Saturday, March 31, 2007

Notes from the IPCC: The price of global warming

Scientist: Warming Will End Some Species

Animal and plant life in the Arctic and Antarctic is undergoing substantial change, scientists say. Rising sea levels elsewhere are damaging coastal wetlands. Warmer waters are bleaching and killing coral reefs, pushing marine species toward the poles, reducing fish populations in African lakes, research finds.

"Hundreds of species have already changed their ranges, and ecosystems are being disrupted," said University of Michigan ecologist Rosina Bierbaum, former head of the U.S. IPCC delegation. "It is clear that a number of species are going to be lost."

The IPCC draft estimates that if temperatures rise approximately 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit more, one-third of species will be lost from their current range, either moved elsewhere or vanished.
The article goes on to provide examples of species already being stressed by our warming climate.

New advances in the fight against breast cancer

A Better Breast Cancer Detector

Mammography is still the gold standard for the early detection of breast cancer, but it's far from perfect: The technique misses up to 20% of breast cancers. Soon, it may get a bit of help. Researchers reported here today at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society that they've developed a pair of compounds that help spot the build up of tiny mineral deposits, a hallmark of breast cancer. If the compounds prove safe and effective in humans, they could prove a boon for combating a disease that afflicts 1 in 8 of women in the United States at some point in their lives

Afghan army scores a victory in the Helmand district

Taliban flee Afghan-led Nato offensive

By Tom Coghlan in Nad Ali, Helmand

Afghan army forces and police have now purged the Nad Ali district of Helmand of 400 Taliban fighters, following a series of chaotic battles.

Allied commanders estimated 70 Taliban fighters were killed in the fighting, while many others fled or gave up their weapons.

The operation, which began last week during the Persian new year celebrations of Nawruz, involved 400 Afghan security personnel, the biggest Afghan-led sweep yet in the Nato offensive in Helmand.

Crucially, it was also backed by local militias, whose commanders had sworn to remove the Taliban from their land.

The Afghan army soldiers patrolling through the fields of Nad Ali also boast new helmets, flak jackets and weapons - the first signs of a $2 billion US aid package designed to turn a ragtag force with an acute desertion problem into an army that would allow Western troops to begin pulling out. Another $6.2 billion is promised to the corrupt and widely mistrusted Afghan police force.

However, a senior provincial leader warned that the militia "must be controlled". "These are all Sher Mohammed Akhundzada's men," he explained.

Akhundzada was provincial governor of Helmand until British pressure caused him to be removed in December. British counter-narcotics officials are certain he was a key figure in the province's drugs trade.

h/t Afghanistan Watch

Battles raging among factions in Waziristan

Pakistan fights near Afghanistan kill 52

Fighting between local and foreign militants Friday killed 52 people in a conflict between Pakistanis and suspected al-Qaida-linked extremists.

Since fighting began last week, 213 people have been killed, including 177 Uzbeks and their local allies, [Pakistani Interior Minister] Sherpao told The Associated Press.

The minister said the conflict intensified Friday after foreigners failed to comply with an ultimatum from tribal elders to leave their territory. Security officials said tribal militias had fired rockets at the hideouts of the foreigners in several locations.

South Waziristan is generally off-limits to journalists, making it hard to verify reports of the fighting.

[T]he government has claimed that the violence in South Waziristan vindicates its policy of using traditional leaders, and not the army, to combat militancy along the border.

Some analysts, however, say militants with links to Taliban and al-Qaida are involved on both sides of the current conflict, which also pits local tribes against each other, and that blood feuds could deepen insecurity in a region viewed as a possible hiding place for Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.

Guantanamo tribunal continues to be run like a Kangaroo Court

The credibility of the military tribunal system set up at Guantanamo Bay has sunk so low that they're now offering reduced sentences as a reward for promises of silence.
David Hicks will be out of jail on New Year's Eve after an extraordinary plea bargain that meant whatever jail term he was given, he would serve only nine months.

He won the shorter term in a pre-sentence deal that appears to ensure his silence until after the Australian federal election.

After more than five years in custody in Guantanamo Bay, he will be back in Australia before the end of May to serve the balance of his term.

He will remain in jail until after the election, due by the end of this year.

In return [for his reduced sentence], he made concessions, including agreeing not to talk to the media for a year. He also promised not to allege mistreatment in US custody, despite earlier claims that he was abused.

The ban on talking to the media appears to have been suggested by the Australian Government, as it would be unconstitutional in the US.

"It is clearly a political fix arranged between Mr Howard and the Bush administration to shut up Hicks until after the election in November," Senator Brown said.
h/t Shaun Mullen

Friday, March 30, 2007

Science loses to property at the Interior Department

Landowner Issues Trumped Animal Protections, IG Says

A senior Bush political appointee at the Interior Department has repeatedly altered scientific field reports to minimize protections for imperiled species and disclosed confidential information to private groups seeking to affect policy decisions, the department's inspector general concluded.

The report also said MacDonald "misused her position" by disclosing confidential documents to "private sector sources" such as the Pacific Legal Foundation and the California Farm Bureau Federation, both of which have challenged endangered-species listings.

MacDonald acknowledged to Devaney that the policy document would not have been released under a Freedom of Information Act request but "said that did not mean she could not release it to a personal friend, the PLF attorney, as long as the attorney would not post the document on the PLF's Web site."

In the Bush administration, it's all about who you know. MacDonald had no problem denying confidential information to the public under FOIA requests. But felt it was completely acceptable to give it to a personal friend with a financial stake in the outcome. Maybe this is what got Libby in trouble.

h/t CarpetBaggerReport

Giuliani backed Kerik despite suspected Mob ties

Testimony by Giuliani Indicates He Was Briefed on Kerik in ’00

Rudolph W. Giuliani told a grand jury that his former chief investigator remembered having briefed him on some aspects of Bernard B. Kerik’s relationship with a company suspected of ties to organized crime before Mr. Kerik’s appointment as New York City police commissioner, according to court records.

Mr. Giuliani had previously said that he had never been told of Mr. Kerik’s entanglement with the company before promoting him to the police job or later supporting his failed bid to be the nation’s homeland security secretary.
Giuliani goes on to say that he remembered "close to nothing" about the background investigation, suggesting that the city investigators didn't stress that a candidate's relationship with indicted criminals might be a problem.

This goes straight to Giuliani’s credibility on national security - which is the number one reason his voters support him.

It’s bad enough that he chose a man with Mob ties to lead the NYPD. I’d never heard that he had actually been warned about it beforehand. It’s simply unbelievable that he wouldn’t remember that. He should have either removed Kerik from contention or investigated the charge more thoroughly to exculpate him.

Kerik would’ve been Secretary of Homeland Security if Rudy had had his way. His problems were flagged so fast that the Bush administration pulled his name immediately.

Bush disinterested in compromise - should Congress cave in?

The editors at the Chicago Tribune scold the Democrats for including deadlines in their latest legislation:
President Bush appears disinterested in compromise, arguing that "members of Congress need to stop making political statements," and pass a war funding bill he can sign.
The president is disinterested in compromise. The Democrats are disinterested in giving him a blank check. The Trib editors think that means that Congress must capitulate completely - which is what got us into this mess in the first place.
Lawmakers could have attempted to shut off funding for the war, but they didn't. So now they have a duty, just as important, to the tens of thousands of soldiers who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan: Pass a spending bill the president will sign.
The Democrats are shutting off funding. They're letting the President know that this is the end of perpetual emergency supplements. They're also giving him time to create a strategy around the final date. Why the Trib thinks it would be better for American soldiers if we cut off funding instantly is beyond me.
The president vows to veto legislation that dictates any deadlines. And neither the House nor the Senate is likely to muster the votes for an override. That leaves what? A stalemate? A constitutional crisis? An opening for a compromise, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has suggested?
Actually, it leaves President Bush with no money to continue his surge. He will have effectively cut off funding himself - which is what you seem to have wanted in the paragraph above.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Planets are at least as common around binary stars as around single stars.

