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Carbonfund.org: Seattle Man Offsets Entire Life; Onion: Please Give Our Headline Back

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 3:00 PM EDT

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A typical American life offers no shortage of carbon sins to offset. Eco-conscious consumers can offset their air travel, their weddings, even their offspring. But so far, no one (that we know of, anyway) has gone whole hog and offset everything they've emitted, ever.

Enter Brad Mewhort, 33-year-old vegan, pedestrian, and apologetic air traveler. Earlier this month, carbon offset nonprofit Carbonfund.org announced that that the Seattle sales rep had just finished scrubbing his imprint from the Earth by donating the last $1,500 of a $3,000 contribution to the group. The three grand covers emissions even from family car trips when Mewhort was young, as well as all of the plane trips he must take for his job, and the recent journey to Antarctica that convinced him it was time to take action.

"I was absolutely amazed by what I saw there," says Mewhort. "It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I love penguins, I always have, and they're more incredible than I expected. Their habitat is directly threatened by the impacts of human activity. I decided that I don't want to be personally contributing to this destruction. I decided to purchase offsets as soon as I could."

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Sex-Ed Hearing: Not So Sexy

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 2:50 PM EDT

It's hard to believe a hearing on sex could be so dull. This morning, the vaunted Henry Waxman convened a marathon hearing before his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to "assess" the evidence on abstinence-only sex education, on which the federal government has spent more than $1.3 billion in recent years. The program requires states that take the money to refrain from teaching about contraception in school unless it's to talk about scary STDs and condom failure rates, while encouraging young people to avoid sex until marriage, an expectation that 95 percent of Americans fail to meet.

As oversight hearings go, this one turned out to be a snoozer, in large part because there's not much news here. About a bazillion studies have all found that not only does abstinence-only education not work to reduce unwed pregnancy or STDs, but that it perpetuates false information about the reliability of the things that do work, disparages gays and lesbians, promotes religion in public schools, and demeans women.

The federal program has produced one major success: giving life to a bunch of loony fringe religious groups that wouldn't exist but for those federal funds. Many of these groups got their start as "crisis pregnancy centers" that used dubious tactics to dissuade young women from having abortions. But their views were largely left off the panel, a fact that irked Republicans who accused Waxman of stacking the hearing solely with critics. Indiana Rep. Mark Souder complained that Waxman had failed to invite such witnesses as the doctors who treat girls infected with STDs "while using condoms." He fumed about liberals who are promoting a "radical sexual economy" as part of their attack on abstinence programs, and suggested that teaching kids about birth control and condoms was part of that depraved agenda.

Levin Rachets Up Pressure on the Pentagon Puppets

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 1:48 PM EDT

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) has asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to investigate the claims of a recent New York Times report that found retired military officers have been used as Pentagon puppets in the media.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as "military analysts" whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.
Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration's wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.
The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

In a letter to Gates, Levin wrote, "While the media clearly have their own shortfalls for paying people to provide 'independent' analysis when they have such real and apparent conflicts, that doesn't excuse the Department's behavior in giving both special treatment and valuable access to analysts who provide commentary in favor of DoD's strategy, while not offering similar access to some other analysts and cutting off access to others who didn't deliver as expected."

How WWII Trivia Applies to the Pennsylvania Primary

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 1:06 PM EDT

In 1944, the Japanese army sent a man named Hiroo Onoda to the small Philippine island of Lubang with orders to guard the island until the army sent for him. Shortly after Onoda landed Allied forces took the island, killing or capturing all of the Japanese soldiers save for Onoda and three comrades. Onoda took the men into the jungle and hid there.

The Japanese surrendered in August 1945, but no one in the Japanese military got word to Onoda and his men. As time went by, locals tried to convince them that the war was over but the soldiers believed that every note left and every leaflet dropped was a trick of the enemy. The emotional and physical strain growing, the four soldiers started to fired on the locals. One of the four was eventually killed in a skirmish. Another walked away.

