2007 - %3, December

Bamboo Makes Better Bridges

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 7:58 PM EST

dn13107-1_400.jpg Bridges of bamboo could provide a cheaper, more environmentally sustainable engineering solution than steel. New Scientist reports that a prototype bridge has been built in China using horizontal beams made from a bamboo composite. The 33-foot span proved strong enough to support even heavy trucks. It was also cheaper to build and more environmentally friendly to make than steel or concrete, says developer Yan Xiao of the University of Southern California and Hunan University.

Pound-for-pound, bamboo is stronger than steel when stretched and more robust than concrete when compressed. Stalks mature in a few years, rather than decades for trees, so more can be harvested from the same amount of land. Plus bamboo is a grass that is harvested like mowing a lawn, leaving the roots intact to regrow. Whereas cement production releases 5-10% of total global carbon dioxide emissions, bamboo soaks it up as it grows. All this suggests a more sustainable engineering solution in China, says New Scientist... Sure, for China, but why not everywhere?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

U.K.'s Gordon Brown Plans to Pressure China, India

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:56 PM EST

china-pollution140x147.jpgThe U.N. climate change conference in Bali may be over, but China and India aren't off the hook yet. U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he will press China and India for further support fighting climate change during visits the two countries next month.

China, for one, needs the pressure because, while the country faces grave ecological consequences for its rapid industrialization, the country's environmental enforcement agency, SEPA, has historically been pretty hands off.

Hopefully that's changing somewhat. This year, SEPA rejected at least $91 billion in new factories and enterprises that failed to meet environmental standards—about 30% of all projects submitted to the agency. SEPA is also resorting to publicly shaming polluting corporations, which will hopefully prove effective as fines for polluting are so low that companies often opt to pay them instead of upgrading equipment.

Fred Thompson: (Hilariously) Lazy as Charged

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:39 PM EST

I'm not going to bother block quoting this Politico article. It is so hilarious and so damaging to Fred Thompson, you're just going to have to read it yourself.

All of the rumors about Thompson—lazy, uninterested in campaigning—appear to be 100 percent true.

Update: Thompson is either delusional or trying to spin his way to the presidency. Despite the evidence seen at the link above, he told CNN that he has the fire in the belly to win in Iowa. "I've had my mojo the whole time." Right...

U.S.'s Dirty Work Behind Pakistani Political Crisis?

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:38 PM EST

bush_musharraf.jpg

The New York Times reports today that Pervez Musharraf is acting quickly to release detainees who were held and interrogated with no paper trail or legal protections to get rid of evidence of the secret program. Detainees have been warned not to talk about their experiences, and in at least one case, an Arab man was released in Gaza, a direly impoverished region surrounded on all sides by Israel.

The Times article reveals that much of the ongoing political struggle in Pakistan stems from conflicts about the detention program. The political conflict began, you may remember, as a power struggle between Musharraf and Iftikar Chaudhry, the chief justice of the Supreme Court—who, in turns out, was attempting to force the dictator to bring the detainees into the court system. Musharraf subsequently removed Chaudhry, and lawyers took to the streets—lawyers who, in some cases, were attempting to represent the disappeared suspects.

One rationale Musharraf gave for imposing emergency rule in November was that the court was releasing suspected terrorists. In fact, it was simply demanding that detainees be charged or freed. You may also recall that Musharraf wasted no time rounding up and jailing human rights workers—who were also quite plausibly advocating for detainees. (The Times' sources are identified as "lawyers and human rights officials.")

A week into his emergency rule, Musharraf reinvigorated amended the 1952 Army Act "to allow civilians to be tried by military tribunals for general offenses. The tribunals are closed to the public and offer no right of appeal," according to the Times. For good measure, the amendment was made retroactive to January 2003, leaving no way to track any criminal charges since then.

To justify the move, a government spokesman said, "Sometimes it becomes difficult to prove a case, but you have reasons that a person poses a threat to humanity and to society."

Pakistan was almost certainly working with the United States in its efforts to interrogate, if not prosecute, the suspected terrorists. One recently released detainee reports that a white, English-speaking interrogator was in the room as his Pakistani captors tortured him.

Although the idea of U.S. officials presiding over the detention and torture of suspected terrorists may not scandalize you anymore, their participation in the detention and torture of ethnic minorities whose only crime is to support regional autonomy ought to. Among the disappeared are thousands of Baluchi and Sindhi nationalists who they have nothing to do with the war on terror.

A Little Holiday Cheer From... Nine Inch Nails?

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:35 PM EST

Holy stocking stuffers, this is funny: Nine Inch Nails lyrics set to the tunes of classic Christmas carols, AKA Nine Inch Noëls. NSFW, needless to say.

