Political MoJo

Monsoons, flooding and landslides, oh my! El Paso's finally an official Disaster Area

| Thu Aug. 17, 2006 2:53 PM EDT

President Bush finally declared El Paso County a disaster area, more than two weeks after major flooding hit his home state. The border city was hit with 15 inches of rain in the span of a week (including seven inches in one day), nearly twice the annual precipitation. Including in neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, more than 5,000 homes have been damaged and preliminary estimates put the damage at more than $100 million.

Flash flood warnings are still in effect and the Army Corps of Engineers has said that an aging earthen dam holding back 6 million gallons of water from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, could flood El Paso in as little as three minutes. Mayor John Cook told the El Paso Times, it would be "like a tidal wave hitting downtown El Paso."

Two years ago John Walton, a hydrologist at UTEP, tried to get the city, the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA to do something about the rapid development in arroyos and the resulting poor drainage systems in the city, telling top officials, "failure to address these issues could lead to flooding of homes and businesses during a large storm event." His pleas were ignored.

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Federal Court Strikes Down NSA Wiretap Program

| Thu Aug. 17, 2006 2:40 PM EDT

A federal judge in Detroit has ordered the Bush administration to halt the NSA wiretap program, saying it violates free speech rights, protections against unreasonable searches and the constitutional check on the power of the presidency.

From the opinion:

This is a challenge to the legality of a secret program (hereinafter "TSP") undisputedly inaugurated by the National Security Agency (hereinafter "NSA") at least by 2002 and continuing today, which intercepts without benefit of warrant or other judicial approval, prior or subsequent, the international telephone and internet communications of numerous persons and organizations within this country. The TSP has been acknowledged by this Administration to have been authorized by the President's secret order during 2002 and reauthorized at least thirty times since. ...

"[T]his court is constrained to grant to Plaintiffs the Partial Summary Judgment requested, and holds that the TSP violates the APA; the Separation of Powers doctrine; the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution; and the statutory law."

Yale's Jack Balkin isn't impressed by the court's reasoning, though.

It is quite clear that the government will appeal this opinion, and because the court's opinion, quite frankly, has so many holes in it, it is also clear to me that the plaintiffs will have to relitigate the entire matter before the circuit court, and possibly the Supreme Court. The reasons that the court below has given are just not good enough. This is just the opening shot in what promises to be a long battle.

Bush's Summer Reading: The Stranger (?!)

| Thu Aug. 17, 2006 2:29 PM EDT

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Why would Albert Camus's classic novel strike a nerve, John Stewart wonders. (Click on the image.)

West Virginia school fights to keep painting of Jesus on the wall

| Wed Aug. 16, 2006 10:25 PM EDT

Some kids raise money to buy sports equipment for their school. Some raise money to help Katrina victims. At Bridgeport High School in Clarksburg, West Virginia, the kids raised $6,700 so that a picture of Jesus can remain on the wall. They had some help from the local Christian Freedom Fund, which raised over $150,000 to pay for legal fees.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Harrison County Board of Education two months ago because the presence of a painting, "Head of Christ," which hangs outside the principal's office, sends a message that the school board endorses Christianity as an official religion. The sepia-toned painting has been there for thirty-seven years.

Eigfht national legal groups with constitutional law expertise have volunteered to help the school board, and "You Can't Take Our Jesus Down" T-shirts were spotted at a recent public meeting of the school board. The plot took a new twist a few days ago, however, when school board member Mike Queen was asked by the West Virginia Ethics Commission to stop soliciting money for the Christian Freedom fund. Queen maintains that he contacted the board, and not the other way around, when he learned that others were interested in asking the board for an opinion on his fund-raising efforts.

Even Developed Countries are Running Low on Water

| Wed Aug. 16, 2006 9:15 PM EDT

Next week is World Water Week, with a big conference going on in Stockholm, Sweden. To mark the occasion WWF has put out a new and depressing report warning that climate change and poor resource management have combined to produce water shortages even in developed countries. need to reduce pollution, get serious about conservation, and fix up ageing infrastructure.

In Europe, countries on the Atlantic are suffering recurring droughts, while water-intensive tourism and irrigated agriculture are endangering water resources in the Mediterranean. In Australia, the world's driest continent, salinity is a major threat to a large proportion of its key agricultural areas.

Despite high rainfall in Japan, contamination of water supplies is an extremely serious issue in many areas. In the United States, large areas are already using substantially more water than can be naturally replenished. This situation will only be exacerbated as global warming brings lower rainfall, increased evaporation and changed snowmelt patterns.

Some of the world's thirstiest cities, such as Houston and Sydney, are using more water than can be replenished. In London, leakage and loss is estimated at 300 Olympic-size swimming pools daily due to ageing water mains. It is however notable that cities with less severe water issues such as New York tend to have a longer tradition of conserving catchment areas and expansive green areas within their boundaries.

More on water: Not so long ago John Luoma wrote in Mother Jones about the true cost of water privatization in cities all over the world, as measured in contamination, rate increases, shortages, and scandals. And Maude Barlow described in an interview how developing countries are increasingly pressured into ceding control over their dwindling water supplies to private firms.

Private donors give $100 million to stem cell research

| Wed Aug. 16, 2006 8:48 PM EDT

Nearly three years ago California voters approved a $3 billion bond for embryonic stem cell research. Yet state dollars are tied up in lawsuits bolstered by the religious right (more on the lawsuits and other states' efforts to fund research on new stem cell lines here).

Today the Wall Street Journal reports that private donors have contributed more than $100 million to the state's new stem-cell research agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, as well as to research programs at state universities.

