Blogs

The White House Email Controversy Heats Up

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 9:53 AM PDT

The hidden scandal in the administration's already scandalous purge of eight U.S. Attorneys is the discovery that White House officials have been regularly communicating using nongovernmental email addresses, some of them administered by the Republican National Committee. As we reported a couple weeks ago, this seems a blatant attempt to prevent emails from being archived by the White House computer system and potentially flouts the Presidential Records Act, a law enacted after Watergate to ensure that the papers of presidents and their advisor's are adequately preserved (and eventually made available to the public).

Now that congressional investigators are turning up the heat on the White House to explain this practice and Henry Waxman has asked the RNC to preserve White House communications archived on its servers, the email controversy is "creating new embarrassment and legal headaches for the White House," the Los Angeles Times reports. The paper explains that this "back-channel e-mail and paging system, paid for and maintained by the RNC, was designed to avoid charges that had vexed the Clinton White House — that federal resources were being used inappropriately for political campaign purposes."

Perhaps, but that's just one part of the story. There's evidence to suggest that White House officials aren't simply concerned with separating their political and policy duties. As U.S. News & World Report noted in a brief item in 2004, White House staffers have turned to Web-based email accounts specifically to keep their emails from entering the public record. "I don't want my E-mail made public," one White House "insider" told the magazine.

Not only did White House officials think better of using their official emails, they also instructed the lobbyists who did business with them to avoid the White House system. "...It is better to not put this stuff in writing in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.," one lobbyist to wrote to Jack Abramoff in August 2003 after Abramoff accidentally pinged former Karl Rove aide Susan Ralston on her White House address. "Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc [Republican National Committee] pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system," Abramoff replied.

The White House is trying to play down the controversy, spinning the use of outside email addresses as an honest effort to avoid breaching the Hatch Act, which prohibits most federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job. But here's the thing: Staffers whose salaries are paid from an appropriation for the Executive Office of the President are exempt from certain strictures of that law and are allowed to conduct political business. That is, under most circumstances, White House officials would have no need to use alternate email addresses when talking politics.

Overshadowed by the U.S. Attorney firings, the email controversy has received scant media attention. But it's the email scandal, with its potential to pull back the curtain on the White House's political operation and possibly unveil other scandals, that really has the GOP's teeth chattering. According to the Times:

Some Republicans believe that the huge number of e-mails — many written hastily, with no thought that they might become public — may contain more detailed and unguarded inside information about the administration's far-flung political activities than has previously been available.

One "GOP activist," in what seems a vast understatement, told the paper, "There is concern about what may be in these e-mails."

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Terror Watch List Claims Another Victim

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 9:10 AM PDT

A leading constitutional scholar finds himself on the terrorist watch list for giving an anti-Bush lecture. Read the prof's background and full letter here. Watch the offending lecture here. Read a possible debunk, with some interesting stuff in the comments section, here. But first take a gander at the cliff noted version below.

"When I tried to use the curb-side check in at the Sunport, I was denied a boarding pass because I was on the Terrorist Watch list. I was instructed to go inside and talk to a clerk. At this point, I should note that I am not only the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence (emeritus) but also a retired Marine colonel. I fought in the Korean War as a young lieutenant, was wounded, and decorated for heroism. I remained a professional soldier for more than five years and then accepted a commission as a reserve office, serving for an additional 19 years."
"I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that." I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. "That'll do it," the man said."
"After carefully examining my credentials, the clerk asked if he could take them to TSA officials. I agreed. He returned about ten minutes later and said I could have a boarding pass, but added: "I must warn you, they=re going to ransack your luggage." On my return flight, I had no problem with obtaining a boarding pass, but my luggage was "lost." Airlines do lose a lot of luggage and this "loss" could have been a mere coincidence. In light of previous events, however, I'm a tad skeptical."

Emphasis mine. Looks like I'm probably on a list somewhere. Are you?

Pelosi's Syria Trip -- in Video Blog Form!

