Blogs

Which Dad is More Embarrassing: Ron Paul or Rafael Cruz?

| Mon Oct. 20, 2014 2:10 PM EDT

If Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) do battle for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, they'll have to carefully manage their most popular yet embarrassing surrogates: their fathers. Here's a quick guide to the septuagenarian bomb-throwers.

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 20, 2014

Mon Oct. 20, 2014 11:16 AM EDT

A US Army Corporal carries a detonation cord to blow up expired ordinance in Afghanistan. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)

John Oliver Shows the Supreme Court How to Make Their Boring Recordings Way More Adorable

| Mon Oct. 20, 2014 9:02 AM EDT

The Supreme Court bars cameras from televising its oral arguments, with the only window into the minds of justices being lame audio recordings paired with awkward illustrations. No one wants to watch that.

John Oliver has a brilliant alternative: Dogs. Cats. Real adorable animals with fake moving paws.

"The visual makes it irresistible. Why? Because a cat's paws are doing things you wouldn't expect them to do. And if it works for shitty piano music it can work for the Supreme Court."

Consider us sold.

Housekeeping Note

| Mon Oct. 20, 2014 8:00 AM EDT

No blogging today, I'm afraid. I've been having lower back problems for several months, and on Friday night it got a lot worse. Saturday morning I couldn't get out of bed, and had to be transported to the ER. It turns out that I had a compression fracture of one of my lumbar bones. I've been in the hospital ever since.

I can walk again, but I'm pretty much bedbound for a while. Beyond that, further tests will tell us what's going on here. Without either oversharing or being coy, there's a chance this could turn out to be pretty serious. We'll know more by the end of the week. In the meantime, blogging will obviously be pretty limited.

Numero Group Releases a Stellar Retrospective

| Mon Oct. 20, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Unwound
No Energy
Numero Group

Part three of Numero Group's stellar Unwound retrospective picks up with the 1995 album The Future of What, followed by 1996's Repetition, and includes eight singles sides and some previously unreleased recordings. What's most immediately striking about these 33 tracks is how little interest the Olympia, Washington, trio has in repeating itself. While Justin Trosper (vocals, guitar), Vern Rumsey (bass) and Sara Lund (drums) still draw on deep roots in punk and hard rock, they often seem to be navigating uncharted territory. The songs are dark and jagged, more likely to generate brooding unease than provide easy catharsis. Check out either version of the tortured eight-minute epic "Swan" for an unpredictable, genre-defying experience that's thoroughly fascinating.

Sallie Ford, the Exhilarating Provocateur

| Mon Oct. 20, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Sallie Ford
Slap Back
Vanguard

sallie ford

Raucous, profane, and unapologetic, Sallie Ford relishes playing the provocateur. On the exhilarating Slap Back, the Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter debuts her new all-female backing band, sounding like the early, badass Elvis Costello who fronted the Attractions. Buoyed by waves of punky garage rock, Ford addresses urgent issues like romance and lust in her usual blunt language ("Give Me Your Lovin'"), while illuminating her own struggles ("So Damn Low") and pausing for moments of surprising tenderness, observing, "Loves may come and lovers may go. But I'm here for the long haul, I hope you know" in "Hey Girl." For all the catchy tunes and tough grooves, Ford's greatest asset is her rowdy charisma.

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Why Did Top Scientific Journals Reject This Dr. Bronner's Ad?

| Mon Oct. 20, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, presides over a company with famously wacky product labels. Sample sentence, from the 18-in-1 Hemp PEPPERMINT soap bottle: "Each swallow works hard to be perfect pilot-provider-teacher-lover-mate, no half-true hate!" But Bronner himself, grandson of the founder (the one with the elaborate prose style), has emerged as a serious, though fun-loving, activist, particularly around pesticides and genetically modified crops, as Josh Harkinson's recent Mother Jones profile shows.

