Blogs

Global Warming's Effect on Whales And Dolphins

| Thu May 24, 2007 2:23 PM EDT

Whales, dolphins and porpoises are facing increasing threats from climate change. A report published by the World Wildlife Fund and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, released in advance of the 59th meeting of the International Whaling Commission, finds many populations to be vulnerable to global warming. Cetaceans that rely on polar waters-–belugas, narwhals, and bowhead whales-–are likely to be dramatically affected by the reduction of sea ice. Less sea ice will allow more commercial shipping, oil, gas and mining exploration and development, and military activities in previously untouched areas.

Other impacts of global warming include less habitat for river dolphins, the acidification of the oceans as they absorb CO2, more cetacean disease epidemics, and lower reproductive success and survival rates. Climate change could also be the nail in the coffin for the last 300 or so endangered North Atlantic right whales. The survival of their calves has been directly related to the effects of climate variability on prey abundance.

Check out why we need all these species. --JULIA WHITTY

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Oklahoma Bans Abortion in State Hospitals

| Thu May 24, 2007 2:03 PM EDT

We were hoping the governor of Oklahoma would veto a ban on abortion in state hospitals, with exception for only rape, incest, and when a woman's health is in jeopardy. But Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, let it pass yesterday. Here's the fate of other abortion bills this week.

Alarming Acceleration In CO2 Emissions Worldwide

| Thu May 24, 2007 1:54 PM EDT

Worldwide CO2 emissions have increased at more than three times the rate of the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2004, the rate increased from 1.1 % per year to 3.1% per year—as alluded to in an earlier post. The Carnegie Institution reports that not only is no region is decarbonising its energy supply, but a long-term trend toward greater energy efficiency and reduced carbon intensities is being reversed.

"Despite the scientific consensus that carbon emissions are affecting the world's climate, we are not seeing evidence of progress in managing those emissions in either the developed or developing countries. In many parts of the world, we are going backwards, " remarked co-author of the study Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology. The research also shows that the actual global emissions since 2000 grew faster than the highest of the scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The acceleration is greatest in the exploding economies of developing regions, particularly China.

Of course, by refusing to tackle our own emissions (the largest in the world), we in the U.S. paralyze whatever superpower muscle might be brought to bear on the issue worldwide. Another casualty of six years in the Bush leagues. --JULIA WHITTY

Dem or Repub? Half of the Answer is in Your Genes

| Thu May 24, 2007 1:39 PM EDT

A new study from New York University shows that your political preference is more than just a preference: part of it is written in your DNA. "40, perhaps 50 percent of our political beliefs seem to have a basis in genetics," said Josh Hibbing, political science professor at University of Nebraska, who contributed to the study.

Hibbing's research showed that identical twins were more likely to share political beliefs than fraternal twins, regardless of how they were raised. But DNA does not "hardwire" the belief itself, it merely affects how a person responds to a given situation. A control-happy neat-freak is far more likely to be a conservative because he or she prefers order and the comfort of the familiar in their life, whereas a touchy-feely, globe-trotting artist is more likely to be a liberal because he or she enjoys new experiences.

But the environment is just a strong a factor as genes, especially when personal security is threatened. Thirty-eight percent World Trade Center survivors, said they grew more conservative after 9/11; only 13 percent said they were more liberal.

—Jen Phillips

"Adolescents Play Pranks..."

| Thu May 24, 2007 1:37 PM EDT

Last November, someone set fire to the central wing of a high school in Jena, Louisiana. Then white students beat up a black student because he went to their party. Soon after that, a white adolescent pulled a shotgun on three black adolescents in a convenience store, and then four black students jumped a white student as he came out of the school gym. Following that incident, in which the student received minor injuries, six black students were expelled and were charged with attempted second-degree murder. They face up to a hundred years in prison.

Conversely, the white boy who beat up the student at the party was charged with simple battery, and the boy who held three others at shotgunpoint was not charged with anything. However, his victims were charged with aggravated battery and theft after they grabbed the shotgun in self-defense.

If this sounds like scenes from a 1950s newsreel, that's because Jena is stuck in time when it comes to the issue of racial equality. Enter Jena mayor Murphy McMillian, who says that "Race is not a major local issue. It's not a factor in the local people's lives."

No kidding--he said that.

