2006 - %3, July

Earmarks Are Like a Virus. In a Barrel. Of Pork.

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 4:14 PM EDT

pig.jpg

In the first of a series of articles on earmarking, the Christian Science Monitor peers into the putrid depths of the congressional pork barrel, 2006 model. Today the paper looks at the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska, one of 6,371 "bonus projects" inserted in last year's highway bill by lawmakers eager to win points at home, the common good be damned.

That's right -- all the bracing talk of reform and self-purification that attended the fall of Jack Abramoff has come to naught: earmarks accounted for a record $29.3 billion in fiscal year 2006.

The connection between earmarking and public disdain for Congress is well established. Less understood, but no less serious (okay, a bit less serious), is the link between pork-barrel spending and the indiscriminate use of mixed metaphors. "Earmarks are like a virus," says Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste. "They cause a huge amount of wasteful spending." For Sen. Tom Coburn, they are "a gateway drug on the road to spending addiction." And in the view of the Monitor's headline writer, "the rolling pork barrel is picking up speed." Clearly, action is needed before the barrel -- or the pig? -- runs off the road.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Half of Americans Still Think Iraq Had WMDs

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 3:22 PM EDT

I don't even know what to say about this:

Half of Americans now say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded the country in 2003 — up from 36 percent last year....In addition, 64 percent say Saddam had "strong links" with al Qaeda....

Fifty-five percent said that "history will give the U.S. credit for bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq."....American confidence in the Iraqis has improved: 37 percent said Iraq would succeed in creating a stable democracy, up five points since November.Apparently we really are ruled by the idiots we deserve.

Overheating Reactors (Yet Another Global Warming Feedback Loop)

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 3:08 PM EDT

Global warming is turning out to be a big problem for nuclear reactors this week. First, we had the jellyfish swarming incident at a Japanese reactor.

And now overly warm waters in Spain's Ebro river have forced the company that controls a reactor near Santa Maria de Garoña to temporarily shut it down. The reason? The Ebro river is running so hot that can no longer cool the reactor.

This of course, means that Spain's other power generators need to work harder to fill in for the off-line reactor. Which means more emissions, at least in the short term.

Why Can't Israel Defeat Hezbollah?

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 1:45 PM EDT

Yoel Marcus observes in Haaretz today that Israel hasn't exactly destroyed Hezbollah as planned. Missiles are still raining down on Haifa and Nahariya with no end in sight, and Hassan Nasrallah is still out there taunting the IDF:

Bush and the public assumed that the [Israeli] army knew what it was doing, and that Israel, with its superiority in manpower, weaponry and technology, would be able to put an end to Hezbollah as a menace to Israel. Little by little, however, a worrying picture has begun to emerge: Instead of an army that is small but smart, we are catching glimpses of an army that is big, rich and dumb.
This picture is indeed worrying, but it shouldn't have emerged "little by little." Anyone who managed to avoid being in a persistent vegetative state over the past four years—which, I guess, excludes the president and what, 37 percent of the United States?—should've noticed that the most powerful army on earth hasn't been able to squelch a ragtag band of determined insurgents in Iraq, either. Military theorists call conflicts against non-state actors "fourth generation warfare", and it's tricky business.

Basically, neither the United States nor Israel, nor any liberal democracy in the world, really knows how to fight these sorts of wars, which are quite clearly not the conventional "blow up a bunch of enemy tanks and you win" wars of the past. Short of killing every last Shiite in Lebanon—and that step would presumably be too gruesome even for Israeli Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who has ordered ten Lebanese buildings bombed for every rocket launched on an Israeli city—Israel's military likely won't defeat Hezbollah. Perhaps these wars are just unwinnable by nature, perhaps better strategists will one day figure out how to defeat non-state militias with broad popular support. Either way, Iraq should've alerted everyone well in advance to the limits of mere "superiority in manpower, weaponry and technology."

The (Not So) Great Stem Cell Brain Drain

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 1:27 PM EDT

stem.jpg

Guardian: The EU is warning Washington that "disillusioned" U.S. scientists will want to make the most of Europe's more liberal rules on stem cell research. (Which aren't nearly as liberal as they might/should be.)

Lord Sainsbury, Britain's science minister, said: "There are a group of American scientists who are very disillusioned. In this field we have seen U.S. scientists coming to the U.K. If the US continues to take this very negative position I think within this field of regenerative medicine we will see scientists come from America and from other parts of the world, who would have gone to America, to the UK instead."