NASA Telescope Finds Planets Thrive Around Stellar Twins

Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have observed that planetary systems – dusty disks of asteroids, comets and possibly planets – are at least as abundant in twin-star systems as they are in those, like our own, with only one star. Since more than half of all stars are twins, or binaries, the finding suggests the universe is packed with planets that have two suns. Sunsets on some of those worlds would resemble the ones on Luke Skywalker's planet, Tatooine, where two fiery balls dip below the horizon one by one.

An unprecedented election

From Steve Clemons' site. Jim Lehrer makes what could be the smartest call on the 2008 election:
Jim Lehrer said that prognosticators on the election were all going to be wrong. He said that this election was unprecedented and that there was no conventional wisdom to rely on.

The Taliban continues its attacks in Southern Afghanistan

AFP - Taliban fighters attacked police posts in southern Afghanistan provincial capitals overnight, sparking battles that left seven rebels and two policemen dead, police said Saturday.

Taliban militants have stepped up their attacks in the past weeks although military officials reject the rebels' talk of a "spring offensive" as propaganda.

The ambush on the supply convoy Friday was the biggest of such attacks, which occur regularly but usually result in few or no deaths or trucks being set alight.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Who will take over if Musharraf falls?

Musharraf’s Faltering Grip

A few weeks after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suspended Iftikar Chaudhry, Pakistan’s chief justice, demonstrations boil on around the country. Protesters accuse the president of violating the constitution in order to silence the judge who questioned his authority, though Gen. Musharraf denies the claims, saying “there is a conspiracy against me”. At the same time, the Supreme Court demanded the government provide information about some four hundred people who’ve vanished into police custody since Pakistan allied itself with the United States in 2001.

Musharraf indefinitely removed Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry from office for abuse of power, but opponents claim the move was aimed at silencing an outspoken judge before a series of election-year cases challenging the president's authority.

The chief justice ... took up cases of "forced disappearances" — people believed to have been picked up by the country's powerful intelligence agencies without due process of law.

Human rights groups have expressed concern over the disappearance of at least 400 people in that manner since Pakistan joined the U.S.-led effort to curb terrorism in 2001.

The current state of Iraq

The government lacks dominance in every province, he added. One result is that "no Iraqi government official, coalition soldier, diplomat, reporter, foreign NGO [nongovernmental organization], nor contractor can walk the streets of Baghdad, nor Mosul, nor Kirkuk, nor Basra, nor Tikrit, nor Najaf, nor Ramadi, without heavily armed protection."

Neither Giuliani nor McCain will be the Republican nominee in 2008

From E&P:
Included in the Gallup survey for the first time, Thompson drew 12% of the vote. Rudy Giuliani gets 31% and Sen. John McCain 22%, according to the March 23-25 poll.

Giuliani has plunged 13% race with Thompson in the picture, with McCain holding steady.

But he still easily bests McCain in a one-on-one matchup.

Giuliani is dominating the current field. But it looks like Republicans are desperate for someone else. Despite the media's fascination with McCain the maverick and Giuliani the hero of 9/11, I'm betting neither is left standing 12 months from now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Deadlines remain in the Iraq funding bill

Joe Gandelman at TMV analyzes the latest in the Iraq war funding debate. The Senate voted narrowly (50-48) to keep a withdrawal timeline in the bill. Joe thinks it's a symbolic victory for the Democrats, that will likely be gone in the final bill.

The change will likely be more qualitative than quantitative: the Democrats clearly do not have the votes to override a Bush veto.

But Bush can't fund his own war. If he vetos the bill, he doesn't get his emergency funds. He's gambling that the Democrats will cave in in the end, that they won't allow the surge to go unfunded.

But time is against him. This war is getting more unpopular, the Democrats haven't suffered for their votes, polls suggest that nearly 60% of the public support leaving Iraq in the next year. Republicans are getting tired of the scandals and many want the war done before it costs them another election.

And the Pentagon says it needs the funds in weeks or the surge is over.

This was never supposed to get through the Senate. Republicans were widely expected to filibuster any timelines in the Senate bill. The fact that they could come up with 48 votes against the language, but didn't attempt to block it, is a red flag that they're preparing to bail out on this.

Joe Biden on the Bankruptcy Bill: he did it for the children

In 2005, Joe Biden, the Democratic Senator from Delaware (home the world's largest issuer of credit cards) was a central figure lobbying for passage of S.256 the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005.

This is the bill that stripped away many of the protections individuals had when falling into bankruptcy. Amendments to protect victims of identity theft, and those who fell into debt due to medical or natural catastrophes, and to provide homestead exemptions were all rejected.

Attempts to place restrictions and regulations on creditors, such as disclosure obligations, restrictions on predatory lending practices and limits on the amount of interest that could be charged were also rejected.

Despite the fact that this bill was written explicitly to the desires of the credit card industry, Joe Biden stood on the Senate floor and declared that this was a bill designed to protect women and their dependent children from deadbeat dads:
When a deadbeat dad files for bankruptcy under the current system, what happens to mom and the kids?

[A]fter she fights it out with the bill collectors? Well, under the current system, she might be lucky and get every dollar due. But, she may only get a portion of what is due or she may not get one red cent.

If a bankrupt household is a sinking ship, then women and children should be protected first. This is what the current law fails to do, but it is what this bill does: it puts women and children first.

This bill not only lifts the stay on support payments during bankruptcy, but it adds that, when a wife-beater files for bankruptcy, a domestic violence restraining order against him must remain in effect. It cannot be stayed. And the woman who needs a restraining order against him can still get one.

[Under current law] they send a woman in fear for her life off to a federal bankruptcy court to lift the Code's automatic stay by filing a special motion. Unbelievable.

If you think this is fair, if you prefer this state of affairs, then I guess you will vote against this bill. Personally, I am proud of this bill, and I wish that those who are fabricating wild claims about it would stop. If they have their way, the women and children in this country who depend on alimony and child support will be robbed of real protections.
Vote for the bill, or allow deadbeat dads to beat their ex-wives. The choice is yours.

And that is the reason Joe Biden will never be President.

Guilt by suspicion

Ordinary Customers Flagged as Terrorists

The Office of Foreign Asset Control's list of "specially designated nationals" has long been used by banks and other financial institutions to block financial transactions of drug dealers and other criminals. But an executive order issued by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has expanded the list and its consequences in unforeseen ways. Businesses have used it to screen applicants for home and car loans, apartments and even exercise equipment, according to interviews and a report by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area to be issued today.

"The way in which the list is being used goes far beyond contexts in which it has a link to national security," said Shirin Sinnar, the report's author. "The government is effectively conscripting private businesses into the war on terrorism but doing so without making sure that businesses don't trample on individual rights."

U.S. customers have had transactions denied or delayed because their names were a partial match with a name on the list, which runs more than 250 pages and includes 3,300 groups and individuals.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Iranian and coalition forces have had several skirmishes

According to a report in USNews, the recent skirmish between British sailors and Iranian forces is only the most recent confrontation between the Iranians and the coalition.
Exclusive: Iranians Had Showdown With U.S. Forces

According to a U.S. Army report out of Iraq obtained by U.S. News, American troops, acting as advisers for Iraqi border guards, were recently surrounded and attacked by a larger unit of Iranian soldiers, well within the border of Iraq.

It is possible that Iranians thought they were in Iranian territory, according to U.S. military officials. Such border confusions and disputes happen routinely.

Hillary Clinton and the Bankruptcy Bill of 2005

Garance Franke-Ruta is waging a fairly lonely crusade in defense of Hillary Clinton at the Prospect site. Most of the comments concern Hillary's attempts to triangulate, including her vote for the Iraq war and her flag burning legislation, but one of the comments repeats a common misperception that she supported the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill.

Some of the confusion seems to come from this recent PBS interview between Maria Hinojosa and Elizabeth Warren (a bankruptcy expert):
HINOJOSA: There's a story that I wanna share with our listeners that you actually shared when you were on Now—on our TV program and it's a fascinating story about Hillary Clinton. You said that when the credit card companies were pushing for legislation to tighten the bankruptcy laws, and this is when President Clinton was in office you were summoned by Hillary Clinton to discuss this legislation. And you sat down with her in this back room and you filled her in on what this new bankruptcy law was gonna mean.

