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Ecuador Wants Us to Pay for the Amazon

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 1:51 PM PDT

20070424_monkey.jpg

This dilemma cuts to the core of environmentalism today. Ecuador is asking for international compensation to leave alone a major oilfield in the heart of the Amazon. Ecuador's president says he will wait up to one year for a response before drilling. At stake are not only plant and animal species, but also the homeland of several tribes living in voluntary isolation. These tribes are among the fiercest on Earth, renowned for giant spears.

"Ecuador doesn't ask for charity," said President Rafael Correa, "but does ask that the international community share in the sacrifice and compensates us with at least half of what our country would receive, in recognition of the environmental benefits that would be generated by keeping this oil underground." That could come out to about $350 million per year.

Environmental groups are in disagreement. To pay or not to pay?

Arguments against: 1) Biodiversity is priceless. Destroying this part of the Amazon is evil. But paying for abstention would implicitly legitimize its exploitation. 2) Ecuador might be ethical enough to leave it alone anyway. If we pay, who else will come out of the woodwork to demand compensation what they might have left alone? There's no money pot to pay for everything. 3) Paying for what should be a given might exacerbate the situation. A slightly-related case: When well-meaning Christian groups bought modern-day slaves in Africa in order to set them free a few years ago, they put enough cash into the system to promote more slave raids, after the market would have died on its own. Talk about a road to hell paved with good intentions.

Argument for: 1) For environmentalism to work, we need to integrate it into the economy, not just morality and law. 2) With $4,500 income per capita, Ecuador is among the poorest half of nations. Oil is its biggest source of income. 3) Again, biodiversity is priceless. Ecologists and economists have estimated that the value of all natural ecosystems across the world--in terms of their services to humanity--is about 30 trillion dollars a year. That's more than the GNP of all nations combined. But in this case Ecuador is making it easy for us by asking for just half of potential oil revenue. So the question becomes, who would pay, and how?

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McCain Neglects to Vote on Iraq War Spending Bill and Everything Else, Really

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 1:45 PM PDT

I just updated my McCain post below with this news, but decided it deserved its own slot. The LA Times reports that presidential candidate John McCain was one of three senators who did not show up to vote today on the Iraq war spending bill (it just passed in the Senate). "This is the fourth major Iraq-related vote missed by McCain." But, it's not just Iraq votes that McCain skips. Politico points out that according to Congressional Observer Publications, McCain doesn't show up to vote for much these days. In fact, since January, he has missed one in three votes. Need a little context? The senator's Democratic cohorts, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both missed just three.

FOX's John Gibson: Iraqis Are "Knuckle-Dragging Savages"

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 12:51 PM PDT

In a logically questionable and morally reprehensible tirade about how Americans are not responsible for the sectarian warfare in Iraq, FOX personality John Gibson said on his radio show, "Who is doing this killing? Give me a break. These are Iraqis killing each other. So what did we do? If you're saying it's our fault that we unmasked them as knuckle-dragging savages from the 10th century -- fine! I'll take credit."

Worse than Imus?

You have to smirk at the "They ruined our war!" petulance of the whole thing. We deconstruct more of John Gibson's idiocy here.

Somebody Needs to Put a Lid on McCain's Straight Talk Express

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 11:56 AM PDT

I know people seem to like John McCain's candid manner of speaking, but come on, there needs to be some sort of filter on the Straight Talk Express, right? Last month, as I'm sure all of you remember, McCain took a fair amount of heat for claiming the Baghdad market was safe enough for a leisurely afternoon stroll. Sure, sure, everything is safe with a cadre of more than 100 soldiers. But, I think our aging Senator has really hit a new level of carelessness, er... candidness.

On Tuesday, McCain made a guest appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, during which Stewart asked about the aforementioned shopping excursion. McCain replied, "I had something picked out for you, too — a little IED to put on your desk." Not really funny, right? Am I being too uptight? Well, I'm "sticking to my guns" and going with "end the war slowly" John Murtha on this one. The Rep. from PA was livid when he heard about McCain's cracks about explosives. But there's more, McCain's response to Murtha was as straight-talking as one can get. On Good Morning America this morning, McCain sent this message to Murtha: Lighten up and get a life. The video is right here. Really? Lighten up about a war that costs this nation $1.9 billion a week and has taken more than 3,000 American lives? I think what upsets me the most is I can remember all too well a straight-talking presidential candidate that talked his way to the White House, twice.

Update: Apparently, McCain is too busy straight-talking to vote on the Iraq war spending bill that just passed in the Senate. This is the fourth Iraq-related vote the senator has missed.

