Political MoJo

Another Democratic Election Agenda?

| Thu Jul. 27, 2006 3:06 PM EDT

Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't the Democrats already laid out an election agenda? They unveiled the grammatically implausible "Together, America Can Do Better" slogan last October, and that was fun. And then back in May the Post found the Democrats announcing that they would "raise the minimum wage, roll back parts of the Republican prescription drug law, implement homeland security measures and reinstate lapsed budget deficit controls" if they get elected this fall. That sounds like an agenda to me.

But now the AP's reporting that today is really the day that House and Senate Democrats are laying out their election agenda, which includes pushing for a minimum wage hike and pressing for "tough, smart" national security. The latter sounds dubious to me; at the moment, Democrats have decided to back Israel to the hilt in its offensive against Lebanon, supporting a war that is neither tough nor smart. Odds are that a Democratic foreign policy will entail some version of "progressive realism," meaning that the U.S. will still meddle abroad and tell other countries what's best for them, but it will all be marginally more competent than the Bush administration's catastrophic foreign policy. Sounds exciting.

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U.S. Stem Cell Research Falling Way Behind

| Thu Jul. 27, 2006 2:47 PM EDT

USA Today -- which has been excellent on the stem cell debate -- reports today that researchers from top U.S. institutions are (surprise!) stymied in their research efforts by inadequate funding. The piece cites an April article in Nature Biotechnology that found U.S. embryonic stem-cell research papers dropped from 36 percent of all such publications in 2001 to 26 percent in 2004. Says the lead author:

"We probably can expect this veto to make closing the gap we documented in our study more of a challenge to U.S. researchers. It wouldn't be surprising if we see more U.S. human embryonic stem-cell researchers, including some of the top researchers, moving abroad."

The journal reported that this month 15 percent of stem-cell "principal investigators" had received job offers overseas, a rate more than five times higher than for other biologists. In 2004, American biologists put out only 20 studies on stem cell research, half the number published by their colleagues outside the U.S.

Exxon Posts $10 Billion Quarterly Profit

| Thu Jul. 27, 2006 2:28 PM EDT

Reuters: Shares of Exxon-Mobil have jumped to an all-time high on word that the company posted a quarterly profit of more than $10 billion (a 36 percent jump), thanks largely to high oil prices. Tyson Slocum, Public Citizen's energy guy, told the Institute for Public Accuracy: "We're getting so little bang for our buck. In Europe, they do pay more for gas, but much of it is made up of taxes that subsidize mass transit, so they're getting something very tangible for their money. We don't get anything like that for the prices we're paying. We need to tax these windfall profits that companies like Exxon are posting and make investments into getting off our oil addiction."

Expect Exxon, rather, to spend some of this bounty on its strenuous PR effort to deny the reality of global warming, as documented by Chris Mooney in Mother Jones.

(And see here for an interactive chart of 40 Exxon-funded public policy groups that seek to undermine the scientific consensus that humans are causing the earth to overheat.)

Update: War in the Middle East

| Thu Jul. 27, 2006 1:03 PM EDT

La Solitude du Liban: Excerpts from Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's emotional speech behind closed doors at the international conference at Rome yesterday: "what future other than one of fear, frustration, financial ruin and fanaticism can stem from the rubble? ... Is the value of human life less in Lebanon than that of citizens elsewhere? Are we children of a lesser God? Is an Israeli teardrop worth more than a drop of Lebanese blood? ... Can the international community continue to stand by while such callous retribution by the state of Israel is inflicted upon us? ... Is this what is called legitimate self-defence?" Siniora also said that Israel had a right of self-defence after the Hezbollah militia captured two of its soldiers earlier in July, launching the offensive.

Roundup: War in the Middle East

| Thu Jul. 27, 2006 9:57 AM EDT

July 27, 2006

Israel's Scorched Earth Policy: Justice Minister Haim Ramon said that to protect his nation's soldiers, villages in southern Lebanon will be destroyed from the air before troops go in. Civilians in southern Lebanon had been given plenty of time to get out, said Ramon. And so, "All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah."

Shoot Them All: Israeli soldiers at the front lay down the line: "Over here, everybody is the army," one soldier said. "Everybody is Hezbollah. There's no kids, women, nothing." Another soldier put it plainly: "We're going to shoot anything we see."

Zbigniew Brzezinksi on the war: The former national security advisor said, "I hate to say this but I will say it. I think what the Israelis are doing today, for example, in Lebanon is in effect, in effect -- maybe not in intent -- the killing of hostages. The killing of hostages."

McKinney in Big Trouble: Pro-Israel political groups in the US are rushing financial aid to former DeKalb County, Georgia, Commissioner Hank Johnson -- an African American candidate in the Democratic primary runoff race for Congress. He is pitted against incumbent Cynthia McKinney, who is fighting to stay in office. McKinney is backed by out of state pro-Arab and Muslim groups, according to the Forward, the independent New York paper which follows Jewish affairs.

"After learning of McKinney's unexpected runoff, several of the country's largest pro-Israel political action committees are rushing to make contributions, with an eye toward arming Johnson with sufficient cash to purchase valuable television and radio advertising," according to the Forward.

Think the Bush Administration Will Respect the Geneva Conventions Now?

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 9:17 PM EDT


Don't count on it. The guy with the club and the hood explains... (Click on the picture.)

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There's no place like home, especially if it's Kansas

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 8:21 PM EDT

Almost every time I read a piece of news Pam Spaulding has dug up, my mouth, as the song goes, drops open like a country pond. Posting at Pandagon, Pam tells about a 12-year-old Kansas boy who visited the Oz Museum and bought a souvenir, a rainbow-colored flag. "Over the Rainbow" is, of course, from the film, The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland is said to have once remarked to a woman in a nightclub ladies' room, "Lady, I've got rainbows up my ass," a sentiment that is being felt in Meade, Kansas right now, for all the wrong reasons.