And she at that moment said, "Oh my God. We have to stop this law. It's not gonna happen." It gets passed in Congress and Bill Clinton, because of Hillary's conversation with you more or less, vetoes that bill. Now we fast forward to Senator Hillary Clinton, bankruptcy law comes for a vote and she votes for it?

Reading that excerpt of the transcript, it's easy to assume that Warren is confirming that Hillary Clinton voted for the bankruptcy bill (S.256) which stripped protections for people in debt.

In fact, Hillary Clinton was the sole Senator not voting on the bill. This was pointed out incriminatingly by Jackson Williams at the Huffington post.
Speaking of profiles in courage, the bankruptcy bill passed the senate by a vote of 74-25. You'll notice that adds up to 99 senators. So who happened to be the one senator absent that day? Why, Hillary Clinton, the wife of the man who twice vetoed that turkey
But in fact it was also clarified by Elizabeth Warren in the PBS interview cited above:
WARREN: Mrs. Clinton, in a much more secure position—as Senator a couple of years later—when the bill came up once again—Senator Clinton was not there—the day of the vote. It was the day that President Clinton, you may remember, had heart surgery. But she issued a very strong press release condemning the bill and I assume if she had been there that she would have voted against it.
From Senator Clinton's official statement on the bill:
This bankruptcy bill fundamentally fails to accord with the traditional purposes of bankruptcy, which recognize that we are all better off when hard-working people who have suffered financial catastrophe get a "fresh start" and a second chance to become productive and contributing members of society. With the passage of this legislation, which makes obtaining this fresh start more expensive and more difficult, we are ensuring that many responsible Americans will continue to be buried under mountains of debt, and unable to take back control and responsibility for their lives.
In the days before S.256 was finally brought to the floor Senator Clinton voted for every amendment which would have added consumer protections to the bankruptcy bill. Amendments which were repeatedly rejected by both the Republican majority and far too many Democrats. She even voted against cloture in an attempt to keep the final bill from coming to a vote at all.

For the record:

Barack Obama and Chris Dodd voted against the final bill.

Dennis Kucinich voted against the House version.

Joe Biden voted for it.
In fact he championed it in the Senate, which is why he's far less likely to get progressive support than Hillary is.

The Republicans (including John McCain, Sam Brownback, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul) were unanimous in their support for the legislation.

Note: this post was written about the Bankruptcy Bill of 2005 (S.256) which became law, not the earlier Bankruptcy Bill of 2001 (S.420) which did not.

Several commentors correctly noted that Hillary Clinton supported the earlier bill (although she voted for amendments adding consumer protections in that bill as well). She wasn't the only Democrat to change her position (voting for the 2001 bill and against the 2005 bill) and I'm not qualified to compare the differences between them.

However, several articles have discussed her change of position, including this recent article in the NYTimes.

For what it's worth, Democratic Senators Akaka, Cantwell, Dorgan, Feinstein, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Mikulski, Murray, Nelson (Fl), Schumer and Wyden switched in the same direction as Clinton. John Edwards, who also voted for the 2001 bill, suggested he would have switched his vote as well.

Republican Senators Brownback and Hutchinson switched from voting against the bill in 2001 to voting for it in 2005.

Friday, March 23, 2007

In which another Washington columnist completely misses the point

I'm continually astounded by the ability of the political media to completely miss the point of the current US Attorneys scandal.

It's not about George Bush's right to hire people to his liking. It's about our right to be sure those people are both capable of doing the job and independent in how they prosecute cases.

Citing David Brooks, Michael Kinsley argues that some of the attorneys were fired for "good" political reasons while others were fired for "bad" political reasons.
[H]e nails a distinction that I, at least, was struggling with. Brooks’s distinction is between two different conceptions of the word “political.” Or rather, like most nice clear distinctions, there actually is a spectrum of meaning.
The idea that a man could work for decades on the political beat and not be aware of the spectrum of meanings for the word "political" is simply baffling to me.

But aside from that, we constantly see this myopic focus on George Bush's right to hire and fire attorneys whenever he pleases.

He doesn't have the right hire to anyone he wants. He has the right to nominate anyone he wants.
"If Karl Rove had gotten his way and Bush had fired all 93 US Attorneys at the beginning of his second term would you actually have shrugged it off as no big deal?"
First of all, they did fire all the attorneys at the start of their first term.

But the central point here is that they wanted to replace attorneys who had gone through the Senate confirmation process with others who were loyal to the president alone.

All this concern about the president's right to name and dismiss attorneys at his own pleasure, ignores the fact that these officials are also supposed to be accountable to the public at large.

So, no. I wouldn't have shrugged it off.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ezra Klein points out that Bush is threatening to use his second-ever veto on the bill to prevent Washington D.C. from getting Congressional representation.

But Bush is always issuing veto threats. I think its time the Congress started forcing him to make good on them.
Let him veto representation for DC.
Let him veto a plan to end the Iraq war.
Let him veto open-government legislation.
Let him veto the minimum wage increase.
Let him veto the anti-terror bill over worker's rights.
Let him veto stem-cell research, again.
Let him veto drug price negotiation.
Nothing defines the political parties better than the lines each will draw in the sand. These are all substantive issues that should be fought out and publicly debated. A battle with the president over real policies would be a refreshing change from all the nonsense culture war rhetoric that dominated the last few election cycles. Even if they lose, they can point to those issues and say, "this is what Democratic leadership would bring you"

That's a winning strategy for 2008.

Rudy Giuliani defines freedom

It's been getting around the internet a bit. But it's still a fundamental insight into the man who would be king.

We see only the oppressive side of authority. Maybe it comes out of our history and our background. What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.

Scientists teach mice to see in color

From Nature:
Simply by inserting a piece of DNA that codes for a human eye pigment into the genome of a mouse,scientists have introduced a rainbow array of colour to the dull mix of yellows, blues and greys that normally make up a mouse's visual world.

This suggests that the mammalian brain is very flexible and can interpret signals not normally encountered. It also hints that just a single genetic mutation could have added reds and greens to the visual palette of our ancestors tens of millions of years ago.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

But seriously, what are the odds that John Yoo has had a brain injury

Study Finds Brain Injury Changes Moral Judgment

Damage to an area of the brain behind the forehead, inches behind the eyes, transforms the way people make moral judgments in life-or-death situations, scientists are reporting today. In a new study, people with this rare injury expressed increased willingness to kill or harm another person if doing so would save others' lives.

But a large difference in the participants’ decisions emerged when there was no switch to flip — when they had to choose between taking direct action to kill or harm someone (pushing him in front of the runaway boxcar, for example) and serving a greater good.

Those with ventromedial injuries were about twice as likely as the other participants to say they would push someone in front of the train (if that was the only option), or to poison someone with AIDS who was bent on infecting others, or suffocate a baby whose crying would reveal to enemy soldiers where the subject and family and friends were hiding.
John Yoo is the legal mind who wrote the famous torture memo for George Bush.
In Yoo's debate with Doug Cassel, the Notre Dame law professor asked: "If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?"

John Yoo: "No treaty."

Doug Cassel: "Also no law by Congress—that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo [while Yoo was a Justice Department attorney]."

John Yoo: "I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that."

Pakistan's peace agreement with the Taliban led to an increase in Afghan attacks

More from the AP:
More suicide bombers enter Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS - Suicide bombers are crossing the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan with increasing frequency, launching attacks directed against foreign military convoys with funding from abroad, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report to the Security Council on Tuesday.

Despite high losses during the past year, the Taliban insurgency appears to be "emboldened by their strategic successes, rather than disheartened by tactical failures" in Afghanistan, Ban said in the report.

The September 2006 peace agreement between Pakistan and pro-Taliban fighters in that country's North Waziristan region did not prevent the border area from being used as a staging ground for attacks on Afghanistan, Ban said. Instead, the agreement led to a 50 percent increase in security incidents involving insurgents in Afghanistan's Khost province and a 70 percent increase in Paktika province — both on the border — between September and November, he said.

