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  • Turkey Cleans Up the Courts

    Is Turkey’s ruling AK Party trying to make the country more democratic or crush the last obstacles in the way of its Islamist agenda? A new package before Parliament aims to reform the judiciary by making it more difficult for courts to disband political parties and allowing military brass to be tried in civilian courts. AK officials say the changes will enhance the rule of law. But secularists claim the new rules are an attempt by the AK Party to dismantle the last checks on its power, after it crippled the military by arresting top generals on coup charges.The government insists that judges will still be independent and has not, as many feared, packed top judicial positions with its appointees. At the same time, it’s clear that the party’s primary motive is to protect itself from future prosecutions. But the truth is that Turkey’s courts badly need reform. Judges are still deeply partisan, mounting hostile prosecutions of AK members and trying to ban the party, even though it...
  • Moscow Bombings Could Lead to Police Reform

    In the wake of last week's suicide bombings in Moscow, many Russian liberals feared that the attacks would end up strengthening Russia's security services and bolstering Putin's strong-arm policies. Instead, the violence seems to be increasing pressure for reform. Angry bloggers and newspaper commentators have blasted police for being "too busy with corruption…to do their job," as Duma Deputy Alexander Khinshtein wrote. President Dmitry Medvedev's Kremlin blog has also been inundated with posts complaining of police incompetence.The backlash against Russia's cops should give strength to Medvedev's liberal supporters, who were already calling for deep reforms of Russia's notoriously corrupt Interior Ministry. Popular resentment against law enforcement had been building for at least a year before the attacks, thanks to a series of scandals including a supermarket shooting spree by a drunken officer; a YouTube appeal by a police major in...
  • If You Were Starting to Think All of Washington is Boring...

    ...Then you'll want to mosey over to The Washington Post to check out its annual Peeps diorama contest. We bring this to your attention for two reasons. One, these are not your average fifth-grade dioramas. And two, we here at the Gaggle are endlessly amazed at expressions of creativity found in Washington—a  town known to get all worked up over things like, um, reconciliation.This one’s our favorite, in part because it speaks to our cover piece two weeks ago on the first lady's healthy-eating initiative. But the others are certainly worth seeing. So hats off to you, Washington Post (which, by the way, owns NEWSWEEK). And Happy Easter, folks.
  • Democrats Are Unusually Unified, But It's Not Helping Them

    National Journal's resident political sage, Ron Brownstein, has an interesting column out today about the near-historic unity of the congressional Democratic caucus. As regular Gaggle readers know, I've criticized Democrats in the past for their apparent lack of party discipline. But Brownstein has looked at the numbers and makes the case that Democrats are exhibiting similar party coherence to Bush-era Republicans. Here's Brownstein:...
  • UPDATE: Hank Johnson, Guam, and Hepatitis C: U.S. Rep Suffers From Too-Common Illness

    Earlier today, we (along with a lot of other Web sites) poked fun at Rep. Hank Johnson's assertion that, were the U.S. to relocate naval personnel to Guam, "my fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize." Over at The Gaggle, we called it the quote of the day, noting that "Guam is 212 square miles with a population of 175,877 (2008 estimate)."  ...
  • Pelosi Gets Little Love From Passage of Health Care

    One of Nancy Pelosi’s main selling points to Democrats mulling how to vote on health reform was that after it passed their party would be rewarded with a bump in the polls. She was right. Less than a week after Obama signed the package, USA Today measured favorability of the law at almost half the country (compared to 40 percent who disliked it). President Obama’s stumping has also had a heightening effect among survey takers, a growing number of whom are starting to see Democrats as victors.But Pelosi’s prediction was wrong on one ironic point. Namely, herself. New Gallup numbers out today show that of all Democrats to benefit from health reform’s passage, Pelosi’s favorability has hardly budged. The like-to-dislike spread is almost exactly the same as it was two months ago, 34 percent favorable to 54 percent unfavorable. I can think of two reasons why: 1)    The health-care debate was politically polarizing, no doubt, and the effect has been equally polarizing. Gallup reports tha...
  • Newsweek Renews Its Love Affair With Tumblr

    Fishbowl NY has a nice and lengthy interview this week with Newsweek's Mark Coatney, the senior articles editor who helms the magazine's Tumblr blog. Writes Fishbowl: One of the first major publications to make its presence felt on ...
  • Ben Folds on Chat Roulette, Again

    Ben Folds just posted another Chat Roulette improv session on YouTube:  What does this have to do with The Human Condition? I'm human, and my condition is that I need to take a break and watch some piano for a few minutes before heading back to work. For everyone else who needs a little mental-health break, enjoy.And now that I have your attention, I'll be speaking at Pace University tomorrow from 9 to 11 as part of a panel on how media deals with weight and weight loss. Emme will be there! More info here. 
  • Newsverse: The Light in the Tunnel

