2011 - %3, March

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March, 30 2011

Wed Mar. 30, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

Soldiers from Combined Team Zabul, ISAF Regional Command (South), sling-load a container of components for a cell phone tower, Friday, March 25, 2011, at Forward Operating Base Lagman in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Jerry Wilson

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Guy Kawasaki's Advice for Job Seekers

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 3:30 AM EDT

Recently I interviewed Guy Kawasaki, the author of "Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions" and Apple's former chief evangelist. (Read the Mother Jones interview here.) Kawasaki, aside from having a million-watt smile, also has some solid advice for new college graduates that's equally useful for high school students looking for a summer job or internship, (or any jobseeker, really). Here it is below:

Mother Jones: How would you describe the art of (and need for) enchantment to a college student about to enter a challenging job market?

Guy Kawasaki: There are two ways to approach the application process: trying to hit a home run by getting an immediate "yes, here's an offer" or trying not to be eliminated. I recommend the second approach. Step one is to avoid elimination at the cover email/letter and resume stage. This means that your cover email is customized for the particular company and the particular job within that company. To do anything less means that you are lazy.

Assuming you're not eliminated at this stage, then you're on to the interview. This is when a student can truly apply the skills of the book. First, you need to convince the interviewer that you are likable and trustworthy. These are the cornerstones of good relationships with people. The judgement begins with the very first impression: are you smiling? Are you dressed appropriately? Not too high for a tech company. Not too low for a consulting company. How is your handshake? It should be communicate that you are solid, dependable, and friendly person.

You have two jobs in the interview: first, to convince the interviewer that you can do the job; second, that you will "fit in" at the company. Think of this as a 2 x 2 matrix:

Competent    Not Competent

Fit     X         Doesn't fit

X marks the spot. The most powerful way to convince the interviewer that you can do the job is to show how much you already know about the industry, the company, and the products/services of the company. In other words, enchant the interviewer with how much you already know. For example, if you're interviewing with Apple, you probably won't score points if you ask, "Have you guys got a Verizon version of the iPhone yet?"

If you can, try to find out who you are meeting with before the interviews. Then use a service like Spokeo.com (disclosure: I advised the company) or LinkedIn to learn about these people. Don't creep them out by telling them you saw the Flickr photos of their kid's birthday party, but finding out that you went to the same school or share the same hobbies with you is very useful.

After the interview, be sure to send an email to everyone you met and do this within twenty-four hours of the interview. This means that you should be smart enough to have asked for everyone's email that you met. Of course you'll thank the person and tell them how much you'd like to work at the company—assuming this is true. But a truly enchanting candidate will remember the personal things. Perhaps you found out that the interviewer likes hockey or photography, then mention a hockey news story or the review of a new Nikon.

If nothing happens for a week, email the primary contact. Don't be a pest, but don't disappear either. Let's face it: you're selling. The company is not buying. Hopefully, there's another round of interviews, and the enchantment begins again. Just keep thinking: you need to move the company from ignorance (not knowing you exist) to awareness (your resume) to engagement (interviews) to enchantment (an offer).

Did BP Spill Kill Hundreds More Dolphins?

| Wed Mar. 30, 2011 1:32 AM EDT

Killer whales. Photo by Pittman, courtesy NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons.Killer whales. Photo by Pittman, courtesy NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons.

A new paper in Conservation Letters calculates that the numbers of whales and dolphins killed in BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster could be 50 times higher than the number of carcasses found.

The authors—a high-powered list of renowned cetacean researchers from Canada, the US, Australia, and Scotland (including Scott Krause, who I filmed years ago for a documentary about North Atlantic right whales)—write of a general misperception of the Deepwater Horizon impact:

Many media reports have suggested that the spill caused only modest environmental impacts, in part because of a low number of observed wildlife mortalities, especially marine mammals.

Atlantic spotted dolphins. Photo by Bmatulis, via Wikimedia Commons.Atlantic spotted dolphins. Photo by Bmatulis, via Wikimedia Commons.

Compared to the 1989 Exxon Valdez, with its iconic oiled otters and high body counts, the Deepwater Horizon seems, well, not so bad. The authors point out that "only" 101 dead cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) were found in the Northern Gulf of Mexico as of 7 November 2010. The number's misleading though.