Increasing violence in Afghanistan

Slow Progress on Security and Rights

More than 1,000 civilians were killed in 2006, many of them as a result of attacks by the Taliban and other anti-government forces in southern Afghanistan. In all, more than 4,400 Afghans died in conflict-related violence, twice as many as in 2005 and more than in any other year since the United States helped oust the Taliban in 2001. The United Nations estimated that the armed conflict displaced 15,000 families – about 80,000 people – in southern Afghanistan.

Violence against women increases in Iraq and Afghanistan

From the AP:
Women under attack in Iraq, Afghanistan

Women are facing increasing violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, especially when they speak out publicly to defend women's rights, a senior U.N. official told the U.N. Security Council.

"What UNIFEM is seeing on the ground — in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia — is that public space for women in these situations is shrinking," Heyzer said Thursday. "Women are becoming assassination targets when they dare defend women's rights in public decision-making."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hillary Clinton (2006): attempts to criminalize flag burning

In 2006, the Republicans tried to relive the culture wars that brought them victories in 2002 and 2004. Among the few pieces of legislation submitted during the shortest session in history, they revived the perennial attempt to criminalize destruction of the flag. Hillary Clinton sponsored legislation to make such acts illegal, but not to amend the constitution.
Senator Clinton and Liberals Split Over Flag Desecration
June 28, 2006

Perhaps even more than her stance on the war in Iraq, it is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's position on flag desecration that has drawn the scorn of the liberal Democratic base.

When Mrs. Clinton took a stand on the matter last year -- co-sponsoring legislation that would have criminalized the desecration of the American flag even as she opposed a constitutional amendment that sought to achieve the same end -- she was pilloried from the left. Editorial boards criticized her for political maneuvering, the political commentator Arianna Huffington attacked her for "stars, stripes and triangulation" and even some of her supporters quietly wondered why she had gone out on a limb on such a controversial issue.

[This] measure, brought to the floor by Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, failed, 64 to 36, minutes before the proposed amendment fell short of the 67 votes it needed.

The divergent views of her position reflect a broader rift in the Democratic Party over whether the key to electoral success rests in winning over centrists or by drawing clear distinctions with Republicans by staking out unapologetically liberal positions.

"What's politically pragmatic isn't always what's pleasing to the left," said Steve McMahon, a Democratic consultant. "But pragmatism is what wins elections for Democrats."

Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and a former presidential nominee, voted for the measure, which closely resembled past efforts to pre-empt an amendment to the Constitution. Democrats who voted for the measure in effect bought themselves the right to claim that they had voted against flag desecration, potentially inoculating themselves against possible charges of lacking patriotism in a general election campaign. The broader measure to amend the Constitution failed by a single vote, 66 to 34.
Most of the Senators who voted for amending the Constitution, voted against this measure. Only Russ Feingold voted against both.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Henry Waxman investigates the politicization of science

Science magazine reports on the Congressional investigation into the White House's propaganda campaign against climate science. Once again, we have a case where an industry insider, and lobbyist against global warming science, was allowed to oversee and edit government science reports for political ends.
Waxman and other representatives focused on changes made to drafts of three documents. Beginning in 2001, [the White House's Council on Environmental Quality] officials suggested 113 edits to the Administration's draft Strategic Plan of the Climate Change Science Program that Waxman says played down the role of human activities in global warming. Another 181 changes either exaggerated or emphasized scientific uncertainties, such as changing "will" to "may" in the draft sentence "Warming temperatures will also affect Arctic land areas."

Philip Cooney, a former oil industry lobbyist who was then chief of staff at CEQ, was asked to explain why he had made the changes. He said that many of his suggested revisions were based on a 2001 National Research Council report on climate change and were intended to "align these reports with the Administration's stated policy."

Cooney, now an official with ExxonMobil, made other changes to the 2003 annual report to Congress from the Climate Change Science Program and to a draft of the 2003 State of the Environment report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). E-mails show that EPA staff objected to the edits as "poorly representing the science," and the agency ultimately decided to omit the climate change section of the report. Waxman said he thought Cooney was "sowing doubt" on climate change.
The oversight committee has posted documents online. Among the edits made:

Original report:
Is the Earth's climate changing?

...suggest that the recent warming is unusual and that the 1990's are likely to have been the warmest decade in the past 1000 years for the Northern Hemisphere (Exhibit 18).
The Earth's climate has changed dramatically throughout history and will continue to change due to natural variability.

...suggest that the recent warming may be unusual.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

While the Americans patrol Sadr City, the Mahdi army moves on other fronts

McClatchy has an excellent, detailed report on the war within the war. The Mahdi army continues to pursue a strategy to purge Sunnis from the capital even as the U.S. military moves into Sadr city.
In Baghdad, Mahdi Army still targets Sunni neighborhoods

[I]nterviews with residents throughout the capital and a review of police reports shows that while violence may be down overall, the Mahdi Army continues its thrust into western Baghdad in what appears to be a drive to cut off Sunni neighborhoods in the west of the capital from Sunni neighborhoods to the south and southwest.

According to statistics that McClatchy Newspapers gathered from police officials, the number of unidentified bodies found in Baghdad has dropped dramatically, from an average of nearly 32 a day in December and early January to 14.25 since Feb. 15.

Nearly all those bodies were found in the neighborhoods of western Baghdad where residents report the Mahdi Army push.

At the end of last year, the Mahdi Army solidified its control in what had been mixed districts in northwest Baghdad, forcing the last 200 Sunni residents _ members of the Batta tribe _ from the Hurriyah neighborhood in early December. Witnesses to that battle say the militiamen burned Sunni homes, sometimes with the men still inside. Video of the final push has played repeatedly on Zawraa TV, a banned Iraqi station affiliated with Sunni insurgents that broadcasts via an Egyptian satellite.
The Mahdi army is apparently particularly targeting Sunnis in the neighborhoods of Amil and Jihad, assaulting mosques and burning homes. Both Sunni and Shiite residents are fleeing the violence.

Putin continues his assault on the press

Via Steve Clemons, Vladimir Putin continues to rebuild the Soviet State:
Putin sparks fear of web crackdown

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has decreed the creation of a new super-agency to regulate the country's media and the internet, sparking fears among journalists that a clampdown on the media could extend to the web, which until now has remained free.

Mr Putin this week signed off on a decree to merge two existing state agencies regulating the media into one super-agency that will issue licences to broadcasters and oversee the content of newspapers and websites.
This story follows the recent assassinations of Putin critics, including several journalists.

Friday, March 16, 2007

"There is going to be so much to hide"

In celebration of the House's recent action, passing 3 open-government bills, during "Sunshine Week"; I thought it would be interesting to see how things were being reported at the start of George Bush's attack on open records laws. Mere weeks after 9/11 the president used the specter of the terrorist threat to push through an executive order sealing presidential records and radically curtailing freedom of information requests. It's amazing to read this Washington Post article and realize that it foreshadowed so many of the scandals that would plague the president in the following 5 years:
Bush Clamping Down On Presidential Papers
Incumbent Could Lock Up Predecessor's Records

Thursday, November 1, 2001

The Bush White House has drafted an executive order that would usher in a new era of secrecy for presidential records and allow an incumbent president to withhold a former president's papers even if the former president wanted to make them public.

The five-page draft would also require members of the public seeking particular documents to show "at least a 'demonstrated, specific need' " for them before they would be considered for release.

Historians and others who have seen the proposed order called it unprecedented and said it would turn the 1978 Presidential Records Act on its head by allowing such materials to be kept secret "in perpetuity."
This may be the first record of the president signing an executive order for an unprecedented restriction on our rights. FOIA is inverted, the default position was that records would be open unless the government showed a specific need to classify them. Now classification is the default position.
Other critics voiced concern about the impact of the order "in the post-September 11 world," with its wartime atmosphere.

