2009 - %3, June

Who Resurrected the F-22?

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 10:35 AM EDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Jun. 22, 2009 11:17 AM EDT

Last week the House Armed Services Committee approved, by a mere one-vote margin, more money for the F-22 fighter jet. (Too bad the plane's not as invincible in the air as it is in Congress). This is one of the programs that the Obama administration most wants to cut, and so the vote was basically the committee's way of collectively mooning Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his audacious suggestion that we should do something about the bloated defense budget.

Who are the lawmakers keeping the F-22 on life-support? All of the committee's Republican members voted for extra funding for the planes, in addition to six Dems, all from states where some part of the F-22 is manufactured. Travis Sharp at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation has the full list here. And for more on how the Gates budget is faring on Capitol Hill, check out our special report on defense spending—first installment here.

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Best in Blog: 22 June 2009

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 10:33 AM EDT

Was Sunday's calm the beginning of the end in Iran, or just the calm before the storm? This video of a teenage girl being gunned down suggests the latter. Meanwhile, the EPA declared an environmental emergency in Montana, there's beef in KFC chicken, and Tuesday's debut of the film New Muslim Cool shows how Bush-era Islamophobia affected one Latino family's daily life.

EPA Declares Environmental Emergency in Libby

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 9:55 AM EDT

Nine years ago, Mother Jones reported on the damage done to the town of Libby, Montana, and its inhabitants by the asbestos in W.R. Grace's nearby mine. In 2008, Grace settled with the people sickened and killed and their families for some $3 billion. Last Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency finally declared an environmental emergency in Libby, invoking a clause of the 1980 Superfund law for the first time in the agency's history. The EPA will spend over $100 million trying to clean up the town. 

The EPA declaration represents some long-delayed good news for the people of Libby. But if they were hoping for accountability for Grace's executives, they're out of luck. Federal prosecutors brought charges against four Grace employees for criminal conspiracy to cover up the risks from the asbestos contamination from the company's mine. But three execs were acquitted, and charges against the final Grace defendant, O. Mario Favorito, were dismissed last week. It now seems that no one will go to jail for the conduct that has been linked to the deaths of over 200 people and the sickening of thousands more.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 22, 2009

Mon Jun. 22, 2009 9:37 AM EDT

Scouts from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), pull overwatch during Operation Destined Strike while 2nd Platoon, Able Company searches a village below the Chowkay Valley in Kunar Province, Afghanistan Aug. 22. (Photo courtesy army.mil).

Best in Blog: 22 June 2009

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 9:22 AM EDT

Was Sunday's calm the beginning of the end in Iran, or just the calm before the storm? This video of a teenage girl being gunned down suggests the latter. Meanwhile, the EPA declared an environmental emergency in Montana, there's beef in KFC chicken, and Tuesday's debut of the film New Muslim Cool shows how Bush-era Islamophobia affected one Latino family's daily life. Happy Monday!

Eco-News Roundup: Monday, June 22

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Yesterday marked the summer solstice. What better way to usher in the warm weather than with the environment, science, and health news from our other blogs?

Yours, for the low, low price of $70: Republicans estimated the cap-and-trade provision in the Waxman-Markey bill would cost each American thousands. The real price tag? About $70 per person.

The VAT came back: Kevin Drum's glad to see value-added tax (similar to a national sales tax) back on the table as a possible way to partially fund national healthcare. Meanwhile, James Ridgeway explains why health co-ops would be a cop out

Dubious survey of the day: That new poll that says Americans want to be able to choose between private and public plans? Meh. 

 

 

 

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Weird Weather Watch: Siberian Heat Wave

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

If you know anything about Siberia, it is that Siberia is cold . You may also associate it with gulags, Stalin, or the USSR's forced relocation of various ethnic groups, but even if you don't, the cold you've heard about. In fact, Siberia is home to Oymyakon, a hamlet of 800, and the coldest continuously inhabited place on the planet.

This past winter, Oymyakon hosted droves of Russian reporters in huge fur jackets who had come to report on an especially cold winter. Twice, temperatures dropped to -60.2 C, or nearly -86 F, marking one of the coldest winters the village of once-nomadic reindeer herders has suffered in nearly a century.  It was so cold, Russia Today reported, that human life virtually ground to a halt. 

