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New Music: The Duke Spirit - Neptune

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 6:47 PM EST

mojo-photo-neptune.jpgOkay, I have to clear my head of all that Grammys negativity by talking about something good. The Duke Spirit hail from Cheltenham, England, a "spa town" off in the west by Bristol; it's a little isolated, and their sound is too: a kind of throwback to '90s grunge with a liberal helping of Queens of the Stone Age-style riffs. Their first album, 2004's Cuts Across the Land, was an underappreciated gem of fuzzy, bluesy rock, made even more unique by lead singer Leila Moss' chiming voice. Critics compared them to PJ Harvey or Patti Smith, but more than anything they reminded me of Salt, another underappreciated female-fronted hard-rock band who had a minor hit in '95 with "Bluster." In any event, The Duke Spirit seemed mysteriously, intriguingly out-of-sync.

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The Continued Absurdity of the Missing White House Emails Case

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 6:23 PM EST

Regular MotherJones.com readers may recall that last spring, the White House reported that it may have lost some 5 million emails. Later last year, two non-profits, the National Security Archive (NSA) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), sued to ensure the preservation of the emails. (That suit is still pending, and you can read about the whole story on our missing White House emails index page).

During the course of the legal proceedings, CREW filed Freedom of Information Act requests for documents prepared by the White House Office of Administration (OA) that analyzed the scale of the missing email problem. But the White House denied the FOIA requests, making the unique and unprecedented legal argument that the OA is not, in fact, a federal agency and therefore not subject to the FOIA. CREW sued, citing OA's previous treatment as an agency and history of responding to FOIA requests as obvious evidence that the White House argument was ridiculous. That brings us to today, when a DC district court ordered (PDF) limited discovery in order to find out whether OA is, in fact, a federal agency.

You read that right: CREW had to get a court order to gather information to prove that a government agency is, in fact, a government agency.

Grammys Ceremony Like a Terrible Curse That Ruins Even Good Ideas

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 5:45 PM EST

There's been a lot of post-Grammys snark around the interblogs, and of course there were a million things to hate about last night's broadcast. So here I am, trying to think of a "Top 5 Good Things About the Grammys" post; you know, "accentuate the positive" and all that. But I can't do it. Every time I think of something halfway decent that happened on the seemingly endless broadcast last night, I remember something that disqualifies it. Take, for instance, Kanye and Daft Punk. A funky, jazzed-up combo performance by the eccentric rapper and the French techno duo, followed by a heartfelt ode to Kanye's mom: what could go wrong? But the imitation Daft Punk pyramid looked like it was made out of cardboard, and its goofy game-show-reminiscent opening-up to reveal the duo in their light-trimmed suits just looked cheap. Right afterwards, Kanye sang his heart out, but they had to accompany his performance with a laughably cheesy projection of a slo-mo angel; did they think the "MAMA" shaved into the back of Kanye's head wasn't going to be a big enough clue?

The Dark Side of Biofuels

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 4:54 PM EST

biofuel.jpg Yet another study deepening our understanding of just why converting native ecosystems to biofuel farms is increasing not mitigating climate change. This according to a study by the University of Minnesota and the Nature Conservancy published online today in Science, finding that turning rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands into biofuel-yielding croplands emits large amounts of carbon that add to the atmosphere's already heavy burden of greenhouse gases.

In Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the US, land is being planted with corn or sugarcane to produce ethanol, or with palm trees or soybeans to produce biodiesel. The land conversions pump out 17 to 423 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels with the biofuels. This carbon debt must pay off before they biofuels begin to have the effect of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. In the worst scenario, peatland conversions to palm oil plantations in Indonesia ran up a carbon debt requiring 423 years to pay off. In the Amazon, soybeans will take 319 years. The conversion of U.S. grasslands for corn ethanol and Indonesian rainforests for palm biodiesel also ran up big carbon debts.

There is a solution. The researchers suggest that biofuels made from waste biomass or from biomass grown on abandoned agricultural lands planted with perennials incur little or no carbon debt and offer immediate and sustained greenhouse gas advantages. In the US, Conservation Reserve Program lands, idle lands, and others once in agriculture can be used to grow biofuels and provide energy sources much better than fossil fuels.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

The Bushies Coalesce Around McCain

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 3:16 PM EST

mccain_bush_hug.jpg Here's George W. Bush speaking about John McCain, February 10, on Fox News Sunday:

"I know him well. I know his convictions. I know the principles that drive him. And no doubt in my mind he's a true conservative... He's very strong on national defense. He's tough fiscally. He believes that tax cuts ought to be permanent. He's pro-life. I mean, his principles are sound and solid as far as I'm concerned."

Bush is telling people privately that "McCain would be the best to carry forth [my] agenda."