"The executive branch is moving heavily into the nether world of dirty tricks, very likely including directed assassinations overseas and other violations of American norms and the U.N. charter," said Vanderbilt University historian Hugh Graham. "There is going to be so much to hide."
Remember this is 2001: Americans still think that torture is a barbaric act done by evil people, habeas corpus is still a central element of our legal system, people who argue in defense of internment are considered racists, and Iraq is not on the minds of anyone other than the president and his cabinet.
Bush is expected to sign the order shortly. A White House aide said the Supreme Court held in 1977 that former presidents can continue to assert various privileges for their records and the order will simply establish "a procedure by which they can protect their rights." The aide said "great deference" will be paid to their wishes.
The government now works to protect the powerful. The presumption that our leaders are accountable to us is no longer in effect.
The proposed order, dated Oct. 29, grew out of a decision by the Bush administration early this year to block the release of 68,000 pages of confidential communications between President Ronald Reagan and his advisers that officials at the National Archives, including the Reagan library, had wanted to make public.
Proving that this law had nothing to do with national security, and that even the wishes of a Republican hero were unimportant. George Bush is the sole decider.
Relying on an obscure executive order that Reagan issued just before leaving office, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales prescribed a series of delays so that Bush could decide whether to invoke "a constitutionally based privilege or take other appropriate action."
Obscure executive orders, Alberto Gonzales devising delaying tactics, and the idea of presidential privilege all wrapped up in a single sentence.
The papers in question, some dealing with Reagan-era officials who now have high posts in the Bush administration, were to have been disclosed last January under the 1978 law, which said that the documents could be restricted at the most for 12 years after Reagan left office.
Hmmm, a conflict of interest here. Certainly, the president wouldn't pass such an act simply to avoid a little embarrassment. The man's at over 80% in the polls!
The new executive order would replace the 1989 Reagan decree and cover not only confidential communications between a president and his advisers but, as Graham put it, "almost anything in the White House files."
How did that "almost" get in there. Better call Alberto back.
For 12-year-old documents that are not covered by "constitutionally based privileges" but are subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, the order states that the archivist "must withhold" them if possible.
Must withhold anything despite the fact that FOIA declares these records are open and shall be made available to the public upon request - these are unclassified documents being discussed here.
For records that might be privileged as state secrets, confidential communications, attorney-client communications, or "deliberative process" materials, a requester must establish "specific need" for them "as a threshold matter."
There are the classified documents. I wonder if we could retroactively classify documents that are already public?
A former president would then review them and tell the archivist whether they should be withheld or made public. The incumbent president or a designee would then look at them to see if he or she agrees with the ex-president's decision. Unless both agree they should be made public, the records will remain secret unless "a final court order" should require disclosure.

George Bush sets some goals in Iraq

Iraqis’ Progress Lags Behind Pace Set by Bush Plan

In interviews this week, administration officials said that the military buildup intended to stabilize Baghdad and create the conditions for achieving the objectives would not be fully in place until June and that all of the objectives would not be fulfilled until the year’s end.

Four of the significant objectives are final approval of an oil law regulating distribution of oil revenues and foreign investment in the oil industry; reversal of the de-Baathification laws that are widely blamed for alienating Sunnis by driving them out of government ministries; the holding of local elections; and reform of Iraq's Constitution.
On the up side, this is one of the few times that the Bush administration has set down goals to be met in Iraq. The goals are pushed back from June to December, but at least it gives Americans some standard against which to measure progress.

On the down side, these are all goals to be met by the Iraqis. They are all goals that could have been met by the Americans before declaring Iraq a sovereign nation. And 2 of them (de-de-Baathification and reform of the Constitution) are reversals our original policies.

h/t TMV

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bill Richardson calls for an end to the ban on gays in the military

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson Calls for Repeal of US Military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Policy

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson today called on Congress to repeal the US Military's policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" regarding homosexuality.

"I do not believe that homosexuality is immoral, and I believe Congress should repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' I voted against it when I served in Congress. People should not be judged based on their sexual orientation. Throughout my entire career I have fought for equal rights and against discrimination of any kind.

This really does sum up the entire rationale behind Rudy Giuliani's candidacy

And it would make a pretty catchy bumper sticker:
When Giuliani Is President, Every Day Will Be 9/11

Isn't it unfair, though, to judge a man on how he behaved on 22,930 days of his life instead of the day he was at his best? Besides, Giuliani is not running on these other 22,930 days of his life, he's running on just this one day, and when Giuliani is President, every day will be 9/11.

Death squad murders drop as U.S. troops sweep through Sadr City

For U.S. and Sadr, Wary Cooperation

BAGHDAD -- U.S. troops are conducting security sweeps in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City for the first time in three years, part of a revamped plan to pacify the capital. Yet the Mahdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has not risen up to fight them, despite U.S. raids on militia members' homes and growing Sunni attacks on Shiites.

The absence of full-blown resistance against U.S. troops and the recent decline in the number of bodies found in the capital with signs of torture, usually attributed to the Mahdi Army, suggest that Sadr still controls the bulk of his forces, even as U.S. intelligence officials assert that his grip over the Mahdi Army is slipping.

Such murders have dropped by a third during the first month of the security plan, Fil said.

Sadr has other motives for allowing U.S. soldiers into Sadr City, U.S. military officials said. In recent months he has become increasingly concerned about his political and religious image, because the Mahdi Army has been linked to torture and other crimes. He has purged militiamen from his fold and threatened to excommunicate others.

U.S. intelligence officials say he is competing for authority with extremist figures inside the Mahdi Army who oppose his decision to join mainstream politics. By allowing U.S. forces to enter his stronghold and arrest his militiamen, Sadr appears to be ridding his army of rogue fighters. In the past six months, nearly 700 of the "real extremist elements" of the Mahdi Army have been taken into custody and detained, including those who have committed death squad killings, Caldwell said.

Remember this next time someone tells you to take Bush's word "in good faith"

In March 2006, at the request of the Bush administration, Arlen Specter included a "little known rider" to the Patriot Act renewal legislation. It allowed the President to name U.S. attorneys without Senate approval. Alberto Gonzales assured the Senate that, despite requesting this power, the Bush administration would never actually use it for political purposes.
In testimony on Jan. 18, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department had no intention of avoiding Senate input on the hiring of U.S. attorneys.

Just a month earlier, D. Kyle Sampson, who was then Gonzales's chief of staff, laid out a plan to do just that. In an e-mail, he detailed a strategy for evading Arkansas Democrats in installing Tim Griffin, a former GOP operative and protege of presidential adviser Karl Rove, as the U.S. attorney in Little Rock.

"We should gum this to death," Sampson wrote to a White House aide on Dec. 19. "[A]sk the senators to give Tim a chance . . . then we can tell them we'll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, evaluate the recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All of this should be done in 'good faith,' of course."
The fundamental point is this:
The president fired US attorneys who were Senate approved,

so that he could replace them with ones who weren’t.
That “little known line” in the Patriot Act didn’t get there by accident.

(The emails are online at the judiciary committee site and cross-posted at the NYT.)

Warner and Nelson embrace Lieberman's "6-months of silence" plan

When I first read it, I didn't see how this proposal was any different from Pelosi's resolution to start drawing down troops in October if progress wasn't being made.

But of course, it's completely different. Warner and Nelson don't want to even begin thinking about the war until another 6 months have passed. Then they'll ask Bush to reconsider his surge strategy.
Warner-Nelson Proposal Gives ‘Surge’ a Chance

Under a draft Iraq resolution by Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the Senate would ask President Bush to revise his plans for the war and consider a phased redeployment of U.S. troops — but only after giving the White House until at least September to prove the current “surge” strategy has worked, according to a draft obtained by Roll Call.
By September, another 20,000 Iraqis will have died in this war. Congress cannot sit on the sidelines while this disaster continues to unfold. Giving George Bush another 6 months to get it right, just plays into the his strategy of running out the clock on his term and leaving the mess for the next President.

These Senators also seem to be blind to the fact that if the situation continues to worsen, America could be forced out by the chaos, instead of leaving on our own terms.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ron Paul blames the Walter Reed scandal on a reckless foreign policy

The scandal at Walter Reed is not an isolated incident. It is directly related to our foreign policy of interventionism.

There is a pressing need to reassess our now widely accepted role as the world’s lone superpower. If we don’t, we are destined to reduce our nation to something far less powerful.

It has always been politically popular for politicians to promise they will keep us out of foreign wars, especially before World War I. That hasn’t changed, even though many in Washington today don’t understand it.

Likewise it has been popular to advocate ending prolonged and painful conflicts like the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and now Iraq.

