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A Quick Thought on the VP Debate

| Tue May 27, 2008 12:37 PM EDT

I second the thinking of Josh Patashnik over at TNR: the Democratic nominee shouldn't just pick a VP that helps win in 2008. He or she should pick a VP that can win in 2016, and that the Democratic Party sees as a future standard-bearer. As Patashnik notes, "One of the most important things a party does is cultivate talent for the future... There is no shortage of promising prospects who could achieve much if given that level of stature (the vice presidency)--why pass up the opportunity to put one of your rising stars in that position?"

I think that consideration effectively eliminates Sam Nunn, the oft-lionized foreign policy guru of the left who was born in 1938 and will be 78 in 2016. It probably also eliminates Joe Biden, who will be 74 in 2016, and Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio, who will be 75.

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Why Does Bill Clinton Get a Fact-Check Pass?

| Tue May 27, 2008 11:09 AM EDT

Is any fact-checker in the Mother Jones San Francisco office able to lend Bill Clinton a hand? On the campaign trail recently, he echoed the Clinton campaign's argument that the pressure Hillary Clinton is facing to quit the Democratic race is "unprecedented" and that primary races routinely last into June. It's particularly odd because Bill was part of a race where also-ran candidates were pressured to get out and the frontrunner, Big Dawg himself, had the nomination wrapped up in March.

Here's the NYT fact-check that disproves all this. Look, I love Bill as much as the next guy, and I'm weary of the Clinton pile-ons (the RFK assassination stuff was nonsense and we didn't touch it here on MoJoBlog), but Bill is either deliberately misleading Hillary's supporters or he's completely resorted his memory and convinced himself of something that isn't true. And this is far from the first time he's done this. Remember when he defended Hillary's sniper fire comments? He made so many errors that ABC had to footnote them. He claimed after South Carolina that the Obama campaign had played the race card on him, then denied that he had ever said that.

While Hillary Clinton gets something wrong, the press usually debunks it immediately. But Bill Clinton largely gets a pass. Something's going on here. Possible explanations are below. Give us yours in the comments.

McCain and Bush: No PDAs

| Tue May 27, 2008 10:45 AM EDT

Last week I wrote that President Bush's presence on the campaign trail would only be of use to John McCain if GWB stayed out of the spotlight and worked behind the scenes to raise money, primarily from the members of the Republican base who aren't huge McCain fans.

That's basically what's happening. The McCain campaign moved an event with the President scheduled for later today from it's original location, reportedly the Phoenix Convention Center, to McCain's private home. The event went from being open press to being closed press. The cause for the changes? Lackluster ticket sales, a fear of anti-war protesters, and presumably a desire to keep the pair away from the cameras. Writes the Wall Street Journal:

President Bush and John McCain will appear together at a fund-raiser in Phoenix Tuesday, the first time in nearly three months that the Republican presidential candidate will be seen beside the man he hopes to succeed.
With Mr. Bush's popularity at a record low, the McCain campaign has made sure that television footage of the two men together will be minimal. The maneuvering is the latest example of Sen. McCain's aggressive effort to separate himself from the White House, even as he embraces many of the policies that Mr. Bush has promoted throughout his presidency...

Politico adds: "In its daily e-mail update to reporters this morning, McCain's campaign made no mention that the leader of the free world would be appearing with the candidate tonight."

On the Siegelman Scandal, Rove Offers a Very Suspicious Non-Denial Denial

| Mon May 26, 2008 11:42 AM EDT

On Sunday, Karl Rove gave students of spin a prime example of a non-denial denial. He was a guest on ABC News' This Week and after discussing the presidential campaign, he was asked by host George Stephanopoulos about the Don Siegelman controversy. Siegelman is the former Democratic Alabama governor who was convicted and imprisoned for corruption and who charges that the Justice Department prosecution against him was part of a secret campaign mounted by Rove and other Republicans. Last week, the House judiciary committee subpoenaed Rove in connection with the Siegelman case and the firings of U.S. attorneys.

