Political MoJo

Genetically Engineered. . . Trees?

| Tue Aug. 22, 2006 3:03 PM PDT

For the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is weighing whether to commercialize a GE tree in the continental United States. Should the transgenic "C5" plum tree be approved, it could be planted anywhere in the country without a permit. Approval is likely and is being eagerly awaited by farmers who want the tree for its engineered resistance to the plum pox virus. Still, many environmentalists say any benefit from GE trees is far outweighed by their risks, which are compounded in the case of trees by the role they play as the backbone of many ecosystems. Opponents expect the application to open the flood gates to many more ecologically significant creations based on poplar and pine trees.

To date, the only GE tree approved for use in the U.S. is a disease-resistant papaya grown in Hawaii. According to Greenpeace, profits from the papaya fell as counties in Asia and Europe rejected Hawaii's exports.

The Sierra Club weighed in against the plum in a public comment period that ended late last month. "Since plums grow wild and can hybridize, not to mention growing very efficiently from seeds, we'd be opposed because the GE variety would be sure to spread," said Jim Diamond, chair of the club's Genetic Engineering Committee. Having learned from the PR disasters of past GE crops, the GE tree industry employs a sophisticated PR machine that is sure to become more prominent in the coming year.

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Sky News Discovers Unsafe Skies - Ten Months After Mother Jones

| Tue Aug. 22, 2006 2:44 PM PDT

We're delighted to see that Rupert Murdoch's Sky News TV channel hasn't canceled its Mother Jones subscription. Yesterday the British satellite channel's website reported that Boeing had "knowingly bought thousands of unsafe and unapproved parts from a subcontractor." The parts in question came from Ducommun, a supplier based in Carson, California, and included chords and bear straps, key elements of the fuselage that the FAA designates as "flight safety critical." Sheila Kaplan's Mother Jones article broke this story last October and followed it with a three-part series on MotherJones.com. Kudos to Sky's U.S. correspondent, Andrew Wilson, for getting the people who made the original allegations, three internal auditors at Boeing, to appear on camera for the first time. Perhaps the further attention will motivate the FAA—which initially dismissed the whistleblowers' claims without even inspecting the aircraft in question—to be more vigilant as it revisits the investigation. Or not. In April, an FAA spokesman told the Washington Post that "We're confident we came to the right conclusions in the first case."

Can Oil Remain Bullish? Some Call the Commodity on its B.S., But Maybe Too Soon.

| Tue Aug. 22, 2006 2:19 PM PDT

Earlier this month, consumers and investors alike were bracing for another spike in gasoline prices after the Prudhoe Bay oil field shutdown. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal discussed a price hike's impact on Americans' consumption patterns, Bush's "plan" for sustainable energy and the prevalence of ethanol. How will America handle another price increase?

But now investors might be facing a different question—what if there is no increase? The price of oil is on a steady decline this month, down 4.4%. If oil continues to decline, "it is going to be much more difficult to argue that crude oil remains a bull market and that all dips are buying opportunities," says Tim Evans of Citigroup. But, some analysts are convinced this is nothing but a dip in a sturdy market that will soon climb again -- they note Goldman Sachs' decision to reduce its exposure to the commodity and a smaller than expected impact of the Alaska pipeline shutdown as some of the short-term factors contributing to the lower prices. But others warn that the market has become accustomed to the "geopolitical uncertainty" surrounding the oil market. Deutsche Bank's Mark Vonderheide says traders are "balancing the fundamental weakness of this market against the probability of some global event or continuation of global events in Nigeria, Iran or Venezuela....Barring an event, it's very likely we're headed for much lower oil prices." "Barring any event" -- Perhaps, we don't need to be concerned about lower prices quite yet.

All the President's Fart Jokes

| Tue Aug. 22, 2006 12:42 PM PDT

Washington Whispers provides some insight into what makes our Groper-in-Chief tick:

He loves to cuss, gets a jolly when a mountain biker wipes out trying to keep up with him, and now we're learning that the first frat boy loves flatulence jokes. A top insider let that slip when explaining why President Bush is paranoid around women, always worried about his behavior. But he's still a funny, earthy guy who, for example, can't get enough of fart jokes. He's also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides, but forget about getting people to gas about that.

Perhaps this is what Bush meant when he pledged to "restore honor and dignity to the White House."

MoJo's Ridgeway on C-Span, Talking Subpoenas and Impeachment

| Tue Aug. 22, 2006 12:34 PM PDT

Washington Correspondent James Ridgeway will be on C-Span's "Washington Journal" tomorrow morning at 9:30 EST talking about the story he wrote for our hot-on-the-newstands Sept/Oct issue, "Sweet Subpoena
: Nine Tough Questions for Congress." In it, Ridgeway details what kind of Congressional investigations might take place if the Democrats win back one or both chambers of Congress (and get some guts in the process). Here's the nine, short form:

  • Who lost Iraq?
  • Did Donald Rumsfeld order torture (if not, who did)?
  • Who Blew 9/11?
  • What did the airlines know, and when did they know it?
  • How wide is the domestic surveillance net?
  • Is Big Oil pulling an Enron?
  • Who's making money off your retirement?
  • Why is the morning-after pill not at your 7-11?

and the kicker:

  • Grounds for impeachment?