In 2000, it was quite popular to condemn nation building and reject the policy of policing the world, in the wake of our involvement in Kosovo and Somalia. We were promised a more humble foreign policy.

Nobody wins elections by promising to take us to war. But once elected, many politicians greatly exaggerate the threat posed by a potential enemy-- and the people too often carelessly accept the dubious reasons given to justify wars. Opposition arises only when the true costs are felt here at home.

A foreign policy of interventionism costs so much money that we’re forced to close military bases in the U.S., even as we’re building them overseas. Interventionism is never good fiscal policy.

Interventionism symbolizes an attitude of looking outward, toward empire, while diminishing the importance of maintaining a constitutional republic.

Our policies naturally lead to resentment, which in turn leads to prolonged wars and increased casualties. We spend billions in Iraq, while bases like Walter Reed fall into disrepair. This undermines our ability to care for the thousands of wounded soldiers we should have anticipated, despite the rosy predictions that we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq.

This policy of interventionism is folly, and it cannot continue forever. It will end, either because we wake up or because we go broke.

President Bush attacks open records laws

E&P reports on the battle over government secrecy. The House overwhelmingly passed 3 bills which would open government records and protect whistleblowers from retribution. The Senate is following suit:
The measures, highlighting the media-led Sunshine Week, would force government to be more responsive to Freedom of Information Act requests, make contributions to presidential libraries public and overturn a 2001 presidential directive giving the president authority to keep his records from public view.

The White House issued a veto threat on the presidential records bill and voiced opposition to the FOIA legislation. It also said the president would veto a fourth bill the House is to debate later Wednesday on whistleblower protections. Democrats say the bills, several of which were also taken up in past Republican-led Congresses, were needed to shine light on what they say has been one of the most secretive administrations in decades.

Republicans hate taxes, but they love tolls

"No new taxes" is a mantra with Republicans, who believe that cutting taxes dramatically would create an economic miracle. In Texas this is particularly true; taxes to fund schools on a state-wide level are referred to as "Robin Hood" laws (and Robin Hood isn't a hero in Texas). Property taxes are reviled and the very idea of creating a state income tax is political suicide.

Roads and other services have to be paid for, however, and that means fees. Republicans love fees, and their latest pet idea is toll roads.
Should Texans have to pay to drive?

By 2030 the state's population is projected to rise by at least 40%, with most growth occurring in the big cities.

Toll roads are the answer, the state has decreed. In the past few months drivers have begun paying to use roads north of Austin. More will open later this year. Other free highways in central Texas could also be converted to tollways, including a popular route to the airport in Austin.
From someone who's lived in states with tolls; believe me, it's better to just pay the taxes up front. People are always fighting to keep taxes low.

Tolls are forever.

Britain plans to cut CO2 emissions by 60%

From The Independent:
The Government has become the first in the world to commit itself to legally binding reductions in carbon dioxide emissions but will come under strong pressure to agree to bigger cuts when its landmark Climate Change Bill goes though Parliament.

In a draft Bill published yesterday, ministers promised to enshrine into law their commitment to cut emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. Opposition parties and Labour MPs joined forces in calling for an 80 per cent reduction.

The Bill also sets an interim target of reducing emissions by between 26 per cent and 32 per cent by 2020. Legally binding five-year "carbon budgets" will be fixed 15 years ahead to keep it on course.
Critics of the bill argued that Britain should not make commitments until other nations agree to do the same, arguing the emerging economies in India and China will more than make up for the reductions of the UK.

Barack Obama's pastor doubts America is ready for a black president

The German magazine Spiegel International interviewed Barack Obama's minister, asking about how religion frames Barack's political views. In the end, though, he still believes America isn't ready to elect an African American.
SPIEGEL: Do you think he will be President in two years?

Wright: No. Unless Barak pulls off nationally what he was able to pull off locally, and wins the hearts and minds of people who have been perennially anti-black. Racism is so deeply ingrained in this country that he could be flawless in terms of his policies. But he's still a black man in this country, which has a sorry history in terms of how it sees African-American males. That's my 65-year-old, jaded perception of where this country is. I was pleasantly surprised in the Senate election. I would like to be as pleasantly surprised in the presidential election.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Ron Paul (R - Texas) declares his candidacy for President

Ron Paul officially declared his candidacy on C-SPAN today, arguing that the Republican party has gone in the wrong direction, becoming the party of big government.

Explaining that he initially got into politics to combat excessive spending and debt, he has lately become more involved in foreign policy. Having opposed the original vote for the war against Iraq, he now wants to cut funding and end the war, immediately, and also strongly opposes attacking Iran.

From his C-SPAN interview:
"In recent years I have become much more interested in foreign policy, for obvious reasons. I have always advocated a non-interventionist foreign policy, which is the traditional conservative, Republican, American position. We ought to mind our own business and take care of ourselves and provide for our national defense. Take the advice of the founders, that we shouldn't be involved in nation-building. Even our president, campaigned in the year 2000 on a humble foreign policy, no nation building, don't police the world, I really believed in that. And yet it's lost. All of a sudden we have one episode, one incident, and the American people are frightened by our leaders."
He also criticized federal efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

Paul derided the federal government handouts after the devastating storm and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's handling of the cleanup and aftermath.

A medical doctor, Paul has delivered more than 4,000 babies and is a pro-life candidate. He also supports medicinal marijuana and has argued for a repeal of America's drug war laws.

He opposes federal funding of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, and argues for a return to the gold standard.

Dick Cheney tells his critics to just shut up

Following in the footsteps of his fellow Iraq war architects Bill Kristol and Joe Lieberman; Dick Cheney accuses his critics of aiding our enemies, while simultaneously demanding a blank check for $100 billion.

But unlike Kristol and Lieberman, who are only asking us to shut up for the next 6-9 months, Cheney tells us to just shut-up, period.

Air pollution can create water shortages

Most Americans are now familiar with the idea that human activity is causing global warming. Nature reports that we may be impacting rainfall as well:
Pollution decreases rainfall

Air pollution is severely diminishing rainfall in Chinese mountains, researchers have found. The same effect is probably causing water shortages in many other highly polluted areas that depend on the nearby hills for their water.

Meteorologists have long assumed that pollution can suppress or delay this precipitation. Small particles known as aerosols are known to alter the size and properties of the water droplets that form in clouds, and can affect the weather in several ways. In some mountain ranges in the western United States, rainfall has decreased by 10-25% over the past 50 years. Tiny particles in air pollution are suspected to be the main cause, but a lack of data has hindered any robust testing of this notion.

Now, scientists have gathered enough data to quantify the effect. Daniel Rosenfeld, a meteorologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and his team used a 50-year record of continuous measurements made on top of Mt. Hua Shan, near Xi'an in central China, to show that orographic precipitation decreased by 30-50% when conditions were hazy. Overall, annual precipitation at Mt. Hua Shan decreased by around a third between 1970 and 2005, as pollution rose.

Barack Obama (2004): wins the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate

A short bio of Barack Obama, published in the New York Times after his surprise win of the Democratic nomination for Senator from Illinois:
As Quickly as Overnight, a Democratic Star Is Born

Overnight, Mr. Obama, a former civil rights lawyer, has become a treasured commodity in the Democratic Party nationally, in part because Democrats see the Illinois seat as one they may easily snatch back from Republicans in November, and in part because Mr. Obama would be the only black member of the Senate.

Mr. Obama grew up in Hawaii, raised mainly by his mother and his grandparents. He graduated from Columbia and Harvard Law, and was the first African-American president of The Harvard Law Review.

As a young adult, he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a community organizer in struggling neighborhoods, then as a civil rights lawyer in cases involving voting rights and employment discrimination. He and his wife, Michelle, have two young girls and live in Hyde Park, a South Side neighborhood. He lectures at the University of Chicago Law School.

In the State Senate, Mr. Obama has pressed to overhaul the Illinois death penalty system, to add more health care services for the poor, to expand early childhood education programs, to improve the state's system of juvenile justice and to create a state earned-income tax credit.