The issue arises when policymakers, legislators, or biologists treat these carcass-recovery counts as though they were complete counts or parameters estimated from some representative sample, when in fact, they are opportunistic observations. Our study suggests that these opportunistic observations should be taken to estimate only the bare minimum number of human-caused mortalities.

Humpback whale. Photo by Whit Welles Wwelles14, via Wikimedia Commons.Humpback whale. Photo by Whit Welles Wwelles14, via Wikimedia Commons.

So how many more whales, dolphins, and porpoises actually died? That problem is tough to figure to begin with and is compounded by a dearth of data in the Gulf—a fact that will work greatly in BP's favor when the time comes to levy fines.

The Gulf of Mexico is a semi-enclosed subtropical sea that forms essentially one ecosystem with many demographically independent cetacean populations. Some of these cetacean populations, such as killer whales (Orcinus orca), false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens), melonheaded whales (Peponocephala electra), and several beaked whale species, appear to be quite small, are poorly studied, or are found in the pelagic realm where they could have been exposed to oil and yet never strand. Small, genetically isolated populations of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) could have experienced substantial losses either inshore or offshore.

Atlantic spotted dolphins. Photo by Bmatulis, via Wikimedia Commons.Atlantic spotted dolphins. Photo by Bmatulis, via Wikimedia Commons.

Two methods of extrapolation could shed light on how many cetaceans BP's disaster killed:

  1. Compare abundance before the disaster to abundance after—but since we don't know the population size of whale and dolphins species in the Gulf before hand we're unlikely to notice anything short of "the most catastrophic decline" and maybe not even that.
  2. Count the number of carcasses recovered—knowing that many will evade our count, having sunk, decayed, been scavenged, or drifted away. So adjust the counts upward to estimate total mortality. This approach is used to estimate bird deaths at power lines, where, in at least one instance, we now know that bird body counts underestimate total actual deaths by a whopping 32 percent.

The authors worked the two methods as best they could and added something more.

Given the magnitude of the spill and complexity of the response, quantifying the ecological impacts will take a long time. To contribute to this effort, we examined historical data from the Northern Gulf of Mexico to evaluate whether cetacean carcass counts in this region have previously been reliable indicators of mortality, and may therefore accurately represent deaths caused by the Deepwater Horizon/BP event.

Sperm whale. Photo courtesy NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons.Sperm whale. Photo courtesy NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons.

Their methods and analysis suggest that an average of 4,474 cetaceans died in the northern Gulf every year between 2003 and 2007 from all causes, human and natural. Yet since an average of only 17 bodies were found in those years, the body count represented only ~0.4 percent of total deaths.

Consider, for example, one sperm whale being detected as a carcass, and a necropsy identified oiling as a contributing factor in the whale's death. If the carcass-detection rate for sperm whales is 3.4%, then it is plausible that 29 sperm whale deaths represents the best estimate of total mortality, given no additional information. If, for example, 101 cetacean carcasses were recovered overall, and all deaths were attributed to oiling, the average-recovery rate (2%) would translate to 5,050 carcasses, given the 101 carcasses detected.

Those are chilling numbers. Period. But also in light of the relatively tiny populations of cetaceans in the Gulf. Especially since most if not all cetaceans are highly social, and since oil and chemical dispersants likely injured, sickened, or killed entire clusters, schools, pods, matrilines, or groups at the same time—and may still be doing so.

The authors describe the near-lethal affect of the Exxon Valdez disaster on one well-known and well-studied pod of killer whales in Alaska.

In the first year after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, the AT1 group of "transient" killer whales experienced a 41% loss; there has been no reproduction since the spill. Although the cause of the apparent sterility is unknown, the lesson serves as an important reminder that immediate death is not the only factor that can lead to long-term loss of population viability.

Pilot whale mother and calf. Photo by Clark Anderson via Wikimedia Commons.Pilot whale mother and calf. Photo by Clark Anderson via Wikimedia Commons.

