2007 - %3, June

Cheney Smackdown

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 3:26 PM EDT

cheney_short_of_breath.jpg

Dick Cheney has claimed that his office is not subject to National Security Archives oversight of its handling of classified information because the vice president, as president of the Senate, is not part of the executive branch. Yet, to avoid public scrutiny of his meetings with energy industry leaders, Cheney declared that going public "would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch." Question 1: Does this contempt for the constitution violate Cheney's promise to uphold the same document?

Cheney apparently considers himself his own special branch of government, outside the requirements of democracy—and perversely, he may just have a point. The report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (more here) reveals that outsourcing of government responsibilities to private contractors is "the fastest growing component of federal discretionary spending." And Halliburton, the company Cheney once led and from which he continues to receive payment, has taken the lion's share of the growing business. Halliburton saw a six-fold increase in its income from government contracts under the VP—err, Senate President's watch. Question 2: Is this ethical?

So maybe the Dark Lord's ultimate agenda is simply personal greed. ThinkProgress points out that Cheney's stock options are worth more than 300 times more now than they were at the start of his second term. By contrast, the taxpayers have not profited from the arrangement. The House report concludes that 118 contracts—worth $745.5 billion—"experienced significant overcharges, wasteful spending, or mismanagement." Question 3: How is this not impeachable?

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Blogger Hubris 2.0

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 3:21 PM EDT

I've enjoyed reading the insightful blogger responses to Mother Jones' "Fight Different" package on internet politics. I've also enjoyed the less insightful ones. I was particularly entertained by this morning's post on Techpresident, which is (usually) a smart group blog on everything politics 2.0. Techprez blogger Alan Rosenblatt has decided today that the mainstream media is too obsessed with his ilk (if he's flattered, it doesn't show) and that they're failing to look more broadly at "how the web is playing an enormous role in all aspects of politics." Singled out for specific calumny is our very own bastion of old thinking:

[A]fter reading so much mainstream press coverage about Politics 2.0 lately (for example, in Mother Jones this month), one might conclude that the sun rises and sets only on blogs and the bloggers that write them. There is so much more to online campaigning that we do ourselves a great disservice when we narrow our focus too much on blogs.

Thank you, Alan, for helping me understand why blog discourse often reduces to phrases such as "fucking dumbass."

If Alan had actually read the package, he'd see one story on bloggers out of four main pieces and 27 published interviews with netizens, digerati and politicos. Here's what Alan says Mother Jones is missing, which, since he's too lazy to look for himself, I've conveniently linked to stories in the package that deal with each subject: "the web is playing an enormous role in all aspects of politics, including fundraising, volunteer organizing, message dissemination, and voter engagement through social networks and social media." That's brilliant, Alan. Thanks for letting us know.

The most interesting thing about the Techpresident post is how it illustrates the blogosphere as echo chamber. Some bloggers earn their soup by setting up the old media as a paper doll to be burned, which works fine as long as nobody reads the old media to see what they're actually saying and nobody in the old media reads the blogs and bothers to debunk them when they're wrong. Fortunately, I see some light at the end of the tunnel here. For one, Mother Jones has a blog (hi, Alan!) and we can tinkle on logos just like the Calvinists.

All of this is not to say that Techpresident is a lame blog. I'm glad that Techprez blogger Cfinnie linked to my interview with Howard Dean (thanks, Cfinnie!). Too bad Alan doesn't read his colleagues either.

PS: I want to include a link to the blog of Seth Finkelstein, who is quite well-informed about many of the same issues we are discussing here and in the blog post on Rosen. I highly suggest following the links he's pasted into the comments below, and in his post. Also see our post from Dan Schulman for discussion about gatekeepers.

Rewarding Polluters Fuels Gulf Of Mexico Dead Zone

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 3:04 PM EDT

A new study determines that U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. This is an area of coastal waters -- visited in MoJo's The Fate Of The Ocean -- where dissolved-oxygen concentrations fall to less than 2 parts per million every summer. According to a paper published at Environmental Science & Technology Online, these findings bode poorly for the Gulf, as more and more acres of land are planted with corn to meet the growing U.S. demand for alternative fuels.

