2007 - %3, April

Arnold Serves Notice at EPA

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 4:37 PM PDT

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger officially notified the EPA today that he will sue in 6 months if the agency hasn't granted California a waiver for stricter air quality standards by then. (Six-months' notice is required by law.) The state first started trying to implement the standards in 2005, but officials had to wait for the ruling in this month's Supreme Court decision, which debunked the EPA's claim that it doesn't have the authority to regulate emissions. You go, Manlie Man!

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SNAP! A Spate of Subpoenas

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 4:16 PM PDT

The Dems are getting serious. Get this: They may subpoena Condi to get her to testify about her role in pumping the whole Niger uranium myth. The House Judiciary Committee also voted to grant former senior Justice aide Monica Goodling immunity in exchange for her testimony on the U.S. Attorney firings. A subpoena for Bush's Monica was approved but not issued (yet). My personal favorite—just because the Condi affair seems pretty stale at this point—is that Patrick Leahy wrote a note to Alberto Gonzales telling him to refresh his memory and report back in a week. (There was much the Attorney General couldn't recall in his testimony last week.) Subpoenas were also approved for members of the Republican National Committee, who the House hopes will shed some light on the slew of missing emails from Attorney-gate.

PCBs Cause the Equivalent of Autism in Baby Rats

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 2:18 PM PDT

PCB exposure caused defects in rats similar to autism in humans, in a study at the University of California at San Francisco.

Marla Cone, who wrote Dozens of Words for Snow, None for Pollution for us in 2005, broke the PCB story today in the Los Angeles Times. She writes:

Rats exposed to low levels of PCBs in the womb and during nursing had disorganized, malfunctioning auditory centers. The auditory cortex controls the brain's processing of sounds, which is essential for language development.
PCBs were one of the world's most widely used chemicals, their use peaking in the 1970s, mostly as insulating fluids in large electrical equipment. Although banned in the United States in 1977, they are still among the most pervasive contaminants on the planet, and exposure is difficult to avoid because they have spread globally and built up in food chains.
Last year, two internationally known environmental scientists reported in a medical journal that industrial chemicals may be causing a "silent pandemic" of learning disorders. Dr. Philippe Grandjean of Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Philip J. Landrigan of Mount Sinai School of Medicine identified 202 chemicals — including PCBs and mercury — that could be contributing to autism, attention deficit disorders and other neurological disorders, and they urged more human studies.

In 2004, we investigated whether the CDC, the FDA, and other health agencies were covering up evidence that a mercury preservative in children's vaccines has contributed to a rise in autism. About 1 in every 150 children now has autism or a related disorder.

European Members of World Bank Spurn Changes to Family-Planning Policy

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 2:05 PM PDT

The Wall Street Journal reports today that, in a closed meeting yesterday at the World Bank, European members objected to a Washington-supported proposal to change the bank's family-planning policy, which would put in place age restrictions on family-planning assistance, including abortions. Cameron wrote a few weeks ago about Wolfowitz' denial of any changes to its family-planning policy, one that has long been an integral part of the bank's development strategy. The former Iraq war architect said, in response to accusations, "Let me make it very clear. Our policy hasn't changed." But the Government Accountability Project found documents that contradict his statement.

Wolfowitz' transgressions, past and present, are not making him any friends. Aside from the European members who "revolted" against the family-planning policy amendment, "rank-and-file" employees are wearing blue ribbons (good-governance ribbons) to signify that they don't trust him. Well, this is not news to us. Mother Jones hasn't trusted Wolfowitz for awhile. Here are a few of our reasons why.

Sex and Abortion in the City (Mexico City)

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 1:17 PM PDT

In Mexico, feminism never took. Gender relations there are pretty close to what they were in the United States in the early 60s. And because the country is largely Catholic, birth control isn't widely used among married or unmarried couples. (Arguably, the most effective contraceptive is the cultural convention of living with your family until you get married—a convention that leads to some embarrassingly heavy public petting.)

