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Huck Says No More Gitmo

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 2:39 PM EST

Mike Huckabee recently met with a group of generals who are touring Iowa in the hopes of convincing presidential candidates to oppose torture. He left the meeting with a couple bold new positions. Huckabee now opposes waterboarding and supports shuttering Guantanamo, joining only John McCain and Ron Paul amongst the Republican candidates to hold these positions.

Maybe the guy is a member of the Christian left. He may not have the best foreign policy chops in the world, but his instincts are good. Would we welcome him even though he's never had a sip of beer?

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Global Warming Threatens Another Endangered Species

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 2:22 PM EST

Doing its part in the high-brow Priusification of the green movement, the New York Times has just released its "Ski Issue," reporting on the conversion of luxurious Swiss ski resorts into nothing more than luxurious Swiss sun decks and spas as snowfall even in the Alps decreases. Meanwhile one music fan and YouTube user has posted an unofficial video on behalf of the L.A. band HEALTH that honors another imminent casualty of Switzerland's suddenly sultry climate. By pairing the heroic track "Heaven" with footage from Werner Herzog's 1973 documentary The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner about Swiss ski jumper Walter Steiner, Bret Berg touches on a quandary heretofore neglected by the Times and many others: If the Alpine snowfields melt into a miserable puddle, whatever will become of the high-flying Swiss?

—Cassie McGettigan


Gay Ambassador Resigns Over Discrimination at State Dep't

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 2:10 PM EST

Commend Michael Guest, the former ambassador to Romania and an openly gay man, for speaking up at his retirement ceremony:

Before friends, colleagues and top officials in the State Department Treaty Room, Mr. Guest took Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who was not present) to task for failing to treat the partners of gay and lesbian foreign service officers the same as the spouses of heterosexual officers. And he revealed — with eloquent sadness, not anger — that this was the reason for his departure.
"Most departing ambassadors use these events to talk about their successes . . . But I want to talk about my signal failure, the failure that in fact is causing me to leave the career that I love," said Mr. Guest, 50, whose most recent assignment was dean of the leadership and management school at the Foreign Service Institute, the government's school for diplomats.
"For the past three years, I've urged the Secretary and her senior management team to redress policies that discriminate against gay and lesbian employees. Absolutely nothing has resulted from this. And so I've felt compelled to choose between obligations to my partner — who is my family — and service to my country. That anyone should have to make that choice is a stain on the Secretary's leadership and a shame for this institution and our country," he said.

Estimates suggest that there are 600 gay men and women currently working as foreign affairs officers. Unlike the spouses of heterosexual employees, their partners are not entitled to "free medical care at overseas posts, guaranteed evacuation in case of a medical emergency, transportation to overseas posts, or special living allowances." (H/T Think Progress)

Blackwater's State Department Contract Renewed?

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 12:54 PM EST

Since September 16, when its operators were involved in a controversial Baghdad shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead and another 24 wounded, Blackwater's future has been the subject of debate. Several people involved in the security industry have suggested to me in conversation that the company's State Department contract—due to expire in May 2008—would be allowed to lapse, leaving Blackwater's security operators without a client to protect. This would effectively end Blackwater's involvement in Iraq.

But perhaps rumors of Blackwater's demise have been premature. According to a listing posted yesterday on the company's website (and first noticed by R.J. Hillhouse), the company appears have extended it's State Department contract and is hiring for new Iraq-based security positions.

