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John Edwards Has a Happy Labor Day

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 12:07 PM EDT

Yesterday, John Edwards picked up the endorsements of two unions, the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers of America. It's a big moment for Edwards because labor, which was supposed to be a major source of support for his campaign, has been leery of supporting him. Happy with all the Democratic candidates in the '08 field, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., for example, will likely not endorse anyone.

The steelworkers union represents 1.2 million workers and retirees, making it the nation's largest private sector industrial union. Those kind of numbers are essential to Edwards' Iowa-heavy campaign strategy. One-third of Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa came from union households in 2004.

(H/T Swampland)

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An Unlikely Bush White House Antagonist

| Tue Sep. 4, 2007 10:30 AM EDT

Jack Goldsmith is an unlikely Bush White House antagonist. The conservative former University of Chicago legal scholar argued with John Yoo for the U.S. to exempt itself from international law and treaties, including those dealing with war crimes. So no one was surprised when in 2003 he was appointed to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, the department's chief legal policy shop. But when Goldmsith got inside, he got a good look at how nuts -- and from a legal perspective, intellectually bankrupt -- it all was. From a forthcoming New York Times magazine profile of Goldsmith:

Several hours after Goldsmith was sworn in, on Oct. 6, 2003, he recalls that he received a phone call from Gonzales: the White House needed to know as soon as possible whether the Fourth Geneva Convention, which describes protections that explicitly cover civilians in war zones like Iraq, also covered insurgents and terrorists. After several days of study, Goldsmith agreed with lawyers in several other federal agencies, who had concluded that the convention applied to all Iraqi civilians, including terrorists and insurgents. In a meeting with Ashcroft, Goldsmith explained his analysis, which Ashcroft accepted. Later, Goldsmith drove from the Justice Department to the White House for a meeting with Gonzales and Addington. Goldsmith remembers his deputy Patrick Philbin turning to him in the car and saying: "They're going to be really mad. They're not going to understand our decision. They've never been told no." (Philbin declined to discuss the conversation.)
In his book, Goldsmith describes Addington as the "biggest presence in the room — a large man with large glasses and an imposing salt-and-pepper beard" who was "known throughout the bureaucracy as the best-informed, savviest and most conservative lawyer in the administration, someone who spoke for and acted with the full backing of the powerful vice president, and someone who crushed bureaucratic opponents." When Goldsmith presented his analysis of the Geneva Conventions at the White House, Addington, according to Goldsmith, became livid. "The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections," Addington replied angrily, according to Goldsmith. "You cannot question his decision." (Addington declined to comment on this and other details concerning him in this article.)
Goldsmith then explained that he agreed with the president's determination that detainees from Al Qaeda and the Taliban weren't protected under the Third Geneva Convention, which concerns the treatment of prisoners of war, but that different protections were at issue with the Fourth Geneva Convention, which concerns civilians. Addington, Goldsmith says, was not persuaded. (Goldsmith told me that he has checked his recollections of this and other meetings with at least one other participant or with someone to whom he described the meetings soon after.)
Months later, when Goldsmith tried to question another presidential decision, Addington expressed his views even more pointedly. "If you rule that way," Addington exclaimed in disgust, Goldsmith recalls, "the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands."

Goldsmith describes Addington's judgment as "crazy" if well meaning. Presumably lots of fodder in Goldsmith's soon to be released book, The Terror Presidency, for upcoming Congressional hearings.

NRA Offers Free Memberships to Soldiers (Step Up, Costco)

| Sun Sep. 2, 2007 10:42 PM EDT

The NRA has decided to offer all active-duty troops a complimentary year's membership. The $35 per is not exactly monumental, but the NRA could gain thousands of lifelong members out of this dandy bit of PR. And while the fact that the latest issue of American Rifleman may be at a soldier's doorstep his first day home from combat isn't ideal, I think the NRA is on to something fundamental.

Now, of course, soldiers should be paid enough that they can pay for their own memberships, but when it comes to thanks-giving troops should get free memberships everywhere, to gyms, museums, rotary clubs, Costco. They should get to the head of the line at movie theaters, the DMV, for Southwest flights; we should be yielding to our troops at every turn (not to mention ensuring they get proper medical care, and jobs). Instead, we likely treat them like any other strangers; we honk at them for cutting us off, hustle in front of them at the grocery store, and generally ignore the sacrifices, and adjustments, these men and women are making.

Of course, unless you live in a company town, you likely don't know who is soldier and who civilian. And since there's no draft, there is a convenient majority who doesn't know anyone who is serving or has served. So what if we treated everyone we meet as if they might have put themselves in harm's way to protect our right to cheap gas and bulk goods?

