Mojo - November 2007

The French Nuclear Connection

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 9:24 AM EST

The deal between the French nuclear behemoth Areva and the Chinese to build two nuclear power plants and run others in China may be part of an answer to that country's growing energy demand. Not to mention gross pollution. It also gives the now struggling nuclear business a big shot in the arm, and brings a little known, and growing power into focus as a major energy player: Sarkozy's France.

The Bush administration has hoped it could pump up nuclear as a clean alternative fuel. Since Three Mile Island the business has been in the dumps, mired in controversy over waste disposal and overall safety. As part of its expanding operations, Areva now wants to enter the U.S. market and has cut a deal with Constellation Energy, a Baltimore utility, to sell power plants here. The French, of course, have long played an important role in the oil and gas business with historic interests in Algeria, where the first major LNG exports to the U.S. originated; in West Africa, where the Gulf of Guinea has become a hot spot in the search for what's left of the world's oil and gas; and the Middle East.

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Republicans Feud Over Immigration at the Debate: What It Says About the GOP Field

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 12:43 AM EST

romney-giuliani-youtube-deb.jpg Ernie Nardi from Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, did us all a service. The question on sanctuary cities that Nardi asked at last night's Republican YouTube debate—the first question of the night—set the stage for an epic confrontation between the candidates that included some of the sharpest attacks of the campaign season. The fight over immigration, quickly becoming the most contentious issue of the race, lasted for almost twenty minutes, long enough that each candidate got to say his piece. That meant something insightful could be learned about the entire field.

Giuliani began by insisting that "New York City was not a sanctuary city." Giuliani then went on to detail and defend three ways in which New York City was in fact a sanctuary city: the Big Apple opened education and health services up to illegal immigrants, and allowed them to report crimes without fear of deportation. Giuliani stuck up for these three policy moves, while repeatedly insisting that they didn't make New York a sanctuary city (a term, by the way, that is largely meaningless). He didn't help his case by saying "we reported thousands and thousands and thousands of names of illegal immigrants who committed crimes to the immigration service."

Mitt Romney fired right back, saying, "How about the fact that the people who are here
illegally have violated the law?" He went on to say that as Mayor, Giuliani welcomed and protected illegal immigrants.

Throughout the night, host Anderson Cooper gave anyone who was attacked 30 additional seconds to respond. This meant that anyone who got into a tit-for-tat got the lion's share of the airtime. And it meant that fights got extended, as this one did.

Giuliani shot back at Romney, saying, "Mitt generally criticizes people in a situation in which he's had the worst record." Giuliani claimed that there were multiple sanctuary cities in Massachusetts when Romney was Governor. Then it got personal. "There was even a sanctuary mansion," Giuliani said. "At his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed."

Telling Moments from the GOP Debate: Romney Freezes, Rudy Slashes, McCain Shines

| Thu Nov. 29, 2007 12:26 AM EST

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Wednesday night's CNN/YouTube Republican debate contained no Hillary Moment--that is, no time when a leading candidate muffed an answer in a manner that created an opportunity for the others to pile on. (Remember Clinton's triple-reverse answer to that question about issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants?) But this latest face-off did produce telling moments.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had the most difficult ones. He froze more than once--which is odd, considering he's had ample opportunity to ready himself for this Republican Party-sponsored debate. In one video query, a fellow named Joseph from Dallas held up a Bible and said, "How you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?" The question first went to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He seemed unsure of how to start, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who was ordained as a Baptist minister, quipped, "Do I need to help you out, Mayor, on this one?" Giuliani recovered quickly and offered the obvious answer: It's "the greatest book ever written....I read it frequently," some parts are "allegorical," some are "meant to be interpreted in a modern context."

Then came Romney's turn. "I believe," he said, "the Bible is the word of God, absolutely." CNN's Anderson Cooper reminded him of the question: "Does that mean you believe every word?" Romney stuttered: "You know--yes, I believe it's the word of God, the Bible is the word of God." He then repeated that answer twice and said, "I don't disagree with the Bible." In other words, he stumbled through a question about the Holy Book. When Huckabee fielded the question, he handled it, naturally, with natural aplomb: "As the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite god, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small." For any social conservatives who care about a candidate's relation to the Bible, Huckabee had slammed Romney.

