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Today is National Day of Climate Action

| Sat Apr. 14, 2007 10:27 AM PDT

Many of you likely know that today is the National Day of Climate Action. There are lots and lots of cool events around the country, which you can search by zip code at the Step It Up 2007 website. Got some free time on a spring Saturday? Try saving the planet for a little bit.

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Another Haditha?

| Sat Apr. 14, 2007 9:50 AM PDT

A new report from Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission says that a U.S. Marine unit used excessive force when escaping a suicide attempt last month. Twelve Afghani civilians were killed and 35 were injured by the Marines, who apparently did not distinguish between civilians and insurgents when responding to an attempt on their own lives. From the Times:

Following the March 4 attack in Nangahar province, when an explosives-rigged minivan crashed into a convoy of Marines, the unit shot at vehicles and pedestrians in six different locations while driving along a 10-mile stretch of road, according to a report by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.

And this isn't a toothless non-prof spouting off, either. This could result in actual prosecution.

A U.S. military commander also determined that Marines used excessive force, and he referred the case for possible criminal inquiry.

As if the United States needs any more bad press in the Arab world...

Party Ben's Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things 4/13/07

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 7:34 PM PDT

Ooh, Friday the 13th. Time for scaarrry electro jams, and spooooky Icelandic singer ladies, and situation commmedieeesss!!!

mojo-photo-aqua.jpg10. Getting ready to go see "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters"
Mostly just being amused by the Chronicle's baffled (yet admirably open-minded) review of the thing today.


mojo-photo-glass.jpg9. The Glass – "Come Alive" (mp3)
The NYC electro duo comes back with a more mainstream sound reminiscent of Tiga and fellow New Yorkers The Rapture. Grab an mp3 of it (and a cool DJ set from them) at Spinner here


mojo-cover-brighteyes.jpg8. Cover art for Bright Eyes Cassadaga, new album on Saddle Creek
Yes, fine, it's Omaha's finest singer-songwriter with a more "Americana" style album. Whatever. But duuude, check out this cover art, it's all like black and white static, but you pull out the included magic view screen, and it turns into pictures of crazy stuff! How do they do that?

mojo-cover-djaxel.jpg7. DJ AxelBreakin' the Law (self-released album)
LA's Peter Axelrad has quietly become one of the most consistent mash-up producers out there, with flawless and crowd-pleasing DJ sets; this collection of tracks is augmented by brilliant, Sgt. Peppers-inspired cover art


mojo-cover-bjork.jpg6. Bjork"Earth Intruders" (from the forthcoming album Volta, out May 7 on Atlantic)
This Timbaland-produced single underwhelmed me at first, but after a week of hearing it around town, it's wormed its way into my brain. With its clompy drums and space-alien perspective, it's oddly similar both sonically and lyrically to Bjork's first solo single, "Human Behavior," and almost equally charming

Could Those Lost E-mails Cause Fitzgerald to Re-open Leak Case?

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 6:33 PM PDT

Whoopsie! We lost 5 million e-mails! Thus spoke the White House, as Dan blogged earlier today. And a particularly huge number seem to belong to a certain Mr. Rove. All of these e-mails were exchanged during the period of time U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald investigated in connection with the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity. Fitzgerald had been led to believe that he had a full accounting of official communications during the period in question. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington—a watchdog group that is also representing Joe and Valerie Wilson in their civil suit against administration officials—is now calling on Fitzgerald to re-open his investigation, given that the source of the leak may well have covered his electronic tracks. This is getting fun, isn't it?

Paul Wolfowitz: Anatomy of a Scandal

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 6:06 PM PDT

Part of the Bush administration's M.O. is promoting those who screw things up, as long as the ideology of their screw-ups is sufficiently conservative. Case in point: Paul Wolfowitz, one of the major architects of the Iraq War, who went on to become president of the World Bank. Did you think he would lose his ideological zealotry? No, dear reader. Despite his claims to the contrary yesterday on NPR, Wolfowitz, through a managing director he hired himself, pushed the World Bank to purge any references to family planning—which has long been part of the World Bank's standard development plan—in its strategy documents.

Wolfowitz is also in hot water at the bank because he promoted his "companion" into a State Department position that paid almost $200,000—some $60,000 more than she had earned previously. Wolfowitz is divorced. How, you might wonder, could anybody date this guy?

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That is a question I cannot answer. But I can tell you that the woman who does so is an Arab feminist who shares Wolfowitz's passion for bringing democracy to the Middle East—by hook or by crook, apparently, since she was part of the reason he was so hell-bent on invading Iraq. Possible translation: Wolfie led the United States into war with Iraq to butter up his girlfriend.

He has apologized for his role in landing her the plum job, but claims he didn't understand the ethics rules fully. That seems to be a chronic problem.

Updated to reflect that Wolfowitz and the woman in question, Shaha Riza, are still together, and that Riza's new salary constituted a hefty raise.

