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Americans Vote on Top Presidents

| Mon Feb. 19, 2007 12:22 PM EST

Happy Presidents' Day, everybody. Remember to get your apostrophe after the "s"!

In time for the holiday, Gallup has polled Americans on who they think are the top presidents in history. Results:

1. Abraham Lincoln (18%)
2. Ronald Reagan (16%)
3. John F. Kennedy (14%)
4. Bill Clinton (13%)
5. Franklin Roosevelt (9%)

Those five are followed by George Washington, Harry Truman, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Thomas Jefferson, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush.

I'm going to go ahead and assume that those last two are a recency effect. Your thoughts?

Oh, and PS - From The Nation via Alternet, a discussion of the worst presidents of all time.

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Brit Hume, Hatchetman

| Mon Feb. 19, 2007 12:14 PM EST

I couldn't agree more with this post by Glenn Greenwald at Salon. It's high time someone pointed out that Brit Hume is a vicious partisan hack, and should not be treated like a legitimate member of the objective news media.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out Hume's angry diatribe about John Murtha from over the weekend. It's petulant, pissy, and almost completely personal -- Murtha is senile, Murtha is pathetic -- and yet after Hume leaves the bloviator's realm of the Sunday morning talk show, he is welcomed back into the journalistic fold during the work week. Amazing.

It Gets Readers, So Why Not: Senator Bill Clinton

| Mon Feb. 19, 2007 11:49 AM EST

"Current rank: #1 of 13,714 articles"

That's one of the first things you see when you go to this story on Examiner.com called, "Some mull idea of Sen. Bill Clinton," and it goes a long way to explaining why the story was written at all.

There are three reasons why this story would be written: (1) There is genuine interest among Democratic activists and party insiders in seeing Bill Clinton appointed to Hillary Clinton's open Senate seat should she be elected president. (2) The political campaigns are really gearing up and political reporters are looking for any angle at all in order to find new stories. (3) The story is guaranteed to get read -- a lot.

The answer is some combination of the three, of course, but one can't help but wonder if (2) and (3) are more prevalent, considering all the Democratic activists and party insiders quoted in the article are old Clinton hands. Witness:

"As a senator, he'd be a knockout... He knows issues, he loves public policy and he's a good politician." -- Harold Ickes. Ickes was deputy White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton.

"President Clinton would excel in the Senate... He excelled as attorney general and governor of Arkansas, he excelled as president and he's been a model of the modern Senate spouse." -- Paul Begala. Begala was one of the top consultants in Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and served as an aide in the White House.

"Clinton is a natural for the Senate... He loves to talk and schmooze. He could be a great vote-organizer. Majority Leader Clinton?" -- Larry Sabato. Sabato has no ties to Clinton that I can see, but he was once called "the most quoted college professor in the land" by the Wall Street Journal because of his readiness to give quotes to reporters.

There is some legitimate analysis here: as a senator Bill Clinton would have a real role to play in Washington, and as a result the Clinton-Clinton team wouldn't have to figure out Bill's "First Husband" role in the White House. Would the American people be okay with Bill meddling in Hillary's presidential business? The reverse situation was awfully touchy ten years ago; Senator Bill Clinton avoids the question.

The Examiner article doesn't mention the plain fact that Americans do not like dynastic politics, but really, that minor oversight is not the issue. The issue is that a reporter called a bunch of ardent Clinton supporters and asked about something that is likely to excite them and -- surprise! -- got the quotes he wanted. The story, in a word, feels manufactured. We'll see if it goes anywhere.

Update: Newsweek has a short article on the power dynamics of the various husband-wife teams aiming for the White House. It notes that none of the major Democrats seeking nomination have gone through divorces and all have powerful, intelligent, charismatic spouses, whereas all of the Republicans -- with the exception of Mitt Romney -- have gone through more wives than a member of the Saudi royal family.

Dog Parts Deemed Too Hot for School Libraries

| Sun Feb. 18, 2007 6:55 PM EST

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Susan Patron's book, The Higher Power of Lucky, won the prestigious Newberry Award—meaning, it's a really good children's book.

No matter, librarians across the country are refusing to put it on the shelves.

That's because one of its thousands of words is "scrotum." Which is weird, but not worthy of a ban. The protagonist of the book overhears a conversation about a dog being bitten on the scrotum by a rattlesnake. She then endeavors to understand the meaning of this strange word. After all, she's 10 and naturally curious about things adults won't explain to her.

