2010 - %3, July

Manchin/Big Coal 2010?

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 8:00 AM EDT

West Virginia's Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin said Wednesday he would "highly consider" making a bid to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Robert Byrd's death last week. The state law on whether to hold a special election to fill the seat this November, or wait until Byrd's current term finishes in 2012, is unclear, and the state attorney general has yet to weigh in. Manchin said he supports a race this fall because "two and half years for me to appoint someone to replace this giant, Robert C. Byrd, is far too long." And Manchin just happens to have his eyes on the seat.

In a press conference yesterday, the second-term Democratic governor also didn't rule out getting the state legislature to change the law so that they can hold the special election this fall. In the meantime, Manchin will likely appoint someone to keep the seat warm for him who is largely in line with his views (he's already said he won't appoint himself, but has made it clear that he has national ambitions). Manchin stands a good chance of winning, whether it's this fall or in 2012; he won reelection in 2008 with almost 70 percent of the vote.

Neither Manchin nor a placeholder would be a particularly good addition to the Senate when it comes to climate and energy legislation. To call Manchin a champion of coal would be an understatement; last year he named coal the official state rock. Last month he pushed the state legislature to introduce a resolution condemning action on climate change. He also cheered West Virginia's junior senator, Jay Rockefeller, for trying to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

Byrd, long a champion of coal, came around on the issue quite a bit near the end of his life. He blasted the effort to neuter the EPA an "extreme" move that would "dismiss scientific facts" about climate change. He also penned an op-ed last December on the need for coal to "embrace the future" and stop denying "the mounting science of climate change," and was critical of mountaintop removal, a mining practice that has brought environmental devastation to the state.

Ken Ward at the Charleston Gazette tried to ask Manchin's spokesman about whether he would appoint someone in the mold of Byrd or himself on climate change, but didn't get a straight answer.

Manchin is also pro-life and an NRA member, so I don't expect progressives are going to get particularly excited about him in any case. But on climate and energy issues, Manchin or his seat-holder will probably have to vote on some manner of legislation in the very near future. Byrd became a fairly reliable vote for climate action, but the next senator from the state probably won't carry on that legacy.

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Two Inmates Die in Agony as Prison Staff Stands By

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

In the past few weeks, we've seen two separate stories of prisoners who died alone in their cells, while their moans of pain and cries for help were ignored by prison staff. If this isn't cruel and unusual punishment, it's hard to see what would be.

At the Onondaga County Justice Center in upstate New York, 21-year-old Chuniece Patterson died last year from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. What is described by the local news station as "a blistering report" on the death has just been issued by the New York State Commission of Correction; it states: "Had Patterson received adequate and competent medical care, her death would have been prevented."

Reporting in the Syracuse Post-Standard, John O'Brien described the young woman's final hours.

Chuniece Patterson was pregnant and complaining of abdominal pain in her cell at the Justice Center jail in Syracuse. Fourteen hours later, she was dead.

The jail's records of Patterson's medical care give no indication that anyone examined her abdomen. No pelvic exam. No ultrasound. Any of them would've shown she had an ectopic pregnancy in her fallopian tube and would've probably indicated that it had ruptured, according to a doctor. Surgery could've saved her life, he said.

The records of Patterson's two-day stay at the Justice Center in November describe a night of torment, with Patterson screaming and rolling on the cement floor of her cell for most of those 14 hours. Patterson leaned against her cell toilet, scooping water out with a cup and splashing it onto her face, a deputy reported.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 8, 2010

Thu Jul. 8, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

 

Afghan children walk alongside US Army Spc. Steven London, from 2nd Platoon, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army Europe, during a patrol outside Combat Outpost Sangar in Zabul province, Afghanistan, on June 27, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Spc. Eric Cabral, U.S. Army.

Fed to Unemployed: Drop Dead

| Thu Jul. 8, 2010 1:22 AM EDT

When I read this headline at the Washington Post:

Federal Reserve weighs steps to offset slowdown in economic recovery

I was encouraged. Hey, at least someone is thinking about doing something. But then I read further into the article and saw phrases like "modest steps" and "not imminent." As it turns out, the ideas under consideration are modest indeed:

One pro-growth strategy would be to strengthen language in Fed policy statements that the central bank's interest rate target is likely to remain "exceptionally low" for an "extended period." The policymakers could change that wording to effectively commit to keeping rates near zero for even longer than investors now expect.