But apparently, Bronner's writing on GMOs is too hot for the advertising pages of the English-speaking world's two most renowned science journals, Science and Nature—even though a slew of magazines, including Scientific American, The New Yorker, Harper's, The Nation, Harvard, and, yes, Mother Jones, accepted the Bronner ad. It consists of a short essay, known in publishing as an advertorial, that's nothing like the wild-eyed rants on his company's soap bottles. Bronner's ad (PDF) focuses on how GMO crops have led to a net increase in pesticide use in the United States, citing an analysis by Ramon Seidler, a retired senior staff scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bronner wrote his essay in response to Michael Specter's recent New Yorker takedown of anti-GMO crusader Vandana Shiva. He first published his critique on Huffington Post, and then decided to publish it as an ad in a variety of high-profile magazines, because he felt that The New Yorker is highly influential among liberal elites, and he wanted to get his dissenting view out, he told me.

"We're concerned about backlash from our members and potentially getting into a battle with the GMO industry," wrote an ad sales manager for Science in an email.

Science was close to accepting it, emails shared with me by Bronner show—an ad sales manager for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which published the magazine, emailed on September 15 that she would send over paper work "in a bit," adding that "[a]fter you sign it, I can take your credit card info by phone and submit to accounting." The price: $9,911.00. But hours later, she wrote back, squashing the deal:

Sorry to say there has [been] a reversal opinion. This has gone up the ladder quite far and our CEO along with the board have come back saying that we cannot accept the ad. We're concerned about backlash from our members and potentially getting into a battle with the GMO industry.

Something quite similar happened at Nature, a UK-based publication with ad sales operations in the United States. On September 16, an ad sales rep told the Bronner team via email that "I will have an IO [insert order—the contract for an advertisement] for you once I get the thumbs up from Editorial (usually takes them a day or two)." Once that's signed, he added, "I can call and get your credit card information over the phone, [and] then we are all good."

But a few days later, instead of closing the deal, the rep asked if Bronner would consider placing the ad in a smaller, related journal called Nature Biotechnology. Bronner declined, and asked again to place it in Nature. The ad rep replied, "We have to do a detailed process for all ad approvals, especially if the ad is not within specs (our terms and conditions). We have passed on the ad for Nature, that's why the emails about seeking out other options [i.e., Nature Biotechnology] for you." End of discussion—the sales rep offered no explanation, and soon stopped returning calls or emails. Nor did he return my email and call seeking comment.

As for Science, I talked to Laurie Faraday, the journal's East regional ad-sales manager, who worked with Bronner's team on the failed ad deal. She explained that the editorial side weighs in on decisions over advertorial-style ads. Science's management found it "a little bit controversial," and worried that "if we allowed that kind of a piece to be printed in Science, then maybe we'd be subject to the GMO world coming after us." She added: "Ironically, it's not that anyone in the organization disagreed with what it [the ad] said. It's just that we had to consider that the opposite side of the coin might want to start a war in our magazine."

I asked if the magazine had rejected advertorials on similar grounds in the past. She replied that a couple of years ago, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ran ads in Science alleging cruelty to animals in labs. "It kind of got past us at first," Faraday said, "but after the campaign ran, I was told by the publisher we would not accept them any further."

Stan Schmidt, an ad rep for Scientific American, which accepted the ad, told me that his magazine has a broader policy on advertorials—it accepts them unless they contain offensive or "wild-eyed" material, and the Bronner ad easily passed the test, he said.

"I'm concerned how lame and weak the leading scientific publications in the world are being here, although I appreciate Science's upfront explanation," Bronner said. "Science and Nature magazines, like the scientific enterprise in general, are not above the fray."

NBA Player Kisses Sideline Reporter, Calls Her the Wrong Name

| Sun Oct. 19, 2014 12:56 PM EDT

Before Tristan Thompson of the Cleveland Cavaliers took the court Friday to play the Dallas Mavericks, Allie Clifton, a Fox News Ohio reporter, tried to interview him about his game strategy.

After haphazardly answering one of her questions, Thompson calls her "Tina," winks at the camera, and then kisses her on the cheek before running away.

Here's video of the incident:

Contrary to some of the sports media's reporting, kissing a reporter on air while she is working is not "an unexpected gift" or "harmless, and nothing more than an awkward one-sided exchange." It's downright uncomfortable and belittling, even if Clifton maintained utter professionalism throughout. As Kelly Dwyer at Yahoo Sports put it: "This isn't cute or funny or meme-worthy…Just because you're working with someone of the opposite sex, it doesn't mean a sly innuendo, pat on the rear, or kiss on national television is in any way appropriate."

