2007 - %3, March

Gonzales Gets Set to Throw His Entire Staff Under a Bus

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 2:39 PM EDT

In an interview with NBC, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wouldn't give a straight answer to the question, "Can you be certain that none of these U.S. Attorneys were put on that list [to be fired] for improper reasons?" (Video at Think Progress.)

Instead, he said, "If I find out that, in fact, any of these decisions were motivated, the recommendations to me were motivated for improper reasons to interfere with the public corruption case, there will be swift and — there will be swift and decisive action. I can assure you that."

He's trying to be Mr. Super-Accountable-Tough-Guy. But really, Gonzales is just blaming his staff. I know the idea of a fall guy isn't rare in Washington, and Gonzo's chief of staff has already packed up his stuff and headed home, but to say, essentially, "Anyone in Justice could be guilty of doing something wrong -- except me," well, that's pretty ballsy. And further, to argue that the only reason you should be exempt from blame is because you were the only one who didn't have the straight dope -- that's "write a memo justifying torture, including crushing the testicles of a terrorist's child, and do it all with a straight face" ballsy. A whole different level, you see.

Interesting note tangentially related to all this: Gonzales will be sitting on the same roundtable discussion as Patrick Fitzgerald today, as part of a program on keeping children safe from online predators. It was Fitzgerald's rating on the DoJ's list of U.S. Attorneys -- "not distinguished" -- that proved to a lot of people that the DoJ had completely divorced their evaluations from actual job performance. Fitzgerald won the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in 2002 and is widely seen as one of the best warriors in the DoJ army.

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Forget DEET: Mutant Mosquitoes Offer "New Hope" to Malarial Regions

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 2:17 PM EDT

A team of US researchers has announced that it's developed a genetically modified malaria-resistant mosquito.

I know, everybody's mad at GMOs, but malaria kills up to 2.7 million people per year, most of them kids. And why spend a couple of bucks donating insecticide-treated mosquito nets to broke African babies when you can build a transnational army of super-bugs (which, as a creepy bonus, were also injected with a protein that causes their eyes to glow fluorescent green) to eradicate a disease?

The new creations are so effective because they are heartier than regular mosquitoes, which means they could take over the mosquito world, which means malaria could be wiped out. Despite the fact that nothing good ever happens when alien species are introduced into an ecosystem, researchers are hopeful that the extra-egg-laying, harder-to-kill mutants will be ready to be released into the wild in a decade or two.

 

The Secret Plan to Gut the Endangered Species Act

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 12:12 PM EDT

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has posted a draft of a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act. The proposed changes would accomplish administratively much of what the Bush Administration may have hoped to push through Congress before the Republicans were ousted in November. The 117-page document is likely the brainchild of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who, Salon writes, "has been an outspoken critic of the act.

The proposed draft is littered with language lifted directly from both Kempthorne's 1998 legislation as well as from a contentious bill by former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif. (which was also shot down by Congress). It's "a wish list of regulations that the administration and its industry allies have been talking about for years," says [Kieran] Suckling [of the Center for Biological Diversity]. . . .

One change would significantly limit the number of species eligible for endangered status. Currently, if a species is likely to become extinct in "the foreseeable future" -- a species-specific timeframe that can stretch up to 300 years -- it's a candidate for act protections. However, the new rules scale back that timeline to mean either 20 years or 10 generations (the agency can choose which timeline). For certain species with long life spans, such as killer whales, grizzly bears or wolves, two decades isn't even one generation. So even if they might be in danger of extinction, they would not make the endangered species list because they'd be unlikely to die out in two decades. . .

Perhaps the most significant proposed change gives state governors the opportunity and funding to take over virtually every aspect of the act from the federal government. This includes not only the right to create species-recovery plans and the power to veto the reintroduction of endangered species within state boundaries, but even the authority to determine what plants and animals get protection. For plants and animals in Western states, that's bad news: State politicians throughout the region howled in opposition to the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into Arizona and the Northern Rockies wolf into Yellowstone National Park.

By last week, as MoJo blogger Jen Phillips wrote about here, Interior had already launched a salvo against the ESA, announcing a proposal to stop protecting species based on their historical range and use their current range instead. That would mean that if a species of salmon is extinct in nine of 10 streams, but doing fine in the 10th stream, then the Fish and Wildlife Service would see no problem.

