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General Casey Under Fire

| Thu Feb. 1, 2007 9:44 AM PST

General George W. Casey Jr., former Iraq commander and the man Bush has nominated to be chief of staff of the Army, was raked over the coals at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this morning by Republican senator and presidential contender John McCain. "We have paid a very, very heavy price in American blood and treasure," McCain told Casey, because of his bad "judgment."

The hearing by Democratic Senator Carl Levin's Armed Services Committee is part of a sprawling debate all across official Washington -- within the Pentagon and in both houses of Congress as well -- over the President's decision to send more troops to Iraq. Elsewhere in the Senate, Senator Joe Biden's Foreign Relations Committee was questioning former national security advisor Lt. General Brent Scowcroft about his ideas on Iraq. (Scowcroft advised the administration's of both Gerald Ford and Bush senior and was a critic of our Iraq policy before the war began.) Meanwhile, Democrats are determined to pass a non-binding resolution against boosting troop levels. Republicans who have broken with Bush, led by former armed services committee chair John Warner of Virginia, will be instrumental in pushing through a bipartisan measure, one that protests additional forces but reasserts overall support for the troops serving in Iraq.

This afternoon the Senate will also hold a confirmation hearing on the nomination of retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell to be Director of National Intelligence. McConnell has become controversial because of possible conflicts of interest stemming from his former employment at the consulting firm Booz, Allen, Hamilton and for other possible ties to the defense sector. He is known to be a hardliner on Iran and is likely to support Dick Cheney's views on the war.

Although other military commanders and the President have conceded the Iraq policy hasn't worked, Casey insisted today, "I do not believe the policy has failed." He said he wants two more brigades in Iraq to help secure Baghdad. General David Petraeus, the new commander, has asked for 5 brigades. McCain, for his part, thinks 5 brigades are not enough.

In questioning Casey, McCain quoted Casey's own statement in 2004 saying "we are broadly on track" to accomplishing objectives with Iraqi security forces "to get there by December 2005." After a moment of silence, Casey said, "that obviously has not panned out." Casey has said he doesn't subscribe to the idea Iraq has descended into civil war. Nevertheless, he agrees the situation in Baghdad is "bad."

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Al Gore Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

| Thu Feb. 1, 2007 9:12 AM PST

Al Gore has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by two Norwegian members of parliament (socialists, by the way) who feel that global climate change is the newest and possibly biggest threat to the earth's welfare. Getting nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize is notoriously easy (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and uh, George W. Bush have all been nominated), but still, pretty neat.

Bush Says, "There's Some Racial Insensitivity Going Around? Count Me In!"

| Thu Feb. 1, 2007 8:21 AM PST

I love this. President Bush spoke about the Biden/Obama dust-up on Fox News and, well, I'll let the Chicago Tribune explain (via ThinkProgress):

Well-spoken black people hate it when white people call them "articulate." It's the modern-day version of what white people used to say back in the day when they thought that by saying "He's a credit to his race" they were saying something that a black person would welcome hearing.
Those dated words, like Biden's comments, were patronizing at the very least. And they also appeared to carry some pretty negative assumptions about the majority of the race.

Many Americans know this because (1) they aren't stupid, and (2) they've seen the famous stand up routine by Chris Rock where Rock says that anytime white people see an intelligent black person they always say, "He's so well-spoken! He speaks so well!" which is the most patronizing compliment perhaps of all time. Rock used the example of Colin Powell, but this occurs with athletes all the time. Anytime a black athlete gives a post-game interview without saying "um" fifteen times, moms across America say, "Well, he seemed like a nice young man. Very well-spoken."

Anyway, here's the point. Bush on Obama yesterday: "He's an attractive guy. He's articulate. I've been impressed with him when I've seen him in person."

You know, George, usually when a man of any color earns his way into multiple Ivy League schools and gets elected to the Senate, he's able to speak without sounding like a dummy. But I suppose you wouldn't know about any part of that.

Some Day, Hipsters Will Wear "Biden '08" T-Shirts as an Ironic Statement

| Thu Feb. 1, 2007 7:38 AM PST

Want a summary of this Joe Biden/Barack Obama situation? You'll find one below; it doubles as a timeline of the Biden campaign, start to finish.