Carbon Confusion

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 5:34 PM PDT

Two steps taken this week to combat global warming are not all that: One, the EPA relaxed pollution standards for corn milling plants that make ethanol fuel. Two, Australian states vowed to set up a carbon trading market. Why do I doubt them? Keep reading on The Blue Marble.

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Carbon Confusion

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 5:27 PM PDT

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Two steps taken this week to combat global warming, IMO, are not all that.

For one, the EPA relaxed emissions standards yesterday for corn milling plants that make ethanol fuel. Ethanol might just be "the biggest greenwash ever," as Tom Philpott blogged at Grist. Without huge long-term subsidies and government intervention, "no market for corn ethanol would exist." "If ethanol delivers any net energy gain at all over petroleum gasoline, it's razor thin." Bill McKibben writes, "By the time you've driven your tractor to tend the fields, and your truck to carry the crop to the refinery, and powered your refinery, the best-case 'energy output-to-input ratio' is something like 1.34-to-1. You've spent 100 Btu of fossil energy to get 134 Btu." Hardly impressive, "compared to the ratio for oil, which ranges from 30-to-1 to 200-to-1, depending on where you drill it." The best that can be said for ethanol as fuel is that it "gives the farmers something to do." Unfortunately, it's not the little farmers but the industrial farmers, some as big as Cargill, that get most of the subsidies.

Two, Australia vowed today to set up a national system of carbon trading by 2010. A cap-and-trading system is a lousy second-best to taxing emissions, which would also stimulate technological innovation. The best that can be said for cap-and-trading is that it's experimental. The EU is running that experiment, and so far hasn't worked. Actually, the system collapsed. So many carbon credits were doled out that they when people discovered that supply outstripped the demand, the market crashed. "The ETS [emissions-trading-scheme] has had a rough ride. Nations have issued more permits to pollute than required in the first phase, which runs until the end of 2007. This has resulted in carbon prices falling as low as eight euros (£5) per tonne. This means that it has been cheaper for firms to buy spare permits than pay the 40-euro fine, or take steps to reduce their emissions," reported the BBC in December. There are simpler effective means for tackling climate change, for one, shifting subsidies away from fossil fuels. Gore has faith that a cap-and-trading system would create economic incentives for technological innovation. It's worth experimenting with while keeping the pitfalls and alternatives in mind.

The Last, Last Hope?

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 1:25 PM PDT

Yesterday, Slate analyzed the administration's most recent (and secret) search for an Iraq war savior. The new savior is a czar who would "oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies." Um, I'd say it's highly unlikely that the administration is truly willing to relinquish absolute control over these two wars and, apparently, so do the three retired four-star generals who declined the offer to be czar. Slate writes:

Generals do not become generals by being demure. If some retired generals out there had a great idea about how to solve the mess in Iraq, and if the president offered them the authority to do what they wanted to do, few of them would hesitate to step up and take charge.

The point: a.) nobody has a clue how to solve this mess (it's way too late for a Hail Mary) and b.) no one will be given the authority to do so even if they could. I'm having deja-vu. It seems like just yesterday, David Petraeus, the most revered general in the United States Army, was being touted as Iraq's savior, the last hope. So, is the new czar going to be the last, last hope? Will there be a last, last, last hope?

Slate points out another problem -- Dick Cheney. Cheney still has too much influence and the generals don't want to be "outflanked" by him. And considering, earlier this month, the VP asserted the Al Qaeda/Saddam link, I think we want to keep his influence to a minimum. He stretches the truth sometimes.

RE: Those Missing White House Emails

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 12:23 PM PDT

Subpoenas have been authorized, the press is swarming, the Bush administration's flacks are taking a pounding — I think it's safe to say that the White House email controversy has officially blossomed into a full-blown scandal. This week the White House acknowledged that it may have "lost" an unspecified number of emails that were sent by staffers who used non-governmental, RNC-issued email addresses in what seemed at times a conscious effort to prevent their correspondence from becoming public record. "We screwed up, and we're trying to fix it," White House spokesperson Dana Perino told the press yesterday. She noted that only "a small slice" of the president's staff — among them Karl Rove and his deputies — used email addresses, along with BlackBerrys and laptops, supplied by the RNC. However, no mention has been made — and it's possible that in the end there may be no way of knowing — of just how many administration officials were circumventing the White House servers by using conventional Web mail services, such as Yahoo! or Gmail. This also appears to have been a fairly common practice among staffers who, as one administration official told U.S. News & World Report in 2004, "don't want my email made public."

As the White House comes under increasing scrutiny, the picture just keeps getting bleaker. We learned yesterday, for instance, that until August 2004 the RNC had a policy of deleting emails on its servers that were more than 30 days old. After "legal inquires," presumably those of CIA leak prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the committee began saving the correspondence of White House officials. So, since Karl Rove is said to use his RNC address 95 percent of the time, and is a well known email fanatic, the RNC should have quite a hefty record of his communications, right? Strangely, the RNC doesn't have records of a single Rove email until 2005, which, as the committee's counsel Rob Kelner told members of Henry Waxman's Government Reform Committee, may have been because Rove was deleting them himself. This, it seems, is what led the RNC to remove Rove's ability to delete his messages and place an automatic archiving function solely on his account. Today, Rove's lawyer Robert Luskin explained that his client didn't intentionally purge his emails — rather, in the course of routine housekeeping, he would delete emails to keep his inbox in order. "His understanding starting very, very early in the administration was that those e-mails were being archived," Luskin said.