In 2000, Mr. Obama ran for the United States House, facing a Democratic incumbent, Representative Bobby L. Rush. Mr. Rush won the primary, and in this year's race supported Mr. Hull -- a sign, some here thought, that there would be a rift among black leadership in Chicago.

Few in the military approve of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq

From the Army Times:
An annual survey from the independent Military Times released earlier this year showed for the first time since the conflict began, a majority of troops disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war. The number of troops who believe the U.S. should have gone to war has dropped from 65 percent in 2003 to 41 percent today.

Just 35 percent of the military members polled approve of the way Bush has handled the war.

Most active-duty troops seem to know better than to publicly offer any personal assessments of the war without a shield of anonymity. Instead, they toe the company line with generic takes on the conflict and how the White House has handled it.
h/t ThinkProgress

Bill Richardson (1995): mediator in the case of Aung San Suu Kyi

From the archives of the New York Times, comes this story on Representative Richardson:
American Doubtful On Burmese Thaw

May 30, 1995

The American congressman who has become a key mediator in negotiating the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the dissident leader and Nobel Prize laureate, warned today there had been "major retrenchment on human rights and democratic initiatives" by the junta that runs Myanmar, formerly Burma.

The congressman, Representative Bill Richardson, Democrat of New Mexico, said he believed that the Burmese junta would continue to hold Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi after her detention order expires on July 11, more than six years after she was placed under house arrest in a crackdown on the democratic movement here.

"My meeting here could not have been more negative," Mr. Richardson said after a meeting with junta leaders. "My conclusion is that they will not release her."

In February 1994, Mr. Richardson and a group of American officials and a reporter became the first foreigners outside her family to meet with Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi since she was placed under house arrest. On his return to Myanmar this week, his request to meet her again was denied.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a democratic activist who opposed the military junta in Burma (Myanmar). Placed under house arrest in 1989, her party won the popular vote overwhelmingly in 1990. The military rulers refused to accept the results and she has been under varying degrees of house arrest ever since.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hillary Clinton outlines her vision in Selma speech

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had competing speeches on the anniversary of the historic civil rights march in Selma Alabama.
CIVIL RIGHTS: On the 42nd Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma
March 4, 2007

How can we rest while poverty and inequality continue to rise? How can we sleep, while 46 million of our fellow Americans do not have health insurance? How can we be satisfied, when the current economy brings too few jobs and too few wage increases and too much debt? How can we shrug our shoulders and say this is not about me, when too many of our children are ill-prepared in school for college and unable to afford it, if they wish to attend?

How can we say everything is fine when we have an energy policy whose prices are too high, who make us dependent on foreign governments that do not wish us well, and when we face the real threat of climate change, which is tinkering with God's creation?

How do we refuse to march when we have our young men and women in uniform in harm's way, and whether they come back, their government does not take care of them the way they deserve?

And how do we say that everything is fine, Bloody Sunday is for the history books, when over 96,000 of our citizens, the victims of Hurricane Katrina, are still living in trailers and mobile homes, which is a national disgrace to everything we stand for in America?
Hillary wouldn't win against Barack in a competition over speaking style, but that's a small part of being president. It is important to see these candidates start defining their vision of the future. She'll need to elaborate on exactly how she will address each of these problems if she hopes to keep ahead of Obama over the long run.

Of course, there is one Clinton who is known for his oratorical skill. Hillary will be following in the footsteps of Al Gore if she doesn't unleash that asset.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

From the news pages of Nature, we discover that Hollywood is barely keeping ahead of the latest breakthrough in science.
Wipe out a single memory

A single, specific memory has been wiped from the brains of rats, leaving other recollections intact.

LeDoux's team also confirms the idea that a part of the brain called the amygdala is central to this process - communication between neurons in this part of the brain usually increases when a fearful memory forms, but it decreases in the treated rats. This shows that the fearful memory is actually deleted, rather than simply breaking the link between the memory and a fearful response.

George Bush continues his adolescent diplomatic style

Following his usual practice, Bush refused to utter Chavez' name during a news conference with the president of Uruguay - or even explain why he wouldn't. The meeting and appearance before reporters with President Tabare Vazquez was held just across a river from a huge anti-Bush rally hosted Friday night by Chavez, who is answering the president's trek through Latin America with jeers of "Gringo go home" and other harsh comments.
Apparently, our president believes he can make his adversaries disappear by pretending they don't exist.

Rudy Giuliani (2001): arresting firefighters at ground zero

I'd forgotten about the cause of this dispute; Rudy Giuliani had grieving firefighters arrested at ground zero less than a 2 months after 9/11, during a fight over whether to continue looking for the remains of the fallen.

The firefighter's union had supported Rudy during both of his campaigns for Mayor.

From the NYT archives:
A NATION CHALLENGED: THE FIREFIGHTERS; Second Union Leader Is Charged With Trespassing in Demonstration at Ground Zero

November 5, 2001

The president of the union representing New York City's fire officers was charged with criminal trespass yesterday, a day after the leader of the city firefighters' union was arrested on the same charge. The police said both allegations stemmed from their roles in a firefighters' protest rally at the World Trade Center disaster site on Friday.

[T]he two labor officials insisted that they had broken no laws in leading the rally. They denounced their arrests as politically motivated tactics dictated by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in an increasingly bitter dispute over scaling back the number of recovery workers at ground zero.

Kevin E. Gallagher, president of the 9,000-member Uniformed Firefighters Association, also blamed the mayor after his arrest Saturday night. "The message the city is sending is that if you don't agree with what a union says, you simply arrest its president," Tom Butler, Mr. Gallagher's spokesman, said.

The arrest of two municipal union leaders was extraordinary. Union leaders have been arrested before -- notably Michael J. Quill, head of the transport workers, for calling an illegal transit strike in 1966. But criminal or civil actions against city union officials have nearly always arisen in the context of corruption or major labor confrontations.

The weekend arrests, however, came in a dispute over the size of the work force at ground zero, and after Friday's emotional protest by firefighters who contend that the cutbacks would turn the recovery of comrades' remains into a "scoop and dump" operation.

During Friday's demonstration, 12 firefighters were arrested on felony and misdemeanor charges, and five police officers were slightly injured in a brief scuffle. The charges were dropped or reduced on Saturday, and while anger lingered in firehouses, tempers seemed to cool as union leaders voiced regret over the scuffling.

"The mayor fails to realize that New York City is not a dictatorship, where if you don't like what a union is doing you can just go and lock up a union's president," the firefighters' union said. "The message being sent from City Hall is that if you don't agree with this administration, we will get you."

Captain Gorman, a firefighter for 28 years, called his arrest an outrage. "They're putting me through the system like I'm a thug," he said. He called the mayor a "fascist" and referred to Mr. Kerik and Mr. Von Essen as "Giuliani's goons."

Steven Rabinowitz, a lawyer for the fire officers association, said that Mr. Gorman had been ordered to report to a station house in Lower Manhattan or face arrest by detectives who would "hunt him down like a fugitive." He said there was no basis for the criminal trespass charge.

Mayor Giuliani was in Phoenix for the World Series.
Both Giuliani and Bernie Kerik took a hardline stance against the firemen, until public pressure forced them to back down.
And on Thursday, the mayor had again lashed out at the firefighters, calling union officials ''sinful'' for questioning the city's motives in making the staffing reductions at ground zero. The officials, who are still unhappy with the number of fire personnel at the site, have said that the change was an attempt to transform an effort to retrieve colleagues who had sacrificed their lives into a ''scoop and dump'' operation.
The union remains outraged at Giuliani, today.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Germany increases its commitment to the fight in Afghanistan

NATO has been calling for more forces to support the mission in Afghanistan as the Taliban become resurgent and rumors of a spring offensive are in the air.
German Parliament Approves Planes for Afghanistan

As expected, Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, voted on Friday to send six to eight Tornado reconnaissance jets to support NATO troops in Afghanistan.

The planes will be stationed at the German base at Masar-i-Scharif in northern Afghanistan. Germany will also be sending an additional 500 support personnel in a mission that has been authorized until the next time the Afghanistan mission comes up for review on October 13, 2007.

Germany currently has around 3,000 soldiers stationed with the NATO mission in Afghanistan -- known as ISAF -- but they are confined to the relatively peaceful region of northern Afghanistan. Germany has led the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the north, and has been very successful in building up infrastructure, schools and other municipal institutions.