And not only the U.K. Time notes that Singapore (land of punitive caning and bans on chewing gum) is all over stem cell research. "American researchers--fed up with politics getting in the way of science--are packing up and heading to Singapore, which is delighted to have them." Singapore just announced a doubling of its R&D budget, to $8.2 billion over the next five years, "making it a regional research hub, particularly in stem cells." Says a Singapore-based scientist who roams the globe recruiting researchers, "I go to the U.S., and I tell those scientists, Come to Singapore and finish your work."

No Peacekeepers for Lebanon

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 12:52 PM EDT

Last week I wrote that it seemed very, very unlikely that other countries would be willing to contribute troops to an international peacekeeping force in Lebanon. After all, in the scheme Israel envisions, they'd have to confront Hezbollah about its arms and missiles, and Hezbollah has no intention of handing over its weapons without a fight.

Anyway, the New York Times today reports that it's all true, no one seems to want to send troops in Lebanon—certainly not so long as they'd be required to disarm Hezbollah and monitor Lebanon's borders, as Israel wants. European countries are envisioning something less robust, a buffer force "that would follow a cease-fire and operate with the consent of the Lebanese government in southern Lebanon." But again, who will send the troops? No one in Europe wants to. And if no one sends troops, how will this conflict end? It's clear that Israel can't destroy Hezbollah by military force, so where does that leave them?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

War in the Middle East: Resources

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 12:05 PM EDT

war_ed.jpg
News Resources in the Region

Some "official" web sites:

Israel Defense Forces
[Note: Very current information on Israeli military actions.]

Israel Minstry of Foreign Affairs
[Current info about the conflict]

U.S. Embassy in Lebanon

Iran

Palestinian National Authority - State Information Service
[The Palestinian Authority's State Information Service includes a link to the Authority's International Press Centre with news on conflict.]

Syrian Arab News Agency


Blogs, papers, magazines in the region:

First some Lebanese blogs:

Chris Allbritton
[Blog of Time correspondent and freelancer Chris Allbritton, who's been living in Beirut for the last six months or so. He's good.]

Siege of Lebanon

BBC producer in Lebanon

Cold Desert

URShalim


Lebanese Newspapers and Magazines:

Daily Star - Lebanon

Monday Morning

Beirut News


Israeli blogs:

Treppenwitz
[popular Israeli blog]

Fundamentally Freund

Orthodox Anarchist

Israellycool

Israeli Newspapers:

Jerusalem Post

Haaretz

Yedioth Ahronoth

__________________________________________________

Pakistan? Plutonium Reactor? Oh, Sure.

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 11:17 AM EDT

nuke1.jpg

From the annals of "Bush to Congress: Drop Dead."

The Bush administration acknowledged yesterday that it had long known about Pakistan's plans to build a large plutonium-production reactor, but it said the White House was working to dissuade Pakistan from using the plant to expand its nuclear arsenal. ...

The acknowledgment came as arms-control experts and some in Congress expressed alarm about a possible escalation of South Asia's arms race. Some also sharply criticized the administration for failing to disclose the existence of a facility that could influence an upcoming congressional debate over U.S. nuclear policy toward India and Pakistan. ...

"What is baffling is that this information -- which was surely information that our own intelligence agencies had -- was kept from Congress," said [Henry D. Sokolski], now director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. "We lack imagination if we think that this is no big deal."(Washington Post)

This administration has given "separation of powers" a whole new meaning...

Mercury found in New York songbirds

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 10:52 AM EDT

For some time now, we have known about the mercury levels found in American lakes and streams, and, as a consequence, in fish. In 1998, biologist David C. Evers tested common loons, whose diet is made up of fish, and found significant levels of mercury in the birds. Because of the mercury, the loons became lethargic and their reproductive rates dropped.

Now Dr. Evers has gone a step farther, and has tested birds that do not consume fish. He decided to study the wood thrush, whose Northeast population has declined 45% in the last few decades. All 178 New York state wood thrushes tested by Evers last year turned out to have high levels of mercury in their blood and feathers. There is now some speculation, in fact, that mercury may be one cause of the bird's decline, not just habitat destruction, as previously assumed.

According to Dr. Evers, "If these birds are having trouble, that should be a very good indicator of a risk to our own well-being and health as well."

New York's Governor George Pataki has proposed cutting mercury emissions from the state's power plants in half by 2010.