2007 - %3, February

The Pure Products of America Go Crazy

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 3:22 PM PST

Americans love their cars. A lot: We take 88 percent of all trips by car, pay high and unfair car insurance rates and tolerate 40,000 annual traffic-related deaths without flinching. Not to mention our parking woes.

Now with global warming hard and fast upon us and Democrats back in power, will the government take action to curb our enthusiasm for driving? Probably not, according to an article in the American Prospect.

Bush's proposed budget cuts funding for Amtrak and increases highway funding. The Democrats have requested a few additional pennies for railroads (remember mass transit?), but haven't said peep about the highway funding. Of course, the highway money could buy bike lanes, but it almost certainly won't. That's because improved mass transit has no one to lobby for it: The largest mass-transit lobby in the country has scarcely a dozen staffers. Meanwhile, big environmental groups tend to focus narrowly on saving land and species, failing to make a persuasive case against new roads or continued car emissions.

Americans' inability to rethink the car is what leads to dubious solutions like corn ethanol, which uses almost as much gas to produce as it replaces.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Are Americans Ready for Some Flava in the White House?

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 1:46 PM PST

Full disclosure: I hate Mitt Romney. In the same blind, irrational, unflinching way that he hates me and the rest of the gays. So, when I began looking at The Fix's analysis of how Americans feel about a Mormon president, I hoped to find they weren't interested. But I'm a good person—really!—so I had to question my own base desires. What I came up with, besides the disclosure above, is that it's absurd for Romney to be running on a religious right platform. Since he doesn't believe in the same Christian values as the religious right, he's using religion, loosely defined, to justify a government that interferes in your private life without helping you out in any way (bye, bye Roe v. Wade, hello lower taxes for the rich). Either that or Romney thinks Mormonism should be the moral foundation for government, which makes far less sense than the also-problematic idea that Christianity should.

(By the way, the polls show that Americans are on the fence about voting for a Mormon candidate, which makes me think that a Mormon running on a religious platform won't make the cut.)

The polls the good little wonks over at WaPo parsed held another surprising tidbit. While a higher percentage of people indicated they would be "more likely" to vote for a candidate who was African-American than "less likely," fully twice as many said they would be less rather than more likely to vote for a female candidate (7 percent more/14 percent less). That's a strong showing for the women-aren't-as-competent contingent.

Isn't it hard to believe we're actually conducting polls about whether the U.S. is ready for anything other than a middle-aged Protestant white man for president? Dozens of countries have had female leaders and at least a handful have been led by members of an ethnic minority.

Al Franken Declares Bid for Senate With Top-Rate Video

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 1:30 PM PST

Hands down, without a doubt -- the best candidacy announcement video yet. This is how a proud, unabashed liberal speaks. A must see.

I invite you to give your thoughts on an Al Franken candidacy -- and on the video -- in the comments below.

Update: Al Franken is a friend of Mother Jones'. He wrote about his USO Tour experiences for us here, we reviewed a movie about him here, and he sat down for an interview as far back as 1996 here.

FOX Hates the (Fictional) President

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 1:03 PM PST

prez1.jpg

What's up with FOX prime time shows killing off U.S. presidents? While corporate sister FOX News is happy just to assassinate the characters of liberal presidential candidates, FOX prime time shows take it one step further by knocking off presidents the second they hint at a lefty policy position.

Last season, "Prison Break" took out the prez after he said he'd sign a forward-looking energy bill. Now, characters on "24" are plotting to assasinate the president (above right) because he refused to approve a plan to torture bad guys, suspend habeas corpus, etc. Does FOX have any other fictional presidents left to kill? Conspiracy theorists, go nuts.

cromwell1.jpg

Related: A special shout-out to friend-of-MoJo James Cromwell. Generally known for playing the kind-hearted farmer in "Babe," he's now joined "24" as Jack Bauer's murderous, terrorist-loving father from hell. He's seen here killing his own son, Graem, with a dose of lethal drugs. Charming!

