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Iraq Hoarding Oil Revenue While U.S. Pays For Reconstruction

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 2:53 PM EDT

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Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq, in testimony (.pdf) this morning before the Senate Armed Services committee, heralded increased Iraqi investment in its own reconstruction, noting $18 billion in pending budget allocations by the government in Baghdad and assuring lawmakers that "the era of U.S. funded major infrastructure projects is over." This would surely be welcome news to committee chairman Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, if only he could bring himself to believe it.

Levin, along with Senator John Warner (R-Va.), has for months been expressing concern that the U.S. continues to shoulder the majority of Iraq's reconstruction costs at a time when Iraqi oil exports are finally producing sufficient revenue for the Baghdad government to begin shouldering a greater part of the financial burden. Last month, the senators asked the GAO to conduct a study of Iraq's oil business to determine just how much reconstruction spending should be transferred to the Iraqi side. Indeed, basic details such as total Iraqi oil revenues since 2003, how much of it has been spent on reconstruction and security, and how much the Iraqi government has deposited in banks around the world remain unclear, as do projections for expected revenues from oil exports for the coming year.

In their letter to the GAO's David Walker, Levin and Warner cite pre-Iraq invasion assurances from the Bush administration that Iraq would be able to pay for its own reconstruction. "The oil revenues of that country could bring in between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years," Paul Wolfowitz told Congress in March 2003. "We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon." This, of course, like almost every other Bush administration contention, turned out to be untrue. But today, five years after the invasion, Iraqi oil revenues may finally be reaching the levels required to finance major projects. According to Levin and Warner, Iraq is estimated to have netted $41 billion from oil exports in 2007 and is on track to make $56 billion for the current year, for a total exceeding $100 billion over two years—not exactly chump change.

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Hillary Clinton's New Ad Blitz: Some Good, Some Bad

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 12:50 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton is up with five new ads in Pennsylvania. One of them seems to be a product of Mark Penn's departure: her former chief strategist was reportedly opposed to "humanizing" Clinton, and thus would have probably blocked this very good ad:

But the ad's aren't flawless. Look at the text on the screen at the 0:20 second mark in this ad.

Easy joke: maybe Mark Penn was in charge of spell-checking.

Sunni/Shiite Mix Up: Did John McCain Just Do It Again?

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 11:45 AM EDT

Questioning General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in an on-going Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing, John McCain just tried to reaffirm al Qaeda's importance by asking if it was "a minor Shiite group... or minor Sunni group, or anybody else." He was clearly trying to draw out a "no," but that's not the point. The point is that McCain still doesn't seem to understand al Qaeda is a Sunni group.

Most foreign policy experts have known this since the '90s. Those that didn't, found out on 9/12/01. How is McCain doing this over and over and over?

I'm stunned. I'm going to have to check the video when it's available to see if I have this right.

Update: I was close. Here's the transcript:

MCCAIN: Do you still view al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?
PETRAEUS: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was say 15 months ago.
MCCAIN: Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shi'ites overall?
PETREAUS: No.
MCCAIN: Or Sunnis or anybody else.

Video after the jump.

House Republicans Try Wishing Away Housing Crisis

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 10:41 AM EDT

Last month, before members of Congress headed back home for the spring recess, House Republican leaders distributed a "recess kit" to help members for their "district work session." The kit provided members with talking points and reference materials to help them stay on message while dealing with constituents back home. The kit covered such topics as "the urgency of entitlement reform," the "Bipartisan Border Security Discharge Petition," the Columbia Free Trade Agreement, and suggested a variety of strategies for bashing Democrats on taxes. Conspicuously absent, though, was the one issue on everyone's mind right now: the foreclosure crisis.

Even as analysts were predicting that 2 million people were likely to lose their homes, and as the BBC burned up the Internet with its broadcast on "Bushvilles"--the tent cities sprouting up in California, full of former homeowners, Republican House members didn't think the issue warranted much attention. A spokesperson from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office told The Hill that the glaring omission was "appalling." Constituents back home, apparently, set most members straight on the issue.

