2009 - %3, September

5 Creative Uses for: Baking Soda

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 4:34 PM EDT

The following conversation happens a lot in my house:

Me: I'm making cookies. Do we have baking soda?

Roommates: Uh...maybe?

The outcome is always the same. I'm too lazy to go on an archaeological dig through our bursting cupboards, so I spend a buck or so on another Arm & Hammer. And the orange boxes multiply. AltUse.com readers clearly have this problem, and they've figured out how to put all that sodium bicarbonate to use:

1. Fix a bad battery connection: Create a paste of three parts baking soda to one part water and brush onto corroded battery posts and cable connectors. Rinse and dry. Coat with petroleum jelly to keep terminals trouble free.

2. Soothe a sunburn: Mix some baking soda with water and apply to your burn. Quite cooling.

3. Clean your oven: Sprinkle soda on the bottom of your oven until it's about 1/4 inch thick, then mist with a spray bottle until damp and let sit. Mist again a few hours later. Once it has dried a second time, scrape out. Wipe clean with a wet sponge.

4. Keep fruit flies off plants: Create a solution of four teaspoons baking soda and one gallon of water. Spray on plants when fruit first appears. Spray once a week for two months, and after each rain. Can also be used on rosebushes against black spot fungus.

5. Remove car oil stains from concrete: Wet the stain, then sprinkle soda. Scrub.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Snubbing Ahmadinejad

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 4:17 PM EDT

Gary Sick is a very astute observer of Iran. He was the lead Iran aide in the Carter White House during the hostage crisis, and also served on the National Security Council under presidents Ford and Reagan. He's now a professor at Columbia University's Middle East Institute, and over the years has been a persistent proponent of engaging with Iran. To that end, he himself has participated in frank exchanges with the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on a number of occasions. But not anymore. When Ahmadinejad returns to New York to visit the UN this month, Sick won't be meeting with him. Here's why he's changed his mind:

My Big Fat Private Government

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 4:08 PM EDT

One day after sharing Dan Schulman's "Embassy Guards Gone Wild" blog item with my Facebook friends, I ran into one of them at our kids' grade-school playground. He was still tripping over the graphic photos, and said something along the lines of, "Aren't we supposed to have Marines to guard the embassies, who are well-trained and paid less and …

"… don't eat potato chips out of each other's asses?" I finished.

One would hope. But as Tim Shorrock explains in our current issue, the federal government has outsourced itself into a state of ineptitude. At last count, there were more federal contract workers than civil service employees, and contractors conduct some of the most sensitive (even illegal) tasks the US government performs—and do so at a higher cost to you and me. Operating spy satellites? Check. Flying predator drones over Pakistan? Check. Running covert assassination programs? Check. Shorrock reports:

The Pakistan Problem

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 1:55 PM EDT

Pakistan, as we all know, has become pretty virulently anti-American over the past few years.  Saeed Shah of McClatchy provides the latest:

The lively Pakistani media has been filled with stories of under-cover American agents operating in the country, tales of a huge contingent of U.S. Marines planned to be stationed at the embassy, and reports of Blackwater private security personnel running amuck. Armed Americans have supposedly harassed and terrified residents and police officers in Islamabad and Peshawar, according to local press reports.

Much of the hysteria was based on a near $1 billion plan, revealed by McClatchy in May and confirmed by U.S. officials, to massively increase the size of the American embassy in Islamabad, which brought home to Pakistanis that the United States plans an extensive and long-term presence in the country.

...."I think this recent brouhaha over the embassy expansion has been difficult to beat back," said Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador, in an interview Thursday....Patterson said she wrote last week to the owner of Pakistan's biggest media group, Jang, to protest about the content of two talk shows on its Geo TV channel, hosted by star anchors Hamid Mir and Kamran Khan, and a newspaper column of influential analyst Shireen Mazari in The News, a daily, complaining that they were "wildly incorrect" and had compromised the security of Americans.

Sounds like August in America.  Less snarkily, this is a problem that you can't really say is undercovered, since it's gotten a fair amount of attention lately, but is nonetheless probably underappreciated: Pakistanis really, really don't like the United States.  That's been true for a long time, and as Shah makes clear, it's even more true now.  In the latest Pew poll, America's favorability rating was a whopping 16%.

I'm not sure how you operate in an environment like that.  I hope Gen. McChrystal has a few ideas to offer when his long-awaited Afghanistan assessment is released later this month.  But I'm not holding my breath.

Dewey Defeats Truman: SF Chronicle's Bay Bridge Edition

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 1:19 PM EDT

Here in the Bay Area, we take our earthquake retrofitting seriously: Hence the Labor Day weekend closing of the Bay Bridge for a crucial step in the ongoing replacement of the eastern span, and the announcement last night that all 260,000 cars that use the bridge on a typical day would have to find other ways to commute this morning due to a newly discovered crack in a steel link. Given the new crack, I was expecting to have to forsake my usual cushy carpool ride from Berkeley to the Mother Jones office in downtown San Francisco for a long, crowded, and expensive train ride today, but when I woke up this morning I checked the news on the computer and, just like that, the bridge workers had beaten the odds and the bridge was operational. All it took was 70 hours of continuous work.

Too bad the print edition of the San Francisco Chronicle couldn't keep up with the news. Millions of people in the Bay Area woke up this morning wondering about the Bay Bridge and the area's largest daily, with a daily circulation of 312,408, got it wrong.

