2009 - %3, July

An Alternative History of the US Role in Afghanistan

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 8:00 PM EDT

The United States' involvement in Afghanistan is growing deeper and more costly--30 US soldiers have died there since the start of July, making it the deadliest month since the US invasion in 2001. Vice President Joe Biden was probably right when he said in a radio interview on Thursday that the war is "worth the effort." Still, now is a good time to better understand exactly why it has been so hard to turn Afghanistan into a more peaceful place. A new book by two US journalists explores some less well-known historical explanations.

In 1981, Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald were the first US journalists to enter Afghanistan after the Western press corps had been expelled from the country a month after the 1979 Soviet invasion.  The footage that they shot for CBS News painted a far different picture of the occupation than had been portrayed in the US media. Yet they say that the story that Dan Rather aired that spring buried the most important revelations--a problem that they've seen with US media coverage of Afghanistan ever since. In January 2009, they published "Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story," a book that Selig Harrison, the Washington Post's former South Asia bureau chief, calls "a much needed corrective to five decades of biased journalistic and academic writing about Afghanistan that has covered up the destructive and self-defeating US role there." Mother Jones spoke with Gould and Fitzgerald last month.

Mother Jones: In your view, what do most people not understand about the US government's early involvement in Afghanistan?

Paul Fitzgerald: In the major media, you get the story about a Soviet invasion. What you don't get are all the politics and motivations that were behind that.

Elizabeth Gould: When the Soviets crossed the Afghan border, President Carter exclaimed that this was the greatest threat to peace since the Second World War. The claim was that the Soviets were running out of oil and this was their first step to the Persian Gulf to get our oil. So that became the mantra.

MJ: So when did a different explanation catch on?

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MoJo Mix: 23 July 2009

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 7:20 PM EDT

Kevin's usually optimistic about health care reform on odd-numbered days, but the news out of Congress is a little sour today. Voila, 4 sweet story recommendations for your Thursday news chaser:

1) Apocalypse Ciao: When the economic Rapture comes, will collapsitarians be the chosen ones?

2) Hippie, put your clothes on. California doesn't want to see your naughty bits at the beach anymore.

3) A zombie meme returns: Vaccines still don't cause autism. But you wouldn't know it from the comments on this article.

4) The Going Galt movement protests Obama with a collective shrug.

And what the heck, 5) A video of Amy Poehler hearting on Mother Jones with Sarah Silverman and a few other very funny ladies.

Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

MoJo Mix: 23 July 2009

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 7:11 PM EDT

Hey, Laura again. Kevin's usually optimistic about health care reform on odd-numbered days, but the news out of Congress is none too cheery at the moment, as you know. So, consider these 4 story recommendations your reform news chasers for the week:

1) Apocalypse Ciao: When the economic Rapture comes, will collapsitarians be the chosen ones?

2) Hippie, put your clothes on. California doesn't want to see your naughty bits at the beach anymore.

3) A zombie meme returns: Vaccines still don't cause autism. But you wouldn't know it from the comments on this article.

4) The Going Galt movement protests Obama with a collective shrug.

And what the heck, 5) A video of Amy Poehler hearting on Mother Jones with Sarah Silverman and a few other very funny ladies.

Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

Murtha Backs Down on F-22

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 6:45 PM EDT

Well, how about that. John Murtha announces he'll abandon his fight to keep the F-22 alive. That means the plane is finally, officially, definitely dead.

He did manage to shoehorn a few sweeteners into the House version of the defense budget, though:

* He allocated the money that he'd wanted to spend on new F-22s to buy parts for existing F-22s (way back when, this money was supposed to go to environmental clean-up.)

* He's hanging on to the VH-71 presidential helicopter (the one designed so Obama could whip up a bite to eat during a nuclear attack.)

* The House bill also contains money for C-17 cargo planes that Defense Secretary Robert Gates didn't want.

For a pork addict like Murtha, I guess this is kind of like legislative nicorette.

US Solar Power Glows (and Grows)

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 6:37 PM EDT

If anyone still doubts that solar power is the future (other than oil barons, coal kings and the jokers in Congress), a new report from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) might change their mind.

In the study released this week, author Larry Sherwood has assembled an impressive collection of data proving that (as Sherwood writes), “Solar markets are booming in the United States due to rising energy prices, strong consumer demand, and financial incentives from the federal government, states and utilities.”

Here are some specifics from the IREC report:

  • The capacity of PV installations completed in 2008 grew by 63% compared with installations in 2007, and the average size PV systems is increasing.
  • Installation growth by capacity was largest in the non-residential sector, but the residential sector continues to dominate the number of installations.
  • Many states reported a doubling of PV capacity installed in 2008 compared with 2007.
  • Installations in California, the dominant U.S. market, increased by 95% in 2008.

 To find how your state fared — solarly-speaking — check appendix ‘C’ on the report’s last page. (Or click here to see that chart by itself.)

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. This post appeared first in The Phoenix Sun.

 

Getting Shot With Jack Daniels

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 5:58 PM EDT

Just yesterday, gun-toting Senate Republicans and their Democratic allies were narrowly defeated in their attempt to allow gun owners with concealed weapons permits legally take their arms across state lines. (No thanks to Harry Reid for his wonderful leadership... Even Kirsten Gillibrand voted nay on this one!)

