Political MoJo

Methane, Midges & Morons

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 11:56 PM EST

From the AGU (American Geophysical Union) meeting in San Francisco comes word that the frozen fields of methane known as clathrates underlying the seafloor exist at much shallower depths than previously thought. Nature reports that Michael Riedel of McGill University in Montreal and colleagues found methane clathrates off Vancouver Island in only 200 to 400 feet of water—less than half the depth previously predicted, based on our current understanding of the temperatures and pressures required to keep frozen gases stable.

It's ominous because the rapid melting of frozen methane is a feared consequence of global warming, as described in this issue's cover story, The Thirteenth Tipping Point. In a warming world, shallower clathrates would melt sooner, a very bad thing for life on earth.

If you're wondering the extent to which scientists are pouring their efforts into the study of global climate change, from the monumental to the microscopic, check out this study of the changes in midge communities in western American lakes. Also reporting at the AGU, David Porinchu, lead author and an assistant professor of geography at Ohio State University, found that midge species inhabiting western American lakes shifted dramatically as lake temperatures rose the past three decades.

Doesn't matter though to Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, recently deposed chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. According to his Guide to Debunking Global Warming Alarmism:

My skeptical views on man-made catastrophic global warming have only strengthened as new science comes in.

In scientific parlance, that's called skepticitis, a disorder affecting human intelligence in a very bad way for life on earth.

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Is Gary Miller (R-CA) a Crook? Ask Jeeves. . .

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 8:51 PM EST

In the latest dispatch from the seismically unstable mansion known as the California Republican Party, former aides of Rep. Garry Miller accuse him of turning them into butlers. The aides say Miller required them to help his children with schoolwork, search for rock concert tickets and send flowers to family members and friends. "There was never a clear line in the office between what was congressional business and what was just business," one former aide told the LA Times. "The expectation was that you would do both." Miller is also accused of new self-dealing involving real estate (a longstanding theme), which I won't bore you with here, except to say that he paid himself $75,000 in rent for the use his real estate development firm as a campaign office, which, it appears, wasn't used for much campaigning.

The theme of gilded excess at the California GOP was dusted off last year when former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham admitted he'd conspired to take bribes that included a Rolls Royce, a yacht and a 19th Century Louis Philippe commode. Of course, Miller has built on the notion of GOP graft with all the embellishment of a Fisherman's Wharf caricature artist. Voters showed they care about such things by ousting Rep. Richard Pombo in November for, among other things, his associations with Jack Abramoff, but the carnage Out West left plenty of other sketchy legislators standing. See MJ's November article, Washington's Shadiest Shoo-ins, for a shout-out to SoCal's indomitable Jerry Lewis.

One might hope that Republicans, being the perpetual underdogs in California, would at least serve as the party of conscience, as advocates of balanced budgets and moral probity. At times they've been known to fill this role, such as last year, for instance, when former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley was implicated in a money laundering scandal and a Republican appointee replaced him (for a few months at least, until he lost this year's election to a Democrat). That the Democrats rebounded from the scandal so quickly underscores how much the Republican voice of conscience has lost its credibility, or been replaced by pillow whispers with the powerful.

Victory for Hemp

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 8:01 PM EST

Starting on the first of next year, farmers in North Dakota can apply for licenses to grow hemp, the biological cousin of marijuana that can be used to make everything from soap to rope to groovy hacky-sack covers. Tired of watching their Canadian neighbors making good money off the stuff, state legislators legalized industrial hemp production last year. But there's still one major hurdle: the DEA has to give approval, since it considers hemp no different from pot - even though you'd have to smoke about an acre of the stuff to get a buzz. Of course, federal authorities have never been known for the rationality of their approach to anything connected with marijuana. The Supreme Court, for instance, just upheld a 55 year sentence for a guy convicted of selling three bags of pot to an undercover cop. Even the judge who was forced to impose the punishment, thanks to mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, called it "unjust, cruel and irrational."

Is There a "New Way Forward"?

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 7:05 PM EST

The Washington Post reports today that five advisers commissioned by Bush to help him find a "new way forward" (Note to GWB: love the marketing) in Iraq are both critical of the President's old way of handling the Iraq war (main message: fire your National Security Team) as well as the Iraq Study Group's recent recommendations. Think Progress has a good rundown on exactly what these military experts had to say. Four were critical of the ISG's recommendations (mainly the idea of troop withdrawal) and three were in favor of or open to escalation (an increase in troops). Although I do agree that the ISG report left much to be desired, as Jonathan pointed out shortly after it was released (as have many others), an increase in troops isn't the answer either.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday about the Army's cash crunch. I know, no surprise to anyone, but the piece did, for me at least, solidify the point that even if the administration or a bipartisan panel or a slew of military experts thought adding 20,000 troops would suppress sectarian violence, train Iraqi security forces, and lead to a picturesque withdrawal down the road, we can't afford it anyway. And furthermore, many experts say 20,000 wouldn't do the trick, not even close.