Onoda and his single remaining comrade, Kinshichi Kozuka, lived together in the jungles of Lubang until 1972, when Kozuka was shot by Filipino police. News of Kozuka's death alerted Japan to the possiblity that Onoda, who had been declared legally dead years earlier, was still alive. Eventually, he was found by a traveling student, who arranged a meeting between Onoda and his one-time superior officer. In 1974, they met on Lubang and Onoda's superior officer told him that the war was over. In 29 years of hiding, Onoda and his men had killed a reported 30 people and injured over 100 more. Nevertheless, Onoda was pardoned by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and given a hero's welcome in Japan.

I mention this only because Ron Paul received 16 percent of the vote in yesterday's Republican primary in Pennsylvania.

Obama Now Brought to You by Abercrombie & Fitch

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 12:58 PM EDT

mojo-photo-obamaandfitch.jpgBoth Towleroad and Gawker noticed this too: last night, during Barack Obama's Pennsylvania concession speech (in Indiana, naturally), there was a bit of surprising, shall we say, product placement. Three fine-looking young collegiate bros, placed directly behind the candidate, each wearing a clearly-branded Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt. First of all, what are the chances? I can imagine two frat boys leaving the frat house with their A&F shirts, but once a third joins them, you'd think one of them would go back and change. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that this is, as Gawker suggests, "a plot by the Obama campaign to win back the gay community, which has something of a taste for the youth clothing retailer and, especially, its catalogs, but whose vote is basically owned by Hillary Clinton." So true, and oh, the shame. Don't let anybody tell you the gays always have good taste.

So what's going on? Did A&F dispatch a trifecta of models to the arena, hoping for some air time? Or is this an inside deal, with the Obama campaign getting a cut (and maybe some boxer briefs)? If so, you'd think they'd be more about United Colors of Benetton, especially since A&F are well known for, er, marketing group sex to teens. Whose shirts can we expect to show up behind Hillary during her North Carolina concession speech, Polo by Ralph Lauren? Well, I don't care if these speeches turn into runway shows, I just want this thing over.

After the jump, watch the Obama speech and amuse yourself by imagining what each of our Abercrombie boys are thinking at any given moment.

Petraeus To Lead Central Command

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 12:24 PM EDT

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For those serving at the pleasure of the president, it's never been a good idea to speak out against his policies—a lesson Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon learned recently when Esquire magazine, as part of a lengthy profile, described him as the only thing standing between Bush and war with Iran. Fallon tendered his resignation (read: was fired) shortly after the article's publication. The news today is that General David Petraeus, one of Fallon's primary opponents in intra-Pentagon squabbles and a practiced public supporter of the Bush administration's Iraq strategy, will be taking over the job of his former nemesis. Read the AP story here, which reports that Bush plans to nominate Petraeus as the next commander of U.S. Central Command.

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Wal-Mart Rations Rice

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 12:24 PM EDT

rice100.jpgShoot! You were planning a rice-and-beans dinner party for 100, and you thought for sure your local Wal-Mart would meet all your bulk rice needs.

Think again. Because of rising rice prices around the globe and worries about shortages, the biggest big box has announced that it will ration long grain, jasmine, and basmati rice, allowing customers to purchase only four bags per visit.

Since the beginning of 2008, rice prices have risen 68 percent worldwide. This is one of the main reasons that food riots have broken out recently all over the developing world.

Saint Louis Meriska's children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, "They look at me and say, 'Papa, I'm hungry,' and I have to look away. It's humiliating and it makes you angry."

In light of this two-spoonfuls anecdote, Wal-Mart's four-bag limit sounds downright decadent, but rice rationing in the U.S. means that whatever is going on with supply and demand trends is not good. Once land-o'-plenty retailers start fretting about global food shortages, you can be sure it's time to worry.

Will Low-Carbon Diets Catch On?

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 12:20 PM EDT

Britain's largest food retailer, Tesco, says it's going to start putting carbon footprint labels on food in its stores next month. Although the "carbon labels" will only be on food produced under Tesco's own brand name, it will be the first time a major food retailer has made such a move. Tesco worked with the Carbon Trust to find a way to calculate foods' footprints and create the labels. "It has not been simple, but we are there," said Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy. Leahy said details will be revealed and he hopes Tesco's labels "will end up being a standard."

