Blogs

CO2 Emissions Exceed "Worst-Case Scenario"

| Tue May 22, 2007 5:40 PM EDT

Recent carbon dioxide emissions exceed the "worst-case scenario" scientists predicted in the IPCC report in 2001. Meanwhile, the Antarctic Ocean is absorbing less carbon dioxide. And the Antarctic is thawing.

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Good Heavens, There's Going to be a Second Surge

| Tue May 22, 2007 5:23 PM EDT

Because this one is going so well, you know.

New reports say that we're to have a second surge. If current Pentagon plans are followed, there will be over 200,000 American soldiers in Iraq by the end of 2007, the largest troop presence we've had there to date.

This is completely stunning news. There will likely be tons of analysis of this across the web, but some initial thoughts:

(1) The White House and the Pentagon are officially completely unresponsive to the wills of the people and Congress. If you weren't already convinced.

(2) Michael Hirsh was 100 percent correct.

(3) This is a full renunciation of the Rumsfeldian way of making war. A lean fighting force can beat an opposing army but it can't secure the peace -- we should have had 200,000 troops or more at the beginning of the war. If we had, there's a small chance we'd be in a position to withdraw victoriously today.

(4) Will this make the Democrats reconsider dropping timelines for withdrawal from their latest Iraq funding bill?

The Strange Case of Bill Richardson's Birth

| Tue May 22, 2007 3:02 PM EDT

Many of you know that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson formally announced his presidential candidacy yesterday. He's been effectively running for months now, so this isn't really news. The only two things of note about the announcement were that Richardson spoke in Spanish and in English, highlighting his roots, and that he made the announcement in California, highlighting that state's new role as a power base in national politics.

Okay, fine. You already knew Richardson is Hispanic and you already knew California is important. Bet you didn't know this:

The candidate Mr. Richardson is more formally known as William Blaine Richardson 3d, the grandson on a Boston-born naturalist who had moved his family to Nicaragua in the late 1890s to do research for the Smithsonian Institution. His own father, William B. Richardson Jr., was actually born on a boat heading to Nicaragua and, according to an interview with Mr. Richardson in the Washington Post, always had a complex about not being born in America.
When Mr. Richardson's father became a banker in Mexico City and married his Mexican secretary, he did not want his son to suffer the same fate.
So, in November 1947, when his mother, Maria Luisa Lopez-Collada Marquez, was pregnant with him, Mr. Richardson's father sent her on a train to Pasadena where she gave birth before turning around and heading back to Mexico City, where Mr. Richardson was raised before being sent to boarding school in Massachusetts at age 13.

I love it! Richardson is basically an immigrant! I think that is completely awesome -- no wonder he has the best line on immigration reform: "No fence ever built has stopped history."

Armed Man Wounded Trying to Defend Idaho Town from Shooter

| Tue May 22, 2007 2:25 PM EDT

Gun rights groups responded to the Virginia Tech shooting by saying that if more students had been packing heat, they could have stopped Cho. A writer in the National Review even blamed the victims for not defending themselves, as Jon blogged. It's not just rhetoric. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and state legislators are actually considering repealing the ban on guns on campus. Rep. Frank Corte Jr., a Republican from San Antonio, said gun-free zones are known "by the bad guys that this is where people don't have firearms."

Well, an armed student was wounded trying to defend an Idaho college town against a man on a shooting rampage last weekend. In Moscow, Idaho, Jason Hamilton "shot and killed one law enforcement officer and wounded Pete Husmann, 20, a University of Idaho mechanical engineering student from Coeur d'Alene. Husmann had armed himself and run to the sound of the shots."

Major Changes to Supreme Court Under Next Presidential Administration

| Tue May 22, 2007 1:03 PM EDT

Over at SCOTUSblog, they posted on Friday about the Supreme Court ramifications of the 2008 presidential election. It looks like the next president will definitely have the opportunity to replace Justice Stevens (who is 87 years old) and Justice Souter (who is 67 but reportedly interested in leaving the bench). He or she might also have the chance to replace Justice Ginsburg (who is 74). A strong liberal, Ginsburg would allow a Democratic president to replace her, but would try and hold out until 2012 if a Republican won the White House. SCOTUSblog raises and then dismisses rumors of Ginsburg's poor health.

