Feb. 29, 2008 3:42 PM EST

Here's the ad everyone's talking about.

Note that the phone rings six times before Clinton answers it in the ad's final scene. How ready is she, really? Here are the two ads that it reminds everyone of:

This quote might be relevant: "One of Clinton's laws of politics is, if one candidate is trying to scare you, and the other one is trying to make you think, if one candidate's appealing to your fears, and the other one's appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope.'' That's Bill Clinton on the stump, campaigning for John Kerry in 2004.

Update: Obama hits back. His ad, after the jump.

Dance Beat Sneaking Back Into Hip-Hop

| Fri Feb. 29, 2008 1:32 PM EST

mojo-photo-snoop.jpgWhat I wanna do right here is go back: way back, back into time, to the early 1990s, and to a short-lived musical genre called "hip house." Bridging the sonic and cultural gap between the up tempo 4/4 beats of house music clubs in Chicago and Detroit with the energy and lyrical flow of New York hip-hop, the hybrid genre was everywhere for a brief moment. Artists like Fast Eddie and Mr. Lee threw down the party jams, while bands like A Homeboy a Hippie and a Funky Dread and Genaside pushed musical boundaries. And don't forget Technotronic! It seemed like the future, a musical genre that broke barriers of race and sexuality. So, what happened to it?