Mojo - July 2007

Do-It-Yourself Mad Scientistry: Environmental Edition

| Mon Jul. 23, 2007 4:23 PM EDT

Hey, cool! Via Instapundit, I found a site that tells you how to make your own ethanol.

To make it, whether in home stills or factories, cornmeal is put in vats with water and enzymes that convert some of the corn to sugar. Yeast added to the "mash" converts the sugar to alcohol. In a few days, the alcohol concentration tops 10 percent and the yeast goes inactive, having, ironically, rendered its own environment toxic.
Distillation increases the alcohol concentration: 50 percent is vodka, 95 percent is fuel. Alcohol vaporizes at a lower temperature than water, so heating the fermented mash turns the alcohol to vapor that collects on a cold condenser.

Uh, okay. The process is illegal, dangerous, unlikely to help the environment all that much, and possibly hazardous to all of our long-term respiratory health. Other than that, it's great! Find your lab goggles and get to work!

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More Wanton White House Secrecy

| Mon Jul. 23, 2007 3:47 PM EDT

ThinkProgress picked up this interesting little item in last Friday's Oregonian. Apparently Peter DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, requested access to the administration's continuity of government plan in the event of a terrorist attack. Access denied, the White House said.

The American Enterprise Institutes's oft-quoted political scientist Norm Ornstein told the paper that this is an unprecedented move. "I find it inexplicable and probably reflective of the usual, knee-jerk overextension of executive power that we see from this White House," he said.

The White House has yet to weigh in on the matter, but given the administration's track record when it comes to wanton secrecy you can likely expect a creative and legally fraught explanation (or simply none at all) for why DeFazio's request was denied. (After all, the Veep's office briefly advanced the argument recently that it was not part of the executive branch and thus not subject to an information request from the National Archives.)

But why was DeFazio looking into the classified portions of the continuity of government plan anyway? It turns out that some conspiracy-minded Oregonians called his office concerned that there might be something fishy in the fine print. Under normal circumstances this would seem to be another tinfoil-hat-type theory. But now DeFazio's not so sure. "Maybe the people who think there's a conspiracy out there are right," he said.

News You've Been Waiting For, Mother Jones Takes on Washington

| Mon Jul. 23, 2007 2:11 PM EDT

We've been telling you for a few days that Mother Jones has some big news. Here it is. We're bucking the mainstream news downsizing trend while getting our investigators' noses into places that drive the political elite crazy. Right after Labor Day, non-profit Mother Jones will be the first American news organization in years to open a major bureau in Washington D.C. We're more than doubling our commitment to fearless, independent reporting in the nation's capital.

Jay Harris
President & Publisher

Trash Continues To Pile Up, Threaten Public Health

| Mon Jul. 23, 2007 12:48 PM EDT

An update on the trash talks going on east of San Francisco in Alameda County, where Waste Management has locked out 500 garbage truck drivers since July 2nd.

Amidst accusations that more affluent neighborhoods were getting regular pickup service by replacement workers, leaving others to languish as block dumps, on Friday state legislators introduced an emergency bill in Sacramento that would allow cities to declare a public health emergency in the case of a garbage stalemate, where they could commandeer garbage trucks and/or hire locked out workers or another contractor, at the expense of the original company.

"Enough is enough," said assemblywoman Loni Hancock, whose district includes Berkeley and parts of Oakland. "I find it completely unacceptable for trash to remain uncollected and left to rot in the streets. This is creating a public health crisis and it's time to take out the trash." Hancock compared garbage pickup to police and fire, calling it an essential service for public health and safety.

Talks between the labor and management resumed yesterday but after 12 "slow and tedious" hours the parties came to no resolution, meaning service will remain spotty at best. As of Friday the city of Oakland had received more than 2,300 complaints from residents regarding trash pickup.

Sometimes Life is Difficult, Even for the Secretary of State

| Mon Jul. 23, 2007 11:58 AM EDT

I find this endlessly entertaining. Propaganda doesn't pay, occasionally.

Bush Administration Official Part of Reality-Based Community

| Mon Jul. 23, 2007 10:34 AM EDT

The Bush Administration for years has packed the executive branch with political appartchiks apparatchiks who pervert the business of the nation to better serve their White House masters. Consider the U.S Attorneys scandal, the most recent appointee for Surgeon General, and about a thousands other examples.

But recently that's been changing, at least in the realm of national security. The new ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, publicly complained about the lack of qualified employees at the Baghdad embassy; the new Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, has called for the closing of Guantanamo; and the war czar actually advocated withdrawal before being hired (and doesn't attack my patriotism for agreeing). Maybe they ran out of hacks, or maybe they realized excluding dissenting voices hadn't turned out very well.