One has to wonder if Siegelman has been trying to save himself by pinning his case to the U.S. attorneys scandal, but the way Rove answered (that is, did not answer) a question from Stephanopoulos about the Siegelman affair was quite suspicious. Look at the entire exchange:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: As we know and our viewers probably know you were subpoenaed this week by the House Judiciary Committee to give testimony on any involvement you may have had with the prosecution of the former Alabama governor, Don Siegelman. He's claiming there was selective prosecution. He's out on bail now even though he was convicted. He said your fingerprints are all over it. Here's what the House report said.
It said, "In May 2007 a Republican attorney from Northern Alabama named Jill Simpson wrote an affidavit stating that in November 2002 she heard a prominent Alabama Republican operative named Bill Canary say that Karl Rove had contacted the Justice Department about bringing a prosecution of Don Siegelman. The question for Mr. Rove is whether he directly or indirectly discussed the possibility of prosecuting Don Siegelman with either the Justice Department or Alabama Republicans."
Did you?
KARL ROVE: Let me say three things, first of all, I think it's interesting -- everybody who was supposedly on that telephone call that Miss Simpson talks about says the call never took place. I'd say...

You Tube: Weezer's Genius Meme Mashup

| Sat May 24, 2008 12:27 PM EDT

I don't know how Weezer managed to get every single living 'Tube meme star under one video roof, so to speak, but they did. Even if you don't like Weezer, you've got to check this thing out—the video for "Pork and Beans" is practically an instructional aid.

Here are 10 memes I caught as they whizzed by:

1) Daft Hands
2) Daft Bodies
3) Tay Zonday
4) The Numa Numa kid
5) Miss South Carolina
6) K-Fed, (who pretty much is his own meme these days)
7) Chris Crocker
8) The Dramatic Chipmunk
9) The Diet Coke and Mentos experiments
10) "All Your Base Are Belong to Us."

I'm sure there are like 30 I'm missing. Anyone want to fill in the gaps?

Correction: Republicans Who Know Still Care Less About Climate

| Fri May 23, 2008 10:11 PM EDT

320316230_84852ae329.jpg You might remember the perplexing study out of Texas A&M that found the more Americans know about global warming the more apathetic and less individually responsible they feel. Stranger even than normal middle-America strange. Well Jon Krosnick of Stanford University suspected the story might be more complicated than that and re-analyzed the polling data. He and colleague Ariel Malka found some intriguing differences, as reported in New Scientist. Concern about global warming was greater among people who said they knew more about the subject, and was most marked among those who identified themselves as Democrats, as well as among those who said they trusted scientists to provide reliable information on environmental issues. Republicans, as well as those who had little trust in scientists—yet still claimed to be knowledgeable—did not have any great concern:

This may reflect the different ways people get information about global warming. If your sources are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore, Krosnick suggests, the relationship between knowledge and concern is likely to be different than if your main sources are skeptical advocacy groups such as the Heartland Institute, and the conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.

In other words, all knowledge is not equal, particularly the ignorance-based kind.

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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Pacific Waters Turning Acid

| Fri May 23, 2008 8:42 PM EDT

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The Pacific Ocean from Canada to Mexico within 20 miles of shore is showing sharp changes in pH levels for the first time. Scientists have feared this possibility as yet another side effect of our growing carbon dioxide emissions. Excessive CO2 in the air is absorbed by the ocean, forming carbonic acid that corrodes the shells of many marine creatures, including those that form the backbone of marine foodwebs. Worse, the acidified water upwelled from the deeper ocean is likely 50 years old. This suggests that acidification will increase in a delayed response to atmospheric CO2, which has grown from 310 parts per million 50 years ago to 380 parts per million today—the highest on Earth in more than a million years. "The coastal ocean acidification train has left the station," says Burke Hales of Oregon State University and an author of the Science study, "and there's not much we can do to derail it."

There is also a strong correlation between acidification and the dead zones forming off the Oregon and California coasts in recent summers. The dead zones are caused by upwelling waters that fuel an over-abundance of the tiny marine plants known as phytoplankton. Normally, the upwelling winds subside for a day or two every couple of weeks in a 'relaxation event' that allows the buildup of decomposing organic matter to be washed out to the deep ocean. But in recent years, especially in 2002 and 2006, there were few if any relaxation breaks and the phytoplankton blooms were enormous. "When the material produced by these blooms decomposes," Hales says, "it puts more CO2 into the system and increases the acidification."

