Political MoJo

Mitch McConnell--Another Republican With Memory Problems

| Wed Jan. 10, 2007 8:15 PM EST

In 1993, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was one of seventy-six senators who voted for an amendment to restrict funding for U.S. military personnel in Somalia. The amendment restricted funds through March 31, 1994, with the caveat that funding could be resumed only if Congress provided specific authorization to do so. McConnell not only voted for the amendment, but spoke in favor of it on the Senate floor.

Yesterday, however, Sen. McConnell said that he was voting against the Kennedy bill because he thought it was inappropriate, but also because "I don't think Congress has the authority to do it (restrict funding)."

Congress, of course, has that authority, as McConnell certainly should know. But if his memory is really that bad, perhaps he should step down.

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Nuclear Power No Global Warming Solution, But Green SatNav Might Help

| Wed Jan. 10, 2007 6:49 PM EST

Just as we learn that 2006 was the warmest on record in the U.S., a study published in today's Nature shows that storing nuclear waste over the tens of thousands, let alone hundreds of thousands, of years will be difficult because the storage containers are transformed by the radiation. Scientists from Cambridge University found that one of the ceramiclike materials favored by engineers, zirconium silicate, turned to glass in just 1,400 years.

Because many radioactive substances continue emitting radiation for a very long time, the containment must persist for an awesome duration. Plutonium-239, one of the most deadly by-products of nuclear power, has a half-life of 24,000 years, meaning that only half of any initial batch has decayed over this time. Ideally it should stay put for about ten times as long: a quarter of a million years.

So nuclear is still a big problem for a lot of reasons, and not the no-brainer fix some would hope. Odds are, the solution will come in smaller packages cobbled inventively together. NewScientist reports that a researcher at the Lund Institute of Technology in Sweden has been testing a satnav system programmed to work out the most efficient and least polluting route to drive.

[Eva] Ericsson and her colleagues report that the average fuel saving on the 22 streets was 8.2 per cent compared with journeys planned by other methods… None of the streets was particularly congested, however, and Ericsson estimates that savings on most journeys would be closer to 4 per cent.

Many Alaskans would welcome even the immediate 4 percent savings. Patricia Cochran, director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, and chairwoman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, reports to the BBC how native communities above the Arctic Circle are struggling to adapt.

With thinner sea ice arriving later and leaving earlier in the year, coastal communities are experiencing more intensified storms with larger waves than they have ever experienced. This threat is being compounded by the loss of permafrost which has kept river banks from eroding too quickly. The waves are larger because there is no sea ice to diminish their intensity, slamming against the west and northern shores of Alaska, causing severe storm driven coastal erosion. It has become so serious that several coastal villages are now actively trying to figure out where to move entire communities. While the world's politicians and media focus their attention on the big picture of agreeing the best way to curb global climate change, we are left to pick up the pieces from wasted years of inaction. The cost to move one small village of 300 people ranges from $130m (£66m) to a high of $200m (£102m), even if the distance is a few miles, because moving means reconstructing entire water, electrical, road, airport and/or barge landing infrastructure, as well as schools and clinics.

Dear Troops, Michael Ledeen Wishes You Would Get Off Your Butts and Win the War

| Wed Jan. 10, 2007 4:41 PM EST

Kos highlights the latest National Review column from uber-hawk and phony intelligence-peddler Michael Ledeen, wherein, amongst a whole bunch of craziness about attacking Iran and Syria -- Ledeen actually writes that the way to show the Iraqis we have a "will to win" is to "go after the Iranians and the Syrians." I presume if we could do that effectively we would just "go after" the bad guys in Iraq instead, but I'm not a fancy-pants think tank scholar -- Ledeen manages to do something I don't think anyone on the left has ever, ever done.

He calls out the troops in Iraq for not fighting hard enough.

We've got lots of soldiers sitting on megabases all over Iraq. They should be out and about, some of them embedded, others just moving around, tracking the terrorists, hunting them down. I don't know how many guys and gals are sitting in air-conditioned quarters and drinking designer coffee, but it's a substantial number. Enough of that.

I wish Michael Ledeen would head over to Iraq and deliver that message to our men and women in uniform personally. I'll bet he'd get some designer coffee thrown in his face.

Mitt Romney Could Actually be Good for America (He is So Screwed)

| Wed Jan. 10, 2007 3:58 PM EST

On the subject of moderate Republicans that we've been discussing today, video has surfaced of Mitt Romney in a 1994 Massachusetts senatorial debate. It's unclear if it was posted by a trouble-making YouTuber or an operative from McCain's camp (or Giuliani's camp, or, uh, Duncan Hunter's camp, or whatever), but it is clear that it's intended to hurt Romney. Why? Because he really seems like a good bloke, the sort of guy who is socially tolerant and accepting. Bad news, bro.

