Political MoJo

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

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

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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.

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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

No He Didn't! (Bush Record on Civil Rights)

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 5:15 PM EDT

As Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe points out, President Bush's attempt to kiss and make up with the NAACP last week came as the "Bush administration is quietly remaking the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights." According to the Globe:

The documents show that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003, after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds.

Enterprise reporting! We love it! Chase the link, the details are outrageous.

We've already blogged on how Bush's NAACP cameo was too little, too late. On a related point, last week, during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Edward Kennedy (exhorting the administration to support reauthorization of the Voting Rights act) got into the whole hypocrisy gap with Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, noting that:

"The Bush administration Civil Rights Division has litigated only three lawsuits on behalf of African-American voters; two of which were initiated by Attorney General Reno." And furthermore, the DOJ is currently "in the process of litigating the department's first-ever alleging discrimination against white voters."
(Full transcript of Kennedy/Gonzalez face-off is after the jump)

Close readers of the Washington Post might feel a little déjà vu over this whole kerfluffle. Back in December, the Post's Dan Eggen reported that:

"The Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act cases, marking a significant change in the procedures meant to insulate such decisions from politics, congressional aides and current and former employees familiar with the issue said."
A few weeks earlier, Eggen pointed out that:
Nearly 20 percent of the division's lawyers left in fiscal 2005, in part because of a buyout program that some lawyers believe was aimed at pushing out those who did not share the administration's conservative views on civil rights laws. Longtime litigators complain that political appointees have cut them out of hiring and major policy decisions, including approvals of controversial GOP redistricting plans in Mississippi and Texas.

At the same time, prosecutions for the kinds of racial and gender discrimination crimes traditionally handled by the division have declined 40 percent over the past five years, according to department statistics. Dozens of lawyers find themselves handling appeals of deportation orders and other immigration matters instead of civil rights cases.

(Graphic to that end is here. The numbers don't lie.

Earmarks Are Like a Virus. In a Barrel. Of Pork.

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 5:14 PM EDT

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In the first of a series of articles on earmarking, the Christian Science Monitor peers into the putrid depths of the congressional pork barrel, 2006 model. Today the paper looks at the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska, one of 6,371 "bonus projects" inserted in last year's highway bill by lawmakers eager to win points at home, the common good be damned.

That's right -- all the bracing talk of reform and self-purification that attended the fall of Jack Abramoff has come to naught: earmarks accounted for a record $29.3 billion in fiscal year 2006.

The connection between earmarking and public disdain for Congress is well established. Less understood, but no less serious (okay, a bit less serious), is the link between pork-barrel spending and the indiscriminate use of mixed metaphors. "Earmarks are like a virus," says Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste. "They cause a huge amount of wasteful spending." For Sen. Tom Coburn, they are "a gateway drug on the road to spending addiction." And in the view of the Monitor's headline writer, "the rolling pork barrel is picking up speed." Clearly, action is needed before the barrel -- or the pig? -- runs off the road.

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Half of Americans Still Think Iraq Had WMDs

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 4:22 PM EDT

I don't even know what to say about this:

Half of Americans now say Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded the country in 2003 — up from 36 percent last year....In addition, 64 percent say Saddam had "strong links" with al Qaeda....

Fifty-five percent said that "history will give the U.S. credit for bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq."....American confidence in the Iraqis has improved: 37 percent said Iraq would succeed in creating a stable democracy, up five points since November.Apparently we really are ruled by the idiots we deserve.

Overheating Reactors (Yet Another Global Warming Feedback Loop)

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 4:08 PM EDT

Global warming is turning out to be a big problem for nuclear reactors this week. First, we had the jellyfish swarming incident at a Japanese reactor.

And now overly warm waters in Spain's Ebro river have forced the company that controls a reactor near Santa Maria de Garoña to temporarily shut it down. The reason? The Ebro river is running so hot that can no longer cool the reactor.

This of course, means that Spain's other power generators need to work harder to fill in for the off-line reactor. Which means more emissions, at least in the short term.

Why Can't Israel Defeat Hezbollah?

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 2:45 PM EDT

Yoel Marcus observes in Haaretz today that Israel hasn't exactly destroyed Hezbollah as planned. Missiles are still raining down on Haifa and Nahariya with no end in sight, and Hassan Nasrallah is still out there taunting the IDF:

Bush and the public assumed that the [Israeli] army knew what it was doing, and that Israel, with its superiority in manpower, weaponry and technology, would be able to put an end to Hezbollah as a menace to Israel. Little by little, however, a worrying picture has begun to emerge: Instead of an army that is small but smart, we are catching glimpses of an army that is big, rich and dumb.
This picture is indeed worrying, but it shouldn't have emerged "little by little." Anyone who managed to avoid being in a persistent vegetative state over the past four years—which, I guess, excludes the president and what, 37 percent of the United States?—should've noticed that the most powerful army on earth hasn't been able to squelch a ragtag band of determined insurgents in Iraq, either. Military theorists call conflicts against non-state actors "fourth generation warfare", and it's tricky business.

Basically, neither the United States nor Israel, nor any liberal democracy in the world, really knows how to fight these sorts of wars, which are quite clearly not the conventional "blow up a bunch of enemy tanks and you win" wars of the past. Short of killing every last Shiite in Lebanon—and that step would presumably be too gruesome even for Israeli Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who has ordered ten Lebanese buildings bombed for every rocket launched on an Israeli city—Israel's military likely won't defeat Hezbollah. Perhaps these wars are just unwinnable by nature, perhaps better strategists will one day figure out how to defeat non-state militias with broad popular support. Either way, Iraq should've alerted everyone well in advance to the limits of mere "superiority in manpower, weaponry and technology."

The (Not So) Great Stem Cell Brain Drain

| Tue Jul. 25, 2006 2:27 PM EDT

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Guardian: The EU is warning Washington that "disillusioned" U.S. scientists will want to make the most of Europe's more liberal rules on stem cell research. (Which aren't nearly as liberal as they might/should be.)

Lord Sainsbury, Britain's science minister, said: "There are a group of American scientists who are very disillusioned. In this field we have seen U.S. scientists coming to the U.K. If the US continues to take this very negative position I think within this field of regenerative medicine we will see scientists come from America and from other parts of the world, who would have gone to America, to the UK instead."


And not only the U.K. Time notes that Singapore (land of punitive caning and bans on chewing gum) is all over stem cell research. "American researchers--fed up with politics getting in the way of science--are packing up and heading to Singapore, which is delighted to have them." Singapore just announced a doubling of its R&D budget, to $8.2 billion over the next five years, "making it a regional research hub, particularly in stem cells." Says a Singapore-based scientist who roams the globe recruiting researchers, "I go to the U.S., and I tell those scientists, Come to Singapore and finish your work."