EPA: Those Bee-Killing Pesticides? They're Actually Pretty Useless

| Sat Oct. 18, 2014 6:00 AM EDT
Was it all for nought? Note: bumblebees, pictured here, have also been shown to be harmed by neonics.

So, there's this widely used class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, marketed by chemical giants Bayer and Syngenta, that have emerged as a prime suspect in honeybee collapse, and may also be harming birds and water-borne critters. But at least they provide benefits to farmers, right?

Well, not soybean farmers, according to a blunt economic assessment released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency (PDF). Conclusion: "There are no clear or consistent economic benefits of neonicotinoid seed treatments in soybeans."

Wait, what?

The report goes on: "This analysis provides evidence that US soybean growers derive limited to no benefit from neonicotinoid seed treatments in most instances."

Hmmm. But at least they're better for farmers than no pesticide at all?

Nope: "Published data indicate that most usage of neonicotinoid seed treatments does not protect soybean yield any better than doing no pest control."

Ouch.

One poll found that 45 percent of respondents reported finding non-treated seeds "difficult to obtain" or "not available."

The EPA notes that in recent years, US farmers have been planting on average 76 million acres of soybeans each season. Of those acres, an average 31 percent are planted in seeds treated with neonics—that is, farmers buy treated seeds, which suffuse the soybean plants with the chemical as they grow. So that's about 24 million acres of neonic-treated seeds—an area equal in size to the state of Indiana. Why would farmers pay up for a seed treatment that doesn't do them any good, yet may be doing considerable harm to pollinators and birds? The EPA report has insights: "data from researchers and extension experts ... indicate that some growers currently have some difficulty obtaining untreated seed." The report points to one small poll that found 45 percent of respondents reported finding non-treated seeds "difficult to obtain" or "not available."

Another reason may be marketing. Syngenta, for example, promotes its "CruiserMaxx" seed treatment for soybeans, which combines a neonic insecticide with two different fungicides. The pitch: "Promotes better emergence, faster speed to canopy, improved vigor and higher yield potential.
Protects against damaging chewing and sucking insect pests. ... Increases yield even under low insect pressure."

Only one US crop is planted more abundantly than soybeans: corn, which typically covers around 90 million acres. According to Purdue entomologist Christian Krupke, "virtually all" of it is from neonic-treated seeds. That's a land mass just 10 percent smaller than California. You have to wonder what bang those farmers are getting for their buck. I have a query into the EPA to see whether it has plans to conduct a similar assessment for corn. Meanwhile, this March 2014 Center for Food Safety research report, which was reviewed by Krupke and Jonathan Lundgren, a research entomologist at the US Department of Agriculture, found that the bee-killing pesticides offer at best limited benefits to corn farmers, too.

Would Joe Biden Put His Son In Prison For Doing Coke?

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 6:19 PM EDT

So the son of our Vice President was booted from the military for doing coke. This must be an awkward situation for Joe Biden, given his role in cracking down on drug use over the last few decades. Joe Biden created the position of “drug czar,” a key step in the drug war. As the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986, he played a major role in passing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. He was the main sponsor of the RAVE Act in 2003, meant to crack down on MDMA use, which would have held club owners liable for providing “paraphernalia” like glowsticks and water. He still vocally opposes marijuana legalization.

To be clear: Hunter Biden wasn’t caught with actual cocaine. He just failed a drug test. But what if he'd happened to be found with a little bag in his pocket? Would Joe Biden would find it fair for him to serve 87 months, which is the average federal sentence for drug possession?

Of course, were Hunter Biden to be caught with powder cocaine, he would likely fare better than someone caught with crack. To his credit, Joe Biden himself has pushed for reducing the longstanding sentencing disparity between crack and regular cocaine, but possession of 28 grams of crack still triggers a five-year minimum sentence. It takes 500 grams of regular cocaine to trigger the same sentence. That’s an 18-to-one difference. (African Americans make up 83 percent of people convicted for crack offenses, even though the number of white crack users is 40 percent greater than that of black users, according to a National Institute on Drug Abuse study).

America has more prisoners than any other country—a quarter of all people behind bars in the entire world are in US prisons or jails. Nearly half of all federal prisoners are serving sentences for drugs. Many of them won't have a chance to "regret" their mistakes and move on, as Hunter Biden has said he will.