Congress Looks to Tighten Military Contractor Accountability

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:05 PM EST

Since her appearance last week on ABC's 20/20, former KBR contractor Jamie Leigh Jones has received a lot of attention, and understandably so. The 23-year-old Houston native alleges that in late July 2005, just four days after arriving in Baghdad's Green Zone, several of her KBR colleagues slipped drugs into her drink and, after she'd passed out, took turns raping her. The following morning, KBR security officers escorted Jones to a U.S. Army hospital, where a military physician confirmed she'd been sexually assaulted. A rape kit was assembled, including doctors' notes, photographs, and tissue swabs—the kind of evidence Jones would need to pursue criminal charges against her assailants. Then, without explanation, the physician handed the evidence over to the KBR security officer. Jones says that for the next 24 hours she was locked in a shipping container against her will and kept under armed guard, and was only rescued after the Gurkha guarding the door allowed her to use his cell phone to call her family in Texas, who, with the help of Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), arranged for her return to Houston.

Such was the story recounted today as Jones, Poe, and expert witness Scott Horton, a Columbia University law professor who specializes in contractor accountability issues, testified before the House subcommittee on crime, terrorism, and homeland security. As the three witnesses explained, no criminal charges have been brought in the case, in part, because much of the rape kit evidence—presumably while in the custody of KBR officials—has been lost. (Another contributing factor is that Jones' employment contract included a binding arbitration agreement, preventing her from filing suit against the company. More on this subject is forthcoming from our own Stephanie Mencimer.)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

House Dems Propose New Ethics Office, But Reform Groups Say "Not Good Enough"

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:00 PM EST

A task force appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved a step closer today to creating an Office of Congressional Ethics by approving a report calling for such an office. (Only the four Democrats on the bipartisan panel voted for the proposal.) And a resolution creating this sort of office was scheduled to be filed today, CQ Politics reports. But the proposal, which would establish an investigative office without the power to issue subpoenas, is being attacked as toothless. In a quickly issued press release, four good-government groups--Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, and Public Citizen--declared, "Without subpoena power or access to subpoena power, the Office can be ignored in its efforts to interview individuals and obtain documents that may be central to the ethics matter at hand."

Public Citizen et. al. are pulling for an amendment that would grant the new office subpoena power. And that's going to be tough fight. After all, the GOP members of the task force refused to endorse even a weak version of the office. And the Democrats have not been wildly enthusiastic about this endeavor. The task force's report was originally due May 1. The task force was only eight months late. The Democrats, now in power, do not seem eager to push reform with bite.

First Look at Lily Allen and Ed Simons' Baby

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 4:06 PM EST

It's true, she's pregnant, it's in the NME! And Party Ben, using his Photoshop powers for evil, proudly gives you the first "if they mated"-style glimpse at what their offspring will probably look like. Is it the "Chemical Allen" or the "Lily Brother?" You decide, and then decide if it should maybe co-star on that Cavemen show. Prepare yourself, put the kids to bed, and then click the "continues inside" button to witness the carnage.

The Music We Play for Terrorists (and Dictators)

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 2:34 PM EST

From Newsweek, via Matthew Yglesias:

In addition to waterboarding, Zubaydah was subjected to sleep deprivation and bombarded with blaring rock music by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One agent was so offended he threatened to arrest the CIA interrogators, according to two former government officials directly familiar with the dispute.

This is unfortunate news for the Chili Peppers. But it does bring to mind another musical attack: the U.S. "Rock 'n' Roll assault" on Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in 1990. When Noriega was holed up in the papal embassy in Panama City, the U.S. blasted music on enormous speakers as part of an attempt to flush him out. Because of the Freedom of Information Act, the most important details of this operation are now declassified: We know what was played during those fateful days. Some highlights after the jump.

Forget the 2008 Horse Race, What about Policy?

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 2:00 PM EST

Okay, for a moment let's forget about attack ads, Iowa, the polls, that floating cross in Mike Huckabee's latest commercial, Hillary's wrinkles, and the question of whether Jesus and Satan are half-brothers--and let's talk presidential race policy!

The smart wonks at the New America Foundation have taken a details-drenched look at the proposals of all the Democratic and Republican presidential wannabes related to the promotion of savings and asset building. This broad category includes retirement security, affordable home ownership, children's savings accounts, the subprime mortgage crisis, bankruptcy, and more. A sample:

Joe Biden plans to incentivize savings by expanding the Saver's Credit, providing eligible families a 50% refundable tax credit for deposits up to $2,000 in certain tax-preferred savings accounts, such as 401(k) plans or Individual Retirement Accounts. A family earning less than 50,000 that deposits $4,000 into savings products eligible for the credit would receive a $2,000 matched refund from this plan.
Chris Dodd proposes to assist individuals saving for a down payment on a home with the creation of Tax-Deferred Individual Homeownership Savings Accounts. The federal government would match up to $500 each year in the accounts of low-income and working families under this plan.
John Edwards proposes the creation of "work bonds" to match household savings. Households earning up to $75,000 would receive a state-provided bond valued at $500 per year. Additionally, he proposes the "Get Ahead" tax credit to match up to $500 in savings for retirement, college education, home purchase or investment in a small business or during a financial or medical emergency.....