Political MoJo

Coming soon: stem cell showdown

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 3:14 PM EDT

From the Washington Post:

Senate leaders from both parties agreed yesterday to schedule a vote on a package of bills that would loosen President Bush's five-year-old restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research.

With head counts suggesting there are enough votes to pass the legislation and with Bush having promised he would veto it, yesterday's action sets the stage for what could be the first full-blown showdown between the chamber and the president.

Bring it!

The package would allow federal funding of research on embryos slated for destruction at fertility clinics--embryos rich in the useful kind of stem cell. (Bush yesterday called them "society's vulnerable members." How's that for a frame?) As Mother Jones reports this month, there are lots and lots and lots of those embryos.

And so, far from going away, the accumulation of human embryos is likely to grow, and grow, and grow. And in growing, the embryo overstock is likely to change—or at least complicate—the way we collectively think about human life at its earliest stages, and morally what is the right thing to do with it. At some point, embryos may alter or even explode the reproductive landscape: It is ivf embryos, after all, that are at the center of the nation's stem cell debate, which itself has prompted a new national conversation about life and reproductive liberty, creating new alliances as well as schisms. In 2001, as one of his first major domestic policy decisions, George W. Bush banned federal funding for labs developing new stem cell lines using leftover ivf embryos; then in May 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill approving funding for stem cell research using these same embryos, setting the stage for an eventual conservative showdown. In the course of this debate, embryos have emerged as another tool for truly hardline conservatives looking for new ways to beat back abortion rights. Like "fetal rights" laws that seemingly protect unborn children from acts of homicide, "embryo rights" are being waved about as a weapon in the assault on abortion rights, as anti-abortion lawmakers talk about seizing control over frozen embryo stores; limiting the creation of new embryos; or both.

But the impact of the embryo is also taking place on a more subtle and personal level. The glut's very existence illuminates how the newest reproductive technologies are complicating questions about life; issues that many people thought they had resolved are being revived and reconsidered, in a different emotional context.

Read the full article, by Liza Mundy, here.

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Clarence Thomas Wears Combat Boots?

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 2:40 PM EDT

This quote, from Aziz Huq's analysis of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, pretty much says it all:

Ironically, Justice Thomas refers to Justice Stevens' "unfamiliarity with the realities of warfare"; but Stevens served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1945, during World War II. Thomas's official bio, by contrast, contains no experience of military service.
Sort of like how, on the one hand, we have a bunch of retired military officers opposed to the administration's policies on torture, and on the other hand, we have notable non-veterans like Dick Cheney and David Addington insisting that their critics are unfamiliar with the "realities of warfare"…

The U.S. couldn't find Gitmo detainee trial witnesses; the Guardian found them in three days!

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 2:08 PM EDT

From the Guardian: so, so wrong...:

The U.S. government said it could not find the men that Guantánamo detainee Abdullah Mujahid believes could help set him free. The Guardian found them in three days.

Two years ago the U.S. military invited Mr Mujahid, a former Afghan police commander accused of plotting against the United States, to prove his innocence before a special military tribunal. As was his right, Mr Mujahid called four witnesses from Afghanistan.

But months later the tribunal president returned with bad news: the witnesses could not be found. Mr Mujahid's hopes sank and he was returned to the wire-mesh cell where he remains today.

The Guardian searched for Mr Mujahid's witnesses and found them within three days. One was working for President Hamid Karzai. Another was teaching at a leading American college. The third was living in Kabul. The fourth, it turned out, was dead. Each witness said he had never been approached by the Americans to testify in Mr Mujahid's hearing. [Italics mine]

The paper says Mujahid was one of 380 Guantánamo detainees whose cases were reviewed at "combatant-status review tribunals" in 2004 and 2005. "By the time the review tribunals ended last year the US government had located just a handful of the requested witnesses. None was brought from overseas to testify. The military lawyers simply said they were 'non-contactable. That was not entirely true." No kidding.

If it talks like George W. Bush and acts like George W. Bush...