Protest the Olympics? The Conundrum for San Francisco Liberals

| Tue Apr. 8, 2008 12:00 AM EDT

On the surface, San Franciscans seem poised to approach Wednesday's Olympics torch relay much as thousands of progressive activists did on Monday in France: Paris City Hall unfurled its banner supporting human rights "everywhere in the world;" San Francisco Democrat Chris Daly passed his resolution in the city's Board of Supervisors to accept China's torch "with alarm and protest." Nous sommes toutes gauchistes. Or maybe not. Unfortunately, the similarity between Paris and the "Paris of the West" might have less do with politics right now than the prevalence of decent croissants.

Last week, Daly told me he'd begun to detect intimations of a leftist backlash against the Olympics protests. San Francisco activists wondered if challenging China's human rights record made sense when America was occupying Iraq and stuffing bean holes in Gitmo. As mainstream politicians (and some pundits on the Right) have embraced the the idea of protest, the backlash has grown even louder in the comments sections of progressive blogs, on liberal sites such as OpEdNews, and in the conspicuous silence of typical agitators. While the leftist Paris daily Liberation proclaims, "Liberate the Olympic Games," the homepage of the leftist weekly Bay Guardian currently offers no mention of the protests at all (a top headline: "Metal Mania!").

Tomorrow night in San Francisco, the ANSWER Coalition, a national anti-war group, will hold a meeting aimed at convincing activists to stay home during the torch relay. Organizer Nathalie Hrizi sees in the global outrage over China's human rights record the shadowy hand of Bush, Pelosi, and the CIA. In her view, the Dalai Lama is a "member of a feudal aristocracy that had slaves until 1959" and not worth defending. "There is sort of a hysteria being generated about the torch and China," she said. "And it's similar--very similar--to demonization campaigns that the U.S. government has used as a preface to war--for instance, Iraq."

CO2 Maps Highlight Worst Offenders

| Mon Apr. 7, 2008 10:06 PM EDT

A new, high-resolution, interactive map of US carbon dioxide emissions finds unexpected trouble spots. Too many emissions have been blamed on the northeastern US when the southeastern US is a much larger source than previously estimated. This according to Kevin Gurney at Purdue University, project leader. The maps and system, called Vulcan, show CO2 emissions at more than 100 times more detail than was available before. Previously, CO2 emissions data were reported, at best, monthly at a state level. Vulcan examines CO2 emissions hourly at local levels. Below is a great YouTube video of how it works, told in Geek, but probably understandable to nonGeek speakers or those with Geek as a Second Language. Look hard enough and you can almost find your own tailpipe in the maps.

The three-year project was funded by NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy under the North American Carbon Program, and involved researchers from Purdue University, Colorado State University and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Vulcan will revolutionize carbon cycle research. It's considered the next generation in our understanding of fossil fuel emissions, with enormous implications for climate science, carbon trading and climate change mitigation work.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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TV: The Weekend in Sci-Fi

| Mon Apr. 7, 2008 9:31 PM EDT

mojo-photo-battlelogo.gifmojo-photo-torchlogo.gifIf you were out and about this weekend and noticed a lower ratio of geeks hanging around than usual, there were two reasons why: the season premier of Battlestar Galactica on Sci-Fi Friday, and a hyped episode of Torchwood on BBC America Saturday, its third-to-the-last before the season finale. So, how were they, and was there any significant political/religious allegory or sexual identity boundary breaking, respectively?

After the jump: flying away from Earth makes my head hurt, and seeing it burned to a crisp makes me holler.

Small Nuclear Exchange Would Make Global Ozone Hole

| Mon Apr. 7, 2008 9:30 PM EDT

509px-Nagasakibomb.jpg A limited nuclear weapons exchange between Pakistan and India using their current arsenals could create a near-global ozone hole, triggering human health problems and wreaking environmental havoc for at least a decade. According to a new computer modeling study from Brian Toon and Michael Mills of the University of Colorado Boulder, the ozone losses would be much larger than losses estimated in previous "nuclear winter" and "ultraviolet spring" scenarios.

