Blogs

Intensive Tequila Farming Harms Biodiversity

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 6:03 PM EDT

New Scientist reports that a huge and growing appetite for tequila made from Agave tequilana is harming the genetic diversity of other agave species. Furthermore, the area available for traditional food crops is also falling, and the intensive agave farming is leading to soil erosion, creating an overall decline in biodiversity. Local farmers says that traditional agave varieties can be grown with staples such as maize, beans and squash without recourse to herbicides, but Agave tequilana is grown in monocultures that require the use of herbicides. . . Que lastima. --JULIA WHITTY

Advertise on MotherJones.com

CITES Meeting Decides Fate Of Endangered Species For Better & Worse

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 5:30 PM EDT

The annual Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) closed today in the Hague. This international regulatory body--convened to slow or reverse the accelerating rate of extinction--adopted more than 100 formal regulations governing the worldwide wildlife trade. A bitterly-fought consensus allowed a one-time-only sale of African elephant ivory from four southern African nations (East African countries argued that any sales would continue to fuel the black market and hence poaching). The European eel—a favorite in Japan--was added to the CITES list for the first time, along with a new timber species, Brazilwood. Trade was forbidden for the slow loris, a small nocturnal primate native to South and Southeast Asia; the Guatemalan beaded lizard; the slender-horned gazelle and Cuvier's gazelle of northern Africa; and sawfishes, whose rostral saws and other body parts are valued as curios and in traditional medicine.

As Nature reports, CITES also accepted the US proposal to limit the trade of all corals of the genus Corallium, the red and pink corals used to make jewelry. Sadly, CITES also allowed Ugandan exports of leopard skins, despite weak science on the issue. The convention also rejected European Union proposals to regulate trade of the Spiny dogfish (Squalus acandthias), the fish used in much of Britain's fish & chips. Wildlife protection groups protested the decision as pandering to commercial fishing interests. . . Another short-sighted triumph of Homo sapiens avaricious. --JULIA WHITTY

"Green" Planes to Debut in 2015

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 5:28 PM EDT

ecojet.jpgAs we've written before, air travel is pretty bad for the environment. But thankfully, some airline moguls (ahem, Richard Branson) are aware and are donating money and researching better fuel sources. Now Andy Harrison, of British budget airline easyJet, has announced his contribution: the ecoJet.

The ecoJet, seen left with Harrison, boasts a cutting edge design that would emit half the carbon dioxide of current airplanes, and would be 25 percent quieter to boot. The key to the plane's efficiency is its high-propulsion "open rotor" engines, which--to reduce noise--would be mounted in the very back of the plane instead of under the wings. The "green" jet would also have a lower cruise velocity (to reduce drag) and would be mostly used for short-haul flights. The ecoJet could be completed as early as 2015 and Harrison said he'd replace his whole fleet with ecoJets if they were available now. Until then, there's always carbon offsets.

U.S. CO2 Emissions Even Higher Due To Trade With China

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 4:43 PM EDT

Rising U.S. trade with countries like China has major consequences on greenhouse emissions. Carnegie Mellon University engineering researchers describe how the U.S. has reduced its increasing carbon emissions by importing more carbon-intensive goods from other countries. For example, the amount of CO2 emissions generated from making a computer in China could be up to three times higher than when the same computer is made in the U.S. The researchers estimate that CO2 emissions associated with imports rose from 12 percent of total U.S. emissions in 1997 to 22 percent in 2004--a substantial increase given that the U.S. already emits around 25 percent of the world's total global carbon dioxide.

Many researchers question how emissions associated with traded goods should be accounted for. "These emissions are only going to increase as the United States continues to consume more and more essential goods from outside its borders," says researcher H. Scott Matthews. Since the U.S. continues to import more goods from carbon-intensive trading partners, this trend is likely to continue in the short term. . . There we go again: buying our way to the end of the world, one DVD player at a time. --JULIA WHITTY

The Military Is Going Nuts

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 4:41 PM EDT

A report released by a congressionally ordered mental health task force suggests that the military's handling of mental health problems in its ranks is even worse than Mother Jones previously reported (with little to no cooperation from the DoD, by the way). According to NPR, 40 percent of troops returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have some sort of psychological problem. Nearly a quarter show signs of serious mental health disorders.

It gets worse: Soldiers reporting psychological problems are not only not helped, but actually get punished for their illnesses. Some are sent to clean the latrines; others, in an image disturbingly resonant of Abu Ghraib, must sit in a corner wearing a dunce camp for long periods of time. At one army base, many soldiers were kicked out of the services following psychological complaints.

