Political MoJo

Supremes Run Hot and Cold on CO2 Emissions

| Thu Nov. 30, 2006 1:10 PM EST
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Some interesting observations from yesterday's Supreme Court hearing on whether the federal government has the power to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, via the New York Times. Reading the tea leaves of the justices' reaction to the arguments before them, the Times predicts the court will do its usual 5-4 split on the question, with Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote. John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia seem to be in the "pollutant, shmollutant" camp:

"You have to show the harm is imminent," Justice Scalia instructed [Massachussetts assistant attorney general] Mr. Milkey, asking, "I mean, when is the cataclysm?"

Mr. Milkey replied, "It's not so much a cataclysm as ongoing harm," arguing that Massachusetts, New York, and other coastal states faced losing "sovereign territory" to rising sea levels. "So the harm is already occurring," he said. "It is ongoing, and it will happen well into the future."

Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito both suggested that because motor vehicles account for only about 6 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, even aggressive federal regulation would not be great enough to make a difference, another requirement of the standing doctrine.

Meanwhile, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter seemed willing to consider that automobile emissions pose a serious environmental threat:

Justice Souter engaged Deputy Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre, the lawyer who was defending the administration's position, in a long debate. When Mr. Garre said the plaintiffs "haven't shown specific facts which should provide any comfort to this court that regulation of less than 6 percent or fewer greenhouse emissions worldwide will have any effect on their alleged injuries," Justice Souter demanded: "Why do they have to show a precise correlation?"

"It is reasonable to suppose," the justice continued, "that some reduction in the gases will result in some reduction in future loss." It was "a question of more or less, not a question of either/or," he said, adding: "They don't have to stop global warming. Their point is that it will reduce the degree of global warming and likely reduce the degree of loss."

Mr. Garre replied that given the problem's global nature, "I'm not aware of any studies available that would suggest that the regulation of that minuscule fraction of greenhouse gas emissions would have any effect whatsoever."

Then Justice Breyer took on the government lawyer. "Would you be up here saying the same thing if we're trying to regulate child pornography, and it turns out that anyone with a computer can get pornography elsewhere?" Justice Breyer asked, adding, "I don't think so."

Clarence Thomas seems to have been reliably silent during the hearing.

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Standardized Death Threats

| Thu Nov. 30, 2006 2:31 AM EST

A Los Angeles immigration attorney who has been helping Iraqi Armenian refugees resettle in the U.S. writes that her clients tell her that death threats have become so common that terrorist groups have quit writing them by hand. Instead, they use computer-generated forms with their organization's logo and blank spaces where the victim's name is written in.

Another depressing nugget from her essay:

The United States has not liberalized its refugee policy in response to the worsening crisis in Iraq. More than 1 million Iraqi refugees of all religious backgrounds have poured into Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. In fiscal year 2006, just 202 Iraqi refugees were resettled in the United States.

San Diego Bans Wal-Mart Supercenters

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 7:26 PM EST

In a victory for low-wage workers, these folks, and for Barack Obama and John Edwards, the San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to ban Wal-Mart Supercenters from their city limits. There are 21 Supercenters in California, but none in San Diego. And San Diego, determined to stay classy, will have none.

Mother Jones has written a ton about Wal-Mart in the past, including this feature on Wal-Mart employees being so fed up with low wages, unpaid overtime, and union busting that they started fighting back, this blog post about how Wal-Mart's claims about going organic are a big fat lie, this blog post about how Wal-Mart could raise wages by more than $2,000 per employee and still maintain profit margins almost 50 percent higher than Costco, this short article about how Rick Santorum sided with Wal-Mart over his own beleaguered constituents, this essay about how Wal-Mart's "Made in America" claims are deceitful and disgusting, and on and on. Good on ya', San Diego. For being one of the most conservative parts of California, sometimes you're all right.

Saudi Arabia Plans to Protect Sunni Minority

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 6:42 PM EST

The U.S. is not the only country crafting the fate of Iraq (The Baker Commission's report is set to be released a week from today). Today Reuters reports that Nawaf Obaid, a security adviser to the Saudi government, writing in the Washington Post said that the Saudi government has plans of their own. Obaid writes that if the U.S. begins to withdraw from Iraq, Saudi Arabia plans to protect the Sunni minority from "Iranian-baked shiite militias." The Saudi options are three-fold, much like those of the Pentagon-- although without all those clever names:

-providing "Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with" funding and arms.

-establishing Sunni brigades

-strangling "Iranian funding of the militias through oil policy."

Throughout the Middle East, there is a well-founded fear that the blood of the escalating violence will spill over into the countries that border Iraq, creating even more instability in the region, so the Saudi's interest in helping out is understandable. Although the influence of neighbors does not come without ulterior motives (nor, of course, does the U.S.'s). Liz Sly, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune put it quite well back in October when in response to federalizing Iraq, she said that "While more engagement by Iraq's neighbors might help promote unity, there is also a risk that neighboring states will seek to pursue their own agendas and turn the country into a regional battleground." I think it's safe to say, as many have already done so, that the fear of civil war could soon be trumped by fears of a regional one.

