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Homeland Security Builds Fence to Enforce Law; Waives Law to Build Fence

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 3:00 PM EDT

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A month ago, Julia Whitty wrote that the government might be moving towards a saner approach to the border fence—environmentally speaking, anyway. Yesterday's news was not so sunny (and not so sane): the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will waive a host of federal environmental regulations in order to complete nearly 700 miles of border fence by the end of the year.

DHS insists that "the department remains deeply committed to environmental responsibility, and will continue to work closely with the Department of Interior and other federal and state resources management agencies to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized." Hard to see how they can possibly argue this when they plan to ignore the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and 28 other pieces of legislation whose scope includes everything from desert protection to Native American rights.

I wish I could say that this will be a tough sell, especially in those border communities already chafing at the government's heavy hand. But, sadly, it won't, because they don't have to sell it at all. The Department's authority comes directly from Congress, which amended a section of a 1996 law to allow the head of Homeland Security to waive regulations at his sole discretion. In short, legislators are so determined to build a fence that they'll ignore the ongoing, unified opposition of local leaders and environmental groups, and flout the law in order to enforce it.

Update: In the "nothing money can't buy" department, The Texas Observer reports that the fence will skip property owned by a major Bush donor.

—Casey Miner

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user jcarter.

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Time's Breaking News: Ethanol Is Bad

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 2:19 PM EDT

Time's cover story this week debunks the idea that ethanol holds the promise of clean energy. But that's old news, right? Back in November, Mother Jones' "The Ethanol Effect" broke down America's newest cash crop, kernel by kernel. It reveals that growing one acre of corn requires 110 gallons of gasoline, and that ethanol's net energy output is far less than that of conventional fuel. Check out all the raw numbers here.

—Celia Perry

Yoo Memo Released: What's Left to Get Angry About?

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 1:59 PM EDT

abu-ghraib-photo-yoo.jpg The Yoo memo that is making headlines today isn't anything new. We've known the content of this "torture memo" for quite some time. Sent to the Pentagon by John Yoo, then a deputy in the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel, in 2003, the memo provided the legal foundation for the DOD's "aggressive interrogations," including waterboarding. The primary justification was simple: If the president wants to do something in a war, it's legal. Or, as the Washington Post puts it today in a front page article, the memo "contends that numerous laws and treaties forbidding torture or cruel treatment should not apply to U.S. interrogations in foreign lands because of the president's inherent wartime powers."

The secondary justifications aren't much better. If an American serviceman hurt a detainee in an interrogation, he or she could argue a "national and international version of the right to self-defense," because the interrogation was intended to procure information that would prevent further attacks on America. The memo ruled with completely confidence that Congress has no jurisdiction over interrogations and that the Geneva Conventions (and all other treaties governing behavior during wartime) are irrelevant.

The reason the memo is in the news now is because it has finally been declassified and can be read in full. (You can view it at the Post's website.)

Marty Lederman, a former lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel, has read it and says it basically authorizes "a law-free zone." His thoughts are here. Emily Bazelon of Slate has done the same and finds the "air of uttery certainty" breathtaking. Kevin Drum notes that "there was nothing in it that compromised national security either then or now. The only thing it compromised was the president's desire not to have to defend his own policies."

At this point, there's just no outrage left. Everything we learn about the administration now is simply part of a massive educational process about how not to run the executive branch.

The Dating Balance of Southern Maine; The Huge Imbalance of Southern California

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 12:13 PM EDT

Working in the D.C. bureau of Mother Jones, instead of the San Francisco home office, has some interesting benefits...

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From Richard Florida, who accompanies the map with interesting commentary. (He's got lots of other neat stuff, too.) Spotted on The Plank.

U.S. Army, Marines Say Op Tempo Harming Readiness

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 12:04 PM EDT

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Senior officers from the nation's four military branches testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, where the U.S. Army and Marine Corps—the two branches that have borne the brunt of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan—warned that the current operational tempo is straining their capabilities to the breaking point.

