Political MoJo

Climate Change The Root Of Armed Conflicts?

| Mon Jul. 9, 2007 8:00 PM EDT

Climate change and its resultant shortage of ecological resources could be to blame for armed conflicts in the future. According to a paper published in Human Ecology, changing temperatures and dwindling agricultural production correlated with warfare frequency in eastern China in the past. The authors reviewed warfare data from 899 wars in eastern China between 1000 and 1911, and cross-referenced these data with Northern Hemispheric climate data for the same period. They found that warfare increased significantly when temperatures fluctuated enough to affect food crops. Their conclusion: in times of ecological stress, warfare could be the ultimate means of redistributing resources. JULIA WHITTY

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Debating the Surge at AEI

| Mon Jul. 9, 2007 6:33 PM EDT

Before a packed house including Vice Presidential daughter Liz Cheney and former VP aide Mary Matalin, Iraq surge godfathers Frederick Kagan and Gen. Jack Keane faced off against a proponent of a phased withdrawal from Iraq at a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute today. "I think I am the designated skunk at the AEI surge garden party," said James Miller, of the new centrist think tank, Center for a New American Security, a former Clinton era deputy assistant secretary of defense, from the panel. And in a way, that's exactly what he was meant to be.

Miller is the co-author of a recent CNAS Iraq report, Phased Transition, that argues that the U.S. should reduce its troop presence in Iraq by 100,000 troops over the next year, and withdraw completely over the next five years. By arguing for a planned phased withdrawal, Miller says his plan hopes to avoid what it sees as the likely alternative: a precipitous withdrawal in January 2009 when the Bush administration leaves office. The report also argues for an increased advisory role for the U.S. in Iraq.

AEI military expert Tom Donnelly recently brought out the big guns, taking to the pages of the Weekly Standard (several floors below AEI) in an article entitled "Orderly Humiliation" to tar the CNAS report as the "Clintonista" plan -- in case any potential moderate Republican supporters of such a plan didn't understand CNAS' genetic bloodlines. Conservative scholar Max Boot went after it on the op-ed pages of the Los Angeles Times the same week. Such coordinated critiques as well as today's event indicate that the architects of the Iraq invasion and the surge are nervous about the political pressure growing on the White House to rethink the U.S. strategy and reduce the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Pressure that is increasingly coming from Senate Republicans.

At the AEI event today, Miller argued that the surge had had two goals: 1) reducing the violence in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, and 2) facilitating political reconciliation. He said that violence has partially subsided in Baghdad but is now increasing elsewhere; and that there has been essentially zero progress in furthering political reconciliation among Iraq's ethnic groups.

Kagan, a bespectacled resident scholar at AEI, argued, contra Miller, that the surge is showing signs of political progress. "Are we so impatient? Are the stakes so low? Is it easier to declare failure?"

An Iraq expert who attended the event comments, "The AEI crowd thinks that we are making real progress, should ignore politics at home, and cut the Iraqi government some slack ... They completely fail to grasp that in pursuing the surge until our country is strategically and politically exhausted, and not thinking about a transitional presence as part of a responsible withdrawal, they will end up triggering a precipitous withdrawal the minute Bush leaves office."

The AEI debate on this sweltering Washington day drew the kind of crowd you would expect to see for the kind of high stakes event the think tank ran during the height of the Iraq invasion. And the stakes are high: while the panel moderator Danielle Pletka mourned at the end everyone was only talking about the surge in the context of U.S. domestic politics, and not U.S. national security, the event organizers too are arguing for a strategy they see as urgently necessary for political vindication, but one that has lost the support of the vast majority of the American public. As the presence of Cheney daughter Liz and aide Matalin attest, the public debate continues a private discussion with a more receptive audience of two in the White House.

NSA Warrantless Wiretapping Case Dismissed

| Sat Jul. 7, 2007 4:10 PM EDT

A three-member federal appeals court ruled very narrowly yesterday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program should remain in place until a plaintiff comes along who can prove s/he was spied on, resulting in concrete harm. The decision suggests that the program might be illegal, but states clearly that the lawyers and journalists who brought the suit had no standing to do so.

