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GOP Senate Candidate Takes a 9/11 Truther's Questions: "Things Like This Have to Be Asked"

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

In 2012, Greg Brannon, who is now a North Carolina Republican Senate candidate, wouldn't say whether he thought the attacks on September 11, 2001 were an inside job—but, he said, "Things like this have to be asked."

Brannon, an OB-GYN endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a leading contender in the GOP primary to challenge Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), made that comment as a guest on a local conservative talk show. At the time, Brannon was running Founder's Truth, a North Carolina tea party organization. A caller offered up a conspiracy theory about September 11, and as the host, Bill LuMaye, tried to redirect the conversation, Brannon answered:

John, caller: I'm a 9/11 truther. And I had a friend of mine…tell me, look on the Internet, Google "the Pentagon" and show me where the plane hit the Pentagon. Where is the plane? There's all kinds of pictures of that building smoldering, and fire trucks everywhere. There's no plane. So I did research on the size of planes, of the engines that ran this plane. These things are 12,000 pounds, these engines that would have flown off—that's six tons—and put a hole in something. There's nothing there.

Bill LuMaye: Well, without getting into—

John: There's a hole in the building and there's no broken glass.

LuMaye: Well, I'd rather not get into a discussion on whether 9/11 was an inside job or not. I really, I mean, we can save that for another day, I have no problem with that, it's just—

Greg Brannon: These questions, again, actually, that's what [9/11 commission vice-chair] Lee Hamilton said. And he just said, there's other questions that need answering. The guy who got all the information…a Democrat and a Republican, were the co-chairmen of the 9/11 commission, and when they got done, they did not put their stamp of approval on the commission. They said, there's data that we did not put in there. So things like this have to be asked.

LuMaye: Well, I appreciate your call, John.

Brannon: Thanks, John.

It's true that Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 commission, said that the commission's investigation of the September 11 plot was incomplete. But their complaint was that government agencies blocked the commission from assessing how badly prepared the United States was for the attacks, and which US agencies were responsible for failing to prevent the attacks—not that the US was hiding its own involvement.

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Meaningful Music Meets Debauchery in the Desert: Anti-Flag Rocks Coachella

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

The sun had set on the first day of Coachella. Bright, colored lights adorning art installations and beaming from stages highlighted the plumes of smoke and dust clouds emitting from audiences at the Indio Fairgrounds. I hurried through the sweaty shoulders clustered in front of the main stage, excited to see a band that played a big part in my musical upbringing.

Anti-Flag, which celebrated 20-years of punk rock in 2013, was set to play one of the smaller stages Friday, April 11, at midnight in the Gobi tent. The Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival has consistently delivered on nostalgia, bringing out new artists along with acts audiences know and love. But I wondered what the Anti-Flag crowd would look like.

The festival, which started small in Indio, California, in 1999, has since grown to attract worldwide attention, amenities such as craft beer, gourmet food, and luxury campsites, along with a hefty price-tag (admission runs from $349-$799, not including transportation, housing, food, and a budget for the more nefarious activities commonly considered part of the festival experience). 

The aesthetic of the festival's attendees is often discussed (and criticized) more than the music, and it largely defines the brand and attraction of Coachella. This year, the throngs of festival-goers were styled as expected. Neon tanks blended with short skirts, a scattering of ironic Native American headdresses, and, of course, skin, skin, skin. Dressing for the heat of the desert doesn't leave much to the imagination.

The hallmark of festival style, however, is a flowered wreath. A bouquet of large blooms wrapped in a crown, these wreaths adorned heads in every direction. Beautiful but cumbersome, their glamor began to wear thin the more often I saw them. They're worn as a nod to the "free-spirit" identity crafted by music festivals like Coachella, but in reality, they seem limiting. How can you head-bang with flowers in your hair? I didn't expect to see many of them at the Anti-Flag set that night.

Anti-Flag drummer Pat Thetic Megan Thompson

When I spoke to drummer Pat Thetic earlier that the day, he said he wasn’t fazed by the notion that his punk band might be playing to a more eclectic, or at least a smaller audience at Coachella."There are a lot of people here and they are open to ideas," he said."We need to have a voice of dissent in every environment. Whether it is a place like Coachella or a place like Warped Tour or at a local football game—you have to have a voice of dissent."

Anti-Flag is no stranger to the role. Hailing from Pittsburgh, the band started with a political aim, founded on their town’s history of labor movements. Its two original members, Thetic and lead singer/guitar player Justin Sane, were joined by Chris Head (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Chris Baker or "Chris #2" (lead vocals, bass guitar) in the late nineties.

Punk Rock was a venue for voicing their beliefs and rallying others."We were all trying to say something," Thetic says. "It did not necessarily mean that we were intelligent and had good things to say, but we were angry and activism and politics were a place to release that anger and frustration." His words perfectly described how I felt as a high school kid when I first discovered the band and punk rock. I loved the pounding rhythm that paralleled how I felt about the messages in the music.