But librarians are refusing to stock the book because they don't want to have to explain the word to students.

Let me help: when boy dogs aren't fixed, it's the thingy that hangs down between their back legs.

We're not even talking about human parts, here—we're talking about dog parts that are out in the open for the world to see. Kids might see dog scrotums at such time-honored kid hangouts as the park. Do they not ask there what they are? I mean, isn't talking about body parts in an utterly non-sexual way the best way to introduce soon-to-be sex ed-aged students to the strange ways of nature? Or should we banish all anatomical words from the language since, clearly, it's the words not the parts themselves that inspire young people to have sex?

A Detainee's Story: NYT and MoJo

| Sun Feb. 18, 2007 2:05 PM EST

The Times has an excellent article today about a man named Laith al-Ani who was held for two years by the Americans in Iraq even though he was never accused of any wrong doing. It's a fascinating look at his personal saga and the state of the detention system in Iraq more generally. The use of Tasers plays a big role. Well worth a read.

In our September/October issue of last year, Mother Jones wrote a similar article, titled "A Detainee's Story: The Man Who Has Been to America." The detainee in our story had been through quite an experience -- "four prisons, three countries, two years," including a trip to Guantanamo. Check it out as well.

Hillary Clinton's "I'm Sorry" Problem Gets Worse

| Sun Feb. 18, 2007 1:39 PM EST

Last week I had a long post about Hillary Clinton's "I'm Sorry" problem, i.e. the fact that she refuses to say "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong" about her vote for the Iraq War in 2002. Even though voters on the campaign trail are making it clear that she needs to say these simple words in order to get their vote, Hillary has insisted that the mistakes were all George W. Bush's, and he should be the one to offer any apologies. It's an untenable position in a primary race filled with voters from the angry anti-war left (which includes me and just about every other liberal I know).

In an article from the New York Times entitled "Clinton Gives War Critics New Answer on '02 Vote," we find that Clinton has... pretty much stayed the same. Here's the Times:

...yesterday morning Mrs. Clinton rolled out a new response to those demanding contrition: She said she was willing to lose support from voters rather than make an apology she did not believe in.

So Clinton is sticking to her guns. She told an audience in New Hampshire that "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from." She is referring to Obama in the first and Edwards in the second.

This makes me think that the stance isn't just a political calculation but instead a deeply held belief that she will not let become a matter of political convenience. But then you read these paragraphs from Times, and it all just feels like stupid campaign politics.

"She is in a box now on her Iraq vote, but she doesn't want to be in a different, even worse box — the vacillating, flip-flopping Democratic candidate that went to defeat in 2000 and '04," said one adviser to Mrs. Clinton.
Indeed, Mrs. Clinton believes that reversing course on her vote would invite the charge of flip-flopping that damaged Mr. Kerry or provoke the kind of accusations of political expediency that hung over Al Gore in 2000 and her and her husband, President Bill Clinton, in the 1990s, several advisers said. She has argued to associates in private discussions that Mr. Gore and Mr. Kerry lost, in part, because they could not convince enough Americans that they were resolute on national security, the associates said.

So it's a matter of image and avoiding the flip-flop label. First of all, I can't imagine that a single flip-flop on this issue will be more damaging than Clinton refusing to apologize for an increasingly catastrophic war at every campaign stop over the next year plus. Second, I'm willing to tolerate campaign trail politics on a lot of different issues, but the Iraq War evokes a deep, visceral response from me: I want it addressed plainly and genuinely, without guile. I don't want it trivialized by political calculations. I think voters on the trail want the same. See my last post on this issue, wherein a voter asked Clinton a question begging -- literally begging! -- for a straightforward but deeply felt response.

What does she actually believe? What is masked by all the political considerations? I don't feel like I know, which is murder for her candidacy.

But as long as we're playing the horse race game.... Hillary Clinton simply will not be able to stick to her guns on this in the long run (because of clear and almost fatal damage to her campaign hopes as months go by) and in the end will be forced to apologize -- making it look like she caved. She should apologize now when she still has some control over the circumstances and coverage of the thing.

