The House Judiciary Committee voted today to issue contempt citations for two of President Bush's most trusted aides, taking its most dramatic step yet towards a constitutional showdown with the White House over the Justice Department's dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys.
The panel voted 22-17, along party lines, to issue citations to Joshua B. Bolten, White House chief of staff, and Harriet E. Miers, former White House counsel. Both refused to comply with committee subpoenas after Bush declared that documents and testimony related to the prosecutor firings were protected by executive privilege.
It remains to be seen what this means, because after these contempt citations pass the full House they are referred to the U.S. Attorney of the District of Columbia, an employee of the Justice Department. And the White House has already said, in an unprecedented move, that it will block the DOJ from prosecuting any contempt charges. My dream scenario: Supreme Court showdown!
Remember the '80s hit by Midnight Oil, "Beds Are Burning"? The Aussie song posits with some disbelief that the "western desert lives and breathes in 45 degrees." (That's Celsius, y'all.) Singer-turned-politician Peter Garrett would be even more stunned to learn that southern Europe lived, breathed, and tried to sleep in 45 degrees this week. That's 113 Fahrenheit, in a region where air conditioners are less common even than Oreos. Greece, Bosnia, and Macedonia suffered most. In Hungary, the mercury hit 107 degrees, causing at least 500 heat-related deaths. Sound like fun? Try adding in several deadly fires and another record-breaking heat wave last month. So next time you hear "next year will be the hottest on record," don't plan on summering it away in Greece.
This morning's Washington Post reports on the results of a recent Pew Global Attitudes survey, showing that most of the world's Muslims reject suicide bombings and violence against civilians. The poll, conducted between April 6 and May 29, surveyed 45,239 people in 46 countries. Not surprisingly, Palestinians were the most enthusiastic supporters of suicide bombings: 70 percent of them responded that such attacks are "sometimes" or "often" justified. The countries showing the least amount of support? Egypt (8 percent) and Pakistan (9 percent). The survey also suggested that, in many countries, enthusiasm for suicide attacks has fallen sharply since 2002. At that time, 74 percent of Lebanese, 43 percent of Jordanians, and 26 percent of Indonesians agreed that at least some suicide bombings could be justified; today, those statistics stand at 34 percent, 23 percent, and 10 percent, respectively. Pew also discovered waning support for Osama Bin Laden in many of the same countries. The most precipitous decline was in Jordan, where just 20 percent of respondents voiced confidence in the Al Qaeda leader, down from 56 percent in 2002.
The Tibetan plateau is heating up by 0.3°C each decade. At more than twice the worldwide average, according to a new study from the Tibet Meteorological Bureau, as reported by New Scientist. The research reinforces a growing realization that high altitudes in tropical regions are experiencing dramatic temperature increases similar to those at the poles. Over the last 50 years, temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctica have risen by 0.2°C and approximately 0.5°C per decade, respectively, according to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The reason surface temperatures at the poles are warming so quickly is because the seawater temperature around them has risen faster there than anywhere else on Earth. Warming waters also play a role in the tropics. When the already warm tropical waters heat up further, due to global warming, they evaporate even more moisture, which rises straight to the upper atmosphere.
In 2000, researchers published a study looking at temperature changes on the Tibetan plateau since the 1950s, which found that temperature was not only increasing with time, but also with elevation across the plateau. They concluded the plateau is one of the most sensitive areas in the world in its response to global climate change. A study published in 2006 in Science found similar increases in air temperature at high-elevation weather stations in the Andes.
Greenhouse-gas emissions have made the Northern Hemisphere wetter &mdash and climate models appear to have underestimated the changes. Research from the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, published in Nature, finds that human activity has made the weather wetter in a large slice of the Northern Hemisphere, while making the regions just south of the Equator wetter, and those just north of it drier. Agriculture and human health have already been affected. The proof that human activity has altered rainfall patterns was found in comparisons of observed changes with climate models. Specifically with observed rainfall during the twentieth century compared to rainfall predicted by 14 climate models. In the zone between 40 and 70 °N, which includes much of North America and most of Europe, rainfall increased by 62 millimeters per century between 1925 and 1999. The researchers estimate that between 50 and 85% of this increase can be attributed to human activity.
A quarter of adult New Yorkers have elevated blood mercury levels. According to survey results released today by the New York City Health Department (read the full stats here), the elevations are closely tied to fish consumption. Asian and higher-income New Yorkers eat more fish, and have higher average mercury levels, than others both locally and nationally. The Health Department says these levels may increase the risk of cognitive delays for children whose mothers had high mercury levels during pregnancy. The Department also claims these elevated levels pose little if any health risk for most adults. . . Hmm. Right. So how come Canada's "safe" mercury level is half that of the U.S., while Britain's and China's are one-third? JULIA WHITTY