Blogs

Noah's Ark Of 5,000 Rare Animals Floating Off China

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 5:18 PM EDT

Five thousand of the world's rarest animals have been found drifting in a deserted boat near the coast of China. The Guardian reports the cargo included 31 pangolins, 44 leatherback turtles, 2,720 monitor lizards, and 1,130 Brazilian turtles, as well as 21 bear paws wrapped in newspaper. Photographs showed other animals, including an Asian giant turtle. They were found crushed inside crates on a rickety wooden vessel that had lost engine power. Most were still alive. The haul came from one of the world's most lucrative and destructive smuggling routes between the threatened jungles of southeast Asia and the restaurants of southern China. The animals were found when local fishermen noticed a strange smell emanating from the vessel, which did not have any registration plates. Coastguard officials boarded the deserted craft and found more than 200 crates of animals, many so dehydrated in the tropical sun they were close to death. The 13 tons of animals were taken to port, doused with water, and sent to an animal welfare center. "We have received some animals," said an office worker at the Guangdong Wild Animal Protection Centre. "We are waiting to hear from the authorities what we should do with them"...What to do with them? Another seriously bad day for any faith in human nature. --JULIA WHITTY

Advertise on MotherJones.com

KEEP IT DOWN: Special for the Cranky Noise Police

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 4:22 PM EDT

All these years, the cranks among us complaining about other people's blaring music, endless car alarms and stupid, stupid leaf blowers have been right. The noises of modernity really are sending human civilization—and individuals' health—down the toilet. Read more on The Blue Marble.

Noise Pollution: The Next Frontier

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 4:13 PM EDT

It turns out that fossil fuel is interfering even more actively with our happiness than Bill McKibben wrote in a recent issue of Mother Jones. The daily noise created by fossil-fueled machines—traffic, and my two pet peeves, leaf blowers and jet skis—are making humans cranky and chronically stressed out. A growing body of studies has shown that noise—even noise we think we are "used to"—triggers the body's fight-or-flight instinct, depressing the immune system and taxing the heart.

The EPA has reported that "The idea that people get used to noise is a myth." True, people are especially bothered by noises they neither accept nor control. But while your attitude about your neighbor's leaf blower might affect your mood, you and the live-and-let-live neighbor across the street are likely to have the same elevated levels of stress hormones.

I've been hypothesizing since my stint teaching college some years ago that "the youth today" have a lower attention span than youth in my day. (I'm embarrassed to admit this because wondering what's wrong with "the youth today" officially makes one old, but hell, I'm getting closer and closer to 40.) The ever-increasing noise threshold of modern life (along with the temptations of portable video games and TV) may be to blame:

Another insidious effect of noise is its cultivation of what scientists call "learned helplessness." Children given puzzles in moderately noisy classrooms are not only more likely to fail to solve them but are also more likely to surrender early.

What's more, people were less willing to stop and help one another when the noise of a lawnmower was present. There's a sweeping critique of suburbia for you!

Of course, one person's noise is another's music. There's no word in these studies about how to address that difference, but it is interesting that the noises most often cited as irritating were cars, traffic, lawnmowers, leaf blowers, car alarms, and sirens. Humans weren't designed to deal with the noise engines make any more than the planet was prepared to accept huge discharges of the gases they pour out while they make them.

Antarctic Glaciers Sprinting Seaward

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 3:07 PM EDT

Hundreds of glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula are flowing faster, further adding to sea-level rise. This according to new research from the British Antarctic Survey. Satellite radar images reveal the flow rate of over 300 previously unstudied glaciers increased 12% in speed from 1993 to 2003. The observations echo recent findings from coastal Greenland. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in February they could not provide an upper limit on the rate of sea-level rise from Antarctica in coming centuries because of a lack of understanding of the behavior of the large ice sheets. These new results give scientists a clearer picture about the way that climate warming can affect glaciers both in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Lead author Hamish Pritchard says "The Antarctic Peninsula has experienced some of the fastest warming on Earth, nearly 3°C over the last half-century. Eighty-seven percent of its glaciers have been retreating during this period and now we see these glaciers are also speeding up. It's important that we use tools such as satellite technology that allow us to monitor changes in remote and inaccessible glaciers on a regional scale. Understanding what's happening now gives us our best chance of predicting what's likely to happen in the future." --JULIA WHITTY

Libby Sentenced to 30 Months

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 1:40 PM EDT

Just a few minutes ago, Scooter Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay a $250,000 for his role in the Valerie Plame affair. More from CNN, which says Libby will appeal.

