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More Arctic for the U.S.

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 6:35 PM EST

noaa-map.jpgA new map of the Arctic sea floor may help the United States should it decide to join in on the international land grab going on up north. While the U.S. clearly owns all the above-water land in Alaska, the land beneath the Arctic Ocean is trickier. It is literally uncharted territory, mostly unclaimed, and butts up against Russia, Greenland, the U.S., and other countries who are now trying to extend their borders northward.

The map, made with NOAA data, shows that Alaska's continental shelf extends more than 115 miles further than believed. An international sea treaty gives countries the rights to govern their continental shelf beyond 230 miles if the country can prove the shelf extends that far. So the further the shelf, the more seabed the United States potentially has to drill for oil. There are estimates that as much as 25% of the world's undiscovered oil reserves lie beneath the Arctic sea floor, making it a possible future fuel source, though most likely a deadly one for the strange, new species scientists have only recently discovered there. Not only would it disturb their habitat, if there was an oil spill in the Arctic, it would be harder than usual to clean up because it's so far from land, so cold, has moving ice, and lack of natural light during some times of the year. However, as the U.S. has yet to even officially claim the land, the legality of oil drilling by American companies is still undetermined.

NOAA plans a second research expedition for fall this year.

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Torchwood: A New Approach to Sexuality on TV?

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 6:24 PM EST

mojo-photo-torchwood.jpgThe BBC hit series Torchwood is a spin-off of a spin-off, really: an extension of the new Doctor Who series that is itself only vaguely related to the classic long-running original. Torchwood's creators were apparently inspired by the still-underappreciated Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show that used elements of fantasy as illustrations of (and counterpoints to) the characters' lives, and on the surface, the shows have a lot in common: Doctor Who attracted fans as much for its winking humor as its geeky sci-fi, and on Buffy, the satire was built in.

Torchwood has also followed in Buffy's footsteps in another way: towards the end of the latter show's run, two of the female characters fell in love, and their relationship evolved into the most fully-realized same-sex couple on television at the time. In Torchwood, a secretive X-Files-type agency is led by a mysterious (and apparently immortal) guy named Captain Jack Harkness, and he's typically courageous and handsome. He also appears to be gay, or at least bi: his romantic entanglements are with men, whether it's the cute office guy or the interstellar co-conspirator.

Ron Paul Rallies the Troops; What's His Next Move?

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 5:08 PM EST

ron-paul-smile.jpg Ron Paul released a video yesterday in which he urged his supporters to stick with the campaign even though John McCain has been all but crowned as the Republican nominee. "Keep going and keep fighting," Paul implores.

Paul says that he will devote a larger share of his time to defending his congressional seat from a strong primary challenge, but after that's taken care of on March 4, he will pursue the nomination all the way to the convention. The hope is that he will collect enough delegates so that either a "surprise" will happen and he'll somehow get the nomination, or he will be able to "play a vital role" in giving the nomination to someone else.

For the time being, Paul suggests a new project. "We ought to make a grand display. We ought to have a true march to show what our numbers are," he says. A truly impressive "march on Washington" would mean the "media can't ignore us." He might want to rethink that — the media had an awfully easy time ignoring hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters before the Iraq War.

My libertarian friend (a big Ron Paul supporter) dropped me an email and suggested that Paul use his cash haul to fund libertarian candidates in a couple key House races, and maybe even a Senate race or two. A couple libertarian House members likely wouldn't have much of an effect, considering the size of the Democratic majority in that body, but a single libertarian senator (needn't be a "Big L" Libertarian, just a "small l" libertarian) could have enormous sway, assuming the close margin of the Senate holds. Tiny minority parties in many other countries stay relevant this way — they partner with larger parties in exchange for key concessions.

The problem is, there isn't an army of libertarian candidates out there.

The Primary That Will REALLY Decide the Dem Race

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 2:51 PM EST

Puerto Rico? Don't scoff. This actually sounds legit.

Memo to the editors: I'm buying my plane ticket now. You'll cover me, right?

Iraq: Private Contractor Deaths Rose 17 Percent Last Year

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 2:34 PM EST

blackwater_fallujah1_nr.jpg

President Bush's "surge" strategy pumped another 30,000 U.S. troops into Iraq last year, something that many (particularly those among the "stay the course" crowd) have credited for reducing the overall level of violence in Iraq. And, yes, violence is down, but 2007 was nevertheless the bloodiest year in Iraq since the invasion—and the bloodshed took an unexpected turn. According to the Houston Chronicle, the number of private contractors killed while in the employ of coalition forces rose 17 percent in 2007, versus a 10 percent increase in U.S. troop deaths. At least 353 contractors were killed last year, up from 301 in 2006, according to Labor Department statistics. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. troops killed rose to 901 from 822 over the same period. Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, an industry trade group, told the Chronicle that contractor deaths have fallen off dramatically in more recent months, just as the number of attacks against U.S. troops has declined. So, why did the number of private contractors killed in Iraq last year increase at a greater rate than that of U.S. soldiers? Neither the Pentagon nor the Labor Department are saying. Perhaps it's just that there are now more contractors than ever working dangerous jobs in Iraq, about 155,000, according to Brooks, including about 27,000 Americans.

