Political MoJo

Oregon "Dead Zone" (More Bad News About the Ocean)

| Sat Aug. 5, 2006 11:39 PM EDT

For the fifth straight year, a dead zone, now the size of Rhode Island, has appeared off the coast of Oregon. As Julia Whitty reported in Mother Jones' special report on the fate of the ocean,

"Dead zones occur wherever oceanic oxygen is depleted below the level necessary to sustain marine life, a result of eutrophication, or the release of excess nutrients into the sea, usually from agricultural fertilizers….For sea life, it's as if all the air were suddenly sucked out of the world. Those creatures that can swim or walk away fast enough may survive. Those that can't, die."

And dead zones are further exacerbated by global warming. As the New York Times reports on the Oregon dead zone:

Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist at Oregon State University, said the phenomenon did not appear to be linked to recurring El Niño or La Niña currents or to long-term cycles of ocean movements. That made Dr. Lubchenco wonder if climate change might be a factor, she said, adding, "There is no other cause, as far as we can determine."

More on the state of dead zones, after the jump:

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Another 1.2 Million Fords Recalled (We Warned You)

| Sat Aug. 5, 2006 10:42 PM EDT

In a recent issue of Mother Jones, investigative fellow Michael Beckel warned readers of the concerns—shared by Ralph Nader, automotive engineers, and Pentagon analysts—that a Dupont product called Kapton was still being used to coat the wires of the cruise control deactivation switch (made by Texas Instruments) found in millions of Ford cars and SUVs, even though the U.S. and other governments had long been leery of using the product in its military planes and vehicles. These experts theorized that Kapton was to blame for hundreds of mysterious engine fires in Ford's domestic fleet. As Beckel wrote:

In the 1990s, the Coast Guard eliminated Kapton from its helicopter fleet, NASA grounded the shuttle fleet for five months while inspecting damaged Kapton wire, and the Clinton administration called aging Kapton wiring an issue of "national concern." The Australian, Israeli, and Canadian governments have all investigated and in many cases prohibited its use in their planes.

So why is Kapton still in millions of Ford cars, trucks, and SUVs?

Since the early 1990s, the company has used this DuPont-manufactured material in the hydraulic pressure switch that shuts off cruise control when drivers hit the brakes. Coated with Teflon, Kapton serves as a barrier between the flammable brake fluid and the electric current just millimeters away. Yet years of use can cause cracking in the Teflon, leaving the Kapton membrane and the switch itself vulnerable to ignition from the current—which, in Ford vehicles, continues even when the engine is off.

In the past seven years, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has investigated the role of these switches in more than 500 blazes that have ravaged cars, houses, and garages, and reportedly killed at least one person. The agency analyzed 260 cases of fires in Ford sedans—Crown Victorias, Lincoln Town Cars, and Mercury Grand Marquises—with model years between 1992 and 1997. In 1999, the company recalled nearly 300,000 of those vehicles. And by March of last year, the NHTSA had received more than 200 complaints of fires in Ford trucks—F-150 pickups, Expeditions, and Lincoln Navigators—with model years from 1995 to 2002. But Ford maintains that the root cause of the fires is too complex to fault a single component.

Although the automaker acknowledges evidence of overheating in the cruise-control components in some models—attributing it to a "systems interaction" of leaking brake fluid, Teflon corrosion, age and mileage, plus the location of the switch—it has recalled less than a third of the vehicles with the Kapton switches. Gail Chandler, a spokeswoman for Texas Instruments, which manufactures the switches, insists they're safe. "We don't think there's anything wrong with the switch itself or with Kapton," she says. "We've thoroughly tested these products and have not found there to be a problem."

Last week, Ford recalled another 1.2 million vehicles due to safety concerns with same cruise control deactivation switch. That brings the total up to 6.7 million vehicles recalled over this problem. Ford still says that the switches themselves aren't the problem: "If we felt the switch was unsafe we'd be recalling all of them," said Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley. "We're confident we've captured all of them." But as the Detroit News notes,

"if the combined total of 6.7 million vehicles called back -- including 5.8 million in the United States -- were a single recall, it would be the fourth-largest ever. …Some safety advocates and plaintiffs' attorneys have criticized Ford for moving too slowly to recall the vehicles.

"There's no excuse to do these recalls in a piecemeal fashion. There's something in Ford's culture -- look at the Firestone debacle --that prevents them from taking faster action," said Rob Ammons, a Houston attorney representing the family of Darletta Mohlis of Westgate, Iowa, who was killed in a May 2005 fire that the family claims started in her 1996 Ford F-150. "Why not get this product that's catching fire and destroying lives off our roads and off the market?"

The NHTSA says that Ford has been cooperative and that it, too, expects no more problems associated with the switches. We just hope they're right, though the pressure put on these (as other) regulators by the Bush administration to make things more business friendly gives us pause.

