Mojo - January 2007

Live Blogging SOTU...

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 10:27 PM EST

Thus far, Bush sort of sweet to Pelosi, pledges new era of bipartisanship, then goes on to congratulate Democrat (not cratic) party....

Think I just saw Cheney sticking a piece of gum under his desk...

Illegal immigrants will be treated "without animosity, without amnesty" (somebody worked real hard on that phrase).

Bush talking energy policy, Pelosi looks like she's trying hard not to giggle...or maybe Cheney's pinching her...

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Actual State of the Union, by the Numbers

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 10:20 PM EST

President Bush is expected to hail the state of the union as strong tonight, but for Americans worrying about how to make ends meet, the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to numbers compiled today by the Campaign for America's Future.

On Incomes:

--Median household income in 2000: $47,599
--Median household income in 2005: $46,326
(US Census Bureau, Table H-8. Median Household Income by State: 1984 to 2005)

--Salary of a full-time minimum wage employee without vacation: $10,712
--Average time for top CEOs to earn that sum: 2.06 hours
(Forbes Magazine. "What the Boss Makes." April 20, 2006)

--Federal minimum wage in 2000: $5.15/hr
--Federal minimum wage in 2006: $5.15/hr
--Loss in purchasing power, full time worker annually: $1,562

On Energy Prices:

--Average price of home heating oil on Jan. 3, 2000: $1.15 per gallon
--Average price of home heating oil on Jan. 1, 2007: $2.42 per gallon
(U.S. Energy Information Admin. Jan. 4, 2007)

--Average price of gasoline on Jan. 3, 2000: $1.31 per gallon
--Average price of gasoline on Jan. 1, 2007: $2.38 per gallon
(U.S. Energy Information Admin. Jan. 5, 2007)

--Exxon Mobil profits in 2000: $7.9 billion
--Exxon Mobil profits in 2006: $36.1 billion
(CNNMoney.com, accessed Jan. 19, 2007)

On Education:

--Average cost of a year at a public four-year college in 2000: $9,958
--Average cost of a year at a public four-year college in 2006: $12,796
(Costs include tuition, fees, room & board. MSN Money 2000/Associated Press. Jan. 14, 2005. College Board. Trends in College Pricing 2007)

On Health Care Costs:

--Americans without health insurance, 2000: 38.2 million
--Americans without health insurance, 2005: 46.6 million
(US Census Bureau, Sept. 2001; US Census Bureau, Aug. 2006)

--Average monthly worker contribution for family coverage in 2000: $135
--Average monthly worker contribution for family coverage in 2006: $248
--Personal bankruptcies due to medical bills: 55 percent
(The Kaiser Family Foundation, Sept. 26, 2006; Health Affairs Health Policy Journal, Feb. 2, 2005)

On Debts and Deficits:

--Monthly U.S. Trade Deficit in October 2000: $33.8 billion
--Monthly U.S. Trade Deficit in October 2006: $58.9 billion
(U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics. Jan. 10, 2007)

--Loss of value of U.S. dollar relative to the Euro, Jan. 24, 2000 to Jan. 23, 2006: 23 percent
(X-rate.com, accessed Jan. 23, 2006)

--US Budget Deficit in FY 2000: $230 billion surplus
--US Budget Deficit in FY 2006: $423 billion deficit
(White House Office of Management and Budget. Budget of the United States Government, Historical Tables, Fiscal Year 2007; White House Office of Management and Budget. Table S-1. 2006 budget totals)

--US National Debt in FY 2000: $5.7 trillion
--US National Debt in FY 2006: $8.5 trillion
(Bureau of the Public Debt, Jan. 16, 2007)

Libby Case: "Recollection Problems"

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 5:07 PM EST

So, it's official. Scooter Libby's defense will be based, as his lawyer Ted Wells put it, on "recollection problems" – not just Libby's, though, but those of the journalists and officials who are expected to testify at his trial as well.

"Could Russert Be Mistaken?" read a slide shown to the jury this afternoon, as Wells resumed his opening statement after a lunch recess. Not that Wells plans on proving this one way or the other – he is simply trying to cast doubt on the prosecution's case. At one point, he said that the defense will provide "evidence suggesting that Tim Russert, not Scooter Libby, got it wrong." At another, seemingly contradicting any evidence he might provide, Wells suggested that Libby, in testifying before the grand jury, may have mistaken his conversation with the NBC journalist for a chat, on a similar topic, with Robert Novak. And besides, Wells said, "Russert has no notes" to support his version of events (namely that he didn't tell Libby about Plame, as Libby has asserted).