They might strengthen the language in their policy statements! That oughta do it! In fairness, there are a couple of other ideas under consideration that are a bit more concrete, but not, unfortunately, much more ambitious. For now, anyway, it looks like no one thinks the economy is in bad enough shape to actually bother doing anything about it.

The Future of Online News Magazines

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 6:16 PM EDT

Time magazine has decided to take a lot of its print content off the web and make it available solely to print and iPad subscribers. Felix Salmon asks a good question:

If the 1990s saw news organizations set up massive parallel online operations, then, and the 2000s saw the integration of the online operations with the legacy operations, then is this the beginning of the 2010s backswing, where the two become bifurcated again?

My guess is that the answer is no, and that this is just a case of Time making a tactical decision which makes no strategic sense. It wants to sell lots of copies of its iPad edition at $5 a pop, but [if iPad content can be read] for free just by firing up the web browser, it fears that sensible consumers won't bother. So rather than improve the iPad app and make it worth the money, Time is artificially crippling its website.

As a magazine blogger it's probably counterproductive for me to ask this, but my question is the opposite of Felix's: why do news magazines bother putting all their content on the web in the first place? The answer, of course, is advertising revenue, but that's pretty much turned out to be a bad joke, hasn't it? Reliable figures are hard to come by, but IAB estimates online display advertising amounted to $8 billion last year, and I'd be surprised if more than a quarter of that came from magazine sites. So let's be generous and say that magazines generated $2 billion in online advertising, or roughly 10% of the $20 billion they generate in print advertising. Assuming that news magazines work on about the same ratio, is that even worth keeping their websites alive for if it eats even moderately into print revenue?

I know, I know: it's not as if print advertising is going gangbusters either. And if print is dying, then news magazines had better have nifty websites or else they'll be out of business entirely. But I have my doubts about that logic. If it's online or nothing, I doubt that a news magazine like Time can afford to operate at all. Protecting print and subscription revenue at all costs may not work, but it doesn't strike me as an obviously stupid strategy. And the usual magazine strategy of putting content online several days or weeks after the print magazine has hit the stands obviously won't work in the news world.

I'm not being antediluvian here. I've spent the last eight years of my life writing online, after all. But after well over a decade to sort things out, online journalism still doesn't seem to have found a business model that makes sense. There are exceptions here and there (Politico, Gizmodo), but those do more to highlight the massive number of mainstream failures than to prove that there really is a replicable online model for others to follow.

But maybe I'm way off base here. Are magazines generating — or on track to generate — more online revenue than I think? Are there hybrid models out there that I'm unaware of? Or is the future of online versions of existing print journalism as bleak as it looks? Comments?

MMS Scrubs Safety Nod for BP From Website

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 5:40 PM EDT

Shortly after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, we reported that the Minerals Management Service canceled its annual "Safety Award for Excellence" luncheon, which—rather embarrassingly—included BP as one of the finalists for a 2010 safety commendation. The SAFE event was never held, and MMS never did get around to announcing a winner. Now Energy & Environment reports that the Department of Interior has scrubbed the evidence of BP's finalist-status from its website.

You can see here that BP is no longer listed as a finalist in the "High OCS Activity Operator" category. E&E got this screenshot of what the page used to look like, however:

The SAFE awards don't have a particularly solid record, so perhaps its understandable that they'd want to hide BP's nod. One of the 2009 award recipients was Deepwater Horizon-owner Transocean. But Interior has been trying to send MMS down the memory hole entirely. Last month they announced that they were changing its name to the "Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement," which is substantially more complicated but doesn't conjure the memory of sex, drug and oil parties and, oh yeah, the giant Gulf disaster.

