Mojo - January 2007

The Mysterious Case of the Federal Prosecutor Firings

| Thu Jan. 18, 2007 1:17 PM EST

Josh Marshall weighs in today with an interesting column in The Hill about the rash of federal prosecutors who have apparently been forced out by the Bush administration in recent weeks. Among the latest to go is San Diego US Attorney Carol Lam, whose office prosecuted the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery case and who announced her resignation on Tuesday. "The current work of the other fired USAs has less direct political implications," Marshall writes. "But several seem to have had ongoing investigations of allegedly corrupt Republicans."

While the motivation behind the firings remains a mystery, a look at the people who are being appointed to fill the vacancies is instructive.

Consider the estimable J. Timothy Griffin, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas since Dec. 20 of last year.

If you hadn't heard about Griffin's appointment, don't feel bad; the guy he replaced hadn't either. Griffin's appointment was announced Dec. 15, before the then-U.S. attorney Bud Cummins had even been given a chance to resign. Cummins got the call on his cell phone telling him he was out the same day the announcement was made. He was out hiking with his son at the time....

A quick perusal of Griffin's resume shows that his more-or-less exclusive vocation has been doing opposition research on Democrats on behalf of the Republican Party. Until recently, he was head of oppo research at the White House, working directly for Karl Rove. In 1999 and 2000, he was deputy research director for the Republican National Committee. In 2002 he returned as research director for the national GOP and stayed on for the next three years.

Before getting involved formally in oppo research he worked in what you might call de facto oppo research positions. In 1995 and 1996 he was associate independent counsel in the Henry Cisneros investigation. And after that he headed up to the Hill to work for Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) investigating political contributions from Asian-Americans to Bill Clinton.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, according to Time, back in 2000, when he was in charge of digging up dirt on Al Gore, he apparently had a poster hanging on the wall behind his desk which read: "On my command — unleash hell on Al."

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Cutbacks to Earth Satellites Blind Us to Global Warming, Hurricanes

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 10:11 PM EST

The Doomsday Clock just lurched two minutes closer to midnight. Yet the Bush administration thinks sending a couple of dudes back to the Moon or a handful of exiles on to Mars is more important than seeing what's going down here on Earth. The National Academy of Sciences reports that half the scientific instruments on our environmental satellites are expected to stop working by 2010. That will amount to a huge loss of data. But if the bad news isn't streaming in, we don't have to worry about tracking global warming or the arrival of pesky natural disasters. Right? The Washington Post reports:

The two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, determined that NASA's earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000. It stands to fall further as funding shifts to plans for a manned mission to the moon and Mars. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, has experienced enormous cost overruns and schedule delays with its premier weather and climate mission.

"If things aren't reversed, we will have passed the high-water mark for our Earth observations," said co-chairman Richard Anthes of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "This country should not be headed in this direction. . . . We need to know more, not less, about long-term aspects of climate change, about trends in droughts and hurricanes, about what's happening in terms of fish stocks and deforestation."

Could it be those oil boys in DC have dibs on the first tickets off our failing planet? If so, do we have to wait for space colonies? Can't we send them offworld now? Then we could crank the clock back a minute or two.

Global Warming Forces Doomsday Clock Closer to Midnight

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 8:55 PM EST

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight today. It now reads 5 minutes to midnight—for the first time reflecting global failures to solve the global climate crisis as well as problems posed by nuclear weapons. The Bulletin Online reports:

"The dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons. The effects may be less dramatic in the short term than the destruction that could be wrought by nuclear explosions, but over the next three to four decades climate change could cause irremediable harm to the habitats upon which human societies depend for survival."

Stephen Hawking, a BAS sponsor, professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, and a fellow of The Royal Society, said: "As scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth. As citizens of the world, we have a duty to alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and to the perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change."

Plame Case: Fitzgerald is Getting Nifonged

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 5:32 PM EST

What do Patrick Fitzgerald and Mike Nifong share in common? Not much, beyond the fact that both are prosecutors who have pursued politically fraught cases. But don't tell that to Investor's Business Daily, which published an editorial today calling for "all the rogue prosecutors" to be reigned in. The paper's prime examples of prosecutorial zealotry are Nifong, who recused himself last week from the Duke sexual assault case, and Fitzgerald, whose perjury and obstruction of justice case against Lewis "Scooter" Libby began in D.C. district court on Tuesday. "Like the Duke lacrosse players, Scooter Libby faces jail for alleged involvement in a crime that was never committed, pursued by a vindictive prosecutor," the editorial reasons. "And also like the Duke case, it's a national disgrace."