    By Jerry AdlerAfter 16 years and $10 billion, there was joy in the meadows and tunnels of the Swiss-French countryside Tuesday: the world’s biggest physics machine, the Large Hadron Collider, finally began to make subatomic particles collide. —The New York Times, March 31, 2010Thirteen billion years ago,  Beginning with a pinpoint glowThe Universe we’ve come to knowEmerged, and then commenced to grow.And all that ever was and isPrecipitated from that fizzOf X-rays, gamma rays, and lightThat cosmic burst of clarityThe moment before symmetry Lost its grip, began to shatter.And left behind the photons’ flightSomething new was forming: matterTwo protons, call them “A” and “B”Colliding with an energyNever felt before on EarthRe-creates the violent birthOf the Universe. The pangOf Creation: the Big Bang.And leaves us with a tiny frisson.Though logically, there is no reasonFor concern. No earthly chanceA new black hole could swallow FranceSuck it down by gravityInto a singularity.A...
  • Will Steele Buckle Under Pressure?

    Tony Perkins has given up on Michael Steele—which matters to Republicans and should matter to Steele. Perkins heads the Family Research Council, a respected traditional-values lobbying group, and he told me today that he had been working for the last year behind the scenes to advise ("prop" up might be the better term) RNC chairman Steele, whose reign so far has been nothing short of a disaster.But even before the Voyeur nightclub fiasco, Perkins told me today, he'd lost patience with Steele, whom he describes as, at best, tone-deaf to social conservatives. Without giving a heads-up to the Bible-Belt right, Steele hired attorney Ted Olson to handle the party's legal matters on campaign-spending laws and rulings.Olson has impeccable GOP credentials, but he's also heading a legal team trying to overturn state laws and referendums that bar gay marriage. When Perkins called Steele to complain the other week, Steele blandly replied that Olson was hired solely because of his skills as an...
  • Genetics Is Good Science, But Is It Good Business?

    There’s been a lot of hoopla lately about the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Human Genome Project. This week, the journal Nature is commemorating the milestone with a special issue. But readers shouldn’t be so distracted by the celebratory essays that they miss the concrete discoveries being published alongside them. These, after all, are the reasons to celebrate—making sense of the genome was the whole point of sequencing it. For instance, Nature’s sister journal, Nature Genetics, has some impressive content of its own this week, including a paper explaining how malaria jumps back and forth between humans and mosquitoes, a strategy for engineering corn to boost its levels of beta carotene, and a study that offers a new way of understanding how and why cancer risk runs in families.The appeal of this last paper is subtle at first. The study reveals a genetic mutation that increases a person’s risk of a slow-growing type of bladder cancer. It’s not the first bladder cancer gene to...
  • Gordon Brown's Tough New Strategy Had Me April-Fooled (Almost)

    When it comes to pranks, Brits are usually pretty good sports. Their newspapers are no exception, and for April Fools', they had some fun fibs. For starters, there's the Daily Express's story about the queen catching a cut-price flight on the budget British airline EasyJet. (Complete with a quite convincing photo of the queen boarding, while waving in her signature fashion.)But the story that almost had me was this one from The Guardian. For those of you who haven't paid much attention to British politics of late, P.M. Gordon Brown is facing a tough reelect this year. Odd are he'll lose to a charismatic, Tony Blair–esque (except for that whole Conservative thing) guy called David Cameron. Adding to Brown's woes are a series of stories about his temper, which have made the stodgy Brit appear mercurial and nasty. Riffing off this, The Guardian is running a story about Brown's new strategy of embracing the angry man inside. It unveils a fake billboard...
  • Quote of the Day: Guam Might Capsize

      "My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize." —Rep. Hank Johnson, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on a budget request to relocate naval personnel to the island of Guam. Guam is 212 square miles with a population of 175,877 (2008 estimate). Later asked to clarify the remark, a spokesman for Johnson said he meant that population increases could lead to a "tipping point" destructive to the island's overtaxed ecosystem.  
  • Biden's Gaffe Becomes a Money Spinner

    I have a story out today about the political left's gradual but warm embrace of Vice President Joe Biden. Upon his selection, liberals were pleased enough with Biden, but their attention was steadfastly trained on the top of the ticket. It was Obama, not his veep, who embodied a riveting vision of social change for the left. Any vice president who didn't distract from that mission would do—someone who could be the occasional attack dog, even better. But since taking office, Biden as slowly emerged as a friend of progressives. You can read my account of how here. ...
  • To Nancy Drew on Her 80th Birthday: You're a Nintendo Game?!

