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The War as They Saw It

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:19 PM EDT

Two of the seven non-commissioned officers who penned a New York Times op-ed that called the war in Iraq the "pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends" were killed yesterday when their vehicle turned over on a road near Baghdad. After hearing the news, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) sent a letter to the President. It reads, in part:

The tragic irony is that before their deaths, these two soldiers were not only trying to give us direction on how to end this war honorably, but they were also calling on us for help.... Mr. President, you didn't listen to Staff Sergeant Yance Gray and Sergeant Omar Mora while they were alive. I hope that you will listen to them now, as they have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

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A Preview of Hillary Clinton's Health Care Plan

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:14 PM EDT

From yesterday's "presidential mashup": "I intend to dramatically rein in the influence of the insurance companies," she said, "because frankly I think that they have worked to the detriment of our economy and our health-care system."

—Nick Baumann

188 More Species Deemed Near Extinction

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:09 PM EDT

Today the World Conservation Union (also known, for reasons too arcane to go into, as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources or IUCN) came out with its "Red List" of species threatened with extinction. There are 188 additions to the list, bringing the total up to 16,306. There's particularly bad news about great apes and coral reefs, but across the taxonomic board, the news is "quite bleak," said Jane Smart, who heads the group's species program.

As Mother Jones' Julia Whitty wrote in Gone: Mass Extinction and the Hazards of Earth's Vanishing Biodiversity:

1 in 4 mammals, 1 in 8 birds, 1 in 3 amphibians, 1 in 3 conifers and other gymnosperms are at risk of extinction. The peril faced by other classes of organisms is less thoroughly analyzed, but fully 40 percent of the examined species of planet Earth are in danger, including up to 51 percent of reptiles, 52 percent of insects, and 73 percent of flowering plants.
By the most conservative measure—based on the last century's recorded extinctions—the current rate of extinction is 100 times the background rate. But eminent Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson and other scientists estimate that the true rate is more like 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate. The actual annual sum is only an educated guess, because no scientist believes the tally of life ends at the 1.5 million species already discovered; estimates range as high as 100 million species on Earth, with 10 million as the median guess. Bracketed between best- and worst-case scenarios, then, somewhere between 2.7 and 270 species are erased from existence every day. Including today.
We now understand that the majority of life on Earth has never been—and will never be—known to us. In a staggering forecast, Wilson predicts that our present course will lead to the extinction of half of all plant and animal species by the year 2100.
You probably had no idea. Few do. A poll by the American Museum of Natural History finds that 7 in 10 biologists believe that mass extinction poses a colossal threat to human existence, a more serious environmental problem than even its contributor, global warming, and that the dangers of mass extinction are woefully underestimated by most everyone outside of science. In the 200 years since French naturalist Georges Cuvier first floated the concept of extinction, after examining fossil bones and concluding "the existence of a world previous to ours, destroyed by some sort of catastrophe," we have only slowly recognized and attempted to correct our own catastrophic behavior.

The rate of extinction is due to a variety of factors, but nearly all are human induced, including climate change, habitat loss, invasive species (transported by us), the plight of the oceans, and so on. As Julia notes:

All these disappearing species are part of a fragile membrane of organisms wrapped around Earth so thin, writes E.O. Wilson, that it "cannot be seen edgewise from a space shuttle, yet so internally complex that most species composing it remain undiscovered." We owe everything to this membrane of life. Literally everything. The air we breathe. The food we eat. The materials of our homes, clothes, books, computers, medicines. Goods and services that we can't even imagine we'll someday need will come from species we have yet to identify. The proverbial cure for cancer. The genetic fountain of youth. Immortality. Mortality.
The living membrane we so recklessly destroy is existence itself.

Read Julia's article. It will haunt you. As will the accompanying photo essay by Richard Ross.

GOP-Supported California Ballot Measure is Unconstitutional

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:07 PM EDT

Remember how the GOP's law firm in California is supporting a ballot measure to change the way the state awards electoral votes? (A move that could hand the Republicans the Presidential election.) Well, it turns out that it's "patently unconstitutional". Doug Kendall explains in Slate:

The U.S. Constitution prohibits a ballot measure that would trump a state legislature's chosen method of appointing electors. In Article II, Section 1, the Constitution declares that electors shall be appointed by states "in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct." That's legislature.

Tough luck, guys. Guess this race goes back to "Leans Democratic."

