2010 - %3, January

No More Bison? Try Tanks

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 9:50 PM EST

Fort Riley in the Flint Hills of Kansas is situated inside 100,000 acres of North American tallgrass prairie—a rich ecosystem once home to a complete iconography of American wildlife: bison, wolves, bears, coyotes, and eagles, to name a few. Now it's home to the 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One, and home to tanks and other heavy military machinery.

You might imagine that explosions and tanks are incompatible with wildlife. But 11 years of birdlife surveys from Fort Riley, compared with 11 years of birdlife surveys at the nearby Konza Prairie Biological Station, found the number and composition of landbird species essentially identical at both.

How can this be? The 8,600-acre Konza Prairie is a nearly pristine tract managed by the Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University specifically to minimize human impact on the landscape. Fort Riley is seriously downtrodden countryside managed by the US Army specifically to maximize the favorable outcomes of violent conflicts.

The authors hypothesize that the secret to Fort Riley's biological success may lie in the fact that tanks and explosions mimic the erstwhile effects of bison and wildfires on the environment here. Heavy equipment and live-fire exercises trample, burn, and fragment the prairie into a mosaic of disturbed and undisturbed areas similar to what existed prior to humans supressing fire and annihilating the bison.

(Other explanations are possible too, says the paper in Environmental Management: Fort Riley may act as a population sink, killing off its birds, which are then replenished by colonizers from the surrounding countryside—though the authors doubt this explanation.)

This study does not address the fate of wildlife other than grassland birds. But its results bode positively for at least the possibility that the other 2.5 million acres of military bases owned by the US military might similarly hide super secret pockets of biodiversity… a fragment of good news in this, the International Year of Biodiversity.

This is what I love about science: The only predictable outcome is that your assumptions will be challenged by the data.

Thanks to the blog Conservation Maven for a heads up on this story.
 

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The Public Mood

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 8:59 PM EST

Our story so far: rich people brought the global economy to a near meltdown in 2008. We were saved from a repeat of the Great Depression only by massive interventions from a big, activist government. Today, a year later, the public is in a seething rebellion against.....the big, activist things that the big, activist government did to save us from collapse.

At least, that's the current narrative. But it does not compute.

Parsing the Suspicously Timed Eikenberry Leak

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 8:27 PM EST

When copies of Ambassador Karl Eikenberry's classified cables showed up on the web site of the New York Times Monday night, the timing of the leak surely seemed suspicious. The controversial memos appeared just as two high-profile events were set to take place later in the week—one a conference in London to discuss Afghanistan's future, and the second President Obama's first State of the Union address where the US mission in Afghanistan is sure to figure in.

The memos, sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the administration formulated its Afghanistan strategy, were first described by the Times in general terms last November. Back then, the disclosure of Eikenberry's dissent was just the latest leak from administration factions that were apparently competing for influence in the Afghanistan debate. According to the latest Times story, the complete memos were ultimately provided by an "American official" who believed Eikenberry's grim assessment "was important for the historical record."

That explanation, said Alexander Thier, the director of the US Institute of Peace's Afghanistan and Pakistan program, doesn't wash. "They want it to be part of the public record because of what motivation?" The leaker, he said, certainly wasn't doing Eikenberry any favors. "There's no question that whatever the motivation of the leaker or leakers they would have had to understand that this would have a damaging impact on Eikenberry's ability to affectively fulfill his duties."

Writing on Foreign Policy's web site today, Peter Feaver, a former National Security Council staffer during the Bush administration, said the leak indicated that the "the internal debate over Afghanistan is ongoing" and pointed to "serious problems within" Obama's "national security team."

Granting Haitians Entrance

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 7:53 PM EST

Obama isn’t the only world leader getting flak for granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to undocumented Haitian immigrants. A week after the disaster, Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham announced that his government will release 102 Haitian detainees and give them temporary status. This didn't fly well with many islanders, including former immigration minister Loftus Roker. The number of released detainees may seem small, but their discharge is a bold move because it counters the Bahamian capital's pervasive anti-Haitian stance. Here's what Roker had to say about Ingraham's move:

Mr. Roker suggested that those released and granted Temporary Protected Status will either take jobs that struggling Bahamians need, or may not be able to find jobs and will become a burden on Bahamian society.