Scientists studying nutrient inputs that feed the Gulf's hypoxic zone have known that certain intensively farmed areas in the upper Midwest leak more nitrogen derived from fertilizers than others. Now, there's a new twist. Farmers in areas with the highest rates of fertilizer runoff tend to receive the biggest payouts in federal crop subsidies, says Mary Booth, lead author of the paper. What's more, they have fewer acres enrolled in conservation programs compared with other parts of the Mississippi River basin. Booth maintains that agricultural nitrate loading could be reduced substantially if farmers took just 3% of the most intensively farmed land out of production. Accomplishing this target, she adds, wouldn't require a large increase in overall federal funding, but monies would have to be shifted from commodity to conservation programs under the Farm Bill set to expire in September.

Hey, a little citizen outrage via email here and here might make a difference on this one. . . --JULIA WHITTY

World Wildlife Fund Opposes Iron Dumping In Ocean

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 2:03 PM EDT

The World Wildlife Fund announced its opposition to a plan by the for-profit Planktos, Inc. to dump up to 100 tons of iron dust in the open ocean west of the Galapagos Islands. The experiment is designed to produce phytoplankton blooms that may absorb carbon dioxide. The American company is speculating on lucrative ways to combat climate change. But WWF spokespersons say there are safer and more proven ways of preventing or lowering carbon dioxide levels, and that the real risks in this experiment could cause a domino effect throughout the food web.

Potential negative impacts of the Planktos experiment include: shifts in the natural species composition of plankton; gases released by the large amount of phytoplankton blooms; bacterial decay following the induced blooms and the resulting anoxia, leading to a potential dead zone in the area; the introduction of large amounts of impure (but cost-effective) iron to the ecosystem, tainted by other trace metals toxic to marine life.

The waters around the Galapagos are rich with 400 species of fish, as well as sea turtles, penguins, marine iguanas, sperm whales, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, crabs, anemones, sponges and corals. Many of these animals are found nowhere else on earth. Planktos, Inc. plans to dump the iron in international waters using vessels neither flagged under the United States nor leaving from the U.S., so federal regulations such as the U.S. Ocean Dumping Act don't apply and details don't need to be disclosed to U.S. entities.

Take note: a new form of piracy is born. Science piracy on the high seas. Isn't Sea Shepherd in the area right about now? Calling the good Pirate, I mean, Captain Paul Watson . . .

BTW, here's a good example of the media getting it all wrong:

--JULIA WHITTY


Waste in Federal Contracts Now More Than $1 Trillion

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 1:08 PM EDT

Last year California Rep. Henry Waxman released an in-depth report on government-contract spending under the Bush Administration. It found that:


  • Between 2000 and 2005, federal procurement spending rose by over 80%.
  • No-bid and other contracts awarded without full and open competition increased by more than 100%.
  • Contract mismanagement led to rising waste, fraud, and abuse in federal contracting.
  • Today Waxman released this year's analysis, which shows that what was already bad has actually gotten much worse.


  • For the first time EVER the federal government has passed $400 billion threshold in contracts for the year.
  • More than half of this spending — more than $200 billion in new contracts — was awarded without full and open competition.
  • The total value of wasteful federal contracts now exceeds $1 trillion.
  • Get the full rundown, and have a look at specific contracts, here.

    Louisiana to Make "Partial-Birth Abortion" a Crime

    | Wed Jun. 27, 2007 11:42 AM EDT

    Yesterday a Louisiana House bill that would criminalize so-called partial-birth abortions passed 104-0. Never mind that there is no such thing as partial-birth abortion, it is still mentioned by name 18 times in the three-page bill. If passed, the law will allow the sentencing of doctors who perform abortions to up to 10 years of "hard labor" and a fine of up to $100,000 (which actually seems low; why not really go for broke and slam them with million-dollar fines?). The bill would also allow the mother, father, or maternal grandparents if the woman is underage to sue the doctor for damages.