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 1:49 PM EDT

Coming a bit late to this...but it's worth a look: Via Lamontblog, the campaign blog of Ned Lamont, who's trying to nab Joe Lieberman's spot on the November ballot, a feisty new Lamont campaign ad. It features video of George W. Bush but the voice and statements of Lieberman, and ends with the capper, "If it talks like George W. Bush and acts like George W. Bush, it's certainly not a Connecticut Democrat." (The ad is the handiwork the legendary Bill Hillsman, interviewed here by MJ.com.)

20060623.LiebermanBushCommercial.sm.jpg

Deep, cleansing breath

| Fri Jun. 30, 2006 4:27 AM EDT

Bikram Choudhury, the "hot yoga" entrepreneur/franchiser/guru who is fighting a string of legal battles over his claim that he owns the copyright to various ancient yoga practices, is in a spat with the L.A. building department. After finding, the LA Times reports, 160 people in Bikram's warehouse packed into a space suitable for 49, plus not enough fire exits and other violations, the city has slapped Bikram with 10 criminal charges. Ever mellow, Bikram "said that he's the victim of a five-year campaign of harassment by employees of the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. He also said that he had had it with Los Angeles and was moving the world headquarters of his Yoga College of India to Honolulu. 'Thanks a lot, L.A.,' he said. 'I've made up my mind.'"

Berkeley: As go styrofoam containers, so goes Bush...

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 9:23 PM EDT

Fresh off of declaring Tuesday "Cindy Sheehan Day," the City of Berkeley voted this week to put the impeachment of Bush and Cheney to a popular vote on the November ballot. On the red-blue political map of America, of course, Berkeley shows up as black. Mother Jones is too right-wing for Berkeley! But don't take my word for it; reading between the lines of this bland comment, you can just about glean where Berkeley's mayor is coming from politically: "It's not about Bush and Cheney, much as I despise them. It's about the Constitution and what they're doing to it."

Anticipating some eye-rolling, Bates also said, "Some people might say, 'Oh, only in Berkeley.' But things that start in Berkeley have a history of eventually being adopted by the rest of the country." To which my first reaction was, Name one! Well...

[F]irst city to desegregate its public schools, first to establish curbside recycling, first to divest itself of investments in South Africa, first to establish a citizens' police review commission, first to ban Styrofoam containers and first to mandate curb cuts for disabled access.

It's easy to make fun of Berkeley, of course--even if you love the place, as I do--but on this one I hope the city proves as ahead of the curve as it did on styrofoam.

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Arnold v. Pombo: the Terminator meets the Driller Killer

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 8:54 PM EDT

California Rep. Richard Pombo will be familiar to Mother Jones readers for his near-pathological hostility toward the environment. (He particularly has it in for the ocean.)

Now he's tangling with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over his (Pombo's) tireless efforts to increase offshore oil and gas drilling, overturning a 25-year-old moratorium on same. Schwarzenegger, who's trying to "burnish his green credentials," as they say, before his day of reckoning with the voters in November, calls Pombo's drilling bill (the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act), which would give states authority over drilling for 100 miles offshore, and which was expected to clear the House today, "unacceptable."

Here, via Ocean Champions, is a snippet from a letter the Governator sent to Pombo.

My position on the need to protect California's coast from the adverse impacts of oil and gas development is clear and unwavering. When I ran for Governor, I took a strong stance against any further oil and gas leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of California and called on the federal government to buy out existing undeveloped federal leases. In a letter to the United States Congress on May 13, 2005, I stated this position in response to potential changes to California's protections in the federal energy bill. In my November 3, 2005, letter to you, I restated my resolve on this issue. The impacts of new offshore oil and gas leasing and development off the California coast are unacceptable.

Full disclosure: Call us partisan if you want, but we at Mother Jones are unapologetically pro-ocean, and while we think Arnold's been a total dud when it comes to juvenile justice, we think he's got the right idea on this. Read the full letter here.

UPDATE: The House did indeed vote to end the drilling ban. On the upside, Pombo's bill will probably fail in the Senate.

Immigrants are bad for the West: discuss

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 8:13 PM EDT

Writing at Tech Central Station, Jerry Bowyer, an avowed conservative Republican, poses a question he says he recently put to Pat Buchanan:

If 200 years from now America will be filled with people who know and love the ideas of Jefferson and Madison -- but these people are overwhelmingly dark skinned -- will this be good or bad?

