James West

James West

Senior Digital Editor

James West is senior digital editor for Mother Jones, and before that, the senior producer for its reporting project Climate Desk. He wrote Beijing Blur (Penguin 2008), a far-reaching account of modernizing China’s underground youth scene. James has a masters of journalism under his belt from NYU, and has produced a variety of award-winning shows in his native Australia, including the national affairs program Hack. He's been to Kyrgyzstan, and also invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner after wrongly receiving invites for years from the mysterious Tran family.

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Here's the Most Offensive GOP Response to Obama's New Syrian Refugee Plan

| Thu Sep. 10, 2015 5:08 PM EDT
Rep. Peter King (L), and Syrian children at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers in southern Hungary, on Thursday.

As my colleague Tim McDonnell reported earlier today, the Obama administration has announced that the United States will take in 10,000 Syrian refugees starting October 1, in what the White House described as a "significant scaling up" of the US commitment to the ongoing migrant crisis.

Cue the terrorism-conflating saber-rattling of one Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.), who issued the following statement this afternoon:

There's evidently much wrong with King's statement, not least of all the fact that the Tsarnaev brothers who bombed Boston spent time growing up in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, and were part of a family originally from war-torn Chechnya. Not Syria.

It also takes a long time for a Syrian refugee to apply for a coveted spot in the United States—precisely due to the fact that the United States is going to extraordinary lengths to prevent terrorists from slipping in, according to the Washington Post:

The United States has so far lagged far behind several European countries in this regard, largely due to the time-consuming screening procedure to block Islamist militants and criminals from entering the United States under the guise of being legitimate refugees.

As a result, it takes 18 to 24 months for the average Syrian asylum seeker to be investigated and granted refugee status. The process takes so long that the UNHCR takes biometric images of some applicants' irises to ensure that when refugee status is eventually granted, it goes to the same person who applied.

King hasn't been the only politician warning of an increased terror threat if the United States allows more Syrians into the country. But fellow Republican Marco Rubio struck a less incendiary tone this week. "We would be potentially open to the relocation of some of these individuals at some point in time to the United States," he said, according to CNN, but added that, "We'd always be concerned that within the overwhelming number of the people seeking refugee [status], someone with a terrorist background could also sneak in."

According to an investigation by Mother Jones in 2011, Rep. King might possess one of the most hawkish voices in Washington, but his record on terror has raised some eyebrows. King was one of the nation's most outspoken supporters of the Irish Republican Army and a prolific fundraiser for the Irish Northern Aid Committee (NorAid), allegedly the IRA's American fundraising arm. (King's office didn't respond to a request for comment on that article.) You can read Tim Murphy's fascinating report here.

King had previously told the Daily News, "Obviously, we have to take refugees... But we have to be extremely diligent, very careful."

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You Have to Watch Stephen Colbert's Bernie Sanders Joke

| Thu Sep. 10, 2015 11:47 AM EDT

Stephen Colbert blanketed radio airwaves yesterday promising that his second performance on The Late Show on CBS would rank among his best two Late Show performances.

With first-night jitters now behind him—along with a hair-raising tale about how Tuesday's debut barely made it to air—Wednesday's broadcast offered samples of what anyone who loves Colbert knows he does best: surreal sketches (ScarJo on a blanket staring at the stars talking about her feet!), improvisation-fueled interviews (Elon Musk, are you a supervillain?), and on-the-money political satire, like this segment on the idiotic range of merchandise you can now buy from presidential candidates. Stay for the "Feel the Bern" mug, and Jeb Bush's radically overpriced "Guaca Bowle."

President Obama Eats a Half-Mauled Salmon Carcass in Alaska and Likes It Very Much

| Tue Sep. 8, 2015 11:55 AM EDT

President Obama recently returned from a three-day trip to Alaska and the Arctic to push his climate agenda, but not before recording a clip for the reality TV show Running Wild with Bear Grylls for NBC. Grylls is the irrepressible British TV star who has made a career of eating absolutely anything to get out of pickles in the wilderness—combined with his survivalist know-how and occasional nudity.

In the short clip, broadcast on Today this morning, the president can be seen gingerly nibbling on the "bloody carcass" of an salmon that Grylls has cooked up on a portable stove after finding it on a riverbank. The fish had been previously chewed on by an actual bear, Grylls informed the president.

The verdict: "Bear's a mediocre cook, but the fact that we ate something recognizable was encouraging," Obama said—referring to Grylls's penchant for eating just about anything, like raw snake or giant larva. "Now, the fact that he told me this was a leftover fish from a bear, I don't know if that was necessary," the president said. "He could have just left that out."

Obama is called "the bear" himself occasionally, when he gets restless and starts doing unexpected things in public, outside the confines of his Secret Service bubble. "'The bear is loose': Is Obama breaking free or running away?" asked the Washington Post, last year. "As president, I am in what's called the bubble, and Secret Service makes sure that I'm always out of danger, which I very much appreciate, but it can be a little confining," he told Grylls, according to Today.

"This has got to be one of the best days of my presidency," he said.

Obama also ate dog meat as a child, which, you'll remember, unleashed a torrent of attacks from conservatives.

Correction: I wrongly referred to the salmon enjoyed by Obama and Grylls as "Atlantic" in an earlier version of this post. As Paul Arden, the communications director for congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA), points out by email: "Where'd you get the bit about it being Atlantic salmon? Should be Pacific salmon if it really did come from a bear? Looked like coho or sockeye…"

3 Hurricanes Are Hitting the Pacific at the Same Time, and the View From Space Is Amazing

| Wed Sep. 2, 2015 2:05 PM EDT
Three hurricanes are churning across the Pacific right now.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are marveling at a particularly awesome view from orbit right now. This week marks the first time that three major hurricanes—dubbed Kilo, Ignacio, and Jimena—have been captured simultaneously churning across the Pacific Ocean, according to the United Kingdom's Met Office. (The National Hurricane Center agrees.)

The storms are being fueled by warmer waters caused by this year's El Niño, the global climate event that occurs every five to seven years, bringing drought to places like Australia, while heaping rain on the Western United States. The Met Office says temperature anomalies in this part of the world are currently at their highest since 1997-98.

According to the Met Office: "Hurricanes Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena were all at category 4 simultaneously in the Pacific east of the International Dateline—the first time three major hurricanes have been recorded at the same time in this region." The Met Office says tropical cyclone activity across the northern hemisphere this year is about 200 percent above normal. Six hurricanes have crossed the central Pacific, more than in any other year on record, the agency says.

The view from space is incredible:

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says manmade global warming is likely to drive up the number of intense hurricanes like these around the world—despite a predicted overall drop in all types of weaker, tropical storms. By the end of the century, hurricanes will likely produce substantially higher rainfall—up to 20 percent more—than present-day hurricanes.

So far, Hawaii appears to be safe, and no humans are in the paths of destruction, allowing us to enjoy the spectacular view.

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