Valentine's Day, Mother Jones-Style

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 9:18 AM PST

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. Or if you are one of those people, happy grumpy I-hate-this-silly-manufactured-nonsense day. It will assuredly be a day of blissful complaining for you.

Think Valentine's Day is the sort of thing Mother Jones wouldn't cover? Wrong! There's always a MoJo angle. In 2003, we sent a correspondent out to find a truly organic, pesticide-free Valentine's Day rose. The results -- surprise! -- were not good. A year earlier, we examined the environmental and human cost of Ecuador's rose industry -- the world's fourth largest and a major exporter to the United States. Just a loving reminder from Mother Jones that consumer ethics never take a holiday.

Republicans Hand Down Order on Debating Iraq: "Don't Mention, You Know, Iraq"

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 8:46 AM PST

The House of Representatives has begun debating the Democrats' Iraq War resolution that expresses disapproval of the president's troop increase. Republican leadership has handed down an edict on how all good GOPers are to behave.

We know this because Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-MD) office somehow got a letter from Reps. John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) to their Republican colleages entitled "Iraq Resolution Debate, Their Terms or Ours?" I've excerpted below. Via ThinkProgress:

"The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose."
"Rather, the debate must be about the global threat of the radical Islamic movement."

There's more on this "global threat" -- enough to make Muslims around the world think we're fighting a war against them, even -- and a jab at the "liberal mainstream media." Read the full letter in pdf format here.

Update: Democratic talking points here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Gov't Rules Padilla (aka "Piece of Furniture") Fit to Stand Trial

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 8:16 AM PST

I find it amusing and terrible that the doctors who have some say in determining if Jose Padilla is fit for trial are associated with the prison system accused of making him unfit in the first place. Padilla, of course, is the U.S. citizen held in varying forms of unconstitutional imprisonment by the United States for three and a half years before finally being brought up on terrorism charges in a civilian court. He was known as the dirty bomber, even though charges of trying to create a radioactive dirty bomb were later dropped. (See more at the "Terror Prosecutions" section of the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.)

Today Reuters carries the unsurprising news that prison doctors have declared Padilla suitable for trial, ignoring Padilla's claims that he has been tortured by the United States and has become unresponsive as a "piece of furniture" due to years of sensory deprivation techniques that keep him from seeing, hearing, or touching anything.

It doesn't help that Padilla himself claimed to be sane, but descriptions of his imprisonment are harrowing (see below) and doctors from the defense argue that Padilla is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder compounded by years of isolation, and that he only claims to be sane because he has become pathologically afraid anyone would think otherwise. So the prosecution says Padilla is fit for trial, the defense say he isn't. On February 22, the court will hold a hearing to determine who it agrees with.

Please enjoy the following example of the United States government violating the human rights of one of its own citizens:

Padilla was kept in a 9-by-7-foot (3-by-2-metre) cell, the lone occupant in a two-story, 10-unit block, defense lawyer Andrew Patel wrote in an affidavit. The windows were blocked so no light could enter and meals, often cold, were delivered through a slot in the door, Patel said.
Interrogators ordered his pillow and foam mattress removed, forcing Padilla to sleep on a bare steel platform.
Padilla was kept without a clock, calendar or reading material, sometimes for long periods in darkness, and other times for long periods under bright light. He was subjected to extreme cold, deprived of sleep, chained in painful positions and drugged with what he believed to be "truth serum," the documents alleged.
"I have been advised that his cell was electronically monitored and that Mr. Padilla had no contact with other human beings," Patel wrote.
...
For the first two years, he was not allowed to speak with a lawyer nor send or receive mail, except for a brief note sent to his mother in Florida through the International Committee of the Red Cross.
When Patel was first allowed to visit his client in March 2004, the brig staff told him that Padilla "was so docile and inactive that his behavior was like that of a piece of furniture," Patel wrote.
Nonetheless photos introduced in the court case showed that when Padilla was taken to see a dentist, he was shackled at the hands and feet, wearing blackout goggles and earmuffs, and escorted by guards whose faces were hidden by riot helmets.

