Blogs

New Deadline in Missing WH Emails Case

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 8:10 PM EDT

A federal judge told the Bush administration today that it has three days to give him a good reason why he shouldn't order the White House to make copies of every computer hard drive in the Executive Office of the President (EOP). Judge John M. Facciola's ruling (PDF) is a major victory for two Washington non-profits, the National Security Archive (NSA) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who have been battling the administration in court to ensure the preservation of missing White House emails.

The emails, which could number in the millions, are from between 2003 and 2005 and could include information about the runup to the war in Iraq and the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA agent. (Need to catch up? Read our full coverage of the missing White House emails story.)

In another victory for the plaintiffs, the Judge noted the fact, reported by Mother Jones in January but largely ignored in the mainstream press, that the White House's regular 'recycling' of email backup tapes prior to October 2003 indicates that emails between March and October 2003 are probably not preserved anywhere. This contradicts what Theresa Payton, the White House Office of Administration's (OA) Chief Information Officer, said in January when she claimed that "substantially all" the missing emails would be preserved on backup tapes (PDF). From the Judge's order:

It is nevertheless true that if e-mails have not been properly archived as plaintiffs allege, and copies of those e-mails do not exist on back-up tapes, then the obliteration of data upon which those e-mails may be reconstructed threatens the plaintiffs with irreparable harm. This appears to be the case for any e-mails that were not properly archived between March 2003 and October 2003, during which time no back-up tapes exist. [Emphasis added.]

Facciola's ruling indicates that he takes the plaintiffs' concerns seriously and understands that time is of the essence, since every day that goes by makes it increasingly likely that potentially recoverable email data will be permanently lost. If Facciola does order copies made, it will mean that "while the clock is ticking [the emails] are not going to disappear," explains Meredith Fuchs, the NSA's General Counsel.

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Arthur C. Clarke Dies at 90

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 8:06 PM EDT

mojo-photo-2001.jpgScience fiction pioneer Arthur C. Clarke has died at age 90 in Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956. Clarke wrote the short story on which Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was based; his accompanying novel was actually completed after the film. In one of the most famous examples of science fiction becoming science fact, Clarke was the main proponent of the concept of geostationary satellites being used for communications (although whether he was the first to come up with the idea is apparently in doubt).

For an author so clearly interested in "hard" science (and who famously dismissed UFO enthusiasts as signs of how rare intelligent life is on Earth) there is a surprising level of mysticism in Clarke's work, something evidenced by the third of his "three laws" governing prediction: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Clarke's approach to the mystical (and mystifying) was one of both awe and humility, and while it's Philip K. Dick's dystopian paranoia that seems to best reflect our current reality, Clarke's visions of the future are both reassuringly optimistic and comfortable with the universe's mysteries.

Photo used under a creative commons license from Flickr user Travelin Librarian.

Jack White Thumbs Nose at Music Critics

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 7:15 PM EDT

mojo-photo-raconteurs2.jpgWell, I suppose it's our own fault. In a move that echoes Radiohead's surprise announcement of an impending album last fall, Jack White's wear-whatever-colors-we-want band the Raconteurs have just announced via their website that they'll release a new album, Consolers of the Lonely, next Tuesday on all formats. But unlike Radiohead, Jack White seems to be a little bitter about, ulp, music critics who jump the gun by reviewing promotional releases or leaks:

We wanted to get this record to fans, the press, radio, etc., all at the EXACT SAME TIME so that no one has an upper hand on anyone else regarding it's availability, reception or perception… the Raconteurs would rather this release not be defined by it's first weeks sales, pre-release promotion, or by someone defining it FOR YOU before you get to hear it.

Wow, and all-caps, even. That's internet for shouting!

After the jump: critics, can't live with 'em, can't crush their heads in vices.

China Accuses Dalai Lama of "Sabotage," but Olympics Still On For Beijing

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 6:18 PM EDT

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Chinese premier Wen Jiabao today accused the exiled Dalai Lama of orchestrating the protests sweeping through Tibet in recent days, with the express purpose of inciting "the sabotage of the Olympic Games." (The Dalai Lama denied the charges.)

But the Chinese needn't worry. Though the information emerging from the region is intermittent and often secondhand—estimates of the number of dead range from the Chinese government's 13 to the Tibetan's 99—what news there is seems to have satisfied the international community: The games must go on.

Dueling SNL Endorsements: Tina Fey vs. Tracy Morgan

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 3:49 PM EDT

You probably saw Tina Fey endorse Hillary Clinton on SNL's Weekend Update a few weeks back. It was good stuff:

But you may have not have seen Tracy Morgan's rebuttal/endorsement of Barack Obama. Honest to God, I'd pay good money to see Tracy Morgan talk about politics for an hour.

(H/T Prezvid)

Satellites to Rescue Starving Arctic Animals?

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 3:47 PM EDT

MuskOxen.jpg

In the Artic, a lot still goes unseen. Take the weird weather event of October 2003 that killed 20,000 musk oxen on Canada's Banks Island above the Arctic Circle. Rain fell for days atop 6 inches of snow and seeped through to the soil. When the temperature plunged, the rain froze into a thick layer of ice that persisted all winter. Browsers couldn't dig through to feed on lichens and mosses, and one-third of a 70,000-herd of musk oxen perished. "Starvation happened over a period of many months and no one knew until they went up to do the population count the next spring," says Thomas Grenfell, research professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. The closest weather station, 60 miles away, didn't record any rainfall at the time and few people recognized the oxen's distress.

