Political MoJo

Meanwhile, in Iraq...

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 5:29 PM EDT

It's a nightmare:

Iraqi leaders have all but given up on holding the country together and, just two months after forming a national unity government, talk in private of "black days" of civil war ahead.

Signalling a dramatic abandonment of the U.S.-backed project for Iraq, there is even talk among them of pre-empting the worst bloodshed by agreeing to an east-west division of Baghdad into Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim zones, senior officials told Reuters

Tens of thousands have already fled homes on either side.

"Iraq as a political project is finished," one senior government official said -- anonymously because the coalition under Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki remains committed in public to the U.S.-sponsored constitution that preserves Iraq's unity.So that's that. Prepare the body bags. Meanwhile, are some of the president's deep thoughts about the crisis in Lebanon:

President Bush's unwillingness to pressure Israel to halt its military campaign in Lebanon is rooted in a view of the Middle East conflict that is sharply different from that of his predecessors….

In the administration's view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq. Israel's crippling of Hezbollah, officials also hope, would complete the work of building a functioning democracy in Lebanon and send a strong message to the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hezbollah.Basically, we're all fucked. Maybe everyone really should start preparing for the rapture.

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Attack of the Killer Jellyfish! (Yet Another Side Effect of Global Warming)

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 5:08 PM EDT

Later today, NPR has promised us an All Things Considered story on swarming jellyfish. Of late they've been a problem in Hawaii, North Carolina, and to Japan's nuclear reactors:

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A mass of jellyfish proved an unlikely thorn in the side of the Japanese nuclear industry this week when they choked a pipe, which feeds cooling water into a coastal plant.

The output from the Hamaoka reactors was slashed by 30 to 40% after the cooling system automatically shut down, returning to full power about three hours later once workers had cleared the jellyfish blockage. This was the first time jellyfish have affected power generation in Japan.

(We know where this leads.)

We here at Mother Jones have been obsessed with the attack of the killer (or at least really, really painful) jellies for the last several years, ever since we heard that in 2000, swarms of 25-pound jellyfish native to Australia invaded the Gulf of Mexico. So numerous were these Australian invaders, that the shrimp fishermen of the Gulf lost a lot of their harvest because the jellies weighed down their nets.

Jelly invasions appear to be yet another result of human-induced global climate change. (More instances of jellie invasions can be found here and here.) Changes to seawater's salinity or Ph levels cause jellies and other species to migrate far beyond their historic range. And tropical storms and hurricanes, which are increasing in number and severity due to climate change, can also reroute the jellies, as just happened in the Carolinas. Also, one of the jellies' main predators, turtles and tortoises, are being decimated, thanks to overfishing, pollution, and the like. (For more on all these issues see Julia Whitty's piece on the fate of the ocean and the rest of our ocean package.)

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According to this story, a new study out of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute reports that tiny jellyfish-like creatures called salps are helping get rid of some carbon dioxide by "transporting tons of it daily from the ocean surface to the deep sea and preventing it from re-entering the atmosphere and contributing again to the greenhouse effect and possibly to global warming."

Which seems like great news, until you realize that way salps do this is by digesting huge amounts of phytoplankton, and as Whitty reports, these plankton, which are the foundation of all life in the sea, are also at risk from warming waters and changing salinity and Ph.

In other words, a potential check on global warming is being threatened by…global warming.

Reporters who didn't buy the WMD line

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 4:41 PM EDT

Over at Nieman Watchdog, Gilbert Cranberg says Knight Ridder's "DC bureau and Landay, Strobel, Walcott deserve high honors for their reports challenging the Bush administration during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq."

Amen.

Radicalism...in Switzerland!

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 4:35 PM EDT

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I'm no expert in End Times and Rapture lore, but if anything portends the Apocalypse it's got to be this headline: In Neutral Switzerland, A Rising Radicalism. (And notice the flag. Right?) Can't you feel the glory bumps?

"When dealing with people like Bolton, there is no room for dialogue."

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 4:05 PM EDT

As Steve Clemons put it, the op-ed by George Voinovich in Thursday's Washington Post, calling for the confirmation of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the U.N., "blasts the door open"--meaning: this is going to get ugly.

Voinovich wrote: "I cannot imagine a worse message to send to the terrorists -- and to other nations deciding whether to engage in this effort -- than to drag out a possible renomination process or even replace the person our president has entrusted to lead our nation at the United Nations at a time when we are working on these historic objectives." --drawing the ire of The Century Foundation's Jeffrey Laurenti in a commentary just posted at Mother Jones.

[N]o one expected a renewed effort to legitimize the administration's brash and polarizing ambassador to be wrapped in the mantle of combating Hezbollah and terrorists everywhere. Once again, its critics underestimated the chutzpah of the administration's political operatives.

For which chutzpah, see...

In recent years the White House has compiled a notably tawdry track record of squeezing political advantage from death and destruction. The leveling of the World Trade Center by a handful of Saudi nationals armed with boxcutters became, in its skilled hands, the administration's pretext for renouncing the antiballistic missile treaty, embarking on a crash program of "Star Wars" deployment, and launching an invasion of Iraq. Hurricane Katrina became an opportunity to abrogate union-scale wages on federal projects.

Meanwhile...

It is fair to say that no one has done more to isolate the United States in world councils than Mr. Bolton, who has virtually alone opposed, time and again, the path-breaking reform initiatives that have passed the U.N. since he arrived. He vociferously opposed the hard-won reform of U.N. human rights machinery, marshalling just three client states to vote with him against the new Human Rights Council.