So, in the event you're interested, here's the job posting as it appears on Blackwater's site:

We are currently accepting candidates for WPPS due to contract expansion. 12.03.07
Primary Purpose: Position Type/Job Duration Independent Contractor (IC)/ 1 year (90/30 rotation) Personal Security Specialist (PSS) Designated Defensive Marksmen (DDM) EMT-P with tactical experience in the United States Military, Sworn Law Enforcement Officer or private sector protective security industry Mechanics K-9
Primary Requirement 3 years experience in the United States Military with an honorable discharge, Sworn Law Enforcement Officer or private sector protective security industry The ideal candidate will pass a physical fitness test and be proficient with the Glock and M4 at the time resume is submitted
Esential Functions: Contract Requirements Must be willing and able to deploy for 1 year (90/30 rotation) Must have a solid 3 years of experience in the US Military or Sworn Law Enforcement or private sector protective security industry Must be a U.S. Citizen, proof of citizenship is required Weight must be proportionate to height Must maintain a neat and clean appearance Must be in good health and pass a physical test Most positions require ability to obtain/maintain a secret or higher clearance No history of major illness or mental disorder Must have an Honorable Discharge and DD-214 (Member 4 copy) No felony, violent crimes, spouse or child abuse convictions (NO WAIVERS) No unexplained significant credit problems with-in the past seven (7) years


From the Oxymoron Department: Sunday School for Atheists

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 12:10 PM EST

Religion is even more inescapable than usual this time of year as are the fights that ensue over it. Some of us are just spoiling for fights. Others have fights thrust upon them. Given it's muted tone, I wish I'd seen this piece before I wrote these about The Golden Compass and Mitt Romney's Mormonism. Not that it won't piss off 'the faithful'. But at least it sheds some light on the moral, let alone organizational, struggles of the unchurched. Atheists and anarchists: where, and why, are those conventions held?

Refusing even to entertain the ignorant notion that atheists and agnostics are ipso facto amoral - hmmm. Maybe I'll murder the moron who took my parking space since I don't believe in Jesus - the question remains: what do we teach our kids, and how?

Clinton Campaign Alleges Dirty Tricks in Iowa and New Hampshire

| Tue Dec. 4, 2007 12:10 AM EST

The Clinton campaign is alleging that some serious dirty tricks are starting against Senator Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire. In an email to supporters, campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle gives some details and asks for corroboration. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Also of note, the Clinton camp implicates the Obama campaign in all this, claiming, "In both Iowa and New Hampshire, we have heard that Obama staffers are berating Hillary supporters on the phone with negative attacks against her." The actual examples included only allege malfeasance by Obama's campaign in Iowa. How will Obama, who is getting better and better at handling stuff like this, respond?

Dear Friend,
I wanted to let you know immediately about reports our campaign has received about possible dirty campaign tactics in Iowa and New Hampshire -- and ask for your help.
In Iowa, we have heard reports that Hillary supporters are getting calls that tell them incorrect caucus locations. Supporters have also told us about push polls -- when they tell the pollster they support Hillary, they are given negative talking points about her and asked which attacks are the most effective.
In both Iowa and New Hampshire, we have heard that Obama staffers are berating Hillary supporters on the phone with negative attacks against her.
Here is one report we got from someone who received a push poll in Iowa:

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Your Future Begins in Bali: Global Climate Summit Opens

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 10:43 PM EST

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary, from the press conference "Overview of the main issues of the COP/Technical and logistical details for journalists."

Also largely absent from today's news—unless you read offshore, say, at the BBC—the portentous UN Climate Change Summit 2007 opening today in Bali. Governments are assembled to discuss how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after 2012 when the current Kyoto Protocol targets expire. You know the Kyoto Protocol, the one Bush never signed, dooming it to irrelevance.

This is the first big international meet since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that evidence for global warming is "unequivocal." What's Bush's stance this time around? The BBC put it diplomatically:

Meanwhile, US President George Bush—who favours voluntary rather than mandatory targets—issued a statement saying that the nation's emissions had fallen by 1.5% in 2006 from levels in 2005.