Today, we find that Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, agreed in 2006 with the now widely-accepted claim that the Bush Administration twisted pre-war intelligence to make it support their phony claims about the urgent need for war. Two paragraphs from Stephen Hayes's upcoming biography on Dick Cheney, caught by Tim Russert and highlighted by Think Progress:

McConnell was honored to be asked [to be DNI], but he had serious reservations. He had been unimpressed with many aspects of the Bush administration and its conduct of the war on terror, particularly what he felt was a politicized use of intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq war. […]
"My sense of it is their political faith and convictions influenced how they took information and interpreted [it], how they picked up and interpreted outside events. … I've read much more about the current set of players and they did set up a whole new interpretation because they didn't like the answers. They've gotten results that in my view now have been disastrous," [McConnell said].

That sounds about right. Oh, and McConnell was critical of the Pentagon intelligence office that we like to call The Lie Factory.

Update: Should have mentioned this. As DNI, McConnell was responsible for the recent NIE that argued that four years in Iraq had only strengthened al Qaeda and that belligerence towards Iran would lead to terrorist attacks on the U.S. and its interests across the world.

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More on Bush's Anti-Torture Order: Not So Impressive

| Mon Jul. 23, 2007 10:24 AM EDT

For a fuller examination of Bush's executive order from Friday afternoon banning torture and other forms of degrading interrogation, check out this David Cole piece in Salon. From Cole's perspective, the order feels like a wolf in sheep's clothing: another attempt by the Bush Administration to create loopholes while trying to appear on the up and up. Moreover, in places where the order does move us back in a humane and sane direction, it doesn't go far enough. Concludes Cole,

With a different administration and a different history, one might be less inclined to read President Bush's latest executive order so skeptically. But this administration has shown repeatedly that it approaches the prohibitions on coercive interrogation the way a particularly creative tax lawyer might treat the tax code. Instead of striving to uphold what we thought were our country's moral principles, the Bush administration seeks to exploit every loophole it can find or manufacture. As a result, the administration has lost the trust of the nation and of the rest of the world. Executive orders like this one are not likely to win it back.

Bribery Charges for KBR

| Sat Jul. 21, 2007 1:42 PM EDT

Buried at the bottom of page A-6 in today's Times is news that Halliburton spin-off KBR and its subcontractor Eagle Global Logistics built bribery charges into the cost of delivering basic supplies to U.S. troops in Baghdad. An Eagle executive pleaded guilty yesterday to bribing KBR employees to continue to hand Eagle the lucrative subcontract. Eagle then took 50 cents in overcharges per pound of food, fuel, and other necessities it delivered to troops. KBR is officially claiming ignorance, but it takes two to commit bribery, and five KBR employees are included in the indictment.

Question is, how is this not also treason? After all, the well-placed companies refused to deliver basic necessities to American troops on the ground in Baghdad without first lining their pockets with taxpayer money, even as the taxpayers and their congressional representatives searched for a way to end the war without stranding the troops in dangerous territory.

Intel Committee Chair: What Does the Executive Order Mean?

| Fri Jul. 20, 2007 6:07 PM EDT

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, reacts to the news posted by Jonathan Stein below, that Bush has signed an executive order governing CIA interrogation techniques that supposedly bans cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment.

Rockefeller:

I just received the news this morning from General Hayden. We now need to determine what the Executive Order really means and how it will translate into actual conduct by the CIA. The only way to do that is to have the CIA come before the Committee and explain in detail how it intends to apply the Executive Order. It is also absolutely essential that the Department of Justice provide the Committee with its full legal analysis.
The stakes are too high and the issue too important to provide any comment until the Committee has been given the opportunity to fully evaluate the President's action.

Rockefeller's skepticism is fully warranted, says former Justice Department official Marty Lederman: "It is, in a word, worthless. ... As I've explained in several posts, however ... non-criminal does not equal legal." Lederman's post is worth a close read.

BREAKING: Bush Administration to No Longer Break Domestic and International Law

| Fri Jul. 20, 2007 5:26 PM EDT

WHOA! Talk about a Friday afternoon news dump! Caught this in the Post right before I left the office.

President Bush today signed an executive order governing the interrogation of terrorism suspects by the CIA and barring torture, degrading treatment and serious acts of violence, the White House announced.

Friday afternoon announcements are reserved for things the administration wants to hide; I love that they want to hide the fact that they are now following the law.

Only one explanation here: Bush had to take drastic action so Cheney didn't torture like a million dudes when Bush goes under the knife tomorrow.