Political MoJo

Pombo Denies Abramoff Ties, Even as Evidence Mounts

| Wed Oct. 11, 2006 5:04 PM EDT

Recently released documents from the Northern Mariana Islands indicate that Richard Pombo's (R-Ca) relationship to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was much cozier than he has let on.

The AP is reporting that previously unseen lobbying records from the Marianas show Abramoff billed for phone calls to Pombo's office in 1996. They also establish that between 1996 and 2001 Abramoff and his associates met with Pombo's staff on more than two dozen occasions.

Pombo's spokesman Brian Kennedy told the AP that those meetings "never happened" and the staff-level contacts were "greatly inflated." Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in a congressional corruption investigation, is "an admitted felon" who can't be trusted, Kennedy said.

As Mother Jones reported in September, Pombo has received at least $31,250 from Abramoff, his associates and clients, and even accompanied him on a delegation to the Marianas in 2004.

Will this influence voters' come November 7? Pombo and his opponent Jerry McNerney are in a tight race for California's 11th congressional district seat; as of last week Pombo held a two-point lead in the polls. Last Thursday, at the first and only debate between the candidates Pombo said of Abramoff "I met the guy two or three times in my whole life--he never once lobbied me on anything."

--Amaya Rivera

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Firm Must Pay for Asbestos Cleanup in Libby, Montana, Say Supremes

| Wed Oct. 11, 2006 4:53 PM EDT

Yesterday the Supreme Court let stand earlier rulings that W.R. Grace, which had operated an asbestos mine in Libby, Montana, must pay $54 million to the EPA for Superfund cleanup costs at the mine, according to the Los Angeles Times.

For a devastating portrait of the town, whose residents, according to an EPA toxicologist, suffered "the most severe residential exposure to a hazardous material this country has ever seen," read Maryanne Vollers and Andrea Barnett's "Libby's Deadly Grace" from the May/June 2000 issue of Mother Jones.

Bush's New Space Policy: To Infinity and Beyond

| Wed Oct. 11, 2006 4:37 PM EDT

Via Secrecy News, we learn that the Bush administration just cranked out a new National Space Policy. Much of it's similar to Clinton-era policy, but there are some stellar exceptions. Like this one:

The previous policy prudently reserved judgment "on the feasibility and desirability of conducting further human exploration activities" beyond the International Space Station in Earth orbit.

But in a rhetorical flight of fancy, the new Bush policy purports to adopt a new national "objective of extending human presence across the solar system," no less.

Less fanciful, yet more predictable, is the insistence that "The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space." In other words, in space no one can hear you whine about international law.

The True Cost of the War: 600,000 Iraqis Dead?

| Wed Oct. 11, 2006 12:45 PM EDT

In his current column, Wall Street Journal pundit Bret Stevens recounts this story of Condi Rice meeting with the paper's editors last year:

[...] she said that she had telephoned George W. Bush as she flew out of Baghdad on her (then) most recent visit: "Mr. President," she said (and I quote from memory) "this is going to be a great country."

Meanwhile, there's new evidence of just how far from greatness Iraq really is. A new study [PDF] in the Lancet finds that over 600,000 Iraqis may have died in the wake of the American invasion. This, as the Journal reports, is considerably higher than any previous figure, including the "30,000, more or less" that President Bush tossed out last December. That figure, as Adam Shemper wrote in the May/June issue of Mother Jones, came from Iraq Body Count, a website that has been diligently tallying reports of civilian deaths. But IBC uses a conservative, media-based approach, while the new report from Johns Hopkins uses a statistical model known as "cluster sampling." No doubt there will be plenty of academic and partisan sniping about what the real number is. Whatever the final figure, it's a stark reminder of the daily barrage of violence facing average Iraqis. Stephens notes that Rice did not repeat her "great country" story when he met with her recently. He chooses to remain optimistic. "Perhaps she feels that way still: It would be distressing indeed if she did not." But wouldn't it be just as distressing if she still thought Iraq is on the path to greatness?

Update: In this morning's press conference, Bush said he doesn't believe the report is credible and is "amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they're willing to—you know, that there's a level of violence that they tolerate."

Dogs Used To Both Intimidate and Bite Prisoners

| Tue Oct. 10, 2006 9:12 PM EDT

This sounds like another Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib story, but the practice of using dogs to both terrify and bite uncooperative prisoners is one that takes place in Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota, and Utah. According to Human Rights Watch, in these five states, dogs are used on prisoners who refuse to leave their cells. First, the dogs are used to intimidate the oppositional prisoners. If the intimidation does not work, the dogs are instructed to bite.

The practice is most common in Connecticut and Iowa prisons, according to Human Rights Watch. Arizona and Massachusetts banned the use of dogs this year.

Both German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are used for cell extractions. When a handler and his dog enter a cell block to perform a potential cell extraction, the dog barks loudly, jumps against the cell door and scratches at the window. If the sight and sound of the dog does not get the prisoner to comply, the dog is then released. The officer with the dog is supposed to maintain a hold on the leash, but that does not always happen.

The dog is trained to bite whatever part of the prisoner it can get to, and there is always at least a puncture wound resulting from the bite. A prisoner who continues to resist can wind up with muscle or tissue tearing.

GOP Rule and North Korean Nukes

| Tue Oct. 10, 2006 7:20 PM EDT

Think Progress brings to our attention that most of the growth of North Korea's nuclear weapons program occurred under "conservative administrations known for their supposed 'strength' on defense" beginning in the mid-1980s under Ronald Reagan. Read their full timeline of events here.

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No Pets Left Behind

| Tue Oct. 10, 2006 6:57 PM EDT

On Friday, President Bush quietly signed into law a bill requiring states to help evacuate pets in the wake of a natural disaster. The law follows one of the lesser publicized tragedies of FEMA's bungled evacuation of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. Because of a "no-pets" policy, FEMA forced evacuees to abandon their dogs, cats and any other domesticated friends (including service-animals). An estimated 50,000 pets were left to drown, starve or otherwise suffer. And remember all those folks who refused to leave their homes? According to a recent poll, 1 in 5 say they refused to evacuate because they did not want to leave their pets behind.

The documentary Dark Water Rising, now out on DVD, chronicles Katrina's animal casualties and the tireless efforts of rescuers who worked to save them. The film also offers an unfiltered look at the hurricane's devastation of New Orleans' poorest neighborhoods and hints at the kind of bureaucratic ineptitude and infighting that have slowed reconstruction.

--Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

Who Holds the Solution to the Byline Gender Gap?

| Tue Oct. 10, 2006 6:21 PM EDT

Alternet's (formerly Mother Jones') Ann Friedman takes a strong position on magazines' byline gender gap, going so far as to recommend quotas, which Alternet has employed in order to ensure that efforts to even the byline score are made. Quotas are often the subject of controversy, but when looking at the results published by WomenTK.com, and highlighted in Mother Jones last January, it's impossible not to be struck by the gap and to reach out for any and all solutions. Here's Friedman's go at the ratios (male-to-female contributing writers/editors):

The American Prospect: 21:12
The Atlantic: 27:6
Harper's: 30:2 (masthead not online)
In These Times: 6:6
Mother Jones: 10:5
The New Yorker: 44:18
The Nation: 26:4
The New Republic: 12:2
Salon: 14:7
Slate: 20:6
Washington Monthly: 30:5

Yup, Mother Jones is in there, and although we look better than most, there's always room for improvement.

Warships Headed to Iran

| Tue Oct. 10, 2006 4:49 PM EDT

Is the Bush administration really nuts enough to go to war with Iran when the military is stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan? Several media outlets, including Mother Jones, think the administration is capable of it. But the predictions of war with Iran are moving beyond armchair psychoanalysis and into wargame-watching.

A strike force led by the aircraft carrier Eisenhower is currently making its way to the entrance of the Persian Gulf, with a predicted arrival date of October 21. The Navy officially claims that the Eisenhower's deployment is part of a normal rotation of ships in and out of the Gulf. But The Nation reports that the carrier's deployment date was pushed up significantly. Both Time and MSNBC say the move was accompanied by a request from the Chief of Naval Operations to revamp a plan to blockade Iran from the Persian Gulf.

The Nation got its story from an anti-war retired Air Force Colonel, Sam Gardiner, who claims that officers of the deploying ships contacted him and "complained that they were being sent to attack Iran without any order from the Congress." But the president might see it differently. When Bush addressed the U.N. in mid-September, he claimed that Iran's leaders were "fund[ing] terrorism and fuel[ing] extremism." And President Bush has made a point of broadly interpreting the post-9/11 congressional vote authorizing him to combat terrorism (including as authority to conduct warrantless surveillance on American citizens). He could potentially initiate conflict with Iran with no further congressional approval.

Babs and Bush Duet

| Tue Oct. 10, 2006 2:25 PM EDT

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Babs kicked off yet another farewell tour in Philadelphia on Wednesday night and one of her guests was longtime fan and political compadre George W...OK, it was Bush impersonator Steve Bridges, the same guy who tag-teamed with GWB at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Babs' shtick, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, was to toss the faux Bush softballs "only to have him give glib, breezy answers, like proposing to solve the national debt by selling Canada. "They don't use half of it!" he exclaimed.