Blogs

Another Day, Another Heist in Baghdad

| Thu Jul. 12, 2007 12:05 PM EDT

Hours before the White House released its tepid assessment of Iraq's progress on 18 congressional benchmarks, Baghdad's Dar Es Salaam bank was burgled of some $282 million. Apparently the heist was an inside job carried out by bank guards, who, Iraqi officials are speculating, have ties to the militias. If true, that certainly doesn't bode well for the security situation, raising the possibility that some rather unsavory militants are about to get a large cash infusion.

Believe it or not, but this massive heist is only the second largest in the country's history (not counting the hundreds of millions of dollars that vanished under the watchful eye of Iraq's defense ministry) . The first, which is the world's largest, happened shortly before the U.S. invasion commenced in March 2003, when Saddam Hussein and his family pilfered $1 billion from Iraq's Central Bank.

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"Eerily Similar": In 1999-2000, It was Afghanistan. Today, Pakistan

| Thu Jul. 12, 2007 9:56 AM EDT

A Hill staffer correspondent comments, in response to this:

Read your post. It strikes me that we are in an eerily similar situation to 1999 and 2000.
-- The United States is fully aware of Al Qaeda training camps operating openly, with links to cells and operatives in Western Europe elsewhere;
-- Our government is picking up increasing signs of communications, movements of money, and other signals indicative of planning for future attacks;

Miers Won't Even Show Up to "Not Recall" Who Fired Those Attorneys

| Thu Jul. 12, 2007 7:00 AM EDT

President Bush has instructed former White House counsel Harriet Miers to defy a congressional subpoena [PDF] requiring her to testify at tomorrow's hearing on the controversial firings of eight United States attorneys. A letter from Miers' lawyer to House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers (D-Mich.) confirmed that the onetime Supreme Court nominee will definitely be a no-show.

Bush's instructions could prove troublesome for both Miers and the White House. Miers, as a private citizen, could easily find herself slapped with contempt charges (and thrown in jail for up to a year) for defying the subpoena. The president could face even greater problems: One Talking Points Memo reader has dug up a law that seems to say that the president's order to defy the subpoena was itself illegal.

The bigger problem for Miers, as Conyers explains in a letter posted to Nancy Pelosi's blog, is that the subpoena represents a legal obligation to at least appear in front of Congress, while the president's instruction carries no such legal weight. Miers would have some more wiggle room if she followed the example of former White House political director Sara Taylor. Taylor, whom Wonkette called the love child of Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, showed up to testify yesterday but refused to answer many of the committee's questions. There's a very convoluted scenario under which this latest debate over executive privilege could wind up before the Supremes, whose ranks Miers once hoped to join. It's fun to ponder: Would Sam Alito have to recuse himself?

—Nick Baumann

Weird Weather Watch: Heat Wave Killed Nearly 500 Californians

| Wed Jul. 11, 2007 9:36 PM EDT

Last July was a scorcher in California. The state has officially reported that the record temperatures killed about 150 people. But an AP analysis of death counts by county reveals that nearly 500 more people died that month than normally do in July. The study did not find evidence of a cover-up, but that's not good news. States don't yet have the tools to determine what constitutes a weather-related death, meaning that many more will have to die before climate change is recognized as an urgent public health problem.

Weird Weather Watch: Heat Wave Killed Nearly 500 Californians

| Wed Jul. 11, 2007 9:28 PM EDT

Last July was a scorcher in California. The state has officially reported that the record temperatures killed about 150 people. But an AP analysis of death counts by county reveals that nearly 500 more people died that month than normally do in July. The study did not find evidence of a cover-up, but that's not good news. States don't yet have the tools to determine what constitutes a weather-related death, meaning that many more will have to die before climate change is recognized as an urgent public health problem.

New Intelligence Estimate: Threat Level Orange. Dark Orange.

| Wed Jul. 11, 2007 8:28 PM EDT

The United States is paying about $280 million dollars a day for the war in Iraq. As Mother Jones reported in our Iraq 101 package, it's good money after bad. A new intelligence assessment confirms it, concluding that al Qaeda is as strong now as it was just before the September 11 attacks. That and there has been a proliferation of groups with similar ideology. Heckuva job, Georgie.

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ISG Report's Recommendations Outdated, Warn Critics

| Wed Jul. 11, 2007 7:00 PM EDT

Growing numbers of Congressional Republicans are (at long last) warming up to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report. In fact, a bipartisan amendment to an upcoming defense authorization bill is being bandied about that would re-emphasize a diplomatic solution to the Iraq conflict, advocate an oil revenue bill acceptable to all three of the country's sectarian groups, and maybe (just maybe) withdraw most U.S. troops by 2008. The amendment puts Harry Reid and the Democrats in a tough position; they obviously prefer the ISG's recommendations to Bush's current game of wait-and-see, but it will take much more than that to appease their base.

For example, the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based progressive policy organization, today released a report warning that much of the ISG report has now been overtaken by events and urging lawmakers to reconsider its recommendations before blindly passing them into law.

Intelligence Briefing on the Hill Today

| Wed Jul. 11, 2007 6:57 PM EDT

The top intelligence analysts for the CIA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) provided a Global Security Assessment to the full House Armed Services Committee today. Committee chairman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Missouri) presided at the hearing briefed by ODNI deputy director for analysis Thomas Fingar (.pdf), CIA director for intelligence John Kringen, and DIA deputy director for analysis Robert Cardillo.

It was sobering. Some key points:

--Concern that Al Qaeda is getting more comfortable in "ungoverned spaces" of Pakistan, due to various factors, including a recent agreement by the Pakistani authorities with tribal leaders to leave Islamic militants in Waziristan alone. Intelligence community seeing more signs Al Qaeda is regrouping, able to train, and communicate in Pakistan (also of Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan). US policymakers have been reluctant to intervene in a major way in a sovereign country, especially as Musharraf's position is vulnerable, and out of the concern that what is now a problem in corners of Pakistan could explode across the whole country of 169 million people. There are a lot of potential terrorist recruits in Pakistan, one of the analysts said. (This focusing one's attention more by Pakistani analyst on BBC this morning comparing US relationship with Musharraf to "Shah of Iran" syndrome). Translation: duck.

Plants Uptake Antibiotics

| Wed Jul. 11, 2007 3:25 PM EDT

Routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock may be contaminating the world of plants. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have evaluated whether food crops accumulate antibiotics from soils spread with manure that contains antibiotics. Plant uptake was evaluated in a greenhouse study involving three food crops: corn, lettuce, and potato. Plants were grown on soil modified with liquid hog manure containing Sulfamethazine, a commonly used veterinary antibiotic. This antibiotic was taken up by all three crops. Concentrations of antibiotics were found in the plant leaves. Concentrations in plant tissue also increased as the amount of antibiotics present in the manure increased. It also diffused into potato tubers, which suggests that root crops, such as potatoes, carrots, and radishes, that directly come in contact with soil may be particularly vulnerable to antibiotic contamination. JULIA WHITTY

Organic Farming Can Feed The World

| Wed Jul. 11, 2007 3:01 PM EDT

Organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming on the same amount of land. A new study from the University of Michigan refutes the long-standing assumption that organic farming methods can't produce enough food to feed the global population. The researchers found that yields in developed countries were almost equal between organic and conventional farms, while food production in developing countries could double or triple by going organic. The study also found that equal or greater yields could be accomplished using existing quantities of organic fertilizers, and without putting more farmland into production. Ivette Perfecto, of U-M's School of Natural Resources and Environment, said the idea that people would go hungry if farming went organic is ridiculous. "Corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies—all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food," she said. JULIA WHITTY