The boy's father, J.R. Knight, who owns the Lakeway Hotel, a bed and breakfast, in Meade, hung the flag on the outside his b&b, next to the American flag. Everything went fine until the local newspaper reported that a gay flag was hanging outside the Lakeway.

The first problem with this tale is that the local people did not know that there was such a thing as a rainbow flag until they read about it in the newspaper. So much for diversity education. But once they found out about it, they got busy running their mouths off, and how.

It turns out that the newspaper reporter didn't bother to call Knight and ask him about the flag. So much for journalism. The local radio station called him, though, to tell him it was removing the hotel restaurant's commercial spots if the flag didn't come down. A local pastor told him that what he had done was equivalent to hanging a pair of women's panties on a flag pole, which just goes to show you, these people are thinking about sex a lot. Another man said: "To me it's just like running up a Nazi flag in a Jewish neighborhood. I can't walk into that establishment with that flag flying because to me that's saying that I support what the flag stands for and I don't." Right--because we all know there are no gay or bisexual people or people who support them in Kansas. And certainly not in Meade.

Knight says that he is glad for the flag to be seen as a gay pride symbol or anything else.

Civil War in Iraq? Don't Ask Rumsfeld

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 7:47 PM EDT

Well, okay. In the post below I noted that it appeared that it's perhaps begun to dawn on the Bush administration that there's actually a very serious sectarian civil war going on in Iraq. Maybe I should take that back. Here was Donald Rumsfeld yesterday:

Q: Is the country closer to a civil war?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. You know, I thought about that last night, and just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it. If you think of our Civil War, this is really very different. If you think of civil wars in other countries, this is really quite different. There is -- there is a good deal of violence in Baghdad and two or three other provinces, and yet in 14 other provinces there's very little violence or numbers of incidents.

So it's a -- it's a highly concentrated thing. It clearly is being stimulated by people who would like to have what could be characterized as a civil war and win it, but I'm not going to be the one to decide if, when or at all.This is disgraceful. Obviously a civil war in Iraq won't look like the 19th-century American Civil War, with armies lining up on both sides with rifles and bayonets and cannons. Thanks for the clarification. But 14,000 Iraqis have died this year already due to violence, much of it sectarian. If Rumsfeld doesn't want to call it a "civil war"—although that's what many prominent Iraqis are calling it—he could at least acknowledge the problem. But no, instead we hear that the violence is "limited" to "Baghdad and two or three other provinces"? Okay, but over a fifth of the population lives in Baghdad. It's a huge problem. And the Secretary of Defense appears completely oblivious.

Meanwhile, the newest "new" plan to secure Baghdad looks a lot like the previous "new" plan to secure Baghdad. So that should inspire confidence.

Has Bush Acknowledged the Civil War in Iraq?

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 7:25 PM EDT

Dan Froomkin observes today that the Bush administration has finally realized that there's a very bloody and very frightening civil war going on in Iraq, and that U.S. troops need to change their strategy:

[I]t's a historic admission: That job one for many American troops in Iraq is no longer fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, or even insurgents. Rather, it is trying to quell an incipient -- if not already raging -- sectarian civil war, with Baghdad as ground zero.

Arguably, that's been the case for quite a while. But having the White House own up to it is a very big deal.No, kidding. The thing is: Can American troops actually "quell" the civil war? Can they stop Sunnis from killing Shiites and Shiites from killing Sunnis and all the rest? Is that even possible? They haven't been able to so far. At this point, it's looking more and more like 130,000 U.S. soldiers are going to be stuck in the middle of a bloodbath they're powerless to stop.

Indeed, yesterday, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of a major Shiite party, called on Shiite citizens to start attacking Sunnis. The entire country is rapidly disintegrating, and if U.S. troops can't do anything about it, then keeping them in Iraq serves no purpose except putting them in extremely grave danger.

Americans Not Pleased With Bush's Stem Cell Veto

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 4:51 PM EDT

In a USA Today/Gallup Poll taken two days after Bush vetoed HR 810, a bill that would have opened up federal funding for embryonic stemcell research, the President's approval rating dropped to 37 percent (down 3 points from two weeks earlier).

It also found that just 36 percent agreed with Bush's decision to veto the bill, while 58 percent disapproved.

Confronted with these numbers, White House Deputy Press Secretary Ken Lisaius yesterday responded thusly:

"The president does not make policy decisions based on polling numbers. ... He vetoed the legislation because it would provide federal tax dollars to fund the present and future destruction of human life for research."

A third of those polled said Bush vetoed the bill for for political gain, by the way. But what of the inestimable gain to those suffering from diseases that stem cell research has the potential to mitigate or cure? Bush's decision limits stem cell research to only the 22 lines in existence before Bush's ban five years ago. To put this in perspective, just 3 percent of the half million embryos currently in storage could create up to 275 new lines, keeping research labs busy for decades to come.

Several states have taken matters into their own hands — Maryland, Massachusetts and Connecticut have all allocated funds. However, New Jersey and Illinois are currently the only states doing actual research on new embryonic stem cell lines. In California, where voters approved $3 billion in 2004 for funding of ESCR, not a penny has gone to research -- thanks to James Dobson's Focus on the Family, an affiliate of which has the state locked in a court battle. Last year, Dobson likened embryonic stem cell research to Nazi eugenics experiments conducted on live humans.