In the video, which you can watch below, Romney says very clearly that abortion should be "safe and legal in this country" and that a main tenet of his family's belief system is not imposing their beliefs on other people. A reporter says that Romney has made a campaign promise to "do more to promote gay rights than Senator Kennedy" and Romney doesn't object. There is also a long portion of the video where Romney talks about how American companies "have to draw on the skills of women and minorities" and how he has worked at length to end the existence of the glass ceiling. I mention that only because it amazes me that someone would think that stance is damaging enough to be worth including. Is some member of the Republican base going to see this video and say, "Whoa, Romney thinks women should be equal to men in the workplace? He's lost my vote!"

Also, Romney apparently lives (or lived) by a personal credo that forces (forced) him to spend one day a week volunteering his time on behalf of those less fortunate than him. It's really too bad this guy is going to lose in the primary....

Watch the video for yourself.

Update: For more on Romney's scandalous past as a non-bigot, see our post titled Gay-Lovin' Skeletons in Romney's Closet.

Dell Tempts Buyers with $2 Trees

| Wed Jan. 10, 2007 3:02 PM EST

Not one to let Apple Inc. steal his thunder, Dell's Michael Dell announced a new program yesterday that will allow consumers to plant a tree when they buy a computer.

Dell's new "Plant a Tree for Me" collects an optional $2 donation per notebook, or $6 per desktop which will be donated to the Conservation Fund or Carbonfund to offset carbon emissions. Dell estimates that a tree will make up for three years of electricity needed to power a computer (assuming you remember to turn it off each night, we presume).

Dell (the company, not the guy) currently recycles computers for free, and it aims to recover about 275 million pounds of old computers from customers by 2009.

—Jen Phillips

More on the Fate of Republican Progressives

| Wed Jan. 10, 2007 1:59 PM EST

Below, Clara ponders the fate of moderate Republicans, using Governor Schwarzenegger and his new universal health plan as a way in. I think Arnold's the best place to start such a discussion, because he's the only national player in the GOP that, in my opinion, embraces moderation with any authenticity.

Clara argues that the progressive sweep in the 2006 elections should signal a change in fortunes for progressive Republicans. I'm dubious. First off, I don't think America is any more progressive than it was five years ago; I think midterm voters were weary of George Bush's mishandling of Iraq and the Republican Congress' mishandling of its ethical responsibilities, and voted for change. A lot of Republican voters who stayed home and a lot of swing voters who enthusiastically voted Democratic could easily revert to their normal states.

The second reason is that most moderate Republicans, unlike Arnold, don't seem to see any value in embracing their own progressivism, such as it is. In reality, we're discussing John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney here. (Let's pause to note that these three aren't the GOP's real moderates: that would be folks like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and the ousted Lincoln Chafee.) Look at their recent actions: John McCain has embraced the leading figures of the Religious Right and denounced his previous support of Roe v. Wade. Mitt Romney is opposing gay marriage even though he's been very accepting -- and even supportive -- of gays in the past, and has just declared his support for President Bush's surge, citing the advice of "Generals, military experts and troops who have served on the ground." That's funny, because the Generals, military experts and troops on the ground all think a surge is a bad idea. Romney's statement probably should have read, "Look, I've had my disagreements with George Bush in the past, but now that I'm running for President, I stand with him. I'm a real Republican, okay? I'm willing to support the escalation of an already disastrous war to prove it." These actions speak for themselves: Republicans believe they have to move rightward to win.

As for Giuliani, he's got a record he can't really back away from. He's long been pro-gay rights, pro-abortion rights, pro-gun control, and pro-immigrant rights. Sure, he's tough on crime and would inspire all the right emotions on national security, but a Baptist minister once called Giuliani (what with his earlier marriage to his second cousin, his cross dressing, etc.) an "insult to the pro-Christian agenda." It's a much tougher road to hoe when you're a moderate Republican with an interest in actually getting elected as a moderate -- and an interest in actually being yourself.

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A Soldier with a Laptop on a Mission

| Wed Jan. 10, 2007 8:55 AM EST

Today's Washington Post has a nice profile of Adam Tiffen, a National Guard lieutenant whose powerful blog posts are gaining him national attention.

I interviewed Tiffen last month for our latest issue, after Garry Trudeau picked up one of Tiffen's blog posts for his new project, The Sandbox, a best-of showing of military blog posts (what Trudeau calls the first "GWOT literary magazine").

Tiffen's posts are raw, honest and gripping and it wasn't long before The Sandbox's editor, David Stanford, asked for more. And Trudeau has even included quotes from Tiffen's posts in recent strips.

In 2005, while stationed outside Baghdad, Tiffen started his blog, The Replacements, for family and friends. He then gained a loyal readership of strangers who came to rely on his posts, and worried if he would miss a day. He wrote in detail about what we at home can barely imagine: details of the soldier's "human experience," the emotions, the textures, the visceral moments that troops experience each day.