First, Biden gave a crazy interview to the NY Observer in which he said several things about several people. He may have set the record for most scorn and most Fluffernutter references (one) in any interview ever. "I don't think John Edwards knows what the heck he is talking about," he said, beginning a long tirade about John Edwards' lack of sophistication on the war. "John Edwards wants you and all the Democrats to think, 'I want us out of there,' but when you come back and you say, 'O.K., John, what about the chaos that will ensue? Do we have any interest, John, left in the region?' Well, John will have to answer yes or no. If he says yes, what are they? What are those interests, John? How do you protect those interests, John, if you are completely withdrawn?... So all this stuff is like so much Fluffernutter out there." (There it is!)

Hillary Clinton's position on Iraq would be "nothing but disaster," Biden said, and even though "everyone in the world knows her... she can't break out of 30 percent for a choice for Democrats? Where do you want to be? Do you want to be in a place where 100 percent of the Democrats know you? They've looked at you for the last three years. And four out of 10 is the max you can get?"

But a very special kind of blabbering was reserved for Barack Obama and black presidential candidates. "You got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy... I mean, that's a storybook, man." And that's where Biden's comments leave the realm of Democratic rival-bashing and enter some pretty touchy territory.

Following the interview, Biden immediately started backtracking, telling reporters that even though he was "quoted accurately" they should "call Senator Obama. He knew what I meant by it." (He added, "Barack Obama is probably the most exciting candidate that the Democratic or Republican party has produced at least since I've been around.")

Reporters then found Obama, who was conciliatory. "I didn't take it personally and I don't think he intended to offend."

But later that day Obama released a statement that said, "I didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate... African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."

Reporters pressed Biden on what the word "clean" meant. Biden responded, "[Obama] understood exactly what I meant... And I have no doubt that Jesse Jackson and every other black leader — Al Sharpton and the rest — will know exactly what I meant."

So reporters went to Jesse Jackson, and whoops: "I am not sure what he means — ask him to explain what he meant." Jackson pointed out that when both Jackson and Biden ran for president (in 1988), Jackson lasted longer and got more votes. Al Sharpton, god bless him, pointed out that he bathes every day.

Eventually, audio of Biden's comments to the Observer became available and the inevitable arguments over whether the transcription should have included an extra comma or period, thus mitigating the insensitivity of Biden's comments, began. And that was how Joe Biden doomed himself to a lifetime of frustrated irrelevancy in the Senate.

Mooninites Attack!

| Thu Feb. 1, 2007 1:16 AM PST

This story blows my mind. Apparently, some strange battery-powered devices were found at various points around Boston today, causing officials to shut down freeways, bridges, part of the transit system, and a section of the Charles River. Bomb squads were called in to detonate the devices. Turns out these things are harmless battery-powered blinking LED light boards featuring a Mooninite, a character from "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," which is itself a surreal 15-minute cartoon series airing on Adult Swim, the late-night "alternative" programming brand on Cartoon Network. All this was part of a marketing campaign for the upcoming "Hunger Force" movie: "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters."

Thank You, Molly Ivins

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 11:31 PM PST

I was a cub reporter in Minneapolis -- the city where she'd cut her journalistic teeth a couple of decades earlier -- when I first met Molly Ivins. It was one of those damp blue Midwestern early summer days, and we sat outside the clubhouse where she'd just given a reading, on wrought-iron chairs that she made look like doll furniture. She was tall, and incredibly red-headed, and the biggest personality I'd ever met; also gentle, and funny, and patient as I fumbled with my microphone and asked starstruck questions about her life, her politics, and the town we'd both covered. We compared notes about how remarkably venal and corrupt a city run by supposedly squeaky-clean Democrats could be when given half a chance, which having come of age in the Reagan years I'd somehow been too naive to expect. Mostly, though, I didn't say anything: I just drank up what it was like to see a woman be sharply political and yet uproariously funny, unapologetic and uncompromising, completely confident with the good old boys and completely capable of beating them at their own game, and all this without even seeming to try very hard at all. There were not many women writing like that in the 80s, which is why I dreamed of being Molly Ivins when I grew up; there still aren't many like her today, and magazines like Mother Jones are run and written overwhelmingly by men. Why? I don't know exactly: Because most women are not trained, as many men have been, to presume that the world is dying to hear what we have to say? Because having an outsized personality and convictions to match makes you lonely, as a woman more so than a man? Because so many of us, anxious to get along, learn to lace our opinions, even inadvertently, with qualifiers and fudges, with "I think"s and "I could be wrong, but"s? Molly didn't fudge, but neither did she lecture: She just told you what she thought, and often it wasn't what you might have expected at a time when the left had grown timid and self-referential and obsessed with PC nuance. She went for the roundhouse punch when everyone else was busy wringing their hands, and she liked those -- Democrats, Republicans, men and women, good old boys and bad new girls -- willing to do the same. She made us laugh, and she made us smarter, and she cut through a lot of B.S. Now it's time to thank her for it: As she wrote, in her very last column just a couple of weeks ago: "Raise hell." And have fun.

