Political MoJo

Out of the Frying Pan and into the Car

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 12:51 PM EDT

Jim Norman of the New York Times has written a nice article about his own campaign to go green by converting a used diesel Jetta to run on vegetable oil. The piece covers the costs of converting, the hassles, which seem pretty minimal, and the head-in-the-sand attitude of the federal government, noting that "the Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a statement stating flatly that using vegetable oil as fuel is a violation of the Clean Air Act and that modifying a car for vegetable oil subjects the owner to a $2,750 fine."

What we need is for the government and car companies to figure out if large-scale production of veggie cars would help our environment and dependency on oil, foreign and otherwise, or whether if the mass amounts of soy needed would, in the end, rely on mass application of petroleum-based fertilizers, and whether the grease emissions, though they might be free of sulfur and low on carbon dioxide, would contain unacceptable particulate matter.

As it stands now the leading proponent of biodiesel is Willie Nelson, and what with his touring schedule, he can only do so much.

Norman's piece ends up noting that Rudolf Diesel originally intended his engine to run on vegetable oil, saying in 1912 that: "The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in the course of time as important as the petroleum and coal tar products of the present time."

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Roundup: War in the Middle East

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 9:53 AM EDT

JULY 26, 2006

All eyes are now on Syria, where SANA, the official news agency, is busy denying a Sky News report claiming Syria is ready to rat out Al Qaeda to the US and wants to mediate some deal between Bush and Iran. This seems pretty far fetched given that the high rollers among the neo-conservatives, currently savoring Israel's seizure of southern Lebanon, want regime change in Syria on the way to overturning the ayatollahs in Iran.

The Death of UN Observers: "The BBC's Daniel Lak at the UN in New York says that the observers had taken shelter in a bunker under their base because there had already been 14 Israeli artillery attacks on their position, causing a French general in charge of the UN observers to call Israel's military asking them to desist. However, as they sheltered, the bunker was hit by a single heavy bomb from an Israeli war plane and four unarmed observers, from Austria, Canada, China and Finland, were killed. A UN rescue team also came under fire as it searched the rubble for survivors.''

Israel's War Against Lebanon's Shi'a: The two weeks of Israeli air and sea bombardment suggests Israel aims to play on Lebanon's sectarian tensions to impel Hezballah's disarmament, with potentially very dangerous consequences for Lebanon.


Army: If They Screw up, Promote 'em?

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 3:42 AM EDT

There is so much that is depressing, and so much that feels like you already kind of knew it but have never seen it laid out in such horrific detail, about Fiasco, the new book by the Washington Post's Thomas Ricks, now being serialized in the paper. One of those things is the pattern whereby grunts do bad things--always have, always will; that's a given if you're going to send hundreds of thousands of people into a creepy, scary, unknown environment--but it's the command structure that signals whether those things are to be tolerated, winked-and-nodded, or avoided at all costs. That is why it's a problem when, as Emily Bazelon documented in Mother Jones, torture was exported from Bagram to Abu Ghraib; or when you have an Army batallion commander who, even after he's been outed for helping his guys cover up a straight-out murder, can get away with saying that

"If I were to do it all over again, I would do the exact same thing, and I've thought about this long and hard. I was taught in the Army to win, and I was trying to win all the way."

57 Dead From Heat in California, So Far

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 2:59 AM EDT

According to my local (San Francisco) ABC station. And the expected break in the heat...not coming until Thursday, at the earliest.

If the heat waves in Europe (2003) and Chicago are any indication, the national reporting numbers will be slow and contested. (In France, for example, they are still arguing over how many tens of thousands died in 2003. )

But how much evidence will need to amass before...oh never mind.

Hot in the City - Because of the City

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 9:14 PM EDT

Global warming isn't the only reason cities are sweltering across America: cities themselves are creating more heat. In Los Angeles, at least climatologists report that while average daytime temperatures have risen three degrees over the last century, average nighttime temperatures are up by seven degrees. The reason is that features of the ever-expanding urban environment like golf courses, shopping centers and lawns trap the day's heat, and release it again after dark - keeping the atmosphere from cooling down. No reason to think the same thing isn't happening in other big cities.

How Hot Is It? And Why?

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 8:05 PM EDT

As Julian points out, no one climate event (hurricane, heat wave, frogs falling from the sky) can be definitively pinned on global warming. But lest the round up of scientists in his post below give us all false succor, the trend seems clear.