The paper:

  • Williams. R, Gero. S, Bejder. L., Calambokidis. J, Kraus. S, Lusseau. D, Read. A, Robbins. J. Underestimating the Damage: Interpreting Cetacean Carcass Recoveries in the Context of the Deepwater Horizon/BP Incident. Conservation Letters. Wiley-Blackwell. March 2011, DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2011.00168.x

Crossposted from Deep Blue Home.

Should Mitch Daniels Run?

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 7:41 PM EDT

Joe Klein is unhappy:

This is my 10th presidential campaign, Lord help me. I have never before seen such a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers coagulated under a single party's banner. They are the most compelling argument I've seen against American exceptionalism.

....There are those who say, cynically, if this is the dim-witted freak show the Republicans want to present in 2012, so be it. I disagree. One of them could get elected. You never know. Mick Huckabee, the front-runner if you can believe it, might have to negotiate a trade agreement, or a defense treaty, with the Indonesian President some day. Newt might have to discuss very delicate matters of national security with the President of Pakistan. And so I plead, as an unflinching American patriot — please Mitch Daniels, please Jeb Bush, please run. I may not agree with you on most things, but I respect you. And you seem to respect yourselves enough not to behave like public clowns.

I don't know about Jeb, but I agree that Mitch Daniels seems like he ought to be a decent candidate. He's a genuine conservative, not a RINO sellout, but also not a wingnut. He's a midwesterner, has experience in the Bush administration, and commands a fair amount of establishment respect. Not my cup of tea, obviously, but his background ought to be appealing to a fair number of Republicans.

But the usual question remains: how does he get through the primaries? When he hops over to Iowa, they'll expect him to denounce sharia law, make jokes about Obama's Kenyan birth, throw himself wholeheartedly into the culture wars, pretend that global warming is a liberal conspiracy, and make dire remarks about the specter of socialism taking over America. In other words, he'll have to act like a public clown, and if he doesn't do it, he'll lose.

So it's pretty much a no-win scenario for him. If he's smart, he'll wait for 2016 and hope that the Republican Party has come to its senses by then.

Quote of the Day: Pawlenty on Cap-and-Trade

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 5:31 PM EDT

From Tim Pawlenty, possibly the most boring person ever to be considered a front runner for a presidential nomination:

Anybody who’s going to run for this office who’s been in an executive position, or may run, has got some clunkers in their record. Laura, mine I think are fewer and less severe than most. As to climate change, or more specifically cap-and-trade, I’ve just come out and admitted it — look, it was a mistake, it was stupid....Everybody in the race, well at least the big names in the race, embraced climate change or cap-and-trade at one point or another. Every one of us.

That's true. And then, suddenly, every one of them didn't. Why is that?

One possibility is that they just like taking stands that piss off liberals. But opposing cap-and-trade would have pissed off liberals four years ago and they didn't do it then. So what changed?

The answer isn't very complex. Four years ago, in the wake of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth and growing public concern about global warming, corporate America felt that some kind of action on greenhouse gases was probably inevitable. And if it was inevitable, then cap-and-trade was their best bet. From their point of view it probably looked less threatening than a flat carbon tax, which is harder to game than cap-and-trade, and less costly than flat mandates from the EPA. So they got on board, and Republicans got on board with them.

But then a couple of years ago public concern over global warming started to wane and it became less obvious that action on greenhouse gases really was inevitable. So instead of settling for cap-and-trade as their least worst alternative, they decided to fight instead for their first best alternative: doing nothing. And once again, Republicans got on board with them.

All this was made easier by the fact that the conservative wing of the GOP was never a fan of regulating greenhouse gases in the first place, and when John McCain lost the 2008 election it was easy to demonize squishy stands like his support of cap-and-trade as evidence that America had no interest in Democrat-lite policies. If corporations had continued to support cap-and-trade, there could have been a real tug-of-war between the business wing of the party and the Obama-is-a-socialist wing of the party, but once the business community jumped ship it was no contest. They usually get what they pay for, after all.

Obama Adviser Continues to Defend Stance on Libya

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 4:33 PM EDT

On a conference call with reporters this afternoon, President Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes hammered home the White House's rationale for taking action in Libya. Rhodes, who wrote the president's address to the nation on the war in Libya, repeatedly emphasized that the driving motivation behind Operation Odyssey Dawn is protecting civilians. Regime change through military means, he stressed, isn't on the menu. And Rhodes reminded callers that the Obama adminstration isn't viewing Libya in the same light that the Bush administration saw Iraq.