The stronger warning came from General Richard A. Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, who characterized the Army's current stress level as "a significant risk" to the future of the all-volunteer military. From his prepared statement (.pdf):

Today's Army is out of balance. The current demand on our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds the sustainable supply and limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies... Current operational requirements for forces and insufficient time between deployments require a focus on counterinsurgency training and equipping to the detriment of preparedness for the full range of military missions.
Equipment used repeatedly in harsh environments is wearing out more rapidly than programmed. Army support systems, designed for the pre-9/11 peacetime Army, are straining under the accumulation of stress from six years at war. Overall, our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it. If unaddressed, this lack of balance poses a significant risk to the All-Volunteer Force and degrades the Army's ability to make a timely response to other contingencies.

The Record-Breaking Success of ActBlue

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 10:56 AM EDT

Online fundraising website ActBlue had its best day ever yesterday, raising $799,827.60 for progressive House, Senate, and presidential candidates. What's particularly remarkable is ActBlue's growth: its haul yesterday was almost as much money as the site brought in during its entire first year.

You can learn more about ActBlue here.

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Iranian Who Brokered Iraqi Peace Is on U.S. Terrorist Watch List

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 10:41 AM EDT

Oops:

Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who helped U.S.-backed Iraqi leaders negotiate a deal with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to stop the fighting in Iraq's largely Shiite south, is named on U.S. Treasury Department and U.N. Security Council watch lists for alleged involvement in terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear and missile technology...
Suleimani, about whom little is known publicly, commands the elite Quds (Jerusalem) force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. U.S. officials allege that the force is responsible for sending sophisticated roadside bombs, known as explosively formed projectiles, and other weaponry that Iran's Shiite allies in Iraq sometimes have used to kill U.S. troops...
Iraqi lawmakers said that Suleimani had participated in weekend meetings in the Iranian holy city of Qom that resulted in Sadr ordering his followers to draw back after nearly a week of clashes with government troops.

More background here.

Jesse Ventura Update (Not Running for Prez)

| Wed Apr. 2, 2008 9:22 AM EDT

This will be your last Jesse Ventura post for 2008, hopefully. Speculation about Ventura running for president was ill-founded. He used his appearance on Larry King Live to tell America three things: (1) He supports Ron Paul. (2) He'd rather vote for "none of the above" than McCain, Obama, or Clinton. (3) He'd like to run for president, but it's too late to get in the race and he'd never raise enough money.

And now we're done with this weird little subplot.

Cheaper, More Reliable Solar?

| Tue Apr. 1, 2008 10:34 PM EDT

feature_solar1.jpg It's appearing in the form of solar thermal. Instead of converting sunlight to electricity, solar thermal, also called concentrated solar power, harness the sun's energy by converting sunlight to heat with the help of mirrors. This according to a great piece in the current Geotimes, magazine of the American Geological Institute. Some plants use curved mirrors, known as parabolic troughs, to focus sunlight onto pipes filled with circulating oil that circulate and heat steam to power a standard generator. In another system, solar power towers use large fields of sun-tracking mirrors that focus solar energy onto a receiver on top of a central tower. The intense energy concentrated onto the tower produces temperatures up to 2,732 degrees Fahrenheit, which then heats water to produce steam and drive a turbine to generate electricity. Many newer plants use insulated tanks filled with molten salt for heat storage, which provide power on cloudy days and at night—addressing the ephemeral nature of solar power.

Seems the searing West just might be the place for a lot more solar thermal.

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.

A Former GI's Perspective on the War Mea Culpas

| Tue Apr. 1, 2008 9:15 PM EDT

Be sure to read Greg Mitchell's excellent piece on the media's failings in covering both the Iraq War and the run up to it. He's almost entirely right that the we've been unthinking hawks, lap dogs, and sorta cowardly, but there have been some 'come to Jesus' moments among journalists as we contemplate the war's fifth anniversary.

In particular, I was surprised and impressed by Slate's hawks critiquing their own role in supporting the war, 20-20 hindsight being what it is. They were brave and pretty hard on themselves. It would be easy to 'stay the course' a la you know who, but they dropped plenty of dimes on themselves. It's called "Why did we get it wrong?"

While you're piling on us, don't forget 9/11 itself; even we narcissistic journos got all patriotic after that happened. I even briefly considered re-upping after 14 years a civilian.