Political MoJo

EU Agrees On Highly Restricted Stem Cell Funding

| Mon Jul. 24, 2006 11:19 AM EDT

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Reuters: European Union ministers have just agreed to allow limited EU funding for stem cell research, but not for research that involves destroying human embryos, including for the procurement of stem cells. EU countries have widely differing laws and attitudes towards stem cell research, with Germany, Austria, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland and Slovakia taking a highly restrictive approach. More here and here.

P.S. Meanwhile, famed scientist Stephen Hawking (who suffers from motor neurone disease) has attacked the "reactionary" forces in Europe and the U.S. opposing stem cell research. He said: "The fact that the cells may come from embryos is not an objection because the embryos are going to die anyway. It is morally equivalent to taking a heart transplant from a victim of a car accident." And, in a statement to the Independent newspaper: "Europe should not follow the reactionary lead of President Bush.... Stem cell research is the key to developing cures for degenerative conditions like Parkinson's and motor neurone disease from which I and many others suffer." (Full article here.)

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People wishing to save embryos may need to rethink rhythm method

| Sat Jul. 22, 2006 1:45 PM EDT

The August issue of Harper's features an excerpt from "The Rhythm Method and Embryonic Death," by Luc Bovens, published in the June issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics. In this paper, Professor Bovens argues that the rhythm method of birth control--the only method approved by the Catholic church--may be responsible for "massive embryonic death."

Couples who use the rhythm method try to avoid pregnancy by having sex during the time in which conception is the least likely to occur and during which there is lower ovum viability. As a consequence, they avoid pregnancy by avoiding conception, but they also because conceived ova have such a small chance of surviving. Says Bovens:

Nonetheless, one could argue that even if the mechanism has only limited effectiveness, it remains the case that millions of rhythm-method cycles per year globally depend for their success on massive embryonic death. Even a policy of practicing condom usage and having an abortion in case of failure would cause fewer embryonic deaths than the rhythm method.

Homeland security a problem in the U.K as well as the U.S.

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 8:27 PM EDT

A Mirror reporter successfully planted a fake "bomb" on a train carrying a cargo of nuclear waste, it was reported today.

"The gate was open, there were no security guards...I walked up to the train and planted my bomb," the reporter said. The train, which goes from Kent to Cumbria, carries radioactive flasks of spent uranium fuel rods. The Mirror reporter said that the train was left unattended for about ten mintues, and that he was able to approach the wagons in daylight while the driver was on a break. He also said he had observed the train for a couple of months, and that there was continual opportunity to sabotage it.

A nuclear transport expert estimates that 8,000 would be instantly killed if a real bomb were planted on the train.

Wearing an orange vest and helmet, the Mirror reporter made his tenth in a series of trips to the depot, where his presence was never questioned. A photographer took several photographs. A spokeswoman for Direct Rail Services said that "The entire journey is protected by very stringent security."

Prom Date in Columbine

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 7:07 PM EDT

Want some truly creepy reading to throw off your weekend? Check out, via Slate, this love letter written by Columbine school shooter Dylan Klebold to the girl he went to the prom with. Choice excerpts: "Fate put me in need of you, but this world blocked that...I will go away soon, but I just had to write this to you, the one I truly loved...Unfortunately, even if you did like me the slightest bit, you would hate me if you knew who I was...I have nothing to live for...however, if it was true that you loved me as I do you, I would find a way to survive."

The Death Penalty in Japan

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 7:02 PM EDT
On the morning of 21 December 1995, [Kimura Shuji] went to visit her condemned son and was told that visiting hours were very busy and to come back at noon. When she returned, she was asked whether she wanted to take her son's body away for burial.
Welcome to death row in Japan. Prisoners are executed by hanging—a process known to produce "gruesome scenes of slow strangulation and even decapitation." And prisoners sitting on death row don't even know when they'll actually die. No one gives them a date. Prisoners aren't told "this day will be your last" until the actual morning of their execution, which can come at any time—days or months or decades after their appeals process is exhausted. Their families aren't notified until after they're dead. Everyone involved lives under the strain of uncertainty.

