2007 - %3, January

Oceans-21: Congress Premiers Plan to Strengthen NOAA

| Fri Jan. 5, 2007 2:02 PM EST

Predictably, Congressional dems are moving eco-friendly bills, beginning with Oceans-21, introduced by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.). Oceans-21 (and no, it is not starring George Clooney) has been sitting around since 2004, and would significantly strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The bill would give the caretaker agency more power, resources, research capabilities, and most importantly, would create a national database of oceanic and coastal research that all regional centers could access.

Given the precarious state of our precious oceans, a stronger NOAA seems long overdue.

—Jen Phillips

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Is Iran's Supreme Leader Dead?

| Fri Jan. 5, 2007 1:51 PM EST

That's what prominent neocon and American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Ledeen reported in a one line blog post yesterday afternoon. Today, however, he seems less than certain that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has indeed passed, telling Regime Change Iran, a blog whose agenda you can guess at, that

The source still insists Khamenei is dead, but I cannot find any direct or indirect confirmation. To my knowledge only one person says Khamenei is dead. That said, the regime would have every reason to keep the fact secret, and Khamenei's physical condition has certainly been grave. In addition to the reports of his emergency hospitalization, his message to the Islamic Community on the Eid festival was released, not publicly read, as he had always done in the past. He has made no public appearances for several days, and Persian web sites have declared—several days ago now—that he cannot carry out his responsibilities and will have to be replaced. The struggle for succession is well under way.

Ledeen, who's long agitated for regime change in Iran, is known for maintaining close ties to the Iranian exile community, so perhaps his information is legit. But that certainly depends on who his lone source really is -- and whether or not it's Ledeen's close friend Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Iranian arms dealer, Iran-Contra figure, and alleged intelligence fabricator. Stay tuned.

Chuck Norris Kicks Darwin's Ass

| Fri Jan. 5, 2007 1:43 PM EST

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I had Chuck Norris pegged as a survival-of-the-fittest kind of guy. Guess I was wrong. Over at MovieGuide.org, a site that reviews movies based on biblical principles, the star of Walker: Texas Ranger weighs in on some of the wacky "Chuck Norris Facts" floating around the Internet. Like this one:

Alleged Chuck Norris Fact: "There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live." It's funny. It's cute. But here's what I really think about the theory of evolution: It's not real. It is not the way we got here. In fact, the life you see on this planet is really just a list of creatures God has allowed to live. We are not creations of random chance. We are not accidents. There is a God, a Creator, who made you and me. We were made in His image, which separates us from all other creatures.

Now while we're discussing the falacy of natural selection, let's talk about Hollywood projects God has allowed to live. (Image: publicity shot from Top Dog.)

How Many Lawyers Does It Take to Defend Bush's Balance of Power?

| Fri Jan. 5, 2007 1:15 PM EST

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President Bush believes Harriet Miers is qualified for the Supreme Court, but not to defend his administration from the onslaught of investigations the new Democratic Congress will likely mount. The Washington Post reports today that "Bush advisers inside and outside the White House concluded that she is not equipped for such a battle and that the president needs someone who can strongly defend his prerogatives."

The article goes on to say that "Four other lawyers have been hired as associate counsels in recent weeks to fill vacancies, and White House officials have discussed expanding the office." The administration has not announced Miers' replacement but is said to have one lined up.

This is one sporting match I'm really looking forward to.

Iraq Diary

| Fri Jan. 5, 2007 12:20 PM EST

Juan Cole this morning links to a very upsetting document he found at the British Library. It is the diary of Saad Eskander, director of the Iraq National Library and Archive.

An entry:

It is another bad week for the NLA.

On Sunday, I learnt that Ahmed Salih, who was on leave, was murdered by a Death Squad in his own house. Ahmed came from a poor family. After his father's death, he raised his younger brothers and sisters. He worked very hard to educate them. I also learnt that Ahmed was engaged to a girl two weeks before his death.

On Monday, I received more bad news. The older brother of Maiadah, who works in the Periodical Department, was murdered by a group of terrorists.

I learnt that some sniper fired at a car in the Republican Street, killing the driver and all the passengers.

It was a Christmas period and the security situation was as bad as ever. We have four Christians in our institution. The first two, 'A' and 'B', work in the Archive, the third, 'C', in the Library, and the fourth, 'D', in my office. I gave them 5 day-break to celebrate Christmas. 'D' took just one day off. She continued to show up, even when the main roads were blocked. I advised her to cover her hair, when passing through dangerous areas (i.e. under the control of the militias and armed gangs). She said that she was wearing Hijab for some time to hide her identity (i.e. being Christian).

Ten Step Pelosi Reform Program for New Dems

| Fri Jan. 5, 2007 10:32 AM EST

It's too soon to tell just how far the Dems are willing to go with their reforms. If they want to be taken seriously, however, they will need to take the following 10 steps.

1) Put Vice President Cheney under oath and get his secret energy meeting documents. They may show how the oil companies colluded in the war and what Bush got from them.

2) Find out who initiated the torturing of prisoners in the Iraq and Afghan wars and see to it that they are prosecuted and put in jail. That includes officials — civilian and military — in the White House, Justice Department, Pentagon, and on the battlefields.

3) Fire the military commanders and civilian officials who turned Saddam over to a death squad for execution.

4) Put Al Gore in charge of a new Congressional office to implement measures to reduce global warming.

5) Place former FBI chief Louis Freeh and current FBI head Robert Mueller under oath and order them to explain why they obstructed Congress in refusing to turn over to former Senator Bob Graham's intelligence investigation their key San Diego informant who was renting rooms to 9/11 hijackers.

