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Thompson's Fancy Footwork Wins Him Right-To-Life Crown

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 1:14 PM EST

Fred Thompson has chutzpah.

In a campaign press release hailing his endorsement by the National Right To Life Committee, Thompson declared:

In supporting me, those who have worked tirelessly to defend life are supporting a consistent conservative who has stood with them yesterday, who stands with them today, and will stand with them tomorrow.

The press release went on to say,

Fred Thompson is pro-life. He believes in the sanctity of human life and that every life is worthy of respect. He had a 100% pro-life voting record in the Senate and believes Roe v. Wade was a bad decision that ought to be overturned. He consistently opposed federal funding to promote or pay for abortion.

What about his days as a lawyer-lobbyist when Thompson aided abortion rights groups trying to persuade the administration of President George H.W. Bush to ease restrictions on federal payments to health clinics that offered (among other services) abortion counseling? When The Los Angeles Times broke this story in July, Thompson's campaign first denied he had done anything such thing. But as records surfaced showing he had helped the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, Thompson claimed he was merely doing his duty as a lawyer:

The practice of law is a business as well as a profession. It's the way you support your family. And if a client has a legal and ethical right to take a position, then you may appropriately represent him as long as he does not lie or otherwise conduct himself improperly while you are representing him. In almost 30 years of practicing law I must have had hundreds of clients and thousands of conversations about legal matters. Like any good lawyer, I would always try to give my best, objective, and professional opinion on any legal question presented to me.

But no lawyer is obligated to work for a client he finds morally reprehensible. Thompson certainly had the right to tell his law firm that he would prefer not to assist a group advocating abortion rights (or, as the anti-abortion crowd puts it, the right to commit mass-murder). He chose to put the code of business above a moral concern. That was his prerogative. What's wrong is how he has tried (and succeeded) in double-talking his way out of a predicament. He worked for this abortion rights group, then ran for Senate as an anti-abortion candidate. When the story came out about his pro-abortion toils, his campaign issued a false denial. After incontrovertible proof emerged, he hid behind his duty as a lawyer. After all that, Thompson ends up with the right-to-life crown.

It's a tale of contortions. But look at the GOP field. One of the leading candidates is a supporter of abortion rights trying to convince the anti-abortion crowd he's not that pro-choice (Rudy Giuliani). Another is a former supporter of abortion rights attempting to persuade potential Republican voters he has been converted (Mitt Romney). And a third once railed against the leaders of the religious right and has tried to mend fences with the social conservatives (John McCain). So Thompson's pirouettes are not much in comparison. In the land of GOP contortions, Thompson's dance is about as straightforward as they come.

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Upscale Buenos Aires Shopping Mall Once Housed Torture Chambers

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 11:23 AM EST

For anyone who ever suspected there's something less pleasant lurking under shopping mall muzak, Naomi Klein's new book The Shock Doctrine provides confirmation, in the chapter about the 1976-83 dirty war in Argentina:

In 1987, a film crew was shooting in the basement of the Galerias Pacifico, one of Buenos Aires' plushest downtown malls, and to their horror they stumbled on an abandoned torture center. It turned out that during the dictatorship, the First Army Corp hid some of its disappeared in the bowels of the mall; the dungeon walls still bore the desperate markings made by its long-dead prisoners: names, dates, pleas for help.
Today, Galerias Pacifico is the crown jewel of Buenos Aires' shopping district, evidence of its arrival as a globalized consumer capital. Vaulted ceilings and lushly painted frescoes frame the vast array of brand-name stores, from Christian Dior to Ralph Lauren to Nike...
For Argentines who know their history, the mall stands as a chilling reminder that just as an older form of capitalist conquest was built on the mass graves of the country's indigenous peoples, the Chicago School Project in Latin America was quite literally built on the secret torture camps where thousands of people who believed in a different country disappeared.

The Galerias Pacifico website is here. As of today, this information has not been added to the mall's English-language wikipedia page.

Assassination Jokes, Anthrax Spores, and Russian Mobsters

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 9:47 AM EST

My inbox this morning had a few of these press releases forwarded to me:

ExecutiveAction today announced it will hold a press conference on Wednesday, November 14, at 10:30 a.m. at the National Press Club to release the threat assessment – Spores: The Threat of a Catastrophic Anthrax Attack on America. At the press conference will be:
Neil Livingstone – CEO of ExecutiveAction and one of the nation's top terrorism experts. R. James Woolsey – Former Director of the CIA and Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton. Professor Yonah Alexander – Senior Fellow at the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University and author of more than 90 books on terrorism and international affairs. David Wright – CEO of PharmAthene, a biodefense company headquartered in Annapolis.

The arresting name of the company holding the press conference, Executive Action—code for assassination—is fully intended. "Think of us as a McKinsey & Company with muscle, a private CIA and Defense Department available to address your most intractable problems and difficult challenges," declared its CEO and founder Neil Livingstone when the group opened its doors in the Watergate last summer.

