Political MoJo

Is Someone Gaming Obama's YouTube Site?

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 10:15 PM EDT

Over at Techpresident, a group blog on web politics, blogger Joshua Levy is making an interesting case that something's amiss. Obama's YouTube channel has 2,700,000 views--35 times as many as the second most-popular political site, that of Hillary Clinton. While people trolling for the 1984 video may have skewed web traffic to a degree, that's still a huge disparity. "There are a few reasons why the high number of channel views looks fishy," Levy says:

First, the total number of views of Obama's individual videos is nowhere near the total number of channel views. When you first load the channel, a video automatically plays, which may or may not contribute to that video's total views (the relationship between channel and video views is sketchy, though we're told by sources at YouTube it should be cleared up soon). But if we take the total number of video views as accurate this means that only about 24% of visitors to his video-sharing web site are actually watching videos, while over 2 million people are visiting the channel but not watching any videos.

Second, it appears that there's a way to game the system. Last fall a social networking news site called Mashable published a post about "Gaming YouTube for Fun and Profit," in which they described how to artificially increase the number of video views on YouTube. Essentially, if you set your browser to auto-refresh a YouTube page (a Firefox extension does it), every time the browser refreshes the video has a new view added to it.

(To test this idea, Levy made a video of himself discussing the problem, uploaded it to YouTube, and set his browser to auto-refresh every ten seconds for 12 hours. The strategy yielded 1200 views).

Third, Levy notes the Obama channel's unusually small number of viewers compared to subscribers. See his post for the cagey response from YouTube.

If gaming is indeed at play, it wouldn't be a first for Web 2.0, nor would it be all that surprising. Elliot Schrage, Google VP of Global Communications, recently predicted the advent of political spyware in this year's election and wondered whether people will attempt to track candidates using GIS chips in their cell phones. As David Weinberg of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society put it to me today: "Anything that you can imagine happening online, eventually, probably will."

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Time Caught in Act of Dumbing Down the News for US Readers

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 9:14 PM EDT

Blogger Paul Schmelzer has been busy raising questions about some of the nation's widely read periodicals when it comes to the selection of their cover stories—namely the difference between Time's April 2 U.S. and International editions. While the international cover features a story about Pakistani religious extremists filtering across the border of Afghanistan "with the intention of imposing their strict interpretation of Islam on a population unable to fight back," the US edition of the publication features the story, "The Case for Teaching the Bible." Schmelzer wonders why Time isn't giving the U.S. the same edition that the rest of the world is seeing on newsstands. The choice can't only be about marketing and keeping newsstand sales up in the U.S. Something's a little fishy here.

This isn't the first time that a major US news weekly has pulled this trick of presenting the news differently to US readers than it does to the rest of the world. Last September, Newsweek gave international readers a cover story about the Taliban and US readers a cover featuring photographer Annie Leibovitz, in essence replacing with a hard-hitting news story of international importance with a much lighter celebrity piece. In the case of both the Time and the Newsweek cover story cover-ups, the stories were related to coverage of the Taliban. Is marketing getting in the way of the serious news in the U.S.? Or is the media afraid to tell Americans what they don't want to hear? Only Time can tell.

—Rose Miller

Homeland Security Up Your Butt--For Real

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 8:50 PM EDT

A fistula-in-ano is an abnormal connection between the rectum and skin that can cause pain, bleeding, infections, and discharge of fecal matter through openings in the body other than the anus. The condition is generally caused by infection of a gland within the anal canal. Bacteria multiply and create an abscess that goes through the rectal wall to the surrounding skin. The condition can also be caused by cancer, Crohn's Disease, and an episiotomy that does not heal.

Sue Clark, M.D., a surgeon in Harrow, England, had a patient with fistula-in-ano who had been treated through surgery. The 48-year-old man had a long-term seton to control sepsis. This particular seton was a length of suture material knotted to form a loop placed into the fistula track. Last August, this patient traveled from England to New York for a vacation. Upon arrival, he was interrogated by immigration officials, and then examined and searched. During the rectal exam, an official yanked hard on the seton, causing the patient severe pain. The patient was told he could not enter the United States unless the seton was removed.

Not wanting to give up his vacation after he had flown across the ocean, Dr. Clark's patient allowed a doctor to remove the seton. The physician claimed he had never seen an anal seton before. The good news is that the yanking done by immigration officials did not cause any damage to the sphincter muscles. The bad news is that Dr. Clark's patient must now go under general anastesia to have a new seton inserted.