The latest incident at the high school involves some black students who attempted to sit on the "white side" of the school yard. There, they saw three nooses hanging from a tree. Enter school superindendent Roy Breithaupt, who says that "Adolescents play pranks. I don't think it was a threat against anybody."

Again, he really said that.

The Jena community isn't alone in dismissing violence and threats against women, people of color, the disabled, and members of the LGBT community as "pranks" and "jokes." But this particular piece of denial is so over the top, it would probably shock most reasonable people. The local ACLU calls Jena a "racial powder keg."

Immigration Bill Changing: Guest Worker Program Halved

| Thu May 24, 2007 9:25 AM EDT

Two days ago I wrote that the guest worker program in the Senate's immigration bill would probably be the first provision to be changed or killed. That's exactly what has happened.

Yesterday the Senate overwhelmingly voted to cut the guest worker program in half. Now instead of 400,000 immigrants receiving visas annually to work temporarily in the United States, only 200,000 will. The votes to reduce the number came from Democrats who see the guest worker program as a repeat of the bracero program intended to provide cheap labor to big business and Republicans who see the whole bill as soft on illegal immigration. Pro-business Republicans voted to keep the number at 400,000.

See how the vote broken down along party lines here. See Mother Jones massive and excellent feature on immigration, "Exodus," here.

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ABC Story on Covert Ops in Iran: Romney Can't See an Obvious Government Plant

| Thu May 24, 2007 8:43 AM EDT

The ABC News story about covert operations in Iran just turned into a political football, and Mitt Romney, in seeking to emphasize his tough guy credentials yet again, is making an ass of himself.

Two days ago, ABC's investigative unit revealed that the "CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert "black" operation to destabilize the Iranian government." But the CIA isn't allowed to kill anyone because the presidential finding authorizing the black op is "non-lethal." In fact, the main thrust of the thing is informational and financial -- the CIA is charged with executing a "coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation, and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions." This is according to current and former officials in the intelligence community.

Now, Kevin Drum makes a couple very good points. The whole leak is suspicious. Insiders go to the press when they feel the CIA or any other government agency has clearly crossed the line -- the NSA wiretapping story, for example, was uncovered by the New York Times because government officials were willing to come forward and say, "This is totally not kosher and public outrage is the only way we have of putting a stop to it." As Drum writes, this business about "disinformation" and "manipulation of Iran's currency" is "just about the mildest possible covert operation you can imagine. Why would anyone at the CIA, let alone multiple sources, be so outraged by it that they decided to leak its existence to ABC News?"

It's a good question. Moreover, writes Drum, "the CIA is mostly populated by hardnosed Republicans who hate countries like Iran and love covert operations like this that strike back at them. It's their bread and butter.... they really, really don't make a habit of disclosing active covert operations to major news organizations. That can get people killed, whether the operation itself is lethal or not."

So the CIA has no reason to be up in a tizzy about this new presidential authorization to go after Iran. Then why did multiple members of the intelligence community go to the press? Drum speculates this was a plant coordinated by the government "as a way of sending a message to Iran."

Supporting Drum's theory is the fact, recently revealed by ABC, that the White House had six days to register any objection at all to the story, and they chose not to act.

The story pretty clearly came out with the Bush Administration's consent.

But that isn't stopping Mitt Romney from trying to score cheap political points. The web is flooded with stories blaring the headline "Romney: ABC Story Puts Lives at Risk." Says Romney, "The reporting has the potential of jeopardizing our national security... it has the potential of affecting human life."

The president of ABC News, David Westin, shot back that ABC wouldn't run a story (and hasn't run stories in the past) that put lives at risk, and that American covert ops in Iran have been reported before. "The facts don't bear out the accusations (from Romney)," Westin said. "I even think that any brief look at the facts says that. This is not a complicated one."

Romney isn't dumb. He has to know this is a story the government intended to put in the public sphere, either to send a message to Iran, as Drum wrote, or amidst news that Iran is three to eight years from having a nuclear weapon, to send a message to the American people. "We're doing something about this," they're saying. "Don't worry." Romney knows this. But it's an opportunity to look macho. Chest-puffing, on display during the second GOP debate when the topic of torture came up, is perhaps the most obscene and disgusting part of the GOP primary.