Beckel's timeline of the Ford switch controversy can be found here. Mark Dowie's classic Mother Jones article about the atrocious safety problems with the Ford Pinto can be found here.

Everything's Coming Up Rummy

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 5:21 PM EDT

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committe yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld managed to keep a straight face when he tried to correct Senator Hillary Clinton's assertion that he'd been feeding Congress "a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios" about the war in Iraq. Responded Rummy: "I have never painted a rosy picture. I've been very measured in my words. And you'd have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I've been excessively optimistic." No mention if anyone in the room did a spit-take. NPR's Mixed Signals blog has since contacted Clinton's office, which had something less than a dickens of a time coming up with a detailed list of Rummy's "measured" statements on Iraq over the last few years. A few samples:


The Gulf War in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that. —November 2002

We know where [the WMD] are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat. —March 2003

The residents of Baghdad may not have power 24 hours a day, but they no longer wake up each morning in fear wondering whether this will be the day that a death squad would come to cut out their tongues, chop off their ears or take their children away for "questioning," never to be seen again. —July 2003

The increased demand on the force we are experiencing today is likely a "spike," driven by the deployment of nearly 115,000 troops in Iraq. We hope and anticipate that that spike will be temporary. We do not expect to have 115,000 troops permanently deployed in any one campaign. —February 2004

The level of support from the international community is growing. —June 2005

Q: One clarification on "the long war." Is Iraq going to be a long war?
Secretary Rumsfeld: No, I don't believe it is. — February 2006

Sen. Robert Byrd: Mr. Secretary, how can Congress be assured that the funds in this bill won't be used to put our troops right in the middle of a full-blown Iraqi civil war?
Secretary Rumsfeld: Senator, I can say that certainly it is not the intention of the military commanders to allow that to happen. The—and to repeat, the—at least thus far, the situation has been such that the Iraqi security forces could for the most part deal with the problems that exist. —March 2006

Note to Readers on Our Redesign

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 5:11 PM EDT

We're getting lots of good feedback (pro and con, but overwhelmingly pro) on our site redesign -- for which, thanks. One thing: if the site looks weird on your browser, hit the "Refresh" or "Reload" button; that should sort things out. And if it doesn't, let us know by emailing backtalk@motherjones.com. Thanks!

Sunnis and Shiites and Muslims, oh my!

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 4:53 PM EDT

Former ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith says that two months before the U.S. invaded Iraq, George W. Bush did not know that there were two major sects of Islam in Iraq. According to Galbraith, a year after giving his "Axis of Evil" speech, Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, who described to him what they thought the consequences might be if Saddam Hussein were taken out of power.

According to Galbraith, it became clear to them that Bush had no clue that there were Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. The Iraqi American consultants explained the situation to him, and his response was: "I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!"

No one should be surprised. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush could not identify the Taliban. But as he himself has said--it's hard work, being president.

100 Degrees the New Normal (Thanks to Global Warming)?

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 3:56 PM EDT

spec_trop9_277x187.jpg

Here, via MSNBC, is what most scientists say is certain:

  • The Earth is warming, by 1.4-degrees Fahrenheit since 1920
  • The ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising
    10 of the last 12 years were the warmest since 1850
  • The first six months of 2006 were the hottest since they started keeping records in 1890

And here's more of what they say.

"This heat wave and other extreme events we've seen in recent years are completely consistent with what we expect to become more common as a result of global warming, even though we can't be definitive on any single event," says Jay Gulledge with Pew Climate Change. [...]

"So far, we've had about 80 daily high temperature records broken and in the month of July there were about 50 all-time records for the month of July broken -- that's phenomenal for any air mass, any heat wave that's going on right now," says Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Plan B Approval is Not Assured

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 2:57 PM EDT

The Chicago Tribune puts the FDA's seeming about-turn on Plan B in (cautionary) context:

FDA approval for over-the-counter sales is not assured. One potential hurdle: the FDA wants the company to ensure that pharmacies won't sell the pill over the counter to girls younger than age 18. But isn't that the pharmacies' responsibility? Some advocates worry that such an onerous requirement could be a loophole that would allow the FDA to deny permission for over-the-counter sales.

Dr. Susan Wood, former director of the FDA's Office of Women's Health, resigned in protest last August after the last Plan B delay. She said she was "somewhat encouraged" by Monday's announcement. But she also warned: "I feel they're making it appear they're moving forward. But until we actually see a decision, we can't count on that." Yes, some skepticism is warranted here. Unfortunately, politics may yet trump science again.

The Democrats' Dangerous "Pro-Israel" Stance

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 2:00 PM EDT

Speaking of Iran, Iraq, and Israel, Billmon makes some crucial points here that need to be repeated far and wide. As we know, a lot of purportedly "antiwar" Democrats are against the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Fine. But most of those same Democrats are also in favor of letting Israel kill hundreds of civilians and launch quixotic and bloody wars around the Middle East to fight whatever perceived threats may arise, regardless of what those wars mean for the United States. The problem is that those stances are in grave tension with each other, if not outright contradictory.