Rhodes made the case that there are vast differences between military action to secure a civilian population versus military action to oust an autocrat. "When you militarily undertake regime change, you have far greater ownership over what comes next," he said. "And therefore you're assuming costs both in terms of achieving regime change, but also in terms of being responsible essentially for replacing the government you've removed." The White House wants to see the end of the Qaddafi regime, but prefers to "apply tools to pressure," like cutting off him his money and further isolating him internationally.

Rhodes adamantly reiterated President Obama's message to Americans that the US isn't looking to commit ground troops to Odyssey Dawn. But what about to post-Dawn peacekeeping? It's "obviously a different mission than the one we're engaged in right now," he said. "But I think it would be premature to hazard any predictions that the US would participate in such a force. It's certainly not something that we're planning against at this point." Rhodes also said that any plans for a post-Qaddafi Libya, if it comes about, have been frustrated by the dictator's stifling of civil institutions. "One of the challenges in Libya is that Qaddafi himself has prevented the emergence of strong institutions and strong civil society, the type of pillars that would support a transition similar to what Egyptian civil society and national institutions have done next door," Rhodes said.

He also updated reporters on this week's London conference, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is meeting with leaders of the Libyan opposition and the military coalition. While the goal-of-the-moment is securing the safety of the Libyan people through the military coalition, the conference aims to engage non-NATO Arab countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in a political effort to bring about a government that is more responsive to the Libyan people. It remains unclear, though, who the opposition actually is. Rhodes didn't offer many specifics. But he did say that the political entity the United States is dealing with "has conducted itself responsibly, in terms of statements it's made, [the] vision it's put forward." The White House, he added, will continue to monitor the still-nascent group as it develops.

The Obama adminstration is working hard to persuade Americans that its intentions in Libya are limited in scope and ambition. But some lingering questions remain. As Clinton gets to know the opposition's political leaders, what if she doesn't like what she finds? And, more urgently: how will we know when the dawn has broken, and the military operation has achieved its aims?

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Book Review: The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 3:19 PM EDT

As the British journalist Ian Thomson sets out to capture the essence of modern Jamaica, an elderly woman in the nation's capital of Kingston scolds him: "Do we really need another book on Jamaica?" she asks pointedly. "You visitors are always getting it wrong. Either it's golden beaches, or it's guns, guns, guns. Is there nothing in between?"

In The Dead Yard, Thomson searches for an answer to that question. He traverses the island's violent ghettos and plantation outposts, and visits Jamaican emigrants back in his home country. He reveals a nation that has "slipped painfully and not entirely from British rule" since its independence in 1962, "onto a path dictated by the crime and business interests of the United States and its Caribbean neighbors." (The US values Jamaica's sugar, bananas, and bauxite, and considers the country important in the battle with China over economic control of the Caribbean.)

The history of the West Indies sugar and slave trade has left an indelible mark on Jamaican society. The island's 3 million inhabitants, mostly black, remain sharply divided along racial and economic lines. The Chinese, who arrived as indentured servants in the 1840s (after Britain abolished slavery on the island) then left the plantations to open up shops, are scapegoated as "economic oppressors" and derisively called "dog-eaters." Affluent white landowners lament the nation's state of disrepair with an air of detached colonial superiority. A post-colonial reform effort by the white socialist Prime Minister Michael Manley, Thomson notes, ended eight years after his 1972 ascent to power in a violent election that claimed 800 lives.

Books: Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 1:21 PM EDT

If you think green energy is a 21st century breakthrough, think again: In 1900, roughly one-third of automobiles were electric; the first megawatt wind turbine was built in 1941; and today's wave-power startups can trace their roots to the Wave-Power Air-Compressing Company, which claimed "one of the greatest inventions of the age"—in 1895. In Powering the Dream, Madrigal, The Atlantic's tech editor, delves into alternative energy's past to glean its future. A master at autopsies of promising yet deceased technologies, he argues that some of them flopped due to lack of funding, while others, like the early '40s wind turbine, were too far ahead of their time (another turbine of its size wouldn't be built for 40 years). As Madrigal smartly shows, tackling the climate crisis takes more than inventing the next killer app: You also have to convince people to use it.