But it hasn't been all assassination jokes for Livingstone, who has taught terrorism courses at Georgetown and was reportedly an associate of Oliver North during Iran Contra. As Harpers' Ken Silverstein and US News' Washington Whispers reported last spring, Livingstone was sued for $2 million by his old firm, Global Options, for allegedly taking customers. Among the clients Livingstone was accused by Global Options of taking with him to ExecutiveAction, according to Whispers, "a firm owned by the daughter of Uzbekistan's strongman president; one secretively dubbed 'Project M'; and the feuding family of Sumner Redstone, chair of Viacom."

A Wall Street Journal story earlier this year would seem to suggest that a possible candidate for Project M is one Simeon Mogilevich, a post Soviet entrepreneur indicted on 45 counts by the Feds. As the Journal reported, last year, Livingstone brokered high level meetings for a Mogilevich hired gun with top levels of the Justice Department:

Obama Touches the Third Rail, Sort Of.

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 9:01 AM EST

On "Meet the Press" this weekend, Barack Obama struck out at Hillary Clinton over her refusal to commit to raising the cap on payroll taxes to help keep Social Security solvent. Obama's focus on payroll taxes was refreshing after all the recent focus on the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). The AMT is the 1960s measure designed to catch a handful of super-rich tax cheats that now ensnares a lot of ordinary upper-class people and which Congress has pledged to fix.

Payroll taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare, only apply to the first $94,200 of a worker's wages. Income from investments and other passive earnings that make up a lot of the super-rich's income aren't subject to payroll taxes at all. That's why Obama was suggesting raising the income cap, a reasonable idea given that the number of people in the upper tax bracket has soared under the Bush administration. John Edwards has also said he'd support such a measure. But Clinton is on the fence.

Which is too bad, because payroll taxes are highly regressive. More than half of wage-earning Americans pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes, and they fall heaviest on people earning less than $40,000 a year, eating up more than 15 percent of a minimum-wage workers paycheck. The AMT, though, only hits people who make more than $100,000 a year. If Obama is serious about taking on payroll taxes, he ought to consider giving them a major overhaul, not just to fix Social Security, but to relieve some of the burden on the working poor.

What's the Best Way To Fuel A Car?

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 7:40 PM EST

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According to a new Rand Corporation study, diesel and hybrid cars and light trucks provide more societal benefits than gas or E85 vehicles. For the antiRands out there, listen up for a minute.

The research forecasts the benefits and costs of three alternatives to the gas-powered internal combustion between 2010 and 2020. Advanced diesel and hybrid technologies showed well. E85 did not. Comparisons were made for three vehicle types: a mid-sized car, a mid-sized SUV, and a large pick-up. The cost-benefit comparisons were made for individual consumers, and for society, on a per-vehicle basis over the life of the vehicle. The results placed advanced diesel first, followed by hybrid, gasoline, and last of all E85.

Consumer considerations included technology costs, fuel savings, mobility, and performance. Societal considerations included tailpipe pollutants, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy security costs (from greater dependence on expensive and unstable foreign oil supplies [not to mention oil spills…]). The report noted that if the cost of hybrid falls significantly, its benefits will likely equal or exceed the diesel. It also noted that E85's dismal results are the result of the high costs of producing the fuel.

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

Two Black Seas: Oil Spills Updates

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 6:39 PM EST

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What do San Francisco Bay and the Black Sea have in common these days? Black waters fouled by crumbling ships, possibly bad seamanship, single-hulled tankers, and what always seems to be chronically inadequate first responders.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that the spill in San Francisco Bay has wafted north to foul the oyster beds in Point Reyes National Seashore, shutting down the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which produces more than 80 percent of Marin County's oyster crop. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports the bar pilot responsible for bringing the Cosco Busan into the bay claims the ship suffered from an inexperienced crew and faulty radar. Meanwhile, the Marin Independent Journal reports that frustrated residents of the seaside town of Bolinas have taken matters into their own hands, rescuing birds and scooping up fist-sized blobs of oil with colanders, laundry baskets and fishing nets:

"Ultimately, if they're not going to send help, we're going to have to do it ourselves," said Bolinas resident Hermione Healy, who with her sister Krishna fished for oil that she described as "looking like pieces of asphalt floating by."

And once again Google maps are bringing the disaster closer to home, wherever you are, including this one from KCBS:


View Larger Map

Halfway around the world, the Strait of Kerch, connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, is reeling from the effects of up to 10 ships sunk in a monster storm Sunday.

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Looking north up the narrow Kerch Strait dividing The Black Sea from the Sea of Azov.