I'm with Salon, All Roads Do Lead to Rove

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 10:35 AM PDT

Ok, so Jonathan and I are both on Rove's case today. See below for more haranguing.

Yesterday, Dan reported on the irony of a man like Scott Bloch, the head of the Office of Special Counsel investigating Karl Rove for his recently revealed dirty dealings. Bloch himself is under investigation by the Office of Personnel Management's inspector general, spurred on, in part, by his staff who claimed "he engaged in the very retaliatory practices his agency is charged with investigating." We're wondering, "courageous effort to expose White House malfeasance, or a last ditch attempt to save his own hide"?

Bloch and the OSC plan to investigate Rove's involvement in, among other things, that politicized power-point presentation given to political appointees at the General Services Administration (GSA) by a Rove deputy, which, once again, is front page news. Yes, Bloch's job just got even more involved. As Jonathan notes in his post about the Hatch Act below, there wasn't just one power-point presentation, but 20 given to 15 different agencies and all -- you guessed it -- by Rove deputies. I know, it's overwhelming and a little tough to keep track of the various transgressions these days by WH and government officials, but it might be more simple than it appears. I think Salon had some great foresight when they titled this piece: "All Roads Lead to Rove."

Violation of Hatch Act Now Clear: Rove's Team Gave 20 Partisan Briefings to Fed. Employees

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 9:57 AM PDT

I blogged yesterday about how the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from using government resources on partisan political activities. One might argue that having Karl Rove as the deputy chief of staff is a violation of the Hatch Act in and of itself, since his only job, really, is to get Republicans elected. But that's not specific enough to be a real allegation. I understand.

You know what is specific enough? This:

White House officials conducted 20 private briefings on Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity, a White House spokesman and other administration officials said yesterday.

The violations of the Hatch Act seem pretty obvious:

In the GSA briefing -- conducted like all the others by a deputy to chief White House political adviser Karl Rove -- two slides were presented showing 20 House Democrats targeted for defeat and several dozen vulnerable Republicans.
At its completion, GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan asked how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates," according to half a dozen witnesses.

Currently, the administration's defense is that these were "informational briefings about the political landscape." Whatever that means.

Now, Henry Waxman will probably hold a hearing or two on this, but the entity specifically tasked with investigating violations of the Hatch Act is the disturbingly partisan Office of Special Counsel, who has a history of neglecting its core responsibilities and instead toeing the Bush line.

That's why we're worried the OSC's investigation of Karl Rove and his shop (for these partisan presentations and other things) is just a crafty diversion. We'll see.

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White House Officials Admit They Don't Buy Bush's Iraq Rhetoric

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 9:24 AM PDT

President Bush has made two main claims when attacking the Democrats' push for an Iraq withdrawal timeline. The first is the Dems are legislating defeat. "The American people did not vote for failure and that is precisely what the Democratic leadership bill would guarantee," he said recently. The goal, obviously, is shame and embarrassment. No one wants to be a surrender monkey.

The second claim is that a bloodbath, both within Iraq's borders and without, will follow an American withdrawal. "[Withdrawal] could unleash chaos in Iraq that could spread across the entire region," the president has said. "It would be an invitation to the enemy to attack America and our friends around the world." In a different appearance, he said, "The security of our country depends directly on the outcome in Iraq." The idea here is to convince Americans (1) we have a moral obligation to protect the vulnerable, and (2) we have a national security reason to keep on fighting.

According to a new Newsweek article, however, the second claim is mostly PR pablum, and high-level officials within the administration know it.

One senior administration official with extensive knowledge of the region, who didn't want to be identified discussing sensitive policy matters, tells NEWSWEEK that the chances of a regional war in Iraq are low in the event of a U.S. withdrawal. When asked if a regional war would break out, the official said: "Possibly, not probably. It's more likely that other powers would support their favorite militias, as they're doing already."

What's more, the ethnic cleansing many fear would tear through Iraq in the absence of U.S. troops is mostly fantasy.

The senior official said the genocidal bloodbath that Sen. John McCain outlined recently was also unlikely, pointing to the militias' ability to secure their own neighborhoods after the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra in early 2006.

The Newsweek writers speculate that the reason Bush keeps pushing this doomsday talk is that it is a good way of keeping the pressure on the Democrats. It's all politics, they argue. I disagree. I think Bush believes his own spin. I think the positions he espouses now are the inevitable positions someone would hold if they believed almost messianically that they were doing the right thing every step of the way, and did not bother to hear dissent, from external experts or White House staffers, at any point.

