Blogs

U.S. to Use Spy Satellites for Domestic Surveillance

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 4:04 PM EDT

Frightening, as per the usual:

The United States is moving to expand the use of spy satellites for domestic surveillance, turning its "eyes in sky" inward to counter terrorism and eventually for law enforcement, a US official said Wednesday.
The director of national intelligence, Michael McConnell, expanded the range of federal and local agencies that can tap into imagery from spy satellites...

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White House to Write Petraeus' Report on Success/Failure of Surge

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 3:23 PM EDT

So these past several months when President Bush has deflected questions about progress in Iraq with statements like, "I'm going to wait for... David Petraeus to come back and give us the report on what he sees," he's been bluffing us. David Petraeus isn't writing any reports — the much-ballyhooed September report that will give America an update on the situation on the ground in Iraq will be written by propoganda artists sitting in offices in Washington DC, likely in the White House itself.

Should this bother us? I know, telling the public one thing and doing the other is standard fare for this administration, but now that we know this is the procedure, I wonder if all important reports about Iraq have been written from the White House, regardless of their official offices of origin. It feels so cynical to say, "Of course!" But it feels that with the Bushies, the most cynical answer is almost always the right one.

Rumsfeld Resigned Before the Elections

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 1:49 PM EDT

Check this out, from Reuters.

NY Times: People Take Cell Phones to Concerts

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 12:41 PM EDT

mojo-photo-cell.JPGYesterday's Times explores the phenomenon of cell phones being taken to concerts, or, um, just having a cell phone and then later going to a concert, I'm not exactly sure. According to the article, people can record videos of performers falling down, or pay money to enter contests. For instance, audiences at recent Gwen Stefani concerts were apparently quite eager to spend 99 cents to give their phone number to the record company in exhange for the possibility of better seats, and Korn fans could vote on the last song of the show--for $1.99. Hooray?

The article's attention to moneymaking contests ignores the two ways cell phone proliferation has affected my concert-going experience: first, at Coachella, you can sign up (for free!) to receive text message updates on band set times or delays, which can actually prove invaluable; and second, madly texting "whr r u?!?!" 2000 times until knocking heads with the person I'm looking for, both of us staring down at our pretty glowing screens.

Rove Love Hits Rhetorical Peak

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 11:32 AM EDT

Lots of Rove coverage on MoJoBlog the last few days, I know. But this had to be pointed out.

Laura blogged yesterday about Jay Rosen's very good and very complex take on why the national press slobbers over Karl Rove. Sometimes, though, it's simple: the writer is a party hack, Rove is the great god of party hacks, enough said. For the best example we're going to get in this post-resignation bubble, check out this take from Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard (via The Plank):

Rove is the greatest political mind of his generation and probably of any generation.

That sounds about right, Freddy boy. In reverse order, here are my top ten. See if you agree.

10. St. Thomas Aquinas
9. Karl Marx
8. Thomas Hobbes
7. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
6. Plato
5. Machiavelli
4. Thomas Jefferson
3. John Locke
2. Aristotle
1. Karl Rove

Not making the list: John Rawls, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, and Confucius.

But Karl Rove, definitely number one.

Surging Toward Civil War

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 10:40 AM EDT

At least 200 people were killed yesterday when powerful truck bombs exploded in two villages adjacent to Iraq's northern Kurdish region along the Syrian border. The victims were members of the Yizidi community, a minority religious sect that local Muslims consider to be "devil worshipers." At least one of the villages was virtually destroyed in the blast, as most of its dwellings were made of clay. Bodies littered the ground, and more than 200 wounded were rushed to six area hospitals. The attack was among the deadliest in Iraq this year.

A spokesman for the Kurdish regional government told reporters that the Kurdish peshmerga might have been able to prevent the bombings, but is forbidden from operating in the Yizidi area by the central government in Baghdad. According to the BBC:

Tensions between the Yazidi sect and local Muslims have grown since a Yazidi girl was reportedly stoned by her community in April for converting to Islam.
The sect is due to vote later alongside other Kurds outside the Kurdish autonomous region in a referendum on joining the grouping.
Correspondents say the planned referendum makes northern Iraq's Kurds a target for politically-motivated attacks.

Sunni extremists are thought to be responsible for yesterday's bombings. From Juan Cole's Informed Comment:

The operation resembled the horrific bombing of the Shiite Turkmen of Armili on July 2. Note that first Shiite Turkmen were targeted and now Kurdish Yazidis. They have in common not being Sunni Arabs. My suspicion is that these bombings are not just an attempt to spread fear and intimidation, but are actually part of a struggle for control of territory. The Sunni Arab guerrillas face powerful challenges from Kurds and Shiites with regard to the future of provinces such as Ninevah, Diyala and Kirkuk. A lot of Kurdish police and troops have been deployed in Mosul not far from Tuesday's bombings, and they are seen as among the deadliest enemies by the Sunni Arab guerrillas. Sooner or later, my guess is that the Sunni Arabs will wage a major war with the Kurds over the oil fields of Kirkuk.

