2010 - %3, October

Target Boos Homemade Costumes

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 4:18 PM PDT

Target recently came out with a new commercial that puts down homemade costumes in favor of store-bought ones. This makes sense, since the company sells costumes and we're in a recession where a $19.99, 100% polyester Iron Man toddler costume may seem like a luxury. The commercial made me think of my own childhood Halloween costumes, which were all hand-made by my mother. Not only were they higher quality than the store-bought kind, they've lasted for generations. A Snow White costume she made for me (from real cotton and satin) lasted for more than 20 years and was handed around from family to family. In 1995, she made a matching baby-and-mama set of elephant costumes (see baby below) that still exist. I can only imagine that making a product that lasts for 20-some years, and is reused, may not be better for the environment as a whole, but may be better for landfills. I'm not sure what the carbon or water footprints of a homemade costume is versus the kind you'd buy at the store. I started looking into the carbon emissions for 3 yards of cotton versus 2 yards of polyester, but there are so many variables (shipping, manufacturing, etc) that I don't think it's really confirmable which is greener.

Of course, not every child has a parent who can, or has time to, cut a pattern, buy fabric, cut fabric, fit, and sew a costume. I definitely understand the appeal of just being able to buy one at Target and being done. Stores also have trend-based costumes, like Iron Man or Legally Blonde. I have to take issue with Target that homemade costumes are necessarily poor quality: mine won 'best costume' several years running. Thanks Mom!

 

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Why Is Obama Fighting to Keep DADT?

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 4:05 PM PDT

After a district court judge ruled the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy unconstitutional last month, the Obama administration went to court to defend it. Why? Officially, they say it's because they feel obligated to defend all properly enacted federal laws as long as they're even arguably constitutional. If that tradition were to die away, and presidents simply declined to enforce laws they disagreed with, chaos would ensue.

But is that the real reason? Partly, yes. But I suspect it actually has more to do with past promises Obama has made to various DADT stakeholders, especially those in the military. Basically, the deal he made with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs is this: I'll let you control the process, write the rules, and move things along at a deliberate pace. In return, you'll promise not to publicly oppose repeal. The tradeoff is simple: DADT repeal will take a little longer, but it will end up having the support of the military leadership and will therefore be less contentious and more permanent. This is a win for both Obama and the military.

For better or worse, deals like this are just the way politics works. If Obama chose to drop the court case and let DADT be abruptly repealed before the military had its ducks in a row, the Pentagon leadership would probably take it as a personal betrayal by a commander-in-chief who had given his word on how this would all play out. That's not something a president can afford.

This, by the way, is probably also the reason that the public option wasn't added to the healthcare reform bill during the reconciliation process. Aside from the fact that Nancy Pelosi might not have had the votes in the House for it, Harry Reid had (again, for better or worse) agreed to drop the public option months earlier in return for support of the main bill by centrist senators like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. Having done that, and having gotten their votes based on that agreement, he couldn't turn around a few months later and put it back into the bill just because he didn't need their votes any longer. No party leader can pull a stunt like that and expect to retain the confidence of his caucus.

So Obama is stuck. He gave his word to the military leadership, and he has to stick to it whether it's politically beneficial or not. What's more, I suspect that he really does think that everyone will be better off if repeal happens via the political process and with the full support of the military brass. His decision to appeal the district court decision was, as they say, heavily overdetermined. He had what he considered three good reasons, and any one of them would have been enough.

Germans Not Hot on Tea Party's Hitler References

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 3:30 PM PDT

Tea partiers do not shy away from comparing Obama to Hitler, but a recent op-ed in Germany's Der Spiegel shows that on the other side of the Atlantic, comparing anyone to one of the most prolific mass murderers in history is not to be taken lightly. Tea partiers not only diminish the true horror of the holocaust when they compare Obama to Hitler, they also make "it easier for people to say 'maybe it wasn't all that bad.'" From Der Spiegel

Back in June Glenn Beck said that children singing for Barack Obama was "out of the playbook … of the Third Reich ….This is Hitler Youth." One can assume that not all of Beck's listeners and viewers know what the Hitler Youth was. Beck himself, an astute, if cynical, student of history, certainly does. The Hitler Youth was the ideological training grounds designed to prepare German boys for a glorious career in the SS murdering anyone who stood in the way of the Führer's dream of a vast and racially pure German Reich. It was not a dictator's private children's choir.