Buchanan's measured response: "a disaster and a tragedy"--identifying him obviously enough as as a "blood-and-soil conservative," as against the "we-hold-these-truths-to-be-self-evident" kind, of which Bowyer is one. The problem for Buchanan and his ilk, says Bowyer, is that they're on the wrong side of history.

America is a highly dynamic country. In fact, dynamism is the point of it, especially racial dynamism. When the first Congress commissioned that Adams, Franklin and Jefferson create a 'great seal' which would represent the ideals of our country, the (eventual) results included the Latin words "E Pluribus Unum", From many, One. From many what? From many races. How could Jefferson and Franklin (who worked together on the Declaration of Independence) see it any other way? When they 'declared' to the world that rights were self-evident, they staked everything on the notion that the software of liberty runs on all varieties of human hardware.

History proved them right. ...

But, wait, if we don't send 'em all back to where they came from and erect electric fences from sea to shining sea won't we, you know, utterly destroy the West and everything Anglo-Americans hold dear?. Well, no.

Immigration doesn't represent the 'death of the West' it represents its renewal. People go from places that they don't like to places that they do like. This implies that they 'buy in' to what we're about to some degree. I would argue that immigrants tend to buy in to America more fervently than those of us who are born here. ...

Immigrants start businesses at significantly higher rates than the native born. Entrepreneurship is risky. It's difficult to imagine Silicon Valley occurring without immigrants from India. Immigrants have more children, which, of course, parents will recognize as the ultimate risk.

Do they change the culture? Of course, they do. Living cultures change, dead cultures don't.

All of which strikes me as sensible, obvious, true, reasonable, humane...etc. That it makes Bowyer something of an outlier among his Republican pals--and not just the paleoconservative Buchanan types--is as alarming as it is ludicrous.

E-voting fraud: Not a question of "if" but of "when"

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 6:59 PM EDT

Apropos the coming ballot meltdown, when it comes to electronic voting we already know to be afraid, very afraid. Now comes a report from NYU--by all accounts the most authoritative on e-voting to date--demonstrating that "it would take only one person, with a sophisticated technical knowledge and timely access to the software that runs the voting machines, to change the outcome" of a national election. (WP)

The report concluded that the three major electronic voting systems in use have significant security and reliability vulnerabilities. But it added that most of these vulnerabilities can be overcome by auditing printed voting records to spot irregularities. And while 26 states require paper records of votes, fewer than half of those require regular audits.

With billions of dollars of support from the federal government, states have replaced outdated voting machines in recent years with optical scan ballot and touch-screen machines. Activists, including prominent computer scientists, have complained for years that these machines are not secure against tampering.

Indeed not. And, as Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, tells the Washington Post, "It's not a question of 'if' [somebody hacks an election, or at least tries to], it's a question of 'when.' "

Will the GOP Regret DeLay's Redistricting Scheme?

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 6:13 PM EDT

Just want to add an interesting twist to Monika's story. It's true that the Supreme Court ruled that Tom DeLay's naked power grab down in Texas was fine and dandy. What's significant is that this ruling sets a precedents for states to rewrite their district boundaries whenever they damn well please—rather than wait for the Census to come out every ten years, as used to be the tradition.

Now according to Richard Sammon, this could be a major boon for Democrats, if they want to get devious. This fall, Democrats will likely take both the governor's mansion and the state legislature in Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey and New York, and that means they can do what Texas did and redraw their districts, in effect shifting more and more seats in the House of Representatives into the Democratic column. They could potentially do the same in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, if they win state elections there. The only places where Republicans could potentially retaliate are Georgia, Indiana, and Missouri.

So the Democratic Party could, if they wanted to, take Kennedy's ruling and redraw enough electoral districts to take back the House in 2008. Personally, I don't like the idea of elections being decided by whichever party comes up with the cleverest—and most aggressive—redistricting plan, but that's the reality right now. An ideal alternative would be for states to turn into multimember districts and elect at-large representatives for the House—which would be perfectly constitutional—so that we could junk this gerrymandering nonsense altogether, but that's not likely to happen anytime soon.