Ironically, I saw this in the newspaper box while waiting in the carpool line for a ride over the Bay Bridge. Ouch.

Chocolate and the Efficient Market Hypothesis

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 12:42 PM EDT

Kraft Foods has made a $16 billion bid to acquire Cadbury PLC, maker of fine British chocolates.  Naturally, Cadbury turned them down:

Prior to Kraft going public with its offer on Monday, Cadbury had already rebuffed the advance in private. In publicly rejecting it, Cadbury said the offer, a 31% premium to its closing share price on Friday, "fundamentally undervalues" the company.

This is precisely what every company always says whenever someone offers to buy them: even though the offer price is 20% or 30% or 40% higher than the current stock price, it always "fundamentally undervalues" the firm.

In other words, corporate CEOs universally reject the efficient market hypothesis, and since Wall Street as a whole seems to agree, that means that essentially the entire finance industry rejects the EMH.  So if that's the case, why should anyone else believe it?

POSTSCRIPT: Related trivia: my mother once had a cat named Cadbury.  I conducted a blind taste test once of British-made Cadbury's chocolate and its American-made twin, and everyone involved could taste the difference and preferred the British version.  Cadbury Australia has a phenomenal selection of varieties, far more than the pitiful three or four we have in America.  The last time I was there in the early 90s, one of the varieties was chocolate with a creamy chocolate filling, and it was great.  Sadly, their website suggests it's no longer made.  Sic transit etc.  On the other hand, some of the other varieties look well worth a try.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

What Obama Can Mean in the Classroom

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 11:57 AM EDT

With the controversy over President Barack Obama's speech to school kids melting—how much outrage can rightwingers maintain over an address that encourages kids to work hard and not be put off by failure?—I'm reminded of a story I heard a few days after Obama was elected president.

A father I met at a party told me about his daughter, a teacher at a Maryland public high school in a low-income area. Most of her students were African Americans. Her classroom was often an unruly place, and she had to pick carefully what battles to wage, when it came to imposing order and discipline. For instance, she had long ago given up forcing her students to quiet down and pay attention during each morning's school-wide recital of the Pledge of Allegiance.

But the morning after the country had elected a black man president, her classroom was different. Once Pledge time arrived, her students, without any prodding from her, became calm and respectfully and somberly said the words that they usually ignored each day.

Clearly, Obama can be the sort of model for children and young adults that previous presidents could not be. He can especially be a powerful example for young people in disenfranchised and disadvantaged communities. And this seems to have really ticked off conservatives eager to portray any Obama move as an underhanded socialist plot. But today I'll be thinking about those students in that one Maryland classroom and hoping that Obama's words—as obvious as they might be—will register with several of them and encourage these students to believe that they can have a stake and a future in the system—and a say in whether there really is liberty and justice for all.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Healthcare in 1,000 Words or Less

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 11:55 AM EDT

Jon Cohn assesses the state of play of healthcare reform over at TNR, and he's on pretty much the same page as me: August didn't kill it; Democrats are finally facing the reality that they can't count on any Republican votes; reconciliation is now a serious threat; and Dems fully understand that failing to pass something would be calamitous.  So he's cautiously optimistic.  The difference is that his version of this is based on real expertise and extensive reporting, not just a gut feel.  Go read.

Justice Dept.: Blackwater Contractor Saw Killing Iraqis as 9/11 Payback

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 11:55 AM EDT

For sport, they rolled through the streets of Baghdad hurling frozen oranges and water bottles at civilians and nearby vehicles, trying to smash windshields and injure bystanders. Convoying through the city in armored vehicles, the contractors fired their weapons indiscriminately. One member of the Blackwater security team known as Raven 23 regularly bragged about his body count and viewed killing Iraqis as "payback for 9/11."

These allegations are contained in court records [PDF] filed on Monday by Justice Department lawyers prosecuting five Blackwater contractors for the September 2007 shooting frenzy in Baghdad's Nisour Square that killed 14 Iraqis and wounded 20 others. Anticipating that lawyers representing the contractors will argue that they were acting in self defense, the prosecution is seeking to introduce evidence that "several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds." The charges are similar to those that recently emerged in civil lawsuits against Blackwater, stemming from the Nisour Square episode.

According to the court filing:

In addition to verbal expressions of hatred towards Iraqi civilians, the defendants engaged in unprovoked and aggressive behavior toward unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. In so doing, the defendants routinely acted in disregard of the use of force policies that they were required to follow as a condition of their employment as Blackwater guards.

...

This evidence tends to establish that the defendants fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause.

Mitch McConnell's SCOTUS Case

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 11:21 AM EDT

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a big day ahead tomorrow when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Citizens United v. FEC, a case that could result in the death of corporate spending restrictions in federal elections. McConnell, the nation's number one Republican, has been seldom seen during the August health care reform debate (see our new story here), but he's been a relentless foe of campaign finance reform over the years. Represented by the famous First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, McConnell has filed a brief in the case supporting Citizens United, and tomorrow the court will likely discuss a precedent that carries McConnell's name.

In one of his many attempts to derail the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, McConnell sued the FEC in 2002 arguing that the act was a violation of his First Amendment right to take gobs of corporate money to get elected. McConnell, a prolific Republican fundraiser, lost that case by a narrow margin, but the composition of the court has changed significantly since then, giving him much better odds in his current crusade. While the Republican leader might not lead his party to victory against health care reform, his Supreme Court advocacy may soon usher in a new era of corporate dominance of federal elections—a development that could have significant benefits for his party in the long run.