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Perfect Storm of Perfect Plagues

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 6:22 PM EDT

Doktorschnabel_430px.jpg Guess what else global climate change can do? Create a perfect epidemiological storm with enough power to take heretofore innocuous diseases and turn them into perfect plagues. A new study in Plos ONE reveals how extreme climatic conditions can alter normal host-pathogen relationships, causing a "perfect storm" of multiple infectious outbreaks to trigger epidemics with catastrophic mortality.

Outbreaks of canine distemper virus (CDV) in lions in 1994 and 2001 resulted in unusually high mortality of lions in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. In the past, CDV epidemics caused little or no harm to the lions. But the outbreaks of 1994 and 2001 were preceded by extreme droughts that caused Cape buffalo to become heavily infested with ticks. When the lions ate the buffalo, they consumed unusually high levels of tick-borne blood parasites.

In the drought years, the CDV suppressed the lions' immune systems and also combined with the heavy levels of blood parasites. The merger created a fatal synergy. In 1994 more than 35 percent of Serengeti lions died. About the same number perished in the Ngorongoro Crater in 2001.

Unspoken but implied: Our own little witch's brew of ticks and viruses is waiting for wetter or hotter or dryer or fierier years to come together and make us suffer too… The world is too complicated for the simpletons who've been running it and, alas, there is no bloodsucker that feeds on stupidity.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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Arnold Has Had Enough of Your Offshore Drilling Nonsense

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 5:00 PM EDT

Not all environmentally friendly Republicans get along. Here's California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) at the Florida Climate Change Summit in Miami, hosted by Governor Charlie Crist (also R), who recently made a strong bid to save the everglades:

"Politicians have been throwing around all kinds of ideas in response to the skyrocketing energy prices, from the rethinking of nuclear power to pushing biofuels and more renewables and ending the ban on offshore drilling, it goes on and on the list. But, anyone who tells you this will lower our gas prices anytime soon is blowing smoke."

Haha, whoops. John McCain supports offshore drilling because it will help Americans psychologically with high gas prices, and Gov. Schwarzenegger's host, Gov. Crist, recently switched his position to match the party's nominee. For more on offshore drilling, uh, read MoJoBlog.

House Judiciary Committee To Subpoena Mukasey

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 2:43 PM EDT

Rep. John Conyers is the quintessential congressional Democrat. He's polite and gracious and knows how things work on the Hill. For the past year, he's been patiently sending off a variety of polite and gracious letters to Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking if, please, he wouldn't mind handing over to the House Judiciary Committee a bunch of documents related to various investigations it's conducting on such topics as the New Hampshire phone jamming case or the enforcement record of the Justice Department's civil rights division. Not so graciously, Mukasey has all but told the elder statesman to blow away.

So in May, Conyers got serious and told Mukasey that if he didn't respond to some of these document requests by the 16th, Conyers was going to have to issue a subpoena. The 16th came and went and still no documents. Conyers sent one last letter on June 18 making basically the same request, and once again, Mukasey ignored him. So now Conyers, it seems, is going to make good on his threat. The subcommittee on commercial and administrative law, chaired by Rep. Linda Sanchez, voted today to authorize the full Judiciary Committee to issue the subpoenas, the first step in forcing Justice to be overseen by Congress. Sanchez said in a statement, "The Department of Justice is trying to run out the clock on congressional investigations of possible misconduct. We have taken this step because the Department has indicated that it will not voluntarily comply with Congress' constitutionally mandated oversight role. There are questions in various investigations that the American people deserve to have answered."

Yoo and Addington Visit Congress, Say Nothing

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 2:29 PM EDT

Today's House Judiciary Committee questioning of John Yoo and David Addington, architects of the Bush Administration's interrogation policies, was not impressive.

Yoo was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel and Addington was and is Dick Cheney's consigliere. They were present at the formation of the administration's policies on which interrogation tactics are permissible and which are not, and they have spent the six or seven years since revisiting, studying, and defending those policies. Some of the congressmen questioning them weren't even in Congress when the policies were formed, and none of them have focused on these issues full-time.

As a result, the questioning was at times laughably one-sided. Addington often showed his questioners little respect, and deliberately provided long and unnecessary citations to chew up their allotted time. Despite his reputation as a whip smart lawyer, he repeatedly claimed to not remember certain key meetings or events. Yoo, either because he has a greater sense of shame or because he is simply a less artful participant in the hearings dance, would admit that he did know certain things but that he couldn't specify them because the Department of Justice had prohibited him in advance for doing so.

White House Won't Read Emails About Global Warming

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 12:55 PM EDT

What does the White House do when you send it an email about the need to control CO2 emissions? Refuse to read the email, of course. If you still need convincing that our country is run by toddlers, head on over to The Blue Marble and read all about it.

Supreme Court Overturns DC Handgun Ban

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 11:28 AM EDT

handgun-250x200.jpg

So much for that vaunted era of good will on the Roberts court. The media have been suggesting all year that after all its splintered, contentious decisions in 2007, the Supreme Court's conservative majority has been working hard to find some common ground with the liberals and to just get along better for the good of the country. The story line seemed to hold up all term, as the court issued one 6-3 or 7-1 decision after another. But today, the court issued a whopper of a 5-4 decision that split entirely on ideological grounds. Saving the biggest case for last, the court ended the term by releasing its opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court upheld a lower court ruling invalidating the District's strict ban on handgun ownership.