In lumping Fitzgerald with Nifong, whose case against the Duke lacrosse players appears at best deeply flawed and potentially politically motivated, Investor's Business Daily is only the latest to deploy this disingenuous bait and switch. Making a similar argument in an op-ed last summer, columnist Jack Kelly cast the Plame and Duke cases as part of the same cautionary tale. "This should remind us the greater threat to our civil liberties comes not from the measures the Bush administration has taken to protect us from terrorists, but from prosecutors who abuse their power for political purposes." More recently the columnist posed this question to his readers: "Is to 'fitzgerald' a synonym for to 'nifong?'"

Perhaps it is, if you base your facts on the Plame leak case on the same, well worn set of conservative talking points used over and over to portray Libby as a victim of liberal activism.  nifong_fitzgerald.jpg As the argument goes, since the charges against Libby derive from Fitzgerald's investigation of a question he was ultimately unable to settle – whether the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative constituted a breach of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act – they should never have been filed in the first place. As Investor's Business Daily put it, "Like District Attorney Michael Nifong in the Duke case, Fitzgerald knew early that he had no real crime and no real criminal. But he had to come up with something. So he charged with lying someone who in his job got hundreds of phone calls every day and talked to dozens of reporters because his memory of earlier conversations differed with those reporters' notes." (It's worth noting that Libby's defense attorneys are likely to make a similar argument.) For those who adhere to this view, the revelation last fall that former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, known as a critic of the Iraq war, was Robert Novak's initial source for his column outing Plame, was icing on the cake, providing further evidence that the leak of her covert status was not the act of political retribution administration critics claimed it to be. Case closed.

Of course, if government officials were to believe there are no penalties for lying to a grand jury or impeding a federal investigation, they would have little impetus to do anything but obfuscate. (In terms of Libby, the courts certainly seem to regard his alleged crimes as serious enough. If convicted on all five counts, he could be fined up to $1.25 million and sentenced to 30 years in prison.) As for Armitage, while he reportedly revealed Plame's identity inadvertently, that doesn't preclude the possibility that a separate, malicious effort was underway within the Office of the Vice President to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, for debunking the administration's claims about Iraq's efforts to obtain yellowcake uranium. The Libby trial, however, will not center on the motivations behind the leak, but on whether Libby lied about his role in it.

As far as the Fitzgerald-Nifong comparisons go, that's just the latest salvo in a partisan mud-slinging campaign that has been part of the Plame case since the beginning. But none of that matters at this point. The only question now is whether Fitzgerald has a case against Libby -- and that's in the hands of a jury to decide.

Details on War in the Gulf

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 3:04 PM EST

Bush hopes his new strategy will jump start his losing war. But as time goes by, we sink further into the quagmire. The President's speech didn't do the trick. Opposition to the war builds. Members of both parties in Congress are openly opposed to the war. John Murtha, who sits as chair of the House appropriations subcommittee on defense spending that provides crucial financing for the war, openly threatens to defund the war. Great Britain, our principal ally, is pulling out. The new cumbersome counterinsurgency command looks like an invitation to kill American troops.

On top of all this Bush can't leave Iran alone, constantly provoking Tehran from just across the border. The latest evidence of this comes from an interview with a former commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet. Admiral Eduard Baltin told the Interfax news agency, "The presence of U.S. nuclear submarines in the Persian Gulf region means that the Pentagon has not abandoned plans for surprise strikes against nuclear targets in Iran. With this aim a group of multi-purpose submarines ready to accomplish the task is located in the area.'"

He spoke following reports of a collision between an American sub and a Japanese tanker in the Straits of Hormuz. "Submarine commanders go up to the periscope depth and forget about navigation rules and safety measures," the admiral said.

According to Global Security, an independent Washington-based research group that follows military issues, the Iranian navy, battered after the war with Iraq, has been struggling to reorganize and acquire a variety of ships and aircraft. Bejing has supplied patrol boats and silkworm missiles.

