Political MoJo

Executing Gays in Iran

| Thu Jul. 20, 2006 4:02 PM EDT

If their nuclear ambitions and support for Hizbullah weren't enough, here's another reason to despise the regime in Teheran: they're one of a handful of countries where homosexuality is punished by death. Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the public hanging of two gay teenagers in the city of Mashad. Human Rights Watch reports that police commonly tap phones and raid private homes to catch gay men and lesbians, and LGBT activist groups (based outside Iran, natch) estimate that as many as 4,000 such sexual malefactors have been executed since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

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The Stem Cell World Remains Flat

| Thu Jul. 20, 2006 3:49 PM EDT

From the Center for American Progress:

Yesterday was a sad day for millions of Americans as President Bush and 193 Representatives in the House voted against the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, a bill which would allow for the advancement of life-saving embryonic stem cell research. The House vote and presidential veto followed the Tuesday vote where 37 Senators voted against the legislation.

President Bush’s first veto of his presidency thwarts the will of bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate, countless state governors, former First Lady Nancy Reagan and more than 70 percent of the American people.

The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act sought to change outdated federal policy to reflect new scientific developments. Under President Bush’s policy, only 21 stem cell lines are eligible for federal research funding and non of them can be used in humans due to contamination by mouse feeder cells. Researchers have since developed techniques to derive uncontaminated and better stem cell lines, which scientists in other countries are already using. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act would have expanded eligibility for federal funding to research using uncontaminated stem cell lines derived from excess embryos in fertility clinics, allowing American scientists to more readily access to the best research tools available.

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) pleaded with his colleagues and President Bush to support the research, saying, “We have seen in our historical perspective where Galileo was imprisoned because he believed that the Earth was not flat...and a century from now, people will look back on what we are doing today in wonderment at how there could be any doubt about using these stem cells to save lives and save human suffering.”

Unfortunately for the millions of Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s, ALS, diabetes and countless other diseases that embryonic stem cell research might cure, President Bush, 193 Representatives and 37 Senators want the stem cell world to stay flat.

Amen. Read Mother Jones current cover package for more on the United States' frozen embryo glut and the (as yet) wasted promise of stem cell research.

Wanted: the Ryan White of Stem Cell Protests

| Thu Jul. 20, 2006 3:10 PM EDT

This is something that my colleagues and I have been puzzling over for the last couple of days: why didn't the sick and the disabled march on Washington?

The question inevitably leads to a few really bad jokes, but let's move on. Despite any inherent problems in mobilizing the population at hand, it could have been done, and maybe, were Christopher Reeves still alive, it would have been done.

But so far as I can tell, neither his foundation, nor any of the big disabled/disease groups did any real organizing in advance of the vote. Even ACT-UP was muted.

Which is a shame, since everybody knew there was vote coming and everybody knew it would likely pass and everybody knew the president would veto and everybody knew that there wouldn't be enough votes to override the veto.

Some portion of that equation might have changed had the disabled, the sick, their friends and family (and, while we're at it, the scientific community) filled the Mall and the Capitol steps.

So why didn't they? I can think of a few reasons:

Funding. Disease organizations and/or non-profit foundations are afraid of losing their federal funding and/or donor support.
Fiefdoms. All these organizations compete with each other for public attention and money. They don't have experience working together. Nor, too often, are they inclined to do so.
Lack of a point person/group. It's not a pure party issue, the net roots community didn't do much on this front, and with Reeves dead, there's as yet been no one to step into his breach.

(Note to larger left: Does this sound familiar?)

There's no doubt that the Republicans feared the notion of a huge protest—why do you think they held the override vote so quickly? Now maybe the Democratic Party is happy to have this issue for the fall elections. But it is an issue that transcends party lines and interests. If Bush is going to trot out the "snowflake babies" at every turn, I can only hope that somebody puts a real face on the millions of Americans that are hurt by impeding valid scientific inquiry. That's the real way to "race for a cure."

Information: Bush Puts It Where the Sun Don't Shine

| Thu Jul. 20, 2006 3:04 PM EDT

Karen J. Greenberg, co-editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib, has a great piece on Bush administration secrecy up on MotherJones.com (courtesy of Tomdispatch). She describes eagerly awaiting two new government reports on detainee policy, both promising to contain important new information. "Imagine my disappointment," she writes:

Blackened page followed blackened page; introductory sentences led nowhere; subsection titles introduced nothing; elaborating details were rendered invisible along with most of each report's conclusions. If one were to treat the pages of each report like a flip-book, visually the story line would be a solid mass of black.

Tom Engelhardt, in an introduction to the piece at Tomdispatch, points out that the Bush administration's "most essential 'sunshine' policy" is this: "if at all possible, offer nothing to anyone, any time, anywhere, for any reason," a point Greenberg develops:

Withdrawal of information has been a deeply rooted tactic of the Bush administration. The urge not to tell, never to reveal, has been at the heart of its approach to government, whether what's at stake is court records, statistics on Iraq, or information about detainees. In 2001, 8 million government documents were classified per year. That number has now expanded to 16 million. Moreover, the rate of declassification has decreased significantly. On average, only one-sixth as many documents are declassified each year as during the Clinton administration.

Read the piece in full here.

Bush's Strategy for Fixing This Shit

| Thu Jul. 20, 2006 2:35 PM EDT

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Click on the image to find out what it is!