Oil Spill off Lebanese Coast Rivals the Exxon Valdez Disaster

| Tue Aug. 22, 2006 11:47 AM PDT

Check out these amazing and sad satellite images of the 30,000 tons of oil that has spilled off the coast of Lebanon after an Israeli bombs hit the Jiyyeh power plant last month (first reported here by our D.C. Bureau). To put this in perspective, in 1989 the Exxon Valdez spilled 37,000 tons of oil into the still-recovering Prince William Sound in Alaska. The oil in the Meditereanean Sea has already polluted some 87 miles of Lebanese coast and is moving north into Syrian waters and toward Cyprus and Turkey. It took several weeks to assess the situation and now the United Nations Environment Program requested $50 million euros from the EU to contain the spill. The oil has not only impacted wildlife (green turtle and tuna populations are now thought to be virtually extinct) but also fishermen and an already discouraged tourism industry.

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Bush Says He Supports Plan B Over-the-Counter

| Tue Aug. 22, 2006 11:46 AM PDT

At yesterday's White House press conference, President Bush said he supports over-the-counter sale of Plan B to women ages 18 and up.

Q: Thank you very much. Mr. President, some pro-life groups are worried that your choice of FDA Commissioner will approve over the counter sales of Plan B, a pill that, they say, essentially can cause early-term abortions. Do you stand by this choice, and how do you feel about Plan B in general?

THE PRESIDENT: I believe that Plan B ought to be -- ought to require a prescription for minors, is what I believe. And I support Andy's decision.

Bush only recently announced his support for contraception, saying it was acceptable for "responsible adults" to use birth control, but not anyone else. (Because, clearly, irresponsible people make the best parents.) Maybe he's opposed to making Plan B available to women under 18 because he's concerned, like some FDA officials, that it would create teen sex cults. In reality, all medical evidence says the drug is completely safe for over-the-counter sale to minors-- and has no effect on their sexual behavior. But anti-abortion groups are predictably incensed that Bush is supporting the morning-after pill at all.

And speaking of abortion foes, supporters of the South Dakota abortion ban are saying it's a-OK to criminalize abortion because, hey, emergency contraception would still be legal. They declined to mention that pharmacists in South Dakota are allowed to refuse to fill prescriptions for Plan B.

A Good Day in Baghdad: Only 20 Dead

| Tue Aug. 22, 2006 10:57 AM PDT

The new normal: After 20 pilgrims, including several teenagers, were killed and 300 injured by black-and-green-clad gunmen, the U.S. military "reported relatively little violence for the day," reports the Washington Post (via the SF Chronicle) and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki touted the success of Iraqi security forces "in preventing the terrorists from killing innocents."

IDF Reservists Protest Lebanon Action

| Mon Aug. 21, 2006 11:57 PM PDT

A couple of years ago, Gershom Gorenberg wrote a great piece for Mother Jones about the Israel Defense Force reservists known as "refusniks" because they refused participate in the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Now various groups of IDF reservists are protesting the war in Lebanon as well, as the New York Times reports:

[One] group of Israeli reservist soldiers who served during the recent fighting in Lebanon, angry about the conduct of the war, on Monday demanded the resignations of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.

The reservists, most of whom have gone back to civilian life, say that their training was inadequate and that they were sent into Lebanon with unclear missions, inadequate supplies, outdated equipment and a lack of basics, like drinking water. They called for a national inquiry into how the war was waged.

Joe Scarborough Asks: Is Bush An Idiot?

| Mon Aug. 21, 2006 11:11 PM PDT

Last week, I commented that Bush has lost the punditocracy. On Sunday, the Washington Post makes the point that even Bush's most ardent supporters in the media are jumping ship. Exhibit A is from Scarborough Country:

For 10 minutes, the talk show host grilled his guests about whether "George Bush's mental weakness is damaging America's credibility at home and abroad." For 10 minutes, the caption across the bottom of the television screen read, "IS BUSH AN 'IDIOT'?"

But the host was no liberal media elitist. It was Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman turned MSNBC political pundit. And his answer to the captioned question was hardly "no." While other presidents have been called stupid, Scarborough said: "I think George Bush is in a league by himself. I don't think he has the intellectual depth as these other people."

He showed a montage of clips of Bush's famously inarticulate verbal miscues and then explored with guests John Fund and Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. whether Bush is smart enough to be president.

While the country does not want a leader wallowing in the weeds, Scarborough concluded on the segment, "we do need a president who, I think, is intellectually curious."

"And that is a big question," Scarborough said, "whether George W. Bush has the intellectual curiousness -- if that's a word -- to continue leading this country over the next couple of years."

Actually, "curiousness" seems most apt.