2007 - %3, April

Violation of Hatch Act Now Clear: Rove's Team Gave 20 Partisan Briefings to Fed. Employees

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 11:57 AM EDT

I blogged yesterday about how the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from using government resources on partisan political activities. One might argue that having Karl Rove as the deputy chief of staff is a violation of the Hatch Act in and of itself, since his only job, really, is to get Republicans elected. But that's not specific enough to be a real allegation. I understand.

You know what is specific enough? This:

White House officials conducted 20 private briefings on Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity, a White House spokesman and other administration officials said yesterday.

The violations of the Hatch Act seem pretty obvious:

In the GSA briefing -- conducted like all the others by a deputy to chief White House political adviser Karl Rove -- two slides were presented showing 20 House Democrats targeted for defeat and several dozen vulnerable Republicans.
At its completion, GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan asked how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates," according to half a dozen witnesses.

Currently, the administration's defense is that these were "informational briefings about the political landscape." Whatever that means.

Now, Henry Waxman will probably hold a hearing or two on this, but the entity specifically tasked with investigating violations of the Hatch Act is the disturbingly partisan Office of Special Counsel, who has a history of neglecting its core responsibilities and instead toeing the Bush line.

That's why we're worried the OSC's investigation of Karl Rove and his shop (for these partisan presentations and other things) is just a crafty diversion. We'll see.

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White House Officials Admit They Don't Buy Bush's Iraq Rhetoric

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 11:24 AM EDT

President Bush has made two main claims when attacking the Democrats' push for an Iraq withdrawal timeline. The first is the Dems are legislating defeat. "The American people did not vote for failure and that is precisely what the Democratic leadership bill would guarantee," he said recently. The goal, obviously, is shame and embarrassment. No one wants to be a surrender monkey.

The second claim is that a bloodbath, both within Iraq's borders and without, will follow an American withdrawal. "[Withdrawal] could unleash chaos in Iraq that could spread across the entire region," the president has said. "It would be an invitation to the enemy to attack America and our friends around the world." In a different appearance, he said, "The security of our country depends directly on the outcome in Iraq." The idea here is to convince Americans (1) we have a moral obligation to protect the vulnerable, and (2) we have a national security reason to keep on fighting.

According to a new Newsweek article, however, the second claim is mostly PR pablum, and high-level officials within the administration know it.

One senior administration official with extensive knowledge of the region, who didn't want to be identified discussing sensitive policy matters, tells NEWSWEEK that the chances of a regional war in Iraq are low in the event of a U.S. withdrawal. When asked if a regional war would break out, the official said: "Possibly, not probably. It's more likely that other powers would support their favorite militias, as they're doing already."

What's more, the ethnic cleansing many fear would tear through Iraq in the absence of U.S. troops is mostly fantasy.

The senior official said the genocidal bloodbath that Sen. John McCain outlined recently was also unlikely, pointing to the militias' ability to secure their own neighborhoods after the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra in early 2006.

The Newsweek writers speculate that the reason Bush keeps pushing this doomsday talk is that it is a good way of keeping the pressure on the Democrats. It's all politics, they argue. I disagree. I think Bush believes his own spin. I think the positions he espouses now are the inevitable positions someone would hold if they believed almost messianically that they were doing the right thing every step of the way, and did not bother to hear dissent, from external experts or White House staffers, at any point.

It's psychological. (Cognitive dissonance? Correct me in the comments.) Bush already believes the war must go on, so he has to buy shoddy reasoning in order to square his belief. It reminds me of how we got into war: neocons in the administration believed the war had to happen, so they got on board with bad intelligence (either they believed it, or pretended to) in order to justify their belief.

(And PS -- I am legitimately scared at the idea of ethnic cleansing in the wake of our departure. But can the violence really get worse that it is now?)

EU and Iran Working to End Deadlock Over Tehran's Nuclear Program

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 11:14 AM EDT

Just an update to remind you that in some parts of the world, people still believe in diplomacy.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said the talks were useful and had been conducted in a good atmosphere, although no huge breakthrough was immediately apparent.
"We have tried to understand each other better and that, without any doubt, is a very fundamental part of the resolution of the problem," Mr Solana added. "We have not made miracles, but have tried to move the dossier forward a little bit."

I'll take it. After all, slow-moving diplomacy worked before, just recently. The United States could learn something here. Even when we put down the sabers, the best we've been able to do is this.