A nuclear war between the two countries involving 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear devices on each side would cause massive urban fires and loft as much as 5 million metric tons of soot about 50 miles into the stratosphere. The soot would absorb enough solar radiation to heat surrounding gases, setting in motion a series of chemical reactions that would break down the stratospheric ozone layer protecting Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation—including ozone losses of 25 percent to 40 percent at mid-latitudes, and 50 to 70 percent at northern high latitudes.

Two 2006 studies led by Toon showed that such a small-scale regional nuclear war could produce as many fatalities as all of World War II and disrupt global climate for a decade or more. A nuclear exchange involving 100 15-kiloton, Hiroshima-type weapons is only 0.03 percent of the total explosive power of the world's nuclear arsenal, he said.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Beyond Propaganda: New Republic Rolls Out BP-Sponsored Enviro Blog

| Mon Apr. 7, 2008 8:20 PM EDT

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So, The New Republic has added a new blog to its roster: the Environment & Energy blog, which is sponsored, nay "powered," by BP. (Quips blogger Andrew Daniller: "I assumed their whole magazine was sponsored by military contractors.") Maybe this is where the blogosphere is headed, magazines selling off their real estate like major league ballparks, to the highest bidder. And we're all for creative ways to bring in revenue to support the cause, but there's a qualitative difference between running BP ads in a magazine and having the BP logo emblazoned on all energy and environment content—i.e. all the content that could relate to BP. Certainly the sponsorship raises issues of editorial-advertising line-blurring, potential self-censorship, the deterioration of journalistic self-respect, etc.

The company formerly known as British Petroleum (it now prefers "beyond petroleum"), despite furious rebranding efforts, has a typically abysmal environmental record: "Although BP put $500 million into solar power between 2000 and 2005, it spent $8.4 billion exploring and producing petroleum in 2004 alone." And BP at one time lobbied hard to open ANWR to drilling. Then again, so did TNR, asserting in 2002 that the plan to drill in the wildlife refuge "would almost certainly cause little environmental damage."

So what are environmentally- and ethically-minded TNR staffers to do? It's already a bit late for a preemptive strike against the sponsorship (like the one last year at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, where gutsy reporters rebelled and sunk a management-hatched plan to allow FedEx to sponsor a series on world business). BP must see the TNR blog as a relatively safe forum, one where it won't face persistent, searing criticism. So why not test BP's assumption? Why not scrutinize and heap journalistic abuse on BP and Big Oil till they can't take it anymore? TNR staffer Bradford Plumer engaged BP a bit today, calling out the company for "shamefully working behind the scenes in Congress to oppose strong climate legislation." That's a start.

—Justin Elliott

Hillary Calls for a Boycott of Olympics Opening Ceremony

| Mon Apr. 7, 2008 6:26 PM EDT

In what might be perceived as a duck for political cover after the Mark Penn controversy, Hillary Clinton today called for Bush to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics. She cited China's crackdown on Tibetans and failure to speak out against genocide in Darfur. "These events underscore why I believe the Bush Administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China," she said.

Though her qualms with Bush are valid, why didn't Clinton say the same thing about her husband ten years ago? In 1997, Sen. Russ Feingold (but not Hillary) criticized Bill Clinton for failing to press China to end the repression in Tibet. Soon afterwards, the Clintons, with the support of Republicans, pushed to end the policy of reviewing China's human rights record when making decisions about trade relations.

Given that the Penn fiasco also involves an international trade deal, Clinton's new position on the Olympics--however well-justified--looks like an effort to reassure her blue collar base. Will she go so far as to say liberalizing trade relations with China without any major human rights conditions was a mistake? It's certainly a more important question than whether to boycott a sporting event.