Mexico is also a country with a gaping maw of an income gap. The wealthy have live-in maids, whose own homes have dirt floors and no running water. The poor have virtually no education and no opportunities. Meanwhile, the wealthy fly to San Antonio to shop—and sometimes to have abortions, which were until yesterday illegal in Mexico except in cases of rape or serious danger to the woman's health. Yesterday, Mexico City legalized abortions in the first trimester. (Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, accounts for nearly a fifth of the country's total population.)

The timing couldn't be more ironic: The United States took a huge step backward on abortion earlier this month, banning a legitimate abortion procedure regardless of timing or circumstances. Mexico has been able to move forward recently (it also legalized same-sex marriage) due to increasingly open national and local elections, which have given power in the capital to liberals. The Times also attributes the change to the church's loss of prestige following the pedophile priest fiasco. Apparently, Mexicans are more attuned to hypocrisy than Americans, who continue to let people like Newt Gingrich and Ted Haggard preach sexual morality.

However, the Mexican conservatives—members of president Felipe Calderón's PAN party—have clearly taken a page from the religious right's playbook. PAN's Jorge Romero said legalizing abortion would "support juvenile imprudence"—a claim which is especially annoying in a country where maids, who have no idea what sex even is, are frequently raped by sons of the wealthy. And Catholic Lawyers, the main opposition group, in an echo of Mitt Romney's Desperate Conservatives move in Massachusetts, protested that the city government had violated the Constitution by ignoring a petition for a referendum on abortion.

Maybe instead of them cribbing from our shoddy, hypocritical playbook, we ought to shed our superiority complex long enough to learn a lesson or two from our neighbors to the South.

Tillman Family, Jessica Lynch Have Strong Words for Military

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 12:33 PM PDT

Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman's brother Kevin strongly challenged the government and the military in their statements yesterday before Henry Waxman's congressional committee. Lynch made it clear that the narrative of her capture and rescue put out by the military was overblown (though we already knew that) but stopped short of offering speculation as to why the military would distort the truth.

Kevin Tillman, on the other hand, did not hold back.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his brother was killed in Afghanistan three years ago, Kevin Tillman told a congressional hearing that the Army and administration officials had exploited his brother's death to divert attention from the detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib prison...
Kevin Tillman, who gave up a minor-league baseball career to enlist with his older brother after the 9/11 attacks and was nearby the day Pat Tillman was shot by fellow soldiers, said the military's early, heroic depiction of his brother's death was "utter fiction."
"To our family and friends, it was a devastating loss. To the nation, it was a moment of disorientation. To the military, it was a nightmare," Kevin Tillman said, his voice wavering with emotion. "But to others within the government, it appears to have been an opportunity. "
In his brother's case, he charged that evidence had been destroyed, an autopsy did not conform to regulations and eyewitness testimony "disappeared into thin air."

Here's Kevin Tillman's very moving and very damning opening statement.

And here's a link to the story I believe provides the best taste of Pat Tillman's unique personality and the clearest explanation of his death. It's from Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith, possibly the best sports writer on the planet.

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Ahh, Now for the Good Stuff: Congress Subpoenas Condi Rice

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 12:19 PM PDT

The Democratic Congress is still moving forward with its various inquiries, but now it's adding the big kahuna to its list of targets: the mishandling, misuse, and misrepresentation of intelligence in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. Specifically, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Waxman's at it again!) has subpoenaed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in order to investigate the now-disavowed claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. Isn't oversight grand?

Future BHO and John McCain to Duke it out on MySpace, and Maybe on TV

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 11:27 AM PDT

Today, MySpace and reality TV show producer Mark Burnett (Survivor and The Apprentice are his claims to fame, to name a few) announced they will be teaming up to produce a political reality show, wherein politicians-to-be will go head-to-head for $1 million, the Wall Street Journal reports. The show will appear on MySpace's social networking site but the duo is also looking to score a network spot. Apparently, the "venture is part of a bid by News Corp.'s MySpace to expand its video presence and better compete with Google's YouTube." It also appears to be a realization on the part of the company that in order to keep up with the intersection of technology, politics and citizen involvement, video is key. MySpace users can interact with the show's contestants using their profiles and the "topics that generate the most buzz on the site -- whether it's climate change or immigration reform -- will determine the kinds of 'challenges' created for the live network show."

