Weird Weather Watch: Floods and Draughts

| Wed Jul. 4, 2007 3:40 PM EDT

I'm late on this one, but you may have read elsewhere that Central Texas was deluged with day after day of rain in late June, causing a dozen deaths. Is this weather weird? Yes indeed. As a former Texan, I can tell you that Texas summers (everywhere but East Texas, where weather is more like Louisiana's) are dry as a bone. There is an occasional thunderstorm to cool things down, but all too briefly and infrequently. Not so this summer. The days of continuous rainfall reached a 70-year high, and the weather was sometimes so bad that helicopters rescuing people from rooftops were grounded.

Now move over a bit to the east. Things in the Cotton Belt are dry as a bone. Farmers in this traditional agricultural hotbed are facing the worst draught in 100 years, and three quarters of their crop is gone to proverbial seed.

It seems difficult to get people to respond to the threat of global warming because in many places the warm (or dry) weather is a welcome change. But this is what global warming really looks like: floods and draughts right next door to one another, with nobody benefiting.

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Political "Outsider" Fred Thompson Happy About Libby News

| Wed Jul. 4, 2007 11:06 AM EDT

When George W. Bush commuted Scooter Libby's sentence, one of the Republicans to speak up on behalf of the action was possible presidential candidate Fred Thompson, who said, "I am very happy for Scooter Libby. I know that this is a great relief to him, his wife, and children. While for a long time I have urged a pardon for Scooter, I respect the President's decision. This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life."

You bet he was happy. According to a June 25 article in the Washington Post, Thompson helped run the Scooter Libby Defense Fund Trust, which raised more than $5 million. Yet, as Media Matters for America points out, Thompson's connection to the Libby defense fund was totally ignored by NBC's Today, ABC's Good Morning America, and ABC's Nightline. A story on the Fox News website does mention his connection to the fund.

The Washington Post article describes Thompson's anything-but-outsider position in Washington. He has lobbied for S&L deregulation, liability limits for asbestos lawsuits and nuclear energy, and has increased his income significantly through lobbying.

The news media has also continued to ignore Thompson's recent shutting down of his PAC, an act that became necessary when it was discovered that it had raised only $66,700 for candidates, but had paid Thompson's son $178,000 in consulting fees.

Construction Of Oil Platforms Scaring Whales From Feeding Grounds

| Tue Jul. 3, 2007 7:59 PM EDT

Extremely high noise levels at an oil and gas construction site off the east coast of Russia is frightening critically endangered whales out of their summer feeding grounds, reports New Scientist. Monitors for WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and Sakhalin Environment Watch report that western gray whales were nowhere to be seen over the weekend of 30 June to 1 July, when noise levels increased dramatically. Normally the monitors see the whales daily. Sakhalin Energy, a company partially owned by oil giant Shell, is in the final stages of installing two platforms 7.5 miles offshore &mdash part of the world's largest oil and gas extraction project. The company denies exceeding noise limits. Fewer than 100 western grey whales are left on Earth. They congregate around Sakhalin to feed. . . Just another way the carbon footprint squashes the life out of the planet. JULIA WHITTY

US Halts Bioweapons Research At Texas A&M After Safety Screw-Ups

| Tue Jul. 3, 2007 6:33 PM EDT

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has halted infectious diseases research at Texas A&M University over safety concerns. This is the first ban on bioweapons work across an entire institution, reports Nature. The indefinite suspension follows two reports from the Sunshine Project, a watchdog group from Austin, alleging that Texas A&M failed to report researchers' exposure to infectious agents. The first exposure occurred in February 2006 when a student contracted Brucella, a bacterium carried by dairy animals. The student was treated with antibiotics. The second occurred in April 2006 when three workers showed signs of exposure to Coxiella burnetii, a bacterium in livestock that causes Q fever in humans. None fell ill. Although Coxiella and Brucella are considered bioweapons, and all exposures require immediate reporting, neither incident was reported to the CDC until April 2007. Texas A&M faces fines of up to $750,000, and a long-term ban on funding for similar research. JULIA WHITTY

Tony Snow Probably Wishes He Could Have That One Back

| Tue Jul. 3, 2007 2:30 PM EDT

Tony Snow was just asked at a press conference if, in light of the apparent resolution of the Libby case and the Plame affair, the American people are owed an apology from the White House. Snow's (frustrated and incredibly dismissive) response: "In Washington, things get leaked all the time."

See the video at AMERICAblog.

So after years of claiming that this was a serious issue and that they would fire anyone who leaked a covert agent's name or broke a law, the Bush Administration is now writing the whole thing off as business as usual. And the funny thing is that after six and a half years of these guys, it is.

Do you think Snow regrets taking that job? Before he got there, even though he worked for FOX News, he wasn't a living embodiment of anyone's lack of respect for the American people and the rule of law. Now he absolutely is.