The band has remained dedicated to highlighting social ills and continues to be involved in important causes. Last year, they partnered with Art For Amnesty, the Amnesty International campaign inspired by the imprisonment of Russian activist punk band Pussy Riot. Their version of "Toast to Freedom" (below), featuring Donots, Ian D’Sa of Billy Talent, and Bernd of Beatsteaks, is just one example of their musical advocacy efforts.

They have raised funds for nonprofits championing an array of issues—from PETA to Planned Parenthood, African Well Fund to the ACLU. Anti-Flag founded Military Free Zone to highlight problems with military recruitment in schools and Underground Action Alliance, a site that brings young activists together.

That’s why when I asked Thetic how music can solve the worlds problems I was surprised to hear him say it can’t."Music doesn’t change the world by any stretch," he said adamantly,"but the people who are changing the world are listening."

I wondered if the people changing the world were even at Coachella. Thetic assured me that they were—even if they didn’t know it yet."These kids are not being taught about these things but if they come to a festival like this maybe they will stop by and hear an Anti-Flag song," he explains. “If they are like ‘Who are these guys? Why are they so angry? What are they talking about? Should I be that angry?’ Those ideas can catch hold and spark a fire."

I reached the Gobi tent right before Anti-Flag was scheduled to play. I looked around at the people trickling in and hoped to see a fire spark. The lights went up. The band took the stage. The crowd grew. The onlookers transformed into a sea of bobbing heads and thrashing arms. Some shouted along. Others just moved to the music.

“Welcome to the most right and righteous circle pit of all Coachella history!" Chris #2 shouted from the stage."It happens right here, right now. Everyone is running in a circle. If someone falls down we pick them up!" The crowd erupted into organized mayhem—a blur of circular motion cycling through the middle. The moshing continued throughout the set. People kept their phones put away, even when Thetic brought his drum kit into the crowd for the final song.

By the time the band finished it was nearing 1 am. The dust from disbanded festival-goers was settling as workers made the rounds collecting trash left behind.

As I made my way out of the tent I saw it. Crumpled, laying in the dirt near the stage, a flower wreath had been left behind by its wearer. I hoped it had been ripped off in triumph and danced into the ground while its owner was caught in the moment, hearing the message, and truly listening to the music. One can only guess how it landed there, but to me it was a symbol that someone left that night changed—if only in the smallest way.

 

 

 

 

Quick Reads: "Authorisms" by Paul Dickson

| Mon Apr. 21, 2014 3:00 AM PDT
Authorisms

Authorisms

By Paul Dickson

BLOOMSBURY

Are you a literary muscleman or a munchkin? A word ninja or a spewer of malaprops? And who came up with these terms anyway? In Authorisms, Paul Dickson traces writerly coinages (a coinage of the Elizabethan scribe George Puttenham) of words and expressions ranging from assassination (Shakespeare's Macbeth) to zombification (the poet Andrei Codrescu). He takes things too far sometimes—while Jane Austen may have been the first to mention base ball in print­, for instance, it wasn't the baseball we know. Yet I was fascinated to discover that sayings I'd mistaken for relatively recent—blurb (1907), frenemy (1953), weapons of mass destruction (1937), wimp (from an 1898 children's book by Evelyn Sharpe)—actually predated me. It's enough to drive an anxious magazine editor to verbicide.

This review originally appeared in our May/June 2014 issue of Mother Jones.

Nope, There Are No Russians in Eastern Ukraine. Why Do You Ask?

| Sun Apr. 20, 2014 10:59 PM PDT

Imagine my surprise:

For two weeks, the mysteriously well-armed, professional gunmen known as “green men” have seized Ukrainian government sites in town after town, igniting a brush fire of separatist unrest across eastern Ukraine. Strenuous denials from the Kremlin have closely followed each accusation by Ukrainian officials that the world was witnessing a stealthy invasion by Russian forces.

Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces....More direct evidence of a Russian hand in eastern Ukraine is contained in a dossier of photographs provided by Ukraine to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a Vienna-based organization now monitoring the situation in Donetsk and other parts of the country. It features pictures taken in eastern Ukraine of unidentified gunmen and an earlier photograph of what looks like the same men appearing in a group shot of a Russian military unit in Russia.

Nope, nobody here but us surprisingly disciplined, well-trained, and Russian-armed guys in masks taking over government buildings. Anybody got a problem with that?

"Veep" Just Aired Its Best Episode Yet

| Sun Apr. 20, 2014 8:00 PM PDT
Biden meeting with Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who plays Vice President Selina Meyer on "Veep"), as she sits at his desk in his West Wing office, on April 12, 2013.

This post contains some spoilers.