Why are there no other options? Why are we left with Option 1: Stay, bleed the 2007 budget, send more troops that we don't have, and potentially see no advancement; or Option 2: Leave (which seems unlikely at this point as Bush has made abundantly clear that victory in Iraq is still possible, at least in his mind), and risk civil war or even regional war? Are there no options because we have dug ourselves so far down, that, like Vietnam, we must admit failure, cut our losses, and retreat? If that really is the only feasible scenario, it is hard to admit, isn't it? And maybe it is hard for those advising Bush to admit as well. Matt Iglesias over at the American Prospect points out that the ISG recommendations are useless for this very reason -- the panel is in denial.

"What's especially egregious about the ISG's recommendations is that the commission clearly recognizes the nature of the problem, as evidenced by the opening section of its own report. It then fails to address its own analysis simply because the only reasonable conclusion to draw from it is the politically unacceptable one that we've lost and we need to leave."

America's next task may be swallowing the idea of defeat.

The "Global Rich List" Makes This Blogger's Day

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 4:27 PM EST

From time to time, one contemplates the funny little nuances of life as a blogger. Like how bus fare can end up being a sizable portion of a blogger's monthly income, or how health care can be a near impossibility.

But then one finds the Global Rich List web tool, and innocently plugs in a blogger's annual salary. And what does one find? That 93% of the world makes less than a blogger, and that for $30 a blogger could buy an ER DVD boxset or a first aid kit for a village in Haiti. If only a blogger could convince a blogger's girlfriend that a first aid kit for a village in Haiti is what she really wants for Christmas...

To be serious for a moment, the Global Rich List really is a neat tool, and deserves to be forwarded far and wide (many have already seen it). It provides some perspective on how comfortable almost all quarters of the United States population really are. Simply plug in your annual salary and find out what percentile of the worldwide population you place in. The website also provides neat facts, like, "$8 could buy you 15 organic apples OR 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras" and "Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has more wealth than the bottom 45 percent of American households combined."

Count this blogger safely in that 45 percent. Check it out.

John Muir Meets the Teamsters: Governors Tout a New Environmentalism

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 3:09 PM EST

"Think of this alliance: the steel workers and the Sierra Club," proposed Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) last Friday when he argued that investing in clean energy and job creation can go hand in hand. Not willing to wait for Congress to pass federal legislation on behalf of cleaner power, Richardson and his gubernatorial counterparts in Pennsylvania and Montana unveiled state-level strategies for lessening dependence on foreign oil.

The governors support a roadmap towards energy independence developed by the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of environmental, labor, and religious groups seeking to reframe the debate on energy in the United States. The Alliance, which takes its name from President John F. Kennedy's project to put a man on the moon, is the brain-child of The Breakthrough Institute, whose founders made waves in 2004 by publishing a piece called "The Death of Environmentalism" that criticized the environmental movement's failure to build effective political coalitions.

The governors' recent speeches, an odd mix of environmental concern, populism and economic mercantilism, echo this new attempt to package green energy in a way that appeals to the "can do" spirit of Midwestern swing voters concerned with vanishing jobs and national security. The roadmap calls for incentives to promote alternative fuels, mass-transit development, more efficient American automobiles, and the energy-efficient retro-fittings of buildings. All of which, the three governors argue, will create good-paying American jobs. Some skepticism about ill-conceived subsidies notwithstanding (see Slate for a rundown), it is refreshing to see the seeds of a broad green energy coalition beginning to sprout.

-- Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

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Texas' Virtual Vigilantes

| Tue Dec. 12, 2006 1:54 AM EST

How many people are sufficiently outraged over illegal immigration, or just plain bored, that they would spend hours staring at a Web-cam focussed on a parking lot? Hundreds of thousands, it turns out. In early November, Texas authorities set up a network of Internet-connected cameras to monitor the Mexican border and allow armchair Minutemen to log in from anywhere, anytime and report anything they deemed suspicious. The site drew nearly a quarter of a million users who fired off over 13,000 e-mails in one month. The results of all this feverish amateur surveillance? One dozen illlegal immigrants detained, one stolen car recovered and one truckload of pot intercepted. The program is now on hold pending further refinements.

Famous Psychiatrist No Longer Endorses Hysterectomies for Teenagers

| Mon Dec. 11, 2006 8:27 PM EST

Louann Brizendine, psychiatrist and author of the much-hyped The Female Brain, admits in the most recent issue of the New York Times Magazine that she's not a fan of placebo-controlled studies.

Deborah Solomon: Although your book draws heavily on other scientists' research, you don't do any clinical research yourself. Isn't that a drawback?