Oh, and PS -- I'd be willing to bet a ton of money that there are other, more "lethal" covert ops going on in Iran right now, but no official in the intelligence community would ever come forward to tell the press, because it would be a PR nightmare for the CIA and could more directly jeopardize national security.

Live Earth Making Enemies

| Wed May 23, 2007 4:20 PM EDT

mojo-logo-liveearth.jpgAl Gore's Live Earth concerts (the lineup of which I controversially dissed a while back) are getting some more negative publicity. First up, last week, a surprisingly coherent Roger Daltry of the Who told England's The Sun that "the last thing the planet needs is a rock concert." Well now! How do you feel, Mr. Daltry, about using a notoriously wasteful type of event to raise environmental awareness? "I can't believe it," he says, "let's burn even more fuel." Daltry did of course play both LiveAid and Live8, which were apparently not powered by fuel but by magical unicorns on treadmills. Speaking of LiveAid, Sir Bob Geldof himself was even more harsh on Live Earth, saying "everybody" already knows about global warming. Knows about, and rejects, Sir Bob, just like that crazy idea we evolved from monkeys.

Joe Klein and John Kerry: Gross

| Wed May 23, 2007 4:02 PM EDT

Michael Crowley excerpts a portion of Bob Shrum's memoir on The Plank today. Shrum, for those who have managed to keep their minds unpoisoned by the insanity of Washington's consultant circles, is a man who has consulted for eight Democratic presidential candidates. All eight have lost. You might think after the fourth, fifth, or sixth loss Shrum would be out of work. You obviously don't know anything about politics.

Shrum writes at length about his experience as a consultant for John Kerry's 2004 campaign. Crowley highlights a disturbing passage about Time columnist and world class blowhard Joe Klein:

Klein himself was trying to play many parts. He was not only reporting on the campaign and preparing to write a book about consultants; he was also a constant critic and yet another sometime adviser. After the Kerry appearance at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, he told [Kerry spokesman] David Wade: "Great speech, but it's too late" -- then turned around and stalked away. With Klein, it was almost always too late for us, in part because we didn't always take his persistent advice. He would chastise Kerry on the phone when he didn't like a speech, counseling both Kerry and me about what the candidate should say and what our strategy should be.

Okay, so it's weird (and probably unethical) that a famous journalist who writes regularly about the presidential campaign is advising one of the candidates. But here's something even more odd:

Rejecting [Klein's] advice was uncomfortable for Kerry, who liked Joe, craved his approval, and worried what his columns would say when we didn't take his recommendations.

Jesus! I'm not even angry that I supported a guy so insecure and unsure of his convictions that he considered how a egomaniacal columnist would evaluate his actions before he took them. I'm angry that I work in a profession where writers and their subjects become so intertwined that it affects the subjects' behavior. How can one reasonably argue that it doesn't affect the writers' also?

I'm not one of the bloggers who criticizes journalists and their sources for running in the same social circles. I've always assumed that these people can separate their personal feelings and professional responsibilities. But if this is how journalism works inside the beltway, good heavens, count me out.

Spellings' Grade: Needs Improvement

| Wed May 23, 2007 3:17 PM EDT

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has an uncanny ability to whisk responsibility away from her turf, the Department of Education. In the first 30 seconds of her Daily Show interview last night, she laughingly deferred Jon Stewart's joke about Lunchables to agriculture officials, and Stewart's food pyramid question to Health and Human Services.

But her "hands are tied" arguments are wearing thin.

With inappropriate dealings in the $85 billion student loan industry widely reported, alleged mishandling of the Reading First early literacy program and the pending reauthorization of No Child Left Behind this year, she's got a lot of stepping up to do.

One education blogger even draws parallels between Spellings and Alberto Gonzalez, saying that if Gonzalez weren't hogging the spotlight so much right now, Spellings would be getting more attention.

That's not the comparison to be shooting for, especially with her qualifications in question. After admitting to during a Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in March that the only teaching she had ever done was as an uncertified substitute early in her career, and that her college pursuits were in political science and journalism, one frustrated congressman said there was a "disconnect" in her ability to execute on meaningful public policy.

Still, Spellings stood firm on these issues during a recent oversight committee hearing testimony, and recently told NPR that she feels "very good" about the "aggressive role" she has taken in the "raging fire" that is American higher education policy. Problem is, she also called the student loan scandals a "teaching moment for us," too.

—Gary Moskowitz