The Volganeft-139 tanker was carrying about 1.3 million gallons of fuel oil when the storm sundered it, losing at least half its load so far. The AP reports the ship was constructed for river use and was unfit to endure severe weather at sea. So far, more than 30,000 birds—some of the thousands migrating south from Siberia at this time of year—plus countless fish have been killed in an what officials are calling an ecological catastrophe. The Moscow Times reports that a freighter carrying 2,000 tons of sulphur sank nearby at nearly the same time:

"We hope that in the water sulphur will not form any substances dangerous to humans," Mitvol [deputy head of the Natural Resources Ministry's environmental watchdog] said. Several hours later, another freighter carrying sulphur sank off Kavkaz, Interfax reported… The same storm, which is expected to rage for up to three days, also sank a freighter with scrap metal off Sevastopol… The hull of [another] oil tanker Volganeft-123 cracked after being hit by high waves, but it was afloat and its oil products were not leaking.

Let's face reality. Oil, once spilled, is bloody hard to unspill, no matter the circumstances. Get ready for talk about double-hulled tankers to resurface. Get ready for nothing to come of it. Again.

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

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The USDA's E. coli Loophole

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 3:54 PM EST

3ec1.jpgWhat do you do with meat that's contaminated with E. coli bacteria? Slap a "cook-only" label on and sell that shit (pun definitely intended), says the USDA.

The Chicago Tribune reports on a little known "E. Coli loophole:" If the deadly bacteria is found in meat during processing, companies can still sell the meat if they label it as "cook-only." The reasoning seems sound, since cooking kills the germs, but inspectors say the practice is more dangerous than it appears:

...some USDA inspectors say the "cook only" practice means that higher-than-appropriate levels of E. coli are tolerated in packing plants, raising the chance that clean meat will become contaminated. They say the "cook only" practice is part of the reason for this year's sudden rise in incidents of E. coli contamination.

E. coli has been making headlines a whole lot lately. First there was the spinach scare; then the Topps recall; and just a few weeks ago, the Cargill recall. There's no evidence that the cook-only loophole has to do with any of this, but it sure doesn't make hamburgers sound any more appetizing.

Iranian-American Scholar Fears War Within Months - Can He Help Stop It?

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 2:43 PM EST

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Here's how high Trita Parsi thinks the stakes are getting on the Iran question: "In the next couple of months, we may end up in a military conflict between these countries," the Iranian-American scholar said in San Francisco last week, referring to the United States, Israel, and Iran. Parsi, who supports diplomacy and thinks it has a fair shot, believes this type of conflict "would be an absolute shame," not to mention what a war between these nations would actually mean. For any attack to effectively reverse Iran's nuclear capability, Parsi said, "you would have to kill 6,000 Iranian nuclear scientists."

Prez Candidates: Schools? What Schools?

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 2:10 PM EST

With big issues like the war and Iran hounding '08 presidential candidates, have domestic schooling issues gone completely off their collective radar?

Education has never been the sexiest of topics, but as Education Week points out, the next president needs to hone in on a few dry, but important, issues: the future of No Child Left Behind, the expansion of prekindergarten programs, and how much federal dollars should be spent on charter schools or private school choice. An interactive chart in the same article gives the low-down on where all the red and blue candidates stand on the issues.

The education think tank Education Sector argues that candidates should focus on improved recruitment and compensation for teachers, and opening new schools in low-income areas.

And here's one more candidate-by-candidate comparison on issues like school vouchers and social promotion. Just because the candidates aren't talking about it, doesn't mean we can't.

Little Steven Goes to Washington...and Wants To See Laura Bush

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 1:33 PM EST

Little Steven wants to chat with Laura Bush.

That's what Steven Van Zandt--a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, the actor who played Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, and the host of the syndicated radio show, Little Steven's Underground Garage--told me on Monday after a press conference in which he teamed up with the National Association for Music Education to promote music in primary education. At the event, Van Zandt announced his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation is creating a music appreciation curriculum for middle and high schools that will cover the history of rock and roll.

Van Zandt is no fan of the Bush administration. He has long identified with progressive causes. His 1984 album, Voice of America was loaded with rough anti-Reagan sentiment. In 1985, he pulled together dozen of top recording artists--Bob Dylan, U2, Run DMC, Springsteen--for the antiapartheid anthem, "Sun City." And in 2004, Van Zandt (with Springsteen and the rest of the band) was part of the Vote for Change tour that hit swing states to encourage people to, well, vote for change--that is, to vote against George W. Bush.

But now Van Zandt is pushing an issue that he says "transcends politics." At the press event, he was joined by John Mahlmann, the executive director of the National Association for Music Education, who noted that student access to music education has dropped about 20 percent in recent years--thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act. Mahlmann also said that students' "contact time" with music and all the arts has fallen 40 percent. The No Child Left Behind law, Mahlmann claimed, has caused schools to obsess over testing for math and reading and that "pushes out other areas of the curriculum."