Molly was a contributor to Mother Jones for many years, and in the coming days, you'll hear more from the people who worked with her; we'll also have an archive of her stories for this magazine. For a quick sketch of her life, see Josh Harkinson's story here.

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Music Recommendations (For People Who Still Buy CDs)

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 9:43 PM PST

I'm not sure how much relevance actual release dates have any more (in this era of internet leaks) but if you're the type who likes their CDs and mp3s legit, the next few months promise some breathless Monday nights. I thought I'd sneak on here while all the Mother Jones employees are nursing their hangovers and tell you about some upcoming albums I can't wait for, along with a brief explanation, similar artists, and a link to a preview (if available) or some recent material.


  • 02/06/07: Bloc Party - Weekend in the City (Vice/Atlantic)
    The UK quartet follow up their acclaimed debut with a more mature (and apparently more openly queer-ish) album
    For fans of: The Cure, Franz Ferdinand, being wistful
    Stream the whole album already on their Myspace page
  • 03/06/07: Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (Merge)
    Adored Montreal band face dreaded sophomore slump
    For fans of: Talking Heads, Neutral Milk Hotel, going to funerals
    Download the first single, "Interventions," here
  • Terngate Results Suggest Criminal Charges Against Those Who Killed Seabirds in Southern California

    | Wed Jan. 31, 2007 5:42 PM PST

    Chased off California's beaches by hordes of Homo sapiens, terns—graceful seabirds with white bodies and flippety black crests—have resorted to nesting on barges. Last summer more than 500 baby terns, too young to fly, were massacred when someone washed them off the barges with high-pressure hoses. Two species, Caspian terns and elegant terns, lost their entire breeding season in the debacle. The Los Angeles Times reports:

    State wildlife officials today said they have forwarded the results of a seven month investigation into the massacre of hundreds of young seabirds last summer to the Long Beach City attorney's office for criminal prosecution.

    Only 23 birds survived in a case known as "terngate" among environmentalists who had grown frustrated with the length of the investigation and the failure of state and federal wildlife officials to preemptively prevent the loss of an entire breeding season of terns.

    "This case required a lengthy investigation," California State Fish and Game Lt. Kent Smirl said. "But it's not going away. We've done an excellent investigation, one of the best this department has ever done in Long Beach."

    Smirl, whose agency led the investigation that included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also said he expects charges to be filed by Long Beach city prosecutors. He declined to identify who could be charged.

    "I'll be sitting in the courtroom when this case goes to trial," said Lisa Fimiani of the Audubon Society's Los Angeles chapter. "It's terrible to have to learn an important lesson in a lightning rod event like this. It tells us these birds were so desperate for nesting space they settled on barges."

    The International Fund for Animal Welfare was offering a $10,000 reward for information on who was responsible for destroying the nesting colony of Caspian and Elegant terns.

    This blogger once spent a 4-month breeding season living with elegant terns on an island off Mexico and I can tell you that no slacker with a high-pressure hose has ever worked as hard in a week as these birds work in a day raising their chicks. May they be sentenced in the afterlife to a hell of highwater without life jackets. Come to think of it, that's coming their way anyway with global warming.

    New Cement Design May Someday Reduce Greenhouse Gasses by 5 to 10 Percent

    | Wed Jan. 31, 2007 5:24 PM PST

    A group of engineers at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by focusing on the nanostructure of concrete—the world's most widely used material. As they report In the January issue of the Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids, the production of cement, the primary component of concrete, accounts for 5 to 10 percent of the world's total carbon dioxide emissions, and is an important contributor to global warming. An MIT press release sums up their work:

    The team reports that the source of concrete's strength and durability lies in the organization of its nanoparticles. The discovery could one day lead to a major reduction in carbon dioxide emissions during manufacturing.