—Nick Baumann

Madonna and Britney Spears Threatened with Beheading

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 5:01 PM EDT

Madonna & Britney

The leader of a Palestinian terror group has targeted Madonna and Britney Spears for spreading "Satanic culture," and threatened to behead them. Muhammad Abdel-Al, the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, based in the Gaza Strip, made the comments in a new book, Schmoozing With Terrorists, that presents interviews with members of terror organizations. Abdel-Al was quoted as saying:

If I meet these whores I will have the honor—I repeat, I will have the honor—to be the first one to cut the heads off Madonna and Britney Spears if they will keep spreading their Satanic culture against Islam... If these two prostitutes keep doing what they are doing, we of course will punish them.

NME reports the comments come just as Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie are heading to Israel to celebrate the Jewish New Year. Terrorists, they say crazy stuff.

If We Had Only Known

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 4:56 PM EDT

"The good intentions of the statesmen of Iraq, whose political experience is necessarily small, it is to be feared that serious difficulties may arise out of the differences which in some cases exist in regard to political ideas between the Shiites of the South and the Sunnites of the North, the racial differences between Arabs and Kurds, and the necessity of keeping the turbulent tribes under control.... These difficulties might be fatal to the very existence of the State if it were left without support and guidance."

Where did such prescient advice come from? A 1925 League of Nations report on Iraq that Roger Cohen, noted in his column this morning. The GOP loves to accuse the anti-war left of having 20/20 hindsight. Looks like foresight is 20/20, too.

—Nick Baumann

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Presto Chango, It's H2O

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 4:56 PM EDT

According to an article in the UK's Telegraph, a British inventor has developed a plastic bottle that converts even the rankest sludge into tasty drinking water almost instantly.

The bottle, which looks a lot like the refillable types carried on bikes everywhere, can scrub virtually any water, even samples containing viruses or fecal matter. It promises to be useful to soldiers, as well as refugees and disaster victims.

Said Michael Pritchard, the brainiac behind the invention, "Something had to be done. It took me a little while and some very frustrating prototypes but eventually I did it."

If Our Government Was Run By K-Tel

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 4:08 PM EDT

Bush Greatest Hits
Via Towleroad comes these mocked-up adverts for some unfortunately fake greatest hits collections of the Bush administration (and, in a special guest appearance, John McCain)—although, even more unfortunately, the quotes themselves are all too real. They're all pretty great, but I have to say the glowing disco sunshine of the "Condi" album cover is especially sublime.

Clicky to embiggen.

Cheney Greatest Hits

mojo-photo-Condi Greatest Hits

More on L'Affaire Debat

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 3:14 PM EDT

In his piece on the Alexis Debat controversy -- the ABC consultant and French counterterrorism expert who apparently faked several interviews with political figures and luminaries such as Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Gates, Alan Greenspan, Michael Bloomberg oh and Kofi Annan -- the WP's Howard Kurtz failed to contact Pascal Riche, who broke this story of the faked interviews. Kurtz's piece seemed a bit thinly reported, featuring mostly Debat saying he was scammed, and Brian Ross saying he was scammed. What about the substance? Perhaps he was in a hurry.

But there's much substantive to consider. For instance, among other details, this is a guy telling the world media from several respected perches that there's a three day blitz planned to bomb Iran. It's not an uninteresting question, whether the information is solid, or is embellished, or is fabricated. It certainly creates a big echo, and is an interesting example of how misinformation or even disinformation can work. Kurtz didn't for instance, raise the question I raised here, which is blindingly obvious: did ABC bend the rules by paying a source who also served as their reporter while having a full time appointment elsewhere, smoothing over any complications by calling him an all purpose "consultant"? How much did Brian Ross approve the unusual arrangement and independently verify the information Debat was bringing from the dark corners of Pakistan? IF, and I emphasize if, Debat faked interviews for a French journal, what was to keep him from faking interviews that informed multiple stories for ABC? I fiind it implausible that ABC has independently re-reported all that stuff so quickly and determined it's kosher.

I also had an amusing, if slightly surreal, experience interviewing the real Rob Sherman - a Chicago radio talk show host - who has the same name and rough geographic location as the person who Debat claims conducted an interview with Barack Obama for him. You will not be surprised to learn, perhaps, that the real Rob Sherman says he has never heard of Debat, although he has interviewed Obama. One thing I am learning -- there's a bit of truth in many of the apparent fabrications.

The September 11th Tourist Attacks

| Thu Sep. 13, 2007 3:01 PM EDT

This video will make you hate everyone. And it will make you vomit. It will make you hate everyone while you vomit.

But it has to be seen. When else are you going to hear the line, "The tourist attacks. September 11th. Is Iraq."

So grab a barf bag, click the link, and remember: we are all Ms. South Carolinas today.