The court has already shifted right during Bush's tenure -- replacing Rehnquist with Roberts meant little because both men were/are devoted conservatives, but replacing O'Connor with Alito was a major ideological shift. Abortion, for example, went from being reasonably well protected to being on a path to a death by a thousand cuts. If two or possibly three moderate-to-liberal members of the court were replaced by a Republican in the next presidential term, the result would be disatrous. Even a Democratic Senate wouldn't be able to stop the country from a multi-decade tilt to the right. Major ramifications would be in store for gay rights, environment regulations, controls on executive power, and many other things. Roe wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell.

As if we needed any more reason to throw the GOP out of the White House...

Guest Worker Proviso in Immigration Bill May be First to Die

| Tue May 22, 2007 12:32 PM EDT

People across the spectrum are slamming the Senate's new immigration bill (including us). It looks like a classic Washington compromise: in seeking to please everyone it ended up pleasing no one.

The first part of the bill to face the firing squad? The guest worker program. Two amendments have been introduced by Democrats -- one seeking to kill the program entirely and one seeking to cut it in half.

As currently constituted, the guest worker program in the bill grants 400,000 visas annually to people who can work in the United States for three two-year stretches, provided they return to their home countries between stretches. It should be noted that the "return home" clause in the bill is a major vulnerability, because many immigrants simply don't trust the government to let them back in, and have no intention of leaving the U.S. for any reason.

While the most virulent opposition to the bill has come from the far right, it should be no surprise that the Democrats are the ones working to end the guest worker program. Some Democrats showed cautious support for the guest worker program back when President Bush proposed it because it granted some immigrants the right to earn a living in this country, which seemed more progressive than the "throw them out!" alternative. But they knew full well that the guest worker program was (and still is) a sop to the GOP's corporate friends. Big business is drooling at the idea of an underclass of workers who have few to no labor rights and push down wages for American citizens who do.

We'll see if the guest worker program ends up in the final version of the bill -- Senators want an acceptable revision ready before they head out for a week-long break for Memorial Day, but many senators haven't even read the full bill. Oh, and the Republicans also have a shot at proposing amendments. Here's a possible one:

No word yet what Republicans will offer as an amendment but Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said Monday he's hoping it will be his proposal to make English the official language of the U.S.

Update, one day later: The amendments have been defeated. We'll keep an eye on what happens to the guest worker program as the bill moves forward.

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Two Governors Threaten to Draw Their Guns and Settle Tailpipe Dispute with the EPA "Once and for All"

| Mon May 21, 2007 6:21 PM EDT

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gov. Jodi M. Rell of Connecticut railed against the EPA in an op-ed today in the Washington Post. The EPA is STILL preventing states from raising their own auto emissions standards. This is the same case over which the state of California sued the EPA--and won last month. Twelve states are poised to tighten tailpipe standards beyond existing federal law, but for more than a year, the EPA has refused to allow it.

Even after the Supreme Court ruled in our favor last month, the federal government continues to stand in our way. Another discouraging sign came just last week, when President Bush issued an executive order to give federal agencies until the end of 2008 to continue studying the threat of greenhouse gas emissions and determine what can be done about them.

As we blogged, a clear majority of Americans in surveys say they are really worried about climate change. Seven in 10 want more "much more" federal action .

Like gubernatorial cowboys, the two also threatened that if the administration and the EPA continue this way, they will "take legal action and settle this issue once and for all." Bring it on!

The Senate Immigration Plan Is a Turkey: An Unbiased Primer

| Mon May 21, 2007 5:52 PM EDT

If you step back and think about resolving our immigration woes, two guiding principles spring to mind: A policy that thwarts the basic economic needs that have empirically made immigrants willing to break the law is bound to fail. Immigration policy must also be clearly enforceable. The bipartisan immigration bill being debated in the Senate this week defies both of these common sense assumptions.

The bill would create two new classes of visa. The Y visa is a "guest worker" visa. It would be valid for 2 years and renewable up to three times, but the worker would have to leave the United States for a full year before renewing. The Z visa offers pay-to-play amnesty to employed illegal immigrants: To obtain the 4-year renewable visa, immigrants must pay a $5,000 fine and a $1,500 processing fee for a criminal background check. If they had $6,500 lying around, they wouldn't be risking their lives to cross the border, now would they?

David Leopold of the American Immigration Lawyers Association put it this way: "What's the incentive for somebody to leave and come back? The more complex it is, the more difficult it will be for people to qualify, which will lead to the same sort of unsolvable illegal population problem that we have now."