The case was unusual in large part because the court hasn't ruled on a Second Amendment case in 70 years, but also because the Solicitor General—the legal arm of the Bush administration at the court—supported the District, while the Vice President entered into the case on his own to recommend overturning the city's gun ban. During the oral arguments in the spring, the justices spent a great deal of time mulling over whether early settlers in this country would have needed guns to protect themselves from grizzly bears or for hunting, a sign that the right to bear arms extended beyond the well-regulated militia identified in the language of the Second Amendment. So it's no surprise that hunting figures prominently in the majority opinion, written by Justice Scalia, who has, of course, spent a great deal of time hunting with the vice president.

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Federal Investigations of Pentagon Intrigues: Don't Forget the Chalabi Leak

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 7:56 AM EDT

Regarding my recent articles on signs of a federal investigation seemingly looking at at least one Pentagon official, a colleague reminded me of the following. That the Defense Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency did forward a crimes report to the Justice Department on the question of who leaked to Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi the allegation that the U.S. had broken Iran's communications codes in Iraq, a detail which Chalabi allegedly shared with his Iranian intelligence interlocutor.

For instance, revisit this Newsweek piece:

Spring Cleaning at the FBI

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 9:20 PM EDT

The FBI maintains a total of 300,000 cubic feet of historical documents and records, in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts.

But apparently, freedom of information is also subject to spring-cleaning.

Among the guidelines for determining documents worth hanging on to is the "fat file theory," positing that heft is somehow correlated to importance.

Obama's Campaign Manager Displays the Confidence that Comes with $300 Million

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 4:47 PM EDT

David Plouffe looks ready to roll. At a Washington, D.C., press conference, Barack Obama's campaign manager surveyed the general election political landscape for several dozen reporters, and he spoke confidently, like a man who will have the money to do all that he believes is necessary and optional. Which he is, because he can expect to have $200 to $300 million to deploy--now that Obama has decided to sidestep the public financing system (which awards $85 million to party nominees) and raise much more from individual donors.

Plouffe repeatedly noted that the Obama campaign will have the resources to challenge John McCain in practically every state and to pursue multiple strategies for victory. That is, the campaign can attempt to win by holding on to every state John Kerry won in 2004 and swinging only Ohio from R to D, or it could win by bagging Iowa plus Colorado and New Mexico. Or how about losing Pennsylvania but winning Virginia and North Carolina? Plouffe claimed that Obama was already competitive in states that are not traditionally Democratic in presidential races, such as Alaska and Montana and that he can make a run at McCain in Georgia (where Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr, a former GOP congressman from Georgia, might draw votes from McCain). Plouffe has the money to invest in a number of game plans--to run ads and set up staff in various states. And as the election approaches, he will be able to determine which states to stick with or abandon. He's in a candy store with plenty of allowance.

How will he use the money? Plouffe told the reporters that a top priority is to "shift the electorate." He wants to spend a lot on registering African-Americans and voters under the age of 40 to "readjust the electorate" in assorted states so the voting pools in these states are more pro-Obama. "A couple of points here, a couple of points there," he says, and red states can go blue. Especially smaller states, where a swing of 10,000 votes could be decisive. And, he emphasized, his campaign will have sufficient resources to identify the people it needs to register, contact them directly, and mount targeted get-out-the-vote efforts. The campaign, he said, is not just going to set up registration tables outside community events.

Feingold and Dodd Take to the Floor of the Senate

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 3:03 PM EDT

Last night, Chris Dodd took to the floor of the Senate and made an impassioned plea to his colleagues not to support the House FISA legislation. The video, and text are available here.

Earlier today, Russell Feingold followed suit, in words that echoed his remarks in response to my question at a New America Foundation event on Monday. Here's a snippet:

This legislation has been billed as a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. We are asked to support it because it is a supposedly reasonable accommodation of opposing views. Let me respond as clearly as possible: This bill is not a compromise. It is a capitulation. This bill will effectively and unjustifiably grant immunity to companies that allegedly participated in an illegal wiretapping program – a program that more than 70 members of this body still know virtually nothing about. And this bill will grant the Bush Administration – the same administration that developed and operated this illegal program for more than five years – expansive new authorities to spy on Americans' international communications. If you don't believe me, here is what Senator Bond had to say about the bill: "I think the White House got a better deal than even they had hoped to get." And House Minority Whip Roy Blunt said this: "The lawsuits will be dismissed. There is simply no question that Democrats who had previously stood strong against immunity and in support of civil liberties were on the losing end of this backroom deal."
I think it's safe to say that even many who voted for the Protect America Act last year came to believe it was a mistake to pass that legislation. And while the House deserves credit for refusing to pass the Senate bill in February, and for securing the changes that are in this new bill, this bill is also a serious mistake…Mr. President, the immunity provision is a key reason for that. It is a key reason for my opposition to this legislation and for that of so many of my colleagues and so many Americans. No one should be fooled about the effect of this bill. Under its terms, the companies that allegedly participated in the illegal wiretapping program will walk away from these lawsuits with immunity. There is simply no question about it, and anyone who says that this bill preserves a meaningful role for the courts to play in deciding these cases is wrong…But I'm concerned that the focus on immunity has diverted attention away from the other very important issues at stake in this legislation. In the long run, I don't believe this will be remembered as the 'immunity' bill. This legislation is going to be remembered as the legislation in which Congress granted the executive branch the power to sweep up all of our international communications with very few controls or oversight.

On the other hand, moments ago Diane Feinstein just announced that she's read the Department of Justice's legal memos, the written requests from the White House to the telecommunications firms, and met with representatives from those firms, and after contemplating that balanced body of information, has decided to support the legislation.