As for Matt Cooper, the former Time reporter, Wells claims that "Cooper's notes do not support his recollection" of his conversation with Libby, in which Plame was raised (reportedly by Cooper). Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter who spent 85 days in jail protecting her source -- Libby -- suffers from a "fuzzy memory" as well, according to Wells. Also fuzzy on the details, he says, are anticipated prosecution witnesses including Libby's one-time CIA briefer Craig Schmall; former CIA official Robert Grenier; and former White House flack Ari Fleischer, among others. "They've got recollection problems," Wells said.

Wells then reminded the jury that Libby, too, is "known for having a bad memory."

Hot Promises of Geothermal Energy

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 4:35 PM EST

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology-led study of geothermal energy within the US finds that mining the huge amounts of thermal energy stored in the Earth's rock crust could supply a substantial portion of the nation's electricity needs currently being generated by conventional fossil fuel, hydroelectric, and nuclear plants—at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact. Go deep enough, and there's heat everywhere.

The study shows that drilling several wells to reach hot rock and connecting them to a fractured rock region that has been stimulated to let water flow through it creates a heat-exchanger that can produce large amounts of hot water or steam to run electric generators at the surface. Unlike conventional fossil-fuel power plants that burn coal, natural gas or oil, no fuel would be required. And unlike wind and solar systems, a geothermal plant works night and day, offering a non-interruptible source of electric power.

… "This environmental advantage is due to low emissions and the small overall footprint of the entire geothermal system, which results because energy capture and extraction is contained entirely underground, and the surface equipment needed for conversion to electricity is relatively compact," [Jefferson W.] Tester [the H. P. Meissner Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT] said.

… Panel member Brian Anderson, an assistant professor at West Virginia University, noted that the drilling and reservoir technologies used to mine heat have many similarities to those used for extracting oil and gas. As a result, the geothermal industry today is well connected technically to two industry giants in the energy arena, oil and gas producers and electric power generators. With increasing demand for technology advances to produce oil and gas more effectively and to generate electricity with minimal carbon and other emissions, an opportunity exists to accelerate the development of EGS by increased investments by these two industries.

The study notes that government-funded research into geothermal was highly active in the 1970s and early 1980s, but that as oil prices declined, funding and geothermal research waned. Time to heat that up again.

Dispatch from Sundance: Bodine and Gen. Garner Weigh In On New Iraq Movie, "No End In Sight"

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 4:17 PM EST

On Monday, two car bombs in a Baghdad market killed 88 and wounded 160 others. Saturday was the third deadliest day for U.S. troops since the start of the war. Things are dire and only getting worse. Two weeks ago, after watching the President's less than illuminating speech on escalation, I swore off writing about Iraq for awhile. What more was there to write? I found myself flip-flopping between sending 150,000 troops to the country or pulling out completely, a flip-flop many others do. But neither of these seem like such great ideas, so, after listening to Bush's plan to send 20,000 (I definitely don't think this is a good idea), I decided I couldn't add anything more to the debate.

So, where did I find the inspiration today to write about Iraq? The Sundance Film Festival. This morning I attended a live televised panel discussion about the Iraq War and the new movie about it, "No End In Sight," which is a product of over 75 interviews with key players. (Keep an eye out for a doc review from Mother Jones, it's on its way.) The panel included, among others, General Jay Garner, Marine Corps Lt. Seth Moulton and Ambassador Barbara Bodine. The discussion was mediated and many of the same questions we always hear were asked and many of the same answers given. Here's my paraphrase of the discussion:

"We made mistakes, no one had a plan, no one admitted there was an insurgency, the administration did not listen to its military leaders, military leaders didn't stand up to the administration, and disbanding the army as well as not stopping the looting were the gravest errors made over the past four years."

(For more details on the mistakes made before and during the Iraq war, check out the Mother Jones timeline here.)

Yes, hearing all of this still makes my blood boil, but I was left wanting more. For instance, what are we going to do now? What answers do these experts have for us regarding the future? I got the chance after the discussion to sit down with both Moulton and Bodine. Here's what the two had to say (paraphrased).

•We need to define what victory means: staving off regional war, securing the country...?

•It is essential when fighting a counterinsurgency to build the support of the people. It is not just about "killing bad guys."

•We don't have enough troops to effectively fight a counterinsurgency.

