2008 - %3, July

Mary Lou Sapone the Runner Up for Olbermann's "World's Worst Person"

| Thu Jul. 31, 2008 9:54 AM EDT

On Countdown last night, Mary Lou Sapone narrowly avoided being named the "world's worst person" by Keith Olbermann. In the end, that distinction went to Fox & Friends for mistakenly showing a picture of Osama bin Laden when discussing presidential candidate Barack Obama. Though Sapone was dubbed "worser" than Olbermann nemesis Bill O'Reilly.

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Fires Burn Budgets Badly

| Wed Jul. 30, 2008 8:42 PM EDT

800px-Hercules_C130_bombardier_d_eau_Californie.jpg A couple of interesting articles on the fire season blazing in the West. The LA Times reports how fire commanders are pressured to order aircraft into action on major fires even when they won't do any good.

Why? Because they make good television. CNN drops, they call them.

And because citizens and politicians have come to expect the sight of aircraft dumping water and fire retardant means "their " fire is getting the attention it deserves.

It's not that aircraft aren't useful. They can help a lot. But aircraft don't put out fires, say firefighters. And their use is escalating the cost of fighting wildfires. Last year the Forest Service spent $296 million—up from $171 million in 2004.

The Sacramento Bee reports the Forest Service has already spent $900 million this year, nearly 75 percent of its fire-suppression budget. And this on a season that hasn't reached peak yet.

These days nearly half the Forest Service's budget is spent fighting wildfires or trying to prevent them. In 1991, it took only 13 percent. So far this year's fires have cost $210 million more than at the same point last year.

The Bee article alludes to the fact that climate change is driving a longer, more expensive, and more extensive, fire season.

Which is just one of the reasons why our big global warming experiment is going to be such a budget burner.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

Brady Campaign Prez Weighs in on MoJo Story

| Wed Jul. 30, 2008 6:00 PM EDT

In a blog item titled "NRA Dirty Tricks," Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, has just weighed in on today's MoJo article on gun lobby mole Mary Lou Sapone (a.k.a. Mary McFate). He writes:

When the National Rifle Association asks its members for their next contribution, they might want to disclose how much of that money will be spent to spy on gun violence victims and their families.

Mother Jones Magazine today reported that someone the gun violence prevention movement believed was a committed gun control activist was, in fact, a gun lobby spy.

New Ludacris Song "Obama Is Here" Not Likely to Help With Hillary Supporters

| Wed Jul. 30, 2008 4:49 PM EDT

Here on the Riff, we've covered how conservatives have tried to attack Barack Obama by tying him to scary hip-hop music, as well as the good (and the not-so-good) hip-hop tributes to the presumed Democratic candidate. But none have stirred up the, er, pot, as much as good old Ludacris, who has released a new song that lauds Obama and insults both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. "Politics: Obama is Here" (amateur video above) includes the lines, "Hillary hated on you, so that b**** is irrelevant," and "McCain don't belong in any chair unless he's paralyzed." One can just picture Obama slapping his head in frustration here. Clinton supporters have already demanded Obama condemn the song, oh and whoops, look at that, he has, thanks Drudge.

The song itself, I must say, is terrible, and clearly the lyrics are pushing the boundaries in a desperate attempt to make up for its deficiencies. It's too bad, since Ludacris is generally pretty fantastic. After the jump, a couple of his standout videos to remind us why Obama had Luda on his iPod in the first place.

Have You Seen This Woman? She's a Spy

| Wed Jul. 30, 2008 1:44 PM EDT

mary-mcfate-black-white-250x200.jpg
This morning Mother Jones broke the news that, for more than a decade, a prominent gun control activist has actually been a mole for the gun lobby. In addition to infiltrating gun control groups, Mary Lou Sapone (who also goes by Mary Lou McFate and Mary McFate) has, in the past, spied on animal rights and environmental groups. Has she been involved in any other operations? Targeted any other citizens groups? If you recognize the woman pictured below (and above), let us know: dschulman[at]motherjones.com.

Mary-McFate.jpg

Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Doctors Prescribe... Nothing

| Tue Jul. 29, 2008 10:39 PM EDT

402px-Surgeon_operating%2C_Fitzsimons_Army_Medical_Center%2C_circa_1990.jpgThe patient is ill. It's contagious. It's sweeping the globe. And the doctors prescribe… two pills of ignorance and a shot of whining.

How's this? Well, a new survey reports that most health department directors believe their jurisdictions will face serious public health problems from climate change in the next 20 years. Yet few have done anything to detect, prevent, or adapt to the threats.

This, even though the majority of these directors believe that heat waves, heat-related illnesses, reduced air quality, reduced water quality, and reduced water quantity are likely to become common or severe problems in a warming climate.

Several factors contribute to the slackerism. Most survey respondents felt hamstrung by a lack of knowledge about climate change. Most felt little help was available from state and federal slackers. Most felt they needed more funding, staff, and training.