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Ghost in the Machine?

| Sat Feb. 17, 2007 4:23 PM EST

Brian Flemming, an ex-evangelical and director of the film "The God Who Wasn't There," mounted the Blasphemy Challenge in late 2006, asking rational people to deny the existence of the Holy Spirit via YouTube.

In a famous video, a young girl proclaims, "I know that the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, God, the flying spaghetti monster, pink unicorns, all of these made-up entities do not exist."

Naturally, the religious right is pretty upset. So now Mike Mickey, the Web master for RaptureAlert.com has cleverly introduced Challenge Blasphemy.

Mickey is concerned that some of the young people enjoying themselves as they rise to the Blasphemy Challenge will later be afraid to turn to God because of their great videotaped sin.

It seems the existence or non-existence of God will also be debated over the mysterious, wireless, omnipotent internet.

White House Backs Down on U.S. Attorney Nomination

| Sat Feb. 17, 2007 3:07 PM EST

I blogged yesterday about the controversial, and seemingly politically motivated, firing of several U.S. Attorneys. The most egregious of 7-10 cases is that of H.E. Cummings III of Arkansas. Mr. Cummings was let go, according to Alberto Gonzalez's deputy, to make room for J. Timothy Griffin, who had served as a political director for the Republican National Committee and a deputy to none other than Karl Rove. (In print, Mr. Griffin is "J. Timothy," but when the White House talks about what a great guy he is, they call him "Tim.")

The White House has finally realized that its claim that this was standard personnel management ain't gonna fly and has agreed not to nominate Mr. Griffin as a permanent replacement for Mr. Cummings. (He will, however, remain as a temporary replacement.)

Now this is the kind of stuff that wouldn't even have made the papers if the Dems weren't in power, and for that we are duly grateful.

Air Conditioning Heats Your World

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 9:05 PM EST

Our cool addiction is making it hotter. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports on a study by Dr Yukitaka Ohashi of Okayama University of Science and colleagues in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology reporting that air conditioners make it hotter outside and how they do it.

Their study compared the summer temperatures in downtown Tokyo on weekends versus weekdays. It showed air conditioners dump enough heat into the streets to raise the temperature at least 1 to 2ºC [1.8 to 3.6 degrees F]. In turn, heat blasting from the rear-ends of air conditioners is contributing to the "heat island" effect that makes cities hotter and their weather sometimes more severe.

Air conditioners remove not only ambient heat from buildings, but they expel heat from their use of electricity. In other words, coolers don't just move heat from the inside to the outdoors, they also add new heat just by being machines that consume power. In fact, Tokyo sucks up about 1.6 gigawatts of electricity for every 2 degrees of warming on a hot summer day, the researchers says. That's equivalent to the output of one-and-a-half nuclear power plants.

If we want to get serious about local warming as well as global warming can we agree to open the doors? I mean, does anyone keep their house or apartment as frigid as the average mini-mart, restaurant, or mall store? Can we imagine adding thermostat control to our list of consumer demands… we already (don't we?) ask for sustainably-caught seafood and sustainably-harvested wood and forest products? Why not ask to open the doors and cool the world?

US-based urban heat researcher Dr Stuart Gaffin of the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University in New York suspects the Japanese researchers are right about the significant contribution of air conditioning to hotter cities. "Such heat is not fully appreciated in urban heat island discussions," says Gaffin. The heat islands created by big cities in warm climates like Atlanta or Dallas - have been recognised as having noticeable and sometimes violent effects on stormy weather that crosses their path. Even non-urban areas downwind of cities have been known to get more violent thunder storms as a result of the supercharging of storms by city heat.

Either we get bitchy about it or Mother Nature will. And she's queen bitch.

Miers Had Hand in U.S. Attorney Firings

| Fri Feb. 16, 2007 8:08 PM EST

You might suspect that your firing was politically motivated when (1) it happens 2 days after you indict a high-ranking CIA official in a corruption scandal, or (2) your replacement is a buddy of Karl Rove's. Such are the stories of Carol Lam of San Diego and H.E. Cummings III of Arkansas. Turns out old Harry, as in Harriet "Good Enough for the Supreme Court but Not Good Enough to Insulate Bush, Inc. from the Dems" Miers, who was then counsel for the president, had a hand in replacing Cummings with Rove buddy J. Timothy Griffin. So, uh, which party is it again that opposes judicial activism?