One prisoner, Oda Nobuo, exhausted his appeals process way back in 1970, and is still under sentence of death—meaning that he has had to wake up, in a solitary cell, every morning for nearly 40 years knowing that he could be executed that day without warning. One former prisoner describes how he was dragged out of his cell by guards one morning, before they whispered nervously that they had the wrong guy, put him back, and went to get some other guy for the hangman's noose. Oops. All of those stories come from a new Amnesty International report: "The Death Penalty in Japan."

Democrats On Israel: Mouths Closed, Eyes Shut

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 5:31 PM EDT

Good post by Marc Cooper on the crass political calculations driving the Democrats' Israel "policy."

Fact is, the Democrats' policy on Israel mirrors the Republican policy on Cuba. They both derive from primarily domestic political considerations and not from any measured analysis of foreign policy nor any deliberation on where our true national interests reside.

Republicans want to keep the Cuban-American voting base -- in Florida and New Jersey primarily-- inside the tent. So to hell with any notion of revising a policy toward Castro that has only, in effect, helped maintain his now 47 year long monopoly on power. (Happy 80th, Comandante).

Democrats, likewise, want to retain the majority of the Jewish-American vote and prefer, for the most part, to keep their mouths closed and their eyes shut when it comes to Israel. Cuban-Americans and Jewish-Americans are also important funding sources for both parties (Bill Clinton was actually able to raise tons from both communities, Hilary's borther-in-law being a major muckety-much within the right-wing exile milieu) and neither party wants to offend those who pay their bills. Here's "Speaker" Nancy Pelosi, a liberal darling, enthusiastically enlisting in the ranks of those pledging "unwavering support and committment" to Israel, urging the Bush administration to tighten the screws on Syria and Iran. How's that for an opposition leader?

Hence unconditional bipartisan indulgence of whatever Israel wants to do -- e.g. bomb Lebanon to rubble.

(He also has some interesting observations about where the lefty blogosphere is on all this--which is mostly AWOL.)

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Bush to Poor: #&$@ Off!

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 5:09 PM EDT

As Michael A. Fletcher of the Washington Post reminds us, after Katrina (well, to be precise, weeks after Katrina), Bush talked a good game about ending poverty:

"All of us saw on television, there's . . . some deep, persistent poverty in this region," he said in a prime-time speech from New Orleans's Jackson Square, 17 days after the Aug. 29 hurricane. "That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action."

As it happened, poverty's turn in the presidential limelight was brief. Bush has talked little about the issue since the immediate crisis passed, while pursuing policies that his liberal critics say will hurt the poor. He has publicly mentioned domestic poverty six times since giving back-to-back speeches on the issue in September. Domestic poverty did not come up in his State of the Union address in January, and his most recent budget included no new initiatives directed at the poor.

Six times! Fletcher further notes:

Bush has used the bully pulpit of the presidency not to marshal a new national consensus for fighting poverty but to make the case for cutting taxes along with domestic programs. He has never publicly discussed the growing crisis of young, uneducated black men, whose plight has worsened in the past decade even as the economy has generally flourished, according to a recent spate of academic studies.

Meanwhile, his Office of Management and Budget has sketched scenarios that envision deep funding cuts in an array of programs that aid the poor, including housing assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, community development grants and energy assistance. Budget officials minimize the significance of those projections, saying that they are rarely enacted and that expenditures for many poverty programs have increased sharply since Bush took office.

"Does he often talk about poverty? No," [Press Secretary and former Fox News anchor Tony] Snow said. "There hasn't been a direct discussion of poverty, but he is focused on eliminating the barriers that stand in the way of people making progress."

And you know what that means, don't you? Tax cuts. So once again, let me reiterate what I've written about and blogged about:

President Bush's tax cuts, which were recently extended until 2010, save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those earning $1 million are saved $42,700.

Meanwhile, under his watch, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has steadily risen. Now 13% of all Americans—37 million—are officially poor. And currently, 46 million Americans are uninsured—a 15% increase since Bush came into office in 2000.

Bush has dedicated $750 million to "healthy marriages" by diverting funds from social services, mostly child-care. Bush has proposed cutting housing programs for low-income people with disabilities by 50%. I could go on and on.

And don't think that it's just the poor getting screwed. As Kevin Drum discusses over on his site, the middle-class are getting the shaft as well.

Meanwhile, in Iraq...

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 4:29 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.

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

| Fri Jul. 21, 2006 4:08 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 3:41 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.