As for now, Tiffen is still adjusting to being back home, and likely his newfound fame. He remains in the Guard and sees his men every month, which helps, he told me. When he was in Iraq he thought we were making progress, he tells the Post. But now he's not so sure. "Something has to change," he says. "I really don't know what it is. Maybe putting 30,000 more troops in will help. I don't know. I don't think anybody knows."

Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger: "California Has the Muscles, Let's Use Them"

| Wed Jan. 10, 2007 2:05 AM EST

What's a little groping? Arnold looks better and better, first proposing (sort of) universal health care and then pushing for California's "petroleum refiners and gasoline sellers to cut by 10 percent the emissions of heat-trapping gases associated with the production and use of their products."

Ok, so there are some flaws. Some Dems charge that he's going to fund his health care proposal by cutting welfare. And his ethanol plan...depends on well, ethanol, which isn't that efficient or climate friendly, when you factor in the fertilizer to grow and refining and all, and also is being pushed by mega-corn producers like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, etc., who abuse lobby laws, destroy family farms, encourage monocultures...you know the drill.

These are real concerns, and the devil is in the details. On ethanol it is encouraging that Arnold has signaled a need to find sources of the alternative fuel other than corn—like switchgrass or woodchips—a proposal that is possible here in California because we grow a lot of things, but corn...not so much. Since health-care costs are one of the things pushing families into poverty and keeping them there, it is theoretically possible that time limits on welfare could be structured in such a way to at least see if removing the dread of doctors bills would change the overall equation. (I'm not holding my breath, just saying.)

But, for a moment, let us put the specifics aside. Arnold is sending up two huge flares, SOSes on behalf of the climate and low-income—hell almost all—people who do/might/will need medical attention. He's a Republican, California is the 5th largest economy in the world—this could signal big changes.

And it makes me wonder about political futures, not so much Arnold's—he seems resigned to the fact that as an immigrant he can't run for Prez without a Constitutional Amendment. But for other moderate Republicans. A few months ago, I got into a fun debate with my friend Ken Kurson, who's a writer for Esquire and elsewhere, and the "collaborator" (I'm quoting Amazon here) of Rudy Giuliani's bio: Leadership. I was arguing that Rudy or other socially moderate GOPers could never pass through the primary; that they couldn't square the base. Ken pointed out that Rudy's polling numbers looked good among the base, even when reminded of Rudy's social liberalism (or, dare I say, his marital infidelity.) And those numbers, for Rudy and other lib-Reps have gotten even better.

Now it is my contention that McCain is likely to be knocked out for health/age reasons. But if the 2006 election heralded a "Progressive Revolution"—is there any reason to think that that revolution won't help Republican progressives? There's a long history of this being the case. Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt...OK, so that's like a million years ago, we might as well be talking about the Whigs, but "This Week in Arnold" makes me wonder if a Progressive Republican (dare I say ) Surge, is not possible again.

(The groping, though, that's really bad.)

And the Kafka Nonfiction Award Goes to. . .

| Tue Jan. 9, 2007 8:49 PM EST

. . .one Adam Kropiewnicki, whose plight was immortalized deep inside an LA Times story about the emptying of a shelter for the NYC homeless in rural New York. Kropiewnicki, 61, was

a wordless, sweet-tempered Polish man known locally as "the Walker." Every morning for seven years, he set out on foot looking for work as a day laborer. But not until last fall did anyone call an interpreter to the site to speak to him in Polish, said Courtney Denniston, 27, a case manager supervisor.

"The first words out of his mouth were: 'Home. I just want to go home,' " Denniston said. He had come to the U.S. illegally to work as an asbestos handler, but when he lost the job, he had no money to fly home. He had a wife and children in Warsaw.

Volunteers of America, the nonprofit contracted by the city to run Camp LaGuardia, bought Kropiewnicki a one-way ticket to Poland. Staff members asked him to be ready at 2 p.m. on the day of the flight, but he was packed and sitting outside with his suitcases, beaming, at 8 a.m. Denniston loves to tell that story. "He had been waiting seven years for someone to ask him what he wanted," she said.

It's Only January, But We May Already Have A 2007 Irony Award Winner

| Tue Jan. 9, 2007 7:50 PM EST

A Philadelphia retailer has settled a $375,000 federal lawsuit brought by former employee LaShonda Burns. Burns was fired from her assistant manager position in a Florida store in 2004 after she complained of employment discrimination against pregnant job applicants. The company, said Burns, would not hire applicants who revealed that they were pregnant, or who were visibly pregnant. Burns herself was pregnant at the time she was dismissed. Burns filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The company must pay Burns $50,000 in back pay, $130,000 for her attorney's fees, and $135,000 for compensatory and punitive damages.

And who is this company? Mothers Work, which sells maternity clothing.