When I spoke with Veep creator Armando Iannucci last year, we had some fun discussing (among other topics) how he does his research for the HBO satire and why he would never, ever, ever allow Joe Biden on the show. But what really stood out to me was when Iannucci talked about his characters' professional and personal frustrations—and how those frustrations reflect his view of Washington's effect on the soul:

I don't want [the characters in Veep] to seem like caricatures—I want them to be viewed as real people, with their own problems, and hopes, and dreams, and frustrations...And it's that frustration and exasperation that I look for in comedy...What I want to do is show what the system can do to you, and to have [the audience] sympathize with the terrible set of circumstances these characters have to deal with every single day.

Iannucci is a brilliant satirist and a clever political observer. His brand of comedy and commentary (also seen in British TV series The Day Today and The Thick of It, and the latter's brilliant 2009 spin-off film In the Loop) is a mischievous deromanticization of political and media elites. It's smart, wildly funny stuff that's full of carefully constructed, linguistically acrobatic profanity.

But with many of Veep's episodes, that sympathy he mentions in the above quote doesn't always come through. Your average viewer might watch a random episode and come away with the impression that it was written by someone who despised Washington, DC, and all its inhabitants. (Iannucci is actually a self-described "politics geek" who finds DC "fascinating.") However, in Sunday's episode, "Alicia" (directed by Chris Morris and guest-starring Tracie Thoms), Iannucci's humanist outlook is more apparent than it ever has been before in the series. This is the reason why "Alicia" is perhaps the finest episode Veep has yet to pull off.

Housekeeping Notes

| Sat Apr. 19, 2014 8:50 AM PDT

These are real housekeeping notes. That is, notes about stuff around my house. First topic: LED light bulbs.

I've purchased several LED floods that are can-mounted in my ceiling. They're great. The quality of the light is good; they turn on instantly; they don't flicker; and they use hardly any electricity. There's only one problem: they seem to last less than a year. The LEDs themselves last for decades, of course, but the circuitry that drives the bulb doesn't. As near as I can tell, there's eventually enough heat buildup in the can to burn out the chip that controls the whole thing, and when the chip burns out, no more bulb.

I'm just guessing here, but this has now happened three times out of five bulbs I've purchased, and in all three cases the case of the bulb was hot to the touch when I unscrewed it from the base. So here's my question: Does anyone know for sure what's going on here? Is my guess that a chip is burning out probably correct? Am I just buying cheap bulbs? Can anyone recommend a can-mounted flood that's reliable and will actually last for the 25 years that manufacturers so cheerfully promise?

Second: a cell phone update. In last weekend's thread, the Google Nexus 5 got a lot of love, but so did the Motorola Moto X. I had actually made up my mind on the Nexus 5, but the T-Mobile store only sold it in a 16GB version, so I decided to go home and buy one online. But then I started dithering because of all the nice things people had said about the Moto X. Eventually, after far more dithering than makes sense for someone who doesn't use a cell phone much, I decided the slightly smaller Moto X was the better choice. So: thanks, folks! I don't think this would have come across my radar otherwise.

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The US Government Really Isn't Worried About "Transcendence" Happening in Real Life

| Fri Apr. 18, 2014 3:34 PM PDT

This post contains spoilers, but the movie is bad so I don't think you'll care.

Transcendence is an awful movie—two hours of squandered potential. (You can read my colleague Ben Dreyfuss' review here.) The film stars Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, and Kate Mara. It was executive-produced by Christopher Nolan, and marks the directorial debut of cinematographer Wally Pfister (the guy who made Christopher Nolan movies look like Christopher Nolan movies). The plot goes something like this: Depp plays a renowned artificial-intelligence researcher named Will Caster. He gets assassinated by a terrorist group that fears super-intelligent, sentient machines will one day rule the world. Will's wife Evelyn (played by Hall) has the bright idea to upload his consciousness to a big computer thing, hoping he'll live on in cyberspace or something. It works, and this achieves technological singularity (when A.I. becomes greater than the human mind), which Will calls "transcendence."

Things get really creepy and it starts to look like Johnny Depp The Omniscient Computer really is trying to take over the world. The US government begins to wage a secret war on him/it, and gets into bed with some shady, gun-toting characters in doing so.

Anyway, that may sound like a cool premise, but the movie is really, very boring—but it did get me and my buddy thinking: What would our government do if this happened in real life? Does the government have a contingency plan if (as some believe is possible) sentient machines began outdoing mankind? What if the machines went to war against us? What would Barack Obama do???

Okay, this is stupid. But if America once drew up legit plans to invade Canada, maybe there's a chance we have a plan for this. I called up the Department of Defense, and was transferred to spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart. I asked him these questions, and if anyone working in cyber warfare had anything to say about this. His response:

I'm gonna be frank with you. There is nobody here who is going to talk about that...There are currently no plans for this. It's just a completely unrealistic scenario. We have a lot of people working on this team on serious stuff, but this just isn't a real threat.

