2008 - %3, June

Hey, Just FYI - Afghanistan Is Going Really Poorly

| Fri Jun. 27, 2008 10:58 AM EDT

According to CNN, the number of foreign forces killed in Afghanistan in the month of June has reached 39. That's the highest monthly toll since our 2001 invasion of that country.

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Obama, Clinton Slowly Coming Together, or Cash Heals All Wounds

| Fri Jun. 27, 2008 10:13 AM EDT

Is anyone surprised? This is how you make friends in Washington.

Senators Obama and Clinton met yesterday and came away with clear messages for their respective supporters. Obama said: Dear donors, please help Sen. Clinton retire her campaign debt. I will lead the way by writing a $2,300 check to her, and will have my wife do the same.

Clinton had the natural response: Dear donors, we must elect Barack Obama. Please donate to him.

And with that, everything is peachy. Conversations about Clinton as VP, or a Clinton surrogate as VP, have been tabled for a later date, or perhaps forever. The pair will campaign together today in the town of Unity, New Hampshire. Both the candidate and the ex-candidate are insisting they expect to have a wonderful time. It was that simple.

Perfect Storm of Perfect Plagues

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 6:22 PM EDT

Doktorschnabel_430px.jpg Guess what else global climate change can do? Create a perfect epidemiological storm with enough power to take heretofore innocuous diseases and turn them into perfect plagues. A new study in Plos ONE reveals how extreme climatic conditions can alter normal host-pathogen relationships, causing a "perfect storm" of multiple infectious outbreaks to trigger epidemics with catastrophic mortality.

Outbreaks of canine distemper virus (CDV) in lions in 1994 and 2001 resulted in unusually high mortality of lions in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. In the past, CDV epidemics caused little or no harm to the lions. But the outbreaks of 1994 and 2001 were preceded by extreme droughts that caused Cape buffalo to become heavily infested with ticks. When the lions ate the buffalo, they consumed unusually high levels of tick-borne blood parasites.

In the drought years, the CDV suppressed the lions' immune systems and also combined with the heavy levels of blood parasites. The merger created a fatal synergy. In 1994 more than 35 percent of Serengeti lions died. About the same number perished in the Ngorongoro Crater in 2001.

Unspoken but implied: Our own little witch's brew of ticks and viruses is waiting for wetter or hotter or dryer or fierier years to come together and make us suffer too… The world is too complicated for the simpletons who've been running it and, alas, there is no bloodsucker that feeds on stupidity.

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

Arnold Has Had Enough of Your Offshore Drilling Nonsense

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 5:00 PM EDT

Not all environmentally friendly Republicans get along. Here's California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) at the Florida Climate Change Summit in Miami, hosted by Governor Charlie Crist (also R), who recently made a strong bid to save the everglades:

"Politicians have been throwing around all kinds of ideas in response to the skyrocketing energy prices, from the rethinking of nuclear power to pushing biofuels and more renewables and ending the ban on offshore drilling, it goes on and on the list. But, anyone who tells you this will lower our gas prices anytime soon is blowing smoke."

Haha, whoops. John McCain supports offshore drilling because it will help Americans psychologically with high gas prices, and Gov. Schwarzenegger's host, Gov. Crist, recently switched his position to match the party's nominee. For more on offshore drilling, uh, read MoJoBlog.

House Judiciary Committee To Subpoena Mukasey

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 2:43 PM EDT

Rep. John Conyers is the quintessential congressional Democrat. He's polite and gracious and knows how things work on the Hill. For the past year, he's been patiently sending off a variety of polite and gracious letters to Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking if, please, he wouldn't mind handing over to the House Judiciary Committee a bunch of documents related to various investigations it's conducting on such topics as the New Hampshire phone jamming case or the enforcement record of the Justice Department's civil rights division. Not so graciously, Mukasey has all but told the elder statesman to blow away.