Valentine's Day, Mother Jones-Style

| Wed Feb. 14, 2007 8:08 AM PST

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. Or if you are one of those people, happy grumpy I-hate-this-silly-manufactured-nonsense day. It will assuredly be a day of blissful complaining for you.

Think Valentine's Day is the sort of thing Mother Jones wouldn't cover? Wrong! There's always a MoJo angle. In 2003, we sent a correspondent out to find a truly organic, pesticide-free Valentine's Day rose. The results -- surprise! -- were not good. A year earlier, we examined the environmental and human cost of Ecuador's rose industry -- the world's fourth largest and a major exporter to the United States. Just a loving reminder from Mother Jones that consumer ethics never take a holiday.

For Love Or Money, Er...Politics

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 11:40 PM PST

Wasn't there a saying back in the day claiming three things lovers should never discuss -- money, politics and religion? Surely things have changed if the presence of online dating services to find your political soulmate is any indication. It seems only natural that our dating habits (and online services for those so inclined) would reflect the increased prominence of politics in our lives and its polarization in the country. Finding a mate is no longer just about attraction and compatibility, it's about your view on abortion (there really is no middle ground) or what place you think religion has within the government. Liberals seeking liberals, conservatives seeking conservatives – you see where they were going when John Hlinko and Brian Barcaro founded political matchmaker sites ActForLove and Conservativematch a few years back.

But, before I get anymore earnest in talking about this subject, let's poke a little fun, shall we? ActForLove's tagline is "take action, get action!" No, really, it says it on the homepage. And they appear to deliver on both, the site has 50,000 members and urges liberals to get involved directing them to sites like the ACLU and StemPAC.org. Conservativematch calls for "sweethearts not bleeding hearts" (not as clever, I know) on their site and has an online mag with headlines like "Abortion Hurts Women: The Hard Proof" and "Male Passivity: The Root of All Evil," which documents the mistakes Adam made with Eve. Really, both sites are worth a quick once-over, even if just for a chuckle, but if you find something more, don't forget who to thank.

A Pro-War Cartoonist Draws the Line

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 10:52 PM PST
bushtreadmill.gif

An unnamed editorial cartoonist serving in Iraq is calling out his colleagues for undermining morale with their pens. How? Drawing flag-draped coffins as symbols of military casualties. He writes: "[I]n many political cartoons, a flag-draped coffin is quickly becoming nothing more than a visual prop, a metaphor." In particular, he takes issue with a recent cartoon by Ann Telnaes which depicts Bush running on a treadmill of flag-draped coffins. Too bad it's a really good cartoon (not to mention that Telnaes totally rocks). But according to the soldier-cartoonist, alluding to the inevitable consequences of war is insensitive to the troops:

U.S. troops are trained to go into harm's way. That is their job. Fatalities are inevitable, though always tragic. The death of a soldier -- or 3,000 troops for that matter -- in and of itself is hardly an effective measure of the success or failure of military strategy, and it is an unfair example to use in painting the president as uncaring.

If anything, it is the cartoonists who are callous to our troops by their continued negative depiction in American op-ed pages.

This sounds like the standard media-undermining-the-troops argument: Our soldiers are fearless ass kickers, yet are vulnerable to a few editorial cartoonists who question the policies that unnecessarily put their lives at risk. So then, how in the world are cartoonists supposed to depict the concept of American fatalities? Admittedly, editorial cartoonists aren't known for having the biggest bags of visual tricks (even the versatile Telnaes has been on a coffin kick; see here, here and here.) Presumably, drawing corpses or skeletons or tombstones or the Grim Reaper would be even more offensive. It doesn't get much more sanitized than a coffin. Which makes me suspect that the soldier-cartoonist's actual beef is that his colleagues don't support the war. But if he really thinks that Americans can't handle a few sketches of pine boxes, perhaps he's in the wrong professions.