2013 - %3, January

What the FBI's Occupy Docs Do—and Don't—Reveal

| Mon Jan. 7, 2013 7:01 AM EST

Just before Christmas, Truthout's Jason Leopold and the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund separately published a collection of about 100 pages of Federal Bureau of Investigation documents on Occupy Wall Street. The release shed some new light on how the FBI collaborated with other federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and Naval Investigative Criminal Services, to keep tabs on the movement, which it considered a potential criminal and domestic terrorism threat. Yet the documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, are also heavily redacted—including a curious report about a plot to identify and assassinate Occupy leaders with a sniper rifle—and leave much to the imagination.

That has provided plenty of fodder for speculation. Take the Guardian's Naomi Wolf, who in November 2011 advanced the unfounded theory that federal officials had coordinated the raids on Occupy encampments across the country with local authorities, and with congressional blessing (a conclusion quickly debunked by Alternet's Joshua Holland). The new FBI documents, Wolf wrote last month, "show a nationwide meta-plot unfolding in city after city in an Orwellian world" and a "terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center, and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole is, in fact, one entity: in some cases, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council."

In fact, the DSAC, "a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector," is mentioned in just one unredacted document, an unremarkable report compiled by the FBI and DHS about Occupy's West Coast port shutdown plans in December 2011. Most of the other documents are routine FBI memos focusing on the potential for criminal activity during protests, cyberattacks from Anonymous, reports of suspicious mail, and a threat to shoot a police officer allegedly made by Occupy protesters.

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VIDEO: Hiking the 1,700-Mile Keystone Pipeline "Trail"

| Mon Jan. 7, 2013 7:01 AM EST

"I live a pretty unconventional life," Ken Ilgunas tells me, speaking over Skype from a community library in Marion, Kansas. It's a typical understatement for Ilgunas, who has the kind of ultra-low-key demeanor one acquires after many nights in the backcountry by oneself. In September, after a year of minimalist living in his van, Ilgunas, 29, was on the hunt for a new adventure. He'd been following the controversy over the Keystone XL pipeline, heard stories of the landscapes it could jeopardize, and decided the best thing to do would be to go see the thing first-hand. So in September, he found a State Department map, strapped on a pair of good hiking boots, hitchhiked to Canada, and started walking the 1,700-mile route the pipe, if built, will take from the tar sands to ports in the Gulf of Mexico. He expects to finish his journey mid-February; along the way he's encountered frigid cold, charging moose, cows (lots of cows), and plenty of folks who want to keep the pipe out of their backyards.

Lead and Crime: I'll Be On the Melissa Harris-Perry Show Sunday at 10 am

| Sat Jan. 5, 2013 12:31 PM EST

By the time you see this I should be on a plane to New York, where I'll be on the Melissa Harris-Perry show tomorrow on MSNBC talking about lead and crime. (Plus a few other topics.) One of the other guests on the lead panel will be Howard Mielke of Tulane University, who's been doing lead research in New Orleans for the past two decades. Sarah Zhang interviewed him as part of our lead package for this issue, and you can read her interview here.

Before I head out to the airport, though, here's another tidbit about lead and crime that didn't make it into my magazine piece. (If you still haven't read it, click here.) As you'll recall, lead emissions mainly affect children. This means that when emissions decrease, you have to wait about 18 years to see any effect on violent crime. In the United States, lead emissions started to decline in the mid-70s, and crime began to decline in the early 90s. But what about the rest of the world?

Rick Nevin wrote an extensive paper in 2007 linking lead emissions to crime rates in other countries, so I asked him for his predictions about the decline of crime elsewhere in the world. Here's his forecast:

  • The USA violent crime rate is now down about 50% from its peak in 1991, and I expect that the violent crime rate in Western Europe will be down by about 50% from its peak over the next 20 years, with the largest part of that decline over the next ten years.
  • Eastern Europe will follow the same trend, but will take a few years longer because they left gasoline lead levels quite high through the end of the Soviet era.
  • Crime will also plummet over the next 10 to 20 years in Latin America, where leaded gasoline use and air lead levels fell sharply from around 1990 through the mid-1990s.

The chart on the right shows just a single example of a non-U.S. link between lead and crime: the burglary rate in Britain. It peaked in the mid-90s and has been falling steadily ever since, following the same curve as blood lead levels in preschoolers. Nevin has a more layman-friendly version of his paper here if you want to dig into this further. He discusses lead levels and crime rates in Britain, Canada, Australia, West Germany, France, and New Zealand. His paper also discusses several things that I didn't mention in my article, including the effect of living in a housing project near an expressway; recent arrest rates by age group; the disproportionate effect of lead emissions on African-Americans; Steven Levitt's famous theory about a link between abortion and crime; and the impact of lead on IQ and school test scores. It's worth a read.