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The Bond Villains at the Jerry Falwell Museum

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 4:03 PM EDT

The Great Books:: Liberty U's Barnes & Noble is like any college bookstore anywhere, right down to the overpriced coffee. The books are a little bit different, though (Photo: Tim Murphy).The Great Books: Liberty U's Barnes & Noble is like any college bookstore anywhere, right down to the overpriced coffee. The books are a little bit different, though (Photo: Tim Murphy).Lynchburg, Virginia—Although a friend in Charlottesville had informed me that Lynchburg might be a nice place for me to check out my first gun shop, the real attraction in town is the campus of Liberty University. Founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, the televangelist who once suggested that 9/11 may have been God's punishment for homosexuality (I mean, really, who can say for sure?), it's emerged as one of the nation's most prominent conservative Christian institutions. At the law school, the world's only full-scale replica of the Supreme Court courtroom invites students to think about their futures in public life; last year, the school's president, Jerry Falwell Jr., shut down a Democratic student organization because of the party's position on abortion.

The crown jewel on campus, though, might be the Jerry Falwell Museum, located by the main entrance to the vistors center and perfectly situated for prospective students and their parents to stop in as they wait for a tour. It's kind of awesome. The museum houses not one but two stuffed bears, the smaller a black bear named Gertie that the Reverend's father had wrestled (!!) as a young man, and tucked in a side room reserved for alumni, a 10-foot-tall Kodiak donated by a visiting speaker. You can find the piano that was played at the church the night the Reverend was saved, his wife's wedding dress, and a to-scale replica of the tricked-out car his father used to run liquor during prohibition. One room consists almost entirely of photos of its namesake with people more and less famous than himself. There's Jerry with Evander Holyfield; Jerry with Ted Kennedy; Jerry with the Presidents Bush; Jerry with Franklin Graham; Even, tucked in the corner, a photo of Jerry and the tall scary guy who played Jaws in Moonraker.*

A young woman is there with her parents, waiting for an official school tour to begin. She's currently in college (in North Carolina, I think). "It's a 'Baptist' college, in quotations, because I don't think they talked a lot about God the week I was there," says the mom, matter of factly, to tour guide. "Mom, they did!" the daughter protests. Parents are required by a federal law to say stuff like this at least once on every college tour, I think.

Jerry and Jaws:: You may know Richard Kiel as Bond villain Jaws, or as Mr. Larson in Happy Gilmore. Jerry Falwell knew him as "the guy standing next to me" (Photo: Tim Murphy).Jerry and Jaws: You may know Richard Kiel as Bond villain Jaws, or as Mr. Larson in Happy Gilmore. Jerry Falwell knew him as "the guy standing next to me" (Photo: Tim Murphy).The family leaves and I get to talking to a man named Ryan, a former student who now works at the school. I ask Ryan about Liberty's commencement speaker last spring, Glenn Beck. It wasn't quite Obama at Notre Dame, but, he says, "a lot of people were like 'whooooa—he's Mormon." The elderly man sitting at the desk, who I presume works there but doesn't really talk except for once or twice and even then for never more than five seconds, jumps in at this point: "He's not a Christian," he says, speaking of Beck. Then he goes back to his book.

Ryan doesn't really mind much what Beck is, though. He says that while "about a third" of those in attendence at the ceremony were skeptical going in, once Beck started things off by expressing his admiration for the school, he had the crowd in hand. As he explains it, "I don’t really care whether you're Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, or Christian. I just care about how conservative you are." Needless to say, Glenn Beck passes that test.

Kaplan on Romney

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 3:24 PM EDT

Yesterday I read Mitt Romney's attack on the New-START treaty with Russia, which cuts back on both sides' nuclear arsenals, and even though I don't know much about this stuff I was left scratching my head. A commission can broadly amend the treaty? (Not likely.) We aren't allowed to load ICBMs on bombers? (ICBMs don't go on bombers, do they?) We aren't allowed to convert ICBM silos into missile defense sites? (Do we even want to?) Etc. etc.

Well, it turns out it's even worse than that. Fred Kaplan does know a lot about this stuff, and his epic takedown is here. There is, almost literally, not a single meaningful word in Romney's entire piece. But I guess that's a feature, not a bug. It's a great bit of base pandering for the Republican Party's 2012 primaries, and that's pretty obviously what it's aimed at.

Darrell Issa: Annoyer-in-Chief?

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 3:12 PM EDT

Every Congress seems to produce a designated pest, adept at drawing attention to nuisance issues (and his nuisance self) while making trouble for the other party when it controls the White House. Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, played that role during the Bush administration, while Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, did it before him in the Clinton years.