"Well," he concluded, "at least not for now."

For now.

Obama's America.

Here's the trailer for the Johnny Depp movie:

Review: "Transcendence" (2014)

| Fri Apr. 18, 2014 2:29 PM PDT

"Transcendence"

Released by: Warner Brothers Pictures

Starring: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall

Directed by: Wally Pfister

Screenplay by: Jack Paglen

Release Date: April 18, 2014

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 119 minutes

Review: Wow awful.

 

Beloved Author Gabriel García Márquez Was Also a Go-Between for Colombian Guerrillas and the Government

| Fri Apr. 18, 2014 1:41 PM PDT
García Márquez (center) with the Colombian culture minister Paula Moreno (left) in 2009.

Gabriel García Márquez passed away on Thursday at his home in Mexico City. He was 87. The Nobel Prize-winning Colombian novelist was celebrated for such works as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. "The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers—one of my favorites from the time I was young," President Obama said on Thursday.

When a literary figure as towering as García Márquez dies, there are too many fascinating things to write about—his writing, his political history, his wild ride of a life. (Hell, I could see myself writing an entire term paper on his friendly relationship with Colombian pop star Shakira!) I'm not going to attempt anything close to a definitive obituary of a man who gave the world so much through his art. I'll leave that to others.

But I'd like to highlight one politically significant part of Gabo's life: García Márquez wasn't just an acclaimed writer and passionate supporter of left-wing causes—for a time, he was an intermediary between Colombian leftist guerrillas and the government.

Here's an excerpt from a 1999 New Yorker profile written by Jon Lee Anderson:

García Márquez who has often referred to himself as "the last optimist in Colombia," has been closely involved in the peace negotiations. He introduced [Colombian president Andrés] Pastrana to his old friend Fidel Castro, who could facilitate talks with the guerrillas, and he helped restore good relations between Washington and Bogotá. "I won't say that it was Gabo who brought all this about," Bill Richardson, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, said early this summer, "but he was a catalyst." García Márquez was invited by the Clintons to the White House several times, and friends say he believed that he was going to not only carry off the immediate goal of getting some sort of negotiated settlement between the guerrillas and the government but also finally help bring about an improvement in relations between the United States and Cuba. "The U.S. needs Cuba's involvement in the Colombian peace talks, because the Cuban government has the best contacts with the guerrillas," he explained to me. "And Cuba is perfectly situated, only two hours away, so Pastrana can go there overnight and have meetings and come back without anyone knowing anything about it. And the U.S. wants this to happen." Then he smiled in a way that indicated he knew much more than he was telling me, as usual.

The whole profile, which you can check out here, is definitely worth a read.

I now leave you with this footage of García Márquez visiting Shakira and dancing:

R.I.P.

This Climate Scientist Just Won Another Victory in Court

| Fri Apr. 18, 2014 1:15 PM PDT
Michael Mann called the decision "a victory for science."

Michael Mann, the perennially embattled climate scientist best known for his "hockey-stick" temperature graph, came out victorious yesterday in a court battle against a Virginia legislator and a conservative think tank that had sought to obtain thousands of Mann's emails and research documents from his time as a University of Virginia professor.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that unpublished scientific research can be exempted from the state's Freedom of Information Act requirements, because disclosing such information would cut into the university's competitive advantage over other universities. As a result, some 12,000 of Mann's emails and papers won't be released to the Energy & Environment Legal Institute (formerly known as the American Tradition Institute) and Virginia Delegate Robert Marshall (R-Prince William), who had requested the documents in 2011.

In a statement on his Facebook page, Mann called the decision "a victory for science, public university faculty, and academic freedom."

Back in 2012, a lower Virginia court ruled that the documents in question were considered "proprietary," and thus shielded from FOIA requests. ATI appealed the decision, and the case landed with the state's Supreme Court last October. The main question was whether research-related documents should get the same kind of protection as trade secrets and other information that could cause financial harm if released. ATI argued that Mann's emails didn't merit such protection, while Mann and U-Va. maintained that scientists should be able to hammer out their work behind closed doors before presenting a finished product to the public.   

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court late last year, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argued that in protecting Mann's research, the lower court had actually set the scope too wide, leaving open the possibility that a university could claim virtually any document to be proprietary. But yesterday's Supreme Court ruling revised the exemption criteria so that non-research-related documents—things like budgets and communications between administrators—could still be accessed with a FOIA, said Emily Grannis, the Reporters Committee staffer who authored the brief.

Of course, Grannis said, the ruling is only binding in the state of Virginia, but it could serve as a model for how other states set limits for what qualifies as proprietary if similar cases arise elsewhere.