According to our own government (via MSNBC):

January through June was the warmest first half of any year in the continental United States since records began in 1895. The average January-June temperature was 51.8 degrees Fahrenheit — 3.4 degrees above the 20th century average, according to preliminary data reported by scientists at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

Five states — Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas — saw record warmth for the period. No state in the continental United States was near or cooler than average, the report stated, although Alaska was 0.55 degrees cooler than the 1971-2000 average.And, it ain't just hot here in the USA.

Globally, January-June was the sixth warmest first half of a year on record, about 0.90 degrees above normal, the center reported. Average temperatures were warmer in the majority of North America, China and western Europe. Cooler than average temperatures were posted in Alaska, far eastern Europe, and parts of Russia.

Most years of the last decade are among the warmest on record. NASA calculates 2005 global temperatures as the warmest, followed by 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2004.Indeed, 20 of the globe's 21 hottest years on record occurred in the last quarter century.

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It's Getting "Warmer Than Average" in Here! (But Is Global Warming to Blame?)

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 7:17 PM EDT

hot2.jpg

Scientists are split:

"I think there are very good reasons to believe that the current U.S. heat wave is at least partly caused by global warming," Kevin Trenberth, one of the nation's top global-warming computer modelers, wrote in an e-mail. ... "Heat waves have...increased most places around the world."

"It is true that the current heat wave could have occurred by chance. But I believe that the likelihood of such occurrences increases due to global warming," said [noted atmospheric scientist and climate modeler, Govindasamy] Bala [of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory]. ...

James O'Brien, Florida's state climatologist...criticized colleagues who he thinks are too quick to link short-term and long-term weather. He recalled that in 1988, "we had a big Midwest heat wave ... which (NASA scientist) Jim Hansen told the U.S. Senate was due to global warming."

Philip Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University [wrote in an email]: "Heat waves have happened for many years (i.e., the Dust Bowl in the 1930s), so to say that this one particular event is caused by global warming is really impossible." (SF Chronicle)

So there you have it -- jury's still out. Nifty map, though.

Is Hamas Ready to Negotiate?

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 6:39 PM EDT

Via Kevin Drum, the Guardian is reporting that some Hamas leaders are looking to negotiate a ceasefire in Gaza:

Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have agreed to stop firing rockets at Israel and to free a captured Israeli soldier in a deal brokered by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

The deal, agreed on Sunday, is to halt the rocket attacks in return for a cessation of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, and to release Corporal Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured on June 25, in exchange for the freeing of Palestinian prisoners at some point in the future....

This has been accepted by Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, and the Hamas political movement but not by Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader in Damascus. Mr Meshal wields considerable power because he controls funds donated by Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The military wing of Hamas, which is holding Cpl Shalit, is particularly dependent on the money from Mr Meshal.

Peacekeepers, shmeacekeepers

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 5:25 PM EDT

Whatever else you might think about the latest conflict in Lebanon, you can't really blame Israel for being unenthusiastic about the idea of installing a UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. There already is a UN peacekeeping force there - the embarassingly impotent United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Despite the optimistic "Interim" in its title, this outfit has been in place since 1978, after the first time Israel invaded its northern neighbor. UNIFIL failed to keep the Palestine Liberation Organization from resuming their rocket attacks on the Jewish state after that offensive, leading to another, much larger scale and longer lasting Israeli invasion in 1982. Clearly, UNIFIL's track record since hasn't been any more inspiring.

Nor is this the region's first experience with pointless peacekeepers. In the leadup to the Six Day War in 1967, Egypt demanded that UN peacekeepers stationed between it and Israel in the Sinai Desert get out of the way so that Egyptian forces could begin massing on Israel's border. The blue helmets obliged.

Roundup: War in the Middle East

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 5:19 PM EDT

Interview with Hezbollah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah
by Al-Jazeera Beirut Bureau Chief Ghassan Bin-Jiddu, on July 20, 2006

Lebanon's president accused Israel on Monday of using phosphorous bombs…
"According to the Geneva Convention, when they use phosphorous bombs and laser bombs, is that allowed against civilians and children?" President Emile Lahoud asked on France's RFI radio.

Saudi King pledges $500 million for Lebanon rebuilding.
as reported by China's Xinhua News
** More Xinhua reportage on the war