Blogs

Scientists want libraries? What next?

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 2:00 PM EDT

Here's a bright idea: Close he EPA scientific libraries so regulators can't get at the science that, under law, they are supposed to base their decisions on. No worries, a flack told the Washington Post--all that stuff is going to be digital anyway. Except that there's no money for that either. All but eliminating the agency's library network saves $2 million; according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the EPA estimates that "providing full library access saves an
estimated 214,000 hours in professional staff time worth some $7.5
million annually."

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Hamdan to Rein Bush In?

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 1:57 PM EDT

Marty Lederman has commentary on the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision today, ruling that the military tribunals set up at Guantanamo are improper, over at SCOTUSblog. Among other things, the Supreme Court has apparently ruled that the Geneva Conventions apply to all detainees captured in the conflict against al-Qaeda. That seems to mean, if Lederman's right, that torture and "coercive" interrogation tactics will no longer be allowed, period. The CIA's interrogation tactics are "officially" illegal, and methods such as waterboarding and inducing hypothermia are now "officially" war crimes. The Court also ruled that the president does not have the power to ignore or violate congressional law.

This looks very significant indeed, and short of convincing Congress to pull out of the Geneva Conventions, perhaps, it certainly looks like the Bush administration has been reined in. What this means in practice, though, still seems very much up in the air—presumably Congress could respond by setting up new tribunals at Guantanmo, or modifying the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or granting the administration other new powers, or so forth… So we'll see what happens.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has a useful discussion here.

UPDATE II: The Court also seems to have rejected one of the administration's legal rationales for its illegal wiretapping program.

The Day Senator Bunning Read the Newspaper

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 1:40 AM EDT

So Kentucky's Sen. Jim Bunning says he doesn't read newspapers, but he did pick up a copy of the Times long enough to read the financial-surveillance story, and he knows treason when he sees it.

Bunning equated the Times' story last week on the bank records to publishing the phone number of Osama bin Laden, saying the al-Qaida leader would be tipped and change his number immediately.

"In my opinion, that is giving aid and comfort to the enemy, therefore it is an act of treason," Bunning said of the story, which detailed how the government is analyzing a massive database on international money transfers.

Let the record reflect that to suggest that terrorists would have had no way to suspect that their records might be surveiled--through an agency that out and out advertises its cooperation with law enforcement), you have to assume that they're pretty damn obtuse. But no matter: Bunning's point really is that, as Ari Fleischer would have it, "people need to watch what they say, watch what they do."

"What you write in a war and what is legal to do for the federal government, or state government, whoever it is, is very important in the winning of the war on terror."

Asked if that could be a recipe for government abuse of civil liberties, Bunning responded: "It could be."

And the Next Secretary General Is...

Wed Jun. 28, 2006 6:00 PM EDT

Forget betting on sports events; for my money, the most fun thing to gamble on these days is over who will be the next Secretary General of the UN. Kofi Annan is due to retire on December 31, and the battle to replace him has been raging for months.

A few weeks ago, Foreign Policy listed descriptions of all the major contenders, and their odds of replacing Annan, but that article appeared too early to take account of India's recent nominee, Shashi Tharoor. The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, has come out in favor of dark-horse candidate Bill Clinton, although seeing as how most countries believe in the principle of regional rotation and share a bias for candidates from small countries, a Secretary General Clinton faces tall odds (1000 to 1, according to Foreign Policy). To keep abreast of the action, check out this spirited blog maintained by a University of Maryland grad student.

Signing Statements and Secrecy

| Wed Jun. 28, 2006 4:52 PM EDT

Orin Kerr makes a great point about presidential signing statements here. It's a grave problem that the president has decided that his Article II powers exempt him from having to obey every single provision of every bill signed into law, especially provisions he thinks are unconstitutional. But another—and perhaps bigger—problem is that Bush sometimes doesn't explain what, exactly, he disagrees with. If he did, then perhaps Congress could respond appropriately—perhaps by passing other laws to constrain the president if need be, and there might still be at least some semblance of checks and balances.

Instead, Bush just says that he's free to disagree with and disobey parts of the law, but declines to say which parts. To make the contrast clear, as a commenter at Orin Kerr's site points out, Bill Clinton occasionally used signing statements to disagree with parts of bills he thought unconstitutional (never to the extent Bush has, though), but he specified exactly what he was doing and why he disagreed. The same isn't true of Bush; basically, we have no idea what laws he thinks he can violate.

Revisiting the Gaza Beach Shelling

| Wed Jun. 28, 2006 4:32 PM EDT

An investigation by the British Guardian has cast doubt on the Israeli government's claim that the seven family members killed on a Gaza beach in June died from a Palestinian mine, rather than IDF gunfire.

Israel had initially apologized for the attack, saying it was "aimed at stopping militants from firing into Israel." But that admission of guilt was soon retracted: the IDF launched its own investigation into the incident, and concluded that its forces were not at fault. According to The Guardian, the IDF now argues that the family was killed nine minutes after Israeli shelling of the area ceased: "But hospital records, testimony from doctors and ambulance men and eyewitness accounts suggest that the military has the timing of the explosion wrong, and that it occurred while the army was still shelling the beach."

Human Rights Watch has also called has also called the Israeli investigation inadequate. HRW researchers reached that conclusion in part from a June 19 meeting with Israeli Major-General Meir Kalifi, during which the general said that Palestinians "have no problem lying," and that Palestinian sources were therefore not considered during the IDF investigation. Perhaps this means that another controversial shooting incident, three years ago, merits reconsideration too.