However, for residents of Tennessee, everything isn't so hunky-dory. As the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported last week, it became legal for "people with valid handgun-carry permits to go armed—the gun concealed or not—into Tennessee restaurants serving alcohol, provided the restaurant doesn't ban guns on the premises." This makes one wonder, what are these lawmakers smoking (or drinking)? A similar law was also just passed in Arizona.

Even our foes friends at FoxNews have acknowledged that alcohol consumption and gun violence are linked—"Heavily consuming alcohol can greatly lower inhibitions, increase confidence and potentially release violent impulses," according to a University of Pennsylvania study—so it's ludicrous that legislators would go out of their way to endanger the lives of innocent people who are at a bar or restaurant looking for a non-violent good time, and instead have to be around individuals living out their Wild West fantasies.

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Global Warming Charlatanism

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 5:57 PM EDT

Ezra Klein is puzzled:

I've gotten a bunch of requests for a response to George Will's assertion that “If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life.” I'm actually puzzled enough by that comment to not really know how to respond.

Sigh.  Here's the deal: Will is being cute.  If you're 29, you became an adult in 1998, and average global temperatures last year were lower than they were in 1998. So: no global warming in your adult lifetime.

In case you've missed it, this is the new favorite talking point from the chucklehead denialist set.  The earth is actually cooling!  But as about a thousand serious climate researchers have pointed out, it's not true.  Global temps have been trending up for over a century, but in any particular year they can spike up and down quite a bit.  In 1998 they spiked up far above the trend line and last year they spiked below the trend line.  So 2008 was cooler than 1998.

Of course, you can prove anything you want if you cherry pick your starting and ending points carefully enough.  For example: The year 2000 was below the trend line and 2005 was above it.  Temps were up 0.4°C in only five years!  The seas will be boiling by 2050!

This is idiotic, and only deliberate charlatans who think they have an especially gullible audience bother with it.  It's the trend line that matters, and the trend line has been going up for decades right along with rising CO2 concentrations.  Listen to the climatologists, not the charlatans.

Mileage Today No Better Than a Model T

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 5:28 PM EDT

A new study in Energy Policy analyzes changes in fuel efficiency of US vehicles between 1923 and 2006. During the Age of the Model T—circa 1923—the fuel efficiency of the overall fleet of all vehicle classes was 14 miles per gallon. In 2006, it was a whopping 17.2 miles per gallon.

Woo-hoo. Proof evolution doesn't exist.

Researchers Michael Sivak and Omer Tsimhoni at the U of Michigan analyzed the fuel efficiency of the entire US vehicle fleet—cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses. From 1923 to 1935 fuel efficiency managed about 14 mpg. In 1973 it hit the abyss at 11.9 mpg. By 1991, it straggled upwards to 16.9 mpg. The 1991 efficiency—if you can call it that—was a response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Progress is now stalled. Between 1991 and 2006 the average efficiency improved by only 1.8 percent to 17.2 mpg.

New Scientist reports that electric vehicle research continues to advance with governmental backing but is unlikely impact fuel efficiency in the US in the short term.

For US fuel consumption to fall by 10 percent, average fuel efficiency across the entire fleet will have to rise to 19.1 mpg. Obama's May announcement that new cars should average 35.5 mpg by 2016 does nothing to boost the efficiency of the rest of the vehicle fleet.

The study suggests:

  • Financial incentives prodding owners to scrap older vehicles in favor of new ones
  • Tax breaks encouraging the development and introduction of fuel-saving tech
  • Society has much more to gain from improving a car from 15 to 16 mpg than from improving a car from 40 to 41 mpg. The benefits are greater from improving a truck from 4 to 4.5 mpg than from 7 to 7.5 mpg.

 

Is the Geithner Plan Working?

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 4:16 PM EDT

As I mentioned last night, big banks are handing out big paychecks again.  Matt Yglesias says this is all part of the plan:

The Obama administration didn’t want large financial institutions to fail. They also didn’t want to try to get congress to appropriate funds on the scale that would be needed to take the banks over, clean house, and recapitalize them publicly. What they came up with was a strategy of implicit and explicit guarantees designed to allow financial institutions to recapitalize themselves through profits. And big profits mean big paychecks. This is an ugly solution to the problem, but for whatever it’s worth it’s working.

That's true.  The idea that banks could be safely recapitalized via earnings was explicitly part of the Obama/Geithner plan.  And maybe this was safer than pessimists like me thought, since the two weakest banks, Citi and Bank of America, had already received massive federal guarantees on their toxic assets in addition to their TARP money.

Still and all, I'd caution that it's only working so far. The Geithner plan leaves the banking sector fairly weak, and while this is OK as long as things continue to improve, it could yet become a big problem if there's another shock and things take a turn for the worse.  So let's hope there aren't any more shocks.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho): Hey MoJo, You're Awesome!

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 3:32 PM EDT

Mary Harris Jones herself would have gotten a chuckle out of this: We've received a mash note from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-La.) congratulating MoJo for "successfully using flexibility to meet both business and employee goals." Of course you knew that Crapo and Lincoln's offices coordinate the Senate Staff Work Group on Workplace Flexibility; the letter comes on occasion of the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexbility, which rewards how well companies deploy things like flex time, family leave, telecommuting, etc. (Yes—MoJo staffers who blog at 2 a.m. have the option of doing it from home!) Worth noting that of the more than 100 honorees, very few (including us and the Girl Scouts) are nonprofits, while most are large companies (primarily tech) or law firms, accounting firms, and such. It's not the only major award we've won or been nominated for lately, and we're proud to add it to our expanding trophy closet.