Thoreau's Wildflowers Wilt In Warming Climate

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 10:38 PM EDT


The plants and flowers that Henry David Thoreau lovingly inventoried around Walden Pond 156 years ago are disappearing due to climate change. Researchers from Harvard and Boston Universities have tracked how warming temperatures have shifted the flowering times of 473 plant species in the woods at Walden Pond and elsewhere in Concord. Orchids, dogwoods, lilies, and many sunflower relatives are declining more swiftly than other species.

Climate-induced loss of plant diversity in Concord is alarming—especially since 60% of the area has been protected or underdeveloped since Thoreau's time. But rapid temperature changes have led to changes in the timing of seasonal activities. Since Thoreau's time, species now flower an average of seven days earlier—bad news for those dependent on pollinators, like bees, who have not responded in kind, or who are suffering population declines as well. The species in decline include anemones, buttercups, asters, campanulas, bluets, bladderworts, dogwoods, lilies, mints, orchids, roses, saxifrages, and violets.

Sounds like a poem, doesn't it? A poem falling silent. . . The mean temperature in the Concord area has risen 2.4 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years and is expected to climb between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees Celsius during the next 100 years. The paper is appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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The War Against Gore

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 7:39 PM EDT

THE WAR AGAINST GORE....Today Bob Somerby finds yet another excuse to remind us all of how badly Al Gore was treated by the press during the 2000 campaign. And, as usual, he's pissed that the rest of us aren't as obsessed by this as he is:

To this day, our side has agreed to keep its traps shut about the trashing of the Clintons and Gore. As we've done so, we've given away a giant political advantage. Millions of people [] hear that the press corps just hates Big Republicans. And they rarely hear a peep from our side. We've agreed not to tell them the truth.

In large part, our side has kept its traps shut about the Clinton/Gore era for corrupt, careerist reasons....Kevin won't tell you. Josh won't tell you. Ezra spoke once, then shut the f*ck up. Your "nominal allies" are very quiet. Atrios rarely offers a peep.

First things first: Yes, Gore was indeed treated badly. He never said he invented the internet, he never said he discovered Love Canal, he wore pretty much the same clothes he'd always worn, he didn't hire Naomi Wolf to teach him how to be an alpha male, and he wasn't a serial liar. Etc. Bob is right about all that stuff.

But here's what I don't get: why does Bob think that liberals are giving away a "giant political advantage" by not harping on this constantly? Frankly, I'd be delighted to harp away if I actually thought this was one of the top 100 issues that might help the future of liberalism, but it's not, is it? Media criticism in general helps our side, but what exactly would it gain us to relate everything back to Al Gore's decade-old mistreatment with the Ahab-like intensity that Bob does? Wouldn't it just cause everyone to tune us out as cranks and fogeys? Anyone care to weigh in on this, on either side?

Stevens Guilty

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 5:34 PM EDT

STEVENS GUILTY....Ted Stevens, whose defense against corruption charges was that he was just "borrowing" stuff from campaign donors, lost his case today:

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was convicted today of lying on financial disclosure forms to hide tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and renovations to his Alaska home that were financed mostly by a powerful business executive and his oil services company.

....Despite the guilty verdict, Stevens remains on the ballot in Alaska, where he is locked in a tight race with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

If he can pull off an upset victory, Stevens could remain in the Senate for months, if not longer, if he chose to appeal the verdict. Tradition allows him to exhaust his appeals before the ethics committee begins expulsion hearings, according to the Historical Office of the Senate.

A reader asks, "If Stevens is re-elected and the US Senate then kicks him out, can Palin then name herself to replace him?" I assume the answer is no, and I further assume that even if the answer is yes Palin wouldn't have the chutzpah to do it. But of course, those are my big city values talking, so I might be off base here.

In any case, I assume that Stevens is now considerably more likely to lose his seat next week, thus making this point moot. Any Alaskans care to weigh in on how this is going to play up in the Great White North Last Frontier?

UPDATE: False alarm. Sorry. After Frank Murkowski appointed his daughter Lisa to an open Senate seat in 2002, Alaskans approved a ballot initiative to change the law. An open Senate seat in Alaska is now filled via a special election.

Ted Stevens Will Have One Fewer Vote Next Tuesday

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 4:30 PM EDT

His own. Stevens won't be allowed to vote for his own reelection because dude is a felon as of half an hour ago.

The longest serving Republican in the Senate and a man many consider to be the most corrupt politician in Washington DC was found guilty earlier today of making false statements on his Senate financial disclosure forms. The seven felony counts could put Stevens behind bars for as many as 35 years, though that seems unlikely.

Alaska state law prohibits felons from voting until their time is served. (No word on whether Stevens will get to vote in the event he is sentenced to no jail time.) Stevens is currently neck and neck in his Senate race against Anchorage mayor Mark Begich. We'll soon see if Alaska is red enough that a Republican can win reelection despite being a convicted felon and despite being unable, by law, to support his own cause. More here.

Wright Happens

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 4:13 PM EDT

The other shoe finally drops. A group called the National Republican Trust PAC is making a $2.5 million ad buy with the first Jeremiah Wright ad of the campaign. You have to wonder how this campaign would have been different if McCain hadn't chosen the Wright issue to make a stand (his only such stand, it seems) for dignity, respect, and positive campaigning. I can't be the only one who sees a far more difficult path for Obama if ads like the one below are playing regularly from August to November.

By the way, why was McCain willing to go whole hog on Ayers, but unwilling to even touch Wright? It makes no sense to me. As for this ad, it is damaging to Obama but almost certainly too little, too late.