The Immorality of Congress On the Middle East War

| Thu Jul. 20, 2006 2:15 PM EDT

Okay, so yesterday was the deadliest day yet in the Israel-Hezbollah-Lebanon war, with Lebanese civilians bearing the brunt of Israeli attacks. Beirut residents believe anyplace might be bombed. Diplomats are predicting weeks of fighting. The U.S. has given Israel a green light to do whatever it sees fit. The U.N. is warning both sides in the conflict of war crimes liability. And the U.S. Congress? It's giving Israel "a vote of confidence."

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders are rushing to offer unalloyed support for Israel's offensive against Hezbollah fighters, reflecting a bipartisan desire to not only defend a key U.S. ally but also solidify long-term backing of Jewish voters and political donors in the United States, according to officials and strategists in both parties. (WP)

Outrageous. Immoral. Pathetic.

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Bombs: Not So Popular

| Thu Jul. 20, 2006 2:00 PM EDT

Greg Djerejian clears his throat to point out that, contrary to what some hawks seem to believe, people in Lebanon don't actually like being bombed. More to the point, the Lebanese government is genuinely worried that all this death and destruction will only increase popular support for Hezbollah, both within Lebanon and without, thereby making everyone's life a little more unpleasant. Indeed, most Arabs across the Middle East—even our pro-democracy friends—are blaming Israel, rather than Hezbollah and Hamas, for the violence (with the curious exception of the House of Saud).

Now I'm willing to believe that Israel can probably achieve most of what appear to be its main military objectives in this offensive—namely, to push Hezbollah away from the border, degrade the militia's missile-launching infrastructure, and reduce the group to a guerrilla army once again—but that doesn't mean there won't be serious unexpected consequences to deal with afterwards.

Talk to women about embryos? What, is he crazy?

| Thu Jul. 20, 2006 1:59 PM EDT

The Seattle Times' Alicia Mundy reports that Congressman Dave Reichert (R-Wa.) changed his vote on stem cells after having a "heart-to-heart" talk with women ("potential mothers") on his staff.

The meeting with Reichert's female staffers was emotional, according to Reichert and one participant. "There were teary eyes, including mine," Reichert said, adding that, to his surprise, "It was unanimous, really, among the women." They all favored expanding the research.

Now, cynics among you might note that Reichert, a one-termer in a swing district who has been targeted for defeat in what has been called "the only seriously competitive House race in the Northwest," also wouldn't mind getting reelected in November. But that would be so cynical.

The Case for Nuclear Power Revisited

| Thu Jul. 20, 2006 1:32 PM EDT

Jon Gertner recently visited a few nuclear power plants for the New York Times Magazine and came away glowing. Har har. No, his article's quite excellent, but I'm still not convinced that nuclear power will solve all our problems. Gertner's reporting makes the case that reactors are becoming profitable for energy utilities to build. Fair enough. But is nuclear energy an effective way to help the country as a whole wean itself off carbon-based energy sources and avert global warming? That question doesn't really get an answer.

I'll stand by everything I wrote in this post: Rough calculations suggest that it would cost $500 billion, minimum, to build 220 reactors in the United States and achieve a mere one-seventh of the carbon emissions reductions we need to make by 2050 if we want to do our part to stave off global warming. Every little bit helps, and lowering carbon emissions will require a mix of strategies, but there's a real opportunity cost here: For that same $500 billion we could, presumably, fund a variety of renewable sources of energy that don't require a massive security state to safeguard.

In fact, Gar Lipow has made the case that some renewable energy sources, like solar, can already provide electricity more cheaply than nuclear, especially if the federal government were to help steer money that way. I'm willing to believe that Gertner's right and investors will soon be able to make money off of building new nuclear plants. But at a policy level, it's not at all clear that nuclear power is the most cost-effective substitute for carbon-based energy, even if you ignore all the other problems associated with it.

I'd note one other thing. Gertner interviews Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, who says that instead of building new reactors to satisfy our electricity demand, we should just reduce that demand by increasing energy efficiency. Now I'm very much in favor of conserving energy, but I'm also dubious that these schemes work. Check out this graph in the comments to the Oil Drum. Total electricity consumption in the United States has never decreased in the postwar era (except in the industrial sector during the recession in the 1980s), despite the fact that the country continues to become more energy efficient.

Partly that's due to population growth, but my hunch is that even if energy efficiency improves as dramatically as Lovins would like, people will always find ways to use more energy—buying bigger TVs or cranking up the air conditioning—as they get richer. On the other hand, I would have thought the same thing about fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles—namely, that as cars become more fuel-efficient, people just drive more and no energy is saved—but, according to the National Academy of Sciences, CAFE standards really do appear to have helped reduced oil consumption, so Lovins is probably onto something.

Stem Cells and Swing States

| Wed Jul. 19, 2006 6:45 PM EDT

Swing State Project has a roll call of the 37 senators who voted against the bill to ease the federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.

Those up for reelection are the following Republicans:

George Allen (R-VA)
Conrad Burns (R-MT)
Mike DeWine (R-OH)
John Ensign (R-NV)
John Kyl (R-AZ)
Rick Santorum (R-PA)
Jim Talent (R-MO)
Craig Thomas (R-WY)

as well as the Democratic senator from Nebraska, Ben Nelson.

Over at the New York Times, you can scroll over a map of the U.S. that provides you a state-by-state pop-up of how each delegation voted. And the Times also provides a way for you to email your senators and let them know what you think of their vote.

Pundits say that it is "unlikely" that there could be enough votes (just 3 more in the Senate) to override the veto. But if you scroll down a list of Republicans who in favor of expanding embryonic stem cell research--Orin Hatch, Bill Frist, etc.--it becomes clear that reason and compassion can cross party lines.