Here's Jeb Bush endorsing John McCain, February 11, in an email from the McCain campaign:

"John McCain is a patriot and devoted conservative leader. Like no other candidate in the field, John McCain has made tremendous sacrifices for this nation. He is beholden to no interest other than that of the public good. He is determined and steadfast in his commitment to reducing the burden of high taxes, restoring the people's trust in their government, and winning the war against radical Islamic extremists. It is with pride that I announce my endorsement of John McCain for president."

And here's Karl Rove speaking about John McCain, February 10, on Face the Nation:

"I did contribute [$2,300 to him]...My mind was he is our presumptive nominee and it was time to write him a check."

The establishment welcomes the maverick. As if it had any other choice...

Huckabee Goes Nuclear on WA State GOP

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 12:58 PM EST

huckabee_mouth_open.jpg Mike Huckabee is not happy. An email sent to reporters from his campaign:

NEWS RELEASE: MIKE HUCKABEE'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN ISSUES STATEMENT ON DUBIOUS WASHINGTON STATE GOP CAUCUSES

Richmond, VA — The Huckabee Presidential Campaign will be exploring all available legal options regarding the dubious final results for the state of Washington State Republican precinct caucuses, it was announced today. Campaign Chairman Ed Rollins issued the following statement:

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Watch the New McCain Viral Vid: john.he.is

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 12:34 PM EST

You've seen the Obama video "Yes We Can." Now see the McCain knock-off.

I think my favorite part is the guy blowing into the paper bag at the end. And remember, we were on the scene for that "100 years of war" comment, and we asked McCain if he stood by it. Not only did he stand by it, he endorsed "a thousand years" or "a million years" of war.

Army Buried Iraq Post-War Planning Study

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 10:40 AM EST

Fearing the wrath of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the White House, the Army buried a detailed unclassified study it had commissioned assessing why Iraq post-war planning had been such a disaster, the New York Times' Michael Gordon reports.

After 18 months of research, RAND submitted a report in the summer of 2005 called "Rebuilding Iraq." RAND researchers provided an unclassified version of the report along with a secret one, hoping that its publication would contribute to the public debate on how to prepare for future conflicts.
But the study's wide-ranging critique of the White House, the Defense Department and other government agencies was a concern for Army generals, and the Army has sought to keep the report under lock and key. ....

Can Clinton Wait Until Texas and Ohio?

| Sun Feb. 10, 2008 2:04 PM EST

The Clinton campaign has made it clear that it is looking ahead to the March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas. Even before it lost Louisiana, Washington, and Nebraska on Saturday, campaign officials were telling the press that they are effectively conceding everything between Super Tuesday and March 4.

This is a smart move in at least one respect: expectations. The press has a bad habit of not making much of victories unless they are unexpected — if Obama wins by 20 points in three states he was "supposed" to win, there's little talk of momentum even a day and a half later. So Clinton won't be hurt if she loses all of the remaining states before March 4--Maryland, Virginia, D.C., Hawaii, and Wisconsin--but she will receive a lot of positive press if she somehow wins one of them. (She lost the Maine caucus on Sunday.)

As a side note, it's worth pointing out that the Obama campaign doesn't really play this game. It doesn't try to manage expectations in the way the Clinton campaign does, which means that Obama is often in a disadvantageous position in the media narrative (a situation mitigated by the fact that the media seems to like him more than it likes Clinton). But to the Obama campaign's credit, it seemed to have realized that expectations don't really matter to everyday voters. With the exception of New Hampshire, where voters grew tired of the media's attempts to bury the Clintons and the Clinton era, voters don't seem to care what happened in the states before them and how that fits into some grand story being told by Tim Russert and Chris Matthews. They just want a chance to evaluate the candidates and make their own decisions.

Back on point. Is the Clinton strategy of waiting until Texas and Ohio a smart one? I doubt it. It too closely mirrors Rudy Giuliani's Florida strategy. Giuliani could shake as many hands as he wanted in Florida, but the media coverage about the campaign had him losing state after state after state. He was like a boxer who took blows to the head for four rounds and expected to score a knockout in the fifth. It didn't happen. If Obama sweeps everything between Feb 5 and March 4, he'll have won LA, NE, WA, ME, MD, VA, DC, HI, and WI. Doesn't that reduce Clinton to Rudy 2.0?

Bolton Endorses McCain

| Sun Feb. 10, 2008 10:55 AM EST

Shoring up his support among hawks, the John McCain campaign has announced that John Bolton, President Bush's former ambassador to the UN, has endorsed him for president:

U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential campaign today announced that former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton has endorsed John McCain for president. Ambassador Bolton issued the following statement on his endorsement:
"John McCain was very active and supportive during my confirmation hearings to be the U.S. Ambassador to the UN. His belief in me at that time was a testament to his courage to fight the liberals in the Senate and vigorously advance American interests at the UN.