Obama the Socialist

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 12:34 PM EDT

Fox News VP Bill Sammon told a conservative audience last year that he engaged in a wee bit of fabrication during the 2008 campaign:

At that time, I have to admit, that I went on TV on Fox News and publicly engaged in what I guess was some rather mischievous speculation about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism, a premise that privately I found rather far-fetched.

Today he explains himself to Howard Kurtz:

He doesn’t regret repeatedly raising it on the air because, Sammon says, “it was a main point of discussion on all the channels, in all the media” — and by 2009 he was “astonished by how the needle had moved.”

Actually, no: I don't think it was a "main point of discussion" on all the channels. It was a main point of discussion on Fox News. On the other channels it was mainly treated as something ridiculous that Fox was promoting.

As for Sammon's moving needle, Greg Sargent sums things up: "Sammon is conceding that the idea did indeed strike him as far fetched in 2008, even though he and his network aggressively promoted it day in and day out throughout the campaign. And he’s defending this by pointing out that the idea ended up gaining traction, as if this somehow justifies the original act of dishonesty!"

Which, of course, it does. All Sammon was doing was creating a new reality, which the rest of us merely get to study judiciously. And while we're studying it (and mocking it), Fox will create another new reality. This is the way the empire works these days.

Conservative Crusade to Discredit Labor Experts Spreads to Michigan

| Tue Mar. 29, 2011 12:26 PM EDT
Protesters surround Michigan's Capitol building in opposition to Governor Rick Snyder's controversial "emergency financial manager" bill.

On March 24, William Cronon, an acclaimed history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, offered a startling revelation on his personal blog: The Wisconsin Republican Party had filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding all emails sent or received via Cronon's UW email account mentioning certain labor unions, labor leaders, the words "recall" and "collective bargaining," and the names of a host of state Republican lawmakers, including Governor Scott Walker. The request was clearly aimed at intimidating and discrediting Cronon, a prominent academic who has criticized Wisconsin Republicans, especially Walker, on his blog and in the pages of the New York Times.

Now, as Talking Points Memo reports, the free-market-loving think tank in Michigan I wrote about last week has joined the witch hunt. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy recently sent records requests to at least three academic departments at Michigan universities that study labor relations asking for all emails that mention Wisconsin's union battle, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and even MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. Here's more from TPM's Evan McMorris-Santoro:

According to professors subject to the request, filed under Michigan's version of the Freedom Of Information Act, the request is extremely rare in academic circles. An employee at the think tank requesting the emails tells TPM they're part of an investigation into what labor studies professors at state schools in Michigan are saying about the situation in Madison, Wisc., the epicenter of the clashes between unions and Republican-run state governments across the Midwest.

One professor subject to the FOIA described it as anti-union advocates "going after folks they don't agree with."

As I reported last week, the Mackinac Center is affiliated with the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. The Center's funders include one of the Koch brothers; the foundation of Dick DeVos, the heir to the Amway fortune; and the Prince Foundation, whose vice president is Blackwater founder Erik Prince. It was the Mackinac Center that inspired Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder's "emergency financial manager" bill, which gives unelected managers unilateral power to void union contracts and dissolve local governments in the process of fixing fiscally unstable municipalities and public school districts.

A cause underlying much of the center's work is privatization. Its scholars have called for privatizing Amtrak, prisons, and even the state's flagship university, the University of Michigan. The center publishes the Michigan Privatization Report, and offers how-tos on privatizing school districts and suggests local contractors available for hire to replace existing public services.

The Mackinac Center is also connected to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the private organization that allows corporations and lobbyists to craft legislation for use at the state level. For instance, as NPR reported last fall, Arizona's draconian immigration bill was based on a "model bill" written by private industry, including the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's leading private prisons company that operates corrections facilities around the country.

Now, the Mackinac Center joins the effort to discredit those who oppose their anti-union position, even though the think tank wouldn't say what it planned to do with the emails. "I'm not going to release what we're writing about," the managing editor of Mackinac's newsletter told TPM.