Republicans Vote to Increase Cost of Medicare

| Sat Jan. 5, 2013 12:14 PM EST

Conservative Republicans talk endlessly about reining in the cost of entitlement programs like Medicare, but when it comes to specifics they suddenly become camera shy. Now, though, it's gotten even worse. Not only are they unwilling to propose actual, concrete cost-cutting measures for Medicare, they want to dismantle the ones that Democrats have already put in place. Sam Baker of The Hill reports that House Republicans are set to vote on a package of rules that would effectively hog-tie the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which is charged with recommending cost-cutting measures for Medicare. Ed Kilgore comments acidly:

Having medagogued the IPAB--which Sarah Palin notoriously labeled a "death panel"--and the health care cost savings it was charged with securing not just by Obamacare but by earlier Republican legislation, it figures House Republicans would make this the first step to obstruct implementation of ACA, despite the massive hypocrisy involved.

What's really maddening is that IPAB--following the overall thrust of Obamacare--is designed to secure savings not just for Medicare but for the entire health care system by encouraging better medicine, not reductions in health coverage for seniors. It seems Republicans are only interested in health care cost containment measures or "entitlement reform" if it comes at the expense of beneficiaries.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the modern Republican Party.

Quote of the Day: We Are Doomed to Financial Bubbles Forever

| Sat Jan. 5, 2013 11:50 AM EST

John Quiggin writes that he believes the study of macroeconomics went off the rails in 1958, when the Phillips curve was invented. He's not even very impressed with the success of the Taylor-rule style interest rate targeting that gave us the Great Moderation between the late 80s and 2008:

Implicit in this view is the idea that the Great Moderation was a policy success and that the subsequent Great Recession was the result of unrelated failures in financial market regulation. My view is that the two can’t be separated. In the absence of tight financial repression, asset price bubbles are regularly and predictably associated with low and stable inflation. Central banks considered and rejected the idea of using interest-rate policies to burst bubbles, and the policy framework of the Great Moderation was inconsistent with financial repression, so the same policies that gave us the moderation caused the recession.

On this view, it sounds like we're just well and truly screwed, since a Bretton-Woods/Regulation Q version of the economy isn't coming back anytime soon. I don't know if John is actually right about this, but it seemed worth tossing out for discussion. If he's right, what's the answer?

MoJo's Best Longreads of 2012

Sat Jan. 5, 2013 7:06 AM EST

The conventional wisdom claims that people won't read lengthy magazine stories online, but our readers regularly prove otherwise. Many of our top traffic-generating stories have been the deeply researched investigations and reported narratives—and we find that plenty of readers stick with them to the bitter end. Our readers also comment, tweet, Facebook, and Tumble enthusiastically, citing details found deep within these stories. So here, for your New Year's pleasure, is a selection of 10 of our best-loved longreads from 2012. (Click here for last year's list.)

The Silent Treatment
Imagine serving decades in prison for a crime your sibling framed you for. Now imagine doing it while profoundly deaf. By James Ridgeway

 

marines

How a Bunch of Scrappy Marines Could Help Beat Breast Cancer
Exposed to poisoned water at Camp Lejeune, these vets may hold the key to a scourge that kills some 40,000 American women—and a few hundred men—per year. By Florence Williams

Follow the Dark Money
The down and dirty history of secret spending, PACs gone wild, and the epic four-decade fight over the only kind of political capital that matters. By Andy Kroll

"It's Just Not Right": The Failures of Alabama's Self-Deportation Experiment
What happens when outside agitators work with state politicians to pass the nation's most draconian anti-immigrant law? By Paul Reyes

man with construction hat on

Black Gold for the GOP
Trevor Rees-Jones made his name as a Dallas fracking pioneer. So what's he doing bankrolling political attack ads halfway across the country? By Josh Harkinson

I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave
My brief, backbreaking, rage-inducing, low-paying, dildo-packing time inside the online-shipping machine. By Mac McClelland

 

The Frog of War
When biologist Tyrone Hayes discovered that a top-selling herbicide messes with sex hormones, its manufacturer went into battle mode. Thus began one of the weirdest feuds in the history of science. By Dashka Slater

The Dog That Voted, and Other Election-Fraud Yarns
The GOP's 10-year campaign to gin up voter fraud hysteria—and bring back Jim Crow at the ballot box. By Kevin Drum

 

man in jail

Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America's Prisons.
We throw thousands of men in the hole for the books they read, the company they keep, the beliefs they hold. By Shane Bauer

Big Sugar's Sweet Little Lies

How the industry kept scientists from asking: Does sugar kill? By Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens

 

Click here to browse more great longreads from Mother Jones.

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Lead and Crime: A Correction

| Fri Jan. 4, 2013 10:08 PM EST

Deborah Blum comments on my story about the link between lead and crime:

In this latest story, [Drum] goes much farther in embracing lead as the primary cause of violent crime, so much farther that that it's worth asking whether leaded gasoline, as he asserts, does explain as much as 90 percent of the rise and fall of violent crime. Does it trump drugs, poverty, urban gang warfare, education, and other such issues to the point that they account for a bare ten percent of the crime statistics. That's a harder case to make, partly because as Drum himself notes correlation is not causation: the fact, for instance, that falling crime follows a pattern of falling lead exposure doesn't rule out many other influences.

