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Iran to Release Hostages; Victory for Diplomacy

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 11:14 AM EDT

Hey, so it turns out if you don't drop bombs first and ask questions later, you can actually get something productive done. And, as a bonus, no one gets killed!

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has given "amnesty and pardon" to the fifteen British soldiers detained by an Iranian border patrol. They are set to be returned to Britain shortly.

Looks like "Britain's quiet diplomacy" did work. Who knows what backroom deal was made to secure the release of these fifteen young people -- the point is they are all safe and an international incident was averted. Are you taking notes, George?

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Edwards Goes on the Attack. Target: Obama

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 10:29 AM EDT

Consider this quote from John Edwards: "I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the rhetoric. It's not enough to talk about 'hope' and 'we're all going to feel good.' We're past that. This is a very serious time in American history. It's time for anybody running for president to treat this seriously. I have talked about hope and inspiration in the past, and they're wonderful things, but you have to translate them into action."

Okay, he's obviously targeting Obama. I'm sure the Obama campaign's response, if there is one at all, will be something about how this attack is another sign of the "smallness of our politics" and how we need to "elevate the tone" in Washington.

(In a recent panel discussion between reps from all three major Dem campaigns, Obama advisor/oracle David Axelrod repeatedly used the phrase "lift this country up" while simultaneously getting in a pissing match with the Clinton rep on hand. See the period from 1:13 to 1:22 in the video "Campaign 2008: Looking Ahead." The Edwards guy tries to stop the bickering by saying something to the effect of "Guys, guys, this is what people don't like.")

I think it's great that Obama inspires and excites people, and that he brings people who don't normally follow politics into the Democratic fold. I think it's great that he gave progressives a speech they can point to and say, "That's our message. That's who we are. That's what we believe." I think it's great that he's so smart, so charismatic, and such a truly phenomenal orator that he can likely overcome the handicaps any minority candidate faces when running nationwide in America.

But can we please get some specifics? You want to lift this country up? What does that mean exactly? You want to reclaim America's promise? Great, how? I assume that underneath the platitudes is a progressive agenda that mirrors the one John Edwards articulates in detail in nearly all of his speeches and appearances. But maybe I'm projecting my desires onto Obama: maybe "the audacity of hope" means something else entirely. I really have no idea.

Perhaps Obama's high-flying rhetoric and ambiguity on the issues is acceptable to folks that make voting decisions based on how they feel and who they're inspired by, as opposed to the nuts and bolts of policy. That's fine. But I'd like more.

This contrast between Obama and Edwards plays out in their campaign appearances. Obama fills his speeches with "anecdotes and set-piece jokes" while Edwards, who has folksy charm by the bushel, instead produces a "stream of policy talk on global warming, Iraq, education, poverty, and health care." Can we meet in the middle, gentlemen? Isn't that in the spirit of lifting this country up?

Clinton Slips in New Hampshire Poll, Edwards Rises

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 9:19 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton started the presidential race with such a hefty lead over her opponents, she can fall a long way before relinquishing the frontrunner's crown. And while that may be comforting to her and her staff, they have to realize she's headed in the wrong direction.

A new CNN poll of New Hampshire voters shows Clinton's support has dropped from 35 points in February to 27 points currently. John Edwards is the main beneficiary -- his support rose from 16 points to 21 over the same period. That puts him one point ahead of Barack Obama, who sits at 20 points and has shown little change in support over the last few months.

The only other politician with double digit support was Al Gore, with 11 percent. The poll has a margin of error of 5.5 percent, which kind of makes this whole thing laughable.

Catching Big Pharma's Little Lies, Teens Bust GlaxoSmithKline

| Wed Apr. 4, 2007 1:04 AM EDT

A blackcurrant drink produced by drug giant GlaxoSmithKline was advertised as having way more Vitamin C than it actually does. What's cool is that the independent investigation was conducted by two 14-year-old girls for a science fair project. As Seed Magazine reports, New Zealanders Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo tested the Vitamin C content of eight juices, with most matching their advertised C content. But Ribena, which claimed to have four times as much Vitamin C as oranges, fell far short. The teens tried to contact the company directly, but failed to get a response. So they went to a consumer affairs TV show and then the Commerce Commission. After two years, GlaxoSmithKline finally admitted breaching the Fair Trading Act. They'll pay a fine and change the labeling on the drink. Tch tch. How about detention?--Julia Whitty

Race For A Green Car, X Prize To Offer Millions

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 11:33 PM EDT

The X Prize Foundation has announced a competition to build an environmentally friendly car. Nature reports that the winning vehicle will have to achieve at least 100 miles per gallon, regardless of the type of fuel it uses. Its carbon emissions have to be no more than 210 grams of carbon per mile. And it has to be cheap enough to expect sales of 10,000 a year.

That'll be a huge improvement on today's US average of about 21 miles per gallon. The prize's challenge lies more in manufacturing and economics than in developing radical new technologies. To achieve 100 miles per gallon can be done with existing technology, but requiring a radical redesign.

The rules are currently in draft form, and are open to public comment for 60 days beginning 2 April. The prize's value has not yet been announced, but will likely be more than $10 million. The previous two X Prizes, for spaceflight and genomics, each had a value of $10 million. --Julia Whitty

Move On To A Safe Place

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 9:10 PM EDT

I have never been a big fan of MoveOn.org because I was quite opposed to the concept of moving on after the tainted 2000 election took place. It seemed to me that glossing over that incident and moving on was not what was needed. Now MoveOn has confirmed my worst suspicions by its recent decision to omit Rep. Barbara Lee's Iraq war amendment from its members' push poll.