Beware Emissions Trading, Airlines Stand to Make Billions

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 3:47 PM EST

The science journal Nature warns that a short-term effect of the European Commission's plan to include the airlines in the continent-wide market for greenhouse gas emissions will likely reap the industry billions, at least initially.

The world's airlines, including many firms who have lobbied aggressively against climate-change legislation, could make billions of euros from a planned emissions-reduction scheme, say economists studying the situation.

The resulting rise in cost to individual airline tickets will be too small to deter customers, they add, so the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will be miniscule —at least in the short term.

…The windfall is a consequence of the way emissions trading works. Industries in the scheme are allocated carbon dioxide permits that are traded in as emissions are generated. The permits can be sold if a firm emits less than its allowance, or bought if they wish to exceed it. Because industries are initially given almost enough permits to cover their usual amount of emissions, they should be able to continue business much as usual.

But experience with other industries already in the scheme shows that they treat permits as assets — the permits are currently worth around US$5 per tonne of carbon. To compensate for having to lose the assets when accounting for their emissions, the firms charge extra for products. In the case of the electricity sector, this is estimated to have generated an extra $1.5 billion in annual profits for British firms between 2005 and 2007.

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Libby Defense Lawyer: Scooter Scapegoated, Culprit is Karl

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 2:49 PM EST

The E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, a dreary beige building in view of the Capitol, has seen its share of Washington scandals. The Watergate conspirators were tried here during the '70s, as was Oliver North, among other Iran-Contra figures, during the '80s. The late '90s brought the Lewinsky scandal and with it a press frenzy unlike any this court had ever seen. The plaza in front of the courthouse, then home to a huge media encampment, is still referred to as "Monica beach." This morning, with opening arguments set to begin in Scooter Libby's high-profile perjury and obstruction of justice case, Monica beach was a faint echo of its former self, with only a handful of reporters milling around a stand of TV cameras that were positioned to face the front of the courthouse. The real action was inside, where reporters, who had been confined to a makeshift press room during the 4-day jury selection process, massed in the hallway outside Judge Reggie Walton's courtroom awaiting the start of the trial.

Anticipating the media horde expected to attend, court officials have taken pains to bring some order to the inevitable mayhem, requiring journalists to apply for credentials to cover the trial and setting up an overflow room, where members of the public and the press can view the proceedings on a closed circuit feed. The proceedings are also viewable from the downstairs press gallery, where I've set up shop. Seated next to me is David Corn of The Nation, who is, somewhat ironically, the reporter who first spotlighted the leak of Valerie Plame's covert status in a July 16, 2003 article, raising the question of whether the leak had flouted the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But, as Judge Walton stressed this morning, this case has nothing to do with whether the disclosure of Plame's identity broke the law. "What her actual status was and whether any damage would result from the disclosure of that status are totally irrelevant," he cautioned jurors. Rather, the case turns on the very narrow question of whether Libby lied to FBI investigators and a federal grand jury about his role in the leak.

In an opening statement that went on for more than an hour, Fitzgerald laid out his case against Libby, reconstructing the events leading up to and following the leak — events that first began to unfold, he told jurors, on January 28, 2003, long before Robert Novak's July 14 column outing Plame. That was the day when President Bush delivered his state of the union address and made the case for war with Iraq, including the infamous 16 words alleging that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from Niger. Everything that transpired afterward, he said, flowed from that claim.

Fitzgerald zeroed on conversations, centering on Plame and her husband Joe Wilson, that took place between Libby and 5 administration officials in June 2003. These discussions seriously undercut Libby's claim to investigators that he first heard about Plame and her role at the CIA from reporters, in particular NBC's Tim Russert. At one point, Fitzgerald played the audio from Libby's grand jury testimony, in which he says, with apparent confidence, that Russert told him on July 10 "that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the CIA and I was a little taken aback by that.... And I said, 'no, I don't know that.' And I said 'no, I don't know that,' because at that point I didn't not recall I had ever known this." (Russert, for his part, has said that this conversation, as Libby recalls it, never took place.) As Fitzgerald put it, "You can't learn something startling on Thursday that you were giving out on Monday and Tuesday."

Even though it seems pretty clear that Libby's statements to the grand jury are at odds with evidence that Fitzgerald has compiled, his lawyers will try to cast doubt on whether Libby lied, or, rather, failed to correctly recollect the details of conversations he'd had months before. "Scooter Libby is innocent," defense lawyer Ted Wells said in his opening statement. "He is totally innocent. He did not commit perjury. He did not commit obstruction of justice. He did not give any false statements to the FBI. He is an innocent man and he has been falsely accused." Wells also sought to cast doubt on the strength of Fitzgerald's case, saying, "This is a weak, paper-thin, superficial case about he-said she-said. No witnesses. No documents. No scientific evidence." More than a few times, Wells invoked a line that is clearly the mantra of Libby's defense: "This about words. This is about recollection. This about memory: Three calls. Three reporters. Three months later."