Dr. Brizendine: I don't like doing clinical research because of placebos. In a "double-blind placebo-controlled study," as they are called, neither the doctor nor the patient knows what the patient is taking. I don't want to give patients a placebo. It's cruel.

Hmmm. Sounds like someone does not accept standard scientific methods. And the journal Nature has discredited her book. I wonder if we should really take her seriously.

Oh, guess not. Turns out, Brizendine is not a fan of fact-checking either. She culled the statistic that women use 20,000 words a day, while men use about 7,000 — the bedrock of her thesis — from self-help guru Allan Pease, author of such classics as Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes, Why Men Lie and Women Cry, and Why Men Can Only Do One Thing at a Time and Women Never Stop Talking.

But Brizendine is a fan of Zoloft, so much so that you wonder if she got paid for product placement. A quick scan turns up at least seven mentions of the brand name, as a cure for cases such as Shana, who presented symptoms of depression as early as age 10. But consider these symptoms: Shana "started sleeping till noon on weekends," "waited till the last minute to finish big projects, and she liked to stay up watching television." Her female hormones soon surged to such heights that she talked back to her mother, saying, "I am going to the beach tomorrow and there's nothing you can do about it," and "You don't know what you're talking about." (Read more insults/symptoms on page 44). Her mother slapped her, but came to her senses and sought help from a psychiatrist, the one and only Louann Brizendine.

Dr. Brizendine writes:

Fifty years ago, one successful treatment for PMDD was removing the ovaries surgically. At the time, this was the only way to remove the hormone fluctuation. Instead of removing Shana's ovaries [emphasis mine], I gave her a hormone to take every day — the continuous birth control pill — to keep her estrogen and progesterone at moderately high but constant levels and prevent her ovaries from sending out the big fluctuations of hormones that were upsetting her brain. With her estrogen and progesterone at constant levels, her brain was kept calmer and her serotonin levels stabilized. For some girls I add a medication such as Zoloft — a so-called SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) — which can further stabilize and improve the brain's serotonin level, in other words, improve one's mood and sense of well-being. The following month her teacher called me to report that Shana was back to her good old self again — cheerful and getting good grades.

How creepy. Shana better be happy. Or else the doctor would take out her uterus.

-- April Rabkin

Coming to America

| Mon Dec. 11, 2006 6:19 PM EST

As I wrote last week, the Iraqi refugee crisis is escalating and groups such as Human Rights Watch and Refugees International are calling for an international effort to stave off what some are saying could be the worst refugee crisis yet. Right now Jordan and Syria are baring the brunt of this exodus but soon Iraqi refugees could be settling in a town near you. The Boston Globe reports today that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees "are likely to seek refugee status in the United States." This presents a problem considering only 500 Iraqis are legally allowed to resettle in the U.S. Bush does have the power to increase this number to 20,000, but experts are saying the number could be even higher, especially among Iraqi Christian refugees, of which there are 120,000. More than 80% of Iraqi Christians who have fled the country are expected to look to resettle in the U.S.

But numbers may not be the biggest problem associated with Iraqis resettling here in the land of the free, home of the brave. If refugees from a country we sought to "liberate" are to seek refuge from their country which is no longer safe for them, what message does that send? One of failure? Yup, and for a President who still claims victory in Iraq is possible, any move that could be construed as an admission to failure does not seem likely. Arthur E. Dewey, Bush's former assistant secretary of state for refugee affairs says that "for political reasons the administration will discourage [the resettlement]...because of the psychological message it would send, that it is a losing cause." And what if Bush chooses to open doors only to Iraqi Christian refugees, what message does that send? It does seem like a dire situation for the 1.8 million Iraqi refugees, and even more so, for the Shi'ites who face an even tougher time in predominantly Sunni Syria and Jordan and a fairly unlikely chance for resettlement in the U.S.

Dairy Industry Milks Congress for All It's Worth

| Mon Dec. 11, 2006 6:04 PM EST

Back in April, Mother Jones reported that huge industrial farming companies, such as Dean Foods, were getting into organic milk—only to bend if not break the strict standards governing organic production while the USDA stood idly by.

Milk might seem like a bland issue, but it's big business: Americans consume more than 6 billion gallons of milk annually. Demand for organic milk outstrips supply, making it an especially lucrative industry.

If you have doubts about how industrial farmers squeeze small farmers and agricultural lobbies squeeze members of Congress, don't miss the Sunday Washington Post's narrative piece on how one farmer tried to buck the system, only to watch and learn as industry lobbyists got Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and others to revoke a Depression-era law that allows farmers who bottle their own milk to set their own prices—without so much as a hearing or a floor vote. And that was just to get one farmer to stop following rules they didn't like.

Got balls?