One can forgive those like Glenn Beck and his Tea Party followers for hating Barack Obama... But it is hard to imagine even the most hard-bitten Tea Party activist sincerely believing that President Barack Obama wants to systematically murder over 6 million people like Adolf Hitler did. And that is necessarily the implication.

In 2002 a German politician was forced to resign for simply comparing George W. Bush's political tactics to Der Fuhrer's. One can only imagine the German response if one of their political candidates dressed as a Nazi for fun.

 

 

 

Sexiest, and Sexist-ist, Costumes from Target

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 12:04 PM PDT

I was browsing the costume selection at Target.com, and didn't realize that more than half of the girls' costumes are miniskirts (Brrr! Plus, can you say sexualization of children?). Here's a selection of the sexiest, and most sexist, costumes I found for kids. They actually weren't as bad as I was expecting, and there were some adorable costumes as well, but something about the ensembles below just rubs me the wrong way. 

 

Soldier Sweetie

Women now make up 14% of the US Army. Isn't there room for a soldier outfit that doesn't involve this top?

 

 

 

 

Kimono Kutie

This outfit is a bizarre mix of the Japanese kimono, Chinese qipao, and San Francisco massage parlor. There's actually not that much wrong with it, other than bastardization of culture which happens to everyone (Native Americans, Arabs, pirates etc) during the holiday. I'm just glad they found an excuse to use the Asian kid, 'cause she's adorable.

 

Referee Girl

With the knee-socks, the hat, and the short skirt, this costume looks more Britney Spears than sporty. But hey, they gave her a whistle.

 

 

 

 

Doctor Scrubs

Target uses only boys to model the green and blue surgeon's kid's scrubs. The pink vet's scrubs are shown on a girl. There is one set of unisex ER scrubs for older kids, but they're listed in the boy's section.

 

 

 

Madame Butterfly

I don't know about the soundness of making a costume for pre-teens based on someone who gets married at 15, has a child, is abandoned, and then commits suicide. Pretty colors, though. This costume is listed under "Occupation."

 

 

 

Wizard Wanda

This is offensive. Not because of the sexy schoolgirl. It's just an obvious Harry Potter rip-off. It's worth noting there are regular Hogwarts, I mean, wizard robes at Target: they're just not listed as "girl" costumes.

 

 

 

Cuddly Lion

This is one of the very few times Target.com uses an African-American girl as a costume model. It's not exactly sexist, maybe just a little insensitive.

 

 

 

Johanns Challenges Clinton on Keystone Pipeline

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 12:02 PM PDT

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to indicate that the State Department will give its blessing to the massive, 1,661-mile Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Alberta's tar sands to refineries in Texas. On Thursday, Mike Johanns, the junior senator from Nebraska, pushed back

The huge pipeline hasn't been officially green-lighted yet, and a decision isn't expected until early 2011. But Clinton's recent remarks made it sound like a done deal. The project has been especially controversial in Nebraska, where Johanns and Republican Gov. Dave Heineman have expressed concern about its environmental impacts.

Clinton's comment, Johanns wrote, is "premature" and "appears to prejudge the outcome as a foregone conclusion." He continued:

I do not object to oil pipelines in Nebraska, but there is heightened environmental sensitivity when a pipeline traverses an irreplaceable natural resource, the Ogallala Aquifer, with little examination of potentially preferable alternatives. Furthermore, your Department's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) fails to assess in a substantial manner the porous soil along the proposed route, which may make the aquifer especially susceptible to a potential spill. At stake is the essential source of 78 percent of Nebraska's drinking water, yet the DEIS and your comments lead me to believe it is this Administration's intention to simply accept the pipeline route as proposed.

There are probably plenty of folks in the Obama administration who also weren't particularly happy about Clinton's remark. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the State Department's initial assessment of the pipeline's potential impact a failing grade, stating that the evaluation "does not provide the scope or detail of analysis necessary to fully inform decision makers and the public." The agency suggested a need for closer scrutiny of the pipeline's implications for air pollution, public safety, and public health, and called for further evaluation of the capacity for spill response.

Additional study is still pending, but Clinton's remarks suggest that they might not affect the ultimate outcome.