Early Top 10: Coachella Edition

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 8:51 PM EDT

Tomorrow morning, me and about 60,000 of my pals will start heading down to Indio for the Coachella Music & Arts Festival. The event – envisioned as an American version of British festivals like Glastonbury, without the mud -- has drawn hipsters, fashionistas, yuppies, rockers, ravers, goths and geeks to the broiling desert since 1999. I've been to all but one. Maybe it's the amazing lineup, maybe it's the well-planned and grassy venue, or maybe it's the fact that I never had a wild Spring Break experience because I was always studying too hard, but I love everything about Coachella, and every year I start counting down the days to the next one the moment I get back. Check back here for coverage and pictures all weekend. Here's an arbitrary list of what to look forward to if you're going (or watching the webcast):

mojo-photo-sonicyouth.jpg10. Sonic Youth (Outdoor Stage, Friday)
This venerable New York combo put out one of the best albums of 2006, and this might be our only chance to hear them play songs from it, since much of their upcoming tour will be dedicated to Daydream Nation. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

mojo-photo-jarvis.JPG9. Jarvis Cocker (Outdoor Stage, Friday)
Pulp were near-revolutionaries, and while their frontman hasn't stayed on top of the charts, he's as feisty as ever (bad language on that link!), releasing an acclaimed solo record this year.

mojo-photo-manu.JPG8. Manu Chao (Main Stage, Sunday)
What's great about Coachella is that not only do you catch up with your favorite artists, but also discover new ones. I don't know much about this Latin singer, but about seven different people in the last week have told me how excited they are about him, so I'll check him out, and I hope he doesn't turn out to be the World Music Dave Matthews which is kind of what he looks like he might be from this picture.

mojo-photo-faithless.JPG7. Faithless (Sahara Stage, Friday)
It's been almost ten years since I've seen Faithless, and it was at a small San Francisco club; in the meantime, they've established themselves as an epic, must-see festival act all over Europe. With Coachella known for life-changing dance tent shows (see Daft Punk, Underworld, Chemical Brothers), this could be a highlight.

mojo-photo-peterbjornjohn.JPG6. Peter Bjorn & John (Mojave Tent, Saturday)
Sticking a heavily-buzzed band in the tiniest tent (see Gnarls Barkley last year) is also a Coachella tradition; if I can actually get in to see them, I'll be interested to see how their lilting, '60s-style indie pop translates to the stage.

Barbara Bush: Still the Nation's Best Source For Sick Humor

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 8:16 PM EDT

She asked us why she should waste her beautiful mind on such things as body bags and death.

Then, she comforted us (with a chuckle) by telling us how much better off the Katrina evacuees were hanging out in Houston's hurricane relief centers.

And yesterday, the former First Lady said it was okay for Mitt Romney to be "Mormon" (a term that is avoided by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, but used by Larry King) because there are "wild people" in every religion. (Barbara should know--she is one wild Episcopalian.) She went on to explain: "I mean it was in 1897 that bigamy was outlawed in that church. You know we have a lot of Christian wild people too, and a lot of Jewish wild people and a lot of Muslim wild people. The Mormon religion takes care of its own, they don't have people on welfare."

In the world of Bush, that is the ultimate compliment.

While she and her husband were chatting with Larry King, George H.W. Bush remarked, without irony, that he thought the nation was suffering from "Bush fatigue," and therefore, Jeb could not run for president.

Thanks to The Heretik.

Next American Species To Go Extinct May Be Two Hawaiian Birds, Global Warming Amplifies Threats

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 8:12 PM EDT

There's been a dramatic drop in sightings of the Akekee and the Akikiki. These two birds from the Hawaiian Island of Kauai may be on the brink of extinction, according to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). Hawaii leads the U.S. in the total number of endangered and threatened species (329), and in extinctions, with over 1,000 plants and animals having disappeared since humans colonized the islands. Several Hawaiian bird species, the Poouli and the Ou are assumed to have recently gone extinct before captive-breeding or other protection measures could be implemented.

David Kuhn and Doug Pratt who lead birding tours on Kauai recently alerted scientists, state officials, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to their concerns about the drop in sightings. "I and others paying attention to Kauai's endangered endemics have supposed that the Akikiki would be the next species to disappear--now it is more like a race to the finish," said Kuhn. "While the Akikiki depopulation and range contraction has been linear and relatively slow, Akekee is suddenly crashing." Doug Pratt says the Akekee "was common when I was last here in fall of 2004, and has apparently crashed drastically in the last three years."