There seems to be no disagreement about video's rising importance in politics. Google's YouTube has already flexed its political muscles with YouChoose '08, an initiative that allows candidates to strut their stuff in video form. In a recent discussion I had with blogger and Deputy Research Editor for ThinkProgress, Nico Pitney, he affirmed that video is definitely an important aspect to success within today's political landscape:

"Many people who are active in politics now grew up in the age of television. They're much more comfortable with video as a medium and you can make points through video that have an emotional impact that you can't communicate through text."

But the medium also has to entertain and as Gary pointed out a few weeks back, some of YouTube's YouChoose content is quite the "snoozefest." So, maybe MySpace has just the remedy. Reality TV. Of course. People engage in that, right? If people care enough to watch Donald Trump sit around a boardroom table and discuss his future lackey prospects, why not the next BHO wrangling with McCain II. And if they engage in dialogue about immigration or climate change? Well, then, all the better, I say!

Walter Reed Conditions Were Not New News (to DoD), Dpt. Held Focus Groups for Years

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 10:05 AM PDT

It turns out the Department of Defense held focus groups at Walter Reed Medical Center. The Force Health Protection and Readiness department met with wounded soldiers monthly to "monitor Army healthcare and provide military officials with direct information about it," Salon reports. That's a good thing, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out they've been holding these group discussions since before the start of wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, yet have neglected to employ the information garnered to affect any real change. But, how could they -- the DoD kept no records of the interviews.

This not only speaks to the blatant neglect on the part of the department to remedy problems within the system but shows that the DoD has not been forthcoming throughout the investigation into the conditions at Walter Reed. In February, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr claimed all the accusations being thrown at the facility caught him by surprise. If the DoD was conducting focus groups, I am pretty sure the man tasked with overseeing military medicine would know it. Right? Although, I guess ignorance of your agency's actions is common practice within government departments under the Bush administration. I mean, AG Alberto Gonzales was "not involved" in the firing of nearly 10 percent of the nation's U.S. Attorneys.

In our last issue, Mother Jones provides more insight into the administration's maltreatment of the nation's soldiers.

OSC Investigation Into Rove Came After Fired U.S. Attorney Filed Complaint

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 8:37 AM PDT

There has been speculation that because of the Office of Special Counsel's horrible reputation for killing investigations damaging to the White House, the new investigation into Karl Rove might just be a way to obstruct or head off more aggressive congressional inquiries. (Mother Jones covers the OSC's rep in a feature story in our new issue.)

Well, the situation just got more complex. The spark for the Rove investigation may have come when former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias filed a complaint with the OSC charging that Rove violated the Hatch Act when he allegedly engineered the now-famous purge of eight U.S. Attorneys, a group that included the very vocal Iglesias. Iglesias filed the complaint on April 3rd and subsequently spoke with OSC head Scott Bloch, who made it clear an investigation was forthcoming. Iglesias can't say for a fact that his complaint is the genesis for the investigation, but he believes strongly that it was.

This would give hope that the investigation into Rove is legit, and not something dreamed up by the White House to keep other investigations at bay.

The Hatch Act, by the way, prohibits the use of government property for political activities. Like, for example, using the federal email system and tax payer-funded computers and Blackberries to gin up the firing of federal employees who are out-of-step with the White House's political agenda and won't use their prosecutorial power to influence elections directly before a midterm. Or, using work hours to present a PowerPoint presentation on how to reorient the activities of various federal offices to benefit Republicans politically.

We'll continue to follow the story on Mother Jones. Oh, and don't forget, Wolfowitz is still floundering!