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The NSA Is Monitoring... Everything

| Mon Mar. 10, 2008 2:55 PM EDT

Excellent reporting from the WSJ on the NSA's scary domestic reach.

According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called "transactional" data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA's own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge's approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.

Read the whole thing. And you thought Total Information Awareness was dead.

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Clinton Press Team Tries Again

| Mon Mar. 10, 2008 1:49 PM EDT

clinton-clark250x200.jpg The Clinton press office trotted out a bunch of foreign policy types last week to criticize Samantha Power's statement on Barack Obama's Iraq plan, raising David's hackles. They tried again today, with General Wesley Clark, Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard, and Admiral/Congressman Joe Sestak.

All three men said that they trust Hillary Clinton's foreign policy judgment. Ballard repeatedly referred to the "courage of her convictions." They criticized Obama for campaigning on a plan for withdrawing from Iraq that, according to Power, is just a "best-case scenario" that will be revised when Obama takes office and speaks with advisers. Those advisers won't have a "magic plan," said Clark. "It really comes down to the resolve and conviction of the president." Ballard added that "[Clinton] has been unwavering in her commitment to withdrawal... When people vote [for her] they know what they're going to get."

I asked the military men on the call if they were criticizing Obama fairly. Wouldn't they want the president to speak to advisers, including military advisers like themselves, before executing a military maneuver such as a withdrawal?

An Ugly Moment for the Clinton Campaign

| Mon Mar. 10, 2008 10:45 AM EDT

On Friday afternoon, the Clinton campaign took the unusual step of convening a second conference call of the day for reporters. And it was a sorry spectacle.

The call was prompted by the report that Samantha Power, who that morning had resigned as a foreign policy aide to Barack Obama after a news story noted she had called Hillary Clinton a "monster," had told the BBC, during an interview, that Obama's withdrawal plan for Iraq was a "best-case scenario." In that interview, she said, Obama "will, of course, not rely on some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator."

On the conference call, the Clintonites pounced on these comments. Retired General Wesley Clark said he found Power's remarks about Obama's Iraq policy "quite disturbing." Jamie Rubin, a Clinton foreign policy aide, derided Power as Obama's foreign policy "Svenagli or guru" and claimed her remarks about Iraq were proof that Obama cannot create an efficient and effective foreign policy team, calling the episode "amateur hour" for the Obama campaign. He claimed Power's comments showed that Obama's private position was different than his public posture on Iraq. Howard Wolfson, the campaign's communications direction, insisted that Power's statements meant that Obama's vow to withdraw troops from Iraq was nothing but a political promise. Also on the call for the Clinton campaign was Lee Feinstein, another foreign policy adviser to Clinton, and Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachussetts liberal and leading member of of the Out of Iraq caucus in the House.

This was overkill. During the BBC interview, Power had said that Obama, in removing troops from Iraq, "will rely upon a plan—an operational plan—that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn't have daily access now, as a result of not being the president. So to think—it would be the height of ideology to sort of say, 'Well, I said it, therefore I'm going to impose it on whatever reality greets me.'" In other words, a campaign proposal is just that: a proposal. And only a fool would think that a military plan would be applied to reality unchanged a year after it was first devised.

Blackwater Abandons Plan For California Training Facility

| Sun Mar. 9, 2008 11:21 AM EDT

Almost a year after Blackwater scrapped plans for a training facility to be located in the Philippines, a company representative said Friday that the private security firm is no longer seeking to build "Blackwater West" in Potrero, California.

The prospect of Blackwater expanding its training operations to the area had sparked political controversy in the small town of Potrero, about 45 miles east of San Diego, where locals organized protests to prevent the move. Blackwater responded with a PR campaign that included an appearance by the firm's Parachute Demonstration Team (seriously, how many companies have one of those?) during the half-time show of a San Diego State football game. If that wasn't enough, Blackwater upped the ante when it provided a tent city for families displaced by last fall's California wildfires. But alas, even that was not enough to win the hearts and minds of southern Californians. (Watch the YouTube depiction of the mythical "Blackwater Surfer" for a comic representation of some residents' fears.)

From Bill Sizemore at the Virginian-Pilot:

The Moyock, N.C.-based private military company has learned that the project would not comply with the county noise ordinance, spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said Friday.
"Although the site would have brought a great benefit to San Diego County - providing local, state, and federal law enforcement with access to low-cost superior training facilities while bringing much-needed jobs to the area - the proposed site plan simply does not meet the county's parameters or our business objectives at this time," Tyrrell said in an e-mail statement. The proposal had stirred a storm of opposition from a coalition of rural residents, environmentalists and anti-war activists.
In December, five members of a local planning board who had voted to approve the project were recalled by voters in Potrero, the tiny community 45 miles east of San Diego where Blackwater wanted to build its facility on an 824-acre chicken and cattle ranch.
Raymond Lutz, one of the leaders of the opposition, said Friday he believes the company simply yielded to the popular will.
Lutz had just announced his candidacy Thursday for the local state Assembly seat, pledging to run largely on an anti-Blackwater platform.
"They just said, in my view, 'We're out of here,' " Lutz said. "'We have to get out of this and cut our losses right now.' "

Obama Takes Wyoming

| Sun Mar. 9, 2008 11:11 AM EDT

As you may know, Barack Obama won the Wyoming caucus yesterday. Obama took 61 percent to Clinton's 38 percent, and will net seven of Wyoming's 12 delegates.