There are some important sticking points in the decision, however. First, what about the generalized harm that results when any number of law-abiding citizens clam up because they believe, with a some justification, that they are being monitored? Second, people could only know for sure that they were spied on if the government told them. The government claims that that information is a "state secret"—information that, if revealed, would threaten national security. (One of the two judges in the decision determined categorically that the plaintiffs had no standing; the other wrote that the state secrets privilege prohibits the court from knowing.) The government's claim is, of course, only true if warrantless wiretapping were only conducted on people who posed a genuine threat, but it allows no legal avenue to determine if that's the case. Many legal experts argue that the state secrets privilege should not serve as a get-out-of-court-free card, but rather should simply require careful handling of the potentially secret material by the federal judges. After all, if we can't trust presidentially appointed federal judges to maintain confidentiality—which they already do as a routine part of their jobs—who can we trust? The same Bush administration that leaked Valerie Plame's name?

A case in San Francisco in which the plaintiffs claim to have proof that they were monitored is still pending.

Matches Go To War

| Sat Jul. 7, 2007 2:12 AM EDT

Conflagration.

National Monument Saved From 4x4 Enthusiasts

| Fri Jul. 6, 2007 3:10 PM EDT

A federal judge recently ruled that Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument may not be used as an ATV playground, putting an end to nine years of heated disputes between off-road vehicle activists and equally dedicated conservationists. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Earthjustice acted as defendants in the case and Kane and Garfield counties, within which the monument lies, were plaintiffs.

The 1.9 million-acre monument, established as such in 1996 by President Clinton under the Antiquities Act, became the second largest monument in the continental United States and and is habitat for countless endangered species.

The Grand Staircase is one of many monuments, for which counties supportive of off-roading have invoked a 1866 mining statute called RS 2477 (a law that allows road construction over public lands), to counteract usage restrictions that monument status brings. Effectively, if the county can prove a road had been established before 1976, they have a shot at re-opening it to the public and, of course, for off-roading. In that spirit, horse trails, boulder-strewn washes, dried up creeks, and even hiking paths became possible ATV highways, sometimes even private property as we reported in our most recent issue.

The recent federal ruling puts ownership of these public lands firmly in federal hands, which hopefully means fewer 18" tires will be traversing (and destroying) the monument's unique ecosystem. But most likely, the ruling will also increase the ire of 4x4 activists dedicated to driving public lands, regardless of what's on them.

This marks one of the first times the federal government has stepped into the debate in favor of environmental conservation. Previously, the Bush administration loosened restrictions on off-roading in national parks and has repeatedly made it easier for counties to claim RS 2477 road rights.

Mike Gravel the "Avant Garde of the New Artpolitical Era"?

| Fri Jul. 6, 2007 1:19 PM EDT

I didn't know we were entering into a new "artpolitical" era. And if this is a new one, was there an old one?

I probably don't know these things because I'm not an art history professor writing in the LA Times. If I was, I would understand that Mike Gravel, what with his crazy campaign ads, is a genius on par with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Jackson Pollack. And the interpretation of Gravel and his campaign goes something like this:

Gravel's works confront us with our own existences and our deaths, the brute thereness of truth, the skull beneath the $400 haircut, the cellulite under the pants suit. His is neo-existentialist, post-apocalyptic, post-post modern art, a silence that screams and cajoles.
Gravel's politics are a politics of the body and of the physical world, of what is underneath our language and above it, what is broken and beautiful, the real world of human beings.
I suggest to you that a Gravel presidency would lead to an entirely new America, doing to us what cubism did to post-impressionism: dragging us moaning in glorious epiphanic pain into a new world.
It may be that Gravel, like Vincent van Gogh, Friedrich Nietzsche or indeed, Crispin Sartwell, is a premature birth of an astonishing future. He may toil in obscurity, misunderstood or ignored in his own time. And yet, whether we can fully theorize him or not, Mike Gravel, though he may never be president, has brought us all to the very brink of political ecstasy.