Now Grenfell and Jaakko Putkonen, also of UW, have found evidence of the 2003 rain-on-snow occurrence in passive satellite microwave imagery. This could provide a signature to help detect similar events in the future, throughout the sparsely-populated Arctic, including in Alaska, northern Canada, Siberia, and Scandinavia. They looked for patterns in data from 10 different satellite microwave channels that correlated with rain-on-snow events. "The subtleties in the microwave levels mean there can be high error margins on this information, but the Banks Island event stood out like a sore thumb in the data," said Grenfell. He hopes satellite data might make up for a scarcity of weather stations and enable native people, who depend on musk oxen, reindeer and caribou, to get food to the herds to prevent mass starvation.

Not explicitly stated but worrying nontheless—expect more rain-on-snow events as the Arctic warms. Which means, this is what we've come to, essentially taming wildlife to keep it alive. Sad benchmark. The study will be published March 25 in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

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.

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"Black and More Than Black": Obama's Daring and Unique Speech on Race

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 2:42 PM EDT

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With racial sentiments swirling in the 2008 campaign—notably, Geraldine Ferraro's claim that Barack Obama is not much more than an affirmative action case and the controversy over his former pastor's over-the-top remarks—Senator Obama on Tuesday morning responded to these recent fusses with a speech unlike any delivered by a major political figure in modern American history. While explaining—not excusing—Reverend Jeremiah Wright's remarks (which Obama had already criticized), he called on all Americans to recognize that even though the United States has experienced progress on the racial reconciliation front in recent decades (Exhibit A: Barack Obama), racial anger exists among both whites and blacks, and he said that this anger and its causes must be fully acknowledged before further progress can be achieved. Obama did this without displaying a trace of anger himself.

Speaking in Philadelphia, Obama celebrated his own racial heritage but also demonstrated his ability to view the black community with a measure of objectivity and, when necessary, criticism—caring criticism. But this was no Sister Souljah moment. He did not sacrifice Wright for political ends. He hailed the good deeds of his former minister, noting that Wright's claim that America continues to be a racist society is rooted in Wright's generational experiences. And Obama identified the sources of racial resentment held by whites without being judgmental. With this address, Obama was trying to show the nation a pathway to a society free of racial gridlock and denial. Moreover, he declared that bridging the very real racial divide of today is essential to forging the popular coalition necessary to transform America into a society with a universal and effective health care system, an education system that serves poor and rich children, and an economy that yields a decent-paying jobs for all. Obama was not playing the race card. He was shooting the moon.

Obama delivered his speech in a stiff manner. The melodious lilt and cascading tones that typically characterize his campaign addresses were not present. This was a speech in which the words—not the delivery—counted. He began with a predictable notion: slavery was the original sin of the glorious American project. Removing that stain has been the nation's burden ever since, and he tied his campaign to that long-running endeavor: "This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign—to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America." And he proclaimed that due to his own personal story—"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas"—he both recognizes the need to heal this divide and possesses an "unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people." Unlike the black leaders of recent years, Obama identified with both the winners and losers of America: "I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible." He is E Pluribus Unum.

McCain: Sunni? Shia? What?

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 12:42 PM EDT

Where did all that vaunted national security experience go? WaPo:

Sen. John McCain, traveling in the Middle East to promote his foreign policy expertise, misidentified in remarks Tuesday which broad category of Iraqi extremists are allegedly receiving support from Iran.
He said several times that Iran, a predominately Shiite country, was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, al-Qaeda. In fact, officials have said they believe Iran is helping Shiite extremists in Iraq.
Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back."
Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was "common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that's well known. And it's unfortunate." A few moments later, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate's ear. McCain then said: "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."

McClatchy Skewers Cheney

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 10:56 AM EDT

TPM has a nice catch for Snarky Headline of the Day, courtesy of McClatchy:

Cheney cites 'phenomenal' Iraqi security progress as bombing kills 40

Sometimes I think living in the reality-based community is good for some laughs, but then I realize the crazy people are running the world.

Iranian Agent of Influence? An Interview with Author of New Ahmad Chalabi Biography

| Tue Mar. 18, 2008 8:14 AM EDT

Emmy award-winning investigative journalist Aram Roston, a producer with the NBC Nightly News, has just published a biography of long time Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi, The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Adventures, Life and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi, reviewed by Bruce Falconer in the current issue of Mother Jones. I asked Roston about allegations that Chalabi had such a close relationship with elements of the Iranian security services, that the FBI reportedly investigated him for passing highly classified U.S. intelligence to Iranian intelligence.

Roston's conclusion: "In the end, I came away thinking that the key question, from a U.S. perspective, was not whether or not Chalabi was an Iranian agent, but whether he was more useful to Iran's intelligence services and government, or to America's intelligence services and government," Roston told me. "Here I think it was indisputable that he was far more useful to Iran." Go read the rest.

Mother Jones: What is the conclusion you drew about Chalabi's relationship with Iran?
Roston: Actually, I really didn't find evidence that Chalabi was or is an "Iranian agent," as some have speculated. In other words, I found no evidence that he was controlled or directed by Iranian intelligence. I also did not come across evidence that Chalabi was paid by Iran, or that he received funding from them. (Some Iraqis close to him claim he is but I really didn't find hard corroboration.) Maybe Iran preferred funding other groups, or maybe he preferred simply getting his money from the Americans.
Some former intelligence officers who know him well believe that he was in part an "agent of influence" for Iran, rather than a controlled agent. And a lot of Iraqis who know him well say that he has bolstered his ties to Iran's government to give him more leverage in his work in Iraq.