    The bill makes an exception for cases where a mother's life is threatened (but not for cases of rape and incest), which is often precisely when doctors use the technique, usually in later-term abortions, of removing a fetus from the uterus whole to avoid harm during extraction.

    This is a ban on 2nd and 3rd trimester abortions without saying as much, but it also eliminates a type of procedure that could save a woman's life at any point in her pregnancy. Does it fly in the face of Roe? Sure, but such bills are du jour: Already, 31 states ban the procedure, and now Louisiana is upping the ante, ensuring that women in their recovering state will have to search far and wide to find an abortion doctor willing to help them.

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    Forget Politics 2.0, What About Pot 2.0?

    | Wed Jun. 27, 2007 1:41 AM EDT

    At the risk of dating myself, back in 1988, when I was close to graduating from college, the average THC level in pot was 3.5 percent. And today? Well today the government says it's 8.5 percent, which is up from 7 percent in 2003. And if I scored some weed in Oregon, it's possible that I'd be buying pot that has a THC level of 33.12 percent. Clearly, as Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), scolds us, "we are not talking about the drug of the 1960s and 1970s— this is Pot 2.0."

    Ah, the 2.0 meme. We at MoJo are guilty of of exploiting it ourselves. In this case, what do these numbers mean? To this Reason says:

    As The Drug War Chronicle's Scott Morgan notes, this increase is a far cry from drug czar John Walters' 2002 claim that "the potency of available marijuana has not merely 'doubled,' but increased as much as 30 times"—a ratio that could not possibly hold true unless you were comparing the most potent marijuana money can buy to nonpsychoactive ditchweed.

    Clearly, Nick Gillespe and his crew know their chronic. Invite us to some Reason parties! Extra points if we can party with Jack Shafer.

    So different pot has different potencies. This has always been true, or I have read. But consider that the figures that NIDA quotes rely on research from the University of Mississippi's Marijuana Potency Project. As Gary Greenberg reported in MoJo back in 2005, NIDA grows pot at Ole Miss—a partnership that forms the only legal producer of marijuana in the U.S. (and an irony I'll leave to fellow fans of Terry Southern to mull over). Ole Miss bases this particular batch of research on "59,369 samples of cannabis, 1,225 hashish samples, and 443 hash oil samples" that have been confiscated since 1975.

    (Wait just a minute, what about the aforementioned pot from the 60s and [half of] the 70s?)

    But while 62K-odd samples of weed sounds like a lot and all, what of NIDA/Ole Miss' ability to assess potency? As Greenberg points out (in a piece on the affect a sprayable form of medical marijuana known as Sativex might have on both sides of the drug debate that is much more serious than this blog post), the anti-drug policies of the government have filtered down to Ole Miss' research, to the point where:

    NIDA's brown, stems-and-seeds-laden, low-potency pot—what's known on the streets as "schwag"—cannot stack up against the dense green, aromatic, and powerful sinsemilla favored by most medical marijuana patients (and grown by Sativex producer GW). Doblin asked the University of Mississippi to grow the good stuff for him, but they refused, so he approached a botanist at the University of Massachusetts, who applied to the DEA to grow research-grade pot in a 200-square-foot room in the basement of a building in Amherst. This started a whole new kind of collegiate rivalry, the Rebels squaring off against the Minutemen over the quality of their pot. In a letter to the DEA, Mississippi's botanist—after pointing out that no one had ever officially complained about the "adequacy" of their product—trumpeted recently acquired "custom-manufactured deseeding equipment" and a new stock of seeds that had allowed Ole Miss to amass more than 50,000 joints' worth of a "special batch" of high-potency, smooth-smoking weed.Three and a half years after UMass kicked off the battle—and only after a judge ordered the feds to make their decision—the Rebels prevailed, its monopoly preserved when the DEA denied UMass the license necessary to grow pot legally.

