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Yesterday Iran's new 24 hour TV channel broadcast a "documentary" featuring two jailed Iranian Americans, Haleh Esfandiari, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant to the Open Society Institute. Both are being held in Evin prison. Esfandiari had been robbed of her passport in December while visiting her ailing 93 year old mother in Tehran, and since then has been undergoing interrogation by Iran's secret police, then house arrrest, and for the past 70 days, solitary confinement in Iran's notorious Evin prison. The 63 year old grandmother had run programs at the Woodrow Wilson Center that sought more than any other think tank I am aware of to promote US-Iran engagement. Its president, Lee Hamilton, a co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, has urged the Bush administration to talk with Iran.
Esfandiari's daugther Haleh Bakhash, a lawyer in Washington, writes in the Washington Post today about her mother's interrogators:
Meet Robin Smith. A veteran of the Air Force, she once guarded military aircraft bearing nuclear weapons before going to work for Wackenhut, the Florida-based private security giant that took in $400 million in federal contracts last year (and $516 million the year prior). Between June 2005 and April 2006, Smith served as a security officer at the Department of Homeland Security's Washington headquarters, where she says she witnessed a litany of security lapses by Wackenhut employees: guards who fell asleep at their posts, who were allowed to carry weapons after repeatedly flunking certification tests on the company's gun range, and who gained access to sensitive locations without the requisite security clearances. On numerous occasions, she says, she saw the door to the guards' armory left open and unattended, allowing anyone access to the cache of weapons and ammunition inside.
But the most egregious breach happened in the fall of 2005, when a DHS staffer opened a letter containing white powder. Instead of quarantining the area, or calling for a hazmat team, the security guards who responded to the scene handled the envelope themselves and called others over to have a look at the suspicious powder. They also directed the employee who had opened the letter, and who had spilled some of its contents on herself, to wash the powder off. To do so she walked across a hall and past Michael Chertoff's office, putting the Homeland Security secretary himself and other employees at risk of contamination. "I've never seen anything like the way Wackenhut ran Homeland Security," Smith told the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement today. "I've never seen any company disrespect a government contract like Wackenhut did."
Republican David Almond, vice chairman of the House Committee on Children, Youth and Families for the North Carolina state legislature, resigned last week after the state's GOP caucus said it was investigating allegations against him of "serious, improper behavior."
According to DownWithTyranny!, Almond exposed his penis to a female staff member, chased her around the room, and commanded her to "suck it, baby, suck it." The employee filed a personnel complaint against Almond. State Republican leaders asked Almond to resign if there was any truth to the allegation, but, they said, "He did it [resigned] himself." I'm not sure what that means, but that is what they said.
One of the pieces of legistlation introduced by Almond was a bill to monitor sex offenders, which was recently signed into law by the governor, and which could come back to bite Almond on the--well, wherever he is most likely to be bitten. In the meantime, he says that intends to defend himself against the charges.
A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving all the lights on back home. This, according to New Scientist's Daniele Fanelli, is the conclusion of a study out of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan. The team looked at the effects of beef production on global warming, water acidification and eutrophication, and energy consumption. They focussed on calf production, animal management, and the effects of producing and transporting feed, to calculate the total environmental load of a portion of beef. They concluded that a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometers (155 miles), and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. The calculations did not include the impact of managing farm infrastructure and transporting the meat, so the total environmental load is even higher. . . Still want that burger? How about one of these instead? Yum yum. JULIA WHITTY
UK pop sensation Mika recently topped the charts in the UK with "Grace Kelly," a bouncy slice of "Queen lite" that somefoundgrating. Despite the, well, glammy nature of his music (and a song about a gay love affair on his CD), Mika has famously refrained from revealing his own sexuality, recently appearing on the cover of Out magazine beside the headline: "Gay/Post-Gay/Not Gay?"
But, of course, Mika's not the first guy to play the "sexuality is a private matter" card, and it's interesting to note that many of the musicians we now take for granted as torch-bearing homophiles were just hinting at it for years. Logo's After Elton site has a fascinating look at male rock and pop stars who have "straddled the closet," as they put it. It's actually kind of depressing: does every gay artist have to blather endlessly about not wanting to be "pigeonholed" as a "gay artist?" Even Jake Shears of gayer-than-a-thousand-Liberace-candelabras combo Scissor Sisters has the eye-rolling quote of "I'm not a gay man first and foremost." Jeez, lighten up! Do ya wanna make out, or not?! It's heartening to see up-and-coming musicians like (super-cute) Dan Sells of The Feeling who's utterly blasé about it, saying he marched in his first pride parade at age 4. Check out the article here.
And yes, just to be clear, your writer is absolutely a gay man first and foremost. Before being a geek, and a fan of snack foods, even. ...Okay maybe not before snacks.
Leukemia rates in children and young people are elevated near nuclear facilities. The research, published in European Journal of Cancer Care, came from a meta-analysis of 17 research papers covering 136 nuclear sites in the UK, Canada, France, the USA, Germany, Japan and Spain. Death rates for children up to the age of nine were elevated by between five and 24 per cent, depending on their proximity to nuclear facilities, and by two to 18 per cent in children and young people to the age of 25. No clear explanation exists to explain the rise. The authors say it's "possible that there are environmental issues involved that we don't yet understand" . . . Right. Like chronic underreporting of mishaps, accidents, and releases &mdash as recently as yesterday, by golly. JULIA WHITTY
Well, the Canadians seemed pretty happy about it, actually. The White Stripes had been performing at odd venues all over Canada in a quest to play in every province and territory in our great northern neighbor; yesterday, realizing that they were one province (Newfoundland) away from achieving this goal, and that "playing a show" would really only require them to play a single note, they did exactly that. Here's video from the one-note show, yesterday in St. John's, Newfoundland:
Yes, the audience is chanting "One more note!" But don't worry about the poor Newfoundlandians: the Stripes did a full two-hour gig for 'em later that night. Check Stereogum for some awesome pictures of the roadies tuning up the gear before the one-note performance, go here for upcoming US dates.
Variety is reporting Japanese superstar Utada Hikaru has achieved the record of largest-selling digital single ever, with "Flavor of Life" moving over seven million units. Label EMI made the claim despite the fact that there's no real official body who counts these things, so it can't be verified; however, the next-highest-sellers (O-zone's nightmarish "Dragostea Din Tei," with four million units, and in the US, Daniel Powter's almost-as-horrific "Bad Day," with two million) are so far behind, I guess nobody's questioning it.
"Flavor" was available in a format to anyone's, er, taste: mobile phone ringtones, mobile downloads, home computer downloads, ring videos, and "ringback" tones (the new thing where you hear it instead of a ring when you call somebody). Perfect for Japan where people basically live out of their cell phones.
Who is Utada Hikaru, you may be asking? It's understandable: despite her massive Japanese success, an attempt to market her in the US as "Utada" failed miserably, and much of her best material still isn't available domestically. You can listen to excerpts of both versions (the regular and "ballad" style) of "Flavor" on her official website here, but you can't buy it. Unfortunately you also can't buy the single that, in my opinion, is her best so far: the charming Madonna-reminiscent "Traveling," which I'm admittedly partial to since it was utterly omnipresent during a brief trip to Tokyo six years ago. So, check out the awesome (if slightly overwhelming) video and an mp3 below.
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