Bush—that champion of weird math and damn the consequences—hopes his numbers will enable the US to avoid doing what everyone else is in Bali to do: agree to binding emissions targets. This even though 150 multinationals last week did just that, according to Business Green, including Coca-Cola, Gap, Nike, British Airways, Nestlé, Nokia, Shell, Tesco and Virgin, as well as a number of Chinese companies such as Shanghai Electric and Suntech.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Hunger: Coming Your Way

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 9:55 PM EST

drought.jpg

Global agriculture could go into steep, unanticipated declines due to complications that scientists have so far inadequately considered. So say three new reports published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Predicted changes from 1- to 5-degree C temperature rises in coming decades fail to account for seasonal extremes of heat, drought or rain, multiplier effects of spreading diseases or weeds, and other ecological upsets. All are believed more likely in the future, according to The Earth Institute at Columbia University:

"Many people assume that we will never have a problem with food production on a global scale. But there is a strong potential for negative surprises," said Francesco Tubiello, a physicist and agricultural expert at the NASA/Goddard Institute of Space Studies who coauthored all three papers. Existing research estimates that developing countries may lose 334 million acres of prime farm land in the next 50 years. After mid-century, continuing temperature rises—5 degrees C or more by then—are expected to start adversely affecting northern crops as well, tipping the whole world into a danger zone.

Is there any mention of any of these three papers anywhere in the mainstream news? Not that I can find. The world goes on, as usual, headlining inconsequentials and absurdities.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

What's in a (Maiden) Name? Me, That's What

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 5:47 PM EST

Women taking their husband's names always baffled me. I've known since I was a teenager that I wasn't going to. Aside from genealogic traceability and simplified familial paperwork, why on earth would I agree to be absorbed into some man I hadn't even met yet? And who might turn out to be a huge mistake? I've lost track of all my female friends and relatives now carting around the last names of men they've been divorced from for more than twenty years. But it isn't the possibility of divorce that makes me object to women taking men's names; its just the plain unvarnished, sexist truth of what it means. As one of my aunts famously said in leaving her husband after a long, troubled marriage, "I understand all about man and wife becoming one, but how come we always have to be you?" Symbols matter and that was one I simply couldn't stomach just as I could never stomach changing my citizenship. Don't ask me why those seem equivalent but they do to me. Even worse, to me, are hyphenated names. What a cop out; change your name or don't, girlfriend. Lordy, those godawful amalgamated, frankenstein names.

What I was up for was picking a new name we'd both take or flipping a coin to choose one of our surnames. Too bad I never thought of hiring a consultant or underwriting an internet survey to basically focus-group the new couple's potential new name. Ah, if only we'd had the internet. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who agonized over the whole whose-last-name thing.

Pre-Analysis of Romney's "Mormon Speech"

| Mon Dec. 3, 2007 5:26 PM EST

romney.jpg Nobody is waiting until Thursday's speech to weigh in on whether or not Romney is making a smart move. Marc Ambinder has a nice list of pros and cons, but I think Ross Douthat hits it on the head.

With the Iowa caucus on January 3rd, the primary campaign basically lasts from today until Christmas Eve. That's all the time Romney has to reframe Mike Huckabee, his top competitor in Iowa, who, due to his late rise and favorable media coverage, has been able to keep his negatives off the radar. Huckabee has three "problems" that could make him vulnerable in the GOP race: a relatively compassionate history with illegal immigrants, a decidedly moderate fiscal record, and a complete lack of foreign policy chops. Romney has the money and organization in Iowa to put these things front and center.

Instead, though, a significant portion of the next three weeks will be devoted to questions of faith. And when Republican primary voters are asked to make a decision based on faith, and their options are the socially conservative former Baptist preacher who speaks eloquently and authoritatively about the Bible or a Mormon guy who doesn't even have the principles to avoid waffling on small parts of his faith in order to make it more palatable to voters, who do you think they are going to choose?

And then there's the danger that this speech brings all of Mormonism's quirks to the fore. Like the fact that it didn't allow black people to become priests until 1978. Or the fact that it technically sees all conventional Christian churches as "apostates." Or the fact that it still teaches that believers can have multiple wives in heaven. Maybe not odder than the oddities of any other faith (except the racism thing, which originates in some pretty nasty anti-black scriptures), but definitely not the stuff Romney wants in his news coverage.

If this speech had come six months ago, voters would have had time to chew it over, digest it, and then move on to something else. But now Iowans will have all this bouncing around their heads as they go to the caucuses.