At a hearing today of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is expected to attack a Presidential plan to require government contractors to disclose their contributions to political groups. The hearing is a bold move for Issa, who only months ago founded the House Transparency Caucus with the declaration that "sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant."
The disclosure rule at issue is really just a small-bore response to last year's sweeping Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which opened the floodgates to corporate cash in elections. It focuses exclusively on federal contractors because they presumably have more incentive than other private companies to bribe and influence politicians. So why is Issa throwing a fit?
The answer, as with most things in politics, probably involves money. The union-backed group Chamber Watch has tallied up how much dark money went last year to support Republicans on the Oversight Committee and the Small Business Committee, which is co-hosting the hearing. The results are striking:
Source: US Chamber WatchEvidence suggests that a large part of this dark money comes from companies that feed at the public trough. Board members of just one of those dark money groups, the US Chamber of Commerce, earned a collective $44 billion from federal contracts last year, according to Chamber Watch. Only 18 of the Chamber's 53 board members didn't land contracts with the federal government.
An online biology textbook up for approval by the Texas State Board of Education is drawing fire from scientific and education groups for tacitly pushing creationism. Created by the obscure, New Mexico-based International Databases LLC, the textbook seeks to justify the existence of a higher being while avoiding direct mention of God or the Bible. The Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the religious right in Texas, said in a press release that its adoption by the SBOE would be "a shocking leap backward."
The textbook's "Origin of Life" chapter details lab experiments that have failed to create life from inorganic materials, concluding that there is a huge gap between "life" and "non-life" (as crudely illustrated in the photo at right). But from there it makes the considerable leap that biological explanations for the origin of life are discredited. "[T]he legitimate scientific hypothesis," it argues, is that "life on Earth is the result of intelligent causes."
The notes to teachers accompanying the chapter leave little doubt that pushing a belief in God is the ultimate goal:
[A]t the end of the instructional unit on the Origin of Life students should go home with the understanding that a new paradigm of explaining life's origins is emerging from the failed attempts of naturalistic scenarios. This new way of thinking is predicated on the hypothesis that intelligent input is necessary for life's origins.
Last week, a computer glitch at Houston's air traffic control center caused dozens of flights to be delayed for up to an hour. Though it didn't put any planes in danger, the episode was another unwelcome bit of bad P.R. for the nation's air traffic controllers. In the past month and a half, five air traffic controllers were found to be asleep on duty, sometimes missing calls from pilots. Late last month, a mistake by a controller caused First Lady Michelle Obama's jet to fly too close to a military cargo plane.
In the wake of those incidents, one Federal Aviation Administration official resigned and the agency began requiring more than one controller to be on the job late at night, a change the controllers' union had long advocated. But the FAA also sought to deflect much of the blame onto the controllers themselves. "Over the last few weeks we have seen examples of unprofessional conduct on the part of a few individuals that have rightly caused the traveling public to question our ability to ensure their safety," said FAA chief Randy Babbitt. "This conduct must stop immediately." The government also dismissed independent safety experts' recommendation that controllers be allowed to take short naps on the job. "We're not going to pay controllers to nap," scoffed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Air traffic controllers respond that there aren't enough of them to keep up with the soaring amount of air traffic—a problem that they say will be compounded by the new staffing rules. There are currently around 15,700 controllers on duty, but turnover is high: 7,600 controllers left the job or died between 2005 and 2010. (The mandatory retirement age for controllers is 56.) Last year, more than one-quarter of controllers were trainees.
Earlier today, the impossible seemed to happen when Rush Limbaugh suggested that President Barack Obama "single-handedly" devised the plan to successfully assassinate Osama Bin Laden. Though many in the media took Limbaugh seriously, he was actually being sarcastic. Here are 10 other ways that right-wing pundits and bloggers have tried to spin the Al Qaeda leader's killing into a joke, a trifle, or even a triumph of conservatism:
Presumably Code Pink will hold a "Take Back the Night" march some place to mourn his passing.
Bonus: Obama's decision to use military force to take out Bin Laden exposes his "ambivalence" about military force.
The death of bin Laden is more likely to give impetus to Obama’s ambivalence about the concept of "victory" and his deep-seated hostility to the success of American military power and thereby give him the political cover he feels he needs to speed up troop withdrawals from those countries.
4. WorldNetDaily contributor Mychal Massie: Maybe Obama deserves to be assassinated, too.
Rosario Dawson poses with a sack of Kellogg Amend, a soil additive made from sewage sludgeLast May, a group of movie stars gathered at a schoolyard garden in Venice, California to raise money for the Environmental Media Association, a prominent Hollywood green group that supports organic gardens at public schools. Among the publicity photos snapped that day was a product-placement shot of Rosario Dawson planting vegetables alongside a sack of Kellogg Amend, an "organic" soil supplement sold by Kellogg Garden Products, one of EMA's corporate sponsors. "This was one of those unfortunate weird things," says EMA president Debbie Levin, who hadn't known anything about Amend before the shoot. Amend, she later learned, is not approved for organic farming because it's made from municipal sewage sludge.
Levin isn't the only urban gardener who has gotten cozier than she might have liked with other people's poo. The list of ingredients on Amend's packaging avoids the terms "sewage sludge" and "biosolids" (the sewage industry's preferred term) in favor of the more vague "compost." But there's no doubt that Kellogg's "compost" comes from sludge, says John Stauber, a consultant for the Wisconsin-based Food Rights Network, who traced Amend's origins to a Southern California sludge treatment plant. He equates the discovery to "finding out that the giant gorgeous Alpine mountain that you've been living next to is a heap of toxic waste." (Kellogg Garden Products did not return a call from Mother Jones).
Poop may be the least of the problems with biosolids; sludge's dirty secret is that it can contain anything that goes down the drain—from Prozac flushed down toilets to motor oil hosed from factory floors. A 2009 EPA survey of sludge samples from across the US found nearly universal contamination by 10 flame retardants and 12 pharmaceuticals and exceptionally high levels of endocrine disruptors such as triclosan, an ingredient in antibacterial soap that scientists believe is killing amphibians. Large food processors such as H.J. Heinz won't allow crops grown with sludge in any of their products. For more on sludge's safety issues, check out the 2009 Mother Jones story, Sludge Happens.
Stauber, who who first exposed the hyping of sludge in the 1995 book Toxic Sludge is Good For You!, sees Amend and similarproducts as examples of greenwashing gone wild. The USDA doesn't regulate which fertilizers can be labeled as "organic," allowing anyone to use the term (though it bans the use of sludge in organic agriculture). And the nonprofit U.S. Composting Council sees no problem in using its green image for the Orwellian rebranding of sludge. Biosolids companies sit on its board of directors and are sponsoring its upcoming Composting Week.
So what to do if you're a home gardener who wants compost without the sewage? Try checking the website of the Organic Materials Review Institute, which vets agricultural products used by certified organic farmers. That's the preferred approach of Levin, who stresses that no Kellogg Amend was ever actually applied to EMA's gardens (though one school may have inadvertently ordered a different sludge-based product). "Everything was according to what we asked for," she says. "We use the organic stuff."