Watching the Polls

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 1:56 PM EDT

WATCHING THE POLLS....I sometimes feel a little guilty for not posting poll results more often, but I figure you hardly need me for that, do you? Still, we're down to the wire and it's worth seeing the big picture of public opinion as the race careens to its end. And the big picture change. In the RCP poll of polls, Barack Obama is still way ahead of John McCain.

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Obama and the Courts

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 1:29 PM EDT

OBAMA AND THE COURTS....I see that Drudge is blaring a headline about how Barack Obama believes it's a tragedy that the Supreme Court hasn't confiscated all your money and given it to poor people. Turning on the TV, I see that Fox New is all over it too. So is John McCain. Clearly, the guy's a total socialist.

Except, you know, he's not. The whole thing is based on a distinctly academic radio panel Obama was part of seven years ago, and over at the Volokh Conspiracy even conservatives Orin Kerr and David Bernstein aren't buying this nonsense. After all, Obama specifically says in the interview that it's a mistake for liberals to rely too heavily on the courts, rather than on public opinion and the legislative process. And supporting a progressive income tax or equal funding for school districts is hardly a sign of incipient socialism.

I dunno. Maybe this stuff would have worked four years ago. But now? After eight years of stagnant middle class wages and an epic collapse of the world financial system? Not so much. Is this really the best McCain can do?

UPDATE: Meanwhile, in other "Obama is a secret radical" news, ABC's Brian Ross is busily trying to dragoon washed-up terrorist and noted Obama pal Bill Ayers into an interview as he tries to catch a cab. Enlightening stuff.

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.): Palin's Not Ready

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 1:18 PM EDT

In an interview with his home-state paper, the Omaha World-Herald, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), says Sarah Palin "doesn't have any foreign policy credentials.":

You get a passport for the first time in your life last year? I mean, I don't know what you can say. You can't say anything.... I think they ought to be just honest about it and stop the nonsense about, 'I look out my window and I see Russia and so therefore I know something about Russia.' ... That kind of thing is insulting to the American people.... [I]n a world that is so complicated, so interconnected and so combustible, you really got to have some people in charge that have some sense of the bigger scope of the world. ... I think that's just a requirement.

Hagel, who is retiring, is perhaps the most outspoken Republican critic of the Iraq war in Congress. Hagel traveled with Barack Obama and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) when Obama visited Iraq earlier this year. And Hagel's wife, Lilibet Hagel, endorsed Obama earlier this month. Now the Senator himself has become the most prominent Republican critic of Sarah Palin, his own party's VP pick. Could a formal endorsement of Obama be coming before the election?

More on Prop 1A

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 12:47 PM EDT

MORE ON PROP 1A....You will be unsurprised to learn that I took a ton of flak in comments yesterday over my opposition to California's Proposition 1A, a bond measure that would fund a high-speed train between LA and San Francisco. My position was primarily based on a generic opposition to bond measures, but since that isn't enough for most people, how about if we discuss the project on its merits too? That will give you all a second chance to yell at me.

(I also took some flak for supporting Prop 11, a redistricting initiative, because it might dilute the power of the Democratic Party slightly. Actually, based on how redistricting was done the last time around, I'm not sure it would, and I'm OK with forcing both parties to fight harder for their seats anyway. Still, the issues there are more obvious, so I'll leave it alone for now.)

So here's the thing about Prop 1A: yes, it's a high-speed rail initiative. And we all love high-speed rail. But if we're going to continue living in the reality-based world, we have to accept that there are both good rail projects and bad ones. And I have some very serious doubts that this is a good one.

In order to be competitive, it relies heavily on a projection that the train will make the LA-SF run in about 2.5 hours. This is almost certainly a fantasy given terrain, trackage, and existing technology. It will probably be closer to 3.5 or even four hours, which would make it almost completely noncompetitive with air travel. It also relies heavily on a projection of 100 million users by 2030. This is fantasy squared. And it further relies on funding assumptions that are practically laughable. Even if Prop 1 is passed, there's a good chance this train won't even be built by 2030, let alone carrying 100 million people per year.

There are plenty of promising short-haul rail projects that we should be considering, but long-haul rail is just really problematic. The numbers don't work out most of the time without heroic assumptions, and the money could almost certainly be better used on other things. So even if California were in good shape fiscally, I doubt very much that Prop 1A would be a good dea.

For more, click the link to read an email on the subject from an extremely dedicated rail proponent. I find it pretty persuasive.

The Two Ps

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 12:13 PM EDT

THE TWO Ps....Nicholas Burns makes the case for quiet, persistent diplomacy:

Talking to our adversaries is no one's idea of fun, and it is not a sure prescription for success in every crisis. But it is crude, simplistic and wrong to charge that negotiations reflect weakness or appeasement. More often than not, they are evidence of a strong and self-confident country. One of America's greatest but often neglected strengths is, in fact, our diplomatic power. Condoleezza Rice's visit to Libya in September—the first by a U.S. secretary of state in five decades—was the culmination of years of careful, deliberate diplomacy to maneuver the Libyan leadership to give up its weapons of mass destruction and renounce terrorism. She would not have achieved that victory had she refused to talk to the Libyans.

Burns, of course, has no time for campaign claptrap about "preconditions" being the same thing as "preparation." In fact, he doesn't even mention it, saying only this about Iran: "I'm not saying the next president should sit down immediately with Ahmadinejad. We should initiate contact at a lower level to investigate whether it's worth putting the president's prestige on the line."

Of course. That's preparation. A precondition, by contrast, would be a demand that Iran agree to halt its nuclear program before we even sit down to talk, even though their nuclear program is supposedly one of the very reasons for the talks in the first place. It's just a backhanded way of ensuring that no talks will ever take place.

Unlike John McCain, Barack Obama favors preparation but generally opposes preconditions. That's the right attitude.