In opposition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plan, Rep. Lee wanted to offer an amendment that would have funded withdrawal of troops, but she was not permitted to. But Lee has a lot of support, including: United for Peace and Justice, Progressive Democrats of America, U.S. Labor Against the War, After Downing Street, Democrats.com, Peace Action, Code Pink, Democracy Rising, True Majority, Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Backbone Campaign, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Voters for Peace, Veterans for Peace, the Green Party, True Majority, and many individuals.

MoveOn polled its members by giving them a choice of the Pelosi plan or nothing at all--no mention of Lee's plan. Eli Pariser of MoveOn says that the would-be Lee amendment was omitted from the poll because he knew a majority of MoveOn members would vote for it, and the amendment did not stand a chance in Congress.

Says David Swanson (AfterDowningStreet.org) of the poll: "It served to give cover to progressive Democrats in Congress who gave their support to Pelosi after having intended to vote no on Pelosi's bill unless it included Lee's amendment." Perhaps "progressive" is the wrong word.

Thanks to Avedon Carol at The Sideshow.

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Scientists Turn Old Garbage Into New Homes

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 8:38 PM EDT

A British civil engineer has invented a building block made almost entirely of recycled glass, metal slag, sewage sludge and ash from power stations. John Forth of the University of Leeds said his "Bitublocks" might revolutionize the building industry by providing a sustainable, low-energy replacement for concrete blocks. This according to UPI via Science Daily.

The secret ingredient is asphalt, which binds the mixture of waste products together, before compacting them to form a solid block that is heat-cured until it hardens like concrete. Forth said it's possible to use a higher proportion of waste in the Bitublock than by using a cement or clay binder. He's now working on developing a "Vegeblock" using waste vegetable oil as the binder.

Another noble reincarnation for MacDonald's used french-fry grease?--Julia Whitty

Boo-Hoo Republicans

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 8:25 PM EDT

One Republican after another is denouncing the direction of the party. Today Vic Gold, former press secretary to Barry Goldwater and a friend of Bush 41 and Dick Cheney, joins the club. The trend conveniently began just after the 2006 election. Many dyed-in-the-wool conservatives—including Mr. Gold—claim that pandering to the religious right precipitated the Grand Old Party's downfall. Some claim that over-identifying with the Republican Party has tarnished Christian evangelicals.

But both groups entered into the marriage willingly—and have been happily married since 1980. Yes, it was Reagan, that poster boy of pre-lapsarian conservatism, who presided at the ceremony. Twenty-seven years later, it strikes me as disingenuous to claim that the party's essence lies somewhere else. It's almost like saying Republicans are really like Abraham Lincoln. Meanwhile, evangelicals have been hurt how? Their numbers continue to rise, and they have inserted the issue of "[biblical] morality" into a vast spectrum of legislative issues when, in a secular state, there is no shared morality—or at least not one that goes beyond the basics of "No killing" and "No stealing." "Do unto others" is most definitely not part of the Republican platform (nor was it under Goldwater). The only thing that's really changed in the last six months is that the Evangepublicans blew their cover by pushing to legislate way beyond what can plausibly pass for political problems (think attempts to make divorces harder to obtain, redundant laws and constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in 22 states, etc., etc.)

One interesting convergence between Gold's account and Matthew Dowd's complaint in Sunday's New York Times is that both were at one point Democrats (Gold for about half a minute, Dowd for substantially longer) who describe falling in love with the virile optimism of a particular Republican candidate. Funny how it's easy to be filled with confidence and optimism when you believe God exists to support your wealth and power. Maybe the cracks forming between evangelicals and Republicans will check that omnipotence a bit, but beyond that I don't foresee any major shift in how Republicans do things or how many keys to the stateroom rest on how many church altars.

World Oil Production Close To Peak, Good Riddance

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 8:21 PM EDT

In a worst-case scenario, global oil production may reach its peak next year, before starting to decline. In a best-case scenario, this peak will be reached in 2018. This according to the doctoral thesis of Fredrik Robelius of Uppsala University in Sweden. He estimates future oil production on the basis of the largest oil fields.

A giant oil field contains at least 500 million barrels of recoverable oil. Only 507, or 1% of the total number of fields, are giants. Their contribution is striking: over 60% of 2005 production. However, giant fields are impending dinosaurs since a majority are over 50 years old--and fewer are being found, with less volume available within them.

Robelius' model forecasts future production from giant fields, combined with forecasts on other oil sources, to predict future oil production. In all scenarios, peak oil occurs at about the same time as the giant fields peak. The worst-case scenario sees a peak in 2008 and the best-case scenario, following a 1.4 % demand growth, peaks in 2018.--Julia Whitty

Kerry: McCain Approached Me About Being on Dem Ticket in 2004

| Tue Apr. 3, 2007 3:35 PM EDT

Building on the "McCain approached Tom Daschle to inquire about leaving the GOP" story, John Kerry now says that McCain's people approached his campaign about being the vice president on Kerry's 2004 ticket. If that's true, wow. We still don't have an explanation from McCain on all this, just a simple denial that none of it is true.

Update: Strong and detailed denial from the McCain people. It feels like both parties are playing loose with the truth here...