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 9:04 AM PDT

I'm linking to this for a couple reasons: (1) it's a very good rundown of the dust up surrounding Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, and (2) it's a great example of how video blogging can be done well. Kudos, Josh!

See Hillary, John, and BHO Tonight

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 8:51 AM PDT

Interested in finally seeing what all the fuss is about with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and the rest of the Democratic field? Live in one of the roughly 45 states that never see a presidential candidate in the primaries?

Today's your lucky day: MoveOn.org is hosting a virtual townhall, in which people gather in homes and community centers around the country to get online and watch the Democratic candidates joust and spout. You can find one near you here. Hooray for the internet!

Liberalism Is In

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 9:16 PM PDT

Americans have grown more concerned about the gap between rich and poor. Support for the social safety net has grown too, while our military appetite has shrunk, according to a recent Pew survey of public opinion.

More Americans agree with the assessment that "today it's really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer." Today, 73% feel that way, up from 65% five years ago.

It follows that more of us believe the government should take care of people who can't take care of themselves. Fifty-four percent of Americans say the government should help more needy people, even if it adds to the national debt, compared to just 41 percent in 1994.

Just five years ago, 43 percent of of us identified as Republicans, and same for Democrats. Now 35 percent identify as Republicans, and half the country as Democrats.

Also, racism and homophobia are both down. More than 83 percent agree that "it's all right for blacks and whites to date," up six percentage points since 2003 and 13 points from 10 years ago. The number of people who believe that school boards should have the right to fire gay teachers is at 28 percent, down from 51 percent in 1987.

The MoJo summary of all of the above: Americans are getting in touch with reality.

But the sad part may be that "the public is losing confidence in itself." The percent agreeing that Americans "can always find a way to solve our problems" has dropped 16 points in five years. Americans feel more and more estranged from their government. Barely a third would agree that "most elected officials care what people like me think," a 10-point drop since 2002. Saddest of all, young people, who have the rosiest view of government, are the least interested in voting or other political participation.

Clear Need for Integrated Climate/Human Behavior Models

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 7:41 PM PDT

Adapting to global climate change will require humans to develop new tools. (Our specialty, right?) The new tools will need to integrate climate models with analysis of human behavior, reports the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, an international network of environmental scientists. "We need to continue discovering how the Earth system works in order to evaluate the numerous ways that humans can adapt to climate change," says Kevin Noone, executive director of the IGBP.

Human adaptation to a changing climate can take many forms, and can have both positive and negative environmental impacts. Small-scale, adaptation measures—for better or worse—might include more air conditioning, architectural changes for more efficient heating and cooling, better forecasting and warning systems for extreme events, and increased water usage. Large-scale adaptations might include switching to renewable energy sources or attempts at "geoengineering." Furthermore the large-scale migrations of refugees from frakked-up areas ruined by global warming and other environmental and socioeconomic stresses will also be a form of adaptation.

"The science needed to support decision making about adaptation requires a sophisticated understanding about how the Earth system works, but goes well beyond just that. We need new tools to help us develop robust 'what if' scenarios for different potential adaptation schemes, and their consequences," says Noone. He describes the new tools as new types of models that couple together active, predictive descriptions of human behaviour and choice with the kinds of models used to predict future climate. --Julia Whitty

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Thirty-Two Mile Cable Installed for First Deep-Sea Observatory

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 7:14 PM PDT

Oceanographers have completed an important step in constructing the first deep-sea observatory off the continental United States. Workers laid 32 miles of cable along the Monterey Bay sea floor that will provide electrical power to scientific instruments, video cameras, and robots 3,000 feet below the ocean surface. The link will also carry data from the instruments back to shore, for use by scientists and engineers from around the world, reports the National Science Foundation. The Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS) observatory, due to be completed later this year, will provide ocean scientists with 24-hour-a-day access to instruments and experiments in the deep sea. The project is managed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and funded by the National Science Foundation. Currently, almost all oceanographic instruments in the deep sea rely on batteries for power and store their data on hard disks or memory chips until they are brought back to the surface. With a continuous and uninterrupted power supply, instruments attached to the MARS observatory could remain on the sea floor for months or years.