When I met with the folks at Earthjustice last week, we discussed what attacking the ESA might do to Bush's already-weak political capital. It's an interesting question. The move would probably hurt Bush with the nation at large, but endear him to his base, or at least certain parts of his base, like ranchers and developers. But it could also exacerbate a split in other parts of his base, such as between conservative evangelicals and those who are now embracing "creation care." Looks like that's gamble Bush is willing to make.

Banning Gay Adoption Would Cost Foster Care System $130 Million

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 12:00 PM EDT

Half a million children in the U.S. live in foster care, and more than 100,000 await adoption. Finding stable, permanent homes for these youth, "forever families," is a priority, and a proven way to positive outcomes for youth. Still, it's up to states to recruit and evaluate potential foster and adoptive parents, and most states turn away viable parents who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Currently three states—Florida, Mississippi and Utah—have outright bans on adoptive parents who are homosexual. Several other states have or are considering policies that would restrict LGBT couples and individuals from fostering or adopting a child. Florida forbids "homosexuals" from adopting; Mississippi bans "same-gender" couples, and Utah bans all unmarried couples.

Some states: California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington DC, actually protect potential adopters by prohibiting sexual orientation from being used as a basis to prevent a prospective applicant from being a adoptive or foster parent.

But throughout most of the country LGBT folks face all kinds of barriers to adoption. This, despite the fact that they are already raising children in significant numbers. According to census figures, gathered by the Williams Institute in a new study released today:

-More than one in three lesbians has given birth, and one in six gay men have fathered a child.
-65,500 adopted children are currently living with a lesbian or gay parent, amounting to four percent of all adopted children in the United States.
-10,300 foster children are living with lesbian or gay parents.
-Nearly 52,000 lesbian and gay households include an adopted child under the age of 18.

The study finds that not only can homosexuals be parents, they can be good parents! They have many of the traits states specifically seek out in foster and adoptive parents: They are, on average, older, more educated and have more economic resources than other foster and adoptive parents.

If states enact laws that prevent such adoptions children currently placed with existing LGBT foster parents would be removed from those families. Nationally, an estimated 9,300 to 14,000 children would be displaced.

Aside from the psychological and other harm that would come from displacement (fewer foster care placements are associated with better school achievement, greater life satisfaction, greater overall stability, more placements with higher rates of juvenile detention, etc.), there is a pure economic argument to be made here for allowing gay foster and adoptive parenting. Like banning gay marriage, the the economic cost of banning LGBT people from adopting and fostering would be significant. Williams Institute estimates that a national ban on gay adoption would result in costs to the foster care system of up to $130 million.

The price to pay, some say, for "family values."

The Scoop on the Future of America's Wetlands

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 11:20 PM EDT

A staffer with the environmental public interest law firm, Earthjustice, has seen a draft of the Supreme Court's latest guidance on wetlands development and tells me "it will be confusing as hell." That's probably bad news for some 20 million acres of the nation's wetlands--20 percent of the total--which in 2003 were opened to development by the Bush Administration. The court's guidance might lead to more protections, but it could very likely open the floodgates even wider to developers. This is what we know:

One group of four judges led by Justice Antonin Scalia wants to protect--and I'm quoting Earthjustice's paraphrase here--"continuously flowing waterways and waters with a continuously flowing connection to navigable waters." That could rule out some 60 percent of America's wetlands, Earthjustice estimates. The other judges, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, are proposing a "significant nexus test," which would be broader, and would require that protected wetlands be connected to navigable waters in some way that might be chemical, physical or biological. But he hasn't specified how the nexus would be measured, which might leave the Bush EPA with a lot of leeway.

What all of this means, in short, is that saving America's wetlands will probably fall to Congress, where next month Democrats plan to introduce a bill called the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act, which languished last year under the Republicans. It would restore wetland protections to the way they were before a 2001 Supreme Court gave Bush's Army Corps of Engineers an excuse to dramatically scale back protections. The question, of course, is whether Bush will veto it.

Back in 2003, you might recall, Bush planned to gut wetland protections in the Clean Water Act, but pulled back after meeting with the NRA, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever. Since then, the alliance between hunters and greens has only strengthened as sportsmen have seen their stomping grounds ravaged by oil drilling in the mountain west. So in my view a Bush veto is somewhat unlikely. Look at it this way: it pays to have people with guns on your side.