In a letter to The Lancet last month, Dr. Clark said she wanted to "highlight this rather bizarre manifestation of 'homeland security' in order to warn other patients with setons who travel to the U.S." Former Sen. Carol Mosely Braun talked about Homeland Security's propensity to "look between your toes." Former Texas governor Ann Richards had her crotch checked at the airport. And now an Englishman has had his surgical procedure (not to mention his dignity and his physical comfort) destroyed so that the U.S. can be safe from terrorists.

(Information from the current issue of Harper's, "The Long Arm Of the Law")

How Bush's Abuse of Power Affects You

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 6:01 PM EDT

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush expanded the uses of the list of "specially designated nationals," which banks have traditionally used to thwart financial transactions of drug dealers and other criminals. The Washington Post reports that Bush retooled the list to target terrorists. It then grew longer, reaching 250 pages, and all businesses were blocked from doing businesses with those on it.

"The law is ridiculous," said Tom Hudson, a lawyer in Hanover, Md. "It prohibits anyone from doing business with anyone who's on the list. It does not have a minimum dollar amount. . . . The local deli, if it sells a sandwich to someone whose name appears on the list, has violated the law."

The problem is, the names of many innocent American citizens are similar to those on the list. The penalties businesses face for violating Bush's rule—up to $10 million and 30 years in prison—are stiff enough to scare them away from customers whose names vaguely resemble any of the nearly 3,500 on the list. Take Tom Kubbany. He has good credit, but couldn't get a mortgage because his middle name is Hassan—an extremely common Arab name, which is also purportedly an alias of one of Saddam Hussein's sons. Never mind that Kubbany was born in Detroit in 1949, and the government believes his alleged namesake was born in 1980 or 1983. There is no penalty for wrongfully turning someone away.

You're most likely to suffer these humiliations if your name is or sounds Muslim. The Bush administration's no-fly list also mainly affects those whose names resemble Muslim terrorists', but "300 names a day are added to the government's "no-fly" list, which has included Senator Ted Kennedy, the star of Ozzie and Harriet, and at least 14 infants. The so-called watch list is more likely to affect you. The names on it include everyone who has purchased a last-minute or one-way ticket, or whose name resembles that of someone who did. (I'm on that list, so I have to take my shoes off and have my bag hand-searched at every security checkpoint.)

"If We Don't Get a Hold of Ourselves, We Will Wear Out Elizabeth Edwards Long Before Her Cancer Does."

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 4:13 PM EDT

That's the gist of this very good article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, whose reporter noticed that on a recent trip to Ohio, poor Mrs. Edwards couldn't each lunch because press photographers needed (apparently) another five hundred pictures of The Woman Who Dares to Keep Campaigning With Cancer. It's a solid article, and touches on the idea that the press, by second-guessing the Edwards' decision to not cancel the campaign, is imposing its standards on a couple who have every right to do as they please. The best embodiment of that is this video compilation from Katie Couric's 60 Minutes interview, which I'll run without comment other than to say I found it on post called "Leave Elizabeth Edwards Alone" at AmericaBlog. "Some say...."

Gonzales Gets Set to Throw His Entire Staff Under a Bus

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 3:39 PM EDT

In an interview with NBC, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wouldn't give a straight answer to the question, "Can you be certain that none of these U.S. Attorneys were put on that list [to be fired] for improper reasons?" (Video at Think Progress.)

Instead, he said, "If I find out that, in fact, any of these decisions were motivated, the recommendations to me were motivated for improper reasons to interfere with the public corruption case, there will be swift and — there will be swift and decisive action. I can assure you that."

He's trying to be Mr. Super-Accountable-Tough-Guy. But really, Gonzales is just blaming his staff. I know the idea of a fall guy isn't rare in Washington, and Gonzo's chief of staff has already packed up his stuff and headed home, but to say, essentially, "Anyone in Justice could be guilty of doing something wrong -- except me," well, that's pretty ballsy. And further, to argue that the only reason you should be exempt from blame is because you were the only one who didn't have the straight dope -- that's "write a memo justifying torture, including crushing the testicles of a terrorist's child, and do it all with a straight face" ballsy. A whole different level, you see.

Interesting note tangentially related to all this: Gonzales will be sitting on the same roundtable discussion as Patrick Fitzgerald today, as part of a program on keeping children safe from online predators. It was Fitzgerald's rating on the DoJ's list of U.S. Attorneys -- "not distinguished" -- that proved to a lot of people that the DoJ had completely divorced their evaluations from actual job performance. Fitzgerald won the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in 2002 and is widely seen as one of the best warriors in the DoJ army.