Also, prominent figures across Washington -- Rumsfeld, Kissinger, Peter Pace, James Carville -- wrote to the judge on behalf of Libby. The results are good fun.

Time Wonders if Maybe All Those Terrorism Arrests Weren't Legit

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 1:13 PM EDT

Looks like even the mainstream media is growing skeptical of the government's terrorism arrests. Time speculates that the JFK plot was overhyped, listing eight reasons why the prosecutor and the folks above her were willing to scare Americans with outrageous statements like the one where she said the plot "could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths and destruction." Clearly nonsense, and I'm glad Time is catching on. As for Mother Jones, we reached this point years ago. Jose Padilla and the Lackawanna Six were enough.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Immigration Bill Point System: More Indian Engineers, Fewer Hispanic Families

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 12:24 PM EDT

The new immigration bill currently being hammered out by Congress has a point system to determine which potential immigrants get visas. The system awards points, which increase an applicant's chances of being let into the country, for being English proficient, having a college or graduate degree, and having a job in science, technology, or health. The plan drastically rewrites immigration policy in the United States, and if left in its current form, will fundamentally change the makeup of the country.

The first consequence of the point system is that the primary criteria for being offered a visa changes from family to profession, awarding points not for being related to a current resident of the U.S. but for having a highly skilled job. Individuals trying to bring their adult children, siblings, or parents to America will have a much harder time (spouses and minor children will still be allowed in without being subject to the point system), while engineers and scientists trying to be the first from their family to come to the States will have a much easier time. Dems are saying this breaks up families and contains an inherent class bias. Says Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, "The point system would have prevented my own parents, a carpenter and a seamstress, from coming to this country." (Note: If anti-immigration forces currently claim immigrants steal low-wage jobs from Americans, how long under the new plan until they start crying about the plight of the replaced American doctor of physicist?)

The second ramification is the corruption of the free market. Previously, companies decided what sort of employees they needed, found them from abroad or in American universities, and sponsored them for work visas, creating a perfect match between skills and available work. But the point system makes this sorting and decision-making the responsibility of the federal government. Naturally, big business hates the idea. Democrat Zoe Lofgren represents Silicon Valley, where, she says, no one is in favor. "The government is saying, in effect, 'We have a five-year plan for the economy, and we will decide with this point system what mix of skills is needed,'" she told the New York Times. "That is not the way a market-based capitalist economy works best."

The third problem is that the bill locks in the criteria for the point system for 14 years. The economy may not need engineers, mathematicians, and doctors in 14 years -- it might need unskilled labor or skilled labor of an entirely different kind.

Another effect -- and this one is neither good nor bad, I think -- is the changing racial demographics of the United States. The point system will reward characteristics already found in immigrants from Asia -- in the last 15 years, over 75 percent of immigrants from India, and over 50 percent of those from China, have had some form of college degree. And the English proficiency of immigrants from across Asia is usually high.

Indians in particular will do quite well under the point system, and immigrants from South America, Central America, and Mexico will do quite poorly. Currently over 40 percent of Indian immigrants are in science, technology, engineering, or health. That compares to less than five percent of Mexican immigrants. Over 40 percent of Indian immigrants come with a master's degree or higher. That compares with less than five percent of Mexican immigrants. Almost 70 percent of Indian immigrants come speaking English fluently or "very well." That compares to 20 percent of Mexican immigrants.

So in addition to looking at the immigration plan's plethora of other problems, senators need to take a long hard look at the point system. It has some problems, but more than that, it will have a tremendous impact on the composition of our country -- is that something they want to engineer? -- and deserves the utmost care.

Texas' Dirty Coal

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 11:21 AM EDT

The latest carbon dioxide emissions numbers from the Energy Department are out, and the two biggest baddies are Texas and coal, who have an interesting history together. Read more at MoJo's environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

Texas' Dirty Coal

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 11:16 AM EDT

The latest carbon dioxide emissions numbers from the Energy Department, listed by state, are out.

