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See Hillary, John, and BHO Tonight

| Tue Apr. 10, 2007 10:51 AM EDT

Interested in finally seeing what all the fuss is about with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and the rest of the Democratic field? Live in one of the roughly 45 states that never see a presidential candidate in the primaries?

Today's your lucky day: MoveOn.org is hosting a virtual townhall, in which people gather in homes and community centers around the country to get online and watch the Democratic candidates joust and spout. You can find one near you here. Hooray for the internet!

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Liberalism Is In

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 11:16 PM EDT

Americans have grown more concerned about the gap between rich and poor. Support for the social safety net has grown too, while our military appetite has shrunk, according to a recent Pew survey of public opinion.

More Americans agree with the assessment that "today it's really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer." Today, 73% feel that way, up from 65% five years ago.

It follows that more of us believe the government should take care of people who can't take care of themselves. Fifty-four percent of Americans say the government should help more needy people, even if it adds to the national debt, compared to just 41 percent in 1994.

Just five years ago, 43 percent of of us identified as Republicans, and same for Democrats. Now 35 percent identify as Republicans, and half the country as Democrats.

Also, racism and homophobia are both down. More than 83 percent agree that "it's all right for blacks and whites to date," up six percentage points since 2003 and 13 points from 10 years ago. The number of people who believe that school boards should have the right to fire gay teachers is at 28 percent, down from 51 percent in 1987.

The MoJo summary of all of the above: Americans are getting in touch with reality.

But the sad part may be that "the public is losing confidence in itself." The percent agreeing that Americans "can always find a way to solve our problems" has dropped 16 points in five years. Americans feel more and more estranged from their government. Barely a third would agree that "most elected officials care what people like me think," a 10-point drop since 2002. Saddest of all, young people, who have the rosiest view of government, are the least interested in voting or other political participation.

Clear Need for Integrated Climate/Human Behavior Models

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 9:41 PM EDT

Adapting to global climate change will require humans to develop new tools. (Our specialty, right?) The new tools will need to integrate climate models with analysis of human behavior, reports the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, an international network of environmental scientists. "We need to continue discovering how the Earth system works in order to evaluate the numerous ways that humans can adapt to climate change," says Kevin Noone, executive director of the IGBP.

Human adaptation to a changing climate can take many forms, and can have both positive and negative environmental impacts. Small-scale, adaptation measures—for better or worse—might include more air conditioning, architectural changes for more efficient heating and cooling, better forecasting and warning systems for extreme events, and increased water usage. Large-scale adaptations might include switching to renewable energy sources or attempts at "geoengineering." Furthermore the large-scale migrations of refugees from frakked-up areas ruined by global warming and other environmental and socioeconomic stresses will also be a form of adaptation.

"The science needed to support decision making about adaptation requires a sophisticated understanding about how the Earth system works, but goes well beyond just that. We need new tools to help us develop robust 'what if' scenarios for different potential adaptation schemes, and their consequences," says Noone. He describes the new tools as new types of models that couple together active, predictive descriptions of human behaviour and choice with the kinds of models used to predict future climate. --Julia Whitty

Thirty-Two Mile Cable Installed for First Deep-Sea Observatory

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 9:14 PM EDT

Oceanographers have completed an important step in constructing the first deep-sea observatory off the continental United States. Workers laid 32 miles of cable along the Monterey Bay sea floor that will provide electrical power to scientific instruments, video cameras, and robots 3,000 feet below the ocean surface. The link will also carry data from the instruments back to shore, for use by scientists and engineers from around the world, reports the National Science Foundation. The Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS) observatory, due to be completed later this year, will provide ocean scientists with 24-hour-a-day access to instruments and experiments in the deep sea. The project is managed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and funded by the National Science Foundation. Currently, almost all oceanographic instruments in the deep sea rely on batteries for power and store their data on hard disks or memory chips until they are brought back to the surface. With a continuous and uninterrupted power supply, instruments attached to the MARS observatory could remain on the sea floor for months or years.

The cable itself contains a copper electrical conductor and strands of optical fiber. The copper conductor will transmit up to 10 kilowatts of power from a shore station at Moss Landing, California, to instruments on the sea floor. The optical fiber will carry up to 2 gigabits per second of data from these instruments back to researchers on shore, allowing scientists to monitor and control instruments 24 hours a day, and to have an unprecedented view of how environmental conditions in the deep sea change over time. "After 5 years of hard work, we are thrilled to bring the age of the Internet to the deep ocean, so we can understand, appreciate and protect the two-thirds of our planet that lies under the sea," said MBARI director Marcia McNutt. --Julia Whitty

Trees Offset Carbon Footprint, But Which Trees?

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 8:47 PM EDT

Trees trap and absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. That's how they help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, mitigating or reducing global warming. But a new study from the Carnegie Institution and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggests the effectiveness of this strategy depends heavily on where these trees are planted. Because tropical forests store large amounts of carbon and produce reflective clouds, they are especially good at cooling the planet. In contrast, forests in snowy areas can warm the Earth, because their dark canopy absorbs sunlight that would otherwise be reflected back to space by a bright white covering of snow. "Tropical forests are like Earth's air conditioner," says Ken Caldeira of Carnegie's Department of Global Ecology. "When it comes to rehabilitating forests to fight global warming, carbon dioxide might be only half of the story; we also have to account for whether they help to reflect sunlight by producing clouds, or help to absorb it by shading snowy tundra." --Julia Whitty

Bush Doles out More B.S. on the Border

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 7:22 PM EDT

Maybe President Bush genuinely wants to solve the United States' immigration woes, or maybe he's grasping for another hot-button (hate) issue to drum up conservative support. Today, he proposed immigration reforms in Yuma, Arizona, which were a far cry more punitive than those he advocated last year. A 3-year work visa would cost an immigrant $3,500—a sum beyond the imaginings of most rural Mexicans looking for grunt work in the United States. To get a green card, workers would have to return to their home countries, apply for reentry, and pay a $10,000 fine. The proposal brought 10,000 Latinos to the streets of Los Angeles.