Strongly indicating that...

Compassionate Conservatism Declared Dead Six Years Too Late

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 3:33 PM EDT

The Washington Post notices that President Bush doesn't talk much about poverty anymore, hasn't actually done much about poverty during his tenure in office, and that basically his brand of "compassionate conservatism" is sort of a sham.

Well, no kidding. We didn't have to wait until this year to realize that. This should have been abundantly clear back in 2000. All one would've had to do was note that Bush, as governor of Texas, supported a $250 million cut to kindergarten funding while cutting property taxes by $1.2 billion; tried to raise the eligibility threshold in the state's Children's Health Insurance Program, which would have dropped 200,000 of the 500,000 children eligible (only to be thwarted by Texas Democrats); and used large budget surpluses in 1997 and 1999 to cut taxes rather than fund programs that had been underfunded for years—despite the fact that his state, under his watch, ranked at the very bottom of most poverty measures.

So yes, when Bush started making "heartfelt" noises on the campaign trail about helping the poor, he was just trying to win votes from gullible moderates. Unlike Ezra Klein, I don't believe Bush has ever cared about poverty. He worked with Ted Kennedy to pass No Child Left Behind because he wanted to be known as the "education president" and do something grand and sweeping, not because he had some heartfelt interest in improving public schools. Molly Ivins, who has followed the man's career longer than most journalists, had it right when she wrote that when it comes to seeing how his policies affect people, Bush just doesn't get it, and never will.

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The Boyfriend Crisis

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 3:26 PM EDT

In its July issue, Esquire gets its boxers in a twist over what editor David Granger calls "the looming crisis in manhood" [sorry, article not online]. No, not the growing ranks of men who wear black shoes with tan suits and don't recognize Tom Hanks as the "official man of American men", but the so-called "boy crisis" (short version: after centuries of getting high test scores, boys are coming in second to uppity girls). In rehashing the stats that supposedly confirm the emergency, the glossy notes that for every 58 women in college and grad school, there are only 42 men. Which prompts this somber conclusion: "That means one in four female students can't find a male peer to date." Esquire's worried about a collegiate sex ratio skewed in favor of straight guys? Things really must be serious...

Last Domestic Detainee Released -- 5 Years After the FBI Concluded He Was Innocent

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 3:14 PM EDT

The U.S. war on terror has robbed hundreds of innocent people of years of their lives. (See for example Mackenzie Funk's recent report for Mother Jones about the emblematic case of one innocent man, a Tajik, scooped up in Pakistan on suspicion of terrorist activities and held for two years in the legal black hole of the U.S. War on Terror—in four prisons and three countries.)

After 9/11, of course, large numbers of people--1,200 mainly Muslim men--were swept up in this country, too, and held in detention centers. No terrorists among them. Yesterday brought yet another grim milestone in our journey from Sept. 11: the release of the last of these detainees--an Algerian air force lieutenant who spent just under five years in captivity even though the FBI concluded in November 2001 that he had zero connection to terrorism.

The man is applying for political asylum in Canada, and the Washington Post quotes the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees as saying, "Obviously, there is enormous relief. But I am extremely bitter that five years of a person's life can be taken away."

For more, see Mother Jones' full coverage of U.S. detainee policy here.

GOP Needs More Than Rhetoric on Civil Rights

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 1:16 PM EDT

"Bush moves to heal old wounds," runs a headline in the Boston Globe today, describing the president's appearance, after five straight no-shows, at the NAACP's annual conference. Admitting that his party hasn't exactly endeared itself to African Americans, he told his audience "I want to change the relationship."

A good editorial in USA Today points out how much work that will take.

Healing the rift — and bringing his party along — will take more than words, particularly in advancing civil rights. In 2000, Bush promised to make civil rights enforcement a "cornerstone" of his administration. He has done better than some critics contend, but no one could argue with a straight face that he kept that vow.

From protecting voting rights to preventing job discrimination, Bush's Justice Department has failed to provide the enforcement power that such delicate programs need to survive.

The department's civil rights division, for example, signed off on a Georgia voting plan and a Texas redistricting map that later were blocked by the courts for discrimination against minority voters. And the department's position in a case involving retaliation against a female worker who filed a discrimination claim was so weak that the Supreme Court rejected it, 8-1.

After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, leaving thousands of poor African-American residents homeless and jobless, Bush promised "bold action" to confront poverty with "roots in the history of racial discrimination." But that pledge, too, dissipated quicker than a summer squall.

California OKs Stem Cell Research Funds

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 12:35 PM EDT

This is more like it! From the San Francisco Chronicle

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger authorized $150 million in loans to the state's stem cell agency one day after President Bush vetoed legislation that would have expanded federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

The governor's action Thursday quadruples the amount of money available in the state to begin research on stem cells, which scientists believe hold extraordinary promise to cure diseases. It also carries political benefits for Schwarzenegger, who has distanced himself from the deeply unpopular Republican president.

"With one stroke, the governor has energized stem cell research in California," said the president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine "This is the new frontier in biomedical research, and the United States needs to be working in it. California will become a surrogate for the nation's efforts." And the governor himself said: "We can no longer wait to fund this important research." Good for him.

PLUS: Though Bush's veto will hold back a lot of important work in the field, Forbes reminds that "Stem cell research is alive and well at a host of small companies and academic laboratories in the United States."

PLUS PLUS:"Illinois's governor announced yesterday he was diverting $5 million from the state budget for stem cell research, despite repeated objections from state legislators." (AP)