Beyond Rove's missing emails, and others the White House believes may have been lost due to the RNC's email purging policy, it seems there is another trove of emails that are unaccounted for — millions of them, actually. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington reported yesterday that, according to two sources, "in addition to the so-called political emails sent through private accounts, there are over five million emails sent on White House servers over a two-year period that are also missing." In 2005, according to CREW, the White House Office of Administration discovered a problem with its archiving system and, after looking further into the issue, realized "there were hundreds of days in which emails were missing for one or more of the EOP [Executive Office of the President] components subject to the PRA [Presidential Records Act]." Though a plan was drawn up to recover the missing emails, CREW says, no action was ever taken to retrieve the lost messages.

In its report, CREW also raises two issues that I brought up in my original story on the controversy. The first is the Hatch Act "excuse," as CREW puts it. The White House has maintained (and the press hasn't challenged) that administration officials with political duties were using a separate, RNC-administered email system in order to avoid breaching Hatch, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job. This certainly seems like a reasonable explanation, unless you actually read the law. It states clearly that Senate-confirmed presidential appointees and staffers whose salaries are paid from an appropriation for the Executive Office of the President (read: White House officials) are allowed to engage in political activity that is otherwise prohibited to other federal employees — for instance, they are allowed to talk strategy with the RNC anytime, anywhere — as long as the associated costs are not picked up by taxpayers. While in the Clinton White House separate computer terminals were apparently set aside for staffers with political duties, the use of partisan email addresses is a new and highly unusual wrinkle. As Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy told me a couple weeks back, "It shows how closely intertwined the White House is with its partisan allies. The fact that the White House and the RNC are working hand in hand and White House officials are using RNC emails is itself remarkable."

The other question I raised has to do with an intriguing line in a January 2006 letter from Patrick Fitzgerald to Scooter Libby's defense team that's buried deep in the USA v. Libby docket. In it, Fitzgerald informs Libby's lawyers that the prosecution had "learned that not all email of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system." Karl Rove's lawyer told the AP today that Fitzgerald had access to emails from Rove's various accounts. He also noted that, in addition to the White House, the prosecutor subpoenaed records from the RNC and the president's reelection campaign. "There's never been any suggestion that Fitzgerald had anything less than a complete record," Luskin said.

Considering that we now know that millions of White House emails are potentially MIA, all of them drafted during a time period that would have been relevant to Fitzgerald's investigation, if that hasn't been suggested before it certainly will be now.

Pimping Up Where Molly Ivins Left Off

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 12:13 PM PDT

OK, so anyone who has been paying serious attention will know that I'm late: the Texas Observer's Molly Ivins Tribute issue was published in February. But I just got mine in the San Francisco mail yesterday -- via Pony Express from Austin, I guess -- and, just in case you missed it too, I am telling everyone I know: Do yourself a favor and get a copy while they last. Even if you don't need a pick-me-up today or tomorrow, the day will surely come that you do, and this issue has some inspiring and potent juju.

Of all the stray and stringy indy journalism dogs that Molly adopted (and Mother Jones was one), The Texas Observer was the one closest to her heart. She was co-editor there from 1970 to 1976, and more to the point of this story, she was in these last few years driven to get this feisty, important and perpetually strapped publication on its financial feet. Last fall, she even subjected herself to a Molly Ivins "barbeque" (AKA, roast) to raise some important money. The Observer had been challenged to match a $500,000 grant to ramp up their reporting and, indeed, with Molly inspiring large gifts and small, they made the match: The money will support a serious expansion of the magazine's investigative reporting for the next two years. (Anyone who reads the business pages should have already noted that the total amount raised there -- huge by the standards of indy media -- equates to 1/300th of Larry Ellison's yacht and is 1/54th what Goldman Sachs' CEO took home last year. I suppose the justice is that getting paid even measly wages for doing butt-kicking journalism is just more damn fun.) But I digress.

The Molly Tribute issue has contributions from lots of people you've heard of (Bill Moyers, Maya Angelou, Jim Hightower, Garrison Keillor, and Dan Rather among them) and lots that I hadn't, and it's all really, really good, that sweet combination of tears and laughter and Texas that truly honors Molly's life and spirit. Typical of us bleeding-heart liberal publications, the Observer has gone and underpriced it: It's available online for a mere $5. But you know what you need to do: when you go to the Observer's site to get your copy (and do it now -- I'm told they're down to fewer than 1,000 copies), also click on the button to make a contribution to the Molly Ivins Investigative Fund.

Help those heroes and heroines at the Observer keep fightin' for freedom! (I'm telling you, you'll love that Tribute issue.)

— Jay Harris