What Kim Jong Il Won't be Getting for Christmas

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 6:10 PM EST

Kim Jong Il has made a sport of defying U.S. efforts to halt his country's burgeoning nuclear program, essentially thumbing his nose at the international community in October by staging North Korea's first nuclear test. Today, after the U.S. government's latest diplomatic overture failed, the Bush administration was forced to take swift and decisive action intended to hit Kim where it hurts – that is, to cut off exports of luxury goods, such as yachts, plasma TVs, Rolexes, and iPods to North Korea in conjunction with the U.N. Also embargoed is Kim's favorite French cognac, Hennessy, which is certain to agitate "Dear Leader," who is reputed to purchase upwards of $700,000 per year of the stuff. As the AP points out, these trade sanctions seem squarely targeted at Kim, a connoisseur of the finer things in life, who's one of the few people in the impoverished nation who can afford to indulge his taste for extravagances. It remains to be seen whether this effort will bring North Korea back into the diplomatic fold. But one would think that Kim, whose regime has successfully negotiated the nuclear black market, probably won't have a great deal of trouble getting his hands on some outlawed hooch.

Pop Quiz: Who Is the Lamest Duck?

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 5:07 PM EST

The New York Times got hold of a secret memo in which National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley describes the lameness of a world leader. Who is it?

"He impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so."

"The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of [deleted word] advisers, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality."

"The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests [name deleted] is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

"He may simply not have the political or security capabilities to take such steps, which risk alienating his narrow [deleted word] political base."

Sounds familiar, right? Of course I gamed the quotes by deleting the words Dawa, Maliki, and Sadrist, but it still made me wonder if Hadley was painting a portrait of Maliki in terms that he thought Bush might understand.

Full text of Hadley's brutally honest November 8 Maliki memo for cabinet-level officials here.

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Powell: We Should Call it Civil War

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 4:20 PM EST

CNN's Hala Gorani reports today that in conversation, Colin Powell told her that "if he were still heading the State Department, he probably would recommend to the Bush administration that those terms [civil war] should be used in order to come to terms with the reality on the ground."

This debate of whether or not to finally apply the label "civil war" began with the eruption of violence over the weekend, with CNN's Michael Ware reporting, "For the people living on the streets, for Iraqis in their homes, if this is not civil war, or a form of it, then they do not want to see what one really looks like.... We're talking about Sunni neighborhoods shelling Shia neighborhoods, and Shia neighborhoods shelling back."

Soon after, NBC decided it would use the phrase, Dan Froomkin nodded approvingly, and we were off to the races. The Nation writes today that this may signal the true awakening of the mainstream media.

The real confusion here, of course, lies in the fact that no firm or commonly accepted definition of "civil war" exists, coupled with the fact that we live in time in which words and phrases, bent in a million different ways and co-opted for the purposes of spin, retain little meaning. Unsurprisingly, The Daily Show makes this point best.

2008 Prez Candidates Update

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 3:58 PM EST

Movement amongst the longshots. Joe Biden is in, though we kind of already knew that. Bill Frist, officially the least likeable Republican in America, is out.

No word on Barack Hussein Obama.

Polish Kid: "My Half-Year of Hell With Christian Fundamentalists"

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 2:46 PM EST

There are a million things that are funny about this. It's almost like someone made it up; if they did, we're playing the willing suckers here at Mother Jones.

The facts are simple. (1) A Polish student named Michael came to America for a study abroad term. (2) He was placed with an evangelical family in North Carolina. (3) Hilarity ensued.

Here are the highlights:

- The first thing the family told Michael when he landed at the airport was "Child, our Lord sent you half-way around the world to bring you to us." Michael immediately wanted to get back on the plane to Poland.

- Every Monday, the family gathered around the kitchen table to talk about sex. The parents had not had sex in 17 years.

- The family told Michael that he had the devil in his heart. The family told Michael that his mother had the devil in her heart.

- Michael realized part of the way through his stay that the family had only agreed to house him because he could help them set up an evangelical church in Poland. A bit opportunistic, no?

How is this not a sitcom already? To Mike, we're not all like that, we promise. Perhaps you should swing by the Bay Area next time and sample some of our "San Francisco Values." And to Wonkette, who found this on Der Spiegel, keep fighting the good fight, folks.

Columnist Says Gay Marriage Is Linked To Out-Of-Wedlock Births

| Wed Nov. 29, 2006 1:47 PM EST

You have to stretch your neck and spin your head around to even try to grasp Brendan Miniter's reasoning in his Wall Street Journal column of yesterday. Miniter writes that there is a connection between gay marriage and the rise in out-of-wedlock births in the U.S.

What? Okay, Miniter has an explanation for this assertion, right? Wrong. He claims that "Although advocates of same-sex marriage will deny there is any connection..." between gay marriage and increased out-of-wedlock births, he does not utter a word about why there would be such a connection.

Miniter says that, according to reports from the National Center for Health Statistics, teen pregnancy is down, but more unmarried women in their 20s and 30s are having children. The only possible related explanation, of course, is that those women are lesbians and that they are in gay marriages. However, very, very few gay Americans are married, since gay marriage is rarely permitted. And lesbians and gay men who want children have children, regardless of whether they are fortunate enough to be married (if that is what they choose).

So add to marriage to family members and children and marriage to dogs and cats, an increase in out-of-wedlock births if gay marriage is permitted. And I'll add some: divorce, spousal abuse, child abuse, and infidelity. Oh, wait...we already have those.