This is a legitimate criticism. Blum is referring to the callout on the right, which runs alongside my article, and as a standalone headline I think it goes too far. It's true that one researcher has suggested that lead can explain 90 percent of the rise and fall of crime, but that's very much the high end of the estimates in the field. I'm a lot more comfortable with an estimate of around 50 percent, something I should have made clearer in the text of my piece. In other words, lead probably explains a very big chunk of the rise and fall of postwar crime in America, but it doesn't trump everything else. Drugs, poverty, urban gang warfare, education, policing tactics, and other things also play a role.

I'm mentioning this because a number of people have gotten derailed by the implication of the 90 percent number, namely that virtually nothing else matters when it comes to crime. That's really not the point I wanted to make. Lead is a big factor, but it's not the only factor.

POSTSCRIPT: Another thing to keep in mind: Even if the 90 percent number is correct, it doesn't imply that lead is responsible for 90 percent of all crime. It only implies that it's responsible for 90 percent of the postwar rise of crime above its natural level, which is determined by a variety of other factors. Later, the drop in lead emissions was responsible for 90 percent of the decline of crime back to its natural level.

600 Teachers Apply to Learn How to Shoot a Gun at School

| Fri Jan. 4, 2013 5:01 PM EST

As of this Wednesday, over 600 teachers from 15 states have applied for a free firearms training program that a gun advocacy group, the Buckeye Firearms Association, announced it would sponsor in the wake of the Newtown school shooting. The three-day training will train teachers how to wield firearms in the case of a school shooting.

According to a press release, the association hopes to use the training as a starting point for a more refined, ongoing "Armed Teacher" curriculum. The first training will take place this spring at an Ohio training facility. Buckeye Firearms' chairman Jim Irvine explained program details to StateImpact:

It has to be conducted in an outside range, a dynamic range as they're called, because it's just something you can't do shooting down lanes at a firing range, so weather is a factor in Ohio and the class is not completely designed yet.

In a traditional shooting range you're in a shooting lane, but classrooms aren't conducted in lanes. The threat can come from anywhere; the threat can come from multiple directions. You have to analyze the threat in a 3D environment. We want to train for the real event.

[...]

We have to change the mindset in schools and get some good people in schools that are the first line of defense. This isn't a new idea it's just that the events in Connecticut make what we've been talking about for years all of a sudden politically acceptable. Now everything is on the table, this is something that can and will be done.

Irvine acknowledged that there is a "potential risk" that students could take and use guns if teachers in the US start to conceal-and-carry more often, but noted that in the case of one school in Texas that arms teachers, "frankly, it hasn't been a problem." (An Arkansas student did successfully steal a handgun from a teacher's purse last January.)

A 2011 Mother Jones investigation found that Irvine and the Buckeye Firearms Association have a robust history of gun rights lobbying in Ohio, including a successful push for a concealed carry law in 2004. The organization is also known for its aggression: When the manager of the Sandusky Register, a small daily in Ohio, published the names and birth dates of gun permit holders in the state, he began receiving angry phone calls from gun rights advocates nationwide, and Buckeye published as much publicly available information as they could (including which school bus his daughter rode) on their website.

For now, this program is mostly just pro-gun advocate maneuvering—rather than the start of a serious trend towards arming teachers. There aren't many barriers preventing an organization from offering training courses, but only Kansas, Mississippi, and Utah currently allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry guns in schools. Eight states, including Texas and Ohio, ban carrying guns in schools unless a district and/or school gives specific permission to do so, though the option is rarely used; Irvine says he hopes his training can help teachers gain these sorts of permissions. Six additional states are planning to introduce legislation during their upcoming sessions to allow firearms in schools. 

Fiscal Deal Could Make Health Insurance More Expensive

| Fri Jan. 4, 2013 4:38 PM EST

Conservative websites have been giddy in recent days because the fiscal deal President Barack Obama just signed repeals a piece of Obamacare—a long-term care program for the disabled that even the administration admits was not cost effective. But another section of the Affordable Care Act bit the dust at the same time, and consumers who will soon be required to purchase health insurance (i.e. everyone) should be none too happy about it.

The ACA established a federal loan program to subsidize nonprofit CO-OPs (consumer oriented and operated health insurance plans) so that these plans could participate in the new online health insurance exchanges with traditional plans. The goal: increasing competition and reducing costs for consumers. Half of the $3.8 billion allocated for the program has already been doled out to 24 nonprofits in 24 states, but the remaining $1.9 billion was slashed in the recent tax-cut deal.

Friday Cat Blogging - 4 January 2013

| Fri Jan. 4, 2013 3:52 PM EST

It's 2013, and that means the start of our cats and quilts series. But I think this is going to be harder than I thought. It's no problem to toss out a quilt and wait for Domino to curl up on it, but the problem is that this is pretty much all she does. So that means a lot of pictures of a snoozing cat. I have a feeling I need to think through this whole project a little more carefully to see how I can mix things up a bit more.

In any case, here are the deets on the quilt. It's a wedding ring quilt made in 1997 out of reproduction 1930s fabrics. It's machine pieced and hand quilted, and 100% lead free.