The Clinton team has done a masterful job of making states in which Obama is the heavy favorite, like Wyoming, count for virtually nothing in the grand media narrative about momentum. It helps that Obama can win and has won tons and tons of small states, but is having trouble nailing down big ones. In the presidential campaign math that we all operate under, one California or New Jersey or Ohio counts for four or five Wyomings. Whether or not you think that's a good thing probably depends on what size your home state is.

After a week or two of awful news, Obama desperately needs today's win and Tuesday's expected win in Mississippi.

Foldable Cars Park (Stack) Like Grocery Carts

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 7:55 PM EST

citystack.jpg

It's still only an idea. But a fine one from MIT's The Media Lab's Smart Cities. A futuristic electric CityCar that can drive itself and, at the press of a button, look for a parking spot behind others like itself, then fold in half and stack like a shopping cart. Reuters reports that a miniature mock-up version has gone on display at a campus museum, and there are plans to build a full-scale model this spring. Wired's blog Autotopia explained the car's premise some time ago:

The GM-backed CityCar prototype is a lightweight electric vehicle that's cheap to make and could be folded and stacked at transit hubs for rental by commuters under a shared-use model. The trick is to rethink the wheel. In the CityCar, a robotic drive system controls electric motors, steering and braking mechanisms, suspension, and digital controls embedded in each wheel — all integrated into plug-and-play sealed units that can be snapped on and off… Besides its stackability, its omnidirectional wheel configuration enables a turning radius of zero, turning U-turns into O-turns… Other features: push-button start, handlebars where the steering wheel would be, and a body made of Kevlar, carbon fiber, or some other lightweight composite.

Imagine if parking, drive time, congestion, navigation, and your fellow driver was no longer an issue. Imagine what that might do to emotional health, personal time & energy budgets, neighborly love, and the big CO2 footprint in the sky. Imagine if we didn't need to compete for space but could happily piggyback on each other. Okay, call me an idealist but there are days when the future looks good enough for hope... You'll have to navigate on your own through the Smart Cities pages to find the City Car. But it's a really fun ride.

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.

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Out: Disneyland Rainforests. In: Freedom Land!

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 7:49 PM EST

It's not the first time Disney has unceremoniously cut the work of once-beloved 1940s feminist Mary Blair (Tomorrowland, ironically, is long gone), but making her Small World smaller will leave a lasting scar.

More after the jump...

LOST: To Gas or Not To Gas?

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 6:38 PM EST

mojo-photo-lost0307.jpgWhile last week's episode was a surprisingly affecting reminder of how emotionally powerful this show can be, even when you have very little idea of what the hell is going on, last night's episode was more about giving us edge-of-our-seats suspense while, uh, having no idea what the hell is going on. Plus, you know, a quick blowing of all the semiotics majors' minds with the line "It's very stressful being an Other." Tell me about it!

Actually, we did get some interesting back story on Juliet, whose relationship with Ben turns out to be even creepier than we thought. Juliet's dalliance with Goodwin basically got him killed, as a madly jealous Ben sent him off to his demise. Turns out Juliet looked just like Ben's… 3rd grade teacher? Just a guess. So, that explains how Juliet went from angelic Lifetime-TV-special "I'm just trying to save the mothers" doctor lady into manipulative Other. It happens to the best of us.

A New FISA Whistleblower

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 5:32 PM EST

Some powerful congressmen are raising new questions about telecom immunity based upon the allegations of a new industry whistleblower. In a letter released yesterday, three senior members of the House Energy and Commerce committee, including its chairman, John Dingell (D-Mich.) highlight the case of Babak Pasdar, who has charged "at least one major wireless telecommunications giant" of giving "a Governmental entity access to every communication coming through that company's infrastructure, including every e-mail, Internet use, document transmission, video, and text message, as well as the ability to listen in on any phone call."

Pasdar has been known to the committee for some time, but he has come forward publicly now because the Bush administration has blocked every effort to investigate his charges privately.

His allegations mirror those of retired AT&T technician Mark Klein, who came forward accusing his company of providing the government access to, well, just about everything. Dingell, (along with subcommittee chairmen Edward Markey and Bart Stupak) write "Members should be given adequate time to properly evaluate the separate question of retroactive immunity."

At least. The letter can be accessed here.

Friday Top Five: Beach House, 3Face, McLaughlin Grooves?

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 3:54 PM EST

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1. Beach House – "Gila" (mp3 at The Line of Best Fit)
Turns out Baltimore doesn't just make thuddy syncopated club tunes with SpongeBob samples, it also boasts Velvet Underground-y duo Beach House, and this tune from their excellent new album Devotion is both delicate and dark.

2. 3face – "Different World" (All Star Remix) (buy it at iTunes)
Amazingly, the sped-up Four Tops sample isn't even the best thing about this new grime number from the London MC: it's the propulsive, ringing chords that push the verses along, urgent and hypnotic.

3. Andrew WK – "McLaughlin Groove" (listen at the Fair Game site)
Wow: turns out Andrew WK's bloody, raucous throwdowns fit right in with the long-running political talk show's bloody, raucous throwdowns. My mind is blown.