I know, it's not gonna happen. But the NRA, in its twisted way, has the sentiment right. Say thanks with substance (the go-out-and-shop, post-9/11 GWB-inspired variety of patriotism), because when it comes to returning home, our troops deserve all the perks our lifestyle affords. Not that such perks will make coming home much easier, but they just might make us feel better.

Speed of Climate Change An Unseen Danger

| Sun Sep. 2, 2007 9:52 PM EDT

The total amount of global warming we allow has dire consequences for our planet. But so too does the speed of that climate change. According to the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO), this focus has not yet appeared in either science or policy.

CICERO highlights some ecological studies focusing on the rate of climate change, most of which leave no doubt that the expected rate of change during this century will exceed the ability of many animals and plants to migrate or adapt. One such study found that five percent of all ecosystems cannot adapt more quickly than 0.1°C per decade over time:

Forests will be among the ecosystems to experience problems first because their ability to migrate to stay within the climate zone they are adapted to is limited. If the rate is 0.3 °C per decade, 15 percent of ecosystems will not be able to adapt. If the rate should exceed 0.4 °C per decade, all ecosystems will be quickly destroyed, opportunistic species will dominate, and the breakdown of biological material will lead to even greater emissions of CO2. This will in turn increase the rate of warming.

There is also a risk that rapid climate change will increase the likelihood of the really big and scary changes, i.e., the irreversible ones, such as a weakening of the Gulf Stream, and/or the melting of the Greenland ice sheets. Rapid change increases the risk of triggering positive feedback mechanisms that will increase the rate and level of temperature change still more. Read more about these in MoJo's The Thirteenth Tipping Point.

According to CICERO, to focus on the speed of climate change we need to concentrate more on the short-lived greenhouse gases (methane and tropospheric ozone), as well as particles with a warming effect, such as soot (black carbon). They also suggest a greater focus on the medium-term—the next few decades—since the fastest changes will likely occur around that time.

Of course, that requires that we speed up the grindingly-slow gears of public policy and determination. First step in that process: Stop fighting the naysayers. It's a waste of time and energy and we've already lost a decade doing it. We need to step around, over, or through their obstinate refusal to face the truth. Luckily, we have a model for doing this, since we hopscotched over the "science" of the tobacco industry long ago.

On that cheery note, I'm off to the wilderness for a week or three, close to the comforts of nature, far from the madding consumers. JULIA WHITTY

Remember This On Tax Day

| Sun Sep. 2, 2007 4:23 AM EDT

The Doberman Pinscher was first bred in the 1890s by a German tax collector Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann who wanted a ferociously loyal dog to accompany him on his rounds...

Too Many Warners...

| Sun Sep. 2, 2007 4:07 AM EDT

Virginia Senator John Warner (former husband of Elizabeth Taylor. Also long-time head of Senate Armed Services committee) is not seeking another term. This clears the way for Mark Warner (Virginia's super popular Democratic ex governor; also former Nextel executive). If Mark Warner does run for the Senate (instead of holding out for VP), he looks pretty likely to win. Unless the GOP finds another Warner to run against him, just to totally confuse voters.

Hey, it's happened before.

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Friday a Wry Day for Music News

| Fri Aug. 31, 2007 2:15 PM EDT

R.E.M.

  • R.E.M. are putting the finishing touches on their new album with producer Jacknife Lee, their first since 2004. "Working rehearsal" shows in Dublin pointed towards a more straightforward, guitar-based sound on the new material, which Mike Mills confirmed to Billboard magazine, saying the band is using fewer overdubs and keyboards. The as-yet-unnamed album is set for release in 2008.
  • U2 are totally copying them! Their new album, also their first since 2004, is being rehearsed, according to producer Daniel Lanois, and set for a 2008 release as well. Lanois said Brian Eno is also involved in both writing and producing the material; some of the band's best albums, including The Unforgettable Fire and Achtung Baby, were produced by this duo, although their most recent album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, was mainly produced by Steve Lillywhite.
  • Will Apple announce the arrival of the Beatles catalog to the iTunes music service on Wednesday, September 5th, at their "special event" in San Francisco? The ads say "The Beat Goes On," and Ringo's solo work was added to iTunes today.
  • The sad Amy Winehouse saga gets slightly sadder: Bookmaker Ladbrokes has lowered the singer's odds to win the UK Mercury Music Prize, for which she was the frontrunner. Bat For Lashes' Fur and Gold is now the favorite, with 9-4 odds, compared to Winehouse's 11-4.
  • Protesters in Berkeley: Up a Tree and Fenced In

    | Fri Aug. 31, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

    treesitter.jpeg

    Okay, so it's Berkeley, not a stranger to protests, but this week's tree shenanigans both play to the historic hippies-in-dreads protest image as well as highlight the era of strapped campuses cracking down on activism in the name of growth.