    Ya gots to love the fight for government grants. In any case, the feds have taken their potency data and used it to craft a film called "The Purple Brain" (purple being the 2.0 version of Maui wowie), which NORML is calling Reefer Madness 2.0.

    As in so many things these days, one wishes for something approximating independent analysis. I don't trust the government's research on drugs; its hyperbole and scare tactics on pot in particular seemed design to defend status quos (border and prison policies) that worsen, not solve, larger societal problems at hand. Nor do I trust NORML et al, even, and perhaps especially, when, having gotten nowhere on legalization per se, they reframe the issue as a balm for the sick and dying. Allowing medical marijuana is a no-brainer in my book, but I just think it's a little unseemly when perfectly healthy pot-positive types hide behind AIDS and cancer patients.

    The problem is that as long as the government forbids most independent marijuana studies—by limiting the ability to get the stuff legally—we're likely to remain buffeted by agendas, not guided by science.

    But meanwhile, don't those confiscated samples of pot providing some kind of trend line seem fishy on its face? Any statisticians out there?

    CIA's "Family Jewels"--All 702 Pages of Them

    | Tue Jun. 26, 2007 8:07 PM EDT

    Poison pills, mafiosos, casinos, and Cuba—sound like the plot of a mobster flick? Nope. How about the elements of the CIA's plot to assassinate Fidel Castro that began in 1960? Shady dealings carried out by the U.S. intelligence agency surfaced decades ago through leaks and disclosures made to the Church Committee, but today we get the full 702-page story. With the declassification of the "family jewels"—an internal accounting done in the wake of Watergate to document a quarter century of nefarious activities that were "outside the legislative charter" of the CIA—comes the indisputable proof that CIA leadership oversaw years of murderous schemes, kidnapping, domestic spying, and human experimentation.

    Last week, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden called the release "a glimpse of a very different time and a very different Agency." But it makes you wonder what the U.S. government will be releasing forty years from now. Probably then the revelations will be less like the Godfather and more like a creepy Orwellian thriller.

    —Celia Perry

    MCA Pimps Bad Brains

    | Tue Jun. 26, 2007 4:54 PM EDT

    It's only fitting that MCA of the Beastie Boys (Adam Yauch) pumped out the newest and ninth full-length Bad Brains' punk album, Build a Nation, which hits record stores today. The Beastie Boys first dabbled in punk before riding the rap genre all the way to stardom and, for years, Yauch has claimed that the Bad Brains were a huge influence on his music.

    Bad Brains is a band often credited with originating the hardcore sub-genre of punk rock. All four members were African American, and they mixed reggae with punk music. Some say they should have picked one or the other. I say they were, and still are, um...bad ass.

    The album is pretty damn good but it's not breaking any new ground. Much like their previous recordings, there are songs that are lightning fast, as well as slower, dub reggae ones. Lyrics float between themes of Rastafarianism and social commentary. It's a time capsule for fans of a band that, by mixing reggae and political themes with aggressive and loud music, influenced a huge chunk of what we call alternative music today.

    —Gary Moskowitz

    Global Drug Use Down, Except For...

    | Tue Jun. 26, 2007 3:32 PM EDT

    According to a U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime report, drugs are finally losing the global war on drugs. Seizures are up. Colombia's strapping coca production is down. Pot is losing popularity worldwide, and U.S. users are less interested in blow. The smuggling efforts of the occasional OC mom notwithstanding, the recent data look promising.

    Except, um, for Afghanistan, host to some 30,000 international troops, birthplace of more than 90 percent of the world's heroin, where the province of Helmand alone is now cultivating three times as much opium as the entire second-largest-producing country, military junta- and general chaos-ruled Burma, which isn't even occupied by the Red Cross.

    Though drug enforcement successes have thwarted some traditional trafficking routes, the report states, smugglers are instead setting their sights on Africa as the hot new transport spot. So, users and pushers, take heart: Even if average production is down, the ease with which goods move around a global marketplace should keep prices on their hard two-decade decline. Happy International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking!

    —Nicole McClelland