Donors include Ray Dolby, of Dolby Laboratories Inc., who has given $21 million and Eli Broad, real estate magnate and philanthropist, who has given at least $27 million. Venture capitalist John Doerr, bond-fund manager Bill Gross, and Qualcomm Inc. founder Irwin Jacobs have also been major contributors.

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Mother Jones Names New Editors-in-Chief

| Wed Aug. 16, 2006 3:58 PM EDT

We're happy to announce today that Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery have been named the editors-in-chief of Mother Jones. Monika, who was most recently investigative editor, has been at the magazine since 2000. Clara has been deputy editor since 2002. In one fell swoop, they've bumped up the total of women editors in chief of "thought leader" magazines by half.

They'll be discussing their new gig and their plans for the magazine and web site on Mother Jones Radio this Sunday. If you have questions or comments you'd like to hear them address on the air, please email host Angie Coiro at angie@motherjones.com.

(Official press release here.)

Transatlantic Flight in Emergency Diversion

| Wed Aug. 16, 2006 3:23 PM EDT

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"This isn't just an 'I want another drink' kind of thing, it was a disruption that caused them to divert the plane," said FBI spokesperson Nenette Day.

TSA officials denied reports on Fox News that a female passenger had brandished a screwdriver, Vaseline and matches and had a note referring to al-Qaida in her possession. (Guardian)

As one who'll be taking a transatlantic flight to London this weekend, let me just say: oh boy.

Oliver Stone, 9/11, and the Big Lie

| Wed Aug. 16, 2006 1:48 PM EDT

Ruth Rosen, writing at Tomdispatch, considers Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center," finding it vivid, subtle, graphic, emotionally compelling--but ultimately disfigured by one massive failing: that of reinforcing the Big Lie--that 9/11 was somehow linked to Iraq or supported by Saddam Hussein.

You might say, "But everyone knows it was al-Qaeda." And you'd be right, but do most Americans really know just who those terrorists were or that they had no connection to Iraq -- that not a single one of them even came from that country? It doesn't sound very important until you realize that various polls over the last five years have reported from 20% to 50% of Americans still believe Iraqis were on those planes. (They were not.) As of early 2005, according to a Harris poll, 47% of Americans were convinced that Saddam Hussein actually helped plan the attack and supported the hijackers. And in February, 2006, according to a unique Zogby poll of American troops serving in Iraq, "85% said the U.S. mission is mainly 'to retaliate for Saddam's role in the 9-11 attacks'; 77% said they also believe the main or a major reason for the war was 'to stop Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq.'" ...

How could Oliver Stone leave it up to viewers to discover for themselves who committed this crime? And how could he leave the audience with the impression that there was a connection, as Dick Cheney has never stopped saying, between 9/11 and Iraq?

Read it here.

Lieberman "Energized," Clinton Triangulating...

| Wed Aug. 16, 2006 4:25 AM EDT

So Patrick Healy and Nick Confessore report in the New York Times that Joe Lieberman is "energized" and "emboldened" and that, already, there's a "full-throated" re-enactment of the "blistering" primary taking place.

We'll leave the jokes to Wonkette, but the spiciest part of this piece comes a few paragaraphs down:

The senator appears so emboldened that in spite of the Democratic unity around Mr. Lamont, some Washington Democrats are now acknowledging that a Lieberman victory in November is a distinct possibility. According to guests at a fund-raiser for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Hamptons on Saturday, Mrs. Clinton — who is supporting Mr. Lamont — said that Mr. Lieberman had more than a 50-50 chance of winning re-election. (Clinton aides said they could not confirm or deny the remark; one of the aides said that if Mrs. Clinton had discussed the race, she might have been referring to a new poll that had Mr. Lieberman slightly ahead.)
It depends on what the definition of "chance" is?

The way you know the 2008 race has begun in earnest is how the Clintons have ramped up the triangulation. (And with both of them triangulating, it's more like hexagonation.) I don't get as white hot angry on this subject as many on the left; to my mind there's a certain tactical dexterity you just have to admire. That dexterity was the real core of the Clinton/Morris doctrine; running to the middle was only a method to reach a goal. (On this point, I disagree somewhat with MoveOn's Eli Pariser). The real goal was to give Bill as much maneuvering room as possible.

So now it is Hillary who needs the room to maneuver, and never more than now, when she's trapped between the "always anti-war" left and the (far more electorally important) "fairly recently disenchanted." Her gender makes her, more than any male candidate, vulnerable if the Republicans' "cut-and-run Defeatocrats" line gains traction. (I don't like that this is so, but it is the truth.)

Enter Bill. By pivoting around her, he can fake a play in one direction, while she moves to the other, or throw her a pass downfield. Ignoring the Dubai ports debacle, which was failed triangulation (or was it?), the Clinton's have been running these plays beautifully. There's been all the mixed messages over Lieberman and Lamont, of course, but let's also not forget that at the height of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth"/"candidate again?" hoopla, the Clinton Foundation launched an anti-global warming initiative. Which is great, but also conveniently timed.

Also in the NYT piece, this little tidbit.

Yet Mr. Lamont's staffing needs are also one of several signs that his rookie bid for statewide election is still evolving: He lacks such basic political tools as an opposition research effort to ferret out the sources of Mr. Lieberman's campaign contributions and other tidbits that might embarrass the senator. Mr. Lamont's communications and advance operations also need to be expanded, said Tom Swan, the campaign manager.
"There is a need for us to adjust a lot, to adjust significant pieces of the campaign and tap our thousands of volunteers," Mr. Swan said. "Having said that, I believe we have a lot to build off of to make that easier."
Code for bloggers=oppo research?