Wells did not dispute that Libby may have made false statements to investigators, nor did he dispute the fact that there had been a White House campaign to discredit Joe Wilson, saying that "some people at the White House... pushed reporters to write stories about Ms. Wilson." He added, "but Scooter Libby did not push any reporters to write a story about Ms. Wilson." Rather, Wells portrayed Libby as a scapegoat for another White House official (the man truly responsible for the leak, according to Wells), none other than "the architect" himself, Karl Rove. To this end, Wells produced a note allegedly penned by the vice president after a meeting with Libby held during the height of the Plame controversy in July 2003: "Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others," the note read. "That one staffer was Karl Rove," Wells said. (The "meat grinder," by the way, appears to be Wells' euphemism for the press -- and the fact that Libby was forced to run damage control about the veracity of the Niger claim.) Before this trial is over, we're expected to hear directly from the vice president, who will testify in Libby's defense. Will he, too, blame Karl Rove?

Stay tuned. More as the trial resumes after a lunch recess.

Need a Stiff Drink to Get Through a George Bush State of the Union? We've Got the Game For You

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 2:41 PM EST

Political comic Will Durst created a State of the Union drinking game for us in 2006. We thought we'd throw it out for 2007. Highlights:

Whenever George W uses the phrases: national security, tax relief, activist judges or affordable health care, drink two shots of beer.
If George W speaks of Hamas and repeats his earlier statement that "its good to see people are demanding honest leadership," the first person to stop laughing gets to drink one shot of beer.
Whoever can correctly identify in advance the person giving the Democratic Response doesn't have to watch it.

You're going to need some friends: role-playing is involved. Good luck!

More on Bush's SOTU Global Warming Plans

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 2:15 PM EST

The hot topic around here is what Bush will propose regarding climate change in his State of the Union. There have been rumors for weeks that Bush will announce something, possibly an increased commitment to the environmentally-dubious ethanol. I just wrote that with McCain an increasingly active supporter of action on global warming, the timing may be right to get a big push on the issue -- a big enough push might even give Bush something to salvage in his legacy.

CNN is now reporting that they have some details:

President Bush, in Tuesday's State of the Union address, will propose a plan to cut U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent while bolstering inventory in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Republican sources say.
The president's plan to cut gasoline use includes tightening fuel economy standards on automakers and relying on alternative energy sources, such as hybrid cars, the sources say.

Read more from CNN here.

This Time, There Is Every Reason To Believe Michael Brown

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 2:05 PM EST

Like an imprisoned drug dealer on a witness stand, Michael Brown is not exactly in a position to give credible testimony. But his latest so-called bombshell--that the White House decided to take federal control of Louisiana during the Katrina crisis in order to control and embarrass a Democratic governor--hits the target.

Anyone with a working knowledge of the Bush White House knew that the administration was playing games with Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco in the days after the storm hit. A smear job of the governor by the White House (most likely Karl Rove) of Blanco was very successful both in Louisiana and nationally. Blanco had won a close election against a former Bush staff member, Bobby Jindal, and many of her contituents readily jumped on a campaign to blame her for the entire Katrina disaster, rather than just for the mistakes she did make.

Brown told outrageous lies about Blanco and the state of Louisiana during the Katrina hearings, and when Blanco released all of her Katrina records, including emails, the lies became obvious (for those few who actually followed the story instead of listening to the White House statements, the lies were already obvious). Now, in light of Brown's recent statement, Blanco is calling for a federal investigation of the federal response to Katrina.

Here is where it gets sticky. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is a new member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Landrieu was an unrelenting and outspoken critic of Bush during the height of the Katrina disaster, and would no doubt like to see an investigation herself. During the original hearings, the Republican-controlled Congress would not subpoena records from the White House. At the time, Sen. Joseph Lieberman was highly critical of the White House for withholding information from Congress. However, Lieberman, who is now chairman of Landrieu's committee, says he is not interested in conducting a "witch hunt."

Unless there is serious pressure placed on Lieberman from both Landrieu and the citizens whom Congress is supposed to represent, the Bush administration will once again be successful in hiding evidence and obstructing the operation of government.