The cable itself contains a copper electrical conductor and strands of optical fiber. The copper conductor will transmit up to 10 kilowatts of power from a shore station at Moss Landing, California, to instruments on the sea floor. The optical fiber will carry up to 2 gigabits per second of data from these instruments back to researchers on shore, allowing scientists to monitor and control instruments 24 hours a day, and to have an unprecedented view of how environmental conditions in the deep sea change over time. "After 5 years of hard work, we are thrilled to bring the age of the Internet to the deep ocean, so we can understand, appreciate and protect the two-thirds of our planet that lies under the sea," said MBARI director Marcia McNutt. --Julia Whitty

Trees Offset Carbon Footprint, But Which Trees?

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 6:47 PM PDT

Trees trap and absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. That's how they help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, mitigating or reducing global warming. But a new study from the Carnegie Institution and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggests the effectiveness of this strategy depends heavily on where these trees are planted. Because tropical forests store large amounts of carbon and produce reflective clouds, they are especially good at cooling the planet. In contrast, forests in snowy areas can warm the Earth, because their dark canopy absorbs sunlight that would otherwise be reflected back to space by a bright white covering of snow. "Tropical forests are like Earth's air conditioner," says Ken Caldeira of Carnegie's Department of Global Ecology. "When it comes to rehabilitating forests to fight global warming, carbon dioxide might be only half of the story; we also have to account for whether they help to reflect sunlight by producing clouds, or help to absorb it by shading snowy tundra." --Julia Whitty

Bush Doles out More B.S. on the Border

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 5:22 PM PDT

Maybe President Bush genuinely wants to solve the United States' immigration woes, or maybe he's grasping for another hot-button (hate) issue to drum up conservative support. Today, he proposed immigration reforms in Yuma, Arizona, which were a far cry more punitive than those he advocated last year. A 3-year work visa would cost an immigrant $3,500—a sum beyond the imaginings of most rural Mexicans looking for grunt work in the United States. To get a green card, workers would have to return to their home countries, apply for reentry, and pay a $10,000 fine. The proposal brought 10,000 Latinos to the streets of Los Angeles.

Just two weeks ago, I blogged about a Los Angeles Times article that suggested that last year's immigration legislation (sans the fence that, thankfully, has not materialized) has brought illegal border crossings down. The article took the number of illegals caught to be representative of the total number. Bush today made the same point: Fewer caught crossers is good news. But, as Think Progress points out, a year and a half ago, Bush pointed to increased apprehensions as a positive indicator of Border Patrol's performance. As with drugs, the government can manipulate "apprehension" statistics however it wants. (In my previous blog post, I cited Charles Bowden's assertion in "Exodus" that "On the line, all numbers are fictions. The exportation of human beings by Mexico now reaches, officially, a half million souls a year. Or double that. Or triple that.")

If illegal immigration is indeed waning on its own, why are we talking about it now? Wouldn't the war on terror—which we're losing—be a better policy to rehash? But here I seem to have answered my own question: Yes, it would. Bush tactic: Distract; dissemble; drum up hate for some other group. If illegal immigration isn't waning—which seems far more likely—doesn't that beg the question, again, of why we're not addressing its causes like the European Union does?

Gingrich Joins GOP Attack on Gonzales

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 9:30 AM PDT

Newt Gingrich, who would like to be the GOP presidential candidate, is is now calling for Attorney General Gonzales to quit before things get any worse. "This is the most mishandled, artificial, self-created mess that I can remember in the years I've been active in public life," Gingrich said of the US attorney firing scandal. "The buck has to stop somewhere, and I'm assuming it's the attorney general and his immediate team." If he stays, said the former Speaker, there will be endless hearings.

Other Republicans who want Gonzales out include Senators John Sununu of New Hampshire and Gordon Smith of Oregon, along with Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher of California, Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and Lee Terry of Nebraska.