Later in the debate, Romney hit another bad spot in an exchange during which Senator John McCain shined. A college student from Seattle named Andrew offered this question: "Senator McCain has come out strongly against using waterboarding as an instrument of interrogation. My question for the rest of you is, considering that Mr. McCain is the only one with any firsthand knowledge on the subject, how can those of you sharing the stage with him disagree with his position?" Romney went first: "I do not believe that as a presidential candidate, it is wise for us to describe precisely what techniques we will use in interrogating people. I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way, shape or form." It was a non-answer, and Cooper pressed him: "Is waterboarding torture?" Romney repeated himself: "I don't think it's wise for us to describe specifically which measures we would and would not use."

McCain moved in:

Hillary Clinton's NEW Plant Problem (It's CNN's Problem, Too)

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 11:12 PM EST

keith-kerr.jpg The gay general (as he shall forever be known) who asked a question about gays serving in the military at the just-completed Republican YouTube Debate is apparently a member of a Hillary Clinton's "LGBT Americans For Hillary Steering Committee." This was not disclosed by the general, the Clinton campaign, or by CNN during the debate.

The man's name is Keith Kerr and he's a retired Brigadier General who served for 43 years. He was actually seated in the crowd tonight and was invited by Anderson Cooper, CNN's host, to provide comments after the candidates tried to answer his question. (Romney's answer was particularly pathetic, because he once said he "looked forward" to the day when gays could serve openly in the military, causing yet another flip-flop. Romney has a troubled history with gay rights, from the Republican point of view.) Kerr went on for some time, drawing scattered boos from the Republican crowd.

They would have booed louder if they had known that Kerr is with the Clinton campaign. The questions become: Did Cooper know about this? If so, why didn't he disclose it? Did the Clinton campaign coordinate with Kerr? If so, is it accurate to say Hillary Clinton has another plant problem? And if not, Kerr probably just gave the campaign he supports an additional headache.

Kerr's question is after the jump.

Update: Clinton camp denies the General was planted. CNN denies knowing he is affiliated with the Clinton campaign. "Certainly, had we had that information, we would have acknowledged that in using his question, if we had used it at all," said Anderson Cooper.

God Does A Flip-Flop - Tells Richard Roberts To Resign From ORU

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 7:52 PM EST

Richard Roberts resigned as president of Oral Roberts University today. He did so against his will, because, he said, God told him to do it. According to Roberts, the son of ORU founder Oral Roberts, God has been waffling lately with regard to Roberts' future.

A lawsuit accuses Roberts of lavish spending while the university faced more than $50 million in debt. According to the suit, he went on shopping sprees, bought a stable of horses, and sent his daughter to the Bahamas aboard the university jet. Referring to the three former professors who filed the suit as his "persecutors," Roberts said that God had originally instructed him to deny all allegations, but on Thanksgiving Day, did a turnaround and told him to resign his post.

The lawsuit was not just about Roberts' alleged spending during a time when ORU was $50 million in debt, but also included an allegation that Roberts illegally mobilized students to campaign for a Republican mayoral candidate. Another allegation was that Roberts' on-campus house had been remodeled fourteen times in eleven years, and one that did not make the lawsuit was that Roberts used university-purchased cell phones to text messages to under-age males in the middle of the night.

Here is the text of what Roberts said God told him after God had a change of mind about the matter: "We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit ... is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion."

Not all of the news was bad. According to Roberts, God also said that something miraculous would occur on the university's behalf if he resigned. And now Mart Green, founder of the Christian office and educational supply store chain Mardel, said he would immediately give $8 million to the university, with another $62 million to come after a review of the university's financial records.

Clean Up the Coal Plants, Then Clean Out the Fridge

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 7:38 PM EST

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While the filthy coal industry touts its far-off "clean coal" technology to help keep federal subsidies flowing, perhaps there's a simpler solution to the emissions and toxins these plants belch. A Texas company called Skyonic has developed a process it claims can reduce smokestack carbon by up to 90 percent by transforming the C02 into solid NaHCO3, better known by the brand name Arm & Hammer. Hey, baking soda from coal waste! Great idea, especially if—as the company claims—the stuff comes out food-grade clean. (Even so, I think I'll just use mine to eliminate fridge odors.)