    In case you haven't heard, UC Berkeley students and city residents have been living in oak trees on campus for the past 10 months, protesting their razing for the building of a new sports complex.

    This week the protests have elevated to arrests, and even construction. Wednesday, campus police put up an 8-foot chain-link fence meant to both keep protesters inside the grove as well as to prevent conflicts when 72,000 people descend on the area for tomorrow's Cal football game against Tennessee.

    The sitters are now going it alone. No one can give them food or water, and once they leave the fenced area they are not allowed to return. This morning, one protester was arrested after putting his arm around a police officer and touching him with a lavender incense wand. "Why is he being arrested?" asked a student. "Battery," the officer replied.

    The $125 million sports complex will replace the seismically shaky (and already-cracked) Memorial Stadium, and it will also allow the cash-strapped university to bring in big name recruits, football and otherwise, which can translate into millions a year in revenue. This year Cal is ranked #12 in the nation going into the college football season, something that will bring the university millions in television revenue alone.

    Really though, Cal has bigger worries than tree sitters. The city has sued the school to halt construction because the new complex will rest squarely where the old stadium does, on the Hayward Fault. And when it comes to earthquakes, my money's on the oak trees to be left standing.

    Justice Department Starves the Jerry Lewis Corruption Investigation

    | Fri Aug. 31, 2007 1:08 PM EDT

    The WSJ's Scot Paltrow reports that the investigation of former House appropriations committee chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Ca) has been stalled by lack of funds. "In Los Angeles, a federal criminal investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis, a California Republican, stalled for nearly six months due to a lack of funds, according to former prosecutors. The lead prosecutor on the inquiry and other lawyers departed the office, and vacancies couldn't be filled. George Cardona, the interim U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, declined to comment on specific cases but confirmed that lack of funds and unfilled vacancies caused delays in some investigations."

    Nation Nabs an Exclusive: Maliki Gov't Overrun by Corruption, Unwilling to Change

    | Fri Aug. 31, 2007 11:53 AM EDT

    Capital Gamesman David Corn of The Nation has a noteworthy exclusive. Corn somehow got his hands on an internal report from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad that has this to say about the Maliki government:

    ...the Maliki government has failed in one significant area: corruption. Maliki's government is "not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anticorruption laws," the report says, and, perhaps worse, the report notes that Maliki's office has impeded investigations of fraud and crime within the government.

    The simple fact that there is corruption in Iraq isn't surprising, I suppose. But this exclusive isn't all-hat-and-no-cattle. The document Corn nabbed is 70 pages and it's loaded with details. Corn elaborates:

    The report depicts the Iraqi government as riddled with corruption and criminals—and beyond the reach of anticorruption investigators...
    "The Ministry of Interior is seen by Iraqis as untouchable by the anticorruption enforcement infrastructure of Iraq," it says. "Corruption investigations in Ministry of Defense are judged to be ineffectual." The study reports that the Ministry of Trade is "widely recognized as a troubled ministry" and that of 196 corruption complaints involving this ministry merely eight have made it to court, with only one person convicted.
    The Ministry of Health, according to the report, "is a sore point; corruption is actually affecting its ability to deliver services and threatens the support of the government." Investigations involving the Ministry of Oil have been manipulated, the study says, and the "CPI and the [Inspector General of the ministry] are completely ill-equipped to handle oil theft cases." There is no accurate accounting of oil production and transportation within the ministry, the report explains, because organized crime groups are stealing oil "for the benefit of militias/insurgents, corrupt public officials and foreign buyers."

    And from there it goes on, with indictments of ministry after ministry (click the link above to survey the full damage). Maliki is a big part of the problem, demonstrating "an open hostility" to externally-led (aka possibly effective) corruption investigations.

    Staffers leading corruption investigations "have been 'accosted by armed gangs within ministry headquarters and denied access to officials and records.' They and their families are routinely threatened. Some sleep in their office in the Green Zone. In December 2006, a sniper positioned on top of an Iraqi government building in the Green Zone fired three shots at CPI headquarters. Twelve CPI personnel have been murdered in the line of duty."

    So what does this all mean?