UPDATE: Nebraska's senior senator, Democrat Ben Nelson, also sent Clinton a letter on the subject on Thursday afternoon."I am deeply concerned by your remarks last week to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, California, regarding the U.S. Department of State's approval process for pipeline projects," wrote Nelson. "These comments strike me, and many of my fellow Nebraskans, as an indication that a decision has been reached on the Keystone XL pipeline before your agency has done a thorough study of the environmental impacts which the pipeline will have on Nebraska's Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer."

Could Barbecues Help Fight Climate Change?

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 11:43 AM PDT

This post first appeared on the Guardian website.

Barbecues that remove CO2 from the air could play a role in the fight against climate change according to Durwood Zaelke, a leading expert on rapid responses to global warming.

This year's outdoor cooking season might be over, but Zaelke suggested at last week's 10:10 talk that from next summer consumers should start demanding barbecues that do their bit for the planet by generating rather than consuming charcoal—or biochar.

Zaelke's idea is based on a stove designed for use in the developing world by Rob Flanagan. The stove creates heat by turning wood or other biomass into charcoal, a process that releases combustible gases.

Once the cooking is over, most of the carbon from the fuel remains in the stove in the form of charcoal. This can then be mixed in with soil, a process that sequesters the carbon for thousands of years and boosts crop productivity.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Climate Change Folly

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 11:36 AM PDT

Politico reports that the EPA is about to propose modest greenhouse gas emission limits for heavy trucks and buses. Stephen Spruiell comments:

It’s going to be very, very difficult for Congress or industry to get the EPA to stop doing this. I’m fairly sure that the president can veto or ignore any law or resolution aimed at curtailing the EPA’s power on this front, and we know where the Court stands. My concern is that even if the GOP takes the White House in 2012, the EPA will have set so much of this process in motion that it will be difficult or possibly pointless to undo.

Obviously Spruiell is unhappy about this, though I'm pretty sure these regs are only superficially related to climate change anyway. Basically, they're just an extension of the usual CAFE mileage standards, but ever since the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA was required to regulate greenhouse gases CAFE has become a joint DOT/EPA effort. That's a pretty thin veneer, though. Improving mileage automatically reduces carbon emissions, so EPA's involvement really has very little practical effect.

Still, Spruiell is right in general: EPA is going to start regulating greenhouse gases, and they're going to do it because congressional conservatives unanimously rejected a climate bill that would have preempted EPA action and set up a better, more predictable1 framework for reducing carbon emissions. So now we're going to start getting piecemeal EPA regulations that even liberals don't really want. Conservative compromise could have produced a bill that, literally, would have been better than the status quo by everyone's yardstick. The business community would have liked it better than EPA regs, liberals would have liked it better, and conservatives would have liked it better. But compromise is death with the tea party breathing down your neck, so instead we end up with the worst of all possible worlds. Nice work.

1Yes, more predictable. Ironically, for all the yammering that conservatives are currently doing about businesses cowering in fear because of the jackboot of Barack Obama's regulatory dystopia, they rejected a bill that would have removed EPA uncertainty and replaced it with known, reasonably measurable rules.

UN Peacekeeper to Photographer: Shoot Me and I'll Shoot You

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 11:21 AM PDT

When I showed this amazing picture to my friend, after she registered what she was looking at, her eyes went huge while she exclaimed, "Oh my god!" with her hand over her mouth. The scene is a protest last week in Port-au-Prince. The guy on the left is a clearly unarmed and videotaping journalist from Texas named Ansel Herz, whom I happened to work with when I was in Haiti last month. The uniformed fellow pointing a gun directly at his face is a United Nations peacekeeper.

I didn't meet many (okay, any) Haitian fans of MINUSTAH, the UN stabilization force that's been in the country since 2004. I have, for the record, met some MINUSTAH who are definitely good guys and have, for example, helped a woman in labor get to the hospital, and helped stop a man who was trying to kill his wife for refusing to have sex with him. But the force has also shot civilians. It's had to have meetings about how not to sexually abuse the Haitian population. In fact, last week's protest erupted after the UN officially renewed MINUSTAH's mandate. Some of the protesters' complaints, which echo those I heard while in-country, are that MINUSTAH doesn't actually do anything to protect civilians living in filthy, violent, rape-infested displacement camps, and that the money could be better spent dealing with those issues.

I asked Ansel how he ended up on the business end of a UN gun, just in case there was any kind of conflict or missing context surrounding this photo. Not so much, he says: "Maybe they felt threatened by my camera." 