The process, which is now being tested on a pilot scale in Texas, is driven by heat from the waste gases. It involves an input of sodium hydroxide (lye), which is produced on-site, and produces as byproducts hydrogen and chlorine gases, which could be sold at a profit along with the baking soda, the company says.

Skyonic CEO Joe David Jones told ZDNET, where you can read more on this, that his company's "SkyMine" technology also eliminates 97 percent of the heavy metals and most of the acids and nitrogen compounds, which would eliminate the need for pricey smokestack scrubbers. The company is working on a full-scale system it hopes to install in 2009 that would, it says, absorb the waste output of a large (500MW) plant—which includes about 338,000 tons of carbon annually.

Sounds almost too good to be true; pie-in-the-SkyMine, you might say. Still, if it pans out, there'll be plenty of baking soda for that pie, and one less reason to hate the coal industry. 'Course, there is a little matter of blowing the tops off mountains. ...

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Habeas Corpus: Don't Leave Home Without It?

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 6:29 PM EST
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Is it me, or is this American Express ad trying to turn extraordinary rendition, black sites, and military tribunals into a tagline? Or is it just a sad reminder that even a credit-card company is more committed to due process than the U.S. government? (Spotted on the Vanity Fair website, where I was considering equally unsettling images of Christopher Hitchens getting his inner thighs waxed. Seriously.)

Huckabee Explains Himself on Abortion Inconsistency

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 6:02 PM EST

I exchanged emails with Mike Huckabee's director of research this afternoon. The topic was Fred Thompson's assertions that Huckabee once supported the federalist position on abortion, which Thompson currently supports. If true, this would undercut Huckabee's standing as the strongest pro-lifer in the race, and make him look inconsistent. The research director denied Thompson's claims and said "Gov. Huckabee has always supported passage of a constitutional amendment to protect the right to life."

Thompson's claim rests on two quotes his campaign was able to drudge up. They are both on display at the link I provide above. In regards to the first, from the Washington Times, the Huckabee campaign says that GOP was having an internal debate over abortion's place in the party platform in 1995. The debate was between federalist language (overturn Roe and leave it to the states) and no language whatsoever. Choosing between those two bad options, Huckabee supported the federalist language.

In regards to the second passage, from Right Wing News, in which Huckabee says explicitly "first of all, it should be left to the states," the campaign provided no explanation. I asked mulitple times.

I also asked for a quote from 2006 or earlier in which Huckabee demonstrated support for the Human Life Amendment and they did not supply one. It is possible, of course, that Huckabee did support a HLA before 2007 but simply did not have his position recorded by the press.

If I hear more, I will write more.

In Iowa, a Complicated Threesome, as Edwards Aims at Obama

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 5:30 PM EST

John Edwards has generally gone easy on Barack Obama. His wife Elizabeth in August did call Obama "holier than thou." Edwards has gently questioned Obama's commitment to establishing a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and he has wondered aloud about Obama's willingness to fight special interests and lobbyists, citing Obama's talk about bringing people together and rising above the political fray. But following a key rule of politics, Edwards has shot most of his arrows at front-running Hillary Clinton. That may be changing.

Obama has taken the lead in the most recent poll in Iowa, a do-or-die state for Edwards, who lags in third place behind Clinton. So today Edwards, who just last week was defending Obama from an Clinton's mockery, took direct aim at Obama. In a statement, Edwards denounced Obama's health care plan:

We need true universal health care reform that covers every single man, woman, and child in America. It is wrong to leave anyone without the care they need. A universal system will work better for all of us – delivering better care at lower cost. Barack Obama's plan leaves out 15 million people. The truth is that some people will choose not to buy insurance even though it's affordable, knowing that the rest of us will pay for their emergency room visits.

Edwards is jumping into the fight that has been going on between Clinton and Obama regarding their respective health care proposals. It's not a tremendous blast. But is this a sign that Edwards will be gunning for Obama and that the Democratic race, as the Iowa caucuses approach, will turn into a circular firing squad--which is what's been happening on the Republican side? In politics, as in much of life, a threesome can get quite complicated.

Should Spanking Your Kid Be Illegal?

| Wed Nov. 28, 2007 2:25 PM EST

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It's a question a political reporter might want to put to Mitt Romney and the Five Brothers, as the Massachusetts state legislature is currently considering legislation that would make it a crime for parents to spank their children in their own homes. Does Mitt support the bill? Inquiring minds want to know!