Sounds familiar. The report continues:

While seeking to assert his empathy for the Haitian people and respect for their history of struggle, he raised the point that the Bahamas is experiencing the highest unemployment levels ever, and last year had a record murder rate.

He suggested that if the government wants to help Haiti it should coordinate relief efforts and send donated supplies on Defense Force boats to the country and "those of us of Haitian abstraction can volunteer to go along and make sure those who need the goods get them."

Roker later adds that he has "always had a Haitian barber" and "the government of the Bahamas has an obligation to the people of the Bahamas." My mom’s family is native inhabitants of the Bahamas, and have held animosity towards Haitian immigrants since 1957 when President Francois Duvalier's election led to a mass exodus. Faced with nationalist objections like these, leaders like Ingraham should be applauded for placing human need ahead of political ideologies. Countries listed below have followed the Bahamas' example by granting TPS to Haitians already living within their borders, or opening their doors to prospective earthquake refugees:

French immigration minister Eric Besson has ordered his department to halt the repatriation of undocumented Haitian immigrants. Besson also announced the implementation of an "exceptional and temporary measure" to allow those affected by the earthquake to enter France. The measure includes providing "humanitarian" visas to people needing specialized medical care in France and allowing Haitians to visit family members.

Canada has expedited immigration applications from Haitians with family members living there. Jason Kenney, Canada's immigration minister, said Haitians in the country will also be allowed to extend their stay. "We anticipate there will be a number of new applications, which we will treat on a priority basis," Kenney declared.

The Dominican Republic has agreed to extend the stay of all Haitians already on the island by six months.

Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade called for Africa to make room for victims of Haiti’s earthquake to restart their lives on the continent.  “If it is just a few people, we will offer them a roof and a patch of land. If they come in large numbers, we will give them a whole region,” his spokesman said.

Several Caribbean governments, including the Turks and Caicos Islands, have suspended deportation of illegal immigrants, according to BCC Caribbean.

Corn on "Hardball": Pimps, Wiretaps, and ACORN

Tue Jan. 26, 2010 7:44 PM EST

David Corn and Pat Buchanan joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss the latest developments in the ACORN fake pimp's plot to wiretap Mary Landrieu's senate office.

The Audacity of Gimmicks

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 6:37 PM EST

From the Washington Post today:

With lawmakers eager to pivot to economic legislation, Senate Democratic leaders have drafted an initial version of an $80 billion-plus job-creation bill that will be heavy on tax breaks designed to spur businesses to make new hires....Though that number may change as the process moves forward, it is clear Senate Democrats have no intention of moving a jobs package as large as the $154 billion measure the House passed in December on a narrow, party-line vote. The House measure included money to extend unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance coverage, items that aren't in the draft Senate bill but may move in the chamber separately.

"There is 'big bill fatigue' in the Senate right now," said a Senate Democratic aide....A primary goal of the Senate bill will be to encourage employers to add to their job rolls. "We are looking at a form of wage tax credits that would provide an incentive to put people back to work more quickly," Dorgan said.

So we're going to try to pass a jobs bill too small to create many jobs,1 and then offset the cost with a spending freeze too small to really affect the deficit. Do I have that right?

1And, apparently, deliberately designed to exclude any policies that actual ordinary people might understand and support.

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Coal Finally Gets a Voice in Congress

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 4:09 PM EST

The coal industry has never seemed to have much difficulty pushing its views on Capitol Hill. In 2008 alone, the industry spent more than $47 million on lobbying and ad campaigns aimed at winning lawmakers' loyalty—and thanks to its efforts, received $60 billion in the House cap-and-trade bill to develop coal capture-and-storage technology. Nevertheless, some legislators apparently feel that the coal lobby has been unfairly marginalized, and so they've formed a bipartisan coal caucus to stand up for "America's most abundant and affordable energy resource."