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Can Malaria Be Stopped?

| Wed Jun. 28, 2006 4:19 PM EDT

Why are 800,000 young children in Africa dying of malaria each year when "when there are medicines that cure for 55 cents a dose, mosquito nets that shield a child for $1 a year and indoor insecticide spraying that costs about $10 annually for a household"? The New York Times tries to figure that out today. Insufficient funds are part of the reason; mismanagement and dysfunctional aid agencies are another:

Only 1 percent of [USAID's] 2004 malaria budget went for medicines, 1 percent for insecticides and 6 percent for mosquito nets. The rest was spent on research, education, evaluation, administration and other costs.
Social conservatives like Sen. Sam Brownback, to their credit, are trying to reform the "foreign aid industrial complex" and make things more efficient. Via Tapped, I also see that Joshua Kurlantzick has a good article in the Washington Monthly about efforts to fight malaria, which notes that USAID has been reluctant to push a new and effective malarial medicine for a variety of reasons, racism among them. Kurlantzick also knocks down the oft-repeated right-wing canard that people are dying in Africa because they're not allowed to spray DDT all over the place (contrary to what conservatives often say, they are allowed to do so, and anyway, that's only a partial solution). And the obsession with DDT has hampered the push to get effective anti-malarial drugs to Africans.

Ultimately, a lot of this comes down to money—namely, that current aid levels are inadequate. Private charity can't solve everything on its own. As the Times reports, the Gates Foundation has given $177 million for malarial controls. That's significant, but last year the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria came up $300 million short of what it needed to buy drugs. The Bush administration requested only $200 million for the Global Fund, half of what Congress had appropriated the year before. That's quite clearly not enough.

An Inconvenient Truth: Inconvenient...and true

| Wed Jun. 28, 2006 3:27 PM EDT

In another small victory for reality over fantasy, the AP called 100 climate scientists and asked how they rated the science in Al Gore's global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. The 19 who'd seen the film, which is in limited release, gave the doc a pretty unequivocal thumbs-up.

... Gore conveyed the science correctly; the world is getting hotter and it is a manmade catastrophe-in-the-making caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

"Excellent," said William Schlesinger, dean of the Nicholas School of Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University. "He got all the important material and got it right." ...

The tiny errors scientists found weren't a big deal, "far, far fewer and less significant than the shortcoming in speeches by the typical politician explaining an issue," said Michael MacCracken, who used to be in charge of the nation's global warming effects program and is now chief scientist at the Climate Institute in Washington. ...

And yet, and yet...

While more than 1 million people have seen the movie since it opened in May, that does not include Washington's top science decision makers. President Bush said he won't see it. The heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA haven't seen it, and the president's science adviser said the movie is on his to-see list. [Italics mine.]

"They are quite literally afraid to know the truth," Gore said. "Because if you accept the truth of what the scientific community is saying, it gives you a moral imperative to start to rein in the 70 million tons of global warming pollution that human civilization is putting into the atmosphere every day."

UPDATE: (Via ThinkProgress) Even Frank Luntz (he of the famed there-is-no-consensus-on-global-warming memo), has come around.

UPDATE II: (Via Grist) The natural order reasserts itself as Sen. James Inhofe raises "serious [sic!] questions about AP's bias and methodology."

Homelessness a threat to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan

| Tue Jun. 27, 2006 9:39 PM EDT

The government estimates that, on any given night, hundreds of military veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan are homeless. Some cannot adjust after being in a war zone, some cannot navigate federal red tape, and some simply do not have the money to afford a place to live. The problem is the worst in New York City because of the high cost of housing.

The Veterans Administration provides grants to nonprofit housing organizations that provide about 8,000 beds a night across the nation.

Almost half of the U.S.'s disabled veterans receive $337 a month or less in benefits, which makes matters worse. Only those who are classified as 100% disabled receive $2,393 a month, but that group makes up only 10% of all disabled veterans.

Add to this problem the thousands and thousands of homeless Vietnam veterans who were already in the country. Both groups of veterans suffer from high degrees of posttraumatic stress syndrome, in addition to physical handicaps.

The Bush administration is not incompetent. Really.

| Tue Jun. 27, 2006 7:06 PM EDT

Liberal-progressive-reality-based rock star George Lakoff has a new paper out explaining, once again, that liberals have their framing all wrong.

Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush's plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush's "failures" and label him and his administration as incompetent. Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point. Bush's disasters—Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit—are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault.

Hence,

...The issue that arises every day is which philosophy of governing should shape our country. It is the issue of our times. Unless conservative philosophy itself is discredited, Conservatives will continue their domination of public discourse, and with it, will continue their domination of politics.

Obviously, he has a point (though small-government conservatives might disagree that their "philosophy" has been greatly advanced under GWB). What it ignores, though, is that these guys manifestly don't know what they're doing half the time (hence their abysmal approval numbers; surely those aren't part of the master plan). Seems a shame to ditch the incompetence frame entirely—especially if you can stretch it to cover the Republican Congress. And maybe the dichotomy's a bit overblown. Why not split the difference and say—to paraphrase Alan Wolfe's argument in this month's Washington Monthly—that the conservative governing philosophy is a philosophy...of incompetent governance?