The Akikiki is a small bicolored bird from the wet montane forests in central Kauai, with less than 1,500 remaining individuals occupying less than 10% of its former range, the population declining 64% due to habitat loss and alteration, the introduction of invasive species, mosquito-born diseases such as avian malaria and pox, and the impacts of hurricanes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2005 that the Akikiki should be officially designated an endangered species, but declined to move forward with the listing for budgetary reasons, reports the ABC.

The Akekee, a small yellow and green bird that lives in the high-elevation rainforests of Kauai, was until recently thought to have a stable population, estimated at 20,000 individuals. It's also threatened by habitat loss, invasive species and disease. Evidence suggests that rising average temperatures could allow mosquitoes to survive at higher, elevations, exposing the birds to deadly diseases. Researchers for the U.S. Geological Survey conclude that even a small increase in temperatures in Hawaii's forests will eliminate much of the mosquito-free safe zone that once existed for Kauai's birds.

Read gone, and why many biologist consider the sixth great extinction underway a more dangerous threat to life on Earth than even global warming. --Julia Whitty

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MTV Thinks Indie Bands Are Over

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 7:52 PM EDT

mojo-cover-blocparty.jpg A weirdly vitriolic and kind of hard-to-read article appeared today on MTVNews.com with the basic point that "indie bands are unsuccessful." I suppose it shouldn't be surprising -- it's kind of like George W. Bush saying global warming doesn't exist. What are you expecting him to say? But it's still disappointing. The writer, James Montgomery, describes some sort of mythical time -- apparently, 2005 -- when bands like Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were "flavors of the month." Sadly, none of them could keep it up, because, uh, something happened, "and suddenly," it reads, "none of them seemed to matter much any more." Wow!

Good News In Uganda, Mountain Gorillas Increase In Number

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 7:33 PM EDT

The most recent census of mountain gorillas in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park finds the population has increased by 6 percent since 2002. ScienceDaily reports Bwindi's gorilla population now numbers 340 individual gorillas, up from 320 in 2002, and 300 in 1997. Bwindi is one of only two places in the world where the rare gorillas exist. "This is great news for all of the organizations that have worked to protect Bwindi and its gorilla population," said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Dr. Alastair McNeilage, who is also the director of the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation in Bwindi. "There are very few cases in this world where a small population of a endangered primates is actually increasing."

Reading this makes me realize how rare good news is in this trade and what a strange, alien feeling hope is. May there be more of it.

For more on the sixth great extinction underway and the fate of at least half of all lifeforms on Earth, read MoJo's latest cover piece. --Julia Whitty

One Down, 33 To Go, Rare Leopardess Found Shot

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 7:07 PM EDT

A female Amur leopard has been found killed. She was one of only 25 to 34 of the Amur or Far Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) remaining in the wild, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund. Anonymous tips led an anti-poaching squad to the body of the leopardess about two miles from Bamburovo village in the territory of Barsovy National Wildlife Refuge in the Russian Far East.

The next day veterinarians from the Zoological Society of London found the 77 pound mature female leopard had been shot in the back side, the bullet coming through the tail bone, crushing the hip bones, and lodging in the belly. She was then beaten to death with a heavy object. "The killing of even one female is a huge loss for a cat on the brink of extinction, " said Darron Collins, managing director of the Amur-Heilong Program, World Wildlife Fund. "This year's census showed a desperate situation, with just seven female Amur leopards left in the wild and four rearing cubs. Now we've lost a mature, reproductive leopardess and her potential cubs in a senseless killing. This is the third leopard killed within this area over the last five years and underscores the desperate need for a unified protected area with national park status if the leopard is to survive in the wild."

Just in case you're entertaining the notion that the loss of remote leopards won't impact your life, read on--MoJo's latest cover story, GONE.--Julia Whitty

Arnold to EPA: I'll Be Back

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 6:39 PM EDT

Can you imagine being a bland, later middle-aged Washington bureaucrat, and having Arnold Schwarzenegger march into your office and threaten you...with a lawsuit? That's just what happened to Steve Johnson, the administrator of the EPA. Read more on the Blue Marble.