"In July 2002 a conventional-arms sale triggered sanctions on several Chinese companies," reports Global Security. Beijing had transfered high-speed catamaran missile patrol boats to Iran. The C-14 patrol boats are outfitted with anti-ship cruise missiles. Short-range anti-ship missiles for the patrol boats also were sold from China to Iran in January 2002. The catamaran and anti-ship missile sales were first disclosed by The Washington Times in May 2002, shortly after the first of the new C-14 patrol boats was observed by U.S. military intelligence at an Iranian port. The high-speed gunboat can carry up to eight C-701 anti-ship cruise missiles, and usually has one gun. There have also been reports of Iran possesing another type of anti-ship system. Up to 16 Sunburst anti-ship missile systems were traded in the early 1990's from the Ukraine.

The Iranians are by no means a push over, and a guerrilla naval war in the Gulf could have unforeseen results.

The smaller boats might do damage to American ships but not enough to have much effect, according to Navy experts. The Iranian subs, for instance, are all Russian imports, and their ins-and-outs are well known to the U.S. Navy. We have two carrier battlegroups in the Gulf area. Each one consists of a carrier, two to three frigates, a cruiser, supply ship and two to three subs.

Nonetheless guerrilla war at sea could become an inferno. One explosive laden skiff rammed into a loaded LNG tanker could cause an inferno of untold proportions. And even low-level small boat attacks on outgoing Gulf shipping could impair western oil supplies, our own included.

Bush Readies Climate Change Announcement

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 2:06 PM EST

There will likely be more solid news on this as we get closer to the State of the Union, but there are rumblings afoot that President Bush is prepared to soften his line on global warming in his Jan. 23 SOTU. A Reuters article today says the main emphasis will be on ethanol.

One source briefed by White House officials said Bush's speech on January 23 could call for over 60 billion gallons a year of ethanol to be mixed into U.S. gasoline supplies by 2030.
That would be a massive increase from the 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol use by 2012 required by current U.S. law.

Environmentalists have been skeptical of ethanol for quite some time -- in 1995, Mother Jones wrote an article titled "The Real Cost of Ethanol" that pointed out that support for ethanol has less to do with saving the environment and a lot more to do with political donations from and subsidies to the powerful corn lobby. More recently, Slate did a great job of explaining why ethanol is not environmentally-friendly or energy efficient.

David Pimentel, a professor of ecology at Cornell University who has been studying grain alcohol for 20 years, and Tad Patzek, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, co-wrote a recent report that estimates that making ethanol from corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol fuel itself actually contains.
The two scientists calculated all the fuel inputs for ethanol production—from the diesel fuel for the tractor planting the corn, to the fertilizer put in the field, to the energy needed at the processing plant—and found that ethanol is a net energy-loser.
In addition to their findings on corn, they determined that making ethanol from switch grass requires 50 percent more fossil energy than the ethanol yields, wood biomass 57 percent more, and sunflowers 118 percent more. The best yield comes from soybeans, but they, too, are a net loser, requiring 27 percent more fossil energy than the biodiesel fuel produced. In other words, more ethanol production will increase America's total energy consumption, not decrease it.

That may all be besides the point. The appeal of ethanol in many people's minds, I suspect, is not that America gets more green, but that when presented in simplest terms, it looks like an ethanol surge morphs our dependence on foreign oil into a dependence on domestic corn. And Americans like the sound of that, especially in the midwest.

Earlier this week, the UK's Observer reported that Blair and other senior British officials left pre-Christmas talks with Bush with the impression that Bush was ready to make a major move on climate change.

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McCain Doesn't Want To Burden the Wealthy With Cost Of War

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 1:12 PM EST

Bush's new Iraq jobs program is going to cost a billion dollars. As Marty Kaplan points out in The Huffington Post, Congress could "repeal one zillionth of one percent of the cut in capital gains tax that Bush gave the wealthiest Americans. That would raise a billion in a heartbeat."

This idea, though more than sensible, does not appeal to Sen. John McCain, who told Al Hunt: "I'm not sure what the point would be. I would certainly ask Americans to serve. I would ask them to make other sacrifices, but I'm not sure I would want to raise their taxes just because we're in a war."