The Pentagon doesn't spend enough on mental health services, nor does it train troops, officers or even mental health care providers adequately. Believe it or not, even military doctors aren't well trained about the links between war and PTSD. For reasons NPR's correspondent doesn't address, since the War on Terror began, the few mental health specialists the DoD has "have been leaving the Army, the Marines, and the Air Force in droves." Problem is, neither the soldiers nor their demons miraculously disappear after they are released with inadequate or no treatment. The Pentagon is outsourcing their care—to you and me and the rest of us who oppose the war in Iraq.

Mike Gravel Will Hypnotize You

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 11:47 AM EDT

I've blogged before about how much I love fringe presidential candidates. They definitely make the best videos, from ones where they claim they are the only ones in their party qualified to run for president to ones where they make post-modernist statements about the future of political campaigning.

Now stone-faced Mike Gravel has an entry in the world of crazy videos -- one where he makes it clear he will stare deep into your soul and convince you to vote for him by throwing a rock in a lake. Got that?

Okay, so I don't get it either. But this feels a lot like my college English classes where inevitably the poem I didn't understand was the one most revered by scholars. So Mike Gravel is either crazy or the smartest man to run for president, ever.

Or maybe he just has too much time on his hands.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

More Info on Financial Disclosures: Clinton, McCain, Romney All Rolling in Cash

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 9:14 AM EDT

We blogged a while back about the financial disclosures of many of the candidates, noting that some folks -- including Romney, McCain, and Clinton -- were granted extensions in filing their paperwork. We now have more information.

Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton have assets valued from $10 million to $50 million (the massive window is a product of FEC rules) with the former president raking in speaking fees of more than $10 million in just the last year. The bulging bank account comes after the pair left the White House with millions in debt from legal fees. Two days ago I hit Senator Clinton pretty hard for being the "Big Money" candidate in the Democratic primary, so it's worth noting that she's made a bid for some financial transparency -- along with Bill, she has liquidated a family trust worth between $5 million and $25 million that had investments in oil and pharmaceutical companies, military contractors, Wal-Mart, and FOX News parent company News Corp. The cost of avoiding future conflicts of interest (and being hit for investing in decidedly non-progressive entities) is substantial, because of capital gains taxes the Clintons will have to pay.

Elsewhere, filings showed that the McCain family has $24.3 million in assets, almost all held by Cindy McCain and the McCain children. Cindy McCain controls an Anheuser-Busch distributorship in Arizona that is said to be among the largest in the nation.

And former Bain executive Mitt Romney is worth the most out of the bunch, with assets totaling $190 million to $250 million. Yahtzee!

Do Not Pass Go, Scooter Libby. Do Not Collect $200

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 9:04 AM EDT

Perhaps you've heard about this?

Scooter Libby will not be allowed to remain free while his lawyers appeal the 30-month sentence he received after being convicted of lying to investigators during the CIA leak investigation, according to media reports.
The former White House adviser could be sent to federal prison within weeks, according to the Associated Press.

Now the pressure is really on President Bush regarding a pardon -- delaying it until the end of his term, entirely possible if Libby was allowed to stay free during appeal after appeal, is out of the question. Reports say that Team Cheney is pushing for a pardon hard, but the president is ambivalent. Though I think it would make a mockery of the justice system, I'm not sure why he doesn't pardon Libby today -- it's not like his approval ratings can get any lower.

Gonzales Under Investigation for Trying to Influence Aide's Testimony

| Fri Jun. 15, 2007 8:48 AM EDT

The problem with investigations is they create new, smaller investigations. That's what Alberto Gonzales is learning, anyway. He's under investigation for possibly trying to influence the testimony of former aide Monica Goodling in the U.S. Attorneys scandal.

Gonzo said in testimony that he never discussed the scandal with other "fact witnesses," and that in fact this lack of discussion was exactly why he had to respond with so many "do not recalls" in response to lawmakers' questions. But in testimony that came after Gonzo's, Goodling said that her boss had a conversation with her around this time about whether or not she should stay at the DOJ. According to Goodling, this conversation made her "a little uncomfortable." Many speculate it was intended to influence her testimony.

What's remarkable about this is that the investigation isn't being taken up by Congress -- it's being instigated by the Department of Justice itself. That means that it's no Democrat-led fishing expedition, but also that Gonzales is being investigated by his subordinates, putting everyone in an awkward position and raising the question of whether the investigation will be effective.

Effective or not, add this to the ever-growing list of scandals at DOJ.