It's psychological. (Cognitive dissonance? Correct me in the comments.) Bush already believes the war must go on, so he has to buy shoddy reasoning in order to square his belief. It reminds me of how we got into war: neocons in the administration believed the war had to happen, so they got on board with bad intelligence (either they believed it, or pretended to) in order to justify their belief.

(And PS -- I am legitimately scared at the idea of ethnic cleansing in the wake of our departure. But can the violence really get worse that it is now?)

EU and Iran Working to End Deadlock Over Tehran's Nuclear Program

| Thu Apr. 26, 2007 9:14 AM PDT

Just an update to remind you that in some parts of the world, people still believe in diplomacy.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said the talks were useful and had been conducted in a good atmosphere, although no huge breakthrough was immediately apparent.
"We have tried to understand each other better and that, without any doubt, is a very fundamental part of the resolution of the problem," Mr Solana added. "We have not made miracles, but have tried to move the dossier forward a little bit."

I'll take it. After all, slow-moving diplomacy worked before, just recently. The United States could learn something here. Even when we put down the sabers, the best we've been able to do is this.

Early Top 10: Coachella Edition

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 6:51 PM PDT

Tomorrow morning, me and about 60,000 of my pals will start heading down to Indio for the Coachella Music & Arts Festival. The event – envisioned as an American version of British festivals like Glastonbury, without the mud -- has drawn hipsters, fashionistas, yuppies, rockers, ravers, goths and geeks to the broiling desert since 1999. I've been to all but one. Maybe it's the amazing lineup, maybe it's the well-planned and grassy venue, or maybe it's the fact that I never had a wild Spring Break experience because I was always studying too hard, but I love everything about Coachella, and every year I start counting down the days to the next one the moment I get back. Check back here for coverage and pictures all weekend. Here's an arbitrary list of what to look forward to if you're going (or watching the webcast):

mojo-photo-sonicyouth.jpg10. Sonic Youth (Outdoor Stage, Friday)
This venerable New York combo put out one of the best albums of 2006, and this might be our only chance to hear them play songs from it, since much of their upcoming tour will be dedicated to Daydream Nation. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

mojo-photo-jarvis.JPG9. Jarvis Cocker (Outdoor Stage, Friday)
Pulp were near-revolutionaries, and while their frontman hasn't stayed on top of the charts, he's as feisty as ever (bad language on that link!), releasing an acclaimed solo record this year.

mojo-photo-manu.JPG8. Manu Chao (Main Stage, Sunday)
What's great about Coachella is that not only do you catch up with your favorite artists, but also discover new ones. I don't know much about this Latin singer, but about seven different people in the last week have told me how excited they are about him, so I'll check him out, and I hope he doesn't turn out to be the World Music Dave Matthews which is kind of what he looks like he might be from this picture.

mojo-photo-faithless.JPG7. Faithless (Sahara Stage, Friday)
It's been almost ten years since I've seen Faithless, and it was at a small San Francisco club; in the meantime, they've established themselves as an epic, must-see festival act all over Europe. With Coachella known for life-changing dance tent shows (see Daft Punk, Underworld, Chemical Brothers), this could be a highlight.

mojo-photo-peterbjornjohn.JPG6. Peter Bjorn & John (Mojave Tent, Saturday)
Sticking a heavily-buzzed band in the tiniest tent (see Gnarls Barkley last year) is also a Coachella tradition; if I can actually get in to see them, I'll be interested to see how their lilting, '60s-style indie pop translates to the stage.

Barbara Bush: Still the Nation's Best Source For Sick Humor

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 6:16 PM PDT

She asked us why she should waste her beautiful mind on such things as body bags and death.

Then, she comforted us (with a chuckle) by telling us how much better off the Katrina evacuees were hanging out in Houston's hurricane relief centers.

And yesterday, the former First Lady said it was okay for Mitt Romney to be "Mormon" (a term that is avoided by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, but used by Larry King) because there are "wild people" in every religion. (Barbara should know--she is one wild Episcopalian.) She went on to explain: "I mean it was in 1897 that bigamy was outlawed in that church. You know we have a lot of Christian wild people too, and a lot of Jewish wild people and a lot of Muslim wild people. The Mormon religion takes care of its own, they don't have people on welfare."

In the world of Bush, that is the ultimate compliment.

While she and her husband were chatting with Larry King, George H.W. Bush remarked, without irony, that he thought the nation was suffering from "Bush fatigue," and therefore, Jeb could not run for president.

Thanks to The Heretik.