6) Summon the outgoing Saudi ambassador, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, and get the straight scoop on the Saudi spy network in the U.S. and its ties with Al Qaeda.

7) Subpoena former FAA chief Jane Garvey and order her to explain how come her agency got numerous warnings about an impending attack on 9/11 and did nothing about it.

8) Investigate and move to indict top FDA officials who approve drugs for one use and then go to work and allow Big Pharma to sell them untested for other uses.

9) Place a moratorium on all oil and gas leases on the public domain until an impartial investigation revises the crooked Interior Department leasing program and recovers the billions owed by the oil industry to the government.

10) Deny federal funds to any state or locality engaged in "privatizing," i.e selling off this country's public highway system.

And, finally, stop fooling around: Instead of "reforming" the earmark system, end it.

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Scientists Accuse ExxonMobil Of Paying Groups To Mislead the Public About Global Warming

| Thu Jan. 4, 2007 8:12 PM EST

The Union of Concerned Scientists has announced that ExxonMobil Corp. paid $16 million to forty-three oganizations over a seven-year period in order to mislead the public about global warming.

"ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer," said Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists' Director of Strategy & Policy. "A modest but effective investment has allowed the oil giant to fuel doubt about global warming to delay government action just as Big Tobacco did for over 40 years.

Sallie Baliunas, an astro-physicist affiliated with at least nine of the forty-three advocacy groups, raised eyebrows in 2003 when she presented a paper arguing that there had been no significant climate change in the last millennia. Thirteen scientists came forward to say that Baliunas had misrepresented their work, but ExxonMobil continued to promote the paper as factual.

In its report, "Smoke, Mirrors & Hot AIr: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to 'Manufacture Uncertainty' on Climate Change," UCS accuses ExxonMobil Corp. of the following:

* raised doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence
* funded an array of front organizations to create the appearance of a broad platform for a tight-knit group of vocal climate change contrarians who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings
* attempted to portray its opposition to action as a positive quest for "sound science" rather than business self-interest
* used its access to the Bush administration to block federal policies and shape government communications on global warming.

Army Digs Deep to Get Strong

| Thu Jan. 4, 2007 4:25 PM EST

The Army may have met its recruitment goal of 80,000 troops last year but these are not the soldiers of yesteryear. Along with questionable recruitment tactics, the Army has rewritten its enlistment standards on everything from facial tatoos to criminal records. We break down some of the changes in our latest issue, showing how over the past few years the Army has allowed in not only older and fatter plebes, but also record numbers of recruits whose felony records and medical conditions would have disqualified them in years past.

Now the National Priorities Project has run the numbers on the latest data from the DoD, and the declines continue:

-In 2004, 61% of active-duty Army recruits were 'high quality,' (average aptitude scores or better, high school diploma). In 2006, less than half, 47%, were high quality, a 23% decrease.

-The number of high school dropouts grew from 13% in 2004 to the just released 27% in 2006, doubling in just two years.

The NPP also breaks down recruiting by income bracket and state. Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Montana had the highest recruiting rates while Connecticut, New Jersey and the District of Columbia had the lowest number of active-duty Army recruits in 2006.

Bush Signs Away Our Civil Liberties

| Thu Jan. 4, 2007 4:13 PM EST

It's hard to imagine anything more undemocratic than a presidential signing statment -- wherein the commander-in-chief appends language to the bill he's just signed exempting the executive branch from following various of its dictates -- but the president's latest is truly an Orwellian masterwork. Appended to the innocous sounding Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which the president signed into law before the holidays, the statement gives the Bush adminstration the authority to open your mail without first obtaining a warrant under "exigent circumstances." As the New York Daily News reports today, "that claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed."

Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane reform measures. But it also explicitly reinforced protections of first-class mail from searches without a court's approval.

Yet in his statement Bush said he will "construe" an exception, "which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection in a manner consistent ... with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances."

Bush cited as examples the need to "protect human life and safety against hazardous materials and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection."

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore denied Bush was claiming any new authority.

"In certain circumstances - such as with the proverbial 'ticking bomb' - the Constitution does not require warrants for reasonable searches," she said.

Bush, however, cited "exigent circumstances" which could refer to an imminent danger or a longstanding state of emergency.

ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics & Personnel to Deny Climate Change

| Thu Jan. 4, 2007 4:10 PM EST

Why doesn't this make headlines? The Union of Concerned Scientists issues a report offering comprehensive documentation that ExxonMobil is adopting the tobacco industry's disinformation tactics, along with some of the same organizations and personnel, to cloud the science of climate change and delay action on fixing it. From the press release:

"ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer," said Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists' Director of Strategy & Policy. "A modest but effective investment has allowed the oil giant to fuel doubt about global warming to delay government action just as Big Tobacco did for over 40 years."

"As a scientist, I like to think that facts will prevail, and they do eventually," said Dr. James McCarthy, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's working group on climate change impacts. "It's shameful that ExxonMobil has sought to obscure the facts for so long when the future of our planet depends on the steps we take now and in the coming years."

The Christian Science Monitor reports that nontheists are challenging the growing influence of religion in government and public life by forming a Washington lobbying group, the Secular Coalition for America.

Many nontheists… have decided that keeping silent in religious America no longer makes sense. They are astonished that a majority of Americans question evolution and support teaching intelligent design in the science classroom. They are distressed over polls that show that at least half of Americans are unwilling to vote for an atheist despite the Constitution's requirement that there be no religious test for public office. And they contend that in recent years, Congress has passed bills and the president has issued executive orders that have privileged religion in inappropriate and unconstitutional ways.

Thomas Jefferson summed up religious meddling in government and science nearly 200 years ago:

Whenever... preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science.