Blogs

Blackwater Abandons Plan For California Training Facility

| Sun Mar. 9, 2008 10:21 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.' "

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Obama Takes Wyoming

| Sun Mar. 9, 2008 10:11 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 6:55 PM EST

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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.

Out: Disneyland Rainforests. In: Freedom Land!

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 6:49 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 5:38 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 4:32 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.

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

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 2:54 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.

Viktor Bout's Arrest in Bangkok Orchestrated by DEA

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 2:51 PM EST

New details are emerging about Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout's capture at a five-star hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. At a press conference yesterday, Michael J. Garcia, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Acting DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart confirmed scattered press reports indicating that Bout's arrest was the result of a DEA operation. According to a press release:

Between November 2007 and February 2008, Bout and Smulian agreed to sell to the FARC millions of dollars worth of weapons -- including surface-to-air missile systems ("SAMs") and armor piercing rocket launchers. During a series of recorded telephone calls and emails, Bout and Smulian agreed to sell the weapons to two confidential sources working with the DEA (the "CSs"), who held themselves out as FARC representatives acquiring these weapons for the FARC for use in Colombia.
In addition, during a series of consensually recorded meetings in Romania, Smulian advised the CSs, among other things, that: (1) Bout had 100 SAMs available immediately; (2) Bout could also provide helicopters and armor piercing rocket launchers; (3) Bout could arrange to have a flight crew airdrop the weapons into Colombian territory using combat parachutes; and (4) Bout and Smulian would charge the CSs $5 million to transport the weapons. During one of the meetings with the CSs, Smulian provided one of the CSs with a digital memory stick that contained an article about Bout, and documents containing photographs and specifications for the SAMs and armor piercing rocket launchers that Smulian had previously said Bout could provide.

Rep. Chris Cannon To Car-Scam Victim: Move On!

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 2:25 PM EST

chris%20cannon.jpgWhen regular citizens come up to Capitol Hill to tell their stories about whatever evil has befallen them—foreclosure, food poisoning, etc.—members of Congress, as a rule, treat them gently, even if they don't agree with the bill those citizens have come to support. Yesterday, though, Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) seemed to have forgotten that rule during a hearing on a bill that would ban the use of forced arbitration in automobile sale and leasing contracts.

More after the jump...

Dem Candidates on Iraq: We're Pretty Much Committed to a Withdrawal

| Fri Mar. 7, 2008 12:25 PM EST

Informal Clinton adviser and retired four-star general Jack Keane on Hillary Clinton's Iraq plans:

"I have no doubts whatsoever that if she were president in January '09 she would not act irresponsibly and issue orders to conduct an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, regardless of the consequences, and squander the gains that have been made."

Recently deposed Obama adviser and respected academic Samantha Power on Barack Obama's Iraq plans:

"You can't make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He 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... [His stated plan is] a best-case scenario."

I actually don't have a problem with what these advisers are saying: Clinton and Obama will take the information they have available to them as president and reevaluate their plans for withdrawal. That makes sense to me. But for many Democrats, getting out of Iraq is the number one issue and the fact that the candidates have told them what they want to hear, while possibly holding more nuanced positions in secret, will raise some justifiable anger.