The Senate bill would also restructure the system for determining who gets a visa. Currently, would-be immigrants move to the front of the line if they have family in the United States or are sponsored by a specific employer. Under the new plan, immigrants would earn points for job skills, education, and English proficiency. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi objects that the change would undermine "family unification principles which have been fundamental to American immigration."

The plan may be mean, but it's not mean in a self-serving way because it probably wouldn't serve us very well. The point-system would often exclude hyper-qualified foreigners whom employers want not because they can pay them peanuts but because they're the most qualified for the job. It would also hurt the immigrants who, as President Bush says, take the jobs Americans don't want—jobs like those at Wal-Mart, Marriott, and the National Restaurant Association (groups which tellingly sponsored a recent immigration-reform dinner).

Low-wage industries likely won't be the only ones squeezed. The point system has been rejected in the past because the government bureaucracy assigning the points wouldn't be able to keep up with the changes in market forces. As a liberal who often believes the government can do things better than the market, I'm with the free-marketeers on this one.

The good news is, the plan has about as much chance of succeeding as a government bureaucracy has of fitting through the eye of a needle. The same employers who wanted reform in the first place are outraged—outraged—that they would be expected to verify workers' eligibility. They might even have a point. The government wants them to reverify all workers, including U.S. citizens. That's 145 million people. And in a test run of the system the government proposes to use, there were lots of "false alarms, with as many as 20 percent of noncitizens and 13 percent of citizens sent for follow-up visits to immigration offices."

The Post concludes wryly:

Security mix-ups that keep travelers from boarding airplanes could pale in comparison with database problems that block Americans from their work.

Yes, we'd have the government standing in the way of Americans earning a legal living based on a system error. Now that is a really bad policy.

Child Bipolar Diagnoses Have Quintupled in a Decade

| Mon May 21, 2007 2:30 PM EDT

A four-year-old died of prescription overdose in December. Rebecca Riley in Massachusetts had been diagnosed with hyperactivity and bipolar disorder at age 2 and 3, and was on three prescription meds at the time of her death: clonidine, Depakote, and Seroquel. Her parents were charged with murder.

Who is nuts in this case? In my opinion, any doctor who diagnoses a toddler with ADD and bipolar disorder. Since they can hardly talk, crying is the only way for them to communicate that they're hungry, they need a diaper change, or they just want attention. And sometimes no one is listening anyway.

It's one thing for adults to seek out a drug prescription when their emotions overwhelm them. Ethically, it's a completely different thing for a psychiatrist to drug children who overwhelm mom and dad. This Masachussetts psychiatrist effectively recommended that Rebecca's parents to medicate her and her two older siblings for what--throwing too many tantrums? What a mixed message to send to an undereducated, overwhelmed mother.

But it happens all the time. Andy Coghlan of the UK's New Scientist points out that bipolar diagnoses in American children have grown fivefold in ten years.

In 1996, 13 out of every 100,000 children in the US were diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. In 2004, the figure was 73 in 100,000, a more than fivefold rise, they report in a paper to be published in Biological Psychiatry. Among children diagnosed with a psychiatric condition in 1996, 1 in 10 were deemed to have bipolar disorder. By 2004, 4 out of 10 children with a psychiatric condition were told they were bipolar.

That's more bipolar kids per capita than any other country. Drugging troublesome toddlers seems like the real national illness. Or at least a symptom of that peculiarly American combination of materialism and wishful thinking.

Gingrich Continues To Ride the Christian Right Bandwagon

| Mon May 21, 2007 12:00 PM EDT

On Saturday, ethically challenged former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gave the commencement address at Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell. This was the second time the former speaker has delivered the Liberty commencement address. In his speech, Gingrich quoted Bible verses and warned graduates against "the growing culture of radical secularism."

"A growing culture of radical secularism declares that the nation cannot profess the truths on which it was founded," Gingrich said. "We are told that our public schools can no longer invoke the creator, nor proclaim the natural law nor profess the God-given quality of human rights."

Gingrich, who is considering a run for the presidency in 2008, faced 84 ethics charges when he was House Speaker, including tax violations, perjury and reckless disregard of House rules. He was sanctioned, and resigned from Congress. He also gained notoriety for visiting his cancer-recovering first wife in her hospital bed to get her to sign divorce papers. After the divorce, a church organization helped the family financially because Gingrich did not pay any child support. He divorced his second wife because he was having an affair with a young Congressional aide.

According to the late Falwell, Gingrich "genuinely sought forgiveness" for his sins.