E.J. Dionne Jr. points out that, since 2001, we have offered two dollars in tax cuts for every dollar we have spent on war.

Wesley Clark: "N.Y. Money People" Pushing War with Iran

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 11:29 AM EST

While it is well known that Israeli politicians, in and out of government, are pushing for a hard line on Iran, the role of American Jewish groups on this issue is less clear.

The Jewish Daily Forward reported last Friday that "American Jewish groups have also stepped up their advocacy efforts regarding Iran, though they generally press for aggressive diplomatic steps without pushing for military action. These groups have lavishly praised the Bush administration in recent days, after the U.S. Treasury Department banned an Iranian bank from doing business with American entities."

The bank in question is the state-owned Bank Sepah, described by a Treasury official in remarks to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as "the financial linchpin of Iran's missile-procurement network."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Vice Premier Shimon Peres have raised the possibility of an Israeli military retaliation against Iran should it attack Israel. And they have gone further, pointing out that Israel is equipped with a nuclear arsenal.

Former Democratic presidential candidate General Wesley Clark — who is likely to run again in 2008 — threw himself into a political storm when he told Arianna Huffington, "New York money people" are pushing the U.S. into war with Iran, noting, "you just have to read what's in the Israeli press. The Jewish community is divided, but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers."

"The phrase 'New York money people' struck unpleasant chords with many pro-Israel activists," the Forward reports. "They interpreted it as referring to the Jewish community, which is known for its significant financial donations to political candidates."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Forward, "He is a friend of Israel and is not an antisemite," adding, "but some of the things he said are very, very unfortunate."

Clark followed up with a letter to Foxman saying, "I will not tolerate antisemitic conspiracy webs to permeate the honest debate Americans must have about how best to confront Iran.''

Clark made a point in the last campaign of noting his pride in the fact his own father was Jewish.

In the Eye of Florida's Insurance Storm

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 11:26 PM EST

The Florida legislature convened a special session today to address the state's property insurance crisis, in which homeowners, in the wake of recent hurricanes, have seen rates double in many areas and insurers pull out of some communities entirely. Stories in the Orlando Sentinel today and Sunday mapped out the confusing political landscape: In the recent elections, most insurance company money--$2.4 million—went to Republicans, who control the governor's mansion and both houses of the legislature; yet, perhaps forecasting a typhoon of voter rage, the new governor, Charlie Crist, has vowed to do something about the skyrocketing rates, and last week proclaimed : "Big insurance has a new day coming." The forecast for that day is less certain. What's likely is that the state will assume more of the risk of bailing out insurers or insure more homeowners itself—tamping down rates but leaving taxpayers holding the bill in the event of a killer storm.

Not on the plate this week, but sure to be on people's minds, is of course global warming, which has been blamed, in a roundabout way, for the entire shebang. Until now, lawmakers in the second-lowest state in the union (Louisiana is first) haven't really paid much notice to the whole global warming thing; the state legislature took a pass on curbing greenhouse gasses last year and the U.S. Congressional delegation voted in lockstep with the Bush crowd. The blasé attitudes might soon change, though. In November, Broward County Democratic Congressional candidate Ron Klein unseated the Republican incumbent, Clay Shaw, after running ads targeting Shaw's reactionary global warming stance. And the Sierra Club's Florida lobbyist, Susie Caplowe, tells me that Governor Crist has ousted a number of former Governor Jeb Bush's environmental appointees and replaced them with people who she likes much better. Crist hasn't yet stated a position on global warming, but if he wanted to represent his state's best interests (and perhaps his own), getting to the moral high ground on the issue would be a good place to start.

Give Us Your Diggers, Your Furlers, Your Social Bookmarkers Yearning To Be Free

| Tue Jan. 16, 2007 9:12 PM EST

Mother Jones is on board with the whole Web 2.0 deal (hey, we live in San Francisco) so as of today, we've made it easy to use following social bookmarking and sharing sites from any of our stories or blog posts:

Digg
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Reddit
Yahoo MyWeb
StumbleUpon
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Should we add others, maybe Facebook? Are you having trouble with the widgets or the interfaces of the ones we have included? We'd like to know.