So in May, Conyers got serious and told Mukasey that if he didn't respond to some of these document requests by the 16th, Conyers was going to have to issue a subpoena. The 16th came and went and still no documents. Conyers sent one last letter on June 18 making basically the same request, and once again, Mukasey ignored him. So now Conyers, it seems, is going to make good on his threat. The subcommittee on commercial and administrative law, chaired by Rep. Linda Sanchez, voted today to authorize the full Judiciary Committee to issue the subpoenas, the first step in forcing Justice to be overseen by Congress. Sanchez said in a statement, "The Department of Justice is trying to run out the clock on congressional investigations of possible misconduct. We have taken this step because the Department has indicated that it will not voluntarily comply with Congress' constitutionally mandated oversight role. There are questions in various investigations that the American people deserve to have answered."

Yoo and Addington Visit Congress, Say Nothing

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 2:29 PM EDT

Today's House Judiciary Committee questioning of John Yoo and David Addington, architects of the Bush Administration's interrogation policies, was not impressive.

Yoo was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel and Addington was and is Dick Cheney's consigliere. They were present at the formation of the administration's policies on which interrogation tactics are permissible and which are not, and they have spent the six or seven years since revisiting, studying, and defending those policies. Some of the congressmen questioning them weren't even in Congress when the policies were formed, and none of them have focused on these issues full-time.

As a result, the questioning was at times laughably one-sided. Addington often showed his questioners little respect, and deliberately provided long and unnecessary citations to chew up their allotted time. Despite his reputation as a whip smart lawyer, he repeatedly claimed to not remember certain key meetings or events. Yoo, either because he has a greater sense of shame or because he is simply a less artful participant in the hearings dance, would admit that he did know certain things but that he couldn't specify them because the Department of Justice had prohibited him in advance for doing so.

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White House Won't Read Emails About Global Warming

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 12:55 PM EDT

What does the White House do when you send it an email about the need to control CO2 emissions? Refuse to read the email, of course. If you still need convincing that our country is run by toddlers, head on over to The Blue Marble and read all about it.

Supreme Court Overturns DC Handgun Ban

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 11:28 AM EDT

handgun-250x200.jpg

So much for that vaunted era of good will on the Roberts court. The media have been suggesting all year that after all its splintered, contentious decisions in 2007, the Supreme Court's conservative majority has been working hard to find some common ground with the liberals and to just get along better for the good of the country. The story line seemed to hold up all term, as the court issued one 6-3 or 7-1 decision after another. But today, the court issued a whopper of a 5-4 decision that split entirely on ideological grounds. Saving the biggest case for last, the court ended the term by releasing its opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court upheld a lower court ruling invalidating the District's strict ban on handgun ownership.

The case was unusual in large part because the court hasn't ruled on a Second Amendment case in 70 years, but also because the Solicitor General—the legal arm of the Bush administration at the court—supported the District, while the Vice President entered into the case on his own to recommend overturning the city's gun ban. During the oral arguments in the spring, the justices spent a great deal of time mulling over whether early settlers in this country would have needed guns to protect themselves from grizzly bears or for hunting, a sign that the right to bear arms extended beyond the well-regulated militia identified in the language of the Second Amendment. So it's no surprise that hunting figures prominently in the majority opinion, written by Justice Scalia, who has, of course, spent a great deal of time hunting with the vice president.

Federal Investigations of Pentagon Intrigues: Don't Forget the Chalabi Leak

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 7:56 AM EDT

Regarding my recent articles on signs of a federal investigation seemingly looking at at least one Pentagon official, a colleague reminded me of the following. That the Defense Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency did forward a crimes report to the Justice Department on the question of who leaked to Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi the allegation that the U.S. had broken Iran's communications codes in Iraq, a detail which Chalabi allegedly shared with his Iranian intelligence interlocutor.

For instance, revisit this Newsweek piece:

Spring Cleaning at the FBI

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 9:20 PM EDT

The FBI maintains a total of 300,000 cubic feet of historical documents and records, in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts.

But apparently, freedom of information is also subject to spring-cleaning.

Among the guidelines for determining documents worth hanging on to is the "fat file theory," positing that heft is somehow correlated to importance.