The John Edwards Endorsement: A Last Chance To Prove He's No Phony

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 12:28 PM EST

A few weeks ago, I was talking to an influential Hillary Clinton fundraiser. When the subject of John Edwards (still in the race at that time) came up, she started sputtering about his hypocrisy. His expensive hair cut, his big house--the guy's a phony, she exclaimed derisively, and his populist, anti-Washington, help-the-poor rhetoric was all just for show. He won't last.

She was right on that final point. As for his authenticity, that was a question that chased Edwards. During his six years in the U.S. Senate (1999 to 2005), Edwards was no working-class hero. He did not develop a reputation as a firebrand willing to take on the powerbrokers of the nation's capital. At that time, Senator Paul Wellstone was the populist champion in the Senate (until his tragic death in October 2002). Wellstone waged one fight after another against corporate interests, lobbying influence, and the sway of big-money. I don't recall Edwards standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him during all these uphill battles.

Yet on the campaign trail, Edwards became Joe Hill in a suit.

Wellstone once told me that you always have to allow for redemption within politics. And perhaps Edwards' conversion was genuine. Why not give him the benefit of the doubt? His message was powerful and well-delivered--even if not embraced by a plurality of Democratic voters. But if Edwards wants to prove he was truly speaking his heart and mind, he has no choice when it comes to endorsing one of the remaining Democratic contenders. He cannot support Hillary Clinton.

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On Delegates and Democracy

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 11:00 AM EST

The Beamster makes an excellent point over at Slate about delegates and democracy.

The first school of thought says that superdelegates should support whoever wins more pledged delegates. Democratic strategist and delegate guru Tad Devine argued this point in his Sunday New York Times op-ed, in which he called on superdelegates to stop endorsing and wait to see whom the American people choose. Obama said he also believes that "if we end up with the most states and the most pledged delegates from the most voters in the country, that it would be problematic for the political insiders to overturn the judgment of the voters."
The other school of thought says that superdelegates should decide for themselves which candidate they like better. Hillary Clinton articulated this philosophy over the weekend: "Superdelegates are, by design, supposed to exercise independent judgment."

More after the jump.

Wait, What? Fred Thompson Endorsed McCain?

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 10:34 AM EST

Had you heard? No? Neither had anyone else.

And with that, Fred Thompson leaves the national stage forever. (I'm assuming he'd turn down the VP slot if McCain was dumb enough to offer it. Too much work. Duh.)

Video: Using John McCain's Iraq Rhetoric Against Him

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 1:52 AM EST

It was just a matter of time until the forces of the progressive internet turned its sights on the Republican nominee. And it's starting to happen with John McCain. Earlier today we brought you the "Yes We Can" parody that got viewed by almost 400,000 people in a single day. And now this:

One has a hard time seeing how John McCain is going to win the political war on the internet. He and the movement he now leads are ill-equipped to do so: they lag in creativity and know-how, and will probably lag in money. Unless they find effective conservative responses to all of the creative (that's an advertising industry term) that is bound to be put out by the left, the internet may be a progressive free-for-all of the next nine months.

Whales (and Dugongs) Hear Good News

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 7:41 PM EST

061019192417.jpg In the last week federal courts have twice slapped the Navy for sonar testing in the ocean. The first, by a federal court in San Francisco, is a preliminary injunction against the use of Low-Frequency Active (LFA) sonar, which relies on extremely loud, low-frequency sound to detect submarines at great distances. According to the Navy's own studies, LFA generates enough noise to significantly disrupt whale behavior more than 300 miles away, and under certain conditions can cross an entire ocean basin. Yet the Navy wants to deploy LFA in more than 75 percent of the world-ocean, reports ENN. "This order protects marine life around the world from a technology that can affect species on a staggering geographic scale," said Joel Reynolds of the National Resources Defense Council, lead group in the coalition asserting that an LFA permit issued last year by the National Marine Fisheries Service violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The second injunction was for Mid-Frequency Active (MFA) sonar in exercises off southern California. MFA sonar, also used in submarine detection, has been linked to mass deaths of whales in the Bahamas, the Canary Islands, and elsewhere, reports the Los Angeles Times. A federal judge in Los Angeles already ruled against the Navy on this. The Bush administration was attempting to reverse that ruling, pleading that "emergency circumstances" prevented normal compliance with the law. No go, said U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper, calling Bush's effort to maneuver around the original court order "constitutionally suspect."