Attacks like this one in northern Iraq only strengthen the Kurds' conviction that there is little to be gained from associating themselves with Iraq's central government... and perhaps even more to be lost by doing so. The chaos and violence that reigns in Baghdad appears to be spreading to previously quiet areas. The "surge" is responsible for at least some of this. Rather than packing it in under increased U.S. pressure, insurgent groups have begun to select easier targets in other parts of the country. After all, what better way to antagonize the Kurds into fighting a civil war than to attack them on their own ground?

Speaking of the surge, here's Time's Matthew Yeomans:

The U.S. Army Chief of Staff says the troop surge is working, however. Gen. George Casey—who is a former U.S. commander in Iraq—told reporters yesterday he saw clear "progress on the security front" during his weekend visit to Iraq. "As complex and as difficult and as confusing as you may find Iraq ... we can succeed there," he said. "And we will succeed there if we demonstrate patience and will." But he said he didn't know when the Army might be able to cut soldiers' tours of duty back to 12 months from 15.

What he did say, though, was that deployments longer than the current 15 months would "put our soldiers at a level of stress and a level of risk that I'm right now not comfortable with." The surge can only be maintained by extending tours to 18 months. So, it looks like no matter what happens in the political debate over a potential drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq, the soldiers are going to start coming home no matter what.

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Rove's Departure Unlikely to End Investigation Into His Activities

| Wed Aug. 15, 2007 10:10 AM EDT

Karl Rove's politicalization of the federal government became so wide-ranging and so bald earlier this year that the Republican apparatchik at the head of the Office of Special Counsel decided to investigate him. If you were wondering if that investigation will end with Rove's resignation (MoJo's thoughts on the departure here and here), have no fear. According to an Office of Special Counsel spokesman, the inquiries will continue.

That could be spin, of course, and we'll have to wait to see if any real results come out of the OSC, but at least it's spin in the right direction.

Gonzo and the Reauthorization of the Patriot Act, Part II

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 9:42 PM EDT

Guess which beleaguered public official is poised to grab even more power—Alberto Gonzales. A hidden provision in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act allows states to opt in to a program aimed at expediting the federal appeals process for death row inmates. This provision gives the attorney general the authority to deny an appeal before it even reaches federal court for review. The attorney general's job is to present such a case before the court, not to decide it.

Sound familiar? There was another provision that was quietly slipped into the reauthorization of the Patriot Act granting Gonzales excess power. You know, the one that allowed him to appoint interim U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation? Shouldn't we be scouring that bill for more sneaky power-granting amendments?

And it's not difficult to predict what Gonzales will do with this newfound control over capital litigation. As gubernatorial counsel to Bush for three years in Texas, Gonzales advised him on 57 executions. Clemency was denied in all of them.

—Celia Perry

Wholesome Teens Turned Sex Symbols

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 8:30 PM EDT

zac.jpg

So…who graces the cover of Rolling Stone this week? None other than baby-faced Zac Efron. In the photo, not only is the 19-year-old Disney star taking off his shirt, but it could also be argued that he's bashfully rubbing his man boob. The picture surely brings squeals of delight to millions of teeny-boppers, and just as equally brings nothing but a big shudder to the rest of us. Efron's most famous roles are as a singing and dancing high school hunk in High School Musical and the movie version of Hairspray. The roles are innocent but the press he's getting is anything but.

And if that doesn't bother you, how about an almost-nude shot of our favorite wizard boy? *Shudders.

But really aren't we just treating young male celebrities the way we've always treated female celebrities—with birthday countdowns, suggestive magazine covers, and sexy interview questions? Is this objectification or just a really great break for these young chaps? Either way, we can be sure Daniel Radcliffe doesn't mind.

—Anna Weggel

M.I.A. Streaming All of Kala Online

| Tue Aug. 14, 2007 7:55 PM EDT

mojo-photo-mia2.JPGNow you can finally hear what I've been blabbering about this whole time. Check out M.I.A.'s MySpace page where all 12 tracks from her about-to-be-released sophomore album Kala are available for your streaming pleasure. Hey look: Robert Christgau says "Kala strikes deep," 4.5 out of 5 stars. You don't want to mess with Christgau. Anyway, you can spend money on Kala next Tuesday. Predictions for where it'll chart? Considering Arular never made it past #190 on the Billboard album charts, I'll say Kala will debut at... #39.

Update, 8/16: I've read the Christgau review a couple times now and I'd just like to point out how brilliant it is. Please check it out. He uncovers a few insights that are absolutely true and totally fascinating: 1) the fact that the full-album collaboration with Timbaland didn't come to pass is probably due not only to the visa troubles but also to M.I.A. realizing that she didn't want to become Nelly Furtado; 2) the album, therefore, is less accessible, an uncompromising, jagged "art record," and 3) it recalls nothing so much as The Clash, whose aggression, multicultural influences, political expression, and DIY aesthetic combined with great songwriting skills to create a couple masterpieces. That could all be describing M.I.A., and when you think about it, this is totally the record the Clash would be making if they were making records today. Look at Big Audio Dynamite! Dude is 65 years old figuring out this s***. I bow down.