Stateside, the LA Times reports that 400 college eateries serviced by Bon Appetit Management Co. will be able to provide a "low carbon diet" to students. One sign posted at a "low carbon" college cafe had a sign posted saying "Cows or cars? Worldwide, livestock emits 18% of greenhouse gases, more than the transportation sector! Today we're offering great-tasting vegetarian choices." Translation: no hamburgers today.

There have been a few disgruntled students, but Bon Appetit aims to reduce its carbon footprint by 25% by serving more vegetarian entrees and less beef, lamb, and cheese. This may sound like a small change, but if Bon Appétit's parent company also went low-carbon, it would affect 8,000 locations lincluding sports arenas, public schools, and hospitals.

Jihadists "Branding" Internet Propaganda to Control Message

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 11:09 AM EDT

Daniel Kimmage, a senior analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is the author of a new study called "The Al Qaeda Media Nexus" (.pdf) about recent developments in jihadist Internet activities. The study finds that Al Qaeda and related groups "are moving toward a more structured approach based on consistent branding and quasi-official media entities. Their reasons for doing so appear to be a desire to boost the credibility of their products and ensure message control." In essence, Al Qaeda is seeking to emulate the "brick and mortar" structure of mainstream Western media with the creation of elite news brands—a select group of fundamentalist CNNs, if you will, complete with "jihad correspondents"—that can manipulate and control the virtual discussion among terrorist groups. Online propaganda operations like the Global Islamic Media Front, the Al-Sahab Institute for Media Production, and the Al-Fajr Media Center typically receive content, in the form of ideological screeds or videos of bombings or beheadings, from an array of terrorist groups in various conflict zones around the world, to which they afix a logo, suggesting to jihadist readers that the message has received "official" approval from a larger, global movement.

The trend runs counter to Al Qaeda's operational modus operandi, which emphasizes small cells working in isolation with minimal oversight from Al Qaeda central—a fact that could open Al Qaeda's media arm to new vulnerabilities if intelligence agencies can figure a way to disrupt key online hubs for the distribution of propaganda. But the larger threat may come from within, suggests Kimmage. Al Qaeda has long been ahead of the curve in terms of using the Internet to spread its message, but has so far refused to incorporate new technologies focusing on user-generated content... a decision that has the potential to backfire.

According to Kimmage:

In 2006, Al Qaeda released a big position paper and they warned their supporters against creating their own content. They said this was 'media exuberance' and that their supporters should let the official distribution and production groups handle this. Even when Al Qaeda has tried to be interactive, it is quite old-fashioned. So the question that we end up with is: Al Qaeda—which had done so well using the Internet to spread its message over the last few years—are they now doomed to fade with this new more interactive and user-generated network? And will they be replaced by a much larger, much more integrated, much freer, much more empowered world in which it is very difficult to control messages and in which no one has a monopoly on information?
Freer and more empowered networks, in the end, will do more to undermine Al Qaeda's message than the actions of any government. In the end, an idea that takes root in the political sphere—an idea that encourages people and inspires them to commit violence—it only fades and dies when the idea itself is discredited. The discrediting of this idea, of this ideology, will happen online through a large conversation that takes places mainly without governments.

Clinton Ducks the Weathermen Question

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 10:40 AM EDT

The Hillary Clinton campaign keeps ducking on the Weathermen issue that it tried to use against Barack Obama. First, campaign communications director Howard Wolfson broke a promise to tell reporters what Clinton thought of her husband's 2001 pardon of two Weather Underground radicals who had gone to jail for involvement in violent crimes. Then, yesterday, Clinton herself played dumb when asked about those pardons:

I didn't know anything about it? At what point? The question, though, is, what do you think of those pardons? In this interview, Clinton said, "When you run for president...you know that everything is going to be fair game." So if you're going to blast an opponent for having once held a fundraiser at the apartment of William Ayers, a former Weather Underground radical, you ought to be willing to handle questions regarding your closest campaign adviser's decision to pardon two Weather Underground veterans. That's certainly fair game.

Clarification: Clinton did not issue pardons to the two radicals; he commuted their prison sentences. Media accounts often conflate the two different actions. These two commutations were announced by the White House on January 20, 2001, as part of a long list of almost 140 pardons and commutations, which included the infamous pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich--which was a pardon.