Base Desires in Afghanistan

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 11:10 AM PDT

As we know from a single April 19, 2003 New York Times piece, the Pentagon arrived in Saddam Hussein's Iraq preparing for a long stay. They already had at least four mega-military bases on the drawing boards as they entered the country (all subsequently built). "Enduring camps" they decided to call them, rather than the dicier "permanent bases." In the end, hundreds of bases were constructed in Iraq, from the tiniest combat outposts to monster installations, to the tune of untold billions of dollars. In the end, hundreds are now being left behind to be stripped, looted, or occupied by the Iraqi military.

From Baghdad, the British Guardian's correspondent Martin Chulov recently reported that part of the price Nouri al-Maliki seems to have negotiated (in Tehran, not Washington) to retain his prime ministership may involve not letting the Pentagon keep even a single monster base in Iraq after 2011. This was evidently demanded by former US nemesis, rebel cleric, and now "kingmaker" Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement controls more than 10% of the votes in Iraq's new parliament. That can't make the Pentagon, or the US high command, happy—and the Obama administration is already kicking.

However this ends for Washington, barely based or baseless in Iraq, surely this was not the way it was supposed to happen, not when it was still "mission accomplished" time and it seemed so self-evident that American military power, obviously unchallengeable, would be deeply entrenched on either side of Iran until "regime change" occurred there.

If you want a measure of how far the US has "fallen" in Iraq, it now has only 21 "burn pits" there—places at US bases where waste of all sorts is incinerated, regularly spewing smoke filled with toxic emissions into the air to the detriment of American soldiers (and undoubtedly local Iraqis as well). On the other hand, according to a Government Accountability Office report, there are now 221 such pits in Afghanistan and "more coming." Put another way, even as America's baseworld in Iraq dwindles, there seems to be no learning curve in Washington. As Nick Turse suggests in his most recent TomDispatch report, in Afghanistan we seem to be heading down the Iraq path on bases with a special ardor. More than nine years after our "successful" invasion, billions of US taxpayer dollars are still flowing into constructing and upgrading the massive base structure in that country—and yet, there are never enough of them.

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece on an unexpected surge of Taliban successes in northern Afghanistan, Army Colonel Bill Burleson, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, among the relatively modest US forces in the northern part of that country, is quoted as saying somewhat desperately of Taliban gains in the region: "In order to deny that terrain to the enemy you'd have to have people all over Afghanistan in combat outposts." Good point, Colonel. Why stop now?

The Foreclosure Mill Scandal

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 10:14 AM PDT

A few weeks ago, after Ally Financial halted all its foreclosure proceedings because it had discovered "important but technical defects" in its paperwork, all hell broke loose. Home foreclosures, it turned out, were routinely based on documentation that was sloppy at best and fraudulent at worst, and the stories since then have just kept getting worse and worse.

But those stories all started with an expose of "foreclosure mills" that was written last August by our own Andy Kroll. His look at this shadowy industry begins with the case of Ariane and Tom Ice, who were investigating foreclosures by one of Florida's biggest mills, run by multimillionaire attorney David J. Stern:

A Florida notary's stamp is valid for four years, and its expiration date is visible on the imprint. But here in front of Ice were dozens of assignments notarized with stamps that hadn't even existed until months—in some cases nearly a year — after the foreclosures were filed. Which meant Stern's people were foreclosing first and doing their legal paperwork later. In effect, it also meant they were lying to the court — an act that could get a lawyer disbarred or even prosecuted. "There's no question that it's pervasive," says Tom Ice of the backdated documents — nearly two dozen of which were verified by Mother Jones. "We've found tons of them."

...The Ices had uncovered what looked like a pattern, so Tom booked a deposition with Stern's top deputy, Cheryl Samons, and confronted her with the backdated documents—including two from cases her firm had filed against Ice Legal's clients. Samons insisted that the filings were just a mistake, so the Ices moved to depose the notaries and other Stern employees. On the eve of those depositions, however, the firm dropped foreclosure proceedings against the Ices' clients.

It was a bittersweet victory: The Ices had won their cases, but Stern's practices remained under wraps. "This was done to cover up fraud," Tom fumes. "It was done precisely so they could try to hit a reset button and keep us from getting the real goods."

If you want to know where it all started, read the whole thing. When you're done, you'll no longer wonder how all of this could have happened. It was baked into the cake from the start.