In other words, most are hoping someone else will take care of it.

"The reason why so many Americans view climate change as a threat to other species rather than as a threat to people may be in part because health professionals have been largely silent on the issue," says Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication. "By using the opportunities available to them, public health and health care professionals can educate people on the threats of climate change to their health and wellbeing."

That would require the docs to get off the antidepressants and get, well, seriously worried.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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Prison Song Playlist

| Tue Jul. 29, 2008 6:22 PM EDT

johnny-cash-250.jpgIn conjunction with Slammed: The Coming Prison Meltdown, Mother Jones' investigation into the prison system, the MoJo staff compiled some of our favorite prison songs by the Bobby Fuller Four, ACDC, Sam Cooke, Thin Lizzy, Johnny Cash, and more.

We're locking up 1 in every 100 American adults—and going bankrupt in the process. Are there alternatives to a total meltdown? Our MoJo Prison Guide tells you everything you wanted to know about prison but were afraid to ask. And, a comprehensive guide to all Mother Jones articles, audio, and video on the prison system and links to resources will help you find out more.

Why not listen while you read?

Prison Song Playlist

An Indicted (GOP) Senator, a Disgraced (GOP-run) Justice Department, a Gagged (GOP-managed) EPA--Just Another Day in D.C.

| Tue Jul. 29, 2008 3:15 PM EDT

Corruption-o-rama in Washington on Tuesday:

On the front page is news (or confirmation) that Aberto Gonzales' Justice Department was run by partisan hacks who illegally denied jobs to applicants who were not Republicans and Christian conservatives.

The Associated Press is reporting that the "Environmental Protection Agency is telling its pollution enforcement officials not to talk with congressional investigators, reporters and even the agency's own inspector general, according to an internal e-mail." AP adds: "The EPA is currently under pressure from several congressional committees to disclose documents relating to its position on global warming and its denial of a petition by California to control greenhouse gases from motor vehicles. Last week, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson denied a request to appear before two Senate committees to discuss whether the agency's decisions comply with its staff's technical and legal recommendations."

And Senator Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, was indicted for making false statements on his financial disclosure forms to conceal $250,000 in goods and services he received from an oil company that sought official assistance from Stevens. The 84-year-old Stevens used to chair the powerful Senate appropriations committee.

Cronyism that undermines good government, a gag order that attempts to block the flow of information needed for oversight, and a case of (alleged) personal corruption in which a legislator exploited his office to line his own pocket--it's as if the seven-and-half years of the Bush presidency was boiled down into one news cycle. The only thing missing is a war sold on false pretenses.

Obama, DNC Reserve $20 Million to Target Hispanic Voters

| Tue Jul. 29, 2008 12:03 PM EDT

The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee will announce later today a decision to commit $20 million to bringing out the Hispanic vote. According to a recent report (.pdf) from the Pew Hispanic Center, the Hispanic vote has shifted decisively in favor of the Democratic Party. Numbering about 46 million, Hispanics make up about 15 percent of the U.S. population. As a group, their influence this election cycle will be somewhat muted due to the fact that many are either not citizens or are under 18. Forecasts indicate that they will comprise only 6.5 percent of voters who turn out in November. But their influence in swing states like New Mexico, Florida, Nevada, and Colorado could be the deciding factor in which candidate wins those states—all of which fell into the Bush column in 2004 by five percentage points or less. A July 24 poll taken by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that Obama enjoys a 66-23 lead over McCain among Hispanic voters.

China to Spy on Beijing Hotels During Olympics

| Tue Jul. 29, 2008 11:32 AM EDT

The Chinese government is intent on presenting its best face to the world when the Beijing Olympics open on August 8. The construction of world-class facilities and grounds and the filtering of pollution from the air bring to mind the single-minded determination of China's Five-Year Plans of old. But as Amnesty International points out in a report (.pdf) released today, China's eagerness to have the Games go off without a hitch is also showcasing the government's worst traits, particularly in the area of human rights and press freedom. As Amnesty spokesman Sam Zarifi told Voice of America:

The Chinese government has become so obsessed with projecting an image of stability and harmony that they won't allow any voice of disagreement, however reasonable or peaceful, so we see human rights activists being targeted .... Even the promise that foreign media would be allowed to report completely freely as has been the case in previous Olympics, that has not been met.

Freedom of the press will be the subject of a news conference on Capitol Hill today, where Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, will release several translated documents, showing that all hotels in the area of the Olympics have been required to install Internet surveillance software. The move, according to a press release, "is aimed at visiting guests and journalists." From one of the documents, translated from Chinese:

In order to ensure the smooth opening of Olympic [sic]... It is required that your company install and run the Security Management System for Internet Access from Public Places in addition to provide network interfaces consistent with the industrial technical standards on public security for the implementation the foregoing management and technical measures (the person who access the Internet must be registered in his or her real name)

Let the Games begin.