Not surprisingly, Texas topped the list of biggest polluters in 2003, the most recent year with available data. It holds steady as 7th in carbon dioxide emissions behind whole nations: the entire United States, China, Russia, Japan, India and Germany.

The co-star of the report was coal, Texas' major power source, because although carbon dioxide emissions from car exhaust account for 25% of America's greenhouse gasses, coal produces 50% of America's electricity and burning coal creates more carbon dioxide than any other common fuel source.

Texas seems to be a house divided regarding its own place in the global emissions hierarchy. In 2005 the state's Governor Rick Perry fast-tracked plans for 11 new TXU Corp. coal power plants after the company lined the war chest for Perry's re-election campaign. But Robert Cervenka, a Republican rancher of Riesel, Texas, managed to organize 1,000 people to fight the governor and TXU Corp. in their effort to double the state's already grossly high emissions. To Cervenka, clean air was not a political or partisan issue: It was just plain good sense. "We might not be out huggin' trees," he said, "but we're real concerned about our land, our water, and our air. It's our land, our lives." Hotshot Houston attorney Steve Susman represented Cervenka's group, pro bono, as they sued Governor Perry. An Austin judge did eventually rule that Perry had no authority to hop into bed with TXU Corp. so quickly, and the company actually ended up dropping most of its construction plans. It wasn't Texas' already high emissions ranking that fueled citizens to act; it was that no one wanted to live next to the plants, breathing the pollution.

Similarly, Texas' own environmental monitoring agency refuses to track the state's carbon dioxide emissions, instead claiming carbon dioxide is "not a regulated pollutant." The Supreme Court ruled in April, however, that the EPA could no longer get away with failing to regulate greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide in general, and the emissions of automobiles in particular. Of course, Texas was one of the nine states sitting with the EPA during this case – right alongside other parties like the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The same day, the Court ruled 9-0 that coal power plants must meet current, cost-effective pollution control standards when renovated. So even if Texas' own agency refuses to monitor carbon dioxide emissions, the EPA will be held accountable for doing so.

But by whom? Recently, in an effort to "green" the Capitol, Nancy Pelosi vowed to replace the incandescent bulbs in the Capitol's 17,000 lamps with more energy-efficient corkscrew fluorescent bulbs and to begin buying from eco-friendly vendors; but Pelosi, whose effort is supposedly to make the Capitol, which already puts out over 340,000 tons of greenhouse emissions, carbon neutral, stopped her effort just short of calling for an end to burning coal in the Capitol Power Plant. Evidently Pelosi did not want to go any rounds with her Senate colleagues from coal states like Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who have both previously blocked plans to eliminate coal from the Capitol Power Plant.

President Bush surely won't be forcing the EPA's hand in getting that agency to follow the Supreme Court's ruling by tracking carbon dioxide emissions. One has to wonder, though, when the rest of America -- and even the world -- will also stand up as those Texans did. For even though it's hard for most people to conceptualize the affect melting ice caps will have on each of our lives, few of us want to live next door to a coal-burning power plant.

Need more convincing? Check out this carbon footprint calculator to see what kind of air you're creating for the rest of us.

-- Jessica Savage

GSA Chief Points Finger at Rove and Company

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 10:45 AM EDT

When the Office of Special Counsel -- in charge of preventing the politicization of federal offices and protecting whistleblowers -- slammed Laurita Doan, the chief of the General Services Administration, for allowing her staff to sit down for an overtly political presentation orchestrated by Karl Rove, I speculated that Doan's alleged guilt would also indicate wrongdoing on the part of the Rove and company.

And today, Doan made the same argument. In her official response to the OSC report, Doan argued through her lawyers that it was the briefing itself that constituted an improper politicization of the GSA -- and thus a violation of federal law under the Hatch Act -- and not her willingness to organize the presentation, nor the fact that she presided over it, nor her apparent enthusiasm for its content. (Doan asked after the presentation how the staff of the GSA could help "our candidates.")

That's probably not going to fly, Doanie. I'm guessing any clear eyed investigator at the OSC knows that you're guilty and the Rove deputy who made the presentation is too. But you're low-hanging fruit, and Rove is about as well-protected as anyone can be by this administration. You're going to lose your job long before Bush's Brain.