    Nancy friggin' Drew—happy birthday, baby! Our favorite slim sleuth of River Heights turns 80 this year, not that she looks her age. Botox, Pilates, intravenous chardonnay therapy—to whatever she's doing to look so fab, we say cheers. In her latest incarnation, Drew sports a trendy motorcycle jacket over a sporty striped shirt and uses some slick Ashleigh Banfield glasses to help scan for crime-scene clues. And she's kicking it these days with a new gig, as the title character in a THQ Nintendo DS game out this month: "Nancy Drew: The Model Mysteries."Of her celebratory, birthday reimagining, we should start by saying that this isn't the first videogame version of Drew's sleuthing (it's just the latest), nor is a makeover for the teen a new fad. Quirky, multiplatform reboots are all the rage for young-adult lit serials: witness the revived Goosebumps novels (now a new series and online "theme park"); the Hardy Boys spinoffs; or this...
  • Today in Triumphs of Ignorance: Obama's Drilling Decision

    Politics aside, on the policy merits the Obama administration's decision to "expand oil and gas development and exploration on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to enhance our nation’s energy independence" is absurd. There is no such thing as "energy independence." Nations that produce a lot of crude oil are not immune to concerns about political instability in other oil-rich nations. Sure, Saudi Arabia may not need to buy oil from Iran, but it depends on oil revenue. Oil revenue, in turn, is determined by the prices set in the international market. So the Saudis have, if anything, even more of an investment in making sure oil supply is not raised or decreased to the detriment of their ideal price point. ...
  • The Strategy Behind Obama's Drilling Announcement

    Obama's offshore-drilling announcement this morning has left many environmentalists with their knickers in a knot. For them it's a betrayal by an administration from whom they'd expected more. A year ago it seemed perfectly reasonable to assume the Obama White House would aggressively pursue legislation that curbs America's greenhouse-gas emissions. Now, they're letting big oil companies drill for more fossil fuels. It's appears like a strategy designed to get more Republicans on board with climate-change legislation. But GOPers aren't exactly playing ball right now. Obama's recent nuclear announcement didn't win him any new conservative buddies....
  • Iran Sanctions Watch: China on Board

    It's official: China has joined the club of six world powers pursuing a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran, closing the last remaining gap among the five countries with veto power on the U.N. Security Council. As per Reuters (via an unidentified source "with knowledge off the talks"): "It has been agreed with China to start drawing up sanctions on Iran," the source said. "Drawing up of a Security Council resolution is to begin in the next few days." Diplomats say China has been slowly and reluctantly falling in line with the other powers involved in the negotiations on Iran by backing the idea of new U.N. sanctions against Tehran but Beijing wants any new steps to be weak. They say the four Western powers would like a resolution to be adopted next month, before a month-long U.N. conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in May, but acknowledge that negotiations will probably drag on at least until June. A few quick thoug...
  • With White House Drilling Announcement, Cap-and-Trade Officially Dies

    After a long and bumpy past, it’s now clear that cap-and-trade has gone from the gurney to the morgue. The stark admission came this morning during a CNBC interview with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. "I think the term 'cap-and-trade' is not in the lexicon anymore," he said, suggesting that more agreeable goals, like slowing pollution and reducing oil imports, were more in the scope of the administration. Instead, the White House signaled it would be moving in a slightly different direction by opening parts of the Virginia coast and northern Alaska to offshore drilling.There has been plenty of outrage from environmental groups all morning. Environment America director Anna Aurilio said that the announcement “makes no sense,” especially when clean technologies on the horizon will usher in energy security. Ocean advocacy group Oceana was "appalled that the president is unleashing a wholesale assault on the oceans," according to programs director Jackie Savitz. Neither group was...
  • Today in Made-Up Numbers: 16,500 'Armed Bureaucrats' Will Enforce Health-Care Reform

    It was a high figure that I heard again and again covering health-care reform this past week: 16,500. That was the number of “bureaucrats” or “IRS agents” that numerous Republicans said would be necessary to enforce the individual mandate—basically, to make sure that Americans comply with the law to carry health insurance. The number struck me as high but potentially plausible, until the claims started getting really weird. Like when Ron Paul (R-Texas) claimed that not only were 16,500 new hires on the way, they would all be armed (around 3:53 in the clip above): “16,500 armed bureaucrats [are] coming to make this program work,” he explained to the host. “If it was a good program and everybody liked it, you wouldn’t need 16,500 thugs coming with their guns and putting you in jail if you didn’t follow all the rules.”...