The new grouping includes Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), Tim Holden (D-Pa.), Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), John Salazar (D-Col.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.). All of them voted against the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. Their opposition came even as Rick Boucher (D-Va.), another reliable coal booster, hailed it as a boon for the industry. The new coal caucus seems to be concerned with being perceived as champions of coal above anything else.

But although the new caucus says it will speak with a "unified voice" on behallf of coal, its members' positions can be contradictory. In a statement Holden touted his support for government investment in carbon storage technology. Yet Shimkus believes that the planet is "carbon-starved" and worries that regulations on emissions means "taking away plant food from the atmosphere." If that's the case, why would the industry need generous funding to capture and store carbon dioxide?

The six are also seeking additional legislators for their caucus, and may manage to pick up a few extra members—perhaps Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) who jumped out of a plane to demonstrate his support for coal last year, or maybe one of the Republicans who let the industry write their talking points in the House.

A Mulligan for Ethically Challenged GOP Rep?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 3:22 PM EST

Indiana Republican Rep. Steve Buyer formed the Frontier Foundation in 2003 to provide scholarships to students in his state—and since then his charity has raised an impressive $880,000 in corporate donations. Unfortunately, none of that money has found its way to needy undergrads. It has, however, paid for a lot of Buyer's swanky golf junkets. Speaking recently with CBS Evening News about his foundation, the nine-term congressman—a graduate of the Citadel with a degree in business administration and Frontier's "honorary chairman"—suggested that he "was so focused on making sure that we were legal, that I probably didn't pay as close attention as I should have on, quote, appearances."

And the appearances aren't pretty. After a thorough review of Frontier's tax filings, the government accountability organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has recommended that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) investigate Buyer and what they refer to as his "so-called charity." CREW alleges Buyer has used Frontier "to foot golf fundraisers at exclusive resorts where he hobnobs with corporate donors—who also contribute to his campaign committee and leadership [political action committee]." In 2008, the most recent year for which tax returns were available, the foundation wrote off over $25,000 in expenses for "meals" and "travel for fund-raising." These fundraising outings got the golf-loving Republican onto the links at Disney World, the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, and the Phoenix-area Boulders resort.

Most of the $10,500 in donations that the foundation has made in its seven-year history went not to college scholarships but to the National Rifle Association and "a charity run by a pharmaceutical company lobbyist." And Buyer's family benefited too: both his son and daughter were paid to serve as directors at the charity, which until recently shared its headquarters with the congressman's campaign office. "It is hard to imagine something more callous than playing golf on the backs of poor students—at least one of whom surely could have gone to college on the money Frontier spent on Rep. Buyer's golf trips," CREW's director, Melanie Sloan, said in a statement.

Cut Weapons, Not Education

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 2:35 PM EST

A pillar of Obama's State of the Union address on Wednesday, we're learning, will be a three-year spending freeze in domestic areas like education, transportation, housing, national parks, and farm subsidies, among others. Reeling from Massachusetts Sen.-elect Scott Brown's victory last week and a growing disenchantment with his ambitious domestic agenda (health care, climate change, financial reform), Obama's move is no doubt intended to show he's tough on the deficit, and to allay fears among fellow Democrats staring down a potentially bleak November election season. Its political utility aside, the spending freeze, as it stands now, is a wrongheaded, ill-fated move—not only because it targets areas where more funding is needed, but it exempts the most pork-riddled, wasteful area of them all: defense spending.

Why are Dems Being Blamed for Healthcare Failure?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 2:34 PM EST

In a recent video message, Princeton University professor and civil rights icon Cornel West questioned Obama's backbone, asking "how deep is your love for poor and working people?" So far, he said, Obama has amounted to little more than a "colorful care taker of an empire in decline and a culture in decay."

This rings true for healthcare reform. In theory, the Democrats' support for reform indicates a priority for Americans who cannot afford basic necessities like health care. But they have played dead on all legislation that is not guaranteed by a 60-vote supermajority. The minute Scott Brown won in Massachusetts, for example, the media, GOP establishment, and many Democrats proclaimed the bill dead.