If the United States withdraws from Iraq, Iran certainly won't sit still. In the event that the ongoing Sunni-Shia civil war continues to expand, Iran will side with the Iraqi Shiites. It might even send troops in to invade. Israel, of course, will fear that Iranian influence in, or worse, control of Iraq will pose a grave threat to its existence. (After all, 100,000 Iraqi Shiites just marched in Baghdad chanting, "Death to Israel!" and supporting Hezbollah.) So Israel might oppose a U.S. withdrawal in the first place—and House and Senate Democrats could agree, so long as it's Israel at stake.

Worse still, Israel could ask the United States to ensure that Iran stay out of Iraq. That could mean war. It's not as if Olmert and Bush have shown much restraint in the past. And Democrats, tethered as they are to Israel—including those self-proclaimed "antiwar" icons such as Howard Dean and Ned Lamont—could well acquiesce. Why not? They've supported the Lebanon adventure so far. Needless to say, war with Iran would be a disaster—for the United States, for Israel, for the world. The point is that various parts of the Middle East are all connected—Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, the whole of it—the situation is extremely dangerous, and it's looking very likely that the Democratic Party will prove itself utterly incapable of stopping the worst of it.

Is Iran to Blame for Israel's Woes?

| Fri Aug. 4, 2006 1:41 PM EDT

Laura Rozen writes:

From a colleague covering the conflict in Israel: "Almost everyone I talk to here is now saying the Iraq war has presented one of the most significant threats to Israel in its history." Namely because it has so empowered Iran, and reduced US ability to deal with Iran now.

Well, that may be true, in a sense, but it's worth thinking this through. It's a lot harder for the United States to invade Iran now, true—after all, we don't have the troops, and any war against Iran would endanger the 130,000 soldiers currently stationed in Iraq. (Of course, that may not actually deter the Bush administration from bringing out the tactical nuclear weapons and starting World War III, but it's at least convinced some top generals in the Pentagon to oppose war with Iran.) By extension, it's now a lot harder for the United States to threaten to invade Iran. But then again, invading Iran was never a good idea, regardless of what happened in Iraq.

The preferred dovish way of "deal[ing] with Iran" is to talk with the leaders in Tehran, and perhaps eventually striking a deal by promising not to attack (which is a horrible and unfeasible idea anyway) in exchange for better behavior. We still have the ability, even after Iraq, to give that a try at least; it's just that the Bush administration just refuses to do so for various ideological reasons. Maybe Iran is actually less willing to negotiate thanks to the war in Iraq. But it's hard to say, since no one has actually tried.

It's also hard to say in what sense Iran has posed "one of the most significant threats to Israel in its history." Iran has armed Hezbollah, yes. And Hezbollah has been firing missiles into Israel, true. But neither of those things pose existential threats to Israel in the way that, say, various Arab armies, backed by the Soviet Union, did back in the 1960s and 1970s.

In any case, it's worth noting that Israel brought the current crisis on itself by invading Lebanon. Iran had little to do with it. Prior to the outbreak of war on July 12, Hezbollah rocket attacks were somewhat desultory and killed relatively few Israelis—it was bad, yes, but not something Israel couldn't live with if there was no good way of dealing with it. And there wasn't a good way of dealing with it. At present, Israel is talking about occupying a greater portion of Lebanon than it did back during its disastrous occupation in the 1980s. How does that help matters? It doesn't, it's a disaster. Iran is a problem, but it's clearly not the sole problem here.

Geneva report highly critical of U.S. commitment to human rights

| Thu Aug. 3, 2006 8:02 PM EDT

The Geneva hearings are over and the final report has been released. It is not pretty, insofar as the U.S. and human rights are concerned.

Every four years, nations representing the Conventions against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights meet to review meet to review compliance of ICCPR nations. An official report is issued, along with a "shadow report," what The Raw Story refers to as "a rebuttal from non-government organizations (NGO), advocacy groups, and citizen representatives. The US "shadow report" was prepared by The Coalition for Human Rights at Home, a coalition of 142 not-for-profit groups."

This year's 456-page shadow report describes over a hundred instances of human rights violations, in a response to the official report issued by the United States. Also, the U.S. was a mere seven years late in developing its report, which it is obligated to prepare as an ICCPR signatory nation.

The Raw Story goes on to describe correspondence between the Committee and the U.S. as a "cat and mouse game," in which the Committee addresses questions to the U.S., and the U.S. responds by saying it has already answered those questions. When the Committee then says "please clarify when you answered that and what the answer was," it receives no further communication.

Jamil Dakwar, a staff attorney with the Human Rights Program, National Legal Department of the ACLU, calls the interplay a "dialogue of deaf."