Nevertheless, Germany has in the past come under fire from NATO officials for not helping out in the increasingly bloody fight in southern Afghanistan. Given the expected Taliban "spring offensive," the Tornados are a much-needed support for the US, Canadian, Dutch and other soldiers fighting in the south.
Although harshly attacked by Republicans for not backing the war in Iraq; countries like Germany, France and Canada have had troops in Afghanistan since the start of the conflict in 2001.

Reluctant diplomats forced to sit together

Will they shake hands?
By Zvi Bar'el

James Baker and Lee Hamilton can finally permit themselves to enjoy a small smile of satisfaction. Three months after President George W. Bush sourly praised the report they wrote, but rejected their recommendation to have Iran and Syria participate in the diplomatic process in Iraq, he has been forced to swallow some of this bitter medicine. This is also a big day for Colin Powell, Bush's former secretary of state, who pushed for a direct dialogue with Iran, but was rejected by the White House conservatives. Today, when all the rivals meet in Baghdad, the cameras will probably not focus on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, but on U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister.

Although the purpose of this conference is to deal with Iraq, the interesting and perhaps more important part will concern the relations between Iran and the United States. "Speaking with the enemy is part of world policy now, and I believe that normalization of relations with the U.S. can be useful," explained Ali Larijani, the chair of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, in a recent speech.
It would be ironic if the disaster in Iraq was the catalyst for an end to nearly 30 years of hostility between America and Iran. I'm not sure George Bush will want to take credit for that outcome, though.

How the world works

More cool science, from Nature:
Earth's magnetic field reversals mimicked in the lab

Every few hundred thousand years or so, the Earth's north and south magnetic poles switch places. No one knows what triggers these geomagnetic field reversals, but a team in France has now reproduced them in the lab.

When the disks were spun at equal but opposite rates, this field stayed constant. But if the rotation rates were different, the behaviour was more complex, says Stéphan Fauve, group leader at the École Normale Supérieure. "This means that there is overall rotation of the entire contents," he says, "which mimics the spinning of the Earth".

Under these conditions the magnetic field switches polarity apparently at random, typically every minute or so. It happens just as it happens to the Earth, with the field declining slowly to zero and then reappearing quickly in the opposite orientation.

John Edwards calls for an end to the ban on gays in the military

"It is long past time to end the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy and to allow openly gay men and women to serve in the military. It is critical to our national security that we have the best people in our military. Gay men and women have continually served our country with honor and bravery, and we should honor their commitment and never turn away anyone who is willing to serve their country because of their sexual orientation."

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Fixing the ozone layer also slowed global warming

From the pages of Science: The Montreal Protocol, designed to save the ozone layer from the harmful effects of CFC's, has had the unexpected benefit of preventing billions of tons of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere.
Dodging a Warming Bullet

What's good for the ozone layer has been even better for Earth's climate. According to a new study, a 20-year-old ban on ozone-depleting chemicals has been extremely effective at curbing greenhouse gases as well. In fact, it has already had more impact than a fully implemented Kyoto Protocol would have accomplished, even though the protocol was specifically designed to target atmospheric warming. The findings, say the authors, emphasize the importance of ridding the planet of these powerful greenhouse substances.

Policymakers, however, initially targeted these compounds not for their role in global warming but rather for their damage to the ozone layer

The rise in atmospheric concentrations of CFCs has been arrested, and the ozone layer has begun to show signs of recovery, to the point where scientists predict it will heal completely sometime after 2050.

Velders and colleagues calculate that since 1987, gradually shutting down CFC emissions has removed the equivalent of about 11 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By comparison, even if the Kyoto Protocol had been fully ratified it would have removed only about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide thus far.
It's pretty well agreed that by pumping increasing amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we're forcing rapid climate change. We likely don't know all the secondary effects that's causing. Solving one crisis helps solve the others. Instead of getting used to it, we need to act to stop it.

Wars are easiest at a distance

How to shorten wars
By Yossi Sarid

Bush, who has sent 150,000 soldiers to Iraq and about another 30,000 to Afghanistan, does not know a single one of them. His own family, his relatives and his acquaintances do not send candidates to the U.S. Armed Forces during its wars. Their children "kill themselves in the tents of Torah" in the most prestigious colleges. Although it is known that leaders all over the world love all the boys and girls, they love their own offspring even more, and that's natural. If they knew the names given to these children by their mothers and fathers they would be less wasteful and more thrifty in using their blood.

Mitt Romney (1994): Candidate for Senator from Massachusetts

October 19, 1994

Mitt Romney, the Republicans' hope for their biggest single victory of the fall, uses television to portray the 62-year-old incumbent as fat and feeble, an irrelevant symbol of the 1960's who stands in the way of welfare reform, the death penalty and a smaller government that, the challenger says, would let the economy boom.

This week Mr. Kennedy replied, confronting the season's anti-government mood at a rally on Sunday at historic Faneuil Hall. "I stand for the idea that public service can make a difference in the lives of people," he said. "I reject the laissez-faire notion that all government has to do is get out of the way, and kind, caring, generous, unselfish, wealthy private interests and power will see to it that prosperity trickles down to ordinary people."

The messages of the two candidates differ as night does from day. On Saturday, for instance, Mr. Romney walked the tidy streets of South Boston, where anger against Mr. Kennedy over school busing that began in 1974 still simmers. "The 1960's liberal agenda hasn't worked," he told people as he shook hands. "It is time to reform the reforms."

To those opponents, Mr. Kennedy's weight and lined face reflect years of hard living. Mr. Romney's ads, showing a grainy, overweight Senator lumbering about, reinforce the point. In one, Mr. Kennedy, who broke his back in an airplane crash in 1964 and has worn a brace ever since, is shown painfully lowering himself onto a bench while the voice-over accuses the incumbent of "stooping" to attack Mr. Romney.

October 25, 1994

Mr. Romney has cast himself as a moderate Republican, socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

Mr. Romney says he supports a woman's right to abortion but opposes forcing states to help pay for the procedures, except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the mother's health. He supports Federal legislation that would prohibit discrimination in the workplace against homosexuals but opposes legalizing gay marriages. He favors the death penalty, which Massachusetts does not have, and would require welfare recipients to work and to be regularly tested for drugs.

But with two weeks left in the campaign, a frequent complaint about Mr. Romney continues to be heard: that after he is finished attacking his opponent his message grows vague. "Romney to this day is defining himself as not Ted Kennedy," Mr. Chervinsky said. "His problem ultimately is that he's a little bit too slick and a little bit too light."

Mr. Romney made his millions as founder and chief executive of Bain Capital, a Boston concern that has backed such ventures as Staples, the retail office supply chain, and Domain, a furniture company. In 1992 and 1993, he earned $11 million. Since then he has poured $2 million of his own money into the Senate race.

October 26, 1994

A political neophyte, Mr. Romney had scored earlier in the campaign mainly by attacking Senator Kennedy and arguing that it was time for a change. Like many other challengers in this year of anti-incumbent fervor, Mr. Romney had spent little time defining a program of his own.

October 26, 1994

A conservative political action committee withdrew its support for Mr. Romney on today, saying his performance in a debate with Senator Kennedy proved he was an "anti-family social liberal."

L. Brent Bozell 3d, director of the Conservative Victory Committee in Alexandria, Va., said the organization had urged its members to donate money to help Mr. Romney defeat Mr. Kennedy.

But he said he changed his mind after seeing the debate on Tuesday night. "Mitt Romney Republicans are no different than Ted Kennedy Democrats when it comes to cultural issues," Mr. Bozell said.

October 28, 1994

Mr. Romney also sought to emphasize his independence from other Republicans. Questioned by a college student, he disavowed plans in House Republican candidates' "Contract With America" that would cut money available for student loans. "I'm not going to Washington to toe the line" and back all Republican positions, he said.

In a demonstration of that independence, Mr. Romney shifted on one issue tonight, saying he now opposed longstanding Republican proposals to reduce the Federal tax on capital gains.
Kennedy defeated Romney in the election 58-41