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Banning Gay Adoption Would Cost Foster Care System $130 Million

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 1:00 PM EDT

Half a million children in the U.S. live in foster care, and more than 100,000 await adoption. Finding stable, permanent homes for these youth, "forever families," is a priority, and a proven way to positive outcomes for youth. Still, it's up to states to recruit and evaluate potential foster and adoptive parents, and most states turn away viable parents who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Currently three states—Florida, Mississippi and Utah—have outright bans on adoptive parents who are homosexual. Several other states have or are considering policies that would restrict LGBT couples and individuals from fostering or adopting a child. Florida forbids "homosexuals" from adopting; Mississippi bans "same-gender" couples, and Utah bans all unmarried couples.

Some states: California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington DC, actually protect potential adopters by prohibiting sexual orientation from being used as a basis to prevent a prospective applicant from being a adoptive or foster parent.

But throughout most of the country LGBT folks face all kinds of barriers to adoption. This, despite the fact that they are already raising children in significant numbers. According to census figures, gathered by the Williams Institute in a new study released today:

-More than one in three lesbians has given birth, and one in six gay men have fathered a child.
-65,500 adopted children are currently living with a lesbian or gay parent, amounting to four percent of all adopted children in the United States.
-10,300 foster children are living with lesbian or gay parents.
-Nearly 52,000 lesbian and gay households include an adopted child under the age of 18.

The study finds that not only can homosexuals be parents, they can be good parents! They have many of the traits states specifically seek out in foster and adoptive parents: They are, on average, older, more educated and have more economic resources than other foster and adoptive parents.

If states enact laws that prevent such adoptions children currently placed with existing LGBT foster parents would be removed from those families. Nationally, an estimated 9,300 to 14,000 children would be displaced.

Aside from the psychological and other harm that would come from displacement (fewer foster care placements are associated with better school achievement, greater life satisfaction, greater overall stability, more placements with higher rates of juvenile detention, etc.), there is a pure economic argument to be made here for allowing gay foster and adoptive parenting. Like banning gay marriage, the the economic cost of banning LGBT people from adopting and fostering would be significant. Williams Institute estimates that a national ban on gay adoption would result in costs to the foster care system of up to $130 million.

The price to pay, some say, for "family values."

Grab Your Rifle: It's Open Season on Grizzlies in Yellowstone

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 10:04 PM EDT

Yellowstone's grizzly bear population just got kicked off the endangered species list.

Details at The Blue Marble.

My Answer to Automakers: Get Outta Dodge

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 8:06 PM EDT

The epic continues: A handful of chronically floundering non-innovative companies which have contributed more to the current climate disaster than almost anyone else continue to run the country in the most asinine, illogical and Orwellian fashion possible. Who am I talking about? The U.S. automakers, of course. Meeting with President Bush, the Big 3's CEOs pronounced with a straight face that ethanol is the answer to the country's environmental and national security issues.

Do these guys read the paper? Any paper? Here's a sampling of headlines from this year alone:

• "The truth about ethanol," AP, March 17
• "A test tells the story of ethanol vs. gasoline," San Jose Mercury News, March 11
• "Ethanol is still a long way off in U.S.," Los Angeles Times, March 10
• "Ethanol is politicians' snake oil," Denver Post, February 15
• "It's time to move beyond ethanol," The Houston Chronicle, January 26
• "Bush's 'clean fuel' move may cause more harm, say environmentalists," The Independent, January 25
• "Bush pushes plan to cut gasoline use; Tours DuPont ethanol research site," Plain Dealer, January 25
• "Contradictions seen in alternative energy plan," Los Angeles Times, January 24

There's plenty more where that came from. Here's a quick synopsis of what's wrong with the ethanol "solution":

• The only flex-fuel vehicles the automakers have made thus far are versions of their biggest gas-guzzlers.
• We don't have enough land to grow the corn to make the ethanol we need to drive all of our cars.
• Corn-based ethanol—the only kind currently available in the United States—requires as much fossil fuel to produce as it generates.
• It costs more than gasoline, and will almost certainly drive up the price of corn and meat.
• As a car burns ethanol, it produces slightly less greenhouse gases than a conventional car. But you know what burns less—a lot less—than a flex-fuel vehicle? A hybrid vehicle. So why aren't U.S. automakers making any hybrid vehicles?

If you've seen "Who Killed the Electric Car?," you'll know the answer already: The Big 3 promise things which will take years to develop, and then they wait for the political winds to change so they never deliver on their promises. It's time to give these losers the boot.

Moving Mountains Just Got Harder

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 7:28 PM EDT

Moving mountains may not sound that bad until, that is, you realize you have to put them somewhere. So say detractors of mountaintop removal, a commonly practiced technique for mining coal in the Appalachian Mountains. The practice decimates rivers and streams, completely altering entire ecosystems.

On Friday, a West Virginia judge decided he'd had enough. Read all about it over at The Blue Marble.

-Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell