Political MoJo

First Lady Calls Pombo the Environment's "Enthusiastic Steward"

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 7:29 PM EST

As promised, Laura Bush stumped for Richard Pombo today and instead of touting his strengths, as, say, a force to be reckoned with for private property rights, she chose to focus on his environmental track record, calling him "an enthusiastic steward of our country's natural resources."

Uh, that's a bit like calling Mel Gibson a steward for religious harmony. "Because of his leadership," she went on, "wildlife, property and people will be protected from dangerous flooding." It's as if he were the captain of Noah's Ark!

Richard Pombo has used his position as chair of the House Resources Committee to try to overhaul the Endangered Species Act to eliminate habitat protection, and to weaken laws protecting the oceans.

The first lady, who's on a first name basis with the 14-year California state representative (her husband calls him The Marlboro Man) insists that Pombo "is committed to safeguarding local ecosystems. Richard promotes responsible conservation initiatives, programs that protect wildlife while also improving the lives of his constituents."

Read this week's interview with Pombo's opponent, wind-energy engineer Jerry McNerney, who currently holds a 2-point lead, here.

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Stem Cell Research: Fact and Fiction

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 5:30 PM EST

Stem cells have become the superstars of this election season, with their profiles raised by celebrities and ad campaigns. But this has led to the propagation of certain myths surrounding the issue. An interview with Jesse Reynolds, spokesman for the Center for Genetics and Society, shed some light on the realities of the issue. The center conducts policy research and advocacy on issues surrounding genetics.

Fiction: Embryonic stem cell research is illegal in the United States.

Fact: All forms of embryonic stem cell research are legal at the federal level, but President Bush has cut funding for such initiatives. South Dakota is the only state bans embryonic stem cell research in all its forms, and about a half dozen states ban research cloning. For more information on the specific legalities, visit the website of National Conference of State Legislators.

Fiction: Embryonic stem cell research destroys embryos.

Fact: "Almost all embryonic stem cell research uses embryos left over from [in vitro fertilization] clinics that would effectively be destroyed anyway," Reynolds told Mother Jones. However, if more labs were to develop cloning of embryos for their stem cells, eggs would be required. Unlike embryos, eggs cannot be frozen – although researchers have been working on the technology. Some opponents of stem cell research like Patricia Heaton are worried that women may be exploited for their eggs. While many pro-life groups are also opposed to stem cell research for the reason that it is destroying embryos, other groups that are pro-choice have expressed concerned over the collecting of women's eggs. These include the Center for Genetics and Society, the California Nurses Association, and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of CaliforniaEconomic incentives might be offered to have women take hormones to produce eggs that can be extracted for research purposes.

Fiction: All scientists interested in this type of research want to clone embryos.

Fact: According to the Center for Genetics and Society, only about a half a dozen labs in the United States are working on developing stem cells from cloned embryos. "The cloning is a small part of [embryonic] stem cell research and it's at a very early stage. There are no therapies from it or from any other form of stem cell research," said Reyolds. But Reynolds also pointed out that cloned embryos could be created to isolate more specific genes.

Fiction: By using stem cells, scientists could develop cures for diseases within the next few years.

Fact: Any type of clinical trial is actually about 15 years away, with another five year waiting period before medications would be prescribed. "We're not talking about the next political cycle," said Reynolds.

Fiction: Stem cell research offers a guaranteed cure for everything from cancer to Alzheimer's.

Fact: As a relatively common disease with very grave effects, Alzheimer's has a high media profile in the stem cell debate. But, despite Ron Reagan's appeals for stem cell research on behalf of people who suffer from the same disease as his late father, a cure is not assured through the controversial technology.

According to Reynolds, researchers are much closer to cures for diabetes than they are to cures for Alzheimer's through stem cell therapy. "I'm yet to see researcher as opposed to a research advocate assert that it's on a short list," said Reynolds.

Fiction: Certain opponents of stem cell research point out that further advances have been made in adult stem cell therapy than embryonic or other forms.

Fact: "It's tricky because opponents of [embryonic] stem cell research like to point out that alternatives exist and the therapies are much further along," said Reyolds. "That is something along the lines of what is called a red herring." Adult stem cells are used in procedures such as bone marrow transplants which have been done since 1968. The first stem cell line was created and patented in 1998 by James Thompson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin. "All born humans have stem cells in them that are less ethically problematic but are also less powerful," said Reyolds.

--Caroline Dobuzinskis


After Next Tuesday, Should Dems Be Feeling Impeach-y?

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 5:02 PM EST
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With the Democrats poised to retake the House next week, it's only a matter of time before a freshly emboldened blue-state rep (besides John Conyers) dares to utter the i-word. Outside of D.C., there's been no such reticence to suggest that George W. Bush has committeed high crimes and misdemeanors. Which isn't to say that the idea of impeachment has any chance of going anywhere soon. Even if it does gain political traction, would forcing Bush into early retirement be worth the trouble? In our latest issue, Tim Dickinson wades into the slew of pro-impeachment books out there and considers these questions. I won't give away the ending, but he's not real excited by the (far-fetched) prospect of President Cheney or (gasp!) President Pelosi. Check it out.

Love and Marriage Shouldn't Be This Complicated

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 4:18 PM EST

The marriage amendment is expected to pass in five states but in three states victory for its socially conservative supporters is not a sure thing, reports the Washington Times.

These include Arizona, Wisconsin and South Dakota, where the amendment has been widely criticized for its limitations to both heterosexual and homosexual unions. Groups such as Arizona Together, Fair Wisconsin and South Dakotans Against Discrimination are waging campaigns against the amendment. In Arizona, polls show that voters are concerned about its effects on health benefits to families (which could be the result of an ad paid for by Arizona Together).

Fair Wisconsin's website lays out 20 possible effects of the ban, including limiting access to protection for victims of domestic abuse. While in South Dakota, the amendment has been called poorly worded.

The words on the ballot will vary widely: from simplest definition in Idaho of "a marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state," to South Carolina's complex description which includes the phrase "This State and its political subdivisions shall not recognize or give effect to a legal status, right, or claim created by another jurisdiction regarding any other domestic union."

One woman in Wisconsin wrote in to the Sheboygan Press to express her opposition to the wording of the amendment: "Most confusing of all, the amendment bans two separate things — gay marriage and 'anything substantially similar to marriage,': wrote Barbara Hill. "Many voters may want to preclude the possibility of gay marriage but allow adults to commit to one another in a legal way."

--Caroline Dobuzinskis

Corporate Animal Abusers Fighting Back With Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 3:44 PM EST

Few enterprises practice more cruelty than Kentucky Fried Chicken, though the company has never been prosecuted for either its inhumane policies or its widespread torture of chickens. Now KFC has petitioned the U.S. Postal Service to issue a stamp honoring its "American entrepreneurial icon," Harland "Colonel" Sanders.

Farm Sanctuary has written a letter to the U.S. Postal Service, asking that Sanders and KFC not be honored, and is inviting citizens to express their disapproval to the USPS.

Across the nation, people are taking steps to stop institutionalized animal abuse, especially the abuse of factory farming. Four years ago, Florida became the first state to ban industry-standard pig gestation crates (crates so narrow that the pigs cannot turn around), the city of Chicago and the state of California have banned production and sales of foie gras, and there are pending laws to ban cruel factory farm practices in Oregon, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Laws banning industry-standard battery cages for hens are bound to be introduced some time soon.

The factory farming industry and other industries that treat animals inhumanely are ready. Currently under consideration is HR 4239, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which would make it a crime punishable by imprisonment to engage in any act that causes an "animal enterprise" (factory farm, puppy mill, research facility, pet stores, circus, etc.) to lose a profit. These acts include legal activities, such as peaceful protesting and organizing media boycotts. Furthermore, it would make no difference if the animal enterprise were engaging in an obviously illegal activity. Also, there is no exemption for financial damage caused to an enterprise by the dissemination of public information.

Last year, the FBI declared that so-called eco-teorrists and animal rights anarchists were more dangerous to the country than right-wing militia groups and militant anti-choice groups. The groundwork has been laid to do anything to protect American corporations, and the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act has already passed in the U.S. Senate.

If Evangelicals Don't Vote Republican, Who Will?

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 2:25 PM EST

A new poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center shows that only 57% of self-identified white, Evangelical Protestants plan to vote for Republican candidates in next week's midterms, down from 64% just over a month ago. This is nothing new: for a while now, Bush's approval rating has gone steadily down among his most stalwart supporters.

-Only 54% of Evangelicals have a "favorable" impression of Republicans (down from 63% in January)

-Only 42% believe that Bush's party "governs in an honest and ethical way."

A startling 31% say they will vote for the Democrats next week.

This is a far cry from the last election:

-In 2004, 78% of white Evangelical Christians voted Republican, and 72% of them approved of Bush's performance.

-Now, only 55% think Bush is doing a good job and only half want to keep troops in Iraq.

And it isn't just the Evangelicals: 37% of white Catholics and 48% of white mainline Protestants plan to vote Republican in the mid-terms, both down from their 2002 numbers. Maybe it's the gay-prostitute soliciting ministers, or maybe it's Congressmen sending explicit texts to their pages, but either way looks like even right-wing Christians don't trust the Republicans.

—Jen Phillips

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The Latest Polls: Burns Picks Up Steam, GOP to Retain Control of the Senate

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 1:34 PM EST

According to Congressional Quarterly's Poll Track, Conrad Burns is picking up steam in Montana and conceivably could win this race, which was once thought to be in the Dem column. The hottest races remain Missouri and Virginia. Both dead heats. Poll Track speculates that the Dems will take the House, but lose the Senate:

A majority of both Republicans and Democrats responding to National Journal's Insiders Poll this week predicted that Democrats would gain over 20 seats in the House next week, winning them control of the chamber. But in a similar show of consensus, both sides also foresee the GOP retaining control of the Senate, with 91 percent of Republicans remaining optimistic and 63 percent of Democrats conceding their party's uphill battle.

History Don't Know Much About Bush

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 11:45 AM EST

The decider rides again. From George W. Bush's "interview" with Sean Hannity a couple days ago:

I enjoy making decisions. You know, there's something exciting about reading and studying history and realize you're making history with it. And one of the lessons, by the way, about when you read history is that, after your presidency, you know, it's going to take a while for the historians to fully understand the decisions you made, if you're making big decisions, and so therefore you don't worry about history.

I like to say there's a portrait of George Washington in the Oval Office. I often look at him. I've read three history books about him. And if they're still analyzing the No. 1 guy's presidency, old No. 43 needs to not worry about it.

In short, Bush seems to hope that his legacy will rest on a solid foundation of inscrutability. Take that, eggheads!

Free Nuke Plans, Courtesy of the U.S. Gov't - Again

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 11:29 AM EST

Today's New York Times reports that the federal government stuck plans for a nuclear weapon up on the Internet, free for the taking (until yesterday). The "Operation Iraqi Freedom Document Portal" was set up at the behest of Congressional Republicans smarting from the failure to find WMD's in Iraq; the website, which contained 55,000 boxes of Saddam-era documents, was meant to be a post-facto freelance intelligence-gathering free-for-all. The Weekly Standard and conservative bloggers were big fans of this idea. But the cache also included what experts are calling a "basic guide to building an atom bomb." Oops. (Not that the amateur WMD-hunters are buying it: Jveritas, an Arabic-speaking blogger who has translated many documents, claims the prospect of, say, Iran using the nuclear plans is "a laughable idea.")

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This is not the first time that Iraqi nuclear plans have been shared online by the U.S. government. As Kurt Pitzer reported in the September/October 2005 issue of Mother Jones, spin got the better of security when the military picked up Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, the mastermind behind Saddam's nuclear centrifuge program in 2003:

On June 26, the CIA posted a press release about Obeidi's cache -- the most valuable WMD evidence the U.S. has yet obtained in Iraq -- on its official website. It also put up digital photos of the components and even one of the key centrifuge diagrams. The pictures, which [former U.N. weapons inspector David] Albright says could be "incredibly useful" to any regime trying to start a covert nuclear program, were online for almost a week -- long enough to be downloaded and made freely available on the Internet -- before the agency took them down. Literally buried for 12 years, some of Saddam's hoard of nuclear knowledge got out because of the U.S. government, not in spite of it.

Read the rest of the story here.

Diebold Asks HBO to Kill Voting Machine Documentary

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 11:07 AM EST

You may have seen the premiere of Hacking Democracy on HBO last night, but the folks over at Diebold wish you hadn't. The doc takes a look at the computers that will count 87% of America's votes on Tuesday and the vulnerabilities of the technology. If follows grandmother turned voting-machine-watchdog Bev Harris through her research of Diebold, and looks at the potential risks of the machines from the perspective of computer security experts. Far from a salacious expose on the GOP's attempt to disenfranchise through computerized voting, it's a measured look at the prospects for hacking, tampering and the other risks that could come as a result of the machines capturing nearly 9 out of 10 votes cast next week.

Turns out Diebold has complained repeatedly to HBO about the film, apparently without even watching it. The company's president, Dave Byrd, wrote letters to executives at HBO, complaining about errors and saying that no one spoke with Diebold about the film. In response, HBO Vice President and Senior Counsel, Peter Rienecker, in a November 1 letter, points out that the directors of the film tried repeatedly to get an interview with Diebold and were rebuffed, and that the errors mentioned were on Diebold's part:

You assert in your letter that the Documentary contains "significant factual errors"; however, based on several of the purported examples you have cited, you do not appear to have viewed the film which will premiere on HBO on November 2. HBO stands by the accuracy and fairness of the Documentary. Of course, if after viewing the film on the HBO service tomorrow evening you continue to have concerns, we would be happy to discuss them with you at that time.

Rienecker goes on to discuss point-by-point Diebold's concerns with the documentary, including:

-Diebold's October 31 press release, which also generally challenges the accuracy of the statements in the Documentary, claims that the Documentary states that "Diebold counted more than 40% of the votes nationwide in the 2000 presidential election". The Documentary contains no such statement or implication.

-Contrary to the assertion in your October 30 letter, the Documentary does not report that a Diebold machine subtracted 16,022 votes from Al Gore in Florida in 2000. Rather, the Documentary indicates that the software involved was owned by Global Election Systems, which (as indicated in your letter) was purchased by Diebold in 2002.

-We do not agree that the results of Harry Hursti's investigation in Leon County, Florida were in any way proved to be a sham. Indeed, his findings as depicted in the Documentary have been verified and confirmed in a February 2006 report issued by the University of California, Berkeley.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter yesterday Diebold executives admitted that they had not actually seen the film but were asking HBO to pull it from its schedule or air company disclaimers questioning its accuracy.