Mojo - August 2007

El Paso Opens Largest Inland Desalination Plant

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 1:20 PM EDT

Yesterday El Paso marked the opening of what will be the world's largest inland desalination plant, a project 15 years in the making that will aim to provide water for the nearly million residents of the area for the next 50 years.

Most desalination outfits are in coastal areas, for obvious reasons. This one will pull water from an aquifer of brackish water yet untapped hundreds of feet underground. The project costs a cool $87 million and will require multiple wells and several dozen miles of pipeline to connect the aquifer to the plant. Backers hope the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant will serve as a model for inland cities and water supply.

The driving force behind this project—and the reason Texas was able to secure $27 million in federal funding—is the expansion of Fort Bliss, the city's Army base, which is set to grow by more than 20,000 troops by 2011. Fort Bliss is already the second largest military installation in the country (next to neighboring White Sands Missile Range), covering an area roughly the size of Rhode Island.

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Reminiscing the Cold War Over Guam

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 1:13 PM EDT

According to news reports (here and here), two Russian Tu-95MS bombers flew to Guam yesterday, where Russian Major General Pavel Androsov said they "exchanged smiles" with the U.S. fighter pilots who scrambled to meet them. "It has always been the tradition of our long-range aviation to fly far into the ocean, to meet [U.S.] aircraft carriers and greet [U.S. pilots] visually," Androsov told reporters today at a news conference. "Yesterday we revived this tradition, and two of our young crews paid a visit to the area of the base of Guam."

Such long-haul (and politically charged) flights were common during the Cold War, but were suspended after the fall of the Soviet Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin, flush with oil money, has apparently ordered the flights to resume as part of a push to reinvigorate the Russian armed forces. Yesterday's sortie began at a Russian airbase near Blagoveshchensk in the Far East and flew a 13-hour round trip to Guam. According to Reuters:

President Vladimir Putin has sought to make Russia more assertive in the world. Putin has boosted defense spending and sought to raise morale in the armed forces, which were starved of funding following the fall of the Soviet Union...
Ivan Safranchuk, Moscow office director of the Washington-based World Security Institute, said he saw nothing extraordinary in Moscow sending its bombers around the globe.
"This practice as such never stopped, it was only scaled down because there was less cash available for that," he said.
"It doesn't cost much to flex your muscles ... You can burn fuel flying over your own land or you can do it flying somewhere like Guam, in which case political dividends will be higher."
The bombers give Russia the capability of launching a devastating nuclear strike even if the nuclear arsenals on its own territory are wiped out.

Newspapers 'Pay It Forward'

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 12:41 PM EDT

Minneapolis has been on the minds of many since the devastating events of last week. But being on people's minds wasn't enough for some; one newspaper took it a step further. To hear more about the benevolence of the media industry, continue reading this post on our arts and culture blog, The Riff.

Glenn Greenwald Will Not Be Hired by Brookings Anytime Soon

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 10:51 AM EDT

Glenn Greenwald's mini-discourse on the completely fallible Foreign Policy Community is the smartest and most thought-provoking thing I've read this week. Attendant readings include the Samantha Power memo that spurred Greenwald's thinking and and the Matt Yglesias blog post that echoes Greenwald and adds another angle.

Joe Biden: Consider Criminal Charges Against Administration

| Thu Aug. 9, 2007 10:43 AM EDT

Joe Biden recently sat down with Newsweek to discuss his presidential campaign and his thoughts on 35 years in the Senate. When asked about impeachment, Biden said he's against the idea because impeachment proceedings would paralyze Congress and take the nation's focus off other, more important matters. But he has a pretty stunning Plan B.

The alternative, and it's taken me time to think through, I think we should be acquiring and accumulating all the data that is appropriate for possibly bringing criminal charges against members of this administration at a later date.

Somebody call Elizabeth de la Vega! She's already made the case.

Oh, and you can put to rest those rumors that Biden, who is chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of Washington's most informed foreign policy experts, is campaigning in order to be named Secretary of State.

I promise you, I don't want to be secretary of State.

Clear enough? He's also a longtime member of the Judiciary Committee, so maybe instead of running State, Biden can be in charge of those criminal prosecutions.

Turkey, Iraq Unite in Opposition to PKK

| Wed Aug. 8, 2007 4:47 PM EDT

I've written recently (here and here) about rumors that the Turkish military may be preparing to go after PKK fighters based in Iraqi Kurdistan. The latest news is that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have signed an agreement to take on PKK forces based in northern Iraq's remote Kandil Mountains, near the Iranian border. As Maliki told a gathering of reporters in Ankara:

We found a mutual understanding with the Turkish side about the need to co-operate to confront the activities of all terrorist organisations in Iraq, including the PKK... There was agreement to unite our joint efforts to find a solution that will end, eliminate, and cancel [the PKK's] presence on Iraqi territory through shared action by both parties.

So, is it really going to be that easy? Should we write off the PKK altogether? Nope, not according to Time's Andrew Lee Butters in Beirut. You can read his thoughts here.

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Primaries in Early States to Move Up Even Further

| Wed Aug. 8, 2007 1:01 PM EDT

The WSJ's Washington Wire notes that the primary insanity is still getting worse.

[New Hampshire and South Carolina] are moving up their presidential primary dates earlier into January, according to a prominent South Carolina Republican.... That likely will force Iowa — always protective of its party caucuses as the first-in-the-nation nominating contests — to make good on its vow to move their date from next Jan. 14 into pre-Christmas December.

Pre-Christmas December! We're talking almost a full year before the general election, which at this point will probably just go to whichever party is least sick of its candidate. And let's not even begin on the pointlessness of the conventions, which used to officially choose a nominee amongst legitimate contenders and will now be a hollow media event (sorry, an even more hollow media event) a full seven months after the first primary.

(H/T Kevin Drum)

Kids Say Food in McDonald's Wrappers Just Tastes Better

| Tue Aug. 7, 2007 6:47 PM EDT

Whether it's milk, carrots, or apple juice, kids ages 3-5 think food just tastes better when wrapped in the golden arches of McDonald's, a recent study finds.

To learn more about the study, continue reading this post on our science and health blog, The Blue Marble.

House Energy Bill Marks Significant Progress on Environmental Goals

| Tue Aug. 7, 2007 1:53 PM EDT

I mentioned a few days back that the Democratic House leadership skipped YearlyKos in order to pass a sweeping energy bill. I would be remiss not to point you to some details of the legislation. Here's a news story on the bill, here's an in-depth summary from Nancy Pelosi's website, and here's the bill's actual text in pdf form.

Don't Fear the Reefer

| Tue Aug. 7, 2007 1:46 PM EDT

A story by Dan Eggen in this morning's Washington Post notes that the FBI has abandoned its time-worn policy of automatically disqualifying job applicants who have used drugs. According to the Post:

Old guidelines barred FBI employment to anyone who had used marijuana more than 15 times in their lives or who had tried other illegal narcotics more than five times.
But those strict numbers no longer apply. Applicants for jobs such as analysts, programmers or special agents must still swear that they have not used any illegal substances recently -- three years for marijuana and 10 years for other drugs -- but they are no longer ruled out of consideration because of more frequent drug use in the past...
FBI officials say the move is simply an acknowledgment of reality in a country where, according to some estimates, up to a third of the population has tried marijuana at some point.

Even with its relaxed standards, the FBI remains tougher on former drug users than other federal agencies, most notably the CIA. Those wishing to work for "the Company" are evaluated holistically, "with any history of illegal drug use being one factor considered in a careful assessment process," according to CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano.

Anybody got a lighter?