    "If everything depends on the organizational structure of the nanoparticles that make up concrete, rather than on the material itself, we can conceivably replace it with a material that has concrete's other characteristics-strength, durability, mass availability and low cost-but does not release so much CO2 into the atmosphere during manufacture," said Franz-Josef Ulm, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

    Cement, the oldest engineered construction material, dating back to the Roman Empire, starts out as limestone and clay that are crushed to a powder and heated to a very high temperature (1500 degrees Celsius) in a kiln. At this high temperature, the mineral undergoes a transformation, storing energy in the powder. When the powder is mixed with water, the energy is released into chemical bonds to form the elementary building block of cement, calcium-silicate-hydrate (C-S-H). At the micro level, C-S-H acts as a glue to bind sand and gravel together to create concrete. Most of the carbon dioxide emissions in this manufacturing process result from heating the kiln to a temperature high enough to transfer energy into the powder.

    The researchers hope to find or nanoengineer a different mineral to use in cement paste, one that doesn't require high temperatures during production, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by up to 10 percent. Now that would deserve a Nobel.

    Princess Cruise Lines Pleads Guilty to Killing Humpback Whale

    | Wed Jan. 31, 2007 4:45 PM PST

    It's a first of its kind likely to get lost amid the current and overdue clamor on climate change, but it's important nonetheless. In the summer of 2001 a Princess Cruise Lines vessel, the Dawn Princess, ran into a pregnant female humpback whale in Glacier Bay, Alaska, killing the whale well-known to researchers as Whale #68, nicknamed Snow. Snow had summered in Glacier Bay for at least the past 25 years, enjoying the safety afforded her under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. That is, until a skipper or mate on the bridge of the Dawn Princess broke the law. As The Morning Report, a compilation of daily incident reports from the National Park Service, describes:

    On Monday, January 29th, Princess Cruise Lines pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Anchorage to a charge of knowingly failing to operate its vessel, the Dawn Princess, at a slow, safe speed in the summer of 2001 while near two humpback whales in the area of Glacier Bay National Park. The bloated carcass of a pregnant whale was found four days after the Princess ship sailed through the park. It had died of massive blunt trauma injuries to the right side of the head, including a fractured skull, eye socket and cervical vertebrae, all consistent with a vessel collision. The whale was identified from fluke markings as "Whale #68," which had been sighted many times in the past and was known to have frequented the area for at least 25 years. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Princess was sentenced to pay a $200,000 fine and to contribute $550,000 to the National Park Foundation as a form of community service. The funding will support marine mammal research in the park. In this first-of-its-kind prosecution, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice, along with special agents and investigators from the National Park Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, engaged in a thorough and detailed investigation, often with the assistance and cooperation of Princess. "As well as being a majestic and endangered species, the humpback whale is also a public symbol of Glacier Bay," said superintendent Tomie Lee. "Protection of these resources is of paramount importance to us. So when we began to hear witness reports of a cruise-ship colliding with a whale, then learned that this particular whale, whom researchers had first identified in 1975 and nicknamed 'Snow' because of her fluke markings, died of injuries consistent with a ship-strike, we began a dialogue with Princess and the U.S. Attorney's Office, and proceeded diligently with our investigation, so we could be sure to get things right. While these kinds of criminal convictions can result in a loss of federal contracts to service visitors in a national park, in this case we feel Princess has stepped up and made significant, voluntary operational changes that protect whales and the marine environment. We are pleased that this incident is behind us and that they will continue to offer cruises in Glacier Bay." The unlawful taking (killing) of humpback whales is prohibited by both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The "slow, safe speed" regulation, under which this case was charged, was implemented in 2001 to support the "anti-taking" provisions of the two laws. Thus, a knowing failure to maintain a "slow, safe speed" when near humpback whales constitutes a violation of the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act and carries the identical penalties of the taking violation. Such conduct is a federal Class A misdemeanor violation of law, punishable (for a corporation) by a fine of up to $200,000, restitution in an amount to be determined by the court, and up to five years probation (a person who violates this law is also subject to imprisonment for up to one year).