 

But not these days. Today (which is really tomorrow there) , and yesterday, and for the past two weeks, Oymyakon has been in the grips of an unprecedented heatwave. On Thursday, temperatures were recorded at just under 32 C, or nearly 90 degrees. (32.6 C is the highest ever recorded temperature), with weekend temperatues in the high 80s.

What does it mean? This past Tuesday, the White House released a report saying that global warming has already begun to affect Americans . Could climate change be altering Siberia's famous frigidity too?

What's Next in Iran?

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 1:46 AM EDT

The BBC reports that a day after Saturday's crackdown in Tehran, things were quiet on Sunday.  The Guardian suggests this might be the beginning of the end:

Protesters who have shaken the authorities by venting anger en masse at the "stolen" elections that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office spoke of a hiatus, even a despair, settling on the movement after yesterday's Saturday's clashes killed at least 10 and wounded scores more.

But in Time, Robin Wright says this may be the calm before the storm, partly thanks to the widely circulated video of a woman known as "Neda" being gunned down on Saturday:

Although it is not yet clear who shot "Neda" (a soldier? pro-government militant? an accidental misfiring?), her death may have changed everything. For the cycles of mourning in Shiite Islam actually provide a schedule for political combat — a way to generate or revive momentum. Shiite Muslims mourn their dead on the third, seventh and 40th days after a death, and these commemorations are a pivotal part of Iran's rich history.

....Shiite mourning is not simply a time to react with sadness. Particularly in times of conflict, it is also an opportunity for renewal. The commemorations for "Neda" and the others killed this weekend are still to come. And the 40th day events are usually the largest and most important.

If Wright is correct, Tuesday could be a pivotal day.  Stay tuned.

Letter from a Protester in Iran

| Sun Jun. 21, 2009 9:21 PM EDT

Another dispatch from Tehran, this one from an Iranian protester, the friend of Iranian American grad student (and former MoJo intern) Matteen Mokolla. Translated in full:

 

Iran Update

| Sun Jun. 21, 2009 3:03 PM EDT

The New York Times: "Estimates of the death toll in clashes [Saturday] between security forces and demonstrators protesting what they called a fraudulent presidential election varied. State television said that 10 had died, while radio reports said 19 people had been killed.  Major streets and squares of Tehran were saturated with police and Basij militia forces. There were reports of scattered confrontations with the police, but there was no confirmation of any new injuries Sunday evening.".....LA Times: "There was uncertainty over what might unfold next. Would protesters rally again despite the government's blunt warnings it would use force to clear the streets, as they did Saturday? Or were both sides recalibrating strategies to keep the nation from sliding into further chaos?"

Juan Cole: "The regime has arrested Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, daughter of the former president, who spoke at a pro-Mousavi rally, along with 4 other members of that family. This step is typical of an old Iranian ruling technique, of keeping provincial tribal chieftains in check by keeping some of their children hostage at the royal court."

Roger Cohen reporting from Tehran: "I don’t know where this uprising is leading. I do know some police units are wavering.".....Shahram Kholdi: "There is a division in the ranks of the police, which in a way is a good sign. Two close friends [...] were stopped at a check point and their car trunk was full of posters and green bands. The constables took them to their immediate commander who confiscated all the material and ordered them to be arrested. However, as they were taken to another check point where the district commander was, he overruled his superiors [...] As they got in the car to leave the station, the district commander told them that they have to be extra careful and told them Movaffagh Bashid (meaning roughly 'good luck').".....Andrew Sullivan: "Just watch this pitched battle in the streets between a crowd and the riot police (via BBC Farsi). And watch it to the very end, as the police suddenly turn tail and run."

Chatham House on irregularities in the vote: "The massive increases from 2005, the collapse of regional variations, and the absence of any clear correlation between increases in turnout and increased support for any candidate on their own make the results problematic.".....BBC: "Iranian authorities have asked the BBC's correspondent in Tehran to leave the country within 24 hours."

Al Arabiya: "Iran's religious clerks in Qom and members of the Assembly of Experts, headed by former President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, are mulling the formation of an alternative collective leadership to replace that of the supreme leader, sources in Qom told Al Arabiya on condition of anonymity.".....The Lede: "More splintering among Iran’s clerics is reported by Reuters.".....Fareed Zakaria: "Something very important has been laid bare in Iran today — legitimacy does not flow from divine authority but from popular support.".....Bill Clinton: "Basically, this is about a government trying to deny the modern world."