Grab Your Rifle: It's Open Season on Grizzlies in Yellowstone

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 9:04 PM EDT

Yellowstone's grizzly bear population just got kicked off the endangered species list.

Details at The Blue Marble.

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Grab Your Rifle: It's Open Season on Grizzlies in Yellowstone

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 8:53 PM EDT

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As I noted last week, the Department of the Interior just issued an opinion on how the Endangered Species Act should be interpreted. And already we're seeing the results: Yellowstone's grizzly bear population just got kicked off the endangered species list.

The grizzly will still continue to be classified as "endangered" in four other geographical areas. The Department of Interior declares that the delisting of Yellowstone's 500 grizzlies is a success. Hunters would agree: In February, Montana approved a bill that would allow grizzlies to be hunted (along with wolves) once they were delisted. Hunting permits are available by lottery and cost $19 for wolves, $50 for grizzlies.

Are 500 animals enough to ensure the genetic diversity and continued growth of an entire species? (Remember there were 100,000 of the creatures roaming the land when Lewis and Clark came through.) Nature thinks no, but apparently our government thinks yes. Happy hunting.

—Jen Phillips

France Opens UFO Files but Remains Skeptical of "the Lady Who Reported Seeing an Object that Looked like a Flying Roll of Toilet

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 8:41 PM EDT

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This month has been big for UFO enthusiasts. France last week unveiled its own X Files, and so many people logged on that the server crashed. The site is back up now but so slow that it feels like traveling back in time to 1996.

You can comb through 1,600 UFO sightings over the past thirty years. Not every vision made the cut. "Cases such as the lady who reported seeing an object that looked like a flying roll of toilet paper" were not worth investigating, Jacques Patenet, head of the office for the study of "non-identified aerospatial phenomena," told New Scientist.

On the other hand, burn marks and radar trackings of flight patterns that defy the laws of physics are taken very seriously. For example, a man working in a field heard a strange whistling sound and saw a saucer-like object about eight feet in diameter land nearby. "It stayed for a few seconds then took off into the blue yonder without making a sound," says Patenet.

UFO buffs are pleased and UFO scoffs may be amused. But Patenet wants scientists to get involved: "We also want to send a message to more scientists, inviting them to help us analyse these phenomena, when otherwise they might feel uneasy about these issues."

How would science explain the sight of a flying roll of toilet paper?

—Rose Miller

U2 Can Give to Charity

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 7:36 PM EDT

guitar.gif OK, so Bono's "Red" campaign tanked, but you have to give it to those U2 boys for their commitment to charity. Guitarist the Edge has donated one of his favorite guitars to be auctioned for charity. An April 21 auction in New York City will take bids on more than 200 items to benefit Music Rising, a charity the Edge founded to benefit New Orleans musicians. You can ogle the items here.

Melting Ice Reveals Riches: Canada and Denmark Duke it Out

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 7:10 PM EDT

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Canada and Denmark aren't known for being particularly rapacious, war-hungry nations. But neither country is backing down when it comes to the oil, fish, and shipping paths now available thanks to melting icecaps.

The Arctic contains an estimated 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas supply. Which is why both Canada and Denmark have planted their flags (literally) on the barren, 1/2 sq mile rock called Hans Island. Besides being near potential oceanic drill sites, Hans Island is conveniently located at the mouth to the Northwest Passage, an increasingly iceless Arctic channel that would make freight shipping from Europe to Alaska 60 percent faster than through the Panama Canal.

Americans are also getting in on the land rush: OmniTrax, a US shipping company, bought the northern Manitoba Port of Churchill, for $10 Canadian. It's already pushed 500,000 tons of grain through the tiny harbor.

This is all good and fine for capitalism, but environmentalists are not so happy. The more oil tankers use Arctic shipping lanes like the Northwest Passage, the greater the chance of oil spills. And as Arctic traffic increases, there are more chances of non-native species jumping ship and colonizing the newly warm waters and lands.

Plus there's the fact that, well, people already live there. These peoples, with their long-standing traditions and customs, might just have something to say about other nations rushing to drill their land for oil, or plunging cargo ships through their waters.

One is reminded of British and Dutch colonists ignoring native people's rights, territories, and resources in their rush to reap the booty of a "new" and "uncivilized" land. Will Americans, Danes, and Canadians do the same thing?

—Jen Phillips