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What to Make of a Recent Israeli Military Exercise: Interview with Israeli Intel Correspondent

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 12:22 PM EDT

While many people are concerned about whether the Bush administration plans to carry out a parting shot strike on Iran's nuclear program before it leaves office, most policy experts in and out of government I've interviewed think that is unlikely, for a lot of reasons. But the U.S., of course, is not the only actor to consider.

Today came reports that Israel carried out a large-scale military exercise over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece earlier this month that clearly seemed to have Iran in mind. More than 100 F-16 and F-15 fighter planes and rescue helicopters were involved in the Israeli military exercise, according to Pentagon and other US government officials cited in a report today in the New York Times. "Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military's capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran's nuclear program," the paper reported. The exercise was so large, U.S. officials told the paper, it was implied that Israel wanted not only Iran, but the US and other allies, to be aware of it.

I asked Yossi Melman, intelligence correspondent for Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, and co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Iran, how to interpret the reported Israeli military exercise (Israeli officials have not commented on it). I also asked him about Israel's timeline for contemplating a possible go-it-alone strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, should diplomacy, international sanctions and other measures be judged to fail.

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The Policy Side of Obama's Public Financing Opt-Out

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 12:00 PM EDT

As David and Jonathan have mentioned, Barack Obama has announced that he will opt-out of the public financing system for the general election.

It seems obvious, as David noted in his article, that Obama's decision was made for political expediency and was not the principled stand his campaign is hoping people will see it as. The media has done a good job of covering the political side of this story. Obama is making a politically expedient decision and essentially going back on his "Yes" answer to a questionnaire that asked whether he would forgo private financing if his opponents did the same. But the other part of this story, the policy side, is sorely missing.

Florida Republican Calls Out McCain on Offshore Drilling

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 11:30 AM EDT

There are so many problems with John McCain's idea that we're going to use offshore drilling to alleviate high gas prices and get us out of our current energy pickle.

First, there isn't all that much oil to be found in the continental United States and sucking it out of the ground won't lower prices substantially. Second, there are no ships available to serve new rigs. Third, oil companies currently have leases for some offshore drilling that they aren't using. Fourth, it will take seven to ten years before we can actually get at the oil off American shores, if we were to start drilling today. Fifth, it presents serious environmental concerns.

It's an ineffective attempt at a quick fix. In so far as it keeps Americans from thinking about and coming to terms with long-term structural changes that will actually solve the energy crisis, it's an incredibly damaging idea.

You don't have to be a Democrat to understand this. Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, a Republican, is calling out McCain:

"For anyone to represent that someone drilling off the coast in Florida is going to lower gas prices here or anywhere in this country is disingenuous and a flawed argument," he said. "Oil drilling could take 10 years before any oil is pulled out of the ground, and there are a large number of leases held by oil companies that are not being exploited now. We can't say we need more until we've exploited those."

H/T Think Progress.

McCain Stretching the Truth in Support of Offshore Drilling Pander

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 11:24 AM EDT

John McCain went before a group of oil execs and reiterated his support for the (potentially successful) offshore drilling pander. To bolster his case about the safety of offshore rigs, he argued that "not even Hurricane Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston."

That's an old conservative myth and it makes for easy blogging. The claim is demonstrably false.

Update: It's pretty offensive that McCain is using Katrina as a political prop, considering his miserable record on hurricane recovery.

Why Miles Per Gallon Suck

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 11:04 PM EDT

Our calculations about car efficiency tend to be wildly off the mark. The Fuqua (I am not making that up) School of Business at Duke University studied it every which way and found that improving the most energy inefficient cars with ones that are even slightly more efficient saves WAY more fuel than trading in your not-so-bad Honda Civic for a hybrid. Most of us assume otherwise. The problem arises from the fact that we're talking miles per gallon when we should be talking gallons per mile. The video explains all.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

If Cars Were Computers...

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 10:40 PM EDT

800px-SSEM_Replica.jpg If cars were computers then one liter of fuel would provide all the UK's needs for one year and oil reserves would last the expected lifetime of the solar system. That is, if efficiency in cars had improved at the rate computers have. This according to Steve Furber, a computer engineer at the University of Manchester, in a lecture marking the 60th anniversary of the 1948 computer known as The Baby (also known as the Small Scale Experimental Machine). Furber notes that computers are now 50 billion times more energy-efficient than The Baby, which weighed a ton, took up a whole room, and was the forerunner of all modern computers.

I'm not sure we can shrink cars & their carbon footprints fast enough. Howzabout we shrink ourselves instead? Genetic engineering trumps computer engineering and nine billion teensy weensy people 42 years from now doesn't look so bad. No worse than a swarm of locusts.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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New Music: Italians Get Gritty

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 10:17 PM EDT

mojo-photo-italy.jpgIt's funny; back in my day, kids, Italian dance music meant "Italo-House," anonymous producers splicing soul vocals onto piano-heavy tracks, like Black Box or the 49ers. You remember "Everybody, Everybody," right, complete with models lip-synching in the video? Well, perhaps reflecting what the New York Times called "a collective funk" in the land of tasty pasta, Italian electronic music has become surprisingly dark these days. XLR8R has a great roundup of some of the current crop of tough-sounding artists, describing the sound as a variety of musical styles "smashed together, chopped, rewound, sped up, and run through a washing machine." If you add that the washer is broken and buzzing and 800 feet tall, then I think you've got it.

After the jump: Bang, scronk, buzz, zoom!

Who Needs Condoms When You Have Midwest Pesticides?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 8:42 PM EDT

As if the Midwest weren't dealing with enough already, doctors now worry that the shockingly low sperm count of mid-Missouri men means there's something in the water, or worse.

Nothing's proven, yet, but all eyes were on pesticides after diazinon, an insecticide, and metolachlor, an herbicide, were found in a large number of the semen samples.

Local researchers have requested funding from the NIH to look further into the issue but have been turned down. The results of a CDC-conducted test will be released this summer.

Until then, if Missourians are looking to have kids, perhaps they should try on one of these. [H/T: Grist]

—Brittney Andres

London's Dance-Powered Nightclub for Eco-Hedonists

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 6:10 PM EDT

nightclub.jpgEver yearn to get organically plastered, then hit the power-generating dance floor that turns your fancy footwork into electricity? No, this isn't a scene from a Moby video, and yes, you really can indulge those green fantasies, thanks to climate change organization Club4Climate which is launching a sustainable eco-nightclub in Britain next month.

Patrons can knock back organic liquor, then visit the loo and flush symptoms of their overindulgence away with recycled water. Pounding dance moves absorbed by the tricked-out floor will supply 60% of the club's energy needs, and admission is free if you can prove you didn't roll up in a car—but not before you sign a pledge to fight climate change.

Sounds like a more palatable version of Rotterdam's urine- and sweat-powered nightclub, Watt, slated to open in September.


Industry Trends: Radio Down, iTunes Up

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 5:26 PM EDT

mojo-photo-itunesradio.jpgI know: Pope Catholic, sky blue. But it's the numbers that are pretty surprising. Radio & Records Magazine reports that radio revenue fell even more than everybody expected in May, and the normally staid publication called the numbers "a horror show." Local revenue was down 9% (aaaagh!), national revenue off 13% (eeeek!), people listening down a zillion % (noooo!) . Okay, I can't prove that last one, but I wouldn't bet against it.

On the other side of the industry, iTunes, in contrast, can't be stopped: the online music retailer just sold its five billionth song, also announcing that they're renting and selling over 50,000 movies a day, making iTunes the world's biggest online movie store too. Crimeny, if they start selling groceries I'll never have to leave the house.