A ten on the crazy meter? That's probably what most Times readers will say. But I'll go with an eight -- there are some kernels of truth in there.

And good golly, I enjoyed that op-ed more than any other in a long, long time.

Via The Plank.

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Why Didn't Libby's Defense Team Focus on Cheney?

| Fri Jul. 6, 2007 12:20 PM EDT

Sorry to be so monotonous, but the holiday week has left people with an absence of news and a lot of time to speculate on all things Libby. So here's some more worthwhile block quoting. Did Libby's defense team threaten to expose Dick Cheney's crimes during the trial? And did they only back off after being guaranteed a commutation or pardon? Follow the clues, it makes a lot of sense...

If you ask any criminal defense attorney, they said we would make Dick Cheney the focus of the trial. He is perfect. He's all over this case. It really was an investigation about what Dick Cheney ordered, what Dick Cheney said, what Dick Cheney did. It's just that Dick Cheney wasn't indicted.
So no one was that surprised when the defense team made it clear they were going to call him to the trial and they were going to take the gloves off. And then suddenly, it changed and they said they were not going to call him.
They barely talked about him in any sinister way. And they adopted what could only be described as a passive defense. They virtually walked Libby into a conviction. I don't mean to be too harsh, but it seemed to me a pretty passive performance.
Well some of us speculated at the time that it seemed to be preserving the chance for a pardon. He was a loyal soldier. He took the hit in court and he remained quiet even after his conviction and even after his sentencing.

Crooks and Liars has video.

Scooter Libby, Ordered to Jail by a Republican System

| Fri Jul. 6, 2007 12:02 PM EDT

Over at TPM, Josh Marshall has an excellent rebuttal to the people who say Scooter Libby's trial, conviction, and sentencing were all politically motivated. He goes down the list of the major players in this sordid drama and identifies them all as conservatives or leaners in that direction.

1. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Decided a special prosecutor was needed and then recused himself from the decision because of his proximity to the probable targets of the investigation.
2. James Comey. Yes, he's the darling of the Dems now because he spilled the beans about the hospital stand-off. But Comey is, dare we say it, a REPUBLICAN. And not just any Republican but a pretty tough law-and-order type who only months earlier had been appointed Deputy Attorney General by President Bush. He had it in for Scooter? He let his partisanship get in the way?
3. Patrick Fitzgerald. Again, a darling of the Dems now for obvious reasons. But anyone who knows the guy's history knows that while this registered independent may not lean ideologically right (in the way movement whacks might recognize) he certainly doesn't lean to the left. It's no accident that his appointments have come under Republicans.
4. Judge Reggie Walton. Let's start with this: He was appointed by George W. Bush. And if that doesn't do it for you, he was appointed to previous judicial appointments by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

There's bonus material in there as well: some bashing of Marty Peretz and Josh's take on why a pardon might have been acceptable but a commutation is just ridiculous. Check it out.

The Real Scooter Libby-Marc Rich Connection

| Thu Jul. 5, 2007 7:18 PM EDT

This is, um, rich: Guess who pardoned financier Marc Rich's lawyer was, circa 1985-2000. Scooter Libby.

Netroots Sends ActBlue Love to John Edwards

| Thu Jul. 5, 2007 2:36 PM EDT

Our package on Politics 2.0 is all about how the internet will decentralize politics and make it more accessible to the common man. That includes fundraising, mostly in the form of the website ActBlue.

To learn more about the site, check out the link. But suffice it to say, the netroots and online activists use ActBlue to funnel money to favorite candidates, and have sent almost $25 million over ActBlue's wires (average donation: $60). So who are the candidates receiving the lion's share of that cash?

Turns out, it's John Edwards. Just John Edwards. And it's not even close.

For number of lifetime donations through ActBlue, Edwards leads with 41,236. The next highest are James Webb with 16,363 and Ned Lamont with 12,420. Edwards also leads in terms of lifetime money raised, with $3,437,887. Webb is again second with just $894,042.

Obama and Clinton aren't in the top ten in either category. Hmmm... a strong clue on who the internet supports for president.