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NY Times on French Techno: Formidable

| Tue Jul. 3, 2007 2:24 PM EDT

mojo-photo-paris.JPGWill Hermes had a pretty good rundown of the Paris electronic music scene in Sunday's Times, which at the very least makes me feel better for stuffing my Top Ten with Justice, DJ Mehdi and Uffie tunes over the last few months. Check it out for a condensed history of the whole "Justice vs. Simian" remix escapade, and an age comparison of Daft Punk's Thomas Bangaltier (32) with the members of Justice (27 and 24) that is sure to make you (36) feel very old. While it seems odd to accompany the article with a 14-month-old photograph of Daft Punk's 2006 Coachella performance, and DJ Medhi's awesome "Signatune" apparently got spell-checked to "Signature," it's still nice to see the Times pick up on the phenomenon. Selected relevant videos after the jump.

Main Catch in War on "Virtually a Free Citizen" in Pakistan

| Tue Jul. 3, 2007 1:52 PM EDT

New evidence that the Bush Administration's war on terror is more show than substance.

In a 2004 presidential debate, Bush sought to assure Americans that the war on terror was going well. He presented the case of a Pakistani nuclear scientist named A.Q. Khan who had been caught selling secrets to rogue elements across the world. "We busted the A.Q. Khan network," Bush said. "This was a proliferator out of Pakistan that was selling secrets to places like North Korea and Libya."

Scary stuff, right? But according to a new AP article, highlighted by Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly's blog, Khan has been living a life of luxury, relaxing at his "villa in the capital" and meeting with friends, family, and associates. An official connected to Pakistan's nuclear program told the AP, "[Khan] is virtually a free citizen."

So what's going on? Turns out, the Bush Administration looked the other way while Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf pardoned Khan and set up the nuclear scientist's absurd form of house arrest. According to Seymour Hersh, Khan is "revered in Pakistan as the father of the country's nuclear bomb," and parts of the Pakistani government have long been suspected as being complicit in the international trade of nuclear secrets. Khan hardly seemed like an appropriate scapegoat, considering all this.

Who knows what Khan is doing with his freedom — all we do know is that he isn't serving the sentence he deserves. Hersh's 2004 article in the New Yorker on this topic is well worth a read. It explains why Pakistan is willing to be a major ally in the United States' war on terror, and why the U.S. makes ridiculous exceptions for Musharraf and his government. Anyone who has read it can't be surprised by the new reports of A.Q. Khan's kid-glove "jail time."

PS — Iraqi nuclear scientists are even more free than Khan, and may be stirring up trouble around the globe. The reason? The American military didn't give a damn about them after the invasion.

PPS — While we're on the topic of the Washington Monthly, check out Paul Glastris' editor's note from the last issue. Glastris argues that Democrats should be more public about the fact that they make wars like Kosovo (i.e. victories) and Republicans make wars like Iraq (i.e. failures).

More Work to Do on Global Warming

| Tue Jul. 3, 2007 11:10 AM EDT

From the BBC:

The public believes the effects of global warming on the climate are not as bad as politicians and scientists claim, a poll has suggested.
The Ipsos Mori poll of 2,032 adults - interviewed between 14 and 20 June - found 56% believed scientists were still questioning climate change.
There was a feeling the problem was exaggerated to make money, it found.
The Royal Society said most climate scientists believed humans were having an "unprecedented" effect on climate.
The survey suggested that terrorism, graffiti, crime and dog mess were all of more concern than climate change.

Wow. "Dog mess." It just goes to show, people care more about small, immediate problems than huge, long-term ones. Perhaps the poll respondents should read some of Mother Jones' coverage of global warming, like "As the World Burns" or "The Thirteenth Tipping Point." Or they should check out the Mother Jones Environment and Health page and its resident blog, the Blue Marble.

And for those who know the truth, here are the arguments you need when talking to a global warming denier.

Bad Moon Rising for John McCain

| Tue Jul. 3, 2007 9:35 AM EDT

I hear hurricanes ablowing. I know the end is coming soon.

Faced with the second straight quarter of poor fundraising — McCain's $11.2 million pales in comparison to the $32.5 million of Obama and $27 million of Clinton, and is actually a decrease from his total last quarter — McCain's campaign laid off at least 50 people and is asking senior staffers to take pay cuts or work without pay. The campaign had promised that the second quarter would be better the first.

The staff cuts are the second of the short campaign season. "At one point, we believed that we would raise over $100 million during this calendar year, and we constructed a campaign that was based on that assumption," said McCain's national campaign manager, who is planning to work for several months without wages. "We believe today that that assumption is not correct."

Uh, yeah. McCain was so confident earlier this year that he actually spent more on staff than any of his Republican rivals. He was, in effect, trying to play the role of George W. Bush in the 2000 primaries: the cash-flushed frontrunner. Now he'll have to return to the campaign he ran in 2000: the outsider, the underfunded uphill battler. It's ironic that he'll return to the style that he used against Bush when it's likely an embrace of Bush's two top priorities, the Iraq War and comprehensive immigration reform, that are killing McCain with Republican donors in the first place.

And one last note. McCain's campaign has only $2 million left in the bank, which, according to Newsweek, makes it the most financially irresponsible of any in either the Democratic or Republican fields.