That's how Mark Leibovich launches into the meat of his New York Times profile of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who's filling the role of designated congressional annoyance for the current administration. Leibovich hits several of the high notes that make Issa a particularly interesting character: his troubled past, his car alarm fortune ("step away from the car" is a recording of his voice). He even digs up a new anecdote about Rahm Emanuel flipping Issa the bird in the House gym (a story Emanuel denies). But if you're looking for more Issa trivia, check out my September 2009 profile of the congressman. Did you know that members of the Jewish Defense League were accused of plotting to pipe-bomb Issa's district office in 2001? Or that Issa nearly ran for California governor himself after backing the recall campaign against Gray Davis? Now you do. Read up, and get ready for an interesting few years should the Republicans regain Congress (and hand Issa subpoena power). 

 

BP's Big Ad Buys: At least $5.6 Million

| Wed Jul. 7, 2010 2:22 PM EDT

Anybody who's bought a national newspaper in the past two months has probably seen BP's full-page spreads pledging, "We will get it done. We will make this right." The ads have been prominently displayed in the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today, among other outlets. Given the ad rates at these papers, it's clear that BP has been forking over plenty of money for the campaign.

Just how much? Greenpeace kept track of BP's ads throughout June and came up with a rundown of how much they likely cost. The company ran 12 ads in the Times, 15 in the Washington Post, and 11 in USA Today. Based on the ad rates for each paper, which vary by color, day of the week, and size (for example, according to their rate card, a full-page color at the Times on a weekday costs $230,266, while a black and white ad costs $194,166), Greenpeace calculated that BP spent at least $5.6 million on ads in these three papers alone in the month of June—no small chunk of change considering how bad the adversting market is for print media these days.

BP has bought enough ads at the Post, for example, to qualify for a bulk rate. It's not a special discount, Marc Rosenberg, senior advertising manager at the paper, explained to me last month. "Anybody who is buying 10 full pages of ads would get the discount," he said. Rosenberg also said that BP can state a preference on where an ad goes in the paper—meaning the company could request that its ads not be positioned immediately across from photos of oil-soaked birds, for example. "Any advertiser has the right to request preferences for placement," he said.

And BP of course has the right to shell out as much money as it wants on the ads—and, knowing full well the state of the print media, I wouldn't begrudge any paper for taking as much BP ad money as they can get their hands on. But how much control BP might have over where the ads are placed and whether the company gets discounts is an interesting subject. After all, these papers have done amazing and abundant work on the Gulf disaster, so it must raise at least a few questions about how to best deal with these giant ads about a controversial subject that is currently all over the news.

"That has obviously been a challenge at times," Rosenberg acknowledged. "There are days that there isn't much in the paper besides oil spill."

USA Today vice president of advertising Bruce Dewar said that it's standard industry practice to work with advertisers on placement, though he said that, to his knowledge, BP has not made any specific requests to avoid placing its ads near spill coverage. "We will work with an advertiser if there is going to be a clear direct conflict that is going to be embarrassing to both of us," said Dewar. He also said the BP is getting a bulk rate on ads there too. "BP is spending at a level that is definitely earning them some discount," he said. The Times didn't return requests for information about their policies.

Greenpeace's Kert Davies argues that perhaps BP shouldn't get a say when it comes to placement given the current situation, or in the very least should be forced to pay full-price. "This is part of a very clear national image washing campaign. It's damage control," he says. "They're clearly broadcasting to an audience of decision makers, thought leaders, and the public through these print outlets." But at the same time, he said, "It's good if this ad revenue supports ongoing, good reporting that the Times and Post are doing."

There's also another important question about just how much these ads are actually helping BP. Congressmen have lambasted the "make this right" line repeatedly, noting that it can never really be "right," given the scale of the disaster. And I've talked to more than one person who felt the ads were more off-putting than anything else. As Gavan Fitzsimons, a professor of marketing and psychology at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, explained, "A lot of folks see those ads and think, give me a break. It's too little too late." The ads, he said, "really strike the wrong cord with a lot of folks."

It's also worth noting that the $5.6 million on print ads in major papers alone is probably only a tiny fraction of what the company has bought so far. They've also run ads in local Gulf papers, on television, and all over the internet, which isn't included in that figure.