It's too early to predict the biological ramifications. Shell-building plants and animals may be adapting, or they may already be suffering consequences that scientists have not yet determined. "We may have to assume that CO2 levels will gradually increase through the next half century as the water that originally was exposed to increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide is cycled through the system. Whether those elevated levels of carbon dioxide tip the scale for aragonites [shell-builders] remains to be seen," says Hale.

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

Music: Great One-Note Guitar Solos

| Fri May 23, 2008 7:54 PM EDT

mojo-photo-note.jpgSure, everybody loves a guitar show-off, melting picks and blistering fingers as they break barriers of time and space to send billion-note hyperspeed solos out into the cosmos like a rock Big Bang. But for those of us who came of musical age under the fuzzy blanket of shoegaze, the anti-rockist banners of punk, or the tripped-out tie-dye of psychedelia, Yngwie Malmsteen-style pyrotechnics not only seem excessive, they also kind of hurt our ears. So, let's take time to celebrate guitarists at the other end of the spectrum, musicians who have found that a single note, played at just the right moment, can stand up to the most complicated finger gymnastics. Now, sure, you may ask, "if it's just one note, how can you tell if it's a solo and not just, well, a note?" There were two basic criteria: one, the position of the solo at a climactic moment in the song, generally just after the second chorus (disqualifying "You Keep Me Hangin' On"); and two, when the solo is finished, you feel like standing up and cheering, or at least you would if you weren't so cool.

Women's News: Sublime and Heinous

| Fri May 23, 2008 3:58 PM EDT

A Chinese cop has taken it on herself to breastfeed as many as nine children either orphaned by the massive quake or whose mothers' are too traumatized to produce milk.

She has a six month old of her own and, much to her chagrin, has become a national celebrity; China's "Mother #1". "I think what I did was normal," she said. "In a quake zone, many people do things for others. This was a small thing, not worth mentioning." She's still nursing two in addition to her own. And elsewhere in chick news?

Teenager's Science Fair Project May Deliver Us From Plastic

| Fri May 23, 2008 3:55 PM EDT

plastic%20bags.jpg

I bought groceries at Trader Joe's the other day. As anyone who has ever shopped there knows, Trader Joe's is full of incredibly attractive, cheap food, which, if you manage to make it through all the plastic packaging it comes in, you can actually eat. Unfortunately, by the time I started cooking I had more or less lost my appetite, since every time I discarded one of those packages I felt like I dropped another circle in hell.

So I pretty much love Daniel Burd right now. The 16-year-old from Waterloo, Ontario, as part of a science fair project, figured out a way to break down the polymers in plastic bags—compounds that can last for over 1,000 years—in about three months. Essentially, Burd hypothesized that since the bags eventually do degrade, it must be possible to isolate and augment the degrading agents.

Turns out that it's not only possible, it's kind of easy. Burd combined ground polyethylene plastic bags, sodium chloride, dirt from a landfill (which theoretically contains the microorganisms that ultimately degrade the plastic) and a yeast mixture in shakers for four weeks at a consistent temperature of about 86 degrees. At the end of the month, he took a sample of that mixture and combined it with a new one, with the goal of increasing the overall concentration of microbes. After one more repetition, he put fresh plastic bags in his solution for six weeks. In the end, the plastic degraded nearly 20%. A little more filtering to figure out exactly which microbes were the most effective, and he upped the degradation rate to 32%. He concludes, "The process of polyethylene degradation developed in this project can be used on an industrial scale for biodegradation of plastic bags. As a result, this would save the lives of millions of wildlife species and save space in landfills."

So, will this really work? Has a teenager really found a way to rid us of one of our most persistent environmental problems? Who knows, but judges at the Canada-Wide Science Fair apparently agree that it's worth pursuing. They sent Burd home with $30,000 in awards and scholarships. You can read his final report (all six pages of it) here (.pdf).

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Arbel Egger.

—Casey Miner