Just two weeks ago, I blogged about a Los Angeles Times article that suggested that last year's immigration legislation (sans the fence that, thankfully, has not materialized) has brought illegal border crossings down. The article took the number of illegals caught to be representative of the total number. Bush today made the same point: Fewer caught crossers is good news. But, as Think Progress points out, a year and a half ago, Bush pointed to increased apprehensions as a positive indicator of Border Patrol's performance. As with drugs, the government can manipulate "apprehension" statistics however it wants. (In my previous blog post, I cited Charles Bowden's assertion in "Exodus" that "On the line, all numbers are fictions. The exportation of human beings by Mexico now reaches, officially, a half million souls a year. Or double that. Or triple that.")

If illegal immigration is indeed waning on its own, why are we talking about it now? Wouldn't the war on terror—which we're losing—be a better policy to rehash? But here I seem to have answered my own question: Yes, it would. Bush tactic: Distract; dissemble; drum up hate for some other group. If illegal immigration isn't waning—which seems far more likely—doesn't that beg the question, again, of why we're not addressing its causes like the European Union does?

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Gingrich Joins GOP Attack on Gonzales

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 11:30 AM EDT

Newt Gingrich, who would like to be the GOP presidential candidate, is is now calling for Attorney General Gonzales to quit before things get any worse. "This is the most mishandled, artificial, self-created mess that I can remember in the years I've been active in public life," Gingrich said of the US attorney firing scandal. "The buck has to stop somewhere, and I'm assuming it's the attorney general and his immediate team." If he stays, said the former Speaker, there will be endless hearings.

Other Republicans who want Gonzales out include Senators John Sununu of New Hampshire and Gordon Smith of Oregon, along with Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher of California, Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and Lee Terry of Nebraska.

Wildly Different Estimates on Najaf Rally

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 11:21 AM EDT

I blogged earlier about the thousands of Moqtada al-Sadr followers who protested the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad in Najaf today.

Well, it appears there is a major dispute over how many "thousands" were actually there. According to this CNN article, the U.S. military's estimate is "5,000 to 7,000." According to this Reuters article that I cited earlier, it is "tens of thousands." And according to this Agence France-Presse article and this BBC article the number of participants is in the "hundreds of thousands." If that's true, did the military really think they were going to fool anybody with that "5,000 to 7,000" nonsense?

Hoo-boy. Who to believe? We'll keep digging...

Stunning New Book from Iraqi Government Insider Illustrates Blunders, Ignorance

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 11:03 AM EDT

An Iraqi official who has served as Iraq's trade, defense, and finance minister at various times since 2003 has written a book about his country's four years under the American occupation ("The Occupation of Iraq," published by Yale University Press). According to the AP, it is a detached and nonpartisan look at the United States' and Iraqi government's failings.

Ali Allawi, cousin to former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, was educated in the United States and Britain and demonstrates no preference for the Sunni or Shiite sects within Iraqi society and its badly divided government (he belongs to a secularist political party). He slams a lot of people, but most of all the Americans.

Snippets of Allawi's book, from the AP:

"The corroded and corrupt state of Saddam was replaced by the corroded, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt state of the new order."
First came the "monumental ignorance" of those in Washington pushing for war in 2002 without "the faintest idea" of Iraq's realities. "More perceptive people knew instinctively that the invasion of Iraq would open up the great fissures in Iraqi society," he writes.
What followed was the "rank amateurism and swaggering arrogance" of the occupation, under L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which took big steps with little consultation with Iraqis, steps Allawi and many others see as blunders.

The lies that led to war and the missteps after the invasion that led to failure are all documented in the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.

On U.S. reconstruction failures — in electricity, health care and other areas documented by Washington's own auditors — Allawi writes that the Americans' "insipid retelling of 'success' stories" merely hid "the huge black hole that lay underneath."

There have been a lot of great books about the Iraq War, from Ron Suskind to Thomas Ricks to Michael Gordon to Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Now it looks like there is an Iraqi equivalent.

A Peaceful (!!) Rally in Iraq. Bad News for American Troops

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 9:37 AM EDT

Tens of thousands of people marched in Najaf today to protest the continued American occupation, exactly four years after the fall of Baghdad. (No protests were allowed in Baghdad because the U.S. military shut down the streets.) The protest was anti-American all the way, with chants of "Leave, leave occupier!" and "No, no, to the occupation." The event was organized (or called for, anyway) by Moqtada al-Sadr, and one of his key deputies spoke, saying, "We demand the exit of the occupier and withdrawal of the last American soldier and we also reject the existence of any kind of military bases."

In my mind the most important thing here, after the fact that there is yet more evidence that the Iraqis want nothing to do with us, is the fact that it was a peaceful event. It's safe to say that the majority of the participants were Shiites because al-Sadr is a radical Shiite cleric and major Shiite political player. But the Sunnis stayed away from what was essentially a massive target practice opportunity. Possible reasons: (1) al-Sadr cut some kind of deal, (2) the one thing that brings Iraqis together is hating Americans, or (3) both.

Couple this new sense of cooperation with the face that al-Sadr, who is possibly the most powerful man in Iraq, has called on Iraqis to cease attacking one another to instead focus on killing Americans, and we've got an even more hostile environment in which American forces must operate. Who thought that was even possible?

Update: The number of attendees is in dispute, with estimates ranging from 5,000 to "hundreds of thousands."